Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Let me tell you about doing a PhD with older kids...

When I did my first Masters I was, at first, pregnant and then within six months I had a new born, and then I was pregnant and then I had another baby. It was bloody hard work and I had no one to talk to about it, really. I was on an email list thingy (yes, this was back in the dark ages when email lists ruled), but most of the talk was about how to negotiate breastfeeding in public, co-sleeping under the disapproving gaze of one's mother and mother-in-law, and which baby sling was the best... No other mothers on the list were doing a masters.

When I did my second masters, I had three children aged 9, 7, and 3, and was pregnant for the first two months and then had a newborn as well.

I did that degree between the hour of 1am and 4am. It was hard yakka. I had plenty of people to whinge to, and lots of people gave me kudos for the 'incredible feat' I had undertaken. It was great to have that support and so it felt a lot easier than my first masters even though I was busier, older, and more tired than the previous time.

So, now I'm doing a PhD and my kids are 15.5, 13..5, 9.5 and 6.3... They're all at school. I never get woken overnight. I'm not on breastfeeding duty any more, and the only dirty nappies that get changed at my house these days is on the rare occasion some one else visits with a baby - and then I don't have to change them.

Life's pretty good, like that.

But actually, I have to say, as I sit here feeling quite strung out, that studying with kids - whatever their age - is NEVER easy. I'm sorry to all my childless friends, but it's true that even school aged kids complicate their parents studies.

You see, right now I have two in high school and in this connected world we live in, I have a constant stream of information about their progress at school in my inbox. Every 4 weeks I receive their grade point average score. This doesn't reflect their subject knowledge per se, but rather their level of engagement with the class. Their preparedness, their participation in class, their ability to work independently, and their efforts in extending their knowledge base.

As an engaged parent, I see a score that is not up to par, and I talk to my kid and ask what is going on. I then usually get a mumbled 'I don't know' accompanied by a slack shrug of the shoulders. So, I get more specific, 'Are you preparing your work for class? Are you joining in discussions about the topic? Are you getting on with the work you're assigned in class? Are you revising the topic after the lesson and reading more about it?'

The answers to these questions vary from, 'We don't have to do that.' to 'Yes..?'

So, then I have to escalate my investigation by emailing the teacher and asking for specifics about how my child might improve their GPA.

Then starts the process of coaching my child in study practices.

Which ends up feeling a lot like I'm having to manage my study and their's as well...

Luckily my two younger kids are in primary school so whatever homework they have is relatively light on and well outlined for parents.

But my eldest is doing three VCE subjects this year, so that's pretty full on.

And both the high school boys had a somewhat academically crap year last year. So, I'm kidding myself that if I can just get them onto good study management early on, then I won't have to deal with end of semester stresses that they haven't done enough work to pass... That's the dream.

But believe me, older kids aren't easier. In many ways, they're more complex and much more of a delicate balance between helping and 'doing for' them has to be struck.

Also, I'm older and a PhD is a hell of a lot more work than either of my masters were. So. Much. More. Work.

Today I'm tired and wish my kids somehow magically just did what was expected of them at school... It's only high school work for crying out loud!

Sunday, March 01, 2015

March Weightless Update...

Just a really short post to update on how the Grumpy Old Man and I are fairing with the diet changes.

First of all, another month of grain free, sugar free living down. I think it was quite easy this last month as well.

We haven't lost as much weight in kilos this month as we did in January, but both of us have noticed significant changes to how our clothes fit us and how we look.

In total the GOM has now lost 11.1 kilos in total, which amounts to 3kg in February. I have lost 9.2 in total, which amounts to a 1.8kg loss in February. While not massive losses, I am happy with our progress. I had a personal goal for February and I missed it by 2.8kg, but I'm looking forward to reaching that goal in March.


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Loaves and Fishes - Our Government thinks it's Jesus now...

