Momentary Affects

a single emotion, each day in 2011

Posts Tagged ‘008.365

008.365 Not business-as-usual (at #netrootsuk)

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The crowd has been promised something else: definitely not business-as-usual. If anyone states the facts about social media (“blogging is good!”; “Twitter is the future!”) they are to be shot; or at least thrown out. Perhaps one of these threats is a joke—Sunny Hundal, by default today the name and face of The Left, and chair of the conference says that only one of the panellists is actually funny.

Is it him? No, it’s Clifford Singer, the man behind and, who holds his piece together with wit and laughter. Because they, of course, are not business-as-usual for conference presentations. But it’s sharp. Engaging. He wins friends.

The conference is about change. Political action. About the Left (Comrades or not) taking back online space from the Right in the face of cuts deeper, faster and bigger than has ever been faced. Now is not, says Hundal, time for business-as-usual.

Less than 30 minutes later, the #netrootsuk hash tag on Twitter is full of grumblings, frustrations, anger with the speakers. “I thought they said it would be different?” “Why is this woman (Polly Toynbee) going on and on and…”

If you look around the conference hall, you would not know that there was such seething frustration. As one attendee (Laurie Penny) writes “We’re listening politely while arbiters of the centre-left mow the grassroots into a neat bourgeois lawn”; someone replies, “I find it ironic @PennyRed is tweeting about the bourgeoisie from an I-Pad, the product for people who have it all”.

Left vs. Left. Left vs. Right. Clever banter. Antagonism. Another tweet: “If everyone’s Tweeting, is anyone listening?” Not business-as-usual, right?

I sit, numbed a little by shyness. Polly carries on for another fifteen minutes. Fact, facts. More facts. I check my phone. My signal has gone. That at least it good.

You cannot numb the ‘bad’ emotions without also numbing the ‘good’
Brené Brown, a social science researcher at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, has spent a decade researching shame, shame resilience and human connection. One of her key findings is that “You cannot numb the ‘bad’ emotions without also numbing the ‘good’”.

I go and sit in Congress Room 1 waiting for the Investigative Journalism and Blogging session. A tall, blonde woman comes and joins me in the back row and says hello. I mouth the word back but there is no sound. We’re both early—it doesn’t occur to me just yet that she might hate the interstices between organised purpose (‘coffee breaks’) as much as I do—and we sit, waiting, checking on the schedule, thumbing papers and fiddling with time.

I realise suddenly that if I talk to her I will have, in some unclear way, satisfied what I came for. I lean into her space, the open chair between us where I have built up a pile of books, folders and laptop, and ask her if she had come with an organisation. She points to her name badge. UCU, it says. We’re in the same trades union; we are members of the same industry. Affinity.

‘I thought if I wrote it there and someone saw it they might start talking to me,’ she says.

I explain that I’m a lecturer. But I didn’t put that on my badge. I say that I wrote my name as small as possible so no-one would talk to me, and in saying it, I realise it is true. But I say it with a smile, laughing, and I break eye contact, so she cannot fully see what I have exposed. We exchange information. Positions, UCU affiliations. Then she smiles and ties her hair back. I notice and trace the lines of her ear, how the internal curves of the cartilage, covered by skin, are listening, hearing, ‘breathing in messages’ as Polly Toynbee said earlier (when I had hope for her talk, at the very beginning…)

‘If I come to these things and don’t talk to anyone, I’ve the type of personality that gets upset,’ says the tall blonde woman.

A truth for a truth. She heard mine, then, and shared hers.

Talk to people you did not know
I’m very good at listening, although I am convinced it is she who has the pretty ears. She tells me about her workplace, the redundancies, the reasons for coming to the conference today. She talks with seriousness. I know I am always serious when I meet people. It’s my comfort zone. But she smiles too. By the time the talks begin for the session the numbing shyness has lifted. The belief that I should be somewhere else has gone, too.

Why is this simple but almost impossible act, between people who do not know each other, not the focus of the conference? Why does the conference rely on themes, arguments, agreements, presentations, graphs and keynotes to facilitate (obstruct?) this? Or does everyone already know everyone else?

The session drags on. The speakers don’t know how to respectfully keep to time. The chair does not intervene. The speakers read out from PowerPoints we could digest in five minutes online. Questions come, with barely any time left. I need the men’s room. I’m frustrated that the ‘workshop’ has turned into a lecture. One man leaves in disgust. I’m frustrated now, as I wasn’t in the earlier session. You cannot numb the ‘bad’ emotions without also numbing the ‘good’. But if you feel the good, you will also feel the bad. It’s worth it.

Time runs out, and the tall blonde woman leaves to get her lunch before the next session begins. I watch her go. I grab my things and go, too. No-one will go home upset. We talked to people we did not know.

What could I achieve if I always talked to people I didn’t know?


Written by alockwood

January 8, 2011 at 4:03 pm

Posted in Shyness

Tagged with , ,