Wednesday, December 23, 2009

So This Is Christmas

It's been a bit dreary on this blog lately I know, and I'm afraid things aren't going to improve any time soon as far as I can tell.

I'm still not really having a good time with things. It's got to the point where my doctor has given me a medical certificate to present to Centrelink declaring that I am unfit for work for the next three months. She also advised me to take 3 weeks off immediately.

The certificate will give me some respite from having to look for 10 jobs a fortnight. I'll still look for work, I have to, but as working on just one application for the past two days has made me realise, I am genuinely not capable of one per day. That application utterly exhausted me. I wanted to sleep forever after I submitted it. And then I wanted to burst into tears.

The payment that I will eventually receive from Centrelink won't be enough to even pay my rent. I worked out that even with the bits of research work I might get I'll be able, perhaps, to have around $100 per fortnight left over.

Obviously I have to find someone to move into the room that is currently my study, so I can eke some more room into my budget. I'm not worried about giving up the room, but since my last disastrous attempt to share accommodation, I'm gun-shy about potential flatmates. Repeat to self: 'Your last flat mate was not representative of people in general'. I'll need to prepare a good list of questions for interviewing applicants. I'll need to remind myself not to dismiss my intuition when a passing comment indicates potential incompatibility.

On Christmas eve, I'm going to a friend's place for dinner. I'll enjoy that.

For Christmas, I'm spending the day with my sisters and niece. I'm looking forward to that.

Then between Christmas and New Year, I'm going to Coochiemudlo for a couple of nights to visit some friends. I am dying for that.

In the first week of the year I'm going to use the free tickets to a day session at the Brisbane International that someone I know from Twitter so very generously sent my way. That will be fun, as I've never been to a professional tennis match before.

So, things aren't wonderful--I am scarily broke--but there'll be a few lovely moments with some friends and family that, hopefully, will go some way to restoring me for the year ahead.

Merry Christmas.

Monday, December 14, 2009

An Observation

Often, when people are discussing the poverty of postgraduate students, special mention is always made of how particularly difficult it is for those with families to support.

I don't want to deny this. Yes, it would be difficult, impossible, to support a family of even one child, with only a scholarship for income.

But what maddens me about this often-repeated assertion is that it imposes a hierarchy of need, where single people are apparently less in need of financial support, any other special consideration or, indeed, compassion, than those who have children and partners.

I'm entering difficult territory here. It's not my intention to contribute to the op-ed-fuelled battle between parents and single women (for it is always single women who are problematic). I am not against children or the desire to have children or those who choose to have children. One of my favourite persons is, in fact, a child, for whom I would do almost anything. ☺

What upsets me, however, is the assumption that it's easier for single people to get by in conditions of poverty or with a low income. Actually, it's difficult for me to know whether it is easier or not for single people, since I've never been a parent. Let me attempt then, to step outside of what seems to be a particularly unhelpful binary opposition between those who are coupled (with children) and those who are not, and tell you about my experience of postgraduate poverty.

The first thing is that poverty is not simply about money, it's as much about isolation and a lack of social support. In fact, this might be the only item I go into right now, for I am consumed with it.

I have a family into which I was born, but it's a difficult one. Sometimes I've had the opportunity to witness the various kindness that friends' families do for them and I'm astonished at such generous, unreserved giving. It's not simply material gifts I'm thinking of here but a generosity of spirit which reassures my friends that if they were in any trouble they could call on their family and be guaranteed support in all its forms.

I don't have this grounding and so it should scarcely be surprising that I haven't been able to create such a family for myself.

There are many people who strive for the myth of self-reliance and although I am clearly not self-reliant in terms of growing food in order to feed myself, I am self-reliant to the extent that anyone in a liberal democratic society can be. Again, this is more than financial self-reliance, although that is great, it is also emotional self-reliance. It is self-reliance from which there is never any respite. It is self-reliance that must be the basis for achieving the same things that those who don't have to worry about shelter and food on a daily basis are achieving with the love and support of others who are in this life with them.

This is my observation: it's hard to do a postgraduate degree when you don't have anyone to share the burdens, financial and emotional, of everyday life.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Dear Food Diary

I ate kangaroo three days in a row. The same meal in fact: kangaroo bolognese with zucchini. On the first night I served it with penne. On the second night I had it without pasta; just by itself with cheese. On the third day, I had it for lunch--to introduce some variety, you understand. This time I had no cheese with it. I had a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice to accompany it instead.

I had the same breakfast two days in a row: a peanut butter and raspberry jam sandwich with my daily dose of plant sterol spread. Did I mention the bread was multi-grain with oats? Simply by virtue of doing this diary exercise I felt compelled not to have a peanut butter and raspberry jam sandwich on the third morning. Instead, I toasted my bread and filled it with ham, tomato and cheese.

I didn't drink any alcohol for the whole three days. I had 6 cups of coffee; 2 cups of Caro; 4 glasses of Peach Tea flavoured cordial; 1 glass of milk; and two glasses of orange juice.

I ate three nectarines; 130g of blueberries in natural syrup; and 150g of frozen raspberries. The last was blended in a food processor with 1/2 cup of yoghurt and 1/4 cup of sugar to make home-made frozen yoghurt.

I ate out twice: a chickpea salsa and a pasta salad from a shopping centre food court on the first day. On the second day, from the same food court, I had 2 cinnamon donuts and a coffee. That was lunch.

On the third and final night of this record keeping, well and truly over kangaroo for the week, I made fried eggs with spring onions and oyster sauce. I served them with steamed rice, bok choy and more oyster sauce.

There are a couple of things I consumed over the three days that didn't make it into the official diary. One was a stick of celery that I ate while I prepared dinner on the third night. I forgot to record it and then I didn't want to make it look like I ate a stick of celery after the frozen yoghurt I consumed for dessert. The second item was the 30 or so mixed cachous that I snuck from the cake decorating supplies when I wanted a guilty, sugary treat in a house otherwise devoid of sweets. I had no idea how to explain that, dear diary.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Guinea Pig

Today I began filling in a food diary.

It isn't the sort of diary that proponents of the CSIRO or the GI diets advocate, although that certainly wouldn't be a bad reason for me to keep one. (Yes, you must cast aside any vision you may have of me as a tall, glamorous, svelte being and replace it with a considerably more padded and homely type).

