November 2018


November 1: Facing down that dread word ‘should’ and finally saying ‘NO’ to something. I’m finding myself slightly terrified of missing out on opportunities, so I tend to jump at things then regret it later. I don’t believe there’s a ‘perfect PhD experience’ or that I need to do ‘everything’ in order to be employable, so saying no in this instance felt like a relief instead of a regret.

November 2: I went to Sunderland to do some ethnographic research for a National Theatre project. It involved seven trains, two of which were on time.

November 3: The room where I do my PhD work is also the room where I sew, and has been the space where I’ve done freelance work. I’m a messy person so piles of things tend to mount up. I’m also a bit of a hoarder of certain things, so it was a very good exercise, when putting fabric into storage crates to make more room in the office, to write down exactly what was going into each crate. I was genuinely startled at how much fabric I’ve accrued this year alone – whilst sewing is part of my PhD practice, I fear I may have reached S.A.B.L.E. – stash acquisition beyond life expectancy. I’ve therefore vowed to ‘make from stash’ until the end of 2019 at least, because I don’t believe for a minute the people who say that sewing at home is more sustainable than buying clothes, if one isn’t sewing mindfully.


November 4: Sparklers in the garden, with a premature bonfire. I find fireworks terrifying, but I can just about cope with these.

November 5: I’m busy embroidering a research poster which is printed on special plasticky fabric. The fabric is quite tough, and is necessitating the use of that most cumbersome of things, a thimble, before I lose sensation entirely on the end of the middle finger of my right hand. I struggle with how unwieldy either a metal or silicon thimble is. This one was also a great excuse to use super-shiny metallic thread!


November 6: I was putting together a rather last-minute presentation (I’d known about it for ages but who can resist the frisson of panic for adding excitement to one’s day?) – the presentation is about the intersections of life/art/research, and this stitch journal. There’s a definite truth in the observation that studying the things you love can cause unexpected headaches and frustrations. I’ve read a few articles on this aspect of autoethnography, and need to read a lot more.

November 7: I’d been very worried about the presentation, but it seemed to go down very well. It was for a group of older people who meet as part of the education and outreach programme for Leeds Playhouse theatre – I enjoy talking about my research with non-academic people, not least because its subject, amateur craft, seems to be very easy to comprehend.

November 8: Still stitching the research poster. It was at about this point that I realised that perhaps I’d bitten off more than I could chew, in such a short timescale (a week).


November 9: And more sewing…

November 10: New bookshelves in the office and the bedroom. I knew there were a few books piled by the side of the bed, but when I’d built the shelves and arranged the books, they stretched to two metres. The shelves in the office are for PhD-specific books, so that they’re close to hand, in what could be considered a faintly Heideggerian reference.

November 11: Remembrance day.


November 12: Still sewing… almost there.

November 13: The poster was displayed today, and I was reminded how, if you put yourself/your research out there, amazing things come back, this time in the form of useful conversations and exciting emails.

November 14: A midday sky so dark it was almost navy, with the last of the autumn leaves still clinging to tall trees.


November 15: I attended a great ashtanga yoga class very diligently in 2016 and 2017, but my attendance this year has been much more sporadic, which is very evident in my practice. I like to stand at the front of the class, facing a set of pale grey-green doors, whilst I do anything involving balancing, because staring at the grain in the wood evokes images of Pyrenean forests in the mist, and it seems to reduce the frequency of my falling over.

November 16: Walking back up to the house on a gloomy day. Days spent working at home are generally punctuated by a dog walk in the morning, a dog walk in the afternoon, and ball flinging in the field behind the house at lunchtime. I rarely feel I miss out on fresh air.

November 17: Watching presentations and films at Kendal Mountain Festival.


November 18: A walk on the roman road above Skipton.

November 19: Sometimes I accidentally drop bombs that shatter the peace at home. Life can be complicated, yo.

November 20: Inger Mewburn, who blogs as the ‘Thesis Whisperer’, describes the Valley of Shit as the phase in one’s PhD when everything seems awful and one wants to give up. Here, things are inverted – the PhD inhabits the high plateaux whilst the rest of life lingers in this valley. To brighter times ahead…


November 21: The glorious Effin’ Birds memorably describe Wednesday as ‘the armpit of the week’. This week, that is entirely accurate.

November 22: I finally got round to sending this website on its maiden voyage into the world.

November 23: For ‘Black Friday’/’Buy Nothing Day’ the only money I spent was £40 on finally getting round to servicing my 21 year old mechanical sewing machine. Even though I’m too busy to do any machine-sewing at the moment, I felt oddly lost without it sitting next to my desk for the week it was away.


November 24: The endless loop of clearing out and condensing that never seems to make much of a dent in the amount of stuff that fills our house.

November 25: Drypoint etching tools – a roulette and an etching needle – used in today’s session as part of the Introduction to Printmaking course I’m doing for PhD fieldwork. I enjoyed this technique hugely – it feels a lot like the markmaking created when drawing – and intend to revisit it.

November 26: I wanted this one to express a sense of flat calm and then a wave rising up – I seem to be struggling to an unnecessary degree with methodology at the moment, and late in the day, I asked some very helpful fellow doctoral students on a FB group for some advice. Wish I’d done it weeks ago… PhD can be a very lonely journey, and my self-isolating tendencies don’t help in this regard.


November 27: Trees stripped bare in the local woods.

November 28: A day of relentless sideways rain – with mood to match the weather.

November 29: I finally sent off some writing on methodology, a day later than planned. Even though it was abysmal, and missed so much that needs to be included and/or considered, submitting work always leaves me with a sensation of having summitted, and being able to stop for a breath of air. In this case, as at other times, that summit turns out to be false, with the real summit some way off above me.

November 30: Thinking about ways to create some space for myself; other people often feel like walls pressing in on me.