Carpe Weekend

Carpe Weekend

Most of us are familiar with the phrase ‘Carpe Diem’, or ‘Seize the day’.  Yet rather than seizing every day, often it is only on the weekend that we feel we have time to stop, collect ourselves and breathe.  This feature is designed to help with that: a small suggestion, tip or hint for you to try (if you wish!) over the weekend.  Maybe it will make a difference to your life, maybe it won’t, maybe it will prompt some other thoughts.  Enjoy – and seize your weekend!

This week, cancel something over the weekend.  I’m not suggesting that you become a total flake and drop out of a whole load of commitments and engagements; simply pick one thing and cancel it.  It need not even be an event; it could be that you take a minute to unsubscribe from a mailing list that you’re no longer interested in or that you put a stop to a direct debit that goes to waste (new year’s gym membership, anyone?!).  Or it may be that a future commitment looms large like a big black cloud.  Do you *have* to do it?  Is there no way of graciously getting out of it without causing damage or hassle for others?  I’ve been on a cancelling spree of late, encouraged by Anna Kunnecke’s Queen Sweep programme.  She drew on Martha Beck’s concept of The Three Bs, or bag it, barter it, better it; ie ditch, delegate or somehow improve responsibilities (damn not being able to find a word beginning with d for the last one!).  From simple things such as Ebay saved searches that I don’t want daily updates about anymore to some big work projects, I’ve bagged, bartered and bettered across various areas of my life and can attest that I feel relieved – lighter – because of it.  But there’s no need to do lots.  Just pick one thing.  Cancel it.  It may only create a tiny space in your life, but as Leonard Cohen sang, a crack is how the light gets in.

Little Shop of Horrors: or trying to teach gender history to engineering students


In a couple of weeks, I will be teaching US women’s history to a Study Abroad group.  They are all engineering students from a mid-west university in the US and they take their humanities requirement whilst they are here.  I’ve been involved with the scheme for a few years and it’s always an interesting experience.  It feels quite surreal to be telling people about their own country when they are in another country.  I’ve found that what they really want to know about is life in the UK and our perceptions of the US (answering ‘What do Brits think about George W Bush?’ challenged my skills of diplomacy!).

As this is an unusual scenario, I’m usually quite flexible around group discussion and allow it to meander and segue in a way that I probably wouldn’t in a more standard module.  My guiding principle  is to give them time, space and encouragement to think differently about issues they may never have considered before.  As well as national identity, gender features heavily.  Bearing in mind that these are engineering students who have never seriously studied history nor are likely to again, I try to select topics and source material that are easily relatable and hopefully entertaining as well as educative.  YouTube videos are helpful in this respect!  I particularly enjoy showing the ‘Somewhere that’s green‘ clip from the 1986 film Little Shop of Horrors.  I always introduce it with lots of caveats about it being a film depiction of an earlier period, shouldn’t be read literally etc; having said that, I think it beautifully illustrates the appeal of suburban American Dream to many women (and men) in the post-war era – issues about escapism, safety and security, all factors that historians are still prone to overlook when considering this much maligned period.

Crucially, the students seem to *get* the clip, and many other similar sources that I use.  By selecting material that is already familiar in some way, they are not overwhelmed or intimidated, worrying about whether they understand it or not.  We can then push to the next level of analysis, discussion and deconstruction much more quickly than if they have to spend a chunk of time establishing what it is that they are considering.  I’m not suggesting that this should always be the case, or that we should never use materials that challenge our students.  In this particular situation, however, I try to be pragmatic and achieve the greatest gain possible in the limited time that we have.

For me, the greatest gain possible is that they finish the module with more awareness that the issues affecting them as men and women are not always simply individual experiences; these issues are structural.  Using familiar material that they can easily make connections with helps to do this.  I’m sure that it doesn’t work all the time, but occasionally I get reassurance.  Last year, one commented when submitting her essay that the course ‘had made me think differently about lots of things’ – the greatest feedback I’ve ever had from a student.  I hope that I/they/we can achieve the same this year.


