Let the wild in

I finished reading Brené Brown’s new book, Braving the wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone, a few short days after I received the Kindle download. This alone is some kind of miracle. Seriously–when do I have time to read these days? Oh, right, when I should be sleeping. Anyway, the book made me want to transform my life, as her books often do… But one day later and I find myself here, the same reflection staring back at me, carrying out the same destructive patterns in my daily life. I want to be brave, to join the wilderness, but I have a lifetime of conditioning to fight and very little will left in these weary bones.

How did I get to this point?

One step at a time, I guess. I’ve spent my life making myself responsible for everyone else’s feelings, and have as a result found it difficult to retain any vestige of myself (if one could claim a single self). Where is the girl who decided to make sure her school recycled, who became a vegetarian to save the world, who wrote passionate pieces about biofuels and food security? Who cared enough to do something? I’m not sure. I lost her along the way, or it got too hard, or perhaps I simply forgot. These days, I have a hard time knowing what my convictions are anymore, beyond shopping at farmers’ markets, where possible, eating good food, and maybe choosing my family over career.

Just as the country (nay, the world) has some work to do before we can get to a place of productive and benevolent compromise again, I will have to take this step by step. Perhaps not back in the direction I came–no, I am a different person now–but towards kindness, compassion, curiosity, and respect for myself, and for my beliefs and values. Only then can I truly show kindness, compassion, and respect for everyone around me. Only then can I find a way to truly connect.

Money, power, and gendered norms

I have always hated anything involving money. I mean, I like having enough, but since enough = sufficient funds to live like an impoverished grad student*, this doesn’t require much. Today, though, I came across a feature on Marnie Hughes-Warrington in the Campus Morning Mail that made me want to reconsider this particular hatred of mine–particularly since hatred is really fear in this context. I simply don’t know enough.

“I felt very strongly that as a woman who has been working hard to learn about the parts of university business that are typically seen as very male – finances, facilities, all of those things – I thought it was really important to speak out to encourage other women particularly to see themselves in that space.

“The more you understand those things the more agency you have.”

Marnie Hughes-Warrington, via Campus Morning Mail

I never thought of it this way, but she’s right. Knowledge of these business aspects of university life (and beyond) is a sort of power.

As a very new member of academic administration, I am already learning how complex the contractual and financial work that underpins the research I once did actually is. I took this work for granted before; now, I’m the one behind the scenes, protecting the university’s interest by helping researchers write great grants and ensuring we stick to our contractual obligations. I am beginning to see that understanding how to make room to move within a contractual world is a certain kind of power, too, and it is a necessary one in this world.

I look forward to keeping an open mind about new opportunities to learn some of these “very male” pursuits. Let’s see where this journey takes me.



Goodnight, moon

In the great green room,
there was a telephone,
and a red balloon,
and a picture of
a cow jumping over a moon…

It is night time, so we have read Goodnight moon, by Margaret Wise Brown, to our daughter five times, or maybe more, if you count our recitals by heart (but wait, you forgot the toy house, my husband says, and he is right). It is like this most nights. She loves this book, the two kittens, the mush and goodnight nobody, because why not when s/he is always there? She has a special squeak for all animals, but especially the the kittens and the mouse. The bunnies standing in for humans get none, but why should they when they waste a perfectly good bowl of mush?

How great is my Friday night?

It all adds up…

I was walking to the shops one afternoon with my daughter, as I do, when I had a sudden realisation: if I had spent my life taking advantage of little chunks of time here and there to pursue my goals, I’d probably have achieved a lot more. Obvious, I know, but as someone who tends to want to enact major change in ideal (time-plentiful) circumstances, I’m going to take this as a kick in the ass from my brain. There are no time-plentiful, ideal circumstances (particularly not as a parent), but those ten-minute dashes and small daily rituals all have the potential of adding up to something fantastic.

I know I’m not alone in this. All those people in the States who don’t vote because their vote “doesn’t matter”… Well, it does matter. Everything we do matters. The impact may be small now, but in the long run, our actions become significant. They shape the world, and they fundamentally change us.

This is a very roundabout way of getting to a political message, but hey, that’s the way my mind works. If you’re Australian who is eligible to vote, I urge you to vote in the postal plebiscite when it arrives at your doorstep shortly.

I will personally be voting yes, because I strongly believe in marriage equality. As an immigrant to Australia, I have always been impressed by how willing most people here are to treat everyone fairly and equitably, and I see a yes vote as an affirmation of one of the best parts of Australian society. Hopefully, eventually, it will lead to an actual change in law. (Every little step counts, right?)


It was a week of firsts for me. My daughter walked up a (small) mountain for the first time, all the while reminding me what it was like to feel giddy with joy at every turn in the trail and with every bird sighting. I started a full-time job outside of research for the first time in my adult life, and left at 5 pm every day without guilt. And my husband and I worked on building a shed together with our daughter there and actually got stuff done. Amazing what happens when babies are old enough to walk. This is not to say this last task was easy; there was more than one pause in the building project because someone wanted to walk over the instructions or “help.” But the fact that it was possible is progress in my book.

On a not quite unrelated note, I’ve been musing about careers tonight, and have come to the conclusion that I need to answer a few questions about myself before I pursue any more career change. I have always had a sense of unrest about my career path; nothing I have done has felt quite right. With each change I learn more, which in itself is valuable, but the unrest remains. Perhaps this is the year in which I seek to discover its origins. Or perhaps it’s simply time to take a step back and let other things be more important for a while. It’s hard for me to conceive of this; my identity has been so wrapped up in what I do for so long that the whole concept of balance is unnerving to me. But that fear, like so many others, is surely arising out of the darkness of the unknown.

