Sunday, June 29, 2014

My PhD baby...

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When I started my Masters of Education I was five months pregnant with Erik. By the time I finished it four years later, Lukas was 18 months old. I took a five year break from study and during that time had Bryn, but then when I started my Master of Creative Writing I was five months pregnant with Ari.

So, this PhD is the first time in 15 years I do a degree and am not pregnant.

I suspect my body/brain isn't coping too well with this anomaly.

You see in early May I started having dreams about babies. Vivid dreams about being pregnant or giving birth. So vivid, in fact, I started to wonder if I could be pregnant. The thing is, if I was pregnant I would have had to have been at least 20 weeks pregnant in early May, and I had not skipped a period all year.

Obviously, this does happen, women do get pregnant and still experience regular bleeding - often called deciduous bleeding (yes, I have researched this, thus was my paranoia). And there was an entire television series dedicated to women who gave birth without even knowing they were pregnant - all sorts of women; young women who had never had babies before and very overweight women who never looked pregnant even to their partners and close family, but also mothers with several children and very skinny women who had photos of themselves in bikinis at 7 months of pregnancy. It does happen.

What also happens is phantom pregnancy. There are sites and Facebook pages dedicated to women who have been pregnant for almost a year, and no one will believe they're pregnant despite their rounded bellies, because home pregnancy tests, blood tests and ultrasounds all come back negative. Yes, I laughed too.

Then I read two or three stories about women who had negative pregnancy tests, negative ultrasounds and lo and behold gave birth to full term, healthy bouncing babes anyway. One women is suing because she was treated with contempt by medical professionals even in early labour.

I did a test.

I know, I know, paranoid much... It was negative.

I pushed the thought of pregnancy to the back of my mind as best I could, but at least once a week I had the vivid dreams.

I put it down to stress, I have been very stressed leading up to the colloquium.

That's right, I haven't told you how the colloquium went!

I was confirmed on the day, which is, I was told, a rare thing, indeed. I am ecstatic to have this behind me. I raring to get on with more work. My supervisor implored me to take a couple of weeks off now, but I'm on a high and I want to just keep going. I can't do anything on the exegesis as I have been asked to read up on literary philosophers and theorists and to pick someone to underpin my own work, I was given some names to look up, but I don't remember anything specific from the meeting and have to wait for notes to be send from the convenor of the meeting. But yes, it went very well...

Yesterday was a very busy day after the stress of Friday. I was in bed by 9pm and did not wake up for 13 hours. When I did wake, I still had the headache I'd gone to bed with, but more disturbingly I had had vivid dreams about a baby rolling around in my belly. I could feel its spine and the distinct shape of its round little head as I lay in bed. When I woke up I was relieved to realise it was only a dream. Then I must have dosed off again because suddenly I felt the baby roll again and I was thinking, this is not a dream, how am I going to tell the Grumpy Old Man? How am I going to manage a newborn and going to the conference in November? Will this ruin my chance of completing my PhD?

And then I woke a second time, dazed and confused, but eventually relieved when I, again, realised it was only a dream!

I am being haunted by a PhD baby. My body has realised I'm doing a PhD and as I'm not physically pregnant it is compensating by creating a dream baby.

They say doing a PhD drives most candidates a little crazy - I guess this is how crazy has decided to materialise for me.

I wish it would quit though, it's very disturbing and I really do need my sleep!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

On the eve of my colloquium...

This week has been interesting. Our car's alternator died on Saturday - after 15.5 years of service, so we can't really complain about that. The car went into the shop on Monday and we got her back yesterday afternoon - she purrs now!

This meant mum has almost been living at our house for three days, ferrying us all around, which has been completely brilliant - I don't know what we would have done, otherwise, particularly with the horrid weather Melbourne has had this week!

I haven't gotten into the office like I had hoped this week though. As for 'thinking about nothing but the colloquium' as I was advised by my supervisor, yes, well, that was never really on the cards, but it's been even more challenging that usual this week.

