Classically Inclined

September 8, 2022

Update on the Summer Rest Project

Filed under: Meta — lizgloyn @ 9:35 am
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Back in June, I posted about the Summer Rest Project, my Cunning Plan to get enough rest over the summer to be actually ready to go for the autumn term (which, as you may recall, is A Lot and indeed is already living up to expectations). So, how did it go?

Well, I think it’s fair to say that there were mixed results. First of all, a couple of things I didn’t account for:

  • The plan of ‘do this much a week’ didn’t really work when it encountered Proper Annual Leave, which I hadn’t anticipated. The list of things I’d set out to do worked alright for a regular working week during the summer, but not for being on holiday. I would end up with a grid that looked as if I’d had no rest of any kinds at all, but that didn’t capture all the other sorts of things I had done which definitely counted as ‘being on holiday and not at work’ (including reading. So much reading of trashy fiction).
  • Orange and red heat advisories really don’t go well with weekly exercise goals. Especially when, like me, you are a very much a novice runner trying to get the hang of it. I did one run in 25 degree heat. (nowhere near as hot as we did get) and that was a terrible idea which got abandoned early. I don’t feel bad about deciding not to do things that actively endanger my health, but equally, it did mean that the relevant bit on the tracker looked a bit sad.
  • The usual problem of early enthusiasm, long-term drop-off – exacerbated by both of the above. That is, when things already seemed to be getting off the rails, it wasn’t as easy as I would have liked to have paid attention to the other parts of rest – which were the ones that could have done with the attention!

That said, some things did work well. I think I managed half an hour of lunch break over the full period (to the end of August), which is pretty amazing given how difficult that time feels to find even now, at the beginning of the September. I also enjoyed getting outside for lunch (weather permitting) which meant using our patio properly – it sounds a small thing, but it’s not a thing I’ve always been as good at as I should have been. Even though playing the piano and centering prayer were the ones that fell off the radar, I did actually do some of them for the first few weeks, and that’s surely a win.

So, a couple of take-aways. I want to try this again next summer, but without the exercise element (which I’m going to be working on throughout the year anyway, as everyone who follows me on Twitter and has read me grumbling about the Couch to 5K plan will know). The things I seem to have trouble making time for are the bits that, for want of a better word, feel really self-indulgent – that is, that need me to take some time to sit down and do something on my own that isn’t easily interrupted and requires me to claim some space (unlike reading, which can be broken off if needed and doesn’t really affect anyone else in the immediate vicinity. Unless it’s a really funny bit). Those are the bits that really need the deliberate attention next time around.

Finally – do I feel more rested? Well, this isn’t a great week to ask me that question because there is a lot going on, and last week’s bank holiday has meant that I’ve had a fortnight of zero to 60mph learning curve combined with all the back to school chaos, and I’d quite like a lie-down now. That said, September has been marked in my diary as Crunch Month for some time, so it’s not actually a surprise, and it will calm down. Underneath all of the surface ‘ALL THE THINGS’, I do feel like I took things easier over the summer, slowed it down, and had a change of pace; that’s one of the reasons why re-entry is feeling quite so much like jumping into a lake of cold water. So I’ll take some comfort in that as a sign that I must have got some rest somewhere.

August 10, 2022

Teaching goals for 2022-23

Filed under: Teaching — lizgloyn @ 11:06 am
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I was thinking the other day that I hadn’t really sat down and thought about what I was doing with my pedagogy… and then remembered that, what with the rapid shift to teaching completely on-line in 2020-21 and then moving back towards more on-site but also on-line elements in 2021-22, I haven’t really done anything but think about pedagogy. It just that the changes haven’t been ones I would have wanted to make; rather they have been necessary responses to the extraordinary circumstances in which we have found ourselves with the COVID-19 pandemic. The one really good thing that has come out of this whole thing is that my Moodle pages are now much, much better and actually work as a support for learning rather than just an infodump – I really doubt I’d have got around to the necessary training and work to make those changes without the last couple of years.

Obviously, next year is not a great year for me to make lots and lots of changes to my teaching, because I’m going to be starting theological college and I don’t want to overpromise what I’m going to have capacity to do. However, I do have things I can do, so here are some goals for the coming teaching year for review in due course.

