Thursday, August 28, 2014

Why I love my blog...

This week has been full on, man!

Our younger two boys had school musical performances in the ambition 'Seussical the Musical' on Monday and Tuesday nights. The Grumpy Old Man and I attended the Tuesday night encore performance and had front row seats to see our little cuties with all their school pals. I was really impressed. This was a proper musical with a story arch and speaking parts and the whole she-bang. The new performing arts teacher has excelled himself! It was very entertaining, our boys, though both had chorus roles, were awesome!

Bryn in the red tshirt, singing!

Ari making absolutely sure mummy can see him!
 On Wednesday night we attended an information session for the older boys' individualised learning plans for next year (and beyond). It was AMAZING. Our high school is AMAZING! It wouldn't be for everyone, but oh my it certainly is for us, and I will blog about everything we learned in the next couple of days.

Today I have been working on the finishing touches for tomorrow's AGM for the Mature Age Student Club. I spent all of Monday doing updating the membership spreadsheets, writing the agenda, locating the minutes from last year and so on. Today I updated the membership spreadsheets again, and printed out a whole lot of stuff for the meeting tomorrow, as well as writing up the secretary's report.

I have been talking a lot about being stressed lately, and you will be relieved to hear that I am now taking steps to relieve some of the stress. I will be seeing a GP on Monday, partially to get forms filled in to apply for the Grumpy Old Man to become mine and Erik's carer (I am currently Erik's carer), but also to get mental health plans for myself and Erik.

But here is why I love my blog. I overshare a fair bit on here. It's easy, I don't have a lot of concept that anyone is really reading my posts. I do see the visitors on Statcounter, but well, people don't often comment, so it's hard to feel exposed, so to speak. But this week I received an email from a reader who has emailed me before. It was really supportive and had some great advice, and so I asked the reader for permission to post the contents of the email here, as she gave me permission.

I love hearing from my readers!

Dear Sif 

What a bundle you are carrying - you must do something. When I was an apprentice in a printing factory sometimes there was so much to do and customers where scolding, colleges were yelling for their jobs handed over to them and I was in tears as nothing happened to change things or lessen the stress. An old typographer then said: If you take the jobs that take the least time to finish, no matter where they are in the line, you can handle then over to the printers and they will shut up while printing them and your desk will look less heavy and your eyes see that something happened. It is not always that you have to do things for them that yell loudest, you have to do things so you can live with them and save yourself so you can work some more. 
Much truth is in this. And if one lifts up the whole packet at once (as I think you are doing) it becomes so heavy and the sight gets clogged and filled completely by this packet.  

Dear Sif, do untangle your tasks and heavy burden, lay it out and ask yourself: What can I finish now and then shovel it away? What can be done in next week or the week after so I get piece to enjoy the things I do next? 

I ask you to forgive me for "preaching" like an old aunt but I have been were you are now. Worries only make us sick and carelessness does that also. So it is the hard-to-find-way of the middle course. 

Púff.Yours Thora Elfa
Thank you Thora, I will most definitely be taking your advice and untangling my tasks!

In other good news: last night I received a 'heads up' about a symposium being held here are Deakin in collaboration with my alma mata (Canberra University) at the beginning of October. I've put my hand up to present at the symposium, so hopefully I will get to do that and it will add to my experience and exposure!

I have decided to ask around about what I need to do about getting some sort of work at Deakin (either research or tutoring, but actually I'd be willing to do anything at this point) because I really need some form of income if I'm going to continue this PhD.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Age of Discussing Disease...

The Grumpy Old Man just had a long chat with a mate on the phone and then started telling me the news he had from various friends jotted around Australia. Basically, just about every piece of news was about disease. Triple bypass surgery, bowel cancer, stomach cancer...

Recently, I had mentioned to him that we seem to know a lot of people who are fighting diseases at the moment. Particularly cancer. I have four friends who are either actively fighting cancer, or have recently gone into remission; breast cancer, ovarian cancer, bowel cancer. Then there are the friends with diabetes, MS, blood pressure issues.

We've hit 'that age', the age where people no longer shoot the breeze about bands, or movies, or holidays, but rather about surgeries, and treatments, and remedies.

Mortality is a bitch, isn't it?

