Intrusive comic book research, literary misbehavior & pop-cultural observations.
May include nuts, personal opinions and non-academic language.

lauantai 18. helmikuuta 2017

Connecting the Career Dots: How I Became a Literary Scholar

I have now reached the halfway point of the Fun and Necessary Research Blog Challenge (TM)!
The fifth question is: What got you into research/your field? Lifelong calling, sudden epiphany or chance?

An unholy mixture of all three, really.


I'd like to think I was born with a researcher's personality: I've always taken great joy in problem-solving, and I've been blessed with such large dosages of imagination and curiosity they would probably be lethal had I not grown up with them. If I'm in a new place, you can be sure I peek into every dim corner, and take a long, long look at the bookshelf. If I see something I've never seen before, I'm sure to poke at it. (Apparently, the day this habit gets me blown up to bits has not come yet!) I'll try every new vegetarian food, no matter how unappetizing it sounds. I don't take things at face value but automatically come up with several (far-fetched and highly improbable) causes for effects, and effects of causes. I've been accused of being manipulative, because I sometimes like to push people's buttons just to see what happens... You get the idea. I love to explore, speculate, experiment and invent! Early on, perhaps around the age of 10, this gave me the fleeting idea that I might make a good researcher, or an investigative journalist. 

I'm not from a very academic family, however, which is why this seemed like an abstract and implausible plan. Not like a real job; not like something anyone would pay me for. It wasn't until I was working on my Master's thesis that it really dawned on me that my department actually, concretely, hired people to do what I was doing - and that I could definitely do some more of that!

Fortunately, my advisor agreed that I could, and that led me to this glorious road to PhD I'm crawling along right now! It's unlikely I'm going to stop at the next town. Or even the next from the next... No matter how many blisters my toes and fingers accumulate. My mom claims to have predicted a long time ago that if I ever entered a university I would never come out again, and I want to believe her.

Choosing literature, however, was a sudden epiphany if I've ever had one. 
It was my last year of high school and the deadlines for applying to universities were less than a week away. I had scoured through about half a dozen study program catalogs and had no idea what I wanted from life. I only knew for sure that I needed to study something, as in-depth as possible, and that I could only remain sane in a creative profession. That meant a.) applying to art or drama school, to become a designer or director of some kind (I had taken art classes for 11 years but didn't fancy myself as a particular talent) - or b.) picking a field I might (perhaps, maybe, possibly) want to research. 

I had dropped most science classes at some point, in favor of some new and exciting humanist subjects, like philosophy, psychology, communication and German. Thus, as fun as zoology, astronomy or chemistry may have been, I decided to be practical and narrow my options to the fields I was more familiar with. But that still was an awful lot - much too much - for a curious person to choose from: Psychology? (Too social.) Philosophy? (Too wishy-washy.) Journalism? (Too pedestrian.) Archeology? (Probably nothing like Indy and Lara have made it out to be.) Languages? (Boring.) Some obscure languages, perhaps? Or folklore, or anthropology? (Might get to travel... But did I have the passion?)

Of course, as these things tend to go, the answer I was looking for was hanging from the tip of my nose, sitting on my shoulders, gurgling inside me - too close to be detected. Finally, in the nick of time, I did see it, though: that one thing I had always loved and appreciated above everything else and could never, ever get tired of; what I could not shut up about, or live without; the topic that always hiked my pulse up just that tiniest, intoxicating bit: Stories! Literature. Writing...

I'd had this ridiculous, romantic dream of becoming an author since before I even knew how to write. And if I do have a special propensity or talent for anything, it's verbality. Many of the nicest things anyone has ever said to me were uttered by my Finnish and literature teachers, for crying out loud!

And so, I sent out my applications with contented certainty and expectancy. I had no idea if my choice would ever make me a writer or a researcher. But one way or another, I would get to work with books and fiction. And I was a 100 % sure, as only an 18-year-old can be, that, one way or another, it would make me happy.

That must have been the only thing the 18-year-old me was a 100 % correct about.

torstai 19. tammikuuta 2017

Still Alive!

Yeah, regularity is not how I roll. If I was a bus, I'd be operating in somewhere deep in Siberia.

But that's not the whole story. I've also had a crisis of blog faith in these past six months. Remind me again: why? Who the hell ever reads any of this? Sure it's better to have a blog than a block, but isn't blogging really just a nicer word for procrastinating?

