KaM: Echoes of Mystical Enigma
Friday, October 16, 2009
11:00PM - 1984
It’s Friday night; reminiscent of early university times, but different in just about the right ways. It’s been quite a work intensive week, and I’m now home alone, doing a little steady work, with coffee and chocolate, and enjoying a terrific array of programmes on BBC4 about British synth-pop in the early 1980s [temporarily available]. In my head has always been potential energy: imagining clubbing nights and euphoric times, but possibility has always been more important than actuality. I’m bizarrely excited about the implications of this evening: lonely, but not too lonely; vulnerable, but not too vulnerable... there’s a careful balance to be reached between letting positives infiltrate my existence, and the right caution that nothing is taken for granted. My new academic axiom, I am ordered, is that ‘less is more’: from expertise to the voice, “Art indeed is long, but life is short.” Referentially, I shall say no more.
I am indebted to the lovely mayva for this, who helped me remember, amongst other things, that two inauspicious coins are two circles. Now, to find that same fulfilment in pen as John Donne, I strive to end where I begun.
Monday, September 28, 2009
1:30PM - To Speak is a Sin
"We've been around forever
Look at us now together
Ordering drinks at the bar..."
The Autumn turns, and a new chapter has begun. It has been a period of transition marked by richness, absurdity, stupidity, and, somehow, sadness. There is no list of ingredients for happiness. I have tried understanding accomplishment in the past when my expectations were met, and now when expectations and reality seem miles apart. In which other avenues does contentment dwell? Which contracting forces inhibit and repel? Perhaps I represent a wider cross-section and am just left with a little longer to think about it. What exacerbates the problem is having, in some fashion, the components to inculcate myself of something stronger, but without the means to access, control, store, and benefit. Reasons to smile become rings of great wealth which tumble all too swiftly to rest upon the frail crust of magma before promptly sinking beneath the incessant cornucopia of rubble too dangerous to excavate. The only hope is that they are heading for the core.
The most important dynamics have changed so much that I am out of my depth. Less than one week into the tenure at Feltham, I was escaping back home amidst a myriad of worries that I'd moved from one disastrous mistake to another. Having undergone periods of more extreme public and private, facets which themselves now constitute the majority of my professional thought, what I have struggled to come to terms with is the way in which relationships change at close quarters. There are no barriers to hide behind; exposure is full and unrelenting. Facebook statuses, journal entries et al. will be received, scrutinised, and reacted to not (only) by friends from a distance, but those from neighbouring rooms. The consequences elevate to piercing eye-to-eye exposure. What needs to be carefully aligned is that everybody has a personalised use of communicative tools: while some are painfully self-whoring (what is more public emptiness than a public speech-act to say that there is nothing to say?), some are used to say precisely the things that cannot be said in person. This is why friendship with newcassell is particularly inspiring; he understands my boundaries. The only option then is to be private: say nothing, by which no response can be induced, and by which there can be no judgement. But even personal privacy does not protect the inner bounds of sovereignty. Some of my family events can be acquired through background means; I do not know what may be said about me behind my back, even in the same room. I have to face it that there is no control over dissemination any more.
It is important to highlight what becomes the more important issue: that this is based somewhat more on paranoia than substance. The crashing loss of control started 12 months ago, and it has never really been regained. Loss of sanctity leaves a weak shell of a person. Having enough confidence, enough control, makes this much less a problem. To fail in this, and to actively believe in unworthiness is a catching private process, and it manifests itself in ways not always evident. I do not confess to knowing the symptoms in others, other than to empathise outwardly with those who deal with it introvertedly.
Three years ago, I stood in long lines for the enrolment process at Edinburgh, watching almost everybody retrieve sheets from their bags of obscure scholarships and international sources of funding, while I was clearly the plum left to fund himself through the obscenely high tuition fees. Despite this, the 130 mile commute, and not meeting a soul for an entire year, I had faith in my abilities, and thrived on postgraduate research. By the end of that academic year, all the financial and social negatives were more than compensated for by landing the amazing post in Geneva. This year, I turn up at the Royal Holloway English office in July to find answers after 17 weeks of answerless insecurity, only to look like a total imbecile. At the beginning of this month, I landed a 12-month scholarship, which had me flying, for a weekend: perhaps it went with a rib. Faith has not continued over the years. Last Wednesday was the postgraduate introduction day, and one of the most poignant. I placed huge emphasis on this day in my head in a desperate attempt to avoid two more years of social ostracism. (The disparate nature of postgraduate research results in fewer and fewer chances to integrate). Even on the train heading to university, I felt Smeagle and Gollum fighting again. The initial meeting with my fellow colleagues was sporadically interjected with nerves; the later party saw a display of social awkwardness barely matched during Bristol days. The next two years may yet be spent poorer for the consequences of such weakness that I saw no power to overcome.
Socially and emotionally, events over recent times have caused a regression. Like for Marvell's mower, glimmers emerge - the richness of parties, meetups, tuition work, project works - all of which I am scared even to describe because it highlights hope that is refusing to manifest itself, hence frustration at enigmatic forces making complete things incomplete. I had the best night I can remember in a long time on Saturday night at the stunning Hylton Hotel in Cobham (for which I owe immense thanks to the legendary myatt). It reminds me of the moderately cool, witty, fun-loving, and slightly insane 25 year old that I would gladly wear on the outside as the majority, not the exception. Perhaps elucidating on that night would prove hugely beneficial; right now, I am just too weary of false hope. Wednesday could see my PhD topic, one of the very few things left to call my own, altered to a degree that it is not mine any more. I must find the strength, amidst everything else, to ensure I don't lose the fight for control altogether.
"To speak is a sin"
Sunday, June 14, 2009
11:00PM - Discharged
Thank you immeasurably for the support. It has been a testing week, not least because it was difficult to make a firm diagnosis for Faye. She was kept afloat by some of the most powerful antibiotics available, but the source of the infection, or at least what was observable after the impact of the treatment, has remained evasive. The signs all point to the rare Toxic Shock Syndrome (approx. 20 diagnosed cases in the UK each year); this can, at worst, prove fatal. The positive news is that she is on the mend. She was discharged on Friday afternoon with a cocktail of 16 tablets per day. It's great just to have her home. This has hit the family quite hard. Failing to look after myself properly registered during visiting hours on Tuesday evening. From standing at the edge of Faye's bed, I fainted and crashed into the adjacent door of the bathroom. It was highly embarrassing, but fortunate that no children were visiting any of the other inpatients at that time; I was not there to cause any unnecessary worry. But it is a lesson to not neglect the self; you are no help to anybody if your own self is compromised. I had neither slept or nourished properly, and yet when physically fit, there is little reason to expect sudden weaknesses - but it only takes 90 seconds for a rapid turn.
With one calculated amendment, my parents managed to get away on their well-earned break, and I am keeping a watchful eye over Faye. It opens a little space, and I have scraped around with a mental scalpel to try and determine what this past week has brought. Various grades of frustration. My new PC developed a fault in the boot sequence that could not be fixed due to the contorted manufacturing settings. I lost some work, and newly uploaded pictures from Switzerland, in the reinstallation. Royal Holloway, meanwhile, who claim a 4 week decision on PhD applications, have said nothing in 14. A modicum of courage prompted me to enquire about any little snippets of information at all - even just when I might expect to hear a decision - a message which reached the English Department last Monday but has yielded nothing. If I wonder why my self-respect has dropped so far in 12 months that it is shaking hands with Satan, it might be because the one thing that I have dared to place hope in seems to ignore that I exist at all. If you don't have the tools to fight dirty, you end up the very dirt on someone else's shoe. All the ambitions that I used to think were right to have, and which the appointment in Switzerland encouraged, have fast eroded.
The most confusing thing is simplicity. There is a strange comfort in emptiness. I'm not so keen on initiating conversation any more; I have nothing worthy to say; I'm not a good person to know right now. I have tried to locate the incidents, episodes, pointers that used to orchestrate me, and manipulate them to conduct once again, but there is nothing. The ignition key turns, but the engine does not start. Hello? Is there anybody in there? Just nod if you can hear me. Is there anyone at home? Do I keep trying to force this unnatural practice, aware of what I could lose if I don't succeed, or succumb to the recess of isolated comfort that will stabilise once all my aspirations have finally died? I'm building a wall, a fine wall. Not so much to keep you out, More to keep me in. If the incidents, episodes, pointers no longer register, the predictions they wrought at the end of 2008 were astute enough: "you cannot just reclaim your life and everything within it as it was before. Some sacrifices have to be realised".
Sunday, June 7, 2009
7:00PM - Patients
For those of you who know her, my youngest natural sister, Faye, was taken to the doctors this morning. By 4pm, she was in the intensive care unit at Sunderland Royal Hospital. From being unable to get any doctors called out today, she was attended by up to three at the unit. She has an untraceable infection, which, to me at least, with her other particular symptoms, looks a certain match for septicaemia, a blood poisoning form of meningitis. The seriousness is not yet unknown, but she has been admitted to an isolated side-room. The important thing is, that as of this evening, she is no longer critical, and is in the best place.
It is almost as if the family's health pot of stresses and strains have boiled over. My other sister, Fern, is also in a bad way, and this serious event not only overshadowed her, but also meant leaving young Zoe with her today, who was being a handful earlier. My dad is currently struggling with sciatica, which he contracted earlier this week. It's been hard seeing him contorted in the living room on an evening trying to find a comfortable way to get some sleep. My mum and dad were meant to be flying out for a special joint birthday holiday on Wednesday morning (I stress the word holiday only because their other trips to Spain normally involve so many other passengers that there is no less housework to do than at home, and I have a vested interest in this because the flights were my present to them both). Whether this now delays or ruins the holiday is unknown.
Our family can make things particularly difficult for ourselves. My dad faced suspension from his job earlier this year due to a minor incident, needless pedantry from a young upstart, and subsequently from his own mouth. My mum, meanwhile, has been exalting in some of the internal politics of this fostering business, and yesterday managed to ruin what, it turns out, would have been a perfect option for Zoe today. But sometimes, in the face of adversity, I can be proud. Since moving downstairs, I see worryingly little of Faye - only twice since returning back home on Thursday. She had been ill since Friday afternoon, and my mum started getting concerned last night. But this morning, they checked her and realised that something was seriously wrong. Her temperature had approached (hyper)pyrexic levels, and my dad would have done whatever necessary for her to receive medical attention.
Times like this make life all the more confusing. The degree of shock with these events can normally render one fairly stoic, but I question what will shake my stoicism at home? Was there a moment today when I feared the worst? Is this part of being an adult, and putting a brave face on things? I wouldn't be writing this at all if I did not care; of course I do. It has left a reaction, but a more hardened and gritted reaction than I expected. But today is not about me or my thoughts. I only learnt this evening, before my parents left again for the hospital, that Faye had been asking for me this afternoon. Thank goodness I got to see her, if only briefly. If I cannot find the right summary for what is going on inside, I can turn to fine evidence. Almost all of my favourite photos are with Faye; and given a history of anguish with body image, that is testimony that I can reach out and touch. My family place a lot of value on first-footing, but it was clear from 2008 that I was not the person to face that accolade, and I should not attempt it again.
[Out of context, but strangely relevant]. 'Cause I, Need time / My heart is numb, has no feeling / So while I'm still healing / Just try and have a little Patience.
Get well soon treasure.
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
11:30PM - Hit and Miss
Amended from royalarbor.wordpress.com
It is a pleasure to report that our family is expecting a new arrival soon. It is keeping me busy as I am baring the brunt of the physical upheaval.
My room has seen some great highs and lows. This picture, pleasingly, was taken in the very epicenter of positive times in 2003. It is hard to judge whether this red sky was at night or in the morning... but I will miss the wholesome view either way.
( RoyalArborCollapse )
Thursday, March 12, 2009
7:00PM - Past Times
I miss you. I miss me. I miss life.
