Time, then, to reflect on the passing of the year.
First up, and looming largest in my mind, I got cancer and got as near to cured as they can get me. There's an unknown quantity of a 7%-10% risk of recurrence over these first ten years they can't control, but I'm doing my best with diet and exercise and a generalised intention of staying calmer, and trying to live a little more simply. It's not that I think I got cancer through working too hard; but I do find my health is better if I can keep anxiety and stress at bay.
This is pretty difficult in the academic sector, of course. And especially in my corner of it. What with the massive re-structures and widespread curriculum reform at Melbourne, the re-organisation of my ancient and ramshackle department into a program within a much larger school, and the disastrous budget deficit in my faculty, my workplace is barely recognisable from what it was twelve months ago. There are lots of things that are exciting about the new structures and plans; but much that's alarming, too.
Academic work often seems open-ended or provisional. There is a lovely finality about seeing an article published, or holding your book in its shiny and handsome covers, but you know you can nearly always do it better. You've almost never done enough, or it's the wrong kind of thing, or you've published it in the wrong place. One of the things I've learned about being sick, though, is to put all this stuff into a different time-frame. I've done hardly any writing on my Order of the Garter project these last twelve months. I'm sure I'm not the only scholar in the country whose work doesn't fit neatly into the time-tables we draw up for ourselves. But I'm not worried about this, and am starting to approach that project again, obliquely, so it doesn't notice me creeping up on it. I'm just going to do what I can, when I can.
And even with being sick, I've still done a fair number of things in the last twelve months. I've given papers at four conferences (New York in July, Adelaide in February, London in April and Perth in July), travelled to St Louis to start working on the Chaucer conference before I had to resign from the committee, and convened a day seminar at Melbourne in February. (I missed the Piers Plowman conference in Philadelphia but only because I knew I wouldn't be able to write something from scratch: if I'd had a paper written, I probably would have got myself to that one too.)
But it's true that life no longer stretches out into an infinity of endless health and energy. Given the limits I now find, I'm sometimes surprised to find myself still blogging. But it's part of the great mystery about how work gets done. Blogging doesn't stop me writing: it's a clearing house for ideas and reflections; and it helps me feel in touch with the broader community of readers and writers. That community is truly a virtual one, though. I know one or two colleagues and perhaps three or four postgraduates at Melbourne who read my blog. If others are, they aren't letting on. That's absolutely fine. I kind of like the mysteriousness of not knowing who reads and who doesn't.
For the record, I'm currently averaging 58 readers a day, and have received a total of 12,494 visitors (that's not counting my own visits). More than some, fewer than others. But unlike other forms of bean-counting in academia, this set of statistics isn't going to be used for me, or against me.
I'm currently reading the account by Algernon Bertram Freeman-Mitford Redesdale of his mission to Japan in 1906 to take the Garter insignia to the Emperor Mutsuhito. He writes of a ball at the British Embassy:
Princess Arisugawa brought her daughter. It was her first ball, and very much she seemed to enjoy it. Being in Japanese costume she could not, of course, dance round dances, but she did take part in quadrilles. As for me, when I see these things I feel like Rip Van Winkle. I have been asleep, and centuries have passed over my head.
Redesdale's comment is striking. There he is as a modern ambassador for the medieval Garter, with its own centuries of ritual, commenting on the implicitly medieval scene of the princess and her daughter. For once, the Garter stands for the modern. The obvious contrast, this week, is with the brouhaha surrounding the Queen, the BBC and Annie Liebovitz. Reading between the lines, do we detect the Queen, after all her years of service to court rituals, tiring of it all? The picture shows the eighty-year-old in full Garter regalia, and it would not be surprising that getting kitted up like that, with tiara and all, would pall after all this time.
Apparently the BBC documentary shows scenes of the Queen walking down a palace corridor and telling her lady-in-waiting: "I'm not changing anything. I've had enough dressing like this, thank you very much".
Snippets like this remind me, in the end, of how lovely it is to love one's research.