Archive for the ‘Writing & not writing’ Category

A story about interruptions at work and all-too-familiar writing issues

Today is one of those days where all I can see are problems with my writing. Maybe I’m just grumpy?

Yesterday, at work (an accommodation service), I snapped at someone and then got told off for talking when I was not the one being spoken to. The case workers have been given tablets to use, but they do not know how to work them and prefer using the desktop computers. Their team leader has decided they have the primary right to use the support worker’s (my position’s) computer, which means we cannot check what tasks have been scheduled for us or do our notes. It is ridiculous and, as we cannot check if there are any alerts or concerns, rather irresponsible. Anyway, I quickly jumped on the computer when the case worker was going on a break. Just as we changed spots (and she kept complaining to me about the milk situation or something else to do with making coffee while I just got on with what I was doing), her team leader came in and said to her, ‘Oh! Don’t you need the computer?’ It was implied I had manipulated the case worker off the computer. To be honest, the computer would have been completely useless to her if I hadn’t kept helping her as she just kept sitting in front of it complaining she did not know how to do things. I interrupted with, ‘She’s going on a break and said I could use it.’ ‘Shh! I’m not talking to you.’ I was told. The team leader did apologise later, and I said I did know I interrupted.

To be honest, I was fuming that I was the one who was told off for talking over someone. The day before I had been in a mad rush trying to sort out really important paper work and appointments with a resident, but ended up in this surreal situation. It felt like a strange dream.
I keep getting called from the hallway to help the case worker because she cannot open the child locks in the kitchen to make herself a cup of coffee. She finally bothers to walk close enough to talk to me and, instead of seeing I am busy, continues to interrupt. The cupboards have child locks on them that cannot be seen from the outside, and so I told her I was busy but the magnets and the instructions are on the fridge (I made instructions with photographs to help people like me;) ). Instead of going to look for them, she protests that they are not and continues protesting while I try to ignore her. But it’s too hard to concentrate. While I am helping her, the resident receives a phone call and finds out we have to go to different locations to what we thought. So, suddenly we are running late and my carefully planned route through the madness that is this unfamiliar area is rendered useless. I ask the case worker, who is now back at the computer complaining about the milk, if I can quickly look up the location. She whines that she cannot remember how to use the internet on that computer. I show her the internet browser but, instead of her just letting me check the street address and location while she was logged in (and sitting there), I am stopped as soon as she remembers that is how you get on the internet. She says she’ll log out later for me. I just have to hope my mobile phone (as there is no work phone for the support workers) will provide the answers as we go.
It was not a dream. The other women (the residents) found it amusing that there was this adult woman, who was simultaneously in charge and completely helpless, passed her morning calling for me through the hallways and out the back door. I could even hear my name penetrating the front door while I was in the driveway fitting a baby seat. In this job, only once have I had somebody calling my name through the corridors when they could not see me, and it was a child trying to give back a pen (and she even promptly apologised on realising I had been in another room).
I am so grateful I am not as helpless as this woman. Some weeks might I might not make much thesis progress, and there are times when I interrupt my superiors when they are talking to somebody else, but at least I can think about something other than milk for my coffee.
There are lots of things that I can think about, but I suppose my readers might feel a little like we did listening to the case worker crying out about her coffee. The all-too-familiar issues: filtering words; directing attention; and answering the question, ‘Why does this matter now?’

Reading junk on the internet


My open browser tabs include searching for current Australian protocols on media reporting of suicide and a BuzzFeed article on #ActivistPickUpLines. Maybe I am drifting back to reading junk on the internet?

Hard copies


Hard copies are sort of inconvenient. IMG_2007You cannot have them all with you at all times and, as interesting as it is to look though an index, a full text search is usually more useful. However, their materiality and lack of full-text-searchability can also be a useful ordering mechanism. I also like how recalling the physical appearance of a book can help me remember its content (or even just its author and title).

Maybe if I bring the right pile of books to rest in front of my computer this chapter will come together?

Categorising archipolitics, parapolitics and metapolitics


Last year (or maybe the year before) I decided to work more closely through the archipolitics, parapolitics and metapolitics distinction. Jacques Rancière uses these labels to mark out what is not actually politics. Archipolitics is most clearly illustrated by the rule of experts (e.g. Plato’s ideal community), parapolitics by institutions and metapolitics by theory (e.g. Marx). Each of these are not politics because they do away with disagreement.

This recent post by Bert Oliver uses this distinction, and brings in work by Slavoj Žižek, to analyse current ‘world politics’. I really like the post and it is always inspiring to see that this ‘conceptual stuff’ can be turned towards unpacking current happenings, even in brief pieces of text.

Oliver brings in Žižek to discuss ultra-politics. To me, this appears to be Carl Schmitt’s friend-enemy distinction. In other words, this analysis could also be offered with the work of Chantal Mouffe.

I have not used ‘ultra-politics’ in my work. I simply use Rancière’s concept of ‘the partition of the sensible’. I suppose there is always a supplement.

