Penelope Grundle is a life coach, New York Times best-selling author and twice-Editor of Australian Vogue. She is also NUPSA’s resident advice columnist, in accordance with the terms of her Community Service Order (Crimes [Sentencing Procedure] Act 1999).


 

Hello again, my loves, and welcome to September. Can you feel it? Spring is here, and with it, even greater jubilation: my birthday!

Oh, it will be a grand affair – a gala at the Met, of course (with three hundred assorted intelligentsia, artisans and heads of state in attendance), followed by casual drinks and canapes on a viewing platform, suspended by helium and general celebrity, high above the rooftops of Manhattan. And then, in the wee hours, supper with Charlotte Rampling. (A small tradition of ours.)

Charlotte and I were talking about birth just the other day, actually, as we were planning our get-together. We’re both women of a certain age and wisdom, after all; though neither of us would return to the relative idiocy of our twenties for all the spices in Persia (forgive me for saying so, dear children), we did articulate a certain desire to recapture the possibility and wonderment of the newborn.

Charlotte favours re-incarnation. There’s a clinic (and cthonic ruin) that does it now in Thessaly, and it’s terribly popular: settle up, cash in your karmic currency and start over! A new body, a new experience, a new life! It’s exciting in some regards, but I can’t stand the idea of relinquishing all my accumulated expertise and (if I’m honest) public acclaim. It took a lot of work to get here. I’m just not ready to trade it all in and roll the dice.

I have been reading quite a lot about re-birthing, though, and it thoroughly appeals to me. Not the ludicrous practice you may have read about previously – people swaddling themselves in wet blankets and crawling through a plastic tube in crude simulation of the act – but a simple, elegant ceremony with a handful of witnesses, in which one is declared ‘reborn’ in every legal sense, and their birth certificate amended to a date of their selection. Whoopi Goldberg did it just last month! She had her age reset to absolute zero, but I’d rather return to eighteen (to avoid any unseemly complications in the provision of alcohol).

As for my body, the boys in Bruges do such a wonderful job that I generally look whatever age I please. Not that it matters, mind you. I have no patience for vanity, my darlings; my only concern is your enduring happiness and well-being. So let us turn to them now.

 

Dear Penny,

I am a PhD student, and I have friends doing Coursework [degrees] who are planning their Christmas holidays. While I will give myself a couple of days, I am struggling to be supportive of their holiday plans knowing I have to keep writing! How can I use my few days to really enjoy myself and forget my research?

Sincerely yours,

Desperately In Need Of A Holiday

 

Dear Dinah,

(Can I call you Dinah? It fits so beautifully as an acronym, and belongs to a splendid American songstress I knew for many years, so you’re in good company.)

Thank you for your question! Time, as I have often said, is wilful and strange; it moves according to our perception, either crawling at a snail’s pace or passing in a blur. ‘Time flies when you’re having fun’, or so the old adage goes.

But is that what you really want? If you wish to forget about your research, and have only a few days to do so, enjoying yourself will only cause them to pass more quickly. Really enjoy yourself and they’ll slip through your fingers like water – and before you know it, you’ll be back at the interminable coalface of academia, chipping away joylessly at your computer.

No, surely not. While I am ordinarily a great proponent of (and participant in) own’s own pleasure, here I firmly advise against it.

But neither would I suggest you do the opposite, and content yourself with boredom. There is no relief in an empty void. Your mind will only fill it with thoughts of your work – now intensified by guilt, as you squander the precious vacation you’ve managed to carve for yourself.

How, then, do we thread the needle? Keep a hold of time, advancing it slowly, while keeping ourselves rooted firmly in the present, unswayed by the past and future? The answer, of course, is adrenaline – that most thrilling of biochemicals, consort of exhilaration and terror.

As a researcher (regardless of your discipline), I am sure you know the basics of ‘fight-or-flight’. When faced with potential danger, our body floods itself with hormones that prepare it to respond: our heart quickens; our senses are elevated; our mind is sharpened, crystalline. Our only thoughts are of our immediate surroundings; all others dissolve. Every second feels like an hour, every hour like a year.

Fuelled by adrenaline, a human being is a lightning rod, crackling with energy. An electromagnet, about which the very laws of time warp and bend.

The best holiday for you then, Dinah, is one spent constantly on a knife’s edge of ecstasy and horror. There are plenty of options: if you’re a sporty person, why not take a baseball bat to a hornet’s nest, or skydive with an unmarked parachute through military airspace? Or if you prefer travel, you could become a drug mule, and fly internationally with a bag of heroin secreted in your colon that could burst at any minute. Approach it as you please, and give it your own personal flair.

Just last year, a good friend of mine – mired in a harrowing custody battle, and desperate for a distraction – summoned the Slavic witch Baba Yaga by reciting her name three times to a mirror. The crone appeared (crouched in a mortar and waving around a giant pestle, I’m told) and whisked her children away to a hut made of chicken legs in a realm of nightmares. Needless to say, she had quite the adventure in rescuing them, and the legal proceedings were all but forgotten by the time she returned.

Now, don’t get me wrong: one cannot live their entire life this way. That would be absurd. The power of adrenaline is its transience; it arrives and then it disappears, as time does, leaving us utterly spent. But as you’ve said, it’s just a few days, darling. And you’ll have a wealth of holiday stories to share with friends and family – more than some have in a lifetime.

When you think about, the only other real alternative is to enjoy your research. Be honest with yourself: which is easier to stomach?

 

Got a question for Penny? Write to us at nupsa@newcastle.edu.au and see it answered!

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