Friday, November 28, 2014

The End is Nigh

No, okay, the apocalypse isn't coming. Well, at least not to me. In my novel it's already been and gone and humanity is dealing with the utopian aftermath. But in real life, 'apocalypse' is a nice turn of phrase that we rather overuse. After all, December 2012 passed without any adverse effects, despite dire predictions to the contrary because people don't understand Mayan cultural history.

But I digress. I've been doing a lot of that these days, because - like a five year old who's grown up on technology - I do in fact have no attention span whatsoever. Even writing a blog post takes more concentration than I can typically expend. This is, unfortunately, normal in the final months of a PhD. That doesn't, however, make it easier to live with. I am quite proud of my ability to focus on one thing for - literally - days on end, but even the things I used to expend vast amounts of time on last me about five minutes now.

So no, the apocalypse is not coming, but the end is - thankfully - nigh. And that's a blessing, because the inability to focus is a frustration and only adds to the stress I'm already experiencing as being about to submit. It makes editing hard. It makes watching television hard. It makes meetings next to impossible. I lose track and focus from one minute to the next and honestly forget what I was about to say half way through a sentence. It's not particularly fun, living this way. But the end is nigh and - I can hope - it does get better afterwards.

If you have read the above three paragraphs, you have all the proof I need of my lack of focus. The overall theme may be the same, and we might end where we began, but even those 19 sentences skip around, backtrack, repeat and sometimes make little to no sense even to me.

Though, if they do make sense to you, that's proof I'm suffering from problems other than just a lack of focus, so please let me know.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Hello and Welcome...

...To my nest of insanity, that is.

There are certain things that would be inadvisable to do in the last month before you submit your doctoral thesis. The first would be to go on holiday (that comes after). The second would be to suddenly quit (awfully late for all the work you've put into it).

And the third? The third would be to sign up to National Novel Writing Month with a goal of 50,000 words.

Naturally, I did option three, because I'm a masochist, an idiot, overambitious and any other negative comment you want to send my way. It's okay, I know how stupid I am. But it's done and there is no undoing it now.

The upshot is that the novel that was supposed to be written over the winter can now be edited over the winter, so I might actually be able to query it next year along with Amoron. I'm not sure it's advisable to query two novels at once, but since I don't like to either be normal or to do advisable things, I guess I can try.

In other news I submitted my final draft of the thesis to the second supervisor, who has to sign off on it from an internal examiner point of view before I can submit to the university. I am therefore just crossing my fingers and praying/wishes/hoping/fretting that he doesn't come back next week with major corrections, because I only have until the 24th to do them! And write a novel!

And hang myself because I'm an idiot.

In regards to finally getting the draft done, it feels anti-climatic. I have, unfortunately, now been told this is normal and will be what the next few months of my life feel like. That's not exactly great to hear, so I apologise for sharing. It appears that most of the stress and climactic feelings of misery leave you behind at this point (if you submit on time) and don't really give way to anything other than 'well, okay, what to I do now?' until the viva which (if you pass) leads to more anti-climactic feelings of 'right, so I can get on with my life now?'

This isn't exactly the happy exciting relief-filled time I was planning on. However, in a strange way, it solidifies what I thought post-submission is like, which is basically a month of being unable to do anything because you are exhausted and have no ability to focus. It's like a four year old who's watched too much telly growing up. Exciting times.

But this is a really strange part of the process, and not one anyone really talks about. They talk about after submission. They talk about those last months of writing up misery. But the part between those two? Not so much. I really have no idea what to even attempt to do with myself, except take my supervisor's advise yesterday (which was: 'enjoy the three day conference and spend some time with your friends'). So, I am enjoying the conference, and planning time with friends.

And I went shopping. And I'm trying to catch my already-behind-word-count for NaNo.

Further up and further in. Winter is coming.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Yes well, that was unplanned

These things happen, of course. Sometimes I feel they only happen to me, but that's clearly not the case. The last month has been rather a constant schedule of changing plans, but I think it's finally starting to settle again (*knocks on wood*) so I can get back to actually knowing what I'll be doing for the next week. Which is about the only stress relief I conceivably get these days, so I've naturally missed it. I have nowhere to be in the next two months, and no pressing concerns other than my thesis (in fact, no non-pressing concerns that I currently know about). Hopefully that means I can get back on and remain on track until this is done.

In writing news, I am editing. Which is not really writing, per se, but yet it is. It is writing because there are some new words to put to paper, and yet it's not because it's really just rewriting sections to sound better, or moving sections around, or adding in references. To me, writing is sitting down and writing, editing is much more piecemeal, and for that reason, often more difficult. But today went alright, considering it was my first go, and I have a game plan for tomorrow. I think I'm going to very much take this one day at a time, but eventually I'll get there (by the 25th, one hopes). If I can manage a chapter every few days, we'll be fine. I haven't seen four of the chapters yet and have no idea what their corrections are like, but for the ones I have, 2-3 days per chapter is entirely doable. Particularly when I am no longer ill with the fugue.

Concurrently, because my Muse is entirely like that, I started yet another novel, for which I have my holiday relaxing to account for. I'll never actually write the thing but the idea is there if I ever get bored (or run out of more usable novel bunnies [plot bunnies, but more encompassing]). I know not to fight it now, anyways, and if my Muse wants to write about lost Rus princesses and weird versions of immortality, that's her business and I won't argue too much. I really would, however, prefer she devoted her time to the actual usable novel bunny instead, but one can't have everything. As long as she doesn't abandon me, we're okay here.

