dolorosa_12: (pagan kidrouk)
I had my PhD viva nearly three years ago now, but it still reverberates in weird ways, even though I've long since left academia.

Quick description of how a PhD is examined in the UK, for those who want to know )

I wake up almost every day grateful for the fact that I never have to do another viva again. Some examiners will tell you before you get started that you've passed, although they're not technically supposed to (Matthias' external examiner wanted everything done by the book, so he left the room not knowing if he'd passed or failed). Mine tried to tell me without saying so directly — they said something like, 'before we get started, we want to say that we do have some concerns, but you have nothing to worry about. Now let's talk about your PhD,' which helped a bit, but didn't do much to make the experience any more pleasant. Some friends have told me they enjoyed their vivas, but to this day (and I say this as someone who has had some pretty awful things happen to her), that viva remains the worst two hours of my entire life. A few weeks before it happened, I dreamt that the process would involve lying on a rooftop while two senior Celticist academics shot at me with sniper rifles, just to give you some indication of the state of my mind...

Anyway, you get the idea. I passed, and although I couldn't look at my PhD or my examiners' reports for at least two months after the viva was over, the corrections themselves only took about a week of my time, and I got my PhD, graduated, and got on with a life outside academia. But because I still live in Cambridge, and still have a lot of friends within medieval studies, and because my former department is extremely sociable, I tend to come back from time to time to local conferences, free annual guest lectures, alumni events and so on. And because medieval studies is such a small world (and Celtic Studies an even smaller world within it), I tend to run into my examiners when I least expect it. And, inevitably, I bumped into my internal examiner at a guest lecture late last year. We fell to talking about my viva, and he told me something I found both hilarious, and a great source of perspective.

The entire time that I had been in a state of extreme anxiety and panic, feeling besieged and terrified, he had been in such awe of my external examiner (who, for some reason, he had never met in person before) that he had reacted by being extremely formal, and more critical than he perhaps intended, because he wanted to make a good impression on his fellow examiner. It's odd, but it's nice to know I wasn't the only one in that room feeling scared and overwhelmed!

Anyway, academia. It's a weird little universe.
dolorosa_12: (flight of the conchords)
Canny readers will have noticed that today's post contains three weeks' worth of material, and is posted on a Thursday instead of the usual Friday. While I have no excuse for skipping several weeks' posts, I should explain that I will be spending most of tomorrow on a train, and felt it would be easier to post today instead.

Amberlin Kwaymullina: 'Let the stories in: on power, privilege and being an Indigenous writer'.

Here is a Q and A with African writers of science fiction at Omenana. I found some of the questions (from students at Simon Fraser University, Canada), to betray some rather ill-informed assumptions on the part of the questioners, but all of the answers were illuminating.

Tansy Rayner Roberts' Continuum 11 speech: Fantasy, Female Writers & The Politics of Influence.

'In The Rustle of Pages', a short story by Cassandra Khaw.

I loved this poem, 'A Visit With Morgan Le Fay', by Sofia Samatar.

Via my partner, this review of the new Channel Four show Humans.

Aliette de Bodard has begun posting regular 'Shattered Wings Thursday' posts, which consist of related content for her upcoming novel House of Shattered Wings. Keep an eye out for upcoming posts in this series.

One of my former academic colleagues, Myriah Williams, who works on medieval Welsh manuscripts, has written about the rather surreal experience of having her research attract wider attention in the mainstream media.

YA Books Central is running a giveaway for Serpentine, Cindy Pon's latest book.

No Award posted about Australian kids' TV show themes (Lift-Off forever!).

'The Definitive Oral History of How Clueless Became an Iconic '90s Classic'.
dolorosa_12: (what's left? me)
Birth: Stop wrapping your arm around your neck. You're hurting your mother.

0: Yes, your parents are at present a rock music journalist and a foreign correspondent flitting all over North and South America. Don't worry. They won't expect you to ever be that cool.

1: Don't worry. The vacuum cleaner can't hurt you. Neither can the blender. Neither can the food processor.

2: Don't worry. The cracks in the ceiling and in the tiles of the bath aren't ants. Neither are the black lines painted on the floor of the swimming pool. They can't hurt you. The cicadas make a really loud noise, but they're tiny little insects, not one giant animal 'as big as a bear'. It's not your fault your mother didn't explain that in a way you understood. The cicadas can't hurt you.

Your aunts are going to allow you to walk around them in circles, talking at them. They will draw pictures of the stories you tell them. They will transform the couches on your front patio into two horses that take you on adventures. Your grandfather will build you a bedhead and swim with you in the ocean, and your grandmother will tell you stories. Your other grandfather will build you a bookcase, and your other grandmother will sew clothes for your dolls. You will be surrounded by cousins. This will be more precious to you than gold.

3: Stop being jealous of your newborn sister. She is amazing, and you will love her very much.

4: Don't worry that you hate preschool. There is a boy there who hates it even more, so much that he will spend every lunchtime attempting to climb over the fence and escape. One day he will succeed. Your mothers will bond over their children's reluctance to be at preschool. Years later, his mother will be your mentor in your first 'grown-up' job.

5: Don't worry. You will learn to read. It will happen suddenly, and it will feel like a thunderbolt resounding in your head, and you will be astonished, and it will lead you into a thousand other worlds.

