dolorosa_12: (le guin)
BBC Scotland has been posting little interviews on Twitter with people who migrated to and made their homes in Scotland. They're all really wonderful, but this one in particular really resonated with me. The specifics are obviously very different (he's a Polish baker living in Scotland, I'm an Australian librarian living in the southeast of England), but the underlying foundations of our respective migration stories — as far as I can tell from a heavily edited three-minute interview — are the same. Our adult lives in our countries of origin didn't feel right, like a coat that didn't fit. We were restless, directionless, not sure how to be where we were, and, like a last, desperate throw of the dice, we left, as if changing our location would enable us to change ourselves. And, astonishingly, that is what happened.

I forget, sometimes, until I compare my life ten years ago with what it is now, how miserable and uncomfortable and frightened I was. I felt like I had lost myself. I didn't realise how depressed and afraid I was until, in complete desperation, I emigrated, and realised, after about a month, that the fog had completely lifted. That the fear had gone. That I felt like myself again, for the first time in my adult life.

Migration isn't always big, and bold, and part of something larger. It's not always for a broader reason: fleeing danger, seeking a better life, moving towards concrete opportunities. Sometimes it's small, and personal, flailing about in the dark, moving blindly forwards without knowing whether what awaits you will be better. And, if you're very, very fortunate — and if your new home welcomes you and allows it — you shed your skin, and figure out who you are, and how to be that person again.
dolorosa_12: (dolorosa)
Welcome, new people who have subscribed as a result of the friending meme. It's great to see so much activity here on Dreamwidth, and I'm really looking forward to getting to know you all.

Due to this flurry of activity, I thought it best to do an updated intro post. People who've had me in their circles for a while, please feel free to read or skip as you please. And both new and old people, please feel free to ask me any questions!

Those things they see in me I cannot see myself )
dolorosa_12: (Default)
On this day, ten years ago, I migrated to the UK. Because I have never been capable of making any change in my life without surrounding myself in a sea of quotes from literature, at the time I quoted one of my favourite works of literature: far from my home/ is the country I have reached, and that quote has proved itself true in many senses over the past ten years.

Although when I made that initial choice to migrate, I had been terrified, in actual fact all I was committing to was nine months spent in Cambridge working on an MPhil. There was no guarantee that anything longer-term would eventuate. But I was twenty-three years old — and a very young twenty-three at that, having only lived away from the family home for a total of six months of my entire life up to that point — and the distance, and the drastic change terrified me. And I have described my decision to migrate in the past as a desperate last throw of the dice — because I had been having a terrible time of it in Australia in the five years since I turned eighteen, moving through a fog of situational depression that I couldn't see a way out of. I had spent those first five years of adulthood completely overwhelmed by the weight of this depression, which manifested in a kind of dull fear, and a fear above all that I was incapable of being happy as an adult. (As an aside, I'm always astonished that anyone who knew or met me during those years has stuck around, because I was a nightmare.) And so the decision to migrate was a kind of test for myself: if I couldn't be happy and make this work, it would never happen. You can see why I was terrified.

I don't know what sort of magic there is in the disgusting, calcified Cambridge water, but nine months and an MPhil turned into five years and a PhD, and eight years and citizenship, and suddenly here I am, and a decade has passed. During that time I gave up on two career paths, and found my calling, acquired two degrees (and, like a glutton for punishment, am literally starting the first classes for yet another degree this very day), fell in love, and out of love, and in love again, got married, found a home, and lost that home in a wave of grief in June 2016 on the very same morning that the British passport that would make my permanent home in this country possible (the document that would, quite literally, make it possible for me to remain) was delivered. Yes, the referendum destroyed my sense of home as being a physical place, a country, and I won't make that mistake again. But above all things, what I learnt in these past ten years (good years, bad years, growing years) is that home is not and cannot be a country (those let you down), but rather it is other people. It is thanks to those other people — the generous, kind and supportive friends I made almost immediately in Cambridge, the open-hearted friends and family members I'd left behind in Australia, and the vast, international community of internet people I've met along the way, whose compassion and patience is boundless — that I feel what I was not able to feel when I left Australia in 2008: safe, happy, and comfortable in my own skin as an adult human being. You are home. You brought me home.
dolorosa_12: (ship)
I returned to England yesterday, after two weeks spent back in Australia, visiting friends and family with Matthias. I spent most of that time in Sydney, staying with my mum, although I made a flying visit to Macedon (in rural Victoria), where my dad, stepmother and three youngest sisters have recently moved.

