Getting Published


Saturday 30 August 2014

I am excited enough that that evil Pointer Sisters song is gonna get stuck in my head as an earworm.  My first ever published short story is so fresh off the digital, non-existent printing press that its digital non-existent ink is still wet.  My story Colour Wheel appears in the latest Spring 2014 issue, #7, of Tincture Journal. Tincture is an e-reader-only publication, featuring delectables of the essay, fiction and poetry variety.  (And writing it did not, as I predicted, drive me into a blue-walled padded room).

This is the second piece I've had published in Tincture.  The first was in its inaugural issue, an essay loosely about science and ... well, the inability to dance, I guess. 

Colour Wheel is described by Tincture's editor, Daniel Young, as either dystopia or utopia, most likely the latter.  Which is just how I like my stories to end - with the next beginning in sight, phoenixes rising from the congealed poo of ground-down societies, and easy on the Hollywood violins.

I had fun writing that story.  It is a fictionalised, stylised feel of what I would like to see humans become in the next step in our evolutionary future. The story is about a woman who finds herself living amongst a group of people in Melbourne's Federation Square after the Shutdown.  The planes have stopped, and so has the internet, and society has collapsed.  But then after that come the Colours ...

Chuffed I am, because fiction comes harder to me than nonfiction.  Chuffed like Puffing Billy, tooting his way round the mountain.

If you want a copy for your good self, 8 Aussie bucks will get you your very own.  You can buy it from Tincture's site, Tomely, Kobo or Amazon.

What's It About?


Thursday 21 August 2014

If someone tells you they've read a book or seen a movie and you've just got to get onto it, what's the first thing you generally want to know?  It's usually, "What's it about?" right?  Or, if you're a bit of a sneery, picky literary snob like me, who would only touch a Sidney Sheldon novel if it was a choice between that and the Herald Sun (Melbourne's most popular newspaper, headed up by His Antichristness, Rupert Murdoch), you'd ask, "What is the genre?  What are its philosophical themes?"

But then I'm a bit of a wanker. 

The thing about "What's it about?" is that what you will get as a response is a synopsis.  And synopses are really rather boring.  So you could say when it comes to Six Feet Under, for example, "Oh, it's a series set in a funeral home, and all of the characters are a little flawed, and each episode explores death, and we don't do that in our culture still because that, my friend, is a culture that disallows anything - anything - to die, or stop, or slow, or speed up, or go up, or go down, because how the hell do you fit that shit into the spreadsheet?"

Okay.  So you've digressed a bit there, to be honest, but if you left out all that political stuff you still would have a synopses of my favourite TV series ever ever ever that wouldn't even come close to describing the mood of it, of how it makes you think and how it makes you feel.  The synopsis is like the skin of the orange.  It gives you an idea, sure, of what the contents are, but you can't really eat it.  Well, you can, but ew, gungy, yuk.

"What's it about?" is sort of akin to "So, what do you do?" only way less excruciating.  I really hate that "What do you do?" question.  It's based on the faulty premise that what we do for pay is what we most love.  But if you said, "So, what do you love?" to someone at a dinner party as your opening question after introductions, that'd sour the conversation as quickly as the cream coating the spuds, right?

"So, what do you do?" is a tedious opening question that should be banned the world over.  It's particularly lazy.  And yes, I understand that it is an entry point, where further questions should be asked, but often it's more like a closed door.  Especially with so many of us as cubicle dwellers.  I mean, where does the convo go after you've told someone you're a shipping clerk?

Even the interesting answers to "What do you do?" are still the orange skin on the orange.  For example, someone could answer interestingly, "Oh, I'm a musician, and I run a sort of spiritual group," but that won't indicate the freshness of the juice.  Going on that sort of information, people might come away thinking that that Charles Manson chap at the dinner party was a jolly interesting bloke.

Small talk is probably why my ideal dinner party would be a themed philosophical one where small talk is not allowed.  Where the first question that must be asked is, "So, what do you love?"  Now, that would be a dinner party I reckon I wouldn't be too adverse to going to.