It is hard to believe it's October already. Of 2014. Really, this year has contained so many things, and has gone so quickly and yet so slowly at the same time. I really would like to be done with it, not least because I have high hopes for 2015 (well, higher). But right now there are two months left, plenty of miserable weather to contend with, and a thesis to finish, so I suppose I'll not have to worry about time passing too slowly.

Monday, September 1, 2014

In Conclusion

I have always found conclusions to be especially difficult things to write. I know rather a lot of people who find introductions the hardest, but those are easy. Starting is always easy, ending is never that.

I have just begun Chapter 8, which is the conclusion. I have a very detailed outlined of what needs to go into it, and it should be easy to follow, but I'm struggling nonetheless. I am struggling to find the words I have not already said in 70,000, that say the same things I did in the first 5000. I am struggling, really, to understand how a thesis I lost interest in six months ago can remotely be said to be useful and interesting for my field (or others). I am struggling to justify the last three years of my life in a few thousands words. And really, the main reason for that is because I am struggling to justify the last three years of my life period.

It seems to be running rampant in my department right now, but most people I know are questioning the sanity of doing their PhDs. We are all wondering why we are doing this and why it sounded like a good idea and why we just didn't take that job that probably would have gotten us a promotion (or at least a permanent position) by now. I think the main reason for this department wide questioning is because we all thought, three years ago, that that was enough time for the world to sort itself out. That by the time we graduated there would be jobs again. But they're aren't. It's still very difficult to get employment in this sector. It's still something that takes years and years of struggle and after years of struggling to get through academic (and get our careers started amidst that) we are all wondering if we'll ever actually get anywhere.

I look back on the last twelve years of my life since I first went off to university and I wonder - I can't help it - why I made the choices I did. I am grateful for so many things in those twelve years, and ungrateful for so many others. We take the good with the bad, and that's life. But after twelve years of upwards struggle to find my place, I know there are many more years left before I secure that place and I cannot help but wonder when I will ever be in a place financially, professionally or personally that I won't lie awake every night worried about tomorrow. I'm very tired of worrying and wondering.

And maybe the real reason it's so hard to write conclusions is because you know it's the end. That something else has to start and that's always going to be exciting but frightening. This conclusion is the conclusion of my PhD (not nearly, still 6 months to go after this) and therefor the conclusion of what is the background of my career. Now I have to work on the career, and that's an introduction I am both thrilled and terrified about, but it still means the end of something and ends are always hard.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Good heavens, golly and gosh. Or rather, bloody hell.

It's been a while, hasn't it? Let me tell you what my life has consisted of for the last 6 weeks.

Writing. Swearing. Writing. Sleeping. Procrastinating. Procrastinating. Procrastinating. [Not necessarily in that order or weighted to that number of times the word is repeated.]

In other words, I haven't had a lot to write about, and writing has sort of been the issue. It's not writer's block. Because I write something every day. It is, rather, a complete and utter lack of conviction towards writing this thesis. I'm over it. I really, really am. I just want it to be done already. I don't want to spend the next four months finishing it and then have to viva and then have to fix it. I want to be done already. I want to be employed and making money to start paying off that massive debt over my head. I want to live in my own place (rented though that will be). I want to get on with my life. I'm over the PhD. Three years doesn't sound like a long commitment (my undergrad was five), but I'm telling you now, at this stage in my life, three years is a bloody too long commitment. Too long chained to one thing with no way out. I knew that, theoretically, when I started this, but theory and practice are (as my thesis shows) two different things.

But I'm waxing lyrical and there's no point. Because I am not done. Because I may just have another 12 months of this to go. And there is no choice here. This isn't one of those crossroads in life where I get to decide which path I turn down. No, there is only one path, and no shortcut (or long cut) across country either. I'm all about forging new paths, but in this case there's a cliff on either side and I'm walking a very narrow bridge. It's go forward or go back. And how do you go back on life already lived?

[You don't.]

So, I haven't really had much of note to talk about with you, my readers. Each day is an effort to keep my head above water, and each night I am thankful to find my bed and rest (when I can). And that is going to be my life for the foreseeable future. I can't think past that, I really can't. Because for me, passed this doesn't exist in anything other than the most abstract terms, and I've never been good with abstract (art or theory).

I go on, each day. I get up, I write what I need to, I try not to hate it too much, I eat, I sleep, I go to the gym when all else fails, I try not to be too depressed, and tomorrow I get up and do it all again. 

Possibly, however, that's normal.

Friday, July 11, 2014

It be Summer

I have 9000 words of a chapter due in 11 days, and I can't for the life of me really tell you what it's about. I know what it should be about. I know what it needs to be about. But at this point, it's become more about manipulating the data to fit the chapter, so that this chapter aligns with the next chapter (which I don't have to manipulate the data for). So it's forced. I hate forced writing.

I need to write 800-1000 words a day if I'm going to finish this on time (in order to start the next chapter that has a rather firm due date).

