Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Writing again.

It's no secret that I found graduate school to be totally demoralizing.  Not the whole thing, but the end there with the dissertation defense was pretty terrible.  I certainly could not imagine living anymore of my life under the shadow of a deadline.  The tenure clock made me want to vomit, and I was happy to have my academic staff position-- my dream job, really, a teaching job at the R1 I loved.  No pressure to publish.  Plenty of time to be with my family.  The opportunity to attend great lectures and talk with smart people whenever I want.  Life in the town that I have come to adore.  And just to be clear:  I still love my job and all of those things.  But lately, I have also been curious about what it might feel like to write again.  Not blogs and shitty novels in the month of November, but my scholarship.  The stuff I devoted years of my life to collecting and analyzing.

For awhile after I defended, I could not look at the desktop folder with my chapter drafts.  I shoved my archival research into the darkest corner of my basement.  The hardbound copies of my dissertation came, and I put them on the top shelves in my closet.  I submitted a chapter to a writing workshop group and then had an anxiety attack and did not make the trip to attend the workshop.

I watched friends graduate and publish books and move to new cities.  I greeted class after class of new grad students who assumed that I didn't have a PhD because I am not a professor.  I sometimes clicked on a chapter file or two.  One day I printed my favorite one out and carried it in my bag for 3 or 4 weeks like I was going to read it.

Last week, I attended a department colloquium about publishing articles aimed at grad students.  The main theme was get your stuff out the door.

This week, I started to do just that.

I am writing again, and it feels nice. 

I remember my process, the pre-writing, the writing, the shame spiral, the revision.

I remember being an undergraduate smoking cigarettes and writing shitty poetry I thought was beautiful.  Sometimes I want to go back in time and shake the undergrad me by the shoulders and say "Why the hell are you getting so fat?  Don't you know you'll never be this young and lovely ever again?"  Lately, though, I want to be her again for a few days, worrying about line breaks and relishing the wight of words without really understanding their significance.  She was not afraid to fail gloriously, took a class with a big time poet and wrote a terrible paper about a single word in a poem (avuncular) and always read her work out loud when the poet asked for volunteers.  She blithely entered writing contests-- and won them-- but didn't care when she lost (those assholes didn't know poetry).  She was too dumb to know all she didn't know, and I'd love to be that blissful again.

But for now, I am writing.

I've been teaching rhetorical criticism to juniors and seniors for 3 years, know all the critical methods, can recite scholarly conversations verbatim.  I should feel like I know what I'm talking about, but instead I am that nervous graduate student in a conference room, the one who had babies instead of going on the job market, who couldn't find her thesis sentence in her dissertation defense if her life depended on it (and it did, kind of), who told her nervous self that if she could make it through this next hour, she'd never have to do anything academic again.

Well, shit.  We've been in the third person for awhile, huh?

I'm writing again.  I have some anxiety about it.  Clearly.


  1. Good for you! Enjoy it, without the horrible dissertation pressure. Can't wait to hear how it goes!

  2. I know *exactly* how you feel. Especially this part:

    "I should feel like I know what I'm talking about, but instead I am that nervous graduate student in a conference room, the one who had babies instead of going on the job market..."

    I have major inadequacy issues that have only very recently, and after three years at an institution where almost no one is doing research (in my department) and I feel like doing anything is better than nothing, started to come out of it. Like in the last several months. I can only imagine how I would feel at an R1!

    Good for you for starting it up again. I am trying to do the same and it is so so hard. I think it's good, though.

  3. It. Is. So. Hard. I'm right there with you. The struggle to write, the feelings of inadequacy that can paralyze, the desire to spend my time doing other stuff. Important stuff! But not publishing... So anyway, good for you. There's a book by Wendy Belcher that I've found invaluable called Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks.

  4. Thank you for writing this Sarah. It is comforting to know that someone else, a person that I look up to, feels something similar to what I feel. I struggle with a chronic and at times debilitating inferiority complex--not suggesting this is what you are describing--and reading your post made me feel a little less worried about succeeding. If you ever need a very armature reader, I am very willing. Keep writing!

  5. By the way, this is Brandi. I realize you might not know my "google" name.

  6. Oh, have I been there! Only journalistic writing was my fear, and academic writing was my safety net, until I learned that I actually enjoy it.

    You reminded me of a great quotation from Ira Glass about creativity and writing. It always makes me feel better about writing. Good luck!