Tag Archives: reading

One year on and learning to read

Hildegard reading and writing

Last friday marked a year since I started my PhD. Not a year full time, but nevertheless the day felt significant. Here’s what’s different:

  • I know where to find a free car park that’s not too far away
  • There’s a coffee shop on campus with a guy called Leo who knows my order just by looking at my Keep Cup
  • I know most of the postgrads and academics in my department well enough to have a friendly chat in the hallway
  • My office feels like home
  • I have nearly 30,000 words and three publications under my belt
  • I have a writing practice that I’m happy with
  • I LOVE my topic, and feel blessed every day that I’m being paid to write and read and think

Here’s what’s the same:

  • I’m still ridiculously insecure about my writing and expect to be told I’m not really allowed to be here, or that my scholarship has been revoked, at any moment
  • I ride waves of overwhelm more than once a day
  • I wish had more time to do my work
  • I wish I didn’t feel as if I was stealing from my children to do my work
  • Becoming a teaching academic at the end of this process feels like a pipe dream
  • I can only find my way back to my building via two very specific routes – if you span me around with a blindfold on in the middle of the university I could be wandering for an hour

And on learning to read: there’s all this amazing advice out there about writing a PhD, but very little about reading for a PhD. I’ve discovered that the old undergrad method of reading, highlighting, pulling out quotes and then writing to them isn’t really working for me. I need to be able to get through much more material much faster than I did before. I read somewhere that you should take notes as if you’re taking them for someone else. This makes sense to me, but I’m creating a particular kind of work, with a layering of voices, and I find that I need to read slowly, to think about what I’m reading, to hold words carefully in my mind, and then lay them carefully inside my writing. How I balance speed with this kind of care is currently beyond me.

How do you read?

What kind of notes do you take?

Share, please, and put a gal out of her misery.

Write while your children sleep

Baby sleeping

Image via Wikipedia

When I was pregnant with my first child, I thought (and said as much out loud) that I’d be able to finish a novel I was writing while the baby slept. The parents I said this to kept a straight face. Write. While the baby slept. While I was doing my Post Grad Diploma I said it to my supervisor and he said that it was possible, that I could get a few hours of writing in each day if he was a good sleeper. Had he done this? He spoke as if he had. I’m guessing he had another person to make the dinner and do the washing and and and…

It would take me an hour sometimes to get Monkey to sleep, and then I would feed myself, put on some washing, go to the toilet, and too soon, too soon, hear that sound. A whimper. A squall. It would make my throat catch and my chest tighten. The noise of my children waking still does that to me. It’s as if, while they sleep, I am returned. All of me is just for me. So that stomach drop at the first stirring signals an ending. An end to my own sleep in the night, and in the day an end to writing, or reading, or cooking, or phone calls, or sitting still in the square of sunlight that lands on one of my kitchen chairs at 11.3o each morning.

So no. I don’t write while my children sleep. At least not in the day. My grandfather was a poet and routinely rose at 4am to thunk poems out at his old typewriter. Sylvia Plath reportedly did the same. I won’t do this kind of writing, and can only imagine that in the cold and quiet dark, the kind of work produced would be coated in black ice, would be polished by the lonely night. Right now I write in the hullabaloo. I speak poems into my voice recorder as I do pram walks along the creek near my house. I type posts on my phone while Sparrow sleeps in his car seat in random Melbourne car parks. I snatch and grab at writing time in the bright noise of it all and hope that what I make is good, and warm, and full with my riotous days.