Fun and joy

Posted by September Blue Tuesday, 26 February 2008 2 comments

One of my jobs for the university is reformatting reading material for visually impaired students. Some people need their texts in a large sans-serif font, or in a Word document their screen-reading software can deal with, or in audio, or in Braille, and I turn the dog-eared, scribbled-on library textbooks into a format those students can use. It's good work. The pay's fair, nobody expects me to wear a uniform or a namebadge (after years on minimum wage as a care assistant turned waitress turned till monkey, I swore a solemn vow to myself that I'd never do another job that required tying my hair back, wearing a uniform or calling anybody 'Sir'), I can work whatever hours I like so long as I hand in a timesheet at the end of the month, and sometimes I get to stand by the massive, incomprehensible Braille printer and pretend I'm on the deck of the Enterprise.

Also, it means a lot of reading. I have a scanner and OCR software, which in theory means that I press a button and wait twenty minutes for the whole text to appear in flawless editable type on the computer screen, but in practice means anything from proofreading for minor errors to retyping page after page of a text that comes out like this (copy/pasted verbatim from a book I finished a couple of weeks ago):

They started off by praying Itiji* Mm », I nil I hrou^h Uuk I didn't know what to do with my h»*t»i|f. .mi) h»r»s 1 feel one Nltnuldn't expose an unbeliever to a HitiMthuM hlu Mutt, Ilt<*i<|eM, tliey didn't merely recite an Our j"nMut «u imi Avt-» Mitriu (thai would have been embarrassing iWHHijhj *Hlt Hiv l*n»h'Mnnl upbringing I liave had more than £ttftHfih »*f nil t«Uiil« «i( iii'ivnli* pmynOt no, it was some text or tfMm mm\mm\ |»ry II itik^l* vi«ry progranimatic "and we bemm^h *¥Um hi Hivt^ ti* Ilif pnwoi* In da m much justice to the llttillMiMmi M« In \Uv \mwvp**favtn mu\ no cm, and only then did Mi*v j»I'i«'WnI to I hit "Mulijrrl for lite Kvcning," on "Poverty hi tin* Muriely i»» wliioli wp livi'.M II wn« one of the most embar#-«««•«11114 ÿvi'iiiugw ill my lift*.

So, a lot of reading. Sometimes it's interesting (I get paid to read about Viking social history/development of the ballad form/early 20th-century British socialism? Sweet), and sometimes it's useful for waking up knowledge I'd left sleeping in some dusty cerebral archive for years (Krebs cycle, cell division, plant growth hormones), and sometimes it's less fascinating (statistics, management strategy) but, eh, they're still paying me.

However. However. Here, in order, with no omissions or additions, are the last texts I reformatted and proofread:

1. Arthur Koestler, Darkness at Noon. Semi-fictionalised account of the late-1930s Soviet purges, and/or a semi-autobiographical account of Koestler's own imprisonment by Franco's forces during the Spanish civil war; chilling, nightmareish account of prison, torture and execution, made all the worse by how often the horror is implied rather than shown the main There's a description of one prisoner being dragged to his death, told mostly in messages rapped out on pipes by prisoners down the row of cells as it's happening: "THEY ARE READING THE SENTENCE TO HIM. PASS IT ON." "HE IS SHOUTING FOR HELP." "THEY ARE BRINGING HIM. SCREAMING AND HITTING OUT. PASS IT ON." I got through three pages of that before needing to go out into the sunshine for a while.

2. Heinrich Böll, The Clown (in translation, thankfully). Germany immediately after the Second World War, and a generation that doesn't even particularly want to find its feet, having little left to stand on. It's Trümmerliteratur - 'rubble literature' - and while it's genius, it's not exactly cheerful genius.

3. Introduction to Psychopathology, textbook by somebody or other on the various ways in which the brain can go wrong and start making your life an ongoing hell. In detail. With case histories. How long can you spend reading about childhood schizophrenia before wanting to cry?

4. An article about suicidal behaviour. Oh, even better.

I like my boss, and I like my job, and I'm aware (especially after reading all of that) that I could have it so, so much worse, but enough, now. Enough. I'm seriously considering asking my boss if there's any other students I could be switched to - preferably ones taking classes on sunshine and kittens and fluffy little bunnies who sing happy songs about flowers, or, you know, something along those lines. Maybe fluffy little bunnies who work together with kittens to plant flowers in the sunshine? Snowflakes? Roses? Something? Anything?

