I was pissed off in the morning.
Then I had an intense-as-fuck two-hour meeting with my supervisors from which I essentially took away this message: 'Your writing is beautiful, but your thinking is a steaming pile of shit.' Why am I doing a PhD in law/political philosophy/political theory? Talk about not being the best version of myself and trying instead to be the best version of the second-best version of myself.
Then I played my last mini league match of the summer league and I knew from the warm-up that it was going to be tough. My opponent - older and heavier - had the most unconventional strokes: she hit the ball flat, made it skid, and alternated pretty evenly between hitting the ball short and suddenly hitting it deep. So I knew that it was going to be tough, but I was lulled into a false sense of security when I went up 2-0. The fact that I lost it 7-4 doesn't really reflect how I hung in there and got back on serve, but lost it when serving at 4-5. And the tiebreak...what a disaster.
My mental game was weak today. I was so hung up on the meeting and all the things that I had to do and how intense it was, and I really tried to focus but I was just getting really frustrated when I kept dumping balls into the net. She hit a quite a few shots that I had nothing but 'too good' to say to, so I wasn't displeased to be beaten. But I just couldn't adjust to her style. She wasn't giving me balls that I usually feed off of, and she kept getting the ball back. I always start off the match wanting to move my opponent left and right, but I'm never in control of the baseline; I'm always sucked into their game. During a particular point, when I realised that all I was doing was hitting down the middle, I decided to change direction - and ended up hitting a rather routine forehand into the net. I simply don't think when I play. I tried not to get frustrated today, I really did, but you know it's damn bad when I start berating myself in Chinese: 大白痴，不会打球就回家吧！
Above all else, I played without a backhand today. I don't know what it is about my groundstrokes, why there are days when I can't hit a decent backhand, and days when it's just on fire. I lost so many points on my backhand, especially when she returned a serve down the line to the backhand. Actually, pretty much every time she hit an angled shot to my backhand, I lost the point. I couldn't get my feet in position, couldn't set up for the ball, could only desperately lunge at it and hit it way wide. I always lose the point when Jay hits his lefty topspin forehand to my backhand corner too, so I know it's a weakness. I just don't know what to do about it.
I think I was mostly frustrated and distracted by her playing style and how I had no answer, just no fucking answer. The shots were all so unpredictable that I was confused, couldn't predict where it was gonna go, couldn't step in the baseline and anticipate short balls because sometimes she sent it deep...I couldn't focus on the ball and the shot because I was too focused on actually getting to the ball in time. It just kept skidding and there was barely any spin, just these flat balls that she kept sending over the net.
It was one of my toughest matches. I suppose the upside is that I didn't walk away from this thinking I could have won...because I really don't know how I could have won. Obviously, though, and I have known this for a while, my defence sucks. I have no defensive game. I'm the typical brainless ball-bashing too-offensive player who doesn't know how to defend effectively. I really need to work on that.
Overall, though, while I didn't like losing, I think it wasn't that bad. It would have been nice if my backhand hadn't decided to stay at home to sleep, but all things considered, I did what I could and managed to hang in there until 4-5 and I think I was broken at 30-40. So it could have been worse. I just need to figure out an answer to these unconventional players and their unconventional shots; I can't expect everyone to give me yummy topspinny balls that I can bash, can I?
(Won 13 of last 17 matches. Still a pretty good win rate, but W/L record in this current division is 1/3. Pretty shit.)
Isn't it curious how I explicate so much more on tennis than my PhD?
I knew from the minute that Dr H said that she really liked my writing and that I wrote beautifully that the content was gonna be rather torn to bits. Okay, it wasn't torn to bits, but there are a lot of problems. And there are a lot of problems because I don't spend enough time thinking about the arguments. The lack of thinking is so apparent that it is actually embarrassing.
The problem is also that I have stopped caring a little bit. I still believe it is viable and that I am making a solid argument, but I have stopped caring about the larger issue that I am trying to tackle. I am just jaded, really. Academics aren't going to change Singapore's constitutional rights practice; only the powers that be will do that. So I have lost motivation in that regard.
What about intellectual activity for its own sake, then? Well, I suppose I simply don't think that I'm that intellectual; or maybe it's more the case that I'm jaded about this, too. I'm bored. My attention span has given out and I can't focus the way I have to anymore.
But here's the problem: I'm not going to quit this PhD because I am not a quitter, and it is almost a matter of principle that I don't quit; so the only thing that I have to do is to focus and get the job done. Not just get the job done; but do it well, make it count, get the fucking thesis published when it's done. At least I would have a published book to my name, even if it's not exactly the kind of book that I want to publish. Baby steps, right?
It honestly makes me die a little inside whenever someone praises my writing. I have been trying to write but it is so hard. It is so hard. It has been 8 or 9 years since I last wrote something in full (and they were shit), and it is just so hard.
But I will keep on trying because this means more than the world to me. This is who I am. I don't know why I spent the last 15 or 16 years trying to deny this, or knowing it all along but being too afraid to do anything about it. Being afraid of facing the challenge head-on, freezing up when faced with an unconventional shot, my mind scrambled, trying to adjust to the opponent when I should be calling the shots. Trying to adjust myself and my self to external expectations, going with the flow, letting others get so deeply beneath my skin that they end up dictating my choices. Where's my autonomy in all of this? I suppose I am living proof of the communitarian ontology of the person that I argue for in my PhD: we are all shaped by our social world, constituted by these attachments - and apparently, we are constituted, too, by social expectations of the type of career path that someone with my background and my grades ought to choose, and someone like me ought to choose a career path that has some degree of job security.
I don't know what all this bullshit is. Whatever. I need to focus. Despite all the angst, I am still a perfectionist; it has to be a fucking good thesis or I should just fucking go home now. And since the latter is not an option...
