Friday, 22 August 2014

'I carpenter a space for the thing I am given.'

It's August and still I continue to trundle along, writing up. I've thought about blogging many times in the space between March and now, but what else can I really say except I'm trying to write, thinking about writing and sometimes actually doing a bit of writing. 2014 has been a year of loss and it feels like I haven't had time to process significant events in my own life, like my beloved, complicated grandmother dying and uncle passing away. Seeing deeply-loved friends suffer grief and loss has also been an immeasurably painful experience this year and I am a changed person. I set so much faith in the bonds that tie human beings together in love and friendship. But I have learned that nothing can fill cavernous loss. All we can try to do is be human together, failing and falling together. Things like a PhD pale in the comparison with loss and realising the fragility of life. For a time I did despair of 'thinking' and 'research' - what do education and learning matter, really? The truth is that learning, reading, thinking, writing does matter very much. Learning and thinking may not have tangible value, but it has meaning and is important. I think of my grandmother, a woman who was widowed with five children in 1950s Ireland. A deeply intelligent woman who did not have the opportunity to receive an education. I also know how unused intellect can be transformed into something negative. Being unable to express what you think and feel often leads to crippling psychological issues, alcoholism, other frustrations. Having this time to write and think is a privilege and in honour of the people I care about, who did not have this opportunity, I am being honest and hardworking to the best of my character.

I have been living back in my rural family home for almost a year now and I feel that this was the right decision to make. Throughout the whole PhD process I have always felt like I was running behind everyone else, playing catchup. This has been my own fault. My fears and nervousness that I really didn't deserve to be here or to do this. Imposing restrictions on myself geographically has enhanced my ability to think and create, away from distraction. In an essay about silence in women's writing Jeanne Kammer writes that creative women often develop their poetic tactics in 'relative isolation and independence, making choices stubbornly in response to a personal, private aesthetic'. I feel that sentence could be applicable to me at this present moment in time. In my own isolated privacy, I can independently work to create my own ideas, develop them at my own pace and learn. In 'Thalidomide', Plath writes 'I carpenter a space for the thing I am given'. I think this is one of her most beautiful sentences. These past months have seen me carpenter my space, to coax out words and claim ownership of this thesis as my own.

Recently, I watched a documentary programme called 7UP. It looks at the lives of children every seven years, so you get to see how these children grow up, mature, and what they do as adults. It is a brilliant programme and really shows how life can change irrevocably in such a short space of time. So much of academic life is about looking to the future. What are you going to do next? How long is this taking you? While, of course, it is really important not to let a PhD drag on into decades, I can't help but think constantly looking to the future is a bad way to be. It is important to stop thinking about the next 'episode' in life. I am trying to concentrate on writing, forcing confidence on myself and reminding myself that this is an opportunity too wonderful to be squandered by the hopes of 'what's next'.

I thought this Guardian article about finding your voice in your PhD was a great article - very much in same vein of the point I've been trying to make here. Hopefully the next blog post here will be a beautifully instagrammed picture of my full thesis... but that would be me looking to the future so perhaps I've already jinxed myself! :-)

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