Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Serves me right for blogging about it already

Most bloggers are too young to remember, or probably to care, what Billy Thorpe looked like in the 1960s, but I do.

Killer smile.

And now that he's dead of a heart attack at 60, and I reflect that that's only seven years older than I am, please just excuse me while I go and write a novel, learn Indonesian, master more than just the first few bars of Debussy's Claire de Lune, swim with dolphins, go to Uluru, Montreal, Bali, Prague, Louisiana, Marseilles and the Scottish Highlands, update my will, apologise to three or four people, throw out three-quarters of the contents of my house, and get back into my size 10 (hahahaha, sob) Japanese-influenced black-and-white pure silk George Gross and Harry Who dress from 1986 that I've never been able to bear to throw out.


Monday, February 26, 2007


A great deal of blogospheric space gets taken up by people laboriously defining their own and others' political positions, with much huffing and puffing about what is right and what is left, but I'd like to see even the most indefatigable ideological labeller have a go at pigeonholing this bloke (as described by the New York Times senior film critic Manohla Dargis, reviewing Amazing Grace):

'Wilberforce, born in 1759, was an abolitionist for much of his adult life and helped bring about the end of the slave trade in the British Empire and then slavery itself. He was an evangelical Christian and social conservative who rallied for animal rights and against trade unions, which makes him a tough nut to crack.'

(Note also the ridiculous number of dishy men in this movie: Ioan Gruffud, Youssou N'Dour, Rufus Sewell and Ciarán Hinds. Oh, my my.)

Sunday, February 25, 2007

For whom the bell tolls

Sobered by the recent death of Australian writer Elizabeth Jolley, I'm probably not in as good a frame of mind as I could be to be reading an anthology of short crime fiction.

Stories about murders, every one.

I love crime fiction, and I have a strong stomach, and I know it's 'just a story', and I need to keep reading this book because it's for work, but all this endless clever variation on the theme of violent death is starting to make me feel a bit sick. In a complicated way this does have to do with Elizabeth Jolley, whom I knew a little, some years ago now; about whom I've posted, as has Meredith of Marrickvillia, a few memories at Sarsaparilla; and who died, as we nearly all say we hope we will, peacefully in her bed at a ripe old age.

Earlier today, all deathed out for the moment, I put down the book and headed into the study for some light relief in the blogosphere -- where almost the first thing I looked at was the thread over at Sills Bend being haunted by the ghost of former Melbourne literary and academic character Dinny O'Hearn, also now dead, and whom I also knew.

In April 1999 I went to Barcelona. It was work; I was giving a seminar at the University of Barcelona and being a bit of a visiting Aust Lit person before moving east to Klagenfurt in Austria, where I taught a four-week summer school in Australian writing at the university there. My mother had died in the February and I was still feeling extremely fragile and a bit deranged; the colleagues in both Barcelona and Klagenfurt who had organised the two gigs both insisted that I should cancel at once unless I really felt up to it, but if I had done so, my mother would have risen up phoenix-like from her ashes and beaten me about the head and shoulders with a large placard saying GET BACK ON THAT HORSE AT ONCE.

While in Barcelona I visited the Cathedral in the Placa de la Seu and could not go past the rows and rows of votive candles to light for the dead. I could only think of two people who needed candles: my mum, and a friend who had committed suicide five years earlier at the ridiculous age of 26. I had some long-dead grandparents, but really, that was all.

I got home from Europe in early May to the news that the old school friend who had survived cancer the previous year had now developed secondary tumours in her lungs, and she did not survive the winter. She was 46, the same age as me. Her death and my mother's seemed to open some sort of gate; with the turning of the century, people I knew started dying off right and left.

This is partly to do with my age, of course; almost everyone I know in my immediate age range has at least one elderly parent who needs to be worried about on a daily basis. Last January, two close friends' mothers died within days of each other. The point of the story about the Barcelona candles is that now, a mere eight years later, I can think of least twenty people I would light candles for, if I were to go back there tomorrow.

As a farmer's daughter I have always been reasonably realistic and resigned about the life cycle of the human being. We shall die, and there seems no point in kicking and screaming. I have always found it ironic that Dylan Thomas's famous and beautiful roar of rage at the dying of the light should have been written by a man who then purposefully drank himself to death at the age of 39.

But there is a kind of thinning out of the texture of your life as people disappear from it forever one by one, as if somebody had watered the wine. I think of Elizabeth and of Dinny, and of the way that, although I didn't know either of them well, I have in each case a handful of complex, detailed, colourful memories of particular moments, remarks, afternoons, tones of voice and turns of the head.

