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    Sobriquet 63.9: The Light, The Light!

    Sunday, February 28, 2010
    I received an email from my dissertation supervisor this evening informing me that the introduction I'd sent her late last week meets with her approval and that, as of 6:02 post meridiem this 28th day of February, 2010, my dissertation on J. M. Coetzee is complete. This is not to say that I do not have some polishing left to do; I have several typos to fix and some formatting yet to do, but the actual writing of the dissertation is behind me.

    Since there remains a good deal for me to say about the whole experience and because I have been asked to write a little bit about what I have learned about graduate school and dissertation-writing, this will not be the final post I make to the blog. I would like to devote some real time and energy to recording and sharing my observations on the dissertation and the blog project -- and I will do so in relatively short order.

    Tonight, though, I really want to thank my friend, Minxy, for having been such a tremendous support the entire time I have been blogging my way through my dissertation.

    On December 13, 2007, three days after I began my blog project, and before my dissertation had become a single-author study, I sent the following message to a few dozen friends and acquaintances:
    Dear friends,

    I am writing with a rather odd request, but one I hope a few of you will accept:

    I have decided to blog my way through my dissertation. My logic is this: if I make regular posts to my blog and give myself small assignments knowing my friends are watching me, I figure I will get more done. Basically, I am requesting peer pressure. Knowing that you're expecting me to be productive will help me be productive, so read my website, link to it from your website(s), tell your friends, tell your enemies, whatever...just make me feel like someone expects me to do a bit of work every day. Please be the proverbial carrot for this mule!

    Here's the address: www.sobriquetmagazine.com. The project begins with the post numbered 37.1
    While a handful of my friends have regularly visited the blog, and although I have picked up a few readers over time as people researching Coetzee stumbled upon this website, Minxy has been, by far, my most consistent reader and commenter. Day-in and day-out, through the excruciatingly boring periods during which I posted little more than "I transcribed notes today" for weeks on end, Minxy has always been there to cheer me on.

    And I needed that cheering. In the early days, especially, before a forced routine became habit, it really helped me to know that someone would check in on me to make sure I'd done a little bit of work. Now, more than two years later, when people are commending me on my dedication, I want to take a few seconds to thank Minxy for her dedication. It's a rare friend that will say "I've got your back" and, for literally twenty-seven months, have your back.

    So, thank you, Minxy, from the bottom of my heart. I honestly cannot imagine having written this dissertation without you.

    For tomorrow: Read a bit of Summertime. Because, you know, it'll be fun to read Coetzee for fun.

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    Saturday, February 20, 2010
    After a fairly lengthy bout with distraction, I finally settled into a writing groove late Friday evening and now, three or four hours later, I find myself at a remarkably interesting place to be. I am, quite literally, staring the end of my dissertation in the face. Somehow, without really realizing it, I wrote my way through what I had assumed would be the most difficult part of the introduction (the section for which I spent the better part of two months reading) in a comparatively brief stretch of time and am approaching what I had assumed would be the easiest part as I would confront an extraordinarily difficult undertaking, even by dissertation standards. It's odd.

    At any rate, I may or may not get any writing done tomorrow, though I would certainly like to do so. Rather than jump right into the matter, I think I will do a bit of review and some additional pre-writing so that I can do justice to a subject about which I actually care a very great deal. I do not know how long the review/pre-writing process will take (I would not be surprised if it took a few hours or a few days), but I hope I can get some more writing done this weekend. If I do, all I will have left to do for this draft will be to introduce the four chapters I have already written. Then, amazingly, there's a single paragraph to be added to my conclusion and . . . well . . . and then I will be finished.

    For tomorrow: Prepare for the last part of the penultimate mini-section and, if possible, begin writing it.

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    ____________________________________________
    Thursday, February 18, 2010
    Although it has been about a week since I last posted anything, I have continued working on the dissertation each day and, as of this evening, am currently writing the penultimate mini-section of my introduction. I had a few days where I needed to prioritize certain non-dissertation aspects of my life, which actually turned out to have a positive impact on my dissertation. By having a legitimate reason (or, rather, legitimate reasons) to lighten my workload, I seemed able to get a bit of much-needed mental rest and, although I have a few doubts about what I did end up writing this evening, I felt clearer-headed and more confident than I have in quite some time and I think I can made some significant progress over the next few days. I do anticipate encountering a theoretical knot I will have to untangle towards the end of the mini-section but, by the time I get there, I imagine I will have made enough progress to make spending some time with that problem seem less like a problem and more like a justified break in the action.

    For tomorrow: Write or prep.

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    ____________________________________________
    Thursday, February 11, 2010
    I've had a busy couple of days. I finished the second mini-section of my introduction late last night (or, rather, early this morning) and spent some time this afternoon reading over the many, many notes that I took in December and January. I anticipate spending another day or two on this preparatory phase and then, if all goes well, I should begin the third mini-section as early as the end of this weekend.

    In dissertation-related news -- indeed, in dissertation blog-related news -- I recently discovered, quite by accident, that Carrol Clarkson mentions my blog project in a rather lengthy endnote in her recently-published study, J. M. Coetzee: Countervoices, which I promptly ordered a few days ago. Still, with curiosity eating away at me, I did a "Look Inside This Book" search, and was delighted to see that Carrol described my blog as "an invaluable resource for Coetzee scholars."

