If you had asked me, say, four years ago, whether I preferred doing things in groups, or on my own, I would have answered resoundingly with a preference for the latter. Exercise, research and singing would have been three obvious categories for me where solitude was the preferable state.
But over the last few years, I have come to see the fun of working and teaching collaboratively. I still prefer to walk or run (in the rare intervals when I have calves and ankles that will sustain such activity) or swim on my own: that kind of exercise is meditative for me. But now that I am getting stronger at tennis, I am starting to enjoy the communality of playing doubles.
These days, I'm working on three big research projects. One, the book on the Order of the Garter, is a solitary project. I've just finished a draft of Chapter Five (yay me!). Another is a co-authored book and related projects on theories of medievalism with Tom. The third is our collaborative project on Australian medievalism: I love this team, and working with Louise, Andrew and John, and also Toby and Anne. I'm also thinking about cooking up another international collaboration on the teaching of medieval studies and medievalism...
Today, too, I took part in three joyous group activities.
First up, the Middle English reading group. We are reading Havelok the Dane, for an hour, every fortnight. It's hysterical and fun, even on days, like today, when I've been too busy to do any preparation. Anyone in Melbourne want to join in? Email me.
Second, we held the first of our methodology workshops for research students. Now that the old Department of English has become part of the new School of Culture and Communication, our students are part of an enormous cohort that straddles "English", Theatre, Creative Writing, Cultural Studies, Publishing, Media and Communication, Art History, Arts Management, Cinema Studies and parts of the old School of Creative Arts. So when we hold School-based "work in progress" days for students, they are talking into a ferociously interdisciplinary context. And while that's tremendously interesting, there was the danger of losing a degree of focus, so we have decided to hold regular methodology workshops for graduate students in English, Creative Writing and Publishing, and today's was the first. It was wonderful to have two terrific presentations from John and Anne, PhD students approaching the first major hurdle — confirmation — of their candidature. Heaps of people turned up: perhaps 25? People concentrating hard, thinking and talking and asking and answering questions, with a tremendous spirit of collegiality and co-operation. Really, an ideal example of supportive and collegial work. Frankly, I was unspeakably proud of our students.
Third, our weekly tennis fixture. I play with a group of women from this newly aggregated school, plus the partner of one of our male colleagues, plus a woman from another school who's just come through the fiery trials of chemotherapy and radiotherapy, and is grapping with the rigours of hormone therapy. And sometimes Joel comes along, as he did today. The poor boy is still sick. He nearly made it to school today, but couldn't in the end get up from the breakfast table to get dressed. But he dragged his aching knees and his barking cough onto the court this afternoon and had about a fifteen-minute hit with me and Denise. We all love our tennis. You might look at us and think we are very uneven, and not all that good, often, and mock us for not being able, or not caring enough, to keep score properly, but you could not dispute the pleasure we serve up (!) to each other. Even Joel caught the spirit and was cheerfully talking about going back to school tomorrow (he's missed 7 days, which is a lot for a thirteen-year-old).
So... groups? I'm converted!
But what's missing from this picture? "Exercise, research and singing..." I wonder, could I really find a choir to join???