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    Sobriquet 57.5

    Monday, August 10, 2009
    While I did get some reading done earlier today, I'm a bit too tired to discuss literary criticism, so I am going to put that off for another day. What I would like to say, however, is that my supervisor emailed me this evening to let me know that she has read my Disgrace chapter -- and she likes it. In other words, I can now say that I have doubled the length of my dissertation and can see, for the first time, the end of the tunnel. The Disgrace chapter, I always knew, was going to be the longest, most brutal section for me to get through, so being able to officially put it behind me is huge. I can now say, unbelievably, that I am almost finished with my dissertation. I could not say that yesterday.

    Before I sign off for the night, I want to stop and thank Minxy for her unstinting support, without which I cannot imagine having gotten as far as I have on this project. When I started this blog, I asked my friends to check in on me once in a while, so that I felt a certain amount of duty to complete my daily assignments. A few did, but none so consistently as Minxy, whose daily encouragement really helped me establish the work patterns that I needed to develop in order to start and push through my dissertation. She rules.

    For tomorrow: Read.

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    Sunday, April 12, 2009
    Although I initially doubted that I would get any writing done today, my Saturday was a pleasingly productive one. Somehow, I managed to wake up considerably earlier than I had planned and, rather than return to bed (as I often luxuriate in doing), I decided to try to get a bit of work done instead. Of course, I suspect that, had I not made plans for the afternoon, I wouldn't have been nearly as diligent as I ended up being. Basically, when I realized that I had enough time to get some writing done if I started early, I figured I'd have a much better time socializing later in the day if I managed to get my work done sooner. That way I'd prevent myself from feeling the strain of having work ahead of me. And I ended up writing some decent stuff. And then I had a great afternoon. And now I feel more confident and refreshed work-wise than I have in quite some time. I'm pleased.

    For tomorrow: Try to write a bit more.

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    Monday, April 6, 2009
    Minneapolis, MN
    I'm going to keep this post extremely brief since I haven't loads of time to devote to writing anything worth reading. I just want to say that, despite being in transit and spending time with friends, I have been able to get a bit of work on the dissertation each day, reviewing notes and listening to the audiobook of Disgrace. I intend to keep doing so.

    For tomorrow, etc.: Keep reviewing the novel and notes and get ready to begin writing the next section of the Disgrace chapter.

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    Thursday, November 27, 2008
    You know how I frequently begin my blog entries with things like "today sucked" or "today was a really difficult day"? Well, today really did suck.

    After driving into a solid wall of two-foot thick concrete at fifty-five miles an hour, I find myself sitting in my hospital bed in Scranton, Pennsylvania attempting to write about my dissertation. Here's the weird part, though: I really did work on my dissertation. Despite the neck brace and the CAT scans, despite the severely restricted movement and the constant tests, despite answering questions posed by state troopers, nurses, doctors, EMTs, and friends, I actually did work on my dissertation. And, yes, I did the work after I totalled my car. Admittedly, I needed help. For instance, I had to ask a nurse to dig in my backpack because -- being bound to a hard, flat surface and having my neck in a brace -- I couldn't reach The Rights of Desire myself. Later, when my CAT scan revealed that I could move, I dug out my laptop and did a bit of transcription. Not much, mind you, but I think the combination of shock, whiplash, depression, and excess adrenalin coursing through my veins is enough of an excuse not to do too, too much work.

    Now, beset by neck pain and assorted other aches, I think I am going to call it a night and attempt to take it easy until my awesome friend drives the three hours it will take to come and fetch me this early Thanksgiving morning.

    For tomorrow: Given that the doctor told me that I will be in a lot of pain tomorrow and given the very distinct possibility that I will be drugged on some sort of opiate, I do not know how realistic it will be for me to sit at a desk and transcribe anything. If I cannot do that, I will try to read a bit more of The Rights of Desire.

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    Saturday, November 15, 2008
    I really did not think I would get much done today, but I did. This is at least partially due to the fact that Minxy got me out of the house for the afternoon and into the sunlight. Evidentially sunshine perks one up and inspires one to transcribe all evening.

    For tomorrow: More of the same.

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    Sunday, June 29, 2008
    Since it's almost two in the morning, I'll keep this post short. I had an extremely productive day, though. Having finished the essay I set out for myself rather early in the afternoon, I managed to prepare for the next week's teaching and wash clothes before spending seven hours with friends. Of course, I find, it's much easier to get through critical readings when I know that I will have something nice to do later in the day. It sorta gives me a reason to work diligently...

    For tomorrow: Read another essay.

