Because I’m a Master now, and Masters are in control of things. The dictionary says so. I told my children they can all be my servants if they want, but it turns out that they very strongly don’t want.
I was watching my fellow graduates and graduands walk across the stage as I was waiting my turn, and thought how, in a physical sense, we’re all kind of bundled around the mean. Ordinary height, ordinary looks, ordinary weight.
But every now and then there was a particularly tall, or particularly short, or particularly beautiful human walk across the stage, and their very difference changed my ‘gaze’ of observation. I could see them more easily as individuals, for instance, rather than a blur among the many. And there was an underlying sense of curiosity too – what must it be like to be so tall/short/beautiful? I can remember others with unusual features, such as pink hair, but that was more about the hair than the person behind the hair.
None of these had that sense of discomfort, however, as looking at, or trying not to look at, those with a noticeable disfigurement might have, and it’s that gaze of discomfort that is becoming central to my burgeoning PhD project. The Gaze, Disfigurement, Portraits. I have books on all three reserved at the library, a new notebook to take notes on the same, and, now I have officially laid the last ceremonial process of my Master’s degree to rest, a renewed sense of commitment to this next academic stage.
I loved kindergarten. There were books and dolls and people to play with and there was paint!!! My first most vivid memory of kindergarten is standing before one of those kiddie sized easels and just splashing the brush all over the paper. It was the most fun thing I’d ever done.
(My second most vivid memory is being given a plasticine cake to hold while everyone sang Happy Birthday to me. I was three, and I thought the plasticine cake was utterly ridiculous because it might have glitter and candles, but it wasn’t really cake.)
I still paint of course, and mostly with fingers, I don’t know why. I start out with a brush and try to be all controlled and precise, but at some point the finger painting inevitably takes over. Which is very messy and most clothes I own now have some level of paint splashed on them, as does my erstwhile pristine white desk. Because I am not as sensible as kindergarten teachers and don’t make myself wear an apron, or cover my surfaces with paper to clean up the mess with. Entirely not the point. But I do have a point which I am sure we will get to eventually.
I sat down over Easter with my Evil Master Plan* and a blank diary to sort out how I need to spend my days to get the important things done. On time. I have been so distressed about how behind I let myself get on a few important jobs; lie awake at night and mentally kick yourself to sleep sort of distressed. But I’m almost caught up, finally, and don’t want to let that happen ever again. I may be a flake, but I’m a responsible one.
However. [Insert big dramatic forlorn sigh]. When I try to write lists and schedules, and lord knows I do try, I feel so bossed around. I hate that feeling, like I’m being punished, and who wants work to feel like a punishment?
(My middle child pointed out, rather patiently she thought, that you can’t really be bossed around if you’re the one that wrote the lists and schedules in the first place BUT IT’S NOT TRUE. Past self can for sure boss around current self, mine does it all the time.)
What to do, what to do?
Well, doodle, obviously.
I wasn’t sure how to set up my likely-to-fail-anyway new diary, but while I was thinking I started to doodle. And paste in some left over pictures I had printed out for something else. It’s no masterpiece, but it did make me want to at least open the damned thing to look at it.
If pictures and colour make me want to open the first page, then maybe it would work on the second page too.
And the daily pages. Maybe next to the boxes I have to tick to keep my assignment marking schedule on track, I could draw slightly metaphorical mountains, and add in salvaged drawings from old notebooks, with excellent quotes from an excellent poet.
And create space for notes on an upcoming meeting.
Or buy a $0.50 notebook and cover it in some old paper I had laying around and a printed Van Gogh quote stolen (foraged?) off the internet. Then fill in that notebook with old research to motivate the writing of the last few pages of the last overdue piece of work.
It already works better than anything I have ever been told about being productive. I’ve felt a failure my entire life because I could never get anything sorted, even really important things that I absolutely wanted to do, at least not sorted in the kind of way I thought it should be.
It never crossed my mind that the problem wasn’t me. The problem was that I kept trying to apply all those things I had been told about being productive even when they kept failing, and then calling the failure mine. Deciding it was lack of will power, or being lazy, or sheer uselessness. The problem was in not understanding that it doesn’t matter if that advice works well for a lot of people when it doesn’t work well for me.
Perhaps doodling and scribbling and cutting and pasting would be a colossal waste of time for most, but it’s not a colossal waste of time for me. I find it calming and invigorating at the same time, is that even a thing? It clarifies my thinking and motivates my problem solving. Also there are flowers, and what is not to love about flowers? Go tell Monet there are things not to love about flowers…
I filled in half the book and came to realise that something Veronica had told me in relation to my thesis is true for my whole life; in my weakness is also a strength.
