Wednesday, December 31, 2014

goals, not resolutions

I've never been one to make new years resolutions. They've always felt arbitrary and pointless - their timing probably contributes to most of that. Why do we wait for this one specific day to make change? Or, at least, to resolve to make change. 

Goals, however, I like. 

Especially ones that are in some way measurable, ones that are specific enough that they don't allow any wiggle room. Next year is going to be a significant year for me. I'll be finalising my dual citizenship and not long after that taking my shiny new EU passport overseas. I'll be moving halfway across the world, thousands of miles away from everything that is familiar and comfortable and easy. I'll be stepping far outside my comfort zone, a concept that is simultaneously terrifying and thrilling. Seems as good a time as any to set myself some goals that also push me outside that comfort zone. 

As any good goal-setter knows, writing yourself a list and tacking it to your wall is one thing. Publicly announcing said goals is a whole other kettle of fish. Hence, I wasn't sure I wanted to actually publish this. I mean, what if I fail miserably and achieve nothing next year? What if all my abstract non-concrete plans disintegrate around me and I find myself slinking home with my theoretical tail between me legs?

Sylvia Plath said the worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt, so I guess it's all fodder for the work, right?

In that, somewhat, optimistic spirit, on this the last day in 2014, I'm going to list a couple of my writerly goals for 2015.

- Finish my tbr pile before I leave for London: there are probably about twenty physical books to be read before I hop that plane for Europe. Maybe it's about tying up loose ends, I'm not sure but this feels like a really important thing to do. It's doable - I'm sure.

- Work on some strategies for organising my work: that is organising my completed work, in progress work and random snippets of thoughts and ideas into a system that at least looks tidy from the outside. (Open to ideas and suggestions from far more organised folk than me!)

- Experiment more with form: lyrical essays, the merging of creative narrative and journalism, poetry, micro and flash fiction. If you're going to push yourself, push yourself as far as you can, right? There are so many styles and genres that I feel I've yet to fully explore. And considering my impending adventure, it feels like exactly the right time to do it.

- Submit my work to journals/magazines/sites: if a writer writes and no-one sees their words, are they still a writer? Maybe. For me, part of the joy of writing is sharing it with others and to do that I need to put my work into the world. I need to open my work, and myself, up to critique and questioning and criticism. And that is a scary proposition. Rejection is a real, and sometimes horrible, thing. But rejection is countered by just one person, just one, telling you they liked or loved or understood or appreciated what you wrote.

I published my first piece outside of this blog only a few short weeks ago (this on the idea of two literary families in light of my soon-to-be dual citizenship for Writers Bloc, in case you were wondering) and there is no doubt there is some connection between that moment and my growing feeling that I'm ready to be more open with my work. In an email to a good friend a few weeks ago I wrote about how the publication of that piece felt like a thumbs up from the universe; like fate giving me a not-so-subtle shove towards my future. 

As real as rejection is, doubt is much more tangible (in that way something completely intangible can be tangible) for me. But the only way to counter that doubt is by pushing my work into the world. I guess I'm starting that not only with the Writers Bloc piece but also with pushing these goals into the world.  

I have more writerly goals than those listed above, but I'm going to keep those to myself. Sometimes it's good to keep a little something under wraps, close to your skin and secret from the big, bad world.

So here's to a new year, to reading that tbr pile, getting organised, experimenting and pushing back against the self-doubt. Here's to 2015. 

kb xx

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

my favourite words of 2014

I wasn't going to do one of these posts. Mostly because they are so ubiquitous this time of year. And you know I lean away from the zeitgeist more often that I lean in. 

But, I guess start - or in this case end - as you mean to go on and seeing as I intend for 2015 to be the year of words, specifically my own, I figure ending this year with some of my favourite words from others is apt. 

I don't think I read an especially inordinate amount of books this year. But when I started compiling this list it occurred to me that I'd read a number of books that I genuinely loved for so many different reasons. Books that I feel will stay with me. I've written before about my disparate style of reading: from fiction to non-fiction across genres and separated sometimes by decades. And as I worked on this post it became clear that the books that stood out for me this year don't fit into a style. They aren't of a type or a specific literary area. They are different, in some cases remarkably so. Nonetheless, I loved them.

In no particular order, except maybe for the order I spotted them in my bookshelf, my favourite words of 2014:

The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood (1985)
A dystopian novel set in a United States that has been taken over by a totalitarian Christian theocracy in which women and their rights are severely oppressed. Does this one need explanation? Probably only why it took me so long to read it. 2014 really has been the year of Margaret Atwood for me, I've read a little of her work, added much more to my list of books to read, and fell more in love with the way she writes. 

Men Explain Things To Me, Rebecca Solnit (2014)
After only discovering Rebecca Solnit, the creator of the term 'mansplain', in the latter half of the year, I found myself searching out her work online and bought this collection of essays as a starting point. Featuring seven distinct essays, from the title essay to pieces on Virginia Woolf, doubt and ambiguity, violence against women and marriage equality, Men Explain Things to Me has quickly become a feminist touchstone. Which is undoubtably due to Solnit's writing, a style that merges narrative and journalistic reporting incredibly successfully. 

I Heard The Owl Call My Name, Margaret Craven (1967)
A young vicar, with a terminal illness, is sent to an Indigenous parish in British Columbia where he forges genuine trusting and loving relationships with the residents. One of my university tutors recommended this book to me. While it's not an overly long story, I read it from cover to cover in one night and as I closed the last page I was crying. Margaret Craven writes in such a beautiful way, I only wish she'd written a hundred novels. I could read this story constantly for the rest of my days and be perfectly happy. 

Overdressed, Elizabeth Cline (2012)
Fashion has always been an important subject for me. But in the last couple of years the sustainability of the industry and its impact on people and the environment has become a larger part of the story. I read this book very early in the year and it more than likely had some impact on the changes I've made in my sartorial habits. Cline investigates the fast fashion industry from the high street retailers to the manufacturers in China and Bangladesh, to the impact of cheap fashion on the second hand clothing industry. The subtitle is The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion, which is fairly self-explanatory. 

