Caroline Hammer
7 Dec, 2023
I wonder

I am proud to work as Senior Curatorial & Learning Officer at Chelmsford Museum, with an amazing team who share my passion to connect people with culture and heritage through our museum collections.

I love how a single object can hold multiple stories, revealed only as it is viewed from different perspectives, by people with different experiences. But how can we unlock these stories and the power an object has to spark curiosity and create a tangible connection to past people and places, in a way that is accessible for all?

Over the last couple of years, we have re-imagined our school sessions to enable pupils to be the ‘expert’. This seemingly simple change has transformed how they actively engage with the collections and their stories. For example, during our Stone Age session pupils become the expert ‘archaeologist’. By creating a space where they feel their voice is heard and valued, pupils begin to wonder, pose questions and work collaboratively, sharing their ideas and exploring different possibilities as they examine objects for clues they might hold about the lives of our prehistoric ancestors. Even though our sessions and activities are planned, creating this space for these ‘real’ conversations, allows pupils to explore their own ideas and discover things for themselves. Every time I lead a session these open conversations lead to new discoveries for me too – may be a question I had never considered or a new perspective.

We are exploring ways to embed this approach across the museum. We are committed to involving diverse groups co-creating exhibitions and designing new events and projects, listening and being open to be challenged to explore our collections form different perspectives and to celebrate and share the new stories and view-points revealed.

I am passionate about working to create an environment in which everyone’s voice is heard and valued, and individuals are able to connect with our culture and heritage and with each other in ways that are meaningful to them.  But why is this so important to me?

Recently, I was diagnosed with ADHD. While it doesn’t change who I am, it has been a significant step on my ongoing journey to really understand and value myself, to find my voice and appreciate what I bring to my role in the museum as we journey to become more inclusive.

A recent Ignite Social, themed around Neurodiversity and Creativity, triggered a chain reaction of thoughts about diversity and inclusion and led me to write some words exploring these themes at a very personal level. I took a risk to share these with my colleagues – to give them an insight into who I am and because I wanted to open up a ‘space’ for real conversation as we explore these issues together.

I thought I’d share these words with you too and encourage you to respond.

I wonder.

 

I wonder – constantly. A never-ending procession of thoughts race across my mind like clouds driven by a strong westerly wind, fleeting, seemingly impossible to hold and store.

 

I imagine – constantly. In my mind I see how things might be, possibilities, projects, ideas. They hold me hostage, refusing to let me go, until I have spoken to them out loud or given them being.

 

I question – constantly. Seeking to understand what, how, why…everything is questioned. Like a never-ending interrogation, my mind endlessly searching and checking for meaning and purpose. 

 

Some days I feel like a computer running with every tab open. I disappear down ‘rabbit holes’, jump between random pages, click on the ‘pop up alerts’ as they appear, unable to leave them unchecked. More and more ‘windows’ open, until I finally, ‘crash’. Exhaustion, confusion, loss.

 

I struggle as I strive to remember and hold onto all my different trains of thought. I wrestle to order and sort them, searching within them for the elusive new idea, project or solution, that plays just out of reach, around the edges of my consciousness. It will not come at my demand – but in its own time, on its own terms.

 

Lost in a mundane and mindless task, not consciously thinking – it silently appears – the answer, the idea, the plan, the vision I have been striving so hard to find.  Relief, excitement, hope overwhelm me. It feels like a door opening, a wide vista of possibilities appearing before me. I barely pause for breath before diving headlong into this new adventure….and this never-ending cycle. 

 

This is my creativity. This is me. This is who I am.

 

I find instructions hard to follow. They are onerous and exhausting, prescribed steps, demanding all my attention. My mind wanders, I experiment, play, create – finding my own way and a new outcome that is wholly mine.

 

I find it hard to stay on track. I am an adventurer, born to explore. Easily distracted, led by curiosity, I disappear down invisible paths, following my instincts, wandering far from the known, well-worn track.

