dolorosa_12: (pagan kidrouk)
I had my PhD viva nearly three years ago now, but it still reverberates in weird ways, even though I've long since left academia.

Quick description of how a PhD is examined in the UK, for those who want to know )

I wake up almost every day grateful for the fact that I never have to do another viva again. Some examiners will tell you before you get started that you've passed, although they're not technically supposed to (Matthias' external examiner wanted everything done by the book, so he left the room not knowing if he'd passed or failed). Mine tried to tell me without saying so directly — they said something like, 'before we get started, we want to say that we do have some concerns, but you have nothing to worry about. Now let's talk about your PhD,' which helped a bit, but didn't do much to make the experience any more pleasant. Some friends have told me they enjoyed their vivas, but to this day (and I say this as someone who has had some pretty awful things happen to her), that viva remains the worst two hours of my entire life. A few weeks before it happened, I dreamt that the process would involve lying on a rooftop while two senior Celticist academics shot at me with sniper rifles, just to give you some indication of the state of my mind...

Anyway, you get the idea. I passed, and although I couldn't look at my PhD or my examiners' reports for at least two months after the viva was over, the corrections themselves only took about a week of my time, and I got my PhD, graduated, and got on with a life outside academia. But because I still live in Cambridge, and still have a lot of friends within medieval studies, and because my former department is extremely sociable, I tend to come back from time to time to local conferences, free annual guest lectures, alumni events and so on. And because medieval studies is such a small world (and Celtic Studies an even smaller world within it), I tend to run into my examiners when I least expect it. And, inevitably, I bumped into my internal examiner at a guest lecture late last year. We fell to talking about my viva, and he told me something I found both hilarious, and a great source of perspective.

The entire time that I had been in a state of extreme anxiety and panic, feeling besieged and terrified, he had been in such awe of my external examiner (who, for some reason, he had never met in person before) that he had reacted by being extremely formal, and more critical than he perhaps intended, because he wanted to make a good impression on his fellow examiner. It's odd, but it's nice to know I wasn't the only one in that room feeling scared and overwhelmed!

Anyway, academia. It's a weird little universe.
dolorosa_12: (emily hanna)
Slightly flippant title, wildly inaccurate characterisation of my reasons for doing these linkposts. Over here I am gearing up for a much needed long weekend, after one of those weeks that just seem to go on and on and on.

Kate Elliott wrote a great post on 'Diversity Panels: Where Next'. I would encourage you to read (most of) the links that follow, particularly the panel discussion at The Book Smugglers, which I included in a previous linkpost.

Some (unintentionally Australian-centric) Hugos follow-up posts:

Liz Barr of No Award livetweeted the Hugos.

Galactic Suburbia did a podcast discussing the results.

On a less awesome note (in the sense of this needing to be said at all), Sumana Harihareswara responded to the use of the Hare Krishna chant in the Hugos ceremony in an extraordinarily open-hearted and giving way.

A lot of people were sharing this (old) 'How to (Effectively) Show Support' by Dahlia Adler. This part particularly resonated with me:

There is a really big difference between being a person who only rages and a person who both rages and makes a real move for change. And maybe people don’t realize that. Maybe they don’t get how. But I’m tired of seeing raging with no support counterbalance, and I’m tired of people thinking raging is enough without backing it up in a meaningful way. I’m tired of people not realizing how limiting the effects are when all you do is talk about who and what is doing things wrong and not who and what is doing things right.

(Incidentally, I think the first person I saw sharing the post was Bogi Takács, who very effectively shows support with regular roundups of #diversepoems and #diversestories recommendations.)

Aliette de Bodard has set up a review website, designed to host reviews of 'books we love, with a focus on things by women, people of colour, and other marginalised people'.

Here's Sophia McDougall doing a podcast with Emma Newman. My poor, Romanitas-loving heart hurt when Sophia talked about one particular scene in Savage City involving the Pantheon. (I know at least one friend is currently reading the series for the first time, so it might be wise to avoid this podcast until you've finished - it's mildly spoilery.)

More on the invisibility of older women authors, this time from Tricia Sullivan.

Ana has gathered some great, library-related links at Things Mean A Lot.

'Breakthrough in the world's oldest undeciphered writing'.

Via [personal profile] umadoshi, these photos of the world's oldest trees are really amazing.

I hope you all have wonderful weekends.
dolorosa_12: (flight of the conchords)
I was given these six questions by [ profile] christinafairy as part of a meme. Answers are behind the cut.

Questions and answers )

Please comment if you would like six questions of your own.
dolorosa_12: (sleepy hollow)
It's not every day you get a PhD. It's not every day you get a new sister. I was lucky and got both on the one day. 19th July is certainly going to be this year's most memorable day!

My dad had been making vague noises all year about coming to Cambridge for my graduation, but I knew that his and my stepmother's new baby was due on 29th July and it was probably not a good idea for him to be on the other side of the world. In any case, I was proved right - I was woken up by a text from my dad at about 1am on Saturday, informing me that the baby had been born early. Her name is Maud, and she is the youngest of five sisters, joining me, Miriam (who has the same mother and father as me), Kitty and Nell (who have a different mother to me and Miriam). People were joking on Facebook that my father is like a modern-day Mr Bennet (from Pride and Prejudice) or Tevye. I'm just glad his economic future doesn't depend on marrying us all off! There is a range of twenty-nine years in our ages, and we're all at such different stages of life: I've just finished a PhD, Miriam finished an MA last year and is working for the public service, Kitty is going into high school next year, Nell is in the early stages of primary school and Maud is a newborn baby.

Anyway, I managed to get back to sleep after being woken by Dad's text, I woke up and it was my graduation day. My mother and Miriam had come to the UK specially to be here for this, and they and Matthias were my guests. Graduation in Cambridge is a rather strange affair: students all have to wear black and white clothing (suits, black skirts and white blouses, or black dresses)* and a combination of hood and gown which varies depending on the degree they are to receive, any Cambridge degrees they already hold, and their age. As I already held a Cambridge MPhil, I had to wear an MPhil gown and hood. Graduating students have to process from their colleges to the Senate House through the centre of town. I'm lucky - my college is a two-minute walk from the Senate House - but it was a swelteringly hot day, and also kept threatening to rain. The woman next to me in the procession was someone I knew vaguely - she was also an Australian, and we'd both been wheeled out at the same event a while back to talk to a bunch of Indigenous people who were interested in coming to Cambridge (neither of us are Indigenous, but they just wanted Australians to give their impressions).

