Once again, the mid-week slump has rolled around with the coming of yet another WEDNESDAY. Wittily referred to as ‘hump day’ in some parts, Wednesday seems to feel much like that familiar post-coffee-effects feeling of sluggishness, only inflated over 24 hours rather than the short period spent wandering aimlessly while waiting for the next pot of coffee to brew. The sort of day when your brain moves so slowly that it takes you hours to work out that your heeled boots are the cause of your failed attempts to cross your (inconveniently long) legs under your desk. So how exactly does one deal with the deadening effects of Wednesday, particularly when one’s career goals require them to read/write in a semi-stationary position at a desk for 8-10 hours a day?
|Snazzy background image from https://www.dreamstime.com/jsnegi07041983_info|
I remember coming across a particular line in one of Stephen Hawking’s books while reading as a child which has stuck with me over the years: ‘only prostitutes and scientists get paid for doing what they enjoy’. While I’ve altered the phrasing slightly in my mind (expanded the term ‘scientists’ to ‘academics/researchers’, and pondered over whether artists and musicians might also fall into a similar category), this little line reminds me of the remarkably privileged position in which I find myself. I am being paid to pursue a research project of my choosing and design, with easy access to the world’s scholarly corpus, and an exciting research community in which to develop my ideas. I am doing what I enjoy. There are far worse ways to be spending a Wednesday.
Possible lack of all perspective aside, I’ve found that it can be hard to sustain concentration and momentum on a singular project over five solid days. It’s not that I do not enjoy working on my thesis. Sometimes, working on a single, giant, project all the time just seems to get a bit much. Perhaps I just have a remarkably short attention span. Perhaps I just need to ‘get over myself and get on with things’. Whatever the root cause of my Wednesday sluggishness, I seem to have found a semi-productive way to combat it.
|Wednesday got me like|
I am a great believer in the benefits of the side project. Again, possibly a sign that I need to knuckle down, focus, and remove my fingers from their many pies. However, it is precisely these projects, these little academic distractions, which help to break up my week, reshuffle my mind, and offer some light (and productive) relief from the main PhD thesis. Today, I indulged in a little break from the thesis, and turned my attention to two of my fledgling projects, one on Seneca’s Thyestes, and the other on Classical Receptions in Wagnerian operas. And you know what? It felt bloody good. I’ve been able to spend the day doing things which I love, but often swerve in favour of doing something overtly and immediately ‘productive’, safe in the knowledge that my time spent working has not been wasted. Eventually (I’m hoping sooner rather than later), the bits and pieces I’ve done today will help to shape something (hopefully) exciting and rewarding.
The morning was spent rereading Seneca’s Thyestes (ok, this was really just pretty self-indulgent) and doing some close reading of selected passages to help map out the skeleton for my little project. Given that I work on a Latin epic (Lucan’s Bellum Civile for those of you who have yet to be subject to one of my excited rants on its merits and wonders), you’d think that getting to spend hours reading Latin on my days off doesn’t sound like much of a treat. However, as of late, I’ve spent more time away from my Latin texts in an attempt to get to grips with some theory (goo.gl/WN9ii6) and make a dent in my editing to-do list.
|Snazzy Thyestes word cloud|
I then turned to Wagner and his monumental Ring cycle, downloading and organising useful chapters and articles, re-examining my existing plan for the project, and, of course, listening to bits of the work itself. I first got to combine two of my great loves (Classics and Opera-currently working on how I’m going to combine all of my favourite things into a justifiable research project) back in my MA at the University of Exeter, when I was able to do a presentation on Wagner’s Ring as part of Professor Daniel Ogden’s module on dragons. Yes, dragons. My degree is better than yours. Ever since I finished my class presentation, I’ve been dreaming of doing another similar project. Over the past few months, the bits of reading/listening I’ve done here and there whenever I’ve found a spare moment, have come together to form the basis of an initial piece of work which will (hopefully) one day become a larger cohesive whole.
|ALL of the leitmotifs|
So, it looks like Wednesdays are looking up. At the end of the day, the PhD must always come first. But, providing that you don’t completely lose your head with excitement and go careering off down a rabbit hole, hot on the trail of your latest extra-curricular idea, it doesn’t hurt to occasionally look beyond the confines of the thesis. Side projects can help to keep little-used analytical skills from going rusty, and exercise the mind in different ways. I guess it pays to have fingers in many pies…
Elaine over and out.
P.S: If you'd like to create an equally snazzy word cloud, you can do so here: http://www.wordle.net/