#academicgoals

Everyday I wake up with the intension of having this kind of day– one where I am “learning at the edge of what I already know”– I needed this, need these kind of goals working to have more days with “sustained flowing, thinking and writing/talking over time”– except in my PhD work I am alone much of the time so much of the talking with have to be to myself!

What is a good academic day? What happens to make you go home/leave the office and say to your partner or cat/dog/budgie – I had such a good day today. I’ve come to the rather obvious conclusion that my good academic day is one where I actually get to do “proper scholarship”. My good day […]

via a ‘good academic day’ — patter

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reasons to write

I get all caught up in my “habitual self”– which helps me get what I need to get done to actually sit down at my desk, but I was failing to see that I need to break free from this “habitual self” once I’ve sat done… Hmmmm….

patter

I’ve been dipping in and out of a rather pleasurable book about writing. Most people read books about writing for utilitarian reasons – to find a new technique, to see something that might inform their own work, to seek explanations for particular conventions. And so on.There’s absolutely nothing wrong with these kinds of informative writing books – I write them myself so I’m quite glad people want to read them. And I buy and read other people’s informative writing books so that I can add to what I know, and perhaps challenge some of the ways I think about things.

But Idoread books about writing for the sheer pleasure of it. SomeI buy for no other reason than I like to be provoked, tantalised, intrigued, or amused by someone’s writing about writing.I’m currently finishing off a book about writing by Mark Edmundson. It’s called Why write? A master class on…

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Mother Goose

Mama GooseThis year-  I am home for Mother’s Day- but I leave for another PhD trip in just a couple of weeks… this time I will be gone three weeks, total. I have to fly out on my daughter’s birthday and I will miss my youngest son’s birthday. It is always something. I work hard to schedule around school concerts, graduations, First Communions, but with six kids I miss something “important”  on every trip. It doesn’t get easier being away, in fact I would say it gets harder with every time I get on a plane. Sure, I am more organized, and maybe even the household runs much more smoothly when I am away now, compared to when I started three years ago. They’ve got it figured out, but the missing them all like crazy? I don’t think I will ever figure that out.

Here’s a little something I wrote when I was away last year;
As much as I tried to talk myself into believing that this was just going to be another day, I woke up feeling very aware that it is, (at home, not here) Mother’s Day, and that being 7,500 kms away from my own mum and 5,000 kms away from my kids, stinks. People often say things to me like, “Six kids! You must get spoiled rotten on Mother’s day!” but we’ve always happily rejected the “send Mom to the spa for the day” or “lavish Mom with jewelry” type of celebration. At our house it is always low key, and always includes things like, sweetly made crepe paper tulips or a carefully cut out construction paper card in the shape of a tea pot with a real tea bag tapped inside, sometimes there are flowers, and there is always a special meal (cooked by me, because, not to toot my own horn, but I am the best cook in the house), shared around the table with my old man on one end, me on the other, three of them to the right of me and three to my left. But today, not to sound like too much of a Debbie-downer, there will be none of that. As I sat having my coffee in front of the “telly” this morning contemplating that maybe I “deserved” a little “me time” and rolling up into a ball on the couch to watch a marathon of British gardening shows, seemed, momentarily, like a really good plan, I knew, in order to nip this pity party in the bud I needed to get up and get moving, or else, my whole reason, for being so far away from my family would all be for naught. I decided to go for a run along Birmingham’s Canal to clear my head and get my academic mojo flowing. 
A few minutes into my run, and what do I see swimming right alongside me the edge of the water? A Canadian Goose with her six sweet and fluffy goslings swimming behind her! (I am not making this up!) So, somehow in my fragile emotional state, I thought it would be a good idea to lean in for a closer look, thinking she too would be excited to see ME, a fellow Canadian and Mother! We would smile knowingly at one another, maybe share a few Mama-Goose comments like, “you’ve got your hands full!” or “enjoy, in blink of an eye they will be all grown up” but instead, she gave me one of those violent, demonic “back off crazy lady!” hisses and hurried her chicks away from me.
I get it. I was a new Mom once too, and let me tell you, Goosey-Goosey Gander, you will loosen up and you will relax. With #1 I was reluctant to let anyone near him, let alone touch him, and by #6 I was pretty much tossing him at everyone and anyone who I thought may be able to complete the pass just so I could have a few minutes of peace. 
But today, as I turned to continue trudging along the canal I realized that for this Mother Goose, there nothing I wouldn’t do today to hang on to each and every one of my fluffy little goslings just a little longer. 
Happy Mother’s Day.

