Posted in Life

Diary of a distancer: Week 53

One year and one week ago I started working from home.

It was new then. Novel. Needed. We were unsure how long the situation would last. Time slowed down and then sped up; March dragged, while it seemed we raced through April. Then the year tumbled into some sort of mud pool … there were moments of clarity, and then in the middle of the year the situation became dire. Life changed.

I started my working from home days with my computer on a trestle table in Mum’s/Deb’s/Emma’s room. It stayed that way for 12 months, before I decided I needed a proper set-up. It means I now have a proper desk, with space for my monitors, somewhere to hang my headphones, a place for my morning cuppa, a different place for my water bottle, and a place for photos of my grandkids. I also have a bookcase behind me which has been expertly styled by the very stylish Alison. She happened to pop in on the day the bookcase arrived and was gracious enough to lend her considerable talent to elegantly arranging the items I dragged out of cupboards for her to approve (or not, as the case may be). It provides a carefully curated background to my meetings and more importantly provides me with a beautiful place to work.

My office is now neat, stylish, and slowly filling up with indoor plants. I have a heater, music available, a printer should I require it and a window – a door no less, to the outside world. There’s a huge tree out there and on stormy days, I sit here watching the branches being flung about like countries in the time of corona.

An email drops into my inbox. My workpace announces it is a ‘located’ workplace. After a year of being told we would be able to continue to work from home should we choose, we now have a new term to add to our list of new terms we’ve collected in the previous 12 months, and are being encouraged to return to campus … to add to its vibrancy. I sit and think for a nanosecond and decide that sitting in a cold office with no natural light, no view of a tree being thrashed around in the wind, no music swirling around me, is not for me. I’m quite comfortably located where I am. I’ll let others, those who have been working from their bedrooms or dining room tables, wrangling children and dogs and cats during Zoom meetings, make up the 75% allowed back into workplaces.

Life has changed since this time last year when a number of state premiers announced statewide lockdowns would commence on Monday March 23. The Prime Minister then announced a national lockdown. Toilet paper became scarcer than hen’s teeth; pasta and flour were also hard to come by.

It seems, though, that it’s changed for some more than others – often depending on location. I was fortunate enough to go to Tasmania over the summer. I spent a month there, something I wouldn’t have thought possible in the depths of last year’s winter. It was fabulous to be in a place where the fear of COVID was kept in a small place in the back of my mind. Social distancing was a thing people paid attention to, checking-in to cafes was part of the experience, and hand sanitiser was readily available in all shops … but, these are part of what has been termed ‘COVID-normal’. There was a time when we didn’t have to go through security at airports – and it’s now normal. Some of these new behaviours might also become ‘normal’ and we won’t think twice about taking a mask with us wherever we go.

Although, that depends where you are. When I was in Tasmania over the summer, I didn’t think about taking a mask anywhere. As of today, March 14, 2021, Tasmania has remained COVID-free for 92 days. There was a ‘blip’ in December 2020, when four new cases were reported in Tasmania (from a family returning on a repatriation flight) but if you take those cases out of the equation, it really hasn’t had an outbreak since May last year. That’s really quite remarkable in a world overrun it seems by COVID.

Source: ABC News

Life has changed. The ebb and flow of 2020 saw various members of the family exercising together and then not. It saw some of us involved in photography projects and then not. It saw visits to family in other states planned and then cancelled. It saw low points and lower. It saw the spead of misinformation, daily press conferences by Daniel Andrews and a tide of people expressing disappointment, disgust, distress at much of the reporting emerging from those pressers. It saw less – less going out, less contact with others, less exploration – and for us, less television watching, less reading, less …

In my first blog post in the time of COVID, I wrote

It seems we’re in this for the long haul – a few months rather than days. Perhaps even longer. I’m sure we’ll work out how to live in this disrupted world, but it might take a while.

Has your world continued to be disrupted, and if so, have you worked out how to live in it?

I’m not entirely sure I have.

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 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

Diary of a distancer: Week 5

See Week 4. Repeat.

Except, without working on Friday, and now being the mother of a 41-year old. Yes, Ben, my eldest son turned 41 yesterday or, as he told me, 14,974 days.

Talking of numbers … the numbers this week are much bigger than last week.

1,700,816 cases as of April 11, 2020, 7:38GMT (5:38pm Melbourne time). Of those, just over 22% have recovered.

It’s easy to look at the numbers and forget to feel anything, because … well, because they’re just numbers.

