education

NaNoWriMo Journal 2015: 17

Friday, 27 November 2015

It’s time to panic! I’m learning to associate my US-based friends’ social media posts about Thanksgiving (both for and against the occasion) with end-of-nano panic. We don’t have a Thanksgiving. I guess our similar holiday is Australia Day in January, which usually marks the end of the summer holidays, and sparks debate about the abhorrent treatment of Indigenous Australians by English invaders, versus calls to just shut up and enjoy walking around in Southern Cross-emblazoned paraphernalia. Though there were attempts by Christian political lobby groups in Australia to start a day of national thanksgiving and prayer. I’m not sure if that ever really gained much traction outside of evangelical circles.

I entered my story text so far into the word count validator and lost 578 words from my story. There’s a huge discrepancy between the word count statistics in Microsoft Word on my lap top, Scrivener on my PC, and NaNoWriMo’s official counter. As my winning or losing is determined by the Nano website’s official counter, I have to re-calibrate my Scrivener aims according to my best guess of Nano’s difference. (Nano usually seems to subtract roughly 70 words from my scrivener account.)

I have today and Monday left available to me to write. Saturday and Sunday this weekend are going to be so busy that I will likely not have any time. People keep saying, “Surely you’ll find time on the weekend, if you’re motivated enough.” Those people clearly aren’t stay-at-home mothers morphing into hair and makeup artists for their daughter’s two ballet concerts over two days and a separate full dress rehearsal in a suburb about half an hour away. At literally exactly the same time my son has a bunch of commitments – namely a birthday party and a church end-of-year celebration for the department in which he volunteers – so that I have the interesting dilemma of needing to be in two physically disparate locations at exactly the same time. If I were the main character in my NaNoWriMo story I may have that ability. But for now my real life is looking a lot like that logic puzzle where the boatman has to carry a wolf, a goat and a cabbage across a river without leaving them alone in a predator/prey situation.

It’s hard to focus on my story. I’ve had so many social interactions over the last two weeks that my introvert levels of exhaustion are very high. I love catching up with friends. I had no time to write yesterday, either, as I was out for a coffee (which was positive, so don’t get me wrong there, I appreciate friends who drag me out once in a while to talk about the deep stuff of life). At the same time I realise that because so many of us are asking really hard questions about life, faith, our collective dissatisfaction with controlling religious leaders in our lives, and fears of some that if they don’t get out soon they might one day find that they’d given their life, money and allegiance to a cult. Who knows? These are important questions and I think everyone needs to face them at some point in their faith journeys, but my impulse now is to start dialoguing on spiritual abuse forums to learn the warning signs from those who’ve already been there, when what I really, really need to do is to write almost 10,000 words within the next eight hours, get Nano done, so I can recover, and maybe even have some time to start confronting that most Wonderful Stressful Time of the Year, Christmas.

I have come down with yet another severe cold, which includes a really painful headache. My head is pounding as I type and my sinuses are beyond blocked. If I keep clenching my teeth I’m going to have to put in my mouthguard. The coffee grinder broke so I’m now reduced to using a mechanical hand grinder that makes me feel like I’m playing hurdy gurdy (which is okay, I guess, because I just imagine that I am like Anna Murphy the singer and hurdy gurdist in this song… Why yes, she is singing in Ancient Gaulish).

My story is at that disjointed stage where I’m just throwing in any scenes I can imagine. I’m not even bothering to connect them. I can do that later if I need to pad out the story. I look forward to getting this first draft completed so I can excise all its crumminess and get to the good stuff. A lot of people have requested to read my story and I massively appreciate the enthusiasm, but the reality is that I’m writing this first draft for me and my eyes alone. I don’t have the cognitive freedom to write it as creatively as I need if I’m spending the whole time worried that someone else might read it and see how terrible it is – it is in no way representative of the best of my writing. However, on a second draft edit it might manage to make the grade where I’ll look at possibly providing copies to my in-real-life friends (the ones that are sympathetic enough to understand that I’m really just developing my writing craft and that I don’t have the luxury of editors).

I’m looking forward to finishing Nano, and getting back into painting and drawing. December is always a hectic time of year. I can’t believe it’s almost upon us, and that my kids are finishing their first year at new schools (last Nano season I wrote a bit about why we left their previous school and home schooled during 2014, see here). Changing them to nonreligious schools has proven a fantastic choice for them and I’m just so glad that it’s mostly gone well for them. There were lots of hiccups along the way and new social dynamics to negotiate, but I can say with a lot of relief that neither of them has been bullied or beaten-up. Nor have the warnings of their previous school’s principal proven correct in any sense when he said, when we left, that non-Christian, government-based schooling was a factory of atheism that would force our children to give up on their faith. On the contrary, my kids have grown more confident in the knowledge that they choose to self-identify as Christians, while learning that their classmates come from myriad religious belief systems to which they are devoted at varying degrees of intensity (my kids now count Muslims, Sikh, Mormons, Catholics, Agnostics and Atheists from a huge range of ethnic backgrounds among their schoolmates). I realise just how more reflective it is of real social life in Australia. It’s so multicultural here in Melbourne that you either learn how to navigate the varied landscape of religious and philosophical worldviews – or put up the blinkers and pretend that everyone who isn’t exactly like yourself is “bad.” I love that just by changing schools the kids have been able to learn that “others” are more like us than they are different, and that differences aren’t bad, they’re what makes life interesting.

Anyway, enough progressive proselytising, it’s time to go back to my story… which, like my previous paragraph, seems to be morphing into a bit of a commentary on how we marginalise people because of external differences. In my story the bird-people were historically being jerks to the lizard-people but now the bird-people are starting to confront their deeply-embedded prejudices and realise that all the peoples must unite if there’s ever to be a restored pathway to travel between the inhabitable planets in their solar system… how my story went in that direction I’m really not sure. It’s going way off the original plot plans, that’s for sure.

Current word count: 41,144 / 50,000 words

Today’s writing soundtrack: a compilation of Native American shamanic music. I’m not sure I even like it. I’m also not sure how it ended up on my youtube suggestions, but there it is. I might switch to Gregorian chants soon. The birds singing out in the garden blend seamlessly into the music.

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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 flickr.com, 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!).