A New Normal (again)

This morning I received an email asking if I knew how to find one Dr Roslyn Weaver. Well, yes, as a matter of fact; I’d just been chatting with her over Messenger a few hours earlier. Oh yes, and I saw her a bit over a week ago, right before she went on her honeymoon and then moved to the UK (again–she moved there several years ago, and then to Canada, but now she’s back in England with her freshly minted husband, who resides there). And so we’re back to the future, still on different continents and in different time zones, but it’s somehow also very familiar.

The author of the email is trying to get in touch with Ros to send a copy of a publication that in her words, has been a long time in the making. This was also apropos because we’d been commiserating over publications that have disappeared into thin air once all the work was done. Notably we once both wrote chapters for an edited collection on Glee that has never seen the light of day and now, twelve years in, we figure the content is pretty well out of date!

But, just 24 hours before the aforementioned email, I received another one, saying that a co-edited collection on which I’ve been working has passed peer review.

My chapter within it was first written nine years ago. Then in 2019 one of the other contributors reached out to ask if the publication had ever happened, and after some sleuthing and checking that the original publisher was no longer interested in the long (un)dead project, we decided to take it on ourselves.

This was my motivational screensaver for quite a time, there.

And so, just like that, I go from not having any research projects on the go, to really needing to prioritise reading and acting on the feedback and getting it back to the publisher in as timely a manner as is humanly possible.

To add to the timeline crunch, we have another (our last!) SAL period coming up and I’ve also been asked to “reduce my leave liability,” which means effectively heading to regional Victoria in a few weeks to hang out with one of my favourite adopted siblings and my faux-niblings, only this time I won’t have to log on remotely and work while I’m there.

And I also decided to take a small step towards something we’ve been planning since April of 2021. For the first time in my life, I’ve worked somewhere long enough (and not as a casual!) to qualify for Long Service Leave. I’d pretty much ignored that milestone for a couple of years, because COVID hasn’t been conducive to travel and we had our bonus unpaid three weeks each year to use up as well as annual leave. But, luck permitting, next Easter we will head Up Over for what I am officially calling baseball leave.

Anaheim,CA/Los Angeles. Oct 29 2016, The main entrance of Angel Stadium, a major league baseball team in Anaheim,CA.

Apparently it will be a new manager at the helm after the canning of Joe Madden overnight. It was only a matter of hours between me putting in the paperwork and his shock dismissal.

All I can think is, my boys Jared Walsh, Shoei Ohtani and Raisel Iglesias had better still be there in Season 2023.

Milestones

It’s been a busy few weeks.

Our SAL (Special Additional Leave) block overlapped with the NSW school holidays this year, so those of us still actively affiliated with the Uni (one as a student, one as staff) tacked on an extra couple of days in order to facilitate a border-crossing adventure.

Now, before you get too excited, it was just a domestic/internal border, but even that has been a challenge for the last couple of years.

So when we were trying to figure out the best way to get to Queensland to see my in-laws, and to celebrate our son’s 21st the same week, he came up with a solution: we’d all go to the Sunshine Coast to visit Nanna and Grandpa, and then we’d stop by Movie World on the way home to mark his milestone birthday.

Ever optimistic, we also planned a couple of fun stops on the way home, including a visit with my Aunt and Uncle and going to see The Phantom of the Opera on Sydney Harbour.

Just before all that kicked off, though, I spent my Saturday in Batemans Bay with our team at the launch of the Wattle Walk, a community art project to mark the beginnings of bushfire recovery; which has somewhat ironically been been delayed by another large scale disaster, Covid.

So on the Friday I went to the launch of the Southern Shoalhaven Country University Centre in Ulladulla, then headed to the bay to help plant 7000 woolen wattle branches, and then finally we headed North.

with Mayor Amanda Findley at CUC Southern Shoalhaven
Planting time

The Wattle Walk was a big hit locally. We ran craft workshops on Saturday, and were pleasantly surprised at how many people came out, despite the ongoing rainy weather we’ve been experiencing. The installation was actually extended by a week at the request of the Eurobodalla Regional Botanic Garden, who were finding they were getting lots of new visitors and lots of positive feedback.

