Courageous Conversations is a series of monologues that use real-life personal statements from UEA PhD students to form a narrative. This is the first in a series of four, all of which were originally performed during the Courage Festival in September 2019. The sources for these monologues are all anonymous; in publicising them we hope to draw further attention to the difficulties and troubles faced by postgraduate researchers as they navigate academic spaces. This monologue was adapted from interviews by Katie Stockton.
(A PhD student sits and scribbles notes.)
Though some monasteries were, in their lifetimes, belonging to both the Benedictines and Cistercians.
Unnecessary subordinate clause. Some monasteries belonged to both Benedictines and Cistercians.
Historically? No. It’s obviously, you know, historic. Jesus.
(The student stops scribbling and addresses the audience. This section can be more ‘read’ than ‘acted.’)
This isn’t my idea of fun, you know. I wouldn’t put it on my tinder profile – PhD in Benedictine Monasteries, in the South of France, no less.
I used to have fun. Acres of fun. I used to know fun. I used to hold a Masters in Fun. From a good uni, too…
… What would I put on my tinder profile, now I come to think of it? If I genuinely enjoy long walks on the beach, I am kind of stuck, no? I’ll just sound completely unoriginal.
Where I’m from, originally - home - there’s beaches. None around here, though.
In fact, someone once told me this was the furthest place anywhere in the UK from the sea. Right splat bang in the middle. Lots of monasteries, though, so, there’s that.
A friend told me that during my undergrad. Four years or so ago now. I did my undergrad here, and my masters, and now my doctorate. A real loyal soldier, you see. No defecting for me. I’m not sure what it is, or was, that made me stay. I like to imagine it was something simple. Like the iceream in the SU.
I’ve become a bit of a man about campus. A well-known face, a stock figure.
Well, that’s not quite true.
But then, everyone just sort of left.
Like, during my undergrad, I barely came out with a top grade because, well, I just had so many friends. I was shoved into halls with a load of arts freaks – though, I am myself an art freak and don’t get me wrong, I love them - and then we started dating the rugby and football teams, and before you knew it, I sort of knew everyone?
I remember one great night where I was sat in the middle of a sort of circle bench outside my accommodation, at 6am, with my philosophy and lit friend, and we were explaining, to these big rugby lads who were all sitting around, the utter inability and failure of language to communicate… well… anything, really…
(Back to writing.)
You’re right, an Oxford comma is for idiots. Who wouldn’t know that the last two things in the list are separate? Although, I guess, the Congregation of La Chaise-Dieu, the Congregation of Saint-Victor (Victorines), the Bursfelde Congregation and the Alsace Congregation could be construed as two congregations in one?
The Bursflede Congregation… and the Alsace Congregation.
The Bursflede Congregation and the Alsace Congregation.
Surely, I can’t email my supervisor about this? A fucking comma?
(Look up from page. Back to talking.)
And graduation was amazing, because we were all there together; all my friends I’d made on my course, and my boyfriend – did Physics, earning 70k a year now to tell you if your ball point pen design is original or whether you need to purchase someone’s copyright to get onto a production line – I should say, ex-boyfriend, turned up with flowers.
What a day.
And masters was great, too, actually. Less friends around, but that just seemed to mean I got more work done. And the friends who stayed were the hard-working types, you know, the got a First and now doing a master’s types, so we just drank coffee in the library and made some lazy carbonara at each other’s houses afterwards. And there was my Masters’ group, a lovely set of 12, with only one I hated for being obscenely arrogant, and we were all friends too.
Last time I saw them was the second graduation I had. Masters graduation never quite feels as great as your first one.
And now, well, PhD. Just me and my tutor – who is lovely, of course! Don’t get me wrong. He’s pretty much the reason I did all this. So, so intelligent and on it.
But I just wouldn’t say I’m a particularly well-known figure around here, anymore.
This year, I took some Latin classes. Not living Latin, like... Latin, Latin. (Shudders.) I thought it would help me with understanding some texts on my literature review, and when I go to read some archives soon, but also, just to… you know… make friends?
(Reciting Latin as if in a class.)
Puella amico velit.
The girl wants a friend.
Puella latine loqui possumus.
The girl can’t speak Latin.
Sola puella est.
The girl is lonely.
(Back to reading.)
But I think I just sort of realised that Latin is just as bad as any other language at portraying, well, anything.
Do you know what I mean by that?
I hope you do.
If you don’t, I want you all to picture a book. Maybe it’s a thick book, around 80k pages, and it took two years to research and write.
It’s about Benedictine Monasteries in Southern France and contains no Oxford commas.
I’ll even help you a little bit more. There’s no cover. It’s just black and white.
And you’re picturing this, now, yes?
Well, you can guarantee that none of the mental images you have all cast are the same as another, and no matter how much detail you add through language, none the closer do all these images get to being the same. I mean, what gradient of light is there on this book? From what precise angle are you looking at it, what precise size is it? You see – language
To connect us on anything.
Now imaging me trying to explain this with the example of a rugby ball.
Anyway, Latin is the same.
It’s all the same.
My tutor is lovely.
He really is.
I’m so sorry.
That I had to do it.
But I had to.
It’s like, when all you can think about is work, and loneliness, and work, and that is all going around in your head, reaching out to someone to be friends is a bit… difficult? And then the whole thing about language being useless anyway just makes you want to give up.
It just dissolves away.
So I had to email you about this.
I can’t stay on.
It’s too much.
I want to see my mother. I want to live with her for a bit again.
I don’t want to be in this world of online access, emails, notifications and my own desk.
I want to be in her world of wooden spoons, eggs cracking, aprons and watcing Pointless.
Maybe there’ll be a final round on the monasteries.
I want to go
Where language feels real.
Where words feel like the matter. Commas or not.
End of monologue.