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Sep. 11th, 2011

Catherine writing

I Feel Good

This is a post that I've wanted to write for weeks now. It's a complicated issue for me, for quite a few reasons.

I think I've written here before about certain people in my life, mainly female relatives on my mother's side, who only seem to know how to talk to me about my appearance. When I visit and they say, "Wow, you've lost weight," and I haven't been trying to do so and I don't know for sure that I really have, then it just makes me think that either they have this vision of me as a giant fattie and have been pleasantly surprised by the reality, or that they just think that's what I want to hear. When I came back from my year living in England, MA in hand, having lived on the cheap, walked everywhere, and eaten a lot of student food, all my aunts and grandmother talked about was my weight. That was my biggest achievement in their eyes, never mind living abroad or getting a Master's degree.

I know that these women do not understand my intellectual pursuits. That's not me being condescending: they simply don't get what I'm studying or why. I'm okay with that. I'm not okay with my body displacing my intellect in our infrequent interactions.

*

There's an assumption that all any woman wants to hear is that she's lost weight. I don't. Losing weight is often not intentional: it's a byproduct of stress or illness or becoming so neurotic about food and the enjoyment of eating that you pay way too much attention to what you put in your mouth. Is weight loss truly an achievement? Something to compliment someone on? Reaching goals is an achievement. Becoming fit and healthy is an achievement. Working hard is worth a compliment. The shape of my body, largely determined by genetics? Not so much.

And there's always that implication: you look good now that you've lost weight. You look good because you've lost weight. Congratulations, you're just a little bit closer to an arbitrary ideal that you'll probably never fully attain nor be able to maintain.

*

I joined the gym because it was absolutely about time. It was time to make a long-term investment in my health and wellbeing. Nearly a year ago my sister was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. When I went to the doctor to have my blood sugar tested, I was told that I didn't have diabetes but would almost certainly develop it if I did not make major changes. I was scared for about two weeks and stopped eating chocolate, but it didn't stick. Then my sister's diagnosis was changed to type 1, a diagnosis far worse for her but holding less genetic risk to me. And yet, both our grandmothers have type 2, and related conditions run in the family. It was time.

I'm not sick right now, but I've not been well for a long time. There are almost infinite reasons why: depression, chronic sinusitis, some mysterious kind of allergies, the stress of the PhD, living away from my family in this polluted city. Taking care of myself and being a motherfucking adult is hard. I claimed to walk to uni and go to dance classes, but more often than not I was catching the bus and skipping dancing to work or go have lunch with my boyfriend. It wasn't enough.

*

I've been going to the gym every weekday for three weeks now. I usually go in the morning, after the before-work rush, and then on to uni afterwards. I have more energy. I'm sleeping better. I can concentrate on my work.

At the same time, I've made a proper effort to eat better, not least because my metabolism has woken up with a start. I bought a low GI cookbook, and every single recipe has been delicious. I'm all over the protein. I most noticed the difference this week when I went out to dinner with my visiting grandparents three times, each time to the buffet with surprise!potato in almost every dish. Too many carbs, and wow, did it tire me out.

My grandmother, of course, said I'd lost weight and asked how much. I don't know, and I don't care. I want to get my waist measurement down, and I'm doing strength as well as cardio to tone up. I just trust that the weight will follow. I feel happy and healthy, and that's all that matters. Not that I wasn't happy with my body before, as I was, if perhaps for the unfeminist reason that I have a boyfriend who loves it and is not shy about telling me so. He's also very supportive of me going to the gym, and doing whatever's necessary to stay happy and healthy.

I'm turning into one of them, I think. You know. The gym junkies. I could spend all day telling you about my strength program and how much I can leg press and how many minutes I did on the bike today. There's a certain kind of health that can turn into self-obsession, or just another form of narcissism. I don't want to go that far. Do you know how many calories are in a banana smoothie? No, me neither. Thank goodness.

*

I don't know how I'll handle the inevitable comments about my weight as I continue to work out. Perhaps I'll just smile politely and turn the conversation around to how good I feel. My friends at uni certainly seem to get it, as I'm often told I look good when I've arrived at uni, freshly showered after a workout. The best compliment I've had, albeit reported to me secondhand, is that I've been "glowing". That best describes this, really. I'm glowing, because I feel good. That is absolutely all that matters to me, now and always.

