Graduation

Graduation 2018 August

Here we are, PhD graduates, their supervisors, the Dean, and me. The Dean is the only one not still wearing his finery.

Saturday I ate a protein-rich breakfast of bacon and eggs. I dressed with care in my nice black suit with a blue jumper underneath for warmth. I thought long and hard about which earrings to wear and decided on the plain pearls. I packed my academic robes and floppy hat in a suit bag and hung it in the back of the mini. I packed my bulging handbag in the boot of the mini and only took on me what I could fit in my pockets – a phone, a credit card, and the car keys.

I was a bit nervous, but not much. This wasn’t my special day, after all. I graduated with my PhD in 2010 but at present I am allowed by the uni to dress up in my glad rags and join the lecturers on stage to celebrate other’s graduations.

At the multi-storey carpark I met with another well-dressed woman holding a suit bag. We saluted each other with the bags and walked to the Federation Concert Hall together. We knew each other more from email contact than from sight.

She asked which area I was from.

‘Chemistry,’ I replied, ‘well, I was from Chemistry.’

Then I told her what I was doing now, and that if she needed an editor to look at her student manuscripts she now knew where to come. (I really need to invest in some business cards for such an occasion.)

In the robing room I met and mingled with long-standing friends. It was fun to catch up, good to see my colleagues again. Especially when we were there for such a celebration. We got dressed up, adjusted each others hoods, checked the tassels on the floppy hats. The only real awkwardness came when we had to pair up to walk in the academic procession. I found myself paired in a group of three and that just doesn’t work, but hey, we’re all adults. We worked it out.

And then it was time to put on our best pompous faces and make our way through the foyer of the Grand Chancellor Hotel to the concert hall where graduation was being held.

I must admit I was a bit rebellious. I was supposed to sit on the end of a row of five but I just wandered further and sat in the back row with my ex-boss. That caused a little bit of panic when the people didn’t think there were enough chairs for us all. But they got over it. And I bet they felt pretty silly when everyone sat down and they saw the empty seat in the middle of the row.

I wasn’t the worst behaved person on stage. One of the academics stood up and took a photo with his phone when his student crossed the stage. That was a little unprofessional. But a lot of fun.

We had six PhD students graduating on Saturday. Six from Chemistry, among the 50-ish PhDs in total for that particular ceremony. (I am not totally sure of my numbers because I foolishly left my program behind.) Out of the six Chemistry graduates, five were present to dress up in their floppy hats and walk the stage. It was so great to be there and celebrate with them.

The PhD is a long journey, long and fraught with many a danger. But they made it, and Saturday was a day for pure celebration of a milestone reached. I was so glad to be there to celebrate with them and their families.

I was also super-glad to see a couple of special students reach the milestone of a bachelor’s degree. They were students I had worked with in their very first chemistry classes. Students that had become friends over the course of their studies. I never know when these people are graduating (we’re not that close friends) but I was thrilled to see them walk the stage.

After all the pomp was finished we mingled over sausage rolls and party pies (we didn’t make it in time for any sushi) and took many photos and gave many hugs. I repeated, ‘congratulations’ over and over again, but I meant it every time. The hall was crowded and loud, but full of love, joy, and a sense of satisfaction. There is something important about attending the ceremony and giving yourself closure.

I love the pomp and ceremony of a graduation ceremony. It speaks to something deep in my English heritage. It reminds me of my heroes – Tolkien, Lewis, Sayers. I know all the pomp is unnecessary, but for me it’s a great way to celebrate the gaining of an important milestone and I congratulate again all my friends who had their special day on Saturday.

I didn’t make it to the PhD celebration parties that were held on Saturday afternoon and night. If you want to find out why, there’s a great book you can read that will explain it all (wink, wink). This post is my small and introverted way of saying again a huge congratulations to my friends who graduated on Saturday (and to my special friend who graduated Friday as well).

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One thing at a time

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I can’t remember where I read this advice, and I really wish I could. It was in a book about calming your days, feeling more at peace, dealing with technology better. The advice was do one thing at a time.

I have been watching myself lately and I haven’t been following this advice.