Ally: we have just introduced the Ally plug-in to Moodle. The idea is that it helps us spot where we’re using documents that might not, for instance, be accessible to students using screen readers or other kinds of accessibility aids. It also does lots of other clever things as detailed on the link. The messaging is very much that this is a guide to help us when we’re creating new content rather than an ‘everything must be retrospectively compliant right this second’, and of course there will always be things (like scanned PDFs where we can’t get to the original file) that we can’t retrofit to be accessible. That said, one of my goals this year is to get more of my files to a ‘good’ Ally rating, and to get into the habit of creating resources with the kinds of simple things that make a file register as ‘good’. In many cases, these really are tiny, like labelling a header as a header to help our a screen reader, but it’s not intuitive right now.

Dissertations: I’m going to have a lot of dissertation students this year, so I want to try something very new – walk and talk group supervisions, at least one a term and ideally one in both halves of the semester. This idea came from both a desire to give walking pedagogy a go, and new maps of walks on campus that have been released. Obviously, I’m going to need to talk to my dissertation students and make sure this plan doesn’t exclude anyone (which I can do as part of our start of term one to one chats, along with asking about any neurodivergent or pastoral stuff I should know about as dissertation supervisor). It’s a relatively low-stakes exercise that might serve to build some group cohesion and community among our third years (who have had a really rough time over the last two years), so if I can get them all on-board, then there should be a lot of benefits to doing this.

Contemporary Approaches: I’m introducing revised content in the final quarter of this course, thinking about classical reception and novels (and, can I say, I am super excited by it), so that’s going to be one new element. However, I also want to do some work on how I’m handling the reflective journals which form 10% of the student assessment. At the moment, they’re really Marmite – some students love them, others really hate them. I want to try doing more feedforward and support with these assessments, starting really in the first week of teaching (made easier by having had Week Zero courses for our rising third years in the summer term, actually). Simple things I could do are talking explicitly about the assessment; reviewing the marking rubric close to the first deadline; and offering an exemplar and evaluating it (either from me as a video or an in-class peer activity). Peer marking will not work here, because the reflective journals are meant to be quite personal. So that’s an identified issue with a clear target.

Roman Drama: this is an entirely new advanced language course, at both BA and MA level, so there’s a lot of work already going on here! Again, I think I want to offer more feedforward and support with the student-led seminars, which is a really important element of our advanced Latin provision, again through discussing them earlier in the course and making more space for students to talk to me and each other about their expectations. The other major thing I really want to address is how to bundle the BA and MA courses together; last year the MA version of my Latin Epic course didn’t run so I couldn’t have another go at what didn’t work perfectly in the 2020-21 session and Latin Letters, so hopefully this year I can give it another tweak and make the integration work better. Should enough students register, of course! Last year I started running a session for students to talk about their essay topics and get some peer feedback, so I’ll keep those as they seemed helpful.

Thinking Myth: this is another entirely new course; I’m teaching four classes on classical reception in the summer (and again, they are going to be really cool). The whole thing is a really exciting new team-taught experiment, so honestly I think I just want us to get through it all in one piece with all the students having an awesome time, and then we can collectively think about what worked and what needs improving.

Given how much new content I’ve got to handle this year, I think that being realistic about updating my materials and producing new course content is probably the right way to go. One other thing I do want to note (as much for myself as anything else) is that producing video guides to both assessments and marking rubrics is not just adding fluffy content, it’s actually making written content more accessible, so it’s worth doing (and ideally doing in such a way that it can be reused!).

Let’s see how this all goes.

July 24, 2022

Discoveries: The Great Cameo of France

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 3:37 pm
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As I mentioned at the start of the summer, one project I’m currently working on is the Dorling Kindersley illustrated history of Rome. One of the reasons this has been great fun is that it’s given me an opportunity to brush up on areas of Roman history that I don’t usually play around with, and that means I’m getting to encounter some fantastic things, particularly in terms of material culture, that are either completely new to me or, let’s be honest, may have gone across my desk when I was an undergraduate and I didn’t appreciate at the time. I’m planning to do a couple of posts over the summer about these discoveries, simply because they are rather good fun and I though they were worth sharing.

