Posted in Life

Revelations for a new year

This is a blog post.(#) It has words. They are carefully and deliberately put together from thoughts, ideas, nuances, shards of memory, sideways glances, fluff on the carpet, cliche.

It has a point. I don’t want to get to it too early and give the game away; but rest assured there is one. 

Unless there isn’t. 

My sister celebrated 35 years of marriage a week or so ago, as did her husband. I remember that over-half-a-life-time-ago day. Deb arriving in a horse-drawn cart, carrying a parasol, looking petit and feminine. Grant in his white suit. Mum falling, or did she faint? Maybe she was pushed. 

That memory sparks another. Grade 8: “You’re nothing like your sister, are you?” Mr Murphy, my geography teacher, providing an exemplary example of good teaching. Yes, in front of the whole class.

It wasn’t the first time I’d been asked that question, or a worse one: ‘Why can’t you be more like your sister?’. They’re not really questions I’ve ever felt capable of answering beyond a sullen ‘I dunno’. But they’re questions that never cast me in a good light. It’s like when my mother says, “you’re just like your father” in that tone she has. The one where I can tell she doesn’t mean the nice things about him. 

My sister is good. If I wasn’t like her, then I must be bad.

That’s how I grew up – as a living comparison to my good sister. 

Deb is fiercely competitive. She loves to be the first one to do things, and she likes to come first when there’s even a hint of a possibility that there might, perhaps, even slightly, be a chance of a second place. 

That was my place. Second. 

But this isn’t about Deb. This is about me. The above was just a bit of context; some background information to place what comes next. There’s a technical term for it, but my mind is drawing a blank at the moment (the blank my mind is drawing has a border around it – a pretty kind of green filigree – but the bit in the inside is still blank).

You see, something happened the other day: I had a thought. A revelation if you will. It surprised me.

I was walking to the train station not really thinking about anything, in that ‘I’m walking with a purpose and my mind isn’t really present’ kind of way I have, when a thought popped into my mind. Just like that.

Pop.

‘Sharon’ the thought said in that spooky way thoughts speak to you (not that my thought spoke in a spooky voice. Rather it was spooky that my thought addressed me by name). ‘It doesn’t matter that you aren’t like your sister. And’ my thought paused for dramatic effect (now that I think about it, I probably added the pause in later) ‘being nothing like your sister doesn’t mean that you’re bad’.

“Well that’s a relief” I said. Out loud. In that way old ladies do when they’re having existential conversations with themselves on the way to the train station. I smiled at the young man walking past to show that I wasn’t really mad, but his look suggested that he thought I was on the verge. 

‘And.’  Oh, my thought hadn’t finished. I’d better pay attention. ‘Being just like your father doesn’t only mean bad things either’. 

“Humpf” I said in a surprised kind of way. Again I said it out loud. The young man looked around to see that I was still trotting at his heels. He sped up. 

It was a relief, to be honest, to know that I could think of myself differently: not in comparison to my sister (who hadn’t been married first (that was me) but whose marriage had lasted almost three times as long as mine … Deb: good/me: not so much), but that I could think of myself as my own self.

And don’t bother asking why I hadn’t come to that conclusion many years ago. That’s as much use as a teacher asking why you aren’t more like your sister. A mumbled ‘I dunno’ is about as good as you’re going to get and I don’t suppose that’s the answer you want. 

So there you have it.

I’m okay not being like my sister. 

She’s cool and all that, but I’m okay too.

(#) this is in response to my husband’s recent blog post which wasn’t, in fact, a blog post. 

Posted in Learning, Life

On success …

I’ve been reading a lot this week about the ways young people define success; I’ve also been reading about the aspirations of adolescent girls.

I’ve therefore been thinking quite a bit about aspirations and success.

What is success? Well, according to the year 7 students in Wendy’s study it’s a lot to do with having a goal and achieving it (it’s also, according to them, about fame and wealth). Wendy is another success story, but I’ll leave that for another day.

And aspirations? For the year 10 girls in Cherie’s study, there was a sense of uncertainty, a lack of clarity around their aspirations for the future. They had ideas/fantasies, but no concrete goals they were actively planning to achieve. There were so many options for them, that they found it difficult to project themselves one year or 10 years into the future and choose which of those options felt right for them. The girls had difficulty visualising life as anything but what it is now.

I empathise with that view. Do you? Can you imagine yourself 10 years older: what you’ll look like, what you’ll be doing, where you’ll be living, what kind of relationship you might be in (particularly if you aren’t in one now), where you might have travelled to? Could you have done that when you were 15 or 16?

I certainly couldn’t. I never imagined I’d be a university lecturer, for instance. I can’t believe I’ve been one for so long that I’m eligible for long service leave! It wasn’t something I had as a goal. Being a lecturer wasn’t something I strived for, or planned for, or worked towards attaining. It wasn’t on my to-do list. My life just led there. It’s just what happened.

