January 1: An hourglass for the start of the year.
January 2: Back to work. The 2nd falls on a Thursday and it feels a bit strange to be getting going when some people are back at work and others still on holiday, but there’s a lot to do and no time to waste.
January 3: A marking rubric, which anyone familiar with marking academic work might recognise. Wading through a pile of essays and feeling fortunate that the pile is split with a couple of colleagues.
January 4: A worrying day – Milly, our most senior cat, disappeared. She spends some of her time with our next-door neighbours so that was the first place we looked, but as the day wore on and there was still no sign of her, we grew increasingly worried. Knocking on other neighbours’ doors, posting on the local Facebook group for sightings, peering into the hedgerows and field edges by the house… no sign. I didn’t sleep well, and found myself standing at the door at 2am, calling for her.
January 5: in which days are just days… but at least Milly turned up, 36 hours after disappearing – she’d been in the house all along, hiding behind a laundry bag in a very dark corner; she appeared to have had a stroke as one of her pupils was very dilated and she was walking in a very wobbly way. So, so pleased to see her.
January 6: A growing awareness of an elephant in the room – in this case the thing to be tackled is my lack of forward motion on the thesis. What should come first, literature review work or data analysis? How do I know what I should be reading if I don’t know what’s in my data… but… how do I know what themes I’m using to analyse my data if I haven’t framed my research within the literature? A mess indeed.
January 7: Today I was determined to make a fresh start on my work, and my approach to it.
January 8: Thinking about ways to move forward…
January 9: This one’s about transmitting in two ways, one being in the form of asking for and then receiving help from the wider PhD community via social media, and the other being about my dog shouting her news all over the neighbourhood. I’m forever put in mind of the Twilight Barking from 101 Dalmatians, except my dog entirely lacks a filter for her thoughts.
January 10: This one’s about circular thinking and how ideas come back round. When I was an undergrad some twenty plus years ago, I found a Pelican paperback called ‘Escape Attempts: the theory and practice of resistance to everyday life’ by Stanley Cohen and Laurie Taylor, first published in 1976. It loomed up again at various points between then and now, and once again seems highly pertinent to the leisure aspect of my research. I couldn’t find my copy anywhere so ordered a secondhand copy, at which point the original miraculously appeared, as seems to always be the way.
January 11: My puppeteer friends have gone away to tour Germany and Switzerland for a few weeks so I’m doing a bit of daytime housesitting. There’s an Aga in their kitchen, and to be working away on a chilly January afternoon with the equivalent of a giant hot water bottle at one’s back is a joyous thing.
January 12: We went for a walk with the dog in Gisburn Forest on a crisp and bright Sunday morning.
January 13: This one’s about the ongoing issues with approaching data analysis, even though I thought I’d committed to it. Turns out that ‘committing’ isn’t necessarily ‘making comprehensible’. This entry, on overthinking things, could just as well apply to the rest of my PhD experience – and, for that matter, the rest of my life.
January 14: Preparing embroidery hoops and materials for an eleven week course at Leeds Playhouse in which I’ll be working with a group of 55yrs+ people to make weekly stitch journals. It’s the first time I’ve done anything like this, so while I’m excited, I’m also a bit nervous.
January 15: This one’s about the need to leap the crocodile-infested gap and crack on with my thesis.
January 16: I finally went to see my main supervisor. I walked from the train station to her office with head down and heavy heart, like a person heading for the gallows; I’d become convinced that she was as despairing of my lack of progress as I was of myself. I splurged out my dilemma in fairly robust language, we talked everything through, everything began to make sense, and, yet again, I was reminded of the power of talking to people instead of tangling myself up into a huge knot of confusion. I’m sure there are people out there who breeze through PhD but, as my research fellow best friend reminds me, it’s a training course – I’m learning how to do research, so of course I don’t need to know it all just yet. I left the meeting feeling considerably more buoyant.
January 17: This one’s about clearing the decks, wading into the lit review (yes, parking the data analysis like I should perhaps have done a couple of months earlier!) and wondering where to begin. Someone suggested the idea of ‘flipping the question’ – turning things upside down, back to front, inside out, as a way in.
