It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to

Hysterical with exhaustion, my 44th birthday yesterday was celebrated at the end of a VERY long day, with wine and good food and my husband and daughter.

Like many folk who teach music for a living my work is peripatetic and sporadic, therefore like all good musicians I rarely say no to any job. So it is I’ve found myself teaching singing 4 full days a week this year from 8.30am – 7.00pm with only a 30 minute lunch break most days. I’m told the best thing to do is ask a busy person to do something because they will make time to do it, and so it was with me. Found myself on Wednesday teaching singing for 4 hours, then tutoring music history for 3, then teaching singing for another 3 hours, with only enough time to drive to each venue before starting afresh. In that time I managed to write 4 quite important emails, redraft an essay question for 1st year music students, have several discussions with colleagues, then go out to celebrate my birthday.

I was so tired I frankly got quite merry on 2 glasses of wine. Unlike me – I’m a complete lush normally.

So, at the end of a frankly exhausting week, reeling slightly under the weight of not quite enough sleep and too much 1-2-1 singing teaching, my lovely hubby is taking me away for the weekend to a country mountain retreat. I’m taking my computer. He promises me there is no wireless, but I’ve assured him I don’t need it: I’m doing a lit review, not checking email! But before I get to spend this much-needed time with hubby, I have to meet with my supervisor, who will no doubt look at my rather paltry attempts to write my literature and discussion chapters and laugh and point.

Oh, well. It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to.


Air and Light and Time and Space

Getting myself in the state of mind for study is as easy as climbing Mount Everest, some weeks. I start climbing the North face, because it’s bright and sunny on that side, when a blizzard hits and I tumble down with an avalanche of long-overdue work and things I have set aside because my teaching is so time-intensive.

The last two weeks have been “school holiday” weeks, but I’ve not had any time off then because last week was audition week (9am – 5pm) 5 days, and the week before I was still teaching: I had all my uni students and a day of singing audition preparation with my private students, plus assignment marking. I get too buggered after hours to maintain a mental flow, plus I usually want to cook dinner or eat, or walk the dog. All the things one has to do to maintain a happy work/life balance.

So now, I’m back at work on my full time teaching load for the next 4 weeks or so, with only Fridays available. It’s so stop and start! I’m struggling to keep my head focused on my study because my brain is all tuckered in from working and doing the household and business finance, plus any other organising stuff I have to do.

This weekend we head to Sydney for a PD session on Singing teaching, and the next few weekends and evenings are a riot of busyness and work functions. ARGH.

Still, I can see where I am wasting time now: I am waking up at what a friend calls stupid-o-clock (before 6am) and while I’m not tired then, I rarely jump out of bed to study. Maybe my body is telling me to get my arse into gear and do the morning work thing. Maybe. Or just exercise, because it will be too hot this summer to exercise any other time.

I read a salient comic of Charles Bukowski’s poem Air and Light and Time and Space basically tells me to shut the f**k up and just write, darn it. If I want to do this, I’ll do this.¬† A great reminder to me that this work – in its own way creative – will be done if I want it done. So I must do it.


This is my diary – no wonder I don’t study.

Thought this would be a good way to see just precisely what I do to waste time when I should be working on the PhD. Here’s a picture of my week:

Picture 1

So, there’s a lovely swathe of free time on Friday, right? Yes! I can do PhD work then. All my other time is literally 1-2-1 time with singing clients until quite late at night. My breaks are infrequent and my timetable is like this more than 28 weeks of the year, and this one doesn’t include my tutoring work. Plus I take audition workshops and panels in the holiday weeks.

Normally, too, I teach from 8.30am – 2.30pm on Tuesdays as well. So, time to do housework anyone? Nup. Time to take the dog for a walk? You see I’ve squeezed in a moment or two for that. Dinner? Stopped cooking. Breakfast? Yes, yes I can do that. And I was wondering why I have no time for PhD land. Or food shopping.

Now, you would think I have plenty of time during school holidays and summer to write, and so I do, but only during summer break. Winter is too busy with other work now. So let’s see where summer break gets me. November my uni teaching ceases. There may be marking to do – say, about 1 week’s worth. There are several catch-up lessons to plan – let’s say about 1 week’s worth. My private practice is still going until December. That means I have about 2 weeks in November where my teaching only reaches around 15 hours per week. So I legitimately have 50+ hours to study in November.

Then December hits. All bets are off. It’s holiday time and Xmas, and December is a wasted month – I’ve written about his before. So, January, right? Yay! January! One whole lovely month for study, yay! Let’s see if that happens this year – it should because I want to get the blasted thing finished, but time – well, it gets away from me.

