Sunday, January 04, 2009

Happy New Year

I'm enjoying the last day of my self-appointed holidays before I make myself go back to work tomorrow. There's nothing so special in this timing, since it's the same schedule as the majority of the population, but that's the point I suppose, to find some sense of normality in this treacherous task of completing a PhD.

I say treacherous, because it's an insecure and self-disciplined way of existing. I'm not especially good at self-discipline and so I have rendered an insecure existence even more insecure by nearing the end of my scholarship with about an additional six months of work to do. This is not so unusual, many people of course take more than a further six months to complete their theses after their funding runs out. I could be one of those people, I suspect I will be, but for the moment I need to be hopeful that I won't be.

I think the trouble is that even with the funding I have remaining, I will need to get some work so I can pay my bills. I'm quite understandably a bit spooked that I don't have any confirmed prospects of work for the semester ahead. At the moment I'm living on my savings to pay bills and participate in holiday festivities and outings. Part of me thinks I shouldn't have spent $30 on two cocktails last night, but the other part of me believes I will get some research or teaching work before my next electricity bill arrives.

I'm a bit resentful that it now seems to be de riguer for rents to increase at the beginning of every 6 month lease. Time was when you could pay the same rent for two or three years running, but that's no longer the case. I wonder if I'm living above my means. I am, but I genuinely tried share accommodation and that ended in even more bills and, retrospectively, I can see, a bit of post-traumatic stress. I think it was only by August in the past year that I actually felt able to progress on my thesis after the experience of sharing with someone who completely violated any reasonable boundaries of communal living.

I suppose this is why I tend to think of 2008 as a fairly so-so year, even though I had moved out of the share situation by December 17, 2007. I wasn't able to go to the wedding I was invited to in Italy because I ended up ravaging my savings moving again, as well as effectively furnishing a house, which included buyingwhite goods. I am grateful that I had savings to be able to make my home liveable, but I suppose the whole scenario brought home a sense of my vulnerability as a single person on an irregular income: all the burdens are mine, financial and emotional. Right now, I would have little problem with being a kept woman if it meant I could stop worrying. If someone else would make me a cup of tea.

My sense that this past year was not the best year was exacerbated by a falling out I had with my brother at the end of 2007. It's an indication to me of how deeply I was affected by this event that I haven't really spoken about it to anyone. I won't go into details. What I have been able to identify is a repetition of patterns of relationships within my family that cast me in a particular role, which has been very difficult to fight against. I guess if there's one thing I'm proud of myself for recently, it's that I took advantage of an opportunity that presented itself to tell my mother that I could identify how that pattern had emerged. I hope by telling her she pulls up my siblings in their treatment of me. Of course I have to do that for myself too. I'm working up to it.

I managed to tell my mother my perspective while we were sitting on the edge of the river at South Bank, waiting for some recently met relatives who were visiting from the UK. The meeting of these relatives on my father's side is really the biggest news of this Christmas for me. I learned from my oldest sister that a cousin, who I'd never really heard of, had moved to the Sunshine Coast, just north of Brisbane, from the UK with her husband and children. Over Christmas, her parents, my aunt and uncle, were visiting and they had expressed a desire to meet us.

It's all very complicated. My father has a series of step-brothers and step-sisters, both older and younger than him. A few years ago, one of the younger brothers was determined to track my father down. He was very upset with another brother who had traced the oldest brother without telling the rest of the siblings. The younger brother got in contact with my mother's family. He found my mother, who was visiting her own brother in the UK at the time, and so his nieces and nephew: me and my siblings. He didn't find my father, because no-one in this mish-mashed family has had contact with my father since he departed without a word over 23 years ago.

On the 27th of December my mother, me and my two sisters trekked up to the Sunshine Coast and met this aunt, uncle, cousin and her husband and children. Then on the 30th, they trekked down to Brisbane to spend some time with us.

