So?

That most compact of adverbs has its place, but it will have no room in anything I edit. I know that its insertion in the margins of student papers, usually adjacent to some concluding sentance which, the author hoped, made a point of sufficient clarity, is meant to indicate both the failure of that goal, and a prompt to defend the statement with more vigour.

When I read an editor’s comment that consists of only this, I don’t read it as ‘So? Please make your claim more explicit.’ Instead, I see this; ‘So? Who cares? Certainly not me. You have wasted my time and I will not waste it further with unnecessary key-strokes. Count yourself fortunate that I even bothered to hit shift at the start.’

Yes, that’s harsh but really, that’s not helpful. This is, or rather was, on my mind a while ago because that adverb was repeated with painful regularity by two editors who returned a paper last week. They still want the paper, and their comments are, ultimately, beneficial. I’m just not in the mood for that sort of interrogation. I’ve got until Jan 15 to make fixes, so it’s not an emergency.

Speaking of emergencies, one may ask what was manner of crisis kept me from PBS since 23 Oct. You can ask, but there is little to tell. The trials of the doctoral student are well known but they are not really part of my experience. My research is going well, although slowly. I have no serious doubts about the course of the project, my methods, or my goals. My supervisor is the model of helpfulness and dedication. The minor irritations that most students experience, but accept as part of the ‘life-style’, for me, become colossal obstacles to work, sleep, and ultimately mental health. Now that’s a touch of hyperbole. I would not even consider joking about clinical depression and I know that my experiences are not universal and thus worthy of universal sympathy. However, there is only so much one can do on 3-5 hours of sleep a night, for 5 weeks straight.

The little room I was given in a 4 room flat, at the start of this term, would have worked out if there was some way of replacing all the occupants with ninjas. The people themselves were fairly quiet, when they were in their rooms, working. Otherwise, they were the loudest people I have ever had the misfortune to experience. Everything was loud. The doors, the kitchen cupboards, the chairs, the cutting boards (every chop, and it was always ‘chop’ and never slice) was audible. Every dish that was cleaned required several good whacks on the stainless sink. And all of this could and would happen at any time of the day or night. No-one (other than me) closed doors on their own. Everything was left to slam shut on its own, except the front door.

Oh, the front door. I had written the most polite and respectful note (necessary as hardly anyone was reliably around when I thought of this) and taped it to that door one early morning, in hopes that I could stop people from slamming that door shut as they came and went. This way, I wouldn’t need to wear earplugs constantly, and I wouldn’t jump from my chair (or bed, or slumber) at the gun-shot level volume. That note was promptly torn down by the first person who read it, and the door continued to be slammed, quick energetically, when that particular person left the building.

Sometime around 9pm, maybe 27 Oct? I was typing in mid-sentence for a draft that was, by then, a good 4 weeks behind schedule when the door, in a manner that would have produced diamonds if coal were left in the jamb, blasted through my earplugs and kicked all my careful prose out of my head. I jumped up, ran to the window, stuck my head out and stopped.

I’m not sure what I would have actually said (or shouted) at the back of the student, heading up the street, ignorant of the wreckage he was making of my already damaged psyche but I doubt it would have been at all coherent or fit for reproduction in text. I had already told the college about this and, to abbreviate the details, a room did appear, which is quieter (at least so far as the maximum volume of any one source of noise is concerned) and I am now safely re-deployed.

I’m still very far behind in the non-thesis projects. I have a massive sleep debt and I have to un-do my irregular sleep pattern I developed at the other room. I am now capable of some writing again, which is why PBS is getting this little catalogue of complaint.

As compensation, here is a picture of what £100 will get you from Bennett & Kerr, rare books in Steventon Oxfordshire:

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And, here is the new place, with ample shelving and more desk space.

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And now, back to some normalcy.

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5 thoughts on “So?

  1. Perhaps it’s because I identify so closely with you, but hearing about these incidents automatically fires up little fantasies in which the aftermath includes things such as: broken dishes; half-asleep and puzzled-looking neighbours standing about in the street; a broken window with a curtain hanging through to the wrong side; metal fire doors bent and/or partly off hinges, perhaps with cracked safety glass (with the wire grid inside); chairs with legs broken or missing; and an ache deep in my hand that will probably need professional attention. The fact that there have been no homicides and the police have never even been called is a testament to your awesome willpower. Srsly.

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