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16 Jan 2010

The hibernation – I realize that I haven’t posted too frequently lately, but posting is about to become even less frequent. The reason for this is what I have taken to calling “the hibernation.” As I mentioned last year, the time has come for me to finally write my dissertation. Originally, I had dreams of following the advice of that senior, who told me to lock myself in my study for twenty days, write five pages a day, and emerge at the end victorious, with a hundred-page draft in hand. That sounds very nice and quite romantic, but unfortunately that’s probably not what’s going to happen.

“The hibernation is going to begin as planned, on Monday. This is where I buckle down and get stuff done.”

Until very recently—this week, in fact—I had held out hope that this would be possible. I held off on the hibernation in an attempt to finish up everything else that was standing in the way, hoping to start work on the dissertation with a completely clean slate. Well, it doesn’t look like the slate is ever going to be completely clean. The literary history translation I have been working on for years looks like it’s finally coming down to the wire and, although I don’t have a solid schedule yet, chances are that I will have to work on it sometime in the next month or so. There is also my magazine work, which can’t be avoided.

The thing is, if I wait around for my schedule to clear up completely, I’m never going to get this dissertation written. So I’ve stopped waiting. On Thursday I spent a good part of the day cleaning up my study and cleaning off my desk. It may sound trivial, or even procrastinatory, but the fact is that my desk seems to be a physical representation of my mental state. Usually it’s full of a bunch of stuff, all of which serves a purpose. But when it’s time for me to clear everything else from my mind and set myself (more or less) singularly to a task, it helps if I clear everything else from my desk as well.

Yesterday I took out all the papers that I have accumulated over the years related to this subject—at the moment, I have three big file boxes full of papers. I have no idea exactly how many pages are in each box, but I’m guessing it’s upward of two thousand. Then, of course, there are all the .pdf files that I don’t bother printing out because it’s easier just to annotate them on my computer. And the books that line one side of my desk. It makes my head hurt a little to think of just how much I’ve read over the years, all on the subject of the trickster. And despite all of that, sometimes I feel that I don’t really know anything at all.

It’s always difficult to pick things up again after a while, even with a nice clean desk. I spent quite some time just looking over everything and formulating a plan of attack. I had taken some time last year to write down what I had achieved, where I was at the moment, and what I still needed to do, so it helped to have that. One of the things I still need to do is read several hundred pages of tales for a particular pair of characters about which I have yet to write a paper (the three other characters I’m dealing with have all been the subject of papers or book chapters). That may seem like a lot, but a lot of the tales are variations on the same themes, and this initial reading is more just to figure out which tales deal with which narrative elements. I won’t get into the terminology or details, because unless you’re a folklorist it will bore you to tears. Suffice it to say that the purpose of this read-through is organizational as opposed to analytical.

Today, however, I had to take a break from the dissertation and work on my magazine stuff. I finished up my latest article earlier this week, but now I have to translate two articles as well, and get them done as soon as possible. I worked on them some today and will probably continue to work on them tomorrow and possibly Monday as well, although I’d like to get back to the dissertation on Monday, too.

Anyway, the hibernation is going to begin as planned, on Monday. This is where I buckle down and get stuff done. The main lifestyle change is going to be turning off the internet—I am actually going to just shut off the modem on Sunday night and leave it off all day on Monday. I will turn it on for a half hour in the evening so I can take care of personal emails, but then it’s going off again, and I’m getting away from the computer for whatever time I’m not spending working on the dissertation. I have books that I can read for pleasure, I can go out for a walk to get some air and exercise—anything to give my brain and body a break.

I will not be doing anything else during that thirty minutes of internet time but email. No blogs, no internet surfing, no nothing. There are friends I will probably check in on occasionally, but I’ll probably save that for the weekend. The reasoning behind this is that things are going to build up, and if I just let myself go I’ll spend all of my evening hours in front of the computer after spending all my day hours in the same place. Kind of like what I do normally. But it’s not healthy, either physically or mentally, and I’m going to need to be in good shape on both fronts if I want to get through this in one piece.

I really have no idea if I will be able to write five page a day, and I’m not even sure anymore if that’s how I should measure progress. I was at a gathering toward the end of last year, and I was talking to the New Zealand ambassador to Korea (who is a really nice guy and somehow always manages to remember my name even though I don’t see him that often), and he suggested I treat it like a job, working from a certain time in the morning until lunch, and then from after lunch until a certain time in the evening. Given the nature of what I’m going to be doing, and the fact that I’m honestly not really ready to just sit there and pound out page after page (i.e., I’ll probably be doing research along the way), I wonder if this is not a better way to approach it. At first five pages didn’t seem so bad, but I wonder if I’m not setting myself up for disappointment if I aim for five pages every day. It might be better to keep hours—as long as I can put in good work during those hours, the end result will be the same, and I will be able to feel a sense of accomplishment.

This may sound a bit silly, like I’m fiddling with semantics or trying to “game” my brain, but sometimes you have to do some silly things to keep yourself motivated. At any rate, I’ve given up on the fantasy of emerging in twenty days with a finished product. That’s just not going to happen. With everything that’s going on right now, chances are I will be working like a fiend until the end of February, and I think I will be happy if I am, say, 80% or 90% done by the time the semester starts. I will be ecstatic if I am 100% done by then, and that will indeed be my goal, but I won’t be too disappointed if I don’t fully reach that goal.

So what does that mean for Liminality? Well, I don’t know if I won’t post at all before this is done. Chances are that I will pop up every now and then with a quick update, partly to let you know what is going on and partly to just have another outlet for my writing. But these updates will not be frequent. That’s all I can say right now, because I have never done this before and I honestly have no idea what this is going to be like.

It has not escaped my attention that the phrase “no idea” has already appeared three times in the entry (well, you know, except for that instance). I really am sailing into unchartered waters here. For the most part I’m dreading it, but I would be lying if I said there wasn’t a part of me that is also excited about this. That might sound a bit weird, even masochistic, but I am excited—excited at the prospect of being done with this thing, of taking the albatross from around my neck and casting it into the sea.

Well, this is it, I guess. I feel like I’m about to take a deep breath and dive into the dark ocean. I’ll see you again when I finally come up for air.

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