Tennessee Valley Trail

I’ve spent a good part of yesterday and today–the middle portion of my spring break–tweaking my academic website. I’m presenting a paper at a conference in May, and I’m currently taking some tentative steps toward looking for more secure (i.e. non-adjunct) academic employment, so it’s good to have an “online presence” that actually reflects who I am and what I do.

This means uploading sample syllabi, fleshing out the portion of my website dedicated to scholarly research, and updating both my CV and resume (and yes, I have both: the former goes into detail about research and publications while the latter focuses primarily on teaching). All the stuff I’m tweaking, uploading, and organizing was already online, but when I moved this blog to WordPress, I also moved my website, and I didn’t immediately get around to moving, updating, and organizing these additional documents.

Deer on coastal trail

This week’s website-tweaking has also involved a strange sort of re-visiting. One of the things I wanted to re-post on my academic website is an essay I call “The Upshot,” which was the final section of the final chapter of my PhD dissertation. (I also re-posted the abridged and complete versions of my dissertation proposal in case anyone is interested in that.) “The Upshot” tells the story (in an informal and decidedly non-academic tone) of how I began, got stuck on, and ultimately finished my dissertation. In a word, “The Upshot” recounts the long, strange trip from the project’s initial stages to its completion.

In my own teaching, I typically ask students to write a final reflective piece that talks about their writing process, and I often find these informal essays to be the most insightful and enjoyable part of students’ final portfolios. How can you know what you learned until you look back on where you’ve been? In my own case, “The Upshot” is my favorite section of my entire dissertation; not only did I write it when I was (thankfully!) almost done, it’s the portion of the project that feels the most personal to me. The rest of my dissertation is me trying to sound like an academic; “The Upshot” is where I take off that formal guise and talk about what initially inspired me to start the project and what I came to learn from it.

Tennessee Cove

Re-posting “The Upshot” forced me to read it again: it’s been nearly four years since I finished my dissertation and then promptly deposited its massive, still-boxed bulk atop a bookshelf where it’s been gathering dust ever since. The process of finishing a dissertation left me feeling overdosed on academic discourse, so I haven’t wanted to re-visit my own foray into that field. And yet, the paper I’ll be presenting in May is a chapter from my dissertation, so there’s something inside me that is dipping a tentative toe into the familiar (albeit still murky) waters of scholarly prose: presumably the interests that led me to start a dissertation are still a part of me even if I burned out on the actual act of completion.

I’d initially illustrated “The Upshot” with a handful of photos I’d taken during a lonely trip to San Francisco I’d taken in the summer of 2003, approximately six months before I finished my dissertation and almost exactly a year before my then-husband and I separated. As the ironies of the Universe would have it, that conference I’ll be attending in May will take me back to San Francisco. All roads, it seems, lead me back to the same themes, the same places, and the same images, the process of pilgrimage being an out-going trip that always seems to circle back to self and home.

Needless to say, I am not in California’s Marin County this week: today’s pictures are the same ones featured in the very essay I’m talking about.