Down in the Canyon

My current song obsession is Heartless Bastards’ “Down in the Canyon.” Their album Arrow is one of a handfull keeping me sane in the midst of my dissertation revisions and edits. I highly recommend picking it up.

In which I compare editing to a head injury

I recently spoke with a friend of the family who asked me what the process was like at this stage of the dissertation. I’m about three weeks out from the deadline for finishing my dissertation and about six weeks out from my dissertation defense, so the question came at a pretty poignant moment for me. I’m in the midst of revising and editing the longest thing I’ve ever written (I don’t have an accurate page count since I haven’t formatted all my chapters yet. Suffice to say it’s feeling too long at the moment). My response to the question was that it’s really a battle of endurance. Frankly, this stage of things is just exhausting to keep pace with the all the editing. But that doesn’t really do it justice.

So, a brief nostalgic reminiscence from my childhood will have to do: Once on a trip to Great America in California when I was a kid I got to go on the Demon roller-coaster. I was just barely tall enough to go on the ride and had actually thought that I wasn’t going to get to until I stood next to the (at that age) ubiquitous seeming “you must be this tall to ride…” sign that barred my entrance to all the really cool rides. Seeing my excitement, my Dad ushered me into the line where I watched the ride cycle through countless times (it was a long line). I plotted the ride with each car that went past. First it was the big climb, then the plunge, then a sharp left, then…well, I’m not sure. I couldn’t see the entire ride from the line. Still, like a prizefighter (a very small, wimpy prizefighter better suited to reading comic books and debating the intricacies of Transformers vs. G.I. Joe) I was pumping myself up, planning my strategy, and otherwise getting into “the zone.”  Finally, we made it to the front of the line. With a deep breath I climbed on board and was strapped into a seat that felt a little too big for me, despite the assurances of the sign. As it was, the safety harness went well above my head, and I was in a cocoon where pretty much the only thing I could see was what was straight ahead of me.

So, the obvious comparison between the dissertation and a roller-coaster is the ups and downs you experience in both. Blah blah blah crappy boring metaphor and so on. Here’s the thing, the Demon has a corkscrew at the end. Something I did not notice or see when I was studying the track. It took me completely by surprise. When we hit that corkscrew I found out exactly how hard my cocoon was. My head rocketed first into one side of the safety harness, then the other, then back again, and one more time for good measure. I managed not to just hit my head, but to perfectly hit my ears. It was one of those moments where something hurts enough that any exclamation gets caught in your throat. I saw stars for a bit and don’t really remember coming to a stop or getting out of the car. All I remember was realizing that I was embarrassed rather than really hurt and too stubborn to cry or say anything because it would mean that I might not get to go on the next ride. So in the midst of these edits I’m feeling a bit like I did after that roller-coaster: a little shaky and with a growing headache. The trick is to just keep walking. I gotta keep it together and get on the next roller-coaster.

Did I mention, I got a job?

So, important life news: I just accepted an amazing teaching job that will require a move to Southern California. This all came about pretty quickly so my head’s still spinning. I’m excited for the new opportunities, but a little bummed to be leaving Oregon and the incredible people I’ve met here. Of course, I would be leaving at some point anyway. It’s the nature of graduate school that everyone gets done one way or another and moves on at some point. I suppose given where I’m at with the dissertation I’m just acutely aware of things coming to an end. The nice thing is that I’m also becoming acutely aware of new beginnings.

Now, back to those edits…right after I go invest in a helmet.


3/28/12 by Errant Ventures
3/28/12, a photo by Errant Ventures on Flickr.

If you’re interested in progressive era labor history, Joe Hill, or the IWW, I highly recommend William Adler’s The Man Who Never Died. It’s easily the most comprehensive book on Hill since Gibbs Smith’s 1969 Joe Hill. Eventually I’ll find the time to do a proper book review.

Here to stay

I spent a chunk of this morning reading Bruce Springsteen’s keynote (or keynotes as he puts it) at this year’s SXSW over at Rolling Stone. It’s an inspiring speech if for no other reason than Springsteen’s enthusiasm for the artists and music that he talks about. After reading I immediately went and filled my music queue with the likes of Woody Guthrie, James Brown, Hank Williams, and The Animals.

On a related note, I desperately want to start playing guitar again. Graduate school has not been conducive in improving my meager music skills.

Real Writers

I just came across a link for this letter Kurt Vonnegut wrote to a chair of a school board in North Dakota who decided to burn copies of Vonnegut’s work because it was deemed inappropriate for children. Vonnegut’s response is powerful both in its condemnation of the school boards methods and in his defense of the freedom of ideas. It’s worth a read.