2022: Uncertainty and determination

Last year I wrote that “2021 feels like a new beginning”; it feels like that was a mirage – the lockdowns of 2020 had felt like they were showing us a better, more flexible, more sustainable way to live, but 2021 has felt characterised by a desperation to put everything back where it was, to ignore all the good parts of the lockdowns – cleaner air from less traffic, more birds in our gardens, proof that most jobs can be effectively done from home (at least to an extent), innovative approaches to performance and to teaching – in a desperate struggle to ‘go back to normal’. It’s been extremely depressing, just as it felt like there could be a middle path visible which would improve both lives and the state of the planet. Alas, this is not the case. It feels like there’s been increasing disregard both of scientific recommendations and of the meagre government guidelines and the end of the year has seen the infection rate in the UK go up and up and up. True, vaccination is keeping hospitalisations and the death toll lower than they were before, but still – so much illness and death that perhaps could have been avoided were it not for the selfishness both of the government and individuals who refuse to wear masks or spread antivax misinformation for example. From a creative perspective, while organisations are reporting quite high numbers of audiences who – not having previously engaged with online-created or -delivered work – say they would engage with this in the future, but I’m seeing an overall rejection of online work, which is incredibly disappointing as I feel that there is still SO much that can be explored in this area. But 2022 is not the year for that. I’ve a thesis to write! A PhD to finish! and still multiple jobs and responsibilities to juggle.

I’ve been chatting to a friend about focus lately and realising that while it’s hard to tell what 2022 will really be and how many of plans being made will go ahead, I have a sense of personal determination for the year. However, there is so much in the year that is already fixed, or will be fixed if funding comes through, that I feel like my energy is necessarily channelled already in preset directions and actually I’m finding my focus is pretty shot. I’m feeling very distracted – by the pandemic, by the inadequacies of my work setup, by the numerous health problems I’ve been struggling with for the past couple of years, by the stresses of my financial situation, this year of all years when I need laser-sharp focus to achieve what needs to be done.

So many of this year’s goals are largely to support the big one – finishing my PhD, but they’re also things that will support me into the future too and make my life better overall once I’ve graduated. They should make me more comfortable, healthier, more productive and a better partner, daughter and friend. I have a certain amount of structure in my life with more regular work and income, so it seems a good time to build on that and see how I can make it work for me.

