24 June 2022

The crowns of two lush, green trees — a maple on the left, a dogberry on the right — meet against a watery blue early-morning sky.

 “Neuroatypicality is often marked not by limitations but by excesses: of fantasy, speech, awareness, sense, or sensitivity. What if we take our cue from bodymind theory to suggest disability as proliferation instead of limitation?”

Margaret Price, in “Proliferating Cripistemologies: A Virtual Roundtable, Robert McRuer and Merri Lisa Johnson, Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies 8.2 (2014), 149–169

Didn’t get quite where I wanted to go with my writing yesterday. Got overwhelmed and frustrated and had to shift to another task, so I spent some time thinking about the structure of the dissertation as a whole. I wrote up a new outline based on the research/my ideas as they exist now (rather as I thought they might exist when I submitted my proposal over a year ago) — so, not quite an in-depth reverse outlining exercise, but still a solid re-mapping. The exciting part is that in going through that process, I was able to identify that I’m much further along than I’d realized. I’ve spent a year writing papers and giving talks on my research, and between those, my proposal, my chapter drafts, my comps essays, and my rambling notes, I have at least something for every section of the dissertation except maybe the conclusion (which, to be fair, I couldn’t very well write first, could I?). For most sections I have a lot of writing, so really my job at this point is largely about compiling, editing, and finessing work I’ve already done. I’d suspected this might be the case, but writing up the new outline really helped me evaluate just where everything stands.

The closer I get to putting it all together, the more excited I am about this dissertation as a piece of research that will exist in the world. What I’ll do with it after I’m done, I have no idea — I don’t even know what I’ll do with myself once I finish the PhD, let alone with the documents I’ve created along the way. I was relaying to someone the timeline of my doctoral program so far, and I had to remind myself that, yeah, I totally changed research areas midstream. In early 2020 I submitted a proposal for a project I never felt was my own, and it crashed and burned, and rather than revise and resubmit it I said, hang on, this was never my idea anyway. I did all that while learning for the first time, in my forties, that I’m autistic. I had a bit of a sook, then I came up with a new project, submitted a new proposal spring 2021, got my comps reading list a month or two later, spent last summer reading, wrote my comps fall 2021 (while teaching!), and started the actual dissertation writing this past January. And here I am, hoping to submit in December, and feeling like that’s not such an unreasonable idea (although… it might be). Life is wild.

The quote from Margaret Price above has become the guiding principle for my dissertation writing — from my methodology to the writing style itself. Academia is so much about limitation: finding your niche, streamlining your style, choosing a theoretical framework and sticking with it, committing to a discipline even when the very notion of discrete intellectual disciplines is a ridiculous construct (and one that keeps us from building newer, more exciting, more complete models of knowledge). My cognitive processing style fundamentally rejects limitation. I’ve always struggled with this as a weakness, but what if it’s my greatest research strength?