Kill Your Darlings - Kill Your Darlings 15
Post on 23-Jul-2016
DESCRIPTIONThis is a free sample of Kill Your Darlings issue "Kill Your Darlings 15" Download full version from: Apple App Store: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/id845139689?mt=8&at=1l3v4mh Magazine Description: Proudly independent, Kill Your Darlings is Australias most lively and entertaining cultural publication, founded by Hannah Kent (author of bestselling novel Burial Rites) and Rebecca Starford in 2010, and today it comprises a quarterly edition, a website and blog, regular events series, a writers workshop and an online shop. Publishing essays, commentary, interviews, fiction and reviews, as well as regular opinion-pieces and columns, KYD is committed to feisty new writing unafraid of pulli... You can build your own iPad and Android app at http://presspadapp.com
N E W F I C T I O N | C O M M E N TA R Y | E S S AY S | R E V I E W S
Kill your darlings
KILL YOUR DARLINGS
Publishing Directors: Rebecca Starford and Hannah Kent
Editor: Rebecca Starford
Deputy Editor: Brigid Mullane
Online Editor: Emily Laidlaw
Online Assistant: Jessica Alice
Editorial Assistant: Christopher Fieldus
Social Media Assistant: Samantha van Zweden
PO Box 166, Parkville 3052, Victoria, Australia
Published by Kill Your Darlings Pty Ltd
This collection Kill Your Darlings 2013
Kill Your Darlings 15, 2013
ISBN 978-0-9808076-0-8, ISSN 1837-638X
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Cover illustration: Guy Shield
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Kill Your Darlings accepts unsolicited submissions. Please visit the website for all
This project has been assisted by the Australian Government through the
Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body.
9 Imaginary Futures: The Fight for Marriage Equality in Australia
Michelle Dicinoski, author of recent memoir The Ghost Wife, tackles the long-overdue need for marriage equality in Australia, and considers what we can learn from developments overseas.
20 A Car Fire in Suburbia: Malicious Property Damage
An act of arson has Zo Barron contemplating the motives behind vandalism in Fremantle.
29 Crusades and Kinship: Live Action Role Play in Melbourne
Sam Bolton takes us to the realm of foam swords, elf ears and chainmail in his look at live action role play.
37 A Public Engagement: The Art of Controversy
Pepi Ronalds revisits the controversy of the Yellow Peril and examines the role of art in public spaces.
46 On Exchange: Things Taken and Things Left Behind
Laura Jean McKay travels to Indonesia and explores the nature of cultural exchange.
53 Gambling on a Day in Hinnomunjie: Dostoyevsky in the High Country
Kerrin OSullivan takes the Russian great to a day at the races.
62 Writing the Fear: Climbing Everest and Conquering Anxiety
Emma Rummery on anxiety, writing and climbing Everest.
0MQMXPIWW(MZIVWMX]*ERGXMSRERHXLI*YXYVISJXLI&SSO Kate Goldsworthy investigates the world of slash and discovers lessons XLITYFPMWLMRKIWXEFPMWLQIRXGERPIEVRJVSQJERGXMSR
85 Control Daniel Ducrou
96 Just Like Us Melanie Joosten
111 Kill Your Darlings in conversation with Laurent Binet
129 Beautiful and Damned: The Myths of Zelda Fitzgerald
Rebecca Howden on how three recent novels re-imagine the life and rewrite the personality of one the literatures most infamous women.
139 What Happens Next?: 50 Years of Doctor Who
On the eve of the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who Julia Tulloh delves into the world of Whovian fandom.
149 Posthumous and Personal: Remembering David Rakoff
Stephanie Van Schilt farewells the extraordinarily talented writer and performer David Rakoff and reviews his posthumous novel.
Welcome to Issue 15 of Kill Your Darlings. A lot will have happened between the time weve gone to print and when youre reading this, namely the federal election. If were to trust the polls, Tony Abbott is currently tipped to be our next prime minister, and with this change in government comes the continuation of prejudicial marriage laws. Even if Kevin Rudd does perform a messianic miracle, his support for reform is tepid, most recently ruling out a referendum on the issue.
Several years ago Michelle Dicinoski married her partner in the United States, only to return to Australia to have this marriage nullified at the immigration gates. Her lead feature in this issue, Imaginary Futures: The Fight for Marriage Equality in Australia, is an emotive call to arms, artfully reminding us how this discrimination continues to effect same-sex couples longing to marry and have their relationship recognised in this country.
The opposition to marriage reform remains at odds with the attitudes of the electorate: a Sydney Morning Herald survey last year indicated that more than two thirds of Australians support the legalisation of same-sex marriage. So why are politicians not listening?
Elsewhere in Commentary, Fremantle-based Zo Barron explores the nature of vandalism after a first-hand experience, and Pepi Ronalds revisits the controversy of the Yellow Peril and examines the role of art in public spaces.
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Role-play and fandom are also explored in this issue: Sam Bolton takes us on an adventure through the world of swords, elf ears and chainmail in the increasingly popular live action role play, while Kate Goldsworthy investigates the world of slash and fanfiction with fascinating insight. Meanwhile, Laura Jean McKay and Emma Rummery have two very different travelling experiences one heading to Indonesia for the Bali Emerging Writers Festival (and catching the Chikungunya virus along the way) and the other on a quest to climb Mount Everest.
In Fiction, we feature a new story from Daniel Ducrou, entitled Control, which is an incisive account of masculinity and fatherhood, while Melanie Joostens Just Like Us is a satirical account of a young couple striving to meet the expectations of modern life.
In Interviews we had the pleasure of chatting with French literary sensation Laurent Binet, whose novel HHhH brought him international renown. In Reviews, Rebecca Howden discusses the literary reputations of Zelda Fitzgerald, Julia Tulloh remembers the past fifty years of Doctor Who, and Stephanie van Schilt commemorates the celebrated writer and performer David Rakoff, whose premature death last year robbed the world of an enduring talent.
There have been more staff changes at Kill Your Darlings. Were delighted announce that Emily Laidlaw has been promoted to Online Editor, after Imogen Kandel has gone on to a new publicity role at Black Inc. Books. We thank Im for all her hard work with us and wish her all the very best she will be missed!
Rebecca Starford, Editor
The Fight for Marriage Equality in Australia
When I was a kid, I hated the idea of marriage. Marriage meant I would have to cook someones tea every night, wash his clothes, share a bed all of which seemed like a lot of work. Second-wave feminism had shaken things up in the world, but my household, in Rockhampton in the 1980s, was yet to feel the effects of the tsunami. We were the first people in our street to get a microwave, but it would be years before my dad could use it.
Marriage didnt seem to be a transition, or a rite of passage. It seemed to mark only an endless repetition of how things were: women doing womens work, men doing mens work, and life going on with a kind of inevitability. As a child, I didnt know what I wanted for my future, but I knew that wasnt it. If I could somehow have glimpsed the future, and seen myself marrying a woman, I might have fallen from my tree house in surprise.
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Marriage equality has made some remarkable advances over the past year. The United States Supreme Court struck down the Defence of Marriage Act (DOMA), which had enshrined unequal treatment for same-sex couples in regard to federal matters. In France, same-sex marriage was legalised despite violent clashes between supporters and opponents. Closer to home, New Zealands parliament also legalised gay marriage before bursting spontaneously into a Maori love song in what must have been one of the most genuinely moving scenes in political life anywhere in recent times.
In Australia in 2013, despite high levels of public support for same-sex marriage, and social media campaigns urging people to be on the right side of history, the law remains unchanged. As I write this, the federal election is fast approaching. Kevin Rudd has promised to introduce a marriage equality bill within a hundred days if hes re-elected, while Tony Abbott remains in opposition to marriage reform, despite his lesbian sister strongly advocating for change. Abbott says he wants to focus on bread and butter issues. For me, and for the millions of Australians who want the chance to marry or to see their sons and daughters or brothers and sisters marry this is a bread-and-butter issue. What could be more ordinary and everyday than marriage?
Margaret Mahys The Changeover was one of my favourite books when I was in high school. Its about a teenage girl, Laura Chant, who rescues her tiny brother from a supernatural force that is slowly killing him. She does this by transforming changing over into a
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witch, in a transition that is dangerous and unpredictable and frightening. My friend Egg and I both madly loved the book because it was smart, sexy and scary, and because Mahy managed to treat her young characters as whole and complex people, people tasked with real and serious challenges. With the help of a family of witches, Laura Chant transitions to save her brother. This involves a ritual, a physical change, and danger. Afterwards, she looks at herself in the mirror and sees that through the power of charged imagination, her own and other peoples, [she] had made herself into a new kind of creature.
Now, years later, I can see why this idea appealed so strongly to my 14-year-old self. Surely this process must appeal to every queer child: the passage through harsh terrain. The changing over that leaves you forever altered.
My friend Egg was with me in 2005 when I married my girlfriend Heather in Toronto City Hall. While Heather and I exchanged rings and promises, ice-skaters outside carved circles in a rink beneath a clear blue December sky.
The plan had not been to marry, not at first. Heather is American, and we had planned the journey initially as a holiday, a longish stint in the United States to spend time with Heathers parents and extended family. At the time, Canada was the only English-speaking country in which same-sex marriage was legal. When it occurred to me that we could get married if only we drove up to Canada, it suddenly seemed perfect and urgent and necessary. We would marry. Of course. Elated, we told everyone we knew. We made invitations, bought rings, planned receptions in the US and Australia.
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Because of the distance, my family and friends couldnt travel over for the wedding, and we reassured them we appreciated that Toronto was expensive and far away. In truth, my parents were still uncomfortable with my sexuality, so the prospect of the wedding didnt fill them with festive cheer. In the months leading up to the wedding, I was torn by emotion. I wanted my parents to be proud and present. I wanted them to be supportive of my wedding. Their resistance meant that what shouldve been a time of joy was actually a time of mixed feelings, of sadness and heartache. They wanted me to live a normal life, to be married to a man, to have kids. I was trying to show them that this was a normal life. But for my country and my parents, the wedding didnt exist.
In the end, the only person from my past who was there for the ceremony was Egg, who flew in from her new home in England. (In the years since we finished school, she had been doing some changing over of her own, falling in love with an Englishman, and becoming a UK resident.) Her presence was the most wonderful gift, one that I would appreciate even more in years to come. Just like in The Changeover, I needed not just this ritual, not just the wedding, but also the power of imagination mine and Heathers, and that of those around us to shift us into this new thing, this new state.
Surveys show that younger people tend to be more accepting of same-sex marriage, while older people are less accepting of it. Most Australians agree that its inevitable that the law will change. Even so, marriage equality opponents, such as Liberal politician Cory Bernardi, are comfortable enough in
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their prejudice to suggest as he did last year, and again earlier this year that same-sex marriage will lead to bestiality, and to people wanting to marry animals. When such arguments can even be imagined to play a part in the national debate, its hard to know when we will ever move forward.
Opponents of same-sex marriage often demand its supporters consider the plight of the children affected by same-sex marriage. But what about the children of same-sex parents who know that their parents cant marry if they want to? What about teenagers who know that regardless of whether they might want to, they themselves wont be permitted to marry a same-sex partner in the foreseeable future? Marriage is an incredibly powerful symbol. So is the withholding of it. It means that in the national imaginary, its impossible to see homosexual relationships as equivalent to heterosexual relationships. Its a failure of the imagination that has very real effects on the lives of queer Australians.
The anthropologist Victor Turner says that, for the subject in the liminal state, and who is about to go through a rite of passage, biological, social and cultural processes give an outward and visible form to an inward and conceptual process. He also says that the subject, before the ritual, is structurally, if not physically, invisible.
As Heather and I stood before each other that day in Toronto, the celebrant reminded us that our wedding rings were an outward and visible sign of our love. As we exchanged rings, he said, May these circles be the sign and seal of a pure and imperishable love, now mutually pledged.
I clung to those words, because I knew that when I
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left Canada with Heather in just a few days, our marriage would become, in legal terms, a phantom.
But back then, I was hopeful. I thought the law would change soon. Surely, I thought at the time, it will happen within a couple of years at the most. How wrong I was. As I write this, my eighth wedding anniversary is approaching. Heather and I are still married, and still ghosts. Every time I go to my straight friends weddings, I hear the statement, Marriage in Australia is defined as the union between a man and a woman, to the exclusion of all others. Celebrants are required by law to make that statement now. Every time I hear it, I burn with sadness and fury, and grip Heathers hand even tighter.
Anthropologists like Turner saw marriage as an important transition, a rite of passage. For many contemporary Australians, though, transitions and rites of passage arent so important. Some of my friends are married, some divorced or separated, while some never have and probably never will marry. Some of them will happily spend their lives single. Wanting to know why some of us prefer to formalise our relationships, I asked my friends about their decision to marry, or stay unmarried.
For my friend Chris, marriage was an important public assertion of his commitment to his wife. In addition, marriage as a symbol was important to him.
Having moved around a lot all my life, he says, I was attracted to the idea of stability that marriage represented. I didnt want to settle down permanently, but I wanted to
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feel at home in a relationship. To have something that was a given in a life full of change.
I know what he means. For me, I needed the assurance that Heather planned to stay put. I was used to relationships failing and people disappearing. A public commitment to sticking things out was reassuring for me. Of course, people divorce all the time, but for me, just the thought that Heather might imagine a life with me was what mattered.
My friend Helen tells me that she and her partner Nikolai have never actually spoken about marriage at all, despite being together for 13 years and living together for 12. He has, she tells me, some kind of objection to marriage as an institution, but I actually dont know much about the nature of his objections, because weve never discussed it. I am surprised and impressed when she tells me that it took 10 years for her to learn that Nikolai had any opinions about marriage at all. But I can imagine them in that first decade, talking about the things that really interested them things like Doctor Who and Neil Gaiman and how to make a really excellent risotto.
While rites of passage are perhaps of less importance now than they were historically, that shift isnt an argument against marriage equality. Rather, it means that those who wish to marry or would prefer not to should do what is right for them.
Helen would hate it if she and Nikolai were somehow required to marry. But if Im not forced to marry, she reasons, Im not entirely sure why other couples are forced not to. Perhaps my sister would have chosen to marry her girlfriend, if she had the choice? I dont know, because,
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unlike my brother and I with our opposite-sex partners, it was never an option for her.
In 2011, the Australian Bureau of Statistics for the first time collected census data about same-sex couples who reported being married. Heather and I were one of the 1338 same-sex couples who ticked the box to say they were married. Another 32,377 same-sex couples reported that they were in a de facto relationship. These figures are dwarfed, of course, by the numbers of heterosexual couples in de facto relationships or marriages, who together totalled 4,650,986 that year.
We dont know much about those 1338 married same-sex couples, not whether they went overseas to marry, or had a civil partnership ceremony here, or whether they simply consider themselves married.
What is certain is that none of these couples have had a legal same-sex marriage in Australia. Those of us who were married overseas cant claim that our overseas marriages are legitimate here, either federal parliament changed the Marriage Act in 2004 to ensure this. The wording of the Act was altered to state that marriage in Australia means the union of a woman and a man, to the exclusion of all others. When Heather and I returned after our wedding journey, we were as unmarried as when we had departed, according to the law.
In the years after my wedding, I wrote a memoir about the journey that Heather and I made to get married. The writing and the marrying went hand in hand, in a way. As I say in the book, Ghost Wife: A Memoir of Love and Defiance:
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Confronted by all this silence and denial, Heather and I decided to make our own kind of noise, find our own kind of visibility. If my country wouldnt allow the wedding, we would go to another country to marry. And if Australia and the United States refused to acknowledge the wedding certificate, fine. Id document what happened in an irrefutable way: Id write about the wedding and the journey leading up to it. It would be a permanent record. A testament. Proof.
I also wrote the book for my parents, in the hopes that they would understand, at last, why I had married Heather. I had hoped that the marriage, as a rite of passage, would be self-explanatory. But my family hadnt witnessed the wedding, so I had the impression that in some ways, it didnt really happen, as far as they were concerned. If the marriage itself so far away, so ghostly couldnt be the transformation that would work, perhaps the book could.
Years earlier, The Changeover had made me think about transformations. Maybe now, I thought, my book could explain to my parents what my international marriage could not.
There are only a handful of moments in your life that you know, in advance, will be life-changing. Graduations. Marriages. Having children. Its a strange thing when these moments arrive. They are all, in some form or other, thresholds. They mark transitions from one phase of life to another.
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For me, marriage was definitely a transformation, but that transformation didnt happen like flicking a switch. It took years, and it continues. For me, being with Heather has enabled me to trust that she isnt leaving, and that I can build a life with her. We arent nave about the possibility of the relationship breaking down, and we know we might not be together forever. But the marriage enabled me to stop worrying so much about what the future might hold, and to start building the future as if the two of us would be there. Now, when I imagine myself in forty years time, I imagine Heather there beside me, the two of us wrinkled as Shar-Peis and wearing old-lady hats, and Heather grinning at me like she always does, like she always has, like I hope she always will.
When DOMA was struck down in June 2013, my marriage to Heather was recognised federally in the US for the first time since we were married. Now I can apply for a green card based on our relationship which I could have done eight years ago had we been in a heterosexual relationship.
This change brings with it some major decisions for me. Heather and I love Australia. But she is an American, and misses her family, her friends, and what she has left behind. As for me, I am curious about what it would be like to live in the US. As I write this, Heather and I are in discussions about the prospect of an international move. The more we talk about it, the more likely it seems that well go through with it, if my green card application is approved.
My fear glimmers bright and sharp at the thought of this kind of upheaval. What about our cats, and our beloved
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friends, and our careers? And, especially, what about my ageing parents and my brothers? I dont want to make a move that I later regret. I know that change is often frightening, and sometimes thats what makes it the best thing we can do.
For Australia, too, it is time to make a change. It is time to acknowledge that queer relationships are just as valid as heterosexual relationships, and that the institutional denial of marriage rights reinforces the second-rate status of homosexual relationships. Regardless of where you stand on marriage, refusing marriage rights to one sector of the community enshrines inequality. Gay and lesbian youth are four times more likely to kill themselves than heterosexual youth, for a variety of reasons, but surely a lack of acceptance from family, friends, and the society at large is a major motivator. Marriage inequality is just another form of rejection.
Australians are ready for change. We know its time. Same-sex marriage takes nothing away, certainly not the sanctity of marriage. All it will do is make Australia a kinder, more equitable place, a nation in which queers, too, can be imagined more fully as part of the community as married or unmarried, parents or not. All it takes to change is for us to see that this transformation started a long time ago. Now its time to acknowledge it, legalise it. Margaret Mahy was right: when you change into something new, you get there through the power of charged imagination. You get there on the strength of shared belief.
Michelle Dicinoski is the author of +LSWX;MJI%1IQSMVSJ0SZIERH(IERGI (Black Inc., 2013). She is the recipient of a Marten Bequest Travelling Scholarship 20122013 and a Hedgebrook Fellowship (2013). She lives, for now, in Melbourne.
A CAR FIRE IN SUBURBIA
Malicious Property Damage
The party that night a younger crowd but a good one, with a fire to stand around on one of the first cold nights of the season wound up around two. I rode home down Hampton Road to avoid the drunken turmoil of Fremantle on a Friday night. During the week, our town (only thirty minutes from Perth but so much in its own little bubble) is pretty quiet. During the day on the weekend it brims with families and tourists and locals. But on Friday and Saturday nights, the train ferries in a mess of teetering girls and squared-up boys with their necks out, all deeply involved in the act of getting fucked up. Theres a sense among my friends that we lose our town during these times. The dark streets get darker, fuses grow shorter, and I ride my bike home by a different route.
Roughly two hours later, someone opened the unlocked door of my friend Jesss car and, most likely with the help of accelerants, lit the upholstery on fire. We have no idea if they were young or male, even though we strongly suspect
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both of these things. Over 75 per cent of people who commit a crime in Australia are male; most of the people I know to have done damage to someone or something have been young. Its even a bit presumptuous to refer to them in the plural we dont know for sure if there was even more than one. Jess, who had left the party immediately before and was in her bedroom when it happened, estimates a number anywhere between two and ten based on the shuffling noises she heard outside. She says the sounds were like general street noise: someone taking the bin out, or having a chat on the footpath out front.
But the shuffling noises outside of Jesss window went on for a little too long. Thirty seconds too long, maybe. And then her curtains went orange. Her housemate Clare woke up to yelling, and to a crackling noise at her window. Outside, the half-melted horn of Jesss car began to blare, and then the neighbours horn chimed in, each calling out in long, single-tonal disharmony. A pile of leaves under third housemate Cyds (locked) car, a little too damp to catch and burn, smouldered quietly.
