Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Reading Balzac, taking Prozac

A writer whose work I quite like once wrote something clever about … well, about writing, and creating, and about the pleasures of conception as opposed to the blinding, awful pain of the ‘giving birth’ part. He says that creating your work of art – making a statue, writing your book, or completing your PhD thesis* – requires the same kind of unflappable devotion that a mother gives to her baby; while the conception of it was great fun, afterwards you have to be prepared to go through the painful childbirth, not to mention the bit where you look after it, day after day, night after night, putting it to bed full of milk every evening and taking care of it every single day of your life for a very long time. If you don’t do that, the ‘baby’ (statue, book, PhD thesis) dies.
Read it; it’s great stuff. It made me think, however, that having an actual baby as opposed to a PhD thesis must have at least one big advantage – in that babies are adorable, and people usually want to take them off your hands now and again, for an hour or so. If you are very lucky, you might even have in-laws, who, if they are normal people, will probably be dying to be allowed to have it for a day or so. You might, if you play your cards right, even get them to take it and look after it for you for a weekend. A whole weekend, and someone else does the 'putting it to bed full of milk' for you!... At the very least, you might be able to get someone to hold on to it for an evening – your husband, or boyfriend, or best friend, or Mum – while you go have a shower and go sit in a dark room for a while, or go get your hair done, or whatever. Babies are adorable. People WANT to get them to cuddle for a while. People ask, 'may I please hold him?' If anything, you have to put them off, to stop them putting their grubby hands all over your baby for a while.**
Now, my PhD thesis is quite a different kettle of fish. Does anyone ever want to ‘hold’ it? No. Want to have a look? ... No. Anyone fancy a bit of a cuddle?... DIDN'T THINK SO. If I ever utter the words ‘Do you want to read it?’ – people’s eyes either glaze over, or else start darting around in a panicked way from side to side, scouting out the nearest exit. Forget about getting someone to actually help you rephrase a bit of it, or helping you edit a bit of it; only the most hardcore of friends and lovers (and supervisors) would even go near all that stuff. My PhD is like a really ugly, smelly baby, which throws up on you. I have to clean up its mess alone.
OK, I exaggerate a bit. But read the thing below: it’s good stuff. He goes on to distinguish between two types of ‘artists’: those who are great company and who can talk with great passion about their work (but don’t necessarily have the stamina and work ethic to actually get those things done), and then those who, instead of being all ‘interesting’ and fun to be with, sit down and get down to it, and actually get stuff done. I won’t tell you which one sounds more like me, but you can probably guess, especially if I tell you that, when I read this, I remained pensive for some time… (‘And the Marquise remained pensive’…)
I love it especially when he says that idleness is ‘the normal condition of all artists, since to them idleness is fully occupied.’
Read it. And then go work on your PhD again.

To muse, to dream, to conceive of fine works, is a delightful occupation. It is like smoking a magic cigar or leading the life of a courtesan who follows her own fancy. The work then floats in all the grace of infancy, in the mad joy of conception […].
The man who can sketch his purpose beforehand in words is regarded as a wonder, and every artist and writer possesses that faculty. But gestation, fruition, the laborious rearing of the offspring, putting it to bed every night full fed with milk, embracing it anew every morning with the inexhaustible affection of a mother's heart, licking it clean, dressing it a hundred times in the richest garb only to be instantly destroyed; then never to be cast down at the convulsions of this headlong life till the living masterpiece is perfected […]! This is the task of execution. The hand must be ready at every instant to come forward and obey the brain. But the brain has no more a creative power at command than love has a perennial spring.
The habit of creativeness, the indefatigable love of motherhood which makes a mother […]—the maternity of the brain, in short, which is so difficult to develop, is lost with prodigious ease. Inspiration is the opportunity of genius. She does not indeed dance on the razor's edge, she is in the air and flies away with the suspicious swiftness of a crow; she wears no scarf by which the poet can clutch her; her hair is a flame; she vanishes like the lovely rose and white flamingo, the sportsman's despair. And work, again, is a weariful struggle, alike dreaded and delighted in by these lofty and powerful natures who are often broken by it. A great poet of our day has said in speaking of this overwhelming labor, "I sit down to it in despair, but I leave it with regret." Be it known to all who are ignorant! If the artist does not throw himself into his work as Curtius sprang into the gulf […]; if he contemplates the difficulties before him instead of conquering them one by one, like the lovers in fairy tales, who to win their princesses overcome ever new enchantments, the work remains incomplete; it perishes in the studio where creativeness becomes impossible, and the artist looks on at the suicide of his own talent.
Perpetual work is the law of art, as it is the law of life, for art is idealized creation. Hence great artists and perfect poets wait neither for commission nor for purchasers. They are constantly creating—to-day, to-morrow, always. The result is the habit of work, the unfailing apprehension of the difficulties which keep them in close intercourse with the Muse and her productive forces. […]
While Lisbeth kept Wenceslas Steinbock in thraldom in his garret, he was on the thorny road trodden by all these great men, which leads to the Alpine heights of glory. Then happiness, in the person of Hortense, had reduced the poet to idleness—the normal condition of all artists, since to them idleness is fully occupied. Their joy is such as that of the pasha of a seraglio; they revel with ideas, they get drunk at the founts of intellect. Great artists, […] wrapped in reverie, are rightly spoken of as dreamers. They, like opium-eaters, all sink into poverty, whereas if they had been kept up to the mark by the stern demands of life, they might have been great men.
At the same time, these half-artists are delightful; men like them and cram them with praise; they even seem superior to the true artists, who are taxed with conceit, unsociableness, contempt of the laws of society. This is why: Great men are the slaves of their work. Their indifference to outer things, their devotion to their work, make simpletons regard them as egotists […]. These artists, who are too rarely matched to meet their fellows, fall into habits of solitary exclusiveness; they are inexplicable to the majority, which, as we know, consists mostly of fools—of the envious, the ignorant, and the superficial.

