The Red Umbrella Archive

December 17th marks the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. Historically, on this day sex workers carry red umbrellas and march through the streets of large cities to fight for their rights, reduce stigma, and to make their presence visible in a city. In 2016 Changing Lives organised the first of these marches in Newcastle upon Tyne.We joined sex workers, support workers, police, and other supporters on this march as well as the remembrance service that took place afterwards. Through ethno-mimesis, we recorded our experiences of the march and subsequent service, focusing on the use of digital technologies. Between the march and the service, we also encouraged attendants to partake in our ‘red umbrellas’ activity. Here we used the open source JigsAudio tool to begin to craft a living activist archive of Newcastle’s experiences on the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers.

With this activity, we have supported Changing Lives service delivery, while simultaneously developing a digital archive of sex worker voices. To our knowledge, this is the first time that experiences of those marching to end violence against sex workers are archived in this format. We archive the voices in a hybrid craft where playful crafting is mixed with tangible technologies to develop a space where the archive is manifested not only through the digital audio recording of voices, but also through the tangible crafted artefact.

The Partnership Quilt

The Partnership Quilt is a collaboration between Changing Lives, Six Penny Memories, and Open Lab at Newcastle University. It started out as an activity for clients of the Girls and Proud project in Changing Lives to do during the Northumberland drop-in sessions organised by Kirsty, but quickly turned into something bigger – clients began sewing at home, while waiting for appointments, or even in the bath! As Kim and Debbie from Six Penny Memories became involved in the project the individual pieces came together and were shaped into a well-balanced quilt. While this quilt by itself is something all those who put a stitch in it can be proud of, the addition of the secondary quilt is what makes this a truly special project. Angelika and Janis from Open Lab used do-it-yourself, flexible, and low-cost technologies to turn the soft and colourful quilt into a living archive of stories and experiences of Changing Lives service delivery in the North East of England. The addition of quilted capacitive touch sensors turns this traditional craft artefact into a contemporary piece of interactive art: by touching some of the rosettes on the quilt a voice is activated to tell a part of the story that lies in the folds and seams of the quilt.

The materials we used allow us not only to continue to share the story of the quilt, but they allow Changing Lives staff to curate the audio recordings and easily exchange the voices that are shared through the quilt. Like this, it can be used for exhibitions, staff training, or focused one-on-one reflection.

blogging is weird.

It’s February 2018, and I’ve not blogged for ages. I feel like it is becoming a regular occurrence that I blog successfully for a few weeks, stop for months, and then start again with a blog post that starts like this one. It’s weird. I don’t know how I feel about it, but I’m going to keep doing it because I like the idea of having a blog.

I often think of blog topics while walking or sitting on a train, then go on to not  write them down, and ultimately forget about them as soon as I sit down in front of my laptop to start blogging. So, maybe that’s what I should write about today.

To be fair, this is how most of my blogging goes – I sit down, think of something, and then essentially free-write for 20 minutes or so. I’m pretty sure this is a good way of getting bad content, but do you know what? It gets my brain thinking in proper sentences, it gets my fingers typing, and helps me feel more enthusiastic about having a blog. All in all, I feel like those are pretty good outcomes.

Furthermore, while I was in a guided writing group session a while ago, that is how we started. Instead of going directly into writing our dissertations, papers, or proposals in the writing group, we were supposed to open a blank document and start typing.

I don’t think I’d ever done that before. So, at first I was quite daunted – how was I supposed to fill a page? What was I supposed to write? Surely, if I didn’t plan my writing properly it wouldn’t be structurally sound or even make any sense?

After a few seconds, maybe a minute, of slight panic and my fingertips gliding over the keyboard without pressing anything, I did however start typing. Even though it wasn’t in a blogging CMS, I started to treat the free-writing as if I were writing a blog post. I had been thinking about what sections I had wanted to write in my dissertation and started on that thought. To get there however, I first wrote out a brief paragraph about what each of my chapters should look like (reading this back after I had actually finished the 15 mins or so free writing we had, I realised that it was complete rubbish and not even accurate).

As soon as I had started to write, my fingers started to move quickly across the keyboard. I didn’t think about what I was writing, and didn’t even properly read the sentences I had just written. I just kept going; barely ever hitting the back button.

