Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Counting Down

I took the laptop in to the tech people Monday morning, and it was duly diagnosed with a hardware failure. Our tech people don't work on hardware. The technician assured me that my data was in no danger and given that I was hoping to turn in my dissertation on Friday, suggested that I simply hook the laptop up to an external monitor for the next few days.
Of course, a person doesn't exactly lug an external monitor around. Not even the new flat-screen kind. The desk upon which my external monitor sits has no room for sheets of paper, let alone a laptop. In other words, the desk I set up so optimistically in the fall hasn't proved very useful for much beyond a little web surfing and greeting of fellow bloggers.
I went into a period of mild meltdown. Where was I going to work? How was I going to get anything done? (It was, however, only a mild meltdown. Even though Kristen claims it is about the worst she's seen me get, I can melt down much, much further. There just isn't much about grad school that prompts me that way, so it has been a good many years since I really lost it for any length of time.)
Laptop or no laptop, I figured that no matter what my mental state, I could make a little headway on my illustrations, which I had printed out the night before. I imbibed some soup and settled down to my task and got quite a bit done, despite an (otherwise pleasant) encounter with our gamelan leader in which he assured me that it's cheaper to get a new laptop than to fix an ailing screen.
Later in the afternoon, it occurred to me that just because the screen was preparing to die on me, it was not actually dead yet. I might actually get a few more hours' use out of it. And indeed I got several hours of work out of it that very evening. Consequently, I'm now regarding it as something that is a tiresome problem but not likely to explode or something in the next couple of days.
My advisor, meanwhile, was very sympathetic about this kink in the dissertation process. We have agreed that I will get done what I can, when I can, and depending on when that is, I'll either graduate this spring or next year. She reiterated that my CAA paper had been a success, and that I had even kept to my time limit, unlike some people. I will not recount the horrible tale she told about a certain panel that I did not attend, which involved someone who had no concept of the importance of adhering to one's time limit. My readers can imagine for themselves the possible dire consequences, although I will say it didn't sound as though any fruit was thrown; I'm not sure anyone had any fruit handy. I am glad to say that, in contrast, everyone on my panel behaved very professionally. (I am slightly sorry I missed the debacle of which she spoke, as many horrible things went wrong throughout, but I was enjoying a perfectly good panel in another room.)
In any case, it is still conceivable that I might manage to turn in the first half of the dissertation on Friday and the second half on Monday or Tuesday. Thus, in the throes of optimism, I settled down to work quite early this morning and went at it for four or five hours experiencing that peculiar elation that assures me that I am still madly in love with the dissertation. I realize it is abnormal, but there is nothing quite like settling in at an engrossing project and feeling (no matter how erroneously) that time is of no account and that nothing else could possible drag one away from the whole thing.
Of course, at a certain point I realized that I needed to print out my chapter, that I was hungry, and that the women's restroom at Kiva Han was out of order. I prepared to depart, only to discover my friend Chip reading a strangely untoward-looking tome at a nearby table. In other words, it had nothing to do with Russian avant-garde theater. It looked suspiciously like a social science text of the most impenetrable sort.
Chip confessed it was for a pedagogy course, and made clear that he would rather talk to me (even about my recent haircut) than read any more of it just then.
An hour or so later, we had established that he should learn Uzbek before improving his German, that my roommates are much easier to pet than his, that it would be a stretch for him to claim to be "diverse" on the grounds of being politically left of center (although if he had multiple personalities, I think he could claim to be, euphemistically, "diverse" provided some of the personalities weren't straight white males), and, finally, that neither of us actually believes any of our students dream about us in the form of dreams about rats and that neither do we care if they do, even if it is psychologically damaging to them to dream that we are rats. We enjoyed contemplating the paradox of pedagogical theories that we may in one respect quite agree with and in some other respect regard as utterly mistaken.
In contemplating whether he could avoid going to class, where his roommates would be sure to mention that he had seemed perfectly healthy at breakfast, I proffered the advice that rather than weakly disagree with some minor aspect of the day's topic, and raise suspicions of moral laxity, it would be far better to foment revolution and propose a diametrically opposed approach to teaching, which at the end of class could be revealed as a mere devil's advocate position.
In other words, rather than meekly agree that it is important to maintain firm boundaries between teacher and student, which must never be crossed, it would be much more stimulating to argue that there should be no boundaries whatsoever between the two. Learning is continuous! Everything the teacher does or says is potentially a model for the student! Students should be encouraged to be with their instructors 24 hours a day, following them in and out of the shower, imprinting like Konrad Lorenz's geese. To adapt a phrase current in my father's day, we must teach The Whole Student (it used to be The Whole Child, but college students are usually past childhood)! Attractions between student and teacher should be encouraged; think of Heloise and Abelard! (Well, minus the castration episode.) While Jane Gallop did run into a bit of trouble kissing grad students, this hasn't impaired her career and we suppose that if nothing else her grad students have improved their kissing skills. Chip's students could learn to dress with the same elegant abandon that he does, strewing buttons effortlessly in the street and appearing at meetings in the striking equivalent of his talismanic holey sweater.
Ah, the value of taking a break from one's dissertation! I was much refreshed despite having eaten no lunch. I marched off to print the chapter, devour a burrito or other substantial feast, and get another couple of hours' work in before gamelan.
The gods do, however, smite those who enjoy life too freely. It took an hour and a half to get my printout, gobble down a couple of bagels, and race to gamelan. And while my voice was in good shape to tackle "Mandi madu," the brain began short-circuiting on every piece in our slendro repertoire. There is probably some special torment in hell awaiting incompetent saron players.
My roommates do, however, believe that my needs are best served by spending the evening petting them rather than trying to eke out a few more lines of the introduction. They are probably right. Rabbit massage is healthful for everyone concerned.

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Blogger Princess Haiku said...

Glad that you got through your temporary meltdown. I had one years ago when I was done with everything; coursework + thesis and discovered I was lacking one unit to graduate. Needless to say I survived. :) Take care

February 28, 2008 7:39 AM  
Blogger Julia said...

Advantages of Prague - I could lend you one of my computers so you would not have to even contemplate your screen.

Advantages of Pittsburgh - conversations in the stacks, their meanders and long round abouts through ideas.

February 28, 2008 9:02 AM  
Blogger Kristen said...

I think this post shows why you had to cut 100 pages from the diss. ;)

Go, Karla, go--you're almost there!!!

February 29, 2008 1:50 AM  
Blogger Dr. Zaius said...

The last time somebody told me that that they had imbibed some "soup", it was 100 proof! (I hope that you are backing up your whosiewhatsit on a USB stick or something.)

Your blog has been awarded the "E for Excellent" Award.

March 01, 2008 3:36 PM  
Blogger Karla said...

One unit left to graduate?! That's when gamelan or another performance class comes in handy, but Princess Haiku, with her musical background, surely knows that.

Prague, Pittsburgh... anywhere is good if the conversation is good.

The soup was not 100 proof but there is a bit of brandy at home, in the absence of Becherovka. Backup, backup, backup.

March 01, 2008 3:47 PM  

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