Procrastination

Ah, procrastination!

Such a big word for what amounts, in the end, to not very much at all.

You’d think, given how much thought I give to my novel and exegesis when I’m not doing them, that finally having the time to sit down properly would lead to a fury of work, a veritable outpouring of great thoughts.

But, no.

Instead I sit there unable to get started. I look out the window, get up to put some washing on, make a cup of tea, pat the cat, think about the students I will teach that afternoon, wonder what to cook for dinner, check my emails and so on and so on. I’m sure this is not an unfamiliar story to anyone. And if it is, what are you doing reading this, for goodness sake?

I’m sure anyone who knows me would be surprised at exactly how much time I spend doing not very much at all. I’m always on time, I always do what I say I’m going to do and in a timely fashion. I run a business, have a family, go for runs in the mornings, keep our house and clothes clean, read lots of great books, play with the cat, sing and play piano and all the other stuff that people generally do.

What I’m wondering, then, is if this unable-to-get-started business, particularly after a longish break (here’s looking at you Christmas and trip to Australia!), is normal? Is that what happens to everyone? Do we all stare blankly at walls for a period of time and should I just accept it as part of the creative process?

And here’s a related question.

Why is it that I can sometimes only get started when I have only a small amount of time left to get things done? For me, this is usually the last couple of hours before I start teaching. Once my first music student arrives there’s not a chance I can think about anything else, and after that it’s dinner time and the whole evening routine for my daughter, so really that’s it for the day, unless I can muster the energy to do some work after she’s in bed.

I know it’s all to do with the power of deadlines but it drives me crazy. Sometimes I long to actually be in the same town as my university, to have colleagues going through the same things, seminars to go to and to give, people to meet with and report to.

But things are as they are.

In the meantime, I’ll look out my window again in case anything’s changed (see the photo below for another view of my neighbourhood), and contemplate how things might be different tomorrow morning.

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Starting a Phd is like going snorkelling for the first time

 When you go snorkelling for the first time you expect it to seem a little strange.

You know you will see lots of new things (some fish, perhaps?) and that at times you might get a little scared (all that blue water stretching on and on…). But then you jump in, adjust your snorkel, put your face in the water and have  your breath taken away by the sheer otherness of what you see and feel. There are the fish, of course, but there’s also the sun on your back, that feeling of total immersion, the breathing through a bit of plastic in your mouth.

Well, I’m here to tell you that starting a phd, especially one off-campus (try the other side of the world from your university; hello, Australia!) is not really all that dissimilar.

There’s nothing like a good analogy, is there.

You know you will be spending all your time researching, reading and writing. You splash out on some new pencils and pads of paper. Then it’s time to get started and…woah! There’s a whole world out there on the internet totally devoted to Phds. Who would have thunk? You had no idea there were so many other people doing Phds, some just started, like you, others nearly finished, and some who will probably never finish.

But wait, there’s more. Just like the little bit of plastic in your mouth, there’s the new technology (oh, Endnote, why won’t you be my friend?). You create so many passwords for all the different library databases that you need to start your own database just to keep track of them all. Your desk, which you pictured with neatly stacked piles of books and papers, within days looks like a wild animal has made a nest on it.

You start a list of big words you don’t understand and worry that other people seem able to drop them into online  ‘conversation’ as if they were born to it. You start reading and the more you read the more you realise there is to read (the big blue ocean has nothing on this).

And every time you leave your desk – just like lifting your face out of the water – you realise that not everyone else is doing this. There is your towel, draped on the sand, and there are your sunglasses balancing precariously on a rock, just where you left them. In fact, the real world is continuing merrily along, just like it used to before you started this whole thing. No matter that you’ve discovered this whole new world, because as far as everyone else is concerned it’s nice that you’re doing it but there’s a limit to how much they want to hear about it. Your family still needs to eat, the clothes still need to be cleaned and all those other responsibilities you’d temporarily forgotten are still there waiting (hello, music students! hi there, vacuuming!).

So now it’s your secret, albeit one you share with all the other snorkelers. It’s a secret world that’s not so secret, really. It’s just that you never knew it existed.

Here I sit at my desk in Switzerland with my view of the Alps (with their first hint of autumn snow), strains of German floating up through the window that, against the odds, I still have open. It’s just the cat and me until my daughter gets home from school and my first music student arrives.

But until then I’ll dip my toe in the water once again, thankful that I’m not the only one. Who, after all, wants to head out into that big blue ocean all by themselves?

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where do I start?

I’ve got my student number and the names of my supervisors (none of whom I’ve met, although they sound fantastic) and my inbox is flooding with emails from the university about all sorts of things, most of which are not very relevant as I’m living on the other side of the world.

It makes me think fondly of those long ago days when I actually went to classes and university was a lifestyle, one that I think I very much took for granted at the time; youth is wasted on the young, heh??

It is, of course, entirely possible to write without doing it as part of a degree, but for me, writing about somewhere so far away from where I live now and so long ago, it’s a relief to feel as if I’m part of something much bigger. It’s still just me, the cat and my desk (plus my music students, the washing, my family etc etc), but at least now there’ll be someone else setting some deadlines and telling me where I’ve gone wrong and right.

But where to start?

The smart thing seemed to be to find out how other people were doing it. Straight away I found this site: creativewriterphd

Not only does she write about her own experiences doing a Phd and struggling with trying to write both fiction and something theoretical at the same time, but the writer also links to some fantastic resources and sites.

It’s funny how reading about someone else doing the same thing as you can be so encouraging. I’ve also really appreciated the links to other sites and organisations. I might be Australian but almost eleven years out of the country mean that I’m more of a  foreigner than I thought when it comes to what’s happening and especially when it comes to the academic world.

Maybe it’s not so unbelievable that I can do it too, after all…

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in the beginning…

I have a desk, a cat, a stack of folders, my laptop and a very nice view out the window (this is Switzerland, after all).

That first morning, knowing it was finally official and that I could justifiably call myself a Phd student, was exciting. First of all, though, I had to finish vacuuming the house, get the washing in and then out of the machine, and think about what we would all have for dinner, because I wouldn’t finish teaching my music students until 7pm and by then my family would be starving. Yes, it’s a glamorous life, academia, and it’s making me think fondly of the days when university was one part study, one part reading, and many parts having as much fun as possible.

But despite the fact that nothing has really changed from the week before, I can’t help feeling excited. I’ve been working on my novel for a few months now but suddenly it feels like a legitimate concern and not just something Mummy works on when she really should be throwing a ball or reading aloud.

Don’t ask me what my exegesis will be about (or even how to pronounce exegesis) because at the moment I couldn’t really say.

I have a list of potential themes as long a both arms but know that this is a risky path upon which to venture, as I doubt that anyone ever passed by submitting a list of bullet points.

Along with the bullet points I have questions…so many questions, which I hope to answer along the way.

And this blog? Well, my friends have already very patiently listened to me talk about the novel and my husband agreed to sickness and health but would, I suspect, have thought twice about something like this.

The truth is that when you live in a foreign country where the language you think, speak and write is not the one everyone else thinks in, speaks or writes, it makes it hard to connect.

And so, internet, I come to you. It might well be that I am my only reader, but it saves talking out loud.

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