Digging a tunnel

I’ve been writing and writing and wondering when it’ll end. It doesn’t, it won’t, but there’s always good reason to pause for thinking, re-reading, and letting go. Just when I thought I was going down the path of one idea (that is, providing an alternative to the deficit discourse on international students), it became apparent that chasing that idea was becoming trite and ultimately, not answering the ‘so what’ question. Lately, I’ve realised that while I’ve spent a considerable amount of effort in pursuing an idea, I have to let it go in favour of a better one.

This whole business of writing and refining your proposal is an exercise in building up stamina, finding new routes, and being persistent in moving forward. A bit like digging a tunnel – you just have to keep on digging until you’ve reached a place where it’s safe to pop your head out into the light!


There have been times when I feel shrouded in the darkness but I always try to avoid being isolated in private intellectual thoughts. There may be some romanticised view of the solitary academic producing voluminous work in a corner of a cafe filled with the aroma of coffee (and in real life, I can actually see this in a professor I know!), but I am no lone ranger and find it dangerous to entertain thoughts of solitary confinement.

The journey may be my own, the destination of my choosing, but my travel companions and pit stops make the journey and bring me to my destination. By companions, I certainly mean more than books and the computer. I do mean people – real human beings who complain about bad weather in the same breath as waxing lyrical about Bourdieu. Sometime more weather, sometime more Bourdieu. (By the way, Bourdieu is not a type of wine.) And those seminars scattered around, social things that happen in between or in sheer serendipity, and whatever you do with people all other times.

I’m a full-time doctoral student but I’m also a full-time person interested in meaningful exchanges and changing the world. (Yes, changing the world, one word at a time, one child at a time, one friend at a time.) I will dig many tunnels yet. And miles to go before I sleep. And miles to go before I sleep.

My love-hate relationship with writing deadlines

I can’t write without them. I mean thoughtful, focused writing when your mind could wander off on another theory, another concept, another methodology.

I can’t think without them. I mean fast and furious thinking to complete paragraphs of thought formation, to decide when to review and revise, to decide when to cut it down, throw it out, and move on.

I can’t relax without them. I mean truly be at ease and appreciate other things (like blogging) – after the deadline. What is rest if there is no stress?

Today marks the start of Month 5. I have exactly two months before my application for confirmed enrolment is due. This is a crucial point in the phd journey here at Waikato. Once I’m confirmed, I move from being a student to a candidate, and work on the phd research can start proper.

I’m not sure if I can meet this all important deadline. I know there’s the option to extend the deadline but I’d rather not if I can help it. Unless my supervisors think I need the extension, I’d like to stick to the deadline.

Sure, it’s stressful to have to keep up with revising my work, reading for purpose rather than for intellectual curiosity, and working at every available hour in order to meet deadlines. But in the pain, there is gain. I’m learning how not to waffle through ideas, honing my skills at paraphrasing summarising, critiquing, and developing original thought.

Without deadlines for writing, as it was in the first few months, my time was spent reading and thinking and making notes, but in a rather loose fashion. I felt I had something important to say, but I didn’t have to present these thoughts formally, and so they were left as that – informal, inside, inert.


Writing, not just any kind of writing, but writing for purpose, for someone to read and critique, within a reasonable time frame, shapes thought. The act of writing, entwined with thinking and reading, must be the vessel for those ideas. And those pressing deadlines that create pockets of time when there were none, is the fuel to keep the vessel afloat and moving.

I’ve just met a writing deadline today. It is a feeling of sweet relief. Now, I rest. I thank God, for he arranges the best schedule, that this period of rest is during the Easter weekend. A time with the family away from home. A time to rest from writing (and thinking and reading). A time to count my blessings.