Combining work and family life often leaves me wishing that I had a time turner like Hermione did in the Harry Potter books (is that what it was called? a time turner? I’m not sure…). Struggling to manage all of her school-work my favourite character of the series found a device that would allow her to loop back through time to essentially do two things at once. Last week I had an emotional and frustrating time making a decision about whether to devote some time to my thesis work or spend that time with my family. In Alberta, Canada, last Monday was ‘family day’, a holiday, which meant that L was home from work and we had a long weekend. In thesis-land there isn’t really such a thing as a weekend in terms of having time off but I do tend to put work on the back-burner (or further back on the back-burner) during the weekends. Monday, however, is usually one of my good work days because R is in preschool and I just have Z at home. I also have the looming deadline of last Thursday to get something out to my supervisor.
I wanted to spend time working and I also wanted to spend time with L and the girls. He was taking R to the local ski hill and suggested that Z and I join and watch for a short while. R was extremely excited at the prospect and I went along, albeit with the nagging feeling that I was failing at the work-prioritisation that I have been shooting for (and boasting about a bit too). At the end of the day I feel pretty f***ing lucky to have a) a family I love so much and want to hang out with and b) work that I am actually excited about. I am enormously privileged to be in the position of staying at home with my kids and working on my thesis. BUT, I do think it’s important to recognize how my role as primary caregiver for the children/home makes it difficult to define space for work. L wanted me to go to the ski hill to watch them, yes, but he also wanted to go because he couldn’t mind Z and ski with R at the same time. And he wanted to ski with R (he is a bit obsessive about skiing at the moment). If I’m honest, I balked at being assertive about my work at least partly because I didn’t want to jeopardize my ‘loving mother/cool wife’ status. And that irks me. Yes, it is my responsibility to take that assertive bull by the horns and get better at claiming that space and time for work for myself. BUT, the social rewards I get for not being assertive (gold stars on my ‘loving mother/cool wife’ reward chart) are tempting. I am not any less loving or less cool if I prioritise work but it certainly feels that way sometimes. I get sick of the emphasis on personal responsibility all the time. I want social and cultural supports in place to help me feel less like I am choosing between my family and my work, and prioritizing one over the other all the time. I want affordable, high-quality childcare. I want recognition for the labor of domestic work. I want to challenge the hierarchy which always seems to value paid work over unpaid (be it domestic work or studies). I want to not have to ask, beg, and constantly strategize and organize to squeeze an hour of writing into my day. So, it is a struggle and a recognition now, with a week of hindsight in place, that I don’t have to choose between gratitude and frustration or personal responsibility and external support. So often we frame things as ‘either/or’ choices and hierarchies where we have to assemble a pecking order, and set it in stone. At least, that is a tendency I notice. ‘Choose: family or work’! Choose: gratitude or frustration and anger! ‘Choose: qualitative or quantitative’! When our choices are framed like this, they are not really choices. There are always limited available options and there are always consequences for our ‘choices’ and ‘priorities’. These binary oppositions don’t help anyone. And they always leave me feeling lost. I am grateful. I am frustrated. I am angry sometimes. I am really happy most of the time. I am extremely privileged to have the support that I do from my family but I refuse to erase the structural inequalities which so often shape our experiences and our options.
Back to the thesis itself…I submitted a ‘chapter sketch’ – which is a euphemism for a partial draft – of my methodology/methods chapter. I’m happy with the progress I made even if there are many many blanks to fill in. Next on the agenda: some reading on the concept of value in cultural studies/popular culture for my theory chapter and then a return to my data in order to begin work sketching out findings/analysis chapters and to feed back into my m/m chapter by fleshing out some of my thematic discourse analysis strategies. I have a deadline of the end of March to have this work done and sent to my supervisor.
I am getting into the part of the M/M chapter where I describe my research process. In one way this is fun because I’m getting to write about something I have done rather than theory theory theory which gets intellectually exhausting (for me, anyway). I am revisiting the initial analysis of my data that I did about a year and a half ago which is a whole other challenge. Sometimes it’s wonderful, like when I find a document of lucid description and organized data that I didn’t know I had (this is like finding $20 in a jacket pocket or old purse!). At other times it’s really frustrating, like when I find a document with a promising title, ‘Initial Analysis’ for instance, only to find that it is empty, save for a title and a few half-arsed notes. A good part of what I’ve been doing this week is digging through all this stuff and collating the good notes. I actually have quite a lot which is nice! I did a pretty thorough coding before I went on Mat. leave and now it is time to document it and start putting together the tools for the detailed analysis. Oh, and I have a deadline of next Thursday to submit a draft of the chapter. Yikes. It is definitely time to clear out those files and to develop an easy file naming system. I have put it on the to-do list.
