Whales and worlds

Today the light was soft. Sunlight hazed through billowy clouds, gilding the edges of the harvested fields, getting caught in the golden trees that have already started losing their hair. English weather really. Most mornings, frost glitters on everything, and once the mist clears, the sky is blue as ice.

Quite a lot has happened in the past two weeks. I had my last day of my summer job of proofreading and newsletter writing. Finishing up was actually a bit sad. We made a seriously brilliant newsletter though.

I held a two week old baby. She was beautiful.

I got back from the UK yesterday, a five day trip that started with an essay exam in Leeds, continued through a packed two days of catching up with friends in Leeds and York, and culminated in a lovely weekend involving curry and beer in London with my brother and two cousins and their wives. Family is just the best.

I also squeezed in an exhibition on T.S. Eliot and Faber and Faber in the British Library (did you know, there was only ever one Faber but they thought that two Fabers sounded more distinguished). Seeing type-written letters between Eliot and Pound and Stephen Spender and a whole host of other poets was just cool.

And on Tuesday morning I went to the Turner Prize exhibition with my brother. Probably not quite worth the eight quid but fascinating all the same. My favourite was a partial whale skeleton that you could only view through slits in the wall so that you were taken aback by shocking details and strange angles. It was called ‘Leviathan Edge’. The artist had also reproduced Brancusi’s Bird in Space sculptures in coal dust. My brother preferred a different installation involving an atomized aeroplane scattered on the floor like a desert landscape, and wall sculptures made of a mix of plastic and powdered brain. Actually both installations seemed to be about trapped flight, and movement, and time…

Speaking of flight, that’s what Michael’s been doing – brushing the sunset with his wings. He’s in the States for a conference (and other things), but I couldn’t join this time because of commitments.

I got home last night to a fat package covered in stamps with whales on them. It was a copy of the brand new Macquarie Pen Anthology of Australian Literature, which my Grandma very very kindly posted to me. Another world, more than a thousand pages long. I can’t wait to get stuck into it.

I’m happy to be back – happy to be at the kindergarten, and to have two days a week free now for writing. Let’s see where it takes me.

A long post in which I contemplate my future

I’m trying to psych myself up to apply for a postdoc fellowship at Oslo University. It’s for four years. They’re interested in ‘culturally oriented literary research’, including ‘projects that combine theoretical reflections on historicity and mediality with the reading of concrete literary works’. So – pretty much right up my alley. I can’t afford not to apply for this. But it is really hard to make myself do it.

Firstly, I don’t think I have a realistic chance of winning it at the moment. I just haven’t got my act together in terms of pulling together a book proposal and churning out a few articles. I’ve been working full time and studying part time for the past few months so I’m not beating myself up about it. But there it is. I should apply anyway, for practice, and so they know my name. More things will come up. Norway is a very good place to be for postdoctoral funding.

Secondly, I’m finding it really hard to come up with a new project. I’m really happy with my PhD, and quite looking forward to carving a book out of it. But something new? Do I stick with medievalism or go further afield? Do I stick with Australian literature or do I branch out? I came up with quite a nice one-year-plan for an earlier unsuccessful application, but a four-year-plan is another matter.

The trouble is, my big ideas tend to have slow, quiet births. I wrote a novel, on and off, for ten years. And I thought about my PhD for years before I started it. And I’ve never been one of those super-organized types with well thought out life plans. I’ve always thought – I would quite like to be a academic, but I won’t be devastated if it doesn’t work out. I have my other writing that I can do. I write stories. That is my deep desire. But the trouble is, after finishing the novel, I haven’t written any stories, either. I was of course writing a PhD. But finishing the novel, finding a beautiful end to a story that had haunted me for years and years, resolved something inside of me. The stories suddenly weren’t urgent any more. Even if it never gets published, it is written.

I know there will be new things to write; I can’t imagine a life without writing. (This blog helps with that a lot, actually – it’s a space to weave writing gently into the cracks between things.) But I’m not sure, right now, exactly what they will be.


It is, all of a sudden, cold. There is something exhilarating about the swift change of season. We swapped lapping up the sun in Berlin parks for scraping ice off the windscreen at 7:30 in the morning. The trees are swiftly turning gold, and I drive through wreaths of mist to get to work. All week, the afternoons have been shiny-bright, and at the kindergarten we’ve been making the most of them, bundling up the babbies in layer after layer and spending hours outside. On Friday we had an impromptu outdoor disco. One my co-workers, sitting on a grassy slope with a babbie on her lap (the babbies she’s responsible for are too old for extensive cuddling and lap-sitting, but she usually steals one of mine), watching the rest of us bounce about and flail our arms, said: ‘this is really quite a good job, isn’t it’. And I had to agree.

The best things we brought back from Berlin were two hot water bottles Michael asked his parents to buy for us. They have little blue and red fleece suits, and they are great. Soft and furry and warm, they feel exactly like kitties curled up under our duvet. I keep expecting them to bite my toes.

Aside from that, we’ve been looking at houses. We’ve seen so many houses. And so many reasons for leaving. Old people moving to smaller apartments, young families needing an extra bedroom because a third (or a sixth) child is on the way, a messy divorce, people who bit off more than they could chew in terms of the renovations required, people climbing the property market, and people falling off it – there was at least one case of insolvency. One house was a little spooky and rather sad – the deceased estate of a teacher, with gifts from her grandchildren still on the walls.

Every single house seems to have a fatal flaw. They’re a bit like people. Last week we fell madly in love with a house out in the countryside with amazing views and a balcony flooded with sun, but we decided we’d feel lonely out there, and as we only have one car and cannot sensibly afford another, commuting to work in opposite directions could prove a big problem, especially in winter, when the car is prone to dying at short notice. Topping the list at the moment is a funny little house that looks like a shoe box, or, more precicely, a lego man’s shoe, perched precariously half way up a rocky outcrop, with stunning views of the town and the fortress and the harbour. We haven’t seen inside yet, but wandered up there last night. A full, flat moon hovered above the fortress as though on purpose. The problem with this one is access – you have to park at the bottom of a slope, and clamber up a steep narrow driveway. This isn’t a problem in summer, but in winter we might need spiked shoes and an icepick.