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… 

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Anger is a thing

This post should probably start with a disclaimer. 'The Anger' is not directed to a person in particular, but it's something I wanted to start writing about. It's something important and it's something we don't talk about enough (also, maybe there are a couple of things on my mind).

I have been thinking about writing for a while (I should stop starting my blog posts with that phrase – but in my defence, it’s always true). I know this blog is shifting. In fact, I’ve gone from writing about day to day life and travels (when I started my undergrad and was modelling and travelling a lot - literally, sometimes I would write on a plane or train or at a casting or whilst I was having makeup done). It then became a little more reflective and then I carried on writing through my counselling training and during my MRes – though not so much through the last year of my counselling training and my MRes because my thoughts were more centred around particular issues I was noticing more and more. Perhaps I didn't really know how to write about them. I still don't really know how to write about them, but I also know enough to know that silence never helps. By 'issues', I mean inequities, inequalities, discrimination, casual sexism, racism, ableism, the use and misuse of power within relationships, workplaces, and social structures and spaces. I mean the way in which some are automatically more privileged than others based on nothing more than race, gender and the circumstances they were born into. The way in which these intersections work with and through each other within societies to enable some privileges which others don't have access to. The list goes on. The list is one hell of an exhaustive (and exhausting) list of broad and specific (and very real) issues. The more I’ve understood my experiences and moved away from efforts to disconnect from life, these issues have become harder to write about in a way that means something. This has meant that I’ve simply written less and less (well, I wrote my MRes thesis and now I’m doing a PhD… I just mean that I’ve written about *these* issues in this blog much less than I’d like to, but I'm going to start writing about the things that matter, and not contribute to the silencing of them even more).

I recently read Sara Ahmed’s Living a Feminist Life, which helped me to make sense of what’s happened here. Sara Ahmed wrote quite a lot about her experiences as a diversity worker, explaining that the more you raise a problem and bring it into awareness, the more *you* are positioned as the problem – as disrupting the calm - as an inconvenience. Literally, as the problem. I think this isn’t too dissimilar to what’s happened here. I haven’t wanted to *be* the problem, even though I know I am not. I am even aware that now I am justifying why I have chosen to write about anger, instead of just writing. I’ve surprised myself with how quickly that feeling and expectation is internalised, but then reminded myself that it hasn’t happened quickly at all. It’s a product of 28 years existing as a female. Even though I understand that, it doesn’t reduce (even in the slightest) that small thing of what I think is feminist anger.  

There are some blog posts that I read and re-read (OK that sounds weird – it’s only when they come up on my Facebook memories). When I re-read them, I can track where I was, how my thinking was changing and the sorts of things that I cared about (note: the things I cared about in the past are mostly still things I care about now!). Though I can usually tell if I care about something by checking how angry it makes me when said thing/issue is compromised or restricted in some way. Actually, I'm talking about people and not things. And because people are important, I decided I should write about being angry. I decided I should write about realising that hiding the anger, ignoring its existence, even masking it as ‘nice and polite concern’, is part of the problem. As women, who exist in mostly male dominated spaces, we are socialised to swallow our anger. To take it to the toilets at work if you need to let it out and cry. To grin and bear it, or to politely address what bothers you, but don’t be TOO aggressive or TOO assertive. Because then you will disrupt the calm – and we’d best not disrupt that calm. Like it is somehow *our* responsibility to maintain that calm. To soothe it. To nourish it.


I’m OK with anger, at least in some contexts I am. But I know anger is something that isn’t just about emotions and isn’t something that exists in isolation. Disrupting the calm can be good. Anger is relational (nope - we don’t exist in a vacuum), it is political (yes – unfortunately we do exist in a world very much dominated by Trump. Please - no more. I can't.) and therefore anger is a feminist issue. I think it’s time to open my blog up to this and start writing more again. Sorry, PhD - I'll be writing in here a little more I hope.

