If I could turn back time…

In which daylight savings has ended, but the rest of time seems to be speeding up…

My girlfriend was up and about at 6:15 this morning, and I followed her into consciousness at around 6:30. It was not a time I had planned to be conscious, but I was, and it was one of those times when you wake up and there is just no reversing the process no matter how much you would like to.

Another 15 minutes later, at around 6:45, I managed to make it to the kitchen table, where I slumped in a stupor until I realised the coffee wasn’t going to brew itself. Half of it went into a sippy cup so my girlfriend could take it with her when she set off early for work, but even after my own morning coffee, the doldrums continued to tug me around (and not beyond) the confines of the house.

In a fairly typical example of productive procrastination (but also An Important Thing To Help Us Stay Alive, so maybe not?) I decided to make this week’s lunch muffins. While they baked, and then while they cooled, I felt like I should at least make a pretense of working, and stared sullenly at my translation document, changing nothing. Eventually, this made me feel shitty, and I decided to do a Why I Feel Shitty exercise on the back of a bit of paper.

This completed, I thought hard about the Motivation Fairy’s nonexistence, and chose action, hauling myself off to a nearby bakery for bread as a reward for leaving the Submarine (as I like to call our annoyingly long and narrow ‘apartment’).

I have since made it all the way in to the office, and to be perfectly brutally honest about the scale of my recent achievements, I am satisfied with this. I have made an effort and it has brought me in to my place of work, which is more than I managed over the Easter break. Though I suppose, to be fair, it was Easter break.

And I think it is now time for a planning session, since I now have only 2 hours before my meeting with my supervisor (eek). But first, I wanted to warm up my fingers, and here seemed as good a place as any to do it.

A note on the title of this post: I don’t actually want to turn back time. The government does that fine already, and it is profoundly annoying, as it messes with my already slightly peculiar temporal sense for at least a week each way. But as I reflected on how early I got up this morning, I was also given to thinking about the fact that it is already April. And sure, I have made some progress. I’m on the right track, in spite of my best efforts at self-sabotage (gotta call it what it is, regardless of how subconscious it may be). But my full draft deadline is seeming very, very close now. Perhaps I shall do some productive procrastination and research The Fear for another post. For now, I guess I truly better get to work.




I’m not sure, really.

It could be laziness. It could be another bout of depression. I suppose it could even be all of the above. I don’t seem to have the objectivity or perspective to identify it at the moment.

The word ‘doldrums‘ is probably a suitable term, actually: ‘a state of inactivity or stagnation’; ‘a belt of calms and light baffling winds north of the equator between the northern and southern trade winds in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans’ (okay, maybe not so much that one); ‘a dull, listless, depressed mood; low spirits’.

I’m really feeling it today, but I have had this problem for a long time. It’s beset me sporadically for years. It’s a problem where I have trouble getting started. It’s coupled with perfectionism and performance anxiety and at the moment it’s really closely tied to my work (=research) stuff. And the reason it’s so hard to get started…? I don’t actually think it’s because of all of the available distractions the world and especially the internet has to offer, although I’m sure that they contribute to the cycle. I don’t know what the reason is at all, except a general reluctance.

And I know I am not alone in experiencing this. Not by any means. I have seen the same or a very similar lack of motivation in many people I know, including parent figures, which is awkward, because I guess it might partly be a learned behaviour as well.

Anyway, this is also a day, and it is only one day. I suppose, if we stay with the naval metaphor, if I am indeed in the doldrums, there’s nothing for it but to let the ‘calms and light baffling winds’ do their thing, and keep the anchor up and wait for a friendly tide.

Acknowledging adulthood

Downstairs, the kids in the neighbouring colleges are singing drinking songs and encouraging their peers to drink copious amounts of alcohol. They are, as I believe it is called, carousing. It is Thursday night. This is what they do.

Last week, I passed by a similar scenario. I was walking to my office. Not home from, to my office, because one of the beautiful freedoms of postgraduate study is that I can make up for my sleep-in or self-care or whatever by heading into the office at 3pm on a Thursday afternoon. To get to my office, though, I pass by the back of one of the neighbouring colleges, and last Thursday I was treated to watching my distant neighbours dragging out couches and crates and sitting under the trees, in the late afternoon sun, drinking and playing unimaginative pop music and yelling at each other over the autotune.