On the other hand, I also have friends who are big into taking supplements, running, and doing meditation - all to stave of the diseases they feel surrounded by. Just makes me want to go to bed, if I'm perfectly honest!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The difference between being a critic and being a critical thinker...

I have observed a practice in many people of criticising where they assume they are employing critical thinking skills, and so I want to discuss the difference between the two activities because it think a lot of people confuse being a critic with being a critical thinker...

Let's look at a couple of dictionary definitions, first up.

a person who expresses an unfavourable opinion of something.
"critics of the new legislation say it is too broad"
synonyms:detractor, censurer, attacker, fault-finder, carper, backbiter, caviller,reviler, vilifier, traducer, disparager, denigrator, deprecator, belittler;More
a person who judges the merits of literary or artistic works, especially one who does so professionally.
"a film critic"
  1. synonyms:commentatorobservermonitorpunditexpertauthorityarbiter,interpreterexponent, expounder; More

As you can see, a critic is someone who criticises. Someone who looks for what is wrong in something and then points out the wrong to others. A critic is someone who has an intrinsic, and personal, understanding of what is wrong, as opposed to what it right. Their understanding of wrong-ness is primarily about personal taste, personal opinion. This may be an opinion shared by many, but it is nonetheless an opinion. An endpoint of thinking. A conclusion which shuts the door on further investigation of the matter and delivers a judgement.

critical thinkingnounthe objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgement.
"professors often find it difficult to encourage critical thinking among their stude

Critical thinking, on the other hand is the practice of setting aside opinion and analysing and evaluating something objectively. It is a challenge, as a human being, to be objective. We have a tendency to take what we have learned previously; experiences and previously formed opinions (the endpoint of thinking) and apply them to new situations all the time. This is because, as humans, judgements based on previous experience often save time in a truly dangerous situations e.g. a snarling wild animal is advancing, this is not a good time to test if the animal is friendly or hungry.

Humans are instinctive, and instincts are formed through experience. This is why human clings to opinions; their instinct, based on previous experience, offers a shorthand to judgement.

However, critical thinking requires us to set aside previously formed opinions on whatever it is we are critically analysing, and look at the product with fresh eyes, evaluate it on its own merit, ignoring the fact that we may - on the face of it - already agree or disagree with the products premise or conclusion.

I often see people employing criticism while attempting to pass it off as critical thinking. Tone is usually the first give away, if the tone of the critique is overly familiar and seeks to establish common ground early on, either through exalting or disparaging the source based on previous experience, you can be sure critical thinking has left the building. For example, 'Because we all know Sue is an expert in her field.' or 'Once again Bill is trying to hoodwink us.' are prime examples of critique without critical thinking. Foregone conclusions are the antithesis of critical thinking!

As a researcher, I have become more and more conscious of denying that voice in my head that says, 'I don't like the person, or the way they speak, so I think this is going to be rubbish even as I read the first paragraph.' and conversely, 'I love this theorist, I always agree with what s/he has to say!' because neither of these modes of thinking are critical.

People who have produced articles of critical thinking usually agree that their early work was a little sloppy, or not well argued, or could have been better sourced and so on. Researchers often hope people don't read their early work and assume that is all there is to them, but sadly too many people do because they don't employ critical thinking skills.

Just because someone made a mistake in the past, doesn't mean their work should be written off for all eternity. We all learn from our mistakes (hopefully) and improve our work as we progress through our careers.

Likewise, just because someone wrote with great insight and brilliance once, or even a dozen times, doesn't mean they won't occasionally make a mistake in their work, or overlook a critical error.

So, being a critical thinker means setting aside the desire to pre-judge something. It requires you to analyse and evaluate only the product in front of you for internal validity and logic.

Remember to be a critical thinker, not just a critic.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Family, memoir, all the stories...

I went to a session at the Melbourne Writer's Festival yesterday; Family with Ben Watt and Rupert Thomson, hosted by Sian Prior, author of Shy.

I went because the creative piece I'm writing for my thesis is a family memoir of sorts - though not strictly because it is a fictionalisation of family stories and not so much my own memory of events (certainly not events from two hundred years ago).

It was fascinating because people are fascinating.

I have to admit I didn't realise Ben Watt as one half of 'Everything but the Girl', so, I can honestly say I went with no preconceptions of the authors.

