March in Review ¦ The Semi-Serious Stuff

I thought today seeing as how it is the last day of March would be the optimum time to take a look back on some things that have happened this past month. Because I don’t document enough of my life, boring though it is, and whilst something incredibly mundane might be all that I have to talk about in this kind of wrap-up, who knows where all those little mundane things might someday lead. After all, it’s only in retrospect and with the benefit of hindsight that you realise just how significant or insignificant those happenings were.

THE PERSONAL

I’ve come to realise this month just how horrendously unhealthy my lifestyle is. As is the life of the student, especially the postgrad student. Whilst it is possible I am generalising to make myself feel better I do think that now would be a wonderful time to try to change some of those horrible horrible habits in the hope that in months/years to come I will be able to continue this stretch.

So tentatively this month I did some yoga, pilates and basic cardio exercises using a personal trainer app. And I enjoy this method of exercise, it really hammered home how unfit you are when five minutes of high knees makes you wheeze (give me heel flicks any day but good lord to not ask me for high knees). My balance is less terrible than I expected but my core strength is pretty much non-existent. These are the things that yoga has taught me. In all seriousness though I am at a stage where, for various financial and personal reasons, the thought of going to a gym or running outside is simply not possible. So doing a little of something each day with an app in my room where I can pant and sweat to my heart’s content (TMI?) is much more manageable, and something I might actually stick with.

Likewise, I realise my diet ought to consist of more than just cups of coffee, cups of tea, pasta, sandwiches, and the occasional jacket potato. So I’m hoping to sit down and think when I put in my online grocery order so that I consciously buy a more varied weekly shop because whilst pasta is incredibly easy and tasty to make, I am about one bowl away from turning into a piece of farfalle – I wish I were joking.


 

THE ACADEMIC

March was a month for claiming at various intervals that I was essay writing. Which is to say I was, and still am, in the midst of putting off working on my final module essays. The one for my Early Modern course focuses on the disruption of time via history-making and recording in Shakespeare’s Richard III, Heywood’s King Edward IV Parts 1 and 2, combined with taking a look at utopia as an attempt to move outside of chronology/time/historiography, considering The Tempest‘s Prospero as a revisionist historian, and Gonzalo as a utopic philosopher, with a little bit of More’s Utopia thrown in for good measure. All fun stuff that is quite possibly incredibly dull for anyone else reading it but I don’t know sometimes it helps to try to summarise your argument in a sentence (admittedly a rather long run-on one but shush).

The other essay is less focused at the moment, but basically it’s for a Victorian Literature and Other Media class which looks at everything from the practice of illustrating Victorian novels, to silent film adaptation, to fanfiction and fanart based on canonical Victorian texts. After researching a fun presentation on webseries adaptation, my essay has taken an entirely different focus which is completely based on my own personal mission in life to talk about Les Misérables until the cows come home. So as it stands my essay will take a look at the ways in which social issues in nineteenth-century novels are altered, ‘sanitised’, and appropriated into the musical genre. As my case studies I will look at issues of prostitution, domestic abuse, and crime as portrayed in Dickens’ Oliver Twist and Hugo’s Les Misérables, and how these two texts then work when transposed into the musical genre in Oliver! and Les Misérables. I think it will be a really fun and creative essay, so long as I can clarify and pin down an actual argument as, at this stage, it’s still very much in the ‘discussion’ realm instead of the ‘argument/hypothesis’ realm in which you really ought to situate academic work. So fingers crossed that those go well.

I also finalised my dissertation proposal, which was handed in and I should shortly be hearing who my assigned supervisor is. I might already know but shhhhhhh. I am also intimidated and terrified if who it is is actually who it is, this summer will be an interesting journey, to say the least. I also handed in a very rough draft of an abstract for… a conference paper. A thing that is what you do, apparently, if you’re a postgrad student and yet still seems intangible to me. I’m constantly sent Calls for Papers in my email inbox and obviously have never had the balls to even for a second consider putting something together. But each year my department holds a conference for all the MA English students where we all give 15-minute papers. Often they’re work-in-progress efforts at our dissertation topics – that’s what mine will be and hopefully by then it won’t be a jumbled mess of incoherent thoughts about how significant it is that Aufidius steps on Caius Martius’ dead body in Shakespeare’s Coriolanus but they changed this in the Donmar production to have him strung up by his ankles in a very dramatic fashion.