After the firetrucks and the messages, the Facebook posts and the phone calls, I found myself wondering about my friend Callum. Callum is probably the dodgiest guy I know. He still writes tags and hes twenty-six years old. Outside the pub a few weeks before the fire, I had watched him pull out a thick black texta and tag a metre box we were standing next to. He shot me a sheepish but defiant look and tucked the texta back into his jacket. When we were teenagers we used to joke that Callums hippie parents were stoned when he was conceived, which is why he came
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out so confused. Back then, Callum was the one getting drunk on VB while we smoked pot, telling us nearly indecipherable stories about bottling cunts with his mates in the city. Sometimes he would bottle cunts on our behalf he could be quite protective of his skinny stoner Freo friends. Wandering around the suburbs at night, he would identify the scribbles on bus shelters or the sides of buildings and decode the controversies in their combinations: guys who had tagged over the signatures of their enemies, or guys who had tagged outside of their territory. It was a sort of language for him, traceability.
How different is tagging to lighting things on fire? Both have an element of impact to them altering things around you to prove that you exist, that you were there. Both are illicit activities, with the accompanying adrenaline of defiance: the knowledge of potential consequence and the sense of power upon escape. Maybe Callum knows the people who were responsible for the fire. Maybe he knows someone who knows them. Degrees of separation tend to reduce pretty quickly in a town like Fremantle.
It takes a week for the professional cleaners to give a quote, two for them to start cleaning, and the whole time the smell of smoke persists. It has worked its way into everything that will absorb it: the clothes, the walls, the furniture; up nasal cavities and into bloodstreams where it causes headaches in anyone who stays in the house too long. Jess does eight loads of washing. Clare fills the kitchen sink and scrubs every non-cloth item she owns in soapy water.
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Neighbours visit. Neighbours Clare, Cyd and Jess have never met. People tell them stories about houses broken into and cars riffled through. Someone who used to live in the house tells Clare about a night she left her window open and woke to find a man in her bedroom, staring at her. An older lady from down the road brings them a tray of cheese scones and tells a story about how her neighbours car has been broken into so many times, theyve stopped locking the doors. Then the thief cannot break the locks! the lady explains. Jess hadnt locked her car that night because, living in South Fremantle, she felt safe enough to forget to. Pretty soon they get sick of explaining their half-burnt verandah and start avoiding the front of the house altogether. They notice how few streetlights there are on their little street, how dark it is at night. Jess gets much better at locking doors.
Spurred by her neighbours stories, Jess goes to the Fremantle Herald about the fire and ends up on the front page. These guys are still out there, the paper quotes her as saying. We need to come together as a community to keep an eye out for anything suspicious. Along the side of the article, theres a list of recent, deliberately lit fires:
February 27: Three males set fire to a power pole and median strip on Leach Highway in Willagee. A man confronts the men, who walk away, setting fire to a nearby median strip.
March 28: A deliberately lit fire causes extensive damage to a Hamilton Hill shopping centre.
April 10: Arson squad detectives investigate a fire at Muscle Worx on Rockingham Road.
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May 15: A home in Winterfold Street, Hilton, is all-but destroyed.
May 18: A home and cars in South Fremantle are badly damaged.
Soon after the attack, Paul from the bottle shop near my house is complaining about graffiti down the side of the shop. He knows both my partner Tim and I by name, which says more about the community of North Fremantle than about how much we drink. He shows me the series of purple tags: several all over the mural on the car park wall, a couple of big ones on the ice fridge. I discover some more along the old traffic bridge the next day.
Someone set my mates car on fire, I tell him. Really? Paul says, startled. Yeah, down in South Fremantle. It lit the house up.I reckon theres something going on, hey, he says.
There were those cars in the northern suburbs as well, he goes on, referring to six cars that had been set alight in Scarborough and Karrinyup the weekend after Jess, Cyd and Clares house went up. Something to do with the moon maybe. People are acting crazy at the moment.
My parents used to tell me stories about a little bandit ring they had, called the Midnight Movers. This was well before my brother and I were born, when they were still in college in Canada, and dirt poor. They used to drive to one of those big chain motels with their housemates, sneak in round the back, and steal whatever they could find:
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sheets, pillows, crockery and cutlery from the kitchen. One time they stole several boxes of beer mugs, probably close to a hundred, and managed to break every single one over the next few years of parties. One time they stole a couch. Mum says they never really thought about how the Midnight Movers might have affected the people at the motel. She, Dad and their housemates were poor and the motel was a chain business; surely it could afford to order more beer mugs. But many of these businesses were franchises, owned by individuals, and now Mum wonders about the people who had to pay for their late night escapades. She even thinks about the maids who didnt have enough linen, or the bartender without his glassware, or the guy who lost his job because a couch went missing. Regardless, growing up, this was a glorified story of their youth.
But its so dramatic! Tim says. I loved lighting shit on fire when I was a kid. Destruction is attractive. Were sitting at the kitchen table with a friend of ours, Ben, drinking beer and talking about why people deliberately cause damage. Ben agrees with Tim. Yeah, I was a bit of a pyro. I think its pretty normal for kids to want to do that. I notice this repeated assumption that it was kids who committed the crime. When I first heard about it, I had imagined guys in their twenties, the sorts that I had been threatened by before. Its pretty common around here for carloads of guys to yell or throw things at pedestrians and cyclists. One summer night, walking home, a Hungry Jacks thick shake hit me right between the shoulder blades. Another time a friend had a potato thrown at her and the
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resulting bruise took up most of her thigh. The people in the cars always drive off laughing and whooping.
Its a distorted view of consequences, too. You havent developed consequential thinking by then, Tim says.
I tell them I might be able to accept that explanation if the incident hadnt been so clearly life threatening. The previous owners of the house, in an effort to offer off-street parking, had whittled out just enough space under the front veranda to fit the nose of a vehicle. This is where Jesss car had been when it was set alight: buried to the windscreen in the wooden faade of the house.
Surely they would have been aware it was going to set the house on fire, I say. And that there could have been people inside.
Maybe, says Tim. Maybe not.Ben shrugs. Were taught all our lives that we so,
the individual are the most important thing, right? he says. That were the single most important entity, ahead of everything else. I dont know if its a western culture thing, but thats generally what were taught. Anyway, if you grow up with the notion that youre worthless, then by logic so is everything around you.
But people? I say.He shrugs.I dont know. What Im trying to figure out is, at what
point does setting peoples shit on fire, to the point that it threatens lives, become your Friday night entertainment?
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For the last two months, Clare has been staying in short term accommodation, provided by her insurance. Her bedroom had been right above where Jesss car had been parked; with the blackened walls and the boarded up window, the stale smell of smoke and her burnt out bed, her room (unlike Jesss and Cyds) hasnt been fit to live in since the fire. Because its impossible to get smoke out of plaster walls, the builders will have to coat her room with a special sealant to keep the stale smoky smell from escaping.
Shell be able to move back in again soon. Jesss car, which was uninsured, has been towed. The front door has been restored and reinstalled, the verandah rebuilt, the concrete stairs pressure-cleaned. The glass of her window, which smashed in all that heat, has been replaced. Its just the decking on the verandah now. Soon all traces of the fire will have been erased.
Zo Barron writes everything from tenders to articles like this one. Most recently shes been published in The Lifted Brow, Dumbo Feather, The Big Issue and Lip, with regular articles appearing in TheMusic, Artshub and Six Thousand. She lives in Fremantle, WA, and has a bit of a thing for bicycles. Also, a website: zoebarron.com.au.
CRUSADES AND KINSHIP
Live Action Role Play in Melbourne
Its a cold autumn night in inner city Melbourne, and bloodlust is in the air. Spread out over a football field, hundreds of men and women are waging war. With colourful robes, pointed elf ears, plate armour and myriad fantasy costumes of varying quality, these role-players have come from all over the city to immerse themselves in a fantasy world of powerful magic, perilous adventure and epic battles. Above the clamour of fierce combatants, someone bellows, blood and courage! This is Swordcraft Australias largest and arguably most public live action role-playing (LARP) organisation.
Viewed from the sidelines, this Friday night ritual comes across as more than a little novel. But to its dedicated adherents, thats all the more reason to love it. Swordcraft hosts LARP battles at the Southern Pavilion of Princes Park every Friday. The battles are played until 10:30pm and regularly attract in excess of two hundred participants.
One of the citys most heavily used parks might seem an
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unlikely venue for an activity most people would associate with the underworld of nerd culture. Yet, in its relatively short history Swordcraft began in April 2011 its become something of a regular spectacle and has garnered a swathe of mainstream media attention, from Channel Tens The Project and News at Five to articles in the Age and Time Out Magazine. Its board members now report anywhere between 20 to 45 new players turning up every week.
There are dedicated LARP groups all over the country, covering a range of distinct fantasy genres, from steampunk to vampires. Perhaps due to this diversity, there is no single LARP clearinghouse or organisation in Australia, but many national organisations exist overseas, especially in Europe. In 2012, for example, Time Magazine highlighted Denmark as the global hotspot for LARP with over one hundred thousand participants.
So whats the appeal? It is easy to dismiss the theatricality of LARP as a ridiculous, albeit fun exercise in escapism. There is no shortage of elaborate costumes and the foam latex weapons do have an almost-wobbly nature that lends a comic touch to the scene. But if all participants are looking for is escape from the real world, why go to all the trouble when online fantasy and massively multiplayer online roleplaying games (MMORPG) are only a click away? And in the case of Swordcraft, why do it all so publicly, under lights, in a place usually reserved for football practice?
For founding member Nelson Gallardo it boils down to sheer infectious fun. Youll have one of two reactions when you pick up that latex sword; youll either love it,
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or you wont. Gallardo, 34, with just a hint of grey in his hair, explains that Swordcraft aims to be an entry-level LARP, with the overall aim of establishing and promoting a community for LARPers and fantasy enthusiasts. Theres no skillset required to play (beyond being able to hit people with foam swords), and the game itself is easy to pick up, due to its mostly physical nature.
Quite apart from Dungeons & Dragons style table top roleplaying, Swordcraft aims to be physically immersive, community-based and fun. The website asks you to think of it as paintball meets medieval/fantasy battle carnage with a dash of medieval re-enactment, roleplaying and cosplay. Going on to offer potential players a pointed reminder: Remember also that humour is critical, we should be able to laugh at ourselves when we wear tights and take a joke at our expense. This is a game where we look silly for kicks never forget that!
Gallardo was one of three founding members, along with brothers Jeff and Phil Krins. All three demonstrate the diverse backgrounds of Swordcrafts participants; Gallardo has a background in finance, Phil is a behavioural psychologist and Jeff is a partner in two law firms. According to Gallardo, Swordcraft attracts all sorts, from those in the Defence Force to students, doctors, police officers and tradies.
In a lot of ways, LARP requires a level of commitment that could be off-putting; a full kit, for example, including sword and full plate of armour (breastplate, spaulders,skirt, tassets and helmet), can easily cost upwards of $1000. On top of that, you need to create and maintain your
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own character. And yet, perhaps unlike other LARP organisations in Australia and beyond, Swordcraft is incredibly accessible to newcomers. It maintains a relaxed come-as-you-are policy, has a sword rental option for those unprepared and encourages new players to bring along a sense of humour.
On a monthly basis, organisers invite participants to a Swordcraft Quest an expanded, weekend long version of the Friday night game that is geared toward a more traditional LARP experience, with a pre-written backstory featuring characters like Baron Gustav Von Morgan and Duke Leon de la Rochette. The Swordcraft Quest can be thought of as a kind of LARP festival, complete with arts and crafts, an inn, and of course a battle as the main event. Its form is adapted from Germanys DrachenFest an annual event that hosts thousands of LARPers who attend the weekend-long event in character. Swordcraft Quests cater to more dedicated role-players, and as such usually play host to a slightly smaller group of around one hundred and eighty. Even so, as a non-profit organisation, Swordcrafts ability to regularly stage events on this scale is staggering. A recent Quest held at Sokil Arts Eco Retreat, just west of Angelsea, featured a full medieval style feast with your choice of spit roasted pork or beef, additional catering for the remainder of the weekend and a mixture of modern and medieval themed accommodation.
As treasurer, Gallardo points out that because of the way the organisation has been set up, with every player contributing a small membership fee, things like this are easily manageable. Recently, after a particularly wintry
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Friday, organisers spent $1800 on pizza and beer as a reward for its diehard players.
Talking to participants, a commonly quoted motivation for joining Swordcraft is friendship. Alex, 24, is a healer/mage whos been playing regularly for a few months. Before Swordcraft, he had no experience with LARP. Honestly, the reason why I still stick at it is because of the friends Ive made here and the groups Im in. Its more a social thing for me than anything else. Its the same reason why people stick at sports and stuff like that; its somewhat the actual sport but half the time its this social stuff on the side. As a very physical version of role-playing, this brand of LARPing could easily be mistaken for a sport complete with volunteer referees and medical staff.
And looking at the official rules of the game, there is an effort to downplay the role-playing aspect in preference for a more casual environment. Notably, theres an effort to keep pretend to a minimum to avoid people inventing outlandish fantasy elements to the detriment of the game. The rulebook explains, if you need a fire: light one; if you need to read a map: read one; if you need to read and write: do it... what you can do in real life you can do in game if you consider it appropriate for your character. There are no character sheets and no special abilities. This not only lessens the learning curve to make it easier for new players, it also removes temptation for players to become what role-players call, a Mary Sue: a term derived from fan fiction in which a character is judged
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as poorly developed, too perfect and lacking in realism. Writing under the name GramTash, a Swordcraft forum poster offers an explanation of the term for new players, noting that in Swordcraft, you can write your own background, be whichever race you want, be pretty much anything you want, but, like most communities, what you choose to play only works if others want to play with you. Have you ever played in a cops and robbers game and had the argument I shot you, No you didnt? A good character has flaws as well as strengths, and fits in with the rest of established lore.
Undoubtedly, the commitment to any form of role-play requires active participation in a shared fantasy. And while there may be a hierarchy of sorts, Swordcraft has a classless system that allows you to play the role you want to play the only caveat being that your character has to be accepted by the community. All players must agree that a certain number of hit points will result in incapacitation. And apart from a few referees, each player has a responsibility to self-monitor the number of hits they receive. For without inherent limitations, the fantasy becomes a house of cards. In this sense, all players are afforded meaning and are given an equal role in maintaining the illusion.
And herein lies an important difference between LARP and the role-playing available in MMORPGs. While both trade in similar fantasy worlds with similar rules and mechanics, LARP requires your participation, online role-playing simply asks for it. LARP, and particularly Swordcraft, is an open source community where you can be whoever, and whatever you want. Rather than the
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fantasy being dictated by third party coding or graphics, the groups collective imagination and mutual participation are the only boundaries to the fantasy. The world in which Swordcrafts LARPers do battle is one entirely of their own making: participation is essential to its existence. There is a shared sense of creation, a constant reinforcement that your imagination means something to the collective. Swordcraft promotes collaboration and asks you to immerse yourself not only in a roughly medieval fantasy world of epic battle and adventure, but in a much richer community of like-minded participants, working toward the same vision.
SR Bolton is a young writer currently living in Melbourne. He studied Literary and Cultural Studies at Curtin University where he developed an interest in the fantasy genre. He has been a full-time copywriter since 2011.
A PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT
The Art of Controversy
If these walls could talk theyd tell just part of the story. Their steel and concrete forms chronicle movement and debate. Their perpendicular shadows silence spite and division. Layers of paint wipe away decades of graffiti. They mask the scars of movement; of the night they were ferried off by a dentist, of the years they spent maligned in an obscure park, of the day someone moved them here to where I stand, outside Southbanks Australian Centre for Contemporary Art. These are the walls of Ron Robertson-Swanns Vault, one of Melbournes most controversial pieces of public art.
Almost anyone in Melbourne at the time will remember the furore Vault provoked in the late 1970s and early 1980s. From the moment its design was first revealed at a city council meeting, Vault sparked a debate that still haunts those heavy yellow walls. A major sculpture was always intended for Denton Corker Marshalls redesign of Melbournes City Square and there was a diligent
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selection process. Research was conducted, experts and councillors were consulted, a number of artists had been selected and a competition was held. Through this process Vault was selected as Melbournes first major installation of contemporary public art.
As a large, bright yellow, abstract minimalist sculpture, Vault heralded a new kind of public art. It sat in sharp aesthetic and conceptual contrast to the traditions of heroic and commemorative statues. Some loved it, others loathed it. It aroused debate around the purpose of public art; what it is, who should pay for it, who should choose it and whether all of the public should like all of the public art.
I arrived at art school in the later days of these debates. I still remember the spiteful way some in art circles spoke of public art. They thought that most public art was bound to failure by the bureaucratic systems that sustained it. Public art, they felt, was largely commissioned under caution and prescription; it was hobbled by politics, agendas and a naive public. These critics said art should be bold and unfettered. Yet what they admired most was the art neatly framed in the walls of a gallery.
Now there are some walls that can talk: those white gallery cubes. They say, This is art. They say, Look at this as art. Were it not for these didactic walls we could be confused about where the art is. Take Marcel Duchamps 1917 Fountain, Carl Andres 1966 Equivalent VII, Martin Creeds 2001 Turner Prize winning installation Work No. 227, The Lights Going On and Off. In the public space these are simply a urinal, a pile of bricks and an electrical malfunction. The gallery demands a certain frame of mind, an intellectual
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intent, a conceptual openness. In the gallery, theres an agreement between the artist and the viewer. Public art, on the other hand, works in an entirely different space.
As Melbourne artist Simon Perry says, public art is competitive. There are lots of other things going on and making public art is restrictive because of materials and environmental conditions. Perry made Melbournes popular Public Purse, a giant red-granite and stainless steel purse installed in Bourke Street Mall in 1994. Observe those around Public Purse for even a few minutes and youre likely to see imaginations set loose. Children play on it and tourists take photos with it, many use it per its original commission as public seating. And every now and again, someone steps out of the river of foot traffic to deliberately go around it, smiling at it as if it smiled at them. Good public art snaps us out of the everyday. It releases conceptual butterflies in our grey matter. It sets them flapping waywardly about our minds. But, sometimes, public art sets off a flap of a different sort.
What is art and what is artistic expression is not the issue before us today. The issue is, what is the governmental responsibility in arriving at a decision to place art that is paid for with public funds in a public plaza or other public place. These words are from Chief Judge Edward D Re of New York City as he stands behind a lectern in faded colour footage of a 1986 public hearing. The hearing was to decide the fate of Richard Serras 1981 public art installation Tilted Arc. Res words echo many others about public art. Our
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own Vault, as Geoffrey J Wallis recounts in his book Peril in the Square: The Sculpture that Challenged a City, was subject to countless comments in the media, from the public and in government. Through these, Vault became more commonly known as The Yellow Peril, a name dubbed by one of its early opponents, Melbourne City Councilor Don Osborne.
John Denton was one of the architects behind Melbournes City Square project. He saw the vitriol and support unfold in cartoons, articles, council meetings and public debate. The furore ultimately prompted the removal of Vault (within a year of its installation). Those who despised it claimed victory. But Denton argues that as far as public art goes Vault should be seen as a success. Public art can raise questions and confront. [Vault] made everybody think. It made everybody take sides.
Sides were also taken in New Yorks almost parallel debate about Serras Tilted Arc. The Arc was a 120-foot long length of curved steel that stood 12-feet high. It stretched across the centre of a large plaza outside the Federal Building. To its opponents Tilted Arc was a preposterous work; visually intimidating, a giant form that forced pedestrian detours around the piece. At the hearing opponent Ted Weiss said, The sculpture cuts a huge swath across the center of the plaza, dividing it in two and acting as a barrier to the buildings main doorways. The hearing decided on the removal of Tilted Arc. But unlike our own Vault (which contractor and dentist Maurice White removed and eventually reconstructed in Batman Park), Tilted Arc was never seen again. Such is the life of public art pioneers.
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Im not sure Id have relished the spectre of a 12-foot high, 120-foot long steel wall in my local plaza. But the story of Tilted Arc is fascinating, because when you break it down, both its maker and its opponents were in agreement about the effect it had. In a 2011 interview with Gary Garrels, Serra tells a story about his childhood that illustrates his intentions with Tilted Arc. He says he noticed at the age of seven or eight that there was a difference between the way the beach looked when he went in one direction and when he went in the other. There are things where, if somethings on your right and somethings on your left, and you turn around and walk back the other way, its a completely different experience, he said. Thats why Serra makes curves like Tilted Arc. If you stand at one end and take a step to the inside you can see the whole curve. Take a step to the outside and, youre groping along to find out what the volumes like.
