Thursday, 28 August 2014

Turning 30

Well what kind of blogger would I be if I didn't blog about a landmark birthday?...I'll tell you a secret about turning 30...are you ready....it doesn't really matter.

Admittedly I'm typing this while still 29, so I could be wrong. By the time you read this I may have turned into a scaly green monster or something. I doubt it though. The thing is, I'm quite looking forward to being 30. It's never seemed that old to me, it just seemed 'nice'.

My 20s I wasn't that bothered about. Turning 21 in true rock star style I er, went to see 'The Producers' in London I think...I saw something anyway. And overall, my 20s weren't all that. I mean they were fine, but not being inclined towards all that 20-something behaviour you see on TV from the young 'uns. I'm actually more suited to the sensible 30s. (pah, sensible that's overrated too)

There's a lot of rubbish talked about what you 'should' do by a certain age. I think, if I'm to beleive society (and quite possibly the Daily Mail) I should have a dull job that I'm not interested in but have been doing for at least 10 years, I should own a house-it doensn't matter that the debt will be crippling and the house probably an utter dive-owning properly is one of the key markers of worth in society. I should (obviously) be married and have popped out at least one kid by now, or at the very least have the decency to be pregnant before 30. And if I haven't even got a boyfriend by now, or if I'm not in a job I forsee being in for 20 years, well frankly Lord help me. That's not to say there's anything wrong if you HAVE done any of them before 30, but why do I need to do them in an agreed timescale...or even at all? Writing it down all seems terribly arcaic and silly, but they are all thing's I've heard thrown about either personally or in the media.

News flash, I haven't' done any of those. Some of them I don't intend to do soon, others ever. And you know what? I'm perfectly happy with that too. I'm also pretty happy with where I am at 30. I spent my 20s finishing my education, generally pottering about with my life, cultivating a good group of friends and I arrive at 30 fairly content with that.

Are there things I wish I'd done? things I'd like to have done by now? Sure, but they'll get done. And if they don't well, probably nobody is going to die as a result. I can honestly say there is nothing on a pre-30 bucket list that can't be achieved post-30. Honestly, ask yourselves, is there anything that might be on such a list that can't be done next year? the year after? I can jump out of an plane just as well at 50 as at 30 if I desired (I don't desire but that's not the point)

I jokingly made a Facebook post last week about being told 30 was too old for going to theme parks. And bless him a 25 year old friend of mine genuinely thought that. To him, 30 was some far off grown up point where going to theme parks was a forbidden thing, you are too old at 30 to have fun it seems. And bless, I'm sure that by 29 maybe the goalposts will shift and 30 won't seem so ancient after all. I really hope so, because I'd hate for anyone to think that 30 is old, the end of the line. It's just the beginning.

At 30 I know who I am, I know what I want out of life and I know what makes me happy. I know who makes me happy as well, and I'm more particular about the people I surround me with. I'm more particular about my career choices. I'll still do anything to earn a living in the short term, but I'm no longer willing to 'make do' when it comes to the big career choices. I am more particular about some things, I know what wine I like and what chocolate best goes with that wine. Yes I'm more grown up. But I also have Doctor Who toys on my bookshelf. And I WILL be making friends stand by the promise of an Old People's trip to Legoland. Just to prove we can.

In short, there's nothing you HAVE to do before 30. And 30 isn't a cliff you fall off into adulthood. I'm looking forward to being 30-something. It's grown up, in a good way. But not that grown up. Just like me.

I leave this post with a better, funnier version of this attitude from Mr John Finnemore.


And if I had one wish for my Birthday....well if John Finnemore fancied a date sometime...

X Files Series 1 Re-watch.

First in a series of X Files season by season reviews as I work my way through them. This could take some time (though I've done S1 in about a month, so you new know)

Before going into Series 1, some context. The X Files was my teenage obsession. It was my first fandom, my first online engagement with something I was a fan of, the first thing I read (cough wrote, least said about that the better) fanfiction for. It was the gateway to my love of a lot of other Sci-Fi and cult TV. The X Files ended on British television fittingly during my last term of University, and I think the last time I properly watched a lot of it was at the end of my Undergraduate degree. I was still a fan, I still followed the careers of those involved-not just the lead actors, but writers, producers etc but I stepped away from watching the show, I guess it was just time for a break. Over the last couple of years I've revived my fannish interest by poking about online and coming across bits and pieces of fan engagement-a gif or two here, fan videos and of course David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson appearing at Comicon for the anniversary last year. So The X Files has never gone away for me. Much like the show/films it's just been a really, really long hiatus. As I write these season by season reviews I'll probably dip into a bit more about why I was a fan and what it meant to me, and probably other long tangents as well. But here goes...

For me series 1 is book-ended by two episodes that sum up early years X Files for me; The Piolet and The Erlenmeyer Flask. Both of these have probably the 'classic' X Files content, and in the case of the latter the real beginning of the show's overriding mythology arc.

Across series 1 there were a number of 'classic' episodes that more than lived up to my memory. Particularly 'Ice' in which an arctic research station becomes a centre of mysterious deaths, and 'Darkness Falls' where a trip to the woods...yup results in mysterious deaths. These two were among my favourites of the 'stand alone' episodes across the whole of 'The X Files' and they still are among my favourites on re-watching. This kind of dark and spooky episode that weds a traditional murder mystery with a supernatural element is among the reasons I loved the show. As a big detective fiction (in any guise) fan, it was these whodunnit elements wedded with a dark slightly warped edge that despite my love of the conspiracy/mythology side always were among my favourite episodes. It is that despite being slightly dated now, these episodes retain their original mystery and stand the test of time.

Of all the episodes in Season 1, my hands down favourite has to be Squeeze/Tooms two parter. Innovative in placing the two parts of the story across the season, the episode which sees a stretchy liver eating mutant murdering people every 30 years is classic X Files. Taking a creepy monster (he can squeeze down the chimney, up the toliet, through the heating grates) that looks like a traditional murder, having Mulder come up against 'proper' FBI agents, it's at once quite a playful episode that sees traditional murder mystery spun on it's head with, well liver eating hibernating mutants. What isn't to love? With some classic Mulder and Scully dialogue such as "Is there any way I can get this off my hands without betraying my cool exterior" and a slight nod to one of the inspirations behind The X Files in the Hannibal Lecter stories, Tooms remains one of my favourites.

I enjoyed rediscovering episodes I'd all but forgotten, and others I'd actively avoided. I loved 'The Jersey Devil' and discovered that 'Conduit' and 'Miracle Man' were also strong episodes I'd forgotten. Special mention also to 'Fallen Angel' and the appearance of Max Fenig a character I was always fond of, and to 'Deep Throat' and Seth Green as a stoner kid watching UFOS. I finally made myself re-watch 'Beyond the Sea' an episode I knew was a great one, but that I'd avoided due to a weird phobia around anything with capitol punishment in it. And it really is one of Season 1's greatest episodes, showing how effectively that the show balances it's 'spooky' elements with human drama and emotion (in this case the death of Scully's father).