Heading North was a bit of an old-school road trip, with two “kids” in the back, ie my son and his partner. My daughter and her partner joined us at the Sunshine Coast. We had a nice little reunion with The Scottish Grandparents, but unfortunately Nanna was carrying the coronavirus and was not yet aware. We had the most amazing accommodation at Twin Waters, with plenty of rooms and living areas, including a great covered area on the ground floor where we could host the mobility-challenged for our Good Friday lunch.

The resort pool was slightly warmer than the unit’s one, and also boasted a lovely view of one of the eponymous Twin Waters.

All the Colemen and Coleman-adjacent people

Blissfully unaware of the virus hiding in plain sight, we enjoyed the random Good Friday fireworks (theologically speaking, that’s not a day of celebration, organisers!) and the Easter bunny arrived with chocolates and dorky pyjamas for all.

Easter Sunday was largely spent in a car, most of us contorted with knees around ears in order to accommodate 6 people and luggage, after several iterations of the travel plan were changed and/or abandoned.

Our Gold Coast accommodation was laid out like a rabbit warren, which fitted our pjyama theme, and quite dirty, which was horrifying. But hey, it had lovely views, so I guess they catch a lot of people once. I actually wrote a review to this effect, but it seems to have mysteriously disappeared from the website. Go figure.

Rob had a pre-birthday dinner and cake to accommodate his sister’s flight on the evening of his actual birthday, which we topped off with a visit to Holey Moley.

We headed to Movie World as planned, and discovered that while the number of visitors was back to pre-pandemic levels, the number of operational rides and the staff on deck probably weren’t. Tony and I went into the 4D theatre and had lunch, and spent the rest of the day sitting on a park bench. The young people were in queues from park open to park close, and made it onto two rides.

By this time, however, Tony was starting to feel very ordinary indeed, so it was possibly a good time to be sitting quietly by ourselves.

Right after we arrived in Coffs Harbour–meant to be Step 1 of our leisurely journey home–Tony got a positive Covid result, joining his parents, 13 others on his mum’s ward, and his sister among those who’d got an unwanted Easter bonus. Our daughter and her partner would soon join those ranks.

We could only look on this from afar as we regrouped in our room and made sure not to have contact with anyone else.

So long story short, it was a long and unexciting trip home, after dismantling and cancelling all the fun activities. Followed by disinfecting every surface in the car (twice!) and a week of offering room service to the patient, who was confined to his bedroom.

The return to working on campus was equally eventful. Day 1 was setting up for Shoalhaven Graduation, Day 2 was Shoalhaven Graduation, and Day 4 involved traveling to Wollongong for the first on-campus and in-person graduation in over two years, where the student I supervised was awarded her PhD.

Dinner with the team

Special times, indeed.

O, Christmas Tree

I had a perfectly timely plan that centred around WordPress Wednesday and December 1 (traditional lights-on day) aligning this year.

But life got in the way, so welcome to Thursday, December 2.

At the moment I’m working 14 hour days because of HSC marking at night (and on Saturdays), so very little is getting done at home. This is not good because it’s Christmas lights time.

So on Monday, Miss Almost-23 and I both took a day’s leave and worked on decorating the house. Because it’s the most industrious time of the year.

According to my Facebook memories, her enthusiasm kicked in approximately eight years ago. In response to her sudden self-promotion to Head Elf, her brother apparently announced, “Now there’s two of them everything should get done faster, Dad!”

Now, I know some people have beautifully curated trees and decorative themes, and while this is something to which I’ve always aspired, in reality we’re a little bit closer to the “Christmas threw up on our house” end of the spectrum than I’d like.

This isn’t ours.
Nor is this.

And as much as I annually check out the Balsam Hill site and sigh over pre-lit flip trees, I just don’t feel, as a proud owner of a mortgage or two, that I can justify it quite yet.

Aforementioned Head Elf and the Spousal Unit, however, have both acted as the devil on my shoulder, telling me I need one. Child the Younger, who has thrown to the Grinch side of the family, tried to convince me to instead buy a very economical and pre-decorated one from the discount store where he works. The very concept baffles me, if I’m honest.

