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After a Dry Spell, A Sprout

It’s been over seven months since my last entry in this thing but I was inspired by a chance meeting with Sarah-with-an-H, (one of the Ridgley Hall Irregulars), to try taking it up again. As before, it will probably be a mixture of personal diary and dissertation journal, with the occasional grouse about current events not unfolding as they would if I were in charge of the universe. (Any day now, people. Any day now.)

In the intervening time I’ve come back to the States from Taiwan and mostly devoted myself to teaching and working on my dissertation. My class, you might recall, is a self-designed thing in which I look at certain works of seventeenth century Chinese short vernacular fiction through a narratological lens. I ended up with five undergraduates enrolled (plus, for a time, a visiting PhD student from Beijing) and, apart from a few hiccoughs here and there, things have been quite wonderful. My students are all bright, engaged, and often quite funny. Really, I couldn’t have asked for a better group to have on my first experience as a solo teacher.

Even with the best people in the world, however, there’s a certain fatigue that sets in around the last few weeks of the semester. In the spring, at least, this is undercut by a warm, green blooming of the universe, unlike in the fall, when the days get colder and darker and shorter, with the general sense that everyone is riding slump-shouldered and glass-eyed toward ruin and the world's ending. So, even with the understanding that things could certainly be much much worse than they are, believe me when I say I’m ready to transition to the summer mode of droning insects and unimproving books read on the balcony.

After months spent spinning my academic wheels in Taiwan, I came back to St Louis raring to make progress on my dissertation, which is exciting and anxiety-making in pretty equal measure. I agreed with my advisor that I would shoot to have a chapter draft ready every two months in one of those Odysseus-lashed-to-the-mast type deals, which so far has resulted in a first chapter (the most page-turning-est fifty-eight pages you’re ever likely to read) in on time and second chapter healthily en route. It’s the fourth chapter (print and material culture) that has me the most worried because it’s the farthest from my wheelhouse, in a whole other district from my bailiwick, but that is fine, if not great. It will change if it needs to.

There was a time, a few weeks ago, that I was feeling very down for reason that I could not identify. It may be that there was no reason other than the usual neuro-chemical sloshing that tips me into the slough of despond from time to time. In part, I think, it was a function of my grinding against the final days of chapter one, at which point I felt I had exhausted I had to say on the subject without exhausting the subject itself. It was big enough that it had grown beyond my ability to manipulate it effectively, casting me in the role of someone trying to single-handedly wrestle a California king-sized duvet cover into shape. Happily, I was rescued by my colleagues in the Comparative Literature Dissertation Support Group (“CompLiDissSuGuh!”), a newly founded organization I now can’t imagine dissertating without, bless their hearts.


I am very happy to see you back, spinning wheels and green tree envy and all. I have never read a more accurate description of fall semester. And I have a suspicion that you'll peel off ahead and there will be a heavily checkered flag in your not-so-distant future.

Also, some kind of get-together here. With a nice glass of wine. Or two. ;-)

May 2012

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