Sunday, August 31, 2008

A PhD in Horribleness

I came across news of Joss Whedon's Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog at Gwen's blog.

In composing this post I've come to realise that it's not officially available outside of the USA or Canada yet, which means I'm incriminating myself if I talk about how hilarious Nathan Fillion and Neil Patrick Harris are in this three act online musical. And if I give fulsome praise to this tale of a love-lorn evil mastermind then I'm toast.

It's the kind of thing I'll want to own on DVD to watch in High Definition (if that's possible), so hopefully it won't be long before the rest of the world gets proper access.

What is interesting about Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog from a Television Studies perspective is that once again Whedon has proved himself to be an innovator in the medium. Out of the mess of the writers' strike Whedon has found a way to deliver content that people want to watch (5 weeks at #1 on i-Tunes television downloads), by-passing the usual first-time distribution channels for this kind of work.

I predict a slew of PhD theses about Dr. Horrible, if not its very own journal.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Bubble n Squeak

For a moment I toyed with calling this post 'Rain and Bird shit' as a way of registering my irritation with some of the comments over at The Orwell Prize blog. In particular I'm talking about those comments which express dismay that things Political didn't occupy Orwell's thoughts all the time. On this point, that many of the comments take the liberty of referring to Orwell by his birth name, Eric Blair, rather than his pen name, strikes me as especially ironic. What after all are the expectations of the personal diaries of a man with whom they presume such familiarity? It seems to me that there's a mordant fear of banality, in the sense of something trite or trivial, evident in the comments. It's as if the commenters are convinced that if they betray any interest in someone interested in the change of seasons or the ripening of various fruits and crops or, yes, the colour of the local birds' shit, then that will somehow reflect upon them in such a way that is incommensurate with their sense of themselves as people who only think Important Thoughts.

One can only hope, on their behalf, that Orwell's perspective on the outbreak of WWII will prove to be a suitably interesting contrast to all that terrible banality. Hmmm, isn't that an old Chinese curse?: 'May you live in interesting times'.

I suppose my irritation with these comments arises from the fact that I have a less fractious relationship with banality. Meaghan Morris reminds us that banality also means 'commonplace'; it is the ordinary and everyday aspects of life that many humans have in common. When banality is understood as a 'common place', then it is a place to arrive at rather than flee from. This is much of what cultural studies is concerned with. So, on that note, I will say that it's also getting warmer here in Brisbane as Spring is officially but a couple of days away, and the shit that concerns me most right now is that of fruit bats: why do they have to splash it all over the side of house?


I eventually decided upon 'Bubble n Squeak' because, although you wouldn't know from that diatribe above, this was planned as a kind of bits and pieces post. I have a few things to mention that probably warrant dedicated posts, but I don't really have the stamina to write all the posts I want to, or think I should be writing, right now. As well, I can't resist a culinary pun when there is one to be had.

So, I'm sitting here, with a glass of red wine in hand--my first since my sister scared me with all her talk of fatty liver disease--and munching on vitaweats with hummus bi tahina and roast capsicum, trying to figure out how to make my thoughts concise and orderly.

Even as I say that, I have to go off on a tangent immediately to tell you that I did have a glass or two of white wine last Friday when I went over to Clare's new house-sit. There, I was commandeered as a pillow by the cat of the house. All was going very well until even this cat-deprived cat lover had to go to the bathroom and so disrupt said cat's slumber. Who needs LOLCats to interpret the language of cats? It was a very clear message: 'Pillow. Ur doin' it wrong'.


I wrote some notes on the way home, on the back of a template for a mask I picked up from the kids section of the 'Picasso and His Collection' exhibition, to remind myself of the things I wanted to tell you. Let me go and get it.


I pilfered the 'Make A Mask' template to give to my niece next time I see her. I did the same with the Kids' Activity book from the Andy Warhol exhibition that GoMA hosted earlier this year. She had a fun time with that. Now, whenever she says something is boring, I ask her 'What did Andy Warhol say?' She's never terribly impressed by that come back.