I have been using a segmentation writing style suggested to me by a palaeontologist. I know, that sounds weird. But it's working. It automatically separates everything down into 500-1000 words segments in the first place, which makes writing easier. It also requires that the entire chapter be outlined in detail (down to, you know,, for example) before writing commences, so you know what goes where. I'm not usually this scientific when I write, but it appears to be helping me organise my thoughts. I think it's not very historical, or even really social science-y, but it's working, so I'm going to keep doing it. Hopefully it won't pose too many difficulties when it comes time to finalising the whole thesis before submission (in 5 months - gods help me).

Right now (nearly wrote that as 'write' now - clearly the PhD is having an adverse brain effect), I just need to start writing, but I'm really rather afraid this chapter is going to be as hard as I think it will be, and therefore cause me a lot of grief to write. And grief isn't something I want to deal with, I'm sure you can understand. I don't want to be slamming my head into the desk time and again for the next 11 days.

But I must. I really, really must. I have a PhD writing buddy now, and we are trying to motivate each other to hit our daily word counts, and suffer through together. I think it's helping a bit. I'm a bit more motivated, at least.

Of course, booking a hiking trip to the Peaks when I finish this chapter should help too...

Monday, June 16, 2014

University Museums Group Conference

This one isn't really about writing.

A few weeks ago I got the sort of email in my inbox that typically makes me want to go 'crap' and hide in a corner until the anxiety attack wears off. However, as the email was from my supervisor, I instead wrote back and said 'yes' and then went 'crap' and hid in a corner. Priorities, I have them.

I spent a lot of the last couple of weeks going out of my way to stave off the brewing anxiety. I don't do presentations. I absolutely loath it. I am, borderline, phobic about public speaking. It just is not my thing. And that's okay, because rarely am I required to stand up at the front of a room and present. I can do meetings. I can chair meetings. I can talk in a group. I cannot stand in front of a conference and present. We all have our failings.

But when your supervisor emails you to say he's putting together a panel and are you available, you say yes. And then you freak out.

I could have done a very simple 'this is my research' presentation, but the supervisor already had a theme in mind and so I sort of ran with that and…kept on running. These things happen.

Anyways, I ended up delivering a rather provocative presentation (thankfully, not directed at any of the museums in attendance) that pretty much said 'you are all doing it wrong, do better'. And then people agreed with me. And started following me on Twitter and retweeting quotes from my presentation. And sending me emails to say they've been discussing it in the office today.

These sorts of things typically give me anxiety attacks. Thankfully, I have two deadlines next week so I don't have time to have an anxiety attack (or more than one). Which is excellent timing, all around.

I do know that my supervisor is very happy. And that my fellow panelists (who I trust) told me it was really good. And I did not have a fidget attack sitting at the front waiting for 30 minutes to speak. Baby steps. Baby steps. I may be getting the hang of this whole presenting thing, even if thinking about having to do one will probably give me an anxiety attack for a long time to come.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The 'Starting Writing Writer's Block'

We've all suffered through it. You know you need to write something. You know what you need to write (well, mostly), but you can't seem to write it.

I have re-written my thesis outline three times in as many days. For future reference, doing so does not making writing the thesis easier. But it was worth a try.

I have been trying to take a new stance on life. When I cannot write, I will not stress about it. When I desperately need to write and nothing happens, I will not have an anxiety attack and lose sleep. Mostly, this is working relatively well. The unfortunate thing is that, no matter how I feel psychologically, the deadline is still getting closer.

I have two deadlines this month. They are both the same day. Neither is flexible. I am entirely certain the work for one of them will get done by then. That one, alas, is not my thesis. The thesis, despite my new stance on life, is worrying me.

My issue is simple (it's not). In my glory of being original, I got a little carried away. My thesis hinges on two disparate theories from two (almost opposing) disciplines, neither of which have ever been used for the discipline I work in. Possibly I went a little overboard (though my supervisor thinks otherwise). One theory informs my data collection, the other my data analysis. The first is not the problem. The second is supposed to be helping me structure the second half of the thesis, but instead it seems to be making it harder. However, at this stage, letting it go isn't really an option (not without rethinking my conclusions, redoing my analysis, and reworking the first half of the (already written) thesis). And I have a deadline I have to meet. In other words, I need to make it work.

It would be easier if certain people answered their emails, of course.

So now I am reduced to eating cooking chocolate, because it's the only thing in the house, drinking more tea than I need to on a reasonably warm day, and trying to rewrite the outline for a fourth time. All the while knowing that I have to do my other work this afternoon, or that deadline will become problematic too. And I might as well achieve one of them.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Future Planning

One of the things that has come out of my field work is the desire by museums to 'future plan' or 'future proof' their institutions. Instead of focusing on the now (or the immediate future), to look at the bigger picture of five, ten, twenty years down the road.

Museums don't do this very well. And very few individuals do it well either.

I used to do it really, really well. But that was in the days of stable jobs and very specific life plans. Those days are long gone.

Now I have a difficult time planning a month in advance. At the moment, I am struggling to plan for early 2015 (less than a year away) and finding it is nearly impossible. There are so many contingencies needed that having any plan is rather pointless, because it's not going to work out 'that' way. I mean, having goals is good, but plans are a bit more specific. It's hard for me, because I plan. I organise. I over-think. There perils of an OCD mind.

