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


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.


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.



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.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

the new me


I'm a bit weirded out by the new me. Whenever I catch sight of myself in a reflection, I get confused because glasses make me look different. And I get sick of having these things sitting on my face which I can't just shove upwards and sit on my head like sunglasses. And it rained today and as I walked into university I considered tracking down Hermione Granger to do the Impervius charm on my glasses so they repel water. (Yes, I have been re-reading all the Harry Potter books. I LOVE THEM.) But, all things considered, if I had to get glasses, these aren't bad ones. I think. But it will take some getting used to.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

four eyes

I'm getting glasses.

It seems weird, because I thought I had missed that gene. All five of my siblings (who have a different mother than me) have had really poor eyesight all their lives, whereas I thought I took after my mother, who only needed glasses for reading when she was about fifty. I didn't need them in the mandatory eyesight check at age five, before I started school, so it never occurred to me to get them checked again.

Then I tried on a friend's glasses, just for fun, and - astonishingly - everything was clearer!

So I went and got my eyes checked, crossing my fingers that I would actually need them, but not too much, so that glasses for me would be like a cool accessory rather than a hindrance. And it turns out my vision is not really bad - it's 85%, and you need 80% to drive without glasses - but it's bad enough that glasses will help me. It also turns out that one eye is longsighted and the other is shortsighted. That seems bizarre to me, but perhaps it's quite normal.

Cool accessory it is! Then I found out that (a) this cool little accessory was going to cost me about $500; and (b) spectacles are quite different from sunglasses on the face, and it was really hard to find a pair that I actually liked or felt pretty in.

Flatmate to the rescue! Rosie came, looked at the three frames I'd set aside, went "no, no and no", and then proceeded to help me find a really cool pair of frames that I really liked that were not ridiculously over-the-top expensive (I liked some Prada ones more, but given that the price tag would be close to a grand, my attraction to them rapidly dissipated). When I get the glasses, I will provide photos.

Now that I know I need glasses, it is suddenly becoming clear to me how unclear my vision is. How easily my eyes get tired. How many headaches I get from staring at a screen or books all day. How the edges of some things are blurred; sometimes even double. But the funny thing is, before I tried on my friend's glasses, I didn't notice at all. And I'm really glad that soon things are going to change.

So if you are someone who has always assumed you have wonderful vision and never bothered to get your eyes checked, I would highly recommend it.

Monday, February 08, 2010

on music

I've been listening to Concert FM a lot lately - it is the only radio station in NZ that plays classical music (as well as jazz, folk, world music or other forms that don't get played on other radio stations). They sometimes have interviews with people which are often quite interesting, because they pick people who normally would be completely ignored by mainstream media.

However, there was an interview the other day that completely bugged me and here is the general gist of it. I WILL be dumbing it down and probably misrepresenting the complexities of this guy's ideas, but this is how it appeared to me.

They were interviewing an academic who has written a book about the future of music and the problems music faces today. He thinks that "Music", as it stands, is constrained by really limiting rules of, oh, harmony and rhythm, which exclude people who don't fit into those rules and which exclude other forms of audio material which should really be seen as Music too.

The idea of Music as limited by rhythm was forced upon the world by Pythagoras and we've all been playing along ever since, as if it were ordained that Music should incorporate timing. This is nothing less than - and I quote - "METAPHYSICAL FASCISM".

Folk music is more likely to step outside the box than "classical" or high class music, whereas all the bad smart people at universities or conservatories around the world have been grinding under their thumb the development of Music into a more inclusive art form.

Just in case my feelings about this are not yet clear: What utter crap.

Firstly, it's completely typical of an academic like this to "speak for" the lower classes, or for more earthy forms of music such as folk. I suspect that if you go and speak to the people he's claiming to speak for, or tried to play them the type of audio he would like to see classed as music, they would cover their ears in disgust, run away, and go back to enjoying their rhythmic, harmonic music.

Secondly, it's completely typical of an academic like this to use big words like "dialectic" or "metaphysical fascism" in the hope that this will awe critics into submission.

Thirdly, although he may claim music is too limiting and there are too many rules, he is simply creating a new structure into which he thinks people should fit. In fact, the rules of music are continually being bent by good musicians and composers. They are an exciting box within which to work, in my opinion, just like the form of the sonnet which Shakespeare worked within, but fiddled with. This academic seems to be suggesting that all rules are bad, all boundaries are bad, and all boxes must be broken. It sounds okay, it sounds romantic, but it is not actually reflective of reality, and it seems like he completely ignores the amazing variety which harmonic and rhythmic music has produced over even the last hundred years, let alone all time.

Fourthly, unfortunately for this academic, as much as he may theorise, people listen to music that pleases them. There is something about rhythm and something about harmony that is not simply an idea; it clicks with something inside us and once we've got it, we can't give it up. I'm not saying that everybody likes the same harmonies or rhythms, which is clearly untrue. And there is an element of truth in the idea that we like what we've been conditioned to like. BUT! Music in all its forms will endure, whatever he has to say about it, because people like it. There is no secret governing body out there forcing everybody to listen to the music they approve of. Instead, he seems to be setting himself up as some authority on what people should do - and he is doomed to failure.

What do you think? Will we all be dancing to the sound of discordant harmonies and beatless music in fifty years? Am I just reactionary?

Sunday, February 07, 2010

my new abode

You may remember me, just before Christmas, complaining every now and then about moving into a new house, and all the work this entailed, but exulting in the awesomeness of our new flat. It's been almost two months now and the exultation continues.