My fascination with the act of writing, its methods and mechanisms, is no secret. It derives partly from studying the processes of an enigmatic private mind and private writer in Marvell in what is becoming a literary public sphere around him. No loose thread to my thesis is the idea that those seventeenth century years reflect our own to some degree. From little cheap pamphlets speaking to other pamphlets, with conversation and argument going about in print, we find a similar process happening, on a larger and more diverse scale, digitally. Where there is free comment to be had, it will be had; where there is free space to be had, it will be had; where there is the will to voice, voice will be spoken.
I often wonder to what degree Facebook has changed my approach to writing. I sit, as a disciple of Marvell, thinking "what is happening around me is a degree of publicity that the majority are comfortable with, but I am not". It forces me into a dilemma: on the one hand, to repel and distance myself against that which I dislike (even if I react to it differently in some cases to others), and to retain my privacy. It makes me want to avoid the sense of 'I'. On the other hand, there is the risk of losing out and falling behind in the instilled public methods and the public environs that govern socialization. It makes me want to join in, 'dad at the dance' style, and to try and self-fashion something for myself when everything else seems to be slipping away.
Today confirmed a long suspicion, when I reshaped my standard CV for the first time in two years and glanced at the proud statement heading the 'interests' section. The Knightmare group has been my identity, my nucleus, and I have seen it melt into cytoplasm. What life offered through that nucleus was a richness that has largely shined and occasionally sparkled, but perhaps did not expand and ignite as it should have done. These days, I write a thesis, to myself, and for myself. It is an insular, self-absorbing and has been a self-destructive process. Postgraduate study, even the long, cold return journeys to Edinburgh for scandalous tuition fees, I once embraced with pride and dignity. Yet, through time, place, and space, much of this has been stripped away, and this same activity leaves me feeling a waste of space. What is left of my identity; painfully little. This awkward dance in words is a confession that I feel the need for a glimpse of narcissism.
Not here. This little piece of the internet has more identity than me. I enjoy reading all friends' posts here; it reminds me of community, and an insecure self that was encircled enough to enjoy openness. What Facebook has shown me in particular is that documenting and publicizing mundane events is, more often than not, mind-numbingly boring. I want posts here to make a difference: to those who read them, and to me having written them. If I have achieved this across any of the spaces to which I contribute, then I am very glad. The compromise I have wanted to make is not to prostitute my life's mundanity in a public setting, but to construct something slightly different; a 'column' of some sort, which can combine thoughts and ideas with analysis and a more distant personal voice. I hope to write something, in contrast to my thesis, consciously not for me, something that might be read with a fair degree of interest. Perhaps I can make some of my research questions fit that bill. I would be delighted if anyone was interested in following this new space, offering ideas or suggestions for subjects to tackle.
In keeping with the shift in intents and purposes, it has seemed best to jump ship. This was partly inspired by the awesome Lara King, a colleague of mine from Bristol days, whose developing career as a professional writer seems so much more fulfilling than my own right now. I like the format, the look, and the layout provided by Wordpress; it seems right for the task. It's useful having a space which does not prohibit, but which does not encroach on friends' lists. I would be delighted to provide a side-link to anybody's journal or site if they wanted a possible stream of random traffic. The second (and most recent) item is titled 'Crackpot Culture', and was written for the Geneva English Department magazine, Noted. It is particularly important to mention that here since the questionnaire took place on this space, facilitated by kind friends and readers.
It has been six weeks. Returning home as a full-time student has been as difficult as I imagined. It is not that I lack commitment to my research, but that the status, the income, and the locus for making research part of a respectable occupation has been taken away, and the shell of a PhD student that remains feels much more shallow now than it ever did before. Sadly, I am sure that my attitude towards my work would be much stronger if I had never known the difference that Geneva offered. Other academic matters haven't helped. The motivation to complete tasks I continue to receive from Geneva (and will do for some considerable time, due to the delays students are allowed before they are assessed for courses) is much reduced without income. Within three weeks of arriving back, I was grateful to pick up private tuition, which offers a little, but I clearly need work to operate and to feel some sense of dignity, whatever that may be. A temporary vacancy has been announced for a small shop in a local windy outlet centre, and I have my sights on that. It is called 'Past Times', which I thought had a nice association with the topics and themes around which everything else of late has centered. I wish everybody grateful thanks, much love, and all the best in these uncertain times.
Sunday, February 22, 2009
7:00PM - Pendulum
My words will never be good enough. They do not deal with the situation; they do not settle the fractured complexities that harbour themselves; they don’t suffer the test of time; and they struggle to sit right for me. This is a pre-occupation that has refused to go away. I feel a great weight of expectation on my writing. I follow friends’ personal journals that have power and professional journals that inspire me, and I feel frustratingly left behind. Entries from the earlier years can sometimes embarrass me for a number of reasons, but that epideictic mode had a cathartic function, and it provoked interaction and response, wonderful comments from regular and occasionally anonymous readers. Now, every entry is approached with the same kind of principles that govern academic writing. There are strong precedents to this too.
Tara Brabazon has said recently that ‘All of us, including postgraduates, learn to write by writing’ (Times Higher Education). True indeed; when I started journaling in 2003, I was extremely concerned about the standard of my writing. I was to join an outstanding university after relatively weak exam performances and a year away from education. There had been massive improvements in my life at that time which showed that the part happiness plays in achievement cannot be underestimated, but still, I felt that there was plenty to say, to share and to describe. The positive academic start to university seemed largely indebted to the methods of expression and the wealth of creativity that had surfaced through writing in this precious coterie. With that, I notice that spontaneity seems to take over; perhaps that is how journaling can work at its optimum. In this case, however, it gave ground to carelessness and lack of attention to the aesthetics of writing. The confidence from the harmony found in writing from first year (harmony which never transferred itself into social skills), brought a crash in the second year, when my academic work seemed to suffer from the same kind of arbitrary spontaneity and carelessness. As third year approached, I started to feel the weight of responsibility: how was I going to continue beyond life at Bristol? I think the journal started to bear the dense responsibility for carving a life after Bristol, and the new preoccupations that would govern the indefinite next stage of life. I took my academic work so seriously that it became the top priority over journaling, and I have never looked back from that. But it has clearly showed me that writing is a behaviour. You may learn to write by writing, but in the same way that it is believed that ‘text-talk’ is leading to declining standards, one learns behaviourally whatever is practiced most often.
There are strange conundrums at play. A sister journal, royal_arbor, was created to attempt to split the two streams of consciousness that (I believed) co-existed. It is an experiment that has worked in stages, to some degree, but an chiastic amalgamation has uncomfortably manifested itself: a personal touch has entered my academic discourse, while an academic touch remains within my personal discourse. What has changed, altogether, is that while I have always at some point felt out of my depth at each level, the rustic academic methods have instilled themselves so deep within that it seems that they are all I know. Sometimes it pays to remind myself of the very ideology discovered in Geneva. Doctoral preparation, training to be an academic: this is not a profession that one can dissociate themselves from, but a way of life. I may wish for freedom and spontaneity to some degree, but they often seem such distant attributes. I may have to learn them anew, and it would scare me to compromise the stringent discipline that governs my writing now. I can spend several days writing, editing, and re-editing a single page; there is a single-minded drive for perfection. I would enjoy some of the facets of this discipline being applied to this journal. I admire the thought of every entry feeling special; where the language strikes the very best it can for every occasion. Practically, however, it is not possible. While these standards govern me, I think aggressively about method when the very idea of writing emerges. I seem to want my subjects clearly defined, as well as a framework which justifies the relevance of placing even random subjects together. This is something I can do, as demonstrated by the introductions written for the Features section of Noted (Spring 2008 and Autumn 2008 issues), finding ways to link all sorts together, but it takes scrupulous effort, and the end product is consciously a very different kind of achievement to the journal entries of old. More like ticking mental boxes rather than tipping mental poxes. Perhaps it portends an editor of collected essays in waiting (The Cambridge Companion to Andrew Marvell (!)); I’ll not hold my breath.
I’m also both confused and intrigued by the psychology of space, a further conundrum. I had long preferred writing in the journal box to a word processing program, even with the added risk of losing work. It was always associated with the rich liberty of journal writing as opposed to the rigidity of academic work. Now, in fashion with the ingrained processes already detailed, the journal box has grown into a space to be scared of, a den of iniquity. Word now provides the white space of comfort, even though that too is tightly associated with academic writing. I made an attempt to combine this paradigmatic psychology of space by manually archiving the majority of entries before the temporary pause of the journal onto Word. The response was unusual, and predominantly aesthetic. I preferred some entries and comments neatly fitted into a document, while others seemed to sit better on the relatively conservative webpage. Nevertheless, if I want to find distant entries, I still tend to do this through the journal rather than the backup documents. The simultaneous archive I made of all the music featured in those entries has proven much more helpful. These investigations about the increasing difficulties in writing journal entries have yielded a number of answers. The polity of audience has been one; attempted respect to friendship has been another; changing priorities has been mentioned, but is perhaps more closely negotiated here to a mixture of changing lifestyle and behaviour; and I have added to these the semantics of the aesthetic and the psychology of space. Perhaps a renaissance of the fractal and all will be cured.
Listing all these, I find myself asking what Geneva has really done for me. Although I don’t necessarily see myself as a fiercely driven person, I have long been conscious of upholding the highest of standards, even and especially to my own detriment. The report I wrote on the Study Abroad Scheme for 2008/2009, one of my last professional duties under official employment, exceeded 20 pages. To feel myself writing this piece, I notice the rough mechanical edge to my thought where emotion once governed. Without a doubt, I have to push the limits of discomfort here to say that I am scared of suppressed emotions bent double over broken pride. I suggested above that one learns behaviourally whatever is practiced most often: for near 18 months that has been older, heavily academic company, combined with long periods of solitude in a fear-ridden and pain-filled living environment. I am glad for the awareness, but I will need help. My sense of achievement has either gone, or else is too high for comfort. It has not taken me long to find work, albeit only a few hours per week, and that has rescued some esteem from beyond the pale. Inevitably, it has landed on a Saturday, which threatens to restrict much social activity to learn the positive ways of life again as I need to do. What remains in the medium term is a choice between living with dearest friends and constant love to financial detriment, or recuperating financially with a career-orientated move elsewhere. Head and Heart are separated, which concerns me because my Head feels in charge. These are desperate times: the politics of what could become an age of survival are only beginning. This makes the task of justifying a resignation from a very respectable position even more daunting. The best summary I have been able to muster is that Geneva gave me something, and took twice as much away; I return half the man I was. I would gladly appreciate witness for or against; the trial continues to burn in the courtroom of my mind. ‘This author’ cannot deny the fact of the support, and hope, that exists even when it does not live.
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
7:30PM - First Light
Welcome, this Journal and Journey of mine, to 2009. Alone in a lonely office, in a great, but lonely country, a country whose values, strangely enough, I admire more than my dear homeland. As I begin to reflect on the beginning of the end of my inconsequential purpose on this day of Revolution, I have long understood the need for my homeland; there is no substitute for a sense of belonging. This is another year, and yet this space tells the story best. I called it Echoes after my favourite book, and sense many from the patchwork of last year; not because only 3 weeks have past, but some kind of Ascendance, some kind of augury. By accident, I came across the French language dubbed episode of 24 that has haunted my thought. Insipid, unmoving; it left the same aura of disappointment that has clouded my own period.
I am here with my narrow channel connecting me to the rest of the world, and yet to nobody; and a window reflecting the inside light with the darkness and cold outside. I could be all-powerful, and yet am powerless. It is a World of Extremes and Opposites. While I mean nothing, for the place of words that could be worthless and reach nowhere, I embody those extremes and opposites. It is shameful that guilt and loneliness has been let in, wiping away confidence and unlocking worry. If regression comes with the economy, that would not be unfair - I've had a grand share of good fortune since the founding of this space, no matter what I think I've lost. But I waited here tonight to watch the inauguration ceremony: and I'm moved by the very real rhetoric, and the very real spirit. For the first time in a long time, I might leave this office, believing that the long walk home might just be a little lighter, and that I might smile.