I have been playing solitaire on my phone while watching TV.

Scrolling through Facebook while eating breakfast.

Listening to a podcast and playing solitaire while eating lunch.

I realised this was really a problem for me when I caught myself trying to play solitaire on my phone while I was reading a book. It doesn’t work.

On Sunday night I decided that I wanted to relax and just watch the program I was watching on TV. The program was Grand Designs (I’m a bit of a tragic) and you’re not going to get much out of that if you aren’t looking at the screen. You don’t see the houses.

I sat back on the couch and I watched.

It was difficult. I wanted to distract myself with my computer or my phone. But I kept at it. And it was refreshing, it really was, just to let my brain do one thing at once.

I think I need to push myself on this one.

I need to eat when I’m eating – not watch TV, not read, not scroll through Facebook. Just enjoy the food, taste it, smell it, really appreciate what I’m eating.

I need to watch TV when I’m watching, and read when I’m reading.

I need to remember to turn the wifi off when I’m writing and allow myself to sink deeply into the writing process (I am a bit better with this one).

Sometimes it’s good to do two things at once – some tasks work well together. I like listening to podcasts while walking because the story keeps me going when I would otherwise get bored and head for home. But at the same time, sometimes on my walks I need to turn the noise off and just let myself think.

I’ve been doing some data-entry work lately and listening to audio books has been great to keep me on-task. But it can’t be a book I care deeply about because if I have to think about the work at all then I miss what the narrator is saying. However, I think that the multi-tasking in that situation has worked well.

This world is so full of distractions that it is difficult to concentrate on one thing for any length of time. But I think that’s a muscle worth developing so I’m going to work harder to simplify.

Some good books on this subject are Single Tasking by Devora Zack, and Deep Work by Cal Newport. Also, at the end of Women Food and God by Geneen Roth there is a list of rules for eating which includes:

Eat without distractions. Distractions include radio, television, newspapers, books, intense or anxiety-producing conversations or music.

How about you? Do you love to multi-task? Are you addicted to distractions? What do you think about doing only one thing at once?

Reporting Back

I’m sure you’re all desperate to know how my time-management went last week.

But first, I want to tell you about an interview with Brené Brown that I read during the week. It’s a good article and I encourage you to read it.

Here’s the bit that stuck out to me. She was talking about words that wholehearted people were using when they were talking with her. The words that describe what we want life to be like.

These were the words: Vulnerability, authenticity, creativity, rest, compassion, boundaries, joy.

These words describe well what I want to get out of my writing life. These are the things I want in my life. I couldn’t have said it better myself, and so I’m not. I’m pointing you to Brené.

There was another list of words too. Words that we want to stay away from: Comparison, perfection, status, exhaustion.

These two lists sum up why I have changed my lifestyle to be what it is now. But these bad habits, these bad aims are not limited to university life, or to any kind of life. These are habits and attitudes that can creep in on anyone at anytime. And the good list are things that can be part of any life, no matter what you are doing or where you are working.

I just love these two lists. I want to write them out and stick them up where I can see them regularly and be reminded to stop comparing myself to others, beating myself up with perfectionism, or looking for status, and to start exercising my creativity, allowing myself to rest, setting good boundaries, living in joy, being authentic and vulnerable.

 

And now to the time management.

Having two hours for writing blocked out in my calendar worked really well from Monday through Thursday.

On Monday in my writing time I wrote an ode to the blank page, then I remembered my dream journal (I write my dreams in it and it sits next to my bed) and I leafed through it for inspiration and came up with a story idea. On Tuesday I started writing the story, taking my time (I had two hours to fill), and concentrating on things like describing all the senses – how did the room look? Smell? Was it cold or hot? And so on. On Wednesday the story took hold of me and changed dramatically from where it started. After Thursday’s writing I had a very exciting idea about a plot twist. It was really wonderful to see the story take shape, to see that I can have ideas, to enjoy the process.

On Friday I was so tired I went back to bed in my writing time and just slept.

The same with the editing business time in the afternoon. That worked really well. The work I’m doing at the moment doesn’t require all that much brain power so I listened to an audio book while I worked. It meant that I got a lot done because the plot of the story pulled me along. Again, Friday didn’t work so well, but I still got some done.

