Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Slaying the Dragons in a New Age Bracket

This Sunday (Father’s Day), I turned 30 and while I don’t think I felt too much angst about turning 30, it certainly gave me pause about closing out my twenties and what lies in store in this next decade. My parents came into town, and Saturday night I had a little party with them, my husband, and my closest friends from graduate school. I couldn’t help but think of Julie Powell in one of my favorite movies, Julie and Julia. While we had pizza and cupcakes instead of lobster thermidor, we were marking time in the same way. Just like Julie Powell was midway through cooking her way through Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, I was with my friends and family midway through my dissertation. I think I love that movie so much because both Julia Child and Julie Powell have such big ambitions, but so often also had to sweat it out through the difficult changes of writing a book, writing a blog, learning to cook, speak French, etc. They both did it with loving husbands by their sides, just like I’m doing (and I also have great parents who have been cheering for me since I was in diapers). And while they often despaired and were met with great criticism, they emerged triumphant in both their personal and professional goals.
And so as part of a new age bracket and sights set on defending in Spring 2017 (less than 10 months away!), it’s time to get medieval. As much as the dissertation is an individual project, it would be impossible to do it in isolation. I’ve been fortunate enough to be part of a writing group with some of my peers, and I’ve also been writing regularly with some other classmates. I think it’s really important to surround yourselves with people who won’t just encourage you, but challenge you to push harder. My best friend is a dermatologist, and was the top of her med school class, and has just worked her butt off throughout her entire career. My best friend in graduate school earned graduated with distinction, which is really hard to do, and I’ve constantly sought her advice and just tried to model my work ethic after hers.
I was listening to an interview with Lauren Fleshman (one of the country’s best 5k runners) and she said to think about it as not slaying demons, but dragons, and as a medievalist, I really liked that idea. The challenges that are ahead with writing and defending the dissertation are not insurmountable, nor are they bad. The demons are more of an internal struggle – trying to slay the doubt that comes with a challenging project.
           I managed to slay one dragon this spring. After some tough feedback on a chapter I worked on last summer, I spent the spring semester revising this chapter and submitted it in May, hoping that the revisions were substantial enough to satisfy my advisor. For the past few weeks, I’ve checked my e-mail regularly (fanatically is more like it), hoping for a response and an indication that things were moving in the right direction. Today, I received the following response, It's a big improvement over the earlier draft I read….(specific feedback about content and structure)… In any event, I think the chapter has now taken good form.  Now all it needs is a bit of prose polishing.
Victory! I nearly burst into tears with relief. I was sitting with one of my writing partners when it happened, and it was so wonderful to share it with him, because he can totally understand the trepidation and apprehension that comes with writing and revising.

There are hurdles along the way to the finish, and there is still much work to be done, but it is possible to slay dragons and conquer the castle!

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