Saturday, March 3, 2012

Hitting the wall

I like to keep track of my dissertation progress in context of everything else going on. Last year it wasn't the writing that occupied my time so much as the research. Conducting lots of in-person interviews for my Gould research was time intensive, as was all the listening, note-taking, and searching through hundreds of mashups for something substantial enough to warrant inclusion in a chapter or two. Also, teaching my own course took up a little bit of that time.

Now that I have three chapter drafts under my belt and reviewed by my supervisor I've been hard at work on an outline for a fourth chapter. This one is much more difficult than I expected for a variety of reasons: It's the most closely related to traditional musical elements. It's easier to defend myself on my own original theory, but much more difficult to defend statements about theory that overlaps with the traditional stuff. People already know about that and certainly have very strong opinions on what does and doesn't constitute good music theory scholarship and analysis. Music analysis of mashups is problematised by so many things including: transposed samples, samples that have rather dense textures, samples with a lot of effects processing. The sum total of samples in many of these mashups makes for very difficult analysis in that it's almost impossible to determine anything other than a chord's fundamental and the chord quality. Chord spelling? Nuh-uh. Voiceleading? Meh, pop music long ago dispensed with the niceties of voice leading.

The quandary lies therein: Is there enough substance in this analysis to form a chapter of its own? Of course, there are always the elements of form and texture, with which I have no shortage of concrete examples and discourse. Harmony is so much more difficult. The analytical model of choice (or at least the ones acceptable in the music academy) are insufficient for displaying all that I need to represent visually. Oh gosh, so much analysis yet so much laziness.

In the meantime I have to finish* a paper that I deliver at conference in almost exactly a week. It's a small but significant conference with a lot of heavy hitter and no fillers. It's intimidating to be in a lineup with names! I also have an article due in late May, an essay due for an anthology at the end of May, another conference paper in June, and still (somehow) finish the complete draft of the dissertation before the Summer deadline so I can become Dr. Cushing in the October convocation. Stress? Yeah, I know a bit about that. Just yesterday I sat at a cubicle in the U of T library, looked at my laptop screen, and realised that I really had no more words left. I mean, I can think of concepts and explanations but there was nothing I could do to put those words on the screen. I had this happen after I finished my comprehensive exams in Summer '09. Actually, I didn't write a thing for months afterward. So, at the moment I've about 130 pages in the can, ready to be edited and I've an untold number of pages more to write before I can revise.

I remember what it was like to relax and waste time on the sofa on a Saturday afternoon. I also remember the pleasure of sitting in Starbucks and reading a book for leisure without the backgrounded guilt of not doing productive work on the dissertation. I wish I could return to that again.

Numerous times I've thought about stopping and have workshopped that idea with a few friends. Their response is unanimously "you've come this far. Don't stop now." Though I ask their opinion I momentarily resent that they've not ever been in a PhD programme or tried to write a dissertation. Of course, I asked their opinion, they gave it to me, and I can't begrudge them for being right.

Clearly I have encountered an excess of self-doubt and a deficit of motivation. Do I need a cheerleader? Do I need to worry less about money--it'd be nice to even have a barista job right about now if it meant a somewhat regular income--or do I just need more (or any) sex? Am I eating enough or too little? Is my living situation working out or is that throwing me off? Would I feel like a new woman (?) if I just got my 'hur did'?**

Whatever funk I am in, I need to get out of it very quickly.

*this should read: I need to actually start the paper.
** Rhetorical questions.

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