It’s been a month and a bit since my last post (keeping this blog monthly), and most of that time has been spent working on a draft of my dissertation proposal. As of last week, I completed a full draft, but it’s the kind of draft that is for my own eyes only because it is filled with garbage sentences and long-winding rants that sorta cohere but could be better written. Basically, it’s a draft I would be embarrassed to give to my supervisor. Today I receive edits from a friend, who is also working on their proposal. We swapped over the weekend and have been swapping proposals at different stages throughout the month.
But writing a proposal is strange. I’m still not sure how I feel about it. I won’t be sure of it until my supervisor gives me feedback. Proposals are strange because you have to foresee your project, and even write what your introduction will cover (which puzzles me because I always save introductions until last because, as one prof put it to me, ‘you don’t write your introduction first because you don’t know what you’re introducing.’ So this introduction is you being like “I am foreseeing my introduction to introduce the following chapters that are yet to be written – but trust me, those chapter will be something like *this.*’).
Then there’s working in the summer, which can be hard. Then there’s working in the summer just after you finish your year of comps, which is even harder. Because ALL OF THE THINGS YOU WISHED YOU COULD’VE DONE DURING COMPS CAN NOW BE DONE: books (that I kept on buying, wanting to read them instead of comps books), games, comics, TV shows, movies, and normal socialization (not the “get together and cry about comps” kind of socialization that is meant to keep you from going insane). So, yeah, there’s that big desire to shut down and not do anything. So I created a work schedule.
I guess this schedule is like the comps schedule, but it’s more flexible, open to interruptions, and is not as intense. It’s a basic 9-5 M-F, Saturdays 9-1, and Funday-no-work-Sunday. In the mornings, when I’m still struggling to get out of bed, I practice my French, and I take French breaks throughout the day or practice French while eating lunch. The morning is dedicated to writing. At first I started just outlining: what I wanted in my overview (approx. 1000words), what I wanted in each of my chapter breakdowns (approx. 1500words in total). I started ranting with “write about this and that and blah blah blah” and then I actually tried to free-write it, or I placed quotes here and there that I might use and wrote how I would use those quotes. And then some cleaning up, but not much because I would be too consumed by it and wouldn’t move on. Afternoons are for reading/research, jotting down quotes, jotting down thoughts about those quotes, and so on. Writing trickled into the afternoons when I was on a roll or didn’t have to read everything.
Because at a certain point, you have to realize you can’t read everything that’s on your list (although you may read most of that down the road). At a certain point, I had to stop writing quotes down because I got the gist of the book, and I can just careen (or “bullshit”) the rest of my way through the proposal. After all, a proposal is supposed to demonstrate that you can “foresee” a project and put this in writing. A proposal is NOT a contract that you have to stick to. As I was told, once the proposal has been accepted, throw it out. Once I got into this mindset, I was able to not worry about reading this book and that book and that book and that book – those books go into the bibliography. Instead, I just focused on getting something onto paper, and if it wasn’t EXACTLY how I envision my project to be or how it will be in a year or six months…that’s okay. The proposal is not the end all and be all.
Once 5 hit on the weekdays (or 1 on Saturdays), laptop was closed, books thrown across the room in joy, and I either picked up a book I was reading for pleasure, turned on my PS1 to log another couple of hours into Final Fantasy IX, binge X-Files (which I sometimes watched during my lunch break), or do whatever else came my way. Sundays were times to tidy up the house, sleep in, do whatever the whole day. And this system is working. Not only do I feel more productive, but I feel less stressed and happier. I’ve had a few stressful moments and sleepless nights, but I’m remedying that: less coffee, more tea (especially sleepy tea), and less screens before bed. I still have a tendency to be withdrawn and hermity, but I’ve been better than the previous couple of months.
And now I have a draft, and should have a draft ready for my supervisor by the end of this week. It’s earlier than normal, according to my supervisor, but I just couldn’t not work on it. I had a nice June off. But once July hit, I was starting to get anxious about it. And working on it has been enjoyable and exciting. I’m sure I’ll get headaches over some university bureaucracy in the next couple of months (I’ve heard horror stories), but it’s still nice to start working on this diss and getting excited about the things I want to do and write about.