We have a lovely kitchen which, apparently, is not lovely enough because the owners are going to update it during the year. We have a dining room with fire, a large lounge, and a conservatory which is amazingly warm, even on cold days. We have a big deck that is fantastic for entertaining, and, as soon as we can persuade one of us to buy a barbecue, that will be a great space for a barbecue. We have a vege garden on its way - celery, cauliflower, cabbage, silverbeet and lettuce - plus herbs - rosemary, basil, thyme and Italian parsley.

Whenever there is a slight problem, we ring our landlord and landlady, and they fix it within a couple of days - EVEN around Christmas time - and we send up a heartfelt prayer of thanks for landlords who actually do their job (compared to last year's abysmal one).

We have a new flatmate who is basically the ideal flatmate personified, and we send up more heartfelt thanks that we no longer have a flatmate who will steal our food, generate enormous power bills, and hoard ice cream in her room. [I am not kidding. ICE CREAM, which soon became melted, rotting cream. We had to get commercial cleaners to rid her old room of the smell at the end of the year.]

I love my new room. At my last flat, I had a huge bedroom that was actually built as a lounge, which felt luxurious in a way. In this flat, my bedroom is not big at all, almost small, but it's pretty, and comfortable, and even if it gets a little cluttered, it's good for me to have to make an effort to keep things tidy. Here are pictures of it:

I LOVE my armchair. It is not a beautiful colour but it is the most comfortable armchair for reading books that I have ever sat in. And although the view you can see through the window is not the most flattering one, when I sit in the chair I can see out to the vege garden, the road, and the park across the road. I can sit mugs of hot chocolate on the windowsill and basically it's the perfect reading environment.

I really like the colour of the walls. They are a greeny-blue which feels quite fresh; no more boring cream walls and ugly carpet like the last flat. My bookcase looks tall and imposing without taking over the room entirely.

And, finally, at my desk I can sit and work [= fool around on the internet] for hours, gazing out the window onto the deck.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Allie is annoyed

So I just got home and:

- My flatmate is having a loud "concert" at the flat to replace some concert she couldn't go to. It involves playing Switchfoot music REALLY REALLY loud. I'm tired. I want to go to bed.

Update: I am now sitting IN THE DRIVEWAY with my laptop because I do not want to listen to ANY more Switchfoot, ever again, never, ever, ever, and because I am a wimp who doesn't like asking my flatmate to turn down the music.

- I turned on my computer and opened up a Word document and it turns out someone who was just using my computer to read something before has changed my set-up! That has got to be the most annoying thing! Like changing the direction in which someone else's toilet paper rolls off the holder. Surely you would think that if someone has left something a certain way, that is how that someone wants it to be? There is no longer the toolbar at the top of the document which I can click on to get the formatting palette and the zoom option and so on. And I can't figure out how to get it back because Macbooks actually aren't all that intuitive (though they are pretty). Can anyone who has a Mac tell me how to get my toolbar back?

Sorry about the sheer boringness and self-centeredness of this blog post. Enough about me, let's talk about YOU. What annoys YOU the most?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

in which I have a strong opinion

I have always felt out of my comfort zone in sports. That's not to say I never enjoy playing a sport. Sport is fun to play, if you're good at it and have some measure of coordination, and it is good for us in a physical and mental sense, et cetera, et cetera. But I don't think I am the only one who suffered through the P.E. part of the education system, detesting being forced to put on unattractive clothes several times a week and humiliate oneself in front of one's classmates. And I hate the way the teaching of sports goes out of its way to embarrass kids; for example, the "pick your team" method that every non-athletic child has been humiliated by, and the intense shame of being picked last.

So much for my childhood and teenage years, which were permeated with a vague distrust of sports. The last few years I've thought about it more. The last few years I've become even more disgusted with the ideology behind sports, as undeniably great events like the Olympics have sold out, and athletes think competing in what is, essentially, a game is more important than human rights. [I'm thinking of Beijing here, and thinking back to Berlin 1936, or the Springboks' tours of New Zealand during apartheid.] I've also become disgusted with the culture of sport in New Zealand that thinks it's okay to spend twenty-five minutes of the news hour on sports news, and also thinks it's okay to spend roughly twenty of those twenty-five minutes on men's sports. I'm disgusted by the amount of money that is spent on sportspeople and sports equipment, by individuals, businesses and by government.

SPORTS IS ULTIMATELY POINTLESS. On a personal level, exercise is important, and playing a game makes people happy - of course. But there is absolutely no point to it; nothing about it actually serves other people in any way. I heard someone who coaches athletics say to another person the other day, "The problem with these kids is that none of them are passionate about throwing." Yes, well, why would they be? "Throwing" is NOT IMPORTANT. There is no conceivable purpose to it. Sport only gives other people pleasure if they have been brainwashed into thinking that there is something about watching other people run around a field that is intrinsically exciting. They encourage national and local chauvinism and idolisation of brute strength.

I'm not saying sports events should cease. Events like the Olympics are great examples of international cooperation. But it is so easy for their organisers to assume that they CAN somehow be apolitical, as if they get a free pass from having a global conscience, and the amount of money spent on them is a travesty. And I am skeptical that the people who win medals win them by talent and determination alone.

Would it be so very bad if sports stopped being professional, and sportspeople were forced to see themselves as ordinary people with a particular interest that is not more noble and not more worthy of support than others?

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

I melted

Watch out for 1:15. I feel a degree less cynical today because of this.