Monday, 12 January 2009

I've Moved!

My blog is now at Academic, Hopeful

See you there in 2009!

Mitigating Factors for Sentencing

In case something happens, here are some signs of my write-up emotional state:

  1. I watched a full series of 30 Rock back-to-back in bed on Saturday morning. It's so precious to me (along with my Frankie Boyle DVD, which is under my pillow).
  2. I now sing in the shower (a first) and one of my repeats is "I Want to Know What Love is."
  3. I think of my boyfriend as someone who feeds and pats me.
  4. I cried my eyes out at the end of the latest BBC version of The Diary of Anne Frank and started banging on about human suffering, Gaza and The Congo, and then how my thesis is perhaps one big waste of time and energy.
  5. Like many of my friends here, I have begun to consider whether my research is lightweight and uninteresting and whether I should have done something else. "Is there enough time to change?" we ask - before deciding that it is better to set lower expectations for our chosen topics.
  6. I have started to succumb to frantic bursts of web trawling for post-doc opportunities and for any funding bodies who would be up for supporting various interdisciplinary pop research ideas of mine. Anyone know of any?
  7. I have resumed chewing my hair or not so much chewing as clamping a section in my mouth. It's gross.
  8. I am becoming mildly annoyed by various trends and themes in blogland: vitriolic criticisms on the current use of grammar, pimping out your kids and spouses, blog experiments like polyamorous relationships or making eco sexy.
  9. I have a pile of chocolate gold coin wrappings in front of me, folded, twisted and torn, touching an empty Ribena carton, which is near my cold sore ointment. Usually, one can find clever pistacchio nut shell sculptures of various human body parts, surrounded by multiple half-empty mugs of peppermint tea.
  10. I just had a tantrum about how bad this blogpost is. I have no confidence in anything I do anymore.
photographs: Shapeshift and rachel a.k.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Dr Moi

I am back in Oxford. I have successfully commenced my new work timetable that I devised while I was away as part of my self-imposed Get Real Challenge. In the likely case that you are more sophisticated than me and missed that allusion, Dr Phil put sad people on Get Real Challenges in the early noughties.

I don't like Dr Phil. I haven't watched him or Opes in ages. Actually, I don't watch much TV at all. I no longer have a TV. I watch Stephen Fry shows on BBC iPlayer, and sometimes I watch Strictly Come Dancing, that is until I recognise that it's the jingle in between each segment that is making me feel mildly anxious. I was into The Wire for a bit, now it's 30 Rock.

I have recently read The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini and The Little Virtues by Natalia Ginzburg. I was a bit late on The Kite Runner train - all the hype made me think it might be of the same texture as the Da Vinci Code: vomity. But it wasn't at all. It was epic, gripping and sentimental (if a little heavy-handed at times). I felt a little emotionally manipulated at the end, but I went with it, snot bubbles and all.

The Little Virtues is more my thing: eleven essays, part memoir, part fiction. It's imbued with (post-WW2) moralising and nostalgia, a wonderful self-deprecating wit and perfect, often prickly observations (especially about the English, which made me feel like her friend).

Here is some preaching:

And the story of human relationships never ceases for us; because little by little they become all too easy for us, all too natural and spontaneous - so spontaneous and so undemanding that there is no richness, discovery or choice about them; they are just habit and complacency, a kind of intoxicated naturalness. We believe that we can always return to that secret moment of ours, that we can draw on the right words; but it isn't true that we can always go back there, often our return there is false; we make our eyes glow with a false light, we pretend to be warm and caring towards our neighbour and we are in fact once more shrunken and hunchen up in the icy darkness of our heart. Human relationships had to be rediscovered and reinvented every day. We have to remember constantly that every kind of meeting with our neighbour is a human action and so it is always good or evil, true or deceitful, kindness or a sin (Human Relationships).

And some funny:

The English rarely show surprise. If it happens that someone faints in the street, everything is provided for. In a few seconds a chair is found for him, a glass of water, a uniformed nurse (England: Eulogy and Lament).

