The polluting of the ballot box, and a destruction of vote is not the mutilation of a piece of paper. It is the destruction of the individual’s opinion….
The polluting of the ballot box, and a destruction of vote is not the mutilation of a piece of paper. It is the destruction of the individual’s opinion….
The joke in law school was: “The curse of Yale Law School is to try to die with your options open.” Which means – at some point, you have to pursue one option, which means foreclosing other options, and to try to avoid that is crazy.
It isn’t an inquisition; it’s an exploration, usually an exploration into the past,” he once said, explaining his approach. “So I think the gentlest question is the best one, and the gentlest is, ‘And what happened then?’
In the end I like structures that are human-shaped, not idea-shaped and humans are great heaps of inconsistency, ambiguity and complexity.
I forebear telling him that the reason I do not find Mormonism especially ridiculous is because I find all pretend invisible friends, Special Books and their rules equally ridiculous. Mormon ideas about realms of crystal rebirthing and special underpants are no weirder than the enforcing of wigs and woollen tights on orthodox Jewish women or laws and dogmas about burkhas and Virgin Births. The religion of the Latter Day Saints is not deserving of especial contempt simply because it is newer. It is as barmy as the rest and I cheerfully treat it as such.
Anthonio. In sooth I know not why I am so sad, It wearies me: you say it wearies you; But how I caught it, found it, or came by it, What stuffe 'tis made of, whereof it is borne, I am to learne: and such a Want-wit sadnesse makes of me, That I have much ado to know my self.
(Merchant of Venice, Act 1, Scene 1)
OK, OK, it's not that bad. I dramatize. I soliloquize. But that lament pretty much reflects my state of mind for most of August and into September, where I had a storm in my head as I debated why I was in school and what I wanted out of it. It was all I could think of or talk about, and I look back at myself now and wonder at the mental and emotional fits I was giving myself. I'm sure I became a bit of a bore to my friends as this topic drove other more earthly concerns out of the limited crawlspace that is my head.
Ever since I started grad school, I've collected various links in my delicious account tagged gradschool and academic. I've been bemused by the number of writers who describe the PhD experience as depressing, dispiriting, a slog, something to be managed rigorously or die, etc. (Maybe only the folks who really hated the experience blogged about it?) At the very least, it's a serious business. Here are links to what I mean:
Now, to be fair, the advice most of these folks have runs along the same lines and it sounds pretty sensible: Know what you want and why you're there. You're on your own. Be focused. The job market is tough and getting tougher. Manage your adviser. Be prepared to be frustrated.
The first person who suggested the idea to me was a professor from Spring 2007, who ended his email with, "Stop laughing! I'm serious!"
My mentor, The Indefatigable Cassidy, makes it a point to bring it up in conversation at least once a semester and she has promised to step up that cycle as time goes on.
And when I mention the idea to peers at the school or even to civilians, their response is very positive. (See my earlier post on hallway conversations.) My social reality is echoing back to me, with a puzzled expression on its face, "I thought you were already a doc student. It suits you." For whatever reason -- my posture, my insane good looks, my carelessly thrown together wardrobe -- I give off the doctoral vibe like cheap aftershave. So maybe the folks around me know something about me that I don't.
But ever since I've started grad school, my reply has been a firm "No." The PhD involves work and activity far beyond what I thought I wanted to or could do, beyond what I thought I wanted out of a degree, and beyond my chosen performance level. Why make life harder by investing immense hours and energies for what may be only marginal value? Why bang my head against an ivory wall for 5 years and then face the cold cruel world of academic careerdom, where my previous 20+ years of workforce experience would add little to my reputation?
Some of my friends and advisers are saying, "You think too much. Just do it." That's a valid point. But I do feel I have a little more to lose by doing a PhD now than in, say, my 20s or 30s. Apart from the monetary loss, there is less time to make a course correction if I make the wrong bet.
I have many reasons why I should say "Yes."
Why am I hesitating?
One of my advisors (I have an informal board of advisors -- friends who I can talk to about serious decisions and who provide a range of valuable advice on these matters) said to take the opportunity, hide out in academe while the economy sorts itself out, and get started on the next phase of my life.
There is also the feeling that the wave is cresting. I need to ride this wave while it's building and let its energy sweep me along. I need to trust that the resources I need will be there when I need them.
That said -- why do I not feel excited? This scenario is what I was welcoming 18 months from now -- why is it not so welcoming today? Because I feel I'm not ready? Because it seems too big of a step? Because because because...
Thinking too much! The curse of the late-night intellectual...
Update: Hill reminds me of something I should add: I have absolutely no illusions that the academy offers a workplace that's any different from the workplaces I've experienced over the last 25 years. There will be different stressors, friendly and difficult personalities, arbitrary authority to answer to, etc. I've worked as a staff member at both a small and a large college, and when you pass through the veil from student to staff (and faculty are staff, in my opinion), you start seeing a lot of activity that was hidden from view, rather like the way Disneyworld elves surreptitiously clean up after you on Main Street.
