Category Archives: Others

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.



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.

Why I Left Facebook… Well, Almost.

Can one leave facebook completely?

Can I leave facebook completely?

(Photo above from mkhmarketing.)

I’m not slamming down facebook.  In fact, I enjoyed many of the simple pleasures it offered. I was excited when I reconnected with my primary school best friend whom I thought I would never hear about or see again. I’ve done my fair share of raising pets, growing plants, and expanding my restaurant. I’ve also shared news links of social issues I thought were important, posted photos of me having a good time, all the while waiting for the “likes” to increase. I’ve also written a few “thoughtful” posts that generated a long thread of discussion that satisfied my vanity.

So why am I leaving facebook? I’m not leaving it for its privacy issues, a topic that plenty of others have discussed. I don’t think facebook is completely evil. It is a great social media tool that has become indispensable for raising awareness of issues. I’m leaving it because it has sabotaged my productivity.

The watershed moment came at the beginning of this year.  I was nearing the end of writing up my thesis around January. My university holds two graduation ceremonies a year, one in the summer and one in the winter, so graduates have a choice of which one they want to attend to fit their schedule. Revising my thesis in the middle of the night, I couldn’t resist checking facebook in what was probably the fifth time that day, and I saw a couple of friends who graduated that day had already posted their graduation photos on facebook.

Throughout the years I’ve had plenty of friends who’ve posted their graduation photos, from master’s to Ph.d.’s, and I would always congratulate them by either leaving a “well done!” comment or clicking “Like.”

But that evening I panicked. Browsing over my friends’ smiling faces, dressed in their graduation gowns, apparently having a good time with their families and loved ones, I was envious and jealous, and for the first time I didn’t feel like congratulating them. I wanted to be there with my family and friends. I wanted to wear the ph.d. graduation gown (even though our department gown is kind of, um… an ugly combination of orange and blue). But most important of all, I wanted to be the one posting a graduation photo, not revising my thesis in the middle of the night and cursing myself for logging onto facebook.

I did not want to see another graduation photo. “They all look the same anyway,” I thought.

So this is when I realized facebook was not only sabotaging my productivity but also turning me into a sour grape. By this time I was already a facebook addict. Even though I’d quit playing harmless games that involved buying clothes for my pet or exchanging ingredients so I could cook another dish for my restaurant, I couldn’t resist the temptation of checking facebook whenever I got stuck in my writing. I would, of course, turn to my notes or read another journal article in order to find the answer to the conceptual problem I was trying to solve, but most of the times it was the immediate satisfaction of checking facebook that provided a quick relief of angst, and tempted me to log on several times a day. If this sounds like a drug addiction, it’s because it felt like a drug addiction.

Scholars researching digital media describe people’s short attention span in our digital age as “a butterfly mind.” This usually refers to how information made accessible by the internet makes us “jump” from one website to another, or from one link to another, consequently shortening our attention span. Applying this description to my relationship with facebook, its availability as a form of a “break activity” contributed to my compulsory habit of logging in. Because it provided distraction, subconsciously I wanted to log in more and more in order to escape the stress of facing an unfinished sentence or paragraph. Every time I told myself I would check my friends’ updates for just 10 minutes, the short break ended up being half an hour to an hour.

I certainly feel that my attention span has shortened considerably compared to when I was a high school student writing an essay. I could spend undistracted hours writing, revising, and editing. Maybe a high school essay is simply easier to write than a thesis, but I do miss that unrelenting concentration.

So I’ve left facebook. Well, almost. I’ve managed to stick to my plan of logging on to facebook only once a week. I’m wondering whether I should start making it once a month. Last week I almost forgot to check facebook on my “facebook day.”

I don’t think I will be able to leave facebook completely though. I still want to know what close friends who I don’t get to see often are doing, and I also want to use my account to save contacts I meet at conferences. I live away from home, so I also use facebook to see what my cousins have been up to lately. But not relying on facebook for communication has made me realize that, the people I interact with most on facebook, are the people I interact with most in daily life anyway. Not the guy who I used to have a crush on in high school.

So why blog, you might ask? Isn’t blogging going to distract me from thesis writing? I started blogging to create an outlet for my post-viva trauma, but also to sharpen my writing skills. My examiners told me I articulated the concepts that are fundamental to my argument clearly in the viva, but these concepts are missing from the thesis. I’ve been thinking about why my work gave this impression, because from my perspective the concepts they’re concerned about are clearly in there. I think there was probably a problem with my writing style. I wasn’t able to communicate my ideas and argument to my examiners effectively. Blogging language is not the same as thesis/academic language, but keeping an audience in mind helps me think about how to communicate more efficiently and clearly.

Two friends about my age–and I’m not that old–have never used facebook, and probably never will. I used to tease them and secretly made fun of them for their stubbornness and for being out of the loop. Now I applaud them for never having started.