I Capture The Castle, Dodie Smith (1949)
A coming-of-age story of a young woman from an eccentric English family living in gentile poverty in a broken down castle. I discovered this lovely gem of a story though a blog I read somewhat semi regularly. If it was published today it would be unashamedly marketed as YA, a genre that didn't exist in 1949 when it was originally published. Regardless, it's a wonderful read with complicated, and often humorous, characters. 

The Journalist and The Murderer, Janet Malcolm (1989)
After doing a lot of dry journalistic ethics study this year, Janet Malcolm's seminal work on the subject was a refreshing and thought provoking read. The journalist in the title is Joe McGinniss and the murderer Dr. Jeffrey McDonald and the book examines their relationship, McGinniss's resulting book and where the morals and ethics of journalism lie.

The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion (2005)
As an entry to the work of Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking is so good. An account of the year following the death of Didion's husband, a year in which her daughter faced her own serious medical issues, there is much in the way Didion works through the death of her husband that was at times confronting and at others so tender. 

The Sixth Extinction, Elizabeth Kolbert (2014)
I bought this book after seeing Elizabeth Kolbert at the Melbourne Writers Festival. And it floored me so many times. The book covers the phenomena of mass extinctions and posits that we are in the middle of a sixth extinction. Kolbert knows the science, that is clear, and has a way of putting it together that makes a potentially difficult subject digestible for the layperson. 

A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing, Eimear McBride (2013)
I'm ending with A Girl because it is the book of 2014 for me. I wrote about it a few weeks ago and it continues to linger. It was difficult to read, hard and rough and almost like it was pushing you away, but it was and is beautiful, too. I borrowed it from the library, so I'll be buying myself a copy in the new year. This one needs to come overseas with me. 

So, that's my list. All women, which I've only just realised and wasn't something I'd planned, but I'll embrace it anyway. 

kb xx

Sunday, December 28, 2014

a hundred days

It is a hundred days until I fly out to London. A hundred days until whatever this is that I’m doing begins. 

I wanted to write a post about it. About my move overseas and about the plethora of emotions that are along for the ride: the excitement, the sadness, the fear. About how all these things are spinning around me and crashing into each other and how strange it all is. 

But all I can think about is how a hundred days is really not a long time. 

It’s a hundred sunrises and a hundred sunsets. At least as many hot showers in my own shower with the water pressure and temperature set perfectly (is it strange to think you’ll miss a shower?). A hundred nights in my own bed. A hundred nights in my family home. A hundred nights in my home town. A hundred nights laying awake at night wondering if I'm doing the right thing. 

A hundred days is nothing. Two thousand four hundred hours. One hundred and forty-four thousand minutes. Eight million, six hundred and forty thousand seconds. Nothing. 

Amongst the excitement and the fear is a restlessness that has only reared its head in the last few days. Which I guess makes sense, this is generally a time when people feel restless for something different, something new. A new year, a fresh start. A chance to get right what we’ve been getting wrong. 

Except my restlessness feels a little different. It’s almost like these last hundred days are a test. A test of my will to do this, my desire for exploration and change and a life I cannot find here, my strength to do this even when I’m not sure I can. Because as the day draws closer it becomes clearer exactly what I’m leaving by going. Of all the things that form the kaleidoscope of my life, a great many are here in this wide brown land. And in a hundred days I’ll be very very far away from them. 

They say that familiarity breeds contempt and I’m sure there is truth in that. But familiarity breeds other things too. And sometimes the familiar is the closest thing you can have to knowing who you are. 

Despite the restlessness I find myself trying to savour moments. Trying to capture things and fold them up and put them somewhere where I’m sure I won’t lose them. 

Those warm Australian summer nights that are just beginning to appear in my part of the world. Listening to the sounds of the cockies that live in the pine trees that mark the back border of my parents property as they settle in for the evening. The smile that dances across my nieces face, the laughter that spills from my nephew, the smell of home, the noise of my family - smells and sights and sounds I'm trying to burn into my memory. All these pieces of my life that are so familiar will, in a few short months, be replaced with so much that is not. 

A friend told me recently that many of these things, and even some of the people in them, will recede once I leave. And that this happens more easily that one could anticipate. I’m just not sure I’m ready for that. Yes, there are parts of my life that I would happily see recede, to a point where they become ornaments in a past not worthy of examination. But there are parts of my life that I feel the urge to hold on to tightly. Things I don’t want to recede. 

I wasn’t sure I was ready to write this. The past few hours have been spent writing and deleting and writing and deleting. And thinking about those familiar things receding, even when I don’t want them too. And wondering if maybe the restlessness is a way to ignore the sadness that is increasingly a part of my emotional response to moving. Sadness for the people that mean the most and the way I won’t be a part of the landscape of their everyday existence. The way I will recede from them. 

And then I think about spending time in Ireland and seeing family in England and friends in Scotland and being so close to Berlin and Barcelona and Prague. And all the newness and exploration and adventure that awaits. I think about how important this is to me, how so much of the past few years feels like preparation for this. And suddenly a hundred days feels like forever. 

Someone asked me the other day what my plan was. I haven’t really figured that out. I have some abstract notions, some ideas about the first few weeks and maybe some possibilities about the months that follow. But it’s really quite fluid. There is every chance I’ll be back in a few months, that I’ll fail miserably at whatever it is I’m trying to do and come home. And there is every chance this is it. I don't know and I think that's a big part of both the excitement and the fear. I just don't know. 

What I do know is tomorrow will be ninety-nine days.

kb xx

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

to be read

Tsundoku is a Japanese word meaning buying books and not reading them; letting them pile up unread on shelves or bedside tables or floors. It is a word that is at once beautiful and tragic. 

