Thursday, January 29, 2009

round 2

I finally got another full draft sent off to Blackwood at 3:00 this morning. It clocked in at 43 pages, sans bibliography. The structural revision ended up being a lot more time-consuming and labor-intensive than I thought. Rearranging everything meant new transitions, and adding some new material to make the content in different sections more parallel. Blackwood's right about the argument, though; it's more coherent in this format.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

best excuse ever?

I told Blackwood I'd have the rest of my draft to him before Friday, but then I had to check into the hospital for a few hours on Thursday night. 30 weeks' gestation is not a time when you want to be having contractions every 5 minutes for 2 hours, so my doctor told me to go in to Labor and Delivery and have them keep an eye on me for a while. They gave me some medication that made me feel very nasty but stopped the contractions, and eventually sent me home on Pretend Bed Rest for a few days. This is not to be confused with Actual Bed Rest, which means you have to literally stay in bed all the time and can only get up to go to the bathroom. Pretend Bed Rest is more like "take it easy, don't lift anything heavy, sit or lie down when you can."

Blackwood was very understanding about the delay, especially when I told him that I had taken a book with me so I could work on my research while I was in the hospital (true story).

OK, it may not be the absolute BEST excuse ever; one of my friends once had a student miss class because his wife was getting a kidney transplant. But I still think "potential preterm labor" is at least a decent reason for taking an extra day on my draft. And, hey, I'm on Pretend Bed Rest for the weekend, which should give me plenty of time to work on my writing.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

lace up your iceskates ...

... because hell just froze over. Today I turned in my application to graduate in April.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

more progress

I've finished reorganizing the Absentee section. It took somewhere between seven and eight hours, and at this point I have no idea if it even makes any sense. I'll re-read it tomorrow and find out.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

back on track

It took me a day longer than I had planned because of the periodicals debacle, but I got the first third of my revised draft (the Belinda section) sent off to Blackwood this morning at about 11:00. It took him so long to get back to me that I thought maybe my email hadn't gone through, so I sent him a second one to ask if he'd received the first one. I hated to be obnoxious, but I was kind of looking for a "yes, this is what I meant" or "no, you've completely misunderstood" before I put in any more work on it. Finally, around 8:30, he replied, and as it turned out, his answer was well worth the wait:

"I just read this through rather quickly, and it strikes me as spot on in its organization and focus. Definitely headed in the right direction. Well done."


I guess I'd better get started on the other two-thirds of it.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

I'm not crazy; you're the one who's crazy.

I spent most of this morning freaking out about the periodicals situation. The coming of day had shed no new light on the problem; I was still getting the same results, or lack thereof. Glen took a whack at it, but had the same problems, which means that whatever is going on, it's probably not my fault. Glen was also gracious enough to stay home with Peach for a while so I could go to the library and plead for help.

You don't actually have to plead very hard to get help at the university library; there are plenty of people whose whole job is to help students figure out how to use the library, and they are without exception lovely people who really want to help. Unfortunately, the first person I approached wasn't able to help all that much. I explained what had happened - "it used to do this, but now it doesn't!" - and she said, no, it doesn't; maybe you should try using the Ulrichs database instead of the English Literature subject search. She showed me the front page of Ulrichsweb, and its search function seemed to have the features I was looking for, so I thanked her and went on my way.

Just to be safe, I thought I'd better take Ulrichsweb for a test drive on one of the library computers before going home. This turned out to be a good idea, because Ulrich, whoever he is, clearly did not design his database with my needs in mind. No matter how I tweaked things, I got zero search results. This time I decided to ask for help at the Humanities reference desk, since they would at least be familiar with the kinds of things I tend to search for.

Indeed, the Humanities folk understood what I needed, what I was used to doing, and why it wasn't working. It turns out that the university, in its (their?) infinite wisdom, has replaced the previous aggregated search system with a newer, simpler system. And by "simpler," I mean "significantly less powerful and less flexible, and also kind of confusing even for the people who work with it." The reason I can't find the advanced search functions in MetaLib is that they don't exist. The reason I was getting so few results is that MetaLib wasn't searching all the databases I had selected. Why not? It just doesn't.

So, long story short: I now need to search each database separately, rather than use the aggregated search function to search several at once. It's not such a terribly big deal; I only really use three or four of them on a regular basis. It is, however, mildly annoying, since it means learning to use the unique search interface at each of the databases, and searching four times in four different places every time I tweak my search terms, and getting a lot of duplicate results. I guess the good news is I'm not crazy.

and now it's time for the breakdown

The online periodicals catalog at the library is kind of complicated. It has, after all, a lot of information, which is distributed over many different databases, and it takes a while to get used to using it. You can search for a particular database by name, or you can start with a subject area and see what databases are available for that topic, or you can search for a particular journal; there are a lot of ways to approach your search. So tonight I'm working on the Belinda section of my thesis, and I thought, you know, Blackwood said I need more secondary sources, and Belinda is a pretty popular novel*; maybe I'll just take a quick look at recent periodicals and see what scholars have said about Clarence Hervey in the past five years or so. I know my way around the periodicals system pretty well by now, so the task should have been, as PG Wodehouse would say, the work of a moment.