6: 'Just ignore them and they'll stop doing it' is the worst piece of advice you will ever be given.

7: The way they treat you is not okay.

8: The way they treat you is not okay.

9: The way they treat you is not okay.

10: This new friendship group is great, but it will not survive one of its members returning to East Timor. Sorry about that.

11: The way they treat you is not okay.

12: You've cut your hair and pierced your ears and changed your name. That's a good start. These new friends you've made in high school seem pretty great. You might want to hang onto them.

It's okay that you love Hanson. You don't need to be embarrassed.

13: The way she treats you is not okay.

14: The way they treat you is not okay.

15: He's not a mind-reader. Tell him how you feel about him.

16: He's not a mind-reader. Tell (this different) him how you feel about him.

17: You're right. You have found your tribe. Hold on to this feeling. You will feel it again, but not for a very long time.

18: You're right. Leaving Canberra does feel like cutting your heart out. You are going to take six years to get over this, but I promise you that eventually you will feel that same sense of place in Sydney.

19: Your mother is amazing, but you don't need to take all her advice.

20: How you're feeling is not your friends' fault.

21: You are making really good academic choices.

How you're feeling is not your friends' fault.

22: I wish I could say 'don't move back to Canberra', but if you didn't, you'd never meet the sraffies, and you'd never go to Cambridge, so you're going to have to grin and bear it.

23: You have made the best and bravest decision of your life.

Remember what I said about finding your tribe? Yeah, you've found them.

24: What he did to you was not okay.

25: You will never feel such extremes of emotion again.

He saved you, but don't make it mean more than it should.

One day, you will be grateful to him for walking away when you couldn't.

(Late 25 and) 26: Hold onto this one. He is what home feels like.

27: Don't move to Heidelberg.

28: Applying for JRFs is a waste of your time and limited emotional energy.

29: See! You were capable of getting a PhD.

30: I'll get back to you in December.
dolorosa_12: (teen wolf)
I was going to devote this week's post to the Hugo Awards situation, but to be honest, I thought better of it. Why waste my energy on the emotionally draining behaviour of a bunch of immature, selfish, cruel, destructive people? I'd rather talk about people who build, create, nurture and share.

At Safe, Rochita Loenen-Ruiz talks about words, actions, and using power for good. It's a post filled with hope and compassion. (Content note for discussion of abusive behaviour.)

Rochita's post refers to this one by Laura Mixon, which comes with a similar content note.

I absolutely adore M Sereno's poetry. Her latest, 'The Eaters, published in Uncanny Magazine, is gorgeous. Amal El-Mohtar reads it aloud here.

BBC Radio 4 is doing a programme featuring extensive interviews with Ursula Le Guin, Ursula Le Guin at 85.

Short stories I read and enjoyed this week include 'Monkey King, Faerie Queen' by Zen Cho (published at Kaleidotrope) and 'Ambergris, or the Sea-Sacrifice' by Rhonda Eikamp (published at Lackington's, illustrated by Likhain).

Over at SF Signal, authors pay tribute to Terry Pratchett and Leonard Nimoy.

Ken Liu discusses his new novel The Grace of Kings at SF Signal.

This round-up post at Ladybusiness has some fabulous short story recommendations.

It's always disorienting for me to see real-life friends and former academic colleagues getting discussed in SF publications.

This is the most Cambridge story ever.

Please spend your weekends being lovely to each other.
dolorosa_12: (sleepy hollow)
It's not every day you get a PhD. It's not every day you get a new sister. I was lucky and got both on the one day. 19th July is certainly going to be this year's most memorable day!

My dad had been making vague noises all year about coming to Cambridge for my graduation, but I knew that his and my stepmother's new baby was due on 29th July and it was probably not a good idea for him to be on the other side of the world. In any case, I was proved right - I was woken up by a text from my dad at about 1am on Saturday, informing me that the baby had been born early. Her name is Maud, and she is the youngest of five sisters, joining me, Miriam (who has the same mother and father as me), Kitty and Nell (who have a different mother to me and Miriam). People were joking on Facebook that my father is like a modern-day Mr Bennet (from Pride and Prejudice) or Tevye. I'm just glad his economic future doesn't depend on marrying us all off! There is a range of twenty-nine years in our ages, and we're all at such different stages of life: I've just finished a PhD, Miriam finished an MA last year and is working for the public service, Kitty is going into high school next year, Nell is in the early stages of primary school and Maud is a newborn baby.

Anyway, I managed to get back to sleep after being woken by Dad's text, I woke up and it was my graduation day. My mother and Miriam had come to the UK specially to be here for this, and they and Matthias were my guests. Graduation in Cambridge is a rather strange affair: students all have to wear black and white clothing (suits, black skirts and white blouses, or black dresses)* and a combination of hood and gown which varies depending on the degree they are to receive, any Cambridge degrees they already hold, and their age. As I already held a Cambridge MPhil, I had to wear an MPhil gown and hood. Graduating students have to process from their colleges to the Senate House through the centre of town. I'm lucky - my college is a two-minute walk from the Senate House - but it was a swelteringly hot day, and also kept threatening to rain. The woman next to me in the procession was someone I knew vaguely - she was also an Australian, and we'd both been wheeled out at the same event a while back to talk to a bunch of Indigenous people who were interested in coming to Cambridge (neither of us are Indigenous, but they just wanted Australians to give their impressions).

