Thursday, 30 July 2009

What's That Over There?

I have noticed that my recent posts have been distinctly non-academic, at least in the direct sense. I am in heavy thesis mode at the moment, thrashing out the very last of my empirical chapters. I will then turn my efforts to rewriting the history and context chapter, and then, only naturally, rewrite the introduction and conclusion as if I knew exactly what I was saying all along. Nothing to see here, really. I ride to my Department most days and sit in an open plan workspace. Otherwise, I walk a few hundred metres to my College library or else, I stay home (in College). It all depends on the type of thinking I need to do and whether I am in a focused or excitable mood.

Each day and all day, I receive emails about upcoming seminars and conferences, job opportunities, IT maintenance, washing up (drying and putting away) coffee mugs. I struggle with the habit of writing a good few sentences or paragraphs and then - instead of stretching (I have a clicky sternum from cowering over the keyboard), doing my eye exercises (it's all about varying that focal length!) or simply ploughing on - finding someone or something on the Internet to make me feel connected to something other than my new ideas or old ideas in tidy sentences and arguments. I am often confronted with Facebook status updates of fellow academic friends gloating about internships, accolades or some garden party or other. I get lost in the anxiety and find myself frantically clicking on a total stranger's Greek Island holiday. Each time I do this, something (probably sharpening my focus and seeing the strange couple in their swimwear) kicks in to make me stop and return to my work, vowing never to go back to Facebook during work hours.

Nonetheless, if I get up and walk to the Department kitchen for a drink, I then have to absorb the complaints of various students about how long a PhD takes, how the time required for academic tasks is almost impossible to predict, how ill-disciplined and/or inadequate they feel, how someone else in the Department published an article or received some research work from a Professor. The next day, sometimes the next hour, the same people offer speeches on how fortunate (and horribly selfish and without perspective) we all are. We vow to be more grateful. Often I hear myself jumping on these conversational trains or even, I admit, spearheading a theme. But, these days, I am actually quite bored of these types of conversations. I have little energy for anything that won't help me across that finish line. This aloofness is uncharacteristic. Sitting and typing is the way forward. I am writing a lot. This means my downtime, even at the Department kitchen, has to count as downtime.

By the end of the day, after I go for a walk or to the gym, feed myself, check my emails again, read, watch some BBC iplayer, read again, the last thing I feel like doing is writing an involved blog post about my day, the unremarkable bullheadedness that is academia for me right now. I trust or at least sincerely hope that once I am done with the thesis I will have whole spaces in my daily routine and brain to dedicate to more thoughtful, dynamic posts about the politics, vagaries and practicalities of academia. And I plan to get a whole lot more whingey too, possibly in that ultra dramatic, filthy tempered way that is quite the hip approach in blogland. Maybe not. I suspect having some sort of job security (there are degrees, I am aware) will lead to a blog reblossoming of sorts. I hope so.

So instead of battling on, trying to provide spiffy, insightful posts about academia, I will instead refer you to some far more keen, reflective and/or witty posts about the subject. I am hoping it will serve a 'Look over there!' and a counterweight function until I finish my thesis. Here we go. Some inspiration:
  1. Academic Cog (2007) Dissertators, Has This Ever Happened to You
  2. Academic Cog (2009) Lessons for Girls: Don't Just Ask Insist on Help (even if it makes you feel weird)
  3. Dr. Crazy (2009) One of My Best Qualities: Ability to Meet (Ish) Deadlines
  4. Dr. Crazy (2009) How to Succeed in Academia Without Really Trying?
  5. Dr. No (2009) Getting Naked
  6. Dr. No (2009) I Got Nothing
  7. Inktopia (2009) And then my Grading Pen Exploded
  8. Inktopia (2008) You Might be an English Professor If...
  9. Historiann (2009) What is Good Teaching, and How Can We Know It?
  10. Historiann (2009) Teaching and Tenure: What counts (and what's good?)
  11. Candid Engineer (2009) Irritation Yields Clarity
  12. Bavardess (2009) Career Angst and the Scholarly Life
  13. John Flood (2009) What is Your Research Worth?

Ok. That actually took a lot longer than planned. I intended to include around thirty as there's some excellent stuff out there. Need to stop now. Too fiddly. But if you have any favourite academia-relevant posts to share (your own or others), please do send them to me in a comment to this post. Thanks team!

p.s. Just in case there's any confusion, you're still expected to stay loyal and check my blog a few times per week. I'll still be nattering away.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Yes, It was Age-Appropriate

Here are some snappy snaps of my birthday weekend, a happy weekend that included girls' cocktails and dinner on Little Clarendon Street, a play (Tom Stoppard's Arcadia) and a picnic in St James' Park in London, and a high tea for 22 people (men and women) courtesy of the boyfriend at the Old Parsonage here in Oxford.

