When the Fog Lifts

This week has been both good and not so good. I am happy to report though, that within myself I am in the best place that I have been in probably almost a year. I feel enthused about my work and confident about managing it all and getting it done – even though the tasks ahead are still a bit daunting. For the first time in a while I’m keen for opportunities to write, including this, and getting my thoughts and ideas out. Having said all this, this week was slower than I had hoped. My partner has been having a few issues with their thesis – I both would and would not encourage dating within the same industry – and so some of my focus went toward trying to help and support them this week. On a more positive note, I also got to spend a lot of time with my family this week!

Nonetheless, I’m pleased with my work on my draft. I have been actively scheduling my weeks of late so that I can manage all of the tasks I have to get done. In the past, while I spent a lot of time writing about the things I read, I would largely leave the actual draft writing and editing until I absolutely had to get it done. Lately I have been setting aside at least one day each week to go back to my draft and work on it, whether that is editing, writing sections I had been neglecting, or finally dealing with those comments that I had left for myself to eventually do something about.

Doing this has already started to bring me a greater sense of achievement with my writing than I had been feeling before. I used to somewhat dread the draft writing because it was something I was cramming together all at once but now it feels like I’m actually making steady progress which makes it a bit easier for me. It also feels more manageable when I’m looking at it as one or two days a week and a couple of tasks – write a section, deal with the comments in this section, fix the edits – than having it sit in the back of my mind and everything that has to be addressed building up into what felt like weeks and weeks worth of work.

In the end I’m probably doing the same amount of work but pacing it out is much better for me to manage. I imagine this is not necessarily new or surprising information and probably something I should have been doing the entire time. To be honest, the more the black fog that I was living in with my health lifts, the clearer I see the things folks had been telling me the whole time. This applies to a lot of things: taking care of myself, approaches to getting things done, ways to balance life and work, getting the right amount of rest and so on.

Essentially, I’m feeling really good and its allowing the work to flow and for me to appreciate the ways of working that actually help me to get things done and stay sane.

I’m Back!

Obviously it has been quite some time since my last blog, almost a year on here actually (though I have been writing reflectively on and off for that time). Although I often let things like this slip when things get tough, returning to it feels cathartic. I had let myself forget how useful it is to both get my feelings about what I’m doing out and to recognise the work that I have actually done.

To start with, I should perhaps catch you all up. Despite everything I went through in the three weeks prior to handing in my Confirmation of Candidature document and doing the presentation, I passed it with flying colours. No amendments needed! Since then I have been working on developing an idea of what I think the thesis might look like and which is naturally ever evolving but I think I have something to work with. I’ve also written somewhat of an introduction, that will no doubt need to be edited and changed, but its nice to have a version of it. I’m currently on the fourth draft of my first analysis chapter, this one being on the film Mrs. Miniver (William Wyler, 1942).

The last few weeks though, have been a particularly rough patch in a very hard year. This month actually marks a year that I have been getting consistent treatment for my depression and anxiety. Hence the lack of desire to post about the work. It’s still a constant struggle every day of my life but at least I am now on the right track. Over the past month or so though, it became clear that I needed to take a break, something I had been avoiding doing throughout this whole year. I had forgotten that mantra, ‘rest is a requirement, not a reward.’ It got to a point where I spent more time at my desk crying than writing. Finally, I was convinced to take the break I needed. It ended up being longer than I anticipated because it turned out things were even worse than I realised. But the important thing is that I sought help from the appropriate professionals and from the support network of loved ones I am blessed to have around me.

I have had to make sure to work on finding that work/life balance that we’re always searching for. I have a rule now not to work from home at all (as my house is far too small for there to be any separation between work and relaxation if I work there) and I am trying harder to dedicate the work days to my research so I can freely spend the weekends with family and free from the stress of the thesis. I readily acknowledge that at times in the next year and a half this may not always be possible to maintain but when it is, I have to give myself time off.

