Tuesday, 15 May 2018

On being and doing

Today, we (Charlotte and I) have been at a conference where we presented some of our work on diversity in the psychology curriculum. Like all projects, I never really realise how I’m connected to them until somewhere after the point of starting it! I’m going to try to reflect a bit on that here. The conference today was one which aimed to explore inclusion and barriers to inclusion in Higher Education. Of course HE is an institution built on privilege (multiple layers of privilege) and therefore, oppression and multiple disadvantages. I won’t mention the subtle comments about VC salaries throughout the day. These kinds of power structures and struggles at play, means that ‘doing’ diversity work in this context is really interesting, difficult, problematic, wonderful, hopeful and, hopeless, at times. For context, I’m writing this from what feels like a privileged space. I have the time, space and access to what I need to write and think. Not always - really, not always. But today, I do. I'm sat outside the university restaurant in the sun. Campus feels quite empty – students are either taking exams, or somewhere revising for their exams, or maybe doing other things – I’m not sure, but they are not here in the way they usually are during term time. It’s quiet. It’s pretty peaceful. It’s also really warm and sunny and I’m pretty sure I should be wearing sunscreen. Anyway, the perils (and joys) of being a redhead in the sunshine whilst also being a sun-lover, is not for this post. I wanted to spend a bit of time writing about, and reflecting on what we mean when we say ‘diversity’, especially in the context of institutional power structures which are inescapable, and in the context of relationships that are sometimes wonderful, sometimes messy, and mostly, everywhere inbetween (*note: it’s now gone 11pm and definitely not 4pm when I was sat outside the restaurant in the sun. Ironically, as I was writing about how quite campus was, one of my third year students walked by and sat down with me. We sat for quite a while and chatted in the sun. It was really lovely – and I guess the ‘doing’ of these kinds of relationships, and the space in which they are created, is a bit of what I’m writing about here).

Today has been all about inclusion and barriers. This kind of language is really geographical and spatial, which has got me thinking. It’s got me thinking about the space I take up myself and the multiple spaces I occupy with students (and clients and research participants and friends, family, etc). It’s got me thinking about how I occupy spaces, and how spaces are occupied by others, and shared with others. How relationships are made and lived in/through in spaces. How I used the space today – how I moved in and out (I mean, I was able to choose when I was there and when I was not. When I sat out in the sun, which sessions I attended, who I sat with, and so on). Some of the discussions I’ve been part of today (and really over the past few weeks especially) have made me reflect back on myself. Perhaps it’s also because I’m on research leave and I’m trying to stop a little and take stock. But my discussions today have included reflecting with Charlie on our work and our research and teaching. This kind of thinking, especially at a conference like today’s, has led me back to thinking of Sara Ahmed’s leaky pipes analogy. She talks, and writes, about letting the pipes leak until they leak everywhere and no amount of plumbing can fix them, despite the several efforts to do so. Because that’s what people do – they fix the broken things. They fix the pipes when they leak with stuff that doesn’t fit/stuff that disrupts the norm. So you can think of the pipes as the structures, and the leaks as the stuff that disrupts the structures that we bump up against. The structures that leave us a little uncomfortable or bruised. But the stuff that leaks is important – it is necessary. I probably mean that in more ways than only institutional structures. The personal *and* institutional – the two aren’t as separate as we think. It’s as important to let the personal leak as well as the rest. Taking up space is important. But it's not all on one person to do that. The space needs to be built to accommodate.

I’m also thinking of Sara Ahmed’s rolling eyes feminist pedagogy; the feminist killjoy. How when the white man speaks out and says race is not a thing, that he *is* part of the problem (cue eyerolls). I’m also thinking about myself in relation to all of this. My teaching over the past couple of years has largely been about ‘diverse’ subjects (mental health, children's development, non-normative development, different experiences of childhoods, etc). OK, Psychology as a discipline, from a mainstream lens, is about as non-diverse as you can get. It aims to study human minds and behaviour but usually mainly from white, masculine, adult perspectives.  You don’t need to do rocket science and to have ten degrees to see that there are fundamental problems with that. This kind of knowledge is built based on a narrow (and privileged) position. I’ve been trying to work to challenge some of this through my research – mainly by working on research that’s involved children’s participation, and in some senses going against the grain. I guess trying to let pipes leak. And now, after two years teaching (yes, I am still learning and feel like a newbie), I’m coming to a place where I’m positioning myself in that too. I’ve spent the day having some really interesting discussions about *how* we do diversity work in teaching contexts. How we let the pipes leak and let the messy challenging stuff take up space. How we disrupt norms and do things differently. How we put it into what we already do. How it fits. But I think it’s not so much a question of making it fit… it doesn’t actually fit, because the structures we live/work within aren’t built for difference. I think it’s more a point of doing things differently – reframing what doing ‘diversity’ is – letting the pipes leak and letting spaces take new shapes.

