Writing this in between dissertation sprints

December 1, 2015 – 10:20 am

People keep asking how my dissertation is going.

I hate crawling through the thousands of constant momentary choices to stick into my dissertation research, link make it better, valeologist make it better, not trying to plaster it over with pretty things, but generating stuff and figuring out what stuff is crap and what isn’t.

I hate it, but I also love it, because it’s the person I want to be. Someone who can stick through hard to do something that’s good. And I want to be held to that standard, to be expected to produce good work, to be expected to make arguments for why my work is good. It’s a sign of respect (excerpt from “My Writing Education: A Time Line,” by George Saunders, via Sara Hendren).

I have my final thesis meeting with Doug. My thesis…is crap…. I know I haven’t done good work, but don’t want to hear that. But I also don’t want to hear that what I know is bad, is good….

What Doug does at this meeting is increase my self-esteem by confirming that my perception of the work I’d been doing is fundamentally accurate. The work I’ve been doing is bad. Or, worse: it’s blah. This is uplifting–liberating, even—to have my unspoken opinion of my work confirmed. I don’t have to pretend bad is good. This frees me to leave it behind and move on and try to do something better. The main thing I feel: respected. Doug conveys a sense that I am a good-enough writer and person to take this not-great news in stride and move on. One bad set of pages isn’t the end of the world.

My greatest temptation is to throw old things away and start from scratch constantly, thinking that my old stuff isn’t good enough, that surely I can make something glorious and gleaming if I only reboot. But there is good in my old piles of crap, and there is good in my data and my analysis; I have to keep looking at what is, not where I’d like things to be. It’s the only way I’ll make the things that are into the things I want them to become.

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