I never actually participated in these sorts of activities when I was an undergraduate, but it still made me…nostalgic.

I don’t miss undergraduate life, exactly. Like I said, when I was “their age” I wasn’t doing what they were. But it was clear that for them the day was over, and they didn’t have to do anything tomorrow, and I envied them the absence, however temporary, of thoughts of the future.

That was when I realised I am probably a grown-up now.

Another poignant example is that the other week, I ironed my trousers. I was doing casual work at a conference, for money, but the fact remains I ironed my trousers, voluntarily, and more or less successfully.

My girlfriend and I still don’t pay bills, as such, as our utilities are covered in our rent. (At the price we pay, you would hope so.) But there are all these little adult responsibilities that have been creeping into my life over time, and I have been, for the best part, responsible.

So I guess that’s actually something I can be proud of.

This is a shout-out to all you folks who are slowly acknowledging adulthood out there. We’ve got issues, but we’re getting along alright. Keep on trucking!

(Disclaimer: Really, I’m just trying to make myself better for the fact that I didn’t successfully translate any of my text today.)

Somewhere to hang my hat

I picked an obscure topic for my MPhil thesis (which is a Masters of Philosophy, for those of you unacquainted. Or, as I like to call it, a Truncated PhD: two years and 60,000 words).

In some ways, I am glad I did. In other ways, I regret it quite a bit.

See, I am convinced that my work matters. In this I am fortunate.

I also have the full complement of advantages and disadvantages of working in a very small field.

I work with classical Chinese texts in non-Chinese environments. (I won’t get started on the debatable nature of ‘China’ and ‘Chineseness’; although I do think that methodological nationalism is an important issue, and one not yet sufficiently discussed in relation to history and literature. If I am wrong, then please email me with articles you know of, or even your own thoughts on the subject, because I would dearly love to read them.) At the moment, I am working on a 16th century Joseon dynasty text. Both as a thesis topic and as a text it is unusual and obtuse.

Moreover, I am what I have seen termed elsewhere an academic orphan for several reasons:

1. I am a premodernist (and, currently, a Joseon dynasty-ist)

2. I am a classicist (if that is the right term)

3. Before or beneath all of these things I am a historian

With the combination of the above factors, one might expect me to fall somewhere between Chinese and Korean studies, but let me go through the factors one by one. As a premodernist and a Joseon dynasty-ist, I do not believe that the concept of the nation-state is relevant or helpful to my work. As a classicist, I am working with classical Chinese, which is perceived as a language of more than one hegemony: the ‘Chinese’ imperial sphere, for one, and the Joseon dynasty elite for another. Experts in classical Chinese are usually based in China studies, while studies of the Joseon are usually firmly fixed in Korean studies, and my access to Joseon dynasty specialists is restricted by my limited Korean language ability. Finally, the text I have chosen to translate is usually formulated as a work of Korean literature and evaluated in terms of its contribution to emergent Korean literature. So, in short, I am attempting to read ‘literature’ (an irritatingly vague term, like ‘intellectual’) as a historian, dealing with a dead language that was first rejected and then reincorporated into national literature discourse, and trying to review a text that has already been carefully incorporated into national literature discourse by extricating it and reading it in terms of its immediate historical context.

I have no idea where to hang my hat.

When distractions can turn into motivation

The top 5 #phdemotions.

It is telling that I first read this title as Ph Demotions.

Actually, this morning, I’m not demotivated. I gave myself the promise of an afternoon off writing fun fictional things if I can squeeze out the right amount of words and finish the day’s allotted chunk of translation. I am, therefore, motivated.

But I’m doing The Thing again. One Of The Things, I should say, because there are a few. This Thing is the one where I don’t want to deal with all the hard stuff in the middle of my text, so I have retreated to writing the body of text around it. However, this has reminded me of the text-based study that I actually have no idea about the theory surrounding text-based research. Is it literary criticism? Is it intellectual history? I don’t know, which has resulted in a bout of Obsessive Article Collecting (OAC). This is an excellent name for a common affliction. I have downloaded tens of articles on literary theory. Most of them are quite dated, which says a lot about what happens to theory: buzzwords do indeed fall out of fashion. ‘Intellectual history’ seems to be a term that has drifted into disuse. ‘Literary criticism’ articles seem firmly embedded in the explosion of literature studies in the 1960s and 70s (back when the humanities had funding). Multidisciplinarianism has caused as many problems as it has solved, which you can pretty much guess from just looking at the word itself. It’s an aggravating word.

