Archive for June, 2007

Mid-Year Entry

Posted in Uncategorized on June 30, 2007 by ladyredjess

Already it’s June 30th, and I have no idea where the time has gone. I’ve also realised that this is the first time I’ve stopped working and put my thesis away since I came back from Oz in February. That must have something to do with it.

I’m almost on holidays, apart from writing an abstract for a conference in August and a proposal for an edition of an online journal, and cleaning the window sills. I’ve just finished a short story for the Bridport Prize and sent it off. I wanted to submit my grass story because it was about England and Australia, but there was no way it was going to be ready in time, nor would it have been good enough, so I sent off a very Australian story about land and inheritance.

The parental unit are arriving tomorrow evening, so H and I have been meticulously cleaning every orifice of the house. I don’t know if this is a ritual particular to our family, or if it happens to every Australian whose family/friends come to stay. However when I flew over from Berkeley to visit my sister in London in 1999, she announced (with pride), that she had cleaned the mould from the bathroom ceiling. That was impressive.

On Thursday I had a very distressing meeting with my second supervisor, S, who also runs the Consortium. Where I- says only good things about my work and makes me feel appreciated, S is often very critical, although never in a nasty way. We spoke for an hour, and at the end of that hour I felt like he had completely decimated my entire argument on fictocriticism, feminism and the body and I was nearly in tears. However I managed to control myself, because I’ve cried before him once before and didn’t want to start a habit. Naturally, there was also my mascara to consider.

So I walked out stunned, not a little miserable, and with my confidence – which is usually unassailable – somewhat shaken. What was a girl to do? Uhmmm … go shopping, of course. Even better, go shopping in the sales! So I found a beautiful red wrap dress by Sticky Fingers, and a skirt by St Martin’s which I’ve had my eye on for a while, and felt a lot better. That night I went out with H, H, P and some more Australians to the Drunken Monkey, which was excellent, although too noisy, and then to another pub on Commercial Road which was even noisier, so we sat outside and shivered in the disgusting weather, until P thought his balls were going to drop off so we had to go inside, and of course I couldn’t hear, so took myself home. On the bus, there was a man standing next to me in a yellow safety vest who reeked of rotten meat, and opposite me was a man with greasy, greying hair who had shortened thalidomide arms. I was so drunk that it all felt wildly surreal.

Since then I’ve been thinking about what S said, and I think his contention was that I was forcing my material into an argument in which it didn’t necessarily fit. I could understand that, but as an English student I’ve always been taught that you can argue what you want, as long as you can back it up. However, I guess that if this means forcing it to the point of distortion, it obviously isn’t going to work. The other thing he seemed to be saying was that I was making statements without thinking about them carefully enough. This is one of the main reasons why I don’t think I can be an academic; I just don’t have enough intellectual rigour, especially compared to him and I-, and I couldn’t be bothered with investigating theory. S seemed to recognise this and said that I was using fictocriticism in order not to think about the other side of the argument; that is, by using fiction, I was giving myself the licence to say what I wanted without considering whether it was valid or not. He was right. All I want to do is write novels, not this PhD. But when I said this to him, his response was that Virginia Woolf, upon whom I rely heavily, used fiction as a way of getting away from that personal voice. He also said out that the point of fiction was to investigate other lives, and in that he is, of course, correct, and I felt incredibly stupid not to have seen it.

However there is, obviously, no turning back now, and after realising that all he was advocating was a little less sloppiness, rather than an entire change of approach, I felt better. I think what I need to do is stop justifying fictocriticism, and stop adhering so strongly to the argument I’ve devised and just write it the way I want to and see what happens. S suggested writing a dialogue with Georgiana, and while I can’t be bothered with that, I can see what he means: I need to be more attentive to her point of view.

I never wondered why I wanted to do a PhD until I got here and realised how difficult it was (although it shouldn’t be difficult, because I breezed through my other degrees). It just seemed to be a natural progression in something that I was good at, and of course, I want to be a genderless Dr, not a Miss or a Mrs or a Ms. In yesterday’s G2 there was an article about how Ms was created so that women wouldn’t have to be defined in relation to men, and yet in using it they still are – because by using a name that shows that they have no relationship with a man, they are still reminding people that there is a system to get away from, and therefore they remain implicated in it. I think we need to create a new title altogether.

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Repressed Librarians

Posted in Uncategorized on June 26, 2007 by ladyredjess

When I* came over for dinner prior to the gay amateur strip night (which I was, of course, gravely sorry to miss and which, as it transpired, I wouldn’t have been allowed to attend anyway, as women were denied entry) he told me about a blog by a repressed New Zealand librarian, the writer of which was actually a man. Naturally I found this very interesting, but I haven’t been able to locate it yet. I found repressedlibrarian.com but it didn’t really light my fire.