Regardless of all that, one of my New Year's resolutions was writing at least 500 words OF SOMETHING every day of January, and so far it has gone so swimmingly I thought I might chuck a piece of my new-found writing mojo here as well. Not all writing needs to be of any use to anyone besides the writer herself.

Of course, not much of this flow and wishful thinking has reached my dissertation either. Not yet. That would be the next month's goal:
1. Wake the dragon.
2. Learn how to ride it.
3. Fly!
4. Save the kingdom.
Right? Dissertation writing in a nutshell.

But now, let us wrap up 2016:

The best news is I had two of my dissertation articles published! (Out of four or five, I haven't decided yet.)

You can find the final draft and publication information of the first one, "Something Borrowed: Interfigural Characterization in Anglo-American Fantasy Comics" here. It has three main points:
  • It explores how comics might correspond to Müller's theory of interfigurality (that is, how characters in different works of fiction relate and allude to each other).
  • It suggests that The Sandman and Vertigo have inspired a very peculiar subgenre of intertextual fantasy - which may not be unique to comics but seems to be especially well suited to this specific medium.
  • Most importantly, it points out that the notion of interfigurality presupposes a cognitive conception of characters. (Of course, intertextuality and transmediality rest on the cognitive processes of reading - on the readers' memory and inference - on a larger scale as well!)

The second one "Hyllyiltä ruutuihin ja ruuduista sydämiin: Sarjakuvahahmot muuttuvina elämystuotteina" came out in an anthology about experience economy Elämykset kulttuurina ja kulttuuri elämyksinä (2016). Unfortunately, the book is only available in Finnish and not open access quite yet. My text argues that the production history as well as the marketing strategies of comics industry have affected comic book characters in many direct and indirect ways - a fact that comics scholars ignore far too often! On the other hand, characters can be regarded as brands that differentiate and guide multi-platform media consumption. In addition, the final subchapter discusses how copyright holders and fan producers - canon and fanon - negotiate representational and identity issues largely through characters.

(This subject actually piqued my interest again this week, as the (admittedly) disappointing Sherlock season finale roused noisy internet protests against "queerbaiting". I'm not a real fandom researcher by any stretch of imagination, but the phenomenon might be worth looking at through the characters' perspective as well. Who is to say - or how is anyone to know - what a fictional character "deserves"? And does it matter, since - unlike us - fictional characters are able to lead several counterfactual lives?  - Well, apparently it does matter to great many people. And that right there is the really interesting part. Paradox of fiction exemplified - but also something much messier, more social and more complicated.).

On top of that, I presented at EIGHT conferences. And helped to organize one. Oh, and then there was this winter school where we sought alternatives to representational thinking (and I lodged in a freezing nunnery)!
Was that maaaaaybe a bit too much?
Oh, yes. I'm trying to take it easier this year and concentrate on writing for once.

Only two of the conferences required traveling abroad, though. SASS 2016 took me all the way to New Orleans, and while I didn't get that much out of the conference itself, I really enjoyed every drop of the Deep South. USA always surprises me (- and it used to be positive).

NOLA was rainy but wonderful.
Transmediations! conference in Växjö was the exact opposite: for a Finn, Sweden isn't exactly the most exciting place to explore, but the conference itself was easily the best one I attended during the entire busy year. I had such interesting conversations with so many nice people, and my own paper was overwhelmingly well received. (Marie-Laure Ryan actually praised my idea to rethink transmedia theories through character theories (and vice versa)! And that, boys and girls, is the origin story of my final dissertation article-in-process...) 

Central Växjö
I have no idea how much I read work-related stuff last year, but if I had to approximate, I'd say...a thought-whale and a half? I try (and fail) to take brief notes of all comics albums I read, and I have 50 entries from last year. Here's some highlights:
  • 2016's topmost reading memory is that I finished two of my favorite series: Mike Carey and Peter Gross's The Unwritten, and Hiroaki Samura's Blade of the Immortal. The former was quite thrilling in professional sense, the latter quite emotional on a more personal level.  (I was still in high school when I first encountered this beautifully drawn samurai seinen series, and it's the only manga I've ever kept following from beginning to end!)
  • My other favorites included Eva Dorkin and Jill Thompson's Beasts of Burden, and the Edward-Goreyesque Agnes-trilogy of 2016's Comics Finlandia award winner Kati Närhi (Saniaislehdon salaisuudet, Mustasuon mysteeri, Seitsemäs vieras). Both works manage to be very adorable and very creepy at the same time.
  • That Richard McGuire's Here is a masterpiece probably goes without saying? 
  • Blakey Vermeule's Why Do We Care about Literary Characters? was the only theory book I read completely from cover to cover. It gave me loads of ideas, but little answers.

