All posts in Life

  • Elections and Recollections

    Yet again, there’s been a long lapse of time since my last post. When I first set up this blog, I had every intention of maintaining it with the voracity with which I started. As time has passed, however, my inclination to blog has gradually diminished– not because I haven’t been able to formulate the ideas or consolidate the material, but because my passion has been eroded. I’d like to be clear: my passion for life, for my work, for social equality, peace, art, and culture remain intact. It is rather my passion for the blog itself that has diminished. I feel I do La Pasionaria a disservice by making this admission (since it’s to her that this blog indebted), but I also know that I do not, and that it is also a thoroughly positive and edifying admission. After all, this is my first ever blog. I came to this not knowing how I should properly publicise it or whether I even wanted to; I hadn’t done any research into what made other blogs so effective, and I didn’t know what ‘angle’ my blog was going to have – still don’t. I’m now developing ideas about new creative ventures in which I’m more passionately invested. LifeOnMyFeet has been a lauchpad for this creative epiphany, even if it hasn’t played host to it.

    It is perhaps unsurprising that I should have this kind of revelation in the run up to a general election. Five years ago, I recall that my sentiments were similar, and that my political consciousness and sense of ‘purpose’ was acute. In the few days following the general election of 2010, a whirlwind of emotion blazed over me. When I witnessed Gordon Brown walk out of 10 Downing Street and David Cameron walk in, I knew that things were set to change radically. In the intervening period between that moment and the present one, my life has been marked by a series of shifts and transformations; I have finished a Master’s degree, I have been to work for the probation service, been threatened with redundancy, and been on strike; I have been awarded a scholarship for a PhD and am almost at the point of completion; I have published my work in peer-review journals, and I have travelled to America three times. With each new challenge I’ve come up against, I have had to harden myself, and I feel pretty exhausted from all the fighting.

    In just over 2 weeks, I am getting married. Julian has been my stalwart throughout these five years of turbulence and transformation, but I know that the world in which we’ll be celebrating at the end of this month could look very different to the one that we’re living in now. And I know that, really, what happens tomorrow could change our future, and will have more of an impact on our lives than our wedding day, wonderful and momentous as that will be. I am very anxious about the possibilities, not least because I do not want to live under another austerity government bent on the destruction of vital public services and the advancement of the privileged. I was once so certain that I could never emigrate because I did not believe that there was anywhere else in the world where the sense of social responsibility, right, and justice was so strong. I’m not sure that I feel the same way any more – at least, I’m not sure that our sense of social responsibility trumps our level of self-interest. In spite of my cynicism, however, I will be voting with compassion and against austerity when I go to the polls tomorrow. I will be championing our rich heritage of protest and labouring solidarity. I’ll be thinking about La Pasionaria, who led the Republicans and Anarchists into battle against fascism with the words ‘it is better to die on your feet than live forever on your knees’. The fight is not over, and although I know that certain results are inevitable, and that certain projects will lose their lustre over time, there are others that I’m just not willing to concede. ¡No pasarán!

    Dolores 2

  • When Feet Become Wings; Magical Marrakech

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    Yet again, it’s been an age since my last post. I’ve been immersed in various life things, and lots of work things, and so the time has passed me by, and all of a sudden it’s nearly Christmas. I’ve always enjoyed this time of year: mince pies, bitter chills, and drinks that are both hot and alcoholic. The past few months have been so manic, however, that I’ve hardly had any time to enjoy any of that. Still, you can rest assured that I will be taking a break over Christmas.

    In fact, though, my break already began at the end of last week when the teaching semester finished at KCL and my students went home for the holidays. I headed home to celebrate (with bubbles!) and to prepare for a long weekend away with some girlfriends. It was, after all, my hen weekend; a little early, I know, but I had anticipated some much needed respite at this time. I couldn’t have been more right. In the weeks leading up to this holiday, I had mountains of essays to mark, a lecture to write, and editorial and PhD work to contend with. I was getting to bed at around 1am every night (*morning), and was beginning to resemble the zombies that I’m currently researching and writing about. So, in short, the holiday was most welcome.

    Not only was it welcome, but it was entirely stress-free (for me, at least). That’s because my best friend Emily took on the task of organising it, coordinating attendees, arranging flights and accommodation, booking activities, and making sure that we would have enough BOOZE to keep us happy throughout our stay. She did a magnificent job – as did those who worked to keep our destination a secret from me for the best part of a year. I was blissfully unaware of the stresses that they had all taken on in an effort to allay mine, and I’m truly grateful for all of their hard work. I realise that I am blessed to have such wonderful friends.