It's also something I'm guilty of. Buying and borrowing and stacking and rearranging. Telling myself that I'll read that next, but then quickly finding something else instead. It's not something I do intentionally. I'm not hoarding books, I'm not deliberately not reading them. It's just, there are so many stories I want to read. And I find myself adding names and titles to the bottom of my must read list quicker than I seem to cross them off as read. 

And so what I end up with is a tbr pile. Tbr, of course, standing for 'to be read'. Mine sits on my bedside table, though I must admit it has now spread across two piles - safety reasons you see. And amongst the titles are such gems as Graham Greene's The Quite America, James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, George Eliot's Middlemarch, Margaret Atwood's Stone Mattress, a half-read textbook on anthropology and Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex. Well, I mean, I assume they're gems - I haven't read them yet. 

A tbr pile is a distinctly personal thing. It's says something about who you are. When I glance at mine, as I do many times a day, I see my disparate style of reading. Switching genre and era and wandering from fiction to non-fiction and back again with plenty of enthusiasm. 

Over the past few months I've taken to capturing the tbr piles that people post to various social media channels. And I'm quite fascinated. Not just by their choices, but by their willingness to share something which feels so personal.

It's easy to talk about books you've read once you've read them. At that point you can form a, somewhat, coherent opinion. But while it remains in that pile you cannot do that. So sharing that tbr pile feels like exposing yourself before you've had a chance to think, to wonder why and how and to come to any real conclusions. But then, maybe that's ok. 

Maybe the beauty of the tbr pile, and in its sharing, is that you are revealing yourself. Telling the world what you want to read feels akin to telling the world who and what and how you are. And maybe even what you want to be. 

When I cleared the debris from my bedside table to take the picture above I wondered for a moment what anyone seeing the picture would think about me. When they looked at my wide-ranging choices, what would they see? 

Would de Beauvoir indicate my feminist leanings? Joyce my desire to explore my Irish heritage? Would books on Wikileaks and international sex trafficking correctly indicate my interest in the world I live in, a desire to understand as much as I can? What does Margaret Atwood say, or Susan Sontag or Virginia Woolf?

And then after the picture, I thought maybe it doesn't really matter. Maybe the point of sharing our tbr piles is not so much about who and what and how we are but about the importance if stories in our lives. Maybe constructing those piles and sharing those pictures is a way to demonstrate your appreciation for stories. and for the writers that put them into the world. 

I don't know. Maybe it's a little of both. Maybe I'm trying to find something where there isn't really anything. Maybe a tbr pile is just that, books you're going to read. 


Thursday, December 11, 2014

Meredith, oh Meredith

Memories have a way of blurring. Of becoming fainter and less reminiscent of the reality that originally bought them to being. Often the details leave, off to take hold somewhere distant and untraceable; it’s the basics that stay. 

This year marks the 24th Meredith Music Festival and as the second weekend in December approaches I’ve been enjoying those blurry memories that have floated to the top of my consciousness, memories of the seven festivals I’ve been privileged to attend. A few of them follow. 

In 2012, on the second weekend in December, I watched the then 85-year-old American musician Big Jay McNeely make his way from somewhere near the top of the natural amphitheatre that makes the Meredith Music Festival to the bottom, where the stage lay, where his near dozen or so bandmates waited for him. He carried his saxophone and at intervals stopped and played. We cheered him on, clapping and moving to the music he was playing us. 

I can’t give you too many more details than that. What I can tell you is that moments like that are the sweet spot of Meredith Music Festival. It’s the place where the unexpected becomes the significant. Where seconds can feel like hours and people you’ve just met can feel like something even closer than blood. For me, it’s also the place where seven years of music and faces and feelings and cold cans and hot food and unexpected weather and unnatural highs merge to become something you hold close to your chest, checking regularly that it’s still there, like a secret you're not quite sure you want to share. 

My first Meredith was in 2007. Back then they still did two types of tickets and we’d only got the Sat/Sun type so we missed out on Amanda Palmer. But we saw Andrew WK, writhing around the stage dressed in white jeans and a white t shirt, telling us that we were all together, at Meredith, in the world, together. 

The Gossip was scheduled to play that night. Before they hit the stage my friends and I graciously accepted a puff on a joint from a stranger. One friend couldn’t handle this funny smoke and as Beth Ditto made her entrance onto the stage, I found myself helping her into our tent. I lay beside her as she slept, hearing Beth’s voice as it blew from the amphitheatre. Loud and real and urgent. Resentment tastes bitter, as I always imagined it would. We’re not friends anymore. But I don’t think it has anything to do with missing Beth. 

Before going to Meredith that year I’d discovered Paris Wells, who was scheduled to play on the Sunday afternoon. We pushed to the front of the stage for Paris and after she’d played she jumped down from the stage to sit at a table and sign copies of her CD. We bought copies and watched her scrawl with black marker across the face of them. Later, we sat on the roof of our car at the entrance to Meredith, waiting for someone’s parents to come pick us up, Paris drove out, her window was down and we called to her, waving madly from our perch. She waved back. Her arm extending out the window as her car drove around the bend. 

By 2008 the two types of tickets had been scrapped. It was in for one in for all. And we were in. It rained that year. Hard and heavy, but then as I know now, Meredith isn’t Meredith without a little damp. That year the dust turned to mud, people dived head fisrt, sliding across the wet dirt on their bellies. People tripped, hitting the mud with their arses. Bales of hay were spread across the ground. We wore ponchos and let the rain hit our faces and as the weekend wore on, we let the wet seep into our bones. 

We saw Violent Soho, Architecture in Helsinki, Beaches and The Bronx. It was the year I fell hard, musically at least, for the boys of Little Red. The year Kram played his first solo gig. Night had fallen, the crowd had descended and as those first strains of harmonica began, it was at once a moment of time charged with energy and brimming with tenderness. MGMT played that year, I heard them from the top of the Meredith Eye. They weren’t great, I could tell from the top of the wheel. My friend had a bag of mary j. She dropped it from the wheel that night. 

