Getting Gritty with it: the real thing

So here’s a thing. I’ve begun some long overdue editing work. It’s kinda boring, because it’s editing, y’all, but I discovered something. In doing this, I want to start writing again. The editor of the book is a personal friend and writing colleague, and the book is about a particular form of qualitative research called Narrative Inquiry, which is my thing.

Narrative Inquiry methods “story” the data and findings. In lay terms, we make meaning of social science research by putting raw data into a readily readable narrative for humans to connect to. In true terms it’s of course a rather messy and frustrating approach to analyse data but in meaning-making it beats most quantitative studies in the social sciences, because in the end quantitative researchers, with all their numbers, still have to put their discussions of the findings in ways that make it meaningful to humans. In narrative form. Often in the form of storied case studies, that sort of thing. Which Narrative Inquiry does from the get-go. Does it make the research any less rigorous? No, however, there may be ways of interpreting the research that quantitative researchers find using other means. Now, remember folks, I said the SOCIAL SCIENCES. NOT medical or earth sciences, or biotech or any kind of tech, really. Medicine and biological sciences need quantitative data much more than, arguably, the social sciences do.

As I’m sitting here doing the editing (which has to be done in little increments because it’s impossible to focus for more than an hour at a time on the stuff without losing the will to live), I’m all fired up and excited about writing again. I’ve offered to write a chapter in the book – according to my friend the volume’s a little short, so I’ve taken the bait. I had originally offered to write something about 100 years ago but I wasn’t in a good emotional space to be doing that, so I never submitted an abstract. I’ve given myself a 2 week turnaround for a rough draft of 8000 words. This doesn’t seem overly onerous, but there’s a whole heap of extra research and reading to do.

For every article I reference, there’s about 5 I read and discard. So if I include 50 references then I’ll need to read up to 250 articles for this chapter. Luckily I already know the field so more than half of the references are stored away in my brain somewhere, to be dragged out as a hoarder drags out his favourite rusting, teensy doo-dad from under the piles of equally rusting detritus, which he kept just in case. I’m going to send my friend the rough draft in early March and she can make the decision as to whether it’s good enough for inclusion. It’s a tight turn-around but it’s doable. The review process might be problematic because it’s usually very slow but the editors will no doubt send it to someone in the field who is known to do things quickly.

Seriously. It’s not as if I have better things to do with my time.

On the the Live Below the Line thing. I’ve been having another think about my starchy foods, and I’ve taken a little inventory of the food I usually eat on a normal day. Toast, eggs, sandwiches, pasta. I’m thinking I could buy a loaf of day-old bread from the bakery (cheap as chips), and some ready-made pasta, and this will do me just fine for 5 days with the other things. I’ll need to get fighting fit for the challenge. Perhaps a 2-day challenge to see how I cope with no coffee and wine? Not that this will hurt me, as my girth is back to its old chubster state.

I’m thinking on it. As you may have noticed, I’m a problem solver and this problem is rather delicious to play with. Also worthy. And as a cis-heteronormative white woman living near the 1% dream, I have very few excuses to shirk my duty as concerned world citizen. 😉



Today is a good day.

A new day, a new year, a new life, a new something else.

For those who are interested, I left the house. Yes, I have been a little bit agoraphobic. It basically comes down to this: if I leave the house I know I’m going to spend money, so best not.

I had breakfast with a girlfriend. It was good. A delicious Eggs Benny with bacon (that’s an Eggs Benedict for people not in Australia – we insist on shortening every proper noun). Then I went and deposited a cheque, and then I bought more groceries because that’s what I do when I’m about to be seriously broke.

And then I watched the last 5 episodes of the 7th and final season of the West Wing. Who do I love the most? CJ Cregg? Toby Ziegler? Josh Lyman? Donna Moss? Leo McGarry? Sam Seaborn? The completely hunky Matthew Santos? (I’m talking characters here, he’s the even more gorgeous Jimmy Smits in real life). I probably love CJ the most. She’s the woman every strong woman wants to be. Smart, funny, thin and fashionable, driven, in charge. But Josh Lyman. The thinking girl’s hunka hunka burning-up-because-he-never-sleeps love. And we all know he had a six pack under those white shirts (thank goodness they finally started wearing white shirts by the end – grey and green blech at the start). And then there’s Eeyore Toby Ziegler. Soulful, sad, smart, a little bit morally superior, with brown eyes to die for. And Donna Moss, the character who grew the most over 7 seasons and who steadfastly loved her man despite him being an idiot. I loved these characters and I loved the actors and I loved the show and I loved that after Aaron Sorkin left the 5th season the show got a bit meaner and sadder and more difficult. It needed it. Sorkin lives for the soapbox and his characters are well-meaning but a little morally elevated and a touch grandiose. The writers who took over insisted on making the characters more human. It had a remarkably consistent cast, all of whom came back for the final few episodes. It wasn’t perfect TV but it was close enough for me. I shall miss it. That’s no joke – it was 125 hours of TV, 156 episodes. I’m nearly ready to begin The Good Wife, but I’ll need a few weeks of mourning time for my favourite ever TV show.


Perhaps I should start to read The Unconsoled by Kazuo Ishiguro, now sitting on my bedside table, and begin my Goodreads pledge.

In other news I’ve been sniffing around for work and have been offered a bit of copy-editing to do. It’s boring work but I learn stuff every time I do it, and I don’t have to teach people, so yes, thanks! to that. And I’m about to start gunning for an ARC DECRA. I have interest from a local uni who have offered to sponsor me and give me support to apply. Wow.

Today is a GOOD day.



Thoughts on Goodreads

I’ve just joined Goodreads.


(photo courtesy of Goodreads)

For want of something better to do with my time. The website’s a little confusing, working within genres the way they’ve laid them out. I’m actually affronted by the Chick Lit genre term. Do they (book marketers) have a Man Cave genre Just For Men too? Huh? I’d quite like a genre for Author nationalities as I’m trying to plough my way through some Australian literature. Maybe they do this. And how about sex of the author? Although given my new-found experience of not determining self through gender binaries maybe that’s a rabbit hole not to go down. Anyway, I’ve not investigated the site properly yet.

Also, I never actually COUNT the books I read – I don’t really care all that much. But this is probably a good opportunity to reread and rate the ones I’ve already read and will read this year – keeps my reading catalogue on track. But herein lies another problem. I’m a voracious reader most of the time. If I read just one book a week that’s 52 books a year. That’s actually rather expensive in Australia, with the average paperback book about $25 new – $1300 a year.

I could (and DO) buy ebooks but I actually find them rather annoying to read unless I’m in bed without the light on, or travelling. And don’t get me started on library books. I am the world’s worst library book returner. I’m not going there again!

And, in the end, do I really want to catalogue my reading like this? As a researcher who reads up to 8 articles a day at times, it’s tiring, doing filing. My catalogue of books, also known as a library, is actually on my actual real-life bookshelf. (Shelves). In full view. Of me.

Anyway, I’ve set myself a goal of reading 50 books this year. Not a stretch. Now just to remember to do it!

Happy reading, everyone.


Thinking about those goals again…

About 5 weeks ago I wrote about some goals I was thinking of aiming for, mostly to do with my personal and career goals. I was thinking at the time that I’d like to write. Maybe a fiction novel, or create a book out of my thesis. A cabaret. Or some journal articles, even.

The other thing I thought of doing was applying for a gig as a singing lecturer down south. But as time has rolled by, I had to explain to my DH just today that, actually, I don’t WANT to be a lecturer of singing, especially not down south, where I’d be away from him and our house and our life together. He has been super supportive about this job application – urging me to apply – but I just don’t want to go for it. I don’t really want to be teaching at all, if I can avoid it. It’s not that I can’t teach, I can, really very well. But I’m burnt out from it. And as much as I enjoy Musical Theatre, and as much as I love singing, I’m finding a new energy for writing.

I’ve been writing in this blog for several years, mostly agonizingly self-indulgent little pieces about my research and the sheer craziness of doing a PhD. Now I think I’d like to make forays into fiction again. I was always quite a good fiction writer although I’m not sure I like my narrative voice very much. I tend to write best when I create a narrative voice and prose style that is sparser than the one I use for my stream-of-consciousness one you see here. Actually, I’m a bit of a bower bird: I can mimic quite passably the narrative voice of any number of good writers. But as with academic writing, my best work comes from finding my authorial voice and creative muse.

