Not sure this is what Csikszentmihalyi had in mind…

Having started my 0.5 academic life and seeing as school isn’t back for another couple of weeks I’ve had 0.5 leisure time since work went back. I’ve been enjoying the leisure part by getting stuck into some house renovation – for the last couple of days I’ve been tradie shaz (or as rohan calls me t.s) clad in cargos and paint splattered t-shirts scraping down outside weatherboards and painting them (and now I want a brick house as I’ve realised how much work it is owning a weatherboard). Rohan thinks I’m getting into being t.s a bit too much, I’ve taken to drinking a beer at the end of the day and making inappropriate jokes. Thankfully I’ll be putting t.s away this week and instead channelling music festival shaz in Hobart.

While being t.s I’ve discovered that you can take the academic out of her office but you can’t take the academic out of the girl. After reading a few people’s posts on twitter about Dan Pink’s book “Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us” I thought I would check it out so thanks to the joys of Kindle it was on my iPad in no time and on my rotation playlist of current reading.

I’d been reading Pink’s section on Csikszentmihalyi and ‘flow’, a concept I’d done a bit of reading about before when teaching undergrads about positive psych as part of a unit on the adolescent in the school, but I was a bit more entrenched in my reading this time round. Csikszentmihalyi’s words came back to me as I stood outside in sun so hot it was almost drying paint on the brush – and in particular his observation that painters were almost in a trance – now I’m sure he was talking about artists rather than your garden variety house renovator, but there’s something in that for all of us I reckon. Painting a house allows me to enter a relaxed, almost meditative state, just me and the brush strokes (except my mind wanders slightly to the Karate Kid and the wax on, wax off line), but it is in this moment that I can become lost in what I’m doing. And for that period of time I am simply happy, doing a task that is immediate and achievable (if somewhat painful after a few hours of stretching to reach the high boards).

So painting made me think of Csikszentmihalyi, which made me think of flow, which made me think of the other moments of life where I experience that same feeling of happiness and of being caught in the moment or as Auden describes it ‘forgetting themselves in a function’ (quoted in Pink, 2011, p. 114). For me, those moments of flow happen when writing, spending hours trying to capture ideas in words, and tossing around the right word to use to convey those ideas. It also happens when teaching – I get caught up in the interplay and exchange of ideas, concepts, emotions, relationships that happen in a classroom.
And you see why you can take the academic out of her office, but even when painting weatherboards she can find a way back into her work … maybe that’s flow too.

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2 responses to “Not sure this is what Csikszentmihalyi had in mind…

  1. Great post…I know what you mean. There is something genuinely therapeutic about achieving practical tasks and finding flow in the process. Well done!

    One of the interesting differences between academia and teaching is that as a teacher you get more chances to do different activities; to change gear; to live differently. Think school camps, drama or musical productions, coaching sport, creating interesting lesson plans and activities and so on. Fortunate teachers can find flow in their teaching and in some of the extra activities. (And in holidays I guess.)

    The academic life is wonderful in a different way and it is great to research and think and write and teach…but sometimes it is possible to forget that there are other important things to be doing. That there are other dimensions of our lives that need nurturing.

    So Shaz, I’m glad you found flow in painting (I painted one house once and have aimed for brick ever since!). I love the idea of Tradie Shaz…and maybe your post is a lovely invitation to all of us to remember all those other skills we once had or might have.

    This morning I got out my sewing machine for the first time since I finished doctoral work six years ago. I had actually forgotten that I once loved to sew… and I hadn’t even read your post! Back to Masters curriculum planning now but I will leave the machine out for a while.

  2. thanks m! love the fact that you’ve got your sewing machine out! I’ve also been crafting of late (using those old lady knitting skills to make squares for blankets as part of a craft project for bushfire relief in tassie). I’m interested in the ways we use those creative outlets as breaks from some of the conceptual thinking we do in academic work…..

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