Writing, thinking, rewriting

Bleh. I’ve decided to reorganize this chapter for the third time. I think I like the new direction I’m headed in, but boy, has this whole thing been a slow process. I know that everything I’ve written so far, while not being used directly, contributes to my thinking about the new direction. It does kind of suck, though, to have written nearly 20 pages of unusable material. I’m sure bits and pieces of it will find their way into the final result. I always find it amusing to look back at old drafts and notice that there is a phrase I kept while everything around it changed.

Tomorrow I need a pretty complete draft of about the first 2/3 done. Next week I have to do a little more reading and then write the rest of it when that’s done. It definitely feels like one step forward, two steps back at this point. But I’ll get it done. I have to.

On the plus side, we got the hole in our house fixed–no more squirrels! And we got some Christmas shopping done. I also switched to the new Googlized Blogger. Once the chapter’s done, I’m going to redecorate a bit around here. Yay!

Okay–I couldn’t resist a little playing around.

Gah! Reverted back–no Haloscan–pooey!

Dissertating while mothering

Bitch, Ph.D. comments and academom responds to the issue of getting a graduate degree while simultaneously raising children. Dr. B ends with this observation:

because, though I hate to say this, academia is not the easiest field for women with kids, especially in the plural; and graduate school, especially when you’re still doing coursework, is probably about as bad as it gets. You might get the degree, but in all honesty it’ll probably end up being seen a vanity degree: you’ll have worked your ass off to finish, but while you were focusing on your work, you’ll have been sidelined in the minds of your department as someone who isn’t going to go beyond grad school and will somehow be reabsorbed into the non-academic world with a nice diploma to hang on the wall of your home office.

I personally think this sucks. Yeah, I see some truth in it, but I think Dr. B, of all people should try to suggest ways that this can be fought. Madeleine offers this response, which I think is spot on:

if we moms continue to ACT AS THOUGH we are marginalized, if we expect such treatment, I daresay we will get it. If you expect to be not taken seriously, you run the risk of falling into that predetermined role by acting like someone who doesn’t deserve to be.

I never even considered my position as a mother as an issue. I thought of myself as a graduate student. I might have done things slightly differently than my single colleagues. For example, I always began working on big assignments early. I knew that daycare, illnesses, and other unforseen child issues might sidetrack me. But I didn’t discuss this way of working with anyone. I typically came into my little grad office, worked from 9-5 and went home. And yes, there was often more work to do when I got home, which does get old. I never felt marginalized. I was offered work as a mentor and in the writing center. I won awards. Perhaps this was because I wasn’t the only parent in the program or because the program isn’t highly ranked. But I always felt that the program was supportive of my work as a grad student.

I started grad school with a 2 year old. I had my second child after I completed my masters. I restarted work on the dissertation after both kids were in school. And yes it’s easier to handle, but I also have a full-time job, which I think makes it much harder. I have to work around the edges of the regular work day. With young children and reliable childcare, at least you can work during semi-normal hours and carve out some time for yourself and your family.

I’ve seen friends who waited until they finished grad school and got tenure before starting to think about kids. Some of them were unable to have kids. Some adopted. All are in their early 40s. I knew I couldn’t do that. So I had my kids when I wanted to and worked everything else around it.

I also think it’s okay to try and if you don’t make it, that’s okay too. Part of why I didn’t finish earlier was because I found it difficult to juggle everything and I had no support. And plenty of people without kids never finish. Now, in the push to the finish, I’ve let a lot of things go–real cooking, laundry, free time, reading books for fun. Depending on the kind of program you’re in, you and your family will have to be prepared for living in less than ideal conditions (possibly financially too).

The other, semi-related issue I was thinking of is the way we push people to work in the *best* program with the *best* people. Such a program might be good for someone who wants to go on to a prestigious position at a good school. And although I do think there are programs whose existence might be questioned, I also think there are perfectly decent jobs for people from *lesser* programs–community colleges, satellite schools, high schools. And some people want those jobs; they’re not just settling for them. Just as you can get a good B.A. education from a school without a reputation if you put your mind to it, I think you can get a good Ph.D. education from such a school too. And I know all the caveats about the academic hierarchy and how people look at the school and all that. And I think that sucks and we should resist it and let a person’s work speak for them instead of the degree. We all know that a Yale degree doesn’t necessarily mean that person has learned anythng. All it means is he gets to run our country.

