Once more with … less feeling, please?

 

IMG_20170809_232328_236.jpgA few days ago I received an invitation to a conference in December. I never in a million years expected anyone to accept my paper because a) it’s not even a conference with a focus on literary studies and b) I’m no fancy academic pursuing her studies not looking left or right, but rather a freestyle academic, pursuing her studies when finding the time next to work, life, and stuff. So not exactly distinguished ivy league university material. Not even ‘attending a conference at a distinguished university I always wanted to see’ material… 

Obviously, no one ‘there’ knows that, which is why they are delighted to include my paper in their conference. And I’m delighted, happy, overwhelmed, and panicky all at once. For days now. And nights, which is worse. I sent a submission to give it a shot, “aim high”, as they say (I don’t know who “they” might be, but hey, “they” for sure never suffered from anxiety disorders and shit like that) and try for universities (and cities) I always wanted to see or love to visit. I have been to New York before and missed my chance to see Columbia, at least from the outside. I may get a second chance now. 

Still, I have to finance this wonderful craziness – New York is pricey, especially in December (I guess). Also, I have to keep my shit together to go there. It’s not that I am too nervous to actually attend a conference and present a paper I have nothing to lose and everything to gain, so that’s not the issue here); rather, the real challenge will be organizing the trip, finding a hotel and staying on top of things. I hate organizing because I’m really bad at it. Also, since receiving the invitation, tons of unfounded fears came creeping up from the shitty dark holes I forced them into; they caress my arms, creep up and down my spine, float into my semiconscious mind in the early morning hours, lay their heavy burden on my weary shoulders (yes I know, THAT sounds cheesy…). Depending on the mood I’m in, I can take them one at a time, pushing them back into the holes they came from, or I let them flow, because there’s no use in fighting it, not right now. 

I know, I sound like a whiny kid, and I don’t want to. I simply did not expect this to happen – some provincial freestyle academic presenting a paper at rather well-known university. London has already been great, and this too is a wonderful opportunity and it feels huge. Overwhelming. Unreal. And frightening.  

Greetings to my demons. 

Something fresh…

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So the new laptop finally arrived!! UPS and I had some initial problems of finding some time for each other since our doorbell wasn’t working as it should (probably for the last months – which explains why we never get any parcels, but always have to fetch them at the post office), but in the end, THANKFULLY, everything worked out just fine. I’m always a bit nervous when waiting for a valuable item, especially with parcel services like UPS. It’s often hard to get a hold of the individual driver because it’s an international company, so they only offer ‘international’ customer service. ‘International’ in this context rarely means ‘professional’ but rather ‘hard to get.’ So I was really worried that something might go wrong and all my new hopes and good intentions would be crushed before I even get a chance to actively crush them myself with my distinguished lack of energy and drive.

So now I’m already writing on my new notebook, to get a feel for it (as stupid as it may sound, every keyboard is different), with all the fancy Linux stuff I don’t know shit about. I’m still in the process of getting used to Linux and the system with its various components, which is all new to me – though it’s not that difficult, still, in the beginning one is always careful, as if the device may suddenly burst into flames and cease to exist just because you entered one wrong command….who knows, there’s a first time for a lot of different things. I know I may need at least half a day to get acquainted with Scrivener, which sounds ideal to work with for my dissertation and other writing projects that need some organization. Furthermore, there’s still this huge variety of stuff that helps you (and your system) to work better, but I will need some more time to discover all of that. As you see, ‘bird person’ (my notebook’s name, because everything needs a name) and I are still getting to know each other…

I may have a new assignment which will keep me busy until the deadline in June – I will find out in the days to come if it is still on – so this is the perfect test for me working with ‘bird person’ AND with Scrivener. O course, it is also the perfect opportunity to get into the optimal regular-writing-mood I will need if I really want to give my thesis project another shot, like, finish it. I’m usually all about professional and perfectionist when it comes to paid writing/work assignments that come with a deadline. Not surprisingly, I’m also all about the perfect procrastination mode in regard to work that has no deadline in sight. So my good intentions may get some outside support from tech stuff, at least I hope so.

(FYI: You may find references to Rick and Morty and P.G. Wodehouse in this little text of mine. They are easy to detect and deliberate, so to make the repetitive elaboration regarding my incapacity to stick to my idealistic academic goals a bit more diverse and enjoyable.)

New Hope or: the road to hell is paved with good intentions …

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Now this entry sounds way more dramatic than it actually is. Fact is, I didn’t work ‘that much’ on my thesis or academic ventures since returning from London last May. For one thing, wonderguy and I moved in together shortly afterwards and there was a lot to organize and do for weeks afterwards; secondly, I did indeed work a lot for several months, though not on my dissertation.

With the beginning of 2017 I decided to make a fresh start. Right now this means starting slowly by catching up on some reading (not that much, but still necessary) and trying to get an overview of all the material I’ve already gathered. After all, I do have about 200 pages of literary analyses (first draft, but at least this part of the dissertation is somehow finished), so for more than a year now I’m dreading to start with the historical background (more because I have to organize my information the proper way) and especially the theoretical background (because I simply cannot decide which theoretical strings to include while at the same time – OF COURSE – excluding others … which could be just as interesting, but probably not that fruitful in context of my work BUT who knows and do I really want to commit myself to just a few theoretical approaches while there are so many other brilliant and great theories and ideas out there? Won’t I risk making the wrong decision, so it’s better to not reach a decision at all because that way I won’t risk excluding brilliant positions and views?).