    I am truly humbled by Carrol's generous assessment of this blog and I sincerely hope that it continues to be a worthwhile place for Coetzee scholars to visit. Indeed, while I am nearing the conclusion of my dissertation and, consequentially, the conclusion of this particular endeavor, I fully intend to keep the blog and its archives available on the Sobriquet Magazine website.

    For tomorrow: Read and prepare for the next mini-section.

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    ____________________________________________
    Monday, February 8, 2010
    I managed to squeeze out a tiny bit more writing this evening and, again, I am not sure how I feel about it. Some of what I have written strikes me as decent, even solid scholarship, but I cannot help but shake the feeling that, at least in a few places, what I have written is superfluous. True, I am introducing my subject, so contextualizing my study will necessarily take me beyond that subject. Still, I feel uneasy about some stuff I've been working with, even though, in reality, it's probably not that bad at all.

    For tomorrow: Read or write.

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    ____________________________________________
    Sunday, February 7, 2010
    I had a really hard time getting myself out of bed this morning. In fact, I had a hard time getting myself to do much of anything today: I struggled to get out of bed, I took nearly two hours to get myself out of my apartment once I had gotten out of bed, and I had a difficult time focusing on my reading when I got myself to the cafe at which I had hoped to make a bit of progress. In the end, I did manage to get a tiny bit of writing done, most of which seems at least consistent, quality-wise, with what I have been writing lately. I was actually planning on writing some more before going to bed tonight but, after having composed a few lines, I find myself too sleepy to maintain the sort of focus I would need to produce anything worth reading, so I am going to call it a night fairly early and try to use tomorrow to get some more work done.

    As I have mentioned several times previously, I am really struggling with the introduction. I continue to find myself disoriented by a mode of writing that is both similar to and different from the sort of prose I've been writing all along. It is academic, of course, so I am still in scholar-mode, but it is also less critical, which means I have to shift gear to a more general form of writing that, at times, feels alien to me. I mean, I am used to doing lots and lots of very specific research and analysis in preparation for my writing and, while the introduction certainly requires both, the type of research and mode of analysis are just different enough to disorient me a bit. The other very big problem I have been having is that I am so profoundly burnt out (this is the perfective "burnt out" now, which should be distinguished from the less total "burned out") that even the simplest of tasks (reading over criticism, prewriting, taking notes) have become excruciating ordeals for me.

    Then again, I keep reminding myself, my supervisor has rather explicitly told me that I need not devote nearly as much preparation time nor as much mental energy on the introduction because, as I have said, the very mode of writing does not demand the same sort of rigor with which I approached previously-written (i.e., subsequent) chapters. But this knowledge causes problems for me, too: I cannot seem to avoid taking the same approach as I have been taking all along yet I lack the energy to do so.

    But I am trying.

    For tomorrow: Write or prep.

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    Saturday, February 6, 2010
    I did a little bit more writing this evening, which brought me to about half the minimum suggested length of the introduction. Today's writing did go a bit more smoothly than yesterday's, too, so I am almost feeling satisfied with myself tonight.

    Since I would like to do a bit of re-reading before proceeding with the rest of this mini-section, I may not do any additional writing this weekend, though I would certainly prefer to do so...

    For tomorrow: Read and, if possible, write a bit.

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    Friday, February 5, 2010
    I began writing the next mini-section of my introduction this evening and, while I am not especially enamored with it, it is nice to have gotten a bit of work done.

    I'm still feeling pretty burned out, which is probably to be expected when one has worked on something every single day for more than two years. Still, I suspect the burnout runs a bit deeper than that. I mean, I felt burnt out after my first year as a master's student in 2002, and have felt as if I were running on fumes for the past seven years. I suppose it's rather like a too-perfectly-scripted movie: the car runs out of gas and has to drift, slower and slower, towards the ultimate destination, which it hits just as it stops moving...

    For tomorrow: Write more.

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    ____________________________________________
    Wednesday, February 3, 2010
    I finished what I hope is the second mini-section of my introduction this evening and, after having spent far more time writing and rewriting what is, actually, one of the least important bits of prose in my entire dissertation, I am ready to move on to the next mini-section. But I am frustrated with things again. I am largely dissatisfied with what I have written and, while I doubt there is much I can do to improve it (I mean, really, there's only so much one can do with an introduction), I cannot seem to let go of what I have just done. I keep feeling like I want to do something more to improve the damn thing when, really, I need to just move on. I suspect that a huge part of the problem is that, having already said everything I wanted to say in the body of the dissertation, the introduction feels extraneous. I mean, I understand its function, but, since I am not adding to or building upon anything I have already written, I find it uninteresting. What worries me most about this feeling is that I do not want it to affect the way that I write the introduction because, while it may be old-hat to me, it serves a very real and very important purpose for my readers.

    Or maybe I'm just growing impatient with the end of the project so near at hand. I feel like I am done, ready to defend the dissertation, but I still need to finish writing it. The introduction, in other words, feels like a technicality...

    For tomorrow: Prepare for the next mini-section.

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