Posted in Uncategorized

Manners and public discourse

While I have had a Twitter account for just over a year now, I have not, until recently, given it much attention. Nor have I given much attention to my LinkedIn account. Over the past two weeks, for a reason I have yet to understand, I have taken to checking my Twitter and LinkedIn accounts on a very regular basis. I read through the tweets and articles that arrive during the night while eating rhubarb and ricotta for breakfast, and then I check again at lunch time and regularly throughout the evening. My daughters would call “nerd alert” if they could see who I follow (ABC News 24; The Guardian; BBC World News; Oxford University Press, etc) but that’s okay. Nerds are usually quite harmless and I don’t mind being counted amongst their number.

But that’s not the reason for this post. The point isn’t to tell you that I’ve become somewhat addicted to Twitter and LinkedIn, and to the information, ideas, perspectives, thinking, opinions, moments of humour and sometimes outrage to which I am now exposed.

The point is to try to make sense, for myself as much as anyone, of some of the things I’ve read in recent times.

One of the tweets that came through on Friday was news of a message to members of the Australian Army by Lt. General David Morrison, AO who was responding to reports of unacceptable behaviour.

I also read tweets about the questions put to the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, by (former) Perth radio presenter, Howard Sattler.

The two things became linked in my mind, and also called to mind the list of things others have said about and to Prime Minister Gillard over the last two and a half years.

One of the things that Lt. General Morrison said in his message to members of the Australian Army (and let’s face it, to the rest of us given that it’s on YouTube for all to see) is that “every one of us is responsible for the culture and reputation of our Army”. What if we were to replace Army with “school” or “workplace, houses of Parliament, radio station or home”? Would what he said still apply? Are we responsible for the culture and reputation of where we work and live?

As an aside, he also said: “the standard you walk past is the standard you accept”. One thing I find interesting is that this hasn’t already been said loudly and clearly by an editor of a newspaper, a news director in a radio station, a senior executive of a TV station, a leader in the community … 

But I digress.

I stumbled across Angry is a Habit while reading articles on LinkedIn. It is a short blog post about habits. We have habits of behaviour, but Godin (the author of the post) suggests that our emotions can become habitual too.

I thought about this in relation to the words used by some in the media and wondered if the emotions behind their words are habitual ways of being. Why the need to pour hate and loathing and anger into the world? Is it just a habit? Do we, the consumers of these words, buy the emotion as well? Is it a package deal? When we read/hear/watch the angry, hate-filled words that we wouldn’t say to our boss, principal, Dean of the Faculty, chair of the Parents and Friends committee, head of the local arts organisation, do we buy the emotion too so that we get just as angry and hate-filled at whichever politician is being scorned, ridiculed, put down? Do the words cause us to feel particular things? Does hate and anger therefore spread through our communities in the same way that videos go viral on the internet?

From LinkedIn I also read Three words that will transform your career. In this article author Bruce Kasanoff claims that to improve our quality of life we just need to think “help this person” every time we encounter another person: “When you walk into Starbucks for coffee, think help this person about the barista who serves you. Instead of being frustrated that he isn’t moving fast enough, see if you can make him smile. Better yet, tell him to keep the change.” Kasanoff claims that this will “change your demeanour, your thought process, and the entire interaction.”

It is a similar sentiment to one put forward by David Foster Wallace in his now-famous speech to a group of university graduates in the US in 2005. While Bret Easton Ellis (author of American Psycho amongst other works) considers Foster Wallace “the most tedious, overrated, tortured, pretentious writer of my generation“, others have been taken with Wallace’s notion of choice … we can choose to behave in certain ways, we can choose to see the world in particular ways, we can choose to look beyond the surface and (although he didn’t use these words) we can choose empathy. We can choose to live beyond our “default setting” (of being annoyed and frustrated by, for instance, the slowness of airplane passengers when putting their bags in the overhead lockers; of being annoyed and frustrated that even when someone is eighth in the queue for the ATM they still don’t have their purse out of their handbag when they “suddenly” find themselves first in the queue, which has now grown to 23 tongue-clicking, foot-tapping withdrawers of money). We can choose to think/live/behave/feel differently.

So what have I learnt from all this reading? What sense am I making from these seemingly unrelated tweets, articles, speeches, thoughts? It has something to do with manners and respectful behaviour … but it also goes beyond that.

For me, one thing is clear: We can change our habitual ways of thinking and acting. To do this, we first need to become aware of how our thoughts impact our behaviour, speech, interactions, emotions. We need to consider our habits of thought and emotion and then to do something about them if we find ourselves thinking/feeling/acting negatively/rudely/in an ill-mannered way on a regular basis.

Through a change in thinking we can transform others’ lives and in the process transform our own as well.

We can stop walking past what we know (deep down) we don’t accept. We can speak up for respect, care, kindness, professionalism and manners. We don’t have to accept the hate and anger of radio shock-jocks and political commentators (of whatever persuasion). We don’t have to accept their hate-filled, angry, vitriolic rantings, and their disrespectful questioning, and their words which claim that we are all somehow implicated in their tawdry games (we continue to listen, to watch, to read, to buy, to comment and thus give them credibility or at the very least our time).