It's hard for me to really capture the emotions that I feel whenever I go back to Australia. My trips back there are at once an exercise in nostalgia (dashing around eating, drinking and doing all the things I can't eat, drink or do in the UK) and a stark reminder of the passage of time, of change, of loss, of the person I could have been, had I stayed. This time the reminder was even more tangible: my grandmother was alive the last time I visited; my friends have babies who did not exist the last time I was there; shops and restaurants that had stood for years in various suburbs of eastern Sydney have closed or moved to new locations, disorienting me. I always feel both less like myself, and more like an earlier version of myself, whenever I go back. I always feel like the space I used to occupy has closed up behind me, and is unreachable. I always get that little voice pointing out the things I miss about Australia (the sea, the beaches, the food and coffee culture without the sneery accusations of pretentiousness and snobbery that seem to be levelled at anyone who cares about food in the UK, my close-knit, matriarchal family, the birdsong, the sense of common childhood cultural references), accompanied with the certainty that I was right to leave and that I never, never want to live there permanently again. I always have fun when I visit, but every visit is bittersweet. That's probably the simplest way to explain what it feels like to return.

It was bakingly hot -- over 30 degrees Celcius most days (although the nights in Macedon were freezing), and I swam almost every day, twice in eastern Sydney beaches (Bronte and Clovelly), and the rest of the time doing laps with my mother and one of my aunts in Boy Charlton outdoor pool. This is a saltwater pool located in a beautiful part of Sydney Harbour. Two of its walls are completely transparent, so you have the impression of actually swimming in the harbour itself, and it's a lovely place to swim. I was out of practice, but managed to build up to swimming a kilometre after two days. My mother and aunt (both in their sixties) were faster than I was, though! Here's a photoset I took of the pool, to give you some idea of what it's like.

I could not stop photographing the sea and the sky. [twitter.com profile] suzemetherell, who has just returned to Australia after several years in London, told me she was exactly the same when she first got back: Britain is good at vivid green colours, but its blues leave a lot to be desired. Here are some of my sea/sky photos:

Sydney Harbour as seen from the roof of my mum's block of flats
Sydney Harbour as seen from the balcony of my aunt's flat
The trees in the early morning, outside my dad's house in Macedon
A photoset of burning blue skies and gum trees in Castlemain, an old mining town near Macedon
A photoset taken in Rushcutters Bay, where I met with my Sydney friends for a picnic
Rough waters at Bronte, taken from the Bondi to Coogee cliff walk
Waves rolling in at Clovelly
The sunset over Sydney Harbour, taken during a party with my family on the roof of Mum's block of flats

You get the idea.

As well as catching up with friends and family, and hurling myself into any available water at every opportunity, I read a lot, went to a bunch of craft beer bars with Matthias (I don't drink beer, but he does, and always looks up new places to visit whenever we're on holiday), and took advantage of the fact that my mum lives a short walk away from all the main sports stadiums in Sydney to watch a football (i.e. soccer) match.

It was wonderful in particular to hang out with my three youngest sisters, who I don't see all that much as they're still children and can't travel overseas very easily. My youngest sister, three-year-old Maud, is obsessed with painting and drawing, and spent one evening drawing portraits of everyone in the house. The picture she drew of me was apparently the first picture she'd ever drawn of a person, and I love it to bits. The last time I'd seen her, she was only one-and-a-half, and couldn't really talk, so it was amazing to actually be able to have a conversation with her, and just hang out with her and my other sisters.

The trip was, as always, too short, but I'm glad I went. It's always a very emotional experience for me, going back, but those connections and roots are important to me, and every time I return to Australia I feel them being strengthened and reaffirmed. I'm someone who has a very strong sense of place, of my past, of the landscapes of memory and how they have shaped me, and although I find it confronting, I also feel it's necessary and essential that I return to them and keep them a part of my life.

By a strange coincidence, the Guardian has been running a series on Australian cities. I'll leave you with some links to the pieces in that series that I found most resonant and/or interesting:

The radical plan to split Sydney into three (I'm not entirely convinced, and I think the planners' attempts to connect their proposed division of Sydney with Indigenous ways of demarcating and dividing the region to be disigenuous and appropriative)

The best in the world: a love letter to Australia's public swimming pools (one of the pools mentioned, Boy Charlton, is the place where I swam all my laps during this recent Sydney trip, and, incidentally, I have swum in literally every Sydney pool mentioned in the article)

First Dog on the Moon's guide to Australia's urban stereotypes (This is a cartoon, and is painfully true. I'm a weird kind of Sydney-Canberra hybrid - I grew up in Canberra, and moved to Sydney when I was 18, and always felt like a Canberran when I lived there, faintly horrified by the conspicuous consumption, obessession with real estate, and over-the-top concern with physical appearance, while always feeling somewhat dowdy, staid and suburban in comparison - and let me tell you, this cartoon gets Canberra and Sydney stereotypes spot on)
dolorosa_12: (Default)
I've added a bunch of new people as a result of the post-Yuletide friending meme, so I thought it was high time for another intro post. If you've been friends with me for a while, none of this will be new, so please feel free to skip if you'd like.