    So, unbeknownst to me, they planned a trip to Marrakech – the beautiful bazaar of sensory stimulation. I was overwhelmed with excitement when they eventually let me in on the plan (although a little concerned that I had not been able to pack my own suitcase)! Luckily, my girls had thought of everything, and even threw in a bikini that they thought might be more appropriate for the hammam that we planned to visit on our second day. Every last detail was, in fact, planned out minutely, and encompassed my various loves of food, dance, music, dressing up, pampering and…perhaps best of all…haggling! They flew me away – in the most literal sense, of course – but they also flew me away from my worries, cares, and obligations, and I was able to relax knowing that they had it all in hand. I will never forget the lengths that they went to to make my weekend special, and it’s highly unlikely that I would be able to if I tried, thanks to the beautiful mementos that they gave me to remember it by.

    There are few words I could offer that could measure up against the loving gestures made by all of the people that contributed to this trip but, I’d like to attempt to cobble some together in any case. To Emily, I’d just like to say THANK YOU. For everything. You are brilliant. To Emma, who put together my beautiful Berber wedding blanket, I’m deeply touched – and not just by the effort, but by the idea. To all of my remaining hens – to Rachael, Jo, Kate, Jess, and Sonia – I’m so glad that you could be there, and be a part of it all, and I couldn’t have asked for a better bunch of women to spend 4 days with. To the hen that was unable to make it due to the extra baggage she was carrying(!), a.k.a. Moussette, I was sad that you couldn’t be with us, but I was moved that you made your presence felt in spite of your absence, and I absolutely love the beautiful kaftan that you bought me. And finally, to all those who weren’t there, but were still very much a part of it all – to my mum, dad, and brother, to Jadey, Katie, Cat, Jane, Maureen, Alex, Sue, Amy, Julie, Faye, Toni, and Jen. And, last but not least, to Julian. Thanks for completely ruining me with your impossible quizzes (Arsène Wenger indeed!) I loved it all, and I love you all. Merci/shukran.

  • Landing on My Feet and the Things I’ve Learnt

    It’s been a really long time since I last blogged. I didn’t need the constant push-notifications from my Facebook Pages app telling me that my ‘audience misses me’ to remind me of that. I started this blog last year with the intention of maintaining it regularly – yes, I had hoped that it would ‘keep me on my toes’, if you’ll pardon the bad foot analogy – but this year, and particularly these past few months, I have found that really difficult. I once wrote, a little in jest, that I felt like I was living out The Red Shoes, and would carry on dancing and dancing unless someone chopped off my feet. Well, a little over a month ago I think that someone finally did (metaphorically, of course). I’m not the only person I know who is guilty of overdoing it, but I’ve always been content to work hard and play hard. I have never felt guilty about the time that I take out of work to focus on me, but when my mind and body are constantly engaged in so many things – PhDing, running, dancing, coordinating outreach, and such – I never really get proper ‘me’ time. The PhD experience has introduced me to a new kind of stress, but I usually deal with this by cutting loose. I recognise the signs of burnout and I respond to them; I go out for drinks with friends, stomp around London with my baby brother, or go out on little road trips with my ma and pa. I had a couple of small breaks this year, but on both occasions I spent the majority of that time by myself, in my flat. I had no holiday time with my loved one, and no money to do anything interesting. It’s been especially hard to come to terms with that as although we don’t always get to spend much time together, we’ve always made sure that the time we do have together is quality. We have never really been flush, but have generally been able to have a little holiday together each year, go out for dinner occasionally, and maybe even go to the cinema once in a while. Of course I realise that we are very lucky to have been able to do this. I never take it for granted. But while I have always made the most of the good things when they come, I have made sacrifices in other areas of my life in order to enjoy those ‘good things’.