No, I've started to keep a food diary because I'm required to, for three days, as part of a medical study for which I volunteered.

Yes, I'm surprised that I signed up for such a thing too.

Normally, I just cast my eye over the weekly update and news emails that I receive from the University. Towards the end of each email there's always a list of calls for volunteers. They tend to ask for people within fairly narrow age groups who've never experienced back or shoulder pain, or who are hikers who smoke more than 20 cigarettes a week from the left side of their mouths; strange little subcategories of people that immediately allow me to dismiss, 'Oh well, I wouldn't have volunteered anyway'.

On the occasion that prompted me to volunteer for the study I'm participating in, however, the age range was from 18-80. Lots of room there. The second requirement was related to waist measurement; it had to be over what doctors and public health campaigners deem to be healthy (Remember, you adjusted your vision of me to the roundish sort).

Alas, I fulfilled the final requirement for diagnosed depression too.

I suppose if you've been reading this blog for any length of time, you probably already knew this information. Or perhaps if you're sensitive to these things, you've picked it up. Either way, writing that, saying it out loud, as it were, still feels like a revelation, like I've just trusted you with my vulnerable underbelly.

Usually I just admit to a thyroid condition--which I do have. But in public I tend to blame any wayward behaviour on a thyroid that was zapped into hypo-activity by radio-active iodine. It's easier, a whole lot less awkward in polite company, to admit to a physical deficiency rather than a mental one. It's obvious I couldn't do anything about my thyroid going haywire, but well, admitting to long-term depression, that's quite possibly just me wallowing in self-pity and not getting on with it.

Anyway, I volunteered for this study being run by researchers in the medical school, not only because I matched all the inclusion variables, but because they're seeking to evaluate the effects of a specially designed Tai Chi program for people with depression who are at risk of developing cardio-vascular disease.

It's the Tai Chi that hooked me--I've done it before and liked it--but it was the prospect that the exercise regime I'd be required to undertake might help me wrest control over my depression that rendered me so willing to sign up.
"'You have no idea how tedious and unremarkable madness can be.'"

I have remarked before about the truth, for me, of this quote from Sophie Cunningham's Geography. I think I could probably write an entire essay on the depth of meaning there is in this short sentence, but I'll be a whole lot briefer and just focus on the frustration of living with 'madness' that it imparts.

The tediousness of depression that I experience is related to the limitations it places on my ability to achieve what I would like. I've been feeling this a lot lately. I haven't finished my thesis and I still have a lot of work to do. I hate that I have spent days incapable of getting out of bed or feeling dizzy because I let my prescription lapse while my scholarship has drifted by. My scholarship has come to an end and I need to find a job but I feel utterly incapable of getting a job. I feel qualified for nothing. My education is an albatross of over-qualification on the one hand and a lack of 'real-world' experience on the other. I don't think anyone will want to employ me even though I feel I have a range of valuable, if not directly vocational, skills. Although I think I could tell anyone how I could apply my skills, I'm convinced they won't admit any merit in my abilities.

You see how boring this all is? I wish I could get over it.

So that's what participating in this study is all about really. I want to feel capable, and this is a tiny step towards achieving that. In this instance, my depression and my risk factor for cardio-vascular disease are like assets for me to trade with. In return I'll get Tai Chi lessons three times per week and, potentially, better mental and physical well-being.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


A week or so ago in the mail I received a guide to the 6th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art which begins at the Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane on the 5th of December. I received the guide as part of my Queensland Art Gallery membership, the benefits of which I don't use nearly as much as I would like.

The guide was a 'Preview/Cinefile special edition' and while perusing its pages I came across a still from a Sri Lankan film, The Forsaken Land (Jayasundar 2005), a film that I saw at the Brisbane International Film Festival.

Click to view full image

The production still in the guide is not cropped to the extent this picture from the APT6 site is. The trunks of the trees in the surrounding bush and the bleached sky beyond them extend out of this frame to convey a sense of isolation and claustrophobia all at once.

The recent news of Australian-bound asylum seekers from Sri Lanka had already made me think of The Forsaken Land and, in particular, I recalled two things. The first was the mood or tone of the film. It is masterful film-making, conveying life as it goes on while waiting for random, unannounced explosions of military violence. It was very affective; utterly devastating.

The second recollection is about the question and answer session with the director, Vimukthi Jayasundara, after the screening. It was an odd Q & A session to the extent that it was so forcefully chaired by the representative from the film festival. The chair was determined that the audience not read the film as political. Or, if that isn't quite correct then we were, according to his instructions, to acknowledge that it was political, but then recognise that it was 'so much more'.

In this he appeared to be fulfilling the wishes of Jayasundara, who seemed to be well and truly tired of discussing the political situation in Sri Lanka instead of the merits of his film. Part of me has some sympathy for the director's schedule here, but I wonder at the assertion of the existence of a clear distinction between content and form that such a forceful request is premised upon. For me, it was precisely the various aesthetic components of the film that so effectively conveyed the weight of living under such conditions.

I think this is an important film, one that Australians must see, and especially now. I urge you to view it as political.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Water Survey

dogpossum just posed a question over on Twitter. Weeks running she's been watching her neighbour spend a long time hosing his balcony, watching the water run off and go nowhere.

For anyone who's lived with Level 6 water restrictions such a blatant waste of water is shocking, especially when there are clear alternatives for cleaning one's balcony. Sweeping comes to mind. And maybe you could even use a mop and bucket if you're concerned about dust.

There are by-laws against such blatant wastage, so it's not exaggerating too much to dub such behaviour criminal. One can be fined if a council inspector happens to be passing by.

Of course, council inspectors have many things to occupy them, so those in authority rely on citizens to survey other citizens to keep us all in order. For this they offer hotlines and websites where you can provide details of any breach one might witness.

dogpossum clearly went to the effort of looking up the option to report her neighbour, perhaps at my prompting, I don't know. At any rate, she decided against reporting her neighbour for breaching Sydney's Water Wise rules, and is going to try the 'one-on-one guilt' approach.

Anecdotal evidence convinces me that people who can stand and water concrete slabs for hours aren't likely to be very receptive to such tactics, but I won't attempt to talk dogpossum out of her chosen course of action.

What does interest me, however, is her characterisation of herself as 'anal' should she fill in the anonymous report.

