Tuesday, October 23, 2012


Meaning the ignoring of part.

That thing wherein, despite checking your Blogger home page every day, you forget that you have TWO blogs to look after. Though I've not been doing much on the other one either. Slow news month!

I haven't written much. I haven't, in fact, written much of anything (that I'm willing to admit) to. Because I've finished writing fic. Yes, that's right. Mostly, I am too tired to be creative. Mostly, I have no plot bunnies for fandoms. And mostly? I'm spending a lot of money a year to get a PhD. I'd rather spend my time doing that then writing fanfiction. I'll save up my writing and work on that book idea after I graduate. And publish my thesis. So, about five years or so from now. Which is fine, actually. I've only ever written because I enjoyed it, not for other people or to get me something. I'm not enjoying it any more because I'm too tired to spend hours at a computer writing fic. I spend hours at a computer writing thesis stuff. That's enough. More than enough, judging by how much my eyes hate me these days! I'd really like to not go blind before I finish this thesis.

So today was my first day in a museum for field research. I was only there for observation and spent most of the 4 hours feeling more than a little overwhelmed. How the hell am I going to get the information I need from the public? Seriously! But I have a month to figure that out, and pilot studies are done for a reason. Still, more than a little stressed right now and I was more than a little stressed, already, yesterday. I'm just pretty much stressed. Period. Not helping that I'm back to being an insomniac and my back is killing me. Both of which would be helped by going to the gym, but I'm too tired to go to the gym! I hate vicious cycles!

But right now it's foggy, dreary, and wet outside and I want tea. And cake. And the telly.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Unfortunate Accomplishments

So, the Olympics happened. Looking back, I should be rather proud of what I accomplished between July 27th and August 12th. I mean really.

Except what I accomplished was 26k of a fic I hate, for a fandom I am ashamed to admit exists much less that I write for it, and will forever pretend I never wrote. It may also, single-handedly, be the worst fic I've ever written. It's so awful I can't even reread it and have had to find a beta to do it for me. I also know it will be my last chapter fic for a while, if not forever. I have not only no interest in writing another, I have no ideas. And right now, that's a blessing.

In other news, I am currently sitting in a hotel room in Denver, a city I have not been to for 30 years. I don't remember it ;) It makes for a nice five-day weekend away, except that Denver is 10 hours away from London, so it makes for a lovely five-day-twenty-hour-flight weekend away. I do it out of love for family and my cousin's kind words and his new wife's thanks makes it worth the trip. The weekend has been a perfect organisational masterpiece that looked effortless. I know, literally, that it was not effortless and that there's been more than one near-disaster, but as far as it seems, no one outside the family is aware of that. Thankfully. My family is no fun unless there's drama and politics. We'd be bored otherwise. It was picture perfect from start to finish. I can't wait to see the photographs.

Tomorrow I'm off to Boulder and out somewhere east of Denver to find an airfield. Should be an interesting day. Can add Colorado as another State I've driven in. Considerably less terrifying than California, from the looks of things. Though apparently every single member of my family has gotten lost in Denver sometime in the last four days, except for me. I just memorise maps. It's a useful skill to have. I also have a pretty good sense of direction, which helps too.

Two more days and then a mini-break in London on the way home.

Monday, July 30, 2012

If Things Can Always Get Worse

Thank, in theory, things can always get better. At least, I like to think so. That's horribly opimistic of me, perhaps, but it does occasionally work in practice.

In case you can't figure out the 'read between the lines' of that last sentence, I've had a good day. Or, maybe, rather a very good day. An excellent day. A...okay, I'll stop now.

Normally Mondays for me are rather a day I can forget about. I'd sleep through them if I could. Today, however, I made nearly a grand in unexpected (but very welcome) income for hardly any work (comparative to how much I normally have to do for that much money, that is), I tracked down and scheduled meetings with two very important people, I was handed a project case study on my lap (almost literally), and I bought healthy!groceries. And now it's sunny outside. So, really, a very good day indeed.

