Eight Crazy Nights – Looking back at the Road Home

Firstly, I would like to start this post by indicating that the minor delay between this post and my last has been intentional. The obvious stress, fatigue, anxiety and uncertainty that dominated my previous post (while important to have documented, in retrospect) actually frightened me from blogging temporarily! and it prompted me to briefly resort back to the good ol’ personal diary for a week.. So – since completing my previous blog post, i decided to leave the blog-o-sphere for the final 8 days of my research process, so I could truly put 100 percent energy into my study and attempt to resolve all of the issues addressed regarding my conclusion.

While I had never written a thesis prior to this one, my final week of Honours gave me the feeling that research in all of its extended forms (phd, masters, honours etc.) truly reaches its apex in the final weeks before a deadline. Over the course of “eight crazy nights”, I managed to: heavily condense the wordcount of my thesis (with some help from my supervisor); complete a concise conclusion to a pleasing standard; learn how to use a nightmare-inducing computing software to present my thesis (and do so successfully) and break some unbelievable personal records (which i will discuss further).

Aware that I was going to do a “superblog post” to tie off the semester, I decided to make a conscious effort to engage in some regular photo taking during the home stretch, so that i could document the nature and texture of my research experience throughout the final week of work on my thesis, and make it easier for readers to understand this research diary entry.. Hopefully the pictures allow for some further insight.

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Necessity: Coffee consumed every day . Two in the morning and one or more in the afternoon.

As trivial as it seems, coffee has been a major component of my research experience this semester. Its stimulating effects have been central to my concentration, allowing me to stay focused on the task at hand, and I genuinely think my level of productivity has increased when coffee has been involved. But then again, maybe that’s just what the coffee wants me to believe…. Placebo or no, its been enjoyable complementing my research with some of Melbourne’s finest lattes. Particularly in the final weeks before submission!

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Conclusion – draft number four was a particularly useful one, crafted in the Honours lab with some assistance from my good friend, the bodum coffee plunger. Was full of good material that I used in my final edit

I certainly had a lot of anxiety surrounding the process of writing my conclusion, perhaps unnecessarily so. I continued to feel as though the conclusion could not be properly written out until I was confident that i had completely finished the body of my work, which was not really the case. I set myself up in my introduction to present six guidelines that served as considerations for contemporary artists to keep in mind, if they were to pursue the release of a concept album in the digital age. What i needed to remind myself of in the process of writing my conclusion was that these guidelines were perhaps the most important element of it, and really needed drafting, care and attention.

I presented these alongside a summation of the work that had come in the body of my work, as well as clear discussion about what I felt that future scholars needed to address with concept albums; what I hadn’t had time to address in my own work; and what I would like to do in any further research on concept albums. I also tried to outline how my understanding of concept albums had changed through the research process, and used my six guidelines to interrogate how important concept albums are to music culture. Writing with these sorts of prompts in mind was made easier by pulling out the highlighter and reading my thesis on paper – finding the key threads so that I could be concise and not over-complicate things.

The Honours lab has been a fantastic research environment to work within this semester, with some passages of my thesis that I am particularly fond of emerging over the course of numerous sessions in lab-lockdown. There have been a number of days where the support of “the brotherhood” has been extremely valuable, using the classroom area of the lab to set up for full days, with a list of goals we wanted to achieve, and working closely to some strict “pomodoro” guidelines and a daily time management plan in order to fulfill the goals. This allowed us to avoid procrastination, and also find time to eat meals and take breaks to rejuvenate ourselves where appropriate.

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There were times when the rigors of Honours got the better of us.. Jason and I found the time on Monday to have a lay down and rejuvenate ourselves for the evening ahead.

One of the toughest things to contend with as the deadline drew nearer was the obvious lack of sleep that many of us in the Honours cohort were subject to. I love sleep, and I know how it can benefit the clarity of my thoughts and enhance the quality of my work – but in the final weeks of the thesis writing process, I could not help but feel like I was not going to achieve my goals if I didn’t put myself to bed late and pull myself out of bed early each day – to maximise the time available for me to work. Naps on the Honours floor or on the beanbags in the lab were wonderful when we allowed ourselves to have them – but more often than not, in my case anyhow, the feeling of fatigue was an excuse for another coffee and to try and pull myself out of the rut.

The circumstances under which I worked in the last three days of the thesis writing process were less than preferable, and are likely to go down in Honours folklore. With the design software InDesign shrieking my name as i tried to go to sleep, and yelling “Don’t use Word, Use me!”, I felt like it was necessary to give the software a chance and try and learn the ropes with it to give my thesis a more “spiffy” appearance and layout (as Adrian has called it).

I left for Uni at 5.30am on Wednesday morning (23rd of october) and arrived at the Honours lab with a big coffee in hand by 7.30am to start laying things out in InDesign. That I would not be packing up to leave the lab until 6pm on Thursday (24th october) was the furthest thing from my expectations – and with no such nap to speak of in the 36 hours that went by in that time, i was truly “the walking dead” by the time i went to bed after 40 hours of being awake at 10pm on Thursday night.

