Tattoos and mindfulness and all

I’ve not written for my blog in far too long. Far far too long.


Last term was hard so I hunkered down. Focused on my students. Focused on work. Wrote articles. Wrote things for other people.

Seemed to write all the emails in the world.

There are always going to be excuses.


But this term, I am eking out chunks of time for me.




Good coffee with Mr Robot, which is really creeping me out, but is time when I’m not thinking about work.

I’m running again – so very slowly and often with a group od small children as an audience. People often say they dislike the anonymity of a city but when I’m sweaty and gross and running very very slowly I tend to crave not being seen.

And I’m writing again. Things for me. Things that aren’t perfect and come out in a rush, raw and awkward, but words are beginning to flow nonetheless.

And that feels good. As though all the things I could have written last term are beginning to find their way onto paper.


It feels good and it feels healthy for me.


And I’ve been thinking a lot about what this year means – teaching by myself in a remote island nation which has such a complex and difficult relationship with Australia – where the students are wonderful but the realities of teaching can be hard – where I am by myself a lot and don’t have easy technology that I do in Australia. Last term the Internet was so bad, I was considering sending messages by pigeon.

I am growing up here as an academic and as a real-life whole human person. The words ‘flexible educator’ that are in bold on my CV mean so much more than anything I do in the classroom. It can be a strange space here. An absolute need to be creative so that we can use what is here to the absolute hilt, but on the other side, an absolute need for structure around assignment writing because otherwise it can get lost in the chaos. Deadlines become a beacon as we sail towards them in our leaking boats learning how to make the paddles as we go along.


And in all of this, I’ve been thinking about how our life becomes inscribed on our body. My skin is browner than it’s ever been, even with the 50+ sunscreen I smother over myself, even when I only go running at 6:30 in the morning. I have mosquito bites along my ankles because I can never get it together to remember Aerogard until it’s too late – and then I read terrible stories about mosquito-borne diseases. The scar from moving my small cat to Brisbane still lingers on the inside of my arm – not that she was at all scared during the 5-hour drive but that she was cross I wouldn’t let her wander about the car and explore.


And I look at my tattoos because – late bloomer that I am – I am getting mine as my friends are beginning to get rid of theirs. I had two lotus flowers drawn on both ankles at the end of last year, before I started this job. To remind myself of what beauty can bloom from the most unlikely sources; one in red for compassion, one in blue for wisdom. More and more, it feels as though what’s written on my body becomes powerful in the very fact that it’s on my body, that it’s tangibly present in my everyday.


I may well be clutching at woo-woo straws. Last term was rough and I used everything in my wellbeing toolkit to get through, this being one of them.

But it worked. Woo-woo or no, it worked for me.


I have three weeks, give or take, left on the island this term. There is a lot of work to do with the students. A lot to get through. And we will, we all work hard

But I’ve booked my next tattoo four days after I get back to Australia.

The birthday ennui monster

I’m not good with my birthday.


Other people’s birthdays – absolutely. I am there for all your birthday cake making, present wrapping, champagne/whisky drinking needs. I can sing, dance, and cheer with the best of them.


But my own birthday is none of those things.


My birthday is best spent curled on the couch pretending it doesn’t exist. Last year, I went out for breakfast with friends and danced to Eurovision and the Irish election in my living room. That was the best birthday I’d had in years….


I suffer from birthday ennui.


For some reason, the onset of turning another year older brings out every neuroses I have about what I’ve accomplished. And it’s never ever ever enough.


Of course it’s also not realistic, at all. Neuroses rarely is.


I know this.

Intellectually, I know this.

Emotionally, I wonder why I haven’t found a secure job, bought a little apartment with space for Laks, turned my phd into the pop-soc book idea I have in my head, gone overseas not-for-work, met a wonderful partner, read the pile of books I keep on buying, and learned how to make a proper poached egg.

Before, I also included writing a novella but I finished it earlier this year so now it’s become about editing it, submitting it, trying to get it published.


The point of the Birthday Ennui Monster is that it entirely ignores everything I’ve ever achieved: the things I’ve finished, the words I’ve written, the incredible people and animals in my life, my ability to make a home anywhere in the world, the fact that I’ve had people help me move house for my quadruple chocolate cake because it really is that good.

