Sunday, December 16, 2012

First Submission of Entire Dissertation

There were many times this semester when I didn't think I was going to make it this far -- but viola!  I just submitted (late last night!) the six chapters of my dissertation.  If you count the appendices, I am pretty sure I am around the 230 page area in terms of length.  NOT that this is the most important consideration, of course!  (But it is kinda cool to think that I have NEVER written anything this long EVER!  Even if it is a huge piece of crap, there is still that little victory to think about!).

So how do I feel about what I submitted?  Meh.  I worked as hard as I could on each chapter but by the time I got to the last chapter (the conclusion) I think I was just wiped out.  I looked up some info online and peeked at a few examples of dissertations that were rhet/comp based but I just feel like that chapter is the most "mechanical."  I guess what I really need at this point is to know what I have done wrong (or not well) and then just to change it to how it needs to be in order to make it to the next step ...

... which is defending the whole thing.  In person.  In front of very smart people.  Sounds like fun, eh?  I am almost at the point of thinking that my entire research is crap but I know this is coming from the person who has been "married" to it for far too long.  I want a divorce.  I want my own place to live!  I might be willing to take the dissertation back but only after she (why do I think that she is a "she"?) attends marriage counseling and comes back a happier camper!

OK, so maybe the marriage analogy is a bit goofy!  I have had a bunch of people ask me about the next step so here it is!  First, the great Dr M tells me what I need to change to make this project more readable and overall better, I make the changes (perhaps we redo this steps a few times!), I defend the whole thing in one scary meeting at SIU, I make any other changes that the committee asks for, and then I graduate!  (and the goal is for this to happen in May!).  My only issues right now is trying to figure out how I want to sign up for my last 3 dissertation credit hours (the goal here is not to have to pay SIUC more than I need to!).  So do I sign up for all 3 remaining credit hours in the Spring and make sure I am done by May no matter what -- or do I pay for 2 in the Spring and save one for Summer just in case things go badly?

But in the meantime -- I am  taking a recharging break (after one of the most difficult semesters ever when you combine dissertating all the time + problem students).  Next week I off to Chicago for a few days with my good pal, Peggy, and then just lots of home time with Jim.  The idea of being a 1950's Mad Men-inspired housewife sounds like fun for a few weeks!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

A Little Video Pause While Grading!

Check out this fabulous video created by the students who are members of WRIT 110, under the direction of Binghamton University Writing Initiative faculty member, Sean Fenty.  (WRIT 110 is a bridge course designed to motive first-generation college students, English language learners, and others enrolled in our Educational Opportunity Program).  I think these students are quite inspiring!  Maybe I could look into having my students do something like this next semester?!

And now back to grading papers and editing dissertation chapters!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Wednesday of Finals Week!

So here I am in the middle of finals week.  And here is what is on my brain:

1.  I think I have messed up the conclusion of my dissertation.  It's like my brain has just gone "off."  So, of course, as I am googling a phrase like "What do I need to think about in terms of a dissertation conclusion?" almost everything I encountered started with the words, "The conclusion is the most important chapter in your dissertation ..."  Just what I need to hear.  Thanks, karma.  So I did the best I could muster this weekend but I don't think it's all that brilliant.  But I guess it is as done as I am going to get right now.  At any rate, I will be sending the fabulous Dr M all my chapters by this weekend.  The major writing -- I think -- is done.  Now I need to proofread and edit a bit -- and then be prepared to do (a lot) more of this editing once the chapters come back to me.  At this point, I am feeling like "Tell me what to change and I will change it; no questions asked!"

2.  On Monday we got bad news about our two remaining cats.  Katie (Jim's cat) apparently has a rather large mass near her kidney area.  We won't know if it's cancer without a super expensive test but Dr Lewis (our fabulous vet) seems to think that it doesn't really matter if it's cancer or not at this point -- it is still bad.  And it is going to get worse.  So we had some blood work taken (ching! ching!) and we will probably have to make the decision to put her to sleep in January.  We certainly don't want her to suffer but still.  This sort of hurts.  And then there is Zora, my cat.  The best guess from her strange behavior (and weird eyes, a new symptom) is that she has a brain tumor.  Again, an expensive test would tell us for sure.  So, we will probably need to make the decision to euthanize her as well, though I think her situation isn't as dire and we can wait a few more months.  I have had Zora almost 16 years.  Losing her will probably be more difficult for me.  In some ways, she is all that I have left from my pre-Jim days.

3.  Final research papers are exploding out of my ears!  This semester I taught four sections of ENG 102 (big mistake on my part) and now I am busily reading final research papers that have been a bit depressing.  What happened to the great purpose/ Research Questions I have been seeing in the preliminary work?  Where are the sources that are balanced and insightful?  (One student used 6 sources from, something he didn't have in his better written Annotated Bib).  Where did I fail these folks?!  Though there are some fabulous papers, so far the majority are not very good.  I am taking this as proof that I need to rework the way I teach ENG 102 and try to find a better way of engaging these students.  I think many of the assignments I designed work well (esp. the survey and interview portions) but I need to see if there is a more effective approach all around.  So basically I am saying that this gives me something to "do" during the break.

But here are some good things to look forward to!  I will soon get to spend gobs of time with Jim (yeah!) and I get to take a quick trip with my pal Peggy (yeah!) and our little house high in the sky could use some deep cleaning (since I have been distracted with the dissertation).

Friday, December 7, 2012

On to the Conclusion!

Okay, so this weekend is conclusion time.  Here is the pro:  I have been dumping all kinds of odds and ends into the "conclusion" document I had already created a few weeks ago.  Con:  It's in no particular order and much of it might be crap.  One more con:  I sort of feel like I am "done" in terms of energy.  So probably my biggest obstacle is just getting the last one big burst of energy and finding the enthusiasm to prove to my readers, "Yes, this was an important piece of research and let me show you why it's important."  Before embarking on this next writing task, I did a little Googling to see exactly "what" (generally) people do in a dissertation conclusion:
Apparently, the final chapter in your dissertation should include recommendations.  I think I can do that -- what? Share my opinion with others?  I think I can manage that part with my big mouth!
Based on several web sites that I looked at, it looks like you can further break the chapter down into a number of subsections (I am not sure how strictly I need to stick with this but I suppose it gives me something to aim for)
Introduction – introduce the chapter to the readers and include such things as what this chapter will review and summarize the dissertation research, identify the main methods used and discuss their implications in the study.
Problem statement and Methodology – present the problem statement as you have presented it in the first chapter (what was the problem and what did you want to achieve). You should then review the methodology, in detail, but without repeating anything that you have already said (How in the world am I supposed to do that?).  You will need to review the methodology so that it provides enough information to the reader about the methodology so that they don’t have to go and read this chapter independently.
Results of Summary – You should keep this section brief and identify the result with a general statement paragraph which it then followed by another paragraph that supports the evidence collected. You should avoid interpretation here and thus be objective about the results.
Discussion of Results – You should discuss the meaning of the results here, in brief, and highlight any important areas that you have identified. You should also look at the different things that the study means and how this is evaluated to the overall understanding in your dissertation.
Recommendations – You will want to keep this section brief and maybe to one paragraph or two, and explain what, from the research that has been conducted, there will be recommendations to the organizations or, if you are presenting to academia, then what further research should be conducted in the future.
(Dissertation monster is comin' to get me!)
And so there you go.  I might already have some of this written.  I feel like I am already starting to repeat myself a little but ... oh, well.  Once this chapter is done (By Sunday night!) -- on to some editing and proofreading!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Beware of the Swear Words!

Question: What would make these last two of major dissertation writing just that much more difficult?

Answer:  The fuckin' flu!
I know I had a lot of enthusiasm last week that I would be able to finish the major writing on a strong note (remember the "I can see light at the end of the tunnel?" business?).  Well, I am thinking some stupid semi just pulled up ahead and it is blocking the gosh darn light!  Just to help me work out what is making me feel stressed, here is a list of "problems" I am encountering this week:

1.  The before-mentioned flu.  I guess I caught it from Jim (who has had a bad time of it for a week+) and this has completely interrupted my sleeping, my ability to breath, and my head.  Fuck the flu.