These exhibitions, along with the Meaghan Morris lecture I linked to above, are definitely events I think I should have blogged about, not here so much as over at Sarsaparilla. I haven't posted over there for a while, and I do feel some responsibility to represent Brisbane and Queensland since I'm the only contributor from these parts.

Anyway, just briefly, I enjoyed both exhibitions. I liked the way the Picasso exhibition placed the artist so firmly in the context of his influences, making the point that he was able to make something new because he was an avid collector and admirer of other artists' works. Like writers who read, he was an artist who was better because was literate in his chosen medium.

Overall, I think the Andy Warhol exhibition was better as an exhibition. Perhaps that's due in part to Warhol's own marketing savvy (certainly the gift shop offered a better range of merchandise). It felt far more dynamic than 'Picasso and his Collection'. I'll make special mention of the time-line in the Picasso exhibition, which was just so wordy and cumbersome, a blockade in the middle of the exhibition. I decided I could read about Picasso's life in the exhibition's catalogue that I would inevitably purchase.

I suppose one could argue that the equivalent of the time-line in the Warhol exhibition was the cabinets jammed with the ephemera of Warhol's shoe-boxes, but perhaps because it was ephemera and not an historical time-line, I was happy to take a far more aleatory approach to the material.

It was good to see some works by Henri Matisse that I hadn't before. What colours!


Looking at my notes, I seem to have been a bit crankier on the way home than I am now. I've noted that while looking at the exhibition there were a couple of times when I hung back to let a few voluble 'experts' move ahead of me. I like silence when contemplating pictures, or rather I like the head space to think things through. A ridiculous expectation to have in a public art gallery, I know.

I did have to laugh when one young boy was acting as a guide to some younger children, pointing out the various anatomical features in Picasso's more abstract works so they could make sense of the figures.


On the way home, I walked across the Victoria Bridge and saw the preparations for the Riverfire fireworks tonight. There were people waiting on the bridge, up to 2 hours before the fireworks began. That's committment.

On the bridge, there were tubes filled with those plastic bread bag seals, accompanied by signs that said some extraordinary number of them had been fished from the river. I've forgotten the number. The statistic that stuck in my head was the one that said if they were stacked on top of one another the line would extend 1km.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Chicken Tonight and Mushrooms for the Next Two Days

I'm waiting for my dinner to cook. It's chicken, Super Tasty Spanish Roast Chicken, in fact. Since it's a Jamie Oliver recipe from Jamie's Dinners, you all probably have the recipe so don't need me to replicate it here.

I'm also making some Real Mushroom Soup from the same recipe book, although my substitutions have rendered it Swiss Brown Mushroom Soup, rather than the 'authentic' wild varieties gathered in the English or Italian countryside.

In combination, both of these will be lunch and dinner over the next two or three days. I took a mobile phone photo of the chicken before it went into the oven, dotted with chorizo and stuffed up the nether regions with a couple of hot lemons and some parsley stalks, but I haven't taken the time to transfer the images to my laptop just yet.

What I do have on my laptop right now are some photos of another meal that I prepared quite some time ago. I only discovered these photos fairly recently; I'd completely forgotten about them, but it's clear that I had intended to blog the recipe since the photos are of the step-by-step variety. Such attention on my part to documenting the preparation process is fortuitous because just as I managed to forget about the photos, I also forgot the origins of the recipe I prepared and recorded so diligently.

So, here's a photo-recipe for salad. Coincidentally, it also has chicken and mushrooms as feature ingredients:

Dried wood ear mushrooms, reconstituted. I don't think that many are actually required.

Sliced spring onions. Looks like one, maybe two. Whaddya reckon?

Peeled Lebanese cucumber. Fluorescent glow optional.

Here I seem to have sliced the mushrooms and added some chopped coriander.

That looks like some julienned celery on the left. I do know that chicken on the right is poached thigh, because that's what I tend to buy. The recipe probably asked for breast meat.

I'm guessing: soy sauce, maybe fish sauce, peanut oil, a dash of sesame oil, dried chilli? It's the kind of thing you can probably make up.

