Post-Dissertation Blues (Pacifica-Style)

One of my cohort defended his dissertation the other day. Out of my cohort group, that makes three of us (including me). But my cohort extends farther. I’ve adopted all of my Pacifica friends as “my cohort.” We may not have gone on the journey at the same time, but we nonetheless went on very similar journeys. I could say, we went on the same journey together.

During the process of dissertation formulation, everyone is quick to describe “dissertation monsters,” or little bits of life that get in the way of writing the dissertation. These range from feelings of inadequacy (“Why am I even torturing myself with this. NO ONE is going to care!) to life changes (divorce, death, move, etc.). They also encourage us to build a system for dealing with these dissertation monsters. Talk to your friends, take some time off from the dissertation… blah blah blah. Those of us on the other side of the dissertation can tell stories of how we almost quit because of our Dissertation Monsters, and we can stand with pride next to our diplomas and our pretty copy of our dissertation and say, “We did it.”

But then there’s that unspoken bit that they didn’t prepare us for. The Other Side of the Dissertation. The, “I completed my dissertation, I owe a quarter of a million dollars in student loans, I can’t get a job. Now what?” The Post-Dissertation Blues.

I think I’ve said it before, but Pacifica Graduate Institute isn’t like other graduate programs. It’s not a degree mill. The academic work we do during the program works us as much as we work through it. Something within our shadows is activated, and how we deal with this shadow flavors our approach to the program. For me, it was the money thing, and I hear the same concern echoed among many of my peers. It does make us feel like Atlas or even Sysiphus to come out of this program, stare at the mountain of debt, and try to figure out how to pay it off (or at least down).

It’s because of this level of self-work, however, that we actually have a Post-Dissertation post-partum period. Our dissertations aren’t just about analyzing Jung or Campbell and getting a degree. We pick topics that aren’t only interesting, but near and dear to our hearts, often dealing with as much autobiography as academic research.

Disclaimer: I do know there are people who graduate and hit the ground running into academic work. Power to them. Seriously. My hat is off to you.

My dissertation is about Disneyland, but it really is about so much more than that. It’s about identifying the mythology that has ordered my entire perspective. It’s about defending why I don’t subscribe to traditional approaches to myth and academia, and helping to explain why others share my perspective.

By the time I started writing my dissertation, I was running on fumes. I had a year off between undergraduate and grad school, and maybe a semester between my Master’s program and Pacifica (a semester spent getting into and ready for Pacifica). So from the start of that Master’s program in October 2004 until the end of coursework in August 2010, I had been functioning solely as a graduate student. THAT IS SIX YEARS. Three of those years were spent at Pacifica, being worked on and massaged by a variety of world mythologies, and they were, hands down, three of the most intense years of my life. Much of my cohort can’t share in the timeline of graduate student, but most of them can share in agreement that the three years of Pacifica work are three of the most intense years of our lives. Is it the vibe of Pacifica? The content? The faculty? The contrast between one week of intense class followed by three weeks of intense loneliness? It’s all of that. And I’m not going to say that those of us who made it to the end are any stronger or better than those that don’t. It’s more that what we are seeking is something that only Pacifica can provide. It’s that the myth of Pacifica (and yes, there is a very strong one) is the myth we need. Those who don’t make it all of the way through the program are looking for another myth. My hat goes off to those friends as well, and for those who are still on their search, I wish you well.

It’s because of the Pacifica myth we stay through until the bitter end (of course work, the dissertation is another matter). And it’s because of the Pacifica myth that we can go to an event on campus, such as a friend’s dissertation defense, and feel a brief surge of revitalized energy. But it’s also because of the Pacifica myth that we leave the program SO VERY EXHAUSTED. For those who aren’t Pacifica people, I can only sum it up this way: You know that kind of really intense dream? You know, that kind that keeps you engaged for a period of time, shocks you awake, and affects your mood for the rest of the coming day? Like that episode of Friends where Phoebe was mad at Joey for the entire episode, only to remember that she was mad at him because of something he did in a dream. Pacifica is like that, every day, for THREE FREAKING YEARS. Now, think of how exhausting it is to wake up from those dreams. Perhaps you are mentally refreshed, but your body isn’t. Pacifica is like that, every day, for THREE FREAKING YEARS. And then you have to write your dissertation.