There were a few episodes that fell a bit short, that I did if I'm honest find a little boring. Something to be expected in any season of American TV in particular (by which I mean by the sheer numbers game compared to UK shorter seasons) and in the early seasons again, while a show is finding it's feet. For me the latter end of the season contained more episodes I wasn't as enamored with Gender Bender, Shapes Born Again (the only one I did turn off before the end) and Roland aren't the greatest hours of television ever filmed, but still aren't by any stretch truly bad.

And yes, early X Files does seem a little dated now. It's over 20 years old, give it a break. The clothes, the hair, the cars all have a particular early 1990s feel that it's hard not to have a giggle at (Mulder, please, a suit that fits!) And yes, anyone under the age of 20 will be shouting 'just google it' about 10 minutes in. But that's part of it's charm. And yes, there are problematic episodes-Roland mentioned above takes an attitude to disabled people that probably wouldn't make it to filming today. And across this re-watch I'll probably talk in more depth about the issues of representation, or problematic episodes I come across. But as it's not the sole purpose of the re-watch blogs the time I spend on it will vary. That said I stand my my approach to problematic television (or film, or books) that just because it's problematic doesn't mean you have to stop watching-indeed watching and engaging with it is probably more useful. It doesn't mean also that I can't still enjoy these episodes that back in the late 1990s I didn't notice as problematic. But back to the point of this paragraph, if you want a time capsule back to 1990s hair and power suits, pick any episode and check out Scully's look. Poor Gillian, at least we know it gets better. In fact her and David Seem to have a magical makeover around series 4...so until now let's enjoy the awful ties and suits...and giant cell phones.

As a fan, part of the charm is knowing how far the characters still have to go in many different ways. In terms of maturity, in terms of approach and yes in terms of each other. Whichever side you fell on in terms of Mulder and Scully getting together, there is no denying that their relationship was a central part of the show. And I mean that in terms of their FBI partnership and their personal friendship. Their dynamic was what made the show in many ways, and seeing it again from the begining warms my cynical heart all over again. Not least because the classic moments that have become enshrined in Mulder&Scully fanlore are being for me discovered anew. So from the moment Mulder says 'Nobody here but the FBI's most unwanted' in episode 1 to Scully saying 'I wouldn't put myself on the line for anyone but you' at the end of the season, it feels a bit like re-living a love affair all over again. Which let's face it, it is. I'll be talking a lot about Mulder and Scully's relationship as I go through, because to date it's still one of my favourite television relationships. Watching them develop over the years was inspiring to me as a teenager, as a young woman, and watching it again is sure to throw up some interesting thoughts. Right now I'm enjoying baby Mulder and Scully and thinking about just how far they have to go.

This looking ahead actually sums up my overall thoughts on season 1. There are so many classic moments, so many forgotten gems. And it's the start of everything, which as a fan is fantastic to delve back into. To be able to go back to where it all began. The characters are only half formed so far, the mythology is a vague suspicous looking man smoking in the background and a few green blooded aliens (some will argue it never got much beyond that but that's another discussion) Skinner is just the bald headed grumpy man, and we haven't even met Krycek yet! And currently Mulder and Scully really are just friends (though Mulder has already conceded it's 'plausible' she's hot) It's still all to play for, it's wonderful and exciting to almost reset my fan brain. But at the same time, I know what's coming. I know there are far more exciting things to come. That feels wrong to say, that I should love each season equally as a fan, that I should say yet but if it weren't for season 1 we wouldn't have x or y or z. Which is true, but knowing some of my favourites are still ahead makes me excited to keep going...

So, on to series 2....

Monday, 18 August 2014

Loncon thoughts or being a black sheep at a convention

This Saturday I went to Loncon3 or Worldcon.  Confusing enough that it has two names I know. For those who don't (and there are plenty of people who read my blog who won't I realise) WorldCon is the World Science Fiction Convention, it tours, moving location annually, therefore Loncon refers to where it is (London) still not sure what the "3" in the title refers to.

I'll lay my cards on the table at the start, in a nutshell, I'm glad I went but I wouldn't go again. I will also say I didn't have a bad time, I had a great time with existing friends and meeting a couple of new people, I saw interesting things and my friends and I had interesting discussions. However the whole experience was, if not unpleasant, still not entirely pleasant. It was, for want of a better word odd. I felt also that this clearly was not the place for me.

I don't say that, or any that follows, with any personal disrespect to either the organisers of the attendees (with a few notable exceptions that will be clearly highlighted) and I'd like to stress to anyone who goes to an event like this, or even the organisers, sometimes it isn't for everyone who walks through those doors. Sometimes that's because of things that happen there, sometimes it's just not a right fit.

I went to Loncon out of curiosity, it doesn't come to the UK often (I think the last time was in the 70s in London and it's been in Scotland since) I've also never been to a real fan convention, and this one that was combining academic panels with fan panels and fan activity seemed a good place to start. What I will say is it's made me curious to try other purely fan conventions that are fixated on areas I am more interested in.

That was part of the problem for me, that I clearly don't fit into the demographic of fan in any way that Loncon is aimed at. I knew it was a literary sci-fi focus, and therefore I knew that's not really my area of interest/academic expertise. Which is fine, I've been to plenty of conferences that sit a bit outside my areas of interest and learned lots and had an interesting time. I had a feeling across the time I was there, and through stories from others, that this was just not for me. It felt, what I'd always feared about conventions actually, that 'local place for local people' feeling, and that you are clearly wearing a neon sign that says 'not local' (weird analogy but the fact that I can't resist a League of Gentleman metaphor further illustrates how I didn't fit in I think)

As an academic I also felt there was something that maybe wasn't gelling. I say this as an observer not a participant. But I was curious about putting academic style panels in a fan space. I was a fan before I was an academic and I'll continue to be a fan and an academic. I feel fans have as much intelligent contribution to give to discussions about the things they love, more so in fact because if you aren't doing it as part of work, there is often a level of dedication and passion that sometimes we lose as academics. I felt strongly that there was a real respect from the academics present to the fans, however I'm not sure that was entirely mutual. Maybe it was just a convention thing and a way people are used to behaving in their relative spaces, but I didn't feel fans were giving the academics the time of day at times. Not all the time, but I did also witness some pretty shocking behaviour first hand. Coupled with what I also heard from friends these clearly weren't isolated incidents, so I think dissuading it here is warranted.

