Monthly Archives: October 2018

Labelling my stationery

Yesterday I popped into our postgrad office to print up my thesis-in-progress.  I’ve reasoned that I’ll find it easier to delete sections if I have a hard copy I can refer back to if I need to… and I can use it to mark up and review the follow-up notes I store in the comments to myself at the side of the page … and to check that the dreaded references are all in the proper format! 

I’ve been working at home recently and although I was only in the postgrad office for a couple of hours, it felt good to be there and catch up with colleagues and friends.  Although we are from a variety of disciplines and are undertaking often very different projects we are a close community.  Sometimes I think that there aren’t many people who ‘get’ what it is like undertaking doctoral research.  I don’t think any of my colleagues have said ‘why don’t you just sit down and write it’ or ‘how hard can it be’; instead there is support and a sense of camaraderie in our shared experiences of the ups-downs-highs-lows-miseries-and-celebrations as we carry out our research. 

Yesterday, settled and working at my ‘hot desk’ in the comforting cocoon of the office, the fire alarm started to blare.  There was a moment of waiting for it stop.  Then there was a moment of exasperation as it kept going.  Then there was a quick moment of clattering as fingers clicked keyboards to ensure documents were safely saved.  Then – resigned to the situation – we were on our feet, coats grabbed, bags slung over shoulders and shuffling as quickly as we could down several flights of stairs, to stand – at first outside on the road immediately outside the building and then – after we were shooed along from our ‘ready-steady-waiting to get immediately back in’ position – to stand in the crisp chill of the Meadows.    

Standing outside in a huddle, we laughed as we tutted about the disturbance oh for goodness sake… someone in the building has probably set the alarm off making toast…(again!!!)…we’ve got work to do and then we laughed at ourselves as we were the first to be skipping happily back into the building the moment the fire brigade left and a fire officer signalled the all clear.  Laughing, in the lift, on the way back to the top floor, we recognised most people would probably enjoy a moment away from their desks…but sometimes, when you are reading-writing intensely, any kind of disturbance disrupts the kind of continuous writing and focus that I know I so desperately seek when I’m writing up my thesis.   

Today, I’ve worked at home at my PhD desk in my wee study.  My desk is littered with books and papers and object that are relevant to my research – but it is a very tidy organised kind of chaos.  I like to feel comfortable in my space.  And I like to know that I know exactly where everything is – even if it looks untidy.  Sitting with the thesis-in-progress I eventually got printed yesterday (along with a number of new articles (that I know I do not need to be reading!)) I hunted down my stapler and hole punch so I could organise and place them in a folder.  The stapler in the postgrad office rarely works (if it can be found with staples in it) and I don’t think I’ve seen a hole punch in the office…which is why I just popped the papers in my bag yesterday ready to be stapled and filed at home… until I realised this morning – that I could not find either my stapler or hole punch in their designated locations on my desk… or accidentally popped in a drawer… or downstairs in the living room… 

A quick visit to the shop and I am the happy owner of a new stapler and hole punch – which I have clearly labelled ‘Mum’s stapler’ and ‘Mum’s ring punch’.  Look – I said to the kids – these are minethese belong to me – and no-one is to touch them and then I softened a wee bit – well if you touch them or borrow them (like the ones I suspect you have already borrowed from me and mislaid/lost-never-to-be-found somewhere in the depths of your untidy disorganised rooms!) then you ABSOLUTELY MUST RETURN THEM…OR ELSE!!!! – or else what…?  They are disinterested as they shrug…. it’s only a stapler and hole punch.  Less than half an hour later,  my eldest returns to my wee study… You know Mum… he sagely says… you would be better spending your time concentrating on your thesis rather than going on about your stationery.  And with these words of teenage wisdom bestowed upon me, he wanders out the room with my new hole punch in his hand. 

And as one of my newly purchased belongings made its way out of my wee study (probably never to be seen again) it made me think about longing for ‘belonging’.  And I realised how grateful I am for having a sense of belonging at home – with family and a sense of belonging at work – with my postgraduate office family.   

Waking up to Love

I woke up early this morning.  3.30am.  I didn’t even try to get back to sleep.  My mind was swirling too much….just get up and work – I thought – if you get up and have a cup of tea and write down everything in your head you’ll probably doze back to sleep – I reasoned – it’s Saturday so if you don’t doze back to sleep you can have a nap in the afternoon – it was  decided.  It’s now 6.46am.  I’m still awake.  It’s still dark outside.  Birds are twit-tweetering outside my window.  I still haven’t written down everything in my head because it’s all still moving around a bit too fast…but I have written a ‘to do list’ for next week so I can at least pretend to myself that I have everything under control.

But the thing is – for the first time in a very long time – I am starting to feel just a teeny-tiny bit more under control.  I have a house with a wee study that I can call my own where I can sit down quietly to write.   The house is tidyish!  Nothing noticeably untoward is lurking in the fridge!  A stack of neatly labelled home-cooked ‘ready-meals’ sits proudly waiting in the freezer to be discovered by the kids!  The washing and ironing is almost completely up-to-date!    And…my ‘thesis’ – the final written ‘product’ of my PhD research – is starting to come together. The ‘coming together’ is  going slower than I wanted as I have struggled with restructuring and continue to struggle with what I need to cut out as I have ‘too much’ so I have some tough decisions to make.    I had hoped to have a first draft complete by end October but it will be end November before it will emerge…but that’s OK….it is happening…finally.  Thankfully.

When I woke this morning at 3.30am I knew that my heart had kept pace with the swirling-racing of my mind.  The monitor on my watch confirmed the spike in my heart rate.  I felt the activity in my sleep.  I am often active in my sleep as I dream of things I need to be doing.  Some days I wake up drained from all the activities I undertake in my sleep as I dream.  Often I am dreaming of writing my thesis.  Dreaming of worrying about my thesis.  Dreaming of books I need to return to the library and books I need to pick up and articles I need to read and references I need to find and whole sections that I need to delete and paragraphs I need to write and words that I am endlessly moving around and about on the page and …. and on and on and so on… and then bam.  I am awake.  Exhausted.

But this morning I woke up dreaming about the funeral I attended yesterday.  The Minister read a passage from Ecclesiastes…There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the sun’…  I wondered why I recognised the words he was saying and then, remembering that I had quoted them in my last blog post, fleetingly –  my thesis… what is the point of it – flitted  through my mind.  As the Minister continued reading…a time to be born and a time to die…my eyes were set on the coffin in front of me …a time to weep and  a time to laugh… and I felt a deep wrenching inside me…a time to mourn and a time to dance… and I felt the unfathomable weight of hollowing grief hover and holler around the stony church walls.

My thesis explores grief.   I am terrified of grief.  Grief threatens to overwhelm me.  Sometimes, when  I sit down to write I feel its force weigh in upon me and I try to run away from it.  Sitting near the front of a small crowded church yesterday I had nowhere to run.  Fresh grief.  Raw.  Respectable.  Rigid.  Upright.  Dignified.  Palpable.  Tangible in the sombre faces lined up in pews.  But the minister made us laugh when he delivered the eulogy.  He talked about the meaning and purpose of the life we now mourned.   He talked about the goodness of a life well lived.  And when we stood in the chill at the cemetery, the minister made us laugh when he acknowledged the frailness of the elderly mourners who were called forward to hold the cords,  encouraging us all to hurry away to the warmth of the wake because him and the undertakers were busy enough without someone else taking ill. Life does go on.  We laughed amidst the monstrous banality of having just watched a coffin being lowered deep into the ground.  Dirt and roses thrown in, we walked back to cars and drove to the wake and then ate sandwiches and scones and drank tepid tea.

Driving home, I thought about the Minister’s eulogy.  I thought about the purpose of the life  lived by the loved one now buried.   He was a good man.  A proper gentleman.  Yes.   And I thought about the purpose of my life.  Sitting daily at a computer.  Trying desperately to piece a thesis together.  And I recognised that at the start of my research when I was recently separated after the end of a 28 year relationship, I was desperate to replace what then felt like a now defunct ‘Mrs’ title with an upgraded ‘Dr’.  And I recognised this was no longer the case.  And I recognised that I know I can piece the thesis together much quicker.  Yes.  And then I can graduate quicker.  Yes.  But it’s come to mean more than that…the thesis has a life and a purpose outside of my wants and desires.

And this morning, waking up – busy-dreaming-thinking-thoughts-whirling in my head, it was the realisation that in the business of writing and trying to pin down words on a page… trying to be ‘clever’ as I write up findings in order to showcase my skills as a researcher, I have missed something.  Something important.  I felt it.  And it hit me.  I fear the grief that I write about in my thesis because I am so busy running away from it I do not hear or see it properly.  And at the funeral, forced to sit still, unable to run away in the moment, I saw it.  And I heard it.  Exposed.  The beating heart of grief is love.