The ceremony itself is always very brief. Students are led forward four at a time by their college's Praelector, presented to the Vice Chancellor in Latin, and kneel down one by one before him (when I received my MPhil, the Vice Chancellor was a woman, but she has since retired). He mumbles a bit more Latin over the student, and that's it. I was concentrating so much on not tripping over my gown when I stood up that the whole thing was a bit of a blur, but Matthias said he felt a bit weepy.

Then we milled around outside the Senate House for ages, and took photos. I only have one so far, but once my mum's emailed me hers, I will upload them too.

 photo 10520086_10100955798768770_7477471729212381438_n_zps44805d5a.jpg

Graduation was followed by a buffet lunch in my college's formal hall. We were lucky to be seated next to a really nice Irish family, who became extremely chatty when they discovered what I had studied. I've never met an unfriendly Irish person, nor one who was uncomfortable talking to complete strangers. I'm sure they exist, but I've never met them.

After lunch, we met up with some friends for drinks in a nearby pub. People came and went, but the group included Former Housemate H, Former Sort-of Housemate J2, V, P, R, Matthias, Miriam, Mum and me.

So all in all, a wonderful day, filled with celebrations. I'm very relieved to be closing a door on the PhD side of my life. The PhD years were good years, growing years, learning years, changing years, but also very challenging years. I'm grateful to have been able to learn what I learnt about medieval Irish literature. The stories I studied were beautiful and will stay with me forever. And there really are no people like a really enthusiastic bunch of medievalists to have as friends. But once was enough! And a PhD is as far as I'd like to go in terms of academia (although I'm not ruling out some kind of taught MA at some point in the future).

I am Dr Dolorosa, and that's enough for now.
*Those in the military are allowed to wear military uniform, and students are also allowed to wear 'national dress', although this is very vaguely defined. I've seen some women graduate in saris or kimono, and that's about it.
dolorosa_12: (una)
This time five years ago, I was getting ready to go to my department's annual garden party, over the moon because I had submitted my MPhil and was confident of passing, and of being accepted for a PhD place at Cambridge. Today, I'm getting ready for the garden party, happy in the knowledge that my PhD corrections have been approved and that (after I've paid an extortionate amount for binding and submitted a hardbound copy to the Board of Graduate Studies) I will be graduating in July as Dr Dolorosa!

These past five years have been a mixed bag. Some parts of being a PhD student were filled with joy, while others threw me into despair, self-doubt and fury. I am glad to have written it, and to have learnt what I learnt - about medieval Irish literature, and about myself. I am so grateful that it allowed me to meet a truly wonderful bunch of people, and to become part of several amazing international groups of friends. I met my partner because of my PhD. As a result of my PhD, I had the good fortune to meet several awe-inspiring older women who have acted as mentors for me in all sorts of ways. I can speak and read a good many more languages than I could five years ago!

My PhD gave so much. It took a lot from me, though. I don't talk a lot about that very often, because ultimately I feel that I made the right decision. If nothing else, doing a PhD at Cambridge got me to where I wanted and needed to be, with the right people around me, and the opportunity to meet others who, although not much a part of my life right now, connected with me at the right time to help me become myself.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that my PhD allowed me to live. And while I never want to live through those years again (some of them were just packed with so much living and so many emotions that they were exhausting), I am privileged and grateful to carry them with me.
dolorosa_12: (emily hanna)
It appears that I didn't write anything on LJ/Dreamwidth for the entire month of April. I'm not sure exactly why that was, although I will say that I had Matthias' family staying for two weeks, which made it very difficult to find a spare moment. His sister and her fiancé stayed with us for one week, and his parents were here for two weeks, although they stayed in their caravan in a camping site nearby. The fiancé had never been to Cambridge before, so we did a bit of sightseeing, including going up onto the roof of my college chapel, from where you can see the whole of Cambridge. To get there you have to climb this very claustrophobic, winding spiral staircase. It's worth it when you get to the roof, though.

Anyway, after they left, Matthias went to Aberystwyth for four days. He's just started doing an MA in library and information studies there (via distance learning), and you need to attend a week-long course there every year. The rest of the coursework is done by distance. I really, really dislike being home alone. I find it almost impossible to sleep and generally feel unsafe at night. I can cope with it when I live in an apartment building, or at least on the upper floor of a house, but our house is single-storey, which is just about the worst for me. But Matthias had a good time on his course, and met all the other people in his cohort, who all seem a very interesting bunch. They're mostly in their 20s or 30s, and tend to have done at least a BA (and in some cases an MA and PhD) in some kind of humanities field and come to librarianship indirectly, like him. I'm interested to see how he goes with the course, as I'm keen to do it myself in a few years' time (once I've recovered from the exhaustion of doing a PhD!).

