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Bad news that becomes good news.

Two days ago, I got some devastating personal news. I had put in a funding application for a proposed PhD at the University of Glasgow and, in a terse five-sentence email, I was informed that I would not be funded. Which meant that I could not pursue my research this year. Which in turn meant that, as soon as travel restrictions are lifted, I have to leave Scotland.


There are two levels of awful to this: I was, and remain, so excited by the research project I designed. I am focusing on the potential for theatre to react to climate change both in content (the stories we tell and how we tell them) and in the making/form of the theatre we create. Specifically, I am interested in how permaculture as a design process can help us develop a new eco-dramaturgy. Not being able to pursue this research right now, when it feels so urgent and important -- particularly in the light of how theatre is being impacted by the new realities being shown to us by Covid -- is heartbreaking.


But the other level of awful is that this decision means that I will have to leave home.

I love Scotland. I first came here in 2016 to walk the West Highland Way and basically fell in love with the country within moments of stepping off the plane. I returned again in 2017 (this time to walk the Rob Roy Way) and the feeling was still there. In 2018 I moved to Glasgow to pursue an MLitt at the University of Glasgow, and I can't explain it beyond this: this is my home. I am comfortable, at ease, and happy here. (For context, I'm forty years old, and this is the first time I've ever felt myself to be home.) I love the cities, I love the theatre, I love exploring the Highlands, I love traveling by train, I love how dog-friendly it is, I love the people I've met, and the way that you can't ride a bus in Glasgow without making a new friend.


But, without being able to continue my studies here, my Visa will run out at the end of July and I will have to leave.


As I was awaiting the funding decision, I tried to prepare myself for this: my proposal was strong, but the scholarship is competitive, and it was always likely that I wouldn't succeed. I pictured a rough patch after getting the bad news: depression, getting drunk, panic.


But something else happened: absolute, crystalline clarity.


I read the email and knew what it meant ... but I also understood with startling precision that I cannot will not move back to the States: it's not my home. I also felt with total certainty that this project has value, and if I can't do it officially now, I can keep working on it, build it stronger, start the research that will shape it - and find a way to move forward with it in the future.


This means two things:

  • I need to stay on this side of the ocean this year. I can't afford (and it isn't fair to him) to move the pup back and forth, so with my goal being to redouble my efforts at pursuing a PhD in Scotland in 2021, I need to find a way to spend the next 14 months on this side of the Atlantic.

  • I need to formalize my study of climate change. When I read my failed PhD proposal, I see very clearly the gap in my knowledge. I need more of the science of it, but I also need to study the impact and the ethics of how it affects different communities.

  • I need to spend this year deepening my understanding of permaculture. A flaw in my proposal was that I was still in the very early stages of understanding just how important permaculture could be in helping to design a new eco-dramaturgy. I was working from a hunch. Already, with just six months of study into it, though, I can see that my hunch of the potentials of this work fell far short of how much could be accomplished. And that's just from book learning - I haven't even gotten my hands dirty yet.

So. It was bad news. There's no way to change that. But it becomes good news when I react to it. I have focus now, and excitement about moving forward.

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