Thursday, 16 January 2014

Of self-doubt and looking for the courage to reach out for my dreams

Here's a wonderful Sylvia Plath quote from The Bell Jar:

“I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn't quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn't make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.”
This explains very well how I feel about life right now. All of my figs contain the same lifestyle (with a home and books and nice clothes and enough to eat) and relationship (with Ash), but the way of supporting myself financially in each is different. I'm scared to reach out for the fig I want though, just in case it's a figment (pun very much intended) of my imagination, and my fingers pass through as though it was as insubstantial as smoke. The fig I had intended to pick fell to the ground long before I was tall enough to reach it.
My new dream is a reaction to finding out that the 'safe' academic job I had envisagedprobably got axed in university cut-backs somewhere around the time I started my degree (hence the fallen fig), because I began my degree in 2008, just as the recession hit. This new dream might be an entirely unrealistic one, but it's impossible to tell, because no-one has tried it yet. I'd be a pioneer and that's scary. It would take a great deal of commitment, faith and hard-work.

I want to finish my PhD. I want to make a living for myself as a freelance historian and cemetery researcher. I want to market myself via a blog and social media and all the other wonders of the interneet, and raise awareness about the plight of historic cemeteries. I want to raise funds for restoration projects I could be employed in. I want to get involved with cemetery trusts/friends groups and preservation societies. I want to do genealogy research and local history projects. I want to take a Master's course in Human Osteology and work on rescue archaeology projects like crypt clearances. I want to do archival research or digitisation of cemetery records. I want to curate museum exhibits or exhibitions about funerary practice.
I WANT TO DO ALL OF THESE THINGS. Or at least as many are humanly possible! Can someone find me 3 extra hours in the day? Or the secret to immortality?

In some ways I've already taken the first steps on this road and that should give me more faith in myself, but there are days when I can't ever believe that I will finish my PhD, let alone get a job in a related field! Most days the idea of doing free-lance work of any kind fills me with so much dread that I just want to go back to bed and hide! What if I end up sponging off Ash and my parents for another 5 years because I can't support myself?

But I have to try, don't I?

It's that or give up on my PhD right now, before I waste another penny and go and get a full time soul-crushing office job...

I'm not going to lie, some days that seems like a very attractive option, especially when I feel like the fact I'm currently on a leave of absence is a sign of weakness and proves 'I can't hack academia', but then one of my friends reminded me that the last time I took a break from education was before I started school when I was 4, and that during my degree I didn't even take a proper holiday (I worked during all of them), and I felt a bit less guilty.

It's all a haze and whirl of emotion and self-doubt right now, but...

I've decided to try.

I'm posting this as a pre-emptive apology if my blog gets neglected over the next few months. I'll be busy trying to built a ladder up to the fig I'm dreaming of!