The Christmas special

This might be the last blog I write in 2014, as my time gets taken up with a ROAD TRIP south and Christmas celebrations with the family. I take a moment now to reflect on all the stuff that I have been through this year, and my plans for 2015. Take heed: it’s a long post. Grab a cup of tea and a biscuit.

Firstly, my beautiful daughter M. After coming out as transgender in September 2013, she moved unwillingly up north to Brisvegas in January of this year, to be cared for and supported by me and her step-father. This was a traumatic move for her, given her dislike of the hot humid state generally. She has been through a lot. So have we all as a family, now. M’s experiences as a transgender mtf woman have been typical of this marginalised group. She has been misgendered, she has suffered discrimination and abuse from trolls in Logan (a bogan suburb now proven beyond doubt), and despite help from health care professionals and a truck load of pills, she has suffered mightily from her own demons. These demons were the hardest to manage.

Before she found peace in her appearance with a stonking great new haircut and gorgeous red dye job, she was seriously depressed about it. Her male-pattern hair growth and male looks cause her great heartache, and she often thinks about suicide. My daughter is tall, model slender, and, to my mind, absolutely beautiful as a trans woman. As the female hormones kick in and the testosterone blockers do their work, she is becoming more feminine-looking, softer, and smoother, with clear, fine white skin and beautiful grey-green eyes. But she doesn’t yet see herself that way. She started hurting herself. It was a low point for me as a mother to see my beautiful girl cut into herself and hate herself so much.

It has taken quite a bit of encouragement to get her to see her health-care providers and manage her condition. She is not out of the woods yet. But already her increased medication is improving her well-being, and she is in contact with her health-care providers who have been very supportive. And of course, she talks to me, and I to her. Talking helps, and we are starting to see the triggers for her unhealthy behaviours. One of them is mis-gendering by strangers. She needs to call them out for it. Another trigger is her appearance and hair style. She needs to feel in control of that, and have enough funds to cover her look. I’m sure there are other triggers, and I’m sure one of them is me, when out of fear and concern I say things that might inadvertently hurt her.

But my daughter, despite living in the margins and interstices of life, can be incredibly black and white, and tends to stubbornness. Actually, she has always been as stubborn as a mule. Nothing there has changed since she was 2. And, bless her, she sometimes fails to give a little. We parents have to do all the compromising, and most of the time it’s fine. But there are some minor moments when we also need that compromise from her, and this is when the problems arise. Mostly it’s about the condition of her room, or her sporadic contribution to the housework, or the people she invites to stay over without asking us, or her clothing when she is going out with us. Stupid things. Adolescent things. Things that mean nothing in the grand scheme of life, but that mean a lot in the day-to-day living.

I finally snapped a few weeks ago and realised I needed support from others in a similar situation. I’ve contacted PFLAG in Brisvegas and already have had the most wonderful outpouring of support from parents with transgender adult children, who, like me, need someone to talk with and to share stories with.

But, more importantly, I’ve received the most wonderful support from my friends and family and work colleagues. They have been understanding, quiet, and caring. After all, there’s very little they can say or advise me on – they do not have the experience of this. Instead, they have listened, silently offered their friendship and love, and for that I am truly grateful. One great woman is Deb. Deb is M’s employer. M, with help from me, my boss and Deb, was given work near my work’s local coffee shop. M is fast becoming a great employee, given up to 25 hours work a week at the moment while another employee is on maternity leave. Deb has been a marvel of patience and love and I don’t know how to thank her enough.

Second on my list of 2014 happenings, I finally submitted my PhD. Today is the day when the reports are due back. As if. (Actually, I just checked online – one is already back. And now my stomach is churning.) But who knows? I certainly know I will be a Dr by this time next year, and with any luck I can call myself Dr by March next year, when it actually counts. In the end, the last gasp to the finish line wasn’t nearly so horrible as others make out. I took small vacation breaks to write in: 3 days here, a week there. And at the end, it was 2 hours here, a day there. After shrinking from my Lit review for most of the 5 years, I finally sat down to do it in July and found a way through. It was a rewarding, engrossing time of discovery and, once again, epiphany. The last 3 months of my PhD weren’t hard, as I have previously reported. On the advice of a friend, I compiled my entire thesis into one working document, formatted it early, got most of the frontispieces done (although obviously missed something as I had to keep going back and revising it for stupid bureaucratic reasons), and organised the appendices early too. That way, I was just adding to the lit review and the reference list as I went. My final weeks were about me reading the whole document through, finding tiny edits and enormous sentences and fixing both. In the end, I was writing as if I was dancing. It felt joyful.

