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Running from History.

March 6, 2018

I’m struggling big time with writer’s block today, so of course I’m doing everything but looking at my dissertation. Today, a reflection on running. Totally relevant, I promise.

I’ve started running, and have signed up for my first ever 5K race. I started running for loads of reasons – to be healthy, to relieve stress, and since I discovered Hogwarts Running Club, to contribute to amazing charities and earn gorgeous Harry Potter medals. Today during my Thinking Shower (which I swear has been the best daily habit for working through writing problems) I realized that my decisions to run with Hogwarts Running Club and sign up for a local 5K are connected to my anxiety about my dissertation: they entice me with real, achievable goals when my more abstract academic and career goals seem so lamentably elusive.

Finishing and defending my dissertation feels as far away as it ever did. I’m revising my third draft, and I am so insanely frustrated with the time it’s taking to accomplish this project and the lack of focused time I have to give to it. My advisors had to request an extension from UConn so I can continue dissertating. This is both a good thing because it gives me more time, and a terrible thing because it is a massive blow to my pride and motivation. I can’t help but feel like a bit of a failure as I see colleagues producing incredible, meaningful work and moving on to fulfilling careers. Meanwhile I feel left behind, and wonder when – if – my work will eventually lead to a satisfying career. I also feel my interest in my project is waning. I’ve been working on this thing for seven years, so I guess this is inevitable. Losing interest was my big fear when I started out because it makes completing the Ph.D. ten thousand times more difficult to achieve, and now it’s a reality. And it makes me super anxious.

So, in short, I’m nearly there, and yet…I’m not even close. To alleviate my anxiety I spent my Thinking Shower mapping out my route to the finish line: I have to allow myself more time, I have no other choices. I’m giving myself one month to revise each chapter. So March = chapter 2, April = chapter 3, and so on. This means I will wrap up my conclusion and final edits in July, and will likely defend in the fall. Another damned semester. My nineteenth. NINETEENTH. My stomach is in knots as I acknowledge this new reality.

I am not sure how to find the motivation to keep slogging through at this painfully slow pace. And so I distract myself with running, because if I think too much about the mountain of work that still lies ahead I cry, and I accomplish nothing. On Sunday I will cross my first ever finish line and it’s going to feel SO DAMNED GOOD to accomplish SOMETHING. It’s not a Ph.D., but it’s about all I can muster right now.


There’s a million things I haven’t done…

April 14, 2017

Just you wait


April 2, 2017

I was about to write a celebratory post about conquering my secondary reading stacks, and how that beautiful glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel was beginning to burn a little brighter as a result, until I glanced to my right and discovered…two more stacks.


And then that sweet little light flickered and faded.








Turning the Tables

February 2, 2017

I’ve turned the tables on my dissertation! What was once a study of Edward I is now focused on the people of medieval Dublin – their experiences, social circles, what and how they remembered, how they perceived themselves and their communities. This project was in danger of becoming a dry institutional history, but I’m seeing now how it has transformed into a (hopefully lively) social history – definitely a change for the better. I was actually dreading my return to chapter 1, which desperately needed revising because it lacked an interesting argument (well, any coherent argument at all, to be honest) but writing it was just so boring I kept postponing revision. This involves much more than revision, actually; it is a massive (and massively time-consuming) rewriting, but in the end it will be so completely worth it. As I rewrite I’m seeing how my dissertation’s new angle (orality and social memory) is somehow breathing new life into this chapter. I’ve written medieval Dubliners back into the story, and my feelings toward my dissertation are much more positive because of this change. This project has taken so many twists and turns (it’s strange to think that, once upon a time, it originated as a study of burial culture!) but now I finally feel like I’m grounded, I’m where I’m supposed to be, and I’m really proud of what it has become. I just hope the right words come together very quickly so I can defend and move on to the next steps (turn it into a book? maybe?).

Evolution, labels, and Things

January 5, 2017

It just occurred to me that the work I’ve been doing in the past (too many!) years represents a turning point in my personal evolution as a historian. I first identified as a literary historian with my Master’s thesis, which charted conceptions of the Otherworld in the earliest written Irish and Welsh literature. Then I presented myself as a cultural historian in my Ph.D. coursework and earliest iterations of my dissertation. Today I realized that the work I’m doing is best described as socio-political history. What’s next, I wonder? And do labels really matter all that much in this discipline? I’ve never really subscribed to them. My work has taken many weird paths and, as a result, incorporates literature, psychology, anthropology, archaeology, and cultural geography. It’s all fascinating to me, and I don’t really see the need to neatly compartmentalize. Today I’m a socio-political historian, tomorrow…? Who knows! But I can’t stop to think – or write – about it much longer, my only job right now is to get this Unwieldy Thing* written.

*This is my new official term for the dissertation, but sometimes the nickname ‘Beast’ seems more appropriate

Edit 04/11/2017: It turns out I was wrong again – I’m actually a straight-up social historian, no hyphens. See? Labels just don’t stick.

via New Tab

“There is no real ending. It’s just the place where you stop the story.” ~Frank Herbert

December 16, 2016

A long overdue post in which I offer jumbled thoughts about my internship. There’s no time to edit; I just need to get some words down. I can’t promise they will be coherent or interesting! Yesterday, I closed a very fulfilling chapter in my career as a historian: my internship in the curatorial department of the Worcester Art Museum. This was my decision; I would have loved to continue, but I now need to focus on finishing this dissertation of mine. This weekend, our revamped medieval galleries will open, and I will finally see the many projects that I contributed to, and one interactive display that I conceptualized (if you visit, look for the map of medieval trade routes!), brought to life by our design team. I’m unbelievably excited about this, I’ve even been dreaming about the big reveal! (in one dream we sold potato chips in the galleries, but don’t get your hopes up – I don’t imagine medieval art and Doritos mix very well.).

15542083_10154772123228834_709736722055916403_nI’ve had conflicting feelings about this internship. I’ve loved the work that I’ve done, and I’ve learned so much about curating, conservation, and producing interpretive and educational content for a broad audience (in contrast to my extremely narrowly focused dissertation work). My goal was to gain experience, and this I’ve accomplished. I’m hoping that this internship might be the start of something big for me – maybe, just maybe, my dream museum job will come along in the near future, and having a doctorate in combination with this internship will be enough for me to be a serious contender (I don’t have a museum studies degree that many jobs require, and the idea of committing to MORE schooling…oy. I just can’t do that anymore). But at times, I’ve been frustrated because this internship took valuable time away from my dissertation, and it was a nonpaying gig – and because we had to pay for our babysitter on museum days, we ended up operating at a loss. But I viewed this as a short-term loss for a longterm gain. Would I have been much further ahead in my own work if I hadn’t seized this opportunity? Definitely. Finished, no, but I would certainly have had more chapters completed, and the road up ahead might be a little smoother and less riddled with anxiety.

But my days at the Museum were an escape from my daily stresses. This was a chance to immerse myself in medieval history without having to grade any essays or wrestle with syllabi or deal with hostile teaching evaluations. It was a chance to learn about the museum world, something I knew nothing about. And it was a chance to contribute my ideas, language, and expertise to a permanent exhibit – my work will be there forever, or at least until the next gallery revamp (considering this last happened in the 1950s, I’m pretty sure this new iteration will stay around for a while!). So do I have regrets? Not one.

I ended my internship the way I began it: polishing a full suit of armor (a reproduction of fifteenth century combat gear) for my supervisor to wear for this weekend’s festivities. But this time, as an added bonus, I got to wear it! It took two people to get me kitted out (yes, squires are an absolute necessity!). And it was painful! I could feel it crushing the vertebrae in my lower back. Walking was pretty tough. But this is, apparently, a right of passage for every intern, and so wear it I must!

This whole experience was, above all, unforgettable. It’s back to the books now, in a race to finish up this dissertation by the end of the academic year. It’s time to focus ALL of my time and energy  on writing, which is (happily!) also something that I love to do.

“It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.” ― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

August 25, 2016

(Some necessary background, since I guess I neglected to post this bit of news here – I have been an intern at the Worcester Art Museum since the end of May, working with the curatorial team to prepare for the medieval gallery’s re-installation in December 2016)

Sometimes I think taking on this curatorial internship wasn’t the most brilliant idea I’ve ever had – not because it isn’t wonderful (it is! But more on that later…), but because it takes coveted time away from my dissertation. I went into this thinking “it’s only for the summer, it’s a short term loss for a long term gain – this internship just might give me the experience I need to land a permanent non-academic job.” But silly me, even after this acknowledgement, I decided to take up the curatorial team’s offer to stay on until the medieval gallery opens in December – which means taking significantly more time away from a dissertation that is already moving at a snail’s pace. Ugh.

This week, I felt the effects of this dilemma even more keenly. I relished having two full, incredibly productive writing days earlier this week, and somehow I managed to whip my introduction into fairly reasonable shape. It’s still mostly a jumble of notes, but now – huzzah! – it’s a mostly organized jumble of notes! So I was naturally a little bit reluctant to step away from my writing for a full day at the Museum and lose this much-needed momentum. As I drove to the museum and arrived in the mostly-empty museum offices early this morning, I contemplated giving my notice. I need to focus on my academic work, I need to graduate and let my family settle down somewhere lovely and move towards our new future, I need to be DONE. Surely they will understand!

But then I started to dig into my ‘to-do’ pile, and realized that I just plain love this work. Of course there is the practical angle – this is valuable professional development and experience for the CV, yeah. All of that. But this is the crux of why I love it here: I get to immerse myself in medieval history and material culture, engage with art history and conservation for the first time, contribute to producing an amazing permanent gallery, and best of all I don’t have to finagle with syllabi or lesson plans, and I don’t have to grade a single essay! Time management is still a significant challenge, and always will be, but as of today I have zero regrets. This is the kind of work that my soul needs right now.