Note: I write this with Orange is the New Black on next to me, glass of wine comfortably in hand, and a copy of my half-read Feminist Fight Club (I’ve just realised my Pretzel Legs are even a thing. Even my clients know it's a thing and point it out to me!)

Monday, 7 August 2017

Netflix, tea and taking up space

I was reading my last blog post (June!) in which I quite confidently stated that I would write in the anonymous blog immediately after writing in this one. I didn’t. Not only did I not do that, but I really haven’t written in this one either. I have written other things, papers, emails, new module structures, etc. But this blog isn’t quite as active as it was. Since 2010, I have written 811 blog posts. In 2011 I wrote almost a blog post per day. It’s sort of dwindled down since then, to now, where it’s August and this is the third post I’ve written all year. That’s fine – I’m not under some great internal pressure, but I do miss writing stuff that has no real purpose outside of the boundaries I set myself.

It’s not that I have nothing to say. In fact, I have MORE to say than I ever have done before. I also have an increased and more varied vocabulary (though would argue that I am yet to learn how to use it effectively). You could say that I have increased knowledge (though the more I know, the more I realise I do not know). And I have increasingly visible and known within my close relationships, quite ranty and rather resistant views about most things that affect people’s lives. So it’s not that I have nothing to say. I have everything to say, just I don’t have a starting place. My counselling & psychotherapy training taught me that the starting place is always where you’re at (well, where the client is at). But it’s only me writing this blog, so I can make a small creative adjustment).

Where I am at is weirdly energised but exhausted. The energy is from thinking. The exhaustion is also from thinking (you know, and the day to day jobs of working, communicating with people, travelling, doing all the things, processing stuff, trying to exist as a fully functioning adult, paying bills, fixing weird boilers that aren’t broken anyway, getting yourself to bed and up in the morning because you live alone and only you are responsible for your health and wellbeing). Those things. The thinking is simultaneously the best part and the worst part, because it *looks* as if you are doing nothing, when in fact, everything is happening. The thinking is a significantly harder task when you must multi-task the thinking alongside everything else. Being fully present with clients, being available to them in those hours, being available to the people who matter in the other hours, DOING the things that matter. Those things all take time and energy. Paradoxically, they also give energy whilst taking it. I have an odd internal response when people say you must ‘find your balance’. It’s the same when I go to yoga and the wonderful (she really is wonderful) teacher says we must find our balance, strength and ‘self’ within our bodies so that we can exist in our bodies ‘out there’ and be OK. Part of me can agree with that, but I also think there is more. There’s a shared ideology of ‘The Balanced Life’ – but I think balance is more about self-care. And self-care is not the rainbows and sparkle glitter-land, paint your nails, take a bath and all is good in the world and social justice has been achieved (I have to admit I just wrote ‘clitter’ instead of ‘glitter’. I was feminist craftivism-ing this afternoon. This explains that!) Back to self-care… I think until recently I haven’t really understood what self-care is and what it means, especially for women. I have a small example.

I regularly have conversations with people (not regularly, but quite often) about TV. Usually I have proudly been a non-TV-watcher. I watch Grey’s Anatomy (and it is my ultimate favourite thing to watch religiously). And that’s about it, until I become weirdly fixated on Strictly, or there’s a documentary about the earth, veganism, mental health or hospitals (as a child I *really* wanted to be a medical doctor. I then thought I couldn’t, because doctors didn’t have freckles and ginger hair). Oh, if only I knew. I’m OK with not owning a TV and I’m OK with the fact that I don’t watch most things. But I have also realised that perhaps I am missing out – not on mundane every-day things, but on another version of educating myself and engaging in dialogue about meaningful issues. I also sat at a dinner at a conference last month, with a good few other people, all raving about various series on Netflix. And this has happened in various spaces in various conversations. So, last month when I saw that Netflix was about to release a short film, To The Bone, I was straight there and ready to watch. Of course. I subscribed (yes, I caved – thanks good friends) and here I am, having watched a fair few things, and I really feel like I’ve found a little self-care space. I certainly don’t watch a film about eating disorders, or watch documentaries about the way in which the US legal system totally re-victimises women and girls and basically is set up to silence them when they have been sexually assaulted whilst drinking tea and taking a ‘self-care’ moment. I wouldn’t really define that as ‘self-care’ the way I would normally frame it. BUT I have found a very small way of creating a space in my life where I can watch something so that I can have an opinion, so that I can engage in conversation, broaden my perspectives and find new conversations to be part of. Some might say that this ‘self-care’ space is also a way of taking up space.