(i who have died am alive again today
and this is our son's birthday; this is the birth
day of life and love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)
Anybody who reads this, I would love to hear from you. If you could spare a few seconds to leave just a few words, they will bolster me for very much longer. Love and Peace for Ever and Ever.
Wednesday, December 31, 2008
10:00PM - PatchWork II
[In text, not paratext]. [Amended 01/01/09 21:30] There are times when each new entry gets harder to write. It has been three years since any kind of end-of-year eulogy, and this year, in a sad sense, presents the opportunity better than any other to date. Indeed, whether 'eulogy' is the right word, I am not sure, but there are many to thank, and still much to be thankful for that takes this closer to eulogy than elegy. Writing outside the neutral - about highly positive or negative events - still demands a perfectly poised tone to feel right within the webspacial spheres in which it disseminates. Given the work I do, I struggle to even think in such libertine, random patterns any more, even though spontaneity always seemed once upon a time to bring out the most creative form of thought. To collect together all the positives would be a hideous misrepresentation of the year. To collect all the negatives, on the other hand (many of which have already been listed in this journal in some form), would not only defeat the ambiance I am trying to uphold, but also negate the great fortune I have today of seeing a positive future ahead and not a bitterly sad one - something I owe more to others than anything I could offer myself. As ever, I offer my gracious thanks for indulging anything I have to say in this space.
Without doubt, I am ending the year in a state of repair (or perhaps disrepair). I am holding more comfortably one main meal per day now, and I carry more energy during the day. As soon as I hit the pillow, however, I have trouble moving myself from it. A far cry from I, when, more often than not, I defied my system with caffeine and adrenalin. It is years of dedication and neglect, albeit in the best sense of those terms, that has helped to inflict the predicaments of this year. Months of graft over the Autumn term with some strong discipline throughout December has offered me occasional spells of respite over the Christmas period, putting me in much lighter spirits. Having fallen with the economy, the hope for 2009, without doubt, is to come back stronger than ever.
I wrote recently about the element of the uncanny; coincidental connections with events and their recordings 3 years ago. I might have understood something similar at the turn of this year. ( 24 analogyCollapse ) Even when personal sanctity is redeemed, you cannot just reclaim your life and everything within it as it was before. Some sacrifices have to be realised.
One of my fondest recollections of the first Knightmare RPG shoot is being labelled Kiefer Sunderland. This sequences of events from '24' has revolved over and over in the mind, so chillingly close does it strike. I have kept using the word sacrifice, however misplaced, for this year. If there is to be experience through learning, it will pay me not to forget what has gone wrong. Especially given the economic climate, it is impossible to overlook the quality of the job I have had to give up. The repercussions of this are not yet though, I am fearful. My health has suffered; my sanity has wavered; my social skills have regressed (when I've spent long weekends talking to nobody but myself). Likely due to a combination of the previous, a dear relationship has suffered a breakdown. I move back home on January 31st, a move complicated by the prospect of my bedroom now being dedicated to our new prospective foster-child. Most of all, I've seen myself on the way to a dark place. During the summer, a Keith who, even rusty, outran a Blackpool tram along a 2 mile stretch of coast two years ago, struggled to drag himself home on an afternoon after more and more work was heaped onto the period that the rest of the department calls holiday. October sees me return from a medical trip to the UK to discover that my apartment had been broken into. It is one of the most bittersweet memories of the year; staying awake for the rest of the night to feel safe, and then coming straight back home, punching the air as I leapt from the Grand Central train that brought me home to Sunderland. I have grown happily accustomed to a private stoicism, much like my dad; one that has threatened to bomb on occasion, not least spending a night in tears earlier this month. I have not had a break since Blackpool 2006, and even that was not the easiest time, as I struggled to gather the finances together for the year ahead. This year has got harder and harder and harder, and all I have done, all I have continued to do is what my bosses have asked of me. The summer holidays were French, homework, marking, admin, research, and exam preparation, when I could not look after myself. These Christmas holidays have brought with them a conference paper to re-write (and deliver), proof-reading, a pile of student queries, the study-abroad scheme to profile, and a potential two essays to write for publication. Enough has been lost, and while January sees my end coincide with Kiefer S and Jack Bauer's re-emergence, it is time to realise that this kind of commitment where 'what needs to be done' takes all priority and precedence wreathes a tortured soul, and belongs in fiction.
Stuff of novels. I thought as much on February 11th. I had started the year knowing that friends would be important, but things started to drift quickly when I tried and failed to organise any kind of gathering around my birthday time. It was not an important occasion in any sense, but I had inquired with the premise that the opportunity for trips back to the UK may diminish as the year continues, and such occasions may become increasingly finite. In a bizarre stunt, which I had intended to quip as a final third, I put my embers of faith in springing surprise visits on two old and dear friends. The first, phenomenally, for all the rest of the year, was clearly meant to be. I had only the name of his work building and the office number, but with numbers circulating densely in and around the building, I was blessed to inflict the shock of his life in the entrance way. Had I arrived 60 seconds earlier or later, I would have had no chance. Never is there a more explosive personal reaction than when I encounter the awesome Ali Everett. I spent a happy hour with the good man, charging my emotional batteries every second. So nice it was too, now that I have mentioned the RPG, to be back in Manchester. Then followed a trip to London to spring a surprise on another dear friend who was certainly not expecting me. I do not feel, at the end of this year, anywhere near the 'epic' person I used to. Whether certain grim realities or priority changes have buried the inner 'romanticist' far away, whether it is a personality change in itself, or whether that kind of inner drive demands much more energy than I realised, and therefore is suffering from indifference while my health is dwindling, is all too difficult to say. Nevertheless, days like February 11th are the most fulfilling. February 14th saw the first trip to York since the camping trip, to catch up with an old charge from early NAGTY days; ironically enough, it was during the time of that trip that first communication with Samantha was established in the background. I remember this now: to sit down and reflect on the beautiful, winding details that blend and fuse together across past and present - it shows me why I named my primary icon 'life is a jigsaw'.
Given the frequent air-travel over this year, especially the period where I was effectively homeless, and commuting between Geneva and London each week, Europe seems very much smaller than it did before. I doubt that any future European holiday will ever feel like the same kind of escape again. With no flights to the North of England after April, I have seen myself fly into Edinburgh, Manchester, East Midlands, London Luton, London Heathrow, and London City, with 5 different airlines, until flights started again into Newcastle just two weeks ago. It has been a joy to use London City for the majority of air travel with Swiss and the wonderful Air France, and fantastic to pass through the new Terminal 5 at Heathrow in both directions. This coincided with the end of the summer of French, and a call-to-arms which did threaten to cause a collapse, were it not for the interception of a few fine friends. While my research of late has seen me differentiate privacy from relatively synonymic terms like secrecy, solitude and so forth, I have learnt that community and friendship are more separate than I had believed. Trust seems to have been lost from the former and granted to the latter. And Facebook shows the complications between friendship and community. Where is the distinction between quantity and quality when members have hundreds of friends? Faint acquaintances, distant classmates, can sit within closest friends and family, with abandon. This list would represent one's individual 'community', and indeed, the 'mutual friends' item shows smaller communities, but it cannot realistically be more than a set of individuals, 'friends'. Thus, the world's prime networking website may not satisfy or benefit either community or friendship. But then, as with the developing ideology of seventeenth-century privacy, this is a separate entity, which an individual chooses to use, and then how to use it. I am so proud to see nationalities within my list including Bulgarian, Russian, Romanian, Brazilian, Finnish, Spanish, Japanese, American, Canadian, and, of course, Swiss: some of these I can only communicate with in French. More importantly, it is important to me to maintain the credibility of this list, and ensure that friendship continues to mean something. The Hope symbol lives on.
Given the need to resign, and the pending end of the academic career I had worked so hard to initiate, I had plenty to prove in the final months of this year in Geneva. The one credit I will offer myself is that I rose to that challenge, won round an understandably doubting supervisor, and have grafted myself both a possible future, and an ounce of self-respect after capitulating in what is, undoubtedly, for someone, a dream role. The early part of the year saw the Andrew Marvell course, a double book review, and my first conference presentation. Having completed the 9 weeks of French at levels between B2 [Higher Intermediate] and C1 [Lower Advanced] on the 'Cadre Européen', I spent September creating my course on Literature of the English Civil War, and submitted the first 15,000 words of the PhD, which was well received. I have taken part in my supervisor's Masters course and the Doctoral workshop; spearheaded the department's poorly organised Study Abroad scheme, interviewing the majority of our second year students; applied successfully for a history conference at Cambridge, and prepared work-in-progress to present at our workshop. The feedback for the English Civil War course was just fantastic, and made all the thought and dedication that went into it highly worthwhile. The number of people who turned up for the final class on Friday at 8:00am (which included a screening of Family Guy, PTV) was a terrific compliment. Without a doubt, it was a treat at the end of the year to meet the Premier League of experts in my field at the John Milton symposium. Early next year will see an reunion with Profs. John Morrill and Blair Worden at Selwyn College, the kind of event I could only have dreamed of this time last year, and it symbolises something important for me. Given the easy route I could have had out of Geneva, these past few months (around the intermittent circumstances) have proved to myself that I want this as a future. I am not a natural academic: the shameful congratulation I offer myself for this battle shows this, but it has been my natural survival instinct to turn to this for solace, and to work towards whatever will keep me going in that direction. What next year may bring is unknown, but I hope I can rediscover some of the creativity, energy, and passion of old. The best of the past could really help to blend a sweeter sense of future.
Amidst the lather of work, I have seen some of the best features of December: snow-topped Swiss mountains, flights in crystal skies, the hospitality of the family (who have been a saving grace this year), contact again with both aforementioned friends and a precious catch up with the rock that is malefact, time at home, and even the strange musing I always have around short walks in this part of the world, that there is no place like home. This year has been epic, no matter how much I try to play it down. Next year promises to be as potentially promising and healing as this year has been debilitating and destructive. There might be the potential for some rest, for a new member of the family, for a new move, to a new university and a new life. I'm ground down to the point where this all seems a little too good to be true right now. It's the best I can do to remain open-minded and pray to goodness that good luck, good health and good fortune spread around family and friends. I want to thank everyone that follows this journal, for providing a sense of audience that creates the (and my) raison d'etre, and for your support. As I began with the term paratext, I thank you for rich and plentiful comments throughout the year. I thank you for most this amazing day... for everything which is natural, which is infinite, which is Yes. Forever Love, Peace and Harmony, and a wonderful 2009.
Friday, December 19, 2008
7:00PM - Maranatha
It has felt like an almighty marathon. Even more so than the several consecutive days and nights battling to complete my Masters. In the traditions of the long-distance runner, I battled until the end. I am left with the the contradicting, antithetical symptoms of Thomas Wyatt: exhausted, yet restless; proud, yet unsatisfied; epic, yet stoic; accomplished, yet empty. From needing the time to fly, I have needed the time to pause. The marathon does not end; it cannot end. Every day of the calendar has looked like the next; I wish I could say that I've noticed anything other than the cold, apart from the occasional attempt at festivity which has not quite struck home. It might be enough to make my heart stop. But the office looks quite empty now. Soon KaM (and A.M.) will be moving on. Withered like my hopes, the grass? I wrote that and drew a representation on our board. The future is so uncertain. Yet Juliana comes, and she, what the sun does to the sea, does to my thoughts and me. My temporary office mate for one afternoon per week this term has been wonderful, and I am delighted that she will be staying on and taking the first year class in my place.
The theme of the conference I will be speaking at next month is 'Change and Continuity', and this has become an intimately thriving feature of the month as self-reflection starts to come in. I cannot believe the parallels that work over time, showing (sometimes quite explicitly) what has remained the same and what has changed. Yesterday, I was blessed to reminisce over something I wrote two years ago that surpasses anything else I have ever written, in a powerful context of continuity. Today, in order to symbolize continuity and change combined, I added more "write-bytes" to the office whiteboard as leaving signals of my mind.
