The Graduate

Last Wednesday, I attended my class’s graduation ceremony from the Masters of Science programme in Creative Writing (?!) at the University of Edinburgh. As I wrote at the time…

Edgy?! Yer ‘aving a laff!

We all had a lovely time. And I’m proud to be able to say that with the help of Beth and Paw Broon, I’m a post-stroke graduate! I have to say, though, that while it was nice to punctuate a wonderful year, it’s a bit concerning to be leaving the leafy groves of academe for a highly competitive world 18 years after I did it the first time.

Fortunately, Book Week Scotland was taking place out in the real world at the same time. And that helped ease the transition….

[In the Stroke Bloke privacy spectrum, get the good stuff and have a chat over here.]

Our pals at Illicit Ink put on an entertaining night of storytelling at the Traverse Theatre, and it was a pleasure to be able to sit back and enjoy one again after the very different pleasure of performing as The Wee Mermannie at the Book Festival.

‘Will he ever stop banging on about that?’
Probably not.

Apollo 21 colleague Lynsey May was reading some of her work, and I had the pleasure of my first exposure to Lucy Ribchester’s evocative prose. And they both told me that Cathy Rentzenbrink, whom I was going to see talk at Wester Hailes library the next day, was lovely.

How right they were! As part of Edinburgh Libraries’ Edinburgh Reads series, Cathy spoke openly and engagingly about her memoir, The Last Act of Love, as well as the work she does as a director at the Quick Reads adult literacy project.

Hey! Are those my Dad Jeans?!

Now I’m going to be asking Longsufferinggirlfriendoftheblogbeth to slip a copy of The Last Act of Love into my Saturnalia stocking. I hope she’s reading!

As described in the Grauniad’s rave review,

[i]t tells the story of Cathy… and her family coming to terms with a horrific accident involving her younger brother Matty and its heartbreaking aftermath…

…but it’s also warm and humorous and gentle and nourishing, as I can well imagine from my day at the library.

One of the most interesting insights Cathy provided related to the act of writing her memoir – something along the lines of how, when she started writing the book, it was for herself, and to come to terms with the events described in it. At that point, she couldn’t imagine having anyone else read it. But later, it was the idea of the reader who might share her story that dragged her through the second half of the book.

I was reminded of this remark in a very different context as I scoured my browser’s reading list for something to blog about this week.

Image from this summary of concerns about the Bill

I’ve previously mentioned the following passage from Glenn Goodwald’s terrifying account of the Snowden revelations, No Place To Hide:

Privacy is a core condition of being a free person, [allowing us a realm] where we can act, think, speak, write, experiment and choose how to be away from the judgmental eyes of others.

While – admittedly, not having read it yet – it seems that Cathy’s book doesn’t expressly address political issues, I can’t help but imagine that the idea of having intimate thoughts that one is working through subject to the possibility of being read by prying, anonymous eyes must be chilling to the memoirist’s act of storytelling. Or to put it another way, in another context

I suppose being at an event that celebrated the importance of reading for everyone, and the privileges that reading grants, evokes John Naughton’s recent recollection of an insight of Frederick Douglass.

As Naughton puts it, “there is an indissoluble link between liberty and the freedom to read what one chooses.”

I’m also considering this week the calls for reformation of the Scots law of defamation to catch up with recent modifications in England and Wales. When writing about my work-in-progress memoir of extreme survival, I’ve previously considered James Rhodes’s memoir, Instrumental. Rhodes’s ex-wife attempted to prevent publication of key passages of the book pursuant to a precedent established by the Victorian case of Wilkinson v Downton – more here.

In the aftermath of the attempt being struck down, James Rhodes wrote the following:

I’m relieved that our justice system has finally seen sense and not only allowed me to tell my story, but affirmed in the strongest possible way: that speaking up about one’s own life is a basic human right.

Now, I don’t have the public profile of a Jenny Jones or a James Marsh or a Cathy Rentzenbrink or a Glenn Greenwald or that black and white cat that sometimes wanders along Dean Park Mews when I’m coming home from town late at night. But now you know I live somewhere between the New Town and Wester Hailes Library. And it’s paranoid, of course maybe, but 2% of me finds myself wondering when I switch on the computer to blog, is this thing slow because (A) it’s old and I spend a lot of time reading guff online for the blog, or (B) GCHQ wants to hire hipsters and needs to confirm my views on Arcade Fire.

“Groovy, icy disco? Stroke Bloke’s an idiot, I tell this House. It’s all about Haitian jazz.”

The real world is a bit scary, I suppose. But if British people really don’t care about privacy, I suppose I’d better arm myself.

By reading, Theresa. If you’re reading.  And writing about what I learn, so I can try to figure it out….

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2 thoughts on “The Graduate

  1. Congrats grad! I should probably tell you now that your computer is slow because I put spyware on it to make sure you were doing your schoolwork. I think I might leave it on though, in case I need to confirm your views on what constitutes a sandwich.

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