New York, New York: here I come!!

My gift to myself for successfully submitting the PhD – a trip to New York City! DH and I are leaving in a week, my precious Poppy and Lucy the Cat being cared for by my daughter in our absence. There will be home parties and fun times, I’m sure. (And then we’re going to Seattle for a couple of days too, and it’s great as well because I’ve been there – I know.)

My DH mentioned a story about a colleague of his, whose partner had recently submitted her thesis. He romantically asked of her: “where would you like to go as a GIFT for completing and submitting your PhD?” They’re in Spain right now. Clearly, her choice of gift.

My DH felt he wasn’t being very romantic because he hadn’t done the same. Nonsense, quoth I, we’re going to New York City!! (I just removed some exclamation points because it looks uncouth. Despite Elaine from Seinfeld thinking the lack of exclamation points lacks appropriate joie de vivre.). New York, New York, what a wonderful town. I have a sneaking suspicion that I will love that crazy, noisy, loud city. I have a sneaking suspicion that once I go once, I will need to go again and again. And again. Maybe for a month at a time. Maybe to write. There. I have plotted the perfect scenario to visit NY every year in the height of our summer (which is horrible, by the way – all steamy and hot – too darn hot), and spend a month writing. And yay. Or maybe I will hate the frenetic pace, and the Americans. Man, they can be LOUD. This is coming from a noisy blond Australian soprano, BTW.

I’m still anxious, though. When does the anxiety of doing a PhD end? Does it ever end? Has it now morphed into a generalised anxiety about life? Will I ever feel – just – DONE? Calm? Relaxed? FINISHED? I’m trying to self-medicate, but it’s not working.

I’m on my second gin and tonic (ok, it’s November but I swear Monsoon season has begun early this year), and I’m too old and tired to get really hammered. Besides which, getting drunk doesn’t really affect me the way it used to. My gums ache from dehydration (I’ve still not got the hang of drinking 3 litres of water a day during the wet season) and I get an early onset headache when I’ve not eaten enough food when drunk. Man, I sound old!

But next week I’m going to New York! And tomorrow I’m going to Melbourne for the weekend. My home town. Which I miss. And later on I’m going to New Zealand for a wedding, and in the June break, the whole famn damily are staying for 2 weeks at a rather nice Chateau in Bordeaux, thank you very much. I think we’re ok for the travel.

New York, New York! Hellooooo!!!!

 

 

It’s done.

I’ve finished the PhD.

Now for the next phase: examination, revisions and the Dr hat, I hope.

There were some melancholy moments last week as I tried to come to terms with the eventual cutting of my PhD umbilical cord. What do I do now, was my wail. Well, in typical Jessie fashion, I’m not sitting on my hands. I asked for advice from two brilliant women in my workplace, to try and make sense of my current strengths, to see where my weaknesses are, and to help me plan my next move.

Mentoring is a really important facet of working life, and I’m lucky to know 2 fantastic women in positions of authority in universities more than willing to give me advice and help me plan my next move.

I need to “step up” to the next level. I’ve been thinking about what I want to achieve in my next life phase. I think I’m ready to lead. The advice from lots of people is, “stop”. Breathe. Take a year off. Well, can’t do the last one because I’m working to pay for stuff. No taking a year off for me. Besides, I’m already a published author. I know how this thing works.

But I can’t keep doing what I’m doing for bread and butter at the current work load because it’s not sustainable nor does it provide a rewarding, growing career. There’s no jam.

So, I’ve come up with a little list of projects to do while I’m “taking time out from writing”. Here’s a taster, in no particular order:

  1. Plan the house plans and renovations.
  2. Write a cabaret.
  3. Plan the book from my PhD.
  4. Prepare three more journal articles from my thesis and conference papers.
  5. Plan a Post Doc or Decra or Churchill.
  6. Do craft.

I think that’s a pretty good list. Maybe except the last one.

 

 

 

What do I do now?

As I approach the end of my thesis I am reminded of the words of Agnes Gooch from the show “Mame”, when her “field trip” to explore life resulted in an unexpected pregnancy. As she returned to accuse her “teacher”, Mrs Burnside, she bewailed “what do I do now?” I feel rather the same way.

I am so close to the finish line I can smell it – in fact, give me a few more days and I think I will have the bulk of the thesis complete, with just a few loose ends to tie up. I don’t actually have a few more days, but I used an unexpected free day today to do some more work on the discussion chapter and conclusion. I worked reasonably consistently and am happy to see more loose ends knotted off now. Friday is my next full day for work and then perhaps some of the weekend. Yes, that’s how close it is, folks. Weekend work on the thesis.