One third

I’m about a third of the way done with this chapter. I finished writing the first section today and now I begin (re)reading for the second. I was able to use about a page of the material I’d written before, including the introduction, which I thought worked pretty well. It might need to be tweaked once I’m finished with the whole thing, but it’s a useful guiding force for now. It’s really weird to write about how people learn to write while you’re writing. I find myself measuring methods against my own process. I was discussing some of my ideas with Mr. Geeky, who has a Ph.D. in cognitive science, and he kept saying, “but you don’t know what your brain is doing; that’s the point.” But I think I do and for some reason, I think that’s important. I think I understand how I process information and when I think it’s not processing well, I find ways to get myself back on track. In essence, that’s sort of what I was thinking we do with students sometimes. We figure if we know where they’ve gotten off track, what’s going on in their heads, then we can help them. But we can’t know because they can’t know exactly what’s going on and so we try other things as well. It’s not an efficient system. Whether it’s writing or math or science or history, my impression is that there’s no definitive method out there for teaching these subjects. It’s all an educated guess. There may be evidence that one method is better than another, but there’s still no method that stands out as perfect. Partly that’s due perhaps to our lack of understanding about how people at various levels actually learn and partly that’s due to differences among individuals. Also, I think at the college level, there are all kinds of emotional and motivational issues that have nothing to do with learning that sometimes get in the way. It seems as if, sometimes, we’re asked to be amateur psychologists running little experiments on our subjects. I know most of us, myself included, don’t think of teaching that way, but reflecting on my teaching methods and figuring out how to improve things often feels that way. Why, we often ask, when we use the same method from class to class, does one go well and one go poorly? Sometimes it has nothing to do with what we do and more to do with the makeup of the class–the personalities, the socioeconomic backgrounds, the motivations and desires–things out of our control. It is, as I often say, a complex and emerging system. How to manage that system and turn out students who have actually learned something is the million dollar question? I think I’m comfortable answering that question, but only tentatively because things change. Knowledge changes, the students change, the classes change and we have to adjust. Yes, it makes teaching harder. It makes thinking about teaching harder. But it seems worth it somehow.

Plugging along

I’m sure you all can guess why my words have not darkened the door of this here blog. I’m basically spending every waking moment reading (not yet writing). Every day this week, I’ve gotten up at 6:00, read until 7:30 with kids running around eating cereal and getting dressed. Then I go to work where I have a two-page to-do list. I’ve gotten through half a page. I know this isn’t the recommended way of doing things in GTD, but I’m in a sprint to the finish. So I wrote down every loose end I could think of. When people come into my office and ask for something, I say, “I’ll put it on my list” and they watch me, rather wide-eyed, add it to the end of my list. It will all get done. Some of the things are small things. Some bigger. But it will get done.

When I get home from work, I make dinner with whatever we have available. Last night, we ate pancakes. Mr. Geeky’s been sick and I don’t want to take the time to go to the grocery store. Also, I’ve developed a case of TMD. So I’m trying to eat soft foods. Fun all the way around.

After dinner, I spend a little bit of time watching Harry Potter with the kids. We’ve been going through all four movies over the last few days. Then I start working. Monday, I went to *$. Tuesday and Wednesday, I stayed here. Tonight I’ll head back to *$. My goal is to get the first section of this chapter written, which I estimate will be about 10-12 pages. I have two articles left to read before beginning the writing, so it’s unlikely that will happen tonight but it will certainly happen this weekend. I’m taking Friday off, but will work Saturday and Sunday and continue the routine through next week. My hope is that I can be finished by next Sunday, but I have another week after that as a buffer. It’s so close.

I’m pushing myself both because I’m past my initial deadline I set for myself and because I really want a true vacation over Christmas. I’m looking forward to baking cookies, watching movies, playing games, drinking hot cocoa, and just hanging out. I don’t want to be thinking about the dissertation at all. I can come back to it refreshed, ready to dig into revisions.

Going undigital

I’ve been reading through/sorting through the many articles I have collected in digital form. I finally realized this morning that I was having trouble keeping them straight and so I’ve decided that I’m going to print them all out and sort them. And then hopefully use many of them in the writing I’m doing this weekend. Despite loving all things digital, sometimes you just need the physical instead.

Long time no post

Lots has happened since I last posted. There was lots of catching up to do after the election and I have quite a few irons in the fire in addition to regular work, so it’s been busy. The dissertation is chugging along, slowly but surely. I’m faced with another stack of papers to comment on, but it should be okay. One more batch after this and then final portfolios.

The most fun thing that has happened was getting to meet three fabulous bloggers. Timna, What Now and Margo, Darling all met me for lunch in the city on an absolutely gorgeous day. It was so fun chatting with them all. Honestly, it was a lot like hanging out with old friends. It reminds me of why I like being in the academic world to begin with–such good conversations. We talked about our work, but we also talked about the profession in thoughtful ways and a bit about the world at large. There was personal stuff–partners and husbands and children. And we discussed food and travel and living in cities. I knew timna and what now from their blogs and I have to say that they were and weren’t like their blogs. It was kind of like seeing an old friend after a long time. There’s still a lot that’s recognizable but there are new aspects to get to know. And margo, who was new to me, was equally fun to get to know and I hope we successfully convinced her to blog again.

