Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015? 2016?

So the last post was more of a negative reflection on what has been, frankly a pretty rubbish year in many respects.

So I decided to list the things I have achieved this year (who doesn't love a list right?) and some aims for the next year. It's also part of my determination to stop viewing the world in terms of academic year, and get back to calander years like the real people do.

1. I finished, like properly finsihed the PhD.

To be honest I'm going to claim this one for about the next 5 years. To finally, finally get all the corrections in, signed off, and submit the damn thing for the final time is still an achievement. And one I'm happy to be leaving far behind me.

2. Got a job.

3. Survived 6 months in the job.
This is factual information. Interpret the wording as you will.

4. Got to fulfil a dream in giving a post-show theatre talk (no really, as a usher who sat through too many a post-show talk I always wanted to give one, and I gave 2) in London, in the West End, for a show I adore, using my PhD. This is actually possibly my favourite thing this year.

5. Got taken on as a reviewer by Wales Arts Review. And at the end of the year by Buzz magazine too.

6. As a result of 5. actually got invited to shows to review. And got great feedback from all sorts of people/areas about my writing.

7. Started to make contacts in my local theatre community again, and started to feel like there was a possablity of being part of that community as well.

8. Presented a paper based on my PhD at a conference that was actually talior made to my PhD topic.

9. Got to take my Mum on holiday to New York as a thank you for supporting me through the previous 4 years.

10. Became a board member of a theatre company that I'm passionate about.

11. Wrote lots (but not enough)

12.  Flawlessly learned the rap from 'Satisfied' in Hamilton. This may be my greatest achievment this year. I'm not kidding.

I did a lot of great things in 2015:

1. Went to New York with my Mum. It was good to be 'home' again. And to have an actual holiday.
2. Went to London, a lot, spent a lot of time with great people.
3. Went to Downton Abbey (Highclare Castle) it's nerdy but it makes me happy.
4. Got to go to the theatre a lot, got to see a lot of things I wouldn't see through reviewing.
5. Got to have a social life again after 4 years of not.

Things that I learned this year:

1. Academia is not for me, and that's ok.
2. Everything takes time. It's painful, and slow and a pain in the arse but it takes time.
3. The right people, the people that matter will appreciate your work if yo make it good enough.
4. It's still worth it to chase after what you love.
5. You don't need many real friends, but they're the ones that matter.

Favourite things from this year:

1. Awkward rapping in my car to the Hamilton cast recording. General return of my musical theatre nerdiness.
2. The X Files being (almost back) and Gillian Anderson just in general (ok and David)
3. All the wonderful theatre. I can't choose, but here's my 2015 review blog here
4. All the wonderful nerdy tv shows and falling down the nerdy rabbit holes associated with them (Hannibal, Supernatural I'm looking at you)
5. My Nespresso machine. Really, it's an intense relationship.
6. Running. Who knew right?

Things I would like from 2016:
(Rather than resolutions, I'm calling this a wish list)

1. A job that I can really throw my mind and heart behind.
2. Make some more use of the damn PhD.
3. Write a new play. Convince someone to perform it.
4. Run more. Join in races of some kind.
5. Spend time with the people who matter, forget the ones who don't.
6. Go on a date. An actual real person date. (I'm not being as sweeping to say anything about relationships here, I'd frankly settle for a damn date)
7. Travel more. Starting with Portugal in January (hooray head start there)
8. Change my hair. (Blonde? longer? any advice?)
9. Find one new hobby. It's time to mix things up now I have lesiure time again.
10. Say yes to more things. (just not drugs, kids, always say no to drugs)

Monday, December 28, 2015

Post PhD 12 months on....

Back in November it was the first anniversary of my viva. I wanted to write a refection of things a year on, but really struggled to articulate anything coherent on the subject.

In part this is because actually the viva isn't the end, and actually with corrections and everything else it actually didn't really feel like it was over, over until my graduation the following July. As that July also coincided roughly with the start of my first "real" post PhD job that's when things felt like they moved into the next chapter.

Or did they? it's hard to tell. Truth be told I feel like I'm still waiting for a 'real' post-PhD life to begin. And I think that has to do with not being where I want to be, and struggling to figure that out.

And the truth of the matter is for the last 6 months I've been the most unhappy I've ever been in my life. I've tried and tried to put a positive spin on it. But when I've found myself in tears several times a week, incredibly unhappy in my job and trying to come to terms with my failure as an academic while figuring out what on earth I'm supposed to do next, it's pretty hard to find a silver lining.

And after 4 years of fighting so hard to finish the PhD, I honestly don't have any fight left.

The other thing I've found is that people are all to quick to tell you what you're doing wrong: not publishing enough, taking the wrong job (despite pressuring you in the first place to take the job, any job that keeps an tiny foothold in the hallowed ivory tower) where you should be looking for a job (academic of course, no other options exist) how you should be using every second of this job (and your spare time) otherwise you'll never get another job. Etc. Etc.

Nobody within academia ever stops you to ask what you want to do.

What I do know is that where I want to be is not in academia. Which is tough when currently in a University job (non academic, as many are quick to remind me)

I also want to say one very important thing:

I am a failed academic.

And follow it up with something equally important:

And that's ok.