But they aren’t, are they?

I read an interesting piece in The Guardian yesterday, written by a junior doctor. She made the point that politicians and some commentators have the perspective of gods – in that they see the big picture. They see the numbers of people hospitalised, the numbers of ICU beds and ventilators and PPE required, the number of refrigerated trucks to house the bodies of those who’ve died, the numbers of businesses affected, the number of unemployed people … numbers. But she was seeing people. People struggling to breathe, people struggling to cope, people who are fearful and anxious and scared for their own lives.

I’m finding it a challenge to deal with patients who are so unwell because I wish this hadn’t happened to them. When you’re providing one-on-one care, it hardly registers that there are hundreds of people in the same position. We talk of curves and peaks but that has nothing to do with lived experience. Politicians and journalists now speak with the perspective of gods. They have an overview of the situation that I just cannot have. As a doctor I feel like an ant standing next to an elephant: I can barely make sense of what I see, and it’s hard to throw my tiny weight against it.

We can look at the numbers and keep the situation at arm’s length. We can protect ourselves from the reality and head off to our holiday homes at the beach or in the bush. We can flaunt our privilege, like Justin Timberlake did in a radio interview recently, when he said that him and his wife weren’t exactly coping with ’24 hour a day parenting’. Is there any other sort?

Apparently, there is.

While I don’t flaunt my privilege, I feel it. I have a house, it’s (mostly) warm, there’s food in the fridge and running water. Things it’s so easy to take for granted. I have the technological means to contact members of my family so we stay connected.

I also have a job I can do from home, unlike many of those in places like New York where the coronovirus has split the city into two unequal parts.

Different boroughs, even different neighborhoods within each borough, are experiencing coronavirus almost as though it were two different contagions. In wealthier white areas the residential streets are empty; parking spots that are fought over in normal times now stand vacant following an exodus to out-of-town weekend homes or Airbnbs.

In places like the Bronx – which is 84% black, Latino or mixed race – the sidewalks are still bustling with people making their way into work. There is still a rush hour. “We used to call them ‘service workers’,” Williams said. “Now they are ‘essential workers’ and we have left them to fend for themselves.”

Source: A tale of two New Yorks

I feel uneasy everytime we get a parcel on the doorstep. Someone has had to put themselves on the line so that I can eat and have the medication I need. Someone who can’t work from home has packed that item, and someone else has delivered it. Am I putting them at risk? Or am I keeping someone in a job they might otherwise not be in? The answers seesaw through my mind and I’m yet to feel as though I have an answer that I feel at ease with.

Perhaps it’s both and there’s no easy way to reconcile my dilemma.

I’m writing to remember, so that next year, when all this is over (will it be over by this time next year?), I can look back and read some of the things I’ve been thinking about during this time of isolation.

Not social isolation, of course. Well, not for many of us. We’re lucky to live in a country with a relatively reliable internet connection, and to have access to so much technology. And we’re lucky that there’s a ready supply of pens and paper for children to use when they write letters to those living in aged care, or to their own grandparents. Who says you need digital technologies to stay connected?

But we now talk about having a ‘Zoom’ as if we’ve been doing it all our lives – and even many oldies who hadn’t thought FaceTime was worth their while are now using it to stay in touch with family members. HouseParty is something I’m hearing a lot about, but it’s mostly negative at this stage, so I’m staying clear of it until I can see a use for it.


I scrolled past a Facebook post earlier that mentioned something about the ‘interminable long weekend’, and I have to say, I haven’t felt that at all. If anything, it’s going way too fast for me.

Tim set us both a challenge yesterday – a photography challenge (my favourite kind). We are to take a photo of things around the house for every letter of the alphabet.

We set to work yesterday, writing lists, storyboarding ideas (well, that was me, Tim doesn’t storyboard), and then we got clicking. It meant the day sped by, and even better, meant I wasn’t sitting in front of a computer all day.

I mentioned it in our post-exercise hangout yesterday and Deb decided that her and Grant would join in … so between now and the end of the month we’ll be taking photos that we’ll compile into a book I’ve decided to title Images in the time of coronavirus: An alphabet of isolation.

Or should it be ‘from isolation’? I can’t decide.

Plenty of time for that.

Anyway, while I was taking a photo for ‘I’ yesterday, I noticed the yellow rose out the front was open, so I captured it and thought I’d share it with you.