Yesterday Lukas entered teen hood, and to celebrate we got him a couple of t-shirts and a box of Nutri-grain…

Well, that is what he thought, anyway…

We had a bit of fun with him because he'd asked for an amp, or a new base guitar (he's been playing my brother's old guitar which is a regular guitar modified to play base, but not a 'real base'). I hate it when kids ask for something for their birthday and then just get it and there becomes an expectation that they will always get whatever they demand for their birthday, Christmas etc. One day we might not be able to scrape together what is needed for a present and then they'll be horribly disappointed and feel let down, so I like to keep them practiced in grace in the reception of gifts.

Lukas did very well, I was proud of him. He managed to be gracious even when he believe he was only getting a couple of tees and a box of Nutrigrain for his birthday.

So, then we brought out the amp and he was SO excited!!!

Then I sent him into the master bedroom and told him there was another accessory waiting for him there. When he saw the guitar, he was beside himself!



Oh look, I published this before I finished writing!

Okay, so one boy's dream come true - for the time being anyway!

Besides the car breaking down, and Lukas' birthday, I also attended the lunch hosted by the Mature Age Student Club on Monday. It was well-attended, which was awesome! I met and spoke with another research student who - shock horror - is actually doing Creative Writing! It was fantastic to actually speak to someone else who is doing something similar to me! We're both hoping to round up some more Creative Writing researchers at Deakin and maybe get some sort of supportive community going (hey, it's important to have dreams, right!).

Bryn and Ari received their reports (last Friday, I think?) and they were both wonderful to read! Both boys received Bs - yes, even Ari (I was pretty impressed with that, and in numeracy as well - we have no idea where that comes from, ha!). It was really nice to read reports and not cringe. I know reports aren't that important, but so often they read like a complaint that we (the parents) are somehow "doin' it 'rong" because our kids are restless in class. Nice to see acknowledgement that our kids are actually doing okay!

It's been a big week, but the biggest day is yet to come. I hope I get some sleep tonight!!!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The weather outside is frightful...



As you can tell it's a bit windy and rainy in Melbourne today. I have it on good authority though that this is EXACTLY like Iceland in the middle of summer - so, Melbournians, drink your cocoa which a chaser of cement and as they say, 'Harden the f@$K up!'

Today, I don't feel particularly Icelandic. I don't relish sideways rain.

I have been working on the speech I have to give on Friday at the start of my colloquium meeting. I need to practice, practice, practice what I'm going to say. I can't talk for shorter than ten minutes - which won't be a problem as I have so much to cover. I also need to cover everything in such a way as to not confuse everyone with disjointed garble.

I'm nervous. When I think about it, I'm very, very nervous. So, I try not to think about it too much. Only in the wee, dark hours, when I can't to a single thing about all my angsty angst.

I imagine you will all sigh a sigh of relief on Friday afternoon when I'm finish and you can stop reading endless update on my current state of anxiety of the chapter, or the abstract or the speech… I'm looking forward to then as well. 

For now, the weather is perfectly mirroring my inner turmoil - the weather inside is frightful, too!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Pivotal Moments...

I have just been inspired to write this blog after a conversation with the Grumpy Old Man about a project Erik is doing at high school. He has to develop a scrapbook of his life, and write about life, including a reflection on his life from a parent. As part of this scrapbook, Erik needs to identify two pivotal moments in his life, and this is what the Grumpy Old Man and I were discussing. The Grumpy Old Man had not, yet, decided what might be two pivotal moments in Erik's life but it took me no time at all to identify what I believe have been to two top pivotal moments in Erik's life to date...

Age 7:

Erik was being homeschooled. That is unschooled. He had not attended kindergarten or prep, or grade one. He had attended a homeschooling group once a week for a period of months but as we had no car and the group was over an hours travel each way, out into the hills, late during my pregnancy with Bryn, we'd given up the long distance travel and had not hooked up with any other groups in the mean time.

One day Erik came to me and said, 'I need to talk to you about something. I have been thinking about this for a while and I know you won't like it, but I want to try going to school. I think I can't make friends if I only see people once a week, every week I have to start again trying to make friends. I need to see people every day to make friends.'

