DISSERTATION: On continuing to be tired

autoethnography, critical making, dissertation

Thought it was time that I wrote another autoethnography blog post.

Since the last time I wrote, I’ve been slowly plugging away at a variety of tasks that aren’t directly related to my dissertation research. What I am coming to realize, I think, is just how much external factors affect my ability to work creatively or work on code. Yesterday, for example, I tried to do some creative writing after a meeting and spent a good deal of time staring at the screen instead. Then, when I decided to try to switch to coding, I could feel my body physically saying “nope, nope, nope” — it felt like my brain and body could anticipate what would happen if I were to code right then — the slog of working through something that I would either have to interrupt and possibly lose the thread of for next time, or that I would get caught up in and skip out on other responsibilities for (such as the roast lamb dinner I was planning for last night).

I am getting other work done, such as finishing the syllabus and course pack for the course I am teaching next winter, and writing a co-interview article with Kara Stone, and choosing the abstracts for full articles for the issue of First Person Scholar that I an editing, but that tiredness that I mentioned before is omnipresent. The threat of burnout seems to be constantly just at the periphery of my consciousness. I find myself taking long breaks, but still not feeling refreshed by them. I have had unexpected bodily aches and pains too — a bulging disc in my back giving me more pain, requiring me to apply heat to my back and return to doing strengthening and stabilizing exercises and stretches from my physiotherapist, a constant returning sinusitis causing debilitating headaches just behind my eyes, and the most awful cramps — for which I applied more heat.

The biggest pressures that I am feeling related to my dissertation work are measuring the time that I have left alloted to this project against my abilities and the work left to be done. There are still prototype portable sensors to build and figure out, there’s still a lot of programming to do that is currently outside of the scope of my skill — but only just outside — that I really should be asking for help with (but everyone is busy, eh?), and there are the sculptures themselves to build.

Unfortunately, there are so many factors outside of my dissertation and currently outside of my control that are contributing to this stress, and it’s also very difficult for me to do creative work while I am stressed. Some things are within my control if I make the time for them, and that would make me less stressed, but it also will take up time that I feel I should be spending working on my creative project. I could really use a long break, where I don’t do anything related to work, but if I take that long break, it feels like I’m just eating into my time. There seem to be more days where it is difficult to work than there are good days, especially when it comes to work that I am only accountable to myself for.

Tom has been a big help, particularly for things that have just felt like a total slog (changing all my Harvard citations into MLA for the syllabus, for example, and gathering all the articles for the course pack).

Even making these records of process make me feel guilty when I’m not doing them, but the truth is that I haven’t been getting all that much done. I’ve solved a number of important programming issues, but there’s still a whole lot more, and I’ve written about half of the script for the game, but there’s still, again, a whole lot more.

I’m happy with the work that I have, but I wish that I could be more efficient and faster. Everything is a tradeoff: if I want to make a nutritious meal, that means going home early from work, or working from home. But when I work from home, because of all that’s left to do to set our place up, I am distracted by the mess and everything that needs my attention there.

Ah, and I shouldn’t leave this out for future Jess: last Thursday, we found out that our dear friend Serge Mercier, who I wrote about in my Master’s dissertation, was on his deathbed. Tom spent Thursday evening contacting people to let them know, and then we spent Friday taking Serge’s son to be with him at the hospital before he passed. We were there until about 10:30, then took his son home, and Serge died that night. Then, I woke up another day this week to a text message from my mom letting me know about a funeral that morning for a family friend that attended her church – someone I had known my whole life. So, that happened. Maybe those things also have to do with this state that I am in.

Finally, of course, the issues with Tom’s work continue. You can read a bit about them at rcmpaccountable.wordpress.com if you like. It continues to be draining and stressful. Come the end of January, Tom will have been on sick leave for a year because of this, and he has been actively fighting these issues since September 2017. Before that, things hadn’t yet bubbled up from under the surface. It seems that there are still years to go on this issue.

I guess autoethnography can mean disclosing some pretty uncomfortable things. It makes perfect sense to me that this would all be affecting my creative process, but I can see no alternative but to keep going, and keep doing the best that I can. I’m doing my best to rest, but I am worried that teaching next semester will only further eat into my time. Still, I know that it will be valuable experience, and frankly, I have to think about saving money for when my SSHRC runs out and because of the uncertainty with Tom’s work.