So many ideas, so little focus…

It’s a new year and we are encouraged to make a new start. Magazines, newspapers, friends, family, and pretty much the whole internet demonstrates some serious motivation regarding new year’s resolutions. That’s nice, and inspiring. But I know myself better than that — a lot of us do.

I hate Christmas, but I love the new year — not necessarily because of this inherent feeling of starting anew, all fresh and sober(ed up) and willing to make the best of the coming 12 months. I love the new year because it means last year’s merry shitmas is over and the this year’s merry shitmas is still really far away. Combined with the “start anew”-theme this feels wonderful.

A few weeks ago I attended a conference at Columbia University. It was interesting, frightening, awful, and inspiring all at once. It was also (hopefully) the climax of a really shitty episode of depression, anxiety, medication and all the other neat little shit that comes with something like that. Which means that finally, after nearly two years of good intentions that paved the way to my personal hell of frustration, I am ready to get back to work on my dissertation, like, actual WORK.

One main reason for this important step in the supposedly right direction is my fear of not finishing it at all. There will always be a job “I could fit in, after all it’s good money”, meaning since my dissertation is a sort personal project of mine — not working for any university or cooperating with institutions or the like — money work comes before work work, even if it’s not that important at the given moment. Right now, my monetary situation is okay (let’s hope it stays like that at least for some more months…!) so I can afford some work work. It’s my fourth year in this project, my sixth since I started this PhD — meaning it took me two years to finish all courses AND find the right material to work with –, and it’s about time to continue working on it more seriously, otherwise it may die the slow death of a passion project being sacrificed on the altar of modern capitalist delusion.

Furthermore, I got and get a lot of support, especially in recent months. Wonderguy is constantly looking for the right tools for me to find a smooth and distraction-free work space and flow (yes, ADD is greeting from down there, somewhere, always lurking around) and even bought me a new program — which I use right now — that will sync easily with my writing and working on my new iPad that I got from my uncle. And while I’m not necessarily a huge geek regarding apps and stuff and iPhones and stuff, this iPad pro works on a whole different level. Here too, Wonderguy uses his vast knowledge about apps — being the wonderful Apple Ipad/Iphone enthusiast that he is — to help me get the best out of my new gadget and boy do I love it! It’s huge, it’s got a pen, I can actually really use the keyboard because it’s THAT huge and therefor combined with my beloved Linux Lenovo it’s ideal to finally get shit done. I never thought I would be THAT enthusiastic about something like that, but this iPad already made some stuff a lot easier, and I just hope this enthusiasm in regard to the gadget itself as well as all the ways in which I can and already do use it will carry over to the actual task of writing the thesis. This paperless office thing (which sounds like and probably indeed is a slogan to promote iPads and apps) feels really good, which is a strange thing to say for someone like me, a post-it fairyqueen, taking notes constantly, scribbling on every piece of paper I can find, only to lose and overlook two-thirds of it once I could’ve actually used it. My my, I’m still totally overwhelmed by such a huge gift that my uncle gave me to show his support for my academic work on a practical as well as ideational level. I’m planning (and hoping) to live up to it.

So here’s to a new year’s resolution: get this shit done!

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Nevermind me, overcompensating like a pro

 

2017-03-31_10.44.16.jpgWe all have certain mechanisms we like to use in times of need. What exactly  ‘times of need’ are will vary from one to another, but still: you put on your armor, get out your tools, and walk out into this world, doing your best to be brave, strong, and confident.
Or babbling bullshit nonstop. Which is what I usually do.

You see, for people who do not know me I may seem like a) a nice and funny girl who at times talks A LOT; or b) like an arrogant, smug bitch who obviously HATES being around people.
I am neither – and both.
I have huge problems interacting with people, which makes me insecure. Also, I don’t especially like people because I don’t understand most of them. 90% of the time I don’t know how to handle a “casual” social situation; if it seems like I’m all grown-up and mature, knowing what I do, that’s thanks to the fact that I try my best to imitate a certain conduct I think (and hope) is appropriate in certain situations. I like to observe and watch the world around me, and over the course of years I recognized certain behavioral patterns people commonly display in certain situations; now, repeating similar behavioural patterns is something I can work with (contrary to most emotions and erratic behavior in general). What’s more, during the three years I worked as  a bartender, I learned that you definitely do not want to be another nice little insecure chick behind a bar at 2 am, with a seemingly huge male audience waiting for your next joke/laugh/insult/mistake, hoping that you get off lightly, because: nope, fuck it, you won’t. Have the last word, be ballsy, put them in their place, otherwise you may as well get a new job and, depending on where you work and/or live, a new life.
So if you don’t want to deal with other people’s bullshit, drown them in your own. Which makes me the queen of blabla-nonsense-smalltalk in some situations and the absolute goddess of inappropriate, shitty answers and comments in tons of other situations. Because, why not.

