2009: Snapshot

To celebrate the five year anniversary of my blog, for five days I am posting one of my favourite posts from each year.

2009 was a big one. I finished my PhD, we bought a house, my friend died, I started working in the kindergarten, I got pregnant for the first time. (I didn’t blog about that in 2009, because it was too early, but I can’t look at this post without feeling nauseous.) It’s hard to choose a favourite post. I’m very fond of this one, Of Love and Faraway Places, about my cousin’s wedding, this one, about stone, and this one, about a carefree weekend with my brother in Berlin. But my favourite post, despite its brevity, has to be this one. It was the day after I passed my viva, and I was reeling with vertigo.

                                                                                            

May 2009: Snapshot

I walk the long way back to the train station. The street is wide and the Victorian shopfronts glow faintly bronze in the fading light. The sky is opaline, scalloped, pink and blue. Two aeroplanes pencil bright orange trails beside the crisp white rind of the moon. My belly is just slightly too full of Hansa’s curries, mango lassi, white wine. My head whirls with the discussion about openness and uncertainty with three sweet Danish girls. Happiness is curry and wine and the slow evening sky so close to the city. I remember the first weeks of my phd, in October, hurrying back to the train station as the sun set earlier every day, watching the fiery clouds touch the buildings. Four winters have passed since then. Now the plane-trails broaden and turn pink. Like paths I could tread.

On the train, I realise I’m still carrying the thesis. The window takes on a sheen because it’s finally dark, though I hardly notice. I take out the manuscript – fat heavy green thing that it is – to read my favourite poem about the river. But I don’t open it. I hug it. I hug it tight.

Graduation

Was brilliant. Loved my hat, which in fact was black, not green, but the robes were green which suits me fine. My supervisor said she always associates me with green jewellery.

It’s past bedtime now but I just have to tell you about it. It was very formal, and just so much fun. The staff of the school of English paraded on stage, decked out in all their finery.

It was brilliant to have my brother and Michael there. We went out for lunch with my supervisors, which was so so nice, and can I just say once again how I love them and they are just fantastic and I couldn’t have asked for better, and if I had to do it all again I would, and I’d do it with them.

It rained but I didn’t mind.

And later my friends and I went out for dinner at Hansa’s, which if you are ever in Leeds you must do too.  So it was pretty great. And THANK YOU – to my supervisors, to my sponsors, to my parents and grandparents who were there in spirit, and to my friends and especially J and M for celebrating with me (and for taking the pictures!). It’s been an awesome journey. One part of it is over now. That is a little bit sad as well as exciting, and it was nice to have a ceremony to mark the end of it. But many paths, I hope, have only just begun.

Hello from the road

Weddings and conferences and sleeping in friends’ spare rooms make for plenty of blog content, but not much blogging time or head-space. For now I’ll say: the wedding was gorgeous, the conference was tiring but brilliant, and it has been most enjoyable catching up with old friends and taking advantage of their hospitality in the process.

It’s my graduation tomorrow. Well, today actually. I can’t sleep. My brother and my boyfriend are both here to help me celebrate. We had a great day in York today (well, yesterday), and on Sunday we drove out to the Dales – a superior pub lunch in Grassington followed by a stroll to Malham cove. Yorkshire is just the best.

My brother says that meeting my lovely, talented, hard-working friends, many of whom graduated with their PhDs several years ago now, is making him reconsider his postgraduate plans. Most are struggling by with scraps of teaching supplemented by library jobs.

I’ve been dithering for a couple of weeks as to whether to accept a part time job in a kindergarten in Norway, to cover costs while I work on articles and a book proposal. I accepted it yesterday and now I feel slightly terrible. M had counseled against it, on the grounds of missed holidays (chances to tag along on his business trips to exotic places), early mornings and having to drive the car to the next town even in winter, it will interrupt my brilliant two-month summer job, and a couple of other things. Sigh. Why are decisions so hard to make? I accepted it on the grounds of money, Norwegian integration and a structure to my week.  But I’m still not sure. My applications to several academic jobs in the UK didn’t get anywhere, which wasn’t a surprise given the current market, but disheartening all the same.

Anyway. I’m still pretty proud of the PhD. And looking forward to wearing the floppy green hat. Photos to follow!

Days and Years

It will never be today again. Never. He would not, in all his life, make another discovery more shattering.

Randolph Stow, The Merry-go-round in the Sea

In the last few hours of being 29, the loss of my twenties felt like some kind of a death. When you are in your twenties you believe you will be in your twenties forever. That is, until you reach 28. Or, more worryingly, 29. But although I spent most of last year thinking ‘well, I’m nearly 30 now’, the actual cut-off point approached with alarming finality.

Most people tell me that being 30 is just like being 29. And it is. And it isn’t. I guess the contrast is pretty stark for me because I just passed my PhD two weeks ago. It feels pretty good to have passed, I must say. It felt pretty good to hand in, too. But in retrospect, the two months between submission and my viva were strangely liminal. Not a student, not a doctor. The thesis was finished, but not examined. I wasn’t overly worried, and made the most of the spare time, traveling and hanging out with my family and eating cake. But I feel so much better now. So much better. One identity is lost forever. But another one is offered to me, one that I can put in my pocket like a magical golden coin that no one can ever take away.

I loved my twenties. I worked as a care assistant for people who needed it. I picked some pears. I wrote some poems. And a long complicated story about a dragon. I finished quite a lot of degrees. I won quite a lot of scholarships. I learnt to fly. I climbed some mountains. I was sad for a short time but I got over it. I lived in seven different houses, in four different towns, in three different countries. I changed my mind. I crashed my car. I met my beloved. I flew very high indeed, high above the mountains and the wrinkled sea, right up to the belly of the clouds.  I moved to England. I fell in love with the dales and the grey stone walls. I gave conference papers. I moved to Norway. I wandered around Pompei, Assisi, St Petersburg, Berlin, Bergen, Petra, Budapest, Jerusalem, York, New York, Las Vegas. I slept on many people’s couches, and futons, and floors. I rode my bike in the rain.

I know I have been extraordinarily lucky. And there’s nothing to say I can’t keep doing any of those things. Although I hope I will never again need to do so many degrees! Numbers and years remind one quietly of mortality. The thirties might be very different. But that’s just fine.

The V-word, part II

As I was waiting for my examiners to arrive, I made friends with a first year undergrad who was waiting to apologize to my examiner about a late essay. He seemed more terrified than I was. He confessed that he’d been five minutes late to his medieval literature exam, and I told him I’d taught on that subject last year. ‘Taught!’ he exclaimed, surprised. I must have still been giving off student vibes.

