During my undergraduate degree I wrote every essay right at the last minute. The most extreme example of that was researching the essay during the day, writing it overnight and submitting it the next morning. I have no idea how I managed that. It was the feast and famine nature of my studying – actually, it was reflective of the feast and famine nature of my life.
I wrote the first essay of my MA over the course of a month. And doing it that way I found what I think of as gems. Bits of information it’s just not possible to find when you rush your research. You’ve got the bones of your essay, got most of your word count, but you’ve left yourself enough time to comb the books. When I got that first essay back I noticed that prof had ticked bits that he particularly appreciated, and they were all gems I’d found. So I’ve never rushed an essay since.
I’m nearing the word count of the dissertation. I have an outline, a conclusion, a literature review, a coherent thread running all the way through. There is a looooooooooooong way to go. The hard work has really only just begun. When you have the bones of your research in place, when you know where you’re going, you know the points you want to make, you know what gets you really excited about this topic… that’s when you have to back yourself up. I’ve disagreed with a major piece of work in this dissertation, so I’d better have good reason for doing so.
That involves trawling through endless passages in the Qur’an to find evidence – which may or may not back up my hypothesis. Bit of a risk, but that’s what research is. The guy I’m critiquing seems to take his ideas and run with them, defending them regardless of whether his source material actually agrees with him. Anyway, I have lots and lots of verses in front of me. I pull apart my argument into its smallest elements and stare at all that Arabic hoping to make some sense of it.
And I have to look at the commentaries I mentioned a couple of posts back. There’s no shortcut for that. These are massive works and I don’t have a little medieval man sitting in my pocket telling me where the best bits are. Pick a verse, any verse, and scan the commentaries to see if I understand anything. I’m not a patient person but I persevered today and I think I found some gems.
Oooooooh, it gives me a buzz. Knowing that this is my own translation, completely my own understanding, that I can’t rely on anyone else to help me out… it makes it harder and much, much riskier. But way more exciting too. It’s tedious and frustrating work, particularly because even after ten years of studying Arabic, I have a lousy memory and often have to look up words in my dictionary. For every word I understand, there are ten that I don’t. Not entirely my fault, Arabic has a lot more words than English, with more meanings, and it’s ancient language expressing complicated ideas with complicated grammar. Anyway, enough excuses. 😉
I love it when I suddenly understand what’s being said. So today I found an explanation of a very small verse that adds a new dimension to the concept of mercy and takes my research just that little bit deeper.
I’m at 9,000 words and I have a feeling I’m going to have to factor in a fair amount of time to delete excess words… Also have to remember to factor in time for the simple things of life too, like washing. Haven’t had a shower in three days, oops. Minger. Buried myself in words. *Goes to clean self*
We camped, we came back home. We want to go camping again. It wasn’t the best holiday ever – there was a tummy bug for me, and I’ve brought tonsillitis and a streaming cold home with me. There was also some traffic noise, which was disappointing. We hadn’t realised we’d be that close to a road – note to self: pay more attention to maps next time. And I never sleep properly when we camp, no spare room to escape to when hubby snores. Even worse when one night I spent a couple of hours in the loo and another my throat was too sore to let me sleep.
Still! The weather was kind to us. The campsite was small and pretty. We wandered around a wood, had fantastic cider in a fantastic pub and paddled in the sea:
I was also really strict with myself and studied every day, coming home with nearly 3,000 words. I even got my conclusion one day which excited me. Yes, this is exciting.
I feel rubbish though. It’s harder studying when my temp’s up and I have to pause to blow my nose every three minutes. Never mind! The end is in sight!
And as I have now got 8,000 words (I’m trying not to think that maybe half of them are repetitions of the other half) maybe we can afford to have another few days camping before I go back to work. I’ve found another teeny campsite we could try out…
Dearest readers, you are lucky and indeed blessed today because I’m giving you prior warning of being bored rigid. You know those people who corner you at parties and bang on endlessly about something you couldn’t give a flying fuck about? That. You’re welcome.
So obviously at this point in time the largest proportion of my head noise is about the D-word. I have one month to go until submission so really you’re doubly blessed because I’ve shown so much restraint in not boring you about this before.
There has been a thread running through all my essays on different aspects of the Qur’an and that is its persuasive and dissuasive elements. It’s an incredibly convincing text and I noticed it in everything I studied. I’ve written about war and violence in the Qur’an, paradise and hell, past prophets… and now I’m writing about God’s mercy as expressed in the Qur’an.
A bloke called Fazlur Rahman wrote a book about the Qur’an and his ideas about mercy come through really strongly, he’s so convinced of his own ideas that he actually ties himself up in knots, which makes it very easy for me to critique, yay! It totally fascinates me – how merciful is the God of Islam, is he this tyrannical being that Western people in particular often think he is, what are the limits of his mercy, how does judgement fit into this, what is the tension between judgement and mercy…??? I have endless questions.
There’s this word in the Qur’an called taqwa and it’s often been translated as fear of God. There’s a general movement away from this concept now though, most likely in response to a bunch of people telling Muslims how horrible their God is. It happens in Christianity too – it used to be all about the hellfire and damnation and now it’s all about the love. And that’s exactly what I’m trying to figure out in the Qur’an. Where is the line drawn?
This totally impacts on the persuasive/dissuasive features of the Qur’an. I read an article saying that the Qur’an uses the most effective tools possible to communicate its message – so what is it that pushes people into the submitting to God? Is it the hope of mercy or the fear of judgement or a mix of both or something else entirely that is most effective? I haven’t reached the answer to my question but I keep it in mind as the thread throughout everything I do.
Thing is though, I can’t just go on what I think about passages from the Qur’an, although obviously my own opinions have to run throughout and will form my conclusion. I can’t even just use contemporary sources, I have to use this thing called tafsir, which is the old, old, OLD commentaries on the Qur’an. We’re talking medieval old and we’re also talking verbosity. None of them could ever just get to the point. When I wrote the essay on paradise and hell I used one tafsir and basically I dipped in and out, looking at an old man’s explanations of relevant verses and if I understood what he was saying I popped it in the essay, if not I skipped it. But I have to use more sources now and it takes FOREVER. They’re so huge that it’s hard to know where to begin in a more systematic way but jumping in and out is haphazard and has no guarantee of any success. I spent a day doing this a couple of weeks ago and had barely anything to show for it. I can’t not use tafsir but it’s a seriously panicky bit of the dissertation – need lots and lots of words, can’t afford to waste time floundering through lots of pretty squiggles in the hope I understand some of them.
So I plucked up the courage and emailed prof for some guidance and as a reward he told me to… do exactly what I’m doing. What a waste of time! I knew I was right to just do this myself. I have no idea what a supervisor is for anyway. Am I supposed to ask him what he thinks of what I’ve done? I’m not entirely sure I want to risk being told now that I’m barking completely up the wrong tree and need to sit on the naughty step. If it’s shit then it’s shit, hopefully it’s not shit.
Right. Now I need to focus on work, not study. This is my last week before I go on leave, so although thoughts about pretty squiggles are filling my head, I really need to think about my job for a bit longer. I do wish people would shut the fuck up though. I had back to back meetings for hours yesterday and by the end of the day I was close to turning into a screaming killing machine.
My brain is always busy, these days even more than usual. Constant head noise. Even sleep doesn’t give me much respite because I’m dreaming more than usual. It’s not even entertaining – last night I dreamt about the website I’m editing at work!
I’m still having difficulty getting my words out at times and yesterday hubby observed that it’s no wonder I’m “fucked in the head” because my thoughts go too fast for me to translate when I speak. He doesn’t know the half of it. No description could do it justice. All the thoughts about all the things all the time. Half formed sentences, mixed with flashing images, other people’s voices, my own voice, music… drives me up the wall. When I have difficulty sleeping hubby often tells me to just stop thinking. Okaaaaaaaay. What is it like in his head? I remember when we were camping last year, sitting outside our tent, I asked him what he was thinking.
What is this nothing? Even when I’m relaxed (not that I can remember when the last time was) my brain is always busy. Sometimes it’s frantic like now, sometimes it’s thoughts slowly meandering around my mind, dreamily bumping into each other.
I’m sure those of you with brains like mine can appreciate the difficulty I have when it comes to studying. I get part way through a paragraph (or a sentence on bad days) and then a string of words or an image pops in my head and it takes me a while to realise I’m concentrating on that and not on the words on the page. If I don’t notice it soon I’ll move on to another train of thought and bounce onto another and so on until I have no idea what the time is or where I am. Then I panic about the time I’ve lost and then the head noise ramps up a gear.
Anyway, today I found two apps that have totally transformed this nasty little cycle. One blocks me from all my favourite procrastination sites (Facebook, Twitter, WordPress, Google, ALL THE WEBSITES) for a set period of time. And another schedules breaks every so often throughout the day and shuts my screen down, basically telling me to back away from the computer. So I bravely went where no green frog has gone before and closed the internet down for six whole hours. Then every half an hour my computer told me to have a five minute break! Mind = blown.
