Review of the year: If 2012 is about the Olympics, then let 2011 be all about the croquet!

“haw pal, if your no playing get aff the pitch!”

So it is that time of year again – and I can’t believe that we are approaching 2012. It’s always felt so far away. Far away, in the sense that it was the year that i aim to complete my PhD (so therefore my 18 month academic diary is deliberately empty to try and make the writing magic happen) – but also it is the unavoidable year that the UK host the Olympics. I remember the moment when we found out that we had “won” them – long before imagining I would ever be writing a thesis, or attending Olympic-themed events as part of the PhD – and remaining indifferent to it. As in, this event was never going to be for me.

Nor, could I imagine the extent that an Olympic games would take over and dominate the political, economical and social decisions over the last 6 and a half years – especially in the doublespeak way that it is used in the media and government policy. With just over 6 months to go until the event actually happens, it is just going to be ramped up x million on the run up to the Games, until the point where the fireworks of the opening ceremony are lit and the world’s media helps us forget how we got there. I can’t believe how I got here – especially thinking back even several years ago and wondering if I would even get anywhere near London during the games time. It felt like an age away – and now it is here.

This is a bit of a sport-related end of year post – even though I’ve always said that I would avoid writing about sport or anything that reaks of olympic cliches – so consider this a bronze-medal attempt (ew. sorry. can’t do it.) at crappy puns. For instance, if you would have told me at the start of this year that I would be running regularly, I would have came up with some excuse relating to asthma or always being crap at it at school so why bother – and you’d be right, I do have quite bad asthma that kicks me in the lungs when I forget to take my preventer and I was bloody shocking at school, especially at P.E. and organised team sport that involves competition and being the best at something.

See, it sticks with you. Even to the point when you finally feel confident to run a ‘fun’ 5k on boxing day and bottle it completely when you see the same old faces that used to thrive on the competition. You don’t get over it – you find a way around it. There isn’t a winning formula that is going to make you *finally* be that amazing athlete, much to the disappointment of those who campaign for ‘sports for all’ or see things like the Olympics as their giant advertising for a global lifestyle.

Excuse my obsession for actually caring about this dialogue now, if you weren’t paying attention, I travelled to Greece and went to the International Olympic Academy in September- which although was genuinely an experience of a lifetime, was probably the most intimidating thing that I’ve ever experienced. I really wanted to enjoy it- just like I really wanted to fit in, but I just couldn’t bring myself to accept some of the things being said or being taught – and I *really* didn’t want to exercise with other people (the reason to take up running, of course). Not that I felt that I knew better, but when questions were batted away and ideas were left unchallenged in favour of group solidarity – I found myself moving swiftly away from indifference to general disgust   at the notion of an ‘olympic movement’. It made me feel like shit – but I had much to thank for, as what I lost in belief, I gained in confidence in terms of my thesis argument, how I articulate critique and to not be scared to ask questions. It took being pushed to the edge, to be immersed in situations of great discomfort, to be able to truly understand (and reject) some of the writings that I had documenting for my literature review. Contextually, I could accept why people invest in these ideas of ‘olympism’ – and how they become dominant in general media discourse, but I could also see why it is important to be in that space, even if it makes you feel isolated and uneasy.

Twitter (and this blog) was my comrade whilst I was there – almost to the point where I risked offline relationships in order to keep myself sane, too many thoughts that you can’t keep to yourself but don’t have anybody you trust to confide in. Why not publicly confide in 2000+ people? Yeah, at the time, potentially stupid, but now, I don’t know how else I would have go through without it. Was so shellshocked when I got back, it took me about 3 weeks to used to actually hearing myself speak out loud. I had spent an entire month trapped in my own head. I’m allergic to the positive effects of sport and olympism. And that’s ok with me.

The positive side is that such experiences really make you appreciate the spaces where you feel safe, you feel like you can be yourself and don’t feel too guilty about creating echo chambers. And 2011 has provided me with many. I’ve met new friends – and did some cool things. I’ve reconnected with friends back home, people that I’ve not seen since I moved to Leicester and it’s great to be in better places than we were when we last saw each other. I’ve spent time with people who have been proper good friends this year and I’m glad that we know each other. I’ve worked and wrote with people who are just a breeze to get things done with – and that’s been amazing to create your own world, rather than having to accept that things have to be a particular way. It’s been good – and I can see it continuing, great energy – love working on ad-hoc community media projects and thinking critically about what a ‘third university’ might look like.