The thing I’m having difficulty with is the in-between time. The big jobs are getting big time allocations but the smaller jobs are still fiddly and annoying. And while I love writing, I get tired after churning out 2000 words first thing in the morning, and then it’s hard to give the attention to, say, the emails that I really should read, or to paying the bills. Still, I mark last week down as a success and I’m working towards a similar plan for this week. I’ll keep working on how to fit the little fiddly things in. It has to happen.

I guess the two parts of this blog are not unrelated. It has been wonderful to put boundaries in place, to turn off the wifi to my computer and dedicate two hours in the morning to unlocking my creativity. And to give up on perfection in the story I’m writing and to not compare myself to others but just to enjoy what was coming out as I allowed myself to be authentic, vulnerable, and creative. And also, to rest on Friday when rest was what I needed most.

May you also have a creative and restful week, with good boundaries, and much joy.

Getting Started

the writing den
This is my writing space. I have been working on finding space for all my chemistry textbooks. The shelves are looking nice and neat now. Time to get words on the page.

So far in this new life of mine, I haven’t been very productive on the writing side of things. I have many excuses – time in LA, family time, Moz and Caleb being on holidays, and so on. And I have been productive in other areas – lots of work on the editing business, sorting out the bookshelves in my den, getting the housework done – all of these things are worthwhile but when they are taking the place of writing then they start to look suspiciously like procrastination.

There are many different ways of getting yourself to write. There is the method of word count – writing 1000 words a day, or 500, or even writing 50 to get you started. Or choosing to sit at your desk until you have accomplished your 1000 words, or 2000 or whatever. There is the method of time blocking (see below), there is the method of heading to a café to write, or using the library, both of which are especially good for productivity if there is no wifi access, I’m told. There is getting up at 4.30 am to write, or staying up after every one else has gone to sleep, neither of which appeal to me very much.

Many (if not most) writers don’t have any choice as to when in the day they write. When I was working full-time I wrote for fifteen minutes at the beginning of each day and that’s all I had time for. Others write in their lunch hours, or in little snatches of time around looking after children.

I now have much more time to write. I don’t have unlimited time, I need to make sure I spend time on my editing business as well. But I have much more freedom as to when I write. I can choose (to a degree) how I will organise my day.

I’ve been thinking that it would be a good idea to block out time to dedicate to writing. This is the time blocking method I was talking about earlier. I’ve been meaning to do this for a while. My problem has been one of perfectionism. I haven’t blocked out any time to write because I want to block out the perfect time.

Up until now I have written mainly in the mornings. First thing, before work. But now that I don’t have set times for work, I can decide exactly which hours of the day to dedicate to writing time. But I haven’t been sure which time to choose.

What if the best time for writing is in the afternoon when I have finished off some of the annoying but urgent business and home tasks? What if I need to be writing in the morning when my creative thoughts are freshest? What if straight after lunch is best, the dreamy time when I can get my self-editing mind out of the way? Or what if I put the writing time in my calendar in a place where I would be better off exercising, or editing, or answering email? I don’t want to block out hours and get it wrong. I don’t want to have an imperfect day when I get less writing done than I could if I got the timing just right.

And of course, this type of thinking leads to no writing being done at all.

So for the week ahead I have bitten the bullet and blocked out some hours for writing each morning. I have also blocked out hours for the editing business in the afternoons. In between I will do housework, have coffees with people, exercise, and make meals etc. If this week doesn’t work well, then I will try a different schedule next week.

Sometimes when I’m being a perfectionist I just have to make a choice and see what happens. The other option is to spin around and around trying to find the perfect option and to never start at all. If you are facing a choice where there is no obvious right answer, and you’ve got yourself stuck in the perfectionistic spin like me, I encourage you to make a choice and give it a go for a while. Let me know in the comments how it went.

Incidentally, while I’ve chosen the morning hours for writing next week, I’m writing this at 5pm on a Saturday and it’s flowing really well. So there might be a bit of adjustment necessary, or I might just have to try different styles on different weeks until I find a method that works very well.

