Sunday, December 30, 2007

Couch Blogging: The Year That Was

Lucy Pig Puppet has done an end of year meme a couple of years in a row now where she posts the first sentence of the first post for each month throughout the year from her blog. Since I'm in chaise longue mode and not really up for creating a proper post (and my ability to download photos from my mobile phone has once again been thwarted), I thought I'd give it a go:

My household appliances have horned in on the spirit-of-the-end-of-year-season action by taking the moment to collectively give up the ghost.

A week or two following the screening of Pickles, SBS showed Veiled Ambition which introduced us to Frida, an Australian-Lebanese Muslim woman, who was intent on cornering the retail market in formal wear for women.

Here's a photo my brother took while he was visiting over Christmas.

So, I finally presented the real estate agent with three Form 11s, also known as a Notice to Remedy Breach, because, really, how long is one expected to go without a properly functioning stove, a key to the laundry door, and a recycling bin?

Today was the first time this Autumn that I’ve felt the slightest nip of cold in the air. It was more of a challenge than ever to stick to the four minute shower regimen.

There are some days when you would be well-advised to simply accept the warning signs that present themselves to you at the beginning of the day and just stay in bed.

I’ve been watching Nerds FC.

While looking through next week’s TV Week I noticed that SBS will be screening a film I’ve just seen at the Brisbane International Film Festival (BIFF).

Every now and then you get the opportunity to see your city through another person’s eyes.

I seem to have misplaced the cord that connects my mobile phone to my computer in the event that I want to download any of the photos I randomly snap as I go about my days.

I first had the thought to do this segue series as I was finishing the ‘Immobile’ post.

I'm back in Brisbane after my two week holiday in Melbourne.

It's astonishing how representative this exercise is. If you'd never read another post on this blog you'd be reasonably informed about my life and obsessions this year: domestic upheaval in Brisbane, mobile phones and television--especially SBS it seems, all topped off with a dash of self-loathing and a sprinkle of a Melbourne holiday. Well at least this format created a happy ending, which seems as good a way as any to end 2007 and begin 2008.

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Dear Intertubes

I admire people who manage to resist posting about the people in their lives . Not so much when there are nice things to say, although perhaps such things need to be said publicly and more often, but in those cases when there are terrible things to say, when the relationship between the blogger and the family member, friend, acquaintance, colleague or flatmate has reached such negative proportions that the blogger is bursting with the injustice of it.

I admire restraint in such circumstances because I am not capable of it. I am far less restrained--as many of you will already have observed--to the extent where I feel messy and excessive. Perhaps this sense of being faulty in my judgement about these matters, leaky, embarrassing and not properly contained, accounts for my undergraduate fascination with Julia Kristeva's concept of the abject? I am not the 'machine' that a former colleague once informed me was an appropriate description--not even a metaphor--of the human body, and 'mechanical' or 'mechanised' is certainly not an appropriate characterisation of the gush of emotion that bursts forth when I am upset.

So, all of this is a prelude to yet another post that I know is likely inappropriate, but where any sense of appropriateness in regard to speaking about someone from my off-line world is superseded by the enormity, the impact of the events that have recently taken place. Again there is some part of me that wonders whether I am so thoroughly interpellated into the discourse of the confessional that telling of these incidents feels like the only recourse amidst a very real experience of disempowerment: through this lens my indiscretions are brave rather than foolish, I am speaking a truth rather than indulging in potentially defamatory gossip.

I have just had to move again. You might recall that I moved only 7-8 weeks ago from somewhere I had lived for 11 years. I was hopeful about my decision to share with someone for the first time in 13 years. I knew it would present a challenge, but one born simply of having not had to share for so long. I was confident that I was house trained, that my natural tendency towards the ways of the pig-sloth could be curtailed, that I would be suitably accommodating of another person's habits and ways.

The town house I moved into 7 weeks ago was wonderful. I blogged about it here, showing you a picture of the view from my laptop as I sat on the small patio outside my room. There was a small garden and cable internet connection, I had my own bathroom with a bath to soak in. In contrast to the place I had left, there was a big kitchen with plenty of bench and cupboard space. It was such a well designed town house--well except for the bizarre absence of a clothesline and the even stranger body corporate edict that one could not be installed.

What I didn't tell you in that post, however, was that I was experiencing already twinges of doubt about my new flatmate.

What can I tell you? It was too early to admit even to myself that I might have made a mistake. I did have to leave the place I'd lived in for 11 years because it was bad for my health, not simply because of the lack of maintenance undertaken by the landlord and agent, but due to its position on the edge of a major bypass and the noisy and drunken nocturnal habits of my neighbours and visitors to the sports venue precinct nearby. So, I don't regret moving from my old place, but as soon as I began to move into the new place there were clues that perhaps this new arrangement wouldn't work either.

I had hired removalists, a firm that includes an insurance clause in their agreements to cover any damage they might cause to property and belongings in the unlikely event of an accident. Even with this reassurance, my new flatmate wouldn't let the removalists take a large bookshelf and chaise lounge into the upstairs area. She asked that they leave them on the verandah and that she and I would move them in later. The flatmate cited a bad experience when she moved from her former abode two weeks earlier: the removalists she had hired had scraped a wall taking what she described as 'a chunk' out of it. (It should be noted that the 'chunk' became a 'barely visible scratch' when she was charged the extraordinary amount of $200 by her former agent for the damages incurred). Given that incident, I could understand her worry, but tried to reiterate that my removalists were insured and that since they were professional removalists and I was not, then they were likely to be more able than I in moving the unwieldy pieces of furniture into place. She did not accept my reasoning and, while I thought it was strange, I didn't press the point.

The next inkling that I got that all might not be well was when I began moving things into the kitchen. I had told her that I liked cooking and that I had a fairly well equipped kitchen. I was lead to believe that she had 'everything', so I was prepared for my things to go into storage. It turns out that from the perspective of someone who enjoys cooking as much as I do, she had far from 'everything'. This disparity didn't seem so bad, surely she would be pleased that I had brought a sharp knife set with me that she could now use instead of the small broken (blade swinging) knife that she had been using?

It was not the case. She was very clear, if not necessarily in words, that my crockery and appliances were an infringement on her kitchen. When, in an attempt to keep the number of my saucepans to a minimum, I used one of hers, she asked me to retrieve one of my own of around the same size, for my use. I brought my saucepan out of a box and into the kitchen, whereupon she declared that it was too big and couldn't possible go into the kitchen. I was puzzled. I said that it was exactly the same size as hers, merely that it had a steam insert. I asked her if she felt that I was taking up too much room in the kitchen, because she seemed to be reacting negativley to my belongings, constantly rearranging them when I wasn't there. I got a bit teary, at which point she snapped 'You're over reacting! I've got more important things to worry about! I'd never have brought it up if I'd known you were going to react like this!' Suffice to say, I think it's important to make time to negotiate boundaries in a shared living situation and there's nothing worse than being told that your boundaries are not worth any consideration. I was pissed off, but really tried to remain calm, reasoning that this was part of sharing with someone.

As well, from the beginning the contents of my kitchen seemed to offend her. She expressed distaste over the amount of food I had. She said that my grocery bills must be enormous. I said 'Not really. It's all condiments that I don't buy every week.' I appreciate that 5 different kinds of oil and 6 different types of vinegar probably does seem excessive to someone who isn't aware of the different uses of Chinese black vinegar, red and white wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar, rice wine vinegar and tarragon infusedvinegar, but her expression of disgust made me feel very uncomfortable. In the end I thought she did have a kind of eating disorder--she embraced anaemia--that adversely affected her moods, and was compounded by excessive exercising--she walked manically for about four hours per day in addition to walking to and from work.