*I added the bit about the PhD thesis. I would definitely file 'writer of a PhD thesis' under 'Artist/ Bard'. 
** about the babies: I don't actually have one, mind, and only time will tell whether or not one day I'll actually eat my words, and realise that having a baby is The Hardest Thing Ever, and my idea that 'people WANT to hold it!' is actually wrong. Until then, please let me believe that I am currently doing The Hardest Thing Ever. I'll worry about the other hard things in life when this one's done.

Friday, 30 November 2012

Et tu, Brute...

It's pretty sad when you're trying to finish your PhD, kicking yourself for having to take a writing-up year, for not being finished, for having Failed in your own estimation, for having let your funding run out, for having to live off savings (and lovers...) All this is pretty sad. Well, it gets even sadder when you already have all this, and then your own family start using precisely these things to take the piss out of you.

My own family. My own flesh and blood.

Some of them get it, some of them don't. Some of them I can ring up and we can laugh, in a sort of sad-ironic way, about the stupid things I do every day (ie. PhDs, in general). You can make people smile with the stories of your inadequacies, which is always worth something. But there are others in my family who remain bemused as to why anyone would do a PhD, when a) it doesn't pay much ('but how are you going to get a mortgage?') and b) it doesn't automatically lead to a great career. Those are the ones who externalize all the worst things I think about myself. While I'll still have them over for Sunday roast, just recently I have been wondering if perhaps I should steer clear for a while.

It happened so innocently. Usually there's the odd bit of good-humoured teasing ('have you even STARTED writing this 'PhD'? - they will ask, and I will pull my 'stoopid' face and be like 'er, no! hahaha!'; or they will say 'another hard day at the office, eh? what time did you get out of bed?' - and I will play along with the whole 'lazy Humanities student' thing: 'oh haha! can't you tell? i'm still in my pyjamas!'). Going along with the teasing, I always thought I was doing my bit as a good-natured human being, a normal member of society, you know, not taking myself too seriously, aiming jokes at my own person for the benefit and joy of others, and so on. Anyway, no-one wants you to be too perfect. You don't bond easily with people whose lives are perfect and who love, LOVE their jobs. Clearly, though, I should have given the 'bonding' thing a miss and instead bored them all stupid every day with serious talk about all the Important Work that I Do and all the Stress that I am Under. Maybe then they would know. They would be impressed. They wouldn't be saying things like...

It happened so innocently, my PhD-addled brain didn't even really know if it was a mean comment or if it was a very funny joke. It was the Sibling who pulled at the wrong thread. I was at Sibling's home, enjoying a break from work, trying to gauge when would be a polite time to leave so I could get on with my work, but without appearing to rush and being rude, when Sibling (hand in hand with Life Partner) said this:

'Cee*, we're both thinking of doing a PhD. What do you think - could we get away with just signing up for one, then taking the funding for three years, and not actually doing anything, just not writing anything, but just taking the money, and then later telling them something like - 'Oh, I'm just not going to do it... I just don't believe in it anymore.' What do you think? ... Could we do that?... That sounds like a great idea, doesn't it?...'

Recently, a part of me was thinking: I don't have to do this, you know. I could quit this week and have a holiday in December and then get on with job-hunting in January (instead of my current schedule, which goes: chapter X and chapter Y to be finished in December; write chapter Z in January-February; introduction and conclusion in...) Part of me was thinking that I don't have to be here, doing this thankless task. I could be out there with the rest of them earning the hard cash and going out on a Friday night, like a normal person, six months earlier than expected. That wouldn't upset anyone. That would make everyone happy.

Up until now, I thought the teasing was all fun and humorous. I didn't realise that the worst things I think about myself are actually what the Sibling also thinks of me, and isn't afraid to say. Oh, dear. Dear, dear. Et tu, Brute...

