Writing and Reflection – EdD year 6 and counting


When I first started writing this blog over ten years ago, my initial intent was to use the space to help me practice writing frequently and purposefully. It was an opportunity to target my writing on topics I thought were interesting – initially with a pseudo-intellectual angle but later it developed its own personality. At its high point I think I was posting more than an article a week, and on a good day my blog gained over 300 views. In blogging terms, that’s quite small but to me it mattered, and I feel that’s what is important. The writing had purpose, direction, and ownership, as good writing arguably should have. This writing encouraged me to write beyond these pages, and even drove me to consider greater things.

Over the past few years, the blog has not won as much attention from me. There could be a range of excuses for this but they are really only relevant to me. I’m a bit cautious of doing the whole ‘I’m sorry I haven’t posted in [checks blog] two years’, because I’m not actually sorry. Also, if you check artist Cory Arkangel’s project Sorry I haven’t posted you can get an idea of the pit of cliché one could find themselves in.

One thing I think about with this blog and blogs in general is do people even read them anymore – when I first started writing there was youtube and bit of twitter, and maybe podcasts were starting to take off. Now the range of media options seems endless and even choosing the right platform to put writing on seems to be a dilemma in its own right. Coming back to this blog, I want to talk about the reason I’m posting today and this is using it to try to build confidence as a writer through reflection on my academic writing as part of my ongoing Doctor of Education.

The academic writing process – dissertation level

For the past number of years, I’ve been doing my EdD with University of Glasgow. The first number of years presented their own challenges, but since 2018 or 2019 it has really been relentless as a challenge. While the process itself is difficult, the individual in question (me) has battled endlessly with the need to focus and to meet the targets set as part of the course. While there are practical issues which have been important, many aspects of the modules I worked on required quite abstract thinking and theorising, and my brain really struggled to do. For the life of me, I cannot comprehend this. In the end I needed quite a lot of scaffolding and support from my tutors, and I was very fortunate that they were both patient and objective.

In between forays into rewrites and resubmissions was a constant wait for the next step or stage. You write, you submit, you wait. You wait a little longer, and then you get a response (be it a grade or feedback or similar), and then you either write again or wait some more. Sometimes when writing from a position where my work was deemed to lack the high standards expected from the programme, it felt like I was writing blindly. This lack of vision is always present, but when my initial journey was unsuccessful (shall we say) I was more conscious of the perils ahead and wrote more cautiously with fear that it might be wrong. Of course, academic writing requires that kind of caution in writing as you need to be conscious that every angle explored is addressed and supported appropriately. It is arduous but the rigour is necessary as there are many ideas and as much research on these topics floating around and backing up what you’re thinking lends to the authority of your own ideas. It also encourages your individuality as a writer and thinker.

Depending on your successes at this, it can influence your confidence and how you think about your ability. It goes far beyond thinking of something and then putting them down in a word document. In its own way, getting beyond this learning curve is like crossing the horizon – you can never really be sure you’ve done it until you meet some point where you absent-mindedly realise ‘oh, I’ve done it’. And then ask ‘now what do I do?’, and that’s often a bit daunting.

Writing at the moment is not an easy thing because it has consumed me – both when I’m writing and I can’t choose the right way to start a sentence or something. And when I’m not at my computer, even in the supermarket or bringing kids to school.

It’s a confidence thing, as the more delays I’ve faced and the more downtime and uncertainty I’ve tried to navigate, has drawn me further from my project and left me confused. Indeed, I even think that the longer I’ve sat away from the practice of writing for this dissertation the harder it has been to return to the way in which I should be thinking. When I can’t write – and there have been many reasons over the past 18 months – returning guiltily to the neglected word document of my draft is not easy. An apology to what I should be doing does not suffice as it is one of those things the only person who deserves an apology is me.

Reflecting on this process

I’ve tried to write here as a process of reflection. A lot of things have gone on in my life, especially with Covid obviously, but also with my study, job(s), professional and personal growth, and with my family. Things change all the time, and while the progress has been slow in my study if I look back where I was some time back it could be valued as good progress. I try to tell people who struggle with language that they should not worry – we are all on the same journey, it’s just that others are at different points, but we will all get where we need to be eventually. I could apply this to my own situation, but I also have a deadline to meet.