During panels there was at times no sense of decorum, I'd even say a lack of respect for speakers. There was shouting out and shouting over panelists. This firstly is downright rude, not matter what the context. But there seemed to be a lack of understanding that, if you attend a panel you are attending to listen to the speakers. The speakers are chosen, whether academic or not, for their expertise in the area under discussion. While there is space for Q&A and debate, these people have been invited to speak, and in attending that panel you as an audience member have agreed to listen. If you don't like it, there is always an option to leave. On particular panelist found himself rudely shouted at because his microphone wasn't working. The man wasn't deliberately trying to make it difficult for the audience to hear, and still people shouted at him abusively. In the same panel I also witnessed a woman use a racial insult that I'm pretty sure actually falls under British law about racial abuse.

Now, there is no accounting for people frankly being dicks. And obviously at any massive event there will be a certain dick-quota. (I tried to find a more eloquent way to put that but failed) However, anecdotal evidence suggested this sort of thing was being seen across academic panels. And not so much the outright dick-behaviour (of which I have a few more examples that I didn't personally witness so don't feel I can relay here) but also of a general attitude against the academic analysis or engagement with the topics. I understand resistance to academic analysis in some respect-something that was discussed in the 'Researching Fans' panel. But there was a feeling overall, of the academic track not being quite welcome or engaged with.

Perhaps it was something about the scheduling, perhaps it needed to be clearer for people going into those rooms just what kind of panel they were attending. Perhaps it was also something about the organisation of the academics into their panels too-I know a number of people were put into panels, particularly as moderators that they were either uncomfortable with or felt they were't knowledgeable about. It's a mammoth task, I realise but equally with a conference/convention this large, this sort of thing needs attention.

Now to the overall feeling of the convention side. Although a literary bent I'd expected in my nerdy/geeky self to feel like I was a part of the worlds represented. Sadly I didn't. I just felt like there was nothing for me there. On two levels, firstly that as a media/television/film consumer that I was not the target audience, even a little bit not welcome. It felt like, in a very old fashioned way, TV and film was looked down upon in favour of the more 'serious' mediums of written word and comic books. Secondly, the type of fan I am, and my age certainly played a part. There was much derision of online fandom, and a lack of open mindedness about how young people engage with culture today. I think older fans would find a lot of respect from younger fans if they engaged with them, but sadly there is a lack of mutual respect the other ways. I say that as probably an 'in between aged fan' I LOVE the young fans, I love that they can use online resources better than I can and I love that they produce fan works and have encyclopedic knowledge that I can't keep up with. I want to talk to the "kids" older fans it's time you did too, you might learn something.

Feeling that sense of if not quite hostility, but certainly not quite belonging dampened my experience. It didn't mean I don't greatly respect other people's fandoms, and I was curious to learn more about the literary sci fi and fantasy world that I perhaps don't know much about. It felt like a closed door however. I do regret not getting chance to engage with the Tolkein society, because even as the most casual of Tolkein fans I feel like there I might have felt welcomed, engaged with. Overall there was a weird mix of 'gatekeeping' in a 'what do you mean you don't know that' way, combined with a shocking seeming omissions to the consensus of knowledge. If I as a very casual/peripheral  fan feel that some authors were missing from discussions that's a weird position to be in.

If I had to sum up my experience it would be "an experience" or simply "odd" as I say I had a great weekend overall, I got to spend time with friends and met a few new ones through those friends. We had great academic, and fannish discussions inspired by the panels we attended or spoke on, but perhaps not in the manner intended by the conference/convention.

I have the greatest respect for Loncon organsiers, and attendees, it's a massive event and well done all for pulling it off. There are many for whom it's their convention of choice and while I can't understand their experience I'm sure it means a lot to them, and that's great. Whatever my expereince I'm happy that events like this exist and are so popular. I'm also happy that there is continued work to engage academic experience, particularly fan studies into such events. My experience this weekend indicates that it's a tricky process and there's still a long way to go, but at least it's going, at least academics and fans are coming together and talking. And that's a great thing.

As for me, I'm glad I went. I won't be going back to Worldcon but I will I think venture to more conferences that are suited to my tastes. I look forward to engaging with like-minded fans, and perhaps being an academic at a fan conference to.

Oh one final thing, we talk a lot about Cosplay, and how to behave towards people in cosplay, however, to people in Cosplay too: being in a costume isn't a pass to act like a complete idiot. Being in costume doesn't mean you no longer need to have basic manners. Being in a costume doesn't mean you are better than the rest of us. Behave yourselves.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Always starting over (or what happens when you're friends screw you over, you fall apart and get back together again)

I've wondered whether or how to write this blog post for a while now, but I think the time has come. Also I think I need to say a few things. I'm a writer that's what I am it's what I do, and writing it all out is the only way I'm going to get it out, and resolve a few things in my head. So here goes.

A while back I posted about losing my job, that blog post is here.
http://fixedpointintime.blogspot.co.uk/2014/04/working-9-to-oh-maybe-not.html

I'm proud of how I handled that then. I stayed on the side of polite, professional, reserved. Some time has passed now, and while I'm not interested in a public mud-slinging match, I also feel like I want to tell the truth about just how much all that affected me.

Firstly there was the fact I'd gone from having a job(s) and a small but steady source of income to see out the PhD to nothing. I'm not going to dwell on it here, suffice to say it's had serious impact. Not only through not having income but the impact worrying about not having money has had. Instead of focusing on my PhD I've been panicking about "how long I have left" until the money runs out (clue: it already has) so rather than being driven by when it's ready academically, the PhD is now driven by "I can't go on any longer"

But that is that, it still means that the PhD is finished faster than it would have been had I been working full time, so that at least I can be grateful for. And I'm sure in the long term this is indeed a blessing in disguise. But that's the thing, I'd probably have gotten two months into that full time job, decided the sacrifice of the PhD wasn't worth it and quit. Probably, maybe, who knows. What matters is that would have been on my own term. I'd have had control and weighed up that decision.

But that's all the practical stuff, the direct effect of her cause. What she probably didn't think of is the wider implications. I'm feeling evil enough to think she knew exactly what she was doing in the above. She knew my financial and PhD situation and I have a hard time believing causing me these problems were anything but deliberate. The why is another thing. I'll come back to that.

What I'd say however is did you know what you did to me? you destroyed me. You didn't just take my job, you took my friends, you took the theatre from me, you took what confidence and self esteem I had and trampled all over it, and you stopped me trusting people.