January 18: Car MOT day. For years I drove very elderly cars and there would always be a daunting moment when the garage rang to pre-approve work before proceeding, and I’d be left wondering where to find the £500 or so to cover the bill. Since driving a more modern car I still haven’t quite let go of that lurching fear, despite, on this occasion, only needing a new brake lightbulb.
January 19: While I was in Denmark last summer, the Textiles department at Godsbanen received several large bags of fabric and home textiles from a house clearance. Lis, the textiles assistant, gave me a piece of blue cotton fabric, and I resolved to make something related to my Danish experience with it. This is the result – a very simple ¾ sleeve top from a Lotta Jansdotter design, which I’m now embroidering with a simple white floral line motif. I’ve been making clothes for years but this is the first time I’ve tried embroidering on them.
January 20: This is my current mantra.
January 21: I haven’t spent much time in the office at university of late, but today I headed in for a departmental postgraduate researcher meeting. Always good to remind myself of the benefits of chatting with my peers – and accidentally committing myself to delivering various events…
January 22: Struggling, again. Trying to find a way in, and not trusting myself to relax and write my way into the literature.
January 23: I was invited to Cambridge by the Tactics and Praxis seminar group, to present the stitch journal and explain the thinking behind it. I hadn’t been to Cambridge since undergraduate days in Norwich so wasn’t quite sure what to expect. The answer, it turns out, is ‘a Harry Potter film’. I was given a room in beautiful accommodation overlooking the gardens at Trinity Hall and the Cam beyond, and the formal dinner was quite something to behold (though it did raise a lot of questions for me about how daunting/alienating such a set up could feel for so many new students). Most importantly, though, the seminar group convenors and participants were warm, welcoming, and fascinating.
January 24: The seminar turned out to be one of the highlights of my PhD thus far. We had a highly engaging conversation about creative practice as part of and alongside research, and about space for fun, experiment and exploration through creative means. I didn’t feel like I was on the back foot, and was consequently able to engage in – and enjoy – the experience rather than experiencing the dissociation that tends to happen when I feel profoundly out of my depth in front of an audience. An enriching experience.
January 25: Back home, and off to visit my parents and the last of their surprise puppies. On the way there we passed through some woodland where an enormous bird of prey was sitting on a wall. It was much bigger than a kestrel so I can only assume it was a buzzard. As an aside, this is one of the weaker entries of recent times, technically speaking, but as I remind myself (and following the Czech proverb), not every day can be a feast day.
January 26: This morning I woke up with yet another inexplicable migraine. It turns out my migraines are of the ‘without aura’ type, which means I’m incredibly sensitive to light until the worst of the migraine has passed. The morning was not good.
January 27: The migraine was followed by a bout of insomnia, between 2am and 4am, so I started the week feeling rotten.
January 28: A suggestion of my moods during an average PhDing day, at the moment.
January 29: What Scottish people would describe as a ‘dreich’ day, of relentless gloom, mud and all-pervading dampness. It’s at times like this when having an exercise-loving dog is a less-than-wise choice.
January 30: Over the weekend, I’d hit a crunch point with writing, where I decided that the only way to get into it would be to have absolutely no distractions. A fellow WRoCAHscholarship holder had been advertising her small holiday cottage in rural Dumfriesshire, so I booked myself a four night stay, packed up a car full of books, my laptop, and a simmering cold, and headed up there to beat some writing into submission. The cottage is three miles from the nearest decent road, with no WiFi, and the weather was helpfully dreadful so there was nothing to do but to get on with it – and to master lighting the woodburning stove. I’ve laid fires and cleared fires before, as a child, but as an adult I’ve only ever lived in rented houses with gas fires, so getting this one going felt like a mighty– and very welcome – achievement.
January 31: Rummaging in the literature offers up more questions than answers, at this stage. Things that seemed relevant twelve months ago are no longer interesting, while other themes and strands of enquiry begin to emerge.