Out of office reply

I am on holiday in Penang, Malaysia, spending time with my family and myself.

I have set my automatic out of office reply.

I have turned off my iPhone work email notifications for the first time since I went back to work after my first period of parental leave, six and a half years ago. Perhaps I won’t turn them back on.

I am not going to write an education blog today.

I am going to luxuriate in my present time and place.

I am going to remember that my oneword for 2017 is nourish.

Enough said.

Some of my pics (below) tell a little of our holiday.

Monkey Beach

Lanterns on Lebuh Armenian

George Town mural

fishing boat

George Town street art

Batu Ferringhi sunset

For wellbeing & productivity: breathe. pause. be.

Come forth into the light of things, let Nature be your teacher. ~ William Wordsworth

Shark Bay, by @debsnet

Like many educators, I love my work and I love to work. Not only that, as a PhD researcher I love my PhD, treating it like a luxury, a privilege and precious ‘me time’.

Shell Beach, by @debsnet

While I’ve acknowledged before that we need to give ourselves permission to take a break, I’m often not very good at it. Sometimes I have to force myself to take a break.

long shadows in red dirt, by @debsnet

After an eleven week term, at the end of which I spent an entire weekend slogging away at my thesis, I was obsessed. Obsessed because all my waking and teeth-grinding-sleeping moments were taken up with work or PhD. My thoughts about my doctoral research were permeating every crevice of my mind and each nook of my time.

Hamelin Pool Stromatolites, by @debsnet

I was delighting in this immersion. I was happy to be thinking about the thesis on my walks, in the car, in the shower, in my sleep. I felt like it was a super-productive push-to-the-end mindset. My mind was on all the time. PhD-wise, I was excited about my findings, my conclusions, my writing. But I was also exhausted.

Monkey Mia, by @debsnet

And then school holidays were upon me, and with them a pre-planned outback road trip with my husband and my two-under-five. I considered taking my doctoral work with me. I have so much to do, I thought. A thesis to revise, a conference paper to write. Just imagine how much reading and editing I could get done in long car trips or at the campsite.

Shell Beach, by @debsnet

As someone who considers blogging or participating in education Twitter chats as ‘down time’ (I know – how relaxing!), how could I contemplate a complete break? How could I go from an escape dedicated to working on my PhD ~ my recent PhD writing and revision retreat ~ to a trip taking an enforced break from it?

Monkey Mia dolphin, by @debsnet

I knew it was healthier to take a rest. Pause. Cut the cord for six days of just being, exploring and adventuring. Breathe.

fiction pile on Shell Beach, by @debsnet

Thinking back to my 3 words which set my intentions for this year, taking an outdoor-family-faraway break fits best with presence. Embodying human being rather than human doing. It was about being with my husband and kids, and being in nature.

green turtle, Shark Bay, by @debsnet

There are some studies, like this and this, which explore how and why being in nature makes us feel better, improves wellbeing and enhances mental health. Anecdotally, most of us would attest to feeling ourselves melting into a more relaxed state when we spend time grounding ourselves outdoors. Curling our toes in soil, sand or snow.

Straya animals, by @debsnet

I’ve written before about spaces and places that make me feel grounded, inspired or joyful, but this trip was to somewhere I hadn’t been before: Shark Bay, a UNESCO World-Heritage listed peninsula on the most westerly point of Australia.

iron corrugations, by @debsnet

I allowed myself to luxuriate in this time out and time away. I read fiction (not academic texts or student papers!). We hand fed dolphins, visited a beach covered in pristine white shells as far as the eye could see, stomped through red dirt, went star gazing, saw the world’s oldest living fossils. The pictures in this post give you a sense of what I experienced.

Ocean Park, Shark Bay, by @debsnet

And so I have returned feeling intellectually and physically invigorated. Ready for the next round of PhD and school work, including teaching and leading my school’s new coaching model. I’ve stepped out of my obsessive space for enough time to allow for some recovery, but I’m aware that I need to nestle back into a place of productivity.

wire against blue sky, by @debsnet

As when I returned from Bali earlier this year, I’m hoping I can hold onto my present feeling of increased clarity and renewed wellbeing, channelling this into self-care as well as productivity.