We ran a session of our own, and we took part in some sessions this afternoon, exploring some ‘different’ teaching practices. One of the sessions involved some creative work with soft systems methodology. I’d never done this before – I think it’s based on a business model but I think it is quite applicable to other disciplines too. I don’t want to criticise this model at all – I actually really liked it. But I do want to unpack what ‘doing’ it was like. Those of us at the session did an activity around food poverty. We explored what it meant to each of us, and then we collectively discussed what we’d produced. Following discussion, we went back to our drawings and developed them to produce a more nuanced picture, in response to sharing our thoughts and the meanings we applied to food poverty. I think the overall finished piece would be something which represented multi-layered systems and the complexity of food poverty experiences. Aside from the fact that this was actually really enjoyable, the first thing I noticed was that although food poverty is an important social issue, we were sat around a round table, mostly consisting of academics, with crackers, cheese and grapes (after a free lunch), discussing issues of social justice – usually from quite a distance (i.e. able to position the self as not the ‘other’). Whilst we all have experiences of ‘stuff’, we were still sat on comfy chairs, able to access a space, with an abundance of food freely available, discussing what food poverty means, using a methodology which would be used as part of a social justice movement to taking action and facilitating change. Whilst that’s great, and I don’t think our positions are avoidable, what is also useful, is stepping back and looking at how we do what we do. Looking at the ‘I’. I think the values that inform the ‘doing’, are just as important as the aim of what we do.

Charlotte and I also held a session about how we’ve been working with students on the ‘I’ position – i.e. positioning themselves, and ourselves (first person writing, but also first person thinking). And it’s got me thinking some more about how I position myself, and how I am positioned. It’s got me thinking that quite often I’ll say ‘oh but it’s not about what you *do*, it’s about how you feel’. But I actually I think that whilst this kind of work is about relationality, feeling and connecting, it is also about doing (and not doing!) – it is as much about action, as it is about everything else. What we do speaks sometimes in ways that words can’t. What we do, matters. I guess I’m working on being, but also on doing. Some of this feels quite intuitive, but it also requires intentionality. For example, we’ve been talking today about how we ‘do’ diversity work. How it’s not a thing on the side, or an add-on – it’s a way of being but it’s also done by doing. You can’t do a week’s awareness week and tick the box. That sort of defeats the point. That doesn’t let the pipes leak in the way they need to. The stuff doesn’t leak and settle. It leaks for a week and gets mopped up, and the pipe is fixed. You also can’t shift responsibility and let others do the doing – but I think it’s also OK to step back and LET others do the doing if you need to. Being, and doing, is work, especially when it’s intentional. Guess that’s the self-care stuff, or collective self-care at least.

Here’s to intentional being and doing. And letting pipes leak.

Monday, 23 April 2018

Academia, messiness and doing things differently

I’m, writing from Edinburgh before I get the train back home. OK, not back home, but to my sister’s place in Durham. I am currently sat in a cafĂ© by the university in Edinburgh, with my laptop and all the work options I could possibly have. Do I mark the *huge* list of essays sitting in the turnitin folder, still unmarked? Do I work on my PhD? Do I do emails? Do I prep for my conference presentation in two days? (no – I told myself no tweaking my slides) Do I prep for my teaching next week? I don’t know. Well, I do know. I’ve done none of those things, and I decided to write a short post on here instead. Though I have a feeling it’s not going to be so short. I’ve been working on writing in various forms for long enough now, to know that nothing I write can be considered ‘short’.

One of my favourite things is being able to stop and think/process things. I don’t normally find the space to do that at home, but I can usually carve out a space to do that when I’m away, or doing something different. I guess it makes sense I need to not be in a familiar place – doing things differently is more challenging in a space that has become part of what you’ve always done. It’s actually quite paradoxical because looking at my life, you’d be really quite reasonable to assume that I’m a person who doesn’t stop and think/process. Not because I don’t think quite deeply about most things (some would probably say over-think). I most definitely *do* think deeply quite a lot. But you’d be really reasonable to think that I don’t, because I literally don’t stop. Not for lunch, not in the evenings, very rarely at the weekends… It can become quite problematic if I don’t keep myself in check. Even if I do watch myself, it can still become quite problematic. Again, the wonderful paradoxical question of how do you stop to chill, when you don’t actually know what it is that you do to ‘chill’ anymore? I run… Or I travel and see friends/family. But it’s always doing, and 99% of the time I always over-estimate my energy and under-estimate the time and emotional work it takes to do the things that I love. In the past week I’ve come up and down to Scotland twice, I’ve lost track of everything in-between, but I do know that I’ve done a lot of marking and supervising my masters students, and seeing my therapy clients, and I also know that I went to Birmingham on Friday to another conference.

