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!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The wo that is in grant-writing

Horrible, horrible process, this writing of grant applications. I realise I have no head for figures, and can hardly bear the wretched negotiations over money and prospective contributions from the university for a grant we don't even have yet.

I've just spent a stupid hour re-formatting my ten "best" publications.


But then I thought my neighbour had switched on the bathroom light, which I can normally see from my study. I looked up and there's two thirds of a big white moon with soft clouds floating gently across. Time to nip out into the garden for a good look, then finish this section and go to bed, leaving the blind up so I can sleep in the moonlight. Sigh.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The wo that is in lecturing

Once a year I manage it. I work hard the night before a lecture, typing up bits of text I want to focus on onto the Powerpoint slides, uploading pictures and links to break up the sound of my voice (a 90-minute lecture slot to 80 students) ... and then I leave the disk or memory stick at home. Today I didn't even download it from my computer. So there I was at 9.30, with nothing. Zip. Talk about self-sabotaging behaviour.

As I was preparing the slides last night I was thinking it was a bit wasteful of time to be typing up or uploading text when the students have the books. But since I don't really have notes any more when I lecture (on medieval literature, at least), I have come to depend on the slides as an aide-mémoire. But when you don't have notes or slides, it is certainly that much harder.

I thought about jumping on the bike and racing home, but it would have been a bit tight, and the wise Annemarie counselled me against it. So I sat in my office, found a link to an online Chaucer edition and a couple of manuscript pages I wanted to look at, and made myself a few notes.

It was ok. It wasn't great; it was a little short (for which I'm sure everyone was grateful). It wasn't brilliantly organised. But it was on the Wife of Bath's prologue, and while it shouldn't really surprise me that this should happen, I found myself more than once just mentally reeling at the genius of this poetry, the play of voices and textual traditions. One line jumped out at me today, in particular.

But — Lord Crist! — whan that it remembreth me
Upon my yowthe, and on my jolitee,
It tikleth me aboute myn herte roote.
Unto this day it dooth myn herte boote
That I have had my world as in my tyme.
But age, allas, that al wole envenyme,
Hath me biraft my beautee and my pith.
Lat go. Farewel! The devel go therwith!
The flour is goon; ther is no more to telle;
The bren, as I best kan, now moste I selle;
But yet to be right myrie wol I fonde.
Now wol I tellen of my fourthe housbonde.

It's that second-last line, with its determination to be merry — the willed nature of the emotion here, that leapt at me.

I was pretty tired the rest of the day: a couple of meetings with students, a Faculty meeting, a talk I had to give (how's this for irony?) on teaching practice, and then a seminar to go to on Coetzee's Disgrace.

But now I'm home. I have prawns marinating in ginger and garlic and dollops of all kinds of delicious sauces in the cupboard. I'm going to fire up the rice cooker in a minute and then sit down with Joel for a couple of episodes of Scrubs.

Hey, maybe one of the reasons I'm so tired is the single parenting I've been doing for five of the last seven weeks. J is no trouble, and helps with cooking, etc. but there's no doubt the household runs more smoothly when there are two adults in it. Just a couple more days and P is back.

(There's some weirdly ironic thing going on here about marriage and the Wife of Bath and P being away, but I'm too tired to untangle it.)

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Maternal Pride

Work is still crazy busy. There is much to do, still. I'm messing about with our horrible online system for uploading lecture notes that doesn't seem to work very well; email keeps crashing; I've much to do on the grant application; and I must soon wrastle in a serious way with the two reports that have now come in on the six chapters of the Garter book I sent to my wonderful editor.

But in the meantime, how is this as an occasion for maternal pride? Four young musicians, all of 14 years, playing up a storm at a jazz club on Tuesday night. Joel's school sponsors a regular jazz evening at Dizzy's in Richmond. Three of these boys (piano, drums, bass) have known each other since they were at kindergarten, and here they are, performing their first gig together. They are the Blue Manoeuvres, and even though this video, shot by the saxophonist's uncle, has bass, sax and drums all lined up in front of each other so you cannot see the drummer's wonderful, intense face, you do still get a pretty good look at the flying hands of the pianist (how did my son learn to *do* that? I mean, I hear him practising and all, but there is something about an audience, perhaps, and the clank of plates and glasses that produced something quite new). Nor can you see the faces of the four mothers beaming with pride at our clever boys, but it was truly a watershed event for the boys and their families.

After this we took them off to hear Branford Marsalis, by coincidence on the same night, giving them a taste of other things that are possible with this combination of instruments. Highlights were a Joey Calderozzo composition, "Hope", and an extraordinary adaptation, for soprano sax, of Henry Purcell's "O Solitude", as performed by the counter-tenor Alfred Deller, and heard by Marsalis on late-night radio. But unsurprisingly, the tune I remember best from the evening is this passionate performance from our boys.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Gosh, I'm busy!