Many kind people have suggested I get up super early and write for 2 hours in the morning. While I like this idea I am simply not a morning person. Although I reckon I could fit in an hour of reading then. So I might try this next week and see where it gets me. Because mapping out my day sure isn’t working. Giving myself small step goals isn’t working. I’m not sure what IS working. Perhaps looking at my ‘to-do’ scroll above my desk is helping. Well, yes it is. So off I go now, to try and do “Topic 1: Cultural Psychology”.


I’ve been waking very early of late or in the middle of the night, unable to get back to sleep, and I wonder if it’s because of the ongoing low-level anxiety that writing one’s PhD seems to engender in me. 5 years of low-level anxiety – I wonder how I will feel once I’ve finished? I’ve read that people often feel emotionally exhausted and drained, and are beyond all point of caring about their research when they submit. My main desire is to stop the mental battle between doing my work and feeling like a stupid fraud for even trying. Or my early waking could just be that we live on a busy street and I’m waking to morning traffic noise. Yes. That’s it.

My worst enemy is still my busy schedule, but if I’m waking early why am I not doing a quick read of a research text or other light entertainment? I assume it’s because teaching is SO exhausting that I’m mentally wiped out by Friday. I’m teaching 33 hours per week, and half way through semester I’m feeling somewhat breathless and rushed and racing to the finish line. My private students are doing preparation for auditions, so it’s a busy time of year. There are organizational elements to my work that have always terrified me such as concert preparation – marshalling the troops causes me great anxiety. I’ve the end-of-year concert to plan and eisteddfods to prepare for and singing exams for my students to prepare as well. And that’s just my private practice. My uni work includes a bunch of other stuff that requires careful time management. No wonder my PhD gets pushed to the side! However, last Friday, when I could (and should) have stayed home and studied, I went shopping. Clothes shopping. What does this say about my priorities?! Still, I now have a decent wardrobe and only want for a few more things. Like another pair of black dress shoes, some new sunglasses (both fell victim to Poppy the dog), another black jacket, an opera jacket, more slim-line casual pants…summer outfits…another handbag… (oops, did I say I like clothes?)

So, today I checked my timetable. I have blocked 3 hours for PhD work today and on Friday I have the whole day blocked out for study. That makes it 10 hours this week. Ok. I can do this. Breathe.

My Literature chapter is open, and if I start at the very beginning, I can see there’s a section on Cultural Psychology I need to flesh out. That is today’s job. Yes. How am I going to plan this? Well, in about 5 minutes I’m going to do the following things in preparation:

  • Set my computer to hide FB and email.
  • get out my Cultural Psychology books and open them on the desk;
  • get dressed
  • eat breakfast
  • go to the gym
  • come back, shower, change and grab a coffee.
  • at 10.30am exactly, sit down and begin to read and take notes.
  • 3 hours later, at 1.30pm grab some lunch and prepare Friday’s PhD work.

I presume this is the best way to do this writing jag. Not sure, not really having prepared my study in this way before, although I’ve managed to write much of my PhD regardless. It’s an experiment to see if I can stay to task. If I can do this today and Friday, then it’s my approach for the next 6 months. Because if I can prioritise and manage my uni work, my private business and our finances, I can certainly manage my PhD.

So, breathless and a little afraid, here I go.



Too tired…to…write

I would write a nice long post, but I’m too tired. Here’s what has happened this week (nothing bad, mind).

I haven’t lost any weight. But all my clothes are too big for me, so that’s ok. Even my size 8 pants from Laura Ashley are too big. I’m exercising regularly 3 times per week, aiming for 4, except I’m not really managing 4. We ARE walking the dog quite fast, though.

I’m working very hard. I have started teaching again, so my timetable is looking horrendous. No time for shopping or relaxation. I will have 37 hours teaching per week over the university semester. That’s one-to-one singing lessons and 2 tutes. Ugh. I love teaching, but even I’m feeling the pinch this week.

I’m finishing off a thesis edit and formatting the document, messy stuff. I’m writing a glossary, coordinating staff to get them to add to the glossary, and compiling the results for the Musical Theatre students. I’m TRYING to write the first chapter of our singing book so that I don’t have to worry about that again. This paragraph should be over by next week.

And I’m trying to finish off my PhD.

No way, Jose. So, there it is. And Poppy the dog is gorgeous, but very nippy for a little puppy. Annoyingly so.

And now: bed. Night night.

Back to the grind, in every sense!

DH and I arrived home from our Christmas holiday and we’ve returned to the usual grind of New Year activities. Today, I’m talking about grind. The grindstone, hard work, honing and polishing and refining of New Year’s resolutions and other travails.

