Category Archives: Academia

My book, mapped

Wordle just changed my world. This is the map of my book.

All the beginnings: a queer autobiography of the body
Becoming ink

Wordle: Becoming ink (a corporeal survey)

Writing this body, writing

Wordle: Writing this body, writing

Looking from the inside

Wordle: Looking from the inside

The body that moves…

Wordle: The body that moves the hand that writes

Writing the worst

Wordle: Writing the worst

A proliferation…

Wordle: A proliferation of metaphor

There are holes…

Wordle: There are holes, and I leak

Birthing, again

Wordle: Birthing, again

Losing something…

Wordle: Losing something you cannot see

The lost mother

Wordle: The lost mother

Meeting Cixous

Wordle: Meeting Cixous

Bibliography

Wordle: Bibliography

Saying thank you

Karina smilingTwo days ago I couldn’t resist having a coffee at 6pm because I have this thing called an aeropress and it makes the best coffee I’ve ever had and then I couldn’t sleep and then I sat up and wrote a post about Amanda Palmer and Philip Seymour Hoffman and how it feels to ask for help. It was also a post where I got vulnerable. I told you a very small portion of my past. I talked about begging on the street, and how that felt. And then I went on to ask for your support to get me to Portugal so that I can read my work at a conference there in May.

And now I am crying.

I am crying because within 24 hours of writing that post, and Amanda Palmer retweeting it, I had hit my target. And yesterday I exceeded it.

I am crying because now I have enough for travel insurance and if the pledges keep coming in the funds will cover transfers and meals as well, and pozible have featured my project, so that will probably happen.

I am crying because sixteen years ago I was a twenty something on a street corner asking for money so that I could disappear just a little bit more, and this year I will be forty, and I’m doing way more than surviving: I’m living the biggest, bravest, most amazing life I can.

So. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Amanda Palmer, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and asking without shame

It’s midnight. My children will wake up in six hours and I can’t sleep. I tried everything, but now I’ve given up. I open my computer and find a message on Facebook from a friend. I had been telling her about crowd funding to get myself to a conference in Portugal and how it felt like begging and she said you must watch Amanda Palmer talking about asking for help.

When I told her that asking for help to get to Portugal felt like begging I was not speaking in metaphors. I have been clean and sober for sixteen years. I am writing this the day after Phillip Seymour Hoffman died with a syringe in his arm, after having been clean and sober for twenty three years. I am writing this with a keen memory of standing on King Street in Newtown, begging. Sometimes it was for drugs. Sometimes it was for food. Sometimes it was for a coffee so I could sit in out of the cold and feel like I belonged to the rest of the world.

Once, it was for a light. I held an unlit cigarette in my hand and asked, and asked, and asked. People said no before any words passed my lips. They assumed it was money I wanted (and usually it was, but that night it wasn’t). I got angrier and angrier. Finally somebody stopped, and lit my cigarette without meeting my eyes, and moved on.

People rarely looked me in the eye. I know what begging feels like.

So when I won a $2,000 travel scholarship from my university, and worked out that I would need another $2,250 to actually go, I was reluctant to ask for help. I searched out other sources of funding, but there was nothing available. Eventually, I decided to set up a pozible project. Was I begging? Was it ok to ask other people to help me? Was it fair?

In the first two days there were pledges made to the value of $1,565; I have just over $600 until I reach my target. I was overwhelmed, and thrilled, but also ashamed. I had asked for help, and asking had made me vulnerable. I had offered poems and post-it notes covered in kisses from my children as rewards. Was it enough? Was this fair?

So tonight I watched. I watched and listened as Amanda Palmer in her tight black jeans and beautiful boots and painted on eyebrows held a white flower and stood on a box and talked about asking for help. And I heard her speak about crowd funding, and then she said this:

“The perfect tools aren’t going to help us if we can’t face each other, and give and receive fearlessly. But more important: to ask, without shame.”

