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“You must know why you are alive, or else everything is nonsense, just blowing in the wind.” – Chekhov

The reality we live in is merely a stream of consciousness that we create together. When we are no longer together – when we are alone – we cannot continue to create that reality. Because creating reality with others is what we do every day, alone we cannot understand why we are. Thus, things become nonsense – they can no longer be woven into a reality we construct with those around us – and we cease to have a purpose.

One of the major obstacles in the journey of bereavement is finding a purpose again. Where once living made sense because we shared it with someone, now it seems as if the tasks of each day are something I complete mechanically, without thinking, all the while wondering what my greater purpose in life might be. I thought it was to make you happy!

The Cherry Orchard is growing, blossoming, ripening, and you are not there to see it.

I don’t really know where I’m going today. Multiple insane myriads of issues require my attention and I’m finding it hard to repond to each one positively and constructively. I used to think assignments were difficult to juggle as an undergrad; Now it’s my job. And although it’s rewarding at times, most of my days are spent in a kind of half-delirium, wandering from one piece of work to another trying to be productive and still taking four times as long as I think I should.

“So what’s your thesis about?” people keep asking. I don’t know. In an ideal world we would know what we want to do before we started, we’d have a blueprint that never changes, and justifications for everything that can’t be rebutted. But it just doesn’t work like that. You start with a vague idea and then you end up learning so much on the way. In the space of three years, you change direction multiple times, reconsider your aims, rethink your purpose, and alter your conclusions. It’s almost a relief to know that things won’t stay the same forever, that one day, even after a long time, I will close this chapter of my life and move forward. “But how can I move forward when I don’t know which way I’m facing?” asks Lennon!

My thesis is definitely different now from what it was a year ago or six months ago or last week. Or, more precisely, the way I think about it is different, and it keeps changing every minute. I can only hope by the time I get to my viva my thinking will be at its best.

Sometimes working on a PhD is overwhelming and you lose your way. I am probably at the lower end of losing-your-way proneness and often feel as though I am lost on an ongoing basis! Yet I am making progress. I have published my first paper from the research and am submitting my second one this week. And I have two more papers yet to come this summer. How they will fare in the world of peer-review remains to be seen. Yet I have hope for them. I have hope for many things.

Despite all the crap that’s going on in my life, I enjoy the possibility of things turning out alright in the end. This is more about the way we tend to think about events retrospectively – in a positive light – than the way they actually turn out. Nevertheless, I have hope that my thesis, my PhD, my family and friends, will be fine in the end.

And then we will work out, somehow, how to go forward.

Keep rolling, keep rolling, keep rolling with it.

So much to do and so little time. It’s as if I keep completing the same things on my To Do list again and again, and nothing on it is ever well and truly finished. I’ve had the same manuscript on my list since at least February and it’s still there, still waiting to have its references collated, still waiting to have its tables proofread, still waiting to be submitted for publication. I’m determined to get it done this week and if I don’t I’ll assume I’m too dumb to write a paper, and shelve it.

I’m surprised I have time to think amongst all the work I do. I’ve literally been typing non-stop since 8am, attending to emails, typing up a progress report, uploading material for my professional portfolio page, more emails. And yet my mind has been buzzing with things completely unrelated to academia. With the past and everything that’s happened and is yet to happen. What crazy hectic bittersweet shenanigans are awaiting me in the next chapter of my life? Who’s going to die next? Where am I going to work? Who’s going to break my heart next? And how long is it going to take to rise above that again?

And so it goes.

So you’ve got to keep rolling, keep rolling, keep rolling with it. Keep rolling with this insane life where, at least in academia, you’re always up to your neck in teaching, marking, or research, and you never really get a chance to dig yourself out of it and have a moment to collect your thoughts. Well, I suppose that’s an exaggeration. I do have a daily 5-minute existential crisis where I sit blurry-eyed in my office, having been staring at my screen for unhealthy amounts of time, mumbling a series of metaphysical conundrums that question the meaning of my existence in this seemingly futile educational journey.

Then again, I suppose life could have been worse:

Image

There’s still hope for women in grad school, surely. Compared to 60 years ago, when ‘PhD student’ referred to young stellar-brained white middle class men in Howie coats, it’s a sign of the trend towards recognising women’s talent in intellectual pursuits, particularly in psychology, which is now dominated by women at both undergraduate and graduate levels of education. I suppose, in a way, we’re getting there in terms of gender equality, and maybe in terms of human flourishing. But we’ve a long way to go yet.

