08 Jun

on needing to know and information experience

I have this obsessive need to understand the things I fear. When I’m worried about or scared of something, I go looking for information. I find as much as I can and I take it all in and I digest it and I see the thing from all the angles. Then it’s not a mystery. There isn’t any chance I’m going to stumble on something unexpected and terrible because I’ve seen under and around and over the thing. If there’s something terrible there, it won’t sneak up on me because I will have found it before it’s had a chance to find me.

As an information experience researcher, I’m interested in understanding how people experience information in their everyday lives. It’s kind of interesting to inspect my own practices in the way I would inspect those of a participant in a research study. If I was naming this thing that I do, I would probably call it something like ‘coping by knowing’.

It’s a control thing really. Knowing what the possibilities are gives me some sense of control in situations in which I really have none. Knowing is almost as good as controlling.

I know other people whose modus operandi is to put blinkers on, but blinkers seem to me to be the worst possible way to deal with my fear or worry. What makes some people choose blinkers? What drives others, like me, to visit Dr Google and trawl Wikipedia?

I wonder whether I do it because I’m a librarian and an information researcher, or whether my grandfather started it by encouraging me to research *everything*, or whether I Google everything simply because I have the web in my hand all the time. Or whether ‘needing to know’ is just how I am.

Blog every day in June 6/30

06 Jun

on pride and wonder and greed

Today, Mr 5 received a student of the week award, which means school assembly was a family affair.

I’m super proud of him because he got his award for “being a trustworthy friend and classmate who always takes care of others”. He is a gentle, kind soul (except when reenacting Star Wars scenes!), a great brother, and an awesome little person.

He was so proud of himself. He stood up straight and pushed his chest out and held his certificate up in front of him. He looked like he was about to burst with pride.

Ms 5 was super proud of her brother too. When we got to school, she ran up to her best friend and said, “My brother is student of the week!”

As I watched them go through the routine of assembly, I couldn’t help thinking about how much of their lives will be spent at school, and consequently, how much of their lives we aren’t privy to. They know all these things that we had no idea they knew. They know the national anthem! They have all these rituals and routines that we don’t know about. They are learning so much, so quickly, and we only hear about a fraction of the things they learn. There is this big chunk of their lives that is enacted at a distance from us.

And I’m greedy. I want to know about all of it. I want to *see* all of it. Even though I’m proud of their independence and their growing confidence. Even though they get to share these experiences with each other. Even though they are at a great school, with wonderful teachers. Even though they are so proud to come home and show us what they have learned.

I just want to be there with them. To watch them learn. To see their wonder.

I’m greedy, and I want to see *all* the things.

Blog everyday in June: 4/30

04 Jun

there’s no words

I love how the phrases we use become the language of our kids, and how our habits rub off on them too. My littlest love likes to tell us, “There’s no words for how much I love you,” an expression she learned from her nanny. We are big on saying I love you.

I’ve lost my voice. It’s been MIA since Sunday night. I’m grateful it didn’t happen til the end of the day on which I had my very last teaching commitment for the semester. But my phone has been running hot all week with enquiries from prospective students and I feel ridiculous whispering at them. And I don’t really have much whisper in me either. It’s quite hard to communicate that I can’t talk, so the first minute of the conversation is very odd.

Today I looked at my thesis for the first time in five months. My schedule gives me six days to finish this chapter. Today a sixth of the time I budgeted for this chapter disappeared with no words to show for it.

I didn’t post yesterday, not for lack of ideas. I was going to write a post about risk. I had some words down already but I couldn’t find the new ones I needed to stitch it into some kind of coherent story. It felt like it was going to take a lot of effort to drag the words out of my brain and I didn’t feel like I had the energy to do it.

And I’m not sure I’ve got enough words in me to write a blog post every day this month.

Sometimes, there just aren’t words.

Blog everyday in June: 3/30

02 Jun

was dawson’s creek this cringeworthy the first time round?

Warning: This post is particularly profound. Read with caution.

I love TV. In a big way. I binge watch series after series. I also love Netflix because it supports my TV watching habit.

I am currently re-watching Dawson’s Creek. I grew up with Pacey, Andie, Dawson,  Jen, Joey and Jack. My teenage angst happened in parallel with theirs… Although my angst was decidedly less angsty than theirs, which was probably part of the appeal – my mini dramas looked very small compared to those of the Capeside crew.  

