Monday, April 28, 2008

Bitterness: Past, Present and Future

A few days ago I wrote: "The question is whether you can approach the dissertation and all its problems in a way that will allow you to finish without becoming bitter."

Yesterday I wrote about this and a question I was asked with respect to whether a person who was already bitter could do this.

Let us take this question: Can a person who is bitter, or otherwise hurt, approach writing a dissertation in a way that will not exacerbate pre-existing bitterness and will also allow completion?

One piece of evidence I would consider is Julia Cameron, who repeatedly writes of the therapeutic power of writing in The Right to Write. Cameron isn't speaking of writing a dissertation, but rather of writing as an exercise in processing experience. The power she speaks of is a power to transform emotional responses. So, even if dissertation writing isn't the right tool to heal one's hurts, at least we see that for some people, some writing has transformative power of the sort we're interested in.

We can't be certain that there is a way to approach writing a dissertation in a way that prevents bitterness. But we have, at the least, the evidence of Cameron, to suggest that there are at least some kinds of writing and ways to approach writing that have a transformative power.
The question above, of whether such a positive writing process can be achieved, can be answered in one of two ways: yes or no.
If the answer is yes, then it makes sense to seek such a process.
If the answer is no, then it makes sense to seek a path that accepts and acknowledges the hurt.
If the answer, however, is uncertain, which strategy is the best? You can either play for the win--seek out the positive process--or you can minimize your losses--and act as if the answer is no.
To me it seems best to pursue the best possible outcome, rather than the safest possible outcome. I would rather take the optimist's perspective because the optimist's perspective is imbued with hope. However dim the hope may be, I would rather have hope and then have my hope shattered, than try to live without any hope at all.

And really, what is to be lost in such an effort? Some time? Some energy? To pursue such a relationship with your writing project costs little. Making a regular practice of writing is generally agreed upon as the way to finish a dissertation (or any written project); whether it has the same therapeutic powers suggested by Cameron for her own writing can be seen as a possible bonus.

I am uncertain whether we can finish a writing project without becoming bitter. I am uncertain whether we can become less bitter by working on a writing project. Personal experience suggests that finishing and filing a dissertation and receiving the degree of doctor can provide an emotional boost that contrasts nicely with prior experiences of invalidation. Personal experience also suggests that seeking the approval of others is an uncertain road to contentment.

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