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Seeking 42

The answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything might be 42, yet is not helpful. I’m often tempted to distill everything to a simple conclusion or outcome and have to remind myself that it is not always the go-to approach.

The green horse joke is a great way to explain it.

This story is set in times when people had either to walk or go about on horseback.

green horse in fieldA man was really struck on a woman*.  He had it bad.  Trouble was, he hadn’t been introduced, and wanted a way to strike up a conversation, leading to a relationship.  He asked his mate for guidance on how to get the favourable attention of his desired woman.  ‘Tell you what’, says his mate, ‘why not paint your horse green.  Walk past her, leading your unusual green horse, and she’s bound to comment on it.  From there you can get talking, ask her out, give her flowers, and get what you want.’  ‘Right’, says our hero, ‘paint my horse green. I can do that.’

Before long the rather bewildered horse is a lovely grass green, and our hero is leading it proudly past his lust object.  ‘My goodness’, she says, and stopped and stared at the horse.  ‘Your horse is green!’  ‘Yep’, he replied.  ‘Wanna fuck?’

This story is not a description of how I conduct my relationships, but my approach to information.  I want the answer, now. That is not always the best or easiest way, though.

*Insert genders or non-binary options to suit your preferences

I’ve been asked to deliver a workshop on developing communication skills. Perfectionist me has been worrying about how to write the perfect workshop that will give people fabulous strategies to solve problems with communication. That is not possible. Yet communication in relationships is an essential aspect of my business. I decided to explore options by facilitating a meeting with friends attending where it was safe to play with ideas and make mistakes.

Yesterday I facilitated a sex geekdom meetup on the theme of communication, wanting to learn from the participants and test out some ideas. There were about eight people present, we mingled, ate and talked first, then people consented to let me try out the activities. First we did the handshake activity in a pared-down version as described in Meg-John Barker and Justin Hancock’s book Enjoy Sex (How, when and IF you want to)  and that led to lots of useful conversations and insights, including for some people that they did not like shaking hands and strategies for avoiding it. Then we used the 1, 2, 4, all strategy to explore a time when we were proud of communication done well, and share the concepts that made it successful. The outcomes included honesty (and knowing when to lie), trust, story-telling that is engaging and has an unexpected ending (a teaching strategy) and discussing each other’s needs in intimate relationships (and hopefully finding ways to mutually meet them). I had planned to do a version of TRIZ which looks at how to do things badly, but ran out of time.

What I got from this was a reminder that things don’t have to be perfect, baby steps are a good way to begin, that I already have the skills and tools to plan and deliver this workshop. People had a good time, and were happy to have me run the meetup as a facilitated event. I’ll have to be strict with timing in a more formal, paid education situation.

I’ve been reminded in a powerful, embodied way that 42 is not what I need or what others want. No doubt I’ll have to keep being reminded, though!

Entrepreneur

I am an entrepreneur and my work is as a sexologist. It is good to be able to say that with confidence now, although it has taken a while to get there. My employment life transition is just one of many global transitions at the moment and the zeitgeist is not a happy one overall. I am endeavouring to make a positive contribution to the world through sex-positive and pleasure-focused education, as well as through being kind in my daily interactions. What is good for me about the change is that I can teach with integrity and good pedagogy in my own business and not have to comply with a university system that is being run as a business and not as an educational institution.

Letting go of the place that was a key part of my identity for 14 years was hard. There is a grief that comes with change, even if the change is wanted, and that is how it was with me letting go of the university. It took a conscious effort to focus on good things and not on the negative aspects. I was known and valued at the Bendigo campus of La Trobe University, and being there was part of my identity. I did some excellent teaching. Students remember my lectures years later, and as recently as last weekend a woman told me her language use re body parts with her daughter (using accurate terminology for genitals) was influenced by the content of my sex education lecture and the theatrical drama with which it was delivered. There is a greater freedom to teach using transformative learning while being self employed. I had huge fun with lecture writing; these slides are from 2011’s lecture.

