I'll say it again. The infrastructure that supports a dissertation is ridiculous.
My infrastructure has a lot of "normal" things. I've got a place to sleep, food to eat, an advisor who both pushes me and gives me room. (I am incredibly blessed to be working with Robin Adams, and can only hope to pay this forward.) I have friends and colleagues who are feeding me, encouraging me on the days I've broken down in tears (yep, this project has done that). I have library access. We recognize these things as being in support of dissertations.
I also have a lot of other things. I have a car that works. I have access to paved highways that can get me to my office in a reasonable amount of time. I have access to gasoline -- and food -- at prices that I can afford in the economy I live in, with the job I have. I can fall asleep at night without worrying that my building will be bombed or that a family member will be shot.
I largely take these things, and more, for granted. I am not caring for sick relatives; I do not need to tend to children, and I'm a citizen of the country that I live and work in. I have so much privilege. So much. And it helps me progress on my dissertation because I don't have to spend energy on these things... and can use that energy to write instead.
There's also the infrastructure that I'm more acutely aware of -- because it's new to me, because it feels so much more fragile, so easily taken away. Most people aren't affected by that infrastructure's presence or its lack, so unnoticed failure is my job to flag, my contingency to plan for. Actually, a lot of people don't think that I need it. I... used to not think I needed it.
But I do need the Ritalin that keeps my wandering mind able to look at something for more than a few minutes at a time, at will. I have willpower; I also have ADHD. And I can use that willpower to pour my considerable energy against itself, struggling and wrestling to even get myself to sit down, battle guilt, open a page -- or I can use it to think, write, teach, serve -- graduate.
And I do need the PT and massage that keep my hands from locking up, my neck and shoulders from screaming. I have the ability to stretch and exercise; I also have joint structures and use patterns that give rise to RSI. Even when I do self-care, if I do the typing/thinking/writing work I do, it keeps on coming; I could push through the pain until my muscles literally will not move on my command -- I've been there and don't care to go back -- so yes, I need other people. People who can treat and unlock what keeps creeping up on me, people who can keep teaching me how to understand and work with the body I have, because this is the body I write with, the body that will walk acros the stage and graduate.
And I do need the captioning and subtitling and interpreting that allow me to understand things without lipreading, and the CI and hearing aid that make lipreading easier when I have to do it. I'm an excellent reader, lipreader, and bluffer; I'm also deaf. I can use my considerable powers of rapid mental analysis to guess at syllables for short periods of time -- or I can use them to come up with knowledge nobody has ever thought before, knowledge that makes a contribution to the world. One of these things allows me to pretend I'm hearing when I'm not. The other is what I need to graduate.
I need this infrastructure just as much as I need a way to commute to work, just as much as I need to not scramble for clean water to drink, just as much as the other things that quietly and seamlessly support us. Will I die without these things -- my ADHD meds, a car, subtitles, running water? Nope. Will it hit me in a way that makes it significantly harder for me to work, move forward, graduate? Yes.
And I'm painfully aware that some of my infrastructure is a localized and temporary patch. If running water stops, everyone notices. If I can't get a talk interpreted... few people do. These things are sometimes ignored and forgotten because most people aren't affected by their presence or their lack.
I just got off a two-hour phone call with my advisor. It was hard -- for all the right reasons. It was amazing, it was productive, it was wrestling with difficult ideas. And for that to happen, I needed my advisor. I needed the invention of the telephone, the network that allows me to be in Boston sending audio to her tiny handheld device in Indiana. I needed the shared document editing and the wifi connection over which I sent my slide deck. And I needed the relay service interpreter who made it possible for me to understand how Robin was responding to my slides.
Take away any one of these things, and I'd have to find a workaround. Some of the workarounds would be more costly than others, force a rippling-out of more tradeoffs. Some of them live in the space that still makes it possible for me to graduate. Some don't.
It's not only about talent or willpower. If the world you live in doesn't support your ability to use that talent and willpower towards something good -- you might as well not have it. I want to graduate; I want to do good things. And in order to do those things, I rely on so much infrastructure... and sometimes it feels so fragile, and I stand in fear and gratitude for all the balances that bring us where we are.