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.)

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

How to defy the physics of time

On Monday, have a glass of wine by the river as the sun goes down. When the bar starts up the barbecue and you think you can't resist, don't resist. Never resist. Makes life more fun. End the night at Max Brenner with a chocolate souffle.

On Tuesday, go to your favourite shiatsu therapist and let her work her magic. I go to Sakura Lounge, which is on Warburton Lane in the city. They've been there for years and years and I've yet to have an experience short of sublime.

And before you know it, it's hump day!

Monday, September 3, 2012

Mali's in Town

Is everyone else loving the 50 Malis chillin' around Melbourne? This one is my favourite, dressed as Dame Edna Everage:


I love that I live in a city that a) celebrates a zoo's birthday and b) does so by painting a replica of one of its residents, a gorgeous baby Asian elephant, in the guise of a cross-dressing 78-year-old man who also happens to be a national icon.

There are 49 others scattered across town; some, like Edna, show off iconic Melbourne motifs and some are painted by prominent Melburnians. I hear Mirka Mora's put her stamp to one. Looking forward to finding that one - the woman is a legend!

Happy Birthday, Melbourne Zoo. Here's to another 150 years of fantastic work for animals, and educating and entertaining visitors.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Overheard

As an aspiring writer, I was ecstatic to discover today, by chance, that my words feature in a published book!

 For many years, cartoonist Oslo Davis has had a spot in the Sunday Age’s M Magazine called Overheard. As Melburnians would know, he eavesdrops on personal conversations around town, taking note of the strange and often idiotic remarks we make; these are then shared with the Age readers accompanied by an original illustration. Recently, a compilation of Oslo’s mini-masterpieces was released in the form of a book called, simply, Overheard. And, it was in the gift shop at Melbourne Museum today that I picked up a copy of the book to find this:
Hmm... Ok, let’s rewind to 2009. I was having lunch with a friend on Brunswick St. I was hungry. I couldn’t decide between the bolognese pizza – an orgasmic creation of bolognese sauce slathered on a pizza base and capable of making me go weak at the knees – or the trusty burger and chips. See where I’m going here? So, I asked the waiter, not for his preference because that means little to me, but for the option that was kinder on the waistline. From the reaction I got from both said waiter and my friend, it became apparent that my knowledge of basic nutrition left much to be desired. Ha ha, we all had a good laugh, at my expense, and that was that.

So, you’re probably thinking the chances of a professional stalker – I mean illustrator – sitting at the next table to us is likely to be slim and how do I remember such an unremarkable day three years ago in such detail anyway? Well, you’d be correct to think that for as much as I love the image, it’s very unlikely that Oslo, in his Sherlock Holmes trench coat, was perched at a bench metres away, pipe in hand, scribbling away at his notebook.

 It’s worth noting that I went through a period of letter writing a few years ago – to newspapers, magazines, anyone who cared to listen – on inane topics such as the relevance of Big Brother and Ray Martin. So, for fear of my moment of wit (idiocy, whatever) being lost forever, I chose to email Oslo that afternoon, on the off chance that he would feel inspired to immortalise us. Try not to judge me as you look at the evidence.
Notice how I refer to myself as a detached ‘girl’ in the hope of clinging onto whatever remnants of dignity left? There you have it: evidence of my very own words making it to print. Sure, it’s not the most profound or insightful thing ever written but that didn’t stop me from cutting out the original copy of my caricature when it appeared in the paper a few weeks later. And while it may not bear my name, I take pleasure in the knowledge that I had a hand in making many people smile that Sunday.

So, Oslo, if you are reading this, I don’t hold any resentment for you taking my material for the enrichment of your book. I won’t even demand a cut of royalties. How could I, to the man whose cartoons made me smile every Sunday for so many years? However, if we do ever meet at a bar, I wouldn’t say no to a free beer.