Post-Defense Reflection

Well, first things first, I SUCCESSFULLY DEFENDED MY DISSERTATION ON MARCH 4, 2015!!!!

To be perfectly honest, although I was extremely nervous before the defense (and was feeling a bit sick to my stomach and like I could cry), once I began my presentation I calmed down a lot. I was thrown by some of the questions asked by my committee, but for the most part they made suggestions for revision or future research, and in the end, when I was asked how it went by those not in attendance, the first word that came to mind was “easy.” It was easy. I was ready. I trusted my knowledge and expertise. Overall, it was a wonderful experience and now all that remains is the graduation ceremony on May 7th.

Now, all that being said, everything now feels oddly anti-climatic. I expected some kind of euphoria or to at least feel different after the defense and the unofficial granting of my doctorate. But I didn’t and I still don’t almost a month later. While at first I thought it was just taking a bit to sink in, I’m not so sure now.

To be sure, my defense was immediately followed by a series of unfortunate events. I got sick the next day and had trouble kicking it. I suspect adrenaline kept it at bay until the defense was over, because now that I think back I was taking 3-4 hour naps during the day in the two weeks leading up March 4. I also tripped over my puppy and messed up my knee for a while. Then I got sick again. And through it all, I was receiving rejection letters from teaching positions I had applied for prior to the defense. Finally, the online fairy-tale course I was going to teach this summer was cancelled. Basically, there hasn’t been much good news.

So now I’m hoping that either the graduation ceremony or the eventual teaching position will give me the feeling of accomplishment that I’m still missing. The worries associated with lack of employment certainly aren’t helping, but I’m a firm believer in education for the sake of knowledge, so while unemployment may be worrisome, it shouldn’t be the defining factor of my achievement. But then again, maybe I will eventually be forced to realize that it is the missing piece.

I know this isn’t the happiest reflection, but I think it helps to express my mixed feelings. I have been enjoying the recent downtime, although I find myself increasingly antsy to get back to work. I have been eyeing some books I’ve been wanting to read, so maybe I’ll move on to that or revision next. I’ve also been thinking about putting together some sample syllabi and/or revamping this blog sometime soon. So many options . . .

Defense Announcement

I submitted my dissertation a week and a half ago, but my upcoming defense became very *real* when I received my defense announcement poster this morning. I’m excited and nervous and simply really excited to complete this final big step in the doctoral process. I had a couple days off from work but have been catching up with job applications and preparing my defense presentation since I submitted the project, so I’m also really looking forward to having a longer break to just soak in my accomplishment, read some non-academic books, and binge-watch Netflix. (You know, assuming my defense is successful and something doesn’t go horribly wrong.)

Dissertation Defense Announcement

Dissertation Defense Announcement

Powering Through the Last Month of Dissertation Writing

This will be a short post, as I’m not feeling great at all these last couple of days. I’ve officially caught some bug, and the timing couldn’t get much worse given that I have less than a month to complete my dissertation in preparation for my March defense.

But as I frequently say to myself and my students, now is the time to “power through” the feeling sick, the exhaustion, the desire to let work slide. This does not mean that I’m working as productively or diligently as I do when I feel well, but it does mean that I don’t halt all work. If I did that, I’d lose momentum, quickly fall behind, and find it to be a real struggle when I try to then frantically wrap up my dissertation.

Instead, I’m taking a break from revising my last chapter in order to review some reading for my introduction. I still can review and read text right now even with the exhaustion and coughing. But final revisions require an objective eye and an alert brain, and I can’t claim to have either of those assets right now. So I continue to work a little each day to keep the momentum going and make a little progress, but I do so with lowered expectations. (Admittedly, even with lowered expectations, I still fall short, but that’s because I dream big so I don’t beat myself up about it–I’m just grateful for any progress.)

So I guess, for me, powering through means keep moving forward despite the obstacle(s). But also know your limits. Don’t push so hard that you wear yourself out and extend the illness or create new problems. It’s a skill that will serve you well in academia and in other environments (professional or otherwise).

Dissertation Defense Scheduled!

Roxie snoozing in her purple dress.

Roxie snoozing in her purple dress.

