I wanted to write in this on Monday night / Tuesday morning.
Or at the very least, right after I finished defending (more on that in a bit).
But…then I got a bit of food poisoning from…who knows what…so I decided to take things really easy. As in doing nothing easy.
As in sunning on my floor while reading easy.
But today was one of those days where I had to read aloud to myself so I could have something resembling a conversation (or have a voice to fill the silence), hence here I am.
First thing’s first, though: yes, I successfully defended my dissertation on Monday, April 6.
And it went well. Like, really well. Like, more than I could even have imagined well.
Of course, any of the many people who have tried to talk me out of my moments of imposter syndrome-driven crisis and who was present during that Zoom call would have probably not been surprised by that. But honestly that defense was the first time I was able to get a hint of what they (and my profs) had been seeing the whole time.
Hell, I may have even finally figured out what the hell it actually was I was trying to do with this project. Funny how you have to be outside of the thing to start to see the threads of what it is you’re crafting.
Let me back up a second though. One of the main issues I came across with all this in the lead-up to the big day was the fact that nowhere on Harvard’s / my department’s website does it mention what it is that actually happens during a defense. As in, what the student should plan on preparing, and more precisely, how much time they should allot for.
Now, of course, the solution to this would have been to actually attend some of these things when I was still on campus.
In the end, I did get a time limit (~30min), and from there, basically drew from my many conversations with folks not in my field to craft as detailed – yet precise – a presentation of my work as possible, keeping in mind how I felt my work contributed or added something new to my field.
It’s this last part that I am convinced no one in the humanities really grasps the full extent of. When you’re working with data/numbers, it’s a bit easier to step back and see the bigger picture. But when. you’re working with ideas or concepts, it can be hard to pull yourself away enough from everything to see how it all really fits. And yet, there I was.
And I reread my dissertation one last time. On the advice of a friend, I took page-by-page notes as a means of keeping track of everything (honestly, a pretty good idea in all, even though I barely referenced my document), as well as to try and anticipate any questions on my methodology, on elements that were unclear or potentially polemical, on why I made the choices I did, etc. I think I maybe over prepared a bit.
And then the day / time arrived. I put on makeup and earrings for the first time in three weeks. I wore a black turtleneck (of course), and leggings because only the upper half of me needed to look professional (not going to lie, I was tempted to wear heels, but I test-drove that idea the day before and it was…quickly scrapped). I opened the call, people started logging in. I saw my advisor’s face for the first time in a year. I saw other folks’ faces for the first time in longer than that.
I saw in a virtual space for the first time people I cared about from my family, to my university friends, to my grad school / Harvard friends, to my Paris friends gathered together to listen to what I had to say. It was like the ultimate stage performance, only separated by many miles and connected via cables and wifi signals (and mine was surprisingly stable…well…for the most part).
And I presented. And it felt good (though also really weird because, again, as with my teaching, I could not read the room as I spoke, and there were moments in there where I thought I really was speaking into the void).
And then the comments from my advisor started.
And I felt really good. Like a meteor shooting through the sky good.
For the first time, I actually looked at my work and assumed it for what it was. And it was a triumph. Hell, one other committee member gave me unofficial “Felicitations”, which, for those unfamiliar with the French system, is a pretty big deal.
And yes, I am going to toot my own horn. I’ll toot it to the fucking moon and back again all night long, for all I care. This was six years of my life. Six years of success, but six of moments of absolute rock bottom shit and self-doubt as well. And fuck I loved the validation. I reveled in it. To think this thing that I wrote and that I still can’t help but nitpick at may be worth something.
And I don’t want this to be the last thing that I write that brings something new to the table, that adds to the academic conversation. I want to keep going.
I want to publish the damn thing.
And then write and publish more things.
Fuck it is so crazy the roller coaster that happens when you’re at the end of the PhD.
Speaking of which, I suppose I should change the heading of this blog at some point (because yeah, no, I’m not going to stop writing here). I’ll get to that eventually.
It’s funny, writing about all this really boosted my mood. I’m still holding on more or less well, but the silence was hard today. And there are still moments that I really wish I could just have a moment of physical human contact. Fuck, the weather’s getting warmer, and all I want to do is cuddle someone. Ha!
As I said during my talkback, though, I am full of contradictions. I live in contradictions. Contradictions are what make things interesting.