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!
I came across Angelina in the city, sitting on an upturned milk crate, a typewriter in front her and a sign saying “I’ll write you a poem while you wait”.
Now that’s an offer I couldn’t refuse!
Angelina asked me for a word and as I’m doing a Faces of Melbourne project on Instagram, that became my ‘word’. So here is Angelina’s poem:
Faces of Melbourne
A sea of people in the corners
of a chessboard city,
and suddenly – Poetry.
A gift of the briefest meeting
A moment of contact, sweeter
for its fleeting nature.
It is our faces, here
in the place where worlds collide
down the length of the patient Yarra
the ancient dirt beneath
our concrete kingdom,
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.
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.
This post should have been yesterday’s post, but I was rushing to get out of the house to have dinner with my son Chase, and so postponed posting this until now.
The theme I have chosen for today is: Take two – Run outside. Take a picture of the first thing you see. Run inside. Take a picture of the second thing you see. Write about the connection between these two random objects, people, or scenes.
The bird is blue and the leaf is green.
Blue and green must never be seen without a colour in between. That’s what my Sydney Nan used to tell me.
Sydney Nan would know because she was a very stylish woman. Her handbag and shoes always matched. When she was younger she wore gloves and a hat. Every Sunday night she would paint her nails, and they always looked beautiful, just like she did.
I argued of course. But Nan, the sky is blue and the grass is green, and they look good together.
Yes, Sharon, they do. But it’s not the same in fashion, always put a colour in between.
Okey dokey. I knew when to stop arguing with Nan.
Pink and green, on the other hand, are fit for a queen.
Pink and green? Together? Hmmm …
Nan didn’t tell me that. I read it somewhere.
We have a proclivity for making connections between things. We see an animal act in a certain way and we connect it with human emotions or actions. We see a puddle and connect it with a painting we once craned our necks to see over the heads of hundreds of cameras in a museum on the other side of the world.
We connect a loathing of maths to our high school maths teacher.
We connect our aversion to wooden spoons to the fearful voice of our mother and finding socks under the bed.
We connect the scent of vanilla to our fridge and then make the leap to food and then realise that you’re writing a blog post and it’s after past nine and you haven’t had breakfast and you’re hungry and your mind is fuzzy and you wonder why you don’t stop to eat.
And you connect the leaf that’s been rained on in Melbourne to the rain coming from Tasmania where the bird was given as a gift.
Between people and things. Some more tenuous than others, but we can make them if we try.
Today’s theme: What’s the 11th item on your bucket list?
This is a strange prompt for me to respond to because I don’t have a bucket list, let alone an 11th item.
I think about things like this from time to time – the ‘where do you see yourself in ten years’ type question, and the ‘who would you have dinner with if you could have dinner with anyone from the past or present’ type question, and the ‘if you could live in any other time in history which period would it be’ type question.
And do you know what I conclude, when I do spend two point six seconds thinking about those types of questions? That I don’t respond well to those questions.
Maybe I should spend more than two point six seconds thinking about them, I hear you suggest encouragingly.
It won’t work. I won’t do it. I have no interest in questions like that. In thinking about them, in responding to them, in asking them of others.
I worry that it’s a failure of imagination, or an inclination for the serious over the fanciful, or a need for certainty over a capacity to speculate.
But who would I have dinner with? If it could be anyone, how do I choose? What if I chose someone who wanted to eat dogs’ breath and cucumber sandwiches? Could I take that risk? And what would we talk about? What if I chose a non-talker? Then where would we be? Sitting opposite each other, chomping away in silence, me wondering how I ever thought they might make a good dinner companion and them wondering why I disturbed their eternal rest.
And which period of history would I choose? On what basis would I make that decision? How much would I need to know about periods of history to be able to decide? More than I do now, obviously. Would I get to choose my status? I mean, living in 1771 would be okay I guess if I could be a landed gentry, but I don’t think I’d like to travel to Australia on a convict ship. Especially if I was a convict. What if I chose a period of history that hanged witches and I happened to be a witch? Or if I went back to the Renaissance period but ended up in South Australia at that time?
So that doesn’t work for me either.
And if I was to put together a bucket list I would have to know an awful lot of things about an awful lot of places and/or activities. Out of all the things that it’s possible to do or see, how do I choose? On what basis would I narrow it down to just ten? Or eleven in this case.