Academia is very quick to fail people in every sense of the word. Academia is quick not to support people, to at best neglect them, at worst sabotage them so that they fail. What academia and academics don't like is letting people go who've failed. There's a mentality that you're not allowed to walk away, even when people are telling you that you're not worth the oxygen on campus, but somehow you should still want to hang on to the bitter end. That's not for me. I prefer to know when I'm beaten and walk away, find something that not only I might be good at but that I might be happy in.

But it's not an easy move to make. From within these voices tell you that you're wrong to want to leave (while simultaneously complaining about academia I might add) Add to this the voices from outside asking "Well you've done all this studying, what are you going to do with it?" as well as the employers who simultanously see you as over qualified and under qualified.

It's so tempting just to keep on the treadmill, to keep poking at acadmemic jobs because at least on paper it looks like I'm qualifed, and at least I can console myself with just how bad the job market is, as to why I don't get anywhere.

But getting out is hard. Finding a way to use your skills and an employer willing to consider those skills is one thing. But so is re-training a brain that's been conditioned to think that only one way lays success.

So yes I've done a lot of crying over the last 6 months-more than all of my PhD I'd be willing to bet. But I've also done a lot of work. I've done my best to network, I've taken on projects and written like I'm running out of time. I've read a lot about how to sell my skills elsewhere, how to adapt to being someone 'with a PhD' that someone somewhere might want.

I don't think I'm asking for miracles. I'm a bloody hard worker-I've worked since I was 15 and taken any and every job I could get my hands on to earn a living and gain skills-I've done every customer service job going, I've done every crappy office job going, and I've taught and taught. All I want is a job that engages my brain and lets me feel useful.

If I'm making a wish list I want a job that has the following:

1. Writing.
2. Not a 9-5 office job.
3. Some form of 'teaching' involved.
4. Using research skills.
5. Working with people outside of the organisation.

Some combination of the above. I'm not built for a 9-5, and I do well working in a teaching/public facing position-if I solely only work with the same people I want to staple things to them. I'm good at talking, engaging and generally working with people.

In an ideal world I'd write and nothing else. But until I can have a dream job I'm more than happy to do anything-always have been. I just don't want to cry on the way home every day.

*a note, should anyone read this with malicous intent: my current job is a fixed term contract to June. 6 months is a reasonable time-frame to be laying groundwork for a career change which is what this post represents. My unhappiness in my current position has been discussed frankly with my current managers therefore this post also includes nothing not already known to them.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

World AIDS Day: Ending the Stigma

Whenever I tell people I wrote my PhD on 'theatre about AIDS' they at best ask me "Why?" with an air of confusion, at worst ask me "Why?" with an air of revulsion.

That, right there is the answer to the question of 'why'.

In a more detailed answer, we never ask people why they support other causes indeed we almost expect it with other illness related charities-try not donating to an office bake sale for Breast Cancer and you'll get odd looks. People don't expect you to have had Breast Cancer or other cancers even to donate to a cancer charity. Likewise when the Ice Bucket challenge took off, those who actually had direct experience of Motor Neurone Disease were a tiny minority, and still nobody asked 'but why?'. Outside of illness related charities we don't ask 'why' when we donate, you don't have to have been homeless to feel empathy and sympathy for someone who is, or to want to help prevent it happening. Likewise with political causes, those standing up for refugees are not refugees themselves, neither do most of them know any refugees. The answer to 'why' is because I'm human, because I care.

Admittedly my investment and campaigning on the subject of HIV/AIDS has been more than most. And in honest, answer to the question 'why?' when asked in a sincere way is, 'I don't know'. Why does any cause compel us to action? I recently heard AIDS activist Sarah Schulman speak and she recounted people joining ACT UP (the activist group formed in America to lobby the government for research and treatment) who seemingly had no connection to anyone affected. In the first instance she talked about feeling that these people must in some way have lost someone, know someone with AIDS. But actually in some cases it was as simple as seeing a television report and wanting to help. It's a similar story for me, I had no particular attachment or experience of AIDS but found myself in the sense of my research intrigued to write about how people responded through art, and in a personal sense to therefore continue to raise awareness and campaign for associated causes.

For me the motivation came from the sense of injustice that an illness is so stigmatised. And this in 2015 is actually the biggest issue in confronting HIV/AIDS. We saw only recently the press witch hunt for the 'mystery celebrity' with HIV, and following that the bile and judgement directed at Charlie Sheen. The fact that anyone should be forced to 'reveal' their illness is a repugnant one, and that someone should be judged and blamed for an illness is equally disgusting. The headlines and the comments of both professional "journalists" and the general public made it feel like the early 80s again, with the amount of ignorance and judgement towards people with HIV.

What Charlie Sheen did do however was open up the discussion again. It allowed those who are knowledgeable either through profession as Doctors, nurses and others working to support those with HIV, and those with personal experience living with the condition, to speak out and try to educate. So if all the bile and misinformation a couple of weeks ago led to conversations, education and maybe a few minds changed then something good came of it.

But it's not enough. This world AIDS day, while we still remember all those who have been lost, we also look to end the stigma and move things forward.

For World AIDS Day we need to encourage people to get tested, help those diagnosed to get the right treatment and support. And around all that for the rest of us, we need to end the stigma. Talk about HIV, talk about getting tested, talk to people with HIV. And educate those who make ignorant comments. The way to move forward with HIV is to talk about HIV.

For anyone looking for further information about HIV including advice on testing the Terrance Higgins trust can help: