I was talking to a friend on Friday night and we both agreed that no matter what personality you have - whether you're the retiring type or the sassiest person around - the last six months of PhD studies in a concentrated, iterative environment like the one we are in invariably beats you down. It magnifies all sorts of worries and insecurities and even though you have another narrative going about how silly and temporary it all is, you still fall in all sorts of psychic traps, rookie traps you thought you'd left at high school. My friend suggested it's because we're all so narissistic. It’s hard to know how much is you, and how much is the space. I guess the fact that I wrote that last line suggests an inordinate self-fascination that is closer to narcissism than not!
One thing I have been thinking about way too much recently is how I have always been pretty hopeless with having unresolved issues with people. I am hard-wired to seek understanding and consensus. This probably means some sort of addiction to approval and acceptance, but, more charitably, I am sure it also means that I am a kind, community-minded and fairly responsible person. Whatever the reasons, these tendencies can be really unhelpful when you're dealing with certain people or situations in this (last six months of thesis in Oxford) context, a context where pretty much everyone's thinking lacks perspective and their behaviour lacks consequences.
I emphasise ‘certain’ because I have met many bright, energetic, conscientious people here, I have a terrific bunch of friends and I still feel very open to meeting new people. But there are dangers. One is that I am not good at dealing with tension or conflict with people who haven't known me for very long. Fortunately, it doesn't happen often, but when it does, it really throws me and I can find myself enmeshed in these heavy analyses of the situation and crazy polarities about myself, the other person, and others generally. In these conditions, where the lightness vanishes quickly, I keep trying to make whatever's at issue (whether it's a simple action, a series of points or an entire relationship) workable, even rosy, for the other. I have never been particularly stellar at cutting my losses, but here it seems, if it means good will might be restored, I am willing to keep putting my hand back in the blender until all my fingers are mangled and I have expressed regret for things that happened well before I even met the person. This has come to the forefront recently and it sucks.
I must say, around these parts, this sort of obsessive behaviour is rife. Students here seem more likely to discuss the minutiae of their daily interactions than any urgent political event or current intellectual debate. Loads of people I know here take anti-anxiety medication. Of course, I come into contact with a skewed sample of highly-strung people, but, still, I think there is something particular about this environment that dramatises these dispositions. As another friend recently said, students here become so fretful about whether or not to accept social invitations that they end up not committing to anything, worrying about it for days, and then falling apart on the night and staying in with a curry.
To manage my own thesis-related worries, I write a blog post, belly dance, see friends, read or go for a walk or to the gym. Plus, I always feel essentially optimistic, unrestrained, and loved so the balance is never out for very long, usually just for a few hours. But it can be a tough gig: our powers of analysis and senses of control and grandeur which are so useful for our theses and other acts of awesomeness conspire to turn against us sometimes. A while back, I tried a guided meditation podcast to help counter-balance this absurdness. It was all about going into your brain's mainframe and rewiring it. The Windows shutdown sound followed by "all files have been erased" was rather disconcerting for me so I haven't been back to it. Nonetheless, it did have some judicious words for my brain, including turning frustration into gratitude.
So, instead of continuing to celebrate frustration, until the next post, I present here some things I am grateful for:
- Being taught a belly dance-club fusion class yesterday by a teacher who was probably the original choreographer for the Fame dance sequences. Our dance started with a Michael Jackson sideways hop and ended with a street pose. Sick!
- Having a midnight chocolate milkshake and chat with a top pal last night.
- That I am soon to receive this glorious book of poetry in the post.
- That my twin is happy.
- My boyfriend's gentle but twisted sense of humour.
- A holiday booked for Italy in early June with two gorgeous ladyfriends.
- Any evening bike ride that includes Queen’s Lane to the Bodleian.
Please feel free to share things for which you’re grateful and/or send me some wise words about thesis-related neuroses and/or letting things go.