Getting back to work this week with a better headspace and renewed motivation has been great! My immediate plan has been to go back to the literature in order to be able to make my draft of the Miniver chapter more sophisticated and more insightful. There was a significant amount that I had set aside to have a look at but did not even skim through. I have been working through the draft again to spot the places that need more information or need to be expanded with more sources or more critical engagement (which I was not feeling as confident in). This has felt like a nice and easy way to ease myself back into the work whilst still being productive.

I had been analysing Mrs. Miniver in terms of melodrama and so I returned to the literature on this. This felt like a good place to start as it was the last place I had been. I have been going through the relevant chapters of Marcia Landy’s edited collection Imitations of Life. So far, Landy’s introduction has been useful in providing some more context on melodrama and expanding some of the ideas I’ve already come across, particularly Thomas Elsaesser’s (his essay Tales of Sound and Fury can also be found in the aforementioned book) notion that the internal conflict or emotions of the characters are played out externally though the mise-en-scène in melodramas. Thomas Schatz’s chapter also provided a more detailed history of the development of the family melodrama than I had previously come across.

In discussing the relationship of melodrama, ideology, and politics, Landy makes a point that I think is important for my whole thesis. She argues that we have to keep in mind that the text “is not merely a direct response to or reflection of social life; it is also a determinant of social reality” (Landy p. 18). This is an idea that I think relates to the crux of my argument about history and film. The way that a historical film engages with the contemporary context of its production and how that context is expressed in the film is certainly a key aspect of the analysis of the depiction of history in a particular film. However, I also think that the specific choices of how to represent a version of history in these films inevitably impacts the way that the audience thinks about that history. This is what I am making an attempt to measure or analyse through my study of both the films and the responses to them.

This is an idea I have often discussed before, but it is helpful from time to time, especially when something I read prompts to me think about it, to try to articulate these overarching ideas. Especially now that I feel like I’m coming back to the thesis feeling clearer.

 

 

 

Turns out marking is kind of hard

23rd July – 5th August My apologies for not having a blog last week, I didn’t have a minute to write it, I was so busy. Fortunately (or unfortunately for my overall progress) the week before last was a bit of a write off. Turns out I’m too old to manage going out so much these days. The two concerts completely wiped me out and I barely made it through the meeting I had to have about the marking I’m doing this semester that ended up falling the day after the second concert. Not my best moment but I got some rest over the weekend and went full steam ahead into last week.Side note, the concerts were really great, so it was a little worth it.So last week, as I said, was really busy. I finished off  RAF Archive book and put some brief thoughts together on it which was really great and definitely got me enthused about looking into more primary sources. I also circled back to another book I had stopped in the middle of and an article one of my supervisors sent my way is on my agenda for early this week.Most of my week however was taken up with marking. I had somewhat underestimated how difficult that would be at first. On Tuesday me and the two other students that are also marking had another meeting  before the lecture for the unit (which I have to attend and it turns out I’ve lost some of my lecture fitness, whoops) where they ran through with us the sort of things we should be looking for and the type of feedback we should be giving and generally just guiding us through the process, which was unbelievably helpful. They warned us that in the beginning it would probably be a bit difficult to decide on marks and to work out quite what to say in the feedback. I took that on board, but it doesn’t necessarily sink in until you’re doing it I suppose. I found it kind of agonising at first and old mate self-doubt crept in, was what I was saying to these students going to be helpful? Was I even right? Was I being consistent with my marks? It was much more stressful than I anticipated, and it took a day and a half to mark seven students in the end. Once I had released the feedback the insecurity didn’t ease, I continued thinking about it, or overthinking more accurately. Eventually I pulled myself together and realised that was only going to waste my time. I couldn’t possibly continue to agonise over every mark and every line of feedback, I just don’t have that kind of time. I’m hoping as I go on I will gain more confidence with it and stop worrying too much. I’ve been through the process they’re going through and I’m a smart kid. I know what I’m doing. That’s what I keep telling myself.This week I’m looking forward to my supervisor meeting, if I’m honest. We haven’t had one for just over a month as a two of my supervisors have been away. I think I’ve realised that I really need to check in more, I need a bit of a tether. I also have realised that I’ve been drifting a little and that maybe more deadlines will help me. I’m not sure exactly how to go about this, what kind of deadlines and how often but I’m hoping we can talk about that and maybe work something out. Otherwise it’s looking like another busy week, more marking which will take me less time this week, I’m determined, more reading, more writing. I much prefer feeling busy than feeling like I haven’t really done enough so it’s alright with me.

