“take a look around / and look up way to the sky”


Once again it’s been a little while, and now it is more or less autumn.

It’s been nearly four months post-PhD viva. I’m ploughing on with the corrections, still, although I’m feeling quite tired. After the viva, I was absolutely exhausted and feeling somewhat intellectually battered. I don’t think that I realised just how tired and emotionally drained I was. The end of May and most of June felt like I was trying to swim through hot treacle while wearing steel-toe-capped boots. Then there was some existential dread sprinkled on top of that: “what now?”, “who the heck am I?”, “oh pants have I deskilled myself?!”.  And the crushing self-doubt, oh my word the self-doubt has been truly horrible.

Alongside this, were several rejections from academic job applications. It takes a long time to fill these forms in, including the inevitable timing out of online forms, the cutting and pasting of information from Word Doc to tiny, digital square. The trying to big oneself up when one isn’t feeling particularly brilliant. The first few job applications took me at least a working day to complete – updating and tailoring an academic CV, the tailoring of the job statement, matching the skills/experience to hit the job specification/s, checking in with referees (no, not this type), tweaking the cover letter, checking for (inevitable) typos. And then nothing. Nothing or a flurry of “no”s. And, to be honest, it’s been pretty deflating. I love teaching – I’m a good teacher, I get excellent feedback, it’s one of the few skills that I am confident about – and I’m a pretty good researcher too. The precarious, and competitive routes, into academia are properly draining. People have discussed this — precarity, early career research, post-doc opportunities or lack thereof etc. — more eloquently: here and here and here and here.

Anyway, the need to financially contribute to the household has, as expected, now outweighed the amount of free-ish time that I’m willing to spend on applying into the void for an academic role, or arts and grants funding (not ruling this out, though, for future collaborative projects). Further, my own creative and critical writing is being neglected during Project Post-Doc, and if I’m not making time for that — my main area of research and art making — then what’s the point?! At least, recently, I have managed to squeeze a short story out and send it into the wild (more on this if anything comes of it).

Long story short:  I needed a job. I applied for and was fortunate enough to have been offered a temporary, part-time job at a local library. I am excited about this as, for me, I believe that it will be fulfilling, allowing me to work within a community setting and work with a small team of specialists while surrounded by books. What’s not to love?! I’m hoping too that this will give me a little stability and allow me to organise my time more effectively. The downside with the writing/editing corrections (apart from the weird, gnawing fatigue I still have) is that my time has felt a bit ‘baggy’ and I have lacked the routine that I managed to build up last summer (and in 2016 — the best time for writing and possibly the bit where I felt happiest in my PhD, before domestic things went a little pear-shaped).

Short pause: No idea if these words are interesting, or whether any of this is helpful for anyone’s eyes but if one person is enjoying this random set of thoughts then job’s a good ‘un. And thanks for reading thus far.

In other news: this week I’ve got another doctor’s appointment to check on the thing I’ve been fobbed off by various members of the medical profession since 2011 (another blog post, another rant, another time). I’m also running a creative writing session on Thursday which will be ace. AND, at some point, make some sort of plans or party thing to celebrate/commiserate the looming close of my 30s. As for a 2018 Goals update, for what it’s worth:

Goals 1 & 2 (finish PhD, get job) – well, bar corrections Goal 1 more or less done. Goal 2 is somewhat tangentially related to Goal 1. Project Post-Doc moves slowly.

Goal 3 (make stuff) – I’ve really enjoyed the crafty hobbies I’ve cultivated this year. I’m currently working on a review make for Minerva Crafts, Mercy Schwisow’s design the Beatrix Potter scarf/stole (once finished, this will be gifted). Since February, I’ve made two Grainline Studio Scout tees (one of which I wore to my viva) and a Sew Over It Lizzie skirt (it has pockets!). I’ve knitted five pairs of socks and have one currently on the go; socks are ideal portable projects for commuting. I’ve nearly finished knitting a Tin Can Knits child’s Flax sweater for my friends’ newborn. Before the end of the year, I want to have completed the Jennifer Steinglass designed Fern & Feather sweater and another Mina Phillips Dragon’s Teeth hat (it’s for me so definitely with the pompom).

Goal 4 (nurture friendships) – still ongoing. Sorry friends.

Goal 5 (make music) – don’t think this is going to happen this year, particularly if it becomes a “Big Deal”. I get terrible stage fright (performance anxiety?!) so don’t want to push this. Maybe next year. . .

Goal 6 (try not to be depressed) – ah, ha, haha, hahahahahahahahahahahaaaaarrrgh.

No idea when I’m next going to update here – I did have a plan to post on the run up to my fortieth birthday but it depends on how the corrections are going. There will, however, be a proper professional, academic, and workshops website coming with the relaunch of jenbee.me.uk either towards the end of this year or the beginning of next year. As previously mentioned, this space, this tiny corner of the internet, will move towards incorporating more crafting, cooking, stories, sporadic life stuff. Just in case I don’t update here for a while, have a lovely autumn, thanks for reading, and be kind.

Music inspiration:

Blind Melon, ‘Change’, Blind Melon

Impostor Syndrome and the “Imposter Syndrone”

Imposter Syndrome waspy "syndrone" as heavy-handed metaphor.

“Imposter Syndrome”, a waspy drone.

You may have had one of those days – or possibly weeks, months, or years – where you’re faced with the dreaded Inner Critic. Mine is a wasp – the “Imposter Syndrone” who drones on and on internally, constantly poking your brain with the “you’re not good/clever/attractive/bright enough; you will never succeed” stick. Or worse, bashing your conscience with the “there are more important things in this world than your paltry project” cricket bat.  Based on the feeling that someone is about to tap you on your shoulder and tell you that you don’t deserve to be where you are – this is common in PhD study (indeed, in anything really not just study; it’s just a relief to know that this is not an unusual thing as I’ve had to deal with this feeling for flipping years pre-PhD).

July has been a month where I’ve been dealing with “Imposter Syndrone” trying to piss its poison into the wildflowers I’m attempting to grow. A few of the seedlings have been failing this month as I’ve chosen to believe “Imposter Syndrone” – after all, it’s obvious that It is more accomplished than me with Its waspish waist, Its successful life of glittering prizes, Its quick witted way of zapping out put downs. Sometimes it’s worth downing tools – albeit briefly – and leave “Imposter Syndrone” chunnering on while popping out for a quick walk, or reading a book in a different room, or chatting to friends, peers and/or colleagues. Then try to begin enjoying the feeling that things are achievable – yeah, they may not change the shape of the universe, however, they are baby steps to being able to function as a human.

So because I cannot kill the wasp (when stinging, or squashed, wasps release a pheromone to invite its hymenoptera comrades to avenge their death) I drew this to cope with It.

“But you can’t draw!”
“Oh, I know that, Imposter Syndrone, but I’m pinning your ass down in pen and I don’t need to be able to draw to do that.”

Took a walk and a deep breath of the July air – albeit autumnal this is always a useful way to clear out those poisonous thoughts. Coming home, I reread this beautiful way of silencing that censor by author Rosie Garland who calls her whinging inner critic “Mavis”, which you can read here: Dealing with the internal critic Or A 12-Step Programme for Coping with Mavis.

I think Mavis and Imposter Syndrone need to get together sometime, possibly with the promise of strong tea and Nice biscuits, and are left emptily gossiping by the drying washing at the back of a 1950’s Manchester terrace with no one around to pay either of them any heed.