ups and downs

December 28, 2013 at 11:05 pm (brain, crafty, musings, out and about, simple pleasures)

today, i feel strong.

i left the house for the first time in a few days, because it’s that time of year. i only went running errands and dropped by a market, but while i was doing it, despite the debilitating heat, i managed to make a few decisions; ones that sometimes i can’t make.

i’ve actually enjoyed this ‘season’. i had a few quiet days thanks to losing my voice and having my father not ring, then a successful bah humbug dinner, then my housemate went away and i didn’t miss people at all: i’ve had the place to myself, it’s been clean enough to cook and i’ve done it once, it’s been clean enough to draft patterns on the loungeroom floor, and i’ve done that too. i’ve done a bit of work soldering and chasing up articles, listened to lectures, tried two ways to draft a pattern to reproduce my hat, labeled them well and made two toiles. i’ve fixed my saws, done some cleaning up in my garage, done washing, gardened.

my to do list for tomorrow involves lots of practical things, including some i’ve been putting off. also a few things with words – hopefully i can start making headway on them too. it’s telling that i feel good when i’m in the middle of lots of practical things, but i don’t know how i can make the most of this considering my life generally demands lots of reading, writing and contacting people – all the hard stuff – and for good reason: my life goals are about changing the world, and that doesn’t happen by fixing overlockers.

be that as it may, what have i learnt, or reminded myself of? having the house functionally tidy is important to me. being able to engage in practical stuff is good for me. having my father ring me daily is disturbing in this mood, though i know it’s a lifeline when things are really bad. i could probably live alone except that i can’t afford it, and i know i’d probably get rather more insular which isn’t great. i need an income so that i can do things like buy garage shelving when i feel like it, and pay my bills without juggling, thus worry less. i can indeed keep my mind engaged without uni, and we’re working on the world-saving and good social interaction problems, though there’s a huge way to go.


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stitch and bitch

July 18, 2013 at 9:09 pm (community, crafty, gender, words)

stitch and bitch. sewing group. knitting circle. i’ve run them on and off for years. at first i was wary of the most popular name for such things, but over the years i was won over by its recognisability and openness – i don’t care if you knit or sew or crochet or tat or do something obscure like making friendship bracelets.

at QC 2012, i scheduled a stitch and bitch, and it was so popular that we ended up having three of them, and our crafting spilled joyously onto conference floor. however the women’s caucus took issue with the name and reprimanded me, with no right of reply.

this year we scheduled four sessions straight up. it wasn’t as novel as the year before, but there was still an impressive number of knitters on conference floor. i didn’t change the name, and there were no complaints. i thought about addressing the issue with the new caucus, but refrained.

over the year i’ve thought about the term, and i can’t find any reason i can credit, to not use it. surely ‘bitch’ is a sterling example of a word ready for reclamation. we can’t just get rid of it because it actually is a legitimate word in the english language, and even though it refers to dogs, it is very specifically gendered. the concrete implications of its initial meaning will not fade away, even if we try to exile it. all that does is make yet another feminine word bad and taboo.

if we embrace it, however, by accepting this positive usage that has evolved organically, we are associating a feminine word with something good, changing it from a word which attaches an unequivocably negative connotation to femaleness, to a word with mixed usage. after all, what could be more positive than the informal political learning and exchange of ideas encouraged when we come together as a group to share our communal love of fibre arts?

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fear of matching

June 14, 2013 at 2:33 am (crafty, simple pleasures, travel)

“…manages to be cohesive yet not excessively matched.”
why is the west afraid of matching, coherence and pattern?
all through africa and the middle east, amazing dresses and outfits happen with matching headscarves. colours and patterns are bold, and decoration follows through from neck to sleeve to hem to scarf edge, if not more.
in russia, turkey and throughout eastern europe layering of patterns is acceptable and dressing from head to toe in one colour is just fine.
while there’s plenty i appreciate about sydney, i’m always disappointed to come back to the land of jeans and tshirts, where the only colour we can repeat is black, and even that’s a bit much if it matches properly, in a suit. everyone’s so busy fitting in that creative dressing is an anomaly.