 

Posted in Life

On living a disrupted life

Hello.

Well. Here we are.

It’s a cold and cloudy day in Melbourne. Nothing new there.

The washing is on, we’ve had breakfast, the bed is made, music is playing throughout the house. Nothing new there.

I’m sitting here trying to craft a blog post. Tim is out on his bike. Nothing new there either.

But it doesn’t feel the same.

On the surface life looks the same. We get up, shower (or not), have breakfast, check our socials, get on with the day.

But it’s not the same.

A week ago I’d never heard of worldometers.info/coronavirus but now it’s the first site I check every morning. If you take off the /coronavirus from the end, you get information on a whole range of things: how many hectares of the world have been deforested today, how many mothers died in childbirth today, how many cigarettes were smoked today, how many new book titles have been published this year. It’s a wealth of information. No, not all of it is cheery, but it’s still interesting.

Except, it’s also worrying. I probably shouldn’t check it every morning as it doesn’t really get my day off to a good start.

So there’s that. A less-than-cheery start to my day.

I worked from home all last week, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable (or unforeseeable, I guess) future. With that in mind we spent much of yesterday setting up a proper workspace for me. It means I can feel like I’m going to work in the morning and can return to home-life in the afternoon. It also means I can more clearly distinguish between home-space and work-space and not let them overlap in the ways they did last week.

I now have a long desk (trestle table, but let’s not quibble) with my ‘home’ computer on one end, and my ‘work’ computer on the other. I’ll be using them both for work – one for Zoom/Skype meetings and the other for developing resources, but who knows. I might flit between them or that might get too messy. It’s just one tiny thing that’s an uncertainty and in a world of big uncertainties it’s not occupying a great deal of my brainspace.

My husband also worked from home last week and will continue to do so until it’s safe to be in shared space with others. He claimed the ‘study’ early on, and so he’s well set up with clearly delineated work and home spaces. Each morning last week, when it was time for him to go to work, he’d kiss me goodbye and head upstairs. I’d hear him on what seemed like wall-to-wall Zoom meetings, supporting staff, providing them with ideas and calm reassurance that they can teach audio production and ensemble and journalism online. It’s interesting, after all this time of working for different universities, to hear him in action again. His interactions are different now that he’s a senior leader in his workplace and he’s been receiving a lot of praise for his calm and steady leadership.

We did encounter one problem, however. I’m blaming Cheryl from Sales (Tim tends to think it’s Stefan from Accounts) … but whichever of them it is, they can just stop. One of us will take a break and make a cuppa … and next thing you know the cup is empty and I have no memory of drinking said cuppa. The only explanation that makes sense to me is that it must be one of my new co-workers.

Things aren’t the same. The world isn’t the same. People are losing income. Many, many people are losing loved ones. Travel plans have been disrupted and businesses are failing.

The curve hasn’t yet flattened. Are we doing enough to ensure it does?

Many of us want to know why schools haven’t yet closed.

We have new daily routines … it’s clear that life isn’t the same.

I now tune in on Twitter each day to hear Ricky Gervais rambling for ten minutes or so. I look out for Ben Abraham’s impromptu concerts on Instragram. I watch videos of those in Italy and Spain playing music and singing together. I am disturbed to still be seeing people buying much much more than they need each day, leaving the shelves empty for those who come after them. I am extra concerned when I read about thousands of people on Bondi Beach (which has now been closed) and to read of the four cruise ships allowed to dock in Sydney.

I watch videos on how to wash my hands properly, videos of those with the virus warning about the dangers or not acting swiftly enough, and videos full of really vital information presented in easy-to-understand terms. (The last link takes you to a really useful video, and I encourage you to watch it if you haven’t already.)

The message is clear: Stay home. Buy only what you need. Wash your hands.

In the scheme of things it doesn’t seem hard advice to follow.

And yet … for many it seems beyond them.

And for me too if I’m honest. Being told to stay at home is different from choosing to, and so I feel myself wanting to get out more than I usually do. Luckily, I have a very sensible husband!

Life is disrupted. It’ll take some getting used to. Thankfully, unlike those in 1918 who were caught up in the ‘Spanish Flu’ epidemic, we have loads of ways of staying connected. So while we might be staying home, it doesn’t necessarily mean we need to socially isolate ourselves. Physically isolate, for sure. But we don’t need to socially isolate.

And that’ll take some getting used to as well. This flow chart might help you decide whether you really need to go out.

