Friday, 17 October 2008

The me-me meme

Often, though not always, I get my wife to read my postings before I upload them. Our offices are next to each other in the house. I email them to her. She emails back. Such is the modern work-home balance. Such is modern marriage.

My email wasn’t working properly when she sent her response to my last posting. So we had a face-to-face conversation, before breakfast. Such, too, is the modern work-home balance.

She: You know I always really like your blog.* But . . .** I wondered if that posting doesn’t come across a bit self-concerned.

Me: I know what you mean.*** But I’m torn. Some people tell me they like my blog best when it’s personal. Others that they’re more interested in it when it reaches out into the world.

She: That posting, though. Isn’t it a bit too much like those columns in the paper where someone writes about their own life, self-obsessively. It’s all so me-me-me.

Me: But those are the columns you read. I don’t. But you do.

She: Mmmmm.

And so to breakfast.

* A note for anyone ever having a conversation with any writer about their writing. Begin any and every conversation with something like this. Even if it’s a complete lie. Particularly if it’s a complete lie. If you don’t first tell them they’re wonderful, they won’t hear anything you say after that. Particularly if you’re about to tell them it’s rubbish.

If it is rubbish, tell them it needs a little work. Then start on your list of suggested changes. No matter how extensive the list, the writer will still be basking in the glow of that initial praise. Think of it as tickling a dog’s tummy. It works. Every time. I’ve written and I’ve edited. As an editor, I learned all about writers’ vanities. Mine included, of course.

** There’s always a ‘but’ after a sentence which begins ‘You know I always really . . .’

*** Defence is the last resort of offence.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Back to school

Summer’s over. Time to return to school. I’ve re-enrolled. I’ve paid my £2000 plus change. I’ve got the schedule. I’ve got a new UCL password. I’ve logged back on to PEP. And I’ve got my exam results.

Ah, the exams. I just looked back at the only posting I made about the exams and see that it was long on atmosphere and emotion but short on facts. Things like the number of exams and where they were done etc. I reckon I’d like to know if I were you. So . . .

I’m doing an MSc in Theoretical Psychoanalytic Studies at UCL. I’m doing it over two years. Most people do it in one. We all have to do the same work, I just get longer to do it in. We have to write two essays (5,500 words), one dissertation (11,000 words) and sit exams — twelve papers over three days, 45 minutes per question.

That’s the entire sum of the written work. Everything else is reading and seminars. I’ve written (and whinged) about the volume of the reading before. I’ll just mention that one of my fellow students decided to weigh the reading before she flew home to Marin County. She’d thought of taking it with her, I guess, for reference. So she checked it in case she got stuck with a hefty overweight surcharge. She would have been. It weighed two stone.

That’s not all the reading. There are no books counted there. Nothing read online or in the library. Just the photocopies of each week’s reading. Two stone. Thirteen kilos. A toddler load.

The exams count for a lot, though — 45 per cent of the marks. I guess it’s a way to stop people cheating. If you don’t get it, you can’t spiel away in the moment. So it’s hard not to take the exams seriously. Obviously, my grades will make no difference at all to my life outside the course. In fact, they’ll count for nothing anywhere outside my own head. Which is the point. I’d be lying — to myself — if I didn’t admit it was important for me to do well. (I’m not after a surprise denouement so I’ll tell you now, I have done well.)

It was very odd, sitting in a room for three hours, scribbling away by hand. I hadn’t written that much by hand that fast for maybe thirty years. I was drained at the end of the three days. I needed a break.

So I took a break. I haven’t done any course reading at all over the summer. The only psychoanalytic stuff I’ve done is some reading for my book about what psychoanalysts have to say about dirty words and I went to a psychoanalytic debate last Friday. It was a real world heavyweight title thing, a drag-down knock-out, bloody affair with a clear points victory to the challenger. It could really turn the game upside the head. I’ll explain more in a future posting.

The people doing the course in one year started a couple of weeks back. Because I did so many units last year — partly by miscalculation — I’ve got very few seminars this year. Just six or seven between now and Christmas.

The first is this Friday, on Melanie Klein — for which I haven’t done the reading. It’s sitting there in a pile on the floor of my office, glaring at me. But I’m ignoring it. It’ll have to wait its turn while I finish my book. That’s what happens, I guess, when you get good grades: confidence. I’ve got more important things to do right now. Melanie Klein can wait.