Whoops, a blog entry I forgot to post–Home again home again jiggerty jig.

March 27, 2011

I’ve made it home, via Chiang Mai and Luang Prabang. Goodness, Luang Prabang is magical. I’d not been to Laos before, and only went to Luang Prabang because it sounded peaceful… I thought it would be a good place to spend a quiet last week alone with Ruby before she went on to Vietnam and Cambodia and I went back to Sydney. You arrive on a two-aisle propeller plane. There are no newsagents in the city, and no magazines (although Le Monde & the Bangkok Times were delivered to the hotel). There are no billboards, and not really any signage. It took me a few days to work out why my eyes felt so rested. It was the second UNESCO-listed city I’d been to, the first was Riga in Latvia, and I like the stopped-in-time feeling that they both have.

One morning I got up early to see the monks proceeding through the streets to collect alms. The city was silent, because nobody talks & the monks have bare feet. But there was a rooster crowing. Alms-givers sit on stools with a bowl of rice, and give each monk a handful as he passes, which goes into a wooden container that hangs around his neck. I stayed a respectful distance from the ritual, but a couple of tourists with big cameras stepped out in front of the procession, flashing away… it was unseemly. The monks were walking surprisingly quickly, efficiently collecting their rice almost without pause. The architecture is a mix of temples and French colonial.

We visited an elephant rescue centre and went with them into the water!!! It was breathtaking to look right into an elephant’s eye and see that it had no feelings for humans whatsoever. Their mouths are surprisingly soft and pink, their trunks mobile and hugely sensitive.

My dog Sailor is FAT. She’s been beautifully looked after by a dear friend while I’ve been away, and she’s very happy… but she’s been stealing another dog’s food I think (sorry Waffle!). She is a huge guts and like all pugs has no idea when to stop eating. Anyway, she is on a diet now and two long walks a day… I’m feeling very mean and she’s conked out beside me, snoring with her eyes open, as I type this.

My friend Anna’s dear black labrador Harry had to be put down. Anna came over one night this week and we toasted that fine gentle beast & talked about what a privilege it had been to have him in our lives.

While I’m on the subject of animals, I highly recommend Jenny Diski’s What I Don’t Know About Animals. I liked her  anti-anthropomorphic attitude although I was a little cross with her while reading the sections about why she’s not a vegetarian and why the world becoming vegetarian is not feasible… she trotted out lame old arguments like “What would happen to all the farmed animals? Would there be a kind of genocide, and how could we justify them becoming extinct?” Well Jenny, it wouldn’t work like that (I wanted to say)–we would gradually stop breeding them, and the last ones would probably be put in zoos (although why continue a breed of chickens, for example, that have been modified so their breasts are so heavy they can barely stand?). Farmed hens and pigs and cows would not be ‘set free’ to fail to fend for themselves in the wild.

More animals–the garden is hugely overgrown and filled with many lovely spiders. They have webs everywhere and, guess what, you know what I haven’t seen or heard since being home? A fly!!! Thank you, spiders. I bought eight neon tetras today to eat mosquito larvae. If only there was a small critter like these cleaner fish that I could put on Sailor so it could eat her fleas.

Highly Recommended: I’ve been reading this blog, http://me-and-motherhood.blogspot.com/ Square Pegs, Round Holes, a beautifully written ongoing account of mothering two high-needs children, one with autism.

Stars on the Ceiling

January 1, 2011

I don’t have any new year’s resolutions. At the risk of sounding smug, I feel like my life is just about how I want it to be. So this year I’m merely resolving to do more of the same and to retain my equilibrium. 2011 will be, I hope, the year I am declared cured of cancer. The magic five year post-diagnosis mark will pass in May, as long as my mammograms etc are all clear then. And if they’re not clear, well, I don’t know really… but I think if I got cancer again I might cope a little better with than I did last time. I wouldn’t say I’m comfortable with my mortality now but it’s like a shadow that’s always with me, and I’m used to it. I said in an earlier blog, I think, that my suspension of disbelief in terms of living had disappeared. Cancer made the sets collapse & the lights come on & the masks disintegrate—that was devastating for the first few years. But now I seem to have built up something else in their place—I’m still acutely aware that this is all theatre, but somehow I’ve become gradually able to bear it, even to enjoy & treasure it.

My six months this year in London were pretty wonderful. I wondered, five years ago, whether I’d see Griff grow up. Now I can actually imagine myself at his 21st birthday. He probably won’t remember much of the time Richard and I spent with him when he was four, but I will always recall him storming into our bedroom in the mornings, asking if we were awake yet, having a glass of water from the tap at our basin, winding up the blind and pronouncing ‘Well, this is a lovely day, that’s what I call it’, then saying ‘Do you have any precious jewels for me look after Mewedif?’ I’d get up and give him a necklace or a ring to look after, and he always did an excellent job of making sure it didn’t get lost. Here’s the boy sitting at our local, the Princess of Wales at Lea Bridge.

