Monday, December 31, 2012

Best and Worst of 2012

Best:  Twelve months ago, I would never have guessed that this would be the best part of 2012 but in fact, it’s actually coming home to Melbourne following my two years of travelling. I dreaded April’s homecoming for months, cried unceremoniously at each farewell, and held back tears at Heathrow. Then, as soon as the plane touched down at Tullamarine everything felt good and right. And so many lovely and unexpected things have happened since: I started writing again; I got a job at the NGV; my friend Toni had the cutest of babies; my oldest friends and I have never been closer; and I still get to see so many of my London friends because they love visiting Melbourne. And while I still occasionally miss the freedom and frivolity of my London life, instead of crying for what is over, I now just smile knowing that it had all happened. Isn’t that what Dr Seuss says to do?

Worst: There was a period of about six weeks between arriving back in Melbourne and finding and starting my current job. The job hunt was tedious, the days, excruciatingly long. My friends all worked so they weren’t around to entertain me. I found myself in a dark place, desperately craving lightness and cheap thrills. I turned to 50 Shades of Grey. Wait, that’s not the worst part. After finishing 50 Shades of Grey, I moved on to 50 Shades Darker. Then 50 Shades Freed. I KNOW! Judge me all you like – I deserve everything I get. I felt so ashamed I followed up by reading some really great books but nothing could wash away the crime of bad taste and poor literary judgement from my conscience. Forgive me, Miles Franklin, for I have sinned.

What were your bests and worsts of 2012?

Friday, December 28, 2012

Are They All Creeps?


I’ve just had a lovely night at the theatre, a Christmas treat for my mum and me to see A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. On leaving the theatre, I was tired, content and slightly concerned that I might never erase from my mind the image of Oscar winner Geoffrey Rush humping an audience member on the aisle. Walking down Little Bourke Street at 11pm is an experience I rarely look forward to. All manner of drunks litter the pavement from Billboard to the rear entrance of the Swanston Street Club X, drinking, slurring and urinating or, in the case of one fine gentleman tonight, pretending to urinate in public to amuse his mates. The ‘Commit No Nuisance’ signs painted on the laneway walls, a relic of late nineteenth century ‘Marvellous Melbourne’, are lost on these young men.

It was a relief to finally reach the car, parked at the Arts Centre, and begin the short drive back to Brunswick. ‘Do you know where you’re going?’ my mum asked from the passenger seat, always an anxious CBD driver. ‘Oh yes, I’ve done this a hundred times,’ I say with a confidence that borders on arrogance as I twist and turn through the back streets of Southbank eventually finding my way to Kingsway and onwards north.

We were driving along King Street when I first noticed him. The driver of the car in front of me had his hand, no arm, out the window waving at something. I turned briefly to my right and the row of strip clubs, in search of the poor underdressed girl at the door whose attention he was seeking. A block later he was still at it. I kept reminding myself to keep my eyes on the road, to stay within the speed limit and, above all, ignore the idiot. At one point, the driver was pounding on the door and roof of his car and I’m sure he even turned around to try and make eye contact with me.

It wasn’t until we were out of the CBD and we were the only two cars on the road by Flagstaff Garden that he started to slow down, and that was when I began to panic. Arm still extended out the window, he indicated left, changed lanes and really, really slowed down until we were side by side. At that exact moment, no longer with the bright lights of the city or with his break lights shining in my face, I realised that my own headlights were switched off and had been since I left the car park in Southbank. And he had spent the last eight blocks trying to tell me that very fact. The look of exasperation on this man’s face was enough to make my heart sink to the bottom of my stomach.

With his civic duty done, he drove off and I was left humiliated and feeling pretty small. And not just because I had called him several unsavoury names up to that point. I immediately wondered what he was thinking and feeling. Aside from the frustration of attempting, and failing, to get the attention of this idiotic driver, he would have known that the reason for my disinterest and outright rudeness was because I considered him to be a raving lunatic capable of hurting me, intimidating me, possibly raping me. And my mum.

For the rest of the drive home, with headlights on, I expressed my guilt for having been such an awful person. I should have paid more attention to what he was trying to say, I shouldn’t have rushed to the assumption that he had ill intentions. My mum disagreed with me, asserting that it’s important to stay alert, to be wary of strangers and to put my safety ahead of all else. She is my mother, after all. No doubt recent tragedies have had an influence and put more weight on those words. The randomness of Jill Meagher’s attack still rings in the minds of women, and men, more often than we would necessarily verbalise.