I can't condemn someone for having an eating disorder or any other mental health illness or disorder, but this flatmate's behaviour was so unreasonable, intrusive and controlling that I was driven to scream and cry and rage at her, just to convey my point of view which otherwise didn't seem to penetrate her consciousness. Even that embarrassing behaviour on my part didn't shift her from her absorption in her own view of the world. It merely served as evidence that I was 'aggressive'.

The occasion of my unseemly outburst was on the eve of my holiday to Melbourne. I had come home to find her moving my washing, hung on a fold-up wash stand, from the front downstairs patio to the back one near my room. Immediately, the flatmate started to say that she was moving it for my benefit because in order to get to the front patio I'd had to squeeze past the bed in the spare room. She was right, it was tiresome to do this, but that isn't what was going through my mind at that point. I had noted that in order for her to shift my washing to the patio off my room she would have had to use the key to undo the deadlock to the back door. This is a key which also fitted the deadlock on the front door, a key which she had said she hadn't been able to get to work, as a way of explaining why she wouldn't lock the house up when she left it. I said to her, 'You do have a key to the front door that works?'. To which she said she had just been able to figure out how it worked. I noted that she had used it before to unlock the downstairs door, since I had been sure I had locked it on previous occasions and come home to find it unlocked. She denied this and soon the snapped accusations began. They were about the washing at first, something that I didn't really care about in the face of the greater issue of her ongoing refusal to lock the house and close the glass doors and windows when we were out, and now the revelation that she had effectively lied to me about the keys.

She explained to me that she had a phobia about dying in a house fire. Now I wasn't talking about locking doors and windows while we were in the house, just when we were both out for the day. I guess that's the thing about phobias, they aren't logical. I had even had a key cut for her, a red one, so that she could locate it on her keyring easily, because she told me of how she had once come home after I had gone out and locked the house and had become 'hysterical' because she couldn't figure out the front door keys. She'd had to enter the house using the electronic remote to the garage. In spite of my efforts and attempts to urge her to take the time to familiarise herself with the keys and become confident using them, she resisted my attempts to negotiate, including my expression of concern about the safety of my DVD and CD collections.

She also denied lying about the keys. She said she was a truthful, loyal, sensitive person. All of this was in response to my cry that I didn't know if I had made the worst mistake of my life moving in with her. In the heat of the moment, I expressed my sister's misgivings about her. V had picked up on my flatemate's manic energy, her obsessive neatness, and her sense of propriety over the placing of my belongings from the very beginning. V had wondered 'How's Kirsty going to cope with this person?' My flatmate was more worried that someone had made a negative judgement about her than the issue at hand: household security. She said, 'Your sister's wrong!'

My flatmate wasn't truthful. She didn't lie exactly, but she was very manipulative with the telling and retelling of versions of events. For example, while I was moving out, she regaled my friend, whom I had asked to accompany me to run interference, with glowing reports about homestay students as a way to help pay the rent. Whereas to me she had reported the inconvenience and unreliability of homestay students: it was like having a second job, you had to cook and clean for them, take them on excursions and so on. They also tended to move out after six weeks to live with friends they had made since they'd been in the country. Yes, I should've listened more carefully to what she was telling me. The timetable is consistent, four weeks of being scolded and cajoled like an incompetent child and two weeks to find alternative accommodation and move.

'Loyal' is one way, I suppose, of describing someone who seeks to probe and control every area of your life: I came back from my holiday in Melbourne to discover she had moved and rearranged everything I had in the kitchen. She had done the same with boxes of items that were in storage in the garage. She had gone into my room and turned my DVR and television off at the wall, thereby cancelling the recording programme I had set in my absence. I'm a television scholar, damnit! And then attempted to cover up her trespass by turning it on again before I returned. I could tell because the display is different when it is turned on at the wall or if it is in stand-by mode between recordings.

I had battled with her over using the dishwasher. I would often put crockery in it, only to come home and find she had taken it out and washed it up. I said that I would like to use the dishwasher. She said that we could only use it when there were enough dishes to fill it up. I said there wouldn't ever be enough dishes in it if she kept taking them out, and I asked her when she could envision that I could use it. She said when I cooked and used saucepans etc. I said that still wouldn't generate enough dishes in any one meal to fill the dishwasher, wouldn't it be better to fill it over a period of time, a couple of days at most? She said that it would take a long time. She said now that we were on level 6 water restrictions we had to be conscientious. I contended that using the dishwasher on an economy cycle every two or three days was more water efficient than filling a sink of water four times a day. She would not budge. She continued to 'wash' my dishes. I used scare quotes there, because she never washed them properly, certainly not the way a dishwasher could. One of our last discussions before we decided to part ways was on an occasion when I put the dishwasher on before I left for work one day. She leapt out of her chair at her laptop and turned the dishwasher off immediately. She said most people put the dishwasher on at night. I said that it was full and I needed the dishes for when I came home. She contended that it wasn't full, even though it had three days worth of dishes in it. She lectured me again about water restrictions as if I was a backward child who hadn't started using a 4 minute shower timer long before they were delivered to our doorsteps. Then she said if I needed the dishes I should wash them up.

*Imagine a tirade of expletives here*

I have so many stories like this, gathered in only a few weeks. In the end I couldn't bring myself to even look at her, never mind speak to her. She seemed genuinely puzzled by this, which genuinely puzzles me. I couldn't behave the way she has towards someone unless I despised them. She had always maintained that she liked me and cared for me. Well that was more than a bit creepy since we hadn't known each other long enough to develop any kind of friendship, never mind affection. Still, if she was genuine in her own mind about her sentiments then I don't understand why she would feel the need to contest everything-- EVERYTHING: from the washing powder I bought, to the way I walked to the grocery store, and which grocery store I went to; from which uni I went to on which day ,to whether I worked on my thesis or did paid research work for which she wanted me to recommend her to those for whom I worked (snowflake--hell). Of course there is no logic to any of this except perhaps to note that for her caring seemed to be synonymous with controlling.

Anyway, if you've managed it, thanks for reading this far. As for whether this has been a foolish or a brave post, I'll leave that judgement up to you, but personally I'll be taking my cue from dogpossum who has said to me in our offline conversations that this is the kind of thing people want to read in blogs.

Saturday, December 08, 2007


Is Borders stalking me? In view of my last two posts, what do you think?

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Post-Holiday Blogging: Book Meme

I'm back in Brisbane after my two week holiday in Melbourne. I thought I'd get a chance to do a bit more blogging during the second week and so make 'Holiday Blogging' a two-part post, but things didn't conspire that way--there were too many cakes to be eaten and too many art galleries to visit--so I've had to resort to 'Post-Holiday Blogging' for the remainder of the book meme.

A point of interest you might like to note is that between this post and the previous one, I've had the pleasure of meeting Oanh, who tagged me with this meme, IRL . There was a small window of opportunity for us to get together after I returned from Melbourne and before Oanh left Brisbane, went to the Gold Coast and returned to the UK. We arranged our meeting via the chat function on Scrabulous--as all the cool kids are doing these days--and miraculously we managed to find one another, in spite of my suggestion to meet at a cafe that was closed on Mondays. Luckily Oanh knows West End a lot better than I do, so we easily found another place to sit and acquaint ourselves.

