All or Nothing

It’s a well-known issue in diet advice that the ‘all or nothing’ approach won’t work – it’s a short-term fix that will eventually backfire. People tackle this in different ways, some build a ‘treat’ into every day, some people save up calories for a cheat day, some people (like the Rock), save themselves for a mega blow-out every few months. It’s all about whatever makes it practical and sustainable for each individual.

I absolutely fail at this. I am 100% all or nothing. This trait has permeated throughout my entire life – I’ve justified it regarding my thesis, I have a really terrible memory so if I step away from it for more than a day, I have to re-read everything in order to get back into the swing; it takes me a while to warm up into writing, so if I only gave myself an hour or so, I’d get nothing done – etc. However, I’ve noticed that it’s taken over other areas of my life – I won’t read a book unless I can finish it in one or two sittings, I won’t watch a programme unless I can binge watch it; I can’t watch random episodes, even if it’s a show I’ve seen before, I have to start at the beginning and see the whole thing through. It’s an issue.

The PhD takes over your life – I’ve joked that if in my viva they ask me to prove it’s all my own work, I’ll just point them at the three years of social media flailings about my thesis. (Personal update – it turns out that if you go outside, eat well and do occasional exercise, the world doesn’t feel as though it’s ending). So, in accepting that the thesis is bound to take over your life, the next step is probably to understand how thesis-related behaviours do the same.  I used to be able to watch TV and do homework, I used to be able to listen to music and read a book, I used to watch random bits of telly rather than streaming specific programmes, I used to read a couple of chapters a night. The focused dedication of the PhD seems to have rewired my brain into a new set of habits. Ones that I’m not certain are entirely healthy.

I’ve isolated the issue, so what’s the next step? Forcing myself to watch regular telly? Making myself read novels even if it’ll take me a week or two to finish them? Trying to fit work into random spare hours? I don’t really know yet – if anyone has any suggestions let me know.

In other news, my abstract for Talking Bodies 2017 was accepted – yay! That happens in April. I’m almost halfway through my final chapter – hoping to have it mostly done by Friday. Then it’s just the intro, conclusion and editing. It was my birthday last week, my best mates came up north for four days, we saw Fantastic Beasts, hobbited our way round some excellent ruins, and engaged in an all or nothing approach to cake (emphasis on the ‘all’).  After they left I had to crack on with some teaching bits and bobs, and now I’m back to the chapter.


A Reflection on Hate

It’s been a tough week. It has been globally terrible. There was the mass shooting at Pulse in Orlando and one of our brilliant female politicians was murdered in the UK. It has been a week showcasing the power of hatred, how infectious it can be, spreading pain from person to person, a rippling impact.

These two events share one thing in common, the media has taken pains to emphasise that the perpetrator was mentally ill. Now, of course, mental illness can lead to people doing terrible things, but it’s not the be all and end all. Mental illness is not an excuse, and it is not the sole reason for a person’s actions. No one lives in a bubble. Both of these acts of violence are a product of the society that they occurred in. They are the result of a society that perpetuates the demonisation of certain groups of people – homosexuals, immigrants – a society in which hate speech is not only excusable but actively used within our politics. As my friend Cheryl Morgan said, hate speech is a gateway drug for hate crime. In the US there is Trump, in the UK there is Brexit – both are stirring up hatred, and both have blood on their hands.


As someone who is both queer and has an active awareness of her mental health, this week has been very trying. My people are by turns victimised and demonised. But it’s also made me think about issues of intersectionality. The majority of the victims of the Pulse shooting were Latinx, something that the media seems to have skimmed over. Was it a coincidence that the shooter chose a Latinx night to attack? Subjugation has layers, we are not equal in our suffering. Any sexism I face as a white woman is nothing compared to the racism and sexism faced by women of colour, and again nothing compared to the racism, sexism and transphobia faced by trans women of colour, who face disproportionate levels of violence, even compared to other groups within the LGBTQI community.