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    Tuesday, April 15, 2008
    Having spent far too much time photocopying essays last night, I did not get home until close to five this morning. Still, though it did take me some time to fall asleep, I did not sleep in too late this afternoon and I did manage to get some writing done, which was nice.

    At any rate, I really wanted to get some writing done yesterday, though I'd only assigned myself the simple task of finishing Disgrace. At any rate, having finished rereading the novel relatively early yesterday, I'd hoped to get some writing done before bed, mostly to combat the sense of not making progress that tends to nag me when I skip more than a day of writing when I'm in "writing mode." Feeling that I'd wasted a golden opportunity to make some headway, I decided to try to be productive in another way. Hence the hour's drive to the library. Furthermore, I figured, such a trip meant I could listen to an audiobook and visit with a friend that will be moving to China in a few months, two extra-curricular activities I knew I would enjoy, and which I rarely have the time for while working on the dissertation.

    So it was a good day.

    Of course, a significant chunk of the afternoon's procrastination stemmed from the renewed sense that Jeezus, man, this thing takes so freaking long to get done! Finding out that there are more than eighty articles dealing with Disgrace -- only about a third of which I was able to get my not-so-greedy hands on -- did not cheer me up, either. Nor did spending more than twenty dollars photocopying that one-third of the criticism on the novel. The only tiny bit of relief came when I realized that if I did not count my own publications on the novel, I could cut the number of essays I need to read down to just under eighty. I was, like, thank you me. That helps!

    So, I got some writing done today. The process remains a slow one, the work remains a less-than-satisfying experience for someone restless to just finish it already, but progress is progress, right?

    For tomorrow: Read an article on Disgrace or fifteen pages in Life & Times of Michael K. Keep it light.

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    Saturday, April 5, 2008
    Today sort of made up for yesterday, I think. I wrote more this afternoon than I did yesterday and, all things considered, feel fairly satisfied with the result. So it was a good day, a productive day.

    Today's internal struggle, unlike yesterday's, had relatively little to do with the writing process, though it is quite closely linked to the dissertation or, rather, to what the dissertation represents. It may have been the proverbial April showers that prompted the mood that swept over me this evening by reminding me of the cool drizzles I'd experienced in Bergen some twelve years ago or it could have been the Sugar (Copper Blue, to be precise) playing on my iPod, I don't know but, regardless of the cause, I've spent the past few hours really missing some of the places I've called home over the years.

    Nostalgia, that gross over-romanticizing of the past, certainly has a big role in the persistent, even stubborn, refusal of this mood to dissipate, but it extends beyond a mere dissatisfaction with my present circumstances. As I said earlier (like two sentences ago), a major contributing factor to this semi-wistful, strangely pleasant melancholy is my reflection upon the semiotic value of my dissertation. This paper, this huge, hulking beast of an assignment marks the end of my formal education and so, as I contemplate finishing it, I cannot help but look back on the events that led me to where I am.

    I've often said--if not on this blog, then certainly to my friends and family in person or on the telephone--that I wish I had never gone to graduate school, that I would have stayed in St. Paul, that I would have done something else with my life. I also know full well that had I not gone to graduate school, had I not worked my way through a master's program and a doctoral program, I would have spent those years regretting my decision not to go. So, essentially, when I say I wish I never attended graduate school, it sounds like I am saying I wish I wasn't me, which is ludicrous. I like being me. So, what am I really saying?

    What it comes down to is that, like Rod Stewart, I wish I knew then what I know now, namely that fulfillment in one area of my life can contribute to a significant lack of fulfillment in other, more important areas. So, while I was living in Montreal, reading Joseph Heller and eating smoked meat and poutine, my friends moved on with their lives. Sure, we stayed in touch. I even visited Minnesota a few times and welcomed old friends into my home, but I always felt as if I was putting my life, my "real life," on hold. A part of me always felt Minnesota and Norway, for a variety of reasons, were my real homes, that Quebec and upstate New York were merely places in which I would study for a few years before returning. On days like today, I still feel that way. Then I remember nostalgia is more about the present than the past. Longing for the past is really no more than a discomfort with the present.

    I also know that those people I love, those people whose presence made those places home, have spread out and live in New York City, southern Mississippi, Santa Fe, Oslo, and a slew of other spots even the most accurate of pushpinning cartophiles wouldn't be able to locate. Home, after all, is where the heart is and, in this case, home is both a place and a time. In other words--or, rather, in the words of Thomas Wolfe--you can't go home again.

