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Not so Ed Wood after all!

It’s funny how different things are now, than they were two years ago when I wrote my last post. At that time I was going through the everyday life equivalent of ‘the void’ (Deep Space Nine). I was nearing the end of my umpteenth short-term contract, I’d struck out on the grant-landing front (though I narrowly missed it etc. etc., was on the final short list etc. – this became my central narrative for several months!) And I was concerned about becoming the academic equivalent of Ed Wood. Well, things were to get far worse before they got better. As my contract ran out (yes, completely) I felt like a cartoon character that had just accidentally run off the edge of a cliff and was frantically running in mid-air, seconds away from drop into the ravine below. However someone threw me a rope at the last second. It was another short-term research contract, even shorter than the last, and after a fashion I was kept on the pre-PhD grade (despite being ‘post’), but it kept the wolf from the door and kept me in a scholarly role. I burnt the candle both ends to identify participants (in a 0 to 60 kind of a way), collect all the data and write the preliminary report. I even helped with compiling the final report for the funders, beyond the end of my contract. And then this time last summer I was completely unemployed, with no leads. I scoured jobs.ac.uk, I signed up for University job agencies, and I felt more like Ed Wood than ever. I hung around in Treffin University, where I have to say I was treated with much kindness and given lots of support and encouragement. I drifted, I fretted, and I wrung my hands. Then the wind changed.

A perfect job for me turned up. It was further away from home than was ideal but I couldn’t let that get in my way. I applied. I got it. I started in October. All went well. Then a lectureship came up…and I applied…and I got it! What a difference a year makes?! I have just returned from a conference where I took part in two presentations and I have a few weeks to prepare myself (including completing and submitting my four teaching assignments so that I can apply to the HEA). I start my new post on 1st September 2015.  I am soooo excited! But am wary of being smug; I’ve been lucky. But I am beginning to feel that I am shaping up to be a reasonable academic – a bit out there, but then so was Feyerabend! And whilst I’m obviously not claiming that I’m going to be the next Feyerabend, as it turns out I’m not so Ed Wood after all!

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The spirit of Ed Wood…

          Well things aren’t going very well at the moment. First of all the email finally landed telling me that my grant application had made the shortlist but that I was ultimately not one of the lucky ones who’d be starting a fellowship this time around. Then the paper I submitted based on the main findings of my thesis was rejected in record speed from the journal I’d tailor-made it for. As if this wasn’t all bad enough, I completely fluffed a meeting which might possibly have led to a short-term position…I was so nervous, and feeling so awkward and cringe-some that I transformed into a monstrous version of myself, talking at a ridiculous pace and talking over the bewildered professor who had agreed to meet with me. At the end of that meeting I had a serious existential crisis – what on earth was wrong with me? If I couldn’t have a sensible conversation about my career then was I really cut out for all this in the first place? Beyond that, how could I be a good researcher if a simple conversation was so difficult? Was I in fact destined to go down in history as the worst researcher and aspiring academic of all time?  Luckily I went around to see Maribel and her wife Seren, who helped me to realise this was just my reaction to my current panic-inducing situation of the possible stalling of my career. I must learn to accept these little blips as a part of my whole personality and recognise that I have good and bad traits and that that’s okay; nobody’s perfect.

          Meanwhile, I am giving a presentation based on my thesis at Treffin University this Wednesday…so I’m here, on a Sunday, yet again, trying to persuade myself to practice…surely I know this stuff by now? Why is it so hard to keep from saying too much with each slide? I really mustn’t mess this up.  I’ve also got a book review to finish and the re-packaging of the main findings paper, not to mention the systematic review for my main job…and all this whilst desperately casting about for some kind of stable employment by the end of July…whilst feeling like a burned out husk who needs to rest for a few months…sigh. I’m so despondent I can’t even think how to end this post properly, except to say that I feel your pain Ed Wood…I just hope it isn’t my destiny to join you in the dubious distinction of being the very worst at what I aspire to be!

