Why it’s brave to be vulnerable

sunset

 

A long time ago, a friend translated a Brazilian poem for me called ‘The Almost’. I have no idea if it’s a famous poem in Brazil or something that barely anyone has read. I can’t remember what the poem was actually called in Portuguese. I have no idea if my friend actually translated it all correctly.

And I know I could google the answers to some of those unknowns but that’s not the point really.

The point is – I have a poem called ‘The Almost’, translated by a friend, that speaks so clearly to me, and has always spoken so clearly to me, that I carry it everywhere. It’s on my fridge. In my office. On my laptop. On several USBs.

It feels so important because it reminds me to be vulnerable. And it reminds me to be brave.

 

If you are vulnerable, you will always be brave.

 

And I don’t think enough people realise that. I think there are some people who equate vulnerability to weakness – and then stomp all over you or take you for granted. I think there are some who think they are the ones being brave or “honest” while doing the stomping.

But they don’t get it. Being vulnerable takes a strength that these stompy people may never understand. They also don’t realise that I will always get back up after any stomping – I always have. They are never as strong (or as hurtful) as they think.

 

As an aside, though, when did someone claiming honesty all of a sudden come to mean that are about to say something nasty? When is self-proclaimed honesty a justification to be an arsehole? At the beginning of my academic career, I made a decision to never become the kind of academic I had seen who never gave a positive comment, never supported the wonky days, who would yell or demand the impossible. I made a decision to be the kind of academic who was actually kind, or at least tried to be. I’m allowed to have wonky days too. A lot has been written about this – a beautiful piece at The Thesis Whisperer and I wrote something on it for piirusacuk just the other day.

 

Ask any of my students and they’ll tell you stories of the drafts I have give back to them dripping in track changes and comments, when track changes and comments were needed. Ask any of my colleagues the same thing. I’m not afraid to pull apart things that need to be pulled apart in order to make something better and stronger. I’ve picked up the pieces if my own work and done just that too. But I still have people telling me “You have to be honest” when they hand me their work and it always leaves me wondering – what do they think I’m going to do? Let them fail because I don’t want to tell them they haven’t answered the results section? Have a paper with my name on it go out with a mistake in it because I’m too scared to point it out to my colleagues?

 

I think though that because I always try to add something good in one of comments that people ignore everything else and think I’ve not been thorough enough. I always try for everything I read to try and find at least one positive comment to make – and sometimes it’s been really hard – sometimes the only positive comment is “well at least you’ve put a draft together to see what doesn’t quite fit together yet, let’s work together to find what does work”.

Sometimes I think because I’m not all fire-and-brimstone all the time, I’m not always taken so seriously.

 

But, here’s the thing – I think any writing, any research, even the hardest of sciences, is creative. We create something that didn’t exist before us and bring it to life in a paper. We are vulnerable when we do this – our creativity makes us vulnerable. We put this brand new thing in front of assessors, peer reviewers, examiners, other researchers, for them to tell us whether or not this new creation can go into the world – screaming for all its worth. We are vulnerable in this but we are brave in this as well – we trust that this new creation is worth it.

 

So when someone brings their work to me, I respect that this their vulnerability. Showing someone a first draft is an act of absolute bravery – and trust. I refuse to be someone who squashes the vulnerability out of them. That’s not to say I’ve never banged my head against my laptop reading someone else’s work but I’ve done that with my own stuff too – and I have no doubt other people have done that with my wonky first drafts. Or my wonky fourth drafts. So I take a step back and acknowledge the bravery and vulnerability that comes with every first draft, and I work out how to make this creation shine more brightly, in whatever form it takes.

 

It’s too easy to be critical of other people’s work – to stomp on it – to ignore what it takes to bring a new creation into the world. It sometimes feels frighteningly good to read someone else’s work and tear it to shreds, all the while thinking “I can do better than that”. And who doesn’t want to occasionally feel that they are good at what they do, better than someone else?

But it’s a short-lived thrill. If you give into it, you enjoy it for a moment, but someone else might be devastated.