As for my proposal and how it’s coming along, I feel okay with it. [Warning: I’m going to start writing more specifically about my proposal and project. This part is more for me, but you can read on if you’re interested). I guess I’m struggling with the length right now. It can only be 3000 words, and I’m just slightly over. It doesn’t help that the friend I’m swapping proposals with doesn’t have a word limit because I’m like “ugh, I want all of that space to write in.” But I guess that constraint has it’s pros: such as answering the big question “is my proposal too big? Can you convey a full outline of it in less than 3000 words?” I feel I can – it’s just going to take some editing and rearranging.
The big breakthrough, I suppose, is another link I can make with Wallace and Stein. The link was that they both share similar agendas in bringing together the affective and the political, that those two are mutually dependent on each other. And this, in turn, requires a “passionate collaboration” from the readers, which so happens to produce autobiographical writing. I stumbled upon Karin Cope’s book on Stein, Passionate Collaborations, and that really helped me in approaching Stein the way I wanted to approach her: to understand the affective, the participatory nature of her work, involving the reader (rather than, as A LOT of people find her work, alienating the reader). Simplified, Cope’s book (so far of what I’ve read) argues that when reading Stein you’re being-with Stein. As she argues about The Making of Americans, the reading process is so slowed down that the reader reads at the pace of Stein’s writing. So, in a way, readers are writing with Stein. This was huge for me because I’m trying to understand how “everybody” in Everybody’s Autobiography is writing, and link this with the affective experience with radio. My go-to was that Stein felt that as she was filling the airwaves, she in turn was filled by listening; in other words, her listeners were speaking with her and listening with her.
So Cope’s book not only allowed me to bridge Stein’s affective experience of radio and the writing of Everybody’s Autobiography, but the book sorta validates the Stein-centered participatory section of my dissertation: getting people to read from EA, so that the affective radio experience is brought to the fore, that the book is filled with listening and being-with the text.
This experience, in many ways, matches up with how Infinite Summer interacted with Infinite Jest. Although, Infinite Jest is a work of fiction, the readers are still being-with Wallace, just specifically through the crafted lens of the novel. And although the novel is not autobiography, the novel is not quite my focus but rather the readers’ autobiographical responses. And suppose, if pressed into a corner, I can point out that there are biographical elements to the novel, and the themes and issues covered in the novel are obviously important to Wallace. So although Stein is more self-conscious of her text as an autobiography (and that reading produces autobiography), I still find Stein’s and Wallace’s readers’s responses to these texts, whether the authors were self-conscious of this response or not, as similar and illuminating in their comparison.
So what I’ve written in the proposal on Infinite Jest and Infinite Summer I’ve been okay with. For a while, though, I’ve struggled with the chapter breakdowns of Stein. The main difficulty is that there’s really nothing on Stein and Radio (scholarly or documentary). There’s only one essay that I know of. Even in the most recent book on Modernism and Radio, Broadcasting in the Modernist Era, only mentions Stein ONCE, and that mention is in relation to that one essay I know (which is over ten years old). Further, this latest book is very scarce on American radio and American writers’ responses to radio. But the collection is good in its diversity, and I can’t get mad about it not being American-centric. I just wish there were more essays on American Modernists and radio. Perhaps I have to return to Broadcasting Modernism. But other than that, there’s only books on American radio (not related to writers’ engagements with radio) that I have to draw from. In a way, this makes my chapter on Radio and Stein important. At the same time, however, it is daunting. But, hey, I guess more radio research for me, which I can’t complain about – most of the texts have been really interesting and not dull.
The other big hurdle is making sure I present this project as “do-able.” As much as my supervisor is totally behind the two participatory projects I have planned for my dissertation, I have to present it in a way that it will be accepted by the GSO (Grad Student Office), who have been, as of late, quite picky (which doesn’t make sense to me: they’re rejecting proposals that have been accepted by students’ committees. You think if the committee accepted it as “do-able” the GSO would, too. Nope.). So I’m a bit worried, hence why I’ve started early and am getting in a draft early. As of now, I find myself wanting to write a little more of the participatory projects. At the same time, the way I’ve written them into the proposal presents them as a “small side” rather than these massive projects (which they’re not) in addition to the dissertation writing. We’ll see where it goes.
Until next month.