kiri win

Mostly public

This journal is mostly public with some friends-only entries that will primarily be visible to my close real-life friends.

I'm currently in the process of importing my thousand-ish entries from my mammoth Diaryland journal which I have decided to abandon because it's not letting me archive my entries. Hopefully that would be done sooner rather than later.

Leave a comment if you want to be added.
Charah coffee

Two Important Decisions

Wow. It is incredible that I did not write in here for the whole of October. To be fair, nothing much really happens in my life. My typical day consists of gym/running/some sort of exercise, reading, going to the library, and doing some sort of writing. Oh, and cooking. And washing. A lot of washing and cooking. Sometimes I watch something on Netflix. That's about it, really.

I have, however, gone to the theatre a couple of times, once to watch the all-black revival of Death of a Salesman at the Piccadilly Theatre, and another time to watch & Juliet at the Shaftesbury Theatre. The former made me cry; the latter put a smile on my face. It's a new musical that re-imagines the ending of Romeo & Juliet to Max Martin's greatest hits. Since I was a huge Backstreet Boys fan, it was fun hearing the songs that I grew up with performed really well on that stage, and re-conceptualised to fit the (rather thin) plot. It was good fun.

Death of a Salesman, however, hit rather too close to home. It speaks either to the timelessness of the play or to my self-absorbed nature that the racial element of the revival was quite lost on me even if it was literally staring me in the face. But I was moved to tears towards the end, when Biff tells Willy Loman that he (Biff) is a 'dime in a dozen', and maybe so is he (Willy). Willy responds with outrage and indignation, protesting that he, Willy Loman, cannot be a dime in a dozen; he's Willy Loman, as if invoking his own name with passion and conviction should mean anything at all. And the very last scene, when it's revealed that Willy was good with his hands and could have been a great carpenter or handyman instead of an average salesman, and Biff says of his father, 'He never knew who he was.'

Of course, the play is about the American Dream, or the illusory notion that we can all be great as long as we put our minds to it. For me, though, I saw a man obsessed with the idea that being average, or a 'dime in a dozen', is somehow a failure. And this moved me because I grew up with this idea. I grew up not wanting to be average, not wanting to be like everyone else, wanting something more than the average existence of the average person, and for some reason, believing that I am entitled to the opposite of average. I have dreamt of greatness for as long as I can remember. And it has been this rather mindless and blind pursuit of a nebulous aim--greatness, whatever this means; non-averageness--that has led me to where I am today. That is: in my quest to escape the shackling confines of 'a dime in a dozen', I found myself being quite literally a dime in a dozen--one of many PhD in Law candidates at the University of Cambridge.

So what? I've thought that for the past three, four years, ever since the sheen wore off and I saw the dream for what it was: a shapeless, faceless, formless mass of nothingness, a blur of fast-moving images that didn't resemble who I really was. I don't want to be spoken of like Willy Loman: She never knew who she was. I struggled through the PhD because it wasn't who I am, I wasn't living the best version of myself, it didn't excite me. In the end, it was a continued divergence and escape from what I really want to do, who I really am. I have known who I am for as long as I can remember. I just never had the courage, the conviction, the belief, and the discipline to live it.

I think I came to a conclusion a month or so ago, or perhaps even earlier than that; perhaps I wrote about it when I wrote about finally submitting my thesis. I concluded that I didn't want the academic life, I didn't want the academic career, I wanted a day job that would allow me to focus on writing.

But I watched Joaquin Phoenix in Joker, and all of that has changed.

Okay, that is stating it rather too dramatically. What happened was this: E and I watched Joker, I rekinkled my 2001-era love for Joaquin, I read an article about him comforting pigs on their way to being slaughtered, and clicked on the accompanying video. A few seconds later, I closed the browser and started crying.

All I saw was a frame, close-up, of a pig, locked up in the transport van, and all I could see were its snout and eyes from the ventilation holes of the van. That was all I saw. And it was heartbreaking enough.

After this, I found myself thinking about animal ethics. I thought about how, despite my abject and abhorrent hypocrisy (i.e. I was "pesco-vegetarian" for most of my life even though it's a contradiction in terms), the animals issue has been something that has always moved me. I thought about the fact that I didn't explore it academically because it affects me so much that it provokes an unbearable emotional response. I thought about where I am in my life, what I have done, what I have not done. I thought about my thesis, my soon-to-be-conferred degree, the university that will be conferring it.

It then seemed absolutely obvious, what I should do for the next few years of my life. I should do a post-doc project on animal ethics; specifically, a non-rights approach to animal ethics, and non-rights because, per most things in my life, my familiarity with rights has caused me to become jaded towards rights. Also, I think--and this is just a hunch--talking about animal rights is putting the cart before the horse. But that's not the point of this entry.

The point of this entry is to record two important and life-changing decisions that I have made over the past few weeks. The first is that I am not quitting academia just yet. And I think this time, it will be more fulfilling than the PhD process because I am driven by the urgency of the issue, and my utmost conviction that there is a grave and deeply entrenched error (including moral error) that the majority of people are perpetuating that needs correcting. I know that it will be frustrating, I will get very fucking angry very often, I will hate humanity more times than I can count. Basically, it will be like how I'm feeling these days about the state of the world, but on steroids. Can't wait.

Of course, I'll need to apply to institutions for fellowships, which means I need to boost my CV--which is why I have finally gone back to the comparative piece between India's 377 decision and Singapore's 377A case that I wrote last year. After this, I need to move away from 1) sexual ethics and LGB rights and 2) Asia. I'm not an 'Asian' scholar, I don't want to be in that box, and so I need to move on. I was contacted by a publisher to contribute to a book on sexual ethics. Apart from how this publication probably wouldn't count for very much, I considered coming up with some communitarian approach shit to it, basically take ideas from my thesis and adapt them, but dismissed it after a while. I think I have said all that I want to say about homosexuality in the article that I published in that one journal. There is nothing more that I want to say. What else is there to say after I've already argued that the arguments for its immorality are unconvincing, and that homosexuality is morally permissible? It seems obvious to me how we ought to treat gay people. It's not my problem, and certainly not something that I'm interested in intellectually, that some people are prevented from the right action by privately held views, if you know what I mean.