I think sometimes the people who stomp gave into that thrill a long time ago – it’s become an addiction, their only validation.

 

Writing is a vulnerable thing. Research is a vulnerable thing. It is a brave thing to put your heart and soul (metaphorically but I don’t know your work, maybe tangibly as well) out into the world and see if the creation stands up on its own.

All of us would have had times when someone has tried to squash the vulnerability (and the bravery) out of us. It is hard to come back from. It is not as hard to come back from reviews that acknowledge what you have tried.

 

Being vulnerable and brave researchers gives us power. It makes us braver still to try new things – to discover more. And it also makes us return that recognition, to nurture the other researchers around us.

 

‘The Almost’ argues that the only way to see colour in our lives is to shed our fear about being vulnerable. To show people our work. To press submit. To create. If we don’t, we live in greys forever – we will never be at risk of failing or being rejected – but things will never change either. Being vulnerable opens a bright new world. You just need to be brave enough to step through the door.

I always find the long way home*

I was never been a natural at planning and structure – it’s something I’ve had to work hard at – the what ifs have always been the more interesting. Plans seemed like they might shut out serendipity and structure enclose people in a world of grey routine. And what happens when a plan goes awry, as plans often do – the more flexibility allowed the better it seems at times. This may be a smidge melodramatic but there’s always a small voice in the back of my mind saying ‘If you do this, can you still run away to the windswept cottage?’, even if the windswept cottage has still yet to appear in reality.

I like lists of things to do and to aspire to and love writing to be published, so that’s always helped, something very tangible to work towards. I’ve always trusted in the universe that things work out as they’re meant to, that as long as you work hard, put goodness out, and keep your eyes open then all will be well. The burning need for my work to be challenging, innovative, and positive for the people involved helps drive me in a good direction.

Apparently though, other people (most people?) have more structured strategies about life – and have made decisions in life based on clearer and less serendipitous ideas about where they want to be in the future. As I work on different grants at the moment, particularly Deczilla, I’m learning that not everyone else has fallen into their fields. Or maybe they just narrate their story more coherently than I do.

I had no idea what I wanted to do when I finished school. All the choice froze me. I knew I couldn’t do anything maths- or science-based but other than that – nothing…. I just wanted to go to uni and study something interesting. I had a Japanese class just before the absolute final due date for the forms to apply for university. My Japanese teacher was awesome so, in desperation, I asked her what she had studied. She had done Modern Asian Studies at Griffith University and had loved it – so that’s what I put on my form.

I too loved Modern Asian Studies but at the end of my first year, I was drinking coffee with two friends – Richie who’d started uni with me that same year and Carlos who was about to graduate. Carlos worried that his degree wasn’t enough to get a job, that he should have done law. Richie then worried about this and decided she should do a law degree – and that, it would be fun, we could do a law degree together. The next day, my paper work went in.

And I loved doing the law degree along with Asian Studies – it felt like I was reading people from so many disciplines. It felt like a proper education. But at the end of my third year, my brother died by suicide, my world turned completely askew, and I realised I didn’t want to be a lawyer. The theory inspired me more than the occupation and – in a moment of deep irony given I now work as an academic – I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life in an office. Also, heels and suits and ironing aren’t my favourites.

So I had to decide what to do after the undergrad degrees. At the end of my final year, I was having coffee with a classmate who said I should do Honours – apparently coffee inspires life-altering decisions. With no idea of how my brother had died, he said that female suicide rates in China were really high and that why not investigate that – I’d done a lot of subjects on women and China. This felt far away enough from my brother to be doable. The forms were due that week and I started Honours the next year on female suicide in China and the power of ghost stories, gendered oppression, and tradition.

I never planned on doing a PhD but it seemed the natural progression after a year in China wondering what to do with the rest of my life – why not do all the uni I could possibly do? And as much as this story sounds like the old lady who swallowed a fly, this is the field in which I’ve stayed. For all the serendipity and twisty roads, I’ve found the long way home to a place which constantly inspires and challenges – in making me want to be a better researcher, a better person. It makes me want to write new lists and eke out more minutes within the maelstrom to write more words.

