When writing becomes dancing

I think for some PhD students the final last gasp to the finish line must feel just like that – a final gut-wrenching, exhausting, mind-numbed collapse over the line. And until recently I thought it was like that for me. But something has changed.

I’m dancing.

These last three days have felt balletic. I’ve done all the hard slog and now I’m merely finishing off my footwork and hand movements – the choreo is done, the practising is done, I’m just perfecting it now.

I’ve been writing a few minutes here, and hour or two there, and apart from some additional discussion writing and making sure the conclusion matches the theory and the introduction I’m just editing. It’s like flourishes with a ribbon. Quick, short, gone in a flash.

Missed a reference? Add it in – flourish! Whoops, poor cutting and pasting? Slice it away, whoosh! Sentences too long? Add a full stop and reshape. Twirl! I’m dancing over the text. My supervisor has now read the whole draft and this morning I incorporated her edits in 3 whole chapters. It took 2 hours. Wheee!

I guess it helps that my supervisor isn’t throwing up over the material. She has even praised me for some sections. She’s let go a bit too.

I’m not sure why I feel this way. Maybe it’s because I set up my final document some months ago and I’ve been working with the final draft copy ever since. All the margins are done. The frontispieces and back matter, appendices and references are all done. The TOC, updating automatically when needed. There’s now no longer any need to sit for long hours at the computer, pulling my hair out. Just a pirouette here, a jete there.

I’m at the end and I can feel it. It’s not a big Beethoven finale, but it’s lovely. A little bit Bach.

Can you feel it? Can you see it? I’m dancing!

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When money burns a hole in the pocket.

I have some spare money at the moment. Notice I say AT THE MOMENT. Because I can feel a shopping spree coming on. I’m trying SO HARD not to spend my lovely lovely money, because we are about to spend lots of money on the house and I need to ensure my lovely lovely money lasts all the way to February next year. I’ve not paid myself from my business since July, and I won’t pay myself from my business until I have no more money left in my transaction account.

DH and I tend to spend money when we can’t really afford big ticket items such as a new stove or fridge. We end up spending lots of money on little, less expensive items, that in total probably come up to the big ticket item. But I’m tempted to buy a new fridge this week. Our old fridge is finally not going so well, its seals are failing for the 2nd time, one of the plastic shelves has been broken for about 5 years, and it’s not big enough for a large family. Especially when adult children live at home, and we basically have a share house now.

Alternatively I could pay off the Credit Card. Now THAT’S a thought. Or I could do my tax for 2014. That’s another thought. Get more lovely lovely money from the return. Sorry for this post: I’m feeling spendy at the moment.

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What do I do now?

As I approach the end of my thesis I am reminded of the words of Agnes Gooch from the show “Mame”, when her “field trip” to explore life resulted in an unexpected pregnancy. As she returned to accuse her “teacher”, Mrs Burnside, she bewailed “what do I do now?” I feel rather the same way.

I am so close to the finish line I can smell it – in fact, give me a few more days and I think I will have the bulk of the thesis complete, with just a few loose ends to tie up. I don’t actually have a few more days, but I used an unexpected free day today to do some more work on the discussion chapter and conclusion. I worked reasonably consistently and am happy to see more loose ends knotted off now. Friday is my next full day for work and then perhaps some of the weekend. Yes, that’s how close it is, folks. Weekend work on the thesis.

But my thoughts keep straying to the thing after the thing. What next? Am I willing to stay a peripatetic teacher (with a PhD) at a university, or am I meant for more? Not that teaching isn’t awesome, but teaching 40 hours a week during term time isn’t awesome. As I explained to DH, I like teaching just fine, but I am exhausting myself trying to do this much teaching for a relatively small reward.

As he himself admits, if I were working full time in the uni system I would not be doing as much teaching as this. In fact, I would be doing a range of other things, based on a 40/40/20 model. 40% teaching, 40% research, 20% service. For me, this break down of work is greatly appealing. But it shows that the amount of teaching I do is well in excess of normal teaching arrangements at either secondary or tertiary level. Add to that workshops, master classes, performances and administrivia, and it’s no wonder I’m tired.

But as I enter my 45th year (and the irony of the mid-life crisis hasn’t eluded me, folks), I’m wondering if this is it. What do I do now? I’m at the peak of my working life, cobbling together a career out of bits and pieces of consulting and teaching work, and I’m now feeling like it’s not enough.  There’s no forward momentum, no career pathway for this life. No sense of striving, and no real sense of belonging to my main employer, although I feel as loyal and connected as I can to the place. My boss gives me as much higher duty work as he can manage but he has to be seen to be fair and I can’t do it to the exclusion of other employees. Besides which, DH is the Grand Poobah and any work I DO get might be seen as nepotism.

It doesn’t help that I’m nearly grieving for the loss of thesis-baby as she grows up and leaves home, and that we have plans for the house that requires me maintaining my income. I can’t afford to take time off to think about it – I need to keep working. So, what do I do now?!

