Bits and bobs

Here I am, to join the crowd (everyone else has been doing this). You can make yours here. (Or you should be able to, at least. The link isn’t working for me at the moment.)

Just got back from a ride. Think I overdid it – feeling slightly flattened. I’ve been experimenting with going quite fast up the first long hill – what’s a bit of leg pain and bursting lungs? On the way back some race-bikes overtook me but I managed to tail them for quite a way. Still can’t keep up with M. The race-bikes couldn’t either. We’ve cycled 150k since getting back from Austria a week ago.

In other news…

I have an external examiner! Much excitement. And many thanks to certain Australian medievalists who suggested him.

My introduction is getting written, one block at a time. I’ve come up with a much clearer structure than I had a few weeks ago. I wish I was quicker at this, though.

I am taller than 98% of German women, and 80% of English men. How about that.

We’ve been watching the first series of The Street. Slightly harrowing, but very cool. The red brick terrace made me somewhat nostalgic. Timothy Spall is my hero.

One of the characters was drinking his tea out of my favourite tea cup. This made me happy.

Done

Chapter five, that is. At least for now. The conclusion is still a bit hazy, but it’s better. Much better. I also wrote a third of my conference paper last night. Work on the conference paper is reserved for evenings. (Goal – to finish it early so I have time to rehearse it. I’ve done enough unrehearsed conference papers for the year.) During the day, I am going to make spectacular progress on my introduction, so I have something to show by the end of the week. Go, go, go!

(And the sun is gleaming in the cool bright air and the sky is fiercely blue, and although the trees are mostly green, I am reminded that autumn days are prettier than summer days, prettier by far.)

Why you should all go to Austria

Update: This post is frequently in my top posts and has received more traffic than anything else I’ve written (a bit embarrassing for a bunch of holiday snaps), because a certain spammer keeps trying to leave links to his Austrian holiday apartment. Note to spammer: I have deleted your comment each time you have left it, and will continue to do so. There are thousands of cheap and comfortable holiday apartments in Austria, and I’m sure my readers can find their own if they ever intend to go… Oh, and if you want the real reason to visit Austria, go here.

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I haven’t been much fun to be around lately. Irritable, panicky, emotional, distracted. Luckily the one person who has to put up with me is doing an okay job. So anyway, instead of complaining about how stressful this writing up business is or composing posts about how I can’t concentrate (er, didn’t actually write that post, just thought about it), I thought I’d inflict more photos of Austria on you. And explain why it really is one of the most relaxing and affordable places to go on holiday.

(I’m actually feeling quite a lot better now. I’ve made some steady writing progress over the weekend, and more is planned for this afternoon. And the weather has allowed cycling both days, which always cheers me up and calms me down. What’s not quite so cheering are the first yellow leaves on the birch trees. It’s not that time yet, is it? Anyway… )

Reasons to visit Austria.

1. Extremely cute cows.

With mohawks, and real cowbells, that jingle and jangle.

This one longed for a paraglider.

2. Flowers.

Overflowing all the balconies. These were at our guest-house. Which is another reason to visit, because the villages are stuffed full of bed and breakfasts and apartments for rent, at about 13 euros per person per night. Bit different to Norway…

3. Cakes and ice cream.

Yum yum yum yum yum. What can I say. The German and Italian tourists love it here. They do their walks in the morning, and then sit in the cafes all afternoon, indulging. Everybody is so happy you can’t help but smile. And if it rains, there’s always the indoor swimming pools and saunas. If Austrian food isn’t your thing, there’s seriously good pizza available. And cheap beer. And did I mention cake?

I think all my problems stem from this

Your result for The Perception Personality Image Test…

NBPC – The Daydreamer

Nature, Background, Big Picture, and Color

You perceive the world with particular attention to nature. You focus on the hidden treasures of life (the background) and how that fits into the larger picture. You are also particularly drawn towards the colors around you. Because of the value you place on nature, you tend to find comfort in more subdued settings and find energy in solitude. You like to ponder ideas and imagine the many possibilities of your life without worrying about the details or specifics. You are in tune with all that is around you and understand your life as part of a larger whole. You are a down-to-earth person who enjoys going with the flow.

The Perception Personality Types:

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Take The Perception Personality Image Test at HelloQuizzy

And then I read this

Above all remember this: that magic belongs as much to the heart as to the head and everything which is done, should be done from love or joy or righteous anger.

And if we honour this principle we shall discover that our magic is much greater than all the sum of all the spells that were ever taught. Then magic is to us as flight is to the birds, because then our magic comes from the dark and dreaming heart, just as the flight of a bird comes from the heart. And we will feel the same joy in performing that magic that the bird feels as it casts itself into the void and we will know that magic is part of what man is, just as flight is part of what a bird is.

Susanna Clarke, The Ladies of Grace Adieu

Could that work for writing too? I know academic writing comes mostly from the head, but other times, writing about dragons or volcanoes, I have felt this frightening and exhilarating flight. My PhD feels old and worn and tangled, but I will straighten its lines, and ease air into its cells, and who knows what will happen next.

How it goes

Step one: wait for the mist to clear. On previous Austrian forays, this is pretty much all we’ve done. Para-waiting.

Step two: Fold out the glider, check the lines, hook yourself in. Leg straps, breast strap, speed bar, helmet. Take the risers and the breaks in your hands. The variometer (groovy little square thing on my waist) is an optional extra, but bad things will happen to you if you forget the leg straps. Watch for a gap in the clouds.

Step three: run, until you’re running on air.

Step four: breathe. Check the lines again. Steer yourself out over the forest, into the valley. Float through the lacy edges of the clouds. In the damp, cool air of the morning, you smell a faint hint of pine. Turn more sharply now, swing out sideways – your very own rollercoaster. Then lean back, smooth and slow. The air is very calm now, because the sun hasn’t had a chance to heat the ground, but later, gusts and eddies will pull you up as well as down. Grin your little head off. Whoop for joy.

Or try to look suave whilst balancing a camera and a paraglider eight hundred metres above the valley floor.

Step five: bumble around some more, then swoop in to land. (Plan your approach so you touch the ground in the right place, with your feet rather than your bum, in the right direction, at the right speed. Preferably avoiding power cables, trees, rivers, houses, wind-socks, other gliders, pedestrians, children, dogs and cyclists. )

Step six: carry your glider to the side of the landing field, fold it up, stuff it into your backpack, and trudge up to the cable car to do it all again. The other gliders spiral down like flocks of jellyfish. And all the while, something beats inside of you, the rush and the swing and the lightness of it, as though you really had wings all along, only now you know for sure.

Reflections

A picture for the punters. It doesn’t really look like this at the moment – this was taken a couple of months back on an evening stroll with my Mum. May and June really are the prettiest months around here. In comparison, things are a bit worn and hazy right now. Walking back from the supermarket this afternoon, it was raining very finely, and the tall islands looked like whales in the mist. Sometimes, though, the reflections are uncanny:

You can see the fortress upside down from any angle you like. Cycling back the other night, the lakes shimmered every shade of pastel. In context, this is what you’re looking at:

Did another six hours today, and I really really think this chapter is on the brink of coming together. (Now I say six hours. But I sat at my desk in earnest at 9:30am and was still there at 9:30pm. Breaks for meals, waffles and grocery shopping. Keeping note of the actual time I spend working is enlightening indeed. And a couple of  those middle hours weren’t entirely free of digital daydreaming. But still.) The reason I resist structuring and clarifying is that it takes so long. But I teased out another structural issue, and I think everything is where it’s supposed to be now. It’s even giving me some ideas for my overall conclusion. I’ve printed out my new draft, and tomorrow I will suture up the gaps. I’ll polish it until it’s as clear as the river on a glassy spring morning. Or just about.

Progress Notes

I started writing my ‘why the Middle Ages’ post but I’m too tired to finish it at the moment. Yesterday was not so good work-wise – was seriously frustrated with myself by the end of the day – but today I was back on track. The ideas are gelling and dancing in front of my eyes. Unfortunately this is not quite the same thing as slotting themselves into neat pages and paragraphs. But I guess it is a lot better than them not being there at all! Did another solid five and a half hours and was going to do more this evening but other things came up. Yet more customs issues to sort out (they want money. they’re not getting it). Being a foreigner is not always straightforward. We made waffles to cheer ourselves up. No cycling today but I’ve been sticking to four thirty k rides a week since I got here, and am up to 410k.

I guess these minute details of my painfully slow thesis-finishing don’t make for scintillating blogging, but it feels good to mark out my tiny steps forward. It gets dark earlier each day. I’m trying not to notice.