Isn't it time to reinvent yourself? )

I look forward to getting to know all the new people I added through the meme. Please feel free to ask me anything!
dolorosa_12: by ginnystar on lj (robin marian)
This time two weeks ago I was drinking champagne with my mother, sister, [twitter.com profile] thelxiepia, and two family friends, worrying about the torrential rain that had suddenly tumbled out of the sky, and getting ready to head off to get married. In the end, my fears about the rain were unfounded: the storm stopped about half an hour before the wedding ceremony, and the skies cleared, meaning sunshine and warmth for photographs, and for our guests to enjoy sparkling wine in the gardens of our reception venue.

The wedding ceremony itself was wonderful. Many of my married friends told me they barely remembered anything from the day itself, and that everything passed by in a sort of blissed out blur. For my part, I can remember everything. We got married in Shire Hall (the registry office in Cambridge), in a room that unfortunately only seated fifty people (included me, Matthias, our photographer, and the celebrant), so many of our guests were only able to be invited to the reception. However, I was happy with the mix of people who were able to attend the ceremony: a nice mix of bridal party, family, and close friends from Cambridge.

Matthias and I entered the ceremony to the beautiful sounds of 'Black Water Lilies' by Aurora. We didn't write our own vows, and the celebrant mangled Matthias' middle name (pronouncing it in the English, rather than German way), but none of that mattered. We had two readings. The first, by Matthias' sister, was in German:

Da ist jemand,
der mich nimmt,
wie ich genommen
werden will;
der mich aufbaut
wenn mich etwas
niederdrückt;
der mich zu Herzen nimmt,
wenn mir etwas
über die Leber gelaufen ist;
der mir Gehör schenkt,
wenn mir das Leben
Rätsel aufgibt;
der für mich ist,
wenn sich alles gegen mich
verschworen hat.

Da ist jemand,
mit dem ich zusammen wachsen,
vielleicht sogar
zusammenwachsen darf.


Translation:

There is somebody
Who accepts me as I want to be accepted
Who lifts me up when something weighs me down
Who embraces me when something is bugging me
Who listens to me when life is posing me riddles
Who supports me when everything is conspiring against me

There is somebody with whom I may grow together
Maybe even grow entwined


(The play on words in the last stanza doesn't translate well, but basically involves two very similar sounding verbs, zusammen wachsen and zusammenwachsen, which I guess in English would translate as the two different meanings of 'grow together'.)

[twitter.com profile] thelxiepia read the second reading, an excerpt from one of my favourite poems, 'Homing Pigeons' by Mahmoud Darwish:

Where do you take me, my love, away from my parents
from my trees, from my little bed, and from my boredom,
from my mirrors, from my moon, from the closet of my life, from
where I stop for the night ... from my shyness?


Our friend Levi (for whom Matthias was best man four years ago) and my sister Miriam were our witnesses. While the marriage certificates were being signed, we played two pieces of music: 'All is Full of Love' by Björk, and 'Tonight We Burn Like Stars That Never Die' by Hammock. Here is a photo of us signing the certificates -- I think that gives a fairly accurate impression of our facial expressions for most of the day! After the ceremony, people left the room to the sounds of 'We Own the Sky' by M83. We then went off with our parents, my stepmother, our sisters, Matthias' brother-in-law and nephew, and Levi and [twitter.com profile] thelxiepia for photos in the gardens of our reception venue. Following this, the reception began, with drinks in the gardens, and then a four-course meal.

Everyone was really impressed by the food, which made me really happy, since we had put a lot of thought into the menu and food is generally the thing I most remember about events such as weddings. I was particularly glad that the vegans and vegetarians attending had made a point of thanking us for their meals, and that it hadn't simply been a meal with the meat removed but no substitutes provided. The cake was a three-tiered citrus cake: the bottom cake was orange, the middle lemon, and the top lime.

After speeches by Levi, my family friend and former editor Gia, and Matthias and me, we inflicted our absolutely glorious eurodance/'90s music playlist on everyone. It wasn't the danciest of weddings I've ever been to, but I had fun dancing, and so did those who joined in. I think there's some video footage of me, [twitter.com profile] thelxiepia and the other sraffies dancing to 'Saturday Night' by Whigfield floating around, but I'm not going to try to track it down! I'll leave that glory to your imaginations.