Now I can't quit the bloody PhD, because then what the Sibling said about me would become THE TRUTH. Now I have another reason (horror of horrors, as if I need another one) - another reason to try and finish this thing, try and pin it down, make it be over, get the doctorate, go to the graduation, walk the walk in the ermine-trimmed gown. Up until now, certain that the PhD wasn't the cleverest thing I have ever done and that it probably won't lead to my career of choice, I have been entertaining half-arsed thoughts of quitting. Now I can't. I have to make Sibling spend the sodding one-pound-fifty, or whatever it is, on the 'congratulations' card. I have to make Sibling watch me saunter up that aisle. Sibling must be made to attend the congratulatory dinner. Sibling must contribute to the round of beers. Sibling must be punished.

My life has purpose again.

*Cee: this is not my real name. However, seeing as my fake name in here is 'Cloud Nine', and the Sibling is hardly likely to address me as 'Cloud', I figure that, maybe, he/she might feasibly address me as 'Cee'... You know, like of you're called Georgia, people might call you Gee, or if you're called Delia, people might call you Dee... You get the point. 

Monday, 19 November 2012

Sleeping with the Enemy

This is just to say that I haven't, yet.

I will no doubt be sleeping with the enemy (my PhD) soon. Not just yet, though. Not today. Today I am fobbing him off with just enough attention so that he doesn't get too suspicious. Just enough smiles, and fake love, and care.

(see previous posts if this one doesn't make sense.)

Friday, 16 November 2012


16:26. Where has the day gone?...

Sartre once said that he thought the worst time of the day is 3 o'clock. If you haven't got stuff done by this stage in the day, it's probably too late to start. (I kind of wish I had never read that; ever since then, I watch for the approach of 3 o'clock with horror and trepidation.)

This is my world: it's always 3pm, yet never the end of the day. Always winter, but never Christmas. Always Friday afternoon (libraries shutting early, normal, functional human beings going home) but never the Friday feeling.

I'm going to stop feeling sorry for myself now and go do some work.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Body and Soul

We were sitting in a nice restaurant enjoying a candle-lit vegetarian meal, when my companion (who, by the way, is a honestly employed person, with a busy job which makes him very tired and takes up all his time) said something Profound.

‘You know, when you have a job’, he told me (we had just been talking about my PhD, and I was getting a bit gloomy over my ever-delayed completion date. The completion date doesn’t seem to be inching any closer. If anything, it seems to be slipping further and further into the distance…), ‘when you have a job, the job wants your soul. The job wants you to drop everything else, drop your life, and just give all your time and all your life to it. And the PhD, too, wants your soul. And I get the feeling that you are not quite prepared to give it your soul.’

I had once heard a friend (who has successfully completed her PhD) describing the final painful months thus: ‘It felt like I was locked in a room with a guy, and I was going to have to sleep with him, but I really, really didn’t want to sleep with him. I was going to have to have sex with that guy, and I didn’t want to, but until I did, I wasn’t going to be leaving that room. And I DIDN’T WANT TO do it. But then … you end up doing it, and you survive, and you even end up falling a little bit in love with the guy.’

For all its connotations of hell and damnation, I’m going to stick with the ‘soul’ analogy; it’s nicer.

He’s right, I thought, sitting there over the candlelit dinner, pushing the vegetarian lasagne around my plate. The PhD wants my soul. I am not going to finish the fucker until I stop doing what I am doing now, which is writing when I feel like, trying to make my life as pleasant as possible, feeling gloomy when I want to, taking fifty trips a day to the coffee machine, and interrupting myself whenever I have finally got going, because I have agreed to go have coffee with someone, or because I have booked a weekend away to see my family; or because I want to pretend that I am a normal person and that I should be allowed to do things like spend my evenings sitting around strumming the guitar and having a nice time. No. The PhD wants my soul.


Wednesday, 7 November 2012

"Learned Optimism"

I have been reading a new book, called something like ‘Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life’ by a Martin E. Seligman. It was on the reading list on the back page of a handout from one of those motivational seminars run by Gurus at my university. After a particularly useful talk, my motivation temporarily boosted and PhD depression at bay, I turned to the Guru in question and asked him, if we were to buy just one book off the recommended reading list, which one would he recommend?... Without hesitation, he told me to read this one. I put a big circle around it on my list, and as I did so, I noticed the flurry around me as other graduate students, also keen for a longer-lasting motivational hit, whipped out their pencils and also circled it on their reading lists, to a general chorus of ‘Which one? Which one? That one?’ and ‘Thank you!’

About a year and a half later, I unearthed that handout and saw that faint pencil circle around that title. I typed it into Amazon and clicked ‘Buy’. It was delivered to my Kindle in seconds. Ah, the wonder of the Kindle. So, after a year and a half, I finally read the motivational book. (I do this more and more these days, read motivational literature. I can also recommend ‘Stop Worrying, Start Living’, which is by Dale Carnagie, and which you can access here: ).

It’s an interesting read, the Seligman book. I can see why the Guru recommended it to struggling PhD students. It tells you a few things about your ‘explanatory style’. Seligman argues that everyone has a particular way of explaining bad events, and while some of us explain them in ways which are only temporary and basically positive – ‘I had a bad day today, but that was just because of XYZ; it’s no big deal; I’ll have another go at this chapter tomorrow’, others explain bad events with arguments which are permanent, pervasive and personal: ‘I just had a terrible day. I’m no good at this PhD. I’m really rubbish at everything I do. Will I ever do anything right?... Waaaaaaah…’.

