Saturday, April 03, 2010

URL change

So, I'm thinking about making some major changes to my blog. It's been in the "U2 vs Jane Austen" format (which is to say, no format whatsoever) for - eek! - six years! Nearly 600 posts! Which is nice, but I'm running out of steam a bit, and I'd like to stir things up.

Therefore, I have a new blog. It's called Surviving History. I'm not deleting this one, but I will be ignoring "U2 vs Jane Austen" from now on.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

oh, it makes me mad!

Imagine me sitting at home growling. Why am I growling, you ask? It's quite simple, really. Once again, I am questioning the purpose of the existence of academics and postgraduate students.

I went to a Postgrad Symposium for Humanities students today at the university I attend, Canterbury. Discussion: The end of the Humanities? (Literature, history, philosophy...)

It's disillusioning, you know, having to sit there listening to people who know how to talk the talk, know how to be provocative, know how to ARGUE - because that's what we "humanities" are good at - and disagreeing fundamentally with most of what is being said. According to one speaker, who is very eminent and very gifted and all that but who, I find, is on a completely different wavelength to mine, what the Humanities need to do to survive is to marry philosophy of the history of aesthetics with Darwinian psychology. Er, really? And how is your particular research interest, sir, practically supposed to work itself out? How exactly will this attract students? And how do you propose to make everyone think in the same framework?

Then you have to listen to people saying that maybe what the Humanities really need to do is to work out how to communicate to The Public so we can get more funding.

Or people saying that things have changed now and how worrying it is that modern third-year students refuse to read a 500-page novel for an undergraduate English paper; instead they'll just make something up when asked about it and it will sound okay.

And here is my opinion. (You knew that it was coming, right?)

The one thing I agreed on with the professor mentioned above was that the Humanities weren't killed; they committed suicide in the 70s and 80s. Suicide by deconstructionalism and postmodernism.

You want to know why the Humanities are disappearing from the priorities of government, university bosses and the public? It's because of cynicism. Cynicism created by academics whose sole purpose in life is to get more funding, like in the comment I mentioned above. More funding so they can put out more postmodern s*** that tells us that basically everything we do is meaningless and we can't ever know anything and "the fact" is an incredibly suspect idea. Cynicism created by departments like the English department at my university, who taught me so well that by the time I was in my final undergraduate year of my BA, I could churn out an English essay that I knew very well would get an A or an A+ because I'd figured out how to play the system; how to give the lecturers what they wanted, on questions I couldn't care less about or giving answers I fundamentally despised. You are taught very well by the Humanities, taught how to appear rebellious or original or boundary-pushing but how to all say the same thing, or how to all agree with your lecturer.

The only reason I didn't become completely disillusioned with the Humanities was that I had a history lecturer who cared very, very much about his topic and what he was teaching. I got idealistic. I became convinced that History is important, that it matters, that the memory of things like Stalin, the Crusades, the Holocaust, the Inquisitions, et cetera NEED TO BE PRESERVED. We must know why people did these things or put up with these things. We must keep our portrayal of our history honest. It won't necessarily regulate our own society today but we must try.

The Humanities must become humanitarian. We must care about what we study, we must let it affect our lives today, we must communicate this passion to our society. People want to care about what they do. They don't want to sit there listening to some angry, bitter lecturer deconstructing their favourite novel into a morass of constructs. What they want is something that matters.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

"helping"

When I am overtired I tend to become a little bit silly.

My flatmate A. and I were asked to help with with some of the organisation of our campus church's camp this coming weekend, in beautiful Wainui. It involves allotting rooms, and making welcome packs that include some sort of sweet treat.

A. and I have had rather busy weeks, and by the time we sat down on Wednesday night to make a start, we were exhausted. I had just been shopping with the 5pm crowds at Pak'n'Save to buy ingredients for the coconut ice and Russian fudge; A. had made dinner.

It didn't take much to set us off. Flatmate R. said, "Allie, could I ask you a big favour?" Immediately, we started cracking jokes until we were basically splitting our stomachs laughing, unable to stop, in much pain, while R. sat waiting for it to stop.

Then there was the fact that our coconut ice turned out like this:


... and our Russian fudge like this:


I don't understand it because we were cooking at exactly the same time, using exactly the same ingredients, taking exactly the same amount of time: and somehow, my fudge AND coconut ice never set all that well, and A.'s fudge and coconut ice set a little too well. This in itself was hilarious.

Then we set about packaging our sweet treats (below). This was hilarious because my fudge was almost all unusable, while Anna's was crumbly, and we amused ourselves thinking of excuses (other than the fact that we're not very good bakers, evidently). And because we didn't have enough fudge, some of the beautiful little packages actually just have fudge crumbs, and this was hilarious too.


