PhD #WeekInTheLife – June 2018

Reading/watching other PhD students’ week in the life posts & videos usually gives me a kick up the butt to get moving and/or makes me feel less like I’m the worst PhD student in the world and more like I’m feeling normal things. And it seemed like a good way to start changing this blog from being purely about books to more about research.

I’ll update this at the end of every day this week with what I’ve been doing & some more interesting photos when I’m at the museum. I don’t have much booked in at the beginning of this week (but work to do), and then I’m at the museum all day Thursday and Friday morning. I’m about 7 months into my PhD, and you can find out a little about my project here. (I’ll do a full post about what I’m doing soon).

Let’s see if the observation of a thing really changes that thing and I procrastinate less than usual just because I know I’m going to write about it…


Today’s about catching up on a few emails, then getting stuck into some literature.

I’m coming towards the end of my realist review (hopefully!). I’ll write a post at some point about my experience of doing a realist review as compared to a standard systematic one, but the main thing to understand for today’s work is that it has less clearly defined boundaries around what to include, so it can be hard to know when enough is enough. Or at least that’s where my anxiety lies. At the moment I’m deciding whether to include an area of literature as a formal part of the review or as a discussion point. I think it will be a (key) discussion point, and something I think about for my evaluation, but I just want to read around a little more.

It’s actually really interesting how little there is about the dynamics of caring relationships in dementia, both for professional and family carers, and how those dynamics can have an impact on, or be a context for, how psychosocial or creative interventions work. There is some research there, but not enough. (I got some really useful signposting from a researcher here in Exeter and someone I met on training last week. I’m definitely getting better at asking for pointers when I’m stuck, instead of just trying to wade through treacle by myself.)

nopeSpeaking of wading through treacle, I’m really tired today, so haven’t been the most productive. My health shenanigans include severe fatigue, and I haven’t been resting properly the past few weeks so it’s catching up with me a bit. I actually napped during the day at the weekend (which as a person who can’t sleep if there’s any light/noise is basically unheard of) after a week of headaches, nausea, etc, so I know the warning flags are out. I’ll be fine; I just need to pull back a little & reconfigure how I’m living before the warning flags become a proper flare-up that takes a lot longer to crawl back from. There’s always that tension, for everyone, between what you want to do and what your body can do, it’s just that my Threshold of Nope is much lower than other people’s. Early finish, then trash TV & a pizza for me tonight!


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May reads 2018

by grand central.jpgBy Grand Central Station I Sat Down And Wept by Elizabeth Smart (novel)

Blurry. This book was just blurry for me. It’s like I could see that there was some beautiful writing, some raw and fully-felt emotion, but I couldn’t quite get hold of it. There were moments that I was in sync with it but then it just would slip away again. I was happy when I read it, which maybe isn’t the right headspace, but a book that’s essentially about raw emotion should be moving nonetheless. Maybe part of the point is how caught up in its own lyricism it is (as she is caught up in the emotion), but it just didn’t do it for me.

the lost thingThe Lost Thing by Shaun Tan (graphic novel)

I just love Shaun Tan’s work. I don’t like this as much as The Arrival or The Red Tree, because it doesn’t have that same darkness or depth to it, but it’s still good. You can read it as a simple story of a boy finding a place for a lost thing, or as a story about rushing through the day-to-day and not noticing anymore, and how we treat those things which are different. If you’ve never read Tan before, definitely start with The Arrival or The Red Tree, but then give this one a go too.

the empathy exams.jpgThe Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison (non-fiction)

I’ve been meaning to read this for such a long time and I’m so glad I finally got round to it. Each essay deals with empathy and pain in different ways, and it’s more memoir-confessional in style (and it’s helpful to know that going in as most of the marketing I saw made it sound more like a pop science book). It’s incredibly thought-provoking, interesting, and sharply written. Even you don’t agree with everything she says or does I think you still get something from it. Highly recommended.

another day in the death of americaAnother Day in the Death of America by Gary Younge (non-fiction)