I’ve only been teaching for two years now, and never would have thought I would love what I do as much as I do. I also never would have thought that what you care very much about can also be draining and exhausting, in lots of ways. There’s something quite unforgiving about the general culture of academia. The concept of stopping, or ‘slow working’ (slow working being something you do intentionally), doesn’t quite match up to the type of pressure you can find yourself working in, and the type of culture that’s so normalised and rarely questioned (questioning it would be admitting you find it tough – and better not admit to that, because your career depends on your capacity to keep up!). I say that with a bit of awareness that I can question some of these practices. Perhaps it’s because teaching is slowing down now, or that it’s conference season. Or maybe it’s that I’ve transferred my PhD to a different university and navigating new spaces and new relationships is ridiculously complex, especially when you still live and work (and feel a sort of belonging) at your old PhD home and current work home. Even though that will be knocked down in the very imminent future and the new space will look quite different. Perhaps the work isn’t finding some sense of stability or normality, but perhaps the work is in just being OK with the messiness. There’s quite a bit written in some qualitative methods literature about embracing and working with/through the chaos and messiness of relational qualitative research – I’m beginning to think that the same applies to this.

As a way of being OK with this kind of messiness and ambiguity, I’ve been doing what I call ‘Radical Things’. One of those radical things was deciding that my work will be enough. I am going to a conference in a couple of days (one that I actually left half way through last year, because I felt that infamous imposter syndrome that most women, even more younger women, in academia, feel at some point – sometimes at many points – and it’s probably something that doesn’t go away). You know that feeling that you have absolutely NO idea what you’re doing, that you’ve been fooling everyone, and this is the moment that you’re going to finally be exposed. That in fact, you do not belong and you do not know stuff. You’re doing a PhD because it’s some mistake, and inevitably you’ll just fall flat on your face and everything will crumble. OK, well it’s not like that all the time, but I guess that’s a description of what imposter type feelings can feel like. They can be quite real. What I’m finding interesting is this weird way that academia works, and the way people work within it. I think it can produce a person/people who literally don’t stop (as above!) and for me, especially as I’m spending a little time in-between places, I’m noticing the spaces of belonging and the spaces of not belonging. It’s different being a PhD student in one place and a lecturer in another. I guess I am doing things differently – or at least, noticing things, is making me try to do things differently. I’m noticing how people treat one another and I’m noticing that I learn a lot – mainly how I want to be with my own students (and also how I don’t want to be). But I suppose also, what I’m noticing is what works for me and what doesn’t. I think I’m quite fortunate in a lot of ways, but still, being and belonging are really complicated things.

Anyway, back to where I am. Which is now on the train! For years now I’ve had this thing where what I want more than anything is to find a little bit of stability and certainty, yet what I actually do, tells a different story. So here I am on a train in-between Edinburgh and Durham on my fourth coffee of the day, wondering what’s next. Wondering how you strike the balance between living ever so slightly on the edge of what feels comfortable, and just plain old throwing yourself off the cliff-edge, hoping that when you land, it’ll be OK. And yes, even if I do throw myself off the edge it’ll probably still be OK, but perhaps a little more messy than I’d like! I’m not an expert at ‘risk’, but I think that seems pretty risky to me. I had a different kind of weekend where I decided to do some radical things. Maybe some risky things. Not adventuring up cliff-edges, but radical in the sense of political acts of self-care. Self-care takes on different meanings at different times for me, and historically I have moved in and out of either centralising it in my life, or not caring too much at all. I think partly it’s because therapeutic and social discourses around self-care generally assume it’s about bubble baths and tea, or assume self-care is a way of somehow erasing difficulties or making them feel better. I don’t really buy into either of those ideas. But I do buy into something in relation to self-care. I think it’s the idea that we don’t live in a culture (and certainly I don’t work in a culture) that really centralises what it might mean to resist structures and practices that aren’t useful to us. I’ve had some interesting and useful conversations over the past week or so, which have made me think about what it means and helped me to find some kind of connection to what it means again. I think now, it really does mean doing things that work, in whatever way. I booked a short solo-travelling trip away for next month, because I know that will be good. I prepared a conference presentation and didn’t obsess over the slides, the words or proofing it like 200+ times – because it’ll just be enough as it is. And I came up to Scotland again because that’s what I felt like doing. I am trying to do things a bit differently. Things that work change over time, but these are the messy things that seem to ‘work’ for now :) 

Now I’m no longer on the train – I’ve arrived at my sister’s – she’s made me the sweetest and most delicious coffee (number 5 of the day) and I’m pretty sure now this post has travelled from Scotland to England with me, it’s ready to post!

