Where we are

EC892284-06A6-41EE-8984-6364510C3C07.jpegUntil now I have been a creature of habit around the university. I regularly eat the same meals at a couple of places. I sit in the same spot during committee meetings. I take familiar paths between the car park, meeting rooms, cafes and my office.  I have done so repeatedly and unseeingly. I have treated my university as a non-place.

This is changing.

Once or twice a week my daughter comes to work with me. Her epilepsy is better controlled than a couple of months ago (with three to five seizures a day) but, on four medications, she is very tired. She has managed two hours of school per week (one morning only) for a couple of weeks with mixed success. She will not be returning to full-time schooling this year.

Her illness changes time. There is a lot of waiting with epilepsy. It also changes how I experience the space of the university. She likes to walk a different route every day. She notices things — like the door identification plates in my building.

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We are walking the campus, visiting its museums and art gallery (I recommend the current mermaids exhibition for those nearby), discussing brutalist architecture, and admiring the sculptures, gardens and birds. I feel more aware of my surroundings and my location than ever before. This week we are in Canberra, shadowing my daughter’s school excursion, and being somewhere new certainly primes our noticing skills.

Random thoughts

I have been scribbling a lot of notes to myself on post-its lately, to the extent that someone in a workshop today commented on the lack of sophistication of my record-keeping and communication system. (The image below is this morning’s efforts). This post is going to read something like a collection of post-it notes on things I have been thinking about lately.

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1. Universities as non-places

(This is adapted from an old post on a previous blog, a post-it note of sorts).

I reread Toope’s Universities in the Era of ‘Non-Lieux’ — on the work of French philosopher Marc Augé on“places” and “non-places” — in light of a train station built in Nairobi with Chinese funding:

The train was impressive … but very little of it conjured an image of Kenya, he said, except maybe for the landscape. “It needs to look like it’s ours,” he said. “After all, we’re going to pay for it through our noses, aren’t we?”

A Kenya Railways employee sends off the train from Nairobi to Mombasa at the new Standard Gauge Railway terminal in Nairobi.

Non-lieux are spaces that are essentially interchangeable, without distinctiveness. They tend to render humans anonymous … In such a place you could be anywhere, or no-where. Think shopping centres, airports, large hotels, refugee camps suggests Augé.

Your university is heading the same way, according to Toope, the victim of global rankings, government intervention and online learning.

2. Wild places

Feminist philosopher Julia Kristeva begins her book New Maladies of the Soul (1995) with a single, provocative question: “These days, who has a soul?” Non-places are bad for the soul. What feeds that part of me I might call a soul? Sometimes it is not people, but their absence. It’s being in the bush or at the beach. Wild places. Even at the university, there are remnants of turpentine ironbark forest that cling to the edge of campus. I am going to take a walk here.

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3. Rethinking writing

While I am walking, I will be thinking. Having previously posted my strategies for writing, I must confess that none have worked recently. I’ve been struggling to write, so I created deadlines by writing abstracts and submitting proposals; I pulled in co-authors and made promises; and I scheduled regular brief writing periods. In the past, this combination has been enjoyable and successful. This time, I felt more pressured and less productive.

I realised I was trying to do new work with different bodies of literature, ideas not yet connected, thinking that stretched my knowledge. I needed longer stretches of time. A weekend writing retreat gave me a chance to play catch up, but I am looking for some new writing techniques. These ideas for mindful writing, reading and listening are a great starting point. (Thanks for sharing @BLASST).