Immediately upon reading this I thought of all those Foucault-informed arguments about discipline and governance and the surveillance society. If we were talking about those television ads where we're all encouraged to watch our neighbours for suspicious, potentially terrorist activities, I'd be critical of the constant exhortation to report people of Middle-Eastern appearance who carry backpacks. In this particular instance, however, I wonder if there is some merit in surveillance.

Is reporting your neighbour for wasting water the thin end of the surveillance society wedge, only undertaken by the paranoid, or is it a legitimate thing to watch out for anyone who would squander a precious resource that many in the world don't have ready access to? Is it 'anal' or responsible? Or is it something you only resort to after your water wasting neighbour has told you to fuck off and mind your own business?

Your thoughts are welcome.

Friday, October 02, 2009


A friend and her partner are in the process of buying a house on a small island just off the coast of Brisbane--Coochiemudlo.

This sign explains the Indigenous origins of the Island's name. (Click to enlarge).

Today, and last Friday, I was lucky enough to be invited along for a trip to the island, as R- anticipates her new home and small community lifestyle.

It was an invitation I jumped at because it presented the opportunity for a kind of power holiday. To be able to visit a quiet island beach seemed just the salve I needed for my recently tired and emotional state; and Coochie is only a 50 minute drive and a short ferry trip away from where I currently live.

Coochiemudlo isn't a particularly large island, but on our first visit we were surprised to find we hadn't covered nearly as much of the island as we'd thought on our wanderings.

After brunch at a cafe near the ferry dock, we had walked away from that beach around to Norfolk Beach, where Matthew Flinders had landed.

We'd taken a trek through a Melaleuca forest.

We'd spent plenty of time swimming in the ocean and kayaking on the smooth seas.

But it turns out we hadn't even covered a quarter of the island!

Today we went back to Coochiemudlo, determined to see the ochre for which it was renowned by Aboriginal tribes in the region. And we thought we might attempt to walk around the island too.

All was going well until we encountered these steps, just one of the many structures built by Douglas Morton on the island.

Morton also built this jetty. It was at the bottom of the steps, amongst the mangroves and today seemed to lead into the mangroves' reclaimed territory.

I think we were lucky it was low tide when we were wandering around. Later we saw evidence of more jetties and bathing enclosures.

To get here we walked past a community golf course and building, and then more old-fashioned wrought steps.

As you've no doubt deduced, we had finally encountered the ochre on the island.

To me, it seemed to be the texture of Cray-Pas: hard, but soft enough to be scraped away with my finger nail in a smooth, dense paste.

I fancied that the various holes on the surface of the rock were places where Indigenous people from long ago had scraped out the ochre they required.

Of course, I'm not sure I can discount the effects of the sea and tides on the texture of the surface.

Eventually, we left the ochre behind us and made our way back to the beach near the jetty.

It was only when we got off the ferry and back to the Brisbane side of the bay that we looked at a map and, once again, realised we'd covered less than a quarter of the island.

While we were surprised at our lack of ability to judge the distances we had wandered, we weren't at all disappointed to have more of the island to discover another day.

Indeed, it seems there's a whole other beach to explore...

Saturday, August 22, 2009

High-Tea Princesses

This time last week I was in the throes of preparing to cater for my niece's 7th birthday party. Last week, right about now, in fact, I was studying the shelves at Woolworth's Indooroopilly, hesitating between the standard packet of Dollar Sprinkles and the fairy-themed one. At that point I hadn't fully decided on how I was going to manage to decorate the requested princess cake. I knew I was going to attempt to fashion a semblance of a princess atop a coconut cake using icing and my cheap cake decoration piping set, but as to the details of the glitter and sparkles, well, I was making those up in the supermarket.

I had offered to host my niece's birthday party a month ago, after my family had celebrated my sister's birthday at a garden centre cafe. While the garden centre's cafe was perfectly fine, as we discussed Hannah's forthcoming birthday, most of us still had memories of the over-priced outing that was my mother's birthday a few months earlier: $45 for an average high-tea amongst some very pretty decor. The decor, while lovely, certainly wasn't worth $15 dollars more than the usual price of a high-tea in these parts.

I'm not certain why my family has this high-tea obsession. Something to do with coming from England and wanting to play at being the Ladies we're not, I suppose. Or perhaps it's an excuse to eat way too many cakes, the sandwiches merely being a face-saving preliminary. Yes, the latter is more likely. Anyway, it seems the older members of this family have had a corrupting influence on the youngest member, since Hannah now associates all birthday celebrations with fancy, miniature cakes, delicate sandwiches and champagne-flutes of sparkling apple juice. When I volunteered to host her family party--her mother's side of her family, anyway--Hannah put her own twist on the occasion and requested tiaras and sparkles. And since I'm a total push-over when it comes to my niece, I was determined to throw the best princess-themed party I could.

For the necessary preliminaries, before the sweet and cake consumption could begin, I fashioned two kinds of sandwiches with two variations to accommodate less sophisticated palates:

Roast Beef Sandwiches With And Without Dijon Mustard

Prawn And Sour Cream Sandwiches With And Without Dill

In addition to the sandwiches, I assembled--what I like to believe is my own invention--the salad skewer, consisting of Hannah's favourite salad vegetables:

Hannah's Salad Skewers

It only occurred to me afterward that I could have added carrots to the skewers (if they would go on) and call them Traffic Light Kebabs or something equally cheesy. Speaking of which, Hannah's mother provided cheese and biscuits and Cheezles to round out the savoury course of the high-tea. Along with the savouries, the adults sipped sparkling wine, while Hannah had us all toasting along with every second sip of her sparkling apple juice.

While we changed the empty savoury plates for those filled with sweet things, I took orders for tea and coffee and Sippa straws from everyone.

Once we were settled again, we tucked into caramel and chocolate tarts made by my other sister, Hannah's Auntie V, and some marshmallows and strawberries on toothpicks. For this course, my contribution was in the princess theme:

Frog Prince Jelly Cups

Of course, we all had to kiss the frogs to see if they would, in a puff of smoke, turn into handsome princes. Alas and alack! No such magic occurred, so we consoled ourselves by taking a digestive break and playing some games. Everyone got a present in the new-fangled-self-esteem-building version of pass the parcel: small stationery items from Smiggle. And then we all laughed uproariously as Hannah kept steering the cow she was riding in a game on Wii into trees and fences.

