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.