Source unknown

Let’s be kind to ourselves while we make the necessary adjustments. It seems we’re in this for the long haul – a few months rather than days. Perhaps even longer. I’m sure we’ll work out how to live in this disrupted world, but it might take a while.

What’s been working for you as you get used to living a disrupted life?

Posted in Learning, Life, Writing

An answer

Tyson Yunkaporta’s book Sand talk: How Indigenous thinking can save the world has answered a big question for me. One I’ve been seeking an answer to for years. The way he answered the question was humbling, but it was an answer nevertheless and I was instantly calmed by it.

It made sense.

Existential crises are nothing new for me. My first memory of said crisis was in Year 7 (first year of high school – called first form back then). High school was big and scary and I was introverted (called shy back then) and felt bewildered. So many people, so much movement and action and interaction and confusion. So much talk, so much noise filling my head. Finding my way and fitting in. Or not.

A steel door slamming shut in my mind. The familiar refrain ‘so what? so what? so what?’ bouncing around the walls of my newly closed mind.

It was a refrain that ran through my adolescence. And beyond.

From the outside, it might have seemed like an attitude of not caring, but it masked a deep desire for meaning. For understanding the experiences of high school. For understanding myself and my place there, and how I fitted in. Or not.

So what?

It’s a fundamental question that can tie you in knots if you linger on it; if you seek an answer that has meaning for you and for your life to this point and for your life into the future.

It’s a question I ask a lot. I try not to because of the damage it can do, but it pops into my mind stealthily, when I least expect it.

We’re born, we live, we die.

So what?

Far beyond high school the question continued to plague me. There were times when I’d bounce from one existential crisis to another. None would bring any answers, or at least none that I was happy with. None of the usual answers made sense to me.

meaning of life

I tried Googling it. Unsurprisingly, that didn’t help.

But then I read Sand Talk and that did help. Enormously.

Yunkaporta says “Some new cultures keep asking, ‘Why are we here?’. It’s easy. This is why we’re here. We look after things on the earth and in the sky and the places in between” (p. 109).

We’re custodians. Of things in the places between earth and sky: People. Animals. Ourselves. Each other. Knowledge. Ideas. The processes through which we generate and share knowledge and ideas.

Humans, according to Yunkaporta, are a “custodial species” (p. 102). It’s a slightly different rendering of the ‘man has dominion over …’ we learnt in Sunday school; it has a different quality. A nurturing quality. A caring quality. A quality that works against exploitation.

The idea of being a custodian is a powerful one for me. It makes sense as no other response to the ‘so what?’ question ever has.

There are many other insights in this book that have made sense to me in ways nothing I’ve read or heard have done before. For me, it’s an important work that helps make sense of my thinking – not necessarily what I think, but most certainly how I think.

‘I have previously talked about civilised cultures losing collective memory and having to struggle for thousands of years to gain full maturity and knowledge again, unless they have assistance. But that assistance does not take the form of somebody passing on cultural content and ecological wisdom. The assistance I’m talking about comes from sharing patterns of knowledge and ways of thinking that will help trigger the ancestral knowledge hidden inside. The assistance people need is not in learning about Aboriginal Knowledge but in remembering their own’ (Yunkaporta, 2019, p. 163).

Perhaps this book has helped trigger [my] ancestral knowledge. Whether that’s the case, it’s certainly making a lot of sense for me.

Sand Talk

Source: Booktopia

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Life

A (brave) new year

I know the year can now no longer be considered new, but as this is my first blog post for 2020, I thought I might be able to get away with calling it new.

January in Australia wasn’t great … and for many people it’s still not great. The media spotlight has moved on, but that doesn’t mean those impacted by bushfires have had an end to their misery. There is still much work to be done in many communities to rebuild and rehouse and rethink decisions about how to live. And that goes for all of us, not only those directly impacted by the fires.

It felt like the longest month – January – and now I imagine the rest of the year will zip along speedily and we’ll be saying ‘Christmas carols already? How can that be?’. That’ll be April with the way things seem to go in the retail world!

But I digress.

A brave new year.

I stumbled across this (I don’t even know what it’s called – poster, meme, soundless soundbite, bit of fluff from the internet …?) a little while ago and it spoke to me. Loudly.