2.  End-of-the-semester Research Projects in my ENG 102 classes.  I have never taught four sections of ENG 102 (and might I add, four very full sections of 102) and I am beginning to understand why this was not the best idea in terms of scheduling.  In my books, ENG 102 is harder than ENG 101 (for both the student and the instructor).  There is a heck of a lot of "mind work" with assessing how students are artfully creating research discussions and you have to read it using 100% of your mind (at least to do it well).  Being this on for 80+ students at the moment is a little hard.

3.  Dissertation Girl is starting to hate her project.  I hope this is normal.  I am pretty much "done" -- as of this afternoon -- with Chapters 1-5.  Now I have to shape and mold all the notes I have for Chapter 6 (the conclusion!).  I know there are some problems with some of the sections in the first five chapters but fuck it.  This perfectionism thing is dragging me down right now.  I am willing to settle for okay (at least, for now!).

4.  My own stupidity.  Related to #3, what is up with me using sources in any of my dissertation chapters and I for some freakin' reason didn't add the source to my ever-evolving Works Cited "chapter"?  This means, of course, that I am wasting huge amounts of time tracking down sources that I should have already noted.  Grow a brain, Dianna!

5.  Other obligations.  Our family this year decided to buy gifts for a family we adopted instead of buying gifts for each other.  By next Friday, I have to deliver all the items to the case worker for the family we adopted under the "100 Neediest Cases."  Jim and I just bought the items for the mom (who we "adopted") but I haven't wrapped them (do we even have wrapping paper?).  So now I have to connect up with Jim's sisters and mother and try to collect everything together and make the delivery.  I know this is the best possible "gift" that we could have given ourselves for Christmas, but is it bad that there is a small part of me that wishes I were getting gifts for Christmas instead of doing this family adoption?  (OK, even typing that out makes me feel selfish but it's probably because something that wasn't supposed to be a "burden" is beginning to feel like a burden).

6.  No exercise the last week or so because of #1.  I recognize this makes me grumpy.  Fuck it.

OK, I think I am done (and hopefully, done with saying "Fuck it" every three minutes!).  I am just bummed (mostly) that I got sick during the one time in my life that I can't get sick -- right now!  Just the thought of thinking I could be done with this dissertation was so tempting to believe last week -- now it feels a little bit further away.  However -- the show will go on!  I just have to do three things by next week:

1.  Finish the conclusion
2.  Make sure my in-text sources line up with my Works Cited
3.  Do some amount of proofreading and editing so Dr M at least understands my overall point.

I can do this, right?  Just one more shove of energy?

Friday, November 30, 2012

Light at the End of the Tunnel!

Yikes!  So here it is -- the end of November.  And let me just say .... I am feeling pretty good dissertation-wise!  Perhaps I have finally hit my stride because I am spending huge amounts of time (when I am not teaching or grading) working on Chapters 5 and 6.  And the best part is that what I am coming up with is at least okay (as far as I can tell!).  This week I pretty much focused in finishing up the Analysis (Chapter 5).  I have a few more small things to insert but I think that section is now pretty much done -- for now (because I am sure there will be some editing and changes that will be happening after that fabulous Dr M takes a look!).

If you all remember, pre-Thanksgiving Break I tried to think about these last two big sections as two 20 page papers (making this task not seem so impossible since I have written several 20 page papers in my academic life on many occasions, especially near the end of a semester!).  And maybe that was just the bee in my butt that I needed!  Right now, the analysis chapter is sitting at about 25-26 pages and the last chapter (the conclusion!) is at about 22.  I have so far just been "dumping" mini-discussions into my conclusion and I haven't had the chance to shape and mold it too much yet (the fun I am saving for this weekend and all of next week!).  So -- the point in telling you all this?!  I am not worried about page numbers at this point -- right now, I just want to make sure that I have something interesting (dare I say "intellectual"?) to share with the folks in my field.

My deadline to complete the basic chapters is December 21 and I think I should make that (though the superstitious part of me is knocking on wood as I say this!).  I am hoping, then, that I can finish a little bit early and join my friend Peggy for a short holiday in Chicago around the 17 or 18th of December with total relaxation in mind -- before I came back to the dissertation in January, make any needed big changes, defend (maybe in Feb or March?), and then graduate! (in May?).  I haven't been thinking about this stuff too much before now because I haven't wanted to jinx anything -- and maybe I am jinxing things a little but it is so nice to see a little light at the end of the tunnel -- finally!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Chapter 5/ Chapter 6 Update

If you look back at my last entry, I had high hopes for the days off during the Thanksgiving holiday.  And here I am on the other side of those days off with ... well, I am thinking not exactly bad news but not exactly good news either.  The goal -- if my dear readers might remember -- was to complete Chapter 5 (the Analysis Chapter!) and then I would be left with just one more section to write, Chapter 6 (Conclusion!).  And as far as pages are concerned, I guess I was shooting for about 2 twenty page papers (one twenty page chapter for each of these two remaining sections).

What I have right now is about 16 pages of Chapter 5 and about 20 pages of Chapter 6.  My unhappiness is simply in the fact that I wanted to be done with the analysis -- I wanted this section to be off my back 100%!  And it's not!  If I thought writing that darn methodology chapter was hard, I had no idea what was coming with these darn results!  But tonight I did a lot of brainstorming (which students do I want to mention?  Which sentences that they wrote?  What patterns to they fall into?) and I guess I just need to sit down over the next couple of days and just pound this out. I have a bunch of sub-sections (I guess you could call them?) but I am struggling with how to order all this information.  And I don't sound "smart" as I am walking through and explaining my interpretation -- that is probably one of the "monkeys on my back" right now that I need to get rid of.  It is so hard to write when you hear this whispered voice saying, "You are stupid -- they are going to hate this."

By the time, I attack  the conclusion I think it will be fine -- I have been dumping sections that I thought at the time were analysis into the conclusion (that is how that chapter just started growing and growing!).

OK, break over -- back to playing with the analysis ..... ugh ......

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

R.I.P. ModPo

So my ModPo class is over (for those not in the know, this was a free MOOC that I have been taking for the past 10 weeks at  I heard about the MOOCs on via some conversations on Ted Talks and I am so glad that I happened to stumble on this web site -- and these opportunities for free, online courses.

What have a learned in 10 weeks?  One answer to this question has to do with teaching.  Al Filreis, the instructor for ModPo, was brilliant.  He does the kind of careful reading approach that I use in literature classes but ... he reminded me that I need to slow down.  Since I use primarily novels, sometimes I forget that slowing down and "playing with" passages can be a great activity to do.  For example, when my LIT 205 class was reading Maryse Conde's I, Tituba not too long ago (she is a fabulous, fabulous Caribbean writer!), I picked a few important passages (at least ones I thought were saying "something"), collected 10 dictionaries from around our building (for each of the ten students in the class), and gave each of them one of the passages.  I then asked them to look up any of the key words in the passage -- even if they thought they already knew the word in question -- and see what connections they might be able to make about this isolated passage.  The results were fabulous -- we had a fantastic conversation about language and words and power and all that good stuff!  I think I was doing something like this activity already but ... I needed that reminder to slow down even further so the students (and me!) get the chance to wrap our heads around that Conde might be trying to do with her novel.

So from a teaching perspective, I learned how to be a more effective educator.  But that's not all, of course -- the other new quality in my life is a renewed appreciation for poetry, a form of literature that has often scared me a little.  I think there is a part of me that has always been drawn to poetry (probably one reason I love connecting up with the St Louis Poetry Center) but -- since I don't see myself as a poet -- sometimes I have felt that (1) I can't hang out with poets since I am not one of the crowd and (2) that poetry is just one of those puzzles that I am never going to "get."  So the challenge in taking this course was letting go of the emotional turmoil that poetry often brings in the door.  And did I mention that I was taking this MOOC at the same time, of course, as trying to complete a dissertation?  But maybe there was something about tackling something hard (poetry!) and then taking that same energy to something equally hard (my dissertation!).  Certainly, the poetry we looked at has given me a new sense of the power of language and how it can be used and manipulated to capture "truth."  I have already integrated a lot of "classic" poems into my upcoming Spring 2013 American Literature class.

