Posted by: nedlnthred | April 8, 2015

To Dissert or Not To Dissert…

A few weeks ago, my psychiatrist asked me if I really wanted to finish my dissertation.  He used the metaphor of a long play, with several intermissions, for which I had spent a fortune and a lot of effort to acquire tickets.  And he asked if the play were really terrible, would it really be worth sitting all the way through to the end just because of monies spent?

It had never occurred to me that I could get up and leave a play.

Patrick Stewart's wonderful MacBeth, which was endless, but I did NOT want to leave (NYT photo)

Patrick Stewart’s wonderful MacBeth, which was endless, but I did NOT want to leave (NYT photo)

I had all kinds of reactions to this framing, thinking about trilogies I had determinedly finished despite hating them completely.  Stephen R. Donaldson’s first three books immediately came to mind…

I hated the main character, the writing was turgid beyond belief, and nothing ever happened.  But the plot was so different (and yet, the standard hero-saves-world) from most of what I’d read that I actually made myself read the first three novels in this unending series, just to find out what the resolution of the initial problem would be. image image


I don’t even remember what the question *was*, just that I really wanted to know.  I do remember being disappointed at the lack of resolution (there are 2 or 3 further trilogies in this series, and I can only imagine how much agonizing on the part of the main character they cover, along with an astonishing lack of action, exciting or no.) when I finally finished.  But I did it.


I have railed at strangers who drop out of any sort of school when they are just a few more tests or a paper or months from completion.  I have held the hands of friends with this very same struggle.  Why go to all that work and not get the credential that you’ve done all that work *for*?  This behavior makes utterly no sense to me, especially as the requirements of the workforce escalate daily.

But it was a useful question.  Why am I trying to write this effin’ thesis, anyway?  Because I’ve been writing A LOT of stuff lately, and not. one. word. of it has been thesis related.  Ooops.  Here I sit, writing about writing, but not actually writing anything scholarly.  I’m *thinking* about doing it a lot.  (Acting rather a lot like Thomas Covenant, God forbid!)  But *doing* just about everything else but, in some weird, overcompensatingy way of trying to nail down everything in my life so that when I begin to really get into it, I’ll have deoderant and the bathrooms won’t be too dirty.  At least that’s the story I’m telling myself.

And it is at least partly true.  I had to come up with some kind of solution to get the student loan companies to lie down and quit whining, or I was going to lose my house.  Getting rid of that item of worry has cleared my concentration decks somewhat.  As has having a new bra that fits and isn’t poking me.  I’d like to clean the bejeezus out of my kitchen, but when I think that, I know I’m really deep into avoidance behavior, and beyond the reasonable time to spare.  But.  The kitchen still needs to be cleaned.


See? How do people work all day, get stuff done at night, and still keep a tidy house?? ‘Splain, please…


This is annoying the hell out of me, because I know better.  I *do* want this, and I want it to be done.  And I love the subject and want to continue to research it.  So where is the block??  Why am I sitting here with a list of things to read and digest, software I’m learning to plug it into, and just doing nothing?  (I haven’t become one of my cats, have I?)

Sorry, this is what's left by 6pm.

Sorry, this is what’s left by 6pm.


Weeeeellll there’s working for a living.  That’s a big problem here.  Because after a day of helping people, or writing other things, I want to come home and have a decent meal and a glass of wine or three and be entertained.  To let someone *else’s* story wash over me in pretty colors and lovely costumes and endless affection.


My job has been an utter frustration for many of the last few years.  I’m ready to leave it and  the uber-boss has indicated a time or two that he would not mind my so doing.



The Empress.  I blame her for my inertia.  Or maybe I've just become her.  Ooops.

The Empress. I blame her for my inertia. Or maybe I’ve just become her. Ooops.



However, at least for the moment, I need vacation time and health benefits to cover my writing period.  Oh, and pay for that house I mentioned earlier…and the student loans, eventually.  (And, of course, cat food.)  And I actually like working with design students and scholars of clothing and art.  It’s part of why I’m getting this damn degree anyway.  So I can do more of that, and get paid more, too.  Aaaahh, the humanities…


The nap tendencies of my companions do tend to inhibit my writing. There’s a laptop under one of those tails.


What do I want to be when I grow up?  That is a good part of why I have wanted for a very long time, mind you, to have finished a dissertation.  That is not the same as writing one, now, is it.  I know, I know, it’s not the last piece of research on a topic, it need not be exhaustive, it merely needs to be a solid argument well presented.


Huh.  I could leave the theatre.  I genuinely never thought of that.

One of the reasons it has been so difficult to get my head back down into the fray of my research (besides having financial and job-related stresses) is that my stalling has created disbelief on the part of my academic team (advisor, dean, other readers) that I am capable of finishing this project.  Which is a thing that genuinely never occurred to me.  (See, I’m still sitting in the theatre, you idiots!)  And their lack of confidence ironically makes it harder to do what I know I’m capable of.  I *know* that I can and even WILL write a well-researched and -written piece of research.  (My BFF points out that Geek Social Falacy #blah is that everyone knows what’s in one’s own head, so DUUHH!)  So why am I having such a goddamn hard time beginning the heavy lifting?

At least it’s nice to know I’m not the only one this has happened to.  But still, grrr.

And then there's the gardening I feel like I could be doing!

And then there’s the gardening I feel like I ought to be doing!


  1. I feel your pain, in every possible way!

    • Ha ha! I completely know you do, and if it weren’t for you, I’d be climbing out of my tiny, crazed mind.

  2. Starting is always the hardest part. I liken it to getting yourself into a cold pool of water — shocking and uncomfortable at first, but then as you stay submerged, it gets more bearable until it almost feels warm and you find you can hang out, all the way up to your neck, for as long as you like.

    It requires a shift in one’s thinking, in which you surrender to the primacy of the work and you rearrange your life a fair bit to make space for sitting there and delving in. Sometimes it means making a spreadsheet in which you map out your days and the amount or type of work you want to be doing on each day. Sometimes it means banishing all or most social life for a period of time. Sometimes it just plain means you have to heavily fantasize about the future — all the good that will come of this finished manuscript — and hold onto that movie in your head, replay it over, and over again, during the grind of the work itself. The power of the future fantasy is not to be under-estimated.

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