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back to school…

May 9, 2009 at 1:43 pm (community, complex pleasures, crafty, dance, education, essays, out and about, queer)

i can’t help myself. i’m studying again. i have studied constantly since i was four years old, except for the time between february 2006 and february 2007… and half a semester at the end of the welding course last year while i was finishing off the mechanical engineering. come to think of it, in 2006 i still did the screen printing course. and the upholstery course. hmmm.

anyway, i’m now half way through my first subject in a masters of adult education; understanding adult education and training. it’s been interesting, and though i died over my first essay, i must’ve done a reasonable job, as i got a distinction for it! here it is.

Identifying Your Philosophical Orientation

This commentary is a personal response to taking an inventory on my philosophical orientation regarding adult education. Despite limitations in the instrument, I found the process and my results offered insights into both my philosophy and my practice in adult education. I found the framework to be useful, especially in conjunction with another on a separate axis, but could not locate myself firmly within any particular tradition, whichever way I tried. I was drawn to consider the breadth of purposes inherent in any instance of education, which, I believe, substantiates the broad range of theories and practices in which I find value. Ultimately, the frameworks are only guides to navigate the field in search of all the various theories which one can adapt, use, integrate and enjoy.

Zinn’s (1990) Philosophy of Adult Education Inventory (PAEI) is an interesting instrument. Consisting of a mere fifteen questions, it gives a quick analysis of a person’s philosophy of adult education, according to a framework by Elias and Merriam (Zinn 1990).

In taking the test according to its guidelines, I came out as 97% Humanist, 90% Radical, 88% Progressive, 70% Liberal and 66% Behaviourist. These results are notable for all being quite high and relatively close together as I had difficulty grading the answers. I found merit in almost all of them, and scored everything in the top half of the scale, between ‘neutral’ and ‘strongly agree’. Zinn suggests that this may indicate contradictory philosophies, however I saw answers as appropriate to different situations, rather than challenging each other’s validity.

I had difficulty filling out the inventory with regard to my general philosophy, as without differentiation, half the questions refer to specific practice, such as planning activities, while the rest demand a static philosophy. While both theory and practice are vital and I agree with Grace (2006) one cannot have one without the other, they do not necessarily stay still for examination. My practice varies widely depending on subject and context. Redoing the inventory for five different fields in which I have taught, the variety was more marked that I expected. In fact each one came out with a different primary philosophy, though the range within each was no less bunched than the original.

Burnout Workshops
The radical perspective came up second in general, and top for my Burnout workshops (All scores are tabulated in the appendix below). These workshops, dealing with prevention and management of stress and burnout, are conducted within community groups where the issue is acknowledged as important and very real, both to the individuals and to the group. They are used both to equip individuals for life and participation in the world, and to strengthen community. This is one of the few opportunities I get to confront social action directly, so I’m not surprised it came up the most radical. The humanist element is also strong with facilitation and focus on expanding potential, and working with emotions. Exercises such as role playing ‘saying no’ are effective uses of experiential learning, another focus of Humanism.

Mathematics tutoring
When I teach numeracy and mathematics, it is generally because my students perceive a general need or inadequacy. In trying to overcome their fears of the topic, I use plenty of problem solving and discovery methods to show them what they can do. Needs assessment is also very important, as I cannot rely on these students to be self-directed. These all draw on the progressive category, which scored highest on this take. I have the students’ immediate needs in mind, but I also choose my materials to connect to something wider, real issues in the students’ lives, for better learning by connecting to what students find important, for building confidence in the subject and in life, for community and world involvement and for making the world a little less scared of the subject.

