Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Man in the Moon

In our new upstairs bedroom, cunningly built into the old roof space, there are several windows that don't have any curtains or blinds on them yet, so we wake very early. It's a little easier, now that daylight saving has begun, but still extraordinary to wake in bright daylight around 6.00 am, after the relative gloom of the old downstairs room. I guess we'll put blinds or something up at some stage, but for the moment, I'm revelling in the pure bright light of spring, flooding one half of the room very early in the morning. I can lie there and look out at the chimney pots and tree tops and the enormous Norfolk pine two doors down.

But this morning I woke in a little alarm, feeling someone was watching me. It was about 4.00 a.m., well before sunrise, except for a bright moon, just on the turn to gibbous, shining directly onto the bed. I looked up, and for the first time, I think, could really see the man's face watching. It was too uncanny to dwell on, so I just went back to sleep, but the vision stayed with me all day, reminding me of the beautiful moons we had seen in the desert.

I mentioned it to a friend at work and he started musing about how lovely it would be if our planet had more than one moon. I mentioned that trashy movie Stargate, with its vaguely Egyptian styling, and the three moons that fell into position for some significant thing or other. He confessed he had even watched the trashy TV series, and, emboldened, I admitted I was watching Idol. But we all have our weaknesses, and this wasn't one of his, so we couldn't have a proper Idol conversation. But if you are watching, you might want to check out blandcanyon for a hilarious running account of each show. Brilliant.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Serendipity

Last night I went to the launch of Traffic, vol. 9. This is the interdisciplinary postgraduate journal at Melbourne, and I had been asked to be one of the judges of their essay prize. The journal's theme this year is Serendipity, and the prize went to Daniel Whyte, for "The Flipside of Serendipity: Human Genetics Rediscovers Race", but all the short-listed essays were excellent.

The volume was launched by Dr Andi Horvath, who gave as her example of serendipitous research the inventer of velcro, who was out hiking in a season and place where those little burrs were getting stuck to his socks. He took them home and examined them under the microscope and realised they had little loops that hooked on to his socks. Thus velcro — velvet crochet, apparently — was born. Andi asked us to find the velcro closest to us, on shoes, wallets, clothes, and "launch" the journal with a velcro orchestra making the "hooray" after she said "hip hip." Very cute indeed.

Judging the prize was difficult, because the essays ranged across so many fields; but all were encouraged to write for an audience beyond their specialisation, and so I learned heaps about genetics, race, biochemistry, publishing, and politics. My very dear student Philip had won this prize a few years ago for his essay on the Summoner and Pardoner, so I was very pleased to take on this job.

Andi also offered an additional challenge to all the contributors, to go one step further and produce a version of their essay for some other venue beyond the context of the university, for the tennis club newsletter, was her suggestion. Not easy to do, but increasingly important for academic research to be able to explain itself in broader contexts.

I have just come off air myself, I'm pleased to say, giving an interview to South East Radio about my essay on pink ribbon day. I'm sure I gabbed and garbled, but I did at least try to give an account of my work in the introduction.

And now, on to write a job reference, find some references for a first-year subject reader for next year, and finish writing up two papers for publication by next Wednesday. I've just spent a messy two hours scooping up three inches of water from the cellar and carrying the buckets up the stairs. There is a pump, but since our water tanks are in, but not properly connected yet, it means there is this temporary problem. I don't even like being in the cellar, let along carrying buckets of water up the ladder.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Response to Sara and Lance

I started posting a response to Sara and Lance's comments on the previous entry, but it got a bit long, so I thought I would make a separate entry.

Warm thanks to Sara and Lance for generously sharing their stories, and for posting their responses. Both comments raise really important issues.

Sara raises the question of other diseases that don't attract a fraction of the funding that breast cancer organisations have been able to mobilise. I'm very sympathetic to this point, and can see that from the point of view of many other cancers and other diseases, it might seem ungracious to criticise some aspects of breast cancer publicity.

Lance's comment is very heartfelt; and I honour his tribute to the women in his family who have died, or struggled with, or who live in the shadow of breast cancer.

I would comment that lots of these commercial promotions add only a tiny proportion of their sales to breast cancer research. Those interested to know more might want to check out the link to Breast Cancer Action on the side-bar.

But of course, when someone is wholeheartedly involved in fund-raising, I can see how my response might seem to undermine that cause. I didn't intend my remarks to "white-ant" those efforts (and tried to say in my essay that there were many wonderful aspects to pink October); but I am concerned about the way many of these promotions are capitalising on a very narrow understanding of women's concerns.

Of course, the ideal solution would be adequate government funding for research, care and awareness of many more diseases, supported by an equitable tax system. I think a lot of people find it disturbing to think of diseases competing with each other for a limited market share of public support.

I should say that most of the responses I've had to my essay, both on the blog, and in emails, have shared my concerns. Many people comment that they prefer to make donations, and don't expect to be "buying" products in return. And that was the way I was brought up, too.

Lance suggests I get involved in the Cancer Council Arts Awards. I must admit, I didn't know about them: I will try and find out more about this. When I was first diagnosed, one of my first impulses was to get involved in some kind of support group, to help other women with fewer social and economic resources than I enjoy. But the advice I read said, "you need to go through your own treatment and journey before you can help others". I've hoped my blog might be some kind of help.

Thanks again to all who've responded, by blog, by email, and by phone. These are difficult issues indeed.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Pink Links

Here's a link to my op-ed piece in Sunday's Age.

And ... courtesy of my neighbour Alan ... a hilarious spoof on the 'wear a yellow ribbon to show your support for the war in Iraq' campaign in the US.



And, possibly even more hilarious, another:

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Blogging and public engagement(s)

I am very belated in posting a response to the Writing and Society session at the University of Western Sydney last Friday on "The Uses of Blogging". Luckily, Judith Ridge at Misrule has posted a lovely long account of the session, and Pavlov's Cat has commented, too. It was a most enjoyable afternoon; and as Dr Cat says, a pleasure to sit behind the seminar table with a friend. Well, I guess that's not such a novelty: I do get to do that with the medievalists, on occasion. But great, all the same, to see Kerryn in such excellent form - even while she was busy incubating a ghastly virus that attacked her a day or so later. We also got to hang out in gorgeous Potts Point, with views of The Opera House and The Bridge from the hotel's wonderful rooftop garden (if you ever get the chance to stay here, do!); and eat meal after meal of delicious, fresh and delightful food. I also met up with two friends: first for dinner at Darling Harbour, where we were sat and watched a spectacular Sydney storm. It was like watching a dishwasher in action through the plate glass of the restaurant over this small area enclosed by glass buildings: sound and fury and foam and light; and then the sparkling rinse of rain on the water. And second for Saturday breakfast in Potts Point. Stewed rhubarb two mornings in a row: bliss!

Some of the most interesting and thoughtful questions to come up in discussion, though, concerned the problem of blogs and their ilk in educational contexts: if students are encouraged to write and post in pedagogical contexts, how do they learn the difference between that kind of writing and more formal contexts?

We were also asked to talk about blogging and being ‘public intellectuals’. I admit I haven't really thought of myself as such, but over the last few months I have been doing a little more reviewing and writing for the newspaper.

Since coming back from Sydney, I’ve written an op-ed piece that I think will appear in the Sunday Age tomorrow, on the pink consumerism associated with breast cancer awareness in October. In the essay I am very critical of the idea of ‘shopping for the cure’, the direct association of femininity with consumerism, and especially the shopping for clothes and jewellery, and the very girlish model of femininity that has become so pervasive in our culture. Of course there are some wonderful projects and images of women associated with breast cancer fund-raising, and I tried to acknowledge those in the essay. But I find, now, I am quite nervous about the possible reactions. I’m not sure I have a thick enough skin to be a ‘public intellectual’.

Still… on Thursday night I went to a lecture by Brian Castro, who talked passionately about the need to voice criticisms of an Australian society that was becoming increasingly market- and consumer- driven. So I felt emboldened and encouraged to write as I had done.

On the other hand, I have found, even in the context of my very good health news (and thanks to all who have sent their congratulations and cheers), that I still do sometimes get overtired and overwhelmed. Sometimes I feel being sick has made me more resilient and stronger at the core; sometimes I feel it’s made me define real limits to what I can do. Perhaps it’s time to pull my head in a bit now and get down to some work.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Another Joyous Announcement...

... to report that I had my 12-month mammogram, ultrasound and examination with my surgeon this morning; and I am clean as a whistle. The ultrasound is the worst: it's the most pleasant physical experience, but the most testing on the nerves as the sensor slides up and down and around over the gel, and presses in hard to get a good look at what's happening, deep down under the scar tissue, where it is still tender after radiotherapy. But no one could find anything out of the ordinary, so I am in the clear for another year, now. I felt as fit and healthy, and as confident that I had done everything I can to avoid a recurrence, while also knowing there's a large part of the risk factor over which I have no control at all. How would I have handled a recurrence? I'm glad not to be tested in this way, just now.

I asked Suzanne when, over the five years after surgery I am still receiving treatment, and still at risk, the chances were greater of recurrence. She said over 80% of recurrence is found in the second or third year. So I guess it's early days yet.

Even so, we polished off a rather nice Jacob's Creek sparkling Chardonnay/Pinot Noir as we were reading about the parable of the vineyard in Pearl in the Middle English reading group just now. Time to nip out for a foccaccia and a strong coffee before the rest of the afternoon's work.

Just a year ago I found we had missed out on our grant and that I had breast cancer in the same week. A year later, what a joyful contrast. So... strength and solidarity and warm wishes to anyone else facing up the rigours of the grant system and/or of medical tests. May my good news be yours, too.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Formal (and Joyous) Announcement: Medievalism in Australian Cultural Memory

When I began this blog over a year ago I aimed to chart the process of applying for an Australian Research Council research grant. In the end, or rather, shortly thereafter, I got sick and didn't go ahead with that application. But over the summer, I was able to work on revising an unsuccessful collaborative grant. My research team was fantastic; and one burning hot day last January as I came to the end of my daily radiotherapy treatment, they were the first to see I was exhausted and was finished for that day. The lead-up in this immense national system is deeply attenuated. We submitted in early Feb, wrote a "rejoinder" to our four assessors' reports in July, and have just heard now that we were successful, with four years' funding to commence next January. It is a huge relief to be successful, partly because it is such a public process: lots of people read drafts and the final version, and can be quite scathing in their comments and suggestions. It's good for my program, school, faculty and university; and also for those of my collaborators, as funding will flow back into those units as a result. It's good for the PhD student we'll be able to offer a scholarship to; it's good for the postgrad or early career researchers we'll employ as research assistants and tutors. It's great for the field of medievalism. And it's great for our summer, as it means we won't have to revise and re-submit it all over again.

I've been a bit coy about naming our team or our project, but I have everyone's permission to do so now. We are me, Andrew Lynch (University of Western Australia), Louise D'Arcens (University of Wollongong) and John Ganim (University of California, Riverside). We have been awarded $340,000 over four years to study "Medievalism in Australian Cultural Memory". Here is our magic 100-word project summary:

This project is the first comprehensive study of the influence of medievalism — the imaginative reconstruction of the middle ages - on Australian literature and culture. Detailed examinations of archives, texts, artefacts and public records from 1800 to the present will trace Australia's transformation of its European medieval legacy, with reference to literary, public, academic and popular modes of writing and cultural production. The research will offer a new perspective on Australian cultural history, and the first comparative study of Australia's relationship with international medievalism. An illustrated monograph, a refereed essay collection and a digital repository will bring the resuts to the public.