And this is where I laugh loudly to myself. It’s a wonder that any of us do finish.

But then we do, and we’re exhausted, sad, depressed. Now what? We can’t find jobs. Our degrees are too weird and Academia, the path that most of us set out to achieve, isn’t hiring. (This, sadly, isn’t a problem with the larger model of Academia, not just with Pacifica folks.) Our families, who have suffered while we did this work, are on edge, wanting our attention or our active contributions again. Our friends, those few who still speak to us (because they understand the difficulties of going through grad school), are only willing to be so patient while we whine about how there are no jobs, how we need to make money to pay our loans, and so on. They tell us, “buck up and get a job already!” without considering the hit that we all take to our resumes by the life change of going through this work. Our old jobs or professions no longer want us. Without considering how few jobs there are, or that it can take upwards of a year or more to get a phone call. I just received a couple rejection letters from applications I put in before I started working on my dissertation. Our loan creditors send us statements that ask for four digits worth of repayment, and are only willing to negotiate so much.

And in the middle of all this? We’re supposed to publish, but we can’t even write a sentence. Think of how many blog posts I’ve made since finishing my dissertation. The few that I’ve made are difficult enough without having to think about articles and books.

So, to my Pacifi-peeps who are going through these Blues: it’s ok. Most of us go through it. Let’s share our tears together.

To my Pacifi-peeps who are getting near the end: don’t try to fight it. One of the often used images at Pacifica is that of the Underworld. You may think that your coursework is the Underworld. You may think that writing your dissertation is the Underworld. In truth, it’s this period after completion that is the Underworld, and guess what? We have to be here. We have to work through the last little bit of Pacifica to emerge.

To our families and friends: I know it sucks. We already asked for 5+ years of your time, but now we have to ask for more. We need your support now more than ever, otherwise the work we did is for naught.

We are phoenixes. We are burnt up from the work and research. We can only emerge from the ashes when we are meant to emerge from the ashes. I defended in May 2012, and I’m still struggling. I know that I’m not alone, and that does make it a little easier.

Please share your experience Post-Dissertation in the comments, whether you had the Blues or not, or even whether or not you went to Pacifica. I would love to hear your story, and I think more grad students and post-grad scholars need to know that it’s not always possible to walk into the Academic Publish-or-Perish world. I would also like to hear what you did to solve some of the life stressors (such as lack of employment) and what directions that helped move you.


The End of Dissertation Summer, Or: How I Spent My Summer Vacation

Just to recap: I took this summer off from teaching to make a significant dent to my dissertation. My goal was to complete 3 chapters by the end of summer vacation. I figure that after the 2 chapters of the proposal, 3 out of 7 chapters is a significant dent to the overall project. With one week to spare on my summer vacation, I have successfully completed 5 of 7 chapters. Or, seen this way, my dissertation is 5/7 completed. Or, even better, there are only 2 chapters left to write.

So did I happen to learn anything over the course of this summer write-a-thon? One of the biggest reveals to me is that I am, at my heart of hearts, a culture theorist with a particular affinity for popular culture (notably, film). By “culture theorist” I mean someone who looks at the symbiosis of all culture elements to understand the entire package, not just with a concentration on one particular element. Rather an ironic statement, given that I’m writing about Disneyland; however, in the course of writing about Disneyland, I make it a point to root everything into a cultural context. As a “culture theorist,” I recognize that the influences of culture shape the direction that the development of myths take. Myths don’t emerge in a vaccuum, believe it or not.

Which leads to another great revelation: I’m a post-modernist. I think I entered the project believing that I was a romantic rogue scholar, but I see now that I am firmly a post-modernist, albeit a “happy” post-modernist rather than a deconstructionist. This is, I think, a side-effect of culture studies branching off from anthropology and sociology to look less at “social theory” and more at “what actually is going on.” Very few successful post-modern culture theorists are romantic about whatever they write about. Reverential, perhaps, but not romantic in the true sense of the term. Maybe “phenomenologist" is a word to drop somewhere in here.