This, the book argues, is the key to why some people get depressed easily while others bounce back from misfortunes; the problem lies in how we explain bad events, and if you are in the habit of explaining your misfortunes in ways which make it sound like you are to blame and the damage will last forever, then you are more likely to be in trouble. The book goes on to say that the way to change this is to practise recognizing these negative explanations which come into your head, and then dispute them: is it really so? is it really that I am rubbish at everything? Is my life reeeally ruined?... (my answer might be: I am not ‘rubbish’ at the PhD; I just didn’t work hard enough today.) And if indeed the evidence is there that the situation is dire, you must ask yourself: what is the usefulness of what I am doing – ie, what is the use of ruminating over this bad thing and blaming myself? Am I doing myself any good? ... No. What action, then, am I going to take instead?... In short, the book tells you to stop pessimistic thoughts in their tracks and focus on changing the way you think about things.

If you have a tendency towards self-pity and gloom, then doing a PhD will definitely unleash those things in you. A PhD basically gives you the perfect excuse to tell yourself things like ‘I can’t do this’ and things like ‘I will never get it finished’ (because, indeed, if you view the whole thing without thinking about how it breaks down into manageable chunks, of course it’s true to say that you ‘can’t do it’; you can only do it gradually, bit by bit, one day at a time). To all of you out there who are thinking of starting a PhD: if you have any tendency at all towards gloom and depression, you must go root those things out immediately before you even start thinking about doing a successful PhD.

Just for fun, I took Seligman’s ‘depression test’, which gets you to reflect on events from the past week and tells you on this basis how depressed you are. I gave it a go, with maybe one question which I may have answered slightly wrong (because when it asked me ‘did you feel annoyed at small, insignificant things this week, which normally don’t upset you?’ I answered ‘yes’; and on reflection a more accurate answer would have been ‘no’, because small pointless things usually do upset me, all the time.) My score came to 33 - which, I thought with relief, doesn't sound very high. However, according to Seligman, anything over 24 means that you are probably ‘severely depressed’, and, he adds, if you are also experiencing ‘suicidal thoughts’, you are urged to book yourself an appointment with a mental health professional immediately.

I thought, d’oh, Cloud Nine. Severely depressed, like whatever. More likely, you can’t add up properly. I totted up the numbers again, which, as I was very distracted, took several goes. Well, the good news is, my maths is just fine.

So does that mean I should book myself that appointment, or no?... If I do, then maybe, in a small way, this PhD will have turned out to have been a good thing?... For the first time in my life, there is something big enough and depressing enough hanging over me that I am forced to look at myself and my ‘depression’ seriously.

This raises a more serious question. All this time, I was convinced the PhD is the problem. Maybe – horror of horrors – the problem is in fact ME?

"Every book is the wreck of a perfect idea"

quote of the day:

"Every book is the wreck of a perfect idea"

(Iris Murdoch)

[Love this quote. It's good to know that writers, not just PhD writers but also amazing novelists, think that their final product is so far from perfect.

A PhD really is a perfect graveyard of once-brilliant ideas. Don't you think?...]

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

i heart my phd

right, enough of this. i have decided that if i am ever to get out of this PhD alive, i should probably change my attitude to it.

at the moment, i get up early every day and then sit in front of the computer, telling myself that 'i can't do this' and 'this is too hard'. i make a half-hearted attempt at writing, which consists of typing out the odd half-sentence and then scrolling down people's Facebook pages for five hours. at odd moments during the day, i might have a bit of a cry.

'you know', someone said to me helpfully, 'the Guru* would say that if you tell yourself negative things like 'i can't do this' or 'i'm not good at this', it becomes a sort of self-fulfilling thing...' i nodded politely and smiled and wondered if maybe I should check my Facebook again soon.

but this someone had a point. i have told myself so many times that 'i can't do this', that to tell myself now 'YEAH I CAN!!' seems like an outright lie. it's so much easier, telling yourself that you 'can't'. it even borders on the dramatic, the vaguely interesting. but it's getting increasingly difficult to fool my brain into accepting a task which it has been told it hates, and isn't any good at. (i think the problem is that my brain has figured out that i am now an adult, and as such i don't have to agree to do something i don't want to do. so, whereas when i was an undergraduate i could fool my brain into stressing over an essay, and thereby get it done on time, nowadays i can just hear myself thinking: 'meh... what's [my Supervisor] going to do to me?...' and i know full well that no-one can do anything to me that matters, if i don't write my PhD.)

so i am going to try something which i have been meaning to try for a while, and which i have sort of tried, but only in a half-arsed, sarcastic sort of way: i am going to become one of those unflinchingly positive people who only say nice things about themselves and their PhDs. i am going to give up the delicious, self-destructive game of Hating my PhD. i am going to tell people that i love it. i am even going to write little notes to myself to tape on the mirror, telling myself that i love it. i love my job!... i LOVE writing!... from today, i am going to try to be sickeningly positive about my PhD.

maybe i should change the name of this blog to 'i heart my PhD'?...

*'the Guru': in this blog, i refer to several Gurus i have worked with; this particular one has taught me yoga, and also teaches the art of being positive about everything. have considered booking myself a private tutorial with him and sobbing on his shoulder. have not yet done this, partly because a part of me thinks that i should be able to do this without the Guru, and partly because the small issue of my funding coming to an end is stopping me from putting my hand in my pocket.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

I have a dream...

In addition to being an academic extraordinaire, I'm also into arts and crafts. A friend saw some of my creations in my room recently and suggested that I should try selling them online. She is even going to help me set up a website.

I have this half-baked fantasy that maybe I could just…phase out the PhD. One day in the semi-distant future, say in five years’ time, when friends come over for dinner to the home I will then be sharing with the Boy – a stylish home, filled with my leopard-print tea-cosies and my handmade porcelain figurines – and then, maybe in between the starter and the main course, one of them will look up from his or her wine glass and ask, wasn’t I doing some kind of a PhD at some point, and how did that go in the end?... And there will be silence around the dinner-table; the other guests will exchange strained glances and pretend they didn’t hear, much as polite guests will when, for example, someone at table has farted. And I will smile and offer everyone some more homemade elderflower champagne, and conversation will burst forth once more. The infortun√© will eventually slink off home in embarrassment (or else be removed forcibly by men in white coats) sometime just after dessert.

Maybe, if I give it the right spin in the blurb I write for myself on eBay, it could be like the last three years didn’t even happen. I could write something like this: ‘Cloud Nine is an artist and freelance photographer based in the UK. For the last three years she has been living in London; when she is not painting, she devotes her free time to working with homeless artists [am definitely going to start volunteering with the homeless soon] and lecturing at the University of London.’

Monday, 20 August 2012

Long walk to freedom

 Today my PhD is just making me cry. I don't want to pore over the book anymore. I don't want to type stuff up on my computer. I send a long, heartfelt text message to a friend, telling her that I want to quit my PhD.

Friend: 'If you can't work, go get some fresh air, go for a walk, or go buy a top.'

Me: '...but I can't go for a walk every time I hate my PhD. I would be walking forever. And I would constantly be buying tops'.

Am slightly cheered by the idea of how many tops I would get to own, if I did follow this advice.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Quote of the day

It is well to be up before daybreak, for such habits contribute to health, wealth, and wisdom.
- Aristotle

To quit (or not to quit)

Sometimes you have really good PhD days, and you marvel at your own wonderfulness. Sometimes (more often than not) you have bad days, where you can’t seem to do anything. Sometimes you wonder if you should be doing this at all.

Sometimes you want to quit the PhD. I wonder what would have been a good time. You might get the nagging feeling in your first year that this isn’t what you want to do, and that you should leave; you realize that you’re not enjoying writing the essays, and trawling through the books; but then, a voice in your head tells you that no, this is only the first year, and you haven’t really made a go of it yet; the writing of essays will surely get easier, the more you get into the swing of things. In your second year, you tell yourself: ah, I’ve made it this far. I should carry on, no?... By the time your third year comes round, you’re telling yourself: I really should have quit in my first year, because I am now more than two-thirds of the way through, and it would be ridiculous to quit now, after doing all that work. In the summer of your third year, as you’re sitting there trying to write it all up and it’s still hopelessly nowhere near being finished, you’re thinking: I really should have just quit back when I was two-thirds-and-a-bit of the way through

I have a vivid memory of the first time someone told me I should definitely do a PhD. I was working on my Masters when, one day, a current PhD student came up to me as I was sitting in the study room. I was just minding my own business, using the internet, when she came up to me and sat herself down on the edge of my desk. I knew her, vaguely. She was a nice girl.

‘Hello!’ she said. ‘I’m supposed to talk to you about doing a PhD, you know, I’m meant to be drumming up a bit of future business for the faculty. So I thought I’d tell you about doing a PhD!’
I listened with polite interest as she outlined my future career options. I hadn't really given my future a  lot of thought - apart from thinking things like 'I'm definitely not doing a PhD, because it sounds difficult and pointless.' 

‘Basically’, she told me, ‘you might as well just do a PhD. Because it’s just like having a job, really. You get paid to do it, and if you decide you don’t like it, you can just quit – and it’s OK.’

It’s just like a job; you get paid to do it, and if you decide you don’t like it, you can just quit. Whose side was she on, anyway? Who was this girl working for, exactly? I’ve remembered those words and they still make me grind my teeth and wave an imaginary fist at her imaginary face. That was a lie. Doing a PhD is nothing like having a job. You get paid, yes (well, if you’re lucky like I was, you do). But no, you can’t just quit. It’s not the same as having a job. Because if you quit a PhD, you have failed to finish it; you have basically failed at something. That is most emphatically not the same as quitting your job, and finding a new one. It’s nothing like the same thing.

And it's also not like a job because it follows you home every night for three years. You never have the Friday feeling. It's like Narnia: it's always winter, yet never Christmas. Always Friday 3p.m., yet never the Friday feeling...