It’s been quite busy around here lately–mostly because I adopted an adorable puppy I named Roxie a few weeks ago. BUT even more exciting is that I’m in the process of writing my final dissertation chapter AND I’ve officially scheduled my defense date! (March 4th at 10:30am for those who’d like to know.) It’s both amazing and a bit terrifying.

Surprisingly, I’ve found myself reluctant to work as the “end” approaches. I expected to find myself super energized and ready to finish. Instead, I’m reluctant to work. I’m not sure if it’s just because I need a break or if I’m anxious about ending this phase of my life and beginning a new one. I’m certainly excited to no longer be an official student. And I also anticipate some revision and an additional chapter to transform my dissertation into a book, so it isn’t as if the project is *done* once it’s defended.

As I write this, I’ve decided that either way, it is “okay.” I will do as I have always done and push forward toward success. The end of my dissertation is near, and that is *AWESOME* and deserves to be celebrated!

Reflections on 2014 and Resolutions for 2015

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Hello, 2015!

I have found myself super excited to begin this new year and a new phase in my life. So excited, in fact, that I woke up at 5am and couldn’t fall back to sleep! While I’ll remedy my lack of sleep with a nap later today, I wanted to take the opportunity to reflect on the amazingness that was 2014 and document my plans, expectations, and resolutions for 2015.

To say that February 2014 was a good month is an understatement. I received a series of amazing notifications:  I was awarded a travel grant for a conference presentation, a fellowship to complete my dissertation during the 2014-15 academic year, followed by another fellowship to work on my dissertation during the summer of 2014, and notification that I was selected to present at Wayne State’s 2014 Graduate Research Exhibition. This was all cherry-topped with the news that my article on Mary de Morgan, “Seeds of Subversion in Mary de Morgan’s ‘The Seeds of Love,’” was accepted for publication pending revision. (This article has since been accepted for publication and will appear in Marvels & Tales: Journal of Fairy-Tale Studies, volume 29, issue 2 in 2015).

Yet beyond the this excellent news, February 2014 validated my original evaluation of my research and dissertation project: it is worthwhile and important. Before entering my doctoral program, I had not doubted that my research was important. I was shocked to find how very little had been written on the topic of 19th c. fairy tales by women when I first became interested in Mary de Morgan. Most scholarship on the topic is to be found in anthologies of the tales themselves, but these are usually on the topic fairy tales in general or Victorian fairy tales (many if not most written by men). The opportunity for innovative scholarship on the topic was (and still is) practically wide-open and the need to “rediscover” and/or bring to scholarly light the works of neglected female authors persists. But despite my own enthusiasm for my research, doctoral programs were far less enthusiastic. It was made explicitly clear to me by the DGS that I was accepted NOT for my interest in Victorian fairy tales but instead for the list of additional research interests I included in my purpose statement, such as women’s literature in general and sensation novels. I was admitted in spite of my research in fairy tales, not because of it.

But with the help of February 2014, I was finally able to put aside my inferiority complex regarding my research on 19th-century British fairy tales by women. Despite the general consensus that I will not be hired for my work on fairy tales, people are more than happy to hear me discuss them at conferences. And I have clearly become quite adept at selling my research to earn funding, as the multiple fellowships, research awards, and travel grants indicate. Surprisingly, the DGS assured me that I was awarded the Rumble Fellowship by a unanimous vote of the department’s graduate committee. So while at the beginning of my doctoral program, my research in and of itself was not valuable or scholarly enough, I now find that this perception has changed as I quickly approach graduation:  Perhaps fairy-tale research is undervalued, but *my* fairy-tale research is worthwhile AND worth funding.

Beyond the flurry of activity in February, 2014 saw me make a lot of progress on my dissertation. In fact, I submitted my 5th chapter (of 6 chapters) to my director on Jan. 1, 2015. All that remains is 1 more chapter and an introduction, so I am very much on track to defend in early March and graduate in May. I also moved “home” to MN to finish my dissertation writing and perform archival research on the British literary annual at the U of MN. I returned to University of St. Thomas for an invited presentation on Letitia Elizabeth Landon and the proto-feminist fairy tales she published in literary annuals as well as to sit on a panel discussing what could be done with a BA in English (the audience of this panel was a classroom of English majors). I also presented at several conferences, all on the topic of my dissertation research, and have applied for several teaching positions for 2015-16.