I have been busting to re-watch Dawson’s for ages, but now that I am watching it, I’m thinking back to my first viewing and asking myself whether it was this lame the first time around.

Dawson is just not likable at all. All the characters are over-acted and Katie Holmes and James Van Der Beek are particularly cringeworthy together.

People just don’t talk like that.

I’m not even sure I can keep watching it, partly because I’m sitting here asking myself whether I took my angsting cues from the show (god I hope not), and partly because it’s destroying my memories.

Surely, *surely* it couldn’t have been this bad the first time around?

The one enduring memory I have that hasn’t been shattered by this second viewing is my memory of Pacey, who I love as much now as I did 15ish years ago. I’m just not sure Pacey is enough to redeem the whole show.

PS. How much would Dawson love Netflix?

Blog everyday in June: 2/30

07 Mar

let’s hear it for the mothers, the grandmothers, the daughters and the aunties

In my 20s, I blithely dismissed the idea that having a career as a woman is tough. Ditto the idea that our prospects are impacted by our gender. I worked in libraries. All around me, I saw women in leadership positions. Glass ceiling? What glass ceiling?

But then I grew up, stepped up the ladder a couple of rungs, stepped out of libraries, and saw past my blinkers. And I realised just how bloody hard it is.

That’s not why I’m writing this post.

I’m writing it because I think as a society we pay lip service to the idea of recognising non-traditional families. And this International Women’s Day, I’ve got something to say about it.

Mothers face a particular set of challenges as participants in the workforce. Whether they work because they want to or work because they have to or a bit of both, there is at least some recognition that it’s not easy for women to balance motherhood and work. There are still big, impenetrable barriers that stop women who are mothers from participating in the workforce in the same way, and with the same sort of career progression, as men. But there is at least some basic level of recognition that as mothers, women have responsibilities outside the office.

Is it enough? Absolutely not. It is not even close to being enough.

Organisations aren’t family-friendly – at least, I don’t know of one that really, truly is. But in many cases, they are a bit friendlier if your family is a traditional family than they are if it’s not.

What about the women with aging parents? Do workplaces support them? What about the grandmothers that are on call to pick up sick grandchildren at school? Do they drop a day’s pay to fulfill their responsibilities as primary carers?

Because this is how *real* families work.

It’s not mum, dad and two kids. Sometimes it’s mum and two kids. Or mum, grandma and two kids. Maybe it’s two mums and a kid. Or something entirely different.

Families aren’t always cared for by one mother. There are other women in the mix too. And it’s not only children that women care for. I see this everywhere.

And what I also see is how hard it is for these non-mothers to fulfill their family commitments, because in our workplaces, the provisions for caring for families are built around the idea that familial care and familial duties are about a mother caring for her children (‘hers’ in law).

That’s not always how it works in the real world.

So when we talk about how hard it is for women in corporate Australia, in academia, in any work context, let’s not forget that we’re not all mothers, but many of us have other family responsibilities to negotiate, too.

10 Jan

the very hardest thing

Earlier, I was eating my lunch and reading Penelope Trunk’s latest blog post on the incompatibility of big careers and involved parenting, when my sister turned up (delivering groceries, because these are things I don’t do when I get busy). I went out to the car to say hi to my niece and my sister told me about a conversation they had this morning in which my niece asked whether I would be finished working once they saw me on stage (at my graduation). Seeing me on stage has become a bit of a metaphor for winning me back from work. She was somewhat disappointed to find out I would still have to work, even if I wouldn’t have to write my book anymore (this is how we talk about my PhD). But I told her I would have weekends back and I’d be able to hang out and then we both said we’re sick of me writing my book all the time.

And this is the very, very hardest thing. Not being able to spend time with my little loves, especially when they really need it.

03 Jan

my non-resolutions and what’s on the horizon in 2014

As a follow up from my post yesterday about what I did in 2013, today I’m sharing my non-resolutions for 2014, a couple of things that are on my to do list for 2014, and some reflections on what’s on the horizon for me in the year ahead.

I should start by saying I am more excited about 2014 than I have been about any new year in a very long time. It’s going to be a big year, full of new challenges, moving on and big opportunities.

