Tag Archives: Authenticity

Happy New Year blog! Looking back at 6 months of meanderings and the privileges of sharing

Happy New Year blog! You are just over 6 months old..you have 4! (count em) 4 official followers! Some people have RSS’d you!! You’ve had over 3500 hits in the past 6 months!!!

As is the way at this time of year – it’s often useful to look back at events and experiences of the last 6 or 12 months, weigh up and contemplate successes and failures and have some kind of plan for 2012.  Since beginning this blog I’ve had discussions with people, received feedback and begun to read the blogs of others.

So here are my thoughts on blogging so far.

The aim.

It’s hard to know if I should currently count my blog as a ‘success’….. doing so would possibly imply that it had some kind of aim.. and I’m not sure what the aim of it was to start with to be honest. I wanted a place just to put down thoughts to myself which perhaps others could share, reflect comment on…. to show things I make, create, write… to share photos I’ve taken and to attempt to document both my intellectual and artistic journey. I also occasionally use it for thoughts around my academic work.  I guess what I’ve struggled to do is to refine it down to one single thing which I think in terms of  blog ‘effectiveness’  (i.e communicating a single message) is traditionally not thought of as a good thing – but in terms of personal benefit I think it is. The blog is not just about my passions or my work or wholly biographical, wholly evidence based or wholly arts based. It is a combination of these things, because I am a combination of these things. I found it incredibly hard to define myself through one single activity or discipline or pursuit, and I rather think that perhaps similar to twitter this diversity, I would argue is a good thing.

As humans we are inherently habitual creatures and as Bourdieu writes, our experiences of everyday life and our place in the social settings/structures within which we are situated often lead us to ways of acting or ways of being which encourage us to replicate learned behaviour. Perhaps the continual stream of diverse subjects/topics coupled with a conflicting  a lack of narrative (i.e mainly individual and unrelated blog posts) encourage not only small bites of knowledge dissemination or thinking points, and dialogue across disciplines,  but also in addition (as is the way with this blog) combining art with this – will encourage the followers to interpret and reflect on their own experience in order to succumb to the often common modern human reflex which is to ‘order ‘ or to ‘make sense’ of everything. Again I view this as a positive thing. All to often in life we are taught to expect the linear neat ‘story’ this is demonstrated through our telling of history to the simple childhood fairytale. Its is an uncomfortable truth however that this is never really the case.

Whilst mostly blog posts have no specific narrative the one story that currently does emerge throughout is my story, as I am the sole creator of this blog. My story is inevitably told then perhaps covertly by demonstrating the topics I am interested in and more overtly by the inclusion of an element of biographical material, this which needs on to my next thinking point….

To share or not to share – that is no longer a question…

Blogs spring up for all sorts of reasons and I guess like twitter its entirely up to the individual how little or how much they disclose, or what level or personal topics they cover.  At first I approached the blog with an intention of the ‘I’ remaining more removed from my writing. However unexpectedly as I began to write it seems that it became easier for me to express things… I also made another significant discovery. The word press site management functions enable me to see the search terms that people entered into google to arrive at my blog and I was really surprised as to the things that were coming up – a lot of the time they were related to productions, artists, theorists that I had mentioned but often they were more personal:

  • My PhD supervisor shouts at me
  • PhD student expectations
  • PhD first year unhappy
  • PhD I feel alone
  • The body

There were a number of others, but I realised how the internet could be used to create meaning. As well as providing an element of personal catharsis I began to realise the potential of the internet to act as a type of virtual support for people who were experiencing the same/similar things whether positive or negative. By revealing the truth about our lives and revealing our authentic selves and to remove as far as possible the conscious effort to ‘self present’ ourselves.. the possibility that stigma around certain experiences may be removed, and perhaps in a most idealistic sense – support could be given even if no interaction between reader/blogger ever occurs.  I noticed that as my posts became more honest and I revealed deeper things so did others. So they benefitted as well – in a way. Also I find the roots of my internet meanderings often come down to some basic philosophical things – life, death, love, family, food, sex, leisure – this perhaps reflects my own values and past/current experiences. Also my research – concerned with the experience of ageing often highlights these basic things. As we grow older and our worlds shrink, our bodies change and we approach the end of life inherently we appreciate and see things differently. The basic principles are often the most important and I guess so far my feelings around the issues brought to my attention all add up to the simpler and most fundamental things in life. It’s difficult and it becomes almost meaningless to attempt an over intellectualisation of the theory/issues/context surrounding the humanistic experience of ageing particularly when published in the blogsphere. I want it to be accessible. Not aimed at academics but to somehow use a language that speaks to everyone.

