27.10.04

Hurdles/Distractions along the way....

I just realized that I haven't posted anything on this blog for days now....that bothers me because it's not like I haven't had thoughts that I would have enjoyed thinking through further and sharing with anyone who wanders by. But because over the last week my life seems to have been consumed with logistics over which I do not have complete control: airline reservations since I'm planning to leave for field research shortly (weird issue with mileage points and multiple stops!); the university which I attend requiring me to prove my existence and/or the legitimacy of my claim to a particular kind of existence time and again to complete processing of financial aid documents, unfreeze my school e-mail account, issue transcripts and the like; fellowship applications - decidedly the biggest bane of my existence right now...just when I thought I could sit back and just enjoy writing my dissertation there comes the matter of next year's living expenses since I will still clearly be ABD (All But Dissertation) and would like the freedom of being able to focus on my dissertation rather than worrying about 60 first-year students simultaneously.

So today's entry is kind of like a list that relates to this issue of 'freedom to focus'....a list of what I think gets in the way of other Ph.D students like myself as we dissertate....the hurdles/distractions along the way....

1. Fellowship applications: Coming from a temporal mindset (others might call it "culture" but I find that label imprecise not to mention suffocating) where one does almost everything even beyond the last minute it's been somewhat challenging to bring myself in tune with American temporalities. So just by crossing the Atlantic I went from being super-organized to struggling to keep up with my to-do list. Still that's not the biggest problem. Just seems like even though I got a fellowship to do research this year I am unable to devote myself to my dissertation and have to keep descending into a world where I have to worry about the following year. Not that I mind (but not necessarily enjoy) the process of applying for grants; it's just that it seems like I'm stuck in a grant application spiral and fear that it will end up consuming more of my time than I care to devote every fall..at least until I finish :-). And then post-doc searches begin!

2. Listening: Sometimes it's just plain disheartening, even frustrating, to engage in conversations with academics or aspiring scholars who simply don't bother to listen but have an uncontrollable urge to critique one's argument. Unfortunately it rarely amounts to more than "I wouldn't do this research this way". Precisely....you aren't doing it, I am!!! I find myself wondering in the wake of such interactions whether I'm just not being clear or whether we don't engage in conversations but rather in weird debates where fist-banging can pass off as a sound argument. Since some people happen to get what I say I worry more about the latter. But I don't know how long I can go on defining the word 'nations' as I conceptualize it....in certain contexts I find that most of us often remain trapped in our own agendas which prevents us from having interesting discussions. Easy fix: stop having conversations....however it's a completely unappealing option for someone like me because I cling to the belief that intellectual growth and curiosity come from sharing instead of isolation.

3. Professors with hang-ups: Apparently the M.A program I was enrolled in was pretty much as good as it gets in terms of the "ideal scholarly environment"....the Ph.D environ to which I belong has come with some unanticipated bumps in this regard. But I consider myself extremely fortunate to have ended up with a committee that is extremely supportive - particularly my chair who seems to be on call 24/7/365 and 366 every leap year :-) and actually cares very deeply about letting me learn and explore. Equally lucky that I've ended up, through attending workshops and conferences and e-mails, forming what others often refer to as an "epistemic community" but I sometimes cringe at because it seems a bit impersonal for the kind of bonds that have emerged from these interactions....either way the "epistemic community" or what I like to refer to as my "I and I" (where the 'and I' refers to others besides myself in the strict physiological sense) keeps me inspired and reflecting...both as someone who is dissertating and as "simply" a human being.
However, these conversations are sometimes marred by professors who fall on the following spectrum: ideologues to brilliant but with issues. At this stage the ideologues rarely disrupt my normal state of 'being'....it's nice how having defended your prospectus and having a committee in place protects you from that. But the latter half of the spectrum is one that still throws things helter-skelter every now and then...in my experience, these are folks whom one would have liked to work more closely with but sometimes things just don't click primarily because their parenting personality doesn't click with one's own...it isn't easy to share custody rights of one's baby (i.e. the dissertation). ....so one has to figure out how to play the "I'm the biological parent" card appropriately. Still all well but the problem emerges when such interactions seem never-ending and resurface out of the blue...a bit draining especially when you've had an exceptionally hard time negotiating the earlier decision to draw certain boundaries around the relationship at a given point.

4. Playing: And in between emerge the friends and family who feel neglected, sometimes irritated, when you seem to appear to them to be sitting at home (which usually translates for them into doing nothing) but won't come out and play every time they want to. Of course the people who matter tend to understand but the others, in their persistence and whining, do become something of a nuisance. Combine that with my own desire, some say obsession, to not displease others and it makes for some trying circumstances....often exacerbated by the fact that this experience can't be put into words all the time....kind of like those funny moments for which "you had to be there" to appreciate it.

5. Not just a Ph.D: Finally there are those relatives and friends who assume I've become some kind of feminist or am not interested in "traditional values" primarily because I'm from Pakistan, 28-going-on-to-29, and unmarried. To them I'd like to say for the umpteenth time - it'll happen when it's meant to happen and has NOTHING to do with the fact that I decided to get a Ph.D and that the two aren't mutually exclusive.
Related to this, just because I'm getting a Ph.D doesn't mean I don't have other facets to me....so if there was ever a statue going to be dedicated to me we wouldn't have just the great thinker on the lawn but it would have to be a whole line of statues doing various things and passionate about each and every one of them...or perhaps one with many balls up in the air each of which might be transparent and that show me doing something else that I love. I kind of like that last option where none of the various hats I wear define me in neatly designated categories but come together in a logic that is best described as contingent to "define" me at a particular moment at a particular time.

As my parents remind me at times - I need to not let these things get to me. And I agree that an attitude adjustment might be the best way to deal with this kind of stuff. I'll add that it doesn't debilitate my green-pointing (this is my name for the funky thoughts that fall into my head as I read, write, talk with others) but yes sometimes it is depressing and consuming. I need to remember that getting a Ph.D is an emotionally charged process that often overflows into other aspects of my "being"....and that despite all these hurdles/distractions I continue to believe that it's totally worth it. What other vocation comes with the freedom and excitement of 'green-pointing' as one's job description :-)?

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