Thursday, August 30, 2007

PoMo English title generator

It frightens me that many of these titles sound more plausible than my 'real' ex-thesis title (which was rather dull).

Find a thesis or paper topic for your favourite book.

Here are some samples:

Michelle Luchashenko Problematizing Autobiography: Too Flash and the Technologies of Bodies

  • Excavating the Female Authority in Michelle Luchashenko: Too Flash and Homoerotics

  • Poetics and Permeability in Too Flash: Michelle Luchashenko Norming Homosocial Seduction

  • Visioning, Perverting, Objectifying: Semiotics in Michelle Luchashenko and the Racist Withdrawal of Hybridity in Too Flash

  • The Silence of Self and the Suppressive in Michelle Luchashenko's Too Flash

    And you know what, I really could write a paper on any one of those topics. I really, really could.

    I stole this from Ancrene Wiseass, who could probably convince a much stronger personality than me that a undertaking a PhD is a stupid idea. But still she soldiers on, with dedication and flair.

    PS: My thesis title was Australian Indigenous children's literature: texts and publication. I couldn't think of a pun. Clearly not cut out to be a Dr.


    Over on the child_lit listserv (you have to subscribe to read it) there has been a goodly amount of discussion about trauma arising from books dealing with death, violence and so on. I’ve always been of the opinion that children can pretty much handle anything they read and that they self-censor. I know certainly that there are many aspects of books I read as a child that I just did not notice at all, but that are glaringly obvious to an adult reader. Things like sex, violence and a kind of underlying pessimism or even nastiness that can be present in some stories.

    I think I had this view because my life had pretty much been trauma-free. Oh, I’ve experienced grief and misery, but I’d never had an experience that left the film of the horror running through my mind at unattended moments. I’d never had that sense of carrying around the fear, grief, anxiety and not knowing what to do of the actual horrifying event itself, as if it was still happening every second.

    Knowing how reading something in a book (or a newspaper, or a blog) can bring back those feelings as immediately as if they were still happening is something rather different from experiencing the almost-delicious second-hand sorrow in a book. Having read Bridge to Terabithia as a child helped me to deal with the first loss of a friend at sixteen, but now every story about a sick child is about my child. Very few books manage to convey the helplessness, the rage and the bodily reality of watching your child struggle for life. But now my mind provides the accompanying track, and it’s hard to escape it.

    Going on twelve months after the Incident these episodes are diminishing. The intensity of the emotions is slipping back into something more appropriate to the past, and the feeling of being thrown back into the situation happens less often. But it’s still there, waiting. I can’t know what my son goes through, but I know his nightmares have been intense and frequent, although they are becoming less so now. And I know that even his imaginary nemesis, Numbers Man, has not been very helpful in dealing with his anger and sadness.

    None of this convinces me that censoring books for children is a good idea. No other person can ever understand another’s trauma entirely. But it does make me very wary of benign offers of bibliotherapy for children. Perhaps the child sees this as an attempt to drown them in their experiences. Perhaps it seems like punishment for something done wrong. I know the Noodle feels that he became ill because of something he did wrong, while I know that even the most evil person would not deserve what he went through.


    Me: Before I Die by Jenny Downham. The story is about a teenage girl dying of Leukemia. But before you think ‘sickly sentimental’ or ‘depressing’ let me say that it’s one of the best books about being a teenager, falling in love, dealing with conflicting expectations from family, having a younger brother, dealing with a complicated best friend and basically being alive that I’ve ever read. Plus it made me cry buckets, even more than the manipulative scene in The Last Battle where the bear dies, which makes me weep even as I feel sick.

    The Noodle: Pocket Dogs. Yes, it’s about dogs in pockets. Nice.

    Sunday, August 26, 2007

    'a life without taste'

    Germaine Greer has taken against fluffy toys. I suppose we should be grateful that the British were willing to trade a bunch of disaffected, violent criminals and revolutionaries in return for Germaine Greer and Clive James. Thank you Mother Britain.

    I have no 'taste', but I think blaming it on Bunny would be unkind. What would Bourdieu say?

    The Lost Dog

    A few weeks ago, in the grips of a terrible reading-malaise, I moaned that if only there were a new Michelle de Kretser novel I could love books again.

