Nothing but baby and thesis around here for 27 more days. I have help every day. A babysitter, my mom, JJ. I work all the time, until 12 or 1 every night. It will get done, but only if I stay extremely focused. Finishing a dissertation really is that hard. Yesterday, an hour at the beach with JJ and Basil, playing in the sand and watching the sailboats. It was like having one bite of dessert, a small taste of what it will feel like to relax together again.
My days have been a river of one thing to the next lately, baby, shower, breakfast, thesis, baby, park, write, lunch, baby. A nap on a good day. Then baby, clean, cook, baby, baby, maybe thesis, baby, dinner, husband, thesis, write, read, sleep, baby, sleep, baby, sleep.
Then get up, and do it all again.
It’s really hard, this final push of my dissertation, with a one year-old. Thankfully, I have help. A babysitter two mornings a week. My mom a few days a month. A sister now and then. And most importantly, a supportive husband. A partner who’s thrilled to get home and scoot Basil off to the park, who loves being his dad as much as I love being his mom. But still, it’s really hard.
It’s hard to nurse Basil, put him down, kiss JJ, maybe make a cup of tea, and go sit down at my desk, every night. It’s hard to be tired, and to work anyway. It’s hard to think so much at the end of the day, every day.
All this focus makes me lose track of days. Whole weeks go by like a blur of fence posts on the interstate. Thesis baby thesis baby thesis baby. What, it’s Sunday again?
I’ve got so much other writing I want to work on. An essay about motherhood and work, inspired by an excellent post I read last month. Another for a post about how to get things done. And a page of scrawled notes about what it means to be original in the age of Instagram.
Maybe someday I’ll learn how to share these notes and ideas without feeling I have to refine and refine. I mean, we can have a conversation, tell a story, without perfection, right? The more I write, the better I feel at it. But it’s still so hard to post here sometimes, especially when I’m so tired. I can’t wait to have more time for all that other writing.
In the meantime, I jot things down, keep 5 different draft documents open and work on them when I can. And I keep wrestling the wild work in progress that is my thesis. Thanks to Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life, I think of it as a wild tiger:
“A work in progress quickly becomes feral. It reverts to a wild state overnight. It is barely domesticated, a mustang on which you one day fastened a halter, but which now you cannot catch. It is a lion you cage in your study. As the work grows, it gets harder to control; it is a lion growing in strength. You must visit it every day and reassert your mastery over it. If you skip a day, you are, quite rightly, afraid to open the door to its room. You enter its room with bravura, holding a chair at the thing and shouting, “Simba!”’.
I’ve learned that if I “tame the tiger” a little bit every day, I can remain the boss. Sitting down and writing for an hour or two today makes it possible to sit down more easily tomorrow. And when I stick with it, I have days when the tiger is curled at my feet, docile and purring, while my fingers fly over the keyboard with clarity and inspiration. Sometimes even at 11pm.
I walk down the San Francisco streets lined with Victorian row houses, and instead of noticing grand rooflines, or the often spectacularly ornate doorways and windows, I look at drain pipes, and telephone poles, and air vents. I crouch down to frame a shot of curling Magnolia tree bark, or the shadow of a twig in the slanting afternoon sun. I wait through three traffic light changes, Basil impatient in the stroller, to capture staples and bolts on a telephone pole.
Maybe it’s because my brain is filled beyond capacity with big ideas from my thesis, and I’m not getting nearly enough sleep. Or maybe it’s the endlessly clear, wide open, blue skies we’ve been having, bright and warm every day. Or possibly the craving for nature, and open space. But lately I go out in the world and focus on abstractions, on lines, on colors. I obsess about images that thrill with their negative space. I take picture after picture of corners, and slants of light.
Want to join me this week? What do the colors, shapes, objects in your daily life look like in the abstract?
I’ve been wanting to blog lately. Each time I post a comment on someone else’s blog, and it has a link to mine, I think ‘gosh, my last post was months ago’. But more than the typical guilty blogger feeling, I’ve been wanting to blog because I am writing, and taking pictures, all the time these days, and I want to share.
I am taking pictures of my Basil, every day. Capturing his expressions, his growing chubbiness, the way he looks at his dad at the end of the day like, ‘hey, you’re back!’. And I am writing about Basil, our time together, what it’s like to be his mom. How we sat this morning, in a strip of sunlight pouring through an open doorway, and felt the heat on our bare feet. How he stands already on my lap, and his legs flop a little like green beans, but he gets frustrated when I sit him down. How I settle him into the front carry, bundling up against the spring coastal winds, and we set off on an evening walk, up and down the hills around our house. And how I wanted to move so badly 6 months ago, and now with Basil here, I am falling in love with the possibilities of living where we do.
But mostly, my thesis writing fills every spare moment I have. I am writing about Barcelona, what I learned from the teachers there, about how immigration was transforming their daily lives. There is power in listening, really listening to someone talk for up to an hour, and that is what I did in my interviews with teachers. They told me their life stories, how they had grown up being punished for speaking Catalan, or feeling uncomfortable because they only spoke Spanish. How integrating or assimilating immigrants is a process of all of us changing, making a new society together. Or how integrating newcomers is about the immigrants changing, learning our language, because they are the ones who came here. Or how it’s really about basic respect, across divides of cultural difference, starting with learning to say ‘hello’ in each others’ languages. I am writing about all this, working on the second findings chapter of three, on track to finish by the end of July. If I keep at it.
So back to it, while Basil takes his morning nap. But I’ll see you here again soon.
It’s all I’m focusing on right now. Aching to make baby things and needing to start preparing for his arrival (carseat! diapers!… you know, the essentials!). Have made a list of things to do/buy and that’s it. I spend my days eating (so hungry these days), dreamily watching the baby wiggle under the skin of my belly, and trying to make progress on the thesis. Today is the halfway point of my 100-day plan, and there’s still so much to do.
Have I mentioned my plan to write a draft of my thesis in 100 days? I’ve been working on it since October, and day 100 falls on January 25th, about 3 weeks before I’m due, which feels just right for sending off a draft of my thesis before settling into having my first baby; that’s when lots of mamas start maternity leave anyhow. I was inspired to make a 100-day plan after reading an article about development projects getting accomplished in 100 days. The idea is that we can all imagine 3 months ahead; it takes us “out of the realm of business as usual” and focuses our efforts. So I sat down and made a 100-day plan, and so far, it’s really helped focus the daily work on the thesis.
That and the very real deadline of having my baby, and wanting to be able to enjoy him and not have the thesis hanging over my head. So I spend early mornings at my desk writing, and afternoons in the library. My belly grows closer to the table every day, the baby’s wiggles spurring me on and reminding me why I’m working this hard. I’ll let you know how it goes!
What do the possibilities of 100 days make you think of? Anyone want to join me?