Instead I found a very entertaining website titled Spectacles: How Pop Culture Views Librarians, which has a You Tube link to a song called ‘Librarian’ by the NZ band Haunted Love.

Here are the lyrics:

I want to be a librarian
I want to check out your books
Please give them to me
With the bar code facing up
Please don’t bring them back too late
or I’ll have to charge you fifty cents a day
(and you won’t like that)

I want to be a librarian
Wearing glasses every single day
Don’t you find me appealing
in a nerdy sort of way?
Please don’t talk so loudly
Please
Please
Sshhhhhhhhhhhhh……

Meet me in the closed reserve
I’ll let you read all the new magazines
I’ll let you touch the first editions
If you promise me
If you promise me
If you promise me your hands are clean

I’m pretty sure I could do a better poem than that, and H may even be inclined to write some music to go with it. So watch this space.

I then mentioned (to the pre-stripclub gathering) that I was quite taken with the idea of stepping up very tall ladders in very short skirts and stilettos but there was never anyone in the library who I’d want to be beneath the ladder. P. offered to step in, but admitted that he wouldn’t be much use as my predilections tend not to lie in the direction of men who are fond of other men. And for the life of me, I can’t think where the eroticism of librarians comes from (aside from the obvious dominatrix thing). I wish it were erotic to work in a library; my day would be so much more exciting. Instead it’s a case of being pleasant and helpful, of stamping things, mending broken books and wasting far too much time on the internet.

Also in the course of my bibliophilic cyberspatial peregrinations, I came across the blog of an Australian girl who was in England on exchange, and who had a theory that the reason why the English conquered the world was because of their terrible germs. She had been incredibly sick with a flu, twice in quick succession, and this is what happened to me soon after I arrived, and to A- as well. A-‘s theory is that in Australia, there are less travellers and so less chances of nasty bugs, but an English colleague thought it was more a case of one’s immune system not having encountered those bugs before.

I also found (but not while looking for repressed librarians) the blog of a fellow disgruntled Londoner, who utterly won my heart with his phrase ‘The over-indulged Tom … [had] the sneer of a fox caught doing a shit on your rockery.’ You may read his blog here if, like me, you have too much time to waste and not enough students to stir by stepping neatly up ladders.

Dog tired

Posted in Uncategorized on June 19, 2007 by ladyredjess

Good lord I am tired. Part of it is insomnia: while other people lie awake thinking about their mortgages, I lie awake thinking about my word count. The rest is just trying to exist in this exhausting city with one day off a week.

For the past few weeks I’ve been corralling words into pens of meaning, barking after ideas which refuse to go in the gate and join up with other ideas, and chasing half of my writing out to pasture because it’s irrelevant. I’m desperate to just curl up in the sun and sleep, but there’s no chance of that, because it just keeps on fucking raining, doesn’t it? Where the fuck is summer? I have short skirts, frocks and stilettos that need wearing and a tan that needs acquiring.

And to cap it all off, the sow at work who DOES NOT STOP TALKING … EVER … wrote on the whiteboard yesterday; ‘The longest day of the year is June 22nd from then on it starts getting darker and my birthday.’

Aside from the fact that this is grammatically incorrect and the solstice is on the 21st, I do not need reminding that winter is back on its way. Winter means depression, and no light, and more tiredness, and horrible coldness … so of course her birthday would be on the day that it starts getting darker.

What a jolly barrel of laughs we are. But then, that’s nothing unusual.

So … to keep H happy we must think of some Happy Thoughts.

Viz: I have just finished the best book I’ve read for ages – and I’ve been reading quite a lot of good things lately. If you need something to read, pick up Helen Dunmore’s The Siege. The writing is bordering on exquisite, and the subject matter – an entire city of people starving to death during the siege of Leningrad in 1942 – is fascinating. But what makes it so captivating is that it’s a very feminine rendering of war, in the sense that it’s the women keeping everyone alive because the men are away. I’ve read other good war books – Primo Levi’s If This is a Man and the inevitable Birdsong (which has probably the worst sex scenes I’ve ever read, although the battle scenes are brilliant), but they don’t depict the experiences of women in war very well. Because of the attention to detail, and to the sights, sounds and smells which the female protagonist is feeling – there is this very delicate, almost sensual web laid across the utterly bleak landscape. As well as this, I had the sense that the author was handling the reader carefully by making sure that nothing really bad happened to the important characters, because if it had, it would have been too depressing to bear.