On non-resolutions

I could write a list of fifty resolutions. Easily. There are many things I want to do differently, many habits I want to change, and many new things I want to try. But I’m terrible at seeing my new year’s resolutions through.

A wise woman recently called me on my habit of setting overly ambitious goals. She said something like this:

It’s great to be ambitious and set goals that are a stretch, but every time you set yourself a goal that you don’t end up hitting, you die a little bit inside. So think carefully about your goals because over time, consistently falling short of them wears you down.

You might think that sounds like bad advice. After all, shouldn’t we be aiming to be the best person we can possibly be? The reality, though, is that we (read: me) wear ourselves out by working like mad to hit crazy targets, and then we wear ourselves down when we miss them. Double whammy. Ambitious is fine. But achievable is critical.

So this year, instead of having a spreadsheet full of resolutions (did I just admit I’ve done that in public?!), I am making one commitment to myself from the very long list of things I might have made resolutions about. This one thing, though, will help me to realise some of the other things I might have resolved to do because it will give me back a large chunk of the commodity that is most important to me: my time.

In 2014, I am going to take a day off, every week. A whole day.

No thesis writing. No email checking. No responding to student tweets or Facebook posts. Just. Nothing. For one day, each week. Every week. Even when I have marking deadlines. And even before my thesis is done.

I’ve already tried to cut a deal with myself about this commitment. In fact, I tried to cut a deal with myself about it back in December, when I first told a friend about it. I said, “I think I’ll start it in February, once I’m passed this intense writing period”. And then I realised that was a completely ridiculous deal to be cutting. I know I need downtime to maintain my productivity and I know I need it to maintain my health, and yet here I was, ready to commit to yet another month of working seven days a week.

So I started this week, by having new year’s day off.

One day off. Every week. No matter what.

My to do list

There are three things on my to do list this year.

First, the big, obvious one: 2014 will be the year I finish my PhD. I just have to push through with writing for another six weeks or so, and then revisions for as long as that takes. I think I should feel like I’m on the downhill stretch, but the reality is submitting my thesis still feels like a lifetime’s worth of work away. I’ll nail this item on my to do list by focussing on what I have to do today, rather than what I have to do to finish.

The second and third things on my to do list are nebulous ideas and I’m not sure what they’ll end up looking like. So I’m keeping these to myself for now. What I can say is these two things don’t necessarily involve big changes, but are really about consolidating.

The horizon

On the life front, I’ll be doing more of the same in 2014, but now with more time! We have some big education milestones this year… I will finish my PhD and the twins start school (*sob*). Did I mention I will finish my PhD this year? I already have a Pinterest board full of ideas for things I want to do around the house once the PhD is done, but more than anything, I am looking forward to saying goodbye to the nagging guilt that rears up whenever I have some time off. I am also really looking forward to having a proper break from work (and PhD – in case you didn’t know, I’m going to finish it this year) and I will be scheduling in a couple of weeks of holidays in the very near future.

There’s some fun stuff happening for me at work in the next little while:

  • For the next six months, I’m acting coordinator of library and information education. Time to get my admin ninja on! We have lots of exciting things happening so it’s a great time to be in this role.
  • We are about to try out a bunch of different consumer technology products in our teaching. Thanks to a small infrastructure grant we won, we are setting up a mobile teaching tech suite. We’ll be implementing the tools in different ways – a bunch of different models really – and evaluating the success of the different models from both staff and student perspectives.
  • I am getting involved in a university-wide teaching and learning project, on a partial secondment for six months. 

So that’s how my 2014 is looking. I’m excited to see how it all pans out.

02 Jan

my 2013 done list

A while back, a friend introduced me to the idea of done lists. I’ve used them in my teaching, specifically with students in our Executive Information Practice major, which is a bit like an MBA for information professionals. The point of this activity is to get students to think about what they’ve already achieved and how that might apply to where they want to go with their careers.

As I started thinking about my 2013 review post, I realised I didn’t want to write a post that reflected on any of the crap that I encountered in the last year – unless I could do it in a positive way. So I decided that a done list might be a good way to reflect on the things I did in the last 12 months – not necessarily things I achieved, but rather, things I did that I want to remember.

Here it is!