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So, the other day 4 Corners did a piece called The Jobs Game, where they pretty much exposed a lot of Jobs Services Providers for being downright crooks! Not all JSPs, but certainly too many, are forging positive results (i.e. that they're getting unemployed clients into employment) to receive payments from the Government so they can stay in business and then defraud the taxpayer some more.

Of course, there has been a big outcry about this! Many believe JSPs are not doing their jobs properly, they are selling false hope to job seekers, while keeping them busy doing job training courses which will not lead to work. All because the Government wants to see job seekers jump through hoops to earn their income support payments.

As well as this, the Government will tomorrow, release information on its plan to restructure income support payments in response to a review led by Patrick McClure AO - you can read about it here...

So, there is a possibility 22 different pensions will be streamlined into 5 (with at least one having two or three tiers). This means that some people on, say, disability pensions, will be moved into a job seeker category because they are deemed 'eligible to work at least 8 hours a week'.

As a person with a disability who would like to work, this means I would receive support from a Job Services Provider to find employment, and hopefully, in the wake of the 4 Corners report, that JSP would be helping me to a much higher standard than many currently are...

Both these things fail to acknowledge one crucial piece of information.

There are, currently, in Australia, around 750 000 job seekers.

There are, currently, in Australia, around 150 000 jobs.

You don't have to be particularly good at math to see there is a discrepancy of 600 000 jobs required to make that equation work.

And when the Government decides another 150 000 or so people on the disability pension are, in fact 'eligible to work at least 8 hours a week', the discrepancy will blow out even farther.

Somehow, the Government seems to think it's going to take its 150 000 jobs (let's call them the loaves and fishes) and feed upwards of 900 000 jobseekers (let's call them the people, because, you know, they're people).

That's a miracle I would be willing to see!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Making people uncomfortable...

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I was reading an article about the smartest woman in the world (she doesn't subscribe to IQ theory, herself) and how, one day, while answering a question about a puzzle she drew inordinate amounts of ire from people who thought she was an imbecile, and were more than happy to point this out to her.

The slant of the article is that she was being unfairly harassed because she was a woman, but there are famous cases in history of men being subjected to the same sort of treatment.

Take, for example, Galileo, who spent most of the last decade of his life under house arrest because he dared to suggest the Earth and all other planets in our solar system travelled around the sun, instead of the universe travelling around the Earth.

Or Ignaz Semmelweis who was committed to an asylum, where he died, because he argued that surgeons had unseeable bugs on their hands, and should wash their hands before doing surgery.

These people all have one thing in common, and that was that their understanding of reality went against contemporary common sense. They made people uncomfortable.

Making people uncomfortable and challenging common sense did not, however, make them wrong. They were ahead of their time (though, seriously in Marilyn von Savant's case, the answer she proposed was contemporarily provable, if not common sense.

Making people uncomfortable, when you are not being rude, stating a different understanding of the world, is not about you. It is about the other person feeling challenged, questioning what they know, feeling their world tilt and thus wanting to defend themselves.

That defence can be ugly, and it can become a personal attack very quickly, because you are challenging their often unquestioned assumptions.

Humans like to believe the majority knows best. A consensus is often equated with fact in the absence of any attempt of clear thinking. Clear thinking takes effort and most humans conserve their energy as much as possible and are therefore willing to put their trust in the consensus.

Challenging a consensus does not put the burden of proof on the challenger, but on the consensus. It's a good thing to remember when you feel that you are being squeezed from all sides to simply conform in order to stop making other people feel uncomfortable.



Monday, February 23, 2015

Summer School...

So many thoughts! All competing for me to unpack them first.

Maybe I need to go for a walk?

Maybe, that's a good place to start! We had two workshops and two reading groups to attend this weekend. I attending a workshop on creativity and the exegesis, and another on structuring the exegesis and both were very informative and thought provoking!

I also attended a reading on embodied creativity and one on the supervisory relationship (they had much longer, more floral titles, but I'm stripping that all back to a more pragmatic description of the subject matter).

