I am a Virgo. What this means, for those of you who don’t follow such pastimes as how one’s personality traits may or may not align to one’s astrological sign, is that I pride myself on structure, organization, punctuality, reliability. I am nothing, I think to myself, if not fifteen minutes early for an appointment, submitting to a deadline long before the deadline strikes, exactly where I need to be when a loved one calls.
But, my Virgo-ness is not what it usually is. Not this semester. In a month, the dissertation I have been writing and editing and formatting for a little less than a year is due to the three members of my committee. Over the weekend I spent fifteen hours spread equally across Friday, Saturday, and Sunday on the Works Cited page alone. Let me qualify. The thirty-six double space pages that made up a Works Cited page for an almost three hundred page dissertation. I worked for so long and so feverishly that I developed a temporary rash on my wrist. I find it ironic that the rash only appeared on my writing hand even though this work transpired on the computer, even though my other hand was used just as often as my writing hand. As if the body always knows what is dominant in the brain.
I find it ironic that the rash only appeared on my writing hand even though this work transpired on the computer, even though my other hand was used just as often as my writing hand. As if the body always knows what is dominant in the brain.
I have a very specific schedule on every other Tuesday. I take my weekly bounce class, a trampoline fitness class led by a close friend and my favorite fitness teacher. I race home and shower and snack. And every other Tuesday, I see my therapist at noon. But on this Tuesday, I was spent. I decided to stay home. I didn’t rest, however. I started to continue working on my conclusion to get to that unknown state that would satisfy my director and therefore committee and to re-check, for perhaps the tenth time, that my Table of Contents page numbers aligned with my document’s page numbers. Once I had done more than I could bear, I proceeded to deal with my actual job, the job of reading my students’ work for workshop this week.
At 12:04 p.m., in the middle of reading my student’s story for the week, I realized I missed something. My therapist hadn’t contacted me. But I suddenly had the kind of jolt you have when you do the thing you vow never ever ever ever to do. I missed an appointment. I wrote my therapist in a tizzy, and luckily she fit me in a few hours later. But the heart, it races. But the mind, it spirals. But the body, it trembles.
As I sat in my therapist’s cushy beige arm chair, a chair I have been nestling into for over a decade, I began to speed through all of the things that have accumulated in my life: academic things, creative things, personal things, work things, emotional things. My therapist responded in the appropriate manner. Her eyes went big, she shook her head. And then she said in one succinct summation: Let’s just say you are spread very thin right now.
But the heart, it races. But the mind, it spirals. But the body, it trembles.
The type of work and mental state that academic writing required is, simply put, a different mental state than the one that I find when I make any kind of art: photography or writing, the two I tend to make and think about the most often. It is one in which I have to do a lot of mental lifting to decipher what type of reader will place their eyes on this writing and what, contextually, they will need to be brought as fully into what it is I am arguing as much as I possibly can. It is almost as though one has to imagine what one might ask in a hypothetical conversation about your content and argument. At times, I find it perplexing and frustrating, much like trying to figure out a magic trick. I do not enjoy trying to figure out magic tricks. I instead prefer just to be bowled over by the magic.
It is different, for me, anyway, to write in a creative space and form. First of all, I get to make all the rules. I get to decide which of them I want to follow. I get to follow my own sense of artistic integrity, defined only by me. Certainly, I imagine a kind of reader any time I write. But it is not a specific reader who gets to determine specific things about my livelihood or the value of my content. And so it is already a juggling act to place myself in the mind and body of a scholar. Creative work feeds and nourishes me in ways I cannot fully detail or even comprehend. The farther removed I am from it, the less me I feel. As I continue to edit and format in nit-picking detail, there is this other brain in the one that is doing the editing and the nit-picking, another world building. Ideas for stories, lines for poems, narrative questions for essays. They exist just outside of the world I presently am forced to live in, but they are there, spinning around, waiting patiently for the moment I will be able to join them.
Creative work feeds and nourishes me in ways I cannot fully detail or even comprehend. The farther removed I am from it, the less me I feel.
Every weekend, before I get back to work on the dissertation, I read and drink tea with my partner at our favorite local cafe. When there, I purposefully read the things that my heart most desires to read, jotting notes that come to mind of things I might want to write soon, that the books I’m reading spark in me. Although it is time that I possibly could devote to the dissertation, I force myself to participate in this act of self-care. I know myself. The only way that I can stay grounded and part of the world as truly me is by staying always connected to that inner creative spirit, as a reader and also as a writer in the near future.
As Joanna Newsom sings: We will get there yet.