*With obvious thanks to the very wonderful Tom Waites

Feeling all the DECRA feelings

This could just be my lack of sleep and the resulting general hysteria talking but I give the grants I’m writing nicknames in my head. Right now, the DECRA is Deczilla because it stomps through my life on its way to submission, towering over every other deadline and allocated task, causing general disruption. And yet, I’m strangely fond of it and love creating this project that might actually help those people who end up participating in it, yet is still true to who I am as a researcher.

It’s the green monster in ‘Oh, the places you’ll go!’ but that’s a deeply unwieldy acronym.

So in having this tumultuous love-hate drunk-dialling affair with Deczilla, I’ve been distracted. Upset at being a smidge ignored for the first time since her arrival, my little cat Laks has now taken to destroying all the toilet paper she can find, shredding it throughout the cottage in protest. And hiding all my pens under the couch. She is full of feelings, is Laks.

But, toilet-paper-strewn cottage or not, my head is entirely full of draft at the moment – my brain sectioned into different parts of the project description, where every word matters. Not that every word doesn’t matter usually but here, in eight pages, and structured sections all requiring completion, there is no space or allowance to quote poetry – even though Sylvia Plath describes it so much better than I ever will, this ‘mad miracle’ I’m trying to study. There is no space for tangents, no matter how interesting – all the interesting things have to remain interesting and full of so-what and gently punch the reader with its impact within the structured eight pages. Must admit that the idea of anything I do punching someone feels slightly against the whole ethos of my work. Could my work maybe just outline a door they’ve never seen before, and open it up for them? Like the wardrobe in Narnia but full of research validity.

Every word has to be perfectly polished because ‘good’ is no longer not even close to being good enough and, while this is exciting in a deeply nerdy way, the work it takes to make something truly outstanding and exceptional is immense. Kittens in tutus and dogs in tuxedo jackets, and all.

Deczilla has to be seriously decked out.

There is no space for the feelings of imposter syndrome and the uncertainty that can plague us all as researchers, at any stage of our career. I know I am the best researcher to do this project – and that this project has the potential to be truly and positively impactful for people who have never shared their stories before. And while writing that still makes me scratchy – creating a self bound to special snowflake-ness doesn’t come terribly naturally – in my heart I know that no one would make this project run or work in the ways that I will. With someone else, it would no doubt have less poetry, and where would its music be then? How would the stories be honoured?

And in all of this, my head is full, and I am distracted.

It bubbles away in the back of my mind so I wake up thinking about it – take notes randomly when things pop into my brain. Things that may not seem sensible at all to anyone with any sense – Plath’s ‘mad miracle’, the quote I badly paraphrase where losing demons could mean angels fleeing which I always thought was Rainer Maria Rilke but is apparently Tennyson…. But these matter because, as they bubble, they suddenly turn into part of the background or a justification for methodological approach. They create the foundation for constant questioning, for continual revolution. They ensure that I don’t get stuck in lazy presumption and easy tradition.

How can there not be a push-pull effect to things when life is so unexpected?

With so much serendipity in the world, research will always have its serendipitous ways too.

There is a paper written by Maggie O’Neill that circulated around the office a little while ago – ‘The Slow University: Work, Time, and Well-Being’ (http://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/2226/3696). When everything is so rushed, and everyone is busy, and Deczilla has to be so monstrous because otherwise she’d be lost under other time commitments, the idea of taking time, and purposefully making space, to think and to reflect becomes so vital. Precious in this strange and secret way. Whispered so as to not disturb it. Not just for wellbeing, but for making projects beautiful, for writing thoughtfully and carefully. It’s an article I need to read again and think some more on.

Maybe the beauty of Deczilla lies in her very monstrosity. Like Eco talked about in his book on the history of beauty, sometimes you choose the face upon which you gaze. Sometimes there is a singular beauty in the grotesque, in the terrifying. Writing this grant not only gives me an opportunity to create a wabi-sabi project of my very own but, in the community we have here, allows me to see the amazing work of some truly incredible colleagues. Things I would have missed otherwise. These singular beauties, the face I choose to gaze upon.

