Friday, August 19, 2011

It's the First Step that Counts

"He watched it warily, as if it were an enemy that was trying to entice him again into a war that he had renounced.  Even in the dim, familiar quiet of the library, in an empty carrel that he found hidden in the lower depths of the stacks, he had a hard time making himself look at the pages he carried with him.  He opened other books and read paragraphs at random; he sat still, inhaling the musty odor that came from the old books.  Finally he sighed; unable to put it off any longer, he opened the folder and glanced hastily at the first pages."

For William Stoner, "it" was a manuscript he wanted desperately to read yet kept putting off.  For me "it" is my thesis proposal.  I know what I want to write about.  I know what I want to read.  I know I want to write my thesis.  I don't, however, want to start.

Every time I start - actually start - I get sucked in for hours.  I have fits of excitement and creativity about what can be uncovered, where it will take in both my studies and my life.  I can't think of anything I want to do besides study, read, dig.....research.  A dreaded word to many but to me one which implies doing what is only natural: exploring.  Uncovering links, mapping out patterns, immersing myself in a new language, new land, new acres of the forest.  That ever growing forest of knowledge into which I can only ever hope to map some territory.

Some days I know exactly where I am heading;  a determined hiker seeing the passing landscape merely as a familiar path to a knowable destination.  Other days I wander aimlessly, often enticed by a glimmer in the distance but never convinced to take any one path over another.  I look around and assess, take it all in, breath the scent of fresh new places.  Yet, I also have that pit in my stomach.  The fear of being lost in a new, vast, open-in-all-directions place.  Anything could happen.  Every path looks the same from where I stand but, with unseeable ends, how can I possibly choose?  How can I know that in going one way, I am not limiting my ability to go back, make the decision again, choose a better path?  What if I get lost, it gets dark, the path ends?  So I stand there, frozen in panic, overwhelmed.

It is at these times I have to calm myself and remember that just as there are no obvious paths to take, there are no rules about which order or direction I must go down them.  So long as I just start wandering, and pay attention, I will come across new places that I will either seek to learn more about or find no interest in.  Alternate paths may converge with the one I chose, and, following them back to the starting point does not mean it was all a waste; that I went nowhere.  It merely reveals how the two fit together.  And that, in the end is all I can do.  Wander.  Map connections.  Pause here and there.  Get stuck in a bramble or two.  Explore.

I can no longer stand still, waiting for something to tell me which way to go.  I must start moving.

"At first only a nervous edge of his mind touched what he read; but gradually the words forced themselves upon him.  He frowned and read more carefully.  And then he was caught; he turned back to where he had begun, and his attention flowed upon the page.  Yes, he said to himself, of course."

                                                                                                  ~ From Stoner, by John Williams