I’ve heard a lot about Lost Days (not to be confused with LOST days, which should probably understood as a very specific subset of Lost Days) from colleagues–when you’re dissertating, there are a certain number of days during which you achieve nothing in relation to your dissertation. We’re talking no reading, no viewing, no archival discovery, not even any direct critical thought about your project. And the way I see it, there are three kinds of Lost Days:
- Days during which you earnestly attempt to work on the diss for most of the day, but you’re in a terrible state of writer’s block, or your archival digging produces nothing of value to your work. I’m going to call this the False Lost Day, because even in the absence of tangible, material progress, things are going on in the back of your mind during these (painful, frustrating) processes. I’m sure I’ll experience plenty of these, but I’m not there yet.
- Days during which you have life to attend to, and it’s more important than an increment of dissertation work. This is a Practical Lost Day. Examples include but are not limited to: birthdays, weddings, moving days, family emergencies, out-of-town visitors, catching up with old friends, long-awaited mini (or if you’re lucky, not so mini) vacations, days where you’ve gotta knock out ALLOFTHE errands, days when you have about 8 loads of laundry that you absolutely MUST get through because the mess is ruining your zen, etc. In my estimation, most reasonable humans probably experience these somewhere between twice a month and once a week, whether they’re grad students or not. ‘To lose a day is human,’ or something like that. I had one yesterday, and it was planned, so I didn’t feel guilty about it.
- Days during which, in the parlance of my fellow millenials, you just can’t (even) (right now). Friends, mentors, and therapists have advocated for these my whole life and it took me awhile to finally understand how they work. I am speaking, here, of the Mental Health Lost Day. Maybe it means spending time with family, maybe it means binge-watching movies or television all day, maybe it means cooking or baking all day, maybe it means alphabetizing your book collection and your DVD collection and your comic book collection and your CD collection. But generally, this is not conventionally understood as an “important” day, unlike the Practical version above, and it often also involves not showering and/or not changing out of your pajamas and/or ordering take-out and/or drinking an entire bottle of something and/or….you get the idea. I had one of these days today.
But here’s the thing about Lost Days: they’re all necessary, all 3 kinds. And we shouldn’t feel bad about any of them, unless we get in a pattern where we have more than about 7 of any one kind in a row–then it might be time to re-assess. It’s honestly taken a very long time for me to fully comprehend this; when I discovered binge-watching television my senior year of college (yeah, I was a late bloomer when it comes to media-obsession), in the middle of spring break when I was struggling with writing two honors theses (yeah, that pattern of behavior is probably what got in the way of media-bingeing for so long), I felt so guilty for Mental Health Lost Days, even Lost half-Days.
Now, however, with the benefit of having finished a season of Battlestar Galactica and nearly a decade of hindsight, to say nothing of 3 grueling years of graduate education, I can say that these days are good for me.
I expend minimal physical and mental energy on these days (as opposed to the first 2 categories of Lost Days, which tend to expend a great deal of mental energy in the first case, and physical energy in the second), which is probably sorely needed. The dissertation, in particular, is one of the most difficult genres of writing, especially given the pressures the current academic job market (in the humanities, anyway). Plus, I only just defended my quals & prospectus a few weeks ago, so my body & mind are still reeling from that (and a cross-country move). So you know what, I harbor no guilt about my use of today.* I will now embark on Season 2 and microwave some leftovers for dinner.
Tomorrow, I’m taking a field trip to the Getty, where I’m excited to catch the Yvonne Rainer exhibit just before it ends. Rainer is definitely outside the scope of my DOS-D, given the time period in which her experiments with screens occurred, but I haven’t discounted the 60s-80s as a potential periodization for my second book, especially since most scholarship on Rainer conceptualizes her career as split into the dance period and the film period, which just seems so silly to me….
* I must confess that I did do one very productive thing today, though it relates only indirectly to my DOS-D: I completed and submitted an application for conference travel funding. I’ll be presenting on diss material at one of the two conferences I’m attending this spring in Montreal.