The ceremony itself is always very brief. Students are led forward four at a time by their college's Praelector, presented to the Vice Chancellor in Latin, and kneel down one by one before him (when I received my MPhil, the Vice Chancellor was a woman, but she has since retired). He mumbles a bit more Latin over the student, and that's it. I was concentrating so much on not tripping over my gown when I stood up that the whole thing was a bit of a blur, but Matthias said he felt a bit weepy.

Then we milled around outside the Senate House for ages, and took photos. I only have one so far, but once my mum's emailed me hers, I will upload them too.

 photo 10520086_10100955798768770_7477471729212381438_n_zps44805d5a.jpg

Graduation was followed by a buffet lunch in my college's formal hall. We were lucky to be seated next to a really nice Irish family, who became extremely chatty when they discovered what I had studied. I've never met an unfriendly Irish person, nor one who was uncomfortable talking to complete strangers. I'm sure they exist, but I've never met them.

After lunch, we met up with some friends for drinks in a nearby pub. People came and went, but the group included Former Housemate H, Former Sort-of Housemate J2, V, P, R, Matthias, Miriam, Mum and me.

So all in all, a wonderful day, filled with celebrations. I'm very relieved to be closing a door on the PhD side of my life. The PhD years were good years, growing years, learning years, changing years, but also very challenging years. I'm grateful to have been able to learn what I learnt about medieval Irish literature. The stories I studied were beautiful and will stay with me forever. And there really are no people like a really enthusiastic bunch of medievalists to have as friends. But once was enough! And a PhD is as far as I'd like to go in terms of academia (although I'm not ruling out some kind of taught MA at some point in the future).

I am Dr Dolorosa, and that's enough for now.
*Those in the military are allowed to wear military uniform, and students are also allowed to wear 'national dress', although this is very vaguely defined. I've seen some women graduate in saris or kimono, and that's about it.
dolorosa_12: (una)
This time five years ago, I was getting ready to go to my department's annual garden party, over the moon because I had submitted my MPhil and was confident of passing, and of being accepted for a PhD place at Cambridge. Today, I'm getting ready for the garden party, happy in the knowledge that my PhD corrections have been approved and that (after I've paid an extortionate amount for binding and submitted a hardbound copy to the Board of Graduate Studies) I will be graduating in July as Dr Dolorosa!

These past five years have been a mixed bag. Some parts of being a PhD student were filled with joy, while others threw me into despair, self-doubt and fury. I am glad to have written it, and to have learnt what I learnt - about medieval Irish literature, and about myself. I am so grateful that it allowed me to meet a truly wonderful bunch of people, and to become part of several amazing international groups of friends. I met my partner because of my PhD. As a result of my PhD, I had the good fortune to meet several awe-inspiring older women who have acted as mentors for me in all sorts of ways. I can speak and read a good many more languages than I could five years ago!

My PhD gave so much. It took a lot from me, though. I don't talk a lot about that very often, because ultimately I feel that I made the right decision. If nothing else, doing a PhD at Cambridge got me to where I wanted and needed to be, with the right people around me, and the opportunity to meet others who, although not much a part of my life right now, connected with me at the right time to help me become myself.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that my PhD allowed me to live. And while I never want to live through those years again (some of them were just packed with so much living and so many emotions that they were exhausting), I am privileged and grateful to carry them with me.
dolorosa_12: (emily hanna)
It appears that I didn't write anything on LJ/Dreamwidth for the entire month of April. I'm not sure exactly why that was, although I will say that I had Matthias' family staying for two weeks, which made it very difficult to find a spare moment. His sister and her fiancé stayed with us for one week, and his parents were here for two weeks, although they stayed in their caravan in a camping site nearby. The fiancé had never been to Cambridge before, so we did a bit of sightseeing, including going up onto the roof of my college chapel, from where you can see the whole of Cambridge. To get there you have to climb this very claustrophobic, winding spiral staircase. It's worth it when you get to the roof, though.

Anyway, after they left, Matthias went to Aberystwyth for four days. He's just started doing an MA in library and information studies there (via distance learning), and you need to attend a week-long course there every year. The rest of the coursework is done by distance. I really, really dislike being home alone. I find it almost impossible to sleep and generally feel unsafe at night. I can cope with it when I live in an apartment building, or at least on the upper floor of a house, but our house is single-storey, which is just about the worst for me. But Matthias had a good time on his course, and met all the other people in his cohort, who all seem a very interesting bunch. They're mostly in their 20s or 30s, and tend to have done at least a BA (and in some cases an MA and PhD) in some kind of humanities field and come to librarianship indirectly, like him. I'm interested to see how he goes with the course, as I'm keen to do it myself in a few years' time (once I've recovered from the exhaustion of doing a PhD!).

On Friday, I went to London to hear Samantha Shannon (author of The Bone Season, the first of a series of novels about a dystopian London where people have supernatural abilities) in conversation with Andy Serkis and Jonathan Cavendish, whose film company has the rights to adapt the first book. I did a write-up on Tumblr. The event was mostly awesome, although there was one sour note. One of the main characters in The Bone Season is an otherworldly being called Warden. He's not described in much detail in the book, aside from mention of him having 'dark, honey-gold'-coloured skin. People in the audience were asked to suggest actors who fit their mental image of him. Those suggested were Tom Hiddleston and Cillian Murphy. I think you can figure out why those are appalling suggestions, but in any case, I was heartened to see that most of the fandom seems to support me in perceiving Warden as just about anyone other than a white actor. What was even more encouraging is that Samantha Shannon herself agreed with me and said she was committed to fighting against whitewashing in any adaptation of The Bone Season. I will be very disappointed if a white actor is cast as Warden, and will not see any film in which this is the case.

Yesterday, our department hosted the annual colloquium which we share with Oxford. It's for students of Celtic Studies at both universities to present papers on aspects of their research, and alternates between Cambridge and Oxford as a location. I found it interesting to note that when we went around introducing ourselves at the beginning, all the Oxford students said their individual college affiliations, whereas the Cambridge people all said the name of our department rather than our colleges. It's a subtle indication of how we perceive ourselves, I guess.

