A new look and a guest post


Last year I commissioned artist and colleague Fidel Fernando to create a new look for the Slow Academic. In this guest post, he describes the process of creating the image above. What I enjoy about this reflection is that Fidel took the challenge as an opportunity to learn and embrace slowness. On the other hand, I find it uncomfortable reading! Fidel chronicles the emotional journey of the experience. I underestimated the workload, pressure and bad feelings the commission would cause – and that is a lesson I will continue to reflect on and guard against in future. That said, I am delighted with the result and I thank Fidel for challenging himself and challenging me.

Creating a graphic for this blog is something that I took on as a project from Agnes way back in March 2021. Agnes asked me if I could create a graphic for her blog and I said yes, even if I had no idea what the brief was or what it would entail. I just assumed because I like drawing, I should be able to do this easily, right? 

Fast forward to November 2021. I still haven’t quite finished it. Increasingly as the months went past, I felt more and more terrible about this being late.  

Her blog is called the slow academic. It is about thinking, reading, listening, and connecting with each other in higher education. It is also about learning along the way. The blog is about scholarship, reading, parenting, illness, and the mess of working.  

It has been a long journey and here are my reflections. I have put this project off for so long, not due to procrastination, but more of a debilitating case of self-imposed pressure.  

I don’t know what it is. Is it the pressure of wanting to impress? The pressure of overpromising?  

I accepted the commission with the intention that I will learn how to create this along the way, much like the blog itself. I thought that it was something that I could force myself to learn quickly. Agnes is a fan of the Art Deco art style, something I was not familiar with let alone knew how to pronounce. My art style is usually fantasy, portraits, and fantastical cartoons … that sort of thing. In order to ‘brute force’ myself through this I spent nights thinking, writing notes, and I even took a class about art deco and how to create graphics using a completely foreign piece of software. I looked at many examples, created my own moodboard, as well as researching the history behind Art Deco and why it stood the test of time as a graphical style. 

Truly it was something I was not familiar with so I still kept gravitating towards my own art style. I started to create thumbnails to let the ideas flow, I brainstormed by looking at examples side-by-side and see if can imitate and copy. Lo and behold it came together in a mishmash of different ideas from different people. Was it stealing? Was it plagiarism? I don’t think so, it was more of taking inspiration from other artists and using it for my own – which is a concept Austin Kleon advocates in his book ‘Steal like an Artist’. I’ve come to learn that art is really like that. 

Even then, I wish I could end the story here. The other reason I froze was because there were focal points that were very personal, and I feel that I couldn’t represent ALL of them. The high conceptual nature was tricky, versus the typical commissions that I usually get that ask me to draw a picture of their cat or dog. Coming up with the concept from my own viewpoint means that this is my own interpretation. An interpretation of moments and events that I have no intimate knowledge of.  

Agnes is my boss, and that is huge pressure already. I think pressure is good. It makes us want to surge forward, but there is also a fine line that we could cross towards mental paralysis and doubt. I had to remind myself that I can draw. I had to remind myself that I can paint. I had to remind myself that I can learn. I also had to remind myself to slow down and simplify.  

What this has taught me is that some ideas really do take time. Some ideas need to be left alone to percolate. There is great benefit to silence and inaction. There is real joy in the journey of learning something new and improving something old. There is satisfaction in knowing what you can add, but also accepting what you have to subtract. We don’t have to have it all.  

My only regret with slowing down this much? 

I should have told Agnes that I would.  

In a hurry

This is the 13th post in Over a Cuppa, a series which offers prompts to reflect on learning and teaching during the time it takes to make and drink a cuppa. Cross-posted from Teche, original artwork by Fidel Fernando.

Since mid-February, once a week (other than a fortnightly mid-session break) I have posted 300 or so words for Over a cuppa, a series of prompts to reflect on learning and teaching during the time it takes to make and drink a cuppa.

The posts have been focussed on the practice of teaching, rather than students’ reflections for learning. My starting point was a belief that reflective practice is a learned skill, as outlined in Macquarie University’s Professional Learning and Capability Enhancement (PLaCE) Framework, which includes the following capabilities from Foundational to Expert levels:

  • Articulate the principles of, approaches to, and the values of, reflective practice.
  • Reflect on own teaching, learning support and/or curriculum/assessment design practices.
  • Explain actions taken in response to reflection on, and in, practice.
  • Engage in sustained reflection on own educational practices and critique actions taken in response.
  • Implement strategies to promote a culture that values reflective practice.
  • Develop and support the strategic and systematic embedding of reflexivity into educational practice.

I have read (or reread) several books, including Schön’s (1983) The Reflective Practitioner; hook’s (1994) Teaching to Transgress; Brookfield’s (2017) Becoming a critically reflective teacher; Carter’s (2020) Academic Identity and the Place of Stories, as well as numerous journal articles.

