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!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Christmas highlight: redemption by family

Our three day family Christmas marathon is over, and we are back to our funny little holiday routines of sleeping in, working, painting the back fence, and in my case, watching the father-son holiday project — painting a complicated historical time line covering 2,500 years of human history all down the corridor — taking shape. Pictures will follow soon.

My holiday highlight was the kris kringle exchange of gifts at my sister-in-law's place on Christmas Eve. I'd drawn my other brother-in-law, who is an art curator, so he was easy. But who had drawn me? As luck would have it, mine was almost the last present to be given. We did one at a time, and everyone made a little speech. My sixteen-year-old nephew, who had a terrible year, really, having left school, and left home and been in all kinds of trouble (we weren't even sure he'd come), got up, went to the tree, picked up the present, and said, "I've never given a present before and don't know if this is right, but Merry Christmas", came over and kissed me (I see him once or twice a year, no more), and gave me a bag with a card, a ribbon bow, and inside a fridge magnet and computer cleaning cloth from the Mornington Peninsula art gallery, and a fine red cooking apron. I think everyone was just holding their breath. Perhaps just a temporary moment of redemption by family, but a powerful one, all the same.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Happiness again

Here beginneth the 2011 annual blog post about Christmas puddings. Each year, I make them later and later: we have just taken them out of the bain-maries this morning, but they are ready to go. I toyed with experimenting with a new recipe, but decided not to mess with perfection (thanks, Vogue Entertaining Guide of the mid 1980s whose cover has now been ripped away after so much use: maybe this year I'll make the sweet potato souffle once more), and the only little variation was to bring out the flavour of the grated orange peel by using Cointreau instead of the last dash of brandy, and we'll take the bottle to flame them with on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. We have also just bought a two million year old Wollemi pine (complete with its own certificate) in a pot to decorate.

This time last year I asked people to spare a special thought or wish for my friend Hypatia. I visited her briefly in Cambridge in April. She looked fragile, but was taking small steps forward. She's now back teaching and writing, and while there's still a way to go, she is still facing in the right direction, as far as I can see. 

In previous years I blogged about the ritual of making the puddings, and the year my father came and helped me skin the almonds and mix up the puddings when I was too weak to do it on my own. This year, I got Joel to help me, and we happily squeezed the gleaming pearly white nuts out of their warm wet skins, shooting them around the inside of the bowl.

Later we all sat around drinking tea. We are still celebrating Joel's VCE Year 12 piano result (nothing wrong with an A+, in any language, especially when it was really not expected); we had Fleetwood Mac's "Rumours" playing, and the cats were madly chasing each other around the house to that long, initial build-up in "Tusk"; and this time it was Joel who had one of those little rushes of happiness, so clearly associated with home, with security, with family tradition.

Hard to write this kind of thing without sounding complacent and self-congratulatory. What I'm aiming to do is to treasure those moments when they come, not take them for granted.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Come on in, ya mongrels!

So, last night Joel's vocal group from school was supporting the Bigmouth community choir in Northcote. I thought we'd just go for their opening number, then we'd come home. After all, it's less than a week since he had all his wisdom teeth out, and he's been pretty low with the effects of the general anaesthetic. He also can't yet eat cereal (quite a big problem for a teenage boy), and I didn't think he'd be able to sing at all.

Anyway, we got there nice and early at 7.30 for them to rehearse, and I hung around in the foyer for a while, not sure I'd even stay, since Joel could get a lift home with someone else. Then I saw Meg's mother and sister, so I bought a ticket, anyway. Everyone else obviously knew something as they were all lining up with cushions and chairs. We could hear the big choir rehearsing right up till 8.30, and then finally the doors swung open and a man in a hat came through and said, "Come on in, ya mongrels." This was not calculated to impress people who'd been standing outside for half an hour but we all trooped in anyway. I got a chair near the door, planning to leave early, but in the end I stayed for the whole thing, and not just because Joel's group sang near the end of the evening. The man in the hat turned out to be Stephen Taberner, whose Spooky Men's Chorale has featured elsewhere on this blog, and who led this 80-strong choir through a wonderful hour of carefully staged and sung music in the gorgeous 30s public elegance of the Northcote Town Hall:

The evening also featured a couple of other musicians, including a wonderful countertenor accompanying himself on double bass: astonishing.

Joel's group sang a song, "Rachel", I've heard them sing many times, but they really nailed it last night. Only eight of them, with young 16 and 17 year old voices, but they stood in a circle in the middle of the hall and filled it with precision and passion. Here's a clip of them singing this song on another occasion earlier this year:

I had far too much to do (emails, budgets, bills, Christmas puddings, writing), but stayed anyway. I kind of toyed with the idea of finding out about how to join the choir, but kept thinking about how much I had to do (emails, budgets, bills, etc.).

It turns out Joel's group has bought a little studio time with money they won in a competition in Mt Gambier earlier this year, and will be recording a few tracks next week. But they need a new name. The "vocal group" or "senior choir" doesn't really cut it, I don't think.

The school is celebrating, too. The Victorian College of the Arts takes only 50 students into its new contemporary music program: six of them, next year, will be coming from this nonselective state school. It is just such a Good Thing to have music in my life.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Here I am again

Apologies, folks, for the break in transmission. It's been an incredibly busy couple of months. Though as I always maintain, blogging really isn't about having the time, or not. It's something more to do with mental and social energies, which have been pushed and strained somewhat over the last year. I have now finally given my last talk for the year, though, and am starting to think about winding up at work. I'm taking a couple of weeks' leave from Monday week, so that's a week in which to attend a symposium, finish marking some late-submitted work, catch up with my graduate students, and finalise some budget stuff for the Centre.

I've moved in to my new office, which was then painted and re-carpeted around me. I've started looking at furniture catalogues for some comfy chairs, and will look forward to making it a beautiful place. Photos will follow next year when I've got stuff up on the walls, and all. The office is lovely: light, bright and big. It has fans, air-conditioning, and windows that open, as well as lots of cupboards and shelves.  Our first post-doc has arrived and has started work, and our second arrives in January, so the Melbourne hub of our Centre is feeling real, and populated, with two wonderful new appointments to help with (a) the administration and (b) the education and outreach aspects.

The last talk was at the International Medievalism and Popular Culture symposium in Perth, the last event of our four-year grant on Medievalism in Australian Cultural Memory. And what a way to finish! One of those lovely events where no one is a keynote, and everyone is a plenary. About 45 folk listening to fifteen papers, none of which went over time. I'll write more about my own joint paper another time, perhaps. John Ganim, Nick Haydock and Eileen Joy braved the horrors of the half-world trip (and the spectacular Perth thunderstorms that messed up everyone's trip home), and Andrew Lynch held it all together with a light touch that put everyone at ease.

Even so, I am already planning a new year's resolution, which is to stop taking on too many things. Even though I cancelled two talks in September when I was just too sick to write them, let alone give them, I do still feel I took on too many things this year, with the result that I don't feel I did them all justice.

We are now being invited to submit the details of our publications to the dreaded research database. This is a pain in many ways. First, the system is incredibly unwieldy and time-consuming. Second, so many things follow from it: automatic calculations of one's teaching load, study-leave entitlements, etc.  Third, my two articles scheduled for this year haven't appeared yet. It is ridiculous for this to matter (they'll both appear in January, I think). One of them, at least, will have a 2011 publication date. But again, it's ridiculous that this is going to matter. Anyhoo, I have turned down a couple of things this year, and I have to keep doing that till I am back on top of things, and to make sure I leave enough time to do things well, not just meet the deadlines.

When we started all this bean-counting, and evaluation of journals, etc., a few years ago, I always swore I wouldn't let it get to me. But little by little, it has crept up on me, so that I do count the number of publications and "points" accruing to my CV.

