International Meeting on Law and Society, Mexico City – Day 1

19397793_10155492387093923_1849034776_nFollowing on from the last post, I thought I’d take this opportunity to reflect on my Day 1 of the conference. The first thing to do was try and work out which sessions to go to. Easier said than done. Each time slot takes up over 10 pages in the programme and there are over 30 panels running at the same time. As usual things that look interesting all seem to be on at the same time. Nonetheless, the first session was a relatively easy choice. I went to Gender Identities: Beyond the Binary and heard 4 really interesting papers. I haven’t really engaged with gender identity issues much in my work or in my life, maybe because I just don’t get it. People are people, gender, sexuality, it’s all fluid and it’s also all irrelevant to how I think about people. I’m irritated because to me this is just a non-issue. I just don’t care if you’re male, female, both, neither or choose on any given day. But of course some people do care and the law cares and the law likes categories and categories are problematic because categories by definition create divisions… anyway, I enjoyed the session.

Next I went to a Round Table on Queer and the Inter/national where I tried to get my brain round a queer marxist theory of law, queer theory as a lens to think about extraterritorial relationships between states and people outside of those states and states as having gender, having sex with each other and undergoing gender reassignment. It was a good session even if not really roundtable like. It seemed more like a normal paper session really. It did make me want to do more queer theory stuff though. I’m coming to the conclusion that my aversion to theory isn’t real. Someone must have told me once that I was no good at theory (or maybe I just presumed that) and I have internalised that to such an extent that I don’t do theory – except that I do – just as long as I don’t realise I’m doing it.

Then it was lunch time and I realised my brain was quite full already. I decided to take the lunch break and the next session slot for some time out. I had a little walk, found some street food stalls and had some fruit and a drink (my frustration at my complete inability to say anything in Spanish continues) and spent some time zoning out and catching up with Facebook and Twitter.

At 2.45 I was going to go to the Salon session on Gendered Views of Judges, Courts and Lawyers. However, I couldn’t find the room for ages and by the time I did, the session would have started and I didn’t want to be that person. I came back to my room for a little while. That I think, was the only anxiety sort of moment where I just walked round in circles for a bit and then gave up and then accidentally came across the room on my way back to my room. I should have just joined the session but I couldn’t face it.

At 4.30 I headed back down for the plenary panels and went to one on Law in a Time of Populism: Brexit, Columbia and the US Elections. Brexit was covered by Paul Craig. I’d never heard him speak before and I’m not sure I want to again. I like his work, I’ve used it loads in mine. I rarely disagree with his assessment of EU law issues in particular but I didn’t really like his style – bit shouty and loud. This was in stark contrast to Jeff Dudas who followed Paul Craig and talked about the white working class in the US. I really enjoyed his presentation because he got the balance of research, story telling and the personal just right and he spoke softly which my ears very much welcomed. Certainly my favourite paper of the day. There were then two further presentations  – one on Colombia and one on the US. Then I was tired!

I dumped my things in my room and went down to the drinks reception – mainly to take a look at the books in the publishers’ area. There was some food (for which I queued for a disproportionate amount of time) and a free glass of wine. My plan had been to go for a quick drink, look at books and then maybe head out and grab some food from just round the corner but the bread and cheese nibbles at the reception filled me so I went to bed instead. Drinks receptions are impossible when you’re on your own. Most people aren’t so joining a group you don’t know is awkward. I was tired and peopled out and not really up for awkward so I just exchanged a few polite words with a couple of people also looking at books and with a couple of the publishers.

So, Day 1. How am I doing? I get tired more quickly than normal. Or no, actually that may not be true – I get tied more quickly than I want. This may be normal! My brain can manage 2 sessions but will start getting restless about 3/4 of the way through the second. I need to make notes, my brain isn’t in sponge mode, it doesn’t absorb all these thoughts and ideas, I need to write them down there and then. I used to be able to soak it all up and then distill some thoughts at the end of the day or even a few days later. I can’t do that now. I’m finding the sheer number of people tricky. I got the lift to the lobby when I went for my walk and when the lift doors opened there was a wall of people and almost unbearable noise. I had to force myself out of the lift. It’s nice to have a few people I know here so there’s no undue pressure to ‘make friends’. Day one was good. I have high hopes for Day 2

International Meeting on Law and Society, Mexico City – Getting there and getting ready

Some of you may have been expecting frantic tweeting from the conference but quite honestly, These huge conferences are too intense to keep up the live tweeting, there are lots of papers in each session and I can’t keep up. Also (and the real reason I’m not even 19427707_10155492387128923_2091055679_ntrying) is that I have a new very cool notebook and I adore new notebooks. There’s something about the promise of those empty pages and I love starting a new notebook with something like a conference because that means that at least the start will be exciting, inspiring and full of ideas. I’ve gone old school. I have actually been writing stuff down!

