by Catriona Mills

Articles in “Writing”

Yet Another Update That Claims Not To Be An Update

Posted 27 June 2008 in by Catriona

But, honestly, I haven’t been doing anything in the last three days to warrant an update, not even the “slice of life”-style updates that I sometimes worry are overtaking the blog at the expense of the reading material.

Nick and I have discovered The Middleman television adaptation—I really must track down the comic books, which I’ve never read, but they don’t seem to be highly available, due no doubt to the forthcoming omnibus edition. The Middleman is lovely; people seem to be suggesting that the SFX are no good, but that doesn’t bother me when the dialogue is so snappy and fast paced. It reminds me a little of the live-action Tick, but slightly—only slightly—less insane.

We’ve starting watching Chuck, too, which I’d only vaguely heard of and hadn’t even considered watching until we saw the pilot episode the other day.

True, the best friend gets on my nerves a little, and there’s perhaps a few too many spy-porn moments for my liking (although that may be influenced by the fact that all the spy-porn moments involve the CIA chick rather than Adam Baldwin. But even the reverse would get old after a while), but it’s fun and breezy. The science makes no sense, of course, but I did watch a fair few seasons of Alias, so that obviously doesn’t bother me. (Also, I don’t understand science at all. Any branch. It’s like magic, as far as I’m concerned.)

(Actually, it occurs to me that I can no longer remember how many seasons of Alias I’ve watched. Surely I should be able to remember that? I only hope whatever bumped that piece of information out of my head was important. Perhaps it was instructions on how to change a spare tire. Or a reminder of when to clean the lint filter on the dryer. Something like that.)

I’m not just watching television, though. This is also the time when I need to break some sections of my thesis off into journal articles, before second semester begins in a month. The research is all fairly fresh, so it shouldn’t be as difficult a task as it could be. But I’m tossing up between two pieces: one on the methodological difficulties of preparing a bibliographical listing for an author who wrote exclusively for penny weeklies, and one on verisimilitude and textual manipulation in adaptations of penny-weekly serials for suburban theatres.

Naturally, I intend to write both of them—it’s a question of which will require the least manipulation of extant material, so that I can get back into the swing of writing as quickly as possible, and hopefully push two articles out there before teaching becomes too intense next semester.

My inclination is towards the piece on adaptations, myself.

I also want to see if I can place the bibliography of my key author (the gem of the thesis, I think) and perhaps at least one of the indexes to fiction in Victorian penny weeklies. I’d hate to see that much work go to waste but, more than that, I’d hate to think of other researchers spending a year sitting in front of a microfilm reader when I’ve already done all that work.

I know it’s called re-searching, but let’s not go nuts, here.

I don’t know if writing journal articles is a topic out of which I can make fascinating blogging, myself. I’m also not sure that my research is something I’m comfortable putting on the Internet in any detail—that’s a hurdle I haven’t crossed yet.

So if the next month is made up largely of short pieces on television advertising, that’ll be the reason why.

On the other hand, Nick and I are currently debating the value of my live-blogging the upcoming season of Doctor Who when it starts airing on the ABC, this week.

So it could be a matter of more updates than you can handle.

We’ll see.

Personal Blogging; or, Why I Don't, Really

Posted 22 June 2008 in by Catriona

I haven’t finished marking, but I have finished for the day, and I’ve missed my blog. I’ve been thinking more the last couple of days about the actual process of writing that this blog entails; it has been my most intensive writing outlet since I submitted the thesis, and since I make my living by both writing and teaching writing, I feel it’s only sensible to think about my writing as well.

The best way to think about my writing is to write about my writing.

Plus, I read an article today that made me think a little about what I do on this blog.

I came across this article on personal blogging today, written by Emily Gould for The New York Times Magazine. I knew nothing about Emily Gould except that she was the former co-editor of Gawker (which I don’t read, although I do obsessively read one of Gawker Media’s publications, Defamer) and I now know she has her own Wikipedia page, although it’s largely concerned with the media backlash against Gawker’s Stalker Map.