So, as the weeks go by since I got the PhD email, I’m turning once more to reading and writing. Lots of it. I’m thinking short stories and small scenes first. To rebuild my creative writing chops. And, no, I don’t think I’ll go do yet another course on how to write – I’m done studying for now!

I’m not out of the woods yet – I am clearly in some sort of mid-life crisis, one that thankfully does not involve buying a sports car or dallying with a younger version of my DH – but the panic is over.

I’m taking time to think.

Also, I have a house and body to renovate.

Writing retreat huzzah!

After the craziness of last week’s Audition workshop in which I was course leader, it’s great to get away and have a peaceful time here in Noosa, finishing off the PhD. I don’t seem to have much of a sense of urgency about this week, which is weird because already one day is wasted due to travel and general sickness, and another 2 are nearly over already. I guess what I am now seeing is the very last bits of the thesis all slotting into place. I can now see that I need to add a concluding summary section at the end of my literature review that ties up all the loose ends.

I can also now see where there is a gaping great hole of research that I had completely forgotten about. I’m filling it in very fast now, really in my writing element, and writing and editing quickly – and at times, simultaneously. I’m filling and patching and removing and slicing and dicing my text, then reading it all through again to see if it makes sense. The ongoing problem is to ensure all the pieces slot neatly together, so I keep going back to my signposts to see if they are clearly marked. Linking phrases and passages are becoming clearer now, too. Especially if they are absent.

One of the things my precious book “Completing your qualitative dissertation” by Bloomberg and Volpe (2012, Sage) say is that there are steps to presenting your lit review. They are below:

  1. Provide a statement of purpose
  2. identify the topics or bodies of literature
  3. provide the rationale for topics selected
  4. describe your literature review process, report all your literature sources, and identify the keywords used to search the literature
  5. present the review of each topic
  6. present your conceptual framework
  7. provide a brief chapter summary of the literature review and its implications for your study

Sadly, this does not seem to include a “what is not known” element that I am told by my supervisor and others is important – in other words, identifying the gaps that led me to the study. Also, I’m not sure a conceptual framework goes at the back. Or does it? I’ve put mine front and centre, and then again at the back, to link to the literature. In fact, this is the problem of my literature review: I still think it’s a bit all over the place.

Also, I’m not sure point four is really useful unless this is to delimit the search specifically for the benefit of the thesis examiners. One thing I probably need to explain is that I need to limit my search on pedagogical approaches in one-to-one music lessons to SINGERS, not other folk. Because the singing instrument is embodied and mostly internal and singers don’t hear what their audiences hear, plus we’re actually building the instrument at the same time as learning to play it, there’s a lot we have to do regarding simultaneous feedback between singer and teacher.

Anyway, I’m loving the quiet rush of the sea and the occasional sound of the seagulls – which are far less lonely sounding than those English ones. I can see the sea from the balcony and I am deeply, quietly happy about writing. Maybe that’s what I am now. A writer. One of my many identities, at any rate!

I read Anna Goldsworthy’s exquisite biography “Piano Lessons” (2011, Black Inc) this morning. Gulped it down in one enormous rush. Loved it, loved the beautiful, respectful way she wrote about her teacher, the enormously funny, wry commentary on being a child, and her struggle to become a musician. Mostly I love her trying to explain about feeling the music – the architecture, the small bits, the joy, the composers. All through the broken English of her beloved Russian teacher Eleanora Savin. What a joy this relationship reads as! And yet Anna does not resile from asking herself whether she was too dependent on her teacher even as she writes about her improved understanding of the music and how she functions with this woman. Will read it again once my study is out of the way.

And given that I am next to the ocean and have not even gone for a walk, I think now is the time to take a short stroll along the beach before heading out for a bit of food. And then, after dinner, Offspring followed by The Good Wife. Perfect.


Finding new literature for the review: the snowball effect

Gah. Every time I think I’ve collected all I can about my subject I find I’ve not checked the usual journals for a while and BAM! There’s a whole new section for my subject opening up in front of me. It’s known as the snowball effect, I think. You find you’ve not substantiated something with enough literature so you look online at a journal article and BAM! On the side link is another article that someone else has read, so you look at that and BAM! There’s another one that’s relevant. And then you switch journals and BAM! A whole new avalanche of material hits you. At times I feel I’m suffocating under the weight of all that snow.

