Care and the conference

Michaela Benson
It’s 5.30am on my third morning in Newcastle. I went to bed just after 11pm and found myself awake on and off throughout the night. A light sleeper ordinarily, this is not unusual even if it is not ideal in the context of a conference, exacerbated by sleeping in a strange place with strange sounds. I made myself doze for as long as I could, once the idea of being awake was firmly in my head, I knew I could doze no longer. Unfortunately, my difficulties in sleeping are one of the things that makes conferences overwhelming for me, and where my care for myself can fall down very quickly given the attractions of staying up late chatting with friends and colleagues (and the drinking that often accompanies this).

In the run up to the conference, I started to think about what care for myself might look like for this week. It started before the conference. A massage and pedicure on Saturday afternoon were one of the ways that I prepared myself for the conference—this may be too much detail but since I forgot to bring my sandals with me … my toenails are an almost-neon shade of pink. I packed my bag to include my running kit. I prepared a conference care kit for myself including a set of things that could help me with my sleep hygiene on the one hand, and a selection of everyday things that I might need over the course of the day—hand sanitizer, tissues, painkillers, effervescing vitamins, blister plasters. Preparing this kit made me calmer; I wanted to foreclose that situation I have found myself in so many times before of desperately-seeking-the-everyday-something-that-because-you-are-away-from-home-you-don’t-have. Trips to the chemist or the supermarket that just add to the inevitable stress of the conference.

Day One saw me up at this time and out running by the river. Emma Jackson, who co-edits the journal with me had made a point of telling me to bring my running kit with me to Newcastle. My trainers were the first thing to go into my suitcase. I know that running helps me to control my stress and that navigating the space of the conference might also require the time to gather our thoughts and decompress. Several of my other friends and colleagues here in Newcastle were also in contact in the weeks leading up to conference asking what they could do to support me at the conference, knowing that this is the first big conference I have ever been involved in leading. And even though I was talking the sociological and life with colleagues until 10.30pm, last night, the lights were out by 11pm. Care is there not only in what we do for ourselves as individuals, but is caught up in wider social relationships; it is what we do for one another and it is no small thing.

But I am mindful that just because I am in these relationships where care emerges organically—because I have ‘my people’ at the conference—doesn’t mean that for others that this is a space of care. I hope that all the careful thinking and planning that has gone into the conference, particularly its ambitions to do things differently, translates into care at the conference. That it is not left only to the individual to develop their own care practices to navigate the conference.

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