August 15th, 2016

kiri win


The negative feedback is a gift that won't stop gifting. Seeing the new email from my supervisor this morning brought about a feeling of pure dread that brought me back to my days in private practice, the way I dreaded - absolutely dreaded - going to work every single day. These days, the PhD is feeling a lot like that.

I read the email and I thought about all the time that I spent in the fucking library while I was in Australia, and the resentment was strong, but what did I resent? Surely not the messenger; they are trying to help. I resented myself, my limited abilities, my stubbornness, the whole bloody system, how this PhD - the precise direction that I seem to be headed in - isn't really what I'm interested in. That leads to the next question: What am I interested in?

For as long as I can remember, the only thing that I've consistently wanted to do was to be a writer. I have whined and bitched and raged and cried about this so many times over the past decade, written about this so many times in this blog, thought about this, used it as an excuse every single time I am unhappy with my life, the way I currently am. I am supposedly living my dream, am I not? University of Cambridge, PhD in Law. What could be more perfect? And yet, I found myself thinking today, 'What if I'd gone to Warwick and done the English and Creative Writing programme in 2005 instead of sleep-walking my way through law school?' The real question, of course, was this: What if I'd taken the time to hone a raw talent, what if I'd done something about the one passion that's remained constant, what if I'd had the courage at some point? John speaks of his PhD as if it is his passion; it is his passion. Mine? It feels like a fucking deadweight around my legs. It feels like private practice. It feels like a burden, a triviality, something so utterly inconsequential that I don't know why I wanted it to begin with.

Oh, actually, that's not quite right. I'd wanted it because it seemed the most logical thing to do with my law degree: I didn't like private practice, I didn't like working in a government sector, I didn't like working in an international criminal tribunal; on the other hand, I liked writing, I liked reading, and that's what a PhD is about, right? Writing and reading? Ergo, most logical thing to do.

Let us not forget the brand name that I was definitely chasing. Why does it matter? Nicolas told me in London, 2012, while walking through Covent Garden/Leicester Square, that this shit doesn't matter, that I didn't really need a Distinction; I told him, in my usual fashion, that I'd wanted good grades for its own sake.

It would be nice if I could know the reasons for doing the things that I do. Do I want to spend my life writing academic articles about semi-important things that are ultimately rendered trivial by prolonged philosophical navel-gazing, academic articles that 5 people in the world will read? Do I really want to do this? Have I thought this through? It's not just about writing papers; it's about teaching. As usual, I stumbled my way to wherever I am now, taking a cavalier 'let's see how it goes' attitude, optimistically thinking that things would work themselves out eventually. Oscar Wilde did once say (or supposedly said) that the basis of optimism is sheer terror.

I'm going back to Cambridge in 8 hours. The thought of it fills my heart with dread.

I am trying to think of this ennui, this plunge in my motivation, this negativity towards whatever I am supposedly doing what I am doing as if it's Roger Federer down match points in a grand slam final. Or even better: Roger Federer losing Wimbledon 2008 to his greatest rival. Roger Federer losing the 2011 US Open semi-final to Djokovic from two sets up and a break up in the 5th set. After losing the Wimbledon final in 2008, he went on to win the US Open. After that horrible 2011 semi-final loss, he won Wimbledon the next year. Did he get down on himself after heartbreaking losses? He probably had those moments, but he never gave up. He always regrouped and bounced back.

Even if my greatest motivation is the fear of failure, it is better than nothing. It would be too unrealistic and blindly optimistic to hope for a more positive motivation at this point; that is how much I am honestly on the verge of giving up. But I am also stubborn. Even if I have no fucking clue whatsoever why the fuck I am even doing this, I don't like being told that I can't do something, and so I won't go down without a fight. I couldn't have just stumbled my way into Cambridge, right? Of course, perhaps this is when the curtains fall on the farce that's my academic potential (i.e. close to zero), but I don't have to deal with that yet. And since my 'let's wing it and see how' approach to life has got me to an objectively good place, I won't mess with a winning formula, and I will continue to think of Roger and his coming back from heartbreaking defeat to scale even greater heights.


I wanted to write about reading an old diary from 2012 but I am too tired.

Lastly, Foxes' 'Scar' may be about how she had her heart broken but eventually healed, it is also quite fitting for my PhD:

'Now you're just a scar, a story I tell
Such an ugly mark, but I wear it so well
Like, oh well
Now you're just a scar, a time that I fell
For someone who didn't love me well
Like, oh well'

I love this song.