That’s not the point of the Monster at all.


As much as I fight it and dissect it and rage against it, birthday ennui is grounded in the fact that my life is not traditional – although lord knows what that means anymore. My life does not look like the life many others my age have – that I thought I’d have at this age – that I grew up being told was the life worth having. It looks like my life and I’m immensely proud of it but – sometimes in the middle of the night when it is dark and I realise how far away I am from all the animals and people I love – sometimes I wish it were a little more…certain.

Sometimes I wish there was more opportunity to be still, to think about things and to create, because these get lost in the need to always write applications for new jobs, to move and shift when work requires, to say yes, to keep on churning out whatever deadline is next. In always starting again, I’m not sure I’ve ever had any proper endings.

I’ve been talking to friends about this – how uncertainty leads us into circular conversations we keep on repeating. Our plans for the future have shifted in searches for stability. In the work contracts we hope for: although stability now is found in 2 or 3 year contracts, not a permanent job, that feels like too much a dream. But stability also in who we work with – people who we can trust with drafts of ideas and who will give us time to think something through when there is time available.

It’s this precious thing – time. A privileged thing. And the jobs and people who offer it feel akin to finding the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.


The Birthday Ennui Monster goes away after a few days – after I’ve worked through the impossibility of achieving everything ever and written lists to help bring focus on the things that are achievable. The Monster brings spotlight to what I want to do in the coming year. These are all good things in the end. I just wish the Birthday Ennui Monster would also think to bring cake.

The days are long but the years are short

I have a string of brown prayer beads I wear on my wrist a lot of days. They were given to me by a Buddhist monk I began chatting with while hopelessly lost wandering about in Montreal.

My ability to get hopelessly lost in any given place really is a spectacular talent.

We talked about Buddhism and the mindfulness in being lost when you allow yourself to just be in the place where you are – as well as directions back to the place I was meant to be.

He gave me the beads as a reminder to be present wherever I am.


And they do give me moments of mindfulness (when I remember to take a second and breathe) – to the point where the string is on its last legs. Poor beads.


Having moments to be mindful this week feel important. So much is going on around me, so much I don’t know, so I’m being mindful about being mindful. I’m trying to focus on the good others are doing, the small good I can help with, and how it can be made better and stronger.


In all of this, I came back reading ‘The Happiness Project’. I read this last year but it resonates differently now, as any book does on a re-reading. And right now this is playing in my head:


‘The days are long but the years are short.’


But I’m wondering how much that statement is privilege though. Not that the writer meant it to be – in her context it made perfect sense. In mine, it is also a relevant mantra, albeit for different reasons.

But I think it’s relevant for me for reasons of privilege.


The luck I’ve had.

The support I’ve had.

The teaching I’ve had.

I know that the days that might feel long now will pass. I’ll have more days that pass by without my thinking deeply about them or whizz by in glorious technicolour.

So many things that have very little to do with me but rather the opportunities that have come my way. I may have had my eyes and heart open to them but there’s been a lot of luck involved.


The more work I do in this field – the older I get – the more I think that our ability to cope with obstacles and challenges that, at times, can feel completely insurmountable isn’t created out of a mystical ether. It’s grounded in our past, impacted by our present, nurtured in our hope for the future. I have a tremendous family, incredible friends, amazing mentors. The mistakes I’ve made, I’ve been able to learn from. I’ve often been given room to pull myself out of darkness, time to heal. Sometimes I’ve had to fight for it. Sometimes it has seemed impossible. But the people I have learned to trust now, I know I can trust with everything.


Not everyone is so lucky. Not everyone is given help when they ask. Not everyone is given the opportunity to talk about their long days. Not everyone’s long days ate treated seriously.

I’ve been really lucky. My long days have still meant short years.


And so the string of brown beads around my wrist keeps me grounded in gratitude for all the good things in my life. All the beautiful people in my life. All my luck.

The art of lists and adulthood

So far, I have always kind of fallen into things. I work hard at things and try to be a good person and, in doing so, I trust that the universe will always work out as she’s meant to.

