in other words, stop sitting so much

As if in a mystically orchestrated cosmic response to the Slate article on (lack of) walking, The Atlantic Monthly has published a short piece describing an Australian study that reaffirms the findings of many other studies that have come before it: sitting too much is bad for you. Or, as the title of the article states plainly: Confirmed: He Who Sits the Most Dies the Soonest.

A few choice excerpts from the piece:

It is now well accepted that too much sitting is unhealthy. Studies in the last few years have found that death risks rise when people watch spend more leisure time in front of a computer screen or TV or simply sit too much.

In other words, people still need to exercise, but it’s also important to spend less time sitting.

And of the new study of more than 200,000 Australians the author notes:

Its most striking finding was that people who sat more than 11 hours a day had a 40% higher risk of dying in the next three years than people who sat less than four hours a day.

Sure, the critically skeptical reader might argue, as some of the commenters have, that the protocol was flawed, that there was not enough consideration made for the small amounts of walking one might within one’s own home, and so on. But perhaps this is missing the larger point. If we find ourselves sitting consistently for more than eleven hours a day, should we be worried? All of these studies are premised in large part on the implicit notion that all humans have a desire to live as long as possible. That, too, may not necessarily be true for everyone.

(warning: unintentional riff on mortality starts here)

During my travels last summer, I watched an Australian television program about a tribe in South America whose members lived a life largely removed from what most of us are familiar with as an image of society. Their average lifespan was little more than three decades, not because of health-related issues or poor nutrition or another factor that might be one of the usual suspects that are the inhibitors of longevity. One man who was interviewed said that he had prepared a poisonous drink for himself that he was ready to consume as soon as he received confirmation that his beloved had died; she was ill at the time. This story, at least within the limited scope of this short documentary, was not atypical. The abbreviated and edited narratives of tribal members brought the phrase “life worth living” into new focus.*

Far from being a morose glimpse into the lives of a relatively cloistered community, the narration and video documentation underscored the purposefulness of life, the intentionality of attending to what one is compelled to do, whether by necessity or desire. Implicit, and occasionally stated outright, was a message of living collectively with one another; wherein life was seen as delicately interwoven with the lives of others. This was not a go-it-alone adventure. One wonders, in this frame, how much living one can do from the vantage point of one’s couch. If we are to sit then perhaps we might seek out a bench in a locale where, before one sits, one must journey at least a little.


* This was supposed to be a quick recap of an article on sitting, thus my apologies for yet another mini-treatise on mortality. Having time on your hands to think in solitude has an unexpected set of effects on one’s musings; I have a renewed appreciation for and an embodied understanding of Walden than ever before.

seeing and doing and seeing

During my near-fortnight in Oz I spent a day in Manly, a town on Sydney’s northern shore that is accessible from the city by ferry. I wasn’t sure what to expect save for the fact that there was a beach that a new colleague had described to me and an arts festival taking place during the month of September that I had read about in one of the numerous texts virtually thrust into the hands of tourists upon clearing customs, whereupon mechanisms of sorting visually separate the residents from the non-residents.* It was the 7th, a few days after I had spent time talking with elementary, secondary, pre-service teachers and meeting other university colleagues who were also involved in the small conference for which I had been invited to facilitate a workshop and give a talk; and it was a few days before a not-traditionally-monumental birthday — only notable for me because I had planned only up until this one. Everything afterward remains a complete and utter mystery. Almost.

Upon arriving in Manly, I first stopped into the Art Gallery just steps away from the ferry terminal. I might have known that in a month’s worth of events there would be a few down or slow days. The 7th was one such day. But “no worries,” as the country and its citizens seem to exclaim while embracing the unexpected, because this non-turn of events opened up my loosest of plans considerably and led me to have a most magical day, the kind that can only occur perhaps when one is traveling alone.**

Before taking my leave of the gallery I spent a short while taking in its offerings. In addition to the schedule of events related to the arts festival, the gallery also boasted an eclectic permanent and revolving collection of mostly paintings and also a few other artifacts. In the room immediately to the left of reception was set up a visual and mixed media retrospective of the evolution of the bathing suit. A notice preceded the entrance to the exhibit that warned entrants of occasional instances of nudity and near-nudity. I have to think they were referring to the images of men and women in bathing suits, unless I missed something…

