In February 2016, I went to the gym. Not for the first time, I hasten to add, but this particular occasion was quite memorable because it was my first ‘seniors’ class.
Yes, I snorted too – but it appears, in the world as we know it today, ‘seniors’ means those over 50. I had not, until that point, considered myself a senior and even though it’s a year later and I’m a year older, I still don’t consider myself to be a senior.
But I went anyway. I wasn’t working, the class was included in my gym membership, and it was on a Friday morning when I had nothing better to do with my time.
It may come as no surprise to you that I was the youngest person there (apart from the instructor) … by at least 10 years. And I quickly realised that’s a highly motivating factor. Here were all these oldies doing things, sometimes more quickly and with greater flexibility than I was doing them.
It got me moving I can tell you!
But I also discovered something important that day. I discovered that I couldn’t jump. I stood in front of the box I was to jump on to, and all sorts of thought processes went through my head but none of them helped get my feet off the ground and onto the box. While my mind was very willing, my flesh was anything but.
I simply stood there and stared. And then when we moved to the next exercise, I watched the old lady following along behind me nimbly jump onto the box, and off again, then on again as if she’d been doing it all her life. Well, let’s face it, she probably had.
But not me. I thought back to the last time I’d jumped and drew a blank. It wasn’t something I’d been called on to do in my professional life – metaphorical hoops are much easier, I learnt, than actual boxes, to jump through (or on as the case may be).
And it wasn’t something I’d had any reason to do in my personal life either.
So there I was … a non-jumper. I went home and in the privacy of my loungeroom, turned my attention to jumping, but to no avail. It seemed I was destined to be a non-jumper for life.
Fast forward to three weeks ago when I remembered my inability to jump and mentioned it to Josh, my personal trainer. “Josh”, I said as I was pushing 80kgs of metal with my legs on something appropriately named a ‘leg press’, “I can’t jump”.
He looked at me, slightly stunned that I would say something so outlandish. “What do you mean, you can’t jump?”
“I can’t. I just can’t do it. I try, but I physically can’t do it”.
He saw that as a challenge, and once I was vertical, he held my hands while I launched myself off the ground. With both feet. At the same time.
It turns out I can jump, and now not only can I jump, I can also star jump, and squat jump, and rope jump (as in skipping) and do burpees, and forward bounds, and I’m even getting the hang of running man (my coordination still needs a little work).
So there you have it. When you think you can’t jump*, hold someone’s hands, start out small, gain some confidence, and you’ll be jumping* all over the place in no time.
*Insert any other thing you think you can’t do here 🙂
In June 2014, I moved from Tasmania to Melbourne to live with my husband who’d moved here 5 months before. That move meant I stopped being a pre-service teacher educator.
I admit to falling into a bit of a hole. It took me some time to get used to the idea that I wouldn’t teach at university again.
And then, in 2015, I taught at university again – for one semester. And when semester ended I again stopped being a pre-service teacher educator.
I admit to falling into a bit of a hole. It took me some time to get used to the idea that I wouldn’t teach at university again.
And then earlier this year a former colleague from the University of Tasmania asked if I’d like to teach at university again.
I would. I did. It was great. One semester of interacting with students – students who were keen to learn, who were mature in their attitudes and capacity to think for themselves; some of these students I’d taught when they were in their first year of university. They remembered me, as I did them. It was great to reconnect, and interestingly, they thought so too.
And then the same colleague asked if I’d be interested in teaching the post-grad version of the unit in second semester.
I would. I did. It was great. Another semester of interacting with students – challenging their ideas about teaching, gently encouraging them out of their comfort zones, helping them see that they are more than deliverers of content, more than transmitters of what they know, and that students are more (much more) than empty vessels waiting to be filled.
I had marking to do, and I did it, and now I’m finished and the relief I feel is real and very (very) sweet.
So, am I a pre-service teacher educator? It appears the answer is ‘sometimes’ … and that’s way better than never!
A message pops onto my screen as I’m scrolling through my phone one day last week. It’s an invitation from my sister, Debbie – an invitation to write a guest post on her blog in a new series she’s starting called ‘person of interest’.
If you’ve been a long-term follower of my blog, you’ll know that I blog for days and days on end, and then go quiet as other areas of my life take precedence, or as I search for something to blog about. Those silences have been known to last for months. I blogged yesterday, for instance, but it was my first post in a month.
Life’s like that. Fits and starts, slow patches where nothing much happens and you wear a dent in the couch, then suddenly it starts to warm up and still moments are hard to find.
At least, that’s what life’s like for me. A burst of energy, blog posts pour forth, images are taken and posted, creative thoughts engulf you and you make plans for projects and then teaching takes over, there are provocations to record, discussion posts to write, ideas to be shared and explored and challenged and questions to be asked, responses to student posts to be crafted to ensure warmth and encouragement and generation of thought, assignments come pouring in and feedback needs to be given that’s warm and encouraging and generates thought, and your daughter falls ill and you fly interstate to support her in her recovery and prepare nutritious and delicious meals like vegemite on toast to tempt her to eat again, and your dog is run over and you spend a week crying in the shower, while you’re walking to the station, in bed late at night, eating breakfast, and your dad gets sick and is taken to hospital and spends days not being able to talk walk eat stay awake and you hold your breath and prepare yourself for news you don’t want but know will come one day and days later he wakes up and is able to feed himself breakfast.