Anyway. The point is, postdoc on animal ethics. I had an idea for it already in March when I submitted an abstract to a postgrad conference in Ireland. I was going to abandon it along with my academic career, but after failing to watch the video of Joaquin's animal rights activism, I think I absolutely have to do it. And it's the only reason academia is appealing at all. I was so ready to ditch all of it because the PhD has been hell...but if I were the sort of person to force a non-existent coherent narrative in my own life, I would probably say that the PhD happened for a reason.

On second thought, no, that doesn't make any sense even hypothetically.

This leads me to the second important decision: I am going vegan. I'd started buying and cooking vegan when E and I stumbled upon an animal rights march in Trafalgar Square when we were looking for the Hong Kong solidarity rally (or rather, I was looking, and he allowed himself to be dragged to it), and I felt so sad about the animals that we exploit in absolutely barbaric ways for absolutely unnecessary reasons. But I wasn't ready to go completely vegan and carved out exceptions for myself. For instance, I said that if someone cooked me something vegetarian or bought me something vegetarian, I would eat it.

Yesterday, I read an article in the Independent about how a supermarket chain in the UK is sourcing its dairy from farms that only kill bull calves when they've lived for eight weeks as opposed to within 48 hours of their birth.

That did it for me. I didn't know about this particular practice of the dairy industry--which points to a larger personal failing over the past few years: I have deliberately not done my research on the egg and dairy industries' treatment of animals just so I could keep saying that 'I don't object to the consumption of animal products per se; it's the cruelty that's produced as a result that I object to'. Well, if I didn't know because didn't want to know what these cruel practices actually are, of course I could keep eating fucking eggs produced by an industry that grind male chicks alive and eat fucking dairy products that bull calves have to die for. Talk about burying my head deep in the sand. And I think it's even worse that it's taken me so long to take this step than all the people who are still eating meat because I know the philosophical arguments, I know that there is no morally relevant difference between a human and non-human animal...and yet, I was complicit in their barbaric exploitation.

I have been living my life with ethical cowardice and moral permissiveness, and a general lack of courage to fully live up to my convictions. I'm done being a moral and ethical coward and hypocrite. I will finish the last vegetarian thing that I have in the house, and that's it. No more.

It absolutely breaks my heart, the way we treat non-human animals. And this is why I know that giving up all the foods that I have loved is worth it. Besides, there are so many vegan desserts that are just as good as the non-vegan ones. I've just finished the last of my box-of-three Magnum vegan ice-cream, and I discovered this delicious vegan chocolates at the Vegan Fest that I went to with John a couple of weeks ago. I don't think I will ever like vegan cheese, but I can do without it.

Ultimately, the satiation of my taste buds seems a horribly stupid reason for billions of animals to suffer and die. We don't need to eat animal products, certainly don't need to eat meat. Pit against that the fact that 28 animals per second are slaughtered in the UK (if I remember correctly) for food, and that bull calves are brought into existence just to die for no fucking reason other than some humans 'need' milk (no, you don't).

So yes. This animal ethics postdoc is necessary, and it will be even more amazing than my thesis.
Charah coffee

On How Not to Write

I have just completed a five-day short story writing course at Faber Academy, which was more fruitful and helpful than I had anticipated. My biggest take-away from it is characterisation: knowing who the character is as a fully formed person, knowing what he/she wants, putting obstacles in his/her way to create conflict, and letting these things drive the story. It is a very useful way to look at how to approach writing a character-driven short story, and I am currently revising something that I wrote for the 30-day writing challenge that I talked about in light of what I have learned from the course.

This entry, however, isn't about writing; not exclusively, anyway. It is about the new season of Veronica Mars and how my excitement that my favourite show ever was being revived eventually turned into bitter disappointment and heartbreak. Incidental to the Veronica Mars content is a few things about writing; or rather, how not to write. The instructor told us, during the writing course, that the writer needs to convey to the reader that the writer is trustworthy; that the reader can trust her to tell the interesting story that she has set up in a coherent and authentic manner. The pay off has to be true to the set up; the conclusion has to begin again in some way. Perhaps more importantly, the character's arc has to be true to the character. And in order for the writer to do this, she has to know the character inside-out.

(Warning: Spoilers for Veronica Mars Season 4)

The new season of Veronica Mars makes me wonder if Rob Thomas actually knows his character - that is, the character that has evolved over three seasons of television, two books and a movie, or whether he is still clinging on to the version of the character that he had in his mind when he first started the show. The new season of my favourite show has taught me an invaluable lesson about how the writer should not attempt to disrupt the character's narrative arc; that when it has gone in a certain direction, trying to reverse it because the writer cannot let go of his initial vision must be done exceptionally well - or it simply undermines the character altogether.

I have pretty much lost all trust that Rob Thomas knows what he's doing. Even before I read his ridiculous reason for killing off Logan Echolls, the absolutely cheap and arbitrary manner in which Logan died suggested to me that his ideas are cliched at best. Surely the 'widowed just after getting married' trope has been done to death by now - and yet, Rob Thomas says that the reason he killed Logan is because he wants to move the show away from teen romance/soap opera territory. If this was meant to be self-referencing irony, then he picked the wrong character to show how clever he is.