The semi-permanent collection featured work by artists living in an artist colony in nearby Scotland Island. While standing in front of a photographic portrait of Venice – as the recognizable orange and yellows of the Venetian buildings fell into their canal reflections – a simple realization hit me.

portrait of venice, a reflection

As participants of an artist colony, the artists were fundamentally involved in the work of making art. And while the purposes and intentions may vary, each day these artists committed themselves to creating art simply for that purpose alone. So then I started to wonder: what must it be like to wake up each day to engage in a practice that you love?*** To fully attend to what’s happening in the moment, not necessarily for where it may lead or gains to be had. Another simple thought followed the first: why do we do what we do? By this I don’t mean the oft-concerning question of motivation or its always near semantic cousin, engagement. Rather, my observation of these artworks displayed in a gallery partially dedicated to their very existence gave me pause; how much of our daily lives are driven by where our actions may lead? To the next accolade, level of recognition, monetary remuneration, title or designation…? Certainly the “tenure track”, by virtue of its moniker alone, can feel like at times like a chaotic and traffic-laden (and other times deserted and dark) road to somewhere, with “where” not easily defined. At meetings and other types of gatherings designed to help the proverbial “us” make sense of these sensations of uncertainty and aimlessness — not that anyone would risk admitting as much out loud — the frenetic pace to somewhere-or-nowhere-in-particular was palpable. How might we change this, I asked a friend who also fell under that “pre-tenure” designation? (and what a strange designation it is, replete with the hope of becoming, one day, “post-tenure” — initiated at my institution in good spirits, I do believe, the designation functions instead like the tell tale heart in a young academic’s life…)

I’m not naively suggesting that practical considerations, such as the job security that tenure promises (in most cases) or being able to sustain oneself economically, are not real or worthy of importance. I simply worry that in constantly striving for the next thing, we forget to really see what we’re already doing, being, living. Echoes of such “next thing” thinking reverberate through young adolescents responses to questions about *what* they want to be when they grow up — e.g., words like “successful” and “famous” (no doubt a factor of our reality-tv-really-can-be-a-career-ITIS) foretell an unrelenting pursuit of those measurable markers of status that begin almost at birth. Could we change the question? Could we ask instead or perhaps alongside the “futures” question,”what kind of life do you want to lead?” not ten, twenty years from now, but now. What are we doing each day and how might our actions be contributing to or detracting from a way of being that we can imagine? Some call this mindfulness. Others have talked about how we attend to and cultivate the art of living. And still others have wondered about human flourishing. My friend O cuts right to the chase, “as far as I can tell, we have this one life. So, how are we going to live it? Each day? With how much time and space for play? To really live?” [paraphrasing, of course] I can’t help but wonder about these questions from the horizon of educator, to think about how actions, conditions, curricula, policies might be in service of flourishing and attentiveness — have no doubt that competition is not the only fuel for innovation, inspiration, creativity…

I walked out of the Manly galleries slowly, taking in the way the sunlight beamed down through the wood slats giving the illusion of a jail cell at one glance, but could also be suggestive of transparency (as this architectural wonder boasts).

front of manly art gallery

From there, the day unfolded like scenes from a collection of impossibly breathtaking postcards. I made my way through a cliff walk that placed multi-colored waters next to rock formations of increasing height, where I crossed paths with a stealthy lizard and was serenaded with a steady concert of bird songs and reptilian mating calls. All the while, I held onto the notion that walking was what I was doing in the moment. Not necessarily walking to reach any predetermined location, but just meandering; and resisting the occasional impulses to hurry back to the ferry: why rush? I really had nothing and no one awaiting me. A rare occurrence, and something that it was taking all of my focused attention to remember.