Finally, it was time for the birthday cake.

I didn't take photos during its construction, but I snapped key moments in the decoration process:


Preliminary Sketch

Princess Cake

In spite of my trepidation about decorating the cake, I'm very pleased to report that Hannah loved it along with the rest of the party. Her joy was infectious and I think we all had our best high-tea ever!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Happy Birthday

It's this blog's birthday in just over a week. I'll have been at this online caper for 4 years.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Dreams and Fairytales

Last night I had a conversation with my niece, H, for over two hours.

I'd called her mother to discuss the last minute details of H's birthday party, which I'm hosting tomorrow, and she was impatient to talk to me, picking up the other extension and giggling cheekily over the line.

F & I had to tell her to wait for a bit because we had secret surprises to plan.

After we grown-ups had finished organising the Princess-themed party, the preparations for which I will blog about in another post, I settled in for a Friday evening of listening to H.

H will be 7 in a few days and her life has changed a great deal over the past year or so.

She started school and now she's reading. Over the phone, she read me six short books. They were a series of cookbooks that join together in a jigsaw. I learned recipes for, among other things, Easy-peasy Pizza and Strawberry Cups. When she didn't know a word she would spell it to me and I'd tell her what it was. She'd spell out '1-2-5-g-slash-going-to-the-right (I-know-my-right-and-left-now) 4-o-z'.

She noted that there was a 'dot-thing' between a couple of words. I clarified that it was a comma: a dot with a tail. She asked me what a comma was. I said it was part of what's known as punctuation. She asked me what punctuation was. I started to explain about full-stops and exclamation marks. She said that she knew about three of those kinds of marks: full-stops, exclamation marks ('a line with a dot') and question marks. Later in our conversation, she amended her knowledge to four, telling me she knew about hyphens too.

The other major change in H's life recently is that her parents have divorced after a separation of one year.

She told me about a bad dream she had. It was long and frightening.

The conversation came about because she asked me if there were crocodiles at my place. I said there probably was, because there's a gully in the back yard. She asked me what a gully was. I explained.

She told me she was afraid of water now because that's where eels lived. I asked if she'd ever seen an eel. And that's when she told me her dream.

Today as I was shopping for the party, I thought about H's dream, where she rescued her mother, sacrificing her own life, to keep her from being harmed by all manner of scary creatures. I recalled that on the phone H had said that she would do exactly the same for her mother if her dream happened in real life.

As I was waiting for the bus home after shopping, this Joni Mitchell song popped into my head:

Rows and flows of angel hair and ice cream castles in the air
And feather canons everywhere, I've looked at clouds that way
But now they only block the sun they rain and snow on everyone
So many things I would have done, but clouds got in my way

I've looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down and still somehow
It's cloud illusions I recall
I really don't know clouds at all

Sunday, August 09, 2009

I Don't Know

What's philosophy for do you reckon?

I'm asking this because it's about an hour and a half before I go off to my book group where we're reading Alain de Botton's The Consolations of Philosophy. And a little while ago, when I was looking for a link to information about the book for the 'Book Clubs' column in the margins of this blog, I came across its Wikipedia entry, which is little more than a collection of bad reviews that effectively declare that Botton's work is not philosophy.

Panel from Cham, J. 'Nature vs. Science, pt. 4' PhD Comics 5/8/2009

The criticism quoted seems to rely entirely on the usual boring old prejudices that because something is popular, or aimed at a popular audience, then it is somehow devoid of any value. There's an extract from one Mary Margaret McCabe that I take particular exception to:
the latest attempt to popularize philosophy [De Botton's The Consolations of Philosophy] - that is to say, to make philosophy into televisual fodder - does so precisely on the basis that philosophers can provide us with useful tips...
Ah, yes, how intellectually rigourous: something appears on television ergo it is debased. Still, I doubt Socrates would sanction this line of reasoning.

Before I continue let me just say that I have some sympathy with Messrs McCabe et al. It can be incredibly frustrating, if you spend your days revelling in the wonder of a subject you love, appreciating all of its joys, its contradictions and complexities, to then witness its apparent evisceration at the hands of someone who doesn't seem to have taken the time to understand those joys, contradictions and complexities, let alone communicate them as they purport to do.

Again to be fair to Messrs McCabe et al. perhaps they did say something more in their reviews of Consolations other than 'It's not philosophy'. I wish I had more time right now to find that out. I hope that in their reviews they would give me more of an idea of their understanding of what philosophy is and how that is different to Botton's. And yes, however Utilitarian, I also want to know 'What is philosophy for'?

I think, despite my years of study, I probably have a fairly lay conception of philosophy as a field of inquiry. I've used the writings of theorists (are they philosophers?), who are concerned with how we live, in my academic degrees. So this is my understanding of philosophy: that it is concerned with the matter of how we live and all the questions that are associated with that. As to what it is for, then I think it's for figuring out how to live.

What do you think? Or perhaps you know?

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Dear John Hughes

I'm still unable to update Twitter from the main web page. Apparently there's a problem for some Firefox users, so I guess I'm one of them. I could use the Safari browser I suppose, but I've decided I quite like the idea of being prompted by the tweets of people I follow on Twitter to reflect in more depth (or perhaps just at greater length) about life, the universe, and everything.

The tweet that prompted my line of thought today:

Well, I have to admit that it made me tear up rather a lot and it got me thinking about my own experience of John Hughes. I didn't have any direct correspondence with him the way Alison did, but at least three of his films were very important to me in my senior years of high school. In 1985 I began Grade 11 and that was the year The Breakfast Club was released. I remember going to the cinema with my friends and we all identified with those characters, their insecurities and their dreams, their desire to be different.

The next year we went to see Pretty in Pink and Ferris Bueller's Day Off.

Watching Ferris Bueller, I suppose I just wished I'd had his chutzpah, his ingenuity, not only to wrangle a day off school, but to go all out and celebrate that day, dragging his girlfriend and his genuinely sick friend along for the adventure, and infuriating his sister along the way.

It was joyful celebration of youth, and just writing about it now, I've got a such a grin on my face that it's crinkling my eyes. The lengths Ferris goes to, to fool his teachers, prefigure Hughes's later Home Alone series, but I think the best moment is when Ferris suddenly appears atop a float in a street parade, writhing and lip-syncing to Twist and Shout. Ha! LOL!

