How to eat an elephant
Ceramic with cotton yarn (2018)
In my previous life as a bank trainer I used to present a short seminar called, ‘How to eat an elephant’. It all seems a little inappropriate these days. My vegan friends would certainly (and rightly) object to the title, however, it wasn’t really about eating elephant burgers or elephant curry. It was about how to undertake an enormous task, break it down into smaller tasks and ultimately achieve it without becoming overwhelmed. I keep referring back to this at the moment.
The PhD is massive!
The reading list is massive (and growing by the minute), the making is massive, the writing feels massive and even the admin is substantial. All this and a life to fit around it.
So I’m planning to eat the elephant, and when I say planning, I mean PLANNING!
I have lists about lists. My perpetual diary/todo list which I’ve developed over the last seven or eight years currently has five columns instead of three and my PhD file on the home PC has about twenty separate categories, each with subfiles.
I still have a head like a dish of spaghetti. My own ideas keep getting confused with other people’s and some days I have more on the list at 8pm than I did at 8am.
So far I’ve encountered two big challenges. The first is my ability to concentrate on one thing at once. I have always been able to juggle. It’s a Mum thing (we can argue that one at length sometime, but I’ll win), but this particular pachyderm has too many components and is too protracted to do everything at once. The answer to this is simple. One thing at a time in bite size chunks. You’d think this logical step would be easy enough. The problem is both the logical and the creative sides of my brains are fighting for the biggest portion of spaghetti at the moment.
The second problem was most unexpected. I’ve always considered myself a fairly competent writer. I sometimes read things I’ve written in the past and think, ‘woah, nice words girl’. Last week I started the contextual review and words are failing me. Currently it’s just a series of unintelligent words in no particular order. Upon reflection there could be two reasons for this. Number one is what I’ve described above, the tangle of ideas which keep distracting me. Number two, maybe writing is like drawing… use it or lose it. When I was studying previously I spent five years writing. By the end it was a pleasant experience. The writing took a while but when it was done it was logical, intelligent and (occasionally) poetic. I assumed this would naturally reoccur, like riding a bike. Not so!
So four months into the PhD I find myself in an unexpected position. I’m currently relearning everything I know about myself. I’m restructuring the way I work and relearning things I thought I knew; all this from a position of fast approaching middle age. It’s time consuming but I have to be patient. Anyone who knows me will realise patience isn’t a gift I have been blessed with.
I knew I would have to learn a great deal during my doctoral research, I just didn’t realise so much of it would be about myself.
Apologies for the excess of visual analogies. It is entirely possible I don’t really have a head full of pasta.