An excerpt

April 19, 2012

As I sit here at my desk, in my study, the desk lamp throws my shadow squarely across the page. This shadow is made up of all the elements of me that I know I am supposed to edit out of this thesis.

The shadow of the PhD student who writes is a twenty-nine year old, white, British woman with one ovary. She has recently been going through a bout of insomnia, is struggling to pay the bills, and is experiencing all of the standard anxieties of a final year doctoral student with a few others thrown in for good measure.

When I sit down at this desk to write my thesis, she is my shadow. But at other times, when I email friends, when I feel guilty about not visiting my ninety-three year old grandmother more often, or when I accidentally spend most of Sunday reading novels in the bath, I am not the shadow cast by a PhD candidate sitting before a laptop and a desk-lamp.

In this chapter, I am letting the shadow write too. I am speaking in both of my voices, because I realise as I read back through the other chapters in this thesis, that the shadow’s voice was never quite silenced anyway. It was she who spent hours reading the blogs of infertile women because it was she who had her ovary removed in Lewisham hospital in 2005. It was she who first read A Room of One’s Own, before the PhD student picked up a copy, and it was she who first thought of the avatar as her own online self-portraiture, an idea that the PhD student took up and ran with.

Woolf may have written about the autobiographical ‘I’ as overshadowing the feminine, but here, in this thesis where as Leigh Gilmore would say, it is ‘not licensed’, it is the autobiographical ‘I’ that is liberating me from the shadows, allowing me to walk back into this thesis that I write.


Mirror of the mind

April 17, 2012

‘But as computers become common-place objects in daily life – in leisure and learning as well as in work – everyone will have the opportunity to interact with them in ways where the machine can act as a projection of part of the self, a mirror of the mind.’

This was Sherry Turkle in 1984. If this screen is a mirror of my current state of mind, and the reflection is to be represented in text:

hgghrhagiogi[mamf hrrhup qp939

Despite rereading my argument that we’re not disembodied in virtual life, I have to admit I feel weirdly disembodied in real life today. Or wrongly embodied. As though somebody switched with me in the night and my hands and legs don’t feel quite right. That sounds very dramatic. I’m just tired – but probably no more so than most new parents (and I have the promise of uninterrupted sleep in a few days – win!). I am making a fuss here because it makes me feel better. It is the mirror of my mind, after all, and if the great Shezza Turkle says it, it must be true 🙂

The British Library has quietened down a little. It always thins out after 5pm.  Just the hardcore crew left now. The desperate. Or maybe they just brought packed lunches so they weren’t a) forced to pay £6.95 for a sandwich, or b) driven home by starvation. There’s a few of them though with that ‘deadline look’ – the one i see in my face when I look in the mirror. The real mirror that is – not the mirror of my mind.

Having said that, both reflections are equally horrifying just now.





April 16, 2012

10 days ’till hand in

8 days ’till binders.

Last night I couldn’t sleep. I started counting sheep. Little fluffy lambs jumping over a gate. I got to 640 which is, I think, the highest I’ve ever counted in one sitting. Achievements a-plenty here in Wonderland, I tell you. After 640 the sheep stopped jumping over a gate and began to mill about in that way sheep do until I couldn’t tell which ones I’d counted and which ones I hadn’t. I guess that’s why sheep have splodges of paint on them. Anyroad, there were a shit load of sheep in my head before I finally fell asleep.

It’s no wonder I can’t sleep. On the one hand I feel tired to my bones. Like that feeling you get when you’re sickening for something and your legs ache like bastards from walking up a flight of stairs. On the other hand I feel constantly like I’ve had about 15 cups of coffee.

I am currently wading through my proofreaders’ corrections and comments. Obviously it’s reassuring that they have picked up on them before the examiners scrutinise it all but when I re-read some of my 3am typos and sentences all mangled like a game of twister I wonder how I was ever allowed to enrol on a PhD in the first place.

An additional hindrance is that Audrey has taken to howling loudly (yes, howling, not meowing) unless I let her sit on a) my proofread chapters b) my laptop or c) my shoulders. However awkward it is to write with a cat on your shoulders, it’s less detrimental than the first two options.

12 Days to Go!

April 15, 2012

Hello again, Internet.

It’s been a while. But I have a really good excuse. I have never worked so bloody hard in my life. I am exhausted. In twelve days time I will hand in my PhD thesis (ADHD, Microsoft Word, and other complicating factors permitting).

Although it is twelve days till submission, it is only ten days till thesis needs to be at the binders, all polished, formatted, referenced, bibliographied, and pdf’d. I am at work for four of those days.

10 minus 4 = PANIC!

PANIC = immediate urge to write blog post.

This equation can be simplified as 6 days = blog.

Which makes no mathematical sense but nevertheless, I intend to chronicle these last few days so that one day I can read them back and remember the pain and the panic, the abandonment of every other thought and activity (save those required to maintain the most basic standard of hygiene), and the curious floaty feeling that comes from awakening from a four hour sleep unable to determine whether Microsoft Word’s snotty little notifications were dream or reality.

An observation: panic/adrenaline–call it what you will–really focuses the brain. Apart from a relapse of my obsession with growing strawberries and other forms of vegetation unsuitable for attic windowsills, procrastination has been markedly less over the past couple of weeks. There’s prob an explanation along the lines of adrenaline substituting the missing dopamine or some such but if it works then i’m not questioning it. I do have some regrets when I think that if I could have worked at even half this intensity for even half of my PhD registration period then the panic I am experiencing now would be proportionally less. On the other hand, I wouldn’t have approx 250,000 words of facebook status updates, tweets, and blog posts to show for it so, y’know, it’s a net win….

So there we have it. 12 days to go.

Number of words over word limit: 400 (down from 6000 four days ago)

Number of pages: 320

Number of footnotes: 483

Number of spelling and grammatical errors: Too many for Word to continue displaying them, according to one of its snarky messages.

Number of times I’ve left the flat this weekend: 0

Number of pregnancy dreams where the foetus I have incubated for 3.5 years finally makes an appearance and turns out to be a stuffed animal/old trainer/dead strawberry plant/other kind of damp squib: 8