Saturday, 31 October 2015

What I Loved - We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

Sometime last week I looked at the state of my room and decided something really needed to be done. The various notebooks, recycled paper impromptu to do lists and post-its are immune. There’s no way of changing how I work so that just needs to be overlooked - that said it’s been a disturbing interval between real output that perhaps I should be looking at shaking the work approach up a bit. But the immediate “issue” was the towers of books. 

I’d been using some sort of logic to look like I was organising or categorising them but I couldn’t even stack them neatly anymore. I’d started a pile on a stool on my partner’s side of the bed, even though he’s probably read about 6 books in our 14 months together, and most of those when we've been on holidays. 

If a tidy room = a tidy mind, and vice versa, I was due for a thorough reconfiguration.

So I decided that the most effective and immediate strategy was simple: cut off the major supply. I’m sorry Stonnington library service – if there is any correlation between your funding and the volume of loans, I’m about to register a wee dip on your weekly report. Until I have finished all of the books I own/have on loan from my mum, I am not going to borrow any more books.

It’s so refreshing when you make a powerful decision, one you know will bring immediate benefits. Especially when you get home from returning all of the offenders you really want to read, only to realise that one has managed to endure.
I was packing to come away for a quiet long weekend and saw one spine with a sticker on it, FIC FOW, and what a one to escape the sweep up: ‘We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves’.

Everyone should read this. Readers, thinkers, animal lovers, humanists, sisters, parents, students…if the population was a Venn diagram of demographics this book could be one where they all overlap. It’s such a compelling story in utterly remarkable hands.
I don’t ‘review’ books here, I only share stories that have really meant something to me, either as a reader or as a writer. Often both, definitely both in this case. 

As a reader? 
The ultimate tribute is when you can’t put a book down, will surrender sleep in order to finish, and can’t do much else for a while once you have. I sat in the swivel chair by the window looking out on the steady rain that is probably ruining many people’s long weekend plans and enjoyed my tears’ trail. It’s a beautiful experience, to be moved to tears, or laughter, or in this rare case, both, by words on a page.

As a writer? 
Here is a case study of acknowledging and throwing out the rules of structure-
“Skip the beginning. Start in the middle.” (end of Prologue)
“And I’ve reached a point here…where I don’t see how to go further forward without going back…Which also happens to be the exact moment when the part I know how to tell ends and the part I’ve never told before begins.”
“I’ve told you the middle of my story now. I’ve told you the end of the beginning and I’ve told you the beginning of the end. As luck would have it, there is considerable overlap between the only two parts that remain.” (p. 284 of 308)

Voice. Do you need any more than the paragraphs above? If you do, or just so that I can share more-
“So now it’s 1979. Year of the Goat. The Earth Goat.
Here are some things you might remember. Margaret Thatcher had just been elected Prime Minister. Idi Amin had fled Uganda. Jimmy Carter would soon be facing the Iran hostage crisis. In the meantime, he was the first and last president ever to be attacked by a swamp rabbit. That man could not catch a break...
...The only part of this I was aware of at the time was the ‘Breaking Away' part. In 1979 I was five years old, and I had problems of my own. But that’s how exciting Bloomington was – even the suffering children could not miss the white-hot heat of Hollywood.”

One of my favourite bit parts is Ezra, the caretaker of the student apartment building.
“We sat around our own table, an island of sad refelction in an ocean of merry din. We drank Todd’s Sudwerk beers, and shook our heads over Ezra, who’d once wanted to join the CIA but hadn’t managed in his first (as far as we knew) commando operation, to free a single monkey.”
“The secret to a good life, “ he told me once, “is to bring your A game to everything you do. Even if all you’re doing is taking out the garbage, you do that with excellence.”

As a person? 
Like the other components I can’t express this without quoting directly from the text about which I’ve been trying to write.
What I’ve tried to describe before when calling myself (as a character) an unreliable witness, with “The fiction we use to make fact fit,” is better addressed by Fowler with, “Language does this to our memories – simplifies, solidifies, codifies, mummifies. An oft-told story is like a photograph in a family album; eventually, it replaces the moment it was meant to capture.”