And there’s always the possibility that my writing process will change and that different things will work on different weeks. I need to make sure I give myself permission to change the routine when it’s appropriate. But in any event I need some routine to get me started.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

A weekend retreat at home

cosy fire

For the last couple of months I have spent quite a bit of time outside my comfort zone, but this weekend I have been firmly inside my comfort zone and it’s been delightful.

This weekend I am on an enforced retreat. I am in quarantine because I am radioactive, but I don’t feel unwell so it’s quite a strange situation. You feel that if you are not allowed to see other people, or go near them (I have to stay a metre away) then you should be feeling like you have the plague. But apart from a slightly snotty nose I don’t feel sick. I just need to stay away from others. I am on retreat.

I am loving being able to choose my own activity and not having to think about anyone else. If I want to get up at 4.30am then I can (I did on Friday, then I went back to bed). If I want to go for a walk, then I go. If I want to read, I read. If I want to watch TV, play the piano, dance around the living room like a loony, I can.

Yesterday I felt very much like going for a drive. I took the mini for a spin around Tinderbox, stopped for a little walk at the reserve, then kept going through Howden. (This is all in Tasmania, if you want to see how beautiful it is, Google earth should be able to help, I didn’t take photos, sorry.) In the dirt road part of the trip I drove through a big muddy puddle, and that decided the next activity for the day. The mini has now had a quick wash and is not a muddy mess any more.

I have work that I need to do this weekend and I have work that I want to do, but even though I am working I am just loving having the house to myself, having quiet when I want quiet, and noise when I want noise. I’m enjoying having time to think, to pray, to read, to write. I don’t think I could live like this all the time but for me this weekend is the equivalent of going on a cruise. It’s relaxing. It’s rejuvenating.

I look forward to the boys coming home on Monday (they’ve been on camp, so they’ve been having a great time too). I will enjoy having company by then. But I am also enjoying this life now.

I-Day

radioactive image
This is a 3D illustration of an electromagnetic field in a nuclear radioactive core. Nothing to do with me, actually, but much prettier than the other pictures to do with radioactivity so I chose this one.

‘Good Camp Morning!’ Caleb  bounds into the kitchen and smiles at Moz, ‘and Good Radioactive Morning’ he says to me. And that’s all you need to know about us today, really.

The boys are off to a Scripture Union camp called Dcypher. It’s a camp for high school-aged computer gamers. They get together, link all the computers, and fight, race, and compete with each other for a few days. They also spend time away from the computers, chatting, playing games outside, and performing engineering challenges, all the good stuff.

It’s a great camp because the campers have time with adults from their world, people who understand gaming, and as well as that they are taught balance and discuss life lessons. They even do cosplay. My son who is over six feet tall is dressing up as a dwarf.

And as for me, well, we’ve come up with some theme songs for my day today. The first is Radioactive by Imagine Dragons, the next is Standing Too Close by Thandi Phoenix  and then there’s Don’t Stand So Close to Me by the Police. (I just watched the video clip for that one, it’s disturbing.)

Yes, today is the day for the radioactive iodine therapy. Not D-day but I-day. At lunch time today I will head into hospital, and as far as I understand it, I will swallow a capsule, and then go home. But I will be harmfully radioactive for the next five days or so (some gamma and mostly alpha radiation) and I should stand at least a metre away from any people I meet so that I don’t shoot them with harmful radiation.

I have thought about this course of action a lot, and talked to a lot of people, including more than one medical practitioner. I believe this is the right thing for me to do for my health at this time.

And the timing has worked out very well. I need to stay away from people for a while, and the boys will be away for the same amount of time. They get a camp, I get a retreat, everybody’s happy.

If you are a praying person, I covet your prayers for the camp, and also prayers that I get exactly the right dose of iodine to kill off my thyroid enough that it is no longer producing harmful quantities of thyroid hormone, but that it is still producing some hormone, so that I don’t need to take additional medication. That is the absolute best outcome we can hope for, so that’s what I’m praying for.

Have a great weekend everyone! See you on the other side.

Grace for the moment

It’s been a big (but good) couple of weeks.

