Posted in Learning, Life, Schools, Teaching

Punitive education

Late last year I spoke with about a dozen small groups of Year 9 students from a local high school. It was part of a program called Future Me; a program designed to help Year 9 students develop a range of ‘enterprise skills’, one of which is communication. In groups of 4 or 5, students spoke with a range of university staff, asking the staff questions about their schooling, their jobs, their career pathways.

A few of the groups asked me what had been my favourite subject at school. That really made me stop and think.

I ended up being honest with them and told them that I hadn’t liked high school much and I didn’t have a favourite subject. They were surprised that someone teaching at university didn’t like high school; hopefully it helped them realise that high school experiences don’t necessarily define your whole life – although in Year 9 it sure feels like they do.

If I’d thought about it some more, I may have said that English was one of my favourite subjects. The problem with it wasn’t the subject, but the teacher. I didn’t like my English teacher. He was punitive and I didn’t like his attitude. For the record, he didn’t like mine either.

Art was good because we sometimes got the opportunity to travel to Sydney to the Art Gallery of NSW – as well as other places – and I enjoyed that. But I didn’t like my Art teacher. She was punitive and I didn’t like her attitude. She really really didn’t like mine!

One of the times I was thrown out of Art class, I saw a boy being caned by a punitive woodwork teacher.

We had weekly assemblies and one of the teachers would patrol around the assembled students checking to see if the boys were wearing the right sort of socks. There were consequences for those who weren’t. Punitive ones.

It was the 1970s and I guess punitive was an educational fad back then. I like to think it isn’t one anymore …

It’s easy to be punitive though, and some still think it’s better for children and young people if their teachers are punitive, if they rule through fear. I read a comment on a ‘tell us about your favourite teacher’ blog from a man who said that getting the cane ‘certainly kept us focussed on doing the right thing’. I wonder if it helped with his learning?

Even back then schools weren’t only about learning – well, not in the academic sense. We sure learnt stuff, but lots of it wasn’t part of the official curriculum. Boys learnt to wear the ‘right’ socks, girls learnt that to get ahead they had to be ‘nice’, ‘polite’, ‘compliant’. Boys learnt not to cry; in fact, many boys learnt not to have emotions at all, or that some emotions were bad and therefore shouldn’t be part of their repertoire. Happy was a legitimate emotion as long we you didn’t have too much of it, and if you were tall and good looking and a favourite with the teachers, you could have pride and conceit in your bag of emotions as well, but others, like sadness or disappointment, were to be internalised or just avoided altogether.

Boys learnt that if you did the wrong thing, you were hit by an adult weilding a stick – and your parents generally thought that was an okay thing to do too. Girls learnt that if you spoke up about things that didn’t feel right – like boys being hit by stick-weilding adults – they were sent out of the room, or to that space behind the classroom door where your only companions were spiderwebs and dust.

Anyone? No?

I would have thought that these days punitive was gone from schools – but it seems to be alive and well. My 13-year old grandson said ‘hello mate’ to the school principal through the year and was then forced to sit outside said principal’s office for almost 2 hours. I’m not suggesting that saying ‘hello mate’ to the school principal is the correct way to address the principal, but sitting outside his office for almost 2 hours didn’t teach Ronan a more appropriate greeting. What a great lesson he could have had in levels of formality and when it’s appropriate to refer to someone as ‘mate’ and when it isn’t. Instead, Ronan felt aggrieved and angry and now feels more negative towards the principal than he otherwise might.

We know that learning in schools is, in large part, about relationships. Being punitive doesn’t help build good ones.

What other lessons might we teach if we stop being punitive?

8B66C9F0-8113-41C8-A53E-F08D220B7799
Ronan (13) ready for life’s lessons
Posted in Learning, Life, Studying

Chapters

A number of years ago I was feeling stuck in my academic work. It seemed there was no end to what I was doing and no capacity for change on the horizon. As often seems to happen, I stumbled across a journal article that expressed exactly what I was feeling and also presented a way of thinking I hadn’t thought of for myself. That’s one thing I love about reading – you learn of other ways to think, other mindsets, other perspectives.

This particular author suggested that one way to look at the situation was to think about chapters – this is the teaching chapter of your academic life and the next chapter might be the research chapter or the leadership chapter or the something entirely different chapter. It helped me realise that my situation wasn’t going to continue in the same way for the rest of time. And sure enough, over time, the teaching chapter finished and I was able to start a new chapter.

I like metaphors and their capacity to explain a concept, though of course there’s the danger of pushing a metaphor too far. Any good author will know that there are other ways to structure a narrative than in a straight line. It’s the same with our lives, which is, in some ways, a different form of authoring. Our lives don’t travel in straight lines despite the chronology that suggests we take a straight line from one point to another.

We are born, get to be five, head to school, emerge more or less damaged by that experience some years later, and tumble into adult life. We work, we get married, we have children and so on and so forth. Or so the story goes.

But some of us combine highschool with motherhood, either as a teenager or an adult or both. Some of us don’t move through the ‘stages’, the ‘chapters’, of our lives in the right order. We have a baby and then some months later, get married. We have another baby and then finish high school. Some of us don’t do things at the ‘right’ age, and by ‘right’ I mean ‘standard’, ‘accepted’, ‘proper’, but we do them anyway.

We don’t live linear lives.

Our stories get woven around other stories, stories that have already happened, stories we thought we’d shed the skin of, stories that get tangled in our memories and in our retellings. Parts of our lives connect with other parts in ways we don’t necessarily expect; some things we thought we’d finished with re-emerge and take up space again. The re-emergences push us in directions we hadn’t ever expected and we circle back and find we’ve picked up threads of an older story and the newer threads give it added depth.

We change and develop and grow through the chapters of our lives. We cook and clean and harangue and clean and cook and nothing changes. Is it always going to be like this? A sense of hopelessness. Going through the motions. But deep within, a reluctance to accept that this is all there is. Change. Unsettling. Upsetting. Challenging. Difficult. The transition from one thing to another, from one chapter to another.

And then another.

We teach – about language and tone and purpose and audience. About human emotion expressed through movement and words and no words and space and silence. We study and learn and develop, and another new chapter starts, full of more learning and challenge and motivation and no motivation. And struggle. Personally and professionally and we feel stuck. Is it always going to be like this?

With each transition from one chapter to another, we build up who we are. In one chapter we’re a teacher, in the next we’re a teacher-educator, but then there’s the chapter that weaves research with teaching and the two parts sit uncomfortably with each other. There’s no time to do both properly and compromise is unsettling. And then the next chapter adds leadership and it’s difficult, challenging, upsetting. We feel stuck in our academic work. Is it always going to be like this?

Some chapters  are so long we can’t see the end of them. The PhD chapter of our lives can be like that .. it goes on and on and on. Our energy flags, we can’t see a way through; there’s work and kids and your supervisor saying ‘just get it done’. If only it was that easy. It drags. It’s intellectually tortuous. It’s mentally draining. There’s no ounce of motivation left. It becomes a grind. Will it always be like this?


Robyn, one of my PhD candidates, was at that point this time last year. It was intellectually tortuous, mentally draining. It was a grind. Scraps of motivation lay on the ground at her feet. “Sharon, will it ever end?”.

It ended. Robyn submitted her thesis, it was examined, accepted and just last week, Robyn’s doctorate was conferred. All those years. All that work. And now she’s a doctor, by virtue of having a doctorate.

Will she use her title in the next chapter of her life?

You bet she will, kiddo.

PhD bonnet
This makes it all worthwhile! Well, almost.
Posted in Learning, Studying, Teaching

Idealism and education

I am an idealist.

That might not come as much of a surprise to those who know me well, but it comes as a surprise to me.

It remains a surprise, given that the realisation hits me every ten years or so. In the intervening times I simply forget.

Do you do that? Flashes of realisation about yourself, then forget, only to be reminded a year, or ten, later that, oh yes, that’s right. I forgot. I’m an idealist.

My latest revelation came after dinner at my sister’s place a year or so ago*. We got to talking about schooling and after chewing over certain parts of the conversation over the next few days, I had my flash of self-awareness.

I can’t think of any other way to say this than: for me, education (formal education) is about learning.

There. I’ve said it. That’s what it means to me.

And I’ve realised that that’s an idealistic way of thinking about formal education.

To me formal education is not primarily about:

  • a score on a NAPLAN test
  • a grade on the end of year exam
  • marks, and whether you get enough of them to get into university
  • whether you pass or fail an assignment, or a unit, or a course
  • a qualification.

To my way of thinking, formal education – whether you’re in Prep, or Grade 3, or Grade 11, or first year university – is primarily about learning.

Not grades, not marks, not passing tests, not learning enough to do well in spelling bees or at trivia nights at the local club.

Learning is challenging and requires thinking and changes of perspective and knowledge and understanding and questions: posing them as well as answering them. It requires reflection and resilience and determination and discipline.

And the bonus? Learning leads to test passing and success in spelling bees and impressing your mates at the local pub trivia. And a host of other, much more important things besides.

But it seems that schools and universities are not in the business of learning.

They are simply in business.

That’s how the education system seems to see it – and the politicians who enact educational policy. The education system is about students getting a good score in NAPLAN so that we (the rest of us outside of the education system) can hold teachers to account, so that we can hold schools to account; so that students – education’s ‘customers’ can move from high school to university, and from university into the workforce for the purpose of ensuring Australia is  “internationally competitive”, economically strong, part of a culture built on consumption. That’s where growth comes from – from more of us consuming more.

There are implications of this thought process for what is taught, how it’s taught, who is taught and who does the teaching. It has implications for the kinds of expectations educators have of students and the level of responsibility given to students for their own learning.

And in this blighted landscape of education as business, education is something that is consumed. It’s a product we purchase. Universities don’t have students anymore; they have customers. And customers demand satisfaction for the goods they purchase. And customers’ purchasing should require as little effort as possible.

Customers don’t want to work for the goods they purchase. I mean, when was the last time you paid for a lipstick you had to then build from ingredients you had to source yourself, or even ones that were given to you? When was the last time you had to fry the chips you’d just paid for at the fish ‘n chippy, before taking them home to lavish with tomato sauce and consume?

Mall University

Many customers of universities don’t want to have new ideas or perspectives to consider or to experience the discomfort of cognitive dissonance. They don’t want the pain of not doing well, of being uncertain, of not knowing. Some of them don’t even want the fuss of having to craft their own assignments.

Education is a business with customers to satisfy and a national economy to help grow.

It’s idealistic to cling to the idea that it’s about learning, and all learning’s attendent benefits.

And yet, I find the older I get and the more experience I have in formal education, the more I cling.

Perhaps I’ve turned into an anachronism … if I have, at least I’m an idealistic one!

Love learning

* I came to my blog to write about something else entirely, and found much of this in the ‘drafts’ folder. I had the ‘I’m an idealist’ revelation again, finished the post and thought I may as well publish it.

Posted in Photography

Diary of a distancer: Week 33

Week 33 … I counted. I wrote my first ‘diary of a distancer‘ post on Saturday March 28, and it was subtitled ‘Week 3’.

Thirty weeks later we’re still distancing. Not as extremely as we were even a week ago – our bubble has extended from 5kms to 25 glorious, mind-blowing, spine-tingling, breath-taking kilometres and if you think I’m exaggerating that just means you haven’t lived through a Melbourne lockdown – but it’s as far afield as we can go.

And it’s glorious.

Yesterday was a public holiday. It would have been grandfinal eve public holiday, but given the grandfinal is being played in Queensland this year, it was changed to a ‘Thank You’ day. It came at just the right time for me. I was in desparate need of a day off.

It was a relatively warm day – more muggy than warm if I’m being precise, but I’ll take muggy over cold any day – and we decided to make the most of it.

We organised with Alison to head to Warrandyte – a suburb 23kms north-east of here which is leafy, has a river running through it, cafes you can line up outside of, lots of public amenities (for those game – or desperate – enough) and walking tracks that meander along the river for miles.

I said that so casually, you possibly didn’t notice, so I’ll repeat myself. “We organised with Alison to head to Warrandyte …”. We hadn’t organised with anyone to meet up and do anything for some time and while the concept wasn’t new, it was so far back in the depths of our minds that we had to fossick around back there for some time to work out what that actually meant. In practice.

It meant – not necessarily in this order – making decisions about what time to meet, what time to leave, how to get there, what to wear on our bodies, what to wear on our feet, which mask to wear, how many bottles of hand sanitiser to take, what to wear … I know I said that already but when you’re used to wearing nothing but trackies and hoodies, deciding what to wear is a big deal. For those of you who haven’t yet emerged from lockdown, don’t under-estimate how anxiety-inducing this can be.

I found a little room attached to our bedroom – I have a feeling it’s called a wardrobe but as I hadn’t used it in many months, I wasn’t quite sure that was its name although the more I said it, the more it sounded familiar. I took dresses, a thing I hadn’t worn in a very long time, from this wardrobe, tried them on, discarding one after the other until I found one that suited my purpose (to not accentuate the new bits of me that had been created by being locked down) and then decided I needed something else in case the breeze was cool in Warrandyte.

I had a vague recollection of something called a cardigan but I couldn’t easily bring it to mind nor visualise where it might be in the house. Eventually, I remembered that the white thing with handles in the corner of the bedroom is a chest of drawers that holds clothes and one of those clothes might be a cardigan. It was.

Dress on, cardigan on … I was ready.

Nope. Shoes. Slippers and trainers have been my only footwear companions for the duration and again it was more of a struggle than you might imagine to think of what shoes I owned and where they might be after all this time.

Dress on, cardigan on, shoes on … I was ready.

Nope. Mask. We have a cloth bag hanging from the loungeroom door with an assortment of washable masks, plus boxes of medical-looking masks next to the box of medical-looking gloves on the buffet in the hallway. Which one to choose? There’s lots to consider: how long you’ll be wearing it, whether you’ll be meeting anyone hence how much talking you’re likely to do hence how big it needs to be, whether you’ll be getting a cuppa and lunch hence how easily it can be taken off and put back on, how much driving you’ll be doing and if the roads are familiar (ha) hence how fogged-up it’s likely to get hence whether to use tape or not.

Dress on, cardigan on, shoes on, mask on … I was ready.

Nope. Handbag. Keys. Wallet. Hand sanitiser. Spare mask. All the things you forget you need because it’s been so long since you’ve been out, hence needed them.

Ready.

When you’ve only been allowed to go 5kms from home and for only four reasons (to buy food, to seek or give medical care, for education purposes, for work purposes – work from home where possible) can you imagine what it’s like to drive for 23kms?

Exhausting. Why are there other cars? Why are they driving so close to me? Why are they honking me? I’m doing 25kms an hour, isn’t that fast enough?

And exhilarating. I’m moving at 25kms an hour!! The needle creeps up. And up. I’m doing 110kms an hour. SHARON! WE’RE IN A 60 ZONE.

Ah. Yes. Speed limits are a thing.

We went to Warrandyte yesterday. Just because we could. And so did half the population of Melbourne, and their dogs.

It was warm. The sun shone on us as we sat in the main street at the bus stop eating our lunch (no eating inside at the moment – plus, how weird is that? To sit inside with loads of other people, all eating at the same time? Nope, not ready for that yet). We sat and ate and talked with Alison. Not about anything, just talked. And it was glorious.

People wore their masks. They queued up outside cafes in orderly and socially distanced ways, they used the hand sanitiser at the doors of the cafes, they chatted about anything but the situation we’ve been living through, and at other times just sat together. They walked their dogs and watched their children play in the playground and at the edges of the river, they kayakked, ate icecream, forgot that strolling on the road wasn’t a thing you do when there are zillions of cars around, and they smiled.

We’re so close now we can smell it. And it smells good. We still might not be keen to go to the cinema in droves, or hop on a plane anytime soon to share our air with hundreds of others, and we might be wary of catching public transport or of walking into crowded shopping centres (none of which we can do just yet anyway) … but we can get together with others, we can feel a sense of freedom at the edges of our being, we can connect in ways we wouldn’t have been able to before with those who went through this too. There’s a sense of unstated knowing. It’s not something we have to talk about, we just know.

We were out yesterday for four hours. All in one go. Four hours!

It was exhilarating and exhausting in equal measure. By the end of the four hours it was mostly exhausting.

One day, sometime soon, it might even feel normal.

COVID-normal, but that’ll be normal enough for me.

Princes Pier – showing us how to do responsible distancing
Posted in Life, Melbourne, Writing

Diary of a distancer: Week – not sure

Do weeks exist any more? Do months or seasons for that matter? Days do, I’m sure of that. They start, often grey here in Melbourne, and finish, just as grey. One day follows another in a regularity of routine. There’s the morning presser if I’m not in a meeting – tuning in to hear the latest from Premier Dan Andrews and CHO Prof. Brett Sutton – or CHOttie as some people have taken to calling him.

There’s lots of talk about the mental health challenges of this time of lockdown. Reading the comments during the pressers is very bad for my mental health. As is listening to many of the journalists’ questions. You’d think I’d stop doing it, but I can’t seem to help myself. I’ve even started writing my own comments. It’s not a healthy place to be, yet, there I am, tuning in like a moth unable to stop flying into the light.

Two days a week there’s my 30-minute exercise routine – the one designed by my physio to help keep arthritis at bay, to help keep my bones strong by strengthening my muscles, to help strengthen the muscles around my knees so they stop hurting, to help me develop shoulders that look like they have muscles in them. (That last one is just for my own vanity!)

I have a tendency to work through the exercises too quickly – I am my mother’s daughter it seems, at least in this regard. Last week I was given information (read ‘stern talking to’) about not allowing time for recovery in between each exercise and that being bad for my body. I have to make the workout last for 30 minutes at a minimum. I was getting it done in 20.

It was a lovely (cool but not windy) morning on Thursday. I do some of my exercises outside as I need a strong anchor point and we don’t have any inside. It was suggested that doorknobs would be sufficient, but all of ours fall off with regular monotony, so I knew not to use them. One of the trees in our courtyard/backyard is about the sturdiest anchor point we have so I tie the orange powerband around that and do rows and supported squats, and I wrap the blue theraband around it and do L Pullaparts. (No questions about the L part of that – I have no idea).

In between each rep (I use the shortened form to suggest I can speak ‘exercise’) I have to rest – for a minute. Thirty seconds at the very least.

Thursday morning, cool, not windy, I head outside armed with my exercise bands. I look around the neglected garden and decide it could do with some weeding. I get busy: 10 powerband rows – 1 minute of weeding; 10 supported squats – 1 minute of weeding. 10 L Pullaparts (they’re for my shoulders) – oh, there’s a great photo just waiting to be taken! I rush inside and grab my camera. Whoops, my rest break seeps into multiple minutes. Ten more powerband rows, more weeding.

The garden is looking much better! Who knew exercise was so good for the garden?!

I check my watch – 34 minutes. Yes! Go me. Rob, my physio, laughs fit to burst when I tell him about the weeding. He says he’ll buy me a deck chair so I can properly rest between reps in the future.

Breakfast. Porridge. Tea. I’ve taken to making tea in a teapot since I’ve been fulltime at home.

Shower – although that depends on the time – so most often not.

The commute to work takes ten seconds. Up the stairs, and into my office. I know it’s my office because it has my name on the door.

Tim has already plugged my heater in, opened the curtains and turned on the lamps. Between 10:30 & 11am he’ll pop in with a cup of tea.

I’ve taken to scheduling in a lunch/brain break each day – an hour where I eat, then read education-related Tweets and articles and learn stuff. It kinda makes up for the negativity of the comments section in the morning’s presser.

Home time – no afternoon traffic to contend with, no rain on the windscreen, no avoiding flying debris from the wind whipping through the trees. No road rage, no horns honking, no slamming on the brakes to avoid the car in front that stopped suddenly to avoid the car in front that stopped abruptly …

The commute is now calm and peaceful – a mere 15 stairs and I’m ‘home’. I don’t even need to get the front door key out. Actually, I’m not even sure where my front door key is any more. Or my car key for that matter.

When it’s not physio-exercise day and when it’s not windy, we often use our exercise hour to walk around the neighbourhood. We’ve found laneways we didn’t know existed – not the hip kind of laneways in the city; these ones don’t have graffiti-covered walls and cafes serving single origin machiato soy almond truffl-infused cold ‘brew’. These ones have cobble stones to not twist your ankle on, and high fences with little doors built in, and sometimes on the non-windy days the sounds of families playing tennis.

Little doors make me curious

And then it’s Saturday. I know it’s Saturday because of the street corners. They’re abuzz in ways streets corners in my part of Melbourne had never been before this year.

People, with slight morning tremors, gather on street corners now. They stand, mostly silent, a good arm’s length or two apart, straggling across the road in some instances, masked faces staring intently at the hole in the wall.

New friendships have formed in this new, regular routine called Saturday-morning-waiting-for-my-fix-in-the-time-of-COVID. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear of engagements and marriage proposals resulting from these now-regular gatherings. Each Saturday morning as we ride by, the crowds are bigger, the masks a little further down faces, a little less distance between each slightly tremoring body. More kids on bikes, more dogs on leashes, more conversation, more bike bells dinging frantically as we weave our way through them.

It’s Melbourne. They’re waiting for their coffee.

And now it’s Sunday. Father’s Day. Roadmap day. What time’s the presser? It’s the question on everyone’s lips. 12pm says the authority that is the Twitter account: What time is Dan’s presser. An account that keeps us up-to-date so we know when to tune in.

Will I tune in today?

Probably … I want to know what’s ahead. But I’ll do my very best to avoid the negativity and ignorance that is the comments section.

Stay safe.

A flower to brighten your day

Posted in Life, Photography

Diary of a distancer: Week 17

It is now Saturday July 4, 2020. Week 17 of my diary of a distancer posts, although I didn’t write entries for weeks 11-16.

They were tough weeks and I felt there was nothing much to communicate. Life rolled on for me; work was work; birthdays were celebrated – at a distance. Well, at a distance from me. Not being able to travel to Tasmania for the three June birthdays was tough, as was not being able to travel to NSW for my mother’s birthday.