The one on embodied creativity is where I'll start. Our 'teacher' for lack of a better word, Rhea, broke the mould of a readings by getting us to all take a 10 minute solo-walk (so we weren't to walk with someone else), to just get into our bodies and our mind and become aware of our environment and the connections we made with what we experienced sensorially and our thesis. We were to just let the sensory experience and our minds flow for 10 minutes, then return to the lecture hall and write what came to us.

The idea of going for a walk on my own in a place I bare knew scared me, and I considered play on my low vision to get out of doing the exercise, but then I felt guilt for doing that, and decided to suck it up - it was only 10 minutes, after all!

So, I headed out the front doors of the campus and turned left. This was a street I knew, and I had already decided to turn left at the next corner because that was also a street I had been driven down before.

I felt anxious. I passed familiar faces but I wanted to go and hide! I thought about why I felt anxious. This made me think of one of the readings and the description of the Surrealists walking through the french country side without purpose and how they seemed to lose their minds... For me agoraphobia plays into this feeling strongly into this feeling of anxiety, of course, and I thought about why I might feel agoraphobia. It came back to feeling that I didn't belong in the space, I was an interloper from another world and my presence was unwelcome, even resented. This lead me to think about my creative work about identity and how my interest in identity stems from that feeling of never belonging, and how I might use a walk in my creative writing to express those feelings.

I came to the second corner, and realised that if I turned left I would be circling the block of the University and that would probably bring me back to my point of origin by the 10 minute mark, which felt convenient and safe. I started to enjoy being out in the fresh air and started to take note of the architecture.

Architecture: I love how the panels on these balconies can be moved to provide shade exactly where it is needed throughout the day - I will have to remember this for when we ever own our own place!
About halfway along the block I realised I was walking towards the ocean! I had no idea we were so close the water front - despite being on the 'Waterfront campus'. For some reason I thought it was a few streets away. I picked up my pace and felt happy. Then I realised I felt like I had come home. The water always makes me feel at home, whether it is in Australia, Iceland, or Norway. I have a deep connection with the water, and thought perhaps this is because the water is the passage between the places where I am never quite at home. I feel Icelandic in Australia, and Norwegian in Iceland, and Australian in Norway. I have biological connections to two of these place - Australia being my birth place, and Iceland being my mother's birthplace, and yet I feel some small part of me is Norwegian anyway (quite a small part, but it is there).




The water connects all of these places, and so I feel at home in the no-man's land of the water.

Finally, I thought that the walk had really help me cement some of my thoughts around identity and transcultural identity, and how well this walk would fit into a flash because it was only a 10 minutes moment of my life, but those 10 minutes were a whole new piece in the puzzle, a pivotal moment for me!

As you can see, if I can write ten paragraphs about 10 minutes of my experience of Summer school, it's will take me quite a long while to unpack it all!

I'll finish with some random photos from the weekend - because a photo speaks a thousand words...



Last week I had some fun with hair colour. It's one of those things, I love to do this and I have no qualms about it because hair grows and changes all the time, and so it's a great way to temporarily express playfulness. But I'm also so aware that people feel confronted and constrained by invisible limits on what is okay to do as a serious, mature adult, and that does still impact my sense of freedom with regard to being playful and having funny and standing outside norms. I received so many compliments and I did wonder if people were being genuine, but decided to accept the compliments in the faith they were genuine. It was an interesting experiment and I'm sure there is a research project in there somewhere!

We were fortunate to be offered private accommodation for the weekend as all the hotels were booked out for the Geelong beer fest by the time we decided to attend Summer school. What we didn't realise was that the private home was located on 25 acres of bushland. It was such a beautiful place to stay! So peaceful! Starry nights, birdsong, and fresh air! Our hosts were lovely!

This road to the property shows just how 'off the beaten path' the house was!

That pitch-roofed house is the cottage we stayed in, with wholly private facilities. Hand built by the owner, it was just gorgeous!

And here is my bed! Ir reminded me of Heidi of the Alps, which was one of my favourite books from childhood. The stairs from down to the ground floor were quite steep, so I got lots of exercise! I'm feeling it today, hahaha!

