Feeling Happy for Someone Else

I’m going through a very difficult period at the moment. For personal reasons I have to intermit and return to Taiwan. I will still work through my thesis corrections during intermission, but at the moment I’m juggling about five things at the same time and I haven’t worked on the thesis for about a month now. Dealing with the move, applying for intermission, packing, arranging shipping, worrying about my thesis, feeling anxious about life when I move back… … etc. etc., it’s as if I’ve fallen into the doom of failure and I would live there forever.

However, I just received a text message from a friend who’s passed his viva with minor corrections. We’ve been doing aerial together for a couple of months until one day we realized we’re actually doing a PhD in the same department. We meet regularly during training, so much of our conversation was about aerial rather than the usual “how’s writing going” or “have you been to a conference recently.” Of course, we still talked about the struggles of the PhD, but we connected more through our passion for aerial rather than the PhD. 

Just a moment ago I realized I probably wasn’t going to live in doom forever. I noticed I was smiling as I texted him back. Rather than hoping that someone else would also get major corrections and experience the misery I am in to make myself feel better, I genuinely felt happy for him. 

If I am still capable of feeling happy for someone, then I haven’t let the PhD beat me completely.



Increasing Writing Productivity: Trying Out the Pomodoro Technique

Pomodoro App

The Pomodoro App I use

In need of boosting my writing productivity, I’ve been trying out the Pomodoro Technique. You can find more information about the technique here, but I’ve been using the technique in the most simple way: you set a count-down timer for 25 mins., work through this time period on the task at hand, then rest for 5 minutes. After resting, start again. Every time you finish a 25 working cycle, draw a tomato.

I’ve known about this productivity technique for years, but never tried it properly until recently. What didn’t work for me before was I used a timer on iGoogle, so every time I needed to check for references or journal articles, the timer on the screen distracted me. I gave up very quickly.

I remember a friend who completed her PhD saying that the technique really worked for her, so a couple of weeks back I decided to give it another chance. I downloaded a free Pomodoro app for my phone. I also lowered the phone’s volume so that it’s still loud enough for me to hear, but not give me a jolt when the timer goes off.

This time I found the technique surprisingly effective. Because I know there’s going to be a break after 25 mins., I’m able to focus on the thesis better by reminding myself that I can surf on the internet or procrastinate later. It also gives me a great sense of satisfaction to see how many tomatoes I’ve drawn each day. Drawing tomatoes helps me monitor my working hours. I’m not an early riser so I always assumed I was more productive in the afternoon. But I realized that my ideas are actually sharper in the morning so it’s easier to write within the first two hours after I wake up.

25 mins. might not seem like much, but as I accumulated 25 mins. throughout the day, I was surprised at the number of hours I could work on the thesis without distraction. These 25 mins. are like sprinting, so they are quality research and writing time. When I count the tomatoes I’ve worked through the day, it helps to get rid of the guilty feeling wondering whether I’ve written enough.

This method also counters the need to have substantial writing time blocks. It’s always better to have the afternoon or the morning free for writing, but when little tasks like doing the dishes or running errands pop up in between, it can feel as if your writing time is being broken up. I use the Pomodoro technique every time I work on the thesis, so even if I have to leave my work miday, I still have a grasp of how much time I’ve spent on writing.

If I’m finding it really hard to concentrate, I disconnect the internet. I get distracted easier in the afternoons. This is the time when subconsciously I start measuring how much more work I’ve got to do before the end of the day. I lose motivation to do the corrections and have to fight hard to resist procrastination. The gesture of disconnecting the internet itself–unplugging the cable or clicking off the wifi–somehow helps to embed the action into the brain. It’s a bit like quitting a bad habit. So when I want to search for something and find that the internet is off, I remember I’ve turned it off for a reason. Resisting one or two urges to use the internet usually helps me get into full writing mode.

What techniques do you use to boost writing productivity?

