I've kept this blog, on and off, since 2006. In 2015 I used it to chart daily encounters, images, thoughts and feelings about volcanic basalt/bluestone in Melbourne and Victoria, especially in the first part of the year. I plan to write a book provisionally titled Bluestone: An Emotional History, about human uses of and feelings for bluestone. But I am also working on quite a few other projects and a big grant application, especially now I am on research leave. I'm working mostly from home, then, for six months, and will need online sociability for company!

Sunday, December 31, 2006

New Year's Eve

I suspect that's the longest gap between postings since I began the blog. It's partly a result of the busyness of Christmas; partly the increasing need for naps and sleep-ins as the radiotherapy comes to the pointy end. Something new, and not altogether pleasant seems to be happening in the relationship between work and living and reading and writing, too.

A quick health update, first: I have five more big radiotherapy sessions to go, then eight shorter, lighter doses to be directed along the scar line. I was measured up for these before Christmas. I feared going into the CT tunnel again (I always forget till it's too late that I hate enclosed spaces and low ceilings), but this was more low tech. Lie on your side, Michael will draw on you with blue pencil, and then Andy will come in and make a tracing onto a transparent sheet then take a photo (I almost said polaroid, but it looked suspiciously like my own digital camera).

My breast is starting to resemble a roasted beetroot: pink and brown in patches, within a sharply delineated area which probably looks square on the infra-red grid when I'm lying down, but which on the body is curved into odd angles. I'm assured this will all start to fade as soon as the treatment ends, but right now it feels pretty much like sunburn. I woke in the middle of the night last night saying to myself, 'I don't know what to do with it!', where to put it in the bed, as if it were a detachable appendage. I had also been dreaming that Kylie Minogue paid me a visitation and delivered some wise words I was not able to remember. So I got up, had a chamomile tea, then went back to bed and slept in till 10.00. We had breakfast in bed (cereal, raspberries and blackberries) and made a plan for the day. Paul went to work in the garden and at his computer; Joel set to work on his new animation; and I lingered on reading Garrison Keilor's Love Me, about a Minnesota man who moves to New York and fulfils his dream working at the New Yorker until he develops writer's block and the magazine is taken over by the Mafia.

I'm sometimes asked what I'm doing, how my own writing is going, how much trash TV I'm watching. In fact, I spend a lot of time in the garden, feeding the goldfish and admiring their babies, and talking to Mima, my fifteen-year-old tabby. We have become very close over the last few months and have had many happy conversations on the couch in the afternoon sun or walking around the new garden and its fishponds. No trash TV: we are working our way through the West Wing on DVD in the evenings, and watching some very short cricket matches in the afternoon. I'm as keen for a 5-0 Ashes victory as the next woman, but it'd be good to see the English team defer their inevitable implosion till they get on the plane to go home, so that they could at least take the game into the fourth day.

But there's no real reason why I shouldn't be writing. I'm alert and sprightly enough for good portions of each day, and can find energy to blog, and read, and chat (and cook: Siena cakes, florentines and chocolate brandy balls for Christmas). But we have eaten dinner the last two nights with dear friends, all of whom are scholars and writers, and I listened with a kind of detached interest about their various writing projects. My own writing seems miles away. As far as work is concerned, I am just able to keep up with the little tasks that need to be done: ask Maria to organise a little seminar in honour of David Wallace for late February; arrange my travel plans to get to Adelaide earlier in the month; set aside some time for a meeting of our grant team next weekend to start re-writing our application for the ARC.

I guess the energy for writing will return when the current radiation fatigue recedes. When I think about it though, I didn't actually do much writing in 2006. I finished a big essay in February, and wrote a conference paper in July that I was very pleased with, but the rest of the year seemed to disappear in committees, the Headstart training program, and then the flurry of starting work on the NCS program committee then handing it over to Ruth and David and John when I became ill. I don't think I'm too worried about not writing. It's normally a source of great pleasure for me, and I have several projects on the boil, individual and collaborative, that I'm still intrigued by. Fortunately, I had lots of things in the pipeline (I've corrected three sets of proofs since I've been sick), so I'll still look ok on paper for a while yet, in terms of the research productivity that is such a preoccupation for us all now.

It's just the nature of academic life, that you can never let it go completely. I'm far from complaining: this is the other side of the coin that makes it possible to take time out for daily treatment and comprehensive sick leave without any threat to my job security or income. I'll just have to trust my own instincts, that the desire to write will return when I have something to say, and when I can read anything other than fiction for more than half an hour before falling asleep.

It's New Year's Eve today. We would normally be in the third day of cooking and cleaning and preparing for a big party, but prudently decided not to go ahead this year. We're going to open a special bottle of wine, climb up on the roof to watch the fireworks, and have an early night. Health and Happiness in the New Year to all.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The day I finally get the point about the chocolates...

Three posts ago I was noting the custom of leaving little chocolates in the lockers where we keep our gowns at the radiotherapy clinic, on the last day of treatment. The same day the assistants apologised for taking so long to get the machinery and the flat bed into place. It takes two or three of them to position me and the machinery properly: I have to lie flat with my arms outstretched behind my head grasping a bar, while also relaxing my right arm so it doesn't get in the way of the machine as it beams its rays up at me from below my right side. Sometimes I have to let go and bring my arm back then rotate it again with their help until I am positioned correctly. They then move the bed back and up and check and double-check the height and placing of the rays, reading the measurements back to each other and checking the infra-red grid on my body. The machine has to be programmed for its two positions before it can begin. (I guess they treat the breast from either side in this way to avoid a daily blast of radiation directly into the lungs and rib cage: this way it kind of passes through the breast. I'll never breast-feed again on that side, but hey...) Sometimes it takes a while to get all these measurements and co-ordinates perfect, and Sue apologised for the time it was taking. That's fine, I said, in my cheery good-patient voice: take your time and get it right. It's just that sometimes patients are feeling a little frail, they explained, and don't like being jerked around. I couldn't understand why you would mind waiting for these people to do their job properly on your behalf.

But now, I get it! I'm a third of the way through my treatments (12 down, 21 to go), and yesterday the thought of getting my cramping menstrual body up into this position was pretty forbidding. I asked if they could possibly treat me while I lay in the foetal position, and they very sympathetically said no and helped me up on the bed anyway, with just the right amount of understanding that acknowledged my unwillingness without letting me spiral into self-pity. So I understood that day that sometimes you don't want to be jerked around on the machine. And that some days a piece of cheap chocolate left by someone who's gone through it and come through is exactly what you want.

I'm very conscious that my case is a minor one, and that my residual good health is seeing me through this process with minimal damage. So far: a slightly re-shaped breast; two long scars that are healing well; some residual numbness under my arm that may or may not heal; a little rash from the radiotherapy that is irritating but treatable, and which will start to heal after January 17th. There are some more serious hormonal side-effects that will kick in after the new year, but really, nothing exceptional. I know that in comparison to a thousand other possibilities and conjunctions of illness, treatment, side-effects, social and emotional and financial contexts, my situation is excellent.

All the same, there's no doubt that emotions and impressions are heightened; and that I am experiencing an unaccustomed fragility that is sometimes emotional, sometimes social, sometimes intellectual. I can write, now, of a moment over a month ago, when I finally looked at myself in the mirror before a shower, with all the bandages and surgical tape removed for the first time. All I could see were the two long black lines of my surgical scars. Images from Caroline Walker Bynum's essays on the wounded, perforated and open bodies of Christ and the saints flashed through my mind and I started to black out; and caught hold of the bathroom bench just in time. I looked carefully at one of the scars today and was surprised to find it much shorter than I'd remembered it. How long is a scar? How deep is a wound?

Monday, December 11, 2006

An uncomfortable piece of surgery

Waking up to breakfast radio this morning, and the announcement of a conversation, later in the morning, with a speaker 'who's had a biography out'. Nasty...

Thursday, December 07, 2006

How we teach and write now

This is a question for all you literary/historical types.

For the little essay I’m writing on Piers Plowman, I’m reading around and thinking about the question of authorial and narrative voice, and thinking about the ways we can help students think about the voices in the poem. I’ve been reading David Benson’s wonderful book, Public Piers Plowman: Modern Scholarship and Late Medieval English Culture, and am pleased to find he has been thinking about medieval public culture (using Habermas) in ways I know I am going to find useful when I eventually get around to working on the project and grant application whose progress I began this blog in order to chart. Oh well. Sigh. Being sick just means I have to go slower, is all.

I was very struck by this passage, on page 74:

“Piers is an interactive text meant to be applied to its readers’ lives. As such, it somewhat resembles a modern newspaper, which different readers will use differently, each one finding information or advice to suit his or her own needs.”

I find this a very evocative analogy, because it chimes with my slowly-germinating idea about the pre-history of public or mass culture in a manuscript era. I suspect, too, it is the kind of thing we often say when we are teaching, as a short-hand guide to students trying to make sense of unfamiliar works. And because it takes the form of an analogy, it is different from Kittredge’s famously ahistorical pronouncement about Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde as the first novel.

But there is perhaps an interesting issue to be teased out here, about the way we use analogy or other similar devices to explain the effect of medieval or pre-modern texts. I don't mean to raise the hoary methodological issue of "presentism". I'm interested in the rhetorical status of this kind of remark in what is a profoundly historicist study, after all.

Perhaps it's a question about the relation between pedagogy and scholarship. Have we tended to censor this kind of remark out of our writing, when we might use it freely in the classroom? Is that self-censorship lightening up? What do people think? How do we see the relation between our teaching and our writing?