I desperately wanted this to be my year. I didn’t want another year like last year where it started poorly and didn’t seem to get better. The year ended, for me, with a trip to Caboolture hospital in mid-December after fainting for no reason, hitting my head on the table as I tipped off my chair, ending in an untidy heap under the table. I felt for Hunter, one of my grandsons who’d come to spend some time with us before we headed home. A fainting grandmother is not something any 10-year old needs to see.

A CT scan revealed a tonsular herniation and a brain scan when I came home revealed it was within normal limits. But that was no reason for fainting. Apparently, I just did. And apparently that’s of some concern.

I also had what will now be an annual mammogram and ultrasound and received the all clear. Yay! Things were finally looking up.

Christmas was spent in Sydney with good friends, Mum and Tim, and a few days after returning home we had the delight of having two of our grandsons come to stay for five days. Toi is 6 and Korbin is 4 and both were an absolute joy. I took an extra week off work and it was a wonderful additional break.

Then back to work … and somewhere along the way I read the words above and thought to myself “yes, I do want this to be my year”.

I determined to say yes to things, to do things I might ordinarily be cautious about doing, weighing up the risks and benefits and deciding that it was too outside my comfort zone or too expensive or of little pratical value.

And so to being brave and doing things that challenge me.

Last year sometime, I read a journal article in which the author mentioned The College of Extraordinary Experiences. I was so intrigued I looked it up. It’s a conference that happens once a year in a 13th century castle in Poland. Five days with around 80-100 people from across the globe, all from different walks of life, all learning about and engaging in designing experiences of one sort or another. Unlike a regular conference, this was one you had to apply for.

I didn’t do anything about it for months.

And then I thought ‘why not? If other people have a shot at attending, why not me? I can learn as well as anyone and even if it’s uncomfortable sometimes, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.’

I applied.

I had an interview.

I was accepted.

You cannot imagine how excited I was.

But then I had to see if the university would support me in attending something that is far outside the bounds of a regular conference and would have no easily communicable benefit.

I put in a proposal in which I outlined as many benefits as I could bring to mind.

I waited.

And waited.

Late last year we were having lunch with Alison in North Melbourne. A very cool little car pulled up out the front of the cafe and I instantly admired it. We went to a car yard and sat in one and kicked the tyres. We talked about why we might buy a second car but none of the arguments were compelling enough to convince me. We didn’t do anything about it.

But then Tim said something that provoked me to think differently. He does that a lot.

And so I bought a car.

Well, not bought, but leased.

Not the kind of car I had originally admired outside the cafe, but one that had a much better safety rating and more of the features I was used to.

My new Mini Cooper

 

Two years ago, Tim (husband) gifted me a photography workshop in Sydney with two fabulous photographers. I learnt a lot and it changed the direction of my photography from that weekend on.

Last week, Tim (one of the photographers who facilitated the workshop), wrote to me saying that he’d watched my progress with interest over the intervening two years. He then invited me to a 5-day photography retreat in New Zealand in late April. Ordinarily I wouldn’t have even responded, but the words ‘be brave’ were still thumping around in my head, and so I said ‘yes, I’d love to attend’. And so I’m heading to NZ in late April to learn more about photography from two very experienced photographers. I know it’ll be a challenging five days, but one that’ll be filled with learning and opportunities to develop my photography skills some more.

I am getting off the couch.

 

I decided I needed to move more, regain some fitness, lose some weight, get stronger and so I signed up for a weekly Friday morning physio rehab session. Rob, my physio, said it would be challenging.

I went to the first one last Friday. It was challenging, but I’m already beginning to feel better.

I asked Tom, my trainer, if we can get back to doing deadlifts – something I’d had to stop last year when I was told to do gentle exercises only. Deadlifts are not a gentle exercise. I deadlifted 45kgs on Monday and am keen to become strong enough to lift my body weight. Of course, that’ll be easier if I weigh less!

 

My manager called late on Monday afternoon.

She’s accepted my proposal and so I’m off to Poland in September to participate in The College of Extraordinary Experiences.

I am beyond excited.

I’m not sitting on the couch. I’m not waiting for things to happen. I’m making them happen. I’m saying yes more. I’m more positive. I’m extremely grateful that I have opportunities and the means to make the most of them. I’m making changes.

It’s going to be my year.

What does your year hold?

Posted in Learning, Life, Melbourne

Is that a light I see before me?

It’s been a tough few months. Not anything health related I hasten to add.

Thankfully.

Although before I venture into the toughness, I’ll give a brief update.