Crime stories, in which fiction-writing is a game and violent death merely one of its rules, can be very entertaining and the best of them are haunting. But they have less than nothing to do with the endlessly mysterious truth of actual death in your actual life, even just that of a colourful acquaintance, much less someone close and dear. As one of A.S. Byatt's characters says somewhere: 'You don't know what a death is going to do to you.'

Friday, February 23, 2007

Monday, February 19, 2007

Yes I know it's pathetic

I got behindhand with my workload some time round last October and haven't really caught up since. I knew February was going to be bad, and it is. Nothing could possibly justify blogging.

And yet there is so much to blog. Ratty losing his composure. People piling onto Peter Garrett for behaving like *gasp* a politican. Disgracefully snide attacks on Tim Flannery by time-serving journalists. Ripe tomatoes. Heatwaves. Reading and reviewing four novels a week, so that when I walked into Borders today I realised with a shock that I had already read half the books on the 'New Books' shelves.

I'll be back soon.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Friday, February 16, 2007

Thought for the day

Alexander McCall Smith, in his new book The Good Husband of Zebra Drive, throws down the gauntlet to Sigmund Freud:

In the background, she could hear the sound of Puso slamming the door of the bathroom.

'He cannot shut doors quietly,' said Motholeli, putting her hands to her ears.

'He is a boy,' said Mma Ramotswe. 'That is how boys behave.'

'Then I am glad that I am not a boy,' said Motholeli.

Mma Ramotswe smiled. 'Men and boys think that we would like to be them,' she said. 'I don't think they know how pleased we are to be women.'

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

What's the definition of 'news'?

Every single radio and TV news broadcast I heard today, on every station, had Schapelle Corby and her sister and her sister's ex-best-friend, and who smoked what when, and how much of a bitch and a liar everyone was, right up there at the top of the news.

Talk to the hand, I said.

And it's not like it's a slow news week. I don't have any theories about why they might do this, but would love to hear other people's, if you have them.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

A change in the blogosphere?

When I first took up blogging in October 2005 I had already learned, from extensive reading around, that posting a comment without having first read right through the thread was pretty much universally regarded, at least by those people whose opinion one might reasonably respect, as naff and non-U.

There were obvious good reasons for this. The great virtue of the comments threads is the way they develop a narrative of debate; the way they work through the various possible positions and objections; the way people build on and develop each others' ideas and arguments. (And jokes.)

It might just be me, and it might just be the blogs I read -- but lately, over the last month or so, I have noticed a considerable increase in the number of people who jump in when they have clearly not read through the thread. They ask questions that have been answered two days back; they put forth cases that other people have already made; they cite sources that were discredited on the thread a week ago.

(I should make it clear before I go on that I'm mainly talking about the big group blogs.)

When called on it, these people tend to say loftily 'I was commenting on the original post' or 'I haven't got time to read the whole thread!' (Implication: 'All these comments are crap, except of course for mine.') I'm deliberately not putting illustrative links here because I don't want to cause needless irritation, vendetta responses, blind bloggy hatred and so on. All sorts of different people have started to say/do this kind of thing.

So many blogs, so little time, and indeed there often is a longer thread than one has the time to wade through. Fine: don't comment, then. Surely if one has not read the thread then one is in no position to be commenting, because actually it's not possible to comment effectively on 'the original post' if you're doing it in splendid isolation. It seems to me that the ever-changing Gestalt of a blog entry is not just the post itself but the sum of its commenty parts, and to jump in and comment without reading the thread is to disrupt the flow of argument, bore and annoy everyone who has been following the thread properly, and make a dill of yourself into the bargain.

I've never really bought the argument that the comments and discussions are the main thing that makes blogs wonderful. It depends entirely on the blog, and any comments thread full of trolls and barking nutters really is a complete waste of your reading time. And now, with comments threads being tangled up by people who aren't following the discussion, there's even more reason not to read all the comments threads automatically.

So I'm in a lot of sympathy with other people who don't read them either. The difference is that, not having read them, I wouldn't dream of chucking my two cents' worth into a discussion that I haven't followed from the beginning.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Eight years is a long time when you're under 18

Just ask Daniel Radcliffe.

David Copperfield, 1999

Equus, 2007

Apparently lots and lots of mummies and daddies are up in arms about Harry Potter getting his gear off. Wait till they find out about him blinding six horses with a hoof pick.

Somehow they just know what suits them

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Could be worse

You are Elinor Dashwood of Sense & Sensibility! You are practical, circumspect, and discreet. Though you are tremendously sensible and allow your head to rule, you have a deep, emotional side that few people often see.