The conference was good fun, particularly as I didn't have to give a paper this year. I just relaxed and hung out with all my friends, most of whom I hadn't seen in over a month. My supervisor was there, and we were talking about my decision to leave academia and work in libraries. She asked me if I missed research, and I realised that I didn't miss it at all. Most people I know who work in academia have this drive, this single-minded obsession with whatever they research (in much the same way as authors have this drive to tell stories). I've never had it, and I guess that's another indication that I was never cut out to be an academic.

I finally succumbed to the lure of 8tracks. I'm ridiculous enough about music as it is, so I guess it was only a matter of time before I joined. If you're on there, you should add me. I've already made one playlist.

We Own the Sky from dolorosa_12 on 8tracks Radio.

In other musical news, the new Seven Lions EP, Worlds Apart, is simply glorious.

dolorosa_12: (sokka)
This weekend, the weather suddenly turned summery (or at least what passes for summery in the south-east of England). I think I was more excited about the fact that I'd be able to dry laundry in the courtyard instead of in the house than the fact that I would be able to ditch my winter clothes. I've since done two loads of laundry, and I find the sight of sheets waving gently in the breeze oddly comforting.

Yesterday I went with my friend and former sort-of-housemate J2* to a buffet lunch at Pembroke College. It's an annual event to which all the people who supervise (i.e. provide the one-on-one tutorials that are the main part of the teaching method at Oxbridge) students from Pembroke are invited. J2 invited me as her guest, and when we arrived we discovered that another friend of ours, M, had also been invited. The meal began with sparkling wine in what I think was the college's senior combination room, and then we were treated to a three-course buffet in the hall. We sat next to a very bitter physicist who spent the whole meal complaining about how academia has changed in the past twenty years (the short version: too much admin), and an interesting woman who taught Arabic language and Middle Eastern history. She bemoaned the fact that interest in her subject area only spikes when something terrible happens in the Arab and Islamic world.

After the lunch, the three of us went to a pub that lets people take drinks outside into the park near the mill pond, and we sat on a wall, surrounded by hundreds of other people who clearly had the same idea. All in all, it was a really fabulous day.

Today I've just been lounging around at home. Matthias is working in one of his library jobs, but will be back in about an hour, at which point we'll have a late lunch. This evening I've got yoga, but other than that, I don't plan on leaving the house. I've been - rather decadently - drinking white wine in the sun and reading novels. At some point I'll probably post some reviews of them, but for now, I plan to relax.

I'll leave you with a few links to stuff that's been making me happy today.

First, [ profile] sophiamcdougall's newest book, a children's science-fiction work called Mars Evacuees, is about to be published. She's got a couple of excerpts here and here. The second link includes a bunch of other stuff, all of which is worth reading, especially her article in the New Statesman about the gender disparity in book shop displays.

This review of the recent TV series of Dracula, posted in [community profile] ladybusiness, is making me rethink my decision to avoid the show. I find Jonathan Rhys Meyers almost unbearable to watch, and that is why I originally chose to give the show a miss, but if anyone who has watched it has an opinion, feel free to weigh in and convince me one way or the other.

Fantasy author Saladin Ahmed has started a really cool side project, tweeting the Husain Haddawy translation of the Arabian Nights.

I'll leave you with some music. Yesterday, in honour of International Women's Day, I posted a bunch of feminist music on Tumblr. Assume a broad definition of the word 'feminism' here that has room for Christine Anu singind about migration and identity, Lucinda Williams singing about loss and grief, and Ciscandra Nostalghia demanding listeners worship her.

I'm really into the music of The Daysleepers at the moment. This album and this album are simply fabulous. They sound like summer in Sydney - all diving under waves and bobbing out beyond the breakers, the glare of the asphalt hurting your eyes, jacaranda trees, standing on a roof and watching the fireworks on New Year's Eve, mangoes, cherries and grilled fish and sparkling wine - in a way that I cannot properly articulate. Just gorgeous.

Finally, Matthias and I watched the last stage of Melodifestivalen for the first time this year. We both would've been much happier if Alcazar had won.

Seriously, is that not the most Eurovision song ever?

*By which I mean that she lived in a sharehouse with my partner Matthias during the year I lived in Germany, so she was my housemate whenever I visited him.
dolorosa_12: (sleepy hollow)
I passed my viva!

I will have quite a few corrections to do, but I have basically cleared the final hurdle to becoming Dr Dolorosa!

I'm sorry for neglecting people's comments over the past couple of days - I will reply as soon as possible (probably tomorrow). All my time until now has been tied up with revising.

It's time to dance indeed.
dolorosa_12: (epic internet)
I've been really busy lately, which is why I haven't posted for ages and ages. I have two very good excuses, however:

1. My PhD viva is in just a week. I'm actually feeling quite calm about it, which surprises me, but I seem to have given myself the attitude that there is nothing I can do now to change how the viva goes - as the examiners already have my thesis and I can't alter it - so I might as well not worry. I imagine I'll be a nervous wreck next Monday, though.

2. I have a new job! It's only temporary and part-time, but it is in another academic library in Cambridge, it's a step up from my current library job* (I'm learning how to catalogue, and my job title is library assistant rather than library invigilator) and it's come along at a really good time, as I don't get money from my PhD scholarship funding body any more and was really worried about what I was going to do for money. So far I'm really liking it, although it's very different to my other library job, and I've had to cut back my hours there, which is sad as I really love working there.

I have a bunch of links, although I must admit that some of them are very old and you're likely to have encountered them already. These are more for personal reference so that I can find them again, and close some tabs on my laptop and iPad. The first, however, is a link to my latest post on my review blog. It's mainly a review of Laini Taylor's Daughter of Smoke and Bone, but also talks more broadly about the (published and unpublished) wish-fulfillment fantasies of teenage girls and whether such things are valuable or dangerous (or both, or neither).

As someone who wrote a story about her book boyfriend being in love with her idealised character, I have a lot of sympathy for teenage (and not-so-teenage) wish-fulfillment fantasies depicting their protagonists being pursued by a multitude of love interests. It’s a powerful trope for girls who may be feeling unlovable or simply baffled at how to have romantic relationships. However, this desire to be desired should not be portrayed at the expense of functional friendships among teenage girls. Portraying all female relationships as inherently competitive and antagonistic creates a self-fulfilling prophecy in the real world whereby girls and women view all other girls and women with suspicion, undermining one another instead of supporting each other.

