Posts Tagged Inspiration for Life

2013 – the best bits. And some of the other bits.

 

It has been a funny old year.  Funny peculiar, though not without the odd moment of mirth and merriment along the way.

 

I came back from one secondment to my regular job in January, and went off on the next secondment in December.  This new one is a major change – working for HEFCE, based at home when not attending meetings in various exotic parts of the UK (oh, OK then, Croydon, Birmingham, Manchester, Dorking…).  It’s a fantastic opportunity, and challenges the way I organise my life as well as requiring me to acquire new knowledge and new skills.

 

I graduated, again.  Did the whole gown and mortar board thing which I hadn’t been fussed about when I was 21 and graduating for the first time. And then, with barely a pause, on to the doctorate.  Studying part-time, it’s going to be a long haul, with who knows what possibilities at the end of it, but I’m loving it.

 

In February, a beloved friend and colleague died, and we – his family, friends, colleagues, students – grieved but also worked together to put on an amazing event in his honour, the 24 Hour Inspire.  We raised money for local cancer charities, and have raised more since, through an art exhibition, plant and cake sales and various 10k runs/marathon bike rides, etc.   And we’re now planning the 24 Hour Inspire 2014, and the publication of Tim’s diary.  He will continue to inspire.

 

Culturally, my high points in 2013 have been:

 

  • Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie at the Showroom, talking about Americanah, and Half of a Yellow Sun
  • Peter Hill premiering newly discovered/completed Messiaen at the Upper Chapel (and playing Bach, Berg and Schoenberg too)
  • Arnie Somogyi’s Scenes in the City, playing Mingus at Sheffield Jazz
  • Tramlines – the Enid in the City Hall, Soukous Revelation in the Peace Gardens, Jim Jones Revue and Selecter at Devonshire Green. (And more, but those were the absolute top bits).
  • The 24 Hour Inspire – 24 hours of lectures on life, the universe and everything, including Ed Daw’s blues piano, Rachel Falconer on poetry and birds, Jenny Saul on implicit bias, Claire McGourlay on the Innocence Project, and personal narratives from Brendan Stone and Elena Rodriguez-Falcon.  Plus John Cockburn’s rendition of (What’s so Funny ’bout) Peace Love and Understanding, and my favourite Beatles B-side, Things we Said Today, and more busking from Mike Weir, Graham McElearney and Eugenia Chung.  And more, lots more.
  • Fabulous Beethoven quartets/quintet from the Elias at the Upper Chapel
  • A magical Winter’s Tale at the Crucible
  • Two awesome Britten operas (Peter Grimes and Death in Venice) from Opera North at Leeds Grand
  • New (to me) authors enjoyed this year: Maggie O’Farrell, Louise Doughty, Lucy Caldwell, C J Sansom, Alison Moore, Edward St Aubyn, Rebecca Solnit, Wilkie Collins,  Jonathan Franzen
  • Wonderful new books from authors I’ve enjoyed before: Stephen King’s Dr Sleep and Joyland, Lynn Shepherd’s A Treacherous Likeness, Jon McGregor‘s This isn’t the Sort of Thing…., Robert Harris’s An Officer and a Spy
  • Finally finished Proust’s Sodome et Gomorrhe.  Allons-y, to La Prisonniere!
  • I’ve learned to love Marvel superheroes (Avengers AssembleThorIron ManAgents of Shield!), and have thrilled to The Walking Dead, Orphan Black (virtuoso performance(s) from Tatiana Maslany), Utopia and, of course, Dr Who.
  • Speaking of which, not only an absolutely stonking 50th anniversary episode, but also a fascinating and very touching drama about the show’s early days, with David Bradley as William Hartnell, the sweet and funny The Five-ish Doctors, with Peter Davison, Sylvester McCoy and Colin Baker sending themselves and everyone else up with great affection, and Matthew Sweet’s Culture Show special.  And the Christmas episode
  • Other cracking telly – Broadchurch, Homeland, Misfits, The Fall, Southcliffe, The Guilty, The Americans…  And from across the Channel, not only another masterclass in French profanity from Spiral, but the wonderful The Returned
  • And other top films – Joss Whedon’s Much Ado, Lore, The Hobbit Pts 1 & 2, Lincoln, and Patience (after Sebald).

 

About the blog itself.  It’s been less focused on my areas of research recently, and that will continue to be the case, as I’m working on the PhD.  The odd digression will find its place here – as Tim used to say, tangents are there to be gone off on, and the blog is a good way of nailing those (to mix my metaphors somewhat) and stopping them from distracting me for too long.  I shall be continuing to go on about all sorts of other things that pique my interest.  In particular the blog will continue to be a place where refugee stories are foregrounded, as a riposte to the mean and dishonest coverage which those stories tend to receive.

