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Small victories

May 14, 2012

So, my upgrade report is in. It feels a bit anticlimactic – when I handed my MA dissertation in, that was it, I’d finished my degree, there was some closure. This time round, I get to have a glass of wine and a weekend off, and now I’m back to viva prepping, and then there’ll be corrections, and then I have to get ready for fieldwork, and then I have to do fieldwork… Eep. But I think I need to celebrate these small milestones, because it’s a long time till it’s over.

Weekends, by the way, are amazing. I’d kind of forgotten. I slept till 11 and did yoga and read books for fun. My house once again looks like it is inhabited by adult humans who know how to use a mop, rather than, like, rabid foxes… who eat a lot of takeaways. I am easing myself back into cooking actual food, via heating my own pizza and garlic bread, to actually chopping vegetables. (Let’s just not comment on the fact that my report on local food was entirely fuelled by ready meals and takeaways, okay? I think this is what I meant about my ‘activist’ methodology becoming more ‘nuanced’ as I was ‘socialized as a full-time research student in an anthropology department’.)

And I did some work invigilating exams, which means money, which is always nice. The funding situation for next year is not good – the may-have-to-beg-family-or-bank-to-lend-me-money kind of not good. Though I’ve come across another couple of opportunities in the last few days, which means some more lengthy applications to complete but hopefully something will come of it. I feel like I have been lucky enough with funding in my first year that I can’t really complain, but equally I don’t have enough that I can focus on my PhD like it’s a full-time job. And it runs out at the end of August. The most frustrating thing is that the restrictions on how long you can take to complete your PhD are getting stricter and more bureaucratic, at the same time as funding is getting scarcer and the cost of living is going up and anything you can earn from part-time work is stagnating. So the options for getting money and paying rent are shrinking, but instead of there being some institutional accommodation of this fact, there’s less room to be creative and flexible. Thanks, neoliberal university!

Hopefully, one of these big grants will come through. As a backup/supplement, I’m going to start cobbling together as many small grants as possible from various charitable trusts. I’m hoping that together these will mean I emerge from my PhD having had lots of practice in writing successful grant proposals and communicating my work to the public and non-specialists. Though right now it’s time I wish I could spend reading. And I’m so close to the wire that it’s tempting to respond to questions like ‘How would getting this grant help your future research and activities?’ with ‘I could afford to pay rent and eat, which is quite useful’. I’m also doing freelance work to top up the funding I have for the rest of this year. The academy may frown on this, but I figure that people going abroad for fieldwork will be spending time sorting out visas, vaccinations, flights etc, which I don’t, but doing fieldwork at ‘home’ means I have to pay rent in London, so I can use the prep time to earn money instead.

Finally, the least efficient (but, in some ways, most fun) strategy is taking loads and loads of online market research surveys in exchange for which I will eventually get vouchers I can spend on books and equipment. It’s a nice non-thinky activity to do over a cup of tea. I am already 1/4 of the way towards an e-reader (which I am going to use to download loads of ebooks of things that are out of copyright and read them while I’m in the field). Plus I am getting close to earning some amazon vouchers that I can use for a dictaphone etc. It’s also kind of a fascinating process in itself. Like trying to figure out whether I screened out because of my age, gender, income, not having children, being a student… My favourite part is when I get questions like ‘Do you think [processed diet food] will help the problem [of all that healthy food tasting gross and boring and everything you like to eat making you ugly and undesirable]?’ Erm, strongly disagree? ‘What do you think would help?’ Erm, smash the patriarchy? Or, like today, ‘How many times a day do you think about food?’ Probably 26-30, but not in the way you mean. ‘Do you think about food during work?’ Yes. Thinking about food basically is my work.


Getting shit done

April 19, 2012


Some inspiring things I read today.

“The sad fact is, unless you’re under ten years old, if you don’t take care of yourself, no one else is going to show up and do it for you.”

Step 1. Get nice and clear about what you want.

Step 2. Get completely, impeccably, bullshit-free clear about where you are now, with respect to that.

That’s it, just those two. Simple but not easy.

Put another way:

Understand exactly what you want. Understand exactly where you are. Notice the difference.

Please note that there is not a follow-up step called “beat yourself to a bloody stump about not being where you want to be.”

If you’re in New York and you want to go to San Francisco, how much good does it do to beat yourself up about what a lame-ass you are not to be in San Francisco? How far west does that actually move you?

Not one millimeter? Hmm, interesting.”