Then the Spousal Unit had a moment and told me that he likes “our” tree. I told him I was looking at an additional tree, not a replacement tree, and suddenly he was on board again.

(We have two living areas: a family room and a formal room. If that’s not a recipe for two trees, I don’t know what is!)

You see, the reason we can’t have a beautifully curated colour themed tree like the ones above is that our tree’s “theme” is pretty much the history of us. There are the decorations made by the kids when they were in preschool. Sure, I tuck them away at the back, but they are there. There’s even one that my son made in Science a bit later on.

This isn’t bad, all things considered.
It’s a Santa hat. With crystals on it. He grew the crystals. He was very excited.

There are the decorations made by my friend Jody and my late bonus-mother, Sue.

There are even the clay present tags my niece and nephew made several years back.

But mostly, there are the “special” decorations chosen each year to represent something that’s happened in our lives. The idea is that the kids will eventually take “their” decorations with them, but we don’t seem to be there yet. Possibly because they have a curated, colour-themed tree at the flat. In fact, they also have a matching garland after I stopped in at Bredbo on the way back from a conference two years ago and the lovely staff dutifully went searching for a white garland, which the Head Elf/Child the Elder had, up until then, found elusive.

Significant appreciation for that garland is required. It took effort.

Some of our special decorations date back a long time; others have come a long way. Courtesy of multiple trips to Disneyland, we’re heavy on the Disney decos. That Cheshire Cat was the best surprise though … the smile glows in the dark. Magic.

Each trip, I would ask the kids to pick a decoration. This ranged from the ridiculous (“Really? You want a plastic M and M guitar ornament as a memento of this trip?”) to the sublime (“Well, yes. I do think Baymax tangled up in Christmas lights is the coolest thing ever.”) to the downright dangerous (“Sure. If we wrap that huge, fine, spherical Jack Skellington bauble very, very carefully, we can get it home on the plane in one piece. Probably.”)

Other times, we’d pick something that represented their year: Jamie’s obsession with Cinderella, Robert’s with Angels baseball, Jamie’s “graduation” from high school.

And then there was the time when Rob and I travelled to the States for Ellyn’s wedding. In New York, he found a Minnie Mouse-as-Liberty decoration and asked, “Mum, do you think this would be a good gift for Jamie?”

Why, yes, Son. In fact, it’s perfect.

Speaking of Ellyn, she’s represented, too. Back when she and Jamie were concurrently undertaking dance lessons, I bought some absolutely heinous (in my opinion) pink, glitter, ballet slipper decorations. They both love pink. And glitter. And dance. One slipper hangs on our tree; the matching one was sent to El.

For her part, she sends us representative ones from her state.

Because that’s another thing: when I travel, I try to find a decoration. It started with my Vancouver lights bear. Ros was with me when I bought him, and has of course been on many conferences with me in various places so she knows about this little habit of mine. Which means I have a lot of bonus decorations from when she’s visited Christmas markets in far-flung places.

We also have some matching ones, from joint trips. Matching Texas stars, for example. And also these matching paua shell angels, a personal favourite. Picked up in an airport after believing that perhaps I had missed my chance to find something on that particular trip, and look at her. She’s beautiful.

There are a bunch of decorations from our family travels. We’re missing South Africa and Antarctica, but all the other continents are represented, which is not bad going from our little regional Australian outpost.

It’s pretty much the history of us and our family, both biological and the ones we’ve claimed. And family times – the positive kind! – is what Christmas is all about. And so, from our family to yours, and to quote one of Ellyn’s gifted decorations: Merry Christmas, Y’all.

WordPress Wednesday Rolls Around Again …

I’m exhausted, and the academic year hasn’t even started yet.

It’s about to, though. It’s Orientation Day at UOW-Shoalhaven. There is currently a queue of students waiting outside my door to have their photos taken and their student cards printed. It’s an exciting time for commencing students. And a time of great uncertainty in the Higher Ed sector, as we enter the second year of COVID-impact. We’re all trying not to dwell on that.

