Stop the world, I want to get off.

Every time I get online, something awful has happened. I know news is like that – constant and overwhelming and often bad – but I feel like it has accelerated in the last few months. I am blissfully lucky, not having been affected personally by any of the terrible things that have gone on around the globe. Sometimes I don’t feel like I have a legitimate right to comment on it – I am outraged and heartbroken, yes, but it is in a way that lets me carry on with my day regardless. I am unaffected on a regular, personal level, however upset I might be on behalf of those who are. But there are thousands around the world who are intimately traumatised by all of it, who have woken up to news of terror and death and violence and shocking persecution of the most vulnerable people on this planet and are forced to accept that it is part of their experience now, that they cannot close their eyes and concentrate on something else to distract them from it.

Just as we are processing the several violent incidents in Germany, 4 Corners screens a story about the disgusting treatment of children in Australian juvenile detention. Just as yet another bomb goes off in Iraq, a murderous rampage takes place in Japan.

And we don’t get it. Instead of looking at the destructive global society we have created for ourselves, we are zeroing in on ‘solutions’ that actively won’t help. How can anyone in their right mind believe that stopping Muslim immigration is an answer to Australia’s problems? Ignoring for one moment the fact that a law like that would not be out of place in the Third Reich, it appears that people have forgotten Martin Bryant, the white perpetrator of Australia’s deadliest massacre since the days when Indigenous people were routinely murdered by the government. Those in power consistently paint asylum seekers and refugees as a threat to Western society. People fall over themselves to insist ‘all lives matter’ when confronted with the possibility that maybe the plight of black lives could use our attention a little more right about now. One Nation is back in the Australian Senate. Somehow, Donald Trump is the Republican nominee for the US election. Every day brings an avalanche of discrimination, hate crime, and unstoppable abuse directed at everyone and anyone for their race, gender, appearance, age, sexual identity, religion, disabilities, ANYTHING.

I am so tired. I’m going to have a cup of tea and watch something comforting on television and maybe have a little cry. It is that easy for me to take care of myself amidst this shitstorm of never-ending bad news. I wish it was that easy for all of us. I wish all of you nothing but peace.

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Six months away!

A few days ago (the 29th of June) marked the six month anniversary of leaving Australia. In some ways, it has absolutely flown by. I never anticipated time would move this fast. And then other days I wake up and think back to Melbourne and it seems like a lifetime ago! The only thing for sure, is that it has been so much easier than I thought it would be. I steeled myself for a really difficult emotional transition that just…hasn’t happened. I am certainly not complaining, it’s been really nice to not have a hard time.

For those playing at home, we sort of killed it at Harry Potter trivia. By “sort of killed it”, I mean we got 32 out of 35!! But we still came fourth (winning team got 34, and two teams tied at 33). This competition is fierce and bloody and I love it.

I’ve leeched all the money from my bank account to buy tickets for the Edinburgh Book Festival, and, after a few days consideration, forked out an atrocious sum for the Bronte Society annual conference in August. I don’t regret it – it is Charlotte’s bicentenary this year and it will be amazing – but it is more money than I would ever usually spend on a two-night holiday. I also now have to wait until the end of July to buy Fringe tickets/extra book fest tickets/anything at all, because I need to conserve my cash!

Game of Thrones has finished for another year and I am BEREFT. This television show just gets better and better as it goes along. The only other show I can think of that does that is Parks and Recreation. So much to talk about. So few friends who want to talk about it at length. The struggle is real.

Huh. Brexit. The less said about that the better, because Mum asked me not to swear so much on social media and I don’t want to disappoint her. Similarly, regarding the Australian election. I’m writing this at 3am Australian time while they are still counting those DARN votes and everyone has embarrassed themselves and the whole country is going to hell in a handbasket. Hooray.

HAPPIER STUFF THEN:

  • We had a lovely day with a friend from Melbourne trooping up and down Leith and the New Town
  • I went to the Isabel Dalhousie Lecture at the National Library. Juliette Wells, an American academic who I have seen speak before, talked to us about the 1816 Philadelphia edition of Emma, the only edition of Jane Austen’s work to be published in America in her lifetime. The lecture was also introduced by Alexander McCall Smith (the fellowship being named after one of his characters) so it was cool to finally see him in person.
  • I had proper haggis, neeps, and tatties for dinner last night, and it was so delicious but WAY too much food. I should not have finished the entire thing.
  • We had another free ticket to a film festival event but we arrived late. Instead, we revisited a lovely wine bar that I’d been to with the book club and had a couple of drinks and had a super evening!
  • We ended up in a parade for Pride Edinburgh 2016 today. It was fabulous – so many people, dogs, rainbows, musicians, dancers, and organisations showing support for the LGBT community, including churches, banks, unions, and political parties. Love, love, love.

