Saturday, January 30, 2010

There and back again


Wednesday, Jan 27.

I’m writing this on a plane from Melbourne to Perth. After a goodly 75 minutes sitting on the tarmac we’re now apparently making good time. We’re heading west, and into a late summer sunset. There’s a disc of burnished gold reflected on the wing outside my window, and we’re flying over miles and miles of flat-looking clouds. The white tip of the wing, behind me, is pointing up, just at the point where deep pink meets deep blue. As I look across the clouds into the west, the lines of blue are fading into pink and gold, and little scraps of dark grey cloud look like low rock formations rising up from still, golden waters.

Today was my first gig at speaking on behalf of the English programme as head. It was Academic Advice Day, when the new students come on campus to shop for subjects, and we all spruik our wares. Someone told me that’s a uniquely Australian word. Spruiking is not entirely dignified, but I tend to find it’s ok if you embrace the genre. And it wasn’t hard for me and two colleagues to talk up our programme. Even though our staff numbers are lowish, we’re a good team, I think, of energetic and productive researchers and teachers. What I must do soon is finalise my teaching materials for first semester. There’s another month before classes start, and yet I am already behind the various deadlines for getting stuff printed.

Tomorrow is a one-day symposium at UWA on medievalism and modernity. A bunch of us who attended the Wollongong symposium are heading there: Chris Jones, Seeta Chaganti, Louise D’Arcens and me. Also, two PhD students from UWA are presenting.

Update: two days later I’m on the plane coming home. Leaving around 11 in the morning, I touch down at 5.30 in the afternoon, because of the 3-hour time delay. It’s an odd way to spend a day, mostly in transit. We’re flying in bright sunlight, in a brand-new shiny plane with a new slick-looking entertainment system. Little screens on the back of the seat in front of you in economy class is a good look, and the seats seem a reasonable distance from each other for once. I started with Clare Bowditch and Prince, but now I have Scarlatti —  La Santissima Trinità — on the headsets, an empty seat next to me, and a bunch of work and reading to do.

The symposium was good. Seeta and Chris both gave excellent papers I’d not heard before. Both write and speak so beautifully about poetry and poetics: I found it quite inspiring to listen to them, and am going to pinch some of the poems from Chris’s paper on twentieth-century revivals of Old English poetic tradition for a lecture I’ll give half-way through my “Romancing the Medieval” subject on medievalism in English poetic tradition. I’m also going to try and recover something of the energetic love of poetry both demonstrated in their papers. Louise and I both gave papers we’d heard each other give before: Louise on comic medievalist tourism, with some lovely stuff on faciality and the idea of laughing in the face of the middle ages such tourism makes possible. I presented the paper I gave last week at Wollongong on medievalism in Australian parliamentary practice. I have to say I’m not really good at doing that, and probably should have insisted on giving something else. I tried to recover the nervous energy and adrenaline this second time around, but still felt a bit flat as I was speaking, until I couldn’t find pages 10-12. That got me going a bit better, and I remembered what fun it is to fly without a safety net. I think this time I made the mistake of half-writing the paper. I didn’t have a word-perfect script, but I had a lot of text. So it was too tempting to read, not talk. I don’t do that — talk to my paper — as often as I should. Chris did it beautifully, so I must remember, next time, how lovely it is to listen to someone speaking, not reading.

The great irony of this trip was a call from Pavlov’s Cat, in Melbourne for the day. Curses!

Oh look: lunch is coming down the aisle… Time to eat and then get to work.



1 comment:

Elisabeth said...

I enjoy reading about your life as an academic. It seems so turbulent in many ways and at the same time exciting.

May it stay this way for you forever. So many academics, at least the ones from the past grew jaded, disenchanted etc etc.

These days hopefully it's better than that despite the economic pressures and uncertainties of tenure.