Thursday, 25 February 2010

Shifting Sands

I have had a little rethink and just whizzed off an email to my supervisor(s) to suggest a reorganisation of my thesis. The whole 6 chapters thing was really not doing it for me at all, so I am now proposing a three sections thing. Dividing the thesis into three large sections which will consequently be divided onto parts. I think this will provide a more cohesive thesis and each section will be able to stand alone to some extent which is almost necessary.

The diversity of the material makes it impossible to use an over-riding theme to pull it all together so this is one way I can negotiate that hurdle hopefully. Now it is a case of waiting and seeing what they think.

tick, tick, tick, once more the waiting game begins!

Oh I have just had an idea - I could start planning the sections on my white board ... now where did I put those coloured pens??????

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Write, write, write, like the wind my friend...

trouble is the wind finds it very difficult to hold a pen.

Sarah Waters's recent article in the Guardian is proving very informative, and for a jobbing writer's tips, useful! Some writers like to perpetuate the myth that good writing is the product of some metaphysical and ineffable inspiration, when in fact it is largely down to hard work. '99% perspiration and 1% inspiration is the old adage I like to bore my kids with. And no doubt when I teach (if that day ever comes and I don't slope off into a cave with all my books before hand) it will be something I trot out to students to prove to them that good writing is the result of good effort, not drug or booze induced hallucinations - Coleridge aside of course!

Oh and a little anecdotal piece for you - Sarah Waters and I went to the same school, we were there at the same time, though she is a little bit older than me and I can't remember her AT ALL! 

That is what I think I like most about Rebecca West - her pragmatism. One of her most repeated quotes is the one which expresses how for her, writing is a means of earning a living and journalism is a profession akin to medicine. Another quote of her's I like is: 
Any authentic work of art must start an argument between the artist and his audience. 

Whilst I was searching for West quotes ( which ironically I can never recall from memory even though I used them in my last chapter!) I came across this which I thought particularly apt:

Because I am a woman, I must make unusual efforts to succeed.  If I fail, no one will say, "She doesn't have what it takes."  They will say, "Women don't have what it takes."  ~Clare Boothe Luce

I am going to c&p the waters article - for future reference just in case the link fails. It can be found on my 'Inspiration/Perspiration' page.  I will also add a link to a page I discovered again by accident, about the art of writing blogs... something I am sure I could use! 

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Tuesday seems to have become the new Monday!

Procrastination is the art of keeping up with yesterday.
 Don Marquis
The two rules of procrastination: 
 1) Do it today. 
 2) Tomorrow will be today tomorrow.

 Author Unknown

I am not entirely sure when this shift occurred but I have noticed more and more of late that I have a tendency to discount Monday as a day of work! Now Ph.D needs to see a good 5 days work put in (out of the 7 that God has deigned we should have in a week) I would say but why have I discounted Mondays?
I don't LIKE Mondays. I have been at the beck and call of two teens all weekend, and believe me they are far more demanding as teens than as tots! Incessant chatter, mealtimes, loud music, friends calling, phone calls, tantrums, strops and needs for reassurance takes its toll on a woman. And all of that is just dealing with my partner! Don't get me started on the kids! I need my Mondays to regroup, plan and basically just be able to hear myself think.

However, there is a problem with this attitude! As Tuesdays have now become the new Mondays I now HATE Tuesdays! Can you see where this is going? Can you? Soon the entire week will be a series of procrastinated Mondays! As the quote says, 'Tomorrow will be today, tomorrow.' Clearly, I am not the first, and sure as hell won't be the last, to find this to be the case.

Every Sunday night I tell myself I am going to get up and get myself across to my office and put in a full day's work. But when that alarm clock rings and I hear the kids getting ready for school; the lure of a day of tranquillity and peace just envelops me and I can sense my body sinking deeper and deeper into the warmth of my duck down douvet. It's still dark outside as well, which adds to the illusion that the week hasn't started yet; is yet to begin. I tell myself I can read in bed, where it is comfortable and warm. And of course there is the ecological argument for not driving to work. I am saving on petrol ( good financial sense) and reducing my carbon footprint. I am a model of perfect humanity by staying put; a shining example!

Reality Check! 

This can't go on. I do work at home on a Monday, deluding myself that I am being particularly virtuous because actually this is my 'day off' and look - I am working! I even manage to feel a bit chuffed with myself, until I sink into the mattress  that night and realise that one fifth of the week has gone and I have to now cram 5 days into 4, which means I will most likely have to do some work at the weekends, which means I will need to take Monday off... and so on and so forth.

