graduate study

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.

Weakness.

Weakness?

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.

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.