You know that dicho, “never put off until tomorrow what you can do today?” Wasn’t it some famous ole dead white dude, like Ben Franklin or someone, who said that? I just looked it up in The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, and all it says is, “don’t procrastinate.” Well, duh. Guess you don’t have to historicize a damn thing to be “culturally literate.” Sheesh.
I am the biggest procrastinator ever. I mean, ever! And I’ve always known this, but I’ve been realizing it in a deeper way over the last few months, since I’ve become…dmm dmm doommmm…what academics masochistically call “ABD.” All but dissertation. It’s the final step. The only thing you have left to do before being hooded. (It’s so medieval, really. Like getting knighted! Too bad they don’t give out those fancy shmancy pens anymore like on A Beautiful Mind, because I like school supplies a lot. But maybe the pens are only reserved the truly brilliant whose intelligence is recognized by the ivories.) It was very exciting when I first reached this very official status in my grad program, several months ago. But now all it means is that I am on my own to research this enormous project, travel to tons of archives to look at dusty old papers, read every book available on any topic remotely related, and write my own freakin’ book about it so I can get a job or, in the very least, the satisfaction that I completed a PhD. (Honestly? I’m aiming for the job. The satisfaction is just icing on the cake. And I’m not a fan of icing unless it’s whipped cream based. I need to pay off some damn loans, that nasty credit card debt and buy a car designed so I can see over the freakin dash. I need to feel like an adult, gosh darn it!)
Along the road toward the PhD, these are things the profes have told me I need to do, in no particular order:
- You must do original work.
- You must keep a regular schedule.
- You must write a little bit every day.
- You must join a writing group for support.
- Don’t hang out too much with people who are preparing for exams because they’re boring, stressed out and won’t be very helpful right now. (Huh? What if they’re my homies?)
- You must also work on turning your Master’s thesis into an article submission—do this during the evenings because you’ll be working on the dissertation in the daytime. (Because there really are that many hours in the day? What was I thinking?)
- Go to the gym so you can have human contact every day (This one I wrote about before).
- You must go to conferences, present your work and network with other scholars. (This one’s contradictory because they say you must stake your claim to your original work by making yourself known, but since knowledge is collectively produced, networking is supposed to build community. What?)
- You must cherish this time because it’s the last time you’ll focus only on your dissertation. (And I thought it could only get better!)
- You must not take too long, because no one should take too long, but also because you’ve been in grad school for too long. (I have been in grad school for a long time, but not “too long” even according to their standards.)
- And my all-time favorite: you must make “progress” (mind you, these are people who do not believe in linear narratives and who like to deconstruct the state and notions of modernity, so I find their use of “progress” to be fraught with irony).
Okay, so that’s a lot to juggle, I think. And of course, there’s plenty more that I’m probably forgetting at the moment.
Anyway, lately, I’ve been struggling with the idea of “original work.” I don’t believe that anything is truly “original.” I also don’t believe that any one person can “own” knowledge or the production of it (because the idea of ownership of knowledge is a colonialist and capitalist construct, and we are still fighting against colonialism!) Still, every time I read about something that is remotely similar to my work, I have small panicy feelings deep in my gut. And I know better. I know not to focus on that stuff and to just keep on with my own work and to focus on “what YOU want to work on” as profe JC Brown (friend, not committee member) says. But even if I think about all these things, I can’t seem to shake the panic or the sinking feeling I get whenever I read secondary sources written by historians (which is not often enough, believe me).
And the panic makes me want to avoid…everything, not even just my pinche dissertation. Yes friends, I’m in procrastination MODE. Oh yes, it has become a way of life, a cultural practice of living! For example, I’ve been putting off my taxes, but must do them by tomorrow because I’m going out of town to a conference (more on the conference in a later post). I also put off applying for a passport, so this morning I waited 2 entire hours at the post office and paid $160 for an expedited application so that I can go with mis manitos and mis primos to México in a few weeks. And I put off looking at those history syllabi that I’m supposed to be evaluating for official approval on behalf of the testing serpents. Now I should be working on my dissertation, but all I want to do is take a nap. For realz.
I know I’m not the only one who feels overwhelmed by this process or similar ones. And while I do think it is hard work, it’s a pretty cushy deal to be an academic. So why isn’t it easier to just get to working? Is it about getting over one’s self? Is it just a transition period? Will the panic ever go away? How do you work through the contradictions of being a radical academic? Or a brown woman academic? Or both? What are your stories?