travel diary – love the unexpected

After my intensive writing in Melbourne, I went on to Canberra for a few days. I wasn’t occupied the entire time and, with colleagues, managed to get to the National Gallery. The National Gallery has a good collection of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander work and I was keen to see what was new since I was last there.

There was a lot more of the gallery taken up with Indigenous art than I remembered and it took a bit of time to get around. At one point, in one of the rooms, I was overcome with acute homesickness, not something I normally experience when I’m back in Australia, and not something I’d expect to happen at all in a gallery context. I’ve been puzzling about it ever since. What was it about that particular place and/or those particular art works that produced this inexplicable emotional response?

I haven’t worked out the answer to the question yet… the closest I can come at the moment is something to do being surrounded with works that were red ochre – the dominant colour of the earth in my home state. Of course this may not be it. But the sudden and unexpected nature of the event and its continued lack of persuasive explanation have stayed with me.

Something like the same ‘being struck by something unexpected’ can happen during reading, or during a research project. Some thing, saying, sentence leaps off the page, or out of the research site and makes itself felt. It’s impossible to ignore. It registers as an instant emotion, or maybe a more cerebral flash of something, something … There is no immediate rhyme or reason why this particular thing, saying or sentence has this effect. It just does. And this unexpected intrusion is often just out of reach. The thing, saying or sentence stays with you and periodically you think about it trying to make something of it, trying to work out why this, why now, what does it mean…

I’ve learnt not to worry too much about these serendipitous and idiosyncratic research and reading happenings. They often become clearer over time. Sometimes they turn out to be quite significant. They may be the germ of an idea, a turning point in thinking, an insight into something previously unexamined.

While we generally present research as a systematic affair, and it is, it is more often than we acknowledge these unanticipated elusive moments. A hunch, a feeling, a something that insinuates itself into your consciousness… not a Eureka… more nagging, unsatisfactory and persistent. Such attention grabbing interruptions are worth hanging onto. You never know what meanings they might eventually yield.

I await an explanation for my wave of homesickness.

About pat thomson

Pat Thomson is Professor of Education in the School of Education, The University of Nottingham, UK
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3 Responses to travel diary – love the unexpected

  1. Hi Pat, I had a similar experience when looking at paintings by Fred Williams. I wasn’t in my home state at the time and the same wave of homesickness washed over me! A similar thing occurred with the McCubbin triptych of The Pioneer at the Gallery of Victoria – a work I’d not seen up close in 20 years or so – same response. I certainly know the feeling you speak of during my reading and research – it happened many, many times over my 5 years of study. Sometimes it was a major, joyful epiphany, other times it was a thought niggle I teased out over time.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. prior says:

    wow – what a unique time to feel that homesickness stirred up…. and how cool too… 🙂 ❤


  3. Sue Gollifer says:

    I love this post, and not merely because it resonates with my current doctoral study status filled with restless nights dominated by themes weaving themselves in and out of my consciousness, which have not yet materialised into “a Eureka” moment but are instead “more nagging, unsatisfactory and persistent”. I love it because It also confirms the nature of the research process as one that is a process that should stir up different emotions that encourage us to continue to (re)search, backtrack, take up different paths, stand still and acknowledge inexplicable and unsettling emotions, and celebrate these experiences as much as the “Eureka” moment in our pursuit of meaning making.


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