Meredith always starts early. Not the music, which kicks off around 4pm on Friday afternoon, but the whole weekend. It’s an early rise Friday, followed by a half hour drive from home (we always felt blessed to live so close) to the line to get in. Which is almost like a pre-party to the actual party. The first can is generally cracked in the line and it’s on from there. Down hill or up hill, depending on your point of view. And what’s in your can.

By 2009 we were almost old hands. We saw Jarvis Cocker, Sia and Kitty, Daisy and Lewis. We jumped, hands in the air, for Pharoahe Monch, soaking up the energy they threw from the stage. But 2009 belonged to Paul Kelly. 

We’d made our way towards the front of the stage, and it was that heady time of day when it’s not yet night but it’s not still day. Dusk, I guess. But that word doesn’t feel quite adequate enough. We were standing in a natural amphitheatre with ten thousand other people in what can only be described as a sing-a-long with Paul Kelly. Ten thousand people packed in tightly together, swaying, arms draped across the shoulders of friends and strangers alike, all singing along, all asking the same question: whose going to make the gravy?

I remember looking around me, feeling goosebumps creep all over my body. It was at once one of the most amazing things I’ve ever been a part of and also one of the oddest. All of us thrown together singing words like a musical army. Maybe it was because it was Paul Kelly. Maybe we had drunk enough by then to be in the blissful tipsy stage of mutual love and acceptance. Maybe we were all feeling those goosebumps. Maybe it was the natural and unnatural substances coursing through many of our bodies. Whatever it was, it was magic. 

Like 2009 belonged to Paul Kelly, 2010 belonged to Neil Finn. 

We saw Kimbra and Cloud Control and the inimitable Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings. Little Red preformed again, cementing my love for them. But Neil Finn pulled us close to the stage, drew us down the slopes of the amphitheatre. It was another one of those ten thousand strong sing-a-longs. It was magic and oddness all rolled into one. It was another Meredith thing that you probably wouldn’t get if you weren’t there. 

I almost died at Meredith in 2011. And that is such a dramatic exaggeration. When Barbarian took to the stage I was at the front. Then their fans began to move and things got a little crazy. I could feel the crowd pushing forward behind me, could feel my body being crushed against the metal fence. We ended up jumping the fence at the front of the stage, being hauled over the metal by security guards. It was a moment that was terrifying and exhilarating. It was Meredith.

We saw Cut/Copy that year and Ladyhawke and Icehouse. Adalita played and sat down on the stage with the children of her Magic Dirt bandmate Dean Turner. At one point she lay down on the stage and they jumped over her legs. 

There was a total lunar eclipse that year, which kind of makes sense because Grinderman played. Nick Cave stalked the Meredith stage in perhaps the most beautiful pair of gentleman’s shoes I’ve ever laid eyes on. It was Grinderman’s last performance. 

We’d set our camp up fairly early in 2012. A product, no doubt, borne out of the fact that we were veterans. We’d been and done it so many times before. We were old hands. 

By now the second can was well and truly open and we’d reclined in our folding chairs out the front of our campsite watching the goings on around us. A group of about twenty started pulling six metre long pieces of timber from the roof of their car. We watching them stand them up into a crude triangle and throw weighted ropes around the apex. They then dragged a tarp over their makeshift teepee. We’d never seen anything like it at Meredith, but we nodded along, encouraging their quite foolhardy behaviour. The teepee came down by Saturday night when the weather, predictably so, turned nasty.

That year was the year of the aforementioned Big Jay McNeely. I hadn’t expected the highlight of 2012 to be Big Jay and his saxophone. Perhaps I’m making assumptions, but I’d bet most of the 10,000 strong Meredith crowd hadn’t heard of Big Jay prior to seeing him that sweaty Saturday afternoon. And I bet none of them have forgotten him.

It was also the year of Grimes, The Sunnyboys, Saskwatch and Regurgitator. Chet Faker played sitting down with a broken leg. Primal Scream were amazing, I found myself transfixed by Bobby and the shirt he was wearing. I tweeted the band later, asking about the shirt. I never got a reply. 

We saw The Smith Street Band in 2013 and Stonefield and Courtney Barnett. We saw Beaches and Dick Diver and Spiderbait. And when Neil Rodgers and Chic hit the stage we were front and centre. Rodgers played an amazing set. I guess time just doesn’t weary some people. He told us about his battle with cancer and talked about all the amazing people he’d worked with. He was dressed in an immaculate white suit with a white beret. He smiled a huge smile. It was dark when they hit the stage, and Meredith and her ampitheatre became a giant disco. 

Meredith 2013 is the freshest in my mind, the cleanest. The one least soiled by time and the romance of smudged memories. And yet, it doesn’t feel like the biggest as you might expect it would. It just feels like another piece. An addition to an already established picture.

This year, for the first time in seven years, I won’t be going to Meredith. I missed the ballot. A devastation all on its own that feels a lot like rejection.  But I’m also packing up my life to run away to Europe in a couple of months. Maybe Aunty Meredith knows that. Maybe that rejection is actually giving a shit. Who knows. I know I’ll miss her. This year. And maybe forever, because I don’t know when I’ll be back. When I’ll next find myself in the line, drifting through that amphitheatre, feeling that music wash over me. 

I know I have seven years of memories. And maybe that’s enough.

kb xx

Sunday, December 07, 2014

space, man

Sometimes you read something that just sticks with you. That lingers long after the last syllables are uttered in your mind, long after the last page is turned or you've scrolled until you cannot scroll any further. Something about those stories, maybe it's the subject, more likely it is the way they are told; the language, the style, the way the words fit and move together - all of this makes it stick. 

When I read this piece by Elmo Keep on Medium a few weeks ago, I knew right away it would be one of those pieces. 'All dressed up for Mars and nowhere to go' is a fascinating tale of space exploration, of a one way journey to Mars and an Australian man who has signed on the bottom line. 

But, more than that, it's about something that I find myself as intrigued by as I am terrified. Maybe terrified is the wrong word. 