But I didn’t really count on the grief I felt at finishing this big thing, and not having something else to work towards in the future. My job is peripatetic, without security, and I have no way of knowing what income I will receive next year. As someone who has struggled to get by for so long, I am rather sick of it. I have teaching at university since 2008, I’ve published and will continue to do so, I’m researching, I’m doing everything a good girl entering academia should do, but am struggling to convert all this work into a full-time gig. And I’m angry at the people who take the system for a ride and refuse to contribute while people like me are on the sidelines waving their arms about saying “pick me, pick me!” Anyway, grief and anger have been my friends the last month or two. Not helped by M’s emotional turmoil, of course.

Thirdly, work. Work has been engrossing, rewarding, at times frustrating and also heartbreaking, when the people you teach, care about and care for, sometimes reward you with insensitivity and thoughtlessness. But at the same time my expertise is getting ever better, my approach more thorough, my interactions with work colleagues more relaxed. It has been a good year. I teach too much and it is exhausting work, and it is certainly not something I would have wanted for myself when I began my performing career, but I’m pretty good at it. But there’s no denying I would like to balance my teaching work with research and more performance. All to come, I guess.

Fourth, travel. This year has mostly been about me escaping home for anywhere else. Noosa in QLD, Aireys Inlet in Victoria, Montville; all these places I have stayed at to finish my PhD. And of course, there’s NYC. A big trip but not a perfect one. Note to self – leave DH to his own devices so I can shop without him being all grumpy guts in the corner.

Fifth, house and home. We’ve been planning our renovations and we have money actually sitting in the bank gathering dust (certainly not gathering interest, FFS). But it’s not quite enough to do all we want to do, and the plans have stalled and my designer, who has great ideas, is very bad at staying in touch. DH and I are both annoyed, but I am particularly annoyed because I cannot keep teaching in my studio space – it’s just not good enough or quiet enough for the money my students are spending on me to educate them. The waiting around has become a pain in the butt.

Sixth, Poppy love. I love her, she loves me, nuff said. Oh! And I’ve finally worked out how to artfully clip her poodle fur using the right equipment, so it should be easier and cheaper now on to clip her ourselves. Huzzah.

Seventh, shows. Lots and lots of shows. So many shows. Many, many shows. Am I showed out? Nah. Love it. Bring it. My experiences make me more critical, but this is a good thing. Always aim for perfection, even if it’s impossible to reach. Highlights? Desh at the Brisbane Festival, Honeymoon in Vegas on Broadway, and It’s Only a Play, also on Broadway. I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change and Into the Woods at our place. Rigoletto at Opera Queensland and Frizstch’s last conducting gig with QLD Symphony Orchestra performing Mahler’s 3rd. Lowlights? Old, outdated and overblown: Aida at the Met, The New York Theatre Ballet with a turkey of a Swan Lake.

Eighth, DH and me. It has been a huge year. He has taken on the top job at our workplace, and I have been finishing my PhD, and my trans daughter has been living with us. It has been a bit of a rocky time, and at times we have struggled to maintain our connection to each other. It’s there, don’t get me wrong, but sometimes other commitments get in the way of a strong, loving connection with one’s life partner. But he is coming on a road trip with me, and we have to spend 3 days in a car together. That’s a good thing! And when we head to the beach house (my folk’s place at Aireys Inlet) I think he really will relax. Even his work colleagues are beginning to complain that there’s no evidence of tapering off at his work! In other words, he came dashing into the top job and everyone has been frantically dashing about ever since, trying to keep up. I think they want him to go away on holiday. For a long time. Me? Well, I long since stopped trying to keep up with my workaholic hubby. We pull together pretty well, and I bully him into stopping work every now and then.