Once the examiners arrived, and the apologetic undergrad was dispatched with, things got under way. While the internal ducked out for a moment to deal with the student, the external leant over and whispered – ‘there’s nothing to worry about!’ I’d actually met both of my examiners before, which made things a little easier. Then the internal returned, and ran through the official procedures with me, including the possible outcomes. ‘Well’, he said, ‘there’s no chance you’ll be demoted to an MPhil, so we can forget about that. And there’s no chance you’ll be referred. So you know you’ve passed, and we’ll take it from there. We both really enjoyed reading your thesis, but our job here is to ask difficult questions, so that’s what we’ll do.’

They proceeded to start things off incredibly gently, by first asking me about how I came up with the idea, how the project had developed, and how I had ended up writing a thesis on Australian literature in Leeds of all places, given that I was Australian. So that was quite nice, really, to be able to reflect on the beginning of the project as I stood on the brink of its completion. I remember clearly that page of my notebook on my desk in my bedroom in Adelaide, where I listed the things I was interested in: medieval literature, Australian poetry, spirituality, and I looked for the places where they touched.

From there, all the difficult questions emerged, questions that would have stumped me three years ago:

  • You thesis seems to have quite an evasive relationship with postcolonialism – you bring it up only to define it as tangential to your work; why do you do this?
  • Is medievalism studies a valid discipline? Should it not be seen as simply a branch of cultural studies?
  • What is particularly interesting about representations of the Middle Ages as opposed to re-creations of other periods of history?
  • You seem to evade the question of gender in your work. Why don’t you engage more explicitly with the masculinities your authors construct?
  • Imagine I’m speaking from a dated, twenty-year-old perspective that Australian literature should eschew preoccupations with Europe. How would you defend your work against such a challenge?
  • The perennial: How can Randolph Stow be regarded as an Australian writer when his later novels are so quintessentially English?
  • Could you take the concept of ‘Australian writing’ out of your thesis and have it still work as a thesis? (This was the one that most confused me.)
  • Are you being unfair to Murray by positing his medievalism as somewhat naïve, and reading the other authors as offering more complicated engagements with the Middle Ages?
  • It seems in your Hart chapter you stretch the concept of the Middle Ages quite considerably – you talk about the fourth-century Pseudo-Dionysius and the sixteenth-century John of the Cross – is there a danger of your categories disintegrating?
  • You talk a lot about “belonging” but this doesn’t seem to be solely connected to location. Can you explain this a little more?
  • Can you explain the relevance of the concept of “trauma” to your work?
  • Is Australian medievalism simply an evasion of more problematic aspects of Australian history, as can be seen in the “history wars”?
  • At some point you say medievalism is not just a theme or an issue but a process. You seem to be claiming medievalism as a methodology. It’s not a methodology. How will you overcome this problem in your work? If you had to come up with a different methodology, what would that look like?

This list of questions is just from memory; they probably worded them slightly differently. In most cases – even in the gender case – I had actually discussed these issues at various points in my thesis, so I was in a good position to formulate answers. But it was extremely interesting to be forced to discuss my work in the context of broader theoretical, methodological and disciplinary concerns. If you go on with an academic career these are the contexts you need to work in. About two thirds of the way through we got side-tracked and they started giving me advice about what I would need to do to turn it into a book. Between them they thought there was two ways I could go: make it smaller, possibly cutting it down to three writers, maybe with a greater emphasis on poetry and Catholicism; or make it much broader, more of a survey, and contextualise it with regard to earlier instances of Australian literary medievalisms. (When I passed this information on to my supervisors they weren’t entirely convinced, and suggested that something fairly close to the current layout might work as well.)

I did pretty well answering the questions on the whole. The one where I felt I didn’t quite make myself clear was the methodology one. Because although I did at one point refer to medievalism as a process, I in no way intended to claim it as a methodology for myself. I meant that it is something that the writers I study in the thesis do. They ‘do things’ to the Middle Ages: use, revise, reconstruct, re-imagine, re-locate, translate, question, mirror, refract, untangle, idealise, defend, rewrite. So medievalism could, perhaps, be claimed as a methodology of these writers, both a tool and a process. So in some senses I would describe medievalism as a methodology, but not one that I would aim to use. (Although, as anyone with an interest in this field knows, the distinction between medievalism, medieval studies and medievalism studies is a slippery one. Hmmmm. Much space for more thought here – I have raised an issue that cleverer minds than my own are attempting to solve…) Anyway…

At the end of all this they sent me out of the room for all of about three minutes while they decided my fate. I sat on a chair in the hall with my bag and my bottle of water. I could hear their voices through the door but couldn’t make out what they were saying. I breathed. They called me back in. ‘You’ll be pleased to know’, said the internal, ‘that you’ve passed’. I nodded, happy but dreading what might come next. ‘And you’ll be even more pleased to know that no corrections are required’. All semblance of professionalism left me. ‘Yay!’

Once they’d ascertained which pub I’d be heading to, I bounded out the door to round up my supervisors and tell them the good news. And honestly, this was one of the most fun bits of all. They were so excited, so happy, so proud of me! It was just great to think that this project that we’d spent years discussing had ended so well! I then scampered up the steps to the postgrad computer room, where my marvellous friends waited with a bottle of bubbly. (Emphasis here on marvellous. The staff, the supervision, and the postgrad/postdoc community at Leeds are out of this world, and I am soooo happy I did my PhD here.) We then meandered down to the pub, postgrads, postdocs, examiners and supervisors and all. As I sipped my cider and bounced with happiness, my external examiner commented that this was the first time he’d ever seen anyone seated but jumping up and down at the same time. And I didn’t mind one bit.

The V-word

Every single country seems to examine PhDs differently, so I thought I’d just explain how it works in the UK, and what happened for me, in case anyone’s interested. (And because it was a big big day and I want a record of it!) I left my camera in Norway, otherwise I’d intersperse all these thoughts with photos of the fat sunny green trees along the canal. Although, from my window I can also see a rather large man waiting at the bus-stop with no shirt on, eating crisps, which is not such a pretty sight. Anyway…

So, in the UK, you submit your thesis, and then a few months later you’re called in for a viva. Usually this is a couple of months later, but sometimes it’s longer. The viva is an interview with your examiners – one internal examiner from your own institution (but who has not directly supervised you in any way), and one external examiner from another institution. They ask you all sorts of awkward questions, and then at the end of it all they tell you whether you’ve passed or not. These are the possible outcomes: if it’s not good enough for a PhD they can give you an MPhil; if it’s not good enough but they think you are capable of getting there in the end you can get ‘referred’, and given an extra year to work on it; you can pass with ‘minor deficiencies’, if there are small things you have missed out or they want you to change, and you have three months for this; you can pass with ‘minor corrections’, in which case you get four weeks to do this; or you can pass with ‘no corrections’ if they think it’s set to go.