    It hit me hard, then, when I had to endure a solitary week of nothing just over a month ago. Julian couldn’t take any holiday because he was working hard to secure the next round of investment for his startup company, and we’d had to cut back radically while he was ploughing all of his reserves reserves – mental, physical, and financial – into this effort: ergo, no dinners, no cinema, not even much of what you’d call ‘quality’ time together. During the week that I spent off I had too much time to think about the challenges that we were being faced with and I started to worry about how we’d be affected by it all. At least, I wasn’t really conscious of the fact that I was doing this, but when I went back to work the following week, it seemed as if the stress had started to set in. For once, work stress was not the problem, but life stress was. I went along to Julian’s marketing event for his company’s crowdfunding campaign later that week and woke up the next day feeling exhausted. I put it down to a busy day and possibly too much free prosecco. But then the next day I woke up feeling the same, and then the next, and the next, etc. For over 3 solid weeks I felt drained of all energy, foggy, dizzy, and depressed. I went to the doctor’s and they sent me to have some blood tests. I was worried that I might have a serious health problem – that I might have some kind of deficiency. I became fixated with the idea that I might have diabetes, anaemia, or something worse. Never did it really compute that it might be the effect of stress. Then the blood tests came back fine, so I didn’t know what to think. I spent a couple of days down at the coast with my grandparents, which probably did me more good than I realised at the time. While I continued to feel exhausted, my nan had me out walking about 5 miles each day. I went swimming in the sea, which, though it didn’t make me feel any less tired, made me incredibly happy. Julian picked me up at the weekend, and we spent an afternoon at Botany Bay, where we enjoyed some burgers cooked over a cheap disposable barbecue. My mum got me a vitamin tonic and I gradually started to feel better. Julian and I spent a lot of time talking through our worries, and figuring out solutions. And now his crowdfund campaign is coming to an end, and the company is almost 150% funded, things are looking a lot brighter.

    Of course, while this has been a very difficult time for us, it’s also been very humbling. Not only have we had to go without the ‘good things’, but at times we’ve had to go without the necessary things. We’ve struggled to afford groceries, and I have often spent evenings scouring the supermarket shelves for reduced items. We’ve had to dip into savings knowing that we may not recuperate them and knowing that we’re getting married in a little over 8 months. There are a lot of people who live out their lives like this every day, who have to deal with never having enough, who have more debts than we have savings, and who have to face the challenge of how they’re going to come out of it. We retain a rather blasé optimism, assured that whatever difficulties we face we will overcome, but we also have the privilege of a good education and interesting and colourful working portfolios, so we stand a better chance than some. Since I have been feeling more like my normal self, I have had time to take stock of these things, and I realise that the experiences that I – that we – have had have not been altogether bad. We have learnt a great deal about the true value of things and I hope will be able to take those lessons forward as things start to improve. Some people will never experience these kinds of hardships, and ultimately, no one should have to. We can’t deny, however, that a massive imbalance prevails, and that people are really genuinely struggling right now. This Christmas more people will be homeless, more people will have to rely on foodbanks, and the poorest and most vulnerable in our society will continue to be stigmatized as ‘thieves’. In the modern, democratic society that we live in, this is unacceptable. We landed on our feet; others aren’t always so lucky.

     

  • Hopping Happy: Life, Love, and Lindy Hop

    It may surprise some of you to know that I have very few inhibitions. Okay, that doesn’t really surprise you. Those of you who know me well are fully acquainted with my outspokenness, my grandness, my gregarious and very personal dress sense, and my predisposition for stylish headwear (whatever the occasion might be). I like to think that I don’t only transition, but ‘sashay’ from one stage of my life to the next. You see, at heart, I am a musician – a jazz musician, to be precise – both literally and metaphorically speaking. Rhythm and syncopation are innate within me, and I have always had recourse to music whenever I’ve felt happy, or sad, or bored, or just plain hungry (which is most of the time). When I was a teenager, I went through a phase of writing jazz and blues songs. I have never been able to play an instrument (not for fault of trying), but I have always loved to sing, and I still sing, even though my songs aren’t as good as they used to be. The first NW LP was definitely the best, but that’s by the by.

    Anyway, I have very little spare time in which to sit down and write songs these days. Sometimes I get a tune in my head when I’m travelling to and from the library, or while I’m out on a run, but that sustained ‘composition’ time just eludes me. So I have to be content with enjoying the music of others, and I do enjoy it – loudly, energetically, and enthusiastically. Music is in my heart and in my lungs, but it’s also in my body, and I can never seem to stop it from doing its thing whenever I hear that beat. Back in the summer of 2012 I started a Lindy Hop class run by the fabulous ‘Gypsy John’ of the Cinque Ports Lindy Hoppers, but unfortunately I had to give it up when I started my PhD. I always intended to go back, or to start a new class somewhere, but never got round to joining one. Last November, when I was in New Orleans, I went to a couple of Zydeco nights and learnt how to dance ‘Cajun. It was great fun, and it reminded me how much I had missed dancing with a group of people, learning new things, and celebrating the music in my life. I was determined to start dancing again when I returned to the UK, and, a few months ago, Julian and I joined Swing Patrol in Old Street.