The second most fun adventure of the last few days was shopping. Mr. Geeky and I are on a bit of a shopping spree after coming into some extra money from a large grant Mr. Geeky has been working on. We bought a new tv a couple of weeks ago. Our old one had begun to have this horrible high-pitched whiny noise that would eventually go away but was obviously a sign of decline. We also got ourselves a new comforter. This weekend, we got new pillows and some new sheets. We need to get a new mattress, but we haven’t had the time to shop around. I got a gift certificate for Eddie Bauer and so bought a few things there and then decided to head over to Zappos and buy the shoes you see above. Aren’t they cute?

I mentioned, I think, that we’ve become addicted to Battlestar Galactica. Well, we’re plugging away on season 2, having two marathon sessions on Friday and Saturday night (yes, I know, we’re total nerds). I think we’re all going to be sad when we’re done.

Feeling a little frazzled

For obvious reasons. I am trying to remain calm and take things one step at a time. I have a plan. I think I’m going to be okay, but until things start to fall into place, I’m going to feel frazzled.

  • Today, I travel down to our Government Building to get trained in election judging, which is funny, because I used to call our old judge on things he was doing wrong. I also pick up the super secret box with all our election materials. I feel a little like a secret agent. So that blows my morning.
  • Mr. Geeky is doing a presentation for parents’ weekend, so he’s dragging the kids with him. We should all be reconvened at the house for lunch.
  • We have no food.
  • Depending on what my family has planned, I will either work on some student papers or the dissertation. I feel like I need a break, so I’m just going to go with the flow
  • Tomorrow is dissertation first, student papers second.
  • Monday is a day nearly meeting free. I have a few irons in the fire at work. A lot of irons in the fire, actually.
  • On Monday, I need to again work on papers and the dissertation.
  • Tuesday is election day. Aside from setting up and the initial rush, I can actually do stuff, so I will. Otherwise, we get bored anyway.
  • I can’t think beyond Tuesday. My hope is that progress will have been made by then and I’ll be on top of stuff. If it’s not, I can freak out then.

Update on the Geeky Boy situation: In addition to the morning routine problem, Geeky Boy has also forgotten assignments and projects and stuff. I think these are related issues. I actually called the school’s guidance counselor. She was very nice and basically said that 6th grade is hard on most kids and there’s a lot to get organized. She’s going to meet with him and help him organize his locker and discuss some strategies that might help him.

Things I’ve let go in order to dissertate

I really can’t do it all, all evidence to the contrary. Here are some things that have slid over the last few months:

  • Laundry–this has gotten really bad because no one likes to do laundry. We’re living out of baskets at the moment
  • My hair–I’m letting it grow anyway, but I’m also letting it go gray.
  • my wardrobe–who has time to shop!
  • real cooking–I’m totally relying on quick and easy food
  • most of my social life, such as it is
  • a lot of blogging–I’m still reading here and there, but not like I did before
  • pretty much anything extra

Mr. Geeky has picked up a lot of the slack, especially in handling the day-to-day stuff with the kids and cleaning. But he doesn’t cook and he can ignore a pile of laundry like the rest of us, so we’re kind of suffering a bit. This is my brief blog break before I go back to reading. I’m reading morning and night. I’ve written a bit, but I’m hoping to begin full-on writing either this weekend or Monday. I’ve set a personal deadline for this chapter of Nov. 15, so we’ll see how that goes. I have some time, but ideally, I’d like to start doing some revisions in December. And I have a few other irons in the fire, as usual.

I’m really looking forward to the return of some of those things. I’m planning a pretty big celebration when this whole thing is done. You’re all invited!

A moment of pride

Since everyone else is self-promoting. I’ve been thinking about this for a while and I think I just have to say it (write it) out loud. I’m really proud that I’m finishing my degree. I don’t want to jinx it or anything since I’ve still got one more chapter to write, but still. Looked at objectively, the whole process is pretty impressive. I began my degree in 1999. I took my comps in the spring of 2001 and then we moved here in the summer of 2001. I spent the next year poking around on the dissertation, writing one chapter and getting some pretty horrible feedback on it. In the fall of 2002, I decided to give it up and started looking for a full-time job. I got this job in January 2003. I did nothing remotely related to dissertating until last fall of 2005. Essentially, I took two years off. When I finish in the spring of 2007, I will have basically completed my degree in five years, writing the dissertation in about a year and a half, all while holding down a 9-5 job, raising two kids, teaching a class, and blogging. Holy cow.