Lockdown

In Sydney, we are in our fourth or fifth week of lockdown with covid numbers rising and (at least) another four weeks of working and schooling from home ahead. There’s a dullness to our days. Between Zoom meetings and supervising schoolwork, I started to write a list of the things that are getting us through the coming weeks and putting smiles on our faces.

Lego: the star of school STEM activities such as building a flagpole, a tool for family challenges (spinning tops, towers), and a treat brought by the postie. We are enjoying catching up on past seasons of Lego Masters, which has prompted conversations about feedback and bias.

Chocolate: the combination of licorice and dark chocolate is delish and the ratio of the Darrell Lea block is just right. Other food indulgences include condiments, take away, new recipes (this week includes caramel semifreddo, mulligatawny, Korean chicken and risotto) and snack experiments such as black bean brownies.

Watching the Olympics: we have a local community connection to Dominic Clarke, who represented Australia in trampolining. We cheered when he got through to the finals, and cried when he was unable to finish his routine. It was a tough competition. His smile was wonderful to see. After qualifying for the final he said: “I’m over the moon… It’s the best performance I’ve put up all year and it literally just came down to me having fun on the floor!”

Comfort reading: quirky and light reads, choosing from the to-be-read pile, browsing the little street library, reading the same books and talking about them, listening to audiobooks or videos of picture books. Here are a few of our recent favourites:

Spring-like weather: for gardening while listening to music (Double J, the radio station described as”older than Triple J”, just celebrated 40 years of Sonic Youth, the sound of my teen years), walking the dog, opening the windows, hanging out washing, doing a garden scavenger hunt, playing ping pong on the outdoor table at the park. And the chooks are laying again!

Creativity: my creativity has taken a dive, and I have withdrawn from my creative writing course for the semester, but this provides an excuse to showcase my teen’s artwork for music created by a schoolfriend:

Novelty: when so much remains the same, we are craving new experiences any way we can get them. As well as food and books, we are trying new television shows (Lost in Oz, The Tailings, Cleverman, Ms Represented, Starstruck), an online escape room with colleagues (here is a free version from the Sydney Opera House), a creative kids box from the State Library, new games (Greed), rainbow bubble bath, a scented candle and fresh flowers.

What about you? I would love to hear what works for you (or has helped in the past if lockdowns are behind you).

Things I miss

During the most difficult times in my life, I have noticed that one way people show empathy is by sharing something dreadful that they, or someone close to them, has experienced. There’s a camaraderie in suffering, which can be both comforting and suffocating.

Back in 2012, I had an ectopic pregnancy, after several years of secondary infertility. There were complications during the surgery to remove my right fallopian tube which resulted in chronic pain, and further surgeries to implant a neurostimulator. When people heard this, a common response was to tell me stories of mishaps during surgery or traumatic pregnancy loss. This has happened during other painful times in my life, too close to the bone to recount here. At times, I felt like a repository for bad news.

I say this to contextualise the lightness of this post at a time of collective trauma on a large scale: nearly 160,000 deaths in the United States alone, and decimated communities around the world (I recommend the BBC World Service podcast The Documentary for international coverage of the pandemic). Closer to home, we have over 12 thousand cases in Victoria, Australia (more than half active), and a hard lockdown that exacerbates vulnerability and disadvantage.

The things I miss are small, but perhaps my list may resonate with your experiences of life during a pandemic.

Walking the campus

Last week, with the Idea of the University reading group, I read Frances Kelly’s haunting piece Hurry up please, it’s time!’ A psychogeography of a decommissioned university campus.” Fran takes an “attentive walk” through a soon-to-be decommisioned university campus. There is a palpable sense of mourning, but Fran’s attention to the details of place are inspiring:

Although I had walked the same paths before, this time I walked with intention and attention, taking photographs and making notes of objects and places and the effects of processes of time—stairs that once lead to a building now demolished; an enormous pile of tree clippings;flowering bulbs; a view toward a dormant volcano …

Walking is a time for and mode of thinking for me, which is why psychogeography resonates as research methodology. A limitation is that it does take time, which can be in short supply for the contemporary researcher, or the busy parent, carer or student juggling multiple responsibilities.‘I like walking because it is slow, and I suspect that the mind, like the feet, works at about three miles an hour’, writes Solnit. ‘If this is so, then modern life is moving faster than the speed of thought, or thoughtfulness’ (Solnit2014, 10). Walking with deliberate attention as methodology reduces speed further–requiring pauses to observe, note and reflect on phenomena.

At the moment, we are working on campus part-time, but most of my meetings are online. I miss walking between meetings, noticing the change of season as spring approaches. The birds seem wilder with fewer people around.

Bumping into people

With all of my interactions scheduled, and mostly mediated through a screen, I miss impromptu embodied conversations. Having moved into a new role, I rarely see people I caught up with regularly six months ago. I miss you!