    Although we’ve not attended many classes so far, we’re having great fun learning the kooky dance moves, and have pretty much mastered the 8-count and 6-count basics, as well as the Charleston. We’ve also had the opportunity to meet, and dance with, lots of other fun-loving, uninhibited, and ‘musical’ types. Sometimes we’ll be at home and I’ll stick on some Count Basie or Glenn Miller and we’ll attempt to practice on the carpet of our tiny living room. Hopefully we’ll get a chance to go social dancing soon, and I can swing out in my best swing dress (I have a good few to choose from, after all). For now, though, I’ll keep practicing, and I’ll leave you with a snapshot of my fabulous classmates doing their thing at last night’s Swing Patrol class.

    Swing Patrol, Old Street

  • Going Cold Turkey: A Month Without Facebook

    That’s right, I’ve been away from Facebook for a whole entire month. I know a lot of you didn’t think I could do it, and neither did I if I’m at all honest, but I did, and the more I did the less I actually cared. I’ve learnt some valuable lessons during this short time, and, I hope, learned to channel and refocus my energies, thereby regaining control of aspects of my life that I felt had been consumed by Facebook. After a period of abstinence, its always important to reflect – to think about what worked and what didn’t, how the good practice can be sustained, and how knowledge of the experience can be transferred to other aspects of one’s life. So I give you a reflective look back on my month without Facebook.

    The first days of nothing

    Those of you that know me (and even those of you that don’t!) know that I love Facebook. I overwhelm your feeds with critical musings, check-ins, photographs, music, the occasional article about Haiti, black culture across the Atlantic, or the innate evil of the Conservative Party. Over the past couple of years in particular, it has become my playground, and my workdesk, and the site of my inner-monologue. More than a few of you have borne witness to my outbursts about salmon (#salmongate), my beautifully-intagrammed pictures of London’s best burgers, and the things I get up to on ‘Ladies’ Night’. Leaving Facebook meant leaving this world, this hub, this nucleus, this omnipotent-all-I-am-and-know space behind. I did so ceremonially, of course, in my last blog entry (http://lifeonmyfeet.com/?p=202). Initially, when I signed my login details over to Julian, I imagined that my life in those first few days away from Facebook would be like the nothingness in the Book of Genesis before God invents light and night and animals and rest days (which we mostly spend taking Facebook selfies, right?) Anyway, the nothing was not the apocalyptic nothing I had anticipated, it was just a nothing that I found myself making productive use of doing other things. I didn’t take up any new hobbies like learning to knit (I did that years back when I finished my Master’s as I coursed my way through the entire seven seasons of Gilmore Girls) but I did learn to do other things I was already doing in my life better, for example, planning and enjoying the meals that I cooked, spending time (real, quality time) with people that I care about, and reminding myself of the many, various, and brilliant channels of communication out there that I have become less au fait with in recent years.

    With abstinence comes withdrawal…

    …or perhaps not, as I found the case to be. Although Facebook has invariably become such a huge part of my life, I never once felt the urge to ‘raid the cookie jar’, so to speak, in my month without it. My will was repeatedly tested, however, by the email bombardment that I got informing me of the 38 unchecked notifications I had received during my few days away. Luckily, Julian was able to preserve my peace of mind by logging into the account and unsubscribing me from all email correspondence from the demons of Facebook, resolving this problem. With few remaining traces of what I might be missing remaining, I was less inclined to miss it at all. In fact, I didn’t, and I felt much freer, happier, and less encumbered as a result. Perhaps it was only the placebo effect of change in routine, but I really felt like the quality of my life improved. I used my mindspace without having recourse to Facebook, and I realised that I didn’t actually need to expand its boundaries in a virtual arena.

