Life After Submission

I submitted my thesis last Thursday, on 1st August, on schedule, and while functioning the human embodiment of mixed feelings. Most immediately, submitting the thesis meant not having to spend another day worrying about my inability to use semicolons or the en dash correctly. Or whether I’d pitched my acknowledgments correctly.

Or whether I should cut those two paragraphs of megalols on the all-cursed eighteenth-century performance history of All’s Well, in a spirit of kill-your-darlings/academic maturity (answer: NEVER!!1). It also meant sticking to the date that, in a spirit of accountability, I’d given everyone for my submission, despite the fact that the precise date was something that only really mattered to me (and, okay, my university). People sent lovely messages, one of my viva examiners hugged me outside the exam schools, a friend was on hand to act as my administrator, I cried in Pret, and a dozen or so of my favourite people went out for cocktails and then on to Chiang Mai.

You probably noticed the bit where I cried in Pret. You are probably all bored of the posts where I swoon and wail about how much I love my research, so take that as read and skip to the bit where I’m sitting in Pret, having left my thesis in the superlatively capable but indomitably low-key hands of the Holywell Street print shop (to whom all praise), and Emily’s getting concerned because for the first time in three years (excluding the evening where my throat was so bad that I could only throw cushions and mime death to attract her attention), I’ve stopped talking.

OBVIOUSLY submitting is a good thing. I am delighted to have managed it. I had a perfectly splendid afternoon and evening, despite having submitted in the devil’s own weather and then, oh god, hugged my examiner while slimy and disgusting. It was all lovely. But in Pret, I felt so sad. And then, later on in Brasenose M/HCR, while I obsessively counted and re-counted all 425 pages of each of my triplicate theses to see whether the Holywell print shop had messed up the numbering (SPOILERS: they hadn’t), things became reminiscent of that scene in Friends where Phoebe’s left alone with the triplets. This isn’t new behaviour – I’ve cried after pretty much every play I’ve directed or been in. I well up when Michaelmas ends (but not Hilary. No-one loves Hilary). I can’t so much as look at the BBC Sherlock Reichenbach Fall and I turn off Four Weddings and a Funeral at the first glimpse of tartan. I didn’t cry after Finals because that would be certifiable, but the morning after the St John’s Commemoration Ball which followed Finals, I made all my graduating friends cry by bringing my hangover into their kitchen and reciting Larkin. To put it another, more obvious way: I loved being a DPhil student and I’m so sorry it’s (almost) over.

Submitting a DPhil isn’t the same as getting a DPhil. I’m technically (and in the eyes of the council tax people, thank god) still a student. My viva date is 27 September. I can cushion the psychological blow by reminding myself that there’s still a lot to do – and reminding myself, of course, that I have plans for this thesis. I hope it’ll one day be a book. I’m even luckier in that I have teaching jobs lined up for the next year, here in Oxford, across two wonderful colleges. One of them (say it quietly) even includes a book allowance.

And I do know that I’m meant to take time off (but if I choose to spend a sizeable chunk of it reading the reading list my Freshers should be receiving, who are you to judge me?!). So: I am doing downtime. I went to a village fete on Saturday (dog show = splendid. Lack of murders = not what ITV has led me to expect). I ate fajitas with E. I did a leaping shrieking dance at the announcement that P. Capaldi, god amongst cadaverous Scottish men, is going to play the next Doctor. My mum and I are planning a trip to London, not least to deal with the fact that a teaching wardrobe of Skinny Jeans And Tops With Leopard-Print is probably not acceptable for a proper job (except, talking of proper job and more specifically of grown up: on the way to submit my DPhil thesis, I got ID’d buying scissors. You have to be sixteen to buy scissors. I am twenty-six. This follows hot on the heels of The Time I Was Stopped As An Unaccompanied Minor By Border Control At Heathrow Airport). Later this summer, I am attending ANY NUMBER of weddings and going to the seaside. I am completely au fait with events on Coronation Street. I am doing downtime¬†with a vengeance and if a small part of me¬†still wants to buy a new A4 pad and get back to making myself to-do lists with two columns dividing tasks up as PRIORITIES or alternatively BONUS… then that’s sick and wrong and if you see me doing that you should buy me a cocktail. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to re-reading the entire nineteenth century relaxing.

