askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
2016-12-22 07:11 pm
Entry tags:

2016 in review

1. What did you do in 2016 that you'd never done before?
Completed and submitted my thesis, and passed my PhD viva. Pretty fucking massive. Managed to squeak this into 2016 with my degree confirmation from Senate dated on 14th December. Next month - graduation!

I was also on Match of the Day this year. That was new. And not something I'd have laid money on! I'm very visible in the video for Manic Street Preachers' Euro 2016 song for the Welsh football team, which was shown a few times on BBC1 before Wales' matches (I'm very prominently screaming at about 1:38 on that video).

Read more... )
askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
2016-06-01 09:31 pm

Thesis submission: achieved.

 I have submitted my PhD thesis.

It seems to have been such a long time coming.  Hard to remind myself that, with all the faults I can already see in my thesis. this is a huge achievement.  There were times I didn't think I would ever finish writing my thesis, times I was ready to quit, there are times I did not believe I could complete.  But I'm here.  Compared to where I was in January 2012 - sitting on my bed in my room at my parents house where I was living to save money for a PhD, writing an application for funding, dreaming of being able to go back to University - the me from then would be over the moon at what I've done.  The goalposts move as you go through and I'm trying to force myself to judge the achievement I have *right now* by the standards of 4 years ago.

Last night I went out with a large number of friends from uni, and with another PhD student who I share an office with and who submitted on the same day as me, for cocktails.  It was a lovely evening and a really wonderful atmosphere.  I had put a picture of my thesis acknowledgements page on Facebook and tagged a number of friends who were mentioned in it.  A lot of people commented on and liked it, which was lovely, but on the way home from the pub at 1am last night, another PhD student told me that reading it (specifically, seeing that I had thanked David Bowie and Manic Street Preachers for contributing to my ambition, self-belief, and for inspiring me) had inspired him and reinvigorated his own sense of connection to various pop-cultural figures as something which matters.  It was about the best compliment I could have.  My little risk (I was anxious it was inappropriate to thank celebs/idols) to include those people in my acknowledgements paid off, in that it inspired someone else to celebrate their own sources of inspiration and talk about the 'low culture' of pop and rock in the high-culture world of academia.  

My terms.  That's what I feel like - I wrote my thesis and my acknowledgements on my terms.

Things are challenging with my family right now.  My 99 year old Nan died 3 weeks ago - she was my Dad's Mum and had dementia which had got progressively worse over the last 3 years.  In the end, she stopped eating and drinking and died within a week.  It was sad but not unexpected.  My Dad has taken it very badly - which is sort of inexplicable.  His brothers and sisters have not been hard hit, she was very old and had had a long independent life (to 94) before she became unwell.  My Dad has withdrawn and is not talking to my Mum or anyone else, really.  The funeral was on Thursday and we expected that would move him on but it seems to have made him worse.  I phoned him yesterday to share with him my delight at having just submitted my thesis.  He said "oh?" and when I said "that's all you can say?" he asked me to repeat what I was saying, which I did.  And then he said "yes?".  I nearly burst into tears at his apathy and said "thanks a lot, bye" and hung up.  He text me several hours later saying he had been waiting for a call from the bank to sort of my Nan's bank account and was not concentrating and...I don't care.  This is the most important thing in my entire life.  This is wonderful, happy, celebratory news.  The world does not stop when you lose someone and the only way to get through it is to grab hold of good things when you can.

I spoke to my Mum today - he had not mentioned to her that I had called so I told her about the above.  She said she is becoming increasingly angry and frustrated with him.  He will not talk about how he is feeling, barely speaks at all, and when he does all he talks about is his Mum and his childhood and his brothers and sister.  My Mum says she feels like he doesn't care about us (her, my brothers, me) anymore, she said "it's like none of us, none of this, matter to him".  

My Mum (due to various reasons) had two Mums.  Both of them died many years ago.  Her Dad died when she was still a teenager.  She has lost all her parents.  She has been through this.  And she was widowed when she was in her 20s.  She knows what grief is like.  And she will listen and help my Dad.  But he seems to not want any of us and not be willing to look outside himself or accept that people die.  And we all have to die eventually and 99 is an amazing age.  My Mum asked him to remember how lucky he had been to have his Mum all this time (he's 71). He didn't respond.

