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“The Way Philosophy Is Personal”

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 29/03/2022 - 9:30pm in

Wittgenstein’s early private notebooks have just been published in English, translated by Marjorie Perloff (Stanford). Towards the end of an essay about them, Kieran Setiya (MIT) draws attention to “the way philosophy is personal.”

The route to this topic winds its way through the question of why it took so long for the notebooks to be translated into English. Quoting Perloff, Setiya writes:

“In the Oxbridge of the post–World War II years—and, for that matter, in the leading American universities,” she writes, “the study of philosophy has been regarded as an abstract and conceptual discipline, rigorous in its reasoning and quite unrelated to issues of individual biography.” Given the level of fascination with Wittgenstein’s life, I am not sure this explains the delay in translation. But Perloff has a point: analytic philosophy presents itself as an impersonal, objective enterprise.

Yet the early notebooks show Wittgenstein grappling with personal problems on one page and philosophical ones on the next, and provide examples of how “philosophy, even in its technical forms, is the expression of an outlook that defines who someone is.” Setiya writes:

It’s an astounding fact that someone would devote their life to the question “What is necessary truth?” or that they would write, in code, on one side of a notebook, “Much anxiety! I was close to tears!!!!” and on the facing page, “A question: can we manage without simple objects in logic?” The content of one’s metaphysics, like the content of one’s character, is a way of seeing the world. And the connection between them is a philosophical matter.

[Juan Gris, self-portrait, 1916 (detail)]

The tendency in philosophy to focus on arguments themselves, to the exclusion of biography—for all its virtues—risks leaving philosophical knowledge on the table, says Setiya:

It is often said that contemporary philosophy is inaccessible. This statement is misleading, in part because the inaccessibility is not new—the great works of philosophy have always been difficult—and in part because there is now a thriving enterprise of “public philosophy,” aimed at a general audience. What public philosophy has not much conveyed, however, is the way philosophy is personal: the fact that we can feel about abstract questions of logic or metaphysics the way we feel about our deepest moral, political, and personal commitments, the music we listen to, the poetry we love—and that these feelings may be related. Philosophers are an astonishing, flawed, obsessive bunch. We have something to learn—about them, and about their philosophy—from figuring out what makes them who they are.

Not just philosophy, then, but philosophers: that is what these notebooks help us to see, life and work reflected on facing pages. A philosophy of philosophers, even—shown, if not said… 

In my experience, many philosophers have deep—I would say, spiritual—relationships with their work, even when it’s highly theoretical. They rarely write about these feelings, at least not for publication… 

“Logic must take care of itself,” Wittgenstein writes in the first of his uncoded notes… But logic can’t take of itself; nor can philosophy. They must have caretakers: the logicians and philosophers who dedicate themselves to abstract thought. I like to imagine them each with a private notebook, written in a simple cipher, that accompanies the pages of their published work. What were they doing when they were doing philosophy? What problems did they face in life? 

Read the whole essay at Boston Review.

Discussion welcome.

What I Did on my Holidays, Part Two

Published by Matthew Davidson on Tue, 15/02/2022 - 3:05pm in

Part one here.

You would think there'd be somewhere open for breakfast in Chinatown on a Saturday morning. You'd be wrong. What are noodles for, if not for breakfast?

I wanted to pick up a hat from Paddy's Markets, just behind my hotel, before setting out. Apart from fruit and veg stalls, they're not open till ten o'clock, so I and my bare old bonce brave the ultraviolet unprotected.

At the north end of Chinatown is Sydney Trades Hall, nowhere near as grand as the Melbourne one. The ground floor used to be the Trades Hall Inn, but no longer. I love political activism that you can do from a pub. In here I used to sip beer and nod earnestly in the cause of stopping the introduction of the GST (Australia's VAT), and the Iraq War (or at least Australia's involvement therein).

On the heels of these stunning triumphs for the mildly-organised left, I remember somebody asking Ian Rintoul what he thought the next urgent issue would be, and he said it was refugee rights. I found this hard to credit. Who on earth could object to taking in a few refugees every now and then? In my defense, it was a slightly more innocent time.

Further up (latitudinally) and down (geologically, as the land descends to meet the harbour) Sussex Street, things get grimly prosperous.

