making the familiar strange – two book recommendations

I find that I am continuously needing to remind myself that what I am doing as a researcher is creative work. It sounds utterly ridiculous– seeing as I am doing a Practice-As-Research PhD– but the hours of reading and writing sometimes send me into a square academic hole that I have trouble getting myself out of. This blog post and Lynda Barry’s video at the end was just the reminder I needed to really explore and simply notice.


Today, as this post publishes, I’m giving a talk to postgraduate researchers. One of the things I will talk about is why it’s important for all researchers to practice seeing things differently.

We already have ways of describing this imperative in research literatures. We talk about reflexivity. We talk about criticality. We talk about challenging our taken for granted assumptions. We talk about making the familiar strange.

We stress the need for seeing differently because it is integral to the creation of knowledge. If we are to make step changes in our understandings, then we can’t just reproduce and replicate our existing lines of thought.

I can’t imagine a research methods courses which doesn’t talk about ‘de-familiarisation’ as a necessary practice. However, we generally don’t spend a lot of time on discussing what this means, beyond keeping a researcher journal, or interrogating some of the language and definitions that we…

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Sh*t just got real…

OK- so I am not really sure that “the sh*t just got real” thing works in this context– I just really wanted an excuse to say that.

But, if it means that I need to really get my rear in gear– or my submission date is looming (September 29!!!) and I still do not have a full first draft… then yeah, sh*t just got real! (I tried typing it without the asterisk but couldn’t bring myself to leave it like that– I’ve got me some scruples, or I’m just an ol’ fuddy-duddy academic desperately grasping, and failing, to come off as edgy).

Because of my very full teaching schedule, today is the first day in months that I actually have the day (full work day) to write/work and of course, with that kind of freedom comes some trepidation– now I really have to do something. I am trying to go in with beginners mind— really just being present to what I am writing now and trying to not get ahead of myself or panic about all the work I haven’t done yet.

I am coupling that with a plan– mapping out what needs to be done. Got the white board wiped clean, new calendar pages ready to be filled in.


I am walking into the white room  à la Twyla Tharp, ready to work, with a plan but open to surprises. And by surprises, I mean brilliant strokes of genius! Divine inspiration!

It’s real. 163 days… and counting. Let’s get this sh*t done!!!


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

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….


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.




Sooooo… have any other doctoral researchers out there resorted to obsessively reading their horoscope in an effort to figure out what the hell they are supposed to be doing and how the H-E-double-hockey-sticks one is supposed to do this???

Yeah, me neither, I was asking for a friend… We are serious academics people!!!

But just in case you are THAT desperate, I recommend the amazing Chani Nicholas.

Here is a little of what she had to say about be (an Aries) this week;

“With your ruling planet, Mars, having just stationed retrograde in your 9th house of spiritual experiences, long distance travels, learning and teaching, this week has extra poignancy for you.”


“The full moon in Scorpio on Thursday will light up the part of your chart that highlights what you have to share with others and what you need from them.”

Pretty pertinent stuff for a PhD student wouldn’t you say? (Please say…something…anything?!)


Hello My Name is Mamalegato and I am a Procrastibaker.

I belong to a Facebook group for PhD and Early Career Researcher Parents- where,  we share the challenges of parenting while trying to navigate academia and just recently one of the members posted a photo of some adorable but labour intensive looking Easter themed cupcakes proclaiming herself to be a procrastibaker- I can SO relate, and while I certainly would call myself a procrasibaker in the most obvious sense of the word- I bake to avoid the mounds of writing and researching I should be attending to… I realized today, it goes much deeper than that. It hit me this afternoon as I got up from my desk after a particularly dismal day of fiddle-farting around and successfully avoiding the abstract that needs writing, the three separate student assignments that need marking and the script (for a show that goes up in 2 months) that needs re-writing- that my motivation for baking (or procrasti-baking) comes from two places; love and guilt. Love because I know the kids truly love walking in the door and racing up the stairs calling out their best guesses as to what the wafting baking smell is (“Chocolate chip cookies?” “Banana muffins… I knew it!”) And guilt for all the time I have spent away missing birthdays, school concerts, or just being there when they come in the door after school. Somehow- a warm muffin or chocolate chip cookies fresh out of the oven make ME feel like I am being some kind of good Mom and while neither makes up for time away- I feel like I’m doing just a little something special- while weaselling my way out of reading those 27 student essays… care for a muffin?!muffins.jpg