The challenge is accept that, yes, there is lots new stuff out there that looks WAY interesting and everything, but I can’t include it all in this thesis. In the words of Elsa, Let It Go. (Sorry, references to Frozen will continue unabated until that darned ear-worm dies.)

However, my current challenge is to update my literature. In the last 5 years since I began the project, lots of work is being done by a number of good folk in the UK and Australia that supports my findings in some way or another. Granted, we’re all doing this using startlingly different approaches but the ideas are similar. So I’m doing a last sweep of the literature, basing my search around the conservatoire and one-to-one teaching. I’ve found at least 8 articles to support the literature I currently have. Of course, I just found a review of a singer’s practical guide book about European opera houses and culture I probably need to read. Bugger, if I’d only looked sooner.

This is what happens when one takes time off one’s study to do other stuff like LIVE. Now, the next thing to do is read the bloody stuff then weave their work into my review. I have a specific approach to selecting an article to read. I read the Abstract to decide if it’s important, then I do a super-quick sweep of the article online to get a feel for the study. I scan the conclusion. Then, if it passes all those checks I download the article to read again later. Takes me about 5 minutes to do each one, but this gives me the breathing room to actually read the articles in a bunch and get on with writing in the meantime.

I organise the writing and reading as different activities done at different times. Examples of my reading and note taking are below: my notes on actual books are usually sticky-notes with one word added to make sense for me later. In the case of the Rogoff book – which I own – I read through the ENTIRE book taking notes. Then, I write the section on cultural psychology, I look through my notes for cues.


The writing phase for me is one of  stream-of-consciousness style. I just get stuff out of my head, then I decide – usually much later on – if it’s worth keeping in the document. My first draft is hilarious. My second not much better. But as my ideas coalesce I am then able to see where my thoughts and ideas match the research and what I am trying to say. I’ve been doing massive sweeps of my work and I’m almost at the reading-out-loud phase, which helps to identify areas that make no sense, lack flow or lack substantiation.

Anyway, DH arrived home this morning which interrupted my sleep and therefore my flow today. I’ve taken the opportunity instead to get the articles I needed and write this. Now it’s back the flow state. Ciao!



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:

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.

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!)

Game of Thrones and the art of writing

Well. I never thought I’d say it but I’ve reached the end of GoT – the end of the books currently published by the esteemed George Martin, and I’m a little aghast. I will need to wait a LONG time before I find out what happened to a bunch of folk.

Anyhoo, what interested me was his writing style. Terse and wordy, bloodthirsty and tender. Martin is particularly fond of describing food, bloodshed and clothing. One might think he has a fetish for food. He paints a lovely picture, that fellow. One can tell when his fecund imagination is flagging a bit but he hides it well. And he’s funny. He is a funny writer. The characters ripple with black humour. Boy, if I could write even half as well. And I’m impressed with the editing – I’ve found 2 mistakes in the whole 7 books and they stuck out like – well – like rare mistakes. Martin’s syntax and grammatical accuracy are excellent, so I suspect he spells well too.

Naturally, one becomes a little taken with the writing style of favourite fiction writers, and in my own narratives, dry and barren of descriptive prose as they are, I’ve attempted to add just a few hints of life. Participants seem gloomy. They roar with laughter. That sort of thing. But it’s not easy when I’m trying to tell a story AND simultaneously analyse it and I only have 14000 words to do it in. Too much to say, too few words to say it in. Hemingway would disagree. Martin wouldn’t.

Bless you, George R.R. Martin. Don’t you speed up for anyone. More than the deliciously twisty, confusing plot and tortured kingdoms fighting for a bit of whatever (the whole world seems to be at war or dying), the great art is in the telling. So, I miss the ugly, brutal Sandor Clegane, whose story just stopped. I miss Jaime and Brienne, whose stories slowed down. I miss Rickon and Bran and Sansa and the Stoneheart whose stories have been set aside in the telling of the stories of others. But in this massive fantasy there is room for new players and that some players haven’t disappeared at all, their stories are just waiting to be told.

Take your time, George.