I'm angry.  And I'm sad that he can't even muster two words - "well done!" - for something so huge for me.  

And I'm sad for my Mum, for her having to live with him when he's like this.  She's angry and frustrated and worried there's something seriously wrong with him.

And, at the end of all this, I'm just tired and sad and feeling kind of empty now the thesis is gone and the viva is far off in the future - perhaps very far off depending on whether my external examiner is participating in the UCU industrial action - and I need to muster energy to apply for jobs and write some journal articles.

This isn't how I thought I would feel at the [almost] end of the PhD.  Bit of an anti-climax. 
askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
2016-04-29 09:21 pm

The state of things

I've had one major meltdown and one minor meltdown in the last 7 days.  

4 weeks to thesis submission.

Taking bets now on how many more meltdowns before then.
askygoneonfire: 'Love' painted on to four fingers of a hand (love hand)
2016-01-17 06:48 pm

Five Questions

So I was given 5 questions by [ profile] meepettemu. I am supposed to say that if you comment and ask, I'll give you 5. And I will.

1: do you have specific plans for after your PhD, and if so, what are they?
This is the question that keeps me up at night. The simple answer is, I don't. The more involved answer is I want to stay in academia but to do that I need to pull my finger out and publish something and be prepared for a few years of continued precarious employment and be open to moving anywhere in the country to chase down any positions. The thought of starting all over again somewhere else in the country seems exhausting. But so does applying for jobs just in Brighton. I think there is a cruelty to the treadmill of academia where, at your lowest ebb, you need to muster the most energy to secure yourself employment and career. Whatever happens, it will surely be narrated here.

2: Is there a significance behind your raven tattoo? If so, what?
It's a carrion crow, not a raven. And yes, there is a significance. It's more of a narrative, really;

I love crows, I think they are wonderful, engaging animals and I enjoy every interaction I have with them. They are also, to me, quite strongly tied to Brighton, I have only ever lived closely with crows here in Brighton as they dominate the university's campus and I often sit and watch them at lunch, on breaks, and during my office hours (one memorable day, I saw a crow disembowel a dead rabbit, it was hilariously gruesome). They are also, of course, members of the corvid family. An exceptionally clever genus (corvus) they include the new caledonian crow which makes and uses tools, and the raven which can solve puzzles quicker than a 5 year old human. Good old, common, familiar carrion crows have also been shown to mourn their dead.

There is considerable mythology surrounding the crow, some of it I believe is clearly linked to observable behaviour (such as their feasting on carrion, mourning their dead, and intelligence and rational approach to problems) and the rest is the usual imaginative leaps of man. In particular, I like the mythology which says they are messengers for the dead/from the dead/of the dead, and that they are said to be able to see forward in time.

When my friend died, I felt something huge had shifted in the world. It came at a time I was trying to decide the direction of my life. The night I learnt she'd died I vowed to move back to Brighton, take control of my life and direct it in the way which my gut told me to go, and not be guided by financial fears or ideas of what I 'should' be doing. I did all of those things before the year was out.

I knew I needed a tattoo to mark this shift in my life, as a tribute and reminder of Lux, and an emblem of my new outlook and determination. I had also been considering a cover up of a tattoo I had got when I was 19 and trying to remind myself of my own strength and ability to stay alive. So, bearing in mind all of the above, I chose a crow - conveniently being an ideal colour for a cover up tattoo.

My crow is facing forwards - as we must always do - but looking backwards - remembering what has gone, seeing the lessons and people that came before. And he knows death, but he does not fear it, he simply knows it is a part of life and an essential part at that.

3: When you were a teenager, what were your career aspirations?
I never had a strong sense of where I wanted to go or who I wanted to be. The only career I ever really wanted was to be either a vet or a zoologist. Those dreams were quickly quashed by a) going to a shit comprehensive that ignored talent and neglected to aid underachievement and b) spending ages 15-19 being fucking miserable and very nearly getting no A Levels. I was not good enough at Maths or Science by the time I was in Sixth Form - largely because I was depressed, stoned, and in a dreadful school - for that to be a realistic dream so I let it go.

I'm not sure how I feel about it.