The entire wedding and reception were wonderful, and I wouldn't change a single thing. I was worried about so many things, and not one of them happened. I feared I wouldn't remember the day, or that I would spend the entire time fretting about other people, or that I wouldn't get a chance to eat, to dance, to talk to the people I wanted to talk to, and none of that eventuated. Instead, the whole thing was just a lovely party, with the person I've chosen to spend the rest of my life, and all the people we love around us. There were people there I've known since birth, since preschool, one secondary school friend (*waves at [livejournal.com profile] catpuccino*), friends from my postgrad years at Cambridge, sraffies (Philip Pullman fandom friends), and people I had just met that day. It really meant a lot to have my sister there (and indeed to have three 'sisters' as bridesmaids: my sister by blood, my sister by marriage, and my sister by choice), as well as those relatives who made the trek from Australia, although I was sad that not many of them were able to do so.

About marriage itself I feel complicated feelings. I'm an atheist, so I was always going to have a secular wedding, and don't view the ceremony itself as being sacramental. My own parents never married (nor is my father married to my stepmother), and I don't believe that marriage is necessary to be a good partner or a good parent. But I have always had a deep love of rituals and ceremonies marking important moments in peole's lives, and unlike my own parents, I always knew I wanted to get married if circumstances allowed, and that I wanted to have some kind of party to celebrate my wedding. Being married didn't make me feel differently about Matthias, or that our relationship had changed in any perceptible way (although, being a migrant, I am painfully aware of all the ways being married privileges a person in terms of immigration, visas, and passing on citizenship to one's children). Rather, I felt in the ceremony that we were publicly declaring something we have long felt. It feels odd to talk about 'my husband', or describe myself as someone's wife, but I imagine this will change over time.

The world is dark and frightening, and Matthias and I have gone through a lot to be able to live together as migrants in a country that is becoming increasingly xenophobic, but our life together is a light that gives me courage to keep working and trying and learning and growing. I wish that same light -- wherever you find it -- for all of you.
dolorosa_12: (Default)
I've added a bunch of new people as a result of [personal profile] st_aurafina's recent friending meme, so I thought it was high time to introduce myself.

Feel free to skip if you've had me in your circle/flist for a while )

I'm really looking forward to getting to know you! Please feel free to ask whatever questions you like.
dolorosa_12: (teen wolf)
The big news this week is that my application for British citizenship was approved. This has been a long time coming, and the application itself was very stressful, so it is, as you can imagine, a great relief to me to finally be free of the endless cycle of expensive, complicated visa applications. I still have to go to a ceremony before I'm actually a proper citizen, so right now I'm in a strange halfway position of knowing I've been approved, but not actually having the document in my hand to prove it. The next step will be applying for a British passport, but I'm hoping that will be a bit more straightforward.

I've had a rather full on weekend, in which I socialised a lot, but failed to make any headway in writing my assignments for the two fic exchanges in which I'm participating. Oh well, I suppose there's still time for both.

On Saturday I went down to London for a library workshop. Unlike most library events I attend (which always end up being very Cambridge librarian-heavy affairs), I didn't know a single person there, which was a little bit stressful, but everyone was really kind, and the panels were interesting, giving me lots of ideas for stuff I might be able to implement in my own library. It was really great to see that so many intelligent, empathetic and forward-thinking people were working in so many different libraries, and gave me a lot of hope for the future.

I followed this up with dinner with [livejournal.com profile] catpuccino, who's currently based in London, and it was great to catch up with her. We've known each other since we were twelve, and there really is nothing like friends who knew you in that time of your life, and continued in that friendship through adolescence, undergrad, and the rocky years of your early twenties, into the older and comparatively wiser, calmer years of your thirties. It's a more comfortable kind of friendship, because they know your context, if that makes sense.

Today I've been rushing all over Cambridge — I've just got back from my second trip out of the house, and will be going out a third time this evening for drinks with old college* friends of Matthias'. This afternoon I met up with [personal profile] naye and [personal profile] doctorskuld for coffee, which was lovely. I was fortunate enough to also be able to meet their cats!

Right now I'm trying to catch a breath before I'm launched into yet another busy week. Last week was really teaching-heavy (on Tuesday I ended up with six hours of teaching out of an eight-and-a-half-hour day), but I'm hoping things will be slightly calmer next week.

How were your Sundays?

_________
*'College' in Cambridge (and Oxford, and Durham, and possibly several other old UK universities), refers to the places within the university in which students and academics live, eat (if they so choose), and through which most undergrads receive their teaching. Rather than applying to study at the university, you apply to a particular college to study a particular subject, and the college itself, as well as the university as a whole, accepts or rejects your application. I hope that makes sense.
dolorosa_12: (pagan kidrouk)
One of the first places I ever hung out online was obernewtyn.net, a fansite for Isobelle Carmody's longrunning Obernewtyn series. The first book was published in 1987 - I was a relatively late starter, and only began reading the series in 1999.

Most of the members of the site are Australian, as the series is not widely known elsewhere. Most of us are also no longer the teenagers we where when we began reading the series, but rather in our late twenties, early thirties, or even older, and many of us no longer actually hang out at Obernet, staying in touch through Facebook, Twitter, email or in real life. Most members live in Australia, although due to the nature of Australian immigration patterns, there's small outpost of us in the UK, almost all Australians who moved here — like me — for education or employment.