    What I noticed about other Facebookers

    Coming away from Facebook was what you might call epiphanic. I was able to step outside of the matrix of ‘FB’ and see my former life through a new lens. Ultimately, this was magnified by the fact that most of the people around me still remained part of that matrix, and I was able to scrutinize my life – objectively – through theirs. One thing that I noticed about ‘other Facebookers’ – and when I say ‘other Facebookers’, I mainly mean Julian (sorry, Julian, I’m not being passive-aggressive, but you’re a convenient example given that I spend near on every day of my life with you) – was the way that they used Facebook as a surrogate. By that I mean that rather than just doing and living, Facebookers do and live and then duplicate that doing and living on Facebook. As in, the time spent doing and living is in fact halved by the intervention of an external device. The maths in that equation, in other words, is not conducive to living ‘life on one’s feet’. When I saw people on their smartphones, sitting in front of me and facebooking (yes, I know I used it as a verb but that’s just a reflection on how active it is in our lives) a combination of the following would often run through my head: ‘you are being antisocial’, ‘you are not spending time with me’, or ‘you care more about Facebook than you do about me’. None of these thoughts bore any resemblance to the truth of the situation, but having an outsider perspective made me aware of how ‘exclusive’ (and excluding) Facebookers can be, and reminded me that I rarely took stock of how other people might feel about me ‘doing’ my ‘facebooking’ in front of them. This is not in any way intended to spite or judge, but hopefully it will encourage us all to think about how we can be ‘social’ in the fullest and most human sense of the word.

    What I missed

    Okay, so in spite of everything, I do think that Facebook is a good thing, nay, a great thing. It has brought me into everyday contact with family and friends in far-flung corners of the world, it has enabled me to share in their happiest moments (my favourite being the wedding of my dear friend Jenny earlier this year that I was unable to attend in person), and likewise it has allowed me to share mine with them. Without Facebook in my life, I wouldn’t have been able to revel in these moments, and unintentionally create new ones. Last week I received an email from my friend Emily with a screenshot she had taken of her Facebook feed, informing me of the engagement of one of my dearest and oldest friends. I was so thankful to be otherwise connected at that moment, and was able to contact my friend directly and offer her my congratulations, but I was also sad that I wasn’t able to stumble on the information myself – to be surprised, and overwhelmed at the same time that everyone else had been.

    In conclusion, I won’t be leaving Facebook any time soon, and I certainly won’t be leaving permanently, but I think I still need to adjust to new ways of managing and integrating my social media life. It might mean that I decide to vanish at an impromptu moment, but I’ll pop up and surprise you again when you least expect it. So stay tuned, and remember that I’m still out there. I’m just leaving footprints in other places.

     

     

     

  • Making Healthy Adjustments: À Bientôt, Facebook

    The last time that I posted, you may recall, I was wrestling with my inner writing demons. While I’m not entirely sure that I won, I have since had a much-needed break, and I am now feeling much more refreshed and ready for new scholarly challenges. Holidays are important, and it’s all too easy to forget just how important they are when our lives are so consumed by work—and not just our own work. I’m not going to say too much about that, because I’d just be resurrecting old material. Instead I’d like to address the matter of how it might be possible to remain healthy and focused while working, and the changes I feel I need to make in my life to make sure that happens. What I’m saying, essentially, is that, for a little while at least, I am going to be saying goodbye to Facebook.

    I know what some of you may be thinking, but I can assure you that I am not going through some kind of breakdown. Over time I have seen many friends and family members de-activate their Facebook accounts for various and—I should add—completely valid reasons. I toyed with the idea of doing this, but in the end decided against it. So my account will remain open. You can tag me in photos, check me in at exciting venues, and share things on my wall, but I won’t necessarily see any of these things for some time. I can’t say for how long, as I don’t really know myself yet, so I can only tell you that I’ll be gone for as long as I need to be.

    Okay, some explanation is warranted. What’s brought this all on? There’s no simple answer to that question, but suffice it to say that I’ve learnt some really positive life lessons from several people in my life over the past four months and I believe that I can continue learning better, transferring those positive energies to my working life, if I leave Facebook. One of those people is my friend and colleague, Eilidh Hall, one of the co-jefas of the Salsa Collective. Earlier in the year, Eilidh came to stay with me and she asked if I could lend her a lamp so that she could read in bed. We talked about bedtime rituals and it dawned on me that, although I always had a book on the go, and although I had a stash of unread books by my bed, I rarely took the necessary time to read. Of course, I read every day—it’s at the core of everything that I do, but the privilege of being able to pick up any book and just read is one that I don’t think I fully valued until Eilidh and I had this conversation. I would often slip into bed with the intention of reading a little, but would succumb to the siren-call of Facebook, there at my fingertips, telling myself that I needed to say goodnight to the world before I could escape into another literary one. And then, of course, I would just go to sleep. Since then, I have read every night, displacing the technology that too frequently interfered with my good intentions. A couple of times I have lapsed, admittedly, but I am getting there, and I’m hoping that this decision to quit Facebook completely will encourage me to seize the opportunities that lay before me.

