Not being a carer means I no longer need the workplace adjustment of flexible start and finish times. This will make it easier for timetabling to schedule my teaching though I don’t expect the students to be enamoured of the earlier start. This week however, on the cusp of a new academic year, it’s staff development activities I get to witness from their opening moments.
I don’t think I used to miss a great deal previously. Poets have a maxim that ‘getting into a poem’ and ‘getting out of a poem’ are tricky. There is a tendency to spend too long warming up without saying anything and to sum the poem up at the end. Chopping off the first and last two lines of a poem can be illuminating; so often I’ve realised, when reviewing a draft, that they are redundant. In this respect, staff development events are not unlike poems.
Had I not been at yesterday’s event for the opening lines, however, I might have been puzzled to find my colleagues wearing sticky labels bearing a miscellany of activities and subjects: Pink Floyd; David Bowie; DIY; Glass Staining; Blacksmithing; cycling apparel; the Isle of Axholme. Because it turned out to be one of those activities which wasn’t referred to again; you had to be there at the start to understand the labels (latecomers not admitted).
Although I was there at the start yesterday, in truth I wasn’t clear what the purpose of the activity was. Actually, I’m not sure even today. Peeling my label off yesterday’s cardigan just now, however, gave me pause for thought. We had been asked to identify an area, other than in the workplace, where we considered ourselves an ‘expert’; what outside interests or skills had we developed to a high level? As I picked up my pen, a colleague turned to me: ‘are you going to write poetry?’
It hadn’t even occurred to me. The word that came, like a second breath, from my pen was ‘caring’. The most natural thing in the world for me to think and feel and will: caring for Dylan. Once I’d written it on my label and stuck it on my cardigan, though, I felt uncomfortable. My word was different to the other words in the room. I considered that this was perhaps because ‘caring’ isn’t a noun or a concrete process. And because I hadn’t qualified it – caring for Dylan for example – it had a universal quality: one, I realised as the morning progressed, I probably did not possess. I couldn’t honestly claim that my expertise was ‘caring’ in general. Equally, I reflected, ‘being caring’ was probably not a quality that was valued in the workplace.
So I went about my business (which wasn’t caring) feeling the gulf between the personal and the professional. More than this, however, I felt a gap inside me opening up. When asked what I was really good at outside the workplace my first thought had been of Dylan: caring for him was something I could do well and which I felt proud of doing. What would I do with all those years of learning to care, now? What would happen to my expertise?
It wasn’t until this morning, when I saw yesterday’s label, that I realised just how great this new gap is. I miss Dylan very much but I have a self to miss too: I can no longer call myself a carer. Dylan’s transition challenges my very identity.