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.

An Old Fisherman’s Advice


We were walking around Jumunjin Harbour on an early April morning. The sun was warm and the docks were busy with tourists and workers. Underneath the carpark the wharf was busier than usual. Long gone were the fish sellers, moved to another less in the way location of the port, so to see so much coming and going was unusual. While not regulars in Jumunjin port, we would be more regular that most and seeing a flurry activity as such was something reserved for the height of the squid season, and it was not that time of year yet.

We edged closer, hopping over river sized puddles and landing on tiny atolls of uneven concrete, until we came to what was of so much anxiety and interest to the workers and curious visitors. On the concrete were nets and nets full of fish. They were litterally exploding with them. To see nets this full in a small port like Jumunjin, where even in their tourist markets they mostly sell farmed fish, was a delight. There were wheelbarrows full to bursting being shoved past, and nets being stretched long for cleaning and recasting. Of greatest interest though was the a stocky greying man, sitting on a plastic chair pulling the fish from the nets.

Herself began to talk to him, as I tried to take a few photographs of the action. He was very garrulous and you could tell that the catch had enlivened him. He cracked jokes and offered advice. We put in an order for some fish and a much used plastic shopping bag returned full to near bursting with oily, unscaled and still to be gutted fish. I think they said there was twenty in it, but later we found that there had to be even more. They charged us a mere 10,000 won.

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As we stood around chatting with and I continued to take photographs, he made a suggestion.

“Why don’t you sit down here and pull the fish out, and I’ll take a photograph of you while you do it? You can even wear my oilskins and hat”. He laughed out loud at the idea and gave my wife one of those looks, while nodding in my direction. Needless to say, me being no fun and afraid of actual work I declined the offer, shirking away in the process. The man didn’t seemed bothered and continued to laugh and crack jokes with Herself.

Later that day as I was looking back over my photos I could not help but think about this suggestion. He didn’t seemed bothered by any stretch of the imagination, and was certainly only having a good laugh at my expense, and probably rightly so. What I could not stop thinking of was that this was worthwhile advice for anyone who is a  tourist, or a photographer, or just whoever is nosey and wants to inspect as you go about your work. If you think that something is so fantastic you feel enticed to point and stare, or photograph, or watch with intense critical interest, perhaps you should don those oilskins yourself and really see how interesting an experience it is.

Whenever we travel we take so much time to find authentic experiences, but rarely do we take into account that what is an authentic experience to someone is a life and way of living to another. Yes it’s interesting, but isn’t it more important to have a little personal respect for people who are going about their lives? It’s not as if they would choose to be so interesting to the point of fascinating.

The End of the Summer


It’s still hot in Korea. By hot I mean warm enough to prefer shorts to trousers but pleasant enough to consider the walk, wherever it is you’re going, enjoyable. Only this afternoon it started raining the kind of rain that smells of the heat that has warmed it. Like some kind of stagnant puddle water. And as it drops and hits the ground the water mixes with all the other smells walked into the street, then stewed up to create a black paste which seems to follow every foot’s step in the city. It’s a summer rain true, but not a high summer deluge.

When we returned to Korea from Ireland a little under two weeks ago we were told we had missed the worst of the summer. The breeze which we found chilly was a much welcomed breath of life into a country drained to exhaustion from the hottest of summers. We were grateful that we had chosen our flight dates well.

When I first spent a summer in Korea I can’t recall how I felt about it. I don’t remember when the heat began or ended, but I do remember staying outside long and late into the night at the weekend dressed only in shorts and t-shirt. I also remember walking into the ice cold bank to find 10 to 15 people sitting around in small groups chatting, snacking on fruit, and generally just hanging out in what was a free air-conditioned space. A few years later and I would do the same, but with a cheap ice coffee in the local Paris Baguette.

Now, that cool breeze I mentioned seems to have let up a little, but there is still a heavy rattle of cicada in the afternoon. Occasionally a dragonfly will drop to the ground dead in front of me, a sure-fire sign of the end of the summer. I still carry a handkerchief with me to avoid looking like I just stepped from the shower, but I can feel the weather getting steadily cooler.

