From this month’s GradHacker blog post:
“There is no earthly way of knowing,” muses Willy Wonka (Gene Wilder) in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, “in which direction we are going. Is it raining? Is it snowing? Is a hurricane a blowing?” While hurling through the darkness with ever-quickening images streaking across the walls of the tunnel, Wonka’s voice reaches a fevered pitch, something bordering on terror and ecstasy. “YES!” he shouts. “The danger must be growing for the rowers keep on rowing! And they are showing no signs that they are slowing!”
As a child, I loved this scene from Willy Wonka, because it was weird and there were creepy bugs everywhere; as an adult, this scene carries more meaning, because I realize that it is actually about adulthood. It is making the point that everything in life should be equal parts exhilarating and terrifying, creative and dangerous. And that every experience builds on top of the last, creating momentum and energy.
I try my best to carry this ethos into my dissertation. Yet, after weeks and weeks of typing, alphabetizing, transliterating, and correlating, this sort of rote grunt work leaves me intellectually unfulfilled and bored. Yes, I am still productive in a general sense (750 words a day or bust!), but after a while my work starts to feel like all of these discrete units that I am just mindlessly plugging into my dissertation. I cannot see, for example, the forest for all the trees or the “so what” for all the research.
I call this sort of intellectual boredom thinker’s block. Just like writer’s block, the inability to write for a protracted period of time, thinker’s block is the inability to think of interesting ideas or build meaningful connections in one’s scholarship. It feels like you have all of these beautifully painted wooden blocks, but, when you go to stack them together, they keep tumbling down. To keep your blocks together, you need good ideas that link all of the data, text, or research together. But sometimes those ideas just will not come.
To read more, check out the full article!