Sunday, 20 November 2011

Conversations, Journeys, Susan Sontag, and French Wine!

Whilst the previous three or four weeks have, for me, been characterised in part by travel and meeting some very intresting and exciting people along the way, last week was different. The closest I got to travelling was to say goodbye to a friend on Platform 13, Piccadilly Station. However, this week I have found myself in conversation with a number of other people, who in lots of different ways, were starting life changing journeys of their own.

Some of these journeys were the result of choices they had made, others were not. For some the journey will involve them having to deal with potentially life threatening illnesses. Reflecting on the conversations, some of which I felt were undoubtedly difficult, I recalled the words of one of my favorite writers, Susan Sontag. She said ‘silence remains, inescapably, a form of speech’. Silence has been something, in a therapeutic context I have been very comfortable with. However, in other kinds of conversations, it is equally important to sit and listen, in order that others have the space within which they can speak.

Susan Sontag, was a writer, critic, feminist and gave a voice to a generation of diverse academics that lives on way after her death, she sadly died in December 2004 from uterine cancer. Two powerful works, Illness as Metaphor, (1978) and later, AIDS and its Metaphors (1989) were written while she was being treated for metastatic breast cancer. I used some of her work in my PhD, drawing upon her explication of the use of metaphor in professional and personal accounts of illness and treatment, and what the concept of truth in the transactional aspects of relationships might involve: 'The truth is always something that is told, not something that is known. If there were no speaking or writing, there would be no truth about anything. There would only be what is'.

And ‘what is’ featured in other conversations about relationships last week. Some of these conversations were about professional relationships. I met with all the School Directors to talk about the outcomes of conversations that were held the previous week. As a consequence of those conversations I asked some of the Schools Directors to take responsibility for areas of the Schools business that they might consider took them out of their comfort zones. However, ‘the truth’ is that they all have shown great skill and application over the last two years in ensuring the School has continued to make progress towards its strategic ambitions. I believe that in the taking the work of the 'new School' forward, these talents needed to be refocused to fully take advantage of the opportunities open to us.

Opportunities lost and promised, featured in other conversations. An evening meal with a friend where the conversation included how difficult it can be to witness the relationships of others (dearly loved) sadly coming to an end. But I also had a delightful lunch (in a very noisy CafĂ©) with a good friend on the cusp of great things, who I hope will continue to believe in themselves. And Thursday evening’s conversation surprisingly involved French wine with something to eat and good company (surprising only given my love of Australian wines).

And I am starting on my own little journey, and one that involves an Apple. After years of steadfastly refusing to entertain the notion of buying an I-this or an I-that, I succumbed and purchased one of those new fangled I-Pads yesterday (it’s still in its shiny box). I will see how I get on with this particular journey. The I-Pad, I am told, will replace my book and CD library and allow me access to information anywhere. Susan Sontag described books as being 'funny little portable pieces of thought' – I wonder what she would have thought about the I-Pad.