Or lines and holes. A great guy – Dr John Postill – once described good research as one of the two. Draw a new line between two apparently unrelated things, or fill a hole.
My honours was a line, and my PhD looks like a hole. Honours traced a path between theatre and new media by treating both in terms of screens, or interfaces. The PhD is looking at a glaring gap in practice and literature – mobiles in theatre.
I go with snakes for the former because its such a winding road. Sure there is a head and a tail, but the path traverses so much ground its easy to get distracted.
The other side is a ladder, because once you’ve found the hole (most likely by falling in) you need to climb out – one rung at a time. The idea is to get back to the playing board, and of you can do that, the research is a success.
The problem for the ladders is that each rung has a fucking snake on it. The deeper the hole, the more snakes, and its dark as pitch most of the way which means the snakes are all the more insidious.
The ladder breeds snakes. This isn’t a bad thing, just something you need to be aware of. The snakes must be acknowledged, they just don’t need to become the focus. Eyes on the light at the top of the ladder.
But don’t ignore the snakes or you’ll get bitten. The snakes can provide welcome distractions (i.e. conference papers, journal articles, ideas for later research or – if its an anaconda – a more appropriate direction) but remember the ladder.
If you get stuck on the board in one of the safe spaces, you’re doing it wrong. Simple as that.
Just remember, if the game is a serious one, both snakes and ladders kill. Snakes are painful and slow, but once you’re bitten you know you’re dead. The ladders can fool you. Maybe you’ll lie on the ground with a busted leg in the hope you’ll be saved. The truth is no one can hear you, nobody is coming.
But if you can climb out into the light, the ladder – and the snakes – are nothing. Stay strong and keep climbing.
And roll the dice.