But my thoughts keep straying to the thing after the thing. What next? Am I willing to stay a peripatetic teacher (with a PhD) at a university, or am I meant for more? Not that teaching isn’t awesome, but teaching 40 hours a week during term time isn’t awesome. As I explained to DH, I like teaching just fine, but I am exhausting myself trying to do this much teaching for a relatively small reward.

As he himself admits, if I were working full time in the uni system I would not be doing as much teaching as this. In fact, I would be doing a range of other things, based on a 40/40/20 model. 40% teaching, 40% research, 20% service. For me, this break down of work is greatly appealing. But it shows that the amount of teaching I do is well in excess of normal teaching arrangements at either secondary or tertiary level. Add to that workshops, master classes, performances and administrivia, and it’s no wonder I’m tired.

But as I enter my 45th year (and the irony of the mid-life crisis hasn’t eluded me, folks), I’m wondering if this is it. What do I do now? I’m at the peak of my working life, cobbling together a career out of bits and pieces of consulting and teaching work, and I’m now feeling like it’s not enough.  There’s no forward momentum, no career pathway for this life. No sense of striving, and no real sense of belonging to my main employer, although I feel as loyal and connected as I can to the place. My boss gives me as much higher duty work as he can manage but he has to be seen to be fair and I can’t do it to the exclusion of other employees. Besides which, DH is the Grand Poobah and any work I DO get might be seen as nepotism.

It doesn’t help that I’m nearly grieving for the loss of thesis-baby as she grows up and leaves home, and that we have plans for the house that requires me maintaining my income. I can’t afford to take time off to think about it – I need to keep working. So, what do I do now?!

Everybody just leave me alone!

Bless my DH and everyone else for not really understanding why I need to be left alone now. For weeks and weeks and weeks.

Because when you’re in flow it’s so easy to be there. But when you’re out of the flow state it’s like pulling teeth to get back in. And my PhD is waiting for no one. Certainly not me.

Gah. Besides which, my flow state keeps being interrupted by new literature that I feel I need to investigate in order to show an up-to-date-ness of reading. And that interrupts flow, too.

I think one day I’m going to have a room at the bottom of the garden like Dylan Thomas or Virginia Wolfe. dylan thomas studio

I’ll be a bit neater, but not much. And I’ll go down there and no-one can bother me when I’m in my flow state. And I’ll write and write and write. And maybe do some arts and crafts. Because that’s what I like to do. I’m pretty terrible at painting and knitting and scrap-booking but I do like to do it from time to time.

In other words, I’ve had a bit of a useless research day today because I’ve been working at the university and flow state was achieved nice and early but not in my PhD. Sadly.

But! Tomorrow is another day. Bring it.

Saying goodbye to Facebook

I use FB to keep in contact with friends and family, and I see it as an integral part of my life communication. But the time has come, friends, for me to stop. I have a PhD to finish, and I’ve been spending too long surfing the net, not doing my PhD at all, rather, I’ve been chatting to FB mates, reading interesting articles about nothing in particular, and generally wasting time.

Is there grief at saying goodbye to something integral to my life since moving to Queensland in 2007? Perhaps, and now my daughter is engaging with the site I worry that I will not be able to connect with her in the way I had always hoped.

But I’ve contemplated this for months, and now that I am at full time PhD land, it’s time to get off the time-sucker that is FB. So, this morning, I deactivated my account. Before I could change my mind. And it feels strangely good – freeing. There may be a few withdrawal symptoms though. And I didn’t tell anyone.

Swift and deadly. If people want to contact me, they can. Via email. Or telephone. Or text. Or letter. So, time it is, to say goodbye. Goodbye Facebook. Hello world.

My transgender child

My 21 year old son recently came out to me that he identified as a she. Over the phone. He said, Mum, can you get down to Melbourne soon? I need to talk to you. I said, Why? Is it because you’re going to tell me you identify as female? And he said Yes.

I didn’t tell him that I cried as we talked. I walked wildly round the house trying to find a quiet place (our house is on a busy road and in no way sound proofed) as I listened to my boy coming out to me – not coming out that he is gay, because I don’t think he is, but that he is, inside, a woman.

