Ebooks

Part of my professional development has been reading more. I have been watching video essayists on YouTube (my fav. being Khadija Mbowe, Tara Mooknee, and Mina Le) for a while and reading has taken a back seat. I set up a book club in my workplace so I can get a few friends/colleagues together and we take part in events like Big Library Read, Read an Ebook Day, Together we Read

I set the book club up the same way I set up the folio navigation game a few years ago – I use the term game in a gamification manner. I had some feedback from a colleague about how it made her aware of the ereading platforms we subscribe to. As someone who used to work in a library, and who loves libraries, that was great to hear.

So my attempt to read more had led me back to elearning. My research always seems to edge back towards the digital… which has got me thinking, is my research more about content or delivery?

 

What’s up Doc?

I have been following the Doctoral College with interest for a while. I always think about getting involved in the Festival of Research but it passes every year without me feeling ready and since I moved away from Brighton I feel less of an incentive to go. I particularly like the photography competition every year. And would love to do another research poster.

One of the things I’ve seen often is a three minute thesis. They happen regularly in my workplaces, and previous workplaces but I’ve never had the nerve to step up – even just for three minutes. So I have given myself a summer task to practice for a three minute thesis, and post it to Stream in September.

Next steps

My blog is due to be assessed in the next month, so I am trying to find a good place to leave it. I have no doubt I’ll continue to use it next academic year but I am trying to find a place where I feel it’s OK to step back for a month. I guess it’ll be here.

I finally made a decision about where to study in the future. Canterbury! I had been indecisive for most of this year… I have worked in Canterbury on and off for five years. And it never felt like the right fit until I started working in my current department. I had an offer and some job interviews is a nearby university and although I felt like I wanted a new adventure, I knew I was very supported where I currently am. So I am staying.

I caught up with my line manager this month and we talked about my future plans. I was honest and said I did not have a clue… so we had a chance to talk about my research. We have identified some training opportunities for me in the researcher development programme. It’s an area I’ve wanted to work with for such a long time, so it feels great to be here.

Portfolio career

Every year (since they introduced this section) I submit a piece to Mslexia about my portfolio career. Sometimes a portfolio career is exhausting, especially when I have conflicting demands, but it ultimately is rewarding. It allows me to do work I love, work I get paid well for and make a difference. In an ideal world I could find one job that does all these things… but this is the next best thing.

My Portfolio Career 

Alongside my personal essay writing and zine making, I earn my main income through two jobs working in widening participation organisations. For those of you who may not have heard the term before, it’s the department in most universities and many colleges sometimes known as the outreach team or the engagement team. It’s the team that tries to make sure that folks who may have been traditionally excluded from further education have an opportunity to experience activities and/or learn skills that will help them feel like higher education is doable.  

I fell in love with this sector at a UCAS fair over a decade ago. When I met a lovely lady who spoke to me as I was trying to swipe lots of tote bags and stationery in a university foyer. I was there supporting my friend, but also I can’t resist pens and a tote. I just started chatting and, although I thought going to university may be fun, I was more impressed that the staff I met got me excited about the idea that I could encourage people like myself to get enthusiastic about education. 

So when I decided to apply to university five years later, I knew I wanted to get a job in widening participation when I completed my degree. I’ll complete my degree next year; I’m doing an Art Masters. My lecturer gave me a reflective journal assignment a few years ago and that’s how I started writing (and getting paid for writing).  

My life as a student feels rewarding. In that time I’ve achieved so much. I pay for Christmas presents for my family with vouchers I’ve won in student competitions (mostly creative writing and craft competitions) and earnt for taking part in surveys. While doing my Masters I’ve taken part in a short-term teacher placement, and recently started a distance learning course about psychogeography in a bid to help tackle the agoraphobia I developed after a bereavement and two terminal illness diagnoses in my family last year. 

And I often do temporary work for student events, so I have no end of free pens now. Score. 

2020

Virtual housekeeping

My portfolio is ready to submit, and once again, I am leaving Brighton. I have left Brighton so many times now I realise the ridiculousness of my words. I’ve been sorting through my digital files; looking at photos and my creative writing. I found a series of essays I like very much; I submitted them to various magazines and journals but they were not published. I may share a couple here, but right now I just want to catalogue.

#FridayFeel

It’s the final Friday before my first holiday of the year. I worked through summer, which I didn’t mind. The workload was light, and I spent every day with my partner. And it felt good to have him around; in addition to coronavirus we were dealing with the worsening of my father’s progressive illness, my partner’s father’s upcoming operation to remove a malign tumour, and my partner’s mother’s failing kidneys. Life had become a series of appointments and phone calls. I had spent a month in the bedroom because the lounge was too hot, too bright and a front row seat to the chaos outside… 

We live opposite a migrant holding centre. Coaches and Home Office vans are a regular sight, and occasional small protests from people shouting, “Send them home”. Our neighbours counter-protested. There were a few scuffles. I thought the media would turn up. They didn’t.  

