Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Writing projects

For The Chef at Heart with No Time  
We set up your kitchen like the set of your favorite cooking show.  Shop for the ingredients of your favorite recipes.  Prep the ingredients (chop, dice, flour, bread, tenderize, measure, get proper pans out etc).  Set your table, empty the trash &; have the dishwasher ready for use.  When you come home, you turn on the flames and off you go.
This, Talbots, Lululemon, and shoppes of all kinds (if-you-have-to-ask cheese; fine silver; eco-friendly gifts; a high-end dress shop I don't dare enter, that storefront-wise seems to be ripping off the Barneys Co-op aesthetic) is what it's about in these parts. I must find a way to spin this into a sweeping 19th-century-style novel about These Times, or stop fussing about it.

In the mean time, my new semester's resolution (although I'm not entirely sure, this being a fellowship year, and on account of living among those following not one but two different semester schedules that may or may not be in sync, when one ends and the next begins) is to churn out the rest of the document. It's very much at churn-out stage - the fun part where I thought through the ideas, the materials, is most done. Now it needs to emerge in full, in discrete 40-50-page components. Manageable yet daunting. That classic advice - "it doesn't need to be perfect," trust me, I know.

I was struck by Philip "Social Q's" Galanes's claim that one is forever hearing about people's dissertations at parties. I find that hard to believe. When asked, in social situations, what I do, I have this hierarchy of answers such that I provide the least possible information, both so as not to busman's-holiday and, more to the point, so as not to bore others with it. "French." If pressed, "French literature and history." If pressed, "19th century." If pressed, "Jews." If an author is requested, "Zola," not the obscure 19th-century French-Jewish-press journalists whose writings my dissertation is far more centrally about. Rarely do we reach the point of "Jews and Intermarriage in Nineteenth-Century France." You, my fellow grad students, surely know how we're all supposed to have a one-sentence, elevator-ride description of our projects? That's well and good, but in purely social settings, or with the colleagues of one's significant other, even that is, as they say, TMI.

And this is for the best. Dissertating grad students do not go to parties in order to talk about their dissertations. We go in order to get our minds off our dissertations. If someone's genuinely interested in the topic, as in, if someone works on a related field (or, in the case of my diss., personally identifies with it), and it's abundantly clear this isn't a matter of someone being polite, of someone approaching social situations by asking questions of others about themselves, then sure, I'm not ashamed of my topic, I am interested in it, after all. And I'm certainly not offended if someone, out of social graces or genuine interest, asks about my work. Nothing wrong with social graces! The more, the merrier.

But the combination of Social Asker and Burnt-Out Dissertater (redundant synonym of Dissertater) is a tough one indeed. Yes, as a general rule, the humans like to talk about themselves. But unless you happen to meet a grad student still working on the dissertation proposal and in that this is so exciting! stage, consider asking them about something else, or better yet, talking about yourself and what you've been up to. If what you do happens to be in the field of air-conditioner repair, maybe pass along info. regarding possible job openings for otherwise unemployable humanities graduates.

No comments: