Wednesday, June 20, 2012

End of the story

It started as just a chapter in a proposed book on medievalism and gender, but Simon encouraged me to ditch the other chapters and just work on this chapter on the Order of the Garter. Even back then I knew I wanted to focus on the myth, whether true or no, of the Garter's origin in a embarrassing incident involving a piece of underwear dropping off in public. And I knew I didn't want to write a 'straight' historical narrative. Anyway, like most books it took rather longer than I thought to fall into place. I had more material than I could really use, and left out lots of things, but to no great regret so far.

No reviews yet, and I await them with predictable apprehension.

In the meantime, there is much pleasure to be had from finishing this big book. For a start, its gorgeous cover: the wicked leering glance of the Prince Regent awaking the Spirit of Brighton, wearing nothing but pretty shoes, pretty wings and his Garter regalia. After all, it must be worn at all times: you're naked without it.

There is pleasure from celebrating its launching. I don't know why I didn't have a launch for the Chaucer book, but I made up for that by having two for this one. One in Sydney, and one in Melbourne. Both were enjoyable, though I was somewhat nervous before the Melbourne one and then hardly slept at all the night after. So much adrenaline racing around.

But I was buoyed by the warmth of family and friends. What a luxury to be surrounded by people who understand what it means to write a book like this. My mother phoned a few days ago to say
how much she was enjoying reading it. So that's good.


I am having trouble sorting these pictures from the Melbourne launch into sequence, and they may appear a little odd in the final formatting, but this is me and Deirdre Coleman, my dear friend and colleague, who was the MC. And the book in Melbourne was launched by Brien Hallett. Brien and I were undergraduates together, and as you can see, he is now the Usher of the Black Rod in the Senate. Black Rod's a Garter official dating from the fourteenth century, so there were some lovely circles and loops being tied that night. 

I have also done a little publicity for the book. Penn started a "vulgar board about the Order of the Garter" on Pinterest; I wrote a piece for the Daily Beast; and did a little QandA for The Age. Readers of Humanities Researcher provided support, community, distraction and inspiration. You read chapters, you provided images and ideas, and I came here often as refuge. Thank you. 
































Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Gloria mundi

Yes, yes, I knew all about it. Little black planet looping around the sun. See it now — or eight years ago — and never see it again. Though the 'seeing' would be so heavily mediated you may as well watch it on TV or a computer animation.

Still, once invited to a Transit of Venus party/fundraiser with readings and music, I started to take a bit more interest, not least because Joel would be on the performers' list.

I worked at home this morning, one eye on the sunny sky out the window; the other on the ipad streaming a shimmering image from the ABC science website. The camera angle adjusted occasionally, so it felt quite real, or at least, happening in real time, as the white numbers flickered and turned over. The sun appeared surprisingly solid, and the planet surprisingly determined as it made its way across.

At lunchtime I ran along the river, thinking about the insignificance of the little email worries and all the messy tangled business of our lives as the planets and stars wheeled above and around us. It clouded over as I went upstairs to change, and I listened to the radio. Someone said what I had heard a hundred times before, that the planet would not pass this way again in our lifetime, and I couldn't help give out a little sob. Suddenly, the whole momentousness of the occasion got the better of me.

I arrived at the party in the middle of a talk about the transit, but because it was sunny I was directed over the road to the little park opposite where there were a couple of big telescopes, binoculars and sun-watching glasses, all set up for safe transit-watching. I looked through them all, and could see the small black dot moving, this time against a chill white background. What colour is the sun, really? Molten lava or white hot?

Back in the house, I settled down in the front room for a sequence of readings: the Age columnist reading about the way that cats have changed her sense of self in the world; the poet performing and singing poems of love in honour of Venus; the singer singing of bodies, private and public; the music teacher and composer playing beautiful compositions, built around an urban, and then a coastal landscape. Then Joel introduced and played his version of Talking Heads' 'Once in A Lifetime,' moving in and around its familiar chant refrain with his own rhythms and flights. Last night he'd played this and Miles Davis' 'Solar', and the beginning of his own Transit composition for us at home, but today he just played this one piece. He is full of plans for the future, this year. What form will his jazz studies take next? For him, the future stretches out brightly. He may not see the transit of Venus again, but there will be no shortage of other transits and transitions.

As I sat and listened to everyone, the sun was streaming into the front room of the house, an old corner shop. Normally the blinds are down, as people walk along both sides of the house, but the room had that open, raw, clean feel when you take down the blinds and curtains that normally filter light. From my cosy chair I could look across the park to see people still huddled in coats peering into telescopes, and passers-by lining up to ask for a look, too, and putting in money to the jar for the Greens local government campaign, the International Women's Development Agency and Solaraid (solar panels for Africa). The wind lifted people's hair and the sun threw white light around the falling leaves and the yellowing winter grasses.

But inside, in the safety and warmth of the front room, the little glasshouse on the corner, when the clouds moved on, the black dot of Venus had no power to stop the flood of warmth and light into the room. Facing west in the afternoon sun, as Venus slipped off the sun and back into daylight invisibility, it was easy to close our eyes and basked in the beauty of words and music, friendship and community. Sic transit...