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

February, imposter feelings and double edged swords

I decided to log in and make some updates to this blog. It’s been going for about 7.5 years now, and I want to start using it for more intentional things, but it seems like it’s just hanging out here taking up space not really doing a great deal. I would say that’s a semi-metaphor for how I feel. But I don’t usually hang around anywhere long enough to take up that much space. Certainly not for 7.5 years anyway! Even if the other half of the metaphor works – it’s true that I might sometimes be plagued with imposter syndrome or that impending sense that you have no real purpose and should really start to be more intentional, despite the fact that most things you spend each day doing are pretty bloody intentional and have a purpose.

Anyway, I decided not to make any updates to the actual blog because it is what it is, and that’s actually OK for now. I want to start writing about more work/research/academic related things – and I suppose I will. I don’t need to make it look any different in order to start doing that. I decided to write something this evening because otherwise we’ll reach March tomorrow and February will disappear into an abyss of nothingness and it won’t be captured anywhere here. I didn’t want to lose it. Lots has happened. I especially wanted to capture the ‘Let’s do a Harry Potter seminar’ coffee chat we had, that actually turned into an awesome reality (more of this to come, but for now, check out Charlie’s blog on her talk on representations of women in Harry Potter). So, the last evening of Feb. Sat in my flat totally flat out exhausted and it’s about -7 degrees outside. It's quite tame compared to more Northern parts of the UK, judging by my social media feeds and the news. I mean, we’re not on a red weather warning alert-type-thing (i.e. we’re pretty safe). There was a small, reserved scattering of snow across campus this morning that gradually became a little denser throughout the day, leading to the point of when I’d finished my 2-4pm lecture in a room on the second floor of a building, the snow was flying through the sky quite horizontally, and my students (bless them all) were semi-planning a sleep-in overnight. I trust they all actually got home…

February has been one of those months where you reach the end and you are thankful you’re still breathing. OK, it hasn’t been that bad. It’s been busy. I had an intense week where I travelled *a lot* - Leeds, Manchester, Bristol (no, not Bristol – Bath), back to Rushden where I live, full days teaching and I don’t know how, but then up to Scotland for a few days. Conferences, PhD stuff, other work, and also coming out of semi-modelling retirement (only for shooting in abandoned spaces with very cool people though). I haven’t got back in my car for a long drive since, because I can’t face driving. I love travelling – I even like driving. But all of that kind of killed it for a while. I guess it’s a double edged sword. My job enables me to do all of this – be anywhere (obviously not for months on end), but in general, I can be flexible with where and how I work, as long as I *do* the work. I’m also really at the start of my process in academia only a year and a half into my PhD and teaching, and I think that enables me to think about what I want, where that’s going and how it is working out. On the one hand, I am so fortunate with my job(s). I am fortunate to be in a position where I work with some wonderful students and can be creative and flexible with things (really, sometimes I’ll have an off-guard conversation, or they’ll pop into my office for 10 mins, or we will chat in the break in the lecture, pass on book recommendations, talk about life and plans – I guess I am fortunate and sometimes those small conversations really make my week). I’m also fortunate that I can work on research that genuinely matters and I can keep a small counselling caseload and work with fantastic young people who remind me week by week, again, of what matters. It’s out of the academia bubble and away from things that in the grand scheme of things, aren’t so important at all. The email can wait. The box ticking thing can wait and my presence at the meeting where I may (or may not) be heard, is also probably not as important as I’ll be worried it might be.

There’s also another side to all of this, and I think that’s the side that isn’t spoken about very much. The side that fights to keep up with it all and that very invisible but sometimes deafening perfectionist thing (I don’t like that term, but I’m yet to find another word that’s got a relatively universal meaning). I say this as in the past 24 hours I submitted a book review and an abstract for a conference (a conference I went to last year and actually left half way through because I genuinely felt out of my depth, so much so that it was easier to leave than it was to stay and be OK with feeling like a bit of an imposter. Now I realise it’s more than likely that I definitely wouldn’t have been the only one at that conference feeling that way). Anyway, this is quite a regular thing for me, yet I go to the things and do them anyway – I write short things, I submit things, I put myself forward for doing things, I book myself onto things (whether that’s writing an abstract for a conference or special edition, or drafting an article or booking a place at a workshop) – I put myself forward to do the very things that I know I won’t do unless I have to, because it’s pretty terrifying. And I know myself enough to know that if my application/paper/presentation is accepted, there’s no way I’m pulling out, so I then have no other option but to process and do the very work that I was afraid of doing. Hello pressure. Goodness knows how people do this with full time jobs – I suppose this is back to the double edged sword thing. So many really wonderful aspects of so much of this work. But it also comes with the additional stuff that we don’t always talk about. Maybe here’s me talking (writing) about a bit of it.

