Day 30/31: 34

This is how you know you are dissertating – You are alone in the department in your office on a Saturday when it is 70 degrees and clear for the first time in 2 weeks and the day happens to be your birthday. Sigh.

But, before you start to feel bad for me, and before I permit myself to feel bad for myself, my lovely Spousal Unit took me to a fabulous breakfast this morning at our favorite place. I had potato-apple-sausage hash with fried eggs and gruyere, sourdough toast and fresh squeezed orange juice. It was divine. Then, I went window shopping for a bit, put a little denim couch on hold for my new office, and bought a couple of novels for myself at the bookstore. Then I got an iced mocha and wandered up to campus. I’ll only be here for the afternoon and then S.U. and I are going out for a nice dinner tonight, but I know I’ll feel better about celebrating if I get a bit more accomplished.

Yesterday I made a lot of progress. Looking back over the 20 pages I had, that I thought just needed a little tweaking to fit into the new conceptual framework, I realized that they needed a lot of work. So, when I said I was done with composition, I jumped the gun a bit. I was able to use a lot of the evidence I had already written about, but I had to re-frame it completely. Of the three sections that I need to do now, I finished one yesterday, so that was good. I guess a little fear that is externally induced rather than internally produced has been a good thing for my work life.

I could have done more -- I was totally on a roll yesterday evening –but we had theater tickets and were cooking dinner for friends before the show. (Free-range, grass-fed tenderloin steaks, chipotle-mashed Yukon gold potatoes with smoked paprika sour-cream, and a bacon-kale-corn-tomato summer sauté. Combined with the Mango Margaritas and the excellent Cabernet-Sauvignon our friends brought, it was an amazing meal.)

The play was really interesting – but confirmed yet again why I am a historian. It was a one-man show about a real-life German transvestite who survived both the Nazi Regime and Communist East Germany, collecting Weimar Republic relics and preserving them in a private museum that she somehow maintained against incredible odds. It was fascinating, mainly because while the playwright was researching and interviewing Charlotta, it came out that she had collaborated with the Communists as an informant. The playwright didn’t know what to do with this – and so finally decided to write the play about his experience of encountering her rather than write a story of her heroism in the face of oppression. It was interesting, but ultimately unsatisfying. I wanted documentation, I wanted more research, I wanted texture and nuance, and far, far more depth. I think that if this had been my research, I wouldn’t have been willing to submit to the severe limitations placed on the storyteller by the genre – the story doesn’t want to be a play, it wants to be a book. Or maybe I just wanted it to be a book. Hopefully, by now someone has written it.

Well, off to tackle this next hurdle. Happy Day folks!


At 1:47 PM RageyOne said...

Happy Birthday!

At 1:59 PM lucyrain said...

Indeed, happy birthday! Such a lovely day so far, and remember, the fact that you got yourself to the library is a congratulatory feat in and of itself. Do the work that you can, pat yourself on the back, and let the festivities resume!

At 2:52 PM Suz said...

Happy Birthday! Enjoy your progress and your special day and your S.U. Alas, I too am at work, so you are not alone on that score. Cheers.

At 3:06 PM New Kid on the Hallway said...

Happy Birthday! Let's hear it for birthday breakfasts! I'd be in the office now, but they turn off the A/C on weekends and it's in the mid-90s today, so I'm at home pretending to work. Hope you have a great evening!

At 5:23 PM Wanna Be PhD said...

Happy birthday!!
For the last 12 years I remember doing academic stuff on my birthday, so welcome to the club!

What was the name of the play? Sounds interesting!

At 9:10 PM Cleis said...

Re: the play ("I am my own wife," for Wannabe) - I was fascinated by the way the playwright explored conceptions of truth in storytelling, history, first and third person narratives, and from various cultural perspectives (the reporters asking Charlotte questions). The playwright (whose name is Wright, I think? heh heh) admires Charlotte - sees her as a hero, in fact - but doesn't take her stories at face value. How DO we evaluate her truth claims, or those of the Stassi, or those of contemporary apologists and critics? We can't use scientific standards of truth and falsehood. Nor did the playwright resort to glib postmodernism: e.g. the truth can't be located because it doesn't exist. These questions and issues were raised artfully, not at all forcefully - I thought it was quite brilliant.

I definitely recommend the play.

At 1:11 PM Yvette said...

Happy belated birthday! Love the blog!

At 2:37 PM Stewgad said...

Thanks guys for the birthday wishes! It was a great day. I finished all of the composition of the chapter that I'm revising. So now, I just have to tidy up and hand the puppy in. (More in a later post).

I did appreciate very much the subtle approach to the issues raised by Charlotte's life and stories and agree wholeheartedly that a "scientific" standard of "truth" finding is neither appropriate or valuable here. But, I didn't see the silences in the text as the playwright's efforts to grapple with these questions. Maybe I didn't give him enough credit -- I just saw those silences as omissions.

But, ultimately what dissatisfied me was not really his treatment of the story, but the limitations of the genre. Ultimately, we just caught glimples of her fascinating persona - and only a few carefully selected tales. For a play, it was very well done, but I wanted more documenation -- more of what she had said about herself and her world, more about what reporters had said and what image they had tried to create about her, etc. I itched to get my hands on the documents, not just on one person's interpretations of the documents. Also, the playwright fictionalized some things, and I wanted to know which ones and why. Occupational hazzard, I guess. We historians, I think, occasionally have trouble accepting historical fiction without wanting the history behind the fiction.

Thanks for your comments!


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