2016 was pretty awful for many, many people and I wasn’t really any different. Like many people I was devastated by the Brexit vote in June, and around that time I’d also reached the conclusion that my academic career was very sadly probably over, after having not secured a 12-month full-time contract for the 2016/17 year. This was a really tough time for me, especially after coming so close to winning a Leverhulme. I felt really dejected and down about the prospect of my career, although I kept up my research (in part because I just didn’t know what else to do, and in part, because I find a lot of comfort and calm in doing it). I felt uneasy about the direction I was trying to push my book in, and that certainly didn’t help my overall frame of mind about my academic career.
But, there was some good stuff in the year too. I started my YouTube channel, and I’m still definitely in the learning and growing phase of video making. I’m really enjoying doing that and looking forward to taking that into my next adventure.
I got to teach some new things at King’s and tried out some exciting classroom activities and teaching techniques. In part, I think, this was pushed by the knowledge that this may well have been the last time I taught. I almost felt obliged to try out some of the stuff I’d always wanted to do in my classroom, but never before felt I had the freedom or authority. This term I not only had the freedom to play but also had the confidence in my experience to give some new stuff a go. By and large, there were more successes than not-successes in that, so I’m pretty pleased.
I made a huge decision about my book that saw me decide to not resubmit it to a UP and instead entirely rethink it and submit it to another press. I was hoping to hear back about the review before the end of the year - but I knew it was a bit of a long-shot (especially given the closure over Christmas and New Year!). Hopefully, that might be the first big news of 2017.
On publishing, though, I did get the first piece of my PhD research accepted to a proper grown up journal. I submitted the corrected proofs just before the Christmas closure, so my article should appear on the advanced articles page pretty soon. It’s called ‘Girls Playing Persephone (in Marriage and Death)’ and looks at two different cases of girls imitating Persephone to undergo status change.
At present, it’s hard to start properly planning 2017 because I just don’t know what I’ll be doing in a specific sense. In a general sense, though, I’m really happy to be joining the Department of Archaeology and Ancient History at the University of Leicester as a Teaching Fellow in Ancient History from January 16th.
I’ll also be heading to the Classical Association annual conference in April to present some work on the sensorial experience of the young girls who attend Athena Polias, and that will form the basis of the next big article I hope to publish. I’ve obviously got Reciprocity and Death under review at the moment, and I’m also preparing a proposal for a short edition on Hades. I'm keeping publishing plans short and specific for this year. I want to use this time to clear the decks a bit, before really starting on Belief, Behaviour, and Belonging in ernest once everything else is wrapped up. One of my biggest issues this year has been trying to do too many things at once - jumping about a bit. It's worked well, but if I want to start getting things from 90% there to Finished then I need to spend some time tying up those lose ends. By the end of 2017 I want to be finished with my PhD research, and have a truly clean slate to move onto B3.
I can’t say too much about 2017 at the moment because I just don’t know. For the first time in a really long time, though, that’s kind of an exciting sense of ‘just not knowing’, rather than a terrified sense of ‘Having No Bloody Clue’.
Thanks to everyone who has supported me this year – to my family, Andrew, my daughter, my mentors, my friends, Twitter, readers of my blog and viewers of my videos. Thank you. And, let’s get going on 2017!
One of my main non-work priorities in 2017 is going to be reading. I love reading, but I have let my non-work-related reading slip away over the last few years. So, I'm soliciting interest in an online book club/reading group.
At this point I envision reading one book per month, with the list to be drawn from as diverse a authorship as possible. I'm quite disapointed in the number of old white men that I've read this year, and I'd like to remedy that next year!
I suggest we start in January with The Good Immigrant, a collection of twenty-one personal essays about race, immigration, and being othered in Britain, edited by Nikesh Shukla.
If you're interested, please fill out the form below and I'll get in touch with everyone with some more details (when I sort out what might be the best way to organise this - please also leave any suggestions for this in the comments section of the form).
Here are the ten things from the past year that I want to revisit. These aren't necessarily my most popular posts, but they are the ten things I think have been the most importnat. Or fun.
Thanks for sticking around on my journey though academic precarity this year. I have done things this year I never thought I would be able to, including revealing my chronic illness to the world, and talking candidly about my situation and how I felt as a precarious academic. I hope to continue 2017 with some strong ideas, some more #AcademicKindness, a lot more solidarity, and hopefully a very large dose of happiness.
Let me know in the comments or on Twitter if there's anything specifc you'd like to see me cover in the next year, either here on on YouTube.
Happy Holidays, all!
I’ve recently started taking self-portraits as a method of self-care. It’s a way to keep hold of my corporeality – although that sounds very dramatic, it’s an important thing to do for a person who spends most of their time living in their own head. A lot has been written about selfie culture: see the tag Selfie Culture on HuffPo, and (particularly) Laura Bates's (of Everyday Sexism) Guardian article about selfie-taking as (teenage) feminism and image reclamation. I don’t agree that selfies and self-portraits are different things – they are both about holding onto one’s own image and cementing it in a place and time. Sometimes that place and time is frivolous, sometimes it’s serious. Both are okay and both should be encouraged.
For me, the idea of placing myself down, looking in at myself from the outside, seeing one or many of my selves together, is a form of self-knowledge. From Delphic Maxim to Self Help tool in one easy step. Though, I admit, I find it uncomfortable to see my own eyes, grey and hard, staring directly into my face. It forces me to confront myself - but in that confrontation to also understand.
I didn’t think this had anything to do with my research until recently. In my work I try and find people. Real, individual people. And in taking self-portraits I am really doing the same thing. Except the ‘real people’ is me, it’s just that the discovery is ‘self-discovery’.
Yesterday, I ran a workshop for third-year dissertation writers at King’s, and I wanted to get some thoughts about the experience while they’re still fresh in my mind.
When I was asked to run a workshop on abstract writing, my entire body spasmed with no-ness. I am a notoriously terrible abstract writer. All of my thesis abstracts have been bad. Plus, a large number of my conference abstracts. But actually, I reasoned with myself, this might be an opportunity for me to learn something as well. Maybe I could end up with a ‘do as I say, not as I do’ style class.
So I thought. I thought about converting a proposal-writing game I had developed a long, long time ago at Monash – but without having long enough lead time it wouldn’t work. That is to say, each of the students at Monash already knew what they wanted to write about, and had written proposals – the exercise here was to make their proposals sharp. So I went back to the drawing board.
Alongside this, I’d been doing quite a bit of reading and experimenting with creative non-fiction. This is part of my ongoing goal to make my writing better: more simple, more clear, more precise, more fun, more entertaining – in short, more enjoyable for me to write and more enjoyable for someone else to read. But it wasn’t until we were at a Thanksgiving dinner playing an online Pictionary-style game that this all kind of came together.
Pictionary is a game where you have to draw something, and another person has to guess what concept or thing your drawing represents. Drawing is quite a bit like writing: it relies on a reader having all the information to put your idea together and come out with the right answer (that being, the answer which you – the creator – intended). I’m sure we have all come across scholarship that we have to pass over things two or three times before we can feel like the information makes sense, and times when the information is so obscured in the complexity of the prose that it just makes no sense.
Creative non-fiction is about clear engaging prose, that’s entertaining and informative. A big part of the concept is about not distorting or adding to the facts. So, this all came together in my mind and finally formed itself into the workshop I would eventually run.
To start with I got the participants into pairs and gave each person a quote to illustrate. Each pair got the same two quotes:
It would not be fitting for the Athenians to prove traitors to the Greek people, with whom we are united in sharing the same kinship and language, with whom we have established shrines and conduct sacrifices to the gods together, and with whom we also share the same way of life. (Hdt. 8.144.2) [i.e. Greeks have common blood, common language, common gods]
I had assumed (perhaps because of my own fascination with how it’s used in scholarship) that the Herodotos quote would be much easier to draw, but I was wrong.
No one got the exact right quote, but one participant came really close to guessing the Cicero quote (‘something like, if you have loads of books and a tree then you can be happy?’). The point, really, was whether or not the drawings made sense once the guesser had the information – that is, once they knew what they were meant to be looking at did it make sense. And yes, I’m pleased to report, it did.
All in all, this activity was meant to be more of an icebreaker and a fun introduction to the need for clarity and brevity and giving your reader the right hints than anything. We moved on to some more detailed abstract writing activities, some chat about creative non-fiction (which I’ll be writing more on) and some prompted free writing – I will write the session up in a modified form and post it in the Teaching section soon!
I think this activity could probably be modified for all different kinds of things, and if you do happen to use a Pictionary-inspired activity in your classrooms I’d love to hear about it!
If you like what I do here, and on YouTube and Twitter, you can buy me a pinch of fairy dust.