The welcome banners are out

So: positives. Last week I traveled to the campuses in Bega and Batemans Bay. It was my first trip in a year. All international and most domestic travel was cancelled for most of last year. and I struggled with being “benched.” It felt very “normal” to be down there again. I was able to talk with our staff face-to-face, which is a dynamic we all need sometimes. But in the evenings, I was all peopled out, and ordered room service and watched the tennis. I’m out of practice at this being social thing.

Corrigans Cove in Batemans Bay
COVID-safe option or not, Room Service will never not feel decadent.

For my night in Bega I even managed to crack open The Book and do some work on it. This was a case of multitasking, however, since I didn’t want to miss the tennis. Ash Barty crashed out of the women’s quarter finals while we were welcoming the students today, so I might be watching a lot less tennis over the next three or four days than I had thought.

The book is progressing nicely. More than half the chapters have been vetted and formatted and when printed out, it kind of looks like a book. I’m currently wrestling with things like Bibliographies and Notes on Contributors and all the other little bits and pieces it’s easy to forget but which take less dedicated blocks of time than trying to pen, say, an Introduction. Which may or may not be taking ten times longer than I anticipated. But I digress.

Game on, indeed.

Slightly Late Summer of Tennis

It’s a standing joke in my household that Summer is the best time of the year – not because of the weather, but because it’s when Mum is happiest. There are a couple of factors at work here: Christmas and tennis. Oh, and time off with the family, I guess.

My husband finds my delight at watching tennis to be particularly endearing, because he is mad for all sports and I am not. I’m usually the one in the background commentating on the stupidity of the commentators’ comments. Imagine the voice of Blackboard from Mr Squiggle coming out of someone who looks a bit like Mrs Doubtfire these days, and that’s pretty much the mise en scene for most of his sport-watching. Poor thing.

But I actually pay attention to the tennis.

This year, of course, the tennis was delayed and then there was a great deal of unpleasantness, especially in social media, about the international players. I was completely baffled by this, because the main arguments being put forward didn’t hold up to any kind of scrutiny whatsoever. Things I read included “they’re taking the places of Aussies who can’t come home” (they weren’t–they weren’t part of any quota, but were an additional negotiated number of chartered flights and in additional hotels, paid for by Tennis Australia. If anything, as Victorian Premier Dan Andrews pointed out at one stage, having the additional hotels set up and staff trained might allow a loosening of the quota by increasing overall capacity); “I hope they aren’t coming to Sydney” (that was pretty easy to Google, and literally all of the warm-up tournaments except the Adelaide exhibition were moved to Melbourne–and announced–months ago); “they should be tested before they come” (they were –and again on arrival–that’s how our system picked up the new positives. Because it was quite literally working as it should).

But my favourite was a gentleman on social media who decided to get into a stoush with me. His position was, that to make things “fair,” everyone should be quarantined and banned from training.

I pointed out that his suggested solution wouldn’t actually be fair, on a number of counts. First of all, points are accumulated across an entire year, not just a tournament, so people like Ash Barty who chose not to travel earlier in the year but who now have a home advantage and absolutely no need to quarantine, would be unfairly disadvantaged by being forced to quarantine for no apparent reason (on top of already missing two other majors). I can’t imagine how this person would react if he were told he had to self-isolate in hotel quarantine because someone in his company who worked at a different office did, and the company wanted to be “fair.”

On that note, can you imagine telling the likes of Serena Williams or Novak Djokovic that they needed to self-isolate in Adelaide because people on a flight to Melbourne did? I would pay good money to be a fly on the wall for those conversations.

Speaking of Djokovic, he copped a beating in the media for his “entitlement” and “list of demands” to Tennis Australia’s Craig Tiley.

Dude is the Union rep. Taking a list of players’ concerns to their employer. Like many unions reps do, but generally without making the front page.

But to finish the story of the internet troll, I also politely pointed out that elite sportspeople require training and match fitness to avoid injury, so trying to put everyone in a position where they can’t train to be at their best actually isn’t all that “fair” because it puts the overall tournament at risk. Put simply, you need two players per singles match. If you have, say, twice as many athletes pulling out as you usually do, you quickly run the risk of not having two players in each match and therefore eventually being unable to complete all rounds of the tournament. Especially since the number of international players who are here and able to compete is both finite and smaller than usual. There aren’t twenty “journeyman” players hanging around and hoping for a Wild Card or a Lucky Losers’ place. They aren’t even in the country.