Additionally, I returned to physical therapy for some balance work, and I began taking watercolor classes. I also utilized HabitRPG to encourage the development of new and productive habits and to meet the various goals I have set for myself, including periodic blogging.

I feel confident stating that 2014 has been a wonderfully productive and successful year for me.

As I look forward to 2015, I anticipate my dissertation defense and the conferral of my Ph.D. I am particularly looking forward to leaving behind my student status after 10 consecutive years of higher education. I want to experience adulthood that is about working rather than studying, and I very much want to settle down into a stable job that will offer me the same challenges I have come to enjoy over the last 10 years.

I have further found that I have missed teaching while I have been on fellowship. I have not missed grading, but I do miss the interaction with students, the development of courses, course topics, learning objectives, lesson plans, and assignments, as well as witnessing students’ “aha” moments. I have also missed the class rapport and discussions, and as I work on writing my dissertation, I wish I could share my writing process with my students and inspire them to continue writing every day. I therefore plan to return to the classroom, to teach new courses and help new students, and perhaps to use my recent interest in online pedagogy to teach a hybrid or online course in 2015.

Additional resolutions:

  1. Read Dickens’ novels, 1 chapter a day, beginning with Oliver Twist, to try to duplicate the serialized original and experience if the novels appear less overwhelming in small pieces (to perhaps implement in the classroom).
  2. Become more active to reverse some of the unhealthy effects of sitting to read and write every day, as well as to possibly increase my balance and strength deficits.
  3. Work on publishing my dissertation.
  4. Begin new research projects and continue current ones on topics ranging from the literary annual, the femme fatale, Letitia Landon, etc.
  5. Enjoy the experience of transitioning from student to professional!

I’m sure I’ve forgotten to note some of the fantastic events of 2014 as well as some of my plans for 2015, but I’ll leave it at that. It has been a fantastic year of discovery and success and I hope that continues in 2015. Essentially, I hope to continue working my passion.

Seeing the Fruits of My Labor: Writing on the Results of My Literary Annual Archival Research

I am thrilled to be recommencing my fifth dissertation chapter, which is to be submitted Jan. 1st. I’ve already started discussing defense dates with my committee, and knowing I will soon have a firm deadline for my dissertation is both exciting and somewhat terrifying at the same time . . . but mostly exciting. It’s really nice seeing my project come together and begin to form a whole. It’s also really wonderful to anticipate just being done, at least for a while, and having a few weeks to breathe and relax. We’ll see if that break actually happens, but it’s still a lovely thought even if it’s a lie. 🙂

I’ve also had the pleasure of revisiting my literary annual research that I performed last summer as I’ve returned to my chapter on fairy-tale adaptations in the literary annual. One issue I’m dealing with now is that at least half of the literary-annual contributions are published anonymously, so I have no way of knowing whether the author is male or female–not normally problematic but given my project is on proto-feminist women authors, it is a hurdle to overcome. Even some of the named contributors are gender neutral: C. De Lisle and the author of “Absurdities,” for instance. (If anyone can direct me to a real name and/or bio for these nineteenth-century authors, I’d be most appreciative!) 

But in the case of one folktale, I’m really excited with my find: Anna Brownell Jameson’s “Halloran the Pedlar.” I’ve included my intro to my analysis of the story below. It isn’t much yet, but it’s an exciting beginning to an end.

Title Page from the 1828 Bijou

Title Page from the 1828 Bijou

HALLORAN THE PEDLAR:  An Irish Story

Anna Brownell Jameson offers her readers another strong female protagonist in “Halloran the Pedlar: An Irish Story.” Published in the 1828 volume of The Bijou: or Annual of Literature and the Arts, “Halloran the Pedlar” is, despite its title, not about the character of Halloran; instead, the short story features an illiterate Irish peasant as its heroine, namely Cathleen Reilly, whose simple nature disguises a will of steel that is displayed as her control and senses are tested during a trek to Cork to see her husband before he is sent overseas with his troop. In The Bijou, the story is attributed to “the writer of the ‘Diary of an Ennuyée’” rather than to Jameson by name, perhaps because this text became popular after its publication in 1826. Such an attribution (“to the author of”) was not uncommon in the literary annuals, especially in their early years, as publishers and editors at first tried to attract consumers with famous contributors.