It's all grand gaudy f-off facades, designed to destroy the streetscape, plus the grimy parking garages of posh hotels disgorging their contents with a clanking of grates and barriers. It's as ugly as sin. From my own much more modest hotel, you at least step out onto a living street. Nobody walks down here. It's death by wealth.

Nothing to see but the occasional ghost of a more productive past. I wonder what these buildings were for. I used to work down in this part of town thirty years ago and probably walked past them hundreds of times, but I can't remember.

I get to Circular Quay to meet my family with enough time to purchase/regret a breakfast snack at McDonalds. By the water, the buskers have yet to set up, but there are huge plastic tigers which I just realise I've been seeing all over town. Oh, right; it's Chinese New Year. I don't think I look at the things you're supposed to look at. Quite pleased about that.

The family thing works out as family things do. It's nice. I'm not used to seeing all these people without my dad in the background, either benignly amused or becoming tetchy about things not progressing according to schedule. From here on, it looks like I'm standing in the background by myself. I miss him.

Formalities done, we've enough time before lunch to wander round the Rocks Markets, which seems to be suffering from Covid. Not a lot of international tourists, and pretty slim pickings from a reduced number of stalls. Can't find a hat.

There's a stall selling coins. I expect to find a selection of pennies, ha-pennies, and shillings — Mum says she still has a huge jar of them at home — but holy cow! Vespasian! Trajan!

If I had a few hundred bucks I had no use for (ha!), I would be tempted. But then my inner Indiana Jones kicks in: These belong in a museum! Ideally, in a huge glass pickle jar.

My family is chemically gaseous. That is to say they expand to occupy the available space. We've a booking for lunch, but now it's down to my brother's teenage girls and their mobile phone skills to corral everybody. I notice with some envy that a couple of nephews have been lounging in the Mercantile Hotel for a while.

We have lunch at the German restaurant which nearly twenty years earlier hosted my wedding reception. A bit of icing on top of the grief cake just for me. Still, sausages and sauerkraut and a couple of glasses of quite agreeable rosé later, I'm feeling bulletproof.

Half the party head for market stalls promising gelato and chocolate, and the other half head for the Orient Hotel. I'm with the latter, sipping beer at a picnic table on the street, getting sunburnt. Wish I had a hat.

They're all going to miss their express train back down to the Shire. Not everybody makes the rendezvous point back at the quay at the appointed time. My sister volunteers to find/join her two errant sons at whatever pub they happen to be holed up in — no rush; still plenty of time. My father would be beside himself at this stage. Greatly amused, I give the assembled remnants of my family a cheery wave, and I'm free to enjoy a whole afternoon and evening in the big city, Mary Tyler-Moore style.

I just need a hat to fling in the air.

I make a beeline for the Paragon Hotel, the former public bar of which is now the McDonalds where I had my self-inflicted breakfast. A quarter of a century ago I went in there on a Sunday afternoon and was surprised to hear Bix Beiderbecke playing as muzak. There was a jazz band setting up in the back corner, so I stayed.

They were blistering. Hard-edged 1920s/30s Chicago-style jazz. Absolutely magical. I was mesmerised by the clarinet player, a strikingly tall, thin, grey, birdlike fellow who didn't seem to register that he had an audience at all, and just fidgeted away in his own little world. He's surely long dead now, like the pub. So it goes. The half of the back bar where they played is now for gambling zombies, and the tiny slice of pub remaining between that and McDonalds is pretty dismal. I sit outside and watch the Sydney Bin Chooks going about their business, all thin and birdlike with long black protuberances.

At the Matrix Woman In Red Fountain in Martin Place, there are white limos reversing off the street and up to the fountain. A bunch of burly blokes in white suits get out and prepare for photographs with the cars. There's also a young woman, in a big white dress. Not sure why she's there. She's holding a bunch of flowers. I expect a bit of skin and a posy is a nice counterpoint to the manliness of the cars and the blokes. Very tasteful.

  At my old beloved Edinburgh Castle on Pitt Street, I employ the soon-to-be-fashionable medium of the pub lavatory selfie to immortalise the harrowing (for even the most firm-footed drunk) stairs leading down to the gents. Once upon a time I opened the door at the top of these stairs, saw a crumpled body at the bottom, concerned people gathered around, and heard approaching sirens. Even I, dim as I am, almost immediately clocked to what had just transpired. Thought I'd best go back to my beer and give it a minute.