Lots of things helped me be grounded and move on.  Claire, my admin assistant, has been a champion of my work and linked me to some useful ideas and resources, as well as giving practical assistance. An aspect of the job she loved was helping to care for Flynn and Fergus, the rescue dogs I fostered for nine weeks. Her support is making a big difference.

Joining the Synergize Hub gave me a new community, one which includes and values me, and where I can access business support. It is a co-working space in central Bendigo. The people are diverse, with shared values and a range of business types. I love going there, and am now treasurer! That is an opportunity outside my comfort zone where I will learn new skills. Every time I go there I receive a nugget of wisdom, and lately I realise I am contributing as well. It is an awesome place to be nurtured and supported as I develop my business, and to offer support in return.

The business is growing slowly. I’m getting more confident to put myself out there, do promotion, and make things happen rather than wait for them to come to me. The pace is ok for me, and I’ll step it up as I become more settled. I have beautbusiness cardsiful business cards designed by Dale Harris of Studio Ink, and have re-vamped the website I established during my NEIS course in 2014. I painted the artwork in the background.

Putting myself out there includes submitting an installation to the Queer Country art exhibition, associated with the Bendigo Queer Film Festival. It is a positive statement on ageing and sexuality, with a bedside table holding a reading light, glasses and case, copy of Joan Price’s Ultimate Guide to Sex after 50, lube, and a flogger.

Note that on the windowsill behind me is a business card holder with business cards. There is a hustle here, and a hustle there, everywhere a hustle hustle. The holder (which Claire refers to as ‘couches’ as they look a bit like a psychiatrist’s couch) was 3-d printed by the fabulously supportive Jim.

I’m feeling really grounded in my business now. I have something valuable to give, and people from all walks of life are supporting and encouraging it. The counselling practice is taking off. My ideas are flowing and I’m writing and delivering good workshops, with plans for lots more. Check out my website for details. Invite me to speak!

It is a good place to be.

Fergus and Flynn walking Hustler's Reef Reserve

Fergus and Flynn looking into the future at Hustler’s Reef Reserve, Bendigo

I got a call in mid-January about a puppy farm raid that meant 15 dogs needed fostering immediately and would I help by taking two of them? Support and information was available, I could give them back at any time without question, so  my dog-mad housemate and I went on a road trip to pick them up. These adult dogs had been in a puppy farm all their lives, were filthy, had no socialisation, and were not used to open spaces.

Waffles (who I renamed Flynn) was introduced to me at a rock star, as he was the dog used on the TV news item about the puppy farm raid. From the shut-down, traumatised dog he was then, has emerged a playful, cuddle-loving creature who enjoys human company. He is the short-haired dog in the crate. I thought he was tan-coloured until he had had a couple of baths, and it turns out he is white. He is happy to hang around the house, although he likes going on walks. He is social with new people, and seeks pats. He likes to sit on your lap. He is calmly sociable with new dog playmates. He is interested in what is going on in the world, and has adapted well to a routine.

Flynn 18 Jan 17

Flynn on the right, with Butterball

 

Flynn March 7 2017

Flynn makes himself at home on the couch

Fergus was a very anxious dog when he arrived, and found security in corners and safe enclosed spaces. His coat was long and filthy. The first bath he had he just froze, and the water turned black as though the dye had run. By the time he had the second bath he was confident enough to try to escape from the tub, indicating that he has adapted well.  He is a gentleman, and curious about the world. He seems quite serious, and likes to sit at your feet rather than on your lap, although strokes and belly rubs are very popular. His coat is soft and feels wonderful. If bones are being handed out to him and his foster brother, he wants ALL the bones to himself. When visiting new places he is curious, confident and friendly. He gets on well with other dogs and seems to ignore cats, except when he sees them while out walking. He loves going for walks.

Fergus 18 January 17

Rescue day for a traumatised Fergus

We gave them love, security, a gradually expanding environment, baths, haircuts, and introduced them to walking on a lead. It was only later when they went to their forever home that I realised how much nurturing they had given me as well. Their love and connectedness with me was positive input that helped me as I helped them. I missed them when they went, even though I did not want to keep them. They look happy with their new family, and are clearly well cared for.

