The Scamp Reframes the Narrative

I’m struggling with my thesis edits. I’m struggling not just because I have to rewrite the entire thing in six months when the first draft took three years to complete, but because of what happened to me in those three years, what I had to endure there and then in the viva that have made it really hard for me to sit down and rewrite  my work in a way that is satisfactory to the people that control whether or not I get my degree.

This week the University and College Union called a strike at universities across Scotland over the rising cost of pensions and other pay and working conditions (this is the very simplified bare-bones way to explain it. You can find a more detailed explanation here: https://www.ucu.org.uk/). UCU issued a news update this week that I think really explains it well:

Guardian editorial said the marketisation of universities had seen a new breed of vice-chancellors emerge aping the language and salaries of a business CEO complete with an entourage of financial managers and marketing gurus. However staff had been left behind as their pay fell and an intellectual precariat was stumbling from year to year on temporary contracts wondering where the next teaching gig was coming from. While the Financial Times said that the industrial action carried wider significance than the fate of a disputed retirement plan, and had exposed the precariousness of Britain’s higher education system as it has become more of a marketplace.

So what does the strike and the fight for better pay, suitable contracts and fair working conditions?

Everything. See I am on one of those temporary contracts. I am paying a lot into my pension that could be helpful in paying my student loans. Full disclosure, I am not a member of the union so I am not allowed to strike even if I wanted to. But that is neither here nor there.  What I want to focus on is the last sentence in the paragraph from UCU. The working conditions of the UK’s higher education system.

See the thing is, it is not just the staff who are suffering. PhD students are also suffering. The expectation, the pay, and the complete disregard for the mental health and wellbeing of the students undertaking the role. These were battles that I had to face almost daily for four years and when I spoke up to the people that were in a position to help me, they either laughed in my face or told me not to worry. No one took me seriously. No one even acknowledged the possibility that my worries now may become actual problems in the future. At one point I was working on five different projects to scrape money together to pay my bills every month. I burned out twice. I cried every Friday with a therapist.

I made it all the way to a viva only to be told what I had done wasn’t even half good enough. I was failed by a lot of people, mainly my supervisors, and I could get in a lot of trouble for even putting that in writing. Yes, it is true that I could email my supervisors and ask for help. The thing is, I don’t even know what to ask for. The only one who would even respond would tell me that I know what I need to do and I just need to do it….and I really wish that was true. I have no idea what I need to do because I did what was expected of a PhD student, the examiners hated it, and now I am trying to do something that leaves out a lot of important information…..oh yeah, and I need to not mention the methodology that I used to collect the data because the examiners hated it.

It really hurts when people call me Dr Wilder….one because technically I am not, but two, because it is a slap in the face to be seen as an expert when I was told behind closed doors I wasn’t good enough, even though half the choices made were not made by me.

But dealing with that reality is not getting me anywhere. That attitude led me to not working on my thesis, making poor dietary choices, weight gain, ridiculous anxiety and my current (and starting to feel like permanent) grumpy state. So I am trying to refrain that narrative. But it’s hard. I want to go on strike and refuse to work under these conditions. I want to fight the people that put me in this position in the first place.

I want to not be afraid that I could lose my job because I cannot meet the needs of a system that does not care if I pass or fail as long as they get paid….and since they already got paid, there really is no reason to help me.

I am not really sure why I dumped all of this on my blog about being an expat. It isn’t fun. It isn’t happy. It isn’t even insightful. But I guess it makes me feel better to know that I am not incapable of writing. This is the most writing I have done at one time in months, and maybe, just maybe if I can go on strike against the conditions that I was forced to work in before and see this as an opportunity to really get a PhD with my work saying what I want to say and start helping university’s help their students with assessment and feedback. I think I am good at what I do. I think that once I put this nonsense behind me that I can continue with my work in an environment that supports me, encourages me, and is allowing me the chance to do things that I am good at and try to help people who want to enhance their assessment and feedback skills.

I am ten posts short of 500. I have no idea how I got to 500 posts, or what that special 500th post will look like, but I am excited that I am almost there. Maybe it is another sign from the universe that I can get the writing done and I can show the examiners that I earned the PhD that cost me a lot of blood, sweat, tears, friendships, and mental health.

The Scamp Plays a Game

I’ve been tasked from a fellow blogger to play a ‘get-to-know-you’ game. I have to answer 31 questions (because I’m old as shit) from a list of 198. I usually hate these, but it has been a while since I wrote anything that wasn’t thesis related, and I think this might be more fun then another post about how miserable I am in the current thesis phase…because let’s face it, everyone is miserable at this stage.

