Many things about my life will be changing this year. And I’m not talking about New Year’s Resolutions… heck, I don’t know if I should even bother making any specific resolutions for the year, except perhaps to not go completely mad while I’m facing the madness that is to come.
I use the term “madness” not to mean anger, but something more like… craziness, but not in a negative way. Or, aha, I know: exuberance, fervour, zeal, intensity, vehemence! But also sheer terror about how things are going to turn out.
Yeah. That’s what I mean by madness.
There are two independent sources of madness that I’m experiencing already, both of which will change my life immensely when each comes to term. I also expect to bring a third madness onto myself as well, sometime in all this: the entrepreneurial career path I want to take, which I think can lead to a fascinating and well-balanced life if I do things correctly. However, I don’t want to say more about that in this post, because it’s too early to be sure when or how it will happen, though I do need to figure that out this year as well, what with the other two madnesses being what they are.
So, I will soon be spiralling forward into my new life… and even just contemplating it all is making me dizzy. I’ve been needing to write about this for awhile, and the start of the New Year seems like a perfect excuse to delve into it. I also have been wanting to share my excitement and terror about these upcoming changes, and I feel that the time is finally right to do so.
Writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose or paint can manage to escape the madness, melancholia, the panic and fear which is inherent in a human situation. – Graham Greene
First of all, my thesis is currently almost at the point where I can call it “almost done“. (Yes, the double “almost” was intentional.)
What this means is: I’ve recently handed in the part that I’ve been calling “Chapter 2″, which sets up the mathematical model that I’m using to describe spin-1/2 particles in the Algebra of Physical Space. I’m not sure yet if the idea I’ve applied might actually be completely illogical nonsense, but it all seemed necessary as I was trying to set up my thesis to cover more than merely the framework of a model.
Since I’m basically out of time, I’m not sure how much beyond the framework I’m going to go, but I think I need to go a bit further than where I am.
While I do have some calculations and writing on the things I could add to my thesis framework to give it some oomph, I’m at a point where I’d need to rewrite stuff from scratch to ensure it follows smoothly from the way I set things up in Chapter 2. The model kept changing slightly as I found more interesting ways to look at things — at least, I hope they’re interesting! — and a few times, I was pretty sure I really was going mad while working on it, if the crazy laughter was any indication. (My twitter posts have been tagged with #thesis #madness to commemorate this state of mind.)
I’m hoping to figure out some way to wrap up this “core” part of my thesis in the upcoming week, and perhaps take another week to write up some conclusions. (A big incredulous “HAH!” is on the tip of my tongue right now, so strong is my doubt that I can do this.) I also still need to go back and finish up the introduction (which, so far, is almost completely lacking in anything about quantum theory), and soon! I’d really like to hand everything in early enough in the upcoming semester that I can excuse myself from paying for the semester in full. Or, alternately, perhaps I can get enough done before the semester starts for real, that maybe I can comfortably do some teaching without being in my usual panic about how to do both teaching and thesis work.
So, I’m worried that I might not be able to finish what I want to do, or, worse, that what I have done is not at all appropriate or acceptible. Fortunately, for the most part, I’ve been able to put aside the lack of confidence and just keep moving forward… leaving me only the fear that I’ll be asked to give up on my efforts before I’m ready.
A Mad Analogy
I’d heard several sources make a comparison between writing a thesis (or dissertation) and gestating a baby. The first time I encountered this, it was meant to be comedic… and the conclusion was that writing a dissertation is harder than having a baby. (I’m not sure this helped my frame of mind at all, now that I look back at it.)
The second time I heard this analogy, it was meant to reassure me by pointing out that there are some things in life that cannot be rushed. Some things simply won’t be ready until they’re ready. But there’s a huge difference between something that will continue developing slowly whether you are paying attention or not, and something that requires your attention or else it won’t develop at all.
There is also a huge difference between something that will rarely take much longer than nine months and something that not only has no fixed due date, but which also may require scrapping parts that don’t work out, or redoing parts that are close but not close enough to what is needed to clearly explain or fully explore the idea.
Worst of all, this childbirth analogy made me worry that I was not only taking too much time out of my life to work on this damn thesis, but that I was also potentially cheating myself out of the option of having children. I think I was 31 or 32 when this awful analogy was sprung upon me for the second time (and I’m now 33), and it saddened me to realize that I could no longer attempt to have two kids, a few years apart, before hitting that “magic age” of 35 where certain statistics suddenly start leaping higher and higher into worry-zone. And then what if conceiving turned out to be difficult for us? Surely, checking this earlier in life would be a better idea than waiting too much longer.