 

Over the last year, my posting has been somewhat erratic.  I note that I didn’t write anything between March and June (I made up for it in June, however, with a Refugee Week blog-blitz, as well as a piece about Last Year at Marienbad which I still intend to follow up.  That hiatus may have had something to do with being in the final stages of my degree – finishing off my dissertation, and a last batch of essays and presentations.

 

There are so many fantastic bloggers out there, too many to do justice to.  We lost one this year, as the great Norman Geras passed away.  But I’ll continue to enjoy, and to share/reblog That’s How the Light Gets In, Nowt Much to Say, and Futile Democracy, amongst others.  For my research interests, I will no doubt continue to find lots to think about and follow up in blogs from Decayetude and Vertigo.

 

So, thanks to the aforementioned bloggers, to the various people with whom I’ve shared the cultural delights enumerated above, to friends and family who’ve supported me in my ventures and refrained (mostly) from telling me I’m mad to try to do so many things.

 

Thing is, I have a history of depression.  I know that the best way for me to fight that, to avoid sliding back into that dark pit, is to do lots of stuff I care about.  So, not just the job – which I care about, passionately – and my wonderful family, but research, writing, ensuring that we do Tim proud via the charity, and so on.   I am very aware that there’s a tipping point, that if I do too much stuff I care about, given that I also have to do stuff that I have to do, just because I have to do it, the anxiety of having so much going on can itself lead to sleepless nights, which make me less able to cope, thus leading to more worrying and so on and on… It’s all about balance, and about having support when I need it.  So, to all of you who, whether you know it or not, provide that support, and help me to keep that balance, a heartfelt thanks.

 

In particular, over this last year, I’d like to thank:

 

For unstinting support and encouragement through the part-time degree and especially as I reached the final stages – tutors Sophie Belot and Annie Rouxeville, and classmate Liz Perry.  And a special thanks to Chris Turgoose for ensuring that my graduation gown stayed put via an ingenious arrangement of string and safety pins.

 

For support and encouragement to go on to the PhD – the aforementioned Sophie, Annie, and Liz, plus Rachel Falconer, Helen Finch, and my supervisors Amanda Crawley Jackson and Richard Steadman-Jones

 

For their contributions to the work of Inspiration for Life, and the 24 Hour Inspire, and their support in commemorating and celebrating Tim – Tracy Hilton, Ruth Arnold, Vanessa Toulmin, Chris Sexton, John Cockburn, Lee Thompson, Matt Mears and David Mowbray

 

My family, of course, without whom…

 

And, finally, Tim.   I’d have loved to share this year’s triumphs and tribulations with him.

 

Have a wonderful 2014 all of you.

 

fireworks

 

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You are now in Bedford Falls

IAWL

It’s a Wonderful Life.   Often described as ‘heartwarming’, which I usually interpret as a warning,  a euphemism for cloying and sentimental.  It’s a family Christmas film, yes, but so much more.  It breaks my heart each time I watch it, and at the same time it heals me.  It speaks to the disappointments, the failures, the wrong choices, that are part of everyone who’s been around for a while.   It speaks to the idealism, the sense of values that aren’t monetary, that are part of everyone who gives a damn, whether it’s their turn or not.

It earns that ending, that wonderful, ridiculous ending.  Because we feel George’s despair, and we feel his frustration and anger at the irreconcilable conflict between what he wants his life to be and what it has to be.   He does the right thing, because he can’t not do the right thing, but we see what it costs him.   On an individual human level, we identify with George because he really isn’t OK with the failure of his plans and dreams, he’s not at peace.   And we admire him because nonetheless he will always do what is right.  (Indeed, if it seems frivolous to link him to Mandela and Picquart, the heroes of my last two blogs, so be it.)

But the film is not just about an individual, it’s also about a community.  George’s choices made Bedford Falls what it is.  But this wasn’t because he did it all himself.  He inspired other people, gave them the courage to do the right thing, to be as generous as he was.  The direct impact – the lives he saved through direct intervention – are only part of it.  People who in Pottersville were mean and fearful weren’t born that way, they learned to be mean and fearful because their lives had taught them that other people couldn’t be trusted, that everyone was out for themselves, that mistakes and misfortunes would be punished.   In Bedford Falls, they saw generosity and kindness, and mistakes and misfortunes met with sympathy and support, and they learned to be generous and kind themselves.

