Saturday, October 14, 2017

Click Save

I made myself soooooo mad this week by being an absolute dumbarse. Now I must share this frustration with you.

I got a good couple of lines of poetry stuck in my brain one night and saved it in the notes on my phone so that I wouldn't forget. So far, so good.

At work the next day, there was a bit of idle time between calls so I thought I'd have a crack at making something from the two lines I'd thought of. Now, for some dumb reason Google Docs, Drive and Gmail got blocked at my work a couple of months back even though all the contractors like me have a work email THROUGH GMAIL. Anyway, I'm used to using Google Docs if I'm writing in a browser, but I had to find something else to use since it was blocked at work. I ended up settling on Calmly Writer, which I kinda love.

I put together a couple of stanzas I was happy with (I won't say it was good, I'm sure it was terrible). And then the phones got busy so I minimised the browser and forgot about it. Then at the end of my shift, I closed the browser out of habit ...

Without saving the damn poetry.

I realised my mistake, but alas, it was too late. This app does not auto-save like Google Docs. My (terrible) poetry was gone. 

In memory of writing lost, please share your saving failures and tales of writing long gone.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Review: 'Ida' by Alison Evans

I'm trying to get back into reading things. I seem to 'stop reading for a long time' too often, and I really need to cut that out. The book I've finished most recently is actually by someone I went to uni with. Ida is the debut novel of the wonderful Alison Evans, who I initially met in my first year of uni (I believe they were doing Honours at that point) at an open mic reading night and then never saw again ... until later that same year, when we started talking on the NaNoWriMo forums, which lead to messaging each other privately to continue our discussion, not realising that we'd met previously until we'd been talking for a week or two.

Ida was a roller-coaster to read. In terms of genre, it is best described as queer sci-fi YA/New Adult. Admittedly, I haven't experienced much queer literature before, and I haven't been a sci-fi reader until recently. So this book was refreshing to say the least. The main character, Ida, has the power to go back in time ... or so she thinks. She uses this power to get herself out of sticky or confronting scenarios, make different choices to achieve different outcomes, and does it almost automatically in certain situations. But she's starting to notice that her powers aren't quite what she thought they were, and she isn't as alone in her abilities as she first believed. But the excessive use of her powers has started having drastic repercussions, and they need to be remedied before it's too late. 

I really loved the way the book was written, especially the description of each time Ida uses her powers. The setting had me smiling to myself the whole time; the book is set in the Dandenong Ranges area, where I love to go for bushwalks in real life. It also includes a trip into Melbourne city and the National Gallery of Victoria. I haven't really read anything set so close to home and the familiarity was really enjoyable the whole way through. It also made me realise that what little reading I do does not include enough books by Australian authors, which is something I want to fix. 

Something else I really loved about the book was the natural incorporation of diversity. I felt it was a very accurate representation of the Melbourne-diversity that I know and love, especially in terms of race, gender identity and sexuality. I loved that these points of diversity were so masterfully woven into the text, rather than treating it like a big deal that the main character is bisexual or that her love interest is genderqueer. I love that this book wasn't about their diversity. It was about the things going on in the lives of these characters, just like with any other book. I love that Ida normalises that idea and I wish more books did. 

Ida was a perfect balance of funny, serious, and a little bit scary. Although my favourite quote was about the main character being able to emotionally relate to a lemon, I promise that while it made me laugh, it was also VERY STRESSFUL because I was really worried about the fate of the characters. So if you're in the mood for a book by an Australian author, full of suspense, spookiness, and great characters, look for Ida by Alison Evans. 

That's me for now. What have you been reading lately?

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Mother! Rantview

I recently went to a cinema screening of the film Mother! directed by Darren Aronofsky, starring Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem and I HAVE FEELINGS ABOUT IT.

It was an interesting film to watch. I saw it with another writer friend on a whim and my only knowledge of the film was a short trailer I'd seen the week before. Conceptually, it was phenomenal. I get why a lot of mainstream movie-goers wouldn't like it; it's very out there and seems to have been promoted as a thriller without an art house-style disclaimer. But for me, a writer with a literary theory fetish, it was intriguing.

Jennifer Lawrence plays a woman who has rebuilt the wreckage of her lover's house from the literal ashes. Her lover, played by Javier Bardem, is a poet caught in the clutches of severe writers block. Easy for my friend and I to relate to at the start. They seem to occupy a fragile paradise, but one night a man knocks on their door claiming he thought it was a bed and breakfast. The audience sees a glimmer of how fucked up the dynamics between these characters is when the poet invites this stranger to stay without consulting his partner and despite her very obvious discomfort.

