Monday, 28 July 2008

just like that story my dad used to tell about the guy who did his exams on benzadrines

... but then on Friday night I was sitting next to J. on the sofa, watching Roseanne, when I suddenly thought:

maybe that whole three paragraphs about Frodo wasn't such a good idea after all.

Never mind. My parents are visiting for three days from tomorrow (hello!) and the deadline is Thursday, so I have to finish it today, Frodo or no Frodo.

Friday, 25 July 2008


So it's the summer, and I'm writing, and I'm going to try and turn this blog back into a journal of the writing process, mainly for my own benefit but also because it's difficult and interesting to be public about how writing happens.

So far writing this journal article has been horrible, slow and painful. But today I was suddenly possessed and wrote over 2000 words in a non-stop three-hour blast (I didn't even pause to knit a few rows while rereading/getting distracted, which I usually do while writing, ever since I gave up both smoking and Minesweeper), and it's basically done. When I say 'basically done' I mean I have to write the introduction and the final paragraph, the bits that actually say what the paper is meant to say, look up a bunch of references (Henderson and Bartsch on Lucan, check the OLD and the Thesaurus Linguae Latinae for cursus), put in the references, do a final cut-and-polish and get it into house style. But, you know. Done!

Things that may have contributed to this:

Putting on my 'Vergil' perfume before starting to write
Nice weather for writing (not too hot!)
... or, just possibly, turning my internet off and not going online before or during writing. (Didn't I learn that lesson last year?)

Speaking of Vergil, I occasionally fantasize about writing a novel about the tangled erotic-political-literary relationships between Octavian-Augustus, Marc Antony, Vergil and Ovid, but then I realize that I can't write a historical novel because I could never do all that research to make a coherent and accurate world for the characters to inhabit. But this morning, I realized that the reason I can't do that is not just because I'm too lazy, but because I fundamentally don't believe in creating a coherent and accurate historical world. I mean, I don't think of Vergil like a character in Rome, going about being all three-dimensional and authentic in an accurately-reconstructed setting. So now I've started to fantasize about writing an experimental novel about the tangled erotic-political-literary relationships between Augustus, Antony, Vergil and Ovid.

Narrated by Dante.

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Frank O'Hara

I'm teaching a seminar on T S Eliot on the English Literature MA next semester, so I went upstairs to nab J's Collected Poems to decide which poems to set and my hand went for Frank O'Hara's Selected Poems as well, so I've been reading them and getting damp around the eyes. I completely love Frank O'Hara. Here's his official home page; go read some poems (the second one on that page, Ave Maria is one of my favourites. So wicked and joyful. But actually all the poems there are great). And! You can hear him read one of my other favourites, Poem (Lana Turner Has Collapsed), which is much funnier out loud (when I read it to myself it is quite sad). Poetry is odd like that.

So Frank O'Hara makes me feel better about everything. Good. (He's dead, though - someone ran him over in a car on Fire Island when he was forty, which sucks. OH FRANK O'HARA WE LOVE YOU GET UP.)

Sometimes I Just Feel So Tired

So today I was thinking about posting a brief compare-and-contrast of Debbie Harry Sings In French with Barbara Wersba's Tunes for a Small Harmonica, to make the point that good YA fiction about sexuality and gender identity was being written back in the 70s and 80s, so all this hoo-hah about how ground-breaking and innovative the queer books of today are is a wilful forgetting of YA history. But instead I am posting about three things I came across within five minutes of going on the Internet, and the exhaustion that comes over me at the thought of living in a world where this kind of thing happens, and where critiquing them so often gets you read as a Humourless Feminist (tm).

So, in order...

1) Today's 'Daily Poll' on imdb was about who you would get to narrate your life: it listed seven actors, all men. I guess there are no women with voices good enough to narrate the life of any random internet-surfer who reads imdb.

2) Then someone linked me to this blog, Cake Wrecks, and the third cake down was a (pretty funny, I thought) baby-shower cake with a marzipan figure of a woman giving birth on top (here): the blogger comments that the, er, "mom" here... is completely nekkid (is that a new trend in delivery rooms?), and is anatomically correct where you wouldn't expect her to be (ergo the censor bars - sorry, fellas!) Well, yes, quite a lot of people are naked when they give birth. And why on earth would I not expect a figure of a woman in childbirth to be 'anatomically correct' in the places where babies come from and are fed?