And on top of it all, Dunmore is a superb writer and I was feeling somewhat inadequate by the time I’d finished the book. But that was partly because I’d read a bad review of my novel on the web while I was bored at work. The reviewer, Gillian Dooley, is a librarian in Special Collections at Flinders University and reviews for the Australian Book Review. In the ABR website she says, ‘Reviewing is necessarily subjective and I will always express a forthright opinion, but I hope to tell readers enough to decide for themselves.’

She was certainly forthright when she wrote, ‘White might have done better to write the novel in the diary form, giving the narrative more immediacy than the conventional past tense she has used. But then again, there are so many things wrong with this novel that I’m not sure that any merely technical alteration could save it.’ But was she allowing the reader to make up their own minds? I should hardly think so. A good review finds the positive and negative things in a work and I believe this is also how you should approach teaching creative writing – never put someone down unless you have something with which to buoy them up. And the novel was in diary format, and it didn’t work, so I rewrote it in third person, even though this meant writing it out again for the third time.

How does one learn to disregard their reviews? They almost precipitated Virginia Woolf into a relapse each time they came out. I guess it’s just a case of thickening your skin. Mine is tough, since I’ve been writing for years, but a review like this still makes you think, ‘Ouch.’ But then you forget about it.

On the plus side (since H likes all manner of shiny linings), on the website for the gay and lesbian bookshop in Darlinghurst, they had put three little icons next to my book which said:

Aussie
Staff Pick
Bestseller

The only other one (in the lesbian section) which had all three was Dorothy Porter’s new book El Dorado.

Hurrah!

Plateauing

Posted in Uncategorized on June 10, 2007 by ladyredjess

I’m feeling strangely flat, and I shouldn’t be because it’s warm enough to wear skirts and stilettos, I know what to write this week (kind of) and last weekend was utterly gorgeous. I think I need a holiday, but I won’t get a break until the beginning of next month, when the parental unit come over from Oz.

Last weekend was spent in M’s endlessly entertaining company in the wilds of England, exploring old houses, beautiful parks, gardens and ruins. Sunday saw us walking through the greenest paddock I have ever seen. Up to the skyline, everything was green, and above it were milky blue clouds. We had lunch by a pub near an old water mill with ruins in the distance, and I was in ecstasies. I never knew England could be so beautiful, and fear I may even be starting to like the place.

On the way back through the paddock, we stopped by a gate that led to an old church (although M maintains that a 19th Century church is hardly old) and waited for three young Goths to step through first. The first looked relatively normal, despite a halo of dry, brown frizzy hair, the second was black and the third had buck teeth. Even though I couldn’t hear him, I knew M was laughing behind me, and I was struggling not to laugh myself, but some adolescents do try so hard to be individuals, and we really shouldn’t mock their efforts.

Due to my perpetual state of impoverishment, H very kindly took me to see Equus on Thursday, along with the Magirrister of whom, like H- (March 10 entry), I profess to be very fond. When I met them, wearing my red silk Monsoon skirt and a black top, H asked, ‘Did you spend all day getting ready?’ I protested, somewhat annoyed because I had actually done some work, that it had only taken me 45 minutes. I’d read the play before I left, as from past experience if I don’t hear what’s going on I get very, very angry and frustrated. As it transpired I couldn’t hear much anyway. The loop system worked, but the microphones were at the front of the stage and the actors were standing quite a way back. So I did hear some things very clearly: someone coughing their guts up and a mobile phone going off.

The play was interesting to read but quite boring to watch. Daniel Radcliffe was good but I didn’t think Richard Griffiths had enough presence. The actors playing the horses were fantastic however, not least because they were dead sexy, but also because they’d studied all the movements of horses and they looked positively real. I really liked the theme of communicating with animals in some kind of unearthly, mystical way, just as I liked the fusion between human and animal love in Chloe Hooper’s A Child’s Book of True Crime, and it gave me the hint of an idea for fixing a short story which has been stubbornly refusing to work for the last 10 years.

Obviously one of the drawcards for lots of people was Daniel Radcliffe getting his kit off, and H pointed out that there was a great deal of grappling for the opera glasses between the gay couple in the row before us. But it didn’t seem that necessary for him to get starkers, unless the writer was trying to drive home some point about the primal fusion between man and horse. I have to confess I was more taken with the muscles on Radcliffe’s back than his willy.

The Magirrister had bought a new pack of cards which he liked because they looked old, but they were so new and shiny that spreading them felt like rippling water. Halfway through dinner after the play (at a bright yellow Chinese restaurant in Chinatown), he told me to cut the pack, and that the person with the highest card could chose the last round of hors d’oeuvres. I teased him that he must have already figured out who was going to get the highest card, then cut the pack and came up with an Ace of Spades. The Magirrister looked utterly flummoxed for a few seconds, then conceded that there was no point in going on with his trick and had to put his cards away.