July 1: The bleakness at the end of June carried on into July, with this post describing a feeling of being haunted by negative thoughts.
July 2: An ant scuttling across a work table at Hive, where I’m learning ceramics as part of my fieldwork. I’d picked the flowers out of a bit of guttering by Shipley station on my way to the evening session, with some idea about pressing the flower heads into clay; I didn’t get that far during the session, but did notice that I’d brought a small ant army to the class with me.
July 3: Part of my scholarship requires me to undertake a ‘Researcher Employability Project’ of a month; for mine I’m heading to Denmark, which is hugely exciting, but the thrill is somewhat marred by the process of booking travel and accommodation via the university’s travel providers. This one’s about the seemingly endless bureaucracy that caused me to curse even more than normal.
July 4: I’ve started seeing a personal trainer to get to the bottom of some long-running physical problems (a hamstring, a weak core, a problematic lower back – all linked to weak glutes, it seems). He’s a big believer in the idea that ‘thought crimes aren’t real crimes’ and that judicious use of a punch bag can be a great reliever of stress. After the previous day’s exasperations, I definitely found this to be the case.
July 5: I suspect part of my head troubles at the moment are linked to not spending enough time in university. Once again my wise friend and PhD colleague Dionysia was able to offer some very useful thoughts on how the PhD journey is like being on a train where different parts of you get on and off at different points. I chose to think about the switching points where trains shift to different tracks. Either way, I understand that despite everything, it’s all good.
July 6: The local art shop has never been *quite* as good as the art shop in the next town, but when they announced they were refurbishing, I thought I’d better have a look. Some consumers get excited by makeup counters, some by bicycle shops, some by who knows what, but for me it’s always been about art shops, even though I don’t make as much art as I once did. I’m an absolute sucker, drawn in by the pretty colours every time. The goodie bag I was handed today did not disappoint, as it included two fabulous Derwent pencil crayons, a Sakura Gelly Roll white drawing pen, and a Sakura Micron writing pen, amongst other delights. I’m very easily pleased in this regard.
July 7: I’ve lived in this area for almost nine years, and it took until now to discover Farnhill Moor, a large wild area on the tops about five miles from where I live. The discovery of new open spaces is a lottery win, every time.
July 8: Back at Hive, dipping test tiles in glazes.
July 9: I’d been reading about underglaze pencils, and thinking about what I might do with them. They’re expensive, though, at £7 a pencil, so I was reluctant to purchase any before I’d tried them out. I found some at Hive in the cupboard known as Narnia, and tried them out on a bowl I’d made and had fired a couple of weeks previously. Very excited by the results!
July 10: The Roger Stevens building at the University of Leeds is a brutalist masterpiece, flanked at its front by what has always been a crushingly disappointing square duckpond. Somebody has finally had the brilliant idea of introducing pond plants like waterlilies; the ducks consequently seem much more cheerful, as does the area.
July 11: Another session with the personal trainer – less hitting things, but no less effort. Here’s the ibuprofen I had to take later.
July 12: For the last fifteen years or so, I’ve camped throughout the year, in howling wind, driving rain, snow, temperatures of -15, as well as the rare sunny days. In the last year or two we’ve camped less, and I’ve really missed it. I find that it’s only in the hills that my head seems to clear. This one’s about taking the big tent to Borrowdale for the weekend.
July 13: We were going to walk from the campsite up to Robinson then along to Cat Bells, but it was roasting and there’s no water on the tops for the dog, so we walked along the valley on a half-height path, crossing over and heading up to Watendlath on the other side, then back to Rosthwaite for a well-deserved pint. A day of wall-to-wall sunshine – the very best of the Lake District.
July 14: We headed up Langstrath, noting various good swimming spots for later, and round the back of Glaramara, turning at Sty Head Tarn and wombling back down past Seathwaite. A slightly grey day, in more than one sense.
