Look at me! Look at me!

Oh I do love me a conference.  Interesting people, papers and the chance to catch up with/meet for the first time my favourite academics.

Next week I am at the BASR/EASR 2013 conference where I’ll be presenting on the 2011 Census and the ‘Other’ category in the religion question, and on bio-medical conspiracy theories and the Indigo Children, (the latter is my PhD topic). 

I’m also going to be horribly forward and talk to some publishers about my work.  I’m still a very far way off from finishing but I really think that my thesis could be the basis of an interesting and accessible book.  To be fair, there probably arent that many PhDs out there who dont think that they should turn their thesis into a book, and hopefully a best selling one at that…

But this plan to ‘network’ intentionally at the conference raises a couple of problems for me.  One, I’ve only networked for work intentionally in the film industry, and the methods there are a little more pushy and aggressive.  So I really dont want to come off like that.  I thought I might make up some one page CVs to hand out… or is that too keen/prepared?

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Academia is an interesting world to me, and I’ve tried before to talk to my supervisor who has far more experience of it  about the etiquette and norms I should be observing. I do have some other good mentors who have offered to introduce me to people and give me some tips on talking to publishers – and I’m always happy to receive more tips from any readers here (*hint, hint*).

I suppose the best documents for networking might actually be the papers I am presenting. One is completely finished (bar last minute rereading and panicking) and the other needs some finessing on two sections.  So off I trot…

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Yes, this is an actual picture from one of my presentations – in this case a 3rd year Undergraduate paper on understanding contemporary religion… the drawing is all my own work!

Enough is Enough

My lovely childminder is taking the next couple of weeks off and heading to the crazily hot climes of Turkey.  I really dont resent her having this time off.  I’ve looked after my son. I cant imagine looking after him and four toddler clones at the same time, with the same demands, nappy changes and tantrums x 5.

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But this does mean my days are about be all about the mum part of being a PhD mum.  And the PhD? Well, I’m going to try and work in the evenings.  No seriously, dont laugh.

Anyone who knows me knows that my evenings since Henry was born have mostly involved sitting down with an exhausted sigh and falling asleep in front of the Mentalist or Game of Thrones.  I’ve tried working in the evenings, I really have.  For one week before a conference when Henry was 7 months old I was writing in half hour blocks between cries as he REALLY slowly learnt how to stay asleep.  (By the way, why are human babies the only creatures who need to learn how to go, and stay, to sleep!?!).

I will have to start drinking red bull again, just like I did during exam term as an undergraduate. 

But the biggest problem I have (apart from trying to stay awake) is all the paragons of work ethic I have as examples to beat myself up with.  First there’s my mother. Three kids, on her own, part time job, then a full time one, and a clean and tidy house.  My mother in law, two kids and a husband, factory job working 18 hours a day, exceptionally clean and tidy house (not sure if I entirely believe this one, or the denials from my husband that she had family help. 18 hours! Really?!?!). My aunt and uncle, two masters/one PhD, two children WHILE renovating a house. When my single/no kids cousin complains about working for an MBA he gets reminded of this.  When I cant work out when I can possibly do a PhD, look after Henry around his childcare, AND be the kind of mother who makes fresh organic meals in an immaculate kitchen while wearing full make up and lovely hair.  I have examples to measure myself up against and find myself wanting.

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I read this article recently, which resonated for me:

‘We live in a culture with a strong sense of scarcity. “We wake up in the morning and we say, ‘I didn’t get enough sleep.’ And we hit the pillow saying, ‘I didn’t get enough done.'” We’re never thin enough, extraordinary enough or good enough – until we decide that we are. “For me,” says Brown, “the opposite of scarcity is not abundance. It’s enough. I’m enough. My kids are enough.”

The Imposter Syndrome that seems endemic amongst PhDs is really a part of a wider feeling of Not Good Enough that society has been sucked into.  People have argued that social media compounds this problem.  We’re never doing as much as our online friends, we are never having as good experiences, our hobbies arent as alternative or quirky, our social life as active.  Maybe, but I’ve also found a lot of honesty online as mothers (mostly its the mothers) admit that its not EASY, they do struggle to be everything to everyone.  I particularly like this blog by a friend of mine taking on motherhood and its issues from a religious angle.

I just want to keep on top of everything.  Which might mean a few less naps on the couch in the evening and a bit more of the old tappity-tap on the laptop! Though this seems more likely:

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Yesterday Was a Good Day…

I spent a good few years working in the film industry as a screenwriter and script editor with only a mere modicum of success. Occasionally I would get a good commission only to be disappointed by the unprofessionalism of the person hiring me (a moan for another day…).  But it would be all too easy to blame them for me never reaching the stellar heights of the industry.  Instead I try to bear in mind the phrase I often heard at networking events: “You’re only as good as your last script”, and maybe mine werent as amazing as I hoped.

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In academic writing I think that phrase holds true to a certain degree, in terms of publications at least.  But in terms of day to day writing I find that having a good day yesterday and producing something workable if not refined can actually be a hinderence to getting started the following day.  There’s an element of laurels resting, but also academic writing can be so draining that getting going again, for me at least, can be hard.

Yesterday was a good day.  I finished off a rough draft of one of my conference papers.  It still needs a lot of work, as I was mostly freewriting it and forcing myself not to edit as I went.  But its there, on ‘paper’, so to speak.  And today I need to tackle the second conference paper almost from scratch.  I have some rather random slides, but the structure’s not working, my argument’s not clear, and I have to start walking up that mountain AGAIN after just ‘finishing’ one paper.

So, I dont actually feel like I am AS good as my last piece of work.  My ‘goodness’ comes from determinadly taking those Sisyphean steps back up the writing mountain.  Here we go then…

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Roughing it

One thing I am forcing myself to do lately is to write things almost freestyle without much consideration of sentence structure, grammar or spelling (some people might say that I have always written like that…).  I’m trying to get into the habit of getting it written rather than getting it RIGHT.  I’m the kind of person who will go over and over the same introductory paragraphs till they gleam (or are really boring…) and still not have a middle or an end.  But my i’s will be dotted, my t’s will be crossed…

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I’m about half way through the rough first draft of a paper on New Age Bio Medical Conspiracy theories for a religious studies conference in September.  I KNOW that there are parts that dont make any sense yet, I KNOW that I’ve still got some things in bullet points that need expanding, but today I want to get to the end of that first draft and finesse it all later.  Likewise with the Powerpoint presentation for the paper, I KNOW that I havent got quite the perfect picture for slide 6 yet, or the right font size and layout all the way through. But I need to charge on to the end to get it done, then get it GOOD.

Likewise for this blog post.  Usually I will stop after a paragraph and mooch around the internet to look for an  amusing picture to stick in to show of my wit and intelligence (yes, I am one of those people…).  This time I am just barrelling through with very little editing and I’ll stick some pictures in once I am done. Like this cute kitten:

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Changing my work style is necessary I think.  In part I think this is a more productive way to work, I have 80,000 words to get written for my thesis.  They cant possible be all individually handcrafted little gems, even if I hope the overall argument will be! I do feel a little like I have hit the mid-PhD slump Patrick Longston writes about here, and his tips are very useful.  But freewriting about the problems you are having was one of the techniques I was shown at the Writing Summer School I mentioned before, and I do think its extremely useful to get you into the writing action when you get jammed up by procrastination and anxiety.

So today…. I’m going to finish that rough draft of the conference paper, even if I write it in a very  slapdash way for now. A key phrase from the Summer school: “Give yourself permission to write badly”.  What a relief THAT is….

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