Yesterday I logged in to my Manchester University library account and discovered that I can no longer renew my books.  This came as a bit of a surprise.  There’s nothing urgent, you understand, it just brought home to me the fact that, slowly and surely, I’m being set adrift in the big, wide world again.  I still sit here at my desk and get on with my work, but Chicken Licken keeps telling me that the sky is falling in, and he’s right. One day soon, I’ll attempt to log in to the State Papers Online or EEBO, only to find that access is denied. It’s not a day I’m looking forward to at all.  I no longer count as a student in the eyes of the university – I haven’t, actually, since last October.

I am academically homeless.

I think the proper, or at least more normal, term is ‘independent researcher’, and maybe ‘academically homeless’ sounds a bit needy, but it reflects quite accurately how I feel.  There’s security in a big institution and not just in the shape of database access.

Research and writing at the moment comes in fits and starts, broken by rounds of job applications and fellowship applications.  I have a book proposal to write (who warned you about needing to learn that new skill when you started out?) and I am haunted from day to day by the ever-present spectre of John Roberts.  Sometime in the next few weeks I’m going to decide whether to write the article again from scratch or knock him on the head for good.  It might well be the latter, in the interests of the book.  Maybe dead horses should not be flogged, as my Fiend once said.  The trouble is that I never was very good at giving up on things.

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New Year’s Day, and I am back at my desk for the first time in several months, mainly in a late attempt to put together a panel for the Reading Early Modern Studies conference in July, for which the call for papers closes very soon.  It’s galvanised me into thinking properly about ballads again for the first time in several months.  I’m also thinking about an abstract for the Voices and Books Research Network conference in the summer.

It feels good to be back here.   So I have decided to share my new year’s resolutions. I don’t usually make them, but as I have ‘time on my hands’ (do I really?) I’ve decided that this year I’m going to make a real effort to learn to play the piano and I’m going to crack the Spanish once and for all. I have two books for the piano that will help if I make myself do it. As for the Spanish, I don’t know quite how I’ll go about it, though I think Juanes, Penguin parallel texts and Spanish news media might play a heavy role…

More immediately and more ‘smart’ in terms of their outcomes, here are my 2015 spring goals:
1. Gain the title of doctor.  My viva is at the end of the month.  More than that you’re not going to find out until afterwards!
2. Revise the articles on John Roberts and the Lady Marques ballad.
3. Put together a post-doc application.

Caerlaverock Castle

Caerlaverock Castle

As we didn’t get much of a summer holiday, what with the small matter of a thesis to finish, we’ve just enjoyed a few wet and windy days in Dumfries.  We got completely soaked through at Caerlaverock Castle, the only triangular castle in Britain, went on a boat trip to Threave Castle and saw red squirrels in Dalbeattie Forest.

Dalbeattie Forest

Dalbeattie Forest

Now that we’re home, I have to make a real effort to find a job of some sort.  So priorities for this week include trying to get some school experience so that I can go back into teaching and reacquainting myself with my articles on John Roberts and the Lady Marques  ballad.

On the Galloway Kite Trail

On the Galloway Kite Trail

The big news of the day is that I’ve had my first conference paper accepted for Histfest at Lancaster University.  This will be my first conference paper and as far as I’m concerned it has several advantages as a first conference: it’s just up the road, so I’m nearby and I’m not going to get lost on the way there; it’s a postgrad conference so it’s a good first step; and it’s got a reputation for being very friendly.

 

I’ve also submitted my first article to a journal.  Now for the waiting game: it will take about three months for the peer review process, which I suppose will take me through to mid-August.  I might as well just forget about it for a while!

 

Writing

Writing (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve spent some time this week working on my writing, trying to improve the style and clarity.  I’ve been looking at the moralisations of ballads that appear in the Stationers’ Registers for my period, so I thought I’d give serious consideration to how I wrote about them in the light of last week’s lesson on how to write a sentence.  I sent a couple of paragraphs off to my supervisor for inspection and I’m happy to report some improvement.  I think I’ve probably become a bit sloppy because of my tendency to splurge ideas on paper without thinking about where they are going or how I am setting them down.  I also suspect that the bar has suddenly been raised and I’m no longer getting away with things that didn’t matter in the past.  That’s fine.  I know (even though he hasn’t told me) that my supervisor’s making me work harder because he knows I can do better, and that’s a good thing.  I’ve printed out the last set of corrections that he sent and I’m keeping them by me on my desk, to remind me how it should be done!  I’ve written about a thousand words this week, which is great because I know that they are better quality ones.  I hope that in the long run, they’ll need a little bit less messing about with later!

 

I took advantage of the beautiful weather on Tuesday to work in my garden office.  It was warm and sunny, so I ran a lead out the back door for my laptop and sat at the patio table to work.  It turned out to be a very good day for thinking.  I wrote about 6 pages of ideas in one of my research books.  The questions I came up with have kept me going for the rest of the week.  That helped to improve my writing, because I knew what I wanted to talk about before I started to say it.

English: Queen Mary, University of London's Ch...