I managed to rake in several good books, a pretty dress, some booze, a poem, and gift vouchers for a massage and an 'experience' in London. The flowers were from some of the ladies back in Sydney. Most of the cards I received were purchased from museums. Yes, things have changed.

But then again I did close celebrations by watching (and enjoying) The Hangover followed by two episodes of The Wire, I still wore Converse to the Department the next day, and I did elect to have a dinner party for my sixteenth so probably just more of the same....although the birthday cards were definitely pegged at the 30+ market. That we can be sure of.

Friday, 24 July 2009

Can You Guess What Day it is Today?

Thanks for all your emails, messages and words of encouragement, real life and blogland pals. I feel like my hand was held a little to get to today, and this morning I feel great - cheerful, relaxed, and ready to head to my Department with my Birthday badge on (in my going out get-up, minus heels). Lots on this weekend. Will take some pretty pics to share.

Was going to kick this post off with photos of grotesque cosmetic surgery or suggest that my life was over with this little ripper, but am going for positivity for now.

[in whisper] It's just past 1pm my time. Still nothing crazy has happened to me or to anything around me. I am at my Department, happily editing a chapter and I am still wearing my frilly birthday badge. I am praying this turning 30 calmness thing spills over until submission. That would be pretty sweet. My father has informed me via email that my adolescence is now officially over. Tell that to the rest of Oxford and the academic profession, Dad! He's been really sweet about my birthday, actually. Apparently, flowers have been sent to me. In typical Oxford fashion (sometimes the paternalism is lovely), one of the porters at my College just rang the administrator here to let me know. More later. (I do know that people are dying from preventable diseases and starving and being politically repressed, and this is ridiculously self-regarding and trite, but I am 30 now so no shame.)

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Perils of Marrying a Student

On Skype (with camera) last night.

Sister-in-Law: Go and get my new BMW.

My brother shakes his head, ducks off and then comes back holding a large, rather stylish shopping trolley.

Brother: It's for grannies.

Sister-in-Law: When I bought this, your brother immediately asked how much it was. I said, 'Some women ask for a BMW and actually get one. It's my BMW.'

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Festival Gear, British Style

My boyfriend took me to a music festival, the Cornbury Festival, pretty Oxfordshire, last Saturday. It was my second time and it was super. The highlights: The Magic Numbers, the lamb, mint and potato homemade pie, and having a pretty good go at a harnessed trampoline (to aid somersaults) activity with a bunch of five year olds. It was not the same festival as the one where the above pics were taken (Wireless Festival, Hyde Park), but a variation on the same themes I am sure: music, booze, food stalls, rides, tie-dye rubbish and cheap trinket stalls, fairy outfitters etc. (One could argue, though, that Cornbury has some of the best food of any festival.)

The ladies' festival fashion wasn't far off these pics: beaucoup de check shirts, old and faux-old (Batman, scouts, Atari) t-shirts as dresses (sometimes with shorts), floral dresses (maxis are huge - haha!), charm necklaces, mixture of chunky and scrawny bracelets, leather sandals, trendy wellies, aviators, and just entered my teens hair, all tied together by a cup of Pimms or a bottle of beer and some fairy wings or glittery fake eyelashes (the posh rurals probably get into the fantasy accessories a little more heartily than the London coolies). Of course, in an instant, British festivalgoers, no matter how trendy, can transform en masse into an army of garden gnomes in dark green or black hooded, full body raincoats. I know. I saw it. It's weird.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Careers Advice

Now that you're finishing your time here at Oxford, you can either head off to Cambridge for some further studies, The Hague or Geneva to work for an international court or organisation, and then there's the States for a postdoc or policy work. Otherwise you might like to quickly get yourself to Africa or India to join or start up an NGO. Yes, that's pretty much it. Take a leaflet before you go.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Worth Worrying About?

It's my birthday soon and I am wondering whether and to what extent I should be worried about it. I am generally quite low key about birthdays. Perhaps this comes from being a twin. I have never seen it as my own, as a day just about me. Without want to invoke too much pity, add being a middle child and having (wonderful, kind but/and) unfussy, undemonstrative, cerebral parents to the birthday conditions I was working with. To be fair, there was a presents-in-bed-before-school ritual in my family until we were around ten. For the next decade or until we moved out, birthdays were essentially about being able to choose the brand of take-away for dinner (even on a week night!), take-away being a real treat for us kiddies. But I always had to share this decision. Plus, I knew the greasy feast was going to be shared with a bunch of other hungry attention-seekers, who would rip those chicken wings apart well before any formal acknowledgement of a birthday.