STOP THE PRESS
It’s hit me. An idea for my bucket list! Not the whole list (are you crazy) but the number 11 thing.
So here it is: [big fanfare]
My number 11 thing on my bucket list is to be more like Murwillumbah Nan. If you didn’t meet my Murwillumbah Nan you really missed out. She was funny, and humble, and kind, and generous. She called her grandchildren darling, and had the softest skin. I didn’t ever see her in pants, only dresses. She didn’t like talking on the phone much. She hated having her photo taken, and she loved poetry. She wasn’t stylish, she wasn’t flashy, she didn’t use bad language, and she was warm and loved by everyone. You weren’t allowed to say bad things about your family when you were with Nan – she wouldn’t hear it. She told great stories and loved to laugh and she lived a simple, good kind of life. All 94 years of it. We held each other and cried and cried together when we knew it was the last time we’d be together.
So there you have it. The 11th thing on my bucket list of one thing.
My little oasis was there for me when I needed a place to hide, a place to sort through the thoughts whirling through my head, a place to work out excuses for my terrible, terrible behaviour, or to take time out from the turmoil of life as a ten-year old. It remains an integral part of my childhood, a place of both safety and stomach-lurching glee.
I could swing away my troubles within its white-rail fenced perimeter, feeling that frizz of pleasure as I put my head back as far as I could while swinging as high as my little legs would push me. Dragging my hair along the ground, sitting up suddenly, winding the chains into a tight corkscrew and then whirling like a dervish as it unspun.
I could spin away my troubles on that thing you had to hang on to and run beside then jump on when it was spinning faster than you could run. The thing that was best when it was only you there and not a whole bunch of other kids wanting to push it faster and faster till you knew you were going to have to sit really still for at least three minutes and seven seconds before you could walk coolly away.
I could slide away my troubles on the big metal slide that would burn the backs of your legs in the summer, and take some time to warm up in the winter. I would rush head first down the slide, or feet first on my stomach, ending up in a rather crumpled heap at the bottom and rush around to the ladder to do it all over again. The slide was also great for swinging under. I’d hold onto the slide from underneath, then walk my hands up till my legs were swinging from the ground. Each time I’d try to go higher and higher.
I could seesaw away my troubles on the long wooden boards with a funny handle on either end. Some people think that a seesaw is play equipment for two, but you can do a lot of balancing on a seesaw when you’re the only one there. Or running up one side and down the other. Carefully. I was already in trouble; I didn’t want to get into any more!
The black wattle tree with the sticky sap was the only downside to that oasis of stomach-lurching glee.
A white fence ran around the outside, one rail. You know the diagonal sort that made it difficult to hang upside down from? Paling fences separated the park from the houses that backed onto it, the houses that were on my street where the Bywaters and Brunswicks and Aulsebrooks lived.
The paling fences are still there, but there is no longer any white rail fence, no ugly, sticky, sappy black wattle tree, and no swings, slide, see saw or merry-go-round. Just an empty, grassy space with a single, solitary piece of play equipment.
That play equipment might be safe, but it wouldn’t help any ten year old swing, spin, slide or seesaw away her troubles.
My challenge for today is to set a timer for ten minutes. I have to open a new post. Start the timer, and start writing. When the timer goes off, publish.
It rained today. Just about all day. A constant trickle of water ran from the sky and pooled in inconvenient places, causing great splashes to leap up to my knees when I dared to go outside.
The drip drip drip drip outside our lounge room door continued metronomically into the afternoon, then all of a sudden stopped.
The silence ran to four minutes, then extended to five. We were on the edge of our seats, hushed, breathless, ears akimbo, waiting for the next verse of the drip
I can’t do this. I’ve started five different posts and deleted four of them. I can’t write under this pressure when I have nothing to write about. I should have been more prepared. Thought of something, a topic, an issue, a situation, something, anything to write about before I started the timer.
But I didn’t.
I don’t know what I expected when I pushed ‘start’ – that inspiration would hit me and something would leap into my mind and out through my fingers as if by magic?
I seriously don’t think I was thinking that far ahead, to be quite honest.
And so, a blank page.
This is what some teachers do to children.
‘Alright children, it’s story-writing time. You have ten minutes. Go.’
