Diversions #1: Words and Sounds to Accompany a PhD Crisis

This letter is a reproduction of faded scribblings found penciled on a study carrel in the clock tower at Maughan Library.

 Words don’t come easy, especially when you are writing a 90 000-word thesis. Ambiguous arguments, obscure references, and above all else, REPETITION, repetition, repetition…, are your worst enemies. ‘This sounds familiar, have I written the same paragraph before?’ you wonder as you scroll down the endless river of words.

 You wish someone would stop you, and just take over: a ctrl-X here, a ctrl-V there – life’s problems solved in a few simple keystrokes. But you know this is not happening. You must stop wasting time and keep writing, keep feeding the word count.

Words, words, words:  Bla bla bla, cha cha cha. What? What is happening to you? Words have become meaningless, and possibly dangerous. THEORY has become meaningless – and possibly DANGEROUS!

‘DECONSTRUCTION’?? WHAT DOES THAT EVEN MEAN???

Are you losing your mind? Panic, restlessness, you think as hard as you can in fear that you might lose your brain altogether. Finally, you find the focus and the stamina;  you won’t let anything get in your way

3 000 words in two hours!

‘How you like me NOW?’, you scream at your laptop with an evil, twisted laugh. You hear your own voice and are taken aback:  ‘Am I deranged?’, you wonder.

You get up, it’s 3 am already, you walk to the bathroom and look at yourself in the mirror. Red eyes and tears and, clearly, a  severe lack of Vitamin C. You open the cabinet and look at all your supplements and painkillers:  ‘it’s three for my heartache, four for my headaches, and eight … I forget what eight was for’

You forget…

Forget what? That is exactly the problem. Something is not quite right,  you get a gut feeling… And then you suddenly remember. The deadline for submitting that paper is not Tuesday but tomorrow.

Another round of PANIC.

You just don’t know what to do with yourself anymore. Despair and denial.  ‘Do I even want to know?’, ‘Is this worth it?’, ‘Am I wasting my life?’.

As you fall deeper and deeper into existential darkness

Something magical happens. You miraculously get up, you walk steadily back to your laptop, shake the paranoia off and start typing.  It’s your last cup of sorrow, so finish it today, you think to yourself – that this cup is far from being the last,

and that ‘today’ is already ‘tomorrow’ doesn’t matter now.

As you write, you receive a text from a fellow PhD sufferer.

You smile.

With a little help from your friends, you will get by.

You will survive.

YOUR THESIS WILL ROCK!

The whole playlist can be found here:

P.S. The Smiths’ ‘Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before’ (Track 2) was particularly pertinent to my anguished thesis writing, not least because of the following lyrics: ‘Nothing’s changed, I still love you, only slightly less than I used to, my love’.

P.P.S. I would like to add here to the ‘soundtrack to my thesis’: David Bowie’s ‘Sense of Doubt’. I regretted not including Bowie in my acknowledgments, so I will take this opportunity and do so here: ‘… and to David Bowie, for filling my head with melodies and sounds that provoked so much of the emotion and thought that went into this thesis, and held my mind and soul together somehow, as I ventured through the doubt.’


Alexandra Tzirkoti recently completed her PhD in French Literature/Critical Theory at KCL with the focus of her research encompassing the theory and fiction of Georges Bataille. She is currently looking to start a career in publishing. Beyond a personal mode of expression, Alexandra sees creative writing as a means of effective communication in academic contexts as well – a method for making topics approachable to wider audiences and to initiate new lines of inquiry. A recent piece in Philosophy Now magazine reflects these sentiments. For more information check out Alexandra’s blog Anguished Chronicles or follow her project on Instagram @thereadviewer.

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