Writing Retreat Day 3 – I am back from my walk and settling into another day of just getting it done, plain and simple. There is no doubt I work WAY better like this – immersing myself – concentrating on one thing at a time. (Multitasking is a myth!) And although my “real life” makes this kind of arrangement (hours upon hours of uninterrupted writing) mostly impossible- I’m hoping I can at least cultivate some deeper focus that I can carry home with me- But, for now, I revel in the solitude.
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 am just finishing up my PhD” is a term I used frequently these days. It happens mostly when people ask what I have been up to or, in the situations when I am meeting people for the first time as a means of telling them what I do. For those I am meeting for the first time it does the trick— but for friends and family who ask it is always fraught with a bit of “Oh! You’re still doing THAT?!”
Yep. Still at it. And I will sometimes go on to explain revisions and resubmissions and sometimes just leave it at that. Still at it.
Dani Shapiro writes in her book; Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life “When writers who are just starting out ask me when it gets easier, my answer is never. It never gets easier.” And I would argue that it is the same in a PhD journey. While I acknowledge that I have grown in so many ways, gained heaps of knowledge and will almost, kinda, sorta now claim to be an almost expert in my field… it most certainly has not gotten easier and in fact, I believe it has gotten harder in that ‘the more you know the more you know you don’t know’
As a split location International student (this means my school is on one continent and I live on another) I am not around people who are also PhD students much.
It is lonely. And even to the few other PhD candidates or recent grads I come across here, explaining what I do can be complicated as the UK and North American systems differ widely. Add the fact that I am doing a practice-based PhD something which can be a thing of mystery to even other students in the UK system, and it gets even more complicated trying to explain myself.
We can all agree, however, that it is hard. And, I am sure we can all agree that it will feel SO good when it is OVER.
But in the meantime… Yep. Still at it.
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.
“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
- Realizing that I won’t get everything I wanted to get done, done… but also realizing that I STILL got more done than I would have if I hadn’t been here…
- Also, “Why haven’t I done this before????” (oh, yeah, many children, 2 jobs…)
- Note to self; always bring more coffee than you think you will need — rationing coffee makes me anxious.
- Making a large pot of homemade soup and bringing only the soup, a loaf of wholegrain bread, a jar of peanut butter and a bit of fruit to my 4-day retreat so I won’t have to “fuss” with cooking, seemed like a really good, sensible and wholesome idea, but on day 3, I could care less about sensible and henceforth just ate a bag of microwave popcorn I found kicking around in the cupboard, (OK, so I ate TWO bags of microwave popcorn….)
- It is impossible to NOT have at least a few flashes of Kathy Bates in Misery showing up, while alone in a cottage, typing away furiously in a snowstorm.