Monday 14th October
In the exquisite gloom of a post 29th birthday low, there’s no such thing as a public holiday, so whilst the rest of my colleagues were off carousing about in the Chung Yeung Festival daylight, fondling sunbeams and the like, I spent the day cooped up in the office, trying furiously to catch up on the work missed from the previous week(s?). I remember during my 1st and 2nd years of Ph.D. life, a missed day here or there seemed perfectly salvageable, nothing that much to worry about. As I now slide (nay, march!) ever closer to that once-far-off deadline day, however, each missed moment irks and furrows that much more. Never has 10 months seemed so fleeting. In reality, of course, I could bellygrow a human in that time, were biology flexible enough.
The day was whiled away rather pleasantly, however, (finally) reading Richard II for a Shakespeare course I’m helping out with. “I should read more Shakespeare more regularly,” I always think, and then never do.
Tuesday 15th October
Having little to no timetabled events in my life (and yes, this is as tragic and bleak as it sounds), late-night office work comes with an early morning, duvet’d price. And as a result my “weekly timetable,” such as it is, looks as though it’s been shot at random from a high-velocity T-Shirt cannon into a pile of ringing but broken clocks. On some days it’s a sprightly 9.30 a.m. that I skip into the office, books under arm, academic pipe a-blazing. On others it’s a 3 p.m. drudge, barely functioning until an I.V. coffee-drip is administered. Sadly, today fell rather conspicuously into the second of these categories. On the up side, given my erraticism concerning patterns of behaviour, I imagine it’s going to be difficult for the Secret Service to track my comings and goings.
More Shakespeare again today, though—this time the little read King John. I wouldn’t want to say that it’s “little read” for a reason, but it’s p’raps not one of his finest. I did, however, discover that it was the very first Shakespeare play ever to be adapted for screen. It was way back in 1899—a much-abridged 3-scene version of the play. Who’d a thunk it?
Wednesday 16th October
I used to listen to a radio show in the UK that had a weekly feature called “Nanecdotes,” whereby listeners would call or email in with strange things said by elderly relatives—“Nanny” plus “Anecdotes,” yeah? Given that I have no control over what my bent-up brain decides to remember (probably not a good trait for an aspiring academic, I often lazily think), I’ve always retained one of these stories in particular, which involved some “dear old nan” proclaiming, weekly, “aren’t Wednesdays awkward?” And they absolutely are. Especially when the majority of the week thus far has been spent on the—very pleasant, yet very anxiety inducing—reading of Shakespeare plays, which, like much of my life at the moment, can be sorted into that ever-growing box (I wouldn’t go so far, yet, as to call it a bin) labelled “NOT MY THESIS.” There’s nothing like a formidable 10-month plan to quiet the mind, though. I’ve aggressively taped it to my desk like some weird, academic memento mori.
A day of reading and note taking (again largely Shakespeare-based) was followed by a quick evening swim. I’d like to say it was a relaxing end to the day, but I swim only because I should, not because I enjoy it, and certainly not because I’m any good at it. In fact, I have visions of one day being forcibly “rescued” from the pool when performing nothing more than my standard, crane fly thrashing-about.
Thursday 17th October
I count myself lucky enough to have a good group of non-student friends here in Hong Kong—the kind of people who mercilessly laugh at one for bemoaning one’s evidently cushy lot in life, or for pretentiously using the pronoun “one” when there’s really no earthly need. Thursdays are usually the time in the week I need these kinds of distractions. I find that it’s far too easy, given enough (reading) time and (mental) space, to get caught up in the self-perpetuating and (nearly) wholly fabricated critical importance of Ph.D. work. It should matter, of course, else you’re probably not in the right game, but it’s often nice, too, to step back a little and see the relative absurdity of following up on this particular detail, hunting down that particular source material. The Australian comedian Tim Minchin puts it pretty well in his honorary doctorate acceptance speech (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yoEezZD71sc); I don’t agree with everything he says, but it’s certainly got a “Thursday” feel to it.
On this specific Thursday, following a day spent, in part, drafting an abstract for the upcoming 2014 American Comparative Literature Association (ACLA) meeting—and this was an abstract, let me tell you, that frequently looked like disappearing up its own rear-pipe, “critical importance”-wise—I needed anything but the various Greek-rooted x-ologies that had filled my mind and obscured my day. To the pub!
Friday 18th October
A week spent “wasting time,” reading Shakespeare, which, as I mentioned, is NOT MY THESIS, and what do I emerge with? A quotation from Richard II that’ll really whizzbang up a chapter of my project. There’s something intangible about that moment when texts, ideas, arguments, etc., somehow fall into coherency; that point in time when something as simple as a nuanced meaning, a shaded metaphor, can suddenly illuminate that which had up until now remained obscure, or not even considered. It’s an odd and addictive rush—a whack of dopamine from simple text. Idea-junkies, the lot of us, I reckon. But it’s what makes all that other stuff, those caffeine-knotted fibres, those nebulous thoughts, that point of distant panic—for me at least—worthwhile.
Having had what my Thursday friends would call “a proper job” in the publishing industry for a few years, it can sometimes be difficult for me, come the weekend, to stay particularly thesis-focussed. I know plenty of postgraduates who completely ignore the concept of a “weekend,” and just blast on through to Monday, where the whole process starts anew. I think I’d be living in an iron lung within a fortnight. But each to their own.
This weekend was spent reading a bit of Giambattista Vico’s New Science, playing a bit of rooftop chess (this is just ordinary chess, but on a rooftop), having a quick thrash about in the local pool, that kind of carry on. I also got an email reply from my unashamed academic man-crush Martin Hägglund (swoon, he’s such a dreamboat!), following my decidedly “fanboy” attempt to befriend him. He’s the author of a book called Radical Atheism, and he teaches at Yale. I’d like to be him when I grow up. He’s 36.
And then, just like that, it cycles back round to Monday morning again. Over to Cyriak: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-0Xa4bHcJu8