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.)

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.

Hello anxiety

Yes, that is a plug for Guineafowl.

Indie music aside, it’s been a helluva week, and study tools #2 is being set back ‘till next week’ yet again.

You see, yesterday, I had my thesis proposal seminar.

I’ve got some pretty mixed feelings about the whole process. So mixed that you could probably drink them for breakfast as a smoothie.

On the one hand, I can understand why my institution wants to make sure they haven’t been waiving my program fees for nothing (no thanks to the Abbott administration, but we’ll leave that one alone for now). I can also recognise that it’s a good idea to force graduate students to actually organise their ideas and research objectives, and that milestones are an important and necessary means of forcing hermits like me out of their offices and into the local academic community.

On the other, apart from acting as exposure therapy for my phobia of public speaking, I’m not sure it was very useful. I work somewhere in the amorphous disciplinary bubble of history, literature, and translation studies. I’m only six months into my translation, and it is most definitely Not Finished. I don’t even have a complete first draft yet. The longer I spend with the damn thing, the more certain I become that the reason no one’s ever done it before it because it’s HARD. I’m not even entirely sure what it’s about.

So for me, it was more of a necessary embarrassment than a seminar. I suspect that if I had simply sat there and dribbled at my audience, I would have been a little more eloquent than I ended up being. It was sort of amazing, actually: I’m not used to that sense of disembodiment. The things that can come out of your mouth while you’re busy trying to convince yourself that you’re not going to die of shame…

Actually, I probably shouldn’t joke about that. I can be glib now that it’s over, but the fear and anxiety that were building up beforehand were quite severe, and very unpleasant.

In case you hadn’t quite gotten the impression that I hate public speaking, let me make it absolutely clear: I hate public speaking.

I’m not sure what it is about standing up (or even sitting down) in front of a group of people that makes me so deeply uncomfortable. As it turned out, at my seminar, I knew almost everyone there on a first-name basis. They were all people I liked; people who were interested; people sympathetic to my project and ideas. Yet their eyes settled on me, and I felt The Fear.

That evening, my patient and long-suffering girlfriend brought home a cherry pie to congratulate me on confronting The Fear, and, stuffing my face with cherry goodness, I proceeded to whine about my hatred of presentations.

She listened thoughtfully to my diatribe, and, when I had finished, she nodded and said, ‘You should probably lecture.’

And I think she’s right. I probably should, because public speaking, like any skill, is something you get better at through regular practice.

I am at the other end of the spectrum—that was the first presentation I have given in at least two years.

I want to put it out there that I’m relieved that it’s over, but I don’t think it went very well. I had a great turn-out, but I spoke poorly; I had some excellent questions, to which I couldn’t give satisfactory answers. But I guess that’s kind of the point.

I haven’t exactly been filled with the flames of passion for public speaking. I’m not ready to trot out onto a stage and have at the three minute thesis competition.

Brace yourselves—I’m going to finish with a motivational quote. You know, the one Stanislas Wawrinka got tattooed on his left arm. Samuel Beckett:

Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.

Taking care of yourself

It’s been a busy week, and I haven’t finished the second half of my study tools review, so here’s a little interim post on self-care. More on study tools next week.

Yesterday was one of Those Days.

You know the ones. You make it to about three thirty in the afternoon, but then it happens: you flop, and become sad, tired, and unmotivated for no apparent reason.

In my experience, there usually is a reason for the fizzle-out, hiding somewhere in my subconscious. But other times the flops are genuinely random and inexplicable. You may not know which it is, though, and you may never find out.

Anyway, yesterday was one of Those Days.

I used to have Those Days more often than I do at the moment, because I’ve developed a technique for dealing with them. I’m not a mental health professional or a life coach or anything, but this is my personal, unprofessional recommendation:

When it happens, don’t sit there doing nothing. You’ll just feel guilty. You’ll feel guilty for feeling bad, you’ll feel guilty about not knowing why, and you’ll feel guilty about not working.

My advice is action.

Go somewhere else.

Go have coffee.

Go read a book.

Go home and do all the housework that’s been piling up, or have a shower, or have a wank—do whatever, as long as it isn’t sitting there marinating in frustration, fatigue, resentment and/or boredom.

Be nice to yourself. In spite of what you jokingly tell people, if you’re researching, you probably genuinely care about your research. Not all days are going to be productive, and if you’ve hit a wall, you’ve hit it.

Let’s stick with that metaphor for a minute:

It’s a wall. No matter what it’s made of, it’s real enough that it might as well be physically present, and no matter what it’s made of, if you just slammed into it, you’ve already proved to yourself that you won’t be able to move it with force.

Not right away.

So give yourself a little bit of time. When you’re nose to the wall, you’ve got no real perspective on it. Take a step back, and once you’ve regained your eyesight, you’ll be able to get a sense of the wall’s actual dimensions. 

Chances are you’ll find you can walk right around it.