I’ve identified four main areas of grind for me. The first is, of course, my health and fitness. Like so many during this holiday season, I’ve eaten and drunk way too much, and I’ve done no more exercise than an elegant stroll down the beach. Well, ok, the stroll was 8 kms long. I’ve probably put on half a kilo, but I’ve stuck pretty well to a pared down diet, with dessert being the main culprit. DH and I were married 5 years ago December 28, right in the heart of the festive season, so all our revelries occur in one week. Cunning, huh. And, of course, far too much drinking. Less than I would have this time last year, but still! So it’s back on the diet wagon (and aren’t I relieved about that!) and I have my first personal training session tomorrow afternoon. Ugh. That’s gonna hurt.

The second grind is to complete the works on the house we’ve organised. For me, that means sanding and painting during VERY hot weather. It’s going to be vicious. But it’s important to get a start on it before our carpenter comes back to build the remaining fence.

The third grind, and probably the hardest, will be to start up my reading and writing for my doctoral thesis, which is due to begin again in February. I had a lovely break from it and I feel much better now, but it’s time to get cracking again. I tried some of it today and boy, all I wanted to do was get up off the computer and clean the house or literally do anything other than study. That was hard. But it’s a resolution I’ve made to myself to complete it this year, as expected. So I’m starting with my methods chapter, because I need to do the reading for Narrative Inquiry methods again, and start to shape the chapter from its rather bloated state at present.

The fourth grind, and one much easier to sustain, will be to begin my singing teaching again. I love my teaching and while I’m enjoying the holidays, I’m looking forward to developing my practice for the year ahead. My times are quickly filling up and then when uni starts: whew! It’s gonna be a challenge to maintain the study and the teaching, as I’ll be teaching about 30 hours per week. In fact, I have to do as much study as possible before teaching begins because it’s so hard for my brain to switch from one activity to the other. I’m dying to do some professional development n singing teaching but until I finish the PhD I won’t have the time – or the money! So I’ll have to content myself with some reading instead this year.

4 grinds. A big year ahead.


Ch ch ch ch ch ch changes!

This morning I woke up and my stomach was flat. I love it when this happens…Even SH noticed and commented it had changed since yesterday. I’m even loving this exercise thingy. Not only do I have more energy than ever, but my clothes are falling off me now and I feel like I’m getting my old body back.

Today after rehearsal I’m going to the gym, then swimming as I won’t have time to do the boxing class. SH is taking me out to an early dinner, followed by a play by the 1st year Musical Theatre kids from our Conservatorium. I’m also trying to correct 70 remaining essays that apparently are due this Friday (no-one told me) and write some articles. I think the articles will have to wait until next week – it’s getting hairy in workload time! So much so that any plans of doing exercise on Friday is impossible unless I do some after about 6pm, which is NOT my finest exercise hour, it must be said.

The weather is becoming sunnier and hotter now, and I must have acclimatised a bit because I feel like this a good thing! It hasn’t been overly warm this year – at least, not by my reckoning – so I’ll be interested to see how I cope with the summer humidity. I think swimming will definitely my preferred summer exercise!



Goal setting time again.

Today I set some goals for October. So this post is a bit of a list post, because it’s been a while since I wrote one!

In some interesting news, my article to RSME was accepted with major revisions. Lovely. It’s been nearly a year coming and the information needed minor updating anyway, but when I looked at the comments they were really very positive and thoughtful. 2 reviewers said minor revisions, one said major revisions, but I really liked the lovely, gentle commentary. The Editor, who has final say, then suggested major revisions, but when I looked at what she was suggesting, they seemed minor in comparison with some article submissions I’ve received lately. So that’s something else to get done by the end of the year.

I finally decided to exercise. I’ve been putting it off in the forlorn hope that I would “reward” myself with a training program once my PhD was submitted. This was stupid. I’m taking the bull by the horns and just going for it anyway. I think it will help my alertness and general health and will help my study work too. I’m too sedentary anyway and my stomach fat is finally starting to have a life of its own, wobbling and moving in the opposite direction to me whenever I do something physical. Urgh. I’ve planned how much weight I think I can lose by Xmas (that’s 8 kilos!), and how much stamina I want to have, how much body fat and how much strength I think I can achieve in 10 weeks.

So, October – December: I have a thesis to edit by 22 October. Sounds like fun and is an interesting premise. I always learn something new when I edit. And I get paid. I have 3 (unpaid) book chapters to write. Something tells me I should really get onto those ASAP. At least I should make outlines of the chapters! I have an (unpaid) article to revise. I have a small (paid) research project to analyse and semi-write a presentation for. I have 85 (paid) essays to correct by mid-November. I have 30 students to teach and prepare for their exams. I’m helping out at a Musical Theatre Charity Concert (unpaid). I’m planning my company’s Showcase Concert set for November.