Younge took a random 24-hour period (Saturday 23rd November 2013) and wrote about every child and teen killed by gunfire (not including suicide) in America. There were ten. Each chapter discusses one child and what happened to them, but also who they were as people and what their lives were like. Each chapter takes aspects of their story to discuss a different aspect of gun crime or American culture. It’s incredibly empathic and powerful. It’s not about gun control; but it is about gun control. The worst and most damning thing about this book is that it could have been written about any day. Any day. If you read nothing else, read this book; these ten lives are representative of so many:

Jaiden Dixon
Kenneth Mills-Tucker
Stanley Taylor
Pedro Cortez
Tyler Dunn
Edwin Rajo
Samuel Brightmon
Tyshon Anderson
Gary Anderson
Gustin Hinnant

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April reads 2018

Another month where I didn’t read much. I think this is going to be a theme over the next three years of my PhD. But, I did read something, which is better than nothing.

a pair of filk stockingsA Pair of Silk Stockings by Kate Chopin (short stories)

I normally don’t like these very mini Penguin Classics because they’re just not long enough for me to get properly into them, but I really liked this. In particular, the title story (which comes at the end), is something I normally wouldn’t like but I loved. It’s basically just a kind of quiet joy in spending a day just for you, for what you want. It ends before she goes home, and so you never see the guilt that will probably come, or the questions about where that money went. It’s just joyful, and it’s great. If you ever need incentive to Treat Yo Self, just read this one story, it only takes 5/10 minutes and then you’ll be off to the theatre in no time.

the dumb houseThe Dumb House by John Burnside (novel)

Although the plot is completely different, this reminded me a lot of Lolita. The narrator of The Dumb House is also pretty horrifying and unreliable and trying to convince his audience that he is unquestionably in the right. The writing, although not quite as beautiful as Nabokov’s, is sharp and eloquent and the tone is perfect. The blurb is a little misleading, as it makes it sound as though it’s mostly about an experiment he conducts on his own children, which only happens in the final section. It’s more about him as a character and narrator. I chose this for a book club (before I’d read it), and I have a feeling some people are going to hate it, but there’s so much to discuss I think it’s going to be a good one. Sharply written, compelling, and horrifying – one of my favourites of the year so far.

bi the wayBi The Way by MJ Wallace (graphic novel, non-fiction)

This is a comic about MJ’s realisation that she’s bi, while in a long-term relationship with a man. The latter part of that sentence might not seem relevant, but it is – so many bi people struggle with their identity because of not feeling ‘queer enough’, and relationship status being conflated with sexuality. A lot of what she talks about is stuff I’ve felt myself, so it’s a very affirming kind of story. There’s also a bunch of stuff in there about being a good ally to bi people, or how to react to someone coming out, so it’s also a good book to quietly push into the hands of straight (or some LGBT) people who don’t quite get it. The back cover also has a list of excellent bi puns. I am always here for puns.

Photo 06-05-2018, 15 16 39

Currently reading: By Grand Central Station I Sat Down And Wept by Elizabeth Smart

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April screentime 2018

Annihilation_(film)Annihilation (2018) film, Netflix

I actually watched this in March & forgot. As I just had it on in the background (and was paying so little attention I somehow missed the scary bear-with-a-woman’s-pleas-for-help-as-a-voice), I gave it another go this month. I much preferred this to the book, which I hated. I feels like a film about renewal after terrible things happen – you are yourself but you are also changed. Both you and your world have been refracted. It’s a shame this wasn’t shown in cinemas, though I can see why they were confused about how to market it, because the visuals would look amazing on the big screen.

american-psycho-movie-poster-2000-1020188223American Psycho (2000) film, Netflix

Somehow, I’d never seen this? Christian Bale is so great as Patrick. I love an ambiguous ending, but I don’t think this *quite* pulls it off. It accidentally leans a little too far towards “and it was all a dream…”, when really I think it’s just trying to show us how unreliable Patrick Bateman is as a lens to see the world. I think he did kill some of those people (like the homeless man), but the rest is just a demonstration of his own narcissism.