One day I looked out the window and saw two teenagers on mopeds doing Nazi salutes to a coach with blacked out windows. I was never sure why the windows were blacked out. I suppose it’s a security reason, but for whom? The people on the coach, or the people looking in who might start asking why we treat people looking for refuge this way?  

As summer ended my partner was called back into work. We work for the same company but in different locations. I asked for a reasonable adjustment to continue working from home and my line manager agreed instantly. She also arranged fortnightly catchups to check how I was doing because I had been struggling with my mental health. My partner also asked for a reasonable adjustment, as he is in contact with his critically vulnerable parents and undertakes caring duties for them. He’s still waiting to find out if his request to work remotely, when needed, will be accepted. 

We are “returning to normal” supposedly. Though I don’t know how to return to normal when every phone call brings bad news. The latest phone call was that my partner’s father needs to go back into hospital for another colonoscopy to check some polyps. The phone call before that was from a young person from Wandsworth who was worried that he can’t afford day-to-day essentials, and although he lives in an area my workplace doesn’t cover, I promised I’d look into getting him some assistance from his council. Phone calls make me feel powerless. 

I can’t help. 

This week I’d been trying to collect some data from my colleagues, well, I have been trying to collect that data for six months but there was one group of colleagues that ignore my emails and calls. I know it’s because their workload is too big, and my data requests (quite rightly!) come second to their front-line work with vulnerable people. I finally received the final piece of data on Wednesday so I had aimed to collate it today.  

I left a data job fifteen months earlier, because I wanted to work in outreach. I wanted to make a difference to people’s lives. In that time, I’ve felt useless. But today, I sparred with data and remembered why I love it; the rules, the behaviour, the predictability… When people talk about science and art like they are different things I wonder if they’ve ever looked at code. It feels as intuitive as painting or playing an instrument. Code is like a friend that talks clearly to me; it explains what it is and how it works, and I don’t have to ask, “Are you being serious?” or “Is that slang?” or “Do you really like it or are you just being polite?” 

By Midday I felt proud of myself. My partner texted me to say he needed to visit his parents after work. They needed him to move some dialysis bags and run some errands. I looked at the refrigerator and saw that there were a handful of items on the shopping list my partner had attached to the door. I could tell he had written the list in a hurry because he didn’t mention the types and number of apples he needed. But I decided on Royal Gala. I’ve never seen him eat Royal Gala. But that’s what came into my head. 

I felt like visiting the corner shop. My reasoning was that it starts to get busy after three o’clock and teenagers loiter by the bin near the bus stop, so I am never sure where the queue ends. Also, if I buy these items my partner has less to buy at the supermarket later tonight and we can spend more time playing board games. I also wanted to buy a tub of ice cream and a bottle of pink mojito that was the same colour as my favourite hair dye.  

As I left my flat, I put on my face mask, there are lots of untidy gardens in my street so I can never see people opening their gate and I’ve nearly walked into people three times this year. I walked the clockwise route to the corner store because it’s safer to cross the road in this direction. As I got to the corner store, I saw an elderly woman rummaging around in her trolley for her facemask so I concluded there must be five people in the corner store. But then she entered the store and I waited for the next person to leave.  

I thought I heard a stumbling man by the bus stop say, “Are you lost?” He walked towards me and but stopped two metres away. I was relieved. I hated people in my personal space before coronavirus, afterwards the idea felt offensive – like a disregard for my emotional and physical health. I said, “No. I am in the queue waiting to go into the store.” He replied, “No. I said I am lost.” 

“Oh. Where do you want to go?” 

Then it happened. Two steps closer to me.  

I backed off. Then I realised I’m confusing the people in the queue behind me. Now I’m in the area where loiterers stand. I felt stress brewing. I step forward and to the side. 

The man wants to go to the beach. I give directions as he gets closer. I feel I should back away, but I can’t. I’ve grown so use to people not touching me during social distancing. I mean, obviously, I have been touched but my partner always indicates he is going to touch me, so I have an opportunity to consent or refuse. And my family understand my need for distance. I get angry, in my head this man becomes “this jerk”.  

As I finish my description of the route to the beach, he is touching my arm. I shudder. But I also feel fear. The fear of contamination, but also the fear that I began to believe that the world was changing to a place where people would stop touching others without consent. I had let my guard down because I just assumed nobody would touch me. I feel upset and foolish.  

This jerk says, “You’re gorgeous, you are.” And I look at him blankly, I forget half of my face is covered. I pull my arm away and he walks to the beach. I enter the store a minute later, throw my backpack down and smother my arm with antibacterial gel.  

I pick up the Royal Gala apples and feel tears prickling at the corner of my eyes. As I hold them, I whisper, “I am sorry… I should have asked if it was OK to touch you.”  

2020 (a submission for Perito Prize)