When I came to Durham last September, it meant change in every way. I moved to a new country, made new friends and learned to live on my own. And I changed discipline. I had been studying History for six years, and I had worked part-time throughout. Now I was starting a degree in Religion and Society, and I was out of my depth. I'd been focusing on one area in my first degree - South Eastern Europe - and I was good at that. But I was ready to do something new.
Suddenly I was reading things that I'd never even thought about before, and whilst it was always fascinating, it was also very scary. When I started writing my dissertation, I made a conscious decision to let go, to work on something that I was interested in and learn as much as I could. I enjoyed it. It helped that I was studying Iris Murdoch's work. One of her many sensible truisms is this: 'What of the command 'Be ye therefore perfect?' Would it not be more sensible to say 'Be ye therefore slightly improved?''
Doing something that was relatively new to me made me ditch my ideal of perfection. Instead, I'm trying to embrace the idea of being an interested and moderately gifted amateur.
There was one moment of crisis. There always is. I ran into a neighbour who's a Professor in the English Department. He said lots of things that reminded me of the neurotic academic world that I had come to know in Vienna. I felt bad. So I took the next day off. We went to Newcastle, saw an exhibition, had dinner at a vegetarian café, then went to the cinema. A few days later, my friend Nikki and I made a pact to finish our dissertations over the weekend. When I handed it in, the secretary asked me whether I had enjoyed the last year. I said yes.