Life

  • I started this blog in June and made 54 posts, many about my PhD progress, and many about other aspects of my life.
  • I watched a serious amount of awesome TV. In the last 12 months, I watched Sons of Anarchy, Breaking Bad, The Bridge and Homeland, start to finish. All the seasons. Well, I think I actually had a season of Sons under my belt from December 2012 and I still have two episodes of seasons six to go. But the point is, I watched more than 14 seasons of various television series. Plus an epically long first season of Person of Interest. Ironically, this happened in what was probably the busiest year of my life to date.
  • I read 20 novels, which was considerably below my annual target of 52 (which I’ve never managed to hit!). But 20 isn’t too shabby when you think about how much potential reading time I’ve spent in front of the TV writing my thesis.
  • I redecorated my home office and turned it into a space I love to be in.
  • I got myself a life coach and with her help (and the support of good friends) I started to change the way I think about lots of things: being busy, food, balance, what’s actually important and what isn’t, and my own rules for living. As I challenged my thinking about these things, I instigated some major changes which have had a huge positive impact on my health. I haven’t had a cold since July (if you know me, you’ll know this is nothing short of miraculous) and I’ve recovered well from the slipped discs that made a mess of June.

Work

  • I co-chaired the Sixth New Librarians’ Symposium, which was no small feat, given that we did not use a professional conference organiser. Over the same period, I was also on the committee for ALIA Information Online 2013. Two conference committees, simultaneously, for conferences held in the same week. I won’t ever be doing that again! It was crazy, but fun, and definitely something I’m happy to see on the done list, rather than the to do list!
  • I committed to not taking on any external speaking gigs for the whole of 2013 and I stuck to it. Even though my default answer is generally yes. Even when I really *wanted* to say yes. This helped me to maintain my focus on teaching in Semester 1, and on PhD in Semester 2.
  • In Semester 1, I taught three units instead of my usual two. When you’re teaching a dual mode cohort (which takes a lot more time and energy than teaching only on campus or only online students), an extra unit makes a big difference to workload. But I did it, I enjoyed the teaching, and I still managed to get one of the three highest teaching evaluation scores in my school.
  • I co-authored a number of journal articles and a couple of book chapters, which will be published over the next 12 months or so.
  • With four of my colleagues, I have been editing a book on Information Experience and we got the manuscript off to the publisher in December.

PhD and sabbatical

My six month sabbatical kind of ended up being more like a four and a half month sabbatical by the time I had a week off-ish at the start, got over a bad bout of the flu, properly cleared the decks of work that was hanging over, dealt with unavoidable work commitments, worked on other publications, and then had a (very) little bit of time off over Christmas. I didn’t make my goal of having a complete draft of my thesis by Christmas. But here’s what I did do:

  • I completed the final round of data collection, which involved follow up interviews with a few participants.
  • I coded all of my interview transcripts in great detail. I coded the first six transcripts phrase-by-phrase and then I coded them another two times as I worked to get to a higher level of abstraction. I sorted codes and re-sorted codes and re-sorted codes and then eventually, after more than three months, I finished the coding.
  • I completed my analysis through the process of coding and writing up my 13 main categories.
  • I wrote upwards of about 50,000 words. This included 40,000 words of findings, a couple of thousand on my method chapter, and several thousand words of memos.

And that’s it! I’m sure I’ve forgotten something, but that just could be my inner productivity ninja looking at this list and thinking it’s not enough to have done in a year… Hmm. Now there’s a thought pattern I need to change!

04 Dec

advertisers, you’re wasting your money

There is something ridiculous happening in my web browser.

I keep seeing ads for products I’ve already bought.

Like the ad for the Herschel Supply Co Novel Duffel in Apple that I’m seeing based on the fact I’ve looked at it on seven different sites. Visiting seven different sites means I’m interested enough to shop around for a good price. And guess what? If I’m pursuing it that hard, I’ve probably already bought it. Why not show me the matching wallet instead?

And that dress I’ve looked at on Asos 12 times? I’ve already bought that too. In fact odds are, if I’ve looked at a particular item more than once or twice, it’s already winging its way to my post box.

But you know how I’ve looked at 12 different belts in the last week, and never the same one twice? That’s an indication that I’m after a belt and I haven’t found one that suits. Show me some belts and I might just buy one.

It’s so simple, really. Analyse my online window shopping and show me related or complimentary items, and your advertising dollars will have some impact.