This was a moment of utter clarity for Erik. He was never very good at expressing himself clearly with words, and so this little monologue is branded onto my memory because I was blown away by his reasoning.

This was most definitely a pivotal moment in his life. Here he was going against the culture of our family, speaking up for what HE wanted. There was strong intention in his words, and it would completely change his life to go to school. It took him several years to make friends, and many times I second guessed my decision to support him in this choice, but he had spoken so clearly, so thoughtfully about this desire that I could not ignore him.

Age 12:

Erik had shown an interest in drawing for a about two years at this stage but his drawing has been cartoony and while they showed some ability, his output of work wasn't high or high quality. We had heard about a high school which sounded fabulous for Erik and in an interview with the principal we had come to understand that the school would preference children with a strong interest in a subject. We thought perhaps we could encourage Erik to build an art portfolio if he went to regular art classes where he produced something every week - Erik works best with externally imposed structure (though we're working on him creating structure for himself, it's a slow process). The first class he brought home a drawing of a vase, it was quite good, though quite 2D and childlike, but it was a start. The second week he brought home this drawing...


The significance of this drawing is that he did it wholly on his own without any instruction, other than that he had an hour to draw the boot on the table in front of him.

When he brought home this drawing we saw a whole new level of ability in him which then spurred us on to supporting his talent. At this moment, his life become considerably more about his artwork and learning new technique and having something to give the world for which he received a lot of public positive feedback (which means a lot to Erik - he is quite the A personality type).

Pivotal moments in our lives can be quite small; a conservation, a decision, taking the first step on a big, big journey. Often they aren't accompanied by fan fair or celebration, though sometimes they are. Sometimes it takes a lot while to recognise the point at which our lives changed dramatically and suddenly we stepped out of one reality into another, the point at which we could have chosen to stay the course and continue along one reality, but instead we turned left and embarked on a whole new life course.

I think it is good to be able to identity these moments, however small they seemed at the time, so we can recognise them again if they come along and once more we find ourselves making the choice to maintain the status quo or try something different.


Friday, June 13, 2014

Feeling All Academic-like...

It's just gone midnight and I've just submitted the abstract and biographical note for the AAWP Conference 2014 - into the refereed papers section, no less, even though they say not to do that if you're a first time conference attendee (hey, my supervisor told me to do it!)...

Having also submitted my colloquium document today - well, technically yesterday, but you know what I mean - I'm feel all academic-like!

Up until this point I've just been a student at a university doing research, all alone and unseen, untested. But from today, I'm putting all that research 'out there' to be prodded and poked and scrutinised. The baby metaphor comes to mind, like any work of creation, I've poured myself into this project and now people are going to decide whether my baby is pretty and smart and full of potential, or if I should abandon it by the roadside and hope gypsies pick it up...

I've really been looking forward to putting myself out there, and putting flash fiction into the academic bull pit, but it is a bit scary, I hope we both have what it takes to survive this first round!




Thursday, June 12, 2014

Eeeek!



Today is the biggest day of this year for me!

I do realise that with more than six months remaining of the year, that's quite a statement, but I believe it is true.

You see, today I'm going to hand in my Colloquium Document (totally worthy of capitalisation), for review. In about two weeks I'll then have a meeting with four other academics where I will explain my thesis proposal and answer questions, but today is the very last day that I will work on the document that those academics will base all their questions on.

Today is the culmination of 12 months work. All the creative work, all the research, and writing the first chapter of my thesis (which I'm now thinking may need to be two chapters, but that's an issue for after the colloquium).

I have until Monday to hand this document in but, well, my supervisor feels it's great as is. I really, really, really hope she's right!

Wish me luck!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Hello dear regular reader...

It's funny, I've been writing this blog for 8.5 years and in recent years I've kept a stat counter running in the background so I am able to see how many people visit the blog and whence they hail, it's a very one sided relationship, but I don't mind. Most visitors to the blog are just passing through, checking out my galifreyan tramp stamp design (which, I probably will never get), or reading levels in primary school (these posts are oddly popular). Some, though, have become regulars and I find myself looking for them in the stats.