English: Queen Mary, University of London’s Charterhouse Square site, home to student accommodation and departments of Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The last thing I did before knocking off on Friday afternoon was to book my place as a delegate for the Psalm Culture conference at Queen Mary University, London, in July.  I’m looking forward to going, but I have to say that the idea of spending three days in the capital all by myself is a bit daunting.  I am so used to going everywhere as part of a package that the idea of being a professional person in my own right for several days without interruption is somewhat scary.   I’ve booked everything – trains, hotel and conference – so that I can’t back out of it!

 

DSCF1150 DSCF1148

Weather-wise, it’s been a much better week.  Yesterday the weather was beautiful, but unfortunately I wasn’t in a fit state to enjoy it.  My eldest kindly brought  a bug home from school earlier in the week and having had a sleepless night on Tuesday, I wasn’t in a fit state to kick it out of the house.  So I spent most of yesterday in bed with a bug.  Anyway, the garden is looking lovely, I think.  We had the redpoll and the siskins back in the garden this week too.

Work is going slowly.  I’ve started work on my second chapter, but at the moment I’m researching rather than writing.  I have a wild theory up my sleeve that involves heraldry and ballads!   I’m in the process of comparing several ballads about Lent, which is actually proving to be a lot more interesting than it sounds!

On Wednesday I survived a lesson in how to construct a sentence!  I have an annoying habit of leaving subjects out of sentences, which is fine if you happen to be inside my brain as I know what I’m talking about, but apparently other people can find it a bit hard to follow my train of thought…!  I have been told to think about my sentences as musical phrases, in order to make them more balanced.

In other good news, I have my lovely middle-aged laptop back (as opposed to the old one that I need to get repaired next), which means that I’m back on  Windows 7 and no longer have to attempt to work round Windows 8 which, as far as I am concerned, is the stuff of nightmares.  Windows 7 works.  It just gets on with things.  Windows 8 thinks it needs to be at the forefront of your work all the time – it’s far too in your face.  Also, today I got the document reference I needed to complete my article, so it’s now all ready to go.  This feels very strange.  I think I probably feel the way a rhinoceros must do when it’s about to give birth – this article has been two years in the making!

 

As I posted on twitter, I have hit upon a paradox in my work.

The more I read, the more I want to write.   The more I write, the more I need to read. 

This one’s a difficult one.  Here’s where I am.

Yesterday I read through my musicological ballad analysis chapter and started to read Beth Quitslund’s ‘The Reformation in Rhyme’.  I found references to several other books I should look at  about the metrical psalters.  This is par for the course.  This happens every time I read anything.  Each book I look at generates about another 4 or 5 that I feel the need to look at too.  I’m used to this, but it gets a little bit frustrating.

This morning I sat down to write some notes to remind myself what I need to do in the next few weeks.  I  looked through the notes from my last panel meeting, and from the supervisory meetings I had just before I was taken ill.  More things to read.  Chapters in books, unpublished theses, articles, entire monographs…  More and more things to read.  Then I looked round at my bookshelves, groaning under the weight of unread books from the library.

Most of what I ‘need’ to do is reading,  but I need to write something for my next meeting.  I have 23 thousand words of a working document on the analysis of the ballad tunes and their lyrics (it will be substantially less when I move the ballad lyrics to the appendices), but it’s not finished.  I need to do more work on dating the ballads and analysing their lyrics.  Then I need to relate it to the general trends in Renaissance music of the period, and so we come back to secondary reading.  Everything I do leads to more reading.  But I want to write! What’s more, I need to write.  So I suppose at some point I have to draw the line under reading, at least for a while, to do the writing that that reading has generated and carry on with the primary research.

I had a very supportive ‘back to work’ meeting on Wednesday. We talked about my plans to ease myself back into work gently with some reading!  Also, I have an article about Jacobean corruption and Saint John Roberts almost ready for submission to a journal.  I just have to get an exact reference for the document on which it is based, sort out exactly how to present the website references and check it through once more.  As soon as I get the document archive reference, I will be sending it straight off and not holding my breath.  There are also a couple of conferences I want to prepare something for.  One is the histfest at Lancaster University, which is just up the road from me.  So I’ve got plenty to keep me going.  It was lovely being back at work, and great to know I’ve got my panel supporting me.

I don’t know if it’s an after-effect of moving house, but I’ve been very lethargic this week.  I’ve done a lot of reading, most of which was on queenship.  At the moment I’m part way through J.L. Laynesmith’s monograph on ‘The Last Medieval Queens’, which I’m reading to give me background on the expected duties and place of queens consort, so that I can compare how queens regnant create or adapt the role.
I’ve also gone back to my work on Saint John Roberts.  I spent a few hours in the library this afternoon trying to tidy it up. While I was there I had a quick look at Glyn Redworth’s latest publication, a two volume edition of the Letters of Luisa de Carvajal y Mendoza, a couple of which I used in my work.  I’ve not finished the article yet, but I hope to get it sorted in the next few days so that I can put it to bed.  I’ve been working on it, on and off, for eighteen months, so it will be good to get it finished finally.

The trouble is, the thing I’ve done most of this week is sleeping.  I can’t stay awake!  Even when I’ve slept from 8pm to 6.15 am, I’ve still fallen asleep during the day.  Something’s not quite right there, and I just hope that the sleepiness wears off ready for a new week of work.