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Even in a little thing

11th February, 2016. 10:41 am.

A friend has died. Another friend, I must say, for there have been too many deaths this year. Today I want to remember Salmah, though, for today i realised that we'll never have that meet-up we planned.

Some friends don't need to be in my life everyday. I keep in touch with them and whenever we catch up, there is no feeling of time lapse. The problem with this is that I assume that I will get my trip or she'll get her trip and that we'll have that conversation. Salmah will make me her amazing noodles and I'll teach her another cake recipe. She won't be wearing jeans anymore, because the last picture of her I saw she was very elegant and dignified, but I will always think of her in jeans, for she wore them with aplomb and argued with anyone who told her that Muslim women had to be more modest. She would explain the differences in different parts of the Muslim world to them and she would explain where she came from and she and I would make a unity of modern people who nevertheless maintained their religion. There were always people who'd argue with one of us and tell us what we ought to be. She's one of the friends who taught me that I didn't have to do what the idiots thought. That it's possible to be strong, independent, modern and still follow one's own customs.

There are some people whose loss echoes around the world. Salmah is one of these people. She didn't waste a second of her existence, but it was cut far too short. And we were both too patient about that meet-up. We promised it to each other thirty years ago.

Read 12 Notes -Make Notes

4th February, 2016. 11:45 pm. Teaching voice

I'm working on voice this semester with my Wednesday class. The wonderful thing about an ongoing group (this is my tenth year with them) that meets for forty weeks in a year is that it's possible to take some serious learning quite slowly.

I have intensive methods of teaching voice, that bring it out quickly and effectively, but in this instance I'm using voice as a vehicle for teaching a bunch of other skills and understanding. This means it's going to be a slow process and I'll probably use every single one of the twenty weeks of the first two terms just to get through the first stages. And, of course, voice isn't the only thing we're learning.

We're starting by examining recent influences on my students' idiolects. Actually, we started with US/English spelling of worse taht end in ise/yse/ize/etc, but they didn't know that was linked with voice - this will come together later, when they piece together their choices, in their writing.

The official step one, then, was understanding that there are regional and culture-specific languages. I used a lovely diagram that I got from a rather brilliant linguist I encountered on Twitter (If you want to find it and her, she was the IndigenousX representative until today and her tweets can be found over the last week - just look for @IndigenousX ). It explained everything from pidgin to creoles and dialects for Australia.

Prior to this diagram I used French, for that's the language I studied these things in and was thus able to explain clearly. I'm very happy now that I have a local handout - and very grateful. I got to explain a whole bunch of things about Australian English that really aren't generally known (but ought to be). And I was able to put Creole and Kriol and Aboriginal English and Aboriginal languages other than English and Creole and Kriol into a personal context that my students could understand.

From there we talked about where we learn our languages from. My students' homework is to find out what words and phases and twists of speech they use that are particular to them (from their background) rather than shared across Australia. One my my students has to watch Taggart, for he's of Scottish origin but hasn't ever stopped to analyse dialects. Others have forgotten the English of their childhood, whether it was from Fiji or Malaysia and are revisiting it, just to see if it has left legacies. We have the Melbourne/Sydney divide covered and the US/British (for one student has English as a Second Language, but was taught US English).

Next week we're going to discuss their findings and find out how their idiolect can be used consciously in their writing.

At this stage, they still don't quite believe that they have unique speech. That's going to take a while to sort. People who use language totally differently all too often assume that they don't. Or people obliterate their wider styles or cover them up with language notions their teachers have given them. I've already done a lot of stripping back with this group - they haven't been writing classroom English in their creative texts for a while. This is why I can sneak a touch of linguistics and a bit of cultural anthropology into teaching voice.

When people tell me that voice can't be taught, I wonder at what methods they use. There are so many approaches to teaching voice. This approach is what will serve this class best. They need a lot more than a writing voice that will make beautiful and unique fiction. They also need life skills. In this case the life skills are partly increased literacy and partly increased cultural literacy.

