I have just a week of this indulgence left. A mere seven days to stretch into this pool of fact and abstract, detail and overview. My PhD is almost over. I will never again have this mixture of incipience and fulfilment. Very soon I will have to re-enter the so-called real world; but for now, for this last week there is just two of the things I like to do most: read and think. Unlike the devouring reading I did before, when I was trying to grab, grasp, the material, sieve it, shape it, constantly reviewing it for how it helped direct and lead my thesis, this reading now has a different feel to it.
Preparation for my viva has resonances of an amble through familiar streets, greeting old friends along the way, that flare of pleasure when you recognise the warmth of an old acquaintance, someone you haven’t seen for a long time, the very existence of whom was buried so deep in the memory that you had almost forgotten them. Now suddenly here they are, your eyes meet theirs, and you suddenly remember all you loved about them, and how great it is to be back in touch. And there are others who want to grab you by the arm, elbow you off for the distractions of a day at the seaside, or into the mountains for the thrilling views, and you have to resist, insist No, no, I need to stick to the path, keep my own end in sight, don’t be leading me astray! And there are others still, that take off their little round spectacles in the candlelight, fix you with their intense gaze from wizened, sun-starved faces, and spin you, dazzle you, with their logic, detail, the marvellous concatenation of fact after inevitable fact, and again, you have to cry No, no, too much! This too is the wrong path, I need to hold onto the rope of my own story, into which, of which, yours feeds, but it can’t overshadow. And I haul on the rope, climb out of the basement, back onto the dappled path.
It’s not that I’m not actively preparing. Having spent months constructing my thesis, working it into a tome that is now a physical thing festooned with post-its, now I am breaking it up again, de-constructing it into individual words, phrases, points, on revision cards that I can pull out of my bag to stare at whenever it’s opportune, whispering the words like a prayer. I have my practice viva tomorrow, I have read the university website’s proffered advice on the ‘doctoral examination process’. I have some idea of what’s expected of me. I know this last lap has a serious purpose, a definite goal, and is certainly not a stroll in the park. But, nevertheless, it is yet a deep and satisfying joy, a painfully poignant luxury, to be reading and thinking, after all that work and processing; all that struggle towards mastery. Now to return with hard-earned, sore-bought, expertise, and able to say: look all this; isn’t it wonderful?