Given these recent incidences, are we to fear most strangers who are male and who occupy the streets after dark in various capacities? A male friend of mine, I understand, would often cross to the other side of the road if he finds himself walking in a quiet and dark street near a woman. He does this to ease any potential threat the woman might feel. When I first heard about this, I thought it was incredibly chivalrous and considerate. Right now, I wonder how often he had been mistaken for a dangerous creep before deciding to adopt the pre-emptive jaywalk.  How many other honest, decent and harmless men have, at times, been feared or misjudged for simply walking home, being alone or, in the case of my driver tonight, trying to do an honourable thing? Without wishing to dilute the important message that it is the men who mistreat women who have to change their behaviour rather than those at risk who must be on higher alert, tonight I was left wondering whether there is still a place for trust between strangers.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Love Thy Museum


I received an email from Museum Victoria today asking for feedback that will help them plan for the future. It seems that they are planning some exciting things in the next phase of the institution’s development and I, for one, am delighted that they have asked me for my thoughts. I have always felt a real sense of ownership for Museum Victoria, in particular, the Melbourne Museum and the Immigration Museum and, coupled with my obsession with filling out feedback forms, I jumped at the opportunity.

Who doesn’t love the museum? From the giant whale skeleton in the foyer to the bugs, dead and alive, to those life size models of the human body – men, women, children, old wrinkly people – standing or seated comfortably in their nakedness, genitalia showing for the world to see. We giggled at the sight of them as children, and again as supposedly ‘mature grown-ups’. The galleries containing stories of Koori culture are, for many primary school children, their first introduction to Indigenous Australia.

Sadly, many Victorians’ knowledge of the Melbourne Museum end there, whatever fragments of memory are informed largely by their last visit, which was probably in grade four. Every winter we hear about a major touring exhibit through adverts on the side of trams – Pompeii, Titanic, Mesopotamia – and say to ourselves we have to go, but then rarely make it. Sure, this is different if you have a family. Who else is going to entertain your kids for half a day, teach them, stimulate them, feed them, for less than $70 all up?

There is so much that’s wonderful about Museum Victoria, which encompasses the Melbourne Museum, Immigration Museum and Scienceworks. As a history student at Melbourne Uni, I used to visit one of the two city-based museums at least once a month. I could do this because entrance for students is free. Studying the gold rush, I would turn to the museum’s telling of the growth of the colony. The Immigration Museum was invaluable for all my units on migrant histories. And then when I moved on to public history and material culture, I looked to understand the objects themselves and their role as the vehicle for illuminating a person or a culture’s story. Everyday utensils and clothing from the Kew and Beechworth asylums dating back to as early as the late nineteenth century , miniatures of Aboriginal tools and weapons made by the Le Souefs, Cuc Lam’s red suitcase that she brought with her to Australia as a refugee in the 1970s – such beautiful and poignant stories uncovered because of these objects.

I love that although I’m a tax paying adult these days, I can buy annual membership to Museum Victoria at such an accessible price of $35. I LOVE that they’ve introduced SmartBar, an afterhours adults only event where you can roam about the museum with wine and attend information talks or do crafts.

But I wonder how widely known is all of this to the people who live and work in Melbourne and Victoria. I do feel that the museum is perceived as a children's institution – rightly or wrongly – but the common perception is there. I often have to explain at length to friends (late 20s) why I love going to the museum and have a membership. I don't think enough people know about the fascinating displays in the new-ish Melbourne Story gallery space – stories about the Little Lon slums, Cole's Book Arcade and Victoria's history of psychiatry and mental health – and that's a shame because they are fascinating and relevant chapters in our history. It's unfortunate that many young adults and people without families don’t visit the museum because they believe that they’ve outgrown dinosaurs. To them I say: WHAT ABOUT THE NAKED PEOPLE?

Melbourne Museum, more so than the other museums under Museum Victoria, is ambitious in that it tries to do a lot – natural history, Koori culture, Marvellous Melbourne, the human body. That’s ultimately a great thing but it needs to be marketed more cleverly and focused beyond families and school holidays. To tell stories of contemporary Melbourne, the museum needs to look beyond its four walls and reach out to the people who are begging for their stories to be told. And the truth is, the stories are there, compelling and wondrous, just waiting for a new audience.

