Dissertation and Dance

Ever take those standardized tests that ask you ridiculous questions like polytheism is to mythology as socks are to ??? you are supposed to figure out the relationship and then apply that relationship to the next set of words. I always had a bad habit of getting caught up in the dynamics of the intended relationship and would spend too much time thinking about how the example words were NOT related. Also those questions like, if there are 6 lima beans to every 4 white beans to every 10 kidney beans in the bean salad, what amount of kidney beans would be required to create XX ratio – I’d always get caught up in the fact that I don’t eat bean salad, I don’t like it! Anyway back to the relationship questions… dissertation is to dance as…

I’m in the final throes of finishing my research work. It’s been a long time. The work has been exhilarating, exhausting, fun, stupid, intense, insane… there have been times that I had to sit and wait for responses and criticism, there have been times when I’ve been under some crazy deadlines and instructions, there have been times when everything was sinking fast, and there have been times when everything was just perfect and it felt like I could do no wrong. A few weeks ago, it felt like I was constantly punching against a heavy bag that was not moving, I had to keep on punching and the only thing happening was that I was bruised, exhausted, and sweaty. The heavy bag didn’t have a mark on it.

In scholarly work, you never finish learning – even when you have to begin teaching. You are always examining what you are doing, always receiving criticism and self-critisizing. Always examining and always finding fault in the mirror. When one work it done, you are expected to explain what additional work can continue from the work you just spent what feels like a lifetime completing. It’s never over. There are moments when you wish it was. But mostly you know that when dawn breaks and you’ve had a bit of rest, you want to go back at it anyway.

I work to classical music, I stop to watch ballet clips every now and again. I write wearing layers of sweaters and sweats, heavy rag socks, and a warmy blanket. Every now and then I pause to stretch standing up or on the floor. Sometimes I hop around to get the blood flowing and the heart rate up. I drink lots of water and warm things like coffee or tea. Sometimes I snack on fruit, dried or fresh, and a bit of protein, to keep my brain functioning. And sometimes I close my eyes to envision the flow, see the patterns in my mind, so that I can get a better understanding of where I am going and what I am doing and to remind myself to breathe. This is how I dissertate – this is how I dance.

Dissertating is to dance… yes, it is. For now, I must continue to dissertate because dance waits for me in the studio. I can still hear the music and my teacher’s voice. But today I write (in leg warmers).

4 thoughts on “Dissertation and Dance

  1. I’m cheering you on in the homestretch of the dissertation! 🙂 It’s a very very very very weird time…trying to summarize and wrap up years of hard work and learning with the simultaneous awareness that there is still SO MUCH to learn (the true mark of an educated person…only the ignorant can think that they know everything). And it’s a definitely a time when all things that are not mission-critical grind to a halt. My sister also did a PhD and we had a hilarious conversation once about how EVERYTHING went by the wayside during the final throes of the writing: never been so messy, so inattentive to personal care, so irritated by having to do things like eat/sleep/pee, etc., so out of touch with my usual activities and social circle. But I think that narrowing is necessary to conserve resources and brainpower to make the final push. And yes, DANCE will be waiting for you when you emerge triumphant 🙂

    • Thank you, thank you, thank you!!! I don’t even remember if I brushed my hair today. The narrowing is 100% necessary – everything has to go into this dissertation right now. I’m fortunate that my husband is very sympathetic, many people just don’t understand how all encompassing this is, particularly at this stage of the game. I’ve even heard, “well, isn’t this the easy part?” Ahhhhhh!!!! Made we want to run screaming into the street!

      Toward the end of class, when every one was ready to collapse on the floor, my ballet teacher would always say “one more time while you’re tired!” and I’d just have to dig deep and concentrate on nothing else but getting across the floor. Ballet class taught me not only the difficulty but also the importance of finishing strong. I will be finishing this dissertation strong!

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