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Farewell to Denmark…and a rant.

Often, while traveling, I am so utterly enamoured with the experience that I don’t feel like anything can bring me down. Other times, I have my period, and I turn into CrankyPants McGee. Today is one of those days, which is a shame, as it’s our last day in Copenhagen! We’ve still seen some nice things though, which I will detail below. I have also received news from Australia which has made my blood boil, and I will also detail that below.

After a night punctuated by various inconsiderations from the dude in the bunk below me, we got up, checked out, did battle with the machine that was going to store our luggage for the day, won (with help from staff) and made our way to the Central Station where I had discovered the best chai lattes in the world a few days ago. They came through for me once more, and I had green tea chai and felt my blood pressure slowly return to normal. It was also insanely affordable – only 15 kroner for smørrebrød (delicious Danish sandwiches). Unfortunately, Paulina’s flight was delayed and she was unable to join us. I am sure we will catch up soon though! Then we went to print our boarding passes and went to the National Museum of Denmark. This museum was crazy huge. You could easily spend two full days there – and I fully intend to the next time we’re in Copenhagen. It was also completely free – handy for today, as we are rapidly running out of money. So much so that we decided not to do the walking tour of Christiania, and will save that for next time also. Instead, we found more delicious smørrebrød for lunch, and the extortionate price was made slightly easier to swallow by the fact that it was AMAZINGLY GOOD. I know I’ve said this about everything we’ve eaten here but UGH. Seriously mouth-watering. We found a little second hand bookshop and I blew too much money on a lovely old Danish copy of Peter Pan (yolo) and ate ice cream, spending pretty much everything I had left. We wandered through Christiansborg Palace (but didn’t pay to go inside), and I’m typing this at the hostel while we wait to catch our train to the airport. It’s a shame we’ve run out of money, but we’ve saved so much anyway by staying with Julie and her family – I shouldn’t complain!

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BUT SPEAKING OF MONEY. READ THIS. http://www.artshub.com.au/news-article/news/grants-and-funding/deborah-stone/62-arts-organisations-lose-funding-from-australia-council-251271

The list is being updated when more news becomes available. 65 arts organisations in Australia who previously received government funding from the Australia Council have had that support pulled out from under them. So that’s no more Red Stitch Actors’ Theatre, no more Meanjin, no more Black Arm Band, no more of so many brilliant, innovative, creative, inspiring organisations that have supported and nurtured talent in a country that needs art. I shouldn’t get ahead of myself. No one has closed yet, but it is a steadily increasing threat for many of these organisations that simply can’t exist without financial support. Of course donations and subscriptions are useful, but I can’t help but feel that the vast majority of people who would love to throw their monetary support into all these organisations are the same people who just can’t afford it (mainly because they work in the arts themselves. Ironic.) One of the most tragic cuts (certainly the organisation closest to my heart) is Express Media. This organisation exists to support young people in writing and media and have countless opportunities for budding writers to get their work out there. I have been reading Voiceworks, their flagship publication, for years. I wrote reviews of Fringe shows in 2012 for Buzzcuts. I’ve been to events and entered prizes that the organisation runs and in 2013, I was published in Voiceworks and paid for it. This led to me being asked to read my work at The Wheeler Centre, an event which I was also paid for. Do you know how brilliant and validating that was, for a kid like me who never let anyone read their work? And the fact that Voiceworks contributors (who have to be below 25 years of age) are PAID is so rare and wonderful in a world that increasingly devalues the efforts of artists and the work they do.

Instead of putting money back into these organisations, the government has decided to spend our money on a same-sex marriage plebiscite we DON’T NEED that could cost more than half a billion dollars. JUST CATCH UP WITH THE REST OF THE WORLD AND MAKE IT LEGAL FFS.

And don’t even get me started on the cuts to the health sector. Scott Morrison was an abysmal Immigration Minister and he’s not improved much as Treasurer. Bah.

So yes, Denmark good! Australian arts news bad.

I need to eat some chocolate now.

September begins and so do I.