I've decided I need to work on my words. I need better language. Listening to the readings of the two male author's books (Ben Watt's Romany and Tom, and Rupert Thomson's This Party's Got to Stop).

Ben's reading, in particular, made me want to be a better writer (yes, I know, I'm totally stealing a line from 'As Good as it Gets' and I'm being corny, and I really couldn't care less because it's the truth).

I tell everyone I meet that every family has a story, the most amazing stories. Ben and Rupert proved this, yet again yesterday. I challenge all my readers to think about their family stories, there is something extraordinary in your family's history that deserves being documented, all families are interesting!

Also, today, I'd like to leave you with my theme song. I heard this on the radio this morning, and was reminded that I need to add this to the list of music that MUST be placed at my funeral. I have a number of songs which are messages from me to my kids, and to Dave, but this is the song I want all my friends and family to hear and think of me when they hear it!

Friday, August 22, 2014

I am Clara... And I'm not Clara, at all.

Okay, I'm not a cute 20-something running around saving the Doctor between making soufflés and otherwise being a bit of a smarty-pants, but today I can totally relate to 'I don't know where I am'.

I don't know where I am - that is the essence of me today.

I feel like I've been running and running all year and this morning I ran right out of road. The place I thought I was going doesn't seem to exist. Not now, anyway.

At the beginning of this year I felt such optimism for what I would achieve. I was going to get through my colloquium, get a job tutoring, get my novel published and attend a conference. I guess, at the moment, I'm scoring about 50% on those goals, in that I did get through my colloquium and I have been invited to present at a conference, but I'm still without work and I just found out that the company that was going to publish my novel has folded and the publisher is currently on the hunt for someone else to publish the book, but it won't happen this year.

I feel all at sea with my PhD. I'm basically not working on it at the moment. That is I'm still reading and researching but getting nowhere fast in my search for a writer/theorist who can be my hero - my inspiration.

At the same time, I haven't started writing my article for peer review, something I have about a month to do now. Having a looming deadline will help me, I know, but the main reason I haven't done any work on it is that we have so much else going on at the moment.

Yesterday I looked at applying for a scholarship again for next year. I downloaded the form, but I can't fill in anything for the segments asking for peer reviewed publication, or research experience, or awards. This has left me feeling like I haven't achieved much at all in the time since I applied.

I need to publish and I need to gain research experience and I need to work so I have more money if I can't get a scholarship, but nothing seems to be happening with these things, just yet and I seem impotent to make anything happen.

So, I don't know where I am. I don't know how to get where I want to be, either. I feel useless - that is probably how I'm not Clara, at all.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Time Slip...

I keep losing time.

One of my friends suggested I might be The Doctor - nice thought, but no.

I'm very, very busy, and yet I sometimes feel like I'm doing nothing at all. I am being very buddhist of late - very living in the moment. This is supposed to be a great thing, but I'm not so sure because every now and then I feel like I wake up and realise that while I was busy doing A and B, I was neglecting C and D - all of which are very important.

When I'm focused on the kids and stuff at home, I am neglecting my research and preparing for the conference, and vice versa.

Don't get me wrong, I love to be busy, I just don't feel that I'm keeping track of everything very well.

Today's plan, for example, was to come to work, do an hour, go to a workshop for an hour, do two more hours, then go to a seminar for an hour, do one more hour of work, then go pick the kids up from school, do Erik's therapy etc.

It just doesn't work like that though. By the time I actually sat down at my desk I had half an hour until the workshop. Half way through the workshop I received a call from our real estate agent (which I didn't take, but she left a message) needing to reschedule an appointment. So, then I became preoccupied with figuring out when we might have time to slot her in next, and calling her back. Back at my desk I had a brief conversation with a lovely peer, and now I'm writing this post. The only thing I've done towards the work I was going to get done today is send a document to be printed, which I will pick up at the library when I head down there for the seminar. in just under an hour. At least that is more than I achieved all of last week.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Dedicating my laughter to the memory of Robin Williams...

A man died yesterday, well, technically, he died on the 11th, but here in Australia that was probably yesterday, and in any case we only heard about it yesterday.