Reflection works for me here as so much water has passed under the bridge, and the time has come for me to assess where I stand. I feel distant from the project I’m working on, but this shouldn’t be the case because it is my project with my ideas, research, and input. I need to try to understand what I am doing. It is also only really me who knows what I want it to look like and crafting it to this desired shape when parts won’t stick together or even fall off entirely needs a lot of rethinking, re-evaluating, revisualising. I hope for me that this blog will help me to get through part of this process.

Thanks for reading.

The Admitted Perils of Academic Writing


At the two year milestone of my five year Doctor of Education I thought I’d take the time to return to this blog to talk a little about how it’s going and how it has helped and/or hindered my writing. I often look to this very blog as a great influence for becoming a more prolific, and in that sense a better writer. It was the encouragement I got online that drove me forward and which later saw me getting both non-fiction and journalism published, but also my poetry and some stories. It is also part of the reason that I felt that writing would not be such a chore while working towards my doctorate over five years.

It has been a long time thought since I’ve written any journalistic articles or poetry, which I suppose is a bit of a shame. There has also been the minor matter of having to complete a bucket or two full of reading for two large essays, as well as other activities, twice a year for my course. The course, above all, is mentally taxing, and with my kids keeping me extra busy, the joys of sitting down throwing out a thousand words appear to have vanished in the ether.

Writing academically is certainly very different. Even for all the criticisms writing academically may receive, and they are ample, I’m going to give you some feedback based on how I feel and what I understand about writing has changed.

  1. Every word matters

When you have a wordcount to fit a very complex argument into, this goes without saying. Beyond that words go even further to determine how we are understood. Agonising over phrasing is not something that only creative writers shed tears over. Individual words mean specific things and how we say things bears connotations. Shift + F7 really doesn’t find the right answers and even if it is the right word, it’s likely that in review someone will find a more appropriate word. Accuracy seems to be king and striving for perfection seems to make the world, at least when writing academic pieces. What is said and how it is done so seems to carry greater weight than ever, and even then the accuracy may be left wanting.

  1. Your opinion hardly matters

Don’t take this too hard, because I’m listening, really, but it’s just that regardless of what you’re saying I just prefer what that other person is saying. But hey, it’s ok, thanks for trying and maybe next time I’ll pick up something you wrote. Such is the way that I think dialogue surrounds the world of academic writing.

For the hours that people probably spend devoted to the work they are experts in, become respected and become sought after and respected and all those other positive word, it may be the case that there are as many people who discount your findings or hard work because of some fickle reason. The hours spent crafting are a labour of love, but this love does not appear to be reciprocal.

  1. Does being a good writer matter?

It is an answer which I thought would carry me through many of the hurdles this process is presenting to me. I thought that, as a strength, it would single me out advantageously. And perhaps it will do so, but only after much more time working and crafting the way that I write. I was kind of scuppered some months back as I was hauled in as the quality of my writing was put to task. It was not said that how I wrote was bad or good or anything like that. Essentially, I was told that my writing was wrong. I’d never really considered writing as ever being that way.

The rebellious part of me wanted to raise the middle finger and carry on attempting to break the system. This part of me huffed and puffed and spat and cursed, but to what end? It struck me as things were explained to me that the content was what mattered, and not the style, as the primary function of writing in an academic setting. Style, it would appear, is secondary, and a product of the labours of accurate graft.

Don’t get me wrong: it is very important to be able to write well, but well is defined as being concise, clearly, and highly organised, often with the choice of particular words agonised over. Not, as is my wont, a glorious fluent adjective laden cavalcade of English whisking the reader away on a personal narrative of insight and romance. No.

