Day 7: and the beat goes on #40daysto40

I realise that over the last few days I’ve been emphasising mental health – this time in September is always a little tricksy. I thought I’d share some thoughts on music. As a (sort of) ex-musician (I’m classically vocally trained and can play a couple of instruments, but I haven’t really done anything with it!), music keeps me going. I need music in my life. It helps my mood, it helps me work at different paces (thoughtful lyrics, twinkly solo piano pieces arpeggiac heavy for concentration, high energy house music to make me type faster), it can make me dance (stand back, folks, I still flail!). I still have singles, mix tapes, and albums on CD and cassettes (although no machine to play the latter on).

If I’m feeling like crap and need a boost then I stick this playlist on random:

It’s a mix tape from me to you – feel free to skip tracks as I add to this from time to time. I make no apologies for the addition of seriously cheesy pop. (I never said that I was cool!)

I wonder how we’ll be listening to music over the next forty years. . .

Day 5: wandering and wondering #40daysto40

Oxford, 2006: Feeling unworthy. Tired all the time. More down than up. Overdrawn, heading deeper into the red. Overweight and gaining no matter how far I cycled. Trying to do all the things, then not being able to get out of bed nor open overdue bills. Although I didn’t have a name for it at the time: I was depressed, completely burned out. My doctor at the time, rather than throw antidepressants at me, prescribed: getting out ‘into nature’ and going for lots of walks (plus, consider changing job). Then he gave me a copy of The Guardian newspaper. . . Walking: along the Isis to Iffley lock avoiding vicious looking geese, squidging through Port Meadow, walking near ‘The Kidneys’, cycling to the various college parks – sneaking in and picnicking next to heavily scented and bee busy flowerbeds. Swimming in the canal near Donny Bridge, in the river during full moon. Boating adventures with ‘borrowed’ canoes near Magdalen college.

Todmorden, 2018: Still overweight, still slightly skint, but so much happier.

Sunday walk: through Buckley wood and around The Ridge, headed – almost vertically! – up towards Woodfield top, following country roads with whimsical sounding names: Doghouse Lane, Parkin Lane, Sourhall Lane.

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Descending to Gorpley Clough and following the slightly busy Bacup Road. Then, following the brook as if backwards and against the course.

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Through Gorpley Woods (deemed ancient woodlands).

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Up to Gorpley reservoir and the vista. Windblown and walking along the shallow wall of the reservoir – admiring the meld of late Victorian engineering, the human-shaped landscapes, the geological formation of the hills.

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Gathering leftover pieces of fleece to felt, the sheep gently munching and slightly inquisitive.

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Then home again via a pint and some chips! It reminded me that when I can – time and back willing – walking helps clear my head. Shared walking is even better.

Walking has helped me. Getting out into the woods and beyond does offer what author and naturalist Richard Mabey calls the ‘nature cure’. I think emerging oneself in wildlife is helpful but, for me, it’s not quite a panacea. (Sometimes I can’t walk as my lower back won’t let me. Sporadic sciatica, not bad enough for prescription drugs and never for ignoring without the addition of over-the-counter painkillers and some light stretching.)

Hopefully the next forty years, back and health willing, there will be more walks, more green, more lanes to tread, hills to climb and wildlife to meet.

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

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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

On anxiety, “procraftination”, and academia

Content warning: some of this blog post discusses anxiety, depression, still birth.

This is possibly the most personal – but hopefully helpful – post that I have done (and think I will do) on this site.  Over the last few years, I have changed and the Wild Writes project will change too. Here we go.   Continue reading