The information in ModPo altered the way I think about poetry.  Sure, I was already pretty acquainted with Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman but I love the way that our instructor brought these two poets together.  Now a lot of the more modern poetry we looked at (like Erica Baum and the imagists like H.D.) make so much more sense to me when you see the ancestry of American poetry in the way that Filreis explained (and set it up).  And William Carlos Williams!  Wow!  Of course, I knew "The Red Wheelbarrow" but this guy was/ is amazing!

Since ModPo became my hour or so of mindless television (since Jim and I don't have cable), I knew a few days ago that I was going to need to find something like ModPo to help me keep learning and writing and all that fun stuff.  So .....

I have already started another MOOC -- this time it is through  This professor - -Dr Amy Hungerford from Yale University -- is conducting a MOOC on the American Novel since 1945.  I can already tell you that this MOOC will take me longer than 10 weeks (especially with a looming dissertation deadline!).  I have already listened to the first lecture (about a 45 minute introduction to the course and the ideas/ themes behind the course) and I just finished the first reading (Richard Wright's BLACK BOY which I first read as an undergraduate many years ago!) so I will be able to tackle the next video lecture soon! (each lecture is about 45 minutes so I will need to be careful about putting this time into my schedule).

But for today?!  I am about to start and intensive four days of writing!  I WILL finish the analysis chapter!  (and then just the conclusion to go!)

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Erica Baum's "Poetry"

Yikes -- this was already a short week to begin with because of Veteran's Day (no SWIC this past Monday) but I am having one of those "Holy crap, it's already Thursday sort of weeks."  I have been pretty busy this week dealing with Annotated Bibliographies from my ENG 102 sections which take time to walk through carefully and help the students think about their research questions and how they are approaching their eventual research essays.  That means that I am spending little time on my own research and writing.  Which makes me feel stressed.  And tired.

However, I am working hard at focusing on the "good stuff" that happens in every ordinary day!  For example, we are "reading" the most amazing poetry right now in my (free!) online MOOC, Modern and Contemporary Poetry (or ModPo for those in the know!).  One of the poets in ModPo this week is Erica Baum, a photographer "slash" poet (or maybe it is poet "slash" photographer?).  Anyway, below is an image of one my favorite pieces by her so far:
As you can tell, Baum takes a look at "found language" -- why create a poem when there is so much language already out there?  This take on poetry, of course, leaves a person more time to focus on interpretation (versus taking all that time to actually "create" a poem).  At first, I wasn't sure what to think -- this isn't the sort of post-modern "stuff" that  I am usually attracted to.  But, the more I looked at the above picture (and listened in on the video discussion of the poem), the more I found myself drawn to it.  As you can tell from the image I hope, Baum took photographs of old card catalogs (a type of object that I suspect many younger people have no knowledge of!).  She then took some photos with the juxtapositioning of language and words.  Here, there are subject cards in the card catalog for Jacqueline "Jackie" Kennedy Onassis -- of course, our former first lady and wife to JFK.  I was a bit perplexed at first by the subject card "Once" sticking out.  What in the heck is that card doing there?  I suspect a librarian at some point decided to insert a subject card with "Once" for any number of reasons.  But what immediately comes to mind for me is "Once Upon a Time ...," evoking a fairy tale, a story of Camelot ... which then makes perfect sense when juxtapositioned next to Jacqueline Kennedy's name.  Weren't  JFK and Jacqueline Kennedy seen as the "stars" of their own Camelot, our American version of royalty?  The fact that the cards are repeated with her name -- something about that evokes movement for me (though I am not sure what to do with this observation!).

Anyway -- you get the point!  Who knew such a seemingly "simple" poem could do something so powerful for me?  Erica Baum is also known for her dogearing "portraits" like the one below:
Like the card catalog poem, there is something interesting about the words and sentences that are created when you do this type of paper folding.  The video in the online class alluded to something I hadn't thought of before.  If you look at any novel or book that I have read, you will often notice the dog eared pages -- even if I undo them for some reason, you can still see them!  You can still see where I highlighted a page for whatever reason.  Isn't that interesting how this "trail" might be saying something about you and what you value as a person and a thinker?

So in this busy and crazy week that I am experiencing, I am trying to find "gems" like this to stay sane.  Poetry is starting to be a daily reminder that language is, indeed, powerful and pivotal to how I see and think about the world.  I'd like to think that wrapping my head around poetry (and images) is helping me to think a little differently -- and maybe helping me write a better dissertation!

PS:  This last Erica Baum image I am leaving you with is also fantastic -- make sure you take a careful look at the words noting the "stuff" in this particular card drawer!  Fantastic!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Analysis Chapter -- Here I Come!

I think I am making progress!  Well, at least I am down to the final two chapters of the dissertation!  As you can see from the video below, this morning I first had to do a quick refresher as to what I need to accomplish here in the Analysis Chapter (Chapter 5 for me).  This past week, I finally completed the Results Chapter (Chapter 4) and now I need to take that next big step -- why is what I found important?

So as the above video suggests, this important chapter is perhaps one of the key parts of my overall discussion -- Why should someone care about what I discovered?  What is the significance of my findings?  According to Dr. Cheryl Lentz (the prof in the video above), I need to accomplish four tasks in this chapter: (1) Interpret the raw data that I discuss in chapter four, (2) return to the original purpose of my study as a whole, (3) integrate and bring these chapters together, and (4) offer recommendations for further study (though I think I may be completing this fourth task in my conclusion instead).  In essence, I need to "complete the story" of my research.

And so that is what I will be doing for the next two weeks -- my goal is to have this chapter completed by Thanksgiving, leaving me only one chapter to complete (the conclusion!).  What scares me the most about writing up my analysis is that I am not 100% that what I have to say is all that important anyway.  I have snippets of notes all over the place (completely disorganized!) and what I need to do is to try and bring all those notes together into one cohesive discussion.  On some level, I think I have been afraid to do this 100% because it is here, in this chapter, that I feel like the validity (or lack thereof) of my study will FINALLY see the light of day!  What if I don't have anything interesting to report after spending years of my life dedicated to this study?

So I guess I need to start with small steps.  What follows is one thought about what to include in my analysis chapter:

I know that I discovered on interesting "thing" with my data coding -- students who expressed rhetorical "linguistic moves" that I would consider "lower level" also sometimes expressed rhetorical "linguistic moves" that were (a bit) higher-level.  So, in other words, it is difficult to make a blanket statement about the quality of critical thinking in a student's written response because -- if you looked closely enough -- you could see something interesting that was being accomplished in the "small moves" that a student was making.

For example, Aaron in the Day Class wrote a statement that I categorized as "Treading Writing,"  In one sentence of a paragraph he submitted: "No single person holds any more God given value than another."  As I mention in my methodology, this sort of sentence refers to an easy or simple explanation for the resolution of difficult racial issues.  In other words, Aaron is expressing the idea that "God" is the "one" solution" to racial difficulties and if we all just got on board with this kind of thinking then racial issues would simply dissolve and not be a societal concern anymore.  However, just before the above sentence from Aaron, he wrote, "I recognize that there is undoubtedly a problem with racism in the U.S."  Aaron's use of the word "undoubtedly" is interesting -- he recognizes on some level that unquestionably the idea of race is something that is still wrestled with and unresolved in our country.  Thus, I categorized this sentence as "Acknowledging Writing," a sentence that reflects the knowledge that complexities are inherent in a concept like "race" -- indeed, there is a step towards critical thinking in terms of what Aaron was trying to write.  What is so interesting, of course, is that Aaron starts to wrestle with the critical idea of this touchy topic -- race -- and then backs down two sentences later by claiming that a belief in God (or any other spiritual entity) would solve this "problem" and lead to a better society.

So it's kind of interesting, right?  (I hope this is the sort of thing that I am supposed to be talking about in the analysis!).  I feel like this is where that online Modern Poetry class is helping me -- what I am doing with the data is what I am being asked to do with poetry -- slow down and interpret!  Look at the terms and words -- how, in fact, are the students talking about race?