Toss it all about. Fresh, crispy, tasty.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Take Two

For my own amusement, I decided to have another go at making my Manga self. This time I discovered another nose option that I hadn't noticed before, and another hair option as well that allowed me to account for its curl/general messiness and my habit of tucking my hair behind my ears.

I think this one is a bit more reflective of the cultural studies chick in me, but my head still isn't that big in proportion to my body. I do have red lounge chairs at home, but they're a bit more 70s retro in their style than this stuffed-armchair look. Some of that padding should be transferred to me, really.

Meanwhile as we're sitting comfortably in cultural studies mode (we were, weren't we?), I finally finished watching Boys from the Blackstuff, the British social-realist drama from 1982, written by Alan Bleasdale, and constantly cited in academic writing on television as the epitome of television at its most critical of government policy.

It's difficult to discuss this mini-series on its own merits 26 years after it was first broadcast. As viewers we have become far more used to advanced production technologies, even in works of social realism. Boys from the Blackstuff shows its age, not least because Julie Walters was, for me, virtually unrecognisable as Angie Todd, but also because the Play for Today model is very much in evidence; each installment could feasibly stand alone and at times the dialogue is so labored and didactic that it does seem better suited to the realm of the theatre.

Still, having expressed these reservations, it would be impossible to deny that at the time of its release, two years after the Brixton Uprisings, amidst rates of unemployment in Britain greater than those of the 1930s Depression, Boys from the Blackstuff would have been incredibly resonant with the greater British public. Each of the characters is metonymic of the experiences of the working classes under Thatcher's Tory government. There's George who epitomises the old union leader, committed to improving the lot of manual labourers and their families. He is dying. There's Chrissie, who used to be positive in the most dire of circumstances, but who has been ground down by unrelenting unemployment and poverty, and the strain it has put on his marriage.

The plight of Yosser Hughes is the most confronting, even while it's here that Bleasdale's script is at its most self-conscious. This character put me in mind of R W Connell's description in the first edition of Masculinities of some young men he interviewed who exhibited a 'tense, freaky facade'. I've always thought that the most perfect articulation of some young men I've encountered, those who you're never quite sure what their next move will be, except to say that it could easily be violent and so a direct threat to your personal safety.

Bleasdale makes a clear connection between the social effects of Thatcher's policies and the deterioration of the mental well-being of Yosser. His catchphrase is 'Gis a job' and he repeats it over and over while using his physical presence to intimidate his target. It's frightening. His friends begin to avoid him and his children are taken from him after his wife leaves him. Completely isolated from his peers and society, he returns home to his mother. He is a child again, his deteriorated mental state precludes any hope he will be fit for any kind of work again.

Overall, I do think it was important for me to see Boys from the Blackstuff, for many reasons related to appreciating television as a distinct medium. I'd be interested to know if anyone reading this managed to see this mini-series when it was originally broadcast, either here in Australia, or the UK, especially. Did it seem like significant television at the time to you?

Monday, August 18, 2008

If I Were A Manga Chick

Heads up to Sophie for directing me to this site where I created my Manga self.

Of course the resemblance is superficial, but I do often wear pink and can frequently be found in the kitchen (at parties and otherwise).

I did try and achieve some veracity by giving myself some crow's feet, but the glasses I added have effectively hidden them. Although if that happens in real life, then I do look this good. Except for my hair. And my head is not that big in proportion to my body. And that mole should be a bit more centred on my cheek and it would probably have a hair growing out of it, if I hadn't gotten around to plucking it lately. Heh.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Absolute Zero

Here's another week of my writing journal. I think there's something of the masochist about me for posting this document of abject failure, but for some reason, right now, I'm finding it so absurd, I can only laugh. I suppose the point is that achievement can't always be measured by counting words.

Monday, 11 August, 2008
time: 0 mins
length: 0 words
comment: Exhausted from non-stop weekend including final days of film festival, meeting of book club, full day of tutor’s conference on Saturday, and tutorial preparation on Sunday. Dragged myself into uni for tutorial at 1pm. Received feedback from supervisor on most recent writing: ‘onward!’

