The why of it all…
Since the new year I have been wrestling with the challenge of adequately describing and then shoehorning aforementioned description of a 3-year PhD research project into a 700-word text box, in a funding application form, for an anonymous panel of people who’ve never met me and who’ve probably never (yes, I could be wrong, but I’m probably not) read a word of my published poetry or prose. What joy this task has been. I was initially being ironic when I typed the previous sentence but actually, my PhD journey thus far has been a bit of a revelation.
The support I have already received from my prospective supervisors has been amazing and I’ve found myself excited by the rapidly expanding academic vista that is spreading out before me: something that I did not expect (more on this in future posts). I didn’t get the full-time funding. But hey, that’s the way it goes and it’s not going to stop me. However, since starting this PhD thing I’m finding great writers, academics and practitioners whose work and research is resonating hugely with my experiences. Voices I’d never have found unless I’d started on this road. Right now I am reading Rethinking Creative Writing by Stephanie Vanderslice. It’s a great book and a huge relief to hear a voice that I can identify with. The book is right here to the right of my keyboard and I am clinging to it as I wrestle with the whys and wherefors of such an enormous undertaking as a PhD. Vanderslice’s work was among some of the first I found when I started preparing for the application form and I’d recommend her work to any writer/ practitioner thinking of dipping a toe into academia for the first time.
In my day and where I’m from people didn’t do PhDs. Where I’m from a lot of people didn’t make it to higher education. I hope this situation is changing but for me, growing up was devoid of any academic role models. I didn’t even know what academia was until I started to specialise in Intellectual Property research in my full-time, employed job as an Information Specialist. This is only relevant to help contextualise why finding academia exciting and meaningful is a significant revelation to me personally.
Anyway, I am ploughing on with the PhD preparation and the crushing disappointment of not securing full-time funding was the kick in the pants I needed. Now this isn’t some cod reverse psychology I am soothing myself with. I managed my 700-word description and I am still, on the whole, pretty proud of it and on board with it (although I am sure it will develop and change as I go along). What I hadn’t fully worked out was WHY I feel I need to do a PhD at this point in my life and career. My creative agency The/Poetry/Fold is going well in the face of the economic debris falling all around our ears, I’m writing and already working with some amazing people and communities. So why a PhD?
Today I can see it’s about recalibrating myself as a writer. I am collaborative by nature but have no idea how that collabortation affects my own writing. Something I need to take time to explore. I also deliver a Poetry/Fold course called Strange Bedfellows which utilises random ephemera, white space and juxtapostion. I’ve been using the Strange Bedfellows template for a long time and only started to reflect on it when I moved into CPD, training and mentoring work in the healthcare and education sectors a couple of yeas ago. I’d never heard of reflective practice until I worked with healthcare professionals and it’s helped me look at myself and the way I do my work and my writing in a whole new way. Once I started on that self-reflective path I felt I had to start The/Poetry/Fold. And I’m so glad I have. Unbidden, I have had feedback and comments from colleagues saying how innovative it is. I’m not sure. And this isn’t false modesty, I am proud of my achievements, I just know there’s a lot of practitioners out in the field doing lots of amazing work – work that for the most part, doesn’t show up on the academic radar.
For now I think I’ll leave it there but I will be returning to a lot of themes and strands in future posts. Finally, what I wanted to share is that last night, at a screenwriting event I attended in Newcastle with a colleague, I shared for the first time the eureka moment I had a couple of weeks ago. After all these years (14 and counting) as a freelance writer and creative practitioner I feel I understand – and I mean a deeper-level understanding – why I need to collaborate and what I really want to do with my writing (my poetry, at least). There’s not going to be any big reveal, I’m just not sharing what I’ve realised at this precise moment. But I will. I just feel liberated and excited and ready to move on to new things: and all because I wrote 700 words in a form for a panel of anonymous people who’ve probably never read a single word I’ve written. And yes, I could be wrong.