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I AM SO TIRED…and what is a Pomodoro?

I’ve nearly finished the dissertation. Half a discussion chapter to complete (20 pomodoros) and fix up the abstract (4 pomodoros). Rewrite the conclusion so it doesn’t suck (10 pomodoros). Add the figures and adjust the TOC (8 pomodoros). And I’m done. But do you think I want to even look at the thing? Nope. I can’t even bring myself to open the bloody document and do a couple of pomodoros to get me started. I just don’t want to do it. And I knew this would happen as soon as I started teaching again. Teaching just wipes me out, emotionally, intellectually, physically. I care about my kids and I want the best for them, so I spend a lot of time and energy on them. And I just can’t bring myself to work on the thesis. If I look at the amount of pomodoros I need to finish, it’s 21 hours. Half a week of full time work. Maybe the discussion chapter will take a tad longer than 20 pomodoros, but if I stick to the script…

Pomodoro, by the way, is a special term intended for developing better time management to improve work efficiency. 1 pomodoro can last as little as 15 minutes or as long as you like, but the trick is to take an actual stand-up break for 5 minutes in between work activities. So below is an approach quite useful for me during morning sessions:

1 pomodoro: 25 minutes

break: 5 minutes

2 pomodoro: 25 minutes

break: 5 minutes

3 pomodoro: 25 minutes

break: 5 minutes

4 pomodoro: 25 minutes

break: long break.

Pomodoros are useful blocks of time for those who work at computers and have ready access to internet and email. You don’t look at email or do anything other than the work you have set yourself for that 25 minutes, and then, during the 5 minute break, you get up off your chair and grab a cup of tea or do something physical. It’s a great way to achieve focus in an accessible and reasonably short block of time, therefore tricking your brain into thinking it’s super-easy to do just 25 minutes. But I can’t even bring myself to do 1 pomodoro on my thesis this week. Blah.

I am so tired. But the end is so close. SO close.

I looked over the literature review the other day and it holds up ok. Just need to finish that blasted discussion chapter. But that means deep thought. I’m incapable this week of deep thought. This month, this semester. Gah.

I keep looking for spare weeks in my diary where I’m not teaching 10 hours a day. I found two in late September. I’m only teaching or auditioning in the mornings. Good. This will get me through the rest of the thesis, provided I can just finish the discussion chapter.

And let me not start on the blessed administrivia and bureaucratic nightmare that is my place of study or coping with the continual roadblocks barring my way at the last minute.

Care factor? Nearly zero. Desperation to finish? Out of 100: ninety-nine. Deadline? November. Totally possible, except I have no time to work right now. It shows me how deep I go when I am in the throes of writing, and how much time and space I truly need in order to write. Charles Bukowski was a alcoholic bullshit artist with his poem that you don’t need time and space and light and air to write – if you really want to, you just write. Well, sure. If you like writing bullshit. And if your paid work consists of brainless stuff like cleaning where there’s lots of time for thinking.

Every few days I read a fabulous blog by Pat Thomson, called Patter. Her last blogpost could have been written just for me. I’m sure she’s looking over my shoulder cheering me on. Even if she’s not, her blogs eerily mirror my current trajectory. Thanks, Pat, for providing such great information to those desperate PhD students who are just a little sick of Jorge Cham’s PhD comics. Great for when you’re a full time science student, annoying when you’ve been writing your dissertation for too many years to count and the characters in the comics never age. Plus the comic is overwhelmingly US-centric and young grad-student. Therefore limited and not really relevant to an old chook like me.

One thing’s for certain: I’m desperate to write a bit of fiction in the next few years. Desperate. And also to get out in the sun. And do something other than this.

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Nearly…there…one…more…step…

Haven’t written in the blog for a while because I’ve not had a chance to work on the PhD since I started back at work and my kids came to visit for a holiday. But the DH has now read it and made some salient points about what I still need to do. He liked the narrative chapters a lot. He reported that after the very deep and dense literature and methods chapters that he just needed some data. I agreed. He also said the literature needed more signposting, and that the headers in the Methods chapter weren’t always working. I agree, but when you’re stuck with two types of fonts in varying shades of underline or italics then you’ve not much option except for size.

He thought my argument in the literature was fine. He thought my ideas were fine. So, it’s once again just super structure. This is easy to fix with a few diagrams that show where the literature is headed. Clearly while I’ve signposted the links in writing, my visual DH needs a picture or 2 for clarity and brevity, dare I say. So if he needs it, so will others.

I’ve still to finish the discussion but I’m going to give it a red hot go on the weekend – it shouldn’t be too hard to bed down now. I think I’m going to have to argue for an extension on length as I’ve three quite long narrative chapters that are central to my thesis and I can’t lose those. Also my discussion chapter deserves space and it’s not yet finished.