My first example is the Great Cameo of France, a whopping huge gemstone currently held in the Bibliothèque nationale de France, carved during the reign of Tiberius. This gem had quite an afterlife, moving from the imperial Roman treasury to the Byzantines, then somehow going to France, where it stayed with the royal family (bar a brief period of being used as insurance on a loan made by the Pope), and eventually went into the Cabinet des médailles, a museum in Paris, during the French Revolution to protect it.

A cameo gem, with three tiers of action described in the blog post. The figures are white, with details like hair and clothes shown in brown. There is also fine engraving to add extra detail, like folds on a dress.
The Great Cameo of France, Janmad on basis of the picture by Jastrow.

While I’ve been around enough to recognise the basic building blocks of Julio-Claudian imperial iconography, the Great Cameo was completely new to me, and what an extravagance it is.

In the top tier we have members of the family who have died or become gods, including Augustus, who is reclining and holding a staff, and Aeneas, identified by his Phyrgian cap, who gets to be there by virtue of being the mythical founding ancestor of the dynasty from whom Augustus claimed descent. The bottom tier contains captured and enslaved people from Germany and Parthia – you can tell the Germans by their shaggy hair, and the Parthians by their distinctive headgear and shields. I’m not sure which nation the woman cradling an infant at the front is meant to represent, but she’s very much in the general spirit of representing conquered nations through captive women and their children, which the Romans do on their coins a lot.

The middle tier contains the living members of the imperial family. There’s some uncertainty about precisely which moment is being commemorated here – it could be the moment when Germanicus was about to set off to the east, or it could be a commemoration of Caligula’s formal adoption as Tiberius’ heir. However you read the scene, Tiberius and his mother Livia dominate it, occupying the centre of the tier and the gem itself on their thrones; a young armoured man stands before them, whoever he is, seeking their favour before doing whatever it is he’s off to do. The couple behind the thrones are thought to be Tiberius’ first wife Vipsania and their son, while the other figures with the young man in armour are variously identified depending on which moment you think is being commemorated here.

The amount of work that went into this cameo is breathtaking. In order to be able to say something sensible about it, I ended up learning far more about cameo technique than I ever thought I’d need to know, which was revealing. This cameo is in five layers. Most of the cameos that survive from the empire are only in two. The carver has managed to use the multiple layers of the gem (which is sardonyx) to create the dark background to the picture overall, pick out the figures in white, and use the dark colour to add clothes, hair and other details. What’s more, they’ve then gone over the figures to add more detail with engraving, never breaking through the white layer to let more of the dark colour through. The mind boggles at how long this took.

So that’s what so remarkable about this object. I’m less wowed, I think, by the iconography and its message of imperial continuity – that’s a staple of statues and other art in this period, and it is (to some extent) what you’d expect. What bowled me over is the sheer statement of wealth and excess that this makes, given just what an accomplished and difficult piece of art it is. I’m very glad to have learned so much about cameos and how they are made, because it’s given me a new appreciation of the technical difficulty involved in this kind of piece, and the talent that lies behind it.

June 28, 2022

The Summer Rest Project

Filed under: Meta — lizgloyn @ 9:27 pm
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Over May and June, I’ve been reading two books – Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle by Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski, and Radical Rest: Get More Done By Doing Less by Richard Lister. I wanted to read these books after just feeling – well, drained after the last two years of All The Things. I had a lovely long weekend break at the start of May, and the benefits disappeared within 24 hours of returning to work, which was Not Ideal. Plus, while I’ve been doing some recovery work around the complete pit of survival mode in which I spent large portions of 2020 and 2021 (as many people parenting small children whilst working full-time jobs will appreciate), I wanted something a bit more deliberate.

Now, both books were written to appeal to certain audiences. Burnout very definitely has the goal of reaching women who find it hard to make space for themselves within a patriarchal framework that sees women as what the Nagoskis call Human Giver Syndrome (or all the social norms which say it’s women’s job to pour themselves out selflessly to enable others to Do Their Thing). There’s a certain US self-help book tone to the writing which I can cope with but others might find a bit off-putting. Radical Rest, written by a practicing UK nurse, might give a bit more houseroom to alternative therapies than some people are comfortable with. But the overlaps and emphases on the science of rest and stress release mean that combined, they offer a range of solutions and options for resting properly and giving you and your body a chance just to – catch up with itself. Which, under the circumstances, sounds like a jolly fine idea.