“In everyone’s life there are people who stay and people who go and people who are taken away against their will.”

And for anyone who’s ever sat in that dreadful mute hospital hiatus-
“I remember an aquarium in the waiting room. I remember fish whose beating hearts were visible inside their bodies, whose scales were the colour of glass. I remember a snail that dragged itself along the sides, the mouth in its foot expanding and contracting endlessly as it moved. The doctor came out and my mother stood to meet him. “I’m afraid we’ve lost him this time,” he said, as if there would be a next time.”
Deep breath.

Anyone who’s read my ‘reviews’ knows how much I love reading the acknowledgements and it’s not surprising that Karen Joy Fowler opens hers with, “Many, many thanks are due here.”

Right back at you Fowler, for giving us this book, which I’ll be okay about returning to the library as I know they have a waiting list for it and it’ll be in someone else’s hands soon so there’ll be one more person who will “…see so much of America today.”

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Time Out Track: The Love of a Bad Man

Usually my Time Out Track is a clip that goes for at least a few minutes, but today seems to be a general showcase of less is more.

Article by: Madeleine Dore
image from Arts Hub website

The Chart Collective project, 'I Was Here', is now live, so for this (sunny and hot) week we can read more than 50 anonymous true stories of 300 characters or less on posters around Melbourne's CBD. If you're not a "flasher", or don't yet know that you are, have a look at the examples on Arts Hub here

Short. Melbourne. Impact.

And while catching up on some news from Scribe Publications, I read that they have "just signed the exceptionally talented Laura Elizabeth Woollen in a two-book deal for her short-story collection, 'The Love of a Bad Man', and her novel-in-progress, 'Beautiful Revolutionary'."

The 1:33 trailer for her short story collection is a gorgeous production - much more teaser than trailer - and definitely makes me want to read more.

Creative and clever Melbourne, you're struttin' your short stuff today, and it looks goooood.

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Feeling old thanks frankie

Reading a recent issue of 'frankie' was my latest experience of "I'm definitely getting older". Like being excited that there's another series of 'Rake' in the making and often sharing Greg Sheridan's opinions.

I browsed this good-looking, good print quality journal that celebrates a very interesting and diverse range of individuals and small businesses, which I know that I should enjoy reading about. But I kept wandering off - looking at the mix of people in the library and the quiet school holiday street outside.
I can appreciate that there is good writing in the articles - there's hooks, narrative arcs and unique voices - but terms like "upcycling textiles" and "up-skilling communities", which sound like such positive activities, actually served as expressions that distanced me.

It's similar to how I felt when I joined a management consultancy firm and was told to "touch base" with a client. I didn't actually get what they were asking me to do, and when I did find out I vowed that it was a term I would never use.

I'm not a complete colloquial social purist. I started dropping 'like' into sentences as a pause or a placeholder after everyone esle did, and when I bought a pair of skinny jeans I realised I should never say I'll never do something. But for me, reading 'frankie' has gone from enjoying a new publication (which it was when I first read it 18 months ago) to something more like sociological research.

I'm pretty sure I'll never use the headline 'Tattoorary' or study at The College of Event Management - that said, the DIY Terrarium course at the CAE did get my attention - and my reaction to these reminded me of the first time I was called lady, when a young mother on a tram told her 5 year-old to give up their seat for me. I was surprised and a little offended before I thought of the 25 minute journey ahead of me and thanked them as I sat down.

I was respectful as I placed the issue of 'frankie' I hadn't finished back on the library shelf. It had reminded me of not being cool when I was younger, but not in a bad way. Now, comfortable in this period that is technically middle-age but feels like too much fun to be called something I always imagined to be dour, I could see that 'frankie' is fun, and funny, and something that I would have loved to have found when I was awkwardly trying to find my look and my place in a community far more diverse than my suburban experience of growing up.

And just to reinforce feeling old, I went back to a frankie that I enjoyed during those awkward years.


Friday, 4 September 2015

Time Out Track: City Calm Down

I heard this song on Triple R last week and jumped out of bed to Shazam it, just in case I missed the attribution, because hearing Jack Bourke's voice for the first time was like stumbling across Interpol. And that's saying something.