    Obligingly enough a reading copy appeared (thank you to the bookseller-husband) of de Kretser's brand new book, The Lost Dog. I'm hoping it's coming out in hardcover soon so I can put it on my 'favourite books' shelf.

    I wish I could write the review that the book deserves, but I fear I cannot. I love Michelle de Kretser's work, and embarrassed myself horribly at the Brisbane Writers Festival a few years ago by telling her precisely how much I adored The Hamilton Case, and how I thought it should win the Boooker Prize. I think I was telling her in some detail a theory about the use of blankets as a recurring symbol in her book as well. And she was gracious, kind and took time to consider what I was saying, although in retrospect it was clear that what she really wanted to do was have a cool drink and relax for a while.

    So I started the book with a feeling of anxiety - what if I didn't like it? What if I was expecting so much that I couldn't love it? No need for the worry though, by the time I'd finished I was resenting the fact that there is not a backlist of twenty more titles for me to go out and read immediately.

    The book is, naturally, about a lost dog. No one, however, can fit as much into a novel as de Kretser does. She never, ever, ever makes it feel overstuffed, though. If her books were furniture they would be hand made leather sofas that offer terrific back support, demand stroking and give the thrill of knowing that everyone else of your acquaintance is wildly envious.

    You can see the book record at Amazon. It's coming out next year apparently. No doubt someone capable of incisive, critical thought and writing filled with wild joy will then write a suitable review. I shall spend my time happily wallowing in the pleasure that such a book can bring, and perhaps go and read some Henry James short stories.

    Other Reading:
    Me - The Man Who Knew Too Much - a bio of Alan Turing which is a bit too breathless. Bios like this can only be tolerated if the reader is absolutely obsessed with the subject matter. I'm not sure I'll be able to stick with it all the way, despite my reasonable interest in Turing. The Noodle wishes to know how it is possible to know 'too much', since his mission is to find out everything possible in the world.

    Noodle - Groosham Grange again. He is still not over his Harry Potter inspired nightmares, so I am not sure if this is a great idea. However, the parents in this book are so divinely horrible that they make me look great by comparison, since I have never yet threatened to hang the Noodle by his heels in the refrigerator. I suspect that soon we will be owning the whole Naughtiest Girl series, and probably the Secret Seven as well.

    Thursday, August 23, 2007

    networking for community.

    Stephanie Trigg has posted about how postgrads and early career researchers can become 'part of the conversation' in her blog Humanities Researcher. As a person who is quite timid about approaching other students, let alone senior-ish academics, her advice seems good to me. I enjoy the community building and conversational aspects of 'networking' very much (especially if scones are also involved) but I've never felt comfortable with the notion of grooming contacts for future benefit. That does not seem to me to be greatly in the spirit of learning, nor of civil discourse generally.

    Stephanie also wonders about whether leading lights in their fields welcome questions from novices. My experiences have been a bit of a mixed bag, but I'll say that some of that has been due to my own ignorance or lack of preparation. For every disgusting fake-flavoured banana their have been plenty of juicy jelly babies and choc buds. Many academics have made time to talk about their research, or my research, at conferences, on the telephone, at seminars or over coffee. Many also participate in online discussion groups so that they can share information with students and early career researchers, which is surely time they could be spending doing other things. I suspect that my areas of interest (children's literature and publishing) are especially supportive of newcomers. I think that most of us carry around the vestigial love and passion for our research fields that makes us want to share as much as we can. Perhaps I am being overly rosy about this, but I don't think so.

    There is one professor out there who has a steely glance that might intimidate Leigh Matthews, but she's still extremely helpful to her own and other postgraduate students. Helpful in time consuming, considered and demanding ways, too, rather than pats on the back and a quick exit.

    Thinking about this all rather makes me think that I'll be back into the studying one of these days after all.

    Bye bye PhD.

    Today is the day that I finally stopped telling people that I 'might' not finish my PhD, and started telling them that I am withdrawing from my PhD candidature.

    No tears.

    I suppose it's a victory for life over books in one sense, since the Noodle's health problems have been the main reason that the PhD is not progressing in an orderly fashion. But on the other hand I've been able to read a lot of books that were firmly off the list while I was a research fiend. However much I love Pierre Bourdieu (and it's a lot) I really do love Diana Wynne Jones that bit more. If only it had occurred to me to write about her, but novice postgraduate students are a bunch of silly sausages when it comes to life changing decisions like thesis topics I've found.

