I have to confess I worked one morning during the holidays. Wow, I know. Two hours of full dedication to my PhD. That is more than I have dedicated (continuously) for nearly a year and a half. I mean, the way I have to chip in at my poor Mongrel PhD, I may have been able to work for three hours or so some days in the past few months, but never continuously. Not that I want to – that is something for another post. But you get the general gist.
I came to an agreement with my wife and my sister – we would all go to Barcelona: they would go get a dress for my sister, I would go to the library. And so we did. I actually finished before they did and had an additional half an hour to spare to sort out my thoughts and fears about the whole process.
In the library I had access to three books that are pretty much essential for what I am writing at the moment. I took some scans and copied some paragraphs, took some samples and made plenty of notes. I was pretty satisfied with myself because this was the equivalent of a field trip to collect data – finally something tangible to write about! So when I had the chance to write my thoughts about how the chapter is going, a few issues came up.
I have been using Katherine Mansfield as an anchor to introduce the influence of Anton Chekhov on Merce Rodoreda, the Catalan writer I am studying. But the more I got my ideas organised on paper, the more I realised that actually, I have no clue about English literature, and introducing Mansfield was a liability for the whole content of the chapter in particular and the thesis in general. In terms of space in the chapter (Mansfield takes up 3,000 words) and congruence with the topic (she is not a Russian writer and I am making a case about Russian literature), in my head, the decision was taken: Mansfield has to go. My supervisors don’t seem to agree and they think it’s a tough call to make, but seeing the amount of data I had obtained on Chekhov in Catalan, for me it was obvious.
I also put together other ideas on how to organise the chapter. In all honesty, I think that if I had had another hour or two, I would have started rewriting the chapter at that point, and I would have been bloody good. But I didn’t, and it was fine. I was still pretty chuffed with myself: a great feeling of having done something productive and having advanced, even if only mentally, in the right direction.
When I left the library, I was happy and all smiley. The wife asked how it went and I said it was good. We lost ourselves in Barcelona and other things. I forgot about the library, and the PhD, and Chekhov. Other things were more important.
In the evening, we were getting ourselves ready for dinner, and then she asked further questions, something on the lines of what I had found and how it had actually gone. I ranted for about ten minutes about my state of mind: how Mansfield needed to go, how I was going to restructure and rewrite the chapter, how I found some things that were funny but really interesting, etc. It did not occur to me at that point that she was being nice and I was going too technical about things. All of a sudden I felt less confident about dropping Mansfield and said that I wasn’t sure how that was going to go down with my supervisors. She was very supportive within the limitations. I think I may have asked for her opinion, but of course, that was not particularly a great move from me. It’s my PhD, she can only support me, not provide in depth analysis of what I need to be doing. I started to doubt myself: how am I going to write this chapter after all? And then it hit me.
I am alone. I am walking alone.
It is unreasonable of me to ask my wife those questions because only I can answer them (or try!). And I can argue my case with my supervisors, but they cannot answer it for me either. I have questions that go down to the bones of my chapter and my thesis and I am finding it difficult to put the pieces together, and there is no one out there who can help me. There is guidance on the process, and advice on how to deal with things, but no one can answer for me how I am meant to drop Mansfield and reintroduce her later in the chapter, and no one can advice me on what short story by Rodoreda there is more of an intertextual connection with one of Chekhov’s stories. And this is very daunting.
Since the Christmas break, I have had a meeting with my supervisors to discuss the whole Mansfield conundrum. Whilst one thinks that I should keep her, the other is leaving it up to me to make a decision, stating that it is actually a tough call. At this point in time, with a chapter in shambles, and still trying to piece things together (who would have thought intertextuality would be so damn difficult to understand!), I can understand their concern. It still makes sense in my head, but I haven’t written what I want yet, and the chapter is far from reaching its full potential. I am concerned too. I feel less alone now, but still fairly alone when it comes to opening the document and facing the blank page (or the full page, mind that).
I suppose it happens to all of us but only at this point I see it for myself. Maybe the solution is to keep walking and embrace being alone, and cherish the fact I am not lonely.