Tilted Arc radically changed the way those in the plaza negotiated their space. While its removal would have been disappointing for Serra, he did (albeit briefly) set the butterflies off even if to some they looked like moths. To me, that sudden spatial awareness that Serra describes is at the heart of good public art be the art ephemeral or material. Whether you like it or not, public art surprises you. It makes you aware of where you are at a particular moment in time and it maps memories into that space. An encounter with public art is an exercise in being.
The relationship to looking and touching in the brain is very close. When you see certain kinds of things, certain forms, certain materials, they set off all of these embodied
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memories, says Perry. Im interested in the relationship between the material world that we inhabit, our own bodies and things like artefacts or things like spaces or architectural surfaces. Because of this he considers the materiality of his work: how it feels to touch, what its form is, and how its approached. The Purse is like something thats dropped. Its like an artefact. Its also quite a sensual form. There are aspects of desire in the experience.
As Perry speaks Im taken back to my first bike ride along a section of the Merri Creek. I turned a corner and saw a patch of grass offering two paths to take. One clearly continued along the creek, the other made two brief turns then ended at a circular roll of concrete jammed tight against a large bluestone. I could see the whole plateau before I chose my path, yet I still took the one I knew would end. At the concrete roll I halted, willing the path to unfurl before me, knowing it never could. At the time I didnt know it was a piece by Perry. My encounter with Rolled Path (1999) was just moments long, but it did engage me, body and mind. It surprised me and somehow recalibrated my brain to a more playful state. I rode away giggling, my head swarming with new perceptions.
Its impossible to separate public art, architecture and the city. They can be entwined on a bureaucratic scale (when local governments demand a percentage for art in development projects), and as architectural trends move beyond the cold sheet glass and steel surfaces spawned by modernism, lines between public art and architecture
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are blurring. Theres always been this conflict, I suppose, Denton says. There were times past where architects got sculptors to do things that were built into their architecture. In older buildings for example, a piece of sculpture would get built into a brick wall or installed in a space. At that time architecture was about an introverted view of what buildings were. In other words you got a block of land and you did a building on it, Denton says, drawing a square with his hands. Architects now accept that the urban context and urban design is an important part of what you do with a building, and how the building relates to other buildings, how it defers to them, how it contrasts with them, how it does all these sort of things. Even architects like Denton Corker Marshall are making public art. They designed Melbourne Gateway, which includes a series of red poles and a large yellow one tilting over Melbournes CityLink tollway. Despite the boundaries it pushes in terms of who created it (an architect rather than an artist), Melbourne Gateway certainly engages the public ( just ask any taxi driver).
Over the years both artists and architects have been accused of putting art into public places inconsiderately. But as Perry argues, even a piece that seems not to consider its environs still has an effect. Its detractors may call it plop art, but Perry says, Thats a facile understanding of how you can change a place by putting something in it or how that place can change something. While gallery art may be restricted to a dialogue in the context of its white walls, public art, says Perry, is part of a greater whole.
Youve got this thing called public art and youve got this thing called the city, or architecture, or space and we
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seem to think theyre somehow separate. When I think of the city I think of walking through the city and having a series of experiences and they become part of your internal world. Its in this play between the internal and the external that effective public art sits.
Perhaps the best public art, whether its an artefact or something more ephemeral, makes you aware that you are a part of the world around you. It puts you into a dialogue. One of the things that Im drawn to in public work is work that engages the body, that engages you. Its completed by the encounter. All the things Ive made are very much about that. They dont mean anything on their own. Meaning is constructed in relationship to things in the world, and to you as a thinking, embodied person. Im interested in play with an audience, Perry says.
If the walls of Vault could speak, theyd tell only part of the story. The rest of the story is up to you. For me its in the things I didnt notice before; the hum of a nearby air-conditioner, the feeling of gravel crunching beneath my boots, the way these walls seems to open and close depending on my location and perspective. Its in the blue sky I can see through Vaults open roof. I am, as Perry would say, enveloped in the world.
Pepi Ronalds is a freelance writer based in Melbourne. She likes drinking tea, has a thing for Japan and writes a blog about the future of long form. Follow her on Twitter @pepironalds.
Things Taken and Things Left Behind
Laura Jean McKay
Two guys on the flight from Sydney to Denpasar drink steadily for six hours from plastic cups. I am curled on the seats behind. Through the gap I can see the Australian flag flight pillows wrapped around each neck like a brace.
Hey. Hey, why dont you go talk to her. Go on.Nah.Saving yourself for some exotic, ay? They giggle.
Theyre bonding. Never begin a travel story with a plane flight. I know this, but for all my writing about tourism and tourists and expats and such, I couldnt have made these Australians up. I want to follow them around and record them. Instead, I grab my bags and head south.
This is where the real story starts. This is where the tales I know how to tell leave me, and where I see, feel, taste and am assaulted by new experiences. I am fresh from the arms of the Emerging Writers Festival (EWF) in Melbourne on an exchange that brings me to Indonesia
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for two weekends of the Bali Emerging Writers Festival (BEWF), and sends performance poet Khairani Barokka to Australia. I have never been to Bali and never thought I would. My imagination stops at boogie boards, sexpats, sunburn and cheap things a party held together by hair braids and sarongs. I heave my suitcase into a car pointing north, thinking that the guys from the plane are probably more knowledgeable about the place than me.
I sleep, I wake up, my eyes are stupid with the beauty. I am in another car with some of the team from the BEWF three men who are as dedicated to eating as they are to working. We climb the road from Ubud to Singaraja, through forests of squatting, bearded monkeys. We stop at Lake Bratan for the first of three lunches and afterwards Gustra Adnyana, the festivals media guru, interviews me in a swan-shaped paddleboat.
We had these boats where I grew up, I tell him, desperate to tie together the contrails of where I came from and where I have ended up. But they dissipate. Nothing is the same (were not in Gippsland any more, Toto). Not the mountain lake, not the wooden pier, not the plastic picnic tables, not the 20-cent toilets. And the festival wont be the same either.
Usually when you exchange something, you dont get it back. Exchange is both a loss and a gain. You are supposed to give and take something away: an old book for a different old book, a conversation on the phone. At the airport currency exchange I handed over known money for unknown. When humans are exchanged, we are also expected to contribute and bring back. I wake up in
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Singaraja, the hot old capital in the north. Theres a pile of books on the bedside table and one of them is Compassion & Solidarity: A bilingual anthology of Indonesian writing. In At Kawali, I Hunt Light, Dian Hartati writes I seek the meeting portal / bearing an engaged heart that hungers not for power. Ive just finished an MA that banged on about Mary Louise Pratts contact zones. In Imperial Eyes Pratt talks about the space of imperial encounters, the space in which peoples geographically and historically separated come into contact with each other and establish ongoing relations, usually involving conditions of coercion, radical inequality, and intractable conflict.
The meeting portal. Hunger without power. Is exchange beyond contact? Its supposed to be an agreement. A shaking of hands as we pass into separate, unfamiliar rooms. Can I possibly leave something useful in Bali? Something better than a deflated neck pillow and an emptied bottle of Bintang?
I once wrote a piece for Women of Letters about my twelve-year-old self s obsession with Annie, and the BEWFs request for a 15-minute art performance has me dusting it off for my first gig in Singaraja. I sing The Sunll Come Out Tomorrow in front of a hundred-strong crowd. The audience talks through it and then applauds wildly at the end. I sit down and watch the other performances. I collect what I can. A trio of brightly painted siblings eats a whole watermelon with just their faces; black-clad dancers shuffle eerily across the stage; exquisite-voiced teenagers belt out
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some of the more beautiful tunes Ive heard. I try to focus, to take, with a mind like clutching hands. I need to go to the toilet.
On the grass outside is a group about to go on stage. They are dancers, laid out in an impossible circle of limbs. Holding hands. Playing some sort of dance game. They look so calm, as though performance is something youre born into, and I think it is here. I cant see the nerves or the angst or the drama. No one is messing with the thick white makeup on their bodies or trying to squash in extra moves. There is just a close, focused circle. I take it, like a snapshot.
The next day I am running a workshop with about forty teenagers school and university age. Do you really need me to translate this? asks Kadek Sonia Piscayanti, their lecturer, who has been in conversation with me on the stage. Heads shake. We continue on foot. It is a two-hour workshop and I try to give, I do. I talk about character. I talk about music. I talk about myself. But there is a moment where I have to stand very still and focus on my eyes to stop them from crying. The kid in front of me has produced in fifteen minutes for-goodness-sake a wedge of splendour that just flaps off the page and around the room.
Bookended by festival weekends, I take a holiday. I see the volcanic lakes above Ubud, I feel the hot stones on my back, I eat the food, food, food and then quite suddenly, I meet the wrong mosquito. We make an exchange. She takes my blood and leaves saliva: a quick lick of her long tubey tongue on my pierced skin routine, just to stop
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the clotting so she can eat and I am plunged into fever. Chikungunya. It sounds like chicken dinner (or chicken vagina, as one friend said), and its weeks before I can eat properly again and four more months before I can walk without pain.
The sickness stalls me but the festival goes on. The next time the BEWF team see me I am slow and red. I vomit, crawl around the hotel room trying to pack my tiny bag, fall into the car headed to Denpasar for the next part of the festival and sleep the whole way. The fever fades and there is a window of foggy health in which I speak on a panel about womens stories, bop to the band Angka Ganjil, and perform My Way a writhing poem debased on the old song. The chikungunya rash has started and in the photos I look as red as a Kuta tourist with passed-out-on-the-beach sunburn.
Later, when I get back to Australia, EWF will become jealous that Bali got My Way and I will perform it again in a giraffe onesie. On the same night I will meet Khairani Barokka the other half of the exchange. Barokka is the sort of performance poet who can hold you completely still on the tip of her words, while exploding your mind with images.
What did you leave on your exchange? I will ask her between our sets. What will you take away?
She will say, Left in Australia without a doubt: the detritus of many Crunchie bars consumed in great happiness. Hopefully the imprint of an Indonesians friendly voice, and a goofy face to put to Australias northern neighbour, chipping away at any fear or confusion about
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us. Taken away: memories of a loveliness not dissimilar to honeycomb-coated chocolate, all of listening, reading, performing, speaking, conversing with and being inspired by many wonderful writers of all backgrounds. Pictures of the bounteous graffiti in Melbourne bathroom stalls.
What do I exchange here? (Not Frank Sinatra, he comes with me.) Any fat that was on my body I leave with the mosquito fever; any advice I have on how to write a short story stays in the dizzying heat of Singaraja, with forty students belting out the words. I leave my lovely bathing suit on a balcony, some shoes outside a room and a tube of toothpaste in every bathroom. I leave the idea of the page, or rather, I return to the knowledge that there is something beyond it. I take the gait of an 80-year-old with arthritic, twisted hands. I take away collected works from the last few years of the festival. I take the invitation to return again. I take the quiet moment before the performance starts, when nothing can change but everything can.
On the plane flight home I sit next to two young men so hung-over they can hardly move. I dont have any stories about them.
Laura Jean McKay is the author of Holiday in Cambodia, a short story collection that explores the electric zone where local and foreign lives meet. Her writing has been published in The Best Australian Stories, The Big Issue, Women of Letters, Going Down Swinging and The Lifted Brow. She is working on a novel. www.laurajeanmckay.com.
GAMBLING ON A DAY IN HINNOMUNJIE
Dostoyevsky in the High Country
I sigh when I realise the paradox of the novel nestled in my handbag for this Labour Day long weekends reading. Its Dostoyevskys The Gambler and here I am in Victorias High Country for the annual Hinnomunjie Picnic Races. A hard-core habitual gambler, Dostoyevsky wagered he could write The Gambler in a month, whilst in the middle of writing Crime and Punishment, to pay off gambling debts. I wonder if Dostoyevsky has a message for me.
Snuggled within the Alpine National Park high in the Australian Alps, the picturesque Hinnomunjie racecourse, established in 1876, hosts one of Victorias longest running race meetings. Its a 425 kilometre drive from Melbourne to Omeo, the pioneering mountain town famous for its gold mining history and then another twenty clicks further to reach the Track on Benambras fringe.
Exiting Melbourne, the route to Hinnomunjie hugs the highway and climbs, weaving its way along the Great
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Alpine Road. Forests of slender eucalypts flank the road. Here, bushfires wreaked havoc at summers end; now, fluorescent green growth sprouts from charcoal trunks. The black bitumen snakes on through undulating farmland, its painted white line a ribbon unfurling the kilometres. Pocket-sized hamlets blink past. Hay bales, haysheds, barbed-wire fencing. Windmills, water tanks, a white horse and a herd of black cows. Sheep. More sheep.
Beware of Falling Rocks. Slippery When Wet. Kangaroos Next 2km.
Signs flicker past, stark against escarpments of yellow clay and red gravel and get swallowed in the mauve mist of valleys feathered in cloud.
Mt Hopeless. Honeymoon Track. Haunted Stream.
The poetry of the place names evokes a softness that rubs up hard against the aged, wrinkled land. Old Gippsland; harsh, exacting.
One notice, Road closure may apply beyond Omeo due to snow, gives hope Im nearing the last town before the racecourse. I coast into sleepy Omeo, its wide main street lined with heritage goldfields-era buildings in the mid-1800s, European and Chinese gold-seekers flooded these parts to find their fortune. Ravenous from the early start, I seek out the towns famed vanilla slices. A masterstroke. Sweet custard oozes between crisp flaky pastry. With a flourish of an icing-sugar dusted hand, the baker waves directions, That way to the track, love. You cant miss it.
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The Benambra road meanders on. I wonder whether Ive missed a turn. Accustomed to gridlock around city racetracks, Im puzzled where are the racegoers? Only a lone sign welcomes me No petrol before Mitta Mitta. I wind down the car window and the silence seems to sing. On the horizon, the mighty bulk of the Great Dividing Range sprawls.
Im pulling out my High Plains map when I glimpse a horse-float. I let it pass and tag behind up a corrugated track. At a paddock gate a high-heeled vision of glamour appears. Shes laced with pearls, lipsticked scarlet, and selling race-books. I park amongst mud-plastered Fords, late-model Holdens and world-weary utes. Beyond, in front of a panorama of low rolling hills, the racetrack nestles. Above, the sky is powder blue.
The PA crackles, Welcome to the 134th Omeo District Racing Clubs.
I step aside for a couple of blokes wrestling the worlds biggest orange Esky into position under a straggly silver wattle, a trail of ice blocks tracing their path. A gauzy yellow Gippsland sun shimmers overhead and Im glad for my straw hat despite its rather loud shade of fuchsia that screams city. There are Akubras, terry-towelling bucket hats and millinery masterpieces that could grace a Melbourne Cup catwalk. One chaps maroon baseball cap matches his stubby-holder.
Scrambling for my race-book, I find my fingers around The Gambler instead. What would Dostoyevsky say, the first race ready to go, and not a wager on it?
Its a six-race program and the on-course bookies are camped under vintage-striped beach umbrellas in the
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betting ring, their bulky white bookmakers bags strapped over their shoulders, their laptop computers propped on card-tables. Could they look any more Australian with their walk-shorts and tanned legs; their sun-weathered brows and earnest concentration?
Business is brisk. Punters pore over the form-guide and peer at the bookies odds, debating where the best running is on the rails or out wide? Theres no city grandstand, no ticketed Members Enclosure, no live action on an electronic screen. Old friends embrace, backs are thumped, laughter warbles in the alpine air. The encircling hills, daubed bottle-green, brace like some theatrical prop dropped into the landscape for dramatic effect.
On the lawn, atop tartan rugs, girls in strappy sundresses arrange platters of cheese and strawberries. Between races, chaps in checked flannelette shirts surround the mounting yard studying the steeds in search of a thoroughbred in form. They remind me of Dostoyevskys gamblers, ordinary people trying their luck, deeply serious and deferential, hoping for a miracle. Here in the Hinnomunjie sunshine, a cast of Dostoyevskian characters have assembled for the meet.
On a makeshift stage, children parade for junior Fashions on the Field Little Colt and Filly are crowned, and with sash abreast, grin with pride. Sausages sputter on a barbecue hotplate where a man in a striped apron turns meat with tongs. Seduced by the siren call of wafting sausages, I order.
My mates the butcher, is the meat as good as e says it is? asks a fellow in a faded olive t-shirt emblazoned Mr Jihad.
Yes Mr Jihad, the meat is good.
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Theres a cracking line-up for the blue ribbon event, the Hinnomunjie Cup. Hot tips abound. The grey cant be beaten, chest-beats one of the local miners.
It seems it can. Champion Chestnut, tinctured true to its name, brings home the Cup, and departs the winners enclosure for a blood sample in a makeshift swabbing stall, the hand-painted letters scrawled on weatherboards as if by a child. My horse, carefully selected for its name, Abitofun, finishes fourth. No fun at all, really.
He raced bloody green, rants a burly farmer as he tosses his betting slips on the ground. I see the miner hunched in despair, shaking his head. I wonder if the three of us have a dodgy punting gene. Dostoyevsky chuckles across the centuries.
After the Cup, cellophane-sealed lollies fly through the air not from a plane as in previous years but from the race-callers tower. Kids wait below, hands outstretched. In the queue snaking back from the ladies toilets a chiffon-frocked matron confides in a whisper that last year, the Meet was cancelled mid-program when a Tecnam Ultralight doing the fly-over lolly drop got a wheel caught in a power line and crashed in flames near the home turn. Her hand is cupped to her mouth like a villain in a pantomime. Punters luck, all escaped, she breathes.
Clowns and magicians wander amongst the eight-hundred-strong crowd, twisting balloons into astonishing shapes for an audience of trailing youngsters. An inflated sausage-dog creation pops in the crisp mountain air, and a grey gelding rears in the adjacent mounting yard. Nearby, the Services Club is selling hot doughnuts, four
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for a dollar, possibly the best value bet of the day. Between races, wooden hobby horses compete on the track, kids at the reins. Paper planes soar, flutter and death-dive into the hoof-churned turf.
The foot-races are contested as if lives depend on it. Men jostle hip and shoulder as they sprint down the straight where minutes before, horses have thundered. One bloke grapples another in a crash tackle better suited to a footy final. Another pulls a hamstring and writhes in agony.
In the girls race the judges forget to drop the finish-ribbon and nearly decapitate the leader. Next heat the kids run the length before the starter has said Go. They return to the start, red-faced, to re-race. The winner punches the air.
You werent fast enough, a father says to his breathless eight-year-old.
Cumulus clouds bank against cobalt blue. The beauty of the backdrop is wasted on us. The fifth race is off and running. Joy Street starts awkwardly bumping the barrier, yet brings my best result for the day. Third. Or last, depending how you look at it; its a three-horse race, after all. I collect the grand dividend of two dollars. Two dollars or two roubles, as Dostoyevskys ghost would surely vouch wont make my fortune.
The ale is flowing, and theyre three deep at Daves Bar, named after a much-loved local killed in a car accident up-country. A girl perches on a stool rubbing her blistered feet, her crimson stilettos swinging from her wrist like bangles. Theres a buzz around the bar. Word spreads that
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a freak storm is devastating faraway Melbourne. Thunder, lightning, hailstones the size of golf balls.
Races are off at Flemington, someone shouts.Lucky youre here. Now whatll it be? A beer or a
brolly?Onstage, the open Fashions on the Field are pulling an
audience. Wolf-whistles drown out the PA. I see Mr Jihad and the butcher line up to contest Mr Dapper. When its the womens turn, Lady of the Day is won by the Master of Ceremonys sister from Lismore.
Dont worry, love, I hear a chap comfort his girlfriend. Remember when you won Miss Showgirl?
The last race is announced. I sack my strategy of choosing by name and go for colours. For me its the lucky last, the get-out stakes. I feel Ive become a Dostoyevskian bit player, an amalgam of Alexei, Granny and Polina Alexandrovna, up one minute, down the next my crumpled form-guide a fulcrum for my seesawing emotions.
Against a backdrop of smoke-blue eucalypts, the horses round the circuit. When the whips crack at the winning post, my horse is last. The favourite takes the prize and the crowd roars. I hear a bookie mutter, The favourites belted us.
Yeah mate, replies his penciller. Were gunna cop a hiding.
