Reasons to finish

  • Be free in March!
  • Get on with your life!
  • Be closer to earning money
  • Feel that glow of satisfaction
  • Hold it in your hands
  • Wear a funny green hat
  • Make the supervisors happy
  • Make M happy
  • Do something new and better

(Written in big letters on my whiteboard.)

Reasons not to finish

  • It will never be perfect
  • I feel an overwhelming desire to rewrite whole chapters
  • But then who will I be?

(Written in small letters on my heart.)

PhD Website

I forgot to say in my last post, there’s a great new website, Beyond the PhD, with interviews of people who’ve done PhDs, information about what they’ve done next, and how they feel about the PhD experience. I think it’s aimed at people like myself who have nearly finished and are wondering what the future holds, but it would also be very useful to have a look at if you’re considering a PhD. It’s a UK website, but I’m sure many of the issues raised are pretty universal.

Why medievalism?

In response to some questions from Penni, this is the first in a series of posts – or second actually, if you count this one on why Australian poetry – on how I ended up doing the phd I did ( – er – am doing. Can’t wait till I can use past tense here!).

When I finished my undergraduate degree in 2000 I had no idea what I wanted to do. I was heart-broken and burnt out. I’d just written an honours thesis on Dostoevsky which I had loved, but I was tired. I didn’t have an idea for a PhD topic, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to do a PhD. In fact, I’d never really considered what to do with my life. So I decided to work for a while, doing anything, and write my novel (a long term project I’d been dreaming about for four years) on the side.

After a stint of fruit picking, I got a job as a home care-worker. This was a huge shock to the system, but I loved it in the end. At the end of 2001, I decided I wanted to keep doing it for another year.

Mid-way into that year, I realised I didn’t want to keep doing that forever, and started thinking about other options. I considered doing a degree in social work. I would also float into my old English department occasionally. And that’s when I saw it. A poster advertising a masters in medieval literature at the University of York. I’d been to York, once, it was beautiful. It was love at first sight. I looked up the masters on the internet and couldn’t believe how amazing it looked. You had to learn Latin and Old English and paleography. And there was a subject called ‘Rereading Old Books’, which looked at the books that were an influence on the Middle Ages – the Aeneid, Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy. I was hooked.

I’m not sure why the Middle Ages suddenly seemed so fascinating. Partly the age, and the distance. The thought of touching a far off world that was somehow connected to mine. And the aesthetics of it. The strange, barely recognisable language, the deliciously flexible spelling, the colours and the patterns of illuminated manuscripts. I’d done a couple of medieval literature subjects as part of my English degree, and I’d really enjoyed them, but they hadn’t stood out as something I’d devote my life to. But there are three things during my honours year that I now recognise as seeds for what I ended up doing later.

1. The Pearl-Poet. I can’t remember whether we looked at Pearl or Gawain that year, but I love both of them dearly. Ah, the language!

2. My honours thesis was on the image of the Holy Fool in Dostoevsky. The image of the holy fool goes back to the Middle Ages, and I’d done a lot of reading on that in the context of the Russian Orthodox church (something else I’d found fascinating).

3. The other thing was the theory subject we were forced to do. I was very anti this at the time. It was team-taught and not terribly well structured, with one huge tutorial group of about thirty students, which did nothing to make me like the subject more. There was a weird buzz about theory in the university at that time, particularly among the students. A lot of posturing. But I couldn’t help noticing, some of the stuff we read, Derrida in particular, reminded me a lot of writings I’d read by the medieval mystics. And everyone was saying this was all so postmodern and so new and so secular, and I couldn’t help thinking that maybe it wasn’t. Maybe in some aspects of it were very old indeed, and not secular at all.

