RIP Dominic Raoul Lucas

In memoriam immortal of MSN, and the genre of ‘adult alternative rock’ with quarter speed scrubbing and Dave Matthews ‘Crash into me’, the best album ever*. *Alongside the rise and fall of Ziggy, and other great albums.

I would like to share some words of a dear friend, and my response, some  six years late, to them. Before I continue, I should put a trigger warning for depression, suicide, and caring for those who are depressive and/or suicidal.

The person in question is Dom  Lucas, someone I liked greatly from when I met him in my first philosophy class in 6th form. It was apparent at his funeral, that a deep and lasting impression was a response he often evoked, even in those who had counted him only as an acquaintance. Continue reading

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Messing with Perfectionism

When I draw, I like to leave the sketchlines showing. Those words are from a song, metaphorically describing my desires for explorative, transparent communication processes in relationships. But most writing I share is produced with an invisible digital editing process.

A ‘zine-in-a-day’ workshop counters this digitality. We made physical stacks of printed material by cutting, pasting and writing with ink pen and printing with a Risograph printer within a few hours. With a risograph printer creating a master costs £1, after which prints cost 1p in ink, but the master can only be used for one batch: so making all the copies in one batch is the most efficient option. ‘I always think you might as well do 50’, the workshop leader told me. 30 was my compromise.

My project was personal and therapeutic: to reclaim my PGCE assignment. I’d submitted a draft a week before. Writing had been an up and down experience, spread over more than a year due to the disruptions to my course. My engagement with it had gone up and down with the normal difficulties of writing, and more personally with the processing of my experiences in schools from messy reality tinged with failure and anxiety into professional learning experiences. After many periods of serious avoidance and procrastination, and two full restructurings, I got well into it. Rediscovering educationalists who are dedicated to good pedagogy and who write research that is good for thinking with heartened me– in particular Askew, Resnick, Boaler. A coursemate’s kindly shared submission met the explicit learning criteria exactly but bored me stiff, making me value my attempts to include my ambivalences and cross the gulf between systemic critique and classroom practice.

Writing between the lines of my conclusion, literally as well as figuratively, re-claimed my ideas on my own terms, for an audience of my peers and community rather than my assessors. What I handed in was written in the academic register, and trod a line between criticality and compliance. Many of the thoughts which preoccupy me most were not incorporated, or were written in muted forms. I may still get feedback to cut the polemic and focus more on the classroom, so before dealing with that I wanted to value my personal experience and political rage, and mourn how these raw edges are controlled and smoothed over by professionalism.

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Paper based production challenged my perfectionism in writing. My choices of writing fast or slow, my hesitations, my corrections are all visible in the printed zine. I drew skyscrapers and some suits with currency symbols on them pulling puppet strings, and then self-consciously scrawled ‘generic clicheed representations of gneoliberal capitalism’ over them. It is unclear, and chaotic in places. I overwrote my nod to the examiners that “the capacity to convey enthusiasm, [threatened by the isolation and overwork of the teacher’s role,] is ‘a core Teacher’s Standard’” to the point of illegibility with the comment ‘like I give a shit about standards; this was a question of sanity’. I touch on ideas without finishing them, leaving threads of thoughts hanging. It’s a messy area in a way that a composed piece of writing never can be.

At the last minute I used this bit of writing to make a B-side poster fold out. I handwrote on the side ‘sometimes, when conversation fails, I end up sitting by myself and writing’ and ‘This zine is for everyone who’s been around me as I’ve been withdrawn and/or needy through my PGCE years. And everyone’s who’s grappling the role of teacher …’. I then accidentally made a black master before changing the roll to a light ink, so the text as image behind the text didn’t work. With that and another printing fail I’ve got a one-sided zine. It would have been good to have something that I liked on the poster side – but I’ve shared what I did produce with a few people anyway, and shall continue to do so when socially appropriate conversation is failing me when they ask ‘how’s the teaching going?’