And this is how I spent yesterday morning. This term is light in teaching terms (long story - and not a cheerful one) so I'm very happy for my Wednesday class.

Read 2 Notes -Make Notes

2nd February, 2016. 5:07 pm.

Time is inside out today. I have the current Canberra virus and everything is a bit swirly. I can eat (unlike most other people with the virus) but not much and not often and I had a 24 hour break. I'm just as large after 2 days of this as I was before, so there is no benefit to me in being ill except that time passes strangely. Five minutes ago it was 11 am and 2 minutes before that was 9 am. I keep trying to remember to drink much water, so I get a water bottle and sip and then time passes and I've lost it. I now have five water bottles in various places. I'm trying to remember where they are so that I can drink them all and be delightfully hydrated.

I've done stuff today, but it slips out of my mind and gets lost in those swirls. I wrote a history Girls post on food history (because that is so much the right topic to write on when one has a gastro virus), which you can find here if you need more reading in your day. I've watched some TV. I've done some small things. I've talked to my mother. It was my mother who made me realise what I was doing with the water. How could I possibly be dehydrated when I'd started all those bottles?

So there is no news today. Except that my course on writers and worldbuilding (using all that research and all those writer interviews) has been cancelled. If anyone asks me why I'm not offering it in Canberra as a full-length course, it's because Canberra writers aren't interested. I'll need to move elsewhere, I'm afraid, if I want to teach term-long advanced writers courses. I find this sad, and that's only partly the virus speaking.

Read 5 Notes -Make Notes

30th January, 2016. 7:25 pm.

We have a very strange weather system swirling around us. It's the same one we've had for a few days, but teh storms are more severe. The good news is that I'm getting through it as well as friends who are less weather sensitive (Hairy lemons are my friend, as are warm bubble baths, stretching, regular resting and, last night and tomorrow morning, super hero TV). My right eye is loving it and dancing and making life even more interesting.

I used the weather system to read the final book by Pratchett, which I had to do but really didn't want to. And I've dealt with many, many emails. Only 20 left on my must-do-before-Monday list. Yesterday I wrote some novel. And today I wrote 1500 words that are likely never to see light of day, but that had to be written. Of the 27 things I intended to do by the end of the month (the list from 2 days ago, not the list from 1 January, which was more like 480 things) I've only got 7 to go. I won't get them all done, alas, but I'll come close, despite the weather.

Right now, though, the weather has overcome me. I really should have found a friend to spend the afternoon and evening with, but the weather has got to everyone. We should be sitting in a group, in front of a silly movie, drinking hot chocolate and making rude comments. Since I can't do that, I shall have a bubble bath. If I can get 3 more things done tonight, after the bath, that will do.

When i started this post the weather and I were tied, but right now the weather is winning the race. It really is very strange weather.

Read 10 Notes -Make Notes

30th January, 2016. 12:36 am.

The good things in my day were nice: grocery crisis averted and got to see the first two episodes of Legends of Tomorrow. The not-good things outweighed the good by a factor that was far too great, however. Over a dozen things went wrong, some bigger than others.

Par for the week, now I think about it. Thank goodness for the couple of good things each day and for time with friends every few days. It means I got through.

My weekend includes more of the same, except for Sunday morning which ought to be good.

And my tomorrow consists of finishing everything that didn't get finished yesterday and today. Yesterday and today the universe ran gross interference. Everything that went wrong took an hour to sort and make right. I could have just let things go and sulked, but right now, with so much uncertainty in my life, I thought it was better to sort things immediately. Some would have spiralled out of control if they weren't sorted. So much is sorted and I'd better get to and do some of those other things that now have really tight deadlines and hope that they, at least, will behave.

All this is vague largely because the details are not really interesting. It's the overall "Waah, my life is full of woe!" that's interesting and that's only interesting because of the huge pile-up of various stuffs.

Read 4 Notes -Make Notes

29th January, 2016. 2:09 pm.