Rob Thomas says that he killed Logan because he wants Veronica to be on her own. He says, 'But I feel like for this show to work as a detective show, it has to be with Veronica as a single woman. I think it’s more interesting to write. If you can’t have your detective have romantic interests, it’s hard. And it teeters on phony trying to get Logan involved in the case somehow to keep him present. If he’s just going to be the boy she goes home to at night, that’s less interesting to me. I can’t say that it’s impossible. But it didn’t appeal to me as much.'

One of the many problems with this is that the show had developed in such a way that Veronica wasn't a single woman. If he wanted to keep her single, why did Veronica and Logan get married? Was this pure fan service? There were so many options in the season in terms of breaking them up. In fact, Veronica spent most of the season treating him so badly that I wish Logan had broken up with her: she mocked him for going to therapy and becoming a more mature person, she told him that she liked him better when he was his old angry, destructive self, and then goaded him into having sex that disgusted him. Why was he still with her after that? Rob Thomas could have written him out of the show in a manner that was true to the characters, instead of having him die in a stupid explosion that blown the plot hole wide open. (How did Veronica forget about the bomber's backpack in her car? Why was the backpack still in the car when he was arrested? How did the police/FBI not scour the car to make sure that every item belonging to the bomber had been removed?) And it is also because of the inconsistent and incoherent manner in which Logan died that makes it even more insulting and frustrating.

More importantly, the suggestion that she wouldn't be interesting to write as a married woman is not only sexist, but, to me, shores up the limits of Rob Thomas' imagination. The idea that being in a relationship, presumably one that makes her happy, makes a woman less interesting is sexist, for it suggests that women are only interesting when we are alone and unhappy. But what I find more troubling for Veronica as a character is how her creator seems unwilling to let her get out of her teenager mindset (ironic, considering his complaints about LoVe being too teen romance-y), which then translates into his notion that she wouldn't be interesting to write as a married woman. What was really striking throughout Season 4 was how immature and messed up Veronica still is despite being in her thirties. What annoyed me about her reaction to Logan's proposal wasn't (contrary to what you think, Kristen Bell) that she turned him down; it was that she ran away like a child, instead of talking about it with him like an adult. It was frustrating to see her act in this way because she was a character that I felt I had grown up with - and yet, she had not grown up very much at all.

So instead of letting Veronica grow organically, Rob Thomas seems intent on holding her back - and not just holding her back; holding her down. In order to keep her 'interesting' as a single woman, he decides to inflict on her one of the most devastating heartbreak anyone could ever go through: the loss of a spouse. This is on top of all the trauma that's she's already gone through: her best friend's murder, her mother leaving her, her own rape. I mean, if this is how Rob Thomas treats a character that he supposedly loves, I don't want to know how he treats those that he hates.

As for why his creative decision shores up the limits of his imagination: there are so many directions he could have taken Married Veronica, but he decided that none of them are interesting. Instead of subverting genre expectations (he talked about how no one in the noir detective genre has relationships), he thinks it's more interesting to adhere to them blindly even if the character in question would be done a huge disservice. So it sounds to me like Rob Thomas was no longer interested in the way Veronica had evolved; that he's more interested in writing a purely detective/mystery show.

So why even bother with Veronica Mars? Why not start a new show entirely? But here's the fundamental problem with his new direction for the show: the mystery isn't even that good. He simply isn't a very good mystery writer, and it shows in the leaps of logic that both Veronica and Keith take in this season, especially towards the end. (E.g. when they were in the interrogation room with the pizza guy, who was trying to convince them of his innocence, Veronica suddenly brought up some random college guys who were barely in the show as related to the bombings. I had to rewind the episode to see what the connection was; and it was literally 'if anyone in the world could have done it, why not the college kids?' Well, why not the pizza guy's love interest, or his murder group members? Why the college kids? Oh, because anyone could have done it. Great logic.) As such, I didn't watch Veronica Mars for the mystery; I watched it for her, and her relationships.

I have absolutely no interest in a stripped back Veronica Mars that's all about the not-very-good mysteries that she solves. While the show is likely to remain an all-time favourite if I pretend that it ended with the marriage scene, I will not watching a Season 5, if it happens.

(And yes: I cried when Logan died. Cried for about 15 minutes more over the phone to E when I turned off my computer.)
Charah coffee

(no subject)

If I was expecting the thesis submission to suddenly open up a flood of clarity, of posivity, of purpose, then I was sorely mistaken. In the end, it all seemed somewhat anti-climatic, and it doesn't help that I haven't stayed in one place long enough to truly settle back into a routine that gives me a sense of purpose. Namely: a writing routine, similar to what I did while writing the Daredevil fanfic (which, by the way, I have not revisited; in fact, thinking about editing that massive piece of work induces a sense of dread and excitement all at once).

Interestingly, while in Sicily with E over the past week, I began writing something that felt like - and, I suppose, still feels like - the start of a novel. Unfortunately, it came so suddenly, and I had so little time and energy on the trip to work on it, that I don't even know how old my narrator is, where the story is set, let alone where it's going. This definitely isn't the novel that I wanted to write post-PhD; it came out of the blue, felt somewhat authentic, and I think I will try to pursue it, but I don't really know. On the other hand, I have a clear idea of what I want to do with the novel that I want to write. In fact, I've already written two versions of the opening section. Unfortunately, they both suck, so I'm probably going to re-write it again.

Anyway. Writing is exhilarating and scary at the same time, and I am definitely not doing enough of it. I did, however, just submit an essay to the New York Times' Modern Love column; an essay that I wrote four years ago about American Mark. I had completely forgotten about the essay (and American Mark) until I came across it while looking through my 'Prose' folder a few months ago. I was surprised, while reading it, that 1) I didn't completely faint at how badly written it was; and 2) it still felt emotionally true. And so I shortened it to meet the word limit, tightened up the language, and sent it off. I have a 1 in 100 chance of it being published, which basically means I have no chance. Still, it's worth a shot, right?

