So while my week hasn’t gotten monumentally better (I’m still tired, still professionally worn out, and still grinding away at that unending pile of stuff to do on my desk), it also hasn’t gotten monumentally worse (the judicious application of delicious crepes, good beer, time at the gym, and a wonderful friend with a massage table has certainly helped me stay in the game mentally).
In addition, a few things happened in the past couple days that went a long way towards assuring me.
Let me explain.
This semester is killing me in a way that I didn’t think possible. I remember experiencing the same bone-weariness at about this time last year; but at about this time last year I was in the middle of the PhD application process, holding down two jobs plus full-time school, and my entire life was up in the air as to where I was going to move when I got booted out of Jersey in May. I had a reason to be bone-tired. I honestly thought that I would never experience that level of weariness again.
Au contraire, mes amis. Apparently it is possible to revisit that exhaustion. My meltdown at the beginning of this week precipitated an influx of personal queries. I began to doubt myself; could I really handle this? It wasn’t this bad last semester, or am I just getting older or something? How is it that I am already May-tired and it is only February?
Then I began to look around me at the faces of my comrades. Inside of class, outside of class, running into each other in the library, and I realized something: I saw the same weariness reflected in their eyes. The same empty staring into space that I was experiencing. The same vacant expression which undoubtedly meant that one had ground one’s brain into a pile of mush with the cruel mistress of Chekhov and gray matter was slowly leaking out one ear.
Then I began to listen to what they were saying in class. Of course everyone here is smart, everyone here has something to say, but I realized that none of us were on point. None of us were keeping up. We were all drowning together.
Then I did that thing you’re not supposed to do: I brought up the reading load. You have to do it gradually, you see, so as not to startle anyone. There’s this understanding in the academy that yes, you will try your best to read everything, but there’s no certainty that you will be able to do it as closely (or in as timely a fashion) as one would like. The great paradox is that you’re not supposed to talk about this; it’s an unspoken understanding between the students that we’re all trying, but realistically there’s only so many plays you can read in one week.
And trust me, I’ve tested the outer limits of this theory.
So I worked my way around to it, edging it into the conversation, trying my darndest not to sound like the weakest link. “So… has anyone else noticed that our workload has perhaps increased this semester?”
I was met with a barrage of “YES!” “OH MY GOD!” “How do they expect us to read all of this?” “I’m drowning here!” “I’m going nuts!”. It was like everyone was waiting for someone to bring it up. Everyone was doing the same thing I was; glancing side to side in hopes that they weren’t the only one.
What a relief! No, really, I can’t even begin to express how good it feels to not be the penguin on the edge of the iceberg in seal-infested waters.
It doesn’t help the fact that I’m tired, but at least now I know that I’m in the race and not dangling behind it like dead weight.
Validation number two came from an off-handed comment by Professor X when talking about graduate writing (and, in particular, the work he has seen us do for his weekly response forums). I’m deep into the editing process of several conference papers and I have recently received some extremely productive (though not entirely easy to swallow) feedback on my writing. The transition from “student” to “expert” is not something that anyone really handles gracefully, and it’s extremely developmentally appropriate for a graduate student to have trouble with it. The issue, you see, is one summed up by said professor when speaking about our writing;
“Many of you fall into the trap which ensnares many graduate students right up until the dissertation; relying too much upon others’ work and not leaving enough space for your own ideas. You do so much research and want to include it all that you cut yourselves short at expressing your own scholarly thinking.”
This is my problem. This is my problem in a nutshell. I swim through so much scholarly work that it’s become so difficult to differentiate what I think about anything. Of course I can summarize and quote at you until doomsday, but what is my opinion? I’ve spent so long trying to re-hash other peoples’ ideas that I’ve lost my own. And that is where I am with my work right now; where is my thinking and how do I express it in my writing?
Not going to lie, it feels good to be asked what I think about something; genuinely asked to write about my own thoughts. It’s also scary as hell. When I rely upon the work of others’, it’s not my ideas that are presented to criticize. But it’s time to cross that bridge. It’s time to put my stuff out there.
So that’s the next step. It’s not going to be easy, but I feel really good about being pushed to another level with my work. So what if I feel like a squeezed-out hand towel? There’s still something left in there. This semester’s about giving 110%, overcoming myself, and surpassing even my own expectations. I can sleep in June.