Junk in Your Trunk
During my first meeting with the man who would become my dissertation advisor, I told him, with complete sincerity, “If I'm not done with this program in four years, I want you to kick me out.”
I should say that my program required two years of coursework. We had to take written and oral prelims. Not the kind of prelims with a reading list built around your dissertation proposal, oh no. These prelims were in three distinct subfields for which the department may or may not have offered coursework. I also planned on doing a qualitative study. More precisely, an ethnography.
You don’t need me to do the math, but I feel duty bound to lay it out anyway: Even if I’d zipped through all the steps of becoming ABD in the first three years (I didn’t), there was no way I was going to enter and exit the field, code and analyze my data, write the diss, get feedback from my committee, and revise to their satisfaction—all within the fourth year of my program. To say nothing of depositing it, a poorly explained process with the grad school that required submitting the proper paperwork months ahead of time and enduring an in-person, page-by-page formatting review that reduced the heartiest of grad students to a jellied bundle of tears.
In other words, there was no frickin’ way I was going to finish the program in four years.
“I did not think I was an atrocious writer,” my friend Ashani texted me a few months ago, “until a prestigious journal told me in two rounds of reviews that my writing is unclear. Argghh!”
The next day, I got an urgent message from a former coaching client that began, “I know you’re busy but…” When I got him on the phone later that afternoon, he said he’d just gotten some discouraging feedback about an article he’d thought was ready to send out for review. By the time we spoke, he was thinking of giving up on the piece entirely.
A few hours later, I talked with a current client, a junior faculty member who was presenting and publishing at a steady rate, but nevertheless felt worried about her tenure file. An article she thought was a perfect fit for a special issue had been rejected and she was pretty disappointed. After talking about it for a while, she finally voiced the fear that lay beneath her disappointment:
“Maybe,” she said slowly, “I’m just not cut out for this job.”
Several years ago, only a few months after I'd moved to a new city, my Fun Friends Nick and Hillary came to visit. They’re maybe ten years younger than me—so, they’re old enough that we have things in common, but young enough that I’m pained every time they mention when they graduated from high school.
I’m grateful to Nick and Hillary for many different types of fun: it’s because of them that I’m on Insta and that I Bitmoji. When we all lived in the same city, they were the reason my husband and I had Fourth of July BBQs to go to and Karaoke invites to decline. And when they come to visit us, they give us the energy to plan all the fun stuff we feel too tense and cranky and busy to plan on our own: We go hunting for blackberries. We take impromptu day trips. We have late dinners with tall drinks in dim lighting.
We sleep in.
Gimme a Break
One Saturday night, after 10 minutes of searching, I found my glasses in the kitchen cabinet where I keep the plates and bowls. My choir was giving a concert that evening, and I was just about to leave when I realized I couldn't drive if I couldn't see. At first, I’d circled our apartment slowly, with calm deliberation. After a few minutes though, I became more frantic. I whirled through each room, a tiny, anxious hurricane, leaving a trail of upturned objects in my wake.
Tradition: Using Rituals to Help You Write
Every year it's the Same. Old. Thing. I think we should do something different for Thanksgiving Dinner, and my parents want turkey. I’ll take anything, really. How about ham, dripping with bourbon glaze? A roast duck maybe! I’m a devoted carnivore but I might even be willing to try a Tofurkey. Anything but a boring bird, a bigger, more decadent version of the supermarket rotisserie chicken that somehow ends up on our dining room table every other week or so.
Next Time You'll Do Eighteen
It's OK Not to Write
I’d just opened my laptop when my niece Sidney floated in and flopped down on the couch. When we have visitors, part of my office turns into a guest room…which means I get displaced from my writing space. I'd spent a week working on my bedroom floor, hunched over my laptop with an aching back and a bad attitude, so this was my first chance to write in an upright position. I gave her the side-eye when she came in, but said nothing. Instead, I put my hands on the keyboard and hoped she would hear their silent plea: please, please, please don’t start talking to me.
She starts talking to me.
I heard a rumor last week that summer was over. The person who mentioned it didn’t actually refer to summer’s death. It was more like she announced its funeral. “July is ending,” wrote my friend Amalia, in her no nonsense way, “which means one thing: the syllabus must happen.”
At the time I snorted, filled with the starchy hauteur of a woman in denial. It’s the middle of July, I thought, as I rolled my eyes. That’s a little excessive, isn’t it? Even those of us wrapped in the cocoon of a forthcoming leave feel a muted sense of alarm when August comes around—so I blew off her comment. Then a few days later, I was trying to think through what I wanted to get done the next week, and I saw that “next week” and “August” were the same thing. Damn, I thought. Summer’s over.
Protect Your Writing Mind
So I’m walking toward my office one Monday morning, just itching to sit down and write. I’d had plenty of sleep over the weekend, and my head was buzzing with ideas about the book I was working on. So many, in fact, that I had a mass of Post-It notes plastered to my hand. Each one said Idea, Idea! on it, followed by at least one juicy phrase. I knew I could make something out of them, I just needed a little time to sit. To sift. To think.
But when I stepped into my office, there were these…interlopers lounging around.
Want in One Hand
I don't know about you, but I come from a people who believe deeply in follow through. When The Boyd Family says we're leaving at 6:45 for a 7:30 movie, we are all assembled at the door at 6:43. Shoes tied, coats on, keys in hand. At 6:44 we are climbing into the car. At 6:45 we are rumbling down the driveway. When my laid-back, unsuspecting husband strolls down the stairs in his socks at ten to seven and says "oh is it time to go?" my parents just give him the side-eye. But if one of the Original Boyds is late...watch out. Accusations are made. Aspersions are cast upon one's character. It doesn't matter if you can't find your glasses or just got a call from your best friend in London. If you aren't serious about getting to the movies on time, then why'd you say you wanted to go?
With standards like these, you can imagine how pained I am when I do not meet my deadlines. And if you're a regular reader of this baby blog, you might realize that that pain applies to this very blog post, which I am three weeks late in publishing. Think back (it might be hard, it was so long ago) to two posts before this one, in which I boldly suggested that I'd write every day, at least for a week or so--then winnow my posts down to one a week.