Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Fingers uncrossed

So I've now heard back from Advisor, and I'm pleased to report that her advice was really very helpful. As I've mentioned before, we work very differently and I don't think she totally understands my intellectual and writing processes; this can sometimes lead to our talking at cross-purposes--and while I might know, rationally, when she's misreading or misunderstanding me, it's still hard for me not to believe that such moments are proof that a) she doesn't think I'm very smart, and b) she's right.

In this case, though, I found most of what she had to say entirely constructive and entirely to the point, and the one comment with which I strongly disagreed made me feel not anxious and doubtful but instead slightly smug and superior (on the grounds that I think there's more to a particular issue than she does, and I'm quite sure the finished product will bear me out). So that's progress.

But as happy and relieved as I was by this outcome, aspects of our correspondence were a little unsettling. This was the very first line of her email:
"I spent a good deal of time last night lying awake thinking about [your chapter]."
And no, that's definitely not a joke. Nor had she finished my chapter immediately before going to bed, nor had she just emailed me or I her; in other words, there was no reason for her to have me and my work in mind as she settled in to start counting sheep.

I'm always, I think, rather surprised by the discovery that I take up space in anyone's head when I'm not actually intruding myself upon his or her presence, and such an occurrence seems still more unlikely when it comes to Advisor, who gives the impression of rigorously purging her mind on a nightly basis of anything not immediately relevant to the next day's business. But this is the second time in three weeks that I've had evidence that I take up some small amount of her psychic space: at my most recent conference--the very same week that I mailed my chapter to her--I ran into one of Advisor's other former advisees, someone with whom I barely overlapped in grad school and barely know. "Hey," he said, "I just talked to [Advisor] the other day, and she mentioned that she was looking at something of yours."

"Really?" I said. I must have looked stricken, because he added, reassuringly, "that's all she said; I'd just asked her what she was up to."

I don't flatter myself that my work is so compelling that--even in draft form!--it keeps people up nights; if anything, this is surely proof of how consumed by our field Advisor is: any new work, any new idea, engages her to the point that she wants or needs to think it through immediately.

Nevertheless, being the vehicle for such engagement is nice, and the wide-ranging nature of her comments--which dealt not just with this chapter, but with the structure of the manuscript as a whole--surprised and flattered me. It's always agreeable to feel that you're worth someone's time. . . especially someone of such monstrous efficiency.

6 comments:

medieval woman said...

Damn, lady - that's a big feather in your cap! Think of all the times You were kept awake during grad school thinking about HER (or some permutation of her, like, comments on dissertation, etc.).

I'm *really* glad her advice was helpful and far-reaching - go Flavia!

Tiruncula said...

Great news! This should inspire me to let people look at my work now and then, which I have a terribly hard time doing.

Hilaire said...

Wow, what an amazing compliment! You certainly rock.

dhawhee said...

wow, I'm impressed that she turned it around so quickly. Surely that in itself is an indication of her regard for you/your work.

Flavia said...

Hmm. I'm not sure that dhawhee's interpretation is correct, though I'd love to think so--I'm more inclined to think that Advisor is just trying to clear things off her desk as quickly as possible!

I also love MW's comment: maybe it's payback time?

muse said...

Yes, you are very lucky. I have an advisor who is very similar. Except that I think she spends all too much time lying awake at night *agonizing* over her former and current students' chapters and futures and books. But there's something rather comforting about her worrying about us. When I met one of her new colleagues at RSA he said "Oh, I know exactly who you are- Advisor talks about you all the time." I was understandably flattered (I think he was probably lying and just being charming anyway) but of course I could also hear her voice in my head "I'm very worried about muse, New Colleague. I stayed up all night trying to fix her book proposal and I think she's just going to have to acknowledge that the underlying theoretical assumption of the project is fundamentally flawed" (an exaggeration of course, she has great faith in my work- more than I do). Still, I wouldn't have it any other way.

Anyway, it sounds like you are blessed with a similarly frustrating/enviable advising relationship.