Like a Fish in the Ocean


Friday 15 August 2014

Meditation is like being a fish in the ocean.  When you swim in the same environment all day, by dint of that familiarity you don't even really see the water.

Some days, your mind is clear and all you see for miles around you is space, coral and plankton and the occasional fish.

Other days, there's a turtle coming right up to you, so wonderful that you want to engage and interact with this beautiful creature.

Public domain pic by tpsdave

Other days, there's entire schools of small and large fish and the occasional shark, swimming too close for comfort.  In bad months, you're being chased by sharks daily, and hiding to recuperate the rest of the time.

If those fish, coral and plankton are thoughts, meditation is training yourself to be in the ocean without seeing them.  Just for a bit.

Swimming, in space, and the thoughts swim past, but you don't grab onto them.  You just let them be, and let them go.  For just a little bit, you're reminding yourself of what it is to be the ocean.  Just for a little bit.

Public domain pic by Skitterphoto


Wednesday 13 August 2014

I'm feeling angry this morning.  So beware, if you have a desire to condemn me in the comments section, because this morning I might just damn well bite back.

Such a massive amount of grief porn in my social media feed yesterday, one thing after the other.  I was really saddened to hear that Robin Williams gave in to the whisper.  I get those whispers.  I've had them often in the last decade.

You know what?  There was a part of me yesterday that was jealous of Robin Williams because for him it's over.  The battle is over.  It's not the life that people who feel suicidal want to be over.  It's the constant battle, wearing you down.  It's the constant battle that gets in the way of being able to live life.

And so with these outpourings of grief yesterday, on the one hand I got it, but on the other it creeped me out and even angered me a little.

What gets me about article after article about poor Robin Williams is that nobody was thinking about him last week.  This is where this feels creepy to me.  This giant outpouring of grief isn't about Robin Williams the man, I don't think.  It's about how as a celebrity he is representational.  He is someone safely enough away from us that he is able to become a safe container in which to pour the massive amounts of grief we carry in our own life.  Sometimes, we can't see our own pain until situations like these.

If we weren't a culture in tatters, we would have, like all good cultures do, dances and stories and embodied ways of helping us navigate through life.  But we are at the end of one thing and the beginning of another, and so stuff lies in tatters.  We don't have a  public square anymore.  Somehow, we have allowed our culture to be taken over and turned into a giant warehouse for our stomachs that actually really only benefits a small group of people.  So what better stand-in than celebrities, right?  Robin Williams has become our stand-in, an icon.  What better symbol of our own hidden pain than the guy who many still can't quite believe could battle such dark demons rearing out of the shadows when he was so good at making us laugh.  As if every single person on the planet isn't so multi-faceted.

How about the people in our midst who are suffering as much as Robin Williams?  I used to talk daily with one who suffered like him.  She made the most awesome art.  Beautiful, intricate drawings that she would sell to the very, very few who walked past her on the street and actually saw her every single fucking day.  I am drawn to the weak ones, because I feel so fucking weak myself, and so I did stop.  We'd talk to each other every day.  Because I felt so weak, she was actually the safest person on the street to talk to.  She felt so much more human than the suits going to work at the bank, believe me.

Most people who are struggling like Robin Williams probably don't have the creative platform that he did to be able to demonstrate that they have valuables hidden in the folds of their jackets just because they're struggling with depression, or anxiety, or some other mental illness.  They're probably the same people we generally ignore unless we're forced to have to deal with them, or that we despise on some level because we sense their pain and it triggers our fear.  Because fuck me if we aren't stuffed up to the brim with fear.  Or we've tried to help them and they didn't respond in the way we expected and now we feel rejected.

Maybe some of the grief that we are pouring into the safe container that Robin Williams represents is about that as well.  Maybe we're grieving for ourselves, too, for what we have lost and what we don't even know we have lost.



Monday 11 August 2014

You perched yourself in the kitchen, getting in the way of meal preparations.  You have a fat, round body and a great deal of hairiness.  You are so ugly, you make me wish to shriek from some part of myself that may not know how to stop once it gets going.

Does fear travel?  Do you feel mine?  It's so ridiculous.  You're not doing anything except being yourself.

