Tag Archives: Paris

On rejection and disappointment


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.

The glue of good fiction (and a sleeping Sparrow)

My pram being used as a laptop tableI type this with Sparrow on my back. My airbook is balanced on the hood of the pram and jiggles as I type. I hear “the intimate space of other people’s relationships” and “reflect our own world back to us” and I sway and type and sway and hope that Sparrow will be lulled by amplified and echoing voices instead of kept awake.

There are four women in armchairs in a semicircle on the stage. Marion Halligan is introduced first. She has an easy slouch, a silver grey bob, and Sparrow is saying “ya ya ya” in the soft, raspy way he has. I zone in and out. I hear and don’t. I see the Yarra beyond the glass back wall of the BMW Edge theatre and a girl child riding her bike, swerving to miss the clichéd joggers and tourists.

Enza Gandolfo is chairing and next she tells us about Jane Smiley and Gail Jones.

This theatre is big and full of light. There is a huge space at the top, at the back of all the seats, and I am relieved because maybe this bringing a baby into sacrosanct adult space will be ok. He blows raspberries into the middle of my back. Sings into my shoulder blades. Can I rock and type and bounce for an hour? People in the back row turn to look, and mostly smile.

The last to be introduced is Elizabeth Stead. I keep bouncing and trying to listen but there’s more “ya ya yaing” and a gang of seven year olds is inspecting the architecture of the glass wall on my left. A child with tracksuit pants that don’t quite cover her ankles traces one of the metal supports and lags behind to peer in at us. A teacher moves her on.

Enza wants to know what kinds of relationships these writers are interested in exploring and Marion says birth, love, marriage, and betrayal. She says she’s tired of hearing this called women’s writing, that Shakespeare wrote about the same thing too. She’s interested in the having and the not having of children. She says that this generation is full of young women pushing forty and desperately trying to get pregnant.

Sparrow still singing. And doing this thing where he pushes his whole body against the ergo and jiggles up and down at the same time with a loud “ah ah ah ah” like that will help him escape.

Gail talks about the collapse of the present into the past. That when people leave the room we don’t stop having relationships with them. She says that there’s the physics of the text, but it’s the metaphysics; time, space, memory, the inner and outer, that interest her.

1.15 and I think Sparrow is asleep. His breathing has taken on a regular, deeper cadence. Can I stop rocking?

I concentrate again and hear Elizabeth say “I write more about people who are lonely.”

It’s not comfortable, standing up here. I walked into a wind tunnel in the city yesterday that nearly pulled the pram from my hands. I wrenched my shoulder in the holding on against that fierce blowing and now the ergo straps have set up an ache. It’s not comfortable, standing up here. I listen but my heart is beating fast. Always this division. I can’t listen with my whole self. Part of me is reserved for “is he waking?” and “will he be hungry when he opens his eyes?” and “I could sit in that chair there to feed him” and “if he makes too much noise we’ll just have to leave” and, and, and.

And suddenly they’re all talking about flat irons, and who remembers them, and the ironing of old wedding dresses in Paris.

Then Jane says “the occasion of the storytelling is displacement” (I am displaced). “You just start writing” (I am writing). “The novel is linear because words are linear… that’s your boon and your bane… you hope that once the words enter the reader’s mind they’ll become three dimensional”. I am entranced. I forget, momentarily, about my children, and I am all there, all words, undivided, inhabiting this talk, breathing it in. Gail is speaking and she says “you don’t need to know where you’re going, you need to see the space of illumination in front of you”. I see the space of illumination in front of me. The way is clear.