Tuesday, 12 August, 2008
time: 0 mins
length: 0 words
comment: How easily I seem to have lost the writing habit after the first couple of very good weeks. I lazed around all morning then dragged myself out for a haircut appointment. I need to get back on track!

Wednesday, 13 August 2008
time: 0 mins
length: 0 words
comment: Nothing done again today. The psychological effects of the Ekka holiday cannot be discounted, but still I did intend to work on my thesis. I’m a bit disappointed in myself. Did lots of washing and cleaned the bathroom, as well as about two hours transcribing interviews for one of my RA contracts. This particular interviewee speaks so quickly.

Tomorrow I will try to write first thing, which I realise was the initial recommendation, but I’m not a morning person by any stretch, so I’ve always settled into the day before attempting to write. Perhaps the change of habit will shake me up. Something has to.

Just had a thought about what might be stopping me from writing, so to speak. I really have to get into the reporting of my findings now, and I’ve still got lots of categorising to do, plus the usual worry that I should go and do the database searches again in case I’ve missed something. Even if I don’t strictly write tomorrow, I at least need to report some progress on the content analysis.

Update: After writing the above entry I wrote 660 words in my teaching journal, reflecting on the tutor day last weekend and the tutorial on Monday.

Thursday, 14 August 2008
time: 0 mins
length: 0 words
comment: I succumbed to the urge to re-do some database searches. Part of the difficulty is that I’m worried I didn’t really approach the searching in a systematic way from the beginning because two of the three the databases I’m using are so bloody unwieldy, seemingly designed for use by those who know specifically what programmes they’re looking for rather than any theme or content-based search. I have been so annoyed about this glaringly obvious oversight in the design of these databases that I managed to get an abstract together on it for the television history conference later this year. So, some good has come out of all this frustration, but sheesh what a pain in the arse it’s all been.

Anyway, so, no official words but major problem solving going on—or is that major grunt work going on? My supervisor assures me that once I have the figures writing this stuff up is a doddle. Quite looking forward to that.

Friday, 15 August 2008
time: 0 mins
length: 0 words
comment: Anticipating the day ahead here. I’ve chosen to accept an RA mission for today (cue Mission: Impossible theme music), which involves finding a book and searching through it. I figure the Mission: Impossible allusion made by D in his request was a heads up that it won’t simply be a matter of looking on his bookshelves. Still have more transcribing to do for A. Promised I’d be done with this interview by the end of the week, which I’ve decided is Sunday.

On my own work, I’ll continue with the hyper-vigilant database searching. I did find it reassuring yesterday.

To end, this is from You, the Living one of my favourite films at the film festival. Neither it, nor my other favourite, My Winnipeg made it into the Showtime Top 10 as voted by the festival's patrons. Absurd.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008


5 August 2008

Went into classroom yesterday and tried to create a presence. It wasn’t immediately successful because I still seemed to struggle to contain the errant chatting. I did draw their attention to it however, suggesting that it made the goal of everyone participating in discussion a bit more difficult.

On a related issue I found out that I have a range of levels in the class, everything from first year to third year. I suggested that when we do group work that people stick to people in their year levels, so that the first years have the chance to discuss their ideas without feeling intimidated by the advanced level of the third years, and similarly so the third years don’t get bored. Most were amenable to this reasoning, although one of the third year boys still tried to get in a group with some first year girls because they were closer to where he was sitting. He asked if it was a ‘rule’ that he couldn’t be in a group with first years. (Well, no. But think about someone other than yourself. Moving an extra three feet won’t kill you, especially if those girls’ confidence in expressing their ideas is affected by your somewhat bolshy presence. I only thought this).

Part of asserting my presence was done by outlining the plan for the tutorial, which was to address the questions for the first two weeks, to make sure they were answering them so they could get the marks they want. While I mentioned the various levels of learning again, I don’t think I was especially clear that they’ll need to provide more than information to get more than a pass. I asked them if they had managed to include quotes from the book to support their answers. They hadn’t, but hopefully the brighter ones will pick up on that and include them in their future answers.