I went through my usual process, but at the end of it, instead of showing me a gazillion results and an advanced search box that would help me narrow them down, it showed me ... nothing. I had landed at a weird page I'd never seen before, which informed me, "You have not performed a search." Which was funny, because I had in fact clicked on the button that said "search," just like I always do. I backed up and tried again, carefully selecting the databases I wanted to search, entering my search term, clicking "search."

"You have not performed a search."

A flurry of frustrated clicking and searching (or not searching, if MetaLib was to be believed) followed. I was starting to think I might be crazy. I'm not computer illiterate, and I'm generally fairly competent at figuring out how user interfaces work, but this one completely defeated me. I finally figured out that I needed to log in to ... something ... and the something was willing to take the username and password I use for my university's network, but even then I felt like I was trying to use the Playskool periodicals catalog. It seemed to think that an "advanced search" meant I wanted to add ONE boolean term to the process. What happened to all the features I actually use?? Where are the options for publication date, refereed sources only, multiple boolean operators, online access, etc.? I can't find them anywhere.

I gave up. The library is closed, so there's no one I can ask for help. I'm going to have to go to campus tomorrow, wander up to the library's information desk like a hapless freshman, and ask someone what the heck I'm doing wrong.

*In academic terms, Belinda is a very popular novel. It just hasn't been on the best-seller list any time in the past 200 years.

Monday, January 12, 2009

good news: we can fix it

There's a scene in Sleepless in Seattle where one of the characters describes a client he's working with:

"When she wants something done, she says, 'You know best, but couldn't we flip the house so the back is in front? And put the front on a hinge so I can get in with a garage door opener.'"

Yeah, Blackwood suggested some revisions. The good news is, he thinks my argument is OK. But he thinks it might work better if I organized it by novel instead of by concept. In other words, right now I have sections on how Edgeworth uses stock characters, sentimental rhetoric, conventional sentimental episodes, etc. in all three of the novels; he thinks it would make more sense if I addressed the novels one at a time instead. He has some compelling reasons for thinking that. It would resolve some of the concerns about why I'm using the three novels I've chosen, rather than doing a comprehensive study of Edgeworth's work; it would demonstrate the supporting evidence for my argument more clearly; it would give me an opportunity to bring in more secondary sources. Also, he's my thesis chair, so it's not like I'm going to argue with him.

He also says he still thinks we're looking good for April graduation, so, yay. And now if you'll excuse me, I need to go turn my draft inside out and put some hinges on it.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

quick update

I dropped off a printed copy of my draft at Blackwood's office this morning. He has the electronic copy, obviously, but I prefer to work from a hard copy when I edit something this long, and it seemed discourteous to ask him to print the whole document with his own resources. Anyway, he said he'd get it back to me in a few days.

I also ran into Victoria while I was on campus. I told her I had just turned in my draft; she was pleased to hear that I was making progress, and expressed optimism at the possibility of meeting the deadlines for April graduation. I mentioned that I was really anxious to not let this drag on for another term if I could help it, since my due date is April 2nd, and she seemed a little surprised - she said she'd forgotten that I was pregnant. I was unduly flattered by the fact that she hadn't noticed when she looked at me. I've just finished my second trimester, and I'm starting to feel really obvious. Apparently the right coat covers a multitude of sins ... and also legitimate children.


Today I sent a full draft of my thesis to Blackwood. I have no idea if it's any good. I kind of suspect that it's not. I think I do actually have a good argument in there somewhere, and I have a smashing introduction, but it turns out that it's harder than I thought to sustain a coherent argument over 30 pages of text. In other words, even though I have a lot to say, it may not be clear to the reader why I'm saying it. And it probably doesn't help that this particular draft is particularly rough.

I rarely write rough drafts at all. Even for a paper that's up to 25 pages, I will usually take lots of time as I write my first draft to choose each word with precision, construct each sentence for maximum clarity and stylistic impact, and craft each transition to subtly yet clearly lead the reader from topic to topic. This time ... not so much. I needed to get it done, and I knew there would be endless rounds of revision anyway, so I just cranked it out as fast as I could. There are places where I have bracketed notes that basically say things like, "insert transition here" or "wow, this sentence sucks, I will definitely want to fix it later."

Whatever. It's done. I have a draft. I feel very, very good about having accomplished even this much. The deadline to defend is February 20th, and we've planned about a month for revisions, so if Blackwood thinks it's even good enough to be salvageable, I should still be able to graduate in April. That's all I'm hoping for, really: that he looks at it and says, "Good news - we can fix this." If not ... yikes. I am really not interested in starting from scratch at this point.