If my mind is the kind of mind that prefers ‘playing’ to ‘working’, then perhaps I can play with my work. It doesn’t make the product frivolous, but it does help the process run better. You could call it a margin of freedom** if you want to, and I almost certainly do.
And perhaps, too, I can bring that sense of play to everything I do.
(And tea. Of course tea.)
It’s that everything that is (finally) the point. I believe it is true that we can’t separate our lives from our research, that reflexivity is experience, and that disrupting our ways of thinking can help shift us from what we know to what we have yet to imagine. That all of who I am is important. I’ve certainly pontificated on it often enough.
But until now I didn’t understand it. Not really. Not with regards to the everyday things, the housework and gardening and staying connected with my increasingly independant children***. In scheduling assignment marking and taking medications and making sure the important people in my life understand how very much I love them even when I’m busy. Especially when I’m busy. I suppose I understood how my life was important to my research, but I hadn’t yet understood how what I learned in my research was important to all those quotidian things in my life.
Never did say I was very quick-witted. Give me a crayon some time, though, and I’ll get there in the end.
*The plan is World Domination, which is what makes it evil.
** Yep, still banging on about that.
***We’re having Cake Month in May, in which everyone gets their favourite cake baked for them on alternate weekends, except Warren, who has to have his second favourite because his favourite is fruit cake and that’s just gross. Though at least it isn’t plasticine.
Don’t tell K or V, but I’m re-writing the research article I was supposed to do for my Summer Scholarship (late, yes, but also I spent months on skin infections and small vein inflammations and serious child crises, and am behind on everything, slowly catching up now, will be able to breathe again next week, or possibly in July). I had become too bogged down in feeling I had to explain and theoretically justify everything qualitative, which, er, encompasses quite a lot. But it really only needs to talk about creative/arts-based research, and even then mostly just my own work, because that’s mostly all I have experience in anyway. Second attempt is going much better.
Sometimes Megan, it’s the tree and not the forest.
(The accompanying illustration in this instance is mere lovely floral puffery. Floral puffery that I stole from my youngest’s school, sssh, please don’t tell about that either.)
yes is a world
& in this world of yes live
I memorised these lines from e.e. cummings poem many years ago, as a lyrical spell to ward against my rather self-destructive habit of fear-based procrastination. It hasn’t helped much, I’ve been doing it more than ever lately (but I’ll suck! They’ll hate me! And my mother dresses me funny!) so I made a large floral ‘yes’ for the wall above my office desk to boost the effects.
Sometimes my misspent youth as a craft blogger comes in very handy.
It’s not yes to all the things, that would be a life spent as a foolish doormat, no thank you very much. It is a yes to doing the things I value, even if I’ll suck and they’ll hate me and my mother dresses me funny.
It was also, you’ll notice, another pretty way to waste even more time…
I had an idea on self-portraits. One of the aspects of the lived experience of facial disfigurement that I am interested in investigating is the ‘outside’ view, that of the person doing the looking as opposed to the person being looked at. I am thinking a series of performance portraits where I am the stand-in for all those looking, and portraying the different personas of the same from the point of view of how the participants feel being looked at. Does that make sense outside my head? I think it could be quite a powerful set of portraits, particularly when seen in contrast to the portraits of those being looked at.
(Not a self-portrait like that one, for what it’s worth.)
My friend Janet sent me this badge when the results for my Master’s thesis came though. I picked it up again the day I got word that I had been granted a doctoral scholarship. I’ve never actually worn it, but I do like to stare wistfully.
When Kerry and Veronica advised doing my Ph.D. via published articles instead of a thesis proper, I believed them that it was (is) the best way to do it if I want an academic career. I was also a little disappointed. Disappointed because I had always wanted to write a non-academic book as part of the research product, and this seemed to exclude that, or make it more difficult. Perhaps it doesn’t, perhaps I have no idea what I’m talking about, perhaps Elvis still lives. But after the Master’s thesis was rejected for publication I thought that there are still some useful ideas in there that I would like to share, most particularly some ideas around the margins of freedom, or the small freedoms as I have called them. There’s a lot more there than I was able to go into with the Master’s thesis, and as an idea it has never really left me. So, I’m going to write that book anyway (alongside PhD’ing and marking and parenting and arting and photographing and walking giant dog), and I will blog the progress here alongside the PhD progress, because it’s all related. All I’ve ever wanted to do is find out about interesting things and then tell about them.