So, I’m off again to another workshop to harness the monstrous stomping, to make the poetry more realised into grant-speak, and to create a project that could even set my field a little alight.

How do you feel about grant writing?

Balance and an academic VLEMWy

This week, while working on study guides for the units I teach, I’ve been watching all the TED talks around human rights, and all the YouTube clips on methodology. All of them.

Some have made me cry more than others.

(Should you not be taking my human rights course this trimester, may I recommend Panti Bliss http://huffingtonpost.com/2015/01/12/panti-bliss-ted-talks-_n_6457860.html and Chris Abani http://www.ted.com/talks/chris_abani_muses_on_humanity_html – they are both heart-stopping in their humanity. Thse are the ones I hope my students watch where it changes something in them – it makes them remember and do, rather than just listen and forget.)

So, amidst the unit stuff, and drafts of grants due scarily soon, and writing that keeps on being put at the bottom of the pile, I’ve become a smidge distracted, even though in my deeply nerdy way all of this stuff is really fascinating. Anything that isn’t tied down to deep-seated routine has become subdued in the background and half-thought. I’m always careful about eating and Laks has a subtle way of reminding me that she needs attention (biting my ankles and/or my face) but other stuff can too easily fall away.

But distraction has impacted me this week. I’m forgetting more things than usual and morphing into a Mr Magoo. And when Laks plays her ‘Hooray it’s 4:20am!’ game, my mind is whirring too much to actually get back to sleep. I find the dark circles underneath my eyes really bring out their colour.(But then, when the words work and the draft starts pulling together…)

It’s something we talk about a lot – life seems infinitely stressful, and escape from the stress something that needs to be planned and worked on, not something that comes so easily anymore. And the 4-year-old in me rails against the idea of planned calm – a dictatorial meditation doesn’t seem quite right.

For that reason, I’m never quite sure about some of those articles you see that claim to show you ‘7 signs that you’re happy’ or ‘3 things all calm people share’. The anxious researcher in me thinks of it in terms of a checkbox – if I only get 6/7 or 2/3, then am I unhappy or un-calm? Is my happiness just a reflection of my denial? It’s all too much.

More and more, it feels necessary to find moments that are nourishing, rather than needing whole chunks of time that simply require too much energy to attain. Not so much trying to find balance (and then feeling bad if I don’t) but acknowledging that the right now is a time of imbalance – and this acknowledgement in itself feels like room to breathe because I’m not trying to be perfect but just peaceful being me in all her whirring-brained glory.

The right now is a space of working out how much I can do, and enjoying the bits if writing I can, until I find a few moments in the sunshine again to recharge. And given that I’m writing this in the grey and the drizzle, the sunshine can be metaphoric too.

More and more, while the right now is what it is, nourishment is best found in silliness, because it takes me out of my head, because it’s moments of laughter that doesn’t need to be pondered. So – playing mouse with Laks. Singing very loudly to terrible songs while making brownies. And QI because Stephen Fry simply makes me happy – and it leads me to more comedians – David O’Doherty being the latest one. He is adorable. He calls his comedy Very Low Energy Musical Whimsy or VLEMWy (and who doesn’t like an awesome acronym?).

So in my sleep-deprived haze, in the grim and the drizzle, in the imbalanced right now, I’m embracing a somewhat Monkey-Minded and Befuddled Academic Whimsy. I’ll work on the acronym later.

So, how do you find your whimsy in the imbalance? Or do you avoid imbalance altogether which does seem rather sensible…

Clean white sheets and a brand new space

I’m sure everyone has them but there are books I come back to like old friends. They may not be re-read every year but opening the first page feels like a warm blanket, an exhaled breath when your toes touch the sand. Every time I read them, there is something new, some detail that I’ve not seen before that feels perfect for where I am at that very second.

AS Byatt’s ‘Possession’ is one of those books and I’ve been reading it again since the beginning of the new year. For those of you who don’t know it, Roland is an early career researcher whose work revolves around the work of the 19th century poet Randolph Henry Ash. He finds the draft of a letter from Ash to an unnamed woman stuffed into a forgotten book in a library. The woman is another poet Christabel La Motte, and this discovery takes him to meet Maud, a leading expert in her work. Together, they find out about the relationship between Randolph and Christabel and the secrets they kept.