We talked of many things, and of course, one of those was our respective reading groups. I think book clubs all around the world are a front for various other activities--not quite in the subversive tradition of the quilting circle--but still it functions as a reminder to get together with friends and talk outside of the rush of everyday activities.

In a roundabout way that brings me back to the remainder of the book meme:

4.The author (alive or deceased) I would love to have lunch with would be…

Oh, so difficult. Jeanette Winterson would be good to have lunch with because the food would be good and organic, and while I haven't read much of her in recent years, I would swat up before we met purely on the basis of her first 4 or 5 novels.

If the food at the lunch was the primary purpose for meeting at that time of day--and clearly for me it is--I rather think I'd like to sit down with Maggie Beer to drink champagne and eat quinces, artichokes and kangaroo, all the while talking about cooking and eating.

I'd rather like to meet the television writer Tom Fontana. He's responsible for Homicide, Life on the Streets and Oz. Homicide is one of my all time favourite television programmes.

5.If I was going to a deserted island and could only bring one book, except for the SAS survival guide, it would be…

This might be the only way I'll ever finish Don Quixote so I'd take that.

6.I would love someone to invent a bookish gadget that…

I think I'd just like a ribbon in every book. A built in book mark so bent pages are a thing of the past.

On that note, one thing that always annoys me when I borrow books from University libraries is the way people feel no compunction about desecrating communal books with tawdry fluorescent highlighter pens. So arrogant to assume that your notation of the important passages of a book will be the definitive interpretation of the book in question. Or perhaps just completely self-centred. So, for me a welcome bookish gadget would be something that rendered highlighting with fluorescent pens either impermanent, removable or impossible. On the last, the delivery of a short, sharp shock to any wielder of a fluorescent highlighter would be a welcome first step.

7.The smell of an old book reminds me of…

I don't like the smell of old books. It's the thing that puts me off Lifeline book sales. Yellowing, curling, lice-infested Penguins, endlessly recycled by unappreciative school students, who nevertheless insist on inscribing their names and form classes in misshapen Texta letters on the title pages of The Great Gatsby, To Kill a Mocking Bird, The Harp in the South...

8.If I could be the lead character in a book (mention the title), it would be…

I always wanted to be Pippi Longstocking, she seemed to have a rather excellent life wearing crazy outfits and looking through a telescope out to the ocean.

9.The most overestimated book of all time is…

I want to say On the Road, but I didn't get past the first few pages of it, reading it as I did with a feminist sensibility well after the use-by date of its Beat movement-libertarian moment. I think if I'm really going to condemn a book then I should have read it, so from the same cultural moment as On the Road, I'll nominate One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest for its romantic view of America's indigenous people in the figure of the Chief, its alignment of women with civilization and oppression in the figure of Nurse Ratchett, and its glorification of same old, same old, white male individualism.

10. I hate it when a book…

Hmm, what could a book do that would evoke a feeling of hatred within me? I'm stuck. Perhaps I'll poach from above: ...has fluorescent highlighter all over it!

I can't quite remember how many people I'm supposed to tag with this meme. I might just tag Ariel, since she expressed an interest in the meme via the comments on the first installment. The usual open invitation applies to anyone who's similarly interested.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Holiday Blogging: Book Meme

All of the swing dancers are asleep at dogpossum's house at the moment.  They went out to some crazy hour of the morning to do Lindy Hop at the Spiegeltent, while I stayed back to play Scrabulous, eat BBQ left-overs, watch DVDs and drink red wine.  I also spent some of my time browsing dogpossum's bookshelves, something I've been doing the last few days before retiring after days jam-packed with visiting a good selection of Melbourne's food places, from supermarkets to restaurants and bakeries.  On one such outing I also found myself in Readings on Lygon Street where I bought a cd and a book for myself, and a few bits and bobs for other people.  

(If you're reading this blog on an RSS feed, none of this holiday-in-Melbourne talk will necessarily make sense to you, but if you want a quick update then click through to view the micro-blogging Twitter updates in the side-bar).

Anyway, all of this book browsing put me in mind that I'd been tagged for a book meme. I've had the first question in my head for some time, because, well, I didn't really know the answer but, it's slowly come to me, so I'll have a go at answering the rest too.   

1. Hardcover or Paperback, and Why?

Hardback.  I think this is because I'm a bit of a book fetishist. I love them as objects, in and of themselves.  The answer to this question first began to dawn on me when I saw Maggie's Harvest in a bookshop.  If you don't know, it's a collection of recipes by Maggie Beer, a celebrated Australian cook and food writer.  She also co-presents The Cook and the Chef on ABC Television with Simon Bryant.  It's simply beautiful. It has a padded, embroidered cover and two ribbon bookmarkers, two!  It occurs to me that I also like it when books have ribbon markers; these are especially handy in cook books, but I'll take them in any genre of book.

I have a small collection of hardcover books that are all food-related.  I do like them a lot.  In this context I think I prefer the hardcover because they are for keeping.

2. If I were to own a bookshop, I would call it...

There's a bookshop in Brisbane called Bottom Books, which I've  always thought would be an excellent name for a British television comedy, sort of a cross between Bottom and Black Books.  Here, I think my preference for stories told on television is rearing its less acceptable head.  

If  I were to own a bookshop it would likely stock books about television and food. There'd be comics and graphic novels too.  I'd be right at home with the trend towards selling DVDs and CDs in such establishments.  I still like the traditional novel though, but maybe I'd only sell hardbacks or those that passed the sensibilities of my aesthetic radar. (No-one said this bookshop had to make a profit!)

How does 'Beautiful Words' strike you?

3. My favourite quote from a book (mention the title) is...

Hmmm.  I don't have my books with me, so I might have to defer on the actual quote.  Perhaps, for the moment, I can just muse on books whose sense of language has stayed with me.  

When I read Trainspotting, I began to speak with a Scottish accent: 'Ah dinnae ken'.

Surely, I'll want to nominate something from the works of Roddy Doyle? 'Paddy Clarke has no da!'

When I read Milan Kundera and Paul Auster,  I'm always struck by the way their prose triggers my thought processes.

The quote by Dostoyevsky, that's the raison d'etre of this blog, continues to strike a chord in me.  It's about the imperative of remaining uncertain, and that succinctly expresses my life philosophy.

(I'm really aware that all of those authors are European or North American men. I don't think that can be good?)

There are more questions, so this is to be continued...

Friday, November 16, 2007

Howl Whimper

Speaking of comics, I really like Mandy Ord's work too. She once had a gig in the-paper-whose -name-I-will-never-speak-again, in a short lived youth supplement in the late 90s.

Anyway, I feel a lot like the sentiment expressed in this panel at the moment:

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Segue: Life Is One Big Segue

As I said to Oanh, when she suggested that I might do the book meme she tagged me with as part of this segue series, 'My life feels like a constant segue at the moment'. By which I mean I never seem to be doing the very thing that should be my life's purpose aka the thesis.

I had a meeting with my supervisor yesterday, and he thinks I can finish the confirmation document before I leave for Melbourne on the weekend for a two week catch up with friends, colleagues, people I've never met, and family.

Was it wrong of me not to mention the 90 0r so assignments I was yet to mark at that point? I did rapid calculations in my head and thought, 'hmmm, an hour or two a day, tidying up and rewording, adding a bit of information that I'm all over... I can do it!' Well now I have to.