Griff and his puppy, Spiderman-Rose.

Work-wise I got a lot done on sabbatical: two chapters and two journal articles, a book proposal, and yes, the ubiquitous novel that everyone starts when away from the day-to-day. Mine is a gothicky ghost story set in a McMansion… I’d like to finish it so will keep writing a little every day, and if you’re one of my writerly friends I might ask you to comment on it for me one day.

Julia and Griff doing pottery at Hackney City Farm.

Richard and Helen outside the Red Lion in Padstow.

My best friend Julia, one of Griff’s mums, said to me on the day I left London ‘Thanks for adding value to my life’. I think what she meant was thanks for introducing her to The Guardian Fashion Statement, Lulu bathers, and buying her silk underwear from Paris. Julia is the best listener, gives the best advice, is the most accepting and perfect friend I could ask for (I hear her wife Helen guffawing in the background as I write this but it’s true). I even came to look forward to Julia’s evening greetings when I got home from the library—which were either ‘I’ve made soup for dinner, it’s really horrible’ or ‘I’ve got a cake in the oven, I’m hoping this one will be ok.’ Julia is nothing if not perseverant.

French Onion soup at Le Potager du Marais, vego in Paris.

Richard in his element.

Ridiculously romantic.

I said to Richard when we were visiting Paris that I could die happily now. I hadn’t been to that city for twenty years. It rained lightly a lot of the time we were there, so buildings and streets were a pale shade of grey. It seemed very peaceful after London and we spent a lot of time just wandering. I bought a pair of Robert Clergerie shoes that I’ve been lusting after (and paid full price, ouch), and then saw, in a little suburban shop window late one night, another pair, slightly different, reduced from 250 euros to 40 euros. I rushed back in the morning and snaffled them up. The Branly Museum was my highlight in Paris—Australian Aboriginal art in its bark-ochres and its more modern glorious vivid acrylics displayed with reverence, spotlit in glossy black rooms. I specifically went to the Branly to see the ceiling of stars that Gulumbu Yunupingu painted, but it turned out they were in the office block of the museum & we could only see them from the street. Nice for the workers. One night I had a ‘Paris exemption’ from my vegetarianism and ate some wild duck. Sadly, it wasn’t hugely enjoyable—although it was cooked perfectly of course—it seems my palate has changed and meat isn’t as luscious as it used to be.

Koh Tao. Our hut is just behind the swings.

I missed Ruby terribly while I was away. I write this from Thailand, the island of Tao, where I’ve been with her since just before Christmas (I can highly recommend Christmas here—nothing happens). She looked goddess-like, hair down to her waist, skin and eyes glowing, when I first saw her. There’s nothing so gratifying as to have your breath taken away by your own offspring! We are heading to Chiang Mai in a couple of days, then Richard goes home and Ruby and I have a week in Laos before I return to work and she goes on to visit Vietnam and Cambodia with friends.

That’s all for now. A joyful 2011 to you, my dear friends and readers, Meredith.

Too much fun

November 7, 2010

My loves,

I have been having too much fun to write the blog. It’s like when I was about 20, and I had this gorgeous new boyfriend. We were together about six months. Looking back at my diaries from that time all I’ve recorded are some song lyrics, big scrawls with his name, my name, our names combined, and things like ‘happy happy happy’ and ‘love love love’. Then of course it all went wrong and I got very eloquent all of a sudden with a spray can on the wall of his house… but that’s another story.

I HAVE actually been writing, but it’s that boring academic stuff. I finished a big piece (ON TIME!) yesterday and sent it off so am now sitting up in bed in glorious Hackney getting reacquainted with my online life (facebook doesn’t count, it’s just like breathing). I have a perfect mug of tea made by Richard. This morning I’ve watched an old ‘Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer’ cartoon with Griff, who was covered in pink sparkles from the Lush bubblie that I bought him (Julia didn’t seem too happy about him throwing it in the bath while she was in there… imagine not wanting to be covered in pink glitter! — btw read Julia’s wet-your pants funny blog at http://bigyellowdoor.blogspot.com/). This morning I’ve also been quite distressed with a hideous story Helen told me about someone who came into Emergency last night. It was a case of bariatric surgery gone horribly wrong… one of those bits of information you need to let settle before you can really do anything with it… anyway, the house buddies have now all gone off walking the dog so I’m settled in…

Right, so, we went to Berlin. Vunderbar.

Bit of the old wall.

There are lots of squats in Berlin.

Typical Berlin cafe.

Me and y at the Brandenberg Gate.