Don’t explain: Confront


‘The demand, in The Ignorant Schoolmaster, that intellect manifest itself in the confrontation between the will of the student and that of the ignorant schoolmaster posits community as a polemical encounter: in other words, what binds the schoolmaster to the student is not a common set of values, interests or sensibilities to be achieved by the student in some future, but confrontation between what is common, and over what is common. If one were to define a gaming community in this light, one might look to interactions in terms of ongoing confrontations over what a game is and is not, what it is to play and not play, what is it to be a fan and who can claim to be one, and so on — not with a view to checking their validity or the display of pre-existing social power, but in terms of confrontations or disagreements about what constitutes the community. If such confrontations are explained in terms of different levels of experience, what becomes perceptible is not disagreement but inequality: the incapacity of most community members to know as much as its porous leadership, and the good news that they are slowly catching up as a result of appropriate scaffolding. This perspective turns confrontation over what knowledge consists of, and the basis on which one can claim to have it, into temporal trajectories stretching from incapacity to capacity — a move which makes innocent the organization of community into a core and periphery, and which transforms disagreement over the object of knowledge into a call for those with more experience to enlighten those with yet-to-be-developed intellect.’ (Pelletier 2012: 109-110 )

Why post this today? Well, no ‘good’ reason. I suppose sometimes going through my notes to find a reference is more than a little inspiring.

Pelletier, C., 2012. No time or place for universal teaching: The Ignorant Schoolmaster and contemporary work on pedegogy. In J.-P. Deranty & A. Ross, eds. Jacques Rancière and the contemporary scene: The philosophy of radical equality. London & New York: Continuum International Publishing, pp. 98–115.

A partial list of resources on getting writing-work done


The past few days, I have had lots of conversations with a friend about approaches to getting writing-work done. How many bits and pieces I have stumbled across on this topic!

I am always surprised when I find an Australian-University PhD candidate who has not come across Inger Mewburn (aka The Thesis Whisperer). Her blog is great for finding new strategies and tools to try. She is a proponent of pomedoro, and  think her blog is where I first encountered Scrivener. There’s also a recent post on Mendeley*. It is a great site to visit when you want to feel less alone, whatever your student related angst of the moment happens to be.

There is a lot of formal work on this topic. Various writers have left instructions (I always find Henry Miller’s 11 Commandments particularly memorable). Biographies have also been turned towards thinking about how to keep working (e.g. Damon Young’s (2008) book, Distraction).

I think that to just remember that there is a program called ‘Write or Die‘ (some prefer Written? Kitten!) or that somebody has made a career out of PhD comics can be a good check on expectations. After all, the job of writing up a PhD is often tough. Plus, there is so much meta-commentary to get distracted by.

*My favourite tools are Mendeley and Scrivener.

Wherever [and whenever] I look at my words, that’s my office


Working in the backyard of anotherI have had a semi-nomadic month. I have been back and forth from my current home. Time has been taken up with airports, conversations and packing/repacking. I have also benefited from the investment of time by others as beds have been made, meals prepared and coffee machines restocked with beans for me.

By some minor miracle (and at the cost of my failure to catch up with many people I would have loved to sit around and chat with), I have gotten some work done. Perhaps was because I benefited from a supervision meeting at the start of December? (First meeting with both my current supervisors ever!) The conversation in the meeting was very useful because some concerns I need to respond to were identified and some other concerns I had were dismissed. Also, this meeting upturned my work plan. I have a much larger body of work to get done before the next deadline than I had anticipated. I either get stuff done this month or everything will be sacrificed in the first two weeks of January: sleep, exercise and the sense of achieving a goal.

I do find that constraints are useful for getting work done when (and perhaps only when) I know what I want to get done. The constraints that come with addressing comments from others and meeting a deadline are probably useful now because I have an idea as to what I plan to say. The constraints that come with living out of a bag, in spaces that are the domain of others and with a schedule that is not my own are useful for focusing on what I know I need to do in those moments of time I do control.

It probably helps that the people and some of the workspaces have been familiar. Summer and sunshine always make life feel easier too. But, most significantly, I am willing to prioritise hitting this deadline over enjoying time with other people.

I might be all over the place (and have lost my copy of Fassin (2013) Enforcing Order along the way), but I have the grounding of a goal. This is a nice place to be.

Conceptual configurations for unlikely conclusions


I have been re-planning the two chapters that make up the part of my dissertation that is supposed to deal with subjectivization/politics. While my drafting is always heavily controlled by [that is, bogged down in] my empirical material, it is all configured by a very particular conceptualisation of the world (and ethnographic research). After seven dot points in a row that were not examples, I found myself ready to draw a conclusion: I am offering an apologia for nepotism.

I probably shouldn't even let this handwriting out in public.

I probably shouldn’t even let this handwriting out in public.