For those of you who are planners, that might seem unnatural, not the proper way of doing things, it might even seem wrong. For those of you who have known me for the longest time (and I’m talking almost 40 years here. Yes, Michelle, it’s been that long) you might think I made decisions that inevitably led me to that destination – but if I did it was never with that destination consciously in mind. I didn’t at any point say “I have aspirations to be a lecturer”. It simply wouldn’t have occurred to me to aspire to that kind of role.

I don’t generally set goals. I hate the question “where do you see yourself in ten years’ time?” No, not hate. Loathe. I loathe that question. I don’t know where I’ll be in ten years’ time, but ten years ago I didn’t know I’d:

* be married (to the most fabulous man I know)
* be living in Burnie (and loving living here)
* have (almost) six more grandchildren than I did at the time
* have my doctorate
* be employed full-time as a lecturer
* have had the opportunity to be a Course Coordinator (and in so doing help change some lives)
* have had the privilege of being the Director of Student Engagement (and help to change a few more)
* have travelled to Paris (twice), been to Germany to visit Elke (twice), spent a week in Venice with Sarah and Ben, caught the train around France and Italy by myself, or been proposed to on the London Eye
* have seen Macbeth at the Globe Theatre in London, Les Mis on the West End, or Loch Ness
* be a student again, this time studying Media Communication.

And more … much more. I wouldn’t have thought of some of those things ten years ago, let alone planned to achieve them if they’d been goals – and look how much I would have missed out on. So for me, that’s a clear justification for not living your life according to five or ten year plans. I know others will see it differently, and I’m not saying they’re wrong, I’m just saying that I don’t live my life that way.

So … and I’m getting to the point now … imagine how surprised I was in November last year when I set myself a goal. Just one mind you, but it was a big one. It was one I wasn’t convinced at the time I could achieve, but I set it nonetheless. I couldn’t “see” myself into the future to see how I would look or feel if I achieved this goal, but that didn’t stop me from setting it.

And it didn’t stop me from working towards it.

You see, I’d become increasingly unhappy with my … physical self/weight/appearance/being treated by strangers as stupid just because I was fat. I wrote the following earlier this year as part of an assignment for university:

Lizzie* was fat. Morbidly obese, according to the chart in her doctor’s office. She’d
been that way for years, apart from the time, five years ago, when she lost 12 kilos.
Since then she’d managed to put on 20. Or more.

Lizzie knew that she was fat; she could feel it. When she laughed, her whole body
wobbled; Lizzie didn’t like that, so she stopped laughing. Her knees creaked under
her weight: with each stair she climbed or descended Lizzie was accompanied by a
painful musical chorus. Lizzie’s eyes grew squinty and her best friend commented,
rather rudely Lizzie thought, that she must be turning Japanese. Lizzie’s mummy-apron
grew bigger by the day. Her arms, her thighs, her wrists, her elbows … fat.

Fatness oozed from her shoes with every step.

In her fatness Lizzie was lumpy, unlovely, lost. Far beyond chubby or plump, Lizzie
was fleshy, hefty, corpulent.

And, unhappy.

*The name was changed to protect  … well, me.

So, yes I set myself a weight loss goal. By October 12, 2013 I wanted to weigh a lot (lot) less.

Daniel, son number 2, was getting married to Cathy in Byron Bay. I knew there were whales that went past Byron and I didn’t want to be one of them.

It was a goal I was determined to make.

******

I didn’t make it.

But I was close. Really, really close.

I came home from Byron even more determined to reach the goal I had set myself in November last year.

On Monday last week I was 800g away from it.

By the Wednesday I was 400g away.

On Monday this week, I was 600g away. Ouch! That really hurt.

On Wednesday I was 100g away. It was so close … but not quite there. I wanted to see the actual number I’d been striving for on the scales, not settle with ‘close enough’.

You can imagine my trepidation on Friday (yesterday) when I stood next to the scales with my health coach standing beside – prodding me to get on them.

What if I’d put on weight? What if … ah, this was no time for what ifs. I just got on.

Result? I’d blitzed it! I hadn’t just gone down by the 100g I needed to make my goal; I’d dropped 900g and was well on the way to achieving the next (much, much smaller) weight loss goal I’d already decided on.

So, here I am. Forty-nine weeks after having set my goal. Still full of determination and resolve but 35.5kgs lighter.

Yes, dear reader, you read that correctly: 35.5kgs.

In one way I’m horribly embarrassed that there was that much of me to lose, but that really doesn’t stop me feeling proud of myself for losing it.

It was an aspiration. To weigh less, to not look like a whale at Daniel’s wedding, to not embarrass him in front of Cathy’s family (which I hadn’t met).

I had a goal: a particular weight I wanted to be at a certain time (which meant losing 34.7kgs in just less than a year).

I had a plan: an eating and exercise one.

I was determined. Through this process I’ve been re-introduced to my determination. It’s pretty strong!

I worked hard and didn’t let anything deter me.

I didn’t stop when I didn’t make it, or when it got hard, or when the weight  wouldn’t move, when my body wouldn’t move, when my knee groaned harder than it had ever groaned before, when others around me ate cake or musk sticks or spearmint leaves or Turkish Delight (thanks Rochelle and Emma), or even toast and vegemite (thanks Mum, but no thanks).

I was determined. I was initially determined to do it for Daniel, but then it got to the point where I was doing it for myself. And my determination didn’t waver.

And I made it. Two weeks late, but hey, I’m not going to quibble.

I set a goal. I worked hard to achieve it. I made it.

If this is what success feels like … I like it!! I might not have fame or wealth, but this feeling of satisfaction more than makes up for that.

******

If I was brave enough I’d put up before and after shots.

You’ll notice from their absence that I’m not yet that brave!

******

I have to acknowledge Tim, my wonderful husband, for his unfailing, constant support, encouragement, and belief in me. You’re the best and I love you to bits!  

Thanks Helen and Robyn and Carolyn. You are the best encouragers! You always noticed and let me know that you noticed and that meant a lot to me.

Thanks to Warren and Ben for your quiet support and pride in me. You’re both like Dad/Grandad … you don’t say much in words, but your actions speak loudly.

Thanks to Rochelle for being my exercise buddy for a short time. It helped push me just that bit harder. I don’t do ‘love pats’ at boxing anymore thanks to you!

Finally, thanks to Carolyn and Delicia and Eve. Your support has been amazing. I couldn’t have done it without you.

Posted in Learning, Writing

Writing challenge (Day Five)

Since when has there been seven days in a week? I ask rather indignantly.

Tim just looks at me in that way he does: head on one side, hands by his side, eyes saying can you hear yourself?

Apparently, according to Tim, there are seven days in a week, not five. I thought today was the last day, the final day of my writing challenge … but no. As a week is seven days in length, your writing challenge will continue for another two days.  But I cannot guarantee that there won’t be another challenge when this one is done.

The man has a warped sense of reality.

That’s my conclusion.

I’ve drawn other conclusions over the years: he is a gifted teacher; a beard suits him; his photography should be shared; he’s the right husband for me.

Conclusions are what we do when we wrap things up: people, arguments, criminal cases, university assignments. We look at the evidence and come to a conclusion. 

I have jumped from a few things over the years including:

Cudgen Creek Bridge, Kingscliff NSW
Natural Arch (or Natural Bridge), Qld

and my conclusion is that you should keep your arms firmly by your sides as you hit the water!

My other conclusion is that, unlike the water under the bridges, conclusions are not things to be jumped to.

I also had a learning the last time I jumped through the hole at Natural Arch/Bridge: the older you are, the longer the drop feels. I was in my 30s the last time I jumped and it’s going to remain the last jump. They don’t let you jump anymore though – there’s a fence there to stop people doing it. Dad and I didn’t see the fence as we climbed through it all those years ago. Mum was cross, but then mums often are.

We need conclusions in our writing and in our teaching. When students are tasked with writing an essay, they must write a conclusion. When we teach a lesson/tutorial we need a conclusion. When we give a lecture we must conclude.

Psychologist Robert Sternberg concludes that if a teacher only teaches in one way, then they conclude that the kids who can’t learn well that way don’t have the ability, when, in fact, it may be that the way the teacher is teaching is not a particularly good match to the way those kids learn.

I wonder how many teachers would agree with that conclusion? It means that the teacher cannot blame the student for not learning, but must reflect on their own teaching practices to see if they need to make any changes. I wonder if it’s the same for those of us who teach in universities?

Interesting.

In Life of Pi Yann Martel makes the point that it is important to conclude things properly. Only then can you let go. Otherwise you are left with words you should have said but never did, and your heart is heavy with remorse.

That kind of conclusion is not quite the same as writing a conclusion to a journal article, or a chapter, or an essay. But it is still important to not leave things unsaid, or there might be remorse when the assignment/chapter is returned: if only I’d taken a bit more time. Sometimes the best thing to do is to put your writing away for a few days and then come back to it with a fresh mind and fresh eyes.

Tim wrote the conclusion to our chapter yesterday. I’m going to put it away for a few days so that I approach it with fresh eyes and a fresh mind (can you hear Tim saying but you didn’t write it?). Still, my eyes need to be fresh.

Actually, that’s not the real reason.

The sun is shining. My conclusion: it’s a great day for a bushwalk!

******

Tomorrow, finding your voice. Where did it go?