Scratch that, it’s been a big (but good) couple of months.

In case you haven’t managed to follow all of this as it happened, the crazy all started straight after Easter with a trip to Canberra for Jess’ graduation, then we had our Vanuatu visit, which seemed to flow straight into the first book launch, which was followed less than a week later by the second book launch. Then I had a few weeks of finishing up at uni, packing up my office and being given lovely farewell lunches, and then I was off to Los Angeles for a week. I brought my sister back with me from LA and we’ve been doing family things for the last week or so. It’s been pretty hectic.

In fact, by last weekend it was starting to feel like Christmas. On Saturday we had a big wider family lunch together at my Uncle’s house (my great aunt, and aunts and uncles, and cousins and second cousins), and on Sunday we all went to church (Mum and Dad and my brother and sister and me) and afterwards came back to our place for lunch and collapsed in a heap. That’s what Christmas feels like to me – family and church and exhaustion and good food. I think we ticked all the boxes. The weather wasn’t quite warm enough, and we were missing some important family members, but all the rest was right.

I’ve enjoyed all the fun things we’ve done. I really have. It’s been so great to catch up with people and meet new people and have excellent conversations. The trips overseas were amazing, and the book launches were a dream come true. But there have been aspects of the last few months that have been challenging for me as well.

On the plane over to LA I was listening to The Screwtape Letters by CS Lewis, narrated by John Cleese. It is absolutely brilliant (of course). If you don’t know what this book is, it’s a series of letters from the demon Screwtape to his nephew Wormwood giving instruction on how to get a patient (that is a person) safely into hell. It’s sort of Christian instruction from the opposite point of view. Very clever. And Cleese shows his brilliance in narration too.

One thing from the book that stuck in my mind was the phrase ‘grace for the moment’. Screwtape was telling Wormwood that he needed to keep his patient’s mind focused either on things he had messed up in the past, or things that he was worried about in the future. That ‘our Enemy’ (that is, God) had promised grace for the moment, and that if the patient could keep living in the future or the past then he wouldn’t be able to access the grace that God had promised for the now.

It’s so true, isn’t it? If we are focusing on now, living in the moment, depending on God for the energy only for now, then it is so much easier than trying to access grace for things that may never happen.

And if we look into the future too much, there is a great variety of possibilities, many different ways that things can go wrong, many eventualities to worry about. But only one of these possibilities can happen in this trouser leg of time and we only need to face that one possibility as and when it happens.

So that has been my experience over these last few, very full, weeks. God has given me grace for each moment and I have come through rejoicing and grateful.

I don’t want to promise too much, but things seem to have slowed down a bit now. I’m starting to get the washing under control, and to clean up the mess that happened when my uni office was moved into my home office, and to go for walks and cook my own dinner instead of relying on easy meals and takeaway.

And I have plenty of wonderful memories to look back on.

The Adventures Continue

Amaro's picture
This is Caleb, Jessamy, Amaro, Me, and Moz. Isn’t it gorgeous!

Today’s gorgeous picture was drawn by our friend Amaro who is just about to turn six. She and her mum Jessamy stayed with us for a couple of nights (just as I got back from LA) before heading off to Townsville. Their adventure is much bigger than mine and I pray that it all goes smoothly for them.

Amaro drew the picture of everyone in the house. The boys have pink trousers on and I have to say that it’s a pretty accurate representation of Caleb’s hair (on the left).

I’ve been home for a few days now and it’s taken me a little while to figure out what is going on in my head. In fact, I’m proud of figuring it out this early, but then I knew it was coming so maybe it’s taken me too long.

The thing is, I am now officially an entrepreneur. I no longer work for the university, not even two days a week. I am a small business owner. I work for myself.

The whole day is mine. The whole week is mine. I don’t have to go into uni anymore. I can organise the all my time as it suits me.

But that means there is no structure. No fixed appointments. No urgency to get things done today because tomorrow is taken up by work.

And it is easy to let things go. To get lazy. To convince myself that I am tired today and that it would be better to start on that job (whatever it is) tomorrow. To tell myself that I don’t feel like writing this morning and I’ll do it later.