*

Sicily was quite lovely, even if it did darken my skin and turned me into a walking feast for mosquitoes. The highlight - in both positive and negative ways - was trekking up to the near-top of Mount Etna. E likes hiking, and I like challenging myself, which apparently includes putting myself through the usually unpleasant experience of being in the outdoors, trying to do something as unnatural and needless as walking up and down (especially down) jagged, uneven surfaces, which are obviously not meant for people to walk on. If they were, they would be smooth and even, right? I think so too.

The truth is, the primary allure of hiking for me right now is that it is a challenge in itself - nothing more. I enjoy it only when I don't have to deal with jagged rocks or dried up lava, as was the case on Mount Etna. I can only enjoy the view when I'm not scared shitless, worried that I would fall and injure myself while trying to make my way down some random crater or whatever. The Etna trek (I would hardly call it a hike; we had to take a cable car up 2000m or something, then a bus up a further x metres) was actually quite nice...until the last bit, when the guide took the group to some crater (I honestly don't know what I was walking up or standing on) and I discovered that I had to somehow walk down this very steep slope - probably the side of the crater.

I was already having difficulties walking up. When I say 'difficulties', I mean that I was unable to keep at bay the panic attack that eventually took over at the sight of the...thing that I had to walk down. I freaked out, E couldn't manage it, I cried - and only made it down because another guide came over and held on to me as I made my way down, in a state of panic, fear and fuming anger.

It wasn't even walking, not really. It was more like sliding and trying not to fall. In retrospect, I probably could have done it without freaking out; but it was literally my third time on a mountain, and this one was a volcano, and my first two flirtations with hiking didn't go particularly well, either. I had no confidence in my abilities because I had little prior experience; above all else, I don't like being pushed too far out of my comfort zone. Or more accurately, the kind of challenge that I was after was my physical ability, my fitness, to sustain a 6-hour hike or whatever. It was not the challenge of trying to 'walk' down the side of a bloody crater.

So I slid and stompd my way down, my form so poor that my right knee, because pushed too far forward, began to hurt. And mercifully, it was over...but my mood had gone downhill along with my reluctant and frightened descent. When I reached the bottom, the main guide came over to me and asked me what the problem was. 'What are you scared of?' he asked. 'It's fine. It's like walking on snow.'

I have never walked on snow. 'I have never walked on snow,' I told him, unable to keep the incredulity out of my voice. He had nothing to say to that.

There was more walking up and down rocky and jagged dried lava after that, and a bit more sliding down some crater, albeit less steep this time. The funny thing was, I was so angry that I was kind of just stomping through everything, wanting only to get the hell off the damn volcano and back to civilisation where I could walk like a normal human being. Perhaps that's the trick, then: not caring. Will there be a next time? Maybe. Probably.

My hiking shoes made a huge difference though. They bore the brunt of my slipping, twisting themselves into all kinds of angles so that my ankles didn't have to. So, yeah, buying them was a good idea.

*

I don't feel like writing anymore.
Charah coffee

I Submitted My Thesis

I submitted my PhD thesis yesterday - finally. Somewhat unsurprisingly, I had a dream - at least, I hope it was a dream - that I spotted a typo while flipping through my own copy of the thesis after the two copies had already been submitted. This dream, I think, represents my state of mind over the past few days in a nutshell: reading and re-reading the thesis, keeping an eye out for typos and embarrassing grammatical errors, trying to 'perfect' it as if such a thing could ever be perfected...and having the fear, probably irrational, of missing something - any tiny mistake of whatever kind - in the thesis, and discovering it only when it's too late.

It hasn't been fun, to say the least. In fact, very little of the past four years can be described as 'fun'. I wish I could be more positive about the whole experience; but the truth is, it has been largely dreadful, mostly disappointing, and it's left me with more regrets than anything else. It has been almost as much of a struggle as when I was working as a lawyer; and since I consider my 1.5 years or so in private practice some of the worst of my life, that's saying a lot. What did I struggle with specifically? A lack of passion. This was what plagued me in practice, and it's been a constant source of angst and dissatisfaction throughout the PhD process.

I suppose one could say it's a blessing that the thesis turned out all right, according to those who have read it, despite the struggles and the lack of enjoyment. If I wanted to adopt a self-aggrandising perspective, I would say that it speaks to my abilities that I was able to finish this to a decent-ish standard despite all the negativity that plagued me along the way. That is: I could make a decent career out of this academic thing if I wanted to. That is: the potential is there, more or less; it's a matter of wanting it, or not wanting it.

When John praised the thesis, said that it was original etc, and that I should be proud, it left me with a significant sense of melancholy that I'm not as proud as I probably should be, and neither am I as proud as someone else in my shoes might, or would, be. It boils down to the same problem: I can't take pride, or derive satisfaction, from something that isn't the product of the best version of myself. And so I'm resigned to downplaying the thesis, not because I'm being humble, but because I genuinely think that it's just all right. It's okay. It's decent, but it's not amazing; and even if, by some miracle, the examiners tell me that it's amazing, I probably would still regard this sentiment with scepticism and even some slight distaste.

I wonder, though, how much of this is the problem that I have identified, and how much of it is simply me: my perennial dissatisfaction with everything that I do, my inability to stand back from myself and my negative disposition and judge my work on its merits, my seeming inability to give myself credit where it may be due. And yet, as I type this, I can't help but think: is credit really due, though? Why is it due, and to what? The truth is, I didn't put in as much work as I perhaps ought to have put in. The reason it took me nearly four years to finish and submit is precisely that: the lack of hours, the lack of discipline, the lack of focus. Did I not start writing a novel-length fanfiction around the time I was hoping to submit? Yes, I did. Did this novel-length fanfiction not divert time and energy from my PhD? Hell yes, it did. So I finished the PhD, I feel, through sheer willpower, refusal to admit defeat, fear of failure; by the skin of my teeth, essentially. Had I had John's focus, or Raffael's dedication, I would have submitted this way earlier (and not be faced with my current visa issues, but that's a boring story that I don't want to get into).