Anyway, I am at the annual Law and Society Association conference which this year happens to be in Mexico City. Here’s how I got here. Feel free to stop reading now – it’ll be me rambling on- mainly because I think me getting and then being here has the potential to hit – or completely wallop – a huge number of my anxiety triggers. Writing helps me be more aware of that and how I am doing managing anxiety, exhaustion and stress levels. In other words, this post is for me not you. You’re welcome to come figure it out with me though

I had a very long Monday yesterday, leaving the house about 5.30 to get to Manchester airport. So possible trigger number 1: Tiredness. Tiredness is funny – I still get unreasonably tired in certain situations, I find being around people exhausting (oops) but also being tired, even if not anxiety related, means I deal less well with potential triggers and am more likely to become anxious. Anyway, I thought I’d left ages so I could have breakfast there and have a nice relaxed trip but instead I spent over 90 minutes in the security queue and had to jog to the gate. Never mind, I thought I’d have enough time at Frankfurt airport to just chill out a little bit and sit with coffee. Nope, that airport is hideous and I think specially designed to fuck with people who already don’t have a sense of direction. I don’t know if I got lost or went wrong or whether it was just an idiotic and long way but I got to the gate as they announced boarding would be in ten minutes – I got to pee at least. Several triggers there: Things not going as planned, having to do something different to how I had imagined it, running late, not being in control. I was a little antsy but ok.

The flight was fine – no chance of getting any work done really, although I did read a little. Mostly I watched films though. I started, maybe foolishly with I, Daniel Blake. Hm, I’m not quite sure what to think but I’ll untangle that another time – it is however hard hitting and I cried a fair bit (it’s a film, of course I did, I cry at anything if you stick it on the telly box) – so that sorted the possible awkwardness about having to speak to the person next to me. We spent 12 hours ignoring that we were basically sat on each others knee. Trigger: Feeling forced to engage with people – didn’t apply. I then watched the new Beauty and the Beast (Don’t judge) and Emma Watson is brilliant. I vaguely thought about going back to something serious then but instead watched Sing which was quite fun but twice as long as it needs to be. I dozed off for a bit.

Arrival in Mexico brought another queue – an hour or so this time but then I was through immigration and customs. I don’t like immigration control. I don’t like that feeling of some official being in complete control of your destiny. They decide if you continue or have to turn back. I realised I find this worse when I know I can’t adequately communicate with the official. I got frustrated at myself for not keeping up with learning Spanish, for always getting so far and then dropping it. It’s not a difficult language, it just takes a bit of self discipline and I still understand much more than I thought I would but I can say almost nothing. I had an hour in the queue to get properly irritated with myself.

I was nervous about getting a taxi, I’m not normally edgy about travel. I think as a woman travelling on your own you always need to be aware of what’s going on around you and of course in same places that applies more than others. I read the safety stuff, I knew where to get an authorised taxi and all of that but so many people were so adamant about how dangerous Mexico City is and how I must be careful (how do you do that exactly? Be careful, I mean) that I’d got a bit spooked. I came out of customs, saw the authorised taxi counters, told the woman where I wanted to go, paid, found my taxi and off we went. It was fine. The thinking about it was far worse than just getting it done.

It wasn’t as busy as I expected and the journey took about 25 minutes. For the first part 19225275_10155488903603923_2266758315210817616_nwe were driving through slightly run down areas directly towards the sunset which was turning the sky a spectacular colour (and made the pollution haze quite visible). Then we turned though and the sky was less spectacular and the buildings started changing to more high rise and posh and then we were at the hotel. Alma at check in was lovely and found me a room with a big bed rather than 2 small ones which apparently was booked (University travel booked it form me and I just said to go for the cheapest) and it is also higher up so I get a bit more of a view. Well sort of

 

The hotel’s too posh so there was no way of avoiding the bell service – I hate not just being able to take my own bag and find my room but I was escorted by a lovely bloke who was at pains to stress that I shouldn’t just work at the conference but make sure I went out to see the beautiful city too. He didn’t get a tip because frankly I was too knackered to work it out and I only had big bills anyway I think. I’ve been feeling a bit bad about that ever since.

I managed to hang on until about 9.30 by unpacking my stuff and hanging my clothes up, checking Facebook etc and trying to check the online programme and I then collapsed into bed and slept through til 4am. I’m quite pleased with that.