So, as a sort of self-defence, when I feel insecure and I don’t know how to act and react appropriately, I talk like there is no tomorrow. Feeling the pressure to keep it nice and casual, I tell my vet that I wasn’t kicked out of an all girls catholic school because I am an atheist, but because I am an asshole, all while she is trying to inject my jittery cat some vitamins; I tell my new boss that while it may seem like I slept my way up to the new position because my boyfriend recommended me for the job, that is – of course – not the case, even though it would be really funny; I tell a heavily pregnant acquaintance of mine that she doesn’t need to worry about feeling fat and ugly like a whale because whales are beautiful creatures too, just like elephants or rhinos. I talk all this nonsense not to offend anyone or because I don’t like the people I talk to, I utter all this bullshit because I have no idea what people I hardly know usually want to talk about so I talk about stuff I know and think about. Only after I say things I realize that whatever I said could be offensive, inappropriate or otherwise pointless.

At times I think I want people to care. Not necessarily about me, but about the fact that one should think before talking. Because if you do, if you truly stick to the stuff you care/think/know about, there would be a lot less talk and a lot more action. The world would be a little less noisy …  And maybe, just maybe, people would pay more attention to WHAT is said and not so much to WHEN it’s their turn to say something again. 

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…

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!

Reading: Jack Kerouac “The Sea is my Brother”

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As working on my talk (yes, still working on it…) and some other serious stuff kept me from writing earlier, I will post a sort of follow-up to the previous post, as it again will be all about Jack Kerouac and his writing. Last time I read some of Jack’s stuff was years ago and it was one of his more spiritual (or rather, religious) writing, Wake-Up, A Life of the Buddha. Since I’ve never been much of a religious person, I never actually finished this book; even though I know some argue that Buddhism and the legend of Buddha may not resemble the traditional sort of religion, I indeed have my problems with believing in a single (or – for the sake of religious open-mindedness – multiple) spiritual entity which ‘magically’ influences my life in any way. To be more precise and honest, I’ve always had my problems with the concept of ‘belief’ and ‘believing’, not matter if religious, spiritual, or general. So the fact that I never finished Jack’s spiritual literary musings is not much surprising, nor is it the result of bad writing or anything alike.

When I started reading Kerouac again – again a “long-lost” novel (or similar claims) by this icon of the Beat literature – I wanted to get some information about the The Sea is my Brother as well as The Haunted Life beforehand. After all, poor ol’ Jack seems to belong to the Tupac Shakur/Kurt Cobain-phenomenon, which proves that no matter when and how you died, you are never too dead to release new music or publish a new book. Love the cash-cow, because cash is king (…or so. Says Jack Welch.) So I found a review in the Los Angeles Review of Books (read here) which was very informative and entertaining. It also reinforced my first impression of the book – as the reviewer stated Jack never wanted this book to be published, I definitely understood why. It is not that The Sea is my Brother is bad – I would never say that about any book, even not about those I truly, TRULY dislike (hate?) because more than anything, literature – like all forms of the arts – is a matter of taste, though of course there are technical and stylistic features that may indicate if an author is rather accomplished or dilettante. So, it is not a bad read.

Kerouac is drawing inspirations from his life and has therefore always been known as a highly autobiographical writer; as he liked to play with his real-life influences by connecting characters and events in different ways, this may lead his audience to recognize a sort of recycling which can be irritating and funny at the same time. Those who read The Town and the City will rediscover not only some names, but also characters in The Haunted Life and The Sea is my Brother, though the last one may also be the one furthest from the two aforementioned. In The Sea is my Brother, Wesley Martin, the oldest of the Martin family works as a sailor without much ties to family and friends apart from fellow seamen. He is portrayed as an easygoing, lighthearted guy, preferring emotional detachment regarding his relationships with women, while forming strong bonds to male companions, especially fellow seamen. He is, of course, just one of many protagonists pictured after Jack himself. The strong emphasis on male bonding is very dominant in this novel (fragmentary novel?), as it is in most of Jack’s writing, though not always as blatant. Apart from foreshadowing Kerouac’s main literary tropes, Wesley also seems to have a talent for running into highly intelligent, politically committed, academic babblers, in this case Bill Everhart, who later joins him on a vessel. Aside from Bill babbling a lot and Wesley constantly being on the run from himself (therefore seeming to be detached from everyone in the story apart from the sea) the recurring incoherencies in the writing itself make it at times a hard read. I do indeed understand Jack’s wish to not have this novel published; as he was very meticulous about his writing, his characters, and storytelling throughout his life, this novel does not live up to everyone’s expectations.

But, as the Merve Emre in her review LARB so poignantly states, Jack Kerouac is a brand, a household name, which promises high profits, no matter how low the actual effort is. She is, of course, right. After all, I too bought the book (and I’m pretty sure I’m not the only ‘Beat literature enthusiast’ out there…).