At the beginning they tell you that the viva is an active part of the examination process. It is a form of exam. According to my supervisors, this is especially important if there are weaknesses or inconsistencies in your thesis. Although the viva is in many ways a ‘defense’, there is no point defending the indefensible. They both had stories of examining theses that needed changing, but the defendants were so stuck on defending what they had written that they came across as incapable of reworking the thesis to the required standard. So they failed.

When I handed in my thesis my supervisors assured me that I would have nothing to worry about, so for the most part of the two months I hardly thought about the viva. I think the concept of a viva is quite nice – you actually get to talk to experts in detail about your own work, which doesn’t happen every day. I think this is much nicer than the way it works in Australia, where, for the most part, the examiners are anonymous, there is no viva, and you just receive reports in the mail.

But still. The week before, the days before my viva were quite nerve-wracking. Who was it that said you can’t send a poem out into the world with a tag on it saying ‘this is a good poem’? I’m quite happy with that state of affairs. But in a viva – and, I guess, in an academic career – you’re in it together. You stand beside your work, claim it as your own, and are judged accordingly. So I was a little nervous, sitting in the hallway, waiting to be called in.

Agh, this post is too long already, will finish it in a follow up post! Stay tuned…

Snapshot

I walk the long way back to the train station. The street is wide and the Victorian shopfronts glow faintly bronze in the fading light. The sky is opaline, scalloped, pink and blue. Two aeroplanes pencil bright orange trails beside the crisp white rind of the moon. My belly is just slightly too full of Hansa’s curries, mango lassi, white wine. My head whirls with the discussion about openness and uncertainty with three sweet Danish girls. Happiness is curry and wine and the slow evening sky so close to the city. I remember the first weeks of my phd, in October, hurrying back to the train station as the sun set earlier every day, watching the fiery clouds touch the buildings. Four winters have passed since then. Now the plane-trails broaden and turn pink. Like paths I could tread.

On the train, I realise I’m still carrying the thesis. The window takes on a sheen because it’s finally dark, though I hardly notice. I take out the manuscript – fat heavy green thing that it is – to read my favourite poem about the river. But I don’t open it. I hug it. I hug it tight.

The last hurdle

I’m about to read over my thesis. My viva will take place exactly one week and four hours from now, taking the UK/Europe time difference into account. I had a bizarre dream last night in which I had to play my flute and paint a picture of a castle on a wall as part of my examination. I projected confidence but my flute playing consisted of truly dodgy sight-reading and much confusion over the key I was supposed to be playing in. I don’t think my castle painting would have won any awards but apparently speed was of the essence rather than quality. Then I was supposed to draw a picture of an ancient sword, but instead I sat for hours listlessly wondering where to find a 4b pencil. Argh!

So. Crunch time. I would have started reading an hour ago had I remembered that the default printer on my computer is not my printer, and therefore I have to specify a different printer every time I print anything. I was getting extremely frustrated at the printer as I thought it wasn’t working…

Anyway, I think I have run out of displacement activities, as there is at least half an hour before I can legitimately eat lunch. Here goes…

Settling in, or, everything is broken

We arrived back very late Wednesday night, or, more specifically, early Thursday morning, after discovering the car had flat batteries (brand new batteries, as it turns out, after the old ones died decisively during the relentless months of snow). Anyway, the car park attendant helped us out and the car seems fine now.

But the washing machine is broken. And the chest of drawers which I’ve been stuffing far too many clothes in for too long is broken. And the top shelf of the wardrobe into which all our paragliders almost fit is wobbly and unreliable. (These are the joys of the cheapest possible ikea furniture two years in.) So everything is very messy.

After feeling rather overwhelmed yesterday, we managed to restore some semblance of order. I found a temporary home for my clothes, I sorted and dusted and folded and threw things away. I collected a very tall pile of phd drafts to take to the recycling. It’s sort of sad to lose all my scribbled notes on the endless versions of chapters, but really there’s nothing I need them for now. Tonight we’re going to thread M’s paraglider back together (we had to disconnect some of the lines from the risers to get it out of the tree), and we’ll try to get a new washing machine on the weekend. Also there’s a huge pile of paperwork that we’re going to put into separate folders. Why does life involve such never-ending sorting and tidying?

I’m sitting at my reclaimed desk space and it’s rather nice. There is no way, however, that I can listen to any of the music that propelled me through the last stages of the phd. So for the moment it’s The Proclaimers.

There’s lots to be getting on with. Articles, book proposal, viva preparation, conference paper, job applications, German and Norwegian learning, getting my head around an Ethnography subject I’m taking by distance education (haha I can’t stop). I still have my ‘reasons to finish‘ smiling at me from my whiteboard. I’m going to leave them there a little longer, to remind me why it’s good to be where I’m at. Because I think it’s going to take a little getting used to. But the sun is shining today; the birch trees are shivering greenly in the wind and purple lilacs poke their faces over the top of our neighbours’ roof. I think I’ll go for a ride later. It’s all good.

Monday 2 am.

Done. Thesis, bibliography, contents page. Turned into pdfs. Irritating formatting issues solved. Emailed to several different email accounts in both pdf and non-pdf versions. Saved on the little stick thing. The nicest sleep I’ve had for ages, though too short.

It’s now 7. 18. Must get up, pack up, get to train station to go to Leeds. Exhausted. But feeling oh so much better than yesterday.

I think I can, I think I can

Just in case you assume I’ve been floating on a wave of euphoria for the past week – well, no. It’s been a bit of a slog, to tell the truth. Which will continue in force over the weekend. But then I will be done. Part of me doesn’t want to let go. I cannot believe how much I have learnt over the past three and a half years, and I would write a lot of it so differently now if I were starting again! But the supervisors say it is good enough – more than good enough – and holidays beckon. And I will be able to revisit it with my hard-won expertise and do lovely things to it before I release it to the big wide world.  So. Two more days, and then printing, binding, celebrating!

Happy

  • I have a lovely concluding sentence.
  • My supervisor told me he thinks my thesis is very good indeed.
  • I just ate my lunch in the sun; the sky is blue and bright.
  • The first blossoms powder the trees. The willow trees along the canal haze green.
  • Only one week to go!
  • Spring is just the best time to finish a thesis.

Step by step

Finished the conclusion yesterday. The supervisors are looking over it, and I’ll probably bash it into shape a bit more when they’re done, but it’s a relief to have written it. Very strange experience, writing the conclusion. Slightly terrifying. (I realise I’m sounding like a broken record at this point, but hey.)