If you want to offer your feedback to Museum Victoria, you can visit their website where you can also find details of how to visit or become a member. I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Men of Letters


Sunday was the annual Men of Letters show in Melbourne, which is much like the now iconic Women of Letters but with a cast of men reading letters they have lovingly penned. Having lived away from Melbourne for most of the last two and a half years, which is how long this literary salon has been running, Sunday was my first time at a Men of Letters. I wondered how different it would be with the male counterparts. Would we lose some of the intimacy and trust that has so tenderly formed between the generously spirited and talented women whose public lives we’ve come to admire and their 350-some largely female audience? Would we temporarily swap the warm fuzzy sentimentality for, well, Merv Hughes?

There are just a couple of little changes to the rules at Men of Letters. The afternoon brings together a much larger cast than normal; 10 gentlemen, in fact. And each Men of Letters event has the same topic – a letter to the woman who changed my life – as a way to tie in with the origins of the event.

So what does happen when you gather ten prolific Australian men from various fields of accomplishment? What happens when you ask them to write personally about a woman who has left an imprint on their lives? And what happens when you nudge them onto a stage facing an audience predominantly made up of women? I momentarily wondered if we would be subjected to a string of odes to wives, girlfriends and the occasional ex-wife or ex-girlfriend.

What I look forward to most at these Men (and Women) of Letters events is their capriciousness. The same topic shared by the readers can take you to the most unexpected of places. It’s not uncommon for five readers to make you, in the same afternoon, laugh until snot comes out, weep, hug the person next to you, revisit a suppressed memory from grade two camp, and inspire you to pen your first letter in six years during interval.

Men of Letters didn’t disappoint in this regard. I loved Andy Griffiths’ letter to Margaret, National Customer Relations Manager at Target Australia. Nineteen years ago, Andy wrote a frivolous complaint letter – about an exploding customer salesperson – most likely born out of boredom. Good humoured Margaret indulged Andy’s playful idiocy and for that, we are eternally grateful. For it was Margaret’s letters (yes, there was more than one) that steered Andy towards professional writing and using his much loved imagination for good instead of evil.

The woman who changed Steve Vizard’s life was Shirley Temple, whose good ship lollipop led seven year old Steve to tap dancing lessons and an aspiration for the stage. Frank Woodley and his ukulele performed a brilliant personal tribute to the lady who invented the windscreen wiper. I would be doing a disservice by trying to relay the story. (Frank Woodley, by nature, doesn’t translate to the page.)

The gaiety in the room was punctuated by some more meditative letters. Political writer Robert Manne wrote to another Margaret, a lady he met in the early nineties on the Stolen Generation Taskforce. Manne’s writings on Indigenous Australia informed much of my thinking in year 12 and throughout uni, and here he was talking about the person who played a significant role in shaping his political awareness. Despite lacking in physical comedy and the dropping of any c-bombs – don’t worry, Lawrence Mooney and Sam Pang had that covered – Robert received the longest, most passionate round of applause of the afternoon.

The heroes of the afternoon will always be the brave readers who get up on that stage to share a story from their past or bare a part of their soul. It’s very difficult to detach the first person ‘I’ from letters and that must be daunting for many of the participants. But, the role of the curators should not be understated here. It is much like a well curated art exhibition, where carefully selected works of art, each with their own story and provenance, are brought together to tell a uniquely different narrative about a given history or society, offering an angle that’s never been explored before. So too is the role of co-curators Marieke Hardy and Michaela McGuire who cleverly bring together every time a distinctive mix of guests, from comedians to musicians, politicians to political writers, novelists to sportspeople, to create a rare dynamic untapped until now.

Men of Letters and Women of Letters have been going for over two and a half years now and, while based in Melbourne, have travelled around the country and played at various writers festivals. This month, their second book of letters written for the events, titled Sincerely, was released. All proceeds from the events and royalties from the books go to Edgar’s Mission animal rescue shelter.


