June 1: A cinnabar moth, seen on Widdop Moor, in the Yorkshire/Lancashire Pennines. A day for a decent walk, some fresh air, and some much-needed perspective.
June 2: This one’s about finding a way through. The path is rarely straight.
June 3: Stella Duffy came to the university to explain the thinking behind Fun Palaces – ‘culture by, for and with all’. This entry relates to the importance of pushing further with ideas. She was full of energy and I came away feeling inspired and determined.
June 4: A day full of emails. I’m sure I’d be a better human being, in some way I haven’t yet defined, if I ever got to Inbox Zero, but let’s face it, it’s never going to happen. If I file things I only forget where I’ve put them. This might explain why my desk is usually 4″ deep in papers and making detritus.
June 5: I’ve started seeing a personal trainer in an attempt to reclaim myself from the outer reaches of weakness (and to address a core issue that’s been causing back and leg problems). He had me lifting an unnecessarily heavy kettlebell, which had the added bonus of causing me to forget my PhD for an hour. What an hour it was…
June 6: Wading through the interminable pile of papers that will be familiar to anyone treading this infernal path. I’m sure I should be reading them on screen, but a combination of getting to that awkward age where my eye muscles aren’t quite as elastic as they once were, and the aforementioned need to surround myself with paper at all times, mean that it’s hard copy all the way.
June 7: What began as another gloomy day was suddenly flooded with brilliant light by the arrival of an email about a symposium at the V&A titled ‘Encounters on the shop floor’, all about embodiment and making. Perfect! The programme looked like it would cover several aspects of my research interests, and I’d also finally get to hear from Tim Ingold in person.
June 8: I spent a couple of Saturdays in May making Raku items for firing at a special session today. Raku firing involves first firing items very quickly in a special kiln (the firing process only takes 30-45 minutes, much faster than with electric or normal gas kilns, for instance), then ‘reducing’ the glaze by placing the items straight from the kiln, directly into sawdust. They are then covered with a metal can so the oxygen is burned out of the air around the vessel and the glaze ‘reduces’, producing beautiful effects including the classic Raku ‘cracked’ glaze. Despite it being early June, the day was cold and rainy, which meant that early firings didn’t work quite as intended because everything was cooling too quickly, but later firings produced some great results for the group. I came home reeking of sawdust, absolutely shattered, very pleased with a small Raku house.
June 9: This one’s from a paper by Paul Atkinson and Lisa Morriss, ‘On Ethnographic Knowledge‘ (2016), about how, when integrating oneself in a learning community as an ethnographic researcher, one is likely to remain an incompetent at the task at hand, because one’s role in the situation is not to become an expert at the task. When I shared this one on Twitter, Paul pointed out to me that the expression is actually derived from an earlier paper by Joseph Styles, ‘Outsider/Insider: Researching Gay Baths‘ (1979). Which is how I came to find myself reading about some of the complexities of full participation in the late ’70s San Francisco bathhouse scene. My supervisor observed that I am indeed reading widely.
June 10: Another day, another ceramics class. Today in my glazing class we were learning about majolica, in which one paints with various oxides onto tin oxide glazed tiles. I came away feeling that I lack the delicate touch that would really suit this technique.
June 11: A day full of typing. Finally facing down the methodology document. I never seem to remember that writing helps with thinking helps with writing helps with thinking.
June 12: Like spitting matter from a centrifuge, I finally sent off the methodology writing. Not pretty, not complete, but hopefully heading in the right direction.
June 13: The submarine’s periscope breaks the surface to look around – I felt like I was coming up for air for the first time in a while, but that I’d been beneath the waves for so long that everything felt confusing and too bright.
June 14: A one-to-one session of learning to use a potter’s wheel. When you see people using the wheel in videos or on TV, it looks somehow effortless, the vessel growing gracefully from a lump of clay. The reality, not so much. It felt more like a fight. The entry is a reference to Gillian, the tutor, reminding me repeatedly to keep my elbows down in hope of controlling what was going on in front of me. Others have spoken of the centred feeling they enjoy when using the wheel, of the head over the vessel and the body locked in a triangle. It felt more like first learning to drive, when it seems incredible and impossible that one might manage to steer, change gear, move forward, avoid other road users – and as for actually enjoying it…?
June 16: More work to do. Weeks and weekends have blurred at the moment. This one’s a reference to my desk, which has been my desk for the last twenty five years. It’s an old oak table that was the kitchen table when my mum was growing up; I’ve used it for A-levels, first degree, fifteen years of creative pursuits, then my MA and now my PhD. It’s a bit on the small side (especially when one factors in the level of detritus I describe above) but to jettison it in favour of something more spacious at this late stage in my education would seem to invite bad luck.
June 17: Walking a tightrope, keeping on moving forward, trying not to look down.
June 18: A bad day. Another bad day. My best friend did her PhD years ago and is now a senior research fellow doing important things elsewhere in the university – she provides a great levelling perspective, as here, when she reminds me that it is indeed just a training course. I shared this one and received communication from surprising quarters. It seems that if you say you’re struggling, people do listen and might be able to help. Who knew?
June 19: I spent time this week supporting the ‘Participation as Policy, Practice and Methodology‘ symposium at my university. This one’s a view of tables in the main space, a black box theatre space.
June 20: Despite dismal weather and a neglectful gardener, the first strawberry of the year made its way to fruition. Home grown strawberries really are the best.
June 21: I’d worked too many weekends in recent weeks, so, with it being midsummer’s day, and the weather looking glorious, I took the day off and went for a walk over Pen-Y-Ghent with my husband and the dog. We got buzzed by a very low-flying fighter jet as we reached the summit, we ate ice cream in Horton-in-Ribblebobble, and all was well with the world.
June 22: Carrying on the theme of spending less time PhDing and more time being sociable, I went for a walk on Ilkley Moor (no hats required, except perhaps a sun hat) with Kate, and then ate toasted (currant) teacakes. Fun fact: if you ask for a toasted teacake in Huddersfield, they give you a toasted bread roll, which is clearly madness.
June 23: I headed into Leeds for some Sunday fieldwork at Leeds Print Workshop, doing the final layer of my reduction linoprint of a 2CV. Carl, one of the cooperative members, was supervising the space today, and had Roxy Music’s first album blaring out. He’s a musician and is enthusiastic about sharing a very diverse range of music. This is a very notable way in which the print workshop differs from Hive, the ceramics space – the sounds at Hive are people’s conversation and the sound of woodworking machinery, whereas at LPW, the soundtrack is generally 6Music or whatever Carl is enthusing about this week.
June 24: I’m very fortunate to have a dedicated office space at home. It’s the house’s fourth bedroom, it’s also where I do my sewing (so there are piles of fabric everywhere) and I share it with my husband, who also works from home. One downside to this is the occasional ‘ptink’ of a paper aeroplane jabbing one in the back of the head because one’s husband thinks it’s hilarious. Today’s entry is the fold lines for said aeroplane.
June 25: Today it’s all about metaphors, of finding a pin against a background that renders it impossible to find. It’s also partly grounded in truth, as this is an occupational hazard of the aforementioned messy desk and also aforementioned shared use of the space as a sewing location. Bare feet beware!
June 26: The first of three days at the ‘Encounters on the Shop Floor‘ symposium at the V&A. This one’s about how we can make the implicit explicit.
June 27: Day two of the symposium. This one’s about sewing, following Tin Ingold’s presentation on improvisation and wayfaring.
June 28: This one was stitched in one of the final sessions of the symposium, which invited us to consider every space as a making space.
June 29: This entry is about alcohol. I’m not a big drinker – I have a two glass of wine limit – but I have an unfortunate predisposition to occasional hair-trigger hangovers of epic magnitude. I’d gone to visit my brother and family after three intense days in London, and after a gin and tonic and a large glass of wine the night before, I spent most of the Saturday horribly ill. There’s no rhyme or reason to this, and it’s very annoying. I’m sure if I could bottle (pardon the pun) this formula, I could solve the UK’s alcohol crisis…
June 30: A bleak day which caught me somewhat on the wrong foot, after feeling a bit brighter during the previous week than during most of the previous month. Put me in mind of Stevie Smith’s famous poem in which the man says that, “I was much further out than you thought, And not waving but drowning“.