Cue anticipatory dun-dun-dun noises….

Byatt calls it a romance but it’s not one in a truly traditional sense – and even writing that feels like a gross over-simplification of it. Relationships begin and end in it but it’s so much more than that, deeper than that. At its core, a love of words, and beautiful words at that, exists. And, god knows, I have always followed beautiful words.

The way I’m reading it at the moment is the relationship you have with your work – how what you research can become this significant part of you. Not just who you in terms of being a ‘researcher’, but how it shapes the ways in which you see the world. And how meeting other people who see the world slightly differently (or a lot differently) can entirely alter your whole existence – all of a sudden a whole world is opened to you that you had no idea existed before.

These two people, and others around them, who are experts in their field don’t know everything, and won’t know everything. There will always be secrets, things unheard, and things unsaid and that’s not a negative in any way but something beautifully humbling. We all hold some things close to our hearts, the things that feel too precious to say aloud. And we all share some things with the world. It feels very human to exist within those dichotomies.

This sense of unknowing is enhanced by the fact that ‘Possession’ was set in 1986, so there is no internet and no smartphones. Information takes time to reach another person when it is shared, especially if phone calls are missed. There is a sense of isolation almost in the narrative that wouldn’t exist now, a sense that time was less a focus because there was less assumption in immediacy. Things could take time because they usually did as a matter of fact. People could be uncontactable.

Right now, the idea of being uncontactable is both hugely romantic and deeply terrifying.

There’s a part in the book where Roland’s dream of a white bed – of clean white sheets – is described. I’ve always loved it because it feels so much like a search for a fresh start, a blank page. Throughout the book, there’s a sense that he is searching for this white, crisp space. Yet, Maud’s vision of white sheets is initially something less calming. Her journey becomes one around unbinding – she has kept parts of herself hidden for too long in order to do her work. Maud’s journey with Roland, as they travel alongside Randolph and Christabel, unleashes what is hidden in myriad ways over time and space. She becomes more of herself because she feels free to do so.

There’s not quite a happily-ever-after – but who really trusts those anyway? Yet, Roland and Maud demonstrate what power there is – what can be uncovered and discovered – when driven by intellectual curiosity.
It’s a beautiful, inspiring thing.

What is your go-to, desert-island, end-of-the-world book?

Stuck on ‘Waiting for Godot’

I had this beautiful plan over the Christmas break to get a tattoo. It hasn’t worked out with timing and running around and falling over and unexpected trips to the beach. Instead, my tiny brother bought me a mantra ring and I’ve been wearing ‘believe’ on my index finger while typing away today – the phd mantra ring has stayed on my right hand for many years now.

Deb’s beautiful and challenging piece (http://theeduflaneuse.wordpress.com/) on writing abundantly, boldly, and dangerously is all I’ve been thinking about these past few days. It felt like the writing version of a warrior’s cry, so I’m joining the charge, face-paint and all. I’m not one for very structured new year’s resolutions but, watching the waves wash over my feet at the beach yesterday, I made a promise to myself for this year. Last year was tough but I will take all the learnings from it and be brave and bold in 2015. I will believe in myself – hence the tangible reminder on my finger – and keep on working hard, trusting that this year can only be better because it will be different.

Sometimes change is enough…

Except, right now, I’m stuck on ‘Waiting for Godot’.

