Archive for April, 2014

  • Making Healthy Adjustments: À Bientôt, Facebook

    The last time that I posted, you may recall, I was wrestling with my inner writing demons. While I’m not entirely sure that I won, I have since had a much-needed break, and I am now feeling much more refreshed and ready for new scholarly challenges. Holidays are important, and it’s all too easy to forget just how important they are when our lives are so consumed by work—and not just our own work. I’m not going to say too much about that, because I’d just be resurrecting old material. Instead I’d like to address the matter of how it might be possible to remain healthy and focused while working, and the changes I feel I need to make in my life to make sure that happens. What I’m saying, essentially, is that, for a little while at least, I am going to be saying goodbye to Facebook.

    I know what some of you may be thinking, but I can assure you that I am not going through some kind of breakdown. Over time I have seen many friends and family members de-activate their Facebook accounts for various and—I should add—completely valid reasons. I toyed with the idea of doing this, but in the end decided against it. So my account will remain open. You can tag me in photos, check me in at exciting venues, and share things on my wall, but I won’t necessarily see any of these things for some time. I can’t say for how long, as I don’t really know myself yet, so I can only tell you that I’ll be gone for as long as I need to be.

    Okay, some explanation is warranted. What’s brought this all on? There’s no simple answer to that question, but suffice it to say that I’ve learnt some really positive life lessons from several people in my life over the past four months and I believe that I can continue learning better, transferring those positive energies to my working life, if I leave Facebook. One of those people is my friend and colleague, Eilidh Hall, one of the co-jefas of the Salsa Collective. Earlier in the year, Eilidh came to stay with me and she asked if I could lend her a lamp so that she could read in bed. We talked about bedtime rituals and it dawned on me that, although I always had a book on the go, and although I had a stash of unread books by my bed, I rarely took the necessary time to read. Of course, I read every day—it’s at the core of everything that I do, but the privilege of being able to pick up any book and just read is one that I don’t think I fully valued until Eilidh and I had this conversation. I would often slip into bed with the intention of reading a little, but would succumb to the siren-call of Facebook, there at my fingertips, telling myself that I needed to say goodnight to the world before I could escape into another literary one. And then, of course, I would just go to sleep. Since then, I have read every night, displacing the technology that too frequently interfered with my good intentions. A couple of times I have lapsed, admittedly, but I am getting there, and I’m hoping that this decision to quit Facebook completely will encourage me to seize the opportunities that lay before me.

    Another person who completely opened my eyes to a world of healthfulness and balance was my friend Toni, who runs the superb food blog, Etta’s Corner. Toni recently undertook the ‘Paleo Challenge’. For 30 days, she gave up a lot of what I would consider to be ‘the good stuff’—bread, caffeine, dairy products, and processed foods of any kind. I have never had much time for diets, and, frankly, I do not believe in them. I don’t believe that limiting oneself, or giving things up, promotes a healthy attitude about either food or body image. However, Toni’s challenge was very different in its ethos to any other diet that I have ever encountered. She didn’t even call it a ‘diet’, in fact. That’s because it wasn’t a diet, in the sense that we might understand it; it was, rather, a journey, during which Toni hoped to see how certain adjustments to her daily routine might impact on her life more broadly. She committed to this challenge for only 30 days: it wasn’t about reaching a particular ‘milestone,’ in other words. When I spoke to her about how it all went after she had begun reintroducing some of ‘the good stuff’, she told me that she had learnt some valuable lessons about her body and the food that she was putting into it. What she was saying made a lot of sense, and it has made me realise that I might be able to adopt a more ‘healthy’ attitude to Facebook if I give it up for a little while. We’ll have to see, I guess.

    In any case, this is not a diatribe against social media. I LOVE social media, and you’ll note that I haven’t vowed to quit twitter, Whatsapp, Instagram, or my beloved blog. I’ll still be out there, but I need to remove myself from a world that I have become so deeply immersed in. So for now I’m signing out. Come find me if you want me. À bientôt, Facebook.

  • Writer’s Block/Endless Perfectibility

    It’s been over a month. That’s a long time. I tell myself that writing is this ridiculously daunting, time-consuming task, and yet I know that that’s not true. I type text messages that are over 300 words in length, I send emails that go way over that, and I come to my blog and just write and write with complete abandon. In the time that I’ve been absent, I have been drafting a chapter of my thesis. I’m still working on that draft. The process is tedious and drawn out, and yet I really enjoy the subject matter that I’m engaging with and the ideas that I’m teasing out. So why is it taking me so long? I usually have an optimum working output of around 1,000 words a day, and I can do much more than that when I put my mind to it, but this draft seems to be resisting my efforts to bring it into line.

    There are endless reasons why this might be the case. It may be that

    • I am not taking enough breaks
    • I am not working to a plan
    • I am working too rigidly to my plan
    • I am not creating enough variety in my working schedule

    Ultimately, though, I’m pretty sure that none of these reasons explain the current dip in my productivity. It is much more likely that my problems are in actual fact caused by the writing demons that lurk in my head – the demons that tell me that my work is not sophisticated enough, or a point that I’ve made is not articulated clearly enough, encouraging me to go over and over the same paragraph until I feel that it’s close enough to perfect. I read over that paragraph a week later, and, realising it’s still not perfect, continue bashing away at it.

    When I come to my blog, or send an email, or even a really long text, I am able to write and write because, in each case, I am able to explore a different train of thought. These platforms also allow me to develop thoughts that I am struggling to conjure into life in my academic work using a different narrative template (my last blog post was one such example of this.) I know that my best writing is my freshest writing, so I must attempt to kick those demons into touch by moving onto new ideas, and new paragraphs. The solution may seem simple, but in reality it takes brutal dedication to follow through; after all, having spent half of the time I’ve been writing this very blog post editing it, I know that I’m not infallible…