There, I’ve done it. I’ve registered for year 3 of the PhD. Two down, one to go. There were times (moments) at the end of year one/beginning of year 2 when I considered pulling the plug. It all seemed too hard. And it is. And it should be. I really thought it was beyond me; and what do I need a PhD for anyway? In a sense it’s a vanity project: a personal challenge to prove to myself I can do it. In those moments, with thoughts of quitting, I was convincing myself I couldn’t do it. Perhaps I can’t. I won’t know until it’s all done and I’m a success or not. But what I do know about myself is, I’m not a quitter. I persevered and here I am at the start of year 3 of 3. Once I relaxed and saw this as a journey and not a destination I started to really enjoy it. A good friend had her viva this week and she has attained her PhD. I am thrilled for her; although I always knew she would be successful. I genuinely don’t know if that success will ever be mine. But I have enjoyed the work and learned a lot: about the psychology of mothers and daughters; about the poetry of Selima Hill and Pascale Petit; about Sylvia Plath and Elizabeth Bishop; about the sonnet; and about myself. Obviously, I hope I’ll come out of this with a PhD; but if I don’t I’ll know I gave it my best shot. I also learned that when this is over, I’ll never pick up another book in anger. I’m done with study. Best-seller list for me after that viva next year!
This week I’ve been back in the swing of things after the holiday. Holiday? What holiday. It seems so long ago, I’ve forgotten it already. Real life has resumed itself. I have been researching the psychology of masks. I did an online MMU library search and up came loads of references for ‘masks’; but most of them seemed to be to do with computer technology. I have no idea what masks are in computer-speak but there are hundreds of academic articles about them. In amongst them—I didn’t give up looking—there were a couple of articles on the psychology of masks in a human context: the human masks, real and imagined, that we wear in everyday life. There were also a couple of promising books on the subject. I downloaded the articles and put the books on hold. I decided to read the articles to see if they give me what I’m looking for and then spend a day in the library checking out the books. The articles were just what I needed, so this week I’ll be in the library bright and early on Tuesday working with the books.
It’s been a good week on the poetry front too. I heard in the week that my poem ‘Chiggy Pig’ was ‘Commended’ in the Battered Moons poetry competition. This was a poem I wrote to one of Penny Sharman’s activities on our Bitch Week in Anglesey earlier in the year: to write a poem about a small creature. I chose the woodlouse because they fascinate me; and I always loved working with them in those ‘mini-beast’ projects we used to do with children in primary schools. When I drafted the poem, it was called simply ‘Woodlouse’. I took it to the Monday workshop at Leaf on Portland St. for feedback. They loved it but were puzzled by the last line: ‘fourteen jointed little porker’. I explained that we used to call woodlice piggies when I was a kid; Rosie Garland remembered then that they used to call them ‘chiggy pigs’ in her childhood in the west country. ‘Chiggy pig’ was too good a title to pass up, thank you, Rosie. I’ve booked train tickets and hotel for Bill and me to go down to Swindon for the presentation event on October 7th. It cost about nine times my prize money for the overnight stay and travel; but I help to organise the Poets&Players competition in Manchester and we really appreciate it when people turn up to read at the presentation event. It means a lot, feels like reward for the hard work of mounting the competition in the first place. So I will be there a week on Saturday introducing ‘Chiggy Pig’ to the audience.
I also heard that a selection of my mother/daughter poems—including the sonnet crown—has been long-listed for the Overton Prize; short-listing is in early October, so keep your fingers crossed for me, because this is one competition I really would like to progress in. And I have almost agreed an acceptance for the review of Pascale Petit’s Mama Amazonica in a ‘quality poetry magazine’; I’ll tell you which one when it is finally accepted. I won’t entertain even a thought that it won’t be. The deadline for submitting that review is also early October, so I’ll be working on that later today. It’ll put me well on my way for the Pascale Petit section of the thesis too. All good. Watch this space. This has all made me more determined to submit work more regularly. I’m a bit of a sluggard in this side of the work, but when I do submit I’m often more or less successful. I need to organise myself more.
My copies of The North, Rialto, PN Review and Magma came in the post. Lovely to see poet friends represented in these magazines. I’ve had only cursory reads up to now, checked out the work of poets I know personally; but there is a lot of reading in them for the coming months. I also received a ‘Magma’ tote bag in the post. Apparently, they messed up my subscription and sent the bag as compensation. I hadn’t noticed there had been an issue, so the tote bag was a complete and very pleasant surprise.
This week back from holiday has been a busy week in other ways too. My job keeping the books at my daughter Amie’s restaurant, The Black Ladd, has been a bigger-than-normal job this week with three weeks worth of work to make up after the holiday. It took up a long day on Wednesday and still not quite finished; but I’ll be up to date again this week. I also went to the Christie with her on Monday, where she is being monitored after surgery in 2014 for malignant melanoma. I’m pleased to say she is progressing well and it was all very positive feedback. Long may the positivity continue.
And friends. I met up with Hilary for a post-holiday catch-up on Tuesday. She has submitted her MA portfolio this week; three years of her life coming to a satisfactory conclusion. She’s off on a long celebratory holiday in October to places that include Bali, Australia, Tasmania, Singapore. I’m only a little bit jealous. And yesterday I met up in Manchester with Pauline, a friend from my school days. We became friends in the first term of grammar school; 59 years ago! How can that even be possible? We both suffered the ire of the demon head-teacher and every time we meet up we remember new and forgotten indignities at his hands. I think I’ve told you it’s down to him that I keep pursuing these qualifications? He told me the day I left school that I’d end up in the gutter for the unforgivable sin of talking to a boy from the secondary modern school. These were his parting words to me, a sixteen year old with low self confidence. I seem to have spent a lifetime negating that one remark. He’s long-dead now: I hope he’s keeping nice and warm!
So, here I am at the start of the final year of PhD. I began this blog to see how the work would fit into my busy life style: I think I’m doing OK. I’ll be buckling down and getting the work completed this year: I want it finished in first draft by about May next year to give me time for redrafting, editing, perfecting. It’s hard to believe it’s the third year already: it seemed so far away when I began. Ho hum. Tempus just keeps on fuging, as Reggie Perrin used to say.
I’m giving you two more verses of the poem I wrote on holiday, inspired by my travelling companions on the plane to Zakinthos. It’s still not finished, but I like where it’s going and I think it will find space in the portfolio. Enjoy.
For I don’t deserve to die with these people
this mum has no sense of irony
for she feeds her girls Kwells—tells
them from a mouth wide as the Mersey tunnel,
tells them from a mouth that could have been
the prototype for the megaphone to
chew and swallow, chew and swallow
then administers copious doses
of fizzy pop and chocolate to take the taste away;
this mum asks if her darling girl
can have my window seat
and spits curare-tipped eye darts
when I say no; for when she grinds down
another traveller and the girl
sits in the window seat
smug as a lugworm,
she promptly pulls down the blind
on the remaining air-miles;