So I am doing quite poorly at this getting back into a regular pattern of work thing. I’ve been trying to push myself, but realizing more and more that my old strategies for getting things done just don’t work. And the longer it takes, the more frustrated I get. I feel like if I just had tasks to get done I could do them. Easily. Not only could I do them, but they really might help the days to go by faster, and when it comes to the end of the day, I might actually feel I’ve accomplished something. If writing a dissertation were anything like the other forms of “school” I completed (even grad school before reaching candidacy or even the research phase where I had to abide by the archives’ operating hours) and I had exams or reading assignments or papers to write, I could do it. External deadlines, external pressure, that would help. I tried thinking about my chapters as individual papers and I tried setting my own deadlines. But the only real due date I have is next summer, as in 14 months or so from now. That’s a hell of a big due date since I have to turn in a book-length manuscript but somehow it seems so remote.
These complaints might sound like normal ones for a dissertator, but the thing is, I know that if Natan had lived, I might be struggling, but at least I’d be doing so happily. I thrive when I’m too busy. If I’m otherwise content, I thrive on little sleep. I was incredibly productive in the fall, completing a chapter, planning for the next one, reading through all my notes, making plans, constructing arguments. I sat down one afternoon in late December, with my computer on, my notes around me, my file boxes open, ready to write. I worked for a couple of hours, sitting in my chair, when suddenly our cat, Tom, got stuck in the blinds and broke them. I shot off an annoyed email to Josh in complaint, and stood up to check the damage. That’s when I felt a gush, and when I checked it was blood. And since then, I haven’t been able to get back to that moment before – to that morning when I felt really good about what I was doing, the progress I was making. Honestly, I can’t even remember anything I accomplished in the weeks before I went into labor, or any of the preparations I made for this chapter. It’s the most important chapter of my dissertation, the one with the most innovative and new material, so I knew it was going to be a dog to organize. I realized yesterday that I had started a system of highlighting important things in my notes and then logging that information onto a spreadsheet. I’d done the same thing for historical newspaper articles. I had a solid plan. I’m not disorganized, or at least I wasn’t disorganized, so you’d think I should be able to pick up where I left off. But I didn’t even remember that I had been doing it, so I didn’t know to look for it.
I might be making excuses. I can’t just pick up where I left off, because I’m not really sure where I was. And I’m acutely aware of having lost five months, so it kills me to have to go backwards. The problem isn’t just files, the problem is I lost the momentum, I lost the creative process that was pushing me forward.
I’m not sure any of this post is making sense. Grieving is so hard, for more reasons than the sadness. I can’t depend on any of my feelings, any of my thoughts, any of my reactions to even normal daily events to be what they were before. I can’t count on any of my tactics of self-motivation to work, on any efforts at self-control that would have worked before to be effective. Not only is working harder, but everything is harder.
I’m trying not to be hard on myself, but the thing is all I want right now is to feel like I’m accomplishing something on a daily basis, but I can’t seem to figure out how to make that happen. And it annoys the hell out of me when people ask how my work is going because even as I think about it constantly, right now it’s the last thing I want to talk about. And it only adds to the pressure I feel, but unlike before, the pressure doesn’t help.