The first of my lovely proof-readers gets back to me this afternoon. I’m currently in the library, trying to rustle up the energy for one last blitz on my Webb chapter. Ugh. Tired. It will need at least three days of undivided attention.

I went for a most beautiful walk along the canal in the misty light yesterday morning and took photos. I’ll put them up soon if I get the chance.

Currently alternating between tiredness and nervousness and excitement. Right now just tired. Which is, in some ways, more relaxing than the other two! It sunk in yesterday that I’m going home soon and will get to see my family and old friends – hooray! And before that I’m going to America which is also awesomely brilliant. So. Only ten days of hard work to go. Eep!

In which the travel gods smile on me and I have some wonderful friends

The trip over to Bingley went relatively smoothly and several minor disasters were averted with surprising ease.

  1. I accidentally got onto the train with Michael’s work key card in my pocket, but managed to post it back from Oslo train station in the fifteen minutes I had to spare.
  2. I couldn’t find the charger for my English phone but my cousin Richard in London lent me a spare one of his.
  3. I forgot my power adapter! I forgot it last time too, and last time I had to buy an expensive multi-adapter plug from a computer shop in town because Boots in the train station didn’t have any Europe-England ones. But this time they did! I was so happy I thanked the check-out lady profusely and she admitted she remembered me from last time…

Anyway… Everyone is taking such good care of me. I stayed with Richard for a night in London and he cooked me dinner! This is a first. His fiance is having a good influence on him. It was also just lovely to catch up (haven’t seen him for months and months). So nice to have at least one person over here who has known me my whole life! We stayed up till two drinking wine and were a bit wrecked the next day, but still…

Am now staying with the lovely Vic who thinks nothing of surrendering her lounge room to me for three weeks. Waiting for me was a parcel from Mum, ugg boots stuffed with fruchocs and cherry-ripes! Bliss! (So am nice and toasty wearing ugg boots and the jumper she knitted for me. ‘She likes to keep you warm, doesn’t she’, said Vic. And very thankful I am too.)

And my wonderful Michael is doing what he does best and planning a holiday in the midst of the five million other things he has to sort out at the moment. So – yeah. I’m pretty lucky.

Two weeks left for the thesis! I cannot believe it. It’s just the strangest feeling. When I put it all in one document for a trial run, and saw chapter four beginning on page 180, I felt what can only be described as vertigo. Like I’d been climbing a massive building without looking down, and I suddenly realised how high up I was.

I met with both my supervisors this week and they were very impressed with the new stuff I sent them. I pretty much re-wrote chapter two and they loved what I did. Supervisor one said it would have been good enough before but that it was much better now. I wouldn’t have been happy handing it in as it was before I fixed it, but now I am. So… hooray! It’s ready! It’s fine! There’s still plenty to do to it over the next two weeks – final editing of chapters, conclusion, and smoothing over chapter four, but two weeks is definitely long enough. I started putting together my contents page today. Strange, strange, strange…

Progress report

Photos by Michael.

Well, I can declare the two quiet weeks at my desk a success. While none of the chapters I was working on is quite done, Murray is 95% done, Webb is 50% done, and theory chapter is 75% done. And I have clear plans for the remaining sections. By the end of today, I want to have shaved a large chunk off the Webb chapter, and hopefully smoothed off the edges of the Murray chapter – basically redone the conclusion and thought of a nice sentence to put at the end of the introduction – so I could hand it in tomorrow if necessary, even though it would be nice to have another day to sift over it. And really there’s only one good day’s work left in the theory chapter.

The very lovely thing is that formatting issues I thought were going to be a problem won’t be. I had a test run today of putting it all into one document and justifying the right margin as well as the left – and it worked perfectly! Didn’t muck my poem quotes up at all! I’ve been having a problem with varying sizes of footnote numbers in the different chapters, and that solved itself too. I was also worried that it wouldn’t fit into 300 pages (that’s the page limit), as it’s slightly over the 100,000 word limit, but it’s coming in rather nicely at 282. So I have space to play! And don’t have to spend hours cutting down bits that in all likelihood could do with cutting down but will be ok as they are. And, best of all, Michael showed me how to  turn it quickly and painlessly into a pdf so I can print it off on the uni printers without problem. (I’m using Open Office instead of Word, and the computers at Uni don’t have Open Office, so I was foreseeing all sorts of problems.) All this translates to HAPPY HAPPY HAPPY!!!!!

This weekend I’ve been planning some post-thesis adventures – meeting Michael in the States in early April, and going to Aussie-land for three weeks after that. Really looking forward to hanging out with my family again.

So, the end of March really is D-day. And, yeah, you probably won’t hear a whole lot from me before then. I’m off to the UK tomorrow. Outside is constant sleety snow. But when I’m back here in May, there will be sunshine late into the night, and lupins lining the roadsides, and green everywhere.

Late night footnote checking

About to call it a night. Listening to the Beatles (it’s necessary to listen cheerier and cheerier music as the night goes on). Remembering this night. Can’t believe it’s only two months ago. As ‘Penny Lane’ plays, I can smell the smoke of spurting fireworks, mixed with the just-rained-on sea smell of a winter much milder than this one. I rememember jumping up and down. Holding someone’s hand. Belting out ‘Hey Jude’ over the smoky, sparkling square at the top of my lungs. All the glittery lights. It’s still going to be a good year.

Why you should still love Les Murray

I felt so tired this morning that I promised myself an early night tonight. Why is it not possible to get more done? I am making progress but I wish it were quicker.

I am working on my Les Murray chapter. I like his work very much. I’m not sure my chapter will do him justice. Actually, ‘like’ is not the right word at all. I adore his poems. He is a genius. His politics are also terribly problematic and unfortunately I have to deal with them in the chapter. But they don’t make me adore his poetry any less. (Not every single poem, but a lot of them.) I came across this beautiful review by Clive James that sums up one of the things so brilliant about him. He says Murray is an example of the way poets are ‘ unfairly interesting, as if they didn’t deserve to get so much said in such a short space’:

‘The severed trunk
slips off its stump and drops along its shadow.’

Not only do you wonder how he thought of that, you imagine him wondering too…

There is another good example in ‘The Power-line Incarnation’, a poem about how it feels to clear fallen power-lines off the roof of your house and find them to be still transmitting their full load of electricity.

‘When I ran to snatch the wires off our roof
hands bloomed teeth shouted I was almost seized held back from this life
O flumes O chariot reins
you cover me with lurids deck me with gaudies…’

The non-Australian reader need not think that there are outback Australians who call wires flumes. ‘Flume’, meaning an artificial channel, is Middle English following Old French, and comes out of the dictionary, not out of colonial usage. But the flumes, lurids, and gaudies seem appropriate here because the shock has sent the narrator back to the roots, of language as of life; the voltage has impelled a Jungian power-dive into the collective unconscious.