On Friday, I went to London to hear Samantha Shannon (author of The Bone Season, the first of a series of novels about a dystopian London where people have supernatural abilities) in conversation with Andy Serkis and Jonathan Cavendish, whose film company has the rights to adapt the first book. I did a write-up on Tumblr. The event was mostly awesome, although there was one sour note. One of the main characters in The Bone Season is an otherworldly being called Warden. He's not described in much detail in the book, aside from mention of him having 'dark, honey-gold'-coloured skin. People in the audience were asked to suggest actors who fit their mental image of him. Those suggested were Tom Hiddleston and Cillian Murphy. I think you can figure out why those are appalling suggestions, but in any case, I was heartened to see that most of the fandom seems to support me in perceiving Warden as just about anyone other than a white actor. What was even more encouraging is that Samantha Shannon herself agreed with me and said she was committed to fighting against whitewashing in any adaptation of The Bone Season. I will be very disappointed if a white actor is cast as Warden, and will not see any film in which this is the case.

Yesterday, our department hosted the annual colloquium which we share with Oxford. It's for students of Celtic Studies at both universities to present papers on aspects of their research, and alternates between Cambridge and Oxford as a location. I found it interesting to note that when we went around introducing ourselves at the beginning, all the Oxford students said their individual college affiliations, whereas the Cambridge people all said the name of our department rather than our colleges. It's a subtle indication of how we perceive ourselves, I guess.

The conference was good fun, particularly as I didn't have to give a paper this year. I just relaxed and hung out with all my friends, most of whom I hadn't seen in over a month. My supervisor was there, and we were talking about my decision to leave academia and work in libraries. She asked me if I missed research, and I realised that I didn't miss it at all. Most people I know who work in academia have this drive, this single-minded obsession with whatever they research (in much the same way as authors have this drive to tell stories). I've never had it, and I guess that's another indication that I was never cut out to be an academic.

I finally succumbed to the lure of 8tracks. I'm ridiculous enough about music as it is, so I guess it was only a matter of time before I joined. If you're on there, you should add me. I've already made one playlist.

We Own the Sky from dolorosa_12 on 8tracks Radio.

In other musical news, the new Seven Lions EP, Worlds Apart, is simply glorious.

dolorosa_12: (ship)
Yesterday, Matthias and I made a flying visit to London. We'd originally planned to go there for the whole day, but that was when we thought I'd be finished my PhD by now. As it turns out, I'm not finished (though I'm so close I can see the end of the tunnel), and thought it better to spend the morning working. We caught the train after lunch and were there by 3pm. One thing I love about living in Cambridge is how close it is to London!

Our original purpose in visiting was to see Matthias' old PhD supervisor give a paper at the British Academy. The paper itself was excellent. Richard (Matthias' old supervisor) is a very good speaker, and was able to pitch the content at exactly the right level so that the very senior experts in Old English, Middle English and other fields of medieval studies, and the enthusiastic members of the public would all be able to get something out of it. A lot of old friends of mine who have since graduated and gone on to work outside academia in London also showed up, and it was great to catch up with them over a glass of wine afterwards.

Prior to the paper, we had a coffee in my favourite London cafe, and then wandered around Soho for a bit trying to figure out where we would eat dinner.

I insisted on stopping off in Seven Dials and having my photo taken. It's getting to the point where the entire city of London is crisscrossed with a network of Significant Sites That Feature in Ronni's Favourite Works of Literature. (Almost the first thing I did when I moved to the UK was visit the ruins of St Dunstan in the East, a place which features prominently in Sara Douglass' Troy Game series.) Seven Dials is where the criminal gang of clandestine clairvoyants are based in Samantha Shannon's The Bone Season, which as you'll recall is my latest literary obsession. So I made poor Matthias take my photo in Seven Dials. The Christmas lights were on, and it was almost dark, so it looked very pretty.

A couple of photos behind the cut )

So, anyway, after that, we made it to the talk, which as I've noted was in the British Academy. I'd never been before, and I was very impressed by the setting. If you can make it in academia in this country, you get to go to some pretty cool places.

After the talk, we went out for dinner at this Vietnamese restaurant in Soho. I love Vietnamese food, and can't get it in Cambridge, so I was very keen to see what Banana Tree was like. The food was excellent, and extremely cheap, especially by London standards. When I'm in London, I normally go to the same places over and over again, so it was good to try something new.

After dinner it was back to Cambridge and reality.
dolorosa_12: (flight of the conchords)
Troian Bellisario tweeted that they were shooting the Pretty Little Liars season finale for over thirteen hours. That's dedication! I hope it's amazing.

I had a useful and productive meeting with my supervisor yesterday. For the first time ever, I feel that the end is in sight for my PhD. It's going to be such a massive relief. My supervisor and I also had a very frank discussion about what I planned to do once the thesis was finished. I was honest with her and said that although my current feelings about the PhD (namely, frustration and anger) were probably colouring my attitudes towards academia a bit, I'd pretty much come to the conclusion that it was not for me. She had some helpful suggestions about what to do next, and some possible contacts that may be useful in the field in which I want to work, which was great.

(On a related note, I really admire my supervisor a lot. She's been married to another academic for ages, and they only managed to live in the same country for the first time about four years ago. They have two kids who are trilingual. She's well-respected in her field without having been drawn into any of the stupid disputes and bitchiness which sadly plague it. Most importantly, she is a really good communicator, which is actually not all that common among academics. She supervised me for my MPhil as well as my PhD, so I've been working with her for five years, and she has always really impressed me with her ability to deliver constructive criticism that leaves you feeling inspired rather than crushed. She's kind of my model for How To Adult.)