In other news, I passed the minimum for the writing challenge I'm participating in, which would be something to celebrate if it didn't mean I was only half way through the story (maybe less than that, actually). I have also failed to return to researching the current paper I'm supposed to be working on (stack of books is five inches away) and as of 3pm this afternoon I've got yet another thing to write which is due Wednesday. Thursday I'm in London. Friday is supposed to be some Grand Meeting of PhDs thing or something. I was only told on Saturday, and then in passing and no one actually seems to know what's happening, but I'm leaving it open anyways. In other words, my Week of Work is turning into my Week of Other Things, yet again. I really need a WoW before I leave for Denver. Like...really.

Tomorrow I get to have a grand adventure in the Attenborough Tower, which for anyone who has not been a student at Leicester will seem rather sad. For anyone who has, you know how awesome the AT is. Needless to say there will be the 18th floor and an elevator ride like no other. I have never been up the tower that high before, though I know some people just ride the lift for shits and giggles (a bit of both are needed to survive it). And then I get tea. And a chat with a person I've known for nine years. But before that, I really need to do work.

At least I'm not wasting my days watching Olympics coverage, since Canada AND GB are doing horribly and I get bored watching the Yanks and Chinese beat everyone else.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Writing Insanity

I often blame other people for my writing mistakes. Well, I say mistakes, but they rarely are actual mistakes. I regret them nonetheless.

Case in point: I have been struggling to write a challenge story for a contest I signed up for months ago. It's due next month. I have about 1000 words of at least 10k written. And it's not going well. Often when this sort of things happens, I try to go and write something completely different in the hope that it will inspire me. Naturally, it's something I complain to my writing friends about. It's why I have writing friends, after all, for the days when I can't write a thing.

Newest writing friend has been suggesting for days that I write something silly and funny and ridiculous, partly to entertain her and partly to just get the juices flowing again. I'd been doing very well ignoring this advice (I hate writing crack fic, I always feel slightly unclean afterwards), but yesterday it all went down hill. Which resulting in a texting war and a rather fangirl-y conversation on the phone...and two chapters of a story I have no interest in writing. My muse rarely cares about what I want.

What really bugs me is that I think it's actually helped. If I can get this silly crack fic done, I can get back to writing what I need to be writing (which isn't true, as I need to be writing my phd research, not fiction).

None of this is the reason I've been quiet again as of late. The reason for that is a whole mound of new duties in the department, a further increase in my already pretty bad stress levels, moving house (which took 3 days and resulted in a bad back) and a pastoral issue with one of the 'students' I'm now responsible for (which is still ongoing as of an hour ago, and looks like it will continue all week). There just aren't enough hours in the day!

Oh, and I have a telly again, so there's even fewer hours of 'work' time available.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Mythical Research Week

When I arrived at university last October, people talked about 'Research Week'. For the first month I had absolutely no idea what they were on about. After that, I equated Research Week with APG exam and so in my head, all winter long, it meant a week of dread.

It wasn't until the spring, after the conference ended, that I started to figure out why the senior students actually liked Research Week. Now that it's over, I still see why they enjoy it so much, but I am equally obvious now as to why the first years will always view it with a sense of dread.

Yes, there was the APG (I passed), and the presentation (went great), and a lot of stress leading up to it. But Research Week is a lot less about research and a lot more about a chance to spend time with other PhDs, especially the distance students I've never met or don't see often, and just talk about things. Talk about our reading, our writing, our projects, anything and everything that interests us. It's an entire week dedicated to just that. No one does work. It's wonderful, actually, to have that chance, every year. I am definitely looking forward to next year's, where I will have no duties to perform whatsoever!

But now, Research Week is over, and it's on to the epic uphill battle that is the PhD. I have a new methodology, a new timeline for work, and new deadlines for the next few months. Also, I have about 10 new duties in the department. Yikes! It is going to be a very busy year, and a very busy 18 months, but then I will have a thesis to write and then I will have a doctorate, so every second of it is worth it!