It’s not right. Writers need more than a time limit. They need ideas. They need thinking time. They need time to craft and organise and structure and develop.
One of my grandsons is in Year 3 this year. That means that late in May he did the NAPLAN test for the first time. In their preparation lessons, they practiced writing persuasive texts. He wrote about burning the school down.
I don’t know how persuasive it was, but it certainly caught the teacher’s attention.
Golly! Today’s challenge is a real challenge. Like a proper, full-on, challenge-y type challenge. It’s so challenging I’ve been putting off writing this post all day.
Today’s prompt is: Most of us are excellent at being self-deprecating, and are not so good at the opposite. Tell us your favourite thing about yourself.
So you can see why I’m having trouble. What’s your favourite thing about yourself? Does something immediately spring to mind? Does me not being able to choose from all the things I could choose merely speak to a lack of decisiveness? Or does me not being able to think of anything at all speak to a lack of imagination?
What’s my favourite thing about myself? Notice that. It’s not, what do you like about yourself?, or what are you good at? It’s what’s your favourite thing about yourself?
To answer that feels a bit unnatural. It’s not that I would rather share the things I don’t like about myself, but it doesn’t feel natural to even think that I would have favourite things about myself.
Aren’t we funny? When I really think about it I wonder what’s wrong with having a favourite thing about myself. Why does it feel unnatural? Where/when did I learn that?
We so easily say things like, I don’t like my ears/eyes/nose/lips/wrists/webbing between my toes, or I don’t like the size of my thighs/feet/hair/spinal cord/kidneys/left eye socket, or I’m no good at singing/drawing/calculus/pole-dancing/braking-as-I-reverse-around-corners-on-two-wheels.
We’re given opportunities – at least implicitly – to say those things, to verbalise those things we don’t like about ourselves, or aren’t good at. But where are we given opportunities to say what we are good at, or what we like about ourselves? Especially if we’re no longer in primary school?
Well, I’ve been given that opportunity now, so I’m going to grab it by the scruff of the neck and shake it till something comes loose. I’m hoping that what comes loose is an idea about my favourite thing.
So my thinking has led me to this point: my favourite thing about myself is my strength.
When I was young it was called stubbornness, plain and simple.
But I can see now that other words add nuance to the stubbornness: resilience, determination, sometimes even courage.
Today’s challenge is to tell us about the most surprising helping hand you’ve ever received.
I’ve been fortunate to have had a number of helping hands over the years but the most surprising one came at a period in my life when I was very down on my luck. It was 1992, I’d been living in a Salvation Army hostel for women with my two-year-old daughter for a few months when I finally managed to get on my feet enough to find a place to rent.
We moved in with our very meagre possessions – a small suitcase full of clothes each. And a beanbag, which was our bed for the first few weeks.
I was working full-time (in a voluntary capacity) at the local community radio station at the time, and a lovely older lady, Nan Walsh, cared for Emma through the day. Nan Walsh lived in a big house opposite the mouth of the river, and looked after children in the downstairs part of the house and lived upstairs. There was plenty of company for Emma, masses of toys to play with, books to read, good food and loads of warmth from Nan Walsh and her old-lady friends.
I’d finish work, pick Emma up and trudge home to our little unit that had no furniture in it apart from a bean bag that was both a bed and a couch – and a play area, a launching pad, an elephant. We had a bowl, a plate, a knife and fork, and a spoon. I think we also had a cup. I’d cadged those from the radio station.
Things were pretty bleak … but not for too long.
Trixie, who worked at the Salvation Army hostel, gave me an old single bed and a mattress. Emma was excited to sleep in a proper bed again.
Neil, the breakfast presenter at the radio station, was getting his mother’s old lounge suite and so he needed to pass his on. Generously he passed it on to me.
Sheridan, the manager of the radio station, gifted me a cutlery set that she’d been given as a wedding present twenty years before. They’d been given two and she felt that she no longer needed the second one. It had never been used.
Nan Walsh dug through her cupboards and found some towels, tea towels and sheets she could live without.
These people were generous and good and have no idea of the impact they made on my life.
Then one afternoon the doorbell rang. On the doorstep was a boxed crockery set and two shopping bags full of food, including a still hot barbecue chicken, fruit and vegetables, and some new tea towels. I looked out to the street to see an old lady walking briskly to her car. I dumbly waved my thanks.