Another Hinnomunjie Picnic Race Meeting comes to a close, as one hundred and thirty-three have done before. I pull my purse from my handbag its lighter, but theres enough cash to follow the race-crowd to Benambra Hotel to hear the band Yesteryear. Maybe theyll play Kenny
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Rogers The Gambler. Or in salute to my punting, a reverent rendition of Grateful Deads The Loser.
The publican has offered the hotel lawn to put down a swag or pitch a tent. Im down but not out, as Dostoyevsky was more than once. But I havent pawned jewellery as he did with his wifes heirlooms. Nor borrowed money and feuded with my best friend as the great writer did with Turgenev. Dostoyevsky chased his losses, whether stone broke and in debt, or flush with money. I like the exhilaration of the punt, but Im not a slave to it.
Dusk drops over Hinnomunjie and bathes it in shadow. I hear a bookmaker say the Tambo Valley Races are at nearby Swifts Creek this coming Monday, Labour Day. Here in the High Country, thats two more sleeps.
Time enough to finish the novella.
Kerrin OSullivan is a Melbourne-based writer with a love of faraway places. ,IVTYFPMWLIH[VMXMRKWMRGPYHIXVEZIPJIEXYVIWGVIEXMZIRSRGXMSRERHWLSVXGXMSR
WRITING THE FEAR
Climbing Everest and Conquering Anxiety
My hands are what I write with, turn pages with, paint with, pat my dog with. Their meaning is deeply embedded. They are the way I connect with the world, with others, create music, art and physical connection. And they tremble. They shake. Sometimes like leaves, often its nothing but a barely perceptible vibration, the echoes of a train approaching, thrumming through the tracks. I focus my attention on them and feel nothing but the shuddering and a sense of dislocation, amputation, as if they are submerged in a powerful current of water and are entirely out of my control.
My doctor can look at the symptoms, examine my blood, record its pressure and read the marks of my anxiety disorder upon my body. Many indicators are invisible; the strangling sensation around my throat, as though I am being slowly hung, that lasts for days and peaks in intensity, making me gag. Or the needle-like stings that suddenly drive through my eyes, the sudden onslaught of sharp pain
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in my heart, up my arms, as though Im having a heart attack. The sensations have a feel of the occult about them. And the perpetrator is my own mind. My body has become a voodoo doll and some unseen force attacks it with assaults that are entirely, frighteningly real.
Even before I knew I was afraid, the physical came first. Butterflies, nauseating, severe and unrelenting, swarmed in my stomach for weeks on end. I couldnt sleep and found myself crippled by fear and crying silently at dusk and dawn, as though some part of me was measuring each day that slipped through my fingers. I was on my gap year, alone at home, and found myself increasingly crushed by the white walls of my room. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy identifies the circuit of thought (Im worthless and worthy of abandonment), emotion (self-disgust, hopelessness, fear), and physical sensation (butterflies, dizziness) which simply loops and loops, growing in intensity, until waves of vertigo, shortness of breath and my pounding heart would leave me curled on the floor and crying, afraid to leave my house and too tired, too filled with self disgust, to try.
Strangely, the root of these thoughts and emotions were buried deeply in my mind. Too deep for me to reach. Id follow the instructions of CBT, accept and attempt to replace the negative thought with a positive, but found I was trying to reshape my own reflection. These werent the thoughts that were causing my distress, they were just words Id placed above a sensation, a label and an explanation.
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I had a years holiday ahead of me. Id achieved incredible HSC results, I had loving friends, a family I adored and was under no pressure to earn huge amounts of money, study, do anything. I was eighteen and this was supposed to be the best time of my life. I needed to exercise, meditate, not drink coffee, employ CBT, get a job and make an effort to see my friends.
Instead, my body was subjected to wave upon wave of anxiety symptoms that progressed in severity, a different one manifesting each month, just to keep things interesting. The unease evolved into a band around my windpipe, then migraines and full-blown panic attacks that confined me in a void, my blood rushing in my ears, my breath rasping. Id go walking at dawn with my mum, striding along Manly Beachs concrete esplanade, staring at the black water sucking the rocks and filled with a hopeless urgency, surges of adrenaline and a deadening blankness that acted like a sound-proofed room, amplifying everything inside.
I waited. I was going to go travelling in April. I tutored HSC students and saved money. Even though the unknown terrified me, I booked my flights, wrote lists, spent a small fortune at Kathmandu and struggled out of the mall with a hiking pack filled with thermals, gore-tex rain jackets, fleeces and bacteria-resistant socks. I went to the doctor to get my vaccinations. She took my blood pressure and noted it was high. My hands were shaking. I pressed them between my knees. Well. Ive been having butterflies. For weeks. And Ive been feeling nervous. The invisible hand sealed around my throat, choking. How could I summarise it? The crying, the conviction that my family was unsafe
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every time they left the house, the thrill of terror every time I heard an ambulance. I had become a raw wound and the world was slicing me open.
She looked at me over her glasses. We were at the end of our ten minutes. Youre just nervous about the needles. You dont like them. And the trip. You havent travelled alone before, right? But you have to go. Its going to be amazing, youd regret it forever if you missed it. I wish I was going to Nepal.
Id told my mum about the anxiety. She was a counsellor. But I dont know if I ever explained, was able to elucidate, the extent of it. I steered away from the sadness. The dreams about car accidents that removed me blamelessly from the world. She offered to organise for me to see someone. I couldnt help but feel that it was a small thing, or should be. Circumstantial, brought on by my virtual unemployment, my feeling of being left behind by my friends, stress about the trip. I felt weak. Everyone gets stressed in these circumstances. I was just being a drama queen. A hysteric of the 19th century variety. I still had moments of brightness. Every now and then a day of calm serenity. I laughed at movies, enjoyed books. I baked. The two-hour process of measuring, mixing and cooking made me happy. I still went out. Maybe four parties in three months. My knees shook when my friends hugged me. I couldnt speak properly, or I was overly animated, talking too fast, manically bright, self deprecating. What am I doing? Nothing! Just watching TV, lady of leisure. Ive been getting into Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Its amazing. Hahaha. I did a trial shift at Michels Patisserie but they showed me what they put in their
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milkshakes and I was out. Im just too lazy. They wanted me to work! What is this w-o-r-k? Hahaha.
It was a relief when I left for Nepal. Something had to change. Blinded by tears at the airport, I dropped all my things at the baggage check and stuttered to the security guard. Unsurprisingly, I was checked for drugs. I watched Disney Tarzan on my little inflight entertainment screen and cried surreptitiously throughout most of the movie whilst munching feverishly on peanut brittle.
Kathmandu was a shock to the senses. The first was my introductory experience to plane sickness as we lurched and dropped what felt like hundreds of metres (causing people on my plane to scream) in unpredictable Himalayan thermals. The Indian couple sitting next to me were as cool as cucumbers, looking disdainfully at the screamers and rolling their eyes as the overhead luggage thumped and rocked above us. I was silently making reckless divine bargains; please dont let me throw up, please dont let me die, please let there be a sick bag. There wasnt a sick bag. But I didnt throw up. Iron control. Plus, they hadnt fed us on the flight.
My first impression of the city was an aggressive cab driver who, mistaking the friends I had met up with for newbies, not veteran travellers, tried to double the rate for the trip from the airport. As one friend haggled furiously in the front seat, the other told me to get my bag out of the boot, quick, quick! The driver zoomed away, I nearly stepped in a pile of burning rubbish and a threadbare cow nudged me out of the way.
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The crush in the streets was overwhelming, the constant cries of you have a beautiful smile pretty lady, come over here, rickshaw! were alarming, but the attitudes of my old school friends made me uncomfortable. It was as though travelling had stripped away a layer of idealism and all that was left was defensive, prickly cynicism in the face of the poverty around us. These people are just trying to rip you off they said. They hate us. They think were rich, spoilt kids who havent worked for our money. Were just walking ATMs to them.
I was glad when I left the city. It was a twelve-hour bus trip to Jiri, a village at the base of the Himalayas. That was where a friend and I began the climb to Mount Everest base camp.
At the beginning it was torturously hard. He had long legs and was used to walking around foreign cities for hours. I was quite unfit and the constant ascents and descents left me crying with exhaustion as I lagged behind him after ten hours of walking. I hadnt prepared properly but I couldnt quit.
At first, I was needing to stop every ten minutes, pulled backwards by my twelve kilo pack and breathless, but every single day I grew stronger. At the end of the week we had climbed out of the valleys and had reached Namche Bazaar, 3500 meters above sea level and the gateway to the high Himalayas. I was finally fit enough to keep up.
The mountains were more beautiful than anything I had ever seen before. They are made of limestone, which means that once they were alive, before falling to the ocean bed to be transmuted to stone by time and pressure. It means
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that the Himalayas are built from bones. They feel like they are, haunted by spirits or ghosts. We walked along valleys where the mountains on either side were nothing but piles of tumbled stones, like the ruins of an ancient civilization. The earth was black and sparkled with tiny flecks of pyrite. Worn, ancient strings of prayer flags were strung up high above us and fluttered in the breeze in complete silence, as though they werent quite part of this world. Cairns were piled on mountain ridges, impossibly high, eerie. Unexplained.
I was light and empty, all emotion seared out of me by the overwhelming colours, immense peaks and the icy cold wind. Muscles tight enough to snap and air so thin I was left breathless after wriggling into my sleeping bag. I was nothing but a person who walked to my limit each day, wrote feverishly in my journal, and felt happy and unafraid for the first time in months. Reaching Base Camp was pure elation. I had done something. Achieved something. Each day I had a distance to walk, a place to go, a goal to meet. I carried everything I needed on my back.
Then we returned to Kathmandu, caught a flight to China. That was when the first quivers of fear and sadness returned. I felt like I was wavering on the edge of a cliff within myself. The cities leached the mountains out of me, bit by bit. I was still happier than I had been, but I wasnt soaring, I wasnt quite free.
I was homesick. I wanted to go back to Australia. I cried with relief when I saw the Sydney stars through the plane window, but I was also afraid. The anxiety crept back like an unwelcome guest. The mountains werent there to
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dwarf me and I couldnt hollow myself out with ten hours of walking a day.
It took me two months to go to the doctor, a new one this time. She tested me for a thyroid condition, then told me what I already knew. Generalised anxiety disorder, severe. Depression, moderate.
Armed with my new labels, I felt a surge of validation. Id been graded, Id passed. I wasnt a fake. I told a few of my friends, sure to let them know I had the doctors stamp of approval. They finally had a name to put to years of absences at social events. I didnt want to spend hundreds of dollars on counselling (confession: to have my parents spend hundreds of dollars on counselling). For a few weeks I followed an online CBT course, holding onto my doctors promise of medicine for the panic attacks if I decided I needed it.
But labels and strategies werent enough when the world closed around me like a trap. I got an editorial internship, which filled my time. I often spent whole days in the office under assault, my heart pounding and head swimming every time the phone rang, feeling overwhelmed and disoriented in the crowded food courts on my lunch break. Id be sitting on the bus on my hour-long commute to work and have no idea where I was, unable to recognise streets on the route Id followed dozens of times before. When I was stressed, for a few moments Id be unable to understand what the people around me were saying, it was as though they were speaking a foreign language. A sound on the
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office radio would remind me of the hornets buzzing of a muted mobile phone and make me feel as though Id missed a step, the lurch, the swell of dizziness, the fear. A name shouted in a crowd would make me flinch was it mine? Id wake from nightmares or be just dozing off when I fell out of my mind and onto my mattress as though dropped from a height. And I was deeply unhappy. Was this what life was? Leaving home at seven in the morning, returning at seven at night. Too tired to go out. Or going out with friends and not enjoying it. Was this nightclub supposed to be fun? Should I be enjoying this conversation, this night? It all seemed incredibly meaningless, a way of marking time, filling the void.
Writing my anxiety is a form of catharsis, even as my hands tremble as they grip the pencil, or tap the keys. But anxiety isnt easily channelled. Its like trying to drink water when youre drowning. It seeps and taints. And writing within it just perpetuates its dull darkness. My characters are full of hopeless rage, simmering resentment, zombie-like terror. I write the walls of my anxiety, define them with ink, then find the cracks. Naming gives us power, familiarity. Its a little handhold. Language to hold out the blankness.
I am now far better than I was at my worst. The stress is always there, lurking, ready to leap forwards at the slightest provocation, but I can handle it. It is controllable.
I refused the offer of medication because I felt all it would do is cover up the hole Ive found inside myself. I
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know the strategies and I use them. Maybe time will help fill in whatever is missing, maybe a job I enjoy, maybe a moment of self-discovery. Maybe I should just trek for the rest of my life. Or maybe Ill always have to cope with it and in some small way, maybe it will define me, refine me and make me stronger. But it hasnt just yet.
This isnt the story of a victory, nor a defeat. Its one of survival and endurance. Im rebuilding who I am, writing my walls, painting my darker corners and knocking out windows. Its a process of excavation, reconstruction. Anxiety didnt lead to self-enlightenment or discovery, but it was a darkness that settled over me, forcing me to find a light.
Staring at the title of the book, he turned hot and cold, cold
and hot. Here was just what he had dreamed of, what he had
longed for ever since the passion for books had taken hold of
him: A story that never ended! The book of books!
He had to have this book at any price.
From The NeverEnding Story (Die unendliche Geschichte) by Michael Ende
My parents rented The NeverEnding Story on VHS when I was four. The film, a 1984 adaptation of Michael Endes classic German fantasy novel, is sentimental and poorly acted, with the special effects youd expect from the era one critic called the dragon an impractical bathmat. Ende labelled the film revolting and sued its creators. It was the greatest film Id ever seen, and I became a fan for the first time.
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The film loosely follows the first half of Endes novel. A schoolboy, Bastian, evades bullies by hiding in a bookshop. Its proprietor is reading an exquisite tome, The NeverEnding Story; in the film he tells Bastian, This book is not for you. Bastian cant resist he steals it, skips class and reads by candlelight in the school attic. Within the book are the hopes and dreams of humanity, in the form of a world called Fantasia. This world is being destroyed and only Bastian can save it. How does he succeed? By reading, by imagining, by creating.
I identified with Bastian: I was the kind of child who would have stolen the book. And a decade after I first watched the film, with no stern voice saying This book is not for you, I discovered my own NeverEnding Story in a high school computer lab. Looking up spoilers for a TV show, I saw a link: Fanfic. What did that mean? I clicked it. Im still not sure exactly what it means. Short for fanfiction, fanfic is difficult to define in relation to other fiction more difficult than people tend to assume. A friend and published author told me that fanfic is responsive, an imaginative response to the object of the fans passion. But all fiction is an imaginative response to something the author is passionate about. Is fictionalising Thomas Cromwell so different to reinterpreting Buffy Summers?
The main factor that sets fanfic apart from other fiction lies in how its created and distributed. Copyright law means that much of it cant be for-profit. Fanfic is produced by members of a community known as fandom, which pre-dates the online realm. Fandom is a modern word for what is, essentially, people sitting around a campfire, sharing and
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recycling folktales. So while commercial fiction is (usually) edited by paid professionals, fanfic is either unedited or edited by unpaid fans. They arent necessarily amateurs, just as fanfic authors arent necessarily unpublished or never-to-be published bestselling authors Cassandra Clare, Naomi Novik and Joanne Harris have all written fanfic.
Fanfic authors use their source material in myriad ways. Trying to define all the genres and subgenres would take up the rest of this piece. But to generalise, some stories are set within the universe of a work of fiction (Middle Earth, for example), while others place the works characters in an alternate universe (perhaps Frodo and Sam are college students). EL Jamess Fifty Shades series began as an alternate universe story with characters from Stephenie Meyers Twilight series, as did Tara Sue Mes Submissive trilogy, published by Penguin North American Library, and Beautiful Bastard by Christina Hobbs and Lauren Billings, published as part of a five-book deal with Simon & Schuster.
Fandoms creative works arent limited to fanfic. Theres A Very Potter Musical, a production that racked up millions of YouTube views and launched the career of Glee star Darren Criss. Theres podfic, the equivalent of audiobooks. Other fanworks include tea blends, puppet shows and iPhone cases. For the uninitiated and curious, a good place to start is the Fanlore wiki. Its one of many projects including a peer-reviewed journal run by the non-profit Organization for Transformative Works, established in 2008 to serve the interests of fans by providing access to and preserving the history of fanworks and fan culture.
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Transformative works is another name for fanworks. Nothing is lost, says a character in Endes novel. Everything is transformed.
In the late 1990s it seemed that no one spoke about fanfic in real life. Fans were afraid of being outed, a desire for privacy that often stemmed from the popularity of sexually explicit fanfic. Although curious about these stories, I feared an IT teacher might spy on my internet history. Could fiction count as porn? Id borrowed Jean M Auels Earths Children series from the school library (and learned the meaning of the words burgeoning manhood), but sex in fanfic seemed taboo. It hadnt been run through the proper adult channels of publishing houses and libraries.
Only when I was given my own computer did I feel free to sample everything. Like Bastian, I would light a candle and read until late. I was cocooned from my daily life as an anxious teenager, but I was also an explorer, striking out into the wilderness of the imagination. I was investigating other lives and ways of living, and the endless ways a story could be told and re-told.
When I first started coming out as a lesbian, fandom was my safe space. Fanfic about queer relationships belongs to the popular genre called slash, which Fanlore defines as a type of fanwork in which two (or more) characters of the same sex or gender are placed in a sexual or romantic situation with each other.
In a Monthly article published earlier this year, The Cheap Thrills of Fan Fiction: The Slash Pile, Linda Jaivin
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correctly identifies Star Trek fans as the inventors of the term slash it originated with the virgule in Kirk/Spock. Jaivin, the author of published erotic fiction, goes on to incorrectly describe slash as gay porn, and refers to slash and other adult fanfic when slash isnt inherently adult.
Although Jaivin enjoyed writing a slash story for an Erotic Fan Fiction Reading an Australian comedy event she felt some moral discomfort in literally perverting characters created by someone else without permission. Does perverting refer to the explicit sex, the queerness, or both? In fandoms pre-internet days, there was a legitimate fear that slash zines were breaking obscenity laws. That level of legalised homophobia is a thing of the past, but Ive encountered discomfort, even from close friends, about what they see as turning fictional characters gay.
Youd be forgiven for thinking that slash is the product of an underground queer movement: in fact, it was created and is still dominated by straight female fans, or so it seems. The question of why these lady fans are interested in dirty queer relationships has often been asked. Jaivin tries to provide an answer:
If gay porn seems an odd obsession for straight female writers, it allows them, as [the academic Constance Penley] observes, to avoid the built-in inequality of the romance formula, in which dominance and submission are invariably the respective roles of men and women.
But why pander to anyone who sees a female-dominated form of storytelling as an odd obsession? Let them stew in their assumptions and prejudices. And if youre going
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to make an attempt, a one-size-fits-all explanation wont cut it.
More understandably, there have been mixed reactions from the queer community to slash. Some object to a subset of straight fans who fetishise queer relationships. On the other hand, slash has been celebrated by the popular queer sites AfterEllen and The Backlot.
I started reading slash around the time I started coming out. In the twenty years it had taken me to realise I was gay, Id spent a lot of time immersed in fiction about straight people. When I finally started to accept myself, I binged on queer fiction. I read Sarah Waters and Alan Hollinghurst; I watched Queer as Folk; I even flipped through the yaoi or boy love manga at Borders and those are just a few examples. It wasnt enough. Slash provides me with more stories than I can read, of every flavour I could ask for. Its the equivalent of what mainstream culture provides to straight people. I love the enthusiasm of slashers, straight and queer, as they turn subtext into text for our mutual enjoyment.
Theres a rebellious power to slash. It flips the bird at the conservative judgement that straight love is pure, romantic, deserving of happy endings, while ours is unsettling, pornographic and tragic that straights cant identify with queers, and vice versa. This sense of boundary-breaking empowerment reminds me of a quote from Angela Carters short story, The Bloody Chamber:
The puppet master, open-mouthed, wide-eyed, impotent at the last, saw his dolls break free of their strings, abandon the
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rituals he had ordained for them since time began and start to live for themselves; the king, aghast, witnesses the revolt of his pawns.
The Bloody Chamber is the eponymous work in a collection inspired by folktales. Carter wanted to extract the latent content from the traditional stories. In a different context and medium, many slash authors accomplish something similar.