I admit to falling into a hole I’m only now climbing out of.

It was tough in other ways too. Protests were held around the world – people protesting about being locked-in, others protesting about police brutality in the wake of the death of George Floyd at the hands of police, still others protesting about racial inequality more broadly. Dissent and civil disobedience followed … and arguments flew from all sides.

One argument went this way:

Other arguments went in very different directions but I refuse to give them any space by repeating them here.

So things have been happening in some parts of the globe that affect other parts. We are, after all, living on the one planet and the ripple effects of our actions and our beliefs don’t stop at our national – or state – borders.

It’s a bit like our bodies – something happens in one area which then impacts other areas and as the ripples move around and across and through your body it feels like it’s never going to end. That there’s always going to be pain. One area subsides just for another area to flare up. The physical starts to play with the mental and the emotional and back again. And it’s ongoing and thus distressing.

Just like the current situation with coronavirus. It goes quiet, and then flares up in another hotel room/suburb/region/country. There’s no end in sight. It’s ongoing and that adds to the distress.

After a period of relative quiet, COVID-19 has re-emerged in Victoria, and so Victorians are now not welcome in other states. Except if you’re part of an AFL team. Then you can go to Queensland to ensure the season continues, but ordinary Victorians cannot enter unless they’re willing to be fined or sentenced to gaol time.

Such is life. Money talks. Sport is important, it would seem, for national well-being.

Or something.

Not so The Arts it would seem. The Arts, as a sector, has been hit particularly hard by the lockdown. But there’s no other state to go to as a way of surviving – unless we’re talking a state of unemployment or sheer determined survival. Many people have turned to TV and movies for solace in this time yet many of them deny the importance of the arts to the economic or social or cultural or intellectual fabric of our society.

Luke McGregor – Australian comedian – made an argument for the role of the arts in national well-being on The Weekly with Charlie Pickering last week.

We don’t need the arts to survive … but they give us a reason to‘ – Luke McGregor

In many cases, the arts gives us the means to survive as well. I’m don’t mean in terms of financial support, but I mean in terms of an outlet for our creativity, for communicating, for seeing differently, for noticing, for making connections between ideas and perspectives and views and beliefs and values and thoughts and actions. And more.

And an outlet for connection with others.

Without an outlet for creative expression some of us may not have survived as well as we have through this on-going, never-ending (it seems) saga of COVID-19. While personal ‘creative expression’ might not have much to do with The Arts, I for one acknowledge the essential role the arts plays in my life.

I listen to music. I read books. I view works others have painted or photographed or sculpted or designed. I watch movies that started with an idea and grew over time, involving many (many) others in their production. People who have made artistic choices about sounds and movements and locations and backgrounds and lighting and music and no music and points of view and camera angles.

I watch and listen to others performing – dance, music, singing – and I am in awe of their determination and talent and desire for creative expression.

All of the people who make things, who produce things, design, craft and tinker and even those who, like me, play at the edges of creative endeavour … The Arts is there as a means and a reason to survive. They add something to the lives of those who spectate. They add much more to those of us who engage. They enrich us in ways simple spectating cannot do.

Click the image for more information about why The Arts matter

We are not a family of artists it has to be said, but many of us do like the creative outlet photography provides, and so I was thrilled that 15 family members contributed to our latest photography challenge: Ordinary Objects.

Our first challenge was the Alphabet of Isolation.

Cover design: Tim Moss

Our second was Images by the Dozen – a project in which we took images of the numbers 1-12 without using the actual numbers.

I designed this cover

The Ordinary Objects project required us to photograph 10 ordinary objects:

  • Something you eat
  • Something you eat with
  • Something you cook with
  • Something you see with
  • Something you put on your feet
  • Something you wash with
  • Something you wear
  • Something you drink from
  • Something you find in the garden
  • Something (not someone) you love

Fifteen family members, ranging in age from 4-81 and across four generations, contributed. We live across four states of Australia with one family member in the UK. As with our other projects we’d get together on a Sunday night and share our images. Yet another magazine to add to our collections as a physical memento of our creative decisions and expression.

I designed this cover too

Our next project is Variations on a Theme. Six images, all of the same theme/idea of each individual’s choice, but with variations.

My theme is abandonment. It’s meant I’ve taken photos of a type I wouldn’t normally take – I’m usually quite conceptual, but this time I wanted to try something different and so have expanded my photographic range slightly.

Here’s one of the first images I took for this project. Mind you, I’ve since adandoned this image as I went in a slightly different direction … but that’s the way it goes!

Abandoned as the urban sprawl creeps closer

Another image we drove miles to shoot, was also one I reluctantly abandoned as the church didn’t feel abandoned enough. I particularly love the Australian feel of this scene, with the gorgeous gum trees surrounding the church.

I was after something that looked a little more abandoned

We finalise our Variations on a Theme project next week and I’m looking forward to seeing what everyone’s come up with.

Connections through creativity.

What’s kept you connected with others through these anything-but-ordinary times?

Posted in Family, Life, Photography

Diary of a distancer: Week 10

I missed yesterday.

Well, not entirely. The day still happened, and I did stuff … but I didn’t write a blog post.

It was one of those beautiful autumn days we sometimes get in Melbourne: icy start but eventually warm enough to get the washing dry, a tiny waft of breeze to help the leaves spiral from the trees, and a no-cloud day which made it perfect for a late afternoon walk around the neighbourhood.

Walking late in the day

And no writing.

The week for me has felt a bit like those old cartoon backgrounds that keep repeating as the character runs across the screen. A window pops up every now and then, and then you notice the same door re-appearing and the pot plant on a stand.