A story (or two), to illustrate. A few weeks ago I had a job interview. The morning of the job interview I was sat, on my sofa sobbing (I mean that description literally) and shaking. I couldn't make myself get off that sofa, because I was honestly scared of going through the same thing with a job again. It sounds ridiculous I know, but I honestly felt like somehow something equally terrible would come of going to that interview. I cried all the way to the station, but I made myself go to the interview because I couldn't just couldn't let her win again. I didn't get the job, I didn't want the job, but at least I got there. But I realised, I'd been applying for jobs and being genuinely relieved when I didn't get an interview, because I was so scared of what would happen if I got the job. Irrationally that it would all somehow happen again. And that I wasn't good enough anyway.

As a curious aside, I went to an academic interview that week too. But I felt none of that. It's like, I knew I could do that and nobody, nobody could take that away from me. I didn't get the job, which for other reasons was also a relief, and an irritation. But that's an entirely separate issue. I do take some solace in that at least I still have that. The whole experience has made me reassess my job thoughts, but I shouldn't have to reassess them because someone has made me so scared of what will happen if I go into a similar job(s) again. I know it's irrational, but it's how I've ended up thinking.

But more than that, than destroying my financial security, my confidence in jobs, I lost a whole chunk of my life with that job. I left my other theatre job on good enough terms (after a rocky patch last year) but there's so much overlap in staff and patrons that with one went another. I haven't set foot in a theatre in Cardiff since March. When you figure that even without working I was at the theatre at least once a week, that's a massive loss. I cut a whole community of people, of friends out of my life, because it's just to painful to think about, to be associated with. I write about location and Cardiff in film and TV, and I realised I hate looking at that building now, I hate it in the TV shows it's in, I hate walking past it, I can't bring myself to go inside. I used to love that place. In terms of not being a part of that world, or even losing some acquaintances, perhaps  no great loss. But I miss that part of my life. Perhaps it was time to move on, but not like this, none of this like this.

The same with friends. In everything else I lost my friends. And not just those directly involved, a whole set of friends and things I did, because I've had to cut people out of my life. I'm not proud of that, I'm not pleased about it, but it's a self preservation thing. In running into this person either in real life or online, or anyone associated it was just too much, too upsetting. I also felt like I'd spent so many years banging on the door of theatre in this part of the world only to have the door slammed in my face one final time, I could no longer take any association with those involved. So I've cut myself off. And that makes me sad, but I think in the long term it's what I needed to do. Walk away.

And what of those directly involved? When this happened I was asked by the manager talking to me about the other girl involved. What I said, and what I said to her, was I'd have said she was one of my closest friends. If I'd been asked to name my five closest friends, she'd have been on that list. She agreed. But you don't do that to your friend. And if you did, and you didn't mean it, you make amends, you don't just disappear. Silence speaks volumes.

And this, this is the thing I can't get my head around: why do it? why get someone you were that close to fired from her job? a job that had no bearing on you, no impact on your life. And more importantly, why lie about it? I have so many questions still. Did you know what you were doing? did you know how it would impact my life? did you think about that? regret it later? do you even think of me at all?

Because when it happened I was lied to, I was led to believe it was a mistake, something that got out of hand. And I was able to forgive that. But then holes appeared in the story. I began to question. So I thought, what if I don't get in touch, what then? Then nothing. I've not heard from her since. Silence speaks volumes. Not only of the person responsible, but of another friend who I trusted, who showed their true colours and  the minute it happened. I'm sad, I'm sadly not surprised.

And the truth is, that I'm better off without . Looking back it had been a long time coming and not having the courage to say "Enough now, enough" when people you consider friends were not making life better, quite the opposite. I'd felt judged, used, unwanted. I made friends with these people due to similar fan-interests. When I started being judged for my continuing engagement with fan practices, or for outright being a fan, I should have known to step away. My friends who aren't fans, my real friends, don't treat my fangirl tenancies for the contempt these girls did. Never mind that I'm beginning to cultivate an academic portfolio of fan studies work, that for me it's both fun and work never mind also that I lost out on a professional opportunity linked to fan studies because of one of these people. And of course, as fandom and dealing with small children has taught me, was double-edged. It was silly and childish and beneath them when it was me, if it was them, that was ok. It's been a long time since I felt mocked for being a fan, and by people I'd befriended because they were fangirls? a sad state of affairs. But still you carry on, because you're friends and friends are hard to come by.

The best two pieces of advice came from two people whose opinion I trust unquestionably. My friend Amanda simply told me "These people are not your friends." and it's true, sometimes it takes someone else to tell you with. My friend Deborah, who lives on the other side of the world and knows nobody in my life told me "Making friends as a grown up is hard, but these people are bad news"

But it still hurts. There was so much history there. Yes, things were already clearly amiss for this to even happen. But there was still a friendship, a history. If there wasn't it wouldn't hurt half as much.

This blog barely touches on the hurt and upset I've felt over the past few months. I'm not writing it as an attack, as I say at the start I'm writing it to try and make sense of my feelings, of what's happened. It really was 'just a job' to me, until this happened. If I'd got fired in a reshuffle or deemed not good enough to do the job I wouldn't have given anything but the money a second thought. That job was a confidence boost in three years of confidence and soul destroying PhD, and losing it and the way it's happened has really affected me. More that that, the loss of friends, and the loss of trust in friends is profound.

More than anything, I just wish I knew why? if I could say one thing to the girl who did this I'd say why? why did you do this, and why did you do it the way you did? At least then I'd feel I had some answers.

Moving on, I've learned a lot. I've thought long and hard about jobs and what I can and can't do. I'm still terrified of going back to work. I've decided short term to do some supply teaching, I'm scared of that but in a different way. I know I can do that job.

In the longer term, I know a 9-5 office role is not for me. I can't do it, I just can't. What then? I'm good at 3 things: writing, research and teaching. In that order, answers or job offers on a post card for what I could do.

And as for friends? I have good friends, good trustworthy friends who I can rely on who have proved that to me time and time again. But I'll be more guarded with new friends. I won't work with friends either-not in the same way-I'm happy to collaborate with academic or creative friends. But I won't make friends in a job, or work somewhere with friends. I've learned a lesson there.

I've been listening to this song a lot lately, and it seems appropriate to end with this. The lyrics that strike me in this situation are this:

Am I always
Starting over?
In a brand new story
Am I always
Back at one
After all I've done?
‘Cause I've burned all of my bridges
And learned every last lesson too
So how can I start new?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-d9G2b9ubNw

However the song ends with this:

But love, I’ll make you one last vow
To start over
And over
And over somehow
My new life starts right now!

I have been so hurt, so broken down by this situation in the last few months. And the thing that does it is, I'm tough I expect it from my PhD, my chosen (difficult) career choices. I don't expect it from firstly what should have been a 'pay the bills' job, and more importantly from my friends.

