For those that were concerned, it got better.
A few weeks ago, I asked a colleague how everything was going. He replied, ‘I have too many balls in the air.’
I decided to take it one ball at a time. One ball per day, in fact.
You can realistically only tick one big thing off per day. Anything more, and you’ll drive yourself insane.
Getting to this point was tough going, but it feels good to be here.
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.
I am lucky to have a job that I love. But in the eighteen months of settling into full-time academia, I seem to have lost sight of the ‘love’ and become fixated on the ‘job’. A weird thing has happened in recent weeks, in that I’ve tried to become more focused on what is actually important about my work — and what feels the most rewarding.
There are two main strands to the workload of an academic at my level: teaching and research. Research covers the writing and publication of scholarly work — be it journal articles, book chapters, conference presentations, monographs. Teaching is what it says on the tin.
In 2011, mid-PhD, I took my first class at Western Sydney University (then UWS). It was a boring compulsory course, but I caught the bug, and have loved teaching ever since. With the transition to full-time employment, I’ve always tried to have time for my students, time to sink into my pedagogy, but that time has always felt sapped by other commitments. I say felt, because I’ve realised that the sapping of time has only occurred because I’ve let it.
This semester, I’ve turned a corner. The most important commitments I have, during semester time, are my students. Everything else is secondary. To be clear, I don’t think the time I spend on teaching or research will change this semester (I have a book chapter to finish, a presentation to write, and a monograph to approve all by September). Rather what has changed is where my head is at most of the time: ensuring my students are, if not blissfully happy, then at least reasonably clear about what I’m trying to teach them, and the experience I would — ideally — like them to have.
In my first classes this week, I introduced first-year students to the Pomodoro technique. I’ve had a mixed relationship with the technique, but sometimes find it useful in terms of getting my head fully into a project during its opening stages. In solidarity, I too typed non-stop for 15 minutes (a reduced pomodoro — usually they run for 25). The results were… well, they were a glimpse into the chaos of my brain. I’ve edited them slightly (ditched typos and some of the more bizarre tangents), added links and some editorial notes, and re-posted here. The unit is a foundational media subject, and is a blend of theory and practice.
Prompt: What would you like to get out of the class?
I would like to hone my pedagogy — in particular getting students engaged during workshop and lecture time. I am actively working to fill the lecture time not only with content, clips, and relevant examples, but also with activities that break the monotonous delivery.
I have already run out of ideas but I’m going to keep typing because this is what the Pomodoro technique is all about. Look if I’m honest I think the introduction of the Pomodoro technique into the classroom situation is an interesting thing for me and the students. It gets them thinking about writing as a practice and as a discipline, not this far-off thing that’s unobtainable and difficult. The Pomodoro technique is all about quantity rather than quality — which explains quite a bit about this piece I’m writing at the moment. Continue reading “Pomodoro ramblings”
Some random observations and things to try after three semesters of teaching the studio model…
- Put together comprehensive assessment briefs, with marking criteria
- Use ticksheets/feedback sheets for marking everything
- Do not take on faith that the studio ethos will be adopted by the students; the studio ethos should be encoded/scaffolded into the studio structure/assessments
- Set up face-to-face studio time as a safe space — there are no stupid questions, no problems too small or large
- Encourage group activity outside set groups — make use of active learning techniques to get students out of chairs
I’ve frequently maintained that the best films stay with you. I don’t mean ‘best’ in terms of quality, necessarily — though that helps — but the best films in terms of those that actually meaningfully contribute to what we call cinema. The best films keep projecting into our temporal lobes long after the credits have rolled; they haunt us, they taunt us, they call to us to watch again, to peel back the layers of their meaning, to look beneath their skin just as they have weaved their way under ours.
A few years ago I taught a course at the University of Sydney that examined the transition from celluloid to digital. It was a wonderful course, and inspired me in many ways for the studio teaching and research I’m currently undertaking. One of the films we watched was Park Chan-wook’s Night Fishing. What a weird little film. Shot entirely on an iPhone 4, the film combines night-vision, fishing, camping, mythology, ghost stories, grief — it’s a masterful little thing. It was perfect for that course, too, because it reiterated that it doesn’t matter what tool you use to create cinema; cinema can be created with anything.
I’d been meaning to catch more of Park’s work, particularly Oldboy and the Vengeance trilogy, but they remain on the Shelf of Shame. After seeing a screengrab from Stoker in a talk on Friday though, I was immediately inspired to get the bluray. This film deserves the highest quality, as it is stunningly beautiful. Also, with this kind of movie, you need your blacks to be really black.
Briefly, and trying not to spoil anything, Stoker is a bottled drama starring Mia Wasikowska as India Stoker, Nicole Kidman as her mother Evelyn, and Matthew Goode as India’s Uncle Charlie. India and Evelyn are recovering from the death of India’s father, Richard, as Uncle Charlie moves back into their lives after a long absence. Long story short, some stuff happens.
The Hitchcockian overtones and influences are readily apparent — the Uncle Charlie/India relationship is pilfered from Shadow of a Doubt, and the tension that slowly builds throughout the film is reminiscent of [insert name of any Hitchcock film here]. But what’s neat about this film is how that tension is woven in with the beautiful imagery. Further, their are even hints of the mobile image (as in mobile phone) that I remember from Night Fishing. In one scene, India and Charlie are playing a duet on the piano. This is a weird moment for a lot of reasons, but the weirdness is reinforced by this tracking shot, about shin-height, that snakes its way between the furniture right up behind them. The tracking shot recalls The Shining, but the movement isn’t entirely smooth. Much like the visual composition of the rest of the film, this shot is not entirely stable. You wouldn’t say its unstable, but there’s definitely something not right. Take any shot of Uncle Charlie, for example. We’re never given the full picture, something is always in the way. It doesn’t hurt, too, that Goode’s performance oozes Anthony Perkins in Psycho.
Stoker is one of those perfect examples of a film where everything congeals into one single vision. Camera, editing, music, performance, narrative all just happen; there’s really no separating them. There is no distinction to be made here between the analogue and the digital (for what it’s worth, it was shot on 35mm). This is a stream of information, a torrent of meaning, that brings the audience wholly into the narrative in an effortless way. This may not be a quality film (it is), but it certainly is one of the best.