spending quality time with navel


  • Bike riding is terrifying. It seemed like a good theory, but everyone looks so confident. It’s going to take me a while to adjust to that once I start riding (I’m giving myself a bit of time – besides, the bike in the house is too high, and I refuse to ride a too-high bike!)
  • I have to get a maintenance contract for the furnace. I didn’t even know I had a furnace. It turns out, though, that there’s a hotwater service with a booster that heats the water both for showers and stuff *and* for the all-through-the-house heater things. Nice, if apparently a little inefficient. I have to keep remembering to turn off the heating when I leave in the morning.
  • Those heated towel-rail things are the best ever. At first I was just in love with the warm towel when I got out of the shower, but I have also discovered they are a wonderful way to dry clothes… well, woolens at least – not sure about synthetics yet…
  • A bed that looks like a double bed may in fact be two single beds pushed together. Sighsigh.
  • The community created around New Years’ fireworks is kinda amazing – bunches of people gathered in the street, sending things up into the sky (mostly – I saw one go whizzing off down the street at foot level – eek!). It meant I was surrounded by things going off. I stood on my balcony for a short while, wrapped in my doona (I was sickly and couldn’t go out and play with the Dutch kids) and then started worrying about whether bits of fireworks come down… hot… clearly my Australian childhood didn’t prepare me. Didn’t prepare me for the fire in the street, either – apparently completely normal. So used to freaking out over fire! Also, there’s a limited amount of time that people can set off fireworks in (from 10 am on new year’s eve to 2 am on new year’s day). Anyone letting off fireworks outside that time is made to clean up the mess the fireworks leave on the streets on new year’s day.
  • Health insurance is compulsory and about 130 bucks a month – cheapest. Sigh.
  • Electricity will likely cost me about the same amount per month. Eep.
  • Tiny birds hanging around for winter are extremely cute.
  • There seems to be a thing about candles – they’re always lit in windows in the evening. Intriguing! And kinda pretty too!
  • It’s really odd walking down the street, passing windows without curtains in them and then thinking ‘oh my god, that’s someone’s loungeroom and they’re watching TV! I am such a voyeur!’. I’m so used to street-front windows only belonging to shops!
  • (Old) Dutch stairs are the steepest ever. I hit my knees if I try to go up too fast. Calling them ‘ladders’ would probably be less misleading. Seriously, my foot doesn’t fit on the step. Which is okay going up, but coming down is a bit scary.
  • There’s an extraordinary array of curry pastes and powders, and vegetarian not-meats at the supermarket. Like, extraordinary. Scary, even, one might say! I think I’m just overwhelmed with the variety and not being able to tell whether any of them are vegetarian!
  • Dutch cheese is squishy and comes with wax on the outside.
  • I really have *absolutely* no clue what people are saying to me in Dutch. As a result, I’m tuning out a lot of random conversation around me. I didn’t even realise until I was in the supermarket and suddenly realised the girl who had been pondering the cheese next to me was in fact speaking English…
  • There appear to be 10 TV channels which are mostly shopping channels, at least for some proportion of the day, and many of the ads are terribly American.
  • Dutch talk shows look a lot like they’re taking place in someone’s house…
  • You pay for *all* maps, including tourist maps with lots of ads in them, and bus route maps, which are apparently wrong anyway.
  • I haven’t yet discerned whether cafes are in fact coffeeshops, and eetcafes are cafes, or what. I’m poor just now, but I plan to find out soon. Also I have a coffee shop across the road from me – cutely called Ragamuffin, and done in Jamaican/Rasta colouring) which explains why everyone parks on the pavement and puts their hazards on, just outside my house!
  • Everyone parks on the pavement, almost everywhere. The streets are *very* narrow, and really not designed for cars at all.
  • There are some pretty people in this town… and some of them own some pretty awesome coats
  • The inner part of the town feels like it should be stress-free, with no cars around, but the bikes provide traffic instead!
  • Dutch lessons are expensive! Thank goodness work’s paying.
  • I am not a fan of being called an ‘ex-pat’. I get why I am, but I have associations with Singaporean ex-pat society (it was my first encounter with the term, I think, and with what it might look like) and they are ugly.
  • Lots of Dutch people work 4 days a week. This is completely acceptable. This I kind of love. It’s also part of this whole ‘you work your hours’ thing. Although my boss has made some suggestions about ‘coming in on the weekend,’ most people seem to stick fairly closely to their assigned hours. Nice.
  • For working 40 hours a week, I get…. 8 weeks of holidays a year. Although again my boss said something about how no body takes them all. I am dubious about this fact, though…
  • Everyone says that the Netherlands have ‘really high tax’. It’s about 30%. From what I remember, that’s pretty close to Australian taxation (though I don’t know if they have a tax-free threshhold thing).

Baby in this case being me (and that’s one of the few chances you’ll have to see me refer to myself as ‘baby’) and the bad thing being neglecting this blog shamefully. SHAME! I have been prompted to make this potentially one-off return (who can say? I have broken too many promises to the internet to trust myself to stick to anything… ever…) by, first of all, the brand spanky new year, second of all by the title of my blog glaring balefully at me from my bookmark bar, and third of all by Paul Gowder’s engagement with this post. If you want to see where I’ve been waxing lyrical, it’s been over there (poor Paul, I practically took over his blog for a moment there), over at AWB’s, long-windedly at Books Do Furnish a Room (a design philsophy I already adhere to) and more locally I’ve been Hoydenizing (they’re up for a weblog award. If nepotism counts for anything in this day and age, go vote for tigtog and Lauredhel. They do a great job at HAT).

But if I’ve been neglecting ma blawg, you should know I am an equal opportunity neglector. Although I have a small review (well, apparently I am wordy and long even when I am simply reviewing other people’s work!) coming out, the promises of papers have once more drifted into the ether. I have yet to write the terrifying email to editors of serieses my poor PhD might be welcome in (seriously, I started writing one: ‘Dear Prof. X, I was considering submitting a proposal for a book based on my PhD for the series X, and wanted to give you a chance to say no before I…’ wait, no, something’s not right here…). I’ve got plans for papers that really need to get underway, mostly for special issues which will probably, with my luck, already be packed to the rafters. In other news, I am peeling skin from burnt shoulders (seriously, it evokes kidness for me, back when I used to paint PVA all over my hands just to pull it off slowly later on), learning to hoofer, reading, ah, god, fiction! and being generally a lazy bum. This’ll change any second, no doubt ;-). I have also applied for a job (eep!) in Ireland (accents, sigh…). That took a fair bit of doing, in the end, trying to enumerate the responsibilities of tutoring etc. But it was good to have done. I have heard nothing, but we shall see (I figure a thousand and one people applied for the job, as who doesn’t love an Irish accent, really?). The job kinda looks perfect for me, but probably half of that is just the process of writing the job app and trying to convince them of that…

I have to say, though, my friends, that laziness is extraordinarily relaxing. As are days at the beach, especially where there are waves involved. I shall try to be a bit more disciplined here at the blog, but you know me. Promises, promises… But happy new year, intertubular world. I hope it brings naught but fun, happiness and surprises of the good kind to you all!

P.S Thanks to all who sent me virtual congrats, both here and privately. You made it possible, midears! I should probably also let you lot know that I have been awarded a ‘Vice Chancellor’s Commendation’. Scare quotes designate me not really knowing what it means, but they tell me it’s for excellence in research. Suh-weet! You’ll let me know when I cross the line into boasting, right?

O I’ve actually been back in Sydney for a while now, without no updating of blog, which is bad; but, my friends, I have had big news, big head-spinning news…

I’m going to be a doctor. A Doctor? A PhD.

My examiners’ reports (for those of you not from Oz, you might not know that we don’t get a viva, or a defense or anything; we’re too geographically isolated for that. We get three reports from different examiners) arrived a little while ago. The HDRU (Higher Degree Research Unit) people wrote to me, making me panic by saying that they’d been forwarded to my supervisor, who would write a report about them, and then the committee would meet and come to some kind of a conclusion. I was sure that this meant that there had been massive discrepancies between the reports, but as it turns out, the answer to that worry is ‘No.’