I got my first article on the guardian website – Angry Young Academics – that I co-wrote withMartin Eve, another PhD student at University of Sussex. I was recently named one of the top ten posts of the year on the higher education network – and I can’t believe that response that we got from it in June – and then again this month as it has been doing the rounds again. Like last year, the assault on education has been particularly close to me, and I’ve found myself speaking and writing about it in relation to my own PhD work.

Done a bit of live-blogging work as well – was asked by Podium, the higher education unit for London 2012 to cover their education conference in February at the EXCEL centre. In October, I joined a team from littlestar to capture the British Council’s Cultural Leadership program in Istanbul – that was pretty nuts, but met so many lovely people from all round the world who are doing amazing things in terms of culture and activism. Wrote some guest posts too:ScraperWikiFUSMIPodium and the British Library (due out in the new year) to name a few. Strangest thing that people actually want to write things for them!

Teaching-wise – I’m now a qualified one (whatever that means?) having completed my PGCert in Higher Education and can now be trusted in front of paying customers (I jest. Only in England.) and to celebrate, I wrote and delivered my own module full of my own ideas and stuff. That was awesome. So was the multitude of guest lectures I’ve delivered this year, with each one making me think about the hows and whys of education – and the best way to do something that is more than a piece of paper and a power point. My favourite was probably the Research Practices 2.0 event at Nottingham University, where I enjoyed letting other PhD students rip my online profile apart for the lols. Don’t want to get too complacent now.

The best thing I’ve done this year has got to be at the Tent City University, that was epic – and hilarious when the Glasgow Evening Times picked up on it as actual news. Spoke about occupying the olympics and used it as a lovely excuse to get cathartic about my Olympic school experiences – including the team GB tracksuit that I now possess. That’s pretty good hacking.

Finally, the year ended with a total of 9 round trips from Loughborough to Scotland in 8 weeks. I have been working on a project in the South of Scotland to deliver social media surgeries to small businesses in the various areas. I’ve been to places I could never image (like New Galloway!) and got to play my own game of “4 in a bed” visiting an array of lovely B&Bs. But really, it was a fantastic experience – namely because we designed and delivered it and it was successful. We had excellent feedback, good connections for the university and felt like something that could be rolled out else where. Plus, the team David McGillivray and Margaret Scott where fantastic to work with! The second part of the project begins in the new year – so they’ll be more to follow.

Phew – I’ve done so bloody much this year than I can’t possibly keep writing, the rest of it is documented on my website (which is great because otherwise I wouldn’t remember it) I’m going to leave you with a list of stuff that I will be doing in 2012. 2013 is pencilled in for sleeping.

As it is the Olympic year, here are just some of my Olympic-related plans for the first 3 months of the year as the #media2012 coordinator and other internet-related stuff.

In January, I am going to become an auntie (which my sister would kill me if I didn’t put that bit first ;-)) Got several research projects to deliver next week (ouch)- the first is an alumni search for graduates working in creative and cultural industries and presenting the results from@UWSDigital work. I’m also live blogging an event in Scotland at the CCA in Glasgow on Creative conversations around higher education – along with setting up several discussion groups around IT and social media in the classroom. Phew. Also working on rewriting my module from last year as it will be incorporated into a larger experiment with Paul Bradshaw’s online journalists. It’s going to be epic – stay tuned for more on that. January ends with theCitizen Eye 2nd Documentary Film Festival, where Richard HallNathan Human and myself are going to try run an entire university in empty spaces of Leicester and film it all in 3 days. Should be good. Join us. This kicks off the alternative olympic program that citizen eye have planned for the entire 2012.

In February, travelling to Aberdeen to see Jo and spend a few days up there. Also start teaching again, where I’ve been invited to join the panel for the 1st year production event at BCU which is themed around the Olympics. After a day of workshops, I’ll get to return in June to see what they come up with. Will also be writing a ton, as I’m determined to get my PhD finished before the funding runs out in September.

In March (5th onwards) will be doing a tour of UWS’s 4 campuses and Glasgow with citizen eye and somewhereto_ to run workshops on citizen journalism and host a pop up dogwoof documentary film cinema. Working on the plans for this just now – as soon as everyone else involves get back from their holidays and turn their out-of-offices off.

So, 2012 – lots to look forward to. With a little bit of running (no croquet, given up croquet), but not really anything to do with actually winning things. And more focus on stuff that is better than sport. And less distracting. I hope we get to meet (again) through the year. Because I haven’t really got a plan past next December. I didn’t think we’d get this far to be honest. Have a good one.