Then this morning, after not enough sleep, A. met me at university and we divided the list of those going to camp into bedrooms at the YMCA camp in Wainui. THIS was hilarious, because we put all the "Chris"es into the same bunkroom. Ha! Ha! It still makes me laugh to think of them in their bunkroom, and one of them says, "Hey, Chris?" and all four others reply, "Yeah?"

We're never going to be asked to help again!

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Behind Closed Doors

Yay! The March issue of Halfway Down the Stairs is out. "Behind Closed Doors" is, I'm pretty sure, our biggest issue yet, and the submissions are multiplying for every issue - which is why we are happy to announce that from now on, HDtS issues will be published four times a year. The next one will be June, 2010, and the theme is "The Outsider". Submissions welcomed!

I think this issue is very attractive, thanks to our gifted resident web designer, and I'm quite proud of the quality of the writing, especially in the fiction section, which I have more to do with than the other sections (although from what I've seen so far, the quality there is excellent too). I would especially recommend Ethel Rohan's "More Than Gone" and Gail Taylor's "Tornado", and for those of you who enjoy reading Stacy's blog, her "Thrift Store Archeologist" is fantastic!

Welcome to this, our fifth year of publication.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

butterfly observing

I've started helping with childcare, one day a week, for my sister, who has two small daughters, R. and M. They are lovely to be around and so much fun to look after - last Tuesday R. was a little bit upset and so we had to have an emergency screening of The Little Mermaid. This was followed by (a) reading The Little Mermaid book, which was continued throughout the day by R., who can't read but basically knows it off by heart, and who added Ariel singing to most parts of the story ... "ah ah ahhhh, ah ah ahhhh"; (b) making little mermaid paper dolls, using the old method of folding up some paper and cutting one out so they all hold hands, and in this case, tails; (c) making gingerbread men who were decorated as mermaids.

Anyway - what I was intending to share was that my sister and her husband have been slowly working on their garden. It was pretty much bare when they bought the house except for a big green lawn. They really want to make it a cool place for little girls to live, so one of the things they added was a collection of swan plants.

Swan plants, in case you don't know, are where monarch butterflies like to lay the eggs that become the caterpillars that curl up in a chrysalis and then become a beautiful butterfly! Just like in The Very Hungry Caterpillar. It's been very cool watching the plants weekly and seeing things happen.


Butterflies visiting.


Caterpillars growing.


And chrysalis appearing! (Does anyone know the plural for chrysalis?)


I'm really hoping that I'll get to see at least one butterfly emerging from its chrysalis.

I love that I get to be a little girl again when I look after R. and M. I get to make paperdolls, gingerbread men, watch Disney films, and spend time observing butterflies!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

feminine intuition

I'm starting to realise the power of instinct. To trust the little voice - well, not even a little voice - to trust my own reactions to people.

I'm trying to do this as anonymously as possible, so I can't be perfectly clear in the anecdotes that will follow. I apologise if details are a little fuzzy at points.

Case study no. 1

Old man for whom my father feels sorry because he's stuck in a rest home most of the time, and so he invites him round for lunch reasonably often. When I happen to be there, I find myself behaving very coldly towards the man, who I just can't seem to make myself like. In fact, I find him incredibly creepy. I can hardly bring myself to talk to him and I avoid him. So I feel very rude. This is not how I was brought up to behave.

Later, I come across someone who works at the rest home he lives in. I would much rather have not heard this - honestly - but, according to this person, he's got a track record of saying inappropriate things to the young women on the staff there, one of whom filed a sexual harassment complaint against him.

Clarity!

Case study no. 2

A middle-aged man who attends something I attend. (Again, sorry about the vagueness.) This man has had many medical problems all his life, and he looks slightly odd. He also happens to have quite a strange manner. When he comes and talks to me, he's always very friendly, yet I find myself being, again, icy cold.

I torment myself about this. How can I treat someone like this, just because I find them "weird"? "Different"? Am I altering the way I treat him because I don't like the way he looks? How could I be so superficial? If this were a movie, I would be the mean townsperson.

Then someone comes to me: they have noticed this man approaching me. They warn me that he has, in the past, had a tendency to become obsessed with young women who are nice to him. He cannot tell the difference between kind friendship and romantic interest, and a while ago he proposed to a young woman who felt she should treat him just as she would treat any other male friend.

Clarity!

Conclusion

It is astonishing to me to discover my intuition. To realise that even if I don't have a logical, reasonable argument for the way I instinctively react to someone, my reaction may still be trustworthy.

It's strange to realise - after a lifetime of being taught to love my neighbour as I love myself, to be kind to everyone regardless of their age, race, sex, appearance, whatever - that sometimes it's wise to listen to myself when I respond to someone with dislike.

I'm not saying that I think the principles I was raised on are incorrect. I just think they need to be applied with wisdom, and with understanding of the individual.