No idea how my brain works, really.

I mean it.  After struggling through much of the term just gone and spending much of it being conscious that I want to pursue my study very much but, concurrently, wondering why on earth it is I want to put myself through this ordeal of studying and working full time, I now find myself feeling much calmer about things and (seemingly quite inexplicably) like I have finally managed to learn a reasonble amount of stuff.  One of the reasons I particularly wanted to start this blog was to try and make sense of and explore how I learn.  I am hoping that if any one else ever reads it they might even have some comments, insights or things to share about their own learning processes.  I would love to start a dialogue about learning and the thinking process with other people.  I genuinely find it quite mysterious.

Admittedly how I feel about my study has some relationship to how I feel about my life generally.  I have learned over the last year or so that I suffer mood swings, periods of generally feeling up, enthusiastic, capable and generally productive followed by periods of relative apathy, tiredness, incomprehension and feeling overwhelmed and not quite knowing why.    I have also learned, since starting studying, that pressure or anxieties about study or not having enough time to study tend to push me in to a ‘down’.  So it works both ways.  My mood affects how I study and the pressures of studying (as well as work, family, life generally) affect my mood.  None of what I have written is particularly unsurprising really, I guess.  If any one is reading this, I suspect you are wondering what I am puzzling over and why I am writing about this as if it is something unusual.  The answer to that question is a complicated one and has much to do with great upheaval in my personal life within the last year.  The last year has been a steep learning curve for me, both in terms of how I cope with the world generally and in terms of my study.

I digress.  My point is that tonight, although I am exhausted, somehow all the research I have been doing for my next assignment is falling in to place. I can almost feel it slotting together somehow and forming a solid mass in my brain.  I had a couple of weeks towards the end of the last term where I started to feel like I was really getting somewhere with this term’s taught course (about the time I wrote my first blog post).  Then I lost it for a couple of weeks.  Last week I took a week off work just to do my reading and research.  It was really hard going and I had to force myself to sit and read when, although I wanted to, I had real trouble concentrating on it.  This evening I sat down to try and draft an essay plan.  (I didn’t get very far on drafting the plan in the end, but that isn’t because I don’t know what I will be writing. Its mostly because I am just too tired to keep up with my thoughts.)  I am tempted to say that I can actually feel the ideas in jostling about in my mind.  It is almost as if all the stuff I have been trying to absorb over the last few weeks has become coherent, has formed an image in my mind and all I have to do is sit back and look over it.  Accompanying that is a distinct lack of recognition of my agency, as if this ordering of my thoughts has nothing to do with me. Like it just happened completely independently of me and this is reflected in the imagery and language I use to describe it.  Eg. “I can almost feel it slotting together somehow … in my brain”.  I find that quite confusing but it also makes me marvel.  A kind of bewildered sense of awe, like encountering something quite inexplicable but somehow sacred.

The other thing that strikes me, reading through what I have written so far in this post, is that I am using language that suggests a concern with tangibility and/or something kinaesthetic.  I using words with very physical connotations to describe the way my thoughts are making more sense.  For example, “slotting together”, “a solid mass in my brain”, “I can feel the ideas jostling”.  I don’t quite know what to make of all this, but I am bloody relieved to feel (in a very concrete way) that I am making progress with this term paper again!  It is interesting that I also feel capable of writing another blog entry. I simply have not felt capable of writing anything coherent to contribute to this blog since my last entry.

I don’t much like not understanding how all this works in my head.  It leaves me worrying about never feeling capable of thinking or making sense of what I am studying again.  This anxiety extends to my perception of my ability to cope with life in general and I suspect the two are linked.  It may be nothing more than an expression of various insecurities I have.  Sadly, I can’t think of a more glamourous explanation.

To any one who has managed to read to the end of this post, thank you for your patience!  If I have trouble navigating the inner depths of my mind, I can’t imagine what it must be like for any one else to venture in here through my writing.  I think that is a large part of why I write, because I am as mystified about what going on in my mind as any one else is.  Part of me hopes to make it just a little bit clearer by putting it in to words and to see if any one else ever experiences anything similar or recognises even just a little bit of themselves in my exploration.  I have always been fascinated by the prospect of knowing what other people think, what they really think when it is just them alone in their own minds.  When I write it is with a hope of expressing some small part of what really goes on in my mind.  Its a kind of trail of breadcrumbs for me (my future self) and some kind of sign post for other people.  Well, thats today’s theory, anyway.

just a quick one …

Last week was a good week in terms of studying, this week not so good. I am reminded just how horrendous working full time while studying part time is and how I almost always feel like I just don’t really have enough time for this.  The prospect of reading Adorno for hours after a long and stressful day at work is just more than I could bear this evening.  I chickened out after 1 hour and telephoned my Dad instead.