The murder of Jo Cox, a British Labour politician who spent her career fighting for the underdog – the rights of women, the safety of refugees and migrants, the poor and disadvantaged – was an act of hatred by someone who named himself ‘Death to traitors, freedom for Britain’. This was an act of both sexism and racism. There are plenty of other politicians who shared Jo’s views, but it was her, one of the few female politicians we have, who was murdered. Wherever you stand in the EU argument, it is unquestionable that this was also an act influenced by racism, symptomatic of the political rhetoric that has invoked a fear and hatred of migrants – migrants, I might add, who are escaping a war-zone that we, the UK, helped to create. Imagine how you wish the Germans had treated the Jews, now apply that to the UK’s treatment of migrants. One far-right politician literally remade Nazi propaganda and used it to try and make his point. This is what some areas of British politics has become.


It’s easy to get bogged down by all of this hatred, I certainly did for a number of days, but I think it’s also important to see the love and kindness. The number of people who rushed to help during the shooting; the people who stayed in the club when they could have escaped just so they could find their friends and give them the chance to escape too; the number of people who have donated blood to help the victims; the amount of money that has been raised for the Jo Cox Memorial Fund to support her favourite charities – those supporting volunteers, Syrian rescue workers and to combat hate within local communities. I heard somewhere that whenever you see terrible things happening or on the news, you should always look for the helpers – they are always there.

I haven’t worked on my PhD this week, I’ve been too sad or angry in turns. But it has emphasised to me how important it can be – education, visibility, representation – it all adds up to hopefully reduce the hate and fear that can be manipulated with terrible impact. Always remember who the real bad guys are, always look out for those with less power than yourself.


Chapters and Ruins

It’s been a while since my last post. I’ve been busy, dealing with stuff and forgetting that weeks happen every seven days.

Teaching has finished. I have to say I’m a bit relieved. Whilst lesson planning and teaching only take two days out of my week, it tends to interrupt my flow just as I’m getting into whatever I’m writing PhD-wise, which then takes another day to get back into. I will miss my students and our discussions, though. It’s been really great to watch them improve, especially in their comprehension of theoretical papers, something they really struggled with at the beginning of term. They’ve got an exam in may that I’ll be marking, but after that I’m fully done until September. I’m hoping to finish my current chapter and hopefully get most of the next one done before teaching starts up again.

I’m working on my second chapter at the moment. It’s the one that’ll probably be the hardest to do. It’s very theory heavy, which is fine, but it’s all very tricky. I’ve split the overall theory into four sections, all of which contradict one another and relate differently to each other section. So, that’s fun. I think (think) I know what I’m trying to say, but saying it in a way that other people will understand is a struggle. Did I mention that I’m on my third draft attempt? I completely changed the entire thing today. I couldn’t decide on the best way of structuring it – I’ve gone through a plethora of various subheadings. I think the one I have now is the one, though. So hopefully things will speed up. However, I have a meeting on Tuesday with my supervisors and I really wanted to have more done by now. Also, I probably should have sent it to them by now. Literally the worst.

So, why was I gone for so long? I could say some nonsense about being busy, reading, typing up 10,000 words of notes and quotes and teaching, which would be true. But it was mostly just life happening at me. One lovely thing was my Mum and her husband took me away on a mini-break to practice being outside. We went to Harrogate and York for a couple of days, and various National Trust places in between. It was all very middle class, so I took them to a student bar for 2-for-1 cocktails and made them day-drink. I don’t drink, so I got all of the amusement of watching my mum in actual bits over some very not-funny jokes, bless her.

We also visited a place called Fountains Abbey, wich is basically Khazad-Dûm meets Hogwarts in ruin-form. Legitimately one of the best places I’ve ever seen. It was hammering it down with rain, so we were the only ones there and I got to prance about with no one to judge me.

A photo posted by Emma (@emma_spud) on Apr 16, 2016 at 10:20am PDT


The plan for the next week or so is to try and bash this chapter into shape. Then I’m going to a wedding – two people that I introduced are getting married. MARRIED. What even is life? But yeah, they’re doing that. After that I’ll be back to this chapter and will hopefully regain the ability to be smart at some point.