Still, today was lovely. I made beetroot and raspberry borsht; and artichoke frittata for a birthday lunch; did a huge pile of ironing, straightening out the world; and had a sleep on the couch. Tomorrow I do the final check of the index of the book (proofs are already on the way to Philadelphia) and get to work on the next chapter of the next book.

So, hello again, blog: it's nice to be back.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Cat Geometry

Wulf and Orlando love each other dearly. But it's become clear to me that in addition to snuggling up on a chilly afternoon, they are actually solving complicated geometry puzzles. It isn't always clear what the specific problem is:

Or what the rules are:

 Or whether they are working in a temporal dimension:

 Or working in another dimension to produce cloning:

 Sometimes Orlando just doesn't take it seriously enough.

And sometimes Wulf just wins:

Monday, October 03, 2011

Five Years Down

Five years ago, when this blog was only a few months old, it underwent a dramatic transformation from a blog about applying for grants, to become a blog about breast cancer and its affects on body and mind. Those first cancer posts, here, here, here and here, seem now to me exercises in controlled drama. And then, indeed, the main issue was how to get through the next day's treatment.

This morning I had my fifth annual mammogram and ultrasound, and consultation with the wonderful Suzanne. All is clear. This is a huge milestone in the life of a breast cancer patient. If you can get through this period without recurrence, your chances of such are now dramatically reduced, not that much higher than a woman your age with similar weight, family history, etc. etc.

There is still some treatment to go. I don't see the oncologist, who is charge of my medications, till next month, but by the end of the year I will have stopped having my monthly injections, and will probably go off the tamoxifen, and possibly not have to shift to anything else.

So how do I feel? What I have learned? How am I?

I'm fitter than I have ever been, through a program of walking and going to the gym. But I also weigh more than I ever have in the past. I can't help feeling, too, that my brain doesn't work as well as it used to. I've heard women talk of a mental cloud that sits over them during menopause and/or tamoxifen treatment. I certainly know my concentration span is not what it used to be. I am sincerely hoping this cloud might lift in a couple of months when I stop treatment (and it would be nice to see a few kilos magically disappear, though I think that's unlikely). But I haven't experienced the mood swings that many report. A little depression, on occasion, but nothing too bad. And I was able to finish my book on the Order of the Garter, for better or worse, and keep on churning out essays and articles, enough to satisfy the bean counters.

In the first year or two, I thought I was learning things like how to slow down, how to meditate and live in the moment. Well, I think I've always been quite good at the latter, but that 'moment' over the last few years has too often been tinged with sadness and distress at things in the workplace. But I have finally learned to pace myself a bit better, I think. I remember, twenty years ago, with a horrible cough and bronchitis and asthma, I kept teaching a three-hour class till I could hardly breathe at all. This time, with a similar mix of symptoms, I cancelled a weekend conference, and have just cancelled a talk in the department on Wednesday. Since I can hardly put two sentences together without sounding like Violetta, this seems sensible.

But the main thing, I guess, is learning to take the pressure off myself, a little. Even expecting oneself to stay fit and calm, to exercise properly, to mediate, to learn one's cancer lesson -- these can all seem like further imperatives in a life that is already nothing if not dutiful.

Even without having to finish and deliver two papers, there is still an alarming "to do" list on my desk. I was moaning about the bureaucracy of the university to my surgeon and the nurse who was taking notes this morning, and they were horrified to learn I did not have a PA or a secretary. Heh heh.

Anyway, this is such a momentous day, I may even alter my Blogger profile, just as soon as I have stepped outside into the sun.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

SIck Day

If you have to spend the day in bed with a rotten cough and croaky lungs, it's not entirely unpleasant to have two furry companions and a teenager on holidays who can make you scrambled eggs for lunch.

Pink Floyd are floating up the stairs, and the rain has started, so the day is taking on a rather dreamy flavour.

I do feel the unanswered emails and undone tasks mounting up, though. I'm trying to get through a few today, but I seem to be making rather slow progress.

Oh, the kitties have just brought their toy mouse upstairs to play with. Wulf just needs to fortify himself with a soupcon of left-over scrambled egg.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Writing Companions

My adorable writing companions, helping me finish up my rather late essay, "Blogging, Time, and Displacement" for Literature Compass. Even the way they sleep is typical of their personalities: precise Orlando and sprawling Wulf.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

My Dinner with Carol, Julie, Lyn and Hannah - or How a highly-paid attorney hijacked a pleasant evening

Four of the five of us have birthdays round about the same time, and over the last few years we have developed a lovely tradition of having dinner together some time in March, and also a couple of other times a year. We sometimes exchange tiny presents or drink a glass of champagne to celebrate a promotion, send someone on their travels or welcome someone home.

Last time we met we decided to plan a special event. Julie and I had both read a wonderful account of a vegetarian degustation menu at Jacques Reymond, a much-awarded restaurant, so we booked months in advance, and had this treat to look forward to.

We turned up on Thursday — the restaurant is in a beautiful and huge Victorian house, with high ceilings and perfect-sized rooms — and began our feast. Three of us went with the vegetarian menu; the other two went with the meat version. We began auspiciously with a light-as-air profiterole made with gruy√®re, and then began eight courses of perfectly balanced, delicate food. I am not a fan of over-fussy food, and at times this came close. There was rather a lot of foam, too, which doesn't thrill me at the best of times, though one serve of it, on one of the dishes, was absolutely divine. But I did really enjoy this meal. The service was excellent; the wine was good; and the vegetarian and meat courses somehow complemented each other perfectly, often just variations of each other. Here are a couple of photos: check out the truffle shavings over the egg-white omelette, and the gazpacho served in vegetable jelly rolls with buckwheat on top.

Conversation was going swimmingly: we laughed and chatted, and compared notes about our children, our work, our travels, our lives. Really, the food was amazing. We ate delicious things but didn't feel over-full, as the food was so light, with an emphasis on flavour and texture, rather than richness.

And then something happened that slowly began to unravel our happiness.

As we were waiting for the first of our two desserts, the waiter brought five small wine glasses to the table and starting to pour a late-picked riesling. Sometimes desserts do come with their own wine, but we asked, to make sure there had been no mistake. And we were told that two gentlemen sitting in the corner of the room had sent it over for us.

Well, what to do? None of us were really familiar with strangers buying us drinks in bars or restaurants before, so we were a little non-plussed. It was familiar to us only through the movies. In such a scene, what happens? You look around to the table and catch their eye and thank them. It was so clearly not a scene of seduction, so that didn't seem to be the issue. The waiter reported they had said it was a gentlemanly thing to do...

After what seemed a very long and uncomfortable time, but which was probably only a few minutes, I got up and went over to them. I certainly wasn't going to drink the wine without thanking them, and kind of wanted to close it all down. So I just said thank you very much, that they were very kind, and that we would enjoy the wine very much. I shook hands with them both, but didn't introduce myself, or ask why they had done it: I just wanted to close off the exchange.

But of course, that wasn't enough. One of the two men came over to our table later on and started to talk with us. There are a number of things I remember him saying: that he thought it was great that we were having dinner together; that he was gay; that he didn't eat sweets himself, and that he blamed his mother for that, because she had never let him eat sweets; that we should be doing something, as women, to support Julia Gillard; and that he was a highly-paid attorney. I guess he would be in his early forties.

This is where it really became difficult. We had drunk his wine, so couldn't be too rude, but Carol immediately picked him up on daring to give us his approval of eating without men at the table; and I said I thought it was really men who had the greater problem with Gillard, and who might have to work a bit harder.

On it went. And then off he went back to his table. But then he came over again, and said we had to give him six minutes before we paid our bill.

Now it was really getting awkward. Was it possible he was going to try and pay our bill? That would have been intolerable. So we didn't wait his six minutes, but finished our dessert, moved on to our tea and petits fours ...

... and then paid our bill, collected our coats, and left. As we were leaving, one of the waiters told Lyn the man was wanting to order another dessert for us, but that they had dissuaded him.