I opened the dishwasher door on Saturday morning, and there you were.  You fell out from where you must have been sitting, up near the handle, with only some steel between me and thee.  You plopped down onto the base of the dishwasher, and I felt like I could go crazy as soon as I saw you.  How awful, to be on the end of someone's completely insane revulsion. 

Over the past 48 hours, you have moved.  First you went from the inside of the dishwasher to its top, hidden under the bench.  If I bent down I could see your shape, your hideous eight limbs.  This morning when I woke, you were still jamming the kitchen up with as much silent discord as if three different multiverses had all deposited their own Slayer in the kitchen, playing all at once.  Just from sitting there.  You weren't doing anything wrong.  But you were sitting right beside the sink, forcing me to fill up the water jug from the bathroom, just in case I accidentally touched you and my grip on reality fled.

I got the packet of konjac out of the pantry in preparation for today's lunch.  When I ripped open the plastic to reveal a clear white rectangle of plastic with the konjac inside, you reared up your front legs a little.  I wonder if you would ever be able to believe that though I am so much larger than you and able to end your life 60,000 times over since Saturday, my fear wanted to flibbertigibbet me through the wall in response to your hairy reaction.  I think there are many beings in the world who are very small, and/or feel very small, and some of them find themselves in positions of power because fucked distorted dying system taken over by nasty nutjobs.  And they react out of their feeling-small space, which has a bulbous balloony ego crust to compensate, like a little fort, bulging like a spider sac.  And then they enjoy this false sense of power that has nothing to do with empowerment, and other people react to them and make them feel big and not powerless.  It is surprising to incite a feeling of fear in someone else, sort of the way it must feel when you cut yourself and you feel something.

The odd thing is though, humans can react with the same levels of fear to each other as we can to you, dear huntsman of the kitchen.  I guess in some ways it's probably not that hard to fathom.  Except we feel fear at people who aren't even doing anything.  They aren't launching drones, but we are still scared of them.  Because we're a bit of a fucking mess right now at this point in history, though I do believe we've on the upswing.  We are children in adult suits, and we need a big plethoric pile of lollipops and sunshine, pronto.

When it comes down to it, we just really don't know our own strength, or our potential, Ms Sparassidae, if I may take the liberty of addressing you a little more personally.  I'm taking liberties with your gender here, but your belly was so round that I can only presume it is full to the brim with others just like you.  Small ones, that will burst out of your guts on the kitchen bench and rush down to the floor, up my legs, and into my nose.  I turned my back on you in preparation for making my lunch and I kept getting this feeling that you were going to launch yourself off the bench at me, even though if you did most likely nothing would happen to me, even if you did.  Even if you did, I would just curl myself up into a ball, repeating over and over the phrase, even if you did.  But just knowing that you bite your prey to immobilise it is really way not cool.  I don't care about our size differences.

You crawled up the side of the toaster, across its face and onto the sandwich maker, which was sitting closed and upright on its side, perilously close to the saucepan that I stirred on the stove.  I could see movement going on towards your front.  I do not know if you have little smaller contraptions round there which you use to eat with and to be honest, I don't want to know.  I can't bear to look at the Wikipedia page any more.

And now you've gone.  Your absence leaves an arachnophobic shadow that looms 27 feet on the wall.  If you would be so kind as to position yourself on that space, where I can see you, I will then be able to do the dishes.  I do apologise for extending great ribbons of invisible web of revulsion towards you, if it does so happen that the universe is more alive and connected than our current dull scientific paradigm would have it.  If you somehow did feel my revulsion, then I simply must apologise.  I cannot seem to quite help it. 

Book Review: Reservoir Dad by Clint Greagen


Tuesday 5 August 2014

How do you write about sweetness without it sounding like schmuck?  Or family life without it sounding boring?  It's hard doing sweet.  It can so easily go too far, so that instead of a delicious fairytale you get Disney, remanufactured so as to not scare the children and in the process shaking off important clumps of dirt that are meant to be psychological pointers.  Fairytales are meant to be illustrated psyche-walks, where you play all the parts.

