Sunday, 25 September 2016

Rebuilding the Rubble: Entering the 3rd year of a PhD

Firstly, I want to start off my saying that I love doing my PhD.

Yes, its true!

I have honestly never felt so happy (which will sound like a complete paradox when reading on...) but I recognise that I am blessed to be able to immerse myself in live art, in my practice, in the processes of performance. I have access to studio spaces in which I am able to play, to create 'stuff'. I am happiest when lost in acts of creation, I now know. Its my meditation (and thanks to Dagmar for your inspiration, go Church of Performance!)

Natalie Raven and Dagmar Schwitzgebel as 'Church of Performance'
presenting Sackcloth and Ashes at Tempting Failure, London 2016
 Photo credit: Julia Bauer

I am also happy with my writing - Its improved no end. I find that I can write clearly and articulate myself well. Sometimes it takes me a little while to work out what it is I am trying to say, and most of my 'realisations' come at the point of writing, where I am reflecting, ruminating, making links, sat my desk in Rolle (which looks out to the sea by the way - Plymouth is an incredible place to study)

Overall, positive.

Just recently however, things have become a little more stressful, and I want to acknowledge this - it is really not uncommon I have come to realise (thank you for all the coffees, cakes, and chats Steven Paige)

I don't think it is necessarily a secret that I have been finding some of the process of undertaking my PhD challenging (various examples on here). I find it helpful in many ways to talk about the struggles I face in relation to the research process, as it helps me to work things out; my thoughts, feelings, and experiences. I hope that in sharing this, others might feel less isolated or worried when they face their own struggles.

So, vulnerabilty time...

For the past few months I have had low level (and maybe some higher level) anxieties creeping up on me. My body is clever, insomuch as it displays physical responses to these stresses(if you want me to be specific, I pick the skin on my lips, hense, lipstick when I go out... It covers the cracked skin).

I actually feel pretty lucky that my body does this in a way, as I can then acknowledge that this is what is going on for me, and respond in kind.

I have this anxiety
I have the physical manifestations it prompts
Aaaaand now I just need to work out what exactly is causing it, so I can work on that, and be anxiety free, right?


So, I ask myself... "Natalie, what is causing your anxiety?"

And, its kind of a million dollar question.

When I spoke about feeling this way, a few people asked me if it was the dreaded 'imposter syndrome' - I definitely felt that when I started my PhD... I worried that I wasn't quite worthy enough of the scholarship I'd received. I ended up responding to this feeling by being over productive and working my ass off constantly to continually 'prove myself', which I think resulted in me burning myself out a little in my first year.

Reflecting on this, I think I still do feel compelled to work hard in order to prove myself, somehow. I wonder if this is maybe related to my gender and my lived experiences, finding that I work just that little bit harder than my male counterparts to be taken as seriously, or even acknowledged at all!

But, maybe that is a blog post for another time...

Coming back to the imposter syndrome worry however, I don't think I feel that now. I know I work hard, I know I deserve the funding, and I think what I have to say will be of immense value to various members of the academic and performance community. Thank goodness for that.

No, I think this is something else.

I have spoken to my supervisors about these things on various occasions (and I want to acknowledge how incredibly supportive, generous, and insightful they have been - thank you Professor Roberta Mock and Dr Victor Ladron de Guevara at Plymouth University) and what they have made clear, is that doing a PhD is a transformative process.

100%, bang on, accurate.

I think this hits right to the heart of what's been causing me these anxieties.

Doing a BA and an MA in Drama at De Montfort University was a wholly incredible experience. It took me from the insecure, chubby, council house kid that I was, equipped me with new knowledges and ways of seeing the world, and transformed me into a feminist, politically charged woman of power and presence (and heartful thank yous to Helena Goldwater and Dr. Alissa Clarke for changing my life).

I found ways to express myself which were positive and affirming.

I found myself.

I found my voice. 

And I realise now that two years into my PhD, I lost it again. 

No longer could I stand on the shoulders of those giants upon which I built my foundations... Butler, Irigaray, Cixous... always and forever Cixous and those 'carnal, passionate, body words'.

It all crumbled away.

For the past few months, I had been standing in the rubble of who I once was.
Because what I think I thought I knew, isn't there anymore. 

I now know I know nothing.

I now know I can't say anything. 
I now know I can't think anything. 
I now know I can't do anything.

But paradoxically, I know all of it, and can think, say, and do, all of it.

It's just, for every one way to say, think, or do something, there are a million other possibilities and counter arguments, perspectives or approaches. And there is cultural contextual rationale. And lived experience.

And so on...

And so...

I think what I had been feeling, was lost.
My agency was removed.
So... Where does that leave me, now?

... Able to make a fresh start.

Slowly, from the rubble I am surrounded by, I am picking up my foundations, and I am slowly putting things back together. It's not even that the rocks making up the rubble have changed, Butler, Irigaray, Cixous, they're all still there. It's just, I utilise them in a slightly different way, in a more thorough, rounded way. I just had to learn what I thought I knew, but didn't know - which was everything else.

And so, I am slowly rebuilding myself.

And slowly my thesis is emerging.

And slowly I will become myself once more, only better, brighter, and a lot more resilient for going through this process.
For every tear I shed and doubt I feel, I know this is an incredible privilege.

I hope this might be of help to some of you on your journey...

Natalie xo