He told me that was exactly why he said they should all be banned from training. To increase the number of injuries and the number of forfeited matches is, in his mind, the best, fairest and indeed only course of action.

He then very helpfully told me what I had said, using caps lock, which was odd, because I in fact knew exactly what I had carefully explained. And even if I’d been unsure, I could have just scrolled up, and there it was in black and white! And then he told me I was making an argument that was “academic,” which I gather he thought was an insult. As an actual academic who has coached hundreds if not thousands of students in academic writing, I kind of assume that means my argument was cogent and well-structured.

At that point I stopped replying, but he continued to argue against no one in particular.

Anyway, the Great Tennis Quarantine of 2021 is now over and as of last Friday night, tennis is being played again and most trolls have presumably gone back to offering armchair commentary on other things. Friday night was great. Unfortunately the entire Australian summer of tennis being effectively a whole month late means that this pesky enterprise of holding down a job–and a job that also involves lots of business dinners at this time of year–is interfering with my ability to park myself in front of the telly day and night.

Next week the Open starts and it coincides with my first campus travel in a year. My travels down the coast–which involve every working parent’s dream of staying alone in a motel room–often mean that I get lots of writing done in the evenings. It will be interesting to see the ultimate balance between writing and tennis-watching this time.

Given that I’m back to putting in long Saturdays on writing projects, however, I’m going to try to be OK with whatever that balance works out to be.

2020-The Extended Remix

Happy New Year! I know we were all hoping for a magical reboot come midnight New Year’s Eve, but thus far I have to say that with new COVID surges (and strains) and recent political events in the United States, 2021 feels kinda 2020 2.0. I don’t think I’ve been this disappointed since that time Vegemite tried to change Vegemite.

2021 in a jar

Now, I know I’m not American so I don’t get a horse in this race, but I have an American daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren, so I’ve been there are lot and I care a lot. Also, Washington is the one of my favourite places in the world. I supposed Tokyo was the first city I really fell in love with, when I was there on exchange, but Washington was the first one where I didn’t have connections or reasons for being there but just went because I thought it might be interesting, and then fell head over heels in love with it and rang my husband to announce that I wanted to live there. I even signed up to a website that sends alerts about Washington-based academic jobs. I dragged my daughter and her very bored then-partner all around the Georgetown campus, just so we could walk around it and see it. I marvelled over the architecture of the Capitol and the White House, got lost in the Newseum, grinned like an idiot when we stumbled across the J Edgar Hoover building, and teared up at the Lincoln Memorial. I loved it so much when my son and I visited in September 2016, that I insisted on going back with my daughter in November 2017.

So I was devastated by the news footage coming out of that city last week.

I don’t want to dwell on this, for the sake of the remnants of my sanity, but I had hoped that 2021 would see a return to normality and the possibility of once again travelling “up over.” It’s looking quite unlikely at the moment.

In the meantime, we appear to have a front row seat to a couple of events that are likely to make it into our grandchildren’s history books.

On Not Travelling

**Content warning: Suicidality, bushfires

Today was the worst Coronavirus day on record in Victoria. Again. The NSW Premier announced tougher border restrictions (anyone coming in from Vic now has to go into supervised hotel quarantine at their own expense), and the QLD Premier announced tougher border restrictions heading North, as well. Apparently the whole of NSW is now a “hot spot.” Which is kind of darkly humorous, because while places like Bunnings and Maccas are masking up, the State government is still taking a “meh … if you feel like it … you can” approach to face coverings.

Now, I had no intentions of taking a wee trip at all, but with one best mate in Vancouver, two in Vic, and one in Tassie, as well as elderly and frequently hospitalised in-laws in Queensland, the thought of not being able to pull some cash from the Emergency Fund and get myself to a place of usefulness should I need to, is not at all pleasant.