But what do I do? I start to blog. In my defence, this comes after 5 solid hours of marking and adding up. I'm trying to be efficient in my resting; best not to move too far away from the desk and computer.

Anyway, as is requisite in computer procrastination circles these days, I checked Facebook and saw the latest PhD Comics by Jorge Cham. I subscribe to PhD Comics, and every time I read one, I'm struck anew by just how perfectly Cham captures the lot of the post-graduate student, covering every anxiety from advisory meetings, future employment, teaching and more.

For instance this was me at one point:
I get a whole lot less vengeful now.

I dedicate this one to dogpossum:

DP is so not like Mike, the eternal grad student. She completed her PhD thesis and was passed with no corrections!! But still she finds herself in a Mike-like plight. Somebody give her an ongoing academic job. You won't regret it.

I don't want this post to go on for too long, because, like, I'm supposed to be doing more marking, but I wanted to put the comics up for two reasons. The first is just me taking the opportunity to boast that I saw Cham talk when he visited Brisbane. He spoke about the power of procrastination, and of course that resonated with a lecture theatre jam-packed full of post-graduates. He asked the most pertinent question posed in all of physics. The true question is not really about the inspiration that struck Isaac Newton re: gravity when the apple fell on his head, but, 'What was Newton doing sitting, daydreaming under the apple tree in the first place?' Hmmm? Procrastinating, that's what, procrastinating. Don't let me hear a word against it henceforth.

The second reason was inspired by Cham's comic about the impact of his research vs his brilliant comics:

It reminded me--there are at least six stages of thought process between first sighting 'Impact Factor' and the point I want to share--that I really wanted to plug a new blog call Comic Artist Rehab, where some independent comics artists that I encountered while doing my thesis on zines, have organised to support one another to get back to creating comics as they once did, before life and such took them in other directions.

The strips are wonderful and I especially like reading the comments they make on each other's work, because then I look at the comics again and appreciate them even more. Enjoy!

Friday, November 02, 2007

Segue: O Father Where Art Thou?

I first had the thought to do this segue series as I was finishing the ‘Immobile’ post. During the writing of the last sentence I recalled a moment of the day I’d spent with Hannah at the Science Centre, movies and playground. As I was taking her shoes off before she went off to play, or perhaps putting them on after I’d dragged her from the water, I can’t remember, she asked me the most momentous question. It was such a big question I couldn’t deal with it easily in a few sentences at the end of that post, which I’d wanted to be light-hearted. It was a question that I didn’t know how to answer, such that when I attempted to evade doing so, Hannah repeated the question, demanding in a tone that brooked no argument:

‘What happened to your Daddy?!’

At the time, I was conscious of many things at once. The first was the presence of a woman, a stranger, sitting on the bench in the playground next to Hannah. The second was that it probably wasn’t an ideal time in Hannah’s young life to be telling her the details of what happened to my father and why she has never, and will never, meet him. I thought that I wouldn’t like her to draw any similarity between my absent father and her father, newly separated from her mother and, so, not living with her at the moment, or indeed perhaps anymore.

I asked her: ‘What has your Mummy told you about our Daddy?’

‘She said he died. She said when she was little her family didn’t know about Jesus—’.

Hannah may have said something else, I don’t know, but I stopped hearing as I withstood the shock of learning that my sister had told her daughter a blatant lie.

It took me several days to realise that F’s answer might have been as good as true, but initially I’d had to confer with my other sister and we’d agreed that we didn’t agree with lying to Hannah. ‘Ohhh’, V had said when I’d told her about mine and Hannah’s conversation. ‘Ohhh’.

I don’t know if my father is dead, but, yes, I suppose he might well be; he might as well be.

He left without saying goodbye about four years after my parents divorced. My sister V went to visit him at work and Mr Yin Foo, whose family we had shared many barbecues with, was presented with the task of telling her that my father had been fired. That weekend I waited in the car with my brother while my mother went and looked through the windows of my father’s house. She returned to report that it was empty.

It would be difficult to explain that to a five year old, I guess.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Segue: The Move

Those who follow me on Twitter, either through Facebook, the sidebar here, or on Twitter proper, will already know that I’ve recently moved house. I’ve received a number of emails and messages expressing everything from shock and confusion, to utter disbelief about this latest change in my life. To understand such reactions you have to know that I lived at my previous address for just over 11 years. I would lose contact with people, only to reacquaint with them years later, and be able to respond to their catch up questions with ‘Yes, still at Cricket Street’. So you see, no-one, least of all me, was really prepared for such a momentous volte face on my part.

It isn’t that I was content living at Cricket Street, that wasn’t the source of the surprise expressed; anyone who has read this blog for even a short period of time, or been unfortunate enough to listen to me complain about living amidst football crowds and alcohol fuelled shenanigans ranging from drinking and peeing in the green zone bordering my yard, to assaults, murders and rapes, knows I was not especially happy with my living arrangements. But over the years, I just accepted that I had a good deal with the rent, especially for living by myself, and in such a central location. I generally thought I couldn’t complain too loudly, in any official capacity at least, because I had chosen extreme inner-city living.

A couple of things changed, however, that made me reassess my living options. The first of these was the sale, about two years ago, of the flats I lived in. They used to be owned by the family who lived in the house next door. The landlord was a post-war Italian immigrant who came to Australia to work on the Snowy Mountain River Hydro-Electric Scheme. He was sometimes a little overzealous in his maintenance of the yard, popping over whenever he pleased to pick up stray leaves that had fallen from the mango tree, but he was committed to offering reasonably priced accommodation. For health reasons, the family decided to sell the flats and they were bought by a woman who lived overseas, whose parents and brother found the property for her. Now instead of enduring the ministrations of micro-maintenance the flats became neglected, abandoned to the indifference of a real estate property manager, who still managed to be intrusive, ordering a whole series of inspections that seemed to have nothing to do with the appalling condition of the floors, walls, water pipes, or anything else that required the concerted attention of a tradesperson.

So there I was, wallowing in a torpor of squalor and disrepair, when I checked my email one afternoon and saw that someone was seeking a person to share with. I was assured that I’d have my own bathroom, and the asking price was on par with my then current accommodations. Here, finally, was what I could be looking for. Everyone I’d vaguely approached about the possibility of sharing more salubrious lodgings was either committed to living by themselves, on the house-sitting circuit, or caring for elderly parents. I wondered if it would be possible for me to live with someone again after thirteen years of not having to account to anyone for the state of the kitchen sink? And what about the prospect of living with a complete stranger? I had never done this, even when I first left home.

It turns out that I already knew the flat mate I’m now living with. Or, rather I knew her children. We went to youth theatre together; they were about six and eleven years old and as cute as buttons, and I was twenty-three and catching up on my ‘piano lessons’ (the kinds of extra-curricular activities that most people do while they’re still at school).

I made the decision to move in on the spot, and I suppose it’s this, after many years of inertia, while accepting all sorts of infringements upon my comfort and well-being, that has surprised so many, including myself. I sometimes wondered if I would live there putting up with crap, literally and figuratively, forever.

Now, as I sit here typing, I can reflect upon my first week in the new house; I say house, for it is a three bedroom, stand-alone townhouse type of dwelling. In addition to my own bathroom, which I must report, in very excited tones, has a bath, there is a sizeable patio that leads off my bedroom and looks onto a small cricket-pitch shaped garden, surrounded by garden beds with low-maintenance plants.