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So much for days of rest

Posted by September Blue Sunday, 24 February 2008 3 comments

A day off! a day off! An end to fourteen-hour shifts and dealing with bizarre student convictions over the phone! ("I couldn't return it over the weekend! You can't fine me when you're not even open at the weekend!" "Um, we are open over the weekend." "You're not open at the weekend!" "How do you think I answered the phone?") And a whole day to plan classes and work on my article.

I'm getting quite fond of this article. It's got nothing to do with my PhD thesis - which is probably reason #1 why I'm enjoying it, to be honest - and getting ready to write it meant hunting for books in the Philosophy section of the library, somewhere I haven't spent any serious studying time for a long while. My undergraduate degree was joint English and Philosophy; being back among philosophy books feels enticingly illicit, like cheating on a lover with an ex. I let my fingertips run over the spines of the Kant books on my way past their shelves and didn't even realise I was doing it.

There are problems with writing publication-worthy articles about medium-dense philosophy issues in thumpingly-heavy Victorian novels, though. Fourteen-hour shifts constitute most of them. When the library's quiet, as it is in the late evening, I can work on my own stuff in between students coming to the desk... but I'm tired. Or, I can turn on the home computer and work for a couple of hours before going to bed... but, again, I'm tired. It's not that I can't force myself to write when I'm tired - I wouldn't have got through the PhD if that was true - but I can't write well when I'm tired, and I certainly can't write well about really complex topics that require a lot of cerebral processing power. After a long, long day at work, my brain just can't do the kind of philosophical heavy lifting this article needs. You need publications to get a decent academic job, but because you don't have a decent academic job you need to spend your time doing the kind of time- and energy-consuming work that makes it incredibly difficult to work on your publications. I feel looped.

(And please, please, if you're tempted to leave a comment about how this is exactly what it's like for academic staff having to juggle their own research with their teaching and admin commitments, and how writing the PhD is the best time of anyone's academic life and never again will my days be so footloose and fancy-free, resist that temptation. That kind of free time and research-focused life was not a feature of my PhD years, either.)

And anyway, so. I was looking forward to having a whole day off to work on my article, but fate is cruel, and because I dawdled around and did nothing constructive all morning, it hit me with a sudden and hellish migraine in the afternoon. I would have spent the next few hours in bed if my bedroom hadn't been too bright; instead I curled up on the living room sofa with the curtains drawn and a blanket pulled up over my head, arms wrapped around my skull, sobbing, while I waited for the painkillers I didn't take in time to kick in. When the pain went away, I didn't dare move my head for an hour in case it came back. Literary criticism was not exactly at the top of my priorities list.

And now it's half past ten, and my brain's recharged enough that I probably can work on that article, for all of an hour and a half before going to bed in time to get up for work tomorrow. Damn it.

We need people like this.

Posted by September Blue Thursday, 21 February 2008 1 comments

I'm sitting at the front desk of the library, by the gates. Technically this means I'm in charge of who comes in and who goes out, and so it holds as-yet untapped potential for entertainment - "Halt, brave traveller! To enter the stacks of knowledge, you must solve the following riddle..." - but mostly it's boring and uneventful, and I've been talking to one of my department's undergraduates about Masters degrees for the last ten minutes. Slowly, the clock ticks by.

Approaching from my left is an academic, although I don't see her at first. The student I'm talking to stops, mid-sentence, raises his eyebrows, and stands back, and I don't think there's any better way I could explain just how much energy this woman has radiating from her than to tell you that. Long hair, bright floaty clothes layered like plumage, ropes and ropes of beaded silver necklaces, all whirled around in her own private hurricane. "I ask at the other desk!" she says in what I think is an Italian accent. "The desk over there! They tell me to come to you for photocopying card? Is that right, is it a card?"

We do sell photocopying cards, in various denominations, but I get no further than "Yeah, w-" before she lifts three bags (one of which I swear to you is blue faux crocodile-skin) onto the desk and beams "Oh good!" at me. People are not usually this pleased about photocopying cards, to say the least.

"They're in different amounts," I say, pulling out the box of cards. "It depends how much photocopying you want to do."

