Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Talking about writing. Who cares if they listen?

So the axiom goes that 'writing about music is like dancing about architecture," ha ha, brilliant. Isn't that witty? It has been attributed to a few different folks, but it's irrelevant who uttered it first (or at all). Writing about writing, or even talking about writing, is just as difficult in terms of qualitative description than the actual act of writing.

In today's session with my therapist (a therapist is an essential for grad students with any conviction) we spoke at great length about my writing; we didn't talk about actual content, but the act of writing, staying motivated, maintaining focus, and even remembering why I'm writing. It was a productive discussion and I'm glad I had another opinion who likely hears the same story repeated ad nauseum from a thousand or so grad students every month. I realised today that none of the friends with whom I've associated lately are in grad school (at least at the PhD level) and, despite their generous offer of being a sympathetic ear, have had little input as to the actual process or other helpful bits of advice; however, I was quite fond of one friend's sage advice: "Dude, just drink more. You'll be fine." Indeed, friend. Yes indeed.

On the other side of the fence, the one I've avoided, the grass is not greener. The other side is where people ask "So how's the dissertation going?" Most of you reading this either know the terror this strikes in the heart of every PhD'er who's writing a dissertation, or have asked the question not knowing the kind of flashbacks this will induce. Some colleagues I've talked to in the past shuddered if only because their work had not progressed, they were tired of their topic, they hated their topic, or they wanted to quit but continued out of a misguided obligation to themselves to finish. Honestly, I'm not tired of my topic, I still love it, I love the work, I get along with my supervisor, I even love the writing; I'm just tired of talking about it. Talking about the actual process of writing is easy, talking about what I'm writing is exhausting.

The issue here is the same in any service industry-related job; someone is asked for the same mundane information several times over the course of a day by many different people. We (the working people) are familiar or fluent with that information and wonder sometimes why people are so silly that they, too, don't know the information. At times, the worker will come off as impatient, angry, annoyed, etc. The person on the receiving end doesn't necessarily know the answer which is why he or she asked. Some management philosophies pinpoint this syndrome as an important blockade to effective customer service. Of course it's a blockade; the front-line worker represents a lot of hard work on the back end. It's not good for anyone to have a surly face as the bearer of your message. My analogy should be clear: The grad student fields questions time and again about their research. The student, overly familiar with his or her work, gets annoyed having to explain the research and related topics. The inquirer senses the annoyance, interprets it as a personal slight, and thus begins a cycle of misery.

It is very difficult to talk every day and sometimes many times a day about one's research and not get tired or annoyed. It's more difficult still to not transfer that to someone who is genuinely interested in your work.

Thus far I've managed very well by avoiding people who care enough to ask questions.

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