take your pillsTake Your Pills (2018) documentary, Netflix

I accidentally watched this because I thought it would be Icarus, and it wasn’t that great. This is a documentary about the use of ADHD medication as a performance enhancing drug, mainly in America. It had potential, but just didn’t go into enough depth, is a bit all over the place, and often gives the impression these drugs aren’t good for anyone (when they can be for some people with ADHD). Give it a miss.

swiss army manSwiss Army Man (2016) film, Prime

The farting corpse movie! I don’t what I expected but this wasn’t what I expected, and is one of the few movies where I really didn’t see the ending coming. I don’t want to say too much about it because I think it’s better if you just let it unfold, but it’s weird, but also very sweet and moving and quite sad. It’s definitely worth a go if weird unexplained magical realism doesn’t annoy you.

Icarus_(2017_film)Icarus (2017) documentary, Netflix

This is the drugs documentary I meant to watch. Bryan Fogel starts to make a documentary about how doping happens in cycling, but stumbles upon a Russian state-sponsored drugs programme across all sports. Whilst it’s interesting and Rodchenkov is a fascinating and charismatic character to watch, the documentary itself is a bit clunky and could use some sharper editing. Maybe my expectations were a bit high because of the Oscar, but I thought it would be much tighter as a film.

parks and recParks and Rec (seasons 1-4) series, Prime

Yeah I had a bit of binge and am currently having to have a Parks & Rec break because too much. It was just okay at first but I got super into it from about season 2ish. I also found Leslie Knope a bit annoying in the beginning but now I full-on love her, as I love Ron’s little mischievous face. Aziz Ansari’s character Tom is a very tired trope of ‘it’s okay this man is very misogynistic because he’s an idiot, but we’ll also make his character sympathetic and inadvertently tell dudes with Tom’s opinions that they’re correct’. But apart from that I just love this show.

r kelly documentaryR Kelly: Sex, Girls & Videotapes (2018) documentary, BBC iPlayer

This documentary makes it pretty clear that the people around R Kelly know he’s inappropriate and not a good guy, even though legally he’s not been found guilty (at the moment at least, I suspect not for long). If the girls had been white, there’s no question he would have been put in prison a long time ago. I knew he had a reputation for being creepy but I had no idea about the extent of it. I won’t be listening to his music anymore.

thor ragnarokThor: Ragnarok (2017) film, Prime

Petition for Taika Waititi to write and direct all the movies from now on. All of them. He has officially become my favourite New Zealander (a position held for a long time by ‘werewolves not swearwolves’ Rhys Darby). This film is so much fun, genuinely funny, and also features Jeff Goldblum. What more could you want. I’d had Marvel fatigue for a while but it’s made me want to dip back in and catch up (I did have a sneaky look at Infinity Wars spoilers, so I’m glad I’m waiting for the next one to watch both part 1 & 2 together).


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March screentime 2018

This month I discovered I can get a 6-month free trial of Amazon Prime, so that’s opened up a whole new world of procrastination…

The_RevenantThe Revenant (2015) film, Netflix

The cinematography is amazing, but apart from that I felt kind of meh about this. It’s too long and the pacing is off so it kept losing me. I just found I didn’t care about the continued torture of Leonardo DiCaprio and just enjoyed the scenery instead.

the push.jpgDerren Brown’s The Push TV special, Netflix

I don’t think I’ll be watching any more of these Derren Brown shows. He always aims to put people in extreme situations to push them towards huge personal growth, but there’s no way he can hit it every time. The people in this show genuinely believed they’d killed someone. It doesn’t matter that they actually didn’t. I’m sure he and the show put lots of support in place every time they do this sort of thing, but post-traumatic growth is a very difficult thing to engineer. Also, imagine trying to get this stuff through a university/NHS ethics committee.

brooklyn 99Brooklyn 99 (series 1-3) series, Netflix

This is my new obsession. It’s perfect easy-watch-but-good TV. I love Holt being weird and mischievous, and Charles being weird and yet so pure. I’m sad I’m already half-way through series 4. I love it so much.