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Part 2: Last Essay for ModPo

Well, I had about 20 minutes between classes today and so I used my time productively!  If you see the entry below, I started the assignment for my Modern Poetry class on Mesostic poetry -- and below you will see how I analyzed the poem I "made" (honest!  read below first before reading this entry!)  I talk about the original version of the Mona Van Duyn poem that I used and then I introduce the "new version" that I made by putting her poem into this link:



Or Deal
Stumble Upon

Though I was a bit nervous about approaching this assignment (I am not a creative writer at all!), something Al said in one of the video discussions stuck with me in terms of this week's poetry -- the pressure of poetic creation is off (whew!) but then the focus becomes more about interpretation (yeah!).  We are being asked to shift our attention and think about what we "hear" when the structure is "exploded" and then pieced back together.  I don't pretend to get "this" 100% but here are my thoughts:

This rearrangement starts with a verb "moves" which is then immediately followed by "you."  Saying "Moves You" is more insistent than a more traditional description, "You are moved."  The brilliant word which follows, "Inklings," refers to a slight suggestion or indication -- so is the "problem" alluded to in the original version now an "inking" and not this onerous, huge "problem"?  Is the emphasis now more on feeling (the harder thing to get at) than the actual problem itself (whatever that might be which, of course, becomes a moot point in the end anyway).

I love, love, love how the last line ends -- "stumble upon by Mona."  This version is in the present tense and it alludes to Mona "stumbling upon" the words/ ideas/ conversation instead of actually creating the poem itself (and the use of the first name indicates a closeness, a relationship).  I think of "stumbling" in terms of "pebbles" and not huge cosmic boulders (or the "planets" as mentioned in the original version of the poem).  So, again, this re-version of the poem gets at the "inside" of these hard to talk about feelings and emotions (the use of "ourselves" and the "V" being in the middle where our attention is also encourages this interpretation).
So what say you?  Climb into this interpretation with me!

New Term of the Week: Mesostic Poetry

The energy surge I have had since the weekend is still sticking around!  Yeah!  I think a combination of things happened in the same couple of days -- (1) Getting sick of sitting around and whining about a dissertation that isn't getting done when I sit around and whine and worry, (2) focusing on some fabulous poetry that is making my head think in different ways, thus resulting in a new enthusiasm for the written word and language, (3) being more conscious about some of the activities I use in my writing courses creates some interesting writing and thinking on behalf of both the students and me, (4) re-connecting with a huge assortment of fabulous friends who energize me with their enthusiasm, passion and encouragement, and (5) getting back to exercising and yoga-ing on a regular basis.

So there you go.  I try to tackle each day for what it is and make sure I do a little of each of the five activities above (and I try not to beat myself up when it doesn't happen).  This plan doesn't always work out, of course.  Today, for example, I teach a late afternoon class as well as my day courses so there won't be time to hit the gym or go to yoga since I won't be home until late (though, I suppose I COULD go to the gym in our building if I really wanted to.  But -- I consider Wednesday my day off from working out!).  I already have a plan for what I need to work on today in terms of the dissertation -- try to finish editing/ playing with the results chapter and continue with the notes I have already made for the conclusion (the one chapter I still need to work on from scratch).  I have already listened to one video from my online Modern Poetry class -- a conversation on John Cage's "Writing Through Howl" and I even started the last essay assignment for the class.  For the last essay, we are supposed to create a Mesostic Poem using a computer program online.


So have I lost you yet?  (and believe me, I didn't know what this was a week ago myself!).  A Mesostic Poem is similiar to an Acrostic Poem, you know the one's that write a word vertically like "POEM" and then each line starts with the first letter of each of these words.  Here is a quick example (and please keep in mind that I am making this up as a I go along!):

Master writers!

The one I just made above is called an Acrostic Poem and the only difference between this an a Mesostic Poem is that the letters don't line up on the left.  The "spine letters" are in the middle of the word(s) -- see the picture above?  We were asked to use this great web site:  and then do two things:  Determine the spine word and then give a URL for a poem (either from the course or another one that we just happen to like) and have the computer program create a Mesostic Poem.  Then, we are supposed to show what we came up with after we used the program and then interpret what we think about "what happened" between the original poem and the created Mesostic.

Since I am not deeply immersed in reading Mona Van Duyn (see the blog entry below about my purchase of one her books at the recent St Louis Poetry Center Auction), I selected her poem "Earth Tremors Felt in Missouri" since I found this poem online and would then easily be able to put the URL in the program generator.  If you are interested in the actual poem, here it is:

The quake last night was nothing personal, 
you told me this morning. I think one always wonders, 
unless, of course, something is visible: tremors 
that take us, private and willy-nilly, are usual.

But the earth said last night that what I feel, 
you feel; what secretly moves you, moves me. 
One small, sensuous catastrophe 
makes inklings letters, spelled in a worldly tremble.

The earth, with others on it, turns in its course 
as we turn toward each other, less than ourselves, gross, 
mindless, more than we were. Pebbles, we swell 
to planets, nearing the universal roll, 
in our conceit even comprehending the sun, 
whose bright ordeal leaves cool men woebegone.

And once I put the poem in the program noted above, this is what I came up with:



Or Deal
Stumble Upon

If a line has an extra word or so (like "Stumble Upon"), then these are called "Wing Words" (according to Cage).  Something Al Frieis (the prof behind this fabulous free online course!) said in one of the video discussions recently was that poetry like this takes the pressure off creation (I mean, all I did was put a poem in an online program!) and then puts that pressure onto interpretation.  So, though I was scared about this type of "crazy language poetry," I think I get it now!  Well, not "I get it all -- ask me anything" but more like, "OK, interpretation!  I can do that!"  So this is what I have to figure out by this weekend (when this "essay discussion" is due):  What does this new take on Van Duyn's poem MEAN?  Any takers to help me out?

PS:  Here is my quick interpretation of the original poem from Van Duyn: The "quake last night," which the speaker refers to in line one, may involve a personal problem, or else a problem in the attitude of the listener toward the speaker -- we don't know the exact circumstances. But a problem was expressed and to the speaker it has assumed the magnitude of "earth tremors felt in Missouri."  I don't think Missouri here has to mean Missouri exactly (just a location).  Personal circumstances become earth shaking and what might seem to be no more than a "pebble" to the outside world has HUGE importance (in fact, including "the sun). 

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Lovely Finds from the St Louis Poetry Center!

On Friday night, Jim and joined our great friend Mary Ruth Donnelly -- a fabulous poet, mind you, and you might want to click here to buy her fabulous book of poetry (and, for the record, she is one of the most stylish people I know!) -- at the St Louis Poetry Center Trivia Night at the Regional Arts Commission on Delmar (in U City).  I think this was our third year in a row doing this event with our team and this year we came in 3rd place!  (Yeah!  Our table had a blast!  And, as usual, I met some fabulous people including the fascinating and super friendly Virginia Slachman who will be signing her upcoming memoir at Left Bank Books later this month!).

Another high point to the evening is the Silent Auction of Rare Books.  Every year I pick up something but this year I picked up "somethings."  As you can see from the picture below, I ended up bidding on -- and winning! -- three books!  Since I have been taking the (free) Modern Poetry course on, I am trying to wrap my head around poetry in ways I have never done before!  These three books will help me get started!

The first (the one on the top) is a novel (OK, so not poetry but hang on!) by poet Constance Urdang (1922-1966).  Urdang used to teach at Washington University and I was interested in the novel when I picked it up at the event for a couple of reasons:  I didn't know who she was AND the first few lines of the novel drew me in (I noticed after I purchased the book that she had signed this copy! It's a first edition from 1969).  Natural History is, according to the Saturday Review, "Not a novel. A series of images in the form of prose episodes. Their meaning, if any, to emerge when at the end one can look back to try and make out the 'significant patterns. . . ."' Muriel Haynes in that same Saturday Review article likens Natural History to a journal, or "thought book," in which literally, though not in other regards, "nothing happens; a succession of everyday people, men and women, old and young, dead and alive, move in and out, serving as metaphors for ways-of-being-in-the-world."  I might have to wait until the dissertation is closer to being done before I can pick this up, but it sounds interesting!

The book in the middle of the three in the above picture is called Poets of Today and highlights poems from Harry Duncan, Murray Noss, and May Swenson.  I mostly put a bid on the book because of the poems from Swenson.  I once read that just a few months before her death, she wrote: "The best poetry has its roots in the subconscious to a great degree. Youth, naivety, reliance on instinct more than learning and method, a sense of freedom and play, even trust in randomness, is necessary to the making of a poem."  This book was published in 1954 and has that beautiful old book smell!