I looked just now at my concluding chapter and the master apprentice paradigm I’m trying to articulate is not completely visible here, so I’ll have to spend a bit of time managing this. Nevertheless, it is nearly done. I can see where to fix it. I’m sending it to my supervisor next week so it is very close to completed. Whether it’s any good…well, I can’t say. I just don’t know any more. I know I can write. I know I can research. Are my arguments any good? Do they work? There’s certainly a philosophical underpinning I’m having difficulty articulating. Something about artistry. Which I don’t have time or space to explore. Gah. That’s a journal article for another day.

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Back to life…

I’m back home. Sad and happy simultaneously. I loved my writing retreat but by Thursday night I knew I had reached the end point of what I could achieve by the coast without going a bit insane. Not from loneliness, but from tiredness from constantly diving so deep into my literature and then getting annoyed upon finding my literature is all over the shop. Fuzzy structure annoys me and makes me tired.

I have one more week remaining to try and wrangle this thing into some sort of cohesion by Sunday week. After that, it goes to my supervisors for reading. After reading through my introduction, I’m pretty happy with it. I like my narrative chapters. I like my methods chapter, there’s not much more there needing doing. My conclusion is still a bit sucky, but I can probably clean it up in a day. So it’s still the literature and the discussion that needs a bit more work.

I’m trying to follow the instructions of my supervisors, who recommended removing more of the quotes and letting my voice be heard. While I totally understand this, I also get annoyed that I’m told at the same time to substantiate, substantiate, substantiate! Pat Thomson, who is clearly still reading the same blasted thesis she started a week ago, is getting SO annoyed by over explanation, excessive exposition and a shopping list of research studies. I know that it’s important to maintain active voice where possible, but when you are told to signpost for the reader, to not make grandiose statements, and to always make sure your statements are backed up by research, then it’s hard to find authorial voice when these directives are so prevalent. Goddam it.

 

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Writing retreat huzzah!

After the craziness of last week’s Audition workshop in which I was course leader, it’s great to get away and have a peaceful time here in Noosa, finishing off the PhD. I don’t seem to have much of a sense of urgency about this week, which is weird because already one day is wasted due to travel and general sickness, and another 2 are nearly over already. I guess what I am now seeing is the very last bits of the thesis all slotting into place. I can now see that I need to add a concluding summary section at the end of my literature review that ties up all the loose ends.

I can also now see where there is a gaping great hole of research that I had completely forgotten about. I’m filling it in very fast now, really in my writing element, and writing and editing quickly – and at times, simultaneously. I’m filling and patching and removing and slicing and dicing my text, then reading it all through again to see if it makes sense. The ongoing problem is to ensure all the pieces slot neatly together, so I keep going back to my signposts to see if they are clearly marked. Linking phrases and passages are becoming clearer now, too. Especially if they are absent.

One of the things my precious book “Completing your qualitative dissertation” by Bloomberg and Volpe (2012, Sage) say is that there are steps to presenting your lit review. They are below:

  1. Provide a statement of purpose
  2. identify the topics or bodies of literature
  3. provide the rationale for topics selected
  4. describe your literature review process, report all your literature sources, and identify the keywords used to search the literature
  5. present the review of each topic
  6. present your conceptual framework
  7. provide a brief chapter summary of the literature review and its implications for your study

Sadly, this does not seem to include a “what is not known” element that I am told by my supervisor and others is important – in other words, identifying the gaps that led me to the study. Also, I’m not sure a conceptual framework goes at the back. Or does it? I’ve put mine front and centre, and then again at the back, to link to the literature. In fact, this is the problem of my literature review: I still think it’s a bit all over the place.

Also, I’m not sure point four is really useful unless this is to delimit the search specifically for the benefit of the thesis examiners. One thing I probably need to explain is that I need to limit my search on pedagogical approaches in one-to-one music lessons to SINGERS, not other folk. Because the singing instrument is embodied and mostly internal and singers don’t hear what their audiences hear, plus we’re actually building the instrument at the same time as learning to play it, there’s a lot we have to do regarding simultaneous feedback between singer and teacher.

Anyway, I’m loving the quiet rush of the sea and the occasional sound of the seagulls – which are far less lonely sounding than those English ones. I can see the sea from the balcony and I am deeply, quietly happy about writing. Maybe that’s what I am now. A writer. One of my many identities, at any rate!

I read Anna Goldsworthy’s exquisite biography “Piano Lessons” (2011, Black Inc) this morning. Gulped it down in one enormous rush. Loved it, loved the beautiful, respectful way she wrote about her teacher, the enormously funny, wry commentary on being a child, and her struggle to become a musician. Mostly I love her trying to explain about feeling the music – the architecture, the small bits, the joy, the composers. All through the broken English of her beloved Russian teacher Eleanora Savin. What a joy this relationship reads as! And yet Anna does not resile from asking herself whether she was too dependent on her teacher even as she writes about her improved understanding of the music and how she functions with this woman. Will read it again once my study is out of the way.

And given that I am next to the ocean and have not even gone for a walk, I think now is the time to take a short stroll along the beach before heading out for a bit of food. And then, after dinner, Offspring followed by The Good Wife. Perfect.

 

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