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"the work" vs jobs, practice



My fourth semester of grad school starts this coming week. My main obligation this term is writing a master's thesis, which I feel reasonably good about except for the part where I'm realizing just how much I hate the particular kind of academic prose such a task requires.

I read My Trade Is Mystery: Seven Meditations from a Life in Writing by Carl Phillips this week, and it's had me thinking a lot about the difference between what Phillips regularly calls "the work" (in his case, of poetry) and jobs. I like reading advice on writing and creativity from poets because poets are often very spacey and sensitive, and I am also very spacey and sensitive. Poets will admit more readily than most artists that everything of one's life does, ultimately, go into creative work, whether we mean for it to or not and whether it's visible in the final result or not.

Academia is the first time in a pretty long time that I've had something like a job that is not directly a reflection of me doing "the work." There's overlap, sure, but the material I write for the three people who have to read my master's thesis is probably not going to be the same material I would write for myself with the same subject matter. I'm thinking a lot about how I write this work while simultaneously writing it into/as, well, homework.

One way I'm thinking about it is letting the job version of this writing be practice in the sense that Phillips writes about it:

Here, by the way, I think it's more important not to have art as the absolute goal, or even the goal at all. It's too intimidating...The point here is physical and mental engagement with the act of writing, until the joining of thought and writing becomes conducive to thinking, becomes a catalyst for curiosity and the medium by which curiosity extends itself like lightβ€”but somehow more physical than lightβ€”into the so-called darkness of what's yet to be stumbled upon, what we call discovery.

Which is to say: I expect to write a lot of garbage sentences over the next month and hopefully writing enough garbage will gain me the fluency needed to get to the good stuff.