Now that it's finished, and I'm no longr obligated to keep at something that hasn't brought me much satisfaction, I am truly at a crossroads. Do I keep pursuing this path because it makes sense, it's expected of me, and I can kind of do it? Or do I get off this road entirely and try a new one - the one that I have always wanted to put my feet on, but was always too afraid because the path is strewn with the failure of other people, littered with the fragments of their broken dreams? Perhaps more importantly, are they really mutually exclusive? I am inclined to think so. If writing the Daredevil fanfic was any reliable indicator at all, once I start a writing project, I can think of nothng else. Does this not suggest that I need a day job that's engaging, but which won't compete with my headspace in such a demanding manner?

话又说回来 (too lazy to think of the English version of this), if there were one positive thing to take away from this PhD, it is that it's finally woken me up to a fact that I have been overlooking, or suppressing, or ignoring: I know the core of my authentic self. I just need to have the courage to live it.

*

Of course, the PhD isn't over yet. I still have to undergo the ordeal known as the viva, and regarding that, I am excited and scared shitless at the same time. The external examiner that I really wanted agreed to examine my thesis - and because I respect his work, I am stoked. At the same time, he's going to be tough - and so I'm scared shitless. The good news is, my internal examiner was also my first year examiner, and she's been very positive about the thesis ever since my revised project was approved. She's also very nice, so there's that.

My requesting the external examiner was also partly strategic. He's a well-known professor in the UK, so if he likes the thesis and thinks I'm not a complete idiot, he may be a helpful person to have in my corner if I want to pursue this.

And to be honest, there's a part of me that can't quite bear to drop this entirely. I met Raffie for coffee today and we discussed his post-doc project, which sounds interesting; and we also discussed my very vague idea for a post-doc research project, which got me a bit excited about academia again.

Still, the uncertainty that I felt when I was trying to articulate the idea - that was the same uncertainty that I have felt throughout the past four years. This lack of confidence in the coherence or worth of the idea - I don't know what its cause, whether it's tied up with what I've said earlier about not living the best version of myself. Whatever it is, it is fucking crippling. It causes me to start questioning, even in the moment I'm explaining something, whether I know what I'm talking about at all, if it makes sense, if it's even a good idea. I think this feeling has been a complete bane of my existence at Cambridge, and it's made me come across as unsure and just kind of dumb, really, at discussions and seminars and whatever. I'm afraid that this would trip me up at the viva, so I'm going to have to work on it.

But anyway. Quite strangely, I felt more excited about post-submission last week than when I'm actually post-submission. I felt so excited when I pictured my life after submitting, in fact, that I had to tell myself to calm down in case something went wrong and the process had to be dragged out even more. It's a bit like having match points when playing a tennis match: you don't want to get ahead of yourself and start imagining the victory because it's at least possible that you're going to blow those match points...exactly like Roger Federer did at the Wimbledon final, 8-7, 40-15 - this actually still hurts so much that I didn't feel anything when I found out he lost to Dimitrov at the US Open.

Anyway. The point is, I had to contain my excitement then. But now, I'm not that excited. For as long as the PhD wasn't done, I had an excuse to put off looking for jobs and figuring out the next step; I even had an excuse to not get back into my flow of writing every day, which I stopped because of the PhD. Now that it's done, I have no excuse anymore - and it's scary. Even writing: as much as I love it, it's scary.

That said, I can't wait to start writing my novel. Finishing it and getting it published - that would be a dream come true.
Charah coffee

France, Part 2

France, continued:

The South of France, in my mind, was supposed to be a paradise of sea and sun: an inviting deep blue sea under an unfiltered sun, a clear pale blue sky, a heat that is almost unbearably hot. On the surface, the South of France was exactly that...except the sea was deceptively inviting, almost unswimmable, because it was so cold.

We tried to go swimming at the little 'beach' by the hotel on the first day. We'd just played an hour's worth of tennis in the dry 30-degree heat, which worked perfectly for me: it was hot and therefore nice, but dry (as opposed to humid, like in Singapore) and therefore non-sweaty. I was particularly looking forward to immersing myself in the sea, both to cool off, and to experience again the incomparable sense of largeness and freedom that I always feel when I swim in the open sea.

We got our things, walked to the beach. I had difficulties navigating the uncomfortable pebbles; only to be out-done by the sheer shock that I felt when I finally wobbled my way to the water, dipped my feet in it, and felt as if I had just stepped into an ice-cold bucket.

It was cold, it was quite windy, he was not comfortable with the water temperature, and so I freaked out. Note, though, that this was a week before my period so my mood swung happily from one extreme to the other, depending on what we were doing. So I freaked out and burst into tears because it was not what I had in mind; namely, I did not have in mind a water temperature that made me not want to go into the water at all. So we abandoned ship, headed for the small little pool; at least I got some swimming in. E found out that there was a public beach down the hill from the hotel, which we (he, really) hoped would be warmer given it was closed, sort of, and full of people.

We went to the sandy part the next morning. It was not warmer at all. But I was determined to swim, so after maybe 5-10 minutes of standing in the sea, cursing the water for being as cold as it was, I took the plunge and started swimming. It became bearable after I got used to the water temperature; but because the swimming area was quite close to the shore and cordoned off by a safety barrier, probably because there were yachts and sailing boats just up ahead, it didn't that wonderful.