The illusion of movement without any real progress.

The numbers keep going up, and not just of COVID-19 cases. Numbers of people calling for lockdown restrictions to be eased, numbers of people not social distancing in supermarkets and department stores.

Numbers of people out for picnics or gathering inside others’ homes.

Numbers of people wondering what life will be like when the lockdown is over … when we’re able to visit family interstate, to head out to a favourite cafe or pub, or return to our workplaces.

Some workplaces have indicated that working from home will be an option after this – possibly forever. I sincerely hope mine will be one of them. It’ll feel strange to go back to a windowless cold office now and chat face-to-face with colleagues. I can’t think why I’d want to do that or why it’s a better way of working than how I’m working at the moment.

Working from home suits me. I don’t have little children or pets to distract me, although I get my share of phone calls from my daughters asking about high and low modality words and about phonemes and graphemes. It’s not the same though as a two-year old seeking my attention as soon as I start a meeting, or a dog running around and around the couch while I’m working.

Jimmy, formally of Giggle and Hoot fame, has been keeping me entertained this week with his spot-on observations of life with little children, particularly in this era of working from home. This video applies just as much to parents working from home when their Zoom meetings start.

 

 

Sarah Cooper has also been keeping many of us entertained with her lip syncing of US President, Donald Trump’s press conferences. She doesn’t edit the audio – just does a great job of lip syncing to it. The little flourishes she adds make her videos even more entertaining.

What’s been keeping you entertained this week?

One thing that’s kept me busy – not sure how entertained I’ve been, but I’ve certainly been busy with it – is creating the magazine for our numbers project. Ten of us are engaged in a photography project – to take 12 photos of 1-12 without including the actual numbers.

The favourite image I’ve taken is my number 4:

Four(k)

I’d had a different idea in mind initially, so we shot that and then we started playing around with the idea. The afternoon light was beautiful and when Tim held the strawberry out in front of him, it hit the strawberry and the ends of the fork’s tines nicely. I like that – when you play with ideas and one of them works. It worked that Tim was wearing a dark hoodie too – made for a great backdrop.

Through doing this project and the alphabet one, we’ve come to an even stronger realisation of how different we are as photographers. Tim has a wonderful eye for detail. He can wander around and see things that I’d never notice in a lifetime.

I, on the other hand, plan all my shots, storyboard them and then play around with the original idea as I shoot. He’s more of an observer and documenter and I’m more conceptual in my approach. Neither is better or worse – except when I try to document what I see. That always turns out worse!

Although, having said that, two magazines I created a few weeks ago turned up this week. One is Country Shops of Victoria and Tasmania and the other is of bus stops. I am so thrilled with them. They don’t sound terribly interesting I know, but I get a little frizz of pleasure everytime I look at them. It was my attempt at documenting and I think it turned out okay.

I’m now keen to do more.

Again, a week in which connections and creativity featured heavily … and the other stuff just kept repeating in the background.

Stay safe out there …

 

 

 

 

Posted in Family, Life, Photography

Diary of a distancer: Week 9

As I write, it’s May 9 2020. Many parts of the world are slowly emerging from restrictions due to the spread of coronavirus. Restrictions are beginning to ease in parts of Australia too.

Some people are concerned about this, others are cautiously optimistic that life will return to ‘normal’ soon, and others are pressuring governments to ease restrictions more quickly.

We might all ‘be in this together’ but we’re certainly not in the same boat. The same storm perhaps, but not the same boat. Everyone’s experience of lockdown/self-isolation – call it what you will – is different.

It’s alarming and distressing to read that instances of domestic violence have increased, as have calls to helplines such as LifeLine.

Through the week, I read a tragic story of a 12 year old boy in the US who hung himself in his wardrobe in mid-April. His father blames coronavirus. His view was that as his son wasn’t able to go to school or meet up with his friends, he had nowhere to put his energy (particularly his negative energy) and so took this very drastic step, perhaps, his father said, not fully realising the finality of his action.

There are other situations, just as tragic.

For some, then, this period is particularly difficult. They’re in the storm but in small boats, or boats with one oar, or boats that don’t have a lot of supplies. They’re tossed around by the waves and the wind and can find no safe anchor.

We can’t imagine that our own experience of this time is the same as others.

I’ll own that statement. I don’t imagine that my experience of this time is the same as others.

It’s why connections are so important to me. It’s important to me to stay connected – to others, to ideas, to creative pursuits, to routine, to family, to physical and mental health.

For some, unexpected connections have made this period of time less unsettling than it might otherwise have been.

ABC News Breakfast shared a story on their Facebook page of a man in Wagga, NSW who is drawing a crowd during his trombone practice. What a delight – a time for people to come together – to sit and listen, to tap their feet, to wander into the sunshine, to reminisce. Connecting the past with now, connecting memories to others, connecting sound and emotion.

There are examples of this sort of connection between people happening all around the world. If we can, we should seek them out as they can bring pockets of light into what otherwise might be a dark time.

I’ve also been struck by the connections some people are making as they seek to make some sense of this time. Poet Lorin Clarke writes from the perspective of dust motes as they watch humans spending more time at home. It’s clever, this way of seeing things from another perspective and making connections across people’s experiences. And then putting images and music and a very particular kind of voice to this, adds to that sense of connection across more than ideas – across aesthetics and art forms too.

And then there are those who can sum up experiences many of us will recognise, in seemingly simple ways. My friend Taimi, shared this on her Facebook page earlier and I laughed out loud (I won’t tell you which particular image made me laugh the most).