Of course, I am not going to write in praise of nepotism (and not just because I will never finish writing anything).  I do care about the suffering that results when standards of fairness do not exist (even though I am working on critical analyses of the notions of care and fairness). However, do I think existing relationships with people are not a bad way to be exposed to different knowledge. This is particularly the case as my attention to people and ideas is never truly assigned on a qualification-free basis.

My ironic reflection, as a way to return to meta-commentary on writing, is that I not only came to that point in a series of dot points free from the names of particular people and groups from field work but I did so on a day where I have only had a few incidental (and non-thesis-related) conversations with people.

Tired/In the world with other people


Yesterday morning, I took some time out to draft a post about fatigue. December has come with a lot of time around other people. It has been enjoyable. But there is also much sadness, with a couple of deaths bringing a sense of loss.

My draft post included the following reflections.

How wonderful it is to share in the ups and downs of rather unremarkable happenings. Gratitude for the people I know swells many times a day. I do like to chat. I really love to listen and hear. Getting swept away in the busyness of social activities is a lovely break from charting my own way through the day. It is the presence [and impression] of others that populate my reflections and observations. (Perhaps ‘impression’ implies a faulty metaphor.) But I know listening and engaging demand energy. Sometimes I appreciate hoarding my awareness for what is thrown up in – the content of – my own reflections and observations, rather than in direct interaction with others.

However, I was interrupted by a phone call alerting me to what has been referred to as a ‘siege’ in the city. The caller had not been able to make contact with some of my current house guests and wanted to both be reassured that they were okay and to alert us all of disruption in the CBD. Contact was made. The house guests did need a voice on the other end of the phone to help them navigate their way through transport changes. Last night, I racked up more sleep debt as I stayed up late chatting with my house guests – some of my family.

Here I am now, taking a few moments out to write this post, safely removed from the suffering associated with the siege itself (including the suffering of social fall out and even from commentary I find objectionable).

The discomfort of a bad writing habit [on show]


I have a bad habit that is quite literally causing me some pain at the moment. If I am working in front of the computer, while my nails get bitten a little, the skin around them really suffers. Currently my finger tips are a little sore and I am aware of this each time they touch the keys.IMG_1537

However, the pain is not enough to make me reconsider typing a word and so it probably would not bother me except I am embarrassed that everybody can see that I do it.

Why am I embarrassed? Putting my fingers in my mouth is probably not the best infection control measure, but it is not such an issue because I do not do it so much when I am in the world beyond my keyboard. I am pretty sure Freud assigned a clear developmental stage to anything oral, but he is hardly a figure I refer to in making decisions regarding what sort of person I am happy being perceived as. Maybe I should just toughen up (if I cannot quit the bad habit)? What is the harm?

Is it really that public anyway? I could start by just not writing a blog post about it. Yet, I feel, my finger tip mutilating ways are completely on show when I am in public. Hands are not treated as a particularly ‘private’ part of the body in the circles I find myself in, and so my hands are on show in a way that much of the rest of my body is not.

Of course, it is not just the parts of our bodies that are not otherwise adorned that are on show, but the coverings and modifications themselves are also part of what is visible when out and about. I know the way I dress shapes my interactions with people. Some current trends in hipster fashion along with a few years of a lack of investment in sewing and scouring op-shops have helped me look more like someone who maybe just did not quite pay enough attention to detail but is not altogether out of place at a university of in inner-city Australia (rather than a slow collector of stuff I like – which has probably always been over-influenced by my captivation with the Australian gold rush aesthetic and the ‘Little House’ books as a young child – with shifts in choices of hemlines, sleeves and fabrics reluctantly moving with my assessment of practicality given the transport modes, site of employment and climate I find myself encountering more or less frequently at the time). This is useful when strategically selecting something from my possessions to wear to a job interview or to be taken seriously by staff when visiting someone in hospital. It also spills out into other areas of my life. While such things are nearly impossible to quantify, I am quite sure I get more attentive service most places and find myself in more conversations [beyond the being asked for directions kind] with strangers. Instead of ‘Yeah man! Save the whales!’ being yelled a me out of a moving car, cycling yesterday I was told to ‘Buy a car and use it.’ (I could have misheard, so perhaps this discloses more about me than the perceptions of others. However, I completely understand what people who yell out of moving cars are communicating: I should be grateful I do not have to engage in a conversation with them and they are not to be taken seriously.)

Am I worried that my chewed on fingers will stop me being taken seriously when it matters? Do I have any right for my biting-when-writing habit to be private?

Perhaps I could invest in some dress gloves for those situations I just do not want to have my finger mutilating ways on show? How seriously would you take someone who rocked up to a meeting in cotton gloves? Then again, if I did not want to be seen as perpetuating ridiculously sexist standards of dress, I guess I would have to remove the gloves before shaking anybody’s hand and that would just draw more attention to my bad habits.

[I do not think my fingers were further damaged in the processes of writing this blog post. However, as it was a lazy bit of evening writing over a beer, this strategy is unlikely to be a productive one for achieving writing outcomes without finger damage.]