Thoughts on Goodreads

I’ve just joined Goodreads.


(photo courtesy of Goodreads)

For want of something better to do with my time. The website’s a little confusing, working within genres the way they’ve laid them out. I’m actually affronted by the Chick Lit genre term. Do they (book marketers) have a Man Cave genre Just For Men too? Huh? I’d quite like a genre for Author nationalities as I’m trying to plough my way through some Australian literature. Maybe they do this. And how about sex of the author? Although given my new-found experience of not determining self through gender binaries maybe that’s a rabbit hole not to go down. Anyway, I’ve not investigated the site properly yet.

Also, I never actually COUNT the books I read – I don’t really care all that much. But this is probably a good opportunity to reread and rate the ones I’ve already read and will read this year – keeps my reading catalogue on track. But herein lies another problem. I’m a voracious reader most of the time. If I read just one book a week that’s 52 books a year. That’s actually rather expensive in Australia, with the average paperback book about $25 new – $1300 a year.

I could (and DO) buy ebooks but I actually find them rather annoying to read unless I’m in bed without the light on, or travelling. And don’t get me started on library books. I am the world’s worst library book returner. I’m not going there again!

And, in the end, do I really want to catalogue my reading like this? As a researcher who reads up to 8 articles a day at times, it’s tiring, doing filing. My catalogue of books, also known as a library, is actually on my actual real-life bookshelf. (Shelves). In full view. Of me.

Anyway, I’ve set myself a goal of reading 50 books this year. Not a stretch. Now just to remember to do it!

Happy reading, everyone.



Thinking about those goals again…

About 5 weeks ago I wrote about some goals I was thinking of aiming for, mostly to do with my personal and career goals. I was thinking at the time that I’d like to write. Maybe a fiction novel, or create a book out of my thesis. A cabaret. Or some journal articles, even.

The other thing I thought of doing was applying for a gig as a singing lecturer down south. But as time has rolled by, I had to explain to my DH just today that, actually, I don’t WANT to be a lecturer of singing, especially not down south, where I’d be away from him and our house and our life together. He has been super supportive about this job application – urging me to apply – but I just don’t want to go for it. I don’t really want to be teaching at all, if I can avoid it. It’s not that I can’t teach, I can, really very well. But I’m burnt out from it. And as much as I enjoy Musical Theatre, and as much as I love singing, I’m finding a new energy for writing.

I’ve been writing in this blog for several years, mostly agonizingly self-indulgent little pieces about my research and the sheer craziness of doing a PhD. Now I think I’d like to make forays into fiction again. I was always quite a good fiction writer although I’m not sure I like my narrative voice very much. I tend to write best when I create a narrative voice and prose style that is sparser than the one I use for my stream-of-consciousness one you see here. Actually, I’m a bit of a bower bird: I can mimic quite passably the narrative voice of any number of good writers. But as with academic writing, my best work comes from finding my authorial voice and creative muse.

So, as the weeks go by since I got the PhD email, I’m turning once more to reading and writing. Lots of it. I’m thinking short stories and small scenes first. To rebuild my creative writing chops. And, no, I don’t think I’ll go do yet another course on how to write – I’m done studying for now!

I’m not out of the woods yet – I am clearly in some sort of mid-life crisis, one that thankfully does not involve buying a sports car or dallying with a younger version of my DH – but the panic is over.

I’m taking time to think.

Also, I have a house and body to renovate.

Finding new literature for the review: the snowball effect

Gah. Every time I think I’ve collected all I can about my subject I find I’ve not checked the usual journals for a while and BAM! There’s a whole new section for my subject opening up in front of me. It’s known as the snowball effect, I think. You find you’ve not substantiated something with enough literature so you look online at a journal article and BAM! On the side link is another article that someone else has read, so you look at that and BAM! There’s another one that’s relevant. And then you switch journals and BAM! A whole new avalanche of material hits you. At times I feel I’m suffocating under the weight of all that snow.

The challenge is accept that, yes, there is lots new stuff out there that looks WAY interesting and everything, but I can’t include it all in this thesis. In the words of Elsa, Let It Go. (Sorry, references to Frozen will continue unabated until that darned ear-worm dies.)

However, my current challenge is to update my literature. In the last 5 years since I began the project, lots of work is being done by a number of good folk in the UK and Australia that supports my findings in some way or another. Granted, we’re all doing this using startlingly different approaches but the ideas are similar. So I’m doing a last sweep of the literature, basing my search around the conservatoire and one-to-one teaching. I’ve found at least 8 articles to support the literature I currently have. Of course, I just found a review of a singer’s practical guide book about European opera houses and culture I probably need to read. Bugger, if I’d only looked sooner.

This is what happens when one takes time off one’s study to do other stuff like LIVE. Now, the next thing to do is read the bloody stuff then weave their work into my review. I have a specific approach to selecting an article to read. I read the Abstract to decide if it’s important, then I do a super-quick sweep of the article online to get a feel for the study. I scan the conclusion. Then, if it passes all those checks I download the article to read again later. Takes me about 5 minutes to do each one, but this gives me the breathing room to actually read the articles in a bunch and get on with writing in the meantime.

I organise the writing and reading as different activities done at different times. Examples of my reading and note taking are below: my notes on actual books are usually sticky-notes with one word added to make sense for me later. In the case of the Rogoff book – which I own – I read through the ENTIRE book taking notes. Then, I write the section on cultural psychology, I look through my notes for cues.


The writing phase for me is one of  stream-of-consciousness style. I just get stuff out of my head, then I decide – usually much later on – if it’s worth keeping in the document. My first draft is hilarious. My second not much better. But as my ideas coalesce I am then able to see where my thoughts and ideas match the research and what I am trying to say. I’ve been doing massive sweeps of my work and I’m almost at the reading-out-loud phase, which helps to identify areas that make no sense, lack flow or lack substantiation.

Anyway, DH arrived home this morning which interrupted my sleep and therefore my flow today. I’ve taken the opportunity instead to get the articles I needed and write this. Now it’s back the flow state. Ciao!



My room of my own

Today I’m down at my folks’ beach house, in a room of my own. And I’m working. I am sitting at a desk in front of a lovely large window from which I can see green. It’s nice.

Here’s a photo.

A room of my ownPoppy my groodle sits under my feet and I have made good progress on another of my narrative chapters, which should make it easier to shape the discussion chapter. Here’s hoping, at any rate. So, I’ve been aiming for 500 words per day. I had thought to ADD those words, but at this rate, I’ve been EXCISING them from my narratives. This is a good thing, actually. The narratives are holding together better and they are less wordy. I’ve paraphrased quite a bit of the quotes and removed others altogether. And I’ve reshaped the commentary. It hurts, but many times I’ve had to look at the quotes and wonder why they are in there. Do I need it? Does it help? Usually it doesn’t.

So out they go. But with one particularly powerful narrative, the voice of the teacher is so strong and profound I dread to remove the quotes. So I think I might reduce other aspects of the narrative altogether. Fun, fun fun.

Lunch, then back to work. It’s great working at my parent’s beach house. It’s not my house, so I don’t feel bad about how messy it is (that’s my mother’s mess, not mine). I don’t feel the need to clean, except my own grot, and there aren’t other things getting in the way. Everyone is leaving me alone. Perfect. But there are people here and an expectation that I will work. And I am.

