Things are still rather busy here – especially so with the upgrade and various teaching duties looming ever closer – but I really had to take a break to share something with you.
It might not come as a particular surprise to those who know me in person, but I have really struggled in recent months to find much joy in the PhD. Yes, I know; there are lots of benefits, such as working the hours I like, pursuing interests of my choosing and getting paid to write a book.
But that doesn’t always make up for a life of perpetual guilt and frantic academic worry. A life where the body might leave the office, but the mind never quite manages it. A life spent wrestling with inconceivably difficult and impossibly articulated concepts. A life ruined by weekly methodological crises and incomplete data. A life where even something as simple as not saying sod it and inhaling a glass of whiskey can be a recurrent battle.
And that’s before I even start on those data that simply won’t play nice.
This state of affairs also extends into my personal life, making rather simple decisions almost unbearable – such as whether to subscribe to The Economist (which I should do to question my views) or The New Statesman (which I want to do to reinforce my views).
It is against such a backdrop that, much to my joy, I had two revelations today. The first was the realisation that I had been staring at the right scheme of chronological phasing the whole damn time, and all I needed to do was implement it. That felt nice.
But it is the second revelation that I wish to talk about more explicitly. Out of the blue, I took out a blank sheet and wrote this:
The period in question is unlike any other in British history, and is one uniquely poised to reveal insights into the genesis of modern Europe. Depending on who you read, we begin with an empire in decline, transition or collapse – and either large-scale invasion, elite takeover or peaceful settlement by Germanic migrants – and end with the establishment of kingdoms, the development of a proto-English identity and the onset of Viking raids. Put simply, the period is of paramount importance to our understanding of broad historical development, both within the British Isles and beyond.
The significance of this might not jump out at you, but it was the first time I had smiled whilst writing something academic in quite a long time. I simply wrote why down why I’m interested in this period. I haven’t done that in a while, and it felt pretty good. Reassuring. Grounding.
In reality things probably won’t change too much, and I will almost definitely continue to question my life choices on an embarrassingly regular basis. Still, it’s good to ignore all the nagging details for a minute and derive some satisfaction from your work – to reconnect with the spark of interest that drew you to job, if you will.
So I guess it was quite a good day, all things considered, and perhaps my thesis isn’t as giant a turd as I frequently think it is.
How was your day?