Love and community

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Writing time for me is two hours on a Sunday morning. I call it my ‘time off for good behaviour’; it’s often the only time I get to myself in the week.

I’ve been coming to the local library regularly for a good few years now. The women at the cafe know me and what I usually order; they ask after my kids and catch me up on important news in their families.

Then there are the other regulars. The elderly mob who are super friendly and cheerful, who always ask after my Mum.

The big nerdy English chap, whose studies have been interrupted by his stroke, who always comes and says hello.

Most weeks I’m very good at saying, “hello, how’s things, right now go away and let me write”, but this week a new friend finally moved past the ‘friendly nod’ stage. She sat down for a natter and whoops that’s half my writing time gone, just like that. Or more, because after discovering just how fascinating and delightful this new friend is, it takes me a little while to wrestle my brain back into harness. I have to relax, to remember that we have time. Time to ask those questions, unearth those stories, share those laughs. Friendship time is unlimited; writing time is not.

I’m not sorry, though. I am thrilled. The first library friend I made was literally a ten-minute chat before we both turned back to our respective screens. We only connected properly five months later when she turned out to be my son’s new kindy teacher. And over the years she’s become so much more than that: she’s a model of how I want to parent and woman and teach; she’s taught me about chooks and gardens and sewing; she’s started a community project bringing people together to sew cloth bags instead of plastic. I’ve helped her with university papers and childcare and chicken soup when she was sick. Not only are we richer for our friendship but so are our children, who have made friends with each other and gained a safe-house in the process.

We might’ve eventually figured it out during that chaotic kindy year, but with the library encounter under our belts we already knew we were onto something.

That something is rarely what you think it is. We’re not polished, perfect individuals. Every one of us has been shaken: failure, divorce, anxiety, illness, just plain feeling that we don’t fit in. Sharing it with a stranger in the library is really a great strength. It’s how we connect, by being vulnerable.

It’s taken me a long time of being out of academia to get – to remember – that connection is the whole point of this life. Connection is joy, connection is support, connection is power. It is the source of all our strength. We forget that at our peril.

Go. Be vulnerable. Connect.

The Dish

You know that whole 17-day, 3000km road trip was organised around this, right? The CSIRO radio telescope at Parkes. Very first time I sat down to consider possibilities, I looked it up and it turned out, they were having a rare open weekend to mark the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. They would do tours! Well, there was no way I was missing out on that.

We got there 45 minutes early, I was so scared of missing out – and given that we had a 1.5hr drive to get there, that’s really saying something in our slow-starting household. I can’t remember the last time I was so excited. Quite possibly, never.

I will not pretend the kids gave a damn. The boys stayed on the ground while CraftyFish came on the tour, pulled along somewhat bemusedly by my excitement. And I was completely, ridiculously, viscerally, excited. Nearly a month later and I still thrill to think of it, to see these pictures. It is like an A-list celebrity encounter, multiplied a couple of orders of magnitude. I would’ve gone on the tour three or four times, if they’d let me, except I did also want to share it. With EVERYBODY.

It is not just that I think it is stunningly beautiful. The epic parabolas, the lacework against the sky. It is not just that it’s a hub of brilliant minds from around the world. They had an “Ask the Experts Marquee”, where I would’ve quite happily stayed all day talking to people about gravitational waves and pulsars and the temperatures of merging galaxies and the Square Kilometre Array, except that I was actually a bit too excited to stand there and talk to any one person for more than about ten minutes.

It is not just the stonking engineering: the 1000-ton dish, unattached to its base, still in its sixth decade at the forefront of the science, leading a global network ever forward technologically. It is not just the way this magnet for the curious rises out of the surrounding kilometres of flat red dirt like a massive sunflower, always turning, always searching. Listening.

It is not even the mind-emptying scope of what they do there, probing the farthest reaches of our universe for the birth of the cosmos. It is all of this, all at once, that fires my rockets. It’s like every crevice of my entire brain is being thoroughly, running-round-in-circles gasping-for-breath tickled. Think about all those big ideas for a moment. The hugeness of them. The implications. The burning questions still to come. Can you feel it? Even an inkling? Yeah? Welcome to inside my head.

Placemarker

A listy post today, I think, because I’m in danger of overwhelming myself with everything I want to think and say and do.

1. The road trip was awesome. So awesome, I can’t even think of distilling it down to a single post, or even several. It’s still just a kaleidescope of images and feels. Ideally of course I would have posted as we went, but I decided to give myself a break – as much as that’s possible when you’re covering 3000kms in 17 days with the fam. I did a lot of art and read crappy novels, and bought clever books, and took hundreds of photos, from sweeping landscape vistas to the minute art of nature to my kids doing and seeing stuff they haven’t seen or done and it was thoroughly thrilling and thoroughly exhausting. So, basically perfect. Pictures will trickle onto the instagram page eventually.

2. Some writing opportunities have come my way!

First, I’ve found a blog-hop to join. I’m slightly terrified – I’m going to have to out myself as a writer – but only slightly; it feels like the right time and I’m ready to jump. Watch this space.