Before beginning my analysis of the story, it is relevant to note Anna Brownell Jameson’s personal life. Born in Dublin in 1794, Jameson was largely self-educated,[1] and she became a governess when she was sixteen. It was her position as a governess that sent her to Italy and inspired The Diary of an Ennuyée. Anna married Robert Jameson in 1825, but by 1829, the two were separated and “Anna was making no secret of unhappiness in her marriage” (Thomas n.p). As Clara Thomas explains in her biography, Anna Jameson had proto-feminist leanings: “From the beginning of her writing career Anna Jameson stressed the importance of better education for women. She was a determined, though conservative, early feminist, one of the many in her generation who were increasingly vocal about their rights in law and their needs and opportunities in society” (n.p.). This position on women’s education is evident in “Halloran the Pedlar,” and Jameson’s proto-feminism emerges in the characterization of and focus on the heroine Cathleen. Thomas further notes that with the publication of Visits and Sketches at Home and Abroad in 1834, “For it, as for all her future works, Anna Jameson was now assured of a reading public; she had become an established author” (n.p.). “Halloran the Pedlar” precedes this confirmed success although it follows her first entrance onto the literary scene with The Diary of an Ennuyée, and that book’s success caused Jameson to “became the “lioness” of the hour in London society” (Thomas n.p.).

[1] According to the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, “For a time the Murphys could afford a governess, whom Anna remembered as “one of the cleverest women I have ever met.” Before the family moved to London, however, she had gone; henceforth the sisters’ education progressed with Anna in charge” (Thomas n.p.).

Colloquium Presentation at University of St. Thomas

prezi, letitia landon, LEL, Literary Annual, Fairy Tales

My Prezi (image only–link below)

So I’ve completed my first invited talk, “Marry for Money: Love in Letitia Elizabeth Landon’s Letters and Fairy Tales”–yay! It was exhausting to speak for so long in addition to the prep, so today is mostly a day off. But sharing my research and seeing old professors and new students was a blast. I absolutely love the St. Thomas’s English department faculty and staff, and since I was a student there for six years for my BA and MA, I think my continuing love for the department says a lot. That the faculty and staff continue to care about me years after I graduated is equally notable. 🙂

Now that I’ve gushed over my alma mater, I’ll leave this post with the Prezi that accompanied my presentation (links below since I seem unable to get the prezi embedded) and a photo from the event.

http://prezi.com/embed/rt4acdi1szyq/?bgcolor=ffffff&lock_to_path=0&autoplay=0&autohide_ctrls=0#

http://prezi.com/rt4acdi1szyq/?utm_campaign=share&utm_medium=copy

Generic Intersections: The Fairy Tale & The Romance

My fascination with the fairy-tale genre should be obvious by now. It has sustained me for years, academically since 2008 and my introduction to Anne Sexton’s Transformations, but since childhood in the form of Disney (in particular The Little Mermaid) and bedtime stories from a big illustrated book of Grimms’ fairy tales. In the last couple of years, the literary annual has entered into my list of favorite genres, and today I will be adding the romance.

labbe romantic paradox

Labbe’s The Romantic Paradox

Jacqueline M. Labbe’s The Romantic Paradox: Love, Violence and the Uses of Romance, 1760-1830 (2000) has blown my mind. I came across Labbe’s book while researching Letitia Landon, and I definitely was not disappointed in her analysis of Landon’s work, especially given that it largely supports my own interpretation of Landon’s subversive use of the fairy tale. Without going into great detail, Labbe basically argues that Landon subverts the romance genre and in doing so expresses a profound disillusionment. Moreover, she characterizes Landon as an authorial femme fatale, symbolically ruining or killing the romance even while she utilizes it for her own purposes. (How can I not squee over such a beautiful overlap of so many of my favorite topics and themes?)