So it’s obvious I need some new tools, because the fact that I feel deadlocked regarding my thesis could never have anything to do with my messy, insecure brain. No, of course not.

Long story short, since I also start a new job in April and want to go back to writing more on a regular basis in general, I got completely overwhelmed by my own good intentions and imaginary work steps and bought a new laptop, or rather, notebook. It’s more portable and practical than my old MacBook and I can use Linux (heeeeelloooooo freedom of choice!!), so I can put a ton of excellent writing programs on it for free. Because, as I might have stated before, I intend to use this as my new main WORK laptop, taking it with me pretty much everywhere except the bathroom, so to not find any more excuses to NOT work or write.

You know, it all starts with good intentions, and let’s just hope it doesn’t end there as well…

 

[By the way, the picture has nothing to do with the text. Since I could not take a picture of my new notebook, I decided to try something completely different…birds. Flamingos, more precisely.]

How to organize a chaotic mind

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I’ve been working as a freelancer for years now. I started the first draft of my thesis roughly 2 years ago and there’s still much to do, as pretty much the complete theoretical framework is still missing (it’s there in my mind, at least some parts of it, but not where it should be, written down). Part of the problem is not only that I have to find a balance between work, work, and life, but also because – no, ESPECIALLY because it is very difficult for me to organize myself.

I was diagnosed with ADHD in my mid-twenties. Though I don’t like to hide behind my various issues (panic attacks, anxiety disorder, depression, extremely introverted, anyone?) this did indeed explain a lot. Most of the time I find it hard to focus on one thing; I can lose myself in hours of online research, reading about the least interesting topics ever, but I cannot sit through a two-hour-movie (or even a 50 min TV show) because it bores the shit out of me. I get some impulse for my work, jot it down and forget all about it the next minute, even forgetting WHERE I made or put the notes that could be helpful some other time. I remind myself to write another blog post only to forget it just a minute later because I there is so much going on in my head that I am overwhelmed and just give up. I often thought (and sometimes still think) that this is all about procrastination and being unorganized and chaotic, but –as my therapist liked to say – this is rather about a psychological issue and being a ‘special edition.’ Since I do not take any medication, it’s always just me and my hyperactive, multi-wired brain.

Which leads us back to the initial issue, namely how to organize myself without losing my mind?! I desperately need some planning and structure in my life, for my freelance ‘career’ and especially for my thesis. For years I’ve been looking for some way to organize myself, my tasks, my appointments, my life. I have not yet found a system that works, so I’m still waiting for a miracle…

A possible answer could be: start a bullet journal.

Wonderguy started one and told me to give it a try because it could actually work. So I googled it (of course I googled it and filled my mind with hours of bullet journal porn on Pinterest, Instagram, Tumblr, and other sites) and was taken aback by how much work many people – and especially girls and women – put in the (graphical) creation of a bullet journal. I’ve seen journals I would never actually use because they were too beautiful to just put some common information in it. Those journals were works of art but nothing to work with since my chaotic mind would probably be too distracted with painting another elderflower in the left corner of May 12th on page 30. Also, it seemed so structured and organized (well, what a surprise!), it frightened me. I was afraid of not being able to organize myself with this system. I AM afraid of being too chaotic and unstructured to organize myself with any system. I suppose I’m looking forward to a future filled with post-its, lost notes in the corners of my life, and looking puzzled and surprised half of the time.

So I guess I should give it a shot. It really can’t get much worse…I think. And I do have a fair number of notebooks, I can spare one to substantiate my hopes in a more organized future…

Fast Forward: MIA for some reasons

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I have not been around for quite some time and this does nothing for my “go on and write regularly for someone else than yourself and your journal/diary/notebook/mazy mind”–plan. Of course there are reasons for this, though none of those reasons are good enough to explain my being MIA for such a long time.

First, of course, there was the conference; my trip to London followed shortly after my last entry, my talk went well (though there were only a few people in the attendance, but those who were there seemed interested and attentive) and I loved the atmosphere at the university. Of course we stayed for a few days, enjoying one of my favorite cities ever. London was amazing as always (I have been there 5 times, and maybe I can think of some interesting stuff to share in another post), and returning to this small provincial town where I live was hard (AS ALWAYS).

But coming home was not that hard for long because…

…second, I moved to a new apartment which I now share with wonderguy (and our cat!). This new apartment is pretty much downtown, and it is just wonderful. So in a way I returned home only to find a new and–in some way at least–improved home to return to in the future. Moving took some time, 6 weeks to be more precise, and it was exhausting. I seized this excellent opportunity to throw out tons of stuff I have not used in years – having read enough “declutter your life”-blog posts for a lifetime, this 6-week-move was the perfect outlet for all my idle knowledge.

Still, within all this chaos I found some time to read, even more than earlier this year. Also, I started writing and “writing” again, so there appear some light at the end of this tunnel I call PhD studies…Hence I will return regularly, finally (even if this includes hasty drafts like this one). Because that’s the plan, and now there are no excuses left. Not even bad ones.

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…