Then there is the guilt. I have the luxury of an office. Some students do not; there are not enough offices to go round. Yet here am I, lying in my bed, hot cup of tea in one hand and sheaf of papers in the other, revelling in luxury, whilst my office space languished unused and in darkness, as others sit huddled in the common study areas, breathing the fetid air of unwashed bodies and stale breath.

Ok. I admit that is a tad Dickensian, the common areas are light, bright, airy, and spacious rooms, with all modern technological facilities and are cleaned on a daily basis. Also the Ph.D community is not exactly the great unwashed - most of them being American means they are usually the great over-washed (Colgate smiles and manicured nails to boot!) but, well you get my drift! But nevertheless (who decided that those three words should be run together to make one word? Genius!) I still feel the penitent's flush of shame with each dunk of my Hobnob.

So Happy Monday, even though it is Tuesday, which now feels like a Monday, which means tomorrow has become Tuesday.... No one ever said an academic mind was a sensible or logical one did they!

Saturday, 20 February 2010


This weekend I am taking stock of where I am and where I want to be in 3 months time. I am planning to schedule my time more efficiently, even though the very word 'organisation' makes me shudder.

Come Monday morning I am going to have reinvented myself into a lean, mean, academic machine!


But of course like anything else good organisation needs... NEW stationery! Staples - here I come! :D

Thursday, 18 February 2010 quoque vadum obduco...

Or so I hope.
This week has been a complete waste of time and energy. For every step I have taken forward I have taken several back. The emotional turmoil in the house has disrupted any chance of getting some work done. Dealing with children must and shall always take priority over other activities.
Sadly not many people who do not have kids realise the amount of time and energy it takes simply to keep them happy and healthy.

I have glanced at my feedback in between journeys to A&E and sorting out itinerant teenage lovers, and it seems to be mostly good. The main body of the chapter seems to be solid and has attracted a decent amount of praise. As this was my aim I am happy. I  knew the introduction and conclusion were watery and would need to be rewritten. The fact I identified this means I have progressed in terms of assessing my own work. All good I'd say....

Life should take on more semblance of normality next week, and I am hoping to get in a full office week. I obviously have to do the rewrites which will mean further research and I also have to prepare for the ITR which is taking place on the 5th of March.

I have been going over the problems with the committee I am involved in and have come to the conclusion that the reason I feel so uncomfortable with the ideas put forward is because they take the group in another direction completely, and away from where it is meant to be. At the moment it looks like it is taking on the appearance of a seminar series rather than a postgrad led initiative. As we already have a plethora of lectures/talks/seminars to keep our 'spare' hours occupied I think this would be a mistake. It would mean the group would begin to compete in an already saturated market, the invited external speakers would be of a higher calibre, which could further intimidate fresh PG's from putting their own ideas forward. As this is meant to be an in-house programme, providing current students with the opportunity to test out their presenting skills I don't see how what has been proposed will help with that agenda.

There is also the issue that they met and clearly spoke about how they would organise themselves, forgetting to even touch upon how they would organise the actual project. It smacks of self-aggrandisement, rather than genuine concern to create something worthwhile for others.

I am in a quandary at the moment. Do I just let them get on with it and quietly leave in May or do I make the point ??? I feel I should express my dissatisfaction but am not entirely sure this would achieve anything other than hard feelings (not on my part but on theirs).

I shall continue to think about the situation and hope an opportunity arises where perhaps I can say how I feel without sounding like I am pouring cold water on their ideas.

Auribus tenere lupum - I hold a wolf by the ears. 

Monday, 15 February 2010

Ambition and The Passive Aggressive Academic.

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.

Ambition is the last refuge of failure.

Basically you have to suppress your own ambitions in order to be who you need to be.
 Bob Dylan quotes (American folksinger, b.1941)

Many outsiders may look in on academia and think, "what a lovely cosy world it must be, full of quiet thoughtfulness, intellectual stimulation and supportive encouragement". As a postgraduate you expect people to be mature, adult even in their approach to life and their work. Perhaps you even expect them to have learned a thing or two along the way and to realise that sometimes the greater good is far better than pursuing personal advantage.

Apparently not.

Recent events have conspired against me and I have been unable to get into my office today to attend a rather unimportant meeting. I contacted one of the committee to extend my apologies and at her suggestion, she kindly offered to postpone the meeting for a week and emailed the others accordingly. I quietly waited to see what the response would be, confident that I could almost smell one person seizing the advantage to hold the meeting without me and thereby push forward her own agenda with little resistance or opposition.

