by Catriona Mills

Articles in “Writing”

Blog Ambivalence

Posted 13 March 2008 in by Catriona

I’ve been fretting a little the last couple of days about the next update.

I didn’t update yesterday because I have four hours’ contact time with students on Wednesdays and was frankly exhausted, but I still fretted.

Then, this morning, I drove Nick into work, which meant a drive home through the city in peak hour, which left a lot of time for fretting. I would normally wile away traffic jams thinking about how much more interesting life would be if I lived in a world where I got to fight mountain trolls, but this morning I worried about blog topics.

I thought it was just tiredness, and that ideas would come, but now I’m starting to think it’s linked to a general ambivalence about blog writing.

Or perhaps “uncertainty” would be a better word.

I really enjoy writing this blog, but every now and then I start to wonder about it. I imagine most bloggers do.

I wonder whether I actually have anything interesting to write.

I wonder whether I’m actually capable of writing, or whether this blog is providing fodder for writing classes—like the ones I allegedly teach—all over the world.

I wonder if I’m actually making sense, or whether the blog is interesting.

I wonder whether a blog such as this is simply an exercise in electronic egocentricity.

And thought processes like these tend to spiral.

I think I mentioned in an earlier post that I identify these days as second-generation lapsed Catholic; that is, I was raised by a lapsed Catholic. And one thing I’ve noticed about that is that Catholic guilt is absolutely the last thing to lapse.

So then I feel guilty about imposing my ramblings on an Internet that—in my saner moments—I realise can probably handle it.

And then I feel guilty about feeling guilty.

That’s the fun thing about guilt.

So I need to put a lot of these uncertainties away, and find a way to speak on this blog, a way with which I am comfortable.

That also means some negotiation of my sense of audience. I realise that, at the moment, my readership will be made up entirely of people who already know me—there’s no point trying to hide the crazy from them.

But this is the Internet, and there may be strangers out there who come across Circulating Library and find it interesting enough to return to it.

And that type of writing—to an anonymous audience whose scale and nature I can never really know—is a type of writing I’ve never done before.

I think this is just the ordinary panic attack of a neophyte. I’ve never left much of an imprint on the Internet, and I suspect that is where some of this uncertainty is coming from.

But I need to scupper it now, before it makes me second-guess the wisdom of starting this blog in the first place.

(Although, ultimately, I suspect my innate desire for an audience will be enough to pull me through.)

So It Seems That I'm Now A Former Postgraduate Student

Posted 7 March 2008 in by Catriona

I submitted my thesis today.

Well, I handed it in to the printery, and they’ll pass it on to the Thesis Office once it’s bound, so to all intents and purposes, I’m done.

The degree isn’t conferred yet, of course, but that’s out of my hands.

The feeling is rather anti-climactic, which I think is largely shock—the shock that I’ve actually come out of this with what my supervisors feel is submittable work. And I trust my supervisors on this; they wouldn’t allow me to submit something that was rubbish.

I can’t trust my own opinion of my work, because I have no judgement of it any more. That, I think, is the worst of the debacle that was my M.Phil.—I lost the ability to judge my work effectively, and I haven’t got it back yet. Maybe I won’t, but I think the experience of this last degree will help.

Because this Ph.D. was an unmitigated joy from beginning to end.

There were certainly periods when I felt the work wasn’t going anywhere, when I was blocked or near to it, when I was frustrated by the inability to locate sources (I’m still a little miffed that I had to hand in my beautiful Chronology of the Works of Eliza Winstanley—102 items, where the previous listings hadn’t exceeded forty—with some items marked “not sighted”).

But none of that ever took away from the sheer joy of the work, the euphoria that—unbelievable as it is to many of the students I’ve taught over the years—that comes from good, tight, plausible expository writing, the sense that this is actually a contribution to research in the field.

I’ve loved every minute of this work.

And I’ve loved being a postgraduate student. There’s always a sense, when you’re a postgrad., that other people don’t feel you’re holding down a real job. I even embarrassed a telemarketer once when he asked me my job and I told him I was a postgraduate student; “Oh,” says he. “So you don’t work, then?”

We know postgraduate work is exhausting.

We know the remuneration is problematic; you can live comfortably, certainly, but when emergencies arise, there’s nothing in the piggy bank, and always there’s a sense of nagging anxiety that you’re in a precarious financial position. But we don’t do it for the money.

We do it for the research.

We do it for the contribution to knowledge that we can make.

We do it because we know that education is more than job-training: that is can enrich society in broader, deeper, and more profound ways than the previous government would have us believe.

We do it for reasons that, when we come to blog about them, look like cliches, and yet are no poorer or less sincere for that.

For all these reasons, I’ve loved my work and never regretted it.

And I’m going to miss that.

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