This digital text makes the process behind the zine explicit, but also flattens it. I’ve found this easy to write, but I don’t know how well it conveys my thoughts and feelings. I’ve become trained into producing theoretical words, which are unnecessarily distancing to read. I’d like to re-educate myself away from the supremacy of pure text for communication, particularly formal writing. Alt text for the zine could read as briefly as:

When writing critically about teaching and learning as part of ‘professional learning’ balancing making a systemic critique, portraying personal experiences of frustration, presenting all experiences as ‘professional learning’ and complying with ‘explicit learning outcomes’ was a struggle for me.

That may be clearer, it’s certainly easier to read. But . . . it’s the process more than the product that makes me glad I made this messy little zine.

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I fear.

I fear I will grow up to prop up the crumbling staircases in the castle of capitalism and I fear that I will beat my knuckles to blood and bone against the castle’s walls.
I fear that the fuel that flames in us now will burn out, and its ash will leave us smothered before our fire catches on to sturdier logs.
I fear that over the staffroom tea machine I would recognise no trace of the sparks that are in me now, and I fear that I will burn alone as I watch the blazes in those around me be smothered.
I fear I will straighten out and live orderly between the lines, and I fear my scrawled life will never become intelligible.
I fear that I will grow small in fear of the storm and I fear that I will grow weedy and weak and be flattened as the gusts grow stronger.
I fear that I will find myself rolling without brakes to an unknown destination and I fear that I will wander in the woods so long that when I find a path I will have no strength to follow it.
I fear that I will bury down into my microclimate, and I fear I will grow no roots as the topsoil all around me washes away.
I fear to hope that we will be the fungi, the mycorrhizal network which helps the tree grow strong in the cracks, that our scars will make our knuckles stronger, that when our flames die down we will rekindle them, that our ash shall be fertile, that we shall flourish before we rot, and then we shall shoot up again, and that together we shall make our paths to the destinations we will create, and our roots shall mesh together a habitat where we and all who join us can flourish.
I fear that I will lose hope, and I hope I will not lose my fear.

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edited and pulled together from rediscovered jottings from a year ago that emerged from a workshop at The Spark, a week of workshops for social change which will be running again next week. in these precarious times, sitting with fear, and accepting it as a flipside of hope is something I neglect too long, and then rediscover, and feel refreshed.

Heavy today, better tomorrow

The world’s crushing in through the screen that I stare at,

my thoughts drain through my eyes slurping out a vacuum,

they leave some stagnant mush where my brain’s supposed to be,

and it fills with the weight of the world’s misery…

channelled through the internet, where what you think  is what you get;

if trouble comes along,  cropping up close to you

you find it echoed, repeated and magnified,  clogging up the view.

I left. To get some air

to let my brain try to care

now it feels it and my tears flow

tho being sad’s pretty pointless, yeh I do know.

I should crack on it’d be more productive

might do my jobs better if I stick to the positive

but while life can be joy it is also bitter

and I feel it slipping by, each day goes quicker

it’s passing me by when I feel like a stone

grey, impervious, surrounded yet alone

then I get words so heavy they choke me

when I feel broken words hover and crush me

words getting stuck where pure meaning flows

they’re the flotsam and the ripples in the river hard to capture

when you think you got them down, the meaning’s seeped away

the heaviness is gone to emerge another day.

well the world’s fucked now, but it’s always been screwed

since adam and eve there’s no time it’s improved

the best there’s ever been is slots of opportunity

and places and times to exist with impunity.

Optimism? Pessimism? I’ll stick with realism,

you just gotta do what you can.

And I need to draw my community around me,

surround me with bonds that make it feel more livable

survivable. We can make it through, we can stay true.

At least we know we care, that we give a shit.

And shit can help stuff grow, if you let it so.

So let’s chill in these cracks, gently push them open

’til everyone can see them, the signs of decay.

Yeah they might put concrete over, but we won’t go way,

the seeds are everywhere, and the concrete shows they’re scared.

When they are gone, we will push through

when they are gone, we will grow anew.

Ever present are living spirits and the struggle of life is beautiful

though hierarchies can give distance, to develop isms that let us demonise.

with empathy we can develop our power to realise we can rehumanise,

and then we’re ready to organise, to link up and  revitalise,

so freshen up what you see  through your eyes,  and spread that feeling til we recognise

that its this society that distorts us and we gotta make it better til we’re free.

