December 1: I went for a swim for the first time in ages and felt like a brick hauled through water – a far cry from my activities earlier in the year.
December 2: I had one of my horrific headaches that I normally associate with a glass of wine, except that this time I hadn’t drunk a drop. Not for the first time, I’m starting to wonder whether what I experience are migraines.
December 3: This one’s about struggling with expectations, both my own and others. I’m very fortunate to have an Arts and Humanities Research Council scholarship for my doctoral training, and while I sometimes forget how competitive the process of obtaining one of these is, every time I remember (generally when I look across at my colleagues’ amazing achievements) I wonder how I ended up getting lucky, and then my next thought is that I’m not going to live up to expectations. Classic impostor syndrome, right? This sense of not quite achieving what I perhaps should have (that dread word should again…), given people’s hopes for me and the early suggestions of competence is something that’s haunted me throughout my life thus far.
December 4th: Eighteen needles for the eighteen people I’m going to be working with as I deliver a ‘stitch journal’ workshop next spring at Leeds Playhouse, as part of their HeyDays outreach scheme with older people. I’m very excited about it, but also a little terrified.
December 5th: back and forth on the train between Skipton and Leeds, to sort out and then participate in an early Christmas dinner with my department colleagues. I do find (quiet) train time to be good reading time.
December 6th: A gruelling Action Learning Set that pushed me into some uncomfortable truths.
December 7th: this one’s about figuring out ways of sticking to my guns. I tend to think that other people have more of a sense of what to do so will acquiesce a little too easily to their plans, even if those plans don’t actually make sense to me.
December 8th: following on from yesterday, this one’s about being honest with myself. I’ve spent a lot of time biting my lip, for all sorts of reasons, and it doesn’t do a person much good in the end.
December 9th: I found myself struggling with writing once again, and my very wise best friend suggested a mind map to work out what it is I’m actually trying to do. The resulting jumble is now pinned up above my desk and is one of the more useful things I’ve done this year.
December 10th: Ever-decreasing squares of a bleak mood as I struggled with writing… again.
December 11th: A flat, empty day until I finally mustered up the guts to send the email about writing.
December 12th: Election day. I don’t know what to say about this.
December 13th: The results of the election weren’t what I wanted but were what I expected. A moment of feeling very much out of kilter with the mood of the nation.
December 14th: We headed down to Brighton to see my brother-in-law, his wife and their lovely dog Widget. Bracing sea air is a marvel for clearing the head.
December 15th: Brighton pier. A little too breezy for candy floss.
December 16th: Long train journey back from Brighton. Once again useful for reading and thinking though.
December 17th: I met up with a friend to talk all things PhD; this one’s from a conversation about the many different ways in which time moves, and for whom, in a ceramics studio.
December 18th: Positive feedback on an academic article. It’s amazing what a carrot, no matter how small, will do for my motivation.
December 19th: Finally went to the doctor after three weeks of dizziness, and went through a range of tests. It seems it’s either viral or exhaustion, or maybe a bit of both.
December 20th: What is academic life without a highlighter pen. Trawling articles for thoughts to reiterate, regurgitate, dispute.
December 21st: I was given a new computer. I’m very PC-based so whilst the new thing is very shiny and will have lots of grunt, I’m viewing it with a degree of suspicion.
December 22nd: Solstice day, with the moon at its heaviest on the seesaw.
December 23rd: Still working away, thinking about struggles to make myself heard, at home and elsewhere. If this PhD does nothing else, it will undisputably have taken me to pieces. The question is whether I go back together again with no parts missing or broken.
December 24th: Finally succumbing to Christmas.
December 25th: Christmas day, with all it entails. I’m aware, as I type this, that this month seems surprisingly bleak. This one’s about being the black sheep of the family; I continue to believe that I must have been hatched from an egg, or similar.
December 26th: a day that Scottish people would describe as ‘dreich’, when it never gets properly light and all a person wants to do is slump on the sofa.
December 27th: Complex games of strategy and chance in a quiet pub in our near-silent town.
December 28th: I finally got round to plaiting some onions that I’d planted in the summer and which had languished in the garage for four months, wiht me thinking every time I saw them that I must do something about them before they rotted. The plaiting was surprisingly fiddly but I ended up with five strings and felt as proud about this as anything else I can recall this year.
December 29th: We reversed a local dog walk – this is the road up to the quarry above the village – and it got me thinking about finding new perspectives on things we take for granted.
December 30th: My first degree was in painting, and though I ended up doing more photography in my final year, I produced two large paintings in my second year that were reasonably successful in delivering my expectations. They’ve remained on the stretchers since their creation in 1996, through storage in parents’ houses, and several house moves. Today I finally stripped them from the stretchers after acknowledging that they’re just taking up space and aren’t anything I’d want on the wall, even. These are the screws that held the stretchers together, some of which I had to fight to remove after 23 years in place. These moments always get me thinking about the person I was when I built the stretchers in Simon’s workshop on the ground floor of Norwich School of Art, a blank, new person who had no idea how her creative life would wane and then wax once again.
December 31st: A moment in which to reflect; pause; move forward. Here’s to 2020.