While in Berlin I helped my friend y with a performance. It was called ‘Watching Nail Polish Dry’. We performed it at Basso.

I sat for about five minutes, reading, my tools at the ready.

y walked in, sat down, and I began to paint her nails.

I did two coats on each hand.

Because the fake nails were really long, the painting took quite a long time.

y was very patient and sat up nice and straight.

Finally it was done.

Then y sat in this position for about twenty minutes while her nails dried.

The performance was a huge success — y had many compliments afterwards — people found it funny and meditative. Richard had made two huge vegan soups and we shared them with the audience, along with champagne.

Now, all that frippery aside, you have probably noticed the gorgeous cardigan I’m wearing in the photos. Yes it is Christian Lacroix. I got it for 15 euros in a vintage shop in Berlin. The woman running the shop said that y and I were the politest customers she’d had in a long time, and y told her ‘It’s because we’re Australian.’

Other Berlin highlights:

Bondi-style muesli, yay!

This Warhol at the Hamburger Bahnhof — I use this image in one of my Visual Literacy classes, but had totally forgotten how BIG it is!  I got Richard to take this pic of me next to it so I can show my students its scale.

Perhaps the best thing about the four days in Berlin was seeing Philipp Lachenmann’s work. The picture above is a still from his ‘SHU’ video that is just extraordinary. It’s still ‘under construction’ on his website but I REALLY encourage you to check back now and again to see it. SHU stands for Secure Housing Unit — this is a prison — but the piece looks like something from a dark Disneyland. It haunted me for ages and I am actually going to go back to Berlin in a couple of weeks to see it again.

Okay, that’s it for this morning… I’ve also been on little trips to Leeds (for work), and on wee family holidays to Padstow and Wales… will write about them soon…

Love youz all.

Is that why you’re single?

September 15, 2010

It has been more than a month since I last blogged.

We had a family holiday in Latvia. In Riga we got acquainted with the Latvian institution of the lido — local parks have council-funded jumping castles, little electric cars, trampolines, and beer gardens! So Griff was in heaven, and so were we. Riga is a Unesco-listed medieval town with flourishes of art nouveau — I loved it. After a lot of looking around for a church that would let me actually do something churchy rather than touristy, I managed to light a candle for Dzintars at Svetas Marijas Magdalenas, a beautiful little place dating from the 1200s and now locked in by newer buildings. I sat on a pew and had a nice chat to my old friend. There are other dead loved ones I’d like to talk to sometime soon, in particular my great aunts Edna and Aggie.

After a few days in Riga we went to Jurmala, a seaside resort, where the best thing for me was watching Richard and Griff spending hours tumbling and diving in the pool. Julia, Helen and I did spa stuff: steam rooms scented with peppermint, saunas of 60, 80 and 110 degrees, then ice-saunas… and sloughing off years worth of old skin in the salt room. Evenings we spent playing air hockey and getting whiplash on the dodgem cars, and eating the rather terrible Latvian cuisine (for the vegetarian, lucky me, it was mostly pickled garlic, pickled cabbage, pickled carrots). The fashion in Jurmala was extraordinary. Most women looked like this.

Richard and I went to Moscow for a few days. Underneath Moscow there are mosaic-covered golden metro stations, grand as concert halls, and trains every minute or so. Above ground there are gridlocks of black 4WD BMWs, each carrying one very rich driver (Moscow has more billionaires per capita than anywhere else in the world). There’s a McDonalds at Red Square that people queue for. The photo below pretty much captures what Moscow looks like once you’re out of the centre.

In high school and during my first year at Melbourne University I learned Russian, and I was surprised by how much I could remember… although it still wasn’t enough to stop us getting lost several times. A dear friend from my undergraduate years, James Jenkin, became a Russian linguistics expert and went on to write the Lonely Planet Russian Phrasebook. I bought it for the trip and it was most useful, although I was sad I didn’t get the opportunity to use phrases from his ‘sex’ section such as ‘pabihstryeey!’ (faster!), ‘nichivo ya sam zdyelayu’ (don’t worry, I’ll do it myself) and ‘i vot pachimu tih nye zamuzhihm da’ (is that why you’re single?).

Anyway, enough of that high-brow stuff. I’ve had a couple of exciting fashion moments in the last month. In Riga I found these Sigmund Freud earrings.

In Moscow, Richard and I took a trip to somewhere the guidebook described as the ‘only avant-garde fashion shop in the city’. It took us a while to find it, in a grimy industrial area slowly being colonised by artists and artistes. Then, lo, the shop, Cara&Co, was filled with Australian labels! It was such a surprise to find Metalicus, Akira, Ksubi and Dinosaur Designs in Moscow…  it turns out the store is owned by an Australian and has been ranked one of the ten best boutiques in the world. I didn’t buy anything but convinced the husband to purchase a zippered hoodie by gene par Yukio Mishiba, who says that his clothes ‘take on the shades of the city: the color of dusty asphalt, slushy snow, the polluted night sky’. And yes, that description does make the murky grey-green-beige top seem quite beautiful.