Rubber workshops
Fun with Rubber and Latex scored closest to my overall outcome, in that the highest score for both was humanism. These workshops are run within the queer women’s communities of Newtown and are a forum to get a specific subculture interacting in an alcohol-free environment, to normalise open dialogue about sex of the varieties relevant to that community and to give people experience in the practical aspect of do-it-yourself philosophy. These are all dire needs in the community at the moment and I would have expected a high score in the radical column, but when I thought about it, I don’t use many radical techniques in planning or teaching, likely because there are relatively few to be found (Newman 1999). The workshops are advertised much more individualistically as an opportunity to have fun, learn skills and take home new toys that one cannot afford to buy commercially. Planning is restricted to materials and sequences of skills and learning is experiential after a short presentation, which may explain the high score for humanism.

Tatting classes
Tatting is a form of lace making that is associated with people’s grandmothers. I often run tatting classes in women’s spaces and, as with most of my teaching, they are a chance for people to connect to a community without putting themselves on display, as there is an ostensible purpose, and something to do with their hands. Tatting is a skill that people learn for learning’s sake, or to connect to women’s history, both which have a place in the liberal tradition (Zinn 1990), which came up as the primary perspective here. Mastering the skill is very important as it looks so simple that anyone who gives up goes away feeling defeated, so I put effort into finding different ways of teaching and promoting learning of the basic concepts, which come naturally to very few. I guess this is where the behaviourism comes in.

Tap dancing classes
Tap dancing came up as behaviourist, the very lowest score on my overall results. One reason I can see is that, where I generally don’t believe in practice and repetition as an important part of learning, that is what dancing is all about. There can be no rhythm in one isolated step. This class, like any of mine, has other objectives such as promoting body confidence, but the teaching is heavily systematic, building from simple step to complex sequence, with constant feedback.

These five case studies shed some light on my original score, which was supposed to position my overall philosophy and deep beliefs about adult education. They suggest to me that Zinn’s idea of purpose is simplistic as she seems to assume that there is one or two purposes behind an educational interaction, where as I can list a dozen at a time, primary and secondary, overt and incidental, cognitive or affective, individual or community, all in play at once.

Yet wherever they are placed, with recurrent themes of facilitation, interactive and experiential learning, personal growth and emphasis on affective content, it is no longer surprising that I came out as 97% humanist. I don’t always practice heavy consultation as I tend to have skills to transmit and the student has already chosen with their feet, but when I am in a classroom I do concentrate on empowering each individual student to be able to learn and connect the information, skills and attitudes to the rest of life. Theory-wise, the only aspect of humanism that came up in the PAEI as problematic is the idea that students are always capable of self direction.

My next score was radical, and I am certainly not surprised I scored high there as many theories which excite me fit into that category. I read plenty of libertarian education, critical pedagogy, postmodernist, feminist, indigenous and queer pedagogy. Yet as much of this field focuses on the organisation of education, over which I have less control than I do over my teaching, these theories have not translated as well as I would like to my practice. I have, however, opened a community space which provides resources, support and a location to all sorts of experimental educational projects. This has directly drawn on Illich’s (1971) Learning Webs.

Progressive theory has also had a significant impact on my thought. I have moved from pedagogy to adult education through the thought of such educators as A S Neill (1926), and pin hopes for schools on reducing the pressure they are under, by expanding, improving and respecting adult education. I work with students’ interests and needs and try to link content to their lives and real world problems, and make use of democracy rather than hierarchy, to model social change further than any content can go.

The liberal tradition is no longer the cutting edge of education, but I cannot ignore its achievements. I do not like to lecture and the list of topics a renaissance mind should know is centuries outdated, but I stand by the concept of a broad base of knowledge and understanding being important for interacting with the world.

Behaviourism, too, makes points one cannot afford to ignore, as it addresses a wealth of issues of how the mind works. At the very base, all the theories in the world won’t help if the student is in no position to learn, either from being subjected to a style of input that their brain cannot process, or merely not having had breakfast.

So, Zinn’s inventory has been useful in clarifying differences in my practice. However, her framework is not the only one by far. The number of similar frameworks with slightly revised categories, differences and overlaps, suggest to me that none of them are quite as comprehensive as they’d like to be, and remind me that they are all merely approximate divisions according to one set of criteria, which would easily be shifted according to another. For example, though the topics are surely related, Zinn’s philosophies of adult education and Merriam’s (Merriam, Caffarella & Baumgartner 2007) Five Orientations to Learning each have five categories, some of which overlap while the others don’t. Though each has some interesting questions on the other axis, I find nothing to recommend one over another, apart from attachment to an inventory.