So it was partly spiritual, too. I grew up around various sorts of Protestantism, all dismissive of each other, and all dismissive of Catholicism. What I noticed, from my reading in medieval mysticism, was that some ideas that people claimed were very new or unique to their particular sect or whatever, were in fact very old. It really annoyed me that people would claim an idea or an image as original or unique when people had been writing about it hundreds or thousands of years ago. I thought the Middle Ages were unfairly maligned. Also, my own beliefs were changing, and the idea of a ‘cloud of unknowing’ was more appealing than a God who wanted you to feel bad about yourself all the time.

Anyway… I applied for a scholarship to do the masters in York, but it felt like a long shot, so I decided to apply for PhD scholarships in Australia as well. I listed everything I was most interested in:

  • poetry
  • the Middle Ages
  • Australia
  • spirituality

I looked at the list, and I thought – maybe I can link them all together!  I thought about how this would work out in the work of some Australian poets I liked, and I came up with a proposal.

Chocolate and other distractions


A week or so ago Michael loaded some games onto his iphone. This is the best one. Last weekend I got seriously addicted. The little people come in and order their chocolate, and you have to run around making square or round or triangle boxes, wrapping them in blue or red or green as appropriate. They say things: ‘I’m late for my wedding!’; ‘I want some chocolate!’ And, the policeman: ‘These are better than donuts!’ There are chocolate shapes – about eight different sorts – which you can ice in a variety of colours. You have to stop the thieves from stealing your money. And answer the phone. And you have to serve the customers before they get angry and leave. You can placate them with candy.

When I play, my whole body tenses up. Attempts to distract me (which are many, as M finds it hilarious) are met with less than wholesome language. Last time I played was Sunday night. Just a couple of games before bed… beep beepitty beep went the music. The machines pumped out the chocolate into little boxes. I almost finished the thing… and then I got my come-upance. I couldn’t sleep. Every time I closed my eyes there were orders for chocolate. Square, triangle, rabbit, fish, red – no – green. Hurry. Run. Quick, press that button. It was torture. beep beepitty beep. Calm down Mel, I told myself, by the time the morning comes they’ll all have gone away and you’ll be sleeping soundly. Green triangle, red circle, run… And then the alarm went off. I’d been frantically making chocolate all night. I haven’t touched it since (the game, that is, not chocolate).

In other news, to offset my necessary chocolate intake, I’ve joined the gym. It’s quite a nice gym, really, and about a thirty second walk from our house. I like exercise. As a teenager I hated it. But I like the feeling of being out of your head and into your body, away from thoughts that circle and twitter, and into your breath, your muscles, the warmth and rhythm of it.

On Thursday I went to a pilates class. Last time I did pilates, years and years ago before I moved to England, it involved lying on the floor and sticking your legs and arms into the air at varying angles. And push-ups. This was a bit different – a blend of yoga and pilates and tai chi. Mostly tai chi. I couldn’t understand a word the instructor was saying, so I tried to watch closely. This was complicated by the fact that I wasn’t wearing my glasses (I tend to leave them off for exercise). I was surrounded by a foreign language and blurry bodies swaying and flicking and bending at frightening speeds.

Despite this, I think I did quite well (drawing on moves I learnt in yoga and bollywood dancing last year), and I left smiling. Now I am in so much pain I can hardly move.

Ezra Pound sings cuckoo

The things you find on Wikipedia. I must confess, I’ve never been able to get into Ezra Pound. I never had the chance to study his work formally, and the few times I opened his collected poems as a conscientious undergraduate in the library on rainy afternoons, I found them impenetrable. But I was looking up the ‘cuckoo song‘, for thesis related reasons, and I came across this. It won’t mean much to you Aussies right now, but it made me laugh out loud.

Winter is icumen in,
Lhude sing Goddamm,
Raineth drop and staineth slop,
And how the wind doth ramm!
Sing: Goddamm.
Skiddeth bus and sloppeth us,
An ague hath my ham.
Freezeth river, turneth liver,
Damm you; Sing: Goddamm.
Goddamm, Goddamm, ’tis why I am, Goddamm,
So ‘gainst the winter’s balm.
Sing goddamm, damm, sing goddamm,
Sing goddamm, sing goddamm, DAMM.

The ribbon of mist

Came back! At half past nine, as the light crept down the hillside, it appeared again. After my rash but poetic promise, what could I do but wrap up in scarf and coat and rush outside. Running proved not to be practical on the icy footpath, but I did what I could.

The mist was elusive. But what was that strange sun, reflecting up into the clouds?

Windows, glowing. And then the mist curled around the hillside, and away.

This morning

Just after eight, when it was still night but almost night no longer, a thin, frail ribbon of mist hung over the houses on the other side of the river. I had never seen one so fine, just lying there. By half past eight it had dissolved, and the air was growing ever lighter, though the sun had not yet risen. The yellow eyes of the houses blinked at me. The clouds were pink in scalloped layers stacked above the hillside, and the sky emerged from dark slowly, now grey, now violet, now blue.

The river is flanked by snow, so that the sky’s pale colours are all that lives. Every time I look at the clouds they’ve changed – bleaching to a pearly cream, then deepening almost to terracotta. It is quarter past nine now, and the sun is still not up, but the edges of the sky glow like peaches. At nine-nineteen precisely, the first light touches the highest building, and it will be day again, it will.

I watch the slither of light creep down the hillside ever so slowly. And next time I spot a ribbon of mist so fine I could thread it in my hair, I will not stay inside my house. I will go after it, I will catch it, I will run.


Thinking about homes and houses – in a strictly academic sense – and have solved a niggling problem at the end of my best chapter. Ie – what to make of Randolph Stow’s very strange book The Suburbs of Hell. It’s still not my favourite of his novels, and it won’t be the most interesting point I make in that chapter – but it’s enabling me to draw it all together much more neatly. Before, all I could say about that book, really, is that it’s an experiment in genre. I have to say something about it, because of its overt medievalism. But when you think about homes, and houses, it clicks into focus a little better, especially in regards to my thesis. Hurrah! Hurrah! (Maybe I’ll tell you why sometime – it involves the Gothic and a mysterious assassin. Ooh, and can link in with Beowulf quite nicely too.)

I’ve been reading The Politics of Home by Rosemary Marangoly George. Rather late in the day for someone whose thesis title contains the word ‘belonging’. Still. It’s fun to tweak my perspective on things and see them in a slightly new light.


We got back on Monday night. It was freezing. I have never been in a house so cold. The sheets were crisp with cold, even our clothes in their drawers. The floor was slippery. The toilet seat burned. We put the heater on in our bedroom and shut the door, and snuggled in with extra duvets, fleeces, thick socks and make-shift hot water bottles.

There we are, fluffing our feathers.

It was so cold that our refrigerator and freezer had decided there was no point staying on. Which meant it was warmer inside the freezer than out of it, and all our food had defrosted. I kept the fire going all day Tuesday and once it warmed up a bit it kicked into gear again. Also the pipes under our shower are broken.

It’s been regularly -10 for the past couple of weeks. Tomorrow, for the first time in ages, the forecast inches up to a comparatively toasty +5. It is with great reluctance that I turn my attention towards my phd for one final push. I walked to the harbour this afternoon, but the sun slid behind the islands all too swiftly.

On top of the world

We had the best flights today. We got high above launch, high enough to see the snowy mountains in the background, and we were up for more than two hours. We could have stayed up longer if we wanted. It was so much fun chasing the lift in thermals, zooming up up up like birds.

See that tiny green square in the middle of the mountains? That’s the launch site. That’s how far we were above it. And look – here are all the paragliders layed out and ready to go:

This is me scratching for lift (technical term) above a farm:

M was higher than me at this point but I soon overtook him – hihi! There were small pockets of rising air that moved around, and also a couple of surprise monster thermals which zoomed us up soooo fast and made our little variometres beep like crazy. It really was like being a bird – being able to go down and up whenever you chose.

