Research, progress, Bosch

Yesterday, for the first time in months, felt like ideas were coming together. I used the mind-map and added to it as I was reading, and there was a moment when I realized that the importance of the trains (at least part of the importance) is that they are more important in the scenes than the architecture surrounding them. I haven’t yet done a lot of reading about architecture in the Gothic genre, but I know it’s very important in the genre (castles, labyrinths, etc.) Both books do include Gothic architecture and a focus on it, but in these specific scenes the trains are more important, and the trains are linked to ghosts. I think that’s going to be valuable, because ghosts (I have found, in my reading, because that’s a thing I have been doing – YAY!) are often linked to anxieties about place. So what does it mean that these ghosts are linked to moving places? There’s something there.

I also had the delightful realisation that Iain Sinclair’s novel is a Heironymous Bosch painting in novel form – the same frenetic activity, the same layered metaphors – and that the conversion just didn’t work out very well (in my opinion, others disagree).

This morning I’ll be meeting with Dr. V regarding this paper, which is due today and still not written. At least I’m making some progress, finally.

Added to the annotated bibliography:

Matless, David. “A Geography of Ghosts: The Spectral Landscapes of Mary Butts.” Cultural Geographies 15.3 (2008): 335-357. Web. 30 Jan. 2013.

Mary Butts shows up repeatedly in Downriver, introducing herself in the quote “Blot out the landscape and destroy the train – Mary Butts” (loc 3461) and then revealing herself to be Edith Cadiz, the ghost on the train. References to Mary Butts are throughout the chapter that I’m focusing on, including references to her own writing and her pseudonym Soror Rhodon. This article offers and overview of Mary Butts’ life and writing, and introduces the idea of spectral geographies, which I think is relevant to both Neverwhere and Downriver. I need to read the article a few more times before I really understand what’s going on with spectral geographies and psychogeographies, but I do feel like it will be important. Additionally, Matless says, “If the spectral, the magical, the demonic, the psychic carry a family resemblance which can lead to their being lumped together from without on a common cultural ground, they are often furiously demarcated from within” (337). I see links to Jessica’s reaction to the homeless people in Neverwhere, where Jessica (representing London Above and the “from without”) while Richard, foreshadowing his time in London Below, sees each person as an individual and is therefore able to see where they are good and where they are evil (the “furious demarcation”).

Emilsson, Wilhelm. “Iain Sinclair’s Unsound Detectives.” Critique 43.3 (2002): 271-188. Web. 4 Nov. 2012.

“In addition to flaunting the unsound nature of his sleuths’ motives and methods, Sinclair reports their experiences in an experimental style that guarantees mystic opaqueness” (271). I appreciate this article for offering the phrase “mystic opaqueness” which is more generous than the “pretentious impenetrability” that I was going with. This article also introduces the idea that metaphysical detective stories (as both Downriver and Neverwhere may be) “contribute to an understanding of postmodernism” (272). Emilsson talks about readers of “serious writing” (272), and discusses Sinclair in terms of his “highly elliptical and allusive style” (273). This supports my developing theory that Gaiman’s iteration of contemporary Gothic is populist and Sinclair’s is (some word that means elitist but doesn’t have the same judge-y overtones). It is particularly useful to have an article that is adamantly in favour of Sinclair’s style, because it gives me a different perspective and some language to use about the novel.

Promising leads:

Bonnett, Alastair. “The Dilemmas of Radical Nostalgia in British Psychogeography.” Theory Culture Society 26.45 (2009): 45-70. Web. 9 Jan. 2013.


Crowd-sourcing productivity

I’m struggling (shock shock) with my essays. Writers block, readers block. Just… struggling. A lot. As I have been for months. And because I am blessed with an amazing social network, I posted a call for help this morning and received a lot of great advice. I’m going to share it here, along with some of my responses.

This was my post:

Help! What do you do when you have lost faith in your ability to do something? I’m trying (I’m trying so. hard.) to work on my essays. But I feel strangled by my blank document. I know that I know this stuff… I feel like I was born to be an academic! But I can’t write anything. I can’t pull anything together. It is incredibly frustrating! I can’t stop reading headphone reviews, or looking for books on Amazon, or just starting sadly at my document. How do you bump yourself out of “I can’t do it”?