And, while I’m happy to be a book-thumping mythologist and an arm-chair psychologist, it’s time to get some new scholarship published that isn’t just reciting or repackaging the same old theories that have been tossed around for 100 years now. In other words, stop theorizing and start doing. I’m still working on my plan of action for this step.

The chapters I worked on were 3 chapters right in the middle of the beast, dealing with issues of the cultural shadow, waste land, and fairy tale, all three of which lead me in the same direction: the Cold War as a major turning point in America’s relationship to myth and culture. We are in a very unique point of time and everyone would like us to believe that it’s all going to Hell in a hand basket, but there are plenty of myths out there that can help us cope with the paradigm shift. Disneyland, I offer, is just one among many. it’s definitely among my favorites, but it is not the only one and we could argue whether or not it’s the best one. At a place like Disneyland, we can experience the full complete spectrum of modern post-Cold War American myth, which is probably why Disney parks rank among some of the world’s most popular theme parks. They speak to those, like me, who are visual, kinetic, visual-kinetic, and they speak on the metaphoric level.

Which also leads me to a couple of isms that have made a home in my dissertation: consumerism and globalism. Both are typically read as bad things, but both I support. Consumerism is at the very heart of what it means to be American, so the consumptive behaviors aren’t something worth criticizing. The problem of consumption is the point when it becomes a neurosis, which is where we are today. We’re addicted to consuming because we believe that our stuff defines who we are. But I don’t hold Disney at fault for that, because they are simply offering product. It’s still up to me and you to choose to consume it. Then there’s globalism, which is usually criticized as one culture exerting dominance onto another. A new type of globalism is emerging, and this is the one worthy of the term in my opinion, and this is a globalism where myths of different cultures are fused together. Equally. No dominance. And this is the direction I see the new myth taking.

So what is the next step? Dissertation Autumn begins in a week after I’ve taken a small relax and experienced the D23 Expo. By the end of Dissertation Autumn, I should be at the end of my dissertation, which also means that by the end of Dissertation Autumn, I should have a new theme for this website in the works.

It’s a Dissertation, Not a Book

A friend of mine posted a link to this article on Facebook the other day, and it has some good advice. Though I do think that some of the suggestions it offers  emphasizes the point that “the only good dissertation is a done dissertation,” which can lull us dissertation writers into a false sense of security or laziness. My school publishes our dissertations on Proquest, meaning that my dissertation will be all over the internet for ever and ever. I’d rather write something I’m proud to share with the entire world than simply write something mediocre to get out of grad school.


It’s a Dissertation, Not a Book – Advice – The Chronicle of Higher Education.

From Concept Paper to Chapter 1

The Concept Paper is a proto-chapter 1 that my school requires third year students to write to prove they are ready to start writing the dissertation. It goes through an extensive quarter-long peer review process, and includes an overview of the dissertation (Introduction), a preliminary Lit Review (my bane of existence), and a rough chapter outline. For my dissertation, I succeeded in writing the perfect chapter outline during the concept paper phase, so I have a very healthy container for this whole project. The rest, however, has been a tad annoying.

In the perfect world, to translate the Concept Paper into Chapter 1 entails some editing and perhaps some added material. Chapter 1, of course, lays the foundation for the rest of the dissertation, and it is the only one of my chapters that isn’t themed around a land in Disneyland. Because of this organizational structure, I’ve felt the need to pack as much additional information as I can into the introduction. But that’s not going to work, my chair informs me far more eloquently that I am sharing with you this morning, because my introduction is too long. The introductory statement (i.e., the content that precedes the Lit Review) is typically no longer than 15 pages. Mine is 25 pages. In reality, this is probably a relief, because there are sections that I felt were stretched just to make the chapter seem a bit longer. I am intimidated, by dissertation introductions that are longer than 40 pages—and they seem to be full of content, not lit review…

Ah the Lit Review. How I don’t write odes to thee. My biggest challenge with the Lit Review is that I haven’t read half my sources yet. This is part of my plan: There are sources that are pertinent to the Lit Review and to the overall argument of my dissertation, but I’m waiting to read them until the chapter that heavily focuses on their content. My reasons should be fairly obvious to anyone who suffers from my memory problem: I typically can’t retain information I read for longer than a few months. If I read a passage more than once and quote it often, then it’s likely not so bad. But there are books I read over a year ago (TechGnosis, The Mouse that Roared) that I have a difficult time recalling. In some cases, though not all, I’ve made an extensive list of quotes and commentary; but, the flip side to that is that if I were to make quotes and commentaries for EVERY SINGLE SOURCE, I’d spend my entire dissertation clock quoting and commentating, and not actually working.

