It’s been a crazy week. Between meeting with committee profes in small-midwestern college-town, attending a conference in Chicago and catching up with amig@s, I’m mentally and physically exhausted. And I didn’t even present at the conference! It’s funny how all the thinking—especially when it’s tied to professionalization, academic schmoozing and, well, your future—can just wear a homegirl down.
A few weeks ago I turned in a chapter draft to my main profa. She read it right away and suggested that I revisit my prospectus and reorganize my entire dissertation. The draft, she said, was unorganized and…well…not a historical study. Okay, she didn’t use those exact terms, but that’s what she meant. And she’s right. After spending weeks and weeks on this draft, I needed to start over. The truth is, I had no idea how to start writing a dissertation chapter, so I just picked out some of the old stuff I found in los archivos and dove right in. I forgot to tell the story, which is unusual for me because I do nothing but tell stories.
I’d relied on the advice other folks gave me which suggested that I “begin with the documents” and just start writing. Turns out, that’s not very useful advice. At least not for a historian, I guess. I have never been one to outline, so “just start writing” to me meant literally to just start writing. After all, that’s what I did for my undergrad and master’s theses. But a dissertation is an entirely different project. So I rewrote the outline with more specific prose about what each chapter is going to do and what it would discuss.
So yesterday my other co-chair helped map out the how-to’s of writing a history dissertation based on questions and articulation of my “analytical payoff.” I was pumped to get started right away. Then today I met with my newest committee member—someone I’d never worked with before, never even really talked with, but who does work in one of my main subfields. So I had no idea what her mentorship style was like. She also focused on my “analytical payoff” except she phrased it as the “so what?” question—as in, what is the methodological contribution my work will make to the field(s)? Same question as co-chair profe, but I was suddenly overwhelmed. So much so that I flaked and went to the wrong Starbucks for my next profe meeting, missing him all together.
One day—excited to write. Next day—totally freaked out and missing meetings. It’s like I’m on an emotional roller coaster with this dissertation thing, operating sometimes in crisis mode and sometimes just chill. I need to be just chill—as in, working diligently but calmly. I used to be that mujer. I can bring her back. Now off for some sangria before my flight to LA tomorrow!