Wholehearted Living

Last night, I spent a very contented few hours sitting on my bed continuing to re-read Brene Brown’s “The Gifts of Imperfection”. Yesterday morning, I posted about how much Brown’s writing has influenced me and shared her definition of love, which comes near the beginning of the book. As I settled down to sleep later the same day, a passage from towards the end of the book rang in my ears and my soul. I thought I would share this quotation too:

“However afraid we are of change, the question that we must ultimately answer is this: What’s the greater risk? Letting go of what people think or letting go of how I feel, what I believe, and who I am?

Wholehearted living is about engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness. It’s about cultivating the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think, No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough. It’s going to bed at night thinking, Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging.”

A great way to end the book; a great way to end the day.

The Gifts of Imperfection

Last week, I issued a book amnesty, whereby I declared that I had stopped reading any of the books I was currently part way through. It was such a relief from the self-imposed guilt of a half finished pile! With a clean slate in place, I had the joy of beginning to re-read Joanne Field’s “A Life of One’s Own”, from which this blog is named, over the weekend. Also over the weekend , I had a conversation about favourite books. Always hard to pick one, or even a handful, but I straightaway cited Brene Brown as an author who has really influenced me. Barely a day goes by when I don’t think of something she writes about in “Daring Greatly” or “The Gifts of Imperfection”. It’s no exaggeration to say that they’ve been life-changing reads (I guess this is a sign that I should read her other book, “I thought it was just me”, soon too!).

One of the things I like most about Brown’s writing is that she takes seemingly nebulous concepts and gives very precise definitions that she’s worked up from her research into shame and vulnerability. In particular, I like her statement about love, which has helped me to explore what it means to me. How can we ever know what love is? Are we “in love”? Are we loved? Big, challenging, scary questions, but her short definition has provided a guidepost when searching for answers.

“We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known, and when we honour the spiritual connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness, and affection.

Love is not something that we give or get; it is something that we nurture and grow, a connection that can only be cultivates between two people when it exists within each one of them – we can only love others as much as we love ourselves.

Shame, blame, disrespect, betrayal, and the withholding of affection damage the roots from which love grows.
Love can only survive these injuries if they are acknowledged, healed, and rare.”

Brene Brown, “The Gifts of Imperfection”, p26

Carpe Weekend

Carpe Weekend

Most of us are familiar with the phrase ‘Carpe Diem’, or ‘Seize the day’. Yet rather than seizing every day, often it is only on the weekend that we feel we have time to stop, collect ourselves and breathe.  This feature is designed to help with that: a small suggestion, tip or hint for you to try (if you wish!) over the weekend.  Maybe it will make a difference to your life, maybe it won’t, maybe it will prompt some other thoughts.  Enjoy – and seize your weekend!

This coming Monday, 26th May, is a Bank Holiday here in the UK. This is something of a divisive issue. Whilst some people relish an extra day’s holiday, others resent them, arguing that they are pointless, often boring, and an enforced day off that diminishes one’s holiday allowance. I fall into the former category. I think Bank Holidays are great, if only because when else would one take a random Monday off work? Make the most of it! This doesn’t necessarily mean having a plan for the whole long weekend. This week’s suggestion is about simply treasuring that one extra day off. Do something to mark it! Is their a friend you haven’t seen in a while? See if you can meet for lunch. If they’re not around, write them a letter or draw them a picture. Is there a film you’ve been meaning to see? Watch it! Quite simply come up with any pleasurable, fun activity that you haven’t got round to doing and honour the Bank Holiday by doing it. Remember that our forebearers strove hard for statutory holiday and we should respect their efforts! If you’re not in the UK, or don’t happen to have the day off, then you can still make this suggestion work – can you squeeze in something fun or different to your usual routine during your lunch break or in the evening? Let’s celebrate tiny moments of freedom whenever we can grasp them. Especially if they’re on a Monday.

Happy spring bank holiday weekend to you all!