I know that “I can’t” becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy (so says everyone ever), but this current swamp is incredibly hard to get out of. I feel like I’m drowning in my own lack of productivity, my lack of coherence, my lack of ability. One thing I have learned in this last year, which in many ways feels like a year of unravelling, is that vulnerability is worth the effort, and that when I reach out for assistance, my friends (and often people who are not the ones I might have expected) are reaching back.

I recognize that I am teetering on the edge of another tumble down into depression, but I feel that I’ve been on this edge for weeks (months?) now, and I haven’t fallen yet. I attribute that success (which is a success, a massive success) to my social supports (which were not there the last time I walked this path), and to the personal growth I’ve done in the last few years.

So, the responses (some edited):

  • Small tasks with rewards.
  • I like to either come back later, if you have the time for that. But if not I just start writing anyways, even if it’s crappy, once you get into a flow you can clean up the start later.
  • Write something. Anything. Admit that your intro will be terrible and the rewrite that later. I sometimes just have to start, even if for the first page I sound like a 6th grader. Then when you’re done and feeling brilliant you can fix the bad part.
  • do you need a break? do you need to lower the bar? can you work on something else? you are unbelievably intelligent, articulate, intuitive and cute and fun! you dress up in costumes and wear cool t-shirts and are not afraid to be vulnerable. in short, you rock. and you don’t need to prove anything.
  • (me) Ha, I almost drooped into embarrassing tears with your post. I do need a break! But not a ten minute or even a two hour break. I need a real break. (Very seriously I am considering whether this “real break” involved dropping out of University. And also dropping out of fibromyalgia. Who the fuck signed me up for this shit?) But I can’t have it until I do this work! My mind, at this moment, is the definition of “spinning your wheels.” I’m stuck in a ditch. I need a tow-truck! For my brain.
  • I have trouble with this too, and would like to know if you come up with a good strategy to help get work accomplished when you’re feeling like this. I usually just have to force myself to write something, even if it is terrible, as Sacha suggested, but I know even that can be overwhelming sometimes.
  • Personally I like to go and write something different (at least 1 sub-discipline different), and then start the real thing once I’m into writing mode.
  • I find doing something really brainless (netflix, or even walking my dogs) gives me a chance to “step away” and start to brainstorm and make links. Alternatively, making some notes about the structure I want the thing to take to give myself a bit of an outline sometimes helps. Or just writing something, anything even remotely relevant will result in a bit of a brain dump onto the page that I can wrestle into shape or just completely cut out of the end product at least gets me started. Those might all seem like obvious things
  • I have been known to warm up for a 1000 word essay with a 3000 word blog post.
  • This may sound a little intense but, for me, I remind myself that the only things that really matter in my life are the things that I do or not do. I remind myself that I want to be a person that “does” and that this aligns with who I ultimately wish to be in the world. It is “doing” alone that makes me feel like my life is in the growing.
  • Be kinder to yourself than you’d like to be.
    Do something entirely different and preferably, fun. 
    Also: stream of consciousness may be both therapeutic and productive…
  • Tiffany…make your thoughts physical. Get off the technology. Big sheet of paper, lots of big thinking right now…concept maps, post it notes, get it out of your head but don’t worry about the format. Lay key articles around your free flow of ideas. Don’s censor, just create.
  • I don’t know how well it would work, but I suggest just writing ANYTHING. I don’t mean the “just start writing your paper,” but just write, a bunch, freeform. When I was in highschool an activity we did to write a story was to just start writing and whenever we got stuck we just wrote “yesyesyesyesyesyesyes” until we thought of what to write again, to encourage us. This might work well with [the above]’s idea, or could be done on the computer to get used to the idea of thoughts going onto the word processor.
  • This may be horrible advice and not sure if it can be done but if I can’t do it I don’t. I go for a walk, take a bath, do nothing. And then go back to it. This may help you like that post about the ten good habits to quit doing. Maybe you just need to do nothing and something will come to you.
  • (a mostly-paraphrasing of an e-mail):
    • Thematize it (I am so bored/anxious about this essay…)
    • Have a friend be a “bank” for brainstormed ideas – holding them for you and giving them back at specified times
    • Maybe you are thinking about too many projects? Or need to work on a couple of them at a time?
    • Cut and paste fave quotations into a file and write around those.
    • Maybe speaking it out (recording) or putting it into a blog or other format to get the ideas flowing?
    • But if you are feeling overwhelmed, then the task is either to make it bite-sized or to do the self-therapy thing: what are your options? (this works for me really well and I discovered it late)–as in what happens if you don’t get this done? and go for a walk or watch a movie or return to it later? usually, i then figure out how invested i am in finishing it or doing it (how much the deadline matters as opposed to the work itself). important for perfectionists

