Finally back

Ok, not the worlds best start to a blog, but i think I have reached a point where I can post a bit more regularly. Things aren’t quieter, I fact they have just got a whole load more complicated but I am better able to manage my time (how did that happen). Even my office is tidier.

So the Colchester Women Oral History Project is now off the ground, interviewees are being sought, interviewers are being trained and equipment is being bought. A lot of my life is spent sending emails now, which feels very strange. As an introvert email is such a blessing, there is no one examining my facial expressions or waiting for me to finally collect my thoughts. It’s just me and text, the ideal combination.

I have also handed in my second piece of work. The first was in October, just a simple biography of a neglected psychoanalyst. Only I don’t do simple. 5000 words and several archive searches later and I have a pretty good outline of her life. I am reluctant to put too much information out there at the moment, I don’t want to do someone else’s work for them but I’ll talk about her at some point.

Second piece was looking at her influences, where she drew much of her material from. I had to do this one over Christmas and worked very long days to get it done. I was almost completely unfamiliar with psychoanalysis (or ps-a as I am going to call it from here on in) so it was very much a crash course. 6000 words, but I wasn’t happy with it. I am still struggling to write academically after so long (I did my Masters in 2004 in a totally different time period of history). I am now looking at anthropology in the late 19th and early twentieth century which is again, something entirely new to me. QMUL library had very little in the way of general histories, I had to use my SCONUL card at the University of Essex to get the books I wanted.

I have until the 28-02-14 to write an abstract for this student colloquium thingy in May. I feel very stressed at even the thought of it. No idea what I should talk about. Thankfully it seems that my fellow students are in a similar situation.

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Advice to married women 1946

imageSo I was in my local second hand shop and spotted a jumble of old papers on top of a chest of drawers. Turned out to be a mishmash of household information type pamphlets from the 1930s to the 1950s. Real random mix of stuff. This was in there “Advice to Married Women” published in 1946 by the London Medical Manufacturing Company and priced at sixpence. Amusingly it contains adverts not just for the birth control pessary they are marketing but also an anti-rupture truss and treatment for varicose veins.

I love finding these things, they are so often thrown away or lost but they can tell us so much about the past.

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This is my workspace. When the house was built in 1912 it was a kitchen, with a window at the back. When we moved in it was a bathroom. The bathroom was relocated back upstairs and this space became a junk room and then my husband’s home office. When I went mad (literally bonkers) last year, my husband ceded this space to me and made the corner desk and bookshelves for me. We can’t find a door to fit so the curtain sort of works for now.

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Better view

And from the other side……

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Why yes, I am not a very tidy person at all, how can you tell?

First Month Thoughts

So I have now been a part time PhD student for just over one month. What have I learned?

1. Some sort of note taking and making system is vital. Whether it be paperclips and sheaves of notepaper, the trusty ipad or laptop, helpful apps etc, organising yourself is vital. In one month I have almost filled a box file with notes, a lot of them on books that I really don’t want to have to read again.

2. Sometimes it’s cheaper to spend £25 on books from Amazon rather than on the train fare to London to get to a library. Especially as I have to spend another £25 to get the books back again. Books are also very heavy.

3. Get a SCONUL card, its free and you can access other university libraries. In my case the University of Essex.

4. It’s very easy to feel out of step with your full time fellow PhD students, they are on a different timescale to you and under different pressures. In my case there is a ten year age difference and I also have young children which means I am much more restricted. Plus I don’t drink which leaves me out a bit during some social events. Try and attend what you can, its useful to talk to other students about things you do have in common, especially in the early stages.

5. If you are doing a slightly weird subject (like something related to….I don’t know…..menstruation) expect to feel a bit odd when everyone else is doing something more ‘normal’ like crusading knights or President Carter. But presumably you have chosen a subject you love so be happy and shrug off any funny looks.

6. Read. Write. Do something PhD related for at least 90 minutes a day.

7. A supportive and interested spouse is a boon and a blessing. Mine pushes me, encourages me, listens and has completely changed his life to allow me to do this without any complaints. He seems genuinely proud of me, the madman. I have my own tiny office space away from the kids and have been pushed in here to work despite it being half term. This stuff is hard but made so much easier by the fact I chose the right man all those years ago (twelve and a half years ago in fact).

New Blog, New Life, Bad Combo

So, it turns out that its actually a bad plan to start a new blog when your life changes completely.

Eight weeks ago I was a housewife/SAHM/domestic engineer etc whatever hideous term you choose to describe the fact that I was rabidly pacing inside a societal box that limited my actions almost entirely. To the detriment of my physical and mental health I might add.

Now I am a PhD student struggling with the demands of childcare, husband, house, supervisor and self-imposed perfectionism. And what better aspect of the world to study than that entirely female experience – menstruation. After all my life has been dominated by the feminine up to this point and the taboos around menstruation have fascinated me forever (along with those around abortion, miscarriage, birth, sterility etc). Such a major part of every woman’s life but so rarely talked about.

At school (single sex of course) we giggled together in toilets and those who had yet to start anxiously confided their fears and listened in awe and consternation to the stories of their more developed peers. Menstrual blood was linked to exhibitionism, bullying and disgust. As our bodies settled down the sanitary products became the focus of discussion, the actual process was assiduously avoided.

At university I came into contact with boys and one drunken conversation stands out, where I and two female friends gently mocked and educated ten or so boys of 18, who had reached that age with barely a grasp of the actual process.

During pregnancy your period is the focus of an enormous amount of discussion and defines the stages of pregnancy. It is related to the urgency of medical decisions made at the end of your pregnancy. Midwives authoritatively demand access to your lochia and make matter of fact examinations of your most private areas. Your body is no longer your own, the NHS owns it for those briefest of days and talks of it only in medical terms.

And then in my case I found Mumsnet where I spent eight happy years (and many more to come). I found a community of clever women, who broadened my horizons and helped me deal with every crisis I faced. And who were also happy to talk about ANYTHING, nothing was off limits (after a name change of course). The taboo was lifted, the veil arose and I became fascinated by the variety in this shared experience.

So take this as my first proper post. There will be more. If anyone wants to share their own experiences I’d love to hear them and put them on here if possible. There is so much more to say but I have some more juggling of things to do!