    Another huge component of this mood is the fact that I never really took to the Southern Tier of New York. I mean, sure, I love the topography and the well-preserved Painted Ladies poking out of centuries-old deciduous forest. As someone who was born in New England and raised in rural New Jersey, the appeal of living among houses dating back to the Boston Tea Party and among woods and rolling almost-mountains has always been strong. The problem, for me, is that this particular swath of America is so economically depressed, so overpopulated and underemployed, that it might as well be called America's stretch mark. I mean, as the nation grew large and prosperous, places like Binghamton and Elmira boomed. Business thrived and the affluent population built stately homes and other monuments to their pecuniary status. Then, for a number of different reasons, the economy began to recede and once-proud industries went bye-bye, leaving factories and storefronts empty and sucking the population out of their homes. Now, thanks to the inevitable forces of entropy coupled with an inability or unwillingness to systematically renovate decrepit buildings, the area is the ugly scar of America's once fat belly too quickly made thin again by disease and age. In other words, the region is a poignant reminder that everything (including friendships and one's own happiness) breaks down when neglected.

    And now, having spent nearly five years here, I look back and really want to leave. While I could pick up and go, it is easier to stay here to finish my dissertation. So, to make a long story a bit longer, the dissertation represents the last wall, the final gate I must pass through before my life is mine again. What I mean by this is that, when I decided to take the route that I have taken, I made a commitment to myself to work and work until I finished my doctorate, no matter where it took me. That was my choice, but it set a course I could not allow myself to swerve away from. That's just tenacious ol' me, I guess. But when the dissertation is done, I will not "have" to stay away from the places I love. I will no longer have to live in a situation that feels more and more like exile. What the whole thing comes down to, I suppose, what it really amounts to, is that I am tired of being a student. I've grown weary of living paycheck to paycheck, of putting my life on hold until I can afford to live in a nice home with a bank account large enough to make visiting my distant friends possible. That's what the dissertation has grown to signify for me. I chose a path seven years ago, a road leading away from the places and faces most dear to me, and the dissertation is the last leg of that path, the part that will swing around and join the original road. And there's a freedom there that I've not experienced in quite some time: whereas grad school was more or less mapped out for me, point by point from master's seminars to the dissertation, the future is emphatically not planned, there is no set course and I welcome that. I can take a job or not take a job. I can choose not to take a job in a region I do not think I would like. I can apply for jobs only in places in which I would want to reside (this, of course, will be mitigated by the dearth of the sort of jobs I want, but let me dream for now). I could even, in a quixotic move, return to Minnesota or Norway.

    At the same time, I wouldn't trade what I have done or where I have been for the world. Sure, there are things I would rather not have seen, people I would rather not have met, far-away events I would have liked to have seen, but it's been a worthwhile journey. I'm just eager for it to end so I can start the next one.

    For tomorrow and Sunday: I'm gonna be busy the next few days so if I cannot get any writing done, at least get some reading out of the way.

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    Monday, March 10, 2008
    As I had suspected would be the case this weekend, I did not get quite as much done as I would have liked to school-wise, but I did spend a good deal of time with my friends--which, as I have learned, is as valuable a component of one's graduate education as writing the dissertation. I mean, working on a long, highly-specialized research project necessarily isolates an individual, so time spent in the company of fun, interesting people is a real delight--and an absolute need.

    Still, despite the welcome distractions, I have continued to read more of In the Heart of the Country (which does seem poised to figure into my dissertation) and reread a teensy-weensy bit of criticism on The Master of Petersburg.

    For tomorrow: Reread some more criticism and read a bit more of In The Heart of the Country.

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    Tuesday, March 4, 2008
    Well, I finished the transcription and the reading I set out for myself today. Obviously, I have a considerable amount of reading left to do, but having finally finished the transcription work, I have to accept that I am close to resuming the writing process. I do tend to find the actual writing of the dissertation somewhat nerve-wracking, so the closer I get to picking up the proverbial pen, the more stressful my days become. I mean, damn, writing the dissertation, actually synthesizing the ideas of others and presenting one's own makes the whole thing feel real.

    Since I have re-thought the shape and direction of my dissertation after speaking with my supervisor last month, I have decided to revisit the criticism on The Master of Petersburg. When I first read the novel and the criticism it inspired earlier this winter, I had assumed the section I would be devoting to the text would be perhaps five pages long. Consequently, my focus when familiarizing myself with the critical discussion of the novel was not nearly exhaustive enough for someone preparing to write a considerably longer section on The Master of Petersburg. Fortunately, having read the criticism prior to rereading the novel, I found second read-though yielded quite a few new insights. Given the nagging sense that my limited focus may have led me to miss some of the more valuable discourse surrounding The Master of Petersburg, I have decided to reread the criticism on the novel--which, happily, is not nearly as voluminous as that centered on some of Coetzee's other books--as a final step in the pre-pre-writing phase. I hope to read an essay or two each day and, withing a fortnight or so, begin the plotting out of the next section of the dissertation. Ugh.

