Saturday, 19 May 2018

19th May

... Somewhere in the world, there is a wedding dress, waiting to be worn.

(And I don't just mean the 'royal wedding' wedding dress. I could also mean lots of other dresses; but in particular one very nice dress which has just been made and which has just been tried on - yesterday, actually - and which in a few weeks' time will be worn, and danced in, and possibly a bit destroyed, depending on how much red wine is drunk, and spilled.  Somewhere in the world there is a wedding dress, and in a few weeks' time, someone gets to wear it...)

(A note on commitment: committing to a man - no problem. Committing to a DRESS, however: oh my God. There are SO MANY NICE ONES, and you are only supposed to pick the one (OK; maximum two...). How are you supposed to know which beautiful thing out of all the beautiful things you should definitely go for?...)

(And then you try it on, and as beautiful as it is, toucan't help but notice that there is one hanging just off to the side, behind you, which wasn't there last year, and which looks soul-crushingly lovely, but it would probably be weird if you now said 'Ooh, can I try it on?')

Committing to a PhD, when you don't really want to do your PhD, and want to play instead: annoyingly difficult.

Committing to a job: awful. How are you supposed to know if you are going for the right job, as you seek that permanent position and close off the other options?...

Somewhere in the world, a wedding dress waiting for the finishing touches. Somewhere else in the world (not too far from here), a job application (for a summer job this summer) waiting to be started. Deadline tomorrow.

Wish me LUCK!...

CN xx

Monday, 14 May 2018

Creativity Again: Insights from Days Gone By

This is one of those 'When I was Young' posts...

When I was a child, I was effortlessly creative. I would come home from school, sit down, and, if I felt like it, would make things. Or I would find a time at the weekend when no one needed my presence (not dinner time, not family TV time) and I would simply sit down on the floor, pull out all the materials I needed, and get creative. I used to make whatever toys I wanted (not that I lacked toys!). If I fancied a dolls' house with Victorian dolls in it, I would MAKE IT, using a shoebox for the room, some gift wrap with a fine pattern on it as wallpaper, and the dolls would be made out of white clay, and I would paint their faces a blush pink, and hand-stitch their clothes and make their hair out of wisps of thread. If I wanted, say, an enchanted forest full of unicorns and baby centaurs and weird creatures, I would MAKE IT out of Fimo (top tip: PVC glue mixed with a bit of pale blue paint produces a really nice 'clear-water-in-a-lake' effect when it dries). I ran across some of those toys in an old box during a house move and was amazed. I showed them to my partner. We found ourselves wondering whether archaeologists have in fact been wrong about a lot of things. You know when they show you tiny clay figurines of animals or people in museums, with captions like 'Animal Figurine, BC [whatever faraway date]', or 'Primitive goddess figure, BC [loooong ago]'? What if those weren't actually made by adults, but by children?... Has anyone considered the fact that these may just have been simple toys that enterprising kids had made, so they had something to play with?

I run across those 'Victorian' dolls recently (the 'family' is still there, including a lady in a pink dress and even a frickin' matching PARASOL that I actually MADE out of a lollipop stick and some fabric and  some ribbon bits and beads)  and I marvel at the determination of a young child to sit there and make these things, just because she decided that she would like them to exist and she would simply like to play with them. Mostly, I think about her unflappable concentration, and wonder how I might go back in time and bottle some of it, and transport it back again to today. I sure could use it.

I mean, at the time, I was a conscientious student with plenty of pressure to do well in school, and I had homework to do and stuff, but... whenever I decided I wanted to make stuff, I just made stuff. When I needed to write a story, I wrote it. When I was reading a good book, I stayed with that book until the end, and more often than not I found time to reread it, again and again. 

Stark contrast between that and, say, my PhD days, when I used to wonder how to capture that feeling of reeeeeally just wanting to work on your PhD, and how to feel the excitement of creating something that you wanted to simply bring into existence, and how to awaken the joy of rereading something you just wrote and thinking how much you love it and how you JUST want to read it one more time before you put it away... 