4: How old were you when you first realised you might not be straight?
The thing with being bi/queer/pan/whatever is not being straight doesn't come into focus as early as it seems to for your out-and-out gay folk. You can rattle along quite happily fancying men and assuming your feelings for women are comparable to the idol worship of your straight female friends. The clues were always in the men I fancied - they were never handsome or rugged or butch. They were all beautiful, delicate, thoughtful, queer, and vaguely off beat. I was never going to be the 'right' kind of heterosexual.

I think I was about 13 or 14 by the time I actually started having sexual feelings for women - which is around the time I started having sexual feelings for men, now I come to reflect on it. And I was 15 or 16 when I started coming out. As I mentioned in a post earlier this week, David Bowie was part of how I came to be sure. And so was Nicky Wire. 

I think I was about 19 or 20 before I heard the term pansexual and finally found a word to describe my specific desires, and adoration of the Bowies and Wires of this world. Queer entered my lexicon when I did my Masters at 22 and added another dimension to my self expression. 

5: Where in the UK would you choose to live if it could be anywhere?
Brighton. Where I am right now. Where I can't afford to stay and am unlikely to be in a year's time. And that is already breaking my heart.
askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
2015-11-06 10:30 pm

And for my next trick...

...I skip an NHS waiting list and compress 3 months of work into 3 weeks.

I've unexpectedly got a date for my shoulder surgery before the end of the year. In fact, it's due before the end of the month.  Surgery scheduled for Thursday 26th of November and then my bff B is going to pick me up and I will stay at hers overnight - although she's apparently come out in sympathy for me and has a frozen shoulder so she may not be able to drive and pick me up if that hasn't resolved and it might be a pick up by her husband instead.  Then it's home to rattle around my flat alone and home I'm able to function/rely on the kindness of friends if I can't cook. My parents will have to drive and pick me up in the car for Christmas as I won't be able to manage luggage on the train as usual which is sad, as I always enjoy the Christmas-train home, the atmosphere is always lovely. The one advantage is if I am struggling alone, they can come and collect me earlier than I planned to go back, although that would mean I miss Burning the Clocks/Brighton's Winter Solstice celebration which I had intended to make a lantern for this year.

I think I've explained before, but the surgery is to relieve ACJ impingement, as here, and may also involve repair a bicep tear, as here.

I was injured 6 years ago when a twat knocked me off my bike at traffic lights - I was in the cycle lane, he was in left lane turning left and didn't check his mirrors. Smashed into me, waited for me to jump up, drag my bike from under his car, and then he drove off.  After being told to rest it after a visit to A&E (and my first ever x-ray) it stopped hurting and I thought that was that. 2 years later I took up swimming again and it emerged my shoulder was basically in the wrong place with massive muscular weakness around that shoulder.  So I had another x-ray, then referred to shoulder clinic. Shoulder clinic offered me steroid injection or physio.  Concluding physio would treat cause and not symptoms, I chose physio. 3 years of physio, 3 steroid injections, 2 ultrasounds, 2 further x-rays, and an MRI and it's still fucked - and not for any particularly clear reasons.  All the x-rays, ultrasounds and MRI could say was "maybe" my bicep tendon has torn, maybe the joint has some growth impinging it, and maybe the joint it out of alignment. Maybe.  So surgery it is.

I'm quite anxious - after a consultation in October I was told the waiting list was in excess of 3 months so I settled in for a long wait.  I think the sudden date has contributed to my anxiety as I just wasn't ready for it. I'm also a little anxious about having a general anaesthetic - I've had that twice before at the dentist but the last time I was about 12 and came round from the anaesthetic crying my eyes out on my Dad's chest so I'm embarrassed by that, and also a little worried about semi-conscious me having nobody there to cry upon. 

Mostly I'm worried about the pain.  They won't know whether they need to reattach the bicep until they look inside the shoulder, if they do it's significantly longer recovery and more immobility which inevitably means more pain. 