Now that I think about it, I am reminded of a comment one of my students made after our discussions of Troilus and Criseyde this semester: he was a little disturbed by the easy and familiar way we were talking about the characters' personalities and sexualities. It's hard *not* to do this when you are teaching, though I would almost certainly not write in that way. Hypocrisy? Or respect for the differences between spoken and written discourse, between informal and formal contexts, between pedagogy and scholarship?

n.b. A few people have commented that they have found it hard to post a comment on this blog. I'm not sure why that would be, but if you experience technical difficulties, and would like to post, please follow the links to my homepage and email me (and signal whether you'd like me to post on your behalf).

Personal, professional and reproductive lives

Anyone reading this blog with an interest in how we combine the professional and the personal aspects of our life might want to check out Wednesday's post from Ampersand Duck, an articulate, but ultimately very sad tale about the tensions between a professional and a reproductive career. Alert: anyone who is currently pregnant and feeling vulnerable should probably skip this one.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Notes from the radiotherapy clinic

I'm settling into the routine of daily radiotherapy. The technicians are fantastically efficient, and if I get there on time, I wait only a minute or two before I'm called through to change into my gown, and then summoned into the treatment room. They mark me up (using the tattoos as a guide) under the infra-red light (I think that's what it is: same technology that reads the barcode on my library card), then leave me as the big machine moves back and forth over me for a short silent burst of radiation on each side of the 'treatment area'. It takes perhaps ten minutes in all, and then I'm free to go.

I'm not there long enough really to meet other patients, but it's easy to see that we are all at different stages. Some are inpatients in dressing-gowns and slippers, some are in wheelchairs, some are accompanied by relatives, some of the women are wearing scarves and beanies. One elderly woman was helped to her taxi by a kindly driver. I'm still sprightly enough: it's too soon, I was told yesterday, to start feeling the fatigue that is the common side-effect of treatment. No one looks particularly gaunt or ill, though; and this is reassuring to me. Someone came in yesterday and updated us on the cricket scores from Adelaide. Today I leafed through the brochure from the wig company.

On the way to the treatment rooms, there is a bank of about seventy little cupboards, each with the name of a patient on the door. Inside is the gown we wear to treatment (so clever, to save the washing and I guess to keep it a little familiar), and yesterday, there were two mini chocolate bars. I asked who had put them there and was told it had become a convention at this hospital. A woman who was delighted to have finished her treatment left a treat for everyone else, and it has become customary. There was another there today. I haven't eaten them yet; and have started stockpiling them in the 'fridge. Something about respect for these gifts, perhaps, in not consuming them instantly?

Monday, December 04, 2006

And we like sheep... Ritual, music, summer (part two)

Over the last eight days, three radically different musical events. Last Saturday, the annual Return of the Sacred Kingfisher festival at Ceres, the environmental park twenty minutes' walk north along the Merri Creek. The festival celebrates the seasonal return of this beautiful migratory bird; but also its return to the creek after twenty or more years' work cleaning up the water of most of its pollutants, reclaiming the tip site for Ceres, and replanting the creek banks with native grasses and trees (yes, we miss the willows, but are learning to live without such "exotics", as they are called).

In some years the festival is well-funded; and it has won several awards. We've seen crowds of school kids taking part in processions of birds and insects; fire dancers and elaborate silhouette shows; ritual narratives of environmental destruction and renewal; political narratives of refugees and colonisation; massed community choirs; dance classes teaching us the "kingfisher boogie". One memorable year we saw a group of Aboriginal dancers and performers enacting Wurundjeri life prior to the invasion of the First Fleet (the local bicycle club, streaming white sails on flags above their bikes as they rode across the grassy playing area). Some way to the side of the campfire, not really part of the main action, we saw one man — fleetingly, unheralded — become a kangaroo. Sprawled on the grass, he twitched his head, and moved a paw to his ear. It lasted perhaps three seconds; and then the Fleet landed.

This year's festival had received no budget, and was thus a much more modest affair, though still structured around a cleansing rite of renewal and rebirth through fire. A singer conducted the crowd of several hundred people in a complex three-part harmony of the lullaby the farmer sings to Babe, "If I had words". As the sun went down, I thought I saw a flash of blue fire disappear into a tree. A visitation from the presiding spirit?

The next day Liz took me to a concert from the Gloriana choir: a program of unfamiliar and diverse music, including works by Brahms and Schumann, Anne Boyd's hypnotic As I crossed a bridge of dreams, and a Mass for Four Choirs by Charpentier. There were only about thirty singers, so that made only about one or two person per musical line. They sang beautifully, in an old bluestone church in Fitzroy. Liz found the Charpentier transcending; and I could see how it might be, but on this, my first hearing, it felt more like listening to an elaborate, absorbing conversation among friends. Heather invited us for champagne on the grass outside the church afterwards, in the last of the afternoon sun as the bluestone shadows lengthened.

Yesterday, another community event: a People's Messiah, performed by amateur choir and orchestra in a white Georgian church in the city, with four excellent soloists and an invitation to bring or hire a score and sing the choruses. I had gone to my first sing-along Messiah this time last year in St Louis, walking through the cold air to Graham Chapel at Washington University, and sung with some very serious and committed singers. The people around me started talking to each other only as we left; they were all singers in choirs of various kinds. Yesterday's performance was of more mixed musical quality; but people sang gladly under some spirited conducting; and an update on the cricket after the break: Australia was 3/187, so we could lift up our heads (o we gates!). Joel and I went with another family, but they left at interval: Lucien was tired, and Robbie had a bit of trouble working out why everyone was singing about liking sheep. This will become a family classic, I think: it's making me smile and chuckle even now. How lovely that translation is, though. The phrase "man of sorrows" has become familiar, but to be "acquainted with grief"? I wonder: is this emotional understatement powerful? or just startling in its unfamiliarity?

Joel and I had afternoon tea at the European: a rhubarb and tamarillo mille feuille that was downright architectural. Imagine cooking rhubarb so it is tender enough to eat, but firm enough to line up in neat geometrical rows and then cover with a crisp rectangle of pastry and then repeat the layers; and to build another little stack of rhubarb logs on the side of the plate. Well fortified, Joel sang snippets of Hallelujahs and sheep and a child being born all the way to the tram.

Sheep? Babe liked them, too.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Ritual, music, summer (part one)

A few posts ago, I lamented that I would be unable to make the Christmas puddings this year. This would make two years in a row I had missed, for last year we were still in St Louis, and the earnest little beagles at Melbourne airport would never have let them through quarantine. But my father read the blog and thought that this would be something he could help me with. So over the weekend I weighed up the fruit and left it to soak in the beer and brandy, and then two days ago he set to work blanching the almonds and grating the oranges, lemons and carrots (this is a fabulous recipe, with no suet, just butter and piles of fruit), while I measured up the flour and spices. He then stirred the mixture. This was no mean feat, as we made two large puddings, one for Paul's family on Christmas Eve, and one for mine on Christmas Day; and the physical activity of all that grating and stirring would certainly have been a challenge (I have almost complete movement in my arm, but it's still a little weak). But I was pleased to find that with a little encouragement I was able to do something I enjoy, but had thought would be too difficult. It means our family rituals can resume after last year’s abeyance: Glenda will make several dishes of brandy butter (one for Christmas Eve, and one for me to take to my parents); Rod and Trish will bring the customary fresh berries and chocolate dipping sauce. It is a time of such plenty in this country.

Cooking in this way has a strong ritual component that was surely healing for me over the last few days, as the big pots rumbled and steamed in the kitchen. We all stirred the mixture and made a wish, while I debated with Joel the protocols of declaring your wish in public afterwards (we agreed wishes were better kept secret). Watching my father blanch the almonds also took me back to my childhood, learning to cook with my mother and marvelling at the way the hot water could make the milky white nuts slip so easily out of the dirty skins that we could never have peeled away. I also got to use one of my favourite kitchen implements, the tiny grater I keep in the jar with the nutmegs. This is the specific pleasure of precisely the right implement for the job. But there was something else, too: a lingering trace of the exotic quality of spices, and their special requirements and properties (you can throw in an extra handful of apricots or cherries, but you can't mess with half a teaspoon of nutmeg). And a recollection of trying to recall, in other years, a book I read as a child: somewhere, a warm kitchen scene where spices were special and rare, and had to be used carefully because the spice seller wouldn’t be coming to the house for another year. I can’t remember any more than this (how can I possibly hope to recover this book when this is all I can remember of it?), but the kitchen had something of the quality of Marmaduke Scarlett’s kitchen in The Little White Horse. I guess it's too much to hope this rings a bell with anyone?

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

It's not just about the statistics...

I met my radiologist on Monday. Michael is younger than Suzanne and Mitchell, but shares the same clarity and compassion that seems to characterise the team at the Mercy. He had also been at the practice meeting about my case. We talked about the clinical trial of the twofold hormone therapies, and the decision not to have chemotherapy. He pulled a little phone/palm-pilot thing from his breast pocket and showed me how it could calculate my chances of recurrence, given the details from the pathology report, and the success of the surgery, my age and general good health. With the standard hormone treatments, chemotherapy would add just 1% to my chances of going the magical ten years without a recurrence. Chemotherapy also brings its own risks of course, including about a 1% chance of developing leukemia later in life. Well, let's be brutally honest here: all the cancer treatments bring unpleasant side effects and risks of various kinds. For example, I will lose about 5% of capacity in one lung over the 33 radiation treatments to come, as that part of the lung becomes scar tissue.

