Nov 1: A line plotting a teaching session. I’ve taught at undergraduate level before, but not for some time, and not on something I’m so uncertain about. I’d prepared my slides, written my script, taken some deep breaths, but I still found myself wobbling halfway through and asking the students to give me a minute. By the end I’d recovered, and the whole experience was improved by a student on his way out thanking me for the session and saying he’d enjoyed it.
Nov 2: The British Textile Biennial has been taking place just over the Yorkshire/Lancashire border, so I went to see the Banner Culture exhibition in Brierfield. Banners large and small, crude and ornate, campaigning on local to global themes – the giant Hillsborough banners were particularly breathtaking. All very thought-provoking on cloth and stitch and campaigning.
Nov 3: Whilst swimming back and forth I ruminated on ideas about daily creativity – for instance, a stitch journal (!) or drawing-a-day – and plans for an entire research project began to spew forth, as tends to be the way when one doesn’t have a pen and paper to hand.
Nov 4: A tweet from an Australian contact showing how they were using stitching as a reflective activity with a group of new postgraduate researchers, inspired by this stitch journal. There’s a lot of talk in research about impact, and in its small way I’m including this in my mental list.
Nov 5: I went to visit my stepdad for his birthday, and we talked about my teenage stepdaughter’s upward trajectory from trickier times. It got me thinking about these intergenerational step-relationships and how they can grow and change over time.
Nov 6: I used to have no problem with writing; I’ve written professionally, I’ve written a fair bit of fiction, I made it through an MA – but since starting PhD, the second year in particular, my writing process has become slower and slower, more and more tortured, and, in my third year, I’ve realised it’s something I feel very embarrassed about. I mean, this should be easy, right? I know that it shouldn’t, really, that it’s a process and all that, but I find it interesting that I find it to be a source of shame. I’m working on the idea of ‘writing ugly’ or, as Anne Lamott calls them, ‘Shitty First Drafts’.
Nov 7: A conversation with a friend who’s also a mature student about navigating the complexities of the supervisor relationship, and how sometimes it’s not how one might picture these things in one’s mind, so there’s an obligation to form a new view to work with.
Nov 8: This one’s about clawing back control.
Nov 9: A grey, ill sort of day.
Nov 10: This one isn’t quite as it seems. Those who know me personally will know that my husband is a very competent endurance athlete (at amateur level), as an ultra-distance runner, endurance cyclist and iron-distance triathlete. He’s very considerate and trains surprisingly little (and does far more housework than I do), but the time a ride or run takes is what it takes, and they aren’t activities that can be picked up and put down like, say, domestically-based leisure activities. This links to lots of thoughts (and lots of writing from the likes of Lucy Lippard, Roszika Parker to name two scholars) about gendered space, time and decisions about leisure activities – how do we navigate whose leisure takes priority?
Nov 11: A small black hole of a day. I don’t know if it’s November I struggle with, or PhD, or what…
Nov 12: A seminar on post-PhD careers inside and outside academia. I came away with lots to think about.
Nov 13: I tend to get very worried before supervision meetings, despite there being no obvious reason why this should be the case – my supervisors are supportive and positive about what I’m doing (except about the lack of writing, which is understandable). I think this might be linked to a string of terrible managers in previous jobs. I walked into my supervision today feeling as though I was heading for the guillotine, but came out greatly cheered.
Nov 14: A day of gloomy weather with occasional lightness bubbling up.
Nov 15: Over the tops to Hebden Bridge to meet a fellow craft-focused PhD student.
Nov 16: We went to the Kendal Mountain Festival and heard Kate Harris talk about her book ‘Lands of Lost Borders’. She spoke with great clarity and beautiful words about her journey along the silk road, her fascination with the cosmos, and troubles with a PhD that led to her dropping out.
Nov 17: Earlier in the day yesterday a Paralympic triathlete had been talking about different definitions of success, and her talk, along with Kate Harris’s reading, got me thinking about definitions of success, and what success might look like for me. I couldn’t give a clear answer to this right now.