My ability to articulate my complex emotions about this change is very poor. I love my youngest child. So much. He was always the son I felt I had to protect, even as he was the stoic, quiet one, who never complained and rarely made a fuss. From an early age I sensed a gentleness in him that needed care and nurturing, but there are only a few times when I can pinpoint a moment that made me think, Hey, I think this one is different. He suffered from childhood asthma – quite badly, and we frequently did the midnight run to the emergency department as his asthma attack worsened. Luckily his attacks were slow building, so one could tell how far along before we had to do the hospital run. The medication he took was effective, just not quite effective enough. At age 6 he nearly drowned, and I blame myself for this – an inattentive moment, a carelessness about the safety of my children. He spent several days in hospital recovering from that and a simultaneous asthma attack. In his final 18 months in primary school he broke his arm 3, maybe 4 times. All at school. I should have sued. But he was stoic, quiet, uncomplaining.

I remember he used to love textiles and soft furnishings and I would occasionally buy him fabric offcuts from Spotlight, which he sewed into cushions. For special events he bought me love heart gifts, boxes shaped like love hearts, beautiful little gems. As a young boy he frequently ideated suicide, which I always assumed was a response to his mad father attempting it when my son was very young. Throughout primary school he made many friends but as he entered high school those friendships dropped off and he became a recluse, withdrawn and seeking cave-comforts: sleep, dark rooms, and too much computer gaming. He wore horrible, horribly dreary clothes. Grey cargo pants and dark t-shirts, trainers and sweat tops. For years. He would wear the same 5 pieces of clothing until they wore out. I tried to get him into jeans but he would have none of it. I couldn’t understand why he chose to wear the most hideously unattractive clothing when he himself was a remarkably handsome, slim young man.

People saw his fear and reclusiveness and saved him, many times. His last high school music teacher and home room teacher. His grandparents. His auntie. His sister-in-law. They all saw, as did I, a young man who had difficulty getting out of bed, who was always tired, who was afraid to go and get a job. Who was afraid of the world.

And then, after he had spent 2 unhappy years living with his father and brother in a tiny inner city flat, working in a dead-end job and studying sound engineering, something snapped. Last year, in September, he finally told me how unhappy he was living with his crazy dad, how awful it had been and how miserable he felt. That was it. I took action. In November I told my other son and his girlfriend that my youngest was moving in with my grandparents for a year. They were aghast, upset that their own plans were being stymied by someone else. But it was the best thing for all of them. Within a couple of months they too had gone, leaving their out-of-work, mentally-ill, self-medicating father to man up and pay his own way at last.

And then, a slow transformation began. Something in my son came alive again. It began when he asked for a kilt for his birthday. My husband and I were overseas and bought him two, plus a sporran and socks. We had bought him Doc Martens for Xmas, so I felt we were just completing the process. Of a punk-based kilt-wearing 80s retro look. Wrong boots, it turned out. Over the next few months, as his school work declined and he had more and more trouble getting out of bed he spent more and more time playing with his appearance. And by the time he visited in July, he was wearing a very beautiful black lace shift dress and stockings. With Doc Martens. Gorgeous.

And I realised at that point that something was really going AWOL. He wanted a different hair colour so I treated him to a fabulous hair-do – flaming pink – and we enjoyed an evening of makeup fun prior to going out to dinner in Noosa. He looked a million bucks and was the happiest I had ever seen him. And I was thinking, OK, I think he might be undergoing something odd – maybe he is transgender?

I sought advice from a work colleague who walks the interstices between straight, gay and queer, who knows everything one needs to know about this, and we talked in her office, with my boy there, sort of mute (because I am bossy and needed to articulate MY feelings about this change), but clear in his mind that what he was experiencing was a life-altering one. And it was ok. It was ok that he was there, talking about this, because he was with me and I could see how he was, and it was easy while he was in front of me. My mind could process this change.

But then he went back to his preferred home town and I was stuck here, busy with work, married to my wonderful guy, and unable to see my son or witness his journey. Except that over time his FB posts got weirder and he started looking at transgender community sites and HRT and surgical intervention. And I realised he was serious and that this was permanent.

And then, last week, he finally told me over the phone he identified as female. Rather, I told him that I thought he was becoming female and he agreed. And he told me he wanted to change his name, to remove his father’s made-up surname and create his own. All of a sudden I could hear intelligence in his voice, a lightness I hadn’t heard before and a way of talking that was – well – more open and free sounding, deeper in meaning and just plain smarter.