The Dreamwidth community [community profile] ladybusiness is not new, but it is new to me, and I point it out here to those of you who are interested in reading (or participating in) thoughtful discussion about female characters in a variety of media. There are podcasts, linkspams and lengthy meta posts. At some point when I have more time, I'm going to read through all the archives. I recommend it highly.

Speaking of podcasts, this speech by Maciej Cegłowsk, the creator of Pinboard, about fandom is thoughtful and well worth a listen. It's an old link, and I can't remember where I saw it first, but if you haven't heard it yet I would encourage you to do so.

This link is more for my own future reference, and I haven't actually read through all its content yet. It's a series of posts on Making Light about dysfunctional families, and looks as if it will be really interesting. I'm saving it for after the viva.

On a related note, this post about so-called 'Ask Culture and Guess Culture' had me nodding my head a lot. I don't know if there's any data to back up its assertions, but I can certainly recognise elements of this phenomenon in my own life.

In some families, you grow up with the expectation that it’s OK to ask for anything at all, but you gotta realize you might get no for an answer. This is Ask Culture.

In Guess Culture, you avoid putting a request into words unless you’re pretty sure the answer will be yes. Guess Culture depends on a tight net of shared expectations. A key skill is putting out delicate feelers. If you do this with enough subtlety, you won’t even have to make the request directly; you’ll get an offer. Even then, the offer may be genuine or pro forma; it takes yet more skill and delicacy to discern whether you should accept.

All kinds of problems spring up around the edges. If you’re a Guess Culture person — and you obviously are — then unwelcome requests from Ask Culture people seem presumptuous and out of line, and you’re likely to feel angry, uncomfortable, and manipulated.

If you’re an Ask Culture person, Guess Culture behavior can seem incomprehensible, inconsistent, and rife with passive aggression.

Obviously she’s an Ask and you’re a Guess. (I’m a Guess too. Let me tell you, it’s great for, say, reading nuanced and subtle novels; not so great for, say, dating and getting raises.)

Thing is, Guess behaviors only work among a subset of other Guess people — ones who share a fairly specific set of expectations and signalling techniques. The farther you get from your own family and friends and subculture, the more you’ll have to embrace Ask behavior. Otherwise you’ll spend your life in a cloud of mild outrage at (pace Moomin fans) the Cluelessness of Everyone.

I am definitely from a Guess Culture family (you were never supposed to ask for things unless they were the right things, the things that people would say yes to, and there were so many subtle ways to hint at what you wanted to ask, figure out whether the answer would be yes or not, or, from the other side, hint at whether or not you were going to say yes; it was considered indescribably selfish and rude to state preferences for e.g. food or drink options at other people's houses (the only acceptable answers were 'whatever everyone else is having' or 'whatever is already open'); and so on). My partner is very much of the Ask Culture school. It's easier now that we've been together for years, but at the beginning of our relationship (and indeed, in many other of my romantic and friendship relationships) I used to work myself up into a hysterical level of anxiety whenever I was required to ask for anything directly or given options to state a preference (because the asker wasn't hinting properly about what answer they wanted from me!). I'm told that this has the potential to come across as being very passive-aggressive, and if it's true that it is some sort of culture clash, a lot of things about my interactions with other people make a whole lot more sense!

Tumblr user thefrenemy posted this great defence of the selfie.

I hate with a boiling passion 99% of all of these photos, all of these memories of my life documented on film. Every time I get a notification on my Facebook saying that somebody added a picture of me, I get an actual nervous feeling in my stomach. Like, oh great, let me take some time out of my day to analyze my body and feel like shit about myself! I check the picture. I get taken out of the wonderful moment it was taken in to nitpick my flaws. Ew, I hate my face. Ew, I hate my tummy. Ew, my arms. Ew, ew, ew.


I think I look like a goddess in my selfies. I think I look like Dolly Parton, a witch, and pretty much every street blogger rolled into one. They make me feel absolutely fabulous and alive and gorgeous. I rarely feel this way and when I do, it’s because it’s exactly how I want to look for me. It’s exactly the way I’ve always wanted to look and felt I could look without all that loud noise about how I should look better. It is the evidence, the proof positive, that there are moments we can feel and look fan-fucking-tastic in our own eyes. That alone is worth its weight in gold.

I have nothing to add.

As a final link, have John Scalzi's predictions for the Oscars. He's not always right, but his reasoning is always pretty solid and I appreciate that he predicts what he thinks what will win as well as stating what he thinks should win.

*Although it actually pays less, which is a pain.
dolorosa_12: (teen wolf)
As you might have noticed, I've been away from LJ/Dreamwidth for a while, and I apologise for that. However, I have the best excuse: I finished my PhD!

For six hours on Sunday night, Matthias proofread it (a terrifying experience, considering the first thing he said to me upon opening the document was 'you need to change all your en dashes to em dashes, and all your hyphens to en dashes,' causing me to wail and gnash my teeth). On Monday, I had to go into my college library to print it (college charges 3p per page, whereas the English faculty library charges 4p, which is a considerable saving when you need to print two copies of a 306-page document, plus a billion forms). This took several hours, and included a tense half-hour where the printer had a little tantrum. Then I went to get it soft-bound. I wandered into my favourite cafe in a bit of a deranged daze, and couldn't resist telling the barista that I'd finished my PhD. (This is not entirely true. I still have to have the viva, and make corrections based on that, and resubmit the hard-bound, corrected version, but the hardest part is over.)

I waited until Tuesday to hand it in, as I wanted to do so on a day that Matthias had free so that we could go out for lunch afterwards. The woman at the Board of Graduate Studies office was a very friendly, motherly South African who congratulated me in such an over-the-top manner ('you're going to be one of our future leaders!' 'Really, with a PhD on medieval Irish literature? Really?') that I started to tear up. In fact, crying seemed to be the unifying theme of the whole experience. When I was writing a thank-you email to my supervisor I started crying. I cried when I had the printed, bound documents. I cried when I told my mother I was finished. I cried when [personal profile] bethankyou started an 'I'm so proud of Ronni' thread on Facebook.

Because look. I feel overwhelmed with emotion. I started my PhD four years ago. It's been hundreds of books and articles - in four languages, something of which I'm very proud - pages and pages of translation from Irish, countless meetings with my supervisor, 80,000 words, hours of trimming and editing and restructuring and hope and anger and anxiety and, for the past year at least, a constant, dull, crushing fear, and it's finally over. As my mother said, the process of writing a PhD is mainly an exercise in determination and endurance. Your will to finish it must be stronger than the despairing voices in your head telling you you're incapable of writing it.