I came across the piece, as is the way of the Internet, through a series of links. I found it linked to on the blog 2amSomewhere, which I don’t read regularly. But I have nipped on to it occasionally, because its author is a regular commenter on a blog I do read with some degree of regularity, Drunken Housewife. (To make the process more complicated, I came across Drunken Housewife originally via the forums at Etiquette Hell, where I’d been innocently lurking, hoping that the stories on the main page would soon be updated.)

But the process is actually a telling one, because the sites in question are all intensely personal in nature. Etiquette Hell is sometimes embarrassingly personal; any site with a strong focus on etiquette sometimes raises issues that I feel I shouldn’t be made aware of—at least not where they concern complete strangers. Drunken Housewife does have a strong slant towards reading and politics, but focuses heavily on day-to-day life.

And 2amSomewhere—as I rapidly became aware, reading the specific post in which the author linked to the Gould article—is an anonymous personal blog. That’s not a form with which I’m familiar, since I chose not to blog anonymously myself. It seems that writing anonymously about deeply personal experiences might be an extraordinarily liberating experience—but it’s not one that I could see myself either seeking or enjoying.

Of course, I’m not always terribly discreet in the flesh, either, especially after a couple of drinks, so it’s questionable whether there’d be much personal information that I haven’t already brought up at parties. That might make the blog a bit dull.

But there’s also the question of creating and fiercely protecting anonymity.

That’s also not something that attracts me. It must be inordinately time consuming; the author of 2amSomewhere notes in that entry that even his wife is unaware of his blog. But I rather like being read by people who know me. There’s nothing horrific, or painful, or unpleasant, or heartbreaking in my life, nothing that would prompt me to treat this blog as though it were a therapist’s couch or a confessional.

One disadvantage—though not one that has a great deal of weight with me—does arise from my not blogging anonymously, and that’s my refusal to talk specifically about my teaching on here. I give an enormous amount of my time and energy to my teaching, and I love it—nothing but the writing process (when it’s going well) is capable of giving me the euphoric feeling that a really good tutorial or lecture creates. It seems somehow unnatural to omit from this blog something that is so central to my professional and personal lives. But I consciously chose not to mention my teaching in any but the most oblique terms on here, and I don’t regret that decision.

But I do have to acknowledge that this is a personal blog. I didn’t start it with that intention, and I don’t, even now, think of it as a personal blog.

In fact, if I were to count the entries in each category, I would hope that the personal entries would be outweighed by the pieces on reading and writing.

But, let’s face it: Nick is the starring character on this blog, and that makes it personal. It’s only one aspect of the blog, but it’s there.

And that’s because Nick is hilarious: everyone knows this, but not everyone gets to spend as much time with him as I do. So broadcasting the “Strange Conversations” on the blog is a public service, really.

But, long before I came across Gould’s article or started thinking about just how personal some personal blogs are, I’d realised that I couldn’t just assume that my everyday life with Nick was there to be mined for material.

I couldn’t assume that I had that level of control over the blog.

Now, the blog is mine—that’s irrefutable. I’m the only person who posts here and, after an early incident in which Nick (as the site’s designer) moderated one of his own comments, I’m also the only person who moderates the site (except when I was live-blogging Eurovision). The latter role, though, is not entirely or even primarily about control: I just thoroughly enjoy checking to see if people have commented on the blog, and I feel a bit cheated if I can’t moderate the comments. (There’s not a great deal of power in the role, anyway, since I’ve never deleted a comment from the blog in the four months I’ve been keeping it, except by request.)

But when it comes to content, I know that I can’t just assume myself free to blog something if it involves Nick. And, while he’s normally more than happy to make regular appearances on here, he has vetoed—on rare occasions—my blogging certain conversations, mostly because he feels they make him look too silly.

And that’s fine. It gives the blog a co-operative feeling that I rather enjoy. It ensures that Nick and I should never find ourselves embroiled in the kind of argument that Gould describes on the first page of her article. And it means that the blog never becomes a threat.