I take some more self-consciously zany selfies (are there any other kind?) on my way back up to Haymarket, as I'm now feeling the Mary Tyler-Moore vibe.

It doesn't even occur to me that I should plug myself into a podcast, lest one or two of my remaining brain cells get accustomed to slacking off, which I can ill afford. There's enough to see and hear to keep my synapses crackling.

There's a vast, interconnected floating world of clean, gleaming shopping malls running the length of the inner city that I don't enter. In the nineties I became concerned about the state of dereliction that the city appeared to be falling into. As I only ever went into pubs, bookshops, record shops and newsagents, I didn't really notice the metastisizing private-public space below, above, and beside the public space. I was conscious of it insofar as it all linked into the underground railway station concourses, but at some point I realised that it was possible to walk the roughly eight kilometres from Central Station to near Circular Quay without ever seeing daylight, or a homeless person. Now I suppose there are several routes.

So many homeless people, obviously long term. The mattresses, tents, etc. are new to me. Fortunately there are so many derelict shop doorways and alcoves now that the beautiful people live in their floating world. One could get really settled in as a homeless person in Sydney, were it not for the roaming packs of Nazis in the wee small hours. Damn. There goes that Mary Tyler-Moore feeling.

Finally get back to Paddy's Markets, thinking I'll pick up a hat and maybe some cheap clothes. It could always be relied upon for a Bob Marley t-shirt, or something similarly subversive.

  Woah! Okay, well. I'd never say never, but not for everyday, and certainly not for visiting my mother tomorrow morning. Apart from the range of mild fetish gear, which is new, Paddy's Markets is a shadow of its former self, but then it always was.

I did however find a hat. It hurt to put it on. Definitely sunburned. Went upstairs (through the mall) to the Market City Tavern, which I should hate because it's so artificial and built for — rather than just retrofitted for — gambling, but I do love the balcony and its glorious view of nothing in particular. I shall have to carry on up George Street to Broadway to get some cheap clothes, because unlike all the teenage boys I work with in my supermarket, I cannot bear to wear the same shirt two days running.

On the way out I take the time to pose for another pub lavatory selfie.

These are the hottest new thing, honestly. I'll be selling NFTs shortly.

If that's not a natural cliffhanger, I don't know what is. Will he get the shirt, or turn up for morning tea at Mum's a bit whiffy? How bad is the sunburn, and what will the morning shower feel like? (Spoiler alert: it really hurt.) And will the latex Wonder Woman costume fit comfortably?

Continued in part three.



What I Did on my Holidays, Part One

Published by Matthew Davidson on Wed, 09/02/2022 - 4:11pm in

TL;DR: I drank. A lot.

We begin on Friday morning at Sawtell station. Yes, that's all of it. No bustling phalanx of porters, no guards or ticket collectors, no dining room serving Devonshire teas, no passengers apart from yours truly. This is not a consequence of Covid; this is normal.

In fact I'm astonished to find that I'm actually able to get the train, rather than a replacement bus service, as was the case for my last trip down to Sydney. That was a nightmare. A tin can full of hillbillies, knees hard up against the seat in front of you, a dozen excuse mes, sorrys, and thank yous between your seat and the stinking lavatory. Thank God I don't have to go through that again.

The train arrives dead on time, stopping for nobody but little old me. I'm drunk with the power to halt an entire train single-handed.

There are some cows to look at. Which is nice. You don't get cows from a car window now that it's all motorway between Coffs and Sydney.

I catch up on podcasts. Really enjoyed this one with Bill Mitchell wandering off core Modern Monetary Theory into politics a bit more than usual.

Not that many people in my carriage, so I'm not bumping elbows with anybody. No screaming babies, and the only yammering hillbillies are some distance away and only going as far as Port Macquarie for a music festival. No prizes for guessing what genre of music it is.

The situation appears altogether too good. I'm prepared for the nine hour trip: a packet of pork scratchings and three plastic soft drink bottles. One is cool from the fridge, another cold from a few hours in the freezer, a third frozen overnight in the freezer. Your classic alcoholics' Goldilocks strategy: take each one in series when it's just right.