I've already thanked most of the people who helped me either in person or in the acknowledgements, but I wanted to emphasise my gratitude to another group of people, and that's all of you.

Thank you to the uploaders, to the artists and writers and bloggers and content-creators, to the people who make the stories and the people who pick them apart with discussion. Thank you to the musicians and vidders, the remixers, the cosplayers, the linkers, the rebloggers, those who read and those who comment, those who bookmark and those who leave kudos. Thank you to those who open their interesting lives to me on the screen, with pictures, with words, with eloquence and with wit. Thank you all, dear denizens of the internet. You created a community, and it is beautiful. You gave me the strength to continue.

This is for you.

Cían óm eólus-sa
críoch gusa ránag-sa.
dolorosa_12: (ship)
Yesterday, Matthias and I made a flying visit to London. We'd originally planned to go there for the whole day, but that was when we thought I'd be finished my PhD by now. As it turns out, I'm not finished (though I'm so close I can see the end of the tunnel), and thought it better to spend the morning working. We caught the train after lunch and were there by 3pm. One thing I love about living in Cambridge is how close it is to London!

Our original purpose in visiting was to see Matthias' old PhD supervisor give a paper at the British Academy. The paper itself was excellent. Richard (Matthias' old supervisor) is a very good speaker, and was able to pitch the content at exactly the right level so that the very senior experts in Old English, Middle English and other fields of medieval studies, and the enthusiastic members of the public would all be able to get something out of it. A lot of old friends of mine who have since graduated and gone on to work outside academia in London also showed up, and it was great to catch up with them over a glass of wine afterwards.

Prior to the paper, we had a coffee in my favourite London cafe, and then wandered around Soho for a bit trying to figure out where we would eat dinner.

I insisted on stopping off in Seven Dials and having my photo taken. It's getting to the point where the entire city of London is crisscrossed with a network of Significant Sites That Feature in Ronni's Favourite Works of Literature. (Almost the first thing I did when I moved to the UK was visit the ruins of St Dunstan in the East, a place which features prominently in Sara Douglass' Troy Game series.) Seven Dials is where the criminal gang of clandestine clairvoyants are based in Samantha Shannon's The Bone Season, which as you'll recall is my latest literary obsession. So I made poor Matthias take my photo in Seven Dials. The Christmas lights were on, and it was almost dark, so it looked very pretty.

A couple of photos behind the cut )

So, anyway, after that, we made it to the talk, which as I've noted was in the British Academy. I'd never been before, and I was very impressed by the setting. If you can make it in academia in this country, you get to go to some pretty cool places.

After the talk, we went out for dinner at this Vietnamese restaurant in Soho. I love Vietnamese food, and can't get it in Cambridge, so I was very keen to see what Banana Tree was like. The food was excellent, and extremely cheap, especially by London standards. When I'm in London, I normally go to the same places over and over again, so it was good to try something new.

After dinner it was back to Cambridge and reality.
dolorosa_12: (flight of the conchords)
Troian Bellisario tweeted that they were shooting the Pretty Little Liars season finale for over thirteen hours. That's dedication! I hope it's amazing.

I had a useful and productive meeting with my supervisor yesterday. For the first time ever, I feel that the end is in sight for my PhD. It's going to be such a massive relief. My supervisor and I also had a very frank discussion about what I planned to do once the thesis was finished. I was honest with her and said that although my current feelings about the PhD (namely, frustration and anger) were probably colouring my attitudes towards academia a bit, I'd pretty much come to the conclusion that it was not for me. She had some helpful suggestions about what to do next, and some possible contacts that may be useful in the field in which I want to work, which was great.

(On a related note, I really admire my supervisor a lot. She's been married to another academic for ages, and they only managed to live in the same country for the first time about four years ago. They have two kids who are trilingual. She's well-respected in her field without having been drawn into any of the stupid disputes and bitchiness which sadly plague it. Most importantly, she is a really good communicator, which is actually not all that common among academics. She supervised me for my MPhil as well as my PhD, so I've been working with her for five years, and she has always really impressed me with her ability to deliver constructive criticism that leaves you feeling inspired rather than crushed. She's kind of my model for How To Adult.)

Last night, Matthias and I went to a Halloween party at our friend C's house. Australians don't really do Halloween, and I was surprised to discover that it was a thing in Britain, but in any case, C is from the US and hosts a party like this every year. This year, the idea was to spend as little money on costumes as possible, for which I am grateful. I had been really stumped for ideas, but in chat my sraffie friend Michael mentioned that the thing he always notices about me is my bright, colourful clothing, which led [ profile] romen_dreamer to suggest going as a rainbow. So then Matthias went as a pot of gold, which involved carrying a bowl of chocolate coins around all the time. In the end we spent about five pounds on some ribbon and the chocolate coins, which was great.

C's husband works for the US military, which means they are able to buy food at a nearby US military base. This is greatly appreciated by our other friends from the US, as it means they get access to food from home that isn't otherwise available in the UK. I myself particularly enjoyed the blue corn chips C had bought!

The party was pretty low-key. We just hung around and chatted, while cheesy horror films played in the background. Towards the end of the evening, people got out the Wii and started dancing, but I missed most of that as we decided to leave around 11 since Matthias had to work the next day. Incidentally, today is his last time working at his old job: he started it as a temporary thing to earn some money while he was doing his PhD corrections, and somehow ended up staying for three years. But he recently got a new job working in an academic library and was finally able to quit. There was nothing particularly wrong with the old job, just that it was kind of unchallenging and unlikely to go anywhere, career-wise, so we're both very happy that he's able to move on. His old work gave him an Amazon gift voucher and a half bottle of champagne as a going-away present, and we're definitely going to crack open the champagne when he gets back from his other job tonight. (He currently has three different part-time jobs.)

That's basically it from me. I'm spending the day at home, alternating between editing my own work and proofreading an article for someone else.
dolorosa_12: (sister finland)
So far, it's been an absolutely wonderful weekend. On Friday evening, Former Housemate D came up to Cambridge to give a seminar paper. She completed her PhD on skaldic poetry in my department in 2012, and from February-April was working on a cultural engagement project that combined her postgraduate research interests with her other main interest, modern poetry. The project had two parts - the first was to provide a group of poets with translations and commentaries of medieval skaldic verse which they then used as a starting point for their own poems, the second involved creating packages of material that could be used to teach poets and other writers (and school students and interested members of the public) how to use kennings and other elements of skaldic verse in their own writing. It produced some very interesting results, including a fabulous series of poetry readings in April. So D's seminar paper was basically summing up the results of the project.