Cha-Cha-Cha

cha-cha

There was one of those Facebook posts going around not too long ago that said something like this; “Optimist: Someone who figures that taking a step backward after taking a step forward is not a disaster, it’s a cha-cha.” (I later found out the quote is attributed to author Robert Brault) And at the time I took it in with a grain of salt as I do any words of wisdom imparted on social media- but I reminded myself of those words last week as I lay in a crumpled heap on the floor of my yoga class, whispering to the teacher “I’m OK!” after hearing something go “pop” in the general area of my left hip and bullock and my leg just kind of giving out. I lay there trying to get myself together with tears of self pity running down my face- not so much for the pain but because I was immediately mad for this happening and at myself for having the thought “Man, I am on an exercise toll!” just before the class started.
I basically spent the last week feeling poopy. Limping, when I tried to walk but in more pain when I was sitting to long. So really, pretty useless.
I have been feeling frustrated, bummed out, irritated and restless, and none of it has felt like a cha-cha.
Things began to change when I read this story a
bout Harriet Thompson, the 92 year old American woman who just ran her sixteenth marathon and broke the world’s record for being the oldest woman to do so. I am a bit obsessed with stories about awesome old women, I am constantly on the look out for stories like Harriette’s and I find myself studying them in the hopes of being able to figure out what their secrets are for being so fabulous for so long! The thing that pretty much rings true with all the women I have read about is an optimistic outlook, that and perseverance. And with that revelation I cued the band to play a cha-cha and lead myself to the dance floor.
I finally went to see an osteopath today (for the first time) and I am feeling considerably better already. I won’t be running today, and maybe not even tomorrow, but I am pretty determined to be running when I am 92.

Build Me Up Break Me Down

I’ve realized I spend an awful lot of my time trying to form habits… the good ones, the productive and creative ones. Whether it is with my running, my health, finances, or my academics, I would say I am a bit obsessed with habits, and rituals. In my first year of my PhD I read countless books on the subject as I struggled to figure out what the hell I was doing and just how the hell I was going to get it done. Some of my favourite books on the subject included Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey, which gave insights into the daily lives and habits of very famous writers and artists from Freud to Stravinsky to Woody Allen and The Creative Habit, Learn It and Use It For Life, by Twyla Tharp, in which this remarkable woman and artist walks you through thirty-two exercises she has developed to be your most creative and productive self.

I have muddled about with setting my own rituals and habits in order to get more done, and have been, I think somewhat successful in finding a way to create a series of rituals that have made me feel more grounded, less frazzled and more ready to take on the work I have to do. In the last six months or so, I have been absolutely stringent in my rituals, even on weekends and holidays, and it looks something like this; I wake up at 4 am (I don’t use an alarm clock but just tell myself I want to wake up at a certain hour and it somehow works), I go into my office and do 20 minutes of yoga, 10 minutes of sitting meditation, sit down and write an intension for the day in my agenda and make a list of what I have to do that day. This is basically where the ritual ends…However, another ritual begins at around 5 am where in I go put the coffee on for and me and my old man sit and we sit have 2 coffees together before all hell breaks loose with kids and breakfast and making lunches and getting people out the door. We have been sitting and coffee together every weekday our entire married life (23+ years!) and it is definitely a ritual I cherish. But! back to MY newly developed ritual… I have been feeling quite good about it, it has helped me feel, as I said less frazzled and more settled, because after everyone has gotten out the door and it is time for me to sit down to work, I feel like I have already prepped myself and I can just get on with it. But I have to admit, although it felt really great to be so devoted to these ritual, it truly had become a habit in that, I found it really hard NOT do these things each morning. I would get anxious if I knew I had to be up late the night because I didn’t want to sleep in a miss my ritual time (I found it hard to be flexible with this time given that there are so many people in our house and so much of the ritual was wrapped up the delicious silence of the early morning) I would feel annoyed if someone got up early and I could hear them mooring around the house, and I became anxious about making sure that I carried on my ritual even when travelling, like I am now.
So I have tried a little experiment the last 3 days. I stepped away from my rituals. I wasn’t getting up at 4 am here in the UK, but my first almost week here I still woke and immediately unrolled my yoga mat, did my yoga, meditated, wrote out my intension and then put on the coffee. But something was nagging me to just step back, and it mostly had to do with me convincing myself that I have time. I have SO much time here and I am so not used to NOT having to scrounge out time for myself. Waking up at 4 am when I am at home is pretty much my only hope for finding that precious bit of space for myself, and I realized that that rhythm is so ingrained in me that even when I am travelling by myself I still feel that pull of having to hurry through my day, the clock is ticking and if I don’t take time for myself now, it will be gone.
So this is a bit of an experiment in making space for myself and working against the grain of the hurried life I normally live. The last few days here I have gotten up when I want because meetings etc. don’t start until midmorning. I sit quietly and have my coffee, or turn on a British real estate show, and than get up and start working when I feel ready. This scared me a bit at first because I was convinced that I would never “feel ready” and just “faff” my day away. “Faff” coincidently is a British word I just learned yesterday that means “to muck about, wasting time doing something not necessary”.
So here I am, 9:25 am, still in my pyjamas and faffing away on my blog.
A new faffing ritual perhaps?forget free time

