Friday, March 15, 2013

Mad Dash

I have had about ten days to work  on my introduction, and got about fifteen pages written -- all of which summarized Irish history -- which took a lot of work. Then I had a meeting with the helpful professor at the local campus, who strongly suggested that this was going to be too broad and too long and wasn't a real introduction to my project.

So, what I need to do instead is explain my argument and the reasons for it. In other words, do exactly what is so difficult that I do everything I can to avoid it. I would much rather just summarize Irish history for a while and hope that explains why I am doing my study. That meeting was on Tuesday, and I've just been clenched up in anxiety and frustration since then. I think I've written half a sentence since. I was supposed to turn this in yesterday, and instead it's almost two and I've got half a sentence done. I feel sick to my stomach with how hard this is going to be and how little time I have to do it in. My main argument is "this is different! and cool! just like Ireland!" and I've been repeatedly told this isn't a good enough thesis, which is one of the things that disenchants me about academia. Why does a close reading + historical context-based reading have to say anything other than "look at what I found"?

Tomorrow is full, too: I had a sealant recently applied by the dentist crack so I had to make an emergency appointment. My back hates me spending 12 hours at my deck, so I need to get a massage, and I was supposed to have lunch with a colleague tomorrow, but I didn't realize we had a dinner scheduled with friends. My boyfriend doesn't want me to skip out on our regular dinner with friends, so pushed me to cancel my lunch instead. I strongly do not want to attend this dinner. I want the hours to work or sleep. I don't care as much about these regular dinners as he does, probably because they are more his friends than mine.

I tried to get up early today to work, and I did read an essay that was great, but I really didn't sit down to write until 6 PM, in my usual fashion. I genuinely don't know what happens to me during daylight hours.

I've taken the last two weeks off from the publishing gig to work on my diss, and apparently there have been numerous crises. I am looking forward to digging back in, but having these two weeks off has also been great. I am not exhausted at 5 PM, I don't have to show up anywhere at a particular time, my boyfriend is also working from home, so we get to hang out, and I haven't had to negotiate once. Back on Monday, though.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Typography and Book Design

I am mostly an amateur enthusiast when it comes to book design and typography. I have handset letterpress and made my own very tiny book, I have read guides on typography (for fun, mind you), and have studied the material construction of books of poetry as part of my dissertation. So, I know the terminology, but I have not worked with inDesign, I've never worked with commercial printers, nor have I worked within comercial constraints.

Still, I have OPINIONS -- of course I do. And when our galleys came back with a half inch, max, of margins, 12-point Times New Roman font, and single spacing, I nearly flipped. I've already explained several times that you can't use a regular old serif typeface (ahem, "font" so I don't sound like a ponce) as your typeface for a title. And that you should match your title page and chapter headings closely in spirit to the typeface used on the cover. All you have to do to know that is look at literally ANY decent book.

These galleys looked like someone just took a Word file and printed it -- which was basically what was done. I felt bad, because it had looked fine as a PDF, so I OK'd it. It was astonishing how different it looked on screen and in print. Amazing how cramped and dense 35 lines per page looks compared to 25.

I think one thing my grad degree has taught me is how to learn the conventions of one's genre, and how to appear to belong. And how to teach yourself everything, since no-one else will do it for you. So I get frustrated when people don't do that.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Three Weeks to Go

All of February, and the first five days of March, I was working on a chapter about the elusive, creative  Irish poet Catherine Walsh. I find her asyntactic, paratactic writing to be extraordinarily challenging to make an argument about, because to me, it could be so easy to prove wrong. This, I've realized has been a huge problem of mine in grad school: I can always see the holes in my own argument, and that not only paralyzes me, but I keep inserting caveats and undermining my own claims. In high school I was an attorney in our Mock Trial program for  three years. I was very good at it, but partly because I always felt that I was lying because I could see all the holes and gaps in my argument and the strengths of the oppositions, so I frantically tried to fill those gaps in as much as possible. Yet, the feeling of telling half-truths was always there.

But, in any case, I finished writing 40 pages. I sent it off, despite the fact that I knew there were huge problems in it (like.... not having a convincing argument), but I had to move on, so I let it go. I promptly received feedback from one of my committee members to the effect that he loved my close-readings, but did not perceive a strong structure holding it together, and wants me to rewrite/revise. Which I expected. I didn't expect the praise for the readings, nor for him to get back to me so quickly!

I'm trying to move forward to writing the intro now. At this point, sans intro, I believe I would estimate my dissertation to be about 140 pp. A bit light, but that doesn't include the interviews I'll be including. I've been looking at tons of intros -- they vary from 15-50 pages, and I've even heard of a 95 page one! I am just hoping mine will be 30. I am excited about it, partially because it requires mostly a literature review and historical background for the project. I think it should be a matter of positioning myself among the other scholars.  My dissertation is light on footnotes, especially this most recently chapter, which I am afraid might be symptomatic of a lack of deep contextualizing reading. Hopefully I'll have the opportunity to make it up in the intro.

I am taking time off from work to finish this project -- thank goodness my boss is OK with that. Only 1 more week, though, and then I'm back. That means 7 days to write the intro, then, as quickly as possible, address issues with the first  chapter, add another 10 pp to turn 1 chapter into 2 shorter ones, and rewrite my 3rd chapter. I hope the latter Herculean tasks can be accomplished in 10 days.

Simultaneously, I am trying to oversee production, acquisition, editing, etc for the publishing company, Right now, I am taking a backseat, but that doesn't stop the publisher complaining to me of costs (maybe he shouldn't have an amateur do the typesetting and maybe he should pay his printers) and the authors complaining to me about missing checks. The only thing I can do abut either of those is nag the people with money.

I joined a website called Versatile Ph.D. recently. Great forums and support for making a career outside of academia. My only concern is how many of the English Ph.D.s are now either dissertation editors (perpetuating the very system that they left) or are freelance editors. Both seem like unsavory choices, to me, but maybe I only see the instability of freelance work and not its upsides.

OK: I need to get a page or two written today, and then I will be on the right track! 5 pages every day for the next 7 days will sort me out!