When it comes down to it, however, this is the same problem facing museums. The cultural industry seems to change on a pin head these days and there is now knowing if, perhaps, next month is the month you will lose your funding. Or perhaps that major grant application you just put in and don't hold out much hope for will actually come through. People are losing jobs left, right, and centre. Technology is bounding ahead (in fits and spurts for museums). Funding is ever changeable. It's very hard to future plan when you don't have any idea what the future will be like.

Obviously it's an issue facing a lot of fields these days, not just culture (and not just museums within culture). It's also a problem for a lot of people.

I know I need to get better at future planning, while still being flexible enough to amend those plans when the inevitable upset arrives. The PhD has certainly given me lessons in this in spades, and how I need to learn from those lessons and adapt them into my life.

My first plan? I'm planning to walk the Portuguese Camino in autumn 2016.

And if it's spring 2018, that's okay too. The point is, for now, that I plan to do it. 

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Camino de Santiago

Walking is not a pastime for the majority of Canadians. We enjoy outdoor sports, even in the coldest depths of winter, but Canada is a huge country and before there were automobiles, there were horses. Canadians drive to work (or occasionally bike if it’s close and the weather is decent), to the stores, to their holidays. Most of us learn to drive as soon as we turn old enough and never look back.

Part of that is a horrible public transportation system, which doesn’t encourage leaving the car at home. Mostly though, it’s just that everything is a lot further away than in Europe. Canada is wider across than the entirety of the European continent, from west Ireland all the way to eastern Ukraine. Even the grocery store is a long way away from my house.

I heard about the Camino in 2005, when Heather Dale released Road to Santiago. I learned that Santiago was a place in Spain, that it was a pilgrimage site, that it was old, and that it was part of a much larger world of a time in Europe when nearly everyone walked everywhere. At the time I thought it interesting, but not particularly intriguing. I did a brief search on Santiago and the pilgrimages of old and then…put it out of my mind. In 2005 I didn’t walk anywhere, much less across an entire country.

In 2011, Emilio Estevez released The Way, but I didn’t see it until February 2012 when I rented it off iTunes. I rented it because it was Martin Sheen and James Nesbitt and I’m easy like that. I could watch those two in practically any movie and enjoy it. But I remember, from the first few minutes of the film that something about it spoke to me. I usually go in for action or maybe rom-com, but this one grabbed me from the start. I find most dramatic movies overly sappy and can’t get invested in them. This one, for whatever reason, was different. From the DVD menu with its map background and the first few humorous moments of the film, I was hooked. Even the music was perfect.

I watch it now and even the first notes of the soundtrack bring me to tears. It is beautiful and perfect, in a way so understated as to be almost ignored by the world. But this little film has changed so many people’s lives. So many people I have met have seen this film and made a choice that will forever shape their existence. How many films can say that? It did not set out to do that. It set out only to tell the story of a father and son, but somewhere along the way it told the story of the Camino too. And people flocked to it.

From the opening credits sequence to the last stirrings of the piano on the shores of Finisterre, it is beautiful.

And so was the Camino. Amidst pain and suffering there was joy and beauty. Life, in but a snapshot of time. Time to live each moment and to reflect each day. And perhaps the entirety of the Camino is very simple; perhaps the need and chance to walk it, is the only true miracle.

There is no other experience like walking across a country. An afternoon’s hike, or a weekend walking holiday do not compare. They are holidays, they are enjoyment and peace and involve little sacrifice, little suffering. Otherwise why would anyone do them? They are choices. The Camino is, in many ways, not a choice. It was not for me. I did not choose to walk it; I simply knew I had to. One clear moment of understanding in my life. I was meant to do this. Whether by fate or a higher power or simply by the desire to experience life that drives us all, this was always going to be my way.

Spain is a beautiful country. From north to south, east to west, it is in turns stunning and sad, breathtaking and unassuming. I had never been before. I may never go again. The Camino is part of Spain and yet not part. Those that walk the way are not visitors to Spain; they are not the tourists of Madrid and Barcelona. They are not there for a holiday. They are not even really there to experience Spain. They are there to experience the Camino and the Camino is not Spain. It flows through the country like the Mississippi flows through America, but it does not define Spain. It existed before modern Spain existed and it will exist, in some ways, long after Spain is gone. It sits in a time apart.

The Camino is not characterized by politics, or these days even religion. It does not care what your creed is, or your birth, your social standing or your mistakes. The Camino simply is. It is a line through the sand, but not a border. It is there only in your mind as a challenge and a task. Each day, each moment, something to be experienced and overcome. Each moment treasured before it is put aside in favour of the next. But the moments never pass entirely, only flow one into another, one mile into another, until the end. But the end is not really the end. You emerge in Santiago a different person from when you started, and you will forever be such. You carry the Camino with you each moment of the rest of your life, in memories and friends, and in your own self.

The Camino is a life changing experience. It cannot be otherwise. There is nothing quite like it, no other walking trail in the world quite the same as this one, as they are not the same to others. Each person walks their own Camino. There is no single path, but through every footfall that you take, you carve your own, leaving behind a trail to guide others.

At no other time in your life, except for on hiking expeditions, will you wake up in a new place each day. Nowhere else will you see a landscape change below your feet with each step you take. No other way will you experience hunger and exhaustion, pain and struggle on such monumental scales and revel in them.