She waves a few sheets of paper at me. "It is not much! It is only this! There is a student who needs to read this, you see, and I have myself only this copy, so I need to have one copy for him in my office, and I am leaving the campus now for a week and I cannot leave him my copy, so I told him I would...", and on in that vein for a while. As with every other low-wage job out there that involves dealing with the public, there's usually an unspoken good Lord, I wasn't asking for a biography, just answer the damn question floating around in such situations - but this woman is fascinating, so it's a quieter voice than it could be.

"Are you staff here?" I say. "You don't need to buy a card if you're staff."

"Oh, yes yes, they tell me this at the other desk," she says. "But they say I need account, I need to log on, it is all so much fuss! I think it will be easier just to buy the card now."

As with every other low-wage job out there, mine grants the gift of the on-your-own-head-be-it shrug. "You could get that done with a £1 card."

The wallet she's searching through is surprisingly plain: black, simple, and organised. Somewhere in my bag, my own wallet, which has grown fat on old train tickets and buy-10-get-1-free cards for the bagel place at the station, creeps under a book in shame. "One pound?" she says.

"Yeah, but, we ask for a one pound deposit for all the cards, because we recycle the old ones. So that's two pounds now, and you'll get one pound back when you're done with the card."

"Oh, oh!" She laughs and holds up her hands. "This is all too complicated."

"Well, look -" I hold up the card "- this will cost £2. If you give it back to me when you're finished with it, I'll give you £1 back."

But she's shaking her head. "No, no, this is too much fuss. I think I will not bother."

And cardless, she sweeps out of the library and away, into a world that I fully believe is so much brighter and more interesting than any we'll ever know.

Down these mean streets

Posted by September Blue Tuesday, 19 February 2008 1 comments

DVD-by-post services are the best idea of the twenty-first century. So far. I'm willing to accept that there might come, in some distant future year, an invention better than the one that sends you all the films you haven't seen for years as well as all the TV series you never saw in the first place, but I'm sceptical. (And now I can watch The Sopranos all the way through from Season 1 without losing track and having to phone my mother to find out what happened in the bits I missed. There's just something fundamentally wrong with that.)

So I'm flicking through the Search function intermittently, adding things when I think of them, and what a helpful search function it is!

Best matching "the big sleep"

The Big Sleep (1946)
Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Charles Waldron, Lauren Bacall
Director: Howard Hawks

The Big Sleep (1977)
Starring: Robert Mitchum, Harry Andrews, Richard Todd
Director: Michael Winner

Bear In The Big Blue House - Sleepytime (1997)
Starring: Noel MacNeal, Peter Linz, Vicki Eibner
Director: Jim Martin, Hugh Martin

Kids' TV noir? There's a gap in the market here.

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Posted by September Blue Monday, 18 February 2008 4 comments

Indiana Jones and the Departmental Subcommittee. Two-and-a-half hours, filmed in real time! Cinema audiences get a copy of the agenda at the door. Harrison Ford does his own stunts.

Indiana Jones and the Co-edited Volume. Cut between Dr Jones battling Nazis for an ancient artifact somewhere in the African rainforests, and Dr Somebody Else having increasingly angry phone conversations with department secretaries. "Next week? Next week? He's never bloody here!"

Indiana Jones and the Literature Review. Young Indiana Jones: the PhD years.

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Still so much better than working in retail

Posted by September Blue Saturday, 16 February 2008 6 comments

My Saturday library shifts now start before 9am, because what else was I going to do with the morning, sleep? Well, yes, to be honest. But sleep will not get me any money. So I go to the library first thing in the morning, and because the students don't, I get to spend the first few hours of my shift at the lending desk working on my own stuff, which works out all right.

The library is a better place to be on Saturdays. The senior people, the well-paid people, and anyone who's been there long enough to demand and get double time for working on weekends, all work on weekdays only, leaving the weekend to the gaggle of part-timers, students, recipients of please-give-my-boyfriend-a-job-boss negotiations, and broke PhDs with no academic jobs. Thus, the library on a Saturday is, let's say, not exactly the model of bureaucratic efficiency it aspires to be during the week. Last time my boss turned up on a Saturday afternoon, I was sitting with my feet up on the demagnetising machine and a scrambled egg roll in one hand playing Minesweeper, while Dr K, the Amazing D and some passing minion from IT crowded round another computer watching the rugby. You pay peanuts, you get monkeys. We're here, aren't we?

