Real

I don’t really use this blog to talk about theory. Or anything useful really. It’s just a brain-splurge place. That’s good though, it gives me somewhere to unpack and leave things.

My week at the Tate has been really insightful. I finally feel secure around everyone on my course (it takes me a good six months to trust people) and I feel like a student. Meaning, I feel inspired and full of ideas – I feel like I’m growing and that makes me feel like I’m doing something right. I am finally in the mindspace I expected to be in.

Interestingly, I’m not actually a student anymore. Technically anyway. I had been getting no communications from my course since I started in October. I had been getting notifications in StudentCentral but no emails. I figured it was because I’m on an art course and we are more practical than theoretical. I raised the issue with my course leader and he sent me a test email, which I received so I thought it was all OK. I spoke to a classmate and she mentioned an email so a discussion with ServiceDesk began to take place. It went nowhere because they asked me what I was expecting to see and I was too tired to explain that I don’t know what I am expecting to see because I’m not seeing it and I’m the only person in the university doing my specific qualification. Blah blah blah. It turned out that I had been put on my modules, but not my course. It came to light that I had intermitted from my whole course, rather than the module I fell behind on. So next week is figuring out what to do next…

I’m not writing about this because I’m upset or critical – I just think it’s interesting that I finally feel like a student (rather than a lost mouse) at a time when I’m not a student. I may not be able to be a student for the rest of this academic year because it appears I cannot intermit on individual modules.

I was also informed that my private counsellor has had a change of policy at her workplace. Now, appointments need to be weekly rather than fortnightly. That means I’ll be spending over half my income on counselling. I can’t afford that. But I’m so afraid of cancelling. Mainly because I don’t want to inconvenience her – which in itself is a sign of how badly I need my counselling. I won’t be able to get counselling at university anyway because I’m no longer a student! Gah! What a mess.

Otherness
Anyway, one of the things that has been playing on my mind a lot is the idea what is real. The real has been an influencing issue for me for a long time. I was adopted as a small child and my classmates in playschool and infant school knew this. It was a small town and I think their parents just liked to gossip. There’s nothing wrong with gossip – I love gossip myself. Though I do think gossip can be bad if people don’t realise their listeners do not have a full understanding of what they are saying.

My classmates often commented on my being adopted (and my teacher didn’t do anything to address that – she was a cowbag anyway for a number of reasons). My classmates were not cruel per se, but they did make me constantly question the validity of my feelings. I remember things such as my Grandad dying and being very confused and upset – I remember two classmates telling me that I had nothing to be sad about because he wasn’t my real Grandad. My Mum decided I should go to school because I was too young to understand what was happening – but I was left disorientated and I kept staring at the calendar because I didn’t understand why we had changed the weather forecast and why time was moving. Then I got told off for not working and my teacher made me sit at the front of my class and eat my lunch even though I didn’t want to. I told my parents that I hated my teacher many times but they kept telling me to go back to school and behave or whatever.

Things like this made me feel torn. Also things like my classmates not thinking my birthday was significant because I was given away (there’s a lot to unpack here – especially around the idea of a mother’s unconditional love…). I’d go to school and things that had upset me at home did not matter because I was made to feel that they weren’t real. As a small child, most things you do out of school revolve around family so my whole life outside the classroom wasn’t real. Naturally, this had an impact on my home life. I wanted to be somewhere real so I distanced myself from others and resented people coming into my space. This hurt my family who were trying to bond with me (and bonding was hard enough for them already because they had their own issues to deal with). I started having recurring nightmares about having to pick my real mother out of a line-up. I never could. Then one day my Dad played a funny trick on me by challenging me to a race home – he took a sneaky shortcut home and when I arrived and saw him I was full of fear about this man who had managed to replace my Dad without anyone but me noticing. Of course, my being upset was just me playing up.

I am not going to bash my parents. They had a very Victorian-style upbringing and they probably did not know how to handle my emotions. I still see it when they interact with other children – they seem to treat crying as random outbursts rather than something that has a trigger. It probably didn’t help that my teacher kept talking about my lack of participation – they were from a generation that would not dare question the methods of a professional! They saw my lack of participation as my bad behaviour, rather than a response to the behaviour of my classmates.

A few months ago a colleague told me that she knew someone who was adopted and it’s not uncommon. She then went on to say that it’s no big deal and nobody treats adopted people differently. At the time I packed the anger. She’s right in a way. But she says that with adult experience. I cannot spot an adopted person as I walk down the street, they don’t get singled out because of their appearance. The otherness arises in institutions. When I go to the GP and he asked about my family history with certain conditions and I say I don’t know so he marks no on the screen instead of unknown. The otherness happens when people know. Then the always predictable questions… “Have you met your real mother?”“Do you want to?” and the one I hate the most is “Aren’t you interested where you came from?” From that moment onwards, you are different.

Since starting this course I understand my feelings are always real. Even if they stem from an impossible place. I have no reason to feel uncomfortable around people, but I do. I often use to try to push anxiety, anger and/or depression aside because I believed they weren’t real. How could they be? They aren’t physical things. They aren’t always connected to my experiences. They happen out of nowhere sometimes. But they are real.