And so. What's next? What adventures promises 2017?

I'll soon be attending a course where they'll teach me how to compile an article dissertation. Which is great. I have no idea what I'm doing.

Tomorrow I'll be leaving for Svalbard. (For a conference, yes - you got me!) A land that's haunted my dreams since I read The Golden Compass at the age of 11. The farthest North I'll probably ever go. I might get chills, but it's not all going to be from the cold.

I'll be spending March and April in Leuven, Belgium. I'm expecting sunny, continental courtyards, loaded Belgian waffles, new comics-crazy contacts and acquaintances, taking inhumane amounts of notes and photocopies, and riding the train to various locations of interest on weekends.

If everything goes according to plan - or if my improvisation skills are on point (because nothing ever goes according to plan) - I'll be defending my Frankensteinian dissertation baby against all odds by the end of the year.

keskiviikko 13. heinäkuuta 2016

Sing, Study, Stitch

Research blogging challenge again. Task 4: Name a song that describes you as a researcher.

Wellllll...

"Grand Experiment" by No More Kings nails so many things so well, I suspect one of the band members has been a grad student at some point. I found no evidence of that with a quick googling, however.

Please observe how naturally the first verse slides from easy socializing with co-workers to the initial, tentative steps of a writing project. And then, deeper into processes and ambitions. ...Until it abruptly skips back to procrastination again! This is my regular work week in a nutshell:

These idle conversations 
let me off the hook
Simple observasions
jotted down in my book
Takes all my concentration
It takes perfect aim
No time for PlayStation
Well, maybe just one game.

...And I could almost quote the chorus in the "methods" and "aims" sections of my research plan:


Run on the wheel,

jog through the maze
I'll break the seal
maybe one of these days
Boil it down,
flatten it out
Distilling the essence
of what life's all about.
I'm still waiting for the evidence...


On bad days, when you can't see the trees for the forest, "Too Far to Turn Back" by my favorite band Abney Park is easy enough to identify with as well:

We're way in over our heads, it seems 
This place is coming apart at the seams
Can't stop or control our direction
The further we go, the less protection.

The song's a great metaphor for a typical researcher's career. Not only because of the lovable expedition theme, but because it describes the growing uncertainty so well: most of the time, you really have no idea what you're doing, so you just go with the flow. The more you complete, the more you are assigned, and the further you get, the harder it becomes to get grants. (Maybe, if you got tenured, you could pick a different theme song at that point...)

Of course, if I was able to see my dissertation as gendered and male, "Frankenstein" by Stitched up Heart would be an distressingly apt alternative:

He's made of staples 
and broken bones
Bruises from chapters
Stories untold
If I had a wish,
it'd be make him whole
He's barely alive.


But I'm gonna call him mine...


Here, the lyrics misuse the name "Frankenstein", so I'm not going to quote the rest of the chorus. But a compilation dissertation is certainly a prime example of "hideous progeny"! 
And this is exactly how I feel about mine at the moment:


I'm not a doctor,
I can't make him better.
All I can do
is try to put him together.


tiistai 5. heinäkuuta 2016

Research, Meet Fandom; Fandom, Meet Research

No rest for the wicked - or the academic. We've finally reached the heart of summer, and most people I know are enjoying their well-deserved holidays. As for myself, however, I spent the best part of last week in Tampere, working hard at the annual sci-fi convention Finncon and FINFAR's Fantastic Paper Workshop.

Now, I allocated about as much time to commenting on students' papers and discussing with colleagues as to enjoying the informal program or stalking the writer guests, but different geek cons remain the high points of my summers. So, I'm not sure if last weekend counted as play or responsibility. I know most researchers have a very different opinion on this, but for me, life = work is not that tricky an equation. It simply means I spend most of my time doing something that is both useful and fun! And Finncon surely fit the bill.

The books I hoarded from the scifi jumble sale were also more or less work-related.

One of the perks of attending as a researcher, rather than as a fan, is that we got to start convening a day early: FINFAR, or the Finnish Society for Science Fiction and Fantasy Research, likes to coordinate the schedule of its annual paper workshop with Finncon. The idea is to invite students and researchers of all levels and disciplines to submit short works-in-progress that have something to do with speculative fiction. Since a bunch of more advanced researchers will trickle to town for the con anyway, it's usually easy enough to find commentators that are experts on whatever topics the papers cover. 