1. IF SOMEONE NARRATED YOUR LIFE, WHO WOULD YOU WANT TO BE THE NARRATOR? I think it would have to be Anthony Bourdain. There is just something about the way he narrated his own life was quite brilliant. He’d say all the snarky things I was thinking as well which would be nice. 

2. WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE BOOK YOU’VE EVER READ? God Went to Beauty School by Cynthia Rylant

God Went to Beauty School

He went there to learn how
to give a good perm
and ended up just crazy 
about nails
so He opened up His own shop.
“Nails by Jim” He called it.
He was afraid to call it
Nails by God.
He was sure people would
think He was being
disrespectful and using
His own name in vain
and nobody would tip.
He got into nails, of course,
because He’d always loved
hands--
hands were some of the best things
He’d ever done
and this way He could just
hold one in His
and admire those delicate
bones just above the knuckles,
delicate as birds’ wings, 
and after He’d done that
awhile,
He could paint all the nails 
any color He wanted,
then say,
“Beautiful,"
and mean it.

3. IF YOU RECEIVED A SALARY TO FOLLOW WHATEVER PASSION YOU WANTED TO, WHAT WOULD YOU DO? I would start my own literacy foundation and help people learn to read. I’d set it up all over the world. People would learn to read in their native language and depending on the location, another language that would be useful. For California, people would learn English and Spanish or English and Korean. I think raising the literacy rate of the world is important and that it can be done if people are willing to make it happen.

4. WHAT’S THE COOLEST THING YOU’RE WORKING ON RIGHT NOW? I am working on a project that would allow me to use the research from my PhD to actually help a university with their assessment and feedback procedures. I’m really buzzing about this one and hope that I can make it happen. 

5. WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING IF YOU WEREN’T AT YOUR CURRENT JOB? I want to be a travel writer for Lonely Planet. 

6. WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE SMELL IN THE WHOLE WORLD? Red Door by Elizabeth Arden 

7. NACHOS. WHAT WOULD YOU PUT ON YOURS? I’m a purist. I want a lot of cheese, really spicy salsa, guac, sour cream and jalapenos.  

8. WHAT IS THE SOUND YOU LOVE THE MOST? My nephews laughing 

9. IF YOU COULD GET AWAY WITH A CRIME, WOULD YOU? IF YES, WHAT WOULD IT BE? I would. I would evade paying my student loans

10. WHAT’S THE OLDEST THING YOU OWN? My very first stuffed rabbit called Bun

11. WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE HOLIDAY AND WHY? Any holiday that brings my family all together. Usually, that is Christmas Eve, Passover, or if I make it to California to celebrate my birthday. 

12. WHAT’S THE BEST CONCERT YOU’VE EVER BEEN TO? The first time I saw the Mighty Mighty BossTones and getting to see JD McPherson in Glasgow.

13. IF YOU COULD PLAY ONE INSTRUMENT YOU AREN’T ABLE TO NOW, WHAT WOULD IT BE AND WHY? I want to play the trumpet. I don’t know anyone who can play it, and I think that I would enjoy it.

14. WHO WAS YOUR FAVORITE CARTOON CHARACTER AS A CHILD? Velma from Scooby Doo.

15. WHICH FAMOUS PERSON WOULD YOU LIKE TO BEST FRIENDS WITH? Anthony Bourdain.

16. IF YOU COULD LIVE IN A BOOK, TV SHOW, OR MOVIE, WHAT WOULD IT BE? I’d live in the Dresden Files

17. IF YOU HAD TO CHOOSE TO LIVE WITHOUT ONE OF YOUR FIVE SENSES, WHICH ONE WOULD YOU GIVE UP? Smell. It would make public transportation more tolerable

18. IF YOU COULD HAVE DINNER WITH ANY ONE PERSON, LIVING OR DEAD, WHO WOULD THEY BE AND WHY? My mom. It has been almost a year since we have seen each other and I’m not enjoying it.

19. IF YOU COULD MASTER ONE SKILL YOU DON’T HAVE RIGHT NOW, WHAT WOULD IT BE? I want to have an easier time learning languages.

