I've been sort-of hard at work on my dissertation this week and last; sort-of hard at the socialising, too. We have a draft due on Friday and I'm having a hard time getting the words onto paper.
Unfortunately, I often have writer's block when it comes to submitting work to be graded. This is still a relatively new problem for me. In 2006, I had what can only be called (pathetic as this sounds) a traumatic grading experience. It was the final paper for a class I had been doing very well in. The professor who had previously been quite supportive and quite enthusiastic about the work I had done really did not like my final paper. I, on the assumption that she would like it as much as the rest of my work, was careless about picking up the draft from her in a timely fashion. It was the end of the semester, which is always a very busy time, and so I didn't get it back from her until about six hours before our exam period, during which she had decided we would present and discuss our papers instead of sitting an exam. Clearly, this was not the best decision on my part but I do think that I was reasonably justified in expecting that, on the whole, any comments would be largely positive. What I got instead was a barrage of mixed justified criticism and emotional hogwash. It's not on to accuse someone of being species-ist in a ten page paper; it is acceptable to say that soemthing is too much of an assertion and not enough of an argument.
The difficulty for me was that the argument and the idea behind the paper are objectively good. I have had many good discussions about it, I have even had that very same paper accepted for a conference. That class was the first class I had ever had with that particular professor and over the years I learned more about her. I learned that she (being an arch second-wave feminist) really hates logic and thinks that it can only ever be used to oppress people. My paper was based around a deductive logical argument and contained the word logic in the title. I have learned, particularly from hearing more of her own work, that she is very invested in essential notions about sex and gender and really believes that women (have to) do philosophy in a significantly different way because they are women. My paper was intended to be critical and possibly destructive about essentialist notions of sex and gender. Knowing more about the way she looks at the world, I can see that she must have experienced that paper as a personal attack, designed to oppress her, written by a female student who obviously was a sex traitor for using logic and saying that women are not necessarily different from men. From that point of view, it would have been philosophically coherent for her to react emotionally to my paper, rather than to try to argue against it or be objective about the merits of its content.
I am quite logically convinced that she is in the wrong, that the paper - while far from perfect - is not the fundamentally flawed piece of drivel she tried to make it out to be. However, I only know this and it is hard to convince myself that she was wrong on the level of psychological belief or felt truth. Thus, I continue to have writer's block and it continues to make life hard for me from time to time. Whatever the merits of my paper, it was wrong and unprofessional of her to attack me in that way; I understand now that she felt that I had attacked her and that she was responding in kind BUT I didn't attack her, I attacked an idea and she knows it. She just reacted in an ideological way to what I was saying. She reacted in a way that I believe is a betrayal of the social contract between a teacher and a student, and a way that is an unhelpful disruption of the norms, ethos and mores of a university. If she's that committed to that particular variety of second-wave feminism, then what is she doing teaching at a university? They're definitely and demonstrably tools of male oppression in much the same way as logic! She has a right to her beliefs about the world and the right to act on them and I have a corresponding duty to respect that; however, I have a right to my beliefs about the world and a right to act on them and she has a corresponding duty to respect that!
The whole experience has had some benefit. It really deepened my understanding of how to practise philosophy and how to read another person's work and how to disagree and why philosophers disagree with one another in the way that they do (i.e. respectfully). I am still having a hard time, however, with the writer's block. It has gotten much, much better over the years - so much better. I'm sure it will continue to get easier. It is not, however, gone. When a deadline gets close, I experience a lot of negative stress. It's the kind of stress that comes tinged with self-loathing and self-harm ideation and this makes it very hard for me to work.
On a year to year basis (though not necessarily on a day to day one), I have been on an upward trajectory since I was in hospital a little more than three years ago. Having an accurate diagnosis has helped me to understand what to look for symptom-wise and all that looking has helped me become increasingly familiar and accurate in understanding what's going on with me by what I'm thinking and what I feel, both emotionally and physiologically. This familiarity in turn has given me an increased ability to look after myself well and effectively. I have learned some ways to help myself get over or past various psychological stumbling blocks and how to deal with the stubborn symptoms that are really not under my control. I'm far from perfect at it - the logical possibility of my ever being perfect at it is close to zero - but I'm much better than random and much better than I used to be. This writer's block seems to be one of those things that I have some control over - limited control but susceptible to improvement.
This week, the stress of writing through the self-loathing is pushing me towards the serious kind of moodiness. It will be okay - it will be over soon and then it will be as though it never happened, or so I keep telling myself. Nevertheless, I'll get to go through it again but a bit worse at the end of next month when the final paper is due and I'm going to be job hunting between now and then, which is usually a stressful and rather discouraging activity. I'm also going back to visit the family for a week and this means long haul flying and jet lag which has, historically, set me off mood-wise. That's an unusual number of risk factors and it worries me a bit.
Anyhow, I'm really curious as to what other people do to cope with things like this, especially writer's block. I would really like to get rid of it. Even if it isn't something you've done but rather something that happened, I would be very appreciative if you'd tell me about it. What I've been able to do so far specifically for the writer's block is to just carry on writing through the teeth of it, look back on and analyse what happened and what it was that upset me and why it might have happened, seeking other people's opinions on the work (e.g. entering it for and presenting it at a conference) and letting time pass. And I started this blog - really. It seemed like having another reason to write and a different audience might help, as it has indeed done.
This isn't the best post I've ever written - in fact, I suspect it's a bit boring; sorry about that - but this is a subject much on my mind at the moment. Back to the word-arranging grind, now.