But, I'll start over, and over and over again. Because what else can you do? But I needed to say it. But defiantly, I will start all over again. And again and again if I have to, because I won't let someone like that win.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

The final slog

I posted a while back about the final stages of the PhD from a writing point of view. So as I limp towards the finish line, I thought I'd post another "advice" type blog. Both for PhD students and their friends/family/colleagues/random bystanders. This is purely from my personal experience so obviously things will vary but here goes.

The last few months will be hell. 
There's no getting around it. Those with PhD friends and family, have patience and understanding. No matter what they do, not matter how hard they have worked and do work. It will be hell.

It's a particular kind of stress
It's also worth noting it's a very unique kind of stress, one that it takes personal experience of to understand. I've heard PhDs compare to childbirth before and the analogy works-you simply can't know unless you've done it. That's not to deny or diminish other jobs and the stress they entail, hell I wouldn't want to be a nurse or a firefighter or policeman and I couldn't begin to fathom the stress. But when we shout (and we will) "YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND" it's because you really don't. It is a very particular set of stresses and circumstance. My advice? just nod and walk away. We'll feel contrite (or get hungry) soon enough and concede that yes, you do know what stress is (but mutter you don't know what PhD stress is) it's just one of those things.

To put it another way, a PGCE is said to be the hardest qualification you will ever do, because essentially you have the job stress of a teacher combined with doing Masters level work on top. And you know, dealing with stroppy teens or sticky children. I've done my PGCE, and I ran away so fast there was a dust trail after me, I'd still do another year of that rather than go through 6 months of PhD stress right now.

It will go on longer than you expect. 
I still find this difficult to accept, and will fight it at every turn but yes, every time it seems like the damn thing is done, it's not. There's not a lot you can do about it. Patience, of which I have increasingly little, is a virtue and may save your sanity. However the final months will seem to go on forever.

You will be more tired than you thought possible

No matter what your work pattern. I'm a lark, I get up early and I crash mid afternoon. I usually manage a short evening burst between 7-9 but then I'm finished. I admit at this point I'm not working long days, and the PhD is all I'm doing. Still I'm exhausted. It's a cumulative effect of all the years of continual work, the stress and it catches up to you. It's a weird constant state of tired that doesn't go away. Well I hope it does when I finish at some point, that would be nice. Also being constantly on edge as the end approaches means relaxation isn't well, all that relaxing.

You will feel like crap
Sitting at a desk for hours on end, not feeling like there's time to eat, exercise or go outside. Added to this stress, means feeling like death warmed up for a good portion of the time.

You probably won't feel very social 
Firstly the volume of work and the sheer stress of work will mean hermithood for many. Though we will perhaps make exceptions for each other. Much like the Monty Python hermits who like to hang out together, if we're not seeing anyone because we're "too busy" but we somehow make time for another PhD student it's because we need our own kind. We need someone who understands that we want to cry looking at our bibliography. Or that we haven't opened our email for days for fear of demands for an overdue journal article, or heaven forbid our supervisor wants to see us. Also the fact is, misery loves company. And whatever stage of the PhD you're at there's usually some misery to be had. If I meet up with someone who has completed their PhD they look back wistfully and say "Ah yes tis hell right now, but you will survive look at me" if I meet up with someone a few months behind me I can say, with battle worn wisdom "Ah but just you wait young one, just you wait!" (apparently we all turn into bad 80s film villains at these meetings, I'll take that)

It's also the case that by this stage we may have lost the ability to be social a little bit. We're a bit too wrapped up in our own head, and whatever the PhD is about. For me I'm away in the early 1990s with a bunch of fictional characters most of whom are dying of AIDS. Or I'm resolutely not thinking about them. But it becomes a singular focus, only the work, nothing but the work. Basically we turn into Mulder chasing aliens, and unless you're a Scully to our Mulder we think it's best to hide away. It's not that we don't like you right now, it's more we think you won't like us and our one topic of conversation.

And it's not that PhD students at this stage don't want to come out and play, it's just for many reasons we can't. Firstly the crushing guilt. PhD guilt rackets up a couple of hundred notches as the end draws near. If I'm not physically looking at it, reading about it, thinking about it, planning what work I need to do I feel wrong. Even if I can't go any faster, I still feel I should. We also feel and look like crap. As much as I'm not a pajama worker (I always have to get dressed to feel in 'work' mode) I've spent a lot of the last six months in 'house clothes' I haven't dressed up in a long time. I can't remember when I last wore heels. Feeling generally grubby and fat in PhD hibernation does not make one feel glamorous. And did I mention being tired? And being out late with the thought of being greeted by a PhD in the morning...Also most of us are flat broke by this stage so saying we don't feel well, or we have too much work might be a cover for "I have £10 to see me through the rest of this month" it's horrible, it's embarrassing, everyone hates it. Be patient I'm assured such things will pass.

So what to do? 

For yourself the overriding advice I have is just to roll with it. Whatever you do it's not going to be a fun time.

My general advice would be the following ten commandments:

1. Do Eat and Exercise  (but don't beat yourself up for eating crap) the last few days before I handed in the full draft all I could think about was croissants. And ever since then they've been a go-to desk food. I know I shouldn't eat sweets and chocolate as I work but sometimes it's all that gets me through an afternoon. Same with coffee. This is not the time to embark on a healthy eaten regime. That said eat at least one proper meal a day. Again not the time perhaps to embark on a Marathon training regime but going to the gym has kept some of my sanity. Swimming is also good because it removes you from all screens, phones and communication devices. Or just go for a walk around the block. Anything just to get out and about.


2. Do procrastinate  The internet is not only for stealing journal references from googlebooks. I'm not advocating a day wasted looking at cats on Youtube but a little procrastination is healthy. If I wasn't a big fan-girl I wouldn't survive. Looking at fannish interests online, arguing with people on forums, reading fan-fiction well it keeps me sane.  I watch fan videos as an instant relaxer. It's now like a Pavlovian reaction, I've seen them ten times but it instantly relaxes my brain, as does scrolling through tumblr (well until some idiot sends my blood pressure up) Not everyone's a fan-girl or boy, but find some corner of the internet to waste time on and use it (and well, depending on what it is maybe delete your browsing history...but you know that sort of "procrastination" is good for relaxation too I suppose)

3. Do see people Even if it's only other PhD students (see above) you need to talk to someone. Keep one hobby/social engagement. For me it's been choir, and forcing myself to keep going has kept my sanity on more than one occasion.

4. Talk to someone every day  build your online friend bank, text people, anything to have some sort of communication. Write long emails to friends far away. Just keep talking to people. My sanity has been saved by several people who actually live nowhere near me (some an ocean away) who I talk to online a lot. In the darkest moments it helps. And I don't even mean talking about the PhD. If a friend of mine starts talking to me online about dating problems, or a TV show, or anything it's enough of a distraction to keep me going.