I have a regular reader in Canberra - I know you'll read this because you come to the blog most days, occasionally two or three times a day. I have a regular in Balwyn and another in Glen Waverley. There is a regular in Box Hill - who may or may not be a mum from school. I have a regular who comes up as 'Melbourne' but without a suburb designation - hi there, I really appreciate your dedication to my blog (in case you aren't sure if I'm talking about you, you use iinet…)! And a big shout out to my faithful reader in Kogarah, nice to have a regular from my birth state!

There are many others, but these stand out in my mind! I'm not really sure why you all stop by so persistently - I often wonder if this isn't the most boring blog on the net - but, I'm not complaining because some days you are all the only people who cause me to feel heard. I am very grateful for my regular readers!



Monday, June 09, 2014

The perfect 1950s couple, inverted.

Thankfully campus is open on the Queen's Birthday holiday (does that mean Deakin is republican???). So, I get to be in the office today, which kills two birds with one stone; I can work on the abstract for the upcoming conference submission, and I don't have to spend a day listening to my kids squabble because their routine has been disrupted…

By children, I mostly mean the younger two, and by disrupted I essentially mean Ari. He doesn't cope well with change - he is a lot like Erik in this - he gets all hyper and provocative, expecting something exciting to happen because it's Monday and he's not at school. I know he'll eventually outgrow this stage, and don't get me wrong, I think he is perfectly adorable, but I'm just as happy not to have to deal with it while I'm stressed about Uni work.

This office has been a godsend. It's an adult sanctuary. I sound like every cliche of a career woman ever published.

Sometimes I wonder if The Grumpy Old Man and I aren't just the perfect 1950s couple inverted. The other day I was talking to my supervisor. She doesn't have children, she has cats. We were coming to the end of our conversation about how the colloquium was perfectly timed before the school holidays start and she commented that it would be be good for me to have a couple of weeks off while I had the kids on my hands.

I laughed and said that wasn't really a problem for me because I'm the dad the in the house. That is, I have the traditional dad role of being there for the fun bits but leaving the day-to-day care up to my partner. The Grumpy Old Man certainly seems to enjoy hanging out at home with the kids far more than I do. Besides, I put in many very intense years until 18 months ago because The Grumpy Old Man couldn't be pregnant or breastfeed, and until about age 4 it seems my boys felt dad was the consolation prize if mum wasn't available - now it's the opposite (except maybe with Ari who is still quite the mummy's boy).

I love my evenings with the older boys; we just hang out and it's great. It's the younger boys I struggle with. I love them, I just don't have a lot of patience. I mean, I have a lot more patience with them now than I ever had with their older brothers at the same age - in that sense I've developed a significant amount of patience, but it's not as much as I feel I should have.

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So, I love coming in the office and directing my focus to my work. Maybe also because I know there comes a time every day when I can walk away from the work. With parenting, there is no such thing.

For two nights running now, i've been woken at about 5am by Ari - who has discovered taking himself to the toilet in the night now, but never without loud banging of doors - having to send him back to bed so he doesn't watch early morning evangelists on tv. Parenting is around the clock, and parenting doesn't care what else you have going on in your life. Parenting is unpredictable and just when you feel you have a grip on it, is sends you a fresh curve ball.

I like work. It is predictable and while there is a steep learning curve at the beginning, there are fewer curve balls.

I would never not have kids, though - in case you're wondering. I'm just very aware now that I'm grateful to have kids who have almost outgrown early childhood.

Saturday, June 07, 2014

Icarus...

I love the name Icarus and had Ari been born a week later than he was, I would have named him Icarus - and called him Ari as a nick name instead.

Icarus comes from Greek mythology. He was the son of Daedalus, a master craftsman, and the story goes that Daedalus built Icarus wings from feathers and wax, so he could escape the island of Crete. Before Icarus took off, his father warned him not to fly too close to the ocean lest his feathers became water logged, and not to fly too close to the sun lest the wax holding the feathers together should melt.

