Welcome to the Vacuum
I am currently in a vacuum. I’m in the murky stage where something is almost, tantalisingly, nearly complete, but yet not quite. My masters thesis is in its final draft stage, printed off and gone to my supervisors, and I sit here in my rather comfortable vacuum, thinking about things I could be, but am not doing, and resisting the urge to watch day time TV.
Somewhere between March and May, all creative engines were swallowed by my growing thesis-baby. I tried to write other things, little beginnings would float around in my head, but it became almost an imperative of the thesis’ survival that it consumes all writing/thinking and crafting engines. A thesis is like any project, but with that added kick towards madness that it’s a solo project, of questionable applicability outside your discipline. Being a post-graduate kid in humanities is like being a salesman on an infomercial: you have to believe in the importance of what you’re selling because otherwise no one else will. So, I threw myself in there.
My thesis mattered, because if it mattered to me it would matter to other people. I managed to weave it into mainstream conversation. (‘So nice day today.’ ‘Oh yes, this weather reminds me of the use of the boat as a symbol for death in one of the stories I’m studying’). I discovered how many closet Notting Hill fans I know, when I told people the title of one of my chapters (‘Horse and Hound’ – Get it?) and I managed to keep a straight face when sharing with those who asked, that yes, animal studies is an emerging niche sub-genre in academia.
I tried to avoid becoming one of those post-graduate students, for whom the study has become their life, but it’s not hard to become a little emotionally invested. My emails to friends in the outside world described ‘the thesis-baby’, my anger at Mr Thesis and why wouldn’t he just write himself (lazy pollock) and discussions on my pet thesis’saurous (this was clearly a moment of intense procrastination because I think I drew this dinosaur-like creature). I managed to fit in some fantastic overseas travel in the name of research (Canada, Australia and Dunedin; which counts as there is definitely sea between me and the South Island). But mostly I sat, and wrote, and read, and kept to the deadlines I set myself so that I could at least pretend to be an adult with a certain about of accountability to others. Some parts of it I really like, and some parts I accept aren’t as exciting but they’re there to hold the good bits together.
So here’s the thing. My masters thesis is in English Literature, and looks at the construction of identity in the works of Canadian author Alistair MacLeod. It’s an interesting topic to me (thankfully), but it’s not so much the content of the thesis which has been educational, but the process of producing it. Want to improve your networking skills, learn how to keep and meet deadlines, take criticism and incorporate the feedback of relevant ‘stakeholders’ and interested parties? Prove your project-management skills and self-drive? If so, I suggest you shelve thoughts of a Bachelors of Project Management or that paper on networking and relationship development, and find what you love learning about, and undertake a research degree. It takes a special kind of dedication (or madness) to keep doing the same self-driven project each and every day. A research degree proves you know how to learn, and a research degree in the arts shows you can write. Write well and you can write anything. Learn how to learn, and your world will always be expanding.
Now, my thesis-baby is all grown-up and exists beyond my mind and notebook scribbles. It still needs a little bit of tweaking, but it’s keen to leave home and I’m ready to let it go. I’m mighty glad I did it, but I’m ready to spend my days thinking on new things other than the wonderful works of Mr MacLeod.