Last night, Matthias and I went to a Halloween party at our friend C's house. Australians don't really do Halloween, and I was surprised to discover that it was a thing in Britain, but in any case, C is from the US and hosts a party like this every year. This year, the idea was to spend as little money on costumes as possible, for which I am grateful. I had been really stumped for ideas, but in chat my sraffie friend Michael mentioned that the thing he always notices about me is my bright, colourful clothing, which led [ profile] romen_dreamer to suggest going as a rainbow. So then Matthias went as a pot of gold, which involved carrying a bowl of chocolate coins around all the time. In the end we spent about five pounds on some ribbon and the chocolate coins, which was great.

C's husband works for the US military, which means they are able to buy food at a nearby US military base. This is greatly appreciated by our other friends from the US, as it means they get access to food from home that isn't otherwise available in the UK. I myself particularly enjoyed the blue corn chips C had bought!

The party was pretty low-key. We just hung around and chatted, while cheesy horror films played in the background. Towards the end of the evening, people got out the Wii and started dancing, but I missed most of that as we decided to leave around 11 since Matthias had to work the next day. Incidentally, today is his last time working at his old job: he started it as a temporary thing to earn some money while he was doing his PhD corrections, and somehow ended up staying for three years. But he recently got a new job working in an academic library and was finally able to quit. There was nothing particularly wrong with the old job, just that it was kind of unchallenging and unlikely to go anywhere, career-wise, so we're both very happy that he's able to move on. His old work gave him an Amazon gift voucher and a half bottle of champagne as a going-away present, and we're definitely going to crack open the champagne when he gets back from his other job tonight. (He currently has three different part-time jobs.)

That's basically it from me. I'm spending the day at home, alternating between editing my own work and proofreading an article for someone else.
dolorosa_12: (sister finland)
So far, it's been an absolutely wonderful weekend. On Friday evening, Former Housemate D came up to Cambridge to give a seminar paper. She completed her PhD on skaldic poetry in my department in 2012, and from February-April was working on a cultural engagement project that combined her postgraduate research interests with her other main interest, modern poetry. The project had two parts - the first was to provide a group of poets with translations and commentaries of medieval skaldic verse which they then used as a starting point for their own poems, the second involved creating packages of material that could be used to teach poets and other writers (and school students and interested members of the public) how to use kennings and other elements of skaldic verse in their own writing. It produced some very interesting results, including a fabulous series of poetry readings in April. So D's seminar paper was basically summing up the results of the project.

I really miss her. We lived together from June 2010-August 2011, which was her third year of her PhD and my second year, and probably the happiest period of my life. We both worked from home most of the time, and our productivity was severely hampered by the fact that we frequently stopped for tea breaks that would go on for hours. Matthias and I currently have a spare room free in our house, but have decided to forgo finding a housemate since there are very few people with whom we could bear to live. If D decided to return to Cambridge, however, we'd offer her the room in a heartbeat, because she's just that awesome. She's now moved back to London, and I doubt she will move back here. I can't really blame her. If I had the option to live in London, I would do it without a second thought. It's a fantastic city.

D's seminar was followed by dinner in a nearby pub. I hadn't really socialised with any of my friends for ages because I'd been in thesis-writing hermit mode, so it was a fun night. I'm out of the habit of hanging out with large groups, though, and found the whole thing rather draining. In my first and second years, and during my MPhil, I went out at least once a week, and I look back and wonder how I managed it. It's not the alcohol (which in any case I've cut back on severely) so much as the need to be constantly switched on and jumping between several parallel conversations in a loud environment that makes the whole thing so exhausting.

Yesterday I mostly spent at home, as Matthias was working a shift in the library, and today will be similarly spent. We had planned to go to this event at the Botanical Gardens, but the weather is so unpleasant that we decided to give it a miss. However, this afternoon we will both be working in the library, so will have to brave the wind and rain. I'm hoping the weather will keep most of the students away, as we have a huge backlog of books to cover and prepare for circulation, which is difficult to do when the library is at full capacity.

I've got a few ideas for potential posts, but for now I'll just leave you with a link to this wonderful interview with author Kelly Link:

I'm no longer watching television in which middle-aged men figure out how to be men. I'd rather watch shows about teenaged girls figuring out what it means to be a monster. I like coming-of-age stories, ghost stories, horror stories. I love stories about doppelgangers. I didn't realize how much I craved a show that was gothic, over the top, Gormenghast on the CW.
dolorosa_12: (pagan kidrouk)
One reason I've thoroughly enjoyed my postgrad years while finding undergrad a bit of an unmitigated disaster is that I have the good fortune here in Cambridge to be a member of a really wonderful department that seems to know exactly what to do to make socialising easy for people who might otherwise find it a bit difficult. I was always really jealous of my sciencey friends at Sydney Uni because their faculty seemed to be much better at organising stuff for its students to do, whereas Arts students were left to fend for themselves. (Most people I knew in Arts who had close friends in that faculty tended to have met them through other things, such as student politics, student journalism, improv theatre or religious groups.) I did make Arts friends eventually, but it took me about two years.* I was so awkward about talking to people when there wasn't some kind of structured purpose to our conversation that social events were a nightmare. But it struck me, as I sat in today's medieval Irish reading group, that our department is absolutely packed with structured, purposeful fun for all its students, and this really helps ease everyone in to friendship. (Our department is also odd for Cambridge in that students tend to socialise with one another, rather than with people who study different things but live in the same college.) This is what we have:

For postgrads
1. Weekly reading groups for all the languages we study (medieval Irish, medieval Welsh, Old English and Old Norse), where we get together and translate a text set by someone in the group;

2. Weekly conversation group for Modern Irish, where students meet up in a pub and talk Irish for a while. The Irish teacher also organises regular film nights with Irish-language films;

3. Grad pub night every Monday after the weekly seminar;

4. Palaeography reading group, organised informally by one of my friends who specialises in that subject;

5. Informal German conversation group (I'm not entirely sure, but I think people who are interested in other modern languages have organised similar things);

6. Greek reading group, although I think that may have stopped now;

7. Annual cocktail party held in our departmental common room at the end of the academic year.

For everyone, but mainly attended by undergrads
1. Weekly lunch held in the departmental common room;

2. Weekly pub night.

There also used to be people who organised semi-regular screenings of medieval-type films, but that seems to have stopped happening recently. Once a year we have a black tie dinner held at one of the colleges (which is a little expensive, but still well attended), and a garden party (which is free). And of course everyone organises informal, one-off events on top of all this. But my point is that there is plenty for everyone, mostly it's free (or extremely cheap - the departmental lunch costs about £2, if I remember correctly), and although people in my field tend on the whole to be fond of a drink, there are things to do that don't involve alcohol.

Medievalists are a nerdy, socially awkward bunch on the whole, but the way things have been set up in my department, this never feels like a hindrance. I went around during undergrad thinking there was something profoundly wrong with me because I rarely felt comfortable at any social event. Here, I not only feel comfortable, I feel wanted, and have done since the beginning. I am so grateful to have met them.

* To be fair, that was partly because I had depression, and it's really hard to be friends with someone who has depression.
dolorosa_12: by ginnystar on lj (robin marian)
My department is on Tumblr. If you like medieval geekery, and are on Tumblr, you should check it out! In related news, my boyfriend and a friend of ours have started up a blog where they translate Old English riddles and write commentary about them. (For those of you so inclined, Tolkien probably had these kinds of riddles in mind when writing the famous scene in The Hobbit.)

I'm reading The Iliad. I thought it was about time, considering how many adaptations and reworkings I've read (let us not speak of That Travesty of a Movie), including studying a course call The Literature of Troy as a undergrad (which looked at the medieval and Shakespearean versions of the story of Troilus and Cressida). I knew the basic shape of the story, I knew what happened, and yet I still found it extremely confronting to read. The problem was, I inevitably latched onto Briseis. That got me thinking about my whole way of reading/interacting with texts these days. I'm much more alert to issues of agency and voice, which characters are given words and which remain silent. So while I wasn't surprised by the presentation of Briseis, I feel very protective of her as a character, and I want very much to read adaptations of the Iliad that give her a voice. (My first port of call was fanfiction, but I found nothing, other than some stuff based on That Travesty of a Movie. Inevitably, Iliad fandom is all about the Achilles/Patroclus slash, and even more inevitably, Hector/Paris.) In any case, I need to think more about these things, and possibly write something more than these rambly musings.

Horrible Histories author Terry Deary wrote a diatribe against libraries. Foz Meadows wrote a powerful response:

And then, of course, there’s the moral/historical angle: “Because it’s been 150 years, we’ve got this idea that we’ve got an entitlement to read books for free, at the expense of authors, publishers and council tax payers,” Deary moans. “This is not the Victorian age, when we wanted to allow the impoverished access to literature. We pay for compulsory schooling to do that.”

The bolding above is my own, and it’s there for a reason. Take a good, long look at that sentence – specifically, at the crucial use and placement of the word wanted, whose past tense indicates that allowing the impoverished access to literature is something we don’t want to do any longer; or rather, that Deary believes we shouldn’t. There’s so much wrong with this statement that I hardly know where to begin. With the fact that, under Deary’s ideal system, the poor are only entitled to literature while they’re of school age, perhaps? With the fact that most of the literary benefit one experiences while a student comes, not from English class, but the school library? Or how about the novel idea that treating support of literacy in poverty as a quirky Victorian prerogative rather than an ongoing social necessity is not only morally repugnant, but incredibly shortsighted when one depends for one’s living on the existence of a literate, interested populace?

John Scalzi also responded:

I don’t use my local library like I used libraries when I was younger. But I want my local library, in no small part because I recognize that I am fortunate not to need my local library — but others do, and my connection with humanity extends beyond the front door of my house. My life was indisputably improved because those before me decided to put those libraries there. It would be stupid and selfish and shortsighted of me to declare, after having wrung all I could from them, that they serve no further purpose, or that the times have changed so much that they are obsolete. My library is used every single day that it is open, by the people who live here, children to senior citizens. They use the building, they use the Internet, they use the books. This is, as it happens, the exact opposite of what “obsolete” means. I am glad my library is here and I am glad to support it.

Every time I publish a new book — every time — the first hardcover copy goes to my wife and the second goes to the Bradford library. First because it makes me happy to do it: I love the idea of my book being in my library. Second because that means the library doesn’t have to spend money to buy my book, and can then use it to buy the book of another author — a small but nice way of paying it forward. Third because I wouldn’t be a writer without libraries, hard stop, end of story. Which means I wouldn’t have the life I have without libraries, hard stop, end of story.