I have now attended these workshops as a presenter and as a commentator. (I'm not necessarily a very advanced researcher, or even a sci-fi researcher of any sort, but I do know a thing or two about unnatural narratology, specualtive comics and Frankenstein!) The atmosphere has been very relaxed and collegial, and the discussion very dialogical and in-depth, from both perspectives. So, if you have a hard time finding people who would be willing to engage in serious debates about the philosophical differences between vampires and zombies - or folks who are happy to ponder the narrative structuring of dreams and time loops - get in touch! We had sessions in both Finnish and English this year, and are planning to gear more of our Facebook and Twitter communication towards international audiences. The society is very welcoming towards comics researchers as well - there's currently two of us in the board, and FINFAR's own journal, Fafnir is publishing a comics theme issue at the end of the year. (There's still some time left to the CfP deadline!)

I couldn't possibly summarize everything we discussed in one and a half days, over eight promising papers, but here's some of my favorite insights

"Don't trolls offer an alternative to the posthumanist hybridity of mutants and cyborgs?"

"Are realistic human characters ontologically different from characters that openly present themselves as fantastical creatures? (In other words, does Koskela in The Unknown Soldier exist more than Pessi the troll and Illusia the fairy?)"

"Are FinnWeird and realist fantasy - our local equivalents to magical realism - genres, brands, writer groups or all of the above?"

"Always, always have a copy of your finished dissertation with you, so you can convince PhD students it's a perfect source for them."

"Sure, people are upset when unconventional plot twists happen, but on another level, they also enjoy it: 'Oh, how horrible! Now everyone's dead! This is so cool!'"

"Do clones and genetically engineered humans reside in the Uncanny Valley? Are they manufactured monsters, or does their (assumed) monstrosity develop later in their lives?"

We did not find satisfactory answers to these questions - but mapped out a few roads one could take to find out...


Right after the workshop ended on Friday afternoon, it was time for another work duty: our academic geek culture panel! Geekery has become a hot topic of late, and as I've reported before, me and a few of my colleagues wish to raise an academic voice to the rampant media discussion about who gets to call themselves a "True Geek". We organized a course and a seminar on the topic last spring, and decided to throw in a "roadshow". That is, we signed up for Popcult Helsinki and Finncon 2016 to tell the hordes of self-confessed geeks how their group identity is currently defined by media and by research. Both panels went well, and we have received some very heartfelt feedback: many have found the discussions important, insightful and empowering.

I have to commend the Finncon audience for bringing up a few very interesting points: Under what circumstances could we consider, for example, (Finnish populist right-wing politician) Timo Soini a geek? Is it okay to call grown women 'geek girls'? And are "geeky" hobbies already so widespread we should start identifying some a-geek areas of interest instead?

All these will be at the core of our future inquiry, if only we get funding to research the evolution of contemporary Finnish geek culture a bit further... It is clear that the meaning of the word has undergone some dramatic changes both globally and locally in the 21st century. As many seem to have very personal, even emotional responses to social labels like "geek", it would be important to investigate why and how the cultures and discourses around them are changing. (Ahem, foundations! Are you listening to this!?) What is more, we all know that the mainstreaming of fandoms has caused certain problems in the fields of digital games, comics and science fiction literature... Joss Whedon's Twitter account has also become one of the casualties. Why can't everyone just play nice?!

Here's my opening slide to the Geek Culture Panel.

As per usual, the program also featured an academic track, which starred many familiar faces. This year's theme, selected by the sadly topical Dystopian Fiction research project, wasn't really my area, though: I have no power in fairytales, nor in dystopias - I was kicked out of both realms long ago. However, I had the chance to listen to a couple of very interesting papers about eco-dystopias and the emotional aspect of dystopian literature. And the chair's ray gun from Archipelacon made a comeback!

The Academic Track was kicked off by University of Tampere's own PhD Juha Raipola.

The Finnish branch of The World Hobbit Project also had considerable presence in the con program. Preliminary analysis of the huge questionnaire data suggests that many viewers have linked the Hobbit films to a larger, transmedial Tolkien storyworld, which I find superbly intriguing. Many also seem to have thought that Tauriel had potential as a (function) character but was, in the end, handled poorly: the physics-defying elf fighting styles and the unlikely romance plot are simply pushing it too far.