However there are other ways of navigating theory, some of which can even coordinate with one of the first kind. Apps’ breakup (Zinn 1990), I believe, can enhance Zinn’s or any similar framework and make it more meaningful and flexible by providing sensible places to change category. The categories of Teacher, Learner, Content, Learning and Purpose are very real and distinct, and feel closer to being finite, while being overtly an example of aspects to be covered, rather than attributes on which to choose a category.

For example, as a teacher I tend to be a facilitator, as in the humanist tradition. I tend to treat learners in a progressive manner, working towards fulfilling their interests and discovering their experience. The widest purpose, in the back of my mind, is to bring about social change through community cohesion. I believe this is radical though the change I seek is not specifically revolutionary as some theorists require. I believe learning is incredibly broad, and find it appropriate to be very flexible in my methods. Each tradition focuses on different aspects; maybe behaviourism wins this because they focus on it so much more. And for content, I largely teach what I know, and I do aspire to being a renaissance person, as I see all sorts of weird and wonderful titbits of knowledge and understanding, especially learning from the past, can work together into something richer and more complex, that would be lost if we all stuck to the same popular fields.

To examine the original categories as capable of being broken down on these lines is a step towards seeing them as all aspects of a whole, and also to being able to appreciate theories which do not pretend to be a theory of everything. Indeed, I share many sentiments with the postmodernists, though they have severe limitations, especially in practice (Newman 1999). With a healthy disrespect for categories, they seem to support my inclination to not label myself, but to rather put together an eclectic collection of ideas, past and present, leaving room for the future as well.

Frameworks can help navigate the aisles, but what I put into my basket of theories will depend on what I come to need, what I think I can use, and ultimately, what makes me happy. So much of adult education theory takes itself very seriously, which is a pity as it is stuff on which to dream. Many theorists, and especially policy makers in this country, would do well to read bel hooks and consider how “to be changed by ideas [is] pure pleasure” (hooks 1994).

Despite limitations in the instrument, the PAEI has described my diverse views and given me food for thought on what I find useful, and what I find exciting. From here, I hope to fill some holes such as translating some of my radical theories to practice, and continue add to my – now better organised – basket of theories and practices, ideas, techniques and inspirations, all while cheerfully eluding categorisation.

Appendix: PAEI scores

_                   Liberal   Behaviourist   Progressive    Humanist   Radical
Overall        70           66                    88                    97                 90
Tatting         89          86                     84                    85                 76
Burnout      73          71                     89                    94                 95
Rubber        73          70                     85                    97                 76
Maths          84          80                     97                    90                 81
Tap              79           86                     72                    83                 65

Reference List

Grace, A. 2006, ‘Critical Adult Education: Engaging the Social in Theory and Practice’, in T. Fenwick, T. Nesbit & B. Spencer (eds), Contexts of Adult Education: Canadian Perspectives, Thompson Educational Publishing, Toronto.
hooks, b. 1994, Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom, Routledge, New York.
Illich, I. 1971, Deschooling Society, Penguin Books Ltd, Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England.
Merriam, S., Caffarella, R. & Baumgartner, L. 2007, ‘Critical Theory, Postmodern and Feminist Perspectives’, in S. Merriam, R. Caffarella & L. Baumgartner (eds), Learning in Adulthood: A Comprehensive Guide, 3rd edn, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, pp. 241-270.
Neill, A.S. 1926, Summerhill, Penguin Books Australia, Ringwood, Victoria.
Newman, M. 1999, ‘Looking for Postmodern Adult Educators’, in, Maeler’s Regard, Steward Victor Publishing, Sydney, pp. 194-202.
Zinn, L. 1990, ‘Identifying Your Philosophical Orientation’, in Golbraith (ed.), Adult Learning Methods, Kreiger, Florida, pp. 39-77.