I’m seeing a PT every week, and I’m going to exercise 4 times a week. I’m joining another gym, because it has yoga classes and a pool and other classes that will help me. I’m going to Melbourne to see Stephen Sondheim in concert and seeing if I can get my youngest to move away from his toxic relationship with his father and brother and move into my parent’s place until he finishes his diploma.

What a month, and this doesn’t include the house painting I’m planning, nor the PhD work I’m trying to rediscover, nor the extra work I may need to take on to pay for school fees and credit card debt. What a month, what a year.

When one’s absent supervisor gives good advice anyway

So. Hadn’t heard from principal supervisor in recent weeks, had sent her heaps of stuff to read, including my last and nearly complete narrative, my autoethnography and my nascent attempt to categorise everything from my narratives according to my research questions.

Was getting a little antsy because she had not replied in a few days to my latest email. And I understand when someone is furiously busy and can’t always fit one’s students into one’s busy schedule, but it has been seven weeks since my last meeting and I was just getting to that slightly frustrated, muttering under my breath stage, feeling like I can’t easily find my own path through without supe’s hand guiding me.

Anyhoo, she has written to me today with excellent advice, once again, and it’s becoming more and more positive (always nice to hear) and thought provoking. Her emails, although they might seem hard for some without added face-to-face contact, are usually very detailed. I’ve told her how I really appreciate the written comments, and even when they are critical I don’t mind because it helps clarify what I am trying to articulate. I know some of her students cry when sent an email – apparently her emails and critiques of written work can seem a little harsh or uncaring. These days I don’t have that reaction – I used to, before I realised she was just trying to do her job quickly. Often busy people aren’t good with pastoral care, but I’ve nutted out why she responds the way she does, and I do not take offense. It’s never meant to hurt, only to challenge my thinking. For this I am supremely grateful. She also offers via email some excellent solutions to problems, which is helpful.

I had a look through my email trail to supe, and I write to her every two weeks or so now. This means I am on target with my work output and that I need to discuss questions resulting from my analysis. It also shows that I actually do need more face-to-face time with supe, given this unexpected synchronicity.

Having devoured the PhD Comic Piled Higher and Deeper, I can for certain say there are many PhD candidates who feel as I do regarding the availability of their supervisor. Jorge Cham spends quite a lot of time lambasting his fictional supervisor, who appears to be much worse than mine. My supervisor just suffers from a surfeit of things to do and a corresponding deficit of time in which to do them. So if one is not particularly insistent or correspondy, one can get pushed to the back of the pile.

I think the role of the supervisor is a particularly difficult one. My better half supervises post-graduates, and he finds most of them really annoying because they have peculiar ideas about what makes a good thesis. Some submit drafts they think are the finished product, only to discover it is only the first in a long line of drafts. Usually these early drafts are poorly written, with terrible grammar and spelling the first among many culprits of bad work. Some submit ideas that really do not work in the long run or do not seem to make sense in the light of the whole thesis. Most submit work that is at times careless and hurried, with missing references and bad formatting. In a very few cases, his students come well prepared, with decent questions, work completed to a high standard and sensible ideas about what makes good work. He loves those students. For him it’s the opportunity to talk with them about higher order thinking, the nitty gritty detail of their study, and not be not bogged down in the mundane of poor writing and worse editing. He also notes that life invariably impacts on the work of his students and he spends quite a lot of time in counselling mode. Which I totally understand.

Although I’ve been to umpty-do seminars on how to write a decent thesis and a trillion confirmations and conferences, I still struggle to make sense of my work at times. I can take all the courses I want, but until I start writing, none of it really sinks in, and even then I have to go back over my old notes. And I’m one of the smart ones who can spell and write good (sic!). It’s at these times I need my supervisor.

Our supervisors are more than just critiques of our work – in many instances we need our supervisors to show good relatedness and pastoral care, especially at those times when we are feeling uncertain about the worth of our work. That is the thing I sometimes miss, but I appreciate the wisdom of my supervisors at these important times when I am about to embark on the last, most intensive part of my study. This is the pointy end, where the joy of discovery gives way to the despair of hard slog.

And I always need to remember that I am the product of my supervisor’s supervision. If the supervision is poor, my work will then be poor, because good teaching is vital in work of this nature. If my thesis is of a poor standard, it does not augur well for my supervisor’s reputation and standing, so it behooves my supes to maintain good connection with their students and to give 100% to them when needed. I am glad to say, this is what my principal supe does, when she has the time. I know that in the end my work will be better for her detailed critique. She knows, too, that I can take criticism and will alter my work to better meet her high standards.

So. Hi ho, hi ho, it’s off to corrections I go.