This logic did not lead me to wanting to abandon my work, or my other plans for the future, even if my originally proposed timeline for everything was turning out to be a few years off. However, now that I’m reviewing that post from New Year’s Day of 2008, I’m realizing that it has only been four years since I made that five-year plan. Hmmm…! So even if I haven’t yet completed my thesis and started my business and started a family, I still have another year to cram everything in…!
So, here’s where the story gets most interesting, or at least, more mad than ever.
I am currently just over 4 months pregnant.
(Yes, I am posting this news on my blog before mentioning it on facebook or twitter, but I expect to share the news in both of those places very soon.)
This news terrified me at first, because I knew I didn’t have time to deal with the distraction of pregnancy, not to mention morning sickness, which I had already heard was somewhat of a misnomer because it could hit at any time, or last for weeks on end. And I had no idea what else I would go through, either. But it was happening, and the only option I could consider was to do my best, no matter what.
What I ended up doing was probably not my best, but how I could resist researching what I needed to know about pregnancy? I went a little research-mad for about a week, and then tapered down when I started to feel like I knew enough to get through the next few months. I got myself back to a work level where I was balancing thesis work, teaching work, and napping (the most effective anti-nausea remedy I had found), though there were still occasional days where I was unduly distracted by what was happening to me.
All things considered, I’m not surprised I got behind in my marking, even though I did it all in less time than ever before. I am surprised, however, by how much better I did with returning to thesis work frequently, and without too much fuss (except on a few of the really rough days, or when I was panicking the most about finishing the marking in time to return work to the students). Perhaps I was experiencing something like the woman in this article about writing a dissertation and having a baby in the same year:
“Having a firm due date on my pregnancy helped me to work steadily on my dissertation, to push through writer’s block when a nonpregnant graduate student might turn to piles of reading or, worse, go play endless rounds of bar trivia until inspiration returned. I didn’t have time to wait to be inspired or to chase down every lead. Instead, I just sat down every day and wrote the thing. Dissertation writing was as much a part of our baby preparation as putting together the crib and choosing a name.”
Unfortunately, I still didn’t get as much done in the fall semester as I’d hoped I would, and that’s how I got to where I am now (as described in the first section of this post). Despite how pleased I am with my work, I am not pleased that I have to ask for another extension. I am also not pleased that I feel that my best option is to play the Pregnancy Card, even though it is true that I was unwell enough (physically, and mentally, as I’m sure the maternal madness must count for something) that it interfered with my ability to finish and defend my thesis by the end of December.
But I do have a clearer picture of where my work is going, at least, so I should be able to write a very accurate analysis of what is left to do. I’m just nervous about things not going quite the way I expect… but, strangely, I am somehow comforted by the thought that this is a normal part of what I am experiencing, in both the thesis uncertainty and the parenthood uncertainty. Worry is normal, especially when responsible for a child’s upbringing and well-being. (Which brings me back to worrying about how I’m going to generate some income, which means I’m back to hoping I can get this degree done as a way to boost my credentials in my own chosen entrepreneurial field, which leads me back to worrying about my thesis…)
I also found some comfort in this article about the labours of love which compares preparing a research degree and giving birth. (Yes, my research into the analogy comparing these things was definitely inspiring, today.) I do believe the article is right that both of these efforts will bring great joy, no matter how much difficulty is involved in bringing them to light. And there certainly is a sort of crazy love happening to me already, regarding both of these “projects”.
(I must digress and share the fact that I gave the baby news to my dad by texting him a message asking if he could take a look at my latest project prototype: I sent him the almost-two-month ultrasound picture.)
Whatever the final form of both the thesis and the baby, I know I will be happy to have them existing in the world, instead of just existing within me. Who knows what either of them might contribute to the world as a whole!
Overall, I am really intrigued to see what my new life — not to mention this brand new living being! — will end up being like! No matter what, this is surely setting up to be an exciting year. Happy 2012 to one and all!
EDIT: I have written my time extension proposal without mentioning the pregnancy! Instead, I said that I am “deeply invested in finishing by the end of this winter semester due to an upcoming time commitment that will begin in early summer of this year”. Muhaha.
Additional note: I have decided I won’t be mentioning anything explicitly about the pregnancy on facebook or twitter until the next ultrasound, which is on January 13th (a Friday the 13th, oooo! good thing I’m anti-superstitious and figure it’s going to be a lucky day!). This blog post was mentioned on my facebook news feed though, and at least two people have read it and congratulated us, which I found very exciting! I’m not sure why feedburner didn’t post to twitter, though… hmmm. Maybe I’ll fiddle with some things and make it happen.