I really miss her. We lived together from June 2010-August 2011, which was her third year of her PhD and my second year, and probably the happiest period of my life. We both worked from home most of the time, and our productivity was severely hampered by the fact that we frequently stopped for tea breaks that would go on for hours. Matthias and I currently have a spare room free in our house, but have decided to forgo finding a housemate since there are very few people with whom we could bear to live. If D decided to return to Cambridge, however, we'd offer her the room in a heartbeat, because she's just that awesome. She's now moved back to London, and I doubt she will move back here. I can't really blame her. If I had the option to live in London, I would do it without a second thought. It's a fantastic city.

D's seminar was followed by dinner in a nearby pub. I hadn't really socialised with any of my friends for ages because I'd been in thesis-writing hermit mode, so it was a fun night. I'm out of the habit of hanging out with large groups, though, and found the whole thing rather draining. In my first and second years, and during my MPhil, I went out at least once a week, and I look back and wonder how I managed it. It's not the alcohol (which in any case I've cut back on severely) so much as the need to be constantly switched on and jumping between several parallel conversations in a loud environment that makes the whole thing so exhausting.

Yesterday I mostly spent at home, as Matthias was working a shift in the library, and today will be similarly spent. We had planned to go to this event at the Botanical Gardens, but the weather is so unpleasant that we decided to give it a miss. However, this afternoon we will both be working in the library, so will have to brave the wind and rain. I'm hoping the weather will keep most of the students away, as we have a huge backlog of books to cover and prepare for circulation, which is difficult to do when the library is at full capacity.

I've got a few ideas for potential posts, but for now I'll just leave you with a link to this wonderful interview with author Kelly Link:

I'm no longer watching television in which middle-aged men figure out how to be men. I'd rather watch shows about teenaged girls figuring out what it means to be a monster. I like coming-of-age stories, ghost stories, horror stories. I love stories about doppelgangers. I didn't realize how much I craved a show that was gothic, over the top, Gormenghast on the CW.
dolorosa_12: (what's left? me)
Last night I dreamt that my younger sister had written an entire PhD thesis in six months and just passed her viva. My mother's response: 'See, it's really easy. I don't know what you're complaining about.'

Term has started again. Inevitably, I've caught a dreadful cold, despite not having gone anywhere besides my own house and the local shops in weeks. Yesterday I nearly lost my voice showing our new first-year undergrads around three different libraries. (They pay you £38 per hour to do this. I wasn't going to let a cold stop me.)

The thesis drags on. I'm attempting to have the final draft done by the end of the week. Needless to say, it takes longer than six months to complete a PhD.
dolorosa_12: (sokka)
So, I stayed away longer than I intended, but I have now submitted what I hope to be the penultimate draft of the first two chapters of my thesis to my supervisor! That's 40,000 words. I am very, very relieved. So I celebrated today by doing nothing but exercising. I went to a yoga class in the morning (which was filled with little old ladies who were much more flexible than I am), and then a long run in the sunshine. I really cannot express how good all this exercise is for my mental health. I'm not saying that you can cure depression and anxiety with a daily run, but it does help to keep the awfulness still and quiet for a little while.

We have our annual student conference in our department. I helped organise it in my MPhil year, and I presented at it in the first year of my PhD, but ever since I've just gone along for the fun of it. We've got our friends J, L and C staying with us for the weekend. J is going to be presenting there. We're going to spend tonight eating take-away and watching cheesy medieval films, and then head off to the conference in the morning. Our new house is very conveniently located - only fifteen minutes' walk to the department, and very close to the college where the dinner will be. And then on Sunday Matthias and I are going to see Paloma Faith.

One of my friends (one of my group of friends from uni, who mainly studied maths or other sciences) posted a link to an article about a study which found that the number of girls studying maths in the HSC (the equivalent of the A Levels for students in NSW; Australia doesn't have a national education system) has increased dramatically in the past decade. While I think there is a problem in encouraging girls and women to pursue study or careers in mathematical or scientific fields, and that mathematical literacy is pretty poor in the Australian adult population (I used to work as a newspaper subeditor, so I have some first-hand experience of this), I'm not sure exactly what the right way to go about fixing this is. Some of my friends were suggesting that maths be made compulsory up to Year 12 (the final year of high school - right now it's only compulsory up to Year 10, and the only compulsory subject is English), but I'm a little dubious about whether forcing people to study something would increase their enjoyment of it (or encourage them to pursue it after secondary school).*

I am going to tell you my own story, because this is the only way that I manage to work out what I think about such issues.

I did (mostly) okay in maths and science classes in secondary school up until the end of Year 10. I was in the top class for both (out of four levels in Maths and three in Science), and managed solid Bs, with the occasional A. As long as I did my homework and studied a little bit before tests, I could keep up. But when I started Year 11, and maths became much more abstract, I really, really struggled. I had to stay in the top class because I was doing the International Baccalaureate, and only the top class covered all the IB material.

I spent every evening doing maths homework. I failed every single test. The highest grade I got on a test was probably around 35% (because of the way my state's education system worked, that scaled up to about 75%, which meant it didn't affect my overall grade). Can you imagine what it feels like to spend all of your studying time working on one subject, and get results like that? It was the first (and only) time where there was no correlation between my effort and the outcome.

In contrast, in my literature class, everything just clicked. I'd always found it very easy to spot themes, stylistic devices and all that stuff in works of literature - I'd been doing it since I was a child, every time I opened a book, for fun. After a long struggle during the earlier years of high school, where my grades steadily improved from solid Bs to lower As,** I could write reasonably good essays. I found literature study easy. My grades reflected my effort: as long as I listened and participated in class, as long as I put in time with my essays and presentations, I would get very good grades. In fact, I was consistently in the top three students in the grade.

It was pretty clear, by the time I was in the final years of secondary school, that I was going to study something related to words and writing, and that I would ultimately work in a field related to that. And yet, because all of my friends were excellent at maths, I felt that I was incredibly stupid. About 60 per cent of what I angsted about during those two years was whether I would pass my IB maths exam. (The other 40 per cent was why the guy I liked didn't want me back.)