As we drove home (I'd driven straight from the airport, so had one glass of red, and just a taste of the reisling, so I drove us all back to the other side of the river, where such a thing would *never* happen!), we became angrier and angrier. It was a classic case of delayed reaction to sexual harassment, or in this case, the insidious attempt to patronise and disempower. Clearly the sight of five articulate women having dinner together is still an affront to some men. Blaming his mother, to a group of mothers in their fifties, was problematic enough, but it was so clearly a case of not knowing what to do with us, and not being able to leave us alone, either. So we could see what it was all about, and how foolish he was, but also how irritating it was that this "gentlemanly" behaviour was such a power play.

It's a tricky one, this one. Even the waiters struggled a little with how to manage us, and address us. I suppose the idea of the "ladies who lunch" sits behind this. We are supposed to giggle and flirt with the waiters, are we? and with the other guests? We weren't wearing suits and didn't look corporate enough to be forbidding? As we were leaving, the waiters presented us with tiny little white cardboard boxes which we weren't supposed to open till breakfast. So wicked, we didn't wait and in the car discovered there was one tiny rum ball in the box. Was this a token of restaurant apology for the unpleasantness? Was it the sense that a little more sugar would sweeten the evening?

I was exhausted by the time I got home. I'd been up early, gone to the hotel gym in Canberra and spent all day at a meeting, then flown back, and driven across the city before the dinner started. I was in bed by midnight, and in spite of my big meal, didn't feel I had over-eaten. And yet I barely slept, as the evening had kind of unravelled for me. The funniest thing, really, was his making sure we knew he was a "highly paid attorney" as it's a word that really isn't used in Australia. For us, it absolutely betrayed his own sense that he was acting out a scene from a movie.

Ridiculous. Irritating. Angry-making.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

The Bike that Lee Built

I booked my old Malvern Star Wisp in for a service down at the bike shop, the fabulous VeloCycles in Nicholson St. My bike was fifteen years old, and had served me well, but it had needed very regular servicing for the last couple of years. It was scratched, rusty and creaky. They put it up on the stand and gave it a quick assessment. Most of the gear teeth were damaged, the wheels were getting out of alignment, etc. etc., and perhaps it was time to donate it to the Ceres bike exchange and start with something new. I wasn't surprised: they had given me plenty of warning over the last few services.

We had a quick look at similar styled bikes on the floor (hybrid bikes, where you sit up to ride, and the wheels are neither thin like racing bikes nor thick like mountain bikes), and then I remembered how much I'd enjoyed riding with dropped handlebars on our New Zealand trip, so we started looking at other bikes. I am absolutely no expert on bikes at all, but I described the kind of riding I do — a daily commute from North Fitzroy to Parkville, an occasional longer ride around city bike paths, and then once a year or so a longer trip on rural rail trails — and they narrowed it down to two bikes they had in stock. One was called Surly. OK, so coming from a bike called Wisp I wasn't on very strong grounds to object to a name, but all the same there was no way I was going to hitch myself for the next fifteen years to Surly. There was another, a Salsa Vaya that was dark brown. Then as is always the way, there *was* a bike they thought would be perfect for me, a Salsa Casseroll, but they had sold their last one last week. They phoned around and found there were none in the country, and no news about any new shipments. However, there was one frame left, and it was exactly my size, so Paul said they could build one for me.

Woah: I thought. This is going to cost way too much, and I have no idea how to do this. I can barely change my own tyres, let alone choose different fittings. The whole project seemed so uncertain to me, partly because I didn't think I was that serious a rider. Was it really worth it? But the more they talked about it, the cleverer an idea it seemed; and the more desirable the Casseroll frame. We looked at pictures of the Casseroll on the web, and I must admit it did look rather elegant. And yes, Casseroll is an odd name for a bike, too. It's either something to eat or vaguely French: "break roll"? Someone needs to do some serious work on naming bikes.

I went back a couple of days later and met with Lee, the senior mechanic, who would be in charge of the build. And there began a very happy relationship indeed. He would ring me and run various options past me, and I'd come in and look at the various quotes. He gave me a couple of options at one point, and said don't worry about the most expensive total, because it was "downspecable". And I could have saved a couple of hundred dollars at this point, except that it was so clear Lee was putting together a fabulous bike. One of the great selling points was the wheels. The wheels they put on most bikes are factory built and don't often last more than a couple of years, but handbuilt ones are far stronger and more finely tuned.

At one point I asked Lee how often he built a bike from the ground up. "Twice a day in my head" was the quick reply, at which point I realised exactly what this kind of "build" represented. I go into a bike shop and am quickly overwhelmed by the choice and variety of what's on offer. Someone like Lee sees thousands of possibilities and variations, and most importantly, can explain them clearly to a novice. One day the frame arrived:

When choosing the fittings we decided to go for a brushed chrome look that would complement the bike's silvery grey coloring, and the styling was "semi-retro", complete with leather saddle and handlebar grip.

The whole shop seemed excited about this project. I have to say it is always a pleasure going in. Some bike shops have a way of making you feel very ditsy if you don't understand the finer details of Olympic racing, but I've never had that kind of grief here. They were also really careful about the money, giving me careful advice about what I would be up for.

Finally on Friday it was ready. Well, nearly ready. Lee put it up on a little training rack, so I could try it for height, etc. in the shop.

This was much better than the moment I was dreading, when I would ride it out on the bike path and fall off because I wasn't secure enough to see if it was too high, or when I would mess up a gear change and bring the chain off. So I hopped on and off a few times until the height and position of the saddle were just right, and off I went for a trial spin. The gear shift levers on this bike are cunningly positioned to emerge from the end of the handlebars and they take a little while to get used to. Also, the brakes were very tight, indeed: luckily Lee warned me to go gently with them at first. But it felt pretty good, I must say.

We decided it needed a slightly shorter ... I don't know the name of the part: the horizontal bit that connects the handlebars to the vertical stem. So off I went home, and turned up again a couple of hours later. A fancy new wooden pannier rack had just come into the store, and they had fitted that, plus the lights, bell, and silvery mudguards etc. we had chosen. As the leather saddle ages, it will darken to match the leather grips, which are amazingly comfortable. I also bought a new lock!

My bike is a thing of beauty, now: sleek and silvery, but with lovely old-school touches of leather and wood. I've learned enough over the last two weeks to realise how streamlined and tight is its construction and fittings. Its pedals are small: flat on one side for riding in regular shoes; and with the little cleats on the other for when I get the special shoes (you are thus propelling the bike when your leg moves up as well as when it presses down) for touring. The brake cables are neatly positioned, without those huge loops you sometimes see.

If this sounds like an ad for VeloCycles, and Lee, and for the idea of getting someone to build you a bike from the frame up, so be it: this was such a fun thing to do, and I couldn't be happier with the result. I'll be taking it in to my office for the next little while, so do feel free to come and admire it if you are on campus. It was not cheap, but given that I plan to ride it for the next fifteen years, that's absolutely fine. I was going to use my tax return to buy an ipad: I'm much happier having a fabulous bike!

Old bike:

New bike:

Monday, August 29, 2011

Displacement activity

So I'm writing this essay. It's about the way modern academics use online sites and activities like blogging, facebook, etc. and so I thought I'd do a little research amongst my readers.

What does the term "displacement activity" mean to you. I've done a little reading around some behavioural/psychological texts, but I'm interested to know what we/you mean when we/you use the term, if we/you do. I can remember the exact place when I first heard this phrase. It was used by Sue Martin (the one in the middle of this picture) in the departmental kitchen, and she used it to describe something I was doing: cleaning my office instead of marking essays, I think. It struck me because I immediately knew what "displacement activity" must mean, without really knowing why it meant that. I now use the phrase with ease. Thanks, Sue!

Is that what blogging is? What other forms does displacement activity take? What do you understand the phrase to mean? Can you remember when you first heard it? Or when it was first applied to you? Is my question to my own blog about displacement activity a paradigmatic example of the phenomenon?