I watched a selection of news channels for a bit and then went and found the gym. So altitude, jetlag and warmth are an interesting combination. I ran 2km on the treadmill  – I was actually aiming for a very steady 5k but I was a puddle by 500 metres and panting like a dog on heat (sorry, not an image you needed). I gave running up as a bad job, did a quickish 5km on a bike and then hit the shower. Things not going to plan. I wanted to run 5km!

Then I had to go for breakfast. I was hoping to be early enough to not see anyone that would require a calculation of whether I know them well enough or not to do the whole ‘Hi, not I’m not being rude but no, you can’t talk to me pre coffee and I am certainly not going to sit with you’ thing. You see there are very few people I can tolerate at breakfast unless it’s pre-arranged. Breakfast is where I get myself and my brain (like we’re two separate things – weird) ready for what lies ahead. If I know I am meeting someone that’s fine, somehow that works but if it’s not planned, no no no! There’s only one person here who I’d be totally ok with (Hi Chris) in that situation. No offence to everyone else intended at all. It was fine, I was seated at a little table in a corner and understood enough Spanish to get coffee and be directed to the buffet. Win.

19366538_10155490277028923_409495622792190202_nNext, I registered for the conference. It was still quiet so that was easy too. I had a quick flick through the programme and then decided that actually I wanted a little look outside given I hadn’t seen anything at all of Mexico City yet really.

I stepped outside for 15 minutes and then found a quiet spot to decide on the session. The programme is overwhelming. It’s nearly 200 pages! Quiet spaces are hard to find now the conference is in full swing. Going outside doesn’t help – it’s Mexico City! It worries me a little how this will play out over the next few days. My room may become my little sanctuary.

So why am I telling you this? Well this is the first major conference event I have been to since being ill. I did of course go to the Association of Law Teacher’s conference – but that was much much smaller and I was surrounded by friends. This event is a different ball game, it’s far away from home, it’s in a country where I don’t speak the language, I know very few people, it’s long and intense… This is a test as to how well I’m really doing. So I am telling you about the travel and all of that to give you the context for the next few days. Travel went well. Anxiety triggers were definitely there and I was anxious when time became an issue for both flights and I was anxious about the taxi and all of that but a manageable anxious. The same is true of this morning and going for breakfast and registration. It was all fine, I’m fine and I am excited to be here.

 

Brexit and Law Schools – my thoughts

I attended an event at Northumbria University today. It was titled Brexit and the Law School and I was asked to contribute some thoughts on ‘Learning, Teaching and the University: The Changing Shape of the University Community’. Below is a summary of my brief talk. I’ll try and summarise the rest of the day’s discussion in another post

  1. Law Schools are, in my view, distinct little communities within the wider university community, within the wider local, regional and national communities and, again in my view, communities are shaped by those who inhabit them. Therefore, to understand the impact of Brexit on Law Schools we need to understand how Brexit might change the make-up of the Law School and university communities and what that change might mean on the ground
  2. So how will the make-up of Law School and University inhabits change post Brexit? We don’t know!
  3. Here’s what we do know
  • UCAS figures show that applications from UK students for Law Courses for 2017 entry are up by 7% whereas applications from EU students are down 3%
  • UCAS figures also show that applications from UK students across the board for 2017 entry are down by 4%, whereas applications from EU students are down by 6%
  • The proportion of EU students studying law is relatively small when compared to the proportion of EU students studying some other subjects
  • The number and proportion of EU students varies quite dramatically between institutions
  • There is lots of anecdotal evidence that EU national academic staff are considering or actively looking to leave the UK and work elsewhere in Europe or the rest of the world
  • There is also anecdotal evidence of EU nationals discounting the UK as a possible destination for work
  • However there is also anecdotal evidence of EU national colleagues making plans to stay in the UK long term and also of some recruitment of EU national staff since the referendum
  • The UCU survey about academics’ views on Brexit suggests that 76% of non-UK national academics are considering leaving the UK. That’s pretty damning. However, I would urge caution over that figure because ‘considering’ is very different from ‘planning to’ and the considering may be the result of quite significant uncertainty. Thing may change as we get clarification on what rights exactly will be available to our EU colleagues

4. This leads me on to what these figures don’t tell us

  • Whether they are a trend or a blip. The applications for Law from EU nationals are still higher in number than for the 3 years running up to 2016 so was 2016 just a bumper year and we are returning to ‘normal’?
  • What will the figures be over the next 5-10 years? Only once we know that can the data really tell us something about whether Brexit had a significant impact on the number of EU national (law) students in the UK
  • If it is more than a blip, is it really Brexit or the uncertainty around Brexit that has caused the drop?