Interrupting and being interrupted

I mentioned my love of interruptions in a previous post. Polite turn-taking is far more important during Zoom. I miss hearing people talking over the top of one another, or finishing each other’s sentences without awkward pauses. I am reminded of this quote from Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts:

Sometimes, when I’m teaching, when I interject a comment without anyone calling on me, without caring that I just spoke a moment before, or when I interrupt someone to redirect the conversation away from an eddy I personally find fruitless, I feel high on the knowledge that I can talk as much as I want to, as quickly as I want to, in any direction that I want to, without anyone overtly rolling her eyes at me or suggesting I go to speech therapy. I’m not saying this is good pedagogy. I am saying that its pleasures are deep.

Novelty

There is a certain sameness to our days now. I am sure this is felt more intensely by those unable to leave their homes. I miss everyday novelty. I am attempting to satisfy my cravings by trying new condiments, planning virtual escape room games with colleagues and family, and picking up books from the local street library. This morning’s haul included Vivian Pham’s The Coconut Children and Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous.

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What are you missing?

ETA I wrote this post then watched the horrific news from Beirut. My heart is with you, and the Lebanese community outside Beirut.

Breathing room

Colleagues and I have had a book chapter published this week. It’s entitled Breathing Room, and was co-authored by seven authors: Agnes Bosanquet, Jayde Cahir, Gail Crimmins, Janet Free, Karina Luzia, Lilia Mantai, Ann Werner.

The chapter appears in a collection edited by Linda Henderson, Ali Black and Susanne Gervis. I can’t wait to receive my copy and read the other chapters, all written collectively, with responses to each section by a feminist ‘grandmother’ figure (in a scholarly sense).

Of our chapter, Alison Bartlett writes:

Working around metaphors of making room, I loved the way these large collectives—Bosanquet, Cahir, Crimmins, Free, Luzia, Mantai and Werner—share their writing space to talk about being not a parent nor able to be employed in the academy, about parenting difficulties and illness, about the sheer amount of research that accompanies motherhood and the unpredictability of bodies. While breath, sleep and voice come and go, are strained and released in this chapter amidst the social performance of life, there is something raw/roar about the audacity of this chapter disclosing such vulnerabilities.

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The theme of breathing room unites the reflective narratives in our chapter, inspired by Luce Irigaray’s writing on breath, interiority and autonomy. In Between East and West, Irigaray (2002) writes that she has learnt “the importance of breathing in order to survive, to cure certain ills, and to attain detachment and autonomy” (p 10). She explores “a sexuation of breathing” as a woman “by practicing, by listening (to myself), by reading, by awakening myself” (2002, 10). Collectively, our narratives reveal living with and letting go of the demands of academia and the complexities of caring for ourselves and others. We show the messiness and fractured identities of (non)mothers and (non)researchers in and out of academic contexts.

It seems a good time to remind myself of the importance of breathing room. Here are some apposite quotes from the seven reflections in our chapter:

Breath 1

I need more space than I have—emotionally, mentally and physically—to parent full-time, long-term … I need more time-space, mind-space, than I believe would be permitted in any academic position I see advertised. I need more space to be scholarly than is allowed in modern-day academia.

Breath 2

Fridays are the days I set aside for writing, reading, thinking. Activities that (I believe) is what being in academia should be about, things that I want to do whether I get paid or not. All of the week has been consumed by teaching and meetings, administration, e-mails and colleagues complaining for hours on the phone to me. … Fridays start out full of hope, I am imagining time to write, time to pick up my child early, time to reflect on strategies and methods, have lunch with my partner.

Breath 3

I practice yoga and mindfulness more seriously now, as if my sanity depends on it. It does. I run. It teaches me to breathe through stress and anxiety. I practice gratitude, I exercise self-compassion. I tell myself to let go and accept I can’t have it all at once. I write to process this whirlwind of emotions, and I talk with my son about what gives me joy and keeps me away from him.

Breath 4

Writing in my son’s journal is part of our bedtime routine. Listening to him recount the day is a gateway to his inner world … Sometimes he holds a mirror up to me: “Mummy doesn’t play with me a lot or often”. I know that it is true. I write it down. I take a deep breath.

Breath 5

I lost my voice. I couldn’t speak for eight weeks. The consultant said it was a paralysed vocal chord. The singing teacher who helped me recover said that I couldn’t speak because I’d stopped breathing properly. As if going into battle, I was anticipating my struggle with parenting by taking huge gulps of air and holding on for dear life. I was flooding the engine. I needed to sip the air: constantly refuel.

Breath 6

We visited Australia’s National Art Gallery and saw an exhibition entitled The Breathing Room by Patricia Piccinini. An audiovisual space of multiple screens, it was like entering the insides or watching a close-up of a strange fleshy creature breathing. Sometimes the creature panicked and its breathing escalated. Sometimes it slowed like it was sleeping.  The room was both comforting and disturbing in its intimacy. A bit like being and having a mother, I thought.

Breath 7

I’ve moved office three times this year … Finally, I moved to an ‘office of my own’ in a corridor clothed in NTEU stickers, Women’s International Day posters and Aboriginal flags. Here I can breathe, surrounded by people who share my life-blood to be activist in academia, human and more-than-human in and through our academic roles. I unpack my boxes.

Thank you to these women for sharing their words, and to the editors for holding space for them.