Posts Tagged ‘goals’

A shoulder shrug


As I indicated in the last post, my current paid work is in direct service delivery. I am at the very bottom of the pecking (and pay) order in my program. At work, I am always doing things ‘wrong’. I do not set out to make mistakes, but I have started just shrugging my shoulders at the sound of being summoned to be told off by those in higher paid positions. This is probably more helpful than the smug-superiority I expressed the other week.

The higher paid workers seem so anxious. For the first few weeks, I thought it was because I had not worked out what I was supposed to do and I was making their work-life unpredictable. I set out to pin down what ‘should’ happen and where things ‘should’ be. Direct service delivery is always going to be unpredictable, but I thought I could contribute to more being known so less would have to be thought about.

However, I came to realise that different people (and the same person at different moments) had contradicting ideas as to how things ‘should’ happen and what I ‘should’ do. My superiors want things to happen seamlessly and in their preferred style. Particularly strange seems to be their yearning for everything to be negotiated face-to-face: “I did not want to write it down, I wanted to tell you when I got a chance. No, do not write it down for the next person. You tell her.” Furthermore, the most strong opinions were often expressed on issues that seemed to be of least significance to their work role. Maybe I am not good at gauging what is important?

Here is an example. The frustration expressed at my failure to do the ‘right’ thing in this situation actually makes more sense to me than many other moments.

One worker asked me to make a sign and, so it would stand out, put some red around it. I made a red border for the sign. I was emailed, with my line manager CCed, and told that I had not done what was asked of me. I tried again, but with less text and a red border around the actual words. I sent a photograph through to this worker (and my line manager) to find out if any further changes were required, as they usually work in a different building. When I was next at work, the worker took down the sign and sighed that she may as well do it herself as it would be faster. On the sign being reattached to the door I realised out that she did not want red AROUND the letters, but rather for the red texta to be traced over the black printed letters.

“I am only here for the clients.” seems to be a common self-talk mantra the workers use to get through exhausting weeks. When they say this, I used to feel a swell of frustration that I could not background all the non-client stuff to get on with things.

Now I understand absorbing the crush is my job. All the workers have something of an impossible job; the plans of clients, the aims of the program as understood by the workers, and the resources available nearly never match up. Letting off some steam by sending an email saying one of the lower-level workers had not done their job is probably not an ideal coping mechanism. However, believing that one day the lower-level workers will magically make everything work smoothly is possibly part of hoping for a future where higher-level workers will not be distracted from ‘being there for the clients’.

This post has been a very wordy road, but there is a link with my still-unfinished dissertation. While I can shrug my shoulders at work, the same does not seem to be possible with the project of writing.


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?’

Ritual efficacy is not my kettle of fish but


I have a few friends with a personal interest in attending to [Christian] ritual life (with and without belief). God-neutral faith is the topic of this short piece by Tanya Marie Luhrmann on the New York Times site.

How do we understand this impulse to hold a “church” service despite a hesitant or even nonexistent faith? Part of the answer is surely the quest for community. rituals change the way we pay attention these rituals work, if by “work” we mean that they change people’s sense of their lives. It turns out that saying that you are grateful makes you feel grateful. Saying that you are thankful makes you feel thankful. Religion is fundamentally a practice that helps people to look at the world as it is and yet to experience it — to some extent, in some way — as it should be.

I say this is not my ‘thing’, but I read this article because I recognised Lurhmann’s name (from an undergraduate subject in witchcraft plus my honours research in the area of the Anthropology of Christianity), a belief free ‘religion’ (with a ritual life clearly influenced by my familiarity with Catholicism) is exactly a topic I spent many a conversation at high school considering and I even volunteered for a project that sought to capture and disseminate ritual practices for use (DSI -Disruptive Spiritual Innovation – which I discussed in earlier posts on this blog).

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.

The anthropocene: a gift to anthropologists


Bruno Latour’s AAA 2014 Keynote, ‘Anthropology at the Time of the Anthropocene – a personal view of what is to be studied’, is available online. There’s also a tweet based summary online.

Latour points out how the idea of the anthropocene links what might be considered as the cultural and the physical. Here’s a short excerpt from towards the end of the first half.

