Friday, August 29, 2008

anxiety and the book

A while back, I started on another blog, one designed to help me get back into the swing of writing my book...or, if you prefer, converting my dissertation into a book manuscript. I read a lot of theory, figuring I needed to reflex my brain muscles, become as intellectually nimble as when I was a grad student and being nimble was my only real job. The blog became home to my thinking, my rants, my tangents discovered while diving into theory. I put up somewhere around 25-30 pages of material, and much of it still will find a way into my scholarship somehow.

Then I had a semester of classes for which to prepare. (damn, it might be proper grammar, but that sentence looks funky) Then I had much welcome and enjoyed house guests. I've made a few stabs at getting back into research mode after they left, but there are a few things that have made me rethink my approach.

First, a colleague here at UT who is a creative writer started revising his MFA book..."redlining," he calls it. Then one of my old roommates just published his book (which is both highly entertaining and gorgeously designed), and I'm insanely jealous. These things brought me to some kind of epiphany.

I think what I've realized is that, by submitting myself to a theory overload, I've been trying to put myself through a "DIY" version of doctoral school...and I don't really think I actually need that at this point of my career. I need to remember that the book itself, as the early draft stands now, has more than enough theory in it and behind it. And while I will be revamping the theory section (moving it around, refocusing, all that), it is not going to be a "gearhead" tome.

There's not a lot on the eighties as a decade, and out of what is out there, none of it is really current. My book will not be one of many. It will be an invitation back into the subject, a good reminder of why this decade should be studied, and as such, it has to be approachable. I have to keep it if not informal in tone, then at least accessible. There will be plenty of time to write the heavy theory follow-up article version of the theory real need to do it now.

When I was working on the dissertation itself, I had one particular moment of clarity (there were others, but this is the one that's relevant). I was sitting in the library, having just worked my way through a stack of material on Reaganomics and SDI, and I looked at the pile of sociology books on my table. Suddenly, I realized that what I was trying to do was not write my project but become an expert on everything in the world.

This was unnecessary. It was not really helpful. It contributed to and exacerbated a lack of focus (whether real or perceived). On top of all this, I wasn't sure if the need to know everything in the world was either a desire to be the ultimate authority (and thus a signifier of a heavy work ethic) or of a desire to avoid actually finishing the damn project (and thus a signifier of either laziness or fear of the post-grad world).

In my attempt at total theory immersion, I realize I was doing the exact same thing over again.

So I've made a conscious decision. I've decided that, on a general scale, I'm smart enough to do this as-is. I will still do research and reading, but I'm not going to teach myself anything from scratch.

Second, I've decided that I have to have faith in the bones of the project as it currently exists. I might've been trying to start from scratch, to do the dissertation as I'd do it if I were just now becoming ABD. I need to have faith that all I really need to do is refocus and revise what I've done. While much of the language may change, what I have right now is, I need to remember, a worthwhile project that deserves to see the light of day, and sooner is better than later.

I'm moving on to writing. Screw this misplaced desire for total mastery of all knowledge. I'm not that kind of guy, I'm not that kind of academic, I'm not a theoretical gearhead. Time to start acting and writing like the kind of academic I am.

(note to my readers: If you are a theoretical gearhead, please don't be offended by anything I say here. I understand your scholarship. I need to see a lot of your kind of stuff. Deep in my heart, I wish I was you. But I am not. If I have a potential niche as an academic/scholar, it's essentially my ability to apply neat, unusual, skewed perspectives on subjects that manages to provide some kind of neat insight. This is just about playing to my strengths.)


dr alex said...

hear, hear!! go, Mike, go! if I were there I'd do a cheer for you. which would be pretty hilarious.

Anonymous said...

Suddenly, I realized that what I was trying to do was not write my project but become an expert on everything in the world.

I SO relate to this right now. You have no idea how much.

~jennifer (who can't remember her blogger login password at the moment)