What a Fuck Up, What a Fighter

This morning I woke up with a growing sense of panic about upcoming deadlines. I've been making what I think counts as outstanding progress on the book - averaging between 2,000 and 4,000 words revised a day. This, in spite of the fact that I got no support towards research this summer and the research support I received in the Spring largely went to freeing me from a class so I could be shackled to extra University service moments.

But still, all day today I have had a growing sense of dread.

It wasn't the usual sort of dread that so many of us have about finally reaching the moment where our great con job of making the world believe we're 10,000 times smarter than we really are will be revealed. I've pretty much learned to let that feeling just ride shotgun wherever this ride is taking me. No, this has been a different sort of dread all together.

I am, what one friend once described best, a calamity writer. Like so many academics, I tend to put off my work until near the 11th hour. I'm one of those people who has been known to say "I work best under pressure." And this is true, though it doesn't particularly account for the fact that I make sure that's really the only way that I work. I'm sure someone somewhere talked about how we reproduce the conditions of our own downfalls. I incline towards chaos and looming disaster, and maybe this is because it's a little like how I learned to get homework done as a kid: loud noises, looming deadlines, a little sound and fury the significance of which was always yet to be determined.

As I rode out to do my errands today - checking apartment possibilities for our new hire, a trip to the grocery store and the post office, a run to print new sources - I realized that I'd unwittingly repeated a moment from years ago.

Back in the Master's days, the date of my defense was assumed. There wasn't any real question about going over or defending late. The flexibility that went with the Ph.D. program - that same flexibility that often hung students (at other times, it was the hands-off until time to say no approach of advisers) - didn't exist for me. There was a date to defend by, and I had to make it. And so, in the midst of revisions, I fell into a rough final week of writing and general slovenliness. If you ever saw "Mr. Mom," you might remember that period where Michael Keaton begins to grow a beard and wears the same shirt all the time? That was the final weeks of my thesis, though to my credit, it wasn't a flannel shirt I was wearing. Instead, I hung out in my favorite t-shirt of the time: a comfortable white Thelonious Monk t-shirt. It was only one of a few comfort moments I had for the thesis. Most of it was written to one of two albums: "London Calling" by the Clash and "Straight, No Chaser" by Monk. I'm sure I probably ate the same thing for days, too, but then again, I'm a bachelor and that might just be how I am.Today, as it did in the traveling moments of my doctoral defense, I found myself instinctively putting that same t-shirt on as I headed out.

What worries me, of course, is not the repetition of the pattern in clothing. The Monk shirt is awesome, after all. It's that sooner or later, the law of averages says that I won't be able to pull the miracle off. I'm smart enough to know this, the same way I'm smart enough to know that if I could just grade a few papers every night, I could have things back to students sooner probably and not have to undergo the usual 18 hour Caning of Bad Writing that I face under the current system.

But that, evidently, that just isn't how it works for me. Evidently, there's got to be that bit of fear and the deadlined precipice. But I guess at least I've not let the beard grow yet.

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ash said...

We are way too similar. I, too, can't seem to get work done (grading, writing) until the sense of impending doom is bearing down on me. I still have not figured out why the very clear understanding that this is NOT SUSTAINABLE and I WILL hang myself with this rope eventually does not change my behavior. But so far it hasn't and the pattern continues.

This post reminded me of finishing my own MA thesis (which had the same hard deadline for--I'm guessing--the exact same reason). That last week was so hellish. (And you reminded me that I also had two albums that got me through: "Loveless" by My Bloody Valentine and Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On." I still associate both of those with frantic thesis writing.)

You'd think I would have learned from that. But finishing the diss was even more hellish. I was driving up from [state redacted] back to [name of our graduate institution redacted] to deliver my defense draft when I decided that the conclusion needed some work. I stopped in the library to do some "minor revisions" and--seriously, no exaggeration--did not come out again for two and half days. The fact that it was exam time and the library was open 24 hours totally enabled this ridiculous behavior. I emerged stinky and hungry and delirious, but it was done. Why do we do these things to ourselves???

July 10, 2008 at 9:51 PM
Samantha said...

I can find a million other things to do when I should be working on something. But when no deadline looms, I'm bored.

I've never seen you with a beard ... would like to!

July 11, 2008 at 12:21 AM