… ask the climate scientists who are part of the IPCC to tell you how it feels to be messengers of alerts that are not being heard by those who are most directly impacted. And then compare this politicization of “natural” science with the problems encountered by ethnographers forced to “politicize” their own involvement with their “own people” (as the saying went) while keeping within the standards of objectivity. You will realize that the question of political relevance and urgency has spread from scholarly fields to hard sciences. It is all the disciplines that are now fighting with the urgent mission of assembling humans on newly defined territories – exactly the problems raised by anthropologists long ago.
In that sense the concept of the Anthropocene pushes anthropology to the centre stage and requests from it to be worthy of its original mission – a mission that anthropologists probably never really wanted to have! Or that many thought the discipline had definitely abandoned in favour of a glorified version of story telling to which were added some radical pronouncements against power, injustice and domination.

Vain noise


I am fascinated by laments that some academic’s novel work was not taken-for-granted-as-valuable within the very perspective it seeks to transcend. One recent example is this talk of trying to get academic recognition for texts written with a non-academic audience in mind. (Please let me repeat, I am fascinated by — not rejecting — such ‘calls’.)

Of course, to successfully argue that ‘YOU should have already been taking this seriously’ is an effective way to change the order within which the conversation continues. But does anybody else take pleasure in participating in something that is as useless, silent and ephemeral as possible; activities not marked out as a ‘break’ to ‘recharge the batteries’; and dwelling with a focus that could be an opportunity for different ideas to surface, yet with such potentialities just as likely in any other moment of attentiveness?

Perhaps my fascination is possible because I have the safety of just never being successful enough to have this problem. More charitably, I suppose this fascination goes some way to demonstrating why I find working with the concepts I have drawn from the work of Jacques Rancière enjoyable.

Being the crazy


At a conference last year I was listening to another graduate student speaking well of one of his supervisors. It is not uncommon to hear students explain that they have one supervisor who works in a relevant area and another who, although is not such a specialist, is kind and helpful. This was the kind and helpful supervisor and included in her list of talents was useful instruction when it came to ‘avoiding the crazies’.

Reflecting back on one of the two questions I asked in the conference and a couple of conversations I tried to pursue with students after their papers, I came to understand that I exhibit many of the qualities of these ‘crazies’ that are generally best avoided at conferences and seminars. I make convoluted links between topics that are of questionable relevance even to my own enquiries, and I tend to embark on efforts to share them with a little bit too much enthusiasm. Particularly in non-fieldwork situations, I find myself too keen to fill in gaps in conversations by asking unusual questions or sharing less than relevant observations.

This is not a great cause of distress for me as surely people at conferences and seminars have more than a few strategies for existing such situations if they do not want to be there and I am sure with my growing awareness I can be more considerate in my presence. However, it has lead me to wonder what else I could become more aware of. What other academic context stereotypes am I living up to?

One for the list is my tendency to test out theoretical links and standpoints that I know all too little about… in conversation. I really enjoy finding something new and discovering the insights and reactions of other people. However, this is a bit selfish and probably rather dull. Some friends have suggested that I am very ‘confident’, but the reason I like such conversations is that I really am not. The stereotype I appear to fit could be termed the ‘know all’.

I really enjoy reading and commenting on the work of other students. However, it has been pointed out to me that the attitude of problem solving with which I approach such tasks, I am placing myself in some sort of expert, all seeing position. I know that the work of others does not need any such problem solving. Furthermore, commenting on the order of words or links between ideas is something I struggle to do in my own work. I talk big, but do not manage to carry through in terms of finishing my own work.

For me, the solution is probably not going to be in never again going to conferences and seminars or never commenting on a fellow student’s work. I may always be quickly identified as one of those crazies that certain, well meaning people, advise others to avoid. However, I can see value in being a bit more aware of what is helpful in such situations and what is not.

The academics that have been most influential in my own education have always had their own quirks, like all people do. Their frustrated outbursts in classes were the source of much amusement at the time, but have often encouraged me to push myself to do better work: do not forget to consider the contribution the work made in its own time, take an intellectual risk by saying something, get it right, and it might all be interrelated but choose a position from which to pursue your analysis.