Shut Up and Run

I finally got out for a run. I have been here, in Birmingham UK (3000+ miles from home) for 5 days now and after a whole lot of pep- talking (me to myself) I did it and it was glorious. I had been thinking about getting out there A LOT- but was having all the regular anxiety I often have in new situations, and have been talking myself out of it. You would think that at my age (48) and with the kind of experience I have in travelling (7 trips to Europe alone in the last 2 years) I would be pretty laissez faire when it comes to making myself at home in a new city and surroundings- but in fact, I have an awful time with really settling in. Part of it is the loneliness/homesickness/nostalgia that I wrote about yesterday and part of it, I think, is just my totally awkward social nature. Yes, me, who as a teacher, performer, and Mother of six has to deal with other humans almost constantly, actually  has a medium to high level of anxiety of dealing with other people and in particular strangers. But even more importantly, I hate looking like I don’t belong somewhere. This is why I love David Sedaris so much because he says so many things, about feeling awkward, especially in foreign cities, that I feel. He did a great interview NPR’s This American Life on his experiences in Paris that I relate to so well.

So! In the case of me procrastinating going out for a run, it was really nothing to do with me just being lazy and everything to do with feeling discombobulated in a new city, For example, because I am staying right in the city centre, I was nervous about running aimlessly through the busy streets and having to worry about traffic (I CANNOT get used to the whole cars on the wrong side of the road here and literally have to speak out loud to myself every time I cross the road saying “look the opposite way!”). So I did what any good PhD student would do and I researched it. I studied maps and then went for a test “walk” yesterday.

And this morning I went for it and headed out. (I carefully chose this morning as it is a bank holiday here and hardly any traffic). And it was, as I said glorious. In less than 10 minutes I was on the Birmingham Canals. And it was absolutely gorgeous in all the  most cliché ways. The sun was shining, the birds were chirping and after I finished chastising myself for being so utterly ridiculous in buying into my silly anxieties,  I plodded along in the most satisfied way.

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Homesickness…Nostalgia…

One of the hardest things about doing this PhD and all the travelling that comes with it, is the constant transitions. I would say jet lag plays a huge part but even more than that is getting used to the two hugely different “lifestyles” that I have to step into as I jet back and forth from the UK to home. Being a Mother to six and coordinating getting my work done amongst all the chaos at home and then stepping into living solo for weeks at a time has been harder than I expected. You would think that it would be so easy and having all this time and space when I am away would make things oh so much easier but in fact I find it hard. Hard to focus sometimes, hard to sleep, hard to get motivated. It’s frustrating, as I find myself having to fight against wanting to just mope around. It’s actually more than just “wanting” and I am truly beginning to understand that homesickness is in fact a “real” illness, as described in this article, and while I am maybe only suffering from one of these symptoms (trouble sleeping)”fever, lesions, trouble sleeping, heart palpitations, emaciation, organ failure, incontinence, and dysentery” Let’s hope it doesn’t come to heart failure or dysentery! It is somewhat comforting to know that I am not a big wuss- and that I can somehow try to work towards acknowledging how difficult being away is instead of trying to ignore it and beat myself up for not being as productive as I could or should be.