and then something happened…

“Before expression, there is nothing but a vague fever, and only the work itself, completed and understood, will prove that there was something rather than nothing to be found there” (69). Thus Merleau-Ponly describes the current state of my thesis, “nothing but a vague fever”, a fever which burns intensely somewhere behind my frontal lobes, its very vagueness adding fuel to the flames

That was how I felt about my thesis, roughly 4 years ago. Fortunately, the fever burnt out round about the time I presented my practice-as-research project as a fully realised production, towards the end of 2010, and by the middle of 2011 I found I was able to sit still for hours, days, weeks at a time and write, edit, re-write, cut, write and read and write again until I had completed a full draft for submission.

Did I mention I was doing this part-time?  Just in case you think I’m either slow or lazy (which is not to say I’m not), since

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officially a University of Queensland PhD Thesis is supposed to be completed within 3 years. I started mine in 2006. Why? Good question. Next question please…

This is what I looked like back in those days. By 2010, when The Fall of June Bloom (or What You Will) finally made it to full Equity Showcase production, at the Geoffrey Rush Drama Studio, UQ St Lucia Campus, I had gone completely grey, and had acquired two grandchildren.

Writing the actual thesis had been a stop/start affair over the years while I attended to my teaching practice, presented my ideas at various conferences in the UK and the USA, spent time with the kids (who now live in Seattle) and getting June Bloom up and running. I saved money on rent by house-sitting, and stopped going to the hairdresser to help with production costs. I am happy to say enough money was raised to ensure that everybody received a decent payout at the end of the day.  I really don’t believe in doing profit share unless there is a profit to share. But I digress.

The thesis was approved by my advisers (who used to be known as supervisors) and submitted for examination at the end of May, 2012. In keeping with the rest of my experience of the whole PhD Candidature thing, it was supposed to be back within 3 months, but it took 9. I finally received 3 reports in March 2013. One examiner said pass it with minor revisions, one said pass it with major revisions, and the adjudicator said pass it with major revisions that are really not all that major. Are you still following?

My initial reaction was – no big deal. Make it better. Good idea.  Then I thought about it. Then I stopped thinking about it. Then I got busy with some rather exciting teaching and acting work. Then I thought about it some more. I went through it like a dose of salts, handed it back to my chief adviser, who said “WHAT ON EARTH ARE YOU DOING???”

By the time I recovered from the realisation that I had completely misinterpreted the problem, something had happened. I had aged.

Ageing is not something anyone actually expects, or believes will ever happen to them. We all know we will get older, but up to a certain point we don’t actually believe that it will affect us particularly. As long as we’ve got reasonable health, what is the problem with getting older?

I remember being 45, working with a wonderful mime artist named Pat Keysell, who was then 52.  “Flloyd”, she said to me one day, as we walked from my flat in Govanhill in Glasgow to the rehearsal venue at the Tramway, “don’t you find you slow down as you get older?”  I was shocked to realise I was constantly charging ahead of her down the road, and having to wait for her to catch up. She was so agile in performance, a beautiful physical artist who transformed into a deer, or an owl so completely with a simple flick of her ankle, or toss of her head, I simply couldn’t understand why she walked so (relatively) slowly.

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latest mugshot, taken in March 2013 by the extremely talented and kind Barb Lowing

Ten years later, I still didn’t get it. But twenty years on, boy do I know what she meant. And not only do the joints object to movement if I allow them to stay still for any length of time, the brain cells also take ages to fire up after a rest, and frequently misfire with awkward, frustrating results. So editing and revising the thesis is a slow, painfully tedious process with only occasional hints of the fever that burned with such delicious intensity not so many years ago.

It will be done, eventually. Actually, sooner than that. It has to be finished by March next year. Thank goodness. Right now, I’m back in Seattle with my son and his  family, enjoying the late summer/early Fall, catching up with friends and learning lines for a beautiful play to be presented as a workshop production in Brisbane next month. I will get this tiger off my back, but in the meantime I shall let William Blake have the last word:

TIGER, tiger, burning bright  
In the forests of the night,  
What immortal hand or eye  
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
In what distant deeps or skies          
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?  
On what wings dare he aspire?  
What the hand dare seize the fire?  
And what shoulder and what art  
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?  
And when thy heart began to beat,  
What dread hand and what dread feet?  
What the hammer? what the chain?  
In what furnace was thy brain?  
What the anvil? What dread grasp  
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?  
When the stars threw down their spears,  
And water’d heaven with their tears,  
Did He smile His work to see?  
Did He who made the lamb make thee?  
Tiger, tiger, burning bright  
In the forests of the night,  
What immortal hand or eye  
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

 

 

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