Friday, September 28, 2012

Light a candle

This morning it was overcast making the bathroom dark and dingy. Instead of my usual practice of turning on a light, I grabbed three candles from the collection at the foot of the bath. Rummaging in a drawer, I found the matches and lit them, creating a yellow glow against the grey slate of the bathroom tiles.

As I stepped into the shower, I wondered why, this morning, I felt the need to light this dark day with candles. Then I realised that it was ‘a dark day’ in more ways than one. This morning I had read that police had arrested and charged a man with Jill Meagher’s rape and murder.

Which led me to consider why at times like these we resort to candles. We use candles for happy occasions such as birthdays and dinner parties. And practical reasons like during blackouts. But we also use them for candlelight vigils and to light in churches for those who have passed away. Maybe because the warm glow of candlelight is a comfort. It enables us to create beauty in a world where we have been confronted with terror and grief. The simple light of a candle enables us to reclaim some authority over the pain that would weaken and reduce us to being too fearful to leave our homes. A lit candle turns the harshness of a dark room into something softer, something we might be able to manage.

So, light a candle—for Jill Meagher; for her family; for someone you’ve lost; for yourself. But most of all, light one because you can and they’re beautiful.

Monday, September 3, 2012

The downside of being a visual learner...

I’ve known for a long time that I am a visual learner. I think it was one of the best things I learnt when I was in school because it has (generally) helped me to learn more effectively since.

I used to pin formula and other information I needed to know for Chemistry class to the back of the toilet door and around the bathroom mirror. I realised during a test that I not only knew the formula but I could picture where it was on the sheet and what colour it was written in. So now I try to make use of colour coding to help me to be organised. As a teacher, I allocated a colour to each year level I taught which was really helpful.

In another example, years ago I learnt how to sign. I recall a conversation with a friend (who also signed) which he began, in sign, by saying, “I need to tell you something” then he dropped the signing and spoke. On the way home, all I could remember was that he had something to tell me but not what it was—I could remember the visual but not the verbal information.

Which leads me to the downside and this morning’s example. Below are my pump spray hairspray and my deodorant bottles…

Suffice to say, if my head sweats, it won’t have B.O. [It could’ve been worse, I guess!]

What type of learner are you?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The thing that irritates me about social media…

Comic from TheDoghouseDiaries

I have a problem with social media. Okay, when I say, “social media” I mean Facebook—I’m not very proficient at Twitter, I have no idea what’s going on at Google+ and I’ve never had a MySapce page.

So, my issue with Facebook? Is it what’s happening to my personal information? Well, although this is a bit of a concern, I’m not too worried about it. I don’t geotag my photos, I don’t post personal information and I don’t buy anything, ever, from the advertisements… especially when they’re targeted to my demographic. So, I don’t think anyone is getting very much from my page.

Is it bullying? Again, although cyberbullying is obviously a very serious problem, it’s not something I’ve had to deal with outside of my role as a secondary school teacher. Nobody has ever said anything nasty to me online and if they did, I’d “walk away” (as I would in real life) and I’d delete them (as I’m not allowed to in real life).

So, what’s the big problem with Facebook? Is it all of those pictures of kittens? Nope, I can even deal with cutesy photos and posters.

What then? Okay, my real problem with Facebook is people who post thinly veiled complaints about others in messages such as:

Some people should really get outa my face & get a life! Geez, you shit me!

Yes, that’s what shits me. If you really want to tell everyone that you’ve had a bad day because your ex called you demanding to know who this new guy is that you’ve started seeing and you had a screaming match on the phone which didn’t make you look good at your office, then say that. If you only want to tell that nitty gritty to your close friends then pick up the bloody phone and call them! I see these posts as attention seeking and childish. Especially when they result in a thread such as:

Friend1: OMG are you ok. What happened?
Friend2: Is this about who I think it’s about?
Friend3: Tell em all to fuck off. Hope you’re okay.
Friend4: What’s going on? Are you ok?
Person1: Nuthin. It’s all ok guys I’m fine. Love ya all!

