Power, Mystery, and the Hammer of the Gods

I stole this blog title from Jimmy Page, who said these three things were what he always sought in art. I couldn’t agree with him more. I have been much entertained of late, so I’m blogging it.

Sigur Ros: ooh, so mysterious

I recently saw the movie “Inni”, which is a filmed version of a Sigur Ros concert, but so much more than that. Even though I referenced Led Zep in my opening line, and have long considered them the best band in the world, I think I’m having to admit now that it’s actually Sigur Ros who should be crowned lords of all rock music. The movie is a brilliant, spare, elegiac showcase of an incredible band at the height of their powers showing that when music is done right, it’s a kind of sorcery. The dynamics, the intensity, the humanity of this band are all beyond description. I was lucky enough to see Jonsi (who is the genius at the centre of Sigur Ros) on tour last year in Melbourne, and I have come to understand that he is some kind of music god, perhaps sent by the Aesir to Iceland in the hopes that Coldplay would just shut the fuck up. If you don’t know who these people are and would like to know, try here, here, here, or even here.

Don't worry, you can (and I do) play a girl.

But I’ve also been deep, deep, and far away in the province of Skyrim. This week, in a brilliant spot of timing, I tore a couple of ligaments in my left ankle while out walking up the mountain. “Can you stay still with your foot elevated for a few days?” my phsyio asked. Why yes, yes I can. I fired up the PS3 and haven’t really moved since. The game is sublime. The landscape and the music are enough to keep me playing it, but add in the rumbling nightmare of a dragon attack, the immersive thrill of lovingly designed dungeons, and the awesome little medieval towns and… well, why bother doing real life, eh? To paraphrase Ralph Wiggum: “Oh boy, Skyrim! That’s where I’m a viking!”

Art is sometimes seen as only encompassing a few, fairly delimited (and uppity) things. Paintings, opera, maybe poetry. I dunno. But to me, this movie and this game are art. They are incredible expressions of human endeavour, pushing right out there on the boundaries of feeling and technology, to make something that is meaningful and valuable to others. It reminds me that art matters; it always matters. And I am so grateful for it, in good times and in bad.

Fresh ink

I made it through a good four decades of my life as a total cleanskin. I had always been interested in tattoos, but never got one for fear of how it would look when I was 80 and in a nursing home. Then time began to wear its tracks on my body and I thought, you know what? I’m going to change forever anyway. So last year I had a small tattoo inked on my left forearm.

You may notice I've also stopped biting my nails

What I really liked about my first ‘too is that it said something to me that was deeply personal and meaningful. Another idea that has become meaningful for me recently is the idea of harvesting. It’s true that I’ve spent a lot of my time as an adult ploughing, sowing, watering, fertilising, but haven’t really reaped much of a harvest. What I needed, I told myself, was to write the word HARVEST on the back of my hand to remind myself, the way you might write BUY TOOTHPASTE somewhere prominent when you’ve already forgotten it a hundred times.

And so here’s my new tattoo, which is the Viking rune for “harvest” (jera). It has all these lovely pagan resonances of seasons and time and agriculture, and the design is supposed to represent two scythes. I originally put it there as a reminder to harvest but, Viking magic being what it is (and remember, I don’t believe in magic except on days that I do), it’s actually a spell of sorts: to bring me my harvest. Let’s just say I’m being very careful what I sow of late.

I don’t know about tattoos. Lots of my friends have them, lots don’t. I don’t think tattoos mean you’re dangerous or cheap, nor sexy or cool. They just are what they are: a permanent mark on your body that says something to you or about you. I’m not ruling out a third. And if I do, dear reader, I’ll give you the whole story once again. Just as I’ll give the whole story to my grandchildren, when they’re sitting on my lap in the nursing home.

School’s out

I teach a lot. I mostly teach writing, though I do give a mean Beowulf lecture. I teach at University of Queensland in their postgraduate writing program, I designed the content for the Queensland Writers Centre’s Year of the Novel online program, I have mentored emerging writers, and I teach at the Queensland Writers Centre on a range of different programs: usually taking up about a dozen weekend days a year. I have been immensely privileged to see the slow waking of passion in writers, as they realise they can finally fulfill their dream of writing a story. I feel so appreciated by my many students, and now by my Faculty at UQ who have just awarded me a Teaching Excellence Award (this follows on from the Research Excellence Award I won in September, so colour me delighted).

My last Year of the Novel class for 2011

But it’s time for me to take a little breather. Having two kids and one job is hard enough. Add into the mix that I am also two authors, and I teach in the community, and it totals about four jobs all together so unless I can figure out a way to survive without sleep, the madness has to end. I’m taking a year off from the Year of the Writer program at QWC and have been successful in my application for sabbatical from UQ for first semester next year. This means I get to take a semester off from teaching to work on a research project, and it also means I’m going to be spending a lot of time wandering around northern England and Scotland looking at the ways Vikings have been memorialised in local culture and tourism.

As much as I love teaching, I can’t tell you how pleased I am to have a break from it. I have a pretty efficient engine, that can run on very little fuel. But after the year I’ve had, I have a deep, deep need to fill myself to the brim with the equivalent of that fancy 98-octane middle-class petrol. (You see how much I need a break? My metaphors are starting to suck). Then I reckon, I can produce something wonderful.

Thanks to all my past students, who have challenged me to articulate what makes good writing and thereby made me a better writer.