Friday, 9 March 2012

Desperately Seeking...Smarts

A PhD is a lonely journey. This is the first thing I was told as I interviewed for my spot in my PhD program. It's lonely in that it is just you. Your thoughts, your writing, your research. You will speak to fellow students and discuss with your advisors, but it's all you. Near the end, you become convinced you are the only one going crazy over this thing, that your fellow students are having an easier time of it, that this is the moment everyone discovers you have been faking it for the last few years, etc.

Then you finally finish, come up for air, take a shower and rejoin the world to find that actually everyone else doing a PhD was feeling relatively the same way. While only you could finish your particular PhD and it was a lonely journey, you were not the only one sloughing through and muttering, 'just keep typing, just keep typing, just f**king keep typing.'

Strangely, it doesn't really make you feel any better about the situation, but at least now you have some people to share a drink with and reminisce about the agony.

Somewhat interestingly, I find the role of housewife to be a similar experience. It is a lonely existence and it is easy to believe you are the only one in your situation. Going from student (which was largely performed at home) to housewife doesn't make for the best social life. At first is was a bit of a refreshing break to not have a ton of articles to read or a word limit to hit and I could just get on with finally giving the house a proper clean and maybe indulging in some more complicated cooking/baking (or just learning to cook, a generally useful skill for anyone).

A month later, the house was clean, I mastered a few recipes and realised daytime TV is quite depressing.

As more and more job applications were rejected and I lost the will to continue the seemingly futile process of applying, I also lost the will to keep up with current events, let alone my field. The more my life became about cooking, cleaning and ironing, the less I wanted to know about the world outside that realm. It seems counter intuitive perhaps, but as my life began to seem more and more about simple things and the likelihood that I would re-enter the wide world seemed to shrink, the less I wanted to know about what I was missing.

I hoped ignorance would be bliss.

I can tell you, this mantra did not serve me well.

By ignoring the world around me, I became so uniformed about the world that when I did occasionally venture out in an attempt to be sociable, my former witty conversational banter was reduced to overly excited (I'm talking to real people!!) anecdotes about failed culinary attempts and my theories on the past-times of my neighbours. (FYI, the house two doors down is definitely a half-way house, I think, and my neighbour across the way prefers banana-hammocks to boxers.)

To put it plainly, I felt as though I had lost a bit of my hard-earned smarts. I couldn't share in debates or express an opinion on news stories unless they appeared in the free-morning-newsprint-bundle-masquerading-as-a-newspaper-my-husband-brings-home-every-evening-which-I-eagerly-thumb-through-in-an-attempt-to-be-informed-only-to-inevitably-learn-about-a-chicken-nugget-shaped-like-George-Washington-instead-of-yet-another-crisis-in-the-Middle-East.

With virtual media taking over and newspapers going under everyday there really isn't an excuse to be so uninformed. I could read the news online in between obsessively checking my email and blog reading, but I tend to get distracted by photos of celebrities on red carpets or reviews of yet another costume drama.

At this point, it's almost a wilful ignorance. I have an unreasonable aversion to online research and news. Although, at the same time, I find the possibilities it offers the previously disenfranchised, incredibly interesting and promising. This reluctance to seek out news and research online is a bit problematic as I doubt Gazetteers, Almanacs or Encyclopedias (spelled correctly in one go, Thank you, Jiminy Cricket) are even printed anymore, but what can I do? I'm stubbornly hypocritical.

On Monday, it will be two years since I submitted that PhD. In another few months it will be two years I have been a housewife.

That's two years of enforced semi-ignorance.

If the mantra is to be believed I should be luxuriating in a bubble bath with champagne and a perma-smile, I'm so blissed out.

I'm sure we are all clear on the fact that this is not the case. In fact, I am feeling decidedly uncomfortable. As painful and distressing as the 'news' usually is, I am more distressed over being unaware of the world around me.

As a self-described free-lance Geographer, it is unacceptable.

So, I have decided to subscribe to a Sunday paper (I welcome suggestions), if for no other reason than I need cocktail chat material. I seem to have mastered most of my kitchen appliances and haven't mucked up a recipe in ages.


  1. That's a nice compromise, actually. I used to pick up the paper on Mondays and enjoy reading through the entire thing (and yes, doing the crossword puzzle).

  2. Yeah! You're back!

    Also, I heard Encyclopedia Britannica is going out of print. Did I call it or what?

    I went with The Guardian (The Observer) mostly because of the TV advert based on Three Little Pigs and filmed at my 'work' location. Scientific, I know.