Last year I came across a Wall Street Journal article, The Weird World of Fan Fiction. I stared at those words. The Weird World. As though there really were two worlds that I loved equally, Earth and Fantasia: one of publishing houses and literary journals, and the other widely perceived as childish and bizarre. Of course, there were never two worlds: theres the pre-internet way to publish and the way thats been pioneered by communities like fandom. The publishing industry is finally catching on, while the e-book self-publishing industry is booming.
In June this year, Amazon launched Kindle Worlds: a place for you to publish fan fictionand earn royalties. The first words of the animated trailer could double as the tagline for a NeverEnding Story reboot: Imagine being transported to an incredible world where adventures never end. A place where you expand the story.
Kindle Worlds has been discussed in a range of print publications, including Time and The Guardian, as well as by hundreds of online commentators. One of the main questions has been: can officially approved, for-profit stories
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really be considered fanfiction? Many commentators have argued convincingly that Kindle Worlds is a clever way to publish tie-in novels (traditionally published alongside popular franchises) without paying established authors to write them. At best, fans can profit from their work in a heavily regulated, porn-free environment with a limited range of Worlds to choose from. You cant get to Fantasia through Kindle Worlds, just as you cant get to Narnia through an Ikea closet.
In the time Ive been reading it, fanfiction has morphed from the barely discussed product of an embarrassing subculture to a newsworthy term co-opted by a publishing behemoth. Is the industry stooping to a new low, or is it acknowledging that the way we create and consume fiction has irrevocably changed?
The Institute for the Future of the Book is a small think-and-do tank investigating the evolution of intellectual discourse as it shifts from printed pages to networked screens. Its co-director, Bob Stein, was interviewed by Ramona Koval in 2009 for ABCs The Book Show. He spoke of how the gold standard of human expression is changing from what it is today to something we cant even imagine:
The 300-page novel, the five-chapter academic monograph, these have their roots in printand theyre going to go away as we start to become familiar with the affordances and the possibilities of the new electronic technologies [W]hat we call a writer and what we call a reader today, my guess is that the boundaries between those two are going to start to blur.
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What strikes me about these predictions is Steins mingling of the outmoded and the newfangled. The idea of a gold standard seems hidebound, and the boundaries between writers and readers have always been blurred. But, of course, the notion that printed books will become extinct is a relatively new and alarming one.
Will the real-life NeverEnding Story put an end to exquisite tomes? Is this the price well pay for the limitless diversity of online storytelling? I hope not. I dont own an e-reader and my apartment is crowded with beloved books. But onscreen fanfic has helped shape me just as much as printed words, and Im far from the only member of my generation who can say that. What Ive come to accept is that freedom and innovation always come at a cost. Eventually, it will be paid.
Kate Goldsworthy is a Melbourne-based freelance editor and writer. She has served on the Voiceworks Editorial Committee and the Express Media Management Board, and worked as an editor at Black Inc. She studies Professional Writing and Editing at RMIT.
This is an extract from a creative non-fiction work in progress, which is based on the author's own experiences.
I watched the waves from the dunes in the morning half-light. It was much bigger than Id expected, and windy too.
What do you think? Id felt edgy about coming here, ever since Id heard it was a sacred womens site.
Rocket shrugged. Nothing else to do.As we pulled our wetsuits on in the carpark, an older guy
gave us a crooked smile, climbed in his station wagon and left. I knew what he was thinking that we were idiots for going out. Maybe he was right, but wed already wasted too much time driving the coast looking for somewhere to surf.
Boards under arms, we walked towards the cape, waves booming out the back and the briny air thrumming with a low electrical charge. Surges of water slid up the beach and retreated. Ahead, the lighthouse pulsed above the
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battered cliffs and the wind-groomed foliage on the cape shivered in the southerly. Watching the rip suck out along the headland, I felt edgy again. A sacred womens site. The water was moving unusually fast, and I almost said as much, but Rocket was already on his board, drifting away from the shore. I walked a few steps, felt the pull of water and launched into the rip.
The ocean drew me in with a long, steady inhalation, water sluicing past the rock ledge beside me. At the outer corner of the headland, the rip became rougher as it came to blows with the waves. Fifty metres ahead, Rocket speared the belly of an unbroken wave just before it crumbled over him. In my periphery, walls of whitewater punched and exploded against the cliffs beneath the lighthouse. A large wave jacked and broke metres in front of me. I tried to duckdive, but the turbulence wrenched my board away and I reeled backwards. When I resurfaced, I drew a deep breath, shaken by the waves power. As soon as I was clear of the breakers, I angled my board away from the cliffs and kept paddling.
Rocket had been pushed in front of the cliffs and was steadily paddling towards me. He was riding a borrowed board, too small for him. And he was hung-over. But he was a tough bloke, and I knew he could handle himself in waves of consequence, so I figured he was probably more frustrated than anything else. I jagged a wave and surfed further away from the cliffs.
After a couple more waves, Id had enough, and caught a wave in. Wading through the shallows, I turned to look for Rocket. Nothing. I jogged to the dunes and tried searching
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from elevation. Still nothing. Hed been paddling against the sweep for the better part of an hour and was probably getting tired. Looking around, there was no one else on the beach and no one else in the water. Heart pounding, I ran to the waters edge and launched into the rip.
Having fought my way past the breaking waves, I spotted Rocket paddling towards the cliffs. It looked like he was planning to wash up on the rock ledge and clamber his way back to the beach.
WHAT ARE YOU DOING?! I shouted, but my words were lost in the wind.
I knew he hadnt heard me but he must have seen me because he turned and raised his palms as if to say what the fuck else can I do?
Id planned to coach him away from the cliffs, but when I turned towards the beach, I no longer saw dunes and casuarinas, just the craggy cliff face. I knew what we had to do and I didnt like the thought of it at all. Waves rose and fell between us as I paddled towards him.
Are you alright? I said.He looked over it. Knackered.I nodded towards the far end of the cliffs. Well have
to go around.Youre joking, right?I shrugged, wanting to act tough, but feeling scared.
This was raw ocean out here. Deep water. The most easterly point of mainland Australia. I didnt want to think about it, but it was sharky too all my fisho mates had told me and there would be nowhere to hide if a shark came hassling for a taste. We started paddling. Every so often one of us
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would call Set! and wed scramble for deeper water. After scraping over the last set of waves, wed sit on the boards to recover our breath and let the ocean push us north.
A scattered line of people had now gathered on the cliff-top to watch. A local fisherman I knew pointed at his phone and raised his palms. Did we want air rescue? Rocket and I looked at each other for a beat. Be the laughing stock of the local surf crew? No. Fucking. Way. We waved him off and continued paddling.
Another set passed and I moved closer to the cliffs, not liking the feel of deep water beneath me.
Set! Rocket called, already scrambling towards the unbroken waves.
The horizon had darkened with striated bruises. I followed, swearing under my breath. The first wave peaked under me and I air-dropped off the back. Kept paddling. The second crumbled and I drew a breath, sank my board and submerged myself. The wave knocked me and I thought I was going to get thrown into the mess, but it sucked me through and spat me out the back. I surfaced and paddled two strokes, shook the water out of my eyes and looked up. Rocket was scraping over the third and biggest wave yet. The wall jacked and thundered in front of me. Fuck. I pushed my board aside and dived.
A watery fist knocked the air out of me. I was upside down, spinning, scrambling upwards, but getting pulled back down. A panicking animal. Breaking the surface, I gasped a lungful, but my board was still buried and my leash pulled me under. Fizzy silence replaced the ocean roar. When I finally clambered back to the surface, I saw how
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far the wave had pushed me. The cliffs were uncomfortably close. Why hadnt we called air rescue? Rocket glanced over his shoulder from the crest of the next wave. I paddled hard, but drifted backwards in the soupy mess, hyperventilating as the next wall of whitewater rumbled towards me. Underwater, I felt the energy leaving my body. I surfaced, got pulled under again and fought my way back up. The foam on the surface was so thick, I could only just get my head above it. The next wave hit me and I drifted like a rag doll, waiting for the thud of rock or the scrape of a cave. The edges of my vision darkened, then came a sharp blast of adrenaline. I clawed through the watery hands pushing me down. Piercing the surface, I drew one almighty breath, consciousness slamming back. At the base of the cliff I turned, not knowing what was next.
A lull.I paddled, gasped and retched. Kept paddling, and didnt
stop until Id passed Rocket. You okay? he said.I nodded and sat on my board, trying to catch my breath. We paddled slowly now, sticking to deeper water. The
cliff lowered to a wall of rocks then a partly submerged reef the most easterly point. We gave it a wide berth and paddled into the bay. My legs shook as I walked through the rocky shallows and when I reached the dry sand, I stood for a moment and focused on the weight of my body against solid earth and the luxury of the air all around me.
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Mum flew up from Adelaide a few days before the baby was due. I wasnt as appreciative as I could have been. I was still in denial about becoming a father and had no idea what to expect or how to articulate what I was feeling. Mostly I just felt rage. I was furious that someone had taken away my power to choose and furious that Id been stupid enough to get into this situation. But these werent feelings I was comfortable sharing. What kind of man felt anger towards the mother of his first-born child? Not the kind of man I wanted to be.
Alexa and I had barely spoken for the term of the pregnancy. Mum, on the other hand, had maintained regular contact with her. She was trying to support me by supporting Alexa, but I interpreted their communication as a betrayal. I wanted Mum to be outraged at the injustice of what was happening, I wanted loyalty, I wanted her to be on my side exclusively. I couldnt fathom that Alexa and I were now on the same side for life.
Autumn in Byron was the best time of the year for surf with clear skies, south-west winds and regular pulses of groundswell. Ordinarily, I would have been surfing every moment I could, but right then I just couldnt find the motivation. I couldnt seem to drag myself out of bed for the early before work, and found myself blaming Alexa for every session I missed.
Despite my stonewalling, Alexa invited me to the birth and offered to let me cut the umbilical cord. Two generous invitations, given the circumstances. I accepted both, though not with much excitement; I was squeamish at the best of times and wasnt exactly relishing the thought of cutting
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human flesh. But people often said how incredible birth was, and perhaps witnessing the birth of my son would be a transcendental and healing experience. Alexa suggested we call our son Noah. She hesitated then said something about the dove carrying the olive branch. I agreed and realised it was the first thing wed agreed upon in a long time.
The night before my son arrived, I went out and got ridiculously drunk. This was typical of how I was coping with the pregnancy, which was a bit sad considering it was also how I got Alexa pregnant. Mum insisted I take my phone and checked that it was fully charged. I drank a lot at the party anything that came my way. After a few hours, I stumbled out the front to leave. A guy I vaguely knew shouted out from a maxi-taxi. He was going to another party, and suggested I jump in and continue home after that.
The van emptied around me at the drop-off, people laughing and falling over each other.
Just continuing to Suffolk, I mumbled to the driver.The driver glanced in the rear view mirror and reset the
fare, adding a fresh tariff of $3.90. Its not a new fare. I said. Its the continuation of the
same fare.No, he said. Its a new fare. Why did people gouge you as soon as you dropped your
guard? That was a drop-off. And now. Were going. To Suffolk.
No. Its a new fare.Bullshit!
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I once bungee jumped from a sixty-metre tower over a cement carpark in Las Vegas. Wanting to impress an English girl, Id acted tough and offered to go first. As it turned out, my jump was the first for our group and the first for the day. I was testing the rope.
Three Two One GO! GO! GO!I jumped and flew towards that concrete God-punch.
Twenty metres from impact, I heard a panicked scream. My scream Just as the rope caught me and threw me back into the air. Afterwards, Id felt embarrassed.
The driver shook his head, resolute, and I rose in my seat, deep breaths shuddering out of me. I stepped forward, hunching under the maxi-taxis low ceiling, my hands clenched into fists.
IM HAVING A FUCKING BABY!
IM HAVING A FUCKING BABY!
IM HAVING A FUCKING BABY!!!
The driver blinked, almost smiled, then narrowed his eyes. Youre out of here, mate! Get out! OUT!
The tail lights glowed red down the street, while I swayed on the footpath, confused and unable to catch my breath. I stumbled south along the road, cursing taxi drivers, pregnant women and babies. I saw a road sign and started
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laughing I was on Broken Head Road. A few hours later, Alexas waters had broken too.
Mums voice pierced the soft casing of my dream. The babys coming. Mouth dry, I opened my eyes just enough to see the wind combing the leaves outside my window. A light south-westerly. My friends would already be out there, calling each other into waves and dream-sliding through glassy barrels I was falling asleep again.
Up! Mum said. Cmon. Quickly.Shops drifted by outside. Im dying. Cant we stop for coffee?She looked at me askance. The baby could come any
moment. We have to hurry.I slumped against the window. Dont first-time labours
go for days? We need to get there.We arrived at Murwillumbah hospital and made our
way through the fluoro-lit corridors, Mum rushing and me lagging behind. I was stuck in a strangers body, moving through a life that didnt belong to me.
At the end of a corridor, we reached a closed door and I heard screams. Hoarse, desperate screams. I waited outside with Mum and one of Alexas friends tried to make conversation with me, but I just looked at her. Couldnt she hear the screaming?
I hadnt been to any pre-natal classes, hadnt spoken to anyone about what to expect, or how to deal with this. Id never been to a real birth before. Aside from births Id
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seen in movies, this was all new. An hour later, the nurse calmly directed me into the
birthing room. Mum waited outside while I stepped into a small, intimate room. Alexa was naked on all fours. There was a baby head sticking out her. Our baby. My son. I know people said that birth was a profoundly beautiful thing, but what no one had told me was that it was a profoundly animal thing too. Animal sounds, animal need, animal pain, animal fear.
For a meaningful moment, everyone looked at me the doctor, the nurse, Alexas friend waiting to see what I would do. The newcomer. Possibly the father. Possibly a friend. Id had no introduction; Id never met the medical staff. So I just stood there, flatfooted. Drew a breath. I walked over and touched Alexas shoulder.
Great job, I said. Youre doing a great job.She didnt look at me. Her friend stared. Later she told
me shed thought Alexa might have punched me in the head when I said that.
Noah came out wrinkled and kind of grey-blue more alien than human. I couldnt tell if he was alive or not. The nurse gave him to Alexa to hold and he moved his tiny fingers. The afterbirth came; Alexa sucked breaths through her teeth, her lip quivering. Stitches.
I held Noah for the first time and searched for a feeling or some words, but just felt confused and exhausted. He had a wobbly neck and I was scared of hurting him. I bathed him and dressed him in a white baby suit. But I couldnt feel anything. Happiness, gratitude and amazement were all partitioned with frustration, shame and anxiety. I was
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numb. So, I just tried to do the right thing and not make a mistake.
After the hospital I convinced Mum to go to Snapper Rocks on the Gold Coast, twenty minutes away, where the worlds best surfers were battling it out in the first big comp for the year. We made it through the crowded beach just in time to see the world champion, Andy Irons, surf junky waves down the point like an ocean ninja. I should have been elated seeing my first son being born and the world champion surfing on the same day. But I just felt despondent, like my youth had finished and I had now entered an era burdened with the weight of fatherly responsibility.
Why dont you invite some mates over, Mum suggested hopefully, as soon as we got home. Ill buy you a case of beer To celebrate.
No thanks, I said, already walking towards my room. I just want to go to sleep.
Mum and I visited the hospital each day for the next few days while Alexa recovered. We bumped into friends. They congratulated me and asked careful questions. Usually people didnt ask how I was feeling. I didnt know how I was feeling. Not ready. Not like a father. Like I was underwater, getting smashed, and running out of strength to fight back.
Daniel Ducrou's writing has appeared in the Age, The Big Issue, Sleepers Almanac and the Review of Australia Fiction,MWVWXRSZIPThe Byron Journals (Text Publishing), was shortlisted for a Victorian Premier's Literary Award. The above excerpts are from his second book, a work-in-progress called Control.
JUST LIKE US
If you could just fill out this form with your contact details and those of your referees. Pass the rest along. The woman handed a sheaf of papers to the couple standing at her front door. A heavy fringe sheltered her heart-shaped face, her shapeless grey smock dress gave little hint of the forty-three-year-old body underneath, as was intended. Her body was not her self, after all, it was merely a vessel to be framed and draped. Her necklace looped across her chest as though scribbled by a toddler with a silver crayon.
From her position on the front steps, Tonia tried to catch the womans eye with a sympathetic smile (can you believe all these people?) but the womans gaze sidled along the queue of hopefuls lining the verandah and slunk down the garden path to the street where a discreet grey Volkswagen was parked. Perhaps she was already planning her getaway, thought Tonia. She was glad they had arrived as early as they did though if Gary had actually fixed up the two rusted bicycle frames that were cluttering up their
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front hallway they wouldnt have had to wait for a tram and might have gotten here sooner. At least a dozen couples had already been shown through and departed in the last hour, their faces giving nothing away.
Well try to move through as quickly as possible. If you could make sure your partner is with you. Only now did the woman look at Tonia, or rather, the empty space beside her. Where the hell was Gary? worried Tonia. He said hed only be ten minutes, but that was when they were back at the gate, arguing over whether the two navy blue Butterfly chairs on the verandah were from IKEA.
Scuse me. Gary had nudged between a couple who were both bent over their phones, sussing out the waiting competition in between taking turns at Words With Friends.
Gary, Tonia had hissed, wishing his name had an s in it so it might carry. Something like Thomas would be much more suitable. Instead his name coughed out of her like a cats hairball. They probably wouldnt be able to keep their Burmese, Shaun, if they were successful, thought Tonia. But you had to make sacrifices if you wanted to get anywhere in life.
Yeah, check it out. Gary tipped one of the chairs upside down to show the over-sized IKEA tag.
Gary, put it down! What if they see you? Besides its better than anything weve got. Tonia recalled their cramped one-bedroom apartment. The op-shop furniture crowding every room, threatening to fall over or fall apart if they looked away for too long. The art
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gallery postcards stuck to the walls, the mismatched glasses flogged from various bars and pubs. She banished the image, it was not good to dwell on these things, even her naturopath had been firm about that.
Theyll just think Im making myself at home. Gary tipped the chair up the right way, its wire-frame skittering about on the verandah in his wake.
There was nothing wrong with their apartment, Tonia was aware of that. It was comfortable enough, but it just wasnt right. It was not the kind of place she saw herself living. She scrambled in her handbag for her phone and searched through the grocery lists and bus times for the notes she had made at the seminar back in April. Gary had refused to come with her, had said he didnt need some jumped-up game show host telling him how to live his life. Hes a life coach, Tonia had reminded him. And he doesnt tell you how to live your life, he tells you how to get the life you deserve. She scrolled through her notes, scanning for the right one. Take what you deserve, dont wait for what youre given. It always made her feel a bit greedy, but apparently that was a natural reaction until you saw your true worth. She looked at the effortless Butterfly chairs and the lolly-red Vespa parked near the gate. These people knew their true worth.
Want a coffee? There was a place on the corner.Gary wished this day was over. That he could shed these
ridiculous trousers and get into a pair of trackies. The Swans were playing tonight and he was almost done with the sky section of the mosaic coffee table hed been working on. It
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had been hard to get the ribbons of light just right (much easier to do a setting sun than a rising one), the tiled roofs and television aerials crawling up out of silhouette against the hesitant cloud. Hed found a set of dinner plates at Savers during the week which were just the right lemon colour and had already used his new tile cutter to slice them into irregularly square pieces. He was keen to finish the sky before tomorrow, then he could work on the skyline itself. He was going to use real terracotta for the roof tiles, some old pots hed scavenged from work that would have the right patina.
But first to get this over with after all, Tonia was right, they did need to move forward with their lives. The Baby Boomers didnt have to wait, and it wasnt his fault that the Generation Xers decided to. It was up to the Gen Ys to grab their chance. Besides, thought Gary, anything to keep Tonia happy. Ever since shed finished uni and found herself bound to an office cubicle from nine to five shed been miserable. Im too old for this shitty lifestyle, she had screamed at him last night when she stubbed her toe on one of the bicycles in the corridor. Im almost thirty, she had wailed. He tried to remind her she was almost five years off, but she was having none of it. And he could understand her frustration. But were these pants really necessary? His ankles were freezing. Hed been relieved shed let him get away with the maroon trousers rather than the skinny black jeans shed made him wear last weekend, his arse crack squeezing out the top of them and barely covered by the faded Blur t-shirt. He was glad they werent successful that time; thered been a Belle and Sebastian poster in the toilet. Framed, of course, so perhaps it was studied nostalgia, but
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there was a chance it wasnt and he didnt think he could handle that kind of revered twee day in and day out.
