Absentminded Blogger

Is it just me or am I the only blogger who keeps forgetting they have a blog?

I start with such good intentions then real life gets in the way and it all goes to pot!

I am clearly the most inattentive and absentminded blogger on WordPress! But I do have an excuse – I have a huge 25k word chapter due – NEXT FRIDAY!!! And I am just scraping past the 16k mark … sloooooooooow progress! So this is an appeal for anyone out there with a spare 9000 words or so – please throw them my way. If they are somehow connected to inimitable Rebecca West or to modernist periodicals so much the better but at this point I am just not fussy!

 

In other news i really should not be sharing this or even playing with it myself – great procrastination can be found playing with Pinterest! Can I tempt you?

Just call me – your bad influence – I have broad shoulders I can take it!!!

I am going back into the word wilderness – I may be sometime … blogging will resume at some point after I have recovered from the imminent collapse of handing in a huge chunk of work! Arriverdecinever goodbye!

The Academic Community

On the back of yesterday’s good news post I began to think of all the times I had been the recipient of another academics generosity. And there have been many.

SO here is my list of things that have made my life as an academic easier

  • My supervisors never fail to respond to emails promptly – which as any fraught student will know is invaluable. Their feedback can bite sometimes but I know when I do submit that my thesis will stand up to any scrutiny as it has already been seen by the most invested and thorough of eyes!
  • Support staff at my institute and others are usually the most accommodating, usually bending over backwards with the skill of a contortionist to provide the help and support I have needed.
  • When attending conferences I usually find the discussions are unrestricted and unguarded – information is freely shared and whilst some academic reticence is necessary there seems to be little jealousy. More a kind of shared enthusiasm for the subject.
  • Librarians – now libraries are usually a source of contention in any HE or FE institution. Book provision has to be the no.1 talked/complained about matter at any student/staff council. But setting that aside I have found librarians (the proper qualified kind with expertise knowledge in your field) to be the most patient  and generous with their time and knowledge. Our specialist librarian once had me in for a one to one session on how to search for information and locate archives. This was of a great help to me when I was floundering. Her name will be included in the acknowledgements to my thesis because it was as important to my research at that time as my supervisor’s feedback
  • National Libraries – busy busy places that deal with all levels of enquiry yet never fail to come up with the goods – they are like specialist librarians on speed – is there anything they don’t know?
  • Archives and repositories – the best place to get in touch with someone as enthusiastic as you are – the curator of any archive that relates to your topic! It’s a reciprocal relationship because you can learn from them but they can also learn from you!
  • Department faith in students – ours recently handed over book ordering responsibilities to the student. This means we can access our Coutts account and order books that we need in order to carry out our research effectively. They may be subject to approval but simply letting us be responsible is a great sign that our faculty trust us to behave in a grown up fashion.
  • Other academics inc. fellow students and bloggerstudents – Apart from yesterday’s wonderful gift I have also been given book chapters before they were published, as well as articles and information relevant to my work. One in particular involved other academics talking to each other so I got an advance copy of a seminal text that was not going to be complete for another 6-10 months – Thank you Peter Brooker and Jean-Michel Rabaté  for you utter selflessness … I bought the book!
  • Family and friends – last on the list maybe but never least. None of us could manage this without their unstinting support.

Sometimes in life it is just the right time to stop and smell the roses and realise things are never as bad as they seem – that in the darkness of that blinking black cursor and vastness of the empty white screen there is always a glimmer of light

Have a good Wednesday – I am off to write!

UPDATE ON SCRIVENER: it was so good I bought the license – I cannot imagine writing without it now. It just organises all the information you need into these neat little split windows – it shows you any view of the document you want and is adaptable for academic and non-academic writing. Well worth it. Even though I would say it still has a lot to offer that I haven’t tapped into and it is not glitch free or perfect, the forums are fantastic for tips and the software creator is constantly trying to improve the product with regular updates. If you are serious about writing it is well worth downloading the FREE 30 day trial! 

If you don’t ask – you don’t get!

Unexpected Generosity. Yes, it still exists; out there in the cold real world there are still people who surprise you with their kindness and without expectation of any reward. Believe it!