So, to practicalities. One option particularly for Radical Rest would be to try each technique described in each (short) chapter for a week and see how they fit in with your own preferences and needs. I would like to try that at some point, but what I really wanted to put together was a practical ‘this is what I’m going to try to do every week over the summer’ with measurable outcomes to say that this resting thing was actually happening. Because, yes, otherwise it actually won’t.

It was an inevitable outcome that there would be a spreadsheet. So there is a spreadsheet.

Screenshot of a spreadsheet heading ‘Liz’s Rest Tracker’, with rows listing activities and columns marking days of the week.

The activities in the spreadsheet have all been chosen because they match on to the science in Burnout and Radical Rest as things that help close off stress cycles and give – well, rest. So, they are:

  • A 30 minute lunch break away from my desk, ideally eaten outside if the weather’s good enough.
  • A Big Hug – this is about positive physical affection and reinforcing a sense of being safe and cared for enough to slip out of fight or flight mode and into rest or digest. The Nagoskis say a hug of at least 20 seconds where each hugger is balancing their own weight does the job (see? Science!).
  • Playing the piano – I really want to do creative fun things! And I’ve been wanting to do more piano for years (quite literally). Taking time to do creative stuff tells your brain you’re not being chased by a saber toothed tiger. Win-win.
  • Running and yoga – different kinds of physical exercise that both simulate the physical bit of fight-or-flight responses we miss when we, for instance, get a really stressful e-mail in our inbox and thus gives our nervous systems a chance to shut that cycle off; also are activities where you’re not thinking about anything except the exercise, and thus enter an kind of mental rest even though your body’s being very active. (I still hate running with the burning passion of a thousand suns but the science has spoken.)
  • Centering prayer – I used to have a really strong centering prayer practice when I was a graduate student and an ECR but, unsurprisingly, parenthood sent that down the drain. This is about calming active or deliberate meditation (any kind of tradition would do, this just happens to be mine) – if I can manage a short slot three times a week, that’ll be doing alright.

Some of this I should be doing anyway. Lunch breaks outside are about discipline and getting away from the screen. The exercise stuff is again where I want to be – I twisted my ankle just before Easter and have just been cleared to run again, so this is the right moment to be setting these goals (and I’ve been really antsy about not being able to do things). But the piano, and the yoga, and the deliberate hug, are about trying to create that bit of extra space and – well, let’s see what happens.

I’ll try to have a bit of accountability/update on how things go over on Twitter, and I want to come back to this at the end of the summer and see what I think. (And yes, if we get back into a run of 30 degree days, I shan’t be worrying too much about getting the running in!) It’s all a bit of an experiment, but we’ll see how it goes – after all, I have a spreadsheet.

With thanks to Jo VanEvery for tipping me off about Burnout.

June 10, 2022

Resetting

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 6:44 pm
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*tap tap* Is this thing on?

Well, yes, obviously it’s on, and hello to you kind people who have presumed that I would eventually resume writing here. It has, I think it is safe to say, been All A Bit Much.

As Neville Morley often remarks, blogging seems to be a medium which has fallen out of favour for reasons which aren’t entirely clear – it allows long-form thought in an informal style, which is often just what you need when you want to play with an argument, share good teaching practice (or ask for ideas about solving a teaching problem), or talk about wider professional issues. It’s also free, which makes it excellent for sharing research with the broader public (as my posts about Seneca do for those working on the Classical Civilization A-level Love & Relationships topic). But (and of course there’s a but) they take time, and over the last couple of pandemic-inflected years, time was what we did not have. So perhaps it isn’t surprising that, after the initial burst of upskilling my on-line teaching skills after my sabbatical ended in spring 2020, the energy to make time and space for blog writing was subsumed into survival mode by spring 2021 and then the slow attempt to recover and get back on top of things in the 2021-22 academic year. I will say that I felt as if I taught the most exhausted and drained students I’ve ever taught in the second half of the spring term this year, regardless of which year they were in, and I knew exactly how they felt.