I do sometimes say, as in this conversation about the remote control, “Right, I’m putting that on the blog!”

But it’s not a threat if Nick knows both that he has the power of veto over his role on the blog and that I’ll respect his decision to veto something.

I may make that something the subject of an anecdote at a party, but that’s not really the same thing.

At least not if he’s not in earshot.

Household Inefficiencies: Redux

Posted 16 June 2008 in by Catriona

In a brief hiatus between finishing one set of marking (miraculously early, but a small group) and receiving the next, I resolved—in an unusual spurt of physical activity—to tidy the study.

Well, my desk—I’ve long since decided that Nick’s desk is his job alone, partly because it’s frustrating to have someone else determine how your work space should be organised and partly because I don’t want to be responsible for that disaster zone.

But I need to be responsible for my own desk and, frankly, in the aftermath of my submission, it wasn’t in great shape. Or, indeed, in any kind of shape.

I only wish I’d taken a “before” photograph, because it’s a difficult thing to ask people to imagine. Rest assured, however, that it was essentially covered with teetering piles of every piece of paper that I’d generated in three-and-a-half years of research work, with a small space carved out on the very edge, for me to rest my laptop on each night.

It certainly wasn’t a work space.

It wasn’t somewhere where I could write journal articles, prepare lectures, map out tutorial exercises, or mark student assessment.

So, really, what purpose did it serve, except as a repository for uncategorised papers? And, to a postgraduate student and university lecturer/tutor, what are uncategorised papers? They have no value, since they have no explicit shape or form.

But now—now, the desk looks like this:

(I hope people notice it’s even tidier than the last time that I decided posting photographs of my study was a legitimate blog update! I do notice, though, that the James Jean picture of Hansel “interrogating” witches is as creepy as ever. I also notice that the space above my desk is a good place for my other Jean print. Hmm.)

I notice that my glass of wine is prominent in the final shot—and my Diet Coke in the second one, which really tells you all you need to know about my habitual liquid intake—but such, as Ned Kelly allegedly said, is life. The fact that the government has just trivialised the issue of binge drinking by defining it as three or more drinks a night—regardless of circumstances—isn’t going to stop me enjoying this rather nice White Shiraz (which is, of course, neither white nor, I suspect, actually a Shiraz).

But this is all a distraction from the reason why I started writing this post—and the reason why I put it under “Writing” and not, as with the previous instalment, “Life, The Universe, And Everything.”

And that’s my conflicted relationship with the study.

Since I posted that first piece about the value of my study, Lisa Gunders over on The Memes of Production has written a thoughtful piece on the way in which “[m]uch intellectual work still takes place amidst the noise and messiness and constant demands of family life and interactions with ‘ordinary’ people in all their spendid diversity.”

So that’s why I love my study—it is a separate space.

But it’s not the ivory tower, if such a thing even exists. This may be a detached house, but we’re barely three metres, if that, from our neighbours on either side, and their daily lives impinge on ours. How can they not? I’m sure ours impinge on theirs.

But when, for example, you’re trying to finalise the editing of a chapter—and not, as in the writing stages, borne up by sheer euphoria of the writing process, but drearily replacing all the full stops that you’d mistakenly put outside the inverted commas—and the people painting the guttering next door are holding a loud conversation from opposite ends of the house, it takes all your self-control and awareness that you must, after all, recognise the rights of other people to move through their daily lives to keep yourself from leaning out of the window and shouting, “Oh, sod off!”

You don’t do it, of course, but it’s a distraction—like running errands, doing the housekeeping, paying bills, answering the phone, preparing meals, dealing with telemarketers, and all the other pinpricks—or joys, depending on your mood—of daily life.

And there are distractions from within this shared space, as well: this is Nick’s study, too. But, for Nick—with his fixed desk-top computer and his passion for all things Internet orientated—it’s his space for leisure, as well. And that’s a further distraction, although he has every right to use this room as he sees fit.

