I only seem to write these little journal pieces when I am under the gun or I am stuck in my head (and under the gun) as far as working (which for me equals writing). However, although I have a tenure and promotion packet due in a few weeks (gah!), this time it is not me that is under the gun but two of my three doctoral students who are about a semester and a summer behind in their dissertation process. By now, they should be collecting their data, doing their interviews, writing their chapters 1-3. Instead they are still writing their proposals and filling out their IRB forms.
I think what I needed to grapple with as a first time dissertation chair is “who the fuck would give me that kind of responsibility?” I am not the typical researcher/writer. I get things done, but nothing to model for someone else who is struggling. I do not follow the structures set forth by the academy, and in fact, I always try to see how far I can blow up structures and still get published. In other words, someone who is constantly trying to get away with shit is not really dissertation chair material in my mind. When choosing my own dissertation committee, I made sure that I had very traditional quantitative folks who would question my shit so that I would be forced to be more transparent and translate my intentions such that they could see substance over aesthetic frivolity. Yes, it is a multigenre dissertation, but the rigor is there, I challenge you to say it is not there so that I can make it more apparent to your way of knowing.
This kind of terroristic thinking does not help my students who are struggling and just want to get to that next hoop and jump through it. I cannot use the same strategies that I use for myself (self hatred and shaming that leads to resistance) because it is not fair for me to expect these students, who are also full time teachers, to do what I do.
I think that is why this graphic done by Austin Kleon really spoke to me. It is a gift, a poetic pearl, by the late poet Mary Oliver that basically gives my students insight into not only the key to staying afloat (as in, no you cannot drop out of the program at this point, it is like choosing to drown), but the key to swimming back into shore.
In Hawaiʻi, our currents often go parallel to the beach so when the undercurrents are strong, the way to come back to shore is not by looking forward to your beach towel and slippers and swimming straight ahead, but to actually let the current take you and swim diagonally until you get to shore. You will not end up where you started, but you will get there. Isn’t that the point of this struggle that is one’s dissertation – to end up somewhere different from where you started? So the strategy (to connect the graphic and this story) is to work at it a few hours a day, everyday. Write a little, read a “good book” which basically means reading an article or research that is what will inform your diagonal movement, and taking a little time for self care whether it is digging for clams (not a Hawaiʻi thing) or just going to the beach for an hour to tread water (my thing) as the sun goes over Mauna Kea.