Well, if it’s “nuthin” and you’re fine why post that diatribe in the first place? If you want to share, share. If you don’t want to share, shut the hell up.

On the other hand, I applaud the woman whom I saw post a picture of the flowers and chocolates her boyfriend bought for her followed up by a status two days later along the lines of:

You bought me guilt-flowers, you cheating piece of shit!

No cloak and dagger, no veil, just telling it like it is!

Friday, June 29, 2012

A[nother] Change of Pace

Recently I wrote about my long and somewhat checkered relationship with further education which has led me to my current point of impending PhD candidature at Deakin University (I start on the 20th of August). The impetuous for taking on this academic challenge was planned major surgery to my spine which would have put me on sick leave from my teaching career for at least 3 months. Instead I’ve decided not to go back at all.

Last year I took leave to complete my honours year. It was a challenge I wanted to undertake and (unlike much of my other study) I didn’t want it to drag on forever so I elected not to work and to complete the study fulltime. My school gave me leave in order to do this.

Along with the study, last year was a time of much deliberation. I thought a great deal about what being a teacher meant to me and why I felt that my current school didn’t fulfill my needs as a teacher. I’m not ashamed to say there were tears. Tears of frustration and disappointment – frustration because I knew at some stage in my career I had been a good teacher and disappointment because I felt that I wasn’t allowed to feel that way in my current school.

At the start of this year, I went back to teaching until my operation on the 14th of May. I found being back in the system incredibly difficult, partly because it just is difficult and partly because, in my heart, I had already made up my mind. I had applied for PhD candidature but I didn’t yet know if I would be accepted—regardless, I had decided that I was going to quit teaching.

When I look back on my teaching career, I am very grateful for the opportunities it has afforded me. I’m grateful for the friends I have made; both students and colleagues. But I’m not grateful for the hours of my time it gobbled up doing administrative tasks; or the stress and migraines; or the sick feeling you get when you’re being drowned in work and there’s a deadline looming. I know my new ‘career’ as a student will include some of these but they will hopefully be much more under my control.

I hope.

So, I say goodbye to the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, Victoria and hello to the Higher Degrees by Research Program, School of Communication and Creative Arts, Deakin University. Wish me luck.

Have you ever made a major change in your life or career? Do you have any advice to share about letting go of your past and embracing the new?

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Confessions of an [almost] perpetual student.

I like studying. There, I said it—you can have me committed to the Nerd Central Asylum whenever you’re ready.

When I headed off from home at eighteen to start my undergraduate degree, I had no idea it was the beginning of such a long-term thing. It was 1991, the state of Victoria was in the throws of Premier Kennett’s school closures and I had decided on studying for a Bachelor of Education and becoming a teacher. Four years later I donned the cape and trencher to receive my degree from Deakin University which was unlikely to lead to employment given the condition of state education at the time. For the next whole school year I put in countless applications for teaching positions to no avail.

Degree number one was a bust. So, the following year I decided that if I was going to be effectively unemployed anyway, I might as well continue to study. I went back to Deakin and I enrolled in a Masters of Education by coursework.

I didn’t get very far with the Masters, because in my attempt to get myself out of the unemployment queue, I took a job as a governess in Outback Queensland. When I had the opportunity to resume the study, I looked at the course material and decided that although I really wanted to be a teacher, further study in Education was not what I was passionate about.

There was another false start when I decided to study for a Graduate Diploma in Women’s Studies via correspondence through La Trobe University. I did the reading and found the content all very interesting but I struggled with the lack of contact with other students. This was in the days before online study—when correspondence meant materials and assignment posted back and forth and really no contact with others in the course. I withdrew before I got very far into that one.

While teaching at Lilydale High School, I met a colleague who had completed a few levels of Auslan at VicDeaf in Melbourne. This re-inspired my interest in sign language. I did the available short courses at VicDeaf then went looking for further means to extend my skills. My hunt took me back to La Trobe and I began a Graduate Diploma of Deaf Studies. I actually finished this one and it qualified me as an Auslan language teacher.