The book at the bottom of the pile in the picture above I bought on a whim --  a collection from Mona Van Duyn. When I was browsing the auction items, I picked it up and fell in love with one of the poems, "Lives of the Poets."  It was the cheapest of the three that I purchased (this is a first edition from 1982).  Again, this is a poet I didn't know but .... it turns out that Van Duyn has won almost every award a poet can get and was one of our poet laureates for our country.  I am amazed that I didn't know who she was! (Imagine how many great writers I still have to read in this world!  Tons!)  I have already read several of the pieces in this slender edition and feel so fortunate that I have now encountered her!  (and for the record, she also taught at Washington University and became one of the St Louis circle of famous writers who called Wash U their academic home!).

I don't know if it was because of this wonderful evening of "talking poetry" but I feel more invigorated this weekend and I am trying hard to get off my ass and get things done.  Yesterday, Jim and I went to Johnson Shut-Ins (a State Park in southern Missouri) and I went to the gym for an hour after we returned home (even though I didn't really want to if truth be told!).  Today, I have cleaned my home office, worked on my dissertation, went to a 90 minute yoga class, and blogged!  And there are still a few hours in the day to go!  Who knew that poetry was such a wonderful form of motivation/ gas to the engine!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012


One way of remaining calm when one is stressed -- listening to music that makes me happy!  (alright, that is probably a lesson that a lot of folks already know!  I guess I have a thick head!)  So if you don't happen to know the music from The Laya Project, check out the short excerpt below (the entire album is absolutely beautiful and engaging -- check out the DVD if you have time!)

And here is one more from the same album!

Last Day of October

.... and here it is the last day of October!  How in the heck did that happen?

This means that I have roughly about 6-7 weeks to finish up the major writing in my dissertation.  A possible feat but one that keeps getting harder in the face of work problems and personal issues.  One thing I need to work (we will call this goal #1) on is keeping the work "problems" at work, not to let them to continue to linger in my head far into the night.  In particular, I am not doing a very good job this semester at connecting with students who have a bone to pick with me (maybe they don't like certain policies or don't follow directions but then complain, or .... well, you get the picture).  I used to think I was pretty good at being patient.  Yeah, not so much anymore.  As much as I would like to blame the accumulating number being added to my age, I think sometimes I am just grouchy because, well, I am just grouchy.  It probably doesn't help that I am stressed pretty much all the time about the dissertation.  And  my research is directly connected to what (and how) I teach.  So it's hard for me to go home and separate "grad school Dianna" and "teacher Dianna." I know so many super good teachers (and I am not putting myself in this group, mind you!) who dedicate themselves 110% (or more!) to the fabulous art of teaching but then are blindsided by students who express only apathy and boredom.  Perhaps as a part of our job in teaching writing, we rhetoric/ composition people need to work on way(s) of encouraging our students to better see writing and rhetoric as important "concerns," perhaps even more important than Facebook and Jersey Shore.

So goal number one:  Try to keep work stuff at work because it's going to drive you crazy if you don't do this!

What about goal number two?  Try to remember that revising (and playing with text) is fun.  I know that sometimes I am so overwhelmed by all the things I don't know that even something that I usually love to do -- revising and playing with language -- becomes a hard task indeed.  And truth be told, all of a sudden a marathon of Jersey Shore sounds like a good idea!  (I think this is called "evading responsibilities!  And no fears -- I haven't gone that route quite yet!)

If I could just manage these first two goals for the next six weeks or so, I imagine that will release enough energy for me to focus completely on what I need to do in order to get this darn dissertation done.  Of course, I also need to strangle that voice that keeps saying that I am stupid and can't complete this project.  In many ways, I think that voice has always been there (why o why is validation still so darn important to me?) but she needs to shut the fuck up.  Seriously.  Walk the plank babe!

So perhaps this is, indeed, the third goal -- pay attention to the small beauties in my life.  I have the best cheerleader a person could ask for in Jim (who loves me no matter how grouchy and mean I can sometimes be!). I have some fabulous students and co-workers.  Witty friends in real life and Facebook make me laugh and value human connections!  I still love going to the gym and doing yoga (the few times a week I can fit it in!).  I believe in the research I am trying to write up.  And tomorrow starts the post-Halloween chocolate sales.  Life is good.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Feeling Like a Pirate Today!

So far this week is not turning out to be productive!  Ugh!

First, I woke up yesterday with a twitching eye that has now turned into a swollen left eye this morning.  One of my fabulous co-workers thinks it is an allergy issue.  I have never had allergy issues before so it is just plain annoying if this turns out to be the reason.  Of course, my first thought was "Is it possible for your eye to explode if you are (1) reading too many essays or (2) working too hard on a dissertation?"  I did a little Googling and apparently the answer to that is no.  But, it is possible for someone (read this to be me) to be a little unreasonable in thinking that an eye can explode.

OK, it's clear that I am tired!  I meant to work on finishing up the summary chapter yesterday afternoon but after cleaning off my desk, evaluating research papers in my night class, and then doing a hard 4 miles at the gym, I just wasn't in the mood.  Which means I need to work my butt off today.  I have two classes with a gap in between so I will do my best to utilize every moment this afternoon so I can make it to hot yoga at 5 PM.

December 21 -- my deadline for finishing the writing of that darn dissertation -- is coming up in 7 weeks.  I have to be the MOST productive that I have ever been in my life. I know I can do it .... I just need to focus a wee bit more -- and get the use of my eye back!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Stylish Surprise! (see end!)

And another Friday is upon us!  So what is happening in the land of Dissertation Girl?

Not a lot actually.  The weather has turned cold (yeah!) and the sun is out -- my absolute favorite time of the year.  I can only hope that it stays like this for awhile (keep fingers crossed!)

In no particular order, here is what needs to be accomplished by Monday morning:

  • I need to finish evaluating the research essays from my ENG 102 class (5 down and 15 to go; by the time I finish, I would have read and responded to 78 total in the last two weeks!).
  • I also need to read and grade the 10 mid-terms from my LIT 205 class.  
  • I need to keep plugging away at the dissertation, of course!  This week I worked on the Results Chapter -- now I need to make sure I have that chapter 100% done (I  think I need to write an intro and a conclusion to the chapter as a whole).  Next up -- the Analysis -- so, in other words, what is the story of what I tell in the Results section?
  • My office -- both at school and at home -- is one huge mess.  I need to do something about it/ them!
  • I still need to create the assignment handouts for the two upcoming short assignments in my ENG 102 classes -- and be prepared for the next novel my Lit 205 class is about to start, White Tiger (one of my favorite Indian novels!).
  • Of course, a little exercise wouldn't hurt either!

So, if I can get through this list 100% then I will be a happy camper (realistically, I'll take 75%!).  Tomorrow, my good pals Peggy and Carla are coming over early so we can catch breakfast here downtown and then head to the Kimmswick Apple Butter Festival (about 35-40 minutes south of downtown).  I am guessing that there will be a lot of Apple Butter going around (something yummy that I only discovered once I moved here to the Mid-West) and lots of shopping (which is pretty much the number one reason we are going -- my pals and I usually hit up one craft fair a season!).

Before I sign off, I need to mention one "crazy" little retail thing I did!  One of my absolute favorite web sites -- -- offered a "Stylish Surprise" grab bag earlier this week (see picture above).  For $15  you could get an article of clothing worth anywhere from $30-250 from their web site (read:  this is a way of getting rid of your clearance racks!).  There were also grab bags for $5 accessories and $5 home goods.  I bought a couple of the clothes options (in 2 different sizes) and 2 of the accessory bags.  So in other words, I have no idea what I purchased -- all I know is that the items came from Modcloth!  The items shipped yesterday and should be here next week!  I am sort of excited but am thinking that I shouldn't get my hopes up.  I did some online searching before I purchased the (now sold out) grab bags -- some people report getting great stuff and some folks -- not so great stuff.  We will see, I suppose!  (I am not usually a gambling kind of a person).

Thursday, October 25, 2012 = Guilt!

Yeah -- it worked again!  Guilting myself into writing 750 words a day is resulting in more dissertation writing for me!  So yesterday I wrote up the results for the first essay and today I did the fourth.  Done!  I also described each of the assignments and now I think I pretty much have everything I need for this chapter except for some tables that I need to make in Microsoft Word to "show" what I discovered with this raw data.