I am, in no small part, the sum of what all those libraries I have listed above have made me. When I give my books to my local library, it’s my way of saying: Thank you. For all of it.

My own library story is similar, but different. What I will say is this: libraries gave me words. They gave me the words to understand myself, my space in the world, the people around me. They opened doors, they opened my mind, but it all comes back to the words. They gave me my voice.
dolorosa_12: (sister finland)

This week has been hard. It's been filled with fun stuff, including one of our department's annual lectures, which was followed up with a long night in the pub. Surprisingly, I did not wake up the next morning with a hangover, having been very restrained. On Friday afternoon, we hiked out to Grantchester, which was lovely in the crisp, cold weather. Matthias stayed at the pub there with our friends, but I had to go straight back in to the faculty in order to do a shift at the library, but when I got home, I was informed they were waiting for me in another pub, and our friend L had already bought me a glass of wine. So that was a nice surprise.

On Saturday, we had our friends P and V around for dinner. They had invited us over when they moved into their own new place earlier in the year, so it was high time we returned the favour. I'm loving living in our own place because it means you can do stuff like this without having to worry if the kitchen will be free or if housemates are going to want to watch DVDs in the living room.

TV-wise, I'm getting very into The Killing. I missed the previous two seasons because they aired when I happened to be out of the UK, but luckily each season is self-contained. It's so tense and twisty and just when I think I've got things figured out, some new complication appears.

I've also been very well-served with books this week. I finished The Lions of Al-Rassan on Wednesday. The ending made me cry, but I also felt a deep sense of satisfaction because it was such a perfect story. I'll probably write about it at length on my Wordpress blog in a few days, if I have time. Today at work I picked up two collections of essays by Marina Warner, and that's looking very good too. I love her writing - it's always so good, and it's always about subjects that interest me.

The theme of this week has been 'weight'.* Not physical weight, but the things that hold me under and weigh me down. The weight around my neck that is my PhD and the other things I need to do and finish. The weight of expectations - those of other people and those of myself. The weight of all the things that keep me from dancing.

With that in mind, the song for this week can be nothing but 'Shake It Out' by Florence + The Machine.

* I'm borrowing something from my old yoga teacher, who always started each class with a theme such as 'beauty', 'kindness', 'power' or whatever.

Cool stuff

May. 28th, 2010 06:34 pm
dolorosa_12: (una)
Most to-the-point title ever, yes?

Anyway, I've been gathering links to lots and lots of interesting things over the past week or so, but haven't had time to post on LJ. Thus, a lot of the stuff I link to is going to be old. *sigh*

I've been watching Veronica Mars. I don't know why I didn't watch it when it actually aired. I suspect it had something to do with Australian networks showing it at odd times, and then I forgot about it for ages, found Kirsten Bell's character on Heroes extremely annoying and decided never to watch anything with her in it ever again. But I'm glad I changed my mind, since the first season, in particular, is excellent, up there with the best seasons of Buffy in terms of quality.

I'm going to write my own post about it on Wordpress at some point, but for now, check out Abigail Nussbaum's posts about the series, which are absolutely spot on, in my opinion.

While browsing The Hathor Legacy, I came across a series of posts about Love, Actually, which really do a good job of analysing the film from a feminist perspective.

For some other good posts on feminism, see Sady Doyle writing about The Tudors and Beyoncé. The second post isn't exactly 'cool stuff', as these three posts about why Glee gets it so terribly, terribly wrong when it comes to portraying disability aren't either. I've always had issues with Glee, and when the episode directed by Joss and starring NPH couldn't get rid of my qualms, I decided to give up watching. Those posts help explain why.

Laurie Penny says everything I've ever wanted to say about Sex and the City in New Statesman.

This post on BoingBoing ('What Disney Princesses teach girls') and a related image, 'What Disney Princes teach men about attracting women' are just so utterly, utterly perfect that I felt I had to include them.

Finally, some music for your weekend! It goes without saying that Pendulum are awesome. It goes without saying that the old-school ABC News theme (Australian ABC, not US) is awesome. The only thing more awesome? Pendulum remixing the ABC News theme! Check it out!

ETA: After all that, I forgot to link the stuff I initially made this post to show you! *smacks forehead*

In case you didn't know, I'm now blogging for the ABC's Book Show blog (fulfilling a lifelong dream/accepting my fate of working for the ABC). I'm ridiculously proud of this fact. My third post is here. I also blog for my department at Cambridge sometimes, and my most recent post is here. It's a report on that conference that I was stressing about.
dolorosa_12: (travis)
I have had an absolutely epic (and fantastic) weekend. It began with a bang, with the ASNaC Society black tie dinner, which involved three courses of Scandinavian food, one mead-filled drinking horn, one drunken dance uploaded to Facebook and several bizarre d and m conversations with people with whom I wouldn't normally discuss my personal life. I followed this with a sprint through snow-filled streets to deliver some of [ profile] losseniaiel's belongings which she'd left in my room, before beginning my first shift at the English faculty library (with complementary blinding hangover).

Then I got on a train and went to Southampton.

