March 12, 2018
Convocation Countdown: 51 days
External Update: One external, confirmed.
…and just like that, I once again have an external.
Early Friday afternoon I began brainstorming how I was going to deal with the ambiguity moving into the new week. I knew I had done all I could do to move things forward on the external front and the day was feeling eerily like the last two Fridays had been…meaning the morning would begin with an assurance that “we are sure to hear something today” and then silence. So the new plan was I would spend the weekend designing my presentation, get it to a tentative good spot, and then move on. The plan was get everything to a place where, cognitively, I felt something almost like closure.
Then at 4:20 p.m. the fortuitous message came to my inbox. (Yes, this news was indeed the ultimate 420.) Dr. Katy Campbell had confirmed that she was up for it. I may or may not have read the email about fifty times over the next five minutes just to ensure it actually came through…just to ensure it was real.
When I had played out how it would feel to be found by an external, I imagined it would be an adrenaline rush of happy feels and the only logical next step would be to drink all the champagne and generally engage in raucous revelry. In reality, it was much more like being able to finally take deep breadths after you’ve had bronchitis. It was the feeling of setting down a really heavy piece of furniture that you’ve been carrying up a steep flight of stairs. I was deeply happy but I was also more than a little exhausted by the past weeks.
This past weekend I began designing my presentation, though in a slightly different mindset than I anticipated early Friday morning. I also began processing intentionally all that has happened the past couple weeks. It would be easy to shut and lock the door to all the hard stuff. While I know I need to let the painful parts go so I can heal, I don’t want to inadvertently also let go of the things I’ve learned through this experience. Once more…a doctorate is indeed a process about all the things you would never anticipate when you’re an eager applicant.
And so…back to work; hopefully a bit stronger and a bit wiser, and for sure a whole lot more filled with gratitude.
March 9, 2018
Convocation Countdown: 55 days
External Update: 0/2 on the first contacts; Currently (still, still not so patiently) waiting on two more
So, I purposefully waited to check in today because I was totally ready for today to be “the day.”
For real, for real.
The day began in such a fortuitous manner. Ruby slept the night for the first time in a week. Yoga was all about “finesse over force” and embracing smooth flow over static grasping. The sun finally came out and one could almost believe spring is coming.
But apparently the external didn’t get the memo that today was the big day to pop out of the cake and complete the happy surprise. Maybe they mixed up time zones or got stage fright. Both happen to me on a very regular basis so…I get it.
And so it’s once again no news on the external front and one day closer to deadlines and limitations and endings I’m realizing more and more I just. might. have. to. acknowledge. (kicking and screaming, of course).
I wish someone would tell me what I could do to help this process along–what ignorant behavior on my end caused this whole mishap and how I could change it…how I could atone for it. I still don’t see how anything in my power could change where I currently find myself. Maybe I am too ignorant and self absorbed to see where I have dropped the ball or maybe…this is just how it is trying to navigate yourself through systemic issues.
My institution enthusiastically approved me conducting research in an area that hasn’t been researched to date. They applauded my innovation and commitment. Now on the other end, I cannot move forward until an “expert” in my area of research is identified who can act as my external and thus verify what I’ve done as doctoral quality, meaningful, etc. Oh, and this expert has to have experience supervising doctoral students and a well established publishing pedigree. Newsflash: the best experts in my area work part time in academia and part time in industry. Their pedigree is more often in pictures than academic papers. The experts in my area have, at most, MFAs. Welcome to the world of vocational education.
It’s so frustrating and even more it’s so hard to remove destructive anger from the driver seat. I legit love academia and yet I hate (and yes…I didn’t mean dislike, I mean hate) how policy for the greater good always dehumanizes the exception. I hate how scaling efficiency most often leads to squelching the uniquely beautiful and messy stories of individual learning. I have felt this way in theory for awhile…now I am experiencing the unique blessing and curse that is feeling these ideas in practice.
And so it is back to waiting. It is back to hoping that something happens soon. It is back to committing to show up with the very real knowledge that it may hurt again tomorrow just as badly as it hurt today but…maybe it will change. Maybe it can change. Maybe showing up can change me for the good and maybe that will be enough.