Thong Shack, Denham, by @debsnet

Travel and presence: doors to clarity and joy in life and work

offerings, Canggu, Bali, by @debsnet

table of offerings being made

Wandering re-establishes the original harmony which once existed between man and the universe. ~ Anatole France

In 1964 Baudelaire described the flâneur (or for my purposes, the flâneuse) as “lover of universal life” who “enters into the crowd as though it were an immense reservoir of electrical energy.” He describes flânerie as the mirroring of crowd and environs, in which the flâneur is a “kaleidoscope gifted with consciousness, responding … and reproducing the multiplicity of life and the flickering grace of all the elements of life.”

Oh the places you'll go! Canggu mural

Oh the places you’ll go!

As the édu flâneuse, then, I am mindful of channelling this notion of the reflective mirror or refractive kaleidoscope, of being an absorber of words, worlds and wonders. While I try to find awe and gratitude in the everyday, travel is the perfect opportunity for practising the flânerial mindset of intense attentiveness and expansive wide-openness.

Tanah Lot, Bali, by @debsnet

Tanah Lot temple

My recent trip to Bali, in which I gave myself permission to take a break from work and PhD study (and also blogging and even engaging professionally on Twitter), was the perfect opportunity to embrace flânerie and presence (one of my 3 words of 2015). As well as unplugging from constant mental and physical engagement in work and study, I was focused on the travelling mindset, defined by Alain de Botton as being about heightened receptivity. As Adriano di Prato writes on his blog ‘Permission is Triumph’ we must each say ‘yes’ to living our lives in the way we choose.

offerings on Echo Beach rocks

offerings on Echo Beach rocks

While I left home in a flurry of jumbled thoughts, to-do lists, marking piles and thesis pages, I have returned almost delirious with relaxation, centeredness and acute awareness of the present moment. The act of travel, and its immersion in people and places, has allowed me to re-ground myself, reflect and practise receptivity, allowing me to (hopefully) return to daily life, work and research with renewed clarity, purpose and joy.

Ayana Resort infinity pool, Bali, by @debsnet

infinity pool at Ayana Resort, Jimbaran

My experiences away included those with my husband, children and friends. But they also included solo flânerial entanglements in environment. Early morning walks often provide these moments for me. In the past I have watched the sun rise above iconic landmarks including Venice’s St Mark’s Basilica and Prague’s Charles Bridge. There is something magical about being alone in the first quiet golden light of day, watching a city wake up, before it is caught in the throes and machinations of its daily grind. This trip was no exception.

Tumpek Wayang ceremony, Seminyak, Bali, by @debsnet

Tumpek Wayang ceremony, Seminyak

One morning, as I wandered through the streets of Seminyak at dawn, I happened upon a Tumpek Wayang ceremony in which three individuals were led by a holy man in ritual. I was first drawn to this small ceremony by the sounds – the pealing of bells and the twittering of a small caged bird. I drew closer and sat nearby to watch as the ceremony continued, with prayers, offerings and sacred rites conducted with grace and in luxuriant colour. I have since discovered that Tumpek Wayang occurs every 210 days and that its purpose is to honour the god of art and artists, Sanghyang Iswara. After it had finished I was able to talk to the people about the ceremony, its significance and what it meant to them, such as the use of holy rice (bija) for blessings and to bring their god to themselves by placing the rice on their forehead and also by eating it.

basket of petals, Bali, by @debsnet

basket of petals

Another morning, wandering through Canggu rice paddies at sunrise, I encountered a Balinese man, or he encountered me, and we began to talk. He asked me if I was a spiritual person, and we spent the rest of the walk discussing spirituality, blessings, meditation, music and love. ‘Love,’ he said, ‘is when the heart smiles.’ We talked about the meaning of Engelbert Humperdinck’s lyrics ‘there goes my everything’ and the role of music in life and self. I don’t speak Indonesian and this man’s English was limited, but we connected at a moment in time and managed to communicate across cultural and language barriers.

Echo Beach sunset, Bali, by @debsnet

Echo Beach, far away in time

These experiences, as well as other small moments like watching the sunset colours change or talking to a woman as she made the morning’s offerings from baskets of soft petals, allowed me to connect presence, self and world, experiencing it in open, receptive and reflective ways.