This Melbourne group have been working away for 2 years on their new LP and 'Wandering' is the second single they've released. In this clip, directed by Timothy O'Keefe, the band were trying to capture "that awkward anxiety one feels when they believe they're being misunderstood and disrespected." They child actor they've chosen does an amazing job of conveying this in his expressions and movements as he mouths Jack's powerful baritone vocals.

City Calm Down are kicking off a national tour in Melbourne on Sat 3rd October (aka Grand Final Day) at Howler. If I don't make it to the gig I'll definitely be picking up the album, and I'm pretty sure this track is going to get a few runs in my headphones today.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Melbourne Writers Festival - Artist Transport

I'm excited. Yes, it's sunny and mild enough not to need a heavy jacket, very good reasons to be happy, but more importantly it's on. #MWF15 officially kicked off this morning.

Last year I was a front-of-house volunteer, collecting tickets at the door, politely asking people to move up so that we could fill all the seats in a room, checking writers were comfortable in Green Rooms and steering them to the signing table.

Of course one of the (many) perks was then getting to sit in and listen to the conversations, readings and panel discussions.

This year I decided to put my hand up for Artist Transport instead, and I cannot believe the people I'm going to picking up and taking to the airport. It's a little bit amazing, exciting, intimidating and just bizarre to think that I will be the one who welcomes guests from pretty much every continent. Poets, performance artists and politicians...I will be their first contact with #MWF15.

Okay, now I'm making myself nervous. But mostly, I can't wait!

I do feel as though I shouldn't announce the details of my upcoming passengers. I'm not sure why but it doesn't seem right to broadcast, or brag, so for now I'll just say that my first trip is tonight, to an event, so, if you check the program, you might be able to work out who is going to be in Car #1 with me at the wheel.

Deep breath.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

What I Loved: Get in trouble by Kelly Link

This collection is outrageous. I never thought that I'd be hooked by stories with superheroes, Summer People, Sleepers or Ghost Boyfriends, but I've just finished it and I'm telling you, readers, to get your hands on it.

In hindsight there are a few hints that this is going to be a trip before you even start reading:

  1. The title: what reader isn't at least a little bit mischievous; who wouldn't want to know what kind of trouble we're talking about and who gets in it
  2. Michael Chabon calls Kelly Link "the most darkly playful voice in American fiction"
  3. Neil Gaiman says "she is unique and should be declared a national treasure"
  4. Her author photo: she looks like she's just holding in a great story under that smile, but only just; her eyes lock in with the confidence that she can hold your attention and that tattoo, well I'm just intrigued at how stating the obvious seems like something with more possibilities and stories behind it
  5. Acknowledgements: I love reading these - it's where a writer really has the free space to be themselves and speak as an individual. Fiction, non-fiction, poetry, plays...are all spaces for writers to explore, expose, polish and propose, but here, this page or two, is where stripped down personality can really show. And in this case you get a peek into the community behind these stories. Link thanks people for borrowed ghost stories and discussions about evil pants and television shows, and I've never seen an Arts Centre thanked for providing "a desk, some elk, a bear, and conversation" before, but here it is.
If I'd done much research before reading 'Get in trouble' I probably wouldn't have touched it. On Goodreads, as well as the obvious Short Stories and Fiction groups, it's been added to Fantasy, Magical Realism, Science Fiction and Horror and I guess I'm one of those "people who don't read fantasy fiction but have #insertyourownexample"* that the panel at the Bendigo Writers Festival "Fantastic" session talked about.

Those tags could easily have been more than enough reason for me to leave this book in the library when I have so many other stories to read, but boy am I glad I didn't.

I do have one question about the book: On the cover, what does the key with 1584 mean? Maybe I can ask her at the Five Minute Story Slam (MWF)

Saturday, 1 August 2015

I love you Melbourne, but

I love you Melbourne, I really do. We've been back together for almost 18 months and we're still holding on to the magic. I love that here, in the depths of winter, we'll still get sunshine. We can still swim outside and run the Tan and I still love coming home with bags full of shopping from a market.

