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..

Sunday, 6 November 2016

Two months later...

This blog is now in its 7th year. Don't ask where that time has gone... I haven't a clue. I decided to start this blog, coincidently, when I started my undergraduate degree and I began getting to know York a little better. I was 21. Life consisted of Evil Eye cocktails (the amaretto cherry one - sickly sweet - couldn't drink it now!), a few select friends in York, none of whom I studied with just yet, These were non-YSJ friends. I started volunteering with some young people and I definitely didn't turn up to some of my lectures. Life was spent 'on the road' as I called it. Really, I was on trains, in cars, taxis, crossing borders, travelling to various places... I was sort of this elusive person and I don't really think even my tutors thought I cared about my degree until they realised that actually I did pretty well even though I kept rather quiet and would often send late apologies for missing lectures. I was 'that' student at the beginning. I'd miss lectures because of the late calls to be at a location HOURS away at 6am the following morning. I kid you not... But I did this partly because I loved it and also because the jobs paid the rent and I escaped university not having a student overdraft and for that, I was pretty pleased. 

Modelling served a purpose. Anyway, that was life. Lots of connections, rarely actually connected. Impossible to pin down. I don't know how I kept grounded really - perhaps that was partly why I did it. The ground keeps you still. It is holding. But if stillness isn't comfortable, it isn't surprising that it would be avoided. So, that's when I started writing this blog - maybe the week I started my undergrad. I love reading it back - I feel sort of fond of those few years, but they did change, and of course, inevitably I changed too. Somehow things changed and here we are now. I used to write in this blog multiple times a week. Then last year I probably wrote once a month. Now it has been two months and I haven't written a word. Well, I've written ALL the words everywhere else, mainly my MSc thesis, but none on here. There's something so public about writing here that I've realised it has silenced me. I'm not silenced in other places, but I am on here. So I am going to work out what I can write again, because I read a friend's blog this afternoon and realised I miss mine.

Things really have shifted, and now life is all about the connections. I'm probably writing because I'm sat at home on my own feeling pretty disconnected so I am finding a way of doing something that helps me to connect. Watched a bit of Strictly, read and provided feedback on probably 60 student abstracts, drank a small gin and now I think my thinking capacity is done for a Sunday evening.

I didn't think I would pack up and move on my own to a new place, but I did. I'm doing some teaching, starting my PhD (WHEN I eventually get my head around to the fact that I should start it now) and I have found a wonderful place to continue with my therapeutic practice. I didn’t think any of those things would happen, but they have. Things are OK - I packed up my stuff and didn't fall to pieces and I am finding that there are some really good people around. It's funny how you think leaving is going to be so bad, but then once you're gone, it is OK. Once you give space to the newness, the space that didn't exist before can be filled. Now my challenge is to find some more space because I am rapidly running out of it. Time, space, energy, coffee.... I am running out. That might also be something to do with why I haven't written in here at all.. Sort of surviving day by day, hoping that soon enough it'll be week by week and soon I will actually feel on top of things.

Anyway, so much for not having anything to write. I have written things, but at the same time, written not very much at all. I do really feel like I'd like to work out how to use this blog now, or I'll have to always turn to my anonymous one, which would feel like a waste of something that's been a good few years in the making.... 

Saturday, 6 August 2016

Post-Barcelona, life is changing.

It's Saturday evening, I wanted to write a blog post - wasn't quite sure what I wanted to write but decided to log in and write anyway. I have been back in the UK since Monday morning, went to officially start my new job in Northampton, and then came back home properly on Tuesday. I think my sisters were laughing at me for the entire journey back to England because of how much I was freaking out that our flight would be delayed or our taxi driver would be late! Fortunately all was fine in the end. I could easily go back to Spain tomorrow - and I am pretty sure I still might as well be living in Spanish time. It's gone 11pm and I have only just eaten dinner (consisting of lots of random green stuff from the fridge) and I have a glass of red wine in hand.