And after nearly thirty years, the last book in the series is finally out. I feel a bit ambivalent about the books now, for reasons I've laid out at length on my Wordpress blog. But my feelings about the people I met through those books remain the same: they are wonderful, they are great fun, they are a symbol of the passage of time from adolescence to adulthood.

Isobelle Carmody is well aware of the site, and is on friendly terms with many of its members, and as a sort of reward for keeping the faith during those long years of waiting (a length of time that would put fans of A Song of Ice and Fire to shame, as I never tire of pointing out), she has organised a masked ball in Melbourne for the fans. I was invited, but as I now live on the other side of the world I was resigned to missing out.

That's when some of the UK-based Obernetters popped up and started talking about hosting an alternative event in London. For about an hour I was blissfully, joyfully happy. And then the date of these events finally registered.

On the day when the Australian fans will be donning masks and hanging out with Isobelle Carmody, and when the UK-based people will be sipping cocktails in London, I will be in the air somewhere over Indonesia, en route to Sydney to visit my family. And if that doesn't sum up my immigrant existence — split between two places, belonging to neither — I don't know what does.
dolorosa_12: (what's left? me)
I'm taking my turn at that meme that's been doing the rounds, the one where you're assigned an age and answer a few questions which contrast your life then with your life now. [personal profile] naye gave me 18.

Answers behind the cut )

It was really great to do that meme. A lot of the things that caused me great distress at 18 had obvious fixes in retrospect, but I wouldn't have lived any other way. It makes me happy to see how far — literally and metaphorically — I have come.
dolorosa_12: (emily hanna)
Hello to all the new people now following me as a result of the friending meme (and for those of you who haven't seen the meme yet, it's here).

I thought I'd introduce myself to all of you. Feel free to ask me questions about anything.

Feel free to skip if you've had me in your circle/flist for a while )
dolorosa_12: (flight of the conchords)
I was given these six questions by [livejournal.com profile] christinafairy as part of a meme. Answers are behind the cut.

Questions and answers )

Please comment if you would like six questions of your own.
dolorosa_12: (Default)
I. A friend of mine, a (white) university lecturer from Canada who did his undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in the UK, was in a pub with his wife, a (white) British secondary school teacher. One of the other patrons started ranting against 'the immigrants'. My friend pointed out how expensive and difficult it was to emigrate to the UK, using his own situation as an illustration.

'Oh, I wasn't talking about you,' the ranter said. 'It should be easier for people like you to emigrate. You're not like all those others.'

II. I have been in the UK on several student visas, and the process is extremely complicated and very strict. You must prove yourself able to support yourself financially, prove that you're a genuine student, and, if English is not your native language, prove English-language competence. I am now on a one-year post-study work visa, which is similarly arduous to receive. If I were not in a relationship with a person from within the EU, I would have to leave the UK - the country in which I have lived for the past seven years - next June.

Almost all my non-EU friends in the UK who have finished their postgraduate studies are here on spouse visas. Employers don't want the expense and hassle of applying for work visas. Those friends of mine who don't have a partner from an EU country have left.

III. A friend of mine, an American woman who did her undergraduate and postgraduate study in the UK and is married to a British man, recently took the test to apply for indefinite leave to remain as the spouse of a British citizen. Every single question was a variation on the following theme:

'Are you eligible for benefits in such-and-such a situation?'
'No.'

IV. As a German citizen, my partner can waltz through passport control in seconds. He can earn as much or as little as he likes. He can stay in the UK forever. But he cannot vote in general elections.

As a non-EU citizen, I am occasionally hassled at passport control (although less than someone non-white and non-native-English-speaking), as if my student status might be suspect. I must prove that I have access to funds beyond my actual daily needs every time I apply for a visa, even though I am eligible for no state benefits. I can vote in general elections, but my time in this country is measured in visa expiry dates.

V. Were I to want to move to Germany with my partner, we would have to get married, as although the UK treats de facto relationships as equal to marriages, Germany does not recognise them. However, since same-sex marriage is illegal, same-sex de facto relationships are exempt from this restriction.

VI. I come from a country whose leader - an immigrant from the UK - locks up refugees in internment camps in various Pacific countries and denies that the situations from which they've fled are really all that bad.

Anti-immigrant rhetoric in Australia suggests that the country is being overwhelmed by floods of these refugees, but in actual fact, the number of refugees who have arrived in Australia by boat in the past decade is a fraction of the number of refugees who arrived in Italy in a single year.