And sure, I’m probably guilty of sabbatical-brain, where I can’t keep days of the week straight — a feeling I hope to be able to access from time to time when I will also very likely slip back into the game of what’s next and where to… So for now, I’ll indulge my pontificating proclivities and see what the next corner brings and continue seeking and finding others with whom to commune artfully.

one day in sydney

in total, i spent 3 nights and parts of 4 days in sydney on my way back from tasmania en route back to the states. what follows is a brief listing of where the wind took me on one of those days, with some images from the day included below (a more complete collection of pics from oz here. note: the pics are at best ok and at worst terrible. why? because i realized too late that my camera battery was dead and therefore i had to resort to a blackberry-ipad camera combo to document my trip. not terrible, but definitely not great!)

Early to Mid-Morning

Walk north on York after leaving my hotel. The air is cooler than yesterday, clouds blanket the sky and a light mist and steady breezes make me thankful for the scarf around my neck and the umbrella in my bag.

Coffee, blueberry muffin from window cafe on York St. As I walked up, I inadvertently interrupted what looked like a familiar flirtation between a thirsty male customer and a friendly female barista.

Walk across the Harbor Bridge, on the lower, commuter side. I walk briskly like the Aussies around me, each moving with a purposeful stride. The non-residents are easy to spot; they/we pause to look at the brilliant views of the opera house, the central business district (CBD), the Circular Quay (pronounced “key”).

Follow foot traffic over bridge and into North Sydney. Descending the stairs, I am struck by the almost carnivalesque colors in this part of the city.

Admire the wood stain work on a series of benches. After snapping a couple of pics, I get the attention of a thin man who looks to be in his late 50s who is busy sanding the surface of a picnic table. He wears a construction vest with neon yellow stickers over his grey sweatshirt. When I ask if I take a photo of one bench, he blushes and nods; his face becomes redder when I make an appreciative remark about the craftsmanship of his stain work. He points to the collection of benches and tables in the small area where he is working and tells me he worked on each one. He is smiling even as I walk away.

Luna Park. Full of artful and unexpected views of the familiar Sydney skyline, a giant moonface entrances, ferris wheel and other artifacts reminiscent of boardwalk topography: games, prizes, and rides. All empty, likely awaiting the blossoming of spring into summer where visitors will be plentiful.

Back across bridge. Collect a few more pics for my “Benches” photo essay.

Late morning to early afternoon:

Set out across town toward Paddington. As I walked through the city center, across Hyde Park, and in search of a café I had read about, I stumbled onto a large protest going on held by public workers in opposition to the wage caps and job cuts being imposed by the New South Wales state government. Teachers wearing red tees bearing the slogan “public education for our future” and correction officers in light blue with the slogan “we face what you fear.”

Walk in search of and in the direction of At Perry Lane. I meandered through town with a vague sense of my destination, which was a café I had read about as a much touted must-visit spot in the Sydney café scene. On the way, I found Ampersand Book Store and Café. I stopped in, fell in love, started reading a biography of Wittgenstein that was poking out of one of the many full bookshelves. I was getting hungry, so I decided to head to At Perry Lane (APL) and stop back at Ampersand on the way back.

APL closed. Apparently under new ownership, not yet re-opened. And yes, it was really good – according to the two employees working in the adjoining clothing shop. A part of me is bummed, but after snapping a couple of pics, I happily headed back to Ampersand for lunch and more time in the magnificient, cozy basement, shelf-lined room.

Lunch at Ampersand. Mine was a “Vegie Brekky” – that’s vegetarian breakfast sandwich to you and me – an earl grey tea, and a trail mix cookie. I was served my lunch in the magical room and I spent the next hour catching up on a few emails (courtesy of Ampersand’s free wifi) and reading most of the first chapter of the Wittgenstein biography. I also had delightful chat with a man who initially engaged me to ask about my iPad – did I like it? Was it useful? What did I use it for? – and we ended up talking about his son, a musician who is currently finishing up a three-month stay in Brooklyn; about a play he was writing based on his time living in Rome – he has called many parts of this world home at some point or another, including Tokyo, London, and New York; and he explained that he was here dropping off some books given to him by his daughter for which he had received a $30 credit from Ampersand. While we chatted, my new colleague from Scotland, who was also part of the Tasmania conference, let me know he was in Sydney so we decided to meet up at another café near the Circular Quay. I finished my lunch and came to a good stopping point in the story of young Ludwig, and, after purchasing a ticket from the convenience store next to the bookstore, hopped on a bus (the 380) back to the city center.