Vue Beach Club, Canggu, Bali, by @debsnet

beach club sunset

I have returned from my trip hopeful that I can hold on to this feeling of openness-to-noticing and use my flânerial Spidey senses as a tool to keep me centred on my axis. I am considering how I might bring the idea of paramaterising my commitments to work and PhD into my weekly existence. How might I make attentive noticing and openness to unexpected conversation a daily practice? How might I take more regular self-care breaks in order to restore clarity, increase productivity and protect wellness?

When you take your attention into the present moment, a certain alertness arises. You become more conscious of what’s around you, but also, strangely, a sense of presence that is both within and without. ~ Eckhart Tolle

Canggu rice paddies, Bali, by @debsnet

Canggu rice paddies

 

Giving ourselves permission for a break: time away as self-care and strategic productivity

“What day is it?” asked Winnie the Pooh. “It’s today,” squeaked Piglet. “My favorite day,” said Pooh” ~ A.A. Milne

Villa Artis, Bali by @debsnet

Early tomorrow morning I will be on a plane to an island destination for a holiday with family and friends. I should be dreaming of silky cool pool water, fire-coloured sunsets over the ocean, meandering rice paddies reflecting blue skies, the sizzle of seafood on the beach and the clink of ice blocks in cocktail glasses.

Canggu beach, by @debsnet

And yet I have been thrashing around trying to decide whether or not to work or study or blog while I am away. Or whether I can leave it all behind and take a real break, despite ceaseless deadlines. I wonder if this is a common phenomenon in a world in which we are constantly connected to each other, constantly available to our workplaces and constantly curating, creating and sharing vignetted content of our lives and work. While flexible working hours can allow us to make adaptable life choices and social media can allow us to connect with others, do they also contribute to a cycle of relentlessness which we find difficult to break away from?

rice paddies, Umalas, by @debsnet

I have decided that I need to take a full thinking, writing, marking, everything break from my worlds of work, research and writing. One of my three words of 2015 is ‘presence’, so partly this break is about a commitment to being present with my children, husband and friends during our trip. But it is also about being ok with taking an actual break and with a commitment to self-care. I am someone who sees blogging as a break from PhD writing. Or PhD writing as a break from marking. So the idea of a break from all-of-the-things is foreign and has taken some self-convincing.

offerings, Bali, by @debsnet

There are others who have reflected on the importance of self-care, even as we catapult ourselves towards our goals. Raul Pacheco-Vega wrote on self-care in academia and the importance of privileging your own health and wellbeing. New Zealand author Celia Lashlie, who I’ve had the pleasure of hearing speak about her work, died in February after releasing a statement which read, “My wish is that others will learn to stop before I did, to take into account the limitations of their physical bodies and to take the time to listen to the yearnings of their soul. It is in the taking care of ourselves we learn the ability to take care of others.”

Seminyak sunset, by @debsnet

I love my work and my research, and most of the time I find a tenuous work-family balance. I wrote on the PhD Talk blog about the way that normally it works for me to have many things on the go, as doing any one of them feels like a holiday from the others. I also spoke there about the importance of quiet in-between times. That is, often I make the most cognitive or creative progress, on my PhD thesis or a strategic work problem, when I am walking, or driving, or taking time to be quiet and still. So luxuriating in a full, unadulterated, brazen break is also a strategy to vacation, to vacate the demands of everyday life, in order that I might return with some mental clarity and physical energy to tackle the rest of this year, which includes for me, finishing my PhD thesis and successfully implementing the professional learning and growth model at my school.

So give yourself permission for a break, small or large. To unplug from emails, tweeting, writing or planning. To take care of yourself, curl your toes in the earth and immerse yourself in somewhere, somehow or someone that gives you joy.

(Photos in this post are from a previous trip.)

(How did it go? The post-script to this post can be found here.)

Sea Circus, Bali, by @debsnet

Leaving New York City

Abroad is the place where we stay up late, follow impulse, and find ourselves as wide open as when we are in love. We live without a past or future, for a moment at least, and are ourselves up for grabs and open to interpretation … The Romantic poets inaugurated an era of travel because they were the great apostles of open eyes. Buddhist monks are often vagabonds, in part because they believe in wakefulness. And if travel is like love, that is, in the end, mostly because it’s a heightened state of awareness, in which we are mindful, receptive, undimmed by familiarity, and ready to be transformed. That is why the best trips, like the best love affairs, never really end. ~ Pico Iyer

Thank you, New York. And goodbye for now.