Since this little experiment worked pretty well this week, I need to think about "topics" and "sections" that I could focus on for the next few days so I can keep this writing streak up.  It would be great to have the bulk of this discussion finished by November so I can spend a few weeks just focusing on proofreading and editing before I ship everything off to Dr M (the greatest grad advisor ever!).

And so now ... back to evaluating research projects from my Wednesday night class!  (5 down and 15 to go!)

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Why I love!

Hey everyone:  Welcome to "I Can't Stop Thinking About My Dissertation All The Time" Land!  Since I have just under two months to get the bulk of the writing finished (with a December 21 deadline), my head is now just constantly berating my inner academic whenever I am "trying" to relax.  I know that any writing teacher can attest to this, but it's not like we can use a Scantron to "grade" our students' writing so we spend a great deal of time trying to write productive and useful feedback to our students in the hope of improving writing skills.  The end result of this?  In my case, at least, I am just plain tired most of the time!

So, given the nature of my job and professional calling, how do I ensure that I spend at least a little bit of my time making sure that I finish that darn dissertation?

Well, I am back to using as my motivating "coach" in making me write my dissertation a little at a time each day (I am on a three day streak at the moment!).  I am not sure how exactly but this is working.  This week I am trying to make sure that I get the "Results" chapter 100% done.  So today, I simply made myself sit down for an hour (between classes) and I typed on what the raw data was for essay one (for both of the two classes I studied).  I just simply wrote up what I found being careful to just report the facts and not analyze what I saw (which will be done, of course, in the "Analysis" chapter!).  Well, it worked!  I got this section done and tomorrow I will focus on doing the same thing but this time reporting the "facts" in terms of essay four (I coded data for both a first essay and a fourth essay).

Monday, October 15, 2012

Birthday Letter to Me!

Dear Dianna:  I know that you liked an idea that you saw a friend do recently where he made it a yearly tradition to write a letter to himself on his birthday.  What a neat way of "coming to terms" with that ever changing number in your age (you know, the number that keeps going up!)!  You even have an assignment where you ask students to write to their younger selves so perhaps -- at the risk of sounding schizophrenic -- writing to oneself once a year might be a great way of just recognizing where you are at this moment in time.  44 is, indeed, a scary number but, on the other hand, it's nice and even (and easily dividable!).

In just a few months you should be done writing the hardest thing that you have ever attempted before in your life -- your dissertation.  It probably won't be the best thing ever (which is what I know is what you want) but it will be "done" (and this apparently is the most important part of a dissertation!).  I know that it's still hard to resist the urge to call Les but as many friends have pointed out recently, you just have to have faith that he hears and is there (in whatever form).  Luckily, there are so many fantastic people around you who will take you with all your faults (OK, there might be a few who would like you to be less grouchy!).  All of us are going to lose someone important to us in our lives and we have to find ways of coping with that.  The timing was pretty crappy with this one but perhaps the universe is just trying to say that you are a strong person.

The last six months haven't been easy -- you are pretty much annoyed about so many things: your writing, your teaching, your body, etc.  You have also managed to piss a few people off but it's important to remember that you can control only how you feel -- not others. So focus on the here and now and take each day as it is (and perhaps lay off on the self help books -- your writing is starting to imitate that junk!).  Keep doing the yoga -- the practice of meditating for 90 minutes in 100 degrees is good for you!

But there are so many things to be thankful for -- most importantly, your health is great even if you physically aren't where you want to be be (who knew that this would create such turmoil?).  You have a fantastic husband who loves you "just the way you are" (sigh, that movie line still makes me swoon!) and you have friends and family who see something good in you (at least sometimes)!

So finish that dissertation.  Get your life back.  Be patient with students.  And continue learning from all your daily interactions!.

See you at 45!

Love, Dianna

Monday, October 8, 2012

Two More Chapters to Tackle!

For now, the methodology chapter is "done" -- but not done, done as I still need to play with the chapter as a whole (I sent it off to the fabulous Dr M with some questions yesterday afternoon).  I also need to walk carefully through it, make sure I have the works I cited in the "Works Cited," and then just generally attack the writing and make sure that I like what I have said.  And this doesn't even take into account anything that Dr M thinks I still need to focus on (I have never written anything like this so I am pretty sure I have left out some important aspects!).  But there is a part of me that is relieved that this chapter has been "birthed."  By far, this is the one section of the whole dissertation which has given me the most grief!

So what is next?  The "Results" chapter and the "Analysis" chapter.  I think I have the Results section figured out -- I just need to show my findings without any commenting or interpreting from me.  I simply present my findings and viola!  Done!  ... I wish it were that easy!  My biggest question has to do with my "raw data" -- the tables I made for each student (actually each student in the two classes has two tables -- 28 students total).  Do I just plop it all out there?  Or do I try to sum up the data somehow and then the raw data gets put in the appendix?  Not sure ...

But it's the Analysis Chapter I am a little nervous about now:

This interesting video makes it clear that the Analysis Chapter "makes or breaks the dissertation" -- the two speakers say that it separates the good students from the bad students.  Gulp!  No pressure!

I know that I want to address a bunch of questions (extract the data and create a story):  What data is the most interesting?  Why is it important or relevant?  Why should readers care about this "stuff" (whatever that stuff may be)?  I need to return to my original research questions and "play" with my findings.

I am not starting from scratch as I start jumping into this .... but I don't have much!  When I was going through the data and making the original "raw data" charts, I did make some notes on stickies about patterns that I happened to notice.  So I guess I need to take my stickies and just jump into writing!

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Methodology Chapter!

The goal  for this weekend is simple -- I must, must, must, must finish my methodology chapter!  I am almost there but I think the confusing bit of the whole process is that there is so MUCH for me to talk about that I am doing the whole "deer in the headlights" thing!

Not only am I trying to get the context down in terms of introducing my research question and the study as a whole, but I am also trying to talk about SWIC as an institution, our campus in Granite City, and then how we actually approach First-Year Writing at SWIC anyway!

But -- I am almost there!  I keep looking at how far along I am (19 pages!) and realize that if I am looking at this chapter as a 20 page paper (my approach to each chapter!) then I am almost there.  I just have to push, push, push!

So I push!  And the next time you "hear" from me I will be down a chapter!  :D

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Distractions Aren't Always Bad!

I know the question on the mind of everyone (ha! ha!) is this:  How is Dianna keeping her sanity with a heavy teaching load while working on her dissertation?  (an especially great question after learning that I have no been "off" diet soda for 6 days!).

I have two responses:  (1) hot yoga and (2) poetry.

My friend Peggy bought me a Groupon a few months back for a new hot yoga place that opened up in Edwardsville, IL (not too far from where I teach in Granite City).  I did do hot yoga a few years back -- and sorta liked it -- but because the location in the city was not convenient and the price was on the high side (and, okay, perhaps I was feeling a bit lazy too!), I stopped going after 5-6 times.  But now I am back doing it about 3 times a week for the last month.  I love it!  Yes, it's hard and all that but there is something about the actual fitness challenge -- and the fact that the yoga keeps me in the moment -- that I am enjoying.  In fact,  would say that there is almost a "joyous" aspect to the whole thing that I can't quite describe (which you wouldn't think would happen when I am in room with a bunch of twenty somethings who are wearing hardly anything on their size 0 bodies!).  Just in case anyone is in the area and wants to try it out, click on this for the link to "Hot Yoga Edwardsville."  The most important piece of advice is that you have to try it more than once.  Seriously.  You WILL want to give up after that first experience but stick with it.  Honest!

The other moment of sanity in my day is the free class that I am taking online in Modern and Contemporary Poetry (called "MoPo" to the 30,000 of us who are taking it!).  This is my first experience with a MOOC (Massive Online Open Course) and I am loving it!  The class is offered through (click on the name for the link) and the class is taught by Dr. Al Filreis from the U of Penn (he has a fabulous web site!).  Poetry has always been a little of a puzzle for me and I guess I thought that since I am so focused on composition matters right now, it might be fun to encourage my mind to work a little differently as I am writing up the dissertation.  But I do recognize that it is hard for me to not get obsessed with something so .... I limit myself to about 30 minutes a day.  As a teacher, I can't express how much I am learning in this fun class and forum.  As a student, I am in love with William Carlos Williams, Walt Whitman, and Emily Dickinson (something I didn't think I would ever say!).  In fact, I thought I was just going to follow along with the readings and not to any of the assignments, but ... I do submit a paper for the first writing assignment.  We were supposed to simply respond to one of Emily Dickinson's poems and reflect a close reading.  I set the timer on my computer for 20 minutes and came up with a snazzy little response (that I actually submitted).  That 20 minutes got me fired up enough to work on my methodology chapter for 30 minutes before class started this morning.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Methodology Musings!