On a more positive note, my taught seminar last Friday was really very good and I even managed to make a reasonably sensible contribution.  I try and push myself to say at least something each week, even though the thought of opening my mouth to speak makes me feel extremely anxious and I can feel my cheeks redden before I even form any words.  I am hoping that if I just keep on practicing it will get easier!

Anyhow, I am just trying to hang on until the end of the week because I have a week off work next week.  That whole, sacred, golden week is dedicated to research time for my next assignment.  The prospect of not having to go to work and being able to stay at home and study is an attractive one.  I am hoping that next week I will be able to think again and my research will start to make sense to me again.

I’ve been to a conference – I must be a real researcher now!

Yes indeed, I attended the UCL English Graduate Society conference on Mess yesterday (http://www.ucl.ac.uk/english/about/mess.htm).  While part of me would like to present myself as a dignified intellectual who takes this completely in her stride, that would be a grave misrepresentation of myself.   I was terribly excited and rather anxious about taking myself off to London to mingle with other graduate students and try to pretend that I could understand what they were on about and myself knew something vaguely relevant.

I am so very glad that I went, it was fantastic.  I had lots of interesting ideas thrown at me, I learned a lot, thought a lot, encountered subjects approached from perspectives that ranged from comfortingly familiar to incomprehensibly alien and I got to talk to some interesting and highly articulate people on a diverse range of subjects.  I was exhausted by the end of the day and I suspect I had the glazed expression of someone who just can’t take any more in, becuase that is exactly how I felt.

Obviously some of the speakers interested  me more than others, though I think they were all very good.  The keynote speech at the beginning utterly captivated me.  Mina Gorji talked about mess in the context of the poetry of John Clare.  I have never come across Clare, though I think I will have to read some of his work now.  The thing I found most interesting about this first talk was the focus on mess (in the poetry) as creating a space for and celebrating accident and contingency.  I saw links between that and my current research on my next written assignment (which is a pressing concern of mine at the moment and it will occupy its own blog post(s) shortly), which guaranteed my attention.  Gorji argued that there is disorder in the content and the structure of Clare’s poetry which resists subsumption under a unifying or ordering principle.  This allows a kind of freedom that is expressed in the accidental nature of the observations Clare makes in his poetry.  It is also expressed in the transgressions against poetic syntax and structure that can be found within Clare’s poetry, some examples of which Gorji pointed out.

I was thinking about this very specifically as a freedom from the unrelenting drive to rationalise and categorise that dominates much of industrialised culture.  I also learned from the talk that the concept of mess as untidyness and disorder is a relatively recent development that came in to usage during the 19th century.  I find myself wondering how closely this is related to the Enlightenment and the rise of the rationalism of science.  This lead me on to wondering about Clare’s poetry as a form of resistance against rationality, which again is a strong theme in the work I am doing at the moment.

Gorji’s suggestion that Clare’s work expresses spontenaity and sincerity resonated with my conception of my own writing.  When I write I strongly value a sense of spontenaity and sincerity and find that these are bound up with my notion of the truth claim of my more creative and personal writing.  Somehow my writing is less valuable if it loses the spontenaity of my experience, if it becomes too formal.  Like the essense and intention of it is harmfully diluted somehow by too much processing.  And this applies, to a lesser extent to my academic writing.  In my efforts to find my own voice and to communicate in a way I am comfortable with, I have found myself thinking about personalising my academic writing in some ways.  Again, this will probably be a subject for another blog post.

Another really interesting idea that I took away from Gorji’s talk was the tension in Clare’s work between precision/delicacy and informality/mess.  As a big fan of Adorno, I mentally grasped on to the articulation of this tension with unbounded glee.  Gorji clearly explained how this tension operates on a number of levels, and I was particularly interested in the idea of how this operated between the sound of the words as they are read and their content or meaning.

I was reminded of encountering Simon Jarvis (‘Prosody as Cognition’) last term, whose work I found rather overwhelming but definitely something that merited further investigation.  I noted Jarvis as someone to come back to and simply haven’t had time yet.  Reading and discussing that particular article by Jarvis quite literally struck a spark inside my mind that enticingly half illuminated a number of questions and ill formed insights.  Mind you, that is how I felt about much of what I encountered yesterday at the conference, not to mention the added confusion and multiplicity of the links between different speakers and their different approaches to their particular subjects. My to do/further exploration list is spiralling exponentially out of control and the conference has not helped me reign it in one bit!