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(Child)Freedom Song

March 20, 2017

Two weeks ago, inspired by Nick Hornby’s book of essays 31 Songs, I got my writing class to each write down a favourite song. At home I downloaded them all, and then last week I got everyone to write about their songs: what they liked about them, and if they associated the songs with any particular memories. We all read out our responses, and after each one I’d play the track. It turned out to be a very special class, and reminded me how much our musical tastes say about who we are and where we’ve come from.  

31 Songs Cover_Nick Hornby

Here is my response, somewhat expanded:

Impractical Art – The Singer and the Songwriter

I first heard this song on the parenting podcast The Longest Shortest Time. It’s a fascinating program, which makes a point of appealing to a wide range of listeners, including those without children.

On this episode, My Best Friend’s Baby, host Hillary Frank interviewed Rachel Garcia, the childfree singer from The Singer and the Songwriter, and her best friend who has a small child, about the effect of the baby’s arrival on their friendship.

It was a delightful conversation: insightful, funny and moving. But the moment that really transfixed me was when Frank quoted and then played Garcia’s song ‘Impractical Art’: All my friends are having babies / But I just want a dog. It spoke so directly to my own experience*.

I’m at an age now  where more and more of my friends have small children, and while we still manage to see each other, I’m always conscious of the chasm that now separates our life experience.

People choose to remain childfree for many and various reasons, but in my case, it’s always been about having maximum freedom to make art, without distractions or heavy responsibilities. As I approach middle age, I watch many of my friends achieve a level of financial prosperity, even getting mortgages, while I, after twenty years of writing, am just as broke as I was at age twenty-two.

Of course I’m not the only one in this position. I’d encountered these sentiments plenty of times in books and articles, but never before in music.

The arrangement is very simple: Thu Tran’s plucked guitar, then a gentle swell of violins. On the line Time is on my side, Garcia’s rich, sweet voice soars and then trills downwards into a minor key, reflecting her oscillation between hope and doubt, self-confidence and uncertainty.

I paused the podcast, went to iTunes and downloaded The Singer and the Songwriter’s entire oeuvre. For a few weeks I played it around the house, letting the tunes grow on me, without listening closely to the words. (I’m like this with new music; I need time for the melodies to sink in.)

Then one Saturday, I put on their music while painting a wall – an activity that allows plenty of time for concentration – and found myself chuckling at the clever wordplay and self-deprecating wit present in all their lyrics. That was the day I truly fell in love with the band, when they went from being a pleasant background sound to an integral part of my collection and identity.

At this point, it would be impossible for me to choose a favourite Singer and the Songwriter song. But ‘Impractical Art’ will always be special to me, because I heard it first, and because it fulfills a need I didn’t know I had – an anthem for all the struggling artists eschewing parenthood to give our songs and plays and novels and poems and paintings a better chance at being born.

* with the caveat that instead of a dog, I want more cats. When singing along I usually make this alteration.

S and the S_image

 

Dialogue Exercises for Writers

November 15, 2016

1) Character Through Dialogue

It’s dialogue that gives your cast their voices, and is crucial in defining their characters – only what people do tells us more about what they’re like, and talk is sneaky: what people say often conveys their character to others in ways of which they – the speakers – are completely unaware…

-Stephen King, On Writing

people-talking_1

Using this picture, write a scene where each character unconsciously reveals something about her true feelings/attitudes to the other.

 

2) Subtext

When we humans speak, we are not merely communicating information but attempting to make an impression and achieve a goal. And sometimes we are hoping to prevent the listener from noticing what we are not saying, which is often not merely distracting but, we fear, as audible as what we are saying. As a result, dialogue usually contains as much or even more subtext than it does text. More is going on under the surface than on it…

– Francine Prose, Reading Like a Writer

people-talking_5

Using this picture, write a scene in which the true situation between the characters is revealed in what they don’t say.