Isn’t ‘flume’ a lovely word? It sums up for me the electric shiver I get like get from moments like this in Murray’s poetry. Instead of writing my chapter I would like to write pages and pages about these incredible phrases. His bat poem for example. And oh, there are millions and millions. (If you click over to James’s review he discusses a few more.)

But these magic phrases are not the only thing that is wonderful about Murray’s poetry. He has all these elaborate theories about Australian identity, involving fusions of Aboriginal poetry, and Catholicism, and Gaelic poetry, and the Middle Ages, and the poor farmers, and about how he experiences belonging in the country the same way the Aboriginals do but also in the same way his Scottish ancestors did. Which of course is terribly problematic and you can’t really do that, and in designating certain groups as truly ‘Australian’ he’s alienating a huge proportion of the population.

But – I don’t think his poetry is brilliant simply in spite of his weird politics and his intense spiritual visions. I think they’re bound up together somehow, they come from the same place. So while I can unpick the unsettling way he aligns the Middle Ages with Australia, in some ways I don’t want to, because his vision is compelling and marvelous. It is a myth, yes, and there are real problems with some of the things he implies, but what he gives outweighs by far anything we can objectively say is problematic about his poetry.

And I was going to talk about how reading his ‘The Idyll Wheel’ – a suite of poems based around the Australian seasons – while holed up in my study listening to The Magic Flute in a snowy Norwegian February made me cry. But I have to go to bed now otherwise my new curfew will count for nothing and I will be a slow writer tomorrow morning. But the poem reminded me of how some weird woman on TV in England said she’d hate to have a Christmas in Australia because you’d know winter was just around the corner, and I thought – she knows nothing, winter is the least of their problems right now. Winter is unimaginable right now. As Les knows well:

Weedy drymouth Feb, first cousin of scorched creek stones,
of barbed wire across gaunt gullies, bringer of soldered
death-freckles to the backs of farmer’s hands. . .

. . .

. . . needy Feb, who waits for the raw eel-perfume
of the first real rain’s pheromones, the magic rain-on-dust
sexual scent of Time itself, philtre of all native beings

Deciding to stay

Photo credit – Michael. (Isn’t he clever?)

I had planned to fly to England today. But on Sunday night, I found myself wishing desperately that I had another two weeks at my desk. M said – why don’t you stay? He headed off to Finland today, and he’s going to Washington on Friday, without coming back here. Why not? I thought. I will. I have nearly two weeks of space and quiet to think and write and crystallize (yep, Genevieve, z is definitely prettier). Not that I don’t when he’s around. I love when he’s around. But you know.

And it feels good. Right at the end of last week, things started coming together. In a slow steady way. I sort of knew I was setting myself up for a fall last weekend when I declared I would have the most productive week ever. Because really there was no chance in Hell I could polish off three messy chapters in a week. Three weeks, now (including the one that’s gone), is another matter.

Anyway, I am still here. And it feels good. It feels like a gift. A gift of time, for me, to hang out with my thesis. To be kind to it. To attend to it. To notice its best bits and help them to shine. And this gentle attention is getting me a lot further than the panic I was in a week ago. I have realised I do not need to go fast. I just need to go steadily, and carefully, to hold many things in my mind and let a few things go. Because this thesis is mine and I love it, and even if flaws remain (they always do) it will still be a good thing.

So, for now, I am a little fish. Swimming steadily, strong but light. If I get stuck on or tired of one chapter, I will flick back to the other one, and make slow steady progress there. I must start working on my Webb chapter (the first one I wrote, the last one I will finish) within the next couple of days, so it has time to simmer and float with the others. Because really, I am quite a circular thinker.

And I will finish by the end of March. I will hand it in. For the first time I believe this.

Catherine Howard’s hat

Last weekend I picked up Henry and had a go at Catherine Howard’s hat. She’s the one on the right. I have been avoiding the hat, as it is fiddly. And stitching brown thread is boring. But it will look good when it’s finished. It’s purple on top. With a feathered plume. After twenty minutes of happy stitching, I realised I was using the wrong colour. The symbol for colour I was using was a sideways ‘M’, when I needed to be using the upright ‘M’. So I dutifully unpicked it all, got the right colour out, and started again. And then I realised the last colour I’d done was wrong too. So I stopped. I need to decide whether to unpick the last thread, or just sew the two different coloured browns the wrong way around. I put it away.

A friend once told me her mum always said: ‘unpicking is progress too’. Which is true, and when you think about it like that it’s less painful. But still painful.

My Les Murray chapter started to come together today, very nicely. I realised the reason I had been stalling on it was the amount of unpicking required. I finished this chapter in a long night of rainbow-coloured fish, quite some time ago. My supervisors were very keen for me to produce a whole chapter, with arguments that built up, rather than just a collection of  ‘oh look he’s referencing the Middle Ages’ fragments. So I poured my all into it, and stiched it together, and forced it a bit. And they were pleased with it. They said yes, you’ve finally got it now. And I was happy, and I knew I could go on and write my next chapter with no problems at all, and I did, and they loved it first time.

But when I reread my Murray chapter at the end of last year, I was horrified. It was filled with grand statements that I didn’t really back up. It didn’t engage terribly well with secondary sources. It was awkward and naive. Ugh. Not all of it – some of it’s quite nice. But it kept glossing over really interesting things, rather than exploring them.

All it has needed is some unpicking. Some loosening of threads, to fit in some more details, some cleverer observations. And it’s been nice. Quiet, gentle, slow. Because this kind of attention is slow. But I think I will like it by the time I’ve finished it.

PS. To see the cross-stitch in larger than life detail, click on it twice, and zoom around. It’s pretty cool.

Ice crystals

I took this on the weekend. Not sure the past three days could be accurately described as my most productive days ever. Have put aside my loathed theory chapter for now (just wish it was less flimsy), and am getting back to one of my poets. Hopefully keeping feelings of hate and wretchedness at bay. (My poor books have even been copping it – I’ve been yelling at them when they hide on the shelves. Of course they’re always in an obvious place but with a different coloured spine than I remember.)

Today it is snowing, again. The sky is falling and falling.

Now quietly – as quiet as the cold – I will crystallise the last words and paragraphs into stars and pathways, and it will be enough.

Chapter 3 is done!