Jul. 22nd, 2011

P&P: swinging Lizzie

Internet Identity Crisis

I started using the internet back when no one was really quite sure what it was and how to negotiate its complexities. The catchcry was ‘safety’, the warning phrase, ‘anyone could be out there’. My parents constantly warned me not to give out my name or address, or any other identifying details. You never knew who people were.

The internet today is so much different. Everyone’s on it, and everyone’s using their real names. It’s those who didn’t get an internet education in the mid- to late-nineties who don’t know how to use Facebook’s privacy settings, because the rest of us are all too wary about what we make public. You can still pretend to be someone you’re not, but you’ll probably also have your ‘real’ self somewhere.

I feel like I’ve constructed at least two identities that persist today (without getting into the screennames I used to have – ah, screennames. That’s another word on its way out, going to join ICQ and AIM and Hotmail in the garbage chute of the internet). There’s saffronlie, screaming fangirl, and there’s My Real Name, semi-professional.

I’m at a point where I’d almost like to merge the two. Fandom isn’t quite the liability it once was. Fanfiction has almost gone mainstream, and a predilection for a 90s-era long-haired band or erotic vampire novels isn’t quite the shameful thing it might once have been. We’ve all got our junk, and the internet gives every one of us a place where we can meet people who share that junk.

In my chosen field, blogging is huge. Academic blogging is a vast community itself, and my field within that even more so. It’s not a bad thing to be in the field and on the internet, rather, it's a bonus. Some people still hide their names and details, but many more are out and proud, so to speak. There’s disagreement over whether hiring committees are savvy enough to appreciate one’s internet experience, but generally it seems like the benefits of online networking outweigh any downsides.

Where does that leave me? I don’t actually want to maintain an academic blog, but I’d kind of like to be able to talk more about my field, here or elsewhere, and comment elsewhere without being ashamed of LJ being my main blog. I’m by no means a newbie to blogging and social networking. I don’t want to start again, whether under my real name or another. I like my very small niche over here. I like the tiny reputation that I’ve made for myself in the VC fandom, with fic and moderating vc_media.

And I really like LiveJournal. I like that I can assume, albeit not-quite-correctly, that I know who’s out there and reading my posts. My public posts are, obviously, open to lurkers and the vastness of the internet, but I can choose who sees posts that I prefer to lock. Sure, it’s not completely secure: someone could copy those posts and paste them elsewhere, although I’m not sure why they would. But for the most part, this is my space. This is the blog with several years’ worth of crap fanfiction and terrible whinging about adolescent concerns. This is where I can both express myself and control my image. I don’t want to move from here, but do I want to open myself up more here?

With Twitter and Google+ I really feel like I have the right tools, for me, to build both a professional yet somewhat personal online presence. Google+, in particular, has all sorts of possibilities for content-sharing at different levels much like LJ’s friends’ groups options. Google+ has me under a real name; Twitter, almost-but-not-quite. If I link all these together, will I regret it? Should I remove the fanfiction, or change my LJ username? Sometimes I don’t want to deny my online activities because I think they can almost serve as quite a good indicator of my real-world social skills: I write, I comment, I discuss. I organise and I lead where necessary.

Part of using social media is knowing how to get it right. Anyone can start a Twitter account, but it takes some skill to use it to the advantage of your organisation, to develop a unified voice and make Twitter work for you. I know my way around the internet, but I also know that some things are better left private. I just can’t decide if that includes my LiveJournal.

Jul. 19th, 2011

part of your world

Harry Potter: An elegy

Harry Potter and I go back some way, as the earlier years of this journal attest. I wasn’t quite in the throes of pubescent adolescence when I discovered the books, as I was when I discovered Hanson, the first of my three great teenage obsessions (Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles being the third, and, perhaps, the most enduring). There was a time when the novels and the films and the fandom were everything, despite occasionally wondering if I wasn’t too old for all this (never!). At one point a friend and I were composing songs for a Harry Potter musical, and it was going to win all the Tonys. I’m not even going to get into my one-time strange and tumultuous dream relationship with dream!Daniel Radcliffe. As with almost all passions, mine waned, but never completely. There was no question about seeing this through to the end.