With graduation safely out of the way I settled into my fixed-term research contract and began working on my publications from my thesis and a book-review essay connected to my secret dream-project…then, following a flurry of activity, I submitted an application for an Early Career Fellowship; if this application is successful, not only will I have secured a nice, comfy salary and academic position for the next three years, but I’ll actually be working full-time on my dream project! The project which I have been formulating for over a decade and which I wake up every day wishing I could spend every minute of the day studying…it’s almost on a par with my Jean Rhys obsession from a few years ago (and I’m sure it could surpass even that level of craziness, given half the chance!)

But in essence I now find myself in the predicament of doing lots of waiting: I’m waiting for my book-review-essay to be published; I’m waiting to hear whether my article based on the review from my thesis will be accepted, and whether my supervisors feel that the main-findings paper that I sent them can be shepherded into a submittable paper…but most of all, waiting on the outcome of my fellowship dream. And this isn’t unique to me – Faith has just heard that her fellowship application (to another funding body) was unsuccessful and meanwhile Kimberly is anxiously awaiting her interview for a professional fellowship, following successful navigation of the first round. So it seems, once the thesis is over, the tension simply shifts to other things…and all we can do is sit tight and cross our fingers…that it’ll turn out well for us in the end!

At the beginning of the new year like this, when I’m all snowed in at Trem-y-Ddol, it’s nice to reflect on 2012 with all its quirky buffoonery. My favorite example has to be that of ‘Sandy Island’, which transcends time and space – or is at least global in nature and has lasted for centuries to provide us with amusement when finally discovered; to quote Wikipedia on the matter:

Sandy Island (sometimes labelled in French: Île de Sable) is a non-existent island that was charted for over a century as lying between Australia and New Caledonia in the Coral Sea. If the island existed, it would be within French territorial waters. The island was included on many maps and nautical charts from as early as the 18th Century, and gained wide attention in 2012 when it was definitively shown not to exist by an Australian surveyor ship. The island was quickly removed from many maps, including those of the National Geographic Society and of Google maps.

 

 

…Such fun…as Miranda’s what-she-calls-Mother would say!

          Most Saturdays are exclusively functional – they’re about getting the groceries in for the week ahead, straightening the house up…and, until just recently, miserably typing away at my thesis/ amendments for said thesis. But the thesis is behind me now and, this weekend was different; the refurbishments over at Dotereo, Sandstone City’s very chic shopping department store, have finally been completed (after months of disruption due to hideous drilling and shifting about of counters. This means that the exclusive, free-to-Orchidee-loyalty-card-holders facials are back on, and I just couldn’t miss out! (After all, we could eat cheese-on-toast for a few days…couldn’t we?!)

         Having unsuccessfully tried to avoid eating pancakes for breakfast (and I didn’t even have any nutella so I had them with lemon and sugar!) I jumped in the Clio and sped off for Sandstone City; there I spent a pleasant hour or so, perusing. I eyed up some clever and inexpensive shoes in Next, and somehow spent 70 odd quid in Boots – on holiday essentials! And then I also bought quite a few things in Holland and Barrett, all with the idea of turning myself into a rural-life goddess for my splendid honeymoon.

          As it drew towards 11.15am I drifted in to Dotereo and up to the Guerlain counter. Andrea was there waiting for me and took me up to the new beauty room. It was all decked out for an Orchidee experience, with fluffy white Guerlain towels and deep-pink orchids, in white ceramic pots. Thanks to all the disruption, my last facial was just a few days after I had handed in my thesis – when I was a burned out husk and I’d fallen into a deep sleep right there on the lounger! This time I had so much news to tell Andrea that at first it was hard to lie still (arms a-waving, head bobbing up and down as I told her all my news). Of course, the big-graduation-Miranda-moment was described in detail, and elicited much amusement as well as the appropriate level of sympathy.

           I then started dwelling on what had caused the whole debacle, blaming myself for my smugness and such, when most people just rented the gown. To my surprise and relief, Andrea not only completely understood why I had wanted to buy the gown, but told me her own tale of how, when her daughter had graduated, she had wanted to buy the gown for her…but that her daughter had chosen to rent her gown since this was what everyone else would be doing.

              My relief was immense. I couldn’t think of a single person who had so completely understood my decision to purchase – not even any of my fellow PhD chums; even Wendy had expressed surprise when I’d bumped into her whilst packing away my old desk – and she had heard that I’d bought it, on the grapevine! Zakia and Crystal, in my old office in Sandstone, had been the closest – but even they were initially shocked and had had to reason forth about what people chose to spend money on, and subsequently had shown empathy with my situation. But Andrea just got it – no need for lengthy explanation or subplots.

