Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Oh for fuck's sake, how long does it take for walls to just fucking close in already.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Priorities; Mundane, and Eroded

I saw Karen Healey doing it, and it made me hungry. For the hell of it, I decided to copy her, and photograph my dinners in the last week. There was the vague hope there that it might prompt me to cook.

At the time, I said it would probably amount to five photographs of peanut butter toast.

Gosh but I do have high expectations of myself.


A promising start! There was actually tomato in the fridge, and so I treated myself to toasted cheese and tomato, with oregano, basil, salt and pepper. Sounds awesome? Is awesome.

Except I wasn't in the mood to wait for the grill to melt the cheese, so I put it in the microwave.

Which melted the cheese alright.

And made the tomatoes somewhat nuclear.

The whole roof of my mouth was burned and is, a week later, still rotting.


Tuesday was a day in which every step I took resulted in the discovery of quicksand, or fire ants, or broken glass, or horseshit.

Tuesday I went home and ate vodka for dinner.

Except while my head was certainly in the mood for vodka, my body wasn't. I poured that glass, looked at it, and then walked away.


Wednesday is not an individual, and since Wednesday saw Tuesday being needlessly callous to me, Wednesday followed suit.

I went home knowing that there was already a pre-poured glass of vodka sitting on the bench and my only goal for the rest of the day was to drink it.

Instead I made a cup of tea.


Thursday night is for swing dancing. There was no dinner.


Friday I ate someone else's dinner. It was actually the only real meal I ate all week, and it was very delicious, and I completely failed to take a photo of it.


The glass of vodka was still sitting on the bench come Saturday morning. Purely because it amused me, this failure to make it go away, and because continuing to document its existence seemed appropriate, I took another photo.

Then I looked at my To Do List. Every time I write a To Do List, "write" is at the bottom. After cleaning the toilet.

Every time I realise where I've put it in my priorities, I shake a little.

On Saturday I had vodka for breakfast.

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Spam Perspective

Breaking my keyboard hiatus to share this.

The Watchmen of Captcha do a pretty good job of keeping the spambots out of the comments section here, while providing you kids with some fairly amusing strings of letters. As such, it was surprising to get home and find the place had been carpet bombed with spam comments smeared across the archives. By Jove, how had the annoying little bots got past my watchmen?


It wasn't the work of a bot. That's a person who sat and read what they were smearing spam on.

I like to think that I provided that poor benighted sod with a few minutes (24:19 exactly according to the stats) of amusement before they clicked on to drop their spammy blessings on another blog.

And to you, my readers both known and unknown, I say unto you that you may at times dislike your occupation, resent the time it takes from your life and feel that it is crushing your soul, but at least you can admit to it in public.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Dysfunctional Relationship Artists Have With...Everything

For this post to make sense you'll need to reference the previous and watch that video.

I spent the night, probably my sleep, and most of my snooze button soft crash into wakefulness chewing over the notion of 'having genius' instead of 'being genius'. I'm a little besotted with the idea.

At a glance I imagine it's distasteful to some, pushing, as it does, the idea of invisible entities be they called muse, daemon, genie, angel, faery, spirit, Fred. What Gilbert is trying to sell, however, is not belief in these things - that's a whole other conversation in which I admit I'm not much interested in - but the usefulness they serve as a mental construct.

She speaks of the emotional risks inherent in the creative process, which resonated with me. There are the obvious stresses associated with placing a work in the public eye; will it be liked, hated, understood, will it be successful, will it be rejected entirely and never be consumed by the public because you are the crappiest artist in all the history of all the cosmos; these are the natural doubts when you put yourself forward for anything.

However I choose to believe that she was speaking of the other risks that come well before considerations of audience reception come into play, the risks we take with ourselves while in the process of creating the work. We pour ourselves into it, we draw upon lessons, memory and knowledge that we may not wish to visit, we take on aspects that do not come naturally to us. I've always said that for writers in particular, the act of writing a story is not unlike forcing the literal definition of a split personality upon yourself.

And, I don't know, the creative process defies predictability and repetition, and I do not believe it is destructive, but it is not always nice, and doing these things to yourself because you love what you do, tearing yourself up because the work requires you to do so, they are hard things.

To then be able to say, "That kinda sucked, and you could have been a little gentler about it," in a disgruntled, passive-aggressive manner to some intangible thought construct and lay some of the responsibility for what happened upon it, well, any less ammunition for the artist to use upon themselves is a good thing, right?