My favourite part about these books has always been, in a way, the backstory. I adore the overarching timeframe, the cyclicality of the sacrifices of Harry’s parents and their generation, sacrifices that are redeemed in the end. I love the way the past is constantly in tension with the present. To truly know himself and understand his destiny, his future, Harry has to be prepared to learn about not just his past but that of all the wizarding world.

Read more, includes minor movie spoilersCollapse )

This seems an appropriate moment for another of my favourite quotes, this time from Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale:

"I have always been a reader; I have read at every stage of my life and there has never been a time when reading was not my greatest joy. And yet I cannot pretend that the reading I have done in my adult years matches in its impact on my soul the reading I did as a child. I still believe in stories. I still forget myself when I am in the middle of a good book. Yet it is not the same. Books are for me, it must be said, the most important thing; what I cannot forget is that there was a time when they were at once more banal and more essential than that. When I was a child books were everything. And so there is in me, always, a nostalgic yearning for the lost pleasure of books. It is not a yearning that one ever expects to be fulfilled."

Harry Potter is the closest that I have ever come, as a teenager and adult, to fulfilling that lost pleasure in books.

Jul. 14th, 2011

now that I have come to fifty years

(no subject)

This excellent piece by Geoff Lemon has been doing the rounds, dispensing the sober truth: almost no one is going to be affected by Australia's new carbon tax. $9.90 extra week will break almost no one's bank.

In actual fact, I think the current carbon tax package is too soft and only a token step towards redressing climate change, but it's little wonder that this is the best the government could do with so many people opposed to the idea, not to the mention opposed to the very concept of climate change itself, and the need to do anything about it.

Then I saw The Global Rich List, where you can rank your innual income against the rest of the world. My paltry postgrad stipend still puts me in the top 11-12%, a rather sobering thought. Yes, the cost of living in Sydney is pretty high, but what is included in that cost of living, anyway? Rent for a roof over my head, electricity and gas to keep me warm and able to cook and see, fresh running water, adequate public transport, and more than enough good food to eat. That's a whole lot more than a lot of people in the world. And if we didn't spend and use so much power and fuel, then the need for a carbon tax mightn't be as dire.

The fact is, very few people in Australia are truly doing it tough, no matter what Tony Abbott says (and as if Mr Abbott himself would even know what that means). Lemon has it exactly right when he says, "Australians, en masse, are enjoying a better standard of living than has ever been enjoyed in this country’s history." There's some poverty, but not much, and those who really cannot afford the increase caused by the carbon tax won't have to.

I'm lucky. We're the lucky country. So why are we so damn selfish sometimes?!
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Jul. 7th, 2011

classical Cate

Canberra Stories



Facing each other across Anzac Parade stand Parliament House and the Australian War Memorial. Parliament is intended to be the symbolic heart of the nation, and the War Memorial its soul. We make jokes about Parliament being more like a diseased body or even just an appendage, but the War Memorial is genuinely moving. I wonder if other countries mourn their losses so publicly and largely. For a young country, we have lost many lives in over a hundred years of on-and-off conflict. The Roll of Honour celebrates the dead, in two long walls of names, effective more for the sheer numbers than anything else. Our tour guide singles out a few names and tells the stories behind them. Each Remembrance Day, the plaques are updated if required. There was a boy a couple of years ahead of me at school who was killed in Afghanistan last year. His name has been added, and when I see it the long-gathering tears spill over. The War Memorial is a locus for communal grief and national mourning, but the personal pervades. The Tomb of the Unknown Solider lies in the Hall of Memory. Underneath, medals and Victoria Crosses in the Hall of Valour. Hundreds of artefacts are on display in the museum, which is very well put together, but taken all at once it’s rather overwhelming. I cannot take the time to pause as I should, I cannot keep it together and read every story.



*

Questacon on a Sunday morning is a dangerous place to be, especially if you are neither a child nor accompanying children of your own. Read more...Collapse )

Jun. 18th, 2011

Domestic Goddess

Food.

I have several issues with yoghurt:

1. I am lactose-intolerant, or at least, have issues with dairy. It seems more related to the fat content though, so low-fat yoghurt, hard cheese and skim milk are generally okay in small amounts. Cream, ice cream, soft cheese and giant iced coffees, not so much.