Afternoon to Evening:

Police and Justice Museum. I had a couple of hours before meeting B for coffee so I wandered a bit then saw on my google map that I was near the Police and Justice Museum. Given the complicated history of Australia’s origins, it seemed like an interesting option. The featured exhibit was on the uses of various forms of surveillance to identify and pursue “persons of interest.”  This quote by Oscar Wilde, emblazoned in one of the exhibit rooms, seems to say it all: “One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed, but by the punishments that the good have inflicted.” A part of me did not want to document this visit as I had the rest of my travels through this country. But there were a few images and visuals that compelled me click and capture, if only to ponder further as time passes.

Coffee, flat white. Le Quays, where my Scottish friend and I were scheduled to meet, was closed for the day so we wandered a few steps away to another coffee shop and each ordered a flat, white coffee. We sat outside, taking in the chilly air that was refreshing after the day of walking that each of us had experienced. Another option worth an afternoon’s exploration that I learned about was the Botanical Gardens just steps away from where we met.

Dusk walk thru CQ. My coffee companion and I walked in the direction of the Circular Quay where the ferry terminals were located, and paused to take in the city at dusk on a cloudy day in the shadow of the Sydney Opera House.

The opera house. After bidding my colleague goodbye, I rushed back to the hotel for a quick shower and change of clothes and rushed back out again in hopes of securing tickets for that evening’s showing of La Boheme. My colleagues had encouraged me to ask for the “concession” fare, so when I approached the box office – in record speed, if I may say so! And whizzing right past scores of people all heading in the direction of the opera house for one of a variety of happenings taking place there that night, in addition to the opera itself. – I inquired about available tickets and concessions. The ticket agent asked to see a university ID, which I readily produced, and she handed me a considerably reduced ticket. I walked away elated that I had secured a seat (and feeling the slightest bit funny that she may have mistaken me for a student). I was early, so I took in the scene around me and from various vantage points in and around SOH before finally taking my seat.

La Boheme. I have always loved the music of this Puccini creation, but until this viewing I did not pay close attention, I think, to how the Italian had been translated into English. I admit, the stilted translation bothered me. But only momentarily after which time I got swept up in the performances, the story, the emotions, and the stunning voices of the performers. It was a special treat to discover wifi inside the opera theater, which I took advantage of during the intermission to quietly exclaim to my sister a few others that “I was watching La Boheme inside the Sydney Opera House.” While I’m easily delighted by life, I find that I’m not easily impressed by the usual, iconic world attractions that are foregrounded in travel books and tourist guides. SOH was an excellent exception to this rule.

Veggie Udon, a hotel room, reflecting on the day. If it hadn’t been raining, I might have followed the advice I found online to go up to the 36th floor of the Shangri La Hotel and get a drink while taking in the city view. But I left SOH feeling quite full in many ways, so I opted instead for a quiet end to a busy day. The restaurant next door to my hotel prepared a fantastic veggie udon soup which I consumed while relaxing in my hotel room. It was my last night in Sydney, in Australia. I was already thinking of what I would do on my trip…

so manly!

a morning coffee — flat, white coffee, that is, or what we would call an au lait or what starbucks insists on calling a misto — a blueberry muffin, a ferry, impossibly blue skies, steady motion of the tasman ocean, cliff views, friendly locals, that special blend of cool breezes and gently warming sun, a hidden cove with water the color of sapphires/peacocks/jade/unripe figs, steady calls from piping shrieks and other wild things. these are the makings of a profoundly awe-some moment in which one simultaneously laughs aloud, gives thanks, and flashes back several decades thinking, like the most famous maria, that “somewhere in my youth or childhood, i must have done something…” — but not just “i” but all the “i”s that came before, and those who helped them and on whose shoulders i must be standing in order to spend a day like this (longer slide show following two photos of my new favorite spot on earth: spring cove in manly)*

spring cove
magical, tucked away spring cove on manly

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*and even more tassie & oz pics here (captions to be added when i don’t have a city standing before me, waiting to make my acquaintance!)