Speaking of the conference, during a weird moment of I COULD DO THIS I WANT TO DO THIS confidence (they happen every so often and usually pass without notice), I volunteered to be on the committee. So there’s me and 3 other girls organising this entire conference. We settled on the theme, wrote up the text that explaind the theme, and have a tentative plan for the day’s schedule. We need to get together with everyones’ abstracts and put them into panels and then design the conference booklet and then… host the conference I guess. I am actually really looking forward to it, it’s something completely new and I’m kind of surprised at myself that I didn’t second-guess myself at that moment of ‘I think I want to do this’ and not volunteer. I’m glad I did.


 

CAREERS (AKA ‘HAHAHAHA CRIES’)

As you might have guessed from the titling of this section, the word ‘careers’ is still one which is enough to force me to assume the foetal position and rock back and forth mumbling about how I just wish I could be Sandra Bullock in The Proposal or else the Charms Professor Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. See, I’m not narrow-minded, I have two distinct options in hand there…

No, but seriously, March has been a month in which I had an oddly informative careers talk. The Careers service at my university is brilliant I’m sure and they have a lot of support on campus for students, ranging from workshops, to industry recruitment tips, to mock interviews. Which is splendid, if you know what you want to do. Which, for the record, I do not. Or at least I can’t see how I can. I’ve said it before but I want to work in Publishing and yet I cannot understand how the hell you’re meant to successfully write speculative applications for internships, let alone how you’re meant to afford to do a plethora of unpaid internships (if you even get those supposedly rare opportunities) if you do not live in London. London is this unreachable entity for me and it sucks that even though a lot of media industry is relocating elsewhere to regional bases (some even, shock horror, relocating to the NORTH OF ALL THE HEINOUS PLACES), a lot of it is still heavily capital-biased. I know noone in the area, all my relatives live in the North East, most of the friends I have made live in the North East or the North West and it’s just a little disheartening when you realise that despite the regionalisation that has happened, the actual publishing industry still feels like this unreachable thing for me purely based on the practicalities of geography. Like, of all the silly things on this small island we call Britain,it feels like a ridiculous thing to hold me back but it feels like it is. Maybe I’m wrong, I don’t know, I’ll probably go and whine to one of the careers advisers about this to try to find a work-around.

But, similarly, this careers talk actually helped me to realise that the idea of doing a PhD shouldn’t have been completely ditched as I basically had because I could see no viable way in which any university would ever want to take me on, let alone how I would fund it let, let alone what good it would actually do. So maybe I shouldn’t completely rule out the idea of an academic life sometime in the future, it just won’t be happening next year, but that’s more than okay by me. I just need to find something to do that will pay the bills and maybe let me squirrel away some money into savings for this dream of doctoral study.

Speaking of money, hahaha, an entirely not fun thing happened in March which was that one of my on-campus jobs came to an end. A rather abrupt end given the contractual one-week’s notice that was all employees are given and bye bye that handy £35 a week, it was nice knowing you. This sent me into a very illogical spiral of OMG I CAN BARELY PAY RENT I’M GOING TO BE UNABLE TO AFFORD FOOD I’M GOING TO NEED TO QUIT AND MOVE BACK HOME etc etc. It’s nonsense, of course, I have very little outgoings to the point that with next month’s paycheck I can probably settle my remaining rent invoice that takes me up to the end of the contract in September. But, practically, after that I have to be just a little careful about how I spend money because I think my other on-campus job will finish up in June. And after that I’ll have no income over the summer, which is fine because I should be okay, but it just makes me very wheezy for completely illogical reasons. I just need to learn to relax I suppose.

So that tied in with career panic and the growing realisation that I might have to get a move on with pinning down what I want to do made March an interesting month for everything job-related. March was also the month in which an online careers planner told me I should be an accountant, a happening I think needs to be recorded for posterity so we can all take a second to laugh hysterically about how wrong the computer was on that one.


