An actual lockdown ramble

Living on the edge.

There are many strange and scary things about this pandemic. About this year more broadly, too.

But on the strange side, there’s the way the mundane, the ordinary, the unconscious, becomes at best unwieldy, and at worst nigh impossible.

A simple outing, today, planned well within the rules of Stage 4 lockdown. My bike wheel is busted, and my local repair shop is doing contactless repairs. Great. We also needed a couple of things from the supermarket. Cool.

Kind of weird to have to ‘clump’ errands together to minimise outings, but whatever.

The mildly irritating part came when, very shortly after dropping off the wheel, the bike shop calls to give me a quote for the repair and to let me know it’ll be ready in 30 or so minutes.

In and of itself, completely normal and, in fact, welcome, news, that the task I need done will be finished quickly and relatively cheaply.

But the timing throws everything off.

Once I’m done at the supermarket, I’ll have 20-30 minutes to spare. Not quite enough time to drop things at home and come back, and besides, that would make it two outings, which is pushing the rules a little.

In the end I settled on what I would’ve done in non-COVID times, which is to grab a coffee and wait for the wheel. But obviously I now do so in the car, semi-hiding, rather than in the cafe.

None of this is dangerous, or particularly egregious. Just an observation on how the most normal thing in the world is suddenly made into one mild stressor among many others.

More lockdown ramblings

Deskflix.

Today is Tuesday. We’ve not had internet since Friday morning. Five long days.

It’s a little thing. An inconsequential thing. Pretty rough for work, but generally not a huge loss: I can do research offline, tethering my iPhone when I need to, I’ve rescheduled meetings.

I became reacquainted with boredom, with that lack of control over how you spend your time. But I also became a little concerned about how reliant I am on the internet for entertainment, for distraction.

It’s an old conversation now, rife with misinformation and half-baked platitudes. But there is a loss of the moment when you’re swept along by the stream.

We watched a bluray on Saturday night; a movie I grabbed from the bargain bin at JB a few years back. I have a whole bunch of such purchases, still in their plastic wrap and gathering dust on the bookcase.

I read 550 pages of a book on Sunday: I’ve not done that since I was a teenager. I wouldn’t have done this if the old modem was ticking along. With hindsight, it was kind of wonderful: I did it because there was not much else I felt like doing, and I was bored.

I got some Lego for my birthday; another thing I’ve not touched since even before my teenage years. It was perfect: just follow the instructions, put it together. The perfect occupation for a tired and overwhelmed mind.

I’m not 100% sure what I’m getting at here. I’m certainly not singing the praises of the offline experience: Jesus H connect that broadband to my veins I need it, particularly during lockdown. I guess I’m more or less saying that rifling through the bookcase, the DVD collection, these were kind of nice things to do at a weird time.

There is no old media or new media, as Simone Natale writes; rather there are cycles of use, dynamic shifts and re-organisations of our perception of and attitude towards different artefacts, platforms, systems.

Nothing forces you to reevaluate your relationship to what surrounds you than being forced to live in it with no escape for months. And having looked closer, there are some hidden gems, new experiences to be had. (And then, doubtless, one hell of a spring clean once this damnėd lockdown ends.)

Lockdown ramblings

Sun streams in through the window. I’ve left the light off today: for some reason the sunlight is enough. The driveway is being dug up, so the door to my study is closed, and my noise-cancelling headphones are nestled over my ears. In my head, for once, things are relatively calm.

I’m working through a project that necessitates deep thought. Deep thought is hard at the moment. I suppose that’s why I opened up this blog post: something simple, something gentle, to clear out the cobwebs.

Deep thought? On the one hand, I mean deep theoretical ruminations, the kind for which academics are stereotyped. But on the other, it’s strategic thought. How will this fit my narrative? Where can I publish? Can this be put up for funding?

This strategy is something I need to do more, anyway, but particularly at the moment, when academic work is increasingly precarious. More so than ever, one feels the need to be not just productive, but scheming, pragmatic, to think laterally about one’s place in a discipline, an institution, the world.

It ruins everything. Takes away the magic of things. I remember posting here when I first got this job. I mentioned an overwhelming sense of relief, that someone finally noticed that I could fit somewhere, that I could bring something to the table.

Things change.

But I remain happy where I am, and that’s something. I’m still tired, but this year, in spite of the world burning, I feel like I’m getting somewhere.

one day more

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I shared on the weekend that I had been working, and how rare that was (working on the weekend, not working full stop!). I’m now further into that particular grind, working through Day 8 of a nine-day stretch.

I’m very much feeling it now. At times through a stretch like this you’re in the zone, you find your flow. But then there are times like now, when you feel like there’s nothing left.

It’s like a day after a rough night’s sleep; but just lengthened over a period of days.

One more day tomorrow – a full day, but away from the office. A time to discuss, to reflect, to plan.

Then two perfectly-planned research days, to get my head back into reading and thinking mode.

Then a long weekend.

