Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Research Breakthrough and Quick Reflection on Childcare and Money Woes

So why didn't I write over the weekend? Well, because I had a complete breakthrough on the research front. I don't know what precipitated it -- I spend a lot of time just staring out into space (and watching recordings of old TV series, like Northern Exposure, which I recently finished and am now in mourning over), so I think it just came to me.

Let me explain. I wrote a weird dissertation, one that transgressed some field boundaries. Now, I think (and I think other people on my committee and who are familiar with my work think this too) that this transgression is actually the strength of my work. I've often thought that I don't have a single new thought in my head -- my plethora of ideas comes from putting things together from different places (read: fields, disciplines, worlds) and putting them together in strange ways. To answer a burning question over here, my brain naturally asks: well, what do these people over here have to say about that. This makes me a fairly weird researcher and thinker -- one who tends not to have an instinctive repulsion to things many of my colleagues do -- things like quantitative data. (Don't get me wrong: I don't think quantitative data is the end all and be all, but I do like to see patterns -- and that means getting away from purely case study or individual text analysis, which, by the way, I also do.) Sometimes I think I look more like a social science researcher than an English one. But I digress, one of the major problems with being this kind of thinker.

The fact is that my dissertation worked for my committee, but I fear it wouldn't work for a lot of other people. Who would publish that book? I can think of publishers interested in one chapter or another, but not the whole thing as is. And even though it's been two years since I finished, defended, and walked away from the dissertation, I haven't really wanted to re-enter the problems with my dissertation, not even to take parts out of it and publish those. Up until now, I thought I would publish the various pieces, figuring out which more-traditional book I wanted to try to publish as I went, if any at all considering that I don't need a book for tenure. Though I don't need a book for tenure, my department is full of research-driven people and I do need to have a fairly aggressive research agenda -- which is to say, I need a research agenda that goes beyond try to read something occasionally, which has been my agenda for the last year and a half since pregnancy/motherhood/poverty took over. So I've been feeling the pressure of needing some plan, any plan.

And that plan came to me over the weekend. I am going to revise my dissertation into a book. Maybe it won't get published and maybe it will, but I'm going to have to radically revise certain sections (basically switching out an entire chapter and doing a lot more research for another one) and then I can turn at least some of those pieces into articles on their way to being chapters. What makes my dissertation so hard is that it all builds out from the first chapter. Chapters 2-4 don't really build on one another, but they all build on Chapter 1, making it hard to conceive of an article built out of Chapter 4, for example, that would scrunch up the Chapter 1 stuff enough to make a coherent article. So mining the thing for articles has been fairly difficult. But when I do the additional research, I will approach them as separate pieces anyway, so I could make articles out of them on the way to integrating them/revising them into chapters. That's the theory anyway. Practice always changes everything anyway. But it's a plan. A plan that makes sense to me. A plan upon which I can build my professional development plan. On Monday and Tuesday, I managed to spend some time working on my professional development plan instead of just frantically grading. Of course, now I'm behind in my grading, but what else is new. I'm not going to get tenure for just doing my grading. I've got to make time for research. And a colleague of mine told me how easy it is to just lose the entire year as one adapts to the new teaching environment. So I've got to guard against that.

In other news, I don't teach Wednesdays so I get to be home and be Mom for the day. There's really no middle ground to be had between working and being at home, unless I ask Absurdist Lover to take care of him when I'm home, which seems so awful and unfair because he takes care of him when I'm gone and needs his alone time too. He doesn't want to be taking care of him all the time, but he is because we don't have money for daycare. We're in the process of getting my student loans consolidated for a lower monthly payment, then we're going to move out of this place into something cheaper, then we'll get AB into daycare of some kind and AL will be able to look for a job. (AB is a handful; nothing gets done except TV watching when taking care of him.) It's a slow road out of poverty into normalcy. It's weird to pretend to be middle class at work; in fact, it's nearly impossible considering I only have two nice pairs of pants and a few shirts. Climbing out of poverty with a baby is no picnic. We can't even begin to address the outstanding bills from the birth. Oy!

I can't think about that today. In the immortal words of Scarlett O'Hara: I'll think about that tomorrow.


Sisyphus said...

You can do it! You can do it! *cheers, waves pom poms*

PS what is this professional development plan you keep mentioning? Is this another word for research agenda, or an actual document thingy your department uses, or what?

Earnest English said...

Sis: The professional development plan is an actual document thingy I have to turn in, not unlike what lots of people have to do. One colleague I knew had to write hir plan at the beginning of the academic year, then what actually happened at the end. Of course this is for the untenured. I think from now on I'm going to call it an actual document thingy (ADT). Much more friendly.