Oh, and hot dwarves are...well, hot dwarves. To each their own.

At the end of the first Hobbit panel, Liisa Rantalaiho was pronounced honorary member of FINFAR. Surprise filking happened.

Whenever I had time, I did my best to catch a few interview sessions featuring Jasper Fforde, one of this year's guests of honor. I've been meaning to read his Thursday Next series for ages, because it bears certain similarities to The Unwritten. (I was surprised to find that the guy even looks a bit like Mike Carey!) Fforde sounded even wittier in person than on paper, which really seals the deal: Thursday Next's going to be next on my miles-long TBR list! I'm also going to follow his great writing advice and set myself a few narrative dares over the summer... (If there's one thing I learned from the GoH interviews, it's that lonely childhoods make original writers.)

Bookmark by the ever-wonderful Myrntai - the artist in charge of this year's Finncon graphics.

TL;DR: Finncon was fun again, FINFAR was fun again. Sci-fi fandom and sci-fi research are great resources to each other. Geek culture is coming to the neighborhoods near you, with a bang and and a roar. We should all read more, and "Write. Better. Books."

Please stay tuned for the CfP of Worldcon academic track! It's in the works. *a barely swallowed squeal of enthusiasm*

keskiviikko 22. kesäkuuta 2016

Headspace

Third question on the research blog challenge is: What do you absolutely need to get into the zone?

Ah, The Zone! My favorite haunt.
I'll tell you a secret: the most accessible portal is at the bottom of a teacup.



Let's not pretend any one of us would get anything done without caffeine. So, of course, tea is  essential. And Club-Mate is another favorite of mine. Obviously, ice tea and hot mate would do as well. But I've never been a coffee cultist. While I rather enjoy the fumes of my colleagues' brew, the taste is simply too overwhelming. Like when something is too garlic-y.

Besides, tea and mate have great health and psychoactive benefits that coffee can't give you. In addition to fairly low levels of caffeine, tea contains fairly high levels of L-theanine, which helps to produce a more calm and lasting sort of high. It's believed to be so good for brain boosting and mood stabilizing that it's even sold in concentrated pill form. But there's no way a pill could give you the same aesthetic pleasure as brewing a fragrant London fog latte in a pretty cup. <3


Another easy, natural way to manipulate your mood and alertness is light. I prefer to have loads and loads of natural light, especially for reading. Lucky for me, I have huge windows at home as well as in the office hallway. On the other hand, when you really have to lower your creative inhibitions - in order to write the first draft of something, for example - an atmospheric gloom works, too. I've often thought about adding some candles and following Hemingway's advice to write drunk and edit sober, but I guess I haven't reached that level of desperation yet.

I wouldn't underestimate the power of romantization and aesthetization, though. Sometimes the only way to feel like you are really doing something is to do it like people do it in the books. So, if your mental prototype of writing is taking a yellowed notebook and a trusted fountain pen to a park or a shadowy pub, why not do just that? And wear a dapper scarf while you're at it?

Writing is a very holistic activity, and I'm a huge believer in analog methods: pen and paper simply have a very different feel to them than a keyboard. Sure, it's slower, but that often makes it easier to find the right words. I usually plan and brainstorm on paper and do the actual writing with a computer. But I get the notebook out again, if I hit a writer's block at any point.

So, to sum: having lots of inspiring notebooks for different purposes is hugely important!

One for conference notes, one for literature notes, one for miscellaneous doodling, one for brainstorming, one for fleeting ideas...

Inspiring, interesting postcards are great, too. In most projects, there's a phase when you will mostly stare at a wall. And it's much less depressing to stare at a decorated wall than a blank one. Cool, hand-picked pictures also make me feel more at home. They personalize the space, mark the territory, all that.

That blanket cardigan (100% cotton) has also proved useful in every season!

Finally, if silence is at short supply, good headphones are a must. Classical is always a good, neutral choice for background music, but I might just as well go for one of my many mood-tuned Spotify playlists. Especially, if I'm tired or bored. I've filled one playlist with particularly encouraging songs, like Daft Punk's "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger", Muse's "Uprising", Björk's "Army of Me" and Doom Unit's "Killing Time". But let's talk more about music in the next episode.

lauantai 4. kesäkuuta 2016

#GradSchoolProblems

Research blogging challenge!
Round 2.
Fight!
...no, I mean: complain! The second task is to identify three of my least favorite things about my job. And here they are:

1. Money, money, money
I often say that most problems we have in the society sprout from two blights humans have set upon themselves. One is the illogical over-importance of gender. The other is the illogical over-importance money.