If our things could talk

Graphics like this can connect us to others – even unknown others – as they allow us to know we’re not the only ones putting the dishwasher on more often or rarely using the car.

We spent a few hours one night through the week listening to Wes Tank rapping Dr Seuss books over Dr Dre beats. Connections again – between words and sounds and beats and voice and cleverness and creativity and silliness and more. See if you can do it!

 

And then there’s connections to things I didn’t know I was missing. An email arrived just the other day, and I glanced through it disinterestedly until I saw the words ‘Slow TV’. My attention was immediately caught.

A car company filmed a driver driving through the NSW countryside for four hours. It almost made me cry!

There’s a world out there that I haven’t connected with for weeks … months. There are hills and trees and bumpy roads and grassy verges and sky … all that sky. There are horizons that go beyond the back fence, two metres from my back door. There are sheep and road signs and beautiful music to accompany me on this journey of what might be described as nothingness, but which I describe as bliss. Absolute bliss.

Connection to country. Who knew it was something I missed?

And, of course, as always, there’s connection to family. To Mum, and my sister Deb, and my daughters Rochelle (and on weekends her husband Michael) and Emma, and their kids, and Alison, and to my daughter-in-law Kaz (and even more grandkids), and my cousins Cassandra and Jenny (and often their kids), and sometimes to my nieces Sarah and Eliza and sometimes their kids too. We exercise together every day (those of us who can make it), then chat – or listen to all the kids saying hello to each other.

It’s a fabulous connection – four generations and multiple arms of family coming together as often as we can to keep physically and mentally healthy. As has been emphasised as we’ve exercised more and more, exercise is not about how you look, it’s about how you feel, and exercising with family feels good!

And on the back of that connection, we also connect creatively. We’ve completed our Images of Isolation project and are into our Images by the Dozen project. We’re all to take 12 images – representing the numbers 1 to 12 without actually having numbers as a feature of the image. It helps keep our brains busy, our eyes seeing differently and our connections strong.

These are just some of the connections I’ve made this week. What connections have you made? 

Posted in Family, Life

Diary of a distancer: Week 8

Time is strange, isn’t it? When we watch the second hand on an analog clock, we think time is regimented, neatly segmented, that one second is the same length as another second. The first minute of each hour lasts as long as the last minute of the hour.

We talk about time as if it’s a commodity – we can use it, waste it, spend it. It’s something that can speed by, or drag, or simply pass. For some, time is money. For others, it’s life. Was there ever a beginning to time, will there ever be an end? We think we know what it is – that it is something we can comprehend. But is it?

And we each have our own perceptions of time. Days either drag or speed by depending on how you spend your time.

And so we’ve made it to May.

March dragged by … each day feeling like a week. What day is it, was a familiar refrain, so much so that a weatherman in the US started telling his viewers what day it was each day – in much the same way they do on Playschool. [Please note: I do not endorse Fox anything, unless they’re on my sister’s PJs and slippers]

Then April came and went, seemingly, for me at least, in the blink of an eye.

Where did that go? Ben’s birthday on the 10th, Easter, extra leave afterwards, four days at work, then annual leave, Byron’s 1st birthday and Tim’s on the same day. A photography challenge and creating a magazine from it, plus creating magazine of my Bus Stops of Victoria and Tasmania and Country Shops of the same (I promise you, they’re more interesting than the titles make them out to be), exercise, exercise and more exercise.

Connections and creativity.

Mental and physical health.

What a month.

And now, May. Ronan, my third grandchild, announced this morning that it’s only 27 more days until he’s a teenager. He sounds like one already – the deep voice grunting monosyllables as he lies on the couch (after doing a tough workout, I might add). He’s almost as tall as me now, probably will be by the time I get to see him again.

And BOOM!

Time distorts. Slows down, almost to a crawl. It’s possible I wouldn’t have seen my grandchildren during this time in a world without ‘rona (although Easter, so you never know) but knowing I can’t see them yet and not knowing when I’ll see them again, seems to elongate time.

It’s the same when you’re waiting for your examiners’ reports after submitting your PhD. The clock ticks off each second in its usual way, but each second seems that little bit longer than the one before, especially when you know the reports are back and your supervisors have seen them but aren’t allowed to tell you the outcome. Each second grinds by, especially when you focus on that one thing you want more than anything.

The email from the Graduate Research Office with the outcome.

This is the situation for one of my PhD candidates this week. The weekend will be unbearable for her and each day next week that she has to wait will feel like a month.

And then it’ll be over. The email will arrive, the restrictions on our movement will end, and time will resume its regularity.

It feels long in the ‘during’ … in the living of it. Time is drawn out during the waiting, during the uncertainty, when we aren’t sure of the outcome, when we aren’t sure what the world will look like on the other side.

But then things will resume, perhaps differently resume, but the seconds will continue to tick by as they always have. Will we go back to our old regular routines or have we learnt something from this time of enforced isolation? Will we continue any of the new routines we’ve established?

All the new routines I’ve established are about creativity and connection. Why would I drop them once this is over?

It’s a question worth musing on.

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I wonder if Louis Theroux will continue doing duck walks when this is over? (We did them this morning and while the kids didn’t seem to mind them, the older adults in the group were mostly non-plussed).

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Our alphabet of isolation wrapped up to wild enthusiasm on Sunday night. I’m adding one image per day to my Instragram account – I’m wondering what will end first … my alphabet images or the restrictions we’re currently living with.

I’m hoping my images will be a good reminder of this time, as, over time, I’m sure I’ll forget some of the details. Like toilet paper shortages. The supermarkets have now lifted restrictions on how much you can buy, but remember at the beginning of this outbreak how people were fighting over it?

What was that about?

And this will be a reminder too.