Well, only get coffee if you can be quick. Tonia had craned her neck, careful to keep one foot planted firmly in the queue. You never knew, she thought, people could be desperate. Shed grabbed Garys hand as he passed, whispering fiercely in his ear. Check what beans they use. It might be important.
But that was almost half an hour ago, so where the hell was he, she wondered. The three couples who were ahead had already been shown through. Tonia glanced at the sheet in her hand, unsure whether she was supposed to fill out a separate one for him. She tried to recall whether the woman handing it to her had been right or left-handed. And was she wearing glasses? Should Tonia be?
Sorry, excuse me. Gary appeared beside her, a tray of coffees in hand.
Well, Ive hardly got time to drink it now. Whyd you get so many?
He shrugged, taking a sip from his cup. Seven Seeds.What?Thats what beans they use at the cafe. But theyve
also got a single origin cold-drip filter and the barista said that was their favourite. He nodded at the closed door. So thats what I got them. Tonia was reminded that this is what she loved about Gary he was good with the little touches, which might just get them over the line. And then they could relax, stop worrying about what was around the corner and become the people they were destined to be.
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The door opened and a large wren cast in pink resin flailed from the proffered hand. This woman obviously liked her feature jewellery. Next?
Tonia made to pass over the application form but Gary got in first, sticking one of the coffees in the outstretched hand. The door opened wider revealing the woman pursing her lips as she inspected the cup. Tonia and Gary shuffled past as she took a hesitant sip and closed the door behind them.
O. M. G. Her eyes sprang open and fixed on Tonia. Heaven. How did you know? Crows feet stretched from the corner of her eyes, freckles restrained under concealer.
Gary. Tonia nodded at Gary and the woman ran her eyes around him as though cutting out a dress-making pattern. Tonia was determined to do everything to show they were the right fit.
Thomas peered out at the grey day. Should they have gotten the windows tinted blue so it wouldnt look so dismal in here? Was that all it might have taken? A hint of cerulean so he didnt feel so relentlessly sandwiched between the overcast sky and the polished concrete floor. Even the childrens play set was in muted tones of greys and browns; children dont need to be assaulted with bright plastic colours at every opportunity. He could never quite remember what the architect had said: was the point of the retractable floor-to-ceiling windows to invite the outdoors in? Or was it the indoors out? Thomas sighed. It was time they got rid of that play set anyway, he thought. It might
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actually hamper their development if they were allowed such unstructured play for so long. Was it possible for gifted children to regress? Thomas sighed again, heavier this time, and timed his pivot so that he turned from the windows to face the corridor just as the next prospective couple appeared with Emily.
Young, they all looked so young. The woman was slim, with the usual heavy fringe and a grey woollen jumper over high-waisted jeans, a small purse on her shoulder. Perfect. The mans trousers were nicely rolled, his denim shirt buttoned to the top. Check. Theyd already seen at least ten couples this morning and it was amazing how wrong some of them got it. Of course, it wasnt about the clothes, they would be taken care of, but it was an indication of the type of person they were, wasnt it?
This is Tonia and Gary, said Emily, reading off the sheet as she ushered them into the living room. Im Emily, and this is Thomas.
Nice to meet you, Gary stepped forward and shook Thomass hand. I got you a coffee.
Thomas waited for the requisite mate to be tacked on the end of Garys introduction. It wasnt. Maybe these were actually the ones.
The two couples sat down on opposite couches, the coffee table a tundra between them. We were going to ask you to tell us a little bit about yourselves, said Emily, and Tonia could immediately tell it was a well-rehearsed speech, down to the small apologetic giggle injected in middle. But it doesnt really matter, does it? Though we should tell you more than a little about us.
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Please do, said Tonia.Well, Thomas and I have been married fifteen years.
Emily looked fondly at Thomas. He tried to picture himself as she must see him. A small moment of panic ran through him what did he look like? He tried to change his position to catch his reflection in the windows. There he was: black rimmed glasses, a grey cashmere cardigan. Wasnt there supposed to be something else?
Emily glared at him. Thomas knew he was meant to say something to this couple, but he could not look away from his own reflection. Emily took a deep breath and carried on. It was all going to be okay, thought Thomas, nodding at himself. This decision was going to inject some life back into their marriage. He tried to pay attention. Somewhere, behind Emilys forced smile, Thomas knew there must be some residual fondness for him. A tiny bit of passion that had not been polished and refined, sanded and blasted to smooth perfection. At least, thats what they were both banking on the promise of what they used to have. He could not allow himself to consider what might happen if, after all of this, there was nothing there.
Though we prefer to think of ourselves as partners, not husband and wife, Thomas added. Thats right, that was his line, he hoped he had not come in with it too late. He patted Emilys hand. As you can see, the house is completely renovated though we had to extend the mortgage to do so.
Tonia solemnly took in the living room, the fine workmanship of the marine plywood kitchen island and cupboards, every evidence of living carefully tidied away. She could not imagine Garys tarpaulin spread across the floor
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in front of the television, broken tiles and their dust strewn about. Some things would have to change, she thought.
As you know weve got two children, Oscar and Lily, said Emily. Theyre both in primary school. Theyre wonderful children, both quite advanced, and we dont anticipate the change will cause them any problems.
Are they aware of whats happening? asked Gary. He quite liked the name Oscar. He wondered what team he barracked for.
Of course not, said Thomas, sharply. We thought it best that we dont say anything to them, that we make the transition as smooth as possible.
Absolutely, Tonia beamed. She was glad the children werent any younger, shed been terrified they wouldnt be toilet trained.
Now, youve both got the right build, so I can see we wouldnt have to make any adjustments to our wardrobe if you were successful. And we obviously share the same aesthetic sensibilities, said Thomas. I do like your trousers, Gary. Im sure if I was a bit younger He let his sentence trail off and sighed, once again, looking out the window.
Uh, thanks, replied Gary, wondering what Thomas could possibly have to be so morose about. I, uh, like your place, its just what weve always wanted.
I would hope so, replied Thomas.In fact, the house terrified Gary, with its varnished
chipboard feature wall, the floating staircase drifting to the mezzanine. He could already feel the bruises starting to form where he would be sure to knock his shins and elbows against all the hard edges. He we are, marooned
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in the middle of it all, thought Gary. The couch a life raft of softness.
Wed need to call your referees, said Emily. But we can do that later. To be honest though, we dont want to know too much about you, we think that will make things easier. Weve decided on a four-week transition period where we would co-share the roles. We need to make sure you are able to perform to our standards. The first two weeks would be primarily observational, but then Thomas and I would step back in readiness for our departure.
Wed still be here in those final two weeks, for any trouble shooting and to make sure youve got the hang of things, particularly in our respective workplaces, but the two of you would be captaining the ship, so to speak, said Thomas. Does that seem okay?
Sounds great, said Tonia. She had a really good feeling about this couple. There was something reassuringly familiar about them.
Any questions? said Emily, in a manner that made it obvious that questions were not welcome.
What were your jobs again? asked Gary, ignoring the look of annoyance that Tonia shot at him.
Im an interior home wares architect and Thomas is a graphic designer. You Emily looked down at the application form, slightly panicked. What if they werent up to it? They didnt really need experience, after all by this stage both of her and Thomass jobs involved supervising others they didnt actually do any work. But whoever took over their positions did need enough knowledge to be convincing.
Ive studied architecture, so thats no problem. And
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Gary has a real eye for design. You should see the mosaic hes working on, Tonias words ran together in her hurry to reassure.
The what? Thomas dragged his eyes back from the sky. A lone starling had lifted from its perch on the back fence and was whirling about without a care in the world. The image was unbalanced; Thomas wished the bird had a mate to frolic with. Did you say mosaic?
Yeah, its a hobby of mine. You know, little tiles that make up the picture. Gary sat up straighter. Its actually quite intricate, you see.
Gary had started on the mosaics when he was labouring for a landscape design company. The client wanted a water feature and all he had to work with were an old birdbath and some terracotta pots. It had only taken him one weekend to put it all together, the terracotta set in circles rising from the brown tones at the base to the warmer, more orangey ones at the top. It was quite meditative, really, Gary found. It took him away from everything frantic about the world, slowed it all down. It was the first time hed ever felt that way, as he looked for the ways those tiles might fit together. So he could understand why Tonia wanted to do this that she felt it would give her the same feeling of satisfaction, of no longer having to scramble up the greasy pole. She needed to feel complete.
Isnt mosaic a craft? Thomas asked.Well, darling, so is knitting. But its been reappropriated
quite successfully. Remember the yarn-bombing project
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the children did at school? Emilys voice was soothing. She just wanted to get this over and done with.
Thomas tried to imagine thousands of tile pieces pressed into the polished concrete floor of the living room. He saw tendrils of glass tiles climbing the windows, exotic blooms of colour colonising the white plaster walls. It was not possible. He needed to know that when they left it all behind it would stay the same. Their minimalist oasis, the place where they had got everything just right, at least for a short time.
Is it ironic? asked Thomas. Because that could be its saving grace. A hobby could be incorporated, perhaps, as long as it was not genuine.
I dont think so. Gary watched the colour drain from Tonias face. I mean, it could be. But
He was interrupted by a loud thud against the glass door. A smear of something red had appeared there, it seemed to float, a russet coloured cloud. And there on the slate below, the body of a single starling, its wings flung open, its chest madly vibrating.
No one said a thing until Emily rose, sticking out her hand, her bird-shaped ring immediately looking to Thomas like a death mask.
Well, weve got your details, well call you if youre successful.
Tonia and Gary were back on the verandah within seconds. They avoided the eager glances of the other couples in the queue.
Well, never mind. I dont think they were quite right for us. It would have been too difficult. Tonia walked ahead of him down the street, nodding in agreement with herself.
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Well find something else, something will come up soon. Something we deserve.
Inside, Emily and Thomas sat opposite each other on the couch, each with their iPad in hand.
I think the advertisement needs to be more specific, said Thomas.
Definitely, agreed Emily. She tapped away at the screen. Thomas looked at the window, all he could see was the bloody cloud on the glass; it seemed to grow, crowding out the grey sky, turning it sepia.
What about this? said Emily.Thomass email pinged. He looked down at his iPad.
DO YOU WISH YOU WERE JUST LIKE US?
You can be. In fact, you can be us. A well-established creative couple is looking to leave their lives behind and we need a young, aspirational couple to step up and take over our roles. You will assume every aspect of our lives our jobs, our house, parenting our two delightful children. Please note, you will not be able to maintain any vestige of your own personalities, including hobbies. Please email for audition details
and key selection criteria.
Yes, that sounds exactly right, said Thomas. Emily always managed to make things just so.
Melanie Joosten is the author of the novel Berlin Syndrome. She is currently working on a second novel, and a series of essays about ageing in Australia.
Kill Your Darlings in Conversation with Laurent Binet
Laurent Binets HHhH was released in 2010 in his native France to wide critical acclaim, winning the coveted Prix Goncourt du Premier Roman, the famed prize for a debut novel. The English translation, by Sam Taylor, was released in 2012 and came with testimonials from Bret Easton Ellis and Martin Amis on the front cover (many friends, registering their distaste for these two particular authors, have suggested they would be more likely to read the book without them). It was a tweet, in fact, from Easton Ellis that first alerted me to the novel:
Laurent Binets HHhH is about the plan to assassinate the most
dangerous man in Hitlers cabinet. The best novel Ive read in a long time.
HHhH tells the story of Operation Anthropoid, a tactical operation in 1942 in which Jozef Gabcik and Jan Kubis were sent into occupied Czechoslovakia from their London exile to assassinate Reinhard Heydrich, the most dangerous man in the Third Reich and seen by some as the heir-apparent
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to Hitler. The loopy title HHhH is an acronym for Himmlers Hirn heisst Heydrich, which translates into English as Himmlers brain is called Heydrich. Binet inserts himself into the plot from page one, airing anxieties about the writing of historical fiction and berating a number of novels and films for getting the details wrong. He spends pages, for instance, criticising just the opening paragraph of Alan Burgess 1960 novel Seven Men at Daybreak for getting the colour of Heydrichs Mercedes incorrect. (It was black according to Binet, not dark green.)
HHhH, despite being classified as a novel by his publisher, is ultimately seen by its author as a work of nonfiction. His latest book, yet (and perhaps unlikely) to be translated into English, Rien Ne Se Passe Comme Prvu or Nothing Happens as Predicted, is a work of political reportage, written after Binet followed then candidate, now President Franoise Hollande around during his election campaign against Nicolas Sarkozy.
KYD: Youve said that HHhH took ten years to write, and you were working as a schoolteacher during this time, how did you find time to write the book in between teaching? Was that a challenge?
LB: Well, I dont know. I had to work. It was kind of a hobby. After work, people would make small talk and here I was reading books about the Second World War and I guess that the reason I mean, I had a lot of research to do
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but the reason why it took me so long was I was working at the same time.
KYD: Was it difficult to live with the novel for so long? Ten years seems like a long time to live with a book.
LB: No, I mean I was not worried. I was very much alright. I was interested by the subject. I was interested by the books I was reading. I was not concerned that it was taking so long. Some friends of mine, they had told me it was an endless work and that I would never end it. But I was not too worried. It was like I could sense I was on my way and that it was okay.
KYD: At the start of HHhH you write about your father telling you as a child the story of the assassination of Heydrich, so the story itself has been with you for a long time. When did it become apparent to you that it had the potential to be a book?
LB: I think first when I was sent to Czechoslovakia for my military service. I was curious about that story and I think the turning point was maybe when I visited the crypt [where Gabcik and Kubis ultimately met their fate]. I was there for my own personal interest, but when I saw the crypt it was very moving and very impressive and I think this was the turning point. I decided I have to write it down, because I thought in Europe that story was not very well known. So after a couple of years being interested by that story I decided to make a book of it.
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KYD: It seems like you had an interesting relationship with your publishers and editors. They seemed to make a lot of suggestions, like changing the title from Operation Anthropoid to HHhH, and the decision even to change the book from nonfiction as a genre to fiction, do you think this was because this was your first book or do you think the book was always going to be a little bit combative and at war with the publisher?
LB: Definitely. For ten years I wrote the book without knowing who would be my publisher, even if I could find one. So when I had the opportunity to sign with the publisher, which is a big one in France, it was a big opportunity and he told me the conditions, you know like, Okay we sign, if you do this. And so it was possibly disappointing. It was a tough negotiation. And I didnt feel very happy about it, but at the same time I thought that this was clever advice. The title was obviously a great, great idea. And when he told me that we had to change the title I was a little disappointed because I was used to it Id used it for ten years. But at the same time, I immediately realised its a great, great title. It made me feel confident, like I knew that the guy has good ideas and so then it was a fight to cut. He wanted me to cut some parts of the comments, not of the story, but the meta-novel parts. And so I kept some, and cut some others and it was okay. I was quite satisfied.
KYD: Was it hard to give up the classification of the book as nonfiction?
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LB: The decision to write novel on the cover, from the beginning I wasnt surprised about this. In France, its much more commercial to write that its a novel. I wasnt surprised and I wasnt disturbed because I was saying enough inside the book about it.
KYD: It seems to come up a lot that people think that the narrator is a fictional version of you. Its not a problem that people get confused about this?
LB: Actually its very strange, in France people dont care very much about it. I have so many friends who told me, you know what I dont care if its a true story, I just want a good story [laughs]. But this is how it works, so it was really not an issue, this question.
KYD: So this was a question that came up more with international audiences?
LB: Yeah, that question was more broached in other countries. From time to time I had to make it clear that the narrator is myself and there is no difference between us. Usually that question showed up abroad.
KYD: The book seems partly a kind of argument to stick to the facts and an argument against historical fiction writers making up details of their own. Throughout the book youre very hard on yourself about keeping to this, did this present its own difficulties while you were writing?
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LB: Yeah, it was very hard. Actually it was hard at first because I had some blanks to fill in, especially about the past. I missed historical information about the past so it was very frustrating. It was tempting to make up things about them as I reported it in the book and so even beyond that specific problem, there was a kind of novelist appeal the call of fiction and, like I said, it was going beyond history, that was the big temptation. You could see how I managed that temptation. From time to time, I just crossed the line sometimes in a way I wanted, and sometimes in a way I didnt want. Instead of displacing the chapter, I kept it and then I used that chapter and I made it something to discuss with the reader, usually in the following chapter as an example to illustrate my problem and my problematic, which was how to tell a true story.
KYD: Was there a model for you for this kind of storytelling playing with fiction and then revealing the artifice almost immediately after? Was there a particular writer that inspired this approach?
LB: At the time I didnt realise but I think that the closest model for my book was Maus by Art Spiegelman, the graphic novel. I read it when I was a teenager and I was really impressed. Then when I was writing HHhH I didnt think it was that book, but if you think about it, its the same process. Hes interviewing his father, and telling the story of his father during the war and then relating visiting his father and dealing with him in the present time and then back to the past and present. I think its very close and while I was
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very proud when people told me Id invented a new genre, I knew it was not true, but I did not have any other examples. So there is Maus, but there are other books Im sure.
KYD: At a certain point in HHhH you write that you realise that the book is an infranovel? This is something you made up. Can you explain what you meant by that term?
LB: Because I didnt know the English category of the nonfiction novel. I mean, if I knew that term, I wouldnt have invented infranovel because Im okay with the category nonfiction novel and its okay for me for it to be used about HHhH. By infranovel, I just meant it looks like a novel. I tried to write it as a novel, using all the tools of the novel, all the tricks of the novel, except fiction. I was proud Id invented this term, and maybe the book was not the first of its own kind, but I think it wont survive Im afraid.
KYD: Do you know if anyone in France has used the term infranovel to describe their own work yet?
LB: Not yet, no. Im afraid that it wont be very useful [laughs].
KYD: HHhH also works as a kind of extended form of literary criticism. Im thinking here specifically about Jonathan Littells The Kindly Ones, which was released during the writing of your book and which you wrestle with openly in HHhH. Your publisher cut quite a few of the criticisms you made of that book and they ended up being published on
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the American website The Millions and it was great to access them. Im wondering if you think its important to you to argue with contemporary books and not to hold back?
LB: Well, yes, I think its always interesting to argue with other writers, other works, other books and so in that case, I was arguing with The Kindly Ones. I dont say Im right, but, you know what, I felt my book was a discussion with the reader, talking about whats interesting to me about other books I like, about the other books I dont like and trying to explain why. Whats true about The Kindly Ones is that I was a bit obsessed about that book when it came out. Nearly every day I was writing a chapter about it, so my publisher asked me to cut some, but he kept the essence of what I thought, which was the sentence, which became a bit famous in France, that The Kindly Ones was Houellebecq doing Nazism. This is what I wanted to say. I think its a bit funny, but its true in a way, because what disturbed me the most with the book was that it was talking more about our time than the Second World War time. What I didnt like about the reception of The Kindly Ones was that many critics in France said that if you want to understand the Second World War you just have to read that book, its better than any historical book, and I disagreed with that.
KYD: Do you see those arguments you make in the book as suggesting that writers of historical fiction should align themselves closer towards nonfiction and not take so many liberties with the truth? Is that something you are actively pushing for?
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LB: Well, I dont know. People can write what they want, but then its a good question. Well see what happens. Im not against fiction at all, for instance I love many lets say entertaining historical books, like Ken Folletts books. I have no problem with those, my problem is with the books that pretend to explain something about history or demonstrate a finality, like in the case of The Kindly Ones about the role of evil and pretends to explain history. Im not very convinced when a novel tries to explain something. But there are a few writers for instance, this year the winner of the Prix Goncourt, his name is Jrme Ferrari and I met him and he had read my book and he said, Yes, it was very interesting and it will influence me for my next book, that process I found it very interesting and so well see if it changes something about the historical novel.
KYD: Thats really interesting.
LB: Of course it could be very pretentious, I change the face of literature! [Laughs.]
KYD: The book really picks up as it reaches the end, as you begin to relate the actual story of the assassination of Heydrich. Its incredibly effective and works as a kind of thriller and so Im wondering whether you were reading any genre fiction specifically thrillers to make the writing of that work so well?
LB: Well, thank you. I read some detective books, some thrillers. I think maybe I was more influenced by movies
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or TV shows, like 24 [laughs]. I hadnt actually seen 24 at the time, so its not so influential. For the assassination, I had very visual images in my mind and for some part I was thinking about Brian de Palma movies, the slow motion and the narrative of his movies. My favourite writer living writer, for instance, is Bret Easton Ellis.
KYD: Hes a writer who is obsessed with movies.