And I cried for grief and loss and fear and longing, feeling like I was losing my boy, my little man, and I cried for joy and relief and pride that my son, who had hidden himself for so long, finally revealed himself to me. I realised, gratefully, that we live in a time where he can express his femininity without too much repercussion. That we can begin to understand transgender people and not label it evil or sick, that we live in a country that is remarkably free of hatred and violence against ‘others’, despite media commentary stating the contrary. And I was so proud of him, his courage in admitting his insides don’t match his outsides.

But I grieve. I grieve for the perceived ‘loss’ of my boy and his identity, as he forges his identity anew. I am angry and confused about my feelings, angry at him and confused about how I feel about the changes my son – my SON – will be going through in order to become my daughter. I am fearful that his current feelings are because finally he has a sense of ‘belonging’ and that his need to belong is so powerful that it transcends his own sense of self. And I am aware that as he heads down this path that my path will also intersect with the interstices and cracks in humanity – the different ones, the strange ones – the ones like my son, who will become my daughter.

My dear friend Al  succinctly identified the crux of the issue. He wrote to my son, simply and eloquently stating: The person I know and care for is independent of the body your soul inhabits. Mate, I’m humbled by the strength you have shown in making your decision to be who you really are.

But right now, despite my pride at his courage and stoicism and strength, I am still angry at my son and worried and very afraid. Because I feel like I am losing certainty. And to be uncertain is a very difficult place to live in. Which must be how my son has lived for a very, very long time.

Don’t get me wrong. My son is having professional help. He is now on antidepressants and has counselling twice a week. I am about to seek counselling too. Because I cannot yet make sense of this. And I need to. For him. Or, should I say, for her? And despite my grief and fear and anger and uncertainty, I support his decision wholeheartedly. I support him. Because he is my child, he is alive and I love him.

Breathless

I’ve been waking very early of late or in the middle of the night, unable to get back to sleep, and I wonder if it’s because of the ongoing low-level anxiety that writing one’s PhD seems to engender in me. 5 years of low-level anxiety – I wonder how I will feel once I’ve finished? I’ve read that people often feel emotionally exhausted and drained, and are beyond all point of caring about their research when they submit. My main desire is to stop the mental battle between doing my work and feeling like a stupid fraud for even trying. Or my early waking could just be that we live on a busy street and I’m waking to morning traffic noise. Yes. That’s it.

My worst enemy is still my busy schedule, but if I’m waking early why am I not doing a quick read of a research text or other light entertainment? I assume it’s because teaching is SO exhausting that I’m mentally wiped out by Friday. I’m teaching 33 hours per week, and half way through semester I’m feeling somewhat breathless and rushed and racing to the finish line. My private students are doing preparation for auditions, so it’s a busy time of year. There are organizational elements to my work that have always terrified me such as concert preparation – marshalling the troops causes me great anxiety. I’ve the end-of-year concert to plan and eisteddfods to prepare for and singing exams for my students to prepare as well. And that’s just my private practice. My uni work includes a bunch of other stuff that requires careful time management. No wonder my PhD gets pushed to the side! However, last Friday, when I could (and should) have stayed home and studied, I went shopping. Clothes shopping. What does this say about my priorities?! Still, I now have a decent wardrobe and only want for a few more things. Like another pair of black dress shoes, some new sunglasses (both fell victim to Poppy the dog), another black jacket, an opera jacket, more slim-line casual pants…summer outfits…another handbag… (oops, did I say I like clothes?)

So, today I checked my timetable. I have blocked 3 hours for PhD work today and on Friday I have the whole day blocked out for study. That makes it 10 hours this week. Ok. I can do this. Breathe.

My Literature chapter is open, and if I start at the very beginning, I can see there’s a section on Cultural Psychology I need to flesh out. That is today’s job. Yes. How am I going to plan this? Well, in about 5 minutes I’m going to do the following things in preparation:

  • Set my computer to hide FB and email.
  • get out my Cultural Psychology books and open them on the desk;
  • get dressed
  • eat breakfast
  • go to the gym
  • come back, shower, change and grab a coffee.
  • at 10.30am exactly, sit down and begin to read and take notes.
  • 3 hours later, at 1.30pm grab some lunch and prepare Friday’s PhD work.

I presume this is the best way to do this writing jag. Not sure, not really having prepared my study in this way before, although I’ve managed to write much of my PhD regardless. It’s an experiment to see if I can stay to task. If I can do this today and Friday, then it’s my approach for the next 6 months. Because if I can prioritise and manage my uni work, my private business and our finances, I can certainly manage my PhD.

So, breathless and a little afraid, here I go.