Struggling With Dissertations and Christmas

Struggling With Dissertations and Christmas

My dissertation writing retreat was both everything I hoped, and also not. 

Spending five days in Cambridge on my own was what I needed: I managed to write around 9,500 words of my dissertation, which puts me over the minimum wordcount and essentially constitutes most of a first draft. I’d hoped, however, that it would be in a state where I could send it to my supervisor at the end of the week. Instead, it’s a hastily cobbled-together mess of disconnected sections, and I hate all of it. 

Also, I ran into problems with the different recensions (distinct versions) of the Táin, because several key scenes are only in one recension and having been working from a translation that combined the two, I didn’t quite register this, so now I need to examine the significance of that. Got to the point of mostly making sense of it and then discovered that apparently there’s a third recension? But I’m just going to ignore that… it can’t be THAT important, can it, if no one’s mentioned it before? 

yeah, uh… this is going well

So, my first draft is instead very much a zero draft and I’m going to need to go back through it and rewrite sections based on my findings from the different recensions, as well as to make it more coherent overall. I’ve got until late January to do that and hey, at least I realised my error now and not when my supervisor pointed it out, but it does mean I’m a little bit behind where I wanted to be. 

I also got extremely lucky in that I was about to start writing and encountered an extremely useful article that helped shape my argument massively, and then a second really useful article just in time for a different section. It would definitely have been harder to write it without those, and also hard to edit them in afterwards when I eventually discovered them. 

So. Dissertation progress has been made, but not quite as much as I’d like. My walls are becoming increasingly covered in planning. 

“recension disambiguation”, or as i like to call it, “recension hell”

I haven’t, however, managed to get any of my other essays done and dusted, which I’d hoped to do before Christmas, nor have I done as much reading for one of next term’s papers as I’d have liked. I’ve just been tired. And Christmas is… Christmas is difficult. 

I think one of the reasons I struggle with the lead-up to Christmas these days is that it’s a time of year I strongly associate with music. Carol services and Christmas concerts dominated my Decembers the entire way through school, and now they don’t. Partly, that’s just because I’ve grown up. But also it’s because I can’t play my instruments any more. 

I used to play violin or flute in our church carol service every year. Now, I’m singing, and struggling through a basic harp part that I’m not quite a good enough player to manage without weeks of practice (which I haven’t had). These are second-best roles for me. These are the alternatives I’ve squeezed myself into because I’m unable to play the part I originally played. 

And so when I’m struggling with the harp part and I start crying… I’m pretty sure it’s not about the harp part. It’s that I should be playing an instrument I’m happy and confident with, and I can’t. I should be reading this music with ease, and instead I’m so rusty that I have to write in some of the note names. Sure, I’m crying because I’m anxious that I can’t do it, but more than that I’m upset because… I’m not a musician anymore. 

This is not who I am anymore, on so many levels.

And I’ve been coming to terms with that since 2013, but I don’t think I’m over it. I’m only recently trying to make peace with the possibility that I’ll never be a good flautist again, or even a flautist at all (the four year interval means I’ve entirely lost my embouchure and would have to start again with that, even if my hands were up to it). I’ve been looking towards a vague goal of “better” when in fact, things might never go back to how they were before, and this non-musician life might just be how things are now. 

And all of that comes under a magnifying glass at Christmas, because of how strongly I associate it with music and playing. (I think I’ve also been hyperaware of pain-related stuff because of this quad muscle injury that’s been affecting my ability to dance.) 

So, the lead-up to Christmas is difficult, and this year the carol service is on Christmas Eve (today), so there isn’t even an interval after that to try and feel Christmassy. Other than that, I feel less anxious than I have in recent years, as I’ve actually done okay on buying presents and am reasonably confident that I’ve got something to give all my family members that they’ll enjoy.  

But anxiety kills my productivity. (And also, I won’t lie, I’ve been procrastinating a lot on the internet. Mostly with the Mortal Engines fandom.) 

Blehhhhh. I don’t know. It’s tricky. 

At least I’ve done something, and am not embarking on festive cheer without having managed any dissertation. And I’m way ahead of where I was last year, which is a good sign, I think. 

We can do this. It’s going to be okay. 

Um. Merry Christmas? 

Playing the harp at our carol service in 2014. I haven’t improved as a player since then; if anything I’ve got worse through lack of practice.

4 thoughts on “Struggling With Dissertations and Christmas

    1. That’s probably the deepest and most erudite review of my poetry I’ve ever received, and now I’m having feelings. Thank you — there’s something deeply validating about someone reading so closely into one’s poems and treating them as if they’re, well, by a “real” poet, whatever that means.

      (One tiny note: you’ve referred to me as “her”, but these days I prefer neutral pronouns, e.g. they/them/their. No biggie, just a note for future reference!)

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