“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act but a habit”. ~Aristotle
I have a little card on my desk that has this quote on it and I come back to it again and again (and again). I fully admit to being very distractible. Sometimes I try and go easy on myself… to give myself a break…I mutter to myself, “well, you’ve got a lot on your plate… all these kids…elderly parents to tend to…an almost finished PhD to… just finish already… several teaching gigs… midlife…and just life-life… You have a lot to be distracted by….how can you not be distracted?!” And, well, yeah, sure. I guess those things are all true… But! Really! I am REALLY just easily distracted. I WANT to focus but I am weak, there is stuff to read and look at and fiddle-fart around with. As I have professed on many occasions I am a big ol’ procrastinator— yet, still, I get up every day determined that today I will be better. I know it is a practice—I just need to continue to practice staying focused, I practice daily, fighting against my urge to procrastinate. It is a habit that I will forever need to be mindful of, and there is no easy fix. I recently ripped through the book The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles” by Steven Pressfield on a morning that I had dedicated to working through my PhD revisions— This is nothing new to me— procrastinating by reading books about how not to procrastinate but, I have to say, this procrastination session was particularly enlightening and dare I say, useful. Pressfield’s book resonated deeply with me because his theory revolves around what he considers to be the enemy of creativity; resistance. Procrastination is the result of resistance and fuelled by fear. Fear, Pressfield attests, can be a good thing— it indicates to us that something is important to us— and in my case, this is true. While I do tend to also procrastinate about doing things like cleaning the bathtub and folding the laundry these are not the things that have fear attached to them— my PhD, the play and the article I am writing , these are the things that have fear firmly attached to them and as Pressfield suggests “…the degree of fear equates to the strength of Resistance.” (2002 40) And, well, yes, the degree of fear I feel from avoiding scrubbing my tub is significantly lower than my fear of not getting my PhD revisions done in time.
If I am what I repeatedly do then I want to believe that acknowledging and wrestling resistance must simply become a habit, and part of my practice as an academic, artist and writer. The wrestling takes many forms. Plain old willpower is one way to do it, removing distractions is another. I have been using the website blocker Freedom— which helps. I had read that Zaide Smith used something similar and I was, of course, thrilled to know I was not alone (and in very good company) in my distractedness. It helps. And I will actually laugh out loud to myself when I habitually click on one of my blocked websites while I’m in a Freedom session only to find a green screen with a butterfly on it staring back at me. Resistance is futile, I suppose, and deadlines are looming.
“Censor the body, and you censor breath and speech at the same time. Write yourself. Your body must be heard”. (Cixous, 1975)
This quote from Hélène Cixous (The Laugh of the Medusa) has, without a doubt, been my guiding light throughout the last three years of my PhD journey, and if I really take a moment to think deeply about it, in my life-journey in general. As a voice practitioner, writer, academic, feminist, these words perfectly sum up what I try to achieve every day. To tell my truth. To live and work as my truest self. And I know that the surest way to get there is through the body. To quote my colleague Noah Drew “If the body isn’t free, the breath can’t be free and if the breath can’t be free the voice can’t be free.” Voice, in this context, includes not just my physical voice but my voice as it appears on the page. Perhaps one of the most daunting aspects of being a Doctoral Researcher is truly owning “your body must be heard”, each day I have to sit down with the attitude; “I have something new, innovative and important to say!” I struggle with it constantly. It is of course why Impostor Syndrome is so prevalent in academia. Who am I to declare “My body must be heard?!” Who in their right mind cares about what my body has to say? To completely mangle perfectly good XTC lyrics; “Censors working overtime Trying to tell the difference ‘tween the goods and grime turds and treasure and there’s one, two, three, four, five…” That just about sums up my final slog towards submission…these final weeks, as I try to sort out my theories, my ideas… am I really contributing to the scholarship on this? Do I really know the difference between the “good and the grime” the “turds and the treasure”
I suppose I can only write myself. Turds and all. There is no one else.
“I, too, overflow; … my body knows unheard-of songs.”~ Hélène Cixous
4 days and a 40,000 word PhD thesis to write… Totally do-able right??
Of course, I am not starting from scratch- I’ve got about 30,000 words in a very messy, chaotic mess of a draft… I’m hoping being here (looks pretty ideal, right?) Will just push me over the “get this sucker done” huge wall that seems to be standing in my way.
Wish me luck.
Loving this article by the writer Kim Liao about having a rejection goal for the year. She shot for 100 rejections, and while she fell short of that goal (she got 43) she did get 5 acceptances- which, as she points out, would have felt like a daunting number to aim for. A little reverse psychology perhaps? But in both the academic and artistic communities I am a part of this seems like some great advice. How do you get better at your craft but by doing, doing, doing?! And how will anyone ever be able to see your work unless you are putting it out there?
In both the academic and artistic communities I am a part of, this seems like some really great advice. How do you get better at your craft but by doing, doing, doing?! And how will anyone ever be able to see your work unless you are putting it out there?! All. the time.
Here’s a little in the spirit of “sometimes it IS worth it” or it gets better…” or “keep going even if you think your research is rubbish”.
My very first published article won the Voice and Speech Review Forum Article of the Year Award.
I was absolutely floored that I had won. Countless times over the past few years I had considered scrapping all the work I had done because I thought it was garbage.
The first time I presented my research on this topic, was in the Fall of 2015 at a conference in Brussels and the guest moderator completely panned my research in front of a packed room. He was going through the preceding presentations giving favourable comments on everyone’s research, except, when he got to me he said: “And I don’t even know what that was about…method acting or something??” I was, of course, crushed, and decided to toss it right then and there.
