Transition: 'the process or the period of changing from one state or condition to another'.
I wanted to make this blog more of a regular thing once my PhD was over, for several reasons. Partly it’s just to log what happens next and this, in itself, is two-fold: I want to have some kind of documentation of this recovery process (yes, that’s what I’m calling it) that follows the PhD, but I also live in hope that someone who is struggling with having finished their PhD might find this blog some day, and breathe a hefty sigh on realising that the weird grief-cum-relief they’re feeling right now isn’t totally abnormal – in fact, it might even be quite common. I also want to get into the habit of writing more – something I’m encouraging my own students to do now and I hate giving out writing advice that I haven’t/am not taking myself, and so here we are. This is my first post as a Whatever I Am Now (because I still don’t have balls big enough to write The Diary of a Writer in the title box of a blog post).
It’s been three weeks and a handful of days since I submitted and I’ve lost track of the emotional breakdowns I’ve almost had during that time. I have cried – a lot. Not with the relief that washed over me with the force of a tsunami seconds after submitting my thesis. But with the fear of what happens next, what I do next, what I want to do next – and, the worst one: whether I’m good enough to even do anything.
At some point within the last week – days and dates escape me now that I have less of a reason to keep track of them so determinedly – I sat opposite my other half and said these exact words: ‘I’m gonna be okay, aren’t I?’
I cannot express my gratitude that he instantly knew what I was talking about, because I started crying a few seconds after I asked that question and explaining myself properly was something I absolutely couldn’t have done. An emotional exchange followed where my other half assured me that yes, I would be okay; in fact, I am already okay, but for some reason I’m just struggling to see it. It turns out – and I start this sentence like it contains new information, even though it really doesn’t – I can kind of do anything I want now. I’m already teaching – not as much as I’d like to be but these things take time and my age/experience is working against me in ways that I can’t control right now – I have a poetry pamphlet that I’m in the process of editing, and last week I submitted my PhD novel to a publisher, coupled alongside my plan to submit it to four literary agents before the end of November, too.
And somehow I’m still over here like: ‘What am I doing with my life? What if I don’t amount to anything and I disappoint everyone and this PhD what was just a total waste of time and life and money?’
Wah wah wah.
Self-mockery aside – because considering this only happened a week ago, I already feel ridiculous for having initiated this conversation with my partner in the first place – my PhD has taught me, amongst many things, that panicking is sometimes part of the process. Sure, it’s not a nice part, but it’s a necessary one all the same.
Since I had that panic I’ve been a lot calmer, though. I have contacted publishers from my reviewer days to beg and steal books – and they have happily obliged. I’ve followed up with websites who have published my work previously to pitch new articles with them, I’ve applied for jobs, poked around for more teaching work – and, I have an idea for a new book! An idea that I’m excited about, might I add. Stay tuned for updates on that because I’m sure to start blogging about it any day now.
In preparation for writing this blog post, I actually went back through my PhD posts and found myself way, way back in May 2014 – before I’d even started the PhD. I was studying for my Masters degree then and I was hugely excited by the prospect of writing about writing and deciding what kind of writer I am and all of these other big and near-philosophical things that I thought were super important and definitely highbrow, at the time (oh, how little did I know). I don’t want to be the pretentious-sounding Masters student again (no, I’m not saying all MA students are pretentious), but I do want give myself a break big enough to work out what happens next without applying so much pressure on myself that I feel like I’m going to burst, in a terrible way. I don’t know whether I’m ready to write a new book, or start a new project, or finish being a student. But I’m starting to understand that this is one of the few/only times in my life when I’m going to have the luxury of picking things up and putting them down to my own timeframe – and that in itself is something worth being happy about.
Later today I’m going to the library to grab some books that relate to my book idea – let the research commence! And if it flops, or if I get a better idea or even if I don’t want to write at all for a bit, that’s fine. This – like everything else, I’m learning – is a process, a new stage, from pretentious MA to self-doubting PhD to...
Metamorphosis: ‘a change of the form or nature of a thing or person into a completely different one’.