My friends are wise. And my struggle isn’t unique – that’s one thing that really came through for me. Other people also struggle with this. And other people have chronic illnesses and go through this grieving/growing/shrinking process. In a private message, one friend said that a chronic illness is like having someone sign you up for a very long rollercoaster ride, with the next loop-de-loop still hidden in fog. It’s good to feel not-alone. And these ideas are great.

Here is how I am going to implement them:

  • Breaking my big tasks up into smaller, rewardable tasks. This has worked well for me in the past. Right now I’m not sure how to implement it (the tasks seem huge, and I can’t figure out what kind of reward will work). Since I can’t figure this part out, and since I think assigning myself another task is probably counter-productive, I am going to just fall back on an old stand-by. For everything I accomplish – every article or chapter read, every paragraph written, every idea articulated – I’m going to give myself a sticker. I have a new notebook that was given to me for just this purpose, and a little stack of stickers (my friends are amazing).
  • Mind-mapping/get off the computer/creating rather than censoring. I’m going to mind-map everything I’ve got so far regarding the London paper (which is my first looming deadline). I’m also going to try to write an outline. And tomorrow I’m going to open up a word document, set a timer for 30 minutes, and just write. Then take a short break to meditate or go for a walk (depending on the weather – it’s getting cold out there!) Then write for another 30 minutes. Then I’ll see where I’m at, and if I’ve got anything that could become the beginning of an actual essay.
  • Write something different. I’m going to give myself permission to do some of the other writing that I’ve been neglecting. I am a creative writer at heart, and it’s been months since I spent any time on my own creative work. I’ll see if this feels any different from the “breaks” I’ve been taking to lose myself and drown my anxiety in facebook.
  • Blog. Here, right now. Accountability and traceability and evidence of my effort. The friend who suggested this knows me well.

Okay, so the first place I’m starting is the last on that list. This is what I’ve got so far for the London essay, after the cut: Continue reading

“How to Complete a Project” talk

Yesterday in my honours class we had a guest speaker on the topic of “completing projects.” The talk wandered far from its original topic but it was hugely helpful. I’m going to summarize it here, with how it’s going to change the direction/execution of my honours project.

The first topic was completing projects. The basic gist of it was that whatever works for you is what you should do, and you should do it consistently. This is one area where I’m stumbling right now – things that used to work for me no longer do. I can’t sit for an extended period of time and crank out usable work. I’m easily distracted (I often think of myself as a very bad date – wandering off in the middle of a sentence to check my phone or drift into facebook) and I haven’t ever had to learn how to keep myself focused because I’ve never had a problem staying focused before.

Our guest speaker also talked about finding the ways that we are good at not working and cutting those out. I’ve been experimenting with setting timers and only letting myself check facebook when they go off every couple hours. Part of the problem, I think, is that there is just so much on my to-do list and it all takes time. And keeping up with the sex-positive blogosphere is important to me, but I don’t have time for it anymore. I’m making time for it, but that time is cutting into my productivity in a serious way. I need to be honest about the ways that I’m avoiding work – it’s not just that my comprehension and focus is at less than half of what I’m used to, it’s also that when I get frustrated I just give up and don’t even look at my work for hours. I sink into blogs and articles instead. It’s a vicious cycle.

It is frustrating, especially, to realize how easy I’ve had it so far in my academic career. These issues of focus and being unable to pull my ideas together coherently on the first try… these are new issues. The recurrence of my mental health struggles is definitely not helping.

The next point that the speaker brought up was writing to the genre – recognizing that different papers will have different expectations placed on them. Our 40-page honours thesis has different expectations on it than a 40-page book chapter or journal article. We didn’t really get into the nitty gritty of what, exactly, the genre expectations for an honours thesis are. I gathered that it’s mostly up to our supervisors, and that we are writing to that very specific audience. I have my supervisor’s expectations of structure already clearly laid out for me, which is good. I can start writing into that framework, theoretically.