I would much rather finish a week reflecting on a challenge I took on in my writing than a missed opportunity to ask a [rather poorly thought out] question.

Distraction #2


I did finish Distraction. I am never the most attentive reader but the ideas that stuck out were poetry, art and relationships. What I will note here, in case I ever want to come back, is that these three things are useful for freedom in part because of their constraints. Experiencing emotions, attending to what is in front of you and the commitment of close relationships can call for control to be relinquished. On the other hand, these are some of the opportunities in life to test old ideas and develop new ones through the energy to continue on, the data offered by experience and the direction we find when we account for the choices we make.



Just quickly (because if I wrote a ‘to-do-list’ this post would not feature in the top 100 priorities), aside from working at some sort of ridiculously slow pace, I have read half of Damon Young’s (2008) Distraction. I read the first half last night. Possibly it was procrastination from marking. However, as it really did not look like ‘work’, it certainly did not draw the protests that I anticipated if I was to pull out ‘real’ work on a Sunday evening.

I have never read a self-help book, but I imagine that is the genre in which one might place this text. The back cover tells you that Young ‘suggests that he opposite of a life of distraction is one of genuine of freedom.’ As a self-help book it sort of appeals to me. Working on ‘ideas’ is described as something to pursue in free time and having free time to pursue ideas is pretty much the benchmark of freedom (according to my reading).

The book starts with Young talking about his child and then quickly tells you about his wife wanting to talk with him about his child. These personal comments are scattered through the discussion of the lives and work habits of philosophers. After a few chapters I start to feel that the image of a rather detached life, where wives look after small children and the occasional friend to engage in philosophical conversations with, was how relationships with others fit into this particular idea of freedom.

I might finish it, or I might not. If I do not finish the book it will not be because I found it useless. This partial reading offers me a justification for avoiding every relational obligation in order to sort out my ideas and work on drafts.

One person’s reason for living may just be another’s distraction?

Approval, rejection and being noticed


The other day I found myself hunting around for somebody’s office to pick up a piece of paper. The piece of paper would have notes on the very piece of work that was the last tap needed to shatter my existing supervision relationship. The promise of feedback from a third party certainly appealed to me, even if it meant having to live with that ‘I am giving somebody else more work’ guilt. However, my hunting ended up serving no purpose other than achieving the not so simple task of locating the room. The person was out and had not left the piece of paper for me. These things happen, and I had already waited months for those comments so it really was not going to be the end of the world. However, any attempt at appearing resilient slid into self pity (with a side dish of ‘I am feeling self pity’ guilt).

In the fall out from my aborted supervision arrangements, I have found myself clinging to my project. Sitting at a table opposite my grandmother on the weekend with my attention turned towards my laptop was a little frustrating. But I suspect that was only because I was working on a rather dull task for work that had nothing to do with my project and trying with little success to edit an article that has to be sent off. Wanting to be left alone with my project seems to be less about taking pride in working it into something I will be proud of sharing and more that it is a very safe space that I only occasionally have to share anything from. Have you have heard the saying, ‘He is a legend in his own lunch box.’? Well, I get to be the performer and reviewer in my computer.

I did end up getting those comments that my attempts to hunt down had been unsuccessful. The enjoyment I found in reading them did disturb me a little. The comments did not rubbish my work, but they certainly pointed out that it was no where near presenting a coherent argument. I cannot even see a clear path towards fixing the piece of work. However, I can see that, more than approval or rejection, I have this need at the moment to be noticed. Perhaps it is a Gen Y thing.

The one domain in which this whole ‘being noticed’ thing worries me is what it means for my data. I do not think that it translated into me jumping around trying to stand out, and so only witnessing very particular situations that were very much of my own irresponsible making. What I have found myself doing is focusing a lot of attention on who is taken seriously or what claims are given air time; I find myself looking at who is not being noticed. Perhaps this is because I have been drawn to thinking about situations most like my own or, on the other hand, I might be paranoid now about not being noticed because I have seen how problematic it can be.

This is enough parading my angst around in this blog post for the evening. I feel like I have made myself noticed and so I better get back to that rather dull task for work.