Saturday, May 16, 2015

That's All Folks

It was a slice, folks. The dissertation is long done, over with, and gathering dust on my shelf. I survived the process no worse for the wear. After a year and a half of a word drought, I finally started writing again with lots of publication deadlines to keep me busy.

All that said, this blog has served its purpose. I plan to keep it here for the foreseeable future as a reference and for retrospection. I'll maintain the domain name in the event that anyone has bookmarked a post (for whatever reason).

From now on you can find me at

If anyone ever actually read this: Thank you.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

I ran out of words

After a long winter, I completed my dissertation revisions on March 16, 2013 and began to steel myself for my defense (April 26, 2013). I didn't get a sense of finality after my revisions and wondered why. I even went through the motions of post-defense, pre-final-submission revisions. I was remarkably detached from that process. The dissertation wasn't a living document, but just a large pile of paper with lots of words.

My graduation went on a month and a half later and even then felt no relief.

In the months between June 2013 and February 2014 I didn't write anything substantial. I completed a few article outlines, conference abstracts, and a few pithy blog posts but that was it. The one project I hoped would buoy my spirits and renew my interest in writing (Cookie Monster McLuhan) never really took off. I completed four lengthy articles with several others in the planning or outline phase. I felt, and continue to feel, so tired of writing. I lack(ed) focus and an inability to get back on that writing horse. Sure, I have great intentions and lots of great (or what I consider to be great) ideas but lack the motivation to actually do the work.

A prof in undergrad confessed that she didn't write anything for almost two years after she finished her dissertation. She felt as if she "ran out of words." I don't remember my reaction then, but her statement resonated with me throughout my dissertation writing and, secretly, I scoffed. No, I would continue my productive writing streak long into the future. I never tired of the writing or the revisions after long meetings with my supervisor, and I never asked "how long will this continue? When will this be over?" But now I empathize with that prof and understand how it's possible to run out of words.

I recently attended a conference for which I adapted a portion of my dissertation. I worked for three weeks to massage that paper into something useful. Of course, I'm also working a full-time, non-academic job. After working a full day, spending time at the library isn't actually conducive to productive writing and maintaining focus. Even still, the act of writing was painful and laboured. I hoped that the nearly year-long writing hiatus would have replenished my word reserve.

Something needs to happen soon. Conferences loom in the very near future, article deadlines approach, and guest lectures hang over me. At least my Facebook feed has a healthy dose of fresh content.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Defense and post-defense, but not getting defensive

Oh, dear Blog, I have long neglected you. So much has happened in the months since my defense and graduation.

My initial defense was scheduled for mid-January 2013 but was delayed pending some substantive revisions. I was angry and hurt, but it yielded ultimately a much stronger dissertation. I submitted my revisions a couple of days in advance of the University deadline and my new defense date was slotted for April 26. Apart from re-reading the dissertation and anticipating some questions, there wasn’t much I could do to prepare. I was assured that the event amounts to an academic hazing ritual and an exercise to ensure that you actually know the material. If it makes it as far as defense the odds of not passing are slim.

That did little to assuage my anxiety.

On the morning of the defense I woke up early (I couldn’t sleep), did not have a healthy breakfast (I couldn’t eat), and made a point of cleaning up so I’d at least look presentable (you try shaving with the double whammy of anxiety and body-wracking fatigue). I even ironed my trousers. I don’t think in my whole grad student career I ever ironed my pants, even when I taught classes or tutorials.*

I met Norma at her office in the music faculty for the advance pep talk. It was part “Rah-Rah, Go Anthony” and part “Don’t get defensive. You get a bit, how do I put it… arrogant when you get defensive.” Ouch.

When the defense convened the moderator laid down the ground rules and off we went. I don’t really remember much of what transpired though there were some moments that stood out, not as particularly negative, just memorable. I guess if my recollection of the event is fuzzy then it mustn’t have been too bad an experience.

The best part: Being called “Dr. Cushing” immediately after. That was pretty sweet.

The post-defense tipple was nice. The leisurely stroll to the Grad Club lacked any sense of urgency and was celebratory without the background guilt inherent in the lives of so many grad students. The crowd at the club was small but great nonetheless. A good friend from my music undergrad, the incredible clarinetist Scott MacDonald was there to join me for a beer. We started music school (undergrad) in the same cohort so it was only appropriate that he join me for the ‘end’ of my music education. As a matter of coincidence Scott started a master of clarinet performance at Western in the 2012-13 school year.

The novelty of being finished remained around me like a sheen, a fine patina of pride. Even knowing I had only four days to make the necessary revisions before the University deadline didn’t assuage my satisfaction. Yes, that’s how I felt; I was satisfied with myself. It was, more or less, a fait accomplis.

In the days between the defense and my final submit date I bunkered down and went through the whole dissertation, page by page, and incorporated suggested revisions from all four examiners. On the morning I submitted, I had Radio 2 playing in the background. I wasn’t really paying attention until I clicked the ‘Upload’ button, the action of which coincided with the climax of Stravinsky’s Oiseau de Feux (The Firebird Suite). For me, in a very cliché sort of way was symbolic of how I progressed through this degree.