I’m sitting on my own private patio and looking at the garden.

I pulled up some stray weeds this morning, so it looks particularly nice as the light fades.

I can hear the sounds of children playing; the bossy tones of a five year old swimming with a besotted and pliable adult.

Later, I’ll go upstairs and make myself a salad for dinner in the big galley kitchen with stainless steel benches and a dishwasher. I won’t be eating much more, because I invited a friend over for afternoon tea—something I almost never did at Cricket Street since I was too embarrassed—and she bought some hommus dip with fancy crackers and some lovely Pink Ribbon foundation cup cakes, which were added to the slices of chocolate and carrot cake that had I bought from a cake shop located around the corner, past a small college campus, a league’s club, a creative glass guild, a bowls club, and across a small creek bed with only a very little bit of water in it.

I did laugh when I saw I was going from one football hub to another, but really, from this spot, you’d never know it was there, and the league’s club tends to attract a very different crowd from the pubs and hotels near Suncorp Stadium.

And later, when my flat mate returns from her long, daily walk we’ll talk about her afternoon at work in the library, and we’ll probably watch the news, watched over by various art works that she's accumulated. She’ll tell me how much she can’t bear Kevin Rudd because he’s so mannered, to say nothing of his tardiness in asserting the worth of the union movement and Howard and Costello’s indebtedness to the economic initiatives of the Hawke-Keating years.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Segue: A Series

It's been so long since I've posted, that you've probably all forgotten that I was in the middle of recounting the pictures on my phone. But, anyway, this post is not about that, it's to tell you that there'll be a series of little (fingers crossed) posts, just to fill in the gaps about what's been going on at Chez Galaxy*.

I thought I'd start with this comic that a friend and fellow blogger sent me:

Is Bannerman suggesting, do you think, that blogging is a sequestered and devoted existence?


*As Xander said to Willow: 'Do I deconstruct your segues?'

Saturday, October 13, 2007


I seem to have misplaced the cord that connects my mobile phone to my computer in the event that I want to download any of the photos I randomly snap as I go about my days.

I vaguely recall putting the cord somewhere that was safe in preparation for transporting my lap top to either work or home where I had plans to share the photos with you on this blog. Clearly my safe place was too effective; I've hidden it from myself.

If my brother and I lived in the same town, I'd be able to send them to his fancy computer via bluetooth. He would point out the flaws in my photography (in the nicest possible way), and maybe he would gussy them up a bit with Photoshop to help me appear a better photographer than I am.

It's all a bit annoying, not least because I guess I'll eventually run out of space on the memory card. The main reason, however, is that posting photos I've taken with my phone usually makes for a fairly low maintenance blog post, where I can chatter inanely about the things I've seen, where I've been etc.

And I think we all need a non-demanding blog post from me at the moment.

If I ever find the cord in question, I'll post the photos, but for now, I'll resort to taking you through them verbally. I won't be describing them so much, as they'll provide a kind of trigger for a musing or ten. Yes, there's that many photos and more.

Anyway. Moving right along.

The first group of photos are dominated by a couple of Hannah related events.

Her birthday was a couple of months ago. Everyone turned up to a place called Jiggling Jacks and watched a roomful of pink clad girls and a couple of boys run around madly, fueled by cordial and various other sugar and preservative laden treats.

I played air hockey with Hannah, but her younger cousin was the most enamoured of the game insisting on playing all the time, until the birthday girl got a bit upset by the lack of attention. All was forgiven when I presented her with a gift that combined her two great loves, ballet and stickers. The stickers were of the reusable variety, so she could create her own stories on a board that folded up like a book.

A few weeks later, Hannah and I had another day out. This time I took her to the Science Centre at the Queensland Museum.

There's a photo that looks like Hannah's head is on a platter with some fruit. She found this optical illusion very amusing. As did I. We each had to have several goes, just to laugh at one another and ourselves.

There was one of those electro-magnetic balls at the museum. (I think that's the right term). You put your hand on the glass ball and the lightning-like light is attracted to your hand. I saw someone putting their hands on the top which had the effect of completely drawing all the 'lightning' upwards. After I'd tried that, Hannah had to have a go too. So I lifted her up. I wonder how long it will be before I can't do that? She's growing so much. But she's still so adorably cute that I want to be able to lift her up for a long time to come.

I took a whole heap of photos of Hannah after we finished some lunch, where she got every bit of junk food she requested. What's the point of being an auntie if you can't encourage bad habits? I did make her wait to eat the Chupa Chup until we got to the movies, so I can be a bit of a grown-up.

Anyway, the photos I took. They were in the museum proper. She stuck her head through holes cut out of a number of props painted to resemble a family from the early 19th century as well as a variety of insects. She was, variously, an old-fashioned dressed girl, as well the girl's mother and father; then she became a fly and a praying mantis. When I was taking the photos of Hannah as an insect, two other children appeared to stick their heads through the holes to have their picture taken too. I don't know where their parents were, but I indulged them, taking their photos and showing them the results, which they seemed quite pleased with, jostling one another to pose for even more.

After we saw Ratatouille, Hannah wanted to go to a park to play on the swings. Last time I'd stayed over her place, we ran out of time to do this, so I wanted to indulge her. We wandered into South Bank and followed some people who I'd overheard talking about going to a playground.

After playing on the playground, Hannah decided she wanted to join some other kids making their way over rocks in a winding paddle-pool. I wasn't too sure about this. She wasn't exactly dressed for it. And if anything happened to her while she was in my care, I would just die. I would die anyway if anything happened to her, but you know what I mean.

It's strange what you draw upon in these moments. I recalled a class I took during undergraduate in feminism and ethics. The lecturer had spoken about raising children and the dilemma of wanting them to be safe, but weighing that up against the need for children to be able to take some risks in order to develop their identities. I wouldn't want to wrap her up in cotton wool, so I perched myself on a rock in the middle of the pool and let her go for it.

In the end I had to channel her mother in order to get her out of the pool. I tried being nice Auntie Kirsty, but that was just met with a response that she would 'never, never, never' get out of the pool. I said, 'I'm being serious. You know, in the way that your Mummy gets serious'. Well, clearly she knows the consequences of not responding to seriousness of the Mummy variety. She was out of there.

There are some nice photos of her making her way across the rocks. Every now and then she struck a ballerina pose for the camera.

I might have to do this exercise in a couple of posts, because this one is getting quite long now. Let me just finish with the final photos of Hannah.

We'd stayed over my oldest sister, V's place the night before our outing and we returned there to meet up with Hannah's mother, F. V has two Cavalier King Charles spaniels, one of whom jumped up on Hannah when she was younger. Ever since then Hannah has been wary of the dogs, sometimes completely panicked in their presence. But the night before, she seemed to have finally come to some kind of peace with them, patting them and telling them how cute they were. At the end of the big day out, she decided she wanted some photos taken with Max and Taffy. So those are the final shots of the day. The funniest pose is one where Hannah seems to have channelled a Home Boy persona. Her arms are crossed and she is glaring at the camera with all the 'tude she can muster. And it's quite a lot.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Tears of Rage Against the Machine

I'm at work today. Not the main work place, but the other one, where I've managed to pick up more work than I should ever have agreed to.

