Inside//Outside

In the various cornerstones that set the parameters for my existence, I feel constantly in-between two different states – working-class and middle-class; surrounded and isolated; home (Barnsley) and away (Sheffield) – never truly belonging to one or the other. My professional life is no different: the inside, University, is my rock; the outside, Community, is my hard place. On some days, I feel completely ‘inside’, seemingly studious, but utterly cut-off from life “out there”. Other times, I can feel like some kind of academic rogue, belonging to the ‘outside’ world emotionally and professionally, but completely out of my depth as soon as I step foot onto university territory.

On most days, though, I feel neither or: I am simply somewhere in-between. This page, then, represents a feeble attempt to commentate on this existential ping-pong game – where I’m the ball; and the bats are also mine, and big, and merciless; and the more the bats bat, the more tired I feel; and the more the ball is pushed around, the less aware I am of where I am, and who I am, and which team I’m actually on – if any at all.

I wonder: is it ever possible to be winning on both sides?

– RB

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9th April, 2018 – Inside < Outside
I do not belong in here. I am writing this in here, and resisting the urge to look over my shoulder in fear of being ‘caught out’ – despite the fact (I’m almost sure) that nobody else is looking. I’ve been worried all day about bumping into the colleague that I sent that email to last week; and any other colleague that heard about it; and, to be quite frank, the idea of bumping into anybody on the inside whatsoever today has been altogether off-putting.
Outside, though…even though I haven’t been away from the campus since I got here at 10am, the people that I have seen away from the desk – coffee with a student I once knew at undergrad; bumping into that lovely soul from the conference last year on the way back – have all filled me with the kind of energy that today had really been lacking. I didn’t have to see either of them. I could’ve made up some excuse to the first person; and simply pretended not to have seen the second one (although, of course, had I not gone out to see the former, I would never have bumped into the latter).
But I did see them, and we spoke about exactly what we wanted to speak about. There were the odd awkward moments, and the occasional pause, but that was okay, because under both conversations ran an implicit agreement that both they and I could be people here: forthcoming of our shortcomings, and unashamedly able to say that everything wasn’t okay. And that made me feel like I was actually part of something. That’s the way I feel when I’m out there, working in the community. Don’t get me wrong, I question whether the work I’m doing is actually doing any bloody good for anyone other than my career-aspiring self. But at least I’m part of something. At least I know my place.

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10th April, 2018 – Inside > Outside
A new face. An old friend. Belated messages, both to and from people I should’ve spoken to a long time ago, but didn’t. My place in this world is solely dependent on my relation to those around me. Without our connections, I don’t exist. And it’s those within the University that have reminded me of where I am today. The swapping of comparable struggles, stories over cuppas and brews, makes me feel less alone. My internal battle is not unique. My struggle is not just my own. The burden is shared, then halved. I can walk a little longer now.

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11th April, 2018Inside < Outside

Fieldwork gives me a real buzz. I spent much of today reading academic articles and making long-overdue progress on my confirmation review, but because I’m actually out there, and feel my work is helping a community of media makers in some small way as well as myself, I feel more productive here right now than I do anywhere else.

Here’s a thought. What if more of us started doing PhDs that took us outside of the university? I don’t just mean parachuting into a community, data-gathering, and then disappearing off the face of the planet, like so many of us do; but actually going out there and genuinely living in that world, if only for a day or two? I moan a lot about being caught between the two states of inside and outside, but one benefit it really does give you is a real sense of perspective in both realms. I think academics might think twice before betraying the wants and needs of the community (by favouring their own insider aspirations) if they actually spent long enough out there to feel some sense of solidarity with those aims.

Maybe then, we wouldn’t be walking through streets of poverty and deprivation on our way to our multi-million-pound academic estate. Maybe then, I could start to sleep a little easier at night.

12th April-6th May, 2018 – Inside ? Outside

The exercise of reflective writing, in and of itself, has been far from my mind of late. Reflective writing is great, but it doesn’t pay me money; it doesn’t clear up my to-do list; it lacks the self-gratification that those more practical tasks bring (you know, those ones that actually ‘contribute’ to that great-big 100-thousand-and-something-word thesis I’m working on).

{ASIDE: As I’m writing this, a woman tries to make back in onto the train I’m on, after stepping out to check that she’d locked her car. The doors closed at the very moment she agonisingly turned the corner, sprinting down the stairs in vain. I could’ve done something. I could’ve helped her. Sat in the doorway until she came back. But I wrote this instead. It’s another hour ’til the next train. She’ll probably get hammered at work. And here I am, shrugging my shoulders at the woman I could’ve saved from a 10am bawl, as if to somehow ease her burden. I’m sorry, love. I’m writing a blog.}

The outside world needs do-ers. The inside world wants show-ers. And here I am in the middle – trying to do both, but not really achieving either.

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