It's this idea of distance. It smells fantastic, like freshly crushed coriander and cummin all mixed together. I'd eat it but I can't stop sniffing it. Distance not only from the work, but from the idea of talent as well.

To be talented is a crippling thing.

I have been told that I have talent. The people who have said this to me are not individuals with a vested interest in keeping me on side and gain nothing from stroking my ego. They were not speaking of craft, but of that part of art that cannot be learned, that essence of creativity that can't be picked up or passed on.

For the creative mind to consider the fact of its own talent is probably one of the most dangerous thought paths to follow. Might as well drive a steamroller over a minefield.

It's one thing to entertain dreams of grandeur and quite another to realise they could be a reality. That maybe you have something that is unique, and that others can see. Suddenly, there are ramifications to everything you do. Are you living up to your talent? Have you wasted it? Do you meet the expectations of those who have recognised it? By having this talent you did not earn are you bruising the already sensitive egos of the creators around you? Will there be a price for using something you haven't earned? Is it possible to exercise control over something entirely unconscious? What if you come to depend on it? What if it goes away?

This is not about any alleged talent I may have, but the weight and damage that merely considering it did. To consider talent left me terrified of using it. It has taken years to be reconcile myself with the idea, all of which has nothing to do with anything I've produced. The work goes on (or not) regardless.

But if someone had given me permission to disown the idea of talent, I daresay those years would have been spent being decidedly more relaxed about my writing.

There is a parallel with photography. I have absolutely no technique, skill, technical or theoretical knowledge, and so I don't feel I can claim ownership of any of the compliments my photographs garner. "I didn't do that," I say. "The world was there, I pressed the button and the camera did the rest."

Now of my stories I can say, "I didn't do that. The story was there, I opened to a new page and the [ ] did the rest."

The difference between being a vessel and a conduit. Gilbert's speech resonated so powerfully with me because she gave voice to a practice I've been slowly and stealthily ninjaing upon myself for some time. A space that is me, but not me. A trapdoor to the subconscious, down which I will deliberately shove stories and let whatever it is down there do whatever it is it does until it is ready to release the story back to me. There is something that is me, but not me. Something over which I have no control. Something that does not come from me.

I'm not going to call it Fred.

But, there is always a but. When you change the creative process from one of dictation to a conversation, then there must be another party with which to have the conversation, which means you are essentially engaging in a relationship with something that is Not Called Fred.

And when I turned this over in my mind, all I saw was a whole lot of issues. Like, not trusting NotFred to actually contribute. Feeling betrayed and rejected when NotFred does not produce the goods. Trying to make myself infinitely more attractive to NotFred, or NotFred's friends. Wondering what is wrong with me that NotFred&Friends talk to everyone else but not me. Deciding this is because I am hopeless and useless and worthless.

Etc, etc...

Which probably says more about me than anything else, but I believe that that poor, insecure, fragile, hopeful and despairing creative mind can find weapons to use against itself no matter what thought constructs are in place.

Still, I prefer NotFred to the thought of inspiration being sourced solely from within.

I find I disagree with the very end of Gilbert's speech. She has put forth the idea that creative transcendence - which we have all felt all too briefly - is not something we can find within ourselves but are graced to feel or not feel its touch according to the whims of something unknowable and unreasonable, and that a word for that something may as well be 'god'. When we are caught up in that passion which is equal parts exhilaration and desperation and in the paws of which we are tiny furious creatures, there, in our work, is god. And if god, the genie, NotFred has touched us...olé.

But then she says that even if god, the genie, NotFred never comes near us again, or never noticed us at all, yet still we labour at our craft...olé, she says, there is god anyway.

And by doing so, by putting god back in the artist when there is no god at work, she undermines that brilliant, necessary idea which was the point of her whole speech.

No. If god isn't there, then god isn't there.

Maybe god will only rip through us once, and never again. Maybe we will never channel god in our work. We can sit down and write, paint, design, draw, mould, stitch, whatever it is you are creating, and there will be no god in the end product. We can wait, and work, but diligence does not equal divine inspiration.

The work produced may be flawed, technically sound, thorough, clever, cliché, bold, unbalanced, dull, merely okay. The work produced may be the lewd loud shit of those who have not yet even begun to realise the challenges involved in creativity, or it could be the crisp precision of a master of the craft and years of rich experience.

It will not have that frightening fire to it, will not smell of freshly crushed coriander and cummin, and god won't know it exists.

It will be yours, and only yours.

