Friday, April 29, 2005

Glass of Wine with Dinner

I have a ton of work to do tonight and the entire weekend long. However, sometimes I just need a glass of wine. Kinda just smoothes out the intensity of things.

It's also been dawning on me that this is a foreshadow of getting my "real" life back. After next Monday, when I no longer will take more than one class at a time, I plan to work at my assistantship certain days, on my dissertation other days, and then try to take a good portion of evening time off to spend with the family and/or friends. A normal existence for a change, instead of a constant drive to spend 24/7 on coursework. And that just may involve drinking a glass, or two, of wine at my dinner. Damnit.

So, this relaxed Ph.D. student is going to give his child a bath before his bedtime. Again, a normal existence. I could get used to this again...easily.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Sick and Wrong!

You know, it just sort of seems sick and wrong that I'm wearing a wool sweater on April 28.


Which Die Are You?

I am a d6

Take the quiz at

Yeah, and perhaps I'm a little boring. That's probably why I babble in my blog...some people will "listen" to me blither!

Really, it is a pretty funny quiz.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005


Yesterday was a cosmic day. I say this is the "Bill & Ted" sense of the word: "Cosmic, dude!" The reason was from lack of sleep - everything seemed to be spinning around all over the place, and it was a psychedelic experience.

And I'm not exaggerating about the lack of sleep - I stayed up till about 6:15 AM yesterday (was that just yesterday??) working on the draft of my dissertation proposal. Got 2 hours of sleep. I ate breakfast and did one final read-through of the paper, which was a lucky thing because I realized that pages 13-14 were IDENTICAL to 1-2 because I had cut/pasted things from an abstract of this project I had written weeks ago. Nice. Thankfully I took a minute or two to take a look! I most of pages 1-2, and wrote another full page in its place in the introduction. It just came out of me, which was GOOD because what I wrote desperately needed to be there. I then threw on clothing and ran across town to class (I highly recommend shaving the night BEFORE you anticipate pulling an all-nighter: this was a good strategy this time around the clock). I was only 5 minutes late, and the professor/my advisor was 15 minutes late, so all went well.

Then I helped teach my last class that I'm assisting on, and after that I conducted one last pilot study interview. After coming home for dinner and helping to put Son into bed, I decided to take the night off. I watched House, but I fell asleep for the kicker part during the last 10 minutes...I was PISSED, but at least I was sleeping.

Oh, the proposal draft still needs plenty of work, but I suppose part of belonging to academia is opening oneself up for criticism. Hoo boy, though - plenty of holes in this piece all around into which criticism could collect! Oh well. For me it's "done" at least for a couple of days. Later this week and this weekend I hope to edit it so I can turn it over to a potential dissertation committee chair. We shall see. I get the sense that from here on out, the diss process is going to fly by.

That is, until this time next year when I no longer have passion for my topic and forget why the hell I started walking down this path in the first place.

Too long a post. If anyone actually reads this much, I thank you.

Monday, April 25, 2005

My last week of classes...EVER

This is the second time in my life I have said this phrase. The first time was when I was finishing my master's degree in 1996. I never thought I would go back to school for anything more than a class here and there just for fun, a professional development opportunity, or a piano lesson.

But this time it's for real. My wise advisor said to my cohort at orientation in the late summer of 2002: "For most of you, this is the last time in your life to be a full-time student. Better take advantage of the opportunity while you can." That "last time in your life" phrase is still ringing in my ears. Kinda spooky. But kinda right on. After all, I'm in the 21st grade, for crying out loud!

Still cranking out this dissertation proposal draft. It's gonna be a long night. But I'm remarkably calm, probably because I'm feeling good about my work. This is a fairly new thing for me; I'm glad Mr. Imposter Syndrome is staying away from me tonight.

OK, time to crank up a few paper-writing CDs and put them on "repeat." Mozart piano concertos, Brahms string quartets, and how about Rachmaninoff's Vespers? Yeah, Vespers, an all-night vigil, is appropriate for what I'm doing tonight. ACK!

