John thinks that, if he were in my shoes, and given everything that's happened to me throughout the month of June, he would have had a meltdown. I lost my scholarship, I had a disastrous viva which led to some unforeseen consequences unrelated to my PhD, I broke up with Dominic, and the cherry on top? I found out on Friday that I did not pass the first year examination. In other words, the examiners thought my first year paper was shit, my PhD proposal was shit, and my performance at the viva was shit. As Cambridge doesn't usually fail people right away, I have been given the opportunity to resubmit at the end of September. I will get to that in a while.
It is interesting, then, how calmly I am taking all of this. It helps that I'd come to terms with losing the scholarship; when Prof C emailed me on his own volition, it made me feel a lot better. I was worried that not getting the scholarship would close off the possibility of working in NUS Law post-PhD, but I am glad that's not the case. I also have an inkling of who had got the scholarships and well, I think it was a fair decision, so I couldn't get too upset about it after the initial deep disappointment that I felt when I found out that I didn't get it.
As for the viva, I haven't written about it, so let me do that briefly now. In short, it was quite honestly one of the most horrendous experiences of my life. In the first place, I was already not very thrilled about the documents that I submitted. I didn't think my paper was particularly interesting or insightful; this became quite clear when I listened to my classmates' projects during the presentations. The arguments seemed obvious, the analysis superficial, and the theoretical part was wholly and woefully under-developed. I didn't feel as if I was syaing anything interesting - anything worth saying. I realised how uninteresting my paper was a couple of weeks before the deadline, but I couldn't do anything about it, and so I submitted the shit that I submitted. I thought, then, that I had to bolster the theoretical part of the project because that is what I am interested in - the interplay between communitarianism and liberalism, and how communitarianism can lead to a different conception of, or approach to, rights. In fact, I can even drop the Singapore angle and do pure theory/philosophy; the Singapore part was my way into the topic, but in any event, there is a legitimate question to be addressed there.
Effectively, I went into the viva low on confidence, unsure of myself, convinced that my paper was crap - and it is therefore no surprise that my performance was a hot mess. I came out wanting to cry; at one point during the process, I nearly started crying, but thankfully, I kept it together (though it was probably all over my face). I got the sense that the examiners wanted me to tell them how I would focus the topic and what the research question really is. I could not answer them at all. I was overawed by the occasion; I didn't know what to say; I didn't feel as if I knew the subject well enough. At one point, I stopped defending myself because it'd begun to feel as if it bordered on desperation, and I (perhaps stupidly) had too much pride to put that on display.
I really thought that I was going to fail; and so discovering that I have to resubmit was no surprise at all. I was a bit annoyed, but this feeling was soon replaced by some kind of relief. I also met my supervisors and had a productive meeting. I did some reading today and for the first time in literally months, I am somewhat excited about the PhD again. It would be easy to feel deflated or to get down on myself; most people don't have to resubmit and usually pass on the first try. But considering how clueless I still am about what I'm doing, and how lousy the paper is, and how I bombed the viva, I think it would be a bit too greedy and unrealistic of me to expect the examiners to pass me.
I think I should be positive about this and relish the challenge; as Dr K very cutely said, 'Show them what you can do!' I lost a hell lot of motivation over the past couple of months, but there is very little that is more motivating than the prospect of flunking out of a PhD programme at my dream university. I will not fade away quietly; I will not go down without a fight.
Josh told me to treat it like a summer project. I am honestly very thankful to have met people like him and Raffael and John. John was incredibly supportive and sweet when I had a bit of a breakdown; he pinpointed the issue when he said that I'd lost a lot of confidence over the past month. He said that he's here for me, he'd support me academically and emotionally, and that we'll figure things out together. Josh has also agreed to be my informal supervisor; in fact, he very clearly and succinctly broke down my topic, and the different directions in which it's capable of going, for me at Fitzbillies after my viva, and then once again at Novi a few days later.
In short, I am excited about this. Although I am going back to Singapore for almost six weeks on Wednesday, and will spend two weeks out of that chunk of time gallivanting around Australia (Melbourne and Sydney), I will really focus this time. It is do or die. I want this fucking PhD and no one is going to keep me from it.
It occurred to me a few days ago that the longest that I've been single over the past three years was about two months - and I'd been in relationships with three different guys in the period, four if one counted G but I don't consider that a proper relationship. I'd never thought that I would be a serial monogamist, but it would appear that I have turned into a bit of a monster in that regard.
Rui was quite right when she said that I need time for myself, to myself, and that I should stay away from men for now. The thing is, although I am always reluctant to admit to this because it is a sign of weakness, my dating record reveals a fear, however deeply or superficially felt, of belong alone, or a desire (however deeply or superficially felt) to have a deep connection with someone. Why else have I consistently sought out men over the past three years? When I came to Cambridge, I wanted something - someone - to look forward to at the end of a long day in the library. Dominic was that person. Would I have dated him under normal circumstances? Maybe, but this is not so clear.
He emailed me yesterday, basically saying that he thought we should try again. I have not replied to him. I don't quite know what to say. I think that, right now, I really just want to focus on my PhD and treat everything else as either distractions or relaxation. I don't think that he fits into either category, at least for now.
At the same time, I cannot help but question its point and value. I don't know how to feel something that I don't feel; and I don't want to settle for a relationship that is missing chemistry. It is entirely plausible that I am still - perennially - chasing an unrealistic picture of Perfection that exists only in my head...but I don't think that I am too old to stop trying to find that person. I was afraid of passion after the debacle with G, and so I thought that Dominic's placid disposition and my placid feelings for him were what I needed. However, the fact that I broke up with him partly because I wasn't in love with him goes to show that I do need passion in a relationship after all.
Maybe things would be different if we tried again. Maybe not. I don't know. It is also rather curious that, throughout my dating history, I've only been broken up with once; and I eventually broke up with that person when we got back together and it simply was not working. This person (NEB) broke my heart, and so did G; but I was always the one nitpicking, seeing problems with the relationship, incompatibilities with the other person. Is it just me? Is this a manifestation of my relentless quest for perfection? I don't know.
What I do know is that I've had enough of relationships for a while. I want to be by myself - with myself - for now. It seems that I have been seeking completion in another person over the last three years, but it is perhaps more important to be comfortable in my own skin. I'm just tired, really. I need to focus on myself. I owe myself that much after everything that's happened; so many failed relationships; and this random thing that I'm doing on the side.
Singapore will be a good break. I look forward to meeting up with friends: Mag, Rui, Mel, and even Hadyu, fellow ICTY intern who is now working in CIL. I cannot wait.