The speaker also talked about the importance of writing your intro first, even though many projects shift and change partway through. He said that this is because you need to know what you’re trying to accomplish, otherwise your project will sprawl all over the place – you need to set some limits and boundaries, knowing that you might break past them at some point. I’m going to try to take his advice there and write my introduction. I realize that at this point I do not have a clear idea of what I’m trying to do – introducing the comparison to mainstream film and introducing the idea of “feminist pornography responding to anti-porn feminism” has muddied the waters up considerably. I tried to write the beginnings of an introduction today and couldn’t get past the first sentence – I really have no idea what my goal is right now. This bit of advice was really good and relevant, and actionable.

He talked about killing the parts of our thesis that are not working – taking out the “Frankensteinian lumps.” I’m worried that one of those two additions will turn out to be a “lump” that needs to be removed. I think I’ll have a better sense of that once I’ve written the intro.

During his talk I was thinking about the long lit review that my supervisor is asking for. I realized that I haven’t engaged with the primary texts of anti-porn feminism. I haven’t reread any Dworkin or MacKinnon, partly because I dislike their writing so much. But I can’t write an honest and effective lit review if I don’t dig into those texts.

Here are some questions that I need to answer:

– Where are the areas of overlap between anti-porn feminism and feminist film theory? I see potential overlap in discussions of the male gaze, female agency in film, and violence in film (Gender, Genre and Excess seems like an immediate starting point.)

– How can I incorporate community emergent writing without straying too far from my limitation to keep the analysis focused on what’s performed on film? (ie: performer experiences are off-limits, but can I use performer writing about the finished product? I’m not sure.)

– How does it all fit together? Feminist film theory, anti-porn feminism, feminist pornography (!!!!)… What lens am I actually looking through? Am I examining feminist pornography using a feminist film theory lens, or am I examining feminist pornography through anti-porn feminist critiques? Something else? A hybrid? How can it be a hybrid without becoming biased against feminist pornography? Where are the theoretical writings that support feminist pornography or pornography in general? Where does the mainstream porn fit in? For the poster it provided a necessary foil – a highlight on the differences. But in this analysis, it seems like a strange (and lumpy?) intrusion. Yet, without it… how can I talk about the effectiveness of feminist pornography in providing an alternative, if I don’t demonstrate what it’s alternative to?

It seems to me that I am starting to move towards looking at the influence of anti-porn feminist critiques in both feminist and mainstream pornography. However, I do not like that project! I want the primary focus to be on feminist pornography, not on anti-porn feminism or on mainstream pornography. I also think that it’s a stretch, and that if I were going to actually do that specific analysis I would need to look at classic porn, the porn that made the critiques happen in the first place. And that’s way too much. Even what I have right now is probably too much!

This is a thought… A dangerous, impetuous thought…

What if I scrap my current films, all of them. I don’t analyze Fuckstyles or Asa Akira or any of the films I’ve picked so far.

What if I just do Nostalgia, Courtney Trouble’s queer reimagining of iconic porn scenes, and I compare it to the classic porn it’s remaking?


Anyway, I have to do a lot of the same reading at this point either way, so I’m just going to shelve that idea and keep working (as much as I can call what I do these days “working”).

Quick update

I have finished one chapter of James Loxley's Performativity and skimmed the second.

I also have a syllabus for the Feminist Film Theory course, and can start on readings.

This isn't much progress for a day, but I also had to work this morning, attended class, went for my half-hour walk and spent time with my sister and her kids. I wish that I could devote my time more completely to school but it is not possible. Bills must be paid, so work is not an option. And family is also important. My niece, the A-Bomb, is one of the most important people in my life.

I am still working on the parallel writing project for Dr. AS. This semester presents an intricate balancing act, with intense pressures from multiple sides – health issues taking up time and mental resources, family issues continuing to be time and energy-consuming, work a steady background buzz, activism growing ever more time-consuming as my groups grow and require tending through that growth, and school placing a heavy drain on all my resources. Last semester I was in the turmoil of grief and illness and I couldn't write about it even for myself, let alone for a project. This semester I am dealing with those same pressures but have a bit of emotional distance. I'm optimistic that I will be able to finally produce work for that final project, and using the blog to keep myself accountable and on-track with readings and assignments will be useful.