And I'm anxious about putting my PhD on hold for at least a month, and possibly longer.  And I'm stressed right now because I'm working flat out to get all my teaching responsibilities fulfilled before I have to hand over (3 classes of marking, rescheduling two seminars) and lots of admin/PhD stuff (writing 2 abstracts now because there'll be no time later, presenting at a research in progress event in order to promote my work across the university/in a newly established research group, contacting wished-for external examiner to ask if they will examine me in the summer, scheduling completion with supervisors) and just generally compressing the next 3 months of stuff into 3 weeks.

It's all sort of petrifying.  Although it has just occurred to me that once this is done, it'll be a clear run from January to the end of my PhD.  Which is sort of exhilarating.

If I don't die under anaesthetic, which I've convinced myself I will. Drama queen.
askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
2015-08-17 11:10 pm

Chronic pain and completing a PhD = bad combo

It's getting to the point in my PhD now where I'm just circling - revising and editing everything. The only 'fresh' content I have left to write is the introduction and conclusion and, by definition, there is not much new I'll be putting into that, just summing up and contextualising.  It's getting harder and harder to write my thesis because of this.  The creative, blank page stage is in some ways very intimidating, but it's also quite freeing - there's no wrong place to start, just start throwing stuff at the page, deal with what sticks later.  Now is about focus, detail, concentration.  Honing my argument, tightening up holes, reading 20 books to generate 5 solid references to support one framing sentence.  It's peddling faster than ever to move slower and slower.

This is, in some ways, good. I'm firmly moving into the final stage of writing and the end is in sight.  Within 6 months I could have a full draft with a reasonable expectation I'll only have minor corrections to make before having a manuscript suitable for submission.  In other ways, it's never been harder than right now.

I'm exhausted; intellectually, emotionally, mentally.  And physically I'm in bad shape; my shoulder injury (displaced/separated ACJ) is at its worst, constant pain with the only variation being how much pain I am in each day.  I have an MRI on Thursday and a consultation with a surgeon in October.  I have done *everything* I could to fix this without surgery - 2 years of physio (over 3 years) where I did every exercise at home between sessions I was directed too, I've had 3 steroid injections into the joint, 3 x-rays and 2 ultra sounds.  And still I am in pain.  Still.

There is, in some respects, light at the end of the tunnel - it's reasonable to hope surgery will resolve the problem but, if it doesn't, nothing will.  That's terrifying.  Also terrifying is the prospect of more pain - that's guaranteed immediately after the operation for a minimum of 2 weeks followed by pain as I get muscles back up to strength.  And, perhaps most gut-wrenchingly, is the uncertainty of finances during re-cooperation after the operation.  

I don't get sick pay from my job teaching at the university because I'm on a zero hours contract and it's looking like I'm going to be having operation at end of year or early next year and thus unable to commit to taking on teaching during the spring term so I could potentially lose out on 4 months of money.  

I have carefully, excruciatingly carefully, saved up during the last 5 years and have precisely enough money to live on, pay rent, etc, for the next 12 months.  Every week and month I am out of action for as I recover from operation is time I am basically wasting money - as I won't be able to work on publications or thesis revisions, or teach, or apply for jobs.  The big fat gaping hole that faces me as I draw closer to the end of my PhD is made exponentially worse when I consider facing financial insecurity again.

I am fortunate in that my parent will not allow me to go hungry or homeless.  But they also don't have the resources to pay my rent; their help whilst appreciated and fortunate, would take the form of me moving in with them. Again. 200 miles from Brighton.  At the age of 32.

Everything is very uncertain. Everything is gradually getting harder and harder, more and more intense, and with every step forward I am more and more committed to this path which has absolutely nothing at the end of it unless I can generate opportunity, financial security, a career etc.  And god damn it, my shoulder hurts so much.  Chronic pain is fucking horrible.
askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
2014-06-19 07:08 pm

Really Good Things

 Too often, this blog is a litany of failure and despair rather than a balanced reflection on all the parts of my life.  With that in mind I've made a conscious effort to come here and record two really positive things that have happened to me in the past couple of weeks.

On the 4th of June I had my annual review.  This involved submitting 10,000 words to my department which was in turn passed on to two members of faculty who had similar research interests to me.  The 10,000 words I submitted represented two of the three draft chapters I have written this year.  The annual review was a time to discuss my work and hear any comments or recommendations the two person panel had to make.  

