If I Must

I haven’t blogged for a while. There’s a reason for that – I’ve been busy working in a Students’ Union at a time of year that gives little respite. This is only one reason though. The other is a lack of inspiration. This blog isn’t about much apart from that – but maybe you’ll recognise your own experiences in some of mine.

My blog pieces here have been reactionary. From the riots to solar panels, they have tackled issues that have interested me, usually by angering me. I’ve tried to take the argumentative fight to the forces driving regressive social change. A useful exercise – predominantly, perhaps, for me – but research heavy, time consuming, and sadly negative.

I don’t want to write a relentlessly negativity. Overarching political trends – austerity, European democratic degradation, failure to progress in climate negotiations, relentless commodification (to name some) – remain uninspiring and morale-sapping. To be professionally responsible for resisting an instance of the latter (in the form of the government’s disastrous Higher Education white paper), against political odds, does little to invigorate. By only writing to arm myself with greater and greater detail, I run the risk of slipping closer to the devil.

In the shadow of this silence has run my ever-evolving self-examination and purpose-seeking. I know that I enjoy my job. It affords me freedom and experience unique so soon after graduating from a university (and it yields something perhaps rarer: a salary). Being, I think, at least capable at what I do, I derive satisfaction and reward from helping create a better University world for students to thrive in. But I also know it doesn’t sate an opaque and visceral tug to be acting out as fully as possible my values in what I do.

Since October I’ve had little chance to reflect on this. This is not a good thing, quickly leading to frustration, uncertainty and, at times of fatigue, transient despondency. Instead, looking for an information-based practical agenda, I’m overwhelmed. Not only is there too much to know and care about, there’s too much to read, listen, watch and say about each, and too many ways of reading, listening, watching and saying. Twitter – a key tool in marshaling information – nevertheless represents this best: approach it with the wrong attitude and it will drown you.

Fatigue and uncertainty combined in a week of contrasts not long ago. On a Wednesday morning I attended an 8am meeting with very senior members of the university to discuss the student growth plan (Bristol plans to respond to the deregulation of AAB+ students with an expansion in student numbers of 20%). I participated and observed. Participated by ensuring as much as possible that a cohort of students too large for the facilities in place, and too soon for those facilities to be significantly expanded, are not as disadvantaged as they might have been. And I observed people with hundreds of millions of pounds worth of responsibility for higher education grapple with the realities of crap government policy – albeit policy that some at the table had supported.

I spent the following night at Occupy Bristol, on College Green. Far from the double-glazed establishment of a biscuit and coffee filled top-floor board-room, Occupy was dark, cold, and hard. Hard to see and understand, hard to imagine, hard to discern clear purpose for, hard to engage with. This is not a comment on Occupy Bristol in any objective sense – I support it and am pleased a motion doing likewise passed into Student Union policy recently – but a comment on my experience of it then. Quick to migrate from one site of political action to another – inhabited by some of the wealthiest and poorest in Bristol – and with little time for thought in between, I’d actually forgotten what I was doing, and why I might be doing it. The ground I thought I laid to tread on had moved.

In neither instance did I feel committed, sure of purpose, or invigorated. Political action is often unclear, and a political life is burdened with this fact. But lack of these three components is a signal to pause. It’s a signal to work out what you want to do before you work out exactly why or how. It’s a signal to focus on yourself and interrogate that opacity, to force light in. It’s a signal to be honest about what you are good at, how you’re built, how as yourself you’re best an agent of a vision. It’s a signal to ignore guilt at not being like other people, to stop worrying that they’re analyses trump yours as an explanation for their surety.

I didn’t choose to write just another blog piece because I accepted I didn’t want to. I don’t want to bury myself in issues obsessively, or act as I feel I ‘should’. I want to live in a way that nourishes me, despite the near-nihilism that can come from serious reflection on the present and future. That means paying attention to myself – blog reticence and all – and to what I feel as if I can properly put energy into. I’ll write another reactionary blog piece again, and meet with the university. No doubt I’ll head to Occupy once more. That doesn’t mean nothing in me won’t have changed. Let the inspiration return.

And Merry Christmas.

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