I,_Daniel_BlakeI, Daniel Blake (2016) film, Prime

As someone who’s been in the middle of the DWP system before, it’s taken me a while to get to watching this because I knew it would be hard. I was very lucky in that I never had to deal with some of the difficulties and poverty that Dan and Katie do, but that hold music…The DWP hold music is enough to make me feel stressed and horrible. The only problem with this film is that I don’t think it will change the minds of people who support the current system. I don’t think some people understand that what’s in the film aren’t extreme examples, but very common ones, or that the characters aren’t exceptional ‘deserving poor’ compared to all the ‘scroungers’. But watch it anyway.

the big sickThe Big Sick (2017) film

I’m not a big romcom fan, but this was funny and enjoyable enough. I think I liked it more because I find Kumail Nanjiani so likeable, and I probably wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much with someone else as the lead.

the shape of waterThe Shape of Water (2017) film

I was a bit underwhelmed by this. I liked how it played with fairy tale, like a lot of del Toro’s films do, and it looked great, but the amount of hype (plus the Oscar) meant I was expecting something more from it.

what happened to mondayWhat Happened to Monday (2017) film, Netflix

Netflix is really great at original TV, really not so great at original films.  It has an interesting premise and a good cast, but it’s so badly written all the sisters blur into one (ironically), it’s predictable, and full of weird plot holes. Give it a miss.

train to busan.jpgTrain to Busan (2016) film, Prime

This a Korean zombie film that’s huge in Asia and about to be made into a VR game. Like a lot of horror films this is also social commentary, and it doesn’t do it subtly. The characters are quite trope-y so it’s very easy to quickly predict who will live and die by the end, but I actually didn’t care. Most of the characters have personality despite the tropes and it’s just an enjoyable zombie film. I must play the VR game.

wild-wild-country-250Wild, Wild Country (2018) documentary, Netflix

This is a really great documentary about the cult/religion (depending on your perspective) of Rajneesh in Oregon in the 1980s. It doesn’t tell you what to think, but you constantly switch back and forth between supporting the town and supporting the religion/cult (until they go too far and you support no one), and on how much you trust and support individual ex-members. It’s so good. If you like stuff about cults or crime, definitely watch this. And then make everyone you know watch it too because you’re going to want to talk about it (even if just to figure Sheela out).

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March reads 2018

With one notable exception February was a bit of write-off. I was too ill most of the time to do much of anything, including reading. It’s the first month in a very long time that I’ve read nothing (and watched nothing new), but, it happens. This time a couple of years ago, even last year, I never would have thought I’d be well enough to do a full-time PhD, so I’m not going to beat myself up if I can’t always read as much as I used to.

pages for youPages for You by Sylvia Brownrigg (novel)

I really enjoyed this. Novels set on American university campuses are my weakness for some reason, and this is also a lesbian coming-of-age book in which neither gay character dies at the end (you’d be surprised how rare that is). It’s about the rush and passion of first love, and as a result both characters are a little thin as it’s more about the getting swept up in each other so I didn’t really mind. The chapters are short and choppy so it’s really easy and quick to read. Definitely recommend.

new worldNew World: An Anthology of Sci-fi and Fantasy edited by C. Spike Trotman (comics, fiction)

This is an anthology broadly about first contacts between civilisations. They’re all by different writers and artists, so, as is the way with collections, I liked some more than others. There weren’t many that really stuck with me afterwards, and I think I just wanted some of the ideas to be developed further.

women & powerWomen & Power by Mary Beard (non-fiction)