I’m sure there’s more. But now I have to go shower, get ready and lunch with a fabulous friend. Happy Christmas, everyone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The NaNoWriMo experience

Nah, don’t be daft. There’s no way I’m doing this little exercise when I’ve just handed in my PhD. I’m exhausted and in no way ready to embrace the challenge of fiction just yet. But it got me to thinking. The National Novel Writing Month seems like a great opportunity to plan a future novel. Not this year, but certainly next year. I reckon if I plan my plot and my characters with enough detail, then next year will be a great writing opportunity. 50,000 words in a month? Sure. That’s less than 2000 words a day. And if a picture tells a thousand words, then what does a song count for? Cabaret, here I come.

Currently I’m resetting my brain to enjoy being quiet for a bit. Frankly, I’m so thoroughly depleted that I’m turning every day into a holiday when I can. If I’m not teaching in the afternoon I come home and veg out on the couch. I’ve been watching True Detective. A brilliant bit of work if ever I’ve seen it. Loving the great acting, scripts, cinematography, plot. Loving the way the writer creates tension and develops his characters. Wonderful, layered stuff. Anyway, I’ll enjoy being creative again in a year, I suspect.

But in the meantime, I’m creating a couple of book proposals for some big academic publishers. I’m keen to get on with this bit. There are a couple of days free in the next little while that look like possible prep days for my proposals, and then, New York.¬† !!!!

It’s done.

I’ve finished the PhD.

Now for the next phase: examination, revisions and the Dr hat, I hope.

There were some melancholy moments last week as I tried to come to terms with the eventual cutting of my PhD umbilical cord. What do I do now, was my wail. Well, in typical Jessie fashion, I’m not sitting on my hands. I asked for advice from two brilliant women in my workplace, to try and make sense of my current strengths, to see where my weaknesses are, and to help me plan my next move.

Mentoring is a really important facet of working life, and I’m lucky to know 2 fantastic women in positions of authority in universities more than willing to give me advice and help me plan my next move.

I need to “step up” to the next level. I’ve been thinking about what I want to achieve in my next life phase. I think I’m ready to lead. The advice from lots of people is, “stop”. Breathe. Take a year off. Well, can’t do the last one because I’m working to pay for stuff. No taking a year off for me. Besides, I’m already a published author. I know how this thing works.

But I can’t keep doing what I’m doing for bread and butter at the current work load because it’s not sustainable nor does it provide a rewarding, growing career. There’s no jam.

So, I’ve come up with a little list of projects to do while I’m “taking time out from writing”. Here’s a taster, in no particular order:

  1. Plan the house plans and renovations.
  2. Write a cabaret.
  3. Plan the book from my PhD.
  4. Prepare three more journal articles from my thesis and conference papers.
  5. Plan a Post Doc or Decra or Churchill.
  6. Do craft.

I think that’s a pretty good list. Maybe except the last one.

 

 

 

When writing becomes dancing

I think for some PhD students the final last gasp to the finish line must feel just like that – a final gut-wrenching, exhausting, mind-numbed collapse over the line. And until recently I thought it was like that for me. But something has changed.

I’m dancing.

These last three days have felt balletic. I’ve done all the hard slog and now I’m merely finishing off my footwork and hand movements – the choreo is done, the practising is done, I’m just perfecting it now.

I’ve been writing a few minutes here, and hour or two there, and apart from some additional discussion writing and making sure the conclusion matches the theory and the introduction I’m just editing. It’s like flourishes with a ribbon. Quick, short, gone in a flash.

Missed a reference? Add it in – flourish! Whoops, poor cutting and pasting? Slice it away, whoosh! Sentences too long? Add a full stop and reshape. Twirl! I’m dancing over the text. My supervisor has now read the whole draft and this morning I incorporated her edits in 3 whole chapters. It took 2 hours. Wheee!

I guess it helps that my supervisor isn’t throwing up over the material. She has even praised me for some sections. She’s let go a bit too.

I’m not sure why I feel this way. Maybe it’s because I set up my final document some months ago and I’ve been working with the final draft copy ever since. All the margins are done. The frontispieces and back matter, appendices and references are all done. The TOC, updating automatically when needed. There’s now no longer any need to sit for long hours at the computer, pulling my hair out. Just a pirouette here, a jete there.

I’m at the end and I can feel it. It’s not a big Beethoven finale, but it’s lovely. A little bit Bach.

