A Hard Year

A recent email from WordPress reminds me that it is the time of year for reflective blog posts. Having singularly failed to post a festive message last week, I am going to try to post this one, although being on a hilltop near Scarborough with intermittent internet may yet thwart my ambitions.

So, 2015. It has been, without doubt, a hard year. Much of that hardness has been straightforwardly negative. The family illnesses which I wrote about in May have defined a great deal of my year and look set to do so well into next year and beyond. On the positive side, my mother’s cancer now appears to be in remission (touch wood!) but the rapidity and intensity of the disease and its treatment will be central to how I remember and reflect on this year. Coping with that, alongside the stresses of other illnesses and the normal strains of family life – the small boy who wakes no later than 10 past 6 every morning, the four-year-old with increasingly picky eating habits – has been, as I say, hard.

Other aspects, particularly the professional aspects, have been hard in other ways. I started this year full of uncertainty, with my professional future in the balance. By mid-February, that uncertainty had been resolved in the most positive way possible, a full-time job, a large grant, bright prospects and exciting work to do on the horizon, but not without a great deal of labour and anxiety, not least in those first six weeks of the year. And that work, as exciting as it is, is itself, as I am discovering, hard in the sense that it is challenging. The challenge is not solely intellectual, but also managerial, pushing me well out of my comfort zone and asking me to take roles that often make me uncomfortable. As much as I anticipated the challenge of this aspect of the grant when applying for it, the lived experience is nonetheless still as hard if not harder than imagined.

So I have been working hard, not only getting the new project off the ground but also attempting to complete the old one. Here the hard labour has, perhaps, proved most rewarding. The concentrated writing I did over the summer has resulted in three draft chapters and a large chunk of the introduction for the book, as well as a chapter for an edited collection and a rejected journal article, as well as the wholly joyful publication of a special issue which I both edited and contributed to. With the exception of the special issue, itself the result of several years of hard work, all these pieces hold within them the promise of more hard work – editing, revising, expanding, (re)submitting. And there is more such work to be done – four book reviews, a chapter for an edited collection, an article for a special issue, a conference paper. Each endeavour will involve time, energy, thought. Each in there own way will be hard and, if I work hard enough, will also be contributions of value to my field.

So for me the definitive moment of 2015 remains one that came in the middle, in that first hot weekend of July when, in her keynote at the Modern British Studies conference in Birmingham, Catherine Hall reminded us that the work of history, if done well, especially when done well, is by its very nature hard. It requires facing hard truths and a clarity of both thought and expression that necessitates focus and energy. The demands of the research that underpin this thought also requires labour which, in turn, must be integrated into the other demands that life places on us, to earn a living, to care for our families, to nourish ourselves body and soul. But as Hall demonstrated, in act as much as speech, it is work that is worth doing because it is hard work. Here, at the end of this year, I cannot but be glad for how hard it has been, personally and professionally because that hardness and heaviness have helped me to define my sense of purpose about what I am doing and will being doing with my life for the foreseeable future.

All that being said, there is undoubtedly part of me that wishes for an easier 2016, or at least a slightly more restful one. May yours be peaceful, joyful and kind to you and yours.

A very happy new year to you all!

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