Leadership

The EdublogsClub prompt this week is Leadership. Writing this is a welcome relief because my mind is buzzing from my week at the Tate Exchange (an intensive Participatory Practice and Creative Exchange course).

Leadership is something I think about a lot, because for a long time it was the only work role I could aim for. I left school with very weak qualifications and went to work after a brief period of unemployment. The jobs I did were entry level office admin, call centre and retail. My one-to-ones with my managers always involved them saying they thought I should learn more with the goal to become a deputy team leader. In fairness, I was a deputy manager a few times and an acting team leader in an insurance company’s salvage team. I hated it. I never lasted more than four years in any company, I was always teased with promotions but they never came to anything – occasionally my job title would change and I’d feel special for a while then I’d be absorbed into another team and the person who replaced me would have an even better job title and a larger salary.

But I liked the staff development part of team leading. I liked talking to my team about their hopes and plans. I sometimes wondered if I was as bad as my managers, encouraging my team to increase their productivity under the guise of learning new skills and acting like I’m doing them a favour. As a few learning professionals read my blog, I would like to clarify that I am not dismissing the learning of new skills. I thoroughly enjoy learning new skills and I actively promote learning in every environment. In these roles I don’t believe I was giving people opportunities to learn new skills – they were learning new elements of our database, but the underlying methods were the same. I was just preparing them for their eventual redeployment.

It was in these jobs that I decided I wanted to work in education, or in local government (anywhere with a recognised trade union, really!). It took me years to get my first job in education. In the meantime, I worked in lots of different temporary administration roles. When I got my first college job in 2011 I was so excited. I didn’t have anything to do with my manager as she was on leave, but the senior administrator in the hair and beauty department oversaw me. I remember him fondly.

And the thing that I think made him a great leader was that he gave me a chance. He read my CV, saw I had no relevant experience but that I wanted to work in a college. And he thought he’d invite me in so I could get some experience. He knew my role would be temporary but he wanted me to be able to apply for another college job and say I have experience in this sector.

We all have different ideas about what traits make people great leaders. It changes with each individual. But someone who believes in me, when I have no belief in myself, lifts me up. They inspire me. Some would argue that being a soft touch doesn’t make someone a great leader – I could have very easily been a terrible employee – after all, I did not have any way to prove I’d work well in an educational setting. But my colleague took a risk. That risk is the reason why I am here in university now. I am capable – I just needed someone to give me a chance.

A few years later I got my job in the alumni office. The same thing happened again. My department director saw my enthusiasm in my CV. I was invited in as a casual member of staff to help out with the office administration. I am still in that office. I am very lucky in my role as I believe my department director is the epitome of great leadership; firstly she believes in people but she also shares her knowledge with the team and cares about what she does. I am doing the most junior role in the office but I can go to her with anything. My suggestions and ideas are always listened to, and even though I have no experience in many areas I do get asked for my opinions.


The University of Brighton Students’ Union leadership election is happening this term. I’ve written my manifesto (but I don’t think it will be viewable for a couple of months so come back in March). I stood in the last by-election and you can read my previous manifesto here if you’d like a laugh 🙂

I wonder if I’m cut out for leadership. But what makes a good leader? Look at some of the leaders we have in the world and I’m certain I’m not like them (there’ll be no p***y grabbing from me). If I am to become a leader I’d like to think I’ll be like my department director or my colleague from my first college job. I want to make people love where they are studying, I want them to see that there are opportunities for them (without hidden agendas) and I want people to say “Step aside Nina, I want to be the next leader”. Because if I cannot pave the way for others, I’m not the type of leader I want to be.

Workspace

The EdublogsClub theme for this week is workspace / study space. This saddens me slightly because I’d love a desk space and I don’t have room for one at home. Also, my jobs are casual hours so I’m never anywhere long enough to settle in. My course workshops run in museums (Brighton Museum and the Tate) with a handful of other rooms on my campus for tutorials and seminars.

I took a photo of my desk in the alumni office. I ended my previous fixed-term contract back in September so I’m in employment limbo at the moment. As a result, my desk is pretty bare (but not tidy!). In times of permanent/long-term employment my desk gets covered with postcards and random trinkets. My desk drawers are crammed full of things I haven’t hung back up from my previous desk move. I use my desk in the alumni office two-eight days a month. I don’t feel like I use it frequently enough to decorate. My filing tray is just a dumping ground. I’m proud of my Hello Kitty Pop Phone (out of shot) – I got it for £1 from Poundworld last summer. I also have some home comforts in my desk drawers, I have two spare pairs of socks, fluffy slippers, a shawl and a hot water bottle – our office gets really cold so every member of my team has things like this in our drawers.

I also work for the Student Union on an adhoc basis. I like this role because I see a lot more people and I feel quite good at signposting. I share the desk with two members of staff and two members of student staff (never at the same time, obviously). I rarely login because it takes too long to sign in and out. And because our technical support personteam has a backlog the students need to use the staff computer until the student computer is set up.