But while Labbe’s analysis of Landon was both exciting and eye-opening, her discussion of the romance genre has caused me to seriously reflect on the intersections of this genre and the fairy-tale genre that has held my interest for so long. Labbe begins her introduction as follows:

“The Romance has always had a bad press within Romanticism. As a genre, its associations with women readers and writers and assumptions of its inherent inferiority to, for instance, the epic, the ode, or even the sonnet have for many readers contained its power; as a plot-line, its fabled preoccupation with love and fantasy has limited its appeal. The romance is rule-bound, immature, feminised and predictable: readers know the outcome before the story even begins.” (Labbe 1)

Already the similarity to the fairy tale (and even the literary annual) is apparent: its a fluffy genre, appropriate for women to write and read, includes elements of romantic love and fantastic magic, and is formulaic.

Labbe then discusses what she calls “the Romantic romance,” or the romance as interpreted by Romantic poets:

“The Romantic romance contains all the necessary ingredients, although not always at the same time: a love relationship central to the plot; a hero, heroine and villain; journeys, adventure and escapes; the supernatural or magical. Importantly, however, it largely dispenses with ‘happily ever after’; lovers meet, love, are parted, but seldom are reunited, and if they are, it is seldom to good effect. Instead of celebrating their happiness, the Romantic romance utilises their distress; it finds in the elements of the romance justification for pursuing a changed romance. [. . .] The traditional romance is inherently deeply conservative in its gender constructions; indeed, many gender stereotypes about strong heroes and passive, beautiful heroines are directly traceable to its plot. The Romantic romance throws down a challenge to the romance of gender; subverting the familiar angles of plot, the Romantic romance reveals the emptiness of generic rhetoric.” (Labbe 2-3)

Romanticism has ever been a period that I’ve struggled to get into and interact with. My fascination with Landon and with the figure of the femme fatale (as seen in the poetry of Coleridge and Keats) has enabled me to find a foothold in the period, but I am now fascinated by Labbe’s Romantic romance. What she describes as the Romantic romance directly ties in with what fascinates me about the proto-feminist fairy tales I’m currently writing about: largely, the upset of the “happily ever after” and gender stereotypes.

Even more similarities can be found when Labbe later discusses the instructive nature of the romance. She writes in the first chapter,

“In many ways, the moral of the conventional romance is the preservation and strengthening of the status quo [. . .] Romance offered, even demanded, the continuation of a lifestyle where strength and goodness were rewarded, gender distinctions (mostly) upheld, men protected women, social classes were strictly observed and believed in.” (Labbe 33)

Inherent to the traditional fairy tale is the moral, an aspect of the genre that was explicit in some cases, such as the fairy tales of Perrault. Furthermore, Perrault’s fairy tales were written to educate and instruct children in their courtly gender roles. While the fairy tales of the French conteuses of the same time period were more subversive, attempting to expand women’s role in society, many fairy tales throughout the centuries are more concerned with the reification of cultural mores than with the transformation of social expectations and society in general. The classical fairy tale would therefore seem to have much in common with the “conventional romance.”

My knowledge of the romance genre, and the Romantic romance in particular, is still very basic and incomplete, but I am very pleased to have found another point of interest in the Romantic period. Perhaps more importantly, Labbe has caused me to question how much of my discussion of proto-feminist fairy tales is perhaps more a discussion of Romantic romance or proto-feminist romance. The same generic playfulness and/or subversion is present not only in Landon’s fairy tales but also in those that come later in the century. Could there be a Victorian romance waiting to be revealed? And how much do the genres of the romance and the fairy tale crossover? Is there a distinction that I’m missing? While such classic tales such as “Little Red Riding Hood” seem to share little with the romance, fairy tales such as “Cinderella” seem to share much with the romance.