Caramel tastes best with salt.  And this book is nothing like boring.  It's the way fairytales are meant to be, with light, with a bit of dirt, with high-note sweet, midline vanilla, and a few bottom notes of aching grief.

Reservoir Dad isn't a fairytale or a fable, though.  It's a life.  Five of them, joined together.  Clint Greagen lives in Reservoir, in Melbourne's slightly-inner north.  (When he asked what Reservoir was like as a place to live, the real estate agent told him, "It's getting better."  Reservoir was once the sort of place that if you called it Reservoir, using the French pronunciation, you'd be laughed off for being a wanker.  Melbourne house prices being what they are, though, these days old-school Reservoorians have migrated out further, to Craigieburn).

Clint and his wife, Tania, have bought their first house.  Then, along comes Archie.  Then Lewis.  Then Tyson.  And then Maki.  Not long after Archie is born, they make the decision for Tania to return to her job as a physiotherapist and part-time lecturer and for Clint to take on the role as a stay-at-home dad.  This book is the story of those days.

How refreshing that he recounts it with such honesty.  And it's a delight, reading a book on family life, and the love of children, from a man's perspective.  It made me wonder, in broadly speaking terms (this caveat needs insertion when about to talk about gender), that if Clint was a woman whether he would have deleted more of the times he's going nuts, the times he's losing it.  Or, would he hang onto the guilt of those memories, for as long as I suspect many women would?  I know I'm generalising here, but these are some of the thoughts I wondered while reading Reservoir Dad.

It's a bloody funny read.  Highlights of the Minutes of the first Northern Dads' Group to be held at the Gregen home:

11:20 - I make and transport fresh coffee to every Dad and listen in.  The topics being covered by each group are as follows: Jack and Ben: global warming, backyard maintenance and sex;  Dan and Joe: hangovers, kids, cricket, immunisations and sex;  Kelvin and Simon: children's pop-up books, how great kids are and sex

12:00 - A child poos.  All Dads present sniff their child's bum.  Eventually the culprit is located and excluded from the group until the proper corrections have been made.

12:30 - The children and Dads all gather around Ekko to pat him and learn proper pet-handling behaviour.  In his excitement the dog rolls over and, along with its belly, exposes a long lipstick-shaped penis.  Ben's son reaches for it immediately.  All the Dads freeze on the spot and scream in horror which, thankfully, shocks the dog back into an upright position.

12:45 - A hotly fought competition ensues between the three Dads and their children to see who can leap from the porch and land the furthest from the rose bushes.

12:46 - One hamstring says ping
There's some interesting stuff in here about the politics of stay-at-home dadding.  Of those who speak down to him.  Of how trailing around after your partner is home from work raving for 30 minutes straight is not so much a gender issue as it's a need-adult-convo-now issue.

On the stress and feeling of complete uselessness during Tania's labour to bring Archie into the world, and the appearance of the anaesthetist:

He wore blue pants and a blue shirt, just like the rest of the employees in the hospital, and in another building he may have even passed as an inmate in a low-security prison.  But I'll always remember him as the man who entered the room standing atop two pure white draught horses, whose clip-clopping sent the message of hope down the halls and into every room of the birthing ward.  He was wearing the purple and gold robes of kingly eminence.  The dull, off-white walls around us sparkled with the magnificence of his crown.  I rubbed the weariness from the muscular buttocks of his steeds and fed them the finest muesli as he honoured us both by slaying the monster I had only been able to wail at.  As he took his leave from our lives I fell to one knee and whispered, 'My Liege.'

And on change-table Archie:

He defecates like a startled duck.  He wees straight into the air almost every time I change his nappy, which is freaky to say the least, although I was surprisingly nonchalant when he jet-forced a sample taste - mid-stream strength - directly into my mouth.