No promises your answer will appear in my essay, but it will be given full credit if it does. Thanks in advance!

P.S. I should say: this essay is due tomorrow. Do you think that's relevant?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

In which I feel myself about to undergo an ugly transformation

There are large white tents being erected on the lawns of the campus. The schedules have been drawn up. The powerpoints from last year are being updated. Yes, it's Open Day again.

For the last couple of years I've done the little presentations to prospective students: this year I'm just on one of the desks on Sunday. They are predicting a mild and sunny day, which is a great relief as it is often cold and miserable in the tents (I don't know why they put us in a tent: there are some perfectly nice buildings on campus...).

When we sit behind the desks (and sometimes, we have to stand in front of desks because there are no chairs; or stand at naff little high bar-style tables, though without a spicy Victorian shiraz for company), we are often highly amused at the pushy parents who march their reluctant children up to talk to us. "She's very interested in creative writing, aren't you, Susie?" they say. Or "And what jobs can he do with an Arts degree?" We like it when the students come along by themselves, actually.

Undeterred, however, I have said I can only do a late afternoon shift on Sunday because I am going down to the Victorian College of the Arts with Joel. I will try very hard to stay in the background and not ask questions at the information session. I will try very hard not to speak for my son and will try not to tell them how talented he is and how hard he works. But it's going to be tough. I have already perused the various music webpages, and came perilously close to logging in as if I were Joel to the "Customize your Open Day" experience page.

In my mind I am almost reconciled to acknowledging he is ready to make his own decisions about his future; and to manage his own path through these last eighteen months of school. But it is still hard to let go. I'm going to try not to blog too much about this other person's life here, but it does also feel like a transitional moment in mine, too! Let's hope it doesn't get too ugly on Sunday.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Fragments of an aftermath

A huge week last week. I chaired two public lectures, a two-day collaboratory and a one-day postgraduate masterclass. Life is slowly coming back to normal, though I am still fearfully behind on many things.

I am still digesting the Hearts and Stones collaboratory, though in one sense it's easy to say it fulfilled my wildest expectations about having an interdisciplinary conversation with only minimal anxiety about people speaking from too narrow a disciplinary place.

If anyone would like to hear Jeffrey Cohen's keynote lecture, "Feeling Stone", here is the link: http://harangue.lecture.unimelb.edu.au/Lectopia/Lectopia.lasso?ut=1123&id=121850.

I wish I had also been able to capture Kerryn Goldsworthy's closing presentation: a wonderful and chilling not-a-ghost-story....

But here is a textual fragment: http://networkedblogs.com/l5OI7

I'll try and write the event up in more detail soon. But in the meantime,

... if you, or anyone you know, is looking for work in the university sector, here are two part-time positions as program administrator and education and outreach officer for the Melbourne hub of the Centre. Spread the word; and do get in touch if you'd like to talk about these positions.



Thursday, July 28, 2011

quick reminder

A quick reminder to Melbourne readers: Jeffrey Cohen, from In the Middle, will be giving a free public lecture tonight, called "Feeling Stone," in the Elisabeth Murdoch lecture theatre A, (the one behind the white plaster figures escaping from the wall of the Potter Gallery at the university of Melbourne in Swanston St), at 6.00 tonight.

It's utterly free, and will be utterly fabulous. Jeffrey has foregone a day at the zoo in the sunshine to work on the fine-tuning. Come and hear him speak and introduce yourself as a fellow-blooger in the reception afterwards.

Our vocabulary for stone is impoverished. We describe rock as dumb, mute, unfeeling, unyielding, recalcitrant. Stone can sometimes be invoked as a witness, but most often its testimony is silent,an unfeeling trigger to affect, a passive reminder of tragic human histories. This talk excavates a lithic counter-tradition: stone not simply as a spur to human emotion, but as a lively substance possessed of agency, motility, artistry, and possibly even a soul. Surveying work by medieval and
contemporary thinkers, from Albertus Magnus and Geoffrey of Monmouth to Gilles Deleuze, Elizabeth Grosz and Roger Caillois, I argue that stone invites us to a nonanthropocentric approach of ecologies, landscapes, texts and art.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

This is the most humble day of my life

[Thanks to Gio Abate for directing me to this wonderful image, from the Tumblr site of Eva Truffaut: check out the animated version.]

Last night, when I was supposed to be going to bed early, I stayed up, glued to my computer screen as the Murdochs appeared before the parliamentary inquiry into telephone hacking. James Murdoch tried to take control over proceedings and wanted to begin by reading a statement (like some AFL footballer whose drinking/gambling/racism/sexism has uncomfortably seen the light of day). This was refused, but he began his first answer with what was in fact the same statement, the first of many generalising, filibustering remarks that have correctly been analysed as carefully orchestrated and rehearsed spin. At one point Rupert leaned in, touched his arm, and said he just wanted to say one sentence: "This is the most humble day of my life."

As many commentators have pointed out, he didn't really look humble, though.

As I am reading my way into the history of emotions project, and think about the question of performance, such statements become increasingly difficult to analyse. For historical researchers, the naming of words like 'humble' or 'humiliation' or 'shame' can seem like the gold standard of emotional expression, especially in non-literary contexts. We have a detailed context, and an unequivocal statement of feeling that is pretty rare in pre-modern contexts. But Murdoch's carefully prepared sound grab shows there are rich layers in such expressions, and I don't think they are entirely a function of saturation media coverage or a self-conscious modernity.

Murdoch didn't look humble, but was he? He said he was. Why isn't that enough? Do we need to see more of a downward gaze, a lowered voice? Wouldn't we just say he had scripted that, too? How can we ever judge the truth of a person's statements about their emotional state? If he does not seem sufficiently emotional, what differentiates our response here from the judgemental condemnation of Joanne Leys and Lindy Chamberlain for not seeming emotional enough when they were questioned about the death of their partner or child? What normative expression of emotion are we invoking, or looking for, here?

Other questions arise: what's the relation between word and feeling? Words are switched on and off, just as the acted performance of emotions and feelings can be, too.

But need there be a watertight correlation between the emotion we seem to see and the signifier we hear?

While it's easy to think that Murdoch's statement indicates merely the switching on and off of the emotion, how could we ever judge whether he's truly humble: whether he feels it truly, in his heart of hearts, or whether he only believes he does, or whether he is simply lying. There is also something performative about this, in any case. For someone like Murdoch, even saying the day is a "humble" one, no matter what he feels, is a performance of being humbled. Having to say it, whether he feels it or not, must surely produce at least the simulation of being humbled. And it's a humbling thing to do: that is, saying you're humbled is to humble yourself, no? And in the end, how could we ever tell the difference?

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Human voices

It's a cold Saturday morning, at the end of the school holidays. As arranged, Joel brings me a strong cup of coffee at 7.15. We climb into the car. Its newly fixed thermostat registers 2 degrees. We pick up Meg, then head into the city and down Punt Road. The sky is pale but clear, and we see three hot air balloons in perfect triangular formation flying low across Parkville.

We are heading to a three-day music teachers' conference, being held at Melbourne High School. We arrive with plenty of time to spare, and sit in the car, marvelling at the school's enormous playing field, and the tall gothic brick tower of the main building. Our school is made of grey concrete blocks, doesn't have its own oval or gardens, really, and the kids use the public park a block away. This feels like a private school, though it's Melbourne's only selective boys' high school. Two different balloons are flying low towards us, and seem to skim past a block of flats on the other side of the oval.

The vocal group meets with Miriam in the foyer, surrounded by glass cabinets full of trophies, wooden honour boards, and memorials to the fallen. As they prepare, I walk into the main hall. A young girl is practising a violin solo with piano accompaniment. She plays with great accuracy and skill, but is still warming up to full performance mode. It is not yet 9.00 am.