Sometimes the state of graduate education seems like a mirror image of my PhD. And when your mind is both occupied and preoccupied with the same line of research day in day out for years on end, that seems pretty bittersweet indeed. There’s just so much to do, I don’t even know why I’m posting about it when I should be working. This is crazy. This is all crazy.

And so it goes.

I’m uncertain about everything today. For a lot of my life, and I’m really not that old, I’ve insisted on, and even fought for, doing things my way. I’ve always known what I wanted and I’ve tried hard to get it, no matter what. But today I feel uncertain about what I want to do tomorrow. Some day, in the not too distant future, my PhD will be finished and I’ll be launched out into a new world of PhD-completedness, a world where I’ve achieved a level of enlightenment only a fraction of other people ever achieve, and the onus will be on me to do something with it. But I don’t know what.

I’ve wanted to be an academic for some years now. I’d say the idea first dawned on me in honours class, 2 years ago, when I was tossing up going into an MA in education or starting a much longer, and much lonelier, PhD. I think I thought I’d end up in higher places, somehow able to see the world with a better degree of wisdom. I don’t know about that any more, but whatever happens, I’m going to end up an academic whether I like it or not! At least that part’s certain.

It’s been more than 8 years since I left Australia. Things have changed so much in that time I don’t know how I’d feel if I were back. But I’ve been having these ideas of teaching at Monash and trying to develop this really innovative new way of approaching teaching. I just don’t know what. I look at my research now and can barely manage to envisage its implications for my thesis, let alone the wider sector in the country, or the world. It’s probably unsurprising that this is the case, and yet there’s this deep sense of urgency that I feel inside, as if I’m already running late for something, like I’ve got to hurry up and change the world before it’s too late. People keep telling me not to work so hard, to stop worrying, to take a break. But I can’t. Because that sense of urgency is real. People don’t realise that. But it’s real. The time we have in life is so short, so uncertain. Everything’s fine one day, and the next day, who knows. I could be gone tomorrow.

To die at 23 was so young. It was far too young. You think of what his family must be going through and you know the pain must be insufferable.

Yes, life is this short.

In a year’s time I will have submitted my thesis, I’ll be preparing for my viva, and by next summer my PhD will be finished. And I will be 23.

And then what?

And then what.

Nothing’s going on.

That’s what it feels like when I look at my life – that I’m leading a sort of routine, normal existence, working on my work every day, running rudimentary errands, seeing people, writing bits of my thesis. I’m busy, yet when I think about my life as a whole, it feels like whatever I’m doing isn’t really worthwhile in the long run. It feels like it’s going to end up being insignificant to the big wide world, and some day, I’ll quietly disappear and my work will disappear quietly with me.

As far as the world is concerned, nothing’s going on.

It’s been a rough year since June 2011. A close friend died, I had family issues, then an uncle died, I had issues with my supervisors, then an exhausting winter collecting data and getting my first paper published, then the discouraging restlessness of February, snow, and solitary meditation about all that’s wrong with the world, and last week my great godfather died. And all the while life has continued, as if nothing’s happening, and I’ve been functioning perfectly and keeping up appearances for everyone around me, to keep everyone happy and not let them down, and feeling this deep, relentless sadness inside that’s a battle I choose to fight on my own.

I’m not a people person in any sense of the phrase and I made the conscious decision to fight this battle on my own.

Totally on my own. I don’t want help or treatment or drugs or friends feeling sorry for me. You’re a psychologist for crying out loud.

Looking at one of the friends I love most in the world, and where she is now, I sometimes wonder if I’m headed in the same direction. The black dog breeds, and its offspring go out into the world and attach themselves to other people, make a home with them, and keep them company. There are so many people who suffer this right now, so many wounds to tend and hearts to heal, I wonder when I’ll have time to get to all of them. I won’t, I know.

Right now I feel like I’m at a crossroads between sadness and hope. There’s no way you can choose one path and move away from the other. A part of you walks along each.

And when you look at me from outside, as an outsider, there I am, as busy as ever, enthusiastically tending to my all-important PhD, perky and helpful and cracking jokes to passers by. You’d never guess I’ve experienced all this. And I like it that way. I like keeping my despair to myself and making people believe that nothing is happening. Everything’s fine.

Nothing’s going on. Everything’s fine.

Friend of WikiLeaks

May 2012
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The Final Countdown

Submission of PhD ThesisMay 1st, 2013
The big day is here. Joy to the world!