Back in London, I wandered out of the British Library one sunny lunchtime, down Evershalt Rd towards Camden. I spotted a delicate-looking silk top wafting in the window of the YMCA op shop… inside I had to wait for a man to stop pawing it, then I pounced — hoorah, it was Prada, and beautiful, and a perfect fit, hoorah. It’s the colour of, oh, a Barbie doll that’s been left out in the rain, I suppose.

In another fashion high/low I saw a woman on the street wearing a pair of these shoes and became obsessed.

Some searching on the web using words like leopard, cheetah, wedges and slutty soon identified the shoes, waiting for purchase in China. About 25 quid and a week later they arrived on the front doorstep. They’re completely vegan — made of 100% plastic, cardboard and polystyrene — that could be a good thing or a bad thing.  They’re remarkably comfortable as they weigh hardly anything. I wore them out last week with Julia and Sonja, to a talk at the Whitechapel Gallery and then a curry dinner.

In other news, my fabulous research team (five of us) has been funded by the ESRC to look at cosmetic surgery tourism in Europe and Southeast Asia, with the very grand sum of ₤240,000 to be spent over two years. So there will be more time for me in cosmetic surgery clinics in Thailand. I know it seems a strange place to have fun, but I really do love my research!

Richard and I are off to Berlin on the weekend to play with Yiorgios, then spending the following week in Leeds while I have meetings with my co-researchers…

Random and Various

July 28, 2010

LOVELIES

My divine second daughter Georgina turned 21 on Sunday. Here she is at her party at The Rose in Chippendale (Sydney) holding my first daughter’s hand. Ruby made a beautiful speech (she read it over the phone to me) and Georgie had a lovely time. Richard and I gave her a bracelet made by the multi-talented blogger/cook/designer Luxirare in New York. I was really sad not to be there — the party (hosted by Georgina’s real parents & my dear friends) sounded wonderful… and didn’t end until seven in the morning.

I told Ruby recently that I’d never stayed up all night. She looked surprised, then put her arm around me and said kindly “Oh, Mummy”.

SUPER HEROES

Worm Man

Here is a recipe for making a four year old boy very happy: watch some old Spiderman, Superman and Wonder Woman clips on youtube with him. Then make him his own Super Hero costume using designer tights, a black tee shirt, a pillowcase for a cape and a bra-washing-bag for a mask.  Name him “Worm Man”. He will keep this outfit on for nearly 72 hours, wearing it to nursery and in bed. He won’t answer to anything but Worm Man. His parents might curse you but you will have a fan for life.

LEAVING KING LEAR

I went to see King Lear but had to leave half way through. I’d travelled to Stratford Upon Avon by local bus from a village called Kenilworth where I was staying because I had a workshop at the University of Warwick.  Sitting in the bus as it hurtled along the hedge-lined country roads (like in a movie!), I looked at the timetable and realised that all the buses stopped at 6pm. Oh goodness. There was no way to get back to my little B&B that night. Did I want to pay 100 quid for a mini cab? If I could even get a driver to take me that distance? So somewhat sacreligiously I left at interval, happy to have seen Lear as a fool sinking into dementia, Goneril and Regan beautifully nuanced (I even understood why they treated him so). Even then, it took me two hours to get back to the B&B on several buses but I enjoyed watching deer, cows, sheep, horses and white swans out the windows.

Changing routes at Leamington I met a man wearing thick glasses and a green playboy windcheater: “I’ve spent seven hours in the hospital today, I’ve broken my thumb from slipping on some dog poo, it was a little dog, a bit bigger than a rabbit. Its owner didn’t pick up the poo but I think he’s been caught on CCTV and will be fined 1000 pounds. A few years ago I broke my ankle by falling in a pothole. People say rude things to me on the street.”

Then I met a young woman in baggy jeans: “Do you have a phone with internet that I can use? It’s to call someone special, someone important… the truth is he’s my ex, I still love him, I live in Ireland now, tonight’s the only night I can see him, and if he came and I wasn’t here he’ll never talk to me again… his parents hated me from the start, actually they broke us up. I know he probably really doesn’t care about me but that’s hard to believe, and I’m only young.”