A photo posted by Emma (@emma_spud) on Apr 16, 2016 at 7:01am PDT


A photo posted by Emma (@emma_spud) on Apr 17, 2016 at 12:16pm PDT


Cars and Chapters

Last week I met with my supervisors about the chapter I’ve now (more or less) completed. They were really supportive and seem to understand what I’m trying to do, and they articulate it far better than I do. We’ve agreed that I should now move on to the next chapter which I’m relieved about. I don’t think I’ve got much more to give the old chapter at this point; I need some space from it.

The next chapter is probably going to be the most difficult one in the thesis. It’s going to tackle ideas of essentialism and if/how/where/why they fit into trans theory. Questions of surgery are undoubtedly going to be a part of that, but I really want to minimise that where I can. Issues of the ins and outs of transition are always the main thing that cis culture talks about with regard to trans people/communities and that kind of (oftentimes) dehumanising/objectifying nonsense is something that I’m keen to avoid. On the other hand, for scholars like Prosser, it’s a key part of the way he addresses issues of essentialism, so it still needs to be in there. It’ll be a tricky balance. The whole notion of essentialism/anti-essentialism is really complex anyway, so it’s just another layer of worry about this chapter. I’m looking forward to working on some different books though, and I know that by the end of writing this chapter I will have pushed my thinking and understanding that much further. Just need to actually do it.

I’ve got a meeting arranged with a prominent linguistics academic in my uni who has been looking at gendered language. It was suggested in the meeting with my supervisors that I talk to her about the ways I’m using pronouns – my inclusion of non-binary forms – and where they developed from, how they’re used and how I can talk more clearly about my usage of them outside of ‘well, they’re used within trans communities for these purposes, therefore I’m reflecting that’. I think it’ll be really interesting to get an academic take on it, but I’m also pretty nervous. I know nothing about linguistics, nothing, and I really admire this scholar. Fingers crossed I don’t come across like a moron.

I spent 24 hours in Birmingham at the weekend to attend a surprise birthday party for a friend who now lives in France and popped back to visit. It was lovely to catch up with them and the other mates who had come. I’m now socially exhausted and having some quality cave time.

Today, I’m going to finish the lesson planning I started at the weekend and then probably go to bed at 9. Tuesday and Wednesday are set aside to start thinking about this next chapter. Thursday I’m teaching and then heading back to Birmingham to collect Andrew. Then on Friday we’re going down to Exeter for the weekend to celebrate his birthday at Sonnie and Ted’s house. Sunday night I’ll head back up, either to Brum or fully home depending on my level of driving-boredom. Feel like there isn’t enough time in the world right now.

A photo posted by Emma (@emma_spud) on Feb 28, 2016 at 1:05pm PST

Marking Melodrama

I collected a pile of essays from work this week from last term’s module. My students were asked to write a 2,500 word critical essay on one of the texts we’d studied that term. I’d had some interesting discussions with students and was looking forward to reading what they had to say, but actually sitting down and marking? So boring. I sulked a bit on Saturday before I got stuck in. Sunday was easier, but by the end of play I still had five essays remaining. I’m now lesson planning for this term’s modules, so those five will have to wait until next weekend. I have no idea when I’ll fit in editing my chapter.

This term I’ll be teaching Intro to Critical Theory, which I’ve been looking forward to. I am getting a bit nervous. There’s a lot to cover and this module is literally the basis for all of their future essays. I want to give them all of the information they need, but I don’t want to bombard them and put them off. It’ll be a tricky balance. And of course there will be loads of students that just think it’s boring and pointless, so I need to try and get through to them too.

I’m eager to try and get my chapter edited and sent off again, but I’m knackered all the time. Officially too old for all-nighters. Will try and get this lesson planning done ASAP so I can salvage some week for that.