 

And whilst I’m still chuckling about the accountant suggestion, I think that’s a good point at which to break off this March In Review post with a promise that very shortly I’ll be completing a second part which deals with the less boring stuff, i.e. the TV shows and books I devoured whilst eating biscuits and trying not to cry over the real life decisions that are the downfall of indecisive people like myself. Stay tuned for that.

 

Discussion: The Future

Scary blog title, huh? Scary topic to be honest though so it fits perfectly.

I don’t know what I want to do with my life.

That felt good to admit. I have zero clue what I want to do with my life. I know what in an ideal, ideal world what I would want to do with my life but as we all know that dream of becoming a renowned Shakespeare professor and then moving into a career in theatre in London and then meeting Tom Hiddleston, him falling instantly in love with me and then getting married in a beautiful wedding which my friends and their equally famous significant others enjoys is, well it’s, not even my dream, but Liz’s dream (yeah that still kind of creeps me out a little bit, I don’t need to delusionally dream these things she does it for me).

No, but seriously now, in an ideal world I would have a specific research interest locked down and I would have applied, and been awarded, AHRC funding to finance a pHD at my beloved Lancaster University. But this is the real world and in the real world it is a Monday night, I spent the weekend doing bog all, spent this morning binge-watching Community on Netflix until I went to work for 6 hours and felt like a vaguely useful member of a team (that last bit was nice), then I did laundry and made food and now here I am. If I were passionate about a future pHD would I not be living, breathing, hell also dreaming about, my research interests? I’m not sure, and this uncertainty is what makes me suspect that I actually don’t want to continue in education. Which is ridiculous. It sounds ridiculous to anyone who knows me but it’s beginning to slowly dawn on me that maybe I don’t have what it takes to get to the next step, so to speak. And with the scarcity of teaching positions available at my university (yes I know there are other places but there’s a really lovely Shakespeare programme here okay?), it not only makes it an unlikely next step, it makes it seem nigh on impossible unless you are at the very, very top of your game. And I don’t think I am.

So what does that leave? Well. Teaching. But “those that can’t do teach” hahahaha no, I’ve never believed that, and frankly anyone who does should go take a long hard look at themselves in the mirror. I respect teachers, I applaud teachers, I used to want to be one of them. But now I’m not so sure. You see the thing is, you don’t get to pick and choose your classes. You can’t say ‘oh yes I’ll teach English in secondary school, providing my students actually want to pass and give a damn about Macbeth‘, you can’t say that, in an ideal world, yes, in the real world, no. So teaching is out, for the most part.

How about publishing? Publishing is what I want to do, I can feel it. But where are all the publishing jobs? London. There are smaller pockets elsewhere but, primarily, it’s London-based. So that means you need to be able to commute in or afford to live there which um not to both. Internships appear to be pretty much the only way to try shove your foot in that rapidly closing door in the hope of squeezing in, but how do you even get an internship? Who do I have to sacrifice to get one? Seriously, tell me, let me know. And if you could also advise on how on earth I could ever justify, let alone afford to do, unpaid internships in one of the most expensive cities in the world, that would be great. I don’t have contacts. No one I know knows people. (This is the point where my grandma turns round and tells me she knows the head of editorial at Penguin? Ha, I wish.)

Let’s go a bit lower on the ladder of the publishing world – bookselling. I think I’d like to work in a bookshop, I honestly do. After all I love talking books to people, reading books, recommending books, touching books (not in a creepy way I swear), shelving books (I wish I were kidding), so I think I’d be good at it. I think I’m getting better at customer service because to be honest I feel like after having someone burst into tears in front of me and advising them calmly, I could deal with angry or irritated customers. Or, similarly, libraries… I could be a librarian, I would love that, I’m sure.

Yes, I’m floundering a bit now. And I’m whining, needlessly and self-indulgently, but this is how I’m feeling right now. I know most Arts and Social Sciences graduates go through this – especially English students, or so I’m lead to believe – but I’m feeling it particularly tonight and I thought I would take the time to vent via this blog because it helps, weirdly, and maybe venting is one way to then get over it/myself and move onto the part where I try to do something about it. I think the first logical step would be to do everything in my power to get the best grade and final dissertation possible, in which case I should probably (read: definitely) crack a book open. The future can come later, and hopefully it won’t be quite so ominous and suffocating as it feels right now.