“Productivity often poses as the self-development genre but it is not. Self-development and productivity are two very different things. What is best for us as individuals is often bad for productivity.”

“Hyperfocusing on productivity often gets in the way of the messy, circuitous, and discursive routes of personal development.”


I’ve started writing, at last. I’ve stitched some of the patchwork squares into larger parts of quilt. I even wrote 800 words of the introduction. I’ve also reached that pleasant stage where my reading is starting to feed back in on itself – instead of each new article giving me a handful of new important sources to look at, I’m now finding that maybe some of that handful will be things I’ve already read, or at least things I’ve identified that I need to read. Which makes me feel like I’m getting to grips with the seething mass of books and articles and pulling things together, rather than constantly being led sideways in half a dozen different directions.

And I enjoy my work – I feel satisfied when I improve a sentence and excited when I find a new journal which had a special issue on my region. And I don’t feel exhausted all the time either. This is more important than meeting a deadline. Though I’m trying to do both.

Pointless metaphors for writing

April 17, 2012

Right now, my upgrade report is like a half-finished patchwork quilt. I have made most of the squares, but they’re all sitting in a pile waiting to be stitched together into a coherent, artistic whole.

I think I’ve lost the pattern.

I wish it was more like knitting… or something that goes in a big long line…

Looking after myself

April 2, 2012

I’ve just come back from a weekend on a farm, practising yoga, learning to give massages (and receiving them in the process), eating healthful, nourishing food and doing guided relaxation and breathing exercise. Also, not having the internet which, combined with other people telling me what to do when (i.e. three hours of yoga), forced me to get up and go to bed at sensible times.

As a testament to the awesome relaxing powers of this weekend, consider that I returned to London and responded to the fact that the Victoria line was down by going, ‘Hmm, how interesting,’ and finding a different route home, rather than, ‘OMG, $&*)! Victoria line, how am I ever going to $(£”)!& get anywhere now?!’

This weekend came at the end of, firstly, a term where I tried to do Far Too Much – indeed, I have been doing Far Too Much for nearly three years now – and, secondly, a fortnight of starting to evaluate and get back on top of stuff. Exhausted. Burnt out. Doing work that you love is exhilarating and rewarding, but it’s still work and you still deserve weekends. But at weekends, I have to do other work in order to be able to pay rent, and make a week’s worth of frugal soup for packed lunches.

Being self-employed is exhausting. Getting a Master’s is exhausting. Living in London on an unpredictable income that works out at less than £10k p.a. is exhausting. Doing a PhD is difficult, lonely, emotionally draining work, even if you don’t have to worry about where your rent’s going to come from or what you’ll live off after the first year. I only have so much time to manage. I only have so much money to budget. And I’m carrying three years of cumulative exhaustion I haven’t been able to sleep off yet. And a month ago, something snapped.

After instigating a rigorous programme of sleep, sleep and sleep, I am starting to feel human again. I’m starting to feel excited again about what food movements do and about what anthropologists do, and to see my project as an interesting thing that I want to do rather than a terrible life choice/albatross. I asked for help. Hurrah.

But it should not take a largeish (although entirely reasonable) sum of money and two days of intensive self-care to make me feel like a normal, healthy human being. I want to be able to find the energy to cook myself vegetables, exercise and do my job on a day-to-day basis. This is my project now. Bringing the yoga weekend into my everyday life.

A thought

March 9, 2012

Am trying this new Facebook timeline thing. My main misgiving about it is that it give the impression that nothing happened in my life between when I was born and when I joined Facebook. The only way to do anything about this is to give Facebook yet more information about my life. Sigh.

Work rant

January 7, 2012

It is Saturday. I have only just stopped work for the night. I have not finished either of my essays, which are due on Monday. I have no opinions whatsoever on the relationship between statistics and anthropology. I have forgotten all the Arabic I ever knew. Not feeling the shiny, shiny new term love. Not even a little bit. Bah.

Online dating through leftover food?

December 7, 2011

Okay, scratch my sensible plans, I want to do my mini-research project for my methods course on this – a dating service that connects people according to what food they have left in the fridge. As an undergraduate in shared kitchens we once had great fun getting our friends in the kitchen opposite to guess whose cupboard was whose from the food in it (and vice versa), and I’m sure you can tell a lot about a person from the contents of their fridge. And it’s much quicker than all that bollocks psychometric stuff. I might avoid using the word ‘leftovers’ too much in the marketing though.