Thursday, February 7, 2008

Hope, revisited

This is the second week of my latest bout of writer’s block. It’s all the more devastating because I had finally, finally, been making progress on the draft of the whole dissertation. The end was in sight, or so I thought. Then, for reasons known only to Psyche and the Ladies (those imaginal women with whose collaboration this work is being done), I hit a brick wall.

The first inkling I had that something was wrong was after I updated my bibliographic software, thinking to use the latest and greatest version for the final push. Bibliographic software, for those folks who have never used such a thing, saves the writer enormous amounts of time by collecting all the information about each book—author, date, title, publisher, etc.—in one place, and letting you pull in the reference each time you need to cite something from that work. Most importantly, the software collects all the citations in your paper, formats them properly, and then creates the bibliography at the end of the document automatically, right down to all the nit-picky details for the particular style you’re required to use. Anyone who’s ever typed a term paper can relate to this!

The software does this automatically, that is, when it’s working. I loaded up the new version, went to re-format the existing bibliography, and … the entire thing blew up. Locked up the computer, corrupted the files, and then refused to work any longer. Imagine my surprise, dear reader….

Once I got over the sheer horror of it (the files were, thank the Goddess, backed up), I was pissed. Royally pissed. It wasn’t like I hadn’t checked the software’s website for compatibility. Yes, it’s compatible with Windows Vista, and compatible with Word 2007. Hell, it’s compatible with everything! Except, it seems, my versions of Vista and Word. If you drill down on their web site about four levels, there’s this tiny little paragraph that says, “Oh, by the way, it’s not compatible with Vista X.X and Word 2007 X.X. We know about this, but we don’t know why it happens, and we don’t have a patch or a work-around. Sorry….” OMG!

All right. I can type in references, I can enter the code from the database (which I can still view, for some reason). I can live with the fourteen error messages that appear when I open or close any file that contains the codes, since the errors don’t seem to affect the document itself. And I can hope to be able to figure out how to format the whole thing down the road. No worries, mate!

But my momentum has vanished. Between the software fiasco and ten days of nursing a partner sick with the flu, momentum is a thing of the past, and I’m back to aimlessly turning electronic pages and feeling utterly, utterly overwhelmed by the magnitude of this process.

So I’m stuck again, trying to make sense of these events. My best guess is that by trying to “power through” to a first draft, I stopped “listening” to guidance from Psyche and the Ladies. That feels uncomfortably right. But it’s hell! Psyche doesn’t understand dissertation clocks. Mine runs out at the end of September, and the end of September is only a few heartbeats away….

The only bright spot in all of this is that I’ve had “touches” from some of my imaginal friends—a story by Kate Chopin, an email from a friend that references Susan B. Anthony (who showed up early on in this infernal process), some life events, several dreams—that seem to be pointing out what the Ladies want emphasized among the ocean of tears and dreams and data. If only I could get this depression to lift enough to keep my head above the water….

A new friend, a young man who’s also one of Robert Romanyshyn’s students, emailed me the other day to say he’s in a similar situation. We’re both, it seems, in the depths of what he has aptly termed “the Romanyshyn dungeon of despair.”

If I ever mention doing an imaginal research project again, someone please just shoot me. Matter of fact, just do it now and get it over with.

But whether or not I feel able to believe in a flower, in the midst of the frost and chill, the witch hazel blooms outside my front door, perfuming the air with its sweetness.

Friday, February 1, 2008


Blue and silent, a winter’s night.
Black branches sketched against the snow and stars.
I walk in the chill, alone, silence falling around me.

Spring, some spring, will come—
must come—
But my breath freezes on my lashes.

How can I believe?
How, in the frost and emptiness, can I believe in a flower?