During the course of researching this current section of my thesis, I stumbled upon a paper published in The Women’s History Review in 2002, that was discussing points that I was planning to cover in my own work. I discovered that this paper was an extract from a D.Phil thesis lodge at the Bodleian in Oxford. It is absolutely necessary for me to read and be aware of its contents as to ignore something that was so closely to my topic would not survive scrutiny at VIVA.

So I emailed the relative librarian, who found the thesis in question and forwarded my request onto the Thesis Repository department at the Bodleian, who emailed me back with full instructions as to how I could obtain a copy (living in Scotland I have little opportunity to pop along and visit) They ~whilst being very accommodating and quick to respond ~  sent me a  overcomplicated email informing me that if I wanted to obtain a FREE copy of the thesis then I had to track down the author, get two signatures in person, return the appropriate paperwork, in triplicate (there were 4 attachments of forms with the email) and return it to them at which point they would provide me with a digital copy (no time scale was represented). If I couldn’t get TWO signatures they would do me a photocopy at £120 (yes I gawped too) plus P&P … but I still needed the author’s permission. I was informed I could trace the author through the relevant college’s administration department.

Luckily the first librarian had provided me with this information so I emailed them a polite request to put me in touch with their alumni Dr. F.  I received a very nice email in reply saying my details had been passed on and hopefully Dr. F. would be in touch.

Now I know a lot of academics. December is a busy month, especially if they are marking exams and assessments so I wasn’t holding my breath for an immediate response. But to my delight I received a reply, within hours of the response from Merton, from the (now) Professor asking how she could help.

I replied attaching the Bodleian’s email and attachments – and thought “once she sees that lot of stuff she’ll probably say she is too busy blah blah blah”

But no. I awoke this morning (She is based in America so we have a time difference negotiation going on as well)  to find a PDF copy of her thesis in my inbox witht he most delightful email saying “here is my thesis. After years of trying to negotiate the Bodleian rules I thought this would be far easier. Your research sounds fascinating. Good Luck” …

So a big cheer goes out to Oxford University, The Bodleian, Merton College Admin and the Librarian in the history department (who I have to say went above and beyond as the thesis was lodge with literature not history and technically I had emailed the wrong librarian – but she still helped anyway!) and not least to the wonder Prof. F at the university of Texas for her unparalleled generosity in providing me with a copy of her wonderful thesis!

How bloody wonderful is that! And what good start to the day. It just goes to prove – if you don’t ask you don’t get!

Now – in the spirit of Prof. F’s generosity I am going to attempt to pay it forward and suggest that if each of us did the same we could all make someone’s day a little brighter! So if you can do someone a kindness today then do so – it may change their lives forever, and even if it doesn’t it will make them smile.

Sitting Staring into the blankness …

 

been a bought week …\I am supposed to be writing – and i have managed do do precisely bugger all all week! I am sat here typing this and giving myself a stern talking to but it doesn’t seem to be working!

 

This just about sums it up for me this week! –

And I think this is pretty representative of me ..

 

Though I am trying to be all …

have a good weekend folks!

Reading Between the Lines

… is a skill that we really should develop and hone as academics but is something I find difficult. I need to read every word in context and then usually twice (with particularly difficult concepts) in order to even begin to grasp the basics.

This means I am a very slow academic. Things take a long time to ‘happen’ as my nose is often buried far too deeply in a book to notice that time is flashing past and I haven’t written a word. It’s exacerbated by the fact that every time I read one thing I am exposed to numerous other ‘essential’ sources that have thus far eluded me … which ensures I often end up on an erogenous  erroneous book hunt ( Oh look … we are right back full circle to my good old friend Procrastination). My strap line should really read – the more I learn the less I seem to know! Too much knowledge is a dangerous thing – as is being intelligent enough to know how little intelligence you actually hold … I am beginning to wish I was born ignorant and blissful. I was most certainly conceived in blissful ignorance but that is a whole other blog post! 

So I am trying to read a little and write a lot, changing the old habit of reading oodles and writing in a panic! I have even changed my Facebook profile to a KEEP CALM AND KEEP WRITING notice … a good warning to those near and dear that I am in deed in the throws of giving birth to yet another piece of research.