New Year Aerial Resolutions: Work Hard, Play Hard

This has been a particularly difficult year for me. My thesis major corrections has been a big blow to my confidence, but I am grateful that I am slowly coming out of it with the help and support of good friends.

The aerial side of things has been completely different from my academic work. I feel stronger, more motivated than ever, and feel much closer to my dream of teaching aerial one day. I completed a 12-weeks Silks Level I evening course at the Circus Space this term and never missed a class. That’s a back and forth two-hours journey to London once every week. Once every week might not seem much, but when you’ve got a thesis correction schedule to chase, spending the afternoon and evening on the road feels like a sin. But I feel it has kept me sane, giving me something to look forward to and be excited about. We had a very good teacher for our silks class. She’s methodical on wraps and this has helped me become less afraid of drops.

So my new year resolutions is simple: work hard and play hard. When I work on my thesis I won’t think about my next aerial class (this is very hard considering the amount of time I get distracted doing “aerial research” on YouTube). When I train I won’t think about my thesis. Piece of cake. I need to come up with a more efficient schedule to fit the one thing that I absolutely have to pull through, and the other thing that I love.

A few of my favorite aerial things this year:

1. The curly-wurly drop:

This is my first two-rotations drop. I first learned this drop on the silks and then transferred it to the rope. I’m still bewildered every time I do it: your eyes are open all the way through the drop but you don’t see anything because one, gravity is pulling you quite quickly, and two, you’re concentrated on keeping body tension. I’m always amazed at how different a drop feels on your body compared to seeing someone doing it. I might be side tracking a bit here, but this is one of the reasons why you should NEVER, EVER try to replicate a drop from YouTube. Admittedly I tried to copy a double-knee hock drop that I saw on the internet when I was a beginner/improver. I thought, “Hey, how difficult can it be?” I was tangled up with the rope squeezing me out of air. NOT a good idea. My point is that taught safely the curly-wurly is a fun drop to do.

curly wurly!

curly wurly!

2. Becoming less afraid of split silks:

When I started learning aerial, I didn’t have a preference of apparatus, but I’d get more confused on the silks than on rope. For me silks wraps are more complicated… with two strands of fabric you have more to think and wrap yourself with than one vertical rope. I turn around and left and right are no longer the same. Darn. Slowly I steered towards the apparatus that felt more natural to me. But doing a course on silks this term has helped me become less afraid of the silks. Some split silks moments:

neck balance on a split silks sequence

part of a split silks sequence

3. Gaining better spatial awareness:

Working with split silks means that your relationship with the apparatus is slightly different. I love being able to grab a bit of fabric and lay out. The material of the fabric offers alternative ways of movement. I feel that my spatial awareness has actually improved by gaining more vocabulary on the silks. It also feels really good to be able to work on another apparatus when the rope is giving me a painful hard time.

a moment of

I’m also working on my straight-leg propeller and flare-into-catchers. They’re getting there!

So with these reflections I conclude my last post of 2013. Thank you for reading/following my blog. See you next year!

Letting the Disorderly Speak: Petit Mal (Race Horse Company)

(Video Credit: Race Horse Company’s promotional video.)

Petit Mal by Race Horse Company is a one hour-and-fifteen minutes circus performance featuring superb skills on the trampoline and Chinese pole. Here I wrote about how two performers set-up a half-an-hour circus show in a street performance in Gothenburg. In Petit Mal, we get clowning, acrobatics, and break dancing spread out amongst merely three performers. During one of the last tricks, the trampoline artist Rauli Kosonen lost his balance standing on eleven rubber tires (yes, I counted as I held my breath), but got back on after two attempts. He closed his eyes hard before bowing to the audience at the end of the show. The three of them looked absolutely knackered. It’s a performance about the chaotic and the bizarre held together by energy, strength, and perseverance to carry it through.