LB: Thats true. I love him for many reasons, but hes a terrific thriller writer. I love when he is writing suspense things or dramatic things. Hes a master of suspense. So maybe he influenced me a little. But, as I told you, I was very impressed by a novel by Ken Follett when I was a teenager called Eye of the Needle, it was about the Overlord operation and the German spy winging to England, trying to escape to the MI6 and MI5. I like those kinds of books.
KYD: Back to TV for a moment, Ive read that your new book about Franois Hollandes presidential campaign was inspired by The West Wing. What about that show made you want to write a work of political reportage?
LB: I said that because The West Wing gave me the idea to follow the campaign, because I loved the show and there was an election in France and I thought, yeah why not get inside to see how it works. I have to say it was quite close to how it was. So The West Wing was very faithful to the truth [laughs]. But then, again, with this book I was really influenced by Bret Easton Ellis because the book was full of
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dialogue. I think hes a master of dialogue. I read a lot of his dialogue to try to take the dialogue I mean the dialogues were real, you know but to reconstruct them and recreate them, to make them lively I read many dialogues by Bret Easton Ellis and other novelists. But I guess what I took from The West Wing was I tried to be inspired by the real result, going very fast and very lively and, which is true to the real life, it was very lively, but then you have to work to transcribe the reason and the speed.
KYD: How was it received in France?
LB: It came out. It was okay. It was not such a big hit as HHhH. And the reviews were more so-so, because in France politics makes us crazy. So, as I followed the winner, who was from the Left side, people were arguing about political issues, not really about the book.
KYD: Did working on the book change your opinion at all of Hollande?
LB: Yeah, if your question is whether I am disappointed, I am a little, but I knew I would be, because a socialist my father always used to say my father is an old communist they always betray. But in a way, I didnt change my opinion of Hollande as a candidate. Now many French magazines ask me to speak to them about him, to tell them my opinion about Hollande: a President, which I dont feel like doing because I followed the candidate, and I can speak about the candidate but now Im just an
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ordinary citizen. So we can have a beer and I can tell you what I think about French politics and Hollande as President, but I dont feel legitimated to speak on radio or in the newspapers as an expert about French politics and Hollande now. I didnt change my mind about Hollande as a candidate, then as a President it is a different story. And its not my story.
KYD: I read that Sarkozy called you to congratulate you on HHhH and invited you to lunch when he was still President. Did you take him up on his offer and go out to lunch?
LB: No, I declined. No, I didnt want to because I didnt like his politics at all. Even if Im disappointed with Hollande as President, Im thankful that he won against Sarkozy and Sarkozy is not President anymore because of him, because well I really didnt like his politics. When he called me to invite me for lunch it was during his very, very hard politics against immigrants, like he wanted to fire them from the country, and he was really extreme about the troubles in France saying they are because of those poor guys who are a just a few thousand in France. It was really disgusting and I didnt want to feel a part of it. I didnt want him to use me as I dont know how to say in English control? To credit him of something as a control I am afraid of him, thats it.
KYD: Ive read that HHhH has been adapted into a play? What was that experience like?
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LB: Yes, it was adapted. I loved it. Ive seen it many times, at Festival dAvignon, then in Paris. Its brilliant, I loved the play, although it was just one hour and fifteen minutes, which was very strange to make it so short. But I didnt feel it was short at all when Ive seen it. Its very clever and it was brilliant.
KYD: Its interesting, because the book ends on such a melancholy note, that you are sad to be leaving the story and Gabcik and Kubis behind, but obviously were talking now and youre soon to come out to Australia to discuss the book
LB: Yeah, I was completely wrong because two years after I am still talking about it with you now and there was the play. It has its own life.
KYD: The book is pretty experimental when it comes to the form it takes, being a work of collage almost you lift quotes from poetry and from Goebbelss insufferable diaries and youve been quite critical of other writers for not being so experimental with form, for instance criticising Michel Houellebecq for putting murdering himself in his novel when it was something Bret Easton Ellis did in Lunar Park years earlier. Is being experimental important to you as a writer?
LB: Yes. I think as a writer its more interesting, and for me as a reader too. If I just wanted to read a classical novel, I can. If you write a novel the same way it was written two
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centuries ago, its a problem. You can, of course. I dont want to forbid you, but I wont find it very interesting. I think now, the French, they are not very creative. I have to say American writers like Chuck Palahniuk or even Philip Roth they are much more playful. I think the novel is a genre, which has to be playful. Its a playful genre, and I think French writers dont care to be playful. Though to be fair, to be honest, the last Michel Houellebecq was quite playful The Map and the Territory. Still, everybody says its funny, but I dont think its that funny.
KYD: HHhH is an interesting book because it is very much about its own construction and I think the book will stay with me most because its incredibly open about the anxieties felt by writers. Do you think its important for writers to feel a certain level of anxiety?
LB: Well, I dont know. There are many ways to write a book. For a very long time, I didnt understand what I liked with Milan Kundera, because I loved his novels but he does those kind of stories Im not fond of, those realistic, psychological stories. But what I love is that he shows up as the author from time to time, to construct his own story. I dont say this is the only way but I love that way to tell a story. I used to say, youve got the movie and the making of all together. I love when I feel the writer is talking to me, so as a writer I wanted to make the book as a sort of discussion with the reader. This is the way I like as a reader and so as a writer. I think all my books, more or less, they will be that way.
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KYD: I read in an interview published in The Guardian last year that you are now working on a semiotic detective novel. Is this still the case? Is this going to be a work of fiction?
LB: Yeah, Im working on it now. Im working on it most days. I cant tell you much more because my publisher has forbidden me to talk about it.
KYD: The only thing you said in that interview about the book was that when you told people that it was a semiotic detective novel they tended to stop asking questions.
LB: [Laughs.] Of course.
KYD: One last question, its a pretty stupid question I guess, but is there anything youre looking forward to about coming to Australia? Are you excited?
LB: Am I excited? Of course, of course. I mean when I was a kid I loved tennis and my favourite player was Pat Cash. [Laughs] Pat Cash isnt it a good stupid answer?
BEAUTIFUL AND DAMNED
The Myths of Zelda Fitzgerald
She was the original It Girl, a Southern belle turned glamorous flapper turned broken-down mental patient. Overflowing with charm and wit, Zelda Fitzgerald was the perfect heroine for a story of Jazz Age decadence. As the wife of the great novelist F Scott Fitzgerald, she became an icon of the decade, of everything extravagant and scintillating and beautiful and reckless. Scott wrote about such flapper girls, with their bobbed hair, slinky dresses and sassy attitudes, and the more he did, the more his wife came to embody the symbol.
Together, they were American literatures first celebrity couple: Scott and Zelda, the novelist and his muse. They were beautiful and volatile and constantly making a scene dancing on tables, taking a drunken swim in the Plaza fountain, playing pranks and leaving a glittering trail of feathers and champagne glasses behind them. Their lives seemed to be the stuff of fiction, a seductive story of sudden success and sharp decline. As Scott himself told his biographer, Malcolm
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Cowley: Sometimes I dont know whether Zelda and I are real or whether we are characters in one of my novels.
Their story almost seems like a cautionary tale, with uncanny parallels to Scotts The Beautiful and Damned. As beauty, wealth and youth slipped away from them, Scott and Zelda rapidly descended into a life filled with jealousy and resentment towards each other. Scott turned to alcohol, while Zelda suffered multiple nervous breakdowns. And, of course, the saga ends in tragedy, with both dying young Scott at age 44 after a heart attack, and Zelda at 47 during a fire at the mental institution where she was a patient.
The spotlight on Scott and Zelda never seems to dim completely, and the release of Baz Luhrmanns adaptation of The Great Gatsby has brought all things Fitzgeraldian back into fashion. And with this comes the question: where does Zelda really fit in to the story, and what does she represent to us?
To many of their contemporaries, Zelda was at best a pretty and amusing bauble dangling from her husbands arm; at worst a hysterical, demanding madwoman. It was well known that she provided inspiration for some of Scotts more vapid and contemptible female characters, and some critics notably, Scotts friend and rival Ernest Hemingway accused her of ruining her husband both creatively and financially. For years, the image endured: Zelda the crazy, disruptive harpy, who spent all her husbands money, used his connections to get her own mediocre work published, drove him to drink and then went insane.
Modern criticism, however, has challenged this perception of Zelda and what she represents in popular culture. There
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has been an impulse to rescue her somehow, to salvage her story and reframe her as a feminist heroine. After all, Zelda had creative ambitions of her own as a writer, a painter and a ballerina. Although her work was largely dismissed at the time (in 1934, Time magazine ran a somewhat mocking article about her artistic pretentions titled Work of a Wife), many have suggested that in a different era, one more supportive of womens ambition and more sophisticated in dealing with mental illness, she may have been recognised as an artist in her own right. Nancy Milfords 1970 biography looked at Zelda through this recuperative lens, framing her as a talented artist who was stifled by her alcoholic husband and a sexist medical establishment. Since Milfords biography was published, there have been over twenty books dedicated to this dramatic and complicated woman, attempting to get inside her head and reshape her image as a wife and an artist.
This year, three new novels based on Zeldas life have been released. With the freedom that fictional space provides, each imagines her creative ambitions, her mental illness and her relationship with Scott from a different perspective. In Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald, Therese Anne Fowler follows Zeldas life from just before she meets Scott at a country club dance in Alabama to just after his death. Erika Robucks Call Me Zelda focuses on Zeldas time in a Baltimore mental institution, told from the perspective of a fictional nurse who becomes her friend and confidante. Compressing the time frame even further, R Clifton Spargos Beautiful Fools centres on a trip the couple took to Cuba in 1939 that marked the last time Scott and Zelda ever saw each other.
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In Fowlers novel, Zelda is relatable and down-to-earth, with a tight group of girlfriends and growing feminist convictions. For Robuck, Zelda becomes a broken, childlike woman who suffers from a debilitating madness, and whose spirit and creative talent are constantly crushed by a drunken, jealous husband. In the most human portrait of the three, Spargos Zelda is unstable, unpredictable and selfish, but filled with devotion to her husband. She clings to the hope of somehow repairing their marriage. Each novel filters what we know from history through a different lens and creatively embellishes on what we cannot possibly know and each adds a new layer to the myths we continue to amass about this woman, 65 years after her death.
Zelda Sayre was 17 years old when she met Scott at a country club dance in her hometown of Montgomery, Alabama. It was 1918, and she was the belle of her small town, a vivacious girl who starred in ballet recitals, defied her parents by running around without her corset and stockings, and caused a scandal by parading around a swimming pool in a flesh-coloured bathing suit. At one dance, she tied a sprig of mistletoe to the back of her skirt, then bent over and shook her derriere at the stuffy organisers who had scolded her for dancing on a table.
This is the Zelda we meet at the beginning of Therese Anne Fowlers Z. Framed as Zeldas middle-aged memoirs, the story begins when Scotts first novel, This Side of Paradise, is published in 1920 and the couple quickly become New York celebrities. This is largely a biography masquerading
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as fictional autobiography, covering familiar episodes in the life of the Fitzgeralds, focusing on their shared experiences and glossing over the bleaker periods Zelda spent in sanatoriums. What emerges is an image of Zelda as a frustrated artist, forever fighting against her husbands attempts to stifle her creativity.
Throughout the novel, Zelda grows increasingly frustrated with her role as Scotts wife. Theres no need for you to be a professional dancer, writer, anything, Fowler imagines Scott writing to Zelda in the hospital. Be a mother. Be a wife. Ive made a good life for you, Zelda; stop rejecting it. Over time, the word itself is enough to grate on her: That was it, W-I-F-E, my entire identity defined by the four letters Id been trying for five years to overcome. At a salon in Paris, she finds herself among a roomful of smart, accomplished women and she realises: I couldnt ignore the little voice in my head that said maybe I was supposed to do something significant. Contribute something. Accomplish something. Choose. Be.
Fowler shapes Zelda into an immensely likeable woman, smoothing out the more erratic and exasperating aspects of her personality. This Zelda is level-headed and easy to relate to, and importantly, she never seems all that insane. Although in 1930 she was diagnosed with schizophrenia, modern psychiatry and feminist criticism suggest that at the time this was largely a catch-all label for a range of emotional troubles, often applied to any woman who exhibited signs of erratic behaviour, depression or exhaustion. When Zelda is hospitalised in Z, her condition seems to be very much the natural response
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of an intelligent and ambitious woman beaten down by the repressive times she lives in.
The Zelda of Erika Robucks Call Me Zelda, in contrast, is a fragile, hysterical mess, in need of constant care. Focusing on Zeldas time at the Phipps Psychiatric Clinic in Baltimore where she was admitted in 1932, Robuck invents a nurse named Anna to tell Zeldas story. Although sources such as Nancy Milfords biography suggest that the real Zelda was largely indifferent to female companionship, in this novel she forms a close, intimate bond with her nurse. Here, Zelda is a woman who suffers terribly, but whose suffering is also therapeutic for others. Anna has her own troubles, and finds solace in sharing her story with the only person who would not judge, who listens to her with large, adoring eyes. In being needed so desperately by Zelda, she finds the strength and confidence she needs to learn how to love and take risks again.
Much of Call Me Zelda is trite and unconvincing, but what it does achieve is to bring Zeldas pursuits as a writer and Scotts attempts to repress them to the heart of the story, stirring up simmering literary controversies. Scholars and biographers have long debated the scope of her influence on Scotts work. Plenty of evidence suggests that he regularly used Zeldas diaries, letters and dialogue in his writing some of her letters appear almost verbatim in The Beautiful and Damned and Tender is the Night, and parts of her diaries may also appear in This Side of Paradise. Scott kept notes about every short story he published and what he was paid in his ledger, which is archived at Princeton, and his records note which stories
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were in fact written by Zelda. According to Sally Clines 2002 biography, she agreed to publish under her husbands name as it would bring them more money, though Cline describes how Zelda saved a clipping of one of these stories, Our Own Movie Queen, and crossed out Scotts name and wrote in her own.
One of the couples ongoing conflicts was about who had the right to fictionalise their relationship. During Zeldas stay at Phipps, she wrote an entire draft of her novel Save Me the Waltz within a matter of weeks and sent it to Scotts publisher, Scribner, without his consent. The novel is highly autobiographical, detailing her marriage troubles and her struggles with mental illness subjects Scott was writing about in Tender is the Night. In a 114-page transcript of an argument they had over Zeldas manuscript (preserved in her medical records and related by Cline in her biography), Scott describes his wifes writing as third rate, while she accuses him of relying on the crumbs of her life as material for his work. Everything we have done is mine, he insists. I am the professional novelist, and I am supporting you. This is all my material. None of it is your material.
Robuck recreates this exchange, with Scott in a thundering, gin-soaked rage as he lashes out at both Zelda and Anna:
This is my material, my material, he insisted, as he smoked and paced around the office. How could she go behind my back with your doctor and submit to my editor before I had a chance to read it? Ive been working on my novel for years,
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stopping over and over to shit out these short stories to pay the bills and keep her in comfort, and not only does she steal my material, but you help her to do it? He shoved a chair, rocking it dangerously until it settled back on its four legs.
Zelda, in this novel, is most definitely insane but Scott is presented as every bit as unstable as his wife. He frequently explodes with anger and dissolves into racking sobs, and seems to be constantly drunk. There is no glimmer of hope for happiness in this marriage, so Zelda instead seeks fulfilment in female friendship, describing Anna as her greatest gift. A true friend.
In Beautiful Fools, the most accomplished novel of the three, R Clifton Spargo takes a close, intimate look at the end of Scott and Zeldas love, focusing on a few days in April 1939, when they took a trip to Cuba as a last effort to salvage their marriage. It is a holiday that is hardly documented, allowing Spargo the space to imagine the famous couple away from their familiar context. The result is a refreshingly human portrait of a couple taking one last chance on each other. They are ruined and dysfunctional, but real. There is no glamour here, just the wistfulness and tension of two troubled souls who cant quite let go of the life they once had together. Being in love with you, Zelda tells Scott, is like being in love with ones own past.
In 1939, the Fitzgeralds were living apart Zelda in a sanatorium in Asheville, North Carolina, and Scott in Hollywood, struggling to ease his debt and to write a novel that might bring back his former glory. He was in a relationship with a gossip columnist named Sheilah Graham, but a part of him always remained loyal to Zelda. Beautiful
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Fools picks up the story with Scott impulsively surprising his wife with the trip to Cuba, a vacation she has been longing for. Spargos Zelda is impulsive, demanding and difficult to control, but she is filled with genuine love for Scott and finds solace in the hope that their marriage can be saved and they can live together again happily.
From the beginning of the trip, the outlook is not good. On their first night in Havana, they witness a crime in a nightclub and flee to a beach resort outside the city. Yet, even in this sultry, languid atmosphere, there is a threat of something violent and unknown, and they cannot escape the tensions of their relationship. Scotts tubercular cough racks his sickly, wrecked body, and he continues to drink heavily. Zelda is shaken up by a fortune teller, who recognises the great sorrow within her. As they cling desperately to their memories of the 1920s, the trip exposes their lost youth. They know it is hopeless, but they still attempt to imagine a life they might forge together after Zeldas release from the sanatorium. Even as they frustrate each other, there is a romantic tenderness right to the end.
When we talk about Zelda Fitzgerald, we talk about a series of images, rotating in a spinning wheel: a wife, a muse, a society girl, an artist, a writer, a ballerina, a mental patient. How these images fit together is something popular criticism has never quite reconciled, and we are unlikely to ever know enough to be able to say just who Zelda truly was. But with fictional accounts adding their interpretations to the mix, we may perhaps come closer to
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developing a new kind of truth one that imagines Zelda not simply as a flapper or a madwoman, but as a complex person with ambitions and talents and flaws. In doing so, we might begin to find a new place for this dramatic, alluring woman in our collective imagination.
Rebecca Howden is a Melbourne-based writer and editor. She blogs about books, gender, fashion and pop culture at rebeccahowden.com.au and has a cat named Gatsby.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
50 Years of Doctor Who
Doctor Who is a television series that understands the danger of plot spoilers. Throughout the series fifty-year duration, the Doctor has discouraged all of his time-travelling companions from visiting their past or future selves. To do so is called crossing your own time stream, and is very, very bad. Discovering spoilers about your future life (or spoiling the future by talking to your past self ) causes a time paradox, creates a rift in both time and space and can actually lead to the destruction of the universe (or of all universes yes, there are many). The word spoilers became somewhat of a catchcry during the series most recent seasons, as the character River Song said it to the Doctor every time he inquired about his own future.
Of course, characters in Doctor Who end up crossing their own time streams regularly and generating all sorts of catastrophes from which they then need to save the world. The series demonstrates again and again the hunger people have to discover their future or change the past.
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It also demonstrates that this knowledge is dangerous, because it has such disastrous consequences in every case. At the end of the recent seventh series (or the 33rd series, if youre counting from the shows beginning in 1963) one character pulled off a manoeuvre which meant they crossed their own time stream at every point in their entire life an infinite number of times, so fans can only imagine what depths of darkness, destruction and universe-saving await the Twelfth Doctor, Peter Capaldi, in the next season.
Over the past two years, much of Doctor Who fan culture has been dominated by a similar hunger: the hunger for spoilers. I say the past two years in particular, because it was in early 2011 when the series current producer, writer and showrunner, Steven Moffat, started talking about the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary special. For Doctor Who fans (or Whovians, as they refer to themselves), ten-year anniversaries are a big deal. Usually, anniversary celebrations take the form of a special-length episode featuring all incarnations of the Doctor to date. The 20th anniversary also included an enormous Doctor Who convention, featuring stars and sets from the show; the 30th anniversary included a televised documentary about the history of the series, a separate radio documentary and a four-part radio drama, The Paradise of Death.
So when Moffat began proclaiming things about the 50th anniversary like Ive got various plans, but all I can say emphatically is it will be huge, (TVLine) and Doctor Who fans and kids will think its the best thing ever, (The Scotsman) Whovians entered a type of prolonged, slavering frenzy. Would previous Doctors make a comeback? How
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long would the episode be? Or will it comprise multiple episodes? Will it be a movie? Fans asked anyone and everyone who would speak to them. Questions from fans at Doctor Who promotional events focused primarily on the contents of the 50th anniversary special rather than other aspects of the series. Blogs, fansites and comment sections became (and still are) consumed with what the specials storyline would contain, drawing upon a range of evidence (such as comments made by cast and crew in interviews, and so-called clues gleaned from previous episodes) to support their ideas.