But the medical statistics, truly, are only part of the story. I am slowly realising what an emotional ride this is. Physically, I'm stronger and stronger every day as I wait for the adjuvant treatments to begin. Today I took myself down to the beautiful heated outdoor Fitzroy pool and swam 16 x 50m laps in its crystalline waters under blue skies and warm sun. Well, it's true that some of these were just with the kickboard, but stretching out my arm till it hurts (Michael's expression) is the best way of regaining strength. I still have a few patches along my arm and side where it still feels as if I am wearing a layer of sandpaper under the skin, but it is now just a fine grade, as opposed to the coarse grade that suddenly appeared a few weeks ago when the total numbness started to disappear.

I've had my CT scan and been tattooed (truly: three minuscule dots!), in readiness for the radiotherapy to start next Tuesday. That was fine, but there was a delay the next day when Danielle, the research associate, was ill, and wasn't able to enter me into the database and "randomise" me for the trial. Without this research protocol, the hormone therapy could not begin for another week. The news threw me badly, as I had prepared myself emotionally for this new chemical intervention into the body. I came home (Tash, the nurse, and Mitchell himself had both phoned me but I hadn't checked my mobile for messages), and felt teary and unable to read or do anything much for the rest of the day.

I find I have to pace myself, then, in terms of social interactions. I have not been accustomed to thinking of myself as emotionally frail or fragile, but am finding that the only place I want to be, most days, is at home. My son suggested I think of myself as hibernating while the treatments are going on; and it is one of the most helpful pieces of advice I have been given.

One of the reasons I write so much about the doctors is because I am fascinated with their understanding of professional practice. I am lucky to be in the hands of people who clearly, simply love their jobs. I have never felt rushed, or patronised by them. One time, about a week after surgery, I was in at the clinic having my wounds checked by the nurse, and Suzanne came in to see how I was going. She just stood there quietly and listened to me talk. Then the three of us would sit or stand in silence, and I would think of something else I wanted to say or ask. Suzanne would respond; and then we would all wait quietly a bit longer, and I would think of something else. This happened a few times.

Sometimes I am bright and cheery with the doctors and we converse as professionals, swapping stories about lecturing or research protocols or music (Mitchell is a pianist); other times I am serious and anxious, wanting lots of reassurance. I think I may have something to learn from them about how to supervise students. I don't mean I want to medicalise them! But rather to be more open to listening to the mood that they are in and how they are feeling. It's not just about the body and the statistics; it's not just about the thesis.

Another inspiring model to contemplate is Larry, my tennis coach. (I can see how far I've come physically this last week, as I not only rode my bike for the first time on Sunday; I also had a gentle hit at tennis.) Last year we asked Larry to teach our son to play; and then I started joining in to share the lessons, since I had never learned. Then my partner, who is an excellent player, joined in for coaching tips; and then our neighbour Alan, who introduced us to Larry in the first place, also joined in. So for an hour on Sundays, Larry manages an 11 year old, two 48 year olds (one beginner; one expert), and an 82 year old veteran. Through his own passion for the game, he somehow teaches all of us with grace, wisdom and good humour, tailoring the advice and the level of play for what we all need. He coaches just a few streets from where he grew up, and still lives. There are many, many worse ways to live.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Don't tell her to "Be positive"

In one of the little brochures that came with the "My Journey" pack put together by the Breast Cancer Network Australia, there is some terrific advice for "Helping a friend or colleague with breast cancer." Some of this seems very locally specific: I doubt that the restorative powers of Tim Tams are recognised in the US, for example; and I can think of many finer ways of introducing the beneficial anti-oxidant properties of the cocoa bean into the body. Mostly the advice is very sensible, and makes even more sense to me now than it did when I first read it. It is just over a month since my official diagnosis (and about seven weeks since I first noticed the incriminating dimple in a hotel bathroom in St Louis). Under the "Things that won't help" section, one suggestion rings with me today. "Don't tell her to 'Be positive'".

Now, this is a tricky one, since it's widely acknowledged that having a positive attitude can make a real difference to one's experience of illness and treatment. A friend of my partner's gave us Norman Cousins' 'Anatomy of an Illness', a classic tale of healing through active collaboration with the physician and positive will power (far more enabling to me than Sontag's 'Illness as Metaphor', since her discussion of cancer now seems rather dated). But it seems that telling someone who is afraid and anxious (ok, I've had a couple of bad days) to "be positive" would be about as useful as telling someone who is depressed to "cheer up". No one has actually said this to me, I should say; just the insistent little voice in my head worrying that I've not been feeling as resilient and positive as I was a few weeks ago.

Yesterday, for example, I didn't go for the daily walk I've prescribed for myself. Well, it *was* hailing on the West Gate bridge, and snowing in the Dandenongs, the far outer suburbs in the mountains to the east (this is spring in the new southern hemisphere of climate change), but I had a day of feeling sorry for myself, and allowing myself to get distracted from my best intentions. This morning I was tempted to stay in bed and read, but after some wise partnerly counselling about the dangers of cocooning myself, I did head off for my walk. I laughed at myself after fifteen minutes, though, realising that I had taken my cocoon with me: two layers of wool under a thick double-lined coat I had bought for a St Louis winter last year; a warm lambswool scarf I had bought in Edinburgh; and knitted gloves. I came home in warm sunshine carrying most of this stuff in my arms, and was able to sit down to fulfil another of the small imperatives I have given myself: to read for at least an hour a day towards an essay I am writing on Piers Plowman.

Along my walk, I was pondering the difficulties of trying to reform and change my life, over the course of my treatment, and in the years to come. I am ready to accept the conventional wisdom and the experience of patients and doctors that cancer can often be a sign to us to re-assess our priorities. So far, I haven't found that I want to throw it all in and take up mushroom-farming: I find merely that I want to re-direct my energies and find a way to streamline the chaos of books, papers, committees, teaching, grants, meetings, emails, letters, forms and databases, to allow more time for the things I love best: reading and writing, for work and pleasure; and music, for pleasure. I could try and manage it all better (I spent far too long the other day looking for a memory stick with a reference on it which I had hidden away somewhere; and ended up writing the reference again from scratch), but I think an even harder challenge will be to become one of those people who says things like "no, I'm sorry, I won't be able to do that". I've done it a few times already over the last few weeks, and of course I survived. I will have to think of these as rehearsals for when I am no longer sick, when I will really need to be stronger about this.

In the meantime, here's a resonant little quotation. The essay I read this morning was Kathryn Kerby-Fulton's "Langland and the Bibliographic Ego", in which she suggests that Langland revised the C version of the poem from an imperfect version of B not because it was the only one he had available, but because it was the version that was already abroad, already in circulation, and the one that most needed correcting and updating. She quotes Pearsall: "The C-reviser seems to have worked piecemeal, outward from certain cores of dissatisfaction, rather than systematically through B from beginning to end."

Working outward from certain cores of dissatisfaction? This seems to me a helpful way of thinking about gradually making some changes. No lightning bolts; no revelations; just the slow work of reformation through reading and writing around certain central cores and clusters of ideas.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

It's all about the statistics...

... as the oncologist said, when laying before me the options for treatment. One of the mixed blessings about having a disease such as breast cancer which is being so intensively researched is that there are a number of possible options after surgery. There are no promises to be made at this stage, just the stacking up of statistics and probabilities about going for ten years without a regrowth of cancer cells (when, I guess, I am pronounced 'cured'). If I do nothing, I have an 80% chance of getting that far: chemotherapy, radiation and hormone therapy of various kinds all have the potential to raise that percentile (as do exercise, diet, attitude, etc. but these are harder to quantify).

Mitchell drew a rough graph and sketched out the choices, or 'arms' of a clinical trial he says I am a candidate for, giving me the information brochure, the consent form, and the website of the trial. I won't go on, just yet, about the intricacies of these possibilities, but I have been interested to see how long it has taken me to understand the document and the meaning of the choices before me. 'You're an academic,' he and Suzanne have both said to me at different stages, 'you'll understand about statistics'. Well, yes and no. Which is the best way to see this? My own chances of recurrence? Or my chances of remaining among the majority of the 100 women setting out at this stage who will be given the all-clear ten years from now?

Given that I am an educated women with the equivalent of ten years' tertiary education in textual analysis, literary criticism, philosophy and social theory, I wondered why it was taking me so long to get my head around the details of the choices before me. I started thinking about the ethics applications I had read in my department. It was odd to see myself giving consent to take part in a trial and approving the storage and analysis of tissue samples, the anonymity of results, and so on, when I have assessed a dozen or more ethics applications and their 'plain language statements', all seeking to make sense of research projects in communications and cultural theory to an unsuspecting public.

And then I started thinking, 'What about the women without the benefit of my education? How could they possibly make sense of these booklets and leaflets and websites?' But then I remembered Suzanne's comments about Kylie Minogue, another Melbourne girl with breast cancer. I had read about her dismay at her original diagnosis, and her account of writhing in tears on the bathroom floor during her chemotherapy. While I have had a few bad nights and some anxious moments, I haven't experienced anything like this drama. Was I missing out on something? Suzanne just laughed and said, 'Of course she is! She's a performer; she's not analysing things the way you will.' And of course it's so, that different women will experience the disease differently, and need and want different levels of explanation when it comes to assessing treatment options. I make this comparison not out of disrespect to Miss Kylie; but mostly to make the point to myself that there are no normative responses to cancer and its treatments. That is, I don't need to start planning a dramatic comeback tour of my own (new haircut! more sequins! more feathers! a new theory about historicism and ritual practice!); it's ok just to keep going on quietly and peacefully as I am, and as I will now plan to do for a year or so.

