Distractions

You want to escape from bushfires, coronavirus, university restructures, tragic news stories, wild weather, power outages, uncertainty about the future, politics on social media, other people’s gloom…

Your strategies for working during tough times and staying hopeful seem shallow or forced. You feel increasingly fragile, combative, anxious, or worn out to the back teeth…

You compulsively check apps and websites for bushfires near you, air quality measures, power outages, water quantity in dams, virus infection levels, weather reports…

You look for healthy ways to cope. You try new recipes (Maggie’s Recipes for Life promise to stave off dementia), exercise, meditate, get a massage, laugh, focus on what you can control, increase your step count, vent, plan a day off…

You think longingly of running away, being quarantined comfortably at home, having a head transplant, falling asleep for one hundred years…

Your internal monologue has shifted from ‘You’ve got this’ or ‘Done is better than perfect’ to ‘Decentre yourself’ and then the extreme: ‘I am murderbot’ (after Martha Well’s cyborg character who has hacked its governance protocols and stopped working for the Company)…

You wake at night, or too early in the morning, caught in a loop of what you could or should say and do and be. You overthink the human condition, Western individualism, academia, or middle age. Your 2am escapist fiction has become Why we can’t sleep: Women’s new midlife crisis

Why not choose your own version of the following:

  • music that transports you: Skinner’s The Cradle Song, the Run Lola Run soundtrack
  • a strangely compulsive video game (even for non-players): Dear Esther
  • a podcast that makes you laugh out loud: Ladies, we need to talk (Yumi, a mother of four in her 40s, tells her mother ‘It hurts when you call me a dingdong.’ Her mother replies, ‘Why? You are a dingdong.’)
  • a movie or tv show that takes you into another world: the uncomfortable, angry and funny Fleabag

And when your street looks like this, and you are without power and road access:

You enjoy: playing games by candlelight; sandwiches for dinner; the camaraderie of neighbours; and the simple unspeaking company of a sleepy dog.

IMG_3585

Recharge yourself ready for what comes next.

Take a break

A reminder to myself that might be helpful to you: take a break.

For inspiration, I read Robert Dessaix’s The Pleasures of Leisure. (I picked up a copy for $3 at the local Vinnies; in pristine, unread condition, it is inscribed with a message of congratulations for “twenty years of unswerving, faithful service”).

Dessaix acknowledges the privilege of indolence, sloth and idleness. He quotes many well-known writers on the pleasure of doing nothing, and sums up:

Yes, that’s right—they’re all men. And all of them have nothing but contempt for busy bees. It’s hard to say who they thought would work the fields and slaughter the animals for their tables, build the roads, spin their cloth, erect and heat their houses, cook their food and print the publications they wrote for: those whose jobs it was to do so, presumably.

A thank you to those who continue to work when so many are on holiday (not least the firefighters, many of them volunteers, in Australia right now). I hope a rest is coming.

IMG_3369

In his conclusion (with chapters along the way on  Loafing, Nesting and grooming, and Play), here’s what Dessaix has to say: “Time … is for being happy in … It’s for magnifying your humanity in, for enjoying the flourishing of who you are.”

Here’s how I am hoping to flourish over the holidays.

Staying out of contact

If your work schedule permits, turn on an out-of-office reply and let others know you are taking a break. One of my colleagues has written: “ I am on my way to the North Pole with no or limited wifi.” I hope she enjoys the stay! I will switch it on this afternoon (after I finish some pressing tasks).

Having daytime naps

Sneak away from everyone and put your head on a pillow. It is ok to wake, disoriented, and find the day almost over. Or, if your children are younger, take a moment to ‘rest your eyes’ while watching Bluey.

Enjoying the guilty pleasure of 2am books all day

I have a reading category I call ‘2am books’. (My son did not sleep though the night until 5 years old, so I have been trained to stay awake. Reading a Kindle helps still my mind). 2am books are light page-turners, easy to follow, with simple narratives and few characters. Sufficiently well-written not to annoy, they do not linger on frightening or upsetting scenes. Young adult books work well, or escapist bedtime stories for adults. You can doze off and wake again without losing your place. You can skip paragraphs without becoming confused. At any other time of day they might seem vacuous and predictable. Here are some 2am books I read this year:

41452607. sy475 35144326 64724516644117 383514. sy475 19036350

I might read some more challenging books, including my Christmas present to myself:

IMG_3371

Scheduling a little bit, not too much

We have a week of daily swimming lessons in January but not much else booked. I have lots of ideas for fun when the bickering gets too much and everyone is irritable with cabin fever. But the rhythms of our days will be based on walking when we feel like it, eating when we are hungry, sleeping when tiredness takes us, being alone and coming together as our energy prompts us.

Spending time outdoors

The smoke haze and heat in Sydney makes time indoors a necessity, but we intend to spend some time outside every day in the company of our new puppy. Walking the streets, chatting to neighbours, discovering dog parks, collecting leaves and sticks, searching for Christmas beetles.

IMG_3278

Watching TV

I don’t watch a lot of television, but this year I have enjoyed Killing Eve, The Letdown, Cleverman and Fleabag. On my list for the holidays: some dystopian drama in Years and Years and The Commons and Aboriginal horror Dark Place.

Being creative

I want to put together a photo album of our family holiday to Japan—a simple task that has remained on the wishlist for over a year. We will all enjoy reminiscing about the places we visited, especially the 6 year old who holds memories differently (perhaps more lightly). We will also be thinking about future holidays, and I have bought the Lonely Planet Central Australia in anticipation.

Seeing friends and family

I haven’t sent any Christmas cards this year. The 6 year old gave and received more that anyone else. Highlights in the mail for me included “To our most loyal customer” from the chemist (and, to tell the truth, it was addressed to my daughter) and one from the local funeral home. I hope our friends are forgiving, and agree to catch up in the new year for picnics and indolent hanging out. Family won’t get a choice in the matter.

Saying yes

Why don’t we make choc chip biscuits? Can we go to a new park? Do you want to play Scrabble? Can I dye my hair blue? Let’s buy ice creams, wear our pyjamas all day, visit the pool, try a dog cafe, make tea iceblocks, stay up past bedtime… A reminder to myself: say yes.

Look up

Walking up to school this morning, my son said ‘I love the sky’. You can see why:

IMG_3052

It’s the beginning of spring on this side of the world, and Sydney celebrates with days in the mid 20s. Members of the Cloud Appreciation Society would have found little joy this morning. After a week of rain, it’s nothing but blue skies.

I was thinking about this moment of looking upwards together while reading The Taylorisation of Time: An effective strategy in the struggle to ‘manage’ work and life? from the Annals of Leisure Research.

Pat Thomson recently blogged about ideas for keeping a reading journal on the last thing you read, a reading that has stayed with you, something written really well and something in the media that speaks to your research. Her twenty questions include:

  • What’s the first thing you remember about this text? Write a sentence.
  • Did the text give you an idea? Write a sentence.
  • Does this book or paper connect with something else that you’ve read? Write a sentence.
  • How does this writing differ from other things you’ve read? Write a sentence.

The Taylorisation of Time uses data from the Australian Longitudinal Study of Women’s Health, a longitudinal survey of over 57,000 women in three age cohorts (18-23, 45-50 and 70-75) which began in 1996 (another 17,000 women aged 18-23 were recruited to form a new cohort in 2012/13). I also read two other articles that draw on the same data set: ‘‘Melt Down’: Young women’s talk of time and its implications for health, wellbeing and identity in late modernity’ and ‘Time Pressure, Satisfaction with Leisure, and Health Among Australian Women’.

The outcome of asking women about their time is not surprising: a lot of Australian women feel pressured and anxious about competing demands. Middle-aged mothers of pre-school children who are working full-time are the most likely to describe themselves as “frequently rushed”.

  • “I feel totally out of control most of the time. I feel … that life is a rollercoaster and you just get on there and you just do it.”
  • “The most high pressured time of the day is trying to get out the door in the morning. Work is fine; the rest of my life is totally chaotic. Work has its routines, family life is unpredictable.”
  • “Between chauffeuring them to and from school on the way to work … I’m supposed to have a life which doesn’t exist”
  • “We’re trying to be perfect. Like, I feel guilty if my kids don’t get a proper meal.”
  • “I think with work … your children are treated like a commodity … a package you drop off at school, but there is no provision for the package losing a shoe, or getting sick, feeling like a cuddle, dawdling over breakfast…”

For all that everyone has the same quantity (1440 minutes a day), time pressure differentiates based on individual, cultural and political moderators (gender, age, employment and caring responsibilities being obvious examples).

The ‘Taylorisation’ of the title refers to scientific management of efficient workflows for productivity applied to family life. Think precise calendars, lists of tasks, household routines, rosters or timetables, and rewards or incentives. This work is overseen by a ‘time and motion’ expert who manages the temporal portfolios of individual family members. Sound familiar?

There were interesting insights, notably:

The ‘time budget’ mentality may exacerbate rather than alleviate stress and the flawed nature of the ‘time and motion’ approach is further exposed in the mismatch of children’s temporal rhythms to those of adults.

Reading this article, I was reminded of a poem by Rosemary Dobson (Australian poet, 1920-2012) we read in high school:

Cock Crow

Wanting to be myself, alone,
Between the lit house and the town
I took the road, and at the bridge
Turned back and walked the way I’d come.

Three times I took that lonely stretch,
Three times the dark trees closed me round,
The night absolved me of my bonds;
Only my footsteps held the ground.

My mother and my daughter slept,
One life behind and one before,
And I that stood between denied
Their needs in shutting-to the door.

And walking up and down the road
Knew myself, separate and alone,
Cut off from human cries, from pain,
And love that grows about the bone.

Too brief illusion! Thrice for me
I heard the cock crow on the hill,
And turned the handle of the door
Thinking I knew his meaning well.

As a group of 15 year olds who had rarely subjugated our needs in service of others, we had little insight into the brief respite described in this poem.

This week, I want to experience more moments of sky-gazing interruption.

If you are not quite there, you may want to align your leisure activities with academia in some way. For example, watch The Bachelor (now popular with academics thanks to a hunky astrophysicist) or read some novels featuring academic characters (I’ve just added Dear Committee Members to my reading list).

41035725 3181564  37796866. sy475

I can also recommend the ABC’s comedy series Utopia, set in the office of the government’s National Building Authority. A word of warning: watching the inner working of bureaucracy can be uncomfortably familiar.

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.

IMG_2811

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.

Image result for disintegration

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.

Image result for bird bingo

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.”

How to Bee 32758901 40229412

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.