How are these things supposed to go? My mother and my uncle spoke about my father and the other siblings, as well as my paternal grandmother. I learned that my father's family knew him as 'Sandy', when in Australia everyone knew him as Alex. It was determined that the sister just older than me most resembled my paternal grandmother, and we all came away with a scanned copy of a photo of her at around the age of 18. I was reminded of the explicitly racist reasons as to why my father chose to take his family away from Birmingham to settle in Australia: my uncle expressed the same sense of working class siege and dispossession as that expressed by my father nearly 40 years ago towards the Asians ethnically of the Indian sub-continent. One of my sisters felt some pressure to explain why nobody had ever really bothered to search for my father. She took my uncle aside and apparently he responded that he had known my father was a 'hard man'.

I didn't really intend this post to be a litany of woe, but while I'm here let me just say that I hope not to endure another Christmas where a particular individual drinks all day to the point where he becomes even more boorish, relaxed to the point where it seems reasonable to express disgust at a close relative's weight and begin a diatribe against women who marry and don't adopt their husband's surname. I also hope never to have to listen to another expression of disgust about the realisation that all those years ago, George Michael was likely singing his heart out in Last Christmas to a man rather than the female depicted in the film clip.

If you've managed to read this far, thank you. The misery ends now. And, really, I mean it: Happy New Year!


Tim said...

Happy new year, Kirsty! My 2008 was shite too, to the point that I felt relieved when the calendar ticked over to 2009. Not that there's any reason why I couldn't have two (or more) bad years in a row, but I'm hoping that the illusion of a "fresh year" will help bring about better circumstances. Hope yours improve too!

Shado said...

Hi Kirsty

I hope 2009 is a better experience! I'm very sorry to hear about recent events.

On the rent front you have my full sympathy. I just got an email from my own landlord last night asking that I start paying an extra $30 a week as of next rental payment. Last year the rent went up by a total of $50 in one year. This is after years and years of paying the same rent.

I thought there was meant to be a downturn in the housing market. This clearly doesn't apply to rentals.

Lucy said...

I hope 2009 is a much better year! I'm sorry the last one wasn't so great.

Zoe said...

It's a cracker of a post though ... Christmas is always special.

Did you read Mel's account of huge pre-christmas blue with her brother at Wild Young UnderWhimsy? You might enjoy it ; )

meli said...

that's so mean about the rents increasing... have you looked into part time work in the library or something like that? it might provide the same money as teaching for much less time commitment...

good luck with finishing up - you'll get there!

JahTeh said...

I'm having the same problem with family members and repetition of patterns.
I expect that when my mother dies we will not see each other for a year or so which is why I have not blown skyhigh and said words that can't be taken back.

Oanh said...

I have been meaning to come back to read this post properly for ages, and I finally have. I'm glad I did.

I'm sorry to hear your 2008 was not so great but I hope 2009 brings you many good things, and the completion of your PhD.

Ariel said...

Bad year, great post. God, that's a lot of family drama in one year ... hope this year is better in many, many years. On the bright side, you've got the house set-up now. Crap to spend money to get it, good to have it.

Take it from me, it's better to be single and poor and frazzled than be with someone who earns the money and keeps you comfortable but you don't want to be with, though. At least you have your independence. And you're poor, but doing what you love.

Not AT ALL to say you have no reason to complain (a good cathartic bitch about your years sounds in order!) but an attempt to cheer you up.

Oh, and when you're single you can watch what you like on TV without shame, battles or retribution, not have someone else watching something you couldn't care less about when you're trying to read in quiet on the couch, and can eat beans on toast for dinner if you can't be bothered cooking. I love my husband, but miss these things ...

Kirsty said...

Thanks everyone for your supportive comments.

I'm back into the swing of things a bit more now. My PhD is progressing well and I have picked up some tutoring to cover the shortfall, so I'm right to pay my bills for another 6 months.

Zoe, I did enjoy Mel's post. Thanks for the referral.

Ariel, I understand what you were saying. And you're quite right about the TV.

I hope you all have a good year too.

Pavlov's Cat said...

Kirsty, great post -- it evokes such a rush of memories that I am writing a meta-post about it. In two respects your experience has been uncannily close to mine. I remember the exact feeling you're talking about, of running out of time (=money) to finish the PhD in an insecure life -- I was 25 so it was a bloody long time ago -- and I also remember the conversation with my mother about sibling treatment and family roles/scripts, which took place, decades ago, a few hundred metres from where you had yours. 'They just don't like me,' I raged at my mother. 'Well,' she said reasonably, 'you don't like them, either.'