    Starting in February my new life is as a public servant in Canberra. I am joining the graduate program at the Attorney-General's department, and am very much looking forward to doing some useful work with some real, live human beings for company.

    My university has been very supportive of my taking time off, studying part time and providing crumbs of tutoring work. The reality of the situation, however, is that I need money that comes in regularly, year round, rather than sporadically. I am so going to miss having time to spend with the Noodle, but it is certainly time for the husband/father unit to have a turn.

    I have been mourning the passing of Dr Penthe, but she never really existed anyway.

    Tuesday, August 21, 2007


    You're Ireland!

    Mystical and rain-soaked, you remain mysterious to many people, and this
    makes you intriguing. You also like a good night at the pub, though many are just as
    worried that you will blow up the pub as drink your beverage of choice. You're good
    with words, remarkably lucky, and know and enjoy at least fifteen ways of eating a potato.
    You really don't like snakes.

    Take the Country Quiz
    at the Blue Pyramid

    I think this is quite accurate. I am the most mystical person I know. In fact, I'm so obviously mystical that it's almost another whole layer of mist.

    But I quite like snakes. They are mystical.

    The Incident

    Last year, after the Incident, we were simply happy to be home with all of us alive. We didn't really want anything else to happen, and our all desires were small and domestic.

    Since then, as the Noodle slowly progresses back to health, our desires and the space in which to pursue them has expanded, and expanded, and expanded again.

    The first few days that Noodle was sick, when he was in intensive care and ventilated, all we wanted was for him to keep trying to breathe. The orange light on the side of the machine would come on whenever he tried to take a breath for himself. Watching it was mesmerizing. We wanted his heart to slow down, and to try to beat regularly.

    A few days later, when he was breathing only with a mask we hoped he would soon be able to eat and drink through his mouth.

    Two days later we hoped he would be able to leave intensive care and go on the ward. We hoped he would be able to lose some of the many tubes poking into his body, although we had no idea how deeply some of them were inserted or how much it would hurt to pull them out.

    After he went to the ward we slowly and carefully dusted off the hope that we would be able to come home together one day in the future, and even this only lasted a few weeks, because eventually we could take him to the hotel while we waited for our insurance company to organise flights home for us.

    On his first day in intensive care we thought we'd be able to bring him out of hospital the next day - we had never experienced a serious illness before, so we had no idea what being a hospital parent actually meant. By the second day we just hoped we would be able to bring him home one day, and that he would wake up so that he could see us wanting him well.

    We've had him home with us now for ten months. And now we want all kinds of things. But that does not mean for even a second that I'm not as glad, relieved and grateful to have him here with me as that moment when he opened his eyes in intensive care on the wrong side of the planet and asked why a person couldn't have a piece of toast with jam. Let jam = happiness forever.

    Thursday, August 16, 2007

    Accentuate the postive

    Perhaps I should start a list of positives and negatives that I experience or hear about Canberra.

    Ampersand Duck has linked to The Art Life's review of the National Museum. It has rather reduced my optimism for moving the the national capital.

    That, and Noodle's comment that there are 'millions of politicians' there.

    "This school hates children with impairments"

    We are currently undergoing the process of choosing a new school for the Noodle down in Canberra. The process of finding a school for him in the greater Brisbane region last year was characterised by anger, rudeness, the flouting of Education department policies and a general sense that if our son could possibly disappear then he would be doing everyone a rather kind favour.

    The low point came when a school principal (may she know neither rest nor peace) told us that our son would not be able to participate in music, library sessions, art or playground time because no one could be bothered to help him up stairs or make a little extra time for him to walk the longer distances. The teacher aides shouted at our son, presumably because they equated his physical clumsiness with an intellectual impairment. Which indicates the kindness and understanding of these women, since they felt that shouting was the appropriate response to someone who could not understand them. In front of us, this was, so goodness knows what exactly they do to children when their parents are not around. The Noodle has a dear friend who attends this school, and old Noodle has often expressed anxiety about his friend's safety and well-being. He was very badly frightened.

    Other highlights from the Queensland education system came from the person officially employed to assess the Noodle's disability and find a school for him. She told us we should probably send him to a Catholic school, because they are much kinder. Education Queensland policy quite clearly states that state schools must take children in their area, but we were quite firmly told that our son was not welcome by several schools, by the expedient mentioned above, in which the principal tells us all the things that he would not be involved with at their particular school. Eventually they told us we would have to send him to a school forty minutes away, and that we could have taxi vouchers, despite one of his main health problems being fatigue. We moved to a different district and found a school ourselves.

    I have spoken to five schools in the ACT. Each one has said that of course they will accept our son, they will take care of his physical needs, they will ensure he does not become fatigued and that they would be happy to have him. A small, cynical part of me wonders if this is because he has been identified as a gifted academic achiever, but I don't believe this is the case. I just believe that these schools will happily accept a child regardless of physical impairment. It makes me feel even happier about moving to Canberra.

    I sometimes muse that I'd like to call the one particular school that were so very aggressive about excluding my son, and asking if they would be able to include him, but mention the giftedness first and the impairment only after being invited for an interview. I wonder if they would be able to manage to help him up the stairs then. In the meantime I quietly fantasise about such things as large banners with 'discriminatory' or 'this school hates children with impairments' written on them hanging on the fence during open day. Perhaps some kind of unpleasant, but not greatly damaging, natural disaster could befall the principal during the school holidays. Something like a rock pinning her arm to the ground so that she must chew her arm off with her teeth in order to save her life. Or perhaps a need to get around in a wheelchair or on crutches for a month or two to see if it magically turns her into a person who doesn't like music, reading, art or playing.

    We are going to meet up with some principals next month when we undertake our Canberra reconaissance mission. I hope the feeling is as positive then.

    Wednesday, August 15, 2007

    Sovereign Hill reality

    Here we are back from our holiday in Victoria, returned from our experience of the fakey Victorian period town of Sovereign Hill into our all-too-real Victorian era house (thankfully with modernish plumbing).

    The Noodle commented that Sovereign Hill was like the past, only not so stinky, and with less death. We brought home with us many lollies, including the highly coloured raspberry drops, which leave the Noodle looking like a fluoresced vampire . We loved Sovereign Hill so much that we totally blew our cool with our inner-urban friends, who are used to a bit more world weary cynicism. I think living in the regions has made us grateful for any kind of entertainment, education or tasty treats. So grateful that we completely touristed out in Melbourne and ate cake in Acland Street, ate breakfast in Brunswick Street, ate a pub dinner in Napier Street, drank coffee in Lygon Street and wandered the laneways of Melbourne ooo-ing and aaah-ing.

    We did not resemble the romantic television advertisements for Melbourne in any way, since our winter clothes consist of the Queenslander's option of just adding more t-shirts and shirts until you resemble a bag lady rather than an urban sophisticate. But hey, why elevate one urban dwelling archetype over another anyway?

    Since we are moving to Canberra next year we shall have to invest in genuine winter clothes. Concepts such as 'wool' and 'polar fleece' may become a reality for us cotton-wearing humidity jockeys. Apparently they have this thing called 'heating' down there. We've survived a winter of minimums below zero here in Lower Trainswich, so I think we'll probably survive Canberra winters.


    Me - The Gift by Diana Wynne Jones, in which a girl discovers her relatives are much more exciting that she had been led to believe.

    Noodle - The Naughtiest Girl in School by Enid Blyton, in an attempt to distract himself from the conviction that Voldemort is coming after him. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets has been put aside for a while.

    Monday, August 6, 2007

    student days

    My husband brought home Alice Garner's the student chronicles (The Miegunyah Press). I was a student at Melbourne University at about the same time, although I was there so briefly as to be like a mayfly rather than a perpetual student.

    I was hoping that Garner would evoke for me the feeling of the plane tree leaves littering the brick pathways, the odd smell peculiar to the Baillieu Library, the apricot smoothies from the refectory that were so medicinal on hung-over mornings and the terrible divide between the students who felt entitled to be there, and the students who didn't .

    But that was my experience of Melbourne University, not Alice Garner's. Hers was more about feeling guilty because her life was easier than other students. Her parents paid her way, and she earned good money as an actor. She also was strong academically, and progressed in a fairly orderly fashion to an honours degree and PhD.

