Uses and abuses of slow

I am a bit behind on blogging the slow academia season of Philosophy and Theory of Higher Education Society (PaTHES) virtual social meets. Covid has hit our household and I am working reduced hours while we are in isolation. So far we are feeling ok, but today seems a bit tougher than previous days. I hope to be well enough to lead the next PaTHES session on Monday night with a focus on theorising place.

The first session started with a guided discussion on the uses and abuses of slow in academia. You can access the powerpoint slides below.

I am starting each session with a prompt to slow down. This time a poem about fast academia from the beginning of a journal article on COVID-19 and Indigenous resilience co-authored by an international Indigenous team. It’s difficult to read poetry quickly. I recommend reading the full article, which ends with a more hopeful poem.

The resilient Pacific PhD candidate job description: COVID-19

Must know how to
go hard and go fast
go hard or go home

Must know how to navigate
time constraints
extra caring duty constraints
cramped space constraints
vulnerable elderly parents constraints
intermittent internet constraints
on-line learning ‘instant teacher support’ for your kids’ dramas constraints
job income insecurity how you gonna pay your mortgage and bills constraints
bank statement requests to prove you’re struggling constraints

Must know how to navigate
missed time-lines
missed dead-lines
new frown-lines
fear filled head-lines
uncertain brow-lines

Must know how to
go hard and go fast
go hard or go home

I am including the full citation as this challenges conventional academic citation practice by including Indigenous rather than institutional affiliations.

Zaine Akuhata-Huntington (Ngāti Tūwharetoa, Tūhoe, Ngāi Te Rangi, Ngāti Kahungunu ki Te Wairoa), Shannon Foster (D’harawal Saltwater Knowledge Keeper), Ashlea Gillon (Ngāti Awa), Mamaeroa Merito (Ngāti Pikiao, Ngāti Whakaeu, Ngāti Awa), Lisa Oliver (Gomeroi Nation), Nohorua Parata (Ngāti Toa Rangatira, Ngāti Ruanui, Ngāti Kahungunu, Rongowhakaata), Yvonne Ualesi (Mulivai Safata, Pu’apu’a, Savalalo Samoa, Fakaofo Tokelau, Ovalau Fiji) & Sereana Naepi (Natasiri). (2020). COVID-19 and Indigenous resilience. Higher Education Research & Development, 39(7),1377-1383.

I set the scene for a slow discussion inspired by Michelle Boulous Walker’s (2017) descriptor of slow reading: attentive, open-ended, ambiguous, contradictory, uncertain, imaginative, experimental, curious, questioning, incomplete, learning, appreciative, attentive listening, inconclusive, respectful, generous, meandering, reflective, meditative, patient, ethical, speculative, unknowing … And welcomed interruptions, noting my high tolerance honed over noisy extended family dinners during which everyone talks at the same time. Here’s an image of some of Ma’s delicious food at a recent lunch:

These are the quotes I choose to stimulate discussion during the session:

“Personal narratives of academic exclusions, marginalisations, and persistence abound … It is not for a lack of evidence that the pace of change in higher education is so slow. Feminist academics encounter a sense of déjà vu, that ‘we’ already know about the un-feminist character of the university, from lived experience as well as from peer reviewed research … Feminists repeat themselves because we are often ignored” (Breeze & Taylor, 2020).

“To become a feminist is to stay a student … I wanted to make a slow argument, to go over old ground, and to take my time … I have been in academia for over twenty years, and I am relatively at home … I am aware that not all feminists are at home in the academy, and that the language of feminist theory can be alienating … I aim to keep my words as close to the world as I can, by trying to show how feminist theory is what we do when we live our lives in a feminist way” (Ahmed, 2017).

“I am a professor. Say it again. Say it slowly. I am a professor. I enjoy it and marvel at it. The strangeness, the aloofness, the otherness of the term in relation to me and my work but not anymore. It seems such a strange destination to arrive at because of the career journey I have taken” (Potter, 2019).

“… separating those whose time [is] ‘precious’ (wage earners, the educated classes, the able-bodied) from those whose time [can] be squandered or [has] little value… Power operates to structure and condition different populations’ lack of time … There is a heterogenous and uneven response to speeded up time … What proliferates is a multiplicity of contradictory temporalities.”

Baraitser gives some examples of how power structures time: the busy work required for welfare benefits, women working double shifts especially those in care chains from the global north to global south, zero hours contract workers, enforced flexible ‘on call’ labour.