20. IF YOU COULD ASK THE PRESIDENT ONE QUESTION, WHAT WOULD IT BE? Who does your hair?

21. WHAT SINGLE MESSAGE WOULD YOU SEND TO AN ADVANCED ALIEN SPECIES? Don’t waste your time here.

22. WHAT ANIMAL WOULD BE CUTEST IF SCALED DOWN TO THE SIZE OF A CAT? A giraffe.

23. IF YOU COULD TRAVEL ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD, WHERE WOULD IT BE? Brea, California

24. WHEN HAVE YOU FELT YOUR BIGGEST ADRENALINE RUSH? Jumping out of an aeroplane when I turned 28. It was such a rush that I almost puked when I landed. I had to lay on the ground for half an hour

25. WHAT IS YOUR ULTIMATE GOAL IN LIFE? I want to help people in some way.

26. WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART ABOUT THIS CITY? All of the people from all over the world who have chosen to settle here.

27. HOW WOULD YOU SPEND A BILLION DOLLARS? I’d take care of my family first. Pay off debts, set up college accounts for my nephews, get my sister a house. I would then invest a couple million in stocks and keep a couple million for myself. The rest of the money would be divided between charities that help with education, environmental conservation, and making the world a better place.

28. WHAT IS ONE THING YOU MISS ABOUT BEING A KID? Not worrying about money or paying bills.

29. WHERE IS THE MOST RELAXING PLACE YOU’VE EVER BEEN? Any place where there is a beach and a sunset.

30. DESCRIBE ONE EXPERIENCE YOU’VE HAD WHERE YOU TOOK A HUGE LEAP OF FAITH. I moved to Scotland on my own to pursue my PhD.

31. IF YOUR ENTIRE LIFE WAS A MOVIE, WHAT TITLE WOULD BEST FIT? A Series of Unfortunate Events…..wait, that’s already taken. hmmmm. Tales From the Little Black Rain Cloud

The Scamp is Accidentally Funny

Today I finally got an email from a supervisor that I am excited about.

I am a handful of edits away from a complete draft of my theory chapter. Considering the last draft I submitted was ‘confusing’ and ‘unclear,’ I am so chuffed that I am almost done. Of course, I would not have been able to get that far without having sent the draft to my mom as an extra set of eyes. Turns out, I am not as bad a writer as I thought.

I may actually finish this thesis.

That aside, I have been dipping my toe into the festival. I went and saw Ari Shaffir do a set on being Jewish and it was the best thing ever. I laughed the entire time. He’s in the city this month to prepare for a Netflix special, and I cannot wait until the final set is done. It probably won’t be half as funny though when it isn’t done in front of a room full of people who know nothing about Judaism.

Since one of the besties is in theatre, and working during the festival, when she mentioned that she was out and about, I knew I had to detour in her direction. She introduced me to the writer for the show she is working on, and to a casting director and I felt like my job is borning in comparison so I blurted out the most outrageous thing I could think of: I was an accidental Jewish guest at a white supremacist wedding.

The story was a big hit with the crowd, and I think maybe it is time I shared it with the world.

The rest of this is the how the big day unfolded to the best of my recollection. I am going to try and avoid using names, although most of my family and friends from California will have an idea of who this is.

When I was 21 years old, I was dating a very sweet guy who lives in Hollywood. The house he grew up was the house that his dad grew up in, and his dad knows everyone and anyone. He has amazing stories that he likes to tell (often on a loop. I heard the same ones a lot in the two years I dated his son) and was often collecting strays that would live at the house for anywhere from a few days to a few months, to a few years. It was one such stray that had been cared for by the family that asked if he could have his wedding in the giant front yard of the Hollywood house.

It was summertime (I think it was June) and I spent my time going back and forth between my parent’s house in Orange County to the boyfriend’s house in Hollywood. I got to the house in the late afternoon for the rehearsal dinner. The first thing that I noticed was the motorcycles and muscle cars. I have an El Camino and the boyfriend has a classic Mustang (I loved that car), so I was immediately interested in the cars.

Unfortunately, that was the last thing I was interested in for the rest of the weekend. I walked into the house and felt like I had walked into a Klan meeting. The groom was a tall dude covered in tattoos. He was wearing jeans and white undershirt with the sleeves rolled rockabilly style. His tattoos showcased his love of his heritage….including the swastika on his neck. The bride to be was also covered in tattoos and piercings, including the SS lightning bolts. Their friends looked much the same. During the course of the party, the two got more and more hammered and then shared how they met. They had met through MySpace (which tells you how long ago this happened) when they each thought the other was someone else. They talked for a couple of weeks before they realised the mistake that they had made, and after a few laughs (and not a lot of time) they decided that they couldn’t live without each other and decided to get married.

Strong foundations for a good marriage, right?