I was right in my assumptions. An email came winging out pushing for the meeting to be held today without me. It was transparent in its blatant desire to take advantage of the situation. Even when another member expressed her willingness to postpone (making that 3 -1) she was adamant, replying as quickly as I have ever seen, 'Right, let's make it today then!'

I smiled to myself.

The next email brought the news that a second member is now resigning, because of the increasing time commitment. Up until recently the time commitment has been minimal as we have acted like responsible adults and been able to conduct ourselves with reasonable aplomb and success, ( by actually increasing the turnover of attendees and presenters at our monthly meetings). However now one person is pushing for 'constitutional reform' and 'carefully constructed missives' and wants to see the demise of the Facebook group which was set up prior to her joining the committee and for the convenience of members of the PG community; her reasons? because she feels FB to be a 'social networking site of an extremely informal tenor' - pomposity thy name is C******e!

If I felt this desire for change was for the good of the community I would be keen to support it. But it seems pretty obvious that it is about getting herself 'known'. A recent idea by myself was seized upon by said person, because she immediately saw an opportunity to impress the faculty with her stunning inventiveness. She failed to even acknowledge that it was my idea and merely began trying to wrest control of it from me. Her condescension is all the more insulting as she assumes me to be oblivious to it.

Whatever the outcome of the meeting I shall simply smile and carry on doing my own thing my own way, because stepping on people is not the only way to get ahead, and one day this person will maybe realise that naked ambition is a pretty ugly sight.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Planning, Planning with a side order of Planning please!

What a horrendously busy few weeks I have ahead of me!!! My stomach is churning at the thought of it!

The feed back is in - all 6 pages of it. Now that may sound horrendous but it is in a pretty big font and well spaced so it isn't as bad as it sounds. The good thing is the negative stuff I had already predicted and now I have something concrete to go on I can go about redressing the errors. A lot of positive feedback as well, a good dose of each I would say which gives me something to cling onto - I am not filled with the normal post-feed back desolation!

The two abstracts I submitted have been accepted so I shall be presenting at conferences 10 days apart with two different papers. I am on the ITR panel for the ART HISTORY department and I have a session planned with an Art Historian to discuss how I can better write about Vorticism! Forum is in need of serious sorting! So to summarise:
1. I have to rewrite the introduction and conclusion to be less generalised and more 'scholarly'. By March 5th (ish)
2. I have to select which of the 17000 words of this chapter are going to be turned into paper  for the University of Cambridge.
3. I have to condense my article of "Les Petite Journals Des Refusee" into a 20 minute presentation with slides and artwork by Aubrey Beardsley for the presentation at UCL.
4. Meetings are scheduled for Monday, Wednesday and next Monday for Forum, ITR, and Vorticism respectively.
5. I need to plan out my next chapter so that my trips to conferences can encompass resourceful research and not just a jolly along!
6. A colleague has asked me to edit for her piece due in March.
7. Reading the AHD Teaching Policy and attending relevant dinner and review days.
8. Run my household and family without them all thinking life has gone mad.

All this whilst worrying what on earth will pay the bills in 18 months time when my Son turns 18, my funding ceases and my other half retires onto half pay!! EEK! I really do seem to have every ball imaginable in the air just now.... let's hope I can carry on catching them! Like the cartoon I found on the web - they are little bombs, each one just waiting to explode in my face.

Never before has a cartoon been so relevant to my life as the one next to my profile ... It WAS a good idea to carry on and do a Ph.D ... right?

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Notebook Heaven.

I have to give a big thumbs up to Nickie for her recommended links. The Letters of Note blog is most certainly of major interest to me and probably to other academics and the Plannerisms - well what can I say! I didn't know there were other notebook nerds out there to match my excesses, yet it seems there are some who are WORSE! Yes I know I didn't think that were possible either but it appears so. I have no idea how to hypertext my blog so I am afraid anyone watching (that'll be me then) will simply have to scroll down and click on the Plannerisms link on the right hand side. Not too onerous - even for me.

O.M.G. Moleskine have the most amazing range of planners and diaries coming out soon. I love my 18month planner - however the one disadvantage is I have to have the same book for 18 months! And I do like a new notebook or 12!

Still I m having fun finding all sorts of different notebooks though Moleskine still remains my firmest favourite of them all - just the texture and the smell, I don't know there is something about them! Yummy! 

The Baking Mojo...

seems to have struck me with its mighty hammer and is now holding me in its thrall. A plan to entice folks to the meeting today with home-baked confectionery had me in the kitchen for a few hours on Sunday afternoon, pinny in place, and rolling pin at the ready! I made rocky road traybake, lemon and poppyseed shorty and caramel shorty! 

