Musings from my new PhD desk…

Sunday 4 March 2018...

Today, 16 years ago, I was almost a week overdue with my youngest. Heavily pregnant and impatient, I was desperate to give birth and cuddle my baby. Numerous ‘this should get things moving’ membrane sweeps by various midwives and doctors did nothing to kick-start the labour.  Instead, the baby decided to stay tucked up cosy inside me until a planned hospital induction forced her speedy arrival into the world.

It snowed the day she was born.  When my husband and I arrived home with our new baby late that Sunday morning my eldest – dancing around in his toddler-tiny yellow welly boots and a winter coat still a size or two too big for him – had already built two snowmen in our back garden:  one for him and one for his new baby sister.  I picked him up and with my husband carrying our newborn in her car seat we closed the door to the snow-chilled air and crossed the threshold into our home, ready to embark on our lives together as a family of four.  It was a time of possibility.

This memory of the unexpected March snowfall back in 2002 when my daughter was born sweeps in to envelope me today because just like that Sunday morning 16 years ago it is snowing outside.  March – they say – comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb.  I hope so!  If the forecast is correct, the feather-light snow falling outside as I write will not add too much weight to the piles of snow that the Beast of the East and Storm Emma have left heaped against my front door.

I say ‘my front door’ but it is not really mine.  In the final stages of my doctoral research I have found myself caught up in a flurry of change. I had hoped to finish my thesis in the wee study I’ve written at for over a decade in the established family home, but sometimes events unfold that change our direction.   And so…today – finally – I settle in to write at a different desk in an unfamiliar space in the hallway of a rental house that I cannot quite yet call ‘home’.  A purple Penguin Book mug emblazoned with ‘A Room of One’s Own’ sits on the desk beside me.  I place it here deliberately to both amuse and challenge myself.  This new desk – my desk – where I will finish writing my thesis! – is a pre-loved solid wooden sturdy writing bureau that I discovered in a charity shop.  I love this desk that has belonged to others before me.  Older-fashioned with softly worn-in scratches and nicks it fits just perfectly in this alcove under the stairs in the hallway of this wee house that is mine for a time.  This desk was meant for this space.  This desk was meant to be found and brought here by me.

Virginia Woolf famously asserts that a woman must have a room of her own to write fiction.  As a doctoral researcher in applied social science, I do not set out to write fiction but my research privileges stories and is suspicious of facts.  Arlie Hochschild notes that colleagues question her decision to tell a story where she highlights the origins of her personal interest in the ‘care gap’ because it is risky to link personal journeys to intellectual interests but she asserts that the self is an instrument of inquiry and in the end we have no other.  Last month, at the European Congress of Qualitative Inquiry I presented a paper at a panel inspired by Arundhati Roy’s statement that she makes sense of the world through the stories she tells.  In the paper I presented, I told a personal story that acknowledged my interest in gender, class and social mobility and I quoted Helene Cixous’ call for woman to take the leap and to write herself out of the abyss of servile dependencies that her sociocultural heritage imprints on her.  Today as I sit here writing alone – at my new forever desk – I am making teeny-tiny independent steps on that journey.

Back in June 2017, I set a goal of completing a first draft of my doctoral thesis by Christmas.  It may be snowing outside, but Christmas has come and gone – and my draft thesis is still in my head rather than down on paper.    Chaos has reigned.  But, I chide myself – Enough is enough!  Time is up!  Come on! – and I nod:  Yes!  It is time for order to prevail. It is time for me to leave others to fill in for me on the second shift.  I need to get this thesis written.  Like Virginia Woolf anger snatches at my pen and calls me to action.  It is a time of possibility.

Whilst Virginia Woolf’s essay places importance on material practicalities when she stresses that a woman must have money and a room of her own, it is because this physical space is necessary to allow a woman writer to have the mental space to gain intellectual freedom. Filled with domestic clutter, my fingers have been paralysed and my research has been stagnant in recent months.  But at this new desk and in this new space, it is time for my fingers to fly and dance words into life on my keyboard.  I have set a new target: the  first draft of my thesis will be ready to hand in by Saturday 9 June 2018!  It is a personal milestone date.   I hope to tick this box.

In her paper on academic blogs, practice and identity, Gill Kirkup notes that for bloggers the sense of an imaginary audience is almost as important as there being an actual audience.  I do not know if anyone will be reading this blog.  But I will be writing it daily – or as regularly as I can! – as a form of public storytelling charting the final weeks of my thesis writing.  My imaginary audience exists as a chorus to nag, cajole and encourage me – to help me hold myself accountable to hitting my revised deadline and delivering my PhD baby on time – as I write – from this wee rental house –at my new PhD desk in the wee room of my own in the alcove under the stairs.

Jxx

 

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