“If you make a complaint, you are often left waiting You are waiting but you are also reminding, prompting, sending enquiries … You can encounter resistance in the slowness of an uptake Exhaustionbecomes a management technique: you tire people out so they are too tired to address what makes them tired” (Ahmed, 2021).

“Complaint activism involves the willingness to make use of complaints procedures even though you know “the process is broken” and you are likely to enter “a painful repetitive cycle” … Even going through an exhausting of processes can have creative potential. Yes, we can be in a state of exhaustion because of that process. But complaints, even formal ones, slow and tedious ones, long and drawn out, can be creative” (Ahmed, 2021).

The discussion brought together various ideas: the silences and violences of the university, being at home in academia, continuing to learn, enjoying the comfort of theory, the challenge to keep theory close to the world, claiming a title such as professor or academic or writer, meandering career stories, theorising subjectivity, multiple and changeable selves, making and unmaking ourselves, slow as an institutional strategy to break people down,  the collegiality of activism in academia.

In the next post will report on the second session, where we discussed theorising the self.

Goals for today

This post is simple. Perhaps too simple for these complex times; and written from a place of safety and privilege as I watch and listen to the turmoil of the world.

Every day—weekday or weekend, work day or holiday, ordinary day or significant in some way—I hold on to the same goals.

These quotidian goals offer a means of self-care, and resist a productivity mantra that suggests looking years ahead and working backwards through the achievement of daily tasks. They are also a way to challenge myself to listen to others and to read from different perspectives, and offer an chance to reflect on our complicated and delicate lives and world.

1. Join an interesting conversation

Still working from home, I am missing informal and impromptu social interactions. With most of my communications happening via Zoom (or Teams or Skype or FaceTime or phone), I am also missing conversations where people can interrupt or talk across the top of one another! (Those who know me well know my love of interrupting, to my shame).

On the positive side, I have needed to focus on listening. Some of the conversations I am finding my way into are via social media, podcasts and webinars. In a time when our lives are contracted and closer to home, viewpoints such as Listening to the City in a Global Pandemic, which shares the voices of academics in various countries, open up the world. From a non-academic perspective, the BBC’s The Documentary podcast tells powerful stories of isolation and togetherness.

Today I listened to presentations from my university’s Widening Participation team about the impact of COVID-19 on student learning.  Perspectives included charity, government and university, with a focus on vulnerable students. The insights about student experiences of food insecurity, racism and domestic violence were frightening, yet the speakers were hopeful activists.

2. Eat something good

Right now, I am eating a scone my daughter cooked at school in food tech, with a cup of Earl Grey tea.

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3. Spend time outdoors

On many days, being outdoors is as simple or as brief as the walk to school or time in the garden. On bad or impossible days (few now), I enjoyed the view out a window or the pine cone on my desk (a gift from a colleague—thank you Linda).

We regularly walk together as a family—bushwalks in and around Sydney are truly wonderful. A fortnight ago, we took the Callicoma Track with friends. Last weekend lasted three days in some parts of Australia; we visited the coast an hour out of Sydney and enjoyed a windy clifftop walk to the sound of the waves (thankful for our puffy jackets).

4. Enjoy reading

I typically read multiple books at once: a 2am book (a page-turner on Kindle when sleepless in the middle of the night), a memoir, a daytime novel, a poetry collection and an audio book (as a podcast alternative). Right now, I am focusing on black writers, in response to National Reconciliation Week in Australia (which had the theme In This Together for 2020), NAIDOC week (postponed this year) and international Black Lives Matter protests.

My 2am book is the zombie boarding school book Dread Nation by Justina Ireland. The memoir is Frank Byrne’s Living in Hope, winner of the Most Underrated Book Award in 2018, a short and powerful story of a boy taken from his mother in the 1940s. The daytime novel is Alexis Wright’s Plains of Promise (after reading the first chapter for my creative writing class). The poetry is Kirli Saunder’s Kindred, a book I won in a giveaway on ANZ LitLovers blog, including poems on self-care, motherhood and country. And the audio book is Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu, on precolonial agriculture, engineering and building construction by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

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Next on my list (on my Kindle and in the pile next to the bed): On the Come Up (for young adult book club), Tara June Winch’s The Yield and Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti. Any other recommendations?

This month I am adding an extra goal: write for 25 minutes every day (or thereabouts) as part of Helen Sword’s 30 day Show Up and Write challenge.

What are your daily goals?

This week

In a week with little time to write, a list is appealing. This structure is inspired by the weekly slow living email from Brooke McAlary at Slow Your Home. She ends each newsletter with a list of what she has been thinking about, doing, experiencing and enjoying over the past week. I am also inspired by Kate W from Books are my favourite and my best who posts regular ‘Bookish and not so bookish thoughts’ lists. I love the glimpse into quotidian lives offered by these bloggers.

This week I am:

Pondering feedback on a draft paper from my new writing group. The paper, co-authored with Lilia Mantai and Vanessa Fredericks, explores doctoral candidates and early career academics experiences of temporal anxiety in academic work and identity development. Having five people read your work in its early stages is invaluable.

Wearing layers. I have a newfound appreciation for scarves (including the treasure below, a gift Louise Kaktiņš picked up during her PhD travels). There’s something about ageing that increases sensitivity to a cold neck. The weather is cooling down in Sydney, with mornings as low as 10°. Don’t laugh, those of you in colder climes; we keep cold houses and offices here. The days are still sunny and in the mid 20s, so layers are crucial.

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Listening to the podcast By the Book on the recommendation of a colleague. I don’t read self-help books but listening to these two American women living by their rules is funny and insightful. An episode on the silly sounding Past Lives, Future Healing had reflections on the privilege of being conceived in a loving way. And Bored and Brilliant has an exercise on watching water boil.

Sitting in meetings, and wondering what a love letter to university committees might look like. I thought McSweeneys might have one, but most were too real to be funny. (Note I was thinking of ‘I am the woman who does all the committee work‘ not the assessment committee erotica).

Recommending this post-war street photography exhibition at the Museum of Sydney. The images are captivating and the stories haunting.

Anticipating The Cure Disintegration 30th anniversary performance at the Opera House. Probably my favourite album of all time. The performance will be livestreamed on YouTube. I will be near the front.

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Watching Killing Eve. And Doctor Who, and loving their complex and fun performances by women.

Realising uncomfortable truths about how and when I work. I am tracking my hours using the Timing app. I want to be slower.

Cooking cakes for the school fete. I use a recipe my mum has been making since the 60s. Once you’ve mastered the basic five ingredient recipe (to get a feel for the texture and cooking time) the variations are endless. It can be enjoyed with butter or yogurt as a topping. It freezes perfectly. Here’s the original recipe:

  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1 cup mixed dried fruit
  • ½ to 1 cup raw sugar
  • 1 cup skim milk
  • 1 cup self-raising flour

Mix first four ingredients, stirring well and allow milk to soak in for about 10 minutes. Add flour and mix well. Place in a greased or lined loaf tin and cook in moderate oven for 45 minutes.

And here is what my mum says about it:

The idea of this recipe is to use leftovers, and to this basic mixture you can add a range of items. Many different dried or fresh fruits or other ingredients can be used to add to the mix. Use your imagination and see what you have left over in the fridge or cupboard: for example, dried or fresh berries, yogurt, glace fruit, banana, light sour cream, ricotta, mascarpone, spices (e.g. cinnamon), peeled and sliced Granny Smith apples, currants, chopped dates, walnuts, chopped dried apple, caraway seed, fruit medley, lemon and orange peel, grated carrot, sultanas, cooking chocolate, nuts – any combination you can think of. You can decorate the top of the cake with crystallised ginger if you wish. You will need to judge for yourself the consistency of the mix, and if it is too dry, add more milk. If it is too wet, add more flour. If it is too sweet, use less sugar.

Playing board games with the kids. Last week, in deference to an emerging reader, was Junior Scrabble. This week might be Junior Monopoly. Coming weeks will include Bird Bingo, Trouble, Sorry, or Cathedral.

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Intending to notice in my suburb and at the university more after reading this article from The Guardian: “What’s going on here that nobody particularly wants me to notice?” Find a neglected spot, walk down a new street, eat different food, talk to strangers, read a plaque. Head in the direction that seems quietest.

Reading several books at once. To my daughter, Bren MacDibble’s dystopia for young readers How to Bee. To my son, Neil Gaiman’s Fortunately, the Milk. On my Kindle late at night: Martha Wells’ The Murderbot Diaries (something about an android that hates all humans and thinks scornful thoughts while helping them appeals to me).

In the evening, I’m reading Too Much Lip. Shortlisted for the Stella Prize (for Australian women writers), this novel by Goorie writer Melissa Lucashenko has sucked me in. Here’s a sentence from the blurb: “The avalanche of bullshit in the world would drown her if she let it; the least she could do was raise her voice in anger.”

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Learning  about Aboriginal history as part of cultural safety training at my university. The 1965 freedom ride is an inspiring example of academic activism.

Remembering the last thirteen years. It’s my daughter’s birthday this week.