Friday, June 4, 2010

On Trauma and Grad School


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via my best friend gayle by summer of sam on 6/4/10

The first graduate school seminar paper I ever wrote may be the reason why I can't seem to write this dissertation with any sort of alacrity or diligence.  I got a decent grade, but one of the closing comments, "This paper is lucid and fun to read, but under researched," may have fucked me up a little.  (Obviously.  I can quote the thing verbatim.)  Since then, I've had problems turning in papers on time.  Deadlines have become almost meaningless, unless they're backed with serious "We're going to kick your black ass out of this department, and you'll have to get a real job" type threats.

I got in trouble--sort of, again--today during my annual meeting because I'm just not producing the quantity of work my committee wants me to.  I told my committee that this probably has to do with the fact that I just can't stop reading.  Seriously.  For fear of being under researched, I just keep reading.  It's so bad that my co-chair forbade me from reading another book.  All I'm allowed to do for the next five months is write.  It's true.  She wrote it down and signed it.  It's in my file.

I also know that reading is a way to prolong the beginning of the writing process.  I don't know why  I do this to myself, as writing may be the only thing I'm decent at.  Yet, I'm not being hyperbolic when I say that sometimes it takes me hours, days to return a simple email.  I've been "working" on a three paragraph letter for a week.  (Holyfield.)  What was once just anxiety about academic writing occasionally spreads to other genres.  The paralysis is frustrating.  I'm not sure what to do about it, especially when I'm balling on a budget and have no real desire to return to therapy to discuss the fact that I'm not producing work.  (How is that helpful?)

Blogging has been, and on some days remains one of the few spaces where I can write with some sort of ease.  Still, there are plenty of times when even getting words on this kind of page is more difficult than it is for Maury Ballsteen to piss.Yet the difficulty I've been having lately compels me to think that maybe the occasion "spread" of writer's block is more frequent, and scarily, more permanent. 

I know my procrastination was exacerbated the moment I read those comments.  I interpreted them in a way that has caused me to perpetually question my own authority.  For instance, I have a tendency to look up words I know the meaning of just to make sure I'm using it correctly--and I'll use two different internet dictionaries just to be really sure.  I think I rationalized those words as someone telling me that I was terribly misinformed, or worse really wrong, and I just haven't been able to deliver myself. 

I don't know if this whole you-can't-read-another-book strategy will work, but I hope it does.  If not, I'm going to start looking for a self-esteem boot camp.  I need to be broken down mentally, so I can build myself back up.  I need to abandon those seminar paper comments, procrastination, perfectionism, and crippling self-doubt for good.  But I can't do that right now.  I have a dissertation to write.


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