I’m not entirely sure if that sums up February, but it does do something to sum up this evening!

Sunday, 21 January 2018

A post about PhDs, change and snow shovels.

It’s early afternoon and I am writing from home (third coffee in hand). Really what I am trying to do is find some energy to at least do something with the day. This post is a little more about the PhD than I had planned, but I’ve gone with it. I seem to be doing that thing this weekend where it’s cold outside and I'm embracing the inside being very warm and relaxing. So I’ve been out to the shop to buy all the soup ingredients and am ready now to take on the world by bulk-making green soup for the week (OK that doesn’t really work, but soup seems to be my thing at the moment). I’ve been on the sofa for most of the weekend so far with the heating on full blast, just getting re-adjusted to being back at home, being in January and being in the new term. Sort of preparing myself for the next batch of teaching prep and marking whilst knowing there’s a lot of PhD work to do. The PhD isn't just the ‘doing’, but it's the processing and decision making and battling with the ‘Tanya you don’t know what you’re doing, you are doing everything wrong, you are letting people down’ type of thoughts. Quite sure this is pretty normal, you just need to follow phdchat hashtag or be part of academic social media groups to know that this is the norm. So it’s OK. I am adjusting to all of this, from the very warm indoors.

I don’t even want to look at my ever-expanding to-do list to tell me how to spend the day. I know it’s full of marking and writing and teaching prep and admin. But I did look at my actual diary which seems to have ‘PhD’ scheduled in *all* day. (I really have written that in, you know, in case I forget that I have a PhD to do). I did say this was a bit more about PhD than planned… I had it scheduled in all day yesterday too, but instead I wrote a lecture on sibling relationships and the sociology of childhood and then Face Timed my sister for about seven hours. I remember at the start of summer last year I said to a friend and my supervisor that I wouldn’t ever want to do a full time PhD, because that’s not the way I work best. It’s not how my life has ever been. I explained that I really like having a bunch of things on the go at once, and I don’t feel like I need to rush my PhD. If I knew how I would feel fast forwarding to now, I would not have said that. I do feel a bit more of a sense that I don’t want to take my time with it now. I want it done – partly because I know you’re not really taken seriously in academia without it, and that’s a real thing of mine. But also because I think it’s a thing that you fall in and out of ‘liking’, and that’s quite a process when you have to keep doing it, regardless. I sometimes wish I had a PhD to do, and that was it. OK, I wouldn’t have a job and wouldn’t be able to pay for my flat and my car or to buy food, but… essentials aside (and the fact that I actually do enjoy my jobs very much), I’m realising this can’t be done in the random couple of evenings or weekends when you have what’s left of your energy after it’s all been spent on all the other things. So, despite the fact I’ve attempted to cut down my work to create more space for PhD, I think it’s still back to the drawing board I go.

This wasn’t really intended to be a big PhD rant, but I think also what I hadn’t realised, is the way in which PhDs are really weird things where yes there are other PhD students but really it’s quite an isolating thing. Very few people know what you’re doing or why. So it’s just you and your work, which can sometimes feel like it’s you and a great mess. And sometimes *you* feel like the mess. I sat down to write this and remembered what I wrote last month. I wrote about why I usually use numbers to justify how I feel, and why this is really weird because I am not a numbers person. I am a qualitative researcher and I strongly dislike quantifying client outcomes in my counselling practice. Mainly because voices and stories are powerful tools and my sense is that numbers mask a lot, including emotion and experience. They mask the very story that we want them to convey. We are made of more than numbers, but somehow I have a weird fascination with calculating miles travelled and hours spent here and there, sometimes with measurements and weight but that really is a different kind of thing. I could have written a post which introduces the past few weeks in numbers yet again. I’ve made three trips to Harrogate, one to Durham and one to Stirling and back. My miles have shot up on my car. So let’s not think about the upcoming trips to Bath, London, Scotland and Manchester just yet. One week at a time.

I think the fact that I could write about all of that really means that I want to document everything – but that’s it, it’s filled with *everything*. So much that there’s nowhere to start and also it hasn’t finished. I could write about Christmas, I could write about wrapping up last term and starting a new one, I could write about all the small moments that have happened that I love to write about like when men tell you how to do your job or how to be a woman or when they hang out in your office unannounced, tell you that you look ‘young’ to be a lecturer and then refuse to leave your office when requested (yes they left eventually). I could also write about Scotland and how beautiful it is and how fortunate I think I am that I somehow have a wonderful supervisor and a new supervision team that I feel really good about. Really because of all the above, I value this more than most things.