Next to the sandy part, though, was another beach: the naturally pebbled one, no safety barriers. The next evening, I dragged E to that beach, just to try, I said. We tried; stepped into the water, shuddered at its coldness, and even though I desperately wanted to swim, E's complaining about its coldness did not inspire any confidence at all (harsh, but true!). After a while, though, I decided I was being stupid; that I was already there, so I might as well just do it; and so I just did it. I started swimming, surging forward to a more or less open horizon, let my body get accustomed to the cold; and when it did, there was that magical feeling again: of being as one with the sea, of not knowing, temporarily, where it ended and I began, of being at peace with the deep and frightening mysteries that it held, as if the sea were my friend and being a part of it was the most natural thing in the world.

E doesn't like swimming, so he got out of the water after a short while. I stayed on, and held on until the cold started permeating my skin and penetrating into my flesh. That was when I finally, albeit reluctantly, admitted defeat, and got out of the water, some distance from where we had lay our towels. I saw E approach, holding my flip-flops, as it was painful walking on the hard pebbles. How sweet, right? I think so too.

*

We went to Arles on one of those days; I forget which one. Like I said, I wish we had done more research on van Gogh's regular haunts, as we only sort of stumbled upon it around 6pm when we walked past the Espace Van Gogh and I found out, while eavesdropping on an English-speaking tour guide, that it was a hospital where van Gogh had stayed before he transferred to the hospital where he lived out the rest of his life. Then we found out that the riverbank where we'd stumbled upon two evenings ago was the spot where he painted his Starry Night over the Rhone painting (not to be confused with The Starry Night), when I casually flipped through a thin book about his paintings and found a map of the locations of his famous works in Arles. Afer that, we tried to find the location of his yellow house, just to be utterly disappointed when it turned out that it was gone, and replaced with a decidedly unartistic and uninspiring carpark.

Still, it was a good day, albeit almost unbearably hot. We went to the Langlois Bridge (now called the van Gogh bridge) first, as my parents have a print of one of the paintings that he did of it hanging in our house, and I wanted to see it. The bridge is no longer in use, but the scene was pretty much as van Gogh had painted, except with more green, less yellow. Even the house is still there. I love being connected with a history that I find compelling like that.

We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around Arles. When we were there for dinner two evenings ago, I noticed the numerous works of photography on the walls of the streets, which I really liked. I found out later that there's a huge non-commercial photography exhibition of sorts in Arles. I didn't want to pay to go to the Roman ruins (honestly, I've already been to Rome, so these other Roman ruins don't hold much interest for me), so we walked around in the heat (where I marveled over how the town looked like something out of a van Gogh painting) sought refuge in a little cafe purported to have air-con when the heat became too much, and wandered around again (that was when we discovered the van Gogh places) until it was time for dinner at 8pm.

By that day, I was getting very sick of vegetarian food in France, or at least, in French towns that aren't big ones like Paris. I was basically eating eggs and cheese and salad (as in raw vegetables) ever day. E wanted to find something different for me in Arles, which is big enough to have more options than the seaside town of the hotel - and found this fusion place which seemed cool. And don't get me wrong: the food, on the whole, was good. But I ended up eating cheese anyway because those were the only non-meat/seafood options. Alas!

Still: the melon puree with pesto, pine nuts and seaweed was surprisingly sweet and refreshing. I liked the Saint Nectaire (?) cheese as well. I also liked the burrata, but you can hardly go wrong with that.

What I didn't really like was the grilled watermelons with feta, sprinkled with sesame seeds. First, while the watermelon did look grilled, it tasted just like a regular watermelon. Second, I didn't think that the watermelon and feta went well together. The texture of the two was rather too different for it to work: the watermelon light, the feta thick and chunky, It wasn't bad, but it wasn't as interesting as it sounded. We did have a yummy rice pudding for dessert, though. So all in all, that was probably one of the best meals I had on the trip - but the best meals were undoubtedly the food that his mom cooked!
Charah coffee

France, Part 1

My trip to France with E was a nice, even if undeserved, break. We drove from London, took the ferry to Calais, drove to St Malo, spent a night there, then went to Mont Saint-Michel before driving to his mom's place near Brest. We spent five nights in Brest before driving down South: stopped at Carcassonne for a night, then five night at some random 'hotel' thing in a little town called Carry Le Rouet (?!?!?! Never heard of it, wouldn't recommend) that we used as a base to go to other places. These other places were: Arles and Cassis. There was a vague plan to go to Nimes but I was lazy, so we spent two days in the 'hotel', one day 'exploring' the town. Alas, there wasn't much to see.


Some highlights:

- I liked his mom and got along with his kids more than I thought I would, and this was despite my non-existent command of French. Imagine the interesting conversations I would have had with his mom (whose English was better than my French, though that's not saying much), and the funny things I could have said to his kids, mostly directed at him, if I could actually speak French!

- His mom's house was every bit as cluttered as he'd warned me. In fact, 'clutterd' is rather understating the case. Still, I quite enjoyed being there. They have a huge-ass garden, so huge that some developer wanted to buy it to build two houses on the land. I liked sitting on his deck chair in the garden, reading or writing in the evenings after dinner (which his mom prepared: yummy Vietnamese vegetarian food), or hitting a tennis ball around with him and his son. It was quite relaxing. Surprisingly, I would say the few days spent at his mom's was probably the best days of the trip.

- I've never been a fan of kids. I warned E a million times that I have no maternal instinct and that I dislike children. I felt apprehensive about meeting his kids; the language barrier aside, I didn't think that I could interact with them in a manner that would be mutually amusing. So yes, I was surprised that it turned out quite nice. His daughter is quite outgoing and started asking me questions in English that he fed her word for word, on the first day. His son, the shyer one, started playing with me after a couple of days, when we went to the Botanic Gardens in Brest to feed the ducks (grains, not bread! Bread is bad for ducks!). I noticed that he liked kicking stones on the path and so I joined in for fun. Later, in the car, he started hitting my head with this piece of leaf that they picked up in the Gardens, then saying either it wasn't him, or that it was his siter. It was quite cute. So after that I started hitting him gently on the head, and he'd grin and retaliate by trying to hit me on the head. I had to stoop and lower my head so that he could reach, and then I would pretend to cry and he'd giggle and run off. So yes. It was quite cute.

