I had my thesis review last Friday. Basically, it was the last round of assessment on my thesis before I submit. The thesis review is quite similar to the thesis defence in the US, or the viva in the UK. I gave an oral presentation, and submitted a thesis chapter and progress report for review by a panel of academics, and had an interview with said panel. The panel consists of my advisor and three other academics. I passed, and with flying colours: I can proceed with my candidature. It feels good to have that over and done with. That said, I still have a long way to go, and I have some difficulty accepting the fact that I am, in fact, on the last leg of the thesis. Don’t get me wrong, the bulk of the work is done. Yet I still have one chapter left to be written, and I want to rewrite my first chapter, and then I need to do the introduction and conclusion, followed by a really thorough edit of the whole thing. I have five months left before submission. All of this is quite doable. In the meantime, however, passing the milestone feels like a Pyrrhic victory. On this dreary Monday morning I find it hard to work up any kind of motivation to write a thing.
Bearing this in mind, I have decided to compose a list of things I am really looking forward to doing when I finish my thesis. Hopefully this will provide some kind of incentive to escape!
1. Socialising More
I have become a bit of a hermit over the last few years. That’s just how things are, alas, when you’re working on such a big extended project, and raising kids at the same time. Of course, I have made a lot of great friends at uni, who have enriched my life in all kinds of ways. Time among like-minded people is precious. I can hardly walk down the hall without seeing a friendly face, and every conference is like a reunion of old army buddies. I love spending time among co-workers at the museum, and I have forged some great connections with my students and teachers, many of which have gone beyond mentor-student relationships to genuine friendships. I’m pretty involved in the community at the University, which is lovely.
That said… I have also had to decline a lot of invitations to get-togethers, barbecues, and other social events with family and close friends from outside the university environment. Even when I attend, my thesis is still lurking at the back of my mind. Research isn’t like other jobs. You can’t just walk away from your desk on Friday and come back to it on Monday. It eats at you, keeps you awake at night, and fills your dreams. It makes you feel guilty when you’re not attending it. It becomes the top priority in your life, and sometimes that’s not fair on others.
I’m really sorry if I have let some friendships slide a little. Partly it is because I am busy with my thesis, even on weekends. Also, having babies puts a pretty serious crimp in anyone’s social life, at least for a while. But my kids are getting older now, and they can adjust to disruptions in their routine a bit better. Once the thesis is out of the way, spending time with friends should be a lot easier. I’m going to join my mates on hikes and go rock-climbing. Which is a pretty good segway to my next item on the list…
2. Getting Actual Exercise
Now, I’m in fairly good shape. I go for walks pretty frequently, and I have a more or less balanced diet, so my health is pretty good. However, I have always wanted to build up my muscle tone a bit. I’ve been very thin most of my life, and I’ve had enough of it. Partly, I want to have more energy and a greater degree of physical strength, but vanity and body-consciousness is also part of it. Stupid, I know, but I’m human too. I don’t want a superhero physique, but I’d like to be able to take my shirt off at the beach without feeling like a man-sized chicken wing in board shorts. The biggest things stopping me from joining a gym now are lack of time (especially as I have a lengthy commute to and from campus), and most importantly, lack of money. Actually, that kind of leads me to the next point.
3. A Steady Job
This is a tough one to write about. I have decided that for the time being, I’m not going for an academic career. My reasons are probably best left to a separate blog post, but for now let’s say that I’d really like a steady income. Certainly, I am grateful for the living stipend I receive through my scholarship, but when it is the main source of income for a family of four, it doesn’t go very far. I’ve been basically supplementing my income for the last few years by doing extra work on the side– teaching, museum work, the occasional bit of contract work, and I’m tired of just scraping by. (I am of course grateful for the work, and my life is better for the experience).
I know that money doesn’t buy happiness, but poverty certainly equals misery. I’ve been poor my whole life, and I don’t like it. I don’t want my kids to have to grow up in poverty. I’m certain I’ll be able to get a decent job of some description once I’m finished the thesis. I’ve got a wide range of skills, and good experience. I’d prefer to get something in the University environment if possible, but we’ll see what comes up. The idea of not having to choose between spending money on rent or food is a big enticement to finish, as is the idea of having a job which I don’t have to carry around in my mind twenty-four hours a day. I love the idea of an actual, routine job. Will I still feel the same when I’ve got one? Maybe. I can’t wait to find out.
4. Reading and Writing for Pleasure
Reading is part of who I am. Like a lot of educated people, I have been a voracious reader since childhood. I used to consume several novels per week. But over the years, my pace of reading for pleasure has slowed painfully. I have a massive backlog of books people have recommended or lent me. My mother is still indignant that I haven’t touched the Bryce Courtenay tome she bought me for Christmas three years ago. I still read novels, but I only seem to have time for three or four per year nowadays– snatching a few pages here and there between disseminating journal articles, translating Tertullian, and turning out thesis chapters just doesn’t feel the same as soaking up a whole book in a weekend, or sitting on the train lost in the author’s world. I definitely still enjoy the intellectual thrill I get from my research, but it doesn’t provide the same kind of consolation that a great novel does.
Likewise, writing is a part of who I am. I have been working on a couple of novels for a long, long time now. They have lain dormant for over a year. I feel like I have neglected them. I want to finish Wanderers of Troy and The Feast of Wolves, to be able to dedicate the mental and creative energy necessary to get them done. I put them aside because I realised that there is only so much space in my mind for one writing project at a time. The thesis takes priority. Meanwhile, new ideas for stories keep creeping into my mind, and then jostling for headspace. It’s getting crowded in there. I’d like to write a novel about King Arthur. I’d like to write a novel based on the Passion of SS. Perpetua and Felicitas. Wherever I look, I see new stories, and sometimes I catch myself writing outlines in my head.
But there is just no time, and I need to stay focused, or my thesis will die.
I feel stifled creatively if I can’t write something. Starting this blog was partly a means of staving off the resulting insanity, and it has been great. I find that having some kind of release for my thoughts here has helped the flow of my thesis. Since I wrote my first paragraph of this post, I already feel the drive to return to the thesis returning. But having a job which I don’t have to take home with me will mean that I can actually devote some effort to extended creative writing. Having time for my passion will be wonderful. I don’t even care about publishing. I just want to write.
5. Being a Better Husband and Daddy
People tell me I’m a great father. People tell me that they envy the relationship I share with Kelly, my wife. That’s because being a husband and being a Dad is what makes me tick. I’m not saying I think I’m insufficient in either of those departments. I am, and always will be a family man, like that horrible Fleetwood Mac song.
Warned you it was horrible!
But I still strive to improve, now, always, forever. I know that it is not the easiest thing for my marriage, sometimes, that I am always so distracted. I don’t know how many times I have stayed up working into the night while Kelly went to bed, or when I’ve had to tell my sons I can’t play with them because I am too busy. My family deserves me, all of me, as much as I can give them. And I make it work, but it so often feels like I’m being pulled in many directions at once. It is difficult, maintaining the balance between family and research. That’s just the nature of an academic career, I think. Someday, I won’t have to struggle to maintain that balance.
In short, I want a normal life, to do normal things, like a normal person. That day is coming, and some days it feels so close I can taste it. I honestly don’t care about having letters at the end of my name any more, or being able to call myself ‘Doctor.’ Titles don’t mean a thing in the real world. But jeez, I’ll have a thesis which I can pitch to academic publishers. If that’s not an incentive, I don’t know what is. In the meantime, I just need to slay this thesis-beastie.
I guess I had best get back to it, then.
Vale for now,