I have never ever been a list-writing, planning sort of person. In my head, the two have to go together. You write lists as part of a plan to make sure everything works out.


Until now.


In starting a new job in a new country, flying back and forth from Australia, I have started writing lists with gusto and making plans for the future. The notes app on my phone has never been used in such a systematic way before.

I’m using every section in my diary. Also – I’m using a diary.


It’s a little frightening in a way.

One of the reasons I’ve struggled with the idea of planning is that life can be deeply wonky. Things don’t turn out as you expected, for better or worse, and plans fall to the wayside. So why make them if you’ll just discard them when something unexpected happens? Why not just let life happen? I’ve watched other people become frozen in their planning, unable to move when things didn’t work as they expected. They’ve railed against it all and stuck to their plans as though that would change anything – they’ve just been yelling at the wind and the world has kept on turning. I’ve never wanted to be stuck like that.

But I’ve realized lately that my plans won’t necessarily be like that because I am not a person like that.

This discovery felt like a moment of proper grownup-ness.

This year, my lists and plans (because my lists are the stepping stones I need for my plans to make any sense) keep me focused on my goals. However, my lists and plans have been reshaped and even discarded depending on what has happened so far this year but it hasn’t meant my goals of changed or that I’m any less further away from achieving them – in fact, I’ve already achieved one goal a good month early. Lists and plans haven’t meant I’ve been less open to the universe but more ready in some ways to take leaps of faith.


In some ways, the universe seems to be encouraging me in my lists and plans.

My life in general requires significant organisation now that I move between two countries. There are lists for what to take back to Australia, and what needs to be done, just as there are equivalent lists for Nauru.

And working in Nauru gives me space to think outside the usual academic sphere. There is a little more time to sit with the articles I’m working on and think about them, rather than writing them in a mad rush during in-between space. This feels precious and a fear of wasting this time has also led to lists and plans of what to write and when, adding new ideas and pieces as they come in. In doing this, I’ve found that, all of a sudden, I have writing routines for different days. It hasn’t always worked beautifully, but I’ve still managed to sit with something most days and at least keep the work in my mind rather than have it under a pile of other papers forgotten for weeks at a time.

I’ve taken Elizabeth Gilbert’s advice of showing up to my desk and laptop and trusting that my creative genius will eventually show up as well. And in doing this, I’ve finished the first draft of my first fictional book. I’ve never followed an idea from beginning to end like that before so it feels exciting – and a relief to have actually done it. And I’m not sure it would have happened without making plans this year – it made me feel accountable to myself.


And given my previous fear of lists and plans, that’s the nicest things I’ve actually discovered so far this year. I don’t get stuck in plans so much as I’ve used them to leapfrog from one idea to another. It’s not about being perfect (that would frighten me and make me feel frozen anyway) but about becoming better – practicing writing as a serious craft, learning more and more how to be a better teacher, and giving myself the time and the space to have days where things don’t work and I feel deeply wonky. There is a deep satisfaction in crossing things off my list and listening to the universe (and my mentors) for what to do next.

Where my heart lives and beats

I’ve never been very good at geography or where I actually am at any given point in time. I’m the girl who points left when she means right and names directions in a more whimsical (as opposed to accurate) sense.

I had no idea where Armidale was when I first moved there for work. It never seemed important to find out the where more than the why or the what. And it was the same when I took a job in Nauru this year. I know that, right now, I am typing this on a little island somewhere in the Pacific – maybe halfway between Australia and Hawaii although, lord knows, I’ve been wrong about where I am before. More things seem more important than where I am – the progress of students, how my family and friends are travelling, what I’m writing.


Any new place is always an adventure, no matter.

I’m learning a new course, a new home, a new routine.

I’m learning how to sprout.

These last six weeks have been hectic with the learning, and it’s been eye-opening in so many ways because it challenges me to be adaptable, to not get into habits that might feel to precious to be broken. It challenges me to live without the things I thought I would struggle to be without – my little cat particularly – and in that I’ve had to find new ways to deal with any anxiety. And it teaches me to not give into excuses. I can’t exercise here in the same ways I did in Australia so I’ve adapted rather than stopped and am now becoming quite the expert in exercises you can do on a mat with a mini-band, and a skipping rope under the stairs of where I live.