I am Elinor Dashwood!

Take the Quiz here!

Thanks Tigtog.

Friday, February 02, 2007

I bet he does, too

'Right,' said my father last night after he'd blown out the candles on his 80th birthday cake, 'now I'm striking out for 85.'

Further thoughts on blogging: dot points

That previous post looked more like a 'Why I Blog' than it was intended to, I think. So, a bit of corrective steering:

* What I was trying to address there was a more specific issue about the 'reality' or otherwise of the people whose blogs one reads. If I were in academic mode, I'd say I was thinking about the construction of subjectivity and the degree to which that is discursive, but I can see your eyes glazing over and so are mine, and I haven't even got to the end of this sentence yet. Nonetheless, that is what I was really thinking about: what a self is, and the extent to which a self can be evoked, and invoked, using nothing but words.

The idea that bodily presence is the only thing that genuinely reifies a connection now seems to me as limited a notion of human relations as the vague idea circulating among my post-hippie peerdom in its younger days that an emotional attachment wasn't 'real' unless the people involved had actually had sex.

I lost my last shred of unease about this one the day it occurred to me that some of the deeply-felt emotional connections in my life that for one reason or another had never made it into bed were far more important and lasting than the handful of ill-judged casual bonks it still pains me to think about. (Except for ... Oh, never mind.)

* I certainly don't care whether blogging is cool or not; fortunately I am too old to care about coolth at all. To my mind, the cutoff age for such concern is about 35, tops; after that, it's just a sign of arrested development.

* Being the first to know the news isn't important for me; most of the 'news' is such that one would be very happy to be the last to know it. And anyway, as has often been pointed out, almost all blogging is response to the news rather than the creation or breaking of it. And the MSM -- in its online incarnations at least, and on radio -- is far more likely to be accurate, and to acknowledge when things are under dispute or have not been confirmed.

*It may have looked, unintentionally, as though I was expressing no interest in the public-life blogs. It's true that it is boring, disheartening and time-wasting to wade through all the dross on a lot of the political and economic blogs' comments threads -- but when it's good, there's nothing like it. There is currently, for example, a long thread about David Hicks at Larvatus Prodeo that's told me more in one read-through than everything else combined that I've ever read or heard on the subject.

While the quality of the ensuing discussion is partly due to the excellence of Atticus's original post (though this logic doesn't always follow), it's the Gestalt of the discussion that's the truly valuable thing, and the way everyone on that thread has made everyone else think hard and formulate well-informed and/or well-constructed responses. You can't buy that kind of education, and you certainly can't get it from any single person or from even the best MSM source.

No, the banal truth is that I blog because

* I rooly enjoy it. Why do I rooly enjoy it? Comms junkie.

* I write for a living, and it's an excellent way to keep my hand in on a daily basis, like a swimmer doing training laps.

* I like finding out what the sorts of people whose tastes and knowledge I respect are reading, listening to, wearing, cooking and thinking. And I lerve reading about the practice of life skills I will never have: Dogpossum's lovely dancing, Ampersand Duck's magical printing, bookbinding and related activities, Anthony's amazing food.

* It's a great way of recording things that I want to, or should, remember: of processing and encapsulating the little bits of daily experience that one usually loses as they float away down the stream of time, but would, in a perfect world, prefer to keep.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Reality blogging

The friends I have coffee with every Saturday morning have made it all too clear to me that they don't think much of this blogging caper. The general attitude is 'Why would you want to sit staring at the computer for hours and hours when you could be spending time with real people?'

I'm not sure how much time with 'real people' they want me to spend. For a start, the amount of time I spend actually hanging out with people has not lessened since I took up blogging -- every Saturday morning with them for a start, and a precious, long-established ritual it is and long may it continue. (M, we will find a place with better pancakes, I promise.)

I still spend the many, many hours on the phone that I have always done, and stay in regular email contact with local, interstate and overseas friends (three Gemini planets, what are you gonna do) though for the Saturday girls this probably doesn't count as 'real' either. I saw both my sisters yesterday afternoon to arrange my father's birthday present -- he turns 80 today -- and will be seeing them again tonight at his birthday dinner. Etc.

I once did that Myers-Briggs personality test thingy and got a perfect 50/50 score on the extrovert/introvert section. Their criterion for deciding which you are, and this rings very true with me, is whether spending time with other people gives you energy or takes energy away. In my experience it depends very much on the people, but in a general way, for me, socialising starts out energising, and if the company consists of beloveds and intimates then it just goes on being that way.