As Hill reminds me, the sooner I kill the romantic illusions that academe fosters, the more I'll benefit from what the experience can offer.
Update: "Just because you can do something doesn't mean you have to do it." Also: "Ride the horse in the direction it's going."
Update: (You know, at some point, I should just start a new post...) NCSU (my alma mater -- LWE, 1983) offers some juicy graduate programs through its College of Humanities and Social Sciences , especially this one, which looks quite exciting. This is one I should investigate, simply on its own merits.
I meant to add this time management rule to my previous Fall Review post. I can’t remember whether it originated with Mark Forster or David Allen, but it goes something like this: At all costs, avoid heroic efforts to get things done. Examples of an heroic effort would be pulling an all-nighter or shoving all other obligations to the side to totally focus on The One Project that needs to be done by tomorrow morning at 9 a.m. As I said in the Fall Review, yes, some projects do need hours of uninterrupted time so you can make progress. But I think the ideal is that you plan that work well ahead of time – staging its component pieces in the days leading up to it – so that you can approach the work or project mindfully rather than in a panic. And, so you can leave your desk at a decent hour feeling that you’re on top of things and get a good night’s sleep.
Forster’s “little and often” and “continuous revision” rules can help here if you start early enough and if you’re consistent in applying them.
Unfortunately, because I had not used my time wisely on Sunday (I chose to work on a project whose deadline was further out and I underestimated how much time the looming project actually needed), I had to launch an heroic effort on Wednesday to meet a Thursday deadline. This effort took 8 solid hours of time and attention and I was left quite depleted afterwards. And it’s the aftereffects, the post-partum hangover, from an heroic effort that must be avoided. It can take a while for your tanks to refill; in the meantime, other projects are backing up.
I’ve never been able to grow a thicker skin, so instead I create buffer zones.
During 2007's fall break, I took a breather and penned (odd word for a blog post, but I'll use it) an update on how the semester was going and the changes I was going through at that time.
A question from Brother Thomas and my friend Rani's firing up of her own blog about her academic struggles and successes compelled me to do another mini-review of how the semester is going. So, some random thoughts in random order:
When Bush speaks, you just get all the anxiety and none of the reassurance, because his presence inevitably reminds you of all the plans and projects that have gone awry over the past eight years. The bully pulpit only works if people think you can lead them to a better place. And there just aren’t that many people who think that about George Bush anymore.
There ought to be behind the door of every happy, contented man some one standing with a hammer continually reminding him with a tap that there are unhappy people; that however happy he may be, life will show him her claws sooner or later, trouble will come for him—disease, poverty, losses, and no one will see or hear, just as now he neither sees nor hears others. —Anton Chekhov
A couple times a month I’m asked to speak at tech, Linux, and PHP student conferences at various types of events, which would be a flattering opportunity if I was a naturally more tactful person and therefore not worried about dropping f-bombs in a room full of technology-persuing Christian undergrads
First in a (no doubt about it) ongoing series. When I had to do my first literature review, and my first big grad school paper, last fall, I asked my mentor, The Indomitable Cassidy, for her advice. Here’s what she said:
A few years ago, I read and enjoyed Alice W. Flaherty's memoir, The Midnight Disease. Suffering from postpartum depression after the death of her newborn child, she began experiencing hypergraphia -- the uncontrollable urge to write. She filled pages and pages with her writing, and couldn't stop -- the opposite of writer's block. Flaherty is a psychiatrist and her memoir/study grapples with a scientific way to look at creativity, which at times resembles a mental disorder.
When I had the book, I wrote down many passages and thoughts that struck me. Those passages follow. Page numbers refer to the hardcover edition.
(no page #) Far more important, a life chosen to maximize joy may be very different from one chosen to minimize pain.
212 Accounts of the muse's influence are matched by complaints of its fickleness. An example is Donald Justice's poem "The Telephone Number of the Muse":
I call her up sometimes, long distance now. And she still knows my voice, but I can hear, Behind the music of her phonograph, The laughter of the young men with their keys. I have the number written down somewhere.
239 I would argue that these creative states are extreme variants of the inner voice, that constant monologue which fills us from when we first learn language as toddlers until we lose it in nursing homes and intensive care units.
250 When we are thinking abstractly, though, we seem to be doing so prelinguistically, both because the speed of our thoughts seems faster than words and because of the difficulty we often have in putting fleeting thoughts into real words. By contrast, in both the experience of the muse and in psychotic hallucinations, the voice heard has more of a sensory quality as well; it is more like a voice, less like an idea.
This notion fits with our sense that voices, whether spoken or signed, in some way are more primitive than silent thoughts. Just as two-year-olds say aloud much of what goes through their heads, just as six-year-olds subvocalize when they read, so people in the throes of creation, as well as people hallucinating, may be thinking more primitively. Not necessarily more simplistically, but primitively ... more vividly, more concretely, more associatively, less constrained by societal convention.