These feel like important things.


But, the past few weeks, a friend has become seriously ill. It was a sudden thing, a shocking thing.

And all of a sudden where I am feels desperately to matter because I am so very far away. I have incredible friends who send me updates depending on which technology works best at which particular time. When she was undergoing her first operation, we decided to light candles together for her. The shop here was candle-free and so, in desperation, I sent a call out to Catholic friends who went to their churches and lit candles for my friend. And so, via Skype and Viber and email, we talk about how she’s going and what is happening, and what it means when the universe does something like this. What happens when the universe doesn’t seem to make any real sense because sudden and shocking illness shouldn’t happen to the people in your life. All the circular arguments you go through because terrible things happen to good people all the time and it becomes sometimes about how you make sure the people in your life know how special they are, that you make sure you never leave things unsaid.

You become a walking cliché trying to figure things out, but maybe that’s the point as well. Maybe the clichés are the words that help you get through the shock of something – they give you time to process properly (and sometimes slowly) and find the words you really want to say.

I don’t know, At the moment, I still feel like I’m clutching at clichés in a desperate hope that she’ll end up being OK.


But in all of this, I feel very far away.


I know that my being there wouldn’t make a difference in any real sense. It is just my sense of wanting to be able to help if needed, to help in any way I could. And here, a million miles away, all I can do is pray and ask people to light candles. It is something that feels both hopeful and hopeless at the same time. I tell myself that any positive energy sent her way can only be a good thing but still, I feel very far away.


In a time where we can potentially have access to anyone at any time through all sorts of social media, it feel sobering to sit here with much of that at my fingertips (depending on how the storms affect the internet of late) and it not feel quite enough. And while very much heightened with my friend’s illness, it feels important for everyone in my life. To enjoy every chance I’m with them, and to not lose touch when I am not. Where I live will change but potentially I will always be far away from different people in my life. The more we move around, the more people we have in different parts of the globe. I will always be closer to some than to others, although this is arguably the most remote I’ve been.


I may not know where I am in any kind of practical, physical sense but I know where my heart beats, and for whom, and that feels more important than any map.

I always brake for puppies

Almost two weeks ago, I stepped on the first of three planes with two suitcases and six laptops and started my journey to teach in Nauru.
I took a deep breath – a very deep breath – and stepped on the plane.

And then spent a significant part of the journey terrified of losing six laptops and being aware of all the luggage.

And now – almost two weeks later – here I am. Sitting in my little apartment, typing away in a dressing gown. All of which is not too dissimilar to what I was doing in Australia – minus a small cat who would be typing with me too and is now being loved by a friend and his dog and cat while I am here.

When I last wrote, I wondered about making new rhythms to my days. Then I had no idea of what Nauru would look like or what my life could look like. Pictures and other people’s stories aren’t always the same. They’re not always quite real. But now that I’m here, it’s a real world. Nauru is my real world now and it is all sorts of fascinating and challenging. This change is a good thing.

So, in moving overseas and starting new rhythms to my days, I have discovered a few things about myself:

I really will happily, willingly, without question pay extraordinary sums of money for fresh fruit and veggies if the alternative is to go without. The cashiers in the shop now laugh at me as I arrive with a basketful of veggies and a wallet full of cash.
If I run out of the peanut butter left in my fridge by a friend and discover that there is no peanut butter in the shops, my heart does break a little, and I begin to plot how more peanut butter might come into my life.
This is also the same with Kewpie mayonnaise, which people either worship or have never tried. A friend told me I should pack more but I had run out of space. Next time, I am packing more.
(The obsession with food is admittedly not at all a surprise or even a vaguely new discovery.)

I have also discovered the art of the List. Lists ground my life now. Lists for what to do in class. Lists for what needs to be done outside class. Lists for weekly reports. Lists of what I need to bring with me next time (mostly food-related if the earlier passages hadn’t hinted that). Lists of ideas for where I want some writing to go. My phone resembles little more than an electronic post-it note of reminders – some practical and pragmatic (‘Remember to finish slide 6’), others more ethereal where I struggle to remember what on earth I was thinking (‘She shouldn’t walk through the door’).