I hadn’t written about this anxiety here, but I’m going to describe it now, because I know a few people round the place are waiting on results, and everyone who’d come before me told me stories that just didn’t match with how I felt. I didn’t want my reports. I sincerely didn’t. I wanted having handed the goddamn thing in to be the end of it. I wanted that to have been enough. Enough of an achievement, to just get it in. I wanted no criticism, not even constructive criticism. I know this is childish and stupid, but it felt like any tiny piece of criticism would be enormously devastating; would erase the whole goddamn thing. I’m like this at the best of times (insane, I know, and unsustainable, I know that too; we’re working on it, ‘kay?). My supervisor had completely lost any capacity to convince me of the worth of my work by the end of the thesis. I fell for the probably stupid and untrusting belief that she would say anything positive to get me to hurry the fuck up and hand it in (ooh, she deserves more than that, my friends! I am a terrible person!) I have a general tendency to believe every negative thing to the nth degree, and to disbelieve anything positive (generally by the bad bit of me telling me that people have investments in making me feel good. This is silly, I know; most people can’t be bothered having those kinds of investments.)

But really: I had worked so hard, but I was so so so horribly aware of its flaws: of stilted patches, of argumentation I remained unconvinced by (even as I was convinced enough to write it), of examples that didn’t match the argument. Quite possibly lots of this happened in imagination; I haven’t dared to pick the thing up again since I submitted it. When I received the letter that told me my supervisor had my reports, and that I would get a copy of them soon, my heart pounded and I (did I mention childish?) called my mama and said all of the things I’ve just said. She told me I didn’t mean all of them, and I assured her I did. And she ran out of comforting things to say, as is inevitable when someone has already decided the situation will be devastating with a tiny drop of negativity.

And then the reports came in. I am a wimp. I called my mama again, and made her sit on the phone with me; the first reading of my reports, then, was out loud. If I’d thought about it properly, this is dumb: words get weighty in the air.

But these reports, my friends, these reports?

Glowing, i believe is the term. I have had to carry around a copy of the reports with me, for when the bad bit of me starts to think I must have made up the positives. Pinching doesn’t work, even though it (my present state, not the pinching so much) feels dreamy. These reports have gone a fair distance to restoring some of my faith in academia (!), not because I like people who like my work (though I do), but because there is no point-scoring in them, no ego, massive amounts of encouragement, of a recognition of what they see as valuable and a real generosity in both the reading and articulation of why they call it (and they do) “a remarkable achievement”.

I could boast by pulling out ‘the best bits’ (as my sister wanted me to do) but I’m not going to. I’m just going to say: I didn’t want my reports; but the affirmation they’ve given me is… well, let’s just hope that this brief moment out from the ever-present imposter syndrome lasts; because it is astonishingly gorgeous. And that’s despite the numerous typos I have to fix!

[raises champagne glass] Cheers! (and be sure to meet my eyes; no seven years of bad sex for me, thanks!)

That’s right, my friends. I’m off to potentially sunnier, probably cloudier, definitely deliciously rougher climes for about two weeks. I’ll be back then with my overly involved take on why Half Life roolz Bioshock so hard it hurts. That’s right, kids, this is theory central, this is šŸ˜‰ Take care, one and all!

owdy to all those loyal enough to have me feeded. šŸ˜‰ I’ve been gone for such a long time now, I’ll be surprised if anyone remembers I exist. This hiatus extended on into something more like a never-blog! I’m trying not to feel guilty for that.

So the lovely Nate prodded me a while back, wondering what post-PhD life was like. And this strange kind of limbo-land I’m in… well, for the moment, it’s pretty pleasant. Apart from the occasionally breath-taking bout of anxiety that strikes me whenever I think about the thesis, life is feeling pretty sunny. I have more time for my friends, more space for being someone other than a thesis-writer, which is kinda nice, and I’m convening a course I adore. And the students in said course seem brighter than your average bear, which makes for a nice change to the endless frustration of people last semester (Student: ‘But… well, I just think it’s wrong.’ Me: ‘What’s wrong?’ Student: ‘Homosexuality.’ Me: ‘[gape, thinking but we’re 6 weeks in, this is a queer theory course, we’ve talked all about this for weeks on end, and that’s all you got?] Ooookay, well, perhaps we might try thinking about why you think it’s wrong…’ [in head:Ā again]). The other day, in a tutorial about donation of bodily tissues, I had the following (approximate) conversation take place:

Me: So what do you think of current ways of thinking about donation? Are they fair? Are they exploitative?

Student 1: Well, they’re pretty exploitative, a lot of them. And unfair.

Student 2: But that’s because of the commodification of bodily tissues.

Me: Okay, so are there alternatives you can imagine?

Student 3: Well, I can’t really see any, but commodification does seem to be the main problem. But it’s hard to imagine any other ways of doing things.

Student 2: That’s because of capitalism. Capitalism is the real problem.

Me: And my work here is done.

So yes, I am enjoying my students. It’s nice, first of all, to be doing both lectures and tutes, because it means that whatever it is that I teach them, that’s what they are meant to be learning. There’s less uncertainty for me, in that regard: it means that I’m not second-guessing my grasp of someone else’s explanations/theorisations/positions. But second, it’s really really fun to be running the course. I added in a week on the concept of ‘choice’: what counts as choice and what doesn’t, and how this works to naturalise particular kinds of interventions into the body, and raise others as political (or ethical, or social…) issues. It’s hard work, too. Even though the woman who is employing me gave me all of her lectures, this week (week 6) is the first week that I’ve really used them. I’m trying to take this opportunity to build up a bit of a backlog of lecture materials, slides and so on. So it’s all very useful, but hard work too.

I’m also having to think about The Future. Which I dislike and try to de-capitalise as much as possible. I need to publish, and am just heading into starting to feel guilt about that, so I think I should really just start writing. I have a few things arising from the thesis which need to be written shortly, and a few papers up-coming: a chapter for a book, a review essay on Judith Butler (has anyone else noticed the simply nutty number of books ‘on’ her that have just come out? Craziness!), and two planned articles for two special issues due early next year. I need to publish more than that, of course, but it’ll be good (hard) work to just do that, methinks. I’m helping to organise a conference, too… And somewhere in the midst of all of that, I want to apply for various fellowships at various places, and write a book proposal for the thesis (or, y’know, the book of the thesis… like the film of the book, y’know… ). In amongst all of that is the awareness that I desperately need to organise employment for over the summer. It’s easy to forget that it’s about four months potentially without money. I might wind up doing data entry, but I’m crossing fingers for something more exciting. Cross them with me?

In general, my currently post-grad friends, post-thesis life is much funner, at least for me. I keep trying to explain it to people, but most don’t get it: I felt like I was procrastinating all the time at the end of the PhD. Even when I was teaching. Even when I was doing other work. Hell, even when I was working on the thesis I was convinced there was something else more important, more signficant, more urgent about the thesis that I should be working on. This is a strange and stupid frame of mind, I am aware (and was aware at the time), but it is sincerely how I felt. Not feeling like my entire life is one big, lazy procrastination is extraordinarily liberating. Yes, I am much happier. It’s good! And as much as I panic about examiners’ reports, and the potential culture clash of American academics marking my work, and the potential GAPING HOLES in my argument… I am, for the most part, able to set it aside. We’ll see how I go when I get closer to when the reports come back, but yeah…

So yes, I am hoping to start blogging again. I am writing a fair bit at the moment, what with lectures and (ahem) fiction (shh, don’t tell anyone) and with the articles that I’m meant to be doing. But I’ve been hanging around posting long comments on various blogs (mostly grumping at anti-trans*, trans*phobic radfems) which is probably a good sign that I should be doing more writing back at home.

And yeah, I’ve totally missed you lot. šŸ™‚

So I sit here in the postgrad room at uni (that’s right, no offices for us scum… and rarely working computers too… and then a fair whack of whingeing about how postgrads don’t use this space… [sigh]) waiting… in about 4.5 hours, I get to pick up my prettily soft-bound thesis, all four copies of it, and carry them with insufficient ceremony, doubtless (it’s rainy out, and muddy to boot, so I’ll be aiming mostly not to slip; this tends to make my steps ridiculously short) to the Dean’s office. The Dean is not in today, but I’m hoping his assistant, the lovely Ashley, will have prepared balloons and streamers to fall from the ceiling. Maybe that will be the moment the exhiliaration will kick in…

Yesterday, when I made the final change to my thesis (which, amusingly enough, was adding ‘Mysterious Skin’ to my bibliography… am totally proving my academic thoroughness there!), I sent a copy to my supervisor, with a message that ended ‘I feel very strange…!’ Yes, I could have read over it once more. Yes, this could have been a moment to say ‘but it’s still not done!’ and gone into re-read mode. But at some pointĀ all of those good and virtuousĀ concerns, I think, would have simply supposed that the thesis could be done, could be complete, wrapped up, tied neatly with string and packed away in an archive box; that that perfecting, that closing up was possible, and even a good thing. (I’m hoping that my examiners agree with the balance I’ve made, then, between tying off and fraying ends).