Sunday, April 24, 2005

My own voice

What's really cool about this proposal-writing experience is that this is paper is truly describing my own research interest and is not just satisfying a course requirement. Yes, I've written other papers where I enjoy the subject matter and thus enjoy the paper-writing process a great deal. However, this is different somehow. There is no constant checking of a syllabus to ensure I'm meeting the professor's needs, or wondering if I'm going to get a good grade or not. This is all about writing down my own thoughts on the matter, citing appropriate literature, and designing a methodology for the study...all the while knowing it's a draft. Just a draft. No longer is this a one-time chance to impress a professor. I have faculty on-board with this idea, and they will work with me to help me get this to where it needs to be to start collecting data, hopefully next fall. This draft is going to be critiqued, edited, critiqued again, and eventually will come to the point where it's good to go. No point in worrying about every detail in this draft...the ideas have got to come first, then the pickiness will come later.

But the pressure is off, surprisingly enough, because I know I can rewrite this as needed. Weird...usually when I'm writing something as awesome and imposing as My Dissertation Proposal, I'd get all nervous the way I was before qualifying exams. Now, I'm just writing away, adding my thoughts and citations here & there where needed. It's kind of fun, in a "demented and sad, but social" sort of way.

So, back to the subject line: I'm finding my own voice in this work. I can express things in a way I'd like to express them. It's rather empowering. The worst that can happen is a critique from a professor. And many of us know full well that regardless of what I write, my professors are going to critique it! So why not experiment a little and throw in my own voice with the writing style. I'm adding a chapter (a chapter on the theory I'm creating) and changing the chapter order in this proposal (lit review comes before the theory chapter), so why not have a little fun and write in a way that expresses the concepts in a scholarly way while allowing for some creativity?

I'll be careful though. I do need to successfully defend this proposal within the next month or two. Just some random thoughts on the notion of finally being able to write about something that I'll actually use!

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Extra! Extra! Rob has an outline!

In an unbelievable turn of events late this afternoon, Rob produced an outline for his dissertation proposal. I repeat, Rob now has an outline for his dissertation proposal. Apparently he has even committed to a methodology and a student population from which he will draw his sample.

Normally in solitary confinement in his office all weekend long, we were fortunate to see him today in his front yard, covering up plants before tonight's late-April frost:
Yeah, it just kinda came to me this afternoon, somewhere between the dozen Hershey's kisses and the banana I ate around 4:30 PM. The good Guatemalan coffee helped out quite a bit as well. It's good that we're all out of Girl Scout Cookies, or else I'd have been a goner.

Aw man, I guess I have to actually write this f-cker now, huh?!
Stay tuned to this channel for more breaking news of this historic and unexpected turn of events, a whole three days before the draft is due.

Love-Hate Relationship with New Things

I get all excited when embarking upon something new. For example, I am one of the few people I know who always looked forward to the end of the summer because we'd start a new school year. Am I nerd perhaps? Well, I like structure. My childhood summers were spent at a summer camp in northern Michigan for a month, but then the second half of the summer would essentially involve waiting around for school to start. Sure, we'd do fun things like going to the Ravinia Festival or to the Lake Michigan beaches and stuff, but I couldn't wait to start up a new school year and get back into the routine.

So why do I hate the thought of starting a new paper? I have a dozen outlines, concept maps, notes, ideas, etc all over my office and inside my head. I have a draft of my dissertation proposal due Tuesday. Have I written anything? Not really, so to speak. My colleagues won't be surprised by this: I do tend to write really fast and at the last minute. Perhaps if I wasn't so scared of just starting, then I could take my time instead of rushing against a deadline.

But what's the point of doing something without a deadline? See, I need the structure.

Alright, I need to take my own advice. I can do anything for five minutes: I'm going to focus for five minutes and see how much I get done.

Y'all are learning way too much about how my brain works if anyone out there is actually reading this stuff. But I do appreciate those who are sticking with reading this blog. Doc student land is a lonely existence at times, especially because we're all essentially in this for ourselves. I like coming into "Blogland" for inspiration because the act of writing and sharing thoughts through writing is a shared common interest. Sharing interests like this doesn't happen much in my person-to-person life, unfortunately.

Ho hum.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Quals Oral Defense Date

I defend my qualifying exams in person on Wednesday, May 11 at 10:30 AM.