Matters are never helped by libraries not holding books in stock. I am fortunate in that my institution is very generous to its grad students and we are allowed to order directly for the library (though it has to have approval), which can really cut out the middle man. I have already ordered up one set of books which prove to be a great help to my research and I have another on its way – though sadly it won’t arrive in time for this section but hopefully it will for the revisions later on. I understand the logistics in housing library collections, especially when it comes to specialist subjects but it can be frustrating to say the least to have to rely on inter-library loans and research trips. This week I found myself a victim of the distant learners curse. A library book I had out on loan was recalled, with all the sinister usual threats of heavy daily fines. I had to have it back in the library before 5 pm on Wednesday. Dutiful as I am I did as requested. Thursday morning I got another email informing me that a long awaited book from the British library was now available and I should collect it immediately, as it would need to be returned before the Christmas vacation and was also subject to immediate recall. I had little choice but to jump back in the car and complete yet another 40 mile round trip to collect said book! Again this inconvenience is ameliorated by the fact I don’t have to pay for Inter-library loans, and many grad students at other universities do, so I guess it is a small price to pay for such a service.

However this has caused a knock on effect – in that I now have book shelves groaning under the weight of books I have bought because they can be obtained cheaper in the internet than it costs me in petrol to get them from the library! Whoops!

I BLAME THE GOVERNMENT – because that’s what student’s do right?

I am also trying desperately trying to overcome the mental challenge of loathing Mondays – it is ridiculous really as I don’t have ‘weekends’ in the normal sense as I work to my own schedule and my partner works shifts, so why it should still loom ominously one each week is beyond me …

I know what will cure it – a bit of book therapy .. now where is that link for Abebooks … I am going on a book hunt! I guess I can always buy more shelves …

Going Experi-mental

Are you guilty of playing it safe? Of sticking to tried and tested methods of writing, researching, thinking? I know I am.

Write Dangerously

However the way to discover new things is to think outside the box, to challenge conventions and to get go a little bit experimental!

In the past I have talked about software I’ve downloaded, tactics I’ve tried, thoughts I’ve had, mind mapping, even blogging – all of these are my way of trying to find fame, fotune, a wealthy husband, notoriety, success, media attention  a new way to succeed in a very traditional field, that of Literary Criticism.

Yesterday’s post about lacking originality was another way of trying to find a pathway to something new – even when you feel there is nothing left to find.

It is very hard to be innovative when studying something like literature. But when you  analyse literature to any degree you are immediately confronted with writers who are trying to do something new, something hitherto unseen, something exciting. The trend of the Modernists to ‘make it new’ was a reaction against the generic formulaic Victorian and Georgian formalism. Modernism was the apotheosis of experimentation, with Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake being the apotheosis of that apotheosis … imagine if he had stuck to the tradition of writing in linear, structured, coherent sentences.  Whilst Joyce is often held up as inspirational and ridiculous in equal measure, and often to cries of Emperors New Clothes, it cannot be denied that his work has the authenticity of longevity – we will be talking about if for many, many decades to come. Dorothy Richardson and Virginia Woolf wrote fervently to create ‘the woman’s sentence’ – the antithesis of the black imposing masculine ‘I” that had dominated literature in the preceding centuries. They argued against the male dominance of the novel and took a step allowing women writers to engage a more feminine approach.

If unlike me you are not into Modern and contemporary literature, it isn’t a far stretch to look at the greats, such as Chaucer, Shakespeare, Donne, Herbert, et al and recognise experimental literature when you see it … any banned book is another test case for change and advancement.

It’s easy to dismiss this ‘experimental verve’ as part of the artistic or ‘creative’ process that as academics we ‘should’ sit outside of, but we don’t and we shouldn’t. Any piece of writing involves the creative process. Yes we do have to follow certain conventions, but that doesn’t mean what we ‘say’ has to be conventional. Whilst I do find some forms of new criticism, like the idea of Hymenal Space (especially considering it’s medically questionable that the Hymen actually exists/ed)  ‘out there’ and I find my nose wrinkling up slightly at the thought, I do applaud anyone who is prepared to push back boundaries to create or investigate something new.

We don’t have to be Joyce, Woolf or even Leavis, Bahktin or Chomsky, but we can all try to look at our work from a different angle, structure our work in a way that works for us as well as for the examination boards and test the boundaries (via out supervisors) a little. Even if it turns out it doesn’t work, you will have learned new things in the process and become a more thorough academic in the process.