I met some sraffies )

It was a wonderful, excellent weekend!
dolorosa_12: (drink heavily)
Last night I went out to the pub with a bunch of ASNaCs. We had all been at a talk given by one of the postdocs in the department. There were so many of us that we didn't fit at one table. Somehow it worked out that I was in the first group, which was all Germanicists, while the second group, which included the speech-giving postdoc and my supervisor, was all Celticists.

All of a sudden, one of my Germanicist friends noticed this odd segregation - and the fact that I was the sole Celticist hanging out with the Germanicists. After some consultation, they decided that I was one of the kidnapped Irish people mentioned in the Icelandic sagas (not being a Germanicist, I have no idea of the name of this kidnapped Irish person), a Celtic exile.

This amused us greatly.

I love the ASNaCs.
dolorosa_12: (flight of the conchords)
Well, that viva was fun, if by 'fun' you mean 'travelling around with St Brendan, existing on a diet of lentils, while Dr Thunderous Laughter quizzes you about Middle Irish linguistic features'. In other words, I have no idea how I went. The questions seemed difficult, the examiners seemed determined to play devil's advocate, and I left feeling demoralised, but that may have more to do with my natural inclination towards pessimism than any actual problems with my viva. All the PhD students claimed that their vivas were easy (L. even claimed he was hungover while he did his). That didn't feel easy to me!

Then [ profile] losseniaiel and I went out and drank cheap Australian wine and commiserated.

I feel like I should be more upset than I actually am, but I can't make myself feel worried. If this is all there is, if MPhil is as far as I get academically, it won't be the end of the world. I don't feel like I'm owed anything by Cambridge, and if all I get out of this year is a fantastic group of friends and a sense of belonging somewhere, in some time and some place, it really, really will be enough. I can't emphasise this enough. My MPhil year was the making of me, and if I now lapse back into mediocrity, I know that for 2008-09 I became better, tried harder, thought more, and was who I was supposed to be at that time. And that is enough.

May Week!

Jun. 18th, 2009 09:59 pm
dolorosa_12: (drink heavily)
This past week has been May Week in Cambridge (no, don't ask me why May Week is in June, it just is). It's basically a week of insane (and I mean insane) hedonism between exams and exam results being posted. I only went to three events (St John's College May Ball, ASNaC garden party and Wine Soc garden party) but they were certainly the events to go to. I took a few photos, but since I am an atrocious photographer, especially when it gets dark, they're not really representative. But there are lots of photos floating around on Facebook if you feel that you haven't got enough of the May Week insanity.

May Ball was odd. I had a moment, when the fireworks (better than Sydney's New Year's Eve fireworks, and set to music) were going off, when I felt an absolute disgust at the amount of money being poured into the whole event. Someone had told me it cost £10 million. That's right, £10 million. The closet socialist in me suddenly started getting very upset that £10 million was being spent on fireworks and merry-go-rounds and five entertainment stages filled with performers (including Calvin Harris and the Puppini Sisters) from 9pm to 5am and so much food and drink that it could feed a small country. So I danced until I was delirious and tried not to think about it too much.

The thing is, I love dancing, but I'm not a huge fan of clubbing. As I've said on many occasions, I'd rather dance in ugly pants in the comfort of a lounge room in suburbia. But I adore dancing at events like balls and formals and so I was in my element. Calvin Harris was amazing (as were the Puppini Sisters, whom I'd never heard of), but the dag in me liked the silent disco the most. One hour of dancing to the kind of playlist of the house parties of my undergrad years (Breathe by the Prodigy, Hey Ya by OutKast, Are You Gonna Be My Girl by Jet, etc) was absolutely amazing. Everyone was singing and it was just wonderful.

ASNaC garden party (in Newnham College) was great. I slurped down cup after cup of Pimm's and sat on the grass in a rather dazed state (it was the day after May Ball) chatting to my friends and trying not to feel as if it was the end of an era.

I'll be so sorry for this year to end.

You knew you couldn't escape without a bit of camwhoring )
dolorosa_12: (dreaming)
I wrote this in my 'paper' diary this morning, but looking at it, I think I'd like to put it out in the semi-public domain of this blog. I was thinking about yesterday's meme, with the question 'what's the best way of telling someone that s/he means something to you?' and for me, this is a way I can let certain people know how much they mean to me. It's slightly edited.

This is going to get very, very wordy )

I suspect this will be very tl;dr to most of you, but I want the ASNaCs and other Cambridge friends of mine who read this blog to know that they mean so much to me. It's very hard for me to say these things directly to you, but that doesn't mean I don't feel these things.
dolorosa_12: (flight of the conchords)
I have had a fabulous 24 hours. Yesterday we had the last session of the Graduate Symposium, which is always, traditionally, followed by a 'compulsory' cocktail party. After several hours spent partaking in suitably ASNaCy-named drinks ('Dubh Gall', 'Cavamal', etc) I was totally sozzled. I was one of the last ones standing, or, to be more specific, dancing on the tables in the department's common room. I woke up this morning with bruises all over my legs and arms. Apparently I had jumped onto my knees a lot. But it was an excellent way to finish the term, and a way I would always like to remember my ASNaC friends: overly fond of a drink, and not embarrassed to look like idiots dancing on tables.

Now for the links.

Joss Whedon, Canberra, Gen Y and Maira Kalman await you behind the cut )


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