          And so it was that this turned out to be an even better Saturday than I had anticipated (and I’d been counting down the days in my diary); not only did my skin get a luxury make-over, but so did my pride. So on reflection, maybe I’m not such a ridiculous woman after all? I just needed to find the right person to tell me so!

            Okay, I’m slightly concerned now that my final trousseau item – the black Oakley bikini – still hasn’t arrived. My concern comes partly following the arrival of a package today, which turned out to be the ‘Incognito’ mosquito spray, which I ordered at least a few days after I’d finally plumped for purchasing the overly-priced-skimpy-snorkelling-wear as a must-have. I have just 3 more days left in work (well 3 and a half, counting today) and I arranged to have it delivered here since otherwise it might end up trapped at the post office in Forotown (the market town nearest our village) with me trapped in work unable to rescue it.

            Although, I suppose, on reflection, we’re not actually leaving until next Wednesday, and I am coming into Limestone City next Monday to have my all important hair-do before the holiday – so I could always come over to the office that day…but what if it still isn’t here by then? I know, I know, I sound like the whingeing sister in Dirty Dancing:

Lisa Houseman: Oh, my God. Look at that! Ma, I should have brought those coral shoes. You said I was taking too much!
Marjorie Houseman: Well, sweetheart, you brought ten pairs.
Lisa Houseman: But the coral shoes match that dress!
Jake Houseman: This is not a tragedy. A tragedy is three men trapped in a mine, or police dogs used in Birmingham.
Baby: Monks burning themselves in protest.
Lisa Houseman: Butt out, Baby.

(It’s amazingly easy to google quotes these days!)

…but I want my black Oakley bikini…and what a waste of money in these cash-poor months if it doesn’t come in time…tsk!

                       Fennland is a peninsula, and Bakea (our village) is about a mile inland from the estuary. Since the water at the front is silted we get lots of mosquitos; they are further encouraged by the fact that we have a pond in our Dominican-style garden. I am a sun worshiper and love being outdoors – ‘sunshine on my shoulder makes me happy’ etc.

                    Today I am working from home and so I have come out to the glacis, with my new ultrabook, to work on my ethics application. It is far more comfortable here than in the office…the lack of scalding hot pipe directly behind where I am sitting is a huge improvement, whilst the gentle breeze and light which can still reach me underneath the umbrella are the icing on the cake. However the niggling concern about being mosquito-feed must be addressed if I am to concentrate.

                     I have sprayed my feet with Mosi Guard but am reluctant to spray it anywhere else since it does actually smell quite strongly and you get to feeling as though you are covered all over with quite a toxic substance – and I’ve only just had a shower! So I carefully filled the two Citronella oil lamps my husband has installed on the glacis – they are on long iron spikes which are wedged between the sandstone blocks of the floor. Having screwed the tops on I carefully lit them with a long match…and then became alarmed at how big the flames were. One of them was very close to the table and I was scared of setting my hair on fire, so I blew this one out.

                     Having established that I could in fact diffuse the flame on the other one, using the iron top, and having removed a couple of bamboo branches which looked disturbingly too close for comfort, I cautiously relit it…and have resolved to keep this one going…even though I am petrified I might inadvertently set fire to the palm tree directly behind it, the fern to the right of it, and even the umbrella which is a good three foot above it.

                  So all in all I’m pretty comfortable out here and am enjoying the sunshine…but the threat of a Miranda-moment is always just over my shoulder! Meanwhile, I am surrounded by a fabulous sounds-track of bamboo creaking, leaves rustling…and all kinds of birds stopping off in the pond to bathe; Lovely, lovely!

Glossary

  • Glacis – A Creole Patois word Jean Rhys uses to describe the “paved roofed-in terrace” that runs the length of the house at Coulibri. Okay so mine is a sandstone patio at the bottom of my Dominica-style garden…but it is the closest thing I have to a porch and I do have a wooden picnic table and a large sun-parasol which emulates the best aspects of a porch!