I feel the former has played a surprisingly insignificant part in my career so far, thank goodness. But the latter is a constant annoyance on every possible level.

On practical level: Writing grant applications is the only regular work assignment I dislike. It's boring, repetitive, time-consuming and pays off sooooooo rarely. I don't understand why, instead of doing my actual JOB, I should go through so much trouble just to receive an email that says: "Unfortunately, we are not granting your disgustingly humanist, weird-ass research a scholarship at this time. The foundation does not give feedback or rationalize its decisions. Maybe you should reconsider your functionality as a human being and do your taxes."
I could write an entire article in the time I use on grant applications each year. WHY can't there be a joint application process? Or AT LEAST unified forms and regulations? That is, why can't I send just ONE kick-ass application to all the foundations once a year (and receive just one depressing rejection slip, and eat just one pint of ice cream to dampen the burn)? It's in no way productive to rearrange my research plan into a variety of slightly different lengths every few months. I actually counted the files in my "PhD" folder, and I have over 70 files under "Grants". For contrast: I have only 17 files under "Dissertation". Yet, I'm sure my current employers would also rather pay me for doing research than for courting other financiers.

On an individual level: It's impossible to build a stable life on funding that's measured in months, not in years. I'm one of the lucky ones: I've scored three 12-month research periods in a row! Many have to scrape their living together from 3-month periods and part-time jobs. Graduation will be especially hellish. After that, the competition is even stiffer and most opportunities require moving to a different city or country. Who knows where I'll be updating this blog from in two years! Again, I'm one of the lucky ones: I never really wanted a stable life anyway, and I've always romanticized nomadic lifestyles. The thought of having my life all planned out at 25 and living in the same little town all my life would be FAR more depressing than not having a clue which continent I'll be living on and which research question I'll be trying to solve next year. Having to change to a completely different career (a freelance journalist? an editor? a translator? an antiquarian?) because of the lack of funding is a major concern for me, though.

On communal and ideological level: Nothing is more important to a society in the long run than research, science, culture and education. NOTHING. And I'm proud to be working for all four in one form or another. That the government sees them as a waste of resources is INFURIATING. I'm not saying that I, personally, save lives - although many scientists and educators do. I'm more in the life-building business - and this time, I don't mean that in a Frankensteinian way. Professor emerita Leena Kirstinä said in a speech she held two weeks ago that "literary research is a part of cultural infrastructure". We build, structure, define and examine what culture is. And in doing so, we build, structure, define and examine what makes us who we are. Without culture, we wouldn't really have lives to save. And a society that sees no value in anything I value and am is no society I want to be any part of.

"I feel you, ex-flower. You're the only one who gets me."

2. Distractions
Nothing ruins a regular work day like not being able to concentrate when you really have to concentrate. Growing up, I've gradually learned that my nervous system was built to react at a very low threshold: my attention is drawn to anything and everything that jumps from the background in any way. If we were a troupe of hunter-gatherers, I would be the one keeping us all alive, since I would detect an approaching saber-tooth tiger by a small snap of a twig, or possibly even the smell. But since we are a troupe of researchers, having this fine, fine skill is mostly a huge pain in the ass. A loud bang of a door or a fit of laughter derails my train of thought immediately. So does the smell of food. If I'm especially sleep-deprived and irritable, I might have a hard time reading and writing if anything even moves in my field of vision.

It's no wonder, then, that I prefer to isolate myself when I'm working. Since I'm much more efficient when I don't have anyone in my immediate presence, I prefer to work evenings and weekends. And when isolation is not an option, I insulate with ear plugs or head phones - and an extra-grumpy face that discourages everyone from engaging with me.

Luckily, I only need that isolation for 30 to 60 minutes or so. Once I get going, I can mentally block things out quite well. And when I'm really deep in the zone, you could probably detonate a bomb in the next room without me realizing it. So, okay. Maybe I wouldn't have been the best night watchman for the gatherer camp after all...

(Many have put me on Elaine Aron's HSP-spectrum, but that doesn't feel right to me somehow.)

"What is this "sunlight" you speak of?"

