Thursday, June 16, 2011

London, Culture, and Major Project Revising

Last night I had a dream that I was home, already back from my field study. In my dream, I was panicking because I felt like I had gotten nothing done and I hadn't seen as much of London as I wanted to see and I hadn't done half the research I wanted to do. I guess this is a good measure of how far along I am on my project. But this isn't because I've been slacking off and not working as hard as I should be. I've spent most of my days here researching at the British Library or in historical sites researching (except for the long week I spent at the beginning trying to look for housing). The main problem which is keeping me from moving ahead on my project is that I'm not focusing on the right subject.

I realized this today as I was emailing my thesis mentor. The two problems which I have noticed in my project are 1) finding a simple, narrow focus, without the mass of unorganized tangents which I seem to have accumulated, and 2) keeping my project focused on literature, not history. Although I had always noticed how complicated my project seemed to be, I didn't realize I was having problems with keeping it focused on literature until my thesis mentor asked me if this was turning into more of a history project than an English project. My first reaction was that all of the history was necessary to my project because I had to know a lot of history in order to discuss my literature knowledgeably. But after a while, I realized that the history part of my project, instead of being a foundation through which I could confidently analyze the literature, was taking over my project. Instead of analyzing literature about the Tudor queens, I was trying to analyze the history of the Tudor queens and use some literature as proof for my arguments.

Now that my project is back on track, I feel a lot more confident in my research and in keeping my project focused. To be honest, I've lost a lot of time doing some writing and research that will probably not be included in my project, but now my project is focused on the literature rather than history, which is where it needs to be. And another perk of refocusing my project which I've noticed is that now my project is simplified and easy to explain. After removing all of the unnecessary historical junk, it's a very streamlined, manageable project.

As far as getting used to London and its culture, I've learned one all-important principle: nearly everything all of your friends and family tell about London is a lie. This isn't because they're trying to trick you, or because they never experienced the "real" London. It's simply because it's impossible to sum up London's culture (or the culture of any city or country, for that matter), into just a few words or sentences. I've had people tell me all Londoners try to make you angry just for fun, that Mormons in London aren't as friendly as Mormons elsewhere, and that keeping the hot water running while you take a shower is a luxury in England. And this is only a small sample of the advice I've received about London and its people. While I don't know where many of these bits of advice came from, I'm reminded of a quote which I believe is from Mark Twain:

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness."

I'm not implying that the people who gave me their opinion about London were bigots or prejudiced, rather I'm expressing how grateful I am that I'm here in London to experience the real culture and real atmosphere of the city, rather than just listen to other people's opinions. As easy as I would have been to rely on other people's opinions of London and England instead of coming here myself, I would have missed out on the opportunity to discover the culture for myself. I've also learned from this experience that when someone asks me, "What is London like?" I'll share my opinion, but also remind them how large and diverse London is, and that it's impossible to describe without making sweeping (and probably untrue) generalizations.

I'm definitely looking forward to discovering more about London in the next two months, and in starting anew on my streamlined, refocused project.