Just Like This: In Which Uni is Just Like Throwing Fish at Cartoon Penguins

 

Caitlin is a third year Arts student, majoring in Creative Writing and English & Theatre Studies. “Just Like This” is a fortnightly column where she compares university to things that aren’t university.

 

Sarah & Duck is one of my favourite TV shows. I’m not trying to be endearing or ironic or twee by saying I like a kid’s TV show – I just genuinely dig it. I like how it’s equal parts soothing and odd; I like the smallness and simple weirdness of its world. I like the way Sarah is enthralled when the sunlight makes her lemon water shine in rainbow colours, but in the same breath thinks nothing of a dinner plate being abducted by a fog hill.

 

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In one episode, Duck is going through a bit of a penguin phase. He reads about penguins, watches TV shows about penguins, and in the end Sarah dresses him up as a penguin (and herself as a zookeeper) and they go to the zoo to see some real penguins.

Once they get to the penguin enclosure, Sarah is mistaken by another zookeeper as ‘the new chap’ and is told to feed the penguins. Since she and Duck are all about penguins, she goes along with it and soon finds herself surrounded by the hungry birds. She’s a bit overwhelmed and just sort of starts flinging fish at the crowd in the hope all the penguins get fed.

 

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Duck, meanwhile, is trying super hard to be a convincing penguin. He’s dressed the part, in his wetsuit and his tie-on beak, but he just doesn’t have the hang of sliding down the ice on his belly; he prefers bread to fish; and he can’t quite communicate on the same level as the actual penguins.

***

I feel like a fraudulent zookeeper at uni so often – especially in literature classes. I always feel like it’s a really shameful secret that I’ve not read a single Murakami novel, or that the first time I’d read anything by Hemingway was last year. I get such a strong feeling that everyone in my lit subjects has read everything in the literary ‘canon’, and consequently knows exactly how to get enough fish to each penguin. And here I am in the back row of the lecture theatre in my I Heart Hemingway wetsuit, just chucking fish arbitrarily at the lecture slides in the hope that some of them will stick.

***

I live in Melbourne now, but last year I lived two hours away from the city. My son and I lived in a little unit, and since most of my friends lived in Melbourne, we were fairly socially isolated for a little while. I didn’t mind that very often – there were tough things about that year for sure, but that unit often felt like a calm retreat from the real world. We grew vegetables in the backyard and built block towers in the lounge room. I would fill up a plastic tub in the bottom of the shower as my son’s bath, and then once he was clean we would take it outside and water the lawn with it. He learnt to walk in that unit; learnt how to use a watering can and how to feed himself with a spoon. Our world was small and simple – and, in many ways, equal parts soothing and odd.

 

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Now when I watch Sarah and Duck leave the self-contained world of their rainbow-filled house and head to the zoo (it’s one of my favourite episodes), I think of our move to Melbourne. I was so used to defining my own frames of reference when we lived in our little unit-world (growing zucchinis/plate-stealing fog hills) that it was jarring to realise that the rest of the world can operate within different ones (Hemingway/sliding down the ice on bellies).

It’s easier in Melbourne, as an aspiring writer, to be involved in the ‘lit scene’ (argh, I’m so sorry). Although more often than not, being in the ‘scene’ and going to lectures and events simply leaves me feeling surrounded by evidence of the books I haven’t read, and the references I don’t get. I frequently find myself, both at uni and in the industry that uni is supposedly preparing me for, feeling like a duck in a penguin enclosure.

 

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Ducks can learn a lot from penguins, and I’ve learnt a lot about prose from Hemingway. The thing is that like Duck, you can be an enthusiast about something without perfectly fitting its mould. You can learn to appreciate fish, and still be a connoisseur of bread – in fact, the two of those things go together quite well. But that’s an analogy for a different post.

 

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So! Happy Semester 2! Go forth & throw fish haphazardly, and without shame!

And the next time you have that’s spare, resist Dickens and Yeats just once – Sarah & Duck streams free on iview.

– Caitlin.

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