Anyway, so. This was my first Saturday shift that included the morning, and bear in mind for the following that my boss explained to me with all earnestness that Saturday mornings - I quote directly - "can get busier than you think, you know!". Here's the sum total of my interaction with the students and staff of my fine university this morning:

- Two of my former students came over to comment on my newly-dyed hair. The verdict is guardedly positive. Another former student wanted to know if I knew anything about medieval dream poetry, and was sadly disappointed, and thus refused to say "anything nice" about the hair, since "I thought you knew stuff!".

- A very angry student wanted to know why a certain book was not on a certain shelf. There are only two circumstances which will persuade desk staff to run up two flights of stairs and search for a book for you, and most students have not yet cracked the first one, viz. as with most low-paid service jobs, people will often go out of their way to help friendly, polite customers. Luckily, the second one - being so damn irritating that nobody can resist going to see if the book's there just to interrupt you mid-ranting at a colleague with the "you mean this book?" line - can happen entirely by accident. And lo, the book was indeed on the shelf where it was supposed to be. As it is nine times out of ten in such cases, by the way. I have no idea why our classmark system sends so many students spiralling off into confused fury, and brings so many people down to the desk with despairing cries of having looked everywhere for hours and still not found the History journals because how are you supposed to find anything in this place - we have maps! we have leaflets! We have great big signs saying what's on which floor! We have library induction sessions! It's hardly The Name of the Rose in here!

- Me, Dr K and two Film & Media students had a short but productive discussion on the merits of My Own Private Idaho. (How depressing is it to hear a teenage girl saying "River who?", to someone of my generation? Very, is the answer. Very, indeed.)

- Two students brought their own (combined) weight in Management books up to the desk, looking like they hadn't slept for a week. I pity the MBA students sometimes, and will continue to do so until they graduate and start earning more than I ever will.

- An academic from Dr K's department dropped by to bitch about one of his students, a former student of Dr K's, who'd left the university under somewhat-less-than-optional conditions (I really don't know what the story is here, but Lord he was angry about it). "How the hell did he even get into the department?" "I think I wrote him a reference, actually." "WELL FOR FUCK'S SAKE, K."

- A bunch of us watched the trailer for the new Indiana Jones film and spent the rest of the time until lunch speculating on how well Indy would fit into the academic system as we know it. "Indiana Jones and the Archival Research"? "Indiana Jones and the RAE"? "Indiana Jones and the Poorly-Attended Conference Panel"? "Indiana Jones and the Wikipedia Plagiarist"? You can do this for hours, seriously.

- And I wrote five hundred words of an article. Clearly, there's something in that atmosphere that does my productivity good.

We other Victorianists*

Posted by September Blue Friday, 15 February 2008 0 comments

Something curious I've noticed when telling people I work on nineteenth-century literature is how many of them assume I'm looking at gender and sexuality. I'm not really working on either, at least as a central issue to base my analysis around; I even steered away, quite deliberately, from one particular interpretive path which would have focused my PhD thesis on women's bodies and women's agency. It would have worked fine, don't get me wrong - there's some great feminist criticism already done in my little subfield - but there were other paths, too, and I picked one of those instead, making the occasional textual nod to the landmarks my colleagues on those paths had discovered as I went. Which is how we work, after all.

And yet, and yet. People assume things. It's a bit weird to be introduced to people as 'working on women's writing' when I'm not, to say the least, but mostly the assumption's more subtle than this: people recommend things to me ("you should look at this poem - it's doing really interesting stuff with gender dynamics!"), or ask me general things about my work ("The eighteen-whens? Oh, right. So, were there many women writing then, or have you found it difficult to find stuff?"), or, most often, just vaguely steer conversations into areas where I'm - well, not so much out of my depth as in a completely different swimming pool. Academics and non-academics alike (except for other Victorianists, which may or may not be significant), there are a whole lot of people who either think I am working on sex and gender in Victorian literature, or who want to talk to me about sex and gender in Victorian literature anyway.

That's why I'm lumping them together here, although there's a lot of space between, say, 'working on lesser-known female authors of the 18-whenevers' and 'working on transgressive sexualities in the sensation novel' (both of which are equally distant from what I'm working on). The assumption isn't that I'm either looking at the portrayal/position of women in Victorian literature, or looking at what kind of discourses of sexuality existed in the literature of the period; it's that I'm working on, or at the very least interested in, both. Like an Amazon package deal. Does scholarly interest in one denote scholarly interest in the other? Well, I suppose so, at least to a point; you can't really talk about sexuality without talking about gender, can you? But even so, I suspect the conflation of the two isn't entirely fair to either, and not least because it's very possible to work on women's writing without working primarily on sexuality. And I think there's an assumption at work here, floating wispily around in the ether, about what it means to work on sex and gender and what underlying motives and interests would point someone in that direction.