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I wrote this over a few weeks. Starting when I’d been on a computer, drawn into the dark places of the internet, feeling down about the kids I work with who are too anxious, for good reasons, like family members  in prison, to go to sleep at night, and then I went out and sat by the canal, and got words out into my notebook, and cried. I carried on working through the words, talking through it as I cycled home from parties where I’d felt my community around me. I was stuck on the ending though, until I came to it refreshed from Nest, [the first official regional burn in the UK]. I’ve come back with a hugely increased self-esteem, and comfort around myself, from my contribution to the event being appreciated so openly and reflected right back at me. My thoughts, writing and creativity are all flowing, after being blocked for  a long time.

Loving anthropology, Hating anthropology, and beyond

When I went to uni, I was initially delighted to find that, for the most part, my interests aligned fairly closely with the subjects I was studying. During the first year, I had a paper in each of Sociology, Politics, Psychology and Anthropology. By the end of it I came to find the frameworks into which arguments and data were forced in politics and sociology overly rigid, and realised that the psychology I was most interested in was that which was ethnographic in its approach. For the first two terms the anthropology, despite some fascinating content, was fragmented,  but in the third term a reassuring and enthusiastic supervisor guided and empowered us to knit together the elements of the course. Suddenly anthropology seemed less bounded and more flexible than the other disciplines. Realising that choosing a discipline was to choose a medium of study, rather than a topic, I continued in anthropology.

I interpreted second year as the year with less pressure, and allowed myself to follow my interests more freely, and to prioritise my sanity and state of mind over academic work. I was excited about my plans for dissertation work based on a participative arts event, “Nowhere”, held in an arid, dusty part of Northern Spain. When volunteering for the event, I consented, despite angst centred on the difficulty of separating out my academic and participant documenting roles, to also help with a documentation project for the community. Once I was on site, I settled in as participant, building, cooking, and hanging out, and once I was established I was delighted to find everyone around me supportive of both the ‘historias’ documentation project, and for my academic work. Not only were people supportive in theory, but were incredibly willing to talk. Seeking out personal stories both made me empathetically tuned in, and emotionally exhausted. However, despite experiencing a snapping point, where my capacity for social interaction shut down, the experience was resoundingly positive. I gained insight into the inspiration that participants gained, and also developed my own sense of the value of the event. Subsequently to the event I was offline, as I cycled round the Pyrenees. Contact with the internet reconnected me to Nowhere with dozens of friend requests and photos on Facebook. However, in September, I felt distant from the community, I felt an inertia that utterly disconnected me from the energised, socially secure and confident self I had been during the event.

Faced with the task of writing, in academic format, about Nowhere, I felt the truth of the critiques I had intellectually appreciated during the past years of studying anthropology. Facing the task of translating the lived experience of Nowhere into a piece of writing with the purpose of getting as good a grade as possible brought up many problems that were not just academic hurdles, but affected me emotionally.

I came to hate viscerally that experience is treated as raw material for a product, judged only by its worth to the academic institution, not its value to people. I produced something of limited interest both to ‘academia’ and to nowherers. Though my supervisor enthusiastically predicted me a 1st, it was marked a low 2:1. Maybe some differences of opinion there.* At Nowhere 2011 I had absolute fatigue of talking about any aspect of Nowhere, and particularly of my dissertation, though I brought a couple of copies along out of debt to the community. And I more or less fell out of Burner circles for a while, not going to Nowhere the next year, busy with other things, not planning to this year either.

A few days ago, however, I went to Nest. And it was transformational for me. Many, many things linked up, and suddenly I was intensely involved, stepping into the gaps left by multiple unfilled lead positions. The thing that allowed me to see what there was to be done, and do it, and link people to things that they would like to be doing, to let their contributions flow, was absolutely my experience of researching Nowhere. Finally, that energy of ethnographic investigation of Nowhere, and the insights I gained through it, has flowed back into me, and into a community. I’m happy to attribute how I’m able to think about things in part to my academic training, and I think I might be revisiting some of those academics that I found exciting three years ago. Feels like I’m become whole, healing my soul, and hell, I’m not going to be studying for the academy for a while, I’m going to be keeping busy building links between all the different awesome communities that I’m plugged into, I’ll be going with the flow, to go go go.

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