    But that wasn't what bothered me about the book. What bothered me was that it made university life seem so utterly boring that I couldn't manage to finish reading the tasteful little thing. I'm not sure how a person can write a book about their late teens and early twenties that seems almost entirely lacking in emotion, but there it is.

    (You can read an extract from the book, where she does talk about the diverse attractions of the library, though, so you can see that I am being rather burdened by my own bitter mythology, rather than fairly and honestly evaluating Garner's. I may be emotional, unfair and biased, but I hope I am honest about it).

    Saturday, August 4, 2007

    curly wurlies

    My mother-in-law brought back two bags full of curly wurlies from New Zealand. They are a kind of chocolate bar made of caramel swirled into a plaity sort of pattern, covered in Cadbury dairy milk chocolate. My husband is a big, big fan of caramel in all its many forms.

    We have eaten all of them.

    I don't even like caramel.

    Thursday, August 2, 2007

    New AFOs (not UFOs)

    Next Tuesday we’re going into the hospital to have the Noodle’s legs cast for his new AFOs. After The Incident last year he couldn’t walk at all for a while, and when he got stronger he could only walk on his toes. The physiotherapists put his legs into a series of three sets of casts to put his feet in the right position. He’s outgrown his first set of AFOs already, though, in less than six months. His feet are going to be the size of a small country town by the time he’s fully grown.

    The Noodle liked to call them UFOs, even though he didn't know what UFOs are, exactly.

    The physiotherapists have been terrific. Not just the ones from the hospital, but also the ones from trusty and beloved Montrose access. Noodle gets along very well with nearly all his team of medical assistants – neurologists, metabolic specialists, ophthalmologists and other eye specialists, occupational therapists and so on – but the physios have always been his favourite group. They always seem to be really positive, to have a great sense of humour and to happily discuss treatment and whatever else with the Noodle. I’ve never had much to do with physiotherapists before, except for the very sporty young man who came around to visit after I gave birth to the Noodle. He wasn’t entirely comfortable with huge and wallowing women, but he was very helpful and kind.

    We’ve been pretty lucky this month, though. I think we’ve only got one medical visit. It’s almost worth having a party.

    Wednesday, August 1, 2007

    stranger than fiction

    The Guardian today has two pieces about reality impinging into books. The first is a blog about the publication of a book as a marketing exercise by BMW. I suppose it was only a matter of time until corporations would cut out the wasteful middle stage of actually engaging academics or authors to do legitimate research flavoured in a certain direction, to just hiring a ghost writer to do it directly.

    The other piece reports that author Laura Albert has been ordered to pay legal costs to a production company for pretending that her fictional book was a memoir based on her life as a male, cross-dressing truck stop prostitute. Albert feels that she should not have to pay the money, since the character really lives inside her, despite the fact that at signings the character was frequently performed by author friends and relatives.

    I have had several university students who do not understand the difference between fiction and non-fiction. Some of them aspire to be English teachers, and some of them aspire to be writers. Perhaps Albert could run some nifty workshops for the crew, and they could come up with a new genre - spoofiction, perhaps, or non-fiction lite.

    Teachers have also been coming under fire in The Australian over the past week or so. Apparently an academic report has shown that primary school teachers are not competent at advanced maths, and that the profession cannot attract people with high maths skills. The letters pages and discussion lists have been quick to respond with anecdotal tales of stupid teachers, of teachers that are lazy, that don't do enough to earn their money and have more holidays than other people. We got away from maths pretty quickly in the discussion. To my shame I felt a bit caught up in the teacher bashing and let my anxieties about the skills of some of my students colour my response to the information. I hate it when I do that!

    Anyway, it seems that there is a real loathing of teachers out there, which kind of surprises me in a way. I guess we all carry around so much misery and hatred from our own school years that we are quite happy to load it onto the backs of the complete strangers to whom we entrust our kids.

    So I am retreating into fiction myself. I never mistake any part of my life for fiction, and I don't think I've ever mistaking any of my writing for reality. But I do like to live inside a nice story as much as possible.

    Reading: Queen of Sorcery by David Eddings. By which it can be seen that I am far, far away from reality of any kind right now.