This is one of those classic Australian years where the one season runs through the gamut of the McKellar poem. We have rain here in Canberra and terrific thunderstorms and everyone I know who is even a little weather sensitive is paying for it, bigtime. Even the friends who normally don't even notice these things are cancelling recreational activities and being miserable. We have no fires here, though: Tasmania has them. Geelong has floods. So friends and family are dealing with very different circumstances depending on where they live. And this is the Australian summer. Nothing new here.

My good news is that I've done all but 3 hours work on the book on history and fiction writers and in 2 weeks time I'll do the final bit of work (for right now things are being finalised in the UK) and then it will move to production. Every publisher has their processes and every time I learn it anew.

I get the edits for Secret Jewish Women's Business very soon, I'm told, and apparently they're not heavy. This is because I was deeply unhappy with it and asked friends for beta opinions. When the wonderful (and patient!) Milena Benini gave it a seal of approval, I decided it was down to a final edit and did that, then sent it to my publisher. This is why it only took light edits now. Thank you, everyone involved, for it's much easier for me to write a strange novel than one that almost fits within genre constraints. There were reasons for this novel to be a bit more normal, and you'll see them when you read it.

So, in three weeks, the worst of both will be done, with luck. And next week teaching begins. And I've done a bit of new writing, because Anne of Green Gables made me realise some terribly important things about how we manifest gender. Important to me - something other people know all too well. That's the thing - it's not enough to know intellectually, one has to understand. it's not at all enough that my friends are very wise: I have to start developing my own wisdom.

I do not know how the story of an abused orphan learning how to look enough like everyone else to pass in a small society helped me internalise, but it did, and I am very grateful to LM Montgomery for this. It's a bit unexpected, though. I was expecting that Joanna Russ would do what LM Montgomery did, but it was my childhood I needed to reconfigure to understand, not my teen years. In theory, reconfguring one's understanding is easier if there are books that walk one through when one is a child, but we lack enough of those books still, and even if we had a squillion of fabulous narratives about diverse children's lives, we'd have to process them internally, and there's no knowing what will trigger learning for a given individual. I've now put Anne Shirley in the novel, for this reason and for about three others.

Make Notes

28th January, 2016. 7:03 pm. A couple of thoughts on The Art of Effective Dreaming

Today is a bad day that has been redeemed by readers. Several people have this week talked publicly about The Art of Effective Dreaming. This week. Just when I assumed it had lapsed into the half-oblivion of not-quite-new books that don't give the right resonance to last.

In fact people are talking a bit about The Time of the Ghosts as well, but I didn't need reminding of Ghosts. I needed reminding of Dreaming. And besides, Ghosts < is still my new book.

The reason for the title was to hint at the book's origins. It all started with one of my favourite poems of all time and I've said this before and I'll say it again, every time I get this eye-blinking "it worked" moment. I love Prevert and I loved his extended art metaphor in his poem about painting a picture of a bird and I wanted to make an extended novel metaphor of his extended art metaphor and I wanted it to be real enough so that people saw the character and followed her dreams and felt her realities as I depicted them.

Simon Brown saw the folktale side of it. Kyla Ward saw other things. Both of them were right. This is the advantage of writing an extended metaphor. All the other components one puts into a novel fall into the framework very naturally. I put the fairytale and I put the horror and I put the folkish and I put the reality and I put many other things in that novel, all on purpose, for that extended framework was amazingly strong. (These aren't the readers who were talking about it today - their thoughts are earlier.)

It helped that it wasn't just any metaphor. I used a Sleeping Beauty one for Ms Cellophane, and that held some, but not as much and not with as great flexibility of interpretation. Prevert's art metaphor was perfect as it stood and had such wonderful emotional resonance that even though I was not very experienced way back then (because of the whole cursed novel affair, it was written fifteen years ago and published last year, which most of you know) it still worked as a novel.