Now I probably identify more with the teacher at the school: 'Anyone. Anyone'.

I wasn't as enamoured with Pretty in Pink as a film as I was with its soundtrack. I still think it's one of the best film soundtracks ever.

Not that I've had an ongoing knowledge of film soundtracks, but what's a blog for if not to indulge in a bit of hyperbole?

Anyway, I wanted to include a clip of Echo and the Bunnymen's Bring on the Dancing Horses, which was amongst my favourite songs on the soundtrack but I could only find a live version from years later where the lead singer was smoking while singing, which no doubt accounts for his completely shot voice.

There is a clip of the original video but in their continued fear of and confusion about YouTube, WMG has ordered the sound to be muted. (Is there any point in railing against this short-sighted practice? Is there any point in suggesting that no-one would make any money off the clip if the audio was available, and nor would it prevent WMG making money from the song? Who knows, perhaps by not infuriating people with corporate standover tactics and being generous enough to allow people to indulge in their nostalgia for the song, well, people might come over all warm and fuzzy and even go out and buy it again? Bah!)

Here's the closest I could get to it: a mashup of Bring on the Dancing Horses and Snow Patrol's Chocolate.

RIP John Hughes.

Friday, August 07, 2009

On Not Being A-Twitter

I woke up this morning and, as I usually do, I turned my computer on and made my way to the kitchen to brew my first coffee of the day. With the coffee pot sitting atop a flame, waiting to work its magic, I returned to the computer to open Firefox and then click on the bookmark I have for a direct connection to Twitter.

I sat before my Twitter feed, clicking the "more" button at the bottom of the page until it revealed all the tweets I had not read since the previous evening. The first thing I learned from Twitter this morning was, via @mashable, that Twitter had been subject to a Distributed Denial of Service Attack (DDoS). I wasn't terribly sure what that was so I clicked through to have a read.

It didn't sound good and I was heartily pleased that it had passed Australia by while I was sleeping.

Then I read @Duddy's question, where she wondered what a DDoS was. Since I like to be helpful :-p I replied to her, offering the link to Mashable by way of explanation. The trouble began when I tried to send the update.

I've had glitches like this with Twitter before and sometimes all it takes is refreshing the page then attempting the tweet again. It's usually successful, but not this time.

Still, I was undeterred and kept on reading my feed. I came across a link posted by @deepwarren to Go Fug Yourself. She thought that the featured dress, designed by Armani and worn by Fergie of the Black-eyed Peas, resembled a bath towel. I was eager to give my opinion that it looked especially like a bath mat, not only because of the texture of the material, but because of the fringe around the hem.

I composed my thoughts in a concise 140 characters to @deepwarren and, again, the tweet failed to update.

Now I began to think that perhaps there was a problem with the reply function, so I tried out a straight-forward tweet, begging the indulgence of my followers for clogging their feeds with a test message. If only I had been able to.

I took a break from Twitter, for as long as I could stand--probably about as long as it took me to close down the browser and restart my computer--but to no avail. Twitter did not want to work for me today.

I had a look in their help section and it turns out that my problem was a known issue for some accounts. *sigh* I would have to wait it out.

I had a bit of a lament on Facebook, which garnered me instant sympathy (thank you Zoe!) And I did all the things I normally do in a working day but without participating in the conversations I've become used to as I work from my computer.

Oh, how I missed being able twitter away today, sharing a mood or expressing the gastronomical delights of my breakfast. I could eavesdrop and follow links, but it wasn't as enjoyable as starting a chocolate ear-worm and participating in the common experience of a shared craving, which is what happened yesterday:

It was just nice that this apparently silly conversation came after the annoyance of discovering I'd lost some work on my thesis.

And just now, if I could have responded to this:

I would have issued a hearty 'Hear! Hear!' And declared I'm having an LOL!

Friday, July 31, 2009

Mad Woman

Here's a bit of fun enabled by teh internets and provided by the sartorial splendour that is Mad Men.

This is me Mad Men style. I'd definitely be working at Sterling Cooper. I'd be friends with Peggy and I'd tell Don Draper to get his act together.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Three True Things I Have Recently Read

1. "Have you noticed how people talk about 'people', people do this, people do that,'without seeming to realise that they are a person too?" Emily Perkins, Novel About My Wife, p 208

2. "Her disapproval about such things, about the lifeline I found for myself, hurts me. But it's her ignorance that's making me angry. ... 'How dare you judge me? You're just like everyone else, disapproving of the fact that I'm obsessive then disapproving of the way I tried to pull myself out of it. Everyone's a fucking expert. ... Sometimes there's nothing else you can do. Those drugs don't make you well--Jesus, they don't even make you feel better--but they turn off the static. The noise,the interference, the shit in your head that keeps you from understanding you are destroying yourself.'
'You're smart,' Ruby says, looking at me anxiously because she knows I'm upset but she wants to stand her ground. 'You would have figured things out.'
'If we are going to be friends I need you tounderstand this. I'm smart but I could not figure things out. Could not." Sophie Cunningham, Geography, p200

3. "'You have no idea how tedious and unremarkable madness can be.'" Sophie Cunningham, Geography, p201

Saturday, July 11, 2009

One Hour on Saturday Afternoon

I was just catching up on last night's episode of Collectors when I was reminded, during a segment by Adrian Franklin on a glass exhibition in Tasmania, about a banner I had seen advertising another glass exhibition not far from me. As Franklin pointed out, there's a whole lot to love about glass as an art form, so I decided to take a bus trip up to Mount Coot-tha, which is where the exhibition, by the Creative Glass Guild, was being held.

The work was varied, ranging from that by people who had done their first classes in lead lighting and mosaics, to more obviously advanced practitioners. Most of the work was decorative rather than artistic--if I can make that distinction--which reflected the hobbyist focus of the Guild.

I thought that these pieces would be right at home in a tea or coffee shop:

While this one would be perfect for a music room:

As I left the exhibition, I paused on the way to the bus stop to take some photos of a sculpture that I've long admired from the bus window.

The sculpture sits in front of the Sir Thomas Brisbane Planetarium and the (temporary) plaque says it's a depiction of 'Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, the Russian Father of Cosmonautics'.