I'm also wondering whether it's an assumption about the field, or about me. Because I'm shallow sometimes.

Either way it's sometimes a tricky one to deal with, because I don't want to get inadvertently recruited into someone else's personal crusade: "God, I'm so GLAD you're doing REAL work! These people are just obsessed with sex, and it says more about them than it does about the books," and so on, and so on. I won't dispute that there's some pretty awful scholarship out there on gender and sexuality, and that we're perhaps a leeetle too fond of the word 'transgressive' sometimes, but, seriously, the whole field? I think not. And the good scholarship out there on gender and sexuality is a necessary and interesting part of the field, and I have no interest in writing it off as the collective neuroses of repressed academics.

To be fair, though, that one comes up a lot more often outside academia. Within academia, it's a more positive thing, something like "well, naturally you're working on these interesting and valuable areas! You're a Victorianist!" But I think it's the same assumption, even if it's coming from a different perspective.

So, I wonder. Is that the general, unspoken, floating-around-in-the-ether understanding of what's to look at in nineteenth-century literature? That, since we spent so many decades conveniently ignoring most female writers and setting the Victorians up as a monolithic society of repressed prudes, our task now is to fill in the gaps? And, coming back to shallower waters, how much does me being young and female affect what people think I work on?

(Apologies for the rambling, here; I'm still thinking out loud on this one. I was going to move on to some reflections on how my students view Victorian sexuality, and on how they think they're supposed to view Victorian sexuality - but that'll have to wait for another post.)

* This doesn't really work as a title, I know, when one of my points is that Victorianists work on plenty of stuff other than sexuality and gender issues. Forgive me. I couldn't resist.

Who I'll be spending this evening with

Posted by September Blue Thursday, 14 February 2008 0 comments

Valentine's Day is better when you're single. You have a societally approved reason for boycotting all the pink fluffy teddy bears, and you don't have to worry about forgetting to get anybody anything on the day itself. (I've really done this. "What card? Why would I get you a card? It's not even your birthday until oh fuck.")

So in the spirit of avoiding pink fluffy teddy bears, some of my favourite romatic dialogue from films that did it so much better.

His Girl Friday (1940):

WALTER: I'd know you any time. Any -
HILDY: 'Any place. Anywhere.' You're repeating yourself, Walter. That's the speech you made the night you proposed.
WALTER: I notice you still remember it.
HILDY: Of course I remember it. If I didn't remember it, I wouldn't have divorced you.
WALTER: Yeah, I sort of wish you hadn't done that, Hildy.
HILDY: Done what?
WALTER: Divorced me. Makes a fellow lose all faith in himself. It gives him -- it almost gives him a feeling he wasn't wanted.
HILDY: Ah, now look, junior, that's what divorces are for.
WALTER: Nonsense, you've got an old-fashioned idea divorce is something that lasts forever. 'Till death do us part.' Divorce doesn't mean anything nowadays, Hildy, it's just a few words mumbled over you by a judge.

Gilda (1946):

JOHNNY: I got some news for you, Gilda. He didn't just buy something. He's in love with ya.
GILDA: Is that so hard to understand?
JOHNNY: And you're not going to do anything...
GILDA: I've got some news for you, Johnny. I'm going to do exactly what I please when I please. I was true to one man once, and look what happened. I made up my mind then...
JOHNNY: This isn't about us, it's about him.
GILDA: Really? You don't say so.
JOHNNY: And get this straight. I don't care what you do, but I'm gonna see to it that it looks all right to him. From now on, you go anywhere you please with anyone you please, but I'm gonna take you there and I'm gonna pick you up and bring you home. Get that? Exactly the way I'd take and pick up his laundry.
GILDA: Shame on you, Johnny. Any psychiatrist would tell you that your thought associations are very revealing.
JOHNNY: What are you talking about?
GILDA: Any psychiatrist would tell you that means something, Johnny.
JOHNNY: Did you hear what I said?
GILDA: Sure, I heard what you said. You're gonna take me there and pick me up - all to protect Ballin. Who do ya think you're kidding, Johnny?