5. Stop if you need to Some days, it just isn't going to happen. Give it up. You'll feel worse for sitting there staring at it (crying over it) do something else for half a day (it will take you half a day to realise it isn't working) or come back to it a bit later. Sometimes you have to walk away.

6. Accept that some people won't like you for a while  Your friends will get mad at you. You can't come out, you have no money, no time, you feel like shit. You cancel plans at the last minute. You're distracted. Right now you aren't a good friend to anyone. But if they're a good friend they'll forgive it. If they're a really good friend they'll understand now.

7. Read easy books and watch easy TV. This is not the time to do battle with War and Peace or develop a cultural interest in obscure Hungarian cinema. I've read more Young Adult and chick lit novels in the past 6 months than I have ever before, because my brain can't take being challenged, it has no room for new information (not to mention the fanfiction). I'm constantly re-watching Friends, because I know every word, and it's (funnily enough) like coming home to an old friend. I know far too much about a group of drunk Geordies (although I can't tell them apart) and I know a hundred ways to Catfish someone. And I genuinely look forward to Thursdays because there's a new America's Next Top Model....though that's always been the case actually...never mind.

8. Try to focus on the task at hand  More than anything there's a looming pressure and panic about "What next?" with seemingly 20 people a day asking "What are you doing next? do you have a job lined up?" it's hard to not panic and throw everything into getting a job. Most likely you aren't ready until you finish. I found this out to my expense. I tried to get a job and finish the PhD I realised I couldn't. If it's a long term career job particularly I need to give that all my professional energy, and right at the end the PhD takes up all the professional and personal energy there is. By all means apply for academic jobs, they are so few and far between it's foolish not to, but accept also that the likelihood of those panning out until after is slim and maybe getting to the end is the best thing first. This is the hardest thing for me to reconcile, and I admit I still can't. I'm continually panicked about money, mainly because I don't have any left and I can't see where income is going to come from. So I force myself to plow on and get to the end as fast as I can.

9. Take time off I'm not rash enough to suggest entire days off, I struggle with that. But take time off. Give yourself a break even if giving yourself a break means hiding away somewhere on your own.

10. Cry You're going to cry. You might as well accept it. This is probably the hardest challenge you will face. If ANYONE gets to the end without crying, I take my hat off to you (and whisper you're a liar...or a Cyberman!)

For those stuck with a PhD student in their life, firstly I take my hat off to you. We're not nice people sometimes. It's hard to put up with us, and it's a hard life to understand. Patience, patience, patience is all that I can say. And talk to us, occasionally force us out. Oh and cake. We like Cake.

And we are sorry, sorry for all the cancelled plans or gumpy days. For screaming "You don't understand" for being a million miles away, for forgetting we promised to get the milk, or to hoover. And possibly for eating all the cake.

Friday, 1 August 2014

Richard III

So following a more official review for 'Cardiff Shakespeare' this is my more personal review, with a bit for fan-girl thoughts thrown in.

I wasn't going to bother with Richard III. Mainly due to logistics/time getting to London and cose of tickets. However, I got lucky with the £15 Mondays deal and knew I'd regret not seeing it. In the end it was a desire to see what Jamie Lloyd (who I'm a big fan of) had done with the production and to see Jo Stone-Fewings as Buckingham, an actor who I've also long been a fan of and is a little more obscure than Mr Freeman.

Much has been made of this production in relation to the blood and the Freeman fans who were aparently just there to see Martin Freeman do Dick. (sorry it's a cheap joke but you have to admit a good one) I didn't have a problem with the latter (but I'll come to that later) and the blood well, there was a fair bit of it to be sure.

The production, I really loved. As I say I'm a fan of Jamie Lloyd and I really see what he was doing with this. In my nit-picking theatre brain I can call out a few things I wasn't sure of, but these are both nit-picky and personal preference. I'm not a fan of audience on stage, particularly when this seems to serve no purpose to the action. Although having audience on stage did serve the claustrophobic feeling of Soutra Gilmor's 1970s Cabinet office set, they didn't really add much to it. For an obvious comparison the NT's 'Our House' had audience members sat as though part of the House of Commons on stage, and had actors at times among them. This added to both set and atmosphere. The set-up in Richard III reminded me of this but didn't really engage in the same way. That said, there is of course argument for it not needing to serve purpose, but simply to allow a set of seats with a different audience perspective, which is valid.

Much has been made of the blood content in this production In addition to the cuts many of the off stage deaths are brought on stage, often in graphic detail.  Much has been made of the violence and sheer volume of blood in this production (those in the first three rows are warned of being in a ‘splash zone’) and while, yes there was quite a bit of blood it didn't’ feel particularly gratuitous. That said, I've watched some very very bloody performances in my time, and I've also been watching a lot of Hannibal lately. I guess bloody is in the eye of the beholder. Seeing some of the usual off-stage deaths also brought characterisation or motivation home, further fleshing out what we already knew or felt about some characters. And I did "enjoy" seeing some graphic stage deaths in contrast to some where a slight poke with a sword induces death, or a bloodless gunshot kills everyone immediately. The deaths were long, graphic and drawn out at times, but realistic, something that modern Shakespeare should keep in mind-how in this setting would this character be murdered? how long would it take? how much blood? Lloyd has thought this through and the end fight-‘showdown’ actually seems more appropriate, made good use of an issue that troubles many modern-dress Shakespeare plays, how to deal with the imbalance between guns and swords. In this case effective use of guns versus the knives (rather than swords) across the play makes a profound statement of violence at its close. Also film fans of a certain age, there's a nice allegory to 'Seven' for one of the off-stage deaths. Now that was what I call a lot of blood.

The 1970s political setting works well for Lloyd’s pacey production. It also works well in some of the slower scenes, in fitting with the back and forth and posturing of political debate. The claustrophobic set-the entirety of the action set in a cabinet office also works well with the political heat and (literal) back-stabbing of the narrative. I've read comments and reviews that the setting was confusing. Even without buying a programme which apparently has some context for Lloyd's setting, I still followed the setting and  the desired political analogies. The modern-but not quite contemporary setting works well in modernizing a history play (as anachronistic and troublesome as that sentence demonstrates) making the narrative recognizable, but still something 'other' lends itself well to the Histories, if they aren't done in period settings. For me this period worked well for a back stabbing (literally) Richard and his accomplices. It also works well for the roles the female characters serve in Richard III they have power, they have leverage but they are most often on the fringes. For a British political setting of that era their roles also fit well, and the actresses in the naturally male dominated company all delivered excellent performances. 