I live in a part of Australia where at night, after the sun has set, the sky is alive with specks of light we know to be stars. I'm fascinated by these specks of light but if I stare at them too long, if I find myself thinking in too much detail about space, about how far away those stars are, about the Moon and the planets and the Sun and everything else that constitutes the universe we live in, my head starts to hurt. It's too big for me to think about in any real way.

I've often thought about why this is so. Why contemplation of this universe feels so impossible for me and after reading Elmo Keep's piece I think I've finally figured it out. When you think about the realities of space, the distance, the hugeness of it all, it makes this life I'm leading on this planet that I live on so minuscule in comparison. So tiny as to almost not deserve thinking of. Who am I but a tiny person, living a tiny life on a tiny planet in this giant universe? 

The nature of the human existence means questions like that hit right where it hurts. How can we mean so much, yet so little? How can our impact be so great, yet disappear so soon? How can we be here, now and be gone in an instant? How can we exist?

In her captivating piece, Elmo Keep chronicles a timeline of the earth towards nothingness. 

"If all human life were to disappear from the Earth tomorrow, it would take the planet only 100 million years to completely reclaim the surface, leaving no single trace of proof that intelligent beings ever existed here. All the satellites orbiting the planet will, untended, fall, many coming to rest at the bottom of the sea. 

The last manmade structures standing will be the Pyramids and Mount Rushmore; its granite resists erosion at an elevation that exposes it to little wind, leaving it recognisable 10,000 years from now. In five million years it will be gone."

"Five billion years from now our sun will enter its red giant phase and expand to at least 200 times its current size, enveloping Mercury, Venus, and quite possibly Earth in the process.

One hundred trillion years from now all the hydrogen of the universe will be exhausted, and so all remaining stars will die. In one hundred vigintillion years quantum tunneling will turn all matter left in the universe into liquid.

In 10^10^120 years (zeros are now added in septillions, numbers too big for our minds to grasp) our universe will experience its heat death, encountering maximum entropy when there is no longer enough thermodynamic free energy to sustain processes that consume energy—like life.

By this point, time itself will have ceased to exist."

It is brutal in its truth. But it is also strangely beautiful, like things that exist outside of human intervention often are. 

It's cloudy this afternoon, the sky a sobering shade of grey that makes me think of the Earth pulling a blanket over itself, hiding from whatever it is that it doesn't want to see. I'm hopeful the clouds will clear by this evening. I'd like to look at the stars. Maybe, just maybe, I can think a little longer about them tonight. 

kb xx

P.S. If you want to ponder the future of the universe, check out this Wikipedia article, which Elmo Keep links to in her piece. Warning: it may do some very strange and scary things to your mind.  

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

this week #6

So it's been a while since I did one of these posts. I'd like to be one of those bloggers that post regularly. Something about regularity feels comforting. But, I'm not that person. I get distracted by reading book after book and scratching down sentences and paragraphs of my own; and by copying snippets of interesting conversation I overhear into my composition book and taking screenshots of things that feel important, until I come across them days later and wonder why I felt that way. 

I get distracted sucking squares of dark chocolate until they melt into nothingness and all I'm left with is the slightly bitter taste on my tongue. I get distracted drinking tea, mixing my Sencha with my Irish Breakfast and my Marrakech with my China Jasmine and it's perfect. I get distracted by the afternoon sunshine streaming through my window, and I close my eyes enjoying the light and the warmth.

Apart from the distraction, I get so hung up about posting something 'good' that I don't post anything. And then, inevitably, when I don't post I get anxious about not posting. It's a vicious circle. And a strange one at that. 

Here are a few things from this week. And maybe one or two from the week before.

The Electronic Encyclopedia of Experimental Literature is exactly what is sounds like - you'll get lost, but it'll be that good kind of lost, where you aren't worried you're just soaking up the experience, watching the sky change colour and the hours move and feeling like you're in the right spot. Finally.  

The Art of Plating: Food as something more than just nourishment, more than just sugars and carbohydrates and fats and sodium. It's kind of beautiful, no?

The case for finishing every book you start. - Still debating the merits of this theory with myself. Do I have to, really? Every single book? I'm not convinced. 

Sometimes you travel for the experiences, the sights and smells, the people whose stories you discover, other times you travel for the artisan cheese: the men you meet on a cross country road trip.

kb xx

Sunday, November 16, 2014

reading: a girl is a half-formed thing

I think I vaguely knew this book existed, that it was out in the world. But when I saw it at the library the speed at which I snatched it from the shelf perhaps indicated that my vagueness masked something a little stronger. And when I put it down three days ago I felt full with something that I could not yet articulate. 

You know those puzzles you often see online, the ones that appear to be a jumble of letters, nothing quite making sense. But somehow you can decipher the message, something to do with the first and last letter being in the right spot allows your brain to reorganise the letters within each word until you see the message. Until you can read it as clearly as if it were never jumbled in the first place. Over the last few days, as I've let this story wash over me I've thought more and more about those puzzles, about our ability to find what is clear beneath what is not. 

Eimear McBride writes in a stream of consciousness style, but there is nothing smooth here. Her words are sharp, jagged even, torn and rough and sometimes difficult to read - difficult because of both the style and the subject matter. 

A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing is a story about family, about faith, about death, about desperation. It follows the narrator, an Irish girl, from about the age of two as she grapples with the world. With a pious mother, an older brother living with a brain tumour, an absent father, a sexually abusive uncle who rapes her at thirteen - a trail of destructive relationships that leads to an ending not wholly unexpected. 

We follow her as she grows out of her small country hometown, as she moves to the city and starts college, as she follows this path of using sex as a salve for a wound that gapes at the edges. As she continues to engage in a toxic, abusive relationship with her uncle that becomes increasingly violent. As her brothers brain tumour returns and she watches him die. She is falling apart, piece by piece, from the very first pages. Her destruction catalogued across a landscape whose brutality matches her existence, in a family who is saved only from complete failure by the relationship of the girl and her brother - the you in the story. 