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tatting art

October 14, 2008 at 7:42 pm (crafty)

i recently got roped into exhibiting as an artist.

this is all a great honour and exciting, but there’s a small problem: i don’t consider myself to be an artist. still, it’s my friends’ gallery so i gave it a go, and managed to come up with something, while negotiating my concept of art and my opinion of my own work.

when i consider my creative work, i see myself as an artisan rather than an artist. i am interested in forms, processes, tools and techniques, particularly ones which come with history and tradition. it’s not about message or innovation, though these do have a place. it’s more about embodiment than representation. people for whom art is a primary classification have argued against any of these criteria being necessary, and that anything done in an art gallery, in the company of artists, is art. i see that something can be art when it is under such conditions, but the work may not continue to be art when it is not. what does that mean for my handiwork? i am not convinced that it makes me an artist.

i guess i need to hear more.

anyway, it was a fun experience, despite me not actually having time to put it all together to my satisfaction. i displayed a tableau of tatting, my own pieces along with what i’ve inherited from my grandmother, along with tools, materials and a nice collection of vintage pattern books, all as context for what was to be the main event – an installation/performance of giant tatting. on opening night i sat in the gallery window with sixty metres of climbing rope and a mess of other materials, and proceeded to tat from the middle. instead of wrapping a loop of cotton around my hand and passing a shuttle in and out, i stretched out both feet and passed a loop or rope around my hand and both big toes, and proceeded to manhandle the remaining thirty metre tangle of heavy rope around. i didn’t get far considering how exhausting each and every stitch proved to be, but by the end of the night i had a few rings to hang from the hooks in the window, which looked interesting, at least, as they lead down to the impressive tangles of rope. it was a fun evening, the exhibition was opened with a song from a sister of perpetual indulgence, and alexis and i danced out into the street.

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catch up

February 3, 2008 at 5:44 pm (crafty)

i haven’t written for a while

i stopped when our generous neighbours, who were letting us use their wireless, suddenly put a password on it. no warning, no internet. that was last year. we’re still waiting on house internet but at least i now have my own interim unwired account, after using meela’s for a while, and before that, sitting in the car wherever i was, trying to catch stray unlocked connections.

much has happened in the last six weeks, that i haven’t quite managed to record. i’ll try to put some of it down… in the last week or so, life has been intense. fast and emotional. very good side by side with very stressful. i ran a couple of screen printing workshops, which were very good, though exhausting. at the first one, i got my car towed for being in a clearway, though the sign didn’t say it was. i’m still stressed about contesting that, i’ve gotten legal advice and still don’t know what to say. i should make some phone calls, but it’s the weekend.

i’m starting a job tomorrow. my third acoustics job – hopefully this one will be ok and last a respectable amount of time. i’m trying to not put too much emphasis on the fact that the boss didn’t manage to show up for my interview, and rather appreciate that he finally got back to me, and let me name my own starting date. hm.

with meela, i still feel like i’m second in line most of the time, whether it’s to absent people, or even to the cat. i understand when she’s missing people, but i’m a little impatient about being ignored in favour of a cat.

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December 16, 2007 at 11:49 pm (crafty)

urk. sore throat – clogged head– runny nose – headache – difficulty breathing – sore nose – red eyes – sneezing – coughing – sore ribs – itchy ears– white– yellow – green – brown – red. not too many possibilities left, so it’s nearly done. no tonsillitis.

at the same time, staying home while everyone else is at some unmissable party or other, i’ve been getting up early and managing to do things! i’ve made sequential plans for wood work projects i haven’t touched in years, glued together the layers for a hat block, sorted out the disintegrating patterns in my sewing machine cover, dared to soak new gloves and old dress and get out stains i never thought would go, played piano, put brush to surface and varnished the escritoire, packed tools and materials in appropriate size boxes, started on a screen printing template, a light box and hat block stand, and put my beloved sewing machine in for fixing and a service. not to mention cooking and cleaning, eating and getting hungry. actually, life is good.