I'm not sure exactly where I'm going with this. I don't think I was bad at maths because I'm a woman - I think I was bad at maths because a) my brain simply doesn't work that way and b) I did better in subjects that were assessed primarily through essays or assignments rather than in exam conditions. I don't even necessarily think that I would have been better off if I'd been able to drop Maths entirely. I wonder if I would have been okay if I'd been able to go into the class one level down. But I think I disagree with making the choice of subjects of study more rigid and restricted in the final years of high school. If anything, I'd go in the other direction, and have more options - especially more vocational options and opportunities for internships or work experience. I feel the way to encourage more students to study specific subjects is to make them more geared towards those who have a deep and genuine interest, streamed into different levels if necessary. I think something needs to be done earlier on in education to make maths and science more appealing to girls, but I think by Years 11 and 12, it's too late, and making such subjects compulsory at that stage isn't going to solve the problem of the lack of women in those fields.***

* If I had my way, English, Maths, Science, Modern History (or a combined History and Geography class) and a foreign language would be compulsory up to Year 10, but I think there should be more choice after that. I also think a course on managing money, and another on managing your mental health, should be made part of the curriculum.
** I will always be grateful to my English teacher during those years. She could see that I understood stuff, but wouldn't give me amazing grades until my written expression improved, and every essay it got a little bit better until I wrote one on Macbeth and she actually said to me, 'You finally understand how to do this'.
*** In any case, there are fewer women in fields which are supposedly more popular for girls - fewer senior female academics, even in the humanities, and fewer women in senior positions in the media, or working as journalists and reviewers in top, well-paying publications. My position on all these issues is that the later years of secondary school, and university (both undergrad and postgrad) is the wrong time to be addressing this problem. It needs to be dealt with both earlier (in primary and the earlier years of secondary school) and later (when adults enter the workforce).
dolorosa_12: (matilda)
I've had a marvellous morning sitting in the university library reading the PhD thesis of a friend of mine (I'm reading it because it's relevant to my own research, not because she's my friend), and this reminded me once again how much I love my subject matter. But it also got me thinking how devalued humanities research is by society at large, and how it's incorrectly scorned as being frivolous or lacking in relevance to people's lives. Now, sure, research on literary representations of the nexus of land, history and claims to power might not be cancer research or studying the effects of climate change. But there is a point to it all, and this point has relevance outside the ivory tower.

I'm talking, in particular, about the tendency of Irish texts in the eleventh and twelfth centuries to carry on endlessly about the names of things - specifically, place-names: the history behind a name, the political group whose identity is bound up in that history, the various claims to power that such names represent, and the increasing need to keep written records of such names and meanings in order to solidify these claims. What you tend to find are a number of texts expressing sentiments along these lines:

'And because of such-and-such an event, Place X became known as Place Y, and this is the name that will always be upon it.'

Along with this anxiety that place-names might change (and displace the claims to authority that the original names represent), you also find authors using toponymic facts on the ground to justify their own contemporary political aims. Thus, in one of the poems about Temair (Tara, in modern-day Co. Meath) in Dindshenchas Érenn ('The Lore of Notable Places of Ireland', a sort of collection of stories about the names of prominent sites), you find the extraordinary claim that because there are multiple other sites named Temair, all of them are clearly satellites to the Temair in Meath. (The name 'Temair' probably originally meant something like 'high/prominent place', so it's entirely normal that numerous hills in Ireland have that name.)

So what? you might be thinking. But this is in no way a medieval Irish phenomenon exclusively. I come from Australia, and we have multiple place-names that are anglicised versions of whatever a place was called by the Indigenous nation who inhabited it before European settlement. (The city of 'Canberra', for example, is an anglicisation of what the region was called by its Indigenous inhabitants.) But there are many places in Australia which have an Indigenous name and a European name. Uluru/Ayers Rock is probably the most well-known. When I was growing up in the '90s, it was normal (in educational contexts at least) to refer to the site as 'Ayers Rock'. I'm not sure exactly when the switch took place, but certainly by the time I became a teenager, everyone called it 'Uluru'. To refer to it as 'Ayers Rock' nowadays would mark you as either an elderly person or a racist.

Then you have place-names such as 'Sydney', which refer to things that didn't exist in pre-settlement times. Certainly the area where the city of Sydney now stands would have had names given to it by its Indigenous inhabitants, but there was obviously no city there, and so the name refers to a transformation of the region undertaken by those who had taken control of it. I make this point because in the Irish literature I study, there are repeated instances where a character or group take control of an area, transform it in some way, and give it a new name in reflection of this transformation. (For example, they build a fort or cut down a forest, and the new name reflects these actions.)

I use the Australian examples because they are things with which I'm familiar, but I'm sure you could find many comparable examples elsewhere in recent history throughout the world. Names matter. Controlling the history and the written record matters. And recognising that people understood this even as long ago as in twelfth-century Ireland gives us a certain insight into human nature. Nothing we study, is, on closer inspection, divorced from reality or irrelevant to the concerns of our own times. We (and by this I mean humanities students) do ourselves a disservice when we play down this aspect of our research.
dolorosa_12: (matilda)
It is unbelievably cold here. When I was running this morning, small flakes of snow were falling, although they melted when they hit the ground. Our house is very poorly insulated, and as a result I've had to wear a hat, gloves and scarf while inside.

I kid you not )

It's absolutely breathtaking to run in such weather, even if I have to suffer icy-cold limbs and frequent nosebleeds as a result. On the weekend, I can sleep in slightly later and am able to run once the sun has risen, but during the week, I have to run before 8 o'clock. This means that it's dark when I set out, and by the time I'm making my return back along the river, the sky is starting to turn a delicate mauve. The trees are bare, the grass is muddy and greenish-grey, and the river is dark and swollen. It's an absolute joy to be outside in that landscape. I've never enjoyed summer, although I do love swimming in the ocean, so I'd say this is the perfect climate for me right now.

Term starts next week, and I'm going to be flat out. I've set very strict deadlines with my supervisor, as I'm determined to finish and submit my thesis within the next six months. Every week I'm either giving her a chapter to look at, or meeting her to discuss that chapter. I'm happy with how the current chapter is looking, but no doubt she'll find things to criticise. I'm also picking up three new students who need a couple of supervisions each (supervisions are the Oxbridge system of teaching, whereby the student writes one essay per week on a prearranged subject and then meets to discuss the essay one-on-one with a supervisor, who is usually a postgrad student. In our department, first- and second-year undergrads take six subjects per year, and third-years take four, so they tend to be extremely busy with supervision essays), and I also have to give two lectures. The supervisions are generally easy, but writing lectures takes quite a bit of time. I also go back to work in the library this week, although I may not have as many shifts as last term.