 

3) Inattention

In life, it’s rare that we truly are able to listen and find someone who will listen to us. And yet it’s unusual to find the more common phenomenon – inattention – appearing on the page. Generally, in fiction, one character speaks, and the other listens, and, having listened and understood, replies.

– Francine Prose, Reading Like a Writer

people-talking_4

Write a scene in which these characters are talking past each other – each following his/her own train of thought while ignoring or oblivious to the other’s.

 

4) Just for fun

people-talking_2

Write a scene featuring a conversation between these two characters, which alludes to the reason they’re sitting on railroad tracks without ever stating it outright.

Love: The Ultimate Game-Changer

November 13, 2016

First appeared as ‘Love Is a Footy Field’ in The Big Issue #520, September 2016

it-crowd-soccer-meme

I’ve always hated sport. As a bookish, clumsy child I dreaded PE lessons, which always involved me stuffing up and being mocked or yelled at by my classmates. At home, the only sport on telly was cricket, which my father followed. Its soothing commentary and lulls of gentle background noise formed a benign backdrop to long, lazy summer afternoons. This did not diminish my terror of being forced to play cricket at school; like all sports, it was a theatre of cruelty where my inadequacies were displayed before all my peers while I squirmed in humiliation.

During adolescence, I somehow picked up the sour-grapes attitude popular among arty intellectuals, that all sport is stupid and anyone who follows sport is stupid. This comforting snobbery carried me through my twenties and well into my thirties. It was easier to maintain in my home town of Sydney than in famously football-mad Melbourne, where I now live and where nearly all my brainy, bohemian friends follow AFL. Then I moved in with my boyfriend – now husband – whom I regarded as pretty much perfect in all respects but one. Yep, you guessed it.

Soccer – sorry, football – is his main passion, but he also enjoys AFL and cricket, and will watch tennis if nothing else is on. As you can imagine, this required a fair bit of adjustment on my part. At first, I couldn’t resist making snide comments during whatever match my husband was trying to enjoy, despite the hurt I could see this caused him. I used to watch his reaction when his team scored a goal with the bemused look Billy Crystal gave Meg Ryan during the fake-orgasm scene in When Harry Met Sally. When the ball hits the back of the net he leaps to his feet, arms windmilling wildly, crying “Yes! Yes! Yes!”

I had an insight into this behaviour one night in 2010, when Megan Washington won two ARIA awards (bear with me here). I love Megan Washington: her incredible songwriting talent, her unique voice, her fabulous personal style, her self-deprecating humour. Watching the awards ceremony, where she performed an amazing song-and-dance routine atop a piano, I felt an odd sense of pride and ownership; I was one of the fans who’d bought her album and helped put her on that stage. As the Best Breakthrough Artist nominees’ names were announced, I sat on the edge of my seat, my fingers crossed. And when Washington won, I threw myself backwards onto the couch, legs madly cycling in the air, crying, “Yes! Yes! Yes!”

Whether your heroes are musical or sporting, moments like this are a chance to identify with the achievements of people whose careers you follow and admire. This emotion is most powerful in a group context; I now understand that the feeling my husband gets cheering his team with other supporters at a match is the same feeling I get from singing along with Washington and fellow fans at a gig.

Since this mellowing in my attitude, life at home has become more harmonious. I no longer feel the need to roll my eyes when my husband switches to sport on TV, although I will occasionally make snoring noises if it goes on too long. I still post amusing anti-sport memes and videos on my Facebook page. But for the most part, I’ve accepted that sport is now a part of my world.

The night the Socceroos won the Asian Cup against South Korea, I watched the game at a pub with my husband and a big group of friends. I was there more for the nachos than the match, but as it went on I grew more and more involved. It was a close game, and the tension in the room was infectious. When Australia scored its first goal, the pub crowd erupted in joy: cheering, leaping to their feet, hugging each other, high-fiving. Throughout the action replays, I wasn’t watching the screen. I was watching my husband’s beaming face.