But this year's birthday heralds the start of a new decade for me - can you guess which? - and coincides with the final months (or so) of my thesis, and uncertainty about how exactly I will kick-start my academic career next year and where then I will be living. If I wanted to, if I really wanted to amp up the anxiety levels, I could also make this birthday a deadline of sorts for deciding whether I will ever use my womb and if so when (and why? Is 'why?' relevant?).

I am consciously watching myself come up with these thoughts to see whether they trigger anything within me. I feel like a child with a bug catcher rather than an aeroplane passenger floundering in the sea. But, I could send myself in a minor spin about them if I wanted to. I am wondering whether I should or not. The possibilities for a bit of internal mayhem were opened up further by a viewing of 'A Street Car Named Desire' (1951) on DVD on Sunday night.

Have you seen that movie? It is one angry, intense, brilliant movie. It had been on my 'To Watch' list for ages, but I had no idea it was going to be quite so forceful. Amongst and overlapping with the dominant themes of gender, violence, clashing cultures, illusion and reality (and mental health), one aspect of Blanche DuBois' character (pictured above) resonated with me: her fear of ageing and her desire to be elevated from mortality through, for her, aesthetics, chivalry, poetic language, beautiful artefacts and role-playing. Reading up on Vivien Leigh after the film (the actress who played Blanche, and also Scarlett O'Hara) did not provide any relief. Sadly, she suffered from bipolar disorder and recurring TB (which led to her death at a fairly young age) and seems to have been, like Blanche, haunted by her earthly vanity and impermanence.

Unless hiding away, doing a thesis in Oxford 'the bubble' England counts (?), I am no Blanche. But that small, concentrated part of Blanche, her temporality and her awareness of her temporality, struck me.

What does all this mean? Is this upcoming birthday actually affecting me? Does it mean I am finally old? Should I be worried about the fact that I may be in fact deeply worried? Or does it simply mean that I am a typical, melodramatic DPhil student? Should I bother obsessing about the onset of this new decade and take stock of my life in a chest-grabbing way or should I just get on with my thesis for now and spend the day having a nice time with friends over some good food, pretty drinks and dancing as planned?

I initially intended to mold this birthday musing into a light-hearted post, where you guys could then feel encouraged to giving me humorous tips for things I should do before or after I enter this new decade or cute ways of thinking about DEATH. So if you can somehow twist this post around so you can do this, please do so. I wouldn't even mind a bit of old-school, no-nonsense shaming. If not, hardcore Hamlet-holding-Yorick's-skull-style responses welcome. Thank you and have a good day.

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Sunny Days = Inane Posts

It's very sunny. I have been busy this week, working at my Department instead of at home, preparing and giving a lecture to a bunch of American Political Science students down in London (absolutely loved it, good for the morale), listening to English students complain about the muggy weather, spending evenings drinking wine or Pimms on the grass, being very bright and attentive (lots of expressions etc.). But I always pay up for these things. I am not someone who can do a tonne of things with a load of people on little sleep. I guess everyone around me pays up too eventually.

I have successfully self-soothed today, having set myself up perfectly on the floor on top of my white duvet and a load of white pillows and cushions in front of Wimbeldon on the laptop. I have a carton of juice and some chocolate at hand. A cool wind is gently coming in through the large, sliding window and, if I reach my head up, I can watch people pass on their punts. There is a lot of chatter and laughter outside, but I have had my fix of Summer fun and people this week and I am content to be alone. I just spotted Ink's call to rip up our To Do List for one day. I have some work sitting near my chocolate, but it's probably simply there for extra comfort, like a soft toy. Not sure if I will roll on to a 4 July BBQ tonight. Not quite sure what I could offer to that. I guess I will go unless I feel like it is an obligation and therefore not in the spirit of my accomplishment-free day.

To beef up this inane post (there is still a pretty terrible situation going on in Iran, btw), I have provided some U.S. material for your entertainment and interest:

Fear and the Fourth of July by Frankie Martin: Noam Chomsky says that from its very founding, the US has been shaped not by a pluralistic ideal, but by fear of the other.

Barack Obama: First Nerd parts one and two: Terrifically funny speech given by comedian John Hodgman to President Obama at the Radio & Television Correspondents' Dinner.