TROUSERS ROLLED

I went to one of the Josephine Hart poetry hours. It was TS Eliot and one of the readers was Ian McDiarmid. I was really interested to see what Hart looks like. I admire the clarity and economy of her books although they always leave me a little disturbed. She has dyed black hair in a strange sort of style — sort of a helmety bun on top but with a little bob-style at the back. Quite hairsprayed. I’ve never seen a hairstyle quite like it. She is small and wore black, including very high shoes, and looked a little gothic.

CANDLES IN THE WIND

Richard arrives on Sunday, and then we’re all going to Latvia…  then Richard and I will have a few days in Moscow before coming back to London. In Latvia we’re staying at a resort called “Blackhead”.

I want to go into a church and light a candle for my friend Dzintars (he was Latvian and his name means amber) who died when he was way too young.

London calling to the faraway towns

July 8, 2010

There are bumblebees in this little Hackney garden. They’re big as the tip of my thumb, and don’t make hives but colonise old rabbit holes. Enormous red roses bloom in the front yard — Julia cut off about fifteen of them and there are more coming now. They smell like Turkish Delight.

A Hackney Rose

My first couple of weeks in London have been like a dream. The boy says things like “Oh, I didn’t see that you had a bag Meredith! It’s a good bag, with wheels. I love bags.” And “I’m a little bit French… yes, I’m French when I’m feeling shy.” And “please go away Meredith, I need some private time for watching television.” And of course his beautiful mothers are an added bonus (have a look at Julia’s new blog, it’s fabulous).

The boy who is sometimes a little bit French

I’ve found an Iyengar yoga school in Bethnal Green that I think will suit me very well because the teacher is a strict yoga-nazi. I was suitably disabled for three days after the first class — couldn’t even cross my legs. My weekdays are spent at the British Library, in one of the two Humanities reading rooms. They’re lovely and peaceful, with lamps and computer connections and a good mix of older academics with fungal infections in their toenails and earnest younger scholars with fresh tattoos.

Weekends have been dreamy: I went for a picnic on Primrose Hill in Regents Park and watched the  Pixie Geldof types frolicking (my friend called them “posh tottie”). Sam Taylor-Wood’s boyfriend walked past with a black labrador, holding a bag of poo. The Summer here is joyous — because it is so short-lived I suppose. The parks are full of white bodies turning pink as they soak up the vitamin D. Cyclists are everywhere, but unlike their Australian counterparts they ride old-fashioned, high-sitting bikes with wicker baskets on the front, never wear lycra and don’t bother with helmets.

I’m going to hear Jeanette Winterson talk tomorrow night about the 25 year anniversary of Oranges are Not the Only Fruit (can it really be that long?)… coincidentally I had coffee — and an extraordinary orange and thyme chocolate — at Verde’s on Sunday.

We are all off for a holiday in Latvia when Richard arrives, and a trip to Moscow is being planned… I feel drugged with goodlife and have to remind myself not to laugh out loud because I sound like a maniac and it scares people.

Handbag

April 24, 2010

Nicole Ritchie with an enormous Balenciaga bag

From famous Hollywood handbag owners like Nicole Ritchie or Grace Kelly to the homeless bag lady, who has no name and no place, bags have power. I suggest that this power lies in their holding capacities—capacities that are both literal and symbolic.

Grace Kelly had a Hermes bag named after her.

Homeless woman in Sydney

Holding powers are dimensions of technology and material culture not yet well examined. I’m thinking about them using Zoë Sofoulis’ theory of Containment. Building on the work of Mumford & Heidegger, Sofoulis argues that containment defines both the tool or object and its function. It is about space and what space holds. She reminds us that unlike hand-tools or machines that require power to work, basic containers can function unaided, as stand-alone holding devices or conduits. As such they readily retreat to the background of our awareness, but, crucially, they are the technologies that precede all others.

Today I’m going to use Container Theory to talk about handbags, suggesting that handbags are political, and play a crucial part in helping to structure, express & define certain kinds of femininity.

The ‘Iceman’, a neolithic traveler at least 5000 years old, found in the Austrian Alps in 1991, wore a leather beltpouch that held his flints, needles and other small tools.  Men and women have probably always carried small leather sacks or cloth purses for all sorts of purposes, from seed distribution to safekeeping of relics or talismans. But the handbag as we know it is a distinctly 20th Century object. The ‘age of handbags’ began in the early 1900s and is closely connected to women beginning to move more freely within the public sphere and thus to the rise of capitalism and modernity. Flaneuses (what is the plural?), window shoppers, strollers through shopping arcades, needed not only something in which to carry their money but also something to carry the items necessary to present a correct public face. So right from the start handbags were designed to carry lipsticks and mirrored compacts as well as money and keys (and in my planned larger version of this paper I talk about makeup inside the handbag too).