I spoke with my program advisor today about the details of the defense. It sounds quite reasonable. I'm going to go through the feedback I received from the four faculty who read my questions. I received the feedback I so often receive: the ideas were all there and outlined very well, but you didn't go into enough detail.

Details schmetails. I'm not the most technical pianist either, but I've been told I can make the keyboard "sing." I think I just need to bring the "voice" out of the responses to the exam questions.

Our discussion ended like this:

"Advisor, what would I need to do to fail this oral defense?" I asked, rather pleased with myself for finding those words.

"Just don't talk at all, and you'll fail," replied Advisor, not
missing a beat.

Those of you who may have met me in person will realize that talking has never been a problem for me, so worried about this oral defense I am not.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Good weather should not occur at the end of the school year

Spring in Small College Town is really quite nice this year. It's a "oh, do I have to go to work/class?" kind of day today. In fact, it's so nice that I'm going to change the banner picture back to the spring flower scene instead of Chester's lovely visage in the snow. I think he'll forgive me, and this will inspire me to find a picture of him in fairer weather instead of in the snowy background that's up there now.

I digress, which is something I often do when I'm procrastinating from the work I have to do at the end of the semester. Why spend the time changing that picture when I should be working on my dissertation proposal?? The draft is due a week from tomorrow!!!

I tell ya, I wish it could rain for the next two weeks. May help me stay focused on the end of the semester.

Yeah right.

Sunday, April 17, 2005


The "who's the phuquing idiot..." post, below, originally had the proper spelling (if you can call it "proper") of the word "f-cking." Holy Moses, do you see the long list of one-hit wonders in my referring web pages list? Seems like lots of people are searching on the word "f-ck," since the number of folks on that list quadrupled since I posted that story. When I realized this just now, I changed it to the more delicate spelling of "phuque."

I swear only when appropriate to do so, in my opinion, i.e. in casual situations around people whom I know don't mind. I think it's just a form of expression that has its place. In this blog, I figured it was my space and I could do with it as I choose. And I guess it still is, but when I see how many more people were hitting this blog, probably because of that word, it just made me think a bit. Ew.

Away ye searchers for phuque! Y'ain't gonna find anything that graphic on this blog.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Feedback on Qualifying Exams

At long last, the faculty spoke yesterday. I passed the written portion of my qualifying exams with mixed reviews, but all I had to do was pass. I believe the faculty were quite fair.

And now it's onto the oral defense, to be scheduled if one of my committee members decides to return to the university from his sabbatical this semester.

The wide range of feedback was fascinating. I can practically hear the faculty base arguing with itself. I'll describe, below. Remember, there were two questions.

For the first question, the same one my three colleagues received, my response was read by my committee members (2) plus the question's author and one other professor. I received two marks of "outstanding" and two marks of "acceptable." My advisor gave one of the "outstanding" marks, while my other committee member called it "acceptable." I would have given myself the "acceptable" mark, frankly, so I was grateful for my advisor's gusto in his kind words. One faculty member called my response, "Acceptable, but not strong." Funny, if it were strong, then wouldn't it be "outstanding?" That looked rather silly next to the two "outstanding" marks.

The second question, the one I wrote myself, was read only by my two committee members. This time, their feedback was flip-flopped. My advisor called it "acceptable," while my other committee member (also the director of the office where I work) called it "outstanding." Again, I would have given myself an "acceptable" mark, so I'm grateful for some "outstanding" feedback. Though I'm not sure I deserve it, as these certainly weren't the best things I've written.

Am looking forward to the oral defense (next month, I hope) and then moving on "officially" into the dissertation phase. Yeah, I'll believe it when I see it. Life without classes? Not sure I remember that.

Who's the phuquing IDIOT...

...mowing the lawn after the sun has set?? 8:00 PM the mower was still going, and then at 8:15 the gas-powered blower thing was in action. Son was sitting in his crib holding his ears. This happened several times during the last growing season, and I've had just about enough.

So I drove out of my driveway, thinking the noise was around the corner from my house, only to find that it's my neighbor's lawn service, a one-man show, about three doors down the street. The one and only time I spoke with this particular neighbor, she asked me if I thought Chester was "fat enough." Friendly! So I stopped the car and had a conversation with Mower-Man that went like this:
"Excuse me," I said. "Isn't it a little late to be mowing the lawn? I live down the block and my child is trying to sleep."

