When I quit work to help my daughter after her autism diagnosis back in 2012 I began volunteering to keep my sanity and keep my confidence. I could never have dreamed of where the volunteering and blogging would take me. But I knew if I didn’t get out there and do ‘stuff’ it would get harder and harder to get a job down the line.
The volunteering keeps me in touch with those ‘soft skills’ – meeting new people, working as a team, speaking up in meetings, getting your ideas across and having the confidence to trust in your own ideas as well as, perhaps the most important thing, listening to others. This all sounds like pretty simple stuff but when you suddenly stop doing it the nerves and the self-doubt begin to kick in. Rocking up to press previews I am often in new places where I don’t know a soul, and it takes quite a lot of courage to walk up and ask questions but I have begun to trust in my own inquisitive nature to get me by.
One thing I have always struggled with, even when I worked, was talking in public. When I worked I didn’t have to do it very often, maybe once a year at our away day. Since volunteering I have spoken twice, once at the Museum of London archive on blogging and once at a Kids in Museums ‘Autism in Museums’ workshop. Both were very short talks, the Kids in Museums talk was only a five minute blast.
I was so incredibly nervous at the Museum of London, I quickly learnt I wasn’t able to follow any written notes in my hands. At the Kids in Museums workshop my hand shook so much I had to hold the microphone with both hands. You might be wondering why I put myself through it when it affects me so much, believe me I often wonder too.
Museums Showoff does exactly what it says on the tin, a chance for you to talk about anything museumsy in anyway you like. This extends to singing, dancing, poetry, plays, jokes, the whole shebang. It happens in a pub in London and you only get 9 mins. Now I have been to two Museums Showoff, the first was actually in a much larger venue at Bloomsbury Theatre. I went to see curator Paolo Viscardi talk about his Extreme Curator trials for an exhibition at the Horniman Museum. I had come up with a lego homage to his adventures and written about why the Extreme Curator had been a big hit in our house. It was fab to get a shout out on the night and I could see what a good opportunity it was to share good ideas and good practice but I never dreamed it would be for me.
I came to see another Museums Showoff in its more usual location of the pub, again a great night, but when Rachel Souhami (founder of Museum Showoff) tweeted me to come up to her and say hello I deliberately didn’t and kept a low profile. It is sometimes useful not having your photo as your Twitter avatar. The last thing I wanted to do was get roped into taking part. Years have passed since that visit and Rachel has given me a few nudges to talk abut autism in museums.
Finally I agreed. I hadn’t suddenly become super confident but maybe I had become more passionate about getting the word out there about how important autism in museums is. I think I changed my mind with the background of everything that is going on in the world at the moment. I didn’t go to the Women’s March but I showed my kids the pictures and talked to them about the power of protest. I would love to have taken them but crowds are not an easy thing for my daughter to face.
I also did it because of two women in particular. I had been reading about Maria Balshaw, 47 and named head of the Tate. Just a few years older than me and such an inspiration in her career. How can I not read about a brave women pushing boundaries and not stand up for 9 minutes and take about something I am passionate about?
I also wanted to do it for my Aunt who has Alzheimers. Just before Christmas I went and saw her. I sat on her bed and every few minutes she asked me who I was and why I had come. It is heartbreaking to see someone so irrevocably changed by this disease. She used to get dressed up in her Pearly Queen outfit and sing songs in care homes. When I was younger a few times I went with her and she can still remember all the old songs. ‘Pack up your troubles’ and ‘Waiting at the Church’, all the old Victorian music hall songs. We sat there and sang together, it is something I hold on to.
My other aunt also has memory problems, you can’t know what the future holds. Will I remember this stuff in the future? Will I remember talking at Museums Showoff? or even the petrifying fear I felt at the start? I just had to do it, just had to grasp that moment. In the big scheme of things it is a silly little moment but I am doing that silly moment for my aunt and for all her brave moments I will never know about because they are washed away with the tide of time.
I did Museums Showoff on Tuesday 24th January. In the morning I was at the Museum of London Archive with Adam Corsini planning a work experience project with CASPA – an autism support group. We are hoping to give some young adults a bit of help to get started with their careers. Before Museums Showoff I squeezed in my daughter’s parents evening. She is doing amazingly well, I am so proud of everything she does. She has faced some difficult times recently but she is an inspiration to me with everything she achieves. All these things completely fired me up, I know why I am doing this and I know why it is important.
I still get self doubt, I still getting petrified but I know I just have to do this stuff. I do it for my kids, the girls and the blonde curly haired little tyke of a son. I want them to see me nervous and worried and I want them to see me do it too. So if you are thinking about doing this stuff too, just do it. Be nervous, be scared and do it anyway. I know you have passion, just go out there and share it. Now more than ever we have to speak out, it begins with little steps. Sometimes the little steps are the hardest but they are also the most important.
This post is a thank you to my brother and good friends who came to support me at Museums Showoff, huge hugs and thank you.
If you do a Museums Showoff let me know I would love to hear about it or even come along. No pressure! The next event is 21st March 2017