July 15: I’d booked this as a week of annual leave – I don’t quite get my PhD colleagues who say they ‘never take leave’, but as it turned out, I was feeling so troubled that I ended up working all week. This one’s about an inability to switch off.
July 16: I went into university and had conversations with my colleagues, which turned out to be a great thing to do as it gave me some much-needed perspective on my relentless navel-gazing.
July 17: I was thinking about my troubles with writing. I don’t worry about sharing this stitch journal, and I don’t worry about sharing pictures of my prints, or other things I’ve created, but with academic writing and my supervisors it seems to be a different matter. This entry is about a strategy I thought I’d try, where I try to write for myself first and foremost. I wonder whether I can use it as a tactic to get over the frustrating stifling I seem to keep repeating.
July 18: Several years ago the Samaritans had a publicity campaign that said ‘is your bed a place to sleep or a place to hide?’ This week, my bed was the latter.
July 19: I read a blog post by my colleague Leo, in which he described an approach to writing that demanded a certain level of accountability from him, to himself. I thought this notion of accountability might be useful in helping me not only to record how many words I’m writing, but also to remember all the other things I’m doing that are positive. Hence the double entry bookkeeping sheet.
July 20: Carrying on along the PhD road, this time with some transcription.
July 21: I’m reliably informed that because televisions are now digital, white noise no longer exists. Except, it seems, in my head. A crackling hissing through which nothing comprehensible can be heard.
July 22: I was talking to someone on Twitter about leisure studies as a field, and found myself wondering, in my madly interdisciplinary way, whether it might be a key that could unlock some of the confusion.
July 23: The temperature’s rising and I’m feeling the heat as I give a talk about my research project. I agreed to speak at PubHD, in which three researchers from any discipline give a ten minute talk about their research to an ‘intelligent lay audience’. I think I felt particularly daunted at the prospect of this one because I’d spent so much of the previous month stumbling in the darkness, unable to explain even to myself what I was doing or where I was heading.
July 24: I took up Leo’s very kind suggestion of a coaching session, which turned out to be a great idea. There’s a quote from somebody, it might be the psychotherapists Carl Rogers, that says something about how all it takes is for a person to feel that they’ve been really listened to – and the magic of coaching is that the coachee does the rowing while the coach merely steers the boat in the right direction. We talked about time management, future plans, and how living one’s life in metaphors, as I’m prone to do (see, for example, this stitch journal…) can often cause us to mask what’s actually going on underneath.
July 25: An unnecessarily, ridiculously hot day. Some 37 degrees.
July 26: The week ended on a very good note with an invitation from a group of researchers at Cambridge University to talk about my stitching in a seminar next term. I’d also been surprised earlier in the week when an abstract I’d submitted, then retracted from a journal back in December, had been read nonetheless – and accepted! My need for external assurance is not particularly helpful but after the last couple of months, these two pieces of good news felt very welcome indeed.
July 27: Picking peas fresh from the garden for risi e bisi.
July 28: Another moment of feeling like I’d been handed a piece of code to unlock the safe in which the nub of my research is securely contained.
July 29: Somebody in the village posted on the local Facebook page that they’d found a kitten stuck in a dry stone wall up by the reservoir. Instead of offering armchair advice, I decided to pop up with a cat carrier in case it needed to go to the vet. One thing led to another, and, along with my neighbour, I ended up taking him to be checked out. He’s only ten weeks old, and I said to my husband that with two cats and a crazy dog already, we don’t need another pet.
July 30: A supervision meeting in which my very patient supervisors once again reminded me that the only person worrying about my progress is me. We agreed that as I’m about to head to Denmark for a month, it’s a good time to let ideas simmer as I get on with the project I’ll be working on whilst there.
July 31: For the first time in the 480+ days since I started this, I felt that I couldn’t really describe the day in a 5cm square. Some days are just days, after all. In the end, Philip Larkin came to the rescue, with a line from his poem ‘Days’.