This holiday season was the first one I've spent abroad by myself. I spent it in the city that I currently and wholeheartedly call home: Manchester. It may seem like an odd choice. I could have booked a flight back to my hometown of Ashland, Kentucky and spent the holiday season with my family, but something about this year made me want to stay in Manchester.


I think part of deciding to study abroad and to pursue a career in academia comes with the acknowledgement that some holiday seasons will be lonely. You may be far from home, and some years will be lonelier than others when friends come and go and you bounce all over the place due to the precarious nature of jobs in academia. I accepted this fact a long time ago. Whether it's the work load that just doesn't afford time away from the resources I need or lack of energy due to general stress and looming deadlines, there are things that are both in and out of my control that are impacting my life right now. I saw a few months ago that time away from Manchester for the holidays just wasn't in the cards.



So, what did I do instead?


First, I took a job cat-sitting. To call it a 'job' is a bit of a stretch. I love cats and the apartment I stayed in was fabulous, so it was almost a mini-vacation. Spending time playing with the cat and giving him pets when I was stressed or he was feeling cuddly really helped calm my mind when life inevitably became overwhelming. Now, I want a cat. No, I will not be getting one.


I also had the pleasure of spending Christmas Day on my own. That may sound odd, and it was, but I let myself feel down about being alone when I needed to and allowed myself to indulge in Netflix and wine and a hot bath. I saved my Christmas Day celebrations for Boxing Day, when I wouldn't be alone (because friends are wonderful and I have the best one).


On Boxing Day, I had my Christmas. I opened the stockings my grandparents brought over when they visited me for graduation earlier in month. I went and had some of my favourite food in the world at one of my favourite Manchester gems: Mei Dim (highly recommend). I engorged myself on dim sum and enjoyed a few drinks with my closest friend. I got to be a bit selfish and indulgent. It was MY Christmas Day.


The rest of the holiday season wasn't from my typical routine, though I did get to experience some wonderful and new things, such as a piano concert in the Manchester Cathedral (shoutout to London Concertante). I enjoyed delicious food stuffs (Korean food is now one of my favourite types of cuisine) and learned how to make some new dishes, too. Being able to make my own dim sum at home is dangerous.


New Year's Eve is rarely a social event for me, but I did spend it with a friend this year, so I wasn't alone and I got to enjoy the sights and sounds of the city, alive and excited to ring in 2020, a new year and a new decade, with fireworks and kisses and hooting and hollering. I felt, as I stood on the balcony of the apartment I was staying in downtown, watching the fireworks across the city, that I was part of something. I was at home in the city of my choosing, with people I chose to share my life with.


So, some might say I was not so 'Home for the Holidays', but I think I just found a new Home.

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As the cooler months come upon us, I’m prompted to reflect. The rollercoaster ride that is the first months of PhD student life has been both disorienting and clarifying. I don’t think I’m alone in saying that the first semester of PGR study is humbling. I’m constantly reminded of how much I don’t know, how much I want to know, and how much I will never know. Still, I wander off the path I’m meant to be making – the one I’ve mapped out with my supervisor and dedicated myself to – to find little curiosities. It’s quite an adventure.

From a day out at Fletcher Moss Botanical Gardens.

Focusing my attention on my research goals has been a challenge at times, as I’m pulled in all directions by these curiosities. I’m studying mystics and monstrosity, but what if I approached it from x angle, or what about y? X and Y are both so fascinating. It’s hard to push them aside and remember what I’m here to do. So, I indulge. Sometimes too much and other times just enough. These periods of indulgence work their way into my writing, and I find I’ve produced paragraphs about something I’m not really meant to be doing. I’ve saved hundreds of words, put them aside, for a fantasy of ‘future work’ I’m not likely to revisit. I’m building a graveyard of my tangential ramblings and I enjoy strolling through it far too much. Still, I’m happy to build it. It’s part of my journey.


I’m still struggling to find a work/life balance. My work feels like my life, but then life gets in the way. Medical problems, personal struggles, mental health, fitness, family, etc. At times I lose my sense of humanity and forget that I’m allowed to struggle and have bad days. Forgetting this leads to more bad days until I finally snap out of it. I’m comforted by the knowledge that I’m surrounded by incredible people: my friends, my supervisors, and my (distant, but always present) family. I’m not alone. I can see from the journey my fellow PGRs have taken that this is part of the growing process. We’re meant to explore and struggle. When I speak to them about my struggles, I see them reflect and respond with memories of their own early days. There’s a sort of bonding in this. At the end of the day, we are where we want to be.


All of these thoughts are a bit haphazard. I wish I had something more polished to post. Still, I want to share. I hope you won’t judge me too harshly.

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What I'm writing about here isn't anything insane. It's not even remarkable. Still, I want to share. It's part of my journey.


In the past week, I've found myself being productive at new and interesting hours. I used to be a morning worker, and my day in the office would resemble a typical 9-5 work day, with the bulk of my work being done before 1:00pm. Suddenly, I've found myself thriving in the later hours of the day, as the work space clears out and the graduate school building goes quiet. My brain wakes up and I can put words (really decent words) on the page for longer stretches of time than I have in months.



This improvement I've noticed in my work, such as my capacity to focus and produce writing and ideas of decent quality, has sent me into what I can only describe as a period of anxious obsession. I'm still experiencing it now, even as I have forced myself to go home to my bed and leave my work alone until tomorrow. While I would like to say that this is a 'good' type of anxiety, I'm not certain it is. Actually, I'm fairly sure it's not, even though it seems to have disguised itself as such. What's wrong with being productive and working hard when you have the motivation? It seems innocent enough.


The unhealthy part of this comes when I dig deeper into the thoughts about my work that I encountered today. As I sat at my desk in the PGR computer cluster, looking out the window as the sky turned dark, I had an idea: I could stay here tonight and work until I can't anymore. I thought about the quality of nap I could have on my desk, with my snood rolled up under my head and my 'blanket' scarf wrapped about my shoulders. It sounds ridiculous now. It didn't then.


I am only a few weeks into the PGR program. This is far too early to be pulling all-nighters, especially after a day of producing more work than I had planned. So, here I am, writing from my bed and telling you about it. I'm not sure why, but it feels like something to share. I want to get thoughts and behaviours like this under 'control' (or at least monitored) now, so my future isn't plagued by late nights that drain the life out of my days. It's not just about today or the duration of my Ph.D. studies. It's about setting a tone that will follow me for what I hope is a long, successful academic career.

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