Keeping the romance alive

I wrote a post once likening fieldwork to flirting. Lately I have been thinking about writing as a committed relationship.

It appears to me that different people have very different experiences of writing up. There have been a few people I have known to treat it as their job – with a point each day when they pack it up and go ‘home’ – but for some of those who have or are nearly finished it has been all consuming. One of my friends would speak of it as a 24 hour a day job while another described writing up as being in a tunnel. I have heard supervisors describing their role as ‘midwifing’ and quite a few students liken bringing their thesis into the world as having a [or another] baby.

I often reflect on how, while I have often been aware that there are lots of things I am not so good at, I do not think I have ever worked on something where every moment demonstrates my inadequacies. The fact that the earliest I will be finishing is late 2014 was a distressing realisation. As awareness of this becomes familiar enough to be slowly backgrounded, I think I am freeing up the headspace to keep on going. This whole thesis thing is a situation I have found myself in and, while I can treat it as a particularly painful penance, there are also ways to make the most of this situation if I can keep the romance alive.

A list of the boring, annoying and upsetting experiences in my life would certainly demonstrate my privileged position in the world. Even though I am pretty lucky, I do not think I need to feel like everything in my life is particularly delightful; some things are a bit shit. However, this does not mean that all moments need to be enjoyment-free. I do not think of having moments of enjoyment as an issue of mind over matter as much as they are an added bonus. Sometimes they pop up when least expected and sometimes they are the result of a bit of self-interested decision making.

My thesis does not need to stand in for human contact but, as somebody whose main interest is ‘people’, much of what I enjoy about working on my thesis is rather similar to what I enjoy about being in a world inhabited by other people. I like when my perceptions or ideas can be challenged or extended and the entertainment of hearing something new. There is enjoyment to be found in meeting new people, and also in the time spent with familiar people and groups. Invitations to go to new places and see movies, read books or listen to music I would not have set aside the time for other wise can keep life interesting. Hearing or seeing the varied reactions of different people to the same things is illuminating, but it is also pleasurable to sometimes experience the validation of furious agreement.

The discipline of working on such a large text is a bit of a drain, but being so far from the end means that there are new challenges, texts to be read and connections to be made. My thesis can call me back to the computer, but it also gives me something to ponder while stuck in traffic or having a meal. It demands a level of commitment and means other investments cannot be made. Sometimes it intrudes on my sleep and, if things are not going well, it even impacts on my appetite. As frustrated as I get by where agency is ascribed in my work, it is easy to think of ‘the thesis’ (as both a defendable proposition and a written document) as making demands.

For me, it is important to keep in touch with other parts of my life and other people. When it comes to my thesis, absence really can make the heart grow fonder. Sometimes other responsibilities intrude on time otherwise set aside for the thesis and I think it is okay that I need to take time away for [paid] work.

I have worried that I might not recognise when I should quit. However, whatever or whenever it comes, there will be a point at which it ends. Until then, I know that a lot of my life will be organised around the thesis and I do not think it is too much to ask that the thesis is a part of, rather than an interruption to, my life.


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