So, change. Change usually does require a sense of ‘A’ to ‘B’ – usually with ‘A’ being the home and ‘B’ being the new place. So I suppose thinking and writing about travelling makes sense. Maybe this is why my PhD is at the front of my mind, because that’s what has changed. Somehow I have a situation where most of my friends are dispersed across the country, my work is all based in Northampton, my family are in Yorkshire and my PhD is now in Scotland. I love most of these things, but they are all so far away from each other. Whilst that’s fine, I do now have to get used to this change whilst not letting anything drop. Newness is fine, change is fine and not knowing what is next needs to also be fine. It’s quite funny that I don’t know how to finish that point – I genuinely don’t know what is next. I think what I’m writing about is that ‘A’ to ‘B’ isn’t quite linear and isn’t the straight path that others have already cleared for you so that it’s smooth to walk on. Somehow you have to clear it yourself. Hand me the snow shovels and the gritters and all of the things that will help to clear this thing. I think it is needed. Oh, and the gin and caffeine and books about smashing the patriarchy. It’s all needed. 

Thursday, 14 December 2017

133,000 (ish).

There is a weird thing I do. OK, that seems a little like a confession. It’s not – but it is a weird practice that I’ve never really questioned before. If I’m feeling tired, or a kind of out-of-the-ordinary tiredness has descended, it’s usually because I’ve been doing something out of the ordinary, or at least something has disrupted the norm. Not that I really have a ‘norm’. But that’s not really the point for this right now. I don’t mean the kind of tiredness that a nap or an extra shot in your coffee can solve, I mean the kind of tiredness that leaves you weirdly lifeless yet your mind is still quite alive. Alive with everything, but nothing really translates to words because of the energy required for that. So this weird thing that I do - when I feel this way – when I feel this kind of tiredness, I end up looking back and counting things. I used to document everything in paper diaries – to the point where up until about 7/8 months ago, I kept a paper diary *and* my electronic one, just so I had a paper track of everything (my tablet deletes most things once they’re done). Historically, I’ve counted miles travelled (when I travelled more than I do now, this was the thing that exhausted me. That and the long hours). Hours are another thing I have historically counted. Hours asleep, hours awake… you get the picture.

Before sitting down to write this, I was about to tweet, but it seemed a little like an out of context rant, which probably isn’t appropriate – and I don’t want to be *that* person (that person who wears a badge of honour for being busy). I had just calculated the approximate total word count for the amount of words I’ve read and marked over the past few days. 133,000 (approx). I deleted the tweet before I posted it and kind of caught myself for a moment. I was doing that thing that I do. I was counting and using it as a way to validate how I feel. As if somehow, assigning a number to my week makes my experience a little more credible. It counts. Those words count. Therefore, maybe my efforts and my time count for something.

So, 133,000. I don’t know – it doesn’t even seem that much, yet it is. I used to write about how many miles I’d travelled or how many hours I’d been awake for, maybe how few hours of sleep I’d had that week. It would seem like a way of (a) measuring a strange kind of success, and (b) trying to really communicate how completely and utterly stupid I have been, yet still keeping going. Sometimes I’d even calculate how many miles I’d run that month or how much I’d eaten in a day or a week. As a by-product, numbers in relation to bodies are interesting, particularly when your body is part of your work. Not any more, at least not directly – lecturing isn’t that kind of job. But body measurements – waist, hip, height measurements particularly are ones that, if you’re modelling, are particularly seductive and easy to track, but difficult to forget. That is a *very* different kind of regulation. One for another time perhaps. But I think it’s still about numbers and it’s still using numbers as a language – as a way of communicating something else entirely. A way of letting numbers do the talking, but silencing the actual ‘talking’.

Quantifying the self is a thing I resist. It goes against most of what I believe in. And, the funny thing is, I really don’t care about numbers, but numbers do regulate most of our lives – time, age, money, miles, etc. So I guess, in part, quantifying my energy levels and mood sort of does validate what I’ve done and where I’m at. Yet it doesn’t work. I did a podcast not long ago where I spoke about how challenging it can be to carve out time for yourself, or create spaces that are not regulated in this way – that aren’t monitored – that we don’t have that consistent ‘you should be working’ thing. I said doing that is resistance in itself. It is really an issue. Society – at least the one most of us live in, and institutions, particularly outcomes driven ones, don’t produce nice, balanced contexts in which it’s easy to stop, or in which we don’t have to evidence some sort of outcome in some way. No wonder I produce a ridiculous figure, to myself, when I am ready to stop for a moment or two. Thanks to all these essays for reminding me of this little facet of life and this strange method of resistance. I’ve actually stopped, for a little bit, to write this. 