Thinking back, I think I started to see the empty document like an empty blog post. This probably says a lot about my blog (but then probably so do my blogpost dates and the number of blogposts that start with something along the lines of ‘so I’ve not blogged for a while, so here’s an update…’), but do you know what. I don’t really mind. This blog is a space for me to get some fingertip-on-keyboard action that only two people actually read: my blogging buddy and myself.

This happens way too often, but while my blogging buddy is sitting next to me thinking and writing about personal experiences, thoughts, and emotions I’m sitting here typing out a stream of consciousness that doesn’t really make sense in the end.

Either way, this disconnected weird blogging style I’m developing is fulfilling its goal and that’s all that really matters. So, there’s that. And that’s this post.

the beginning of the end?

This week has been weird.

I came back from the CIRN conference in Italy on Saturday, saw some friends from Austria on Saturday, and slept a lot on Sunday to catch up from my late nights and early mornings all of last week. So, I decided to write this post today with the creepy title – apologies but also, I’m not actually sorry about it. clickbait. yes.

This week though, was strange. When I came into the office I just couldn’t do very much. I sat at my laptop, working on something, for the whole week but don’t really have much to show for it. I guess that’s normal in a PhD, but it’s just one of those weeks that feels weird. I had a supervision, went to a PGR training session, did some marking, wrote some e-mails, and did quite a bit of writing; but still I didn’t feel like I was being productive…

Yesterday, I decided to re-start my dissertation (again) and had a long think about my research questions; something I’ve been avoiding for months. After my supervision the other day, my supervisor and I decided I would send him something to read in two weeks. While I’ve got quite a few words on paper in a document that has headings and chapter titles and looks like a dissertation, I don’t have a chapter that’s actually completely written from start to finish. Instead of continuing on my messy process towards attempting to write a dissertation, I decided to open a new (yet another) document and actually properly figure out what I wanted to say.

I’m sure it’s going to change again, because it’ll never be finished (ugh), but this time I actually have research questions. I’ve got an overview of my methodology, a detailed dissertation structure, and need to write an overview of the background to introduce the whole thing. This isn’t supposed to be a perfect or finished chapter, instead it’s something that I can send to my supervisor, something to talk about.

We’ve talked about my work a lot, and have had some really fantastic discussions about what it could look like, what chapters can feel like, and how the data could be presented. We’ve talked about pieces of writing I’ve done, but none of that writing has been dedicated ‘dissertation writing’. So, now it’s time for that, I guess.

It feels weird.

And yes, I’m using that word ‘weird’ again because I don’t know how else to describe it. It’s just…strange, I guess. I generally don’t like finishing things, and sending something that’s written for my dissertation to my supervisor kind of marks the beginning of a long process that is supposed to be the end, or the finishing, of my PhD programme. I’ve been here for almost 4 years now, working on my PhD for roughly 2 years and 2 months now. It’s time to get to the writing.

I’ve done lots and lots of thinking about what it could look like, I have way too many outlines and notecards with potential chapter structures and overall dissertation structures. I’ve talked to all of my supervisors about a number of these different structures and outlines and potential framings, but now it’s time to put words on paper. Useful and meaningful words that will lead me to the finish line.

CHI metadata deadline

Today’s the day we have to submit the CHI2018 metadata for each of the paper that we are going to submit.

Usually this day I’m stressed out. I worry. And I start to re-read and care about every single word that is in my abstract and paper title. Generally, by this point, all I worry about is my paper(s) and spend hours re-reading each of them, changing very little, but feeling like I’ve accomplished something. In reality, all I’ve done is print out the paper, make pencil or pen marks on it, translate those marks into my .docx file, and save the thing as a new draft in the appropriate folder. It doesn’t really do much, to be honest. Don’t get me wrong, the editing process is invaluable (and I actually really enjoy this process), but it gets to a point where all you’re changing are a word every now and again. And then I really wonder how much use it is.

Sometimes it useful though. During some of these 10s of read-throughs, every now and again, I notice that a discussion point doesn’t really make sense, or that I could use a different example to illustrate a point more accurately. So I change a whole column or page of the paper, I re-write paragraphs and shuffle them around.

