When I started the PhD, after I’d tackled and defeated the RD1 submission thing, I made myself a promise to do two hours of reading a day. I stuck to it for the first month, felt very smug; stuck to it for the second month, realised it wasn’t going to be enough. Upped it to two hours a day, plus full days on Tuesdays and Saturdays, the two days of the week the house is empty and I have the space all to myself. It still wasn’t enough. I put all the books I want to read in a pile on my desk, and beside it, the books I have read. There was a vast discrepancy in the piles: about six in the left-hand (finished reading) pile and 17 in the right-hand (still to read pile). The book in the middle of these piles is ‘the book I’m currently reading’. This clearly needed a radical rethink. Now I read every spare minute I have. No more watching ridiculously boring and formulaic daytime television: spend the time reading; no more sitting in the garden with a cup of tea: read while drinking the tea. How much it has helped me to actually see the reading piles, and how refreshing and with what a sense of achievement to see them equalising. I have taken a picture of them as they stand today. The good news is, I have done most of the reading I need to do to help me re-write the chapter on ‘psychoanalytic theory’. The remaining books on the right are relating to feminist criticism of psychoanalytic theory, the next chapter, deferrable reading.
I have found these piles useful: of course you can only use this method if you have the books to hand. I used to borrow books from the library and get really annoyed when they wanted them back because someone else wanted to read them (how selfish!). So my trips to the library these days are to assess the books: if they are worth reading, I buy them second hand from Amazon. I always buy in ‘excellent’ or ‘as new’ condition, because nothing is more distracting than finding someone else’s highlighting in a book: ‘what am I missing here?’ – and this also happens when you borrow from the library. I am a bibliophile: I can’t bear to deface a book in this way, or to turn down the corners of its pages. I use three or four bookmarks for each book: one to tell me where I’m up to, one to mark the end-of-chapter notes, one to mark a glossary or a bibliography etc. I treat books as friends; because, on the whole, that’s what they are. I am becoming a reading snob, though: the importance of the bibliography. I have realised that Écrits: a selection and Écrits: The First Complete Edition in English contain almost identical material, the latter being the full collection, the only difference that they are translated differently. Silly to read both, I thought, so I have decided to run with the big book on the top of the right-hand pile; not just because it is big, but because it is published by Norton and will look better on the bibliography. Plus it has more ‘écrits’ in it, obviously.
So, due to upping my reading régime considerably, this week I have finished Mitchell’s Psychoanalysis and Feminism and waded into the Écrits of Jacques Lacan. Oh my word, how hard is he to understand? But small understandings are victories so I plough on. Jouissance, Objet petit a, the unconscious structured as a language: two weeks ago I thought these were difficult concepts to grapple with; but Das Ding, The Thing, what is that? The unknowable sense of loss, the loss we can’t know but we feel. It took me sometime to work through this one, then I thought of a friend who always seems to be missing something in her life without knowing what it is she’s missing, sort of searching for the thing she doesn’t know is what’s missing. The Thing she doesn’t know is missing. So I guess that’s as close as I can get. I struggle on, being selective in my écrits: I’m not training to be a psychoanalyst, just want the framework for literary criticism, after all.
Also, on the PhD front, I have started to organise my folder ready for my Year 1 review. I printed off poems and the first (disastrous) attempt at writing and put those in, plus the ‘reading’ photo above (saves writing a reading list). I collected all my RD9 records of meetings, my RD1 and original proposal and my certificates of attendance at the research mini-courses: all in the folder. It actually looks quite impressive for an annual amount of work, so I’m pleased to have done it. I hope Michael Symmons Roberts is similarly impressed! I also had an email yesterday from my Director of Studies, prodding me toward another meeting re progress. I’ve asked if we can set up a meeting in a couple of weeks, by which time I’ll have my plan of action for re-drafting Chapter 1 on psychoanalytic theories.
In other news, life goes on apace. This week I went to the cinema with friends and partner to see the live screening of RSC’s Hamlet, with Paapa Esiedu in the title role. He was fantastic, what a talent! This was a predominantly black, African-heritage cast, and the play had lots of African influences. The sets and costumes were stunning, the acting and direction brilliant. I love a bit of Shakespeare, and Gertrude has one of my favourite lines from the Bard: ‘one woe doth tread upon another’s heels, so fast they follow.’ How often is that true in our own lives, hence the saying ‘things come in threes’?
On Friday, on a complete contrast, I went to see Dr John Cooper Clarke at the Albert Hall, Manchester. This was a Christmas present from my son Richard, whose birthday it was on Friday, so it was a day of double celebration. JCC was supported by Luke Wright and Mike Garry, both excellent spoken-word poets, and a poet from Yorkshire whose name I didn’t catch, who was dour in his flat-capness. JCC, of course, was fantastic, energetic, entertaining, ironic. My favourite line of the night, being an Oldhamer, was JCC, talking about my home town: ‘Oldham isn’t twinned with anyone, but it’s got a suicide pact with Gdansk.’ Ha!
On Monday I took someone very dear to me to Christie hospital for a follow-up with the plastic surgeon re her malignant melanoma. I wrote about this a couple of weeks ago, so I won’t go into it again, but the check up was positive, return in six months. She has a six monthly scan booked for Wednesday this coming week, and that’s always a scary event until the results are published, but so far so good. It’s nearly two years since the original diagnosis, we’ve come a long way, and learned a lot since then. I had hoped that the appointment at the Christie would preclude my Monday aerobics session, but we were seen on time and home by lunch; so I had to grasp the nettle and go to the gym. If I tell you that Monday activities have kept me from aerobics since before Easter, you’ll understand how hard that session was. But I did it; I had a face you could have boiled a kettle on afterwards, but I did it. The best bit about aerobics is the cappuccino afterwards, and on Monday it was a life-saver!
Among all this I found time to indulge my love of sport: I watched Djokovic severely demoralise Andy Murray in the French Open men’s final. After grinding out a win in the first set, Andy really couldn’t get a foot in the door; but although I was sorry Murray couldn’t win, it was very special to see Djokovic be the first man to hold all four grand slam titles in a single season since Rod Laver in 1969. Amazing achievement, a real tennis great.
I watched England (cricket) achieve another innings defeat of Sri Lanka in the second test match; and watched England (football) look promising in their first Euro match against Russia. They only managed a 1-1 draw though, conceding a goal in the dying seconds. Will they live to regret it? Only time will tell.
So, my poem. I have been working on a poem for the Manchester Cathedral Poetry Competition this week, I was placed third in this competition last year so it would be good to do at least as well as that again. Because of that, I have short-cut the portfolio poem somewhat and reworked a poem I first-drafted while I was away on our Bitch retreat in May. I included this poem in the Stanza anonymous workshop last week and have listened to feedback. The poem is printed here, but first a link to the Manchester Cathedral Competition, for those of you who are interested; you’ve got to be in it to win it:
So, the poem:
Boys only want you for one thing, she said
But what if I never find out what that is?
I’m climbing the steps to that bumpy slide
at Wicksteed Park though ladders confuse
my sense of being right side up in the world
but he’s behind me so there’s no way back,
and when I get to the top, I’ll have to sit
in the little house with my feet overhanging
that chute with a hundred miles of metal
humping between me and solid ground.
How he’s pushing me
and I’m learning about exhilaration