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Icarus, of course, flew too close to the sun, his wings disintegrated and he fell into the sea and drowned.

So, you might be wondering why this is one of my favourite myths and why I would name my child after a fool.

Good questions. You see I don't see the story of Icarus as a tale of failure, but rather a tale of innovation and success, but a warning to understand your limitations and work with them; don't lose your head or you might lose everything!

Tonight the Grumpy Old Man and I watched The Wolf of Wall Street, on recommendation from my almost 15 year old son who had already downloaded it and loved it, but that's a totally different blog post about parental freak outs and how modern parenting can never be compared to what our parents had to work with, I digress...

The Wolf of Wall Street is basically the story of Icarus - complete with the Daedalus figure advising his son to be careful, and the son ignoring his father to his own demise.

The heady heights of success can be disorienting and sometimes people forget they are not invincible even if they are very successful very quickly - it always pays to mind the water and the sun...

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Reward Charts for ignoring anxiety...

Yesterday I received an email from our class representative for Ari´s class, she was passing on the slides from an information session which had been held at the school early this week about anxiety in children.

I read through the slides with Erik and Lukas last night - partly to raise the topic of anxiety and partly just for fun; to see what the advice was. All three of us recognised that Bryn is suffering some anxiety at the moment and that Erik used to suffer considerable anxiety, but that both Lukas and Ari seem not to have.

We looked at the symptoms and the behaviours, and how to deal with the behaviours. Several of the suggested approaches to handling the behaviours - particularly school avoidance - seem to be in the form of praise and reward charts.

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I found it interesting that my boys saw straight through the manipulation of praise and reward charts - particularly the suggestion of a sticker chart for 'going to school'. They both expressed the attitude that a sticker was hardly compensation for doing something that made you feel physically ill, or afraid. 'Oh yeah, risk being bashed by the class bully - get a sticker! Woo hoo!' said Lukas.

They registered that getting help from a GP or counsellor seemed to be listed only as a very last option, and that before that the solution seemed to be to get the child to suck up their anxiety in response to praise and sticker charts.

So much advice to parents seems to be about how to get children to stop being inconvenient rather than addressing the problem the child is actually expressing an issue with. Let's not try to rationalise your fear or address the cause of your feeling of threat, just be a good little kid and suppress your anxiety, and here have a sticker!

I'm glad my children recognise manipulation for what it is*.


*reward charts for chores is another matter - I'm specifically talking about rewarding children for ignoring their feelings of anxiety

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

The seduction of words...

The words tease me
pulling at me here and there
dancing in, then slinking away
with a come hither gaze
they laugh

The white pixelated page
spread like a satin sheet
cool to the touch
enticing and intimidating
it scolds me

Make love to the words
on the satin sheets
succumb
be vulnerable
let go

Neuro-opthalmology...

I'm off to the neuro-opthalmology outpatient clinic at the Royal Melbourne Eye and Ear hospital today. I've cancelled this appointment twice already, I should have gone in March. Okay, I cancelled the first appointment, and then just never showed up for the second appointment. You see, this isn't about me at all and I have to wonder why I'm paying $30 in parking for the privilege of having some plucky little neuro-op get all excited over the new show-and-tell he'll have for his next conference.

I initially went to the Eye and Ear in February this year (I think, I'm not good with dates), because my own ophthalmologist was concerned that I had 'suddenly' lost a considerable amount of vision in my right eye (the only eye which actually registers anything at all). She was basing this on a test done by another private op a few years ago when I was being assessed for my cosmetic surgery to straight my left eye. That op was an idiot and for some reason had come to the determination that I wasn't legally blind at all - luckily no one even took any notice of his finding until January this year and a follow-up assessment found, of course, that i am legally blind (something I have been all my life). However, my current op felt the discrepancy between the two tests needed immediate investigation.

The regular outpatient clinic found nothing of any use, but as soon as I described my brain structure to the old op I was seeing, his face was washed in that familiar expression of 'Oh, goody, I'm going to pass this on to my colleague and gain a few hero points!' and so I was asked to visit the neuro-op outpatient clinic in March.