That said, I'm still finding it difficult to chart this new course where I don't juggle a hundred committees and tasks each day, as I seem to have been doing over the last few years. It took me the best part of an hour to write the email to my Dean, explaining that I wasn't going to let my name go forward in contention for one of the big associate deanships for 2007, as we had discussed. It took her about five minutes to write back graciously saying that would be fine.

I'll see the oncologist again on Tuesday, and expect to sign up for the trial of different regimes of hormone therapy (in addition to the radiotherapy that is standard). One of the great things about this is that it means I won't, in fact, have to undergo the rigours of chemotherapy. I still reserve the right to as many tears as I need, though.

Warmest thanks, too, to all who've written, from near and far, from the present, and from the past. It's great to hear from everyone, and I'll write back soon...

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Consolation prize

It seems our grant appplication to the Australian Research Council came close. I had an email from our research office yesterday to say that although we fell below the cut-off point for funding, we were ranked within the top 10% of the unfunded applications, nationally. This is a pretty good result, given that many applications go forward two or three, or even four years, in a row, before they are successful. It means that the project was "fundable", and not so widely off the mark as we feared. It means that we should certainly work on it over the summer and re-submit it in February. It also means, because we submitted it through a well-resourced (in Australian terms) university, we can apply for and will receive a "near-miss" grant of up to $25,000 for 2007, so we can start the project. If we move quickly, we could use some of these funds over January to do a little more research to strengthen some aspects of the application. Our chief challenge is to show that a significant strand of colonial and post-colonial culture in Australia is inflected by medievalism. The Cultural Translations conference this week should help us crystallise some of these formulations.

I'll consult with my collaborators before writing about this in more detail on this blog. People have sometimes been burned by airing ideas prior to publication, and while I am myself not concerned about this, it is one of the beauties of teamwork that we can balance my idealism with my colleagues' pragmatism.

I am increasingly thinking I will be unable to go ahead with my own new project in time to submit a second application in this round. My health is making me re-focus my priorities, and I think whatever time and energy I have for research over the next few months should go into tackling the Garter project and getting the second half of that book drafted. Tempting as it is to run ahead with the new project, because there's so much I don't know and haven't yet thought about, it's also important to finish the other one. And while I feel pretty confident of how this book is going to pan out, I'm sure there will sufficient mental and bodily challenges over the next year to keep me going. I'm hoping, for example, the swelling in my arm will subside sooner rather than later (and this is with only two lymph nodes removed, not the 10-25 most of us have in the space between breast and arm).

This missing the cut-off for the grant is odd, though. I'm pleased, because it means we were able to make a plausible case for funding an international collaborative project that would have articulated some interesting relationships between medievalism and Australian cultural history. I'm disappointed, of course, that we came so close, but must still go through the arduous process of applying again. And what does it mean that so few grants get funded? What an enormous amount of effort this represents, nationally, in the preparation and assessment of these applications. My university did well, but not as well as we would have liked, and the various research offices are agonising about how to improve our results. Part of the problem, though, is that the line between success and failure, or even between the top 10% and the top 20% of the unfunded grants is both very fine, and very brutal.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

I'm ten days out from surgery, now, and yesterday had my first day without a long nap in the middle of the day. It's been up and down over the last week, as my wounds heal. Numbness and pain come and go somewhat unpredictably as the nerve endings gradually reconnect. Nothing that a little paracetemol can't lighten, however. There was good news from the surgeon, too, when we went to see her on Tuesday: the surgical margin around the carcinoma was "clear", and there was no sign of cancer in the lymph nodes they examined. This was the best possible result from the surgery, though in a week or so's time I'll start several months of chemotherapy, before tackling a combination of radiotherapy and hormone therapy. I will meet the oncologist next week to plan out the first stage, along with Suzanne, my surgeon, and either Rose or Irene, one of the nurses. I like very much this sense that my case is still being managed by the team, rather than being referred along a chain. My own doctor, Barbara, also went along to the team meeting about my case last week.

I have also made an appointment with my hairdresser to pre-empt some of the difficulties of hair loss by starting out the chemotherapy with something a little shorter and more manageable. The breast cancer book suggests you choose a wig before you start treatment, too, but I can't get my head around that idea yet. I did check out a website that had a rather fetching Cleopatra-style number with plaits and gold beads.... We'll see about that later, perhaps.

This is a period of hiatus, then. It is odd to be starting to feel a bit stronger, but knowing I will become a lot sicker before the end of my treatment. I do need to think a little about what I can commit to for next year in terms of teaching, some visitors I had invited to Melbourne for February, the conference I'd planned to attend in Adelaide, the seminar I'd planned to organise in Melbourne, the grant I'd planned to apply for, and the writing I'd planned to do, to say nothing of the many administrative tasks that need to be done in my newly formed school and the re-structured Arts Faculty over the next few years. Of course I want to be well enough, eventually, to pick up most of my normal load, but it really does seem premature to be making too many confident plans at this stage. All the advice I am receiving, from colleagues, friends, and the medical team, in particular, says I should take things slowly, but I seem to have internalised some very powerful imperatives about service to the university that sit uncomfortably with the idea of concentrating on the immediate needs of my treatment and my long-term health.

It is also normally my job to make two enormous Christmas puddings, for my own family, and for Paul's, but the thought of chopping and stirring the piles of dried fruit and wielding the wooden spoon through all the eggs and butter just sets those nerve endings in my upper arm tingling unbearably. This task, being more immediate, is easier to set aside.

One of the good things about the timing of this hiatus is that I hope to be well enough to attend some of the Cultural Translations conference this week. This is a two-day seminar of papers for the ARC Network for Early European Research, and will be the first conference to put a bunch of medievalists, early modernists and Australian cultural historians in a room together for two days. It feels awkward to have set up a conference with colleagues and then leave them and others to do all the hard work in the weeks before the event. However, it turns out that I am not, in fact, indispensable: the seminar, like so many other projects, will proceed perfectly well without me, thanks to the generosity and willingness of friends and colleagues to step into the breach. Here's one lesson learned, perhaps.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Illness as text

A few nights before my surgery last Thursday, my mother stayed with us overnight. I looked over at her sewing under the lamp and asked what she was making. She held up a little square of Liberty cotton print, and showed me the handkerchief she was stitching by hand for me, rolling its little hem under with impossibly delicate and even stitches. I took it in to the hospital and held it with me during the two pre-surgical procedures. As I lay in the "nuclear medicine" chamber, and listened to k.d.lang's Hymns of the 49th Parallel on my ipod, I thought about how this little handkerchief could carry my mother's love, and all the wishes and prayers and love of my friends and family, stitched and folded into its borders. These things made it easier to lie still and passive — the perfectly docile body — during the fine and precise violence of tracking the single "sentinel" lymph node that would be taken for biopsy, and later, of inserting the "hook wire", the metallic thread that would guide Suzanne's hand straight to the diseased cluster of breast tissue.

I took my handkerchief into surgery, too, relinquishing it for safety only at the last minute, mumbling something to the kindly faces of the surgeon and anaesthetist about the movie Braveheart. I can remember thinking it would be easier to close my eyes rather than seize the "teaching moment" and explain about the transfer of the embroidered thistle from hand to hand in that movie.

I came home the next day, and four days later am feeling remarkably well, with barely a trace of the mutilation and loss I was convinced I would feel. I'm sure I had heard or read the phrase "breast-conserving surgery" before, but had not allowed myself to think that this consoling term could belong to me, as it now clearly does. I know it is early days yet, of course. I have felt tired and kittenishly weak, too, not up to much more than sitting in the sun, or lying on the couch. Sometimes I browse through the enormous pile of "literature" I am accumulating: breast cancer is almost as textual an experience as pregnancy and childbirth. There is fiction, too, of course, starting in the days before surgery: David Foster Wallace, The Broom of the System; Peter Goldsworthy, Three Dog Night; Shirley Hazzard, The Great Fire; Lemony Snicket, The End; and M.J. Hyland, Carry Me Down.

The highlight of my day, though, often comes when someone calls by and takes up the brand-new hardcover edition of Middlemarch that Paul bought for me. Whoever is around sits or lies down in peaceful attitudes as the visitor reads a chapter or two, and signs and dates the page where they stop. After one such reading on Saturday, two dear friends went home and read to each other some more.

There will be time and energy, I hope, in the future, to pick up some of the threads being debated at In the Middle; for now, these moments of repose, peace and stillness.

Monday, October 16, 2006

The traveller sets forth

First up, a warm thank-you to friends and readers who've sent comments to the blog or messages to my email address. I feel quite sustained, even uplifted, by people's support, wishes, and prayers to a range of deities; and their invocations of friends and relations who precede me in the struggle, and on the road I am about to travel. I have myself always been shy of phoning or visiting the ill or the bereaved; but will try to be less selfish in future. It is LOVELY to be phoned up, and emailed, and perhaps especially from people I've not seen for a long time. I have become conscious, though, that in sending out my cheerfully positive emails to various groups, that I am setting off various sparks and shocks of memory and fear; little electrical charges in those who have been touched by cancer of various kinds. And conversely, I now realise how many people are walking the streets and the shops, sitting at their computers, cooking dinner, and looking after other people, while they themselves are living with the uncertainty of this disease. I'm still searching for the right metaphor for this. It's obviously too soon for me to give this my own shape. All I can see so far is the indisputable force of the usual expressions: a journey, a road, a struggle that will change your life.

