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.
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.