After doing the barest minimum of research, looking at a few images on Wikipedia and elsewhere, I've concluded that this is a portrait of Tsiolkovsky as a young man.

This is not the 'conquerer of space' that characterises the monuments pictured on Tsiolkovsky's Wikipedia entry, where he resembles a kind of latter day Zeus, with flowing hair and beard, along with accompanying robes.

No. Here, Tsiolkovsky does not look into the distance, a master of all the space he can survey; instead he looks up, humbled by the vastness of the cosmos. His clothes and his body language are contained and endearing: his hands find sanctuary in his pockets, while his feet with their slightly too large boots stretch out before him, his thighs primly clenched.

I like the dreamer Tsiolkovsky is in this sculpture, wondering to the universe what it would be like to travel through space in a rocket of his invention.

n.b. There was no indication who the artist was on any signage around the sculpture. I suppose that information might be on the permanent plaque whenever it's mounted.

Monday, July 06, 2009


I'm just waiting for my mushroom soup to simmer for 15 mins before I put half of it in the blender at which point I'll be minutes away from tonight's dinner. Since I have to wait, I thought I'd take the opportunity to reflect a bit on the teaching results I got today. I don't want to spend too long on this, otherwise I will obsess until my head explodes, because that's how I am.

I taught in two subjects at different campuses of the same university, which is not the one where I'm doing my PhD. The comments I got on one subject really arise from the fact that I had minimal face to face contact with the students. I marked their weekly blog posts and I posted questions for the Twitter workshops, only occasionally interjecting beyond that. It wasn't an ideal situation, but it was a solution that the course convener came up with when he was handed the subject a week and half before the semester started and discovered the room bookings were completely unworkable for the usual tutorial structure. There's not much I could have done when the students say they would have liked to have seen more of me.

The second subject I tutored in was a bit of a disaster as far as the support from the course convener went. It wouldn't have been so bad if I'd been left to plan my own tutorials, but along with the total lack of support was the demand to follow a tutorial plan that I only ever got at the last minute. About half way through the semester things came to a head and I told the students of the situation, and I made a request to be exempt from the survey that the students do.

You've probably gleaned that my request from exemption was refused, so today I got to read the comments that the students from that subject made. I find these things confusing. I think overall they were positive, but when you get extremes it isn't clear which to take on board. I certainly don't like to hear that someone stayed away from the tutorials because they didn't like my teaching style, but I don't want to delude myself either that I should only listen to the student who said that I really helped their understanding by persisting with discussing the readings in the face of a class full of people who generally hadn't done them. I'd like to think that it was only one student who thought I shouldn't have been chosen to tutor the course and a whole lot more who would echo the sentiments of the student who said s/he would actively sign up for one of my tutorials again.

I suppose if anything came through more than once then it was a question of my teaching style. I'm not sure what to make of this. Someone said it took them a while to get used to my style. Is it really that unusual? Each week, I tried to take them through the practical tasks that I was directed to so they could complete their assessment. Initially, I tried group work, getting them to talk amongst one another, take notes, and present their ideas, refined through interaction, to the rest of the class. They really seemed to hate group work and writing things down, so then I switched modes and resorted to asking a bunch of questions arising from the readings in an effort to stimulate discussion. A lot of the time many students hadn't done the readings, and worse, hadn't even brought them to class, so that we might go through them together. In the end, I did just persist. I got some good feedback on that strategy, so I stuck with that.

I don't know. What's your teaching style? Or what was the style of teaching that you found most effective for your learning at university?

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Dear Neglected Blog

Dear Neglected Blog,

How are you? I wouldn't be surprised if you were upset with me. I can't believe it's nearly two months since I updated you. Of course, you know I have peeked in on you occasionally. I have two half-composed posts, one on Ally McBeal and the other on Michael Jackson. I hope to publish both of these sooner, rather than later.

I would offer excuses, but I'm not fond of abdicating responsibility. The truth is I've been caught up in other things: tutoring, marking, Twitter, Facebook, occasionally my thesis; and those things, combined with my apparent inability to write a quick blog post mean that you have been placed on the back burner. I'm sorry. I will try to visit more regularly, if for briefer periods.

Still, some of that off-line activity may well end up here in future blog posts. For example, the two subjects I tutored in this semester would provide plenty of fodder for a good rant about the working conditions of sessional academic staff. But, aside from being counterproductive, right now I think I'm probably too exhausted to compose something coherent on the subject. Or maybe I'm just over the whole fight, now that the semester has ended.

I could write something about how my thesis also made its way onto the back burner. That's been a bit disappointing, mostly in the sense that I'm disappointed in myself and my lack of priorities. Perhaps I'll take this opportunity to reaffirm my commitment to my thesis, to work on it first before I do work for other people--at least for the first hour of everyday, anyway. I do take heart that I still really love my thesis topic. It continues to be fascinating to me, so I know I'll finish my PhD rather than abandon it from lack of interest.

Dear Blog, I did buy a bike a week or so ago and, surely, as the source of many potential adventures, I will be blogging about my activities with it. I suppose one of the first questions to ask is whether a bike is an it, or a he or a she. Do people name their bikes in the way they do boats and cars? The friend with whom I bought the bike proposed the idea to me and quipped that her bike could be named Barbarella. She said this as a joke, but I insisted on making it stick. In the spirit of the moment I dubbed my bike Gigi, with a vague sense of a pun that she was, after all, a town bike, but I'm still not sure about the whole anthropomorphizing impulse. (Although clearly, since I'm addressing you as if you're a sentient being, I'm not that against the practice).

Anyway, I hope you've enjoyed this visit as much as I have.

Yours faithfully,


Saturday, May 02, 2009

C'mon Let's Crawl...

I have spoken here recently about the social media naysayers: those who believe that online social networks are a waste of time, or whose only response is to do no more than fall into the moral panic default mode that has accompanied the emergence of every new media form since the dawn of time. But my intention today is not to pay any more heed to those who can do little but search for deficiencies of personality in those who use and enjoy social media, rather, my mission is to extend an invitation to a party I'm having this weekend over at Twitter.

I was inspired to have an online Twitter party, first of all because it's my birthday on Monday--I'll be 40--and, second, because I do feel a legitimate sense of connection and friendship with the people I've met through blogging and social media sites and I would like to celebrate this milestone with them/you.