Research Update 16/05/2017

I realise it’s been a month since I last did an update and while I’ve been really busy and have accomplished things in the meantime, I think I’ve been missing this time to reflect on what I’m doing. I do feel like I’m making progress which is great of course but every now and then I hit a problem that sends me back a step.

Finishing a first draft of the first chapter feels really great and like I have some tangible evidence that I’m getting somewhere. The feedback on it from my supervisors was so helpful and insightful and it’s incredibly comforting to know that my work will only get better and tighter with that guidance. Now though, it’s past time to get stuck into the meaty parts of the thesis.

I’ve been working on Elizabeth (1998) and I’m not entirely sure why I started with this film. I honestly think I just had it on the brain and I guess it’s the most visible depiction of Elizabeth I in recent decades. I’ve been going over those key scenes in it that I think are pivotal to understanding her representation, particularly in regard to gender. The more I go over them the more things I notice which is great. I’ve tried to go over them, first just in general a bunch of times and them with specific things in mind, like space, lighting, camera angles, performance etc. I’m particularly interested in the way Kapur uses light and colour to differentiate Elizabeth from the other characters, particular as this is also a moral differentiation. He creates a real visual dichotomy between good (Elizabeth for the most part) and evil (those that would bring her harm, namely any and all Catholic characters). So I’ve been exploring that and writing up my thoughts as well as looking into what others have written about the film.

I have hit a bit of a roadblock with the film aspect as I’m having some second thoughts about the themes. The more I think about it, the more problematic the woman/queen idea becomes to me. I’m wondering if it might be best to attack the films/series first. Perhaps if I picked the ones I find most interesting and analyse them properly and then re-evaluate the themes from there. It would be looser and I would have to go back and look over them again in particular reference to whatever theme I ended up going with and it scares me a little as it feels like a move backward but I wonder if it might be the better course in the long run.

Other than that I did read an interesting article recently. It was the article Judith sent me, “Films as Historical Sources or Alternative History” by Anirudh Deshpande. What I thought was interesting was that he is arguing that film is a form of history in the same way that oral history is and that this means that, as has been argued with oral history, to privilege written history is to also privilege the kinds of histories and the people who record their history this way and leave others out. He says,

If historians choose to stick to documentary sources they do end up limiting the scope of their enterprise. They will then consciously turn their back on those people who may not figure in documentary sources but might appear as crucial traces in visual sources of both past and present. (4456)

He argues essentially, in a kind of flipping of the argument we find in Image as Artifact, that written/archival sources should be supplemented with visual sources. It’s interesting to me that both arguments want to use both written and visual sources but come at it from different perspectives. Deshpande also argues that the emotional and personal elements of a historical film are its strongest. I think there’s some interesting perspectives in there I could perhaps incorporate.

I have to report the awful as well as the good I suppose so I should mention that I had a rather colossal stuff up. I entirely misread a source and then when writing about it, consequently misrepresented it. Obviously this is a HUGE no-no and I take such pride in my work usually that this mistake really threw me. It makes me both incredibly angry and frankly, embarrassed because it was such a lazy mistake and should never have happened. On the bright side, if there is one, it is not a mistake I will allow myself to make again.

Source:
Deshpande, Anirudh. “Films as Historical Sources or Alternative History.” Economic and Political Weekly 39, no. 40 (2004): 4455-59.