57 pages, 215 footnotes. I had it practically finished last night, apart from one monster footnote I just couldn’t face. There’s also about twelve footnotes I need to check once I get to Leeds, but I’ve listed them neatly on my ‘things still to be done’ page, and it shouldn’t take too long. I am tempted to go over the whole thing again and make a couple of things more explicit, but I’m forcing myself to put it down for now and get on to the next thing. This is my best chapter. It’s fine. If I have time at the end I will tweak it a little, if not, no problem.

Now for the hard part… Chapters 1, 2, and 4 are in much worse states.

Chapter 5 is done!

It’s now 58 pages, not 55. I hope I won’t have to go back and shrink it. And it has 245 perfect footnotes. Well, perfect enough. Now for chapters 1, 2, 3 and 4. Oh, and the conclusion. My giddy joy and anticipation as the number of pages left to check through grew very thin and very light has now been replaced by well-earned tiredness. But – it was a nice feeling. I would like to have it again. Soon.

Small things

  • This week I ate porridge for breakfast every day
  • There is thick snow outside and it’s still snowing
  • My three day plan became a five day plan
  • I went for a swim for the first time in years (not counting splashing around in lakes and beaches)
  • We found and lost the house of our dreams
  • I decided two warm jumpers are the way to go
  • When I walked out of the bathing hall at five pm, my hair still wet, it was dark. The ground was covered in a not insubstantial layer of whiteness that hadn’t been there when I went in. The clean blank footpath glinted like diamonds. Tiny, tiny flakes swarmed down. If you looked up beneath a streetlamp it seemed the air was made of glitter.

Embrace the grey

We haven’t seen the sun in nearly three weeks. But I have been telling myself, the grey isn’t as grey as it could be. The clouds are a little higher than I remember them being in England, on those days in winter when you couldn’t remember what blue and space felt like. Anyway, I saw a patch of blue sky today. And coming back from the gym tonight, a cold bright half moon.

On Sunday I tried to climb the fortress. I was defeated by the icy path.

I even tried to go up a different way, but if you look closely, you can see the other path, the stone path, behind the stone wall. No thanks.

Ah well. Today I am grateful for yoga and for google books (life saver!!!) and for things that are coming together work-wise. M is away for three days and I have a three day work plan of the things I want achieved before he gets back: get chapter 5 (one of the good ones) to a state in which I could hand it in tomorrow if I wanted to, and write a couple of pages on postcolonial belonging for chapter one. Chapter five is fifty-five pages, and right now the first twenty are good to go. If I can get through thirty-five pages tomorrow (I only got through 20 today but you never know!), I will be on track to write my new stuff on Wednesday.

And then… agh, I really don’t know how I’ll get the whole thing basically polished off in the next three weeks (which is when I’ve booked my flight to the UK). But I must try as hard as I can. At least I seem to be in a good working mode for a change. (I need to keep coming up with new tricks to force the progress.)

Reasons to finish

  • Be free in March!
  • Get on with your life!
  • IT’S GOOD ENOUGH!
  • 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.

Ahah!

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.

Cold

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.

Chimneys and words and packages

Here’s another view of the Bingley chimneys. And the semi-frozen canal. The ducks promenade around here much as they do in Halden. The thesis chugs along. I reckon I’ll get it finished in early February, or possibly late January. I got my chapter one (extension of intro) nearly written. I felt like I was juggling so many balls so beautifully, and then I tripped and dropped them all, and couldn’t fathom the energy to pick them all up again. But it is nearly nearly there. I have sent it to my supervisors and will meet with them both individually this week – one tomorrow, and one on Thursday.

Over the past couple of days I’ve been getting back to the first chapter I wrote – the one that’s always caused me the most trouble. I still feel like I’m somewhat awkwardly hanging my argument on my textual analysis, rather than boldly using my textual analysis to advance my argument. The problem with this poet is that he says one thing and then he says the opposite – it’s really hard to pin him down. Anyway, pinning poetry down isn’t my ultimate aim, is it?

My technique this weekend has just been to write the paragraphs that need to be written, without wasting too much time about whether they fit on page eight or page twenty-eight. It’s been working, this close attention to detail, but I’m beginning to feel like printing it out and coming up for air. Tomorrow.

Vic has been a great encouragement. She keeps reminding me that I love this stuff, really.

And it is nearly Christmas which I am very very pleased about. Michael’s coming over to the UK on Wednesday, and we’ll have a few days here before heading across to Germany on Sunday. Good good good. (He’s had some horrible adventures in Norway this week – the valient snuggle-car does NOT like the cold. It got frozen, snowed under, and refused to get going in the Oslo airport carpark, but it’s ok now. I think in winter we’ll keep it to the temperate south from now on.) And oh – Mum and Grandma – all your parcels/cards have arrived in Germany safe and sound! Thank you thank you thank you! Apparently the postman was very excited to be delivering parcels from Australia.

December in Halden

Is quite lovely really. It’s pitch dark by four, and pretty dark by half past three, so I try to venture outside while the sun shines and the ground sparkles. I solved the final structural problems with my introductory chapter today, but my brain is too tired right now to fill in all the gaps. Tomorrow morning will do. Am frustrated with how long this is taking, but if I compare it to my usual progress it’s coming together quite quickly I suppose. Anyway, I’ve turned a corner with it. (Must only think about one bit at a time, if I think too hard about everything that still needs to be done I freeze up completely.)

It’s funny, structuring. For me, it’s never something I can fully come up with in advance, or impose with too harsh a hand. These days I usually have an idea of a structure, but it often morphs into something slightly different. Finishing the chapter requires a combination of hard slog and quiet contemplation. If I am rushed it feels like I’m trying to force pieces of a puzzle together that don’t fit. But if I rest for a day, and come back to it slowly, not hating it, reading it carefully instead of wishing it looked different, the pieces slide into place almost without effort.

Of whales and caterpillars

I’m having recurring dreams of whales. They bob around happily, with faces like hippos. Frolicking on the cote d’azur. Nosing up to me as I swim beside a cliff at Victor Harbour. And, most excitingly, snuffling around while I am a superhero who flies through the air and zooms through the water, friend of whales and foe to sharks who hunt in packs. Ahem.

I think it must have something to do with the thesis. Great lump of a thing that can nevertheless swim gracefully through the water. That’s the goal, anyway. I had a facebook conversation with a phd friend about this, and she said that whenever she’s gestating an idea, she puts up a profile picture of a foetal elephant. That sounds a bit funny I know, but it’s quite a lovely photograph. Here it is, in lieu of my dream-whale-hippo:

elephant

They have something in common, no? Heavy and awkward and light and beautiful all at once.

