All year long, I tell myself ‘I want to be finished by (December/ March/ June/[insert month at random]). I set myself doable deadlines (with the help of friends and lovers who are good at seeing how long a thing will take). I miss all the deadlines; a chapter which was meant to be finished on a Tuesday has not even been opened by that day, because another chapter took far longer than I’d hoped. I’m not surprised by this, nor am I even upset. It is as though my brain has given up before we have even started, and told me ‘You know, you are not going to make this deadline, so I may as well not even bother’. This week – absolute final deadline – ‘you know, you can’t miss this deadline, this is it’ (to quote the Lover) – and I have missed it. Today and tomorrow I am supposed to be working on chapter 5; I am on chapter 3. I am running out of days. The knowledge that I am running out of days slows me down on those few days still available to me.
Somewhere along the line, a long time ago, I made commitments to friends and family for this time of year (important weddings and birthdays, mainly). I never thought, not once in a million years, that I would still be doing this PhD now; nor did I imagine that there would still be quite so much to do (because all these chapters make no sense and need rewriting, and inspiration has only just condescended to arrive). So I try to keep these commitments to family and friends, for what are, after all, momentous and important occasions in their lives. Seeing as I am supposed to be sharing in their joy, I try to be ‘joyous’; I go in there, nicely dressed and smiling, and I try and act carefree, I laugh and talk and thank them for inviting me, I tell them that it actually helps me, this, having a few days off my PhD, it’s the best thing in the world for me, I’m so thankful to them for dragging me away. I big this up so that they don’t feel bad. (because if I am spending all that time away from my PhD, we might as well all enjoy ourselves, non?...). And I find myself almost believing it. Maybe it is true, and maybe one day I will look back and will be grateful that I went and enjoyed these happy times, and that I did not make all these people upset for the sake of having a few days’ extra time to work on my mediocre PhD (days which, knowing me, I would probably waste anyway, on making coffee after coffee, and fantasizing about cleaning the floor).
When I actually look at how many ‘long weekends’ I have pledged away, and how many mid-week escapades have also been planned, the number of working days available to me shrinks drastically. And my mind goes into panic mode, wondering how on earth I am going to produce a draft of Chapter 3 at all, given that it still needs rethinking, and that ‘thinking’ has been replaced by ‘panic’. (I can’t think when there’s packing and planning and booking trains to do. I can’t do it.) And so the few days that I’ve actually got also slip by, somehow, without a great deal of work being done. Every time I almost get going I have to interrupt myself again, close the computer, and go off to another rendezvous, memories of what would have been bits of my chapter fading away in my head.
I tell myself that it’s good for me, these weekends away, it’s good because it’s ‘restorative’, I will end up reenergized and truly ‘re-created’ (this is a Procrastination Bible sort of word). But of course this only works if you actually manage to work on the other days, and get stuff done. I read somewhere that Kafka used to fantasize, in letters to his lover, about the possibility of dwelling in a cave, with meals delivered to its door, but otherwise being left alone in there for weeks on end. What fantastic, uninterrupted writing he would then produce!... And boy, do I understand what he was feeling!... Indeed, a cave of one’s own would be nice. A room of one’s own is not enough.
What happens, though, if you set yourself deadlines, and you want to make them, but you just keep missing them? what happens when you get to a point when there is no more time to push deadlines further and further forward? What do I do then? Will I have to spend stupid sleepless nights, again, on producing rubbish that I am too tired to actually make good? … What is the point of all this work, if that's all it will come down to in the end?... Will this ridiculousness ever stop?...
Will Cloud Nine ever finish her PhD?... Join us next week for our next episode of ‘I Hate My PhD’.