Today?... I just spent from about 9:12 til about 12.25 (now) procrastinating on the creative project for which I had saved this whole beautiful morning. (In my defence: this is the morning when the washing machine chose to break, mid-wash, and I obvs felt compelled to sort that out, although what I was doing putting the washing machine on in the first place, just before I was due to start my Creative Time, is beyond me.)  So far, I have sorted out the washing machine mess, used that as an excuse to mop all the floors, and generally, I have been trying to get around to the creative project, with no success. Unless you count procrastination as the essential part of creativity which it would increasingly appear to be, in which case - I am doing great this morning

I wonder if this is just generally the curse of being an adult - bills need paying, rooms need tidying (and no one will get around to it if not YOU), shit needs doing, grown-up jobs need finishing, and there is just generally less time to feel like your mind is empty and you can fill it with thoughts and visions of your choice. At the same time, I do seem to bring a lot of this on myself (I sit down to work, I decide I need coffee; I get up. On the way to coffee, I discover several other things to tidy or play with. I come back. I still haven't made coffee. I get out my work materials. I decide I need my glasses. On the way to get the glasses, I forget I was ever looking for them, and I find myself some other procrastinatey job to do.) (As I write this, my brain is thinking: office. You need an office. You need a studio space to escape to. You cannot do creativity at home. You like your home a lot, but it is not a creative space. It is a space of housewifery and drudgery and flower arranging and endlessly putting things away,  and cooking, and all the joyful and seductive but unpaid labour that the likes of Simone de Beauvoir warned you about. It actually saps your creativity and only lets you exercise it if you engage in its own forms of acceptable play. You need to take your creativity elsewhere.)

Maybe that's what I need. A playroom of my very own, where I can sit on the floor, and where no grown-up things like housework can possibly be conceived of, and nothing can distract me.

Monday, 30 April 2018


Creativity is a scary horse. Twitter is full of those comments like 'I want nothing better than to be a [writer/ artist/ insert creative calling HERE] but I'd literally rather do ANYTHING OTHER than [sit down and write/ actually make some art/ insert any favourite creative activity HERE].'

Recently, I was asked if I fancied doing a creative 'commission'. (I am a fully-fledged creative these days, with, alas, still a bit of Grotty Jobbing and some academic teaching thrown in to keep me afloat. I am also trying a new thing called 'living within my means'. It's HARD. Like, you can't just hop on the train and visit Paris whenever you feel like it.)

But anyway, back to my 'commission' (which is a commission in inverted commas, because I am not actually being paid for it; I'm doing it as a favour for a friend. I'm not really supposed to be doing work for free much anymore; I'm doing this new thing where I 'value myself' much more than that. But I agreed to do it because a) I want the work to exist, and I want to be the person who created it, and b) you probably guessed it - if I don't take the job, then I'll only spend that time cleaning under the oven or staring at my phone. At least if I take the job and do the work, even for free, at the end of it there will be a CREATION).

So I was offered the job about a month ago. Since then, each and every week and weekend has been filled with hope: maybe today I'll start on it. Maybe. Each and every weekend passed with the hope becoming a little bit more crushed: damn, I didn't make it this weekend. Maybe... soon?... Something else always takes precedence. It doesn't help if one of your day jobs is a teaching job. That shit ALWAYS takes more preparation than you think it will, and there's ALWAYS something more you could do to make it even better - always.

So basically, I procrastinated on it for a month. I finally told myself: right, this Sunday, I am doing it. I had a ton of planning to do for Monday (which I am still catching up on now) and I had to run to town to collect a thing of mine that had been on display and hadn't sold... I pushed all those things to the second half of the day and made a serious effort to make a start on the creative project. Result:

8-9 am (got up, breakfast, procrastination)
9-10 am (clean sink, do washing up)
10-11 (procrastination. Better put my washing on)
11-12 (shit. shit. Where are materials and tools for creativity? Wander round house ineffectually, looking for materials. Put some of them in one place. Keep forgetting what am doing. Open emails with project spec in them. Stare at project spec. Google things.)
12-1 (start making first draft of thing. It is shit. Make another seven shitty quick drafts. They are all shit. Panic and think, oh no, my 'gift' has deserted me. The creation has defeated me. have another go.)
1-2 (realise I have to run to town and get the thing, because if I don't go today they will charge me storage. Do a bit more half-arsed creating. Creation still resolutely shit. Gather things, get dressed, run to town.)
2-3 - town. (Look at all the people who do not have to create. They just consume happily. Half-compose an email in my head to explain why I won't be able to 'do the project justice', although only yesterday I told them that I've made a start and I'm on it, so it's a bit weird to say no now...)
3-4 I come home at some point. Rest. Come back to the making and the creating. Inexplicably, the draft I make now is GOOD. It definitely started off shit but is now good. I make a few more drafts. They are all, as far as I can tell, acceptable. One of them I am a little bit in love with.
4-5 I email the person a snapshot of my first attempts (half expecting person to say 'Yeah don't worry, we can still find someone else'.) Person comes back to me with words like 'MASTERPIECES' and 'the best I've seen' and 'love them' and 'how long do these take you to do?' (I wanna say: oh, one month procrastinating, and then just a couple of hours to get started and then a few minutes each, that's all.)
5-6 I'm on a roll, so I make a few more things. (I'll get tomorrow's prep done, somehow. Sometime...)

Wow. And I stare at the things I've created, really pleased, thinking: wow, I must be quite good at this, actually.

So here we have it. How to create a thing (this goes for writing a bit of your PhD, too) : procrastinate for a month, whilst thinking about thing with dread. Feel awful about procrastinating. Ignore requests for updates until the delay becomes ridiculous. Have a go. Produce rubbish thing. Have another go. Have a go again. Produce thing. Surpass own (and someone else's) expectations. Realise this was always how it was going to be. Realise that every part of this process was just right. I am doing everything just as it should be done.

I wish the process were more seamless and less procrastinatey, but there we go.

If this is creativity, then I guess I'll take it.




Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Cloud Nine Makes a Decision

Revolutionary idea: today* (5th March) I decided to be happy.

(Or should that be: I decided to decide to be happy.)

(A bit like when I was 17 and I sort of decided to 'decide' that I was 'pretty'.  Enough people had said this about me (like, 2 people) in situations which made me think that I could just believe that this was objectively true. I cannot describe how nice it feels when you make the decision that you are not going to be relentlessly negative about yourself and your looks anymore, and that you're just going to accept a compliment and make that compliment part of your story. But that's another story for another day.) Today's resolution: I decide that I am happy.

That morning, I was mentally composing a letter to an internet agony aunt (Dear so-and-so: I'm feeling low. I don't have a 'real job'. I'm nearly 35 and I don't have all the things....) - and was going over my arsenal of tricks to keep the freaking out at bay (Self-help book!... Affirmations!... Turn the negative into a positive!... Flip it round!... 'I'm so stressed about not having a job = I'm so excited not to have a boring job!'... Visualise success!... and so on). In the evening I went for a late swim, repeating nice things to myself in my head as I swam back and forth. I felt better. All of a sudden, the thought just popped into my head: I decide to be happy. I decide to be excited about everything.

(Day to day, I'm pretty happy. I wander around smiling to myself and find myself feeling pretty damn happy about things like a whiff of fresh air, a flower growing somewhere, a nice cup of tea. Sometimes I think about the things I'm trying to do - my 'portfolio career', as it's been described - and I get excited about the endless possibilities of everything.

Then other times (like the times when someone mentions mortgages, or when you accidentally agree to split a huge bill when you only had a starter, I feel sad and I think but how, how can I be happy when there is THIS...)

And then, this week, I just thought: is it like that thing where you literally DECIDE that you are happy, and it's true because you make it true?...

I'm doing a 30-day challenge, found in an old magazine, which is actually about developing business ideas and making stuff, but I might throw this one in: I decide to be happy. I am going to make a conscious effort to be happy more often - deliberately, consciously, unapologetically.

Will report back and let you know how it's going.


*those words were written 'today' when 'today' was 5th March. That's now technically 'yesterday', but I decided to keep the wording, because those are nice words to have in your head. Today I decide to be happy. 

Monday, 5 March 2018

Quote of the Day

'...There's always more work to be done, always something unfinished. But take a moment every now and again to look back at what you HAVE accomplished. What you see might be a pleasant surprise.'