I've added Kundalini yoga to my exercise regime on top of the Hatha and Iyengar classes I'm already doing. It's very different, and involves chanting and meditation. I think doing as much exercise as possible - especially stuff involving meditation - is going to be very helpful in keeping my anxiety and depression levels low during a potentially stressful time.

I reviewed The Cambridge Companion to Fantasy Literature (edited by Edward James and Farah Mendlesohn), and you can find the review here.
dolorosa_12: (flight of the conchords)
Today is, for some reason, the birthday of about 10 people I know, but most importantly, it's the birthday of my wonderful sister Mim. Word on the street is that she's celebrating by going to a Radiohead concert, and I'm as sorry as ever to be on the opposite side of the world as her. She's had the most amazing year - getting a summer cadetship at a public service department, a cadetship that turned into a permanent, full-time job in Canberra, and finishing her Master's degree (she handed in her thesis a week or so ago). While we stay in touch as best we can, it's no substitute for being in the same country, and I'm really looking forward to seeing her in December. But anyway, happy birthday, Mim! You are wonderful!

Life and mini-reviews behind the cut )
dolorosa_12: (sister finland)
spoilers for Downton Abbey )

Life goes on in its up and downy manner. Today I edited half of my PhD chapter. This went relatively smoothly, although for some reason, after lunch I felt a wave of anxiety so profound that I ended up sitting on the floor, crying and sort of rocking back and forth.

I managed to get a grip by going out for a long walk in the pouring rain. There are two paths that I could've taken along the route I chose: a bike path that is higher up, paved with asphalt, or a dirt track along the river, muddy and marshy. I chose the river track, despite not having any gumboots. There's something profoundly satisfying about trudging through the mud, being lashed by the wind and rain.

But my point is this: I'm not always in a position to go for a long walk when these waves of anxiety (or depression, or, occasionally, rage) hit. I'm thinking of tracking these things by noting my levels of depression, anxiety and rage every day, but it struck me that these things fluctuate, and I should try to keep track of what is bringing them on. People who have any experience with doing this, do you tend to note your levels of these emotions multiple times in the day, or only once a day?
dolorosa_12: (sister finland)
Sorry for the extremely long absence here. In the past three weeks I have been
a) moving house;
b) applying for postdoc positions;
c) attempting to finish my PhD; and
d) reevaluating just about every aspect of my life, including my relationship with the internet.

All of which means I simply haven't been online. But I've got a bit of time right now to catch my breath, and feel that an update is in order.

So yeah, Matthias and I moved house. We've moved out of the share house which has been in the hands of people from our department for the past three years, which he lived in from 2009-12 and I lived in from 2010-11, into a small house on our own. You cannot believe how happy we are to finally be living on our own. Housemates can be great, but there's only so many times you can clean their dishes before you start to get resentful. The move was made doubly difficult by the fact that the house has had numerous residents over the past three years, and of them only Matthias, D2, J1 and I were responsible enough to get rid of all our stuff when we moved out. Our friend R kindly drove loads of rubbish to the tip - rubbish that did not belong to us. I've moved house at least once every year since 2007, and I'm over it.

These postdoc applications are massively stressful. Every one wants something slightly different - 2000-word statement vs 1000-word statement, 10,000-word writing sample vs full draft of your PhD, three referees vs two and so on. It's turned me into a somewhat deranged, hair-tearing, anxiety-ridden person, and it's not going to be over for another two months at least. On the plus side, I get to write lots of lists of things and cross them out, which is oddly calming.

This is the final year of my PhD. It needs to be finished by next (northern) summer, not only in case I get one of these postdocs, but also because my funding will run out then. I'm in a position to be finished, but I realise this year is going to be rather stressful, and sleep may not be an option for a lot of the time. On top of the thesis work, I'm going to be doing a lot of the teaching in my department as my supervisor is on leave during the first two terms. I'll also be going back to my part-time library job.

Last year was a rather horrific year. It wasn't quite as bad as 2007, but it was one of those awful periods in your life that makes you sit up and take notice. A year of learning, if you will. And what I learnt while in Germany were some fairly ugly truths about myself. I'm not as strong as I thought, and my physical, mental and 'spiritual' (for want of a better word) health are more connected than I previously imagined. The result of all this soul-searching is that I've resolved to do more to take care of these three aspects of my health. That means much more exercise - daily runs (which I've been doing since moving into the new house), weekly yoga and kickboxing classes (which I'm beginning this evening) and much more time spent walking every day. I also need to find a daily working routine and stick to it. But, much more importantly, I have decided to severely limit my exposure to, and participation in, things that upset me.

After a lot of thought, I realised that I spent pretty much all the time feeling extraordinarily angry about something. That was hardly unexpected, considering the amount of time I devote to online social justice-related stuff. And that's a big part of my life, and I don't plan to give it up entirely. But I am going to avoid particular topics unless I'm feeling completely on top of things. And those topic are:
1. Victim-blaming, apologism and rape culture in general in relation to instances of rape, abuse, stalking and sexual violence
2. Religious fundamentalism in general and Christian Patriarchy in particular
3. Discussions about corporal punishment of children

It's got to the point where these issues upset me so much that I'm incapable of working, which is neither healthy nor productive. I realise that I'm incredibly lucky in being able to simply walk away, and that there are many people for whom these issues are inescapable. I struggled a lot with this decision, because it feels like a betrayal of these people. But I just can't anymore.

Moving beyond this specific resolution, I've also decided to give up Tumblr entirely until my PhD is done. I'll look at individual posts that people link me (hi, [personal profile] thelxiepia), but I'm not going to be active, I won't be reading my dash and I doubt I'll be reblogging anything. It's not good for my mental health.

In general, I think I'm going to be way less active online. A while ago, John Scalzi referred to three principles of internet-usage that I feel I'd do well to follow. And they are, before I post online, to ask oneself:
1. Does this need to be said?
2. Does this need to be said by me?
3. Does this need to be said now?

It's high time I started asking myself those questions.


dolorosa_12: (Default)
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