Oh, and I had a short story published in Severine Literary Magazine 🙂

A photo posted by Emma (@emma_spud) on Jan 16, 2016 at 8:14am PST

What A Difference A Year Makes

This time last year I wrote my first post. It was about how I had spent the prior four months feeling woefully out of my depth and struggling with depression. I’m pleased to say that this post will be vastly different.

I often feel as though I’m achieving very little in any given week, and in all honesty, when I started contemplating this post last week I felt as though I’d achieved very little in the last year and a half. However, I’m feeling slightly more positive today, admittedly after a truly disgusting amount of caffeine and some rather frantic procrastination cleaning.

On paper, these are my achievements of my PhD so far:

  • Very rough introduction drafted.
  • Almost complete chapter drafted.
  • RF1 passed.
  • RF2 passed.
  • Five conferences attended, two spoken at.

I had initially, naively hoped to have the intro and first chapter entirely finished and the second chapter started by now. I absolutely did not factor in the amount of time and energy that goes into teaching, even when it’s only one module a term; that’s something I’m going to need to take into account this year.

Whilst my achievements may be fewer than I would have liked, they are ultimately overshadowed by my state of mind. This time last year I felt utterly worthless and genuinely considered quitting the PhD. I felt like I had no idea what I was doing and no idea how to work it out. All of the motivational posts on pinterest couldn’t help me shake the notion that things would never get better and that I had little or nothing to offer to life, let alone academia. Luckily, that same sense of helplessness meant that I couldn’t work out a different direction to take, and so I carried on plodding along. Eventually my spider diagrams and half-digested journal articles started to click together in my brain and I gradually came up with some plans and ideas.

Although I hated them at the time, the things that pushed me through that block were the Rf1 and RF2 – hoop-jumping paperwork and presentations that make you explain and justify your project. For the RF2 I had to provide a chapter plan; at the last minute I chucked one down on paper, believing that it was just there so that I had something to say, but it stuck and gave me the structure that I needed to push on with my thesis. I could never have gotten to that point, however, without the months of reading and hopeless spider-diagramming that at the time felt utterly useless.

One of the turning points last year came in March, when I watched James Hayton’s video on surviving the PhD – which I blogged about at the time.. It gave me a new perspective on what the PhD actually is, ‘the entrance qualification to the world of professional academia‘ rather than the culmination of your academic achievements to date. It means that, of course you have no idea what you’re doing, you’ve never done anything like this before.

Another thing that helped me was attending conferences. Meeting other people who share your interests and worries, listening to people who are passionate about their work and having people get excited about yours is an invigorating experience that boosts your energy. Submitting abstracts and writing papers is also great for creating firm deadlines and helping you articulate thoughts that you might otherwise leave until later (forget).

Less tangible things that I have achieved this year are things like making amazing new friends, getting out of my comfort zone more often (attending conferences, talking to new people, talking in front of people), traveling, learning to ski, learning yoga, getting fit, getting healthy (or at least healthier). All of which have attributed to my increasing sense of wellbeing. Of course, I still have slumps, but I’m more able to deal with them. The sense of utter despair has dissipated, and when it starts to creep back in, I’m more able to knock it back.

My aims for the year ahead are to write a couple more chapters, try and get at least one paper published (publish or perish), and to travel more. I’m hoping that I get better at teaching, I think I did ok last term, but I want to do the very best by my students. Ultimately I’d like to happy, or, at the very least, moderately stable.

A bit about uni and a lot about mental health.

My transfer seminar is on Monday. At the risk of sounding like a six year old: I just don’t want to. I know my project is going to work, I just don’t know that I can convince a bunch of strangers, especially when one of them failed my last bit of paperwork and now probably thinks I’m a complete moron. It also isn’t particularly helpful that it’s right at the beginning of term so I haven’t really had time to see my supervisors about it.

Oh well, nothing I can do to change it. Just need to stop whinging and crack on. At least I’ve finished the powerpoint and notes for it now. I’m going to go over it a few times alone and meet with fellow transfer seminar victims on Friday to rehearse together.