I had to reschedule, and then I simply forgot (or did I?) to attend the April reschedule. This led to the Eye and Ear contacting my GP, who in turned called me to tell me to NOT miss the next appointment.

So, today I'm off to the neuro-opthalmology outpatient clinic at the Royal Melbourne Eye and Ear hospital with my CT scans in tow. Unless there is some radical and not-at-all-risky brain surgery they can do to restore the approximate 1/3 of my missing brain matter, I doubt there is anything they can do for me. However, I'm sure there is plenty they would like me to do for them. MRI and other tests. I know it is all in the name of knowledge and understanding and it might benefit someone other than myself, but mostly in the past I have felt more like a circus freak than co-contributor to scientific advancement.

Wish me luck.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Reading blogs...

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I've started reading blogs again.

I completely stopped reading blogs a couple of years ago. I just didn't have enough time to read them between finding out if I was left or right brained, or sharing news bytes about how appalling the Liberal party was being (because not enough people in my friends list understood this, right).

Anyway, last week, in lieu of reading and posting on Facebook, I started out reading a  lot of threads on a popular Australian parenting forum, but I soon became disillusioned by what I was reading...

As an aside, I've been thinking a lot about a quote from the late Maya Angelou 'People don’t always remember what you say or even what you do, but they always remember how you made them feel.'

This rings very true for me, and reading the forum really highlighted this for me, you can see it in how people react to one another, but also it is obvious that a lot of people are completely unaware of how what they say and causes others to feel.

This had me thinking about how I might, cluelessly, cause others to feel. Does my being ignorant of how others feel in the wake of my needing to prove I know better or more, or whatever, excuse me from any responsibility for how I cause others to feel? I'm not convinced it does...

Back to blogs...

So, I started looking up blogs written by other creative writing PhD students and candidates. I was looking for insight into my peers experiences. I haven't actually met another creative writing PhDer 'in the wild'. Maybe they're all shy, like me, maybe they're all extremely far too busy to 'hang out' - I understand that.

Reading those blogs has led me to start re investigating Australia writing and writer blogs - I haven't found many, but a couple of good ones from Aussie writers I had 'met' through Twitter (of course, I've only just deleted my Twitter account, wouldn't you know). 

I'm hoping to learn from these other writers and PhDers. I struggle a lot with feeling unworthy, but I gather a lot of people in my situation feel the same way.

I'm glad I've rediscovered blogs

 

Monday, June 02, 2014

The year I spent in bed...

If I were to write a memoir about this year of my life, it would be titled, 'The Year I Spent In Bed'. Not because I have been sick, or even because I have spent the entire year in bed, but because it seems to me that is all I want to do this year.

I have felt so deathly tired all year. I get up, go to uni (most days, anyway, but not today and not last Friday, or Thursday, and not tomorrow, but maybe for a bit on Wednesday), come home and go to bed. On weekends, if I'm not out of the house on an errand, I'm usually to be found in my bed.

I'm not sleeping all the time, in fact, I only ever doze on and off, and rarely sleep properly at night. It's just that I find I do all my best thinking in bed and the work I do requires a helluva lot of thinking!

This morning I've been reading blogs by other writers doing a PhD, as well as the odd (and they're usually odd, one way or another) creative writing blog. After a few hours doing that I feel exhausted. My head is full of thoughts all racing around and competing with each other for my attention like five year olds.

Now what I really need is some time in bed to focus on taming these little beasts and getting them to speak to me with some semblance of coherence. It might turn out that two or three of them could make friends and start something exciting; a new goal, or maybe even a new project!

For thinking I need quiet and cozy. I need to be bundled up in a hug where I feel safe to let everything go and allow myself to just float along with my thoughts. You see thoughts are like fairy floss, if you grasp them too firmly, they lose their body, and become crushed; hard little lumps of crystalised sugar. Sugar is sweet, but fairy floss is magic. I need magic.

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Teenagers and the failing parent...