- I did, however, get really upset by the way they didn't acknowledge their grandmother. Without going into details, let's just say that the culture shock was real, and that I was literally shaking with anger. I cannot remember the last time I was so angry that my body trembled, and E had never seen me that angry. But he understood my point of view, so it was all good in the end.

- There was a heatwave in Europe that week. The library that was 5 minutes from his mom's house was so hot that I could barely think. That's my excuse for not doing enough work on my PhD.

- St Malo was pretty. The galette we ate there...so delicious.

- Mont St Michel was pretty too, but to be honest, these church places are starting to look very, very samey to me now. E made me eat a fucking 38 euros omelette at this restaurant in Mont St Michel. It's the only place they do it, he said. It's famous, he said. I've always wanted to try it, he said. So what they do is, they eat a bunch of eggs in a particular way and put them on a special pan and bake them in some fire place thingy. We ordered the set menu, and while my starter and dessert were good, the omelette was such a let-down. It was so not worth it. The filling was served separately, which was weird, and my vegetables were not good at all. They were under-seasoned and bland and just boring. The omelette was also too fluffy; it was almost like a souffle. I don't like souffles. So it was not a good dish. But he'd always wanted to try, and I did it because of him (otherwise, I would have said fuck off to the obvious tourist trap), so at least one of us was happy!

I'm too lazy to continue with this entry. Maybe tomorrow!

*

On another note, I haven't been writing very much. I'm struggling to finish a short story that I started last year. The main reason, I think, is that I just don't care very much about it; that is, the story, the characters, my original plan for it. I'm just working on it (if you can even call it that) just to finish it.

The one good thing about the writing challenge was that it forced me to finish things. Now I get stuck after a couple of sentences and I think, Eh, no, can't be arsed. It's terrible.

I want to start writing the novel, but not until I'm done with the PhD. Both enterprises require 100% focus - and the PhD obviously is my priority at the moment. I really can't wait to submit it!
Charah coffee

(no subject)

I'm writing this on the ferry from Dover to Calais; and the reason I'm writing this on the ferry, instead of last night in my room like I had intended, is because I got back at 9.45pm from my super awesome gym class last night, and for some reason (I wonder what it could be), ended up spending 1.5 hours packing for a two-week trip. Then I wasted about 30 minutes hunting for my HSBC digital secure key thing for online banking, which I had to look for because my main account was in overdraft and so I had to transfer money from my other account to the main one. In the end, after I was royally pissed off, E found it in my backpack - which was bizarre, and which I still can't quite fathom, for I have absolutely no recollection of putting it in my backpack, and I have no idea why I would even do it. Isn't it strange, how some parts of our lives are wiped from our memories, just like that, as if they've never happened?

So much for the pointless, rambling preamble. The point of this entry is three things.

PhD

Still not submitted, but my supervisor has read it and given me the okay to submit it. Before this, when I was still waiting for her to get back to me, the thought of it being in its state of non-submission was stressing me the fuck out, especially since I have to (and desperately want to) move out of my current house in August. Now that she's given me the okay, I feel so much better - precisely because the fate of my thesis is now entirely in my hands. John has given me his comments, Raffael has commented on almost half of it and will give me the rest of his comments soon, so basically everything is now within my control again. This, somehow, is all that matters; the actual work, I tend to think, will just sort itself out.

Interlude

As I absolutely hate the current place I'm living in (owing to a combination of my ground floor room, housemates who have left me out of their socialising and whose socialising in the kitchen I can hear from my room, thus making me feel like I don't have my own space), I'm thinking maybe I'll move out early August, as soon as I can, then focus on the thesis. I think I'll start seriously house hunting when I'm back from my trip. I really hate the house. But I don't want to talk about this right now.

Teaching

I've just finished teaching a two-week law course to a 17-year-old kid from Romania, as part of a broader summer school programme to let high school kids interested in applying to Cambridge get a sense of Cambridge.

I must say that I am pleasantly surprised by my ability to explain legal, moral and philosophical concepts in a way that he seemed to have mostly understood. As I designed the syllabus to give a good balance of private and public law, the first week was spent on the law of torts; specifically, duty of care, and public policy exceptions to the duty. It was only when I had to explain it to the kid that 1) I realised that I'm better at explaining things than I'd thought I was; and 2) I finally understood what I was meant to have learned in Year 1 of law school.

The second week touched on jurisprudence and law and morality more generally, so it was my area of 'expertise' (still feel like a fraud referring to myself as an expert on anything law-related). It was lucky that the woman running the programme chose the session on homosexuality and the enforcement of morals to sit in for my appraisal, because this is one of the few things that I can claim some decent knowledge of - and at the end, she gave me really good comments. She said I was articulate, measured in my responses to some of the kid's slightly ignorant remarks about travellers in Romania, and that she couldn't tell that it was my first time teaching law (and second time teaching, period). So I was quite pleased with myself.

In fact, and like I've said, I was really quite pleasantly surprised by how it was sometimes quite enjoyable, especially when my student was engaged and responding to my questions, and when I pushed him on a couple of points, he knew where I was going before I had to say it. In retrospect, starting with duty of care was probably a bit much, as I think it took him some time to understand the terms, let alone how the courts analyse the legal issues; and so, in retrospect, it wasn't so unusual that he didn't get it as quickly as I thought, unreasonably, that he would. But the point is, it was quite enjoyable. I don't know if I would still say the same if I had to teach university undergrads, as the intensity of my knowledge would need to be a lot greater; but still, for what it's worth, it was fun.

