Stepping outside

In some ways I felt like I was being a little less selfish by taking on a PhD at a university in my home city and building up a local project. This was me trying to feel better about something which really is the most self-indulgent thing I can do.

 To a degree this has worked. I have been available to dance to celebrate birthdays, provide company during break ups, do airport drop offs and pick ups, be part of trips to the theatre, and keep the nature strip at a reasonable length.

 Yet, looking at the relationships of others really shows me how absent I am from my own. I spend a lot of time with seniors groups, but I know my own grandparents are suffering with the loneliness which comes from a loss of roles even though they are surrounded by people for much of every day. I go to plenty of cafes, but it’s nearly always an apology from me when a friend asks to catch up over coffee. I read tens of thousands of words a week, but a long letter written to me from cities around Europe remains unfinished months after the traveller has returned home.

 This is something I have worried and complained about many times before, and I have just gotten my hands on a copy of the highly recommended book by Ruth Behar (1996) The Vulnerable Observe: Anthropology that breaks your heart. But perhaps the reason I feel the need to capture and work-through my discomfort tonight in a post, instead of getting onto this report for work due tomorrow, is that over the past couple of weeks my ‘at home’ world has changed rather rapidly.

 People I know ‘in the field’ are undergoing treatment, have to treat every unusual symptom as potentially signalling the end of remission, and/or are trying to be supportive as family members battle cancer. Cancer is a part of life’s journey at any particular moment for so many Australians. Now this has thrust into the tapestry of my partner’s mother’s life. Over the past couple of days it has gone from potentially being a relatively small patch to everyone knowing that it is going to be much longer and more tangled.

Here I am thinking about myself and not getting this report written. I could work more efficiently. I could cut out all non research related social media, use my ‘breaks’ while I am ‘in the field’ to get more work done, stop riding my bike so I have less ‘dead time’ in a day, and prioritise my tasks. However, I doubt my mind could keep up.

 So I’ll try to be as supportive and available as possible. I will cook more, get around to the shopping, and answer my mobile. Perhaps the time will come to reign in my methodology so I can work standard hours. What I am least confident about is being able to stop myself vanishing into my own world as soon as I get home. The real balancing act will be around being mentally and emotionally available.

I decided to write this post not to indulge in self pity so much as to remind myself that my relationships existed before I took on a PhD and will (hopefully) still remain afterwards. Sure I care about my project, but my thesis will only ever be a text and sometimes I worry that I loose sight of that.


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