I’m in Melbourne!
Here are some things that have been happening:
1. I was walking along St George’s Road listening to Lou Reed on my iPod (and realizing that I don’t like Lou Reed, which is very sad as I always assumed I did/would) when I suddenly became aware of a burning sensation on my head. Had I been bitten by a gigantic antipodean insect with a terrifying venom? Was I experiencing a massive allergic reaction to perfectly mild antipodean insect venom? Had I been sunburnt on the top of my head through my hair and there alone? What? WTF?
I went into the discount fridge shop, turned my iPod off, pulled my headphones down round my neck and burned my fingers on them: they’re European headphones, with a silver-metal strip across the top of the head, which I would like to stress IN EUROPE never becomes hot enough in the sun to BURN YOUR HEAD.
I reapplied my sunblock.
2. There are butterflies! Everywhere! Huge, fluttering, gaily-coloured butterflies! One of them was dancing around outside the second-floor library window I was looking out of yesterday! One of them was fluttering down Smith Street (a wide, busy, shopping street in the trendy northern suburbs) as if leading us to the next clothes shop! One of them kept pace with our tram down Brunswick Street!
3. Last Wednesday, it was hot, and the telecomms guy was coming at 1pm to instal broadband, so it wasn’t likely to be a very productive working day, so after the broadband was fixed and we’d played with it a bit, we got the tram from our house to THE BEACH and swam in the sea and ate chips and felafel and drank fresh orange-and-pineapple juice and watched the kiteboarders.
4. I am still very much in love with Australia.* The graffiti says things like OUR WORLD RULERS ARE INCOMPETENT and WHITE POWER SMELLS and be silly, be honest, be kind and PLEASE READ PYNCHON**, and in the Baillieu library at Melbourne University the student who’d annotated the book I was reading had written ‘Yes!’ against a radical critique of liberal multiculturalism/pluralism*** and then written ‘Reformist??’ suspiciously in the margin of the next paragraph, and then ‘Collapsing gay and trans?’ in the margin of another essay, and, oh, look, I have fantastic students at Bristol, but they are much more likely to indignantly defend liberal multiculturalism against these EXTREMISTS who don’t understand that there ISN’T any racism now, and not to know what ‘trans’ means. (Or why ‘reformist’ would be an insult, come to think of it.) Jenny and I are alarmed and exhilarated to no longer be the most radical people in any given group, but much the woolliest liberals. Feminism is so much more mainstream and so much harder-core here. We need to raise our game!
5. My hair is in terrible, terrible nick – I haven’t had it cut in about four months and it wasn’t a very good cut even then – and last night we went to a Midsumma event (that’s the annual Melbourne queer cultural festival), where I discovered that I am in a strange no-man’s-land of hair. All the 20something butches have it shaved up the back and sides with long, quifflike strands or spikes falling into the face at the front, and all the 50something butches have it utilitarian-short all over, and I didn’t really see any 30/40somethings (couldn’t get babysitters?), so I am going to have to decide whether I think of myself as young or old. But I think I can get away with being ‘young’ for a couple more years.**** Also, I really want to have my hair shaved up the back with long quifflike strands at the front, and I have already spent $30 on eco-friendly organic Rock Star ‘tested on rock stars, not on animals’ hair putty at Hairhouse Warehouse.
6. I am writing a book! I actually originally started this blog in February 2007 when I was in Melbourne writing my last (also first) book, Now and Rome, and I meant it to be a writing blog primarily, recording the process of writing and nutting out some of the ideas in the book. But that turned out to be much harder than I’d thought it was going to be, partly because so much of the writing process (for me, at least) involves despair and self-hatred and profound psychic struggle and do I want to blog about that? Not really, not so much. Anyway. We’ll see what happens. There are lots of things I do want to say about this book, which is going to be about reception theory so that when people ask me what my job title (‘Lecturer in Reception’) means, I can point them to a handy, easy-to-read, slim-volume introduction. At the moment I am mostly reading like crazy and getting very excited about everything. My reading is overselecting white male writers/theorists/critics at the moment though, which I need to put a stop to (I was embarrassed by the bibliography of Now and Rome for precisely this reason). I mean, Roland Barthes and John Mowitt are going to be pretty big figures in the theoretical landscape of the book already, but I don’t need to fill in the background with exclusively white male extras.
7. This is another nice thing about Melbourne, everyone asks me about my book and is interested and has something to say about it and I don’t really notice it in the UK because it’s so ubiquitous and invisible, but it’s like this layer of class resentment and suspicion of intellectual work is just missing, at least from superficial social interaction. We’ve mainly been spending the last month moving into Jenny’s house from the friends’ place where we’ve been staying, picking up excess baggage from the airport, getting utilities and phone service and broadband, getting our stuff unpacked from storage containers, etc, so almost everyone we’ve seen in the last month has either been one of Jenny’s friends (a 50/60something feminist and usually a culture worker of some sort) or a tradie (30/40something skilled manual labourer, male), and the conversations have been pretty much exactly the same with everyone: ‘that sounds interesting, will it cover [x, y, z]?’ The 50/60somethings have an occasional tendency to ask me if by ‘book’ I mean I’m doing a PhD, forcing me to say ‘NO I GOT MY PhD IN 2003 I AM A SENIOR LECTURER***** THIS IS MY SECOND MONOGRAPH’ in a way which possibly does not prove my maturity as much as it is intended to.
8. In some ways this is my third book, in that I have already published a monograph and also a novel-length Harry Potter fic, but in some ways it is my first book in that the fic was intended to be about 8000 words long and got out of hand (it’s about 80,000, I think), and the monograph was a revision of my PhD. So this is my first book that I have had to plan, as a book, from scratch, which is something I have always avoided doing like the plague. I have already had to throw out my lovely chapter plan and start following the advice I keep giving my students (figure out what you want it to say, then figure out what you need to explain to your readers so they can understand it, then you have your structure!). Which is very galling, but probably salutary. Anyway, it reminds me of something Una once said about how the thing you learn about writing one book is never the thing you need to know for the next one. (T.S.Eliot said something similar, I believe.)
So, in conclusion, hello. I missed you, Internet.
*by which I mean ‘the trendy inner northern suburbs of Melbourne’, but, you know.
**I actually have never read Pynchon, who comes under my block on all male American authors post-Hemingway apart from Dennis Cooper, but I remember Aren recommending him, so who knows, maybe I will. I really have quite a lot of Georgette Heyer to read first, though–
***For them as are not familiar with this critique, it isn’t an argument against difference and diversity and having a culture that’s open to lots of different kinds of people – it’s an argument that the way liberal ‘multiculturalism’ has been framed as a kind of free-floating co-existence-without-struggle actually doesn’t help us to open up our cultures, because it (a) assumes that cultures coexist without interacting, that each culture is pure and unmixed in its own right, and (b) covers up the existence of real inequalities and real differences between different groups of people. Sort of like saying ‘It’s so great that women and men are so different, they bring such diverse perspectives to the table!’ and then organizing all the meetings for a time when all the women are doing childcare in a building without a women’s toilet. (And then of course one childless woman with great bladder control shows up, and everyone says ‘See? We’re not excluding women!’)
****Though do I want to? See below on being mistaken for a student.
*****I’m not, in fact, a senior lecturer, but hopefully I will be in August, so I think that counts.