I ran out of time again. We managed to answer the Tarzan questions, mostly, but didn’t get to go over the first week’s questions in any substantial way. I’ll make it a goal to have discussions about ‘popular’ and ‘culture’ next week when we discuss the topic of popular fiction more generally. I gave them a couple of news articles, where Howard had criticised the curriculum for teaching popular texts and a Web Diary blogger had dissected his assumptions, so that should feed into the discussion as well.

I made sure I fulfilled my request from last week to get them to write about an effective learning experience they’d had—even if most of them didn’t remember that I was going to ask. A couple of students didn’t write anything, which is their prerogative, but made me realise that some students just aren’t interested in this kind of meta-reflection. I can understand their impatience; they might see it as taking time away from their engagement with the content of the course, simply to help me with my teaching, when they might be thinking that’s my business to figure that out for myself. I don’t know. I’m following the advice in a couple of books on teaching in higher education that I’m reading, which cite the benefits of making the process of teaching a transparent process.

Anyway, I read through the comments of those students who did respond. They mentioned things like having an approachable teacher. Some were happy with the benefits they got from having class discussions. While some liked to have a clear exercise in class where they were able to consolidate their knowledge and understanding of a topic, by having a writing exercise or something similar.

On the one hand I figure I’m fairly approachable, especially if that’s the opposite of being authoritative in a punitive sense. It’s the open discussion vs structured activities that confuse me. In the past I’ve had evidence that students have interpreted open discussions as a sign that I haven’t planned anything, even when it’s been quite clear in my mind that there is a structure, and that I’ve worked hard on asking pertinent questions to keep the discussion moving in a relevant direction. On the matter of having set exercises, well, I guess I’ve been intimidated in the past by students who seem quite resistant to writing things down. They’re convinced it’s a waste of time and they’re not shy about saying that. Even when I know that writing things down forces everyone to think really hard and articulate something clearly that they mightn’t have arrived at simply through discussion.

I wish I wasn’t so easily intimidated, and I guess that’s why my major teaching goal this semester is about asserting a credible presence in the class room. I’ll keep on with my reading about teaching in higher ed and incorporate some of the strategies that the students themselves nominated as effective for their learning.

Friday, August 01, 2008


I've mentioned before on this blog how much I struggle with writing. I have always found it incredibly difficult.

I have memories of being utterly paralysed when writing essays in high school. How I ever made it to university the first time around is still a mystery to me, because I completely froze in the statewide tests we took which decided the final tertiary entrance scores.

Suffice to say my fears did me no good in that first attempt at an Arts degree. I think I spent most of my late teens and early twenties in a state of fear, not just about writing, but pretty much everything. It wasn't a happy time at all.

I ended up dropping out of university and working a series of casual and temporary unskilled jobs, before I decided to have another go at tertiary education. How I ever got through my second attempt at an Arts degree is somewhat less of a mystery, but effectively I credit one incredibly supportive lecturer who was prepared to offer me extension after extension throughout the course, and still say things as encouraging as that I had assisted her understanding of the works of Julia Kristeva.

It wasn't until this particular lecturer asked if I was going to go onto Honours that it even occurred to me that it was a possibility for the likes of me. I did go on, first to achieve a first class Honours, then a Master's for which I made the Dean's List for Outstanding Research Higher Degrees, and now I'm in receipt of a second scholarship and completing a Research PhD.

At this point, you think even I'd believe that I could write, but still, this annoying and crippling anxiety about writing persists. My anxieties held up the progress of my Master's and the whole process seems to be repeating itself with my PhD.

One of the things I'm most fearful of is that I won't be finished before my current scholarship runs out. Actually, I've pretty much accepted that will occur, but if I'm feeling anxious now, I know how much more anxious I'll feel when I don't have that $380 a week (OMG, my rent is $270/week and only likely to go up).

In an effort to minimise the time that I'll have to be writing my PhD while trying to look for alternative sources of income, I responded to an email inviting people to join a 15 minute writing group. The idea is that you spend at least 15 minutes per day writing and keep a diary noting the time spent writing, the word count, a brief description of the writing, and any comments about the process. Because it's a group rather than an individual activity, the idea is that the individual diaries are circulated amongst the group members.