2. Texture. It has none.

3. During my babysitting years I spent a lot of time spoon-feeding yoghurt to babies who would promptly dribble it out, get it all over their face and hands, and then smear it all over me. Once you've had to wash yoghurt mixed with snot out of your hair, you kind of go off the idea of putting yoghurt in your mouth.

Nonetheless, I'm on my third round of antiobiotics this year, for my third sinus infection this year (Doctor: "Your sinuses probably don't drain properly." Me: "Um, thanks."), and decided now would be a good time to learn to like yoghurt since it's so good for you and all. ("It makes your insides go out!" -- Sarah Haskins, Target Women.) My first problem was deciding which yoghurt to buy from the wall of the stuff at the supermarket. Low-fat, no fat, high fat, low-sugar, high-flavour high-sugar high-fat, guilt-free, fat-free, taste-free, probiotics, prebiotics (huh), antidisestablishmentbiotics. I don't even know. I know I should just buy low-fat natural unsweetened yoghurt, but I'm not there yet.

My second problem was how to make it palatable and not like dribbly baby food. Solution: muesli! Crunchy and somewhat healthy with tasty fruits and things and probably better for me than my usual breakfast of Vegemite toast (I don't do cereal because of the dairy thing, and also, because I don't like mushy food groosss). Conclusion: I like yoghurt and muesli. It is good for me. YAY I'M A GROWN-UP.

Other grown-up things: twice this week went to nice restaurants with Boyfriend and ate duck. I usually ignore duck on menus because I'm not keen on it and Boyfriend loves it, but both occasions this week were set menus so duck it was. And OMG! So good. Both dishes were roasted duck breast with various delicious things. Duck is my new favourite thing, after petit fours -- it's like an extra dessert but also, sweeties! However, cannot shake the feeling that sommeliers at fancy restaurants always think I'm an idiot because of my wine choices, but perhaps that is a post for another time.

Gonna make sticky date pudding tonight, oh yes.
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Jun. 15th, 2011

Catherine writing

The 'Other' Side of Australia

Qantas treats the five-hour flight like a long-haul journey. We are fed at odd times, and the lights are turned off in the late afternoon in order to mess with our melatonin. The two-hour time difference is slight but a difficult one to adjust to; for the first few days I wake up around 4.30am and can never get back to sleep.

My friend K lived in Perth for a while as a teenager, and has just moved back. She tells me that much of Western Australia cares little for the rest of the nation, seeing it as merely a drain on the state’s resources. It’s easy to see how resentment could grow in isolation. She also claims that Perthians are more than a little classist, and it matters what suburb you live in and which school you attend/ed. But it’s kind of like that in Sydney, not that I try to care very much about these things. I’ve been to the “good” schools and the average ones, and lived in a dodgy suburb or two. What’s the difference? I’ve also lived in a state and a region that felt ignored or ridiculed by the rest of Australia. None of us are the favourite child, after all.



Perth is on a river, but it’s brackish, and the sea is close by. In one day of driving outside the city we go through lush valleys, dry bush, desert sands and the western coast. The Pinnacles are eerie in the afternoon light. We wonder if the rocks might come to life at night, stand up and move about, settling down into stone again as the sun rises. Aboriginal legend tells that the rocks are the grasping fingers of foolhardy boys who drowned in the sand though they were warned by the elders not to go into the desert.

On this, the other side of Australia, there is a Benedictine monastery, keeping fifteen-hundred-year-old tradition. Almost all of the town of New Norcia is owned by the monastery or related in some way. There used to be four schools run by various orders, and a hundred and fifty monks at the monastery. Today the schools are closed, and there are eight monks. And yet the town and the monastery continues on, almost delightfully medieval, and I do not mean that in any pejorative sense. There is a miracle story attached to the site, and stories of ghosts. The monks aim for self-sufficiency, and sell bread and other products. I bought some nutcake, darkly chewy but also thick with hazelnuts, almonds, and pecans – signifying courage, integrity, and passion.

At Fremantle we visit the Round House, one of the oldest buildings in Australia. It was a prison, but not for convicts – they arrived at the colony later. Underneath the cliff is a tunnel cut into the rock for hauling whale carcasses into town for processing. At one of the maritime museums we view what seems like endless caches of materials recovered from Dutch shipwrecks. A partial hull of the Batavia is here, and gruesome tales about the fates of those aboard. Is it that the coast of WA has suffered more shipwrecks, or that they have discovered and excavated more shipwrecks off the WA coast? The remnants of the drowned and dead always hold a morbid charm, don’t they.



We made sure to catch a sunset over the Indian Ocean, as we only get sunrises over the Pacific. Man, this country is big.

In a couple of weeks I am going to Canberra, and so in the space of just over a month I shall have visited QLD, WA, and the ACT, while living in NSW. Not bad for someone who up until seven years ago had never left Queensland.

Apr. 27th, 2011

born to be wilde II

(no subject)

So for Easter I went away to the north coast with my boyfriend and his family. This was the view from the house:



Ah, the serenity.

It was a couple of days of drinking and eating and being very, very lazy. The Easter Bunny visited, as did a couple of kangaroos. On Easter Sunday we went into town for the annual duck races:



None of my ducks won, but I got a sausage from the sausage sizzle and watched small children go on an Easter egg hunt, so all in all it was a good day. I also had a great nap.

I read Never Let Me Go for the first time and liked it, although I wished I had read it when it first came out like I wanted to, because I already knew how it would go. Knowing the main actors in the adaptation, I started picturing Keira Knightley as Kathy in my head, and Carey Mulligan as Ruth, only to find out that the casting is the opposite. I'll be so confused when I see the movie.

Since my return have been frantically trying to catch up on work while fighting off the possibility of yet another cold or similar virus. Am in Brisbane this weekend so my good health and continued good work is vital. I'm on track with the work... sort of. I think.

It's also REALLY COLD. Turns out April is the cruellest month because autumn takes you unawares and you think how can it be this bad when it's not even really winter what am I going to do dear Lord WHAT WILL I DO. I am fairly sure I have a selective memory when it comes to the seasons, as every year the cold weather scares me anew. I tell myself I've been colder, and how can this get as bad as winter in Leeds, with the snow and the wind and all, and yet, I dread it. You can take the girl out of Queensland...

Anyway, turns out this house is also ridiculously cold. I mean, it's on par with the outside temp if not slightly lower, even with doors and windows closed. My previous apartment was like an oven, so this is quite a change. We've got a gas heater in the living room but I might have to get a heater for my bedroom and swallow the costs as winter progresses, because, man. I'm typing through ice, and have had two quilts on my bed for weeks now. *cricri*

Apr. 22nd, 2011

St Francis

(no subject)

Goodness, Easter seems to have crept up on me. I'm heading out of town tomorrow and am somehow out of time to wax about my love for "Gethsemane" despite my dislike of Andrew Lloyd Webber and my many problems with Jesus Christ Superstar, as well as my inexplicable preference for Drew Sarich's unique take on the song.



Happy Easter, to those who are celebrating, and have a good weekend, all.

Feb. 25th, 2011

part of your world

(no subject)

I hope I can be forgiven for the narcissism inherent in this post. This is silly and melodramatic, but I feel like disaster has followed me lately.

I left Brisbane the day the flooding began in earnest. Cyclone Yasi hit my hometown a few weeks before I was due to go back, and affected my family. I was in Christchurch, disheartened by the earthquake damage, two weeks before the second quake.

It is the latter that has shocked me the most, though, and it is the latter disaster that has been the worst especially in terms of loss of life. It is a very strange feeling to recognise streets and half-destroyed buildings on the news, from a place where I spent less than twenty-four hours. It's even worse for those who actually live there, I'm sure.

Let me be clear that I am not saying that these incidents are worse than any of the hundred other natural disasters that have happened lately to places I've never been; rather, that my personal connection merely makes it a little easier for me to understand the magnitude of the problems as well as how lucky I have been to escape them so far. It's one thing to watch images of disaster unfold in front of you, but quite another to watch and know that you could have been there, but for the grace of God.

The obvious lesson to take here is the utter fragility of life. We are never safe. On any day, at any moment, the ground could shake, the heavens open, the river rise, or the wind blow everything away. Who knows how much time any of us has left?

In that spirit, let me say this: I love you, my LiveJournal friends and readers.

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