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Writing about not writing

I have been inspired by so much that I don’t know where to begin. I wanted to write in a committed and intentional way in this blog – I always have these really fantastic aspirational ideas about All The Things I Will Do. Then I never really end up doing them in that way. Emphasis on ‘In That Way’. I *do* end up doing all of the things – just not in the way I intended. Yet my intentions are intentionally set, regardless of my history which tells me I will find alternative ways of reaching the place I had intended to go to - probably with multiple stop-off points and perhaps going off track entirely (I edited and noticed the passive voice at the beginning of this sentence and found it quite ironic, so left it as it was).

So, intentions. We’ve found our way to November. Goodness knows how. Week six of teaching I think. And November is #acwrimo – a month where academics set an intention to write daily (the intention is set to write something – not necessarily something special or ground-breaking. Just something). And yes, you guessed it – I’m not doing it. I am very intentionally not doing it. Not because I don’t love writing – I actually really enjoy writing (that’s why most of these blog posts are kind of wordy and could probably be summarised in one or two paragraphs). It's why I write 40 lecture slides when I only really need 25. Also I'm not not writing because I don’t think I have the time. That’s kind of the point of #acwrimo – November is a really busy time and it’s viewed as important to carve out writing time, even when things are unmanageably busy. Even when you have lectures to write. Even when you have things to read (really, all the things to read). Even when you have teaching to do and clients to see. Even when you have interviews to transcribe. Even when you have ethics applications to review. Even ethics applications of your own to write. PhD…. The list goes on. Because you know, like the superwomen we are, we can do All Of The Things. I mean, really we can. I genuinely think putting #acwrimo in there as a daily commitment is an awesome thing to do. But not for me.

It isn’t too difficult for me to work out why I’ve decided it’s not for me. I’m either embracing one small opportunity where it is actually OK for me to say ‘no, not for me, not right now’ and for that not to be called into question – for me not to be questioned. For the question not to even exist apart from here as I write. For that to be OK. Either that, or I am doing my usual trick which is to immediately shrink away from any kind of institutional practice that I don’t think sits particularly comfortably with how I choose to spend my days and weeks. It might even be both – knowing that I am not being called into question and also being comfortably familiar with my old trick of subtle resistance. The two work very nicely together. But if I think about the question that isn’t there – the one that isn’t being asked, apart from my mentioning of it here, it’s a question of ‘but why?’ – always. And now I’m not just writing about writing, I am writing about everything. All the things that we/I say no to.

No is legitimate. No is ‘not for me’. No is resistance, and no is ‘not right now’. No is no – but it is also much more than no. Yet it is questioned – so many times it is questioned. And questions are loaded with assumptions, pre-written narratives – again, others filling in the blanks about us that maybe we haven’t even had an opportunity to fill in and make sense of ourselves (whether we were asked or not is another matter). But in the same way that no is no and it is also much more, questions are questions – but also so much more too. Questions can open up and enable dialogue, but they can also shut people down. They can enable and disable – include and exclude. Function to create invisible boundaries around particular groups and spaces. Questions are framed from the lens of the speaker. The lens of the speaker is informed by the particular positions from which that speaker experiences the world. Often to call something into question is to be speaking from a particular position of privilege. Or rather, if you call something into question and you’re not speaking from particular position(s) of privilege, the risk of being silenced is greater. That, or as Sara Ahmed writes, you risk actually *becoming* the problem, because you raised a question in relation to the thing you viewed as an issue. And individualising the issue is a tried and tested method of eliminating those that speak out, in favour of those whose status and privilege rely on the silencing of others. So chances are, the questioner is framing their question (the ‘but why?’) from their position in a relational encounter which is rooted in asserting power in and through socio-political power relations. The questioning of my ‘no’ is not just a question – it is much more. And this really is not just about (not) writing.

So, about ‘not writing’… I kind of enjoyed writing this.

Saturday, 28 October 2017

Trains, planes and automobiles

So, I am writing another blog post. Because probably about three weeks ago now, I told myself I would write about these things. Maybe two weeks – I’m not sure. I've lost track of the days and the weeks. I wanted to write about trains, planes and automobiles. Specifically my experiences on trains, planes and automobiles and my encounters with men on, in, and through these spaces. 