My patented blend: cardboard box wine, a splosh of fruit juice to disguise the fact that it's box wine, and if I'm feeling fancy perhaps some herbal tea but otherwise just water to get it down to somewhere approaching beer strength. I hear that in Mediterranean countries it's common to drink watered down wine with meals. Obviously not good quality wine, but with the horrible stuff I can afford to drink, there are no rules.

Well, there is one rule: no BYO drink on NSW Transport vehicles. But that rule obviously only applies to amateurs, not responsible professionals. Moreover, as I trust I need not stress with too much stressiness: nine hours! There is too much Australia. We need a good tailor to take it in. It's really quite baggy.

While looking for an unoccupied lavatory, I find that the front two carriages are completely empty. It actually is a wonder that I'm not on a bus.

It's gone noon, and the entertainment value of the cows is diminishing, so I crack open bottle number one. Bracing, but not technically abusive. You would be within your rights to demand your money back, but no court in the land would award you damages.

We stop to let a northbound passenger train go past. There's only a single track running along the East coast of Australia, and few sidings where trains can pass each other. Accordingly, everything is very tightly scheduled. If your train is more than a few minutes late, it's missed it's "window" and is obliged to make way for everything else. So you get later, and later, and later.

As a natural pessimist, I assumed that in the unlikely event that the train turned up at all, that this would be the case (as it had been on previous trips). From which it logically follows that the scheduled eight PM arrival time in Sydney could only be the product of pure unicorns-and-rainbows thinking. So I had the perfect excuse to book a hotel room rather than change trains for a further fifty minute suburban trip down to the family estate in the Shire.

The ostensible purpose of my journey is to partake in a solemn ceremony involving scattering my late father's ashes from the deck of a Sydney Harbour water taxi. I'm not entirely convinced that feeding the fish of Port Jackson is the sort of thing he'd have been enthusiastic about — at least not in this capacity — but my mother seems to think it a good idea.

I really haven't a clue about the propriety of such things, so I'm more than happy to go along with whatever wiser heads than mine consider appropriate, but I would rather not go back to the old house. I stayed a few days there on my last Sydney trip a couple of years ago as a sort of dare to myself, wandering about the unpaved suburban streets where I spent my childhood, thinking that as a forty-[mumble] year old grown-up I was by now surely immune to the enervating effects of that nasty, violent, ignorant, bigoted environment. (Not the house itself, mind; my parents are/were almost entirely harmless. It's the ghosts milling around it that I cannot exorcise.) I ended up in a massive funk which persisted for weeks afterward.

Also I'm now of a certain age, and I appear to have gone through The Change. I get terribly emotional about things. I must say it's quite unexpected and embarrassing. In this condition I couldn't stand spending even a couple of nights in a house where my father would now consistently fail to be where I expect to find him. I'd be a wreck. So I told my mum that, on the grounds that I would be feeling very much like just flopping into bed on arriving at Sydney Central, rather than embarking on a further long commute, a hotel made perfect sense. I'd meet everybody in town the next day, and pop down for a visit the day after. She seemed satisfied with that excuse.

In fact things are going altogether too well. The train remains stubbornly on schedule. As we get into Wauchope, mobile phone signal returns, and I get an SMS. The train for my return journey has been cancelled and replaced with a coach service. Ah, equilibrium has been restored.

Quaint little country towns flash by, as do the podcasts. The Something About the Beatles podcast has a few episodes of first reactions to the Peter Jackson doco based on the footage and audio recorded in January 1969 for the vague project which the following year became the film/album Let it Be. Titled the Musician’s Get Back, I expected the podcast to be a trainspotter's guide to vintage musical/audio equipment and a complete yawn, but it's (mostly) about group dynamics and those four (or five, or six, or seven) guys who love each other, despite and because of everything. I get quite teary (The Change again - and maybe the wine).

The country around the Hunter Valley is gorgeous. You don't see any of it from the motorway. Rolling green hills which put one in mind of James Herriot and the brothers Farnon rolling up their sleeves and startling a cow or three.

There's a limit to how much of a fifty gram bag of pork scratchings one should consume in one hit if one is to avoid nausea (for the record, it's about ten grams), so I go to the dining car for a sausage roll fresh from the drawer it's been stewing in since dawn, and a can of alleged beer.