I miss Barcelona a lot... It was so wonderful to go this time, with the only agenda to have a holiday. The first time I went to Barcelona was on a modelling job, the second time it was to live there and model, the third time was a long weekend with friends, fourth time was last year. I lived there for a month last year, intended to model and write my practice file, I ended up maybe doing one shoot, not wanting to model any more and spending the days walking for miles on end, exploring beaches and then coming back in the evening to write my practice file until the early hours of the mornings. I was fortunate to have jobs that allowed me to do that, to have tutors who supported me in writing that practice file (that word still fills me with a little anxiety!) and to have friends who understood my need for space but also their company (yes - biggest contradiction I know). The bigger point is that I am fortunate enough to know Barcelona pretty well and to feel that it is home (one of my homes anyway..)

Barcelona was different this time - I didn't go with a modelling portfolio in bag, casting clothes and heels. I went with a pile of books and clothes and that was it (ah, and also my dearest sister and a visit from a very good friend and our other sister). It was good to go with no real intention of work. That hasn't ever been my experience - even modelling. To know that each day you have to be measured like you're some kind of mannequin or wear some clothes on a casting or shoot that are probably not going to be your size - too big or too small but never actually fit. And yup, you guessed it - it's always YOU that's wrong. Always you and your body, never the clothes. Or worst of all you are told that it's a lingerie casting and you're asked to bring a bikini... Goodbye dinner plans for the evening and that extra glass of wine. I am pretty sure not many people can relax knowing that your body will always be up for viewing and judgement and it will probably never be enough. No fun. (in fact, very much not fun - not for this post though). This time I did go with the intention of doing a little work on my Masters but needless to say that didn't happen. Lack of work meant that this weird sense of fleeting guilt stayed with me for most of the trip but then in our last few days I just let that go. It had to go really... we had mountains to hike and paths to walk and new places to find. I've come back home and in 4 days I've got more done than I probably could have done in two whole weeks if I didn't take the break. Lesson learnt. Time-Off-Work-Guilt serves no purpose (usually...) and breaks are good.

Anyway, back and living in the grad centre but that's OK for now. I want to make the most of my last month in York because from the end of the month I will be moving to Northampton to start a new job and start my PhD. Exciting and very scary. It is funny thinking about the conversations I've had with good friends about leaving. It gets to a certain point and then I strategically move to this place of denial about how sad it will be to say goodbye to York and those I love. Onwards and upwards, new adventures. But still - leaving what's been home for six years is an odd feeling. Especially when 'home' is an odd concept in itself. Change is good - this is what I am telling myself anyway! A good friend (Anna you won't mind me writing this) who is also moving to a new city soon, reminded me that part of the adventure is getting to know new people and new places. This was a timely reminder :)

Fortunate and happy - and pleased that it is Saturday evening and I am not in the grad centre!!

Monday, 11 July 2016

Ironically the best thing

A quick post, before I finally get some sleep. I seem to be averaging around one post per month this year, which is a far cry from a good few years ago when I would sometimes write multiple times per week. The irony is, is that I actually write much more now than I ever did before, and probably to a better standard (one can hope anyway). It is just rarely given a voice on this blog. I have realised over time that more of my life has become sort of hidden and I share less and less with those around me (well, excluding immediate family and close friends). Because there is much more at risk these days. It’s no longer a case of jetting off here there and everywhere and writing as I travelled or blogging in-between lectures or when I’d be waiting for a friend to arrive for a coffee or sat in a train station cafe. That really seems idyllic now, not that it felt it at the time! It is no longer that simple. Life, I guess, has become much more complex. So I don't tend to share much, professionally (mainly because my job relies on me adhering to strict ethical guidelines, confidentiality being at the top!). And also because life does get complicated and sometimes writing coherently about something that isn’t coherent at all... well that just doesn’t tend to work.

