Posted in Learning, Life

Because you are my Dad

Monday 22 January 2018

Dad lies completely still apart from the rise and fall of his chest, his breathing regular though shallow: a quick breath in, a just-as-quick breath out, count to four, another breath in. On the odd occasion his body misses a breath my heart races and I watch closely for the rise and fall of his chest.

Music wafts gently around the room Dad’s called home for the past 18 months and despite the scurry of nurses outside in the corridor there’s a sense of peace and calm here in this room.

I never imagined keeping watch over my dying father, but here I am, sitting on the hospital bed the nurses brought in and placed next to his, thinking about what I know and who I am because Noel Pittaway has been my Dad.

I know the importance of spit-clean shoes – polished and buffed till they shine. People notice shoes, Sharon, he’d say as I’d present them to him for inspection. Make sure they’re clean.

I know how to spell by breaking words into pieces and sounding them out.

I know that it annoys Mum when we do that (you’re just like your father, she says in that tone she has that indicates she thinks we’re clever but a bit show-offy.)

I know to eat my vegetables first before even touching anything else on my plate.

I know it’s best to eat cauliflower and cheese sauce while it’s hot.

I know how to swim because Dad insisted I stand in the shallow end of the Nowra pool and while all the other kids got to muck around I stood there and practiced my strokes and my breathing. I was never a fast swimmer but I had a nice style (just like your father, Mum used to say in that tone she has that speaks of admiration).

I have an eclectic musical taste because Dad had an ever-expanding record collection that ranged from Rachmaninov to Ray Charles via Ravi Shankar.

I know how to be comfortable with silence; that I don’t have to fill it with words and that in the silence there’s still warmth and togetherness.

I know that reading fiction opens up worlds I would never have been able to imagine on my own. Some of those worlds were beyond the comprehension of my 11,12,13-year-old self, but I discovered that being stretched imaginatively is important and immensely beneficial to a teenager’s developing mind and spirit.

I know the thrill of the rollercoaster, big slippery dips and rides that spin and whirl and fling you upside down and inside out and the added thrill of experiencing that with your granddaughter. Again and again and again.

I know it’s wrong for a girl to swear.

I know how to snorkel. And not to be afraid of the ocean. And the delight of walking on the squeaky white sand of Jervis Bay.

I know that travel is an adventure to be indulged in whenever possible and part of that adventure is the spontaneity of a detour or an unplanned destination or heading down a one-way street the wrong way.

I know that creative expression is an important part of life, whether that expression is theatrical, literary, artistic, musical or photographic – and the importance of taking the lens cap off.

I know what love for your wife(husband) looks like because of the depth of love Dad has for Mum … and I know that romance is not dead.

I know that people are deeply complex and that an external quiet doesn’t necessarily mean an internal quiet.

I know that laugh-yourself-silly fun is contagious and being surrounded by your grandchildren and great grandchildren is joyous and delightful in ways that can’t be described in words …

and that when you’re in your 60s and you think you can still somersault off the 1 metre board at the Murbah pool and get up there only to find you’ve bitten off more than you can chew, that a poolside cheer squad led by your grandchildren will push the fear down and turn you into a hero as you run along the board and somersault effortlessly into the diving pool.

I know that the rougher the sea the more you enjoy the ride. Just hang on tight and ride the swell.

And I know that while the taste of beetroot is a flavour they serve in hell, Dagwood Dogs are a tiny taste of heaven.

I know that what your dad teaches you can be hard to learn and that you can fight against it (and him) and that what you learn might not have been the intended lesson, but I also know that Dad has influenced my life enormously and I am who I am in big measure because my Dad is Noel Pittaway.

The movement of Dad’s body … the rise and fall of his chest … stops in the afternoon of Thursday 25 January … but the movement of his life and his legacy have transcended his body and spread through his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren … it’s a legacy that moves invisibly yet steadily across and through the generations.

On February 14, 2016 Dad and I flew over Antarctica. It had been a life-long ambition of his. Here we are ready for our 14-hour adventure.

*Many thanks and huge appreciation to Alison Cosker for providing feedback on this post. It has been strengthened because of her input.

Posted in Learning, Life, Teaching, Writing

I got back on the horse …

Metaphorically speaking, that is; there was no harm to a literal horse in my ‘getting back on’.