Our kids rehearse. They are wearing their usual medley of clothes, supposedly in performance blacks and greys, but interpreting the colour code very loosely. They look a little withdrawn and distanced, standing apart from each other. Miriam checks their cues, the sound engineer jumps athletically up on to the stage several times as he checks levels, and adjusts their mike. They run through most of their set, just going over a few tricky entries. One of the girls can't be there, so Claudia steps in for her solo.

The conference begins, and our group is on first, as a kind of warm-up to the day's proceedings. The girls have brushed their hair, and everyone has taken off at least one outer garment. They walk on to the stage and Miriam announces the first song, modestly not mentioning that this group came second in a national jazz competition not too long ago.

I realise, at this point, that the battery on my phone is about to run out. I am sitting with Susie's mother in the front row, and the angle is all wrong, as I can't get all seven in the one frame and am looking up at them. So I record just the two middle songs from their bracket of four: "Sometimes I'm Happy" by King Pleasure, and "Rachel", by Trish Delaney-Brown. They sing well today, very well. They stand close together, and sing accurately in key and in time, which is hard when the piano is so far away, and of course, even harder when they sing a capella, and with no conductor. No one "sings out" (i.e. making their voice stand out from the group), but the parts and words are distinct. The solos work well, too. Claudia, Mary and Joel just step up to the mike and sing without fuss. "Rachel" is a show-stopper.

The music teachers in the audience — that's a tough crowd for kids to sing for — are warm in their applause, and the other parents and I follow the kids out in to the foyer. Miriam does a quick debrief, and the group breaks up with hugs and congratulations all round. I have been struck, as always, by the authority and confidence of this group of fifteen- and sixteen-year-olds, and the serious intent with which they sing, and sing with each other, listening so hard to each other. They don't all hang out together as friends. They are in different year groups and subject clusters. But when they sing together, there is often a great warmth and strength about their voices in harmony. Joel and Meg explain to me later how they have literally learned to breathe together, so they can all start phrases in the same second. The other parents and I have confessed we regularly cry when we hear them: it is the terribly beauty of their vulnerability and the fearful power of their strength, brought together by a wonderful teacher who guides them with skill and passion.

Marion and I take Susie, Meg and Joel to brunch in Richmond: Dench fruit toast with maple and vanilla butter at Richmond Larder, sitting outside in the sun. Then I drop Joel and Meg off in the city, and watch them head down Bourke St on their different expeditions. A good morning's work...

Double-click on these to get the full screen view which will show you the seven singers.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The lifecycle of a keynote (or, The Great Bloggy Meet-up)

First comes the invitation. If the organisers are good organisers, they give you plenty of time, freedom to speak on whatever you want, and are crystal clear about what kind of event it is, and what kind of funding they will provide.

Then a year or so goes by and the lecture then starts to hove into view. You might have to provide an abstract around this time. Then your ticket is booked, and after that there is no going back.

You start to blog about it, perhaps, or allude to it on facebook. Then, when you really should be buying a new pair of shoes to wear, you throw together a first draft, phrase by phrase, partial footnote by partial footnote. You think about the long plane ride on which you'll be able to finish the talk, while thinking consoling thoughts about how you'll polish it up when it's time to send it off to be published.

All of a sudden, you are standing there while they introduce you, and there really is no going back.

As you give the talk, you're conscious of a terrible silence. They are probably just being politely attentive, but the effect is to make you conscious of every half-baked idea you ever had.

Afterwards, everyone is very kind. They say nice things.

You go home, and try to forget about it till it is time to send off the published version, when you race around trying to finish off those footnotes and pressing "Send" with a great sense of relief.

As I did two days ago.

At the moment, I am preparing for a conference at Melbourne — http://hearts-and-stones.arts.unimelb.edu.au/ (That is actually a link, though the colours have gone a bit odd on this template.) This is a small symposium on stone, emotion and temporality. Speakers will meditate on our emotional relationship with stone, whether in the form of rock art, memorials, buildings, art, landscape, etc. etc., with a particular focus on the way stone bears witness to, carries a sense of time and cultural and natural memory.

I am in the luxurious position of not having given myself a paper to give. I'll chair, and convene, and try to bring a bunch of people together who aren't normally part of the same circuit. Some are medievalists, some are modernists, some are Australianists, and some specialists in Indigenous studies. It is almost a dream come true, for me, to bring this company together.

Readers of this blog will be happy to know, I hope, that two of its most loyal readers and commentators, Jeffrey and Kerryn, will both be at this conference. Jeffrey will be opening proceedings on Thursday night with a public lecture (his own dreaded keynote which I gather he is planning to write on the plane): "Feeling Stone", July 28th, 6.00, Elisabeth Murdoch Lecture Theatre, Parkville Campus. And Kerryn will be closing the symposium proper with a ghost story (she is visiting a cemetery tomorrow as part of her research). Jeffrey's lecture is open to all, and is free. Kerryn's will close the symposium. You can register for that, too, though places will be a little restricted at the conference.

I can hardly wait for these two to meet each other. I don't know if they are friends on facebook, though they certainly ought to be. It will be a wonderful meeting of bloggy minds, and I hope that the pleasures of that meeting — how could they not love each other? — will distract them from the anxiety of their talks...

Here is Jeffrey's abstract:

Our vocabulary for stone is impoverished. We describe rock as dumb, mute, unfeeling, unyielding, recalcitrant. Stone can sometimes be invoked as a witness, but most often its testimony is silent,an unfeeling trigger to affect, a passive reminder of tragic human histories. This talk excavates a lithic counter-tradition: stone not simply as a spur to human emotion, but as a lively substance possessed of agency, motility, artistry, and possibly even a soul. Surveying work by medieval and contemporary thinkers, from Albertus Magnus and Geoffrey of Monmouth to Gilles Deleuze, Elizabeth Grosz and Roger Caillois, I argue that stone invites us to a
nonanthropocentric approach of ecologies, landscapes, texts and art.

Jeffrey Jerome Cohen is Professor of English and Director of the Medieval and Early Modern Studies Institute (MEMSI) at the George Washington University.

Here comes the sun

Twice a year, there is a period of a few weeks when the sun appears above our neighbour's roof, but lower than the eaves over my study windows. When there are no clouds, it can be bright enough for me to lower the blinds on the window.

Today is the first day I've noticed this effect since autumn. The sun's a bit pale and weak, and the sky looks a bit anaemic, but I can see the shadow of my own head on the floorboards.

So, we are past the winter solstice; the coldest average day of the year is past, too.

Bring on spring.

Not that I'm hastening my life away, you understand. If anything, I'm trying to slow it down, just to feel that sun on my face.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Orange mousie!

The kittens have a favourite toy: an orange mouse with catnip inside that makes a very intriguing rattling sound when you skid it along the floorboards, even though someone bit off its tail on the way home from the vet a few weeks ago. I regularly have to scoop it out from under the couch, and there is then great joy and much scuffling to work out who will play first. They do take turns, there is no doubt. One rolls and chases and pretends to ignore, then pounces and sends it flying. The other waits and watches patiently. There must be an agreed time period after which it is fair game to move in.

This is such an excellent game that when they are prowling around and looking a bit distracted, if I can find the mouse then they entertain themselves for ages.

However, a new, less than welcome development this morning. Wulf has discovered that the very best place in the house to play this game is ... on my desk!

OK, back to work!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Blue and brown

The young man is better, I'm glad to say, and has gone off to Chinatown for his customary Saturday lunch with friends, since he hardly saw them all week.

But Paul and I are both struggling with colds of various degrees. I'm not too bad, but he and I kept each other awake last night with a barking cough.

I struggled to Italian class this morning, and made a few neighbourhood stops on the way home, so our lunch was a ball of burrata mozzarella (with gorgonzola also inside), on fresh Dench grain bread, drizzled with porcini oil. Unbelievably delicious.