And... the summary of national/community benefit. This is the bit that is "for public release"; i.e. the bit that has to pass the scrutiny of those who love to criticise the expense of public money on university research:

This project will provide the first long-range analysis of Australian cultural responses to the medieval period, and the first comparative study of Australia's relationship with international medievalism. It will show how Australians have used reference to the medieval past, both favourable and hostile, to articulate our complex relation to European tradition and our aspirations to a distinctive national culture. The published research will offer an original perspective on the development of Australian cultural identity and will enhance public understanding of our British and European heritage, in the context of contemporary debates about republicanism, the monarchy, and ethnic and cultural diversity.

What Pavlov's Cat and I will be doing this Friday

The Writing & Society Research Group at the University of Western Sydney has organised this seminar for me and Dr Cat: what larks!

Friday 12 October
1.00-4.00pm

"The Uses of Blogging"

with Kerryn Goldsworthy, literary critic & author of
the blog Pavlov's Cat

and Stephanie Trigg, medievalist & author of
the blog Humanities Researcher

University of Western Sydney, Bankstown campus
Building 23, conference room 1
(via the Henry Lawson Drive exit of the M5)

All welcome - lunch served at 1pm.
RSVP to writing@uws.edu.au

Monday, October 08, 2007

Back from the desert, where it was hot and red during the day, and quiet and black at night. A few highlights...

The first night a hot desert wind blew till 5.00 am. We had camped in our little hired campervan, with Joel in a tent pitched close to the sliding door. We had parked just off road, halfway between Alice Springs and Uluru, and I struggled with all kinds of fears and anxieties as it got darker and darker, and there was no one in sight. The sky was full of clouds and the moon struggled to be seen. Joel and I both slept badly, as the hot wind howled through the open doors of the van, and the badly assembled tent. Day dawned crisp and still, though.

Second night we watched the sun set over Uluru, having walked a little at its base in the afternoon. Even though there were lots of tourists, it was still breathtakingly quiet and beautiful. As the great rock turned red in the sunset, a thin, pale, watery moon rose just to the left. We camped in the only place you are allowed to, for miles around, at the Yulara resort. Girls in the bathroom with hair curlers and straighteners, re-charging phone and camera batteries.

Third night we watched the sun set at Kata Tjuta (the Olgas), after a wonderful hike through the Valley of the Winds. No moon, until we were on our way to our next (off-road) campsite. Then it rose, bright orange through the red dust of the desert.

The fourth night the moon modestly rose later, allowing the full spectrum of stars and planets and satellites to appear. We were staying at Kings' Canyon (a huge campsite), so it wasn't until several nights later, at Trephina Gorge in the East Macdonall ranges (thanks to Elsewhere for this tip), that we were in pitch blackness at 10.00 p.m. to see the stars in all their glory and glamour. We were in a tiny campsite (one other family; and a pit toilet), and so we could turn out all the lights, and see nothing but what you could see by starlight. The Milky Way streaming moodily across the great canopy of stars, a shooting star catching my eye, and stars right down to the horizon - at your feet, as someone said to me today. It's like being in a huge snowdome; the glass hung all over with stars.

In the end, we spent very little time in Alice Springs, and while I thought I would be hanging out for hotels and lavish campsites, I found I treasured best those nights when it was just us, the stars, and the Scrabble box. We sang and talked in the car, told stories and worked on jokes with each other. I read Andrew McGahan's White Earth, the perfect choice of a gothic Australian narrative about land use and land ownership: thoroughly recommended. I then started on Alexis Wright's Carpentaria. I'm struggling a bit, but the man in the restaurant at Alice Springs (The Lane) said it was worth persevering with, so I will.

We got back on Friday night: the house is still covered in dust, though the end is in sight; and the best news when I opened up the email.... We got our ARC grant! It's hard to give a sense of just what a wonderful thing this is. They awarded money to only 21% of applications this year, and though they cut our budget down, we can still do most of the things we want. I'll write about this in more detail soon (it's in part what this blog is supposed to be about), but just wanted to clock in. Will find a few photos, too.