Anyway, the week ahead is going to have to be a 'take it one day at a time' sort of week, which is probably why I am up at this time and have strategically found this distraction. Work is going to be a little challenging this week because I am close to leaving and beginning a new job, and I am not a person who tends to do endings very smoothly. So it’s safe to say that this week might be a little less than smooth. I have also set myself the challenge of getting as much written on my MSc thesis as humanly possible. This is a dangerous target to set, for someone with highly perfectionistic traits. So really, for the next 7 days it is going to be busy and odd. Then I get to meet my sister and fly across to Barcelona where I am certain my soul will find home again. I wonder if my laptop will come with us.. I have never taken a break and not taken work with me. The language of 'taking a break' isn't language usually practised in my world!
I have actually not been home much this week (I love being home, but this is a good thing for right now). I was away at a conference and found myself embracing not turning my laptop on for 4 days straight. My supervisors weren’t so keen on me going because it would take away from writing time, which was important. So important I don't think they approved of me going at all. Anyway, I assured them that I would still be writing and not to worry…. Perhaps they were right, because in fact I didn’t take my laptop out of my car boot. Not intentional, but this conference was good and there just wasn’t any need to do work. Well, there was a need, but there wasn't the time, and I wanted to focus on getting to know the place that I will be moving to very shortly. Ironically, not working and leaving my laptop in the boot of my car was the best thing. I have a newfound clarity about what I need to do next (with this work), and I don’t think that would have happened if I was still immersed in literature and data analysis on my own without stopping to open my eyes and look around. As they say, meaning arises out of interaction and I do believe I’ve made more sense of what I need to do because of the people I have been meeting. So I am pleased that I didn’t work, and oddly for once I don’t feel behind, nor do I feel that strange sense of guilt. I was away meeting new colleagues, finding a new house and getting to know a new town.

Despite the fact that this week is inevitably going to be an odd week, I realised something quite important whilst I was away meeting new people at the conference. I was sitting in a workshop and was creating something that I thought represented an important message. I didn’t actually realise that the message contained something in it for me too. It was about standing together and keeping connected. We are relational beings and we all need people – on a global level and on an individual basis. Something in what I did reminded me just to keep connected whatever I am doing and wherever I am.

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

This is not about women, this is about us all

I should be editing my 'designing research interviews' section of my methods chapter but instead, I'm sat here reflecting on the monstrosity that is everyday sexism. I had my first real encounter of online trolls and abuse today just because I dared take to twitter with my feminism.

Yesterday I took my car for its MOT, and I encountered what I encounter every single day. In fact, what most of us will encounter every single day, multiple times a day, and the worst part is, is that it brushes over us, like the air we breathe and like the ground we walk on. It has become so normalised that it brushes over us. We become desensitised and unaffected. This just is not OK. I won't even say that the small encounter I experienced that I defined as everyday sexism was a 'small thing' because it wasn't. It was about a small issue (the gear stick on my car) and it was a small conversation (about 30 seconds whilst I was paying the mechanic my MOT bill). But it was not a small thing; it was an incredibly big thing, characterised by structural gendered inequalities and power. This was my issue, and this is why I tweeted. I would argue it isn't exclusively my issue either - I would argue that it is everyone's issue.

I dared take to twitter with my story because I believe in sharing stories. I was not 'asking for it', as a number of these twitter trolls seemed to believe I was doing. Nor was I inviting sexual connotations within the hate tweets and nor was I inviting judgements about my intelligence or worth. Unbelievably, when a woman chooses to write on social media about an issue that is important to her, she is not 'asking for attention’; she is genuinely using her intelligence and her experience to write and communicate, because although they highlight uncomfortable truths, these issues (yes, the issues that are important to women) are actually important. 

Throughout the day, I have lost count of the amount of Twitter notifications I have received. One abusive tweet received 131 likes - and that is just one of them. They are still coming in. I had to charge my phone twice at work, and I wasn't even actively using my phone. This was all down to the tweet I posted last night, stating the following: 

'mechanic: 'well you won't know anything about cars but....'. Well actually I knew everything about my car that you just told me #everydaysexism'. 

Don't get me wrong, I'm thankful to said mechanic for doing my car's MOT. But I was not thankful or receptive to his assumption that because I am a woman, I would not know 'anything' about cars. And no, I truly don't believe that he would have said the same if I were a man. So today, via the portal of twitter, I have been told to get back in the kitchen and pull my knickers up, I have been called an idiot, a tit, a moron, a 'bad' feminist, a bitch, attention seeker, I was asking for it, I lack intelligence... Some even feel pity for this mechanic for having to deal with a 'client like her'. That isn't the worst. The worst are the men who take great pride in tweeting about the things they would like to do to me. I have blocked these ones.

I am fine, but that isn't the point; the point is, is that this is not OK. None of this is OK. Online abuse is never OK, nor was the gendered assumption that I don't know about cars (whether I do or not, is irrelevant. It is the fact that regardless of gender, some know about cars and some don't and some know a bit...) anyway. I digress. 

