Life Musings – Studying and Social Media-ing

I just made it through a hectic week, and now, having come down with yet another cold, I am huddled on the couch with my hot water bottle and a lap top. Every so often one of the cats will jump up to headbutt me. Last week my daughter had three different performances – two school plays and a music school concert – so after driving her around to all her events, I’m pretty tired. Outside the sky is grey. It’s 12.4⁰C (54.3⁰ F), but with the wind chill it feels like 6⁰C (42.8⁰ F). September in Melbourne is the harbinger of springtime. The tulips are blooming in the front garden. The daffodils have already withered away. The wattle has dropped most of its pollen-heavy yellow flowers. The days alternate between warm and rainy. My favourite part of the shifting seasons is probably in the way the birdsong subtly changes. Blackbird songs seem to become more complex in their evening melodies. Magpies (Cracticus tibicen – we get the subspecies C. t. tyrannica in our state) and plovers (also called masked lapwings, Vanellus miles) become a little bit more terrifying – to be Australian is to have an instinctive flight response at the sound of magpie wings flapping during the early weeks of spring, and to shun any plover-inhabited areas. I love using the Museum Victoria app “Field Guide to Victorian Fauna” to help me identify the various bird songs.

I love Listening Earth’s recordings of Australian bird songs and wildlife. Here’s one of their recordings:

Here’s a recording I found of blackbird songs. As I listen to it now, my cats are aggressively seeking the location of this mystery bird singing from my computer.

Today I started an Open Universities Australia “Open2Study” short course, on the topic of Climate Change (#O2SClimChng on various social media). While these month-long courses do not result in any formal qualification, just a certificate of completion if you pass the assessments, they offer something of a sampler of the kinds of courses that can be taken at university level.

I already hold two university-level degrees, both from Monash University: Bachelor of Arts (Major: Sociology, Minor: Journalism, with some studies in Educational Psychology, Early Childhood Literacy, Teaching, Communications, Political Science, Australian Indigenous Studies, and European History), and a research-based Bachelor of Arts with Honours in Sociology (where I focused on feminist analyses of the interaction between human societies and some of the factors that affect climate change, particularly agriculture and food consumption patterns). This Open2Study course is also about climate change, but more as an introduction to the science behind climate change. So far, so good. Already having familiarity with the socio-political context of climate change action and the language used to describe climate, I have found the material so far to be quite accessible and understandable. At the same time, it highlights areas that tended to be out of the sociological discussions, namely the scientific mapping of carbon emissions, temperature fluctuations and population growth as it connects with energy usage.

It’s been a few years since I graduated and in the meantime real life got in the way of further study. I see this course as a low-risk way to reawaken my intellect and start taking seriously the possibility of continuing my studies. The next logical step would be to apply for a Master of Arts degree – my Honours marks were quite high, and even gained me entry into the Golden Key International Honour Society (which was a nice surprise), so I have the necessary foundation for further study. Unfortunately, I also have a bunch of complicating factors in my life that have rendered it so far impossible to return to university (parenthood-related activities, volunteering commitments cost, time, health issues), so a low-intensity short course is a way to keep my mind active until I can make a decision on whether or not to undertake higher postgraduate studies.

In other news, I ventured back onto the storm of continual outrage that is facebook. Having spent a number of months this year avoiding it, it had reached the point of impracticality to continue ignoring notification emails. It’s an assault on the senses to look at one’s newsfeed after several weeks away. I forget just how violent and angry the imagery and words are that people in my life tend to use. Often it’s entirely understandable. When confronted with the cruelty and violence of the world, it’s hard to not flood one’s newsfeed with one’s distress. But I often wonder if this outraged resharing of posts has a numbing effect. I know that for me to successfully negotiate social media without an anxiety attack, I have to try to close down my emotional responses. This is particularly problematic with facebook, where it seems that each week has its own flavour of anger. Most recently, it has been a horrifying refugee crisis. As my social media contacts span the full spectrum from very left wing to very right wing (to oversimplify the complex interactions they have with political ideas), it also means that these news items are conveyed in a huge range of ways. In the case of the current refugee issues, on my newsfeed it’s sparked everything from calls for compassion right through to racist and anti-Muslim sentiments. I find that I am less-and-less able to stomach such socially mediated decisions on right and wrong and I have to find something more solid and stable to stand on. For all my criticisms and cynicism towards the social and political structure that is organised Christianity, I do personally find that the teachings of Jesus himself (teachings on loving one’s enemies, being a peacemaker, caring for the poor and needy) seem to me to be a good standing ground, something solid under the tumult that is my social circles arguing their dichotomous views – as if an angry social media debate pedantically criticising another individual’s choice of words on a lengthy facebook thread ever effected positive and lasting change and transformation in a person. Maybe it has, in fact, enabled some people to progress to a broader point of view; but, in my own circles at least, it seems to more often leave individuals drawing defensive lines around their own ideological position.

And yet, I also know that in my own life, sometimes reading those debates has awakened me to the reality that my own perspective is limited. I read a piece on facebook just yesterday about the embedded racism in discourse surrounding male facial hair, and until I read it I had no idea that white men’s beards are often received as a bold fashion statement, whereas men of colour with beards in Western societies can become the targets of racist attacks, as written from the perspective of an ethnically-Pakistani Muslim man living in a Western culture. I had thus far been operating at the level that says clean shaven-ness is part of a cultural control over men’s physical reality (I can’t recall where I first picked up that idea, but I think it was on, of all places!), not to mention the economic beneficiaries of a system that assumes clean shaven is the equivalent of social acceptability, but I had never encountered the aspects of racial privilege and prejudice that exist around beards. So, it’s a rather sociologically geeky example, but sometimes social media is great at getting oneself to ponder others’ realities. Sometimes. More often than not it leaves me feeling a bit queasy at how vile and cruel humanity can be to fellow living beings.

There’s much more to say and more to write, but I had better get back to my studies (yay!).