List! List! O, List!

So you know that burn-out that everyone told me would happen right after my written exams but never really happened so I just kept steam-rolling ahead to clear the projects off my desk which had back-piled while I was too busy worrying about comps?

Yea… it’s finally hit me.

Travel beer is fundamental; this was mine during my layover in DC last week

Travel beer is fundamental; this was mine during my layover in DC last week

After I got home from Blackfriar’s I had an initial rush and wave of inspiration, but that quickly faded with the realization of how very much work I have to do in the next few weeks and how very little time I have to do it in.

It got to the point where, when I received some updated information on my flight for this weekend (two conferences in three weeks, I realize every time, is never a good idea), I actually began to dread leaving my lair.  This is particularly odd for me since I love to travel, I’ve never been to Texas (this weekend’s conference is ASTR in Dallas), and I have always wanted to ride a mechanical bull.

“Plugging away” has become an artform in my life since I started the PhD.  “Making something out of nothing” (generally work out of less than zero energy) should really be listed as a special skill on my resume.

When I start to feel this way, one of the few things that I can depend on to keep me going is a copious number of lists.  Whenever I feel overwhelmed about the amount of work on my desk, I make a list: here’s what I have to do today.  Whenever I feel like I might not get to sleep because I’m worried about how much I have to do the next day, I make a list: here’s what I have to do tomorrow.  Recently, a new kind of list has entered my life: here’s what I have to do before I get on an airplane to go to the next conference (in the case of that list, I was even able to schedule when these tasks would get done and sketch out my week that way so that whenever I had that creeping “I’m forgetting something” feeling, I could just re-check my work schedule and make sure I had everything under control which, generally, I did).

Lists help me to prioritize my work.  Sometimes, I include “optional” tasks at the bottom of

moody shot of my desk last night; complete with tea!

moody shot of my desk last night; complete with tea!

my lists (“in case you finish all of this, also do this!”).  This keeps me from being overwhelmed, but also allows me to stretch to finish all of my tasks.  I am the kind of person who really can’t relax unless I am absolutely certain that everything which can be taken care of has been (even niggling e-mails will bother me unless they are sent).  My lists help assure me that yes, I can take a break right now without worrying that something is left undone.

I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, but I am definitely not there yet.  One way or another, as George R.R. Martin would remind us, winter is coming.  And in this case that isn’t so horribly bad because winter means break time.  I just need to make sure all of my work gets done first.


As I have previously mentioned, comps does many things.  Among those things, it gives you perspective.

It gives you perspective about your friends.  Who is really going to be there to cook you dinner at the end of the day when you can barely make eye contact and talking about anything that’s not theatre history is simply out of the question?  Who is going to not be offended that you haven’t called/been to a party/replied to text messages for the last few months because you’ve been swallowed into the oblivion of studying?  Who is going to understand when you just need to sit and stare at the wall/cry/talk out an idea that they have no possible way to contribute to?  Who is going to respond to the rally of “I need to not be in my house tonight, but I don’t have any energy to expend socially”?

It gives you perspective about your life.  Can you ever really say that you’re having a stressful day ever again?  Or a bad day for that matter?

It gives you perspective about what you can and cannot handle and what you can and cannot do.  I, for instance, am never going to say that I don’t have enough time to complete x assignment again without some serious thought about what I managed to do in four-days with my take-home exam.  I have a better idea of my own limits both emotionally and intellectually.

Most pertinent to my everyday life and writing, however, is this: it gives you perspective about books.  I have a brand new notion of how big a “big” book is, or how many books is “a lot” of books.  What this really means is that my perspective is skewed.  I sat down, for instance, to write about how I should be doing some research right now and sorting through the “large pile of books” that I brought home from the library today.  But looking at it?  It’s not that big.

In other news... campus was really pretty today!

In other news… campus was really pretty today!

…it’s really not my fault that, at my peak this summer, I was reading 5-7 books in a day and, thereby, a stack of 8 books no longer looks insurmountable, right?  Somehow, this newfound regard for the amount of research that I am capable of is somewhat dehumanizing.  If I can really pound through that many books in a day, then what does it say on days when I don’t?  Days when I’m working at my usual speed rather than ridiculous comps-speed?

The psychological aftershock of this process is something that I’m going to be dealing with for some time now.  Also; I’m not even really done yet.  I still have orals to get through.

No rest for the weary.