    Another person who completely opened my eyes to a world of healthfulness and balance was my friend Toni, who runs the superb food blog, Etta’s Corner. Toni recently undertook the ‘Paleo Challenge’. For 30 days, she gave up a lot of what I would consider to be ‘the good stuff’—bread, caffeine, dairy products, and processed foods of any kind. I have never had much time for diets, and, frankly, I do not believe in them. I don’t believe that limiting oneself, or giving things up, promotes a healthy attitude about either food or body image. However, Toni’s challenge was very different in its ethos to any other diet that I have ever encountered. She didn’t even call it a ‘diet’, in fact. That’s because it wasn’t a diet, in the sense that we might understand it; it was, rather, a journey, during which Toni hoped to see how certain adjustments to her daily routine might impact on her life more broadly. She committed to this challenge for only 30 days: it wasn’t about reaching a particular ‘milestone,’ in other words. When I spoke to her about how it all went after she had begun reintroducing some of ‘the good stuff’, she told me that she had learnt some valuable lessons about her body and the food that she was putting into it. What she was saying made a lot of sense, and it has made me realise that I might be able to adopt a more ‘healthy’ attitude to Facebook if I give it up for a little while. We’ll have to see, I guess.

    In any case, this is not a diatribe against social media. I LOVE social media, and you’ll note that I haven’t vowed to quit twitter, Whatsapp, Instagram, or my beloved blog. I’ll still be out there, but I need to remove myself from a world that I have become so deeply immersed in. So for now I’m signing out. Come find me if you want me. À bientôt, Facebook.

  • PhD: Periodic Human Derangement

    PhD

    Hello world. Yes, I’ve been absent – and for some time. I’ve been deferring this post for a while, though in fact I’ve been piecing it together intermittently over several weeks. I think that reflects the irregularity and general tumultuousness of my life over the past month and a half of the New Year, during the course of which I have repeatedly asked myself whether I might be ‘crazy’. Everyone has their own special brand of crazy, right? It’s the human condition, I’ve come to learn. There is not really any such thing as ‘sanity’. But there’s crazy and then there’s PhD crazy. Ultimately, I think you have to be crazy to do a PhD; or, if not, then the PhD will make you crazy. Of course, the two things combined are mutually conducive to more crazy. There is a serious point to all of this. Lately I’ve had a series of revelations, and they have opened my eyes to the kind of person that I’ve become since starting my PhD 16 months ago.

    The PhD can be a lonely and intimidating experience; it’s not for the faint-hearted, this much we all know when we sign up. It takes hard work, and guts (real iron-encased guts) to stay focused and positive through the long periods of solitude and the many challenges to our credibility and worth as scholars. We have to face off against these things while, at the same time, trying to spin several plates, ultimately knowing that the extra plates help to drive us and keep our work fresh, but also knowing that they are the essential building blocks in our careers. Again, I’m hardly saying anything new here, and it sounds a lot like the start of an invective against the PhD, but actually it’s not. If anything, it’s more like the opening of a (potentially unanswerable) question about the conundrums posed by the PhD.

    In recent months, I have felt confused and unsettled by some of the emotions that the PhD has thrown up. I feel compelled to say that I am in a (pretty) good place as I write this, but that wasn’t the case about a month ago. In every job, people have to take the rough with the smooth, and there’s no denying that there are a lot of people out there who experience more of the rough than the smooth, but that shouldn’t be the case for a PhD, surely? I mean, in spite of all of the above, this kind of career involves choice, and it relies on a motivating passion. I get to do what I LOVE; I get to exercise my passion and employ my creative energies in ways that to some are unimaginable and unachievable. My expertise was laid to waste in my last job, and the PhD offered an opportunity to change that, so you can imagine my surprise when Julian told me that he thought I was a ‘happier person’ in my last job.

    Though I knew him to be right, it seemed to me the most incredible thing. How could I possibly have been ‘happier’? How could I not be happy now? Everyone’s experience of the PhD is different, but, by and large, I’ve not met a single person that has been through (or is presently going through) the experience who could tell me that they have not had moments of complete desperation. Even in those moments of wild and sustained productivity, when things seem to be ‘coming together’, I think that many of us would still find it difficult to characterise ourselves as abundantly happy. And yet, we’re stuck in a catch-22 situation, as I’m pretty sure that happiness makes you work better and more productively. A lack of happiness translates to a productivity ‘leach’.

