One of the qualities I’ve come to accept about being an intelligent person is having an unquiet mind. I’m almost always thinking about something. It isn’t always important, but very rarely do I ever sit and not think. I’m turning things over, sometimes trivial things, sometimes remembering something stupid that I did back in high school, and occasionally having important thoughts that I should really write down (but probably won’t).
This morning, I was sitting on my couch, drinking my coffee, and my mind felt a peace. It took me a moment to realize it for what it was, especially since the semester just started, so this is prime time for racing thoughts and stress overload. But I felt very zen, and it was a wonderful feeling. Now I’m trying to channel it into productive energy, with some success. But mainly, I’m just enjoying the feeling of quiet and well-being, because by week 10, it will be long gone.
Well, it’s June, and I’m facing another year of what to do now. Two rounds of unsuccessful applications to PhD programs. I decided that this summer I would try to write an article, but of course that is a slow process. I have some ideas, but getting them on paper in any coherent fashion is proving interesting. So far I have two pages of notes, but I suppose every paper must start somewhere. It’s the making myself write and do research part, really. Not that I don’t love it, and once I get going I find myself getting lost in all the questions I want to answer. But, it’s summer. When it’s way too easy to sleep in, laze about all morning, and then go to the pool where I’ll read a novel before coming home to make dinner and play on Pinterest. Still, I suppose I must find the motivation, because this article isn’t going to write itself.
My favorite professor once said to a class I was attending that research is by its very nature inefficient. Another professor for whom I have great respect and affection said that you if you sit down and interrogate a source with a specific agenda, it will become very closed-lipped and not give up anything; you have to take time and listen to what it wants to say, not what you want to hear.
My conference paper is due to my panel commentator a week from Friday. And while I’m very content in my research and finding my thought going in many directions all at once (some include the revision of my thesis and past conference papers), I have yet to begin actually writing. Sure, it only needs to be about twelve pages. (It’s a tribute to how far I’ve come that twelve pages warrants an “only”.) However, my initial game plan had me spending my free time next week doing all the writing. With as much material as I’d like to cover so I can include it in this paper, that’s going to require a redoubled effort on my part.
Of course, there’s another bit of professorial advice I can draw from in this moment: Just start writing. Even before the research is done, start writing. The rest will come later.
Two days from now, I will put on my overpriced cap, gown, and hood and walk across the stage at EJ Thomas Hall. Yes, I’ve decided that I shall participate in my commencement ceremony. Mainly because I’ve participated in every other commencement so far. I walked for my high school graduation (which also took place at EJ Thomas Hall) and for my bachelor’s degree. So it only seemed appropriate that I would also walk for my master’s degree.
Now that my thesis is done and published and my comps taken and passed, I’m trying to find the motivation to continue my scholarly pursuits. I do have a conference paper that needs researching and writing, but beyond that the main thing I have going right now it preparing to teach a discussion section this fall. So my challenge right now is to continue reading and writing when I’m not taking classes. Without looming deadlines and the threat of grades, I must rely on internal motivators instead of external. I also need to get back into my language studies before I lose what knowledge of German I acquired in the last year.
So there it is, my current challenge: How to continue forward movement now that I am graduating. I think the fact that I will still be in a university setting will help. Being around other similarly motivated smart people should hopefully keep me on track. Hopefully.
I’m in the middle of preparing for my comprehensive exams, which means I’m currently trying to remember every book I’ve read in the past two years about the United States, Britain, and France. It’s a fairly daunting task, considering that there are somewhere around 150 books that will somehow filter into each of the three areas. One of the topics I’m revisiting is the methodology used by each historian. Some have maintained a fairly open approach, while other clearly have had a bone to pick about something. Which brings me back to one of the questions I’ve pondered in the course of the past two years: What exactly is the historian’s role?
Clearly, there is no simple answer to this question. Something must draw the historian to the topic, otherwise it becomes apparent that there is no passion, merely obligation. Without passion, history is a dull thing indeed. But what should be the purpose of writing about history? To ask questions, certainly, but what questions? Is history about learning what happened in the past (while leaving it firmly there)? Or is history about making sense of the present? Do we use the experience of those who have come before to make sense of our own time? Should historical writing have an application in the present? If a book is about x, is it really about y?
At the moment, I have no answer. I go back and forth on where I stand on this issue. Maybe in the future I will have some insight, but for today, I only have questions.
Today I turned in a hard copy of my thesis to the graduate school for preliminary review. Considering missing this deadline for the spring semester is part of what tripped me up and prevented me from graduating in May, I wanted to make sure I got it in on time for summer semester. This time I beat the deadline by almost a week. Now I just need to wait for my readers to get back to me with their feedback, and hope I make the deadline for final approval. But that’s in not quite three weeks, so I do have a little time to panic.
To be honest, though, I’m about ready to be done with this particular topic. I’ll be covering it from a new angle for the conference paper I’m presenting in September, but that will hopefully morph itself into an eventual dissertation. It will also be a different approach, with slightly different source material. In other words, it’ll be close enough that my CV won’t look completely scattershot, but different enough to be interesting again. I hope.
Earlier this week, I received feedback on the first draft of my thesis, which of course means that I’ve now begun the revision process. I didn’t think it was possible, but this may be even more nerve-wracking than writing it in the first place was. Somewhat surprisingly, the section which will need the most attention is not the section I had expected. The second half of the thesis, which has undergone the least amount of revision, seems to be mostly in order. It’s the first half that needs the most attention. I’ve made a few revisions (mainly the simple grammatical stuff), and am facing the prospect of massive rewrites to pair down some of my block quotes. This will be a challenging task, I’m sure. I’m not entirely certain of the best way to approach it, so I think I’ll proceed slowly, which breaks to consider what I’m doing carefully. Good thing I still have a massive amount of reading to do while I’m proceeding with caution.