Strategies

Tried a new work strategy today of writing down everything I did and how long it took me to do it (hat-tip to galaxy). Not counting breaks and procrastination, I worked solidly for five and a half hours. That’s a bit embarrassing, but there you go. I’m tired now. My brain doesn’t want to make any more connections. The first thing I did was read over the last third of chapter 5, and identified the problem I was skirting and needed to be solved. I then re-read a few chapters/articles to help me clarify what I needed to understand. I then made a list of possible arguments/conclusions/implications. This cut through the block I had, as previously I had felt that I needed to come up with the answer straight away, couldn’t do it, and so avoided it. This time, I let myself think: ok, it might not be this, but it might be. And it might be this… Otherwise you manage to talk yourself out of all possible arguments and you never get anywhere.

Then I went back to another major critic and tried to clarify some more things. Realised that the problem I was having in chapter five was linked to some major contextualisation and positioning work that I need to do in the introduction. So wrote a list of things that I want to address in two to three paragraphs tomorrow, which will go into the introduction.

I’m still feeling a bit wary of theories and methodologies, but it’s got to be done. And attacking it through a problem that needs to be solved in my final chapter will (I hope) give me the clarity I need to start bringing it all together. I ended up with eleven scrawled pages of notes, and a couple of paragraph fragments that might make it into the thesis somewhere.

Even though this is still slow-going, at least I worked in a sensible, methodical manner today instead of throwing my hands up in despair. One day at a time!

Also, luckily, it’s raining. Rain is good for writing, good indeed. From my desk, I can see it channel down off the tin roof and hear it land in the courtyard puddles.

In Halden Right Now

Steamy warm days alternate with furious bursts of rain. Good thing too, because the trees by the river looked decidedly bedraggled the other day.

On sunny evenings at the harbour, even the ripples move slower than usual, and the golden light hazes up towards the outdoor tables of shrimp sandwiches and overpriced beer.

The locals are back from holiday, sporting unreal tans. In the mornings they eat breakfast on their boats. The children wear life-vests, and so do the dogs.

The path to the fortress is overgrown with weeds taller than I am.

The river-folk sit by the river all day – drinking and talking. I feel awkward walking past them. M says I can join them next year when I’m unemployed. Might not be so much fun in winter.

I wish I could understand the fragments of conversations. When anyone speaks to me, I nod and smile. We cycle, and program, and write.

Progress Report

Welcome to my new blog-home! I was seduced by the potential for the little tabby things on the top. Not that I’ve made anything of them yet. I’m still unpacking boxes and shifting around the furniture. And yes, it was slightly more appealing to construct a shiny new blog than to write another abortive paragraph of my introduction…

I can’t believe I’ve been here three weeks. Normally I’d be preparing to leave again, so it’s rather nice not to be. The first week was brilliant work-wise. It felt amazing to actually have some time to write for a change. And I did. I worked solid days – I was headachy and irritable by the end of them, but that was only because I’d been concentrating so hard. I was fueled by urgency. I went cycling in the evenings. Early in the mornings I’d walk to the harbour to watch the glassy sheen, or the small waves lapping the sides of the boats, and by the time I walked back the day’s first sentences were already forming in my head. I can’t believe it, I thought, this is going to be easy.

Um, no. Last week misery and drudgery set in, but I ploughed on through it – revising a whole chapter and doing some important reading for my introduction. This week I’ve been less miserable but I’ve got less done. I decided that the introduction was more pressing than revising the chapters, and as a result I’ve spent much of the past five days staring crossly at a blank page. All the confidence and enthusiasm has evaporated. I can’t see the wood for the trees.

I’ve been reading a lot about the history of literary criticism in Australia, so I can position myself with regards to it. (On instruction from my supervisor.) I’ve read a rather spiffy recent book on Australian literature by my internal examiner, and another not-so-spiffy book on postcolonial poetry by someone else. This book seemed strained and too generalised, and it kept saying things like ‘this book has been written under the premise that the currency of ‘postcolonial’ will meet with a natural datedness when societies shed postcolonial dependency and move closer to their dream of cultural autonomy’. I find this uncomfortable on several levels: ‘postcolonial dependency’? What’s that? And if mainstream Australia is no longer ‘dependent’ in a postcolonial way, what about Indigenous Australians? More worryingly, what is ‘cultural autonomy?’ How can any culture be autonomous? And what nation or society has only one culture? Luckily most of the Australian critics I’ve been reading share this concern…

Anyway, it’s all interesting in its own way, but I’ve forgotten how it relates to what I’m doing. Or why what I’m doing is interesting or significant. I’ll get there. I have to. I usually feel like this about whatever project I’m working on at some point or another…