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Eve eve

December 23, 2010

I’m on the train to the city two days before Christmas. We cross the river to the next town and I stare at the snowmobile tracks skating down the edges. There is one big snowmobile-sized hole alongside one, open water lapping up from underneath and building strange sculptures along the hole’s edge. On the other side, you can barely see the narrow track through the woods, its usual packed dirt covered in snow.

I was supposed to meet with my adviser last week and he canceled on me, suggesting the middle of this week. I emailed him back with my availability, but I never heard back. I chalked it up to end of semester craziness (substantial) compounded with holidays (he has two grown kids coming home) and figured I’d see him early in the New Year. So when he emailed me last night to tell me he had a few hours available this morning, I was pleased.

Many of you know how much I’ve wrestled with my relationship with my adviser. It’s a tricky one for any graduate student. On the one hand, your adviser is (or will be) a colleague. On the other, he or she has the power to take you down with very little effort. It’s an intimate relationship with a profound power imbalance, much like the relationship of parent and child. My adviser is extremely kind and a great student advocate and he’s gone to the mat for me personally on more than one occasion. But even so, it’s always a bit of a tightrope walk. He’s one of the most recognizable names in the field. He lectures widely, writes prolifically and has many students. When you have his attention, it’s all on you. But getting it and maintaining it has been a real challenge.

In the last month, since I came back from the conference in Indianapolis and laid out my plan and was specific about what I needed to do, there’s been a sea change. I’m not the one always reminding him of deadlines (although that’s still happening) but he’s also pushing me to stick with mine. He’s not exactly on time, but he’s within a week or two instead of months late. It’s doable. The fact that he kept pushing to make this meeting happen means a lot.

At the same time, I’m wrestling with another round of self-doubt about the write-up. A little praise goes a long way and I get it. But I focus on the critical comments, which are, let’s face it, more useful in the long run. And I wonder if this whole thing is too flabby. Are my brush strokes to broad in the first part (undoubtedly, but, I hope, fixable)? What happens when we get to the meat of the second part? What then? Is the balance of the two parts off kilter? But somehow, I’ve been able to shove down the part of me that keeps telling me I’m an idiot and keep writing. I guess that’s all you can ask.

Traffic into the city is non-existent. At 8:30 on a Thursday morning, there is less traffic than I’ve seen driving home from rehearsal at 11:00 on a Tuesday night. Everyone seems to be on holiday already. But two days before Christmas, I’m on a train to the city, ready to roll up my sleeves and get to work.

* * * * *

The meeting with my adviser went well. We talked a little bit about my last chapter, which I’d been wondering if I needed to cut but which he liked a lot. I’m glad, because it’s actually my favorite chapter, but it’s a bit of an orphan. We talked about how to weave it a little more tightly into the fabric of the dissertation. But mostly we talked about professional development, which made me feel like I’d turned a corner or passed some kind of test. We made another appointment for mid-January, by which point I will have turned in another chapter and he will have read it and the one I turned in last night. In the last month, I have turned in half of the dissertation. The other half will be slower, but I have until late March – an average of 3 weeks per chapter. It’s a brisk pace, but doable. And I have a bit of a cushion built in there already.

After my meeting, Mr. Spy and AJ met me at the bookstore, where I was visiting with my friend H who works there, and all four of us went out to lunch. Then H went back to work and we took AJ to the Museum of Science and Industry where we saw their internation Christmas tree display, visited our favorite old exhibits and checked out the new Science Storms exhibit before heading back home.

Tomorrow I’ll be baking my annual Bûche de Noël, having lunch with Jeanne and family, and – assuming the snow is not to horrible – attending Mr. Spy’s family’s annual Christmas party. The best thing about today’s meeting? I feel like I’ve earned a holiday and I’m very much looking forward to it.

In case I don’t manage to post again for a couple days, as seems likely, a very Merry Christmas to all who celebrate it.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. freshhell permalink
    December 23, 2010 8:38 pm

    I know that must be a good feeling. Merry Christmas!

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