The year of big, scary life changes.  The year in which my husband is likely to retire and in which I need to become the main breadwinner for the family.  The year in which, 20 years after starting at the University of Manchester the first time round, I should earn the title of doctor.

234 So to end 2013, I got some new bookshelves.  I need them because in the last couple of months I’ve accumulated so many books that I’ve run out of space to put them.  Two of the shelves on the bookcase in my bedroom are now devoted to post-1950 history, as I was given a lot of high-quality books by a friend who could no longer use them.  I’ve also had to buy quite a few texts for my work and, of course, there are the ones that Father Christmas brought for me last week.  New bookshelves were a must.

And to begin 2014, I put some books on them.

235The eagle-eyed among you might have noticed that it required the movement of my printer from my right to my left.  This may not seem significant, but it created a strange sense of space.  Working in there this morning, it felt like there was a lot more room.  I stopped for a moment to consider it, deciding that the space in the corner had been redundant space, because it was trapped between my Spanish dictionary and the printer.  Now it isn’t.  I’m not sure how ‘working round a corner’ is going to pan out in the long run, but for now it seems quite pleasant.

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On a more research-based note, I am pleased to report that my chapter finally seems to be coming together.  I’m slightly more confident of it than I was.  This week, I’ve been working very much part-time, alternating it with playing games with the family and trying to get some fresh air between the raindrops and gales.  Somewhere along the way, I have found 6500 words of a chapter, which is interesting because it’s certainly not yet what I’d call a chapter – a lot of it is still in notes, or just lists of primary or secondary quotations.  When I mentioned this to my husband the other day, he commented that I had brain incontinence!  Puddles of words that don’t have any flow.  But, today, what prose there is is finally beginning to coalesce.  I’ve read several articles (I could do with going to the library but I don’t think I’m going to get there before the children go back to school next week), ordered yet another pile of books from Amazon and in the evenings, I’ve been cataloguing and analysing ballads, a few at a time.  Progress, I think.

Yesterday I began an 8 week mindfulness course, a present from a friend for Christmas intended to help me with my depression and stress since I can no longer take anti-depressants.  I’ll keep you posted on how it goes.

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▶ Reno erat Rudolphus by eyolfos.

I will get back to my blog properly by the end of the week, I promise.  But in the meantime, this appealed to my sense of fun.  The strangest stuff turns up on Facebook.  Earlier in the week one of my friends posted a video of a group of ‘silent monks’ performing the Hallelujah chorus from Handel’s Messiah; a couple of weeks ago I was treated to the spectacle of Jean-Luc Picard performing ‘Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow’; and this morning, I was presented with Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer in Latin plainchant.  Never take things too seriously!

I’m stuck in a bog.  Or at least, that’s how my work feels.  It went overnight from ideas coming out of my ears to being trapped in icky-sticky mud that won’t release its grip on my feet and let me move.  I’m not sure how it happened.  One day everything was chugging along as normal and the next I hit problem after problem after problem.  The main one is to decide what counts as a ‘socially critical’ ballad.  Sometimes it’s obvious, for example when a ballad says that society isn’t what it used to be because nowadays there’s too much vice/greed/theft/murder etc.  But what about when it says that god doesn’t like the vice/greed/theft/murder?  Or when it doesn’t say anything at all about any kind of deity but just exhorts everyone to be nicer to one another?  Or when it is a ballad of personal repentance?  Do these ballads imply that society is not like that and therefore have another level of meaning that criticises society without ever having to mention its existence?

So suddenly I found my work stressful and difficult.  Cue a phone call to my supervisor and a chat over coffee.  Well, in my case, tea.  I have just absent-mindedly drunk some of my husband’s coffee and it reminded me why I don’t drink it.  I’m a tea drinker.  But that is procrastination and beside the point.  Or maybe it’s not.  Maybe it’s part and parcel of the way I’ve been feeling this week: that this problem is too big to deal with on my own.  Until I could deal with it another way, I catalogued the manuscript ballads on my giant spreadsheet.  This, however, led to another problem, in that I realised I would be a lot better off if I could search my 400 or so ballads to see how many were tagged, for example, ‘religious’, or perhaps contained the word ‘sheep’.  Now this would have been a whole lot easier if I’d thought about it 12 months ago, but  I didn’t, and I suppose that’s the nature of the work I’m doing.  It’s a lot easier to look back now and see how I could have approached several things better, but that’s not always helpful.  So I decided that I could put each ballad lyric into a database…  only I’m absolutely useless with databases and I find them completely counter-intuitive.  I’ve never had a lesson on them and I find the software totally user-unfriendly so I had no idea what I was doing.  By the time I’d spent an hour unsuccessfully trying to put together a database outline for my ballad lyrics, I was ready to throw the entire thesis down the toilet.  I restrained myself, but it was difficult.

Sheep

Sheep (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Facebook came to the rescue.  My friend Steph responded to my anguished cries for help (more on that later) and offered to set up the file for me if I let her know what fields I needed.  So big thanks to her – I’m looking forward to receiving it.  The plan is that when I do, I will slowly start collecting together all the ballad lyrics in the database so that, hopefully, by Christmas, I’ll be able to pull out some statistics.  The other interesting thing that my anguished cries for help on Facebook brought to light was Evernote.  It seems a really useful way of keeping some of my ideas and research together in a much more searchable way than word documents themselves do.  And the fact that you can use an add-on to collect information from the internet is really helpful.  So I’m looking forward to the results that Evernote might produce over time.

The not-coffee tea chat helped.  I’ve now got a few ideas for ways to turn things around, so it will be interesting to see if I can apply any of them during the week.  After the supervision meeting, I met one of the staff from the John Rylands Library to discuss my work, which was a very thought provoking meeting.   It got me thinking from a librarian’s point of view about the nature of manuscript verse, which was surprisingly helpful with the ongoing question of ‘what is a ballad anyway?’  I’m giving this more consideration as I read through Victorian Songhunters.

I’m taking a break from the madness to say merry Christmas. I have a house full of family, five children playing games together on my living room floor; lots of food on the table and a kitchen full of cooking smells. Christmas, it seems, starts here.