April 30 to May 4: I came down with a bug that felt like ‘flu but without the streaming cold. I don’t think I’ve ever been as ill as I was during this period – the details are not for sharing but I rummaged through some of the darker corners of my mind, and lost almost 4kg in five days. The fabric I used was from a workshop using naturally dyed fabrics – the colours seemed entirely appropriate.
May 5: I finally made it out of bed, and shuffled down the road to see the Tour de Yorkshire cycle race come through the village. The 300 metre walk left me wiped out for the rest of the day, but with a vague sense that I was getting better, so the entry hints at something hopeful.
May 6: This was a beautiful day during which I slumped, listless, whilst being driven round the local countryside.
May 7: The summer’s sunshine began in earnest; I was back at my desk, feeling ready to get on.
May 8: Picking up threads and trying to make sense of the document I was pulling together for my transfer/progression/upgrade/confirmation – the range of terms for the process that agrees one’s suitability to carry on with the PhD baffles me.
May 9: I’m a big believer in lists, and in trying to put together a plan for whatever it is I’m trying to do. This was clearly a day of planning.
May 10: Despite me thinking I was better and that whatever I’d had was some freak bug, it turned out I’d had a massive kidney infection, so this represents the antibiotics I was prescribed.
May 11: Some days are just days.
May 12: My PhD looks at how people develop amateur craft skills, and gardening is often included when craft is discussed in a ‘social prescribing’ context. I can definitely see the benefits of allotments, where one can share knowledge with a community of gardeners, but as my vegetable patch is in my garden, I tend to ask my mum for advice, or my amazing neighbour Joanna. This was a conversation about growing peas, and how frustrating it is that yields are so small compared to the effort of growing them.
May 13: Ol’ Heidegger and his hammer. I waded into his work a little during my MA, but I’ve a feeling there’s a whole lot more in store for me. This one’s also a little bit about visiting my twin brother and watching my young nephews dismantling an old fence with some alarmingly enthusiastic use of claw hammers.
May 14: Celebrating a day of sunshine.
May 15: On the interconnectedness of things.
May 16: A good day: a conversation with someone whose ideas have influenced my research substantially, and I finished my 22 mile swimming challenge – I’d thought I’d blown it by being so ill, but a little determination saw me through.
May 17: The dreaded, accusing, blank sheet of paper.
May 18: The clematis in the garden burst into bloom. I thought I’d try something a bit 3-D for this entry.
May 19: I used to climb regularly, mostly in northern England and North Wales but also further afield, but for various reasons my participation lapsed about seven or eight years ago. I miss a lot about climbing: the focus that clears one’s mind of anything but what’s directly in front of you; the camaraderie and trust built up between climbing partners; the places it takes you; the way your body feels after a good day on rock. On this day I was in Snowdonia, climbing on a deserted crag in the sunshine with the friend who’d got me into it all, a long time ago.
May 20: A walk up Moel Siabod with the friend from yesterday’s entry, and my husband. I was frustrated to find myself still weak after the illness earlier in the month, my heart rate far higher than normal, but my friend encouraged me to take time and enjoy the tough bits rather than avoiding them by using the easy path (and thus missing out on the fun of the scramble). If ever there was a metaphor for PhD life…
May 21: On a train, heading for Norwich, staring out at the flat Lincolnshire countryside and feeling nostalgic for student days at the art school in Norwich. I was heading for my first conference as a PhD student, the AHRC ‘Connected Communities’ participatory arts conference at UEA, and I was feeling slightly nervous, as if I was acting a role. I wasn’t even speaking there!
May 22: This one’s about a co-creative music and dance project with people living with dementia, created by Hannah Zeilig and Julian West, presented at the conference.
May 23: Travelling back from the conference, using the time on the train to catch up on some reading. I had an uncomfortable incident at Peterborough station with a slightly disheveled man clutching a milk bottle, who decided that his urgent need to get off the train meant it was okay to pretty much lean all his not inconsiderable weight on me, as if I was invisible.
May 24: Glad to be home, with time and space to think at my own pace. I work better at home than anywhere else, but my time is punctuated by regular dog walks (German Shorthaired Pointer + PhD = bad idea). This is the buttercups in the field below the house.
May 25: Shyness is something of a stumbling block for someone whose research involves embedding herself in spaces alongside others. I’d spent a while thinking about how best to communicate with the open access community making spaces in which I want to undertake my research, tangling myself up, but, as is generally the way, once the initial step had been made, the response was, as this tick indicates, positive.
May 26: A day of stitching and making.
May 27: The first runner bean shoot finally emerged. I’d planted them late, and though I inspected them daily (the incubator sits on the windowsill of my home office) nothing seemed to be happening. The moment when the first shoot finally stands up and stretches is always worthy of comment.
May 28: One thing I’ve struggled with for a long time, which I suspect has shaped the focus of my research, has been a sense that the things I do are frivolous, uninteresting, not to be taken seriously. I look at my friends and admire their skills, which are often in more athletic directions, and find myself feeling dull. I’m not a big fan of some of this ‘making is my superpower’ rhetoric, but putting away or pushing aside one’s talents is a foolish move that benefits nobody. I’ve a lot more to say on this one, which will emerge over the next year.
May 29: I was feeling as if I didn’t quite fit within the academic experience, within my department, within my scholarship cohort, even within my university. Looking from a more objective stance, I realise that the notion of ‘fit’ is a little nonsensical, especially when entering the academy as a mature student. Still, discord is worth noting.
May 30: A day of transcription, which always takes longer than I think. Always. On one hand it’s the curse of ethnographic research, but on the other hand it’s arguably where the really juicy bits of data can be found.
May 31: The narrative accompanying this entry when I uploaded it to Instagram back in May describes a ‘shifting sense of self’. As the tussle with my transfer document battled on, I felt as if the first year of PhD was breaking me down and rebuilding me anew. I’m sure this sensation is going to recur more than once in the time still to come.
June 1: Weaving themes together, weaving threads, messing around with techniques. Reminding myself again that there are no rules.