Eee, just look at that weather. That stuff can’t decide if it’s rain or hail or snow. Even leeds-girl has her coat out. All that and seriously windy too. Roar down the side-streets, rattle the windows, wail in the chimney, shake you off your bike windy. And I cycled all the way to uni and back again.
I once wrote a poem that went like this:
i know the cruelty of consonants
the sweep deep swish
of sss-ss-sssss, the fish gaping
i want to float
soft drifting word-sea
slide through meaning
helicopter wings whirring
you guess my words
from my throat
with clear tongue,
precise mouth, cruel
choking, knocking, flapping
This was ten years ago. I was eighteen. I wrote it during an English tutorial on postmodernism at Adelaide University. We were reading poems by Ania Walwicz and J.S. Harry. I sat in the corner, a bubbling mess of emotion. I was in awe of the playful and violent ways they made language sing, but I couldn’t express how I felt. I was too afraid to speak, knowing my words would crash and crumble and collide.
Flashback to a history class, aged fourteen, when the teacher asked me a direct question because she knew I knew the answer, and I pretended I didn’t, because I knew I couldn’t say it.
I sat in the corner some more. And then I started writing. The words tumbled out, as fierce and pure as the words everyone else was discussing. It felt good.
The poem won a competition. There was an awards dinner, and we were supposed to read out our poems. I said no, I couldn’t do it, not this time. So the organizer of the competition said she’d read it for me. She took me aside to practice reading it. She read it well, but not quite right. I would read it more like this, I said. I read it. I made the harsh bits hard, and in the quiet, wistful stanzas I put all my longing. She looked at me. Meli, she said, you are reading that poem.
I did. And I read it again, to hundreds and hundred of people, when the book was launched at Writers’ Week. Someone recorded it and played it on Poetica on Radio National. The best bit was, my second cousin’s step-father, who is an academic in Sydney, heard it on the radio in his car. That night, he said he’d heard an amazing poem about stammering on the radio. That’s Meli, said my cousin. No, he said, it couldn’t have been, it was someone older. And then she showed him the book.
The poem is an elegy. And it is a sharp sword, sheathed. These days, I don’t need to think about it very often. Only sometimes, giving conference papers, or meeting new people, or teaching… Yesterday, my class crumbled a bit at the end. Afterwards, I felt embarrassed and distraught and wanted to hide. I remembered the poem. When I was younger, I used to wish I could swap my disability for something else. I thought – I would rather be in a wheelchair than stammer. Having since worked with people who rely on wheelchairs, I take this back. I definitely have the better deal. But if you’re in a wheelchair, you work things out. You get ramps fixed in your workplace. I can work things out, too. I can work out what went wrong, and how to avoid it next time (in this case, make sure I have all details like names of websites on a printed hand-out). It can be done.
I arrived back in Leeds this evening feeling slightly sheepish and very grateful. After lugging my heavy backpack and overstuffed shoulder bag all over the station, I finally got on my train. And left my wallet sitting on the bench outside. With my money and credit card and student card and train ticket. Some nice people found it, opened it, saw my drivers license, recognized me, and gave it back!!!
This is not the first time something like this has happened. When I first arrived in London four and a half years ago, groggy with travel and not really sure what I was doing, overladen with books and clothes and an old brick of a laptop, I dropped my wallet as I searched for my Youth Hostel. (Directions are not my strong point.) Someone came running up behind me and gave it back. My housemate says I must have very good karma. My boyfriend says I always carry too many books.
Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths
enwrought with golden and silver light,
the blue and the dim and the dark cloths
of night and light and the half light
I would spread the cloths under your feet.
But I, being poor, have only my dreams.
I have spread my dreams under your feet.
Tread softly, for you tread on my dreams.
W. B. Yeats
I memorised this poem when I was sixteen. I think I particularly liked the line about the half light. There’s a lot of that around here at the moment. The photo of the full moon setting was taken from our window at 8.15 in the morning. The photos of the fortress and the harbour were taken about 4 in the afternoon. But it’s lighter for longer every day. The half-light edges its way into the darkness, spreading its cloak.
Even assuming everything this year goes to plan, I won’t be the first in my family to get a phd. The first in my generation, yes. And I don’t think there was anyone in my parents’ generation or my grandparents’, though I could be wrong. My Dad’s dad, who was an engineer with a master of arts and a master of science, and used to do experiments on blocks of asbestos at home, was I think working on a phd on some sort of esoteric theology when he died. But Ida Brown, my great great aunt (my maternal grandma’s aunt), got a doctorate of science in paleontology in 1932. How cool is that?
She had been born on 16 August 1900 at Paddington, Sydney, daughter of William George Brown, an insurance clerk from New Zealand, and his wife Alison, née Logan, a Sydneysider. Educated at Fort Street Girls’ High School and the University of Sydney (B.Sc., 1922; D.Sc., 1932), Ida graduated with first-class honours and the university medal in geology. Having briefly held a science research scholarship, she demonstrated in geology at the university until 1927. That year she was awarded a Linnean Macleay fellowship which enabled her to develop geological investigation of the South Coast, a study in which she combined field-mapping with laboratory work in petrology. She travelled extensively abroad, attending scientific congresses and research institutes.
