Mind Games: A Crash Course in Staying the Course

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Coleopterology. It’s a word that scores a minimum of 22 points in Scrabble and refers to the study of beetles.

Sadly, there’s no term for the study of the Beatles – Beatleology is just a made-up word (boo, hiss!) and scores only 17 in Scrabble – but that hasn’t stopped musicologists concocting a system which pegs Paul as the happy Beatle, George as the holy one and Ringo as the hedonistic one. (Pete Best is the has-Beatle.)

An artist’s impression of John Lennon

As for John, he’s always been seen as the brainy Beatle. This view (confirmed by the shape of his specs) is based on the fact that J-Lenn (a) wrote books, (b) penned some pretty deep lyrics, and (c) lay around pondering world peace, undisturbed by anyone except his wife, a few celebrity friends and a roomful of reporters.

Lennon’s main claim to fame – for the purpose of this post, at least – is his song ‘Mind Games’, which he recorded in 1973. It’s a great song that peaked at number 18 on the US charts.

As good as it is, though, the best thing about the tune is its title. Mind games – they’re what I’ve been playing for the last eight months.

Yes, this post is actually all about me.

It’s also (briefly) about grizzlies. Everyone knows that a bear with its paw caught in a trap will chew off its own leg rather than let its porridge go cold. Pop Will Eat Itself never covered Lennon’s song, but the band does tell us something basic about the brain: that the organ at the top will eat itself if it doesn’t have some other bone to gnaw on.

A year ago, as my regular reader – can you hear me, Major Tom? – might remember, I gave myself something meaty to munch on mentally: postgraduate study. Hot on a hunch, I enrolled in a two-year Honours course at the whizbang (possible 76 Scrabble points!) University of Vandiemonia, scoring myself a bonus 21 points (for ‘scholarship’).

So, as my first year fizzles out, how have I done? Have I eaten myself out of head and home? Or have I dined out on the ‘mind games’ of study, preserving my sanity and keeping myself out of a psychological pickle?

Some stranger on my aircraft carrier

Well, the short answer is yes – or rather affirmative (22 points). Study has saved me from myself. My course has helped me stay the course, as a full-time worker-dude, a half-decent dad and a sub-par music-maker. Mission accomplished!

And yet it’s done much more than that, of course. Being an extreme sport, it’s forced me to learn and write a whole buncha stuff for and from a whole buncha bright sparks. Wow!

Tell you more? And go easy on the false modesty? Okay – if you insist. Here’s the deal: I passed. Here’s the rub: a pass for a freaky perfectionist like me is a HD. (Boo, hiss!) Doing the math, my marks have been, well, highly distinctive.

Here’s what I’ve learnt. Firstly, that something has been hidden in plain sight from me for twenty-odd years: Tasmania and its stories. And, moreover, that in this something I’ve found myself a field of study, a source of material and inspiration, and, dare I say it, a home for my head as well as my heart.

The wandering islands (aka ‘Tasmania’)

Having stumbled on to this path, I know now what I want to be doing. I want to be reading and writing about ‘the wandering islands’, to purloin a phrase from the poet, A.D. Hope, himself a once-were Tasmanian.

I’ve learnt other things too: that Tasmania isn’t one island but many, on the map and in the mind, and that although I work in the passport office helping others to travel, I belong in the world of words and ideas, where real books and not insipid travel documents are the key to all countries.

(That’s nice, dear, but where’s my passport?)

Pesky travel permits aside, here’s what I’ve pumped out over the past eight months.

Proposals, plans and presentations aplenty, for a start. Half have been about my thesis topic (which, for the record, is ‘Tasmanian-ness’ and the lives and literary fortunes of Roy and Hilda Bridges).

Hang in there!

First I put together an annotated bibliography, thesis plan (‘Building Bridges: Displacement and the British Literary Diaspora’) and a presentation.

Later I wrote a proposal for my exegesis (the theoretical part of my thesis, which will itself be a work of fiction), followed by the exegesis itself (‘No Book is an Island: “Tasmanian-ness” and the Life and Literary Fortunes of Royal “Roy” Bridges’).

Along the way I wrote a critical review and a travel essay (‘A Room (and Tomb) of One’s Own: Revisiting and Re-evaluating “My Northwest Passage”‘), as well as another essay on a topic in Tasmanian literature. Then, just for a change, I prepared a proposal for a podcast, which I produced (‘Foreign Correspondent’).

See what I mean? Study has pushed me to do the seemingly impossible – to write and learn lotsa stuff and to stay on the straight and narrow.

Mind games, hey. Keep on playing them and, as the brainy Beatle says, you’ll make an ‘absolute elsewhere in the stones of your mind’.

Or, failing that, 15 points in Scrabble.

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