I handed in my thesis for my supervisor’s review last week, in which practically I have about two more stages to go before this doctoral journey of mine comes to an end. The manuscript, ready-bound two days before the meeting, was treated like a delicate tome of a rare archival document by myself, tucked safely inside a drawer, protected from all the possibilities of harm you could think to happen on any hardbound document (in reality, it was mostly to keep it from the cats). Friends who have submitted told me that lots of times the process of handing in could be rather anticlimactic. You hand in, you go home, you sleep, in which “realisation and panic will only set in days later”, they said. I was hoping that the same would happen to me.
Boy was I wrong.
After the meeting, I drove home through some narrow lanes near the university. It was raining heavily when my eyes set upon an old man on his bike by the roadside, staring at what looked like some debris of groceries in the middle of the busy road. Cars swerved by the scattered remains, and I did the same. Some cars didn’t manage to, so they just ran over the detritus. The old man stood by under the heavy rain, just staring. At that point I finally put two and two together and realised it might have been his groceries, fallen off his bike, couldn’t manage to be rescued, ran over by cars — what could be his month’s worth of groceries. I arrived home bawling — why didn’t I stop? Why was I so slow to notice? Why didn’t I stop by and hand him some money — and then I went spiralling. It took me back to those years of convincing myself I was nothing without my work, the 2016 Mega Work Breakdown, those years of healing whilst occasionally being traumatised by the slightest hints of events that reminded me of the 2016 Mega Work Breakdown, my dad’s passing, leaving London, etc. And like my mind somehow realising that this was all in the past, and this is now, “you are here now, you just submitted a 343-page of a doctoral thesis detailing on a topic on which you knew nothing about three years ago, in an area you barely knew about three years ago, you are here now, you are good now, and even without any of it, you are everything, you are good, and you are still worthy”. I am here now. I am good.
Over several days before submission, I have been also been struck by some weird sense of overwhelmingness. Here I am, sitting in front of the very work I have created — built on the shoulders of others as I have detailed in the acknowledgements session — asking myself the very question: what can I do with this knowledge now? I don’t want this journey to stop here, however challenging it is, and I do not have the answer to the question as of right now. But I know the answer to the question will not be purely for individual means, and what I need to do with the knowledge, the information, the experience that I have the privilege and opportunity to gather and learn from for the past three years will be directed towards something good collectively.
And whilst to others, this might seem like the tiniest bit of deal because “you know you want to do things, but you don’t know exactly what they are?” but to
an obsessive a radical planner such as myself, going slow for once to be more intentional and inclusive about what I am going to do, and why, is such a big deal.
I know it’s a bit too early for a toast, but I can’t wait for 2020. In 2020, no more making myself small to appease the whims of others.
What to do with this knowledge that our living is not guaranteed?
Perhaps one day you touch the young branch
of something beautiful. & it grows & grows
despite your birthdays & the death certificate,
& it one day shades the heads of something beautiful
or makes itself useful to the nest. Walk out
of your house, then, believing in this.
Nothing else matters.