  1. What’s in a comma?

Following on from previous points, the individual functions and purposes of different elements of writing count. They are tied in, not only with style, but also more than I have felt before. The comma, for example, all but a simple short tick downward at the heel of a word can carry the meaning of a sentence, and with that it can carry the meaning of a paragraph, and perhaps it could disjoint the meaning of 1000 words. Placement is as important as non-placement, and perhaps you should really think about why are there so many commas and no full stops. The comma is a vital piece of punctuation that should be considered superior in the crafting of any written piece, but in an academic essay it becomes something far more sophisticated and which has a particularity that not only controls what and how we say, but what do we actually mean when we write words. This is a message which concerns every single utterance from the keyboard, and while the comma is of course a significant example to

  1. There is no such thing as a final draft

I say this with a pinch of salt. Of course everything must be completed and submitted with a sense of finality. It takes a brave writer to say anything they’ve written is complete, regardless of genre, but the more I write the more errors I find, the more I discover passages that needs rewriting. On top of this personal reflection it appears that even the realm of academic writing purposefully seeks out reasons for further drafts to be completed.

Do not get me mistaken with someone who does not appreciate the necessity for new drafts or a significant review. We are all constantly striving to improve our writing to reach the highest standard, but sometimes reaching an agreeable standard may be the most difficult task of all.

Personally, I have found that I have had to change not only the ay in which I write, but also the style of my writing. Gone, I hope from an academic perspective at least, are the long winding and circuitous prose-like sentences of my former self. Now, brevity is king, but a frequently flexible ruler I should emphasise. I am no longer an expert and my opinion now counts for very little, and the quality of my craft once lauded for its finesse has been turned on its head by those who simply know so much more about the game I am trying to play. What I am trying to say here is that I have tried to be myself and found this coming up short and that a new writer needs to be found from somewhere within, if such a thing is possible.

So that is that. Academic writing has been me and it is where I have been. I am, more than ever, learning a new game and it is far from what I thought I was capable of. Probably I look at this as one of the biggest lessons I will learn, as I have been turned inside out a little, and I have had my confidence taken out, turned upside down and given a good shaking. What is left in my pockets is small change and probably a dirty tissue and a few receipts (what’s new?). I have to make do with this and what remains stuck to my bones. If that is possible, then I will do so. Until then, I had better go and catch up with some reading I should be doing. Education waits for no man, or woman.

 

P.S. To spite the system I am slowly being engulfed by I am avoiding a thorough review of this article in the hope that my genius shines through, spelling mistakes or no.

September 1


There goes the summer. Without a blink or nod of recognition Autumn is upon us. There has been enough talk about the weather already so I shall spare you and I further discomfort. The Irish summer is a subject best discussed from more summery climes. Regardless it does little to explain the speed it passes with.

Maybe it is because today is a day I previously would have returned to work after a long and hot summer break. But I’m not in Korea any longer so it’s of little consequence. What is notable is that in July I went back to work and pretty much worked all through the summer, for better or worse, for the first time in around six years. You grow used to creature comforts like a two and half month summer holiday, which I’m probably only just about to appreciate a little more now.

Second and even more significant was that in May Herself gave birth to our second daughter, who I suppose you can refer to as +2 (not wanting to break from convention or anything). This happening has basically swamped us with greater responsibility and fears, and with me going back to work a little earlier than at first planned the challenges have been compounded. It is because of this a variety of emotional and physical challenges have personified our summer, normally considered a more relaxing time of year, as a hectic and frustration laden season.

One of the biggest challenges has been trying to keep +1 at the forefront of our attentions, while at the same time trying to care for a new and bubbly little baby girl. It’s not that we care any less for either of them, it’s just that all the time in the world we had before has now been split in two. This has been the challenge, but I think with +1 starting Montessori this week things will change a little for the better.

And now you wonder what lies ahead for this autumn and the winter that follows? We will continue on in hope and worry about the next step that needs to be taken.

Probably with the summer over I can worry less about missing the whole of my favourite season due to work commitments. Myself and Herself would love to travel again, and while we will be in London this weekend with her parents, I miss the sense of adventure experienced when visiting a country I’ve never seen before. We check the Ryanair prices all the time, but in the back of our minds is a big planned return to Korea next spring to celebrate +2’s and Herself’s new niece’s birthdays. Aside from the obvious festivity which would surround a trip like this, we are both keen to return and catch up with many of our friends who we miss.

I think at times this past year we have both worried was it the right decision to leave Korea. It has been a long year, as we suffered many ups and downs with my work situation and Herself’s pregnancy was not the rosy cheeked adventure anyone who has never had kids might imagine pregnancy to be. I think we reached breaking point on more than one occasion but despite these tribulations much has been overcome and we look forward to the future optimistically again.