Yesterday though, as I was driving home from a meeting, I discovered that I will always brake for puppies. Not that that’s a surprise in itself – I am a sucker for strays, always have been. Dogs wander about the place all through the island but they tend to be deeply road sensible. This one, however, had found something in the middle of the road that needed to be sniffed and eaten without any disruption. So I braked to see what the dog was going to do so I could pass it without harm. I braked early and clearly, this wasn’t a screeching halt – these are hard to do anyway when no one drives more than 50k an hour. But the car behind me potentially did not feel the same way about braking for puppies and so overtook me, almost hitting the dog, which thankfully used its road sense to get out of the way. When I got home and told my cleaning lady, who is teaching me all about Nauruan culture, she laughed and said that I was “a very Australian girl”. Apparently, we brake for puppies.

When I was trying to imagine what living here would be like, I didn’t imagine some of this – I didn’t imagine being very Australian in a way that’s not so much recognized back home. But, as I find my way around this new home – and recognise my new rhythms and undertake adventures like going into different shops – remaining a sucker for strays feels deeply OK.

In just under four days time

In a little less than four days, I’ll be on my way to Nauru to start a new job teaching a community health diploma (both job and diploma have far fancier names in the contract). I’m equal parts excited and nervous about the new job. It means not having a permanent home in Australia this year as I’ll spend 36 weeks on-island – and a move from Armidale to Brisbane as a base in a few weeks time. It means foster-homes for my little cat while I’m away and I’m deeply blessed to have two amazing friends who will take her into their homes (and hearts) during the year. It means big changes and big learnings and big adventure – and who could say no to that? There’s a chance to make a real difference so why not dive in to the opportunity – especially when Laks will be cared for while I’m away.


But leaping in to this opportunity has meant moving and packing.

And more packing because I think I may own all the stuff in the world. Stuff seems to just appear in unexpected places that I didn’t realise existed in the cottage or in places I swore I checked yesterday.

There is just so much stuff.

But – no permanent home this year means I can no longer keep all of it. So I have read Marie Kondo, and I have piled clothes and books and things onto my dining room floor to hold individually and discard if it didn’t make me feel a spark of joy. While deeply cathartic, it also made me realise how much stuff I had that didn’t spark – not that I actively didn’t like them but just that they weren’t so valuable.

And I discovered that I will get rid of almost half my wardrobe but can’t part with any of the artworks I’ve collected over the years.

Books too were far harder to get rid of – and far harder still to not take with me. I’m packing 8 books (somehow) to take with me to Nauru because they’re the ones I read and re-read – they’re the ones that will make me feel brave and safe on the days when I may not feel either.


But, the thing is, as I’ve been packing and discarding – and boxing up my life into 9 not-so-large boxes, 4 bags, 3 suitcases, and 1 small cat – I’ve been realizing more and more how much change can be the Boggart in the wardrobe. Staying at a friend’s place to get Laks settled, I’ve watched this little cat adapt to a new house more quickly than I did – she found her comfy spaces within an hour. Admittedly, I’ve made friends with the other dog and cat but that’s because I don’t think I need to be boss of everyone. What Laks lacks in size, she makes up for with a personality and survival skills.

But within a day or so, she made her new routines and, in truth, so did I. I wake up to feed three animals following the politics of the morning. A kind-hearted dog the size of a horse comes with me on my morning walk that now goes through the Lookout. I water the garden, and feed the fish. I walk up and down an enormous hill (which feels especially enormous coming back up when I resemble a hunch-backed red-faced and huffing wreck of a person) to get to work.

I have a new rhythm to my days.

And I’ll make a new rhythm again in just under four days time.

The fear that change can bring may – at least for me – be a fear of how to fill your days again and what those days will look like. It’s a fear that looms large in the days before a change (like right now, with just under four days to go) but it’s also a fear that will disappear a week or so from now. When I have the rhythm to my teaching and my days.

Practising my resolutions

Sometimes my resolution eyes have been bigger than my resolution tummy.