Taking a Minute to Breathe

I haven’t updated this blog in a long while, partly because this was originally an assessment and partly because well, I didn’t think I had time. I don’t really have a lot of time but what I’ve learnt is that you need to make the time to stop, relax, and importantly, reflect on what you have done.
The break between semesters hardly felt like a break at all, I tried to get as much reading for my thesis done in that time that I could. It didn’t go well. I just read through (by read through, I mean I did the all important skimming) three books but that was only a fraction of the list I had wanted to get through. Perhaps I was being a little ambitious. Mostly I think I was making excuses not to do the work as much as I should have. I feel that by the time that the ‘break’ came I was very done with the coursework part of the course but also knew that I needed to use the break to get research done. I think the done side won out.
Getting back into the swing of things this semester has been exceedingly difficult. This is in part due to taking the foot off the pedal a bit during the break but also the schedule was a bit messy at the start. The sort of things that can’t be helped, its okay. Nonetheless, I feel that I am finally settling in, even though its already week 6. Or is it 7? Okay perhaps not as settled in as I thought. The point is, I’m getting there. Its hard, this semester there’s a lot of reading, far more than I think there was last semester. Or at least it feels like it. This semester I am taking the last core unit of this degree Research Design 2. The first few readings, from Murray and Moore’s The Handbook of Academic Writing, were really great. They basically argued that academic writing need not be a chore but rather, if we change the way we think about and approach it, can be a rewarding, creative process. I like the sound of that. Also, we’ve been going over Ethics in research which is so incredibly vital to have a handle on, or at least to know how to get in touch with the people that do. Not that I will be needing Ethics approval, my work is purely intellectual no humans involved, but its still important to be aware of.
The elective units I’m taking are Debates in Global History, in which we’re looking at debates about globalisation, its origins and its historiography. That is full on in that our teacher, Greg Barton, is asking that we read a monograph every week. His expectation is that we spend about 2-3 hours with the book and pick out the main argument. Its a useful skill to hone I believe. The Cutting Edge is a subject that is focusing on how to conceptualise our projects in terms of ideas of space, scale, and time. This is really interesting but also challenging as the readings are really dense and take work to get my head around. We are expected to respond to the readings so this forces us to try to make sense of it and Brett, our teacher, provides brilliant feedback. My final unit is Global Digital Futures, which is dealing with digital technologies and particularly its role in research, knowledge creation and communication.
It’s probably seeming at this point like I haven’t taken time to breathe, or you’re wondering how this is relevant. The point is that, I’m sitting here writing this when there are, admittedly other things I need to be doing because the main thing that I think I’ve learnt in this course thus far is that you MUST take time to stop, step back, and think about what you’re doing and reflect on where you are and where you need to go. So this is me, taking stock of where I am. Taking a breath and realising that I’ve come a long way, despite having a long way to go.

Murray, Rowena, and Sarah Moore. The Handbook of Academic Writing: A Fresh Approach. England Open University Press, 2006.

“Arrange Your Life to Write”

Last week in Research Literacies we looked at some really interesting readings on how to actually write a thesis. In particular, a chapter from Rowena Murray’s book How to Write a Thesis (2011) was really helpful for thinking about how to really get started on actually writing this thing. The chapter was entitled “It’s Never Too Late to Start” and this in and of itself was an encouraging start. The idea of actually sitting down to start writing seems so daunting and I can’t imagine at the moment feeling ready to begin to make inroads on the actual writing of the thesis but as Jack has been telling us all semester, you can’t wait until you’re ready to start or you’ll never be ready. The beauty of this chapter is that it really broke down the idea of starting to write and how to get the thesis done into small steps that make it seem like less of a beast to tackle.

Murray provides a checklist of ‘Initial Tasks’ before getting stuck in including sorting out when you’re going to meet your supervisor, accepting that not everything you want to put into the thesis is going to be able to be included, and talking to your family and friends about how you’ll have to work because at the end of the day, we can’t do this without them. When we went over this list in class and talked about it, Jack drew our attention to one task in particular, one he deemed to be the most important:

“Arrange your life to write” (Murray 2011, 241)

Everything else stems from this one point. Every other thing comes after realising that we are effectively trying to be professional writers and if we want to do that we have to make writing a lifestyle. Once we arrange our life around writing, scheduling time to write everyday, setting writing goals etc., than the rest of should come at least a little easier.