    So, inevitably, we try to bring happiness into our lives, ensuring that we enjoy equal measures of fun and rest to balance out the demands of work. But how do we sustain that happiness through our work? How do we continue to feel positive after the buzz created by that breakthrough passes? How do we pull ourselves out from that giant pit that seems to get deeper each time we attempt to climb it?

    The solutions that we find are likely to be personal ones, but I think that we can all benefit from the maintenance of active communities that promote opportunities for fruitful and regular exchange. As I type this, I’m thinking about how I might go about setting up a network for such exchange to take place *exciting brainwaves catapulting Nicole to new levels of happiness*, but I appreciate any thoughts and comments from happy people, or from those striving to achieve happiness in their daily working lives.

  • Gratitude List

    I’ve been back for nearly a month. December has been a bizarre, transitional month, but it has been quite wonderful. I want to celebrate all of the wonder of this entire year with a gratitude list (a few of which I’ve seen floating around and have felt inspired by in recent days), so here goes:

    1) Family

    I am grateful to have a family that I can really happily call a family; a family that doesn’t just keep up appearances but cares. I am grateful for the fact that this year we were able to reconnect with family that we hadn’t seen for almost seven years, and for the fact that that family welcomed us back as if that time hadn’t elapsed at all. I’m grateful for my extended family, formed over the eleven years that Julian and I have been together. I am grateful to have parents that have been supportive of all of my choices and have helped to guide me on the course that I am now taking. I am grateful for the relationship that I now have with my younger brother: all of a sudden, after all of those years of bickering and nastiness, we seem to click, and I see so much of my younger self in him. I know he will go far.

    2) Friends

    I am grateful for my wonderful friends – you complete me, make me smile, encourage me to be brilliant. If it weren’t for you, I’d be nothing. I am grateful for the new friends I have made, and I hope that we will maintain lasting relationships. I know that we will. I am grateful for your strength; you have struggled and overcome obstacles and shown me through your lived experience that we can do it.

    3) Running

    I had no idea when I started running just a few years ago, how much I would grow to love it. I always thought that sport was something that you ‘had’ to do, like eating lettuce and brushing your teeth twice a day, but I have grown to realise that that’s just not the case. I love to run, and I am grateful to have legs that carry me to the most fabulous places. This year I ran over Tower Bridge in the sunshine with my best friend, I ran in City Park in New Orleans, and today I ran in Bexleyheath in the pouring rain.

    4) Dancing

    I was sad last year to leave behind my friends at the Five Wents Memorial Hall where I learnt to lindy hop. I will DEFINITELY be returning to a lindy class in the new year, but this year I developed a love for a new kind of dance: zydeco. This last weekend, I went Cajun dancing for the first time since I returned from Louisiana, and it was fabulous. What I am most grateful for, however, aside from my pure love of dance, is the fact that I have a man in my life who likes to dance with me, and who doesn’t just dance but sets the floor alight. In dance, the lady tends to follow, but whenever I say to Julian, ‘will you do this [insert crazy new dance here] with me?’ he does. And he does it like he always knew how.

    5) Books

    Books, of course, are my life. But this year I remembered how much I love books, and what I see in books that can be imaginatively brought to life. I hope some day, in the not too distant future, to create my own.

    6) Sunny Days

    This year I have made the most of sunny days. Even when, for the most part, I have been stuck working inside, I have forced myself to get out and enjoy the sunshine. For my international friends, yes, we had lots of sunshine in England this year!

    7) Kent

    Kent is the county that Julian and I were born in, grew up in, and presently (sort of) live in. This year we rediscovered its beauties and found the place that in 2015 we will marry. It’s easy to forget that Kent has historically been thought of as the ‘garden of England’, but if you just step outside, you realise that it’s totally true.

    8) My travelling partner

    This year I have presented at conferences, given a public talk at the British Museum, and travelled to Louisiana in the name of research. I am grateful for the fact that my partner was there for me every step of the way. He has pushed me and inspired me, and he has helped me to make it wonderful and memorable. New Orleans we never expected to have, but now we have it, and we will have it forever.

    9) Ladies’ Night

    Yes, damn right. You all see the pictures on Facebook. These nights are legendary, and ‘ladies’ night’ has become an institution with a number of followers over the past year. I am proud to say that I haven’t missed a single one.