He has a bulbous pot belly - a direct inheritance from Tania's dad - with light blue veins running over it like patterns on an ancient Greek milk jug, and when I combine that with the wide-open eyes rolling and jolting about in their mad search for focus, I am unable to stop my mind from playing random image association games ... here comes E.T. and Fat Albert on his spindly little legs saying, 'Hey hey hey!'
Self-deprecation and hyperbole are a delicious combination.  Intersperse them with moments of pure, aching love and that very human emotion of wishing for things to last forever and this book has some heart-punching moments.  On a bedtime conversation with Tyson, four:

I assumed he was mostly asleep and so I whispered, 'Luv ya, mate.'

From my vantage point behind him I saw his cheek rising with a smile.

'Why?' he said.

I was immediately overwhelmed by a sense of wonder and longing.  In this dark room, on the bottom bunk, with the likelihood of another sleep-interrupted night ahead, came the prospector's pan rising above the surface of the stream, the glint of gold already visible.

It was the expectation I heard in his voice, I think, and his smile that made me aware of the opportunity to affirm something that would last a long time for the both of us - maybe forever. 'Just because I love you, mate,' I answered.  'And because you make us all laugh.  And because you're such a great dancer ... especially to Gangnam Style.  And because you jump so high.  And because you use snappy crocodile fingers when you draw.  And, do you know, when you're away at kinder I miss you so much and can't wait to see you again.'

And that was enough.  As I watched him wriggle his head back and forth to reach further into the comfort of the pillow I was fully aware of how little time I had left.  All the rooms Tania and I have filled will one day be empty.  The beds of our children - those I often groan with exhaustion to climb into - will be gone.

Greagen has lovely-honed observation and poignancy.  On Archie as a new baby:
His tongue creeps out past his lips, then draws back inside, then creeps out again, and I get a little glimpse of who he might be because it seems to ignite some curiosity.  He holds still at first, enthralled by the slimy sensations firing around the edges of his mouth but when his tongue retreats he starts panting in his excitement to feel it again and harnesses the energy in his limbs just enough to make his elbows shudder like wings buffetted by a steady breeze.  All the effort causes him to vomit a little, and as I wipe it away I panic: What if Tania and I are killed in an accident?

On a quickie with the wife:

... I've lain there afterwards, used and glowing, comparing her attitude and approach to that of a black widow spider, except that instead of eating me once she's finished she can just make a sandwich or open a packet of Cruskits.
Some funny moments comes from the eight months the family spend living with Tania's parents while they have their house rebuilt. Sexual frustration, the stress that comes with living in your in-laws house exacerbated by your now-four children taking over?  Leads to paranoia.  And murderous intent.  Living in close quarters with someone, everything grates.  When it's your mother-in-law, tripled that.  This is why you put her tongs in the dishwasher - you know it will drive her crazy and keep you sane.  It's only right when she insists on stirring her early-morning coffee so that it "sounds like she's pushed a woodpecker's head into the cup and shoved a finger up its arse."

Clint never shies away from the stress and mind-boggling craziness and the relentless, boring grind of raising kids ... or the way the love pours in and melts his heart all over again.  The way the love is so strong that it holds back the desire to do harm, to go bonkers.  It's refreshing.  Surely every person on that crazy morning run must desire to "stay home and watch DVDs and eat Vegemite scrolls and maybe start growing some marijuana plants as the first step to raising four career criminals."

This book came from the crazily-popular blog of the same name, which Clint started writing as a way of processing his stuff.  Every crazy person knows that writing helps make you at least a little saner, right?

So how do you represent sweetness and the everydayness of raising kids?  How do you do it honour, so that it doesn't smarm or bore?  Just have a dad hopelessly in love with his wife and his kids write to tell you about it direct.  None of that 1970's distant dad disconnected from his emotions here.  Clint loves his kids and loves being a dad and he'll warm your heart telling you about it, and about how vulnerable it makes him feel.  ('This feels illegal,' he says to Tania as they leave the hospital with newly-born Archie). He'll also lay it out on a red satin pillow of self-deprecation, hyperbole, honesty, a little bit of tragedy, a decent nod to the haunting moments of our lives, and a wicked sense of humour and that's why it works so well.  It reminds you again of how normal bringing up children is and how damn awesome everyone who does it at least nominally well is.  Even if your taste in 80's music is outright cruddy.

Published by Random House, July 2014