It’s been a decision a month (well, years, really) in the making, but finally it has been made!
I have chosen not to complete my dissertation.
Even so, there is real work to be done on the project before I hand it to others. Specifically, the remainder of the cataloguing of more than 45,000 bee specimens from my five field seasons in the desert.
Many folks are optimistic that when I finish that massive undertaking, I will decide to make a Master’s degree of it. I am not chief among those folks, but I do join in their ranks.
There is much more to write about this place where I stand, at the intersection of career, community, family, and self. But for now, those posts are on the back burner.
For now, my time is for my family and community.
And, one hour a day, for bees.
Oh, how right and surprisingly good this feels!
Today was Bennett’s first trip to the farmer’s market. He charmed everyone, of course! (Of course.) At our favorite farm stand, we scored sun gold cherry tomatoes, French wax beans, and this gorgeous bunch of rainbow chard. Beautiful to behold, and even better to eat! It’s calling my name as I type…
And, for those who have been wondering ever since I posted this: throughout July, I’m dedicating Bennett’s naptimes to my dissertation. The choice will be made at the end of the month.
Enjoy your weekend, everyone!
Last week, we trekked to upstate New York to take care of some PhD-related business (a special committee meeting for me) and to visit with old friends.
Traveling the route between Virginia and New York in September is seasonal time travel of sorts. The journey north is a fast-forward to autumn in full swing, and the journey south is a rewind to early fall. In Williamsburg, the air is still heavy and warm, and the fall color is just beginning to emerge from within the vast green canopy. In Ithaca, sweater-weather has arrived, and the hills are a mosaic of red and green, yellow and brown, and a whole spectrum of oranges (my favorite).
We had a really wonderful trip. My meeting went very well (more on that later, perhaps). We did lots of catching up with old friends, lots of playing with and baby-sitting of the adorable offspring of said friends, and lots of stomping around our old stomping grounds (more on that later, too).
And, just as my third trimester began, we fit in a 4.5+ mile hike through Robert H. Treman State Park, up the Gorge Trail to Lucifer Falls and down the Rim Trail to the Lower Falls. Funnily, our best photos from the hike involve neither of the big falls nor much fall color. So, I offer this shot by Matt: a little falls into a deep pool, along the Gorge Trail. Quiet and lovely. A beautiful place to begin the final three months — the last season — of this pregnancy!
In The Chronicle of Higher Education this month, Michael C. Munger has a great article on writing scholarly nonfiction: 10 Tips on How to Write Less Badly. All 10 tips are thoughtful and great, but I do believe that this one — #5 — is my favorite:
5. Everyone’s unwritten work is brilliant. And the more unwritten it is, the more brilliant it is. We have all met those glib, intimidating graduate students or faculty members. They are at their most dangerous holding a beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other, in some bar or at an office party. They have all the answers. They can tell you just what they will write about, and how great it will be.
Years pass, and they still have the same pat, 200-word answer to “What are you working on?” It never changes, because they are not actually working on anything, except that one little act.
You, on the other hand, actually are working on something, and it keeps evolving. You don’t like the section you just finished, and you are not sure what will happen next. When someone asks, “What are you working on?,” you stumble, because it is hard to explain. The smug guy with the beer and the cigarette? He’s a poseur and never actually writes anything. So he can practice his pat little answer endlessly, through hundreds of beers and thousands of cigarettes. Don’t be fooled: You are the winner here. When you are actually writing, and working as hard as you should be if you want to succeed, you will feel inadequate, stupid, and tired. If you don’t feel like that, then you aren’t working hard enough.
While those last lines might ring harshly in the ears, I think the message they contain is actually important and positive: when you’re working on something difficult, you won’t always feel great. You’ll feel inadequate and stupid a lot of the time as you strive to comprehend and master. It’s okay — even good — to feel that way. Feeling that way is a sign of engagement and progress. And feeling that way won’t last forever! Remember: the victory at the end is all the sweeter for the struggle that preceded it. The things in life most worth doing are the hardest things to do.