I do have some posts coming up, though, along the lines of “The PhD Acknowledgments It Seemed Better Not To Include [With Especial Reference to Kentish B&Bs And/Or Sheenagh’s Stephen Fry Impression]”, “Since I Apparently Managed It, Here’s How To Survive Your DPhil” and “While I Was Writing Up, Misogyny Exploded, How About That”. Oh, and I’m on the radio again tomorrow. BBC Oxford! One-ish! Tune in!

As I said, there will be proper thank yous, but if it takes a village to raise a child (which surely depends on the village), it took an internet to submit my DPhil. If you answered a stupid question, or shared your thoughts/wordcount/CV, or send a kind email, or thought my tweets were funny, or wished me luck in the fortnight when all I seemed to do was go to job interviews, or followed the blog or commented, or wrote something witty and sane, or gave me a teaching tip, or put your teaching resources online and told me to download them (making you a pedagogical superstar and doubtless also sexy), thank you very much indeed.

The dreaded rewrite

I have just finished rewriting the third chapter of my thesis. There are no appropriate metaphors for how I really feel about this chapter. I’ll stick to claiming that I feel like a successful fisherman waving aloft a shiny prize carp. This is, of course, a lie. I feel more like I’ve been locked in a cellar with something saber-toothed and nasty, until we eventually emerged, dragging each other by the teeth and splattered with most of each other’s brains. On this occasion, the chapter lost, but not by much.

This is, of course, an entirely irrational and overblown reaction to the end of a process that occurs while sitting down, in a centrally-heated flat, with ample access to tea (but not biscuits. I hate Lent. I would sell my face for a Jaffa Cake) and Twitter. I like my thesis. I love my research. I don’t like footnotes, except when I can knock the “pp.” off forty or so notes at a time, and thus pretend I’m saving words. But, my god, I have hated the last bit of rewriting this.

Even deleting items from my three-column, word-documented, cloud-computering to do list (truly, I am the Hunter S. Thompson of doctoral research) hasn’t mitigated the pain. “Don’t get it right, get it written” is the golden rule of DPhil-writing, but in third year, you also have to get the damned thing formatted and polished and devoid of square-bracketed injunctions to [MORE] (also [QUOTE] and [EVIDENCE] and the stomach-churning [PUT CONCLUSION HERE]).

Perhaps the subject matter made this so tough. This chapter contains most of the really depressing stuff in my thesis; the sexualisation of children, child suicide, the anorexic aesthetic, and the fetishising of celebrity illness (especially female mental health). This has, in turn, led to much re-reading of Sarah Kane and looking at the growing cultural obsession with underweight female bodies in the late nineteenth century. It didn’t help that I’d written the first draft in an immensely slappable style, although lord knows I’d rather rewrite for style than because of terrible holes in the research.

Here’s a fun fact, though: rewriting makes me wish I were a man, because if I were, I would grow a big Periclean, Roger-Allam-as-Falstaff-style beard every time I had a major piece of work to complete. I would rejoice in it. It would be a totem of chapter-writing and people would bow before its length and unrepentance. Everyone, knowing I was writing, would close their eyes in silent respect. As totems of chapter-writing go, a majestic beard would be much better than the library mumble (when you go straight from studying to coffee with a friend, and can’t form coherent sentences until the caffeine kicks in), or just looking slightly rough after days at a laptop.

NB: I don’t think this is a case of misdirected penis envy, or even a desire to have Roger Allam as my spirit animal. ‘Spirit animal’ is my new phrase. In the last week, two people of whom I am fond have informed me that Enjolras from Les Mis is their spirit animal. One is a socialist writer on the working class, feminism and politics, and the other is my Christian, drama kid visiting student from California.

Anyway, the last few footnotes are underway, and although it’s a sunny day, I don’t want to go out in case the phone rings. #freelanceproblems.

Chapter-wise, next up is Ellen Terry in Cymbeline, or the chapter which is meant to be about a pretty Briton princess, but ended up involving vampires, somnophilia, and pseudo-medical fanfic…