I really enjoyed the element of “losing control.” The breakdancer Kalle Lehto eventually cuts one of the wires holding the Chinese Pole. When he took out the pair of gigantic scissors a teenage girl behind me said, “Oh, no you don’t,” then gasped loudly when he cut the wire. Blue fitness balls hang in an orange net from the ceiling. These fitness balls are released from the net during the middle of the performance, and create further spontaneity as they roam freely, some of them even rolling off the stage. All this happens on a stage that resembles an outdoor factory workshop where the performers throw wood planks carelessly here and there, or move rubber tires around in a random fashion.

Kosonen is superb, showcasing his trampolining skills on the trampoline and a huge red fitness ball. The flashing lights at the end was a new experience for me, as I realized that flashing lights give the illusion of stillness, prolonging the shapes in the air by a split of a second because of the way our eyes capture light. Petri Trominen is breathtaking on the Chinese pole, making the big drops and turns in the air look effortless and seamless. Lehto’s breakdancing is enhanced by sound devices underneath the wood planks so we can “hear” his body movements as well as see them.

What didn’t work quite well for me was how they incorporated the element of bizarreness into the show. We got not one but two Elvis Presleys, Donald Duck, a Canadian mountaineer, and a horse with sexy legs. There were too many images and characters to process in one go, and by this point I lost a bit of concentration. I couldn’t see–and still can’t–the connection between Donald Duck and Elvis Presley. Maybe it’s not supposed to make sense. The show is called Petit Mal after all, referring to “absence seizure.” This section of the performance uses pink, orange, and green lighting to create a distorted, perhaps a hallucinated view of the world. But I think there could be a stronger connection established between these images and characters to hold the spectator’s attention.

Overall it was a very enjoyable evening. But be prepared to keep an open mind, as this is not a show about grace and beauty in an orderly world, but about letting the disorderly speak.

On Christmas Shopping

It’s this time of the year again. Christmas lights are out, party glitter is in, and pop songs determined to remind you that Christmas is here. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy festivities, their sense of purpose and occasion, and even the mindless running around because it’s somewhat justified. This is my sixth year in the UK, and though it still feels somewhat wrong to see the sun set at 3:30pm, I’m finally getting a bit used to the grayness of winter offsetting the bright colors of Christmas.

So in the attempt of joining the festive activities, I procrastinated from my thesis by doing a little bit of window shopping myself. I was browsing the clothes racks in H&M when I heard the corniest Christmas song ever:

This peppermint winter is so sugar sweet,
(Really? What about mulled wine? And minced pies?)

I don’t need to taste to believe.
(Um, I guess not, especially if you’ve had peppermint before.)

What’s December without Christmas Eve?
(We’d save a lot of money, that’s for sure!)

I puked in the changing room. OK, that’s an exaggeration, but it was close. I found this song’s called “Peppermint Winter” by Owl City:

I must be really behind on pop songs because this song was released in 2010 and I’ve never heard of it. Apologies to anyone who likes this song, but I’m still puzzled at whether this song takes itself seriously, or is it a parody on Christmas songs. For example:

I rip off the wrapping and tear through the box
Till I end up with forty-five new pairs of socks.

Surely this must be a poke at how Christmas has become irrevocably complicit with modern day capitalism?

In less affluent times, the purpose of gift giving was to pamper and spoil family and friends. Now that most people can get what they need, consumerism has overwhelmed that purpose, not only by drilling into you that you must buy something to show that you care for someone, but also by making Christmas a stressful shopping spree. People buy for the sake of buying, and we end up with stacks of ripped wrapping paper and unwanted items that make their way to eBay. Yet, we can’t seem to escape from this consuming cycle as service industries make most of their revenues during Christmas sales, especially in this recession that seems to be lasting forever. On the consuming end, we also look for excuses to exercise our buying power in order to feel in control.

“Peppermint Winter” is so catchy that it’s stuck in my head. But you can hardly expect H&M to play “My Body is a Cage” (by Arcade Fire). I don’t think this will happen on an average day, and certainly not in December. Imagine what this will do to the clothes sale. The H&M marketing people wouldn’t be too happy about it.