252 The psychiatrist Mark Epstein has pointed out that keeping respiration in mind as a model for our give-and-take relationship with the external world, and especially with our creative work, would have a very different effect from thinking of the world as something (on the oral, anal, or genital models) to be consumed, expelled, or penetrated.
254 The image is not of the artist enriched by the spirit of art, but ex-hausted by its leaving his body. Finishing a project successfully is, paradoxically, a not uncommon cause of clinical depression.
I think that when you work hard enough on any work, everything of value in you goes into that work. When you finish it, it leaves you, and you are empty.
260 Neurologists and others have attributed the behavior of many famous religious leaders directly to temporal lobe epilepsy.
Moses, for instance, reportedly had convulsive fits starting at age three, speech problems suggestive of aphasia or dysarthria, unusually prolific writing, episodes of sudden rage, and religious visions. One neuropsychologist has even speculated that his epilepsy was caused by his being left in that basket among the bullrushes for several days and sustaining a brain injury from heatstroke.
266 The scientist in me worries that my happiness is nothing more than a symptom of bipolar disease, hypergraphia from a postpartum disorder. The rest of me thinks that artificially splitting off the scientist in me from the writer in me is actually a kind of cultural bipolar disorder, one that too many of us have. The scientist asks how I can call my writing vocation and not addiction. I no longer see why I should have to make that distinction. I am addicted to breathing in the same way. I write because when I don't, it is suffocating. I write because something much larger than myself comes into me that suffuses the page, the world, with meaning. Although I constantly fear that what I am writing teeters at the edge of being false, this force that drives me cannot be anything but real, or nothing will ever be real for me again.
When it comes to Hollywood, Alan Moore can’t catch a break, not that he necessarily wants one. The price of being a visionary is that everyone wants to use your vision to show how much of a visionary they are.
People use books like law school. They think if they have some piece of paper – a degree, a contract – then people will respect them and then they’ll respect themselves. But self-respect comes from having some sort of vision for one’s life and heading in that direction. And there is no one who can give you that vision – you have to give it to yourself, and before you can feel like you have direction, you have to feel lost — and lost is okay.
Here's the regular daily 'scope:
People are more impressed by your efficiency than by your eagerness to please. You need to back up your smiles with an authentic performance. Additional diplomacy must be carried in your toolbox.
Here's usually the most interesting thing. Let's make a date to check it next year, shall we?
If September 24 is your birthday: You currently have a good grip on how to succeed in business without really trying. By the end of October you could be distracted by a romantic hope or tempted to engage in a wild-goose chase. Wait until December or early January to make crucial decisions, changes, or to begin important undertakings.
Liz clipped out last year's birthday horoscope and placed it under my desk mat. Here's what it said:
If you were born September 24: Patience is your friend. Bide your time and don't initiate anything of great importance, such as a mortgage or marriage, before December. You are highly ambitious this year, but must not burn any significant bridges or rush too quickly into new projects. A romantic encounter could have you humming love songs in January and February. Your deep passion for success might be advantageous during April.
Food isn’t about Nutrition
Clothes aren’t about Comfort
Bedrooms aren’t about Sleep
Marriage isn’t about Romance
Talk isn’t about Info
Laughter isn’t about Jokes
Charity isn’t about Helping
Church isn’t about God
Art isn’t about Insight
Medicine isn’t about Health
Consulting isn’t about Advice
School isn’t about Learning
Research isn’t about Progress
Politics isn’t about Policy
The above summarizes much of my contrarian world view. (What else should go on this list?) When I say “X is not about Y,” I mean that while Y is the function commonly said to drive most X behavior, in fact some other function Z drives X behavior more.
My friend Rani left me the following intriguing comment:
Mike - would love to know how the life/school/work balance (or juggle rather) is going. Have you been able to obtain equilibrium at all? What about nirvana?
I was going to reply as a blog post that night but spent too much time working on an assignment. (Cue the irony strings.) I wish I had something pithy to impart, as I have no coherent thoughts on this, so I’m afraid I bejabbered a long and rambling discourse to her in an email. But this is what I do, so we must perforce accept what we do not wish to change since it has worked pretty well for us so far.
Anyway, I’ve taken that long and rambling discourse to her and tried to pull out the nuggets to create a letter to myself. If anything, it’s a snapshot of where I am today.
Funnily enough, I’m not paralyzed with fear and anxiety. Instead, I’m looking at it all rather coolly (if a little frazzledly) and calculating when I have time to get things done, what’s the highest priority, where can I slack off, when can I sleep late, etc. I turned in an assignment a week early so I could work unfettered on the assignment for my other class, focus on my work projects, and free up an evening so Liz and I could attend a concert (meaning, no homework time that night!).
That kind of thing. Starting early, giving myself time.
Also, Liz was there before the degree, Liz will be there after the degree. Praise be to the Liz.