living each day like a stranger in a strange land*

The asterisk is important (in the blog post title, which is a bit of advice to myself) because if I really lived like I was a stranger or traveling out of town then I would be missing the chance to indulge in kitchen experimentation that I love so much. But as I was taking yet another walk around Launceston (pronounced lawn-cess-ton, with the emphasis on the first syllable), the extent to which I was aware of how and what I was seeing struck me in a profound way. Most notably, I have been going to sleep quite early – well, early for me.  And perhaps as a (happy) consequence, I routinely awaken by 5 or 5:30, even after the residual effects of jet lag. Or perhaps I never got over jet lag. Either way, the sensation of not wanting to waste any time, to take in as much as possible – either via foot-bound traversals of city streets or pursuing conversations during interactions that could easily occur without a spoken word – is appealing. What happens, I wonder, when we’re at home or just when we feel at home? Can we feel or be at home and not become complacent? Perhaps this is what is meant by purposeful living, much like what is espoused as part of the vipassana meditation tradition, namely learning to pay attention, even to the point where acts such as walking or breathing are not taken for granted but are attended to consciously. I wonder, also, whether this heightened awareness of this heightened awareness (how’s that for meta?!) is due in part to my impending return to the vipassana meditation retreat in a few short weeks.

The first time I really felt at home in a full and broad sense (other than my time spent working on the literary magazine in high school) was when I first started living in Philadelphia as an undergraduate student. The context and topography of a city felt as natural to me as [insert fantastic simile here]. The ability to walk wherever you need to go, the multiple paths that can all lead to a single place or to as many different places, the confluence of sounds – languages, the whirrs of motors, varying pitch of all manner of modes of transportation, water seeping into sewers – and smells

So for a long time I thought I could never be as happy as I am living in the middle of a loud, occasionally rowdy, bright-lighted, café rich, four season, urban village. And while I still think that’s mostly true, there is something uniquely appealing about not very populated, verdant, flora-filled pockets of the world.

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One almost couldn’t help but slow down: no one jaywalks, and waiting for the chirping green “walk” symbol is the norm; internet (in the form of free wifi) is not plentiful, thereby calling for more measured uses of communication; breaking bread with others; when flights are delayed, the common response is “no worries” — this is infectious. No worries indeed.

On our last full afternoon in town, a few of my fellow non-Tassie colleagues and I visited the Mole Creek Sanctuary where met kangaroo, a cuddly wombat named Maggie and her looked-like-she-be-her-sister Lily, a sleeping koala who couldn’t be bothered to come of out her slumber to acknowledge our presence (and who could blame her?), and a dozen of the nearly 50 Tasmanian devils being raised on the too-small-to-be-called-a-preserve sanctuary including: Neville, Melody, Maury, Malachi, Midas, Munchkin, and Kitana.

We listened to Paul, the multiply-pierced, skinny jean wearing “tour” guide who kept his hair tucked into a green knit cap, tell us about how the animals found their way to his place of business, which has been in operation for over thirty years. He let us cuddle with Maggie, rub the surprisingly soft and not at all coarse fur of the kangaroos and invited us to make nice with Kitana, the devil who he cradled for our look-up-close benefit; there were no takers for the latter.

And as he told us about the well catered and cared for life of the koala bear, who wants for nothing and whose steady diet of eucalyptus leaves and gum tree bark is delivered practically on a silver platter, and who sleeps upwards of 18-20 hours a day, I got to thinking (again) about the question we allow ourselves to ask of ourselves and each other less and less as we grow older: why are we here? Or, we might phrase it as: how will we choose to live the time we have from birth to death, from entry to exit, on ramp to off?

raaahspree farm delectability

Raspberry ice cream, dollop of straight up cream, sauce, gooey goodness atop mini waffles. Have never had anything like it. Courtesy of Christmas Hills Raspberry Farm, Tasmania.

Followed by chocolate covered raspberry. I don’t know what they put in the water, but these berries spread delicious goodness from head to my toes, from fingers to my nose. Tassie goodness.