40 days ago, I set out to write 40 posts. I wanted to jump start my writing practice, and I thought that if I gave myself a neat container in which I could put my writing — a blog with a clear beginning and end, a set purpose, and a heightened sense of commitment because there would be an audience of at least a few people expecting a new post every day — that I would finish the project.
And here we are: Day 40. I did fall behind on my posting and had to write multiple posts each day to catch up. And I did worry at moments that I would run out of time (in fact, I’m counting this as finished on my birthday as long as I post it before the sun rises on the 22nd!). Despite the game of catch up I had to play in the end here, each post gave me a chance to make public my thinking about issues that either I’ve wanted to write about for some time or that popped up in a given day and caught my attention. With each post, I practiced writing as a way to discover more clearly my thinking. Writing for posting — for publication — every day was challenging and not without some anxiety. But the conversations each post generated with family, friends, and with people I’ve never met who found my blog on their own pushed me to want to keep writing daily. And I now know for sure that daily writing, even though I won’t be doing it in order to post to a daily blog, is something I want to keep practicing.
My projects often end in a frenzy. In the end, it never feels like there is enough time to complete the project comfortably. Take my dissertation, for instance. It was spring 2006. I had been a graduate student long enough! I was writing up until the last moment, not because I had failed to use my time well, but because, well, there is always more to say and tweak. But I was fine on time anyway. I had called the local copy center a few days before to find out how long it would take to have my 300 page dissertation printed in duplicate on 100% cotton paper. Based on what the people at the center told me, I could send the document as a PDF by midnight on Wednesday and they would have the document ready early Thursday morning — early enough for me to pick up and drive to Philadelphia for my dissertation filing appointment Thursday afternoon (we were living in New York at the time; Nigel was doing his own graduate work through the Klingenstein Center at Columbia’s Teachers College, so this little time window seemed reasonable to me. All kinds of things can happen in a New York minute, right?)
But when I called the center on Wednesday to confirm receipt of my files (which I had sent early!), the person I spoke with told me that they couldn’t open the files so they would be unable to print the dissertation. I would have to print my own copy and bring it to the copy center for duplication. Oh, and the photocopying could not be ready earlier than Thursday evening. They were swamped.
I would miss my meeting at Penn. And, because I would miss the meeting, I would have to wait an entire year before I could graduate.
I got off the phone and plopped down on the couch in defeat. I was tired and frustrated. I saw no way out of this moment. All the time spent writing this dissertation, all the energy and anxiety around finishing, and I still wouldn’t be able to present my work on time. Plus, how was I supposed to find my way to a laser printer and print all my chapter files when Logan, then 16 months old, was at my feet clambering to get my attention because it was time for her to eat dinner? I’ll just take the ABD (All But Dissertation) status and run.
Nigel came home late that night and I told him what happened. “It just wasn’t meant to be,” I told him dismissively, but I didn’t really feel it. So he went into his wonderfully enthusiastic “we can do this” mode. He took my jump drive and went out to find a place to print my work. Hours later, he returned with one copy. But I needed 2.
Early the next morning, we left Logan with a sitter, a woman who had watched her a few hours here and there while I was working on the dissertation that year. Then we hopped in the car and drove to Philly. The plan was to get there in time to run to a copy center, have a copy of the dissertation made, and then run to my appointment where someone would go through the ancient process of measuring my margins with a ruler and counting my pages by hand to confirm that, yes, I deserved my PhD.
We ran into traffic on the way. Then we ran into end of school year traffic on campus. Eventually, when we got close enough, I jumped out of the car with my dissertation in hand and ran to the copy center while Nigel parked the car. When the person at the center told me I should’ve planned better, I responded with a curt “just copy it” response.
I checked the time. I was going to be late. Nigel rushed in and said he’d wait for the copy while I took the original to my meeting. So I ran to the meeting with one copy and convinced the guy to just start the process, that the second copy was on it’s way. Eventually, Nigel brought the second copy. And, I have my PhD.
So, the lesson? Have a generous, optimistic partner by your side. And, print well in advance! (I can laugh about it now…well, a little).
More importantly, when is there ever enough time? When are we able to do anything that, to us, is worth doing in a totally comfortable, anxiety-free way? We don’t. But we take the time that we have and do what we can. And, in the doing, we make our too little time meaningful.
Thank you for spending some of your time here. I’ll keep posting about once a week, so check back when you have a minute.