The mower looked at his watch and shrugged his shoulders.

"Well, I'm almost done," he said. There was nothing apologetic to be heard.

"Can you really see anything right now?" I asked, pointing to the stars in the sky, in utter disbelief I'm asking this question at 8:30 PM.

"Yes," the phuquing idiot said, holding his inane gas-guzzling blower tool. What the hell he was blowing around at this time of night, I'll never know. He'll never know either, being that it's DARK.

"Well, in the future can you please not mow this late at night?" Note the emphasis on the word night. "My child goes to sleep now, and this is very disturbing."

"I guess," the phuquing idiot said.

I thanked him, like the gentleman I am, and I drove the few feet home to my house.
I look forward to seeing the crooked mower lines and missed rows of growing grass tomorrow morning when I'm walking Chester. And maybe Chester will choose this neighbor's lawn as his WC tomorrow? Hmm...

The [Dreaded] Book Meme

This meme comes from my high school buddy, Hugh, at Three Bed Two Bath. You may read this and be surprised that I'm a Ph.D. student. I really haven't read much Scholarly Literature (may my father continue to rest in peace...I doubt he will, though, if he can somehow perceive this post).

You are stuck inside Fahrenheit 451. Which book would you be?
I've not read Fahrenheit 451. Is that wrong?

Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character?
Do the Sirens in Homer's Odyssey count? :)

What is the last book you bought?
Baxter Magolda, M. B. (2001). Making their own way: Narratives for transforming higher education to promote self-development. Sterling, VA: Stylus.
It's the second of two books that report data from a qualitative longitudinal study on college student development at Miami University (Ohio). The participants in her study are now age 37, not much older than I am. It's a fascinating look at cognitive development from age 18 into adulthood. I had the pleasure of meeting the author in a class earlier this semester, and her work (and that of several others, too) inspired me to chase my own dreams andchange my dissertation topic.

What are you currently reading?
See the above, along with several different books on student development theory. Can you tell I'm working on my dissertation proposal??

Five books you would take to a deserted island:
NONE of the above. I'd bring my piano instead.

Who are you going to pass this book meme to and why? (only three people)
To three fellow Ph.D. students who are reading this blog but have not yet started their own (you know who you are!).

Friday, April 15, 2005

Grinnellian [grin-EL-ee-uhn]

Of, or pertaining to, a person who attends Grinnell College, in Grinnell Iowa.

I had the pleasure of visiting this college earlier this week. Fascinating place. I interviewed 20 students there, all of whom are extremely bright, inquisitve people. They are critics of the world around them, yet everyone was just so darn nice to each other and to me and my colleague. Most tended to be liberal in their political views. They are highly aware of the world around them, yet all of them referred to the Grinnell "Bubble" in which they live. In my opinion, the bubble has a very thin membrane because these students have a direct connection to the pulse of current world events.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

GREAT Interviews!

Wow I'm REALY liking this notion of finally conducting some of my own research for a change instead of fulfilling a professor's notion of what I should study. I've now completed six of about 11 interviews (still need to schedule one of those), and I was hoping I would have 8 for this study. I'm pretty darn excited.

In fact, I got so excited that I accidentally taped over half of one of the interviews I did yesterday during one of today's interviews. ARGH!!! Ah, the perils of conducting qualitative research. Damn little microcassettes. I was SO pissed, to say the least. But the person I was interviewing at the time has a very calm attitude about the entire doctoral experience. When I realized that the interview I was conducting with her was erasing that of one of our colleagues, she just said something along the lines of, "Let go, and let God." Now, I'm not the most religious person around, but there are many times when I know it's just better to let go of "it" and see what happens. I had already taped over our other colleague's sense in dwelling on it. At least not too much. :-)

With this particular project, I'm interviewing my colleagues in the higher education program and am asking them questions related to how they are developing their sense of academic identity. It's a pilot study for my dissertation (don't tell my wise, wonderful program advisor I used the term "pilot study," please. "All studies are STUDIES, and none of them are pilots for anything else!" he said).

Yeah, OK.