I need to find another brilliant extended metaphor and try this again, now that I have more writing skills and can do a better job. In fact, ti's what I need for my 17th century novel. It won't be as easy to find the right metaphor without Prevert, though. That poem is exquisite.

I'm open to suggestions. Not of books. Of metaphors as good as Prevert's that are crying for interpretation and expression.

Make Notes

27th January, 2016. 12:37 pm. fandom and friends and inclusion

Right now, a lot of people are talking about inclusion/exclusion at SF cons. This is an important conversation and it needs to be had.

We tend to be very aware when we're the people who are excluded. My first convention was appalling and if it hadn't been for Maxine McArthur, I probably would not have made it to my second and discovered how great they can be. Maxine saw me waiting for something, by myself and rather uncomfortable, and she stopped to chat. She had no idea who I was. She showed me she listened and cared, even though we'd never met before. I didn't feel less embarrassed about my first con (I suspect I never shall, for it was awkward) but I was willing to try again, and I've never looked back.

One thing I learned from Maxine is to make new friends at cons. Some of these friends will be friends-for-cons and some will be friends outside. All this is obvious. If I haven't made new friends at a convention then it's either the wrong convention for me (and I need to find out why) or I've been sticking with a single group the whole time. I was trying to explain this to Aussie friends at FantasyCon. It apparently looked as if I was ignoring most of my Australian friends, except for the time I joined them for dessert and for the afternoon I spent with Glenda - but most of the Australians live near me and are welcome to come over and be fed, or we can do fun activities together - it's a choice thing. If we haven't seen each other in a while, we really should remedy it locally and not on the other side of the world. I don't have the same choice to see any of the rather wonderful new friends I met at FantasyCon, because you all live in the UK. You, too, may drop over and be fed, of course, but it's not so easy as someone who lives locally. (Glenda, for the record, lives 3700 kms away, so she was a special case in York.)

Right now there are groups of fans in various places talking about this, following the conversation begun by Kameron Hurley. In one of the various locations this chat has been happening, there was an odd phenomenon. Fans who have a record of excluding others were complaining about being excluded. They'd been excluded themselves (which was bad) and have friends now, and so are fine (which is good). Their friends have unintentionally formed an exclusive clique. Sometimes cliques are important - they're small groups of friends who need each other and have a better convention because they hang out together.

I have other issues with cliques, for the prevalence of cliques in Australian fandom really explains a lot about our SF scene. Work out who knows whom and how well and you have explanations for many, many things. One issue I don't have is groups of friends meeting each other and being safe and happy and unintentionally excluding others. I especially don't have a problem because the first such clique I discovered in fandom were ensuring their physical safety by dining together.

If a group of friends is closed for safety or because they really aren't the sort of people who get happiness from new friends, I don't have an issue. It's a problem for the concom if there are too many of these groups, which is a different matter, though not unrelated, for it means the whole convention is closed to anyone not part of the regular mob. My concern is when a closed group claims to be open. In modelling closed behaviour but claiming to be modelling open, they're actually making the excluded more aware of the exclusion.

There is nothing wrong with friends hanging out with friends. It's nicer if they can be inclusive, but not all groups can, for a good many reasons. Those of us who like meeting new people are in a position of great advantage in this respect. However, groups that exclude because they haven't thought to include or because they haven't checked their body language are a different matter. I've met them too often. I want to be sarcastic in their presence.

For me, the wonder of SF conventions is their tremendous mix of people. This means we are always going to have small groups who need their space. The trick is to make sure that this space doesn't define the convention. One thing that SF fans are notable for is that we are varied in our personalities and our needs : it's about all of us, not about the select few.

So I fully agree that, yes, we should be inclusive at cons. One of the great joys of cons is meeting awesome people, and the shy people lingering on the fringe are (in my experience) such people. And there are places for small closed groups. What there isn't a place for is jumping on the bandwagon for one group and assuming that we're all comfortable with the same behaviour. The very richness and diversity of fandom means that we need to know ourselves and what we do, and not jump on every behavioral bandwagon.