  1. WORK: Write, complete and submit my PhD! I keep writing this as just “submit my PhD” but obviously that involves so much more than just submitting. I’ve made a start, which is good, but I’m a looooong way off completing even the writing and finalising the pieces, so there’s a metric smegtonne of work to do. I need to schedule regular writing times to get through the text, set and stick to my own deadlines for things like finishing scores and submitting bits of text to my supervisors. My current plan is to have finished the bulk of the writing by about July, then spend the rest of the year editing, checking references, creating examples, laying everything out and proofreading, with the goal of submitting mid-December. About 50 weeks from the point of writing… Much of this one does depend on our financial situation and whether I need to suspend the PhD again to minimise expenses or prioritise paying work. The whole timeline feels very ambitious but theoretically doable. September update: had to rejig the timeline because various things at work and for performing projects became chaotic and demanded immediate and then quite extended attention, but while I’m disappointed, I think it’s the right thing to do. The new plan sees me completing first draft by mid-December, and submitting in 2023. December update: Aaaand had to rejig the timeline again, and then again when I had to move the trip to Australia forward and extend it. So my submission date is more like September 2023 now, but I’m leaving this as ‘partial’ because a) this kind of slippage is (I have heard from multiple people) totally normal, and b) work I’ve done for AcWriMo this year has shown me that actually I’m doing better than I thought I was. It’s a work in progress, not a fail. I started using Obsidian in November which has helped me to get a better grip on my structure and I think is helping me to write about the work better, and I’ve also been reading Helen Sword’s Stylish Academic Writing, which is an awesome book and I think is helping improve my actual prose too, so all in all, doing OK with this even if I haven’t submitted as planned.
  2. SANITY: Getting the house under control. This is something I’ve been trying to do for years. I’ve found it works best if I can do a little bit each day – a pomodoro keeps it all together – but where it all falls down is that while J does do chores like taking the bins out and washing up, I’m the only one who notices when things are dirty or broken, so I end up being (a) the only one whose calm is damaged by these things and so (b) the only one who actually ever just randomly cleans stuff and the net result of this is resentment. I’ve tried talking to J about this and often it feels more equitable… for a couple of days and then it falls apart again. Ultimately I choose plain-vanilla distress about my environment to being both distressed and feeling resentful against the love of my life. So this year I want to take a slightly different approach. I’m wanting to understand more about why I end up with things so messy in the first place – why do I dump my jeans on a chair rather than putting them away? Why is the viola case currently in the middle of the studio floor instead of being neatly upright against the piano? To this end I’ve invested in a book which claims to help with this sort of thing, but which is structured as year’s worth of brief readings and prompts for journaling and/or just contemplating. I’ve had ads for the course version waved at me by Facebook for several years now and been interested, but couldn’t face the pressure of having something more to deal with in my inbox each day. There’s too much else happening. So I’m not intending to be particularly structured about all this – if I can do a couple of segments per week, that would be great, but I’ll just dip in and out as I have time and inclination. I want to implement the 25 mins tidying/cleaning each day – but actually I think I want to focus this on my own spaces – my studio, my side of the bedroom, for example. Spaces that I wouldn’t expect J to get involved in cleaning and where the accumulated crap is 100% mine. I’m hoping that this will improve my state of mind while addressing my own bad habits which count for not all but a fair amount of the mess in the house. Ugh no. Total fail. The house is a disaster. I managed to implement daily work on my thesis, but mostly it seems that this has just cut all housework out of my schedule. Shunting this one to 2023, when I hope to do better!
  3. WORK: Improve my viola technique. I’ve been getting increasingly frustrated by my lack of essential viola technique and I feel I’ve got to a point where it’s holding me back. I still have muscle problems which make holding the instrument for any period of time difficult, and I have no spare money for lessons anyway, but I want to work through the studies I have and see if I can wrap my head around shifting positions to extend what I can play a bit, and also get more confident about intonation, so I want to dedicate maybe a couple of ten minute sessions a week to working on this. I commit to stopping when it starts to hurt and not overdoing it, but I need to do something. Started off OK with this, and I’m understanding more about positions, thanks to the book J gave me for Christmas last year – I think things are a bit better, but the pressure of thesis-writing, the lack of gigs, the non-viola collaborations I’ve been doing with J & E this year have put violaing on the back-burner. I feel I’ve seen value in what I HAVE done for this, but wouldn’t go so far as to say I’ve noticeably improved in any practical way.