I have promised more than I could possibly achieve in a lifetime, let alone a year. I have promised things that I could do in a year if things like needing to work in order to live didn’t get in the way. I have promised things that I could do if I were an entirely different person who actually possessed the coordination to knit or do other crafty things.


(I seemed to always veer into Etsy and fitspo territory with a lot of my resolutions of the past. You should have seen how I was going to change the world one green juice in a knitted drink holder at a time.)


But last year, I sat with my little cat and made resolutions that felt calming and positive – and that required little else of me other than to continue being me (and required nothing of Laks because cats are too sensible to get themselves caught up in resolutions).

I resolved to write as bravely as I could and still press ‘publish’, even if I closed my eyes doing it. I resolved to be open to new experiences, and new people. And I resolved to be mindful of, and grateful for, the beauties in my life. And, apart from a few bumps here and there when life got a bit tricky, I kept to them.


And it felt amazing for two reasons. Firstly, because I didn’t feel like I’d failed at anything, which is always a positive place to exist. And, secondly, because those things made me feel amazing – they were things I could easily and naturally do, and enjoyed doing.

Writing makes me happy. New people and their ways are endlessly fascinating. Looking for beauty means you’ll always find it somewhere, even if it was just Laks snoring on my lap after a yuck day.


And so this year – facing a new job in a remote location – challenging and exciting but just a little bit scary as well – the need for resolutions that again feel calming and positive (and practical for living in a remote location while undertaking a new job) feels all the more important. There is so much to do already – so much to plan where every decision at the moment requires meetings and discussions and more decisions – that adding anything more that isn’t intrinsically part of me would be too overwhelming. The adage of doing the things that make you scared can be an inspiring thing but it’s not always a bad thing to also want to do the things that don’t twist your tummy either. The big things this year are big enough without adding more drama to them for the sake of making a cooler inspirational quote.


So – this year – some of my resolutions will stay the same as last year. Bolder and braver. Beauty and inspiration.

New people and new places are coming regardless so embracing them is not only positive, but also deeply sensible.

But new resolutions too.

To forgive myself when I stumble, and to be peaceful with myself when I feel anxious about all the changes. To trust that I’m better at breathing and stopping now – and seeing the beauty – which makes all of that other negative stuff disappear more easily.

That it’s OK to not always be brave and that there will be days when I disappear into a good book or the Buffy series or my own writing – another resolution is to actually finish writing a book. To let myself have those less-brave days in order to be brave on all the other days.


There is something exciting and powerful when change comes rushing at you – change is always a good thing, no matter. So my resolutions this year let me meet the changes with clear eyes and a full heart, and this can never be a bad thing.

Why the perfect red lip matters

2015-11-26 08.05.25So until this past Sunday, I had never really worn red lipstick properly before. Flirted with it just a little, tried red tints, but nothing that was boldly, unashamedly, absolutely red.

Red felt too much. My lips would all of a sudden be ‘HELLO!’ like a slightly drunken aunt in heels she can’t walk in after too much gin on a hot summer afternoon. While that is absolutely my future ambition for when I turn 70 – I will wear kaftans, and dye my hair pink again, it will be brilliant – it’s not quite right for where I am now.

And then I met the very lovely Mel at Mecca Cosmetica in the Myer Centre in the middle of Sydney. This reads like an unabashed plug but she really was brilliant (and very very patient) given I wandered in akin to a small duckling with a vague sense of wanting to try red lipstick and holding a fear of becoming a drunken aunt. Mel tried different textures and intensities of colours and ranges of red from berry to blue-based to hints. And after trying a whole bunch of lipsticks where my lips were stained with the remnants (which actually made a pretty fantastic colour), I chose the first one.

A matte, creamy, grown-up, unabashed, blue-based red.

It’s called Rita which just feels magnificent. Rita would absolutely wear a kaftan.

And I know the perfect red lip – in the grandest scheme of things – isn’t important. Unless you stretched your long bow to ‘self esteem’, it doesn’t factor into Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. There are many far more important things to be concerned about, and to think about, and to write about. And I am and I do. I can easily, happily live without red lipstick.