VII. One of my colleagues at Original Library Job is a (white) British man. Two years ago, he got into a relationship with a Chinese woman who had entered the country on a partner visa with another British man (that relationship had since ended). My colleague and the Chinese woman got married and applied for a spouse visa.

This was denied on the basis that their relationship was not genuine, and because the UK Border Agency believed that because the woman was a political dissident, she was using my colleague to get out of China. Their case is still dragging through the courts, and apart from one brief holiday together in Thailand, they have not been able to see each other. As she was refused a UK visa, the woman is denied entry to all other EU countries as well.

VIII. I reject the dichotomy by which a wealthy, educated Westerner who emigrates for work or study opportunities is an 'ex-pat' while a poor person from a non-Western country who emigrates to escape dangerous or difficult political, social, environmental or economic circumstances is an 'immigrant'. I am an immigrant. My German partner is an immigrant. The Polish woman who cleaned my former college accommodation is an immigrant. The girl I went to school with whose father was jailed for political dissidence in Thailand was (originally) an immigrant, though she may identify as Australian now. Our relative privilege levels mean that we are not treated equally, nor should we pretend that we are all the same. But on a basic level, we should reject any language that implies that one type of immigrant is excellent (and should have an easier time of it) while another type is to be despised and mistrusted.

IX. In other words, if you are arguing against racists by saying that not all immigrants are brown and/or Muslims, I don't want you on my side.
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: (teen wolf)
As you might have noticed, I've been away from LJ/Dreamwidth for a while, and I apologise for that. However, I have the best excuse: I finished my PhD!

For six hours on Sunday night, Matthias proofread it (a terrifying experience, considering the first thing he said to me upon opening the document was 'you need to change all your en dashes to em dashes, and all your hyphens to en dashes,' causing me to wail and gnash my teeth). On Monday, I had to go into my college library to print it (college charges 3p per page, whereas the English faculty library charges 4p, which is a considerable saving when you need to print two copies of a 306-page document, plus a billion forms). This took several hours, and included a tense half-hour where the printer had a little tantrum. Then I went to get it soft-bound. I wandered into my favourite cafe in a bit of a deranged daze, and couldn't resist telling the barista that I'd finished my PhD. (This is not entirely true. I still have to have the viva, and make corrections based on that, and resubmit the hard-bound, corrected version, but the hardest part is over.)

I waited until Tuesday to hand it in, as I wanted to do so on a day that Matthias had free so that we could go out for lunch afterwards. The woman at the Board of Graduate Studies office was a very friendly, motherly South African who congratulated me in such an over-the-top manner ('you're going to be one of our future leaders!' 'Really, with a PhD on medieval Irish literature? Really?') that I started to tear up. In fact, crying seemed to be the unifying theme of the whole experience. When I was writing a thank-you email to my supervisor I started crying. I cried when I had the printed, bound documents. I cried when I told my mother I was finished. I cried when [personal profile] bethankyou started an 'I'm so proud of Ronni' thread on Facebook.

Because look. I feel overwhelmed with emotion. I started my PhD four years ago. It's been hundreds of books and articles - in four languages, something of which I'm very proud - pages and pages of translation from Irish, countless meetings with my supervisor, 80,000 words, hours of trimming and editing and restructuring and hope and anger and anxiety and, for the past year at least, a constant, dull, crushing fear, and it's finally over. As my mother said, the process of writing a PhD is mainly an exercise in determination and endurance. Your will to finish it must be stronger than the despairing voices in your head telling you you're incapable of writing it.

I've already thanked most of the people who helped me either in person or in the acknowledgements, but I wanted to emphasise my gratitude to another group of people, and that's all of you.

Thank you to the uploaders, to the artists and writers and bloggers and content-creators, to the people who make the stories and the people who pick them apart with discussion. Thank you to the musicians and vidders, the remixers, the cosplayers, the linkers, the rebloggers, those who read and those who comment, those who bookmark and those who leave kudos. Thank you to those who open their interesting lives to me on the screen, with pictures, with words, with eloquence and with wit. Thank you all, dear denizens of the internet. You created a community, and it is beautiful. You gave me the strength to continue.

This is for you.

Cían óm eólus-sa
críoch gusa ránag-sa.
dolorosa_12: (Default)
This afternoon, in order to clear my head, I walked out to Grantchester, which is a small village about half an hour's walk from Cambridge proper. It's a lovely little walk along the river, but one thing struck me: no matter where you go in Britain, you are within sight of signs of human habitation.*

In Australia, this is not the case. I grew up in suburbia, but there was a big national park just out of town, and my family frequently went hiking there with friends and the extended family. Later, I would hike there as part of the Duke of Edinburgh's Award Scheme, as well as in other national parks. These hikes were very challenging, because we didn't follow the paths, but went bush-bashing, navigating only with maps and compasses. We usually didn't see another human being for the duration of the hikes.