Anyway, I still don’t have PhDemotions, because I’m not up to the stage of a PhD yet. But I did have a meeting with my supervisor yesterday, when she pointed out this MPhil of mine, if I do it right, is going to be the foundation of my academic career.

No pressure.

Guess I should stop collecting articles and get back into the meat of the thesis sandwich. If I fill my quota I can go write meaningless drivel in the comfort of MY BED.


I can do this.

A post to teach all of us lone wolves a lesson

Deadlines schmeadlines.

Lone wolf syndrome is, I suspect, a chronic affliction of higher degree students, but…worse again in the humanities. The humanities is a strange place; it is less regulated and formalised than most other areas of study, and as such it can be a wonderful and liberating place to be.

On the other hand, as all higher degree research students will know, research can be miserable and lonely, and as anyone who chose to do their research in the humanities may understand, sometimes the lack of rigid disciplinary structures and the stretch of possibility is so freeing that you just end up balking at the endless possibilities, curling up in a ball, and doing what feels like exactly fuck-all day after day.

The thing is, structure is important.

This is why deadlines are necessary and good.

I may rail against them, but the fact is I need them.

This is why I deeply envy my girlfriend, who is currently doing a PhD in psychology. She lives in the land of science. There, they were given a book on how to complete their research degree, and are expected to follow it to the letter. Here, in the humanities, there was no book. I recently had to line up the last milestone in my degree for later in the year, and wrote to admin asking if I was correct in thinking that it should be completed three months before the submission on my thesis, which was true as far as different parts of the university website could tell me. I was told that it was just a guideline, and I could set it for whenever I wanted.

This puts the onus on me to get shit done, and I will, but it’s just that little bit more difficult.

There’s definitely something to be said for external accountability.


It turns out I was not a year off-track. I last posted in August, which was more recently that I expected, unless that was from the year before last. I need to learn to read time stamps properly. I still haven’t adjusted to writing ‘2015’ yet. These things take time. Give me another month or so to adjust.
I think I will try to post daily here, just for shits and giggles. It is entirely plausible that I will not be able to keep it up, in which case, well, I don’t really care, because as I said, it is for shits and giggles. A second experiment.

A while ago, I came across a graphic that gave my perfectionism a well-timed and effective knee in the automatic negative thoughts. It seems appropriate to share it here, now:

Failure always means something

This is day 2 of round 2 of my attempt at blogging as a public domain record of my rather ridiculous rollercoastering in the course of my academic life.

I am going to dedicate this one to the bad habits academia allows me to maintain, if not indeed exacerbate. These habits range from the psychological to the practical. For instance, I need to take a moment now to run my lunch up to the fridge in the common room, because when I came in to the office I started writing emails, then followed that up with a desperate trot to the nearest hot water urn to obtain some caffeine, and then the door of a professor I had been intending to meet with for quite some time was open, so I took my tea in there and that took half an hour, and then I came back to my office and wrote another email I had been resisting writing as a way of avoiding starting serious work for the day, and now here I am, still avoiding everything in the name of a writing exercise.

Let it be known: I have gone and put the risotto in the fridge. A small victory against procrastination and something I can be proud of today (I made the choice not to give myself salmonella, hooray!).

Rightio. Bad habits. Number 1, the really really big one, is the way it allows me to allow myself to not get to the point of things. This is probably not a habit I derived from academia. I watch the behaviour of the people I grew up around and I can see that the crazy rants and excessive self-justification are behaviours that I learned. Besides, being obsessed with the why is often what makes a good researcher. It’s just that the obsession with why needs to be tempered with a how, and you can answer almost every possible how with a why not, which can lead to days sitting in front of the desk just thinking ‘well shit’. And that’s the part where we need to remember that we just have to try, and try again, and at least once more. As long as we do that, we will always end up with something statistically significant.