When you love someone, what’s important to them becomes important to you. I used to regard his soccer fandom as a regrettable flaw, the admission fee for living with a kind, smart, funny man who cooks, reads and dances (not all at the same time). But now I realise his delight in sport is part of the package, a vital facet of the enthusiastic, positive person I adore. I doubt I’ll ever enjoy sport for its own sake, but I’ll never stop enjoying his enjoyment.

 

I’m making a movie!

November 2, 2016

kmim_banner-pic_martinemilyjulia

Keep Me In Mind is a short comedy about lost love, second chances, and minor accidents.

Musician Martin is down on his luck: his band has split and his girlfriend Emily has dumped him. One day their paths cross unexpectedly, and dramatically. Will they rekindle their attraction? Will Martin win Emily back? And will he ever play the guitar again?

Check out our trailer at our crowdfunding site, and get regular production updates on Facebook @KeepMeInMindthemovie.

 

 

An open letter to parents of children who use shared pedestrian/bike paths

November 2, 2016

Look, I get it. You’re trying to protect a small person with no traffic sense, and not all cyclists slow down in these shared areas, the way they’re supposed to.

So it’s natural for you to yank your child out of my way and deliver a stern warning, eg “What if that had hit you?”

I’m just saying that there might be a more constructive approach.

First of all, I’m not a “that”. I’m a person. A person who spotted your kid from a distance and gently rang her bell so you’d have time to get them out of the way.

Believe it or not, I have no desire to mow down your child with my bike. I’m pretty confident I speak for all cyclists in this.

My point is that I’m not your enemy, and treating me as such (a) makes me feel awful, and more importantly, (b) gives your child a negative view of cyclists, which doesn’t help anyone.

So how about saying something like this instead: “We need to watch out when we’re using this footpath, because people on bikes use it too, and we need to make room for everyone so that we can all stay safe.”

Thanks.

My First Felafel

September 1, 2016

My first-ever piece of published journalism. Felafel

‘Bootcamp’ Exercises

August 17, 2016

I was away sick this week, so I emailed my class a bumper crop of exercises to take them right through the morning. 

Some people refer to this – doing a series of exercises one after another – as ‘writers’ bootcamp’. I’ve never been a big fan of this expression, as it doesn’t sound like much fun to me (I’m not the Tough Mudder type), and writing exercises should always be fun. 

Hope you have fun with these. 

 

1)
What happened in this house?
 

Writing Exercise_Abandoned House

 
Your response can be in past tense or present tense, poetry or prose. 
 
 
 
2)
Read the clipping below. Write a piece from the point of view of the thief. 
 
Writing Exercise_Clipping_Xmas Nativity
 
 
3)
It’s nearly spring! Write a spring haiku. 
 
A haiku is a three line poem: 
Line 1 = 5 syllables 
Line 2 = 7 syllables
Line 3 = 5 syllables
 
eg: 
 
Year’s first daffodil
Flower shaped like a trumpet 
Heralding warm days
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4)
Write about the last vivid dream you had, in as much detail as possible, including the emotions the dream created in you.
If you don’t remember your dreams:
a) Write about how it makes you feel when other people describe their dreams. Annoyed? Envious? Wistful? Nonplussed? 
and/or
b) Write about your favourite dream sequence from a movie or TV show. 


5) 
Write about an animal with special powers. How does its nature affect the way it uses these powers? Do the powers change its relationship to human beings? 
 
 Writing Exercise_Clipping_Psychic Pet
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6) 
Read the following poem. Is there a place to which you long to return, the way WB Yeats longs for Innisfree? Write about this place (prose or poetry).  Include as much sensory detail as you can: sights, sounds, smells etc. 
 
Writing Exercise_Clipping_Innisfree
 
 
 
7) Write a piece (fact or fiction) that answers the following question. 
(Remember: it doesn’t have to be about a romantic relationship.)
Writing Exercise_No Good!