Actually, I didn't think I'd be marking these assignments at all. This is what has gotten me into the sense of trouble I'm feeling. I agreed to do the marking at the end of last semester, but then I didn't hear from the convener for ages, so I assumed he'd found someone else and I accepted other work. I didn't think that the convener would wait until the assignments were due to organise the paperwork for the appointment. Then I didn't feel as though I could say I've got too much on, because, technically, I had agreed to do the work. Well.

So between trying to marking these 80 or so assignments, I'm taking a series of short breaks by doing some blogging. I should warn you that I'm feeling a bit melancholy, which is my way of trying not to take responsibility for what you'll read in this rambling post, but, I suppose, the truth is, I've been thinking about various things along these lines for some time, things that have confused and upset me, whether it's needless emotion, I don't know--here, I think of Kate's byline from Moment to Moment: 'over thinking everything since 2005'--but I think I have to somehow get these thoughts out of my head, and I wouldn't mind some feedback from the more regular readers and commenters of this blog, because I value your insight.

To some extent, I've been prompted to write this by a couple of Oanh's posts, specifically those where she has discussed relationships between women, that is, her relationships with colleagues and school friends and her sense that she hasn't quite fitted in with them. On both occasions, on Oanh's blog, I made some obscure comments that I had felt the same way and that I would eventually work up the courage to write about it on my own blog.

Around the time I was responding to Oanh's posts, I had not long discovered that someone whom I had tried very hard to be friends with 'in real life' removed me from her blog roll. Being as honest as I can be, I have to say I took this personally; I was upset at what I interpreted as quite a public rejection. It isn't that I think anyone else necessarily noticed the deletion but more that I began to wonder what I had done to prompt the excision. Attempting to think rationally, I know that I likely didn't do anything, but I still can't convince myself that it wasn't a comment on something about me that was lacking. Or refining the nuances of my thought process even more (you see how my mind works?), I concluded that the person in question's action was a quite deliberate exclusion of my person from her network, and I became angry.

Let me explain. There's a bit of a history.

I had read this person's blog for a while. I had a link to it on my blog roll from the moment I became brave enough to link to people I knew irl, who didn't know I had a blog. Sometimes I found her blog tough going, in the sense that I suppose I do still make a distinction between academic sites and social sites, and the blog in question isn't necessarily the kind you read for social banter or laughs. It is an extension of the blogger's professional life.

Perhaps this is where much of my confusion lies. See, when I read on this person's blog that they were feeling lonely and isolated, I responded, not really as a colleague, but more as a potential friend (not that the two relationships are necessarily incompatible), saying we should do something social together irl. Well, that never really eventuated, and any common attendance at social occasions only came about through group decisions to go for drinks after work related events.

It was after several of these thwarted attempts to initiate friendship that I eventually came to the conclusion that anything I had read on this person's blog--from the feelings of loneliness and alienation through to the dissatisfaction with Brisbane's cultural life--was in fact a case of purely professional theoretical musings. I still don't know what else to conclude in light of my experience with this blogger: the words were an Affective articulation of the working conditions of a young, newly located, researcher. She is a very good writer. But it seems that there was nothing more. Nothing that could be responded to outside of the blog, an academic reading group, a conference or seminar presentation. Nothing that couldn't be turned into a research project.

What makes this situation worse, to my mind, is that even after discovering that I'd been re-evaluated as not-blog-roll-worthy, I still attempted to engage with the blogger on line. (Although it's not my efforts that make it worse, but rather the topic on which I attempted to engage with the blogger). I commented on her criticisms about a conference she had attended, where she suggested that the majority of the conference attendees had been self-indulgent, talking far too long in question times, and just generally apolitical and nostalgic. I responded to what I interpreted as a fairly sweeping dismissal of a large number of colleagues with a question. I hadn't attended the conference under discussion, but my question wasn't about the conference exactly, so much as my confusion about an apparent lack of generosity in the comments.

I asked the question, as well, because I knew a couple of the initial commenters who had concurred with the blogger's perspective (although I did not know the commenter who took me task for asking my question with a lecture about the alienating nature of academic discourse!), and when I read their assessment of the conference too, something just got stuck in my craw and a whole well of bile just wanted to spew forth.

It didn't. I tried to be calm and direct my question towards the pessimism expressed about the older generation of scholars who attended the conference (there's almost something Oedipal there), but it's true to say that there was something else in my question. And it wasn't just the freshly minted feeling of rejection I was experiencing about the blog-roll snub; no, I admit my question was informed by something a bit more putrid and festering than that.

I have been in reading groups and master classes with these young researchers, and quite frankly, I have never felt more alienated or more dismissed in my entire life, while collectively they have monopolised the attention of the visiting expert scholar, engaging them in conversations inaudible to the rest of the class's participants, while remaining entirely oblivious to their slight, and completely unreceptive to any attempt to get them to reflect upon their actions. I have had conversations where I've felt like I've been assaulted by Judith Lucy wielding a base ball bat as sarcasm after ironism has been smacked to the outfield, leaving no room for response. I have had the repeated experience of having to practically reintroduce myself every time I encounter them since there is absolutely no flicker of recognition on their faces to suggest that they've ever seen me before. To say nothing of outright moments of snobbery.

Let's talk about lack of affect, shall we?


Are you still reading?

I needed a moment.

I'm not sure where to go now.

I want to say something about hypocrisy, but I don't think the situation is as simple as that: academics of all generations are quivering masses of doubts wrapped up in poor social skills that present as snubs and slights.

Another thing that prompted this post was an invitation I received to a birthday party this weekend. It was offered with the codicil that it would be good if I could make it because unlike many of the birthday person's friends (who are perfectly lovely people) I was able to talk about something other than shop, and right now, for this occasion, that would be very welcome. At the time I laughed and said that I could be invited anywhere and relied upon to talk crap, however, I was also pleased by the observation, because I don't want to spend every waking moment consumed by work.

That said, I have little problem talking about things other than work. I wonder if that isn't some of the source of my reaction to the anxieties that I've been discussing in this post. I find it really difficult to sustain for long periods of time the level of thinking required to do academic work, so I am nonplussed when I encounter people who seem to be able to operate on that level much of the time. I'd be less worried if it wasn't true that every aspiring academic compares themselves and is compared to these people who are pathological, in the most benign sense, ie 'not normal'.

I guess I have two things to say here. The first is that by removing the link to my blog from her blog-roll the blogger in question has demonstrated that she does not consider me to be one of her colleagues. I thought I was, so that's been quite a hurtful thing to realise.

Following on from that, and more vaguely, I am drawn to wonder about a forthcoming work event where the topic for discussion is about social networking sites and blogs as forms of collegial networking for contemporary researchers, who often work in isolation. I'm curious about the ways these networks are being extended, or not, to those who research fields other than the internet, but who experience similar working conditions.

If some deliberately exclude others from these collegial networks online, refusing reciprocal exchanges and deleting links, what are the consequences for collegial relationships between individuals within and across institutions in the same physical location? What happens when you encounter flesh and blood colleagues researchers, who are in the same general field, in the corridors and cloisters, or by the lift well of the physical world institution you inhabit?

Can you always dip your head and take the stairs?

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Girly Bits

I went to the doctors today. Yes that's doctors, plural, there's no missing apostrophe there.

I went to the first doctor because I had to get my referral to the second doctor renewed. Nothing life threatening, just part of my current life. (If you've been reading this blog long enough, you'll know).