And if we can’t do that in our actual Ph.Ds we can do it in places like this! Or NaNoWriMo … places that encourage you to be different and new and unique and uninhibited – unleashed from the constraints and conformities of traditional academic writing.

So today is ‘Forget health and safety Tuesday – go a little bit experimental’.

The Night Owl

Things that have change during the course of my academic life are innumerable but one thing that I have noticed that has been quite drastic is my body clock.

I couldn't put it better myself!

I have never been a ‘morning person’ as such but since I have been studying this has become ridiculously exacerbated! As I had fairly young children at home when I started out almost ten years ago I found the only quiet time I had to work was when the small things were in bed – usually this meant I got some peace from about 9pm onwards (they went to bed about seven but the nonsense never ended until gone nine!) 

I would use their time in school to do the lectures, tutorials, the library trips etc,  then when I should have been consolidating my days efforts I would be cooking, cleaning and organising two children for school the next day; meaning that come deadline time I was pulling almost constant one nighters ( which resulted in great marks on the papers and not so great black bags under my eyes).

This situation could have ended some time ago as now both my children are teens and you would think that their growing self-sufficiency would equal a growing amount of time for me to indulge my latest research whims work. But alas, no! The manuals do not tell you that children become more demanding of your attention the older they get. They also hold you to account more; they store up missed football matches, school recitals and days out  and write them down in the Catalogue of Motherly Guilt, which they will pull out at any opportunity that will see a benefit for them and be torture for you!

Emotionally they become less secure. Once their whole world revolved around getting a decent night’s sleep, but the complications that come with the teen years seem unfathomable and endless. Peer relationships, school pressures, exams, girl/boyfriends you name it you need to be there to steer them past all the pitfalls, and when they eventually fall into one of the pits, to pull them out!  It takes its toll on a mother who is a sole parent and an academic (without the perks of a salary and a finishing time!)

YUP - Calvin - you and me both!

My internal body clock is well and truly FCUk’d these days – I am at my most alert when everyone else seems to be winding down!

A Plan was concocted!

As a consequence the only real peace I get is after 9 am in the morning when they leave for school, and then again – much later than the 9pm watershed of their childhoods – late at night. And try as I might I cannot seem to take advantage of the early mornings. So I have devised a plan that works for me and was inspired by a novelist, who was featured on Sky Arts ‘The Book Show’. She wrote all her novels sat in bed!  I was awestruck! (I cannot remember her name – she didn’t write ‘my sort of books’ so she was consigned to the space in my head that is entitled ‘not interested enough to pursue’ )

It got me to thinking!

Am I alone in wanting this duvet cover?

Whilst I can’t write in bed what I can do exceptionally well in bed (and keeping it clean) is read! I’ve been reading in bed for years! So my current situation is this – the dog wakes me usually around the 6:30 mark, I go back to bed and get re-awoken by children getting ready for school (they sort themselves out – my presence usually invites squabbles, so I stay well out the way). Once the front door slams shut ( never quietly always slammed) I crawl sluggishly  down to the kitchen and brew up a cup of tea, returning with it to my warm bed. I then reach over and read whatever current text I have on the go. I have post-its, notebook, pencils, and sticky markers on hand to facilitate note-taking as well. It seems to work for me… though I think many folks who know I am a late riser as such must think I am the laziest sod they know as I do spend all morning in bed – most days! Even the lovely delivery lady has noticed I am not an early riser and has offered to leave parcels for me rather than ring the doorbell. I declined thinking that would just make matters worse … 

The other benefit to indulging my reluctance to become alert with the dawn chorus is that I think more effectively. I am in a half dreamlike state, not fully aware of the day and all its complication – it is a liminal space in which thoughts can wander untethered to the mundane or the practical or the word processor! I have found my best ideas have emerged from this ‘slow period’ of the day. Only this morning, as aI was reading Writing For Their Lives The Modernist Women 1910-1940′ the whole purpose of my thesis suddenly became clearer, including why I had chosen to study the texts I had. It is a relatively small breakthrough but it should benefit the coherence of the work enormously.

Sometimes I think you need to work they way you work best, regardless of how unorthodox that may seem to you and others, and very much regardless what others may think …

Am I alone in being a real night owl at odds with normal society and it’s 9-5 mentality? Or are we all fighting this urge to curl up until about 10 am when they day really starts?