Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The Report

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?


Tabula Rasa said...

P.S. Yes, I'm working on my dissertation. How can you tell?

That was the first thing that came to my mind. How could *you* tell?

Arthur Quiller Couch said...

Can't trust the sad asses who read the entire report. If they've got so much fricking time, they're goofing off somewhere else.

Anonymous said...

try using a pop up window for your comments please!
yes, it was obvious that you were talking about your dissertation

Anonymous said...

Somehow it had me thinking along the lines of personal journals and autobiographies. :)


rs said...

seemed to me that you are talking abt this blog of urs

Neha said...

Is it a coincidence that just after reading your blog I read this:
So if you have any writing needs - copywriting, feature stories, ghosted autobiographies that lack spirit, or an annual report you want to go with a bang - contact me and let's talk about it. My rates are modest, quotes come by the hour, for the job, or as so-much per kilo on 80 GSM bond.
Check it out here -

??! said...

ahh, yes, the good ol' "contribution to existing literature". Sympathies. Much sympathies.

Anonymous said...

But of course ..what else can it be ? ( yes it is rhetorical)

Somewhere out there in the parallel world Kafka is weeping. Either that or laughing his ass off.

Veena said...

Oh no. You are going to graduate now?

Revealed said...

It just seems so bloody unfair. Like *everyone's* finishing up and grumbling about writing up their thesis when I *know* (for a fact) that inside they're laughing their heads off, thinking "Later, losers!" at the rest of us.

Sigh. I have issues.

Falstaff said...

TR: I suspect it's the reaction almost anyone who's ever written a dissertation would have.

aqc: Ah, the 'I wouldn't join any club that would have me for a member' approach.

anon: why?

And while I'm glad it was 'obvious', I wasn't talking about my dissertation. I was talking about my life. The parallel suggested itself because I'm working on my dissertation.

N / rs: yes, that's probably closer to the idea.

neha: Oh, it's pure coincidence I assure you.

??!: Gah! don't remind me.

anon: Laughing his ass off, I think.

veena / revealed: Whoah! hold your horses people. No one said anything about graduating. I said I was 'working on' my dissertation, I never said I was anywhere close to finishing. At my current rate of progress I estimate it'll take me another two years to complete - two and a half if next year's Booker long list turns out to be longer than this year's.

Anonymous said...


I think it would be much better for readers to comment while they are still be able to read your post along the side. it helps !
yes, yes I can open a new tab or 'show the original post' etc. but its a better design for the blog as such.

considering the no. of folks who read your post and would like to comment/quote from the post itself, make it easier for them, won't you ? :)

hopefully i am representing a good proportion of your readers' request.
consider consider !

??! said...

tosh and poppycock. popups are irritating, hence toolbars ban them. Falsie, that's one 'no' on that issue.

Anonymous said...

Groucho marx God Bless Thee for quoting our faveeee !-grad students who 'work' on their dissertations....gahhh...
WHEN will ThaT phase come!'if'ever.

Anonymous said...


agreed, a popup is irksome but considering its utility for blogs in general and specifically here...!

okay, that's one 'for' and one 'against'.
i don't think a "comment's window" from blogs get blocked anyway!
so, do consider

sigh, just enable/allow the popup for this blog even if it does get blocked.
big deal?

Falstaff said...

anon: Hmm...I have to confess I personally find pop-up comment boxes really annoying. It's not just that, as ??! says, they often get blocked, it's also that the last thing I need is one more window open in my browser. Specially when all I have to do is hit 'Show Original Post'.

Still, what you're saying makes some sense, and I'm open to changing if other people feel the same. So far it's one for and one against. I wonder what everyone else thinks?

Anonymous said...


ok good, atleast the appeal is not entirely rejected :P solution that takes care of both sides of the issue is like when you click on the "comments" link below a post, the comments section is displayed after the original post IN that page itself with every sidebar stuff intact.
so, win-win situation ;)

check out a wordpress blog to see how it works ( if you dont know already, that is)

would be great if you could incorporate the idea into this blogspot template
only a suggestion :)

Anonymous said...

For what it's worth, I prefer the current format for the comments section. The pop-up version is a little irksome.

As for the other option of the comments section being displayed after the original post IN that page itself, that is fine too. But in that option too, the "in the page" view is just to read the comments. If you want to write your own comment, the view changes to one like this. So that doesn't really serve Anon's purpose, of having the main post open while commenting.


Falstaff said...

anon: Yes, I really like the wordpress format too. Unfortunately, I don't know how to incorporate that into a blogger template. And given my complete lack of any ability when it comes to things like modifying code (the last time I tried making any change to the layout of this blog I had to stay up all night trying to undo the damage) I'm going to stick to the tried and tested for now. Thanks for the suggestion anyway. Will keep it in mind, and if more people feel they'd prefer the pop-up option I'm happy to do that. So far it's 2 to 1 against though.

Revealed said...

Against. I like it this way and you *just* changed the template! Nuf blasphemy on this blog. Let us bring this to an end, people. Peace, not template-changes.

Anonymous said...


BEEP. wrong. you can comment "IN that page itself" ( ok, am stressing this way too much ). below the existing comments, you get the 'leave your comment textbox' etc etc
check out a wordpress blog.


ahem, okay! ( headache understandable)
case faltering i know, i know :)
its me against the world i guess :P


And there shall be peace!

Space Bar said...

Though this discussion seems to have ended, I'm totally against pop-up comment boxes (km, anyone else who has such irritations on your blog, you can consider this an informal, universally applicable poll!).

Please don't change to pop-ups Falstaff!

kbpm said...

falstaff, hang in there, although it (dissertation, mostly; life too perhaps, not sure, not that old yet) never straightens itself out or start to make sense, the annoyance/discomfort at it fades over the years.

Anonymous said...

Saw now the Wordpress option you're referring to. Had earlier thought that you were referring to something else.


Anonymous said...

@falstaff - At my current rate of progress I estimate it'll take me another two years to complete

Sheesh, you need to be more responsible here! I'll try to hold my horses and all that, but you had me going there for a while - Falstaff graduates, gets a real job, no 2x3x7, i'm still stuck here, then darkness...

Thanks for the clarification but I'll have you know I spent all of yesterday drowning my sorrow at your imminent graduation in my own sorry dissertation (20 pages so far. oh wait 30 1.5 spaced.) It did wonders for my productivity but I'm already a pale shadow of my slacker self from a day ago. So yeah, more responsibility please.


Falstaff said...

revealed: Err...I changed the template ages ago. Really.

kbpm: Thanks

s: Not to worry. Also, what makes you think that 2x3x7 will shut down after I graduate? Let's not exaggerate what a 'real job' means - I'm still going to be an academic, just one who gets paid a lot more.

Revealed said...

*reproachfully* I am in grad school. Time does not follow Rules in here. You should know better.

kbpm said...

yeah falstaff, academics are the place to be. dont let them lure you to other places. you will have to wear ties and suits and rubbish of that sort. plus its highly unlikely that you can pass off maintaining your blog as work, in those other places.
too much unsolicited advice? ok, i stop now. its based on the flimsy premise that i know you cause i read your blog.