I haven’t posted anything on this blog for a few weeks now, although as a general rule I try to discipline myself to write at least two posts per month. Sometimes, however, real life takes over – and for me this has recently been due to a tiny little new life! Our son, Jonah, was born last month to my partner, Jenny. He is gorgeous, and, I’m afraid to say, a serious distraction from intercultural performance theory. M. Pavis just can’t compete with the hypnotic effect of those tiny baby toes and big, trusting eyes.
Virginia Woolf, of course, famously wrote that a woman cannot write without 500 guineas and a Room of Her Own. My room of my own, a spare bedroom-come-study shared with my partner and teenage daughter, has now become a laundry room and we can’t see the bookshelves for the clothes-horse covered with muslins, baby vests, babygros, baby towels etc, and as for the desk – well, I won’t be able to complete my previous posts on Sam Myklebost’s Manga Shakespeare talk or Rosie’s recital until I can find my notebooks and programme. Where there was a pile of PhD papers there is now only a bag-full of bumph from companies and agencies trying to push ‘necessities’ on unsuspecting parents… Mind you, even if I could get into my study to do anything other than hang up the washing, I doubt very much if my mind could focus due to my current state of sleep deprivation. Maybe I should compartmentalize my life. But in that case, why have a child? Will anything I ever write on English Literature be as significant as the interaction I have with my children? I doubt it.
As for the 500 guineas, well… Jenny and I already co-parent, i.e. we both work part-time, bringing in the equivalent of a single full-time wage between us, so that we can equally provide care and attention to our offspring. However, only a fraction of Jenny’s maternity leave is paid at her usual rate, so pennies will be tighter than usual this year. I know a lot of fellow students must think I have it made – a small but permanent academic contract – but I have a family of four. It covers half the rent and the food.
Yet would I want it any other way? Of course not. I did my Masters part-time when Nok was a baby, and loved it. I’m sure my supervisor thought I would never complete, but I did, and well. I think it taught my daughter the value of study (she burst into tears when I handed in my dissertation: ‘Mummy, you can’t give that away, it’s your Masters!’), but it also taught her that family can be central, too. You can work/study and love it. You can support yourself and your dependants on a modest income and still live life to the full. You can make deadlines despite sleepless nights and mounds of laundry. But you don’t have to become its slave.
If I’m honest, I’m not sure I could do a full-time PhD. I don’t mean intellectually, but socially. Would I lose perspective on life? Would I spend too much time on my own, thinking dark thoughts about dark plays, and go stir-crazy? Also, would I have the motivation to finish? I’m not a Kristeva, Cixous or Irigaray. My thinking isn’t going to change academia. I would probably slip into that tunnel of self-doubt that I’ve seen too many of my friends slip into, and I wouldn’t come out the other end a better person.
Having a family keeps me sane and keeps me focussed. My part-time PhD does have a purpose: hopefully, it will give me greater job security, it will make me a better educator, and it will show my children that it’s worth investing time and energy in things that make them feel fulfilled, whether it’s picnics or international Shakespeare festivals, getting through dirty washing or books of theory…