So now, I am asking without shame. If sixty people read this, and pledge $10 each, I will be able to go to Portugal this May. And when I get there, I will read my hybrid poetry/theory/memoir, and absorb Lisbon through my skin, and write more poetry, and know that I am not on King Street anymore.

I am asking for help to do something real: to move my body through space, to find poetry wherever I land, to send hope spiraling back to the woman I was. To speak. To write. To travel. To create.

On rejection and disappointment

Ditch

Ditch (Photo credit: Ben Bunch)

I’m battered, and bruised, and in the market for a thicker skin.

I sat down this morning to write, and found that I needed to blog instead. Where I’d like to start is this: doing a PhD is not just doing a PhD. When I first started I read lots and lots of PhD advice, especially on The Thesis Whisperer, and I took it to heart. I don’t just want a publication at the end of this; I want teaching experience, and connections with peers working in similar areas, and some conferences under my belt, and a job.

In the last two years I’ve published six papers from my PhD (some of them are still in the pipes). I just finished my first semester of teaching. I’m the Faculty representative for our Faculty Higher Degrees Research Committee. I won the Faculty level Three Minute Thesis Competition last year and this year have been asked to administer and compere the event. I applied for and received funding to present at both a local and international conference, and I’ve written two thirds of a PhD. My scholarship runs out in December next year and I’m well on track to finishing in time. This is not a skite list: it’s a testament to clear strategic thinking, a certain type of stubbornness that insists that if I do the right things in a professional manner I will be employable at the end of all this, and an utter belief in the work I’m doing.

To top it off, I recently founded a peer reviewed, open access, gender, sexuality and diversity studies journal with a group of postgraduates at my university. I’m one of the managing editors, and we recently released our first issue. I did this because it fills a need, and because I’m passionate about creating space in the academy for voices that are still unheard. I also did it because when I started my PhD a trusted friend and former academic told me it was probably best to have a Plan B, C, D and possibly E in the event that I would be unable to get a job at the end. The journal is thrilling, and spectacular, and I truly love doing it, but it’s cost me more hours than I can count, and a huge amount of emotional energy (often at the cost of my partner and children).

But all of this was ok. And then these things happened, all in a row:

  • I came back from my overseas trip and couldn’t right myself again. Sliding doors. The realisation that, without children, I would have emailed my supervisor a simple ‘sorry, it’s too spectacular here in Paris, I’ll see you in a year or so’, and to my partner ‘get yourself on a plane’. But I have children. And they’re the reason I am where I am, and the reason I write what I write. So here I am, back, with honey toast handprints on my jeans and requests for water in the night.
  • I came back from my overseas trip to 80,000 words of marking that needed to be turned around in three days, and ended up injuring my arm and shoulder, and I’m still injured (brace, ice, warmth, anti-inflammatories, keep going).
  • An AWOL postgrad that I’ve never met sent me a horrendous email out of the blue that attacked me and my research. I was shocked and disbelieving. I cried for hours. Academia, it seems, can be rough.
  • A top international journal rejected my breastfeeding chapter because it was too claustrophobic, and just depicted the woman and baby, without locating them in space, or in greater discourses around class or race. I wasn’t writing a social political history of breastfeeding, and it was meant to be claustrophobic, and I told myself it just wasn’t the right place for it, but you know, it still stings.
  • And then the nail in the coffin: one poem, ‘this mother thing’, that was accepted into an anthology early last year. I followed up once, and was told it was still in the pipeline, and so I left it alone, not wanting to be a nag. Then last week I saw an article from The Age about it on one of our lecturer’s doors, and contacted the Editor to find that my poem had somehow slipped off the list. Goodbye publication in a hardback anthology launched at the State Library of NSW with some of Australia’s top female poets.