So one of the biggest challenges I’ve had to deal with during the course of this Introduction is what to do about Walt Disney’s biography. I’ve wanted to make a statement about it, because it is an essential component to unlocking meaning at Disneyland; however, it really just doesn’t fit anywhere. There’s a lot to comment on in the Main Street, U.S.A., chapter, which is chapter 2 and mostly finished at this point. Perhaps what my real answer is, is that I need to weave the biography into the dissertation when it is necessary and leave it alone otherwise. Treat Walt like just another theorist. Well, not *just*  another theorist.

The other question is whether or not I need to actually introduce the myths under discussion in the dissertation, or whether or not I can just gloss over them and really address them in each chapter. Of course, I was already going to address them in each chapter, especially given that each chapter is also themed around one of them. But do they actually need real estate in the Introduction?

In Search of Structure, or: How to Outline

Writing a dissertation is very difficult. It’s as difficult as everyone makes it sound. Even when you have a solid idea and a clear visualization what should come of it. What makes writing a dissertation difficult isn’t the pulling a great idea of thin air, nor is it the painful hours of reading and writing. No, it’s the structure of the thing.

A lesson i have learned recently is that outlining is an excellent exercise in organization; however, it’s one I never really learned how to do. Outlining was my second least favorite activity in grade school. The first was PE. Yes, I enjoyed long division and diagramming sentences to writing outlines.

One of my last classes at Pacifica included a project to become familiar with the Outliner tool in Microsoft Word, which I did, except that the assignment was to dumb my previous Pacifi-papers into Outliner and organize them accordingly. Which I did, but they came with a built-in structure, and I didn’t need to worry about it too much.

But now I have to create a structure completely from scratch. When I write, I let the words flow and let them build their own structure. Presumably, this comes either from my ability to visualize a completed project (i.e. end goal) and progress directly toward that goal, or perhaps this comes from my tendency to follow directions and patterns rather than free form.

Today, I set out to make a dear friend a set of arm warmers. Google arm warmers. There are a bagillion patterns out there, all variations on the arm warmer main pattern. But I decided to create my own pattern. But here’s the rub: I’m creating it as I go. I’m noting stitches and counts along the way. What makes this significant? Because there’s no bloody outline!

So now, I’m hung up on the need to create an outline, more for myself than anything. All in the name of having an organizational structure to my dissertation, so it’s not entirely a haphazard exercise in creative writing. That was what NaNoWriMo was for (and I’m very proud of that exercise!)

This leads me to the point of having to make some decisions, the main one being where to go from here? Do I spend the rest of my week construction arbitrary outlines (I haven’t even begun some of the research for the later chapters yet), or do I continue plowing along and let the outline build itself? Either prospect sounds intimidating.

The Relevance of Disneyland

Yesterday, I found myself ready to write again. I’ve been grading grading and grading for a month. It was the first major assignment, which usually takes the longest to grade. So I thought I’d work on the nagging question: how is a study of Disneyland relevant to the Mythological Studies conversation?

I initially can come up with two such reasons. First, the work of Walt Disney and Disney Corp helped cement popular culture (and its various modalities) as the primary transmitter of American myth. I’m not sure I really have to argue that point too much, but there are plenty of sources that back this up (for example: Douglas Brode’s From Walt to Woodstock: How Disney Created Counterculture). Second, Disneyland is a place onto which significance has been inscribed. As an immigrant culture, we have programmed our cultural psyche to lean towards a new relationship to place because we left all of our sacred places in the Old World. There have been various influxes of place significance, but our relationship to place was severely altered by the expansion West – in which place was a wide open blank slate – and the expansion upward with the growth of the Metropolis. The two came together in the 1950s with the rise of the mobile culture and the need for tourist locales, constantly at battle with each other to try to “one-up” the competition. Disneyland is one such place.