March 7, 2018
Convocation Countdown: 56 days
External Update: 0/2 on the first contacts; Currently (still) waiting on two more
The good news is I haven’t been rejected. The bad news is the word “yet” still feels very present. Today marks one week since all this chaos officially began. I’m getting way better at being okay with the fact that after working so diligently the past year my success now hinges in large part on whether a total stranger who is only very tangentially interested in my research area checks their email and responds in a timely manner. I’m getting way better at not trying to look back retroactively and ask what I could have done to avoid this situation. I’m getting way better at being okay living within rather than being broken by the tension.
So yeah…once again no major news. And now back to working and hoping and doing my part to move what I can one step ahead for good.
March 6, 2018
Convocation Countdown: 57 days
External Update: 0/2 on the first contacts; Currently waiting on two more
Not much to report today. Yesterday afternoon the (bad) news came that both potential externals who had been contacted last week had said no. In a flurry of paperwork, two more requests were going out. I know in the logical part of my brain that they said no most likely because of a timing conflict—are likely just too busy at what is nearing the end of term to take on another thing for a person they don’t know and a topic they’re only tangentially interested in. I know this in the logical part of my brain but the less logical part of my brain still takes over and it really hurts to be rejected. In truth, there was still apart of me that was holding out that one of them would have said yes.
Anyways…the nature of this whole thing is you hope and you work and then you wait because it is all out of your control. I am ready not to feel anything anymore because hope and pain are so tightly bound together. Yet, I still have this nagging feeling that if I check out in this process and let apathy win, I will miss something very important…I will stunt something good that is trying to grow and, for whatever perverse reason, needs this struggle to make it strong.
And so once again, back to staying awake to the process and the feelings…and so back to the beautiful, terrible blessing of being human.
March 5, 2018
Convocation Countdown: 58 days
External Update: (Still) waiting to hear back from first two potentials
The goal for this weekend was to do my best to remember that, though it may well feel that way, my whole life isn’t exactly this dissertation. I was thinking this would most likely happen by doing some creative projects, watching mindless television, maybe cooking, etc. Instead, Ruby spent the weekend quite sick so instead of creative projects I was at the vet on an emergency appointment and spent most of the rest of the week trying to force feed her medication, trying to get her to drink water, and in the general haze that comes with spending two nights waking up every hour or so to take her outside.
Though admittedly it was nothing I’d planned and I hope to not repeat it anytime soon…the experience did serve as a great reminder that my whole life actually isn’t this dissertation. Also, the meds (finally) kicked in and Ruby is (thankfully) now on the mend. So overall we will call this weekend a win.
Between everything (and because as much as I talk a good life balance game I really still have lots of issues) I did draw up a first pass at my final presentation script. You can see it in PDF glory here: DisertDefen_V1. It’s right around 18:45 which feels kind of just right in time but also makes me wonder what glaringly obvious thing I’m not saying in that extra 75 seconds I’m not using to make it to my 20 min deadline!
Anyways, here’s to a new week and being open to whatever it may hold.
March 2, 2018
Convocation Countdown: 60 days
External Update: Waiting to hear back from first two potentials
Yesterday I received news that the first two (of the basically 15+) names I’d submitted as potential externals had been contacted. My liaison with the faculty of grad studies (who for the record deserves an sharp increase in pay because being the messenger always means you take the full brunt of all the messy reactions) said she is confident we will hear back today. Confident is a word that’s gone missing in my own vocabulary but I’m trying. I’ve been wrong about so many things in the recent past…I wouldn’t mind the trend to continue.
My supervisor told me “If we get even one less roadblock a day, we are winning” and of course included a smiley face emoji. I have since added this to a running list of his quaint motivational phrases.
One thing I am coming to re-learn in this unanticipated season of trauma is how many amazing people I have in my life supporting me and ready to show up. This is a blessing I too often forget when things are going good enough that I can convince myself I am self sufficient and maybe even omnipotent. When I got the news on Tuesday that the person who I’d spent the last couple weeks banking on being my external was rejected, I went into power network contacting mode telling everyone I could think of what had happened, if they knew anyone who might be a good fit, and generally saying, “Help!!”