  4. WORK, SANITY AND HEALTH: Studio setup: For about a year, my studio has been largely unusable – since we discovered that the floor slopes down toward the corner which was triggering agonising back spasms if I sat at the desk. There’s no money or time to fix the floor and make it level, so I need to find other ways around it. The standing desk isn’t working very well for me. I like it for meetings – standing makes me pay more attention, I find, but I can never get the keyboard at the right height for me and it’s very painful, exacerbating the existing muscle problems in both arms which then makes playing the viola harder. This is not going to be a simple fix but there’s a few options that suggest themselves – try to get hold of a secondhand split keyboard (the new ones seem to be unaffordable for me), test out having the beanbag up here for reading and some writing, try to just level the not-so-comfy chair so I at least have somewhere I can sit without worrying about my back, buy a tilting ‘active-sitting’ stool to try to transfer the compression that happens in my back into a chair instead so I can sit at a desk, but I need to get this sorted out this year – work is being held up by interruptions because I’m always having to work in the kitchen because the standing desk doesn’t really work for me and there’s nowhere else to sit at a table. Found a better interim solution! In late August/early September, I got J to help me clear a space in The Downstairserie (as my stepson dubbed it – aka the basement), where I now have a small desk, a small shelf of PhD books and a couple of potted plants. Yet to see how cold it gets when winter hits, but in the meantime, it’s meant fewer distractions and better focus and a happier back! December update: As I had suspected, the basement is merely consistently cold, so while it’s not particularly comfortable, it hasn’t really got much colder with the cold weather hitting. J has installed the LED light we bought years ago, so I no longer have to look at a bare bulb, and overall, the Downstairserie is working well for me. It’s annoying having to move for meetings (so people don’t see my clean laundry hanging up behind me!) but it’s good for my back, and keeping me a bit on task with the thesis & day-job. Could do with more desk space when working with tech or sewing, but it’s good for now.
  5. FINANCE: Reach a point of having some wiggle room in my finances. Last year was all about keeping our heads above water – we were supposed to run out of savings in April, but by dint of taking on every scrap of work that came my way, we’ve managed to stretch that out and we still have the house! While things are still bad, we’ve got through, J’s been FINALLY getting some nibbles about jobs (there’s been pretty much no nibbles for anyone in his field since the Brexit referendum) so hopefully things will be more stable soon and while I still have fee costs and so on, I’d really like to reach a point where I can save a little bit and be in a position to just make some purchases without having to totally stress about it or weigh up cost vs utility vs possibility of everything collapsing in a bankrupt heap (e.g. £90 ergonomic keyboard, £75 tilting stool – would they work?? would they fix the problem? or just be a waste of much-needed cash?) J got a job! So I’ve been able to squirrel away a bit, and also to spend a bit here and there. December update: And now J’s finished that contract (early) and been offered an extension to work on a new project, so things are MUCH more comfortable than they have been. I’m churning through all my savings in Australia, but at least I have savings to churn through! And I’ve also been able to just buy books I need rather than fret about not having them and not being able to get to libraries that have them. Definitely a win for both us, this one.
  6. HEALTH: *sigh* – this has been the same for YEARS but this year I feel I have a little hope to actually shed some weight and deal with some of the physical problems I’ve been experiencing – the stuff to do with the studio and tidiness in the house should help with muscle problems and mental calm, and the work I’ve been doing with my acupuncturist has been really helping my digestive problems, weight and overall energy levels. So this one involves: (a) continuing to drink a minimum of 6 cups of warm liquids a day, ideally most of these being caffeine-free options; (b) getting back into a regular routine of daily 40-minute walks; (c) cutting out wheat; (d) reducing meat consumption so that hopefully I can get to a point of eating vegetarian 4 times a week. Weight goal: I’ve got around 20kg to lose to be a healthy weight, but given everything that’s been going on, and that I’ve struggled just to maintain my weight through most of the pandemic, I would be happy to lose 4kg (–> 84kg). Yeah… no. This one collapsed under the weight of thesis + job + Bastards and other commitments. Still a goal for 2023.
  7. SANITY, HEALTH: Start sewing again. I didn’t manage to sew anything wearable last year, and with the pandemic weight gain and everything being several years old, I’m very limited in terms of what I can wear to look professional in videoconference meetings and certainly for any possible face-to-face meetings. I want to keep it simple – tops, loose dresses, skirts, using up as much of my stash as possible and focusing on things I already have patterns for, including the Breaking the Pattern and Tilly and the Buttons books which haven’t really been used yet. I commit to taking my time with these things, watching for back health and mindful moments, not stressing and rushing to meet a deadline. Got the sewing machine ‘repaired’ but in doing so, the guy damaged it, and the ‘repair’ turned out to not be repaired at all. Still trying to fix this… I fixed the machine! In the end I just bit the bullet and ordered a part that looked right, and now everything works! It doesn’t run so nicely as it used to, and the walking foot I bought doesn’t work so well as the one that fell apart, but I’ve been able to do a bit of sewing, including finally making the Pietra Pants I’ve had cut out for over a year, and then a second version in linen for Australia which seem to be working well (but still some edits to make for the next version…)
  8. WORK: I recently had my first performance review for my new job, which required some personal development things to be in the plan, and which I can spend some work hours on, so I figure these should go in here too, for completeness’ sake. I have chosen two things: (a) to learn how to use social media effectively for disseminating and promoting research and research outputs and (b) to start working with planning research impact, basically implementing the stuff that A told us in the last of her training sessions I went to, and I’ll also be attending work’s equivalent sessions to see if there’s a different perspective to be had. Time kind of scotched this, which I noted in this year’s review, so while I certainly got quite a lot done on the social media front (including some intense moments understanding the Great Twitter Implosion of 2022), very little got done on the impact front and both of these are being extended to be this year’s work personal development goals.

I think that’s it. Maybe something will emerge in the next couple of weeks as I get started on the year, but I think 8 goals should be sufficient!!!

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