It’s so easy to despair, when we see so many examples of meanness, prejudice, callousness to others’ misery.  We’re encouraged to be xenophobic and suspicious.   Watch out!  In January we will literally be unable to move for Romanians and Bulgarians every single one of whom will be coming here to take our livelihoods.  Watch out!  That neighbour who you haven’t seen leaving for work recently is probably spending all day on the sofa in a onesie watching Jeremy Kyle and scrounging huge amounts in benefits.

We can choose instead to live in Bedford Falls.  Why would we do otherwise?  The Potters of our world will continue to spin their scurvy little webs, but we don’t have to acquiesce.  So, for 2014, my mantra will be ‘You are now in Bedford Falls’, and whenever I encounter stories that show how communities can work together, support each other, reach out to those who need help, across the boundaries that might be expected to divide us, I’ll share them, with that hashtag.  There are a couple below, for starters.

I don’t believe that humanity is a lost cause.  I do believe that humanity is all there is, and that makes it so much more vital that we care for each other, because we’re all we’ve got, and these years we have on the planet is all we’ve got.  Joss Whedon said it well, in Angel:

If there’s no great glorious end to all this, if … nothing we do matters … then all that matters is what we do. ‘Cause that’s all there is. What we do. Now. Today.  … All I want to do is help. I want to help because I don’t think people should suffer as they do, because if there’s no bigger meaning, then the smallest act of kindness is the greatest thing in the world.

Postscript

 This year, in particular, these words from It’s a Wonderful Life have greater poignancy and resonance than ever:

 Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?

Because we got to find out what an awful hole was left when Tim Richardson died, in February.  The memorial blog we set up for him tells so many stories of how his life touched those of others, and how much he is missed.  And in his honour, we held the 24 Hour Inspire event, a community coming together to celebrate his life, his influence and his inspiration.  It was a joyous occasion.  And it was a glimpse of life in Bedford Falls.

http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2013/dec/20/bradford-synagogue-saved-muslims-jews

http://gerryco23.wordpress.com/2013/12/18/a-tale-of-two-villages-it-could-be-a-wonderful-life/

http://aurorasginjoint.com/2013/12/14/its-a-wonderful-life/

 

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Reflections on the 24 Hour Inspire

How can I capture that 24 hours of inspiration that we shared last week?  I don’t want to forget anything, or anyone, who made it what it was.  I don’t want the sense of possibilities, of beginnings, of connections to be dulled by the everyday concerns that have had to now re-enter our lives.  I don’t want the elation to ebb away, because what happened really, profoundly, matters.  It has to be the start of something, and I believe it can be.

What follows is not a coherent account of the event – I’m not sure that I could provide that – but various sources that, taken together, I believe give a sense of what it was about, in all its rich variety.   I’ve drawn this from my own opening and closing words at the event, from emails, tweets, other bloggers.  There will be lots more to come, and whilst we want to continue celebrating and enjoying the event itself, we want to start asking where we go from here.  What’s next?

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These are edited versions of my opening and closing words at the 24 Hour Inspire.

17.00 Thursday 28 February

Good evening everyone, and welcome to the 24 Hour Inspire, 24 hours of lectures presented by the charity Inspiration for Life, of which I am the Chair.    This event has been made possible by the generosity and enthusiasm of colleagues in all parts of the University, not just our speakers but also the buskers who’ll be entertaining you in the foyer, the wonderful people who’ve baked cakes for us to sell, the University services which have been made available to us without cost, and all the volunteers who will be here throughout the event to make sure it all runs smoothly.

Inspiration for Life was set up by Dr Tim Richardson, when he was diagnosed with terminal cancer last June, to promote lifelong learning and the public understanding of science, and to raise funds for cancer charities.  This is our first major event – when we started planning it we hoped that Tim would still be with us, but sadly he died on 5 February.  His family, friends and colleagues want this event to be a tribute to him, and a celebration of his life.

You may recall that back  in November 2011, Tim did 24 hours of lectures solo, to raise funds for Children in Need.  Tim’s heroic achievement is the inspiration for tonight’s event.  Tonight we have 42 speakers, from across and beyond the University presenting a wonderfully diverse range of talks, going through the night and up to 5 pm tomorrow.   We’re raising funds for two charities in particular, Weston Park Hospital Cancer Charity and Rotherham Hospice:

https://mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/inspirationforlife

http://www.justgiving.com/forTimRichardson

17.00 Friday 1 March

It’s been an amazing 24 hours.  We’ve raised funds for our charities, and we’ll be announcing the totals early next week.   The 24HrInspire hashtag has been all over the twittersphere, and the buzz has reached far further afield than we could ever have imagined – an email from Iran reached me last night, from someone who was a PhD in Sheffield, and who read about the event on the University website.  He translated this into Persian and has been circulating and web-blogging it amongst his colleagues and friends.  I won’t read his email in full, as I don’t think I could do so without losing it [see below for the full text] – but just one short quote: ‘When I imagine that in the middle of the night people have been gathered in the Hicks Building and sharing their ideas about various subjects, I believe that Dr Richardson’s dream to inspire people has come true’.