Okay, I’ll be clear. I know some of you don’t work well with metaphors, so I’ll be like, ‘literally’ all over this blog.

I haven’t taught on-campus (as in students in the same room as me) since semester 1, 2014.

Yes, that was two years ago. And yesterday I did it again.

And you know what? It felt good.

I was prepared, planned, organised, ready … I had even practiced smiling (although when I practiced in front of the mirror I scared myself, so I determined to only smile when absolutely necessary).

The students were lovely; responsive and mature in their attitude, willing to share their ideas and discuss meaty concepts.

After 18 months in the professional wilderness, of trying to determine who I am professionally, it felt good to be able to think of myself as a teacher again. To act as a teacher again; to be a teacher.

And the best thing? I get to do it all again next week.

Oh, and one other thing … by the end of class my face hurt.

I think I overdid the smiling.

 

 

 

Posted in Life

On illness …

My sister and I were talking yesterday.  In person. (We can do that now that we live closer to each other.)

We were discussing how like our mother we are in relation to illness. Mum has no truck with people who are sick. It’s all in their heads. If they wanted to get better they would, and if they’d been more determined they wouldn’t have been sick in the first place. You sneeze and say I’m getting a cold and Mum would respond with ‘stop it. You’ll talk yourself into getting sick’.

Deb and I are like our mother. People allow themselves to get sick. They don’t talk themselves out of it. We have an absolute conviction that illness can be stopped with the right attitude. In fact, Dad used to say it a lot when we were kids: mind over matter. We developed strong minds.

Deb and I are doomed – it comes from both parents.

I felt good yesterday to discover that I wasn’t the only one with this attitude (besides my mother). Deb has it too. We joked about it, and felt good about being so self-aware as we wondered down the main street of Bright, laughing that it was only in this that we were like our mother.

Our self-awareness hasn’t changed our attitude though.

And without wanting to jinx ourselves, Deb and I tend not to get sick. And neither does Mum. Everyone around us might be burning up with fever, coughing and sneezing their hearts out, have throats red raw, be laid flat with whatever’s going around and we tend to sail on through unscathed.

When we do get sick though, we get sick. Mum was sick earlier in the year. Her and Dad were visiting Tasmania and then our new place and she wasn’t at all well. But would she take it easy? Not on your life! No giving in to a cold, no spending time resting up … taking it easy is for wimps, and by golly our mother is not a wimp.

Sickness is for the weak, and she is strong.

Let me just say, as an aside, that people who have this attitude are very bad patients!

Deb and I have, it seems, inherited her attitude. And thankfully, her constitution. We rarely get sick.

We joke about our attitude, and in mixed company pretend that we really don’t think that sickness is for the weak and that if you really wanted you wouldn’t get sick in the first place … but in our hearts we know that it’s not pretend. It’s a truth we live with.

It’s not an easy thing to admit so openly. Turn it around for a moment and imagine how hard it must be for us, having no patience with a loved one curled up in a ball on the couch, red-nosed and sounding like Shirley Bassey on a bad day. Imagine how difficult it is for us to make soothing noises, to make chicken soup, to fuss over the pain-ridden … oh forget it, you obviously didn’t look after yourself properly and you’ve let yourself get sick. Stop giving in to it.

There, I’ve said it. It’s out there.

But, we know about our attitude and we are pleased that as we get older we’re better at biting our tongues and being sympathetic.

Or so we think.

Our husbands, it seems, think differently.

Posted in Learning, Life, Writing

Random observations and thoughts

A pirate sits in his car, texting with his eye patch up, while the news blares from his radio.

A silver and a pink balloon float above a fencepost at a house around the corner.

A car does a U-turn outside the house, crunches against the curb and comes to a complete stop. It seems perplexed.

***

My dress is ready. I’m on my way to the dressmaker now. I’d been walking past the Red Cross shop a few days ago and felt compelled to go in. There it was. A grey wool dress with a touch of black satin at the neckline and cuffs. Simple. Elegant. Beautiful.

Size small.

I tried it on anyway.

Max Mara, the girl with the German accent told me.

It needed a little re-stitching.

It’s ready now. I try it on.