The next day my boyfriend and his friends helped put out chairs, make sure the front yard was clean and went about helping set up for the BBQ after the ceremony. The best man, my boyfriend and I went to get as much ice as we could for all of the booze that was now sitting in the driveway of the Hollywood house. During this outing, I learned that the best man was married, he liked muscle cars, and he had a habit of lingering a little bit too long when he touched me. I changed into a nice sundress and tried to stay out of the way while everyone got dressed. The wedding party had been drinking since about 9am, and by the time guests started arriving, the wedding party was beyond three sheets to the wind. Even my boyfriend’s dad was drunk….and he was the one in charge of officiating the wedding!

The best guest of the day was the mother of the groom. She showed up with her very fake boobs spilling out of a very tight dress that was better fitted to someone half her age. She was very theatrical and dramatic and did not really act the way that you would expect a mother to act. The wedding was delayed for a couple of hours, although I can’t for the life of me remember why. People showed up in jeans, baseball hats, leather. Their tattoos were crude and slightly offensive, and I decided that it was best if I just made myself scarce. When it was finally time to start, one of the groomsmen had lost his shirt, and his very large tattoo of the word ‘thirsty’ across his stomach was on display. He sported a backwards baseball cap and several beers. The groom could barely stand up straight and the officiant was in shorts and a black shirt with a paper collar to make him look like a priest. He was swaying slightly as well.  The bride walked down the aisle to some hardcore song, but she looked stunning in her white strapless mermaid gown and tiny net veil.

The ceremony was short, the kiss at the end sloppy.

And then the fun began. BBQ and booze flowed. I felt very uncomfortable in a crowd of people that proudly displayed their racist ideology, and even asked my boyfriend at one point if I had been invited to the wedding as a ritual sacrifice. He failed to see the problem, so I hid in his room for an hour or so and text my mom about the ridiculousness of what was going on. When my boyfriend neglected to come to find me, I decided to venture back out. One of his friends was sitting on a couch on the phone arguing with his girlfriend. It was obvious that she was mad at him, and while I started to move out of the bedroom, the mother of the groom came tumbling in dragging the best man by his tie (yeah, he was wearing a tie, go figure). The two of them disappeared into the bathroom together. I looked over at my boyfriend’s friend, and both of us were shocked and confused….so much so that he interrupted his girlfriend and asked if they could pause the fight so that he could tell her what we just saw.

Needless to say that a slutty mother of the groom having sex with the married best man is a good way to end an argument.

They came stumbling out a few minutes later and I went outside to find my boyfriend and tell him what I had just seen. I was waiting for them to cut and serve the cake, but by 11 or so I was tired of waiting and went to bed.

At some point after that, the groom learned that his friend had slept with his mom. They got in a massive fight in the front yard and the best man lost a tooth. The bride and groom then got in a massive screaming match and she threw her wedding ring over the fence and into the middle of a very busy street in front of the Hollywood house (It was never found). They slept separately and were still not speaking the next day.

I learned a valuable lesson that day….always look at the wedding invitation first. If it has a swastika on it, respectfully decline.

As I write this, I wonder if it is as funny as it was when I told it to a shocked audience last night in an effort to make them laugh. They joked that I could have my own fringe show, and said they could not write a better scene. I hadn’t thought about that in years, and now I wonder if those two are still together and whether or not they have started their own little Hitler Youth group.

 

The Scamp Laughs

I have been running around like a mad woman this week trying to get the chapter edits done and make some headway with my thesis. I’m not sure how much luck I am having, but I survived the week, so at least that is something.

All the running around means that I have been too lazy to cook. I stopped at Subway on my way home this week, and while I was waiting for my sandwich, the guy behind the counter asked me if I was headed to work or headed home from work (it was 4). I told him I left one job and was headed home to another one. This is the conversation that followed:

Him: another job?! What is it that you do?

Me: I work for a university, but I am headed home to work on my PhD.

Him: (sceptical) what are you working on?

Me: I study how students respond to the feedback they receive from lecturers and whether or not they learn from it.

Him: Feedback?

Me: Like the comments on an assignment, or if you write an essay and get notes written in the margin.

Him: You can study anything…

Me: I mean….there is a guy studying how takeaway trauma effects people. Like how anxious you get waiting for your pizza to arrive.

Him: See, that is a worthwhile study! That is important!

Me: ……….

That’s it. I quit! I’m done with academia. I had a really good giggle over that because it reminds me that my work, as important as I think it is, is really only important in my corner of the world.

I’m okay with that though. Even though I am massively behind schedule and freaking out about the future, I am happy that universities will fund almost anything so that I have a chance to try and help people in my little corner of the world. I also really needed the laugh.

Plus, the guy looked so serious that I didn’t have the heart to tell him that the takeaway trauma study was probably bullshit.