Nov 18: I’d been invited to give a presentation on my research, with a focus on ethical concerns, to the MA students in my school. I find presentations quite daunting, and I ended up going after a friend who’d prepared some comprehensive and rigorously-referenced slides and a very solid presentation. I seem to go into a sort of trance-like state when presenting, as while I felt like I was talking normally, I can’t remember anything about my presentation apart from looking out at a sea of faces in a large lecture theatre. It felt dreadful and I resolved not to do this sort of thing again – but feedback seemed to suggest that it was useful and informative. This internal dissonance is something I’d benefit from unpicking. I felt out of place and uncomfortable, hence the mismatched jigsaw piece.
Nov 19: A frosty morning.
Nov 20: The university offers all sorts of training sessions, and today’s ‘Strengthsfinder’ training was one of the more useful ones, helping me to understand why I’m really not great in some situations, but very strong in others. A reminder that it’s okay to be one’s square peg self, but even better if there’s a square hole in which to fit.
Nov 21: This one comes out of yesterday’s training, and is simultaneously no sort of revelation and a great big one, especially at my ripe age. I’ve spent a lot of years being encouraged to work differently, whether that’s having a tidy desk, being neat and process-driven or whatever, and that’s not who I am or what I’m good at. A strange relief to realise this.
Nov 22: The universe has been handing me gifts – first, an invitation to deliver a stitch journal-based workshop with archaeology students in the summer, and then an invitation to deliver a twelve week sewing course with older people as part of a remarkable outreach programme in Leeds city centre.
Nov 23: Time to put away childish things, as the saying goes – I spent a lot of today folding dressmaking fabric and putting it away in the attic, to reduce some of the distractions in the next year. I’m very fortunate to have an office space at home, but a) this is shared with my husband, who also works from home and is much tidier than I am, and b) it also functions as my sewing/making/drawing/etc space, and I am *not* tidy, so the only way I can improve my space, and thus my focus, is by clearing bits of non-essential activity away and out of sight.
Nov 24: As with yesterday, this one’s about sorting piles of papers into some semblance of order.
Nov 25: Today, thinking about the literature review as a jellyfish, its body (do jellyfish have bodies, as such?) as the overarching theme and the strands of enquiry as trailing tendrils.
Nov 26: Thinking about remembering to say ‘NO’ to the things I really don’t want to do but that I agree to out of politeness or because of that cursed word ‘should’.
Nov 27: I went to a seminar on ‘Art and Design as Research’ today. I was surprised at how much more at home I felt than with a lot of more theatre/performance based conversation as happens in my department. One presentation, from the representational painter Judith Tucker, was on her socially-engaged practice project with the poet Harriet Tarlo on the Humberston Fitties; I’d seen some of the work before, at Leeds Artists’ Book Fair, but hearing more about it today got me thinking about this as an approach to research that I could wholeheartedly embrace. The socially-engaged artist Steve Pool also offered thought-provoking provocations about distinctions between artistic research and creative methods. A great day.
Nov 28: I had a run in with a humanities PhD student whose research was very neat, methodical and archive based, and had to endure some very sceptical looks as I described my messy arts-based research. I found it all quite exasperating, but this last line from Claes Oldenburg’s glorious ‘Manifesto’ seemed apt.
Nov 29: Went to see the Wonder Stuff play a 30th anniversary tour of their ‘Hup’ album, and sang along at the top of my voice (fortunately nobody could hear as the sound system was very very loud) to songs I loved as a teenager.
Nov 30: A Saturday morning trip to our favourite local coffee shop, Steep + Filter. It’s become something of a weekend ritual, as I suspect is the case for a lot of faintly middle-aged folk who don’t drink much: the coffee shop is the new pub, where you shoot the breeze with the owner or barista, nod to other regulars, and while away an hour with your thoughts (and husband, and dog…)