Sunday, October 21, 2012

Alone

When Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban’s daughter Sunday Rose was born, Nicole explained to, I think it was Oprah, the idea behind her baby's name: Sunday is her and Keith’s favourite day of the week. There’s something to do with Sundays, she explains, that if you’re lonely, it is a very lonely day. But surrounded by family, then Sunday is a beautiful day. This isn’t a post about celebrity baby names – that would take too long – but it was her observation of this particular day of the week that struck me this afternoon.

So today, I found myself on the wrong kind of Sunday. The weather was lovely, a little bit sunny, a little bit breezy. Staying indoors would have been a crime. I decided to drive myself to Penny Farthing in Northcote for lunch and a coffee, alone, before heading down the road to the Westgarth for a mid-afternoon session of PJ Hogan’s latest, Mental, also alone. Friends were busy; family, out of town.

I’m not normally one to shy from doing things on my own. For most of my life, I have been content, indeed, sought comfort, in being in my own company. Growing up an only child and an introvert, I have, on countless occasions, found myself at a cafe or in the park in the company of Jane Eyre or Cleo, at the cinema with an empty seat on either side, or even at a matinee showing of an MTC production ($33 tickets if you’re under 30 – get onto it!) by myself. I’ve travelled across continents alone, meeting people along the way, building friendships, some fleeting, others that have endured to this day. But then, onwards I go, to the next destination, the solitary traveller on a bus, train or plane, just me and my backpack and the dishevelled copy of Lonely Planet Europe on a Shoestring.

Which is why it threw me that I was suddenly feeling self-conscious today. As I got closer to the cafe, an image entered my head that I couldn’t shake – young, hippy couples clutching their long blacks, recovering from their hangovers, groups of girlfriends laughing loudly and freely, families with their screaming toddlers and babycinos. People with their people. Everyone making the most of the last few hours of the weekend before the ticking of 60 Minutes signals the shift from pants-optional weekend to Monday-itis. Perhaps, also, fine weather demands that you be social, damn it.

I stepped into the busy Penny Farthing and sat down at the seat nearest to me, hoping to attract as little attention as possible. I immediately pulled out my newest copy of Frankie and went to make eye contact with the waitress. That’s when I took in my surroundings. I was on a large communal dining table which sat about eight or ten. Beside me was a girl who appeared to have brought her entire Apple family. There was the Macbook, connected to the iPhone connected to the latest headsets. She was oblivious to the world. Beside her was another girl, looking very cool reading a Penguin classic paperback while picking away at her muffin. To my right, a lady, somewhere in her late 40s, was taking her seat. She was on her way home from doing the shopping and just wanted to have a coffee, she explained to the waitress, as she pulled out the Sunday Life lift-out from her paper to read Chrissie Swan.

None of us talked to each other. No one tried. And that’s how we like it, us going-to-public-places-alone-even-on-a-Sunday types, each content in the company of our respective laptops/books/newspapers/magazines. I needn’t have worried after all.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

'Understanding' Art


One of my favourite works of art is Eugene von Guerard’s North-east view of the northern top of Mount Kosciusko.


It illustrates a beautiful aspect of the Australian landscape in the second half of the nineteenth century, and captures the unrelenting power and magnitude of nature against the tiny human figures in the foreground. It was also one of the first significant works of art presented to me in year seven art. Having just started high school, I was excited to be in an art class that didn’t involve Clag paste and crayons. Staring at the depth of the mountain ranges and the looming dark clouds, I was in complete awe of the scene and the artist who possessed the skill and imagination to capture the emotion of a place so beautifully. That memory, my foray into ‘grown-up’ art, remains with me as the beginning of a love and appreciation for the art world.

Someone I know recently said to me that she doesn’t ‘understand art’. This is interesting as she works in an art gallery, as do I, and this person has taught me so much of what I know about the collection within our institution. Although she’s not one of the curators or conservators that we have the privilege of working with every day, she still knows far more than the average punter. Above all, in front of certain works that appeal to her, she’s a great story teller.

Not everyone who works in an art gallery will have a PhD in art history. Sure, it’s highly advisable that our senior curators have some academic qualifications but for most of us, my colleague and I included, it’s often just what we learn on the job coupled with a personal interest.

But, for her to claim that she doesn’t understand art, and to talk down her authority on the matter, made me think about all the times we feel inept at qualifying or even expressing our views on a topic, particularly within the arts and especially if it’s considered high brow. Fine art certainly carries an air of eminence which can lead to some entire sectors of our society to feel intimidated just stepping into an institution such as an art gallery.

