Sometimes I feel as though I spend all my time writing a report on something I have no knowledge of.
To be honest, I don't even know what the report is about. Or what it's supposed to be about. Or who's supposed to read it.
I only know that it needs to be written, so I keep turning it in, a page a day, each typed sheet added to the earlier ones, filed away in a three-ring folder that I still haven't found a label for. I've been doing this for as long as I remember.
The pages have continuity from day to day, I think, and each individual page seems coherent, but over time the structure breaks down. It's hard keeping a report of this magnitude on track when you're putting it together over a long period of time and you keep finding new things to write about. So chapters overlap, themes peter out, the style changes, the facts contradict each other. The whole thing's a mess. Some days I think I'm making progress. Other days I'm not sure what progress would look like.
When I was younger, when I'd just started, I used to think: just wait. In a little while the whole thing will become clear. I had dreams of writing a proper executive summary, parsing the report down to its essence, lucidly stating the key message, the two or three important ideas, so that people would want to read on.
This seems unlikely now. How can I summarize something when I don't understand it myself? When I can barely remember what it says a hundred pages ago? Sometimes I flip through the report at random, opening this page or that, trying to find a theme, a central thesis. But there's nothing.
I can't reread the whole thing now - it would take too long. And besides, I have to keep writing.
I suppose in the end I will write some kind of summary. Even if the report isn't quite finished. Even if I never find out what it was meant to say. I'll write down something - whatever I remember, whatever comes into my head, whatever I'm focussed on then - and it'll have to do.
Or maybe they'll get someone else to write it, someone with more aptitude, and he or she will read a bit here, a bit there, and make of it what he or she can.
(And who's to say he or she will be wrong?)
Because it doesn't really matter, does it? No one's going to read this report. It's just going to be put away on a high shelf and left there to gather dust. Even if someone does take it down all they're going to read is the executive summary; they'll form their opinion of the report and learn what there is to learn from those few paragraphs. They certainly won't bother to read the rest, won't check whether it's an accurate summary. They'll take it at face value. They'll be satisfied.
And they'll never know, anymore than I do now, what it was really about.
P.S. Yes, I'm working on my dissertation. How can you tell?