A change of space

I am a true academic nerd.

A card-carrying, flag-waving, hand-on-heart academic nerd. And I’m deeply happy and very peaceful about it.

About a week ago I arrived back from a 3-day trip to Dubrovnik where I attended a 3-day conference.

Australia to Croatia for a 3-day work trip – 4 planes there and 5 in the end to get back home (I had to go to another meeting in a different state in Australia on the way).

It was slightly insane and definitely a smidge hysterical when I discovered really and truly that 3 flights in a row is as much as my actually-getting-better fear of flying is really and truly better with.

And the thing is, I would do it again in a heartbeat. Even with 4 flights in a row. Maybe even with 5.

The conference was that good. It was that inspiring. And it reminded me why I entirely love storytelling and narrative-based research.

A friend asked me how it was and I told him it was ‘intellectually nourishing’. He had never heard that term before.

(I went to ID.Net’s Storytelling conference should you want to be inspired sometime: http://www.inter-disciplinary.net/probing-the-boundaries/persons/storytelling-global-reflections-on-narrative/conference-programme-abstracts-and-papers/)

I had 3 days in a room listening to some incredibly passionate (and incredibly lovely) people tell the stories of their fantastically interesting work.

It still makes me want to use all the adjectives.

All the work was all very different to mine in myriad ways, even within a communal space of storytelling. Some people shared similar research interests but many did vastly different work and listening to what they do opened my eyes to whole new worlds. Worlds I will never work in but ones that I’m so happy to know exist because ground-breaking and community-grounded work is being done in so many corners of the world.

And the thing is, because I was on the other side of the world, and away from the vast majority of email and Moodle and my usual distractions – and because my deep jetlag ensured I could only concentrate on the words being said in front of me rather than my monkey mind – I actually had the chance to listen properly to what was being said. And to be inspired. And to realise all the goodness being spoken in front of me.

It was the coolest thing, says the academic nerd.

Because I was in a different space, I could be entirely in the moment. Somewhat by accident, I became enveloped in an academic mindfulness, a presence that I struggle to find sitting in my office. Emails were still flying about, things were still happening, due dates and deadlines still existed, the world kept flying along on its hectic pace, but nothing fell apart because I was in a storytelling bubble and didn’t answer everything the very second it was sent. Not that the world would fall apart without me but that I want to do the best of the jobs that are mine – still trying in many ways to be many (not all anymore) things to all people. It becomes easy then to get lost in the bits rather than the whole, to push aside what makes my academic nerd shine in the face of other loud and competing deadlines – the things that have to be done, that are important, that we all have to do as academics, and that will be different depending on the academic.

And so in this space half a world away, in a space full of ‘my people’ who understood intrinsically what I wanted to say because their minds worked in similar ways, I found my breath again, recognized that my heart still beat beneath everything else. Sitting in the beautiful sunsets, chatting madly to brilliant fellow conference-goers, things slowed down enough for me to appreciate how quickly ideas were flowing. There is nothing better than good wine, good food, and very good conversation.

But now I’m back. Back to the office with its emails, Moodle, very present deadlines, and all the other distractions (which may also include the office kittens but they do tend to be quite calming as well). All the rush and noise and the too-easy ability to slip back into the bits rather than the whole, the louder rather than the nourishing, the things that take up time but may not always challenge me to be more creative or open-eyed.

So I’ve made a promise to myself. I’m holding onto this feeling for as long as possible, come chapter deadlines and piles of marking.

I’m holding onto the inspiration.

I’m holding onto the joy.

I’m holding onto the space, even if it’s now more metaphoric than physical, that made me feel so present and in the moment of the work.

I’m not sure entirely how – mindfulness has always been tricky for me which feelings of being present always feel so precious. Yet, I’m hoping that just being aware of that space – that it can and does exist – is enough for now. To be aware of taking breaths throughout the day, especially when things are hectic and slightly overwhelming, to centre myself and find where the bit I’m doing fits into the more inspiring whole.

So, what do you think?