When I noticed my mind wandering (it feels literal sometimes) I was better able to pull it back to the task in hand by looking at the timer telling me how long I had until my next break. Look! Only 26 minutes till you can go into the garden! YOU CAN DO IT! Fan-bloody-tastic. I switched from this:
throughout the day and it totally worked!
1,500 words later and I’m completely wired. This always happens. The more words I spit out onto the page, the more hyper I become. Must be over-stimulation, can’t find anything else to explain it. My hands have been shaking and my breathing has been shallow since 2pm. I’ve been having heart palpitations since 3pm. It feels like the inside of my head is spinning. I’m hoping that splurging here might take some of the force away and let me relax this evening. At least I’m just plain old wired and not ragey-punchy-hate-all-the-things wired.
I think I’ll sit on the step outside the flat for a while, and let my mind wander freely while I look at trees.
Mother sent me a text telling me all about what a wonderful time they’re having. The sisters posted on Facebook all about what a wonderful time they’re having. And tonight’s evening session was filmed and is on the telly now. No, I am not watching it. It would just make me feel more sad.
So the plan now is to not dwell on things that make me feel sad. I can’t really not dwell on things that make me feel stressed, what with spending the next month writing this really stressful thing and therefore needing to think about it a little bit. But not sad. Sadness can fuck off.
So instead I’ll think about the four days hubby and I are going to spend in a field. We went camping for the first time last year and luuuuuuuuurved it. Admittedly, last year’s campsite offered the mostest awesomest scrumpy cider ever so that will be hard to top, but this year we have a tent we can stand up in so we won’t have to crawl around in the mud anymore. Bonus. Do you know how hard it is to do that when you wake up in the middle of the night desperate for a piss?
I’ll have to take books with me and spend time making copious notes to type up into a fabulous dissertation when I get back, but I’ll be studying in a field. That makes it better, right? A teeny, tiny, quiet campsite. Quiet. Mmmmmm, quiet. Just over a week to go. That’s what I’ll focus on right now. And when I get back, when I put myself under house arrest to finish that damn dissertation if it kills me, then I’ll find another thing to focus on. And I’ll have my life back before I know it.
So I’m not going to come off my meds after all. Not right now, anyway. All I did was decide to come off them, I didn’t even do anything, but it’s like my brain rebelled before I got a chance! A tiny switch has flicked. I went somewhere in my head last weekend that is very hard to describe and I can’t tell if I’ve crawled out yet or just gone to a different corner. All very small things, only two of which are anything approaching interesting enough to justify a blogpost.
My brain is going too fast. I’m jerky and itchy inside and it’s having an unfortunate effect on my ability to communicate. You may have seen I wrote a couple of blogposts elsewhere this week… They took me AGES. Today’s was like pulling teeth, I just could not sort myself out, and the typos, oh the typos. But at least I can take my time in writing, I can slow myself down enough to make some sort of sense. Speaking, on the other hand, is proving problematic this week. I’m thinking too fast to talk. My friends have been laughing at me *sob* because I just forget words. I say the wrong words or fumble around for ages plucking random words out of the air or just mumble. I’ll be reduced to miming soon. Sounds like…
There’s a slight shift in perception too. Small things, but hard to describe, especially now as I rifle through my internal dictionary. Tuning into other people’s emotions? The old ladies behind me at church on Sunday were so glad to be with each other for company. The woman opposite me on the train yesterday was sad and hiding it. It sounds silly, of course the old ladies were glad of company, and not many commuters are at their best when they’re stuck on trains in 30 degree heat. But they’re everywhere, these flickers of emotion and vulnerability. That’s it, it’s the vulnerability that gets me. All of a sudden I want to hug random strangers.
But at the same time I want to scratch their eyes out when they talk too much.
It’s that thing, that thing I don’t want to mention. Its name begins with D. Suffice it to say that it needs a lot more words and a lot more detail and it’s a bit scary.
Anyway, there we go, I’m doing a U-turn. There’s far too much at stake to begin barking again now. I’ll not ignore the tiny warning bells. In the meantime, I’ll start work on my new device which will mean I can screw my head off, shake it around a bit and screw it back on.
PS. Been feeling a bit unsure about the blog so I might make it private again, don’t want to pen myself in just because it’s open now. 😉