I can do this.

Notes on a theme

It’s happened again. I hit a certain point, usually every twelve months, sometimes sooner, where I get annoyed with my WordPress theme. This layout for my website that I have handpicked from dozens of options, that at the time of choosing I was most satisfied with, has now outstayed its welcome. Its geometries, its fonts, its white spaces, no longer hold any appeal, and I find in them nothing but frustrations.

Why? Why do I care this much?

An academic career shifts and morphs like sand dunes. I’ve only been in this game some eight or nine years and I can already look back over the different, distant chapters, each with their own opportunities, challenges, roads taken or ignored. The one constant has been this site, with its patient recording of my achievements and publications. The site is more personal, too, in that among the more formal, reviewed outputs, there are half-formed thoughts, works in progress, and other fleeting words, images, visions.

It is a mode of performance, but one that is not held in the strictures of yearly reviews, promotion criteria, or key performance indicators. It is a more accurate record of the long periods of absence, or busy-ness, or chaos, or calm, or joy, or sadness, or heartbreak, that this life I’ve chosen can encapsulate.

This year has been very, very long. It began with the passing of a close colleague, and it feels as though we have been dragging ourselves through two long semesters of teaching, trying to stoke the fires of thinking, innovation, writing, and making sure a brave and supportive face is put on for our students: this face is never a mask, but like a mask it’s harder to wear on some days more than others.

This year has also held opportunities: travel, creative work, and in the last few weeks, a great acceleration in word output in order to complete a first working draft of a manuscript. I’ve watched some wonderful films, and managed to leave the house on multiple occasions to Have Some Fun(tm).

In short, perhaps, it has been a year like any other, with many ups and many downs. I have a week still to work, and I plan to spend most of that week watching, thinking, and writing.

All years are similar, then. Some ups, some downs. Each year is a variation on a theme. So maybe that’s why I feel this annual need to change mine.

rolling

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It’s been ten years since I owned a bike. I started, as so many kids do, with a little BMX, then around my late teens I was gifted a refurbished hybrid to get about the backroads of the Hawkesbury hills. When I moved on campus, the hybrid became a handy mode of late-night transport between my 4×4 cell room and the computer labs (that had better internet, and printers).

But given the lack of space available, the only place I could store the bike was lashed to a post outside my room. It wasn’t ideal, and it wasn’t too long before rust started to appear on some of the more delicate-looking bolts and parts. Before it progressed too far, I decided to throw it on ebay. Since saying goodbye and handing that bike over to some rando who frankly could’ve looked happier to acquire such a beloved machine, I’ve wanted another bike.

Cue several years of stop-start savings, getting close only to have some life event empty the coffers, getting up there again, repeat ad infinitum. A couple of weeks ago, I finally got one: a mid-range cyclocross bike that handles road and trails with ease. It’s a joy to finally be out there again — it’s cliched but I really have missed that mixture of agony (uphill) and bliss (downhill). Melbourne is good place to have a bike, too, with a surfeit of dedicated paths and trails and bike lanes on most major arterials.

Here’s to many happy spins henceforth.

dust to dust

I’ve attended three memorial services this year. March isn’t over yet.

Annihilation is one of my favourite books, and I can’t tell you why. It’s something about the way humanity is reduced to just its connection with the world around us, and done so simply, and only in words. Names, backgrounds, the trimmings with which we identify ourselves. None of it matters.

Today’s memorial service was secular. It was a fitting and touching reminder of how life is about family, it’s about vitality, about making the most of every day. But it was primarily about the connections we form with each other, be they familial, be they long-lasting, be they fleeting.

There is no real rhyme or reason to this post. Sometimes you are a member of the expedition, working your way through the unknown; sometimes you are Area X itself, all-knowing, but also uncaring. Sometimes you want answers; sometimes you want to just give in, let go, and be.

Entering the matrix

I’ve found myself frustrated in the last twelve months or so with a few mundane computer tasks that I have to undertake regularly, both for life admin and for work. Things like sorting out variable savings budgets, typing the same sentences over and over again in emails and other correspondence… I have also found myself wanting to play with websites in interesting ways, and am looking forward perhaps to looking at some of the intersections between cinema and code for research. All this — along with an institutional subscription to Lynda — has led me to undertake something of a crash course in programming. My initial efforts are the usual (Hello world, guess my number etc), but it’s enlightening to see how much work goes into the simplest of applications.

Stay tuned…

What a difference…

Sometimes the gurus get it wrong… it may not be best to ‘mark’ down when you feel like your life is on a trajectory. Since the last blog, the contentedness I felt at managing things vanished.

In its place was left a gaping hole of uncertainty. Doubt. Fear. And most keenly felt of all: a crippling lack of productivity.

Bottom line? I think it’s important to acknowledge what things work and when; it’s also just as important to note when the train has derailed.

Deep breaths. Multiple cups of tea. The train is back on the rails; now carefully re-stoking the boiler.