After a strange night, the stranger's wife shows up. She's a nosey bitch to say the least, presumptuous and disrespectful towards Jennifer Lawrence's character in an almost deliberate fashion. Things get messier quickly after she arrives, with she and her husband entering the poet's study in secret and accidentally breaking something very precious. Then it escalates. Like, their kids suddenly show up and someone is murdered kind of escalating. And my god does it enter the territory of surrealism after that.

I don't want to just give a recap of the film. It was good and I think it's worth watching. What I want to do is explain the feelings I had about it. First, that I loved it. The acting was great. The cinematography was exceptional. It was thematically complex and engaging. On the surface, it was a film about a couple who had their fragile paradise disturbed by strangers and the burdens they brought. It was about the tension that created and the way that played on their relationship and the poet's writers block. Deeper down, we get a subtext about the idea of the writer as The Creator. We get a feel of the writer's ego when the poet overcomes his writers block and creates something beautiful. But he is also the dictator and the supposedly higher being of the world of the film.

And this is the part that really got to me. The film was sensational. I really enjoyed it. For the most part. But it got under my skin for one reason. Throughout the film, it was painfully obvious that the poet held a complete disregard for the safety and wellbeing of Jennifer Lawrence's character. As did every other character. But the way the poet treated her ... with such disregard, such carelessness, and such undeserving entitlement ... that was sickening. And it got worse and worse as the film went on.

The part that really got to me was when they were arguing and she challenged him, 'You can't even fuck me', after enduring endless criticism from the strangers who stayed with them about not having children. It got to me because in response he pins her again a wall and starts passionately kissing her. And her initial response was to push him away. She didn't want him to get intimate with her at that point. She was angry and had every right to be. But then the anger melts away, after her attempts at resistance prove futile. The anger melts away and they make love.

This pisses me off. A lot. Because not only is it a cliche, it is also a cliche that promotes sexual violence. I'm sick of seeing films and tv shows and reading books where someone starts making out with someone against their will, and then it turns it into a steamy, beautiful moment of love. It's not romantic. It's fucking abusive. And it validates the same type of underhanded abuse that gets played out in the real world. 

Mother! was impressive and enthralling in it's thematic content, acting, and cinematic direction. And I can deal with being labelled one of those arseholes who likes art house films. It was a weird film, but I liked it. But I cannot get past this shortcoming. I cannot get past the idea that there is no redemption, no saving grace following the excessive violence and disrespect towards Jennifer Lawrence's character, but a feeble illusion of one I could see right through. It did nothing for me. And others can argue as much as they want that 'oh, it was making a point about the patriarchy' and 'but it was an allegory about how people treat the earth' and 'there was a biblical subtext'. There was also an inherently violent, sexist subtext. And while it did not portray it in a positive light, it also offered no solution. It did not overcome the problem it highlighted.

People describe it as 'confronting' and then justify it using the subtext about creative people and egos and the way people treat mother earth. But this excuses nothing. It doesn't make this behaviour okay, even in a film. It's aweful. And I do not have to be okay with it just because it was otherwise a good movie.

I apologise for this rant, especially for anyone who hasn't seen the film yet. I needed to get some rage off my chest.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

A long way to the top

I've been pretty down the last few months (by which I mean, since 2017 began). Between toxic people in my life and the struggles of securing a job in the arts industry when you've just graduated, it's been a tough time. I've reached out for help, and kicked myself into gear to try to get out of the slump. Slowly, it's been working. I managed to remove some of the more toxic people from my day to day life and I started to find some validity in my job, even if it isn't in my preferred industry. But some bigger things needed to change, so I got thinking, and I've made some bigger decisions.

I chose to take a break from university. I withdrew from the one unit I was enrolled in a week before the census date so that it wouldn't affect my academic record. I can take this break for up to twelve months, but to be perfectly honest ... I have no intention of completing the Masters I am enrolled in. Although half of it was credited on account of my Honours degree, it was still going to take me two years to complete what was left at the pace I was going. Frankly, it seems to be a repeat of my undergrad, with perhaps a little extra detail and longer essays. In the long run, I don't think the stress or the student debt is worthwhile unless I'm taking away something more. After my twelve month intermission, I might do a course transfer into communications or marketing--IF I choose to continue study. Masters was never part of my plan, so I am not upset at the idea of dropping it altogether. It doesn't feel like quitting. It isn't. It just wasn't supposed to be from the start and maybe that's okay. I guess the only reason I didn't outright withdraw from the course was because I can still work on the student magazine as long as I keep my place in a course, even if I'm not enrolled in a unit.