It’s beautiful.

***

I sit in the downstairs section of the library. I’d ignored the signs saying staff and students only. I am neither a staff member nor a student of this particular institution but I figure that if I look confident no one will notice me.

I find a table in the group learning section. I don’t have a group. I sit at the table alone, surrounded by groups of students, with my laptop open, marking.

Conversations swirl around me. Ideas, concepts, understandings, clarifications, possibilities. Multiple languages. Multiple disciplines. Maths. Graphic design. Nutrition. Engineering. A glass wall covered in formula. Portfolios scattered across tables. Laughter. Swearing. Questions. Comprehension. Propositions.

Intellectual and social and professional engagement.

I wonder about the spaces we create for online students to engage in these rigorous conversations.

Tim says: I’m going to the city with my camera.

I let other thoughts go. They are puzzles for another time.

Now is the time for wandering.

 

 

Posted in Learning, Life

Living and re-living

Do you ever think “I’ve been here before”? I don’t mean that you lived in a different era in a different form (that you’ve re-incarnated from a cockroach into a human) but that you’ve lived an experience that now, at some slight remove, you’re living again. Re-living.

Maybe at the start of a new semester, when you read the unit outline at the end of Week 1 and realise that you’ve missed the deadline by two days for one part of your first assessment task. Or vacuuming the floor when it felt like only yesterday that you tried to get that same spot out of the carpet? Or reading the start of a book you didn’t think you’d read only to find that it’s so familiar that you know, at some point in the past, you’ve sat in the same spot, legs curled up under you, puppy pushed in beside you, the winter sun streaming through the windows … that you’ve been there before?

Life can be like that.

Years ago, you packed a bag, walked out the door, changed your life.

And then, twenty years later it happens again. Bags are packed, doors close, lives change.

Only this time it’s not your bag or your door or your life. But close enough to get a sense that you’ve been here before.

It comes as no surprise to find that life doesn’t happen in a straight line.  There are turns, and deviations, and unexpected detours that lead you down paths that are overgrown with lack of wear and just a tiny bit spooky, but interesting if you have a spirit of adventure and just a touch (or more) of courage – which you don’t realise you have until you’ve travelled that path and have the benefit of reflection and hindsight.

And there are seeming circles … you tread a path, and then without any encouragement or persuasion, your daughter treads a similar path.

The lines you once heard, she’s hearing (she’ll come to her senses – just give her time and she’ll be back). The fingers that wagged at you, now wag at her. The system that seemed stacked against you, now seems stacked against her. The sense of dislocation you felt, she’s now feeling. The questions you asked yourself, she’s also asking.

There’s living, and then there’s re-living.

Circles.

Different actors. Different lives. But so, so familiar.

Age gives me an advantage. I can see from a distance – having made it to the end of that dark and gloomy path she’s now treading. I know that it’ll  get lighter the further along she goes. That there are more options than she first thought, more warmth from others than she initially envisaged when everyone (or so it seems) was turned against her, more resilience and strength than she ever imagined was there, lurking within.

Living

and re-living.

Life.

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?

Posted in Learning

Lesson #6

1992. Wynyard, Tasmania. A brochure from the Faculty of Education at the University of Tasmania sat on the counter at the radio station. Two words spoke to me as soon as I picked it up: English/Drama. Before that moment I couldn’t have articulated my passion for either of them. They didn’t fit in the world in which I lived; a world of domesticity on the one hand, and male-dominated sports on the other. Football, soccer, boys basketball, cricket.

But the brochure did more than cause a realisation in me that here were two areas of interest to me. When I read that it was possible to study English Literature and Theatre a rumbling began deep within me.  Over the next few weeks as I pondered whether it was possible, the rumbling became louder until it was a roar in my head. I discovered that it wasn’t possible to not do it. To not enrol. To pass up this opportunity.

Opportunities that allow us to begin, to change direction in our lives, to choose the direction in which we head may not present themselves on a regular basis. They certainly hadn’t for me. I had had no choice in the move from NSW to Queensland, or in the decision to move from Queensland to Tasmania. They were life changing decisions, they changed the direction of my life, but I was not in control of those decisions.