I’ve heard self-care be described as a political act – as in, establishing boundaries, existing in spaces and taking up spaces. And women (not *just* women either) taking up space is quite exciting. Perhaps I am existing in more critical and feminist spaces, but I have somehow reframed my thinking completely about self-care. It’s no longer that thing on the BACP ethical framework for counsellors and psychotherapists that requires us to take care of our own wellbeing by taking holidays and talking about our distress (though, yes, that is important). It’s not about developing our inner resources and resilience. Because, heaven forbid, we didn’t reach this point without having an inner sense of what is good for us and what is bad for us. Resilience is great, but I don’t think we really have a shared understanding of what that means, and I am also increasingly concerned that it places entire responsibility on us as individuals to fix the mess that is FAR beyond anything we have the power to change (collectively, maybe we can shift things, but individually – in this way, not really). So I think self-care is not always about resilience. It is also about taking up space, saying no, saying yes, not saying no or yes, saying all the things or choosing to say nothing at all. It’s about going for all the runs every day or not running at all. It’s about responding to all the emails at 11pm because that’s what works for you, or waiting a few days. It’s about saying yes to the things that matter and putting boundaries around them to protect them. It’s also about saying no to the things that don’t sit comfortably, though I know that that’s the hardest (at least for me, especially when there are potential consequences). I think self-care is about much, much more than dressing gowns and tea. Though, dressing gowns and tea are lovely.

Netflix, self-care and good connected relationships that make you step out of the known. It is good. Exhausting and exciting, but mostly good.

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Anonymised writing and an accidental sofa nap

I was going to write in my anonymous blog, then decided I would write briefly in this one first. Really just to write about shifting to the anonymous one for a while, not that I blog regularly whatsoever any more. I have no idea where this blog is going, and it really goes back some years now so sometimes I think I would be better deleting the whole thing and starting from fresh. I could work on creating something a little more meaningful or related to my work. I do love my jobs and my research, and I always have stuff going on or stuff that I am debating or thinking about. Writing is a wonderful way to process some of that. On one hand, that would be wonderful. But on the other hand I can barely pull together a spare half hour to work on my PhD, so the thought of writing for work in my ‘spare time’ seems sort of wonderful and great, but totally idealistic. I’ve taken to thinking that the anonymous space on my ‘other’ blog might be the space I need. So, back to the anonymous blog I go. I quite like that sense of freedom that comes with anonymity. I am a little restricted here with my name attached to everything I post. I was having some conversations today that reminded me of some of the interesting interactions I’ve had when I was modelling a fair bit. Conversations about ownership of images, basically about models owning none of their images and not having any control over how they are used OR what is said/discussed about them in public online spaces particularly. So I suppose I am quite wary of that here too, but the bigger issue is that my students (not so worried about that) and my clients (this is more the concern) do have access to the wonderful internet and that’s a whole new kind of self-disclosure.

Anyway, so anonymous writing I think is where I’ll go to over the next few months. I am in a strangely reflective space after writing all day. I don’t think I give myself half the creative and reflective headspace I need to do a PhD – so I really must carve out spaces of my own. But the space I’ve created this evening is quite a new one. I’ve just woken up after getting home quite late, attempting to navigate thermostat instructions that make no sense whatsoever, and at some point during getting so lost in the instructions, I fell asleep on the sofa. Half an hour later, I woke up quite confused about what happened. I rarely sit on the sofa, never mind actually drift off to sleep on it. So you can imagine the surprise when I woke up horizontally on it at about 11.30pm. It’s quite comfy on there. And it is shiny brand new (well, less shiny. It’s just new). I should really make more of an effort to sit (or even lie) on it more. 

