A Day in the Life, or This Diss Ain’t Gonna Write Itself

Today has been a whirlwind of dissertation writing, online course setups, and grad student housekeeping. This morning, I  added two pages to the diss. I know that doesn’t seem like much, and it isn’t, but they are two GOOD pages. After being unable to produce anything substantial for the past few weeks, I feel good about this progress, and I’m starting to think that my mojo is coming back. I’m actually excited about the section I’m working on, and I can’t wait to pick up the books I ordered to see where they might fit in this part of my research. Those of you who are academics know that scholarly writing is HARD, and I won’t rehash the myriad of reasons why, or the fact that there are days when I can barely pick up a book to skim, or look at a draft of the chapter I’m working on. All of this is par for the course for most academics, and I’m no exception.

Still, this last writing desert felt different; I was seriously beginning to question whether or not I really wanted a spot in the Ivory Tower, or if the Ph.D. is truly a means to any end other than itself.  I’m not frantic or overly paranoid about job market melodrama or the “crisis in the humanities;” I came into this program at 40 years old knowing full well the risks involved. I’ve always had a back-up plan or two or three, so that’s not my issue. I won’t feel like a supreme failure if an academic job doesn’t pan out; I’ll take my Ph.D. and move on with my life. However, there are aspects of academia that I find rather distasteful, and I’m kind of “over” being underpaid, over-worked, and under-appreciated. Don’t get me wrong, I recognize the extreme privilege of my status as a highly educated Black woman, but I’m also keenly aware of the fact that these days, that might not count for much.

To counter a bit of the negativity that is threatening to take root in this blog entry, I want to share that I absolutely love teaching. Every semester I’ve had students come up to me and give me hugs, telling me how much they miss my class. I’m also one of only three people on my campus that can teach the new Intro to LGBT Studies course that we are offering, and how cool is that? I’m on track to finish the Ph.D. in five years, which is well above the national average of nine or ten for folks in certain humanities fields.  I love my project, and I have an extremely supportive and generous dissertation committee. I also have a really smart and dedicated group of friends who keep me grounded and expect me to get the thing done.

To be perfectly honest with you, my life is pretty golden right now, and I guess writing a little of this down has helped me to get off my pity pot.  I think that pity pots are ok for a few minutes of self-reflection and general gnashing of the teeth and ripping of the garments. However, to languish on the pot too long is certain death, figurative, if not literal. I’ve seen what death in a graduate program looks like: it looks like the folks who are still thinking about going on the  job market “next year” after ten years in a Ph.D. program. Or the folks who can regurgitate Lacan or Butler or Kant at the drop of a dime, but who have no original ideas. If this is the life they’ve chosen for themselves, so be it, but I promised myself when I came into this program that I would not become one of those people. As a 44 year-old Black woman, I can’t afford to be. I’ve also decided that when I’m dean (don’t you like how I’ve gone from cranky Ph.D. student to dean in a few sentences?), that I won’t allow this kind of tom-foolery in any of the programs that I’m responsible for.

So, enough with the pontificating, let’s get this party started. This diss ain’t gonna write itself.

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