I am trying to widen my range of extra-curricular material to include some more current affairs coverage. I realised again when I was hanging out with my brother who asked me for my opinion on multiple public issues just how very insulated and self-obsessed one (has to) become during the last phases of write-up (and maybe even during the whole damned thing, at least in Oxford). I read about the strife in Gaza and the current financial crisis, and I try to get my head around some of the range of issues, but as soon as I am finished, I simply click on another webpage or go back to the Old Bastard and my thoughts. I connect certain themes together, but I don't feel nearly as passionate or even concerned about the people or places involved as I would normally. I don't like that really.

But charity starts in the home (right internet?) and I had the rather unusual experience today of having two man pals seek my advice about Love. I have experienced emotional males before, just not two in one day and both in such self-conscious, advisor-advisee situations. One of them was gushy and needed assurance that his sentiments would be reciprocated, the other was teary and overwhelmed about possibly giving up an old relationship for a new one. I have noticed that at the beginning of every term here, there are heightened feelings; intense fearfulness about losing and gaining - people, things, achievements, careers, and places. I listened, validated, shared and made suggestions where appropriate, as I would with my lady friends.

I really do give out a lot of energy when people ask me for advice. I wish the Old Bastard were a real person stretched on a couch, simply listening to my wise words and appreciating my charm. He's not like that.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Family Time

Families, they're alright. I am in Budapest with my brother, his wife and their super cute baby. My brother, who is currently singing J Buckley's Hallelujah to his son as he bathes him, had drawn up an itinerary of three activities per day before we arrived and pinned to the kitchen pinboard amongst a few random photographs and cards. He is not the most organised of people, but he is an adventurer at heart; he puts as much as he can into his hours, until he finds a café with some good coffee and some chat.

Today we were hoping to go ice-skating (He is now on Pop Goes the Weasel) as per the plan. We took the metro which is like a funride at a fair, not least because the annoucement at each stop is accompanied by something generated by an ice-cream van or honking a clown's nose. The rink was closed so we ended up (now onto You Can Call Me Al) walking for hours, past all sorts of victory monuments, romanesque, gothic and baroque tribute buildings (not because there aren't real ones in Budapest, we just happened to stumble upon the tribute fare built 100 years ago), genuine Succession buildings, and communist appartment blocks. The streets here are wide and today they were almost deserted. Today or this evening is the time for Christmas celebrations (over fish) in Hungary. I am not sure how we figured we would be able to do more than just walk and look at the few passers-by.

The women here wear a lot of brown clothing, with gaudy (orange, gold and red) accessories, their hair dyed black or red and black eye-liner drawn heavily along the bottom ridge. I write this fully aware that I probably seem like a small boy to them, like I don't make enough of my looks. The men look like weather-beaten sailors or possibly pirates, but perfectly nice ones. (My brother is now singing a demonic version of Silent Night).

As the three of us strode into the wind that was puffing up our full length coats, I sensed that we were about to do Matrix slow-motion backarches then reach into our coats for our guns to blow the crap out of something. Instead we tried in vain to withdraw cash at several cash machines (ATMs), and struggled to identify and explain the significance of various monuments – both are not so easy in a country with a complex political history. Finally we spotted a dull yellowish light and some dark movement – a cafe was open! We ordered coffees and hot chocolate (or cocoa). The cafe was airy and smoky, bohemian and potentially revolutionary yet stately, a place for scheming as well as mindless drinking, friendly yet surly, cold yet warm. This paradoxical style of writing is not only good and bad, but good and evil.

My brother and I talked about our family, everyone in it. We analysed each member's motivations and childhood traumas, factoring each of the possible combinations and permutations. We were fortunate that everything was closed today otherwise we would not have been able to have a proper catch up, which, in a family like mine, means reaching agreement on the causes behind the major frustrations, disputes and tragedies of the day, with a sense of love and humour of course.