It's been a very strange week. For a while I was almost overwhelmed by the job of disentangling myself from various commitments. It's been quite a shocking realisation, to see just how many committees and tasks I had taken on. The generosity of colleagues here, interstate, and in other countries, who have said things like, "that's fine; leave it to me; don't worry about it; just get better" has been extraordinary. At our third meeting, I was telling my surgeon some of the things I was doing to unknot myself from these dozens of threads and commitments (like handing over the spools and coloured silks to the other weavers before stepping away from a loom, perhaps); and she commented that her own policy was now to take on something new only if she could let something go. I wonder if that's a realistic policy in the academic sector. But then, why shouldn't it be? We aren't superhuman, and shouldn't pretend to be so. Later in the meeting, she explained about the various procedures that will precede the surgery on Thursday, and said that there would be a lot of waiting around. That's ok, I said; I'm quite good at lying still and doing nothing. She looked at me a moment, and said drily, "It doesn't sound like it." I love her stillness, and her calm willingness to say what they don't know, yet, about my body and what it's been doing; and her simple clarity and certainty about what they do know.

On Friday, I went to the penultimate sesssion of Headstart. I will miss the final session tomorrow, since I am already finding it hard to concentrate on things, feeling myself withdrawing already a little into something a little less than perfectly social, something a little more inward-looking. Friday was tough, though. I explained to the group in the morning why I was going to miss the last session; and the day went on pretty much as normal (though instead of my usual coffee with the gang at the cafe over the road at lunchtime, I had a bright pink and green frothy juice full of wheatgrass and beetroot and ginger), until the last twenty minutes, when I had to take part in a ritual farewell. I am a self-confessed lover of ritual and am writing about the theories of ritual practice in my work on the Order of the Garter, but this was tough: to be the subject of a ritual of farewell that was unfamiliar, since we had to invent it on the spot, with direction from Antony. It won't surprise the medievalists reading this blog to hear that I had talked earlier in the year about the idea of the questing knight, who leaves the safety of the court to go out on an adventure that will test every aspect of his training and his psyche, and who returns changed, in some way, bringing back a wound, perhaps, or a wife, or largesse, but certainly with a story to tell. The formal farewells were hard, but I just let my instincts carry me through. And at the end, I truly did feel, if not exactly like a knight, certainly like someone leaving a group to go somewhere really interesting and risky, while the group was constituted exactly like a round table, seemingly made stronger as a group in the act of saying good-bye, and in the knowledge that it would similarly come to each of them to leave, as they will do tomorrow. Extraordinary times.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

How to put bad grant news into perspective

Regular readers of this blog (bless them!) will know that three days ago the results of the Australian Research Council Discovery grants for next year were announced, and that I had submitted a collaborative group application. It was for a wonderful project on Medievalism and Colonialism in Australia, with a dream-team of researchers. And you could have told from the absence of a jubilant bloggy response on the day that no, the grant did not get funded. Perhaps not entirely unpredictably. We had mixed assessors' reports, and even though these can frequently be over-ridden (for better or worse) by the panel that makes the final decision, in an increasingly competitive environment, it's obviously better if you can convince everyone of the excellence of every aspect of your project. And it seems we didn't do that. In our case we had a kind of circular problem of saying we wanted resources to identify and analyse the traces and symptoms of medievalism in Australian colonial and post-colonial culture. Because we hadn't had the grant, and hadn't been able to comb through the archives yet, some of the assessors weren't convinced there was *enough* medievalism. There are other things, too, that I think we can address when we do it again over the next few months (sigh), but it does point to the difficulties in applying to study something that does seem a bit counter-intuitive.

I think this decision might be tougher on my collaborators, though, than on myself; since over the last week I've had final confirmation of a diagnosis of early breast cancer. I go into surgery next Thursday, and will know a few days after that about the next round or rounds of treatment, and how many months it will take. It's a blow, obviously, but I am finding it very helpful to talk about it openly. And I count my blessings and my good fortune daily. I seem to be in the hands of a quite extraordinary medical team in a city that has the reputation as a major research centre for the treatment of this disease; I'm fully employed by a university that is proving compassionate and generous in its responses, both institutionally and individually; I'm surrounded by family and friends; I'm in excellent health otherwise; and also seem blessed with the kind of attitude that hasn't gone into shock or debilitating fear. Yes of course there will be hard times ahead, but I already feel the force of the idea of cancer as a journey that can change your life. And honestly, that's fine. I'm curious; a little anxious for myself; and worried about my immediate and extended family, but reassured that the prognosis, on the whole, is pretty promising.

It's early days yet, but at the moment, I feel I would like to keep posting on the blog. I am very curious to think and write about what happens to a person whose career seems to be heading in one direction and who is then faced with a major disease and difficult treatment. I would love to have had some such blog to read twenty or more years ago, when I was still establishing myself, and working out what it meant to be an academic. So perhaps I'm writing for that version of myself? I'm always fascinated by what's in people's heads, and how we can't always judge from the outside. And I'm always fascinated to hear about other academics, other medievalists, and how they balance, or don't balance, the personal and the professional.

Somehow a disappointing grant result is suddenly put back into the right perspective, then! In the humanities, where it is much rarer that our jobs depend on them, grants are what we apply for and are sometimes lucky with. The research, the ideas, the writing and the teaching, are much more important. As are our friends and families and loved ones, and other issues. I'm thinking, now, of the many, many women who will not be getting anything like the medical care and the loving support I'll be receiving over the next months: hmm, there may be something to be done here.

For the moment, then, two brief comments on things that have really struck me.

Vocabulary: I've learnt two new words. "Spiculated" describes the characteristic shape of a carcinoma on an ultrasound or x-ray. A benign cyst, filled with fluid, is round; a carcinoma has little needle-like threads that spread out (they look like delicate little parts of sea-creatures). One of the radiologists went off and looked up the derivation for me (see what I mean about the care I'm getting?), and said it was Latin for "needle", though my dictionary says spiculum is a point, or dart; and spica is an ear of corn. OK, I'm a medievalist with some Latin; obviously not enough!

The other word is at the other end of the spectrum of linguistic beauty: "lumpectomy". It took me quite a while to realise that this was not really any different from partial mastectomy; or local excision. It's an example of the powerful semantic connotations of words to realise that these phrases name the same process: a long cut, and then the extraction of the diseased tissue.

Secondly, I woke in the middle of the night two nights ago, and felt a kind of odd, additional presence in the room. It took a while before I realised what it was. It was very clearly grief, or loss, or proleptic mourning, or melancholia for the poor breast that is about to go on its own adventure. It was very forceful, and I felt sure I'd not be able to go back to sleep again, but in fact I did. I'm still not sure why. Was it the same kind of dysfunctional faint Stephen Knight used to talk about when Arthur would swoon at the loss of a knight? when the emotion is so forceful it's unsustainable in normal consciousness? Or was it consoling to me to have named and identified the emotion? I thought of Aranye Fradenburg's wonderful essay on loss and melancholia in Chaucer and the Book of the Duchess, and having placed and identified the feeling, and put myself into a textual tradition, I put myself back to sleep. Whatever happened, I'm not entirely sure, but it was a very powerful and enabling moment.

Well, I expect I won't always be quite so cheery and curious over the next few months; and probably not so graphic, once the reality of the surgery has hit! But I'll try and clock in occasionally. My apologies to those friends and colleagues to whom this news comes as a shock. It's very recent, and it's been hard to let everyone know in a timely and courteous fashion.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Less than a week to go

We just heard today that the ARC grants for 2007 will be announced next Wednesday. This is rather earlier than previous years, for which we are all very grateful. It means we have a chance to moan and complain about the bias against our fields; to pour enviously and scornfully over the list of successful applications; and to rehearse the statistics and the uncertainties that make the whole process seem a bit like a lottery (modestly, if we are successful; cheerfully or sardonically, if we are not), before we have to pick ourselves up and do it all again over the summer holidays. Those of us responsible not just for our own grants but for the submission and success rates of our departments, faculties or schools will have to help in the picking up of the unlucky ones who miss out this year, encouraging them to re-submit, or to re-formulate their proposals.

These will be the public faces of our responses. Privately, of course, the emotional extremes will be greater. The first few years I was unsuccessful, with two different projects, I moved between feeling philosophical, angry and simply downhearted. The first year my Order of the Garter project was unsuccessful, it seemed that everyone I knew had been successful, in single or joint applications, or for post-doctoral candidates linked to their own research. I was quite downcast, feeling how very long would be the year between that day and the chance of better news the next round. When that good news came, a year later, I was in the US at a conference, and picked up a fax in the hotel, and could hardly explain to my friends what an extraordinary thing this was. It was partly the money, of course, but also the inevitable sense of validation and approval it bestowed, in spite of the lottery-like aspect of the process (given that a "peer" for the ARC doesn't mean an expert in your field, but rather another academic in some adjacent field).

There is no doubt that this is a difficult and time-consuming process. It is also very public, since it is a national scheme in a small nation. As an assessor, I will know next week which of the applications from "rival" universities I read were unsuccessful. Locally, too, at the departmental level, we will know exactly who has made it, and who has not. It will also be the first topic of conversation among my Headstart counterparts when we meet for our penultimate day workout on Friday.

The conspiracy theorists among us will also want to personalise the enmity of our assessors and the panel members who have denied us. It seems that this year, so far, at least, there are no rumours of interference in the approval process that cast such a pall over last year's results, when it seems the minister was advised by his kitchen cabinet that several applications smacked of political correctness or might attract opprobrium as the misuse of government funds by certain (conservative) wings of the media.

This year I await the fate of a collaborative application submitted in February with some friends and colleagues from New South Wales, Western Australia and California. If we are successful, I'll name them gladly! Having this joint application in means somehow that the emotional pain is, if not lessened, at least shared. Our reports were mixed; I felt that if the panel members responsible for ranking it were well disposed to it, they could find enough in the reports to support it. But also vice versa.... Perhaps once the results are known I'll talk a bit more about this here.

