Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Focus! Focus!

When it comes to the dissertation, it is ridiculously, insanely difficult to make yourself get up and work when you are having a hard time visualizing the big picture. At this point, I feel lucky I'm dressed and don't smell bad.

It's not lost on me that I might just catch a glimpse of the big picture if I'd get up and work. And so I try to take on tasks, crossing them off one at a time. The problem is that I just don't see it. I feel like I'm trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle, but someone swiped the box top, so I have no idea if this little white and gray piece here is part of a snowy rooftop or a bit on the tail of a poodle. No clue.

I'm being melodramatic. A little. I find that I'm actually less sure of myself and my project than I was before the proposal process and I'm not entirely clear on whether that was intended or not. I am convinced that the proposal process is only minorly useful for some of us. Those with easily-defined, concrete projects can carefully lay out in 20 pages or so what they'll do for the next several years. Mine is not one of those projects. On the other hand, while the lit review bit was helpful (I loathe writing lit reviews, and so being forced to is the only way it will happen) and I enjoyed the conversations about my project, I'm not entirely sure forcing choices about some aspects of my project actually did anything but muddy the water. Yes, sure, I can tell which six sources I'll use because you've just told me I have to in order to proceed. But really, I might not really know whether sources number 5 and 6 are really any better than 7 and 8, which I had to ax, until I see sources 1 and 3. My proposal became a tortured 45 page document that tried to account for all the practical possibilities of a pretty intensely conceptual project. Now I feel as if I'm twisting around inside all 45 pages, desperate for the clarity of the pre-proposal days.

On the other hand, I've also been working (you know, when I've been working) on a two-page statement of interests for funding applications. Now that's helpful. I can see all the problems identified in the proposal defense in that little document, and it actually helps me see the big picture. It's a good box top for my puzzle. Turns out the little white and gray bit isn't snow or a poodle. It's popcorn! Who knew?

Unfortunately, my statement is currently with my committee members, getting reviewed, edited, maligned. And so I return to where I started this post: It's ridiculously hard to make yourself work when the big picture seems so, well, big. I'm trying to focus on the popcorn and worry about the rest later, but honestly, I'd rather eat popcorn, watch television, and wait for divine intervention. Which would be a lot more likely if I believed in such a thing.


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