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Creativity: my creativity has taken a dive, and I have withdrawn from my creative writing course for the semester, but this provides an excuse to showcase my teen’s artwork for music created by a schoolfriend: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

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?

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.