So all of my data (for both a day class and a night class) has been entered into tables that I created in Microsoft Word and now ... I start writing up my methodology chapter.  I have to admit that I feel a little disappointed that I don't already have this chapter DONE (I was hoping to have this finished at Dartmouth last month) but I hadn't realizing going into Dartmouth that I was going to be spending so much of my time ironing out my data categories and then figuring out how to make them work with the data that I had (copies of student essays).  So, I figured the smart thing to do would be to finish the data identification process that I made up during the seminar and see what "story" the data might tell me.  This, of course, will end up being the "Results" and "Analysis" chapters of my dissertation but I think this process also helped me fine-tune my thinking about the "Methodology" chapter -- how my whole darn research is actually designed in the first place.

This week I will focus 100% on the Methodology chapter -- I have a meeting with Dr M on Friday in Carbondale and I would love to bring her what I have so far (e.g. a completed chapter).  I know a big part of it is just sitting down and doing it -- I have tons of notes and scrapes of paper and I spent this evening pulling all of those together and reviewing what I need to do for this chapter:

The video above helped actually in just gathering my thoughts before I plunge into a marathon writing session!  I love the quotation that it starts with in terms of defining exactly what a methodology is -- "a philosophical stance of worldview that underlies and informs a style of research" (Sapsford, 2006, page 175).  I know that on one level I know what it is that I want to say (I have the notes to prove it!) but there is this bug sitting in my shoulder telling me that I can't do it.  Anyone have any bug spray?

Monday, September 10, 2012

OK, brace yourself for another bad poem:

Dianna didn't want to spend the weekend coding
But she also didn't want to spend that time moping.
So she got off her ass
and made a fast dash
and now is done making charts, tables, and loading.

In case you couldn't understand my poetic verse above, I finished inputting the data into charts and then coded that data based on my categories (which I actually had to change a bit once again!).  This afternoon I need to go through and do some calculations (e.g. how many of which code was used?  Is there a significant different between the first essay and the second essay?).

Once I have those patterns figured out, then I need to write them down in the results and analysis chapters.  And these two parts will be my project for this week!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Ode to Not Coding

There once was a woman in the Lou
A student at Carbondale too
She felt like a lard
Because coding is hard
But knew that she had a dissertation to do.

I am not sure what is going on with my head today but I don't want to code (but somehow I obviously have the energy for writing bad poetry!).  I have just a little to finish but I want to be doing anything but coding.  And it's not because I am bored by what I am discovering.  In fact, I finished the day class last week and noticed a few interesting patterns and now that I am half-way done with the night class I have also noticed some interesting trends as far as how the students are talking about race.  But .... I am just not in the mood to code.  I took a quick break to the fabulous bookstore across the street (and even a walk with Jim and Stella) and nothing.  I just feel like a total failure for not feeling the inspiration to just sit down and do it.  Of course, writing this blog is another way to avoid coding but I guess by writing I am realizing that there is nothing to do but just do it (Egads!  Now I sound like a Nike commercial!).  End of story.  Once I finish coding this last class, then I can write up the "results" chapter of the dissertation.  Though the "methodology" section should have been written by now (it's currently floating around in my head and in the form of some general notes), I can't say that I have been able to get that down on paper either.

So here goes.  I will not go to bed tonight until I finish coding the night class.  My goal this next week will be to write up those patterns.  If this works, perhaps I will use the next week to -- finally -- get the methodology section written up (again, I have tons of handwritten notes on this portion from my Dartmouth work).

Sigh ... alright, back to coding.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Page Numbers!

So I am slightly giddy this morning over one issue I am always telling my students not to worry about -- the length of a text!  Everytime I give an essay assignment, one of the first questions I hear from students is "How long does it have to be?" especially since I leave that type of information off my assignment sheets (generally).  I want students to focus on the IDEAS more than how much space they still need to take up.

Well, I just did some quick math and have discovered that my actual text-text so far is about 64 pages (not even counting two chapters that I am still in the note writing stage and haven't written yet) with about another 55 pages or so in data text (to show how I did my categories).  On top of that, I have an appendix that will include my syllabus for the class as well as the essay assignments themselves.  So not counting what I know I still need to work on, this puts me presently at about 130-140 pages.  Since 150 was the bare minimum that I was thinking I had to cough out, I am feeling pretty darn good that I am already at that number :D. 

Now, this is not to say that I don't have a lot of work to do.  I have bunches.  But I can see a tiny little piece of blue sky far ahead that tells me that I am going in the right direction.  I was pretty productive yesterday so I just have to hope that I can keep this up!

This week's goal?  I just finished compiling the data from the day class (my big pile of yellow folders).  Now I need to finish up the night class (blue folders) and start telling "the story" of the data as a whole (which will become my analysis/ results chapter!).  I have already noticed a few interesting patterns!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Week One of the New Semester!

Holy crap, this first week of the semester has almost gotten away from me.  And let me just say that Dissertation Girl is going to have to do much better job at dedicating herself to "dissertating" if I plan on finishing the darn thing by the end of this semester!

So -- here is my thought of the day.  Do you know this Calvin and Hobbs piece?

At the end of my Dartmouth presentation, a comment was made that perhaps my category names need to be "verbed" -- as soon as I heard this suggestion, something in my gut said "Yes!"  This is exactly the approach that I need to take in order to make my categories more usable.

So, in the spirit of the "dissertating" that I mentioned above, I am going to change my coding categories to verbs to more accurately capture (I think) the writing movement that I am trying to "capture" in my analysis AND I am going to finish inputing the data from my day class (the yellow folder sitting on my desk).  Next up will be the blue folders and then .... I need to start coding and testing these new categories!  The plan is to be finished with all inputing of data (into these little tables that I made on Microsoft Word) by the end of this weekend!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Night Before Craziness Starts!

After a two day trip across a large part of this beautiful country, Jim and I (and Stella who was mostly snoozing in the backseat!) made it home to our little place here in downtown St Louis.  Tomorrow I need to be back at SWIC for meetings but I know my head isn't ready for the craziness of a new semester yet.  Instead, I am still lost in F testing and coding data, as well as segmenting and reading recently acquired essays from the Dartmouth library.  But tomorrow -- and all the days that follow it -- become the true test of what I learned at Dartmouth.  I will balance my teaching load with amazing dissertating!  Let the games begin!

Friday, August 10, 2012

"Researching is Revising"

So here it is:  the last day of the Dartmouth College Summer Seminar on Composition/ Rhetoric Research.  I feel like (in many ways) that I have grown so much in the last two weeks as a teacher (most importantly to me), a researcher, and a valid scholar (putting aside the "but I teach in a community college and so I feel like the unpopular kid at the composition party").  Besides the beautiful setting (I am seriously in love with the library here at Dartmouth), I will miss the camaraderie that I have gained (I only wish that I had been able to connect with the entire group more -- living off campus during our time here made this harder).  As a part-time grad student at SIUC (who isn't a GA), I feel like I don't have a cohort of other people to "hang out" with and talk about pedagogy and research and all that fun stuff.  The way my life usually goes is something like this:  teach-teach-teach-teach-teach, evaluate papers and papers and papers and papers and papers, meet in writing conferences and writing conferences and writing conferences, and then try to fit in a bit of dissertating for an hour or so in the evening once I get home (unless I am teaching night classes).  Yes, teaching 5 writing courses a semester (and sometimes 6 or 7) makes researching and writing a difficult task but in this group I found the strength to keep fighting against this constraint and to work at seeing research as an important part of my job (which it is).

