Tuesday, February 25, 2014

dear life.......

Advice, both the act of giving and receiving, is so incomparably odd and yet so much a part of the human existence. We seem to be always asking for advice, for someones informed (or entirely uninformed) thoughts, for someones careful consideration of our situation and their ensuing words of wisdom. Often, we take advice from those famous and infamous pillars of the previous month, year, decade or century or even some obscure centuries old Roman scholar, who wrote one good book and has lived off the royalties ever since. 

But advice is a double edged sword. Despite that fact that we ask for it, we don’t really want it. Or, more specifically, we want the advice we had already constructed in our heads to be regurgitated by those we seek out, so we may reaffirm that we are doing everything right. That we are on the right path, that we will get there, that is a momentary speed hump - you get the point. 

I, myself, have a tricky relationship with advice. I’ll give you mine, if you ask for it, but I struggle to accept it. Call it some fancy notion of pride, or an unwillingness to divulge real emotion, or just the fact that I’d rather you kept anything you regurgitate to yourself, but I struggle to take advice. However, there is one piece of advice that I’m willing to take - without pre-constructing or regurgitating it - and that is the little snippet that appears to be popping up, and popping up again and then again, and then again.

To write better, one must read. Not necessarily read better books, just read. Full stop. 

A year of intense study and equally intense wondering along the lines of what am I doing and where am I going distracted me from the end goal, which for the uninitiated is writing. 

It’s always been writing. I tried to trick myself into thinking it was other things, but your subconscious has a way of sorting your own bullshit out for you. And before you know it, you are right where you should be. 

So if, as the advice says, writing better is a direct result of reading more, I’ve decided that yes, I will, in fact make a new years resolution. I’m going to read, I’m going to read lots and lots of words, and sentences and whole paragraphs. And then I’m going to write lots and lots of words, and sentences and whole paragraphs. 

And I’m starting with this. Because what better way to start than with…Dear Life

kb xx

p.s book recommendations wanted, needed, repaid with gratefulness and a deep appreciation.

Friday, February 21, 2014

melbourne sketchbook.......

'What strange phenomena we find in a great city, 
all we need do is stroll about with our eyes open. 
Life swarms with innocent monsters.'
Charles Baudelaire

I found this old book in a market one random Sunday, titled Melbourne Sketchbook it features twenty-nine gorgeous sketches by Unk White of well known Melbourne landmarks and equally gorgeous commentary by W.H. Newnham. It caught my eye for two reasons; my love of old books and my love of Melbourne.

There is just something about Melbourne. Every time I visit her, and she is definitely a her, she pulls me in just a little closer. Like an old friend, she drapes her arm across my shoulders and gives me a lazy wink. Come one, she says, hang round for just a little longer - it'll be fun. Of course, it always is. 

And poring over these sketches and the accompanying words, with their little taste of a time long ago, makes me love her just a little more. 

kb xx

Friday, February 14, 2014

an ode.......

I’ve never celebrated Valentines Day. My primary school never participated in the custom of exchanging Valentines, and by high school we (I) were all much to cool for such childishness. Plus, I’ve been single - happily so I might add - for most of my adult life, with brief pockets of relationships never happening to fall on the day claimed by lovers and sweethearts world over.

The cynic in me wants to denounce the commercialisation of a day who’s origins are murky at best. And the cynic is me has generally won out, pointing to the millions of dollars in revenue for florists and chocolatiers as seemingly in contradiction to the notions of the day being about love, as opposed to a symbol of love as benign as red roses. 

But then I read this piece by Stevie at Discotheque Confusion and suddenly I want to reclaim Valentines Day, but as ode to my solitude, if you will. The romance of solitude, as Stevie wrote, is often overlooked or drowned out by the operatic noises of those that find themselves in the traditionally celebrated relationships of Valentines Day. 

But, as Stevie wrote, there is a romance to solitude that is vibrant and real and full of all the things you really love - so reading Anthropology textbooks for me - things that can be lost when you find yourself wrapped up in the idea that the only way to be a Valentine is to be a part of a pair. 

I wrote about my desire for solitude here, and it seems most apt today to celebrate that notion. To embrace the romance in my solitude, the loner in me. The person who eschews roses and chocolates in favour of a book I bought myself, or a late night solitary trip to the cinema. Or hours spent at my desk writing every thought that falls from my mind. Or driving at night, with the music loud and the road clear with only my (horribly terrible) singing for company. Or an early morning mug of green tea while the sun rises over my neighbours backyard. Or a long hot shower with only the sound of the water in my ears. 

