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  • Writer's pictureChelsea Haith

Confirmation pending

'Confirmation' is the name of the penultimate hoop this performing poodle must jump through on her way round the PhD circus tent. It's also an ambiguously looming deadline in my academic life (due somehow both last Friday and two weeks from now). Deadlines, confirmation, and a pandemic: there's a fair bit of religion-inspired apocalypse imagery happening at the minute.

I'm currently writing the final chapter of my PhD, a fun and casual 20k on reproductive rights as human rights in apocalypse narratives. No biggie, been doing some pretty light reading. Basically it's all fun and games and hoarding firearms, until the Christian fundamentalists get bees in their bonnets. Bees in bonnets are a notorious source of agitation. Religious extremism and violence in the Christian tradition (and there is such a tradition, see: the Inquisition) is a key feature in North American apocalypse narratives (and in alt-right chat rooms. Go figure).

Diletta de Cristofaro theorises the apocalypse in America far better than I do, so I'll leave you to look her work up on this. My interest is in biological disruption as a catalyst, e.g.: the death of 99% of XY chromosome humans in Lauren Beukes' Afterland; the reversal of evolution in Louise Erdrich's Future Home of the Living God; mass infertility in PD James's The Children of Men; or the intervention of aliens in human reproduction following nuclear disaster in Octavia Butler's Dawn. As you can surmise, it's all rather cheerful.

Since the beginning of the pandemic I've redrafted my introductory chapter twice, written my second chapter and begun work on this last one. Writing a little over half of my thesis during a global pandemic has been A RIDE. Not like a fun, whooping rollercoaster type ride. More like the Tower of Terror where the metal cage you're strapped into goes into freefall and all you can do is halt your upchuck until you hit the bottom. So writing about dystopias has been both really interesting and useful, but also a little bit on the nose. A question examiners often ask PhD students is 'So what? Why is this relevant?'

Lads, I do not anticipate any problems with answering that question. *Gestures at the world*.

And I will be asked it, and quite soon. Confirmation, the aforementioned hoop, is an opportunity to have two more experts look at my work and during an interview in the spring they'll give me feedback. Then I will lick my wounds (taking constructive criticism extremely well like all over-achievers) and hunker down and edit my thesis into submission. For Conf. as I've chummily begun to refer to it in my diary, I'll submit a ten thousand word writing sample, an abstract, and short chapter outlines indicating how much I've done and what needs doing to finish the thesis. Feedback and supervision depending, I have about six or seven months before I rip off my leash and bound away into the mud like a happy dog in the park.

Before I can play though, I must work. More sheep dog, less poodle. Corralling my ideas and writing into a coherent piece, I sometimes find myself surprised by past work of mine. It's pleasant encountering work when it's quite good. Sometimes though I find myself slogging through edits of the most incomprehensible crap that I no doubt thought was profoundly intelligent at the time but now just reads like a poor man's Frankfurt School. (For those lucky enough not to get this reference: the Frankfurt School is a group of mostly German Jewish dudes who fled the Nazis and then wrote some very opaque stuff about aesthetics and politics).

Confirmation is an opportunity to reflect on the process (intense, interrupted, altered) and also to close the gate on the marauding sheep of my thesis (fluffy, uncertain, a bit panicky). Some time in April I'll be interviewed about the contents of the sheep pen, and with luck my herd will pass muster. For now though, it's just herding and snapping and growling (sometimes at myself, sometimes at the thesis, sometimes, unfortunately, at Lovely Man). It's replying 'It's going' when asked 'How's it going?' It's carrying on while there's not much else to do. The only thing that's definite is that time is passing and things get better and then they get worse and then they get better, ad infinitum. Grasping and accepting this makes the slog of things easier. Can confirm.

Here are some cheerful spring-heralding snowdrops in the sunshine in Uni parks from earlier this week. Snowdrops don't care about our sorrows, they just push up through the mud when it's time.

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