Apart from not physically being able to travel, I’m also “not travelling well” at the moment. This morning we had a very long meeting of all the folks who have been awarded Global Challenges funding relating the the rolling crises on the South Coast, and began to figure out how the researchers and regional campuses will work together on these projects. Now, this is generally a very good thing, and it’s very exciting to hear people who really care trying to make a positive difference to our people and communities. But lots of talk about being careful not to re-traumatise community members impacted by the bushfires can be a little re-traumatising in and of itself, if you were in fact one of the community members impacted.

This coalesced with a couple of other thing with which I sometimes struggle- and here’s where the content warning really kicks in, so if you need to protect yourself, please do a better job than I unwittingly have the last few days.

So a while back I got a revise and resubmit on a pop culture/disability paper where I got “Reviewer 2ed”–and one of their criticisms was that I argued that multi-(mental illness) diagnosis households are rare onscreen. And so they cited Please Like Me as also having one. So I dutifully over-compensated and watched the series in its entirety. And it does, for quite a small fraction of time, have two housemates who met as in-patients in a private facility. Rose is played by Debra Lawrance (known to many Australians as the second Pippa from Home and Away) and Netflix breakout star Hannah Gadsby plays her roomie, also named Hannah. And (Spoiler Alert – in case you’re like me and haven’t yet seen it, and are, like me, silly enough to watch it without first Googling it) despite the character of Rose having multiple suicide attempts as a major part of her narrative, I was blindsided when her son found her body in one of the very final episodes.

I watched it yesterday.

Suicide onscreen upsets me enormously and my family are all very aware of how much it unsettles me, and why. They are also aware that I am more sensitive at two distinct times of the year: around Australia Day, and right around now. And sometimes we forget why I’m grumpy and unsettled and then look at the calendar and realise. You see, today would have been my better-than-best friend’s 48th birthday, and he died at his own hand in late January when we were both 23.

The “better than best” is an old in-joke of ours. It started when I went to Japan on student exchange, back in 1990. You see, I’m so old that back when I went on student exchange, we had to communicate by mail. And people who’d been through the experience before us would always warn that you’d have a very special letter-writing friend, and it wouldn’t be your “best” friend. And so it was that my “best” friend wrote like twice the whole year I was away, but this very quiet guy who used to hang with our group sometimes and whom I sat next to in roll call, surprised and delighted me by writing hilarious and detailed letters at least once a fortnight. I still have them. His name was Jamie, and he’s the reason our daughter is named Jamie.

I still miss him terribly, and I worry about sharing the story. I try to be careful to only tell my bit, and not encroach on the grief of his family (who have been absolutely wonderful to both our Jamie and her brother alike). But today, as always, he is very much loved and remembered. And I’m going to try show myself some kindness and compassion over the next day or two — the way he did.

It’s A Small World

One of the first signs that things were bad on the COVID-front, for me, was the news that Disneyland was closing. And it has now been closed for months.

I’ve written before about how I love Disneyland, despite an awareness of how Disney changes/whitewashes history, as well as significant discomfort with unreconstructed gender roles in the Princess films (although there does seem to be some progress in more recent iterations). My current visit count is Tokyo Disneyland (twice), Paris Disneyland, Disneyland Resort/California Adventure (five times, I think?) and Disney World. During various trips to the US and Canada, I’ve learned that I can cope with jetlag relatively well if I land on the West Coast, but if I head straight over to the East Coast, my body just can’t cope. At all. So my last couple of trips, we’ve flown to LA and stayed in Anaheim a few days to recover before heading off to see our family on the other side of the country.

A quick explainer about how I have family in the US: about a million years ago when I was a teenager, I went on student exchange to Japan through an organisation called AFS (hence the first Tokyo Disney trip – number one on my Disney Bingo card). Then when my kids were little (as in infants/toddlers), I got re-involved in the organisation as a way to meet people in my new home of Nowra. And on three separate occasions, I was asked to support some incoming students. The first of these was my daughter Ellyn. I didn’t see Ellyn again until we went to the US on a dance trip. She flew across the country to see us, and must have decided we were OK, because she came out to visit and stayed with us not long afterwards.

Reunited. One of my all-time favourite photos, I have this one hanging on a wall in our home.
The days before Zoom – ten years ago, possibly to the day if Facebook memories are to be believed.