I will have posts to come over the next months on early field work and such things, and also about the new term starting. And there may be a post about the last fic for the next few years that I am writing this summer (my last multi-chapter fic, at least). I've not forgotten about this blog, I promise, I just have 3 others to manage!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012


I have finally gotten around to adding the photos to all of the travel posts. If you'd care to enjoy!

Saturday, May 19, 2012


This week I went to Belfast.

I don't really know what I was expecting. I think, growing up in Canada in the 80s and 90s, I heard a lot about N. Ireland and Ireland and all the problems. I don't really know how much of it was media overkill (probably not as much as I hope) and, being an ocean away, how much of it really made sense to me. I tended not to pay much attention to the news when I was younger. 9/11 changed a lot of things regarding that.

Whatever it was I expected (or didn't), what I got was an absolutely stunning country with the nicest, more helpful people I have ever met (they beat Scotland, I'm afraid) and a brilliant, if short, holiday.

It's a wonder, at least to someone from North America, that's it's a 45 minute flight from the airport near Leicester to the airport within Belfast. The seatbelt sign doesn't go off. You get up to altitude over the Isle of Man and then promptly start going down again. It's sort of brilliant. Unfortunately, I didn't have clear weather on either flight over the Irish Sea and couldn't see much of anything below.

I was adamant that I was going to be on Giants Causeway for my birthday. I mean adamant. And guess what? I was! I took a great tour (for only £16) up the Coastal Route from Belfast around to the north short of the island. It's a stunning drive through little fishing villages, Ulster University campus (has to be one of the most beautiful campuses I've seen outside of Cambridge or Oxford), passed a few castles to the Carrick-A-Rede rope bridge. People make a big thing about this rope bridge, because it is about 60 feet above very sharp rocks and since it's always windy in Ireland, it's always swaying. In honesty, the walk down the 75 uneven and jagged stone steps was more terrifying. Thankfully they weren't wet! The place is managed by the National Trust, which means it isn't free to get into (you can walk to the bridge, 1.5 miles for free, but the bridge is £5 to cross). Our driver (Davy from Scotland) made a point to say that, if you get over the bridge you better be willing to come back the same way, because it's the only exit from the craggy island you end up on! [They don't send helicopters for love or money, apparently. One girl got stuck on the bridge last year and it took an hour to coax her off.] The views, once on the island, looking west and south along the Irish coast, over to Rathlin Island (which apparently is inhabited, and has a hotel on it, who knew?) and the Scottish islands in the distance. I took SO MANY PICTURES!


Next it was on to the Giants Causeway, the masterpiece of the tour. Again, it's owned by the National Trust, but until the end of June when they complete the butt ugly visitor's centre, it's free to get down to the stones (then it will be £8.50). It's more than a mile walk downhill...or you can take the bus for £1. I took the bus. It was very windy and the sea was quite rough, so most of the stones were wet, which made for interesting climbing. Still, I don't think anyone fell while I was there and I was very careful not to turn an ankle and ruin the rest of the trip! I took a LOT MORE PHOTOS and bemoaned the fact that there is a lot more to see. You can climb up the cliffs to the 'Organ' and then up to the top for a bird's eye view of the Causeway, but there wasn't enough time (I spent 45 minutes on the stones as it was). It started to rain just as I got in line for the bus, and there was a nice little almost-hail storm in 50km/h winds. The sun came out just as the bus showed up! Then it was a quick stop at the gift shop for a few postcards and then off to Bushmills Distillary nearby. I love Bushmills, and after the rain, I really needed a wee tipple to warm up! From there, the tour took the interior route back to Belfast, which apparently is a common commute for a lot of people, as it's only about an hour from the north shore. Wouldn't that be lovely every day? We stopped at the cliff-side Dunluce Castle on the way, with stunning dark clouds in the background. The castle is an interesting one, originally built in the 13th Century, it changed ownership a few times and was rebuilt a few times. And then, one very stormy night, the kitchen fell 70ft down into the sea and took the staff with it. The owners moved out and its been a ruin ever since! We got back to Belfast around 7, so a 9 hour tour for £16! That night I spent a few hours reading in the common room by the coal burning fireplace and the staff sung me Happy Birthday. A great 29th!