Tomorrow is my last day in the library before I go back to Norway for two and a half weeks. I’m looking forward to the uninterrupted writing time – there are so many ideas zipping around! I’ll have to be very focussed collecting the last essential books and articles. It’s strange, because each chapter needs something doing to it (some more than others) and somehow I’m holding it all in my head, all at once. I used to have trouble holding a whole chapter in my head, and now I’m holding a whole thesis! My brain has turned into a phd machine. All this focus means that it never switches off – if I have a shower, or walk along, or wash the dishes, or lie in bed, the ideas keep bouncing back and forth, crashing into each other, reflecting each other, building on each other. If I notice a significant theme for one of my writers, my mind immediately says: does it work for any of the others? And it tries different angles and pathways, to see if it fits. Or, to use a creaturely metaphor (which I am fond of doing, as you well know), my brain feels like a caterpillar who won’t stop munching. Munch munch munch on the ideas and the images and the connections.

I spent the day tracking down references. There is so much left to do and I am trying to do it all at once. So tomorrow is the last day of gathering, and then there will be many days to write and to think.

Bunking down in Bingley

Here’s the chinmey. Pretty cool, huh? There’s lots of them, all along the canal. I walk past this one to get to the train station. I love this part of the world.

The days I don’t need to go to the library I write here, watching the rain and swirling autumn leaves. It’s nice. I’m here till Wednesday next week, so I’ll see how much I can get done.

My brain has very little to spare. I’m meeting supervisor one tomorrow. Things are coming together. Better get back to it…

A post in which the beleaguered PhD student shamelessly begs for words of encouragement

Otherwise what’s this blog for, right? (Not that I don’t appreciate those words of encouragement already given.)

Had been feeling stunningly optomistic for the past few days, and made good progress editing my introduction and chapter five. Was combing through chapter five this morning, thinking yes, this is actually going to be quite good.

Then I got some more feedback on chapter four, which deflated my happy balloon. Agh. I’ve been trying to write this particular chapter for almost three years now. Boo.

And I need to have another good go at chapter one, which is sort of an extension of my introduction, and also hasn’t been touched for nearly two years.

Anyway. Can I do it? Yes I can.

(If you are all very nice to me I will post a picture of one of the very cool chimneys from the old mills on the canal.)

Rare Sunshine

It’s mostly been low clouds and rain you can walk in.

Meeting went well today. They liked my introduction. We went through it together, in detail, and they had lots of minor suggestions to make it better. But they are small things. Stylistic things. (I need to keep an eye on the ends of some paragraphs and where I pick up again after block quotes.) But they said it is good. It is all there. And they really loved the first three pages, which I had revised over and over every time I read through it. Eek! Eek! Eek! (Very pleased with myself. My thesis-zone last time I was in Norway paid off.)

And they think I can make December. I told supervisor two that I didn’t want to hand it in if it isn’t ready. She said it’s never ready. Just do it.

They are very pleased I am staying in the UK next week too and have offered to meet with me again, individually.

Everyone is being very nice to me. Offering me beds to sleep in. Lending me money when the bank refused to give me any without my passport (long story – will bring passport tomorrow). Supervisor two even offered me money (which I refused) and told me I can stay with her if I need. Can I say again, she is one of the nicest, best, cleverest people on earth. (I’m pretty sure they don’t read this, but it’s still true, even if they do.)

I have been thinking about distant friends. Including one who is not well. She had better be ok.

Been thinking about my Mum too. Would be nice to drink tea together. Next year will do, I guess.

And my brother’s art exhibition.

And Michael, teaching in Stavanger.

It was my Grandma’s birthday yesterday. Happy birthday! There were lots of fireworks here, just for you.

I am happy-gleeful-joyful about the election. But not about prop 8.

And now I am calming my buzzing mind and beating heart and preparing to look again at the intro, and thread in all their suggested changes, and look again at my weakest chapters before I meet with them next week. Pity I can’t just smile at the thesis and watch it grow wings. But it will get there. It will.

Planes good, trains bad

I’m back in blighty for a last sustained assault on the library and meetings with my supervisors. My flight got in early yesterday but the utter horribleness of the British train system on Sundays (delayed trains, replacement buses, misleading information) meant it took forever to get back to Bingley. I’m staying here again with my delightful friend Vic, which makes it all better. The trains into Leeds (it’s about twenty minutes) are cheaper after ten though, so I’m going to arrange my working days around that. Or if I decided I need the library in the mornings, I’ll just bite the bullet and pay an extra two quid.

I’ve been reading over the notes my supervisors have made on my various chapters, and can I just say, my supervisors are brilliant. One of them disappeared to New York for a year, but now she’s back and my thesis will be stronger because of it. (The person who replaced her during that time was also great, but C has more to offer my particular topic.) My supervisors are intuitive, thorough, extremely interested in what I’m doing, and push me to be the best I can. I’m meeting with them on Thursday to discuss the latest draft of my introduction.

So. A grey English morning and a library full of books await me. Here goes…

Writing/Dreaming/Flying

Yesterday morning when I checked my blogroll, everything pointed me back to writing. Well, not everything, but enough. Penni is applying for an amazing sounding PhD (amid writing a hundred other amazing sounding things), and Dr S is refocusing bird by bird (can’t link to the specific post, Oct 26, but that’s the book she links to). And fifi has been doing some pretty serious writing/painting/dreaming too.

Actually, now I think about it, all these posts mention birds.

And so, after zooming and twisting in the sky like a bird myself (more on that soon), I sat down to focus on the tracks and patterns of my thesis chapters, finding the links between them, finding the weak points that need fixing. And it will be done, it will.

(Oh, and on a tangentially related note, my cousin reminded me of some incredible icebergs we saw as we flew over Greenland on the way to New York a few weeks back. Beautiful. )

On my desk

I thought I’d get in on the action. Basically it’s an odd assortment of books about medievalism and Australian literary criticism. Mostly Australian literary criticism, but when that started giving me a serious headache last night I went back to the medievalism. I’m looking at how they fit together. And how they relate to my thesis. Anyway, back to my desk. Several drafts, in various states of being scribbled on. Tea, which is necessary hourly. And there are also creatures. Never underestimate creatures.

The rag-end of autumn

Do you like my new header? It’s from a photo that I took, but Michael did clever things to on photoshop. It’s on our regular walk, near the entrance to the fortress. We also posed with our autumn-coloured coats, on a break from thinking grumpy thoughts about my thesis.

Now, back to those grumpy thoughts.

