Do you get time to read for pleasure?
What music do you listen to as you work?
For me, anything goes for emails or repetitive tasks. But for work which needs sustained thought, I need to avoid music which might intrude – either with lyrics which distract from what I’m reading/writing, or simply because it’s so wonderful I can’t let it fade into the background.
This means I can’t listen to music I really love while I write or read. And if it has lyrics, they need to be very subtle.
Hence: my PhD playlist. The top 5 songs/albums which are getting me through a very work-heavy period.
Last Saturday was a major milestone of my first term as a DPhil: the New Work in Modernist Studies conference, run by the British Association for Modernist Studies (BAMS). It was my first ever conference, and I was fairly (read extremely) nervous, but I’d heard good things. A relaxed atmosphere, helpful feedback, great people.
A couple of nights ago, I was talking to a JRF over college dinner, and my research came up. I tend to present this differently depending on my mood and audience, and that day – for whatever reason – I chose to focus on my ethical approach.
Stevie Smith doesn’t get a lot of critical attention, I said. And when she does, the focus often seems to be on her biography and persona. I am sick of reading about her aunt, her little-girl clothes, her job as a typist. It’s as though writing is such an odd thing for a woman to do that it necessarily means she’s insane: critiquing her work becomes a kind of therapy, to locate the originary trauma in her background. The same’s often true of H.D. I want to write about their use of poetic form – to extend the same courtesy to them as we give to male writers.
As I think about the direction I want Parrots Ate Them All to take, two things seem clear.
That academic blogging is important, both professionally and intellectually. More than a box-ticking exercise for research impact, writing for the lay reader helps you develop a clear style and a constant awareness of purpose. I think of it in the same way I think about my teaching. I’ve always enjoyed tutoring a range of students, from pre-literate five-year-olds to university learners. Each pupil requires me to select and frame my ideas differently. And, invariably, this variety of approaches strengthens my teaching, writing and theorising on all levels.
That posting research on academic blogs also puts the author at risk of plagiarism. Lucy Williams wrote a shocking piece for the Guardian last year, about a tabloid newspaper’s theft of her work. While I doubt the Daily Mail will be interested in much I have to say about Stevie Smith’s aphorisms, Lucy’s story is a warning. Anyone starting a blog needs to be clear about the risks involved, and to consider in what ways they want to protect their writing.
I move down to Oxford in two weeks, to start my English DPhil. I’m excited and invigorated, but also apprehensive. Over the next three years, I’ll be trying to place articles in peer-reviewed journals, give talks, teach, help organise conferences or seminars, disseminate my research in more accessible formats and – of course – actually research and write my thesis! That feels like a lot of pressure. I want to lay as much groundwork as possible, to help these three or four years run smoothly.