I also linked to an interview with Stephen Brookfield, poetry, a meditation, creative non-fiction and my favourite tools for reflective practice – the Teaching Perspectives Inventory, ImaginePhD and the AdvanceHE comprehensive scholarly practice guide.

For each post, my colleague Fidel Fernando created an original digital artwork. Here is a time lapse video of Fidel creating the image for this post:

https://echo360.org.au/media/019d8a01-4bdc-4a38-8434-ed6170ef15d8/public

The reading, writing and drawing that has contributed to these posts belies the fact that this was reflection in a hurry. My initial plans for the series went off-piste as my ‘writing along the way’ took me in unexpected directions, and some of the posts include aphorisms – Put on your teaching cloak, Don’t be the wizard behind the curtain – inspired by conversations with colleagues.

There is still a lot of reflection to be done and the series will continue at the end of July. I am looking forward to finishing Ashwin et al’s (2020) Reflective Teaching in Higher Education and posting about Mary Ryan’s work on reflexivity and Marina Harvey’s ecology of reflection.

In the meantime I want to catch up on some Slow Academic posts that have been sitting in my drafts folder for several months. Slow by name, and slow by nature.

Everyday life

A lot has happened in the world since my last post, and yet I’m writing from inside the same walls. In Australia, most people are experiencing COVID-19 through the disruption of social distancing, rather than proximity to illness and mortality. My condolences to those who have lost people close to them. Here, we are schooling at home, trying to maintain connection to the outdoors, worrying about family and friends, restricting our movements, feeling anxious when visiting the shops… For many, these challenges are compounded by job loss, pre-existing physical and mental health issues, and social inequality.

I am fortunate to enjoy the company of the people I live with, to be able to continue working from home, to have functional internet and enough room in our house. Even so I have felt enervated by enforced domesticity and lack of autonomy.

I have previously blogged about service, care and housekeeping (at work and home) as under-recognised work that is disproportionately performed by women. With a smaller distance between home, work and school, I’ve been thinking about the workloads that have increased: care work, housekeeping, life administration, and emotional labour.

Having a full house all the time means more time spent cleaning, preparing food, shopping and tidying up. Even pet care has increased, with our dog requiring grooming and an urgent trip to the vet this week (with twice daily medication, her infection is clearing up). What is on your mental to-do list right now? Here’s a sample off the top of my head: pick up medicine from chemist, organise online catch-ups with friends for the 7 year old, suggest alternatives to screen time, call doctor, write shopping list, plan for schooling, make telehealth appointments, make vet appointment, pay water bill, wash sheets, empty recycling, clean out drawers, book flu shots, donate books, post parcels, sign and return school forms, get quotes for repairs, put chickens away, buy slippers, read The Art of Life Admin

It keeps going in all its banality. I won’t be doing all of these things myself, but I am keeping a tally. During COVID-19 lockdown,  many tasks have additional steps and take longer than usual.

Keeping energetic children occupied while parents are working is usually outsourced to school, before and after school care, clubs and activities, vacation care, holiday camps and grandparents. Organising school holiday entertainment takes time. While there are good online activities available, the level of parent supervision depends on the age, temperament and needs of your children, and whether the activities cost money. My children have enjoyed a mix of paid and free activities, including hip hop, science, art and coding. This picture is my daughter’s Monet-inspired work:

IMG_3770

I am enjoying:

  • Helen Sword’s (free) Stay at Home Writing Retreat. Days spent writing are the stuff of fantasy right now, but the retreat meant I was able to finally complete this post! Small tasks: an abstract, an introduction to a report, a creative writing assignment.
  • Flat shoes and clothes that feel like pyjamas. Will I ever be able to wear ‘work clothes’ again?
  • Home-made soup using the ingredients from our mystery fruit and veg box delivery. My brother has just updated his blog of my mother’s recipes from the 1970s with minestrone soup. And simple, experimental meals; tonight’s dinner was a sausage tasting competition.
  • Homebound fun. We are playing a lot of board games, including The Spider’s Web: A Game of Escape, which we found in an op shop or garage sale some time ago and played for the first time this week.
  • Catching up with colleagues in our twice weekly tea room meetings.
  • Podcasts while exercising: Conversations, By the Book, Slow Your Home
  • Writing in my Passion Planner diary. As well as getting my to-do list on paper, I can chronicle my responses to prompts like: What was the most memorable part of this past month? Are you happy with how you spent your time? What are you most proud of? What or who are you especially grateful for this past month?
  • Finding the right books for a distracted mind. The Unread Shelf Challenge had me pick up Charlotte Wood’s The Weekend. I loved it for the focus on the inner lives of older women.

Despite these pleasures, our emotions are tumultuous. Looking at the emotions wheel, we are feeling overwhelmed, playful, helpless, resentful, loving, annoyed and guilty—and that’s before we get dressed in the morning! I am spending more time than ever trying to remain calm and supporting the emotions of others. Those with younger children and large families must be finding this a challenge. Self-care is more important than ever.