This week I found out what teaching I’ll be doing this year, which is quite exciting. I’m doing Intro to English Studies this term and Intro to Critical Theory after Christmas. I’m more looking forward to the latter. The guy in charge of the modules is lovely, I’ve met him briefly before and look forward to working with him. He just seems like one of those really cheerful, crazy smart, non-threatening academics. We’re meeting him next week to go over this term’s module. I’d like to read the module texts before then, but we’ll see how Monday goes first.

As I think it’s important that we as a society discuss mental health more freely, I’m going to admit that I’ve been having a tough few weeks. I ran out of pills while I was away, purely out of a lack of preparedness, and had fully crashed by the time I got back up north. That meant that I struggled to leave the house, which meant that I didn’t immediately go to the doctors. When I did work up the gumption to go, their system was down and they couldn’t do repeat prescriptions. So, of course, I then had another week where I fully embraced the crazy –  insular, sitting in a dark room staring at nothing for hours trying to work up the energy to get dressed – crazy. I then remembered that I had a packet of my old pills – the ones that gave me bruises – and started taking those, but because by that point I was really low, I was almost too depressed to take my anti-depressants, so I was a bit hit and miss about taking them. I’ve been taking them properly for about a week now and I’m vaguely starting to perk up – but they’re not a cure-all. I tried to get an appointment for the doctors today, but I didn’t get through in time, so I’ll try again tomorrow. So yeah, this has been happening over the past few weeks, which is why my posts have been short, late or entirely absent.

Beng a PhD student is really insular, so if you’re the type of person to get depression then it’ll probably happen while you’re doing your PhD. You spend a lot of time alone just thinking, you feel out of your depth, you judge yourself by others’ achievements, you get imposter syndrome, you get frustrated with your progress and you probably won’t leave your house for days at a time. If that’s not a recipe for depression, I don’t know what is.

I was speaking to a friend about mental health, and we both decided that it was probably a positive thing that we’d both had depression before we’d started the PhD. It means that you’re more able to recognise that there’s some nonsense happening in your brain. Saying that, if you go back to my first post, you’ll notice that it took me four months to realise that I wasn’t just a bit sad or overwhelmed or lazy, I was really sad and drowning and without hope. Depression is the inability to deal with situations that you’d usually work out a way to handle, it robs you of your positivity and your desire to act.

Self-awareness is key. Cake doesn’t hurt either.

Scrolling Through Past Emma’s Open Tabs

You know when you go away for a while and when you come back everything feels strange in it’s familiarity? The haphazard way that you made your bed before you left. The one pair of socks that you left on their airer hanging stiffly because you forgot to buy fabric conditioner. Little piles of mess pushed to the corners of the room because you couldn’t be bothered to tidy them away when you still needed to pack, and was that really the time, and you needed to be on the road in ten minutes.

Today I opened my computer for the first time since I went away. Tabs and open windows greeted me. A half finished report, university guidelines, PDFs, a finished chapter that I was liberating quotes from. It’s been in the back of my head that I have work to do, a presentation to make, a report to edit, a chapter to start, but somehow the urgency that only seems to visit in waves has ebbed. I can’t tell if it’s an arrogance of assumption that I’ll just get it done, or if my mood is taking another dip.

While I was away I thought a lot about what it means to me to be a PhD student. I began to notice that when I introduce myself to new people I always take the time to emphasise that it’s a PhD I’m doing at uni. I use it almost like a justification – oh, I don’t have a job because I’m doing a PhD; I don’t have a house because I’m up North for a bit writing my thesis; what do I want to do with my life? Oh, well, when I finish my PhD I’ll probably go into lecturing if I can find a job, and what about you?

I’ve always based my self-worth on my academic achievements; I’ve never been pretty or handy or particularly eloquent, but I can write a bloody good essay. I tend to downplay my PhD, I say that reading is the only thing I’m good at (true), that I have no idea what else I’d do with my life (also true). So what does it mean when I base my self-worth on something that I then downplay?