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ten years coming

August 26, 2007 at 10:49 am (crafty, out and about)

i finally had a market stall yesterday. it was a big deal, selling my own work. i’d been mildly stressed in the leadup, but it happened, and was even moderately successful.

the day was quite pleasant, if very slow. i showed up before 9am, set up my card table, tablecloth, rubber stuff, screen printing and canes, and proceeded to sit there.

gretchen showed up at ten, as arranged. company was very good.

i talked to a bunch of friends and people i haven’t seen in a while, but even more dashed past not noticing, with the fixed gaze of someone scared a stallholder might want to talk to them and try to get them to buy something.

i made a custom cuff to fit the sister of a friend who was working another stall. she was quite young and thought her mother would kill her if she came home with spikes, so she settled for purple sparkles. she was so happy with it that she kept coming up to show me she was still wearing it, which created some much needed interest. when she asked why i had made one of them so small i tried it on a little boy who was fortituously hanging around, and he walked away happy with blue sparkles. someone else bought a collar with brown knobs on it, and paddy decided my black and silver canes were the perfect accessory for bloodlust that night, and so was very generous – telling me what he thought i should charge for them, then actually paying it! that all came to $70. i probably would’ve done better waiting till the bitter end, but i was already late for my dinner plans.

aurelie had come past earlier, leaving all excited to drag heather back to see my stall. they finally showed when we had packed up and were crossing the road loaded up with stuff. both parties kept walking, and that was the end of the day.

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i can breathe!!!!!

July 5, 2007 at 2:33 am (crafty, out and about, simple pleasures)

this is the first wednesday of the wonderful new anti smoking laws. after passing up offers to go out for a few weeks before – why deal with smoke when i soon wouldn’t have to – i was beginning to wonder if it was a horrible mistake and laws were only changing in england. that was all i could find media on.

so i was a little nervous of disappointment tonight, as most of the household trouped up to the sly fox. on walking past a huddle of smokers on the pavement, i felt a strange mix of revulsion and elation. it smelt so bad, but could only mean one thing: they’re real, the laws are real, they’re being taken seriously, the day has finally come!

inside, the place became packed. many people i knew were there. i got many complements on my good old favourite red dress, and lots of attention for the collar i was wearing, with a double layer, red press studs and short spikes. several people wanted to know if i sold them. the frisson of alter ego discussion continued. a few people i didn’t know said hello to me, apparently because i was wearing a red dress.

i stood in the front area, which is quieter but usually so smoky that i hold my breath most of the time. i took a deep breath. i filled my lungs with air as clean as it comes in sydney. without turning my head, surreptitiously searching for the best pocket of oxygen. without measuring my breaths. without covering my mouth. without analysing, and dodging, wafts of smoke.

i danced without coughing, and without half my brain and one eye logging the precise location, probable path and reach of each wildly swinging cigarette in view.

i went home without stinking of smoke. when i go to bed without a shower i’ll be able to sleep without stretching my neck unnaturally so as to keep my nose as far away from my body as possible. when i take my clothes off i don’t have to dump them over the bath rail in a futile attempt at airing; i can put them in the washing pile without it stinking out my room and needing to be washed twice. i’ll wake up with no more goop in my head than i already would’ve had, and when i get up and have to put on the same coat i wore last night, i can do so without asphyxiating myself for a week, and generally smelling disreputable.

i can breathe.

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the pressure of a name

July 3, 2007 at 3:41 pm (crafty)

more thoughts on identity and facade: why have i ended up with such a girly pseudonym? pretty and drawn from religion, it’s not me.

historically, it actually is me. it is my hebrew name, given to me by my parents. taken from two random great aunts or something. and anglicised. back in 1999 when i studied millinery, i went to considerable trouble to create a label that was suitable for branding hats. now it has branded me. maybe i should leave hanaleah to the nice little black and silver cloth labels that i stick in my creations, and become something a little more true. but first i’d have to find something.

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