The response was astounding. Within 24 hours I had many names of people around the world who might be a good fit and who just might be available. And along with names, I had words reminding me that I could get through this, I would survive, I wasn’t alone and please keep updating on what happens next. When everything hurts I almost can’t help but get myopic and turn inward to try and hold the pieces together. Reaching out and finding other humans doesn’t inherently change my situation but it does change my perspective. To remix what the sage supervisor says…perhaps this is winning for today. If you’re reading this and you’re one of those people…thank you so so so much. Pretty sure we can indeed do hard things, together.
March 1, 2018
Convocation Countdown: 61 days
According to the Lisa Timeline, March 1 was going to be a fortuitous date, roughly one month until my final oral dissertation defense. In keeping with what I did last year in my daily posts tracking #countdowntocandidacy I had stealth plans to do the same thing with a #countdowntoconvocation blog run.
As I’ve already established the Lisa Timeline is proving more fantasy than reality as there’s now not even a human to fill a date on the calendar. My first thinking in this was to cancel the countdown, wallow in my own disappointment, and basically become bitter and cynical about establishments in general and academia in particular. When things legit don’t go your way, it’s easy to let disappointment spiral into anger and then increasingly into destructive hate that has no room for empathy. I am far from being in a destructive place but I’ve also been around enough to know that ignoring or stuffing negative feelings rarely leads to a positive life outcome for anyone involved.
In an act of what I’m calling self care and resistance, I’m firing up the #countdowntoconvocation blog run and seeing what happens. In my wildest dreams the perfect external will stumble across this blog, contact the Faculty of Graduate studies immediately and say he’s ready to read my dissertation and available in two weeks for the formal defense. He will also be tall, handsome, single, financially stable, and have an affinity for small dogs, fancy cocktails, and large bodies of water. If that doesn’t happen…I’m hopeful this exercise will help me trend more toward a positive perspective and give me some experiential practice into the continuing-to-evolve theory that the actual research and fancy words part of doctoral studies are really just the tip of the iceberg to the personal transformative learning that could occur along the journey if you’re open. I used to think this was such a romantic idea…at the moment I deeply dislike this theory because it feels so true.
And now…ever onwards.
March 1, 2018
And just like that…history has once again repeated itself. One year ago this month I learned the unfortunate truth that the person I thought could be my external committee member for my doctoral candidacy presentation was–because of circumstances out of my control–ineligible thus, my hopes of a March candidacy were gone. A March candidacy was basically what the previous nine months of my life were tracking toward so this twist was a bitter disappointment. Yesterday, I learned that the candidate I’d submitted many days ago (in order to avoid at all costs what had happened before) for an external examiner for my final defense was rejected due to her lack of experience and lack of publication record. Someday I know the irony of all of this will be humorous but not quite now. Not quite yet.
Once again, I’ve spent the past many months tracking toward an early spring final defense so I am well positioned to graduate June 2018. Once again, the perfect storm of events out of my control has hijacked my timeline. Once again I’m being told to wait, to consent to a very murky system that has now let me down repeatedly. Once again, I’m amazed at how visceral disappointment really is…the intense physical ache and pressure as I try to process it all. I know in the larger scheme something will work out, I will finish eventually, the pressure will dissipate. Right now it is the small daily of trying to stay positive and channel the energy of my own anger in a proactive as opposed to destructive pathway. Right now it’s working about half the time.
So now back to the theme which feels like its defined this journey even more than the actual research I’ve done or the theory I’ve created–waiting on things out of my control, opening my fists that want more than anything to grab and fight, and trusting that this indeed is a story so much larger than what I see from my own vantage point.
February 22, 2018
The committee has given their blessing.
A search party has begun for an external examiner.
Now, back. to. waiting. (And also reading, and re-reading, and re-reading because no matter how many times and how many people look over this it seems like there will always be yet another “duh” moment and another wacky phrase to tweak.)