It has been twelve months since I set off on my Camino. Not a day goes by that I do not wish I was on it again. Even on the worst days there were moments worth remembering. I do not know if my life will ever allow for another Camino, but I know that whether it does easily or not, I must walk another. It is a desire that sits in my heart and always will. There are some once in a lifetime experience that should never happen just once. This is one of them.

Perhaps I will see you on the Way.

Monday, March 24, 2014

We Come to it at Last

Yes, I quoted Gandalf. These things are necessary.

This will be my last post from Denmark. I have one week left here before I fly back to London.

It's been a ride, that's for sure. A string of personal issues and problems back in Canada have gone side by side with a really enjoyable time at a new university, with new people, inspiration for my thesis, and exploring a great country. So it's been a roller coaster and no mistake! But that's a bit like life in general, it's just all been condensed into a few short months!

I am looking forward to getting back now. I've reached that tipping point. I miss my giant bed and I definitely miss not having to climb up three flights of stairs with groceries. I also desperately miss the gym across the road and can't wait to get back to exercising. I have to run 5 miles in July, so the training starts next week. And really, I miss the department and all my fellow PhDs (and adopted PhDs). I'll spend the first week just catching up with people! It's the only thing I've really missed the longest, has been having friends around to have coffee with, but I've managed well enough on my own. I'm sort of conditioned to that.

My word count for my thesis is 35,000. I have another 7,000 of that planned out, but the missing 35,000 is what is worrying me. It's three chapters and at this point in time I have no idea what's going to go into them! I have a month now to figure it out (which isn't as long as it sounds). Hence, we come to it at last. This will definitely be the battle part of this thesis writing. I have May through July to draft it, so I am hoping to have a workable and very detailed plan by the beginning of May. The plan is always the hardest part, after that, the writing gets a bit easier. I am looking forward to speaking with Ross again and hoping he's as inspirational as he always has been!

On the other hand of writing (you knew there was going to be another hand), I have two novel ideas outlined, and one of them is at nearly 7000 words already (barely one chapter, in fact). I'm pretty pleased with it as a publishable idea (somewhere in the distant future *cough*nextyear*cough*). I will have to get the short guide book out first, because that's the time sensitive one, but that's Christmas' project. This one can be January or February's project, as knowing me I will probably have it written and edited by then. Because what better to do when you should be writing a PhD then to draft a post-apocalypse romance? Draft a YA mystery instead, I suppose. [Don't ask.]

I'm keeping busy, at least! And feeling generally pretty good about that half of my life. The other half will sort itself out in time.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Hindsgavl Slot

'Slot' means castle in Danish. 'Gavl' means gable. I haven't been able to figure out what 'hinds' means, but use some common sense and fill in the blank.

Hindsgavl, on the west edge of Funen is not really a castle. There used to be a castle there 1000 years ago, but when it was destroyed several centuries ago, what was built on the ruins was a manor house. However, it still retained it's title as 'castle'. It is the largest private estate in Denmark, though no longer owned by a family. Instead, it's a hotel and conference centre. And it's very grand.

Really, really, grand.

This is the front view, that faces the conference centre across the courtyard. The other side, that faces the water, is equally as grand.

The place includes enough grounds that I didn't get even half way around them in my hour walk, a massive conference hall that seats 600 people and room for more than 100 people at the hotel attached. The main house is mostly small meeting rooms and the various dinning rooms for guests. 

Every quarter, DREAM meets here to exchange updates on their research projects, which means that they host a group of about 20 people at this place. Doesn't sound like much, but this 2-day event includes some of the best food I have ever eaten, lovely hotel rooms, beautiful scenery and meeting spaces and staff to wait upon your every whim. This is how the other half of academic departments live, apparently. I'm a little bit jealous, but equally as thrilled to have been invited to the meeting this year, since half of it was in Danish and therefore I could not participate. It meant two long walks along the edge of the sound (despite March, the two days were okay weather-wise), a lot of food and conversation and only a little bit of research. It made for a nice holiday.

It is a blessing in academia when you have an extended amount of time to get to know other academics who study other subjects. You can't really do this at the average conference, unless they are extended multi-day events with lots of social activities, and you certainly can't do it in your own department. But this quarterly event allows DREAM to do exactly that. We spent a lot of time talking about What TV Shows to Watch when we are finished our PhDs. And also What Museums to Visit in Denmark. And a lot of, Isn't This the Best Thing You've Ever Eaten? Basically, everything a research gathering amongst culturally inclined people should be. And I caught up with a few old friends too.

Unfortunately, it hasn't inspired me to write.

Monday, March 3, 2014

As Always…Apologies

I meant to update last month, but I've been taking care of another blog and my posting creativity went towards updating it.

February is always a bad month in academia. You would think, because it is short, that it would be the best month, but it isn't. In academia, Christmas holidays always last partly into January, so by the time life resumes normally, the month is already partly over and your post-New-Years-resolutions can usually get you through the rest of it. But by the time February rolls around you've run out of motivation. It's cold and grey outside (well, in any country I've ever lived) and you know you have deadlines to meet and work to do, so even if it was sunny you can't be out enjoying it. You know the spring (Easter holidays) are still a rather long way away so it's hard to look forward to them.