To then complicate this harmony further, this entry begins to form itself in my mind, which then fills, top to bottom, of this Thomas Wyatt effect. That is becoming something of a stock-epithet. It is not the first time such parallels have dominated my thought. When I trace the archival connection in this journal, I land here, Nirvana, from just over three years ago. The parallels from this entry are uncanny: A wonderful and relevant title; a wonderful description too. I have not felt in good control of my words recently; I've spoken about illness where I have not meant to; I have been reclusive; and I'm a little bit scared too. The most striking coincidence is that one of the last "write-bytes" I wrote on the whiteboard was the following: "Remember only this: a kiss may not be the truth, but it is what we wish were true". This is also, it turns out, from Steve Martin, L.A. Story, and features at the end of Enya's Exile. December mornings, being too late, and coming home. It is chilling how this reappears again, with a series of different resonances, three years later.
What is the meaning of this fascinating, and yet unsettling, coincidence? That I subconsciously recollect my own journal so well? That I subconsciously associate feelings and music together so congruently? That I anticipate the end of 'Exile'? By this time next year, I could be house-sharing again, recreating the very surroundings of 'Nirvana' from three years ago. With that recollection of the past, I am shown the element of change. I have enjoyed living on my own, with some of its fraught difficulties. I have battled through an experience in the stunning, if stubborn, Switzerland. There is continuity and change in the academic climb, which has, this term, reached some promising heights, and which was only just beginning three years ago under David Hopkins, who, incidentally, I saw just two weeks ago. A frighteningly small world, sometimes. I thought there may be no bigger world than language, but just last week I spotted a bizarre crossover between ekphrasis and Romeo and Juliet in the new edition of SPELL. I had made the same happen in my section introduction for January's edition of the departmental magazine, Noted. Now all these parallels in thought and word from three years ago emerge too.
I am not, as 'Nirvana' frets, a 'welcome exit': I am stunned that my supremely generous departmental colleagues here had a collection and got me a Swiss watch and a Jean-Jacques Goldman album, Singulier - his music being my only real deep connection with French since I arrived. I have grown very attached to my colleagues. Some of us followed Wednesday's small staff celebration by following on with a few drinks elsewhere. It took us down to the beautiful Bel-Air and seeing the classy illuminations that I would never have otherwise come across. It felt great, sociable, fun, and I even tried speaking in French. Without doubt I will leave here with an improved grasp of the language. It will be a bitter, bitter blow to leave them. At some point, no doubt I will look past the exhaustion and so forth at the high rewards that have come from the driving endeavour that has gone into this term and will continue into the break, and say that I could have found a way to survive this. Perhaps it is my growing fascination with privacy that has led me to asking questions in my head over and over again that encourage the very answers of uncertainty, that which will never be known: sometimes uncertainty is infinitely better than a straight answer.
In some ways, my resolve has got tougher, and in some ways, weaker. What has changed is time, circumstance, and, most importantly, experience. Strengths and weaknesses get reassessed, sometimes in the most stunning of circumstances. Independence, I learn, is not about building the tightest barriers of privacy and trying to handle everything myself. Rather, it is about knowing how to handle everything properly; who to turn to for help, and so forth. Are not the strongest people those who attract no attention to that very facet of themselves? I look no further than my supervisor and boss. He tells me that he is always very up-front about everything, and he, in his wonderful capacity as a human, is a strong man and absolutely always in control.
When, last night, I was told 'I am glad you were strong', it sent me into tears. It is in what part of me has seen as the most devastating show of weakness that I found my greatest strength. When I look at things in a different light, it is not so hard to believe. Deep down, yes, I can be strong. I look back, over these past months, and years, even. There is lots to be very proud of. I am even developing, slowly but surely, a Marvellian ambiguity. I could look back on this in three years time and be fooled as to who or what exactly I was talking about. With Marvell, as with his disciple: it's in my head, and I will never forget.
Faut du coeur et faut du courage
Mais tout est possible à mon âge
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
9:47AM - Bandaged
I am, for better or worse, an X-Factor fan. I have also never been a Wogan fan of any description, until yesterday. But, this little gem, which, astonishingly, I had only stumbled upon by accident last night (the surprise given my adoration of 'the canary'), is restoring my faith in music and humanity. This will be my treat to myself at Christmas. Every year, my X-F favourites are close contenders, but never winners. Two years ago: 2nd and 4th; last year, 2nd and 3rd. This year, 4th and 5th. Both have now gone, and I find myself with little interest in the final or its single release, and I hope this fun but surpisingly well performed effort breaks the monopoly. Alphaville's web-aired Love Will Find A Way made a cameo appearance last year before disappearing as bashfully as it arrived, but for years and years we have needed to add to this staid pile of snow-dusty songs that act like the English Literature canon: not to be expanded.
Bandaged / Little Drummer Boy / Peace on Earth. Bravo. I think 'bandaged', as well as a semi-jocular pun on the other main Christmas collaborative effort, suits the month in the context of the year to date perfectly. After a very lifting weekend, some serious graft over the last few days has prepared me for a last task today: presenting my work in progress at our (post-) doctoral workshop, a extended draft paper for a morale-boosting January conference at Cambridge. Heading the bill, behind one's idol: far removed from earlier experience.
Goodness knows where we'll be this time next year. I will gladly, but with sorrow, bow my head tomorrow, search out some other Aled favourites, and share the forbidden fruit of elegy. Today, it is snowing, peacefully; I find myself delighted and sad at the same time. Perhaps the 'delighted' is 'relieved'. I cannot remember my last decent break, and I have never felt festive in years. The pleasant graft I have given myself this Christmas will not make it plain sailing, but I sense this month will be awash with feeling. Once so plentiful, now, so nerve-wracking, and always wonderful. Each day at a time: the mentality as this space started,
5 years, 5 months, and 5 days ago.
And as I said then,
God Bless. x
Wednesday, October 8, 2008
11:30PM - Life is a Curve
Life is a Curve. Where are you on it?
The departure motto of London City Airport. As I took my window seat on the CityJet aircraft, the refracted sun spread a wonderful rainbow across the length of my shirt. It didn't let me forget the motto, or the question, but unlike the last piece of airline augury (bottom), it did not suggest any answers. This mentioned augury was a mind-saving trip to London the day after summer French courses finished, the first time I had flown with British Airways since my very first trip to Geneva, in what feasibly seemed like a possible beginning of the end. So it has proved... With this simple philosophical question striking me so profoundly, I thought I would return to my writing roots for some much needed soul searching. I write on paper a mile high, seeking the fluidity (if not clarity) of thought, expression and dissemination I once had and which often seems lost to the very skies I travel.
There is no easy way to describe the last few months, and there would not be much benefit in doing so. Pain, despair, desolation: many things that, for me, are easily blown out of proportion, and what others neither want to read nor hear about. Amongst the crowd, there are so many positive moments and positive stories of 2008; who wants to be the one to spoil it? To that end, this could have been a series of short post headlines, or at least something much more easily digestible, but as I scramble together the courage and frame of mind to congratulate and celebrate the return of friends from a holiday I would dearly have loved to have been a part of, this has to become as inconspicuous and unobtrusive as possible whilst not sacrificing (along with everything else) my own sphere. I learned my lesson headlining a few years ago for attention, and saw my pendulum swing so far the other way that I tried to swallow away any achievement in getting here by being so quiet about the move or about much of my progress since. Journalling adopted an emotional polity, but I should document the end, whether it will bring judgment, comeuppance, peace or disturbance of mind. I am grateful for the courage of jim_revelator_1, and offer apologies to psymun/blottybus and aristophains for trying to delay the inevitable, but I am ever thankful to those who make that little sphere of mine continue to mean something while in my mind it threatens to wither.
Interpret it however we may, because I cannot be the best judge (although grateful to be labelled as level-headed). The job, the city, the life abroad, was all just too much for me. Some of the dealings here have seemed fiendish, some have have seemed unfair. Otherwise, maybe I was never the right candidate. Maybe I have the wrong attitude. Maybe I have failed the university, myself and family. The signs have been there, but I chose to ignore them. I cannot deny: it has felt impressive living in Geneva, working alongside highly respected colleagues at this department at the age of 23, and looking out over Dr. Leer's amazing penthouse terrace at one of the best views of one of the finest cities in the World. I have created my own courses, feedback has been good, and my students have produced their best work for me: I could not ask any more. But things started to go wrong sooner than I anticipated, and it has taken a long time to wake up to the potential hazards.
It was a month ago that I resigned my position here: devastated, and yet so relieved at the thought of failure. That was a 'me' I did not know. A summer of emptiness, weariness and wistfulness was a 'me' I did not know. My struggle with French was fairly clear, and even though I was making reasonable, if strained, progress, I was happy to place the blame for other troubles onto the French. When I was missing classes for problems ongoing since January, and growing increasingly weary from pain, lack of nutrition and lack of sleep, I was looking for excuses rather than facing up to the problems. My whole attitude to the French and life here was slightly beleaguered: although it seemed that they were contributing to the problem, they were only part of it.
It just all seemed so difficult to admit to, and that stems back to childhood, I think. Being the first born of my family had advantages, but a stricter discipline. I grew up to see illness as a weakness and an excuse. During my teens, I saw medics about my skin. Once referred, with roaccutane mentioned, my parents intervened, and that was the end of that. Consequently, since moving to my home address over 10 years ago, I have never seen a doctor there, nor even met my GP. The last time I saw a doctor was on the 2nd February 2005 in Bristol, for about 90 seconds, when I was diagnosed with mumps and told to go home. Furthermore, I have grown up not wanting to tell my parents about my personal life. I didn't approve of the way my folks dealt with my sister's issues a few years ago: that made it more difficult thinking about taking troubles back home. Here, problems with French and a wafer thin insurance were even more inhibitory. When I contracted stomach pains at night at the beginning of this year, I was adamant that it need go no further. It could somehow be explained and that it would just go away. Perhaps privately it worried me even more that I couldn't pin it down: it was all the more perplexing.
As I moved into the new apartment here in Champel back in May, the problem seemed to have settled. Four weeks into the tenure, the intensive summer French classes start, and it begins to come back with a vengeance, precisely at the time when I needed my strength and my wits with me. The spring semester had been disrupted with illness, international travelling and a conference workload that far outstripped its requirement (except the paper). Worn down, I really needed a break, but instead was required to step up the pace increasingly over hot summer weeks whilst the digestive problem ravaged again. The French had to combine with homework, marking, course planning, other admin, PhD writing (for a prospective early September deadline), preparation for the French oral exam I had to take, and 'enjoying the summer'. Looking back at it now, I wonder how it got to that stage.
I land myself in these situations where I become the 'minor', feeling so much less than the 24 year old adult capable of standing up for themselves and taking responsibility for such circumstances that it is easy to feel like the kid whose problems cannot be taken seriously. And I don't help the circumstances by an unwillingness to take action. Had I mentioned such problems, I would have been obliged to see a doctor, something I really didn't want to happen. I have the fear of God, it seems, of turning up with a problem that turns out to be nothing: "The hypochondriac" - all in your head - excuses, excuses. Why did it not occur to me that I might end up having to come clean eventually? Truth Will Out (and it's a total bastard when it needs help...)
When I finally broke free of a difficult summer back to the UK, the thought of the French exam made me not want to come back. Unfortunately, the relief that I thought would come from resigning over the French brought a state of mind that kept the physical discomfort alive. Dragging myself back to Geneva at the beginning of September to complete the extensive course preparation (insofar as I was making the whole course book myself), I had to face the horror finally that this might just not go away. I turned for help, to the lovely Anna, and then, later, to my boss. It was not what he needed, of course. The summer had seen changes in the department: one assistante is on sick-leave, two on study-leave, and replacements have had to be drafted in. I remember his potent words which stung in their softness: "Well, yes, you should tell the truth". As I wrote in the previous post: I am led to believe that non-disclosure is the same as not telling the truth; that does not seem fair. In accepting that being here in Geneva was probably the root of the problem, the prospective resignation date was brought forward from 30th June 2009 to 31st January. My 25th birthday will mark my 1st day of contractual freedom.