I know that I have a lot of work to do (especially with a December focus on finishing up my dissertation).  The title of this blog post (said by the fabulous Amy during her presentation), by the way, echoes the revising that I know is necessary in order to figure out what it is that I actually want to say.  Some of this new revising work is also in finding the confidence that I think I lost when breast cancer came along.  Participating in this seminar was the first "test" of acknowledging that my confidence is not where I want it to be.  It doesn't help that I have gained a bunch of weight post cancer/hysterectomy (and that my body has scars I never had before) but I need to learn to be more comfortable with who I am as a researcher, writer, teacher, and person.  A lot of times, the current Dianna is a messed up emotional pit of low self confidence.  I need to actively change this.  I want to be the "teacher scholar" that compositionist Howard Tinberg evokes in his work.  And if I learned anything from my time here, it's that revising is always an option.  This doesn't just allude to my research -- I need to work on revising the way I see myself.

On a final note:  I don't know what I would have done if I had not experienced this Dartmouth Seminar.  I have so much hope that my research will now be reliable and relevant.

PS:  Here a picture or two of the whole gang!
(Do you spy any famous folk among us?)
(the hard working participants!)

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Presentation: Done!

So, this morning I was given the amazing opportunity to share my research with a bunch of folks who were actually interested in the amazing world of rhetoric and composition!  Before I go too far along, though, I need to mention the amazing group of people I have been camping with for the last two weeks: Bill, Joey, Kelly, Cecile, Angie, Chris, Mark, Alanna, Lindsay, Liberty, Ann, Kim, Kerri, Amy L, Amy Z, Suzanne, Sarah, Liz, Hyoejin, and Melanie (I hope I didn't forget any of my fellow participants!).  We come from all sorts of different institutions but share one huge common trait:  incredible kindness!  And since most folks already have that PhD, I have also appreciated the encouraging stories about finishing mine.

The other huge shout out would be out "camp counselors":

Dr. Christiane Donahue (Dartmouth):  The biggest person here for the facilitation of this event.  She is an incerdibly kind person and has done tons of research on internationalism and comp studies.

Dr. Chuck Bazerman (U. of California Santa Barbara):  The other huge facilitator for this event.  He has written a ton of stuff in our field (too many to name so you will just have to Google him!).

Dr. Cheryl Geisler (Simon Fraser University):  We used her books Streams of Language as the basis of our coding activities last week.

Dr. Chris Anson (North Carolina State University):  He has written a ton of stuff and is a leader for NCTE (again, Google him if you need more info!).

Dr. Les Perelman (MIT):  Again, another biggie in the field but perhaps best known recently for the written essay and assessment debates going on with standardized testing.

Dr. Neal Lerner (Northeastern):  Most famous for The Longman Guide to Peer Tutoring (2007).

Dr. Mya Poe (Penn State):  Most known for the recent Race and Writing Assessment (2012).  The very fact that she was in the audience made me super nervous.  But I am so excited that she will be giving me additional feedback later!

Dr. Cinthia Gannet (Fairfield University):  Most known for Gender and the Journal (1992).

Dr John Brereton (U. of Mass):  Has done a lot, including some books on composition's history!

Is this not the most amazing group of people?  (OK, I get that only rhet/ comp geeks would be excited by this but imagine being in a room with folks who represent some of the best in your field!)

I did my presentation this morning -- and though I was super nervous (mostly because of Dr. Poe's presence) -- I loved the Q&A afterwards -- Dr Gannet suggested the idea of "verbing" to help me better define my categories -- and by lunch this lead me to think about "re-seeing" my categories as an image (see below):
(at the moment, I can't get this pic to face the right way but I will work on this tomorrow!)

I am not sure if the picture shows this, but my actual course is the ship (the USS Rhetoric) and the "iceberg" is the whole subject of "race" as the theme for the class.  Each person on (or off) the ship represents one of my new "verbing category" such as the "fixing" stick person representing the Activist Writer stance that I originally designed.  Enough for today, though!  But I promise more tomorrow including some culminating notes of my time here at Dartmouth.  One more day of presentations tomorrow and then the drive to St Louis starts on Saturday morning.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Quick Post!

Just a quick post today -- I have spent most of the afternoon(1) eating a fabulous lunch with all my colleagues, (2) talking with the fabulous Sarah and (3) working on my presentation for tomorrow.  At this point, the presentation is pretty much done (click here if you would like to see the finished product!) and hopefully things will just fall in place tomorrow during my 15 minute presentation and my 15 minute Q&A.  I did a quick handout (outlining my category definitions in simple terms) but I just need to make sure that I bring my wit (and confidence?) with me in the morning.  Just in case you are interested in the fascinating topics that my colleagues are doing, click here for the link to the Dartmouth College web site event announcement!

This morning Dr Bazerman had us consider research ethics, a topic I wasn't that familiar with.  The Belmont Report in 1979 evolved out of the ethical problems concerning the Tuskegee syphilis experiments (Google this if you don't know about it) and the 1971 Strandford prisoner experiments.  The three basic concepts that we need to be aware of is respect, benefit, and justice.  So, in other words, we need to make sure that our research participants are seen as autonomous agents, that their well being is secured and advanced, and that any benefits we give or gain are shared.  This was a huge reminder to me to make sure that I keep the names of my students (in my study) protected (and that I line them all up with fake names).

Just one private consultation with Dr Donahue in a few minutes and then one more group meeting at 5 PM.  And then home to our cabin!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Tuesday August 7

I am noticing that the attitude of this blog is either up or down -- so welcome to an up day of sorts!  First thing, though, is a minor comment about the weather.  The last day or so has been much cooler in terms of humidity here.  Don't get me wrong -- I am not complaining since I am very much aware of what the temps are like back home in St Louis -- but the place we are staying at has no A/C so it's been a bit warm in the evenings.  Last night was perfect -- I am guessing it was in the low 60s?  And this afternoon has turned out to be a sunny and comfortable day.  Yeah!

OK, now what about that "to do" list that was about a mile long?!  Well, I am getting through it but just a bit on the slow side.  Right now, I have most of the afternoon "off" so I am hoping to get my presentation mostly together for Thursday morning.  I decided to do a Google Doc quasi-Power Point sort of a thing so here is the link (just keep in mind that this is a work in progress!):
I am hoping that by Thursday morning, I have something that looks a bit more together (still figuring out some of the logistics at this point).

I was also able to walk down the street after lunch today and buy a Dartmouth shirt!  Yeah for a little bit of shopping!  I told Jim that I would be home later tonight so I am going to stop at the King Arthur Flour Company on the way home (and bring Jim home some baked treats hopefully!).  So those two activities will be off my list!

At the moment, I am a bit sweaty because I just spent a good 45 minutes tracking down three books in the stacks over at the library (including a newer publication I hadn't seen, Teaching Race in the 21st Century, edited by Lisa Guerrero -- and once you see the price on Amazon, you will understand why I wanted to borrow a copy!).  The stacks are rather strange here (see above; this is just one section).  The books in the stacks live in a glass room -- a huge room that is enclosed to protect the books (climate controlled).  The older section is a bit freakier than the newer section.  Anyway, I was going up and down stairs trying to find the three books I was after -- but, goal accomplished!  (and I got in a free workout!).

I did not participate in the optional workshops (going on right now in fact) on SPSS or Dedoose.  Even though I think I would like either of these two statistical data programs (to help crunch numbers), I don't see myself using these for my dissertation and so .... I will have to wait and use these programs for my first post-dissertation project (of which I already have a few ideas!).  This morning's lecture by one of the pysch professors here (and Dean of First Year Students) -- Dr. John Pfister -- was fascinating!  Basically, he posed the question about whether stats would be important to our research and then gave us a quick lecture on the basics behind statistical calculations (i.e. independent and dependent variables, the F test, and the T-test among other concepts).  Though I am still a little foggy on some of these concepts, I appreciated his fabulous teaching persona.  I think I would love a full class from him!

So now it's back to working on my presentation.  I can't believe that we have only three days left before driving back to St Louis.  I like being a student -- I know it's going to be so much harder to work on my dissertation once classes start back up again (though I am sort of hoping that my overload class (currently with only one student) gets cancelled -- I think I took on too much for this new semester already!).

PS:  Chris Anson gave a great talk yesterday afternoon on anticipating that your eventual published research might get misappropriated (i.e. the James Dobson fiasco with Carol Gilligan and Kyle Pruett a few years back).  Anson advised us to be on the lookout for ideological bias and to critique suspect findings and methodologies.  It's so nice to hear discussions about research being published :>