I feel ok now and am doing chores on the computer. Behind me, Paul is stretched out on the couch with a pillow, a blue mohair blanket and two burmese kittens. I'd love to post a picture, but the ipod is playing and I don't want to wake him up. It's on "shuffle" so we are jumping from jazz to Leonard Cohen and girly pop songs and retro 70s and 80s pop and lots of Beethoven and Sibelius. Something rather personal about him lying sleeping/listening to my mix, which desperately needs updating, except that my laptop is too old to use the current iTunes.

The heater's on. My three brown cats (one wearing a big brown jumper) are asleep. The sky is wintry pale blue, though at mid-afternoon the shadows are already long and the sunshine weakening.

I ploughed through a huge pile of emails and chores yesterday, and just as soon as I finish these grant assessments, I'll be ready to write a talk for Thursday and finish polishing my Langland talk to send off.

Health and sickness. Winter and sun. Blue and brown.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Sick day

Lovely post from Jeffrey about (US) Father's day.

My parenting today consists of supplying my invalid son with tea, toast and vegemite as he recovers from a nasty virus (vomiting, skin rash, cough, headache). He's reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, trying to contain two Burmese kittens who think that a boy on a couch with a mohair rug is a perfect playground, and alternating with watching Miyazaki's Spirited Away. Here's the trailer (try and ignore the Disney voice-over). It is an astonishing movie, and in this household, Miyazaki is often the director of choice for a sick day.

I'm at my desk with a streaming headcold myself, about to start the ARC grant assessments that are due today.

This afternoon we will go to the doctor's. Still can't believe that we had a good half-hour's house call yesterday from two doctors. One cuddled Orlando while the other gave Joel a good interrogation, and recommended a blood test. And the whole thing was paid for by Medicare. I went to get the cheque book but all they wanted was the Medicare card. Hooray for a decent national health-care system!

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Chuntering on...

In my Middle English reading group we are reading bits of Piers Plowman. We read the Prologue and Passus I, then skipped over the whole Mede episode (I know: it's a scandal), and marvelled at the author's apologia for his life (newly introduced in the C-text).

Today we read the conclusion to this passage, where Reason and Conscience send Will off to the church. "Wepyng and waylyng," he falls asleep and has another vision. He tells us,

Of this mater Y myhte mamele ful longe...

Our intrepid editor, Derek Pearsall, glosses "mamele" as "chunter." Pearsall's glosses, in this and in other editions are mostly helpful and accurate and are often engagingly inventive. This one is simply terrific: we explain one rare and imitative verb with another equally rare and equally imitative verb, though "chunter" is coined somewhat later than "mamele". Both seem to mean to "mutter", or "murmur," while "mamele" seems to be formed on analogy with the Dutch lollen, which gives rise to the contentious noun, "lollard," in the fourteenth century, with all its freight of heresy, etc. So speaking and muttering and mumbling and rambling on, in this period, is risky business, indeed.

"Chuntering" is one of those words that blazed into the language at the end of the sixteenth century, and isn't recorded after the 1870s. In addition to the muttering, mumbling senses, OED also lists "to grumble, find fault with, complain." The OED's last example is from 1870: E. Peacock, Rolf skirl, II. 117 Th' capt'n went away chunterin'. 

Sometimes a word just comes back into the language, even by means of a slightly odd gloss. A bit like a song that gets into your head, the word "chuntering" has got into mine, and under my skin today. I keep thinking so much of our lives — reading, writing, emailing, blogging — could be described as "chuntering". Perhaps it's the buried suggestion of trains "shunting" along; perhaps it's the Led Zeppelin song, "Rambling on"? Either way, today at least, as I go about my tasks this afternoon, when I describe myself to myself, it'll be as "chuntering on."

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Beginnin' to see the light

For too long now I've been struggling. My job, while wonderful in so many ways, is also really hard sometimes. Yes, I get to work on wonderful material; and yes, I get to travel around a bit; and manage my own time. And indeed, I get a great sense of achievement in my work when I finish big projects. I am also the first to admit that my path through the professional and intellectual minefield that is the modern university has been easier and more straightforward than that of many people. I've been wonderfully lucky in my students and colleagues, locally, nationally and internationally. I'm pretty well paid for what I do. I have excellent superannuation and health care in a country which is also providing my son with excellent health care and education through the state system. We are heavily mortgaged, but there are two of us on full salaries and our house, while badly run down and crumbling in places, is spacious and pleasant. We eat well; we are happy as a family; we are close to friends and family; and our lives are full of music, words and images. Even my own trajectory through breast cancer was relatively straightforward: the end of this year will mark the end of my five years' treatment and the point where I will have substantially reduced the risk of recurrence so that it will not be much higher than the risk a woman my age might face of first contracting the disease.

And yet too often these days I wake in the night and toss and turn about the always-unfinished, always imperfect and utterly invasive nature of my work. It goes on and on. It is never finished. It is never perfected. It is never complete. Instead, it feels partial, incomplete, unfinished. I can't control the endless emails; the online forms and processes; the constant requests to assess, grade, quantify and rank that eat into the time and concentration I have available to read and study medieval literature. I feel I have cleared the mental space to write this blog entry only because I've been working so hard to delete and file emails (I have processed over a thousand of them in the last few days in a concerted effort to control them) and have cleared most of the surface of my desk and home.

I try to give myself Saturdays off, so I had a "normal" day today: breakfast with Joel (Paul comes home from Europe on Monday); Italian class; gym workout; leftover pizza for lunch; made chocolate and cherry muffins. We introduced the kittens to my parents who came and sat and drank tea as we watched Wulf and Orlando taking turns to play with the toy mouse (Wulf tired first and climbed up on my father's lap, while Orlando knocked herself out leaping and tossing and chasing the mouse before climbing on Pa's lap to curl up with her brother). I then raked up about eight barrow loads of leaves, and raked the gravel paths before I came in to watch the last scenes of The Ghost Writer (I had fallen asleep on the couch watching it the night before), walked it back down to the video shop, then made mushroom and spinach risotto (secret ingredient? a big spoonful of creme fraiche right at the end) and watched Dr Who while we ate it.

But even a normal day like this feels less like a good balance of work and life and more like a day of respite snatched from the chaos and the lurching from task to task that seem to characterise every day — and the anxious reliving of that chaos that often characterises the hours between 2 and 4 am.

I'm sure I'm doing it all wrong. I'm sure I could be more disciplined (sigh) about being organised and prioritising stuff. I'm also pretty sure this feeling would be one clearly identified symptom of mid-life crisis. I'm pretty sure most folk in Australian universities - and elsewhere - will be feeling many of the same things. Even so, I'm hesitating to write this, as I feel I'm normally so upbeat about my work. And I guess that is also the professional persona I have cultivated. So it feels like something of a betrayal of all that.

And yet. And yet. I'm going to "publish post" in a minute, anyway. This is what I set up my blog for, in any case, to trace these vicissitudes. But can anything be done? Will it always be like this?  For now, I'm going to put the kittens to bed and read a chapter of the book I'm reviewing before I go to sleep.

Friday, May 06, 2011

One for the protocol office.

As my book edges ever closer to the precipice of entering final copy-editing, the lovely Caroline has emailed me wondering whether we should flag the mentions of Prince William and Kate Middleton in my book for updating. What a nice problem to have? We'll have to work out the protocol of referring to them before they became Duke and Duchess and all.

And ... can I just say about all that stuff about tradition and modernity in The Dress, and the Duchess's bringing of a new fresh modernity into the institution of the monarchy ... that this has been the dominant discourse of the royal family for at least a good sixty years. I'm just saying: read my final chapter!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011


It's nearly three years since I blogged about my gorgeous ex-brother-in-law, Gow. I mentioned there his having come through a major health scare. Alas, there is every sign that his disease has returned.

Two days after I arrived in London, I met my sister after work at Green Park tube station (she works in a small investment bank in Mayfair) and we travelled north to Belsize Park, where he was in hospice care. It was a balmy spring evening, and it was a pleasure to be out of my usual Bloomsbury haunts and out into the leafier suburbs.