This photo depicts an exercise from the creativity in the exegesis workshop; we were divided into groups and asked to curate an exhibit of a pile of post cards. This exhibition was titled: The Key, Of Course. And a key sentence was:  The key is the difference. I'm not sure how successful it was, but it was a fun exercise.
At the end of the second day, we had drinks and nibbles on the staff cafeteria balcony overlooking the foreshore. There was unanimous agreement that working at Deakin Waterfront has it's advantages!

More foreshore!

My obsession with clouds continues...


Driving home was no less interesting than the weekend itself!

And back to marvellous Melbourne! Too bad there isn't a Winter School as well!
I will no doubt discuss other aspects of the weekend as they float to the surface on my conscious!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Challenges of trying to 'get ahead'...

I found out this morning I missed out on tutoring work for the coming trimester. I'm pretty disappointed, even though it means more time to pour into my own research (and dogs know I need that time as well). I can't help but wonder if I'm ever going to get work. Admittedly, I've chosen a very competitive field and I've very much starting on the bottom rung. I know I need to publish more, I need to meet more people and put myself out there. I know it's a matter of work and time and a good relationships and a bit of good luck (right time, right place sort of luck). I'm just feeling a bit desperate.

I have my name on a research assistant registry, but I know a lot of RA work goes to known students and former students, and that is reasonable, because they are a known quantity and in research there is never time to waste training someone up. Still, I'm concerned I'm chasing up a dead end.

There is nothing to do but keep on keeping on.

So!

I have just finished the readings for Summer School which starts on Friday. I have also assembled a number of readings to get started on the next chapter of my thesis - I'm taking those with me to summer school in hopes of getting a start on them while away . I have over a dozen books on order from the library, which I am hoping will be available for collection by the time I get back from Summer School.

One of my biggest challenges is reading. I have always been a slow reader because my low vision and nystagmus make it difficult for me to focus on and track text for long periods of time, or quickly. In January last year I was able to purchase a CCTV with a bursary I was awarded by Vision Australia, and that has really made an enormous difference for me. I'm still not a fast reader, but I can focus for much longer without straining my eyes too much or getting as many headaches.

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This device is kept at uni, so I have access to it for a maximum of 30 hours a week. Obviously, I don't sit at it for 6 hours a day, five days a week because I also need time to write. So far, it's been okay - the amount of time I have access to it - but this week I've realised I really need to have another CCTV at home. I need to make the most of the time in evenings when the little kids are in bed, or on the weekend (with headphones in so I can block out household noise). I have a LOT of reading ahead of me, and I can't afford to strain my eyes reading at home without a CCTV.

So, I've contacted Vision Australia to see if they have a CCTV I can borrow, and I'm applying for a scholarship to see if I can possibly raise the money to buy a second CCTV for home.

Got to keep on keeping on!

Monday, February 16, 2015

The writer's notebook...

Over the years I've read many books and articles for writers that recommend a writer keep a notebook on them at all time and always on their bedside table. I have never subscribed to this practice.

Mostly, I haven't bothered because it means remembering to carry something else with me. As a person with dubious short term memory, I find it hard to remember essentials like my keys, or purse, let alone 'optional extras' such a a notebook or pencil.

Also, I tend to have so many ideas for writing that I never suffer from writer's block (I do suffer from blogging block, but that's another blog post - if I remember)...

Just recently though, I've been plague by late night writing inspirations. Particularly in relation to this doctoral work. I have just finished up one section of creative writing, and now am moving on to something which is quite different in flavour. I'm moving from writing third person, past tense, to writing first person, present tense. The ideas are rushing at me like chooks after corn.

This doesn't make for a relaxing lull into the slumber at night.

Last night after tossing and turning, and trying to let go of scenes, words, and images, I gave up and found a notebook and pen and wrote down as many ideas and passages as wanted to force themselves on me, and finally I was able to get to sleep.

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Sometimes the note taking process isn't about remembering, but about purging a busy mind so the writer can get some rest.

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