How wonderful that someone who wasn’t even here could sum up what’s happened so perfectly.  We’ve been entertained, informed and moved, we’ve eaten a lot of cake, and we’ve seen some eminent physicists in their pyjamas.  What more could you ask?  I think I can speak for everyone and say that we’ve been inspired.

As I said at the beginning – 24 hours ago, when I was a lot more coherent than I’m able to be now, as well as more fragrant, probably – this has all been for Tim.   Inspiration for Life is his vision, and we will do everything we can  to make it a reality.  He would have loved it all – the talks and the music, and above all the sense of the University not just as an institution or an organisation, but as a community coming together to do something wonderful.  This is just the start, and we will go on to do all sorts of things in the future, and in everything we do, we’ll be raising a glass to Tim, to say thanks, to say cheers, to say hello.

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Blog by Chris Sexton, Director of Corporate Information & Computing Services, who gave the event tremendous support throughout

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Storify Twitter feed from the #24HrInspire hashtag (thanks to Chris Sexton)

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Email from Iran, 28 February 2013

Dear Catherine,

I have been PhD Student at the University of Sheffield from 2003 to 2006. I saw the news about 24 hours of nonstop lectures on the University Website, which I believe is being held right now.  I wish I was there to attend this inspiring event. However, my thought is with you all in Hicks Building, one of the first buildings that I visited at the university during my study time and I have a very clear picture of it in my mind.

Although I am not there at this moment, I have done a very small contribution to this event by translating the news of this remarkable event into Persian and sending it to a number of mailing lists in Iran and uploading it on a weblog to share this story with my colleagues and friends here.
I believe what Dr. Richardson has done is a wonderful and profoundly inspirational initiative, which I am sure will be a source of hope and courage for many people for a very long time. When I imagine that in the middle of the night people have been gathered in the Hicks Building and sharing their ideas about various subjects, I believe that Dr. Richardson’s dream to inspire people has come true.

Yazdan Mansourian, PhD, Associate Professor

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2012 – the best bits

2012, for me, has been the year of the blog.  The year that through this medium I found a creative outlet, met some fascinating people and discovered some wonderful writers, engaged in some stimulating and unexpected discussions, and generally had my optimism about the internet reinforced.  I’ve been uplifted, fascinated and inspired on a regular basis by bloggers such as Diana J Hale, Vertigo, The Fife Psychogeographic Collective, That’s how the light gets in, Weaver’s Journal, Steve Sarson and Decayetude.  And my blog on the US election led to a mutually respectful encounter with Rick from Billerica, with whom I would disagree about pretty much everything, except the principle of mutually respectful encounters with those who hold different views.    On the Our Island Stories blog, set up in the aftermath of  the Olympics to talk about questions of national identity, we’ve had contributions from some of the above, and also from Kate Elmer, Mike Press, Emily Wilkinson and  Diane Magras.  To all of those people, and so many others, thanks!

The internet comes in for some harsh criticism – and I read ‘below the line’ often enough to be brought almost to despair at the bigotry, the hatred, the cruelty that’s out there, only needing the anonymity of an internet forum to come spewing out.   But my own experience has been entirely positive.  Through blogging, through Facebook and Twitter, I’ve made friends, had fascinating conversations, shared enthusiasms, learned stuff.  I’ve connected with people I would never have encountered at all  otherwise, and connected in unexpected ways with people I already knew.  This obviously doesn’t invalidate the experiences of those who’ve been subjected to the viciousness of trolls and the deceit of sock-puppets – but it needs saying, that it can be, and often is, an enormous force for good , and that connections made via the net are not intrinsically less ‘real’, less worthwhile than those made by other means.