Well, ok. I may have spent a few hours reading my fantasy novels – Stephen Donaldson and George RR Martin, you have a LOT to answer for – but their writing is good for me to see. Stephen Donaldson’s writing is rather overwrought. It is grammatically correct, but I’m getting sick of words like demesne and puissance. Just say domain and power, for goodness’ sake. Martin’s writing is fabulous. I hated it at first, thinking his first novel in his series GoT rather crappy fantasy style, but actually, it is amazing. I’m liking his work more and more. I’ve seen the series, hated the rather stereotypical and archetypal characters he had drawn, and REALLY hated the gratuitous sex scenes and nakedness, but now I see how he draws his characters. I GET how he has been inspired by the War of the Roses, and I think – scarily – that he has drawn a frankly barbaric account of the European middle ages. Which I suspect is rather accurate in its barbarity. I love it. And I love the teeny tiny bit of magic he weaves into his stories so that the fantasy element stays alive throughout the many descriptions of battles and political intrigue. And I love his characters. I have the first three books out of 6 he has currently written (book 3 divided into 2 tomes) and I can’t wait to read beyond the Red Wedding because his books give no real indication of how awful Walder Frey really is. The TV series is a wonderful accompaniment to the novels despite the many small changes made to accommodate narrative flow in TV.

Right. So easy for me to stray off the path of good intentions! Back to work I go.

Oh no! $129 on one book and it’s NOT VERY GOOD.

So, as a singer and PhD candidate researching singing, I was deeply interested in the new Potter and Sorrell publication: A History of Singing, published only 2 weeks ago by Cambridge Uni Press. I stumped up $129 for the privilege to have it sent out and it arrived, parcel post, this week. $129 is a substantial amount for a book. I am always prepared to spend good money on books when they contain something I might find useful. Well. Ahem. I was a wee bit disappointed.

Not by the writing, which is fine. Not really by the content, which, when you add it to Potter’s other works about singing, is a useful addition to his oeuvre, but because there is nothing new in it for me. Bugger. The authors write about the history of the conservatoire and quote Burney. I’ve read Burney. Bugger, and more bugger. Luckily, they do make a pretty contentious argument about the conservatoire environment on page 215, which is about the most useful paragraph in the book.

And some of the chapters are just plain weird. Why name the chapter currently titled “A great tradition: singing through history – history through singing” when it’s really “Classical music of the Indian Subcontinent”? Obfuscation there, IMHO. And why is it in the section called Recorded Voices? The layout of this book makes no sense. And also, why a bloody apologia at the beginning of this chapter? What is there to defend? I’m not sure why the authors are defending a perfectly reasonable subsection in their book. No-one has offered up a kategoria as yet. Why jump the gun?

Anyway. I’m a bit grumpy about it. So I now have to wait for the Oxford Handbook on Singing. Which isn’t due for publication until I’m ready to submit, darn it. On the other hand, my reading of Richard Sennett’s excellent book “The Craftsman”, which cost me $14 including postage, is making up for my financial loss on the other book. There are lots of stickies in this book, and I’m only up to chapter 4. It’s great. This book, plus my books on Cultural Psychology are becoming very useful theoretical underpinnings for my study. Definitely.

Now. Back to work on my last narrative.

And, just for a change, I’ve got some Monteverdi madrigals (Book 3), recorded in 2002 by Delitiae Musicae, Marco Longhini conductor, (Naxos) playing in the background. I’ve missed my Renaissance/early music connections. Earlier, I listened to Canteloube’s Chants D’Auvergnes, sung by Veronica Gens. Amazing how soothing to the savage breast music can be. Especially this grieving one.


PhD work practices: back to the beginning.

The really dumb thing about doing a PhD is that you feel like you are continually on a loop back to the beginning of your journey. At least, this is what I feel like at the moment. Currently I am working on one of my narrative chapters. It is actually a really joyful experience because the participants have such interesting things to say and their interviews are so rich. The hardest thing for me to do will be to squeeze it all into 15000 words.

Notwithstanding my present joy, I feel that I’m always working from a position of beginnings. Learning how to read, learning how to write, learning how to edit, and learning how to think. It’s tiring. I’m wondering why at present I don’t have a sense of being experienced in my learning, and why this sense of ‘becoming’  (philosopher Heidegger’s idea and extended by Deleuze) is always a starting point. Why can’t I get it into my thick skull that I’m most of the way through, that the combined three years experience of reading, writing, thinking should really be coming into play here?