The future of this blog

So what’s in store for 2012? I guess for me and for the blog? I currently have 76 posts pending covering ideas for research, art, creativity, ageing, biography and other ideas. I hope to have a greater focus on my photography work and on my research which I hope will be of interest. I still have a number of reflection around courses I’ve attended and productions to write up which I hope to get done before I go back to work. I guess next year you can expect more of the same but with new stuff too – telling my story and the story of others. I expect that at times you will find it beautiful, uncomfortable, interesting, confusing and hopefully inspiring and thought provoking too. I currently plan to maintain this blog until September 2013. Then after that perhaps will act as documentary evidence of a transitionary time for me. Anyhow, whatever happens I hope somehow you get something out of it, even if you don’t always agree with it.

So, I’ll sign off now, I don’t think I will get a chance to post tomorrow so I guess from me I have to say ‘Happy New Year’ and thanks for following and commenting.. .. maybe on New Years eve you are off out to do something exciting…. maybe you are staying in and rejoicing in domestic bliss.. maybe you’re going to drink a bottle of Jack Daniels and wish the whole fucking pantomime would go away.. whatever happens I will see you on the other side…and maybe.. just maybe.. 2012 is going to be our year…


A certified clown!! the end of clowning part I

Today was officially the end of clown school.  Luckily I could make the lesson and I’m so glad I did.  It’s all a bit emotional for us clowns tonight. We have made such good friends and learnt so much about ourselves.  I will do a proper write up on my progress this year  just as soon as I have had some chance to reflect.For now here is my official certificate and feedback from the rest of my troupe as to how the other clowns viewed me or my memorable moments. I’m really looking forward to next term – getting up early to sign up at the folk house was a good ideas as all the places went within 24 hours! Four of my current troupe will joining a range of other stage II clowns next term. New playmates and it’s a mix of ‘professionals’ ’emergers’ and hobbyists!!!  Am I becoming clown dependent? ;-0

So thank you clowns and thank you Holly..for fun, trust, laughter, love, seeing and healing.

Flying awkwardly: a year in the life of a first year PhD student.

‘Successful post graduates emerge with a new identity as competent professionals, able to argue their viewpoint with anyone regardless of status, confident in their own knowledge but also aware of its boundaries…to arrive at this point, is what being a postgraduate research student is really all about…’ Phillips & Pugh, 2005

I’ve started, so I’ll finish….  Magnus Magnusson

‘Academia: It’s like negotiating the land of OZ ……minus the good shoes’ Webber, 2011.

One year on…

I’ve had some time off from my blog due to work commitments recently and writing this next entry has proved to be a bit of a challenge to produce. Coming to the end of the academic year, and having recently passed my first year progression exam the time is right to reflect on my experiences and attempt to evaluate as reflexively as I can, what’s worked well and also not so well in order to improve and or maintain my performance and experience for the coming year. One thing I am often told is that a PhD is a journey, so as such, this account resembles a snapshot of that journey, taken at a particular point in time. Perhaps my perspectives and opinions will change as I progress. Perhaps they will become more engrained. Who can tell? Overall, I have mixed feelings at the end of year one, and if this was an ofsted report, I would probably grade this year as ‘satisfactory’. Here’s why:

Great expectations..

So, over 365 days have passed since my application for voluntary redundancy was accepted and I left my consultancy job for a life in academia.  After two refused funding applications and many years of wanting to undertake a PhD I arrived at my desk in the Autumn of 2010, full of enthusiasm and high expectations for what was to come and a clear idea of what life as a PhD student would be like. I had envisioned something which was not in retrospect, exactly that realistic.

I had imagined academia as a world of dynamic modern creatives, striving together to battle the ills of society by attempting to solve or draw attention to its shortcomings. Motivated by a passionate and relentless shared altruistic desire for the pursuit of knowledge and together working in a close team in an environment of trust, my supervisory team (perhaps in the manner of the A-team, or the outlaws of Sherwood forest or similar) together with my supervisor (who could impart a wealth of knowledge about my study and was perhaps a combination of Mr/s Majeika and say, Yoda) would form a band of scholarly rebels an together we would embark on investigation of my research topic, in the manner of an apprenticeship perhaps not dissimilar to those taken by Jedi Knights or Starfleet cadets, which eventually after three joyful years, enabled academic enlightenment which would then be passed to me. Of course all this would be supported by numerous mindbending, stimulating philosophical and theoretical conversations with my peers around life, death, love and the universe carried out in the bar until the early hours of the morning. I might even be able to impart my existing knowledge and experience on a group of bright eyed and bushy tailed students.

Okay so I’m exaggerating slightly in the account above but it’s true to say the reality of academia has not stood up to my initial ideals, which has led me to a lack of motivation  in terms of my research, however it’s also fair to say the year has not been without its notable achievements.

The good

So what positive things can I take from this year? Just being here I guess is one. The landscape of higher education is undergoing radical change and having a scholarship to undertake PhD training is likely to become even rarer in the times to come. Like most people I certainly would never have been able to afford it otherwise. Undertaking a PhD will enable me to benefit society, develop new skills, gain a qualification and change my career direction.

On a practical level having the flexibility to manage your own time is a major perk, as is the chance to be completely selfish in terms of your own training. The opportunities for real development at my previous organisations were reasonably limited. This year I have undergone a great deal of training which I just wouldn’t have been exposed to otherwise. I’ve completed 90 credits (three) masters level research modules and undergone valuable additional skills training via seven short courses or workshops which support my development as a social researcher. I’ve attended nine professional/academic conferences and presented my previous MSc research at three of these, which are all at an international level.

I’ve made some amazing friends, been a representative on the postgraduate research (PGR)  students committee and volunteered to represent the PGR students at faculty research degree board committee meetings. I assisted in organising the annual PGR student conference and was awarded a first prize for my presentation. Having had a ten year break from any kind of performing, I joined the UWE Centre for Performing Arts (CPA) and auditioned (successfully) for a UWE music scholarship. I then undertook formal singing lessons and I am preparing for my grade 8 musical theatre exam in November. I was genuinely surprised to be cast as a principle role in the university musical (also a journey in itself) which enjoyed a sell-out run at the Redgrave Theatre, Bristol and over the year, in my role as a CPA scholar, I have supported the CPA by singing or giving readings at (approximately) ten public concerts.

I’ve learnt a lot about myself. That sounds dramatic but it’s true, in ways that I couldn’t have anticipated. My skills are improving, although this has been a slow process. Whilst it is a continuing source of worry and bone of contention surviving on a budget has made me richer in other ways. It’s surprising how your identity can develop through creating, observing and appreciating things when you get off of the conveyer belt of consumption that blinds you to them so easily. It’s easy to think when you have been used to earning a certain income that when your circumstances change and you stop work that the world may end. It doesn’t. You have to find a way to adapt, reassess, negotiate but somehow life has gone on. I’m still here. Slightly shabbier looking, a bit fatter but mostly smiling and often covered in paint or glue rather than the trendy (ish) labels.

The bad

So. Where did the struggles occur? For me, concerns began to arise from the outset, as I had not been consulted regarding the appointment of my supervisory team, all of whom seemed excellent academics but I had not been assigned anyone that had in-depth knowledge of the theory I wished to draw upon, or any experience or knowledge in the methodology I wished to use. This has been an ongoing concern and I am told will not be resolved due to resourcing issues.

As I mentioned before expectations were pretty high when I arrived and certain things disappointed me, aspects of the process sometimes seemed ridiculously old fashioned and not the best way to get the best out of students. Some senior academics seemed incredibly blinkered, demonstrating clear bias toward method, philosophy or approach and disparaged the work of their well respected colleagues. All of which is apparently common in academia but not something I had expected or respected. I sort of found it unprofessional and again, old fashioned. Interdisciplinary postgraduate training had previously taught me to have an open mind to various approaches and it came as a complete shock to find that generally this didn’t seem the case in reality. Don’t get me wrong, academics are incredibly exceptional people but I was wondering that if arguing a particular thesis so repeatedly throughout your career actually makes you more blinkered? I lost motivation and the academic pedestal begun to waver as I questioned ‘was I ready to become that narrow minded? The only thing my years of education had taught me was that none of us really ‘know’ anything at all, but it was like nobody actually wanted to admit that. Instead, flags waved from methodological and philosophical islands, and the reality was far different from that I had hoped for. Beneath that I felt was fear and insecurity of difference and the unknown.

Suddenly, the emperor was before me, and I could see his dangly bits.

My poor supervisor didn’t live up to my expectations either. I am his first PhD student and it often felt like a case of the blind leading the blind particularly in the early months. He is just a few years older than me, and is very nice and kind and we drank a lot of coffee, tweeted and text and ate cake and everything was fine. Fine for months. He was very reassuring, there was no nagging and he often wrote/re-wrote chunks of my text for me. As every PhD student-supervisory relationship is different I didn’t question it, until eventually I began to wonder if that’s how everybody else’s meetings went. Turns out they didn’t, and I don’t think things are ever supposed to be ‘fine’ until that last draft has finally been submitted.  So we have to renegotiate the way things are done. No doubt I’ve done nothing but complain and kick and harass various members of staff this year over various things and they are probably all enjoying the break from the crazy Webber girl.

I found the monthly meeting process in general difficult – (this I have been told is in part due to my lack/volume of written output which is a fair criticism). The initial meetings seemed rather odd almost like a kind of role play at times.. (cue schizophrenic breakdown as I began to question the reality of the situation – am I in a play within a play?) I was told I was not playing the ‘game’ several times. Which was somewhat confusing for me as I felt I was there for a meeting about my project, and it’s a bit rubbish if I don’t know what the rules are and no one tells me. As Phillips & Pugh (2005) state above, a large part of the PhD process is learning how to negotiate and present your argument with those of high status. So, part of this meeting process involves the big-wigs belittling you as best they can so you can get used to responding in a professional way. I think I’m okay with criticism if the point made can be fully justified, but I have struggled with the way it has been delivered. Currently the sneeryness  has me yo-yo-ing between wanting to give two types of responses a) melting into a tearful heap on the floor screaming ‘high status suity man, your words, how they burn’ or b) jumping around throwing tables out of windows shouting ‘come and ‘ave a go if you think you’re ‘ard enough’. Again this type of questioning encouraged a lack of motivation not just because it wasn’t particularly pleasant but also it seemed poorly justified and old fashioned. What exactly is so special about academics/academia which qualifies them to behave in a way which would ultimately be seen as unprofessional in commercial or other types of public practice?

The epiphany…

Oddly enough one of the most difficult things I have struggled with is almost an existential one. Often people say that a PhD starts with research questions, but I say it starts with a person. The researcher. Whilst I’ve managed to pass my first year, my research outputs or study focus is not where it should be due to time lost. Whilst some commentators say this is due to too many other things going on, I attribute it to a basic loss of engagement and motivation due to a) strange relations with my supervisors and my own pre-occupation with my unhappiness about the process and b) having to negotiate this pending ‘new identity’  that Phillips & Pugh (2005) speak of.

I sat in front of a computer, staring at a blank screen unable to write for months before finally being signed off work with depression. It was through therapy (together with a two week arts intervention experience ‘The Fortnight Project’ which ran in Bristol as part of the ‘Mayfest’ theatre festival in May) that I began to explore my real motivations for doing a PhD – beyond that which was written on the application form or CV. Having got to know more and more students I discovered that behind each of them was a story. All of us were genuinely interested in our subjects and believed in what we were doing, but there was always something else. The expectations of a parent, or the rivalry of a sibling, the chance to escape domestic drudgery in a different country, avoidance of the ‘real’ world, the passions of a working class girl who saw the lawns of Cambridge one day and wanted a different life.  There were many stories amongst the research proposals that were not always openly acknowledged. So what was mine?

I realised that education had mostly, done a lot for me on behalf of my parents, and I realise now that it’s how I learnt to grow up. So perhaps this is my final push to do that. I never really totally learnt how to negotiate problems, differences or defend myself well or speak my mind in all circumstances, or believe in myself enough to go for what I want. Perhaps I’m here doing this so I can finally learn.  I’m also acutely aware of how, leaving school with just my few GCSES, that for seven years I was often treated as I were stupid, less of a person or (literally at times!) patted on the head and told a ‘girl like me’  wouldn’t need to go to university as I could just find a rich man.

The situation is also a bit of a double edged sword. The new PhD identity will obviously eclipse the old one.. but what will that mean in terms or how I relate to my family? With every course I take I am increasingly viewed as a strange and foreign entity and the title ‘doctor’ will be the final allienatory straw breaking the donkeys back. Whilst my family (complicated) are happy for me, they just don’t get it, or really believe in or value it. So which identify do I use when I’m a Doctoral graduate? The old one so I can relate to them, or the new one, when I can sneer alongside the best of high status professors?  Fundamentally, I believe that people should be recognised for their achievements but I don’t really recognise the social hierarchy. Who am I to say that I am higher status due to those words ‘Dr’ before my name? In some way I almost felt guilty. If I go back to the Wimpy now, after however many years it is – am I really so different? and psssst….   most importantly – Am I going to end up being completely boring, wearing elbow patches with no idea how to be silly or fun or believe in anything without reams of ‘evidence’ to substantiate it? (oh okay that’s an exaggeration, no one really wears elbow patches anymore, and okay some academics are fun (my supervisor is that’s half our problem)