It is always reassuring that despite your doubts when you can turn to someone you love and who you rely on and they can reassure you that the decisions made were the right ones and that there is little to be done about circumstance. Deep breaths, short sleeps, laughterless afternoons, hour after hour passing are trials easily overcome with the support of a loved one, and especially one who is as tired and stressed as you are.

I’m an optimist at the worst of times, and I feel that this will be my undoing in the long run. I am sitting in a café on Dublin’s Harrington Street looking out the big bay window as I type and there is tall and broad, bright green sycamore tree in front of me. Through the tiniest gaps in the leaves is a streak of blue through pale white clouds, and that is where I look to. Not to right where the a dark summer rain heavy cloud lurks in its steady progress to take over my scant blue triangle in the leaves. These small glimpses through the leaves are what motivate me. There is always a chance that something good will come of even the worst summer many Irish living can recall. I wish and I hope, and I encourage myself to see the brightness in the dark, the colour in the monochrome, and find the warm cinders in the long dead ashes of a fire.

September I look forward to you, and to October and November aswell. Sure who knows what will become of you, or us, or the people sitting around in the café where I write this. I can only hope the best for everyone.

 

Thanks for reading, if you liked what you saw here please leave a comment below and share your summer story, or perhaps tell me and your fellow readers what motivates you to get on with life.

 

Dublin is in Black and White


I have been busy, for want of a better word, over the past few months trying to give my Instagram account a bit of content and identity. I suppose it’s more for the likes and followers than for any greater good to society, so don’t expect me to reveal something worldly there.

Some time back when I was still in Korea I thought it would be a neat gimmick to just post photos in black and white, or monochrome. It was a thing, and I’ve kept at it. Of late I’ve been focusing a lot on Dublin’s streets, and have been trying to get some shots which could be recognised as street photography, but with my phone and not my Nikon. It is not as easy as you’d think, because regardless of the quality of the image your phone takes it will never replace the speed and accuracy of a SLR.

But it is doable. All you need to do is:

  1. Be patient – find the shot, frame and wait a moment or two until you have the right level of human activity. Don’t stand around being creepy holding your phone up waiting for people to arrive or react to something. If the shot you want doesn’t come, move on and try and find another elsewhere.
  2. Be different – look for a way that you can make your shots stand out from others. Tilt your lens, shoot from the ground up, find a perspective which most people are unfamiliar with, or just find your own way of standing apart from other instagrammers – which is harder than it sounds.
  3. Be curious – I walk around just taking random shots with my phone around the city, and every so often a shot comes good. You can’t win them all, and there’s a chance you’ll take some pretty awful shots but as you take more shots and take more chances you will be surprised at what comes out.
  4. Crop Cleverly – When you take your shot use your regular phone camera and don’t shoot inside the Instagram app, as this automatically takes you to the edit and post menu. Shoot away with your normal camera, then when it comes to editing you can use the 1:1 frame to both crop your image in the desired area, and also to move around, zoom in, and even rotate the frame until you are happy with the shot you’re about to post. This might seem like a no-brainer but I personally feel this step is vital to the image and could be overlooked (or maybe most people just take it as a given).
  5. Ignore advice – whatever anyone tells you about doing street photography, just ignore them and do your thing. You shouldn’t really be listening to advice anyway, you should be walking around taking photographs, or at the very least looking at other people’s photos.

Of course these tips are purely my own opinion, and what do I know – I’ve only got 298 followers on Instagram.

Anyway, here are some of my favourites from the past few months, all tagged with the very cool #dublinisinblackandwhite hashtag.

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Find your own moment #vscocam #dublinisblackandwhite

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Procession #vscocam #dublinisblackandwhite #inthecity

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Typical

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The specials

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Take a good taste there now

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If you do find it within your heart, you can follow me here. Or not.

Beautiful Catastrophe


There is something quite unnerving about revisiting statistics for an event which is long in the past. You could look at it as a way of validating the pedestal a particular event holds in time, which may be important. Or you could see it as a way of glorifying something truly horrific, and is likely never to happen again at least not in many lifetimes to come. It is with these perspectives that I clicked on The Fallen of World War II, a digital montage visualising the war casualties between 1939 and 1945.