An hour by hour documentation of the constant frustration and anger I felt throughout the two days i spent preparing my thesis in InDesign would certainly make for an interesting read.. but I would likely self-destruct in the process of writing it. My thesis was finished, and I had a folder full of images prepared to accompany it. Yet InDesign continued to confront me with overset text, anchored images, formatting issues and UNEXPECTED ERRORS that erased much of the work i had done. It is a miracle that by 2pm on Friday I finally felt at ease with the presentation of my thesis and was ready to print!

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With some advice from Steve, a new favourite snack was discovered. BANANA AND PEANUT BUTTER. This became breakfast almost every day and seemed to have positive effects on my morning productivity..

The above caption makes things pretty clear.. breakfast is important.

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Thursday afternoon was always going to be “cutting it fine” for my first visit to the printers.. but having been awake for nearly 40 hours and successfully laid out my front cover – i had faith – and I’m glad that was the case. Auscopy went through numerous complimentary sample prints for me and ensured that my front cover and key pages would be printed just the way I wanted.

While I am by no means a graphic designer and am certainly not renowned for my art or photography skills etc. – I had never put as much work into anything uni-related before as this thesis, and I did not want to skimp out on the presentation and appearance of the thesis as an artifact. Having a friend like Steve around the lab was extremely beneficial in this regard, with his keen eye for design.

For weeks I had been flirting with the idea of presenting my thesis like a “concept album” of sorts, to amplify the effectiveness of the message it contained. However, I didn’t believe that I had the time available, nor the know-how, to pull off such a feat. I asked Steve what his thoughts were on manipulating two key images that I was working with (the first being the record label of Jethro Tull’s “Thick as a Brick”, and the second being an image of a computer motherboard) to evoke the idea of a vinyl record, and it was not long before he assured me that a great design was in fact possible. This kind of support has been constant throughout the Honours Lab all semester, and it has been so valuable for each of us to have friends from a variety of media and communication-based backgrounds to bounce ideas off and seek help from.

By 6pm Thursday, I was heading to the printers (functioning on 36 waking hours and 7 coffees) to experiment with some prints on transparent paper for the first time. With the cover pages finalised by 6.45 – it was time to head home and get some much needed rest, knowing that I would need to complete the PDF of my thesis on Friday (there were a few changes still to be made in InDesign). I hoped to be ready for printing by 2pm on Friday afternoon, so that i would have enough time to get the thesis thermal bound at 3pm, for a 5pm submission. CUTTING IT FINE

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With my transparent cover design printed out, i had some fun experimenting with it.. Misplaced childhood became a misplaced image – but one i rather liked.

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3pm Friday – heart racing. Printing complete. Covers ready to go. Time for Binding!

If I could have had my time again, I certainly would have commenced the InDesign editing process earlier to avoid eating away so heavily at the time I had available for sleeping. I also would not have left the printing process until the final day.. (I did intend to print on Thursday night, but once I noticed some of the “bad edits” i had made in my sleepless state of mind – I knew that it was lucky I didn’t rush into printing and I am glad i left it for that one additional day).

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Here you can more easily see the design of my front cover – a 1970s record label enshrouded in a web of computer chips – as if to symbolise to existence of concept albums in two different eras, 40 years apart (and also to indicate the re-emergence of vinyl as a prominent medium of distribution in the digital age)

It is hard to describe the surreal feeling that buzzed through me as I headed upstairs from the Honours lab at 4.45pm Friday to submit my Honours thesis. I submitted three copies (totaling nearly 50,000 words) of a year’s worth of engrossing study and research down the chute in an instant, and the sense of relief I felt is something I will never forget.

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That said.. I must admit that I have been quite afraid to open up my personal copy of the thesis and read it closely (in fear of editing errors and mistakes) now that it has been submitted. I wonder if this is how most researchers feel at the completion of such a significant body of work? It felt as though the research was done, and there was nothing more that I could do, so the approach I chose to adopt was one of oblivion. The waiting game..

I reflect upon the final eight nights of my study process and shake my head in disbelief at the hours I put in to complete the thesis, and the associated sleep deprivation that came with the territory. It was nothing short of crazy! But the memory that overpowers it all, and makes the process feel so worthwhile, is the feeling of relief associated with leaving Building 9 on Friday with the work no longer in my hands, and a big grin on my face.

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Here – i leave you with one of the happiest moments of my year. Photo courtesy of Wil Polson, my brother in submission.

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About simonwoodhonours

Simon Wood (Honours in Media and Communication) is an RMIT student whose specialist discipline is in the 'contemporary music industry'. For his honours study in 2013, Simon will be researching the ‘concept album’, and its significance within the contemporary music industry.
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