I occasionally come across the girl’s updates on Facebook. I want to write to her and tell her what she has done. I want to send her hate mail. I want to tell her that it’s all her fault. ....

I know what the problem is. I’m a last-minute person.

Recently, a lovely friend of mine came into my room, flopped on my bed in despair, and told me about everything that she thinks is wrong with her life. Eager to ‘give something back’ to the community after having wasted hours of my friends’ time in complaining about how hard MY life is, I was all ears. It was the last project she had done at work which had got her so down. She told me how, two weeks previously, she had been given a task to do. An important email to send, some results to tidy up and include along with it. And she sat there staring at it all for the full two weeks and couldn’t do it. She didn’t know how to ‘bite’ into it (to use my Mum’s expression). She just couldn’t figure out how to sink her teeth into this task. How to set about converting the data into the text of the important email, how to make sure that it was what the boss wanted, how to ensure she didn’t miss anything out, how to make it comprehensible, readable, how to ensure that the clients would understand it… So she sat there for two weeks, and stared at it and fretted and tried to get it done, and couldn’t.

‘Then, last night, around ten p.m., the day before the deadline’, she told me,  ‘I was just sitting there really tired, and suddenly I realized how I needed to do this. I just realized how it needed to be. And I did it. I had to stay up for hours on end to do it all, and I did it, and I delivered it to my boss today and it was fine, but… why couldn’t I just do it two weeks ago, get it out of the way, and not have a horrible time stressing about it at the last minute?... But the thing was, I really couldn’t see how to do it until last night. I tried and tried – and nothing. I really hate myself sometimes.’

I listened to her and it was weird: it was just like listening to myself. She had just described a two-week stint of PhD. I kept having to stop myself from interrupting her at every word, with a ‘Yes! Yes I know! Me, same thing! Same exact thing! I can’t do it either! I hate myself too!’ – and giving five recent examples for every thing she said. (it was hard to restrain myself, but I tried not to interrupt her the whole way through. I do want to have some friends left by the time I finish my PhD, so when they tell me their troubles, I try and not be all like ‘Oh, yes, yes, I know the one. Why, the same thing happened to me the other day with my PhD…’)

(I do listen to you guys, I promise. I really do.)

I know what the problem is: I’m a last-minute person. I do get up at eight and sit down and try and work. I rush off to the library and take out books and frantically pore over them. I stay in there til late. I never seem to not be working. However, it’s not until the Last Minute that the brain fog lifts and I think, Yes! That’s what I should have done! And I know exactly what to do. Of course, by then it’s the day before the thing has to be handed it. (actually, it’s the day you were going to hand it in, to give your poor tutor two whole days to read it. Of course that now doesn’t happen, and your long-suffering tutor is lucky if she gets it 24 hours in advance.)

I don’t remember a time when I didn’t do everything at the last minute. A-level coursework was just one long all-nighter. ‘Your problem is, you just think about it too much’, said a friend as we sat one day in the library, and I watched her speed through her French grammar exercises with a velocity and concentration which astonished me. She didn’t pause to ponder. If it was wrong, it was wrong. She got it out of the way, and following her example, so did I. It never happened again. My undergraduate degree saw me stay up later and later every time there was an assignment due. I would finish one at nine pm… the next time there was one due, it would be 10:30 pm… until one day I had to be woken up for a tutorial by a friend over the phone, because I had stayed up until about 6 am getting the work done, and had completely overslept.

I really hate the way I do this, but there it is. If I have two weeks to write a bit of a chapter for my PhD, I will work the entire two weeks, but I will essentially waste the first twelve days or so. I will stress and get up early and blunder around in libraries amidst piles and piles of books, but it’s not until I hear the heavy tread of the approaching deadline that my mind slides into focus and I know: I should have spent the two weeks rereading this, or sifting through my notes on THAT. I wonder how I didn’t see that. And then I just have to stay up at night and do the best I can in the time I’ve got, which never is actually ‘good’. You don’t get ‘good’ when you’re tired and you’ve just got the time and energy to tart up whatever rubbish you’ve already got.

Trouble is, last minute doesn’t work on the PhD, I don't think. At university, I just had to get assignment done. You researched it; you wrote it up, for better or for worse; you had it marked; you got told what was wrong with it; you learned something and then you shoved it in a drawer. It was finished. You started on the next one. No-one was telling me: OK, now you know what’s wrong with it, take it away and rewrite it all, with these corrections. And also do some research on this. And now that you have put in these corrections, you need to rethink this bit, which now doesn’t go. This is what the PhD is like. On and on it goes, in an endless cycle of rewriting those terrible, poorly-written last-minute essays. Those last-minute essays which were not meant to be seen by anyone, which were meant to be read through once, in utter shame, and then spend the rest of their days hidden in a drawer. Those poor things.