In Ireland the summer ends in July, apparently, and autumn runs from August through to October. In many parts of the world August is an unbearable month, but Ireland it can be cool and the most unbearable thing we have are the wasps which seem to enjoy lunches in the garden as much the next person. It’s a far cry from the crowded beaches and sweltering streets of Korea, but that’s where I was a couple of weeks ago.

 

A view in Ireland

A view in Ireland

I was not thinking of the Korean summer, just of how nice it was to be in Ireland for what was a very enjoyable and warm summer by Irish standards. If anything the only reason I didn’t want to go back to Korea was because it meant the summer would be over and I would have to return to work.

It’s always easy to get all sentimental after leaving your summer holidays behind and returning to work, normality, and routine, as you sit there, wherever it is and doing whatever you have to do, looking invariably at a scene quite different than you have recently made familiar to yourself. My view from where I write is often uninspiring, faced with a computer screen backed onto a white wall, and the view through the windows leaves nothing to the imagination. The mountains in the distance even being too far off to be wistful.

An example of 'the routine'.

An example of ‘the routine’.

Coming to Korea you’d think that all would be amazing, especially from little old Ireland. But equally so, leaving Korea and going to Ireland presents such stark contrasts, not just visually, but also physically and socially. One is here and the other is there, and there is so distant from here that it bears such little comparison that highlighting the differences only serves to be counterproductive. Each country exists in such stack separation from the other that seeing the two in any light never presents any recognisable image.

I say this with a fair amount of regret, but I know that it’s true. To worry that, for example, your holiday has ended and that you must now return to the routine does little but to feed your own sentimental wishes and dreams which are likely to be realised. It serves to remember that those who can be considered fortunate enough to live where you have returned from also have the same concerns as you, none more so than complaints about the weather, bills, normality, routine, and a desire to find a better life somewhere else. I would also hasten to add that if I were fortunate enough to be so wealthy as to afford to sit around and play golf all day at such a young age I think I’d find myself bored. Perhaps when I’m old enough to retire I will be of a different mind-set.

It is safe to say that we make decisions in life about where we want to be and what we want to do. Where we choose to live and how we choose to live are important decisions. Of course not everyone is in as comfortable a position as myself to be offered a choice, I know this better than I used to, but still it’s in our power to change this, somehow.

Living in Korea, I have been frustrated by many things, but at the same time I find a lot of enjoyment in living here. I work hard enough to enjoy a lifestyle which many in Ireland do not enjoy, but we are just as happy living where we are. I have being living in Korea long enough to know what to enjoy and what to avoid. I know the limitations of my luxuries and envy those without them, which sounds odd I know, but it is nothing unusual for a person to covet what they cannot have.

A view from Korea

A view from Korea

I have never really felt myself unhappy in Korea, homesick yes, but never unhappy. There are plenty here who find fault with so many social and political issues here, but I always look at it from the perspective that every country has its problems and no one country manages to deal with them in any way more effectively, as a whole. Societies face pressures from all angles, but rounding them off they are internal and external issues which time itself and the experience it brings often help to solve most complaints. Whether we live to see some of these changes is probably what concerns us the most.

I started this post talking about the weather. I see the weather as a metaphor for how we deal with our lives in different countries from our own. I can’t say it matters much to me or anyone in Korea, unless there’s some agricultural or aeronautical connection I’m forgetting, how the weather is in Ireland right now. I’m concerned that my family and friends are doing alright of course, but I don’t think that this supersedes my own situation, which is the rain from now until some time tomorrow.

And that is what I will do. I will wait until it stops and then I will see what happens next. I wonder will the rain be light enough when I get up so that I can walk to work, or will I have to drive. I wonder if it will rain all day and what I will do in between my classes if it is still pouring down. It’s what is here and what I must deal with, regardless of what the weather is in Ireland.