This short book is essentially two lectures that Mary Beard gave with a short preface and afterward. As a classicist, she refers to ancient Greece and Rome to understand today’s structures of power and women’s place in it. It’s partly about how “you can’t easily fit women into a structure that is already coded as male; you have to change the structure”, and partly about how we need to alter what we understand as ‘having power’. As a short book, I wanted more, particularly on re-understanding the concept of power, but mostly I wish I’d seen her give these speeches. I wanted to underline so many sentences and I’ll definitely re-read this.

fun homeFun Home by Alison Bechdel (graphic novel, non-fiction)

I think this was one of the first graphic novels I read and so was interesting to go back to. I was re-reading it for a book club I’m facilitating, and I’m really interested to see what people new to the genre make of it. I didn’t get anything new from it on this read, but I think I appreciated the craft of it more – the way she circles back to stories with new information or perspective so you see the same panels in a new way.

the good peopleThe Good People by Hannah Kent (novel)

It took me a little while to get into this, I think because Kent has a tendency to put a little bit too much of her research into her writing, but I enjoyed it once I did. She’s really good at developing the sense of place so that you can really see and feel it, and she writes her characters in a way that you can empathise and understand them even if you don’t agree with them at all. I didn’t enjoy it as much as Burial Rites, and it was a little too long in places, but it was enjoyable enough for a bank holiday read.

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January screentime 2018

unrestUnrest (2017) documentary, Netflix

It’s impossible for me to talk about this film with any kind of objectivity because I had such an emotional reaction to it. And maybe that’s the best thing I can say – it was emotionally true. I spent most of the film sobbing, like proper sobbing, which isn’t something I do very often. It reminded me of when I was more severely ill, though it wasn’t so much the physicality of it than what it was like to cope with emotionally. And what it’s like to cope with now. Though I am much more well, I am still more restricted than the average person, but it’s become such a normal part of my life that I don’t always acknowledge the emotional toll it can take at times. But it’s not really that that made me cry. It was also this feeling of being truly seen. And what’s important about this film is the seeing – both being seen yourself and, hopefully, by people who are not part of this community. It also places everything in the wider context of these kinds of invisible immune illness, that primarily affect women, being disbelieved through history until technology and medicine catches up. It’s fairly well-known (from a scientific research perspective) that women’s physical pain is disbelieved and downplayed in medicine/hospitals compared to men’s pain. But how do you advocate for yourself and others like you when you’re too unwell to leave your house or your bed? What Jennifer Brea has done, from her house, from her bed, shows you one way how.

the danish girlThe Danish Girl (2015) film, Netflix

I watched this on a train on my phone, which is possibly why I didn’t connect to it, but I didn’t connect to it. I just found the emotions seemed to lack the depth or punch that was intended and as a film it just sort of washed over me. Meh.

friendsFriends series, Netflix

I don’t normally include things here that I’ve seen before, but I had to include Friends because I watched so bloody much of it (like, literally all of it). There are many aspects of Friends that have not aged well, but I was ill in bed for a week and it was perfection.

joyJoy (2015) film, Netflix

I didn’t really understand the point of this film. I know it’s trying to be an underdog-entrepreneur kick-ass woman film, but it just felt kind of one-dimensional and flat. It wasn’t doing anything new or interesting, and the performances felt just okay. I have a feeling Jennifer Lawrence was only nominated for an Oscar for the role because she’s Jennifer Lawrence.

darkDark (season 1) series, Netflix

This is brilliant. It’s been compared to Stranger Things, but it’s quite different – there’s less Spielberg-y humour, more plot, and more death. The cinematography is absolutely beautiful and the soundtrack is full of these creepy as fuck strings. I watched some of it with dubbing when I was tired, but it’s definitely one to watch in the original German with subtitles.

personal shopperPersonal Shopper (2016) film, Netflix

Although there is always a place in my heart for post-Twilight Kristen Stewart, I wasn’t sure about this film when it first started. It’s a slow burn, but also so unsettling. It has this way of suddenly throwing something odd or violent in to keep you unsure of what’s really going on. It also never really ties things up and the supernatural element of the film is left ambiguous, which I really liked.

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