And that is a thought construct worth taking pride in as well.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Elizabeth Gilbert on nurturing creativity

Pointed out by Ian McHugh.

We writers, we kind of do have that reputation, and not just writers, but creative people across all genres, it seems, have this reputation for being enormously mentally unstable. And all you have to do is look at the very grim death count in the 20th century alone, of really magnificent creative minds who died young and often at their own hands, you know? And even the ones who didn't literally commit suicide seem to be really undone by their gifts, you know. Norman Mailer, just before he died, last interview, he said "Every one of my books has killed me a little more." An extraordinary statement to make about your life's work, you know. But we don't even blink when we hear somebody say this because we've heard that kind of stuff for so long and somehow we've completely internalized and accepted collectively this notion that creativity and suffering are somehow inherently linked and that artistry, in the end, will always ultimately lead to anguish.
When I started watching the clip I became a little apprehensive, especially when she began drawing that line, that line I dislike immensely, between the creative process and mental illness. Much as I am not exactly a poster girl for disproving that mistaken assumption, I think that having wrassled with both monsters I'm in a position to say, with authority, "That is shit from a bull."

Thankfully, Gilbert continued on after the above, with this;

And the question that I want to ask everybody here today is are you guys all cool with that idea?

...I'm not at all comfortable with that assumption.

I think it's odious.
Fuck. Yeah.

And so, it seems to me, upon a lot of reflection, that the way that I have to work now, in order to continue writing, is that I have to create some sort of protective psychological construct, right? I have to, sort of find some way to have a safe distance between me, as I am writing, and my very natural anxiety about what the reaction to that writing is going to be, from now on. And, as I've been looking over the last year for models for how to do that I've been sort of looking across time, and I've been trying to find other societies to see if they might have had better and saner ideas than we have about how to help creative people, sort of manage the inherent emotional risks of creativity.

...ancient Greece and ancient Rome -- people did not happen to believe that creativity came from human beings back then, OK? People believed that creativity was this divine attendant spirit that came to human beings from some distant and unknowable source, for distant and unknowable reasons. The Greeks famously called these divine attendant spirits of creativity "daemons."...The Romans had the same idea, but they called that sort of disembodied creative spirit a genius. Which is great, because the Romans did not actually think that a genius was a particularly clever individual. They believed that a genius was this, sort of magical divine entity, who was believed to literally live in the walls of an artist's studio, kind of like Dobby the house elf, and who would come out and sort of invisibly assist the artist with their work and would shape the outcome of that work.

So brilliant -- there it is, right there that distance that I'm talking about -- that psychological construct to protect you from the results of your work...the ancient artist was protected from certain things, like, for example, too much narcissism, right? If your work was brilliant you couldn't take all the credit for it, everybody knew that you had this disembodied genius who had helped you. If your work bombed, not entirely your fault, you know? Everyone knew your genius was kind of lame. And this is how people thought about creativity in the West for a really long time.

And then the Renaissance came and everything changed, and we had this big idea, and the big idea was let's put the individual human being at the center of the universe above all gods and mysteries, and there's no more room for mystical creatures who take dictation from the divine. And it's the beginning of rational humanism, and people started to believe that creativity came completely from the self of the individual. And for the first time in history, you start to hear people referring to this or that artist as being a genius rather than having a genius.

And I got to tell you, I think that was a huge error. You know, I think that allowing somebody, one mere person to believe that he or she is like, the vessel you know, like the font and the essence and the source of all divine, creative, unknowable, eternal mystery is just a smidge too much responsibility to put on one fragile, human psyche. It's like asking somebody to swallow the sun. It just completely warps and distorts egos, and it creates all these unmanageable expectations about performance. And I think the pressure of that has been killing off our artists for the last 500 years.

I'm in danger of cutting and pasting the whole transcript. I just watched it, so I'm still processing and irrationally in love with what she said. There's a fabulous example of putting the creative essence on the outer that she gives later in the video, from none other than Tom Waits, which made me laugh. Now I'm thinking of it again, it's making me cry.

There have been times I've been afraid of my writing, because when I've looked back at it, it was too good for me.

Telling myself that perhaps it never came from me at all? That makes it okay to live with.

But then...what if that outer interference never interferes again? What if you're touched once, and then left alone to plod on after that moment of glory for the rest of your mortal life?