But I couldn’t do it, I had put too much time into it, (and frankly didn’t have anything else!) so I continued. The following summer I presented a paper on my subsequent research, (on the same topic) at another conference to a very small audience and was approached by an editor from the VSR to develop the paper into an article, which I did. It took 14 months and 7 drafts from my initial submission to the published article. and being a newbie to the world of working with an editor had to wrestle with myself, and my tendency to take the edits personally. She was terrific and kind, but firm. I learned so much. I really felt like I had accomplished “something”, and I guess I had.
Hoping this may help anyone who may be in that “my research is rubbish” place. Keep going! It’s worth it.
Now if I could only get this PhD thesis finished…
OK- so I am not really sure that “the sh*t just got real” thing works in this context– I just really wanted an excuse to say that.
But, if it means that I need to really get my rear in gear– or my submission date is looming (September 29!!!) and I still do not have a full first draft… then yeah, sh*t just got real! (I tried typing it without the asterisk but couldn’t bring myself to leave it like that– I’ve got me some scruples, or I’m just an ol’ fuddy-duddy academic desperately grasping, and failing, to come off as edgy).
Because of my very full teaching schedule, today is the first day in months that I actually have the day (full work day) to write/work and of course, with that kind of freedom comes some trepidation– now I really have to do something. I am trying to go in with beginners mind— really just being present to what I am writing now and trying to not get ahead of myself or panic about all the work I haven’t done yet.
I am coupling that with a plan– mapping out what needs to be done. Got the white board wiped clean, new calendar pages ready to be filled in.
I am walking into the white room à la Twyla Tharp, ready to work, with a plan but open to surprises. And by surprises, I mean brilliant strokes of genius! Divine inspiration!
It’s real. 163 days… and counting. Let’s get this sh*t done!!!
I am an early riser. I always have been, my Mother was too, she grew up on a farm and I like to think it is in the genes. Even as a undergrad student, working until 3 am in a bar, I still woke up at 9 am (early for a barmaid and a student!) because I just couldn’t fathom spending the day in bed. (I suppose I have what the young ’ins these days call FoMO- of “fear of missing out”).
Over the years my early rising has shifted from what some people seem to think of as a sort of reasonable early rising of 6 am to my current 4 am. I know, 4 am is really early. Telling people you get up (because you want to- not because you have to) at 4 am elicits the same same sort of response as telling people you have six children. “What?!” “Why?!” or “That’s amazing!”- which is always slightly embarrassing because, trust me, I am not doing it for the notoriety, or the wow factor, I do it because it really helps me get set for the day- centres me, makes me feel like I can “get ‘er done” (whatever “it” may be). My current weekday morning ritual looks something like this; I wake up somewhere between 4 and 4:20 (I don’t use an alarm clock- ever- I just wake up.) I get up, turn on the heat, and make a hot water with lemon. I roll out my yoga mat, and sit in meditation for 5-15 minutes ( the time depending on whether I got up at 4 or later) I then do a bit of yoga, usually, Sun Salutations for 5-10 minutes, then try to read a short passage of something inspiring (currently; Meditations from the Mat by Rolf Gates and Katrina Kenison), then sit for a few minutes at my desk and write a to-do list or a few notes in my agenda/journal and then go put on the water for coffee. Some of the inspiration for my current ritual came from a Podcast I was listening to on Français Authentique– I actually listen to it to work on my french but in one particular episode he was talking about “The Miracle Morning” a book by American Hal Elrod, who writes about the ‘best practices’—”developed over centuries of human consciousness development” (according to his website) to create an effective morning ritual “to transform your life” and apparently achieve everything you have ever wanted. I definitely got some inspiration from it but have also tried really hard to listen hard to what I need each morning whether it be more mediation, a few minutes rolling around on a massage ball or more time to scribble some thoughts down- I try not to be a rigid as Elrod prescribes- because I really like that time to be something nourishing- and not something I feel like I have to do.
The ol’ man gets up at 5 (he has also always been an early riser) and we sit, for a minimum of 30 minutes every single morning (this we’ve been doing without fail for 24 years) and have coffee together. Sometimes we talk; about the kids, the weather, what’s going on that evening or that coming weekend, who needs to be taken where… and sometimes we just sit in silence. By 5:30- I’m making breakfast and packing lunches, finding socks and gym clothes and white shirts with no stains on them, somedays (2 days at the moment) I am out the door by 7 am to get to work and the other days I walk the youngest kids to school and get back to my desk by 9-ish to start writing.
The ritual has shifted and changed over the years, and has most definitely had to adjust through babies, and breastfeeding etc. I remember with extreme fondness a time when I was just mama to 3 and we lived near the beach- I would get up around 5 to go for a run and watch the sun come up. Other phases of my early rising had me simply being up before everyone else and reading.
Of course, getting up so early, means that I am ready to fall into bed pretty early, usually around 9 pm and it is not unusual for me to conk out shortly after 8, as soon as I get the younger kids to bed. And on those mornings when I have had to be up “late” (10 pm+ *gasp*!) the night before I just let myself sleep until I wake up which is still usually 5:30 or so. But after many months of being on the 4 am ritual schedule- there is always just a bit of disappointment when I look at the clock to see I’ve missed my precious golden hour.
Rives, an American poet, and storyteller, talks about his own obsession with four in the morning on a Ted Talk that I highly recommend- in it he talks about how he came to curate the online; “the museum of four in the morning“. I enjoy visiting this virtual museum if for no other reason, when I am bumping around in the dark- getting up and trying not to wake anyone else in the house, it makes me feel like I am part of some secret society.