The feedback was overwhelmingly positive.  The panel said they enjoyed reading it, they used words like "important" and "cutting edge" in describing my research, they said my research data was "rich" (something my supervisors have been saying a lot, repeatedly, but it's amazing to hear it from someone a bit removed) and said my writing was accessible and ethical (re: the way I reported participant comments and discussed their responses)  I reflected a lot last year, and read a great deal, on ethical, feminist, and queer -practise in doing participant based research and it's really exciting that my commitment to privileging the voices and experiences of participants comes through strongly in my writing.  I skipped out of that office feeling 10 feet tall and massively inspired to get on drafting my fourth chapter.

Yesterday, I met with the course convenor of the module I taught on in the Spring term.  We were looking at the student evaluation feedback for the course.  Student comments were all positive and several of them made comments explicitly about the quality of my teaching.  In particular, students commented positively on my decision to begin the term and first seminar by asking students to share their preferred pronouns, and cautioning them to be respectful and thoughtful in discussion given the potentially sensitive nature of the topics we would be covering in the module.  My enthusiasm for teaching in gender studies came through as well as several of them commented on that and one said I was one of her favourite tutors ever which was wonderful to hear!  

The module convenor echoed their praise and said she was impressed at my ability given it was my first term teaching.  She wrote that she "strongly recommended" I was given teaching again in the Autumn term along with many other glowing comments on my performance.  In our meeting we also discussed what changes we want to make to the module readings and structure and she took all my comments on board and indicated if she was convening again she would make all the changes I suggested.

I feel so proud of myself that my teaching was so successful and that students responded so positively.  I reflected a great deal on what kind of classroom and atmosphere I wanted to create, and what my own experiences of being taught gender studies as an undergraduate was, and used all those things to inform my practise.  And it paid off!

In all? A two fold win in the two main areas of my life as a PhD student and tutor.  Really gratifying to get that explicit recognition and have the two things I have put most of myself into over the last year result in other people getting excited and enthusiastic.  That's pretty wonderful.
askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
2014-02-27 08:08 pm
Entry tags:

The State of Things

 Had a bit of a meltdown this week, ended up throwing myself on mercy of supervisor about the impending deadline (Monday) that I was definitely going to miss.  He took one look at me and said I should take a month off from PhD stuff and just focus on teaching (which right now is taking up 3 days of my week, oh my is it time consuming!) I'm not willing to flat out stop work on the thesis, but I am abandoning attempting to write anything for the next couple of weeks and just catch up on transcription.

I keep trying to do little things to remind myself how far I've come (like downloading a programme that counts the words in multiple word documents and discovering I've transcribed 242,000 words so far) but mostly I feel I've just taken on way too much this year.  I'm teaching which - based on feedback today after a lesson observation - I'm doing well, I'm organising a fortnightly seminar series with external speakers, I'm organising a big internal conference, I'm thesis-ing, I'm teaching on a Widening Participation programme, I'm still travelling around the country interviewing.  

It's a lot, by any standard.

Today would have been Lu's 29th birthday and it hasn't been as bad today as I feared - the beginning of the week was me bursting into tears a lot - I think lingering sense of grief and over-worked brain combined in emotional ways.  This morning I had Hepburn's I Quit stuck in my head.  I was boogying around my flat getting ready whilst singing, laughing, remembering jokes and singing to it when we were 14, then I left the flat and somehow my own silence overwhelmed me and I got a bit teary, then I smiled again remembering something else.  Her not reaching these birthdays brings things into sharp focus - I feel such a sense of loss - her loss, her family's loss, her friends' loss.  

I've decided to pursue private therapy at same clinic I went to previously here in Brighton and have an assessment appointment next week on Friday.  The following Monday I finally have my ultrasound guided steroid injection - I'm properly worried for potential pain after last time's agony but I also have cautious hope it could either resolve issue, or reveal a structural issue which can be resolved in another way.  My supervisor recently had 3 slipped discs and upon hearing I was also awaiting treatment to resolve chronic pain redoubled his entreaty that I take a break.  God I hope this injection fixes it - I'll even take steroid flare again if it subsides to no pain.