Can you feel it? Can you see it? I’m dancing!

I AM SO TIRED…and what is a Pomodoro?

I’ve nearly finished the dissertation. Half a discussion chapter to complete (20 pomodoros) and fix up the abstract (4 pomodoros). Rewrite the conclusion so it doesn’t suck (10 pomodoros). Add the figures and adjust the TOC (8 pomodoros). And I’m done. But do you think I want to even look at the thing? Nope. I can’t even bring myself to open the bloody document and do a couple of pomodoros to get me started. I just don’t want to do it. And I knew this would happen as soon as I started teaching again. Teaching just wipes me out, emotionally, intellectually, physically. I care about my kids and I want the best for them, so I spend a lot of time and energy on them. And I just can’t bring myself to work on the thesis. If I look at the amount of pomodoros I need to finish, it’s 21 hours. Half a week of full time work. Maybe the discussion chapter will take a tad longer than 20 pomodoros, but if I stick to the script…

Pomodoro, by the way, is a special term intended for developing better time management to improve work efficiency. 1 pomodoro can last as little as 15 minutes or as long as you like, but the trick is to take an actual stand-up break for 5 minutes in between work activities. So below is an approach quite useful for me during morning sessions:

1 pomodoro: 25 minutes

break: 5 minutes

2 pomodoro: 25 minutes

break: 5 minutes

3 pomodoro: 25 minutes

break: 5 minutes

4 pomodoro: 25 minutes

break: long break.

Pomodoros are useful blocks of time for those who work at computers and have ready access to internet and email. You don’t look at email or do anything other than the work you have set yourself for that 25 minutes, and then, during the 5 minute break, you get up off your chair and grab a cup of tea or do something physical. It’s a great way to achieve focus in an accessible and reasonably short block of time, therefore tricking your brain into thinking it’s super-easy to do just 25 minutes. But I can’t even bring myself to do 1 pomodoro on my thesis this week. Blah.

I am so tired. But the end is so close. SO close.

I looked over the literature review the other day and it holds up ok. Just need to finish that blasted discussion chapter. But that means deep thought. I’m incapable this week of deep thought. This month, this semester. Gah.

I keep looking for spare weeks in my diary where I’m not teaching 10 hours a day. I found two in late September. I’m only teaching or auditioning in the mornings. Good. This will get me through the rest of the thesis, provided I can just finish the discussion chapter.

And let me not start on the blessed administrivia and bureaucratic nightmare that is my place of study or coping with the continual roadblocks barring my way at the last minute.

Care factor? Nearly zero. Desperation to finish? Out of 100: ninety-nine. Deadline? November. Totally possible, except I have no time to work right now. It shows me how deep I go when I am in the throes of writing, and how much time and space I truly need in order to write. Charles Bukowski was a alcoholic bullshit artist with his poem that you don’t need time and space and light and air to write – if you really want to, you just write. Well, sure. If you like writing bullshit. And if your paid work consists of brainless stuff like cleaning where there’s lots of time for thinking.

Every few days I read a fabulous blog by Pat Thomson, called Patter. Her last blogpost could have been written just for me. I’m sure she’s looking over my shoulder cheering me on. Even if she’s not, her blogs eerily mirror my current trajectory. Thanks, Pat, for providing such great information to those desperate PhD students who are just a little sick of Jorge Cham’s PhD comics. Great for when you’re a full time science student, annoying when you’ve been writing your dissertation for too many years to count and the characters in the comics never age. Plus the comic is overwhelmingly US-centric and young grad-student. Therefore limited and not really relevant to an old chook like me.

One thing’s for certain: I’m desperate to write a bit of fiction in the next few years. Desperate. And also to get out in the sun. And do something other than this.

Back to life…

I’m back home. Sad and happy simultaneously. I loved my writing retreat but by Thursday night I knew I had reached the end point of what I could achieve by the coast without going a bit insane. Not from loneliness, but from tiredness from constantly diving so deep into my literature and then getting annoyed upon finding my literature is all over the shop. Fuzzy structure annoys me and makes me tired.

