Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Being a scholar and doing it anyway.

Hello, readers.  How are you?

I had intended to start this blog post in the fashion that I have begun most blog posts here to date: with an apology for my long absence and excuses for not posting more.  And to date, I have had more or less valid reasons for not posting more: there are papers to grade!  Books to read!  Discussions to lead!  Recitations to...recite!  More books to read!  Incompletes to finish!  AND MORE BOOKS.  Always more books.

And, while they're valid reasons, there is a degree to which their validity has actually prevented me from getting things done and progressing in my work.  There's always too much to do, and I'm always tired, and so the prospects of actually getting everything done fades into a sort of comforting impossibility.  I spent a fair part of this summer pretending I wasn't having an archetypal "grad school crisis," but my intention in posting here and now is to acknowledge that I was having one, and that acknowledging that has made it much easier for me to get past it and keep doing my work anyway.

My last post here asked you, our gentle readers, to offer some ways in which you manage your summers, how you maximize both productivity on on-going projects and recovery from those of the previous academic year.  When I asked that question, I was going into the summer preceding my third  year of coursework since I had begun my doctoral studies at my current institution-- though it was actually to be my fifth year of coursework since I had transferred from my previous institution, starting from scratch.  I knew I was tired, but it didn't occur to me until recently how tired I was, and how that exhaustion was cutting into my efforts to build a career in academia.  The end of the spring semester was fraught with concerns about research projects I had fallen behind on (and, unfortunately, continue to be behind on) and worries about a coming summer in which I simultaneously hoped to recover from feelings I increasingly suspected had something to do with that "burn-out" thing I'd heard about while also working overtime to catch up on  my work.  Spring 2012 was the first semester in my graduate career in which I had had to ask two professors for incompletes in response to a mix of personal and professional obstacles I'd encountered, not the least of which was a move that landed me twice as far from campus as I'd previously been with much less privacy and space.  The incompletes were a major blow to my self-confidence as a professional academic, and it brought on the "grad school crisis" that I am trying to describe in this post.

I spent the summer wallowing (indulgently, I confess) in doubts about my path and about my ability to fulfill the goals I'd set for myself.  As stressful as it was, though, it prompted me to do a lot of thinking about the ways in which I work: how I could maximize my productivity while researching, reading, thinking, and writing about my ideas without draining myself entirely.  And, having put some of those new methods into practice, have slowly started to ramp up my productivity and building confidence about my prospects as an academic.  And, bit by bit, I grew excited about the approaching academic year.  2012-2013 will be the year in which I finish my coursework (finally!), complete my oral exams, and get a dissertation prospectus approved.  And I'm going to do it.

So I guess what this all boils down to is another promise to try and post more, since writing about the things I'm doing helps me feel less like I am doing these things in a vacuum and more like I'm developing the voice with which I will enter an on-going conversation about medieval history.  Till next post, here is a little audio tidbit for you.  Not Actually Happening is an awesome podcast, and recently one of its presenters, my friend Steven Padnick, name-dropped me and my masters thesis on Prester John from years gone by.  You can listen to it, and others, here.

Here is a little video containing a song that I've found really inspiring as I've done all this work.  I listen to this song every morning on my drive to school.  It reminds me that there will always be doubts, uncertainties, and misgivings.  But you have to do it anyway.

Also, there are Fraggles in it.

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