Also, please remember that I am (despite appearances) somewhat shy. I love to talk to new people at cons, though (it's one of the reasons I go), so send them my way. If you know a con newbie and you know I'll be at a con, say "Gillian - chat with her." I may not be at the bar, for people don't tend to open up circles for me in Australia and I got tired of the whole song and dance, but not all cons revolve around bars. Suggest your friend collar me as I come out of a panel and ask if I'm free for coffee. If they will enjoy stirring, suggest they look at me accusingly and say "I was told you like to meet interesting people. I'm fabulously fascinating."

I'll be at Natcon in Brisbane in March - I am looking forward to all my old friends and all my friends-to-be and in making random acquaintances, too.

PS I fixed some typos. I blame the weather for the typos, just as I do for today's aches and pains. I do not blame the weather for me have 45 index entries to go.

Read 22 Notes -Make Notes

26th January, 2016. 12:59 pm.

It's Australia Day or Survival Day or the Day of Many Names and Much Guilt. I was going to go the National Museum and spend a few hours considering all this, but my friends are busy, the weather is unreliable, the buses are on a Sunday timetable, so I'm pretty much stuck at home. I'm in a lot less pain than during this last week, but it's not little enough to tempt fate by walking to the more-distant bus stop (the one with more regular buses) when it may rain on me later. I used not be worried about these things, because I used to not have to deal with these things. I used to be someone who walked five miles and danced for three hours, all in a day's activity. Life changes.

One thing I'm supremely glad about is that the back pain doesn't affect my teaching or my writing. The ever-incoming thunderstorms mean that proofreading is slow, but I'm almost finished that, in plenty of time. I just have to get the document containing my changes into the correct format for my publisher Normally I do this before I begin, but in this case the particular publisher sent me three different documents containing separated pieces of advice and there's one I didn't realise contained the critical instructions until too late.

Since I need cheering up because of some of last week (and because I really, really wanted to get to the Museum between 10 and 2 - there are interesting things happening) I decided to do a tally of what I've done so far in 2016. There's a reason for this tally. A group of local writers have (unintentionally - mainly by neglect) cause me to feel incompetent. I've decided life's too short to feel incompetent if one is not actually incompetent.

By this you know that, despite seeing friends over my long weekend, I'm very grumpy. Someone stomped on me and I do not like it.

So.. the question of my competence...

I put my list of things to do in January up early (I write my monthly plans on big paper and it goes on the back of my door), because it was going to be a big month. I've got through all the 17th century primary sources except for five (hundreds of documents, done - yay!) and I've worked through the start (first 30) of my secondary sources. My feel for the 17th century is coming along apace. I've done all but 2 days of the admin, which includes applying for the very few jobs that are out there. I want full-time employment so very much - this is one of several reasons I'm grumpy. Most people didn't follow up on my admin stuff, even though I did it all in time and to form. I've chased all these down now, and know what's happening, more or less. The worst of these were some teaching things and a job I was interviewed for last year. I finally found out about the latter (I missed it, but not through anything I did - they had several perfect candidates) and I now have extra paperwork to do for the former, because of time slippage. That will be done this week. Day after tomorrow is my admin day, when I catch up on all these things.

I've almost done with the proofreading for the monograph, and I've got my complete list of key words for the index. This means three very slow days while I complete all this. The book will be done by the end of the week. And, all going well, the edits for my next novel will also be done by then, or by the end of the first week of term if they go slightly less well.

I've written an article or three, started drafting a fourth and fifth, and done the edits for three more. One of these is for a journal I've wanted to appear in for years, so I'm very happy about that one.