 

I find it hard to really listen. My mind wanders easily. Your words trigger thoughts, ideas, memories. I work to hold them back, to stay focused and silent as I listen. But they build inside me like water held behind a dam. I feel the pressure rising, then a flood of words, overflowing, out of my control.

 

I find it hard to follow society’s unspoken ‘expectations’. I strive to keep these invisible rules, pushing and forcing myself into this shape ‘box’, to fit, to be acceptable. A spring of frustration builds inside, till, suddenly, unannounced, unexpectedly, it will explode like a ‘jack-in-the-box’.

 

It is tiring, it is hard. This is me. This is who I am.

 

When I was a child, I had a sweatshirt saying, ‘Here comes trouble’.  I wore it all the time – the only way I had to say, ‘I feel different’. I didn’t have the words to explain all that I felt, I didn’t understand.  You nick-named me ‘trouble’ – and I laughed with you.

 

When I was young, I told you life felt like riding an emotional roller coaster, experiencing everything with an extreme intensity.  You told me I needed to be more ‘even keeled’, but you never told me how. You called me ‘spontaneous and random’ – and I laughed with you.

 

One day I wondered out loud, ‘what is wrong with me?’ and jokingly you replied: ‘I don’t think we could find a piece of paper big enough to write it all on!’ You called me ‘crazy’-  and I laughed with you.

 

I am the joker, the class clown – my way of connecting. I am open, real, vulnerable. I laugh with you at myself, the crazy things that happen to me. But sometimes I laugh to cover what I really feel and bury any hurt far out of sight.

 

I may seem confident, strong, and independent – but inside there are times I feel so small, anxious and scared. Will I be able to keep being creative? Will my ideas run out? Will I meet your expectations? Will I find affirmation and approval? – a lifebelt in a sea of self-doubt.

 

I am spontaneous, creative, fun, passionate. I am a problem solver, solution finder, explorer and experimenter. I am curious, imaginative, messy – childlike even. I am determined, resilient, caring, emotional. I am contrary – independent, yet wanting to be part of a team, needing vision and direction but the freedom to explore my own ideas.

 

This ambiguity is unsettling. The chaos, tiring. We try to put things into neat boxes to feel in control.

 

I notice on my box, a label I’ve not seen before: Handle with care – Neurodiverse: ADHD. Labelled like an explosive. 

 

But I don’t live ‘squashed’ into any neat box, trapped, and contained. I live beyond those boundaries, seeking the freedom and wide-open spaces that I need, to grow and flourish. I cant be defined by a label. I am all this wonderful, confusing, unruly, muddle!

 

This is me. This is who I really am – Caroline. I am who I am. ME.

 

Now I have shared ‘who’ I am – ‘who’ are you?

 

And what kind of space do you need to thrive and grow?

 

I wonder.

 

My ADHD has helped me in my work in many ways. It has given me a unique perspective on things, a curiosity to explore and learn, a drive to create and innovate, and a resilience to overcome challenges. It has also made me more empathetic and open-minded to others who may have different experiences and needs. It can be challenging and tiring, but I value these qualities, as they enable me to connect with the community and individuals, offering a rich and diverse cultural experience and a ‘voice’ for them to share their ideas and experiences.

I am excited that Chelmsford’s new ‘Cultural Strategy’ mirrors my own journey to become more inclusive, embracing a collaborative approach, to ensure all can enjoy and benefit from the arts across the district.

Diversity brings new perspectives and unlocks new stories – inclusion ensures all to have a ‘voice’ and ‘space’ to share their discoveries and feel heard.

I hope you enjoyed reading my words and my blog post. I would love to hear your thoughts and feedback. Do you have a story or an experience of diversity and creativity that you would like to share? How do you celebrate your differences and your strengths? Learn about my work in Education on the Museum website and please feel free to contact me directly at caroline.hammer@chelmsford.gov.uk. I look forward to hearing from you. 😊

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