Another asylum seeker has died in detention, and I just cannot wrap my head around how Australia let this happen. It puts my own problems into perspective. I need to remember to count my blessings when I feel overwhelmed.

I have enjoyed several weeks of not doing much at all. Well, I’m working as much as I possibly can, but when I’m not at work my activities have consisted mainly of watching Parks and Recreation and trying to finish reading books. That last assignment really took it out of me, though there is only one left, due in October, before I can collect my Grad Dip!

Now however, it is time to plunge back into actually being productive outside of working hours. There is a subject to be studied, research to be done, theatre to rehearse for (for the first time in two years!), job applications to be completed, and manuscripts to tease out into something malleable.

There is also quality time to be spent with people I love, friendships to be cherished, and kindness and compassion to be prioritised. I’m not always very good at those things, but it is important to work towards them all the same, particularly when it feels like the world’s gone to hell in a handbasket.

(Oh, and I’m slowly – SLOWLY – learning how to cook more. Yay adulthood.)

Tying back to ‘January business’

I would just like to say CONGRATULATIONS TO ME for posting at least once a month on this blog, this year, sometimes more than twice a month. I win the internet. But I was rereading this from earlier in the year and was struck by all that has happened since, even though it feels as though it’s been quite a quiet few months. Also, I need to write something before Sunday, because then it’s December and I will have missed a month on the blog, to nicely circle back to the start of my paragraph.

Firstly, same-sex marriage! What a crazy year. After a terrible end to Julia Gillard’s groundbreaking turn as PM (I know I’m not the only one who cried during her leaving speech. Say what you want about her politics, she’s a class act), I was willing to give the Ruddster another go, once he’d pulled on his big boy pants and decided to behave himself. Also, he was offering a conscience vote on the whole gay marriage issue which was nice. Anyway, in a fit of alarming stupidity, Australia managed to elect Gollum- I mean Tony Abbott and his 1950’s views of…well, everything. This included his frequent and clumsy dodging around the issue of same-sex marriage, saying it wouldn’t be a ‘high priority’ for his government. Right then, as you do, at least he told us up front (WHY was he elected, again?). But as soon as the ACT Legislative Assembly passed their gorgeous Marriage Equality Act, Tony’s hightailing it to the High Court to challenge it. Bit of a high priority now, hey Tone? (There’s a lot of ‘high’s in those last couple of sentences. Deal with it.) So, after lamenting back at the start of the year how disappointed I was that Australia hadn’t taken that crucial step into the 21st century, I find myself still angry, but at a very specific group of people, and also inspired by the ACT. Don’t give in.

It is impossible to list all the books I’ve read since I wrote that first blog because I’d be typing for a week, but I’ve now joined up with the Jane Austen Society of Melbourne (pretty sure I’m the youngest member by a decade at least, and the meetings are lovely and always interesting) and have been making my way through an ever-growing list of all different types of books that have piqued my curiosity. This includes most of Sonya Hartnett’s work which has been like the best kind of literary treat. And yep, I’ve kept up with New Girl, which is still lovely, and yep, I’ve watched all of McLeod’s Daughters which was mostly terrible (apologies to fans of the show, but I remembered it being so much better).

I still have not heard back from the agency that has my manuscript. It’s been well over a year, so that feels not right. I should probably take it back, but I’m so busy with uni and other writing stuff that I don’t have the time to go over it now. So I’ve decided to leave it with them until I do, and if they get back to me in the meantime, all the better. But, I had my first piece of fiction published this year and was PAID for it, so snaps for me! Read more here. Hopefully I can get something else published next year as well…(I never did go back to that angry draft I wrote about Manohar Lal Sharma. Other, better writers have said what I wanted to say with more art. And it’s made me feel sad even thinking about it as I type this.)

Also, the Book Thief film 🙂 Yay. We’ve had trailers and stills and all manner of juicy blog tidbits from Markus Zusak, so I can safely say I’m even more excited about the film now than I was back when I wrote that entry. Out in January – only weeks away!

Men of Letters

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about privacy and the fine lines that criss-cross over the whole idea. Recapping Women of Letters events has become somewhat of a habit, and there was totally that one time that Marieke Hardy read my recap and thanked me for it which made my life. But I read this article this morning and have had second thoughts. What goes down at these events is public in the sense that several hundred people attend and listen to the letters. But it is also intrinsically private. Some letters tell stories of unimaginable grief, some of childhood secrets, some detail personal relationships. All of them are touching and many of them are funny, even amongst sadness. But it’s made me think twice about some of the detail I put into my recaps. Although the letters are often reproduced in anthologies or online, it is always with the writer’s permission. Their stories are not mine to retell, however summarised they might be. So I’ll keep going to these events, and I’ll keep laughing and crying and appreciating, but I don’t think I’ll keep recapping.