NYC from the air

NYC from the air

Brooklyn Bridge view

Brooklyn Bridge view

Central Park

Central Park

Columbus Circle

Columbus Circle

Getting reacquainted with New York City: to flâne is human

One belongs to New York instantly, one belongs to it as much in five minutes as in five years. ~ Tom Wolfe

Spending a couple of days acclimating to being on the other side of the world can be a joy. An infamous skyline, leaves changing colour, layered collages of buildings old and new, freshly carved pumpkins on doorsteps. Hello, New York.

Manhattan skyline

Manhattan skyline

Columbus Circle to Central Park

Columbus Circle to Central Park

 

Tom Fruin’s famous plexiglass house, Kolonihavehus, against the Brooklyn Bridge

freshly carved pumpkin, West Village

freshly carved pumpkin, West Village

 

Planning a trip to NYC

NY trip planning

New York trip planning

We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next, to find ourselves. We travel to open our hearts and eyes and learn more about the world than our newspapers will accommodate. We travel to bring what little we can, in our ignorance and knowledge, to those parts of the world whose riches are differently dispersed. And we travel, in essence, to become young fools again – to slow time down and be taken in, and fall in love once more. ~ Pico Iyer

Anyone who knows me knows that I am an enthusiastic itineriser and joyful organiser. As I alluded to in a previous post, for me anticipating a journey through planning is all part of the experience. Travel lasts longer if you plan in anticipation and reflect upon return.

Packing is made easier by the packing list I made for myself back in my living-in-London pre-children days when I travelled internationally all the time. When crafting my list, I started with this online list and then fine-tuned mine over a number of years of regular travel. It includes lists for my laptop bag, carry-on and checked case. I never travel without my eye mask, ear plugs, camera & mobile phone charger. This time around I’m adding some creative, flânerial things to my case, as I outlined here.

On this, my third visit to New York, I’ll be staying at an airbnb apartment. The wonderful thing about that, in addition to having my own home in the West Village for a week, is the generosity of airbnb hosts in making your stay in their city as good as possible. For instance, thanks to my host I will arrive to a SIM card and a subway MetroCard already purchased for me, along with a list of local hangouts.

While I will be in New York for work (which encompasses amazing professional learning opportunities for me as outlined in my first post), the city that never sleeps is the perfect destination for planning some culture and fun around my meetings. As with my first two visits to Manhattan, I am planning my days around its gridded neighbourhoods and subway lines. My double-sided colour-coded itinerary includes my ideas for where to eat, drink, see or shop in and around particular areas. I won’t necessarily get to all of them, but I’ve researched my options so I have a sense of where I’d like to go and what I’d like to try. I also have printed copies of my Google maps, exploding with stellar constellations of starred places I hope to visit.

The nice thing about this being my third visit is that, around my work, I can squeeze in the NYC things I have loved before and those things I haven’t yet experienced.

In my last visits I’ve strolled the Brooklyn Bridge, meandered Central Park, ridden the Staten Island Ferry past Lady Liberty, stood silently at Ground Zero, ascended the Empire State Building, peered from the Top of the Rock, been spontaneously invited to a bar opening and been wowed by the sermon and gospel choir of Harlem’s Abyssinian Baptist Church. I’ve admired art at the Met and MOMA, seen Madonna at Madison Square Garden, danced in the aisles on Broadway, enjoyed live music at the Knitting Factory, watched a Yankees-Mets game at Yankee Stadium and wondered at the NY Public Library. I’ve eaten steaks at Knickerbocker, cupcakes at Magnolia, fried chicken at Sylvia’s, sushi at Sushi Samba, streetside hot dogs in the Bronx, dim sum in China Town, caviared blinis at Pravda, deli sandwiches at Katz’s Delicatessen, brunch at Pastis and dinner at Stanton Social. I’ve shopped up and down Manhattan, from flea markets to Century 21 to Fifth Avenue, and have tasted more than my fair share of creative cocktails.

