I’m writing my dissertation

Franz Josef Glacier, New Zealand

I’ve been traveling on and off for a few months now (hence the photos in this post). Mostly for fun but with a little bit of science thrown in there. Looking forward, I don’t have so many plans, aside from a job interview in Boston in a few weeks. Mostly I’m trying to write my dissertation. That statement is becoming almost a joke to me now — the task is so large and progress seems very slow.

Fall in the High Sierra

I think the traveling has been good for me so far. It has given me a strong motivation to get particular tasks finished and the conference I went to in Australia got me thinking and feeling good about the level of my knowledge. It can’t go on though, not with all I have to do. I think a few weekend trips will still be needed for de-stressing, but nothing that takes much thought to plan. I don’t have any brain power to spare right now.

Our campsite, Long Valley Caldera

Occasionally I turn down invitations to participate in some event or organizing committee with the excuse that “I’m writing my dissertation” but the task still seems un-doable. Even just organizing the idea of what should be included seems daunting to me.

Pyramid Peak, Desolation Wilderness

Despite the nagging feeling that I’ve completed too little in these last 4+ years, the document will be the biggest thing I’ve ever produced. Bigger than any quilt project, more consuming than my masters degree and all of my undergraduate education, and necessarily larger than either scientific paper I’ve written. All that, and only a handful of people will ever read it. I feel like I’m standing at the bottom of a very big mountain which seems mostly, but not entirely, impossible to climb.

Kepler Track, New Zealand

Needless to say, I’ve found work very consuming lately and my normal outlets – of sewing, spinning, knitting and such – have sounded like a chore. I’ve been too tired to get beyond cooking and eating. And seeing as how I have 1 of 4 chapters completed, all of these things are likely to get worse before they get better.

Mono Pass (the southern one)

Maybe I needed to say this to make excuses for myself and justify the lack of crafty output. There are so many projects I have in the queue, but I can’t seem to muster the energy to finish or start any of them. I bought a polwarth fleece in Australia (and brought it back on the plane – declared!) but can’t imagine dealing with it right now. I washed another fleece I got as a gift last year and, same thing – I don’t have the concentration to decide how it should be spun and what should be made from it. Is my only hope right now is to work on things which require no thought at all?

Typical sheepy vista, New Zealand

I’m sure that my task isn’t has hard as it seems right now. I have moments of optimism here and there and sometimes I even feel like I’m making progress. Maybe the whole exercise will help me throw my over-controlling tendencies out the window and embrace a more fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants approach to projects and adventures. I hold out hope for this outcome – I went on a backpacking trip recently and didn’t over-plan it. In fact, I think we had just the right amount of planning, resulting in a lovely (relatively) stress-free weekend.

campsite, Desolation Wilderness

But the truth remains that I like control, and I like knowing what to expect. Sitting at the end of this grad school adventure is the prospect of moving. More importantly, unspecified moving. I don’t know where we will go, or how long we will be there.

Lake Aloha, Desolation Wilderness

I keep having fleeting thoughts about how the time passing may be my last months in the Bay Area. Ever. This is hard to imagine, but also not out of the realm of possibilities. The Bay Area is my home and I can’t imagine not living here for the bulk of my time. But there are a lot of things about my future that I can’t quite imagine now… Much uncertainty looms.

Doubtful Sound, New Zealand

I’m trying to stay positive and just execute the task rather than spend too much time being philosophical about the process. I’m inherently an over-optimizer. There is a fine line between relaxing by ignoring all the things I have to do and relaxing so I can make progress without stressing. I haven’t sorted it out yet, but maybe this will have to be an unwritten chapter in my PhD in order to write the sciency stuff that I need to graduate.

Swingbridge on the Routeburn Track, New Zealand

4 Responses to “I’m writing my dissertation”

  1. 1 Debbie Emery

    Absolutely beautiful photos, Abby! Thanks for sharing and good luck on completing your dissertation. –One step at a time…


  2. 2 Rebekah

    Good luck with all of the work you have ahead of you. It sounds like it’s definitely going to be a challenge that will stretch you.

    Love all of your photos and find it interesting that it seems like you are looking up at mountains in most of them (quite a metaphor to your current situation)

  3. 3 Jesse

    Let me, a total stranger, send you good vibes on the dissertation. I completed mine this past June. It is possible. Others in my cohort kept saying they were “waiting for a block of time.” I used every 15 minute chunk of time I had, and was underwhelmed with the result, but like you said, few read it. My adviser reminded me that the dissertation is for the committee, not for us, so just produce it, and then write what you wanted to say when you’re done. Little chunk by little chunk, I got 301 pages between September and March. When I read it now I find silly errors, or terribly written sections. I also find some real craft in there, and some compelling arguments. It’s just another hoop, and you can do it. Hang in there, and know that if you’ve made it this far, you certainly can do it!

  4. 4 JIM Hennessy

    I see you too have been to New Zealand. I go there to see my brother Tom Hennessy who has a place on the south island and also one on Stewart Island ( if you backpack I know it’s on your list.). He started his sewing adventure with my Mom’s 1951 Vintage Singer while visiting her in Florida on vacation. Today he is hennessyhammock.com If you are still sleeping on the ground you should consider checking out his website. These hammocks weigh 1.5 lbs and are the ultimate in comfort