Gow was thin, and being medicated for pain relief, but his usual good humour and grace were shining through, though there were a few moments, I have to say, when we were all conscious of the gravity of his situation. His room was full of flowers, and he was having lots of visitors. He'd been out in the garden that afternoon, too. The hospice was clean and bright, and his room was lovely, but he had been there for a couple of months, while the doctors worked out what the next steps might be, and while he gathered strength for the next round.

He showed us these extraordinary collages he'd made, images of his internal organs and the weird eruptions the body produces: really, the art therapists must have fallen all over themselves when they met him...

 A close-up, to show you how he made these assemblages from rolled threads and twists of fabric:

 And my favourite, which I'm calling "self-portrait with giant medications."  In this one you can particularly see the influence of the blue and white Japanese textiles amongst which he has been living and working...
 And here he is, smiling through...

Gow is keen to go back to Japan, if he can, but at least the first step of that journey is complete, as I heard last week he had checked out of the hospice and gone back to his own flat in London. And his brother is moving back to London to New York to help care for him.

It was wonderful to see him, and to see how strong the friendship between him and my sister still is, after all these years. We are now facebook friends, and I said I would load up my pics onto facebook as well, which I'll do now, too. Keep on shining through, darling.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Rejoice with us, for we have kittens

This has been a plan in the making for a month or two, now. I still feel the presence of dear Mima, and her photo is still attached to my computer screen. I also looked for her when I came home yesterday, after nearly three weeks away. But for a while now the house has seemed to lack a certain something; and yesterday we brought home two wee kittens, just three months old. One is dark brown, whom we have called Orlando, though I am already thinking of her as "the lady Orlando", as in Sally Potter's film. Here she is:

And her brother we have called... well, here's a question: should it be Wulf, Woolf, or Wolf? Which is the least naff? He has a tremendous appetite, so Wolf may be the most appropriate. But should we indulge the medievalism of Wulf? Or the link to Orlando of Woolf? Votes welcome!

And just in case there were any doubt about their utter cuteness....

Friday, April 22, 2011

Imogen and I go shopping

OK, I have been a very terrible blogger. Something about finishing my book, then really having to work hard to finish a big lecture for the Piers Plowman conference in Oxford (it may not sound it, but it was a huge gig for me), and various other tasks, have made it less likely for me to blog. Though I feel I may be getting back to it.

Starting with photos. Today I have spent a very pleasant day. It's my last day in London, and I slept in after getting in late from Rome last night.

Then Imogen, my niece, and I went out. We bought sandwiches and strawberries and had a lovely picnic in Kensington Gardens.

and then went shopping for her long-delayed birthday present. First I tried on a pair of shoes. You can't quite see how enormously high they were from this photo: they looked fantastic; and felt great too, except when I actually tried to walk around the shop in them.

Then we bought a pair for her. The poor darling has feet that are hard to fit: long and thin, like my sister's, and with the same long toes that she and Joel have, too. But look what we found: they are fantastic, and being worn tonight to a party with purple socks.

A very satisfactory aunt-niece day, concluding with an impossibly rich cold iced chocolate on the bus on the way home.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Friday night is pizza night

Most Friday nights, for the past sixteen or so years, we have got together with our dear friends: our mirror family, as I call them. Two academic parents, one blond child, and a bunch of similar interests, politics and lives. When various family members are away, we meet anyway. We eat pizza (or sometimes cook), we drink an extra glass of red wine, we eat chocolates and lollies. We argue, we laugh, we tell jokes. We look forward to it from Thursday evening, sometimes. Joel has his last lesson (piano) at 5.30 on a Friday. Once we pick him up, the weekend begins as he starts to relax, too. And when visiting scholars come through town, we love to welcome them along and induct them into Friday night pizza.

Last night was a mega-version of this ritual. The six of us were there, plus two of Paul's research partners and their partners, plus our neighbour, plus a visiting Candian, her partner and their twin daughters. There's a head missing from this photo, but this was fifteen people sitting down to eat pizzas from Al Albero (tiny pizza bar down the road: ring ahead and given them plenty of time, and pick up from the shop; ask for thinner base than usual, if you don't like a light but turkish bread-style base; recommendation? slow cooked lamb, or marinara with giant prawns and scallops). We had the twins on the old piano stool at the end, and you can see Joel and Eva, his Friday night sibling, on the left. Friday night bliss!

Friday, March 25, 2011

History of Emotions website

History of Emotions new website is now live.  Click through to "Opportunities" under "Research" for details of all nine post-doctoral fellowships currently being advertised.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Post-doctoral opportunities...

Updated version of the advertisement for the first round of post-doctoral fellowships: please forward and circulate to anyone and any list you think might be interested.


The Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions in collaboration with The University of Western Australia, The University of Adelaide, The University of Melbourne, The University of Sydney and The University of Queensland, seeks to appoint nine exceptional postdoctoral researchers to contribute to research projects in the history of emotions in Europe, c. 1100-1800. 

The Centre addresses big questions: to what extent are emotions universal? How, and to what extent, are they culturally conditioned and subject to historical change?  What are the causes and consequences of major episodes of mass emotional experiences?  How are emotions created and conveyed through the arts?  How does Australia’s emotional heritage influence today’s social and cultural patterns? 

The Centre draws on advanced research expertise at five nodes in Australia (the universities of Western Australia, Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney and Queensland), plus research partnerships in the UK, Germany, Switzerland and Sweden. Our approach is strongly interdisciplinary, with researchers spanning the fields of social and cultural history, literature, art history, museology, Latin studies, history of medicine and science, musicology and performance practice.

These prestigious research positions (with additional $16K pa research support) offer an exciting opportunity for innovative and enthusiastic scholars with demonstrated track records in medieval and/or early modern studies and a capacity to engage in interdisciplinary research.

Benefits include 17% superannuation and generous leave provisions.  Some relocation allowance for successful applicants will be considered.  These and other benefits will be specified in the offer of employment.

The University of Western Australia
•    Research Associate (Interpretations and Expressions of Emotion) (Ref: 3449)
For position information go to: https://www.his.admin.uwa.edu.au/jobvacs/external/academic/ads.htm

The University of Adelaide
•    Research Fellowship in Medieval or Early Modern Europe, (Position number 16567),
•    Research Fellowship in the Emotional History of Law, Government and Society in Britain, 1700-1830, (Position number 16568),
For position information go to: http://www.adelaide.edu.au/jobs/current/

The University of Melbourne
•    Research Fellowship in Emotions and Sacred Sites (Position number: 0026069)
•    Research Fellowship in Texts describing Emotions (Position number: 0026068)
For position information and to apply online go to: www.hr.unimelb.edu.au/careers

The University of Queensland
•    Research Fellowships: Reason and the Passions in English Literature, 1500-1800 (2 positions)
For position information go to: http://www.uq.edu.au/staff/

The University of Sydney
•    Postdoctoral Research Associate in Emotions related to Suicidal Impulse (Ref 160/0111)
•    Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Emotional Responses to Public Death (Ref 161/0111)
All applications must be submitted via The University of Sydney careers website.  Visit sydney.edu.au/positions and search by the reference number for full details

Monday, March 21, 2011


Many's the time, since I began this blog, that I have held back from banging on about my son or posting photos of him. Partly for his own privacy; and partly from a sense that there can only ever be limited interest in other people's children. If you find parents' rhapsodies about their children uncomfortable or irritating to read, you should click right on through to your next website immediately.

Joel turns sixteen today, and my fond mother's heart is overflowing with pride and joy in my boy, who is now, really, a young man for whom most of the pieces of a complex and difficult world seem to be more or less in place. He is (a) healthy; (b) clever; (c) handsome; (d) nice; (e) good at making friends; and (f) has found a passion in life, in his piano.