And then stillness, quiet, time for contemplation and an invitation pops onto your screen from your sister, inviting you to be a guest on her blog and you write responses to her questions and think about what those responses say about you but you send them in anyway, in the end knowing that you’re you and you own your responses and the person they represent.
Life’s like that.
And writing responses for my guest post sparks something in me that’s been dormant for some time and I figure if I can do it for my sister, I can do it for me too. So here I am …
… except more assignments have just poured in which means more warm, encouraging, thought-generating feedback needs to be written … and my blog will have to wait just a little longer.
If you’ve been following my blog (or even my Facebook feed) over the last few days, you’ll know I’ve been reaching for something … looking for some answers to questions about the type of photographer I am, what I do it for, what I find enjoyment in photographing, if I have any feeling or sensibility for it (notice I didn’t use the word ‘talent’ 🙂 ).
After much thinking and reflecting, and responding to questions Tim posed, I have come to some important realisations.
1. I don’t have to take the same sorts of photos that others take.
This might seem self-evident and hardly worthy of days of contemplation, but for me it’s an important realisation. When I first started taking photos I predominantly photographed flowers. Up close. I even had a few exhibitions of my work and lots of my photos are now hanging in others’ houses. That’s immensely satisfying now that I think about it. But along the way I lost confidence in my ‘style’ or didn’t recognise that I had one, so I started taking photos that looked like other people’s or photos that I thought other people would like … and then I stopped taking photos, or at least stopped taking photos I was really happy with. My realisation came in the shower – that place of many realisations – a few days ago, and it was an acknowledgement that it’s okay to take photos that reflect my way of seeing the world.
2. My way of seeing the world focuses on the detail, not on the environment in which the subject exists.
My portrait work can be slightly confrontational for those who are being photographed. I get in close. I am interested in faces, in the diversity of faces, and what a face can tell us when there are no clues about who the person is or the environment they’re in apart from their facial features; when we can’t see the clothes they’re wearing, or the way they stand or sit. What interests me is the detail. It’s the same in my flower images. The way particular petals curve slightly differently from the others, the variations in colour across a flower or even a single petal, the shapes, the perfectness … even when its dying. They speak to beauty and dynamism and decay and … and life. And my way of seeing the world also involves a process – a process of envisioning, of thinking, of reflecting, of experimenting, of playing, of looking at different perspectives.
3. I enjoy the process.
I started working in community radio in 1991. I was an on-air presenter as well as a producer, a news gatherer and newsreader, an interviewer, and eventually music director. After three years and a move to a new city I had the opportunity to produce and present programs on ABC Local Radio. Throughout my 16 years working in radio, one of the elements I liked the most was getting the technical details right: making sure there was no dead-air, knowing a piece of music well enough to know when to fade it in (or out), making sure there was variations in pace and tempo of the songs across the course of an hour and of the program, knowing how to edit an interview to ensure it was coherent and told a story, leaving space for breaths (my very first ABC radio interview had no breathing space – it wasn’t good to listen to), finding the right piece of music to fit with the mood of the interview … it was in the process of making radio that I found most enjoyment. When I was a drama teacher, I enjoyed the process of developing a production. I wasn’t a ‘find a script and put on a play’ kind of drama teacher. Rather, the students and I (and for one memorable production we engaged the help of the amazing Lisa Roberts) workshopped ideas, played around with images and sounds, how to create them, and how to add them meaningfully into the production. We played around with how to use the space, how to light it, how to confront the audience or how to keep it at arms length. We played and experimented and even if we didn’t know where we were headed at the beginning, or quite how we ended up where we did, we worked our way through a process of experimentation and play and ideas and representation.
When I started taking photos, I enjoyed the process. I enjoyed working out where to put the light, how to reflect it, how to shape it. I enjoyed the process of figuring out which part of the flower to focus on, where to put it in the frame, what else to include in the frame or what to exclude. It was a creative process, and I liked the process as much as, if not more than, the product. It was a deliberate process, one I had to think about because I was so new to it; over time I have lost the deliberateness of the process. One of my realisations was that I need to become more deliberate about my process, because it’s not just the product that excites me; the process gives me a real sense of meaning and purpose.
4. Meaning and purpose.
In some ways I am a very pragmatic person, although I am also an idealist. But the pragmatist side of myself is the one that often causes me to derail. The question ‘but what is it for‘ bounces around inside my head with sickening regularity. The big existential questions are one thing, but to bring that thinking to the little things in life can rob them, I’ve realised, of joy. For me I mean. I’m not talking other people here, just me. If photography is for a pragmatic purpose – if it’s to exhibit or to sell – then it’s important that other things happen: you get clients, you know how to engage with people and make them feel comfortable, you spend your weekends shooting weddings and then the days in between getting the photos ready for the happy couple. You bill people and have contracts and meet people’s expectations. But what if that’s not the sort of photography you want to do? What if you just want to take photos? But what for, was a question I would ask. Constantly. To what end? What will I do with these images? Why am I taking photos? Those questions nag at me, tug at the edges of my mind, wear me down. Why am I spending time and money on this pursuit? What is it for?
