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The Pop Culture Addict's Guide to Finishing a Dissertation: MAGAZINES

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Added 1/04: harper's 2/04

Sorry for the huge graphic but you can't read the print on the cover otherwise.

The source: - "It's not news": what today's high school journalist is taught
Harper's Magazine, Feb, 2004, by Rich Cohen

How I came across it: A fellow pop culture addict (the one who introduced me to the music of Queens of the Stone Age and who is also a compatriot in my avid support of the show Freaks and Geeks) who wandered the same hallowed halls of "blue, green and grey" fame as the author Rich Cohen and myself alerted me to the publication of this article after she had read it.

freaks and geeks dvd

The gems: Well, Joss Whedon has said you never get over high school and out of that sentiment he created Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Paul Feig and Judd Apatow created Freaks and Geeks. If you were a fan during the initial broadcast of this phenomenal show (F&G), you know that it aired on Saturday nights. Damn. Talk about dramatic irony. Then on Fox Family it aired at midnight on some night - I can't remember which anymore. I just know I used to flip to the channel around that time on that night to see if it was on. Anyway, you can read all about what's going on with Freaks and Geeks now in the tv section on this page. And how could I not mention the ever-brilliant show My So-Called Life?

buffy seasons 1-4 buffy 5 my so called life kick me

I bring these shows up because watching them does make me think, do we ever get over high school? This is clearly an American youth culture question. Ask any of your friends and family who went to high school outside the US, even if they went to American/International high schools abroad, the experience was not the same as ours. They don't go into that same reverie/slight state of blankness when the topic of high school comes up indicating we're getting lost in the hazy memories we've consciously or unconsciously stomped down into the deep recesses of our minds. I went to see Thirteen with a friend from Mexico who has spent a number of years in the States and is actually naturalized. But he did not go to junior high or high school in America. And while he liked Thirteen a lot, he and I talked in depth about how the themes were very particular to the American adolescent journey.


Reading this article in Harper's was interesting on many levels. First of all, I should say briefly that the part of the article I want to focus on is the fact that the author re-visited his high school after many years. The layer I'm not going to analyze in-depth is how he observed the school newspaper club for a week and compared his observations with his memories of how the newspaper worked back in his day. While I think I would've had a reaction regardless, the reason why I sought out this article was because the author's old high school is also mine. A flurry of memories and feelings came into the forefront as I read the article. What I'm writing now is an offshoot of the cogs that started turning in my head as I read.

But the real question is, why am I writing about it here? You know what they say about winning an Academy award or being President of the United States - you are forever affiliated with this honor. These are experiences I don't think the recipients ever get over. The public certainly never gets over them. I have to say, and I've said it before, finishing your dissertation and getting your PhD is along the same lines. No matter what happens from then on, no one can take it away from you. It's your experience, it's part of your life, it's part of who you are, your title, your being.

Actually going through the process of completing a dissertation from the inkling of a research question to writing a proposal, finding an advisor, etc. is also something I don't think I'll ever get over. At first, it was a mildy disturbing thing in that I would dream about it incessantly. I'd have those classic anxiety dreams when I'd realize I wasn't actually finished yet and that I'd forgotten some vital element. Then I'd wake up and be so happy and relieved it was a dream it was almost worth breaking out the champagne all over again. It's also something people will ask you about at cocktail parties and job interviews.

Now the whole dissertation experience is something I've sublimated and fragments of the experience bounce up to the surface at unexpected times. This is also true of high school. Reading this article about the author's weeklong visit at our alma mater was really trippy. He talked about my old English teacher whose name I had forgotten but whose essence I remembered. He described the basement where many of the extracurricular offices were. He talked about how the kids may be more diverse than back in our day but they are still homogeneous in appearance (clothes, etc.) and also daily raison d'etre, i.e., the unifying factor of "the ambitions of their parents."

Anyway, I find myself struggling here for the lesson and I feel like I haven't even expressed everything percolating in my brain right now. But for now let me say that my conclusion is no, we do not get over high school and we do not get over writing a dissertation. But what does that mean to "not get over" something or someone for that matter? It's not necessarily a negative thing. It just means the journey, the passage, the trip, the adventure informs your very being.

I know I've said that you shouldn't get too hung up on whether or not your dissertation is an accurate reflection of who you are or what you are really about. I still believe that but what I mean to say here is that the experience will stay with you and the actual product will be out there when you're done. But this still doesn't mean that you can't branch out and do something different. I just mean to say that we are who we are because of what we've lived through, endured, casually sauntered through or however you have made it from then to now and there to here. Point in fact, I am still working on this guide to finishing a dissertation as a post-dissertation project 2 years later!

So, I leave you again with words of encouragement and support as you work on your dissertation, whatever stage you may be at. Good luck, make a plan and if you can't stick to it, break it down into manageable steps and don't focus on the end product. Focus on making it to writing the next sentence, outlining the next section, highlighting the next article. When it's all over, you'll be done and you'll own it for all it's worth. So that said, get back to work!

Added 2/04: So I feel like I should add that this article in Harper's is evoking a whole range of reactions and emotions from the lot of us, "us" being a small group of opinionated individuals with similar backgrounds but wildly different life paths. There has been amusement and appreciation for observational ability, sparked curiosity about days gone by vs. a snap shot of present day life in the same environs and a sense of being appalled and outraged at the apparent integrity and moral fiber, or lack thereof, of the author in imparting wisdom to the kids. As I like all of the people who have expressed these various opinions to me, I have enjoyed the debate. However, I was primarily interested in imparting the thoughts reading the article inspired rather than give a blow-by-blow critique of it. I have to refer you to the source if you want more information.

At any rate, it's a good reminder that our writing can and will bring out different feelings and opinions in the readers. Of course we want positive feedback but don't forget that negative criticism can be a catalyst in changing the way you look at a problem or issue even if you don't feel good about it at the time. I know this is yet another tangent, but I was rather astounded by the varying reactions to the actual article and it made me think about how people say any reaction, good or bad, is better than no reaction at all. I would venture to guess you are striving for a good reaction to your dissertation but if you receive bad ones along the way, I hope you're able to pick up the pieces and apply what you learn as you go along. But what I really wish for you is pleasantly presented constructive feedback abound!

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