This Porridge is Too Hot

Ever see a cat when it gets read to sleep? The way they turn little circles on the selected spot, knead the ground/pet bed, lay down only to get back up again? I’m like that when I try to write. Everything has to be perfect. I can’t write at home because it is never clean enough and it’s so dark inside. Solution? Coffee shop, of course. Perfect – unless the table is wobbly, there are too many people, the roasting room is running, the sun is shining in my eyes or on screen, or I forgot my headphones. Dear lord, the headphones – NEVER forget the headphones.

I used to pride myself about being low maintenance. I realize this morning that I have been living a lie. I had my husband take me to new coffee shop this morning just because the other it getting too crowded and I can never get my favorite table. This means I spend a great deal of time looking over, longingly, at the stolen utopia until it opens up and sprint to claim it. And the tables are to tall. And my students stop by. And I am afraid I’ll be asked how the dissertation is going. And. And. And. So here I am, in a new spot. It’s okay – a little warm. But I can set up and –

Wait.

Oh no.

Dear god no.

No headphones.

How can I concentrate without my ambient music? How can I possibly block out the business meeting at the next table? Or the the fucking up talker ordering the world’s most complicated coffee? Should I just pack up and watch Book 3 of Avatar: The Last Air Bender instead?

The truth is, this cat-like fussiness is an excuse. Yes, I work optimally in a clean, bright, caffeinated environment with my custom writing playlists. But “working optimally” is usually 50% work, 50% trying to find the right spot.

Just fucking write, Macy.

Post Script: If anyone is near Garden District Coffee and has a spare set of headphones, I’ll include you in the Acknowledgements on the diss.

Crying in the Archive is a Thing – The Hallie Flanagan Papers

Last year, I was able to do my first archive visit. I traveled to New York the first week of September to delve into the Hallie Flanagan Papers held at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. Archive research is an amazing thing, and I wanted to share my experience.

My first day to use the archive I was practically vibrating with eagerness. I showed up to the NYPL in Lincoln Center at 9am ready to research. Guess what? That branch doesn’t open until noon. After getting over my initial disappointment, I realized that I had a huge problem. I was going to lose nine hours of research time.

One of the difficulties of getting a PhD in southeast Louisiana is that if you need to do ANY kind of archive work, it’s going to cost you. For me, my archives were in New York Washington, DC. This means no taking a day to dig deep into a single box, take my time, ponder a letter’s significance to my research. No – I had three days in NY, five in DC, to get as much material as I could because this was my one shot. So, 27 hours with the Hallie Flanagan papers was just cut to 18 hours and I was panicking. Take into account that part of my first day was devoted to registering, figuring out how to request materials, and what the rules were for the material, and I didn’t open my first box until 2:45 PM on the first day.

The Hallie Flanagan papers were wonderful and frustrating. I was hoping that I would be able to search for the specific play I am writing about, but that was not going to happen.There were a possible 32 boxes I had to go through of Flanagan’s person papers, hoping for anything to do with It Can’t Happen Here. Added to the fact that I could only have one box at a time, and only have one folder open at a time, I could only do one thing: make the archive portable. I took pictures of EVERYTHING even remotely related to my dissertation. Without the ability to see it all at once to compare and draw connections while at the archive, and without the means to come back, I brought what I could back home Louisiana. I have so many PDF’s of documents in my cloud that I could recreate most the archive in my home office.

Taking the archive with me, however, did allow me the freedom to be in awe of some of the things I found. Doodles by Gordon Craig, thank you notes on hotel stationary written by Ernst Toller, a garden party invitation signed by ELEANOR ROOSEVELT! I was most moved by a folder full of letters written by graduate students to Flanagan, asking blessings/guidance on their thesis projects concerning the Federal Theatre Project. I did it – I cried in the archive. Flanagan had saved the letters, and copies of her responses. She was so happy that people still found it important, that her work was not forgotten. I felt like I was reaching back through time to touch her, to learn from her. I was able to hide my face (because I can only ugly cry) until I composed myself.

If someone had told me, 15 years ago, that I would be crying in a library over letters written by students to some woman who used to work for Roosevelt I would not have believed it (even though I cry a lot). But it happened. The archive touched me. Now I just need to make it touch someone else.

Death and Resurrection of the Dissertation

I am a walking cliche today. Or, a typing one. I am at a coffee shop – blogging. Double cappuccino, 2%, asiago bagel with hummus, blogging about blogging about grad school. Is this being basic? Is that what the kids call it?

I’m here because my condo is killing my groove and killing the dis. Okay, I’m killing to dis- but the condo is my weapon of choice. The killer was the Never-gonna-be-Doctor Jones, in the spare bedroom, with the Netflix.

I had a conversation with one of the PhD faculty, Dr. W, and she told me that it was okay not to write everyday – I just had to engage everyday. Not engaging leads to dissertation death. Every day spent examining, planning, reading was a productive day. She told me not to beat myself up for not writing. Writing for writing sake is not productive. Good advice, huh? I wish I had taken it. After my archive visits, I basically punished myself for not IMMEDIATELY writing by shaming myself into ignoring everything. My dissertation is on life support. Not dead, but close.

I had high hopes of getting a chapter done over the winter break, but I had two sets of parents come in, and a semester’s worth of home neglect. Those are just excuses, though. The real problem was that I lacked focus and discipline. Seriously, how hard is it to get up and devote a few hours to something you are good at and find interesting? I’m note sure what my problem was, but I needed to fix it fast. I want to graduate in August, damnit. I want to finally get that sweet title and my wizard robe. That’s not going to happen unless I can find some of the old Macy – the driven one who can’t stop telling people about her research.

So, how do I revive this dissertation? Get out of the fucking house. Prime the pump. Write a little blog post, set an intended page goal, and then fucking WRITE THE DISSERTATION. It’s hard, but I get to write about the Great Depression, Hitler, Huey Long, Hallie Flanagan, and agitprop theatre. You know, the stuff that makes my heart sing.

This is a mea culpa post to myself, and my sickly dissertation. Tomorrow’s topic: my first archive trip ever!

Acedia Strikes

The process of writing my dissertation has been a cycle of breaking promises to myself. Even making these promises publicly doesn’t change the outcome. I am suffering from acedia.

Acedia is a concept that I first heard of last spring from my dissertation advisor, JF. It is a state of listlessness and sloth. It’s not depression, but this rejection of one’s divine calling. It is falling short of one’s purpose and potential by filling time with both non-activity and useless manic busy work.

To borrow a tumblr word: GPOY.

Acedia is my struggle. I battle it everyday, and I have been losing the battles.

Dissertat-ing is incredibly isolating. I hear that a lot, mainly from people who have a cohort. When I tell them I have no cohort, they all look at me like I just told them that I was a born a blind orphan. There is no one to lean on, to give encouragement to, to learn from.

Last week I promised to write about Shad Ledue. Perhaps that will happen later.

Book reading this week: Furious Improvisation