Or to get stuck. To wonder whether I should work on the paid editing rather than the writing because it is paid work and therefore more important. Or whether I should work on the writing rather than the editing because it’s my body of work and therefore more important. And then to do neither of those things because it’s all so confusing that I don’t know where to start.

The fact is, none of the time is mine. It was given to me by God. And though I am no longer working for a business, I am not working for myself either. I am working for God.

Now is the time to put into practice all the wonderful time-management processes that I have been reading about for the past years. I can now figure out when my most creative time is, when it is better for me to do editing, when I need to work on the business side of things.

There is plenty to do. I just need to schedule it in. I need to get started. Try things. See if they work, and adjust if they don’t.

And not feel overwhelmed by the hugeness of having my dream come true.

I am so grateful for this opportunity and I am NOT going to let it pass me by.

I have a novel to finish, editing work to complete for customers, blogs to write, and plenty to learn.

It’s exciting times, folks! Bring it on!

 

P.S. I thought you might like to know that my tooth has been fixed with a filling and you really can’t tell that it was chipped at all. And my arm is feeling much better and nearly all the bruising from the fall has gone. I’m over the jetlag too and I’m borrowing Moz’s old phone until my new one comes in the mail.

I’m very much enjoying having my sister visit us here in Tasmania, and my brother is coming today as well for some proper family time. Life is good. Busy, but good.

Back to winter

Guy in Lyft: How are you?

Me: I’m hot. I’m heading back to Australia today so I’m wearing my warm clothes.

GIL: Is it cold in Australia?

Me: Yes, it’s winter in Australia, it’s going to be freezing.

GIL: Oh, I’m sorry, I’m an arts major, I have no idea about these science things.

Hilarious.

I’ve had other conversations where people have asked me what the weather is like in Australia. I find that a difficult question to answer – Australia is a big place with all the kinds of weather you could want. I think I usually manage to get that across.

The Lyft driver and I went on to talk about how he’s an illustrator and wants to work in comics but that he needs to work on his writing skills. It was a very cool conversation and I pointed him to some podcasts that I am pretty sure he will forget but I hope he remembers.

It is one of the fun things here that everyone you meet is either a part of, or trying to be a part of the entertainment industry. The lady who runs the café near us is a writer, the driver is an illustrator, and so on. I’m sure that not everybody is part of the industry but it sure has felt like it.

I decided to visit the little church near me this morning – Silverlake Community Church. They were great people. Sometimes the little churches are the best. I felt right at home there. Morning tea after the service was coffee (and decaf) with vanilla creamer (too sweet) and some apple pie (yum). The blessing talked about going home rejoicing, which I thought was appropriate.

So now we’re working, Cath and I, and cleaning her house, and getting ready to go. The cats are aware now that something is happening and they are hiding in the bathroom. They are clever, are cats. But they will be ok.

The next post should be from Australia. See you then.

Nearly Over

brunch
Here we are at brunch. The cafe staff were awesome too. Go to Friends and Family if you’re ever in East Hollywood.

This morning we had a brunch, a ladies brunch. It was so nice. Catherine’s friends are great. I remember when Catherine invited me to this brunch as a Facebook event. I was so excited to be able to go to one of her events. And I was right to be excited. We had such a lovely time together, and ate such good food.

Catherine’s friends are also very international. Just to give you some idea, at the brunch this morning we had two Italian-Americans, a French-Polish lady (and her son), an Israeli, a lady from Norway, a lady from Latvia, and us two Aussies at breakfast. And also a short visit from a New Zealander but we kicked him out (grin).

It’s been a much quieter day today. After the brunch I went back to my place and got some work done. Catherine is frantically getting everything together before she comes back to Australia with me. So I’m staying out of her way a bit. I remember what it felt like finishing up at home before coming here.

Tonight we went out for Thai food. It was amazing! Hobart needs to up its Thai game I think.

After dinner we went for a walk around the beautiful streets here in East Hollywood. There are some absolutely gorgeous houses and gardens. It was so great to walk and chat. Now we’re relaxing with some TV.

One more day to go. This time tomorrow we’ll be on a plane.