The handbag really came to the fore as a fashion item in the 1920s, when flappers ventured out into the social world without their mothers or male companions.  Little bags became essential. Originally an upper class necessity, the handbag quickly became a symbol of women’s independence. Griselda Pollock reminds us that ‘going out in public and the idea of disgrace were closely allied’ (Vision and Difference , 1988 p. 69). The handbag announced self-sufficiency and mobility and offered some sort of protection from potential disgrace—it symbolically allowed the new woman to be wherever she wanted, unencumbered by chaperones.

It seems that like many things that are part of the performance of femininity handbags are subject to complex and contradictory feminist responses. For example, Germaine Greer asks: ‘Why do women always carry bags, and why are those bags so often heavy? Why is it that most women will not go out of the house without bags loaded with objects of no immediate use? Is the tote bag an exterior uterus, the outward sign of the unmentionable burden?’ Some of you will have noticed the current fashion for enormous handbags—it seems that the skinnier and more toned the celebrity the bigger and floppier and more elaborate her designer tote will be.  Perhaps as she is more and more exposed in the media her bag gets bigger and bigger to show that she retains some secrets.  And there is something taboo about the inside of someone’s bag—you shouldn’t go rummaging about in there if it’s not yours—Farid Chenoune, a curator of handbags at the Museum of Decorative Arts in Paris, says that the similarity between an haute couture tote and a satchel belonging to an African witch is that both bags hold a secret of some sort: ‘what you put in your bag is very important to you. That makes a bag very personal, because in it you have a secret. A secret gives you some sort of power’.

The Iron Lady and her handbag

I suggest that one of the things the handbag does is work as a mobile and material link between private and public: it powerfully connects domestic and civil worlds—literally bringing the home into the public and the outside world into the home, often working as a vital facilitator between the two. Margaret Thatcher’s square black bag—auctioned a couple of years ago on ebay for £100,000—is an infamous symbol of powerful and conservative ‘homemaker’ femininity literally at work in the public sphere.  It is a symbol of a very specific kind of authority—one that is adamantly un-manly—Thatcher’s handbag’s role could never have been filled by a briefcase. So long as she kept that big black thing attached to her elbow she hung on to a static and respectable femininity or womanliness that allowed her to impinge on traditional masculine territories partly because it was so conservative.

The handbag can easily be seen as a sort of external womb—as a metaphor for this organ it is then about holding, storage, supply, safe passage, and transformation. Holding is neither passive nor simple. Sofoulis explains how holding is active.  Her example is a jug.  As a container, a little brown jug has two activities or capacities—to take in fluid, and to keep that fluid. But perhaps more importantly, these capacities facilitate a third activity—which is to give back: the jug’s purpose is to give back that which it has taken and held—its rationale is only fully realized once its contents gush out. In the same way, the handbag takes in and keeps the objects within it.  And its purpose is also to give back.  Unlike the jug its contents tend not to gush out, except for those embarrassing moments when we need to tip everything out in order to locate the urgently ringing phone.  Rather, handbags offer us a sporadic flow of ‘gifts’ throughout the day. And really, these are gifts to ourselves, via the bag—they might be in the form of music, reading material, nibbles, drinks, money, lotions, pens and papers… there is nothing more comforting than a well-organised handbag which generously and in a timely manner offers forth its contents in order to facilitate the running of a busy day.  In this way then, the handbag is a technology of containment that, in Foucauldian terms, practically assists in the care of the self.

What rests within the bag is private and personal, while its outside is like a billboard, advertising one’s place in the world. The handbag is a portable domestic lifeworld—a way to take the indoors outdoors, a way to reconcile private and public spheres. Handbags play key roles in the projection, performance, and protection of a ‘feminine’ mode of being.  They are containers for the self.

Progress, especially on New Years resolutions.

April 19, 2010

A find for the BLOOD book: Catherine Opie, Self Portrait, 1993

How are Meredith’s new year resolutions going? I hear you all asking. And how is her big pile of work? Dear readers let me tell you all about it.

My resolution to go dancing more often has been going well. Gurlesque at Red Rattler was a highlight.  Seeing my brother Dorian and his beautiful Laura dancing Rock n Roll last week was very gorgeous, and I’m wondering if Richard and I could do something like that (with lessons of course) without falling in a heap and squishing each other.

My resolution to dress up more in fancy dress, sparkles, OTT makeup, wigs and super-high heels is being realised to a small degree. However, I’ve just noticed that my big toes are beginning to do that pointing-inwards thing that you see on old ladies who have worn high heels all their lives, so I’m looking for lovely shoes that are flatish and I’m currently selling a library (a herd?) of size 36 high heels on ebay.

My resolution to stop having my hair dyed a dark colour is progressing nicely, thanks for asking. The hair has been blonded three times now, and I think if anyone saw me they’d describe me as blonde. I had plans for a pastel-pink block of colour at the front for my conference presentation in Canada, but my hairdresser Jennie wouldn’t let me do it. She’s so stern!  As for my intention to go grey gracefully? That can wait a few more years.