Now I am not suggesting that there’s not a mound of relief flushing through me. There is. And when it’s all done and handed in, I’ll likely be ecstatic (and drunk). But it’s a strange space, this one, because it feels like a false end. In undergrad, I always paused before letting my essay drop into the collection box. I paused because it marked an end. A stepping away from a neatly curtailed bit of knowledge, one which I didn’t need to pursue. But this is different, because in the end, this is what I have chosen – without will, often – to do with me, and my future, at least for a while. And so this thesis is a mark, a cairn on the path, certainly, and yay! for that. But it doesn’t feel like an end, strictly… and that’s not only because, as my supervisor keeps telling me, I really need to get this stuff out there. It’s more that this is a venture forward, a career not in the sense of theĀ careful teleology of a working life but rather in the wild and uncontrolled movement (downhill?). Whatever I do next – and yes, I have thoughts, scary and intimidating as they are to entertainĀ – will inevitably be shoots grown from this wordy, inelegant, heavy-handed and densely theoretical patch of moss. And even this patch ofĀ moss will be worked over, and worked over (especially, as everyone keeps promising me, ‘for the book’ – such adorably naive faith!).

It’s also hard, I have to say, to compass that four years of work can come down to these 95,000 words, to this print-out, to this moment of photocopying, this handing over to the printery, this waiting. It makes everything feel weirdly laden, dense with a seriously hard four years of work. I find myself worrying about whether the double-siding worked perfectly on every page, in every print-out, about whether I’ve left someone off the acknowledgements, about the dire consequences of missing the typo ‘hiearchisation’. I suppose when there’s no major theoretical moves to make, stances to adopt, or practices to prise open, this is where you wind up. Stressy space.

But oh! An end to formulating sentences as I go to sleep! An end to worrying about how clear I am! An end to worrying that I’m being less than generous in my critique of Merleau-Ponty, or worse, in my adoption and adaptation of those scholars I admire, whose work I want to keep alive and moving and working with. An end to disliking my bluntness, to dreaming of when the points I was making were so clear and easy to me I could prettify them. I get to move into new ways of writing now. It’s kinda a relief.

And it’s a relief to be able to let myself do some other things. The idea of actually juggling my time between a range of things without feeling like every single one of them is procrastination… yay! Such relief! And I’m looking forward to being able to socialise properly again, to get drunk without guilt, to be properly present to these things, rather than having half a brain still turning over thesis thoughts. It’s a relief, my friends, to be back in the blogosphere, to feel able to venture into new thoughts, play at virtual promiscuity, and not feel like I’m risking investing time badly. Actual fun! šŸ™‚

Ā 

So I want you all to imagine that this blog is temporarily your favourite pub, and we’re all drinking together, talking shit and profundity all at once, griping and laughing. [raises glass of beer] And please remember to meet my eyes when we glass-clink. I’m not risking 7 years of bad sex… Cheers!

EY lovelies. I want nothing more than to hang out here and post banal crazy shit. However, I am also being very stern with myself, given that I have a thousand and one things to sort out. I am currently half-moved, a situation I recommend not at all. I am out of my old house, and unable to return (!), and not yet into my new house (thanks to crappy sydneysider housing costs and stupid market etc etc boring boring boring shit). On the *hup!* side, the place I do have will have all the uniqueness of being mine-and-mine-alone, having my shiny new fridge (am total adult now!), and the Sly Fox as my local (! bring on nightly $6 cocktails and Wednesdays of Kingness! Woot!). In the meantime, I am also trying to get a final draft of my final chapter to my (final?) supervisor. After which, she assures me, I will take two weeks to make the ‘cosmetic’ changes she is suggesting (at least one per page, however, which makes me feel a little less comforted than I think she intended…) and possibly a lil longer to write an intro and conclusion, and hand the bastard in. We’ll see. I’ve been promising to finish this thesis any minute now for, oh, months, really. If you pray, send vibes of goodness, or drink in sympathy to people, now would be the moment to do so.

In other words, I will be back, but I may be some time…

(in other other words, this bastard may kill me yet… ;-))

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