Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Paper Woes

My advisor suggested (since I like blogging...though she didn't seem to understand why) that I might use the blog as as outlet to explore some things. If this is insanely boring for any of you readers, I'm sorry! Regular blogging will resume tomorrow. Though there may be more of this nonsense with it.


When I met with my advisor for the first time after sending her my first draft of my project, she had many, many questions. Not questions like “Where did this brilliance arise from?” No, sadly, not those.

The questions fell more along the lines of “So, what’s the point?” At times I even felt her struggling for the questions as if the general nebulous nature of my paper made her questions want to be just as nebulous. “What?” “How?” “Why?” And so I had to wonder, not just to finish the paper, but to make something of this segment of my life.

I’m putting it lightly when I say that it was disheartening. Though some of her questions were expected, I didn’t expect an all out “What’s the point of this 100 page pile of information?” So, I thought about it.

I told her, during the meeting, how burnt out I felt by liberal arts/social science academia. More than 10 years, I had been steeped in ideas about life, society, people…all somehow connected…all somehow unknowable even as I attempted to learn them.

And so, my paper…Why did I do this? What was it about women in (and) conflict that constituted a topic, in and of itself, in my mind? What was my question? After all that information, after all that reading, what were my conclusions?

What was the point? Why was I so attached to this topic, but unable to isolate one specific area to analyze? Why was my voice trumped and drowned out by literature? What were my conclusions?

The point is this. I am a woman. I talk to women far more than to men. We seem to understand each other, a lot. We fellow bloghers are often preaching to the choir as we face the same problems, the same obstacles. Though translations across the gender lines happen, being a woman seems to be key to my way of looking at and acting in the world.

But even my womanhood was a point I struggled with in my writing. Trying to remain neutrally positioned, I even struggled with saying “us” or “our” when referring to various issues that women encounter in conflict. Though it’s a minor point, it is a prime example of how my voice had been completely lost in the paper. I became a reporter of the literature; obscured and trying to remain invisible. Though my questions came from within and from my own connections with other women, they became completely lost behind the veil of “information”.

And I am not just a woman, but I am a woman who feels completely plagued by conflict. After spending several years in a program dedicated to dispute resolution, I still feel that I am hopelessly inept at resolving any conflicts, especially those that are my own. Its been a very emotionally charged problem for me, knowing that I’ve studied for a long time, taken part in an internship, and can still escalate a conflict with someone I love like nobodies business. And so every time I have a conflict with someone, the intensity of the conflict is compounded by the fact that I feel like a complete failure in the very area where I’m supposed to be earning a Master’s Degree. Is it any wonder that my paper came out like a pile of vague ideas and notions, all piled on top of each other, but meaning nothing? In some ways, it’s exactly how I feel.

I have all this information, all these ideas, all these theories. Yet when it comes to integrating it into real life, where it matters, it all falls apart.


Blogger Chris said...

Oh ho! Now there's fine print to read... ;)

Isn't it always hardest to apply things to our own lives? Maybe you should step away from that and feeling a failure because you can't do so - because almost no one can do so.

I remember all too well those comments and questions - "vague", "what's the point?", "so what?", etc. It IS discouraging. And when I got those, I had to step back a bit from my paper. I had to step away from the computer. I had to take a piece of paper and a pen and write, total stream of consciousness. I thought about the so whats and just wrote.

When I sorted through the stream of consciousness stuff, I had some of my very best ideas and writing.


3:23 PM  
Anonymous roo said...

Well, there's that old feminist axion that the personal is political. Would it be inappropriate to use your paper to address the personal questions you raise? To use your life as a case study?

Also-- what the hell is it with advisors? You'd think, given their title, they'd actually, I don't know, advise? Why didn't she answer any of these questions, or at least point you in a direction to look for answers yourself? It seems like all she could offer is, "I don't know-- why don't you see what your blog friends have to say?"

As for feeling like a fraud/failure in your area of study-- I don't know, V... I can't think of a single person who has handled a divorce/raising a child in two different households, and all the conflicts that arise from that type of circumstance, with more grace, diplomacy, and yes, dispute-resolving skills than you. Maybe because you've never been anyone but yourself you don't have the perspective to see how good you are at it.

8:32 PM  

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