Windmills of Your Mind

Churning, and ever whirling whirling...Round, like a circle in a spiral,
Like a wheel within a wheel
Never ending or beginning
On an ever spinning reel
Like a snowball down a mountain
Or a carnival balloon
Like a carousel that’s turning,
Running rings around the moon
Like a clock whose hands are sweeping
Past the minutes of its face
And the world is like an apple
Whirling silently in space
Like the circles that you find
In the windmills of your mind

The Windmills of Your Mind, by Dusty Springfield 

I think Dusty sums up how I feel about the whole PhD experience at the moment.  There seems to be no end nor beginning to it, certainly the early faltering step days are now long ago and with them the luxury of reading but not being quite sure of direction.  At the same time I seem to be continuing to keep turning around the same piece of prose…again…and again…and again.  And the feeling of whirling silently in space is about right – the feelings of isolation and abandonment right now are fairly strong, and while not calamitous the imagery fits.

And of course there’s my mind, ever churning, ever whirling, ever wondering what’s next, what I should be doing; asking am I doing enough, too much, too little, the wrong focus.  Be it evening, morning, afternoon or the wee small hours, there’s no escaping it.  A PhD is very much about harnessing these windmills of your mind to grind the wheat of possibility into  the grain of knowledge*, but right now it just feels like one the flay rods has gone out of skew on the treadle.  It’s a never-ending and seemingly frustrating futile cycle of work that on the bad days feels like the Sisyphean rock and on good days feels like…well, I like riding carousels so let’s say it feels like getting off a whirling horse at a fun fair.  And the esteemed Mrs Llama has noticed that it’s started to affect my outlook (a bit).

Anyway, enough with the despondent navel gazing**; and on with the events of the week!

*Terrible metaphor, sorry!
**Even if this might just sum up the content of oh so many blogs, this one included, at times!

Monday

Cheer the penguin, boo the leviathan!
After a brief hour or so searching the literature, and performing a mild rewrite of my research proposal; to take account of the new paper I read on Friday, I spent the day reading the book my mother bought me as a birthday present.  As I intend to use this one as the basis of my second philosophical review essay I gave it a slightly greater than normally thorough reading.  Excellent book, and I might disagree with Benkler that his previous publications are inaccessible; I think he’s got a very readable style.  Less excitable than Lessig, but I really feel his communication skills are excellent.  I wish I could write academically half as proficiently.

Tuesday

At no point in the book did Foucault make any attempt to fly - the cover lies!
Decided to knuckle down and read through one of my Foucault books, and this reader seemed (as per it’s title) a reasonable place to start.  Oh dear.  I’m not sure if it’s the insufficiently keen edge of my scholarly brain, the translation from the French or that Foucault’s ideas are rather complex – but I spent the entire day battling with this book.  I kept having to force my eyes to read line after line, a total struggle.  Didn’t even manage to finish it in a single day either which was frustrating.  My plan on reading this, before moving onto to works on/around his work on power relationships was to try and ground myself a bit in his style and language.  After this I’m now slightly dreading getting into reading more on him.  Maybe I should go off and read some relaxing Marx or something first?

In other news, looks like my school’s hosting a conference in June and I’ve foolishly/bravely put myself forward to submit a proposal.  Supervisor thinks its a good idea, although I suspect all I’ve got to talk about is the background and scene setting of my project, as the chance of me having performed any original research by then looks scant to zero I suspect.  Still a positive to end what was a deeply frustrating day.

Wednesday

An…interesting day.  The morning was spent frittering on household chores and then zipping over to campus to print a load of papers out.  The RPC session on quantitative methods was cancelled due to staff illness; which I guess given my previous training is no great lost.  It was replaced with an ad hoc session on feminist theory.  Interesting to a degree, but not something I’m likely to make use of any time soon.  This was followed by an extra long (and to be honest downright excellent) session on Post-Colonialism.  Like the previous session I don’t expect to use it, but it was a fascinating subject with a captivating speaker; which to be honest continues to be the major theme running throughout the philosophy branch of the RPC course.  And for once we were really made to work in groups, which I’d be lying if I said i didn’t love it.  As an activist learner I get so much out of the chance to discuss, consider  reflect in small groups – rather than in the 1-2-many, sage on the stage style of lecture.  Or indeed reading books (which is why all this background reading is a real challenge – I want to be off talking to these scholars for preference).

We also got some film, which allowed me to flex my screen writing training***.  I hadn’t expected to be so moved and enraptured by the two short films we watched.  The first was the opening 10 minutes of Xala, which while odd and awkward film making to western eyes spoke volumes about the culture which produced it and how it was seeking to develop its own narrative about itself and its struggles.  You can watch the whole film if you’re inclined below (thank you YouTube), but if not the opening 10 – certainly worth your time!

The other film, which we watched in its entirety (and I can’t find on YouTube) was Home Away From Home (1994), a moving tale about a black woman living in (I assume London, though this isn’t made clear) seeking to reconnect with her roots, not to mention getting her children to do so as well.  Told without words, it is based on a true story; though the role of the bully boys who knock down her back garden mud hut fill in for the role of the council workers who actually did it.  If you get the chance to watch it do so.  Aside from the thoughts it raises about those in the diaspora, it left me wanting to build a hut in my own back garden.  Sadly, I can’t claim any (recent) cultural heritage, but it did look like a wonderful idea!

***I’ve a screen writing qualification from the Uni of Warwick you know, not to mention having written and lectured on the subject, oh and produced almost 300 films!

Thursday

MehA bad day, pure and simple. Struggled to find the energy and the enthusiasm to do anything constructive all day.  Cold house, non-functional brain it seems.  And the day continued to piss on my chips as it went on.  Shouldn’t have gotten out of bed frankly.  Not best impressed with a comment on the course discussion board, but I think we’ll let sleeping dogs lie for now.  Finished off the Foucault book around the edges, wrote up my glossary notes and did a bit of preparatory work on my philosophy course work.  Not a day they’ll sing of down the centuries though.

Friday

ZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzHad to get up at the crack of stupid to take Mrs Llama to the train station.  Normally this means I get back home and am full of energy. Nope, not today where I spent the day eternally battling my brain’s wish to shut down and just sleep.  I did do some preparation on my second philosophy book review, before concluding I need to visit the library on Monday and just work there with a variety of sources to get what I need together.  Also did some minor work on my conference abstract, although I think it needs a clearer head to dash off the 500 words.  They just were not coming today.  Maybe the cold’s just gotten to me, certainly my memories of this week are struggling to stay warm enough to think, as much as trying to stay awake.

Thank the Maker it’s the weekend, and I can stop thinking about this stuff (well as much as my mind windmill will let me) for a couple of days!

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