It's 330ml of mid-strength lager. Australia likes it's beer flavourless, but this is really the apotheosis of the antipodean brewers' art. To all intents and purposes, the can was already empty when it was sealed. I'll refrain from citing the brand so as to avoid a stampede of connoisseurs rushing to not experience it.

Eight dollars! Eight flipping dollars! Just for the zero point nine standard drinks, then another five for the sausage roll!

I love the name Fassifern. I think it should be a term of mild rebuke. i.e. "Oh, don't be such a fassifern!" You instantly understand what it means by the way it sounds. Never been there. The place, I mean; I've probably been a fassifern for most of my life.

Appear to have mobile signal for most of the time now, which was definitely not the case on previous trips. I briefly wonder if it's because of all the Gates/Soros 5G microchips in my bloodstream, but my old phone is only 4G. Did they stealthily vaccinate my phone as well? The bastards!

So I exchange a few texts with Ruben, which helps pass the time.

Newcastle appears to be encroaching on Gosford, or vice versa, as there is now rather little open space between them. From here on you're essentially in the outer suburbs of Sydney. I used to work with people who would commute into the city from this distance.

As there's more built environment, I'm getting more alert my my surroundings. Multi-story buildings! Public transport! Pedestrian crossings! Pedestrians! All the sinful delights that are foreign and abhorrant to the denizens of Coffs Harbour.

Indulge me for a moment: Imagine being confronted with a vista of the most glorious natural splendour. Gravity-defying geological formations. Waterfalls, ravines, rivers and streams. Lush, luxuriant plant life of unimaginable variety; herds of gigantic herbivorous mammals, placid and graceful; gorgeously sleek and agile predators; eye-wateringly colourful birds soaring and swooping to pluck impossibly bejeweled insects from mid-air. And just off to one side a single squalid shack in the distance, with a thin wisp of smoke rising from an open fire.

I've tried several times, in conversation with self-avowed misanthropic nature lovers, to persuade them that in that situation they could not stop their eyes being drawn to that shack. They refuse to concede this, but I am certain that we are attuned to seeking signs of the presence of other human beings. It tickles us in a way we cannot resist. We are homo sociali. I say this as the most introverted person I know. (Not that I know that many people, what with being the most introverted person I know.)

As a lifelong socialist and an amateur macroeconomist, I should abhor metastasising high rise and construction cranes on the horizon as indicators of neoliberal welfare-for-the-rich and impending economic collapse, but my eyes widen and pulse quickens at the sight of them.

Then suddenly Sydney. Oh, Eddy Avenue! How I've missed you!

A block and a half away from Central Station is George Street and the art deco Great Southern Hotel. They gave me the perfect room for a web developer who doesn't like to be found.

If I ever own a place to live, I'm having hotel carpeting throughout.

Now, about that plan to collapse straight into bed… Sod that!

I drop my bags and head up George Street, or "SYDNEY'S STREET OF FEAR", as the Daily Telegraph memorably characterised it on a front page thirty years or so ago. Utter poppycock! I used to practically live on George Street when it was a solid strip of pubs, bookshops, junk food outlets, and video game arcades, and I've never felt so safe anywhere before or since.

A lot of pubs are now derelict due to the current crisis, or the previous crisis, or in anticipation of the next crisis. The first promising target from a nostalgia point of view is Cheers. In the late 80s it was a modest subterranean dive for people who wanted to avoid going to work or going home, but now it occupies several levels with huge sports-screens for vaping gamblers.

I buy a beer on the ground level and head downstairs to the den where so many of my brain cells sacrificed their all so that I might… well, "live" is perhaps too strong a word. At the bottom of the stairs there's a table with a couple of smiling callow youths who explain that the venue is closed to the general public for a private function. Spread out before them are a few open binders full of things in plastic pockets which appear alarmingly collectable. The youths are anxious to explain the nature of the function, saying that for a nominal cover charge I would be most welcome to join them.

It's at this point that my friend Ruben would have leapt eagerly into the fray, spending the whole night having a whale of a time, aquiring an exhaustive knowledge of a hitherto unfamiliar subculture and a bundle of lifelong friends. Alas, I am not that kind of person, so I make my excuses and head back upstairs.

I carry on uphill, past where there are no longer book liquidation stores, video game arcades, and junk shops all blaring the same tape loop of this one guy bunging on a cockney barrow boy accent, promising "You'll never pay full price again!"

