My oral exams are in precisely one month. I’m most of the way through the books and articles on my reading lists. The truth is, since I formed the lists around special topics I’ve been thinking and reading about for a while, I had read about half the texts before I started my prep. In effect, I’m using the orals to flesh out my specialties, to cover the important texts I missed in my own self-directed study.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I’ve been writing more as I’ve been going through this process, been feeling compelled to write. I’m making connections between the scholarship and my ideas, and I’m also getting a better hang on the discourse conventions of the fields in which I plan to publish.
While I learn a lot about the rules of the conversation from reading articles and chapters, I think I’ve gotten more from my recent experiences at academic conferences. At both CCCC in Indianapolis and CWPA at Normal, IL, I got to meet people working directly in my field and talk to them about their work, their concerns, and their interests. I also got to experience the way my own ideas piqued or didn’t pique their interest, to hear what sounded useful about my work. Talking and working with real professionals in my fields has started to show me that my writing can be useful to other people, that I can make it usable for them. I think that realization has helped focus my energy when writing, helped me get a little bit out of my own head and try to boil down my efforts to what is most directly useful for my audience and to not waste time and energy on the rest.
If anything, this is a lesson for me about the importance of social learning in gaining rhetorical awareness. The imagined “reader” is one thing, but actual live readers whom I know and whose knowledge and interests I can intelligently reflect on . . . it means much more to me.
Obviously, one of my reasons for doing this blog is to capitalize on the positive gains I get from writing and talking and thinking in social spaces. Comments aren’t quite like conversation, but they can work very well between conferences.
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The scariest thing about spending an entire year working through long reading lists is having to trust my memory. I’m sure I’ve forgotten some important things from the texts I read eleven months ago (or longer). On top of that, I’m now moving through my remaining texts very quickly, not taking as thorough notes as I used to: I’m likely missing things. I’m tormented by the forgotten and the unremembered equally.
So, part of the exercise of the orals, for me, is a challenge of self-trust: I have to trust that my early notes and writings about the texts did good work, that I’ll be able to review and recall. I have to trust that I’m taking in enough to talk intelligently on the day–that it’s okay to forget a few things, and that my examiners are not expected perfection. That all I need is to pass. These are probably useful lessons to learn on the threshold of two years of dissertation work.
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It’s sometimes hard to keep balance in Seattle, where I’ll be for nearly two weeks starting next Tuesday. I visit at least once a year, usually in the summer, when the weather is at its best and I have the most free time (most years). It’s the only time all year I get to spend with my oldest friends in my first city-love. I tend to indulge. It’s valuable recuperative time after a year in crazy-making New York.
So, obviously it’s hard to stay disciplined and get work done when I’m there. When I could be singing karaoke with my friends or hiking on park trails and/or enjoying all the easily available, legal, high-quality marijuana–I have trouble getting work done. I’m going to try to keep some work time set aside every morning, and continue moving through my reading and writing, but I know it’s going to take some balancing. I wonder how others deal with this kind of situation: the paradox of vacation productivity, anyone?
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Besides the orals, as if that weren’t enough, I’m working on a draft article I want to submit to a CFP due August 15th, six days away as I write this. The call is well suited to my work, and gives me the opportunity to revise my CWPA talk and reflect on some other work I’ve been doing. Here’s the CFP, for those interested: Teaching Disability, Special Issue of Transformations.
It’s a bit of a distraction from the orals work, but it’s giving me an occasion to make important connections among texts on my lists, and I think the writing will lead directly into both my dissertation proposal and some early chapter in the dis. If you’re interested in reading a very drafty recent draft (half outline half chunked text), you can access it here with the temporary password “draft“. Feedback or encouragement are both welcome!