"Well, in our country," said Alice, still panting a little, "you'd generally get to somewhere else—if you run very fast for a long time, as we've been doing."
"A slow sort of country!" said the Queen. "Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!"
|Illustration from Lewis Carroll's "Through the Looking Glass"|
I keep sitting down with good intentions to write what needs to be written for my thesis (and what needs to be written is just as much as has already been written, and that took me more time than I can bear to recall) but every time I do all I want to do is write whatever I want to write, which is a lot of things lately. Then guilt takes over that I would sit down and write here, for no reason, for nothing, when a degree for which I have paid more money than I care to think about is hanging in the balance.
So for the last two days I have sat at my computer for hours, working through pain and being sick, and entered survey data into an Excel spreadsheet. And then I read the survey data several times, making notes and plans and outlines. I reviewed the notes on qualitative data analysis that were the result of a full work week prior of research and reading. I did all this to prepare me to begin writing another chapter in my thesis, so I haven’t actually even started what I’m supposed to do yet, but I did what I needed to do before I could even start what I'm supposed to do.
It’s Friday night, and I was supposed to sit down, once more, with all of that data and start writing a story out of it: identifying themes, sketching out categories, separating and copy pasting and research marking and citing and connecting. I was supposed to prepare it to be grafted seamlessly onto what I’ve already done, so it is accepted and works well together and fills in another blank in this big project that I’ve come to see as so many seemingly endless blank squares that I am slowly filling in, tiny black letter by single keystroke by citation by article, a meditative inch by inch belly crawl through this last long stretch of requirements before I get my degree in hand.
Instead, I sat down and wrote this. This that means nothing other than a representation of what is in my head, when what should be in my head is research and facts and Chap 4 rough drafts and Chapter 2 reworking and formatting tables and figuring out how to make Excel do what I need it to do.
I can’t stop premature nostalgia for Vientiane from creeping in all around me, and it makes me feel this deadline of time to write down what I feel like living here, what it means to me, what I’ll take from it and what is has taken from me. It all feels terribly self-indulgent when a) I am still three months out from leaving and b) I need to finish this paper because being able to enjoy my last three months here hinges on my getting this out of the way. I’m not interested in going through my days with the grad school guillotine hanging over me until the very last minute.
Actually, before I sat down and wrote this I came into my house, peeled off my work clothes, crawled into bed, and sprawled out under my air conditioner for the better part of two hours. No music, no mindless interneting, doing nothing more than watching the light in the room change from late afternoon to early evening. I just stayed in the quiet. I have had far too little quiet to stay in these last two months. February was a grind and March wasn’t much better. I feel like I blinked in January and woke up at the end of March.
No, actually, that’s not the right analogy at all. I experienced nothing like sleep, it wasn’t like waking up…I feel like I started a race in January and that race turned into an obstacle course and then I was injured several times and the race got harder and the obstacles were higher and I didn’t have enough water, sleep, or food, and I have finally, finally arrived at the end of March, heaving and gasping for air. Unfortunately, I feel that I have done all that running just to stay in one place, because I don't feel a rest yet, and nothing much around me has moved or changed. I can't see the work I'm doing, and that makes motivation difficult to gather.
There are far harder things than writing a thesis, or having metal in your eye and then cut out of your eye, or dealing with chronic pain that eats your patience and gives you back frustration and anger. There are more difficult tasks than a heavy workload, or debates to coach, or finances to sort, or school trips to plan around doctor’s visits and homework. There are even more awful things to bear in this world than another round of the endless cycle of grief for a lost sister, or a partner, or the anxiety of having a brain go sideways as you whisper please, oh please please, please just stay still right here and don’t slide away from me right now.
There are worse things, but these are my worst things right now, and it’s hard. I am looking so forward to being well again, to being finished with grad school, to having more time to just stay in the quiet and enjoy it because I get it as often as I need it, not because I feel like I’m stealing it from all my other loud obligations that demand and insist and remind me I asked for this and signed up for it, so I shouldn't really complain.
It’s Saturday morning. Last night I decided to just scrap the whole evening in terms of productivity and guilt, so I went out to dinner with two of my friends and then ended up out at CCC, the best local dance dive in town, until almost 2 a.m. I couldn’t dance and for the first time in maybe ever I sat and watched as the dance floor swelled out to a full on proper night out in Vientiane, and while I was a good deal jealous I was, more than that, happy to be out on the patio curled up inside good conversation and under a canopy as tentative practice for wet season rain fell around us. I set a date for some productive proximity last night, and this morning, after dropping another unfortunately uninsured sum of money at the doctor for more blood tests, I headed to a coffee shop and added my laptop to the mix. Five of us have been here for the last several hours, clacking on keyboards, working away at various projects, the silence interspersed with comments and laughter that easily slide back into long stretches of supporting each other’s work, sharing food, and ordering ever changing varieties of drinks on the classic SE Asian spectrum- tea, coffee, fruit shakes in all flavors. I have spent hours and hours and hours alone with my work over the past year, avoiding social get togethers because of my work, sometimes feeling like my work is slowly breaking down my friendships.
Today I have watched the light slide across the room and go from late morning to late afternoon, and I was able to stay in more quiet and enjoy it, and I was able to do so with the people in my life who have made my life here very good, even when I am very tired, and very stressed, and very sick of grad school and sickness and money worries and job fears.
And there’s more Vientiane nostalgia creeping in. I want there to be no mistake- even when it is hard, my life here is exactly what I want it to be, and I am doing what I want to be doing, or I wouldn’t have chosen it.
I am so tired. But I am so close.