Sunday, September 2, 2012

Time out

I’ve only been at this PhD thing for a few months so far, but based on the self-knowledge I gained through doing my MA and on advice from those wiser and more experienced than myself, I have learned that even in these early days it’s important to maintain a reasonably disciplined (though not exactly *strict*) work schedule. So, on my ‘work’ days, I try to spend seven or eight hours applying myself, either in reading/note-taking on secondary sources, freewriting on ideas and questions around my topic, or doing those annoying yet necessary admin tasks like keeping my working bibliography up to date (I’m using Zotero for this - so much better than crappy EndNote!).

I’m a bit off-kilter this week, having spent two days attending a postgraduate workshop on doing interdisciplinary research at the University of Otago – full-on but incredibly useful – and then a day on campus teaching. (I'll write more on this workshop soon, once I've had a chance to review my notes and fully digest it all.) These activities were extremely enjoyable but as a natural introvert, I find that after spending so much time talking to other people, I need to go into social hibernation for a bit to recharge. It’s not that I’m antisocial - quite the opposite, in fact. I loved getting the chance to talk to other postgrads about their projects and to find that even though our topics are incredibly varied, we are all sharing some of the same challenges. And while I’m pretty new to teaching, I enjoy the interactivity of the classroom. We spend a good chunk of time reading/discussing primary source documents, so it’s not just me talking at the poor students. It's more that some people need social interaction in order to become energised, whereas I am energised/re-energised by time spent on my own. (What can I say? I make great conversation with myself!)

Anyway, after all that excitement, Friday evening saw me retire to a bubble bath fortified with a glass of wine and Hilary Mantel's stunning follow-up to Wolf Hall, Bring Up the Bodies. This woman is such an incredible writer, I have to keep reminding myself I am not *actually* living inside Thomas Cromwell's head. She has a kind of spooky ability to invoke ghosts, and you really feel that after these oh-500-odd years, you are finally getting the inside story on Anne Boleyn’s unlikely rise and horrific fall. The visceral immediacy of Mantel’s writing is at times surprisingly terrifying. I leave you with this scene, capturing the moment when Anne knows things are about to go seriously pear-shaped for her, but she is still boldly preparing to display herself in the royal pageantry of the jousts at Greenwich (pp.287-8):

Now Anne Boleyn calls for her glass. She sees herself: her jaundiced skin, lean throat, collarbones like twin blades.

1 May 1536: this, surely, is the last day of knighthood. What happens after this - and such pageants will continue - will be no more than a dead parade with banners, a contest of corpses. The king will leave the field. The day will end, snapped like a shinbone, spat out like smashed teeth.'

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