Monday, October 30, 2006

External Support

I'm really very bad at asking for help. This isn't a particularly interesting problem to have, I know, but it takes on whole new dimensions in the context of a research project and on trips to the libraries and archives that hold my sources within. I think a great deal of my reluctance to ask for help or rely on others is a completely unrealistic expectation that I should be able to do it myself. As a result, being in libraries and archives is good for me. When I was in the south last month, I couldn't even allowed to use the photocopier. This was fabulous, actually, because I didn't have time. But I never would have been so willing to rely on others to make copies if a Historical Society regulation hadn't insisted upon it. And that was just making copies, for crying out loud. (It's not that I'd think someone else incapable of making the copies. It's that I feel like it's an imposition to ask them to do so. Even when I'm paying for it.) So being forced to ask someone to guide me to my source pushes me into uncomfortable places, but in a good way. Once there, I'm realizing just how much the success of my project is dependent on the contributions of others.

So with each of these research trips, my project will pick up evidence of the places I've been and those to whom I've talked, a happily sedentary stone growing warm from all the moss. I'm getting tremendous energy from the thought that I'm not doing this alone but instead with the contributions of a hundred conversations and inspirations. One of my library trips involved sitting and talking with The Expert in one of my sources. This was intimidating and exciting all at once. As I talked, he'd jump up and go fish out a book that he thought would be helpful, or his partner, listening to our conversations, would be inspired to add a book to my stack. I felt like we were building a little bookish scaffolding around my project and thought that if The Expert was contributing to its structure that I couldn't go too far astray. Now I get to stand on this scaffolding, ask for help in building it taller and stronger, and then diligently work within it. The better I am at asking for help, the easier it will be to relax, lean back, and create the dissertation I know this can be.

photo by Bouwsteiger


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