But sometimes, it really does just end up being something along the lines of: should I use this word or this other word that means pretty much the same thing here?

It’s the kind of editing that resembles the latter that I’m not sure on how useful it is. I don’t think I’m changing the paper very much at that point, but it has helped me feel more comfortable with and confident of what I’ve written. So maybe it’s useful afterall…

Anyway, this year has been weird. I’ve not really felt the ‘chi stress’ that I’ve felt in previous years. I’ve happily worked on my papers, writing, editing, talking to others about it. I’ve been deleting pages worth of stuff and re-writing it and doing superficial read-throughs of the paper to decide which words fit best in which sentences. To be honest, I’m still doing all sorts of reviews and changes on my papers, but I’m enjoying it much more than I have in the past.

On top of this, I’m also doing some very non-CHI related work. It’s a nice alternative to the constant re-reading of paper and paper sections. Instead, it allows me to focus on something completely different for a bit, which then allows me to come back to the papers with fresh eyes.

In a weird roundabout way I also think it’s making it all feel less stressful. Even though I’m technically doing ‘more’ stuff, I feel like I’m stressing less about the individual things I’m doing. I just kind of get on with it. And enjoy it. Since the other things I’m doing are not related to the papers (or even projects I talk about in the papers) I’m writing this year, it really is like taking a little holiday from CHI. Even if it’s just a few hours every day, it seems to make a huge difference.

And dare I say it, I’m a little excited about the coming deadline!
(I guess this might have something to do with my mum coming to visit me on the day after the deadline…but shh)

No, but really. I’m excited to hand in my papers. I’m proud of them and I like what my co-authors and I have written. I’m sure we’ll get some harsh reviews, somebody won’t see the point in the paper, and somebody else will love it. It’s weird though, I’m so curious about what other HCI researchers think about what we’ve written – and what they think about the projects that are represented in the paper.

Bullet Journaling

A few months ago, I got myself a Leuchtturn 1917 notebook because I wanted to start bullet journaling. It was an attempt at getting on top of all the things I have to do while simultaneously forcing myself to have a little bit of creative time in the evenings. Since then, I’ve had some good weeks, some bad weeks, and a few weeks where I didn’t even touch the notebook.

For years I have been watching craft videos on youtube (to be honest, it all started with Corinne and Rob’s Threadbanger website and forum when I was 12 or so…). More recently these craft videos turned into art journaling videos, ‘how to make your own notebooks’ videos, and ultimately bullet journal videos. For roughly a week I had been watching way too many ‘plan with me’ videos on an evening, so I decided I would give it a try.

I had quite a few pens, markers, and coloured pencils at home anyway, so it really was just about getting the right notebook. I know I don’t have to have the Leuchtturm 1917 to bullet journal, but I like notebooks and have never had a dotted notebook so wanted to see what it was like (spoiler: it’s amazing).

So I went to Details Arts Centre to get my supplies. Only, they didn’t have what I wanted! So instead, I went to Ryman’s, a good old regular stationary store, and they had what I needed. In two colours. I picked the teal notebook (because teal is pretty), went to the cashier, and then headed into work.

That evening I sat down for a few hours watching more youtube videos and browsing the #bujo world of instagram. After my head was full of ideas I grabbed my pens and notebook and started making a few lists to start off the journal. I did everything I was supposed to do: a monthly log for june, a weekly log for the week, and then made daily logs for each day that week.

I really enjoyed it, but to be honest, I wasn’t going to do that every month…or every week. It ended up taking me a few hours, which I really enjoyed, but I don’t think I’ll be making that much time to organise what is essentially a glorified calendar.

For the first couple of weeks I really enjoyed it and I sat down on a Sunday afternoon to plan my week ahead. But after that I started to crumble. I had a few weeks where I didn’t do anything, and then had a Sunday where I spent more than 3h working on a weekly spread and daily spreads for each day that week. Since I hadn’t worked on my bullet journal for a while, I really enjoyed that process.

In August, I made a monthly tracker page that I really liked. I used elements from June and July that I really liked and wanted to keep going, and used a different design for my mood tracker. I didn’t use this page. At all. To be fair, I wasn’t at home fore 2.5 weeks that month, but still. I didn’t use the tracker before I went on holiday either. When I came back at the end of August, I used my lovely Leuchtturm 1917 as a to-do list. It really wasn’t an appropriate use of the expensive notebook!

