Thursday, June 26, 2014

I’m PhinisheD!

It is PhinisheD. Yep, somehow I finished my dissertation, defended it, and graduated. And I’m back! (on my blog, that is).

To start, I must first apologize to my small but faithful cadre of readers. I should not have abandoned you. To write an (at least somewhat) inspirational blog post about the joy of spending Thanksgiving Day at McDonald’s, then to disappear without a word, for over six months—such behavior is unacceptable. Perhaps I can explain it, but I cannot justify it. No, scratch that….I cannot explain it, because I do not fully understand it myself.

Still, even if inadequate, an explanation is warranted. Here goes…

Words cannot describe the emotional, mental, and physical drain of my last four months of dissertating. (Keep in mind that “drain” is not always negative….intense joy can be draining too!) A few days after that Thanksgiving blog post, I set my dissertation defense date, for January 31, 2014. Driven by a fear of not finishing (two chapters had not been even begun, and the other chapters were extremely rough), I found myself able to work far longer and harder than should have been possible.

Once the draft was “finished” (no more unwritten sections), I turned to revising, trying to bring the rough sections up to snuff, in hopes they would pass muster with my committee. I revised until I ran out of time, and then I sent it off—hoping for the best but fearing the worst. I knew my paper still had very real flaws, and I knew my committee had very real standards. However, I was unsure of the seriousness of the flaws relative to the standard.

The process is rather like being in a dark tunnel and having to leap over an unseen rock wall, of unknown height. You know you need to jump high, but you don’t know how high. Until you jump, you don’t know what will happen—you might sail cleanly over the top; or you might hit the wall hard, hard enough to bruise and batter your body, and then fall back down the way you came. With luck, your head will not crack open and you’ll be able to try again another day. Or, you might jump almost high enough but not quite—just high enough to grab the top with your fingernails and somehow drag your body over the wall, scraping yourself up but successfully arriving on the other side.

As it turns out, I made it over the wall with nary a scratch. All the writing training, feedback, and hours of revision paid off—I only had to do a few tiny edits after my committee read my paper. A few more tiny edits (formatting) for the Thesis Office, and I was done. (Some of these “tiny edits” were rather time-consuming, such as paring my abstract down to the specified 350 words, obsessing over my Acknowledgments, and looking up doi numbers for my 128 references—these tasks were mostly enjoyable, not stressful.)

Somewhere in the process of finishing my dissertation, all my creative writing energy was drained away. It was as if someone opened a spigot and just let it all pour out onto the ground. Blog ideas used to constantly invade my brain. I didn’t always write them up, but I thought of them…sometimes I even started writing them, and stashed them in the archives for later polishing (nope, I still haven’t slain the perfectionism monster). But from November to March, no inspiration. It had been stolen away, maybe by physical exhaustion, maybe by the mental effort of writing, maybe by the intensity of emotion, from fear to overwhelming joy. I had no energy to do what I should have done—start writing in hopes inspiration would strike.

After I cleared the Thesis Office in early March, I started to feel normal again and vowed to restart my blog. The problem was, that after such a long absence and after an event so momentous as a Ph.D. graduation, I was convinced my next blog post had to be SPECTACULAR. It had to engaging, inspiring, and beautifully written. Anything less would be a disappointment and might even out me as a fraud. I made a few token efforts, but they all fell short.

Finally, I came to my senses and gave up. If my first blog post as a Ph.D. had to be good, my blog was doomed. I can’t let that happen. This little blog has been a creative outlet and a source of joy for me (plus, it’s great writing practice!)…. I’m not willing to let it go.

Onward and forward… a new chapter in my blogging life awaits.

P.S. Interestingly, I started this blog almost exactly three years ago, on June 22, 2011. I just missed my three-year anniversary. I thought of waiting three more days, until June 29, so this post could land on June 29, the anniversary of my first real post (rather than the intro post marking the existence of the blog). But I decided the risks were too great—if I suffered a perfectionism attack during those three days, my blog might sit idle for another six months. Better to strike now, while my courage holds.