Feeding the darkness

This November I have undertaken my third attempt at NaNoWriMo, a challenge to write a 50,000 word novel in a month. So far I have been doing really well, I’ve been writing consistently and I’ve managed to stay a little bit ahead of the target. Today I crossed the halfway point, 25,000 words, with a day to spare. So, YAY!

The last two times I’ve done this I’ve been writing love stories. I’ve been writing about people who are generally heading towards a happy ending. This year, for various reasons, I’ve decided to explore the darkness. I’ve heard writers talk about their characters as though they’re real people, as though writing a book is about sitting down and listening/watching the characters interact and writing it down. I’ve never really felt like I understood that concept until I started this story.

With each chapter I write, I feel like the darkness in my characters becomes more real. I feel like they’re evolving in a way that I hadn’t anticipated. It’s amazing and it makes the task of writing them really interesting but it’s also a little bit worrying. Where is this darkness coming from? What part of me is generating these awful scenarios? Am I a bad person for coming up with this stuff?

I know that I’m not, I know that everyone has darkness in them, that voice that whispers ‘drive over the edge’ on cliff roads. And I know that there are people who spent a lot of time analysing why the public are so enamoured of crime novels. Something about catharsis, about expressing our violent urges vicariously through the characters. I guess I’m just a little bit surprised by how easily this stuff is coming out of my head.

Hopefully the end result will be something people want to read, and not something that’s so completely depressing that no one can finish it. I guess I won’t know till it’s done and I give it to someone!

Onwards little words, marching towards 50,000. Now I’m going to watch something funny on the internet.

Guilt + New Projects = Neglected blogging

I feel like haven’t blogged for a while (even though it’s only been a couple of weeks), perhaps it’s just a part of the cumulative guilt thing that I seem to have going on at the moment. I’ve recently been feeling incredibly busy and part of the reason for that is that I’ve been taking on new creative projects and meeting new people, and I guess I feel a bit like I have a lot of balls in the air and I’m really worried I’m going to drop one of them.

I’m sure that quite a lot of the stress I’m feeling about the new projects is misdirected stress about uni assessments which have been looming large for the last few weeks. Hopefully that source of tension will settle down soon, I’ve finished all the assessments two of my subjects, and the other two will be finished by this time next week (oh god, I have to write 4,200 words by then). But back to reason for my blog, I wanted to tell you all about my new projects! Writing things down makes them feel more real, right?

1. NaNoWriMo 2015

If you’ve read my blog for a while you’ll know that for the last two years I’ve been involved in NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. The idea is to get a whole bunch of people together, both in person as part of local group activities and online as part of the NaNoWriMo global community, to encourage each other to commit to writing 50,000 words in November (they also run Camp NaNoWriMo in April and July, but I haven’t participate in either of those sessions yet). It sounds like complete, unachievable insanity, but I’ve successfully completed the challenge the two times I’ve been involved, and I feel confident I can do it again this year.

My current working title for the novel is ‘We Can’t Have Nice Things’ and I’m using characters from a short story that I wrote a little while ago and expanding them into a longer work. The idea is that it will be dark – an exploration of the way people’s lives can go wrong. I’m thinking of it as an anti-romance, I don’t really know if it will work, but I’m going to give it my best shot!

2. I joined a band.

I don’t think I’ve mentioned it here before, but a while ago, on a whim, I bought a bass guitar. I’ve played it a bit here and there for the couple of years I’ve had it, but I never really prioritised it. Then I met Seth at a party and he asked if I wanted to be in his band, and I thought, why not? And now I’m in a band. That was about six weeks ago. The line-up is still being worked out, and we’re really still trying to find our feet, but I feel really good, conceptually, about being in a band. Since joining the band, I’ve been out to see a bit more local live music and I’ve met some fantastic people, in particular the boys from The Destrends, who are not only phenomenal musicians and performers but also super amazing human beings. I hope to continue getting out to gigs and meeting people in the music industry and really immersing myself in a culture I never felt part of before.

3. and 4. Drawing and Photographing

There are also two other things I’ve been spending time one, but they’re not really taking up as much time/brain space as the novel and the band so I’ll mush them together into one paragraph. Firstly there’s drawing. I’ve been life modelling with the Life Model Society for all of this year and I’ve been meeting fantastic artists at every group I’ve worked with. Meeting these talented people and seeing the beauty they can produce has inspired me to spend more time on drawing. I’ve been to a couple of life drawing classes, the results of which I’ve put on my Instagram account, they need some work, but I think there’s a solid foundation of ‘looking vaguely human’ in there. The second thing is a couple of friends of mine, Woland and Gabrielle, who have appeared in this blog before, have been doing some really outstanding off-the-wall performance art at local events in the last couple of months, and I have been privileged to act as their stills photographer for these performances. It has been challenging, not just artistically, but personally, as their art pushes boundaries in all the best ways, you can watch their latest performance, ‘A Mermaid’s Tale’ here, but I should probably put a (fake) blood trigger and NSFW warning on it, just to be safe.