So, looking back at 2012, these have been some of the best bits, culturally speaking:

  • John Akomfrah‘s extraordinary The Nine Muses
  • Watching the ever elusive and enigmatic  Last Year at Marienbad twice – to be the subject of a later blog.
  • TV : Homeland –  plot holes wide enough to swallow up the odd aircraft carrier, but the degree of ambiguity in all of the main characters has been wonderfully sustained, and the denoument was unforeseen.   Line of Duty and Good Cop shared the best of those characteristics.  Misfits and Being Human somehow survived a brutal cull of main characters to emerge still witty and surprising.  The Walking Dead kept us on the edge of our seats, where we must remain until February, and anxiously awaiting news of Daryl’s fate (and the others, obv, but hey, Daryl!).  Oh, and Dr Who continued to be marvellous, moving and magical.
  • I’ve been reading Proust.  A statement which will probably feature in my summaries for 2013, 2014 and possibly beyond.   I’ve been fascinated by two particular elements recently – the constant referencing of the Dreyfus Affair, and the theme of sexual ‘inversion’ – and rather less fascinated by some of the aristocratic dinner parties that one has to endure almost in real time, such is the detail with which they are described.   There have been moments when I’ve wished Robespierre had been a little more thorough.  I’m about at the halfway point in the whole A la Recherche project.
  • New great stuff from Stephen King (11.22.63), Hilary Mantel (Bring up the Bodies) and Jon McGregor (Even the Dogs)
  • First encounters with writers I should have read before and will read more of  – Hans Fallada, Alexander BaronHaruki Murakami  and Wilkie Collins.
  • Lynn Shepherd’s Tom-All-Alone’s – I approached with caution knowing that she was riffing on my favourite novel of all time, Bleak  House, but I need not have worried.   Indeed, I went straight from Tom to her earlier novel (Murder at Mansfield Park), and have her next on pre-order – and she led me to The Woman in White as well.
  • Theatre –  Geoffrey Streatfeild in both  Macbeth at the Crucible and Copenhagen at the Lyceum, Betrayal (lovely John Simm) at the Crucible
  • Tramlines festival – Screaming Maldini and Early Cartographers in Weston Park, The Third Half at the City Hall, Soukous Revelation in the Peace Gardens, Jim Ghedi & Neal Hepplestone at the Cathedral, and Frankie & the Heartstrings, Field Music and We are Scientists on Devonshire Green.   Three days of music spilling out of every bar and coffee shop, of sunshine and people dancing in the streets – literally – and generally being nice to each other.
  • Music in the Round – a fabulous Quartet for the End of Time, an introduction to Louise Farrenc, and the early polyphony of Pérotin and the Notre Dame composers in Sheffield Cathedral.

2012 has been the year that the Hillsborough families were vindicated, utterly and unconditionally.  The year that the truth was not so much revealed – it had been in plain view all the time – as spotlit, so that there were no shadows in which the lies could continue to lurk.  And that justice seems finally to be within reach now.  Massive respect to all of those who fought this battle when it must have seemed hopeless, when everything and everyone seemed to be against them.

And it’s been the year of Inspiration for Life.  The year a dear friend and colleague, Tim Richardson,  was diagnosed with a terminal cancer, and a whole community came together to support him, and to help him set up a charity to do the things he believes in – supporting living, giving and learning.  We’ve been both devastated and uplifted.

So – onward to 2013.

No resolutions as such.  But anticipations and aspirations -

  • Graduating (again), and planning the next stage of my lifelong learning, and publishing (if I can, in real, proper, academic journals) some of my work on Michel Butor
  • Fundraising for Refugee Action – having hung up my trainers, I’m not sure yet how I can best do this, but their work is vitally important and I want to do what I can
  • Reading Proust, and lots of other stuff.  Lots and lots.
  • Enjoying to the full Sheffield’s rich cultural life – theatre, arthouse cinema, Music in the Round, Tramlines, Festival of the Mind, Arts-Science Encounters, Site and S1 and Bloc, and more
  • Blogging, about Butor, Sebald, French cinema, refugees, Dr Who, national identity, and whatever else is buzzing around in my mind at any given moment
  • Enjoying working with physicists, astronomers and other scientists, and facilitating what they do, through what I do
  • Continuing to be an utter geek
  • Listening to as much music as possible,  with as eclectic a range as possible
  • Getting Inspiration for Life going – with the 24-hour Inspire at the end of Feb (24 hours of lectures, activities and entertainments), the publication of Tim’s diary, and the art exhibition in May, funds from which will go to local cancer charities (Weston Park Cancer Hospital Charity, St Luke’s Hospice and Bluebell Wood Children’s Hospice).
  • Going on about stuff that matters – refugees, environmental issues, injustice, inequality, that sort of thing.  Going on and on.
  • Doing all the above whilst being a good-enough parent, partner and friend

Phew!  No pressure then.

Thanks to all who’ve enriched my life  in 2012, and with whom I’ve shared the best bits.   Here’s wishing you all good things in 2013.

 

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