Fingers crossed, everyone...


The Minister for Education, Science and Training, The Hon Ms Julie Bishop MP, will be announcing the selection outcomes for proposals submitted for funding commencing in 2007 for the following ARC schemes next week: Discovery Projects; Discovery Indigenous Researchers Development; Linkage Projects Round 1 2007; Linkage Infrastructure, Equipment and Facilities; and Linkage International Awards Rounds 2 and ARC International Fellowships.

The announcement will take place on Wednesday, 11 October 2006 at Parliament House, Canberra.

Early next week we will send you further notification regarding what information we will be providing you with on the day of the announcement.

Thursday, September 28, 2006


Just back, yesterday, after another whirlwind trip to the US, this time to St Louis for the meeting of the New Chaucer Society programming committee. We are planning the next Congress, to be held in beautiful Swansea, in July, 2008. I hear conflicting reports of whether it will be possible to surf or swim without a wetsuit there at that time of year. (Those of us accustomed to swimming in the more southerly oceans of the southern hemisphere might be more hardy, and the more likely, but I make no promises!) Our several meetings, more and less formal, went swimmingly (sorry), and although there is much work ahead, I'm confident that we have a great committee, full of ideas and energy. I found it quite luxurious, really, to be gathering with the job of shaping this next meeting that is so important to so many of us, especially with the prospect of making a pilgrimage to the National Library of Wales to visit the Hengwrt manuscript of the Canterbury Tales.

Not so luxurious, the long flights, of course. I managed to get a standby seat on an earlier flight from LAX to St Louis, and avoid the 8 hour wait there (as someone commented to me, that's an awful lot of sudoku). I had to fly back through Sydney, though, as Melbourne, this weekend, is host to the AFL grand final, and all the flights, as the Qantas person said to me, were "chockers". (Does anyone need a translation?) It was great to be back in St Louis, where I spent such a happy and productive sabbatical last year. I made various little pilgrimages to visit my landlady, my son's girlfriends (twins!), Kaldi's coffee shop for a vanilla granita and a farmer's market salad with "craisins" and almond brittle (though they have had to substitute other greens for the spinach because of the e-coli scare); and various other favourite haunts. Just lovely to meet up with old friends, too; and finally visit the Botanical Gardens there, decked out with wonderful Chihuly glass sculptures.

It was completely weird, though, to flip through the on-flight television channels and find myself utterly mesmerised by a Wiggles special filmed at Australia Zoo with Steve and Terri and Bindi Irwin, dancing cockatoo dances and laughing like kookaburras. I have not always said kind things about Irwin's propensity for provoking wild creatures into aggressive behaviour while saying "look, but don't touch" but I have come to a grudging admiration of the completeness — I can find no other word — of his personhood. Another weird moment was watching Richard E. Grant's Wah Wah, the autobiographical film of his life as a child in colonial Swaziland, just prior to independence. As Princess Margaret comes to preside over the hand-over, the white community decides to put on a performance of ... Camelot (complete with African gardener singing Lancelot in white make-up). As the colonial era fades away, with the Grant character taking on the role of Malory at the end, being sent off to write the story, they sing of the glories of Camelot and its "one brief shining moment". Medievalism meets colonialism.

Today I was right back into the throes of university politics, with an all-day planning meeting for our new amalgamating school (english, cultural studies, creative writing, publishing, media, communications, art history, cinema studies, arts management, theatre studies and more problematically, because temporarily, some parts of the soon-to-be-disbanded school of creative arts). Various working-groups presented their reports and recommendations on governance, research clusters, workload formulas and so on. Generally, the mood was great: another positive day of building something, though it is much easier for those of us whose future in the new school is assured. It is much harder for those academic staff whose areas may not find a place in the new school after a few transitional years, and even harder again for those administrative, or professional staff who may face redeployment or retrenchment. Their anxiety, in the face of some less than clear directives from powers beyond the school, was palpable and completely comprehensible.

My family narrative, living with the globalism-theorising, community-building partner and the fantasy-writing, warhammer-painting, lego-animating son, is usually that the males in my family are world-builders, while I have always seen myself rather as the close reader, the textual analyst, the one who is better at seeing the trees, rather than the forest. These last few days, though, with their possibilities of seeing much larger pictures, and being part of teams that are building big and new things, were surprisingly pleasant. Perhaps I am getting the bug, after all this time.

Right now, I had better get on with my grant. Tomorrow is the deadline for submitting a draft of our research applications (not due till February) to the Faculty so as to be assigned a mentor outside the department. I made a commitment that I would make my drafts available online and try and keep to this Faculty timetable, pour encourager les autres. It has been incredibly difficult, and as I worked sporadically on my draft in various airport lounges and the hotel in St Louis over the last week, I wasn't always sure if I was making it better or worse. But I did, at least, make it somewhat longer, and so I hope to have about six pages to forward to Faculty tomorrow. I'll work on it for a few hours now (get thee behind me, jetlag!), and send it to the departmental web person tomorrow to upload. If anyone in the department should be working on theirs tonight and would like to see where I have got so far, do please email me.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Deadlines and Submissions

It is sometimes hard to tell who reads this blog, but here are two messages for two possible groups of readers.

First, and most urgent, the New Chaucer Society program committee for the next conference in Swansea in July 2008 will be meeting in St Louis at the end of this week to consider initial proposals for panels and threads. There is no specific theme, but we are keen to receive suggestions. Check out the call for proposals here. The deadline given there is September 18, but I'll still be collating materials over the next few days before I get on the plane on Thursday, and Friday morning, US time, will be the last possible chance to be considered in this round. While you're browsing the Society's site, you might also be interested to read the responses to the 2006 New York conference from Nicholas Watson and Jennifer Summit here.

Second, and almost as urgent, for Melbourne folk who want to take advantage of the Arts Faculty Mentoring scheme for ARC grants (due in February), the deadline of September 29 for submission of a draft of the Section E of the proposal is creeping up quickly. I have been overly optimistic about my own chances of meeting this deadline, and of posting successive drafts of my own application on my departmental web page, and this trip to St Louis is without doubt going to slow me down. I am still going to try and get my draft to at least one more stage of development before I leave, and would definitely encourage any prospective applicants to put at least a partial draft together (using the ARC guidelines and headings) so as to be in the running in this round for a mentor who will help you keep your application intelligible to non-specialists. Experts in your own department and discipline can help you fine-tune your bibliography and specialist methodology later, but I have found that having non-medievalist readers has been crucial in the past, as a good corrective to the disciplinary myopia to which we are all subject. Getting in early and meeting this Faculty deadline may also enhance your chances of getting a mentor who is reasonably keen and experienced. Check out the Faculty webpage here.

Last week I went to a panel discussing mentoring, and it was stressed again that a good application asks and answers some very simple questions: what are you going to do? and why? It's hard to keep the simplicity of this approach in mind when we write grant applications. It's all too easy to drift into the temptation of writing for the specialist, assuming all are interested in the minutiae of the critical debates in our own field, but this is only a small aspect of the application.

The forum also included some discussion of the timing of the announcements of this year's grants, and I had the unpleasant jolt of remembering that if the collaborative application I submitted earlier this year is unsuccessful (and the mathematical chances are that it will be), then I will have to go through the whole process of revising that application as well as getting this new one together. Oh well; I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Friday blog poetry blog

Lots of literary blogs make a point, most Fridays, of including a special poetry blog. But perhaps this is not an especially auspicious beginning.

It's not really a haiku; rather a three-line automatically generated snapshot of my most recent posting. But it is strangely appropriate, as local folk will recognise, in what our vice-chancellor has dubbed "the year of detail":

Haiku2 for stephanietrigg
of my colleagues for
every little thing for
every little
Created by Grahame

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Three Simple Recipes for Happiness

Amidst the quotidian chaos of this week, three lovely things. First, the little frog who appeared in our back garden a few weeks ago, and who seemed to have been captured by heaven knows what ghastly fate, reappeared last night. I like to think he had made a quick trip down to the creek to tell his friends what a lovely place he had found to live. But whatever his reasons, I can hear him croaking as I type. This simple thing — a frog has chosen our garden and our water trough — has an extraordinary capacity to lift the spirit: I was quite brought down by the thought he might have moved on, or met a sticky end; and then, reflexively, somewhat disturbed to think my happiness might depend on the presence of a frog. But since they are excellent indicators of environmental health, perhaps our happiness IS indeed linked to these simple things.

The second thing to happen, two days ago, was the sudden realisation that my wrist had suddenly improved sufficiently after falling off my bike for me to approach the piano again. My favourite things to play are selected movements in Bach's English Suites. They are mostly far too difficult for me, but there are some passages I can rattle through tolerably well. This is an odd form of release, of course: same body position, same relationship between a text and a keyboard as the rest of the day. But still, it's a different world for me, a world for which I have no responsibility at all.

Third, and most complex, going to see Kathleen Fallon's play Buyback: Three Boongs in the Kitchen last night. Kathleen teaches Creative Writing and Performance in my department, and this is her own story of fostering a Torres Strait Islander boy and the difficulties of the 'natural' families, hers and his, on either side of this irresistible but difficult relationship; it is beautifully played. Lots of emotions were played out in and around the ones generated by the play itself; not least for me, perhaps, the sense of awe at the lives of my colleagues. For every little frog who appears and disappears, how many other appearances and disappearances in all our lives...

Saturday, September 09, 2006

How This Blog is Helping My Research

Oh the wonderful self-referential world of the blog!