Anyway, I prepared myself mentally to see the first doctor because I knew I wouldn't get out of her office without having to submit to substantially more than the polite writing of a referral letter. I knew this because a few weeks before I had received a letter in the mail informing me that it was time for me to have a pap smear.

When I got that letter, I groaned. Don't get me wrong, my GP is the best. People tell me horror stories about pap smears and I know that I've had it good. Dr M is constantly reassuring and gentle throughout the whole awkward procedure, talking me through every step. But you know, it's still not terribly pleasant.

And somehow she manages to make me laugh too. About my response to her enquiry about what I'd been up to--'Same old, same old'--she said, 'What do you mean, 'same old, same old', you're having a pap smear!'

Then she casually mentions that I'm approaching 40. I tend to think that I'm going to be 40 in the same way that Billy Crystal responded to Meg Ryan's worries about turning 40 in When Harry Met Sally: 'When? In eight years!' Meh. But truthfully, I'm turning 40 in the way ThirdCat will be turning 40. Not so long now.

The significance of 40 for Dr M is that it means I'll have to start being vigilant about checking for lumps in my breasts. And since she is not one to miss an opportunity to administer preventative medicine, suddenly I had my shirt off and more poking and prodding ensued. Apparently one of my breasts is more fibrous than the other. (Oh, was that too much information?).

Anyway there is a point to this post aside from embarrassing self-revelation. I asked Dr M whether it was possible for women older than 26 to be immunised against cervical cancer. I wasn't sure if you had to be a certain age for the vaccination to be effective. I've seen the advertisements on bus stops encouraging young women to be immunised, and since the fellow who came up with the vaccine is a Professor at the University, I'm particularly aware of the development in preventative treatment for cervical cancer.

Well, it turns out that anyone can have it, but the government will only offer it freely to girls and young women between 12 and 26. The cost for older women is $150 per injection and three are required, one initially, another after 2 months, and yet another at 6 months.

I'm not entirely sure what I think about the imposition of an age limit on this potentially life saving treatment. On the one hand I feel outraged for older women in lower socio-economic groups. My doctor explained that many women were choosing to have the vaccination, but she knows I'm on a limited and irregular income, so she was quite subdued as she told me about it. I told her I'd think about it, but really, when it comes to my long term health, is it an option not to?

I think if I make it a priority, dip into my savings, since this is the kind of thing they're for, I probably can afford it.

Hope you and your loved ones can too.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Strangers To Ourselves

Every now and then you get the opportunity to see your city through another person’s eyes. In the case of friends who might be visiting, it’s not unexpected that they will comment on things they’ve never seen as they take in the sights that distinguish your town from any other. It is surprising (or at least I found it so), however, when people who are in town as part of their working lives point things out, things that comprise your everyday life, as strange.

The first time I was aware of the potential strangeness of my everyday life was on an occasion when one of my Sarsaparilla colleagues, David, was visiting
Brisbane for a conference. We met up, and he commented on the ibis, or was it the indigenous scrub turkeys, that populate the university campus where the conference was held, and which I attend. I’m not sure if it was the ibis or the scrub turkeys that David commented upon, because around the same time, I had lunch with a visiting scholar—his work was relevant to my thesis—who also made a comment on either the ibis or the scrub turkeys.

In the case of the comment on the ibis, my response was to say that they were a problem in Brisbane. Due, no doubt, to the loss of their natural habitat in water ways, perhaps because of the ongoing drought, ibis have increasingly sought food in public parks and in eateries that border on green areas. The university is an ideal site for scavenging ibis, as are the parks across the CBD. To counter the problem, in addition to ‘Do Not Feed the Ibis’ signs, the council employed the services of an eagle to swoop the ibis, and so deter them from menacing people in public areas.

The surprise expressed about the presence of scrub turkeys was that they roosted in the trees. It’s my experience that the scrub turkeys scavenge far less than the ibis. (I’ve seen an ibis use it’s curved beak to extract the filling from a sandwich). The scrub turkeys occasionally jump on tables at one eatery on campus, but everywhere else they seem content to dig holes in the gardens and nestle in for their dust baths, or rearrange the mulch into piles for their nests amongst the bamboo near the lakes, and roost in the trees too, I guess.

This past week, I’ve been introduced to some further apparently strange things about the life I take forgranted. I organised an academic symposium where many of the participants were from other parts of Australia. As part of those arrangements I chose the caterer and approved the food that was served. It was a fairly easy process. I thought the caterer offered fairly standard fare: gourmet sandwiches and wraps on the first day, a choice of lamb and couscous salad or chicken Caesar on the second (with vegetarian options), and the usual tea, coffee, and juices for drinks, while the morning and afternoon teas were various combinations of muffins, scones, Danishes and fruit platters.

Perhaps it wasn’t so strange that the symposium participants commented on the differences in the food from that which they were used to eating on such occasions, given that one of the concerns of the symposium was about regional cultural differences across Australia.

From the beginning, the people from Darwin pounced on the strawberries that are currently in season in Queensland. I was told that they just didn’t get decent tasting strawberries in Darwin, and while I had a vague recollection of never really having strawberries as part of my Far North Queensland upbringing, I suppose I had forgotten about the rarity of certain produce in remote areas. Even the presence of the fruit platters was commented upon; it was an enormous treat when one was used to being served biscuits at conferences. I am sure that fruit platters bursting with strawberries, grapes, watermelon, rock melon (cantaloupe), honey dew melon, oranges etc, have always been part of the Brisbane conference landscape.

The other unfamiliar moment that struck me about the response to the catering was when one of the people from Melbourne commented that we had pineapple juice in the selection of juices that were available. I said, ‘yes, don’t you?’ I learned that it wasn’t considered standard fare. And, again, when I thought about it, I realised that of course it wasn’t. Looking at the bottle I saw that the juice was from somewhere on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, just north of Brisbane, where fields of pineapples abound.

I suppose, the thing is, that many of us are used to thinking of Australia as a fairly homogenous society, in spite of (or perhaps because of?) the rhetoric of Multi-Culturalism. And suddenly, in the most banal of circumstances, over a table of food, shared between, it must be said, a fairly homogenous group of academic and industry researchers, there were differences that I hadn’t contemplated. My world was made unexpectedly strange.

And that was before I saw the woman from Melbourne pouring pineapple juice into her coffee.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

People At Bus Stops

After I saw Takva, I walked to the bus stop, the same one where a complete stranger had placed his face two inches from mine and insisted that I say hello to an apparently mutual friend.

Checking the bus timetable, I was pleased to see that my bus was due in about five minutes and proceeded to take a seat. As I turned to sit down, a man walking along the street, smoking a hand-rolled cigarette, hesitated in his tracks before deciding to sit down as well.

I didn’t know if I’d imagined the man’s split second decision to change his plans upon seeing me take a seat. I tried not to look at him. I took in the streetscape around me. I glanced at the activity of the markets in the Brunswick Street Mall. I risked a quick look at the man at the other end of the bench from me. He was looking straight at me.

He took the opportunity, afforded by the briefest moment of eye contact, to strike up a conversation.

He told me, in the most prosaic way, that he was on an hour release from hospital. I absorbed that information while he continued to talk. He was out buying some caffeine drinks for a fellow patient. I wondered aloud whether the hospital encouraged the consumption of caffeinated beverages. The man explained that he couldn’t have them, but they were good for his friend who was not prone to any great bursts of activity. He said his friend enjoyed being around him because he talked a lot.