So many moments, where being alone is the greatest thing you could want or need or get. 

All these things and more are what I’ll be thinking of today, without a rose or chocolate in sight. 

kb xx

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

birth of a book.......

Came across this video - Birth of a Book - and had to share.

It seems almost a lost art. Who buys books anymore? Real live books full of words and stories. The kind you hold in your hands and fold down the page corners to mark your spot. The kind that you stack on your bookshelves and your desk and your bedside table and your floor.

The kind whose pages get brittle and musty and yellow with age - kind of like we do.

Yes, I buy them.

Not long after discovering this video I came across an article from The New Yorker by George Packer, about book (and other things) selling powerhouse Amazon (surprisingly book sales only account for seven per cent of their annual sales) and the effect that cheap online books and digital books are having on the publishing industry.

I buy a lot of my books and magazines online through The Book Depository (which is incidentally owned by Amazon) for a couple of reasons. One is access; I don't live in close proximity to traditional retailers that sell what I'm looking for, back copies of The Paris Review and Anthropology textbooks for example, and so I turn to online sellers who stock thousands of books and magazines.

Cost is also another factor. The truth is that Australian's pay more for magazines, journals and books. And while it would be lovely to not have to consider price as a factor in purchasing, the reality is that I, and many others too, do just that.

That said, there is line from Packers's piece that seems to put this all in perspective, and reinforces the emotions provoked by the video above.

'Readers are being conditioned to think that books are worth as little as a sandwich'

If you have an appreciation for books and stories and writers and the words they string together, like I do, the idea that books are worthless or close to it is disheartening at best and terrifying at worse.

I'm not going to stop buying books from The Book Depository, but I am going to start seeking out independent book stores. If only so that the books that are available to me are not selected by an algorithm, but by a real person.

And here is why.

Stories are at the centre of every culture in the world. Stories are how we communicate, share knowledge and history and news. Stories are what make us who we are. They can't be written by a computer program or collected using big data.

Stories are not worthless. And neither are books.

kb xx

Sunday, February 09, 2014

sunday night.......

Sunday nights possess their own special magic. We savour those last few moments of daylight, wringing every drop of energy from the weekend. We linger later then we should. We postpone the inevitable - Monday morning. We rewind in our minds and press play, wanting to live it all again - if only for a moment in our head.

Sunday nights. Burning sunsets. Spontaneous moments of nothing become richer and brighter and more important simply because of their proximity to Sunday nights.

And after all that, comes the sad longing for everything we didn't do. For everything that must wait another week. For every second that drifts us closer to Monday.

It's a special kind of magic, Sunday night magic. An almost indescribable blend of glorious nostalgia and heartrending melancholy that no other day compares with.

That's what makes them so special.

kb xx

Thursday, February 06, 2014

happy solitude.......

I went to the cinema by myself last night. I’ll just give you a second to pick yourself up off the floor. 

The truth is I’m a solitary person. Some might even say a loner, and while I’m not adverse to the term it doesn’t quite explain my desire to be alone. You see, it’s not that I don’t like people, in fact quite the opposite. I’m intrigued and fascinated by people. All different people. What they say and do and how they navigate their lives. I just don’t need to be at the centre of a bunch of such people to possess this fascination. Instead, I prefer to watch them from afar. Sometimes I sneak closer, like a photographer in the Kenyan plains, stalking a Lion to capture that perfect shot. Just close enough to get the shot, but not too close to get eaten alive. Too graphic?

I’m not alone in my love of solitude. Thoreau said that there was no companion as companionable as solitude. And Einstein was of the thinking that solitude gives you time to wonder and search for truth. I agree with both of them. 

But solitude seems to have taken on a negative connotation. Just like the word loner - which has a tendency to be used as an insult - the idea that anyone would want to be alone is perplexing. The supposition being that life is best lived surrounded by people, never with an opportunity to think in a quite space, to ponder, to digest, to dream and to escape - alone.

Even the idea of doing something as innocuous as going to see a film by yourself often brings startled looks to the faces of those it’s suggested to. As if the thought of being alone injures their soft bellies. Imagine suggesting that they travel alone? I’m too concerned for their mental health to even suggest such a thing. 