That said, I do miss blogging and I want to come back to it, not least as a way to think through Stuff, particularly around teaching – I’ve noticed that I’ve been a bit less intentional about improving and tweaking my teaching praxis over the last few years, which obviously, hello, pandemic, but at the same time, writing and reflecting in this space has been an important part of creating the space to do that continuing work. So, here we go, attempting to do another round.

I thought I’d start with Research Things that have happened since I last wrote properly about my research, which (now I look back) was in 2019 when I talked about the publication of Tracking Classical Monsters in Popular Culture. There has been quite a lot of water under that particular bridge in the intervening, um, three years, so here are some potted updates.

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October 18, 2021

Five unmissable novels about ancient Greece and Rome

Filed under: Out and about — lizgloyn @ 5:24 pm
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It’s been a busy few months… but I’m popping back to mention that I have put together a book list for Shepherd.com! It’s a list of five unmissable novels set in ancient Greece and Rome, featuring some of my favourite authors and favourite reads.

I really enjoyed putting this list together – it gave me a chance to showcase some fantastic women writers, and share some more of the wonderful reimaginings of the ancient world that show just what can be done when you use scholarship to build up things we’ll never know about antiquity. The wonderful thing about fiction is that there are no limits to what you can do in rebuilding the past, and these books showcase that beautifully.

July 22, 2021

Some suggestions for an office mental health first aid kit

Filed under: Teaching — lizgloyn @ 5:21 pm
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A few days ago on Twitter, I asked what people would want to have in their offices as a mental health first aid kit – or, to put it another way, what people would have wanted their lecturers to have available in their offices if things got just that bit too much. There were so many great suggestions that I thought it would be a good idea to collate them all in one place so other people can get some inspiration!

What I’m envisaging here is some kind of box or basket, within easy reach of people who come into the office; I found myself thinking that you would probably want to split it into sections marked ‘please take’ and ‘please use’, as you would probably not want some of these things to go walkabout, but others would be there precisely for people to use.

Two quick caveats. First, this is in no way meant to substitute for properly funded and resourced mental health care services at universities, or to put pressure on academic staff to provide sole care for these issues. That said, we are often the first point of contact, either as lecturers or personal tutors, and being prepared for making that first encounter as supportive and positive as possible can’t hurt. Second, this is a comprehensive list of all the suggestions made in response to my thread, and does not imply that any member of staff should feel obliged to provide every single one of these items. This goes double for precarious colleagues, particularly given the financial costs associated with making sure you are prepared in this way. You know your own students best; the point of this post is to provide some ideas that might resonate with you, and for people to pick and choose what works best for their individual context.

With that out of the way, here we go…

Practical things

  • Tampons and pads
  • Blister plasters
  • Extra face masks
  • Hand sanitizer or wipes
  • Lavender or other soothing things to smell
  • Essential oil roll-ons for wrists
  • Rescue remedy
  • Tissues, both in a box and in take-away packs
  • A mirror, for tidying up after tears
  • Sunglasses
  • Ear plugs

Several people mentioned painkillers; I’ve not included these as I know that there is some complicated legal stuff around supplying painkillers to students or colleagues, and so I am erring on the side of caution by not recommending that these items are formally included in a kit.

Food and drink

  • Granola or cereal bars
  • Rice crisps
  • Chocolate
  • Trail mix
  • Lollipops
  • Long-lasting fruit like apples
  • Mini-packs of dried fruit
  • Vegan lollies or biscuits
  • Fruit chews
  • Nice biscuits
  • Glucose tablets
  • Calming herbal tea bags
  • Hot chocolate
  • Coffee
  • A kettle and spare mugs
  • Water and spare glasses
  • Mini water bottles

Comfort items

  • Blanket
  • Pillow or cushion
  • Comfy chair
  • A hot water bottle
  • Fidget toys
  • A teddy or cuddly toy
  • A bubble pop toy
  • A squeezy stress toy or stress ball
  • Adult colouring book and felt tip pens
  • Happy/cheerful stickers
  • Affirmation cards
  • Mindfulness cards
  • Gratitude cards
  • Postcards
  • Mini-pots of bubble bath
  • Sample or mini size lip balm and moisturiser
  • A sleep mask and a sign saying “I need a bit of quiet” if you have an appropriate space for students to get some peace

Resources

Other helpful things

People made various suggestions about other useful but intangible things people might offer as support, which I am listing here.