I have one more week remaining to try and wrangle this thing into some sort of cohesion by Sunday week. After that, it goes to my supervisors for reading. After reading through my introduction, I’m pretty happy with it. I like my narrative chapters. I like my methods chapter, there’s not much more there needing doing. My conclusion is still a bit sucky, but I can probably clean it up in a day. So it’s still the literature and the discussion that needs a bit more work.

I’m trying to follow the instructions of my supervisors, who recommended removing more of the quotes and letting my voice be heard. While I totally understand this, I also get annoyed that I’m told at the same time to substantiate, substantiate, substantiate! Pat Thomson, who is clearly still reading the same blasted thesis she started a week ago, is getting SO annoyed by over explanation, excessive exposition and a shopping list of research studies. I know that it’s important to maintain active voice where possible, but when you are told to signpost for the reader, to not make grandiose statements, and to always make sure your statements are backed up by research, then it’s hard to find authorial voice when these directives are so prevalent. Goddam it.

 

And we’re off!

Met with supervisor yesterday. Mostly positive and very productive meeting – they always are, but then I go away and forget what was said because I’ve learned something interesting: I’m a linguistic learner through the read/write medium. I’m also a kinaesthetic learner. So if you TELL me stuff I won’t remember it. I need to write it down.

So, that’s been the problem with my meetings in the past: I’ve written stuff down but if someone speaks to me I just won’t take it in. DH gets a bit annoyed because I forget stuff. But he is an aural learner – he remembers whole conversations including inflections and raised eyebrows, and he is also a visual learner. He likes graphs and pictures. I like ’em too, but it’s fine if I don’t have them. In fact, sometimes they confuse me.

So there you go. Now I know why I forget spoken instructions. I took this interesting quiz yesterday and did it again today: http://www.vark-learn.com/english/page.asp?p=questionnaire

Each time I took the test I come up with some slightly different results but the general thrust is the same: in learning styles I’m read/write and kinaesthetic.

So that’s why I need to write. I learn through writing and doing.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to reshape/ rewrite my thesis. GAH.

I love my husband

I really, really do. I’ve had this ongoing minor illness – nothing to really complain about except I feel a bit tired and woozy and have low energy. DH took me away on a writing retreat so that I didn’t have to think about the house or money or being busy, and I was simply there to write!

And write I did. Now I think my Methods chapter is nearly ready. I spent more time on my literature review – such as it is – and just now I sent off nearly my entire thesis to my supervisor for the dreaded OMG discussion on Thursday.

I’m tired and want to stop this now, but I’m a bit off because my literature review is so hideous. Gah. I’m taking about 5 weeks off my private students in June so that I can finish this thing, which will be very bad for the pocket but good for my brain.

Anyhoo, my husband has been feeding me all day and now we’re about to entertain guests so I’d better have a shower and clean up the house before they arrive.

I love my husband. I do, I do.

Wayne Bowman, tacit knowing and the joy of discovery

Today I found Wayne Bowman’s thesis exploring Michael Polanyi’s theory of tacit knowledge. Completed in 1980, Bowman asks “what implications does Polanyi’s theory of tacit knowledge bear for music instruction?” and “how may the recognition of tacit knowing serve to substantiate the educational import of musical experience?”

Well. I wish I had read this earlier. As I stumbled – literally – over this thesis (the snowball effect took me from Burwell-Polanyi-tacit knowing in music-Reese-Bowman KAPOW) I began to cry because not only is Wayne Bowman a wonderful writer and philosopher whom I greatly admire but he articulated in his introduction precisely that which I have thought in the years I have been doing my PhD. That by concentrating on the concrete, tangible and quantifiable aspects of music instruction we miss out on the ineffable, joyful, awe inspiring roots of meaningful learning that I believe is central to teaching music. And it is this which I am trying to unpack.

Does this mean that at heart I am a philosopher? Perhaps. Not a very good one, because I can’t argue my position out loud. I’m terrible at it. I’m better at writing what I think. I get terribly tied into knots and there are plenty of much better thinkers out there who seem to be able to untangle the vagaries of philosophical thought much better than I can.

At any rate, I’ve read some of Bowman’s work before and he has moved on somewhat since these early days so I hadn’t made the connection. Oh, boy.

I’m back in the joy of discovery mode. (Now, how to weave this into my literature review… gah!)