 

Fergus 7 March 2017

Fergus with ALL THE BONES

 

There are many global transitions at the moment and the zeitgeist is not a happy one overall. I am endeavouring to make a positive contribution to the world through my new business, as well as through being kind; fostering rescue dogs was a deliberate attempt to put love out into the world and make the dogs’ lives better. The return of the love was a wonderful bonus.

Fergus looks out to the world and Flynn snuggles in

Fergus looks out to the wider world while Flynn snuggles in.

Driving technology

My first car was a mini, which had a starter button. There was a radio as well, it was manual, yet had no other fancy tech stuff. I was a hoon in that car, and loved the freedom it gave me. You learn to drive after you get your licence, and I survived my hooning in that tiny car with few safety features. My current car is a Mazda 3 diesel, and came with toys I love using: The Bluetooth phone and music system, cruise control are things I use all the time, although the navigation system is too outdated to be very helpful. It is manual too, and while I’ve driven a few automatic cars, most of my driving has been with manual ones.

I was heading off on a two-hour drive to a job interview, using a University fleet car. There was a lot of anxiety about the interview and job, so I began the trip feeling stressed. The car I was assigned had unfamiliar technology; it was a hybrid, which I hadn’t driven before, and there was no keyhole. The handbook was more about how to use the entertainment system than how to drive the car, so I went looking for assistance. A kind stranger from a nearby office responded to my plea for a five-minute tutorial on the car, and her colleague said complimentary things about my outfit and was reassuring, which was lovely. The advice was: The car has a start button, the key was a proximity key, so don’t give the car to someone else when it is running then leave with the key, just push the button to start it, it is quiet when in electric mode, but still running. I went to drive off, and couldn’t find the handbrake. It was almost like a pantomime comedy as I looked all around the usual places for a handbrake; left side, right side, up next to the steering wheel, finally getting out and on my knees looking in, which was when I saw the foot-operated hand brake tucked way back inside to the left.  Good thing I like technology and learning new things, I thought, as I drove the unfamiliar vehicle to the interview. My interview performance was not connected to anxiety about car technology, at least.

Recently I borrowed a brand new Nissan X Trail, without access to a tutorial first. It had the proximity key, so I knew about that already, and the display told me how to start it, pushing the starter button while my foot was on the brake. The foot-operated hand brake was similar to my recent adventure with the fleet car, so yay for something that was familiar. The mirrors were folded in and I unfolded them manually until I worked out the button which folded and unfolded them; it was obvious when I properly looked at the symbol. These cars are high up and visibility, especially behind, is poor, yet using the reversing cameras is a different mindset from twisting around and looking. I didn’t really trust my perception of the camera, although learned to love the all around image of where the car was in relation to the painted carpark lines and took pride in positioning myself in the middle. The ‘manual’ mode was not something I understood and when I accidentally selected it, the car stayed in first gear. That was alarming! I got off the road, phoned a friend for assistance, who was calming and helpful, and assisted me to interpret the instructions I eventually found three-quarters through the handbook. I didn’t make that mistake again. While I appreciated the loan of the car, it was good to get back to my hatchback Mazda and familiar systems.

My father learned to drive in a Ford Model T, and to fly in a Tiger Moth. I like to think that I have inherited the capacity to continue these pioneering adventures in technology.

1917 Ford Model T

Ford Model T

Image: http://www.duetsblog.com/files/2014/05/modelT.jpeg

Synaesthesia

At choir I received a sound bath. Fifteen people stood around me and hummed or sang a range of sounds. It was amazing. I experienced it visually as well as aurally, with a full synaesthesia thing happening. I was kneeling in the music room at my university, yet was transported.

