Saturday, 18 May 2013

What I have been doing lately

For the first five months or so in my new job I was learning so much stuff all the time that it was utterly exhausting. It made me feel vulnerable but also young in a good way. I had a lull of a month or so and now I'm back to the same thing again. I don't think I have ever had a job where I've had to learn so much all the time, and think so much so consistently. All the jobs I've had as a post-doc have had at their core a sort of glorified data-entry, and any thinking I've done has been either for my own research (when I could find time for it) or very problematic because it involved getting my superiors to see that they were wrong. I'm glad I made this change but it's not what I was expecting. I took it for granted that I would have my exciting M.Sc. year when I got to learn new things, but that that would be my last chance to do thinking-learning for a long time (perhaps until I do a theology degree when I retire). Of course I realised I'd have to learn lots of new things in a job but I thought it would be along the lines of learning new procedures or software packages, like learning to use Powerpoint -- something you learn without thinking. Instead I'm learning things like Design Patterns, which are pure logic, and very hard. I assumed that I'd get good at my job eventually and then it would be boring, but it looks like maybe there will always be new things to understand because there will always be bright people out there coming up with new programming languages based on a particular logical insight, or new frameworks which handle particular problems through doing something unexpected and very clever. I find this wierd to think of. And I feel a bit like a sixth-former again, when I was doing two Maths A-levels and regularly coping with things right at the outermost stretch of my understanding.

The other thing I've done in recent years which has been right at the outermost stretch of my understanding is my edition of the Anglo-Saxon Charters of Wilton Abbey. My original plan was to give myself a year to settle into this job and then pick that up again and finish it off -- I still have the introduction to write, which will be fun, and all the indices of things like Greek loan-words to produce, which will be very hard. I do really want to finish that book. I feel mildly apprehensive about whether I have the brain capacity for both.

So, anyway, I still feel like I'm in the middle of a massive transition in my life, when I had expected that by now I'd feel like the transition was largely made. This job is not what I expected -- I think it's better, but I still feel a little disconcerted. I'm so glad I changed directions: to be honest I am a little bit in love with the idea of myself as someone who can be part of both worlds. If I'd gone the Computer Science route as a teenager (for a while I was certain that I was going to go into Artificial Intelligence and make neural networks) I wonder if I would have spent the last year doing an M.Phil. in Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and Celtic? And marvelling at my new-found permission to think broadly (and cynically) about things pertaining to humans? I hope I would have.

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