I’m exhausted and heart sore. I know why writers put down their pens and go to work digging ditches. We tell writing students to separate themselves from their writing when they send it out. Your writing is not you. It’s not true. It’s me. It’s me sending a part of myself out into the world and when my writing is judged it’s nigh on impossible not to feel judged myself. So I’m doing the only thing I know to do: I’m writing more, and sending out more, and trusting that amongst the nos I will also get yeses. But it’s hard, and it hurts, and I’m tired, and it hurts.

Laughing off the word silence (surgery as field trip)

Scalpel study

On Monday I’ll be going in for surgery. I am tempted to be vague about the type of surgery. This is the kind of surgery that requires a pause before disclosure. But here’s the thing: I write about bodies. Specifically, my body, which is also a woman’s body (except when I’m wondering what that really is–we could wander off into a huge discussion around gender here but let’s not).

I am committed to speaking where others do not. What is not spoken? Labour and birth, surgeries, bleeding, leakages, ruptures and splits. My thesis is the act of speaking the abject and unspeakable, is the attempt to create a language that will unhide, that will make a space for all of us to tell stories of flesh, organs, fluid, bone.

I write my body because “we have turned away from our bodies. Shamefully we have been taught to be unaware of them, to lash them with stupid modesty; we’ve been tricked into a fool’s bargain: each one is to love the other sex. I’ll give you your body and you will give me mine. But which men give women the body that they blindly hand over to him? Why so few texts? Because there are still so few women winning back their bodies. Woman must write her body, must make up the unimpeded tongue that bursts partitions, classes and rhetorics, orders and codes, must inundate, run through, go beyond the discourse with its last reserves, including the one of laughing off the word “silence” that has to be said, the one that, aiming for the impossible, stops dead before the word ‘impossible’ and writes it as ‘end’.”

Cixous, H., & Clément, C. (1986). The newly born woman (B. Wing, Trans.). United Kingdom: Manchester University Press.

So on Monday I’ll be going in for surgery. I have a fibroid that has tripled its size in the last 12 months. It has veins. It keeps growing. They could try to remove it but the chances are good that I’d grow another one. The safer surgery is a hysterectomy; less bleeding, more successful.

I’ll be convalescing for four to six weeks. Yesterday I went to uni, filled out my sick leave application, returned my library books, met with my supervisor, and rinsed out my mug. As I left my supervisor’s office she wished me luck and told me to rest. Rest. That’s when I realised I’m not thinking of the next month and a half as a recovery period: it’s a field trip. What else could it be? The title of my thesis is ‘this body, written’. I’m about to be put to sleep and opened up. My entire reproductive system will be taken. I will wake with blurry eyes and an empty middle. It’s a field trip. I will take notes. Poetry is found here.

A note (on connections and why we need them)

Marion May Campbell is fast becoming one of my favourite authors and poets. Erudite, engaged, her prose enchants and enfolds. There is a dark warmth there, the abject jumping to caress. There is also lightness, and breath. A friend told me about her 2008 book Fragments from a Paper Witch, specifically the section titled ‘Spectacular Motherhood’ a few weeks ago.

I was sure I’d find it in the library catalog, but it wasn’t there. Request. One week later it arrived, thanks to document delivery, from the University of Adelaide. On the first page Gail Jones, in her forward, quoted Susan Sontag writing that “a poet’s prose is the autobiography of ardour”. I was already in love. A flick through confirmed it.

This:

Am / am not; am amniotically buoyed between am / am not. Am shutter, am threshold, am revolving door, just pulsing muscle, in-out: I sing my continence through my leakage. I think of my baby, this other within, and I strain the membrane of thought.

Fragments from a Paper Witch, p 28

Writing that is a mirror, but also not. A voice that mine echoes, even though I have never heard it before.

I knew, immediately, that I a copy of Paper Witch needed to live on my shelf. Internet searches yielded nothing. Rare book seller’s websites, Salt Publishing (its printed home), the big guys, I even tried eBay. Nothing. Twitter! And there she was (@Beigesang). But the last time she’d been active was 2009. I sent a forlorn tweet.