I think that the reason I’ve begun to notice all of this is because of how insular and independent the PhD is. At undergrad and masters level you have a constant stream of deadlines. You write essays and get feedback. If you’re lucky, you get praise which then acts as validation. We’ve all been well lectured on the dangers of external validation, but that tends to come in the form of ‘you don’t need a partner to be happy’ and ‘you don’t need instagram likes to believe you’re pretty’. I imagine that gaining an internal sense of validation is an important part of becoming a functional adult human, I just have no idea how to go about that. Suggestions on a post-card.

Next week’s blog will definitely be about having achieved something work-wise.

Productive Procrastination

The thing about procrastination is, it feels totally justifiable if what you’re doing could be construed as productive. I was supposed to submit a certain piece of work about a month ago and I totally haven’t done it yet. I wrote 300 words of it when it was first set, but then I got stuck and I’ve been avoiding it ever since. Initially I was just ignoring it and hoping that something would magically happen to inspire me and the answer to the question would fall from the sky in a shower of blossom and birdsong. That didn’t happen. So then I decided that I was just going to read my long-list of potential texts, but got distracted after two (the ones mentioned in this post) by a theory text that I’ve been meaning to read since Christmas, which I’m now about half way through.

This week, rather than doing that late piece of work I’ve instead drafted an abstract for a conference (which I need to finish and submit today) and written the bulk of an article entirely unrelated to my PhD for an online magazine. I also spent the whole of Friday sulking about the election results, drinking beer and consuming a truly appalling amount of Chinese takeaway.

I keep thinking that I know what my thesis will look like, that I have possible chapter themes, but then I have an entirely conflicting idea and the justification of the first idea feels flimsy. I really feel that by now, seven months in, I should at least know my chapter titles, but I just can’t work it out. I keep thinking: ‘by next month I’ll know what I’m doing’, but nothing seems to really be taking shape. I think I just need to get over my aversion to writing, I think I’m getting too hung up on the idea of it needing to be good. I tell everyone whose work I edit that they should just free-write, get the ideas down on paper and then worry about things making sense afterwards. Why can’t I take my own advice?

I went back to the doctor’s today and got prescribed a new set of anti-depressants which, with any luck, won’t cause clotting, so I’m hopeful that things will start looking up again soon. My moods have been swinging all over the show, as has my productivity. One day I stayed up until 4:30am researching, one day I hashed out 300 words in one pomodoro; but then on other days I stared bleakly across the room at my desk and tried to summon the energy to even turn the computer on, or highlight one of the articles I’ve printed. I think my question is, how important is consistency? Should I be trying to do a certain number of pomodoros every day, or should I just accept that some days will be productive while others won’t?

I’m going to try to start taking my own advice, just get the ideas down on paper, don’t worry about how good they are.


This next two weeks I’m going to be back down South visiting family, I’m planning on taking loads of books and hiding myself away during the days, so hopefully I won’t waste too much time.

Word count: 2000 entirely irrelevant words

Gym: 1


Last week started really well, I’d read those two novels so I started writing about them a bit, just some nonsense that was a more formal continuation of the blog post I wrote about them… so that was one good day anyway. I don’t know that I’ve sat at my desk since Tuesday…whoops. I have literally no excuse. I haven’t been overwhelmed doing anything else.

The doctor took me off my pills because they were causing some clotting issues – I was bruising like crazy, and that might have been the cause for my temporary blindness a few weeks ago. So yeah. When I started this blog it was when I’d just been put on them and was starting to feel positive and motivated. I can feel myself sliding back to where I was before Christmas and I don’t really know what to do about it. I’ve been going to the gym in the hopes that it’ll boost my mood through endorphins, but that doesn’t seem to be having a tremendous effect just yet.


Anyway! The PhD!

This week I’m going to go back to just reading texts and not pressuring myself to write. Hopefully that’ll get the ball rolling again.

I got my printer working and now have a pile of excellent articles to highlight, so I’ll probably do that too.

When in doubt, read something new.


Words: 1,300

Gym: 2