I have been at my thesis part time for nearly six years now. I have two more years in which to complete it. These are the difficult years. This is when I will need to stick to the basics of my academic housework, to set up indexes, footnotes, paragraphing etc. But before I do this, I need to get the body of the thesis held together. I need a skeleton, one on which I can pile flesh, jam in organs and stick on limbs.
This is my task today – to construct a thesis skeleton. But I am a Jill of all trades, and a mistress of none. I hobble from one thought to the next and cannot settle on a single idea, a single image, a single notion to follow.
Another person might move to someone else’s writing for direction, but I do not want to read yet, not another person’s writing, not yet, not anymore. Another person’s writing will become for me yet another distraction and I am already awash with them.
This thesis matters to me. It matters to me as one way of overcoming the wretched sense of failure, which I endured some nineteen years ago when certain powers-that-were decided that I should no longer continue in my training.
I had invested so much in this training to be a psychoanalyst that at the point where my mentor told me I was no longer wanted, my world seemed to collapse, and for a time it did. I survived then by putting one foot in front of the other, one step at a time.
One day I took myself off to the Immaculate Conception Church in Hawthorn in search of comfort. I no longer believed in the healing power of God and his angels but I still held faith in my memory of those times when I could find comfort in the quiet, musty corridors of an empty church. I tried to breathe in the feel of the past, myself as a child, a child who could be comforted by the belief that someone out there was looking out for me and that all would be well in the end.
In March 1993 the playwright, Dennis Potter spoke about his life.
‘You start defining your dignity by your ability to work,’ he said, and then he paraphrased the words of an unnamed American theologian.
‘There is a child crying in a room and the mother comes in and picks it up and says, “There, there. Everything’s all right.”
Outside there might be bombs and starvation. Is she lying? The answer, in my opinion, is that she is not. No matter how corrupt, wicked, cruel, disastrous the world is, some little tributary of feeling says, “It’s all right.” That is where writing comes from.’
Blogging has become one way of practising my writing but it is also a distraction, as if I am cleaning my house and move from one room to the next, never quite settling on a task before I move onto the next.
Today I must brainstorm my thesis. I must stick with the task.
It is Good Friday. The one day of the year when most things stop. I allocated this day in my mind the last time I sat with my supervisor.
‘You are going to need to sit down with these ideas and work out a structure,’ my supervisor said. ‘You are going to need to pull it together’.
Pull it together. Who me? Not me, I am a scatter brain. I am fearful of structure, the way it ties you into a forced form , like a straitjacket, the way it narrows the roads along which you might travel.
This is not true, another inside voice says. Structure will allow you to follow multiple roads. It will create a sense that each road is clear and separate, each leading somewhere different.
The way it is now your roads begin but they end in cul de sacs. They end in incomplete bits of pavement. They end nowhere.
I fear I have already imposed too much structure on my thesis but it is not a creative text per se.
The creative text can form one road, my now internal supervisor says to me, but it needs a description of what you are on about, otherwise your examiners will fail you – again.
Again you will fail. As you failed mental arithmetic in grade six and Mother Mary John handed back your report card and said
‘I knew you were bad, but I did not realise how bad.’’
Strange how some words stick. How some words come to colour your entire life.
I have slipped into the second person. Forgive me. I am trying to include the rest of you in this, my fellow bloggers. I imagine you too know what it is to feel damned to failure for the rest of your life.
It is a damnable position from which you never quite recover.