Taken to see it in Dublin last year, memories of the play have been prodding me ever since. I scribbled notes on napkins in the interval and dinner afterwards and carried them back all the way across the world. These rambly scribbles have gone from napkins to play pages to a vaguely-started word document. Lots of arrows and stars seem to be used in each iteration – sometimes I really do write like a drunken spider. There are murmurs about what I want to write about – how stories of happiness were told and what hope there was in waiting even when they spoke of death, and, at least in the production I saw, how lonely and softly-menacing the tree in the background looked, even with leaves. And I know it’s getting close because Vladimir’s words, particularly, interrupt everything else I’m doing, especially his first line:

“I’m beginning to come round to that opinion. All my life I’ve tried to put it from me, saying, Vladimir, be reasonable, you haven’t tried everything. And I resumed the struggle”

It’s all still ramble though and dancing around the house trying to figure out exactly what to say, and how exactly to say it. (I’m assuming dancing around the house to various music is a normal part of everyone’s writing routine). Two days into braver and bolder, writing is as hard as it’s ever been, but the play of this, as frustrating as it can be, is also the fun part in a perverse kind of way. So I keep looking at believe on my finger and remembering that, at some point, things will become unstuck and the paper will get written. I haven’t tried everything yet so the struggle is always resumed.

I’m not surviving on turnips so that can only work in my favour.

How do you fix your writer’s block?

Extra-hot Habanero sauce and Christmas reflections

I was sitting in a little Mexican restaurant a few hours ago, watching one of my best friends eat his bodyweight in extra-hot Habanero sauce. It was a gorgeous late afternoon in Brisbane: hot, without being scorching, and bright sun without the humidity turning the air to treacle. Apart from the fact I managed to drop enormous amounts of guacamole on myself , it was a peaceful, fairly non-eventful afternoon.

This morning though was less peaceful. I became trapped in a stream of last-minute Christmas shoppers. It was like being caught in one of those enormous shoals of fish they show on National Geographic – garish neon Santas the more man-made Barracudas. It was a struggle not to be consumed and forget that I’ve already bought grown-up colouring books and Oxfam goats for almost everyone I know (surprise!) so I wasn’t actually part of that stress. Now that I live in the country, I miss the bustle of the city but the focus of these people was something else altogether. For the most part, they were there unwillingly, begrudgingly, because presents needed to be bought for people they may have even loved but who then, just for that moment, became simply a name on a lost with ‘what the hell do I get them?’

As my friend stretched himself out along the couch of the restaurant (extra-hot Habanero sauce is apparently exhausting), I kept on thinking about how stressful Christmas is for so many people. A deeply old chestnut in so many ways but one that also seems to be entirely normalised. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of thinking that the perfect present could make things better. The narrative of everything being fixable with something, particularly if that something is branded and saleable, is pervasive. And that narrative is great if you have something fixable by the branded and the saleable – but so many things don’t fall into that neat little box.

With the research I’ve done so far, so many of the stories I’ve heard have fallen so far outside that box, the box was never considered realistic in the first place. When people have told stories of their suicidality, or caring for someone else, these issues haven’t necessarily been fixable in any sort of linear or simple way. It’s taken enormous collaboration with myriad people (professional or otherwise), as many steps backward as forward. Sometimes issues aren’t fixable at all and people simply live with them as best they can. And I will never tell their stories as beautifully as I’ve heard them…

Sitting there this afternoon, peaceful and overfed, away from the shopping crush, it’s these people I think about, and to whom, in the most deeply hippy way, I send so much positive energy. Because, in their continuing on, they highlight what is most important and what still needs to be done in my field. How will our work – how will my work – help them next year? I’ve aways tried to base my work on whether I’d be OK with my Ma being a participant and that still continues to feel important. This afternoon, that was the best Christmas wish I could think of – how can we make people’s lives more worth living?

Merry Christmas everyone. Be kind to yourselves and travel well.

Inspiration from inspiring people

Just as it will always be slightly frightening to write (and then have published) something very confessional and raw, it is always incredible to see how people respond to it. I have been lucky enough to have a piece published by The Thesis Whisperer this week:

http://thesiswhisperer.com/2014/12/17/is-academia-really-worth-it/

More than that, I have been lucky enough that people have read it and are talking about it. I had no idea so many people would read the piece; it feels a little overwhelming, a little like I’ve walked into the exam room naked. On the other hand though, to see how people have responded and what they’ve been talking about has been incredible. The support and acknowledgement of how many of us are in the same boat. How many of us are tired to our bones but still finding something to spark our passion.