No characters are named, descriptions are painted in broad strokes and sometimes not at all. The staccato language, the unformed thoughts, the lingering feeling of reading one of those puzzles, the ones with the jumbled letters, and yet as I turned page after page I understood this story. I grasped these characters, I began to see what was clear underneath what was not. 

There is something about this story. I'm not sure if it's the style, the characters, the ending I had almost hoped for but that still hurt. I don't know, but when I turned that last page and realised that was it, it was a sharp hit to the gut. There wasn't anything else. 

It's taken me a couple of days to sit down and write this and I've barely read anything since I put this book down. Maybe I needed the time to process it, needed the time to get what was in my head and put it into words. And even now I don't feel like I'm doing this story justice. I don't feel like I'm getting this down right. 

Eimear McBride is an Irish author and A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing is her debut novel. It took six months to write and nine years to publish. Let that wash over you. It has been almost universally praised, an instant classic. A work of genius and just damn good storytelling. Something that works at you until it gets under your skin and you find yourself wanting to reach into the pages and grab the hand of the narrator and hold onto her tight. 

But something else about this story, apart from the Irish girl at its heart, has grabbed me, has allowed me an insight into my own work that feels overwhelming. McBride's story helped me realise my reluctance to paint my own characters in minute detail, my own preference for broad strokes. It helped me to understand why I place thoughts and feelings above specifics and why sometimes that is not just a way to write, it's the only way. 

Some stories are better when you have to fight for what is underneath, when you have to do some of the work of clearing the dust and dirt and rubble of words to decipher the message. And when you let that message settle into every corner of your mind, when you wait until it bubbles to the surface, maybe that's when you get to be a part of the story, even if only in the smallest way. 

This is not an easy read. But then, why should it be? What it is, is a book worth your time. A story worth working for. The narrator is a character worth knowing, worth remembering. Eimear McBride is an author worth the praise. 

kb xx

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

your imagination is running wild

I have a confession to make. I'm a little obsessed with horoscopes. Just not in the way you're probably thinking. I don't live my life by them. I don't believe the people that write them possess some bizarre ability to predict your future based on what time of the year you were born. I don't believe that specific star signs share characters traits and that Mercury being in retrograde is a real thing. Actually I don't even know what Mercury being in retrograde means.

I love horoscopes because they are like crazy off-kilter versions of micro fiction with the potential for so much more. Each one, even if it's only a few sentences, feels like a tiny narrative. A real live story, with this big crazy back story that - and this is the best part - you can interpret any way you like! Everything is so general and open-ended, it could mean absolutely anything and still make sense. So, I've started working on this little project, where I take horoscopes from where I can find them, pull one line and create a little flash fiction around it. It's a fun, entertaining pastime that fills in the hours between Serial podcasts and re-readings of The Secret Garden. 

And I thought I might start sharing them with you here. 

Hope you like!

kb xx

Your fantasy world is piqued today, Aries. Your imagination is running wild. Maintain a certain amount of control over your emotions or they may get the better of you. You could find yourself in a cloud of confusion by afternoon. Avoid this by making an effort to ground yourself throughout the day. Make sure your actions result from an equal balance between thought and emotion.

My imagination is running wild. I’m sitting in a busy cafe, my tea going cold, waiting for her to show up. I check my watch, twenty minutes late. I check my phone, my Twitter, my Facebook, my Instagram - no message. I imagine a train wreck, she was catching the train in right? Or was she driving, in that case an accident. I check the local news sites, scrolling through breaking news - nothing.

The waiter approaches, the cafe is full, he probably wants my table. He smiles, but I can see the pity under his full lips and perfectly white teeth. I wonder if he is an actor, they look like actor teeth.

‘Can I get you anything else?’ he asks.

The underlying message is palpable, can you please leave, I have customers who will take up both seats and order more than a cup of tea.

I shake my head, no.

‘Just the bill please,’ I say.

Relief floods his face and another pity smile forms on his full lips.

I reach into the pocket of my jacket and pull out some coins. How much can this cup of tea be?

The waiter with the lips and the teeth returns. He places the bill on the table and smiles again. More pity.

Five dollars for a cup of tea. I shake my head. I place the coins on the bill and begin gathering my things. I shrug into my jacket and gulp the last of my now cold tea. For five dollars I won’t leave any behind.

I feel my phone buzz in my pocket: it’s her.

'On my way!! Sorry!!!! Please wait!!'

Too late. She’s always too late.

I walk out of the cafe into the street. If she’s walking she’ll be coming from the left. I go right. My imagination is silent now. I should have known. You can’t trust someone who uses that many exclamation marks.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

this week #5

Listening: Serial podcast

Yeah, I know. Me and everyone else who is aware that podcasts exist. I'm normally adverse to the zeitgeist, not a fan of bandwagons etc. But I love This American Life and many of the names involved in Serial are formally or currently involved with This American Life, so I figured Serial would be on par. And I'm kind of hooked. I stay up late Thursday nights waiting for the new episode to appear and will either download and listen right away or download to listen to first thing on a Friday. 

Something about the way the story is unfolding, something about the uncertainty, the way nothing in this narrative seems concrete. And perhaps there is some voyeuristic thing happening, too. The way the story is unfolding feels like we are participating in it, in Serial's investigation of it I mean. We are listening and digesting all this information and forming our own conclusions and opinions. Maybe that's the pull, we as the audience are not passive, we are active? I'm not sure, but it's damn good radio. 

Check it out here, but please start at episode one. It's really the only way to listen. And, you're welcome. 

Reading: The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood wrote The Handmaid's Tale in 1985. I wasn't born in 1985, didn't make it into the world until 1986 for reference, make of that what you will. It has taken me until now to read this dystopian speculative fiction classic and I devoured it in a few days. Atwood has a way with words that I thoroughly appreciate and this story of a society overtaken by religious extremists, a society where women are stripped of just about every right they have and relegated to subservient roles: wives and daughters, marthas (cooks and cleaners) and handmaids (concubines, basically, walking wombs) is told from the point of view of Offred, one of the first generation of handmaids, a women who can still remember her previous life; a life with a husband and a daughter who are long lost to her. 