I've read about a dozen books for fun and sorted out that most children's and YA fiction in Australia that has Jewish protagonists is either Shoah-related or about ultra-Orthodox Jews (this hunt was inspired by a question on FB by fjm). According to my calculations, work with semi-realistic Jewish characters is thin on the ground and work that contains Jews who come from a more normative background is less than 10% of that. If anyone wanted to publish a YA book with a Jewish teen who goes to a state school, keeps (mostly) kosher and doesn't want a closeted or gated future I think I would be willing to write one. Secret Jewish Women's Business is coming out soon (soon! it's the novel currently being edited by its editor, and then I get to review those edits) and it helped get me the understanding of how a book like this can be written. And... I think I'd make it fantasy. And I would have to consult with N, because she's at school right now and could update me on the nature of school right now and on being a minority at school right now. (I know a bunch of teachers, but they would give entirely the wrong viewpoint. Also, one of the most "I am good with minorities" bigots I know is a teacher, oddly enough. I hate to think of what messages they deliver in class.) And by this you know that the limited range of Australian books with Jewish characters really worries me, especially in this difficult decade.

I've done other stuff, but I can't remember! This would be because I keep dwelling on being 10,000 words behind on the novel that's not contracted, that I didn't intend to write... and that for months I've been ready for a writing retreat with other writers (even a simple day of one) but there is none. I'm not alone, but my writing is. That would be one major reason why I feel incompetent. This will improve when teaching starts, for I'll get to see my students every week. I'm a family person who (by happenstance) has ended up living alone. It always shows at this time of year.

I still don't know if I'm competent. But I've read more books in a month than I read in a bad year, and I've written many words and edited and proofed many more words. I'm very efficient, at the least.

Read 17 Notes -Make Notes

24th January, 2016. 6:46 pm. Childhood books

I've just had a beautifully long conversation with my mother. We talked through a whole shelf of books from my childhood. It helped me discover some critical things about myself.

1. I read Little Golden Books at the same time as Thomas Hardy, because I read the same books as all the children I babysat and when I was twelve, two of them were six. In fact, I read books for small children quite happily up until age 16 (when they mysteriously disappeared from my life for a time) which means, one summer, I read the complete works of Shakespeare (which was before I discovered Chaucer, so I must've been between 15 and 16) alongside Winnie the Pooh, Peter Rabbit, and a child's version of Robin Hood. This explains why I still read books for how well they're written, rather than whether they're written for someone my age. This thoroughly explains the joy I get from YA fantasy.

2. Thanks to Dad's addiction to buying boxes of random books at auctions, I read a surprising number of 19th century children's books before I was 12. And kept reading them afterwards, of course. This is what led me to the Curdie books which is what led me to William Morris and others.

3. My parents never said "You can't read this." This meant I read some astonishing works quite young (and was one of the kids who totally avoided drugs because of "Go Ask Alice", which I read when it first came out, which means I was about 10). Some of the books I disliked remain with me in memory, but my library does not hold them. A friend read period soft porn, for instance, and I read the novels to keep her company (I read everything I could get hold of, so I read a LOT of books to keep friends company) and the history was so bad that teenage Gillian never chased the books for herself when the friend moved to other books.

4. My mother still has the first Abbey book I ever read (Maid of the Abbey) but never had the first Chalet Girl books I read, for the L__s had those and I read them when we visited. I suspect the L__s got rid of them when they made aliyah. I'll ask one day, for one of the daughters (childhood playfriend) has returned, as one does. (And this is the sort of thing I've never seen in Australian fiction!)

5. My mother found the third book I ever owned outright, for myself (and didn't inherit as a schoolbook from a sister). It was called "Lucky Dip." It will be on my shelves when I next receive a box of things from Mum. So will enough other books so that I can start my work on cultural assumptions by finding out which of the books I read most often as a child gave me what kind of influence. It's really handy coming from a family that was so very stable that those books were mostly kept. And by this you know that I'm going to be examining some rather interesting books. I might blog them, eventually, for they say some unexpected things about my background and about Australia in the 1960s.

Five things are enough. My next challenge will be dinner. Then I get to do more on my next deadline! What happened today was that all the rest of my deadlines lined up in a nice row (thank you, editors!) and, if I keep my head down and work hard, I should be through the worst of things before teaching begins.

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