I think it’s quite common to feel at various times that we don’t possess the language, the vocabulary, to describe some of life’s indulgences: fine art; opera; ballet; poetry; heck, even wine. That definitely does not mean we can’t still enjoy them. Especially the wine.  I’m reminded of a tweet Alain de Botton wrote earlier this week, “Most of what makes a book ‘good’ is that we’re reading it at the right moment for us.” Much of what we like, or find pleasurable, in life is naturally informed by our own experiences, memories, background, values and desires. So forget the discourse around composition, aesthetics, brush strokes and eloquence of form. Stuff what the critics say. What feelings does the art evoke in you? What memories does it conjure? If it matters enough to you, then it matters.

The art world would generally agree that Eugene von Guerard was a great painter and he certainly had a significant influence on many other artists after him. However, his North-east view has remained one of my favourites for the simple fact that it brings to life my memories of being 12, staring at an A4 size print of the work and remembering that it made me smile. I also recall visiting the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra several years later and standing in front of the original work for the first time. I still don’t consider myself an expert in art, colonial Australian painters or von Guerard, not even close. But I don’t have to be. My emotional connection to that work is enough. Anyone who has an emotional connection to an artwork is qualified enough to appreciate it, discuss it and share it with others.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Mamamia!

Lucy from Mamamia emailed me last week asking permission to publish a piece I had written in Catherine Deveny’s Masterclass earlier this month. Of course I jumped at the offer and said yes. I’ve only been reading Mamamia for the last four years, since its days as a one woman operation. What a privilege, I gushed. Great, said Lucy, I’ll let you know when it goes up. Exciting!

And then the nerves hit, pretty much instantly. Shit, Mamamia has lots of readers. And commenters. Honest commenters. Double shit.

Writing a piece on being Chinese, or rather being Chinese enough, was mostly a fun process. Some parts were difficult to put into words. Truth be told, I had delved into topics that I just wouldn’t normally talk about. It’s always much easier to brush them aside and move onto something else. Look, cake! I am the first to put up my hand and acknowledge that my post was to take the piss out of some of the unfortunate souls who have wandered into my path and the tone was moderately sarcastic. All weekend, I wondered if that tone was right for the content which, at the end of the day, is an important issue.

So, fast forward to Tuesday and I emerge from a morning of meetings, reach for the mobile to find David Harris and 6 others are following me. Hey, isn’t David Harris from Wicked and Legally Blonde? Cool! Hang on. Wait. Oh.

Mamamia.com.au is conveniently bookmarked on my computer so with just a click, I was staring at my giant face smiling cheerily back at me. Thanks for the heads up, Lucy.

The post has been live for three hours and the conversation has well and truly started, with or without me. And, it became very apparent that the topic resonated with a number of readers. Ok, so at least I know the topic is relevant.

When I read the comments from Mamamia readers, I was actually shaking with nerves. While I would never be so naive as to expect everyone to agree with my perspective, I still would have felt I’d failed if the majority didn’t get where I was coming from or connect with it. Most importantly, I worried that I might have offended readers if they saw my words as an attack on good intentions.

Instead, what I read blew me away. As a writer, I have never felt so connected to fellow humans than I did in the moments after my post was published. I hope that other readers felt a similar connection.  I wrote a piece that I wish I got to read when I was sixteen and finding my own identity. I had no idea that so many people shared these feelings, questions and frustrations. Not all commenters agreed with everything I said, and some opened up my mind to other perspectives and experiences that I had not considered before. I truly enjoyed the dialogue and this post has opened my eyes as much as it has for anyone else.

In a recent interview with Jennifer Byrne, JK Rowling said that she continues to write and to publish post-Harry Potter, despite never needing to publish another work again, in order to continue having conversations with readers. I used to believe that it was enough to write for myself, to write primarily to express my thoughts and inner dialogues and make sense of them. I still do. But I discovered something quite lovely this week. Having an audience to keep you in check creates a whole other, albeit daunting, experience. Being allowed access to readers and their honesty is such a reward and I feel humbled to have been given that opportunity.