Over the next two months, I am preparing for a meeting at which my academic committee and I will finalize plans and requirements for my thesis defense next summer. Whenever I am feeling hesitant or ambivalent about completing the project, I read this poem.
Afterward, I always decide to return to tending my own personal kookaburras, with the ultimate goal of setting them free.
In every heart there is a coward and a procrastinator.
In every heart there is a god of flowers, just waiting
to come out of its cloud and lift its wings.
The kookaburras, kingfishers, pressed against the edge of
their cage, they asked me to open the door.
Years later I wake in the night and remember how I said to them,
no, and walked away.
They had the brown eyes of soft-hearted dogs.
They didn’t want to do anything so extraordinary, only to fly
home to their river.
By now I suppose the great darkness has covered them.
As for myself, I am not yet a god of even the palest flowers.
Nothing else has changed either.
Someone tosses their white bones to the dung-heap.
The sun shines on the latch of their cage.
I lie in the dark, my heart pounding.
- Mary Oliver, from House of Light (1990)
Aaaaaaaannnnd, we’re back! (And, boy, am I glad about it!)
In a few days, look forward to a special announcement and the full details behind the blog’s late-spring hiatus.
Until then, I hope you enjoy the resumption of regularly scheduled programming!
This animation of a mini-lecture (10 minutes) by Professor Philip Zimbardo is worth your while to watch! It’s an exploration of how a person’s perception of time (each of us falls into one of six personal “time zones”) affects his or her lifestyle, health, pace of life, and behavior in the world.
It’s interesting and thought-provoking. The accompanying white-board visuals are fun to boot! Quite honestly, this little video gave me helpful new perspective on people who had previously confounded me. Now I can rest a little easier knowing that we simply inhabit different personal time zones.
Maybe it’s time for me to track down a copy of Robert Levine’s The Geography of Time at the library…
Productivity 501 is a helpful resource for all of us looking to — as the site’s name indicates — increase our productivity. Today, they blogged about a key trait of successful people: the ability to finish things. From the post:
Success is a matter of producing things of value. That doesn’t mean everything you create and finish will be a huge success, but if you don’t finish it, you’ll never get to the point that it could be a success in the first place. We often see the value of our work based on how much time we’ve put into something. How long you spend doing something is meaningless if you don’t finish. Which is more valuable – a great book that has never been printed or a good book that has been printed and is available for sale? It doesn’t matter if the great book took 10 years worth of effort. If it isn’t finished, its value is insignificant compared to the book that is only good, but is done.
Click here to read the article in its entirety. (And then, of course, return that attention to that unfinished project!)
Yesterday, a friend and I sent messages back and forth, from one coast to the other.
(Oh, how jaded we’ve all become, that this miracle — instantaneous transcontinental communication — is simply routine.)
I was at my computer in Virginia.
He was in a little town in Mexico, there for the season for his graduate fieldwork.
In Mexico, his life has, by necessity, been pared down to the bare essentials: shelter (a little cabin on the beach), food (a little daily fishing in the Pacific), contemplation (sitting and watching the waves), work (counting seeds and making plants grow), and good company (friends, family, and a new half-bobcat kitten, her name derived from the Spanish word for “dangerous”).
Everything else — the hustle and bustle of modern life, the pressure of academia — has been stripped away. Even if he wanted to feed his ambitions, he couldn’t. The infrastructure just isn’t there.
He said that this scaled-back existence — being, with no choice but to slow down, calm down — has been an awakening.
The simple life, he said, has won him.
To him, I wrote, We Americans — how did our priorities get so madly off-center? Somehow, as a culture, we’ve convinced ourselves that the most important things matter least.
As I typed that, my breath caught.
Isn’t it true?
It is too true.
What comes first? Work. Productivity. Money. Possessions. Accolades. Entertainment.
What comes last? Health. Family. Friends. Mindfulness.
It doesn’t have to be this way, folks.
It really, really doesn’t.
It’s complicated, it’s true.
But a national reprioritization is in order, don’t you think?
It might be bad for the economy.
But for the people, it would be so, so good!