My glider dried off in the wind and sunshine (it was still a little damp from yesterday) and I landed nowhere near the stream.

Afterwards we drove up through the mountains and watched the setting sun slant through the clouds, stuffing sky and light into our memories for the journey home.

More flyings


That’s me.

And there are the gliders zooming around the cliffs.

The view into Monaco.

The view towards the landing beach. The beach is long, but there are hazards. Picnicking families. Recently landed gliders. The sea. The cliffs. And, er, a small and thankfully very clean stream right in the middle of the beach. I landed right next to it and dipped the edge of my glider into it not once but twice…

Coming in to land.

Landing! (This time my glider came to rest a full metre away from the stream. Hurrah. Possibly still need to work on that…)

Photo credits: Michael. It also must be said, he gets the taxi credits too. The shuttle bus wasn’t running till yesterday, and he has done more than his fair share of driving me up the mountain! I had three flights today, including a lovely thermal flight of nearly an hour. Michael had two flights, including a long one. Yesterday I had two short flights (15-20 min), and M had one long one. On Dec 29 I had one flight, and on the 30th I had two, the first one from the east-side launch in mild cross-wind. (Have included all these details for the purpose of our log-books, which we left at home.)

All in all it’s been great fun. There are loads of Germans and Austrians and Swiss here at the moment, which makes it a bit easier to understand what’s going on. It’s a nice change from indecipherable French. Michael said everyone must think I’m a bit strange for flying in my green coat (didn’t have space in my bag for two coats, and didn’t want to do without my green one). Most people have flying coats or suits or walking jackets. And true to form, a German approached me on the beach as I was folding up my glider, asking if I was wearing a flying coat. I was worried he was going to tell me I was doing something wrong, but he just wanted to tell me he really liked it! Heh.

Happy New Year!

We flew in the new year today, through silky air above the blue peninsulas and patterned ocean (the dark reef, the cloudy whiteness near the shore). When the lift is good, the paragliders swarm.

Last night we sang and danced and jumped around outside the casino in central Monaco, to a seriously good Beatles cover-band, the Love Beatles. We arrived in the square as they sang ‘Lucy in the sky with diamonds’. The palm trees and buildings glittered around us, and fountains of fireworks erupted at our feet. I was just complaining about the reluctance of the posh Monaco residents to dance, when a little old man in a suit started jiving around in front of a spurting fire-work sprinkler, while his wife took photos. It was so cute. We joined in a dancing-caterpillar to ‘Obladi-oblada’, swayed happily to ‘Let it be’, and sang out lots of loud na-na-nas to the final rendition of ‘Hey Jude’. Ah, it was absolutely great.

2008 was a pretty good one. We went to some amazing places in Norway, Austria, France and America, we spent time with our parents, we got our P3 paragliding licences and zoomed around like birds. I almost finished my thesis, and read lots of books. M’s work is going great.

I’ve got so many plans for next year. First up, slay the dragon – er – thesis. Hopefully within two months. And then… I want to learn Norwegian, and brush up my German. I want to have another look at my novel, to see if anything publishable can be salvaged. I want to get more IT literate. And have a haircut. And join the gym. I’d like to be a better correspondent to my far away friends, and make some progress on Henry. Get some articles published. Renew my drivers licence. Be a bit more organized. And – oh – get a job. Who knows where we’ll be by the end of it?

99 Things meme

Via Still Life With Cat

Things you’ve already done: bold
Things you want to do: italicize
Things you haven’t done and don’t want to – leave in plain font

1. Started your own blog.

2. Slept under the stars.

many times, but not for years

3. Played in a band.
flute, picollo

4. Visited Hawaii.

5. Watched a meteor shower.

6. Given more than you can afford to charity.

7. Been to Disneyland/world.

8. Climbed a mountain.
Several. Mostly in Australia and England but also Wales. And we climbed to the top of a Norwegian fjord last summer which nearly killed us. In Austria you don’t need to climb mountains, you just jump on the cable cars…

9. Held a praying mantis.

10. Sang a solo.
ahem. to a captive lounge room audience, self-accompanied by guitar. not to be repeated, these days…

11. Bungee jumped.

12. Visited Paris.

13. Watched a lightning storm at sea.

14. Taught yourself an art from scratch.

15. Adopted a child.

16. Had food poisoning.

For two weeks straight.