It was an Elvis moment. I will never forget where I was when I heard that Robin Williams was no longer walking this planet. I was sitting in traffic on my way to a braille tutorial. I gasped and the Grumpy Old Man nearly crashed into the car in front of him. I cursed social media because it happens all too often these days that shocking news appears when you least expect it, when you've just been laughing at a dog begging for a sausage, or a satirical dig at the Government and suddenly you scroll down and your heart stops because someone else's heart stopped and you weren't expecting it.

I hate that about social media.

I cried, and cried, and apologised to the Grumpy Old Man for crying over a man I never met. Then I cried some more. Then I tried to sing along to Lionel Ritchie's 'Dancing on the Ceiling' because that song never fails to cheer me up, but my voice trailed off and I cried.

I cried because he was so funny, so silly, so full of life, but life couldn't hold him, life couldn't coax another day out of him. Sadness and distress won in the end. Lots of people are trying to figure it out. How could this man, this funny man, have died from sadness? They want to blame society, they want to blame fame. I blame hormones. Hormones suck. Hormones have no conscience, they are bureaucrats who follow rules. If A then B, and we don't care how brilliant you are, how much people love you, how much you have to offer the world. They go up, up, up because that's the policy and then they plunge because that is the policy.

He had been living with these surges and plunges for decades. He'd self-medicated, and then been through rehabilitation to dry him out from self-medicating. Decades of riding the roller coaster, and he'd had enough. I don't blame him, I admire him for all he did in those decades and how he carried on for so long despite the bureaucracy of hormones.

I am incredibly sad, too, though. So deeply sad, in a way that I can't really articulate. I felt better for a while last night when the Grumpy Old Man and the older boys and I watched one of Robin Williams' stand up routines. Later Erik and I watch Mrs Doubtfire together. We were lucky that Robin Williams found fame and could share his unique kind of brilliance with the world. We would never have known what we would have been missing if he hadn't. How awful it must be to a close relative or friend of his today.

As a post-dualist. I believe that his body and soul are one, and as his body is returned to dispersed energies of the world, his spirit goes back to all that is around us. That particular concentration of humour, insight, generosity and verve ceases to exist in one place, but doesn't cease to exist. Maybe the world will become a little more humorous, insightful, generous, and full of verve because we were and continue to be touched by the possibilities Robin Williams presented us with while he walked, and talked, and jumped and made us laugh and cry.

For me, one of Robin Williams' greatest roles was as Parry, the homeless man in The Fisher King. I always felt this role was closest to how Robin actually was - as if he was playing him. In this role he tells a parable about a king and fool...

Parry: It begins with the king as a boy, having to spend the night alone in the forest to prove his courage so he can become king. Now while he is spending the night alone he's visited by a sacred vision. Out of the fire appears the holy grail, symbol of God's divine grace. And a voice said to the boy, "You shall be keeper of the grail so that it may heal the hearts of men." But the boy was blinded by greater visions of a life filled with power and glory and beauty. And in this state of radical amazement he felt for a brief moment not like a boy, but invincible, like God, so he reached into the fire to take the grail, and the grail vanished, leaving him with his hand in the fire to be terribly wounded. Now as this boy grew older, his wound grew deeper. Until one day, life for him lost its reason. He had no faith in any man, not even himself. He couldn't love or feel loved. He was sick with experience. He began to die. One day a fool wandered into the castle and found the king alone. And being a fool, he was simple minded, he didn't see a king. He only saw a man alone and in pain. And he asked the king, "What ails you friend?" The king replied, "I'm thirsty. I need some water to cool my throat". So the fool took a cup from beside his bed, filled it with water and handed it to the king. As the king began to drink, he realized his wound was healed. He looked in his hands and there was the holy grail, that which he sought all of his life. And he turned to the fool and said with amazement, "How can you find that which my brightest and bravest could not?" And the fool replied, "I don't know. I only knew that you were thirsty."

Parry is supposedly a knight that the king has sent in search of the Holy Grail, but he is also, unrealised by himself, the fool.

To me, Robin Williams was always the fool bringing water to the rest of us tormented souls. What will we do without our fool? We will have to save ourselves.

Yesterday, I decided to dedicate my laughter to Robin Williams. This is a personal thing. Whenever I laugh, I will remember that happiness doesn't mean living without pain, it means laughter despite the pain.

Monday, August 11, 2014

If you were a birth certificate, where would you hide?

