Monday, October 09, 2006


So I'm not exactly sure how I got to a place in my life where I get to count conversation as work, but I realized this week that I do. On Friday morning, I met with a committee member. Brilliant but friendly (always so nice when those two go together), she and I talked about my dissertation at a clip for an hour and a half. What had I done? What was my plan for the next month? What did I think the disseration was about in 10 sentences or less? Had I read X? How about Y? Z might be helpful, and, you know, throw on the kitchen sink for good measure. It was lively and casual and very helpful. It was also exhausting. Seriously, I was supposed to have coffee with a friend right after, and I just couldn't talk any more. I had to come home and lie down for an hour and then meet up with her.

The process of knowing how to communicate about my dissertation is, at this point, almost impossible. It requires that I string together words, ideas, instincts, questions, and speculations and have it come out in something resembling a sentence. I often feel lucky if it comes out as more than an unsightly string of drool. At this point, being forced to talk about my dissertation—in fact, any conversation about my dissertation at all—is work for me. I'm not sure, it's possible it's supposed to be like this at this stage, but this may be a sign that I am completely, royally screwed. (But also - how lucky! I get to say I've worked when all I've done is try to say out loud what I've been thinking about for weeks on end.)

During my meeting, Brilliant But Friendly asked me a question that stopped me in my tracks. "What," she asked, "do you want to do next?" Want? Want?


I couldn't answer. Not because I don't want to be working on this. I do. Not because I don't remember why I wanted to work on this topic. I do. But because I've been so concerned with what the right thing is for so long that I forgot that part of what makes something right at this stage might be that I want to do it. The big picture has always been, in part, about my desire. I feel like desire is burning in every corner of this academic journey for me. But it didn't occur to me, or hasn't for a long while, that the small decisions like how to organize chapters or what archive to visit next might have anything to do with wanting. And now that I know that it does, I have to rediscover what it means to factor desire into the practical bits of an academic project. What do I want? I'll have to figure it out.


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