Two weeks ago, I wrote this piece after making my research presentation and journeying from Sheffield to Liverpool afterwards…
It is a rainy Thursday morning. I temporarily park close to a BMW on Dart Square – a narrow Close opposite the Department. There’s a stranger in that car. Ignition turned on, we both are baiting a permanent parking space. Soon, some cars pull out. We pull into their spots. We exchange brief pleasantries.
Two hours later, I’m making my PhD presentation to a panel of blank faces. Phrases are in the air. ‘I don’t think… I can’t see how… I’m afraid that…’ Like a whirlwind, it comes to an end quick. I head back to the Postgraduate Research office, and respond to some flimsy emails. Distraught is creeping in, so I pack up and head to my car on Dart Square. I am wearing no jacket at all. I take short paces, letting the drizzle drench my black peplum dress. I stop, write a little note and leave it on the BMW – ‘I hope your day was better than mine…’.
Minutes later, I’m heading to Liverpool to attend a conference. I know not much of the city safe for a short story I wrote years ago in which I had referenced it as having docks and wide streets. Dear lazy writer, be creative. The name of the city is something-pool, what do you expect? – can’t be a desert eh!
The weather is absolutely beautiful. Raining has ceased. Streaks of sunrays snip through cloud sheets. I’m driving unusually slow, meandering through Snake Road in Derbyshire, allowing my mind to wander across the meadows. A lot of these remind me of when I was a very curious teenager, travelling a lot to unknown destinations – observing people and nature. The Canon camera in the trunk of my car tempts me to pull over and take some photographs, but I don’t. During my teenage years, technology had not significantly revolutionised millennial behaviour. What I enjoyed most about my explorations was the strangers and places, and locking their sights and stories in my memory. So today, I make a conscious decision not to take pictures. Rather, I drive even slower, taking in all of nature, updating my memory bank.
I ponder on what my hopes still are for the human that I am. I always wanted to be a teacher. In fact, I do not remember a time that I had imagined being otherwise. Whilst I was a primary school pupil, I was in a Miss’s class who strongly influenced the woman I dreamt of becoming. Her poise, and genuine care was overwhelming. She – Miss allowed me practise in class – coordinating readings and spelling drills, and writing notes on the chalkboard. Oh the pre-Y2K years! Beyond academics, Miss talked a lot to me about life – hygiene, men, career and money. Somewhat beyond my years but as I now make everyday life decisions, I find myself constantly asking ‘what would Miss do?’
Somewhere through life, I began refining my dreams from being a teacher to a lecturer. I now realise that although similar, both greatly differ. As a PhD researcher, it’s easy to be immersed in the bandwagon conversations in academia – impact: ‘how may papers have you published? how many conference proceedings have you featured in? how may citations do you have?’. But nothing about a lecturer is as undesirable as the lack of that ‘thing’ a teacher should have – that ‘thing’ that makes one construct one’s interaction with the world in a way that has good impact. That ‘thing’ that makes one construct ‘can’ts and don’ts’ in a way that another human visualizes the ‘cans and dos’ in them. Isn’t this how research gaps are formulated?
This Thursday reminds me to be at peace with my growth. I should not overhaul the core of who I am, neither should I embrace anything far left from the positive. Away from baiting a parking space, and all the other things that may not go as expected, I am awakened to retain the values I thrived on as a child – the curious one who never gives up. The one who visualizes ‘cans and dos’. The one who strangers may never forget. Today, I am reminded that my real impact is the positivity and inspiration I give out during and after my existence – and this may as well include those papers and conference proceedings! Just as much, it may not matter how soonest I become a lecturer or a God-knows-what, but what matters is the journey and the balance I keep between the bandwagon deliverables in life and the impact I have defined for myself, not by anyone else.
So here I am, in Liverpool for the first time. The city is beautiful, more than I imagined. My hotel is on Albert Dock – right across an expanse of water. It’s like I’ve been here before. My phone beeps, it’s the stranger in the BMW. Hello another stranger!