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Wilkommen to my blog - my name is Karin Purshouse, and I'm a doctor in the UK. If you're looking for ramblings on life as a junior doctor, my attempts to dual-moonlight as a scientist and balancing all that madness with a life, you've come to the right place. I'm currently a doctor/research trainee in oncology after spending a year doing research in the USA. All original content is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

The Middle Ring - how to avoid Vanishing Neighbours

Spring in Rhode Island
I have it on good authority that the cherry blossom in the UK is in full bloom - we have a way to go here in Connecticut, but Spring is definitely in the air, finally.  The walk to work feels fresh rather than freezing - hurray! - and means people are a bit more willing to offer a 'hi there' and 'hello'.

Middle Ring embracing at Brown.
I recently went to a talk by an American scholar, Marc Dunkelman.  I'm still working my way through his book, 'The Vanishing Neighbo(u)r', where he talks about how the traditional relationships that make up (American) society have evolved and the consequences of this evolution.  He describes how we, as individuals, are like planets with rings of people around us.  We nurture the rings close to us (our closest friends, family etc), and those far away (aspirational ones - things we are aiming for or want, from people we likely don't know); but these are at the expense of the middle ring - people we know in the 'ish' sense - people we work with, the people who live in the same building, the guy who owns the coffee shop, the postman etc.  So for example, I came home on Sunday evening and quickly Skyped my mum (Mother's Day!) - but pre-Skype I couldn't have done this and instead might have said hello to my neighbour.

'Spring' in windswept NYC
Does this resonate with you?  I have certainly pondered it. I have come to think I have two levels of middle ring - the people who are in my immediate vicinity such as neighbours, the shopkeeper etc; and the second level of middle ring - people who could easily be inner ring were it not for timing, geography and hours in the day, such as the new friends I made at a Fulbrighty seminar I went to last weekend with 130-or-so new friends, or indeed travel friends from the past.  I feel pretty content with the Middle Rings - I appreciate and nurture them as much as I possibly can, the latter often with the help of social media and an open-minded attitude to friendship.  An inevitable consequence of my globe hopping?  I suspect so.  But I don't believe it's a bad thing.  It just makes the world a much smaller place.
As evidence of its magical power, here, in no particular order, are a few recent musings from both Middle Rings in my world.

- Coffee.  I came back from Cali and it's all I crave.  Best parts of this are fun encounters at my new favourite coffee shop (which has a tree inside!) and the lovely couple who own it (MIDDLE RING ALERT).  For me, the UK's #1 tea fan, this is RADICAL.

@AS220 print shop
- People love a British accent.  No.  People love MY British accent.  Given that in the UK, my weird stunted Scottish twang is often confused for Irish/Canadian/American/Swedish, this is quite an adjustment to be told by the Middle Rings that I sound 'incredibly British' which in turn is 'so cute and wonderful'.  As anyone who knows me and my feelings about compliments, this is... challenging and hilarious.  I don't think I've ever been called cute in my life (apart from in reference to my sneezes) and I didn't think the British accent was held in particularly high regard - apparently I was wrong!

- Brits everywhere - we really do apologise too much.  A new Argentinian friend told me that every time I want to say 'I'm sorry' I must instead say 'I'm happy'.  I thought that was pretty neat.  Sometimes the Middle Ring just tells it like it is.

- Being a Fulbrighter is like giving the Middle Ring a perma-hug - but what does being a Fulbrighter mean to me?  I'd say many things, but will boil it down to two taken from that recent seminar - it means having only a two hour break during a full day and night of activities, but still finding a bunch of people who want to use that time to go running with you, and discovering that even if the club you end up at is fantastically awful, you will still have everyone embracing it 100% with not a hint of snobbery.  Probably with some traditional dancing going on, even though what's playing is some dance music disaster.  And obviously, assumed friendship.

- The world is full of incredibly kind people who shift inevitably between Inner and Middle Ring, and I'm just kind of mega blown away by that.  I will never change being open to people and sharing worlds whenever I can, and hope I will continue to channel that in both my personal and professional lives, because the inner/middle continuum is a great one.

- I was nowhere near as embarrassed as I should have been when singing away to the radio at the top of my lungs whilst in the tissue culture room, thinking the lab was empty, when my boss peered round the door to say he's 'enjoying' my musical contribution.  Not even a blush when the repair man came in as I bopped away to Gershwin.  Perhaps lack of concern at Middle Ring embarrassment is a sign of comfort in life (as one should never feel embarrassed around the inner ring, and you shouldn't care what relative strangers in the outer ring think anyway!).

- I have instigated a new activity every time someone has a science success - it's called 'Learn a Ceilidh Dance'.  With much arm twisting, I got two of my lab people to learn the Gay Gordons to celebrate a much-wished-for successful Western Blot, and have the promise of a dance with my current lab collaborator should our experiment work next week.  Perhaps the Middle Ring lends itself particularly well to Cultural Exchange?

@AS220 Youth piece
As an emigre, I guess I must accept that to an extent, I neglect the first level of the Middle Ring because I sometimes prioritise the inner ring with the help of Skype and so on.  But equally, it is phenomenal how happy and glow-y I am when I have that chat with the coffee shop couple, or the lady at the post office, or play squash with a lab friend, or whatever.  Regarding the second Middle Ring, well I think it's pretty telling that I have just made my first social activity plans for my return to the UK with the friends I made a decade ago in Ghana for our 'ten year anniversary'.  So Middle Ring does not mean neglect if you don't want it to.
Pawtucket Cotton Mill

So I guess the Middle Ring is one I embrace as much as I can given the international spread of my friends and family, and it's been pretty damn good to me.  Maybe the Middle Ring is more about just making an effort, being more ready to say hello, and keeping the door permanently open?


  1. I really enjoyed this post, thanks.

    I seem to not have much of an inner zone, but a very broad middle zone. I do not seem to be able to move from meeting people and getting along to getting them into an inner circle. Must be doing something wrong.

    And yes, you do have a cute accent.

  2. Ha! Thanks Martin.
    I don't think you're doing anything wrong - you're hardly antisocial! Well speaking for myself, I guess I am a prolific 'come round for dinner or let's go for coffee' fiend, and that's how they switch from middle to inner - but I too would say I have a broad middle zone - as I say above, inevitable when you've lived in different corners of the world. But being a lone emigre will also do that to you - after all, if I'd moved to the US and never let anyone 'in', I would have no friends. Always a risk, I guess, but one I've never regretted. I just filter how much I share at the 'middle' stage while I'm working it out! But thanks for leaving a comment, see you on an UberCon chat soon!