Murray also provides what she calls “Ten Steps to Fast-Track Thesis Writing.” (238)
These are:
Step 1: Take Stock
Step 2: Start Writing
Step 3: Outline Your Thesis
Step 4: Make Up a Programme of Writing
Step 5: Communicate With your Supervisor(s)
Step 6: Outline Each Chapter
Step 7: Write Regularly
Step 8: Revise
Step 9: Pull it All Together
Step 10: Do Final Tasks
(238)

These are a really nice breakdown of the steps for going about tackling the thesis. There are a couple of things on this list that I know I am going to have to really work on. Step 2 is a really important one for me. This step picks up on that same idea I mentioned earlier that Jack has been drilling into us the whole semester about not waiting to write. Murray also suggests that we “learn to live with imperfection” (244). This is something I am going to need to work on. My being a perfectionist is one of my greatest obstacles. I never feel that anything is good enough and I have ridiculously high expectations of my own work and I really need to learn to live with it because its only getting in my own way. Also, I am really terrible at keeping up with people so making sure I communicate with my supervisor is a big thing for me. I don’t intend to not get on to people when I should but I get really in my head at times and forget to keep in touch. I can’t really afford to do this with my supervisor. Its too important.

It’s definitely nice to have these steps laid out. Its certainly makes the prospect of tackling the thesis seem a hell of a lot less daunting.
Murray, Rowena. “It’s Never Too Late to Start.” In How to Write a Thesis (England: Open University Press, 2011), 238-257.

Knowledge Translation: Articulating and Communicating the Research

This week in Research Literacies, as part of our continuing conversation about Knowledge Translation we looked at the 3 Minute Thesis and talked about communicating our research. Being able to talk about your research effectively is so important I think, especially because to me, it seems that when I talk about it to non-specialist people that’s when it becomes clearest to me what I know best about my research and the parts I don’t have a good enough grasp on. Talking it out makes it apparent to me what is and isn’t working. I suppose that might be part of the appeal of the 3 Minute Thesis (outside of personal benefits if you win of course) the fact that it forces you to really nut out what’s important about your research and to realise how well you know it if you have to present the crux of it to a lay audience armed with only three minutes and one slide.

Working in groups to practice communicating our research to non-specialists was really valuable and a lot of fun. I found it really exciting to hear about what other people were working on and they were all really fascinating stuff. We had a girl working on improving treatments for heroine addiction, a guy looking at masculinity and queer identity in men, and another girl looking at gender in street art culture. It was wonderful for me to see a friend of mine from day one talk about her research, why sporting technologies designed to improve performance have not been integrated into the Australian Netball set up, and see how far she’s come in terms of articulating it. She seems so much more confident in it now, I’m so happy! In the same way it was great to hear from another great friend of mine, my partner in crime in this degree as we have a similar focus, except hers is more interested in bringing non-academic forms of history into the classroom and educating kids on how to understand them. She’s really started narrowing down her focus in the last few weeks and it was great to hear her talk about her plan right now which includes looking at how Tintin could be used. The best thing about this exercise was to hear everybody’s  passion for their research and its certainly a testament to them that I can at least briefly describe their research (at least I hope I’m getting it right!)

As for me, I think I still need to work on this. I’ve never been particularly good at articulating ideas, I’ve always found writing them out to be far easier. It might sound a bit pompous but my brain definitely moves faster than my mouth does and I tend to fall over words and get flustered. I’m also one of those people that gets ridiculously handsy when I speak about something I’m passionate about. Hands fly everywhere and I think that might throw people off. Also this showed me that I’m not all over what I want to do yet, I’ve been thinking in recent weeks in different directions and I have an idea (you can see my Research Update 11 May 2016 for more details) but I’m not sure if I could articulate it that well when I was explaining it to my group. They seemed to follow it well enough but I didn’t feel good about it. I felt better than when I had to do basically the same exercise in a class the day before for my unit Engaging Discursive Fields so maybe it really is about practice and fine tuning. The better I know what I’m doing, the easier it will probably be to talk about it. That’s the gist I guess.