18 October 2011

And Now Back to Our Regularly Scheduled Blog

It’s been quite a while since I wrote an entry. The main reason for this is that I wanted to enjoy my Fall Break and not think about my process for a bit. This plan worked out for the most part. I was surprised at how excited I was to get back to work this morning.

I also want to add that yesterday--my first day back to work--was an extremely busy one. In addition to my ‘normal’ schedule of tasks, I’ve taken on a priority project at my job that is demanding lots of my attention. As a result of this--and perhaps because it was the first day back to my usual routine--I was not feeling up to writing an entry by the time the evening rolled around yesterday.

I’m not yet sure how much I’m going to cover in this entry. It depends on how much space the following topic takes up. But I want to begin by discussing how I felt over Fall Break, since ‘down time’ is just as much a part of my dissertation process as when I am actively working. Perhaps it would be productive to think of ‘down time’ as passively working, since, at a certain point, you are taking your dissertation with you wherever you go and no matter what you do, even if it’s tucked away in the corner of your mind.

My Fall Break started out innocently enough. I worked on Thursday, as I had planned, but I stopped reviewing my close readings earlier than I have been. I told myself that this didn’t bother me, that I had been working hard for quite a long while and that I deserved a break. In short, I told myself the things we all tell ourselves when we don’t feel like doing something anymore. I also didn’t blog that day. On Friday, the only dissertation work I did was to write about my process in the morning. Or that was the plan. As I recall, I wrote about the things I might do during break. I won’t go into details. Suffice it to say, I did some of those things, though not all of them, and not in any particular order.

I didn’t do any dissertation work at all on Saturday or Sunday.

I wrote in my last entry that I don’t like to have a particular itinerary when I am on holiday. So, although I had ideas about what I might do on my break, I didn’t keep track of when I did something or how long it took me to do something. I didn’t keep a formal list of everything I might do, and I tried not to be concerned if I didn’t do everything I though about doing. I simply tried to enjoy myself. And I did enjoy myself, at first. But I was bored by Saturday evening, even somewhat depressed. I also felt a little restless.

There could be several reasons why I started to feel off by Saturday evening. But I think the main reason is that not working on my dissertation for so many days in succession didn’t feel right. I think there may be an optimal time to spend away from this kind of project. For me, that optimal time is about two days. Perhaps three if a week of work has been particularly grueling, but I think more than that is too much. I began to feel that way over break though, oddly, I felt better on Sunday. That may also be because I was more productive on Sunday as well. I ran some errands. I did some painting. And I baked several batches of pumpkin and molasses cookies, a task which took several hours all by itself, including preparation of ingredients.

As usual, there’s no pithy lesson that somehow brings everything I’ve been exploring in this entry together. But I do think it’s important for me to keep in mind that the dissertation process has rewired me to a certain extent. I think a few years ago I would have been perfectly happy to do very little work for four days in a row. That doesn’t seem to be the case anymore. This isn’t to say Fall Break wasn’t beneficial. Being away from my dissertation did allow me to approach reviewing my close readings this morning and afternoon with fewer preconceptions about what I’m trying to do. But despite not being a morning person by any stretch of the imagination, I was itching to get up this morning. I practically jumped out of bed, which is not at all like me. And I’ve been going pretty steadily since waking and have handled quite a good deal more number of tasks than I usually do in the same stretch of time on a daily basis. Quite frankly, I’m surprised it’s only 17:30 now as I am writing this final sentence (and I’ve gone through the entry several times already to check for mistakes).

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