The Lady from Shanghai (1947):

ELSA: It's true. I made a lot of mistakes.
MICHAEL: You said the world's bad. We can't run away from the badness. And you're right there. But you said we can't fight it. We must deal with the badness, make terms. And then the badness'll deal with you, and make its own terms, in the end, surely.
ELSA: You can fight, but what good is it? Goodbye.
MICHAEL: You mean we can't win?
ELSA: No, we can't win. Give my love to the sunrise.
MICHAEL: We can't lose, either. Only if we quit.
ELSA: And you're not going to.
MICHAEL: Not again!
ELSA: Oh Michael, I'm afraid. [He strolls away] Michael, come back here. Michael! Please! I don't want to die! I don't want to die!
MICHAEL (voiceover): I went to call the cops, but I knew she'd be dead before they got there and I'd be free. Bannister's note to the DA would fix it. I'd be innocent officially, but that's a big word - innocence. Stupid's more like it. Well, everybody is somebody's fool. The only way to stay out of trouble is to grow old, so I guess I'll concentrate on that. Maybe I'll live so long that I'll forget her. Maybe I'll die trying.

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The briefest of announcements

Posted by September Blue Monday, 11 February 2008 0 comments

This is not a proper post, because I have this thing to do and this other thing to do and I know I haven't been around much recently etc and I'm sorry but I'll be back reading and commenting and stuff soon but I'm just swamped with work etc right now and my flat's a mess and I forgot to buy food BUT - I had to come back onto Blogger for this.

(I'm afraid it's only going to be of interest to my fellow UK-ians, though. And of those, probably only the ones growing up in the 80s. And of those - oh, who am I kidding? Within this subgroup, you are all going to find this amazing unless you grew up without TV. And it is, I swear to you, true. I have checked.)

Amidst all the nostalgic mourning for Grange Hill, I give you this wonderful bit of casting trivia: the actor who played Mr Bronson also played Adolf Hitler in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, in that scene when Indy hands him the diary.

See? See?

And to make it even better, IMDB says he was also in Remembrance of the Daleks, which brings me back to kids' TV in the 80s and what it may or may not have done to my easily-moulded childhood psyche that the BBC gave me Ace, who was clearly the Best Doctor Who Companion Of All Time, as a role model, BUT I do not have time to get into that because of work and swamped and everything. However. Mr Bronson played Hitler. You needed to know that, right? Right.

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I am in love

Posted by September Blue Tuesday, 5 February 2008 2 comments

With this drug.

My doctor told me that I'd be better able to deal with the migraines I get these days and never used to (thanks, PhD thesis!) if I made sure to be on the look-out for warning signs. Luckily, I do seem to get warning signs before the pain hits. Unluckily, one of them is that I become really, really stupid, and thus unable to work out what they are.

So, for example. This evening. I feel sick, but I have eaten more chocolate than was good for me, so maybe that's why. And then, all of a sudden, I'm in a furiously, gloweringly bad mood. What could this be? Has the world offended me somehow? Maybe it's job market blues staging an unexpected offensive? And then I'm exhausted, so tired I can hardly lift up my arms to the keyboard. How odd, I think. And then my palms go weird, tingly-numb, and I sit there staring at them thinking... Well, not thinking very much. As I mentioned, migraines make me stupid. So I sit there thinking "...huh..." until the evil migraine pixies take a belt sander to the inside of my skull, and I think "Ah! Yes! Migraine warning signs, just like the ones I got last time, and the time before, and the time before that!"

But the doctor also gave me a prescription for diclofenac sodium, and diclofenac sodium, it turns out, will actually hold off the pain. I can still feel it round the edges of my mind, thumping in a ghostly way, but at the centre all is calm.

Love, I tell you. True love.

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The reason I'm wearing them is disappointingly prosaic.

Posted by September Blue Sunday, 3 February 2008 2 comments

It turns out, and I mean this in a completely literal sense, that my PhD supervisor's shoes are too big for me. Which is weird, because I'm sure we have the same size feet. I can only conclude that sometimes, opportunities for heavy symbolism are so perfect that they actually warp reality.

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Sandman: "Work on your publications, slacker."

