I’m writing this from my sofa. It’s evenings like this that I truly love living here and love living in my flat. It’s super light and I can keep the windows open and it’s still warm. Living in an old converted shoe factory (it’s nicer than it sounds!) means I have super high ceilings and a building that really keeps the heat so it’s actually feeling quite Mediterranean at the moment. That summer evening kind of feeling I guess. I like it. I have a small glass of rose gin and generally things *should* be feeling good. Depending on when I’m asked, and who asks, things actually are OK. They are OK and they are not. I’m probably losing this glorious little first floor flat that I have grown to love (landlord is selling my small slice of home), and I’m back to work tomorrow after a truly lovely, challenging, busy yet sort of peaceful few weeks of research leave, where I feel like for the first time in 20 months (yes a year and 8 months…..) I feel like I am actually *doing* a PhD. I’ve known I’m doing it, of course. But it has been a weird process of muddling through something that has felt way beyond me, and that has felt quite like a permanent part of my life (the kind of thing that doesn’t end). I think I see that it will end now and that I have done things. In fact, I have been *doing* all the things, just not feeling the things or connecting to it. I know progress is not a prescribed thing and I know it looks different for every person and for every PhD, but I had no idea it would be like this. And I had no idea PhDs take you on this journey of their own. And also no idea that actually stopping and simplifying things opens up spaces. Anyway, that’s for another post another time. Point being = simplifying things is good. Well, simplifying is never really simple, and that's more the point!
I actually wanted to write about what I’ve been doing over the past few weeks. I don’t know if it’s that the academic year is quite full on when you have a loaded teaching schedule across different programmes. I don’t know if it’s that it’s full on when you also work as a therapist and keep a client load going throughout that time too. I don’t know if it’s that winter is actually quite cold and dark and that can make you feel quite cold and dark too. I don’t know if it’s having your PhD move to Scotland and having a big part of you want to move there too. I don’t know if it’s just everything (probably it is everything – it’s never just one thing). But I needed to do something to pull back a bit of time and space. So, I did. I booked all my research and annual leave and I even remembered that travelling is good for me, so I booked some trips. I really don’t overlook the fact that I’m in a fortunate position where I can do this. I’ve never been in a position where I (a) can take leave and not worry that I won’t be paid, and (b) go on a trip that isn’t for work and know that it doesn’t have a massive financial impact on me. I know I have travelled a fair bit over the past 10 years – but 90% of the time it has been work. I really don’t take this kind of freedom for granted. This year I’ve been generally travelling quite a lot but usually this is to Scotland, to see family in Yorkshire, or to conferences. I decided to go on a solo trip to Budapest a couple of weeks ago and I reminded myself of a few things that I wanted to write about. They are not massive things – really they are quite simple, but I wanted to write about them.
1. Give me a good square, bench, coffee shop, park or café and a good book, and I will be happily there for hours. Even more of a bonus if outside and it’s warm and sunny. Better if I remember sunscreen.
2. The sun truly is great – I know it isn’t for everyone. I know some people really struggle with the warmth and exposure, but for me, it can really transform how I feel.
3. Losing track of time is good. I had a funny moment of realising I had indeed lost track of time. I woke up on a Friday morning in the AirBnB. I decided that whilst I was away I would still be ‘on emails’ per se – not for all the things, but I would be intentional about it. I would be ‘on’ for my masters dissertation supervisees. If I were them I wouldn’t want my supervisor leaving for that long, and I felt it was important to be there. Probably says more about what I need, rather than them. But hey. I generally try (most people will confirm that I rubbish at this though) to not respond to most emails over the weekend. I’d told myself especially not whilst I was on research leave. So I woke up on the Friday and thought that it was Saturday and questioned why I was replying to emails – then realised it was, in fact, Friday. Not that it actually made a profound difference, but I realised that losing track of time is possible and it is good.
4. To carry on from that, disabling email from the phone was good, for a week. A whole week and I didn’t have my work email on my phone. OK, I checked it fairly regularly using the web browser instead but it’s not the same as having that constant ping from your mobile phone. I think I’ll continue to do this when I’m actually away and out of the country and have some protected time.
5. I love two things: sunsets and the water. The Danube in Budapest is pretty lovely, especially when the sun is setting. It’s quite obvious if you see the stream of pictures that I take on my phone, but I love these two things. I will walk for miles to find a lovely view and just stay there. I’m pretty sure that I actually live in one of the most central places in England (i.e. the furthest away from the coast…. Makes me quite sad really because I miss the sea)
6. Bodies are pretty wise and they communicate things very well. It’s important to listen. I walked whilst I was away. In fact, I didn’t use public transport apart from to get to and from the airport. I easily topped 15 miles per day. If you look at me, I think I look like I can do this. I run a fair bit, so I’m not unfit. But I generally don’t walk so much. So I temporarily did some pretty painful damage to parts of my legs and hips that I didn’t realise would take such a hit. It turns out when you need to rest, your body tells you loud and clear. It also turns out that not planning ahead actually enables the flexibility needed to listen to that. Bodies are useful if we listen to them.
7. To take that point and build on it – it is OK to break routine. I’m not really a routine-type of person. But with some things, I really am and it can be quite unhelpful. Being in a new place with different things can be quite challenging but it can also be OK
8. I have good people in my life. It is important to remember this.
9. I don’t speak a single word of Hungarian – usually I try when I go to a new country. I surprise myself especially with my weird English-Spanish combo when I am in Barcelona. I think it’s quite cliché but kindness transcends boundaries of spoken language and I really realised this.
10. The world doesn’t crumble if you put the breaks on for a few days.
OK I reminded myself of quite a few things. Mainly about space, time and connection. Also that simple is actually OK and it is really under-rated but it is also complicated. Deciding to book some leave was quite simple. Deciding to go away was simple. Making decisions about my PhD is simple. Deciding to simplify the practical things has actually enabled the space needed to *not* over-simplify what would otherwise be seen as simple. But all those things are also complicated – not everything is simple. Even simple isn’t actually simple. It’s complicated and messy but only because life can be complicated and messy. Maybe that’s OK.