What scares me is as I was baking I was adjusting the recipes in my head - improving them! This is scary! I have already baked a lemon tea bread this week as well as a buttermilk raisin and walnut cake! I am indeed very popular just now! I got the recipes online at but I would use caution as they were far from perfect and need a little jiggling with. I wouldn't use the caramel shorty recipe again as I have made much nicer shorty! Oh and don't buy the caramel in the carnation tins! It is nowhere near as unctuous as homemade caramel! 

Due to a lack of attendees at said meeting today there was plenty left over to bribe my office mate with and the PG secretary - now everyone knows that the PG Secretary is the person you have to keep on side - s/he is your best friend!!! :D Luckily ours is an absolute treasure! 

*Oops slight sideslip into a day in the life of a domestic goddess there - quick smart back to academia! *

Feedback on the chapter was relatively positive. The bulk of it is* very good* but the introduction and conclusion are (and I quote) " far too generalised, speculative, assertive and unsupported to be presentable " - oh that doesn't sound good.

The plan is a rewrite of these parts of the chapter. The problem appears to be I am taking it for granted that the reader has a perfect grasp of the contextual matters which I discuss - so I need to be more emphatic and expansive about this aspect of the chapter. I am awash with information that what is common knowledge and what is more specialist knowledge has become rather blurred in my mind. I am hoping this is a relatively easy thing to sort out. 

Another spot of good news is I have been selected to take part in an internal teaching review panel for the School of Art History. This involves reading policy material the school has in place, attending a few pre review meetings and a pre review dinner, and then a day of reviewing with some feedback. And it pays! Well nothing to yell home about - I will not be absconding to Bermuda or anything like that - but it has a renumeration which is a bonus as when I applied I had no idea that this was the case. Hopefully it will be a useful experience and it is certain CV filler that is for sure! And this is becoming evermore important as the Ph.D biological clock ticks louder and louder, viva,viva,viva.....and then EEK! A JOB! 

No news yet on the two abstracts I put out for the two conferences in June. But I am off to the Imperial War Museum in Manchester (the birth town of British Suffrage) on Wednesday and will be popping in to see one of my closest friends along the way in the Wirral! Should be a good trip. Don McCullin is also exhibiting the largest exhibition of war photographs ever staged in Britain - which given my interest in war should prove interesting though it is slightly outside my area of expertise. 

Friday, 5 February 2010

The Rigours of Being a Committee Member! (it's not meant to be taken too seriously folks!)

"To get something done, a committee should consist of no more than three people, two of whom are absent"
Robert Copeland
“Meetings are indispensable when you don't want to do anything.”
John Kenneth Galbraith
"If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and will never achieve, its full potential, that word would be "meetings"".
Dave Barry

Ah that good old institution the committee...

Brings that old light bulb joke to mind.

How many committee members does it take to change a lightbulb? "This topic was resumed from last week's discussion, but is incomplete pending resolution of some action items. It will be continued next week. Meanwhile ..." 

As usual the emails fly back and forth and very little ever seems to get resolved as each member has their own idea of what is 'desirable'.
Some emails are short, brusque and to the point, others ramble and are the "interweb" equivalent of a speaker who likes to hear the sound of their own voice!

I aim to be the first and usually end up being the latter!

I promised myself once I would never volunteer for anything ever again, I thought academia would be different but somehow it's the same as any committee, lots of talk and very little action. That's not a criticism of those involved as everyone wants to achieve the best possible outcome, but somehow the way it works it always ends up in a lot of to'ing and fro'ing ... ah I sometimes wish for the quiet life!

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Review: 'The Children's Book' by A. S. Byatt.

I have had a great fondness for A. S. Byatt ever since reading her glorious book Possession: A Love Story on a postmodernism module back in my undergraduate days. It was on the reading list and it was the fattest paperback I had seen in a long time, which was guaranteed to make undergrads groan! We were all keen to open our reading lists to see SLIM paperbacks. It seemed an arduous task given the thickness of the book, the smallness of the text and the time constraints of a very demanding module! But it turned out to be nothing but sumptuous pleasure.

Byatt writes with a erudition that is lacking in a lot of modern novels. She has a capacity to seamlessly blend the here and now with the then and there, captivating her readers along the way. Byatt's ability to mix fantasy, fact and character with the intertextual use of myth, poetry and story telling is a rare and enviable skill in a writer.