I started teaching myself a little bit of design. I've never been able to get the hang of Adobe programs like Photoshop or InDesign, so I thought I'd try something a little more basic. I created a free account with Canva online and I've been experimenting with magazine designs using some of their pre-made templates and articles saved on my laptop from editing with WORDLY. Just for practice, of course, until I get the hang of it. One of my friends who is a bit of a designer herself gave me some really positive feedback on the attempt I showed her. We might start a little zine together, just for fun. I'm hoping that with a bit of practice using Canva, I'll be able to upgrade to InDesign and actually be able to include it as a skill on my resume; it's something a lot of the jobs I've been looking at want from their applicants.

I also intend to apply for an ABN (Australian Business Number) really soon, so that I can start freelance editing, and maybe freelance writing. I don't really know how that will go, considering how competitive and small the industry is in Australia. But hopefully, with a few testimonials and a domain name, I'll be able to get the idea off the ground. I know it's going to be an uphill battle, but I'd rather try and try and try than sit back and let myself be miserable at a call centre forever.

And of course, I need to start looking for a job in my field, at least until I can get freelancing to work for me (and I know there's no guarantee that will happen). Because, again, I have to try to make my dreams come true rather than sit back and let myself be miserable at a call centre forever.

Granted, the call centre isn't so bad when I put aside the fact that it's not the industry I did a degree to end up in, and I feel like I've gotten a really good grip on what I'm doing there recently. I've had a lot of good feedback from the members who call in, especially for cover reviews and hospital enquiries. Private health insurance is complicated, but I'm being told that I'm good at explaining how it all works and being thorough in the information I give. It still makes me feel pretty good when they take a moment to genuinely thank me at the end of a long call. It makes it worthwhile to endure all the people who call up just to yell at someone for no real reason ... I only wish the pay was a little more substantial.

How do you deal with the struggles of making it as a writer or editor? What decisions did you have to make to try and make things work? 

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Spreadsheets for life

Although I predominantly work with Microsoft Word as a writer and editor, I'm surprised by how often I end up using Excel spreadsheets. I started using them to organise submissions for WORDLY when I was editor-in-chief and used it on Verandah when I was submissions manager and secretary. It was an excellent way to keep track of things--who submitted what, their contact details, how many editors gave feedback, which editors were assigned to which piece and at which stage, whether or not editing tasks were completed  ... I had a beautiful colour coded list system going on to keep track of everything in one place.

I kinda miss the mayhem of putting those spreadsheets together. I miss the satisfaction and relief of entering that last set of submission details or colour coding the final green box to signify that all the edits were complete.

I have stayed in the habit of using spreadsheets to keep track of rent and utility bills from month to month, which is especially important in a share house like mine. But for a little while now I've been wanting to find a way to incorporate it back into my writing and editing life.

Recently, I did a little clean up of my laptop. I deleted many dank memes and screen shots ... and I stumbled upon some really old stuff I wrote way back in high school. Gosh, some of it was terrible.  But once I got my dedicated writing folder organised and separated the scrap pile from things that had potential, I decided to take an extra step and make a spreadsheet.

I'm going to use this spreadsheet to record writing opportunities and keep track of my submission habits. More importantly, I'm going to use the spreadsheet to make a habit of submitting and holding myself accountable when I don't. The spreadsheet is also going to help me keep track of the submissions--when they're under consideration, being edited, rejected, accepted and published. There's often such a long time between submitting and hearing back that sometimes I forget what I've sent out and where. 

I have been a terribly lazy writer lately. I'm hoping this will help to kick my creative juices into gear.

How do you motivate yourself to write? 


Saturday, July 22, 2017

Weekend Blues

I've got a case of the weekend blues that started on Friday morning, when I woke up to the news that Linkin Park's lead singer Chester Bennington had taken his own life. Admittedly, I hadn't listened to any of their music for a long time, but a few years ago a number of their songs were the anthem of an angry, stifled, rebellious teenage me, who was still trying to figure out how the hell she was supposed to fit into this world. Songs like 'Numb', 'In the End', and 'One Step Closer' were the tunes I turned to in my darkest hours, the ones I blasted through my headphones when I wanted to block out the rest of the world. Chester's voice resided on a playlist of other loud, angry music on my iPod, and on a mixed tape my first boyfriend made for me. I stood in the crowd in front of their stage at Soundwave in 2013, surrounded by people who were too tall for me to really see past, but we were all singing along.

All day on Friday, I read posts from other bands paying tribute to Chester and urge anyone who was struggling to reach out and talk to someone, anyone, because suicide is not the answer. My heart feels heavy just thinking about this.

