The title of this post is from Tony Kushner's 'Angels in America' and seemed fitting for many reasons...
It’s been a while since an actual PhD update, and given that I have an enormous amount of work clearly the answer is blogging about it rather than actually doing it.
At last check on the PhD updates I was complaining about being totally burnt out. A fair comment, I have never been as tired in my life as I was before Christmas-and that isn’t me being over-dramatic. I’d taken on too much last term I see that now but as always there’s a balance between work and research. From a career point of view the teaching experience that research students get is vital in getting jobs later on and I’m lucky that I’m in a department that values my contribution-at least I hope so- and has allowed me to get involved beyond using me as just an extra body in front of classes. However it can be a double edged sword, the desire to get experience and the department viewing you as useful can start to get in the way of the actual reason you’re there-to do research. I’m glad I have the experience but I’m also glad to take a bit of a step back now.
My final PhD meeting before Christmas wasn’t my finest hour I admit. Completely tired and beating myself up over the lack of work I’d achieved over the last few months my brain froze. We did come up with an idea to re-focus the work and sent me away with instructions to think about it and also to take a break. Now taking a break doesn’t come naturally to me, so Christmas was a frustrating combination of wanting to do something but being too tired to do anything. It’s a good thing for me (and everyone around me) that this didn’t combine with getting ill as usually happens when I stop for five minutes. I expected to have a few days off and then feel better and get back to it. In reality it took until after New Year for me to feel halfway human again (to which I attribute being literally held hostage for 36 hours over New Year and not allowed out).
Slowly then I’ve been picking up where I left off and at once starting over. Starting over in that I have a new approach, new ideas and hopefully a better place to start.
I began the year with another trip to the archives, which is always invigorating, but I think once again I was still struggling with my frustrations about what I was doing and what materials I needed to use to get the most out of it. However as always seeing and using the raw materials is useful. I actually got more inspired by my additional ‘secret pet project’ than my main research but I figured as long as I was getting inspired then that was enough. What the archive trip also came with was both trips to theatre and time away from home, both of which I needed.Breathing London air and being so close to so many theatres, although making me homesick for there, is in itself inspiring (incredibly geeky I realise) Spending a weekend with friends and spending it going to the theatre are actually I think the best things for my PhD, it’s not that I completely get away from it (see previous blog for notes on that). But I’m lucky to have friends who are willing to listen-and want to hear (at least I hope) about the PhD. They are also always up for a healthy discussion/debate about theatre and indirectly that helps me more than hours in the archives. The hours we spend discussing, debating and yes also gossiping about theatre are so valuable to me. Just half an hour talking in depth about a production, any production lights up so much in my head that later finds its way into my work. So I’m very thankful for that. And for the distraction of geeky stupidity that follows any time spent with them.
Back home after the fun of London being back and the start of term was hard. I’ll be honest, I didn’t want to be back and I wished I wasn’t this week. I really didn’t want to be teaching and for a while I honestly wondered about the PhD too-and that was scary. I’m still not over that feeling which I think also stems from a much bigger picture. I’m nowhere near giving in though, I wanted this for too long.
And so I get to the scary part. Putting pen to paper, really for the first time. And it’s on the big one-chapter one is ‘Angels in America’ the big scary play that has all the critical and academic attention on it. I’m glad in many ways-I have the most resources on it and if I start with the most intimidating it can only get easier right? Well no, I still have to deal with my emotional attachment to Rent, but I have time yet. The more I’ve thought about this today the more I move from blinding fear to quiet confidence that isn’t quite ‘I can do this’ but ‘I can do something’.