Writing retreat on the eve of day one. The family has just left and I am setting up my workspace before I head to bed so it is all ready for me when I wake. The plan is to write/edit my derrière off for 4 days with appropriate breaks for swimming, yoga, meditation, walks on country roads, reading and eating (not necessarily in that order). All this with limited human interaction. Bring it on!
I had an old and very dear friend stop by with her teenaged children for dinner and a visit last night. We live on opposite ends of the country, and haven’t seen each other for ages and it was really terrific to catch up. We went to high school together and her kids are pretty much the same age as my #4 and #5.
She is one of those friends with whom it is easy to just jump in and pick right up where we left off. Our conversations can be raucous, highly animated, wildly enthusiastic yet methodical as we go through the happenings of the last 5-6 years in each of our lives and share tidbits of gossip of our shared friends.
I hold my friend in high regard. In high school she was “the smart one”- and while she may have thought herself to be a nerd of sorts I have always seen her as one of the coolest and most interesting people I know.
We took fairly different routes after high school. We both went to university but she took, not surprisingly, a very direct path– fast tracking through an undergraduate degree, then on to law school followed directly by a successful career in which she has balanced motherhood (and very successfully from my point of view, as her kids are absolutely lovely). My path began with a degree studying music with an eye towards a career in performance, then, midway through that degree I changed majors to theatre— I didn’t quite finish my last year when a ‘surprise’ pregnancy led me to drooping out to begin my journey in motherhood. 3 babies later I returned to finish my undergrad degree … THEN I went on to have 3 more babies (while doing a smattering of performance and teaching gigs) and when my youngest was 2 jumped next into a Masters Degree… Following that, somehow, buoyed by a misguided feeling that academia was indeed… fun(?!) I started my PhD.
And 35+ (!) years later here I am.
Sitting listening to my friend talk about how she is really working to come to terms with this phase of her life; kids growing up and going off to university, empty nest and all that— I couldn’t help but feel a bit envious. Not because she will have her kids grown before me (my youngest will only start high school in the Fall) but more in terms of TIME. The time she will have for herself…to do whatever she wants. It just seemed to me that the really, really hard work of parenting and career building was behind her. She’s not yet ready to retire but she is very secure in her working life. The ‘having to prove her worth’ career bit was done.
I have had to think a lot about how doing this PhD is NOT all about getting a job, because there is a very good chance that my status as a part-time University Instructor is not going to change. Full-time professor jobs in my specialty are few and far between. Throw in my (and my family’s ) unwillingness at this point in my (our!) life to move to any-old place to take on a new job and the odds are definitely stacked against me of ever landing THE job. I HAVE to be okay with this, and in fact when I started this mature student PhD journey I cheerfully chirped about it being about much more than the pursuit of a tenure-track job. “Sure” I said, “a job would be great and all but it is really mostly about scholarship and achieving something. I want to show my kids that anything is possible! If I, a not-so-academic mother of six can do it, anyone, with a little gumption and a whole lot of elbow grease can!” (OK I never actually thought elbow grease had anything to do with it, but gumption most certainly does.)
However, 5 years later, as I drag my exhausted self to the finish line, I am not always so chipper about facing the reality that, unlike my friend I may never have the same kind of job security. Somehow I have to find peace with that. If this PhD journey leads to THE job well, maybe that will be considered a bonus of sorts. Everyone loves a bonus but it cannot be something you expect or feel remotely entitled to.
In the meantime, it ain’t over ’til it’s over. And if I can get this beast of a thesis submitted before I am too old to sit at my desk then maybe somedays, that is all I can wish for.
I am sharing academic writing specialist Jo VanEvery’s newsletter here; It struck a chord with me because in it she talks about Brené Brown’s book //ws-na.amazon-adsystem.com/widgets/q?ServiceVersion=20070822&OneJS=1&Operation=GetAdHtml&MarketPlace=US&source=ac&ref=qf_sp_asin_til&ad_type=product_link&tracking_id=mamalegato-20&marketplace=amazon®ion=US&placement=1592408419&asins=1592408419&linkId=bc5ebb4a1529736950a0377df1dc6eb6&show_border=false&link_opens_in_new_window=false&price_color=333333&title_color=0066c0&bg_color=ffffff“>Daring Greatly; Brown’s work centres around shame, vulnerability and failure all of which I having been pondering quite deeply lately. I’ve read some of Brown’s work previously, yet,I admit to … Continue reading “It’s a sign”
I am sharing academic writing specialist Jo VanEvery’s newsletter here.
It struck a chord with me because in it she talks about Brené Brown’s book Daring Greatly
Brown’s work centres around shame, vulnerability and failure all of which I having been pondering quite deeply lately. I’ve read some of Brown’s work previously, yet,I admit to having similar feelings as VanEvery towards these kinds of these celebrity psychologists (but I often end of reading them or at least about them anyways). As VanEvery says; “I’m glad I’ve decided to read her work though. What she says about shame, vulnerability, and innovation is directly relevant to academic life”- I haven’t read Daring Greatly but I can say for certain this is what I am finding as I read another of Brown’s books, Strong; The Reckoning. The Rumble. The Revolution.
I have definitely been having my own reckoning over the last while — around my research, my PhD, my LIFE… and I will inevitably get around to sharing some of that soon. As it stands, it exists mostly in the frantic scribbles of my journal and the frenetic corners of my mind– But! as someone who pays attention to “signs”, sent from the universe, or otherwise, VanEvery’s newsletter showing up in my inbox today, for me, surely was a sign.
“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.