…more at fallen.io

First up I should say that this is a slick and impressive display of the true cost to generations after the war ended. For major countries it is hard not to see how this war effected them. Often the dialogue surrounds the victors, and the price they paid for so called freedom (because, you know, the US and Britain were invaded and ruled for a brief period. Oh wait). Perhaps with the use of this video you can get a strong indication of how other countries really suffered. Indeed a quick scroll through the comments on Vimeo will show the level of appreciation of the maker’s visualisation.

Yet, I can’t really applaud this interpretation beyond the actual aesthetic, as there are far too many concerns raised here. This is especially important as this year sees the passing of the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, and we will be reassessing this past in the coming months.

It is well worth noting, and I do have The Fallen of World War II to thank for this important point, that to have fought in the war, veterans now would be at least in their late eighties, many would be in their early nineties. It is highly unlikely that there are many remaining, regardless of what country they fought for, and soon there will be none remaining. It is with this in mind that we need to take more care about how we interpret acts in history.

It’s very easy to do a statistical analysis of a historical event. With World War 2 it’s is particularly convenient as primarily we are discussing the actions of armies, together with their large bureaucratic arms that detail the specifics of each and every recruit, from all those who survived to all those who died. Knowing all this information, like the average age of new recruits, the amount of people who signed up from a particular town or the amount of Sagittarians that died on a Tuesday in 1942 serves a function which distances us from the ultimate tragedy of the Second World War.

The names of some of the people who lost their lives during World War II (Image courtesy rootsweb.ancestry.com)

I’m kind of a geek when it comes to reading over figures and statistics in history. I’m interested in populations, costs, quantities, and pretty much any other detail which can be extracted. But statistics, whether disputed or not, are merely numbers. To turn the millions of people who died into levels on fancy a bar chart does not settle easily with me.

There is little difference in this elaborate display of colours and stickmen to a chart with the countries listed in alphabetical order and the number of casualties detailed beside them. Creating a graph that shows how many people who died rising epically into some digital stratosphere still holds the same level of shock as when the number 20,000,000 is printed. Short of celebrating one’s own ability to create a quite beautiful display, it doesn’t make the lives that actually make up these statistics any less or more valuable.

British troops arrive on Normandy beaches signifying the beginning of the Battle of Normandy which saw over 400,000 soldiers killed.

What I struggle to accept though, looking at the larger picture, is that for all these people who did die, how do we celebrate their story? Does Ireland, a country that suffered only slightly in the war, deserve to be any less remorseful about the events which took place in Europe and Asia? How does a country like Russia or China, two countries that lost a catastrophic number of people, actually account for these lives? These are places we can find it difficult to imagine life in during those times, but grief like love is a universal factor, we all suffer from it to a comparable level. To me it seems that these people’s histories, and the sheer size of their tragedy, have been forced into statistics before we could ever understand them truly.

We are fortunate that the rich television history of the twentieth century has documented many of the ways in which life was lived both on the battle fields and at home. Recently we have been extra lucky to see more real-to-life interpretations, or as real-to-life as we are willing to be trusted with. Story telling brings us closer to the sadness wrought by the sudden death of a comrade, or the brutality of a shrapnel injury.

It is a story that seems to have been ignored. The countries which suffered the greatest loss of life decided to forget what happened. Can you blame them? Even a country like Poland rarely discusses this. Indeed it is not a surprise that the war is not a topic of conversation on every German’s lips, but I can be sure that those people are more aware than anyone of the history their nation created. I wish the same could be said for Japan.

As for the gaping hole in the generations of Russian and Chinese people who had to have been slaughtered to have perished in the quantities they did, what narrative or remembrance can we learn to truly understand a greater significance of World War II? I would hope we can create one which is not dominated by fancy graphics and data, but by realities wrought in the death and destruction of individuals whose fate was decided by men in offices in search of some class of glory.

 

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P.S. Describing every German soldier who fought and died in the war as a Nazi is an unfair accusation. You wouldn’t say that all the Russians were communists, and all the Americans patriots, or whatever.