I've searched the filling cabinet of 'all the things'...

Where I found all the birthday and Mothers' Day and Fathers' Day and Christmas cards from the past two years...

I looked amongst all the warranties, and assembly instructions, and user manuals...

I looked amongst all my Masters paperwork; where I found a matching game and a my resume, and lo and behold the bound copy of my Thesis which I thought I'd lost forever...

And I look amongst my braille stuff - and saw nothing...

I know I would have submitted a copy of my birth certificate with my Uni application the year before last, but we've moved house since then (and it wasn't with those papers either).

Where could it be?

I will have to apply for a replacement, which will cost $75 because it is from interstate (I forgot I wasn't born in Victoria), and because I need it asap to apply for my Australian passport... If you are reading this and have a psychic flash about where my birth certificate may be, please leave a comment and save the rest of my sanity!

Friday, August 08, 2014

Iceland is NOT an alien world...

Twice yesterday, I heard Iceland being described as 'an alien world' and 'a lunar landscape'. The people; one in a radio interview, and the other on an online forum, were both attempting to explain how excited they were by the landscape in Iceland, how different it was from anything they had experienced previously.

It was supposed to be a form of praise.

The problem I have with people describing Iceland in this way is that it creates an 'other' of Iceland. Iceland is an oft stereotyped country and its people are perceived in light of the stereotypes. Case in point, recently, with the Global Financial Crisis, when the people of Iceland ejected their Government and refused to pay back the debt of the scoundrels who bankrupted the country, it was explained away by suggesting something like that could only happen in Iceland (as if it has never, before, happened in the history of people on this globe).

There is a very strong focus on the landscape being 'other worldly', not of this world, but that is simply not true. In summer Iceland looks a lot like New Zealand or Hawaii, or any other volcanic island. Yes, it is cold in Iceland, but not as cold as it gets in the most of the rest of Scandinavia. Don't let the name fool you. Iceland gets down to around -10 in winter, but Norway, even in the South easily get down to -25, and in the North -40. It is windy in Iceland all year round, but that's what it is like on most islands. Islands tend to be quite windy - it is hardly other worldly.

This may look other world, but this is the beauty of Earth, let's claim it
(and protect it, please)
Photo by David Clapp
Have a think about the moon (think about the lunar landscape reference). The moon in arid. Iceland is anything but arid. The moon is dusty. You can't claim Iceland is dusty, muddy, yes, quite a bit, but dusty? No. On the moon you only weigh a fraction of your Earthly weight. I'm sure a lot of Icelanders wished Iceland offered that perk, but alas it does not. The moon is (as far as we know) uninhabited. Iceland is inhabits by 270 000 Icelanders and 50 000 Brits (only joking about the Brits).

So, it would seem Iceland actually has very little in common with the moon, or any other alien planet, for that matter.

The problem with creating an 'other', or more pointedly, a 'not us', of any country or nation, is that it sets that country or nation apart. It exoticises that country or nation.  Think about exotic for a moment. Things that are exotic often become the pawns of tourism. Now tourism offers a lot of benefits for poor countries (Iceland relies quite heavily on tourism since the Global Financial Crisis), but it also has dark side. You see, when a culture is forced to sell its exoticisms, it can become further entrenched in stereotypes. Once stereotypes become 'the norm', countries and people and growth and diversity and progress become less valuable.

The City of Reykjavík
Iceland isn't all berserk vikings and elves and barren fields of snow. Just as Australia isn't all jackaroos or surfies, or kangaroos jumping down the main streets.

Icelandic people - not actually alien, or lunies...
Yes, Iceland is beautiful, like so many other places on THIS DIVERSE PLANET. Yes, we came from Vikings (though mostly from farmers), and a great many of us will not outright discount the existence of elves (though most of us aren't in the habit of speaking to them regularly, either), and yes, there are barren fields of snow, but also a thriving city, and many, many bog ordinary little towns. Don't limit us to what we were a 1000 years ago, learn what we are now, today.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Sonic Boom...

The Grumpy Old Man and I narrowly avoided being caught up in a collision on the way to work this morning. Two (or three, not sure) cars collided right behind us slid towards us but fortunately for us, they came to a stop before crashing into us as well. The noise of the collision was like a sonic boom. I thought we'd actually been hit but realise it was the sound wave that hit us. I still feel quite shaken by it. Ambulances were called. We briefly considered hopping out of the car and offering out assistance, but realised that might cause more trouble because of the inclement weather and low visibility.

