Stepping Back, but Moving Forward

Middles are hard. Mary Wroth’s Urania is hard.

These are my defining discoveries from the past two months of work. My Urania section is the middle section of my thesis, sandwiched between my sections about The Alchemist and The Blazing World.  I’ve always struggled with middles; in my creative writing, I know what will happen in the beginning and end of my pieces, but I spend 80% of my effort figuring out how to connect them. In my academic writing, this thesis is no different. I’ve gained newfound appreciation for how difficult this section will be: it has to stand on its own, reflect what I’ve said about The Alchemist, and also set up what I will say about The Blazing World.  Its themes and author are well-suited for that role, but getting the book to cooperate? Hard!

Analysis-wise, working on my Urania section reminded me of my friend Emma’s post about working on The Great Gatsby  She called the book “a slippery little monster,” and I relateUrania is hard not only because it has hundreds of characters (and pages…), but also because it simultaneously lays its meaning out for you and obscures it. I spent so much time figuring out where to focus. Should I focus on privacy? How does that relate to value? Should I draw in its imperial subtexts, and/or how that relates to domestic politics?? Again, how does that all relate to value???

For these reasons and more, I had a few quarter-life crises while I was writing the section this month. I was trying to figure out how the section’s argument would flow, but then I also started thinking about the “how” and “why” of my project. I know that a dialogue between literature and economics is important, and that I want my project to expand it. I know women’s voices–both fictional and authorial–are an important addition to the conversation, because they have been systemically excluded from it. My challenge is to define that concisely, and to explain/connect that idea throughout these three works.

Is it bad to get to January and wonder what your thesis is even about?

If so, um…I’m asking for a friend?

Back when I used to take math classes, I could sometimes intuit the answers to tricky test problems if I studied the question for awhile. I could look at a problem long enough and suddenly realize, “The answer is five.” But I couldn’t tell you why. I wouldn’t get credit for my answer because I couldn’t show how I got there; my work was just a jumble of roundabout ways that showed me it had to be the answer, but not the clear-cut process my teacher wanted. In this case, I’m playing both test-taking Jackie and the grader who wants a clear-cut solution. I know I can get there. I just need more time.

My patient, perceptive advisor reassured me that all of this is normal. I’m inspired by her belief. I finished the Urania section today, realizing–with her help–that I can always come back to it. I still have the entire Cavendish section to write, another third of my argument. So I’m telling Urania thank you, next…but only for now.

What’s ahead? I’m going to outline and write Cavendish. But before that, I’m going to read some of Sandra K. Fischer’s Econolingua. Refining my main economic vocabulary will (hopefully) help me figure out the “how” and “why” of my connections, and Fischer offers a great analysis of how to do that. By taking a step back to think about my argument’s big picture, maybe I’ll start to see how all the details make sense.

Here’s hoping, my friends! Happy 2019!