In the months since our ‘Celebration of Irish Music, Song and Dance’ Dad’s band and the members of my adult Irish dance class who sing have kept in touch, and begun to rehearse for a music night by the band on September 20th*. Meanwhile, the adult class have agreed to give my long-time dream project A Midsummer Night’s Guinness a shot, and I have begun to direct the first few scenes and adapt choreography to suit their abilities. And meanwhile, I have my first complete PhD thesis draft, and am in the writing and editing phase of its production. A few too many large projects at once, you might say? In fact I find it the opposite. The schedule of music rehearsals, and introduction of my birthday present, a Canon 70D camera, to the equation, I find a kind of anti-stress therapy for the process of thesis writing. At those moments when ideas for the next sentence come up blank, I can put on my practice CD and sing through a couple of band numbers, or wander out into the sunshine for a brief walk with my camera, capturing the beauty of the outdoors, and return refreshed with time allowed for my brain to organise the ideas for the next section. This is in sharp contrast to my suspicion that working on the science-style writing required for my PhD was depleting my creative reserves. The writing-only phase of the thesis I find to be relatively creative in itself, and the complete distraction breaks provided by my concurrent music and dance projects allow my brain time to work away at the structure and ideas to be added unconsciously, which seems to create better flow in my writing when I return to the computer.
The feeling of developing other skills holds at bay the sneaking doubt that many PhD students feel about spending 3-4 years of their life on a thesis project that only a select few understand. Often PhD candidature leaves you wondering whether your ideas are up to scratch when without the feedback of continuous assignments undertaken during your undergrad years you wait for comments on the latest draft from your supervisor. These wonderful sources of wisdom are unfortunately often masters of commenting on all the failures of your latest written piece and none of the better attributes, leaving you wondering if you did anything right. Often a step back is needed to spot the sections that have been accepted as well done. Sometimes, what is needed is the fall back of being able to say ‘but I’m not just a PhD student, I’m also in a band’ or ‘I’m also learning how to write fiction’ or whatever your favourite sidelined skill may be. My advice from experience is hang onto those dreams you mostly put aside when you realise an arts career won’t pay the bills, because whatever your more stressful day occupation, you need those sideline projects to be proud of when you’re unsure how proud to be of what you do between 9 and 5. In fact, the confidence gained from those extras is making all the difference to my outlook on my thesis – if I can write a dance production, or a song, why shouldn’t I easily write another thesis chapter, where the material to be written about is right there, no imagination required, in the data from my experiments.
The band Zychorelic has found a new emphasis on mentoring of young people who might not get the performance opportunities they would like in local venues, and although it is supposed to create a timewarp back to 70s psychedelic music, now also provides an avenue for me and my singer and musician friends to join an experienced band who do everything from creating new arrangements for our originals to pushing us to try singing new styles. This learning experience is pushing me to present with confidence as an MC and singer which in turn makes writing down what I did in some experiments seem ultimately very simple. Creative productions require so much more original thinking than what is now required to finish my PhD, and that makes it seem a lot more achievable. The original ideas part of producing a thesis is mostly completed now, and finishing the work is simply a matter of reporting what I’ve done. In addition the support of the other artistic minds in the band and amongst the adult Irish dance class bolsters my confidence in the possibility of A Midsummer Night’s Guinness being an end product that looks like more than a backyard film clip for the family. My adult students are taking to the roles in the production with an enthusiasm which brings them to life, and the new camera and the help of Dad’s stage lights is giving an appearance of reality to sets that previously looked like what they were – a table in a room pretending to be a bar.
This positivity doesn’t mean that everything is laid out and confirmed; as I write this I’m still waiting for confirmation of continued pay during the write-up phase of my thesis, without which I’ll need to take on a great deal of marking and tutoring work to contribute my fair share to the household, making the writing up a much more tight schedule. And I still really have no clue what kind of job I will get at the end of it all. Being in a strong position to look on the bright side, however, I have begun to edit my resume, list potential local jobs and produce the real end bits for the thesis such as executive summary, title page, lists of figures and contents. Though I am yet to find it, I know there is a job out there that will use some of my research skills and also some of my creative skills, or at least be 4 days a week with Mondays free to teach dance.
*It would be super awesome if some of you came along to see us play and sing! Here’s the link to the Facebook event.