Dissertation Progress- Well, that sucked

by - Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Tonight, after being stuck in our apartment while police were staking out an apartment in our complex (no joke! so weird) I headed to the workshop I've been in all summer to get my dissertation proposal critiqued. As has been clear on this blog, I have been struggling with this thing for months and months, and have been in a waiting pattern with my adviser all summer to get the last draft back, but I was convinced that the latest iteration was some picked gnits away from being ready to turned in.

Turns out, not so much.

The faculty member teaching the workshop (who is 1 third of my committee) spent a solid hour, going paragraph by paragraph, tearing the thing up. This actually was pretty helpful, albeit frustrating, because it was the first time I got a clear picture of what was working (a couple sentences spread here and there) and what wasn't (everything else). Even parts I thought were pretty solid got absolutely torn up. The heart of the issue is that I spend a good chunk of the proposal "meandering" and that there are places where I need to be pushing much harder conceptually, and I am just not.  A big part of it is that it just comes off as very wussy, unwilling to take a hard stand, and vague when it needs to be specific. In fact, he said to write one that I felt was way too polemical, and then try to tone it down vs writing a bunch of noncommittal slush.

So, that sucked.

But what actually bothered me the most about the whole event (much more so than just the fact that I really need to pull this together but have a few other things on my plate right now) were all the looks the other grad students in the room were giving me. I got lots of little smiles or sad eyes, and I got that feeling I always get at grad school. They feel sorry for me. They feel bad for me because they know I am not measuring up. I HATE that look. Even people who are generally very sweet, and who I know are perfectly nice people, suddenly seem to be so smug. Because, in my head, they feel bad for me (that part is not in my head... they really do give you "oh you poor thing" faces) but they also take pleasure in my failure, because they know they are better than me.

Even if this is true, I have a lot of trouble understanding why the condescending poor you faces still absolutely crush every part of my soul. The reason, which is no one's fault but my own, is that somewhere along the line, I believed the look. When it comes to school, the part of my life that used to be really fun and just for me and where I could be sassy and inappropriate and have big rude not polite opinions, I am now weak and quiet and I truly do doubt whether I am actually good enough to be here. All the time. I do not recognize grad-school Barbara, but man am I sick of being stuck with her. She is a whiner. She won't own what she thinks. She avoids what used to be fun exercises of creative thought because she is sure nothing she comes up with will be any good. She avoids people who want to talk about the things she cares about out of fear they will want her opinion. She is truly the worst!

It makes me feel sad that the people I go to grad school with in general probably think I am a nice enough person. I doubt there is much value in being nice beyond a constant appeal for people to please just like you! Please! But much worse than that, I am so sick of churning junk out and then pushing it around the paper, rather than enjoying learning and researching and thinking. I hate that the fact that I got tore up (from the floor up- does that saying relate to dissertation proposals?) is very likely closely tied to this giant anvil of insecurity and mediocrity I am trying to shake off my leg. I don't own my arguments, I actually hide them in a bunch of unneccesary efforts to "cover my bases" because I am ashamed of what I think, because I am sure they aren't good enough.

Of course, as I write this, I recognize that a certain amount of the solution is to just get over myself and just do it, but I have been doing this for four years now, and I still feel like I am drowning in the same puddle. Like I know my face is in the puddle, and I can see everyone else crawling (or running along) but I just drag my face in the puddle. So I really don't know how to turn this around and I feel very lost. In general, I think I need to stop mourning what I have become and move on. Maybe I am really selfish now. Maybe I will never be as smart as the people around me. Maybe I will never belong anywhere again. None of this should keep me from writing a 15 page paper! None of it!

Anyway, this has turned onto a really long and whiny tangent. The next step is to take the night to just shake off the embarrassment/ frustration/ whatever and tomorrow I will start putting the notes into action. Because even if it takes me 10 years, I am getting through this stupid thing.

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  1. Jeez, this just brought back so many of seminary insecurities. Power through love.