Never finishing anything at all – 4 (or more) steps to succeed

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I have finished my talk some weeks ago, ready to edit it a bit here and there and in the end having weeks to rehearse it (…something that is reallyreallyreally important for non-native-speakers!!!) – at least that was my plan. Of course, quite the opposite happened. After finishing my first ‘draft,’ my supervisor and wonderguy (who is also my colleague, a fellow comparative literature graduate) both added their two cents, poignantly remarking that this paper will be great for all those who already know what I am working on – everyone else may feel a bit puzzled, asking him/herself what that chick out there is actually talking about. So I was obviously NOT finished. Not at all. It took me two more nights to recreate a sort of “finally finished”-feeling, and I still think it’s more a feeling than a fact. Especially since I’ve started rehearsing, realizing that I’m still changing certain passages to make them more understandable (and easier to read, to be more precise). So again, the final version is not so final after all. But editing can be tricky and a never-ending-story – it has always been very difficult for me to constrain my pedantic inner critic and carefully approach a final version I really ‘like’…

I know a lot of people are only too familiar with this struggle. For the lucky ones who NEVER had the joyous experience of questioning one’s own intellect and sanity over one small passage on page 5 of a) the last chapter of the second novel you wrote at the age of 22/31/40/53 OR b) the 235th paper you wanted to submit to a prestigious journal where you already published three other papers but still, this time they could finally realize just how awful and inapt you actually are … For those lucky ones I may offer some valuable instructions on how to finally stop finalizing stuff:

  1. Decide to work in a foreign language (at least NOT your first language) OR a jargon you are in no way familiar with – no matter how good you get and how hard you study, you will always feel inadequate, insecure, and not sure of even the most basic expressions. Always.
  2. Pursue new opportunities. Find some side aspect of your work you never before thought of investigating further, combine your familiar knowledge with new discoveries and realize that you might have missed some very important stuff which could have been really, really important for your study/thesis/paper at some earlier stage, meaning you should rework pretty much everything. This seems overwhelming, so you decide to go for a beer/coffee/tea/vegansoychailattewithextracinnamon to do some brainstorming, after which you decide to just never ever return.
  3. Purchase the book How to disappear completely and live free. It’s from the 1970ies, providing information totally unsatisfactory nowadays, and no matter what you work on, you will forget everything you ever wanted to find out about that thing you work on, instead imagining to live on some Mexican beach, selling homemade tequila. Then purchase the book How to disappear: Erase your digital footprint, leave false trails, and vanish without a trace.
  4. Realize there was a mix-up at Amazon after receiving How to disappear completely: On Modern Anorexia instead. Or maybe you mixed something up. Anyway, after reading it you decide that disappearing might not be that desirable after all and return to your research/work projects.
  5. Edit your paper/talk/thesis as much as seems necessary, but don‘t overdo it. Then give it to some trusted friends and colleagues, ask for their opinions, fear their opinions, and start editing again until either your deadline arrives or you retire.

If you need additional inspiration, go play catch in a parking lot, because you obviously missed the point of never-ever-finishing-anything at all. And yes I know, this apparently does not make any sense.  Welcome to my world!

Pain, pain go away, please don’t come back another day…

Times when I have to be highly efficient are often followed by days on which I can hardly get out of my mental mess; days when I ask myself why there is so much pain and suffering in this world and why so many of us have to go through sorrow and misery, just so they exist somewhere on this planet, physically existing while being surrounded by drought, war, destruction, poverty, illness, and abuse. There is an imbalance in this world that is beyond human understanding, even though it is the result of human actions, of greed, hate, anger, and ignorance. … You see what I’m getting at? This is one version of the recurrent emotional festival known as “My Dark Days”, this is how I often think and feel during those times (like, right now). In German it can be subsumed under the term “Weltschmerz”, which in English would mean something like “world-weariness” and does by far not sound as dramatic as the German “Weltschmerz.” The Perpetuum-mobile-like questions of global imbalances and alike do not only correspond wonderfully with this Weltschmerz I bear within my heart from time to time (or should I say, which seems to break free, roam the open spaces of my heart and soul, only to withdraw until it once again wants to share its sullenness with my conscious mind) BUT are also a result of my academic work.

I’ve been working on war literature for at least a decade, though only with my diploma thesis did I decide to professionally focus on war writings in a post/neo-colonial-world (mainly wars–or ‘operations’–initiated by the US, primarily in Vietnam and Iraq). I’ve read about killing, being (nearly) killed, bodies blown apart, blown-off limbs, terror, torture, rape, abuse, destruction, and misery for 6 years now. Even though sometimes I read a “normal” book, everyday politics hardly give me a break. No matter if I want to take a step back for a few days, there is always something bringing me back to “my” work. War, terror, death, destruction.

I love research work, I love to explore the things hidden below, I love to question standards, traditions, and all that stuff certain societies “agreed on” even though it is dangerous, questionable and just plain stupid. But more often than not, especially during my dark days, I lose it all; I lose the distance to my work, this distance I desperately need, and I get angry as fuck. Angry with all sides involved in those struggles. And I get frustrated. I think back, when I was a child and everything–my world at least–seemed orderly and simple, and I was watching “The A-Team” and “MacGyver” with my gramps and the world was my playground because everything had its place. I think about that now, asking myself ‘what would the A-Team do?’ How would Hannibal, B.A. and Faceman handle all this crap? Why, exactly, was shit hitting the fan THAT intense?

In the end, on those days, dark days filled with anger, rage, and a sort of total emotional overload, it is not about one side or the other; there are only losers in this game. It is about all the pain and destruction that all this hate and fear and anger bring into the world, pretty much everywhere. This is what I mainly work on, this is what I read about and work on constantly. And I’m angry at myself for being such a wimpy whiner, crying about the stories I read and work on when there are people out there, thousands, millions of people, who have to live through this, who have to survive this in order to write about it, so a sissy Western scholar can create her own fucking drama around it while working on it. I am angry at myself for not being able to keep the distance I need to stay healthy.

I need a certain distance. We all need a distance to certain things, both professionally and personally. Losing your distance means losing a lot of time and energy cleaning up the mess your oversensitive crap made.

Pain, pain, go away…