I haven’t been back to yoga, instead I took out a gym membership.  Most weeks I do Pilates and a couple of Body Pump classes, which consist of lifting weights and doing sit ups to music. It’s invigorating & I love leaving the office in the middle of the day and going down to the gym where I can watch 20 minutes of Dr Phil while I warm up on the treadmill.  Most of the class instructors are women in their 50s and 60s, and they are fabulously fit and muscular which is very inspiring.

Ah yes, dear readers, I have been true to my promise and I have been buying better undies. I even went to Neiman Marcus when I was in Beverly Hills (Los Angeles, not Sydney) in March, and got some Spanx. It was the day after the Academy Awards, and the shop assistant told me that the range was severely depleted, as all those celebutantes at the Oscars had purchased madly against the horror of panty lines & wobbly bits. Anyway, getting into my Pants of Steel is a bit of an effort — heave em up, squeeze the flesh into them — but once they’re on they actually give me better posture — and eliminate muffin top, bravo.

On the tea front: my Morning Red and Lapsong Souchong from T-2 are wonderful pick-me-ups and keep me going all day long.  I dipped a Dilmar tea bag the other day and the resultant stained water was a reminder that I should never again return to that land that lacks malty, smoky, strength-giving goodness.

Work, work, work, oh my goodness. I got the two grant applications in. The European one has had really fabulous reviews, but there’s no outcome yet. I won’t hear anything about the Australian one until August, I think.

I went to the States and Canada in March for two weeks.  I interviewed some Beverly Hills cosmetic surgeons about ‘fly-ins’. These are people at the extreme rich end of the cosmetic surgery tourist spectrum: Moscow mafioso, Tokyo oligarchs, Argentinian media barons, I kid you not. When they need a little work they only have the best, and the best is on Rodeo Drive. So in they fly for their injections or their wee ops. Sadly I couldn’t interview any of those people, but I did manage to talk to their surgeons, who are a breed unto themselves: when you shake hands with them they fix you with a look and their eyes wander, ever so casually, across the skin of your face. In my case, registering the lack of Botox, just as I register their blepheroplasties and their shiny dermabrasions.

Then I went to Portland to stay with my lovely friend Annie Grgich, and I gathered material for the next Trunk book, BLOOD (see picture above).

In Vancouver, Canada, I presented at a conference that had been built around the edited anthology I made with Cress. The conference was very unusual because it was full of undergraduates — it was challenging to have talk in ways that were meaningful to them, and when I next organise a conference I’m planning to build in undergrad participation.

I have so much material to think about and can’t wait for my sabbatical in the second half of this year, when I’ll have time to write write write. I’ve also presented two papers in the last few weeks — one about handbags and one about spending a day in a Bangkok cosmetic surgery clinic — that I’ll put up on the blog this week.

That’s all for now, but bless all your cotton socks & thanks for reading, Meredith xx

Orstraya Day and Mucus

January 26, 2010

Well, the temperature in Sydney is 29 and it’s beautifully sunny with a soft breeze. But I’m in bed! With a cold! Caught it on the plane coming home from Melbourne I think… in 24 hours my mucus has gone from clear to green to yellow to clear again… but it was worth it, going to Melbourne that is. Caught up with both of my Nannas. The 89-year-old, Ida, is currently having a holiday with one of her sons, my favourite Uncle Rod, who lives in leafy Mt Evelyn. It was so great to spend an afternoon with them, admiring Rod’s BMW motorbike, getting all the family goss from Nanna, seeing my Auntie Leonie and cousin Josh… Josh’s partner Helen was there too, she does things with bodies at the Coroner’s Office, so that was really interesting. We had a good talk about skin tissue harvesting and the shaving/planing tool you do it with, etc. Heh.

The other Nanna, 90-year-old Evelyn, went into assisted care recently. At her new home she has a largish room that overlooks a garden and a big bathroom to herself… and use of various pleasantly furnished reception/dining/lounge areas around the place. There was a group of ‘inmates’ (as Nanna calls them!) doing ‘exercises’ in one of the lounges (as far as I could discern, from walking past the open door twice, there was no actual movement going on).  I’d taken the train out there, to Sandringham, and we strolled out for lunch at a nearby cafe. Then Nanna surprised me by suggesting a walk to the nearby beach; she reached the cliff edge quite easily with her walking frame on wheels. She seemed relieved, and was even a little bit giggly, about giving up most of her possessions. Strange how they weigh us down and yet we love them so (have you seen Up in the Air yet?). She asked if I could visit her unit one more time before it’s sold, and go through the cupboards to get anything I wanted. Most of the stuff has already been sent to various relatives, including me, but I climbed on a chair to look in some high cupboards and found three gorgeous & enormous cut-glass bowls. Salads at my place will be fully classy from now on.