The thing is though – I don’t really care about those arguments. Sometimes you need silly and frivolous and a lipstick named Rita. A little while ago, the beauty writer Sali Hughes talked about how beauty products, and the rituals around them, can be these small beauties when life becomes decidedly less beautiful.

And there is something very powerful in that in terms of identity and wellbeing.

The mornings where I’ve taken the time to do the new lipstick properly, I’ve walked out the door differently, even though nothing else is different. Like a good dress with pockets and properly-brushed hair, Rita has been added to my armoury of things that make me feel confident and capable and happy. These are things that no one else will notice – and far more often than not could care less about – but can make an enormous difference to how I feel presenting, or participating in a workshop, or waiting for my flight home at the airport lounge scribbling down ideas for a paper. It can be hard enough sometimes to find your voice, and make in loud enough to heard, in such a big and hectic world – why not embrace the things that help?

These are small beauties and they work in small ways, but if I only waited for the big beauties and the big changes, what opportunities would I miss? It extends the idea of embracing yes to always being open-eyed to what’s out there and not assuming that something has to be ‘important’ for it to make a positive difference in my life.



Embracing Yes

Shonda Rhimes is a bit of a hero for me; her writing, her vulnerability and fearlessness in speaking out and challenging norms, and her way of seeing a long-term narrative into being.

She is deeply awesome.

(Plus Scandal has the best coat porn of any show ever.)

It’s a bit over one year today that the Thesis Whisperer blog, run by the wonderful Inger Mewburn, published a piece I wrote about the struggles about being an early career researcher in an uncertain role. I felt so scared – so naked – publishing that piece but met some amazing friends on Twitter through it – with their own fantastic blogs, see here, here, and here for just a few. That vulnerability was worth it. In it, I wondered about the practice of always saying ‘yes’ and how many yes-es could be balanced at any one time without being dropped.

And in her new book ‘The Year of Yes’, Shonda Rhimes talks about what she experienced in a year of saying yes – new experiences, new ways of being and doing, a wholeness of life uncovered.

And in the year since the Thesis Whisperer piece, I’ve also begun to truly believe in the power of saying yes.

I have this fear of losing myself in work sometimes where I get stuck in how I do something – too comfortable, too tunnel-visioned. That one day the words ‘but that’s how I’ve always done it’ will come out of my mouth when faced with a new, maybe better, way of doing something.

In saying yes, I feel less at risk of that, simply because I’m always around people who do things differently to me and so always explaining why I want to do something a particular way – and then smooshing both ways together to create something new and workable.

In saying yes, I work with extraordinary people who do work vastly different (and sometimes really similar) to my own but who are also fascinated in seeing the world just slightly differently to how they saw it before.

In saying yes, I am writing this in a university space in a small country town a few hours away from where I live, working on a project where I have learned about Aboriginal history, community-embedded art studios, and the politics of playgrounds. And seen more art deco architecture than I was ever expecting here.

Saying yes has been pretty brilliant.

But its brilliance has also been brighter because I have also discovered the power of saying ‘yes but…’

Yes but can I have another week to do the analysis so I can finish marking assignments…

Yes but if we start the analysis this way, it will be easier to pull together for a paper…

Yes but if I go adventuring to small country towns, coffee is vital.

Thankfully, I have yet to meet someone for whom coffee (or at least a cup of tea) has not been vital.

And in this way, ‘but’ has brought a balance to the excitement and inspiration of ‘yes’. Passion alone is sometimes not enough when you’re tired – it doesn’t get you through every challenge. What passion does do though – when you balance it with ‘but’ – is allow the colour to stay in everything – allows you to work through the night when there’s a deadline, to balance what needs to be balanced when there seems to be quite a number of balls in the air.

Passion nourishes you in ways that pragmatism could never do, but pragmatism keeps your feet on the ground, reminds you to eat, and keeps your iron levels from dropping.

Passion gives you the courage to try something completely new – even if it doesn’t work – just to know that you’ve tried it. And – as fellow academic nerds will also know – when something new works, it’s the best high.

Saying yes has made me more creative, bolder, and braver in my work. It hasn’t always led to success but I’ve felt proud of everything I’ve submitted this year and attempted to do.

And that nourishes in both a passionate and pragmatic way.