If you’ve been following my journey, you’ll know that around a year ago I found a lump in my breast. It was cancer. I had it removed in January and then in February through March had radiotherapy. It wasn’t pleasant and I’m still feeling the after effects. Last week I had a checkup with my medical oncologist. My breast tissue is still swollen and still very tender. Of course I already knew that as I feel it every day. What I didn’t know is that it’ll continue for another year or so – both the swelling and the tenderness.

Other than that, everything is fine. I still get days of exhaustion – I went to work on Tuesday last week, worked for an hour or so, went to attend a meeting and just couldn’t. Instead, I went home and spent the day in bed. And that might have had to do with the toughness than any lingering after effects of radiotherapy.

So, to the toughness.

Tim started a new job in late June and in the time between jobs we spent a week in Tasmania, touring around to places we’d been before and places we hadn’t. It was cold and wonderful and punctuated with moments of family just to make it even better.

When I got back to work, I was asked to work on an undergrad ethics unit for financial professionals.

You’re right. I know nothing about financial professionals, but had taught ethics some years before and so knew some of the basics.

‘Work on’ initially meant working with the unit chair to develop materials to ensure students were more active in their learning during the seminars. I’m very familiar with the principles of active learning and with unit design and so this was something that spoke to my skillset.

Not so the unit chair.

He struggled.

He couldn’t fathom why you’d want to teach in any other way than through lecture.

He couldn’t fathom how you’d teach in any other way than through lecture.

He quit.

I became unit chair.

And learning designer. And developer of the materials – both online and for the on-campus seminars. And the builder of the online site.

I had help of course. A colleague would send me ‘content’ which equated to discipline-specific information on things like fraud and tax evasion and fiduciary duties.

I asked lots of questions (beyond the obvious: ‘what’s a fiduciary duty?’).

The question I asked most often was ‘what are students going to do with this information?’ Providing students with information is important. Learning doesn’t happen in the absence of information, but there are ways and ways of presenting information, some more effective for learning than others. And then there’s how students start to make that information real for them – for their personal and professional lives.

We’ve recently had a Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry in Australia. It identified a lot of unethical – and illegal – conduct. It was a gold mine in terms exploring ethical issues, but it was outside the range of interest/thinking/relevance for many of the 662 second-year students in the unit, many of whom were international students.

So making ethics personal before we thought about professional ethical responsibilities was important to me. We started with a case study on ‘what she makes’ – a campaign involving comedian Sammy J and Kmart. He asked, through the medium of comic song, what the women who make the garmets Kmart sells make. Are they paid a living wage and was it ethical if they weren’t? We moved on from there. Some students couldn’t see the point of it and struggled from the start. These are, after all, mostly accounting students.

I’m not quite sure what I’m saying there, but I think my point is around the idea that they’ve been trained in a particular way to think about how university learning is done, and this wasn’t it. Some said it was ‘nonsensical’.

This work took all of my time, all of my energy, all of my intellectual capacity. I had to learn about the finance profession, about governance structures, executive and non-executive directors and organisational culture, the differences between tax minimisation, tax avoidance and tax evasion (which ones of those are il/legal and which are legal but unethical; which one is a tax agent obligated to do?); I had to learn about the ethical hierarchy and the AAA decision-making model, Baird’s four ethical lenses (apparently I sit squarely between the responsibilities lens and the results lens meaning I get the best of both of them, but also the worst), how deontology and teleology relate to ethical decisions in the finance sector; I learnt about APES110 and Chapter 7 of the Corporations Act, and I now have a much better understanding of the role ASIC and APRA play in regulating the finance sector.

And so much more.

SO much more.

I designed seminars the nine male tutors baulked at. This isn’t teaching. Where’s the lecture? Where’s the space for me to talk to students – to tell them what I know? Our students don’t/won’t work/learn this way.

It felt like a fight the whole time. A fight to get the materials up in time, a fight to wrestle some sense out of the information I was given, a fight to record videos and to see myself on the screen without wanting to get a professional makeup artist in to turn this old woman into someone others could stand to watch. It was a fight against time, against my own ignorance, against others’. It was 14 hour days and most of each weekend. It was responding to students’ requests for extensions – when there are 662 students, there tend to be a lot of extension requests. It was finding markers to mark student assignments and providing markers with ideas for giving feedback that was empathic and supportive rather than punitive. It was students coming to see me to ask about how to do a mind map (something I’d mentioned as a potentially useful tool for determining the links between the various bits of information they were engaging with). It was students emailing me to say they couldn’t see the point in what they were doing and ‘I don’t know what I’m supposed to be learning’. It was emails asking if [this] was going to be on the exam, even after I’d written in the unit materials that everything was going to be on the exam.