I knew that coming clean about this, when I could have let incompetence with French take the sweepstake, meant not only explaining the illness, but also some of this background to explain why I had not yet sought, nor had the inclination to seek, medical help. It all seems too personal to come out; things I wouldn't want my boss to know. All this because, as a thoroughly decent man, he is only concerned for me, and the processes of my thinking and the inhibitions defy common sense, which is why they need some explaining when provoked. I wonder, as I have drifted back this week onto the main Body Dysmorphic Disorder forums, if there is something about that condition which fixed such a strong denial. After all, of people I confided in, some did not understand it, perfectly acceptably, and some, I felt, did not want to accept it as a legitimate problem. Therefore, if there is something psychological going on in my head contributing to the here and now, I did not want to be drawing such skepticism again. The last straw was yet another symptom to the pot: "Sitting nervous; enough to bleed here a little after another period of silence". It was time to crack apart years of inhibition, before they cracked me apart first.
My parents have taken this all so well, and have been great support. They did not need to know how difficult it was to tell all, but perhaps the decade without ever going to the doctors, plus the new symptoms that were emerging after a date was set to end the physical nightmare, were themselves demonstrative enough. A fortnight ago, I ventured home with an emergency appointment in to see the doctor of my parents' recommendation. Such a small step for mankind, but a giant leap for me. I was extremely nervous before going, and thoughts were renversant here in my journal. If nothing comes up, will I be condemned as a liar? What has been happening these last 9 months? This then becomes more important, because if I want to relocate to a British university to complete my PhD, I am going to need the best of references to help with new funding applications. Funding bodies do not like to hear any variety of 'quit', 'leave', 'resign' or so forth, and the flawless record that one seems to need to succeed in academia now looks perilously thin after this chequered year. Perhaps I over-exaggerate, but for everything mentioned, there seemed a lot riding on one short appointment.
8:30 on the Monday morning: from entering the local health centre I've never been in before, within 10 minutes, I'm having what may be most diplomatically described as a prostate exam. "Have you been feeling stressed?" he asks. I do not know how to answer. I work in an environment where I feel a strong sense of 'Everybody works hard. Who on earth are you to claim to feel "stressed" at your age?' Instead, I tell the doctor a little about the accommodation situation here, and the list of tasks and achievements I was expected to achieve this summer, weighed down with this problem. The word 'stress' is one that I have grown to treat with skepticism. I deal in as close to factual detail as possible, and let the doctor assess that how he may. I am grateful for his sympathy to my candour. "Have you lost weight?" he asks. And I had. Down to 8st 10, 54kg, the lightest I have been since 16. I begin to realise how battered my health has become. As the picture of this emerges, the diagnosis is stress-induced IBS. My relief is tangible. I return home, find tears, and fresh underwear. However anti-climactic and over-dramatic this may seem, I can only apologize and defend myself that with the lack of written drama in these last few years, the physical pain through the last 9 months, and the long-term inhibitions over seeking help, this has become a large balloon waiting to burst, and what is for most the smallest of deals has become, for too many reasons, far too big a deal for me.
The problems did not end themselves there. The few days I spent back home passed with uncomfortable speed, and I found myself tensing as the return to Geneva approached. It has been largely of my own making because of the way that I have handled all of this, but I had felt a change in my relationship with my supervisor, and not one that left me comfortable. Supervisor, boss, mentor, head of department, and working in his office across the hall from me, this is not a situation that plays itself out favourably. Furthermore, there was a Samemes conference in Bern that weekend that I was really starting to dread, and the anxiety of how I was going to approach the topic with an already tempered supervisor was creating all sorts of problems. I broke the journey back to Geneva last week by staying with Samantha for an evening, and I only succeeded in tossing, turning, writhing in discomfort all night. I headed off at around 6:30, Geneva bound, bleary, tired and sore. I arrived back to Champel to discover that my apartment had been broken into. The lock had been changed, and I couldn't get in. Some kind of portending punishment, maybe? The day was spent getting in contact with, and meeting for the first time, the contract holder, who had to go to the police in neighbouring town Carouge to collect the keys. A day of nervous wait ensued to see what the damage was, and what had been taken.
How the infiltrators got access to the building is the first mystery, although there had been warnings at the beginning of the month about vigilance, and then how they can wrench off the lock when most of the viewer-holes on the apartment doors overlook the rest of the corridor is beyond me. There was no good state of mind. Even the consolation that nothing seemed to have been taken - apart from a handful of chocolates - did not ease this fragile mind. The place was left an absolute mess. The top had been wrenched off the toilet, a tile smashed under the bath, the cupboards emptied, the sheets and pillowcases stripped. They must have been looking for quantities of money or drugs, and checking out the usual places for hiding such fodder. Taking as much responsibility for that event as seemed possible, the decision was made to forsake the conference (which postponed my teaching anyway) and come straight back home again. There is something seriously wrong when it comes to blessing one's arrival into the disaster zone of Sunderland station with the very same kind of zest that most would reserve only for cities like Geneva. It is no discrepancy against any of my wonderful colleagues that I wish time forward to draw a line under this whole experience. How on Earth did this all happen? The last thing to adjust to will be a pride factor, which will probably dent, but at least given all of this, hopefully not scar. That is to say, I am ushered out of a job that offered a decent future salary, a position that feels prestigious, teaching responsibilities probably unrivaled at this stage in the UK system, staff page, website and everything. I enjoyed being a 'somebody', however shallow that might be, and in a few short months, I will return to being a little nothing again, unemployed and forgotten in the dead-end town that has seemed so sweet from afar. So, that people broke into my place, saw nothing worth taking, and left again, speaks volumes. They even picked out the dark chocolates and left them: is there any more impertinent undertone? For what I may feel in loss in going home, further to what I felt in coming here, there are ways of feeling low enough here that it just does not matter any more. Thankfully, I am bolstered by time back in the UK, my music, and my work. That will be enough - it will have to be enough - to see me through the final leg of this tumultuous chapter. If you have made it to the end of this unpleasant diatribe, thank you: you helped to make it possible, and because of that, I will surely heal.
When you feel like you're done / And the darkness has won / You're not Lost (Up close and fiercely personal)
Sunday, September 28, 2008
11:40PM - Renverse
Sitting nervous; enough to bleed here a little after another period of silence. No pressure at this end, of course, since I was landed this afternoon with my sister's final attempt at a spectacularly failed essay before she is excluded; to be submitted tomorrow morning. There is a limit to what I can add content-wise: now that this is degree level, the specificities of good work should be going beyond my expertise. Therefore, not wanting to take any risks, I've tried to perform some alchemy on the existing prose.
I am very nervous about tomorrow morning. What will it bring? The last nine months depend on this, in one way, and the last ten or so years on the other. There's an academic career and personal sovereignty at stake. This is a lesson in growing up, because I'm not prepared for either outcome. It has felt quite a breach, even just this week. I study privacy, and yet I am led to believe that non-disclosure is the same as not telling the truth; that does not seem fair. Truth will out, and it's a total bastard when it needs help... I'm not sure yet what new arrangements will be like at home as of early next year, but what all this does show is that moving away has set processes in motion which are struggling to, or which cannot now, be undone.
Thursday, August 28, 2008
5:30PM - Filer à L'Anglaise
Not guilty. This is a mutual term of disaffection between our dear French neighbours, which means to go AWOL or bugger off unannounced. Not until recently did I know there was a straight English equivalent, 'to take French leave'. I would hope that I am not guilty of this, in whatever language, given that after some mental battling, I was able to ask and get permission to be away from Geneva for a while. However, what I think is sitting slightly uncomfortably is how free and wonderful it feels to be here, "back in the warm, comforting holds that come with home" (23/12/05). It is an unbelievable freedom. Perhaps that very sensation, and/or contrast, speaks volumes.
I want to be slightly careful what I say, firstly given the terrible breach of privacy suffered by the honourable jim_revelator_1, (which has, in itself, proved an incentive to kick on with the small matter of my own privacy related project), and secondly out of respect for everything to do with my current occupation. After all, the awesome Professor Gordon managed to find my royal_arbor, so I cannot say I did not know it was possible. Although I have had difficult bosses in the past (e.g. 15/11/04), which seems to get me very defensive, I am more than happy to be self-defamatory for that is, essentially, the downfall. Being at home has given me the safety barrier to put my position in jeopardy when I wrote to my supervisor informing him, as politely as possible, that I would not be doing the French oral exam when I got back. Understandably, it was considered a sensible idea that I should 'strike while the iron is hot', and take this exam as soon as possible after the French courses have finished. Unfortunately, my standard of French is still notably poor, and my morale with it is at a new low. I just cannot face any more French. It is not just the bitterness of paying through the roof to sacrifice my summer, but that it has been a hard, hard graft. It is just as the English Department fail students who, however hard they try, are just not good enough - that is my result with French. It doesn't concern me how easy/informal/flexible the test is, I would need to write and learn fifteen minutes worth of French, plus a variety of answers to every question I could think of, and there is just nothing left for it at all. And this is expected to have been done alongside the remaining French classes, my own marking (urgent), the course preparation (urgent), the other small administrative duties and the small matter of the PhD (first installment now due early September): impossible. Despite research being the reason I went there, this has had to drop to bottom priority for far too long.
I'm not used to saying no in any way, no matter how unreasonable the requests (like working something like 15 consecutive days over the festive period here), and the unusual lack of swift reply has left me rather unnerved. However, I am 24 - aging quickly through these difficult processes ("We may not be the Young Ones very long") - but old enough, I would like to think, to know when something is not right, and to make intelligent decisions based on that. A heavy chain that was hanging around my neck has been removed, thanks, I'm sure, to being at home and the safety that offers for the time being, and it has given me the impetus (as, strangely, the pub work did over that Christmas 06/07) to press on with my writing. I am trying to be constructive rather than endlessly procrastinate and panic. There is a difference with my supervisor also being my boss, which means, in essence, that all study related matters are also 'work' related matters. Therefore, what consequences will befall next week, I have no idea. I would like to stand up for myself; the conditions under which I applied were not abundantly clear, and I did not move abroad to be petrified. If there is something I do despise, especially given the debacle at undergraduate level, it is the thought of being a quitter, but when there is such a blessed relief at the thought of failure, I want to be in the best position possible to say that I've given my best, I've made enough sacrifices to try, that I must be finding it really hard, and that it is just not right for me. How does this seem from the outside? Suggestions are welcome.
On the brighter side - and there has to one - I want to offer a lot of thanks. I owe an awful lot of thanks. Thanks to a very useful comment that pookatimes left several years ago (09/02/05), with a quote that has continued to provide lots of interesting material relating to my topic of writing and privacy: "What is more dull than a discreet diary? - one may as well have a discreet soul", I found this earlier this week. Amongst the response: "Bloggers have nothing original to say". Could that main quote be rephrased as "What is worse than not writing? Boring/Mediocre/Tedious writing"? I worry a lot that I fall into that category. Now, I even worry enough about the act of writing to turn even that into a bland conjunction. I think what keeps this alive is the wonderful comments that, for some reason, continue to come in. It has been something like 2 1/2 years since an entry went without response, and that is an overwhelming compliment, and a testimony to my dear friends - whatever makes them reach out and touch.