Last night K and I went to the MCG. We caught a busy football-passengers train and looked out as we crossed the Yarra and there you were, reflected and lit up with your pretty lights decorating Melbourne park and the bridges, little invitations and look-at-mes for miles and millions of people.

At Richmond the exodus was calm - it was early enough to walk with purpose but not aggression - and the announcer politely advised everyone to check their myki balance now as there would be long queues for topping up after the game.  Thursday's violent winds had stilled. We'd followed a blue sky day with a brilliant full moon and as we walked up the hill towards the mighty MCG light towers, K relaxed into Friday-night finished-work mode. Maybe it was even a bit of a Hawthorn back-to-back-premierships mode - I barrack for Collingwood so my last memory of sitting outside and really enjoying a game was against Melbourne in Round 10, and I'm not confident about the rematch today - but the crowd and the hunt for a seat and getting to the loo all felt more like the build-up than a series of obstacles and frustrations.

Once I'd let go of the misplaced apostrophe on the Tigers' banner and the siren went, of course it was game on.

The Tiges, gutted over last week's 4-pointer to Freo, came out to win. The Hawks have been giving textbook demonstrations of how to win a blowout lately, so their goalless first quarter wasn't too much to worry about, and by half-time the 2 point margin pointed to a potential 3rd quarter steamrolling.

Of course it didn't pan out that way at all and the Richmond supporters were as on fire as their players. Hawthorn supporters went from keeping a lid on it, to disbelief, to yelling out, "This is rubbish; stop just blazing away; WHO'S ON HIM?"

For someone who doesn't barrack for either side it was a great night. More than 66,000 people having a shout, a Four'N Twenty and a pint in the Bull Ring and a man to snuggle in to.

But then we left the 'G and that's when, Melbourne, you really let me down.

We were part of the brown and yellow evacuation moments before the siren, weaving around slow walkers to get to Richmond station before the full onslaught and get on our train and get home. We could hear the announcer way down Brunton Avenue, calling out the platform numbers for the different train lines, and we got to the top of the ramp for our train and saw: "Next train: 21 mins".
Really? Really Melbourne and ptv? In 21 minutes there'll be another 5,000 people down here and it's already crowded.

We can take a couple of different lines and have  a longer walk at the end, so we ran up and down more ramps to find that the earliest was 18 minutes, and as the crowds started coming down the road and through the gates, swelling up the ramps and on to the platforms, I thought of London. I thought of the tube and peak hour services every 4 minutes; I remembered standing in the cold wind on Vauxhall bus station, waiting for the 77 or the 87 to come swinging around the corner from the bridge, cursing if I waited the worst-case-scenario of 10 minutes. On Platform 6 at Richmond I remembered the horror of the packed rail trains at Clapham Junction, but the trains kept coming and gave you hope that if you didn't make this one the next was only a few minutes away and you'd get on that.

Here it's fierce. You have to get into brace position and charge because if you miss this it's another 20 minutes and it's already 10.45pm and there wasn't any cloud so it is pretty bloody cold and don't start Tiges, don't start winding up other supporters when we have these narrow platforms that we all have to wait on and you could have stayed back a little while longer and sung your song and cheered your team and let us get on our trains and get out of here ahead of you.

When we did get home we turned on the television to see the English batsmen spearing cricket balls all around the sunny Edgebaston field. We saw Michael Clarke drop a catch and topless Poms waving the 4-runs signal with their non-beer-holding hand far too often and it was really Saturday already. It started raining but when I woke up and looked at the London grey clouds I was pretty happy, because here, in Melbourne, I have a shower that doesn't run out of hot water between shampooing and conditioning; I have ramen stalls and coffee competition; I have local libraries that don't charge to reserve a book and there's The Wheeler Centre, the State Library space to write in and MWF in just a couple of weeks. I have nephews and nieces and a gorgeous man and soon, soon I'll have a new pup and although today is grey it's already August, it's still light after 5pm or even later. Tonight I'll listen to The Prosecco Hour on PBS 106.7 while I cook a roast chicken and we'll look at the MIFF program for something to get to and in the morning we'll walk/run around the Tan. But we have to drive to get there. In London I didn't need a car for 5 years, so I love you Melbourne, but you could make it a little bit easier for everyone to love all of you.