February is like Thursdays. I never could get the hang of Thursdays.

But now February is over. And I had high hopes for March. March 1st always puts me in a really good mood. Except this year. This year March 1st did not put me in anything other than a really depressed and distracted mood. And that's not a great way to start the 'spring'. I have 6000 words to write by March 15th and I have no desire to write a single one of them. At all. Not just the fact I'm unmotivated, but I can't even focus my thoughts into a single sentence. I know if I find my drive I can get them written, though they won't be great. But, honestly, I don't actually care. I'm 9 months away from finishing my PhD and I just don't really care anymore. And I know that's normal. I know I've reached that 'I've been at this too long' stage and that I need to get over it and move forward into the 'let's just finish this' stage. I know that.

But I really don't want to. A lot changed two days ago. And yet nothing did. And I'm sort of struggling to come to terms with those two opposing views and the future. And in light of all that soul searching and emotional baggage, writing a PhD is getting lost in my mental shuffle. But these things happen. Especially in my department (2013 was a bad year for many people, 2014 is going to be my bad year apparently). Everyone made it through. I will too. But right now, it's hard to see the end, despite the fact that it's getting ever closer.

There's a conference this week. I am hoping talking to like-minded academics and hearing how passionate they are about their work will get me going again. One can hope. Otherwise…December is a long time from now, but August is a mite too close.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Let's Try This

I think we're going to go for more frequent, but shorter, updates about life in Denmark. Ja?

God. (That means good.)

So they ring the church bells here. A lot. Like every hour. Every day. For several minutes. I live near two large churches (1 church, 1 cathedral) so I can here them if the telly isn't on even with the window closed, but it's not loud enough to be annoying, just be there. It reminds me of Spain, except those were louder.

We've finally had a string of sunny weather. It's also about -15C outside with the windchill, but it's sunny. I have resorted to being Canadian wherein that is enough to celebrate, no matter the temperature. It's supposed to warm up to zero and snow tomorrow though. I am glad I went for the bus pass option though, because despite warming up the winds are supposed to stay about 25km an hour, which will feel cold when it becomes damp again. However, on the flip side I can set my room heating at the lowest setting and not be cold which is totally an improvement over England.

[It better be spring when I get back, that's all I'm saying.]

Requisite writing update: I need to add about 500 more words to this chapter and then edit it for declarations before submitting it to my supervisor next Friday. Doable, but the hardest 500 words of the 8000 I think.

I also need to stop writing that story someone goaded me into writing. I mean, I was always going to write it. I've been meaning to not write it for ten years now, but now I'm actually writing it and that's a problem. I have more time than I thought right now, due to being further through Chapter 2 than I planned (I was aiming for mid-February, not end of January), but I could be using those extra two weeks to do other, more important, things. However, as usual, I write academically better and more efficiently if I'm also writing fictionally at the same time. Maybe I should stop fighting the inevitable that I've been fighting for ten years since I started this whole academic/fiction writing battle in first year of university (okay, it was 11 years ago, I've stopped counting, so what?).

I'm aiming to go to campus three times this week. There's an end of month meeting on Thursday to prep for, so that is pretty much that day out the window. I'm hoping to get the rest of this chapter written Tues/Wed. I might not end up there all three days, but we'll see. It's actually nice to get out to a different place that is not just the grocery store or the centre and is warm (gods, is my office warm!) Change of scenery was rather the whole point of this trip, after all. Kirsten (my Danish supervisor) is currently away for the next two weeks, but when she gets back I hope to have some good prep work done and can sit down and plan out exactly what Chapter 4 needs to be. And then write it before March  31. That's the plan.

Apparently 'Brave' is 'Modig' in Danish. I just learned this.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Life in Denmark

This isn't about writing, because I haven't done any of that for ten days (*cough*twoweeks*cough*).

A lot fewer people smoke in Denmark. This is so nice. It means I can walk down the street and not have a coughing fit. It also means that leaving and entering public buildings is mostly safe. It's nice. Why are other countries like this? Namely England, where I can't walk more than a minute anywhere without smelling cigarette smoke.

McDonald's here tastes exactly the same as in Canada, by which I mean the salt is almost at unpalatable levels. Also, you can get mayo with your fries here, but the mayo is different from anywhere else's mayo. It has herbs in it. It's sort of awesome. Except for the salt. On the hamburgers too, not just the fries.

That make a chocolate treat over here that supposed to be for kids, except it has rum in it, so maybe not? It's Toms chocolate turtles and they are like Creme Eggs a bit, except with rum and carmel instead of…whatever that actually is in the centre of a Creme Egg. Also, it's shaped like a turtle, rather than an egg, but it's the same size (though the chocolate is like 50% cocoa, which is awesome).

They have so many grocery stores here. I mean so many different chains, and they are all small, except for Bilka, which is huge like Morrisons or the Sainsburys or Tescos superstores. I haven't been in it yet, but I'm sure I'll go eventually. All the others are small ones, but larger than express stores (that's what 7-elevens are for). Also, there are 7-elevens everywhere, which is weird. In Copenhagen you couldn't drive a golf ball without hitting a 7-eleven.

The pastries aren't as awesome as I was lead to believe. However, the bread is delicious and healthy and yummy!