Green tea really doesn’t cut it

So, it’s a year later, maybe more, and here I am again, with the ready admission that the blog plan did not go even remotely to plan. It wasn’t even a slow fade from weekly to fortnightly to monthly posts as my commitments increased and my free time lessened—no, nothing as clearly excusable as that. In fact, it wasn’t even laziness. It was a lack of discipline, pure and simple. A lack of self-discipline, I should say, although I don’t think I should rightly expect discipline to come from anywhere other than myself. A lack of discipline as I slipped under the multidimensional surface of academic overwhelm and unproductive distractions. I am disappointed, but I am also over it. I just thought I’d have a little rant to remind myself that I failed, and why it’s always a good idea to forgive myself and get on with it, not to mention get back on the blog pony.

It is a new year, and new years are always a good excuse for new beginnings. A new year always seems to offer a grander sense of possibility than a new day or a new month or a new hour. This year is already racing along, though, and before I have to resign myself to saving up a starting post for a new month, I’m just going to go ahead and punch out this meaningless piffle as a record of Not Doing What I Planned To. It’s good to have these things on record, after all, and I find myself disappointed that I did not keep up with The Plan. It would have been rather nice and extremely useful to have successfully recorded my experiences over the past however-long. It would have been interesting to know what my mental state was at particular points in time, because, as a dear friend of mine quoted to me recently (I forget whom he was quoting, so I will just quote him), memory is notoriously unstable. We end up remembering not what we want to remember, as such, but worse, what we think we remember. Our memories are like liquid, and conform to the confines of our brains in most peculiar ways. Having a record would have kept me accountable, to myself more than anyone else, for all that an internet blog is a public sphere.

Anyhow, as I mentioned, here lies a little rant to remind myself that I failed to write regular blog posts of my experiences as a Masters student in 2014. It is now 2015, and I have about five months left to lift myself out of the Valley of Shit and up the craggy rugged rocky Writing Ranges. These, I expect, will be offensively varied in difficulty. There are five major peaks: an introduction, three chapters, and a conclusion. I may not enjoy it while I’m scaling them, but it sure will be nice to sit at the top drinking makkoli and surveying my achievements at the end.

The halfway mark

Well well well—so much for that commitment to writing weekly submissions. But how interesting to reread my last post here and think about what has taken place in the four months since.

It has been a busy time, and is liable to get busier, as I have had the very good fortune to be offered a supported place in a newly instituted student exchange. But busyness and/or business are no excuse for laziness, and I shall reform myself.

I am now exactly a year through my MA program, and it is very strange to have time warp around me: I have already begun to feel the squeeze of my impending thesis deadline, simply because I started thinking about it.
It is times like these when a long hard morning of planning seems in order, and planning I shall do.

But it is the 1st of August, and I am definitely one of those people who is bolstered by notional New Beginnings. It’s improbably stupid, but there it is: I have made today a symbolic occasion, and woken up thinking, What ho, the first day of a new month? A fresh start! Time to resume blogging—and all that other stuff I’ve been meaning to do! Yes, codswallop, I know. But energy enough to be kicking along until the first of next month, at least, I should think.

Since this blog is ostensibly dedicated to my research project, I shall continue as I was before, making notes on my research practices and their relationship to my progress. I feel I should add that these notes themselves are original, but much of the inspiration for them is the fine work of others. I owe a great debt to the internet, and the wonderful people who propagate their ideas on the internet, especially academic bloggers, for supporting me through some very dark times, such as the vacuum of my past four silent months.

As I have mentioned before, I operate somewhere within the triangle formed by history, literature, and translation studies. By their very nature, all three fields are complementary, and all three also have certain amorphous tendencies. I expect that most graduate students can relate when I say that I felt pressured to assume a disciplinary position. However, this has ultimately been little more than a distraction, and I urge anyone writing a text-based dissertation to assume a disciplinary position only as much as is absolutely necessary, and otherwise just focus on your text, because it is quite simply the core of your studies. You see, it has taken me half of my program to complete a full translation draft—translation draft—of my text.

This is not true of all translation projects. Most people have the good sense to work with living languages, and are therefore much more likely to have access to help and support. Those of us who tread cautiously into the realms of premodern materials, on the other hand, are often left sitting in front of a computer screen for hours, just staring, because often there is no answer, and you must just make something up for the time being, make a note that you made it up, and return to it later, hoping that the hermeneutic circle has closed and imparted some sort of sense to what came before.

It will probably take me the other half of my program to finish the damn thing, but that’s as it should be.