Classically Inclined

July 10, 2020

On beginnings, endings, and beginning again

Filed under: Meta — lizgloyn @ 2:58 pm

Hello, folks. It’s been a while.

Looking back on the blog, it really has been a considerable while; I’ve been pretty quiet since spring last year, apart from a few posts about Tracking Classical Monsters in Popular Culture, which was launched to a pleasing amount of acclaim last Halloween, and an announcement for a workshop which has now been indefinitely postponed in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

What ostensibly draws me back is the news that some of you who follow me on social media will have seen earlier this week, namely that I have been promoted to Reader in the Classics department at Royal Holloway. I could easily do a self-congratulatory post and leave it there, but actually, I want to sit a while and do some unpicking of the tapestry.

The 2019-2020 academic year, you see, was going to be a great year. After some administrative to-ing and fro-ing, my research sabbatical had been confirmed; my son was going to start school; I was keeping my diary clear so I could make the most of tidying up old projects and getting started on the next book. It was going to be wonderful.

It didn’t turn out like that. I have since learned that quite a lot of people have stories of the Sabbatical That Went Rogue, where life decides that the moment you have a little more space to think is a perfect time to intervene and make sure you can’t. In my case, at this point we are looking at three close family bereavements (one at the start of September just before the sabbatical was due to begin), a lot of caring and support following those, my son starting school (fine under normal circumstances, challenging under these), two rounds of extended UCU strikes, and, of course, a global pandemic with the associated challenges of school-at-home. It has not been, shall we say, the most conducive environment for thinking. Or, let’s be honest, for blogging.

I have been stopping and starting, starting and stopping, for the last ten months or so. Picking up a research project and putting it down; changing our mode of living in response to loss, and then to the pandemic; stopping childcare and starting work, or vice versa; stopping and staring blankly into the mid-distance; stopping the sabbatical and starting the fast-and-slow process of working out what happens in September; gathering as much impromptu training on on-line teaching and decolonising the curriculum as I can get my hands on. It has been a jerky year, and I use that in the fullest sense of its meanings.

And now – another set of changes. The change from school term to the summer vacation, whatever that means in this half-world (where we already knew we needed new patterns to cope with school holidays, but not like this), and we return to balancing childcare and work at home. The end of the exam term for me and the start of – a summer of research? Well, not quite, but what is it? And, of course, the end of being a Senior Lecturer and the start of being a Reader.

I have been brooding about the Reader. In some ways, it’s a continuation of the push of the early career phase, which actually didn’t finish until the Monster Book was submitted so marks a further end of that phase. I said then that I wanted to slow down the pace to make things more sustainable – well, the 2019-2020 academic year has completely scuppered that by refusing to conform to any kind of rhythm. I’m also sitting with the term ‘well deserved’, which does the rounds on these occasions, but usually not with me on the receiving end. Is it ‘well deserved’? Yes, in terms of I ticked the boxes. But let’s be honest, there is a lot of work still to do, in terms of advocating for precarious and junior scholars, in working towards decolonising my teaching and supporting colleagues and students of colour in the hostile environment of academia, in changing the way things have always been done because they are not (and never were) fit for purpose. Being a Reader means not being able to look away, to say it’s someone else’s problem, to flinch. It is not quite the same as having power (because higher education is surprisingly good at separating hierarchy and power), but it does mean authority.

So here is to the next stage, whatever that looks like, of beginning again, and doing the work which sorely needs doing.


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