Lastly: Nicolas from the LSE was really getting on my nerves the past few days. A few days ago, he sent me a message, asking if I would visit Latin America (he's Chilean). I replied a couple of days later, 'Erm no plans at the moment to do that.'
Then this message really pissed me off: 'Hmm would you be interested [to plan] a trip for 2018? :)'
I was thinking this: If you want to see me, come and see me; don't make me go to you. So I decided to call his bluff. I replied, 'I have no money. Why don't you come visit?'
I'm not sure what this reply means: 'Hmm I could go and invite you somewhere then :), I'd love to see you and it'd [be] really fun to travel together a bit :)'
Right, I think I've just understood. I think he meant that he could come to the UK and take me somewhere.
I would like to know why this exchange pissed me off. From any objective standpoint, he wasn't doing anything wrong, just expressing a long-standing interest (since 2012, for fuck's sake) that he has in me. But maybe I am annoyed not because of the expression of interest, but because of the person who is expressing it, and the lack of similar sort of expression from people that I wish would express it. I was never seriously interested in him, and merely used him for my own selfish ends (to be fair, he didn't mind having sex with me, I'm sure. Actually, it was pretty good sex, at least the first time). I'd always thought he was too melodramatic and couldn't take no for an answer.
More importantly, I suppose, I'm just completely baffled as to what he's doing and what he hopes to get out of this. How is he still interested after all these years? Am I supposed to be flattered? Is he going to stick around after this holiday is over? Will he be willing to shoulder some of this stupid emotional burden that I carry around with me like a noose around my neck? If not, just stop it.
I am just sick of this loneliness that the summer has induced in me, and I am taking it out on him (but at least I am not expressing it). I am taking it out on Matt too, building expectations in my mind that I wouldn't even have if I had more of a social life outside of the PhD - if my friends were actually around, if Barry hadn't left, if I had more friends that I could call upon to go to a bar with me on a Saturday night just so that I could get the guy that I'm dating to make me a drink. This isn't me; I am not someone who is bored of my own company. I have always needed so much alone time when I was working, even when I was in law school; even when I was at the LSE.
But being here, in this tiny village, doing this isolating and self-directed PhD, I am driving myself crazy, I spend too much time with myself, I am with myself all the time, and I am sick of my own company. I couldn't stop dating because I hated not having something or someone to look forward to at the end of a laborious, frequently frustrating day in the library, and so I wanted to fill that gap. I don't think I am filling it at all, dating Matt, and I know this but I justify it by saying, 'Well, there's no opportunity cost, is there?' What kind of a person am I? Is that what he's thinking when he goes out with me? Because I would find that incredibly hurtful. So what am I doing, just passing time with him until someone better comes along? Sure, of course, you could say there's nothing really wrong with that since he's non-committal anyway, and he's probably just passing time with me until he leaves, whenever that is. But am I not supposed to be better than this? 'This' meaning using someone to pass time with until someone better comes along, and 'this' also meaning being someone's means of passing time.
I know myself well enough to know that, if I start thinking of someone that I used to date when I am currently dating someone, then it means that I have problems with the person that I am currently dating. I couldn't stop thinking about Georgios when I was dating Dominic, and now, I keep thinking about Bruno. I keep thinking, too, that I should say something, tell him what I'm thinking instead of everyone who would care to listen but him. But on the other hand - why don't these things come naturally? Why isn't he wanting to see me more often than once a week, why doesn't he want to keep in touch during the days that we don't see each other, why doesn't he seem to like me more, why isn't he backing up his claim to like me a lot with concrete action? In other words, why isn't he doing the things that Bruno did when he was chasing the shit out of me? Even simpler: why isn't he chasing me at all?
It should be clear by now how irrational I am being. Is it not a fact that everyone is different? Is it also not a fact that Bruno changed his mind after 10 days and I criticised him after the fact for lacking self-awareness and not critically thinking about what he wanted? Matt is not representing himself as anything else but exactly who he is. He told me that he is inexperienced in relationships, he told me that he needs time to himself too, and he told me early on, when we went out the first time, that he's shit at texting. I know from his past behaviour that he's not the sort of guy to take the lead in a relationship; he's not someone who sees a girl that he wants and goes after her. Why else did it take him two bloody months to make his next move? Isn't the fact that he made a move at all significant in itself? He even admitted that he would never have asked me out if I hadn't done it because he thinks that I'm really pretty. So why am I expecting him to be something other than who he is? Why am I expecting, or wanting, him to do the things that someone else - someone entirely different in so many ways - did, and who eventually couldn't keep it up? If I want Matt to be more like Bruno, am I saying that I want him to hurt me too?
He was sweet today when I texted him after my meeting. I said something about how I'm not smart enough for my PhD, and he replied, 'Yes you are! You are the smartest person that I know!' So he has his moments too. Do I want him to take the initiative more? Yeah, of course. But then, was I not pleasantly surprised when he actually did text on Wednesday evening? Why should this be cancelled out by his reverting to his lackadaisical texting style the next day?
I would be lying if I said that he's providing me with everything that I am looking for in a (quasi)relationship. But if I'm that dissatisfied, just stop seeing him, right? Stop seeing him, stop complaining, stop expecting him to be someone else. So if I want to date him, I have to accept him as he is. Maybe I have some legitimate grounds to ask him to make more of an effort, but I have to stop the comparison to Bruno, stop expecting him to solve all my problems relating to loneliness, stop expecting him to behave in a way that is contrary to his character. If I want someone who takes the lead, I shouldn't date him; but I went into this knowing that it's not who he is, so on what basis am I now begrudging him for something that I have known from the start?
That was a very helpful digression. I think I am all talked out now, and the post-tennis fatigue has suddenly hit me. I need to sleep.