Still, it's home.

One block east of the town hall is the Criterion. I remember in the 90s flicking through a guide to Sydney pubs which said it was the place to go if one happened to be a connoisseur of bulbous red noses. Is that supposed to be a bad thing? It's since been acquired by a particularly noxious pub chain who turned it into just another sports bar, but at least they haven't (yet) smashed out all the tiles and bricked in the leaded windows. Also, it's gone quite pink. Which is nice.

In more affluent times, I would never dream of staying out in town to drink on a Friday or Saturday night, these being the nights when the amateurs would spoil the atmosphere with their uncouth behaviour. However I've only a few days and want to make the most of it.

It used to be common for big hotels to have a number of bars in the one complex. I used to quite like the Tudor Bar on the first floor of the Hilton Hotel in Sydney. As the name suggests, it was all vacuum moulded fake timber and horse brasses, but easy on the eyes and a surprisingly cheap no-nonsense boozer for those in flight from reality.

Alas, there is no longer a first floor of the Hilton Hotel. It's been blasted away and replaced by a vast, glass-fronted empty space saying in effect "We don't need to make money from this real estate, but it amuses us to prevent others from doing so. So if you enjoy setting fire to hundred dollar notes in front of homeless people, this is the place for you." In that respect, it's like the similarly cavernous and glazed Apple store across the road containing a sparse smattering of lecterns with elegantly designed flat things propped up on them.

The one bar which the Hilton Hotel still appears to maintain is the Marble Bar. As the name suggests, every surface is at least faux-marble. It's like swimming in a Jackson Pollock kaleidescope. This is not a place for drinking in. It's a place for briefly gawping at and promptly fleeing. In my day it was pretty consistently empty. I supposed it was kept on as a gaudy monument to 1970s excess. Perhaps middle managers and their secretaries found it useful as a place to meet unobserved, I don't know.

Tonight it is packed with coked-up Hooray Henrys and Henriettas.

If ever there's a portent of an economic bubble about to burst, this is it. In my Sawtell finery, which to the untrained eye is indistinguishable from Sydney hobo rags, I feel distinctly unwelcome. As tradition demands, I gawp and flee.

A stroll past more shuttered venues once dear to my heart, and I find myself near the harbour, in the financial district. Knowing there's little joy to be had here I turn around and head back south up Pitt Street. There's a new pub on the corner of Hunter Street that looks enticingly empty. The girl behind the bar asks whether I want a pint or a schooner. I opt for the latter, and she pours me a half pint, which - not to be pedantic - is a hefty gulp or two shy of a schooner and charges me nearly ten dollars for it. A steady stream of beautiful people coming through the door and heading directly upstairs indicates that I'm just in the foyer of a far grander venue, not meant for the likes of me.

There's always street art. This piece is about as old as me. I used to roam this manor professionally back when mail boys used to carry high-denomination cheques from one place to another. Do digital mail boys meet to skive off in electronic pubs?

You must be this emaciated to shop here. Blimey. I'll stick to KMart.

Now, this is more like it. The Hotel Downing in Castlereagh Street. My ex-girlfriend used to work across the road, and I would occasionally wait for her in the other half of this pub which is now reserved for button-slappers. Thankfully, you can't see any of that from this bar, and the mandatory sport screens cover only two of the four walls, so you can keep your back to them and pretend they're not there. Also most of the customers appear to be staff, so there's a lovely family atmosphere. This pub I like.

And about time, too. There's a time and a place for dancing, and it's at the kitchen sink while doing the washing up. Anything else is an abomination. I can't remember which pub this sign was in…

But apparently I thought a distressed selfie in the mirror of the gents' lavatory would be sufficient to jog my memory later. Clearly it was time to revert to Plan A and flop into bed.

Continued in part two.

On “Career Advancement”

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 20/09/2021 - 11:39pm in



It was a striking moment of cognitive dissonance for me. I was at a conference and saw David Wiley – well known as a scholar and professor – sitting behind a booth in the trade show. And I realized there’s a perspective where the transition from academic to entrepreneur is an advancement in career. I will probably never understand this way of thinking, but in the Land of Opportunity south of the Canadian border, apparently it holds true. (Stephen Downes)

I’ve been reflecting on this comment almost constantly since reading it last week. Suffice it to say, it has prompted many feelings. I’ll try to be brief here.