Posted by September Blue Saturday, 2 February 2008 4 comments

Mr Sandman, bring me a dream
Some sweet department, a good salary scheme,
Give them a vacancy for a Lecturer A,
And put it up on
Sandman, I'm so alone,
Don't have no office to call my own,
Please turn on your magic beam
And Mr Sandman, bring me a dream

Mr Sandman, bring me a dream
With the cutest teaching load that I've ever seen,
Give them my word that I'm not a rover,
And tell them that their lengthy search is over
Sandman, I'm so damn broke
My overdraft has gone beyond a joke,
We're two months past the RAE,
So Mr Sandman, melt that hiring freeze

Mr Sandman, bring us a dream,
We can't live forever on toast and baked beans,
We'll publish like rabbits, we'll teach Lacan to yobs,
We'll even move to London if you'll give us a job
Mr Sandman, tell us you don't agree
That we've remortgaged our lives for a useless degree,
And boost our flagging self-esteeeeeeeeeem
Mr Sandman, bring us,
Please, please, please,
Mr Sandman, bring us a dream.

[The original, of course...]


Posted by September Blue Friday, 1 February 2008 2 comments

Somewhere in the ether of possibilities exists The Best Way to take notes, and I haven't found it yet. Part of me sometimes craves the organised simplicity of revision notes for my science exams - handwritten, meticulously bullet-pointed, three different colours of ink (blue as a default, green for technical terms, red for equations and diagrams) - and then I remember that I only ever kept that up for a page or two before abandoning it in favour of the many, many things more appealing to my teenage self than science revision, anyway. If that's The Best Way, then it's doomed to be a brief one.

I've given up on taking notes for anything that doesn't strictly need it. Papers, conferences, and the undergraduate lectures TAs still have to attend, are all note-free now. Why bother, if I can't write down anything I'll ever need or want to read again? Like playing chess, note-taking during presentations is a skill I just don't have. But there's no way around it when you're working on written material, and so I flit from highlighter to bullet-point to margin scribble, while the perfect mechanism for taking notes sits (I am convinced) somewhere in a disregarded office of my mind, drinking tea from a Kobayashi cup, smirking.

You can write in the margins. If you've got over your instinctive skin-crawling aversion to writing on books, that is, you can write in the margins. But then, what do you write? My notes here are brief, crippled by self-awareness (isn't that stating the obvious? Aren't I trying to sound too smart here? What does that even mean?). Two or three pages, and I'm back to the comfort of underlines and highlighters (on photocopies! only on photocopies!), or torn-up bits of Post-It, or these useful items, which just mutely, non-judgementally point at things I might want to see again. The idea is always that I'll go back through the text and summarise everything highlighted into a simple document, one that will make sense on its own merits, one neatly built with the bricks of quotations and the mortar of my own commentary; the idea usually remains an idea. I read somewhere (and, ha, didn't note down the reference) that one of the least useful ways to take notes is to assemble a list of quotations scattered with the occasional paraphrase. Lazy! Simplistic! Unworthy of a real scholar! But if there's an alternative that works, it eludes me yet.

The Best Way, I'm dimly sure, also requires going through one book at a time and summarising it as a whole once your productive self reaches the end. But I don't read this way; I don't do anything this way. Currently, there are six different books in grabbing distance of the computer, all with bookmarks in different places. (The novels and non-fiction piled up by my bed are in the same state.) How is it even possible to read one book at once, especially when you're reading it intensively with your critical head on, without getting bored and resenting it three chapters in? Don't you start wondering what's in all those other books? Counting down pages to the end of a chapter, bargaining with yourself that you'll make some coffee once you get to the next subheading, forcing yourself to read the same sentence eight times over because it's going in one eye and out of the other? I'm probably not making useful notes anyway, but that mindset wouldn't help.

So here's what I've got at the moment: a Word document divided into six sections (so far), one each for the five books that I've noted anything from and one for scrappy, half-formed, stream of consciousness drafts of the argument I'm working on myself. The notes themselves are mostly quotations, or paraphrases, interspersed with cryptic little messages like 'Augustine->Bordieu(?)(!)' (and this doesn't even mean anything to me now, and I only wrote that last night). Nothing's finished yet; I am, effectively, fighting a war on six fronts, and the troops don't know where they're going.

I've spent twenty-three years of my life (dear God) in full-time education. Surely I've got this sorted out by now. And yet, I can't help thinking that there exists a Best Way, and that all my efforts have merely overlooked it as it strolls past me unrecognised, out into the world.