The last couple of trips where I enacted the Anaheim plan were with my son to see Ellyn marry David, and later, with my daughter to meet their daughter, Emma. I had hoped to get over there this year to meet her newest addition, wee Carter, but that has been delayed indefinitely.

One of the coolest of the many cool things about Ellyn is that she comes as part of a package deal with her large and loving family. We’ve hung out with her parents, siblings, in-laws and niblings in various locales across the States. Her sister-in-law, Erynn, and I used to joke that the universe might implode if we were ever in the same place, because we share so many interests (I am happy to report that it did not). She’s interested in popular culture and special education, so has actually read a lot of my stuff. Voluntarily.

So when Erynn put out the call via social media for some help to keep the Disney magic alive, of course I offered to assist.

The network of global parks has meant that for a great many years, the most famous earworm of them all, Small World, has played somewhere every hour of every day. So with the parks closed, we decided a network of people playing it in their homes would just have to do, for now. I picked a time that was early evening here, to save our Stateside folks from being up at a most inhumane hour.

Every night during the evening news, my phone plays the song.

Suffice to say, my family are very much looking forward to the parks’ scheduled reopenings over the next week or two.

Small World DLR Xmas Overlay, November 2017

#isolyf

Like the thug life, the iso life chooses you.

Strictly speaking, I’m not in isolation, and I’m certainly not in quarantine. I am, however, practising social distancing. Extreme social distancing, in fact. Since March 20, I’ve left the house just three times: to go to the chemist and top up the petrol tank; to mail some employment contracts to the HR department; and then last Saturday I went to the University campus when I knew no one would be there, so that I could print a long document I needed to edit.

You’ll hear more about that long document in due course, probably over at our Shapeshifters blog.

MH cover
Here’s a pretty big clue as to what Ros & I are editing … now available for preorder!

I’ll probably make a similar sneak trip sometime in the next couple of days, because I have another long document to read and critique: my PhD student’s complete draft. These are good tasks for long days spent sitting at your dining room table, and provide a welcome alternative to seemingly endless Zoom and Webex meetings.

My other big academic task is watching The Originals and later, Legacies, for another book project that’s a bit further behind in the queue. I’ve been trying to watch and take notes on episodes as my almost-last-task of the day, when my brain is sluggish but I’m not quite ready to start packing up/getting ready for the next day.

theoriginals
Another supernatural show with one token human.

The problem with this approach, of course, is that it would take me until July to even get up to Legacies. So I’ll be spending some of my weekends trying to turbo-charge these efforts.

As I write this, the Prime Minister is giving a speech about COVID-19 and its impact. Already this morning, the state premier has given a presser. It’s only a little after 10am. No wonder we are all exhausted. This feels like the daily updates during the bushfire crisis–which was, after all, only a couple of months ago. Students who lost everything in January are now transitioning to an online study environment, virtually overnight.

It’s tough.

There are other, less obvious ways in which university life is being impacted. Students are not able to lie on the lawn and plan the kinds of social activities that we all think of being pretty representative of that season of life. And then there are the really big milestones in the academic lives of some students. Graduations postponed, indefinitely, for one. And the international experiences are missing, almost in their entirety. Most of our expected international students are not here. And our own, who had planned to be studying overseas, are not.

My daughter was supposed to go on exchange this semester. Her high school bestie and she were both heading to Liverpool. I was well advanced in my plotting of potential leave dates so that we could go and visit her over Easter, and indulge in our greatest Beatles-fan fantasies.

Strawberry_Fields_History_from_1800's_to_Today

She couldn’t get credit for some of her subjects, so it would have extended her degree. And despite my protests that six months or even a year was very little in the course of a lifetime, especially when compared with traipsing around Europe with a dear friend, she withdrew.

I am a huge advocate of student exchange, having been both an exchange student to Japan in senior high school, and having done a short stay as part of my own university studies. One of my isolation tasks has been cleaning up and renovating the spare bedroom, which unearthed my long-forgotten travel diary and even photos from the latter trip. I’ve also been a support mum to incoming students, leading to our South American adventures last year, and multiple trips to the USA, usually in April, which is causing some bittersweet Facebook memories right about now. Jamie is herself no stranger to the benefits, having already completed a high school program to Italy and a short program in Argentina as part of her university studies last year.