The Children's Book is as equally delightful and captivating as Possession, similarly using history as the vertebrae for her plot. The pages burst with key period figures and integrates historical movements such as Fabianism, with personal context, putting flesh and bone on the dry and dusty figures that have become part and parcel of our cultural legacy. The imaginary rub shoulders with contemporaneous celebrity, giving the story a vitality and presence that is often lacking in historicised fiction. Byatt treats the period with a great deal of respect and gravitas. The emotional turmoil felt by many women during this era is replayed through several female characters, all of whom felt the pressure of a bifurcated life, the schism between professional and personal desire.

Sex of course, just as in 1900, is a key feature as the complexities of familial and desirous relationships are confronted, mistakes are made and illegitimate children are created, much to the chagrin of the male protagonists involved. As a history of gender the book gives a fair account, never generalising, never assuming, but always bringing it down to the nuanced and complicated internalised feelings of the individual regardless of their sex. You will find no cliched characters within these pages.

I have loved every single syllable of Byatt's latest novel, chewing every ounce of juice out of each wordy morsel. It has been a revelation to me as this is the era in which I work and these are the concepts with which I juggle. She has blown the dust off suffrage, with vivid descriptions and intelligent arguments, always bringing the matter down to the individual; Byatt exposes the social herd for the myth it is. The use of the phantasmagorical, as in Possession gives the text a potent allegorical strength as the characters lives are played out in narrative and fairytale.

For anyone who loves intelligent literature, this book is a definite read.

Next on the cards: Mark Gatiss and The Lucifer Box Set which attracted me because of its Yellow Book cover and Beardsleyesque illustrations. Yummy!  

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Driving ... and crying!

On the way in this morning, very early, I was overwhelmed by the gravity of the recent disaster in Haiti. Simon Cowell has released a single to raise money and it is a multi-artist version of REM's 'Everybody Hurts'. Now this is an emotive song anyway but when the lyrics become identified with a global tragedy on an unprecedented scale it takes on a greater significance. Stupidly I found myself crying! Now crying whilst driving is not to be advised under any circumstances! And this morning was no exception.

What is odd is I am not given to spontaneous outburst of feeling - or softies as I like to refer to them. Yes, on occasion the NSPCC advert may make me reach for the remote control before the floodgates open, so too the Dogs' Trust, but on the whole I am pretty reserved. I haven't watched any footage of the Haiti disaster purely because it is so distressing and I can do little about it. So why a song on the radio should cause such a maelstrom of feeling is a tad confusing.

Perhaps it's the incredibly early start this morning - I was here by 822! Great parking space though! :D

Still have that waiting room sensation that occurs when you are anticipating feedback, so today will be spent mulling things over. I have already spotted some secondary crit that should go in the chapter I have just submitted regarding Marsden's anarchism.

I have had a response form the literary agent I contacted regarding the Pink House. Writing in rhyme for children is apparently not a great idea as it is hard to get poetry published. Add to that the fact that I have included nonsense words and Scots dialect and you are looking at a very difficult manuscript to place. However the email was encouraging and gave me some niche publishers to contact and also invited me to submit for them - so all is not lost. I may make a writer yet!

Monday, 1 February 2010

This is a strange time for me, it is a twilight of sorts. I have just handed in a huge chunk of writing for the wringing out process. Basically my supervisor will squeeze all the excesses out of it and leave me with the creased remains. I shall then go about the process of rehydrating the concepts with a more nourishing brew of thought!
But what for now? Limbo? Purgatory? The waiting hours. It is hard to plan the next stage when you have no idea whether the work you have just handed in will be received well or not? So you sit and look at your plans, dig out the coloured pens and start thinking about what the next step should be.

This stage is accompanied by a lot of sighing; A LOT!

Then lightening strikes you and you realise that something you wrote in your last piece could have been expressed so much more succinctly than it has been, with more erudition, insight and mastery. But it is too late. Time cannot be stopped, the clock is ticking mercilessly towards the feedback.

You know you have to get on - pursue the dream, plunge forward into the blackness of the unwritten. Yet all you can seem to do is procrastinate, and even that you tend to put off until tomorrow!

At least the germs seem to be retreating from my body. A few stubborn snifflers are clinging on but the signs of good health are on the periphery waiting to march in victorious!

I read a scary, actually terrifying 'horoscope' yesterday which threatened that anything I wrote within the next two weeks could be the ruination of me, tarnish my reputation and be hazardous to my future career... which when your entire existences hinges upon the written word is rather petrifying! :-O Good job I set no store in horoscopes eh! ;-)