Anyhow, this pilot study I'm conducting will help me define some of the constructs for the theory I'm developing that I'll probably flush out much more with undergraduate students during the dissertation process. Needless to say, it's fun to finally be getting into some of my own research for a change.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

An Interesting Academic Identity

A few friends (long-time friends of my wife, actually) started a blog a couple of years ago called "Ionarts" that has grown into a significant group effort to comment on arts, music, literature, etc., particularly as they pertain to the Washington, DC area. Click the link at the top of this message, or in my blogroll, to take a look (and check out the Chesterley shout-out from yesterday...thanks Chuck!). It could be very helpful if you find yourself traveling to DC, or if you're looking for music recordings, books, etc., to purchase.

Successful musicians are those who are innovative enough to piece together various jobs to form a career in music. Very few musicians can survive on performing alone. The moderator of the aforementioned blog, Charles Downey, is an example of someone who has learned to work with the different facets of his academic identity* to construct a really interesting career for himself. He has a Ph.D. in musicology from The Catholic University of America where he studied French Baroque Opera, among other things. Downey not only writes a great deal on his own and via the blog, but he also teaches and performs on a regular basis. One might say he's living the dream musician job by earning enough to live while having the time to write, perform, and teach. And he even has a growing family (wait...a working classical musician has a family?? Imagine that!). Many thanks to Charles and his colleagues (a couple of whom I know) for serving the arts in numerous ways.

*More on this academic identity idea later...this is actually at the heart of my new dissertation topic.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Springtime and Poverty

Spring is here and I spent much of the afternoon playing with our yard when I should have been studying. That's just fine by me: it was a gorgeous day, and gorgeous spring days are designed to help one blow off studying for a while.

Gardening gives me a built-in way to exercise, and exercise is something I don't regularly do on my own (though I know full well I should). Also, gardening allows me to have several hours to think about a variety of things. I usually end up working out issues in my head that have been bugging me when I'm gardening. I'll never know why...but I've done that since I was a kid and it was still actually socially acceptable to mow your own lawn on the North Shore of Chicago.

I guess I've had lots on my mind lately, probably related to finishing my coursework this term and moving onward to the Dissertation stage (thank God). That's exciting in itself, and it's a little scary too. Sometimes I wonder if I've made the right choice to do this in the first place. I'm 33 1/2, and I wonder frequently if I'm "missing" some of the better years of my life by waiting around for time to pass and for me to finish up this degree so I can get my life back and really start living again.

Now I'm reading that last sentence and my initial thought is: "MISSING" the better years of your life?? Isn't that funny?? Do you know what I'm doing? I'm equating "living" with making money. Kind of disgusting, actually, if you ask me. What am I now...DEAD? When I first left my job in Virginia to come here, I recall thinking that I was nuts to give up my salary/benefits, etc., but what a good decision to just take the bull by the horns and really LIVE for a while. I was getting too mired in the details of my job, which in the scheme of life is rather void of true meaning. In a sense, part of me had died when working full-time as an administrator: the academic side of me. The creative side was struggling to find outlets; I found a few in my work, but there was not much room for creativity in that job setting.

So, I wonder why I'm mourning the loss of money at this point? Honestly, it's probably due to the early spring muck I was just raking up in my back yard, which made me think that if I had more money I would have a house on a flat lot instead of one on a hill that gathers mud and muck. Dang, I need a long stiff drink. Or perhaps someone to slap me around a little.

As much of a pain in the ass some of these academic hoops have been, graduate school does allow me the time to become aware of what truly matters to me. I mean, why in the world would I bother with this, otherwise?? I'm finding a dissertation topic that is really exciting to me, and now perhaps a chair who would help me along with it. Certain relatives and friends don't understand where the hell I'm going with this new topic, but I don't care. It's what I feel is right for me now. This is one of the few times in my life that I'm not doing what I believe I should do, driven by an external force. Instead, this topic is coming from my gut telling me this is a good path to follow. I'll admit the practical side of me is scared by this, but there's a deeper sense that I really need to explore this direction.

I'll try to write more on what "this direction" really is later on.

Interesting. In this case I think gardening helped to get my thoughts going, but it was writing this entry that helped me work it all out. Guess I should keep writing some more, and perhaps garden less?


Technical Note

I just realized the site feed was turned off for some reason, probably since the beginning of March. It's on now...for anyone who may care.