Does that proverb about the journey of a thousand miles include a break for doctoral candidates? Is it possible to take a breather in the middle of the journey and start again with a single step and not lose ground? I’m going to find out. After a year in Germany, my husband and I arrived home in mid-July. Our arrival together was a victory in itself. How far we have come from last June when I reluctantly left him recovering from a bone marrow transplant, but insisting from his hospital bed that I leave him, take my Fulbright grant, and go abroad. Miraculously, as his recovery progressed, he was able to visit me for three 2-month stays.
Coming home has brought both expected and unexpected consequences. How wonderful it is now to be back with my Dad, my children, and grandchildren! My husband and I have enjoyed every minute – the trip to Disneyland with the little ones, school shopping with the eager college-bound students, barbecues where young and old come together. Like any retired couple, we’ve developed a routine. We start the day with a walk around a nearby lake (1.2 miles), followed by a leisurely breakfast while we talk about the news that pops up on our digital devices. Dinner for two on the patio usually ends the day. I’m excited about taking part in birthdays and American holidays I’ve missed like Halloween and Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July. I’ve taken a new interest in puttering around the house—making cookies, putting up curtains, and planting an herb garden, no doubt inspired by all the herbal books and medicinal plants that are central to my thesis.
And now it’s time to return to that thesis and all the notes I took in Germany and start writing it up. I have some prior experience due to the master’s thesis I finished in 2007. Inspired by the back-to-school spirit, the Tuesday after Labor Day was organization day.
First I have to integrate writing into my routine. Keep the early-morning walk, skip the news, have a quick light breakfast, and sit down at the work desk and write. Personal projects, like making calendars or checking the bills must wait for late afternoon. Order headphones for my husband so that if he wants to watch television he can do so in silence. (Our house has an open floor plan). Then come the computer arrangements.
In Germany, my constant companion was a MacBook laptop. The whole system was new to me, but I quickly relied on it for notes in the library, photos, scanned articles, news, language practice, music, email, and Skype. It was my workhorse, my entertainment, and my link to home. Now I’m home with my desktop pc with two large screens, planning to write on the left one and have my notes displayed on the right. The first step was to create a folder called 1_Dissertation, so it always appears first. Then I used a thumb drive to copy my folders for Primary Sources and Secondary Sources into the dissertation folder. These contain notes, scans, and journal articles gathered in Europe. Most other files developed in Wolfenbüttel—interview notes, photos, my plant and source database—stay on the laptop. I want to keep the writing file clean. It will get cluttered soon enough. My desk is another matter. I can’t bear to put the laptop away.
I want to begin the introduction right away, and fortunately I have two files that will help with that: the Fulbright Grant Proposal I wrote over a year ago and the research presentation I gave at the Herzog August Bibliothek in Wolfenbüttel in June. These summarize the goals and preliminary findings, so that I can begin the introduction, with the knowledge that of course it will be rewritten as time goes on. Seeing that first page gives me a feeling of accomplishment.
On to my blog, History’s Edge. Sharing the experience will keep me on track. Kind of like a weight loss program. One thing I haven’t decided: short-term goals. Write for 6 hours a day? Not good for someone who can spend hours on one paragraph. 2 pages a day? 1000 words a day (that was one of the late Ray Bradbury’s suggestions for writers)? At least the first step has been taken.