I've been trying to make an effort to list three positive things at the end of every day to help keep my mood in check. It's worth doing just to make sure I'm not always focusing on the bad things, even though they often seem more frequent and severe than the good. I've been doing it for about two weeks now, but on Friday, after dealing with Rest in Peace posts all day, I really struggled to find three good things to list about that day. I ended up trying to focus on the simple, small things that made the day a little brighter: I had a rostered day off work, I went for a long walk in the nearby park lands, and my partner came home early from work.

Though I am saddened by Chester's passing, once we acknowledge the tragedy and urge others who are suffering in silence to reach out for help, and offer condolences to those who knew him ... I would rather celebrate his life, the greatness he achieved, and the amazing music he shared with us, than only remember him as a man who hung himself.

This weekend, I am listening to Linkin Park even though I haven't done so in a couple of years. I'm also thinking about Chester, the pain he must have been in, the way he must have felt and the things he must have thought in the time leading up to his passing. I turned to this man's voice in some of my darkest moments because those lyrics rang true to me, like this stranger understood how I felt. I wish there was something, anything I could have offered in return to help him too.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Writing prompt: there is no exit

I stumbled upon a flash fiction challenge over on Chuck Wendig's blog and thought it might be a good opportunity for me to try and kick my creative juices into gear. So here it goes ... this one is based on an experience I had a couple of years ago. 

Prompt: there is no exit. 

The sound as I slid into the back of the Nissan was not as deafening as I had expected. I tried to change lanes at the last second, when I realised the wet road wouldn’t allow me to stop in time, but the decision to yank my steering wheel to the left occurred a moment too late. Thunk. My little Daewoo stalled. I took in a deep breath and let it out slowly, sinking into my seat. I pressed the button for my hazard lights. The traffic on the Ringwood Bypass continued to flow around me while I restarted the engine and pulled off the road.

The Nissan driver was a middle aged man and his wife was the passenger. In case I didn’t feel awful enough after crashing into their vehicle, the first thing they did was open the boot to make sure the two dogs they were transporting were okay. Thankfully, their fur-babies were fine. I was still overcome with guilt.

They were friendly enough, assuring me it happens to everyone, we’re all lucky it wasn’t a serious prang, do I have insurance, blah blah blah. We took photos of each other’s licenses and number plates and of the damage on both cars. I’d pushed in the back left corner of the Nissan with the front right corner of my Daewoo. The driver of the other car put his hand in the gap between the wheel and the body and pushed the dent back out—only some chipped paint remained as evidence that their car had been damaged. My Daewoo was worse off … the front headlight was smashed, loose pieces of glass and plastic still finding its way onto the bitumen. The right side of the bonnet had buckled and the forward side panel was pinching the driver’s door, so it only opened enough for me to squeeze in and out.

We exchanged phone numbers and agreed to call it a day. It was starting to rain again and there was no point standing around. The Nissan drove off and I called the friends I was meant to meet for lunch and explained that I couldn’t make it, even though our meeting place was two blocks away from where I was stopped. I thought about calling to get my car towed; the engine might still start, but the car was far from roadworthy with a busted headlight and a door that wouldn’t open properly. But that meant sitting and waiting and paying—and then what? I just wanted to go home.

I got myself onto the bypass again and headed back towards Eastlink. I wasn’t familiar with the area, but damned if I was going to touch my GPS after the cash. I’d been following my GPS’s directions on the way to lunch, but it had detached itself from my windscreen and fallen into the passenger’s foot well. I’d yanked it onto the passenger’s seat next to me as quickly as I could, but in the rush of the moment I hadn’t heard the instruction the GPS’s robotic voice uttered. I glanced at the screen to see the arrow telling me to turn right at the upcoming intersection. What a stupid thing to do. In that split second of looking at the GPS screen on the passenger’s seat, the traffic ahead came to a stop. I looked back up in time to slam my foot on the breaks and at first, I thought everything would be fine. But the road was wet and oily and my little Daewoo slid further than I thought she would—right into the back of that Nissan.

No, I told myself. No more GPS today. Once I was on the freeway, it would be easy to get home. At least, that’s what I’d hoped. But as I approached Elgar Road, inbound on the M3, I had an awful realisation—there was no exit. I saw the ramp from Elgar Road coming down to merge with the freeway, and the outbound traffic had a ramp to exit onto Elgar Road. But from the inbound lanes, there was no ramp to exit onto that road.

I regretted not setting up my GPS for the drive home.

A few Ks down the freeway, I spotted the exit to Belmore Road and took the turnoff. I still wasn’t familiar with the area, but I knew it was closer to where I lived than the freeway. After a few wrong turns, I found a street I recognised and made it home. The Daewoo sputtered sadly into the garage and the driver’s door made an awful sound when I tried to close it. I would have to call RACV later. I went up to my room and flopped down on my bed, defeated. 

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