Anyway, when I woke from this strange accidental sofa nap, I promptly decided to skip the bath I was planning, leave the cold tea on the side, quickly check all work was sorted and just crawl straight into bed. I am so pleased that I have a few days off on leave.

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Five months later

Now another five months later. Last time I wrote a post here, I had left it two months. Now five. That is a record in the seven years this blog has been going strong. Although now it is not so strong any more. It’s rather sad – I either have nothing to say any more (definitely not this – I more than likely have *too* much to say), or no time to say it in (certainly this). I even forgot I own a blog and it was only a conversation with a friend today that reminded me that I do indeed have a blog and I used to love writing it. Writing in this blog was a strange sort of act of self-care. Perhaps not so strange really, but it was strange to me, that I could write and love writing and take some time out that was just for me. I loved it – I would usually write on trains/planes/taxis/cars (not me driving!) or in train station coffee shops. I would always feel an odd sense of familiarity and home in the random locations but usually in transit – in the spaces in-between. It was real peace and time out. The irony is that you *need* time, in order to take time out. Certainly when I first started this, I did have time to write it. I also had very little restrictions about what I could and couldn’t write. I wasn’t a therapist and I didn’t teach. But now I do both, and I have clients and students who really shouldn’t read half of what is on my mind. The boundaries have narrowed and now there is not much space left to write as freely as I used to. So, I am left with no blog posts any more, and a very neglected small space on the internet. Slowly, it has dwindled down to nothing. Oh, that is sad.

Another reason I think this blog really has been quiet, is that I have not quite developed the skill to say ‘F-off’ to the guilt that arrives with writing something for pure pleasure (yes.. for pleasure). You know, the guilt that says ‘you should be reading for your PhD’, ‘you should be marking’, ‘you should be doing your emails’, ‘you should be doing teaching prep’. Even at midnight on a Wednesday night.. even on a Sunday morning. Wherever, whenever – the guilt isn’t selective. It is just there. It is quite persuasive as well, so writing this is my small attempt at saying ‘F-off’ to that. I didn’t get home until gone 9pm anyway. And my first thought was ‘oh, I should try to finish marking those last papers’. Of course, it is late and I haven’t - I’m writing this instead. It is good to reclaim time. I did it last night when I went to a yoga class for the first time in about 18 months (bar a random one I tried a month or so ago). I am clawing back some time for myself; it is more important than I have the words for.  I am currently sat here in my house, with a cup of tea and with my ridiculous next door neighbours banging out tunes very loudly. They are not bad tunes so it could be worse. But it’s mid-week and it’s approaching midnight and I’m pretty certain they have a new drum kit along with their much loved guitar.  I’m surprised at my tolerance really. I mean, I haven’t knocked their door down yet (I’m a bit afraid of them, and of my street actually!) and I haven’t banged on the wall too much (really because it bruised my arm like a very badly bruised peach last time!) but.. I am tolerating. And silently seething in rage.


I was reading the last few things I posted on here – and it is incredible what has changed in a small space of time. I have been in Northampton since September – I didn’t think I would make it to Christmas and now we’re at Easter. I am still navigating the new space and working out new relationships and people. Northampton is Northampton. People still look at me like I’m a little crazy for leaving York. But I have found some really wonderful people here, and that is one of the most important things. I am also still making sense of all the things that come with new roles and new responsibilities, and really only just connecting with the fact that I came here to do a PhD, and I should take that seriously soon (AKA now). Somehow everything took over. The things I am paid to do literally took over my waking hours and it took me months to even take one PhD day. Currently I am a little in awe of people who do PhD’s alongside full time work. I am not sure how it is done, but I can see that it must be possible and I suppose I will test myself over the next few years.  Nothing like a good test of endurance, right? That, and good active resistance and political acts of self-care. Blog posts and yoga. Surely I can keep at least one of those going..