I've found reading other people's diaries, learning about the things that they struggle with when getting words on paper/screen, incredibly helpful. I've been more productive, in a substantial way, on my thesis in the past two weeks than I have for a long time. Ultimately, the grand total of my words thus far has been 2000. This does not seem much when I compare myself to what I imagine other, more effective, people write, but when I compare this progress with that I made in the previous two weeks, then I have improved by 100%.

It's this last figure that has me feeling far happier, with a greater sense of achievement, than I have experienced for a long time. Now I don't beat myself up verbally when I haven't written 1000 words a day, but I note how I managed to untangle a particularly convoluted thought process in just one hour.

Here's this past week's diary for your perusal. Aside from my anxiety, you'll probably learn more about my thesis than I think I've ever mentioned on this blog*.

Sunday, July 27, 2008
time: 30 mins
length: 500 words
description: Teaching journal
comment: Anticipating first tutorial tomorrow.

Monday, July 28, 2008
time: 30 mins
length: 550 words
description: Teaching journal
comment: Reflected on first tutorial and meeting with A about my LEX feedback. Turns out my problem isn’t communication, it’s authority and conviction.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008
time: 1 hr
length: 220 words
description: Thesis. Explanation of the evolution of another content analysis variable: Occupation
comment: As I was writing I had a thought about another category that needed to be included. While I’ve come across plenty of examples in my coding of patient characters who are either criminals or hospitalised, I’d forgotten about other employment external to the usual understanding of labour markets such as students and people looking after families. Immediately I could think of characters for whom I’ll need this category: Claire Fisher, Carmella and Meadow Soprano, Bree Van De Kamp…

Wednesday, July 30, 2008
time: Not so good at the time keeping today, maybe 2 hrs in total, accrued in 10-20 min stretches.
length: 280 words
description: Thesis. More explanation of content analysis variables, this time in relation to mental health professionals.
comment: If only I could sit still for more that 10 minutes before feeling the need to jump up and hang out the washing or some other domestic chore. I do use that time as thinking/refining time, but I’m convinced more effective writers can sit and concentrate for long stretches at a time. There I go again comparing myself to others. Note to self: ‘Stop it! Just try and think about how you’re on track for another 1000 “excellent and polished”** words’ (fingers crossed).

Have somehow managed to make useful remarks about the various hypotheses the content analysis will be testing. Quite fascinating that even in compiling the variables and trying to come up with categories that are exhaustive I’m getting a sense of the discrepancies between representations in television drama and mental health research as it is manifest in things like the US Surgeon General’s Report on Mental Health and the DSM-IV. Also getting a sense of developments in representations over the history of English-speaking television simply by have to explain and revise the categories.

Thursday, 31 July, 2008
time: Stuffed up the time keeping again. About an hour or so?
length: 230 words
description: Continuing with thesis.
comment: So much for the multi-tasking aspirations I started with. It’s all I can do to think about my thesis at the moment. It should be my priority anyway, the other two things are months away. Turns out I don’t have a meeting with my supervisor until next Friday, so I’ll have even more evidence of working, which can only be a good thing. Note: I’m on track for another 1000 words on my thesis this week. Also note: the Film Festival is starting and I couldn’t resist the incredibly discounted film student passes I was offered. Will be interested to see how I balance this extra-curricular activity with my writing goals.

Friday, 1 August 2008
time: 1 hr
length: 260 words
description: Thesis. Up to talking about ‘Site of Intervention/Treatment’
comment: Saw two films at BIFF today, but managed to get myself up to around the 1000 word mark for the working week before I went out. Progress is steady and in the right direction.

Aware that this diary is perhaps a little, nay, a lot, more wordy that everyone else’s. Trying to strike a balance between being overly confessional, yet making it meaningful for me as a tool of reflection.

* Don't pinch my ideas. Please. Although I don't suppose I can stop you.
** Direct quote from supervisor in feedback on previous 4000 words submitted