Burn This *&$#@-Thesis Down Writing Retreat –Day 1

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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.

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Rejection Perfection

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.

Rejection goals.

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Sh*t just got real…

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.

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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!!!

Woo-Woo-PhD-ing

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Sooooo… have any other doctoral researchers out there resorted to obsessively reading their horoscope in an effort to figure out what the hell they are supposed to be doing and how the H-E-double-hockey-sticks one is supposed to do this???

Yeah, me neither, I was asking for a friend… We are serious academics people!!!

But just in case you are THAT desperate, I recommend the amazing Chani Nicholas.

Here is a little of what she had to say about be (an Aries) this week;

“With your ruling planet, Mars, having just stationed retrograde in your 9th house of spiritual experiences, long distance travels, learning and teaching, this week has extra poignancy for you.”

And…

“The full moon in Scorpio on Thursday will light up the part of your chart that highlights what you have to share with others and what you need from them.”

Pretty pertinent stuff for a PhD student wouldn’t you say? (Please say…something…anything?!)

 

How (not) to write a PhD and keep/lose your sanity…

When I am feeling my most discouraged and whipped by this PhD I tend to start listing mentally, everything that has happened in my life over the past 2.5 years that have made it impossible for me to “properly” get this thing done. Pathetic, I know- but somehow I think it is kind of a common “poor, poor, pitiful me” thing to do. But, I recently got to thinking that, funnily enough, when I am feeling particularly buoyed and optimistic about getting this thing done, I turn to that very same list, and use it to pat myself on the back in an “against all odds” sort of way. The ol’ man and I, will, from time to time, start trying to list all the major happenings of the past few years only to give up mid-way through because it becomes a tad overwhelming. At some point, me doing a PhD, in another country, while raising six children seemed like a good idea- if someone is able to remind me of that specific good idea I would be most grateful because most days it completely escapes me.

I have to preface this all by saying I have, from day one, from the first inkling, or seedling of a thought that I should pursue a PhD, had this pestering voice in my head telling me (loud and clear) that I have no business doing a PhD in the first place. (Hello major imposter syndrome!) I really think I am fairly justified in listening, even just a little bit to this pestering voice for the following reasons; I am the only person in my immediate family to have gotten a degree of any kind, I have an uncle on my Mother’s side who has a Bachelors degree and no one on my Father’s side has ever attended university. I dropped out of university before completing my BFA because I was pregnant with my first son. I went back 5 years later (we only had 3 kids at that point) and finished. I then went on to have 3 more kids, keeping one foot in the opera/theatre world, doing a bit of performing and teaching privately from my home. Two years after my youngest son was born I lucked into an adjunct teaching job because of my professional experience in the field. I loved it and decided I wanted the opportunity to move up and get a more stable job in academia, so I went into an MFA program at Goddard College a non-traditional, low-residency, Interdisciplinary Arts program- not your typical route to an PhD.
No sir-ee.

So, I have a “sketchy” academic background, six children, I am researching voice for the theatre (not a lot of people breakin’ the banks to help me fund that) and let’s not forget I am a woman, in my 40’s – not your typical postgrad – no, not typical in any way. So already the odds are stacked against me. Oh! and did I mention that I am self-funding?! Save for a few government bursaries for middle aged women with lots of kids researching theatre, I am doing this on student loans.
One might say I was (and still am?!) behind the 8 ball…

But despite all that I still thought it was a good idea. Riding on the momentum of my MFA (which in and of itself was difficult but definitely transformative in many ways) we (the ol’ man and I) decided this would be an adventure worth taking. Doing it in the UK seemed to make the most sense because there was a supervisor there who met my research needs (someone experienced as both a classical musician and a theatre artist) and they offered the opportunity to do it as a split site location student as moving the whole family to the UK for my studies was not going to happen.
We decided that to make this whole thing more manageable we would move across the country to Montréal where all the ol’ man’s family is, giving him support when I was away and making popping back and forth over the pond a little less daunting.

It all sounds so easy, right?! I would go away for 2 weeks to a month every semester, teach part-time and he would work full time and hold the fort while I was away.

Piece. of. cake.

Except. Nothing is ever simple for us- you would think I would know that by now- not much is simple with six kids because, well, there are simply so many people involved.

Early in my studies I was in a panic because I did not have a clue as to what I was doing- how does one “do” “write” “participate in” a PhD? So I read books and scoured the internet for helpful hints- everything from “Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minute a Day” to numerous inspiring articles such as ;“10 Steps to PhD Failure”.
I can remember sitting reading one of these articles with much anxiety as I started ticking off all the tasks I had already completed in one called something like “Top Reasons PhD’s Get Derailed”. Yes, I am the poster girl for how-not-to-do-a-PhD-but make-it-work-anyway.

And I, or rather we- as this inevitably affects all of the family, are still limping along.

So. Here’s the list (which is surely not complete- because… well… life).