I have also continued to use the whiteboard and I have an idea for how it can play a specific and useful role. Yesterday, I used it to rethink my research question a bit. I wrote out the existing question (‘How do bloggers assess and understand value in blogs and blogging practices’) at the top of the board and then really focused on thinking about whether it asked what I am really asking of my data. It may sound silly, but the question has always bugged me, and I haven’t been able to clearly delineate my sub-questions. I ended up switching out my question word from ‘How’ to ‘What’. This shifts the focus from a process of meaning making to my interpretation of the meaning itself. It helps with defining the methods. I also found that, after I had made that change, the sub-questions popped out really easily. My research question now is ‘What is it that bloggers value in blog texts and practices?’ and my sub-questions are: a) Is this contested? How? and b)Is this contextual? How? I’ll see how it goes over with my supervisor but I’m happy with it.
My whiteboarding yesterday was so successful that today (while Z was napping and R occupied with building another Lego house (her ‘houses’ are quite mausoleum-like) for her favourite pony) I put the new question at the top of the board and then began to organize the steps of the thematic analysis leading into the discourse analysis for my methods section. This helped to focus me and I sat down and drafted the section quite quickly. So, my idea is to commit to updating the whiteboard every day. If I do nothing else I will wipe and re-write the whiteboard each day, moving my project forward one board at a time. Let’s hope that it can help me get to some semblance of a draft by next week!
When we started setting up an office/work space at home I bought a whiteboard. I had ideas that I would plan chapters on it, keep grocery lists on it, R could use it as a space to draw….It sat, getting dusty, on the floor for months. Then we hung it on the wall, nice and low so R could reach, and she did one doodle on it. I wrote one grocery list on it. Yesterday I cleaned the office up and finally got rid of the massive giant boxes of paper garbage in the middle of the room which made it much more pleasant to be in there. Today, I brought Z in to play on the floor while I attempted some ‘thinking-through’ work (it has been a bad week, thesis-wise, and I am keen to make some progress before the weekend). I have been lazy about doing this kind of work. For some reason I prefer to stare at my laptop for hours writing and re-writing the same paragraph rather than think it through away from the computer. This has not been working for me. Anyway, I looked at the blank whiteboard (with R’s original doodle in the corner) and picked up the markers. I wrote the concept I was trying to think through (discourse and power) and then my research question and asked how, first discourse, and then power, contributed to answering the question/were important for answering the question. I then asked, well, how do these connections inform my approach to the research and my choice of methods? It worked so well, and was so much less painful than agonizing over my draft document. I’m going to keep trying this and will post updates on whether it is a truly successful strategy for me or just a once-off!
In the meantime, here are some other pieces on working w/a whiteboard:
8 Ways to Use a Whiteboard in Your Home Office
Creative Process #1: Why Whiteboard?
In praise of the humble whiteboard
For the past week I’ve been feeling a bit stuck with my thesis work. Part of this is logistical, I don’t have that much time to work and most days it’s a matter of carving out an hour here or half and hour there. This means that I don’t have the extended time periods to work through things. I can’t sit at my desk all day pushing through the ‘stuck-ness’. I also have a deadline to work with now: I have to send my supervisor a draft of my methodology section by Feb 20th. That is two weeks away and I know that those two weeks are going to fly. The part I am stuck on at the moment is the final section of methodology where I talk about a focus on Discourse and Power in a methodological sense. I guess I’m struggling with this because, although it is straightforward to claim Discourse Analysis as a method, I need to find a way to articulate it as a methodology, that is, part of my research approach.
In order to un-stick myself I have taken a step away from my chapter draft document and have started to gather up everything I have on Discourse Analysis from the past several years. I have a bunch of notes and references on different computers and I spent this morning’s work-hour gathering some of these together and beginning to look through them. In a sense I’m working backwards here: cobbling together a frame for my methods section in order to trace back to the methodology section. Again, I find that this work is not linear but that I am always circling forwards and backwards through chapters, through ideas, through my data. It is easy to start to feel adrift and I am finding some strategies to moor myself when this happens.
Return to the research question: again and again I force myself to look at the research question and to ask myself. how does this (idea, method…) help me to answer this question?
Put together a loose chapter structure and revise this as I go along. It is helpful to not have a completely blank canvas stretching out before me as I work. I’ve been slotting in ideas, section headings, quotations, in the sections ahead of me as I go. This way I have something to move forward to when I start to feel as though the part I’m working on is developing quick-sand properties.
So, my goal this week is simple: get un-stuck. Move forward.