I don't think I've ever come across a more uplifting context for "just carry on" than this.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Baggage; Many Copies of


The launch of Baggage was stupefying.

photo filched from alan baxter

It was so stupefying that I'm not actually going to write about it, I'm just going to filch from Gillian's blog:

The Baggage launch was lovely, though Mr Dann and I got up to a great deal of mischief during the signings. I hadn't actually thought I would need to give a speech at the launch. Honestly. I helped make sandwiches, and people who make sandwiches don't give speeches. Which is crazy thinking, since I've always maintained that the people who make sandwiches should *always* give speeches, especially if they're the editor of the book being launched. The key role of second sandwich assistant is not the whole of my life, after all.

And all those wonderful writers sat there and smiled - they know me too well. And there were a large number of equally wonderful writers in attendance. The writing community is just warm and generous and entirely made of awesome. And Sharyn Lilley is all that and with bells on. Baggage is off to a fine start in the world. Also, three different people who had head starts on the book told me that they can't see Federation Square without Tessa's story overshadowing it.

There was something of a signature production line with the attending contributors, and while I had myself a fine time being in reach of the sammiches and playing up with Madames Deb Biancotti and Maxine McArthur, I lost count of how many copies I scribbled in. A few people (possibly the same people) at the launch and even during the con in the days following were generous enough to tell me they'd read my story and-

You know, no one says they enjoyed it, or that they liked it. It isn't that sort of story.

But they read it, and it affected them, affected them enough to speak to me, and that means something.

I suppose I should come clean with myself and finally admit that, yeah, this story means something to me too.

I took my contributor payment in books, not money. It's all part of my cunning plan to get this book read.

Melbournians wishing to get their hands on a copy, may I direct you to Borders on South Wharf? I wandered back in a couple of days back, and Baggage has prime position on a shelf end. The staff there were brilliant during the launch, and their support should be supported in turn.

Australians wishing to get their hands on a copy, I shall direct you to the publisher's site, where you may order online. (Gillian's latest novel is also up for grabs there. Nudgehintnudge.)

And for those of you overseas?

I've made queries with Sharyn, the publisher, and if you wish to purchase from her please shoot her an email. She's more than happy to work out shipping for you, no matter where you are.


There is this massive pile of Baggage sitting on my desk.

They need to get OFF my desk and OUT into the world and be READ.

If you overseas and would like a copy, put your hand up. They're on offer until they're all gone, it's as simple as that. If you're in a position to review, blog, post about the book in some fashion, I'll take that as payment. If you're not, hell, just read it and I'll take that as payment too.

Of Baggage people have said:

"Baggage is a fascinating exploration of Australian issues through characters and situations that feel immediate and real. There's little in the way of escapism here, but instead much subtlety and nuance, combined with stunning writing. From the incendiary, no-holds-barred 'Acception' by Tessa Kum to the quiet power of K.J. Bishop's 'Vision Splendid', and beyond, this anthology tackles difficult and diverse subject matter." Jeff VanderMeer, World Fantasy award winner

"An excellent cross-section of the current Australian fiction scene-and a potential must-have for 2010." Ann VanderMeer, Hugo award winner.

"Baggage collects many of the finest voices in Australian speculative fiction. Each author contributes a unique cultural perspective, with stories ranging from the deeply personal to the highly disturbing. Baggage an anthology not to be missed." Shane Jiraya Cummings, OzHorrorScope

"This is a well-rounded anthology, entertaining and thought-provoking in one. The stories were all easy to read, even the ones that made my teeth hurt (Tessa Kum and Janeen Webb’s stories did that for me, but in a good, thought-provoking way)." Joanne Kasper, ASIF

Of Acception people have said:

"Is good. Is fucking good." Deborah Kalin

"I think reading your story first was like having hot chilli before going to a wine tasting. Kinda rendered the literary tastebuds useless for anything else for a while." Ian McHugh

"There's an awful lot of you in there, isn't there? And "Colin"! "Colin" isn't a name to give a character!" Mum

"Colin is too a name! A fine name! Viva le Colin!" Me

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Enigmatic Arthur Miller

Number of people who introduced themselves to me as "Arthur Miller": 0.

I coerced Gillian into saying it, but she immediately followed with a retraction of the statement. The awesome Elizabeth reflected that she should have said it, but didn't. And THE Arthur Miller did not introduce himself, but only requested that I sign his copy of Baggage to Arthur Miller. I have seen the Enigmatic Arthur Miller! But the challenge was something of a non-event. As such I will not be shoving a whole lolly snake up my nose and making a comic out of it.


Now I think of it.

People get books signed for friends all the time.

Which could mean.

Now I think about it.

That wasn't Arthur Miller at all.