Monthly Archives: October 2014

Self doctor-ing aspirations

When I was a teenager I had no interest in going to University or doing any kind of studying at all. I was interested in English and architectural design and did well at them, but that wasn’t what I considered to be proper studying – that was more like playing. I spent most of my days skipping classes and the Canadian equivalent of hanging round behind the bike shed, which involved sitting in people’s cars in the student parking lot smoking and drinking cheap alcohol – car ownership at 16 does have its perks, especially in Ontario winters – brrr!!.

Needless to say I barely graduated, but I did, scraping through my grade 12 with the minimum of marks. Back then you needed grade 13 to go to university, but since I didn’t want to go anyway that was no biggie – at the time. Six months of getting up at an ungodly early hour and slogging on public transport in the winter cold and dark to a poorly paid job soon started me thinking however, and I applied, at the very last minute, to attend the Theatre Arts Technical Production Programme at Ryerson Polytechnic.

Living a bohemian lifestyle in Toronto was just about my idea of heaven at the time – and still ranks pretty highly. Music, clubs, parties and multiculturalism were the order of the day, as well as the independence of my own place. While I loved being part of the theatre, I still wasn’t enamoured of the hard academic slog. I was fine working all hours building scenery, hanging lights, and learning about directing, but studying the physics of load bearing materials – no matter how relevant to staging – was something that I blanked and failed at!

Over the fullness of time, and here we’re talking about a couple of decades, my attitude changed. Being exposed to new ideas at Ryerson, particularly the politics of punk led me to appreciate poets, writers and revolutionaries. I learned that there were others with a thirst for knowledge and desire to change the world and who had developed ideas and had acted upon them. I began to read and question, and somewhere down the road began to appreciate that there was some benefit in structured learning, and that this would require the appropriate work habits – talk about a shock to the system!

Moving forward to the present day, I am getting to grips with being a PhD candidate. Although I veer between the fear of being found out as an imposter – someone who’s just playing at it – and thinking that I can actually do this thing – on balance it’s incredibly exciting. Even though it sounds trite, it’s a bit of an honour and privilege to be doing it, particularly since my research was designed around the interests I developed doing my M.A. and the University is covering my fees. I do feel the pressure to do well, in fact to excel, and that’s pretty scary, but since my life has been full of risk-taking and leaping blindly into the unknown, that’s ok.

I’m going to be writing quite a bit about this in the future as there are a huge number of issues that it’s raising – from personal insecurities to the class struggle and entitlement. I hope if you’re reading this you find it strikes a chord – and don’t hesitate to follow my blog, comment or drop me a line.

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Post-road musings

The last few weeks have been incredibly busy and productive; in fact they’ve been a bit of a road trip without the rock n’roll excesses (but with good red wine and great company) – culminating in the attack of a killer cold which caught me unawares on the long train trip home.

I’ve been meaning to write separate blogs about each of the things that have been happening, but the time’s been slipping away so I’ve decided to capture them all together even though this is probably not going to do them justice, but hey ho, here we go.

As those who know me know, I’ve been embarking on a long-term change of direction, moving away from the currently barren shores of play policy and the withering path of playwork strategy towards a more academic landscape, while trying to steer clear of that ivory tower! Although the news from The All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on A Fit and Healthy Childhood calling for a new national Play Strategy (from Adrian Voce – Policy for Play) is really promising, having been heavily involved in national policy development in playwork during the last administration I’m happy for others to take up the mantle.

Except I realise that’s not entirely accurate, which brings me to one of the most satisfying moments I’ve had in the last few years. I’m a very active and proud trade unionist, and for a long time I’ve been the Playwork Convenor on the National Committee of the Community and Youth Worker’s Section of Unite the Union – a bit of a mouthful if there ever was one! I often feel like the lone voice for playwork surrounded by a sea of (extremely supportive) youth workers. In fact at the recent National Section Conference I was described as the Union’s ‘Lone Ranger’ of playwork (note to self – need Stetson).

I wrote a motion for Conference calling for the Section’s name to be changed to include Playworkers. This was unanimously carried and we will now be known as the ‘Community, Youth and Playworker’s Section’. I think this is pretty great – historic even – and I’m deeply touched by the support I have always had from my own branch (Devon), who moved the motion, and from everyone else in the Section – and the former CYWU. So if you’re reading this, thanks, as I think you’ve helped move playwork along immeasurably by this.

Having said that, I’m now realising that the ante has been raised and the workload will increase immensely – talk about fashioning a rod for your own back!, I’m pretty much maxed out in what I can do and will be calling on others to get involved – so when you hear that ‘Hi ho Silver’ in the distance, know that I’ll be knocking on your door soon!

I feel like I’m starting the stretch the limits of what a readable blog should be, so I’ll finish by saying how much I’ve enjoyed starting my PhD. It’s a bit scary as well (and as a black belt I don’t scare easy!), but I’ve been really impressed by the structure and support that Leicester have in place and have met some great people – I’ve even got my own desk (in a shared office) with two monitors attached to my computer!! Maybe I’m just easily bought! The travel and expense going from Devon to Leicester once a week is a bit of a killer though – so offers of a bed for the night/extra paid work/contributions gratefully received.

Re-reading this post I realise I’ve missed out tons of stuff, so I’ll just have to step up my writing schedule. Before I go and open the ritual Friday night wine and look again at the post-it notes I’m experimenting with to generate a PhD storyboard (thanks Natasha), a few more road trip thanks – Meynell for the company and whiskey, Hattie and Chris for the bed, food and company, Sara, Lisa and Kev for Devon Branch support, Bob for entertainment on a long rail-replacement bus trip regaling us with tales of his involvement in the South African anti-apartheid underground, Marie and Colenzo for CYWP Conference support – and in fact everyone at Conference – and finally Deb and Ryan for putting up with me being away.

Stay tuned for the next instalment folks 🙂 Yippee yi-ah (or am I getting my movie references mixed?)