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7 Sep 2009

New beginnings – A lot of people think of the new year as a time of beginnings, but for me the new year is always a rather hectic time—I usually have so many deadlines to meet that by the time the new year is in sight, I am thinking about endings, not beginnings. When January rolls around, I am too exhausted to do much in the way of new things.

“For me, being in academia, March and September are times of beginnings”

For me, being in academia, March and September are times of beginnings, and last week was no exception. Even though I enjoy the breaks, it was nice to begin classes again. For one, classes reintroduce a sense of structure to life. And it was also nice to see my students again. The students are without a doubt the best part of this job, and I truly enjoy teaching them.

In addition to a new semester of classes, last week marked another new beginning as well—or maybe I should say a “rebeginning.” Readers with particularly good memories will remember that my wife and I ran a 10k race last fall. I wasn’t too happy with the race itself, but I did enjoy the running. Unfortunately, we didn’t keep it up after the race ended. This past Thursday, though, I got up early and started running again, and on Saturday we went down to the river and I ran four kilometers for the first time in almost a year.

We have decided not to run the Hi Seoul race this year. I didn’t like the course last year, which narrows down to about a meter or so wide for one stretch, and I was very aggravated when my chip malfunctioned and my official time was much slower than my actual time (although it has just occurred to me that the chip may not have malfunctioned—they may have all been turned on at the same time, rather than when each individual runner crossed the start line. That’s the only explanation that makes sense outside of an outright malfunction). Hyunjin, on the other hand, just doesn’t like the T-shirt the Hi Seoul organizers are giving out this year. So, after doing a bit of searching online, we found the Nike Human Race, which is being held in major cities around the world on October 24th. It’s a 10k race, which is ideal for us—although I’d like to run a half marathon at some point, I think I’ll need a little more than a month and a half of training for that.

My goal this year is to run 10k in fifty minutes or under. This is actually my goal for training, because I learned last year that running 10k by yourself and running a 10k race are two entirely different things. When you’re running by yourself, it really is just you and the road, but when you run a race, you have other runners to contend with. At least, this was my experience. I spent the entire race passing and weaving around other runners, and this slowed me down considerably. I had way too much energy left at the end and ended up sprinting the last few hundred meters, but it wasn’t enough to make up for lost time.

I think fifty minutes is a reasonable goal for now. On Saturday, I ran four kilometers in just under twenty-two minutes, which would give me fifty-five minutes for ten kilometers. Not the greatest, but not bad considering I hadn’t run in almost a year. And when I think back to when I first started running last year—when I almost threw up after running a kilometer—it doesn’t seem that bad at all. And I know I’ll improve; this morning, I ran the same distance almost forty seconds faster. I’m still twenty seconds per kilometer off my pace, and I have yet to even approach 10k, but I’m feeling confident.

Finally, today marked another new beginning of sorts—I have decided to set aside Mondays as “Dissertation Day.” As many of you know, I have been working on my dissertation for a distressingly long time now, and the time has come to wrap this thing up and move on with life. I’ve spoken to a number of people who have gone through the process, and one consistent piece of advice I’ve heard is to set aside one day a week where you work on just the dissertation. This makes sense: it can take some time to get into the right frame of mind for a project, especially one this big, and trying to divvy up that time into equal periods throughout the week would be less productive because you would have to go through the wind up each time. By setting aside a day, you can get more work done once you are in the groove.

This is the theory, and I’ve spoken to people who say it works, so I’m giving it a try. It was a bit daunting at first, just trying to wrap my head around the magnitude of what I have to accomplish, so the first thing I did was sit down and write out a list of all the things I’ve done so far and the initial steps of what I have left to do. Writing out what I’ve accomplished so far helped in two ways: it allowed me to see at a glance where I stand, and it was also comforting to see that I have indeed done quite a bit of work. Among other things, I have written a good deal on the prior literature and theoretical grounding (around thirty pages so far), I’ve completed charts that organize the tales I will be using as materials for my study, and I’ve presented three papers on Korean tricksters (and published two of those papers in journals) and contributed one chapter on a Korean trickster figure to a book series.

That being said, a lot of work remains to be done. Although I’ve gotten a good start on the prior literature, much more remains to be written—I could conceivably end up with as much as twice what I have now. There are other charts that need to be completed, and much of the work I originally did involved non-human tricksters; since I’ve decided to focus only on human trickster figures, I’m going to need to refocus my efforts. Believe it or not, but there are also still books and papers that need to be read. And then, of course, there is the matter of writing the thing. I’ve no idea how long it will end up being, but if the prior lit and theoretical grounding section ends up being forty to fifty pages, then it would be no surprise if the whole thing topped two hundred pages. That’s a lot of pages, even if I have already written a fair amount on the subject.

But I’m trying to take things one step at a time. That’s why my list of things yet to do only includes the initial steps—I don’t want to discourage myself with the mountain of work left to do. I’ll worry about what comes next once I get through these initial steps. Hopefully, with one dissertation day a week, I’ll be able to make progress. Of course, I won’t be able to devote the day entirely to the dissertation—prep work for classes and other unavoidable responsibilities will demand my time—but I hope to invest most of the day in the dissertation.

Despite all the work I have to do this semester, here at the beginning I am feeling confident and positive. I have a direction, and I am moving forward, and it feels like I am getting things done. No doubt the new exercise regime has helped my mood, so you can be sure I will keep that up. Let’s just hope I will be able to maintain this momentum throughout the semester, especially toward the end when things start to get hairy, as they always do.

Oh, and I suppose I have one more tidbit for you today, albeit one only tangentially related to the topic. A number of months ago I started writing a column for the quarterly magazine Koreana, published by the Korean foundation. I have been translating for them for years (for seven years, to be precise), and I had long wanted to write a column, but this particular dream came true only recently, thanks to the enthusiasm of my new editor. At any rate, my second column is out in print, which means that my very first column is now available to read online: a piece on the popularity of mountain climbing in Korea. I just went over to the site and noticed that my column is currently third in the “popular articles” list on the front page. It may not mean much, but it made me day just a little brighter.

Well, that’s all I have for you today. Yes, I know, I owe you some photos and entries on our recent trip to the States, and I will get to those. I’ve also decided that I am going to spend most of my content-preparing time this semester trying to erase the backlog of photos and writing that runs back a few years now—yeah, it’s gotten that bad. In fact, it’s gotten to the point where either I start hacking away at this backlog or I write off a whole bunch of really neat content. I’m not yet ready to do the latter, so I guess this is another new beginning—beginning a journey back in time here at Liminality.

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