Ida returned to demonstrating at the university early in 1934 and next year succeeded W. S. Dun as assistant-lecturer in palaeontology, once she had hurriedly acquired new expertise. Promoted lecturer (1940), in 1941 she published a notable paper on fossiliferous Silurian and Devonian sequences of the Yass district. She had successfully negotiated the shift from hard-rock to soft-rock geology, both in her research and teaching. More distinctly palaeontological papers on Palaeozoic invertebrates (especially brachiopods) followed, as did studies in palaeontological stratigraphy. Ida became a senior lecturer in 1945, but resigned in August 1950.
She apparently was quite a star, taught at Sydney University for years, and was known internationally. When she was 50, she married William Rowan Browne, also a geological hot-shot. My Grandma said this created quite a stir (I think they’d all given up on her). Anyway, they both retired, but continued their work together, joining each other on field trips. How sweet is that?
And when she married, she gained a silent ‘e’. I wonder how she thought about that: an unobtrusive gift you can see but not hear. Her own name but different, augmented. Quietly new.
A detour on the way to our grocery shopping takes us to Blomsholm. When the sign mentions stone ships I don’t pay much attention. These are standing stones. If they found stone ships here, they must have taken them away.
The wind is cold. The stones stand as they have for fifteen hundred years.
And there it is – the stone ship.
The stones outline the shape of the ship – a ghost ship, sailing through the earth.
What skies it has sailed.
No snow yet. But the lamps on the grey bridge made me happy. There’s something almost magical about caskets of light when it’s not quite dark. I noticed the same thing when I passed through Liverpool on the way here – the light-filled buses green and strange in the 4pm twilight.
I am working on my last chapter. There. Let me say that again. I am working on my final chapter. That doesn’t sound so bad, does it? I’ve been putting up quite a lot of resistance. Of course I need five million cups of tea, and another domino stone, and I really should light the fire, or go for a walk while it’s still light… Agh! The chapter is promising, but very fragmented at this stage. I don’t like the feeling of working blind, attacking various sections when I’m still not quite sure how they fit together, or what the final form will look like. I guess I just need to keep chipping away at it, looking at it from different angles, smoothing, rearranging, hoping. Because it will come together in the end. It always does.
In just over a week it’s back to Leeds to start tutoring on an introduction to medieval literature module, which I’m quite looking forward to. I’m excited about a couple of conferences coming up in July, and I also want to rework the chapter I wrote before this one into a journal article. Because, even if I do say so myself, that chapter was pretty cool. I’ve also started looking around for post-doc opportunities – eek! But first things first. Once I finish this one, I have a draft of the whole thing (not counting intro and conclusion). And that’s worth smiling about.
So’s this. It stopped raining yesterday, and the icy light hovered over the small islands of the harbour.
I took a picture of the weather outside, but it made it look more depressing than it actually is, so I thought I’d spare us both. Suffice to say, you can’t see the tops of the hills for the mist, the river is a rapid flowing murky brown, and the trees are brown and bare. Very pretty they are in the evening, though, when the lights of the small town shine through their hair. And it’s cozy in here. The fire warmed up the flat so well yesterday that we haven’t even had to light it yet today. The cold that knocked me out over the weekend is slowly fading. The lovie is faring a little worse, and keeps telling me that he’s about to die, but I think he’ll be okay. We sleep for at least twelve hours a night at the moment. And here’s what we left behind.
Me flying at the Bluff. It felt pretty cool to zoom around this South Australian landmark. Well, it’s a landmark of my childhood, anyway, from countless weekends in Victor Harbour. I’m not about to land on the rock – I’m actually going up.
See? That’s me in the background. And now can I tell the story of how the wind got too strong and I nearly didn’t land safely? (Some people I know are already sick of hearing it.) It was scary. I was almost dragged across the road. But at least I know for sure now – when the wind gets too strong for you, come down. Don’t stay up an extra five minutes cos it’s fun. Just don’t. Anyway…
Happy flying bugs.
We don’t fly these, but they’re pretty.
My favourite Christmas photo – me and Auntie Annie, the feast in the background.
Sydney sunshine. And the paragliders out surfing the wind at Tunkalilla. I bet they’re out there still.
I got back Tuesday. I recovered from jetlag. I went to a gym induction and booked into dance classes. I made an admirable start to my less chocolate more vegetable (and more variety) new year eating regime. It’s all about sustainability, I decided. The grey stopped getting me down. Cycling to uni on the icy streets, past frosted grass and bare trees cloaked in mist started to be fun. I confronted the dread of my tangled chapter, and faced up admirably to the recurring doubts which are surely part and parcel to a phd. I vowed to stay in the same country for at least two months (novel thought I know). And then – I realised seminar teaching didn’t start for two and a half weeks. And there was a cheap ticket to Norway. This afternoon…
We have some of our own photos that we’ll post soon, but this will do for now! The red and yellow gliders are me and Michael (I’m the one who’s higher up). Fun fun fun. We loved it.
I went back. Eye is healing excruciatingly slowly. Turns out the doctor’s Mum was my first primary school teacher. Tis a small world, this city.
I went to the doctor’s yesterday with a nasty inflamed eye. She was a newish doctor, and very lovely, and as she didn’t look much older than me, I thought – ‘I probably know someone who knows you.’ After ascertaining that my sight wasn’t in grave danger, she asked what I did. When I told her I studied English literature in England, she said – ‘you wouldn’t be Richard’s cousin would you?’ I said indeed I am. Apparently they are old friends, and he used to tell her about his cousin Mel who wrote amazing poems (her words). Richie, if you’re reading this, she says hello.