We can choose to think for ourselves, read critically, and ask questions of the texts produced and served to us on a regular basis. We can live by habit, or we can choose to live consciously, being explicitly aware of the world around us and how we are being shaped by the views/words/actions of others (yes, even of me in this blog post), and the ways our views/words/actions shape others.

If we are teachers, then we need to be even more aware of that influence.

None of this is new of course. Educator Wayne Sawyer, in an editorial he wrote in English in Australia in 2005, noted that “our current students face a relentless barrage of shockjocks, media barons, advertising and corporate greed masquerading as common sense” (p. 4). Sawyer called on teachers to ensure that critical literacy was an integral component of their teaching. But in order to do that, teachers too must be aware of how their views are being shaped by the same shock-jocks and media barons that shape our students’ thoughts. And more than that, we need to know how to deconstruct the messages they (and we) consume and know how to teach students to unpack them.

We can choose … that’s what I’ve learnt. We can choose.

Posted in Photography

Winter garden




Tim seemed to think that I might be at a bit of a loss on my day off, particularly as I have no study to do, so he asked me to take a photo of one of the two roses in bloom in the back garden.

He was right. I was at a bit of a loss, so into the cold I headed and went in search of roses. It was a bit windy, and that always makes taking macro shots of flowers challenging, but the biggest challenge was trying to keep my hands still.

It was freezing and I was shivering so much that I couldn’t hold the camera still.

I hadn’t used my 90mm Tamron (macro) lens in absolutely ages, and for a while couldn’t remember how to switch it to auto focus. Eventually I worked it out, but then discovered that I’m so used to manual focus that I couldn’t use it in auto. I switched it back to manual and tried to time to shaking to the movement from the wind. I suppose I could have used the tripod … hindsight’s a wonderful thing!

Anyway, here are two shots from my winter garden.





Posted in Learning, Studying, Writing

Being …

This year I took on a new identity … not, I hasten to add, in a witness protection kind of way. Nothing that dramatic! … but a new identity nonetheless.

I could say that I took on a new role … but with new roles comes new identities. We can choose to define ourselves by our new roles/identities, and thus think about ourselves differently. Being an academic means particular things. Being an under-graduate student means almost the polar opposite. We may choose to act in ways that are consistent with our new role and that might lead to inconsistencies in how we portray ourselves to the world. Will I be student today, or teacher? What does it mean to be a student in an online environment where I don’t get to spend time with my teacher or my peers; when I don’t get to hear their voices or even see what they look like? It’s a disconcerting experience. On the other hand, what does it mean to be a teacher in an online environment where I don’t get to spend time with my students, when I don’t get to hear their voices or see what they look like? Experiencing that as an online student heightens my awareness of that ‘disconcerting experience’ as a teacher of online students. 

In addition to thinking about myself in a different way and considering if I will act differently to signify this new role/identity, others see me in that new role and make different kinds of connections with me, or think about me in particular ways and so have their own view of who I am (which might not bear any relation to who I am when inhabiting a different identity/role).

My university tutors do not see me as a colleague; as someone who, like them, teaches in an online environment. They see me as a student – a distant one, it has to be said: one who doesn’t appear to be very engaged, who forgets to read her unit outline, who leaves assignments till the last minute, who doesn’t follow the requirements of the task as closely as she should, who doesn’t engage in conversations online, who hasn’t made connections with other students in the online environment.

For those of you in the know, why didn’t you tell me it would be like this? 🙂 If only you’d told me to read the unit outline carefully and repeatedly, or that I’d need at least 10 hours per week per unit to do full justice to the work I needed to do, or that learning to use new software is time-consuming and requires a great deal of independent learning and commitment and energy, or that coming home from work and having to study till late is exhausting, or that trying to find information when it’s in ten different places in the online environment is one of the most frustrating parts of the whole experience (it really isn’t all that difficult to put all the information required for weekly activities in the one place), or that reading all the other students’ posts can be mind-numbing and take up all the time I’d set aside for study (and seriously, do 18 year olds really like talk in that like annoying way where they like say a lot without like saying anything at all, you know, sort of, I guess, do you get me? Despite my student status I am still a teacher and despair over the abominable use of language on public discussion boards).

Not that it’s all bad of course. In one subject (Writing Professionally – actually I don’t know if that’s the name of the subject because for some reason I haven’t looked at the unit outline properly to even know what the unit is called), the tutor gives general feedback on our ‘writing watches’ (which are assessed) and on two occasions has encouraged other students to read my work for its ‘quality and depth’ (you have no idea how embarrassed I feel writing that). We had to do three ‘writing watches’ across the course of the semester – responding in a systemically functionally linguistic way to something we’d read. I chose to respond to:

1. an article in a photography magazine

2. an essay by Richard Flanagan which appeared in The Monthly (the article was on David Walsh and MONA which I’d just been to, so it seemed fitting)

3. a blog post titled The oddest English spellings, part 20: The letter “y” from the Oxford University Press’s blog. It was interesting. Seriously!

