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  • Milena Williamson

PhDo Not Disturb

Updated: Jan 13

Hello all! I meant to write this blog post in December of 2020 to celebrate the end of a very long year and remind everyone It Is Okay To Take a Vacation. But then, I embraced the do-not-disturb-spirit and stopped writing poems, blogging, etc. Instead, I read books, Skyped family and friends, celebrated my 26th birthday, baked rugelach, took walks, slept in, watched movies (Love Actually, Klaus, Despicable Me, Let it Snow and more) and listened to many hours of Christmas songs, re-discovering my love for the Vince Guaraldi Trio. So here I am in January, trying to make the transition between PhDo Not Disturb to PhDoing Things—which could be the title of my next post!


I say this for all my friends in graduate programmes who receive emails long after dinnertime, those emails with An Attitude that request: ‘run me up a quick spreadsheet’. I say this for those in the US who work 9 to 5 and have a limited number of paid vacation days. I say this for my family and for myself. It’s okay to take a vacation. You deserve to rest.


A lot of Bad and Difficult Things happened in 2020. If you are here, reading this, you made it! And that is worth celebrating. As a dear friend texted me today, ‘I bought these earrings for my debs and I was like, why am I keeping these for a special occasion when life is the special occasion?’ Life is definitely a special occasion and as Mary Oliver writes, ‘It is a serious thing/ just to be alive/ on this fresh morning/ in this broken world.’ Thank you to my dear friend who shared this bit of poetry with me today! I’ll put more Mary Oliver on my To Be Read list for 2021 (one of my goals is to try to match or surpass the 63 books I read last year!).


Rolling hills and blue skies with a line of trees in the distance
Feeling alive with my navigator on this fresh evening near Shaw's Bridge.

Some exciting poetry things that happened in 2020:


I won the Streetcake Magazine experimental writing prize for poetry in the 24-30 category. You can buy the anthology or view my poem ‘Woman in a Tub by Edgar Degas’ online here as part of the Refraction exhibit by Poem Atlas. Click full screen for the best view!


My poem ‘Stranger’, for Ciaran Carson, was published in the Hold Open the Door anthology.


Some of my poems about Bridget Cleary made their way out into the world. This project is very near and dear to my heart, given that I've been working on it since 2018. Also, having recently turned 26 (eek!) I am now the same age as Bridget was when she died. You can read my poems about/ in the voice of Bridget in Blackbox Manifold and in the Honest Ulsterman.


I also helped some excellent publications come into the world. I edited Breeze Block by Jake Hawkey and helped edit and publish the first online issue of The Open Ear.


At the same time, I received many, many poetry rejections.


Rejections come on weekdays and weekends. They arrive first thing in the morning and in the middle of the night. They do not stop between Christmas and New Year’s. In fact, I received a poetry rejection on December 31st 2020. As I said to my housemate, there should be an email filter for rejections. That way you could input five or ten days of the year (birthdays, holidays, painful anniversaries) in which any rejections that arrive are kept in email purgatory and delayed until the next day. Seriously, maybe I’ll pitch this idea to Submittable and make millions.

Rejections can be painful, especially if it's a magazine you really admire or poems you feel really proud of. I recently joked that every time I get a rejection, I should stop whatever I'm doing and get in the bath. A slightly inconvenient solution (especially if I were to receive a rejection email at say, the grocery store), but it's an idea I kind of love. One rejection, one bath. A way to recycle disappointment into self-care.


I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but I often think about these lines from Ciaran Carson’s ‘Whatever Sleep It is’: ‘Tomorrow/ yawns ahead/ With routine promises…’ I like how simultaneously boring and exciting tomorrow is in this image. The ordinary is beautiful and sublime as we wake up each morning, ready to discover what these ‘routine promises’ may be.


Sending love an ocean away!