So last week I decided to pick it up again. This time however I spent a little less time on it. I used what I had learnt from the various different types of weekly logs that I had made and created something that combined the best elements of each of these. It’s a new month now, but I don’t have a monthly log. I’m not even tracking everything I’m tracking in a monthly cycle. I’m trying a weekly cycle of tracking. I don’t know how it’ll go. And I don’t know if it’ll work. But I’m giving it a try.

I like the way the spread looks, but it didn’t take ages to set up. It’s got enough space for personalisation (I’ve got two little doodles in the bottom corners of the spread), and I’ve got everything I want to track on the page. I’ve also got a section of ‘notes’ for things I need to do at some point during the week (or at some point later) but that I don’t have a designated day to do the things on. I’ve got a ‘focus’ section for three things I need to focus on this week, and a meal planner (because I liked it the one week I had it and used it previously – I’m not sure if I’ll actually be following / using it…but we’ll see).

For each of the days I have an outlined column to write my daily tasks in: daily tasks are a bit strange for me. I love a good to-do list, and like to be very precise about the tasks that I need to get done when I have a lot of things to remember and get done. But when I’m working on a few different big tasks, that becomes hard to do. So I then go through a cycle of writing down fewer tasks that end up taking more time. It’s weird, and I don’t fully understand why I do those two completely different types of to-do lists, but I do. And this week felt like I’m not going to be writing down every little thing I need to do but rather the big tasks I need to work on. It’s weird because it’s harder to tick things off, which in turn makes me feel less accomplished at the end of the day or week. At the same time though, this kind of meta-to-do list is the only thing I can really do at the moment. I’ve got three big things I’m working on, and while each of those can be split into micro tasks, even those micro tasks will take a few hours each to complete – so I don’t have very ‘much’ on my to-do list this week even though I’ve got a fair bit of work to do.

Okay, that’s enough of a rant on to-do lists. Ultimately, this was just a check-in for myself on my bullet journaling. It’s not been the super productive, beautiful notebook I’d hoped it would be, but it’s been a nice learning journey that I hope to continue. I like the process of setting up the pages (even if I don’t do it properly every evening / week), and I like that I can make it look as pretty and detailed or as to-do list-y as I want. It’s a nice thing to play with, and I really really like the dotted notebook. How have I not ever had a dotted notebook before?!

It’s September – what?

Today is the first of September. And a small part of me wants to take part in the seemingly collective response of: ‘Holy shit?! How is it September already?!’ but a larger part of myself wants to appreciate what I’ve done for the last month, or two, or eight. Now, this isn’t because I think I’m amazing or ahead of the game…actually quite the contrary.

I often feel like I’m not doing enough work (before anyone who knows me starts shouting at me, I know this is untrue), and I often feel like I’m falling behind on things. I rarely finish my to do lists (but that’s because they’re too full and aren’t actually realistic), but also rarely forget to do stuff and/or miss deadlines so I think I’m getting some things right.

But back to it being September.

The internet wants me to constantly be stressed about doing a PhD. It’s the common trope: the frazzled, up late at night working, stressed PhD student. I really don’t want to say that this isn’t the case for a lot of people, but I just hate the idea that that is the norm. Again, I don’ t want to say that this isn’t a real lived experience for a lot (far too many) students, and let’s be honest I’m often in the lab way too long after 5pm too. But when you search anything to do with PhD life, studies, careers, etc. everything that seems to come up are blog posts about how the PhD is the most stressful time of your life, about how supervisors tell students what to do, and about how the pressure is so big.

All these things are probably true. But why are they the norm? And it’s not just the internet that’s perpetuating this image of the PhD student: When I talk to some PhD students I feel guilty for taking weekends off. For not working when I’m at home. For having a good night’s sleep. Too often I even feel bad for being productive. It makes no sense.

I think this ties in with the whole ‘holy shit how is it already September’-itis. We never feel like we have done enough. We always look for our flaws, about how we had too many tea breaks yesterday, and ultimately about how we’re never going to amount to anything unless we stare at this document for the next 5h not really changing much but just avoiding sleep.