    Before I sign off for the evening, though, I want to thank the various people who have commented on the blog, emailed me, or linked to this little project. Over the course of the last few months, I have had the pleasure of corresponding with several people interested in Coetzee, ranging from the leader of a book club in California to scholars whose work I mention in various posts, not to mention the supportive teachers, friends and family who have been with me all along. It's been fun.

    For tomorrow: Continue reading "The Narrative of Jacobus Coetzee" and reread one critical essay.

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    Saturday, January 26, 2008
    Well, it's nearly one in the morning and I have been writing all evening, so I will keep this entry shorter than perhaps I might otherwise have liked it to be. Today was an exceptionally productive day, actually. Despite a somewhat slow start (I napped a bit after school), I managed not only to write a few more pages but to rearrange and rework a few of the passages I wasn't as satisfied with as well. I'm still not 100% comfortable with what I have written, but as I mover further down the road, I am able to look back at what I have done and see that some of it is more than satisfactory, which is a really invigorating feeling.

    I would also like to thank the Chronicle of Higher Education for providing a link to Sobriquet Magazine and welcome any new readers to the site.

    On a personal note, several folks have asked me what it feels like to hit thirty. My response, perhaps not surprisingly, has been the standard "it feels the same to be as old as I am today as it felt to be as old as I was yesterday," but I am beginning to think that quite a bit of the significance we place on these so-called "milestone birthdays" is really necessary in an odd way. Basically, it occurred to me that when I tell someone "I am thirty," he or she will think of the various connotations being in one's thirties generally implies in our culture. And being in one's thirties, of course, carries a vastly different set of assumptions for others than being in one's twenties. An element of youth, whether rightfully dismissed or not, that had been integral to the conception of the twenty-something is conspicuously absent in the image of the thirty-something. For better or for worse, we associate settling down (in all its various meanings), finding a career, and, essentially, adulthood with the thirties while it seems the twenties are frequently viewed as free-spirited, exciting years of exploration and personal growth. Now, obviously, most of us know that these stereotypes are just that, a set of assumptions, but there remains a certain regard for those assumptions that is not nearly as fluid as many of us would like. Otherwise we would not pay attention to these supposed milestones. Playfully calling someone "over the hill" at forty, even in its implicit mocking of the concept, still reinforces the stereotypes to an extent. This is what I imagine will be the difference, and it may well be subtle, but it is a difference nonetheless: when I say how old I am, people will no longer think of me as a twenty-something, whatever their conception of a twenty-something is and, perhaps, I will respond to this by acting thirty-something, whatever that may mean. Perhaps subtle shifts in perception will work their way into my being and, accordingly, inspire changes in me. Who knows? I don't feel any different now, having never really thought very much of the celebration of birthdays or the marking of holidays, but something's there.

    When we hear the words "pre-teen," "teenager," "twenty-something" and "thirty-something," we do carry different images in mind. The signifiers, quite obviously, correspond to our individual signifieds and our perception of those signifieds, in turn, will influence our behavior. 'Tis only human. So, do we fight against arbitrary markers of age or do we embrace them? I mean, just with the above nomenclature in mind, I have heard people stereotype pre-teens as going to bed early, teenagers as having braces and pimples, twenty-somethings as heavy drinkers, and thirty-somethings as going bald or falling victim to the tug of the prejudices exist whether we want to acknowledge them or not, whether or not we even believe them. Sure, there are people in their fifties with braces and people balding at fifteen, but I think most folks would regard those as exceptional cases. But who would be surprised by a kid of thirteen tugging on a retainer or a man of thirty-five staring at his hairline in a mirror? The prejudices are there. And that, at thirty, is what comes to mind: ageism. Just how difficult will it be not to internalize the ideas of others?

    All I can say, though, is thank you to my family and to Torgeir, Elizabeth, Trang, Minxy, Literary Chica, Nathalie, Jon, Manny, Josh, Ed, Beth, Evan, Eric, Christina, Murray, Naomi, Grace, Sima, Jo-Jo, Nicki, and Luis for making today special. I am tremendously lucky to have such wonderful people in my life. If this is what thirty is, I'm not complaining one bit.

    For tomorrow: Perhaps a bit of transcription or reading. Keep it light.

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