Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Pastures New

Well - Induction Day on Monday went a lot more smoothly than I had anticipated. I tend to such days as a procession of hurdles that need to be successfully overcome. First, Train No1 was waiting in the station in the chilly 6am light....the computerised reservation system had failed so it was rather difficult to locate the correct carriage, let alone the right seat. The cross-country line is slow and there are regular stops along the way so journey No1 took three hours. Train No2 runs at approximately 15 minute intervals and arrived within a very short space of time so that I managed to disembark at my destination at 9.25. That left me 5 minutes to complete the 15 minute walk up to the department, but academia running as it does, I arrived in time to make myself a cup of lousy coffee before we were shepherded across the hall for the usual meet and greet stuff that makes up these things. It concluded with gratifying alacrity and I managed to have a few words with Academic Supervisor No2 before walking back downhill to the branch line station where I travelled one stop up the line to the main campus. It's rather a pleasant green-ish space surrounded by utilitarian brick-built units and a couple of remnants from the age of successful Victorian enterprise (the Great Hall and an enormously tall clock tower that seems to act as a giant sundial). Obtaining my student ID card I made my way (after a fairly decent latte) to the library that smelt....oooh....like books! I found a few useful volumes and, having checked them out, proceeded to lunch on a baked spud and coleslaw. Early afternoon I had my first meeting with my PhD supervisor: it went very well, and I think that we should be able to work together excellently. Having discussed targets and arranged the next session, I made my way back to the branch-line station ...but not before I'd checked out the on-site Waterstones and made an appropriately reduced-price purchase courtesy of my new student card! Finding myself with a few spare minutes at the main station, I had another hot drink and waited in relative comfort in the passenger lounge before boarding the 16:30 home. I eventually arrived back at our house at 7.30pm, much to the excitement of the dog, who'd been wondering where I'd been all day.

The upshot to all this is that the things that I had worried about prior to the event didn't trouble me: I pushed through the 'comfort zone' and am pretty sure that next time I won't feel anything like as apprehensive. Success.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Ageing and Nervousness

Next Monday I have to go for the post-graduate induction meeting at my new university. I have to admit that I have got beyond the excitement of having a new pencil case and freshly sharpened pencils and am now feeling downright apprehensive about the whole business! I am not very good at spontaneous conversation with people I don't know very well and my mental processes tend to grind to a halt when confronted with a question that I was not expecting: I go red and stammer away incoherently. God knows what'll happen if someone asks me to sum up my PhD proposal in a room full of people! I'll probably implode....

I recognise that as I get older I am becoming less initially confident in unexplored situations, and sometimes I have to force myself to push through my 'comfort zone' and do stuff that I'm not feeling too positive about. In fact it seems to be a widespread symptom of aging: The unwillingness to engage is possibly a biologically programmed mechanism to protect the elderly (and hence more vulnerable) from 'risky' situations, and it makes me wonder if the old folks who lead solitary unengaged lives are not so much deliberately excluded or ignored by others as imposing restrictions on social involvement upon themselves.

Just as muscles ache and protest at unaccustomed exercise, and the mind atrophies through lack of stimulus, so the social persona withers unless exposed to new social situations. Often an opportunity is greeted (either internally or actually) with 'No, I don't feel like it'. This excuse must be rigorously examined and teased apart until the fibres of the true reason can be seen. Quite often the fear of failure or humiliation is a factor in rejecting an invitation or an opening. The thought that we may be exposed to scrutiny is quite daunting, especially if our confidence in our physical appearance or intellectual capacity is waning. But we owe it to ourselves to push out the comfort zone, do things we maybe feel unsure about, because if we start to say 'no' to life our world starts to contract bit by bit until we are the folk sitting fearfully alone at home. If I can keep doing new things, experiencing new situations and meeting new people, maybe I can keep the 'shrinking world' at bay: There are, out there, some wonderful, really old people and despite their wildly different backgrounds, what unites them is their unafraid zest for life. I want to be like that and, however hard it seems to be to get out there and live, I'm going to make it a priority to accept any opportunities that come my way. Moreover, I intend to make my own opportunities, as I have been doing for the past few years. Aging? 99% in the mind!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Autumn Draws On

Well, this month has just flown by! The children are settled into their new routines, the weather is rather wonderfully Autumnal; misty mornings, heavy dews, sunlight filtering through the changing leaves....we even have grapes turning purple on the vine. I am trying to get my head around copious amounts of reading matter, mostly for my doctoral studies which kick off in earnest at the end of the month with a post-grad induction day. I am feeling rather nervous about it - not only is there a three-and-a-half hour train journey to get to my new university (lots of potential for being late and getting flustered), but I'll be meeting lots of new people and having to talk off-the-cuff about myself and my proposed PhD: not something I'm terrifically good at. I am excited, of course, but it's debatable whether the nerves or the excitement is winning. To this end I have invested in my own copy of Susan Jeffers' 'Feel the Fear And Do It Anyway' which I have found tremendously useful for boosting self-confidence and calming nervousness in the past. Just reading her soothing prose makes me realise that everyone's nervous most of the time in new situations: I just have to tell myself that I can handle anything that comes my way. So I will!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The New Academic Term

First day of the school term and the children, looking as smart as they ever get, happily trot off.
I sit at my computer, black coffee at my elbow with a tremendous sense of relief, well-being and achievement. The sun is actually shining for once and the whole day has an autumny feel to it. Oh the excitement of packing the new pencil cases! Oh the bag full of books! Oh the tingle of anticipation and fear at the unknown!
And this year it applies to me too! Unlike last year, when my MA was moving into its final month and I felt rather gloomy (see 'Nostalgia and Melancholy' August 29th 2007), I am feeling somewhat perkier. Despite not receiving any funding for my proposed doctoral study, I have decided to firmly commit myself to doing it part-time.
The more I think about the part-time option, the better and better it gets. More time, less pressure. Brilliant!
Best of all is the unexpected boost to my self-esteem: now I can label myself, to 'name' what I am (I have been reading Doris Lessing recently), which didn't strike me as important until it seemed that the PhD was slipping off-screen.

So that's me then....a 'doctoral student'. Yes, I like the sound of that! And I can update my profile to boot. Hooray!