Yesterday, as I was hanging laundry on the line in the backyard (yeah, I know, so damned bucolic. I was even wearing overalls), I watched a baby blue jay’s leap of faith.

She was perched on the flatly sloping roof of our neighbor’s garage eyeballing a branch on the tree that gently curved away from the garage when I noticed her. I could tell she really wanted to make it to that branch. Who wouldn’t, really, prefer a nice leafy tree to a sticky-hot asphalt roof? She hopped forward, eyed the branch, let out a squawk, hopped back, tried her little fledgling wings uncertainly, hopped forward, squawked quietly, looked up, and again looked back, judging the distance and clearly feeling most uncertain that her oh-so-recent flying skills would take her that far. She kept at this aeronautical analysis for a fair bit, flapping her little wings every now and then as if to remind herself that she had all of the parts necessary to do what it was she contemplated attempting. Finally, she gave the bird equivalent of a sigh and shoulder shrug, and took a flying leap out for the branch, flapping with all her might. If I could have seen her eyes, I imagine they would have been squeezed closed as tight as they could be. She had a moment of suspended animation in the air beyond the edge of the roof, then she smacked into the branch. Holding on to it for dear life, she waved her wings around a bit in the birdie version of the backwards-arm-circle to regain her balance. But, she had made it. I'm not sure it was flying, so much as falling with style, but it did the trick. She had made it.

Watching this, I wanted to holler and cheer for her success, but I was afraid to scare her off, so I whispered, “well done, little one” under my breath in a quiet blessing for her first little step off into the wild.

Tomorrow, I too will make a leap of faith with about as much dignity and flailing about as my little blue jay. I will give my revised chapter 2 to my advisor – the first one I will have given him since the much-maligned and deservedly ripped-to-shreds first draft of the whole dissertation. It has taken me 6 months or so to get to this point. I’m not happy with it. I know it could be better. But, so far, I’m not humiliated or ashamed, and that is something, I think. I’m terrified. Horribly scared, and absolutely sure that he’s going to tell me (again) to go back to the drawing board and that I just won’t be able to do it, because I’ll have nothing left to say, but I’m so tired of hanging about with it that I’m just going to do it.

I finally got to this point because last weekend, the writing just kicked in. On Friday, I wrote a ton and then on my birthday, I wrote solid for 7 or so hours and finished the composition (a very nice gift to myself!). I took Sunday off and hung out with friends and enjoyed the beautiful weather. Yesterday, I read through most of the chapter briefly, and today I’ve been digging in to some more intensive revising. By mid-morning tomorrow, I will deposit it into my advisor’s campus mailbox, and send him an email telling him it is there -- squeezing my eyes closed as tight as I can as I do it.

I hope somewhere there is somebody watching and whispering, “well done, little one” under their breath in a quiet blessing for me.


At 6:22 PM Scott Eric Kaufman said...

Shouldn't your reaction depend on how he rips it to shreds? The way I see it, my advisor will trash, constructively, anything I turn in, so to prevent an absolute melt-down between the moment I hand it to him and the inevitable criticism of it, I do a couple of things:

1. Make a list of legitimate criticism, i.e. what you know he will have a problem with if he reads it attentively. This could be anything from the claim you'd have further substantiated if inter-library loan hadn't demanded be returned; that section on the book you resolutely read and re-read until, in the end, you maybe-sort-of-kind-of understood the argument but there's a chance you didn't; &c.

2. Make a list of quasi-legitimate criticisms you think, given the difference between his approach and yours, he'll make irrespective of the quality of your chapter. My dissertation and I disagree over the useful of structural homologies--he loves 'em, I'm lukewarm--so I know that anytime I hand something in, that paragraph that hints at a possible structural homology will be earmarked for insufficient structural-homologiness or what-not.

3. Rank how much work you put into each of the sections. Did he like the ones you worked hardest on? If so, excellent. If not, did you work on them the hardest because they're the ones in which you're really reaching or, a la #2, are those the ones you knew he wouldn't like in the first place because of some meta-theoretical conflict, &c.?

I suppose what I'm saying is that if you specify, with an honesty "brutal" does no justice, what you anticipate his evaluation will be, it won't be that much of a blow...and you'll be able to deal more constructively with it, since you've already identified the problems and are working on them.

Don't you just love the logic of advisor/advisee relations?

At 6:47 PM Cleis said...

Well done, formidable one.

At 6:49 PM New Kid on the Hallway said...

What a great way to think about this! I hope you enjoy the same success as the baby jay. Good luck! (My advisor still terrifies me. Thankfully, it doesn't matter nearly as much once you're done!)

At 7:09 PM La Lecturess said...

Hey, congratulations right back atcha! It's great to hear that you hit your writing stride this weekend . . . and though I completely relate to your terror at the upcoming advisor meeting, I'm sure it will go fine. Just remember, he wants you to be done just as much as you want to be done.

At 8:21 PM Scrivener said...

Congratulations on the solid day writing--I haven't had one of those in so long I'm not sure I'd remember what one looked like--and congratulations on screwing up the courage to turn in the revised draft. I'll certainly be wishing good thoughts for you tomorrow morning.

At 2:31 PM Scrivener said...

So now I'm checking in wondering how it went. How do you feel now that you've dropped it in the box?

At 11:52 AM Stewgad said...

Thanks guys for advice and support! I feel relieved and a bit terrified, but good. I guess I'm just waiting for the other shoe to drop? Anyway, it's in. (See above).

At 12:32 AM academic coach said...

Congrats for getting it in. And thanks for letting me know you done did it.

At 6:31 PM Wanna Be PhD said...

Very well done!
At least you have something written now that can be revised (if advisor relly insists on it). That's way better than being scared to hell and staring at the computer, not being able to write a single word.


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