  • Offer to write a referral to the student to Counselling directly, copying them in
  • Offer useful reminders that studying is hard, but they have got this far, and have achieved huge amounts
  • Reminders that rest is essential
  • A supportive, non-judgemental ear
  • Cultivate relationships with the support staff who know people, to make accessing support easier

Thank you!

With thanks for suggestions to Sara Barker, Stephanie Lawton, Emma Sheppard, Wheeled Classicist, Kate Ferry-Swainson, Sarah Martin, Ellie Mackin Roberts, Ruth Cruickshank, Helen Lovatt, Sarah Porter, Alice Rae, Kelli Conley, Gabe Moshenska, Cora Beth Knowles, Isabella Streffen, Aven McMaster, Sophie Agrell, Elspeth, Penny Goodman, Clare Clarke, Stephe Harrop, Jane Draycott, Alexandra, Joy Evans, Heather Self, A, Magdalena Öhrman, Alice Little, Miriam. Marchella Ward and the Royal Holloway Library! Apologies to anyone I’ve missed – it was a busy thread. I gloss over the fact that the vast majority of people who joined in with this discussion are women or non-binary, and what that might say about the dynamics of care in academia.

July 1, 2021

A curve in the road: some personal news

Filed under: Meta — lizgloyn @ 10:18 pm
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Over the last year or so, those of you who follow me on Twitter with any degree of attention will have noticed cryptic references to doing Things Not For Work or having Big Non-work Things on the horizon. This has been partly because it was entirely possible that there would be no news to share in the end, and partly because – well, it’s the sort of thing which you only really want to make public if there is news to share.

That news is now confirmed, so I am both very pleased and a wee bit scared to tell you that I have been recommended for training for ordination in the Church of England.

I am anticipating that this will raise a lot of questions, so I thought that I would use an FAQ format to address the ones I’m assuming will come to mind, and quite possibly some that won’t. There will inevitably be some God-language in what follows.

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April 24, 2021

Reflections On A Year Of Pandemic Teaching

Filed under: Teaching — lizgloyn @ 6:35 pm
Tags: , , ,

We have come to the end of our teaching for the academic year, although there’s still plenty to do in the term ahead in terms of student support and assessment. (I seem to be spending an extraordinary amount of time explaining how our extenuating circumstances process works at the moment, reflecting not only the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our students, but an awful lot of Life that they’ve also been dealing with at the same time.) At the start of the year, I wrote about how the first week of teaching fully on-line had gone; now we have had a whole year, I wanted to capture some things I’ve learned from the process overall.

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January 23, 2021

The way we live now

Filed under: Meta — lizgloyn @ 9:56 am
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It is exhausting, the way we live now,
and I am one of the lucky ones.
Whatever luck means, in the midst
of chaos.

I reply to e-mails, to invitations,
to things which might have sparked joy
in the before-times.
No, no, no, no, certainly not,
yes – but not yet.
I question my decisions, but
they have to be made.

I confuse my time zones
for a commitment made a thousand years ago
in November,
and sit, waiting to be admitted to a Zoom meeting
which has already moved on without me,
crushed by the unnoticed slippage of an hour.

I record videos, smiling blithely at the green light –
record, embed, caption, upload,
record, embed, caption, upload.
I teach to black squares with initials, to faces
against uncomfortably personal backgrounds,
rooms I have no right to be in
and which I try to ignore.

I stay up late (too late)
editing, marking, pouring out effort
which I would have rejoiced in
during the before-times, but now
comes from a well which has run decidedly dry.

I learn a curriculum which I thought
I had left well behind me.
Pounds and pence without the shillings,
shapes in varying dimensions,
the formation of the letter d.
The waterproof properties of materials must be investigated;
the kitchen floor is flooded.
I refuse to be apologetic
about my second full-time job.

Do not mistake me –
there are joys, smiles, laughter.
Having dinner together every night,
the weekly family film,
the silly imaginative games.
The students thriving under these circumstances,
growing towards the light despite everything.

But there is no let up, and no respite,
and even paradise becomes tiring
without variety, or the space
to be lonely, to be bored.

In the midst of this chaos,
whatever luck means –
I am one of the lucky ones,
and it is exhausting, the way we live now.

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