As I sit here, trying to work through yet another draft of my PhD Proposal, I have been struck with a sense of guilt that I hadn’t “done” anything all day. But when I stop and take a minute to think about what I have been doing, I realize that I haven’t done “nothing”, but that I have spent most of my day “thinking”. There is just very little outward signs to show that this is what I have been doing. Nothing scribbled down, nothing to “show” for the last 4 hours of sitting here with my cup of coffee – looking out the window at the dreary gray damp sky. No “product”. But somehow, after spending the last 4 hours doing seemingly nothing, I come out refreshed, and ready to work. Addition by subtraction is the motto today – I just deleted a portion of my proposal that has been bugging me (it felt forced and out of place). After cutting and pasting, renaming and filing in a separate “bits & pieces” folder for safe keeping, I feel that I have accomplished something big. But to the outside world … not so much. From this little choice, I am opened up again, to another blank slate of possibilities. It feels better – even if there is nothing actually on that page at the moment.
My partner is not in academia. He works long hours working on airplanes. His work is very manual intensive – with an end product in mind, and progress is visible every step of the way. We have had long talks (and even arguments) about the ‘work’ that I do. While he does not wish to ever trade places with me, as he knows that what I do is challenging in its own right, he has a hard time grasping the fact that by the time I am writing – actively producing a written product – most of my “work” has been done. He has a hard time understanding that sometimes, when I am sitting on the balcony with coffee/wine/beer in hand (depending on the weather and time of day) and seemingly staring into nothingness (which is hard to do when you live in a lego kinda world, surrounded by apartment buildings and 50 other balconies overlooking the same alleyway), I am actually doing the hardest part of my work – the thinking part. The part where you talk to yourself in your head, contemplating paths of inquiry, potential literature to support or tear down your ideas, possible methods and case studies…this is the part – for me – where it all comes together. By the time I am at my desk, I am ‘ready’ to write. Not as much “thinking” as going through the process at this point. Admittedly, this thinking process doesn’t always pan out – especially when I am working with an imposed framework and timeline (comprehensive exams, funding reports, conference deadlines, etc.). You can’t rush the thinking – it is just something you have to work through (at least for me).
That being said – I guess it’s time to put some of those thoughts on paper – to materialize some of these ideas, and to validate the hours of ‘thinking’.