Thursday, May 28, 2009

Counting Down

Ages ago I heard that you know when you are finishing your PhD because instead of just thinking about it, you're actually writing it. Seems obvious, doesn't it? It isn't though, not until the thinking process has ended. In a way, it never ends. Whether your gathering of data stage takes place in a lab or in the library, and whether your companions are molecules or poems, you can never quite disconnect from the creation of the argument which, really, continues right until the very end.

It is true though that something really special is happening to you when you're just doing your research to the exclusion of everything else. And everything else is not just something you like to do, such as knitting, cooking or riding, but something that you'd rather do in lieu of writing, such as dusting, re-arranging books or sharpening pencils. These are procrastination activities which every researcher is well acquainted with, as Procrastination is to a PhD what Life-in-Death is to Death; an inseparable companion that wakes up and goes to sleep with you, always present, always there, always ready to pounce and shrill: 'Hey! Wouldn't it be really fun to clean the kitchen shelves? Hey, wouldn't it be really fun to scrub right behind the toilet? Hey, wouldn't it be really fun to iron those six stones of ironing you've left for weeks?'

You'd be surprised what Procrastination likes to tell people. No matters what it says, it always manages to go long ways, much longer ways than even an eight-hour writing stretch could ever take you. Procrastination wins when all good intentions are reduced to a speck of dust on a far-away shelf that needs to be dusted right now, right this second.

But then something changes when you know that you are suddenly counting down to your words, no longer adding numbers to make up the first, second, third chapter, but taking them off a tally that is getting smaller and smaller by the day. Mine currently stands at a miserable minus 4,500 which is really small when pitted against 80,000 to 100,000, which is the accepted length of a PhD, at least here in the UK.

All I've done for the past week has been my research, if we discount two extraordinarily exotic trips to get some food and put a cheque in the bank. At this stage I am perhaps expected to whine that it hasn't been easy but in reality, it has. If you really knew how quiet and sheltered my life is at present, you too would agree that summoning up concentration and The Muse isn't hard at all. I don't even receive post anymore. My dogs do, but I don't.

Dear William, we are very sorry to hear that you have not been well recently, please find enclosed yet another settlement cheque, which brings your lifetime expenditure to £ 11,234.72. We thought your owner would like to know so to appreciate how good we have been to you both although she may want to consider getting a goldfish next time around. We insure them too. Happy 10th forthcoming birthday!

Dear Victoria, it is hard to believe but it has already been a year since your last vaccinations. Please show this letter to Steph in order to remind her that she should book you in for your routine check and don't forget that by introducing your doggie friends to our practice, you will get a 5% discount on your booster.

And more yada, yada, yada. Nothing for me, for weeks, which is just as well because I usually get nothing other than bills I've already paid (just) by direct debit. Meanwhile, the writing continues, even though I must confess to be running ever so slightly behind schedule. I should be at minus 2,000 while it looks like I may have to string in a little bit of work this weekend in order to have everything I wanted on paper before the end of May. But you know what, that will be the last of the weekend work as I am about to crash through the ceiling of Finishing - Stage One, and that is a fabulous feeling no matter what.
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