A sound artist, field recordist and researcher with a love for heritage sites, ruins and buildings at risk.
My Friend

My Friend

This is the end, my friend, the end, dry your tears

We knew this time would come, and it’s been years.

I handed in my thesis at on the 31st January. I pressed submit at midnight, like any student does; no matter how far they have come in academia, how hard they worked, or how many years they have shaped their work. A friend was awake in our spare room – she had stayed up for me deliberately. So was the kitten, excited that no one had gone to bed yet. A box of Krispy Kreme doughnuts lay waiting to be eaten on my makeshift desk – our dining table, a gift from our friend to mark the end of 5 years of investment from MRes to thesis submission. My partner was asleep after such a long day with work, up again early in the morning. Our friend hugged me to say well done, we shared a doughnut, and the kitten ran around not knowing the difference between 5 minutes before and the click of a button. Time marched on, life was the same. The world merely sighed as it did everytime dark fell and the streets grew quiet here in Brighton. My friend and I said goodnight, I went to bed quietly, and woke again at 6am as if nothing had changed.

No one prepares you for such an anticlimatic end to a PhD. You think, how could something so consuming, so hopefully profound, so important, just come and go so simply. But it did. I played some Zelda that morning, a new game I’d been putting off playing more until I handed in my thesis, sitting in a daze, not sure how to feel. Here we are, in March, and I still don’t know how I feel.

Fast forward the 22nd April, a day so important, so special. I entered with optimism, being told that it would go well and to feel proud of what I had achieved. The questions from my examiners weren’t aligned with the usual discussion found within vivas that I had prepared extensively for, so all the colourful things I had wanted to discuss melted away, and were replaced with debates surrounding the theoretical PhD I had created being misinterpreted as practice-based. Deeper, more fascinating discussion was replaced with questions regarding small areas of terminology and how it could be expressed differently. I had looked forward to this day with such hope, and the outcome, seemingly out of nowhere, presented me with revisions to do before I could be awarded my doctorate. I left in confusion and grief, feeling as if the examiners hadn’t understood this journey and the document at all.

I loved my work, I love it now. My birthday came a few days later, and I was gifted self-help books. Books that may never have been gifted if something had been different. I have experienced many very hard chapters in my life, even by my 20s. I had learnt a skill of removing painful and difficult memories from my mind, putting them carefully away. Never lost, but out of immediate reach so I could laugh and thrive and be driven in my goals. I am here in May relearning this skill of extraction that I had luckily not had to use for several years.

What maybe makes this so hard, was that I felt misinterpreted as an academic somehow, not given a chance to show myself truly, yet judged unnecessarily. Perhaps here I will restate my intentions, as catharsis, for leaving things unsaid – even if just for myself. My childhood and teens were spent straddling two worlds, one part dreaming, aspiring to success, and gaining as much knowledge about life as I could, the other frightened by storms, disrepair and the leaks in our roof, bullied throughout the education my parents sacrificed everything for, and teaching myself confidence through a long and challenging friendship with a traumatised pony unwanted at a riding school (my dearest friend, who’s passing inspired ‘To the Grass’). I worked from 15 in the service industry, I had three jobs all at once by 18 while still at school. I had done and felt so much by the time I arrived in Brighton at 19 that I lived in a state of permanent exhaustion and grief. I even, dare I say it, questioned whether to continue. I never said no to work; and had a foundation, a degree and a masters by the time I met my incredible funders, SEAHA, and was chosen for the PhD project. My life changed, and where some people might find a doctorate a burden or source of complaint, it was my job and my joy, and my ticket away from serving pints in pubs to live the dreams I had had for so many years. I finally had enough money from the funding to thrive. I even became a lecturer and have now taught for 2 and a half years.

I think deeply, I am very cautious as a person about everything I put out. I wanted to help people and make a difference. When my childhood school was demolished and replaced by three £1 million show homes, adding nothing to the community or landscape, I knew my path. When I entered a disused and at-risk train station in Birmingham for sound work (the world’s oldest railway termini and a time capsule of incredible human achievement), I felt a sense of profound care and an ache in my heart of the want for celebration and preservation of human endeavour. To make purpose of things, to use and care for our urban and rural surroundings. My doctorate followed this passion, creating a model for building audio experiences that were adaptable to a variety of heritage sites to enhance and add value, yet somehow, on that special day, this message was lost.

Here I speak to other researchers and artists, those who know their contribution to the world and are striving to make it. it seems even those you believed would understand may not, or another agenda may have gotten in the way of them expressing this understanding. It doesn’t mean your dreams are wrong, or less valuable. As I try and make sense of and conclude this chapter, I remind myself that many things affect each milestone we get to, and it is worth remembering the importance of luck. A dear friend, who moved away recently, reminded me lightheartedly that perhaps there is a parallel situation where another person, or version of me, went through this process and had an inspiring experience. She knows I like to think that, when something challenging comes along, someone else had better luck because of it and everything balances out.

This is the end, my friend, the end, dry your tears
We knew this time would come and it’s been years.

Imagine reading stories so profound
Understanding buildings from the ground
Seeing life in silence and in sound
This is the end, my friend, the end, I have found.

I took a look at magic made by man
A world transposed to music, part of a four year plan
This is the end, my friend, the end, stay on track
This is the end, I know, the end, don’t look back.

Those so close have journeyed far away
Found new seams of purpose in the rock of their dismay
I’m the one still present here, to finally say
This is the end, I know, the end, come what may.

Packed my good intentions in a box
Left behind perfection, my words were at a loss
This is the end, I know, the end, don’t give in
This is the end, my friend, the end, I will win.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *