Death of a Disco Dancer

Welcome to a different world. It’s not even the same physical environment I worked in last year. Gone are the days of the daily commute and bustle of an office to work in. We may all get back to it one day, but many of us have been transformed in reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic that bit in anger 15 months ago for the UK. Home-working, loungewear, and online grocery shopping; all a new normal. New jobs created in delivering goods, teachers adapting to online pedagogy and technology-enhanced-learning, and suddenly everyone lives in a house with a blurry background. A review of railway ticketing options was the news today. Part of me embraces all this. And yet, we’ve lost something.

A good portion of what I enjoy is the moment a spark is generated. Creative aspects are not developed like walking in to a room with a roaring fire. A great idea grows from the initial actions that cause the creation of the spark. Even before that, the intention is there to ignite something. Being in the right headspace, in the right light, the right room, the right company; any or all of the above essential to the process of bouncing an idea around. I’ve missed that.

Now I’m the first person to say that I rarely switch off from developing an idea or creating a solution to a challenge. But I’m learning that home isn’t necessarily the perfect environment I initially thought it could be. Sure, on paper, working solely from home sounds great. I save two hours a day, and probably £800 a year by not commuting. I’ve also taken my three days of university work and spaced it out over the rest of the week, even encroaching in the weekend evenings, when the mood takes me. Less of a three course meal, more of a vocational grazing. And yes, I’m catching a few interactions on Zoom, but they aren’t the rich and heady mix of social cues and subtle signals that conceive an idea.

Will teleconferencing lead to a slow decay of creative ideas? Will the world polarise into those that can bake a good idea in this new world, and those who cannot? To what extent will those who have access to the coffee shops, open-plan offices, and shared workspaces thrive and dominate the field for new creative ideas? Further what skills are we losing without the social synergy? Do I feel lazier and less disciplined after 15 months? Have I chosen to refocus on my work goals? Do I feel as confident in my personal and professional skills now? Have I pinned down much inspiration to a board in the last year? So much change, and its inevitable consequences.

It’s been hard to do the kind of work I do. I’m a massive showoff and a social animal. I’ve always kidded myself that I could work in isolation. But it’s not true. I need a crowd; three people, thirty, three hundred; it makes no difference how many, but I need them for all of my process. Just a few weeks ago I managed to get visit a school to deliver workshops. Despite my efforts, I felt unprepared, rusty. I mean the sessions went well from my perspective. Not perfect, but good. But I was thinking more about how I was doing, rather than my students. So much more time required on the chalk-face as it has been described, before I can get back to where I was. And I need to hit that now before I lose my love for what I do. If I feel I’m struggling, then imposter syndrome will take another nip at me, like it does many others. I was grateful to join Caroline at her school event this week, even if I was only there virtually. I just need to be back in schools.

But everyone has fears and reservations. Getting into visit schools is tough, even with mitigations in place. I’ve received two vaccinations now, am on the same twice-weekly home testing regime that teachers are (and students are supposed to be doing), am covered by public liability insurance, and prepare fresh risk assessments for every workshop, in every space. There is little else I can do to allay fears in gatekeepers that will allow me to return to what I need to do. And what worries me most, is that schools will soon be closed until September and the new academic year begins with full tilt teaching and little time for the enrichment activities I provide. Realistically, I’m looking at another year before I can get stuck back into work in anger. After a year of isolation, neglect, and lack of financial support for freelancers that do what I do, will the skilled workforce of science communicators all be here by that time?

These are our potential losses. A silent scream as we drift into careers that don’t bring us the joys we have now, but hopefully scratch an itch and provide for the necessities. I sound like a privileged person, who is suffering loss of a creative environment, and fulfilment in my chosen vocation. These are things that others don’t get to have, and I acknowledge that fully. I do have privilege, thanks. I’ve written this as a reflection on what I’ve lost so I can hopefully look back and see what I saved.