And how we need to find a way to not let that go – to preserve it best we can.

Things may not be any less uncertain than they were when I wrote the piece but having other people share their stories as well has inspired me to keep trying. That maybe I shouldn’t give up just yet and move to a windswept cottage on a remote Scottish coast, small cat in tow, to bake and write. As good a dream as that is, maybe not just yet.

What it’s made me realise, more than ever, is how much research is fuelled by passion – that our curiosity is what makes us. These issues wouldn’t hurt us so much – we wouldn’t feel them so viscerally – if we didn’t care about the things we are researching. And the myriad things that we’re all doing. I am seriously still trying to wrap my head around the experiment Physics Steve shows in his blog (http://www.physicssteve.co.uk/) – images of terrible sci-fi movies… Qual, quant, or a mixture of both – all of these are shaping in the world, even in the smallest ways. And it’s so exciting to see how passionate people are about so many different things.

To me, as I work my way through feelings of burn out, seeing all of this has been inspiring. It may not change how difficult things are – and it doesn’t mean that things are better now like a vacuous happily-ever-after — but having these conversations and supporting each other – and knowing that we are supported too – makes it easier to come back the tomorrow, and then the next day, and the day after that. Even as piles of marking, half-written articles, and a very scary whiteboard await…

As an aside, and I’m wondering now just how much the things we read when we’re younger impact on us. If I’d read less Sylvia Plath and Dylan Thomas, would I have been less likely to gravitate to a confessional style of writing? Was I always going to be a qualitative researcher?I always tell my students or, you know, anyone I meet, that no first draft is perfect and my first drafts are always more lyrical in nature. I know this process well enough now that no one else sees these first drafts – they’re mine to then work on to make into structure and format more in line with journal and funder guidelines.One day, I’m going to submit a grant written entirely in prose. I may even try to make it rhyme.

After all that, what say you, my friends? 

Fear, rescue remedy, and speaking in front of people

Given the choice, I will always, without question, hand-on-heart, choose to write. I can write anywhere – in my office, backyard, coffee shop, beach… Dating a musician in the early stages of my PhD, I wrote great chunks of literature review in all sorts of pubs while he set up. Writing is my great love, the thing that makes my heart beat, even when it’s the thing making me tear my hair out trying to figure out the right words.

But tonight, I potentially have to talk in front of people.

This is less a love. It makes my heart beat but in a sweaty, shaking, anxious way. I overdose on Rescue Remedy, do breathing techniques, picture small golden balls of light transporting calm throughout my body, all the things you’re meant to do to ease the anxiety. I always wear something with pockets – to hold the Rescue Remedy I’m overdosing on. I’ve even got to the point where I write out my talk exactly as I’d say it in detailed note form so it’s there, just in case, a necessary security blanket.

However, until I’m up at the front actually speaking, there are two competing thoughts circling around in my mind: ‘Breathe, its all going to be OK’ and ‘Run away, doing this is horrible, just leave now’. So far, I’ve managed to not run out the door with smoke coming from my heels Looney-Tunes-style, but there have been a few close calls.

Maybe it’s a reflection of my nerves but I have this cartoon image of myself, all fed from the Looney Tunes of my childhood. The bright red face of Elmer Fudd. The heart beating out of my chest like Bugs Bunny or Pepe Le Pew. Neuroticism as encapsulated by Daffy Duck. The fast-paced, high-pitched hysteria of all of them. If Road Runner beep-beeped past me, I wouldn’t be at all surprised.

Apparently, this neuroticism is not always so noticeable to anyone else but it’s maybe why the pictures from Alvy Carragher’s blog ‘With All the Finesse of a Badger’ (http://alvycarragher.blogspot.com.au/) make me laugh so much. It’s the eyes of her characters when her stories reach complete bonkers, in the best possible way – they are calmingly deranged.

While the whole ‘do one thing every day that scares you every day’ mantra is a beautiful idea, the flip side is equally nice as well. After the scary thing, do one thing that is calming to the tips of your toes, because that is just as important. So I’ll be hanging out with my zen master Laks tonight.

So what’s your scary thing?