3) And then someone else linked me to this blog post with a brief critique of a Snickers ad in which, in order to sell a chocolate bar, Mr T pursues a man who is speed-walking (and thus coded as effeminate) down the street, firing Snickers bars at him from a giant machine-gun mounted on a big truck, and exhorting him to 'run like a man' and 'get some nuts'.

I am too tired to critique these. Do them yourselves.

(The post title is the caption of a Judy Horacek cartoon, showing one of her women slumped over a desk: up on the wall behind her are the statistics from the 1980 UN report on the status of women.)

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Back to Writing

I've finished off most of my outstanding stuff from last year, had a week off, been ill for a week, and had a rather epic birthday; the rest of the summer involves holing up in my flat and writing like crazy. I have a journal article to write by July 30, a book chapter to revise by September 15, and a conference paper to write by October 23; and I need to have a finished draft of Now and Rome by the end of September. I'm planning to write in the mornings and read in the afternoons for four days a week; spend one day a week on teaching- and admin-related tasks and 'misc'; and have two days off a week for hanging out with J, knitting, fannishness and walking.

I'm trying to write this journal article at the moment - it's for a special edition of Cultural Critique, which is exciting yet daunting - and it should be very easy because it's all stuff I've been working on for years. But I keep being surprised by how wobbly my confidence is, and how if I take my eye off the task at hand for a moment, doubts start creeping in, all the way up from 'is this the right quote to use?' to 'should I actually be an academic at all?'

I also seem to have left two crucial books at work, so I think now might be the time to knock off and walk over to my office; it's a sunny day and my office is about fifteen minutes' walk away through leafy parks and Georgian back-streets.

Monday, 14 July 2008

Dirty Books and the Great Wen

Just back from a week in London, part-financed by my and J's very good friend K, who is lavishly generous and splendid and brings a better world with her wherever she goes (one part Wodehouse, one part Dion Fortune, one part The Saint, one part Emma Goldman, shake, pour over ice, and serve with a sprig of fresh mint). She said she was giving us the cash so we could tell her what we thought of Kipling's house at Bateman's (any excuse, honestly, that K), so we went there, and it was splendid. (I really like Kipling. I don't mean to downplay the sexism - he was deeply opposed to women's suffrage - and the imperialism and the racism, but so much of his stuff is just great: his use of language is beautiful and he gets at some of those tiny, hidden feelings and relationships and ideas, mining them out of experience into language. Thorts into Stuff, as Una says. And those bits are relatively detachable from the power and the privilege and the White-Man's-Burden stuff, which isn't true of all writers, or at least I think so.) I was going to put up some pictures from our trip, but naturally I can't find the cable for my camera, so that'll have to wait.

Other things I did included speaking at the Dirty Books event at the London Literary Festival last week, where I enjoyed myself thoroughly and may possibly have referred to slash as 'a feminist utopia of porn'. It was a slightly odd event overall, containing rather more straight women than I'd expected from a queer event, including one who felt the need to inform us on about five occasions that although she did have sex with women, she didn't really enjoy it. But from the extract from her work she read, she didn't seem to enjoy sex at all, so perhaps I shouldn't have felt so ruffled at her presentation of f/f sex as oh-so-thrillingly outrée but ultimately not real sex. The highlight was probably the very impassioned and lovely defense of erotic writing by the organizer, Rupert Smith aka James Lear. (Actually, this was a bit of a theme of the week: I also went to see Alan Moore and Melinde Gebbie talking about Lost Girls, their 'pornographic novel about pornography', which was fun. It was the first time I'd ever been in the same room as Alan Moore and his splendid beard.)

Oh! And we went to see the Magnetic Fields in concert, which was great. And! We saw (some of) the Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef Project, which may be the best thing that has ever been in the world. Slightly-simplified-for-feminist-squee account of the project:

Geometers used to think there were only two types of space in which you could do geometry (Euclidean flat space and spherical space). There was a possibility of another kind of space, hyperbolic space, but for many reasons - including the difficulty of physically modelling/visualizing it - its feasibility was disputed for, like, hundreds of years.

AND THEN A FEMALE MATHEMATICIAN CROCHETED IT. And she came and presented hyperbolic space in the form of crochet to the Royal Society of Geometers* and they were like, whoa.

And then - because hyperbolic space also exists in coral reefs - the Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef Project came into being, whereby people (mostly women) from across the world crochet coral reefs and exhibit them. It is craft + female-flavoured community + maths + conservation/ecology. I don't see how it could possibly be a better thing. And, it's free! At the Hayward! Go and see it if you are in London, or if it is on tour near you ever.

*or something