Not long after that I was down at my local Swinburne University campus for something entirely unrelated and I picked up a brochure on their short courses—both online and face-to-face. I was teaching fulltime at that point but had managed to fit in the face-to-face study for the Auslan course and the associated travel one night a week. I noticed one of the online courses was “Pleasures of Poetry”. Being online meant I would be able to log on when it suited me, do the reading, do the tasks and post them to a message board—much easier to manage than driving to night classes. I had been writing poetry since I was a teenager, I decided it was about time to learn how to do it properly.

“Pleasures of Poetry” was my first online study experience. I found that it was able to create the perfect balance between contact with other students and the flexibility to fit the study around my other commitments.

From there I went back to the Auslan and began to work on a Masters of Education by thesis looking at Bilingual Deaf Education. I decided to do the distance education thing again and enrolled via an interstate university. I figured that the distance wouldn’t matter with this one as what I would ultimately end up doing was a much more independent project and writing up a thesis on my findings. All I needed was good contact with my supervisor.

I had a number of problems maintaining that vital contact. He rarely answered my emails and when he did, he would only respond to one or maybe two of the three or four (or five or six) questions I had asked. I felt like I was floundering, I didn’t know what I had to do and nobody would give me the answers I needed. This was all during the preparation stages of the actual project, so I bailed on that one too. (Are you keeping count? What’s my completed to uncompleted ratio at this point?)

It took me a while to realise that I missed learning stuff but then in a fit of disillusionment with teaching I started thinking about one of the other careers I had considered at the end of high school—journalism. So, back to Deakin University where they offered a Journalism course that could be completed off-campus via their online learning portal. Perfect. I enrolled.

Because I was still teaching, I decided I would do this study part-part-time. Normal part-time was two subjects a semester; I elected to do only one. A couple of years and about 5 units into the course I realised I wasn’t particularly interested in the journalism subjects and, in fact, the ones that caught my eye were the electives from the more general Graduate Diploma of Professional Writing. So, for once, instead of just withdrawing from a course, I switched to a different one that suited me better.

During my studies in Professional Writing, I found out about a Summer School in Creative Writing held each year to correspond with the Edinburgh Book Festival, so I went to Edinburgh. I could have had these units count towards my Graduate Diploma but I chose not to because there were other subjects I wanted to do through Deakin—I wasn’t ready to stop studying.

Of course, doing the Professional Writing course one unit at a time meant that it took me a really, really long time to finish it. Plus I intermitted in the middle of it so I could go and volunteer overseas for a year and a half. So, when I got to the end of the Graduate Diploma most people didn’t know that I was finished. I started looking at doing an honours year and I didn’t really tell anybody. In general, people assumed I was just “still studying” to finish the Graduate Diploma. When I say I didn’t tell anybody, I mean, my sisters knew but my mum and dad didn’t.

I’m not really sure why I felt the need to be secretive about taking on the Bachelor of Arts honours. Initially, I told myself that it was because I was doing it ‘for me’ and it had nothing to do with anybody else. But ultimately, I think my failure at trying to do the independent study of the Masters by thesis was in the back of my mind and was worried I wasn’t up to completing an independent project. I wouldn’t have to admit that I had tried and failed if nobody knew I was trying in the first place.

I didn't fail, as evidenced by the silly hat, gown & hood with stripes!

As my honours project, I undertook a study of country towns and post-colonialism through the production of a number of short stories. At the end of a very intensive year of study, I had completed a suite of short stories and an exegesis totaling about 20,000 words and achieved first class honours. My results permitted me entry into Deakin’s Higher Degrees by Research program—to do a PhD.

My PhD project is going to involve writing more short stories (lots more) but this time I’ll be researching the concept of women as keepers of culture through cooking, recipes and stories. Not only did I not tell people I was doing honours, I also haven’t been telling them that I’m going to do a PhD. I’ve started to, but some of the people closest to me still don’t know. I’ve told work colleagues because I had to explain why I was resigning. I’ve told my sisters because they’ve known all along. I’ve finally told my parents, although not having had much contact with academia, I’m not sure they realised the significance of studying for a PhD.