I’ll no doubt make my way back to the New York Public Library; as a bibliophile it always draws me like a magnet as a beautiful space with great literary and architectural energy. I’m also looking forward to fall colours in Central Park (maybe even checking out the Central Park Pumpkin Sail), to revisiting the Met for this season’s rooftop installation and to seeing the 9/11 Memorial. I’m planning to make it into the Guggenheim; I’ve enjoyed the Guggenheims in Bilbao (Spain) and Venice (Italy) so am looking forward to seeing New York’s. The High Line’s final section recently opened so I’m delighted to be able to see Manhattan’s West Side from this historic freight rail line elevated above the streets. I’m also intending to investigate PDT as I can’t resist a speakeasy with a phone booth entrance. And I have a thing for carousels so I’ll see if I can visit the one in Central Park and Jane’s Carousel in Brooklyn Bridge Park.

What are your tips for planning and packing? What are your NYC absolute must-dos?

New York Public Library in the fall

New York Public Library in the fall

Art journal pages: scribbling as therapy, thinking & anticipation

An artist is a sketchbook with a person attached. Irwin Greenberg

New York City is the subject of much art, literature and creativity. As I explained in this blog post and comments, for my upcoming professional trip I am using a range of traditional and new media to explore, express and develop my thinking. I find that keeping a visual and written record of my observations and thoughts helps to anchor me in the moment and focus on really seeing, hearing and experiencing what is around me. My creative packing list can be found here; it outlines the ways I am intending to flânerially experience and capture my trip.

So, inspired even before I take flight, here are my collagey art journal scribblings so far …

art journal page: curiouser and curiouser!

art journal page: curiouser and curiouser!

art journal page: I heart New York

art journal page: I heart New York

art journal page: New York is always a good idea

art journal page: New York is always a good idea

NYC art journal page by @debsnet http://theeduflaneuse.wordpress.com/

art journal page: don’t quit your daydream

art journal page: Perth to New York

art journal page: Perth to New York

Your walls, New York, hold up heaven, parapets of beauty stabbing into the stars! / Pillars of the universe. / Oh music in stone, poetry in sculpture, song in architectural marble, prayer in granite, an ecstasy in steel and iron and gold, singing city of the great heart, singing city, / You are Manhattan! Edwin Curran

The flâneuse’s packing list: a toolkit for observation & exploration

A dominant impulse on encountering beauty is the desire to hold onto it, to possess it and give it weight in our lives. There is an urge to say, ‘I was here, I saw this and it mattered to me.’ ~ Alain de Botton

some of my favourite flânerial things

some of my favourite flânerial things

Flânerie has been described as “gastronomy of the eye” (Honoré de Balzac) and a moving and passionate photograph (Victor Fournel). It is an active and deliberate way of understanding the world. Baudelaire described the flâneur as the passionate observer, responsive spectator, reflective mirror and lover of life. Flânerie is all about acute, intentional and subtle observation. Baudelaire’s flâneur exists “incognito”, surreptitiously rejoicing in the magic all around him, at home among the unfamiliar, finding joy in urban exploration.

As I plan for my week in New York and my packing list, I’m asking myself: What does the keen observer need to assist them with attentiveness to their environment and experiences? How does an édu flâneuse attempt to capture the kaleidoscopic phantasmagoria of experience and learning?

Here are some of the things on my flânerial packing list.

art journaling supplies

art journaling supplies

A journal. Journaling is thinking and therapy. Cavallini & Co’s Roma Lussa is my canvas of choice, a beautiful soft-Florentine-leather-bound journal with marble page-edges. For taking flânerie old school. With pen. Paper. Even the trusty Conté à Paris crayons I still have from art school. As my Typo watercolour pencils declare: the world is better in watercolour … and charcoal, and crayon, and paint!

camera gear

camera gear

Cameras & accoutrements. The flâneuse needs a variety of lenses through which to frame and record experiences. I am taking my Canon DSLR and lenses, as well as my iPhone and olloclip lenses to allow for snapping on the go.

A laptop. For writing, blogging and editing photos. Of course this can be done on an iPad (which is much more portable) but I prefer typing to tapping and the extra control and diversity my laptop provides.

flânerial fashion

flânerial fashion

Flânerial fashion. Exploring shoes. Eco sunglasses. Leather satchel big enough to carry laptop and/or camera and/or journal. The 19th century flâneur was always bedecked in attire appropriate for urban exploration. With style.

(Pictured above are my handmade Portugese Felmini ankle boots, Scaramanga leather satchel and Shwood wooden sunglasses.)

So there you have it: my flâneuse’s toolkit, ready for taking artiness on the road to observe, explore, jot, snap, scribble and sketch.

art journal page: New York is always a good idea