One of the reasons people become slightly awed when you mention you’re doing a doctorate, I think, is the amount of time it takes to complete. “Three years, minimum?” they gasp, as if by the time you will be striding up to the podium on graduation day, you’ll be breathing oxygen from a tank produced by Coca Cola and shaking the cyborg claw of the Vice Chancellor, whose red eyes will glow warmly before he stabs you in the arm with a hypodermic needle, causing you to wake up all sticky inside your Matrix pod feeling annoyed that your illusory perception of physical reality had to come to an end before you had a chance to hit up the bar for some free champagne and canapés.
Let me tell you: three years goes a lot quicker than you think.
Even though I am completing this doctorate part time (which means I have up to eight years to get it done), I still feel that my output so far has been shockingly low. Out of the 30,000 words that I have to produce for my exegesis (a scary-sounding word that rhymes pleasingly with the word ‘Jesus’, making it easy to simultaneously blaspheme and express panic about your doctorate: “Exegesis Christ!”), I have written 3,000. And of those 3,000 words, I have to rewrite approximately 2,000 of them.
So, y’know. If we’re going to liken the writing of an exegesis to the climbing of a mountain, I am essentially still dicking around at base camp in my still-pristine hiking boots, slurping loudly from a mug of whiskey-laced billy tea.
I’d throw myself off a cliff in despair, except that I’d have to actually walk up the cliff to be able to do so.
Confusingly, my supervisor keeps assuring me that I have much to be proud of. So, let’s look back on 2016 and see what came out of it:
Sappho Poetry Night
Known as ‘Avant Gaga’, the Sappho Poetry Night takes place one a month, and it attracts quite a crowd. Toby Fitch, who is a formidably brilliant poet (and also, incidentally, a nice dude) asked me to perform in April 2016, and I was chuffed (if terrified) to appear on the bill alongside Lachlan Brown, Lindsay Tuggle and Melinda Smith.
It went well. I’m finally starting to feel comfortable in front of a microphone, and comfortable with the idea that people might actually want to hear my poetry – that it might bring them, like, I dunno, pleasure? I read exclusively from my long poem ‘Golden Repair’ and people laughed and were stunned at what seemed to be the right moments.
The icing on the cake was being asked by a random gentleman if he could buy my book. Sadly my book does not as yet exist, but I was astonished to be offered money by a complete stranger for my poetry. Money, for poetry?! Wtf lol.
In July I was asked if I’d like to participate in the official launch of the new recording studio at Western Sydney University. I said yes, and was introduced to Wren – a sublimely talented violinist who is currently also completing a Doctor of Creative Arts at WSU. The idea was that we would work together to create a music + spoken word piece, to be performed at the launch.
I felt like a total sham standing in a recording studio beside a true artist – I hate the sound of my own voice, and so it felt like I was ‘ruining’ the gorgeous music she was making with her violin.
But I wanted to rise to the challenge – ‘rise’ being an appropriate word here, because we ended up creating a piece that used a bird as its central motif. We decided to work with my poem The Come Down – and it was incredible to hear another person create a soundscape around my words that, for want of a better cliché, brought them to life.
Sadly, I don’t yet have the video or audio from the day we performed it! You’ll just have to take my word for it: it went well. We made music together; art. It was wonderful.
Meanwhile, you can check out Wren’s music on her SoundCloud, and here:
Corrupting the Minds of Undergrads
Another first: my poem Marrickville was included in the syllabus for creative writing in Semester Two 2016, at WSU.
It has long been my goal to contaminate the minds of youths. So I was extremely pleased.
At the end of the semester, I was invited to their classroom to do a poetry reading, which was surreal and scary and awesome. It was great having a chat with the students afterwards – my ‘message’ essentially was: I was really crap at poetry for a really long time. If you genuinely love the art form, push through and keep going. (Subtext: you too could be a financially crippled 33 year old with chronic anxiety, yeah!)
Completing a Long Poem
‘Golden Repair’ is a long poem that began life back in June 2015, when I went to Berkeley. In its current form, it’s ten A4 pages (and around 3,500 words) – which just goes to show how painstaking poetry can be – it takes a long damn time to get it right.
It was only ever an experiment, really – I didn’t know if I was capable of writing a long poem – but I had something enormous inside me that demanded expression, and an ‘epic’ seemed the only solution.
After some hardcore editing, and some blows to my fragile little ego (I didn’t so much have to ‘murder my darlings’ as I had to perform a kind of poetic genocide), I seem to have achieved something… at least, that’s what my co-supervisor reckons.
Whether or not you will see it in book form sometime before the next decade… well. We shall see.
Other Stuff That Happened in My Life
I’m running out of room to go into detail about everything else that happened last year, so let’s summarise:
Started Working at Sappho Books, Glebe
After getting made redundant from my last copywriting job, I idly decided to send my resume to every bookshop in Sydney. I ended up working at the coolest (and most appropriate) bookshop in town – Sappho Books – named after the first female poet. This deserves its own blog post, but just quickly, it’s perfect and it’s changed my life.
Realising that Tutoring and Writing a Thesis are Basically Incompatible
It’s good money! But it’s utterly draining. For this reason, I will not be teaching this year.
Another bloody move, ye gods. Not far – only from Marrickville to Dulwich Hill. But although the move was almost lethally exhausting, I am happier for it.
I had been a doctoral candidate for three years, and I was feeling weary. Then in strolled an Englishman – a bartending poet, no less, and life became very, very lovely. He’s off travelling again now – with my blessing – I need to sit down and write this bloody thing, after all. But he’s given me hope, energy, happiness.
He knows who he is. I am grateful.
My sister asked me what my New Year’s Resolution for 2017 was. My answer: “Write my exegesis”.
February is when it starts in earnest.
It’s really hard! I don’t think I’m smart enough, and I’m still struggling to balance work stuff with social stuff with family stuff with study. If anyone thinks that a humanities PhD is a walk in the park – a ‘phoney qualification’ – think again. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and if I ever manage to graduate, I’ll be wearing that goddamned puffy hat for a month.
But, to (potentially inappropriately) quote Nelson Mandela: “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”