I'm not sure if anyone's done this before. I suppose the nearest thing would be the live blogging or Twittering that goes on around television programs like Doctor Who, So You Think You Can Dance, and Masterchef Australia (to name some that I'm aware of or have participated in). My point is, I'm making this up.

I've created a hashtag: #kirsty40 and I'm adding that to all of my posts. Some people have joined in and used that tag, but others have replied to me directly, wishing me Happy Birthday and lining up for virtual cake. I'm not sure where to go from here exactly, but I'll be continuing to post birthday related things with that hashtag until Monday evening, 4th May.

Everyone who's following me on Twitter was invited and I thought I'd extend that invitation to people who read Galaxy, although the two are not mutually exclusive. This could be all the excuse you need to start your own Twitter account (*looks pointedly at Oanh*) or you can just hang out in the comments here if you'd prefer. You'll be like those people who loiter in the kitchen at parties. Actually that's where I usually am, so perhaps you're the group who's wandered outside to sit on the back steps. Wherever you decide to eventually linger , you can see if you want to join the party by having a quick look at my Twitter account which is here.

Update: This party needs music, so I'm setting up an account at

Get a playlist! Standalone player Get Ringtones

I've added one song so far, and will continue to build the list over the next two days. Feel free to make a request for your favourite party music.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

You Can Have It Thai

What an odd dining experience friends and I had last night. We went to My Thai in the Brisbane suburb of Auchenflower. Just looking at their website, they're clearly a well-established restaurant and J suggested it because she'd been there before for work dinners and could recommend the food.

Well, the food was excellent--that which they deigned to serve us anyway.

J and I arrived earlier than our dining companions, and after negotiating a move of table from just outside the kitchen to the front of the restaurant, we ordered an entree of Goog Tod, deep-fried prawns with special sauce. They were really just so fresh and crisp. Wonderful.

While waiting for the others, J and I had studied the menu and made a selection of two of the three dishes that four of us would share. J's choice was My Thai Duck Curry, while I indulged my ongoing obsession with pork mince and chose Laab Mu, spicy pork with mint leaves. The others arrived and we added Tofu with Cashew Nuts to our order.

Again, the mains were fresh and delicious. My favourite was the Laab Mu which was juicy, spicy and refreshing, but the whole pineapple, grape, shitake mushroom and duck curry combination worked so well, I found myself snaffling the last meaty bits of pineapple coated in the sauce.

The trouble arose when we attempted to order dessert and were refused. Have you ever heard of such a thing?!

The reasoning offered was that the next sitting was due, so effectively, we had to clear out. Not content with this explanation, we tried again, and again it was explained that we had booked for the 6.30 sitting and weren't we told when we booked that there was also an 8 o'clock sitting? Well, yes, apparently we had been, but let's just stop and think about this for a moment.

Is an hour and a half sufficient time for people to sit and enjoy up to three, maybe four courses, when ordering from an extensive ala carte menu? The concept of time sittings is fine if the menu is set or you're limited in your choices, but when a kitchen has to deal with potentially 72 different dishes at any one time, and that's just the mains alone, well, the time between ordering and the dishes arriving at your table is probably going to be at least 30 minutes. Now, I think that 30 minutes is not an unreasonable amount of time to wait for good food, but when you take 30 minutes away from an hour and a half, well, you see where I'm going. And if you don't manage to make your selection from such an extensive menu within the first 5 or 10 minutes of arriving at the restaurant--whether your dining companions are running late or not--well, you see where I'm going. At least half of the alloted hour and a half is whittled away in logistics.

We ate reasonably fast, taking about 40 mins to make our way through the dishes between sips of sparkling wine and beer and conversation, so it was 8 o'clock before J decided she had a hankering for sticky black rice pudding. We only had another 45 minutes before the movie we were seeing afterwards started , so we really wouldn't have been more than another 30 minutes depending on the time it took for the dessert to arrive from the kitchen.

I think what was most shocking, aside from being refused the opportunity of ordering dessert, was the inflexibility of the sitting policy which took no account of whether there were people arriving to take our table or not. Yes, there were people arriving, but there were more than enough tables to accommodate them. Our continued presence would not have lost them any additional diners. I remain completely puzzled by the failure to assess the situation, to even attempt to problem solve, and the intransigence of the restaurant staff and presumably the ownership.

As it is, My Thai's intransigence has cost them some future diners. I won't be going back, and especially since as we stood outside the restaurant, finishing up conversations and expressions of outrage, we noticed that while our table was cleared and reset no-one, in the 25 minutes we were gathered, was seated at the table or even led in its general direction.


Friday, April 10, 2009

It's Good Friday Morning

It's Good Friday morning and I'm sitting back on a lounge chair with my laptop. I've had my morning coffee and instead of making a proper breakfast, which I might still do, I've eaten three chocolates from a box I bought myself at the supermarket this week. 50 cents from the sale of the chocolates will go to the National Breast Cancer Foundation.

I've already checked Twitter and Facebook, both of which seem to be my first port of call on the Internet these days. Some might think this explains my absence from this blog for nearly a month, more really, if you consider that my last post was really just a link to another blog, but I don't know. Maybe. I think it might be more the case that Twitter and Facebook fulfill a social need for me that blogging doesn't always do. It can be quite lonely when your carefully thought out words don't inspire any comments. Here I'm not admonishing anyone for not commenting, of course there are many who do. I suppose if blogging has taught me anything it's that I have the same difficulties (if that's the right word) with relationships online as I do offline. I suppose I get a bit more of an instant response via Twitter and Facebook than I do from blogging and so I find those platforms more gratifying, at the moment.

funny pictures of cats with captions
see more Lolcats and funny pictures

Part of it is that there're some days when, what with everything else going on, it's all I can do to look at the LOL Cats. I know when I look at them I'll laugh and get the rush that comes with laughter. Blogging takes time and effort, not only to write, but to foster and maintain relationships. I'm still a bit shy online. Many times I think that any comment I might make on someone else's post will just be repeating a comment already made, but that's how relationships build online, through comments. No one knows you're nodding in agreement or feeling as connected as the 23rd commenter if you don't tell them.

Hmmm. I suppose there are many that would see the shift to the 140 characters of Twitter as evidence of a society-wide diminishing of attention spans. The 'Like' option on Facebook is even more damning, if that's your view. For myself my attention span is being sucked up by trying to do my thesis between some rather heavy and stressful teaching commitments.

