Friday, September 18, 2009

I get by with a little help from my friends.

A new friend recently said to me: "The dissertation is just an intellectual exercise. It is not a demonstration of your self-worth."

Perhaps this seems like stating the obvious, but to a graduate student who is supposed to be approaching the end of what feels like a life-long project, it was eye-opening. I stared at him and blinked and then reached for a piece of paper to scribble down what seemed like the sagest words of wisdom I'd heard in a very long time.

Today I bought a new notebook. One of those old-school style Composition notebooks with the black and white cover and the ridiculously wide ruled pages and the stitched-instead-of-spiral binding. It was on sale for fifty cents and it seemed to hold so much promise.

Armed with this composition book and my friend's comment, I sat down and wrote out five pages of what I think my introduction is supposed to do.

I have had such a hard time writing this introduction. Perhaps because it is the last step--the final thing to write before I revise and submit and defend and then... what? It feels like such a moment of reckoning. I have to account for what I've said in 200 pages of double-spaced 12-point font. I have to own my ideas and be prepared to defend them in such a way as to be somewhat convincing. I have to feel like I know what the hell I'm talking about.

I'm not there yet. I still feel like I'm having a constant crisis of confidence. That if someone points out a loophole in my argument or mentions a text I've never read or even heard of, I could be reduced to tears on the spot. I don't feel like a scholar so much of the time.

I don't have an introduction yet. I'm still not there. But I finally feel like I'm moving forward again.

After all, this is just one more intellectual exercise.

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