There is something to be said for solitude. Not just the act itself, but having the courage to embrace it, to use it, to appreciate it with all it’s nuances. 

Long live the loner in us all. And especially in me. 

kb xx

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

one story.......

While on my blogging hiatus, which is what I've taken to calling my four weeks away from this space, I watched more than a handful of Ted Talks. Not from any desire to watch the Ted Talk back catalogue in it's entirety, or to find a specific meaning in the chaos that often feels like my mind - those Ted Talkers can be so inspirational, right? Mostly my watching came about from absentminded internet wandering, where one finds oneself wandering down paths and up alleyways and through historic buildings - all virtual of course.

It was one such virtual wander that led me to this talk by Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, about the danger of the single story. Adichie speaks about this danger, making references to her childhood reading and story telling and her experience as a young black woman attending an American university.

It stayed with me for a number of reasons. Not least because I love stories, but also because the idea that when we take a single story as gospel, we make assumptions and contribute to stereotypes that are simply not reflective of a society, a people, a county or a continent seems incredibly relevant in the world we live in.

By accepting these single stories, not unlike those accepted by Adichie's college roommate, we miss out on so many other stories - both good and bad. And not just that, by accepting single stories we stifle our our minds, we limit our ability to learn and we fail to comprehend our world in a meaningful way.

Watch it, it's twenty minutes of your life, and tell me what you think.

kb xx

Sunday, February 02, 2014

back, but different.......

I should probably preface this by apologising for my absence from this here space. It’s been four weeks - give or take a few days - since my last utterances right here. Which is equivalent to about six hundred internet years? Hmm, yes so apologising. Except I’m not really sorry. I’ll explain that - probably. 

So, it has been a while between drinks. I’ve not been lazy though, I’ve not been wasteful of my time or just frittering away the hours. Ok, I may have frittered away a few. But I did throw together a few essays; journalistic objectivity, the function of the nineteenth century critical weekly towards British politics and culture, and the social and technological impact of radio in a historical context. Right? Yeah, I have no idea what any of that means either. Good stuff. 

I bought a navy dress, one with a peplum at the hem, which I’m slowly falling in love with - I’m blaming the consecutive forty degree plus days for doing something to my brain. I rediscovered my love of cola spiders, snapped up a book on anthropology - might be the book buy of the century, no the millennium. And one on feminism. And one by Virginia Woolf, which is also, to be honest, a feminist tome. Am I the only one sensing a theme among my book purchases?

I moved my desk around and bought myself a brain cactus - it’s actually called a brain cactus, I haven’t just christened it that of my own volition. Obviously to help with the essays, reserving my judgement on it’s success until I see my marks. 

Clearly this abstract list is not in any kind of chronological order.

I trawled the ridiculous sales haunting the www’s and came up with one pair of Saint Laurent shoes I just haven’t been able to click home. I know it’s psychological, my subconscious and conscious selves battling over the patent leather and 50% off price tag. My finger hovering over the place order button while my eyes glaze over…and then the fatigue kicks in, I close the virtual window and go back to dreaming. 

I’ve drifted by here a few times, let my eyes wander and then somehow found myself back watching old TED Talks and trawling the Brainpicking’s archive. How come internet time goes so much quicker than real time? See six hundred years above.

But in my absence, while reading and writing and buying books and navy dropped hem peplum dresses and drinking cola spiders, I felt the dawn of revelation. Familiarity breeds contempt. It’s something that’s been running through my mind these past few weeks and I have a sneaking suspicion it’s largely responsible for the radio silence here. Actually sneaking is perhaps the wrong word, I’d say I know explicitly might be a better choice, at least more accurate anyway. This is the explanation part by the way.

Maybe I just needed some time away so the familiarity and the contempt had a chance to wear off. Maybe I needed to find myself a stranger to this place. I needed to forget where the tea cups were and what drawer the spoons were in. I needed to get lost, to find my way back. Fuck. That is cliche - but it is true. 

I’m back now, but I don’t think it’s going to be the same anymore. I think things are going to be different. Sometimes, more often than not, different is good. Really good. Exceptionally good and generally the antidote to whatever ails you. So, I hope you’ll excuse me while I take a big gulp of different.

kb xx