I'm feeling quite frustrated today, and this fright has not helped.

I can't seem to locate my birth certificate, which I need to get a passport. I know I have it somewhere, but I thought I was managing those important papers better than i obviously am. I have also managed to lose Ari's birth certificate - I put in an application for it several months ago now, paid the money, but still haven't gotten my act together to submit supporting papers (one of those papers will be my birth certificate, argh!).

Also, that recumbent bike I bought a month ago, which started clunking is causing me grief. Or rather the seller is causing me grief. The bike was advertised as being of such high quality that it came with a two year warranty. Yes, well, it started clunking when I peddle after just a week. So i contacted the seller about getting details of said warranty. I initially contacted the seller about this, but didnt hear back for 6 days, so prompted him again. The seller asked me to send a video of the clunking, I didn't then didn't hear back for 5 days, so contacted him again, he asked for my address and the date of sale. Then when I hadn't heard back for 4 days, I lodged a dispute with Paypal, the seller then told me to rerun the bike for a full refund. I said I wanted it fixed under warranty, not a full refund, and I couldn't afford to return it to the seller anyway. Today the seller asks me for a video so he can assess what has gone wrong with it...

Gah! I told him I'd already sent him a video two weeks ago, but gave him the link again. Seriously, this is bullshit.

MIL confirmed she is definitely up for buying a house we can all live in. She wants us to actively start looking now. This is great. It is also very scary.

The club I'm secretary of is having its AGM later this month, and it looks like we've already found a replacement for my position. I'm very relieved. I've learned a lot from being secretary, but it is also quite time consuming on top of the PhD and just being a mum - some mums are amazing at multi-tasking, but as you can see from what I've written above, I'm probably not one of them*.

The Melbourne Writers' Festival is on later this month. I have tickets to two events and I have two other (free events) I want to check out. One of the ticketed events is on the same day as the AGM, which is also a treatment day for Erik (Erik is getting light therapy for psoriasis three times a week at the moment). So, that'll be a fun day.

Our current real estate agent rang this morning. The current owners what to get in under the house tomorrow to retrieve some things they don't want the new owns to throw away when the house is demolished. We also have a house inspection scheduled for a fortnight from now. Funny having a house inspection on a house which will be demolished in six months time.

Funny story: Mentioned to our Real Estate Agent that we're now in the market to buy, and she got very excited for us and said, 'Wow, you'll be so happy not to have to deal with the likes of us anymore!' She was quite genuine. Poor thing must realise that most tenants loathe real estate agents and loathe having to rent.

There is one shining light for me at the moment. Doctor Who, series 8 begins in just 17 days time. I have some Doctor Who themed cookie cutters which I'm going to use to make cookies for our launch party at home.

*Hello prospective employers reading this - I really am very good at multi-tasking at work, just not in my personal life. Surely that makes a difference, right? I always get work responsibilities done - this usually means home responsibilities take second place...

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Movement at the Station... But not in my head...

The Grumpy Old Man and I had a chat with his mum last week, and we've all pretty much decided that the bet course of action now is to try and sell her place and buy a place for all of us before the new owners want us out (projected to be February).

This will be quite a challenge, and already I can see we might not make it happen in just six months, but at least the decision has been made that this has to happen now to benefit everyone.

Meanwhile, my brain is on hiatus. I'm not at all sure what's going on but I know I have a lot to do and a brain which seems reluctant to cooperate.

I was called on to do jury duty a few weeks back, I had two weeks to return the requited forms and I completely forgot. I have rung the relevant office and they've said to get the form in asap, but that it's okay that I haven't gotten it in yet.

I also need to lodge an Australian passport application form, so I can go to NZ in November. Today I managed to get as far as filling in as much of it as I could without my birth certificate in front of me - I hope I can find my birth certificate!

I really need to get started on the paper I need to submit by the end of September for the conference. It's like my brain is waiting for something to slide out of the way before it can proceed on that task though. It's some sort of mental obstacle and I can't, for the life of me, figure out what it is.

If you see my brain, can you send it home, please...

Good Job!