So I sit here in the postgrad room at uni (that’s right, no offices for us scum… and rarely working computers too… and then a fair whack of whingeing about how postgrads don’t use this space… [sigh]) waiting… in about 4.5 hours, I get to pick up my prettily soft-bound thesis, all four copies of it, and carry them with insufficient ceremony, doubtless (it’s rainy out, and muddy to boot, so I’ll be aiming mostly not to slip; this tends to make my steps ridiculously short) to the Dean’s office. The Dean is not in today, but I’m hoping his assistant, the lovely Ashley, will have prepared balloons and streamers to fall from the ceiling. Maybe that will be the moment the exhiliaration will kick in…
Yesterday, when I made the final change to my thesis (which, amusingly enough, was adding ‘Mysterious Skin’ to my bibliography… am totally proving my academic thoroughness there!), I sent a copy to my supervisor, with a message that ended ‘I feel very strange…!’ Yes, I could have read over it once more. Yes, this could have been a moment to say ‘but it’s still not done!’ and gone into re-read mode. But at some point all of those good and virtuous concerns, I think, would have simply supposed that the thesis could be done, could be complete, wrapped up, tied neatly with string and packed away in an archive box; that that perfecting, that closing up was possible, and even a good thing. (I’m hoping that my examiners agree with the balance I’ve made, then, between tying off and fraying ends).
Now I am not suggesting that there’s not a mound of relief flushing through me. There is. And when it’s all done and handed in, I’ll likely be ecstatic (and drunk). But it’s a strange space, this one, because it feels like a false end. In undergrad, I always paused before letting my essay drop into the collection box. I paused because it marked an end. A stepping away from a neatly curtailed bit of knowledge, one which I didn’t need to pursue. But this is different, because in the end, this is what I have chosen – without will, often – to do with me, and my future, at least for a while. And so this thesis is a mark, a cairn on the path, certainly, and yay! for that. But it doesn’t feel like an end, strictly… and that’s not only because, as my supervisor keeps telling me, I really need to get this stuff out there. It’s more that this is a venture forward, a career not in the sense of the careful teleology of a working life but rather in the wild and uncontrolled movement (downhill?). Whatever I do next – and yes, I have thoughts, scary and intimidating as they are to entertain – will inevitably be shoots grown from this wordy, inelegant, heavy-handed and densely theoretical patch of moss. And even this patch of moss will be worked over, and worked over (especially, as everyone keeps promising me, ‘for the book’ – such adorably naive faith!).
It’s also hard, I have to say, to compass that four years of work can come down to these 95,000 words, to this print-out, to this moment of photocopying, this handing over to the printery, this waiting. It makes everything feel weirdly laden, dense with a seriously hard four years of work. I find myself worrying about whether the double-siding worked perfectly on every page, in every print-out, about whether I’ve left someone off the acknowledgements, about the dire consequences of missing the typo ‘hiearchisation’. I suppose when there’s no major theoretical moves to make, stances to adopt, or practices to prise open, this is where you wind up. Stressy space.
But oh! An end to formulating sentences as I go to sleep! An end to worrying about how clear I am! An end to worrying that I’m being less than generous in my critique of Merleau-Ponty, or worse, in my adoption and adaptation of those scholars I admire, whose work I want to keep alive and moving and working with. An end to disliking my bluntness, to dreaming of when the points I was making were so clear and easy to me I could prettify them. I get to move into new ways of writing now. It’s kinda a relief.
And it’s a relief to be able to let myself do some other things. The idea of actually juggling my time between a range of things without feeling like every single one of them is procrastination… yay! Such relief! And I’m looking forward to being able to socialise properly again, to get drunk without guilt, to be properly present to these things, rather than having half a brain still turning over thesis thoughts. It’s a relief, my friends, to be back in the blogosphere, to feel able to venture into new thoughts, play at virtual promiscuity, and not feel like I’m risking investing time badly. Actual fun! 🙂
So I want you all to imagine that this blog is temporarily your favourite pub, and we’re all drinking together, talking shit and profundity all at once, griping and laughing. [raises glass of beer] And please remember to meet my eyes when we glass-clink. I’m not risking 7 years of bad sex… Cheers!