What I didn't like, though, was the teaching preparation. I think each session took me at least three hours to prepare for - and in the end, there were only tw hours of teaching. So in terms of my monetary rewards, this job wasn't that great, especially given that my thesis is still not done, so I could have spent a lot of that time working on my thesis instead. Still, it was a good experience overall.

Writing

And now, the main point of this entry: I FINISHED MY EPIC DAREDEVIL FANFIC.

When I say 'finished', though, I mean that I have written the ending, and it's pretty much how I want to end it. But because I was rushing to finish it yesterday before heading to the gym (and this was because I knew that I wouldn't have much time to do it on my trip, and I want to focus on my thesis after the trip), I do not like the way the very last part was written, and I will definitely rewrite that bit before starting a second draft. But the first draft is more or less there. And it feels pretty amazing because this is the longest thing that I have ever written, and the longest thing that I have ever finished - which gives me a lot of confidence in my ability to see a writing project all the way to its end. The piece now stands at 285 pages (1.5 spaced, Times New Roman font size 12) and 127,929 words (including chapter titles and chapter numbers). I finished it at Chapter 13 to mirror Daredevil's 13-episode seasons...lame, I know, but not as lame as not wanting to end it on the 13th chapter because of 'bad luck'. Ugh, I'm really stupid sometimes.

So yes, I'm really pleased that I managed to finish it. The re-write is going to be a real pain in the ass, and I always cringe and literally cover my face with my hand when I re-read the things that I've written...but my goal was to finish this, and I did it, and so I will enjoy this feeling of accomplishment until I start mentally eviscerating myself for the bad writing.

This ferry is making me a bit sick. This entry was supposed to be more reflective but it's hard to be reflective on a ferry that's threatening to make me sea sick, and a tummy calling out for food.

Looking forward to the South of France!
Charah coffee

Writing Challenge Completed!

While it is shameful that I have not written in this LJ for the entire month of June, I think I have a decent excuse: the writing challenge.

I have just submitted my last piece for the challenge, and I am honestly too mentally exhausted to even commit to this entry. But I will just write down my thoughts briefly.

1. Writing is fucking hard work.

2. Writing something new and interesting every day is fucking hard work.

3. Sometimes - especially towards the end of the challenge - I really didn't feel like writing.

4. On days when I didn't feel like writing, forcing myself to write felt worse than not writing.

5. But I think, in the end, writing something is always better than writing nothing. Because even if it is tough to distance myself from what I have written, having something to work with is easier than starting from scratch. And if I need to unsee the shit that I have written, I can simply press the 'enter' space multiple times and provide that physical distance on the page.

6. I love writing, even when it's shit and painful.

7. Trying to write two things at once - the on-going Daredevil story which hasn't ended and is about 240 pages long right now, and the daily new piece of fiction - is a very, very bad idea. By the time I'm done with one, I have nothing left for the other. And because I'm really gunning to finish the Daredevil fanfic - I think two chapters will be enough to wrap it up - the quality of my work for the writing challenge has suffered a lot. So, lesson learned: only do one creative piece of writing at a time, unless I need a break from whatever it is I'm working on. But it has to be necessary and voluntary, not externally imposed.

8. I have been writing every single day since I started writing the fanfic in the beginning of April. This is the most intense and consistent commitment to an endeavour that I have made in at least the past 10 years of my life.

9. I am so committed that Etienne and I only went out for drinks last night after I've finished the brief.

10. Indeed, I would rather not see friends if it means that it takes time away from writing.

11. Nothing gives me more joy and satisfaction than writing - even when I'm writing crap.

12. And because I frequently write crap, nothing brings me the kind of torture that bad writing brings to me than, well, bad writing. It is a self-effacing torture, the sort that causes self-flagellation because I want to be so much better, but I can't seem to actually grasp where I am reaching. And it hurts because it is deeply personal, and because I care.

13. I have wasted at least the last decade of my life by not writing. It is time to rectify this mistake.

14. I am a writer. That is all.
Charah coffee

Writing Challenge

I signed up for this challenge last month, thinking that I would be done with my thesis by the time the challenge starts...well, I was wrong; still plugging away at the blasted thesis, wanting to stab my eyes out at Chapter 5 which I hate almost as much as Chapter 1 (because they talk about actual things that happened in real life, none of the imaginary theoretical arguments of the middle three chapters), and now I am realising that I will receive the first brief tonight at 10pm, and I am actually kind of scared.

On the one hand, wouldn't it great to write a new piece of prose every day?

On the other hand, when the hell am I going to find the time to do it? My day goes like this: wake up sometime between 8.30 and 9.30, depending on my mood; breakfast and continue with the fanfic that I'm writing for about an hour; either tennis or run for an hour or less, depending on the activity; shower, sometimes cook, etc, and leave the house at around 1, depending on the day; 30 minutes on the tube to the library; half an hour to forty minutes of writing the fanfic in the British Library while having coffee (because I can't drink in the Reading Rooms); three to four hours straight in the Reading Room (Rare Books and Music), ploughing through the thesis; then 30 minutes on the tube back to the house, where I watch an episode of Daredevil while having dinner; then 15 minutes of sitting around doing nothing, followed by 30 minutes of shower; half an hour on the phone with E; and when it's about 10.30, 10.45, back to writing the fanfic until I get tired. These days, it's around 11.30. Before, it's around midnight to 12.30. And then I go to bed.

My days are like clockwork now and it's boring, and so in a way, it's nice to break up the monotony...but wow. It's going to be extremely challenging. My hope is that, throughout the next month, I will come up with a few things that will be halfway decent and usable. Perhaps some of the briefs would allow me to develop part of the original novel that I've written mostly in my head so far. We will see.

Daunting, but exciting.

And other stuff...well, don't have time to write about them right now, don't quite feel like it either.