From: http://www.intrepidtravel.com/sites/default/files/elements/product/hero/australia_alice-springs_kata-tjuta_rocks-green-shrubs.jpg

I saw rocks like these

Image: http://www.intrepidtravel.com/sites/default/files/elements/product/hero/australia_alice-springs_kata-tjuta_rocks-green-shrubs.jpg

I was in outback Australia, with an ochre rocky outcrop/cliff and vivid blue sky. As the singing continued trees grew and thickened into a forest. A phone made a sharp ding-ding and that sound became a meteorite. The bright streak moved across the darkening sky over the worn, ochre rocks. As the singing faded out the trees thinned and I could see the red dirt again. It was like 100 years of a place transforming packed into five minutes.

shooting_star

meteorite

Image: http://www.thecreateescape.com.au/work/Writing%20in%20Mercatello/Shooting_star.jpg

Seeing sound is new to my experience; closing my eyes and being open to it is wonderful. I had this experience without any expectations, and was expecting a nurturing gift of sound. On an other day I’d had a synaesthesia experience when we were singing interwoven, individual responses to a warm-up riff. That was like multi-coloured ribbons weaving in three dimensions around the space. It is a wonderful thing to experience, and I will be open to more of it.

It gets worse!

This is a serious situation. I wonder how effective the industry associations could be; one factor is that many casual academics are excellent at what they do. Being casual, or secure, is not an indicator of skill or teaching quality. Being secure is a way to keep people connected and enthusiastic, though.

The Research Whisperer

This post is co-authored by Karina Luzia and Kate Bowles of CASA, and Jonathan O’Donnell of The Research Whisperer. It has been cross-posted to both blogs. 

It Gets Better’ is a great program, hosted in the United States, that aims to tell…

“…lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth around the world that it gets better, and to create and inspire the changes needed to make it better for them.”

The message is a simple one: Growing up is hard. School is crap, but don’t despair. It gets better.

This is a really effective campaign because it has found a way to tell the truth and help the people who need it.


It Gets Worse! We need a similar campaign for our hourly, adjunct, casual, sessional (HACS) academics, and for PhD students who dream of becoming professors one day.

The problem is that while we would love to be able…

View original post 1,460 more words

How little I know

You go to China and think you know a little bit. You stay a while and realise you know less, then after a year realise you know nothing. This was said by Harry Liu, Associate Professor, Deputy Director General (CELAP) at at the Chinese Executive Leadership Academy Pudong. I wanted to learn about China and see for myself how much the stereotypes matched or contrasted with my observations, and came away realising how little I knew. I also realised how hard it is to develop understanding. 
At the Australian consulate Jeff Turner, the trade commissioner, explained the development of Chinese aspiration over the last 50 years by describing the products that were desirable. Initially people aspired to the three circles: a bicycle, a watch, and something he’d forgotten. Next it was the three squares; white goods such as refrigerator and washing machine. Now people want a car, an apartment and travel. This level of aspiration requires significant development, infrastructure and trade. That is certainly happening. The pace of growth is massive, and the official mood is one of national pride and success. What I wondered about, and tried to explore through my questions to people at various institutions , was the level of political freedom, the status of women, support for LGBTIQ people. I didn’t get far! Indeed, at the Suicide Research and Prevention Centre when I asked about data on and programs for same-sex attracted young people, was told that there are not many gay people in Hong Kong. The implication was they were not numerous enough to matter.


As an ambassador for my university and country it was important to be polite and respectful. At the same time I could tell some of the people who were part of university meetings wanted to speak more deeply and honestly yet were constrained by time, language and circumstances. I asked questions of the tour guide and interpreter in the informal environment of the bus, and their answers and reactions were really interesting, usually expressing conservative attitudes and behaviour. 


The status of our visit was high; China and Chinese universities are keen to build good relationships with us. There is status in international collaborations. At Sichuan University in Chengdu the head of the health department (mr ?) who had been in charge of the rescue and restoration efforts after the earthquake gave a presentation about how hard everyone worked to get the place going again, and thanked the communist party and different levels of government at the end. One of the speakers had been at a conference in Beijing and was told to return early to speak to us; another had travelled some distance from another university to be there, although he did not speak. The events were for show as much as information exchange. Students were encouraged to return to study in China. Most people addressed us in Chinese, and the interpreter lacked public health vocabulary so the information was limited. The support for another child for parents who had lost children in the earthquake was a project they were very proud of. My questions about the evaluation of this program’s influence on the wellbeing of the parents were probably too complex and inappropriate for a straight answer. Photos of smiling mothers with babies depicted the official line.


