These past few weeks I have read a number of things that have coalesced to get me thinking about my wellbeing, my relationship to work and CPD, and my new identity as Mummy of one.
Last week, I read a blog post by Kim Solga, a Performance Studies scholar based in Canada. Kim worked with the Drama Department at Queen Mary University of London when I was doing my PhD. She is always an advocate for her colleagues (whether they are professors, guest lecturers or PhD researchers). She gave me my first book review opportunity, entrusted me to deliver seminars on her behalf while she was away conferencing in the States, and also gave me my first blog writing opportunity as a guest blogger for her.
The article I read last week was on the topic of Time and trying to find it. The following passage really struck me:
There’s a paradox here, I think: I’m at once incredibly harried, rushed all the time, exhausted. And yet at other times I feel suspended in air, rudderless, unsure that anything I do makes any difference. Both of these feelings are, for me, connected to outcome expectations: we must work more/harder/faster to do the job well; we must produce, just produce, more STUFF ANY STUFF to do the job well. Which means both of these things – rushing through time, suspended in time – are connected to feelings of dissatisfaction with my job. Both are connected to the pain of over-worked isolation.
When I feel that suspended-and-drifting feeling, to ward off the terror, I usually jump back into the work, always more work, surrounding me: at those times, I work to insulate myself from breakdown. That means time is also an emotional problem for me: afraid of the stillness, the silence, its loneliness, I seek the race and rush. At least it is familiar. And I have coping mechanisms.
I also read a blog post by MTPT Project founder Emma Sheppard on her CPD journey so far as mum of two. So much of what Emma wrote resonated with me. I too threw myself into conferences, symposia, research and work soon after the birth of Jack (though as Emma states her approach has been much more structured – mine is quite floopy and spontaneous). In particular, the following spoke to me:
It’s been a lot of fun, but the sense of urgency that has come with the sudden growth of the project [MTPT Project] means that I have not wanted to miss out on any opportunity that has presented itself, which has resulted in a lot of activity, very soon after giving birth.
I also use work as a way to feel more like ‘me’, as a way to surround myself with things, ideas and an environment in which I feel safe: the computer screen, the annotated bibliography, the notepad scrawled with notes, references, doodles and questions, the post it notes with half remembered, half thought-through musings. It has been a lot of fun. I’ve attended events that I may not have had I not been on maternity (too tired – physically and emotionally – to give up a day of my weekend/ time with my partner; not being able to secure a day of cover etc.) Looking back, I had a sense of urgency that came from an uncertainty of what being on maternity and parenthood would bring.
And all of this reminded me of a book that I have recently read and am reviewing for an academic journal (a CPD endeavour I certainly would have struggled to find time for on top of teaching). I’ll post it up when it’s released. In her latest publication, Essays on Theatre and Change: Towards a Poetics Of, Kelina Gotman writes:
I don’t think reading is ever separate from the room in which one reads or the book with which one is reading; it is the same for writing (p.180).
Maybe this is why I like libraries so much. It may also be a reason that pursuing CPD, research, attending conferences, planning and developing SOL, continuing my work as a sixth form mentor and a Primary school governor, as well as making plans for my return to work are all things that I have protected and stood by whilst being on maternity. School is my happy place and I’m (maybe) making attempts to recreate the aspects of it I can whilst I’m temporarily divorced from the physical site and day to day running of school life. I’m enjoying looking after Jack and watching him grow and develop (don’t get me wrong!), but in the middle of the night rocking a restless baby or during those few moments of rest-bite when he decides to nap during the day I’m more likely to be found scouring Twitter, making notes, or writing articles on my phone, listening to podcasts or developing my dream curriculum than I am sleeping, watching endless episodes of OITNB or watching film after film after film (though the other night as I waited for my partner to return from a business trip I did have a movie marathon).
However, being on maternity leave whilst also keeping my ‘teacher/ researcher/ writer’ self alive and well has taught me that I cannot hand over huge swathes of time to this endeavour. Like Kim, time can certainly be an emotional problem for me. Like Emma, I know what the crash of adrenaline after sleepless nights feels like. I’ve felt more exhausted now my partner has returned from three weeks away. Single parents everywhere: you are heroes.
In the lead up to maternity leave the very concept of this next phase of my life certainly terrified me. This does not mean I don’t recognise the privileges a year of supported maternity leave gives new parents. It means I was afraid that I would get left behind, forgotten, that I would be unable to work, to contribute, to produce! When so much of how you define yourself changes you’re bound to feel a sense of unease. But I think that there are positives I can take from this realisation that time and work productivity can be problematic and embroil you in cycles that whip you up and hinder your sense of identity or place in the world. I’m hoping that my renegotiation with time whilst on maternity will help me to work smarter; I’m hoping it will help me to prioritise aspects of my job and delegate more effectively; I’m hoping that it will keep my passion for my job (and all the aspects of it that it entails) alive.