So, from the bottom of my heart, thank you to everyone who read my post and who took part in the conversation. I have learnt so much and very much enjoyed the ride. You are all awesome. x

If you have no idea what this blog post is about, you may want to read my post on Mamamia.com.au. I probably should have put this at the top.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Our Brunswick

This morning I was on Sydney Road. I’ve been looking to move from one part of Brunswick to another and had a few flat viewings lined up. In between viewings, I helped a friend with some shopping before ending the morning at Lux Foundry for brunch. Like everyone else, we’ve been following the Jill Meagher tragedy closely all week with a mixture of disbelief and immense sadness and being there this morning, it was impossible not to be reminded of the terrible events.

I didn’t know Jill or her family. My only connection is that I’m around her age, live down the road from her and often frequent the same bars that she did that Friday night. The fact that she was taken from the world so horrendously and randomly by a person unknown to her has touched many of us in a way that few other crimes have – it could have easily been me or any of my girlfriends.

The mood along Sydney Road this morning was solemn. In every shop at every counter, people were talking about Jill, about the sea of flowers outside the local church and the bridal shop where she was last seen on CCTV, about their fear and grief. The flower man for La Manna joked that he should’ve sent his delivery straight to the church down the road, as that’s where they’re all making their way to anyway. Nobody quite knew how to respond to that, including him.

The question we all keep coming back to is this: how safe are we, really? People are unsettled, visibly rattled. I would be lying if I said that my concerns have remained unmoved in the last week. Friends and colleagues who know of my vicinity to Hope Street have continuously reminded me to stay safe. In Brunswick Bound and Spotlight today, I overheard locals revealing to strangers their fear and unease. It’s like when your house gets broken into for the first time and you realise that you’re unable to see your home in the same way again. You lose the feeling of absolute security and protection and regardless of how much you reinforce your locks and windows, and tell yourself it was an isolated incident, you will never return to that place of innocence and ignorance.

Has this awful event taken away a sense of security from the people in this neighbourhood? Quite possibly. But in the aftermath of it all, I witnessed this morning a community banding together, comforting and connecting with each other. Families and passers-by paused to pay respect at the many memorials dotted along Sydney Road, offering their love and support for two of their locals, one who sadly lost her life and another living with the weight of it all. We all wish this never happened. It shouldn’t have happened. But what it unearthed was a tight and caring community, and a reminder that we just have to keep looking out for each other.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Women of Letters



It still fills me with nostalgia every time I approach the Thornbury Theatre on High St where, once a month, I take part in Women of Letters. As I drive around in circles in search of a place to park, I see the familiar streets on which I grew up. Along Hutton St, past the primary school I attended for six years, and its playground where I played on both school days and weekends and where, much to my parents’ grief, I broke more than a few pairs of glasses running into trees, basketballs and other kids. And across the road is the little rundown house that we rented with the extended family of stray cats that lived and bred under the floors, their kittens occasionally brought into the house, again, to my parents’ dismay. The fact that I can’t even find a parking spot these days because of the parking restrictions, permit zones and sheer number of cars in the area is astounding. Sure, twenty years ago, I was rollerblading instead of driving but since when did Thornbury need permit zones? And while I’m ranting, where did all these trendy cafes and hipsters come from anyway?

But I don’t come to Thornbury for a trip down memory lane. It’s to be a part of something special, Women of Letters, a literary event that brings back the art of letter writing. Not emails, Facebook messages or tweets; actual letters, as in with a pen and paper and envelopes and stamps, and the occasional licking of some of these things.

Five guests, often women from Australian public life – actors, musicians, writers, comedians or politicians – are invited to pen a letter to a given topic. Past topics have included, ‘A letter to my unfinished business,’ ‘A letter to my biggest sacrifice’ or ‘A letter to that thing on my body’. What happens next is anyone’s guess and, often, that’s when magic happens. The women sit on the stage around a table in a darkened ballroom with a bottle of wine or two and, surrounded by an audience of a few hundred, they tell their stories.

Five women of different backgrounds both professionally and personally, approaching the same topic from their own unique places, inspired and imagined by only what they themselves feel, value and desire. Born out of this are stories that have the ability to surprise, move, entertain, and provoke. Hearing new writing from Helen Garner being read out for the first time is such a privilege. The deceptive ease at which she paints a place and its people is pure poetry and transports me to a moment years ago when I discovered the delight of her language and prose for the first time. Equally, there is endless joy in hearing Kitty Flanagan rant.

It never ceases to amaze me the honesty that’s born from these letters. Speakers unlock a part of their soul to reveal their dark clouds, their demons, and you feel privileged and humbled to have been allowed momentarily into some of their lives. Indeed, when Genevieve ‘Barbara the bank lady’ Morris can cause you to wet yourself laughing then move you to tears in a space of minutes, you know you’re witnessing something special.

When the time comes for those of us in the audience to pen our own letters to the people in our lives, the words flow easily. For the past few Women of Letters, I’ve been writing to a friend interstate who has been doing it tough, and although I often feel helpless being here while she’s over there, sending my thoughts and love through my handwritten letter is the only way I know how to feel useful and supportive. Letters connect people because they come from the heart. It’s a moment of joy or comfort for the recipient and it is equally cathartic for the writer. As I set my letter free to embark its journey to the city of churches, and try to remember when the cost of stamps rose to 60 cents, I vow to do this more often.

And so, it’s always with much sadness that I leave the theatre at the end of the two hours for, like many in the room I imagine, I would like the afternoon to go on forever. As I walk back to the car, past the cafes and unfamiliar shops on High St, I realise that the Thornbury I remember from my childhood will never exist again. However, I don’t mind so much because I am reassured that another community, indeed family, exists just down the road and around the corner in the Thornbury Theatre ballroom. And I bet they won’t judge me if I decide to show up in rollerblades one day, for old times’ sake.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

I should write



This week, I put myself in a situation I never thought I’d have the courage to be in – I attended a writing course. I enrolled and paid, took a day off work, then immediately began imagining the myriad of ways I could make a dick of myself. I’ll get writer’s block for the entire day and write nothing. I’ll share my idea for a story and everyone says, ‘That’s nice,’ politely then quickly turns to the next person to divert attention from themselves. I’ll turn up with three pens and none of them will work. Everyone will be dressed cooler than me (the class was in Abbotsford, just off Smith St, so that’s legitimate). And my worst fear, I would spend six hours of the day not saying a thing. They’ll all think I’m thick/disengaged/a snob and not realise that in an unfamiliar group, I sometimes get so intimidated and anxious that I just freeze.

Despite being the recipient of threats and vitriol this entire week for expressing her views on Q&A on Monday our teacher and taskmaster Catherine Deveny was fully engaged and present throughout the day. My class was a group of intelligent, warm, funny people, generous in spirit, who read the same things that I read and have the same fears that I have. I felt at home.  

It was always clear why I needed to be there. I wasn’t writing enough. I’m not an aspiring professional writer. I have a job that I love, for an institution I believe in, for a cause that affects Victorians, in a role that makes a difference to people. But I still want to write. I write to develop and share ideas. I write to make people laugh and, importantly, I write to connect with others. Sometimes, I write simply to make sense of the messy clutter that’s inside my head. But often I get an idea and as soon as I start writing, I will talk myself out of doing it. Sometimes, I’ve talked myself out of writing before I’ve even reached the laptop. It’s too common, too boring, too controversial, too personal, too revealing. I don’t even allow the story to develop to those points – I just assume it and stop writing.

I learnt a lot on Thursday. By the end of the day, my brain was hurting from all the learning it did. Firstly, I learnt that I was normal. It’s normal to have 17 negative thoughts for every positive thought. I learnt that perfect is the enemy of good. I learnt that as you’re writing, you can only see as far ahead as the headlights. I’m starting to be more ok with that. I learnt that whatever we write will either a) get published or b) inform the next project. Or another way of putting it: crap isn’t crap, it’s shit which is fertiliser. Or something like that.

Catherine’s advice to me, to overcome my own self-criticism, is to be disciplined. Carry a note with me every day reminding me to write. One hour a day, even if it’s more shit than fertiliser. One hour and ten minutes and I get a Freddo.

Which is why I find myself right now, hung-over on a Saturday morning, in my pyjamas in bed writing instead of stuffing myself with pancakes while streaming the latest episode of Big Brother.

(As well as learning cool sayings involving shit and fertiliser, we did actually do some writing too. Here is the piece I wrote on Thursday which is now published on Catherine’s website.)