The balance between us has shifted slightly over the last few months. He is as likely to make breakfast for us as we might make it for him. He makes clever suggestions about what we might do, and how we might organise things, on large and small scales. He listens to our suggestions, and makes up his own mind. There are some tough things in his life at the moment and he seems to be rising to those challenges as well as one could wish. I am the one who now has to learn a few things about letting go, about trusting him to have the smarts to be safe when he goes out, for example.

On this day, sixteen years ago, I woke from uneasy sleep, packed a little bag, and we drove over to East Melbourne. The baby (sex unknown) was breech, heading down feet first, and there was no chance (probably given my age) of a vaginal birth, so we knew exactly when he would be born, at 39 weeks. The previous day we had lunch at the Stokehouse and walked along the beach at St Kilda. So it was all very calm. And once I'd had the anaesthetic, I was even more calm. Conscious, but floating, all the same, buoyed up by pregnancy happy-hormones, too. I felt safe and confident the whole time, and was really surprised later on when Paul said it had been a bit confronting (of course, he looked over the other side of the little curtain they strung between me and the scalpel). Apparently, the baby's little knees came out first. I heard them counting up his agpar score (or apgar? I've forgotten), and then all of a sudden, they placed him next to me, with his beautiful peachy head on the pillow. He said calmly, "ah, ah, ah," inaugurating a life of intelligent conversation. Paul stayed with me, and my parents and his mother followed the baby's progress in a grand procession, according to Jean, while he was weighed and cleaned. Jean took the most magical photographs, as she did throughout his childhood, especially on her weekly Tuesdays of looking after him until he started kindergarten. He is one of six grandchildren for them; one of three for my parents. The miracle of the elastic human heart that can grow to be full of love for however many there are.

Today — the birthday of J.S. Bach, and the first day of the astrological year — began early for us. It begins early for Joel every day as he gets up around six and does an hour's piano practice before breakfast. But he had left his Italian homework at school and was planning to leave early. Paul, too, had a meeting at 8, so I got up early too, and made French toast (Dench grain loaf, Ceres eggs, passionfruit yoghurt, maple syrup, strawberries, blackberries and peaches). His birthday present? Sibelius!

Music is now the thing that structures his day, and offers an invitation to the future. Who knows where it will take him, or whether it will structure, or ornament his life? Either way, I can't help feeling how fortunate a child young man he is, to have this passion in his life, and the opportunities to exercise that passion.

But mostly, when I think of my son, I think of someone who is now, simply, his own person, comfortable in his skin, and as comfortable with his place in the world as a sixteen-year-old can be. Here he is, sketching the beach at Punakaiki, in New Zealand, in January...


Friday, March 18, 2011

Finishing again. And ... post-doctoral fellowships advertised

A very long blog hiatus.

Why? Who knows, really? It's not so much that I've been busy writing. I stopped blogging around about the time I stopped writing my book.

I'm spending long hours on email at the moment, though, trying to set up the Melbourne hub of the Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions. The first round of post-doctoral fellowships was advertised on Wednesday, but because of reasons, the two Melbourne positions don't yet have job numbers and so don't appear on the University's job website when you click through. Sigh. As soon as they do, I will be bombarding all the e-lists I know to make sure people know about these ABSOLUTELY TERRIFIC opportunities. Actually, I'll paste the ad below.

As an indication of how late I am with a task I have just finished, however, when I went to look for the email address of the person to whom I had to send the review, I found my email system had archived the initial letter. Oh dear. It is finally done, however: a review of Cole and Smith's Legitimacy of the Middle Ages. A very difficult book to read and review.

Now, amidst all my other chores, I'm turning to my paper for the Piers Plowman conference in April. It's called "Langland's Tears: Piers Plowman and the History of Emotions." Now that I'll be writing something difficult again, perhaps I'll start blogging, too.

Here are the post-doc ads: salaries vary a little from university to university, but are pitched at Level A lectureship salaries. Note excellent university superannuation rates, and additional research resources... Not also the absence of the difficult ARC post-doc application procedure. Inquiries welcome, especially for the Melbourne positions.


The Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions in collaboration with The University of Western Australia, The University of Adelaide, The University of Melbourne, The University of Sydney and The University of Queensland, seeks to appoint nine exceptional postdoctoral researchers to contribute to research projects in the history of emotions in Europe, c. 1100-1800. 

The Centre addresses big questions: to what extent are emotions universal? How, and to what extent, are they culturally conditioned and subject to historical change?  What are the causes and consequences of major episodes of mass emotional experiences?  How are emotions created and conveyed through the arts?  How does Australia’s emotional heritage influence today’s social and cultural patterns? 

The Centre draws on advanced research expertise at five nodes in Australia (the universities of Western Australia, Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney and Queensland), plus research partnerships in the UK, Germany, Switzerland and Sweden. Our approach is strongly interdisciplinary, with researchers spanning the fields of social and cultural history, literature, art history, museology, Latin studies, history of medicine and science, musicology and performance practice.

These prestigious research positions (with additional $16K pa research support) offer an exciting opportunity for innovative and enthusiastic scholars with demonstrated track records in medieval and/or early modern studies and a capacity to engage in interdisciplinary research.

Benefits include 17% superannuation and generous leave provisions.  Some relocation allowance for successful applicants will be considered.  These and other benefits will be specified in the offer of employment.

The University of Western Australia
•    Research Associate (Interpretations and Expressions of Emotion) (Ref: 3449)
For position information go to: https://www.his.admin.uwa.edu.au/jobvacs/external/academic/ads.htm

The University of Adelaide
•    Research Fellowship in Medieval or Early Modern Europe, (Position number 16567),
•    Research Fellowship in the Emotional History of Law, Government and Society in Britain, 1700-1830, (Position number 16568),
For position information go to: http://www.adelaide.edu.au/jobs/current/

The University of Melbourne
•    Research Fellowship in Emotions and Sacred Sites
•    Research Fellowship in Texts describing Emotions
For position information and to apply online go to: www.hr.unimelb.edu.au/careers

The University of Queensland
•    Research Fellowships: Reason and the Passions in English Literature, 1500-1800 (2 positions)
For position information go to: http://www.uq.edu.au/staff/

The University of Sydney
•    Postdoctoral Research Associate in Emotions related to Suicidal Impulse (Ref 160/0111)
•    Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Emotional Responses to Public Death (Ref 161/0111)
All applications must be submitted via The University of Sydney careers website.  Visit sydney.edu.au/positions and search by the reference number for full details

Thursday, January 20, 2011


There are many stages to finishing a book. But one of the biggest is when you send off ten files that include Acknowledgements, Bibliography and Table of Contents, as well as deathless Introduction (oh! ghost of Gwen Harwood, who used to use that adjective to mock academic prose, do you choose this moment to visit me now? *shudders*) and seven chapters. As I have just done.

The study is a mess of papers; the computer is a mess of files (will back-up as soon as I post this post); there's an enormous pile of ironing in the basket; and a stack of emails to answer, and tasks to complete.

There'll be another round of tightening-up revisions once the copy-editors have been through the manuscript, and Helen and Anne are still working on the thirty photographs and images and permissions, but for now, I've done all I can.

I feel I've run a marathon. I'm dehydrated. I haven't been to the gym for a week. My shoulders ache and my eyes blur. I crash into bed at nights exhausted and lie waking for three more hours. It's partly the sheer masses of detail that have to be mastered: the checking, the refining, the polishing. The redundant commas to be removed: thanks, Romana! But hardest of all is the relinquishing, the letting go of the project and its infinite possibilities. The last few months have been a slow and painful process of letting go of all the other directions this book could have taken.

I feel I'm not writing this very eloquently. But I am also aware of the irony: finish a book, then immediately write something else!

Sometimes people ask me, "have you finished your work?" It's the nature of the academic life that you have never finished. There is always some ongoing project. I'm going to be late with a book review that's due in ten days.

But once a decade or so, I manage it. I have finished. My work here is done.

You're probably dying to know what the last word is. It's "heart".