Food is super expensive. Nearly twice what it is from Morrisons, which is where I usually shop. It's a lot closer in price (but still more expensive) than in Canada, except for milk which is still cheaper. It's more expensive than I thought, so I've stopped trying to do the depressing conversion in my head and hoping that the money the university owes me comes in before next month (seriously, what is taking so long? I've not been paid since the end of November!!!)

I've been basically living off pasta and sauce (homemade though!), stir fries and sandwiches. The meat variety here is awesome though and I'm going to eat so much because when I go back to England I pretty much have to be vegetarian because of my living situation.

Houses here can be old. In fact, the apartment block I am in was built in 1909 and others in this neighbourhood are a decade older than that. But they actually put insulation in them so the walls feel warm when you touch them and the windows have been long since upgraded (before 1999, when my landlady moved in) to double pane. Hallelujah! They also have this weird way that they open, but it works really well and you can feel it when you open them, feel the seal break. Which is comforting.

There is a lot of American telly over here. A LOT. Also, UK telly, but less of it, and it's things like medical dramas and Downton Abbey. They seem to love American sitcoms, which all date back at least a decade. And American cop dramas. Every version of CSI, NCIS, Law and Order, etc, etc, etc. is shown in reruns here. And action movies. Action movies every night.

They also love IKEA, which is understandable, considering, and every city has an IKEA in it (or used to at least). The largest one is here in Odense and I've been reliably told it's the biggest in all of Europe, so I'll have to go and see. IKEA and Bilka together, as they are right beside each other.

They have malls here too. Proper indoor malls (like Highcross in Leicester) and about the same size. It's very American, because it's way out on the edge of the city and surrounded by parking lots (unlike Highcross, but very like Mapleview in Canada). The bus passes by it on the way to and from campus so I shall have to stop one day.

I've costed it out and it makes the most sense to get a bus pass, which gets you discounted travel, rather than rent a bike. A bike is going to be about 100k a week and the bus is only about 50k a week, or less if I don't use it (I only pay no the pass for what I use, whereas with the bike I pay whether I use it or not). So considering the weather is basically freezing and wet, I've opted for the bus pass, at least for the next while. If spring arrives I may reconsider.

I've also decided to stay in Odense for the duration. There is the opportunity to move to Roskilde, near Copenhagen, but then I'll have to go through moving all over again, and that took a week out of my schedule. I really don't have time for that, and also there is an issue with office/work space in Roskilde that would be problematic. I wouldn't have a desk in my room, so could only use the office on campus, which means only working in restricted hours, not when I feel like it. That doesn't really work for me. Also, I don't like sitting on my bed with my computer, even when I'm just surfing the internet. I find it awkward. It seems such a little thing, but it's important to how I work so I can't ignore that. It's just easier to stay here. There's a conference in March anyways that I'll go to so I'll get to meet the Roskilde people then.

My landlady is really nice. She's very direct, which is a nice change, and we've had some great conversations. She let me gone on for an hour about the Camino a few nights ago, which I thought was really nice of her. I found it quite cathartic to reminisce and be honest too and to tell it to someone who knows what it is and knows people who have walked, but isn't clear on the details (she is now!). She also seemed genuinely interested, and it's nice to have a captive audience. I have to say that no one else has really asked me about it much since I got back, beyond the simplistic 'so, how was it?' It was great to talk it out, anyways. I should get back to finishing that book. It's nearly done. Gulla works away from the house, so she's gone sometimes as much as five days a week and other times only one day a week, depending on her schedule. Last week was 5, this week is 2, next week is none, but then it's 5 again the week after. It's really quiet when she's not here, but that's kind of nice too. I can come and go as I please either way, but I've gotten used to having someone else in the house in the last couple of years.

Once the weather improves I will do the tourist thing in Odense. There's several museums here worth visiting, and a really nice looking cathedral, and also a lot of park and trail to walk when it's not -6C outside. I've been told spring usually comes in around mid-February so only a few weeks left to wait before I can go explore. It's nice to have those to look forward to. There's two great outdoor museums here too, but they don't open until May, unfortunately. Still, I might rent a bike for a few days in March if the weather is really good and go out for a ride in the country. I can probably ride *around* Odense in a day, and everywhere here is flat. Flat flat flat.

I need to edit Chapter 2 of my thesis (okay, a bit about writing) and add a couple thousand more words (I know what they need to be, it's just…well, adding them). I hope to get that done by early February so I can edit Chapters 1 and 3 properly before the end of the month and also get some more reading done for Chapter 4, which I can then write in March. That's my deadline for the first half of the thesis, is the end of March. Then the end of July for the second half, and the conclusion to draft in August. And then three months to solely edit (mostly the second half). I think that's doable. Hopefully. That might depend on my editor's schedule, but I can hope she's as available as she said she would be. She is only allowed to do spelling/grammar editing anyways, so that shouldn't (ha!) take too long. My advisors are doing the content editing, as they should. Hopefully they don't disagree! I think I'll send Dave only parts to edit, the parts I'm really not sure on, rather than the whole thing because that's a lot for him to work through. Ross, after all, has already gotten a quarter of it by now!

I think this is long enough, yes?

Thursday, January 16, 2014

New Lands

Time for a new tag, I think.

And a proper blog post. Because the key to motivation is to have ten people ask you if you're going to do something. I always cave to peer pressure.