I will say this: yesterday I went to my first ever Men of Letters event, and it was fabulous. 11 men – Casey Bennetto, Glenn Robbins, Gideon Haigh, Peter Russell-Clarke, Tony Wheeler, Richard Flanagan, Brian Mannix, Sam Cooney, Frankie J Holden, Bert Labonte and Derryn Hinch – were writing to ‘The Woman Who Changed My Life’. Some wrote to wives, daughters, mothers, friends, some to women who were no longer with us, some who were sitting in the Regal Ballroom listening. One letter was written to the ocean, one to Marieke Hardy herself, and one to Brittanica – definitely three of the most enthralling letters I have ever heard.

I’ve already bought my ticket to next month’s event, and I’m so excited to hear that this show is going even more global than before (Britain and Ireland yeow!). Also, the third anthology is being launched next month! Hopefully, there’ll be plenty more to come.

Women of Letters recap

The sun was absolutely blazing when we walked down High St Northcote, and we had to wait for our eyes to adjust when we entered the cool, dim Regal Ballroom. This afternoon both Michaela McGuire and Marieke Hardy were present, along with a line-up of wonderful women who were writing to the theme ‘a letter to the thing I lost’.

First up was singer-songwriter Rebecca Barnard, who wrote to her car, lost deep in the labyrinthine bowels of the Crown Casino carpark. She described perfectly the creeping, irrational anxiety we have all felt when losing our bearings in a sea of parking spaces, complete with thinking up various rapist deterrents, which in Rebecca’s case included shooting them in the face with breast milk. She told us of her utter and desperate relief upon finding the parking attendant, and apologising to him for ‘having no spatial awareness because I’m so hormonal at the moment’. A side-splitting letter to start off a potentially devastating topic.
Next up was the simply glorious slam poet Maxine Beneba Clarke. She performed her letter in a glorious mix of spoken word and song, and wrote to her fears, specifically to her fears for her children. Her voice sent shivers through me, and the ballroom was completely speechless as we listened. She spoke of the most terrible things she could imagine happening to them, and when juxtaposed with lines like ‘the truth is we walked death row before we learned to crawl’ and ‘these fears will drift like powdered charcoal on the wind’, it made for an almost surreal experience. The applause was long and loud.
Culinary queen Stephanie Alexander was next. She wrote to a beloved letter from her ‘guru’, the food writer Elizabeth David, who she tragically never met properly in the flesh. Stephanie is a Francophile who was heavily influenced by Elizabeth David’s writings, but it was Stephanie’s prose that had the audience completely and utterly drawn in. Her letter was articulate, masterful and clear, and there was an audible groan when she revealed at the end that she had lost the treasured letter from her hero!

Randa Abdel-Fattah, author and academic, wrote one of the most intense letters I have heard. She wrote to her composure, and put us in vivid context – travelling with her elderly father and her young daughter, trying to get through the checkpoints to the Palestinian West Bank to see her father’s birthplace and her grandfather’s grave. As Randa marvelled at the patience of the Palestinians she shared the bus with, knowing it was a normal, everyday experience that they had to deal with, she was infuriated by the treatment dealt to them. ‘Those who are denied their human rights do not have the luxury of despair’. Thankfully, Randa and her father managed to obtain a 7-day pass, which was better than nothing. You could have heard a pin drop in the ballroom as she read.

Finally, Gorgi Coghlan brought the entire place to tears with her letter to the deceased child of a close friend. The bereavement was fresh, but Gorgi wrote with warmth and heart in the face of what was obviously the rawest of experiences. She acknowledged that while there was nothing good that could ever possibly come from such a tragedy, such things can help us remember to find the good in our own lives we’re lucky enough to still have. Keeping a clean house pales in comparison with keeping a happy family. Stories and laughter and songs are more important than timetables and groceries. And on that note, the reading was finished, and we had a break to buy more drinks, write our own letters, and listen to a very entertaining Q & A!

I think my favourite thing about Women of Letters is that it exposes you to a range of people and experiences you would not otherwise have come across, all linked by a common thread. It really drives home the similarities we share, whatever someone’s circumstances, and the understanding that transcends differences and binds us together.