And I think that the image of the frazzled and stressed PhD student contributes to this. And I hate that it’s become the norm. I’ve had chats with some others about this, and I’ve definitely felt like I’m ‘doing it wrong’ at stages where I’ve not felt like all the internet tells me I should feel about my PhD.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love PhDcomics and all the other blogs, comics, and sites about how to write your PhD, how to survive your PhD, how to get a job after your PhD, etc. as much as the next PhD student – but where’s the balance? Where’s the alternative? Where’s the positive, the hope?

So that’s why I’m trying not to engage in the ‘holy shit how is it already September’-itis. I’m trying to tell myself I’ve done enough for the month to tick over.

Time waits for no one. Not even stressed out PhD students.

I’ve not completed my to-do list for the month, but I’ve done enough to be happy with what I’ve done. I went on holiday – on an actual, real holiday. That alone should be enough of a success in August! But I’ve also done loads of other stuff – and I’ve got stuff planned for September. It’s going to be a great month; even better than August was. Because that’s what I’m trying to do these days. I’m trying to relax and enjoy the PhD-ride.

So bring it on, September. Bring It On (Again)

 

 

Preparing for trips

Last week I wrote about why I chose to do a package holiday to go horse riding in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, and this week I want to go into a little more depth as to why it was so great.

Well, for one, I didn’t have to organise anything. It’s weird because I usually really enjoy the process of looking up things to do, finding obscure museums, streets, or cafes, and narrowing down what I want to do when I’m away. I usually keep my options open with a few things I want to do (always more than I actually have time for) so I can decide spontaneously on the day what I feel like doing.

Going on a package holiday is very different. I didn’t have to organise anything. Still, I bought my trusty Bradt guidebooks to prepare for the trip (reading that history and culture section a few times). The only thing I had to organise was book a flight, sort out my visas, and book the trip itself. It was really weird. But in a sort of liberating way.

Not having to plan anything freed up much of my time before the trip to do more work. yay?
No, I’m joking…a little bit.

Something that was weird about not preparing my own trip was that I should have had more time and energy spent on preparing for it mentally and physically, or even for just making myself extra excited about going. None of that happened though. It was weird. Because I didn’t have to figure out where I was going to sleep, how I was going to get from point A to point B, and because I didn’t really have to find obscure museums and places to eat, I somehow didn’t really prepare for the trip. I let it surprise me…which again, is something I don’t usually do.

It was lovely. It’s not how I want to spend every single holiday or trip I go on (I really really enjoy the process of figuring out what I want to do when I’m away), but it’s definitely something I want to do again the next time I go on a horse trek (let’s be honest, I can’t do this once and never do it again…).

Not having to worry about where you’re going to sleep at night is oddly liberating, and not having to figure out how to get there is just really nice. I will never forget my trip from Skodër, Albania to Kotor, Montenegro and then trying to figure out where to sleep that night (it was easter Sunday and I had forgotten what day it was because I’d been on the road for two months…) – I’ve got a little post about it here, but I think that entire day/evening deserves it’s own in-depth post at some point in the future…

Anyway, not having to think about how to get from Osh in Kyrgyzstan to Murgab in Tajikistan was great, particularly because there isn’t, as far as I could find, any public transport that drives across the border. Acording to the internet that particular border crossing isn’t a great place for hitch hiking (though the rest of the countries seem to be okay-ish?), so I’d have to get a shared taxi – which is fine, but is basically what we did and had organised for us anyway.

Since this was the first proper holiday I’d had in a long long time, I also didn’t really want to have to worry about where I was going to sleep at night and how to get there. There’s a time and place for backpacking and hitch hiking (and I love both), but this wasn’t it. This was a time to not have to worry about things, to relax, and to sit on horseback riding through the jailoos of Tajikistan. And that’s what going on a package holiday let me do without having to worry about it.

So, when I started writing this post, I actually wanted to write about something completely different, namely my trip itself (Osh – Gulcha – Border crossing to Murghab – horse trek – Horse Festival in Murghab – Sari Kul – Osh), but oh well. This was an interesting exploration of what my head and heart does to prepare for trips.