Offred lives with the Commander and his wide Serena Joy, an elite couple who are unable to conceive. Enter Offred, who acts as their walking talking womb. Every month the Commander has sex with Offred during 'the ceremony', an occasion Serena Joy is present for. However, soon the Commander begins a strangely ambiguous relationship with Offred outside 'the ceremony', something that is expressly forbidden. And things kind of unravel from there. 

There are a few themes running through this book, notably the importance of language and the complexities of oppression, but the most significant is the subjugation of women. In fact, worse, the politicising of women's bodies, reducing women to merely modes for reproduction. Ugh. Sometimes as I was reading this I would get so angry, so annoyed, despite being fully aware it was a work of fiction. But then, there is always some element of truth in every story. 

Look, the end point is, this is a really great read. So if you haven't already, read it. 

Watching: Not much, but there is this...

True be told, the only thing I've been watching this week is more episodes of Twin Peaks. But there is something else that happened this week I feel is worth mentioning, especially in light of the fact that I wrote so generously about it here. 

This past week I booked my flights to London. I officially have a seat on an airplane that is flying to London next April and I hope you'll excuse the plethora of feelings I have about this. Feelings that will no doubt manifest themselves on here. For the moment, it's a curious mix of excitement and fear. I say curious because those two words seem odd together - at least to me they do. How can there be fear in excitement? And how can there be excitement in fear? I'm not sure. And maybe what I'm feeling isn't either of those things exactly, but something that can only be described in a way that conveys some meaning by those two words. We'll see what other words rise to the surface over the next few months. 

kb xx

Sunday, October 26, 2014

well, nothing. it's sunday.

A long answer to a short question; my response to a writing prompt on Medium this morning...

What’s in my pocket?

Well, nothing.

It’s Sunday.

Sunday is for early morning walks and quiet moments feeling the rising sun on your back, sweat sticking to your body, the sound of your own heartbeat in your ears, your breathing quick and heavy and louder as the ground rises. And it’s for empty pockets.

Sunday is for homemade granola with natural yoghurt and honey; for slabs of sourdough caked in butter. It’s for cups of tea you hold close to your face, feeling the steam wrapping itself around your mouth and nose and tickling your ears. And it’s for empty pockets.

Sunday is for laying in the shade, the damp grass rustling beneath you, your head resting on cushions that don’t really belong outside. It’s for laying out, head in a book, noticing the shade shift as the pages turn and the sun warms you. And it’s for empty pockets.

Sunday is for dinners around the kitchen table, it’s for smiling conversations and laughter with people you call family. It’s for tall glasses of cold water and shaking salt on your vegetables. And it’s for empty pockets.

Sunday is for early nights under clean sheets. It’s for breathing in the summer air through your open window and pulling your blankets to your chin, better to be swathed in blankets than close the window. And it’s for empty pockets.

Sunday is for nowhere to be but here. Sunday is for enjoying the moments that you otherwise ignore or pretend you don’t have time for. Sunday is for nothing and for everything at once.

Sunday is for empty pockets.

kb xx

Thursday, October 23, 2014

this week #4

Watching: Twin Peaks

Never let it be said that I'm one to see things as soon as they appear, a jumper of bandwagons, an ardent follower of the zeitgeist. I'd given Twin Peaks some breathing room, nearly twenty five years worth, and have only just downloaded the first season this month. And then of course chatter starts about a return of the series, which has been confirmed for 2016. I'm sure I'll get to the new series by 2040 at least. 

Listening: No Doubt 
Just A Girl

No Doubt’s Tragic Kingdom was one of the first CD’s I ever bought, back in the days when we bought physical CD’s and not space on our hard drives. Just A Girl, in fact that entire album, has been a favourite ever since that first spin on my little CD player. Don’t blame me if this trip down (my) memory lanes results in hours spent clicking from one No Doubt hit to the next. Because that’s exactly what I did. Don’t Speak, Sunday Morning, SpiderwebsExcuse Me Mr.

You’re welcome.

Reading: Simon Armitage’s Walking Home

I saw British poet Simon Armitage at the Melbourne Writers Festival (the session was recorded for Radio National and you can listen to it here) and though previously hesitant to engage in poetry found him, his work and his story of walking the Pennine Way as a troubadour, albeit the wrong way, capturing my attention. So I bought his book and have only now got around to reading it - it’s a large TBR pile that sits on my bedside table. It’s an entertaining read, a mix of travel and memoir and laced with a little of that self deprecating humour that appeals to me. Perhaps it is my yearning for, and indeed my impending, adventure, but Armitage’s walk along the Pennine Way feels relevant to me right now. Not to say I’m planning to tackle the 256 mile walk anytime soon, perhaps it’s more in the attempting of rather than the actual doing that feels relevant. 

Anyway, that's this week.

kb xx

Sunday, October 12, 2014

i'm a magpie

What kind of blog is it? Is the question that inevitably follows the statement I blog. And one that I find somewhat difficult to answer.

This week I came across an article on The Guardian that proffered four blogging archetypes: The educator, the observer, the polemicist and the magpie. Basically the educator is the expert, the observer offers 'informed insight and analysis', the polemicist is 'provocative, opinionated and contrarian' and the magpie is the scavenger of the internet, curating content from around the web but offering insight and opinion alongside it.

I'm no expert, much too uniformed and opinionated to be an observer yet not quite opinionated enough to be a polemicist. Which leaves magpie.

The word magpie evokes images of both a black and white bird, and a person who somewhat secretly and oftentimes to their own detriment collects things in a manner that would see them not out of place on one of those American hoarding tv shows. She hoarded those issues of Vogue like a magpie, etc. 