Sign-posts

I have been taking photos of autumn leaves but can’t locate the camera adapter just at the moment so you’ll have to wait till tomorrow. They are falling down and cover the boardwalk by the river. I have been spiraling back into my thesis. It has felt, at times, like abseiling into a black hole. Re-reading my introduction was horrifying (oh the pain of editing!) but I am working out how to fix it. Vagueness, be banished! Structure, be found! Tonight, I combed through the opening and closing pages, crossing out sentences, underlining the ends of sentences that start well but end badly, circling terms I don’t really mean. Often writing has its own energy, an insistent rhythm, and I finish a sentence a certain way just because it sounds good. Now, it’s nice if it sounds good, but only if it says exactly what I mean. Only if the terms are essential, and useful, and point the way.

I’ve been thinking of the beginning and the end of my introduction as sign-posts. The sentences and terms I use must direct my argument. Before I started fixing them, the sign-posts clambered all over each other and pointed in myriads of directions. I have been straightening them out, one word at a time. Adding a sentence here, clarifying a phrase there. I’m sure this micro-editing will assist with the broader, looser structural changes I need to make to the body of my introduction.

So. Feeling slightly more positive, after a shuddering and painful transition into writing and thinking after blissful weeks spent floating in the wind and eating pancakes (don’t tell my supervisor). (Well, I came to Europe five years ago for adventures as much as education. And adventures I have had.)

Also trying to figure out my movements for the next two months. Initially I had planned to rent a room in Leeds for six weeks to really knock this thesis on its head. But it’s soooo nice here. Aside from being with the one I love, which is a definite bonus, I have my lovely desk here, and all my books, and my thick folders stuffed with photocopies, and a comfortable desk chair, and a thick duvet, and a kitchen I don’t have to share with five people, and, and… Camping out in a student room with only the bare essentials to keep me going, sharing a house with strangers, is not terribly appealing. I’m meeting my supervisors in Leeds in three weeks time, but maybe I’ll come straight back here after that. I’m sure I can get the thing basically finished with four weeks solid concentration, even here.

Words and harbours

The painted harbour huddles against the grey. Now I know why they choose these colours. My brain will be word-befuddled by the end of the day, so I thought I’d write now, before I get started. We have been working hard and writing lots. My introduction will have grown from a scrappy 5,500 words on Monday to a much more respectable 10,000 words tomorrow, if I keep the pace up. Can I say though, that it is much nicer working from 5000 words than from none at all. Especially when they are scrawled with helpful comments. M has been busy too – conference papers and workshops and teaching preparation on the other side of the country and not one but three (successful!) funding proposals. I’m in the wrong business.

Introduction-writing certainly is a curious thing. I’m slowly beginning to understand what it is I’ve been doing for the past three years, and how it fits into the broader scheme of things. And I’m thinking that I’ve come up with some interesting stuff. Not earth-shattering, but interesting all the same. And maybe it will make a book of some sort, in the end. We shall see. Been feeling much happier about writing it since my England trip. I’m happier to take it one piece at a time, rather than stressing that it’s not all there yet and it’s not perfect. I’m finding I work to a rhythm – an hour or an hour and a half on, then half an hour off. (Or more, depending…) There is a way of building distractions and lapses of concentration into progress, rather than letting them sabotage it. Anyway, better stop writing about writing, and get back to the real deal.

In other news, we’ve been watching Stephen Poliakoff in the evenings (thanks for the tip Kirsty!). We loved Shooting the Past but our favourite so far is Perfect Strangers. It made me cry. I’m still a bit in love with Timothy Spall. And I have a new favourite Norwegian chocolate – Walters Mandler (the as always seriously creamy utterly delicious Freia milk chocolate, blended with fragments of roasted, salted, caramelized almonds. Swoon…). We’re off to New York on Saturday – hooray hooray hooray!

The Beautiful Brotherton

Just to see if I can generate a bit more nostalgia for Leeds in certain readers… Here’s the chestnut tree in front of our red brick terraced English department, looking gorgeous as usual. And here is the beautiful Brotherton Library.

I love love love this library. It has all a library should: marble pillars, high ceilings, parketry floors, natural light. And thousands of books, including obscure Australian journals. It’s perfect just at the moment because the undergraduates haven’t come back yet. Here’s the view from my perch in the Australian literature section.

I had a great four days in Leeds – reading in the library, meeting up with my supervisor, and catching up with lots of lovely ladies with whom I have lived or studied or both over the past five years. And – er – a bit of shopping. Supervisor says thesis is on track to be finished before Christmas (even taking into account my secret and time-consuming plans soon to be revealed). He says it’s been downhill since I was fifteen months in, and all that’s left to do is the last bit of the downhill. Which I imagine will be quite painful none-the-less, but he did a good job at diffusing my terror…

And thank you thank you thank you to my cousin in London who always lets me sleep on his floor, and Vic who let me stay all week.

After boarding two trains, a bus, a plane, a car and a ferry, I’m back in Norway with my favourite person. Bliss.

God’s own country

Here is a swan we met today. I had grand plans of actually taking photos in London, but when it came to the point I was too busy trying to find my way whilst not getting run over by buses or swept away by torrential downpours. The conference was brilliant – there were some really interesting discussions of time and history and indigeneity. Well, those were the discussions I took note of, for obvious reasons. My paper went well despite a small audience due to clashing sessions. I also met some very lovely people, and some of the buildings at Royal Holloway are just amazing. Watching the big names get affectionately drunk is always entertaining.

I almost missed my train back to Leeds because I misremembered the departure time, and then some Spanish tourists pulled the alarm button on the tube so it didn’t go anywhere for ages… I made it in the end with three minutes to spare. Resolution: be more organized. Write things down.

This weekend I’ve been staying in beatiful Bingley with my gorgeous friend Vic. We walked along the canal today and up into the hills. Ah, Yorkshire. I must admit I had a lump in my throat as the train from Leeds sped past the stone walls, the green fields, the huge trees and the soft grey sky.

Bits and bobs

Here I am, to join the crowd (everyone else has been doing this). You can make yours here. (Or you should be able to, at least. The link isn’t working for me at the moment.)

Just got back from a ride. Think I overdid it – feeling slightly flattened. I’ve been experimenting with going quite fast up the first long hill – what’s a bit of leg pain and bursting lungs? On the way back some race-bikes overtook me but I managed to tail them for quite a way. Still can’t keep up with M. The race-bikes couldn’t either. We’ve cycled 150k since getting back from Austria a week ago.

In other news…

I have an external examiner! Much excitement. And many thanks to certain Australian medievalists who suggested him.

My introduction is getting written, one block at a time. I’ve come up with a much clearer structure than I had a few weeks ago. I wish I was quicker at this, though.

I am taller than 98% of German women, and 80% of English men. How about that.

We’ve been watching the first series of The Street. Slightly harrowing, but very cool. The red brick terrace made me somewhat nostalgic. Timothy Spall is my hero.

One of the characters was drinking his tea out of my favourite tea cup. This made me happy.