The future

So. It seems I have passed my first year, although it’s not been without incident or a few pilot weeks on prescription drugs (I had a bad reaction to them and gave them up for art and theatre instead) I guess there is nothing else I can do but re-address my expectations of the PhD process, plan my next six months thoroughly, catch up to where I feel I should rightly be and try and hope things with my team improve (Although anecdotally it’s supposed to get really hard at this point). Having spoken to numerous PhD students and graduates it is fair to say none of them have really raved about the process and most seem, by the end of their projects to be bloody glad to be rid of their thesis. Academia is indeed a strange creature, and this odd, Oz like journey appears to be just as concerned with endurance and determination and negotiating relationships as it is with actual research. I decided that what I need to survive, (along with a sense of play and embracing creativity and art outside of work) is a mantra, thus quoted by Magnus above:

I’ve started… so I’ll finish.

(repeat twice a day, every day, until thesis completion)

However I feel, (good or bad) today, next week or this time next year, it won’t last forever – the time has flown and I received my bursary payment schedule recently and looking at those 24 payment dates …. well two years does not seem that long at all.

I’d better get on with it then.

(‘Flying awkwardly’ was also posted at  SociologicalImagination.Org )

Authenticity, courage and the intimacy of everyday life – ‘Only’ at Bristol Old Vic..

So. I’ve been chewing over this for a while. I’ve been wondering what did ‘Only’ at the Old Vic say to me? I’ve decided that it spoke of: authenticity, courage and celebrating the love, loss and intimacy of everyday life.  Oh and some nice things about staging.

Authenticity is something that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. As a soon-to-be-student of-acting-once-more I’ve been trying to remember some of the basic principles of my earlier teachings in preparation for my summer class. Also as you know I attended a leadership course for work, back in March, and the issue of authenticity or authentic leadership was very much at the fore of this as well. So. I looked it up, and according to the people of the Wiki:

“authenticity” describes the perception of art as faithful to the artist’s self, rather than conforming to external values such as historical tradition, or commercial worth’

So was the performance faithful to the artist’s self? Absolutely. It was a frank, bold and pleasingly non-self indulgent account of the actor’s/ performer’s/Adam’s/Mr Peck’s life. Perhaps I am a big fan of this piece as I can relate to it so closely. I was an only child (not technically but I grew up alone) I lived at number 11. I also believe hamsters to be stunningly inadequate when placed in the category of significant childhood pet/friend. Relationship regrets, bemusements and mistakes are common to most people to a lesser or greater extent. I went to hospital – although they fiddled with my tonsils rather than any testicles and I also had a friend who I never got the chance to really know, who also died from Leukaemia whilst we were young.

So as I ponder the secret of arts appreciation perhaps then your own experiences and values will always colour your interpretation of a piece and to what you get out of it, which will then always be different to others who watched it.

Trouble is, I’ve been to a couple of productions now where the ‘actors’ were not really acting – and whatever connection you had with them, however fleeting it felt real. Direct. Organic. Moving.  I decided on a change of tack on Saturday and took myself off to see a play and despite it being very well acted.. it was just… well…. too… *acted* When comparing with the experiences I’ve had recently, everything seemed suddenly one dimensional.

So, am I buggard for life now then? (theatrically speaking)

Is theatre-going, going to be the same again?

I’ve been thinking about staging and I really enjoyed the piece from my solo chair in the middle of the room. Again I’m building my knowledge as  I go, so no expert, but I felt the staging really enabled us to consider Adam’s story as an individual, involved us in his account and enabled us to sit side by side with him and watch the other characters in his life around us unfold. It felt to me almost as if I was Scrooge in Dicken’s ‘a Christmas carol’ as he is visited by the ghosts of his Christmas past.. the scene around was familiar, the characters came, went, walked amongst us and we were simultaneously both a participant and observer in the events of Adam’s life.

Courage is the second thing I’m pondering after this performance. In order to be authentic you need to have the courage to be yourself and tell your story regardless of whatever outcome might occur. It was courageous. To stand and admit:

I/we/they, are human.

Ultimately despite the inherent loneliness of the story, I felt surprisingly uplifted by the end. It was a story of self-acceptance not self-indulgence. A key thing that struck me was how the piece seemed to draw attention to the intimacy and significance of everyday life. We could consider those moments with families, friends, even fleeting encounters with strangers. Moments which occur simply every day, hold much meaning, yet we perhaps take for granted.  Watching this piece made me decide that the best kind of art is that which does just that: draws attention to the significance of everyday life. Here and now.

So that’s what my conclusion will be, when it’s time to tell my own story… and this is something I feel that ‘Only’ has inspired, and given me the confidence to try and do…..

It was a commendable and heartfelt performance…

Art…Theatre…It’s powerful stuff.