Things to remember

I took a longer break from work during January than I have in past years, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Here are a few of the things I want to remind myself to hold on to for a bit longer:

  • Keep singing sea shanties on TikTok with my son (will he fulfill his ambition to be a bass?)
  • Walk the dog while listening to Zombies, Run with my daughter, and move faster!
  • Record the changing moods of the casuarina forest near our home
  • Continue to use the little free libraries nearby – this month’s best pick was Josephine Rowe’s short story collection Here Until August – and make regular donations as I work through the unread shelf challenge
  • Go to the theatre (ideally more than once a year) – Sydney Theatre Company’s production of The Picture of Dorian Gray was awe-inspiring!
  • Visit the dog beach. That joy is infectious:
  • And continue to seek novelty and travel from home: visit random street view and sound of a forest, watch movies from around the world (I still have The Red Turtle and Zarafa waiting for us), try new foods, read the International Booker prize winners (I loved The Memory Police), listen to Belle Chen’s Sounds From Home (she describes it as “a global exploration where listeners around the world share their city’s sound & story, and I improvise music in response”)…

Wrapping up 2020

I am making peace with leaving my to-do list undone, and this will be my final blog post for 2020.

The year is ending with uncertainty—a COVID-19 outbreak across Sydney is restricting celebrations and, in my immediate family, the last day of school ended with an epileptic seizure and an ambulance trip to hospital. My daughter is fine now (and even ventured into the surf yesterday) but it seemed a fitting end to a difficult year.

January 2020 will be remembered in Australia for the bushfires. That holiday feeling—certain smells that signal summer, blue skies, a loosening of the shoulders and release from responsibilities—remained elusive. In February, we sought distraction from natural disasters, an emerging virus, university change management and a tree-felling storm that left us without power for several days.

In March, I started a new job in academic development. The beginning of the university semester was marked by an empty campus as Sydney entered lockdown. In April, we continued to work, school and holiday from home. By May, we’d got the hang of teaching, researching and entertaining via Zoom.

In June, we enjoyed the little things: conversations, food, being outdoors and books. I returned to campus a day or two a week in July, and celebrated the “goopy mess” of feelings with Nina Pick’s poem ‘School of Embodied Poetics’. I walked the campus in August.

I wrote fewer blog posts in 2020 than in previous years but, thanks to enrolment in a Master of Creative Writing course, practised more creative writing. In October, I oriented my reflections toward hope in a context of political change. As always, reading offered solace but was at a slower pace than previous years.

The year ends with now-familiar feelings from the emotions wheel: fragility and helplessness. But we are also finding ways to be peaceful, playful and excited. The Christmas tree went up early. We are enjoying the illusion of control enabled by the board game Pandemic. We spent yesterday at the beach. Our ears are still ringing—the cicadas are very noisy this year—and we were awed by Pete Rush’s large driftwood wolf artwork:

We have much to look forward to: presents, swimming, cake and (of course) books. My favourite reads this year included fiction—Brit Bennett’s The Vanishing Half, Lily King’s Writers and Lovers, Micaiah Johnson’s The Space Between Worlds, Meg Mason’s Sorrow and Bliss— and non-fiction—Tegan Bennett Daylight’s The Details: On Love, Death and Reading, Tara Westover’s Educated and Denise Riley’s Time Lived, Without Its Flow. I hope to add others to the list before the year’s end. Later today, I will start Sophie Mackintosh’s dystopian Blue Ticket. The epigraph is an extract from a poem by Lorine Niedecker:

Fog-thick morning —
I see only
where I now walk. I carry
    my clarity
with me.

Thank you for reading The Slow Academic this year. I hope your final days of 2020 are peaceful, and that 2021 brings good tidings.

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.