The cast is strong, with a reduced cast fitting the edited nature of the text. Gina McKee as Queen Elizabeth and Maggie Steed as Queen Margret as mentioned  provide strong female roles in this testosterone filled play. Stand out performance in particular from Jo Stone-Fewings as Buckingham who delivered a conniving and dark performance. For me, he made the play, to which I was disappointed to realise (spoiler alert) that he's quickly dispatched with in Act 2. Stone-Fewings held a good balance of conniving, and slippery while utimatly also fallen foul of a far more conniving Richard. 

Freeman’s Richard goes against a more common approach  to bring a more cautious, calmer but no less nasty Richard to life. I fully believed his attitude inspired by his physical deformities (though Mum was convinced he forgot his limp at times). In his scheming he is a carefully planned and poisonous in that sense a true politician Richard. Personally I missed the charismatic scheming Richard I’ve come to associate with this play. It is still an accomplished performance and fully in fitting with what Jamie Lloyd is trying to achieve with this modern political production. Personally though, it was a disappointing central character. I went in with no expectations, not knowing what Freeman would make of the role, and I left a little deflated. I'm not sure what I wanted but I want to say more. More lasciviousness, more charm, the scene where he convinces Elizabeth to give up her daughter for example, I want Richard to do it through charm, seduction. In this case he didn't need to, she was tied to a chair and already in his power. Again this is a directing quibble more than an acting issue, but overall that's where the performance fell for me, a little short of what I felt the play demands. By no stretch is it bad, it's accomplished and clever and intelligent. But I just wasn't engaged with his Richard in the way I'd want. 

Shakespeare, particularly for fans is such a personal experience, and one that's won and lost on the strength of the actors in whose hands it falls. I fully respect Freeman's interpretation, I can see almost beat for beat the thinking and motivation behind the choices he made-and perhaps the direction that went alongside that. But it jsut didn't do that thing where it hit me in the gut. Funnily enough the more I think about the production the more I love the choices that Jamie Lloyd has made, and by no stretch do I think Freeman is a poor choice. Again I understand that choice, just for me personally it's a choice that fell flat. 

As an aside, this led me, while mentally reviewing the play to consider do I dare to say this out loud? do I dare to review this negatively? to say that Freeman is anything less than brilliant? I look above and see how carefully I've chosen my words and I realise how I've been influenced by fandom and fan culture around Sherlock and all it entails, both through working on it academically and being a fan. Normally I'm a no holds barred (no holds Bard?!) theatre reviewer (as anyone who has the misfortune to ask me what I thought of One Man Two Guvner's finds out) but here I've been careful. I haven't lied above, in my intelligent academic side of the brain that's what I thought. In my theatre reviewer side of the brain I'd write that. As a fan? I'm not sure. I can hear the hatred, based on even what I write here and that's not fair. Since when did fandom become a 'with us or against us' thing? there's plenty of actors I've loved in one role hated in another. Doesn't mean I now hate the actor as a performer or as a person. Doesn't mean I'm less of a fan. As a fan I'd say I wasn't sure before I went in, Freeman is an actor I respect but he always makes me uneasy, that's the best emotion I can describe watching him on screen, sometimes almost as if I'm scared of him. Anthony Hopkins gives me the same feeling, I don't always enjoy watching them as actors, I can't relax. Weirdly on stage I didn't get that. It's honestly the most at ease watching Martin Freeman perform that I've felt. But somehow that's contradictory to Richard III I should feel uneasy watching an actor portray him. I'm probably not explaining  this well. But being immersed in a fandom comes with baggage, in viewing and reviewing. I will however keep fangirling Jamie Lloyd, who has gotten a lot of flack in the press, and from theatre fan communities, but personally I bloody love the man's bloody (literally) productions. 

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

What's a nice girl like you doing in a PhD like this?

I frequently get asked 'what's your PhD actually on', usually I just reply 'Drama' or 'American drama in Britain.' if pushed, or if it looks like it'll elicit an amusing response I say simply 'AIDS in theatre' sometimes in fact I just say AIDS. Generally I do this if someone looks like they'll have an amusing reaction, or if they're being generally disparaging about the whole PhD endeavor.

For the record, the current title is Angels at the National and Bohemians in the West End: Transposing and Reviving American dramatic depictions of AIDS to the British stage in Angels in America and Rent and in it, I explore how both plays communicate AIDS to an audience in their content and the way this works with a British audience. I look at press responses, and how these plays fit into the wider context of theatre in Britain. Later I look at revivals, of these plays and consider how years later these plays continue to be relevant and impact on theatre in Britain. 

Why do I avoid this? because it's easier than then having to explain 'but why do you want to research AIDS?' people are happy with the answer 'drama' it's suitably broad and fluffy. It can also be dismissed with a 'oh that's nice' you say AIDS you don't get that response. If I were doing a PhD on cancer, whether scientific, social or cultural I know I'd get a nod and a 'oh that's so good of you, such a worthy cause.' Sadly, still my PhD doesn't elicit such a response. Generally the response is a resounding, if unspoken 'ugh'. There's also an unspoken 'but what's a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?' which perhaps should one day be the title of my autobiography, but I digress.

Why is it so odd I should be doing this? particularly when the very definition of a PhD is looking at something obscure that nobody else is particularly interested in. Why then, is looking at AIDS in drama something I hold back from telling? I did it this week, my friend sat next to me happily gave the full description of her work on Welsh choral music (which is really interesting incidentally) I muttered 'drama' and hoped I could shuffle away. I feel like I should be embarrassed, or defensive. I usually opt for the former, it being the easier path, also when I go down the other road I turn into Larry Kramer. Which is I realise a niche PhD related reference. Good. Google him.

I'll save my Kramer-esque rant about why what I do is important. The second question that follows, should I bother to explain is 'But why?' again unspoken, why do you, a normal looking woman, want to do something like that? again if it were cancer, nobody would think twice. Because it's AIDS, I must have some deep dark reason, probably I'm guessing  a lot of them think I have HIV. And you know what if I did, I'd speak out. I'd say 'Yes I decided to do this because of how this has affected my life' that's not true though. It's the same with gay rights in general, to be vocal about gay rights makes certain assumptions about sexual preference.

Two things on  this, I'm a big animal rights activist. I'm not a llama. You see the absurdity? I'm not offended by people assuming I'm gay or have HIV, because why would I be offended to be considered either of those things? they aren't things that reflect poorly on someone's character, one is a sexual preference you are born with, one is a viral infection. I don't think badly of heterosexuals or people with the flu, therefore think I'm gay, think I have HIV if that helps.

But still, why this? why do any of us who pick our own PhD topics do it? The short version is, I loved the plays. Really for any literature/film/drama based PhD this is a must.