*Disclaimer in case you’d like to copy edit for me: it is really only 112 pages of for real, for real content and a total page turner with suspense and intrigue around every corner! Check it here: Hammershaimb_Dissertation 🙂
February 4, 2018
And now…its officially five weeks since I sent off my dissertation to the committee for review. I remember shortly after sending it out a cohort member told me she heard one should plan at least six weeks for a review cycle. I told her my dissertation was just over one hundred pages, my committee was fast and I was confident it’d all be wrapped up in maybe three weeks tops. The Lisa of five weeks ago now feels very very far away.
A doctorate begins by realizing how big the world is–the depth and diversity of ideas and the endless vantages. You come into a program with an idea that is the most interesting idea in the world. Then in the process of coursework you realize there are a million more ideas out there that may indeed be just as or even more interesting. So you roam and explore and discover and then eventually root into something that may or may not resemble what you originally planned. You settle in and commit. This settling has a humbling aspect as you come to terms with the fact that even though you see the vast complexity of a given issue…you can only address a tiny sliver. Your research will not eradicate poverty. Your research will not bring world peace. Though the exploration phase expanded your mind and your thinking—near the end of the first phase you realize your own smallness and learn to be okay with tending to the small parcel of land that is what one can, manageably, handle in a research project.
Though it sounds quite glamorous to be officially engaged in ethics-board sanctioned research–taking in abstract information and forming it into something more codified–the second phase of a doctorate is actually lots of hard work. Forming knowledge from raw information is digging and planting, bringing yourself to the work each day with faith that at some point new growth will appear. If wandering in the vastness during the first phase of the doctoral journey makes you small, homesteading new information during the second phase of the doctoral journey makes you strong. For me learning to code felt like learning a new language–the effort of identifying patterns amongst an abundance of data had an intensity not unlike intense physical labor. And then at some point in the process, growth appears and the ideas you have worked so hard to cultivate break open and flourish. Realizing the process actually worked brings an intense satisfaction that is indeed one of the best feelings ever. Realizing you have the strength and discipline to show up each day and eventually make something meaningful is empowering.
I think I am in the third phase of things. I’ve wandered far and wide, returned home and worked hard cultivating my own ideas from seed to shoot to full grown plant. I am proud of myself for sticking with it and proud of what my hard work has produced. In the flow of things, it seems phase three should be where one sits back and enjoys the fruits of ones labors—gets some much needed rest and plenty of accolades for having arrived as an actualized independent academic.
But here is what I am increasingly learning from my now five weeks of waiting…phase three is where you realize your own total self sufficiency is an illusion and though your newfound strength is something to take pride in, this new stage is one where you will realize your strength and determination alone isn’t enough. After spending the better part of nine months doing it all myself, working on my own time schedule, and moving at my own pace I now must wait on my committee members, trusting that they will get to my work at some point and being okay with the silence…being okay with not being in control. This is humbling. I am good at showing up and working hard and making a plan and getting it done. I am not so good at letting go. I am not so good at trusting.
I’ve spent the past week living in a little house located about five hundred steps from the Atlantic ocean. I an the last stop on the continent…the next piece of solid ground is in Morocco. My plan was to have this trip coincide with implementing committee feedback–writing with the ocean like a true creative. Instead, I’ve spent a lot of time staring at the waves and the sky first feeling resentment that my committee so blatantly disregarded my well conceived plans, then feeling fearful that maybe it was actually that my work was so bad that they were avoiding all contact. I told the ocean these things. She proved to be a very good listener.
Here’s what I am learning in the midst of this phase…while watching the tides come in and out, watching the pelicans float along and the sand pipers scurry around like Ruby. The ocean world is a dance of mutual dependence and it is very good. Perhaps for me too this phase where I am learning dependence can be good (or at least have some good in it). Perhaps it is providing a good balance to the previous phase of self sufficiency and strength (which in turn was a good balance to the first phase of smallness.) Being self sufficient is good. Being strong is very good. But if this strength and power is not balanced with humility and tempered with connection it is way too easy to get grandiose…too easy to become delusional that my world is The World and my way is The Way. These are all ideas that sound great in theory…yet in practice more often than not I still have fantasies of the ease of Lisa-world where I am at the center.
And so back to waiting and watching…letting go little by little of my tight grip on all the things that must be my way and the bitterness of my own unmet expectations and opening myself little by little to the beauty of a dance of mutual dependence.