Creative Approaches to Research (and blogging…)

As I mentioned last week, I’m staying in the Borders right now (avoiding the Fringe and trying to write up a chapter of my thesis) and I’ve been ALL about getting back to nature – hugging trees, eating dirt etc. The house is just on the outskirts of a little town called Langholm, where everyone drives a 4×4 and there’s virtually no bus service besides the trusty X95 (shout out to X95 users). We got a car about a month ago, which is great because now we’re free to pollute the countryside with our disgusting CO2 emissions, just like everyone else.

Anyway, there’s an abundance of narrow, windy roads with very little space for one car, never mind two, but so far the driving has been alright (for reference, I HATE driving; it makes me really self-conscious and I feel like all the other drivers are intensely annoyed with me at all times for driving with safety and courtesy).

And then yesterday I reversed into a ditch. Haaaaaaaaaaa(aaaad infinitum until you realise I’m not laughing, just screaming)!  There I was, being safe and courteous, getting out of the way of a lorry (why was there a lorry on a tiny country road? MODERNISM, that’s why. So thanks, T.S. Eliot, James Joyce et al), and then the front left wheel was just sort of dangling in mid-air. But not to worry, we got a tow from a friendly farmer called Kenneth and were on our way within about an hour (the tow itself took about 15 minutes…the other 45 were spent panicking, laughing and trying to keep Chumbo calm when all he wanted to do was eat sheep droppings).


Chumbo looking very serene post-walk, no doubt dreaming of all that great sheep poo he ate.


So off we went towards our original destination, “The Prehistoric Trail”. (I realise at this point you’re probably wondering what this has to do with PhD research…we’re getting there. The link is tenuous, but viable…and the story about the ditch was just for fun.) We parked up, I ate roughly 20 Fruit Pastilles “to calm my nerves” and then we got out the car.

We were instantly enveloped by a cloud of flying ants. They were everywhere! Hundreds, no, TRILLIONS of the things squirming all over the car roof, in our eyes, in our hair, in our mouths. I’m a big supporter of insects, but I have to admit it was slightly grotesque to witness. When we got home we Googled it and figured we’d been caught up in Nuptial Flight – essentially a mass orgy for ants in which virgin queens set out to mate and start new colonies. Honestly, a dream come true for us *prayer emoji*.

BUT! What great fodder for a poem about animals, AKA my research topic, right?! I had originally wanted to share said poem with you, but it’s not quite finished yet, so I thought this would be a fun way to highlight CREATIVE APPROACHES TO RESEARCH! I get that this is coming from a Creative Writing PhD student, and I’m apparently always engaged in creative approaches to research, but I definitely think there’s huge value in getting out of the thesis boxes we build around ourselves and doing something completely different as a means of inspiration.

flying ants

Not the actual ants we saw, but pretty much the same

I went to see Alice Oswald reading at the Edinburgh Book Festival earlier in the week (we popped back to Edinburgh for a couple of days) and she discussed how important it is for her to feel close to her poetic subjects (she is very much a nature poet). She described the pleasure and inspiration she is able to draw from lying still in long grass, looking for crickets; how she tunes her ear to their very bodily language and tries to imagine herself down to their size. Right now I’m really interested in this idea of “otherness”, and the ways in which we can learn more about ourselves by stepping out of ourselves for a moment.

So while I’m not lamely advising you to find your “inner animal”, I am advocating finding the essential nature in your PhD topic and spending time considering it. For me, it was accidentally ingesting a larger number of mating ants, for you it might be something completely different. I would genuinely love to know though, so feel free to comment below or tweet me @MarianneMacRae (btw, I’m not a crazy Mother Earth-type character…I really like Netflix too, guys #GenY *peace emoji*)

As always, get in touch with ideas for guest posts or things you’d like me to talk about…otherwise I’ll just continue to ramble on about my own PhD misadventures (JK, I do have some more pointed subject matter coming soon!) Email or tweet @SGSAH_ There will also be another awesome guest post on Thursday.

Over and out!

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