I felt really strange for most of today, while sitting in the DPIR and working on one or the other paper. I felt significantly lighter than usual, as though I should sort-of bounce along like a moon astronaut. Also, I felt this impulse that seemed like a signal that should normally be attached to some need, as if to say VERY X, where X is an impulse like hunger or tiredness. When I checked, however, there was no X to feel VERY about, just some sense that I was missing something big. Such things can reduce one’s ability to concentrate.
Rather later, when walking back from dinner with Emily and her father, it occurred to me that the M.Phil in IR is rather like doing the front crawl. There are two phases: one in which your head is underwater and you are trying to move forward and the other in which you are trying to breathe, so as not to die. Like while swimming, the breathing part is always a matter of necessity and relief. It’s cyclical and it doesn’t last long. For me, it happens between Tuesday evening and Thursday, more or less.
Having dinner with Emily and her father, by contrast, was rather like getting out of the pool. sitting on the agreeable patio, and reading a good book. That has something to do with the relief of being ripped out of the narrow context of colleges, libraries, and shops where I have spent virtually all of the last month. Even though some of the time there was spent having a look at Emily’s paper and some more of it was spent discussing issues relevant to the course, it felt overall like a more thorough kind of non-school than anything else I have done so far. Even going for walks and reading books feels like the breath between two strokes, you see.
Meeting Emily’s father was engaging and worthwhile. It amused me to slip a birthday note (Ave Avi A vie) into the mail slot of Avi Shlaim, who lives next door and whose book I read in Emily’s company a few days ago. Likewise, sitting beside a fire and eating omelette were both pleasant reminders of the enormity of the non M.Phil, non IR world.
Speaking of that world, I feel compelled to respond to something Emily told me. Apparently, a good share of the M.Phil program seems to be reading this blog. (Something similar is true of the college.) My first response to hearing that is fear and the concern that I’ve said something stupid. My second response is the general feeling that people really ought to have better things to do with their time, though far be it for me to tell people what to do. In general, then, I suppose I should offer my greeting to the concealed masses. Your presence forces me to do a couple of things. Firstly, it forces me to at least try and be interesting. Even during days when I wake up and feel ghastly, try to read, do some laundry, and go to bed, I need to come up with something that won’t have people drooping with boredom and slamming shut their laptops in disgust. Now, I should be clear about one thing. I try to be entertaining for the people back in Vancouver as well. The big difference is that, since they are not here, I could probably entertain them most easily in ways somewhat different from those in which I might entertain those in Oxford. It’s the second group – the closer group – that compels me to be reasonably accurate, as well as interesting.
The second, and rather more difficult, thing that I am forced to do is be tactful. As much effort as it can require to be at least a bit interesting, it is much harder to maintain a blog as a relatively sane, civil, rant-free place. When one has the nestling comfort of obscurity all around, these things are not important. When one is standing at the centre of a group of unidentified figures, it comes rather to the forefront. All in all, it will probably be good practice. Please forgive me, in any event, the occasional lapse. Much as I try not to be, I am a fallible creature. Part of the reason for this blog is to help me process my thinking into a more refined form. It is quite possible to believe something for a long time that you instantly see the wrongness of as soon as you are challenged to write it down and explain it. Self-improvement is an aim of the blog, and life in general.
At the moment, however, there is no time for that. I have two papers due on Tuesday that exist, at present, in the state between when the individual components are welded together and laid out according to the design and the part where everything is strapped and attached and the thing is ready to fly on its own.
Many thanks to Emily for a very pleasant evening. Let us hope that the revitalization it has induced will help me to overcome the latest batch of hurdles the program has thrown my way.
PS. One last note to people reading: I would appreciate if you would participate, in some sense. I much prefer a discussion to an extended one-sided rant. I realize that it might be awkward to comment in a space that I basically have exclusive dominion over (though certainly not complete control). Therefore, I suggest that people with nothing in particular to do should consider posting on the IR forum. I really think we might be able to help each other out with things, if not actually get to know one another better.
PPS. To those asking her about it, Emily never promised to get me a job of any kind. She merely indicated that she might be able to set me looking in appropriate directions. It’s quite unfair to approach her with requests for similar treatment, just because I was careless enough to post the initial incident here.