Second, the amazing woman who teaches my kids literacy has set up a little writing club. I went, I pestered her for reminders about plot, I remembered just how much of a pantser I am, I solved some problems, and I can see the next novel bubbling up. Huh. To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure whether I want to start working on it – I think I’d rather have a go flogging the finished MS first, but … occasional Thursdays, writing, in addition to Sunday’s time off for good behaviour; yes, I think I’m ready for that.

3. Ohhh the garden! It’s coming along in stops and giant bursts. A huge back step while we were away – 17 days, no water, oops – but we are back now and it’s full-speed ahead.

4. Except, of course, when we are homeschooling. CraftyFish had a wobble where she thought she wanted to go back to school. I was okay with that; our school was lovely, it worked well for her at first, the troubling elements are resolved; I’m confident we could make it work well for her again. Then she considered what she’d be missing and wobbled back towards home, which led to a discussion about how we might make home learning better for her. I think we can do that – she’s already written a couple of stories and done some math, in direct response to that. Then she woke up with a sore throat, poor kid, so it’s all up in the air again.

5. I’ve officially given up my plans to run the Bridge to Brisbane this year. I have gotten a bit better – and backslid – and better still – and backslid – and got to where I could run about 1.5kms – and then went away, which really was an epic backslide. It was always going to be a huge ask, that goal, and while part of me is sorry to miss it, I’m glad I set a goal ambitious enough to make me keep working towards it throughout the year. I shall keep going, until summer hits, and I backslide again, because every time you restart it gets a little easier.

Oh and that’s it – time’s up. One of those mornings where it doesn’t look or feel like much, but setting up for next time is always a good thing. Now I’m going home to make chicken soup and chocolate chip cookies for people who don’t feel well, and do some art, and some housework, and dream, and plan.

That day they went nuts

Wanna play a fun game? It’s called, “spot the curriculum checkbox”.

I’m strongly of the go-with-the-flow homeschooling ilk, mainly because whenever I’ve tried to lead there’s been such an almighty blow-back that we all have to lie down with cold gins compresses for two hours afterwards and nothing gets done at all. See my other posts on teh stubborn.

Then, too, part of my reasoning is that my kids will have days like this:

CraftyFish decides to write a song about how rich she is. (Literacy)

It’s kind of going all over the place so we discuss beats, rhythm and syllables. Then, dredging up a forty-year-old memory, I talk her through the AB AB C AB structure. (Music theory)

We edit and rewrite. CraftyFish is so ecstatic at her own wit that she decides she must make a music video to go with the song.

She gets out paper, pencils, ruler, scissors, and starts making fake money. (Art, but also math because she’s measuring and dividing and ruling)

Then she searches up some logos which she prints to make herself some bling accessories. By now Mr Pixel has caught her enthusiasm and joins in. I don’t even try to keep up with their discussions on branding but I do chip in on wealth, performance of identity, costume, and ‘flexing’. (Social studies)

As they work CraftyFish describes the video to Mr Pixel (this is verbal storyboarding; art again I guess or maybe literacy?) One scene involves her minion walking ahead of her, strewing money out of a basket for her to walk on. But our box of foreign change (Geography, history; because yes, we discuss where coins are from and the switches from sterling to decimal; francs and marks to euros) is old and manky, so we start trying to clean it.

Toothpaste doesn’t work so we ask the internet and learn about salt and vinegar. Only the first recipe doesn’t work fast enough for CraftyFish, so she fiddles around with it. Mr Pixel comes in to see what we are doing. He wonders which way is better, mine or CraftyFish’s – so he decides to set up separate boxes with, you know, actual measurements, and compare the results after a set time. (Science!)

So many questions emerge from this: does it work differently on different currencies? (Yes! Because different metals) Why is that one black coin there fizzing like an alka-seltzer? (No idea!) What is that green stuff called? (Malachite, apparently.) Does leaving it in longer get it cleaner? (Only up to about ten minutes.) What is the chemical reaction that is occurring? (Umm…. let’s see. I grab pencil and paper. Salt is NaCl + vinegar which is CH3COOH gives sodium hydroxide NaOH and water H2O, but the copper’s clearly reacting too so… um… kids? Hello?)

Kids have taken my phone and are shooting gangsta-style “publicity shots”. (Photography. Also, we talk Goldie – no, child, you cannot have gold caps on your teeth) – and rap culture and ‘bling’, so more music history/pop culture studiels. Also: God help me.) They send some shots to a friend with a similar sense of humor. His mum messages back, suggesting that we get them together for an afternoon of filming. This sends my kids into a frenzy of coin-cleaning, costume-constructing, and cash-creating.

But it’s lunchtime and the sizzling energy in the air is in danger of leaving everyone scorched (and starving) if it burns out of control, so I order everyone to sit down for an hour’s quiet time and food. (Health studies)

Their friend arrives. He teaches them all he knows about iMovie and they spend the next five hours making movies, talking cars, chickens, Lego …

Do you see? Do you see how one idea can lead to an entire rabbit-warren of learning for these kids? Can you see how they ended up literally exhausted, by the end of it? Because let me tell you, we were all exhausted, that day.

Yes, I would dearly love more order and predictability. I would love love love to direct their learning. What I am coming to realise, though, is that my job is to make their learning possible: finding and creating opportunities, chase them out of ruts and habits, facilitate looking-up and getting in supplies. Anything else is just ,,, yeah. Throwing marshmallows at their heads.