    10) The future

    How can you be grateful for the future, you ask, when you can’t possibly know what the future will hold? Well, that’s precisely why I am grateful. I am grateful for the unpredictability of my life and for the rollercoasters that I will no doubt encounter along the way. 2014, you don’t phase me one little bit.

     

    Have fun tonight, y’all!

  • Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans?

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    …So mused Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong in the 1947 film New Orleans. As I sit here in the kitchen of my beautiful (rented) Mid-City shotgun house, I am beginning to contemplate that very question. The only way that I could answer is in the affirmative: yes. Most assuredly, yes. A million times, yes. New Orleans has been the place that I have called my home for the past month, and in many ways, I feel that I am leaving home. Of course, in reality, I am returning home and am happy to be, but I am also sad. Who knew that a place could leave a person with feelings so bittersweet? Certainly I did not, and I don’t think I’ve ever had that experience before.

    Many a time I’ve fallen head over heels in love with a place: Sydney, Liguria, Havana, Perigord, and, of course, New York. Julian and I have talked about one day (in the not too remote future) moving out to New York for a period, and there are a handful of other places that I think I could one day call home. And now I’ve caught the bug; this trip has showed me that, while it may be hard, I could do it. That said, I think that this experience has been a unique one, and will remain with me forever. It’s the kind of bug that takes root and never leaves. There is something to be said about the ‘infectious’ nature of the South, I think, and New Orleans in particular – about how it affects you, invades you, and penetrates to the very core of you. The landscape issues its own kind of poetry: the bayous and cypresses, the creole cottages, the balconies, the cemeteries, the slowly sinking sidewalks, the Big Muddy. I could go on, but I don’t know where it would end – my mind and my senses are literally teeming – and, quite frankly, there are some things that I would like to retain just for myself.

    So I’ll finish with this: if I’ve learnt one important thing on this trip, I’ve learnt that to write about the South, and to truly understand the South, one must first go to the South. It’s not enough to read books about it. Books are nevertheless a great starting point, and, ultimately, they led me here. I’m continuing to follow the trail with new books, and with old books and a fresh mind. See y’all soon.

     

  • Big Steps

    October is always a wonderful month, and each year I try to squeeze as much as I can out of its wholesome autumnal fruits. Because October, to me, is really Autumn: distant enough from September, when the weather is still striving to be warm and accommodating to alfresco diners, and not quite scarf-and-glove-inducing like November. Of course, it’s no surprise that I enjoy October more than most other months, and I’m a bit (more than a bit) biased there – October has always borne witness to so many wonderful and special things in my personal life. This October has been no exception. In many ways, this month has been the hardest and most challenging month of the year, but it has been good, and it has helped to grow me.

    Over this past month I have given two public talks – one at the British Museum and another at the Millennium Library in Norwich. The first of these was incredibly daunting in a way that I hadn’t expected it to be. I’ve always loved speaking, and am glad that I jumped on the conference bandwagon early in my career as a researcher, but have never really had an opportunity to speak outside of my academic peer group. It was both, then, incredibly rewarding but also somewhat intimidating to witness so many people from the general public turn up for my talk because they were interested in its content, and in what I had to say. Once the pressure was off, though, and the talk was over, I was reassured by the positive feedback and engaging questions that I received. This was mirrored in the audience response to the talk that I gave a couple of weeks later at the Millennium Library in honour of Black History Month.

    I emerged from both experiences feeling for the first time some degree of certainty that I would like to have a career as an academic. From the onset of my journey as a PhD student, I have been reminded of the difficulties faced by early career academics – and academics in general – which have been amplified in recent years owing to government cuts in the arts, and in higher education. However, the more and more that I engage people with my subject, and connect that subject to people’s lives in the present moment, the more I become convinced that academia is my calling.

    I now only have a few hours left in the United Kingdom, as I prepare for another big journey. October, it seems, was just a primer for an even bigger, better, and more challenging November in an unfamiliar space. I’ll keep you all posted while I’m away but, for now, I’ll leave you with some mementoes from this wonderful October.

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    Gilt of Cain slavery memorial, Fen Court, London

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    Me getting ready for my ‘big bluesy birthday’

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    Sculpture installed at the ISM entitled ‘Freedom’, by Atis Rezistans, an art collective in Port-au-Prince, Haiti

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    Julian and I toasting each other at the Five Bells Inn in Brabourne, having just booked our wedding!

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    Senate House Library, Bloomsbury

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     The view from Lympne Castle, Lympne