A brief pause for breath and reflection

Things have been pretty hectic this last four or five weeks, in (for the most part) agreeable yet challenging ways. Picking up one of those increasingly common viral things at the start of June – y’know, the ones that just make you tired and intestinally out-of-sorts and generally unable to operate at full capacity, but without seeming to display anything you could describe as a concrete symptom? – was a bit of a dampener, but I had enough going on through June that I didn’t have the time to indulge it.

Much of the workload has been writing, and most of that writing for academic ends – though not necessarily “academic writing” in the generic and/or stylistic sense. The great privilege of working on a project like Climaginaries is that I get to do more creative thinking and writing than many research gigs (particularly ones based in the UK) could offer; I spent a fair amount of time prepping material and notes toward a two-day writing retreat with my colleagues, which took place at Häckeberga Slott, a bona fide 18thC castle on an island in a man-made lake in southern Sweden. Even setting aside the novelty and luxury of the venue, it’s a great privilege and joy to be able to devote two days of work to nothing other than a specific project, and it never fails to astonish me how much one can get done in such a circumstance. The project-within-the-project in question is still taking shape, but I don’t feel I’m revealing too much when I say we’re working on a lexicon of terms as used in the context of climate imaginaries – a lexicon rather than a dictionary, in that leaning into the looseness and subjectivity of the terms in question, and approaching them with non-traditional forms of writing, is very much the whole point of the exercise. Also magical is time spent in the close company of colleagues with the same intellectual concerns as myself: there’s a lot of upsides to being an off-campus researcher (not least the avoidance of admin and processual meetings), but one does rather miss out on the collegiate vibe, being able to talk shop with people from your own epistemological community, so on and so forth.

As an added bonus, I got a chance to spend more time with the Diakron / Primer gang just over the water in Denmark, and to forge some links between them and Lund University. And better still, I got to go all the way there and back by train, as is becoming traditional; I have firmed up my commitment to not flying any more (partly for ethical reasons, but also partly for reasons relating to my own mental health, via a vastly improved understanding of the contexts which tend to trigger it), and my employers’ willingness to pay for trains (and the necessary overnight stops) has done a lot to make this a viable option rather than a mere aspiration. I’ll be back at Primer some time later this year to give a talk as part of their current exhibition/research programme… which reminds me, I need to drop them a line and work out a date that will work for us all.

I had literally a day at home with which to do laundry and get a good night’s sleep before immediately taking to the rails again and heading for Barcelona, where I had been invited to do some teaching on narrative within the annual Degrowth and Environmental Justice Summer School staged by the Institute of Environmental Science and Technology of the Autonomous University of Barcelona. This was quite an experience for me: my first visit to Barcelona, a place I’ve wanted to go for a long time; a chance to teach narratology in a very specifically applied and future-oriented context; and a chance to meet some exemplars of the next generation of scholarship and activism. It was an honour to be invited, and the students were a pleasure to teach – though I can say without any recourse to cliché that I learned as much from them as they did from me, if not more so. The curse of being a theorist due to inclination and ability is that it can be all too easy to assume you know what things look like on the front line, and thus assume you know what is needed to support the people engaged in the struggle; a pedagogical format in which the students could guide the discussion using my preparation as a structural basis turned out to be not only successful but stimulating, and I have a much better idea about how I would approach the same task if asked to do it again. (I very much hope I might be asked again, too; I’d rather teach degrowth activists how to future than corporate middle-management types, if only because I know that the former actually want to do things differently, while the latter seem for the most part more interested in merely appearing to.)

Despite a hectic schedule, I did get the best part of a day to myself, which I spent wandering the old core of the city in blazing hot weather. I also got to prove the theoretical case that one can leave Sheffield on a train at 0600h and disembark in Barcelona at 2030h, local time… which is an impressive itinerary but, in truth, a bit much, even for someone who loves to travel by train. It would probably be more bearable with more recovery time between the outbound and return journeys… but it was still an order of magnitude less psychically disruptive than making the equivalent trip by air would have been, at least for me.

I returned from Barcelona a week ago, and it’s taken me much of the time since then to recover from all the travel and intensity, as well as from the lingering afterburn of the afore-mentioned virus. Last week was not astonishingly productive for that reason, and I should perhaps have just taken some days off immediately after getting back… but instead I spent the weekend just past over in Manchester, catching a few events at the MIF and hanging out with friends and loved ones. (Opinions seem to differ on the theatre/dance adaptation of Calvino’s Invisible Cities currently being staged in the cavernous remains of Mayfield Station; I quite enjoyed the bombast and spectacle of it, despite its sometimes jarring disjunction from the original text, but C. really didn’t like it much at all, for much the same reasons as the Grain’s reviewer.) I got back to Rust City Sunday morning in time to do a bit of climbing of my own, before spending a very pleasant afternoon sat on Devonshire Green watching the finals of the British Bouldering Championships, drinking good beer and eating disgracefully tasty fried foodstuffs. It was the downtime I clearly needed; after a very early night and the most restful sleep I’ve had in perhaps a month, I woke up today feeling ready to get back to work…

… though I’ve just spent an hour drafting this blog post, so perhaps I’m not quite so ready as I wanted to think, eh?

Long term readers will know it as one of my defining cliches, but the old Hunter Thompson adage has never felt so relevant: the going has gotten seriously weird, and I seem to be going ever more pro. Selah — it feels good to be doing things that matter. Onwards!

(It feels odd to return to the “here’s what I’ve been up to” style of blogging after having not done it for many years, but I think it’s time for it to make a comeback, even if only for my own personal sense of continuity and well-being. But then again I may find it boring, awkward and unnecessarily time-consuming, so who knows if it’ll stick? There other elements of my practice that are more important, at least for now… we’ll see how it goes.)

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