Oh my goodness. Gasp. Take deep breath.

I am very busy. There is much to do. All due pretty much tomorrow. Much of it exciting (our Centre of Excellence application); much of it deeply enjoyable (my teaching, once I get into the classroom); some of it less so (organising the timetable of the English program's teaching for next year, etc.). My research is absolutely on the back burner, though hopefully just for one or two more weeks while the semester takes shape. Things are particularly tricky today as I managed to rub my eyes last night after handling (a) fish food or (b) potting mix. After 30 minutes both eyes were bright red and the eyelids swollen to three or four times their normal size, to say nothing of the huge pouches underneath the eyes. After a dash to the late night pharmacy in Sydney Road I dosed up with drops and antihistamines, but today it still looks pretty gruesome. Even that bony bit of skin between nose and eye is puffy. I'm about to go in to work to welcome the fourth year students: hope I don't frighten them away!

But here's something to look forward to:

Wednesday, March 17

Professor Stephen Knight

Cardiff University (formerly HOD English University of Melbourne)

The Arctic Arthur

King Arthur has had many manifestations, from the warrior giant of early Celtic to the bearded ancient of DC Comics Camelot 3000. Few have been as surprising or downright bizarre as a formation that developed in the eighteenth century and found its apotheosis in Bulwer Lytton's 1848 epic poem King Arthur. This was a very northern Arthur, fighting in Scandinavia, engaging with Odin and his cohorts, captaining a Viking Ship into the Arctic ice. This paper will seek a passage through the perils and excitements of this unusual domain of the Arthurian myth.

Stephen Knight is the author of Form and Ideology in Crime Fiction (London: Macmillan, 1980); Arthurian Literature and Society (London: Macmillan, 1983); Geoffrey Chaucer Oxford: Blackwell, 1987); Continent of Mystery: A Thematic History of Australian Crime Fiction (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press 1997); Robin Hood: A Mythic Biography (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2003); A Hundred Years of Fiction: Welsh Writing in English (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2004); Crime Fiction 1800-2000: Detection, Death, Diversity (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004); and Merlin: Knowledge and Power (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, forthcoming).

Lecture Theatre C, Old Arts 4.30-6.15pm


Drinks at University House afterwards

Free of charge and open to all staff, postgraduate, undergraduate
students and members of the public

Friday, March 05, 2010

Closing out the first week with a little poetry

The first week of semester is always tough. Even when everything goes smoothly there's a lot to manage; and lots of little details to sort. One of things I have to do these days, too, is make sure workloads are evenly distributed in the English program. We have a very elaborate system that counts everything; but no simple computer programme to which everyone has equal access. Our IT support seems to be slipping behind our needs.

Anyway, it was also the week for meeting my new 3rd year class (lecture on Sir Gawain, amongst other things), and my fourth year honours seminar (also Sir Gawain, but in a different context: next week, John Mandeville and Margery Kempe in Jerusalem, with Carolyn Dinshaw as tourguide); and my two new MA students. We had a talk from Stephen Knight for the Medieval Round Table (Celtic and Christian elements in English romance), and the Middle English reading group met for the first time this year. We are going to read Wynnere and Wastoure (it is SO bizarre to have people turn up with my edition: I "forgot" to bring in my own copy, as I always find it hard to return to work I have done in the past).

I was very nervous — as I am every single year — before actually meeting the people in my honours class (9 enrolments and two or three auditing: perfect numbers), and being in the room with the 80 3rd year students. But now I have crossed that bridge, the semester looks as if the teaching will be fun.

Last night three of my girlfriends came over for a glass of wine after dinner. Sometimes these four families all get together: our sons are all about the same age, and have shared different childcare, kindergarten, primary and secondary schools. In fact, three of the boys are currently forming a little jazz trio (bass, drums, piano), so our pride knows almost no bounds.

But last night was girls' night, and very pleasant it was too. Just at the end, after one had gone, another started talking about Robbie Burns. She's a Scot, and an actor and is learning "To a Mouse" as a Christmas present for someone in her family. With a little prompting, she slipped into character, accent and voice, and performed it for us: utterly mesmerising. What a lovely way to set us up for Friday.

I was in the office this morning wrestling with the software and the workpoints; and then some more cumbersome software for some last minute additions to the "publications workbench" for the online record of research, but now I'm home. I'm going to tidy my study; do a little Italian homework; then head down to the gym, and get ready for Friday night.