The Student Union office has a small social area which I sometimes use with my Chromebook. I like working from this space when my workload is light. I prefer to do most of my work on a PC (with a desk!) so I also like to spend time in St Peter’s House library.

I do much of my work remotely. I find it hard to keep up with everything. I frequently have diary clashes or forget to add appointments to my calendars. I attempt to stay organised thanks to my Lumia – I don’t know the model but I know it’s two years old and was free when I got it. I don’t use many independent apps on it because most aren’t available for Windows devices. However, I can use most of my university’s digital toolkit easily on it. I spend an hour each term putting my course timetable, union meetings, work days and counselling appointments into my phone’s calendar. It’s annoying but I feel a sense of relief when it’s all done.

I access my student and staff Sharepoint files through Office for Lumia or Onedrive / Onenote apps (depending where I am). I also can’t remember which app is which but I get to where I want to go so I’m just happy about that. Some screenshots:

Another thing I recommend as a student is finding out if your virtual learning environment has an app. At university I use BBStudent and it isn’t great, it seems stuck in 2014 for me. However, I also do online courses elsewhere (eg. UNISON, TUC…) and many use Moodle. I am such a Moodle fan and the Moodle app works great for me.

You can even do a free Moodle course at learn.moodle.net.

Rejection

I got my first job rejection of the year. I am distraught. I actually thought I met all of the criteria on the job specification and I thought that came across well in my writing. Normally when I apply for a job I have a bit of self-doubt. I didn’t this time. Admittedly, I didn’t think I’d get the job as I’m notoriously rubbish in job interviews (my friends have catalogued my faux pas in the past) but I thought I’d get shortlisted.

I’m not the best writer – readers will know this already. So obviously, that’s what let me down. I don’t know how to get better. I know what’s required from my answers but that doesn’t make it easier. I find it hard to sing my own praises. I’m certain my lack of confidence came through in my writing – I say things like I feel as though my experience in this area… rather than I am! I need to say I am more often. I am good at things. But even just writing that feels uncomfortable. My natural response is to say I feel as though I am good at things. Ha. I am feels too bold.

I feel sad because I felt as though the job role was perfect for me. It was in a university gallery in the southeast. I would have been able to stay in UNISON HE, UNISON SE and I’d be working in a gallery (my dream). I would have moved out of Brighton which I’d feel sad about but that was the only downside. I don’t see many opportunities like this role come up – normally when university gallery/museum jobs come up they are for curators, researchers or managers – this role was entry-level.

Anyway
This is a bit of a big month for me. This week I start doing my museum mentoring again and I return to university. I start my next module so on Wednesday I’ll be briefed about what will be happening next week in the Tate! The Tate. This is a huge step and I feel really nervous. But I’m just going to bite the bullet (or try) and get stuck in.

Later this month I return to counselling after a month’s break and I’m standing for election again.

Blogging

I’m taking part in EdublogsClub and this entry is about my history with blogging.

I think I started blogging in 2000/2001 when I got a livejournal (my account is now deleted). I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit I joined because a frenemy was on the site. I can’t remember my first posts, that’s probably a good thing because at the time I was an angry teenager on the cusp of my first romantic break-up in a small town with not much going on. All my friends were going to university, moving away, starting their jobs or starting a family. I felt like I was going nowhere so I’m certain I was whining about that. Regardless, I started blogging and I enjoyed it. I gradually started customising the layout, then adding links/pictures to the posts. I joined communities and made friends. I started finding out about cybergoth events happening in the nearest big town, so I started going to them. From there I met a bunch of people that went on to became my reallife friends. I kept in contact with them through our blogs. I eventually deleted my livejournal account after a few years because it lost favour to Myspace.

Since then, I’ve had about a dozen blogs which I have used infrequently and deleted. I enjoy customising layouts and I like interacting with others through blogging (probably because my anxiety makes reallife interactions difficult). I like blogs within closed communities, because sometimes that makes me feel safer when I am writing about personal things. I tend to start a blog when I’m experiencing a big change in my life (or if I’ve been triggered and I’m having a big ol’ existential crisis). This blog was starting when I came to university – I wanted to write about the culture shock, but I haven’t been able to write as frequently (or as openly!) as I hoped.

My favourite University of Brighton blogs belong to my favourite colleagues; Alumni, Careers, Elearning and Radical Brighton. Outside of university, I occasionally read Tukru, Sean, Obesity Timebomb, Arched Eyebrow, Kelvin and Vegan in Brighton. I added the RSS feeds to my favourite blogs to my Outlook so I can read them at lunch in work (I know subscribing to RSS feeds is an outdated thing to do now but I love them!)

My goal in doing EdublogsClub is to be more open. I often want to blog about political thoughts or experiences of being a survivor but it just feels like something I’m not quite confident to do yet. I’ve started blogging about my mental health over the past couple of years – that was a big step for me – and it has really helped me deal with things as they happen. I have also found it interesting to look back at my blog entries when I’m having a tough time so I can remind myself that these feelings pass.