But if it's a big general social thing and it goes on for long enough, there comes a tipping point, a turning of the energy tide, where instead of feeling enlivened by the company I begin quite abruptly to be desperate to be gone. The only thing that stops me fleeing into the night screaming and gibbering is that I don't actually have the energy to get up out of the chair.

Which is where partying en blog is perfect for the borderline introvert. If one is endlessly interested and curious about other people's lives but also needs to spend substantial amounts of time alone in order to recharge and regroup, blogging satisfies all one's nosiness needs without needing to be scheduled for, or in any way endured. You can stop and start whenever you like.

And the other thing is that your perception of the 'realness' of people undergoes a major shift. It may be that I and all other lovers of literature have a head start here. If you've spent your life reading novels and living through the characters' dramas with them, it's only a very small shift to thinking of your bloggy mates, whom you've also only ever encountered through reading, as very real indeed. This is of course is further helped along by photos: of their kids, their cats, their fridges and rugs, the things they've seen and made.

Of course there's lots of really interesting theoretical and intellectual stuff that gets said about blogging, including all the debate about whether it is or is not the New Journalism, though I have pretty much concluded that it isn't. There are all my own still half-formed but actually a bit radical ideas about the practices of reading and writing and how blogging changes the way we do them. There are the special-interest blogs, which in terms of intellectual and/or aesthetic quality -- Pharyngula, The Rest is Noise, Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog -- tend to be the best of all.

And there is the political and philosophical and public-life discussion in all its ubiquity, though about 90% of it is dross; for good analysis one goes straight to the people one has learned to trust, usually still in the quality-controlled MSM or the even more quality-controlled library, rather than to interminable comments threads full of frothing, barking, semi-literate raves. (I exempt LP, where the majority of regulars can think and spell, but I still read the comments there more for the personalities than the content.)

For there is an awful lot of undirected aggression and hostility out there, to say nothing of raving lunacy, and the dread of being flamed whenever one happens to mention some word or discuss some subject -- feminism, Freud, abortion, cats, Amanda Vanstone -- that pushes some nutter's buttons is the single biggest thing that might eventually drive me out of blogging.

(This is where 'real' life has it all over blogging, actually. In a room or in the street, all but the most barking of moon units will usually see fit to maintain the ordinary practices of civil discourse and behaviour with strangers. Would that it were true in the blogosphere.)

But for all that, the main thing that brings me to the keyboard every morning is curiosity and concern about how everybody's going. There's a mere handful of people whose blogs I check regularly that I have actually met -- Elsewhere, Whitebait, Cristy, ThirdCat, Stephanie -- but my attention to the people I 'know' only online is of the same quality, and when there are crises or dramas or adventures in their lives I check in very much as I would with my oldest friend to see how everything's panning out.

So the crazy-brave Lymphopo, formerly Grannyvibe, is having her post-chemo scans today, to see whether the cancer has spread or has been halted. Poor Chris Clarke at Creek Running North (danger, Will Robinson, do not follow this link without a hanky) is spending the last days with his beloved old dog Zeke, who is very much not long for this world.

At the other end of life, Zoe and her family are bonding with Jethro, who was born ten days overdue after a bloggy chorus of slow clapping that went on for nearly a week. Chairman Mao the Burmese Cat, whose potential reaction Armagnac'd had good cause to worry about, has taken to the new baby with nary a meou of protest. Laura drops in occasionally to her blog to take a bit of time out from the flurry of cleaning and packing before she moves into her new house.

I've never met any of these people. But they and all my other must-read bloggers are as real to me as anyone I've ever been in a room with. They are, indeed, more real to me than most; I've got to know them through their writing and to care about what happens to them because of their sheer human quality, and the fun of their online company, and the richness of the lives they lead, and the common tastes and values we share.

So it's not a matter of fewer people in one's life; quite the reverse. It's a matter of a whole new dimension to one's life, into which one can pack a whole extra swag of human interest. Pack-rat that I am, with people as with stuff, to me the blogosphere is mainly just a lovely big new cupboard in the kitchen of life.

Happy Birthday Pa

My dad turns 80 today.

Redhead Beach, NSW central coast, 1947

Surely not

Clearly there are not enough choices in this 'Who Would You Be in 1400 AD' test. Vow of silence? Not enough food? Moi?

The Monk

You scored 15% Cardinal, 58% Monk, 47% Lady, and 40% Knight!
You live a peaceful, quiet life. Very little danger comes your way and you live a long time. You are wise and modest, but also stagnant. You have little comfort, little food and have taken a vow of silence. But who needs chatter when just sitting in the cloister of your abbey with The Good Book makes you perfectly content.

Link: The Who Would You Be in 1400 AD Test written by KnightlyKnave