In 2012 I was having a pretty good career as academic careers go. I loved teaching and did it fairly well. I had tenure. I had received grants, published papers, won awards, given keynote talks at conferences around the globe, etc. I was deeply integrated into, and in some ways a leader of, a community forming around an emerging discipline (open education). I had some momentum and my career was heading in a positive direction. However, I was also coming to understand that there wasn’t a way to make the next impact I felt I needed to make while staying on that path. (Yes, there was plenty of additional impact I could have made on that path. Just not the kind of impact I felt called to make next.)

The decision to leave my university job at the end of 2012 and co-found Lumen Learning was most certainly not “an advancement in career” – it was, in many ways, walking away from a somewhat established / quite promising career to start over, doing something that was completely new to me. This change was not about – could not have been about – advancing my career. It was about doing work I felt compelled to do.

And though it has been far harder than I thought it would be, and for reasons completely different than I expected, it was absolutely the right decision. I love working at Lumen. The work we are doing, and the team we’re building, and the impact we’re having are more rewarding than I ever imagined they could be. And it just keeps getting better – there are amazing things in our future!

I know some people from my “former life” don’t see it, and that’s ok. I’m not doing this work for them.

There have been many armchair quarterbacks who have felt the need to explain to me everything they believe I’m doing wrong, including a list of reasons why I should do things the way that they prefer to see them done instead. And that’s fine. They’re welcome to their opinions.

And there are those who have supported and encouraged me in this demanding, exhausting, invigorating, and amazing new phase of my professional life. And I will never be able to sufficiently express my depth of gratitude to you for that.

But the reason that I and the entire 70+ person team at Lumen do the work we do is to improve learning and increase success for all students. Or, as our mission statement explains, “to enable unprecedented success for all students.” And WOW am I energized and excited and inspired by the things we’re working on now! But not because they’re going to advance my career – because they’re going to improve student learning and student success.

A temporary return to Australia due to COVID-19

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 11/04/2020 - 6:28pm in



The last few months have been a rollercoaster, and we’ve just had to make another big decision that we thought we’d share.

TL;DR: we returned to Australia last night, hopeful to get back to Canada when we can. Currently in Sydney quarantine and doing fine.

UPDATE: please note that this isn’t at all a poor reflection on Canada. To the contrary, we have loved even the brief time we’ve had there, the wonderful hospitality and kindness shown by everyone, and the excellent public services there.

UPDATE 2: as 2020 crawled on, and it became clear we couldn’t return to Canada, we thought long and hard about where we wanted to live, because the little one needed to start school in 2021. So we decided to return to our adopted home in Wellington, New Zealand, through the critical worker visa and a government to government arrangement between Service Canada and MSD for mutual learning and collaboration on transformation social services in the era of COVID.

We moved to Ottawa, Canada at the end of February, for an incredible job opportunity with Service Canada which also presented a great life opportunity for the family. We enjoyed 2 “normal” weeks of settling in, with the first week dedicated to getting set up, and the second week spent establishing a work / school routine – me in the office, little A in school and T looking at work opportunities and running the household.

Then, almost overnight, everything went into COVID lock down. Businesses and schools closed. Community groups stopped meeting. Everyone people are being affected by this every day, so we have been very lucky to be largely fine and in good health, and we thought we could ride it out safely staying in Ottawa, even if we hadn’t quite had the opportunity to establish ourselves.

But then a few things happened which changed our minds – at least for now.

Firstly, with the schools shut down before the A had really had a chance to make friends (she only attended for 5 days before the school shut down), she was left feeling very isolated. The school is trying to stay connected with its students by providing a half hour video class each day, with a half hour activity in the afternoons, but it’s no way to help her to make new friends. A has only gotten to know the kids of one family in Ottawa, who are also in isolation but have been amazingly supportive (thanks Julie and family!), so we had to rely heavily on video playdates with cousins and friends in Australia, for which the timezone difference only allows a very narrow window of opportunity each day. With every passing day, the estimated school closures have gone from weeks, to months, to very likely the rest of the school year (with the new school year commencing in September). If she’d had just another week or two, she would have likely found a friend, so that was a pity. It’s also affected the availability of summer camps for kids, which we were relying on to help us with A through the 2 month summer holiday period (July & August).