Such intersections are certainly worth pondering more. But for now, I’ll leave you with a final fascinating quotation from Labbe:

“As the century progresses and the romance becomes ever more popular and widespread, it also gains the ability to engage directly with the violence it describes: texts become metaphorically blood-soaked as human relations disintegrate into an anti-fairy-tale world of dying unhappily ever after.” (Labbe 4, my emphasis)

Dissertation Break & Scheduled Relaxation: Community Watercolor Class

While I am ever so slowly getting back into my chapter (and getting excited about the topic once more), the dissertation writing process frequently feels like a lonesome task. And it is lonely, particularly as I am focusing on my dissertation rather than teaching this academic year. While I certainly don’t miss the hassle of course preparation, lesson planning, and grading, interacting with students and other instructors is a method of getting away from the solo business of writing and focusing on something else; in my world (and I assume in that of many other academics), teaching can become a research break that forces me to stop thinking about my chapters.

But what do you do when you aren’t teaching? The guilt of not working on my dissertation is ridiculous, especially when I can’t claim other types of productivity. Moreover, while I’m happy to be done with coursework, I do miss being a student and the joy of learning. Enter the community center introduction to watercolors class.

My community center art class has proven to be a great method of forcing myself to relax and forget about my dissertation for at least a few hours a week. There are many reasons for this:

  1. It’s fun.
  2. I’m paying for the class so I’m going to attend the class because, like most grad students, I have a tight budget. But, the class is not nearly as expensive as a college course so it actually fits within my budget. Supplies were also affordable, which is why I chose watercolors over the more expensive ceramics class.
  3. Nobody in the class cares about my dissertation. Unlike my friends, family, and colleagues, the instructor and other students don’t want to hear about my research, beyond the general topic being fairy tales, so while I’m in the class, I’m not talking about my progress and challenges.
  4. It meets regularly in the evenings, so each week I have 2.5 hours set aside for the class without worrying about losing or wasting time. Basically, relaxation is built into my schedule. Also, evenings are usually my least productive time of day, so I’m not painting during normally productive hours.

I really enjoyed my 6 week late summer class, and this weekend I will be registering for Fall session classes. If you’re like me and find it difficult to relax but really need to get out of the house and away from your research, look into what classes are offered by your local community center. You may be surprised by the options available and find a great new hobby. Plus, my finished artwork (pictured below) made a lovely birthday present for my mother.

Watercolor purple flower

My Finished Watercolor (Painted from image at top of post.)

Resolving to Return to a (Work) Routine

As I begin writing this post, I can’t help but sigh heavily. To say that August has been a whirlwind of chaotic activity would be an understatement. But as it comes to a close and my special collections research ends (or at least is put on hold), I find myself struggling to get back into my old routine of writing and reading. Or rather, I need to find a new routine. Either way, productivity is down.

Part of this is simple burnout. I want and need a break. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately), I have approaching deadlines that require that I continue working and accept the last two days as break enough. As Tim Gunn says, “It’s time to make it work!”

So, since I’m not simply falling back into a work routine, reflection is in order to push past the feeling of being overwhelmed with “stuff” to do. What do I need to do? What is the first step(s) to getting it done? What is my priority? What can wait a while?

And to make this official, I’m sharing my “To Do” list, in prioritized order with any formal (or informal) due dates:

  1. Organize desk top. (It is a mess from the move still.) [X]
  2. Register for conference in Sept. [X]
  3. Reserve shuttle for Nov. conference. [X]
  4. Read and incorporate secondary sources into my current dissertation chapter. [in progress]
  5. Polish my current dissertation chapter.
  6. Submit to dissertation director before meeting on Sept. 15th. [X]
  7. Condense to conference presentation and submit to graduate student presentation contest by Sept. 18th. [X]
  8. Begin creating colloquium presentation (PowerPoint or Prezi) while on the topic.
  9. Attend and present at conference Sept. 25th-28th. [X]
  10. Finish preparing 40 minutes colloquium presentation paper/notes and visuals by Oct. 16th.
  11. Jump into next chapter (already begun but put on hold last semester), in particular to prepare for Nov. conference presentation.
  12. Prepare conference presentation by Nov. 5th.
  13. Attend and present at conference Nov. 5th-8th.

I think at that point in November I can afford to take a week or two off to recover.

And, just as I’m about to publish this post, I realize I left all my job application materials off the official list, so . . .

*1-13* Scatter job application prep, search, and submission throughout.