Adam Gopnik has this bit about writing in his book, Paris to the Moon, that I absolutely love:
Writing isn't the transformation of stuff into things. It is just the transformation of symbols into other symbols, as if one reads recipes out loud for dinner changing the proportions ("I'm adding fifty goddam grams of butter!") for dramatic effect. You read out the recipe and the audience listens, and pretends to taste...Sometimes, if you change the proportions dramatically enough--nothing but butter! no butter at all!--people gasp, as though they really could taste it. (This is the way Burroughs and Bukowksi write.)...Writing is a business of saying things about stuff and saying things about things and then pretending that you have cooked one into the other.
And that's just it, this week: I've been sitting around, trying to finish (okay, fine, start) my papers, and thinking to myself, what am I doing with my life? I can spend an entire day--like today--working hard: reading Australian language grammars, writing long lists of Indonesian words on the whiteboard, staring at the wall while thinking about morphology, and then, fianlly, get to the end of the day and realize I have done nothing but say things about stuff ("privative suffixes are cool") and stuff about stuff ("Indonesian morphology is cool") and pretending that that was not a total waste of a day.
It was not a total waste of a day. Oh, wait: yes, it was. What am I doing with my life?!?
And I can't think anything, at the end of the semester, but how tired I am of thinking. I never thought I'd say that, but it's true: I can't wait for my papers to be finished (badly, but who cares?), turned in (without staples or the needed appendices, but who cares?), and forgotten (which is not supposed to happen in grad school, but who cares?). I can't wait because when my papers are done, I will not have to think; instead, I will get to do. I'll move apartments, go to Bakersfield, visit with The Dancing Newt, go to Boston, tour San Francisco with The Duke, work on a dictionary, run a half marathon, teach phonetics to California Indians, and go to Jordan.
Only one more paper stands between me and a glorious month of activity. I can do this. Yes. I. Can. But until then? I'm adding fifty grams of butter.