(Thank you unknown commenter on an internet thread!... Love you!...)

CN xx

Saturday, 10 February 2018

"I call it a breakdown, my therapist called it a spiritual awakening': TED Talk on ''Vulnerability'

Not much new stuff to say, except that I happened to just now find and re-watch the Brene Brown talk on 'Vulnerability' online (thank you, lovely blogger who embedded the link in your blog for me to find - in your lovely blog where I have pleasurably been spending my time)

Love Brene Brown, especially when she makes her joke about the 'spiritual awakening'. Lol.

Things I took away from her talk (which I knew already, from previously visiting her talk and from the ton of self-help books I read in those dreary final months of PhD-writing just to talk myself back in from the ledge): daring to show your 'excruciating vulnerability' is good for you.

- People who have 'a sense of worthiness, a strong sense of love and belonging' are 'people who BELIEVE they are worthy of love and belonging'

- This takes 'courage'; Brene Brown defines 'courage' as being able to 'tell the story of who you are with your whole heart; tell the story of how you are imperfect'.

- 'Let go of who you think you should be in order to be who you are.' (In my case: 'should be' - better, more put-together, more successful, properly employed after PhD, earning better money. Instead, I 'am': precariously employed, not putting PhD to any use, earning not-so-great-money [which I immediately spend], no conventional trappings of success to speak of despite good education and every possible material advantage under the sun...)

- 'Embrace vulnerability... What makes me vulnerable makes me beautiful'. (does it?...)

- 'Let ourselves be seen' (I certainly have done, a little bit, on this blog, except that I hide from you all behind my anonymity, obviously. But I did lift a little corner of my soul on here.)

- And she says there are a few other things we must do if we want to be like the people in her research who turned out to have the strong sense of worthiness: and these include 'to love with our whole hearts even though there's no guarantee', 'to practice gratitude and joy', and 'to believe we are enough.'(FYI I have a reminder in my phone that goes off on a certain day and tells me 'You are enough.' But that's another story.)

So I'm listening to this whole talk again, and it's just as relevant as it was whenever it was that I heard it before, and I'm jotting down these snippets from it, and somewhere in my head I have had a voice that's going 'I'd like to write my blog again... really want to write blog again...' - so here you go. Today's post is old wisdom from the internet.

(So this is currently my story: I have a PhD. Since finishing my PhD I have not found a good job. I offer nothing, can give my partner or future children nothing, except my own sense of wonder, and fun, and kindness, and the handful of things I do well, and the joy I take in the everyday. I can cook them dinner and listen to them and I can make them laugh, and help them find their keys; that's about all. I've always thought - been convinced, even - that 'this is just temporary' and 'one day I will have a great career' and 'one day I will definitely earn a ton of money' and 'just give me a chance and I will show you that I can be the nice, compassionate, fun, loving person you know me to be AND I am also going to be very famous and earn a shit-ton of money which we will enjoy together. Any area of life in which I currently fall short WILL all get straightened out, for sure!'... What if this is all there is? What if embracing the 'that's all there is' is the only way to not hate it and not be forever dissatisfied with it?... If this is all there is, for the next year, five years, ten years, will you still want me and want to be with me?...)

I also like a TED talk by a lady called Tracy who talks about embracing who you currently are in terms of 'marrying yourself'.  For richer for poorer, for better for worse...

Those are some of my thoughts today.

Happy weekend everyone!...


Saturday, 13 January 2018

Happy New Year!...

Dear Readers of this blog,


If you are finishing/ starting/ otherwise dealing with a PhD, I hope the coming year will bring more happiness, more pleasure at your own competence, and an increased sense of 'yes I can do this'.

I'm now off to watch some football, and thereby continue with an otherwise lazy Saturday; but I plan to come back and show my face on this blog more often in this coming year. (Today, for one thing, I have been thinking about my 'usefulness' in the world, and this blog is one of a few places where I have felt useful. Keep those comments and questions coming!...)

Here's to lots of nicely written PhDs and/ or nicely published BOOKS in 2018!...


Cloud Nine