The media also went haywire after Moffats initial comments. British newspapers have been featuring articles almost daily which report on some aspect of the 50th anniversary, including interviews with Doctor Who cast and crew members and reports on the specials filming in Wales earlier this year. Even actors who had played the most obscure and minor roles were grilled for titbits about the specials plot, though of course nobody knew anything. Many articles about the special still contain titles that are actually questions, like: Past Doctors to Appear Digitally in 50th? (Doctor Who TV ) and Will Doctor Who Have a Very Special Surprise for Us in November 2013? (Bleeding Cool), because the reports are largely pure guesswork.
Many of the guesses, though, became concerted rumours. Reports confirmed that Tom Baker, who played the Fourth Doctor from 1974 to 1981, would reprise his role in the special. David Tennant, the beloved Tenth Doctor, would also return. Then both actors were unconfirmed and then David Tennant was confirmed again, along with
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Billy Piper, who played Rose, his companion in 200506. By the time the BBC wanted to officially announce Tennants and Pipers return earlier this year, the news had already been leaked through the accidental release of Doctor Who Magazine (the series official magazine) four days early.
Other stars have since been confirmed Matt Smith will remain the Doctor (Smith will feature in both the 50th anniversary and Christmas specials, before regenerating into Capaldi for next years Season 8) and Jenna-Louise Coleman as his companion. John Hurt, who was briefly introduced at the end of the seventh season, will also appear as the Doctor in some fashion exactly how, newspapers and fans are still guessing. The BBC has also announced that the episode will appear in 3D on channel BBC HD, and will be screened simultaneously in cinemas around the UK. BBC Worldwide have even made a rather vague suggestion that the special will be screened simultaneously around the world, to avoid spoilers! Even though filming of the episode wrapped in May this year, this is all we know so far, but this hasnt stopped the frenzy. During July and August, the BBC heightened fans anticipation about the future of Doctor Who when it announced that Peter Capaldi would play the Twelfth Doctor. A thirty-minute live-to-air TV special was screened to announce Capaldis appointment, though host Zoe Ball spent the first twenty-five minutes of the program working fans into a whirl of excitement before announcing Capaldi at the last minute.
Bringing up the 50th anniversary special more than two years ahead of its screening in such a generic yet grandiose way was actually a masterstroke by Moffat, and
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demonstrates how well he understands both his series and people in general. Moffat knew he had to release only the tiniest amount of information about the future to send the British media and Doctor Who fandom into meltdown, with the BBC spending almost no money on official advertising. Total spoilers, on the other hand, would have removed all elements of surprise and have bored fans by the time the special actually screened, resulting in far less publicity and, potentially, lower viewer ratings. Furthermore, in announcing the new Doctor while the tumult about the 50th was at its peak that is, combining the excitement about the two biggest Doctor Who events in years Moffat has ensured that Whovians will be tuning in to all Doctor Who episodes for at least the next year.
I should note that not all fans are interested in spoilers: just the most vocal, perhaps. Personally, I have no desire to discover what the 50th anniversary special will contain until the moment it screens. This is partly because I love Doctor Who so much some of my earliest childhood memories include playing with my Dads toy Dalek, which he himself had as a young child, and Dad explaining the pun concerning K9, the name of the Doctors robot dog. Mostly, though, I just agree with the Doctors premise that spoilers are catastrophic. Information about future plotlines not only wrecks the element of surprise for me, but also ruins the sensation of actually participating in the narrative. I prefer to journey alongside characters, not watch them enact what I already know. Spoilers reduce me to a spectator.
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There are still thousands of Whovians interested in other types of writing and discussion, such as fan fiction and episode analysis. The quest for spoilers is also quite different to the way Whovians have appreciated their series in the past. Doctor Who fandom and discussion were not always consumed with finding out what happened next. In fact, prior to the internet and the mass-production of television shows on DVD, Whovians were far more concerned with discussing episodes that had already screened, or simply locating existing episodes, rather than deducing what Doctor Whos future would bring.
During the 1960s, Doctor Who episodes screened once a week for about forty weeks of the year. Since there were no episode repeats until the 1970s and video recording technology was rare and very expensive, children and adults who wanted to watch Doctor Who needed to prioritise being home on Saturday nights for the shows time slot or the episode was potentially lost forever. Some fans have reported being able to record the audio from the episodes during the 1960s, which they could then listen to again and again, but this seems to be a privilege that most fans did without.
Throughout the 1970s and 80s, Whovians began banding together, partly to form a social network that could bond over a shared love of Doctor Who, but also to generate ways of accessing previously screened episodes. From 1973 onwards, the primary way of experiencing the old adventures was through a series of novels produced by Target, who had translated all Doctor Who episodes to date into books. But fans wanted more. Hence the beginning of the Doctor Who
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Appreciation Society (DWAS), formed in the mid-1970s by a group of British fans to foster the sharing of old audio recordings between members. Through DWAS, fans would also gather together in groups to listen to the old sound recordings. During the 1980s, the same types of sharing and gathering occurred around private video recordings of the old episodes.
Scholar Andrew ODay explores the consumption of Doctor Who from the 1960s until today in his recent essay, Event TV. In the essay he documents how the regular DWAS conventions always contained a special segment for screening past episodes, and that these screenings were often the feature or hook around which advertising for the convention was built. Particularly interesting is ODays discussion of the ways in which fans excitement about viewing older episodes often eclipsed the experience of meeting Doctor Who stars in person. In 1983, BBC Enterprises held a Doctor Who convention at Longleat to mark the series 20th anniversary. All surviving Doctors were present (William Hartnell, the First Doctor, had died in 1975) and 60,000 fans attended three times the estimated number. Though the wait for autographs with the stars was over four and half hours due to the length of the queues, one of the most popular exhibits at the convention was a tent that screened an episode about each Doctor during the event. The queues for the episode screenings were so long and the theatre so small (it housed about two hundred seats) that thousands of fans missed out and left the convention disappointed especially since many had come especially for the screenings.
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The hunger for old episodes continued right up until Doctor Who went on hiatus in 1989. Even though certain cable channels repeated episodes from time to time, no one channel had re-screened the series in its entirety. A black market of sorts ensued, with different DWAS groups bargaining with one another for episodes that other groups didnt have. The market even went across countries, as Australians traded with the British for episodes that had never been repeated here, often charging each other for the tapes at obscenely inflated prices.
In 1989 the show went into a semi-permanent hiatus, apparently due to falling viewer ratings, and no further episodes were filmed till the 2005 re-launch. However, fans were no less ardent during the following years. Conventions were still held, model Daleks were collected, most episodes were eventually officially released by the BBC on video cassette, and fanzines, featuring interviews, reviews and fan fiction, were still regularly produced. The 30th anniversary episode, documentary and audio drama still screened in 1993, and a poorly received television movie featuring Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor was released in 1996. Radio dramas and novels about the Doctor and his companions proliferated. But Doctor Who fan and media discussion was still focused on analysing and nostalgically discussing what already existed, rather than desperately trying to determine the future.
With the advent of the internet, viewers no longer needed to gather together to find and view older
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Doctor Who episodes. I myself am particularly grateful that old episodes are now available on DVD or to download, since I am too young to have watched them growing up.
And yet it is as though in gaining access to everything at once, some Whovians have lost something. Some fans have mourned the loss of the real-life fan communities of the 70s and 80s, but to me, it seems that many fans are not able to simply enjoy the series for what it is. The future must always be determined. This is the most excited Ive been about a TV show since Buffy was screening. However, I just want to know what the Doctor knows when he knows it, and not before. Besides, I half suspect that everything confirmed about the 50th anniversary could be just another series of red herrings, and the Doctor as usual will surprise us all once more, and will hopefully continue to do so for another fifty years.
Julia Tulloh is a freelance writer and is currently working on a PhD in Literature at the University of Melbourne. Her blog is juliatulloh.com.
POSTHUMOUS AND PERSONAL
Remembering David Rakoff
Stephanie Van Schilt
David Rakoff has accompanied me where most others havent: at the gym, in the shower, in bed, while washing dishes or driving. Hes taken long strolls with me and sat beside me on public transport, whispering in my ear and turning me into that most-loathed giddy passenger (ranked only below the olfactory assassins or affectionate couples). With headphones attached, Rakoff and I become the stars in my own silent movie: involuntarily, I express every emotion his punctuations dictate. Listening to Rakoff on podcasts or reading audiobooks can be an ostracising (and somewhat obnoxious) private-meets-public exercise. But I dare you to listen to a dying man announce (in character), with an educated, vengeful venom, that hell come and knock the dick out of a conservative womans mouth and try not to laugh aloud, no matter how quiet the 96 tram may be.
Arguably best known for his contributions to This American Life aired locally on ABC Radio National and
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mass-consumed via its podcast Rakoff s most recent audiobook is a reading of his debut novel Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish. He wrote Love, Dishonor while terminally ill and completed recording mere weeks before he passed away last year, aged 47. Its incredibly affecting to hear how that recrudescent evil, cancer, punctures Rakoff s regularly robust intonation.
His familiar voice may be dulled in the recording, but while Love, Dishonor is no less lively than Rakoff s previous work it is inherently more ambitious. Rakoff s debut novel is written in rhyming couplets and narrated in anapaestic tetrameter the same beats as Twas the Night Before Christmas. The title itself was initially supposed to read in rhyming couplets as: Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die / Cherish, Perish, A Novel By: / David Rakoff.
It was a determined move for a dying man who has previously published three books of heart-clutchingly brilliant, humorous essays: Fraud (2001), Dont Get Too Comfortable (2005) and Half Empty (2010). Yet unsurprisingly, Rakoff reigns victorious over this self-imposed challenge; Love, Dishonor is full of his signature performative flair and vivacity. In fact, with the grace of a skilled performer bowing to an adoring audience, according to friends and colleagues the act of composing Love, Dishonor came easier to Rakoff than any words before.
Following a cast of characters and their intersecting stories, Love, Dishonor crosses copious borders and eras. Its a rich tapestry of vignettes featuring archetypes
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of the ages; Rakoff carefully weaves intimate, individual fragments with the grand epochal moments they constitute. Characters suffer illness, abuse, poverty and homophobia; they live through the Depression and imminent wars. Some are wealthy, others working class; there are faux-hippies and religious zealots. Theyre smattered across the map, living in New York, San Francisco and California, from the twentieth-century almost to the current day. Love, Dishonor is a slim volume with an expansive narrative reach.
For the non-poetry reader, this may be an unfamiliar or daunting form; but like playing Double Dutch jump rope in the schoolyard, as Rakoff turns the language, hesitation soon submits to the lure of the beats. Before you know it you are skipping pleasantly to the rhythmic motion and joyously relishing his deviant wordplay. Actually, the flow is so melodious that once I delved in, I found the rhythm hard to shake after the cover was closed and unintentionally composed thoughts in (pathetic) rhyming verse.
This measured pitter-patter may seem gimmicky to some, but Rakoff s ingenuity and wordsmith smarts stop Love, Dishonor from becoming candy-coloured, greeting card confection. His epiphany-laden observations are complimented with a sardonic, ribald humour; in a few short lines, youll find the wry, enlightening commentary of an anthropological poet.
Love, Dishonor can convince the most averse or intimidated readers even poetry-phobes via Rakoff s earnest and absorbing sequences, from sunny Californian childhoods to 50s Mad Men-styled office politics. Take
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for instance, the scene at Josh and Susans wedding where Nathan attended although:
They all knew, it was neither a secret nor mystery
That he and the couple had quite an odd history
Their bonds were a tangle of friendship and sex.
Josh his best pal once, and Susan his ex.
Forced to make a speech, Nathan spins a heartbroken and resentful fable about a scorpion and a tortoise that touches on trust, companionship and mortality with accessible Seussian flavour. (This insightful sequence was previously recorded and presented on the This American Life episode, Frienemies.)
Prior to this particularly dramatic speech, Rakoff s intelligence and audacious self-deprecation is on display as he mocks the very style is he adopting:
Susans sister was speaking, a princess in peach.
Hello, I am Mindy, and this is my speech.
Susan, you are the best sister plus youve always had great comic timing,
So I know you wont hold it against me when I do my speciality and make my toast in rhyming.
Mindy is one of a host of peripheral females in Love, Dishonor, but Rakoff s talent really shines when articulating one of the more fully formed females, core player Helen. Helens quotidian trials and tribulations are some of the strongest presented in Love, Dishonor. You can really feel Helen partially a stand in for the changing attitudes of
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women during the 50s and 60s but as a conflicted woman more generally.
Blind to her beauty from a young age, Helens adolescent sensitivity and inherent insecurities nurtured by her unwitting, otherwise jovial mother cultivate an adult life full of denial, loneliness and poor judgement. We hover beside her as she buries her sadness, dreams and disappointments over the years. After affairs of the heart, deep personal longing and very public meltdowns, Helen eventually shirks her fragile sense of self. Standing up to office bullies, Helen is subject to a new dawn and sense of calm with her independent position in the world. Were right there with her, championing her with a supportive melancholy, once she is dealt the power of insight by the hand of time.
A calm had descended around five a.m.,
Which made her quite immune to the power of Them.
Gets up, quite refreshed, sets the coffee to perk.
For once looking forward to going to work.
She pours out a cup, adds a stream of cold milk
And smiles as it swirls just like taffeta silk.
Less successful is the opening story of Love, Dishonor. Here Rakoff introduces Margaret, an impoverished redhead born into a life of hard work and misery in the slaughterhouses of early-twentieth century Chicago. Margarets tale from hexed birth through violent adolescence is the weakest in the series. This is not because its doused in moroseness; Rakoff does not evade lifes bleak realities for pure fantasy (we
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later access the painful inner monologue of a stroke victim or Helens sing-song sadness upon receiving an abortion.) Nor is Love, Dishonor wholly despondent. Rather Margarets contribution is merely the most superfluous in this neat, dense package.
However, Margarets story does succeed in cementing the texts style; it eases the reader into how each sequence will be playfully distilled and perfectly described in the poetic structure. Rakoff brilliant hams up each role for the audio, adding an extra dimension to the characters with performative play even recording a bonus track where he reads the opening stanzas of Love, Dishonor (about Margarets birth) as heavy accented Mindy. The recording is indicative of Rakoff s boundless and integral sense of humour, present even when things seemed most dire (video footage of this recording is available on The New York Times website.)
The unique flow of stories, fluxes in character and jumps across time in Love, Dishonor see Rakoff flirt with the farcical but as always, he manages to elevate the world into the realm of the deeply personal and intimate. His extensive and quippy prose has been strongly praised and this particular body of work has seen Rakoff compared to Walt Whitman, Armistead Maupin, Dr. Seuss, Ogden Nash, Dorothy Parker, Oscar Wilde and, inevitably, David Sedaris. (Rakoff has credited his career to Sedaris and while from the same creative camp it must be noted: their essays and personalities are not carbon copy copies.)
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Love, Dishonor is a work of fiction but the autobiographical undertones are inescapable and rife. As Nora Ephrons son wrote about her final play, Lucky Guy: it occurred to me that part of what she was trying to do by writing about someone elses death was to understand her own. The obvious author surrogate in Love, Dishonor is Cliff. Like Rakoff, Cliff is a creative and outspoken gay man who eventually succumbs to his battle with a terminal illness (in Cliff s case, AIDS a disease Rakoff has lost a number of friends to, and written much about).
Cliff is the heart of Love, Dishonor we follow him from birth to death, from creative endeavour through various lovers and his sequences are by far the most poignant. And often most witty because like Rakoff, humor was Cliff s one remaining recourse.
My own lachrymose tendencies aside, whether reading or listening, Rakoff s description of Cliff s life ebbing away is incomparably heartbreaking:
When poetic phrases like eyes, look your last
Become true, all you want is to stay, to hold fast.
A new, fierce attachment to all of this world
Now pierced him, it stabbed like a deity-hurled
Lightning bolt lancing him, sent from above,
Left him giddy and tearful. It felt like young love.
Hed thought himself as uniquely proficient
At seeing, but now that sense felt insufficient.
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He wanted to grab, to possesses, to devour
To eat with his eyes, how he needed that power.
It must be noted that, true to form, Rakoff s recorded reading reaches out and clutches your heart. Clearly so ill yet professional to the end Rakoff reads these words choked with emotion and a wheezy breathiness.
The only point Rakoff doesnt feel present in the print edition of Love, Dishonor is in the enclosed illustrations. With exception of the purposefully comic book-styled Captain Cocksure and Throbbin Cliff s homoerotic Batman and Robin-style comic strip the images, by illustrator Seth, detract from the earnestness at the heart of Rakoff s tale.
Throughout Love, Dishonor, Rakoff describes a photo of young Helen, taken by boisterous Cliff when they were teens. This photo becomes a cornerstone for many characters in the text it travels through times, places and lives serving as Rakoff s narrative glue. So when Seths animated interpretation of this photo is revealed on the final page as an ill-fitting cartoon caricature, it undermines Rakoff s intended potency.
Rakoff had wanted to illustrate the book himself, but due to wretched time restraints delegated the task to Seth (per his designers suggestion). A New York Times article features an original sketch of Helen by Rakoff from his mind to his words to his hand. Its instantly clear that Rakoff s sketch was a far more sincere and apt approach to the written content than Seths final, included interpretations.
Theres no doubt this would have been a tough gig for Seth, and part of me feels that Im condemning the
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living while parading the dead. Something Ive tried to avoid here because there is a cheapness or performance in that kind of public grief. However, fundamentally, Seths illustrations lack the subtly of Rakoff s words, at even his most flamboyantly cartoonish.
The novel is a slender 114 pages but if youre familiar with Rakoff s previous work, its rewardingly voluminous. This is less about reading the text closely than seeing Love, Dishonor as the heart-shaped locket hanging from a chain already owned. Because in Love, Dishonor and his later essays, Rakoff s revelations particularly those around facing trauma are articulated with such graceful gall and insight that it feels like there are no longer enough words in the world to do him justice or demonstrate how his words affect an audience.
Youll be hard pressed to find a review of this novel that doesnt attest to some kind of personal affiliation with Rakoff s work. Whether compiled by his friends and colleagues, or those like me who have become dependent on his voice and writing, Rakoff s memoirs demand a certain level of intimacy, and while I admit that this intimacy is hollow and false, its also the crowning testament to Rakoff s writerly ability.
To quote Rakoff, writing this has been like pulling teeth. From my dick. A lack of relevant equipment or downstairs chompers aside, anyone who has ever cared about the words they are churning out will understand this sentiment. Attempting to avoid any sense of performative
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grief often attached to posthumous works whether by cynical marketing or inherent timing is complicated. However, Love, Dishonor is a posthumous publication, and whether accessed in audio or written form, the finished product is inevitably framed by his death, inscribing it with bittersweet power.
I have so much to say and a niggling anxiety that nothing will accurately articulate what I feel or want to write about Rakoff and Love, Dishonor. Im hyperaware that I must avoid gushing as mere idolisation would attribute a sickening sentimentalism or curdled sweetness here. Likewise, being too clinical would verge on morbid, voiceless and dispassionate. Regardless, Rakoff s work doesnt heed either of these simplistic takes.
Balancing sizeable doses of melancholy, humour, anger, compassion and observational detachment is always difficult. It also happens to be Rakoff s speciality. Like Dorothy Parker before him, Rakoff conceded that he found writing extraordinarily difficult and not very pleasurable, though I find having done it very pleasurable (see: penile teeth gag), but his finely crafted body of work always reads effortlessly. Love, Dishonor is no exception.
In his great confessional essay The Other Shoe the final essay in his ode to pessimism Half Empty, where he reveals the true state of his health Rakoff poses:
Most everyone I know is having trouble, some fuzziness that blurs the borders between the micro and the macro, momentarily conflating their own personal problems and the global economic meltdown.
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These troubles, the fuzziness, the micro and the macro is what Rakoff is so gifted at observing and what he so deftly adopts in the fictional world of Love, Dishonor.
Rakoff s essay All the Time We Have is an exploration of grief when his therapist dies. It opens with the line: Many are the tears of griefthat fall for no one but the one who is shedding them. Ironically, there are countless lines just like this one littered throughout Rakoff s work that would be far better suited to reviewing Love, Dishonor than any I could muster. Because, after all, he was superbly gifted at striking that difficult balance and wrote with a voice that will continue to keep many company. And for that Im grateful.
Stephanie Van Schilt is deputy editor of The Lifted Brow and a freelance writer. Shes been published in Crikey, Junkee and Cineaste. Follow her on twitter: @steph_adele.