Monday, 22 February 2021

Glad I quit...the academy

Students at graduation (Shutterstock)

Eight years ago I quit my post at the university where I had taught for almost 15 years. I felt disheartened at the time with everything that was going on in the world of academia. A casual conversation with the editor of Times Higher Education led me to write an article in which I voiced my discontent and my concerns for how things were going.

Leaving my job felt like walking out of a 'bad' marriage ( a tweet exchange with a celebrity academic prompted the reply 'What about the children?'). I felt free, though I was also scared and had occasional waves of regret sweeping through me. I still thought that I might go back to teaching after a break, somewhere else, obviously. It was not to be, other things awaited me. I relished the freedom I suddenly enjoyed (and a little less the lack of financial security, but I learnt to adapt).  I was able to do more writing in my own time, securing funding for a project that then led me to publish a full length monograph - Contemporary Indonesian Fashion. Through the looking glass (Boomsbury 2019),  the outcome of that research project in a new field of studies, fashion. 

Meanwhile, modelling really took off for me, especially after I joined Grey Model Agency and I embarked on a new career as model, fashion writer and fashion activist. 

King's College, Cambridge (Google images)

A recent conversation with an overseas student who had failed her master, having submitted a dissertation that did not match the course requirements, brought it all back. Whatever I wrote in that THE article back in 2013 is still valid and perhaps even more relevant today, at a time when COVID-19 has disrupted academic teaching even more.  Students do fail their courses, but it is important to understand why this happens. It is not always the case that they are bad students, it is often because the teaching is inadequately structured. I am not blaming tutors either. They work very hard, it is, as I said a structural problem.

Rather than rewriting my article of 2013, I am providing a link to it here. Leaving the academy was not easy, but I survived and thrived. 

It is sad though to realise that eight years on things have changed, yes, but for the worse.

(Disclaimer: the images for this post have nothing to do with its content) 

Sunday, 14 February 2021

Valentine's Day

Card made using one of Michael Culhane's photos, with myself and Mike Cooney as models

Valentine's Day has a long history but it came to prominence in the 20th century when it became a rather commercial celebration in the English speaking world. By way of imitation, it spread to other countries around Europe and also in the Far East, in the same way that Halloween has. 

When I was growing up in Italy, Valentine's Day was not all that popular. We did not get 'valentines' in school, and receiving a 'valentine' was not a measure of a girl's popularity.

But when I moved to the UK  at the end of the seventies,  I became more and more aware of the significance of Valentine's Day. 

It sure matters. Valentine's Day is mostly about lovers but friendship is also celebrated. In pre-Covid times Valentine's Day was when restaurants were at their busiest, as well as florists. 

I still remember the year - it must have been 2010 - when my son, then at university and very much in love with a very sweet girl, a bit younger than him, asked me to make myself scarce on Valentine's Day as he wanted to cook her a meal and propose. He even asked for my engagement ring, which was not amazing, but he could not afford to buy a new one. I complied, fervently hoping the girl would see some sense and would not accept a proposal from a (then) penniless student. She said 'nyes' (which later became 'no') and then I knew she was sensible and took to her at once.

As for my son,  he is now, several years later, happy with someone else and they have a wonderful little  girl...

No matter what, if I do not get flowers and cards on Valentine's Day I do feel something has gone awry. These days the flowers are mostly virtual and so are the cards. A former boyfriend of mine regularly sent me, for years, eye-catching cards, through the post, with his own poetry (rather imitative, but I never told him)  then he stopped. I was surprised but was also glad he did. Yet I kind of miss it now,  it was fun after all. You never realise the value and importance of what you lost until you lose it. 

Today I bought myself roses from my local Waitrose. I always buy myself flowers, I just love them, but today I bought myself some red roses. There was a rather frantic young man who wanted a single, long stemmed red rose, just the one, and could not find any. It was late afternoon. 'Too late, mate' said one of the assistants. I don't remember ever seeing anyone so disappointed. He wanted to surprise his girlfriend...

I was feeling positively morose at the lack of 'valentines' and told a dear friend about it. Five minutes later he sent me a beautiful bunch of flowers (virtual of course). I was so moved, I burst into tears. 

Valentine's Day can bring up lots of pent-up emotions. But it's worth remembering receiving a 'valentine' is nothing to do with your self -worth. At the end of the day, the most important love is the one you give yourself. If you do not love yourself you cannot love anyone...