But here was an opportunity to take control, to make a decision. I knew instinctively what my choice was going to be, but my decision also impacted on others. It was a life-changing decision, and it wasn’t only my life that would be changed. It meant yet another move to yet another new place, yet another move away from family – this time my own children. It meant sacrifice – theirs and mine – again.

It meant making a decision that was ultimately selfish. It was a decision that was all about me.

****

1993. Launceston, Tasmania. I made the move, began again, and changed my life.

And I learnt.

I learnt that making life-changing decisions means your life changes and you can’t predict the ripple effects those changes have.

I learnt that making life-changing decisions requires courage and resilience and a willingness to sacrifice.

Any new beginning, no matter how big or small, requires us to adapt, to hang on, to allow it to happen (and we never fully realise what ‘it’ is when we first start out).

A beginning is not a moment in time; while it begins with one step it requires more than the first step. Beginnings take time and energy and commitment and desire. We have to want to begin and we have to commit to the messiness that often accompanies a beginning, the messiness of the steps contained within the beginning.

Beginnings lead to new identities. We try them on, test them out, sometimes deny those identities because they don’t fit comfortably with the view we have of ourselves. We often can only see ourselves with the old identity on … wife/mother not student; teacher aide not pre-service teacher. Others see the shiny new identity, but denial is strong. Sometimes we only see that new identity when we’re about to lose it.

Beginnings lead somewhere. They inevitably lead to endings. Beginning a university degree leads to ending a university degree. We might not be able to see that ending when we first begin. It might seem out of reach at the beginning, but the end of that particular beginning means a new beginning.

Beginnings mean journeys. It’s a journey we’re not wholly in control of … the pathway may seem clear when we’re looking at the satellite image, but when we zoom in a little we see a connecting maze of laneways, dead-ends, cul-de-sacs, open spaces. Changing the view to street view means we see the detail up close – letter boxes, flowering shrubs, front yards, driveways. We can get lost in the minutia when we only see through street view and it seems to take an age to move from one block to another. We see the complexity of the journey in a whole new light, and we need spaces/time/semester breaks to step back and re-look from the distance of the satellite.

Big beginnings contain many smaller ones. Beginning school as a five year sets the child on a journey through education that will take many years, but within that big beginning are many other beginnings: beginning a new grade, beginning with a new teacher, with new students, making new friends, learning new rules and expectations, learning new skills that lead to other beginnings – learning that squiggly lines on a page can be interpreted and can lead us into new worlds, new ideas, new imaginings.

****

2013. Burnie, Tasmania. Another beginning.

 

 

Posted in Learning

Lesson #2

1968. East Nowra, NSW. I’m finished I call, somewhat excitedly.

Mum comes over to do an inspection. She seems suspicious, but doesn’t say anything.

Okay, you can go now. I jump up and run outside to play.

Scene repeats on a daily basis for a number of years.

****

1973. Murwillumbah, NSW. I am aghast. I cannot believe she would do this me.

Nan!

I am betrayed.

****

1976. North Nowra, NSW. I am not allowed to move. I must stay here till they’re all gone. Dad makes that quite clear.

I will not give in.

I am not wilful.

I am not stubborn.

I am … intractable.

Fourteen year old me learnt that word the hard way.

****

Vegetables.

I will not eat them.

Peas placed carefully under my knife so mum won’t see them, despite her suspicions.

I get away with that for years. Or so I think.

In 1973 a concern is shared. It appears the middle one, the troublesome one, the intractable one, will die a lingering death (along with millions of starving African children) if she doesn’t eat her vegetables.

Nan-in-Murwillumbah has a solution.

Custard.

Vegetables in the bowl; custard on top. Sharon won’t even realise!

Sharon did realise. And didn’t eat custard for years.

****

In 1976 a new rule is instituted: no-one leaves the table till Sharon finishes all her dinner.

All means vegetables.

****

I learnt the strength of my resolve at that moment. I learnt that I am patient. I learnt that I have a core of steel.

I learnt the word intractable.

I learnt that while cauliflower and cheese sauce is one of the foods the devil serves in hell, it tastes marginally better hot than when it’s been sitting on your plate for four hours.

****

2003. Launceston, Tas. An envelope with Dad’s handwriting.

I’m strangely touched that he remembered.