It may conversely make me weep, or pump my fist in victory or maybe both.
1. We sold our house, I left my adjunct job (a small university that I liked very much) and the ol’ man quit his solid construction job and we moved 5 of the kids across the country (our eldest, 20 at the time stayed.)
2. We arrived to new province, a new language, new schools new jobs and then…

3.…a month after we arrived I left for my first one month stint in the UK.
4. My Mother-in-law was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer, refused all treatment and died a year after we arrived .
5. My father decided he could no longer care for my Mother who suffers from dementia, and moved her into a full time care facility. I flew back (5+ hours) multiple times to help with the transition.
6. Our eldest son, who had been dealing with addiction issues, reached out for help- we used the money we had made from the sale of our house to bring him to Montréal and put him through rehab for 3 months. (He has been sober for 2+ years now, is a straight A student, works to support himself, writes, plays music- we couldn’t be more proud of him).
7. My Father-in-law was diagnosed with cancer one year after my Mother-in-law died. He is now in remission and doing well.
8. Son #2 fell down a long set of stairs at the metro (subway) and broke his shoulder, he required surgery to insert a steel rod and months of rehabilitation.
9. We moved from the first house we rented in Montreal to a larger one.

10. I got really sick with a mystery illness about 1 year in. I developed eczema all over my face and I lost my voice- for one month- one whole month with little to no voice- kind of ironic as a Doctoral Researcher studying…VOICE! The doctors I saw diagnosed it all as stress related. (No sh*t Sherlock!)
11. I spent a month in New York performing a show at a theatre Festival, (the family came and joined me for a week.)
12. I have presented my research at 8 conferences and travelled to 5 different countries.
13. I have made no fewer than 12 transatlantic flights in the last 2 years, 5 months, 24 days… that does not include two separate research trips to New York, 4 flights back to Vancouver and a job interview in LA.

 

The verdict;
Don’t try this at home kids. PhD’s + big families + grand ideas= not for the faint of heart. (And if I told you I don’t often feel faint then that would make me a big liar!)

Well, I am not weeping- so it must be a fist pump kinda day.

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Cha-Cha-Cha

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There was one of those Facebook posts going around not too long ago that said something like this; “Optimist: Someone who figures that taking a step backward after taking a step forward is not a disaster, it’s a cha-cha.” (I later found out the quote is attributed to author Robert Brault) And at the time I took it in with a grain of salt as I do any words of wisdom imparted on social media- but I reminded myself of those words last week as I lay in a crumpled heap on the floor of my yoga class, whispering to the teacher “I’m OK!” after hearing something go “pop” in the general area of my left hip and bullock and my leg just kind of giving out. I lay there trying to get myself together with tears of self pity running down my face- not so much for the pain but because I was immediately mad for this happening and at myself for having the thought “Man, I am on an exercise toll!” just before the class started.
I basically spent the last week feeling poopy. Limping, when I tried to walk but in more pain when I was sitting to long. So really, pretty useless.
I have been feeling frustrated, bummed out, irritated and restless, and none of it has felt like a cha-cha.
Things began to change when I read this story a
bout Harriet Thompson, the 92 year old American woman who just ran her sixteenth marathon and broke the world’s record for being the oldest woman to do so. I am a bit obsessed with stories about awesome old women, I am constantly on the look out for stories like Harriette’s and I find myself studying them in the hopes of being able to figure out what their secrets are for being so fabulous for so long! The thing that pretty much rings true with all the women I have read about is an optimistic outlook, that and perseverance. And with that revelation I cued the band to play a cha-cha and lead myself to the dance floor.
I finally went to see an osteopath today (for the first time) and I am feeling considerably better already. I won’t be running today, and maybe not even tomorrow, but I am pretty determined to be running when I am 92.

Shut Up and Run

I finally got out for a run. I have been here, in Birmingham UK (3000+ miles from home) for 5 days now and after a whole lot of pep- talking (me to myself) I did it and it was glorious. I had been thinking about getting out there A LOT- but was having all the regular anxiety I often have in new situations, and have been talking myself out of it. You would think that at my age (48) and with the kind of experience I have in travelling (7 trips to Europe alone in the last 2 years) I would be pretty laissez faire when it comes to making myself at home in a new city and surroundings- but in fact, I have an awful time with really settling in. Part of it is the loneliness/homesickness/nostalgia that I wrote about yesterday and part of it, I think, is just my totally awkward social nature. Yes, me, who as a teacher, performer, and Mother of six has to deal with other humans almost constantly, actually  has a medium to high level of anxiety of dealing with other people and in particular strangers. But even more importantly, I hate looking like I don’t belong somewhere. This is why I love David Sedaris so much because he says so many things, about feeling awkward, especially in foreign cities, that I feel. He did a great interview NPR’s This American Life on his experiences in Paris that I relate to so well.

So! In the case of me procrastinating going out for a run, it was really nothing to do with me just being lazy and everything to do with feeling discombobulated in a new city, For example, because I am staying right in the city centre, I was nervous about running aimlessly through the busy streets and having to worry about traffic (I CANNOT get used to the whole cars on the wrong side of the road here and literally have to speak out loud to myself every time I cross the road saying “look the opposite way!”). So I did what any good PhD student would do and I researched it. I studied maps and then went for a test “walk” yesterday.

And this morning I went for it and headed out. (I carefully chose this morning as it is a bank holiday here and hardly any traffic). And it was, as I said glorious. In less than 10 minutes I was on the Birmingham Canals. And it was absolutely gorgeous in all the  most cliché ways. The sun was shining, the birds were chirping and after I finished chastising myself for being so utterly ridiculous in buying into my silly anxieties,  I plodded along in the most satisfied way.

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