Yesterday I was invited to make a response to a recent interview with linguist David Crystal, in which he commented that in its diary-like liberation from the protocols of editing, copy-editing and proofreading, blogging represented a kind of release from the grip of standard English, to the effect (I've deleted the email from the laptop I'm using at home) that we had seen nothing like this since the Middle Ages.

An odd conjunction of things, then. I was invited to comment, since I am both medievalist and blogger, and my first response was to reject the notion of the diary as any kind of medieval writing. But the more I thought about it, the more I wondered whether medieval chronicles can be seen as prefiguring the blog. Linguistically, the English ones fit Crystal's criteria: they aren't edited (except in the form of self-censorship or scribal copying), and are certainly written and mediated through a range of dialectal, regional and personal filters. The process of verifying the 'news' they report, too, is variable at best; and the chronicle accounts of 1381, for example, read uncannily like much net gossip.

In my comments, though, I stressed that academic blogs like mine offer no particular linguistic freedom. I try to be as careful here with my spelling and punctuation as I am in more formal discourse; and if anything, I'm hyper-conscious of being judged by my readers, whether students, colleagues, peers, superiors, strangers, friends, etc. But let that pass. Different blogs serve different purposes, is all.

I keep returning, though, to questions about the audience of medieval chronicles. I've never done any work on these, and presumed they were written for relatively restricted monastic audiences. But there is clearly some sense of writing into a community, and perhaps a community of strangers, linked by association and monastic networks. So perhaps it would be useful, in my research into the pre-history of mass culture, to track any changes in the idea of the audience for chronicles from the Anglo-Saxon to the fifteenth century. That's a scary thought, if it means I will have to brush up my Old English.

Still, I love the thought that writing the blog led to this question, which led to this thought, which led back to this blog...

Friday, September 08, 2006

Would You Like to Share Your Work with the Whole Class?

Two days ago we held a meeting of prospective grant applicants in my department; a mix of staff and graduate, or recently graduated students. The idea was to start workshopping ideas for grants. This is incredibly difficult to do. We are all so accustomed to sharing ideas only when we have mulled them over and written them up and polished our sentences. The group, too, was amazingly diverse. Three of the topics, for example, were children's literature; new media technologies; and a triangulation of Indonesian, Malaysian and Australian cultural relations.

In contexts like this, it's sometimes hard to understand, in the first instance, where the projects come from and where they might head, but as discussion proceeded it usually became clearer what the main lines of inquiry would be, and the group, diverse as it was, was often able to throw in suggestions about the kind of application it should be; whether it would work better as a collaborative project, whether it should have an industry component, whether it was too theoretical, too narrow, insufficiently 'national' in its priorities, and so on.

It will soon be time for people to start formulating these ideas into applications, using the very tight structural framework of the ARC application process. And to this end, and to provide a kind of model, I'm posting successive versions of my own application on my department home page, though not without considerable trepidation.

There is, I guess, the potential problem of plagiarism, though I'm trusting that the relative smallness of the field, and the very fact that the drafts are so very public, and that I'm writing about it in this blog, might be strong enough guarantees against someone 'stealing' my idea.

The second problem is that of feeling so dreadfully exposed, as drafts go public. But this is a point that Ken Gelder made yesterday: writing a grant application is no time for privacy or shyness. I'm hoping to get useful feedback from colleagues on my drafts, but principally also to demonstrate that showing people your work in progress doesn't actually kill you. The idea, too, is to show how applications get built up and refined gradually. Committing myself to making successive drafts available is also my best guarantee that I will keep to the Faculty's timetable, and have the whole thing finished before Christmas, minus the final GAMS entering and any refinements to the budget. This will give me most of January free for some other writing.

A third problem is that potential assessors might read the drafts and pre-judge the project or remember it in its underwear, as it were, before it turns up in their mail with its hat, coat, gloves, boots and sunglasses on. But on reflection, this seems quite ridiculous. The only readership I can see for my drafts is the group of first- or second-time applicants who might be interested to witness the process, not potential assessors in search of unfinished applications to read before the onslaught of finished ones.

When I do get a bit paralysed about this process, it helps to recall the pleasure I took in my last application, a truly collaborative team effort: the generous give and take of ideas and constructive criticism was a model of academic co-operation. This blog, too, along with others I sometimes read, shows me that we don't have to be in competition with each other, all the time, for every little thing, for every little piece of symbolic capital.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Where do research ideas come from?

Odd days on campus, these. My university is engaged in a most dramatic re-structure of its entire curriculum; my faculty is re-organising itself; and we are all, all the time, being asked to think about how and what we teach, at every level, while also engaging in some delicate rapprochements with other parts of the faculty who will be our colleagues in the new disposition of departments into schools next year. We are all preoccupied with committees, working groups and taskforces; we all spend hours in meetings working out how to teach fewer subjects, better, to a wider range of students (all, in the "new generation" degrees commencing in 2008, will have to take 75 points out of 300 undergraduate points over three years in a different faculty). "Change fatigue" has set in; and we have barely begun to work through the implications of this brave new design. On Friday I had one meeting from 9.00 till 11.00; another from 11.00 till 1.00; a meeting with a student from 1.00 till 1.15, followed by some grateful grazing on three gargantuan food platters someone had left in our department kitchen. Glossy kalamata olives; spiced roasted almonds; and an extraordinary vine-leaf and chicken compressed concoction: truly, comfort food for the gods (where did this divine home-cooked food come from? I suspect the hand of Jenny Lee...). Then another meeting from 1.30 till 3.15, before carefully climbing on the bike (first day back commuting after my tumble; and dangerously lopsided with too many papers in the pannier) to get home to my boy, already hard at work, twenty minutes home from school, in making animations out of Lego on my Mac. Thank goodness for our Friday night ritual of pizza with beloved friends. Perhaps especially in the absence of the globalising partner (currently in Kuala Lumpur), these rituals are even more dearly cherished.

But today, beset by committees and workshops on all sides, I taught my honours class, and had a revelation. My next research project (once I have finished the book on the Order of the Garter, the book on medievalism with Tom Prendergast, and various other smaller commissions) will be on the idea of the 'masses' in pre-print England. I must soon turn to working on the grant proposal for this project. Today, though, we were reading three fourteenth-century chronicles of the "Uprising" of 1381; and the first chapter of Steve Justice's Writing and Rebellion. What an extraordinary piece of writing that is. Medieval Woman has an entry on her 'critic crush' on Joan Ferrante. Of course, for coolth, no one can beat Paul Strohm (check out the comments at In the Middle), but really, this is quite an amazing book. Such a wonderful way of working in, through, and around the material, letting it speak, but also helping it speak.

What struck me, and what has stuck in my mind all day, though, is the passage in the Anonimalle Chronicle, where the chronicler describes Richard meeting the rebels at Mile End. According to this chronicler, Wat Tyler and the others petition the king to arrest the traitors (his advisers), and abolish serfdom. "They asked also that no one should serve any man except at his own will and by means of regular covenant." And then it says, "And at this time the king had the commons arrayed in two lines, and had it proclaimed before them that he would confirm and grant that they should be free, and generally should have their will." Of course Richard later reneged on this agreement, but what an extraordinary thing to write: "the king had the commons arrayed in two lines..." Like Madeleine's school, perhaps! I suppose it is a strategy of containment, of minimising the idea of the unruly (dangerously unruleable) mob. Elsewhere this chronicler, like Walsingham and others, describes the "mob" in dehumanising animal imagery (they are like sheep who need to be herded; they are the limbs of Satan; they bleat like peacocks). Another dominant theme for the Anonimalle chronicler is the incapacity of Richard's knights and counsellors to act, or advise him. So the passive voice — "he had them arrayed" — is perhaps a corrective to this flaw in the ideology of feudalism. Another moment I like to ponder in this chronicle is that of the man "standing up on an old chair above the others so that all could hear". I guess if an old chair can make a difference, the "mob" can't be all that big. Has Pearsall written about this chair? I seem to remember Tom Prendergast talking about this; the mysterious "whatness" of the material object.

Clearly, I have some more thinking to do about this, and haven't even begun to look at the critical literature to see if anyone has written about this surreal moment of the rebels being marshalled into two lines. For me, today, one of the chief thrills was finding myself finding time to run to the library to find the original. It says — and it's not much help — " Et en celle temps le roy fist arrayer les comunes en deux raunges et fist crier devaunt eux qil vodroit confermer et graunter a eux destre free et toutz lour voluntes generalment ... "

If a king *could* organise a mob of rebels into two lines it would be masterful indeed, but it seems so unlikely. I put this story to my son as we were waiting for the bus this afternoon and he was of the view that it was 'metaphorical'. I guess that's right. An extraordinary moment of wish-fulfilment in the text? It's cleary inappropriate here, but I also can't help thinking of the idea that the Order of the Garter was constructed of two teams, led by Edward III and the Black Prince respectively, who could then engage in practice tournaments with each other. Construct the crowd of rebels as two teams to fight each other? Not really; the French says "en deux raunges", and this really does seem like two columns, or two rows.

Either way, and however I come to think about this moment, it was a lovely thing to happen today. It feels — though I'm not sure I'm using the word correctly — like a Roland Barthes "punctus", the little moment that makes us pause and re-assess everything around it in the text (visual or verbal). Perhaps I'll be able to use this in the grant application or the writing I hope, one day, to do on this. Ultimately, in all the meetings and reports and all the other stuff, there is, in the end, the mysterious moment in the text that can haunt us for days and that can, if we are lucky, drive our research for years. Blessed, then, today....