But, there is something else to the idea of the magpie that goes hand in hand with the phenomenon that is blogging and the interwebs. Because there is a ridiculous amount of interesting stories and thoughts and pictures and video and music that this constant inter connective telecommunication has opened up. And being able to trawl and discover and then having a space to share those things - a space with more room than various social media channels - a space to catalogue your online adventures in a way that feels both intimate and wide ranging and also a way that feels current but  simultaneously forever. I mean, this blog will still be around in a thousand years, right? Anthropologists will read it and dissect it and try to determine what life was like in 2014. Right? Maybe not. 

I sometimes wonder if the way we share today, share even the most personal of feelings and thoughts and emotions, is indicative of a disjointed society. One where we don't know our neighbours or our local greengrocer. One where we could go all day without speaking words to another human being, but type thousands of words on a screen. 

But I digress. What type of blogger am I? Well, I'm a magpie. What type of blog is this? A magpie nest, I guess. A quick perusal through my most recent posts here attests to that. I've long pondered whether expanding this blog from its initial incarnations, adding to the nest if you will, was the right thing to do in an internet society that almost demands you bag a niche. Now I know I'm a magpie, this pondering seem unimportant. 

So next time someone asks me what I blog about, I'm going to say I blog about the magpie nest that is this life. I'm going to say I'm a magpie blogger. 

kb xx

Thursday, October 02, 2014

feminism as fashion statement

Fashion is, generally speaking, a series of trends. Feminism is not a trend, it is not a fashion statement.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

in defence of YA fiction

In defence of YA fiction. Yes, this is me reading Capture the Castle - a wonderful book and apparently YA fiction, too. 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

the influence of literature

I wrote this thousand word personal essay for uni, attempting to answer, or at least explore, the question to what extent literature can influence or effect people's lives. It's a difficult question to answer, because that influence or effect, whatever form or shape it takes, is inherently personal. The exploration of literature is generally a solo expedition. A task undertaken, willingly and with enthusiasm, by an individual. How do you measure something so personal? In a way, I don't think you do. Which means that this essay is a futile exercise. But then, I'd never want my love of literature, of words and stories, to be categorised as useful.

Is loving something, and I do love The Secret Garden, and being influenced by something two vastly different things?

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Thursday, September 04, 2014

he wishes for the cloths of heaven

I'd never given poetry much thought before. Despite my voracious appetite for words, poetry always felt so unattainable. So easily misinterpreted. I always had this idea that I was supposed to feel something, to respond, to grasp this obscure meaning. And the fact that I was generally left scratching my head made me feel incredibly vacuous, and hence I avoided poetry. Until now. 

Because, recently I was asked, by my uni lecturer, to decipher the meaning of The Red Wheelbarrow - a poem by American modernist William Carlos Williams. I crashed headfirst into my lifelong avoidance of poetry and felt frustrated by what was in Williams' work that I could not wrap my head around. 

And then just last week at the Melbourne Writers Festival I was lucky enough to attend a session with English poet Simon Armitage (I bought one of his books so expect more talk about him). Listening to him talk about his poetry and read some of his work aloud was an experience I won't soon forget. It had me casting about for something solid in poetry that I could grasp and make sense of and pull meaning from. Something that was attainable, or at least felt like it. And then I discovered Yeats. That's him above. 

We were born on the same day. Just about a hundred and fifty years apart, an immaterial detail in my opinion. I like to think that's why I seem to have a strange affinity with his work. And one piece in particular.

He Wishes For The Cloths Of Heaven
Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,

The blue and the dim and the dark cloths,
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

I'm not sure what it is, but I understand these words in ways I've never understood poetry before. Here I am, if I had everything I would give it to you. But I do not, instead I can only lay my dreams under your feet. And all I ask is that you tread softly, so as not to destroy those dreams. If that's not a declaration of love, if that's not passion, what is?  

Surely trusting someone so much as to lay yourself, with all your dreams, down for them to cushion themselves against the harshness of the real world is akin to the both the craziest and most beautiful thing you would ever do?

Maybe poetry is not so unattainable after all. 

kb xx

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

microfiction in the cube

Last Sunday week I was sitting in a Melbourne Writers Festival session on microfiction. I was listening to Sam Cooney chat with writers Angela Myer and Oliver Mol about the expansion of fiction to include things like microfictions, flash fictions, sudden memoirs - the terms are seemingly fluid, but nonetheless intriguing and fascinating. Can you tell a story in 300 words? In an increasingly digital world where our attention spans closely resemble that of a goldfish, is it the only way? 

Sitting in the darkened, but lovely, Cube at ACMI in Federation Square a memory popped into my head, seemingly from nowhere but subconsciously connected all the same - as memories that pop into our heads often are. 

I’m young, five or maybe six, and I’m working on a school project. A project that requires me to write, illustrate and bind my own book (I guess I can claim self publishing experience from this). I write my story, draw my pictures (albeit terribly) and bind my book with a combination of staples and sticky tape. I remember trimming where the pages went outside the edges of the covers and opening my book to find I’d also trimmed the edge of my drawings. Perhaps I shouldn’t claim that self publishing experience after all. 

As I listened to the talented and wonderful Myer and Mol discuss their work and the shifting concept of fiction and memoir, I pondered my school project, conceivably a microfiction, and my own creative work to date. The idea of writing anything longer than a few thousand words had always seemed out of reach for me, daunting even. Like I needed more life experience, or more knowledge of all the words in the dictionary, to be able to create anything worth reading. But maybe I don’t. Not all stories need five hundred pages, some don’t even need five hundred words. Maybe we can tell stories through moments instead of lifetimes. Maybe literature is not directly connected to the time it takes to read. 

Mol shares a lot of his work on social media, he says he’s addicted to the likes. And I’m fascinated by the idea. Just like I’m fascinated by microfiction. As I walked to the train station after the session had ended, I typed moments into my phone. A homeless man with a library book, an advertisement for diamonds illuminating the footpath before me, tiny wooden forks as weapons. Is this microfiction?

I’m not sure where this is going. I’m not sure what this means. But I know as I sat in the Cube, as I listened to Myer and Mol discuss their work, it felt real. It felt possible. 

kb xx