Saturday, 16 January 2016

Having a chat with mum as usual

When I went up to the nursing home this morning to see mum I arrived in her room but there was noone there, so I went back downstairs to where they were running an exercise class and there she was lifting up her arms at the instructor's call to reach up high, then putting her hands back down on her knees when told to do so. I went out to the elevator lobby to wait until the class finished, and when it had I went back inside to collect mum so we could go back to her room. Mum was sitting in her chair and she gave me a big smile and told the instructor that she hadn't seen me for weeks (it had actually been three days since I had last seen her).

We headed back up to mum's room. On the way down the hallway we came across the lady with the tea cart, so we collected a cup of coffee and piece of cake each on the journey down. Back in mum's room we took up our positions in the chairs by the windows and I plugged in the iPad because it had lost all its charge.

As usual mum asked me "What's going on in the big wide world" and I mentioned that I had had a meeting with an academic on campus at the University of Sydney because I had been thinking about going back to uni to do a research degree. I told her that I had actually contacted this professor earlier, in 2009 when I was writing a story about future-looking poetry I had found when I had been unemployed in 2002 and 2003. Mum remembered that time. I mentioned the name of the professor - Iain McCalman - and how I had interviewed him for a story on some verses that I had found that had surprised readers in their day but which had turned out to be prophetic. She said it would be good if I could go back to school to do more study. I told her that I was not sure if I would be able to do research very well. My previous experience with this type of study - when I had done my honours year as an undergraduate - had not been entirely successful because I had only achieved a 2-2 for my thesis. This was the lowest mark available for an honours degree.

We also talked about Jane Austen because it is her period of time I would be going back to uni to study. I told mum that for me the Romantic period can best be understood if you look at the work of Mozart - ordered, polite, structured - and compare it to that of Beethoven - interioric, chaotic and tumultuous. "I like 'tumultuous'," said mum. Yes, I told her, it was a striking change in the aesthetic values of Europeans in a very short period of time - about a generation from the American Revolution to the Napoleonic Wars. Mum is always happiest when she is just listening so I felt quite comfortable raving on about my favourite subject - Jane Austen.

Austen had been an active participant in the literary life of her time from an early age, I told mum. She had written short comic vignettes for the amusement of immediate family and friends while she was still a girl, vignettes that had poked mild fun at some of the more ridiculous literary tropes of the time. She had also written a 'history of England' with portraits of all the kings and queens. She was exposed to new reading from her father and mother - who swapped books with her and her sister, Cassandra. She also had two brothers at Oxford studying the classics. All in all Austen was a well-read and opinionated young woman when it came to writing and books, and she had every right to be.

Mum was quite happy for me to rave on about Jane Austen and just sat there listening while I proselytised effusively. I tried to call my brother in Houston but as usual he was not available. We haven't spoken on the iPad to him for some weeks, and it may be that he is busy with work. But mum and I had a nice morning anyway and I left just before lunchtime, and headed back down the motorway in the car. I stopped off to buy some petrol on the way home.

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