17. Walked to the top of the Statue of Liberty.

18. Grown your own vegetables.

19. Seen the Mona Lisa in France.

20. Slept on an overnight train.
Nope, but on a couple of buses. Adelaide to Melbourne, London to Glasgow. Horrible.

21. Had a pillow fight.

22. Hitch hiked.

While paragliding. With Michael. Not very far.

23. Taken a sick day when you’re not ill.

24. Built a snow fort.

25. Held a lamb.

26. Gone skinny dipping.

Twice last year, in a Norwegian lake and at a French beach.

27. Run a marathon.

28. Ridden a gondola in Venice.

29. Seen a total eclipse.

30. Watched a sunrise or sunset.

31. Hit a home run.

32. Been on a cruise.

Well, day cruises, and overnight ferries.

33. Seen Niagara Falls in person.

34. Visited the birthplace of your ancestors.

35. Seen an Amish community.

36. Taught yourself a new language.

37. Had enough money to be truly satisfied.

38. Seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa in person.

39. Gone rock climbing.

sort of. not scary rope-requiring climbing though.

40. Seen Michelangelo’s David in person.

41. Sung Karaoke.

42. Seen Old Faithful geyser erupt.

43. Bought a stranger a meal in a restaurant.

44. Visited Africa.

(got within twenty metres of it once)

45. Walked on a beach by moonlight.

46. Been transported in an ambulance.

47. Had your portrait painted.

48. Gone deep sea fishing.

49. Seen the Sistine chapel in person.

50. Been to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

51. Gone scuba diving or snorkelling.


52. Kissed in the rain. (last night)

53. Played in the mud.

54. Gone to a drive-in theatre.

55. Been in a movie.

56. Visited the Great Wall of China.

57. Started a business.

58. Taken a martial arts class

59. Visited Russia.

60. Served at a soup kitchen. (once)

61. Sold Girl Scout cookies. (once)

62. Gone whale watching.

and seen the whales

63. Gotten flowers for no reason.

from my great aunt

64. Donated blood. (once)

65. Gone sky diving. (but paragliding is better)

66. Visited a Nazi Concentration Camp. (this is a strange thing to have on the list)

67. Bounced a cheque.

68. Flown in a helicopter.

69. Saved a favorite childhood toy.

70. Visited the Lincoln Memorial.

71. Eaten Caviar.

72. Pieced a quilt.

73. Stood in Times Square.

74. Toured the Everglades.

75. Been fired from a job.
Well, from a couple of specific clients when I was a care worker…

76. Seen the Changing of the Guard in London.

77. Broken a bone.

78. Been on a speeding motorcycle.
Yep, Dad’s.

79. Seen the Grand Canyon in person.

80. Published a book.

81. Visited the Vatican.

82. Bought a brand new car.

Nope, but some nice old ones.

83. Walked in Jerusalem.

84. Had your picture in the newspaper.

Doesn’t take much to get into the Border Watch.

85. Read the entire Bible.

86. Visited the White House.

87. Killed and prepared an animal for eating.

88. Had chickenpox.

89. Saved someone’s life.

90. Sat on a jury.

91. Met someone famous.

well, writers and poets and academics. when I was 19, I startled an anthropologist on a train by recognising him and swooning.

92. Joined a book club.

93. Lost a loved one.

94. Had a baby.

95. Seen the Alamo in person.

96. Swum in the Great Salt Lake.

Nope, but I’ve driven past it. And I’ve swum in the Dead Sea.

97. Been involved in a law suit.

98. Owned a cell phone.

99. Been stung by a bee.