Wednesday it was sunny again (shocking), if cold, so I took a two hour open-top bus tour of Belfast and the surrounding neighbourhoods, which focused on the murals. There is some very amazing artwork to be seen, and there's no way you can see it all on foot! The same company that took me to the Causeway did the morning tour and they are very knowledgeable and funny to listen to. The tour guide this time was an Irish girl, but the bus driver was Davy again! Pictures will be up this weekend, and I'll post the link on this post when they are.

After lunch and a bit of shopping I took the free City Hall tour. Definitely worth it (takes about 45 min) and gets you into ALL THE ROOMS. They take you into the actual meeting hall and let you sit in the BIG CHAIR. It helps that the N. Irish government only meets once a month. I assume they don't let you in during those times. The inside is mostly decorated with bright paint colours, bronze chandeliers, and marble from Italy and Greece. Definitely worth it, and hey, free! Then I ran down to Queens University to see Ulster Museum. It sucked. It is the perfect example of how NOT to redo a museum. The only rooms I saw anyone in (by which I mean, anyone actually doing or looking at anything, rather than just passing through) were the two children's activity rooms. The rest of the actual museum? Nadda. I went to the Botanical Gardens afterwards to see the Palm House, which is a oval greenhouse in the Victorian glass style. Much smaller than Kew, but a lovely little respite from the busy city! I walked a bit around the campus, which has really beautiful architecture (lucky bastards) and then went to search out dinner.

Thursday I gathered my things and, since it was finally raining, took a taxi to Titanic Belfast, across the river. This is the new museum, which cost £100 million and opened a month an a half ago for the anniversary. I've visited a lot of museums. I've seen good ones and bad ones and a fair few okay ones. This one? The best I have ever seen.

No joke. I want to live in it. Or at least work in it.

There will be pictures, but I am not going to rehash a description of it. You just need to go visit it yourself and see. Let me put it this way, no other museum has ever made me laugh AND CRY during a visit simply by reading the text panels. The staff are amazing and clearly proud of what they have. And it was certainly busy! It's 6 weeks after opening and still booked out in advance! I will have to go back in a few years when it's a little less busy so that I can spend more time inside. My only issue was that, the way it's designed, you follow a set path through a series of rooms and floors, so you can't go back and the busy flow of traffic keeps you moving forward, so you can't stopped to read everything and I WANTED TO! That never happens! I hate text panels! The interactives were impressively well done, and with a bit of observation, they not only meshed well with the wall information, but weren't distracting at all! The museum is definitely not for children, but that's okay. There's dozens of children's museums around the world. It's about time they made one for the pleasure of adults! I think it's probably a good place for high school students on tours, because they are old enough to really understand the issues presented and what happened. Under 12s though? Probably more of a distraction to their parents then anything. Leave them at home. Parents deserve a few hours of peace in a museum more than anyone.

After the museum I had a great lunch at Victoria Square, after taking the lift up to the dome for a 300* view of the city (the lift takes up the other 60*). Even in the rain, Belfast looked nice. I really fell in love with the city. If I ever need another university, I know of two I'd very much like to attend!

Monday, April 30, 2012

Museums of Home or ‘When you hold on to things a few decades too long’

‘and on the pavement lay
Carved stones of the Abbey-ruin in the park,
Huge Ammonites, and the first bones of Time:
Jumbled together; celts and caluments,
Claymore and snowshoe, toys in lava, fans
Of Sandel, amber, ancient rosaries.
Laborious orient ivory sphere in sphere,
The cursed Malayan crease, and battle clubs
From the isles of palm; and higher on the walls,
Betwixt the monstrous horns of elks and deer,

His own forefather’s arms and armour hung’

~Alfred Lord Tennyson, The Princess, 1860.

What makes a museum a museum?  It’s an honest question.  The definition of ‘museum’ has evolved over the centuries.  Once the Egyptians and Greeks held the museum to be a storehouse of knowledge; limited to the study and purview of scholars and visiting dignitaries that they wanted to show it off to.  Now, museums are places of learning for all; open (mostly), accessible (we hope), and educational (ideally).  Museums exist in all sorts of buildings (including travelling vans), in all sorts of subjects (I once visited a museum on the mythical history of magic) and can, as far as I’m concerned, also be counted as a ring of 3000 year old stone on some Scottish moor.  Museums are places of history.

The idea of a private collection is older than the concept of the ‘mouseion’.  The Romans quite enjoyed collecting old things...so much so that they copied what they couldn’t get originals of.  The last 1000 years of history has seen private collections surge.  They are the origin of the modern museum after all.  But are they still acceptable?  Are we still allowed, as private individuals, to keep a collection of historical artefacts that no one, beyond friends and family, will ever see?

Tricky question.  The ideal answer is no.  Anything of historical value should be in a public collection at an appropriate museum.  But there’s the rub, because more often than not, the objects will be kept in storage and never see the light of day except – perhaps – if they are deemed important enough for scholarly study.  Maybe, one year, for a few days, perhaps.  Would it not be better if they were in a private home where, at least, a few dozen people could marvel and enjoy? 

I have a feeling most of you are shaking your heads, but I might be pleasantly surprised.  I don’t have an answer myself.  I don’t have an answer because my family has been treading that treacherous ground for over sixty years.  I could say one thing and be a hypocrite, or say another and be a horrible museologist.  Those aren’t really good choices.  So, in the age old way of avoiding the question, I’m going to tell you a lovely story...and then you can decide.

The whole thing is a bit hazy.  Most stories are.  There are a few things I’m not quite certain about, but I’ll try to fill in the blanks anyways.

In the 1940s my great-grandfather was given a beautiful gift.  It was a set of ceremonial clothing from the Blackfoot Indian Tribe that originated in Southern Alberta.  The story of how he came to be given this is lost, though rumour remains.  We do know that the gift was made by the native man’s wife, who had made the clothing for him.  It was barely worn.  The beadwork is a thing of beauty just on its own.

But that is not the start of the story.  A decade earlier my great-grandparents had built a summer house in central Ontario, as one typically did in those days.  My great-grandmother loved antiques, and had a house full of them.  At the summer house, everything was new (though it’s all antique now).  They lined the walls with photographs and paintings and shipped in wood furniture from Montreal.  It was all a little kitschy though, as summer houses usually are.  The colours were sort of horrible, the decor was sort of outdated and everyone loved it.  What made them decide to hang a group of Indian textiles on the hallway wall is beyond me.

What made them decide to thumb tack them into place is beyond my comprehension.  And there that have stayed, for over sixty years; through plus 40* humid temperatures, and -40* ice storms, in a completely unregulated, pest-infested, smokers’ house!  The very idea makes me shudder.  I’m sure you are doing the same. 

From my earliest memories I remember staring at these garments.  Perhaps they are the reason I am a museologist.  What I do know is that, despite conversations over the years, no one in the family thought to seriously raise the point that such items would be better off in a museum until this time last year.  Ironically, I was not the one to mention it.  A cousin who lives in Alberta, not far from where the Blackfoot tribe originated, first raised the issue.  Things moved shockingly swiftly after that.  And so, last August, the family availed themselves of my expertise; the garments were carefully removed from the rusted nails upon which they hung; lovingly package in acid-free wrapping; and packed in a box for shipment to The Blackfoot Crossing Historical Park [http://www.blackfootcrossing.ca/].  After conservation work is completed, they should be put on display.

So now the walls that have been filled for my whole life-time are bare, but the view no longer induces a panicked worry about the destruction of historical artefacts.  And now, many, many more people can enjoy the objects than would ever have seen them in a summer house in central Ontario.  However, a piece of my family history is now gone, and that is a sentimental issue that will take some time to settle.  It seems, almost, like giving away a piece of our pasts...back to the people whose past it really is, of course.  This raises many points, not least about private collections and native object repatriation.  Certainly the last twelve months have been a personal learning experience for myself and my family in these areas.  But ultimately, we know we made the right choice.  I hope one day to visit the museum and see them in their proper place.
[This was crossposted at The Attic as well.]

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Things They Don't Tell You

There is a very long list.

When you apply for a PhD programme at a university, you focus on the practicalities of it. The references letters you need to get; the previous transcripts you need to track down; the proposal that has to be crafted and perfected and, rather more importantly, the research question that you really need to think of. And it really needs to sound good.

After this, when you are accepted into your university of choice (one hopes), you are so thrilled that the practicalities of what is about to happen end up forgotten for a good few months. And then you become so busy with moving to a new place, administration, familiarisation and meeting people that, once more, you forget why you are there in the first place.

For the first week or so after you begin your PhD programme, things chug along like any other degree. It is only after a week or two goes by that you realise that you aren’t actually attending classes. This is the biggest difference from any previous degree. Another week or two after that, and the introductory weeks of meetings and seminars and mad scrambling to figure things out wears off and you have a sudden epiphany: you are going to be here for the next three years with your nose in a book, your fingers on the keyboard and, if you are very lucky, occasional breaks for fieldwork in a city that is not this one. Somewhere about November , the reality of the situation sinks in. It is at this point that all the things that you were told in the first few weeks become completely meaningless.

The first thing that they tell you during orientation is that doing a PhD is a 9-5 job. This is truth. What they don’t add to that statement is that, outside of those hours, there are departmental obligations, teaching, admin work, independent projects, research that is not your own, volunteer jobs, actual jobs, and an endless list of things that, although not mandatory, you really are supposed to show up for. Quickly, your 9-5 Monday to Friday week becomes your 8-8 Monday-Saturday week. Other weeks, there are no Sundays either. Sometimes there will be so much work that you will go weeks without taking more than a few hours off one afternoon to run into the centre for a few things of importance. You will exhaust yourself. You will never take a holiday unless you specifically plan one. Christmas is meaningless unless you go somewhere else where you are completely unable to do work. When the undergraduates and graduate students get reading week and Easter holidays, you will quietly glare at them behind their backs and go back to reading the stack of books on your desk.

But that’s alright, because you will quickly find that any attempts to actually take a holiday that does not go to the extreme of going away and leaving your computer behind, will not amount to anything. You will not be able to turn your brain off. Half-way through your Christmas holidays you will wake up at 2am one day with a brilliant idea of yet another aspect of your thesis that you need to research. And all you will want to do is research it right that moment. We do not do a PhD thesis because we are bored. We do it because we are passionate about the topic, we believe in its importance to the industry or even the world, and we enjoy it. You live, you breathe and you sleep your research questions.

It’s not a 9-5 job, but I quickly realised, around about my third supervision meeting in as many weeks, in the third week of October with a 5000 word paper due already that that was completely okay. I’d be bored otherwise. 9-5 leaves a lot of free hours to twiddle your thumbs. No doubt many of you would argue that that leaves a great many hours for a social life, but that is what undergrad is for. Your social life quickly steps aside in the face of a burning research question that may change your chosen field of study. Occasionally you will miss it, and that will lead to dinner or a quick coffee with someone who is also so busy with their own research that finding a moment that you are both free will take weeks to organise. And neither of you will actually mind this fact. You will live with people for the sake of your sanity, because otherwise you will go days without seeing another human being. You will go to the office, not because it is conducive to work, but because every once in a while you really do need to remind yourself that there are dozens of other people in your department in the same boat as you. Most days, that is all the comfort you need.

There will be days where you absolutely love what you do and what you are researching. You will remember why you wanted to spend three years doing this in the first place. There are other days where you will question everything; your sanity and your thesis question included. And there will be a great many middle days. That is the rollercoaster that is life. And it is a thrilling ride.

Monday, March 5, 2012

The Way

Gosh, I'm not even certain where to start!

February is, for me, usually a month that basically passes by without my really acknowleding it. Case in point: it's usually the month I go on holidays, which makes it even shorter. This year, however, things took a bit of a different turn. I've been trying my very best to involve myself in my PhD department, without really making much headway. I tend to say I will do something and then never quite get around to it. In February, all of that changed! I have now become the Social Media Moderator for the PhD department, which includes a blog, a Facebook group and a Twitter account to manage and keep up-to-date and interesting! I will also, this month, become the first PhD Student Blogger for the university at large, which I am looking forward to. I already have my first few posts lined up! It will mean that I will now have five blogs, some personal, some professional to look after, so I hope I don't neglect any of them (for more than a week at a time). I will try to update this one every month, as I do now.

I have also, though I'm not certain how as it was unintentioned, been marked as the tech person in the department. I attribute this to the fact that our current tech person is involved in a two month long project and mostly unavailable for daily questions. So I'm it. Lucky me. I try to avoid things like this, but since I automatically say 'yes' whenever people ask for help, I guess I walked into it. I hope it does not last for long!

I have done very little creative writing in the last month, though I have just (literally) finished a 12,000 word paper for my supervisor. I'm not at all happy with it, as I knew I wouldn't be, but I think it has at least served it's purpose, which was to put it all straight in my head. I at least know (or think I know) where I am headed now.

February also saw a big decision. I have been toying for months of what to do to 'celebrate' turning 30 next year. I wanted to do something Amazing and New and Memorable. In January I decided that doing another dive trip would be a great idea, because it would take very little time out of my busy schedule, involve family (and diving) and be, if not new, at least amazing. But I have previously done an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime dive trip for my twenty-fourth birthday and I guess my brain was attempting to figure out something better. And, boy, did it ever!

I've always loved to hike. I've been planning to do Hadrian's Wall for a while now, and fully intended to work my way up to it this year (September) by walking in the Peak District this summer (in all my free time). I was busy doing research for my holiday in May this year, in N. Ireland, and came across multiple websites that do hiking or biking holidays. I was intregued. I suppose, in many ways, perhaps my decision was fated.

And then, about two weeks ago, I watch the movie The Way, which is a character-driven story about a father who's enstrangled son unexpectedly dies on the first day of the Camino Frances. Flying to France to bring back his son's remains, the man begins to realise all the things about his son that he never really understood and resolves to take the ashes on the 800km trek to Santiago de Compostela himself. It is a movie as much about the father's journey as it is about the son 'completing' his.

I woke up the next more knowing that I'd found my own way. And so, next year, I will be walking the Camino Frances from Saint Jean Pied to Santiago de Compostela, on my own. Or as much as one can be when an estimated 300,000 pilgrims walk the routes every year. In all, I think February was the month I found myself, or at least my direction in life. I do feel much better now, certainly!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Durch Dick und Dünn gehen

Or 'Another Travel Post'

Since I failed to even leave my flat for Christmas/New Years beyond the grocery store, I felt the desire to get out of England for a bit once my projects were finished. It's a bit of a joke, since my projects are not even close to finished, but I like to lie to myself in order to feel better. This is how I came to a travel to Germany on January 25th.

I can say a lot of things about Bavaria. 99% of them are absolutely lovely, and the other 1% is only because it's currently cold enough there to freeze Hell over and I live in Europe for a reason. But I had never been to Germany, so it was automatically going to be stunning, no matter the weather.

I never really know what to write for a travel blog post. I mean, I write them, but I'm not certain they are entertaining or useful or that anyone even reads them. But I like to write, and I like to record, and here we are.

The Germans are a funny people. I mean that in the nicest way. They are very friendly (at least in Bavaria, since that's the only place I've visited) and welcoming, but listening to them talk in rapid-fire German is sort of hilarious. I can read German not badly, at least enough to manage as a tourist, but I don't understand a single spoken word beyond 'bitte' and 'danke'. Thankfully, most Germans speak a measure of English (better than I will ever speak their language, bless them). It reminds me of the Hungarians at Gibbs Hill Farm in Northumberland who didn't speak a word of English, but who I talked to for two hours one September evening.