Argh! I didn't want to write an apology for not posting here. I long since came to the conclusion that there's nothing to apologise for. It's my blog and I'll not post if I want to. (How odd it seems that now blogging has attained some gravitas one feels the need to apologise for not putting the commitment into something that was once so derided as insubstantial). That said, I'm not impervious to the couple of requests I've received to write something here.

I'm not quite up to Mark's request to blog about cooking Asian food. When Zoe gets back online she's promised to write about the demystification of Asian ingredients talk she gave in Canberra, including posting some recipes. Otherwise Tseen and Oanh have the skinny on Chinese and Viet food (and fancy cakes!) respectively, as do some of the folks on their blog rolls. Myself, I haven't really cooked anything of particular interest lately. If anything I've not long become aware of how much my recent cooking has been drawing from the food my parents prepared for our family when I was a child, which was fairly standard Anglo-Australian fare. I've been mulling over posting something on that, because I've been slightly taken aback by the realisation and I want to reflect on what it all means. I'll probably give that one to Progressive Dinner Party but, of course, if you're not a regular reader of PDP, which you should be, I'll post a link here to take you over that way when I get it together.

The other request I had from someone to post something here was from a friend who was visiting from New Zealand, but formerly of Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. My excuse to him was that I felt my blogging had regressed to whiney 'poor me, everyone is mean to me' posts. Well, actually, it may always have been about that, but since I'm taking my advice from Robert McCallister these days, I'm trying to realise that I'm an adult and I should 'get a filter'. It's a lot tougher than I thought.

One solution that has presented itself to help with my dilemma has arisen through what I call the 'serious' reading group. It's not necessarily serious because Polish beer has made an appearance during at least one meeting, but it's true that we're making our way through The Norton Anthology of World Literature. We're just moving onto the section 'Poetry and Thought in Early China'. The first reading is excerpts from Classic of Poetry aka Book of Songs. I was reading the introduction to the Classic of Poetry and learned that:

The power of the Classic of Poetry to 'stir people' probably refers to their frequent use in conversation and diplomacy. Citation of one of the poems was often used to clinch a point in an argument or, more subtly, to express an opinion that one would rather not say openly (Owen 812).
With this in mind, I decided I might've been better off post 'Boat of Cypress' to express my thoughts about my relationships with my brother and others:

XXVI. Boat of Cypress

That boat of cypress drifts along,
it drifts upon the stream.
Restless am I, I cannot sleep,
as though in torment and troubled.
Nor am I lacking wine
to ease my mind and let me roam.

This heart of mine is no mirror,
it cannot take in all.
Yes, I do have brothers,
but brothers will not be my stay.
I went and told them of my grief
and met only with their rage.

This heart of mine is no stone;
you cannot turn it where you will.
This heart of mine is no mat;
I cannot roll it up within.
I have behaved with dignity,
in this no man can fault me.

My heart is uneasy and restless,
I am reproached by little men.
Many are the woes I've met,
and taken slights more than a few.
I think on it in the quiet,
and waking pound my breast.

Oh Sun! and you Moon!
Why do you each grow dim in turn?
These troubles of the heart are like unwashed clothes.
I think on it in the quiet,
I cannot spread wings to fly away.

I haven't decided if it would be even more annoying for other people to have me sending or quoting poetry to them in order to make my point in a subtle way--some might call it passive aggressive. It might have worked in Early China, but contemporary Australian society is not so fond of people quoting book learning. More than half of me would expect to be dismissed as someone who couldn't come up with an argument for themselves and so had to resort to pretentious poetry. Still I like the efficiency of presenting a poem that could express the nuances of an argument while avoiding offence, simply because it's part of an acknowedged body of thought and diplomacy rather than entirely personal.

The other solution that has presented itself to me in response to the angst of my most recent posts, in particular the one on my feelings about the dismissal of social networking sites as an 'authentic' mode of social interaction, is that I'm now teaching in two subjects that are about new media and Web 2.0 applications. In retrospect I feel a bit silly that I was so readily drawn into the argument about whether online interaction was 'authentic' or not. In my defense I guess I had not yet theorised my experience of online environments to the extent that I could make a point about their value in an effective, less hostile, way. When I look at the body of academic work on digital communities, it's suddenly a no-brainer: new media is pervasive and becoming more so; if you ignore it, you do so at your own peril, because it has changed and continues to change the nature of human interaction at all levels of society from the social to the professional, through to the political process.

But I suppose even if I couldn't articulate it, then I knew it in an unreflective way. Here I want to say that I might have known it the way that Plato reports Socrates view of poets' wisdom:

Then I knew that not by wisdom do poets write poetry, but by a sort of genius and inspiration; they are like diviners or soothsayers who also say many fine things, but do not understand the meaning of them. The poets appeared to me to be much in the same case, and I further observed that upon the strength of their poetry they believed themselves to be the wisest of men in other things in which they were not wise. (Plato 784)
This quote probably undermines my hope that the Classic of Poetry might be the solution to any of my troubles, but I do think that by having the opportunity, through teaching, to further examine my lived experience, I have been able to reach a greater understanding of my rather emotional response to the dismissal of the worth of social networking sites and other digitally mediated experiences, including Wii (aka the 'fancy butt warmer' pictured above).

More than the recognition that Web 2.0 and social media just aren't going to go away, however, I think the Eureka! moment on this issue came for me during Ien Ang's public lecture which I posted about over at Sarsaparilla Lite. The key word used by Ang was that of 'empathy', specifically she noted a lack of empathy in those 'elite commentators' who dismissed the television programme Dallas because of its popularity. For herself she was interested in Dallas precisely because she wanted to understand why so many people enjoyed it. Rather than setting herself above the programme and dismissing its viewers as 'others', she sought to find the common ground between them, searching for the substance of the connections in this instance that otherwise serve more broadly to sustain human society. Here, I don't want to suggest that anyone who takes a position against digital and social media, and can't or won't imagine the pleasure that others derive from it, is uniformly lacking empathy across all aspects of their interactions with people, but I do want to suggest that any evidence of a critical mass around a given cultural object or experience might be better understood as the opportunity to explore the sociality between fellow human beings rather than an occasion for othering fellow human beings all for want of understanding and empathy.

And now it's Good Friday afternoon. Happy Easter.