On other family holidays we went to the beach, usually to Broulee or Bawley Point down the south coast, but often to extremely rough camping areas - usually Mystery Bay or Pebbly Beach. These had no electricity, and Mystery Bay didn't even have hot water or flushing toilets. Although you saw other campers, there were no other signs of human activity - no shops, no visible houses or roads. There certainly weren't any people on the beaches beyond those who were swimming or walking.

Even within the big cities, there were areas of wildness. My grandparents lived in the northern suburbs of Sydney, and everything was very controlled and picket-fenced. However, just down the road was a patch of bushland, and if you walked for a minute or so, the houses disappeared from view, the sound of cars vanished and was replaced by birdsong and cicadas.

There was a wildness about nature that I haven't encountered in the UK. And I know East Anglia isn't really the place for it, but even in more remote areas I've visited, such as North Wales and Cornwall, everything seems smaller, tamer, with more evidence of human hands. And there's nothing wrong with that! But the feeling of swimming in the cold water at Pebbly in the autumn, tossed by waves, looking out across the grey sea and seeing nothing but water and a few small islands, salt-washed and exultant, is almost impossible to replicate.

Sometimes I just miss those landscapes.

_______________________________
*With the caveat that this only extends to places I've personally visited - there may be places in Britain that don't fit this description.
dolorosa_12: (le guin)
This afternoon, in order to clear my head, I walked out to Grantchester, which is a small village about half an hour's walk from Cambridge proper. It's a lovely little walk along the river, but one thing struck me: no matter where you go in Britain, you are within sight of signs of human habitation.*

In Australia, this is not the case. I grew up in suburbia, but there was a big national park just out of town, and my family frequently went hiking there with friends and the extended family. Later, I would hike there as part of the Duke of Edinburgh's Award Scheme, as well as in other national parks. These hikes were very challenging, because we didn't follow the paths, but went bush-bashing, navigating only with maps and compasses. We usually didn't see another human being for the duration of the hikes.

On other family holidays we went to the beach, usually to Broulee or Bawley Point down the south coast, but often to extremely rough camping areas - usually Mystery Bay or Pebbly Beach. These had no electricity, and Mystery Bay didn't even have hot water or flushing toilets. Although you saw other campers, there were no other signs of human activity - no shops, no visible houses or roads. There certainly weren't any people on the beaches beyond those who were swimming or walking.

Even within the big cities, there were areas of wildness. My grandparents lived in the northern suburbs of Sydney, and everything was very controlled and picket-fenced. However, just down the road was a patch of bushland, and if you walked for a minute or so, the houses disappeared from view, the sound of cars vanished and was replaced by birdsong and cicadas.

There was a wildness about nature that I haven't encountered in the UK. And I know East Anglia isn't really the place for it, but even in more remote areas I've visited, such as North Wales and Cornwall, everything seems smaller, tamer, with more evidence of human hands. And there's nothing wrong with that! But the feeling of swimming in the cold water at Pebbly in the autumn, tossed by waves, looking out across the grey sea and seeing nothing but water and a few small islands, salt-washed and exultant, is almost impossible to replicate.

Sometimes I just miss those landscapes.

_______________________________
*With the caveat that this only extends to places I've personally visited - there may be places in Britain that don't fit this description.
dolorosa_12: (epic internet)
It was the post about tags, an innocuous, one-sentence affair that had got tens of thousands of notes, that finally did it for me.

'People who put their comments in tags instead of in the comment section are my heroes,' the post proclaimed.

It confirmed to me, once and for all, that Tumblr is not for me, its culture is baffling, and its platform ill-suited for the kind of communication that I want to have. Lest anyone misunderstand me, I want to state unequivocally that what I am talking about relates to me only, my problems and issues are my own, and I'm not seeking any kind of universality in this post. If Tumblr works for you, if you enjoy it, I'm very happy for you, and keep doing what you're doing! I'm talking about myself alone (and whingeing about Tumblr as a platform, to a certain extent).

The background
Although I've been using the internet since the mid-'90s, I don't consider myself to have 'been online' until 2007, when I was 22. My main online hangouts, since then, have been three forums, Dreamwidth/Livejournal, the comments sections of various off-LJ/Dreamwidth blogs, and my own Wordpress blogs. The off-LJ/Dreamwidth blogs (my own included) are entirely public, tend to have a narrow thematic focus (books, pop culture, publishing, feminism, author blogs). Interaction there is entirely based on having a conversation in the comments section about whatever the blogger has been discussing.

The first forum I joined is a (relatively) small fansite for a closed canon (although the author has claimed to have been writing a spin-off book for the past ten years or so). Because it's a closed canon, there is very little discussion of the source material, and the more active threads tend to be about the other interests of the posters. There is also a section of the forum that is invite-only, and hidden to those not invited. The people I know from that forum (about 45 people) are also Facebook friends of mine, I've met most of them in 'real life', and when they have blogs, I also follow those blogs. We also have a dedicated IRC channel, where we talk about anything and everything.