So, life.  Painful and sad and odd, but sometimes still beautiful - like the tiny break in the cloud today with sunshine crashing down around the pouring rain.
askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
2013-12-30 11:36 pm

Representation Matters

Representation matters.  It matters to me and, I'm gradually proving in my doctoral research, it matters an enormous amount for a complex collection of reasons to a lot of other people too.

In itself 'representation matters' will seem fairly uncontroversial to my mostly leftie readers.  But some left leaning, centre left, centre types, will agree it matters, pay lip service to that idea, support it in principle, not put any road blocks in the way to things changing, but the moment you point out that diversity of representation is missing? They get pissed off.  The moment you ask why people are missing in the representations they make? They get angry, they ask why it makes any difference.

I complained aloud, to nobody in particular, the other day that every single chef shown in the Morrisons' Christmas claymation/animated advert was white and male.  "Does it matter?!" exclaimed my Mum as she passed through the living room, more than a little exasperated.

Does it matter who is shown on tv? Let's, for a minute, say it doesn't.  Let's start by stating it doesn't matter who is represented in television adverts.

If it doesn't matter, why did the animator create 11 little white male chefs? Wouldn't it have been as easy, given the characters differ slightly from one another, to have made some of them female? Surely the computer filled in their skin colour? It would have been just as easy, would it not, to colour some of them in a darker shade of peach? Perhaps even break out the brown colour palette?  If it doesn't matter whether they are white or black, male or female or genderqueer, then why are they all white and male?  Someone made that decision, someone designed that, someone animated that, someone signed off on that.  Lot's of someone's.  All of them.  

But perhaps the animator could only find the peach felt tip that day.  Perhaps the character designer can't draw long hair, or boobs.  Perhaps they don't know how to illustrate any gender markers for women, or for anyone other than men.

Tesco's Christmas advert this year compressed decades of Christmases observed by one family into a minute and a half.  Parents, children, grandchildren.  Tesco's don't feature their products in their advert like Morrisons do, instead they seem to say 'if you share the same emotions around Christmas as these people, maybe you should share a supermarket. Come to Tesco and buy a lifetime's Christmases!'  But the Christmas you have to share, the identification of 'just like us' to make?  All [apparently] white, all [rigorously shown to be] heterosexual.  But of course, we're arguing the representation doesn't matter right? So what we're buying from Tesco is not just Christmas cheer and food and drink and trees, but we're buying being white, and we're buying making our parents happy by having children ourselves (or our children are making us happy by having children). And we're buying being straight.  Come to Tesco this year! Get a better sexuality! Get a better turkey! Get a better ethnicity!

Someone hired those actors.  Every person was dressed and directed.  That advert was scripted and edited. There were choices made about what to represent.  

But perhaps it's a coincidence!  Perhaps only white actors turned up for an audition that day.  Perhaps the people who wrote the script have never met a gay or lesbian person, or a genderqueer or nonbinary or just plain androgynous person, so they couldn't even imagine that couples may not be made up of rigidly gendered men and women!  Perhaps they 'wrote what they knew' and not a single person involved in the casting, costuming, producing, filming, directing, editing, or release of that advert was anything other than straight and white and cis with only white straight cis friends.

Aldi managed to find one black person to put in their Christmas ad. And a parrot.  They don't say much about family, or sexuality.  John Lewis also went for animals (although in previous years they've been lovers of the white hetero, rigidly normatively gendered family at Christmas) Asda had snowmen. No, I'm not going to suggest they should have been snow people.  Debenhams' had what might have been a lesbian ball, but it was the girl and the guy gazing into each other's eyes and skating off together that we 'wished for'. M&S had a bad trip but they have at least been consistent for some years now in using Black and minority ethnic models in every advertising campaign, even if they do, inevitably, play the small roles in this ad.

If who is represented on television adverts doesn't matter, why is it, so often it's white, hetero, cis gendered people being represented? It's either an enormous coincidence that this keeps happening or perhaps...

Perhaps, then, representation does matter! [the unsurprising conclusion - aha! here it is].  And perhaps it matters to the people who get to pick which representations we see, who pick which ideals we are supposed to buy into.  Perhaps we should be surprised that in 2013, in the United Kingdom most of the major brands are still dreaming of white, straight, cis Christmases.

Unfortunately, my Mum didn't hang around long enough for me to give her this answer to her exasperated question.