Nick once, for example, bought a keyboard with which he was delighted, because it simulated the tactility of the old-school keyboards.

“Listen to how wonderfully clacky it is!” he exclaimed.

There must have been something in the tone with which I responded, in a break from working, “Yes, I can hear that,” because he replaced it shortly afterwards. And, although I never actually asked him to get rid of it, I’ve always felt a little guilty that he felt he was obligated to. (Of course, he may have just become bored.)

Hence, the conflict: I want my study to be something that it can’t possibly be. I want it to be a haven, to be sound-proof, to be inspiring, to facilitate my creativity and my focus. No one room can possibly carry that burden.

But, before this post strikes anyone reading it as entirely self-centred, I do recognise that I’m writing this from a position of privilege—and that these problems would only occur in that privileged position.

Lisa’s post stems from a reading of the movement of the working classes into universities, and the fact that these pioneers—usually the first in their families to be able to pursue tertiary education—had no choice but to work among the bustle of everyday life.

That makes me feel petty.

I know that having had, as I have had, the leisure to pursue university study for thirteen years and, specifically, to spend eight years chasing postgraduate degrees, is a wonderful thing.

I do know that, and I’m grateful for it.

But somewhere in my mind, there’s an ideal study.

Right at the top of the house, so that the windows catch every available breeze instead of reflecting the setting sun off our neighbour’s corrugated-iron roof, and overlook the hills and valleys, instead of someone’s bathroom.

And with shelves all the way around the walls, from floor to ceiling, so that I never have to determine which books should be at the back of the shelves this time.

And a desk that will take all my notes, and books, and files, and still leave room for writing.

And, since this space is in my head, I may as well add tea, and a cushioned chaise longue for reading, and a pot-bellied stove for the winter that never comes in Brisbane.

I love my study—after all, haven’t I just spent an hour in it, writing this blog post?

But perhaps part of what I love is the fact that when I occupy it, I can occupy my ideal study somewhere in my mind at the same time.

Why I Don't Mention Real People Here Very Often

Posted 2 June 2008 in by Catriona

Recently, Nick—the Grand Master of extracting all available details about Doctor Who from the Internet or, in fact, any other available media—brought this to my attention: a blog post from James Moran, writer for Doctor Who and Torchwood.

Now, I was already predisposed to like James Moran, since he wrote “The Fires of Pompeii” for Doctor Who—which was the episode where I really warmed to Catherine Tate as Donna; I’d liked her before, but I really liked her here—and “Sleeper” for Torchwood, which was a gut-wrencher in a series that ended with me weeping uncontrollably in front of my television.

(Seriously, if you are a reader who doesn’t happen to know me, that really isn’t like me.)

(An aside:

NICK: He also wrote a movie called Severance, which is apparently really good if you like your horror bloody and British.
ME: Which I don’t.

I haven’t recovered yet from 28 Days Later, and still have a tendency to shout “They’re running from the infected!” at moments of high tension.

Ahem.)

Anyway, this particular blog post is about Moran’s contact with Harlan Ellison, whom he’d named as the living writer he’d most like to share a pint with in a magazine interview.

The article itself is a lovely invocation of the pleasures and pains of fandom. I’m not familiar with Ellison’s work myself—except in the Pierre Bayard sense that I know where it fits in the cultural library—but I did once, back in the M/C Reviews days, publish a fan’s response to Ellison that reminds me of Moran’s piece.

But then you read down to the comments thread, where one commentator has simply written “Ellison’s always struck me as a bit of an asshole, but this seemed very cool of him.”

If I were the blogger in this case, I think my response would be, “Oh no, no, no no no no no no.”

Except with more words that should probably be spelled out with asterisks in this time slot.

And then Harlan Ellison responds.

Actually, his response is rather marvellous, and the blogger deals with the situation with panache, but the whole situation does illustrate a point that I made before, in my piece on Steven Moffat.

You don’t know who might be reading on the Internet, so why insult them?

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