Munich would take a few weeks to really see. But I like to leave things undone for my 'next' visit, like the proverbial throwing of a coin into the Trevi Fountain. You need a reason to go back. I have about six that I can think of off the top of my head, and in no particular order they start with BMW and end with October. Sometime when the weather is amiable and the trees are still green.

However, winter in Bavaria is stunningly beautiful. The sort of beautiful that Ontario never manages to look, no matter how early you get up after a night's snowfall. That constant state of greyish brown that defines the province cannot be helped along by snow and slush.

I'm not going to talk about museums, because in all honestly I wasn't overly impressed. I could go on for days about how beautiful Schloss Neuschwanstein is, but if you've ever seen a picture, words don't do it justice. Suffice it to say, the inside (in which you are not allowed to take photos) is just as stunning as the outside, at any time of the year! Pity about all that scaffolding right now which ruins the view from Hohenschwangau, but thankfully not from the front! It's unfortunate that Ludwig II never finished it and only lived in the half-completed palace areas for 172 days before he died. It was immediately opened to the public for tours, to pay back the enormous sum that had gone into it's construction. Though it is the model for Disney's castle in Florida, the real one on the slopes of the Bavarian Alps is much more picturesque inside in the completed rooms (do a Google search for hi-def images).

Amusingly, the true highlight of the trip was the hockey game on Friday. I've never been to a hockey game. I know; I fail as a Canadian. I only ever watch it at the Olympics. But when your cousin plays for Munich, you can't pass up a game! It was an edge of your seat one too, resulting in not only overtime, but a shoot-out. The fourth shot by Munich, by #19, was the winning goal. Yeah, that would be my cousin. ;) We sat in the wives section, of course, and afterwards had drinks in the VIP room (with free Bavarian style dinner - yum!) It was amazing and very surreal. I hope they have a great season and I am already excited for the prospect of more hockey games next year!

I need to go back to Germany during Oktoberfest and warmer weather. And Salzburg too, which is so much closer than I thought. It was especially wonderful to spend time with cousins that we've only recently reconnected with (their aren't many of us still living on that side, so it's really nice to make an effort). I spent 8 days sleeping with a four-year-old who throws tantrums and playing with a 1-year-old who is the most adorable creature ever and not thinking about my PhD AT ALL. That is what I call a vacation.

Monday, January 2, 2012

This is How I Write

New Year's Resolution Number n. In other words, I have no idea what number I'm up to now. I keeping making them; we'll see if I keep any of them.

Still, this blog was ostensibly for writing about writing, which I haven't been doing. I did finally finish the last academic paper on December 31st and it is now emailed to my supervisor. I can only cross my fingers and pray at this point. I'm rather proud of it, but that usually ends badly.

How about a blog post about how I write? Or how I start writing, would be closer to the mark.

I have three ways. Which one works at any given time is rather arbitrary. There's the 'by way of title', which is when I come up with a really good title (or someone gives me one) and then I have to spend a long time coming up with a good story idea to match. I like this, in that it doesn't restrict my writing topic, but it can sometimes be hard to go from a few words to a whole story.

The second way I write is 'by summary'. I know the basic plot of the story in my head, but then I need to flesh it out to actually write it. The only downside of this particular way is that the title usually comes last. And very often, the title is the hardest part! I often end up emailing writing friends for help because I simply have no idea. [Point in proof, the last story I finished had this issue. A friend gave me a title...as well as another one (see 'by way of title')!]

The last way I write is 'by first line'. Something like: 'She does, actually, go to Nepal. For a while.'

From there, the story generally just flows. I have no proconceived notion of where it's going to go; I just write until I come to an end. Or what I think the end should be. Summaries for these sorts of stories tend to be lines taken from the text. And the titles usually occur to me late at night or early in the morning when I can't sleep. [Often, that's when these stories occur to me to, as the line above did last night just before bed and then proceeded to keep me up half the night.]

Right now I have the above 'first line' story on the go, a 'by way of title' story and also, my favourite kind, the 'by summary'. It makes me happy.