And then there was Charles.

Charles, a 24 year old international student, came to see me late one afternoon. He was struggling, not only with the unit but with life in general. He sat down, started to tell me his story and cried. His business had gone badly, he owed an eye-wateringly large sum of money, his girlfriend had dumped him. He felt that life wasn’t worth living. I sat and listened and thought, I don’t know how to help this young man, but it seemed all he needed was someone to listen. I could do that. He came to my office regularly after that, always just as I was packing up and we’d sit and he’d talk and cry. Over time, his voice began to change – there was more energy and more life in it. He’s back in China now and still writes to me. Life is still tough for him but he says I made a difference.

And then there was Rohit.

Rohit, a 22 year old international student, asked lots of questions in the online seminar. So many that another student asked him if he’d even engaged with the materials. He asked more questions via email. Eventually, I asked him to come and see me. He burst into my office, full of energy, and just as full of questions as he’d been online. He told me, quite proudly, that he was ‘immature’. I asked him how that was working out for him. That question stopped him in his tracks. He wrote that question down, and said how it was an important question for him to consider. He showed me a photo of his mother, who he loves dearly. I asked what he does to make her proud. He wrote that down too. He told me that the exam was on his birthday and so I sent him a happy birthday email the morning of the exam. He came to my office one day last week to give me a box of chocolates. He said that I had had a profound impact on him and that he felt blessed by God to have had a teacher like me.

Before the end of the trimester, when I was still trying to finish the ethics unit, under mounting pressure as the days ticked down to get the work completed but feeling like I was getting close to the end of the tunnel, I was asked to work on another ethics unit. This one was for those who are financial advisers. Sharon, you’ll be academic lead on a unit, taught in two different ways (so, effectively two different units). Please work with the learning designer and the subject matter expert to complete the work by the end of October.

The learning designer and subject matter expert did very little. My workload, which had been easing slightly (I was only working 12 hour days and fewer hours on weekends), skyrocketed again.

But it’s come to the end of November – or close to – and I can start to see a little light at the end of what’s felt like a long tunnel. I only have a few rubrics to write now, and some development work to do on one of the units – and I have my unit chair duties to do, but they don’t take too much time.

Was it worth it? Spending all my time and energy working on the development of the ethics units?

No.

And that’s not being as blunt as I could be about it. I’ve enjoyed some parts of it, don’t get me wrong. I had a great day on Thursday for instance. I had no meetings and sat at my computer and put together resources on the ethics involved in organisational culture and whistle blowing, and that felt satisfying.

But I haven’t been to Tasmania since June – unless you count the day I went down for Emma’s birthday in October. I did manage to get to my 40 year high school reunion and spend the weekend with my 40-year friend Michelle. I also managed to fit in a quick trip to Deb’s. But I haven’t seen Byron since he was a week old and now he’s just over 6 months. I haven’t seen Mum since July. I haven’t been north to see my sons and grandkids since April.

I haven’t written a blog post since August. I haven’t taken a photo of a flower in months. I haven’t been enjoying the little bits of photography I have been doing, and I wouldn’t have been doing any except that I’m doing a part-time photography course and that requires me to take some photographs.

I’m tired. All the time.

ALL the time.

It’s been a tough few months.

Bring on the light.

 

Posted in Life

Un/scrambled

You  might think this is a post about eggs.

It isn’t.

It’s a post about ideas … or maybe not ideas so much as thoughts.

Or threads, but not of the clothes variety.

As an introvert I have a very quiet outer world – I’m not the ‘greeter’ – you know the one, the person who exuberantly says hello to everyone in the office each morning, or the one who bounces up to each person at a party to welcome them even if they aren’t the host.

I’m going out on a limb there you realise. I’m such an introvert that I don’t go to parties – apart from the one I’m going to today. But that’s different because that’s my eldest granddaughter’s birthday party and the only other people there will be my children and grandchildren. Maybe an odd friend or extended family member as well, but ostensibly a family party.

Family parties, when everyone there is an introvert, are interesting, particularly when there’s so much family.

Only three of my five children will be there, but between the three of them they have 10 children, plus four steps. It makes for a lot of people – who, yes, are all related, but who have more conversations going on in their heads than from their mouths.