I feel like I’m on some kind of Twilight Zone nightmare feedback loop. Is it the procrastination that’s getting to me? I’ve had 2 excellent hours this morning flinging together my chapter. I’m 8000 words down, another 7000 to go, and I’m annoyed that I didn’t do this earlier. I should have something to send to my supervisor by the end of the month, which brings me to 4 chapters. I WAS hoping to submit 5, but I’ll get the next one in by the end of February.

Argh. Frustration time again. At least I’m working.

Eyesight. Not taking it for granted.

On Friday I went to my optometrist for my two yearly appointment. I’ve been complaining on this blog about poor vision and being unable to concentrate on my work and I have been wondering, quietly, whether it’s because my eyesight has been deteriorating over the last few months. Putting my reading glasses on hasn’t really been helping, lately.

So, sitting there with my youthful 33 year old optometrist telling me that eyesight goes through a series of deteriorating changes between the ages of 40 – 55 was NOT music to my ears.

Turns out that I’m not yet in the “you’ve turned 40 therefore your eyesight is officially crap” basket – it’s actually pretty good for my age. Nevertheless, I still need to get reading glasses 2 levels stronger than my last pair. Might explain things. I’m slightly long sighted and doing close computer work, and I also have an astigmatism. Lovely young optometrist suggested a prism lens, and I had to report that I have two pairs of prism glasses and I can’t bear using them at all – it freaks out my eyes. I told the lassie that I think I only see out of my right eye most of the time because I’m always getting bruises on my left side (no, I’m not being beaten up by anyone other than myself). She reckons my little brain represses the vision in my left side in order to deal with my astigmatism, and so any attempt by optometrists to fix my crappy inward turning eye will result in the madness of King George, thank you very much. She also suggested a graduating lens pair of glasses, to help with close and far vision issues. I said I’d rather die than feel like I’m falling over all the time. I used to own bifocals but I hate them, and, besides, my long vision seems fine most of the time. I only wear glasses to read. And also, I’m not wearing them now. I can see FINE. Although it’s hard concentrating. And the screen is a bit flary. And I have to look up all the time to relax my eyes. Oh, all right! I need glasses. A little bit.

I’ve been expanding my word documents, which I normally type in 10point, to 200% of the normal view, because I just can’t see well enough. And it’s worse when I’m tired. So hopefully next week, when I’ve got my replacement lenses in my old faithful glasses I’ll be able to report improved vision and improved work practices.

Fieldwork takes me on the road again!

I’ve had some good news about my study participants: finally, after a nearly a year (which takes me well beyond the time I though it would take to do my fieldwork), I am seeing three of my participants for their final interviews. This, as usual, means that I have to race through various time constraints and prepare my interview questions with only a couple of days to organise everything, including the purchase of more digital film storage (not exactly cheap).

On the plus side, I have done some extensive analysis of one of my case studies already, so the interview for that one should be interesting, as I can target the questions based on what I have already done. The other case study I’ve not spent so much time with the data, but this is no real problem, as I have decided to focus just on the last few lessons. I’m going to show my participants a few minutes from each lesson and ask them some questions about what is happening. There are interesting elements at play in the second case study, which I look forward to asking the participants about.

This latest development will put me on the path to my final case study, and by the time I leave for my next writing retreat, I should have all my case study interviews finished, and the first drafts done of all of my narratives. This is a good development. It puts me on target and once my first drafts are done I will put them away for a while and start reading again. I need to begin my lit review (again), and re-read all the articles I read two years ago.

As is always the case for me, concentrating on the data is a real challenge and while it is not of itself boring, it reminds me of the practice I used to do for piano and cello. One knew it was good for one, and one felt good afterwards, but getting ready to do it is always fraught. I am on target, though.