Because right now, you’re wasting your money with the duffel bag ad. And out of frustration (and a need to procrastinate about thesis writing) I am clicking all these ads for things I’ve already bought. I’m spending your advertising dollars, one frustrated click at a time. Muah-ha-ha!

02 Nov

are simple, happy and meaningful mutually exclusive?

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about how I wanted to stop glorifying busy and live a simple life. My Simple Life (with caps, because it’s very much an entity in my mind) vision is a very pretty picture. It looks like an isolated house with a view of green fields and sugar cane. It looks like contentment and calm and valuing people over possessions. It looks like creativity and financial freedom and (one day in the future) home schooling. I even know where this simple life should be situated – just south of the border, a little bit north of Byron Bay. I indulge in this simple life fantasy whenever I drive through this area, but I suspect that in my case, the Simple Life fantasy is very much full of fancy.

I have another simple life fantasy though. This one doesn’t get caps because it isn’t a mythologised, fanciful, indulgent and unattainable dream. This one looks like doing meaningful work, nurturing my family, achieving a ratio of work to life that sits well with me, being creatively fulfilled, investing in relationships, valuing people, being present, having time. While I might indulge my dream of the Simple Life, it is the simple life that I am invested in achieving.

A couple of week’s back, Penelope Trunk posted about happiness and meaningfulness, and suggested that the pursuit of happiness or (as one commenter suggested) contentment might lead to a life that isn’t meaningful. This post really resonated with me because it suggested that pursuing meaningfulness is not a simple thing, and that made me feel a lot better about this season I’m in. I’ve been thinking about the post and the way I responded to it quite a bit over the past few weeks.

In this post, Penelope Trunk argues that it’s not the happy or fun part of the day that matters (picking apples), but the serious interruption (saving the calf). She suggests that happiness isn’t memorable or valuable or rich in the way that making a difference is.

This is what resonated with me:

… Your real job, not necessarily the one you get paid for, is to find the opportunity to infuse meaning into your life by challenging yourself to give in a way that jeopardizes your happiness.

Look around for where you can make a big difference. It is likely a place that will shake you up…

Interestingly, I read this and interpreted it as validating this complex phase of my life, in which I am not all that happy. It’s okay that I’m shaken up and challenged right now, that things are messy, because I’m working on something that will make a difference.

Another interesting thing: subconsciously, I made a linkage between ‘happiness’ and ‘simple’, and another between ‘being shaken up’, ‘meaningfulness’ and ‘complexity’. This says more about my state of mind than it does about the blog post: I’m really craving simplicity and I’m reading it into everything.

As I’ve been sorting through this in my head, I’ve been thinking a lot about the way I subconsciously linked ‘simple’ and ‘happy’, and they way I put these linked-in-my-head ideas at the opposite end of the spectrum to ‘meaningful’.

Contentment and happiness are the hallmarks of the simple life – or they are for me, at least. Both my Simple Life and simple life visions are about being content with what I have, with my family life, with the moment I’m living in, with being present.

Being happy or content doesn’t preclude meaningfulness. Contentment isn’t just about passively accepting things as they are, or pursuing the quick happiness highs that come from picking apples. It is about feeling content with the choices you’ve made, the place you’re in, and the destination you have your sights on. I think you can be in a space of discomfort, where you’re being shaken up and doing something that matters, and still be happy.

In fact, I don’t think I could be happy if my life wasn’t full of meaningful work and I wasn’t making some kind of contribution to the lives of others. I become unhappy when I’m coasting. When a job or a project stop challenging me, I’m out. I find it really hard to stay motivated and keep pushing through, and this is usually when I start hunting through job ads.

Happiness and meaningfulness can co-exist. But more than that, I’m not sure one can exist without the other – at least not for me. I simply wouldn’t be happy if I wasn’t doing meaningful work or connecting with people in a meaningful way. And I think I’d find it difficult to live a meaningful life if there wasn’t some joy in the things that I was doing, even if that joy is sometimes tempered by uncertainty or ‘being shaken up’.

My simple life vision is a picture in which I am content and my life is full of meaning.

Simple, meaningful, happy. These are three words that describe the life I want to live. So no, I don’t think these terms are mutually exclusive. I think they are actually mutually dependent.