The museum guide spoke loud Chinese via the microphone and our interpreter conveyed the translation in a normal voice. It was odd to experience this reversal of the expected process.

One public health professor was into reproductive health, and had been to Melbourne for the AIDS conference in 2014. He was keen to communicate with me, and we had a short conversation with the exchange of business cards. I asked about the provision of birth control measures after natural disasters, and sexual health policy which had condoms supplied in the hotel rooms. He said that condoms were encouraged yet the challenge was getting people to use them. After the earthquake many of the response workers were from other parts of China, and sex workers also moved in to meet their needs. HIV prevention was an important part of the work in responding to the disaster. Was sex work legal, I asked? No, he said, but it happens anyway and they needed to be responsive to it. Another important health official, a woman, was there, and I asked a question about gender equality. It is illegal to know the sex of a baby before it is born, was her vehement answer. At the time I thought she was being evasive, but in later conversation with the interpreter I realise that he had interpreted my question about gender equity into one about sex selection. 

Mr ? met us the next day as well to take us through a museum dedicated to the earthquake and subsequent recovery. It was dedicated to the glorious efforts of China. I wondered how the students would see through the propaganda; I underestimated their insight. A huge sculpture at the entrance depicting a dozen men carrying something up a rocky hill had the inscription ‘Unity is strength’. One of the descriptors about the earthquake response, which I could not photograph completely, had phrases like ‘A world-moving reconstruction makes us harvest appreciation. A historic reconstruction makes us create miracles!’ ‘Strong leadership…great support from all the Chinese people…overcame all difficulties, winning the great victory…the Communist Party of China is incomparably superior, our homeland is incomparably warm…incomparably intelligent’. There was no scope for acknowledging any errors, and it doesn’t seem to be part of the culture. The photos of important leaders taking the time to visit the site and being surrounded by children reminded me of Goya’s paintings of the Spanish royal family; the royals were so impressed with the depiction of their finery they were oblivious to the criticism in the paintings that was obvious to outsiders. The strained faces of the children who had clearly been encouraged to smile for the important man were heartbreaking. 


Unity is strength


Some of these faces are heartbreaking 

At another university in Shanghai a PhD student who had been conducting interviews with earthquake survivors was able to give a good answer about the outcomes from the baby program. One mother who still slept with the photo of her child which she kissed every day said no baby could ever replace him or make up for her loss, while another said her new baby represented a new future and was important for her hope. I liked the balance in this story, which made human sense in its diversity. 

The scope and ambition of China as a world leader is clear. The China Executive Leadership Academy Pudong (CELAP) complex is designed to look strong and imposing. World leaders, political and business, attend and deliver training sessions there. They learn things like media skills, and do problem solving simulations about responding to a crisis. There is a photo of Julia Gillard giving a lecture. 


Go our Julia!

Most of the pictures are of men. Associate Professor Harry Liu gave us an address. He included things such as the importance of leadership training for the future of economics, and the cultural challenge of obedience versus questioning. Over lunch, using this last point as an introduction, I asked Professor Liu about how people who want to express a critical opinion, and dissidents were treated in China, and gave Ai Weiwei as an example. He hadn’t heard of him. The assistant looked him up on her phone and explained the detail in Chinese. His interpretation was that some artists want to become rich so they do things like that to make money from westerners; it was more attention seeking than valid criticism of China.

This work at Tigjuan University seemed interesting yet language barriers hampered deeper understanding 


These were the best snacks of the trip, although the accompanying presenters were frustrating in their inability to communicate about what looked like interesting research.

I don’t have a slick summary of my experience in China. The study tour was a success, the students mostly seemed engaged and thoughtful, and we were treated very well. I have an impression of a country that is determined to be successful on the global stage and has resources to make this happen quickly and on a massive scale. I’m not sure where individuality comes into the collective culture, if it does. The people I met were eager to communicate and create a good impression. I’m starting to realise how little I know about China.