I’m making it sound as though we stand aroung not talking, and that’s not the case at all. We talk non-stop. We’re just all so worn out at the end of it from talking so much that we need alone time to recharge.

But I digress.

Scrambled.

Thoughts.

Threads.

My sister wrote a comment on my previous blog post along the lines of ‘you have so many ideas’ and she also wrote, in her own blog, ‘I might look like I’m doing nothing, but in my head I’m very busy!’

I completly resonate with that sentiment – it’s a hallmark of an introvert – the quiet on the outside but busy on the inside thing.

And that called to mind this image I saw on social media a while ago. 

unnamed

I love those opportunities to have deep conversation with someone in which the scramble of thoughts/threads gets unscrambled.

I usually pay for those conversations, but that’s okay because the person I’m paying knows how to take the tangle and unravel it a little. Or maybe it’s because they listen so that I do the untangling myself, just by getting the threads out of my head and therefore out of the ravel.

[If you can unravel something, does that mean you can ravel it?]

When my students didn’t know where to begin in writing a university assignment, I’d tell them to just start, to put something down on the page and keep tugging gently at the idea/thought/thread through writing, so that eventually there are lots of ideas on the page and you can re-arrange them as required, throw some out, develop some further, add new ones, so that eventually you have a piece of writing that is as clear and unscrambled as you’d want a university assignment to be.

[Unlike that paragraph, which had too many ‘so that eventuallys’ in it. I could edit it but I like the forceful movement forward it implies.]

Deb’s right. I do have lots of ideas/thoughts and I’m getting much better at recognising when they’re in a tangle and knowing how I might go about untangling them.

I talk.

It’s exhausting. But ultimately far less exhausting than having the thoughts continually scrambling around my mind.

If you want some clarity – talk to someone trained to listen.

An unscrambled mind is so much less exhausting and far less heavy to carry around.

 

Posted in Learning, Life

Confluence

I click on the ‘add new post’ button and a blank page opens, with the blinking cursor sitting in the ‘Title’ box.

The word ‘confluence’ pops into my mind, so I type it in, then quickly check the dictionary definition to make sure it’s the right word for what I want to say.

A title is important. It helps synthesise our ideas in a way that suggests there’s a core idea the author wants to communicate and the author knows, at the start of the writing process, what that idea is.

Sometimes when I start writing a blog post I have no idea of the core idea I want to communicate, and so I leave the title blank. The act of writing helps distill my idea and it’s at that point a title emerges.

But not this time. In this moment, as I sit writing, I know the core idea I want to communicate and so the title is easy. Plus, I’ve been thinking about this for over a week now and that thinking has acted as a distillery.

Over a week ago I saw this on my Facebook feed.

we-only-live-once-snoopy-wrong-we-only-die-once-43819656

I remember being struck by the sentiment because we mostly hear ‘you only live once’ as an exhortation to make the most of things.

I’m currently, with lots of support from others, developing an ethics unit and am constantly on the lookout for case studies, resources, stories of ethical misconduct in the financial services sector (which is not hard to find at the moment), but when you search online for something, you enter into a rabbit warren of ideas and perspectives and views and things the internet believes you might be interested in.

One of those things was an interview Charles Wooley did earlier this year for 60 Minutes. I don’t ever watch 60 Minutes, but on this occasion, when the video was in my ‘Up next’ menu in YouTube,  I decided to watch it because I was interested in who Charles Wooley was interviewing: Ricky Gervais.

The interview opened with them both walking through a cemetery and at one point, Gervais says something like, “you don’t exist for billions of years, and then for 70 or 80 years you do, and then you don’t”.

It’s a cosmic view of life – a long-range look – one that perhaps brings a different perspective to our lives.

And as I sat thinking about his comment, Carl Sagan’s video ‘Pale Blue Dot’ sprang into my mind.

Consider that dot … on it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives … on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam. ~ Carl Sagan

I could feel the confluence starting – ideas beginning to merge.

The idea that we don’t only live once, we live every day of our lives.

The idea that we’re here for such a small part of all time.

The idea that we’re all together, on this one tiny planet.

How am I living each day? How am I making the most of the opportunities my being here allows? How am I caring for others and for the only planet we can currently call home?

I don’t have answers; I rarely do.

But the questions are a starting point.

A confluence has to start somewhere and it may as well be here, as I sit, musing from the cold.