I stayed in Melbourne with little Griff and his beautiful mums… check him out on the phone to Richard…

Other news: I’m managing my big pile of work… I got an extension on one of the papers: the one about Orlan and Leora Farber. The UK grant application has been pretty much finished and the ARC (Australian) one is looking good. I had some very generous advice about it from a former UTS Dean of Humanities. I don’t expect to actually get either of the grants, but going through the writing/editing process is very good for me! Today I’m reading through five exegeses plans & drafts (they’re the written component, 30,000 words, of the Doctor of Creative Arts) before running a workshop for the artist/writers on Thursday. Work is wonderful.

SO my dear readers, Happy Australia Day, or Orstraya Day as we say with our funny accents, or Invasion Day as we say if we’re being politically correct, or Bogan Day if we’re being terribly grumpy. If I start to feel less snotty and coughy and wheezy then Richard and I are going out for dinner later on, probably to Greenacre to one of our Lebanese favourites, Al Aseel, which I think is quite fitting for today.

Back to school nerves

January 3, 2010

I’m up too early for a Sunday morning because I’m worrying about how much writing I have to do. I’m worrying, but I’m also excited about getting back to work. I love this time of year, when there are no students about, when half my colleagues are away and the university is calm and peaceful. Such a good time to get thinking done. Perhaps it’s best to make a list. The following might also enlighten people who ask me what I do in the ‘holidays’ (implying that academics do very little in the ‘holidays’).

1. Write ARC grant application. For those of you who might not know, academics can apply to the Australian Research Council for funds to carry out research. The grants are very competitive, with about 20% success (the sort of grant I’m applying for has only 9% success!).  If we’re lucky enough to land one of these grants, not only can we then carry out the research, but our university benefits financially and in terms of national rankings and all those sorts of important things. So getting a grant is a GOOD THING. To this end universities support us no end in our quest to win some money, providing workshops, advice sessions, mentoring, budget advice, money for preliminary studies, etc etc. In the end though, it’s a matter of a person or group of people sitting down for weeks or months on end and nutting out a research area, a methodology, a time frame, a justification (ie why is this research relevant & what good will it do?) etc, and writing about it concisely and eloquently. The format is very particular and complex, the readers are something of a mystery, and the grant-writing itself is a fine art. SO. I’m going to apply for funds to look at the cosmetic surgery tourism industry in South-East Asia. I want to focus, over three years, on Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, South Korea and The Philippines. Applications are due in March — I have a rough draft that took me about a month, and I need to work at least a couple of days a week on it from now on. Goodbye to weekends for a while.

2. I need to have a 5000 word paper written about two artists who work with cosmetic surgery & body modification by the end of January.  It’s called ‘Image, place and body in the work of Leora Farber and Orlan’. I know what I’m going to say, I just need to get it down in a decent form. That one will be fun because I get to sit and contemplate things like this and this.

3. I’ve promised a 6000 word review to a journal about three books, all to do with what I call technoculture.  Windows, screens, speed, automobiles, cyborgs, films, modernity. That sort of thing. Simple really [groans]. I’m not going to get that done by the 8 January due date, no way. Hmmmn.Will have to write to the editor and beg for an extension.

4. I need to think about what to say in in Vancouver in March at a conference that’s being built around Cosmetic Surgery: A Feminist Primer. Really looking forward to that trip as I’m going via LA for a couple of days to interview some surgeons, and in Vancouver I’ll see my lovely friend & co-editor Cressida.

5. I have another 6000 word paper due in early March. This one is called ‘Cosmetic Surgery and the Fashionable Face’. I’m going to write about Madonna’s recent de-wrinkling and about how notions of beauty have changed in line with cosmetic surgery becoming mainstream. But first, I need to have a long interview-chat with my friend Darryl Hodgkinson. This shouldn’t be too onerous.

6. I still have about 90 submissions for Trunk Volume Two: BLOOD to get through. Slowly but surely… perhaps I can manage five a day, after dinner? (I can work on 50% brain power if I’ll I’m doing is putting things in YES, NO, MAYBE boxes and writing people emails).

All that, along with PhD supervisions, rewriting two subject outlines & generally getting ready for semester to begin at the end of February.  Oh, and perhaps running a four-hour workshop in late January about creative PhDs for another university. And I need to get down to Melbourne to see my Nannas, too, because I didn’t go over Christmas. Easy really.  Remember: I love my job, it’s my dream job, I love my job. Tomorrow morning I’ll buy myself a bunch of flowers and head into the university to get started.


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