5. In short we don’t know how the make-up of Law School inhabitants might change. We really don’t. But let’s assume the worst – that we will loose the majority of our EU students and colleagues and that we will loose access to the Erasmus+ programme and research mobility/exchange programmes – what would the impact of that be? Well I think it would be devastating. I think we could see

  • a shift on who and what is valued in Law Schools
  • a more inward looking and insular approach to scholarship and teaching
  • less engagement with EU and international issues and in particular with non-common law issues and approaches
  • less well rounded curricula -explicit and hidden
  • a reduction in the opportunities to learn from each other and a loss of the sort of creativity that happens when you tackle a problem together with people who bring different ways of thinking and doing things to the table
  • less tolerance for different ideas and approaches and ways of thinking
  • less well rounded lawyers – whether academics, practitioners or ‘just’ citizens of (a possibly much more narrowly defined) world

So my question really is – how do we make sure that we don’t become insular and inward looking law schools that irrelevant to the rest of the world or possibly just irrelevant?

Running Meltdown again

Here’s blog post three for Mental Health Awareness week – it’s from my running blog and is an account of today’s little wobble

really not a runner

Two miles into my 10k run I was sat on my arse at the edge of the River Wharfe with tears running down my face trying to focus on a little chaffinch in the tree in front of me. Yep, running meltdown – again. I wasn’t even really aware I was struggling. We’d had a lovely first mile with a little stop to watch a deer for a few minutes and I felt fine really. My legs were a bit tight but really, nothing dramatic. We were running at the Bolton Abbey Estate and had just gone under the aqueduct when panic set in. I said that I thought I should go back, we walked a bit, then I stopped completely and then Kath sat me down. So there I was, not quite 2 miles in. FFS.

This mental wobble I can’t explain. I didn’t see it coming, I had…

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Thinking Clearly

Here’s post number 2 for Mental Health Awareness Week. I just wanted to share some thoughts about what I find most difficult about both anxiety and depression. I’m sure there are other things that other people find more difficult and I do think these things play out differently for different people but here’s a little part of my story.

As an academic I am used to my brain working. I am used to being able to think, analyse, critique… I am used to being able to string sentences together and I am used to working with complex ideas. I’m a lawyer; language, words, text, arguments – that’s what I do. So for me the hardest thing about anxiety has been the panic that sweeps into my brain like a tidal wave of chaos. It turns my brain into a jumbled mess of negative thoughts and emotions and turns off my ability to process those. I’m generally a little chaotic and a lot emotional and I often have more than one thought or idea at a time and I am always working on lots of things at one but I can also sit down and map, sort, collate and connect, link and compare. I can deal with lots of information and I can do it quickly but when anxiety hits it feels like I forget how. It’s not that I get overwhelmed with too much emotions or information, it’s that I lose the ability to order it. Do you remember the bit in the first Harry Potter book where Harry and Ron have to catch a key with wings and they’re in a room full of keys with wings. Imagine my thoughts and feelings as those keys and imagine that I am usually a fairly competent witch flying on a broom but when anxiety hits someone increases the speed of the thoughts tenfold and makes me fly into strong crosswinds. It’s disorientating and frightening because I can’t hold on to a thought for long enough to deal with it. I can’t dismiss negative ones because they whizz past and I can’t work with productive or positive thoughts because they’re gone before I know what they are.

When depression strikes my brain goes quite fuzzy. I feel like Winnie the Pooh – a bear of very little brain, like there’s just cotton wool between my ears. It means that even thoughts I can hold on to, I can’t process properly. I can’t follow arguments or thoughts all that well. I don’t understand. As an academic that is terrifying. At my worst I have picked up my own work and haven’t been able to follow my own argument. I have had people talk to me and I have literally had no clue what they were saying. It’s like everything is presented in a language that uses the same words as English but they mean something different. Actually it’s a lot like having a conversation between sociologists, lawyers and political scientists – we often use the same terminology but mean something different. So maybe I’m not depressed, maybe I just do too much interdisciplinary work. (I am not being serious here  – obviously. There is no way my depression addled brain could do interdisciplinary work and untangle the nuanced use of language. I can only do this when I’m well).

Because thinking clearly is so important to what I do and who I am, it’s the not being able to think clearly that I find the hardest about suffering from anxiety and depression. It also means that I often notice it coming because my ability to think deteriorates. That’s a good thing I suppose, it means I can try and stop it. More thoughts tomorrow maybe.