2 November

Chthonic Bodies

When I got to work this morning I was exhausted already. HOW DOES SHE DO IT? My mind shouted. Who she? It didn’t matter. All the women with jobs and children and lives. I packed up my nephew’s homework – all the autumnal beauty that he looked for with my mother over half term, signified by the leaves that he can name that they stuck on sugar paper together – and got him to school five minutes late. I got myself to an appointment I need to keep, and by lunch time I’d got into my stride. We’d a vague plan for a belated Black History Month event, and I’d a year long project plan. But academia has been a culture shock. I’d been warned about the bureaucracy but I really was shocked. As Elaine Glaser wrote last year in the THE, the bureaucratic systems are derived from private sector managerialism, yet while they have been largely flushed out of business itself, they are applied to academia in a correctional spirit, as if it is not behaving in a sufficiently businesslike manner. And now another layer has appeared – or maybe I was already there, I lose track – and needs to be completed by next week: the Researcher Development Framework Professional Development Planner. I thought I might list the various reporting systems that we need to be part of for this research post – impact, career progression, output, ethics, accounting, and the rest – but I just can not, as the young people probably no longer say. By the end of the day, I’d done so many things that I’d left undone and undone and undone last term. But I’d forgotten that I need to not push it so hard. I forgot that I really am exhausted. Doctors certificates and everything. So on the bus home I’m a mess. And being a mess, I’ve learnt, means some more layers of bureaucracy, so I’m even more upset at my unexpected emotional messiness. I discussed the mess bureaucracy today in my appointment. Was the Stress Management Risk Assessment helpful? Asked Clive. Only because I am blessed with a colleague – Sarah – who is sharp as a knife and has my back and held my hand through the process and made it helpful. Because of the stress and the exhaustion and the thing that we mustn’t be ashamed of but I find I’m so terribly ashamed of I have been assigned to two men whose job it is to get me fit for work. They’re called Derek and Clive, and they come with their own bureaucratic flaming hoops. I’m an increasingly angry dark-hearted lesbianĀ  radical feminist and two men called Derek and Clive have been charged with by pseudo-pastoral care and an enormous amount of paperwork with my name on it. They tell me to be positive – I’ve got my job and my health.

And I over did it today and I’ve no one to blame but myself. I’m a sad clown on the bus home.

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My black cat, Fatty, sunbathing. Autumn 2014.

But it’s Autumn. And I find myself pleased in a way I never expected that my nephew, whose birthday is next Friday – I’ll legitimately be a sad clown – will share with me the delight of being an Autumnal child. We are rolled up with magical rituals, festivals of dark and light, souls and saints, the forevers, and the flash-in-the-pans. I’m pleased that he stopped on the way home from school yesterday to pick up a very particular leaf and he asked if he could keep it forever. That he is delighted by Hallowe’en, and the ridiculous alien hat that I made him for the acid-vision-of-hell community party we went to on Monday night. That he tells me about the smoke from your breath on a cold morning, but corrects himself to steam. He has just found out that our black cat has died. We called him Fatty, and he was the most loving creature I’ve encountered. He lived with my mother, and it’s Binh Tam’s closest encounter with death so far. He can’t really remember my dad. And so all wrapped up in the skeleton suit that he asked for some weeks ago, and that I left out for him to find on Friday night, ahead of a visit to the Horniman Museum Hallowe’en Fair on Saturday, we talk about cultures of death. I’ve been talking about this at my other work – the only mildly bureaucratic consultant job – regarding archaeological excavation of a cemetery. Ways that heritage could think about reburial differently. He wants to know why we bury bodies at all. He wants to know how skeletons can come back and dance. I think he’s referring to the old Disney Silly Symphony, but maybe he saw the page in my brother’s Royal Geographic Society magazine on the Toraja people who bring their dead out – to see and be seen, be cleaned and commemorated, part of the family. I find myself explaining as joyfully as I can all the ways that people celebrate and commemorate death, and he listens and he asks questions and poses perfectly reasonable suggestions. And as I prepare to go to my mother’s house tomorrow for the fourth anniversary of my dad’s sudden death, all of this is on my mind. Last night I dreamt of open burials and old friends (and Stevie Nicks, but she’s sort of an old friend) and I hope that I am on the way to a rebirth of sorts. A chthonic Autumnal awakening, rebirth for the dark-hearted Persephones, despite the unexpected lurch today, and I suppose the hope in itself is hopeful.

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