Tim asked me a question the other day and I answered “Yes I really should”. His immediate response was: “Don’t use should. Use ‘will'”. And that was enough for me. Just that change of thinking. ‘Should’ has an expectation attached to it or a judgement. For me, the final image isn’t the thing I find of most value in the photography process; it’s the process of creating that image. That’s what brings me joy and excites me about photography – about anything creative. It’s in the experimenting, the exploring, the playing with ideas, with ways of representing the world around me (a world primarily of flowers and faces) … that’s where the meaning and purpose of my photography resides.
I went through many years of not thinking that was enough, but if I don’t have that, then I find little joy in using a camera. As it’s my only creative outlet (apart from the occasional piece of writing I do) it’s a very important part of my life.
Last week, for the 52 Week photography project I’m involved in, our theme was photographer’s choice. I decided to photograph a flower and initially I took the kinds of shots other people might take (sunflowers against a white brick wall in a jar) and used one of them for the final image for the project.
I like it as an image. But the process of taking it didn’t excite me, there was little enjoyment for me.
So I decided to go back to what I find enjoyment in and took a series of close-up shots. I used light, natural and otherwise; I played around with positioning, with framing, with considering what was important. I was deliberate in my process. What surprised me, no it was stronger than that, what amazed me was the excitement that came flooding back. It reinforced for me that it’s the process that gives me meaning and purpose in my photography work.
So after all that, here is what I came up with. This is not about which is the ‘better’ image, or which one I like the most. This is about which one was taken in a way that gave me a sense of enjoyment, satisfaction and purpose.
I spot her as we walk through Myer on our way to Melbourne Central, and quickly say to Tim, “I’m going to follow her”.
But I couldn’t, not without offering to help carry her (very) heavy bag. She talked to me of her son, who had died recently, a (very) heavy burden for her to bear, and of her stroke which had caused her to forget things. We walked a few steps, stopped to talk, and walked on.
She used to work in Myer, many years ago – her first job after arriving in Australia from Malta in 1958. Her father had a Humber and would park out the front of Myer, go to the markets and then pick her up when she finished work at lunchtime.
I heard many stories, always returning to the death of her son four years before at the age of 39. She showed me photos, of him as an adult and as a child. She laughed fondly, before her eyes filled again with sadness.
I asked if I could take her photo, and she took my hand to signify her version of yeah sure.
Life is like an unfamiliar road that twists and turns through valleys and over creeks and along the sides of mountains. It can be exhilarating, but sometimes a nice straight stretch or a gentle curve can be good for the soul.
Today’s topic is a free association one: Write down the first words that comes to mind when we say … home … soil … rain. Use those words in the title of your post.
Title: Farm-earth drinking
I used to live on a farm. We moved to the farm after living in Brisbane for a few years when an opportunity arose that my then husband couldn’t turn down.
The farm was in Tasmania, just outside a little town, population: 400.
The farm had a few cows, fewer fences, a lot of thistles and even more sheep.
The farm was on a hill and on the eastern boundary, halfway down the hill, above the river, was ‘the race’. I didn’t know what ‘the race’ was when I first arrived (I didn’t even know what a race was, let alone the race). I discovered that it’s kind of like an aqueduct, but far less grand.
It used to carry water from up in the hills behind the town to the tin mine at Derby. Even though I lived there in the mid-1980s, I have only just learnt that it was a 48km-engineering feat, built in 1901, and the first release of water took three weeks to reach the mine. Thanks Internet – we didn’t have the internet back then, so there’s no way I could have known that :).
One farmer I heard about used to tie her son to the clothesline on a long line so that he wouldn’t fall into the race when she was milking the cows. Can you imagine the furore that would cause these days? Still, she was keeping her son safe, so props for that, as the hip people say.
Anyway, the race was dry by the time we moved there; it had fallen into disrepair many years before, but was still an interesting feature.
One of the other interesting features of the farm was the sound the earth made after rain. It rained a lot and so I had many opportunities to listen in to the conversation the earth was having with itself when it rained.
It honestly sounded as though the earth was drinking and taking a great deal of pleasure in doing so.
The farmhouse we lived in burnt down a number of years ago and as I happened to be in the neighbourhood (months after the fire, I hasten to add) I thought I’d stop in to see what remained. Only the bath and a chimney remained. But what hit me as soon as I got out of the car was the silence. It was nothing I’d ever heard before. Sure there were the sounds of birds in the distance, and the tinkle of a cow’s bell from the farm across the valley, but the air was unbelievably quiet. It wasn’t something I’d remembered from living there, although with four children at the time, it probably wasn’t silent too often.
And in that silence I heard it again: the sound of the earth drinking.
If you haven’t heard it, head out after the rain, plant yourself on a patch of earth and tune in.