These writing watches were practice for our exam. Yes, you heard that right – exam. I had to sit an exam.

Why didn’t someone tell me how stressful that is?! That you spend days and nights thinking about what the questions might be, what the text choices might be, what you know (or rather, don’t know) about systemic functional linguistics and how you’re going to write “pages” on it in two hours?

But I did it and wrote (typed) five pages of blather about an advertisement for Income Protection titled Confessions of a financial adviser. An interesting way to spend a day, particularly when you’re at home and the phone keeps ringing just as you think you have the modality worked out!

We also had to do weekly ‘word watches’ (which were assessed). We had to find two unfamiliar words each week and write about them: what they mean, where we’d read/heard them, their derivation, and we had to use the words in a sentence.

At first I found this difficult. I don’t want to sound like a pompous git (unlike some people I know), but in the everyday, normal, regular reading I do I don’t come across too many words which I don’t know. So I determined to try harder.

Here are my words (you, clever reader, are quite possibly aware of their meanings and already sprinkle them through your everyday conversations. I, on the other hand, did not).

  • Eupraxis (thank you David M)
  • Conation (actually, I did know what that meant because I’d written about it in a journal article published last year, but until I wrote about it I didn’t know what it meant)
  • Heuristic
  • Prevaricate (actually I wavered on this quite a bit)
  • Mendicant (it had been in the news – Tasmania is a mendicant state apparently)
  • Noetic (nothing to do with Christmas)
  • Rendering (a word from my Graphic Design unit)
  • Misandry (its opposite had been much in the news)
  • Chirographic
  • Contumacious (if my mother had known this word when I was a child I’m sure I would have heard it a lot!)
  • Whovian (my sister is a mad one of these)
  • Gonzo (I’d been to MONA and learnt this word while wandering the subterranean halls. Tim already knew it. He’d read Hunter S. Thompson apparently)
  • Metaredound (don’t ask me)
  • Analogous (I actually had heard this word, but I wanted to use it in a way I hadn’t used it before and that was in relation to colour: analogous harmony)
  • Indigent (thanks Germaine)
  • Calumniated (and again)
  • Emic
  • Etic (yes, they are related)
  • Eschatology
  • Ratiocination (I had to listen to this a number of times to get the pronunciation right. Thanks YouTube!)
  • Contingent (used in a way I didn’t understand – of all people, by my husband, in a journal article we wrote some time ago. I hadn’t told him I didn’t understand the way he used it as I didn’t want to look stupid!)
  • Hegemony (with a soft ‘j’ sound for the ‘g’)
  • Picayune
  • Ludology (nothing to do with Ludo as it turns out … although …)

So there you have it. New words to pepper through my dinner-time conversations. Feel free to use any of them, particularly in ways that are inventive and thus deeply satisfying.

I am a student and I am learning things. That’s what students do isn’t it? Isn’t that the purpose of being a student? It’s why I decided to be a student: to learn something/s. And even though I’ve said ‘the message’ countless times, it’s always different when you’re on the receiving end of it. The message is: learning can be hard. And it isn’t always fun.

But it is satisfying.

Being a student not only challenges my own identity (I have to flip between student and teacher on a regular basis and I am very conscious of not being a teacher in my student role – which is partly why I don’t engage on the discussion boards: I don’t yet have the student language down pat. I’m too caught up using teacher language and saying teacher things and I don’t want to do that as a student).

Being a student also challenges how others see me.

Some people, on first hearing that I am a university student again, thought (and said) “are you mad?” and other equally dis/en/couraging words. My new role was something they wanted to reject – it was ludicrous, or unnecessary (especially at your age), or just plain silly. I have a PhD, why would I want to be an under-grad again? That’s something young people do. I should do some serious study, not a bachelor degree in an area I potentially know a little bit about. Why, for instance, am I doing Professional Writing (that’s its official title – I thought I’d better check) when I have had a number of journal articles, book chapters and conference papers published?

I guess I feel that I can always learn more – and I did. Heaps in fact, and that’ll help my writing when next I write something for publication. 

On hearing that I am a student again, other people saw me differently. They made a different kind of connection with me. Some, because of their own identity as ‘student’ (or perhaps, student-in-the-not-too-distant past) applauded my decision – I was now one of them, a member of a community of adults who are (or were) university students. For those whom I’ve taught – who have been my own students – the connection is even closer. Their teacher/lecturer/colleague is now in the same position they recall so clearly and thus our connection is strengthened. There’s a shared understanding … and as I give advice quite freely about being a student, I also imagine there’s a little bit of mirth around my stumbling attempts at student-hood.

But I have finished the semester, completed teaching and learning surveys (and been very honest – in a professional way – as all students should be), and am eagerly awaiting my final results.

I have also determined to be a better student next semester. I have already created folders for my two new subjects (one is Production Planning; the other is Visual Storytelling), downloaded the information from the course and unit handbook, looked up information about textbooks (I don’t have to buy any), and worked out what I do when I procrastinate (I work … yes, on my study days!).

Being a student: challenging, stressful, but ultimately satisfying.

What’s your experience?