It’s started. That feeling that I am allowed to do other things. That post-PhD feeling. Again. It’s not even anti-climax: it’s more excitement at being able to do mundane stuff and take my time doing it because there’s no deadline. In other words, I’m regressing to normal.
Hard at work in St. Ives: photograph by John Foggin.
Sunday was spent travelling back from St. Ives. It was a thoroughly miserable morning as we waited for the train from St. Erth to Plymouth: cold, barely above freezing; and wet, the rain was lashing. An appropriate day to leave a wonderful week, really; like leaving summer behind and falling back into gloomy winter. Our journey was uneventful; which was more than could be said for the poets who went home on the Saturday. Most had horrendous journeys of delay, cancellation and general disruption. So we were lucky to have booked that extra night. We had a lovely picnic of disgustingly unhealthy snacks including a small flagon each of Scrumpy cider Hilary had bought at the cider farm on the last day of the holiday.
A little light picnic for the train.
We were in Manchester by 5.00 p.m. and home by 6.00.
This week I wrote the ‘front matter’ as they call it on my Kindle, for my thesis: the pages that tell you about the body of the work. I wrote the title page and acknowledgements, put them together with the 300 word abstract, placed them at the front of the thesis. I also placed three of the poems I wrote in St. Ives into the collection. So now all I need is to edit the contents page for the poetry and the page numbers in footnotes that contain references to the poetry collection; add an overall contents page and voila! I hope it’s done. I sent the new poems to Jean Sprackland, just so she’s aware that I’ve added them since we last spoke. I’m waiting on a meeting with my team re. the redrafted thesis I sent them, but given that it has to be submitted by May 18th, I’m hoping it’s about done. I hardly dare think so, but I hope it’s done.
So, apart from that little burst of academic activity, my week overall has been mundane. I’ve started to clear up my study. It looks like an intellectual war zone: books and paper copies of the thesis on my desk, and on the sofa awaiting the shredder. I had a big shred-fest on Good Friday. I felt like an assassin shredding working copies of the thesis, but I have them all, saved at the various stages of redrafting, stored in the iCloud. I kept one copy, the latest; and I kept the copy that my Director of Studies had annotated by hand; and I kept the page of advice I was given last time I met with the team. But all other paper was shredded and binned. I filed letters, put books back on the bookshelf: I have too many books now, need more bookshelves. It’s the scurge of a bibliophile, the continually growing need for book shelf space. Because we can keep buying and reading books in perpetuity, but we can’t bear to get rid of any. It would be like getting rid of friends. So I now have books piled in front of books on the bookshelves. I know I’m not the only one.
I’ve also been batch cooking. I bought lots of veg when I shopped this week, so I spent Saturday making vegetable and lentil curries, pasta sauces, casseroles. I even managed to get them into the freezer the same day. I am a domestic goddess. In short, I have glimpsed the future and it is domestic. At the moment, I like it; I expect to get bored with it very quickly, but for now it is a refreshing, and relaxing, respite from four years of brain work.
So that’s it, a week of winding down. A week of life-post-PhD practice. A glimpse over the parapet into a future without study. I have lots of non-academic reading on my Kindle; but I’m saving that for after the assessment. I still have to keep in touch with the academic books until after the external examination. The Handmaid’s Tale and other reading treats can wait a few more weeks.
Here’s another poem I wrote in St. Ives. For this poem we had to think of a significant incident from our lives and write about it for ten minutes; just tell the story. Then we left it alone for a while. Later we had to tell the story again without looking at the first draft. Then, referring to both drafts, we had to weave them together into a unity. I wrote my first version in the first person; the second version in the third person. So my ‘weaving’ is between viewpoints, first person in italics, third person in plain font. It’s an interesting exercise. I don’t think this is the best example of it, but it’s the only one I have.
Look carefully, you might see a young girl picking violets
under the hedgerow by the bus stop. You might know
Dad’s in hospital again, recurring chest infection.
You might be surprised I’m not concerned:bed rest,
antibiotics. You might be surprised: I’m picking violets
a posy for her mum, perhaps. You’ll probably hear that
recognisable grind of diesel You might hear the bump
of something solid bouncing on the flatbed. Look,
a Land Rover, pulling up behind her, are you concerned?
You should be concerned. Oh Lord, it’s Mr Battersby,
the boss, oh lord he’s going to speak. Listen to the driver
ask how’s your dad. I’ve/she’s been taught to tug a forelock,
show respect. How’s your dad, he asks again. You’ll see
she’s flustered. Well…he’s still got pneumonia. As if
the boss doesn’t know it’s only been two days. He’s still…
You’ll see she’s flustered, as if…I’m trying to defend him
from something but she doesn’t understand what it is.