For the past year, I’ve been working on ‘slowing down.’
At my law school graduation in May of 2007, it hit me that I’d been moving so quickly through a joint JD/PhD that I got to the end of the JD and, rather than feeling proud of my accomplishments, I felt as though I could have done it better; I could have taken advantage of more opportunities; I could have gotten more out of the experience.
After getting married ten days later and spending the following month backpacking through Italy, I came home and met with my adviser to tell him that I was determined not to spend the rest of the graduate school checking things off lists.
In the twelve months that followed that conversation, I:
(1) took my preliminary exams for my PhD;
(2) worked as a preceptor (teaching assistant) for a class at Princeton;
(3) prepared for and passed the Pennsylvania Bar Exam – introducing Abby Perkiss, Esq.;
(4) finished the coursework for my PhD;
(5) wrote and defended my dissertation prospectus, officially becoming ABD; and
(6) co-organized a national graduate student conference.
This, in addition to rehabbing a knee injury and training for one marathon, three adventure races, and a two-day snowshoeing race.
Yes, that would be a list. And those would be the things I checked off.
So far, this ‘slowing down’ hasn’t gone so well.
Over the past six weeks, as I’ve started to dig into my dissertation research, I’ve found myself utterly overwhelmed by the amount of material and – after four years of being over-scheduled – by the abyss of unstructuredness in my life. I’ve wavered between swimming, treading water, and drowning in long days of minor productivity and major anxiety in archives and libraries around Philadelphia. And I’ve done a reasonable job at convincing those around me that I’m just fine, plodding away, making progress, enjoying the process.
This morning, I went for a walk with a close friend who has twenty years of life experience on me. As I began to tell her what’s been going on, she asked me a startling question. “What would happen if you just took the summer off?”
Take the summer off?
Who’d ever heard of such a thing?
Well, I told her… probably not a whole lot, when it comes down to it. I’m in the fortunate position of having two more years of funding for a project that should take as little as 12-15 months. I don’t need to travel for most of my research, so I can continue digging through archives as I work as a teaching assistant in the fall. I’m in my mid-twenties with few obligations and a teacher for a husband who has the whole summer free.
So, what was stopping me?
After a day of pondering, several pro/con lists, and a quick conversation with Brent (he didn’t need much convincing), I decided on a compromise.
For six weeks this summer, Brent and I will be embarking on a road/biking/hiking trip through New England and southeastern Canada. Leaving from Philadelphia on July 5th, we’ll weave our way through Vermont, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, and Montreal, hiking along the AT and the MM trail, checking out oddball landmarks and local lore, hanging out with friends and family, listening to great live music (and lots of books-on-tape!), and competing in a 24-hour adventure race, before returning for the Philadelphia Folk Festival on August 15.
For ten hours every week, I am committing to writing, reading, and sifting through documents, to begin to wrap my head around this crazy thing called a dissertation. It won’t be so hard, really – I wake up hours before Brent, anyway. For the rest of our time away, I will put my research aside. I will let it marinate, checking on it occasionally but mostly leaving it to soak in its own juices. And hopefully, when I get back, I’ll have a well-seasoned start and a fresh head.
As I shared with some of you last summer while Brent and I were traveling through Italy, I’ve never been very good at journaling, but I often find myself writing letters to different friends and family in my head, sorting through my life as I’m going through it. So I thought I’d try a little experiment. This summer, I’m venturing into the blogosphere. For the next six weeks, I’m going to write some of those letters down, and see where it leads.
23 days ’til departure… stay tuned…