It's root vegetable soup time.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Christmas in the Heart

I am off to Paris for the weekend this Friday evening to see Top Friend and Adorable Cousin, who happen to be an item. OK, I wouldn't have met Top Friend were she not seeing Adorable Cousin, but I don't want to refer to her as my cousin's girlfriend as it wouldn't be fair to our friendship. They'll have just arrived from the wedding of my cousin (AC's brother), so I am looking forward to getting carried away with a few gooey stories. I hope they do details. They will. I hate when people can't remember what the maids wore. Useless.

The Boy and I are then taking a sleeper train to Budapest Sunday night to spend Christmas and New Year's with my brother and his wife whom I haven't seen in three years. I will also be meeting my new nephew. I can't wait. Everyone seems to think the sleeper train will be dreamy, but I am wondering whether I will be stacked on top of smelly, overweight, hairy men like I was last time I was in Eastern Europe. There was, of course, a board-come-bed in between us and I did have weaponry under my pillow.

There's a lot of festive love going round.* I have received some generous sentiments in Christmas cards,* I have enjoyed many a mince pie and glass of mulled wine with Oxford friends, and I have been hearing more and more from my loved-ones at home.

One big Chrissy group hug

*Cf. last post.
*Cf. Droid's card that ends: "Yours in eager anticipation of 'Change' and bird flu finally kicking in next year" accompanied by a Napoleon Dynamite-style pencil drawing of a bird with a swastika in its eye.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Hurty Winter Ickiness

Team, I have another wintry post, a confessional of sorts. I have been deeply hurt by someone I regarded as a true friend. Perhaps it's hard to imagine, but there aren't as many life stairwells in Oxford as there are in your hometown and so true friendship (reliability, honesty, kindness and small acts of heroism) becomes even more important, and paradoxically rare. One of my friends told me to repeat the words from The Last of the Mohicans to myself:
[Name], you are a man [or woman] with a few admirable
qualities. But taken as a whole, I was wrong
to have thought so highly of you
This helps a little because it's probably true, but it's not the full picture.

The encouragement of two close friends (whom I dressed up with) got me to a College ball last night. The Boy had to be up North. It was hugely comforting to be amongst many friends whom I have known for a longer time.

I did not think a betrayal from a friend would inspirit much or any sympathy from others. It just doesn't seem to have quite the same kick to it in your adult life, when friendships are often shorter and more practical, and when worthy betrayals are reserved for those in romantic relationships or marriage.

But, as if knowing what I needed without any obvious cues from me, I received supportive words from various unexpected (drunken) sources, about how lovely, fun and well-liked I am, and, from one friend, that she sees me as a strong, dynamic, capable person who she looks up to (gulp). One cheeky boy voted me the most beautiful woman of the evening, which made me smile, even if I know it was essentially my pride desperately needing some mending. And then there was a young gentleman whose girlfriend could not make it who danced with me for the last few songs in a really sweet and respectful way. He had these fun ballroom moves (one quite dangerous) that he assured me were not the product of study.

It's a grey Sunday. I have to do some work and find some peace. These probably won't come together, but I am sure I will feel fine very soon. And there's always Paris.

Sunday, 7 December 2008

It was a Cold and Frosty Morning

photographs by me and The Boy

I have recently had two chapters returned to my supervisor, marked 'Redo' so I am desperately trying to rewrite and polish them before I head off to Paris and Budapest for my Christmas holiday.

I am working hard, sometimes clinical, sometimes infatuated by my topic. It's difficult to avoid all the distractions though, the farewell parties and drinks, formal dinners at Colleges, conversations about holidays, romances, the reduction in VAT, and, as always, Africa. Then there's that uneasiness that comes each year with the dark afternoons, when you have to stop yourself from hopping into bed at 5:30pm.

This morning's walk over frozen mud and grass and pools was a nice change, a distraction that was quiet, delicate and primal. Brought me to the feeling of states of nature changing: water turning into solid, breath turning into liquid.