As with everything I do, it was the 'wrong' way to do it. I didn't have any great academic aspirations to consider the American Epic Theatre or any such thing.

The first performance I saw with AIDS in was out of the blue and unexpected, and I blame it for the seed that became this massive part of my life. I saw Hugh Jackman in 'The Boy from Oz' in December 2003. Mum and I were in New York, and at this point tickets were easy to get. It was Hugh Jackman, in a musical, why not? Neither of us knew who Peter Allen, the real life singer-songwriter he portrayed, was or that he died of AIDS related illness. I loved the musical. Love is perhaps too mild a term. I was obsessed. But that, is another blog entirely. The Boy From Oz hasn't made it to the PhD but in some convoluted series of events, it's the start point.

I discovered Angels in America during a grim cold winter in Montreal. Our TV didn't work so we relied on the video store around the corner (remember those kids? this was 2003, before Netflix. Hell it was before Facebook, we were one of the first Unis to get it, anyway I digress) My flatmate and I were scouring the shelves, trying to find an alternative to our one Family Guy box set. She pointed to Angels in America and said 'That's supposed to be good. It's about AIDS' (and so said every description of that play/series ever) I shrugged said ok let's watch it. And we did, and I loved it and bought it and it became one of my favourite series. It became perversely my cheer myself up DVD-having as I do the theory that sometimes watching people worse off than you cheers you up. I fell in love with the actors, and more in love with Emma Thompson.

Around the same time I stumbled across Rent. I'd recently begun to really get into musical theatre, see above, Hugh Jackman again is to blame. And I was also getting involved in a lot of online fandom related to theatre. You can't swing a cyber cat in musical theatre forums and fansites without coming across 'Rent' as a must-have-must-be-a-fan-of. So I found myself  trotting off to a Montreal record store (again remember them?) and buying the Rent cast recording. I tried to listen to it on the bus home, but the ride was too bumpy and my CD kept skipping (again, yup, remember those) I remember listing to 'What you Own' over and over on that bus ride though. I remember standing in our orange kitchen, when everyone was out, listening to 'Will I' over and over. Soon I knew every word of the whole thing. Except the phone numbers, I still can't remember those.

Later that year, I saw Rent, finally, on Broadway. It's a cliche but it was at that point the most moving evening in the theatre I'd ever had. Still over 10 (gulp) years later I can count on one hand the number of performances that match it for emotional impact. It's hard to explain, particularly to those who don't like musical theatre. But it felt like being hit by a truck, in a good way. Midway through I just felt a wave of emotion that told me, yes this is something, yes this is going to last. There is something about Rent, if it's a musical for you that just grabs a hold of you and refuses to let go. Even now, though I see it's flaws, though I see it inside out and back to front, it still has an emotional hold. For Rent it's also about finding it at the right moment. I found it when I was a bit lost, living in a foreign country, old enough at 19 to get it, not so old to be cynical about it. And over the years it's been a part of me. It's part of the reason I got more into musical theatre, that I engaged online about musical theatre. Rent became a big part of my theatre education. Rent, its cliche, to say became a part of my growing up, because that year was really important for me.

I always say, in describing these plays, both personally and professionally, that Angels is the head and Rent is the heart. Angels is an engaging artistic political declaration of so many things. It's intellectual, it's critical, it's artistic. There is still so much heart in it, but it gets to your heart through the mind. Rent on the other hand is raw, visceral, it hits straight to the heart. It's still got so many things to say, to teach, and Larson was oh so clver too. Just a different clever. Angels will cause you to start a political revolution and quietly tug at your heart while you do so. Rent will rip out your heart and put it back together and let you go thinking about revolution. Angels is poetry, and a well structured argument and delicate beautiful words. Rent is rough around the edges, a hard musical beat and a mash up of conflicting styles.  I cannot separate them or judge which one is 'better' because they serve the same aims in such different ways. And both have become a part of my personal, artistic and intellectual identity. I speak their lines without noticing, I hear character inflections in my mind, and I adopt their philosophies.

Both plays became influential. I'm a fangirl at heart and when I fall I fall hard. So I followed various cast member's careers. Devoured everything I could on the writers, directors, anyone associated with it. I bought albums and films and books. These plays became part of my world, and they spun out into other plays, musicals, films and books. And so on, as is the fannish life. I used Rent in my Undergrad dissertation, in the impeccably titled 'The Serious Side of the American Musical' original, really original. Then as luck would have it Angels in America was revived in London as I did my Masters, so I wrote my dissertation on that. Both had been cemented into my life. When it came to proposing a PhD it was always the natural progression, I never considered doing anything else. I cannot honestly say why, other than I loved the plays still, and it was an area I was passionate about.

Why so passionate about AIDS? again, disappointingly perhaps, I have no deep dark story about why. I don't know anyone personally who has AIDS, never have. The best I can do is this: I grew up in the 1980s (I was born in 1984) I have never known a world without AIDS and when I was a child it was one of the most terrifying things in the adult world I could think of. The tombstone adverts on television voiced by John Hurt made it seem like AIDS was about to leap out of an alleyway and kill you. I didn't really know what it was, but I knew I was supposed to be scared, so I was. The time and place I grew up in was also rife with homophobia, if you weren't being a 'bellend' (an insult I'm actually all for, it makes me weirdly nostalgic) then you were 'so gay'. In a rough British Comprehensive school in the 1990s being 'gay' and the added 'you've got AIDS' were commonplace. Being gay wasn't a thing we talked about, and AIDS was this scary thing lurking in the darkness.

That's partly why I think I have become so passionate about the cause. Because I still see areas of society where that's still the case. For every fluffy drama loving, liberal friend I have, there's hundreds of people out there still throwing out those insults I heard as a kid. It's easy to forget sometimes, once you grow up and surround yourself with people who have the same values, what a harsh world it is out there. The reality being that AIDS is still a threat, and being gay is still a threat in itself for those in hostile environments. AIDS charities struggle to raise funds where others wouldn't simply because the stigma still remains. People still fear the condition, people still hold prejudice. There's still not enough research, comparatively for the amount of people diagnosed. And, as we get further from the original epidemic panic, people become complacent and infection rates rise.  Just because AIDS is no longer a death sentence, doesn't mean it's not a threat. And it still needs to be on the agenda for discussion. And that's why these plays are still important, and that's why this PhD feels important. Keeping the discussion going.

That's perhaps why, I wasn't ready for the discussion to be over after two dissertations, so I carried it on. And I believe that these plays still have a lot to say. They might be over twenty years old now, their content may now be historical work, but it is still important, and will carry on being so. Theatre allows for an ongoing updated dialogue in the way that film or literature doesn't in quite the same way. So this PhD is just my bit of the conversation.