Sometimes I wonder why on earth I stayed in academia for this long. A graduate-school Guru once recommended us taking the Myers Briggs personality test. He said that to know your personality type can help you understand why you work the way you do, which in turn helps you try and play it to your best advantage. I did it, and the results were kind of astounding. The Boy, who is normally dubious about such things (same as he doesn’t believe in ghosts and stuff; he has patiently spent time in the past converting me to the view that psychics are not real, and horoscopes are bollocks) – even the Boy was amazed. ‘That does sound scarily like a description of you’, he said.

The top careers recommended for me were Graphic Designer and Artist. The other careers recommended for me included Early Years Education. (part of me was actually a bit gutted when I read that. All those years spent applying for research grants, preparing lessons for undergraduate students, honing my skills in critical analysis, and stressing, and what do I find out? I am actually ideally suited to doing up small children’s shoelaces. I could have just packed the books up a long time ago, and gone to live a simpler, happier life. I feel like a scientist whose entire life’s work has been a total mistake.)

But the thing that really stuck with me from the results of the personality test was this: apparently, people of my personality type “don’t do very well in mainstream education”. So, I don’t do very well in school, it transpires. Schoolwork, and school in general, bores and scares me. This according to an online personality test. I kid you not. All of a sudden, all those late nights spent fretting over mock science exams have made tragic sense. I have always known this: I hate school. I needed a personality test to tell me this. And here I am now, and I’m doing a PhD.

Perhaps I have stayed too long at the fair?...


For your amusement, here are some of the things that the personality test said:


Your Type is

Famous people of your particular type
Princess Diana, Auguste Rodin, Elvis Presley, Frederic Chopin

More than the other Artisans, Composers are in tune with their senses, and so have a sure grasp of what belongs, and what doesn't belong, in all kinds of works of art. While the other Artisans are skilled with people, tools, and entertainment, Composers have an exceptional ability-seemingly inborn-to work with subtle differences in color, tone, texture, aroma, and flavor.
Although Composers often put long, lonely hours into their artistry, they are just as impulsive as the other Artisans. They do not wait to consider their moves; rather, they act in the here and now, with little or no planning or preparation. Composers are seized by the act of artistic composition, as if caught up in a whirlwind. The act is their master, not the reverse. Composers paint or sculpt, they dance or skate, they write melodies or make recipes-or whatever-simply because they must. They climb the mountain because it is there.
This ability to lose themselves in action accounts for the spectacular individual accomplishments of some Composers, and yet on their social side they show a kindness unmatched by all the other types. Composers are especially sensitive to the pain and suffering of others, and they sympathize freely with the sufferer. Some have a remarkable way with young children, almost as if there were a natural bond of sympathy and trust between them. A similar bond may be seen between some Composers and animals, even wild animals. Many Composers have an instinctive longing for the wilds, and nature seems to welcome them.

Composers are just as plentiful as the other Artisans, say nine or ten per cent of the population, but in general they are very difficult to observe and thus greatly misunderstood. Very likely the difficulty comes from their tendency not to express themselves verbally, but through their works of art. Composers are usually not interested in developing ability in public speaking, or even in the art of conversation; they prefer to feel the pulse of life by touch, in the muscles, in the eyes, in the ears, on the tongue. Make no mistake, Composers are just as interested as other types in sharing their view of the world, and if they find a medium of non-verbal communication-some art form-then they will express their character quite eloquently. If not, they simply remain unknown, their quietness leaving their character all but invisible.


ISFP Relationships

ISFPs are warmhearted, gentle people who take their commitments seriously, and seek lifelong relationships. They are very private people, who keep their true feelings and opinions reserved or hidden from others. This may cause them to constantly defer to their mates in their intimate relationships, which may cause problems if their mates are not extremely aware of the ISFP's feelings. Some ISFPs who are in the habit of not expressing their needs and feelings find themselves in situations throughout their life where they feel overshadowed, overlooked, or even "tread upon" by others. Highly practical and cynical by nature, these feelings may cause the ISFP to become bitter, and to either give up on their relationships, or to start using their relationships for their own personal gain. Although this problem is observed sometimes in the ISFP type, it does not seem to be present in those ISFPs who consistently express their feelings to those closest to them. These ISFPs have a very positive, warm outlook on life and love, and are not as likely to find themselves in relationships where they are taken for granted or taken advantage of. ISFPs go to great lengths to please their partners. They're very loyal and supportive, with a deep capacity for love. They detest conflict and discord, and highly value being seen and understood for who they are. They need space to live their lives in their own unique way, and will respect other's need for space.

