Do you know what THIS is?

THIS, my friends, is a DISSERTATION. “The Art of the Public Grovel: Public Confession and Scandal Management in the Twentieth Century.” From Aimee Semple McPherson and Father Divine through Jimmy Carter (remember the lust in his heart?), Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart, Edward Kennedy, Bill Clinton, and Cardinal Bernard Law.

230 pages of text, 75 pages of appendices, 20 pages of works cited. I have been working on this almost non-stop since I got the last revisions of the History of the Ancient World off. This past week my kind husband took the children off for several days of outings so that I could finish the thing off. I missed Pirates of the Caribbean Two, but I’ve got a dissertation draft. I took it into Williamsburg this afternoon and turned it in to my director’s mailbox.

Pete, happy that I am returning to the land of the living.

This has been more difficult than any writing project I’ve done, including the eight-hundred-thousand-word first draft of the History of the Ancient World. For one thing, the Ph.D. program in American Studies has been like a Flannery O’Connor story crossed with Gaudy Night with a soupcon of I Know What You Did Last Summer. When I am well out of the department, I may spill a bean or two, sans names and identifying details that might get me sued. Anyway, working on any kind of scholarly project with a soap opera boiling along in the background is…distracting.

Mostly, though, I find academic writing of this kind grueling because it requires me to keep on listening to the editorial voice while I’m getting words down on paper. Most writers will tell you that, in order to avoid panic and brain freeze, they have to learn to “turn off” the critical voice which keeps whispering, “That’s not really very good. How boring. No one’s going to read that. Is that the best word you can come up with?” Instead, writers have to block that “editorial voice” out, get a first draft down on paper in the faith that an audience somewhere will find it interesting, and THEN go back and read through with the editorial voice unmuted. The problem with a dissertation is that you’re not actually writing it for an audience. You’re writing it for four people whose job it is to criticize what you’ve done. The editorial voice is impossible to silence. Writing a dissertation is not only horrendously difficult, but just plain no fun.

Which is sad. The last few months, and the last four weeks in particular, have been a misery, because I’ve been sitting down at my table with gritted teeth and promising myself all sorts of rewards, from another episode of Pride & Prejudice to a Reese’s Peanutbutter Cup, just to make myself DO it.

And normally I love my work. I can’t wait to get to it.

This has been quite different. I’ve been dreading walking down to the Chicken Shed and opening the door. And I’ve gained four pounds. But there it is. The First Draft. Revisions are peachy by comparison.

Now the draft is in, the kids are in bed, and I’m going to watch What About Bob? and collapse, get up in the morning and have a nice long run and a hot bath and then spend the day with the kids. Thursday morning I’m off to speak at a convention in Modesto, so my next update will be from the West Coast.

Showing 14 comments
  • The Tutor

    Huzzah! Huzzah!

    Congratulations and enjoy your respite before the editing process begins. So happy for you.

  • Jeannette

    Congratulations! Well done!

    Hoping for no soap operas with your committee…

    It’s sad that academia is like this sometimes.

  • Kolbi

    YAY!!!! So glad it’s done!!!

    Okay, girl, you know I adore you and all… but you need to totally see the big picture here.

    Susan Wise Bauer: gorgeous, trim, radiant, slim, insanely fit

    Susan Wise Bauer + four pounds: gorgeous, trim, radiant, slim, insanely fit

    Got it?


  • Jill

    Egads! I would PAY to sneak a peek at something with a title like “The Art of the Public Grovel”!! LOL!!

  • Barb

    So I hope you saved a little for us at the convention…I am going to be there to hear you speak!

    Hope you have a great day tomorrow and have a safe trip on Thursday.
    See you in Modesto. Can you say HOT?


  • Amy in NH


    Is this something you might actually be able to publish? The title sounds very interesting…

  • Diane

    Yippee!! Sounds like time for a celebration! I’ll bring celebratory beverages with me (-:

    See you sooooooon,

  • dangermom

    Yay and congratulations! You deserved every single Reese’s cup for forcing yourself to do that job.

    I too will be in Modesto, and I sure hope their AC works right. See you there!

    (You know, I’ve lived almost my whole life in California, but I’ve never been to Modesto. But then I’ve also never been in an earthquake.)

  • Staci in MO

    “Flannery O’Connor story crossed with Gaudy Night with a soupcon of I Know What You Did Last Summer” – heh heh.

    My best friend from college joined the faculty of our alma mater a few years ago. The stories she tells are surreal. It’s hard to imagine it all from “the other side.”

    Congratulations on your dissertation! I hope you get plenty of time to enjoy the rest of the summer.

  • Heather in WI

    Yay! It’s done! 🙂

    LOL, I love “What About Bob?”! I’ve seen it a hundred times and still crack-up.

  • Padmé

    Congratualations also!!!

    I think whoever will read it will not be able to put it down, and a Hollywood screenwriter will be inspired to make a movie based on the idea of the dissertation.

  • Michelle in MO

    Oh, congratulations! What a relief! I’ve never tackled a master’s or Ph.D. yet, but I remember how tired I was of my honor’s thesis when it was done. I’m sure you did well.

    Now, you really must take an afternoon off and go see Pirates of the Caribbean 2! It must still be playing somewhere!

  • PariSarah

    *thunderous applause*

  • Sherrill in VA

    Hallelujah! G publishes his to his committee tomorrow! You are neck and neck! Is your defense scheduled? The topic sounds fascinating! And that title is a scream. G didn’t believe it was your real title at first.

    I bet it feels so great to have that done. I wish you well slogging through the defense.


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