I’ll say that the whole process, though gratifying at first, was a bit anticlimactic. Unlike my cousin who completed her degree in a pre-internet era (she JUST missed it) I completed all the revisions and submitted online. There was no running from editor to printer, to several offices on campus, lugging several heavy copies of my dissertation. The only time my dissertation existed in hard copy was in two bound volumes (one for me and one for my family) and a Kinkos-produced spiral bound copy for one of my research subjects who requested it.

My dissertation, bound in faux black leather with the gold leaf text on the spine sits on my shelf. It looks very pretty, very official, like something I’d find in a library. And, as in a library, it will sit there unopened for a long while until I gather the curiosity in a decade or so to remember where I ended my time as a student and began my time as an academic.

*I used to let them steam when I showered and any wrinkles would fall out. The steam didn’t create a sharp crease (or any crease, for that matter), but they at least didn’t look like I slept in them the night before.

Friday, April 19, 2013

A long overdue update

For those keeping score, my defense was rescheduled from January and will happen on April 26. As much as I'm looking forward to it I'm also extremely nervous.

The upside: I get to take the train back to Toronto after it's all done. Choo choo!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

A vacation... Sort of

I went home this year for Christmas for the first time since 2008. I can't say that I really enjoy going back to Halifax especially when the weather is so crappy. This year was pretty nice; I had my own room, a tv, a comfy bed, my parents' new ISP uses a super fast fibre optic connection so the wifi is wicked fast, and I had a cable tv. Apart from mandated family gatherings, I spent a lot of time in my room enjoying the quiet and sleeping. Yes, I got a a LOT of sleep. Most nights I got at least 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep. What a difference that makes!

The extra rest will come in handy as I prepare for my defense (January 15). I read a couple pages of my dissertation the other day and wondered "who wrote this?" It's gonna be an interesting two weeks.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

A creative alter ego

This Summer while in the midst of writing Chapter Two (which ended up as Chapters Two and Three) I called a productive Friday of work with a coffee and oatmeal cookie. I wrote a text to a friend about how cookies facilitate contentment in all but the most unhappy person. I played around with the wording a bit and turned it into something weirder.
"The horror of any logistical nightmare (major chapter revision/restructuring) is attenuated by the swift application of oatmeal raisin cookies." -Cookie Monster McLuhan
Someone asked what that was all about. In a fit of dissertation-induced creative delirium, I channeled the obtuse media wisdom of Canada's founder of media theory (Marshall McLuhan) through pop culture's most single-minded, inarticulate monster. From this merger comes Cookie Monster McLuhan. For weeks after CMM posted his statuses to my Facebook wall. I think it pissed people off. Actually, I know it pissed some people off though I'm not sure why.

I started a Twitter account and, in my spare time, brainstormed bite-sized chunks of quotable cookie theory. To alleviate my friend list from the burden of reading Cookie Monster McLuhan quotes, I started a Facebook page devoted to my sage little monster. At least there I can expand on the tweets, include visual cues for the commentary, and multimedia content.

I'm not sure if this will ever become remotely interesting to anyone but I've found it to be a great source of amusement for myself if no one else. Just the other night I started drafting an outline for a short book to satirise the real McLuhan's Understanding Media: Extensions of Man called Understanding Cookies: Extensions of Man's belly. I figure that with all those strange philosophical tomes like The Tao of Pooh, I might actually stand a chance of getting published. Next step: Get some actual readers on Twitter and Facebook.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Dissertation submitted. That's it?

I submitted my dissertation last Monday, the 29th, two days ahead of my self-imposed October 31 deadline. After several short back and forth email with my supervisor and some small adjustments I uploaded the 4MB PDF to the appointment website, entered some 'meta data' and clicked "submit." After a brief pause, the browser confirmed that the file uploaded successfully and I received an email from school telling me as much.

That was it. Wow. I expected a bigger rush of excitement, relief, or any feeling other than supreme indifference. Maybe it's not indifference, per se, but a definite feeling of being underwhelmed. The whole document existed entirely on screen and never in printed form. I think the sheer intangibility of the digital work made it seem unreal somehow. I heard stories over the years of the madness trying to get copies printed and delivered to the Graduate Office in time. This process was easy, almost too easy.

When I finished the whole thing I was visiting a friend in a town north of Toronto. I went for the quiet and solitude to do productive work without distraction. I anticipated more rounds of small revisions and corrections but it didn't turn out that way. So I had two days until I went back to downtown. Gosh, what to do with this sudden glut of 'free time.' Feedback on Twitter and Facebook told me to 'relax' and 'take it easy.' How does one do that after a year and a half of living with a dissertation? It's not just a project, it's a lifestyle and when it's gone the emptiness of your daily schedule is as oppressive as too much work.

In the intervening week I've been out with lots of people who want to help me celebrate this achievement. I think they're more excited about it than I am. From their perspective, maybe now I'll stop declining invitations to dinner/parties/coffee get-togethers for the sake of finishing a chapter. But I've also decided that I simply can't give up work. I've not opened the dissertation PDF since I sent it off, but I've been hard at work on a few other non-academic articles, drafting blog posts, catching up on leisure reading from a pile of books that comes waist-high.

I remember in undergrad talking to one of the music profs about the stress of writing. She confided that she didn't write a thing for a year after she finished her dissertation. She felt as if all words drained from her mind. The well went dry. I feel just the opposite right now. I feel a great energy and enthusiasm to do more writing after completing this 200+ page document. I've got a few irons in the fire that I'll detail in a future post.