My exploration leaves me with a major missing link: Is Disneyland as relevant today as it was in 1955? 1965? Even 1970? Living in Texas and far removed from my Disney Dolly (who constantly recharges my love of Disneyland), I notice that more people in my vicinity venture to Disney World. Indeed, much of my research starts with “Disneyland was cool and it was innovative” and ends with “but it was really more of a practice for Disney World and EPCOT.” I’m intentionally not writing about Disney World because I’ve never been there, and it seems irresponsible to write about a place one has never visited.

So what is it about 2010 Disneyland that makes it so attractive? What is it about the place of Disneyland that yields a mythological experience? I’ve had said experience, but I can’t find the words to describe it. Of course, some would say that’s the point of a mythological experience: it is beyond words.


Personal Myth from Wonderland to Who

Those stories we hold especially close are those that often have some connection with our personal myth at the time we encounter them. It’s not just a happy accident that we fall in love with something. It’s something far deeper than that. Something has been triggered psychologically.

As an undergraduate and throughout a portion of my graduate studies, my myth revolved around all things Harry Potter. Like so many others, I was drawn into the stories, to the point where my life felt enhanced every single time I read the books. I remember the day when that changed. Somewhere along the way – I think when I started teaching – the myth of the student slowly lost its potency. This might also be a large contribution to why I’m writing a dissertation over Disney and not Potter.

But in the last few months, my myth has been defined by Alice in Wonderland. This might have something to do with the shift from grad student to dissertating student and the frightening aspects that comes with this change. It felt like I was dropping into Wonderland, tuning out and turning on … the laptop at least.

Even more recently, I have been sucked into the mythos of Dr. Who, to the point that I’ve made it my goal in recent weeks to watch every single available serial for all doctors on Netflix Instant. Of course, the limitation on Netflix Instant cuts out a large part of the series. But it’s almost to the point of an addition. I can’t do basic tasks – like grading – without the show running simultaneously. But here’s the question: Dr. Who is about a Time Lord who can move around time and space. It’s as though time is infinite and unchanging. The Doctor is in control of his own past, present and future. So why this myth, why now? I’m sure this has something to do with the whole dissertation business. The idea of having a series of adventures and return home at the right time to finish writing the thing.

There aren’t many of us who haven’t wished for a Time-Turner. But I suppose a TARDIS would be a perfectly acceptable substitute.

Disneyland and dissertating

October 1 is right around the corner. That means hardly anything for you, except maybe a paycheck and a season change, but for me, October 1 marks the beginning of the most difficult project I have ever endeavored: the Dissertation. While I’m confident that my dissertation-writing process won’t be nearly as painful as the fabled stereotypical experience, I am nonetheless intimidated by the process. The original reason this blog exists was to have a place to document RoundTable business for my Joseph Campbell Foundation RoundTable. I’m in the process of passing that hat to someone else, leaving me with a blog with a paid domain name without an otherwise specific purpose. I thought I would attempt to blog about the process with some sort of daily (or at least weekly) check-in, and maybe someone out there in Cyberland will read it, making the process a little less lonely.

My dissertation topic is fun—Disneyland and American myth. While that could be a huge endeavor, there’s no way possible to make Disneyland not fun. Sure, there are many out there who don’t care for it. To those people, I offer a Mickey Mouse Balloon and a lolly. The real challenge is writing about American myth. It’s easy to identify the stories in the culture that comprise the mythos, but to get at the real heart of the mythic symbolism—now that’s a challenge and a half. I’m not sure Americans as a whole are even aware what their myths. I don’t mean Paul Bunyan and George Washington’s Cherry Tree, but, rather, the archetypal images behind those stories.

Where does Disneyland come in? Since 1955, Disneyland has served as both a sort of museum of these cultural myths AND creates – imagineers – how we perceive/interpret/understand/relate to these myths. While each land in the park captures the essence of each myth, we now define these myths by the Disney version. I don’t suggest that that’s a bad thing. I happen to like the Disney version a lot. But it has caused an interesting tension in our culture between Disneyphiles and Disneyphobics.