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[Jan. 31st, 2015|12:28 am]
Today was one of those days when not much got done on the dissertation, but so many other things did. And I feel the need to record them here, just for a moment, to hold them in this prism today so that I remember. Because while things have been going well with writing, I also know that the goodness is fleeting and before too long, I’ll be banging my head on my desk again. The reassuring thing is that I have been doing this for long enough now that I know that when that moment comes, after a few moments of really feeling just down in the dumps about it all, I’ll be able to grab hold of some perspective. The badness has its limits too.

1. At lunch at the Loft today with Pawan: I was lamenting how sometimes I just don’t know why I’m doing this work. It won’t change anything, least of all for the people about whom I am writing. My therapist said, “But isn’t it enough that it’s all red tape? This is the thing you have to do so that you get those three little letters after your name, which will magically qualify you to teach at a university, which is what you love to do. You love teaching. That is where you change minds.” And Pawan added this: we do this because it is creative work, and is one of the only ways for us to both live well and ethically, and to create. And the creativity is what makes it so rewarding, and so hard. In that moment, I realized that yes, this is all in all both an intensely creative project, and an ethical one. It is creative and ethical work. It is creative AND ethical. And there is so very much to love about it. I was suddenly overcome with this feeling: I really, truly, deeply hope that I can make a career out of this. Though I have been plotting what-to-do-next and so necessarily vocally disparaging academia, this is what I want to do. It has been a long, such a very long, time since I felt that way. But the possibility positively rang out through my being today. I felt filled with light.
2. Outside Elana’s office, waiting for our meeting: Fernando, a recent hire in our department, saw me waiting in the hall and stopped to ask how I am feeling. I told him about the joys of you, Ziggy, and the harder, more uncomfortable parts. How you are growing, and coming so soon now. How I am trying to get the dissertation finished before you do. He said, “Don’t worry about it. What you don’t know, what you cannot possibly believe right now, is that you are already finished. The dissertation is just a form you are filling out to meet a requirement. Five people are going to read it, and every single dissertation is bad. Don’t be hard on yourself right now. Rest when you need to. Take good care of you.”
3. In Elana’s office, talking about my second chapter: This “disaster chapter,” as I’ve been calling it, referring to its very scattered brokenness, turns out to be not such a disaster, nor so broken, after all – at least in my advisor’s eyes. We spoke at length, and so honestly, about the work and what it does, and where it will go – the musts and the mights of it. There’s plenty of editing to do: more theory, and better introduced, for example. But she loves the writing itself. What a relief. She spoke about “the book.” At one point, we were talking about the tension of my being able to leave Beirut, and the perpetual grappling with that – in my fieldwork and in my writing. She looked at me and said, “Yes, but you were hardly a tourist, Erin.” And she recounted for me what I always question and yet know to be true: that this work has caused my life to rub up against great joy and great tragedy; that I have changed. I started to cry and she held my hand. I told her my dreams about you, Peter, and of Beirut. How friends have started going dark on Facebook, how worry and fear gnaw at me, daily and nightly. She said, “This is hardly just a social science dissertation.”
4. At the Social Justice/Arab Spring talk tonight: The speakers were wonderful. Mark Levine and Asef Bayat featured. And so many of my thoughts and feelings were justified by their observations and arguments. The importance of everyday spaces for resistance and protest, for example. Foucault’s call to look in the unexpected places for the richness of things. I felt keenly that I could justify the somewhat disparate case studies of my dissertation, even the ephemerality of them, with confidence now. What a great relief! What a wonderful feeling!