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Structure, form, and writing like a maniac

Dear Abby,

I’ve been struggling with the dissertation thing and only this week got out of thinking about it in terms of a Ph.D.—complete book, professional affirmation, personal achievement, not being a slouch, having completed something in the professional realm, a way of showing “those bastards”—all the baggage you can imagine me or anyone freighting the scholarly devices of Ph.D. and dissertation with.

Instead, I’m trying to confine my thinking about the dissertation to the next set of notes, thoughts, and paragraphs. I’ve planned a structure for my days that makes that easier for me. I’m in the library writing and researching every morning from 8 a.m. to noon. Afternoons, I promised myself to put the dissertation away, except for extra history research reading that I will treat as reading for pleasure and joy only. Anything that looks like work will be anathema.

I was thinking just this morning, “Maybe if I had another piece of writing to work on in the afternoons after I’ve done my work in the library . . . ” Then, of course, I thought, “This river story is going to mean another revision, and probably another after that.” That fantastic work would keep my head from flying around too much in the afternoon after I finished working through my very sorry whatever-strikes-me-at-the-time research method in the morning. Particularly afternoons when I want to just write. Period.

I will also use afternoons and weekends to read whatever I want for pleasure and joy. (Just this weekend, I swallowed, nearly whole, The Martian Chronicles, a book I love and haven’t read for thirty years. A fact made all the more salient in that I am not fan of a sci-fi.) I lost the delight of reading as an end to itself during the Master’s coursework and didn’t get it back for years. I lost it again during the doctoral coursework and have only been able to pick it up again in the last several weeks.

The afternoons, then, I don’t feel like reading or writing, I will work in my welding certifications, getting ready for classes this Fall, and taking pictures and making prints for my first show in September. (Yee-haw!)

So, I guess, I’ve decided to accept myself as an artist and writer, in addition to being a common laborer. I look back and realize I’ve been living this life for a long time now but haven’t allowed myself the luxury of saying so.

Thus, your E-mail arrives as a welcome and happy confirmation of past effort that diminishes my ability to doubt my present and future endeavor. It would be very easy for me to lose perspective on the (non) seriousness of the dissertation and fall into a cycle of working harder, being less satisfied with the results, working harder, getting less done, working harder, etc. . . . and winding up back in the hospital for more long talks with doctors, psychologists, and caseworkers. That’s why having my book to work through again is a real help and great thing for me.

I temper all this with the knowledge that the river book is hardly off the ground and we are at the start of a longer process that doesn’t have a firm conclusion until I’m hawking the book at library talks and as a Barnes and Noble stoolie.

I suppose, if I had put this E-mail into the few words it really should have been, I would have written:

I’m glad you took the effort to read my work and liked the book. I’m overjoyed to have direction and the work of revision in front of me. My writing, while an individual artistic and creative exertion, needs the perspective that makes it more than effort at telling people about what a solipsist I can be. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your energy and fine eye, even if this book doesn’t wind up making it to the bookshelves .

Which it will. I can do this. If I have any confidence at all, it is in my ability to do this.

Thanks, Abby.


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