Secondly, we checked our health cover and luckily the travel insurance we bought covered COVID conditions, but we were keen to get full public health cover. Usually for new arrivals there is a 3 month waiting period before this can be applied for. However, in response to the COVID threat the Ontario Government recently waived that waiting period for public health insurance, so we rushed to register. Unfortunately, the one service office that is able to process applications from non-Canandian citizens had closed by that stage due to COVID, with no re-opening being contemplated. We were informed that there is currently no alternative ability for non-citizens to apply online or over the phone.

Thirdly, the Australian Government has strongly encouraged all Australian citizens to return home, warning of the closing window for international travel. . We became concerned we wouldn’t have full consulate support if something went wrong overseas. A good travel agent friend of ours told us the industry is preparing for a minimum of 6 months of international travel restrictions, which raised the very real issue that if anything went wrong for us, then neither could we get home, nor family come to us. And, as we can now all appreciate, it’s probable that international travel disruptions and prohibitions will endure for much longer than 6 months.

Finally, we had a real scare. For context, we signed a lease for an apartment in a lovely part of central Ottawa, but we weren’t able to move in until early April, so we had to spend 5 weeks living in a hotel room. We did move into our new place just last Sunday and it was glorious to finally have a place, and for little A to finally have her own room, which she adored. Huge thanks to those who generously helped us make that move! The apartment is only 2 blocks away from A’s new school, which is incredibly convenient for us – it will particularly good during the worst of Ottawa’s winter. But little A, who is now a very active and adventurous 4 years old, managed to face plant off her scooter (trying to bunnyhop down a stair!) and she knocked out a front tooth, on only the second day in the new place! She is ok, but we were all very, very lucky that it was a clean accident with the tooth coming out whole and no other significant damage. But we struggled to get any non emergency medical support.

The Ottawa emergency dental service was directing us to a number that didn’t work. The phone health service was so busy that we were told we couldn’t even speak to a nurse for 24 hours. We could have called emergency services and gone to a hospital, which was comforting, but several Ottawa hospitals reported COVID outbreaks just that day, so we were nervous to do so. We ended up getting medical support from the dentist friend of a friend over text, but that was purely by chance. It was quite a wake up call as to the questions of what we would have done if it had been a really serious injury. We just don’t know the Ontario health system well enough, can’t get on the public system, and the pressure of escalating COVID cases clearly makes it all more complicated than usual.

If we’d had another month or two to establish ourselves, we think we might have been fine, and we know several ex-pats who are fine. But for us, with everything above, we felt too vulnerable to stay in Canada right now. If it was just Thomas and I it’d be a different matter.

So, we have left Ottawa and returned to Australia, with full intent to return to Canada when we can. As I write this, we are on day 2 of the 14 day mandatory isolation in Sydney. We were apprehensive about arriving in Sydney, knowing that we’d be put into mandatory quarantine, but the processing and screening of arrivals was done really well, professionally and with compassion. A special thank you to all the Sydney airport and Qatar Airways staff, immigration and medical officers, NSW Police, army soldiers and hotel staff who were all involved in the process. Each one acted with incredible professionalism and are a credit to their respective agencies. They’re also exposing themselves to the risk of COVID in order to help others. Amazing and brave people. A special thank you to Emma Rowan-Kelly who managed to find us these flights back amidst everything shutting down globally.

I will continue working remotely for Service Canada, on the redesign and implementation of a modern digital channel for government services. Every one of my team is working remotely now anyway, so this won’t be a significant issue apart from the timezone. I’ll essentially be a shift worker for this period Our families are all self isolating, to protect the grandparents and great-grandparents, so the Andrews family will be self-isolating in a location still to be confirmed. We will be traveling directly there once we are released from quarantine, but we’ll be contactable via email, fb, whatsapp, video, etc.

We are still committed to spending a few years in Canada, working, exploring and experiencing Canadian cultures, and will keep the place in Ottawa with the hope we can return there in the coming 6 months or so. We are very, very thankful for all the support we have had from work, colleagues, little A’s school, new friends there, as well as that of friends and family back in Australia.

Thank you all – and stay safe. This is a difficult time for everyone, and we all need to do our part and look after each other best we can.