 

Stay safe and have a great week. I’ll leave you with this image of a flower I took a number of years ago. It’s colourful and unlike the flower itself, this image hasn’t seen the ravages of time.41345344-0C8E-41A6-A363-84CF30B5D891

 

 

 

Posted in Life, Photography

Diary of a distancer: Week 7

You know, when I started writing these ‘diary of a distancer’ posts, I never imagined I’d still be writing them seven weeks later. I actually had no idea how long I’d be writing them for, and no expectations or otherwise about the length of time we’d be in lockdown, but seven weeks is a while, isn’t it?

How are you coping? Are you starting to feel a bit of cabin fever? Or have you been getting out and about, pretty much as normal and so haven’t really noticed?

I’m not getting out and about anywhere near as much as usual, and there are days where I really feel it. Yesterday, for instance. I had to go to Camberwell to get my flu shot and it was such a lovely afternoon that I was very tempted to head off up the highway. It was one of those rare blue-sky Melbourne autumn days, there wasn’t too much traffic and I had the day off (yes, another one). But no matter how tempting it was, I headed home, although I did take the long way round.

I’m surprised I’m not dealing with cabin fever. I usually dislike spending holidays at home – something I’ll be doing all next week. I was supposed to be going to New Zealand on Sunday – this year was my year for travel – but of course that’s not happening and as I can’t cancel my leave, I’m have to spend it at home. Strangely, I don’t actually mind the idea.

My week trundled along as the week before had – except I managed to work for four days this week, unlike the 1.5 days the week before. More Accounting exams to review. I now know what a journal entry is – it’s not, I learnt, an entry you make in a journal of the diary variety, but has to do with debits and credits. I’ve looked up information about the role of a board of directors, more governance than I knew existed, and I’ve read lots and lots of exam questions about liabilities and assets, and debits and credits. It hasn’t grown any more interesting I have to say.

We had two birthdays to celebrate this week. Both on Thursday. It had always amazed me that in a family as large as ours there weren’t any shared birthdays, but that changed last year when Byron, my youngest grandchild, was born on Tim’s birthday. Byron had had some cake with icing when we spoke to him, and it’s fair to say that as a child who hadn’t had much sugar before, he was super-charged on it!

Tim had no sugar and so wasn’t quite as wild, but was excited at the prospect of eating fancy restaurant food for his birthday. He’d discovered some weeks ago, that Attica was still cooking, and better still, were delivering. Luckily for us, we live in their delivery area. What a fabulous meal! Seemingly simple, but completely delicious. We’re also fans of the way Attica has embraced the enormous changes they’ve had to face, in light of the pandemic. They haven’t focused solely on their own business, but have considered those who haven’t been formally included in the ‘all’ of ‘we’re all in this together’. They have a soup project that’s helping feed newly unemployed hospitality workers who are on temporary visas.

While some ‘leaders’ are making inane and dangerous ‘suggestions’ for tackling COVID-19, others are taking matters into their own hands and doing something worthwhile and real and kind. We’d much rather support people like that.

We even got the good plates out!

We’ve been stepping up the exercise this week. We’ve still mostly been doing the 10-minute seniors workout with The Body Coach, but we’ve been tacking a cooldown to the end. The cooldown is harder than the seniors workout, but we all acknowledge we’re getting stronger and feeling good for it. It’s been lovely to have Rochelle, my eldest daughter, join us again this week and of course the bonus of seeing lots of the Tassie grandkids. Kaz, one of my daughters-in-law, also joined us when she could, and today Rochelle’s husband Michael joined in too. As did Mum, Tim, Deb, Rochelle, Kaz, and cousin Jen.

Yesterday I changed things up a bit. We started the 20-minnute Ultimate Beginner’s Low Impact Workout and did that again today, plus the cooldown today. Even Michael had a sweat up by the time he finished, although he went a fair bit harder than us ‘beginners’. Mum was thrilled that she could plank for the full 30 seconds!

On Wednesday in my personal training session, I asked Tom when my workouts were going to get easier. He didn’t sugar coat it. ‘They’re not’, he said, ‘because as you get stronger, I just make it harder. You lift more weight, do more reps, or do exercises in a different order’. On Friday he was true to his word. It was tough, and apparently I complained. A lot. But I still did 60 seconds of bicycle crunches, had a 10 second rest to catch my breath, did another 60 seconds, another quick breath catcher, then a final 60 seconds.

I was way too out of breath to do any complaining after that.

I wonder if that was deliberate?

I’m having a hard time moving today … but I’m putting that down the after-effects of the flu shot.

We finish our Alphabet of Isolation project this week. Last Sunday night we had quite a chaotic sharing of images among the eight or nine of us involved in the project. Now that we’ve ironed out some of the technological challenges, I reckon we’ll be in a better position tomorrow night to share the second half of our alphabets. We’re going to create a Blurb magazine with all the images, and it’ll be a great reminder of our time in isolation.

Here’s my D-M.

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I returned to a previous post yesterday, just for comparison. Three weeks ago, on Friday April 3, there had been 1,098,006 cases of COVID-19 and 59,141 deaths.

On Friday April 24, there were 2,828,826 cases and 197,099 deaths.

I’ve found that now the numbers are that high it’s even more hard to compute, but also more difficult to think of each of those 197,099 deaths as individual people. To see the number of new deaths for Italy and Spain now, I catch myself thinking ‘oh, it’s only 497 today’. When did 497 new deaths ever mean ‘only’? It’s so easy to become immune to what the numbers actually represent.

While we don’t know when this is all going to end, we do know that many people are still suffering in a range of ways. The best thing we can do is stay home and stay safe.