Friday, August 18, 2006

Slippery when wet ... or, how to make a long day longer

Over the course of this year I am undertaking a leadership course called Headstart. It's designed for people facing the prospect of becoming head of department. There are twelve of us doing the course. Some are doing it in hopes of enhancing their chances of becoming head; others, like myself, are doing it because becoming head, or similar, seems inevitable, and they want to be able to take on these jobs without making too many mistakes. It is without doubt the best such training program, for anything, I have ever done. Unlike selection committee training, which was shamelessly about how to avoid being sued, or performance development training, which was built entirely around a laboratory-based structure of supervision by senior academics, Headstart is geared brilliantly to its subjects, and is both intellectually engaging and personally challenging. Some of the sessions on university governance have seemed a little arcane (though many of the university's structures ARE arcane), but most of the sessions with current heads, deans, deputy vice-chancellors, and so forth, have been interesting. We get to sit in on high level meetings and get debriefed at length by the vice-chancellor afterwards; and later in the year I will be 'shadowing' some lucky senior figure for a couple of days. There is also space for one-on-one sessions with the wonderful Antony, the external consultant who leads the program.

I missed a whole day session on 'difficult conversations' when I was in New York having fun conversations about Chaucer, medievalism and why the Boston Red Soxs hate the Yankees so much (thanks, Frank!), and it became quite clear on Monday, when we had a whole day session on 'managing change', that Antony has taken off the gloves with which he was handling us all in the first half of the year, and by which he has been able to develop the reasonably safe and supportive environment that makes most of us, I think, actively anticipate and enjoy the sessions. One of the beauties of this course is that we get to work with people from different disciplines (I'm working on a project, for example, with an art historian, a botanist and an economist; and this has been great fun for me).

'Managing change', in 2006, is something every single member of the university is doing on a daily basis. We are undertaking a radical re-structure of our curriculum, shifting several areas (law, medicine, etc.) into graduate courses, abolishing concurrent combined degrees like arts/commerce, and ruling that all students must take 75 out of 300 points of their degree from some other Faculty. My own Faculty of Arts is also undertaking its own re-structure, so the Department of English will disappear at the end of 2006 and become something like the discipline of English Literary Studies in a school of Culture and Communication. We are also revising our entire undergraduate curriculum, and I must find a way of rationalising my smaller Chaucer subject with my larger Medievalism in Contemporary Culture (I'm thinking of a subject called Medieval Temporalities that would read, say, both Chaucer and Malory and post-Chaucerian and post-Malorian texts, plus work on medieval understandings of time and modern understandings of periodisation, etc.: watch this space). But it's a measure of the dramas unfolding every day this year that relatively calm committees are having fiery debates; issues are put to the vote where normally silence is taken as consent; and the budget for this Sunday's Discovery Day, when prospective students and parents come on campus, is about seven times bigger than usual.

Monday's sessions involved a very canny kind of role-play. Like most academics, I hate the idea of white-paper sessions and full-on role play (and Headstart is brilliant at flattering academics by saying they know what they can and can't do with us). Our sessions involve not so much 'playing' at taking on some other personality, but rather performing (in a quasi-Butlerian way, almost) a position. We took as our example one of the Faculties that has really had to agonise over some of these changes, and all took turns at seeing the issues from the perspective of the vice-chancellor, the dean, a head of department, and a member of the teaching staff. Sometimes there would be three or four of us being the v-c, sometimes all but one of us were lecturers. We rehearsed the 'no-holds-barred' meeting where the v-c, dean and head met with the department to answer their queries, and learned how to give straight answers, addressing concerns without adding spin, or patronising the questioner. Antony would occasionally intervene and ask us to do question and answer again, or provoke debate by caricaturing what one of us had said, and even personalising his remarks to a degree. The dramatic high point came when one of the group had to sit in the middle of the room as head, and have the vice-chancellor, the dean and the whole of her department literally shouting at her with demands, questions, needs and desires.

It was at this point that I realised how far the group had come over the course of the year, since as far as I could tell (and I hadn't, it's true, had everyone shouting at me), everyone seemed perfectly cool and fine with this. None of it led to any kind of breakdown or resentment; it had been done as a well-managed intellectual exercise in assembling a range of perspectives.

At the end of the day, we were all exhausted, but not, I didn't think, wrung out. I went back to my office, gathered my things and climbed on my bike. It had just started to rain, but not heavily, and I was looking forward to getting home (my son had had his first music exam that afternoon and I was keen to hear how he went, and relieve the friend, his accompanist, who had brought him home; my partner was away in China). Coasting along the brick path, I must have taken the corner awkwardly and skidded on the slippery path. I did the classic thing: put out a hand to steady myself as I fell, and ended up with a sprained wrist, a patch of skin missing from one hand, and a bunch of bruises up and down both legs that are still, four days later, emerging. Some students helped me up and true to form, I reassured them I was fine before sitting down to have a bit of a cry in the rain, half hoping someone I knew would come by, half hoping they wouldn't! I then numbly rode home, fired by adrenaline and desperate for warmth and comfort. There was time enough the next day for the doctor and the x-ray.

Now, I know what klg over at Fugitive Phenomenon will say about this: typical Aries, racing around too fast, no wonder she cuts and bruises herself. The scientist might observe the customary slipperiness of the wet road. This is the third time I have come off my bike in years of commuting and cycling: it's my characteristic luck in the world that I've only ever made contact with roads, paths and barriers, never vehicles. But was I more affected by the day's events than I had thought? Was this spinning out of control an indicator of what the day had done? I'm going to send an email to the group inviting them to read this blog and see how the rest of their day went on Monday ...

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Speaking and writing ... to whom?

Whom are we addressing when we write and speak from the academy? Each other, of course: our colleagues and students; those we want to impress and persuade; and especially those we want to persuade to give us jobs, scholarships and grants. More specifically, there is a range of programs currently sponsored in Australia and, I'm sure, elsewhere, teaching and exhorting humanities academics to write in a more accessible way. And heaven knows, we have all read enough execrable academic prose to acknowledge that many of our colleagues could afford to lighten up substantially.

But it has become a new imperative on both the humanities and the sciences: a new kind of professional development; and another skill set to master. A common feature of such seminars is to encourage participants to ‘pitch’ their work to a prospective publisher, or newspaper features editor. Today’s Australian newspaper reports on the 'Bright Spark' Challenge of the ‘Fresh Science’programme. The candidate who can best explain their work in — can this be true? — 40 seconds can go on to win a two-week cadetship at the Australian’s newsroom, helping to put together the national newspaper.

So it isn’t just humanities researchers who feel this pressure to redress the stereotype of academic work as incomprehensible, and by implication, irrelevant, and to communicate their ideas more broadly than to the ‘peers’ who might referee their work.

As it happens, the auditions for the latest series of ‘Australian Idol’ are currently being broadcast. Isn’t there a kind of ghastly parallel between these hopeful attempts to win the attention of the judges and the idea that you might have 40 seconds (singing solo, without the accompaniment of footnotes and qualifying remarks) to explain the difference between medieval studies and medievalism, or the nature of subaltern discourse? I wonder what effect these imperatives will have on our work?

My own feelings on this are all at sixes and sevens. On the one hand, I’m genuinely pleased if anyone comments that they found my academic writing pleasant or easy to read. And I am currently struggling hard to finish reading a book directly related to my current research that is so poorly written I can barely understand the gist of some sentences, so that I find myself compulsively scanning for the worst examples, and reading them aloud to whoever’s around. And yet I have sufficiently internalised convention academic decorum to be a little shocked if an editor suggests, as one did recently, that I might try to re-write the chapter drafts I had shown him so that they might appeal to a broader audience. I’m supposed to be pleased, I know, to think that my work might reach more than a handful of specialists (and I can see that a cultural history of Order of the Garter is exactly the kind of topic that might lend itself to such presentation), but it’s quite hard to let go of the sense that the best work is work that doesn't make any kind of compromise; or work that fits neatly next to other work in the field that we admire. This is presumably Chaucer’s impulse at the end of Troilus and Criseyde, to see his little book in the company of his classical masters.

On the third hand, as it were, academic blogging does have the potential to open up different kinds of spaces and voices for reading and writing. It’s certainly a very pleasant space in which to read and write. I think perhaps its immediacy might give literal expression to the conventional readerly desire to hear the voice of the author, unmediated by print and mass circulation; and the conventional writerly desire to communicate with readers. This is something I have written about in the history of Chaucer studies; the desire to come into the presence of the poet in the margin of a manuscript or book, or on a horseback pilgrimage. Much of the excitement over Linne Mooney’s recent identification and naming of Adam Pinkhurst as Chaucer’s scribe derives from the license it seems to offer to get close to Chaucer all over again.

It’s perhaps not surprising that the first blog I started reading regularly was Chaucer's. Chaucer not only keeps up his blog, but also addresses his readers individually in the comments box; more than one reader then comments on the sheer pleasure of getting a letter from Chaucer. It reminds me of Leigh Hunt’s comments in the margins of his copy of Troilus and Criseyde, at V. 270, where Chaucer says, ‘Thow, redere, maist thiself ful wel devyne’. Hunt comments, ‘There is something singularly pleasing, flattering, and personally attaching in finding one’s self thus personally addressed by such a man as Chaucer, even under an individual designation so generalizing’. And, yes, I’m thrilled that Chaucer has now included a link to this blog, as ‘Humanitees Resercher’; ok, these words don’t go so well into Middle English as others!

Perhaps I’m using this blog, then, to rehearse some of these undeniable pleasures. But I will still have to think hard about how to write this book.