At the beginning of the year, I did something that I had been wanting to do for a long time… I quit Facebook.
A brief note between appointments to say that I made my deadline and the draft is not as terrible as I thought it looked when my nose was to the grindstone. I’ve still got some ways to go until my literature review is complete. Mostly reading about the ‘Post-Secular’ turn in International Relations.
I avoided the Dunce Cap and I am quite pleased. It forced me over a very important hurdle of writing something substantial. There is a paralysis that one gets when it hits them that they are writing a book and expose their thoughts, ideas and passions to an audience that will not always be kind. Its a real form of vulnerability that can be genuinely scary to face.
First, I know I have been slack with the writing on the blog. I’ve been buried in paper and Scrivener trying to force some momentum on the literature review now supplemented by an impending deadline. For it to be serious (or I won’t actually write anything) I’ve requested my supervisor enforce a consequence.
For most people who come into a PhD after taking a number of detours, that acceptance letter feels like a dream. You’re side-hustle, hobby and passion becomes a career.
This is an awesome feeling, it is a real sense of purpose and serenity, a sense that is sustained even in the midst of fits of self-doubt and frustration. But… when your hobby becomes your career that consumes your every waking moment, you’ve lost something too.
Hobbies are important. Leisure is essential to who we are as human beings. The more intellectual, abstract and pressured you’re day job is, the more you need a hobby that consists of manual labour, that uses your body and hands and generates a simple, tangible result.
This hobby also needs to be disconnected, i.e. non-involved in screens. This is not to say leisure cannot be found in things like video games or reading a novel on kindle, but for someone who reads and writes all day (mostly onscreen) my eyes and my mind need a break from the stimulation of the screen.
I’ve always loved being outside and gardening, but I live in an apartment with one small window box, so that is something that I will have to explore later down the track. What I have also been fascinated by is baking, especially bread.
Now that my hobby has become my career, I have instinctively begun exploring the art of baking bread. Baking is working really well for me because it is physical, it produces tangible results that I can eat, but it also requires being left alone.
The fact that I need to leave my dough to rise, means that, yes I can procrastinate by baking but, only for a little while. I have something to occupy my attention while my brain digests some reading. And then I need to let the yeast do its work and so I return to my work. I can fit it in around my reading and writing and it is something productive to do when my brain can’t take anymore.
As in life, my baking doesn’t always turn out the way I want it, but it is a different kind of learning, a different kind of creativity and reminds me that a PhD is a process and as abstract as it seems now, it will produce. In the mean time, I have bread to eat.
I am Catholic and like most Catholics, I try to observe Lent. Usually by giving something up. I have been pretty hardcore and lived on bread and water for 6 days a week the entirety of Lent (Sundays are a day off fasting as they are a ‘small Easter even during Lent). Like most Catholics, I struggle with it somewhere between Day Two and Forty with that sacrifice. I struggle with discipline many areas of my life and so what do I do, I choose to do a PhD that is made or broken on my self-discipline!
So, it’s the day after Ash Wednesday and I am combining my Lenten sacrifice with a positive and productive practice of self-discipline: A two hour block, five days a week, first thing in the morning of writing. If it doesn’t happen then, then as soon as possible that day. Two hours. No distractions. Just write.
I can tell you now, I’m not off to a great start. Ash Wednesday was a fight to get out of bed and get started. But every day is a chance to get back up and try again. Please pray for me this Lent. I will take all that I can get.
Picture Credit: Follower of Hieronymus Bosch (circa 1450–1516) The Battle between Carnival and Lent [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
I have a grand habit of making commitments and… well… failing to keep them when I have a bad night’s sleep, I have have a LOT of washing to do, hormones start swinging or I’m just not in the mood. In fact, all goes well for a week and then the fall. Sometimes it’s slow motion, other times I ‘wake up’ on the floor wondering what happened.
Officially it has been one year and one month since I started my PhD. Lots has been going on since I began and thankfully, the process of writing the proposal has been enormously helpful in crystallising and controlling the scope of the thesis.
The proposal itself is off to the research committee for the final time after a round of revisions. I’m not forging ahead into the literature review with an eye to knocking down draft chapters between now and this time next year.
My investigation has been clarified from a vague notion of the “influence of the Vatican on the politics of Latin America” to… *drum roll*…
I have done so because, first of all, I am an Australian. Whilst US politics invariably impacts Australia, I’m not going to sit here to tell any of my American friends how to vote, nor berate them for not voting in our interests (whatever that is), because that is arrogant and rude. Second, because my instinct, as I have gotten older and wiser, is to wait and see. Verbal diarrhea doesn’t do anyone much good, especially in the amplified internet silos.
So I’ve waited, I’ve watched. I’m trying my best to do the very thing that a lot of people seem to have forgotten how to do: Listen. Listen carefully, even to people I disagree with.
I have found some fascinating data that I want to share with you that I think are key to understanding (at least partly) why Donald J. Trump is the President-Elect of the United States of America.
Demagoguery enters at the moment when, for want of a common denominator, the principle of equality degenerates into the principle of identity.
Antoine de Saint-Exupery
I can find no better sentiment expressing for how the 2016 US election has turned out. This result shouldn’t surprise anyone. If it did, I would recommend taking a look at this interview. This is a perspective that you don’t get from the regular 6 pm news or from many the regular media outlets based in urban centers. Suffering people who have felt voiceless in the public square will take full advantage of the anonymity of the ballot box to express their actual views.
Is Donald Trump the rational choice? Well, that depends on who you are, where you come from, what level of education you have achieved… your identity, in other words. When identity is substituted for the principle of equality and equity of all citizens, a rising demagogue is waiting in the wings.
I can predict this: the sky won’t fall in. The sun will rise again tomorrow. The earth will keep rotating. People have survived worse leaders. International society has managed to survive worse weirdos and tyrants. Wait and see.