If any of you have been through a similar career change, what helped you make the transition, and what lessons did you draw from the experience?

A week in

I am now a cubicle worker. I’m not yet sure how I feel about this. My colleagues are nice, but I miss problem solving. I keep telling myself I need to give it more time, that I have not yet done any work. And so I wait, while trolling ads for professorships far away. Maybe stability is not all it’s cracked up to be. Or maybe, with time, I’ll make space for other ventures.

So much cooking

The freezer is currently empty, bar about 30 pouches of breastmilk and some frozen peas. This is a disaster in the making, because despite usually loving to cook, I can’t muster up the will to do it (and quickly) on weeknights. It’s too stressful. Whereas before figuring out what to cook for dinner was a leisurely activity, these days, it feels like a sprint up a mountain pass with three packs full of bricks on my back. All of this means that despite good intentions, my daughter now points to the microwave when she’s hungry.

At least she loves peas.

I don’t know about you, but when I first imagined motherhood, I envisioned cooking nutritious, beautiful meals for my little one, which we would eat at the dinner table, peacefully. I’m not sure where I got this idea from. Cereal boxes? Too many reruns of Full House when I was growing up? Usually, if we manage to get dinner on the table by 6, things are ok until, all of a sudden, they are not. Any later than that and the ok stage doesn’t last long enough for her to actually eat anything, even if she is sitting on my lap, which then leads to a scream filled evening and later on, nightmares for me about whether she’s getting enough iron.

Oh the joys of doing baby led weaning AND being a research junkie.

I started doing meal planning not too long ago. This used to be a thing I hated and couldn’t understand why anyone would want to do. After all, who could possibly know what the want for dinner a week in advance? But now, it is magical because I don’t have to think when I get home. I have ingredients (the fewer, the better), a 3-4 step super quick recipe, and about 10 minutes. Brilliant.

This is how I discovered that I no longer have the capacity to make decisions by about 6 at night. I am already maxed out for the day, and probably have been for several hours by that point. Funny how that happens.

Anyway, all of this is leading to the fact that tomorrow will be a day of cooking. I can feel it (fingers crossed, pretty please). And tonight? One of blissful sleep, if I have anything to say about it.

(Given that we’ve had three wake-ups already due to molars, just like every other night this week, I am clearly delirious).

Torn in all directions

My daughter hasn’t wanted me to put her down lately. I get home from work and she clings on for dear life all evening and throughout the night, crying when I put her down to make dinner and, after bedtime, waking when I attempt to regain a little space of my own. I have mixed feelings about this. On one hand, I love that she finds comfort in my presence. On the other hand, I’ve always needed some space of my own and am finding it difficult to fulfil this need.

This is one of the challenges I’ve found most difficult in becoming a mother thus far. My daughter’s persistent and communicative and very sure of her needs. My career (up until this point) has been all demanding. My husband, primary carer to my daughter most days, needs his space as well when I get home from work. And so I find myself torn: my own needs are often in conflict with all of these demands. I want to make everything better for everyone else, because I was brought up to put others’ needs before my own. If I do this, though, cracks begin to appear in my character; my resilience fades. In the process, my worst personality traits become amplified in all the caring for everyone before taking care of myself.

I want to provide positive examples of how to balance needs for my daughter, who will one day face some of the challenges I’m struggling to cope with now. She’s persistent and stubborn, is quick to anger and slow to forgiveness, and also needs her space–all characteristics I’ve been known to exhibit from time to time, to the point where, some days, I feel like I’m staring at a reflection of myself as I try to read my daughter’s anger. My poor mother. My daughter will survive as I did, but I’d like her to have an easier time managing these traits, so she can channel them into something positive. I guess I’ll have to figure out how to do that for myself first.

I keep reminding myself that these days are like these trips we used to take through the canyons of the Blue Mountains. You get through unworkable challenges with persistence, grit, and a bit of blood, only to find a view that makes it all worth it on the other side. We’ll make it, one slippery step at a time.

Meanwhile, in reality…

Academia is an odd place to exist sometimes. I am currently surrounded by a generation of people who have spent a lifetime working towards one goal, and a generation after that who cannot afford to do anything but be everything to everyone in search of a wisp of a promise of being employed a little longer, and one more generation still who has not yet caught on to the reality of the scheme. Is this a picture painted by cynicism? Or simply a realistic picture of what academia has become?  The number of people have grown considerably, but the size of the money pot has remained (at best) the same.

I leave in a week and a half.

Continue reading

A glimpse at my future

I’ve been sitting in on some training workshops for the job I will start in a few weeks’ time. In some sense, this is nerve wracking–to meet new soon-to-be colleagues at a time when I am personally trying to steady myself for a major transition. I am still (in some sense) clinging to the identity I built for myself over the last 16 years, to the point where I’m checking on a paper submission in the coffee break, tweaking one more little thing before submission. But in reality, it was a nice window into the future I’m about to begin.

What have I noticed? Well, everyone’s so nice–and professional. People introduce themselves, and introduce me to others. They know how to talk to each other. In fact, networking has never been so easy (if only i were better at names). And the talks? They were great: understandable, full of knowledge that I know will be useful, and very, very thorough. I came away with the impression that there will be a lot to learn, but once I get my head around the whats, whys, whens, and hows, I’ll do fine in my new position. I know how to write grants, and I know how to teach people how to write great ones. It’s even something I can say I’m passionate about.

So, despite the difficulty that change brings, I’m feeling positive about this one. More on that later.