I’d say that around 95% of said twitter abusers were male. This is not, and never should be about othering males. This shouldn’t be about creating barriers between males and females and it should not be about perpetuating a ‘them and us’ culture. But look at what happens if one feels threatened…. Walls come up, defences come out, and vicious, vile and quite honestly offensive words and sentiments are used, usually against women. Because whether we choose to acknowledge it or not, women do not exist in society in the way that men do. The pay gap does exist, we have additional hurdles to battle through in our careers, we walk home at night with keys clutched between our fingers ‘just in case’, we are subjected to strangers who think we are put on this earth to please them, we sit in job interviews (as I did 6 months ago) and are asked why we are single (and then expected to provide an answer). Gender inequalities are all around us. This is not news. But my point is, is that this is not about me and this is not about women, this is about us all. This is about a cultural change that desperately needs to happen. Goodness help any woman who chooses to use her voice and her intelligence to stand up and speak up, and goodness help the others (usually men) who feel that their masculinity entitles them to belittle the women who challenge their masculinity. But of course it is more than this – it is about the fact that we use gender to categorise each other and judge each other, and importantly, we use those boxes as a measure of our own worth and our own expectations of ourselves and of other people.

It is infamously said that boxes do not keep others out, they fence you in. Today has tested my tolerance. I have been angry, but my eyes have been opened and I am not offended because this is not about just me. This is about us all. What I know is that this needs to change…..

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Change is good: 810 miles and a lot of talk about 'change'

It's been around 2 months since the last blog post. That sounds rather confessional - it isn't intended to be. But it does feel a bit odd. This blog is in it's 6th year now and I've gone from writing a lot (I mean a lot.... sometimes a good few times a week, sometimes even twice in one day) to now, being 5 months into the year and only posting 3 times (this is the 4th). I'm not sure what this says really, apart from that things are changing significantly - and for somebody who has a rather ambivalent relationship with the concept of change, this is exciting and daunting. I'm sticking with exciting. Change is good.

The past couple of months have been a little adventurous. The universe continues to show me that it is indeed smart and unpredictable. Had my birthday, started a new job, got my mind a little blown with another job offer that I thought I had lost all chances of getting, drove a grand total of around 810 miles in the space of less than a week down the country and along the coast to see some friends and take a breather (I did just calculate that mileage....), done a couple of modelling jobs even though I keep saying I have retired (yup, at 27 I can retire as a model....). I am learning, largely from other people's confused responses when I inform them that I am not modelling any more, that apparently I like to be selective and it is not entirely true that I have stopped modelling. I am just taking decisions into my own hands and of course, I've realised I do actually have a blast when with a team who create that sort of environment and foster a culture of respect. Who'd believe it; respect and positive, empowering relationships are important at work!!

So even with embracing change and making some pretty big and exciting decisions about the next few years of my life, I took some time out of my research and have finally dipped my toes back into the water. Well, no - I have plunged my whole body right back into the ocean and every time I sit down at my computer I feel like I 'should' be writing up my MSc and not writing a blog post. I do love this blog, but everything I write for my MSc is scrutinised under a magnifying glass with a fine tooth-comb, and I am on a very limited time-frame. It takes time. It can't be done with a glass of wine whilst multi-tasking and responding to emails. Well it can, but there would be very little point. So I have indeed taken the plunge and I don't think I'll come back up for air until after research interviews are done and transcribed and data analysis is completed - in fact, I don't think I'll come up for air until the whole project is written up. It's going to be a mad stage. But that is perfectly fine - nothing in life is 'sensible' these days, so madness fits right in. Have made the active choice to embrace change and madness in equal measures.

Let's hope I don't wait another couple of months before posting again. If I do, it's because my A Level students have finally cracked under the pressure.... In fact, they are all holding up spectacularly well, despite an education system that is well and truly designed to test them to their limits and beyond (not just academic limits - seriously it is designed to push them emotionally because the bar is set at ridiculous heights and we live in a horrific outcomes-driven culture). Or it will be because I, myself, have cracked under my MSc or under the papers about ethical and participatory research with children. There's a hefty pile on our dining room table just sat waiting for me to consolidate all the information I'm processing and then put into coherent words in my methodology chapter. Perhaps wine is necessary after all...

Here's a couple of my favourite pictures from Bournemouth. Thank you so much Viv and Scott for being such wonderful hosts!