Things That Are Not My Dissertation

Well, it's been a while since I wrote here, and I've been so busy that I'm finding myself fairly incapable of writing anything coherent that's longer than a paragraph. This is, of course, a major problem when you're writing a dissertation. But hey, this is a website, and so coherence isn't necessary. We're going random again.

I finally finished my holiday letter this weekend. That's right - when I say "holiday letter," I mean "whatever holiday is closest to the time I actually get the letter done," and this year, it's looking like President's Day. And that's when I got it done. Considering that there are 70some people on my Holiday Card List, by the time I get them all sent out, it's going to be closer to St. Patrick's Day. I'm just hoping that the people who're on my list haven't yet written me off - or are wondering if for some reason they got cut from the list! (For the record, only one person was cut from the list, and she's a fairly obvious one…) Of course, I don't even know how many people actually read the holiday letter, but once you start the tradition, it's hard to stop. And I do know some people read it, so I write it and figure if they want to throw it out, they can throw it out.

I also find that the holiday letter is a nice way to recap the year for myself. I go over the major events of the year, and realize that by December, I've forgotten things that happened in May, and it's nice to remind myself of them, especially when they're good things - like The One And Only's parents installing a new hardwood floor in our house. It's also a good reminder that a year is a long time - a reminder that I seem to be needing a lot lately, as I'm worried that a year is nowhere near long enough to write a few dissertation chapters.

Of course, I still have the German version to write, and the actual cards to write too, so for all I know, this whole process will stretch to April Fool's Day or later.

I've also been teaching again. I haven't taught for a year, because I've had administrative positions that gave me a teaching release. That was a luxury, and I forgot just how much a luxury it was until I went back to teaching. Teaching is a lot of work. It's even more work if you're teaching on a MWF schedule, instead of the T/Th schedule that I'm used to. You're almost always preparing for class. I'm glad that I'm not a grade school teacher, where you prepare for five of the seven days of the week!

I'm teaching five books this semester, four of which I have never taught before. That means a lot of extra work - work that is worthwhile, and work that I can fall back on down the road when I teach these books again, but for now, it's work that's also keeping me from writing my dissertation. Given that my committee has put substantial - and not unjustified - pressure on me to produce more, and read more, for that all-important document, I'm thinking that maybe teaching a mostly-new course this semester was just not that smart an idea. Either way, of course, I also have tons of student papers to grade, essay prompts to make up, quizzes to construct, and all the other busywork that goes along with teaching an introductory literature course, regardless of what books I'm teaching.

But the advantage of getting back to teaching after a year's absence is that teaching reminds me why I'm doing this dissertation in the first place. I love teaching. It energizes me, and I learn so much from watching my students wrestle with the ideas and texts I put in front of them. It keeps me grounded, and reminds me that I need to be able to explain my ideas to a room full of freshmen. The dissertation writing process often detaches you from any audience other than fellow grad students and professors, and we all know the jargon that, to outsiders, seems unreadable. Being able to teach keeps me real, reminds me that if I can't explain what I'm doing to my students, I'm doing something wrong.

And then, a step further away from my classroom, I'm reading applications for a selective college (a college I otherwise don't have anything to do with, so these aren't students I'll be seeing in my classes anytime soon). Almost all the applicants are stellar students - a GPA above 4.0 is not rare - but this has provided me with a rather disturbing insight into the college-prep culture, which is apparently getting more competitive with every passing year. I am very glad I am not a high school senior or junior right now, because the pressure seems enormous, even from where I stand. Given the confidentiality agreement, that's really all I can say right now. Except that, when you have thirty applications to read - and we're talking kids' futures here, so I really don't want to skimp on the time I spend with these - it really takes time away from the other things I should be focusing on. Like, say, my dissertation. I mean, I'm not complaining. It's a really interesting experience, and they're paying me well; but I still think that I'm not going to mention this particular job to my dissertation advisors anytime soon!

And then, on a note completely unrelated to academic life, I think we finally found a location for our wedding! I'm very excited; they're pretty much full-service, very affordable (surprisingly, given their quality), and best of all, they're ethical. Yes, ethical.

One of our first questions for every potential location has been, "Do you do gay weddings?" because we really don't want to give our - or rather, my parents' - money to a place that isn't going to be welcoming and open to commitment ceremonies, at least. (In the process, we've discovered that money is a great equalizer - so far, no one has objected to gay weddings; so long as you pay the location fee, who cares what you do with it.) But at this place, we also spent some time discussing the San Francisco decision to issue marriage certificates to gay couples (which had just started that morning), and it was clear that it wasn't just about who had the money, but that it was a political issue on which we saw eye to eye. They also understood immediately when we said we had decided against a diamond ring for ethical reasons.

They were surprised, but pleased, to hear that one of the reasons we'd been drawn to the place was their commitment to organic, local produce, and their overall ethics. This place is so much better than merely "not objectionable," which is what we thought we'd have to settle for. This is the kind of place we'd actually like to support! They buy from local, organic farmers and ranchers, support sustainable, environmentally responsible growth, and they strike me as a remarkably ethical place. (Heck, their classy tablecloths are made of hemp!) "Ethical" is not a word you hear often in conjunction with the wedding industry, but these people seem to be the real deal - and the place is really nice, and affordable. Plus, they do almost everything for you - ceremony set-up, reception set-up, food, bartending, flowers - and since The One And Only and I both plan to be finishing up our dissertations around the same time as we get married, a place that not only is ethical, but does it all, is extremely attractive. I'd rather not be chasing down caterers and florists while working out what to say at my dissertation defense, and I love not having to worry about whether the money we're paying them is going to support some agenda we want no part of. (Plus, the place itself is really gorgeous!) All in all, it's a perfect fit, more perfect than we thought was possible, and so we're both really excited!

Heh. Imagine that. I thought there was no coherence here, but it turns out it's all about what's keeping me from my dissertation. Perhaps that means that, instead of writing more here on this site, I should go do something for that all-encompassing work.

Yep, probably, I should…


15. February 2004


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