I learned the man’s name; that he was 38; that he had been in hospital for 6 out of the past 11 years; that he didn’t have an eating disorder, but was always admitted for not taking care of himself. He talked about his parents’ inability to take care of him, expressing some understanding about the difficulty he presented for them.

He asked me if I would give him my phone number, producing a pen from inside his jacket. I shook my head. He said he would call me and we’d talk. He said he didn’t like skinny women, and without taking his eyes from mine, for any more than the briefest flicker, asked me to confirm that I was ‘voluptuous’. He asked me if I was interested in having children. I replied that it wasn’t a burning ambition. He was pleased by my response, saying that differences over the question of having children had been the problem in a previous relationship he’d had. He had a sixteen year-old daughter.

The sun was shining straight into my eyes, rendering my sunglasses ineffective. He noticed and adjusted his position to block out the sun for me, observing that my ‘shades’ weren’t very shady.

At some point in the conversation he told me about a government scheme where it’s possible to get 6 free appointments with a psychologist on the recommendation of a GP.

He asked me again for my phone number. I said no, but that it had certainly been worth trying. He presented his forearm, a white expanse on which he said he could write down my number. He said how difficult it was for him to meet anyone. I agreed that it must be.

He started to look around. I followed his gaze. A woman standing nearby made eye contact with me and smiled encouragingly. My bus arrived. I said goodbye to the man and boarded my bus. He crossed the road without a backward glance.

Friday, August 10, 2007


While looking through next week’s TV Week I noticed that SBS will be screening a film I’ve just seen at the Brisbane International Film Festival (BIFF). My first thought on seeing the listing for Takva: A Man’s Fear of God was, ‘Oh, I could have used my ticket to see another film.’ And just now I’ve had a brief recollection of how I had to pay an extra $6 to see Takva because there was a mix up in one of the universities’ timetables and I had to exchange my ticket for the first screening, instead of the second, so I could meet my teaching responsibilities.

In that light, the prompt appearance of Takva on SBS is a bit annoying, but in another, if the three people in Australia who read this blog are interested in the film, and have decent SBS reception, the opportunity to see it for themselves won’t be too delayed.

At BIFF Takva was one of several films that formed a focus on Rumi, the 13th century ‘mystic and poet’, whose work ‘is one of the most important sources of inspiration for theology, poetry and philosophy in the Islamic world’ (Official Programme 2007, 8) . I was attracted to this film, in particular, because it was about the Dervish order. Here I anticipated seeing the mesmerising dance of the Whirling Dervishes. Further, the brief synopsis in the BIFF Programme described the central character, Muharrem, a man who led an ascetic life, and there’s something that I find intriguing about that kind of existence.

While the order of Dervishes portrayed was not of the Whirling variety (or at least I didn't see the iconic dance), the centrality of poetry, music and movement to this order of Dervishes’ worship was evident. Extended sequences depicted the order immersed in prayer. They were seated, but they oscillated in their meditation, synchronised with one another and the sounds of their chanting.

Muharrem is invited to join the Dervish order as a lay member. He is recruited from his job working for a sack retailer by a local religious leader. His role is explained to him as one where he will concern himself with the worldly affairs of the order. In effect he is to collect the rent on the various residential and commercial properties that the Dervishes own, and oversee the maintenance and accounting associated with those business interests.

Before moving into the order’s premises, Muharrem has lead a simple life. He submits himself to the orders of his somewhat self-satisfied boss, without complaint. He lives in a small, worn apartment, and heats his plain dinner for one on a gas burner. He wears clean but shabby clothes and a knitted hat. He is devout. The invitation to serve the Dervish order is an honour for Muharreme. He is frightened that he won’t fulfil the faith the order has placed in him, but to decline would be akin to an insult.

From the moment Muharrem accepts the position his life is altered. His boss begins to defer to him, if somewhat insincerely. The order gifts him with a range of luxury items, including a brand new car and wardrobe, accoutrements, they explain, that are necessary for his work, which enables the order to continue its operations, such as the education of the poor.

It is perhaps not surprising that a man as devout as Muharrem begins to struggle with his new found power and wealth. Ironically, perhaps, it is the religious members of the order who prove to be far more prosaic about ‘worldy affairs’, while Muharrem is shocked by tenants who drink alcohol and wants to extend charity to the poor families from whom he collects.

In this age, where many representations of the Islamic faith, in Australia and other Western countries, are routinely imbued with the fear of terrorist acts, it is an important role that film festivals (and SBS) play in bringing to our attention the lives of ordinary Muslims as they go about their every day lives. Takva: A Man’s Fear of God is a film that effectively portrays one man’s efforts to live a life according to the principles of his faith; that the institution of his faith presents the greatest test of those principles is the paradox that makes Muharrem’s story so compelling.

See Sarsaparilla for a look at another BIFF screening.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Hazy Sunday Afternoon

Brisbane is smoky today. But there's a high, full moon.

Someone was playing music until 5.40 this morning. This afternoon there was a football game on.

I walked across the William Jolley bridge to the Gallery of Modern Art and saw Gabrielle.

I bought some red wine.

And will soon eat some Floating Market soup.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Nerdettes FC

Despite my recent Rockin’ Girl Blogger award from Lucy Pigpuppet,

I think the final nail in the coffin of my hipster status was hammered all the way in yesterday.

What precipitated this death knell was the revelation that John Howard, Prime Minister of Australia has discovered YouTube.

For a moment there, I thought I was cooler than our conservative, track-suit wearing, sexagenarian leader since, as you know, I embraced YouTube, fully, over a week ago now. (And, as perhaps you don’t know, my tracksuit is black velours).

But then I realised that John Howard has posted a video on YouTube. He has his own channel, while I’m still using YouTube to access digitised BBC dramas from 1994!

Oh, well, I can’t truthfully say I wasn’t aware that my cutting edge status on the internet had never been forged beyond a sort of blunt rock.

I’m the kind of person who is still inordinately excited at having access to the OED online*.

And because I think these people might be excited by that fact too—and I just love their blogs—these are the recipients of my own Rockin’ Girl Blogger awards:

Ariel from Jabberwocky

Clare from Keeper of the Snails

Molly from My Madeleine (I've never actually had a conversation, online or otherwise, with Molly. Hope she doesn't think I'm stalking her. Still, there were no rules specified about have to 'know' the Rockin' Girl Blogger in question).

Oanh from Halfway Between Ca Mau and Sai Gon

Sophie from Sophie Cunningham


* Words looked up on the OED this past week include:

integument, n. That with which anything is covered, enclosed, or clothed; a covering, investment, coating. a. In general sense. (Now usually either fig. from, or with humorous allusion to, next sense.)

iatrogenic, a. Induced unintentionally by a physician through his diagnosis, manner, or treatment; of or pertaining to the induction of (mental or bodily) disorders, symptoms, etc., in this way.

Manichaean, n. and a. B. adj. Of, relating to, or characteristic of Manichaeism or its adherents; (more generally) of or relating to dualism, dualistic.

psephology The study of public elections, and statistical analysis of trends in voting; loosely, the prediction of electoral results.

veridical, a. 2. spec. in Psychol. Of hallucinations, phantasms, etc.: Coincident with, corresponding to, or representing real events or persons.

mystagogy, n. Initiation into mysteries, or instruction preparatory to this; the practices or teachings of a mystagogue.
Occas. derogatory although now often replaced by MYSTAGOGUERY n. in such contexts.