a good five hours

Before I begin: today is Saturday, so check out this week’s pick by carrots!

I don’t feel like I’ve had a successful dissertation work day unless I have put in a good five hours.

This is really a misguided measure of my progress, as my attention span varies depending on the type of work I’m doing.  Some days five hours is easy to achieve.  When I’m just beginning research — performing a few MLA Bibliography searches or something similar — it doesn’t seem so bad.  But when I’m in the last weeks of writing a chapter and I’m spending time outlining and re-outlining, reading the horrible (or at least seemingly horrible) prose that I’ve written the day before, and trying to finesse a point that I know isn’t particularly strong by exiling those critics who would challenge me to a footnote, five hours seems absolutely insurmountable.  My charisma for the chapter has faded, and I just want it to die already.

Yesterday I was thinking about those five hours and comparing them to the hours I was expected to clock in high school — from 7:55 am until 3:20 pm, followed by dance practice three days a week and homework in the evenings.

Of course, in high school, there are built-in breaks and distractions.  Each class period was inevitably punctuated with reading a note from Bee and writing one in response, most likely with a countdown to some Upcoming Event in the corner.  And the subject matter was varied.  I would move from Paradise Lost to the French Revolution to supply and demand to derivates within a few hours.

But still.  How did I do that?  These days I can’t sit in front of my laptop for more than an hour or two before I’m tempted by some email forward from a friend, containing a link to a YouTube video of a chubby man in a leotard performing his own version of a Beyonce video.

Part of it, I’m sure, is that while working on the dissertation, there is always a part of my brain acutely aware of how high the stakes are.  This is a document that, to a large degree, determines the next step in my career.  While this should make me work harder, it in fact is too scary to confront every day.  Can’t I just watch The Hills instead?

So instead of working on the dissertation, I do other things.  Like blog.  And then I can only manage four and a half hours, or three, instead of five.

Maybe today I’ll manage two-and-three-quarters.

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