Recently, I said that "I miss so much the people who breathe life into me" (30/06/08). It was not an easy thing to say. As affectionate as I like to be, it is still a pressingly intimate metaphor. I am therefore so grateful to those from whom I stole a day. On Saturday, a chaotic start, I flew into the new Terminal 5 at Heathrow with British Airways. I was so enamoured by the background music, I managed to prise the address of their branding headquarters to try and filch a copy. I had not flown with B.A. since my first trip to Geneva, 15 months ago; what augury could this journey portend - the beginning of the end? Perhaps any interested spectators felt remarkably let down when I was met at the airport by the wonderful James, jim_revelator_1 donning a computerised sign that promised a much finer figure than I. Following some kind hospitality, during which he shared a great story about Park Lane, we headed into town to be treated to the fine company of David, aristophains, and, eventually, Anna mayva. Even in the occasional quietude, there was life at that innocuous table, abundant in the atmosphere. And close friends have the unerring ability to make months or even years of absence feel like they never happened. It doesn't help that I have disappeared off abroad, but the right people are still there, and Saturday was one of great inner celebration. I am still trying to keep something of a low profile, but I'm delighted and relieved that there is some room for optimism at the end of this summer after a fairly bleak and dismal few months. I am, of course, deeply grateful to anyone who has been thinking of me, tacitly or audibly, and without doubt to syrendelalune who has endeavoured to keep me afloat.
Please do let me know how I can repay you all.
Thursday, August 7, 2008
6:00PM - InSight
Appears in a trance. Please forgive my abuse of public space. My power [read: energy] gets weaker as it approaches. I should be able to escape for about a week in just over a fortnight after my French courses finish ~ 23rd August or so, but I wouldn't be down south for long. If anyone might be interested in a catch up, I'd love to hear from you: here, email, Facebook. Let me know what is possible; I will try my level best to work around you. I might even travel by dragon.
Edit: I doubt I can leave it any later than tomorrow to sort travel plans. Likely down to hope and empty good will, then!
Sunday, June 8, 2008
1:40AM - A Little Piece of History
May 24, 2008
Goodness me: I've never heard thunder so loud. One is certainly warned of an oncoming deluge here. Perhaps a macrocosmic echo of my heartbeat, trying to sneak my belongings onto the third floor of this building without being noticed, and scared witless with it. Mind over matter sometimes.
More in progress...
Much has happened, with much improvement, over the past three months. Perhaps after Charles I, I'm growing to accept the new order. However, precisely like that new order, it does not come without its drawbacks. It doesn't really stop the rollercoaster existence that comes with trying to settle in somewhere new. It took me a good year to settle into Bristol, and that was without the problems of moving abroad. A summary as concise as possible, much like the conference paper, would be nice, and I will not remember everything at once, but writing will be the only way to solve this, and perhaps lay some heavy burdens to rest.
Back at the beginning of April, I presented a paper at the Origins Conference in Fribourg, on Marvell's 'Publication Dilemma' in the company of textual scholar Professor A.S.G. Edwards and Oxford Shakespeare editor Professor Gary Taylor. I will save details for Royal_Arbor, but it was a rich experience, and great to meet many of the other people working in medieval and early modern literature across Switzerland. The benefits of a relatively tight circle were apparent when knowledge of this paper brought interest from Professor Anthony Mortimer, Penguin translator of Petrarch, who was completing a paper on Cromwell's elegies. Not that my paper could help in any way, and it did go to show how thought on inventive titles could, in the academic world, be disconcertingly counterproductive, but otherwise very useful to get feedback on the subject area. The paper: condensed, condensed, and condensed further, was a little piece of early modern history.
That conference turned out to have another gloss in the silver lining. My pending homelessness was turning into a distressing and occasionally tear-releasing concern. It's easy to feel very alone in this city because you need to be a survivor. Switzerland, as I have learned, is far from the all-welcoming, 'neutral' entity that it may otherwise be portrayed as. More and more headlines are creeping out about the Swiss' fierce defence of their own sovereignty, and only because this seems more and more right-wing given the libertarian EU for one, and with traditionally conservative governments distancing themselves from the right-wing 'radicals' like the UK's BNP for another. With that, perhaps I had felt somewhat betrayed by the job description for the place. Of course, no job description is quick to highlight the negatives, but a city with as stringent a property crisis as exists here - it is worth mentioning how difficult it can be to get any kind of accommodation at all. The middle of April would see me homeless. How quickly the four months passed since moving into the rather fetching little 'ghetto' area of Blanche - a little piece of very recent history.
A rescue was in sight, thanks to Petya, a colleague working on Medieval literature (coincidentally, working on a text edited by Elizabeth Archibald, the head of department at Bristol while I was there). A friend of hers was looking for a replacement tenant for her brother, who I was then invited to go and visit. I made a fleeting visit to the very pleasant surroundings of Champel to meet the very enthusiastic and welcoming Mr Marin Yonchev, who showed me around his delightful little studio. Expensive enough for what it is - but in the great lottery of Geneva, this would be absolutely ideal. It did not take me very long at all to agree to take the place; helped along by Marin's good humour and French worse than mine. He was leaving for England, to help along his music career. It was then I was to be starstruck in learning of this fine chap's credentials, as Bulgarian Fame/Star Academy winner in 2005. Such competitions get vilified quite easily, but Marin is a national icon and has an enormous fanbase back in Bulgaria, and he was planning to head home to take part in a huge concert at the beginning of June. There stands a glistening piece of Bulgarian history.
There was no escaping this rather messy accommodation situation until Marin was ready to leave in Mid-May, and with the term and my teaching still very much in freeflow, it was a surreal European travelling adventure, living with syrendelalune for much of the week (for which I remain extremely thankful), and an unexpected return to the Geneva hostel for mid-week evenings when I needed to be over here. There is something wonderfully special about returning home to the UK at the end of a short and intensive mid-week stay in Geneva: leaving my office at the very click of 4pm on Thursday, and breaking the dusk at Elm Park, east London. Perhaps it reminded me of the day return jaunts to Edinburgh - living the hard way. Glamorous, by plane, perhaps, but a novelty which still wears off, and with the summer approaching, I was struggling to get the mid-week accommodation I needed, and had to call upon the help of Martin, Dr. Leer, who I stayed with for my first months here. I'm not sure if there is a great deal more insecure than troubled living arrangements, but the view from Martin's attic penthouse terrace is one of the best Geneva can offer, one which melts troubles away, consigning them to their own piece of insignificant history.
With some perseverance, I was able to catch up with Marin a few times as the time came to negotiate moving in, and it was part of a very welcome few weeks. The semester had been quite a long one, with my course on Marvell being perhaps a little too dense, a little too intense, purely because of my own overambitious desire to make it perfect. My idea of completeness was far beyond what it necessarily needed to be. With that, the semester had been about the heavy preparations for the aforementioned conference for starters, and then simply trying to negotiating living on a week-by-week basis. I dropped an inhibition or two and met the charming Marin a few times for a beer or two. I enjoyed his company very much, and wish I had known him a lot longer. It was even, during that time, that I tried to talk about my journal, and found it so difficult to explain how I use it and what I talk about - as any kind of genre at all. But I revelled in how easily it was to connect with my new, albeit famous, friend here. I was learning more about the experience of travelling abroad in search of something, with Marin registered at the famous Conservatoire de Musique in Geneva, and wishing to further his musical spectrum in the UK. Eventually, I found my way into this happy studio in the middle of May, hoping very much that my new friend and I will cross paths again in the future, and not that he becomes barely a piece of history in this minute little life of mine.
I conclude here with a sad thought; not to override the overall triumph of the story (if a narrative can be formed), but because it does cast its poignant shadow over me still. It followed me happily through different countries, survived countless transport miles, and grew to hold a dear part of me in different media. My external hard-disk was four years old, when the simplest and most inept little accident brought it to a swift and merciful end. For sure, my well-intended attempts to resuscitate only facilitated its demise. The sense of loss was a completely numbing one. Not only did my music vanish, with almost all of the CDs back at home (which I was not sure when I would next be visiting), but other things too: most Knightmare (and RPG) related items, and various special sentimentia that will likely never be recovered; music that was borrowed, has been passed on, or otherwise old recordings from friends or time-specific material. If I may, I will quote from an article by an old friend of mine, the excellent Al Allday:
On the train platform on the way home I got chatting to a teenage girl heading into town for a night out. She said she liked my clothes. Then she offered to suck me off. It’s one of those stories you couldn’t make up.
Did I not feel something similar? Here I was, embarking on a meaningful article for our magazine, Noted, about how, despite amassing an estimated quarter of a million words in journals over the past five years, I talk so little of my love for music, and yet when I come to do so, I go and destroy the crown jewel, the source, the compendium; it showed me the true feeling behind my writing in the raw absence that I never wanted to find. This seemed like a coincidence, a story, that I could not possibly invent. I kept as rational a head as I could while a companion of four years died, and much that meant so much to me disappeared. Almost every day for the six weeks since this has happened, I remind myself of something else consigned to a piece of history, and now nothing more. Ironically enough, it has been my LiveJournal that has partly come to my aid. The first time I archived this place, I decided to accumulate all of the songs that had featured in the 'Current Music' to that point (October 2005), and they have sat, virtually unused, on my laptop. I love, as I lose; I celebrate, as I mourn; I discover - only more that is missing; and I express here, therefore, as I have done enough times that each marginal extra threatens a diminishing return, a look to a piece of the future that is found, shaped, and governed by a little piece of history.
Saying my piece to make my peace: an old adage of mine that has not lost its power, and which strikes with more relevance and resonance than ever.
Saturday, May 17, 2008
In a failing attempt to keep up with everything that is going on around me, I am hoping that I might use this space, and your help, towards an article that I am writing for our English magazine, Noted. The working title is "Crackpot Culture": the article will offer a few thoughts about what constitutes a love for music, how music correlates with 'culture', and to what extent attitudes to music are dictated (or intimidated) by such determinant 'culture' (aided by the theory of Clifford Geertz).
I would be delighted, and very grateful, for comments on / replies to all or any of the following questions; anonymous responses would be welcome, and any general comments outside the parameters of the questions would be great too.
* Do you class yourself as a music lover? What constitutes a 'music lover' or a love for music?
* Do you believe music (taste) is an expression of, and / or defines, personality?
* What is your greatest dedicatory act to music (e.g. amount spent on one item / concert ticket; distance travelled to a concert; attending Glastonbury)?
* How important is music as a means of forming social relationships at home / school / work?
* How important is music as a measure of social standing / popularity?
* Have you experienced any pressure of any description to neglect your own tastes in favour of what is considered popular? (If yes, is this still ongoing, or when did it begin to change? If no, do you think such pressure exists?)
I'm hoping for as many responses as possible in a short time. If anyone is willing to link this from their own journal or elsewhere - to a number of friends not on my own list who you think may be interested in answering - I'll happily acknowledge your help if replies come through. A year ago today, I was hearing exciting things from exciting people. I'd very much like today (and the following) to be the same! Many thanks, and much love.
Friday, March 14, 2008
3:15PM - Charles I
Written from a badly behaved office computer in the hope that it will spurr me on to something
In an agitated state today. I have just over 4 weeks left at my current property, and beyond that I will be homeless. There were two potential properties that would have been ideal for me, but in an impossibly tight market where days, hours and even minutes are pivotal, I have zero hope of striking any gold. I cannot speak French. I don't even like trying. The episodes months ago with the Post Office here put my confidence in French at ground zero. At GCSE, one is taught absolute basics, and beyond that, basic tourism - restaurants, hotels, train stations - not how to ask about human resources supposedly locating my wage at their institution and the all-important collection slip seemingly going absent. Likewise, how I am supposed to ask estate agents about the complicated processes behind lease agreements, I have no idea. I have even had a response to a property request in English, and yet I must contact others, and I dare not for fear of needing any French. I am taking grammar lessons, which act as exposure and basic revision, but I am supposed to take an interview in French before the end of the year, and the chances of passing that are minute. The thought of a summer packed with French lessons fills me with absolute dread.