Then I remembered this: my Post Grad diploma at Melbourne Uni, hearing Marion speak at a symposium, and knowing that my tutor, Antonia Pont (who wasn’t a doctor yet) knew her.

So I sent this:

From: Karina Quinn

Subject: Fragments from a Paper Witch

Date: 6 September 2012 11:05:41 AEST

To: Antonia Pont

Hey Antonia,

I’ve just fallen deeply for Marion May Campbell’s Fragments From a Paper Witch and can’t bear to give it back to the library. I’ve done a fair bit of online searching but haven’t been able to uncover a single copy.

So I turned to Twitter and discovered Marion has an account, and have sent her a message. She’s sent 4 tweets in her whole life though, and these were in 2009 so I suspect she may not receive my message.

I’m writing this in the hope that you have some contact with her, and that you could forward this email on for me? My other hope is that she has a secret stack of Fragments on a shelf somewhere and that I can pay her a premium for the joy (indeed the jouissance) of having a single copy on my own shelf.

Best,

Karina

Antonia forwarded my email with a brief introduction, and shortly after I received this:

From: Marion May Campbell

Subject: RE: FW: Fragments from a Paper Witch

Date: 6 September 2012 12:44 PM AEST

To: Karina Quinn

Dear Karina,

You are very welcome to have one of the copies I have left. As I said to Antonia, an appreciative reader is to be cherished. Yes, I’m afraid I am not a twitterer…

What’s your address and surname and I’ll put it in the post for you.

Very best wishes,

Marion

The very next day a parcel arrived on my doorstep. A beautiful hard cover edition of Paper Witch. On opening it, this:

Paper Witch is in my hands because I don’t sit at my desk all day, myopic, immersed, to the exclusion of all else (except when I do). Paper Witch is in my hands because I go to symposiums, and make connections with other writers and academics, and take good advice. But mostly, Paper Witch is in my hands because of Marion’s generous spirit, because a writer will always be happy to have been read.

I am reading Paper Witch now with great care, with love. This book with its hand written note feels portentous. There is something about this project, whatever it is, that seems destined. The words literally pour from me. It can’t not be written. And a note like this seems to say keep going, keep going. I feel so very blessed today to be living a writer’s life, amongst other writers. To feel a sense of community, belonging even. I have not-written for most of my life. To be, finally, here, is nothing less than miraculous.

Get visible or vanish

I was lucky enough to attend a seminar for Early Career Researchers (ECRS) put on by the NTEU a couple of weeks ago. I went because I’m nearing the end of my first year, and I needed to get my head around the new ERA system. Not sure what I’m talking about? Megan McPherson’s kindly storified it for you.

As the workshop progressed, I became increasingly disheartened. Here are the thoughts that were running about in my head:

  • Am in insane to think I can get a full time job in academia after completion?
  • Am I destined to be a sessional teacher and never actually get anywhere?
  • What’s a poem worth?
  • How do we get academia to move out of machine mode and recognise, with respect and gratitude, the value of creative work that is produced within it?

I tweeted my misery, and luckily the thesis whisperer (as usual) and John Lamp came to my rescue. I can’t tell you exactly what pearls of wisdom Inger had, but they had the same effect as having a bowl of warm porridge drizzled with honey on a cold winter’s morning placed before me. Suddenly, it seemed there was cause for optimism. For harnessing Twitter and Facebook and especially for the value of self publishing on academic blogs.

John Lamp got up then and spoke about altmetrics, about finding ratings that make you sound good and unashamedly using them, about getting work out there however you can–create your own journals and invite all of your friends to read them, be broadminded about what’s valuable. We are in a new world.

Then John said this: it’s not publish or perish anymore, it’s get visible or vanish.

So, little blog, here’s what I think: writing this post is deeply valuable. Writing this post is a way of throwing my voice, and watching it echo, and trusting that people can hear.