ISFP Strengths

      Warm, friendly and affirming by nature
      Usually optimistic
      Good listeners
      Good at dealing with practical day-to-day concerns
      Flexible and laid-back, usually willing to defer to their mates
      Their love of aesthetic beauty and appreciation for function makes them likely to have attractive, functional homes
      Take their commitments seriously, and seek lifelong relationships
      Likely to value and respect other's personal space
      Likely to enjoy showing their affection through acts and deeds
      Sensuous and earthy

ISFP Weaknesses

      Not good at long-range financial (or other) planning
      Extreme dislike of conflict and criticism
      Focused on enjoying the present moment, they may appear lazy or slow-moving at times
      Need to have their own space, and dislike having it invaded
      May be slow to show their affection with words
      Tendency to hold back their thoughts and feelings, unless drawn out
      May become overly cynical and practical

ISFPs as Lovers

"To love means to open ourselves to the negative as well as the positive - to grief, sorrow, and disappointment as well as to joy, fulfillment, and an intensity of consciousness we did not know was possible before." -- Rollo May

ISFPs are warm and giving people, who have a depth of emotion and caring which is not often obvious to others, except those who know them extremely well. They are usually intense people, who experience their emotions on an intense level. Although they may appear to be light-hearted, they are in fact extremely serious, and take their relationships seriously. Unlike other SP types, people with the ISFP type desire and seek lifelong, committed relationships.
ISFPs may have a problem with communication. With Introverted Feeling dominating their personality, they are more vulnerable then most to being hurt. Perhaps because of this, they tend to hold back part of themselves from others, and do not always say what they think or feel. This is especially true during conflict situations, which the ISFP abhors more than anything in the world. Confrontations and arguments are very difficult for the ISFP to deal with. They feel personally threatened in these situations. If the ISFP falls into the habit of not communicating their feelings with their partner, this could cause serious problems in the relationship over the long haul.
Sexually, the ISFP approaches intimacy with complete attention, seriousness and depth. They experience lovemaking through their senses, and welcome the chance to interact with their mate at this level. They are not likely to express their feelings verbally, believing that actions speak louder than words.
ISFPs need positive affirmation to be happy and feel good about themselves. They need to be praised, although they are usually uncomfortable with "gushy" praise. The greatest gift their partners can give them is the expression of their affection and admiration.
Although two well-developed individuals of any type can enjoy a healthy relationship, the ISFP's natural partner is the ESFJ, or the ENFJ. ISFP's dominant function of Introverted Feeling is best matched with a partner whose dominant function is Extraverted Feeling. The ISFP/ESFJ combination is ideal, because the types share Sensing as their way of perceiving the world, but ISFP/ENFJ is also a good match. 

ISFPs as Parents

"You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth...Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable." -- Kahlil Gibran
ISFPs enjoy their parenting role, and take great pride and comfort in their children. Most have a special affinity with babies and young children, and form bonds with their children when they are very young. They are very laid-back parents, and are not likely to have highly defined expectations of their children. They will gently guide their behavior, and suggest a particular direction, but their own respect of the individual psyche will cause them to be quite easy-going and non-demanding as parents. The ISFP is likely to treat their children as individuals, and encourage them to have their own role in the family.
ISFPs love to have fun, and live in the current moment. All ISFPs have a bit of little kid inside themselves, and they love to play games alongside their children. They're special affinity towards nature and animals makes them likely to lead their children in fun outdoors activities.
ISFPs are not likely to provide a very structured environment for their children. They are also likely to have a problem with disciplining or punishing their kids. The gentle manner and kind heart of the ISFP makes it hard for them to make others unhappy - especially their own children. However, structure and discipline are important for growing children. If the other parent encourages and promotes structure, and is able to administer discipline when necessary, the parent combination may work very well without there being an obvious lack of structure. However, if the other parent is also not strong with structure or discipline, this is an area which needs to have special attention. Growing children do not have the experience to decide on their own the difference between Right and Wrong. They need to have barriers set down in a tangible way, to help them decide.
ISFPs like to show their love in deeds rather than words, which is manifested in their doing a lot for their children. They may lavish them with gifts on Christmas day, or go out of their way to do special things for them.
The ISFP is a service-oriented person, who defines their personal worth in some part by how happy they make others. This is typical of people with the Feeling preference. The special potential problem that ISFPs face is their service-oriented attitude combined with their habit of not expressing their own needs and feelings. This combination causes some ISFPs to get taken for granted. If this happens frequently to an ISFP, they may become bitter and angry. They think of themselves as victims, and may erect barriers to keep out those who have hurt them. This may be a serious problem if the ISFP parent feels that their children are taking them for granted. The best defense against such a situation occuring is for the ISFP to get into the habit of verbalizing and communicating their needs.
ISFP parents will be loyal, dedicated and self-sacrificing to their children until they leave home. When the kids have left the nest, the ISFP will enjoy their time alone to do things for themself. If the ISFP has not allowed themselves to become victims or victimizers in their life, they will be very good parents, and will be remembered fondly and affectionately by their children.

ISFPs as Friends

ISFPs are able to get along with most of the other personality types, although they tend to be reserved around those they don't know well. They will enjoy spending time with others who share their interests, and who understand and accept the ISFP for who they are. They greatly value their space and autonomy, and appreciate other's respect for that.
The ISFP is not likely to have much patience or tolerance for those who are strongly Judging. ISFPs celebrate their own uniqueness, as well as everybody else's, and don't appreciate being judged harshly for their differences.
In work settings, the ISFP is likely to get along with most everyone, unless someone inhabits their space too much, in which case sparks may fly. Generally, the ISFP is kind-hearted and generous with those they care about, and makes a true-blue friend.