It has only been in the last three weeks or so that I have thanked all that is good and shiny that she made what I had first deemed to be a bad call. My anxiety would have been in overdrive.

Her lovely friend Sky still went. Sky was recalled by our University a little over fourteen days ago. She had planned to spend her 21st birthday in Paris. Instead, she spent it quarantined; isolated even from her family, confined to her bedroom in Wollongong, with her family picnicking in the hall, and her friends video-calling her.

You can read Sky’s story, in her own words, here.

brisky
Hard to separate since Year 10 … Brianna, our Jamie, and Sky.

‘Tis the Season

As we near the end of the year, people often cheerfully ask me if things are winding down. In truth, I am not sure I’ve ever been more wound up!

Last week we had Graduation celebrations for our students in the Southern Highlands, Batemans Bay and Bega. And because the week wasn’t busy enough, Shoalhaven hosted a two-day event for Indigenous students. And, just to add to the degree of difficulty, the massive Currowan fire between the Shoalhaven and Batemans Bay closed pretty much every road into the area, and put celebrations in jeopardy.

Image result for currowan fire image
Not the best driving conditions for graduands or staff …

The week started off in Moss Vale, which was pretty smokey, as you can see in the pictures.

with Ros

The guest speaker who gave the Occasional Address was none other than my friend and long-time collaborator, Dr Roslyn Weaver. Ros’ parents still live in Moss Vale and we all have a lovely catch-up when she makes her annual pilgrimage home each December. She’s currently using her research and writing skills while working in Vancouver. A UOW alumn and former tutor at the campus, she was a great choice to congratulate the students and inspire them that the skills and confidence acquired during their studies are very transferable. There is one graduate, however, we don’t want to go anywhere any time soon! Erin Acton is our Admin Assistant at UOW-Southern Highlands, who graduated with her BA.

with Sammi and Erin
With Regional Outreach Officer Sammi, and Erin. We did not consciously co-ordinate; we are just that sympatico. #teamregional

I then spent two days with Indigenous students from the Shoalhaven. They undertook art and dance classes on campus, and then we all went on a Bush Tucker walk at Booderee the next day. I learned so much on that one hour walk!

Graduations at Bega and Batemans Bay also went off without a hitch. We even made front page news in Bega!

For at least a week beforehand, there were many urgent communiques about whether or not the celebrations in Batemans Bay might not be able to proceed. We created Plans B & C, which we thankfully didn’t need. In true enterprising regional style, however, I later discovered that the eight graduands who live north of the Princes Highway closure had developed their own Plan B, costing out a charter boat!

skipper
What could go wrong?

 

 

Since then, I have pretty much been in recovery mode, frantically trying to finish off a whole bunch of work stuff before I start my annual leave this afternoon. We have had HSC results and ATARs released; we are waiting on information about some very cool incentives to study at regional campuses–watch this space if you are thinking about studying at UOW-Shoalhaven, UOW-Southern Highlands, UOW-Bega or UOW-Batemans Bay from next year–there are some new scholarships in the pipeline. We had two finalists in the University’s Pod Decorating competition, an Info night at Shoalhaven Campus, and there are more info sessions and drop-in days to come.

bushfire sun
Bushfire sunset over UOW-Shoalhaven Info night.

Away from work, things are also busy. In addition to the usual festive activities and ever-increasing to-do lists that abound at this time of year, our eldest is turning 21 on December 21. We are in the middle of a record-breaking heatwave and half the country is on fire, so we’ve been hastily shifting her vision of a cute outdoor grazing platter and glasses of Pimms to something which still has those elements but hopefully without our guests contracting heatstroke and salmonella. (This may also feature lots of Zooper Doopers).

Jamie
CanĀ  confirm she will be looking way more glamorous than me on Saturday … Zooper Doopers notwithstanding.

So from our regional team and my regional family, our very best wishes to you and yours for the holiday season. Stay safe, stay hydrated, and most of all:

festive-black-banner-merry-christmas-greetings-vector-16840710