The second forum is also a small fansite, but its canon isn't closed. Because the source material is Australian, and for a variety of other reasons, the membership skews very heavily Australian, and female. Unlike on the first forum, where people are much more open about their lives and identities, the boards on this second forum tend to be much more focused on its source material and other texts, and the mods are very opposed to people revealing anything to do with their 'real life' identities in the public sections of the forum. It also has a hidden, invite-only section. Again, I'm friends with a lot of people from this forum on Facebook and other social media, and have met many of them in 'real life'.

The third forum is concerned with fundamentalist religion, especially US-based isolationist, fundamentalist Christian patriarchy. Because of the sensitive nature of its subject-matter, most of it is hidden unless you're a registered member, but it also has off-topic sections. Because I'm a lurker here, my participation is much more superficial, and I don't know any of the posters in any other context, but I know that it has much the same culture as my other two forums - that is, people are friends off-site, and have had 'real life' meet-ups and stuff.

I joined the LJ/Dreamwidth world as a uni student, initially because all my high school friends were doing the same as a way to stay in touch. Over the years, my LJ/Dreamwidth friendship group expanded with the addition of the aforementioned forum friends, and later with people I'd met through specific communities, friending memes, or just by searching through interests and introducing myself to people who shared similar obscure interests. LJ/Dreamwidth culture makes a lot of sense to me, because it distinguishes between locked and open posts, conversations unfold in a logical manner in comment sections, communities can define their scope as broadly or as narrowly as they like (e.g. they can deal with a whole canon, or just one ship within it, or they can deal with, say, a whole city, or one subculture within it).

The point I'm making with outlining all these different communities that (pre-Tumblr) together made up my online world is that they were set up for conversations. It was up to you to choose how you wanted to converse - whether you wanted everything to be public or not, or whether you had a mixture of public and non-public conversations. If you wanted a more private or ephemeral conversation, you took it to IMs (IRC, I love you forever). It was perfectly possible to lurk and not participate, but if you wanted to say something, it was expected that you participate, to whatever degree you felt comfortable with. To participate in threads on a forum, you had to say something. To participate in a blogging platform, you had to post something, or comment on something.

Tumblr culture
To do so on Tumblr, you have to work a lot harder, and, to my mind, use the site counterintuitively. This is, in part, due to how poorly designed the site is as a platform for communication and conversation. You cannot reply to replies (which are essentially comments). Instead, you must reblog someone's post and add your response to it. This quickly leads to popular posts being reblogged with comments by multiple people, leading to multiple reblogs, each with their own separate series of comments, rather than one original post with all the responses unfolding underneath it. If you submit an ask to someone, that cannot be replied to or reblogged at all, leading to a discussion that is essentially limited to one question and one response. (People find ingenious ways to work around this, usually by taking screen shots of replies or asks and reposting them as pictures.) I cannot imagine, for example, hosting a friending meme on Tumblr - how could you, when by its very nature, a friending meme requires people to reply to replies?

Secondly, Tumblr is entirely public. I think this has led people to be much more cautious about what they post. (There's nothing wrong with this. This is a sensible reaction.) And because of the lack of facilitation of conversations, you end up in a situation where you barely know most people with whom you interact. My Tumblr friends (excluding those whom I know 'in real life' or from elsewhere online), are people who I followed because their interests/the theme of their Tumblrs align with my own, or because people I know kept reblogging them and they seemed interesting. But beyond reblogging their posts, I don't interact with them at all, and I don't know how to even begin doing so.

I feel that on forums and the pre-Tumblr blogging platforms, the 'rules' which governed communication were much clearer. You talked to people about whatever was being discussed, you didn't link to or quote locked posts, and it was up to you how much you participated. Participation was entirely within your control - you either made posts and comments, or you didn't, and you either locked/filtered your posts or you didn't.

And then you come to Tumblr, where apparently it's not okay to add your thoughts to the body of a reblogged post, but instead you should confine them to your tags, where only you and your followers can see them, unless the original poster or some later reblogger should click through to your post and read it, and in any case they wouldn't be in a position to respond because no one can reply to replies anyway. If that's not killing communication, I don't know what is.

And I know this is the fault of Tumblr as a platform, but platforms shape the culture of a community, and I can't help but feel that something is being lost. I know Tumblr works for some people, but for me, what the internet meant, what it means, is communication, an ongoing conversation, a way to deepen friendships and engage with people with whom I share interests. And I just cannot see how posting reaction gifs and replying to asks which swiftly disappear in a tide of REBLOGGING FOREVER is a way to do that.

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