This is a female dominated department and I am largely isolated. Emma, Louise and Anna are quite a happy trio, and they organise all kinds of different things between each other. As far as I am aware, the latter two have been visiting Emma's French home in Grenoble. They often go for coffee (an 'appointment'), and other fun shared times - I am fortunate if I get invited for lunch once or twice. Louise and Anna are just more confident - they are prepared to have a go, even if French isn't their forté, and with that support network in place, finding property has come much easier to them. Emma leaves in July for America for six months, and a new female member of staff is joining - she slots straight into Emma's empty flat. Whether it is because I have a paid position here, whether it is because I have been here long enough, whether I am just assumed to do better, I think I am now expected to fend for myself here, and I am increasingly lost at where to start.
This is all, I fear, taking its toll in several ways. I started some bad sleeping habits at the start of the year, forsaking the privilege of my bedroom. Stomach problems set in, and have made the last 8 or 9 weeks some of the most physically unpleasant I have had - this when I am in a foreign country, struggling to speak French, and therefore not with the slightest inclination to seek any help. The possibilities ran from a simple stomach bug, to food poisoning, to lactose intolerance, but the problem would not go away. I have often dreaded eating in the evening, and then often dreaded sleeping, knowing exactly what was coming overnight. It is only in the last week that I had regained any motivation for eating again, but being here is one session of worry after another. I'm not an adventurous person. I have never been out of the EU; there were no adventurous gap-year schemes or anything. I have never really wanted to stray from English speaking territory without people around me. I have the ideal job here, but as much as I care to fight it, I wonder that the background problems in adapting here are shadows slowly closing in. It is no good always living nervously off the calendar, wondering how on earth I am going to find a roof over my head in a viciously competitive market in a foreign country. It is no good living in fear of the next adminsitrative issue in French that I cannot handle. Now, I have to use work as the distraction, as a weekend of total isolation comes around again, isolation I love and hate in equal measure. Six months in, and it only gets harder to adapt, not easier, because of the in-roads I am expected to have made, and have not made. I wish I wasn't such a proud fool. It is hard to come this far and be thinking of failure in any sense of the word, but the omens are not good, I do myself so few favours, and today, the thoughts circulating in my head of resigning at a given point in the future were a relief only just battered down by pride and a terrible sense/fear of failure. Alas:
I did not know well what for to do.
To whom I were best my complaint to make.
Where have been fellowship, kindred, morality, religion, liberty, tolerance, privacy and so forth? [3/3] For the rush of blood, the fears, tears, rainbows melting into dew, the view of the Saleve and the sights of Plainpalais: today brings a brighter trail. I can charge the allegory either way: Cromwell (Thursday evening) was instrumental in inverting the course of events; Charles I, on the other hand, did not go down without a fight. Alternatively, in keeping with Keith the most unlikely PhD student in the world, I made myself a blindingly good curry this evening, by not overcooking everything for a change. If the Ides bring better days, then perhaps there is still room for optimism.
Monday, February 25, 2008
11:00PM - Two of the Three
Tripartite syllogism; Antitrinitarianism; The Triangle; The Ontology; The Genitals. Quality in Three, as the title might attest to itself.
I just took my first class: one of the world's only dedicated Marvell seminar courses - a dream happening many years earlier than I might have expected. It was extremely nervewracking, very exciting, and to have twenty students - over three times the expected number - was phenomenal. It is a lot to handle, so I wait and work with much hope.
The following is a culmination of the thought behind recent entries. It is still the fallback of many months of confusion surrounding whether to write, where to write, how to write, and how to negotiate control.
KaM's reading of 'To His Coy Mistress' is quite a sequestered one. Thankfully that suited the first class down to the ground. The eyes lighting up as I explained how a poem with a surface theme of frustrated sexuality could be concerned with entirely different subject matter underneath to the extent of finding it asexual, non-sexual, devoid of everything it seemed to be, was a possible sign that I had sold the greatest English poet to some of my class, and that registers as one of my proudest achievements. The progress of my class should be consigned to royal_arbor. Since my working life, and now, for the better or worse, much of the way I think as a person, is very much centred in academia these days (for academia in this field is about extending the personality, the mind, emotions, logic, care and thought into my subject area, and letting the two forge a relationship) it has always been difficult trying to negotiate what to share, and where I might share it. The majority of the things which fascinate me, even if they involve ideas from the past to reflect upon the present, would probably not be welcome here, even if it frustrates me sometimes not to share my learning, understanding and personal development here, and I am discouraged from doing so in royal_arbor because of its minimal interest. But this is all part of a larger sequence of dissolved confidence, dissolved responsibility and dissolved ownership that needs addressing.
A prominent question that I ask: why can I not take more influence in Marvell himself (as I claimed I did recently in an attempted humorous excuse for being slightly late to class) and be less concerned about readership and being read? If there is one thing that this journal has taught me over its rich existence, something that reignites as I begin re-archiving with sympathetic interest to the boy who clung gratefully to any signs of fate and favour, it is that it is not always good to share. Privacy opens new avenues; tempting avenues. Perhaps, to that extent, it is this very journal that has given birth and subsequently incubated this topic area of Privacy as the potential thread of interest that has been realised. What does the past teach me today? The answer is a great deal. As part of the introduction to my PhD, I am trying to make the link between the development of privacy in the seventeenth-century and why it is relevant to us today. Print, Communication, Media Revolutions. The other side to this notion of the private is learning the benefits of its opposite: of publishing, of spreading the word, of sharing and community, even if there were, and are, other motives in mind. Propaganda encouraged (and still does) adversarial and majoritarian politics - encouraging people to form opposing sides. Print, sharing the word, was enough in the 1640s not only to hold those sides together, but to create personal motive and stir involvement in the most apathetic of individuals. Into the 1670s even the calculated and private Marvell saw some merit to taking his prose battle with Samuel Parker into the public domain in his later life.
Yes, I do want to share - not to upset, antagonise, exclude or to cause other negative reactions - but because in a setting where I have my own kind of readership circle, however disinterested, disengaged, or disillusioned, I want to make the most of having friends. Lives, friendships, relationships have inevitably changed since the inception of this place. However, let me imagine a scenario where this journal had an identity, a voice and personal feelings of its own, which I have sometimes felt as very close to the truth, and certainly wished it had. Would it ever have wanted to change its function, knowing how much the power of language on the one hand, and the act of writing - of updating - on the other, had on me alone? This space/being/identity exists because of friends: it was shaped by friends and gifted by the interest of friends, the language of friends and the response of friends. There rested the hope, of course, while I was still getting to know people largely through this medium here, that the response was for its composer. Then another kind of response emerges, to the journal itself, when strangers find this space and come from the outside leaving their own precious signatures scattered throughout this coronet. These were special in their moment because this as a virtual space alone could allow someone to intercept me sharing a volume and an archive of my thoughts with friends. Compliments left reflected everyone I knew, because they were the purpose behind it all, and to the virtual visitor I can only appear as the orchestrator of language, the selector of words set to demonstrate my everything, as far as I represent it here.
That all stopped, the function of this place had to subside when the balance was changed, when I started to feel the place was governed by influences outside me. Of course, the function of LiveJournal altogether, the bigger picture, and not just my own bubble, is for networking. Therefore, words, thoughts, emotion, the power of language not only glosses my page, but the coloured bar and penetrative graphic that represents bristolian_kam will infiltrate other people's space. Perhaps I should ask Professor David Spurr about this sometime - he has written separately on the Space and Cyberspace of English. Thus, as time went on, lives changed, and different people have befallen different fortunes, it occurred to me, in the web of uncertainty, in the mire of decision, in the myriad of public and private choice and compulsion, that the impact of what appeared on other's spaces had to take priority over that which was initially meant as mine. The semiotics of journaling dictated through my eyes that the space I once felt I owned and shared became more the ownership of the third parties who suffered the externality of my choice to write. Ownership; Authorship; Censorship ~ strange things, words.
I never intended this space to be private, but sharing in the same way as I once delighted in doing did not seem possible while I self-censored according to the weighting I placed increasingly more heavily upon these other spaces rather than my own. I did this with the knowledge of, and against the advice and wisdom of, friends that I love and respect dearly. To that disappointment, I reacted, and created a new space in the interim while this space began to either die or hibernate. I never did see it as my choice to withhold or withdraw from here - I never saw it as a choice at all. Unfortunately I was bound within a system that, without me conducting levels of intervention, would make me complicit for any item of mine that appeared on somebody else's space that upset them in any way. The new space helped to free me from the fetters; I appreciated the oxygen for a while, but it was not what I needed. Some people can write purely for themselves; for reasons I cannot fathom, I cannot easily do the same. Why have I been so disillusioned in the past when I have spent ages on a journal post and then lost it all in the final seconds? The writing - the cathartic process - would have been completed, and thus some of the purpose would have been served, surely? Does disillusion come because there is no record of the words, or because the effort failed to reach the Friends' domain? Freedom - certainly - but isolation was never one of the determinants that were to rule my little microcosmic space here when I began. I came here to be part of a community. Moving elsewhere temporarily, even with the best of intentions, meant I was acting against that principle.
‘Writing is that neutral, composite, oblique space where our subject slips away, the negative where all identity is lost, starting with the very identity of the body writing.’
Roland Barthes, Death of the Author (with thanks to Michael Röösli and the idea from his Specialist Module).
Sooner or later, it is time to resume control. This space has always been mine, and it has been my choice to treat it in the way I have, and my own paranoia that has invented this notion of my ownership slipping away. Thereby lingers a sad acknowledge that I let years of identity built up here fall away because of dangerous assumptions I made. In the same way that certain practices of mental illnesses have griped over the years and it becomes difficult to believe that some simple thoughts or actions are not choice (can't, or won't?), I have had to try and break the spine of this stigma. Yes, I choose the words to say, always in the knowledge that it is distributed to some extent outside the contours of my own sovereignty, but for me to treat this place as a kind of hostage to a maligned paranoia whereby I assume my friends list will prey upon whatever can be found is just ludicrous, and I am solely to blame for that weakness. Being so adversely affected by this kind of thought, I must have made a number of dangerous assumptions which actually seem, to me, more offensive in principle than those I hoped to avoid by silence. Firstly, to create the problems I envisaged through my act of writing, I would have assumed that this space would be read with some degree of care and attention (which, and I would completely understand, I doubt very much). Secondly, I would have assumed that it would be preferred that I didn't write at all rather than write something that may offend. Knowing 'My Beloved Heroes' collectively, I cannot really see that preference billed as a consensus. Thirdly, on a related note, I would have assumed that I am not trusted at any level to not give and/or intend offense. I always want people to know that I mean well, but it is a terrible and shameful disclaimer to repeat: you have to believe it is taken as granted. I am aware that sometimes years of acquaintance, the strongest of friendships, can probably yield under the power of one sentence, a bullet of language. But that bullet has to be taken. Sometimes, the shot is aimed with deadly accuracy; yet sometimes one may deliberately step into the firing line.
This kind of matter-of-fact thought (even if it seems wound up in jargon) starts to absolve some of the heavy responsibility for my own space that these concerns have built. Why I would wish to produce a bullet of language, something deliberately offensive, I have no idea. But I am not responsible for all of the ostensible structures of this tool: I am responsible for questions of authorship as and when applicable; but I am not responsible for the equally subjective and controversial aspects of readership. Friends choose to have me on their list; they can choose whether or not to read an entry of mine (believing whether or not someone sees this as choice or obligation inevitably affects how far an entry can be seen to be infiltrating elsewhere and/or pertaining to externality; in the case of 'choice', it reduces my responsibility and culpability). Ultimately, I am assuming that I know everybody else's limits, that I know everybody else's toleration, and that I know what people do and do not want to read. That is an impossible and, to negate the purpose of this piece, perhaps even an insulting suggestion. Unless I ask for a list of what friends would not like me to discuss here, or to comb the comments for the odd gibe at something specific, such as detailed academic material, I cannot claim to know that kind of information.