I am sitting in my office looking out on a very wet, but at least still green, courtyard garden. I am sure it looks stunning in the summer with the bushes and creeping vines. It is still a better view than what I usually see from my office window (a brick wall and grey sky). The important thing is that I have an office which is, 6 days of the week, private (on Thursdays, as today, one of the MA tutors comes in to do work, but I still get the nice desk).

I'm settling in here in Odense (1.5 hours west of Copenhagen, on the island of Funen). The city is about the size of Leicester, or a little bit smaller, but the university is about twice the size (though not twice the student population, interestingly). It is set 2km outside the city on a huge expanse of property, larger than anything I have seen since brief days of venturing onto University of Waterloo's vast campus in Ontario (and this one is bigger than theirs). It takes a bus or a bike to get here, and today I figured out the bus, which is pretty good. It leaves from not far from my flat and drops off right at the front door of campus, for only £4 for a day ticket (or return, same price). It goes passed the big shopping mall, Ikea, and the big grocery store, so at least if I need to get things I can take the bus to and from, rather than trying to fit shopping on a bicycle.

Living here is certainly as expensive as they say, though most of that is food cost. Things like rent and utilities are actually very similar to England (Odense = Leicester), but food is almost twice the price in many cases. Going to have to be very careful of what I eat, and definitely much less eating out then I used to do in Leicester (read: I will not, therefore, be eating out AT ALL). I guess people get around it by owning a bike instead of a car (though there are plenty of cars around) and decent wages.

However they manage it, going to the grocery store is painful for me, as I'm used to the cheap prices of the UK. This is more similar to Canada (though different things are expensive. Except yogurt. Yogurt is just as expensive as in Canada). But as I've long since had to stop worrying about Canadian food prices, I'm trying not to mentally do the tally in my head when I shop. I've been told doing so is a recipe for insanity anyways, especially when converting Kroner to Dollar. It's a bit better Kroner to Pound, only because the Canadian dollar is so crap at the moment (and don't get me started on Dollar to Pound rates, it makes me cry).

But enough about never-ending money issues. I do like Denmark. The people are very friendly without being overly friendly, and helpful. Everyone is polite and follows the rules and the rules are simple. Things are very well organised and I can only hope that Line is having as easy a go in Leicester of it as I'm having here. My last goal is to rent a bike (imagine that won't be cheap, but probably cheaper than taking the bus 3-4 times a week). There is a place down the way, so might venture there on Saturday (bit of a trek from my house, but if I get a bike I can bike back!) Certainly walking to campus is not an option. So it's bike or bus. We'll see. I can only go and ask what it will cost.

It's looking as if I might not stay in Odense for that long, just until the end of February. I need to find out if I'm contracted in my accommodation here or not. If not, I may move to Roskilde for a month and be closer to Copenhagen and the main base of the DREAM department (I'm in one section of it here in Odense, but most live and work in Roskilde and hour east of here). It's apparently a beautiful town and in the spring will be perfect. Practicalities to figure out first, but it might all work out. It's easy to stay here in Odense, but might not be as much fun. I'll sit down and figure out the cost and see. They are happy to have me if I go and will be able to find space for me there, despite the fact there are more people around. I'll find out and make a decision next week and then can plan out my long-term time in Denmark. I think I will be leaving for England on the 1st or 2nd of April either way, via Birmingham this time, because I've had enough of Heathrow Airport and the blood underground until the summer. It's more money to fly to Birmingham, but on the flip side its a cheaper train ride back, so it might equal out to about the same (or near enough). Either way I have to leave from Copenhagen, so it's back there for a day (if coming from Odense) or right to (if coming from Roskilde). Wait and see. I'll feel better when all is sorted next week.

Right now I am trying to get back into my PhD. I've not done any work on it for a week, but I needed that mental break. I've been exhausted since I got here, and that's probably from working all through Christmas as well as moving. Feeling better today, so hopefully by tomorrow I can start some serious work. At least get the next chapter planned this weekend so I can get to writing. Painful, painful writing. I expect I'll have a post about that in the next couple of weeks.

For now, this one is long enough.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Off Again

In the true spirit of being an international student, I'm off again to my third foreign country for study (previous being England and Italy). Denmark should be a lot more like England than Rome was, I should think, seeing as I don't have to worry about being misunderstood.

I have to get two things accomplished in the next two months. And two things I would like to get accomplished. Those four are not the same things. Typical.

Still, a change of atmosphere will be good. Working all through Christmas has lead to A) cabin fever and B) hatred of the colour of my office walls. Just being in another room for a while will be nice, and there is a really great city to explore on days it's not pouring rain (maybe in March?) And it will be warmer (and also a smaller area to heat and, you know, a building 9 years younger than the one I live in FTW!)

Still, moving to a new country/city/neighbourhood always puts me on edge. Social anxieties are annoying things and I am at my worst when thrust into a new situation (particularly when I'm the one that put myself in that situation - I volunteered for this). I am hoping the transition won't be too bad. This is entirely dependent on A) liking my housemate and B) not disappointing my new supervisor. We shall have to wait and see on that.

I'll try to update more while I'm in Odense, mostly to procrastinate the things I have to do. I won't be starting a new blog at all, but stay tuned to this one!