3. Deadlines
Coming up with a third point was surprisingly difficult. I guess I could have opted to complain about the soul-crushing humanness of academia; how frustrating it is when personal relationships, grudges, ambitions, envy, fear, sloth or big egos thwart good sense and good research. But that would be unfair. It's not necessarily a problem with this particular job, but a problem you probably counter in any job imaginable.

So, I chose deadlines, even though I really have a love-hate relationship with them. They do help with prioritizing, setting concrete goals and getting things DONE, so I often take them on on purpose. However, the deadline days are always stressful days. It starts right when you wake up: "Uaaaagh, it's past noon already and I really, really, really have to send that thing out today... Oh, god, it's shit. Oh god, why didn't I take my time with it earlier in the week? Hurry, hurry hurry...and let's make sure we have enough food and tea to last us until midnight...!"

It's the worst when you have many on the same week. Or when they are so tight to begin with you could never do your best work in that time frame, not even with zero procrastination.

I'm pretty good at calming myself down, however, by asking myself: what's the worst that could happen if I missed this deadline?
Now, I have a good imagination. But I'm also a realist.

torstai 2. kesäkuuta 2016

What Are You Even Doing?

Always a good and timely question! And one I seem to ask from myself much more frequently than anyone else does.

The simple answer is: almost everything and almost all the time. I read articles, monographs, unfinished Master's theses and comics; write reports, emails, abstracts, presentations, grant applications and book proposals; sit and knit in all sorts of seminars and meetings; organize conferences, events and get-togethers; dig around in libraries, bookstores, databases and the internet for new data and theories; shuttle around the country and the world to meet other people with the same weird interests...

The two things I never seen to have time for are - you guessed it - blogging and writing the damn dissertation. (Seriously, I have a bit over a year left until the dreaded four-year mark! Yikes!)

***

Anyhow, I decided to finally meet the research blogging challenge I put out there a year ago. And for once in my life, I figured I'd start conventionally from the assignment number 1: Show us what you do! Today. Right now.

For me, there's only one possible answer to this: I'm between projects. I have to be - otherwise there'd be no way I could concentrate, even for a minute, on something unrelated like this.

To be more specific, I just finished two grant applications and a conference report. (No, not the one I told you about earlier. A new one.. I'm not that slow.) And now, I'm preparing to write a presentation and a dissertation article.

The presentation is going to be a general survey of how cognitive theory could advance our understanding of fictional characters. I managed to wiggle myself into a panel literary researchers from the University of Helsinki were going to propose for the international Cognitive Futures in the Humanities conference. It's taking place in Helsinki in just two weeks and I'm veeeeeery excited about it! There's going to be lots of people there whose works I've read, and the topics range from disgust and daydreaming to fictional space.

As for the article, it will be about non-human and "unnatural" comic book characters. How do we even read them, and can comics really speculate on experiences that are decidedly inhuman? I am a bit skeptical about that, actually, but I am, nevertheless, going to apply those questions to the analysis of the gorgeous The Sandman: Overture that came out as a collected volume last year. It very much pretends to have a perspective that is beyond human - there could never be an apocalypse that affects only humans - but does it, and can it, really have that? Or are human comics artists and human comics readers forever doomed to discuss nothing but human minds and worlds? (No, I have not elevated Neil Gaiman to the god-status yet, despite everything!)

So, I'm currently reviewing old pieces of thought and gathering up new bits of texts that I could use. I always find this phase both very relaxing and very stressful. One one hand, I can just chillax and see what I find and come up with - it could amount to anything! But on the other hand: what if it amounts to nothing? It's all so formless and there's still so much to do...

I like to "organize" my source material into "project piles".
On top of all that, we have a reading group meeting today. Me and a few of my colleagues have been trying to make sense of Bruno Latour's We Have Never Been Modern together. It's just like any other French theory classic: says everything without really claiming anything, coins new terms without really defining them, and so, leaves the field open for long-winded exegesis. Having read very few original texts by philosophers, I appreciate the intellectual challenge, though.

In fact, intellectual challenge was the whole idea behind the reading group. We have quite a multidisciplinary department, so we figured that, with all our varied backgrounds and knowledge, discussing classics that are relevant to a wide range of cultural research might be very enlightening. And also a good excuse to grab a glass of wine every now and then! I highly recommend it!

We started with Donna Haraway's "A Cyborg Manifesto" in the winter and plan to move on to Derrida's "The Animal That Therefore I Am".

Yes. I consider myself challenged. In more ways than one,
and in many senses of the word.