I think of my early dream career destinations: law, and media. Had I gone on to become a barrister, I would have been required to interrogate, to ask questions and make statements designed to unsettle, dismantle and discredit my client's opponent - I shied away from that idea very quickly. Media is supposed to be objective, but even the highest quality newspapers have their own agenda, and few journalists do not occasionally leak opinion. Even if I struggle with the British press ethos, I respect journalists for their assuredness. How would I ever have managed in that field while worrying about whether I might upset one of a million readers? Here and now, I am grateful to be in a profession where I must continually develop an ability to write and speak with full respect for different opinions. Different levels of oral examination, the first of which I will encounter following my paper at the April conference, is a microcosm for all written and spoken material. If I do not have sufficient conviction behind my own research ideas, they may not be accepted with the full vigour that I believe they deserve. To relate that back here, and ponder assumptions once again, it seems dangerous to start second-guessing. Bottom line, I cannot help how others react to any given instance. Someone could claim to be offended at absolutely anything, and unless I had the conviction behind my own intentions and execution of that 'anything', I would potentially be forever powerless over the jurisdiction of my own voice. How people react to any given post relies on a number of factors: the content, and how it is written would be one of the most important; the tone - how I appear to be feeling; and, prominently, how the reader is feeling.
The question comes, therefore: how far can a writer be responsible for an outside reaction? There are times when it would be universally acknowledged (one would hope) as acutely insensitive to start thinking about certain ideas at certain times. There will always be concerns of choice, personality, consideration and judgement. However, I have to consider my own reaction to my Friends' Page, to the words that 'infiltrate' my space, if I am to think, as I have, about how I infiltrate theirs - it is the only understanding I have to go on. I realise that people have their own way of posting - that goes without saying - it largely reflects their personality. But nothing has been said as a deliberate rebuke to me and my own life; if it has, it has been my own problem to take. I could never expect everyone to put their lives on hold, and their precious means of talking about it, because of some problem I may have in the background. If I am down in the gutter, I do not wish everyone to be miserable. A community of friendship, as I see it, can be upheld by the individual setting their own commitments with their own equations, but it cannot automatically be about an emotional lowest common denominator to which all must abide, otherwise we all swim in an inescapable pit of gloom.
The other way around is to consider the exceptions. There have been momentous events in friends' lives that have sickened me because of what I will have seen as my own misfortunate at the time in not having the same happen to me: that is, and had to be, my problem. Over the last 18 months, there have been momentous moments in my own life, and likely because of the way I have handled receiving news badly before, I could not discuss them in the way I might have liked. Not everyone can always be happy for you - the world does not revolve as simply as that. Likewise, it is difficult to see upset on the part of someone else as 'their problem'. Therefore, great news, great changes, are undermined by self-censorship, or relegated to understatement or silence. However, I remember that when friends who soared above me made a dedicated effort to make me feel special on, above, and around their positive fortunes, that helped me find all the positives I wanted to rejoice with them. I obviously cared about being made to want to feel a part of the happiness, and not to become an outsider because of it. Writing here, therefore, must be a complement to friendship, and not just an rich tapestry of a noticeboard.
Perhaps it is all about the right kinds of communication, or being the right person, in the right place, at the right time, to explain certain types of experience. I wonder if anyone envies me out here in Geneva. Perhaps I managed to disband that by hardly mentioning it at all in wider public discourse. Undoubtedly, I have an amazing opportunity here. Everything I could have hoped for in a UK opportunity has been offered in this great city. I have talked about second-guessing, and it is easy to second-guess one another incorrectly, and to read situations one-dimensionally. Do not envy me, for I equally envy you at home. I have a small sense of collective belonging in my office, and a solitary one in a small apartment a mile away. The world outside speaks a different language, and functions in a different way. There is no company, there are weekends where I do not speak, and weeks when I live to return. I believe that, especially outside of the office, many of my faculties just drop onto standby. I am a non-adaptable person trying and struggling with a new way of life. That said, I acknowledge that not everybody feels a sense of freedom at home, even knowing the language and the land around you. Thus, I need to be able to return here, and to know that I am not doing the wrong thing by talking about whatever needs to be said. I will keep aware, I will remain as sensitive as possible; but I feel that I have made the choice for everyone for too long, in the bitter irony of feeling that I did not have a choice, and I must not only reclaim that choice to write, but now to delegate that choice to read or not.
My second Marvell class saw only ten appear, half the size of the original group. However, within 5 minutes, I was absolutely delighted. Having asked everyone to speak for a few seconds on what they took from the first class, the observation, interest and enthusiasm of those present who wanted to be there completely eclipsed the initial disappointment in seeing the numbers reduced so radically. Had all twenty been forced to return, or had I chosen that they all return, I know it would have been much less successful. Yet they all made a choice, and we all benefitted massively. Worthy sacrifices: and I now have no qualms translating the essence of that message to this LiveJournal. We must each acknowledge our own levels of control, and exercise our own power of choice. If we cannot relive a Golden Age here, it is because there is no longer a Golden Group at its epicentre. Yet this writer, still a little unsure of himself, would appreciate any thoughts anyone has on any of this material, and undoubtedly offers Love, Peace and Harmony as ever before.
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
3:00PM - One of the Three
There are a few things I would like to discuss, so I will try and spill it over several days if possible. The title then would pick up yet another meaning. Firstly, as another crossover (I'm tempted to use the adjective 'interdisciplinary') with royal_arbor, I'm going to think about a few academic life related issues.
The pregnant abstract: I'm not really sure what is right and wrong to say any more. One either needs to be so assured of their own convictions, or to receive feedback when something hits the right or wrong note. In that scenario, it must be important to be around the right crowd, to hear from the right folk.
Last term, an email of apology I sent to my students for keeping them late two consecutive weeks was apparently branded 'appalling' by a group of Swiss Higher Education council members. The courrier of the message even suggested that I look for another job. This was a low point of the term, but levelled somewhat by some nicer student response that someone has stepped down from that lecturer/teacher pedestal which it is assumed exists here. During the final week of the term, while the students were taking their second exam, I took another risk, and wrote in that time a further piece of apology - this time relating to the results of the student feedback, which I read out before they left. There seemed to be an air of low confidence surrounding the exam, which the feedback demonstrated. However, this was defied, and I was buoyed, by some excellent results, which left my group in excellent stead compared to most of the others.
Recently, I was contacted by Edinburgh University yet again to say that they have not yet received the electronic copy of my thesis on CD to go into the library. I sent this months ago, and it is the second time that something has gone missing. I can only be thankful that the hard copy made it safely, given two trips to the UK and a £45 binding fee at the only place I could find that would do this to university specifications. But then I am still waiting for any kind of feedback from Edinburgh for my work submitted back in August, and I doubt this will be forthcoming. The recent request from Edinburgh was carbon-copied to several people, so perhaps I will reply to all and see if that increased exposure will spurr someone into action on my behalf. Dare I be even slightly belligerent in tone? Edinburgh has done so little for me, and cared so little about me, and I have had to jump through unreasonable hoops to complete graduation. The indifference of Edinburgh's silence about the work has been offset by my current supervisor, Professor Erne, who I have had the pleasure of working closely with. During a busy and fruitful week a fortnight ago, we had a meeting and he provided excellent and detailed feedback which has been extremely helpful. Perhaps this is all part of having an exemplary supervisor, and I am glad for the close working relationship, but at the same time I cannot help but feel it is shameful that I have to rely on a new supervisor for the kind of response that Edinburgh have owed me for months.
I think part of my problem is always being afraid to ask. Is this down to having had intimidating bosses like the Bar Tutor and Bobby Kerr? Is it down to growing up at home reluctant to ask for anything? I took much of last week away from Geneva, and received an email which could, and perhaps should, have been a reprimand from my tutor about not asking him directly if I could spend the time away. He would not have minded at all, he noted, but to me asking for this would have seemed a really impudent and unreasonable request. Reaching outwards: the admin situation here in Geneva is frightful, and a number of overseas staff joining in stages have provided a long more work for our great secretarial staff, so I struggle to ask for help. Consequently, one or two problems have hung over me for quite some time. Thankfully, upon asking a favour of one of the secretaries here, one of the most pressing of these concerns - mandatory health insurance (which is automatically imposed if the new arrival does not fix it in time) - seems to be gone. I breathe a little easier: this morning was a much better morning.
The new semester begins this week, and this presents its own round of excitement, challenges and worries. Since I arrived here, I have been motivated to move into new territory, but in recognising it as new, I am realising how little I know in the broad field of English Literature. Last semester, between October and December I read four novels and plenty of heavy interdisciplinary theory as part of the Body Dysmorphic Discourses MA course I observed, and have now familiarised myself with three more Shakespeare plays. Teaching Drama and Poetry fitted right into my field, and in retrospect I am thrilled that the big improvements came for the December Poetry exam. Now the first years move onto Narrative: Prose Fiction and the Essay, for which their lectures begin today, and I am attending these voluntarily because I am worryingly unfamiliar with much of the material. Being joint-honours during my first year at Bristol meant that I missed modules which sounded gruesome, but which would have fared me well at this stage. If I had to teach the first year class this semester, I would not have a clue. Nevertheless, I have my own teaching concerns - the thrill of starting one of the world's only dedicated Andrew Marvell modules on Thursday. Now is the time to realise that some I don't have access to some vital material; now is the time for the photocopier downstairs to run out of supplies; now is the time to become concerned about the Genevan practices which can make it very difficult for teachers. I have no idea how many will turn up, whether they will choose to stay beyond week 1, and how many will join in the second and third weeks. It is to encourage student choice, and they can sample whatever they like in the opening fortnight, before settling. I appreciate that, but it becomes a nightmare to prepare. The volume they will need is relatively expensive; the English bookstore will not order more than 2 at a time unless directly ordered, and it takes a fortnight to appear. The pressure is on, and this has to go well.
There is no smooth run-up to this either. This evening, I go with American Anna, another new PhD student, to register with the ELCF for French classes. Registration includes a kind of exam so we can be segmented into classes based on ability, and again, the pressure is on me to do relatively well here and get bracketed straight into the top set because I have taken French for six years and should know much more than those who, like Anna, are just starting out with French for the first time. But I am struggling with this and am really nervous about how it will go. I would love to be able to speak fluent French, but I am not a natural linguist, and getting up to the standard will be one _ long _ struggle. The expectation was - at least from when I started in the Autumn - that I would be ready for the oral examination with French linguistics to declare that I have the linguistic skills worthy of conducting doctoral research in a French-speaking nation (independent of these classes) in the Autumn this year. That leaves about 8 or 9 months, and, I try to note, is not worth panicking about here and now.
Tomorrow evening, on the other hand, the postgraduates and staff for the Medieval and Early Modern segments of the department are to begin a fortnightly research skills and textual studies seminar, working through a reader of instructional and theoretical criticism. Alas - yet again, textual studies is an area of considerable weakness, partly thanks to terrible provision of research skills for postgraduates at Edinburgh, and it has not crossed into my research yet. However, the Origins Conference is coming up in April, and all participants have to submit a detailed question on an issue of textual studies related to their own specific research interest. Moreover, myself and American Anna are both giving papers at this event, sandwiched between Professors Gary Taylor and A. S. G. Edwards; a baptism of fire, and it is thought that some of these seminars will be required in preparation for the papers and learning how to handle questions from the floor. Additionally, the paper will have to be prepared soon, as much of the matieral will be heavily condensed, and it will need several drafts. Alongside this, the second of the two books I am reviewing has just arrived (pictured left), which starts the clock ticking for the composite review, which was always an ambitious task. My link, and perhaps my overlap to the next installment here, is that after slipping in a total clanger as a suggested final chapter title for the PhD summary earlier this month: 'To the Seventies, and Beyond', I have managed to slip in a welcome James reference to the title of the paper for the Origins Conference in April:
( 'One of the Three: Marvell's Publication Dilemma'Collapse )
So, the short term is busy, the medium term looks busy, and the long term looks busy. All fun!
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