And now I’m telling you. There, I said it. You can call Nerd Central Asylum whenever you’re ready.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Lacking Time & Motivation

Last week I started teaching again and instantly I regretted not having done more with my 12 months leave. Not because I didn't enjoy my classes, I did. I just became hyper-aware of how busy I'm going to be in the coming weeks and how little else I'll be able to get done. It's amazing how easy it was in my time off in 2011 to forget what the time demands of a teaching load are like.

In order to try to alleviate my guilt, I thought I'd try to focus on what I did get done and what I might still be able to do. There's no doubt I achieved some things in 2011 but I'd like to still spend time on things other than school this year as well. So, how do I manage to fit in time for writing, gardening, cooking etc when I feel exhausted at the end of the school day? Any and all suggestions are gratefully accepted.

I think to begin with I'm going to look at breaking things down into smaller tasks - let's face it, I don't have half a day to puddle in the garden anymore or a whole day on the balcony reading and rewriting a short story. But even before I think about how to fit more writing (and other things) in, I'm going to try to find places to submit the work I've already written.

I'll keep you all posted...

Monday, January 30, 2012

Gratuitous Gratitude

I have wonderful friends, a supportive and loving family, a ridiculously happy marriage, and a stunning home. But I worry that sometimes I don't appreciated my good fortune for the wonderful things in my life.

When I was a young teenager I began to get a real understanding of the inequalities in the world. I had grown up with images of hardship, poverty & hunger like those from reports of famine in Ethiopia but there was a particular watershed moment for me when a television news program showed footage of orphaned children in an institution in Romania. Quite literally, the politics of the country had abandoned and was killing these children--Ceausescu's regime had refused to admit that there was HIV in the country and these kids were HIV positive. One image of an emaciated child has stayed with me all of my life. I decided then that it wasn't 'fair' that my life was so easy simply because of the family, socio-economic group and country that was mine through the happy accident of being born into it. I didn't earn it, it just was. I didn't think at the time to be grateful for what I have, instead I was indignant and angry at what other did not have.

Then a few years ago I was explaining a dilemma we had to a friend of mine. My partner and I had planned a trip overseas at the end of the year and we were very excited about it but the predicament was that my partner wasn't working. If he didn't find work, we would have serious trouble being able to afford the holiday but if he did find a long term position, he wouldn't be eligible for leave by the time the trip came up. The friend I was talking to (let's call him Greg) said,

"You'll be okay, you two always fall on your feet."

Greg's observation has stayed with me because it wasn't until then that I really looked at just how lucky I have been. Of course, my partner got a six month contract so that we had the funds for the holiday but none of the hassles of having to get time off for our trip.

It's dumb luck really but I'm grateful. And I made a conscious decision to firstly realise how fortunate I am and secondly to be more grateful for the really quite amazing life that I have.

Today I had further cause to review my thoughts on gratitude. On my way home, I pulled over for a hitch-hiker. The woman explained that she was trying to get to her son's place to see him but the buses were running so infrequently that she decided to see if anyone would stop. She asked if I could just drop her at the corner of her son's street a little way along the road so she could walk up to her son's house. I wasn't in a hurry and said I'd drop her right there. At this offer she started to cry.

It made me think again about how lucky I am and that perhaps we sometimes take kindnesses shown to us for granted. It was an offer I made in an offhand way, driving two minutes out of my way to make sure she wasn't trudging uphill in the heat of the afternoon and yet she cried. How little kindness must have been showed to this woman in her life that such an offer produced tears of gratitude? It's a reminder to be thankful but maybe it's a reminder to be kind as well. There's always something to grumble about but I want to remember to be grateful for the good stuff because there's plenty of that around too.

And then there's being thankful for silliness of 'The Gratitude Experiment' from The Huffington Post which is linked to the title of this post...