The stories

       Man on train:
I'm on the train to London with a good friend. It's the end of the day on Friday, we're pretty excited to go to a feminist talk and spend time catching up and processing all of the things. We've been at work all day - we arrive at the train station, head to the platform and the train is packed. Of course - Friday rush hour. We just about manage to navigate the carriage to find two seats semi-close to each other. Charlie sits down on one of the seats, but I notice that there is a thing in the way of the seat I had my eye on. A suitcase. Next to a man. Said man was sat in his seat (the one he presumably paid for) and his suitcase was occupying the space on the seat next to him. In my mind, I'm thinking 'oh god, here goes... do not apologise for asking to sit down, Tanya. Do not be sorry for your right to occupy the space that he thinks belongs to him'. OK, so I clear my throat, prepare myself mentally for the upcoming conversation, ready in my intentionally non-apologetic tone, and say 'is this seat taken?' (I know it's clearly not taken - it's taken by said man's suitcase, not a person who paid for the seat). He says 'no.' I say 'please can you move your suitcase then?' He says 'no'. I say 'I'd like to sit down. Could you please move your suitcase?' He says 'ermmm where to?' I indicate the above luggage rack looks pretty free to me. To which he kindly suggested that I should in fact, move it myself. At this point, all nearby women's eyes are on him, and eventually he sheepishly stood up, lifted his case, and awkwardly placed it on the luggage rack above. Of course the suitcase fits and it didn't seem heavy or a struggle. I take my seat, spread my stuff out, carry on with the journey.

       Man on plane:
I'm on the plane from Edinburgh back to Luton, to meet good friend (Charlie again!) – we had arranged to meet at the airport when I arrived because we had tickets to a Margaret Atwood talk. Everything from my whole trip in Edinburgh ran smoothly and on time, nothing went wrong (apart from one major thing but that's for another time). So I'm at the airport (in Edinburgh, about to come back) with enough time to buy a coffee and get myself through security. I head to the gate, get on the plane, take my seat (fortunately no suitcase blocks my seat this time!) but I quickly realise we're not setting off and time is passing and I am going to be late back. I texted Charlie something along the lines of 'I think I will be late, so sorry. Argh'. 20 minutes later, we get an announcement – it appears we're delayed because we're waiting for a man, who is running late. OK. So entire plane held up by a man. An hour later, man still hasn’t arrived on the plane, we’re still on the ground in Scotland and it’s looking very unlikely that we will make it to Margaret Atwood. Thanks, man (literally). You held an entire plane up. We missed the talk. I mean we did have falafel and gin and a good evening anyway, but that isn’t really the point…

      (Multiple) Men and automobiles:
OK, I got a new car and I can't even write properly about this just yet, because just no... I’m *still* waiting for things to be finalised. Because it seems like if you’re not a particular type of person, you don’t really get taken seriously when you’re buying a car. I know I am young and I know I am a woman and I know I come on my own, but none of those things mean that I’m not going to follow up with phone calls when you fail to do your job… That gets quite frustrating when it’s a common theme in your life. But also, when you book a meeting, to collect the car, you’d really hope that the salesmen (because I dealt with ALL men) stick with the time and that the car is actually there (they didn't - and it wasn't). I think I did that thing where I complained and highlighted a problem, but I then became a problem that they didn't want to deal with, so they passed me from man to man (all of them not helpful) and my car is great but just why does the whole process have to be a fight from beginning to end? I walked into the car dealership last week to follow up, and literally made the original salesman jump out of his skin. I didn't do that on purpose. But at the same time, I did find that quite entertaining. Especially after the text he accidentally sent to my phone saying ‘hey baby’, closely followed by ‘oh sorry. Sorry’ (and yes I intend to complain again).

This kind of thing is everywhere, but it's so subtle that we might not really notice. The problem when you notice is that it is literally everywhere. Kind of woven into the language we use, the structures we live in and the physical, relational and emotional spaces we work in. It gets to the point where I feel it when you call me 'love' or ask if it's 'miss or mrs' or assume that when I get my coffee I will have a student ID card. Then you feel awkward when I pull out my staff card instead (yup I’ve got my PhD student ID card, but that’s not really the point). I sometimes purposefully say ‘no’ when you ask to see my student ID card because just because I *look* young doesn’t mean you get to fill in the blanks for yourself.

This isn't intended to be a rant, it's kind of an accumulation of instances and moments that tend to build up and then spill out. Now they're spilling out in this blog and I'm trying to find a way to conclude or end but there doesn't seem to be a conclusion that fits. Perhaps that's because this sort of thing functions to create spaces in which some people fit, and others do not (the taking up space that isn't yours, spreading out, assuming the time and energy of others can be used and spent in a way that costs them, but you gain from it). There isn’t really a place to end, and I don’t really think there is an end.

I need coffee. Or gin. Maybe both. I’m writing as I’m in my flat on a Saturday night after another wonderful (4+ hour) coffee chat this afternoon with Charlie (again!)  - we drink these coffees and process some of this. I’m attempting to write more as a method of self-care, but also as a method of documenting the stuff. Otherwise it might just disappear in time, or stay in the spaces that we meet, inbetween the coffees and the office corridors and sometimes in car journeys. It is good (I think) to put words down and document the times of having to ask, by not asking, for something that is rightfully yours (a space, a seat, a meeting, etc…) in a time and space which may or may not be functioning to accommodate and/or hear you.

Right. No good at endings, and this doesn’t have an end anyway. That’s kind of the point…