So that’s what I’ve been doing. I hope I’ll be able to spend some more time on this blog over the summer, without the constant demands of university I hope I’ll have a bit more space in my brain for this, and I’ll have to bring you updates on all the amazing creative adventures I’m having! Every day I’m grateful to the people in my life who encourage and support me in my meandering search for a meaningful and fulfilling life, and every day I am rewarded with what I create, and with what people around me create, and I know that I wouldn’t go back to where I was three years ago for anything!

Allusions

Today, my writing group held their all day writing seminar. The second session, on poetry, was a panel moderated by me. It went really very well, the participants were enthusiastic and willing to learn and discuss, the panel members were knowledgeable and the whole thing ran very well.

As part of the panel, I asked everyone to write a poem. I had spend some time talking about pantoums,and read them this one, Pleasure in Elysium, from my friend Louise Carter at Alone with Beauty, which they all really loved, and I was inspired to write one of my own.

 

Allusions

The past is a foreign country

Who is in need of a wife

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow

Don’t go gentle into that good night

 

Who is in need of a wife

When he awoke from unsettling dreams

Don’t go gentle into that good night

Or call a rose by any other name

 

When he awoke from unsettling dreams

Staring at hills like white elephants

Or call a rose by any other name

Fog everywhere. Fog up the river

 

Staring at hills like white elephants

Two star cross’d lovers take their life

Fog everywhere. Fog up river

Sailing the waters back to Grey Havens

 

Two star cross’d lovers take their life

The past is a foreign country

Sailing the waters back to Grey Havens

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.

Write On!

I have no idea why I didn’t think of spruiking this here before today, but I’m going to blame it on having a birthday. On Saturday my local writing group, Boroondara Writers’ Inc., is putting on “Write On!”, a full day of writing workshops/seminars with the launch of the 2013-14 anthology*, “Whichever Way I Lay” during the lunch break.

The morning session will be run by P D Martin, a local author who works mainly in crime fiction, and will feature some of her ‘Writing Rules to Live By’ and the afternoon session will be a poetry panel and workshop, creatively titled ‘Why Poetry?’ moderated by me!

Click here for the Write On! Leaflet.

I acknowledge that it is not cheap and it’s last minute, however, if anyone wants to come along, even just for the launch in the middle, there will be plenty of room for you! Tickets can be bought at the door too.

So that’s what I’ll be doing on Saturday, which is a bit exciting and a bit nerve racking. I’ll be sure to write up a little debrief of the sessions later too.

*The anthology features two of my pieces, a short story and a poem, and two of my photographs. So cool.

Getting Older

So I had a birthday this week – my thirtieth. I know there will be people out there who will roll their eyes a the idea that thirty is old, but it really feels like it should be something, should signify something.

I keep finding myself worrying about the fact that I don’t feel like I have things under control. I don’t feel like I am where I thought I would be by now – I have partner, no kids, no job and, really, no idea what I’m going to do with my life. Not only do I have none of those boxes ticked, but I don’t even feel like I’m close. I know the whole ‘people have it all figured out’ thing is a total myth, but even so, I feel a bit untethered.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what makes me who I am. I’ve also been thinking about making some changes. Maybe after thirty years in Melbourne I need to look at going outside to get to the next level. I’ve been considering spending a year abroad, which I know many people do in their early twenties, but I never did it. As of the middle of next year, my university course will be finished (assuming I don’t fail anything, which I should be able to manage), and I’ll need to start thinking about grown up things like having a proper job, or at least something that will support me while I continue with my writing and other stuff.

Most of my friends are older than I am and they assure me that the dirty thirties are where it’s at. I hope they’re right. I’m sure there’s a great plan that the universe has for me, or maybe it’s one of those when all the pieces fit together it will make sense kind of things. And maybe it’s just how the world is, confusing and so mind-bogglingly full of possibilities that there feels like there’s no discernible pattern.

All I can do is keep trying things, keep being true to who I am and trying to grow in myself. It’ll all work out, right?

Pillar of Salt Anyone?

It probably hasn’t been long enough for my poor addled brain to process seeing ‘The City They Burned‘ yet, but I’m going to have a crack at a response.

The website lists it as a retelling of the story of Lot and the fall of Sodom from Genesis 19 (in the Old Testament, I looked it up). It’s got everything you’d expect from the vengeful God era; death, genocide, angels of destruction, rape, sodomy (a word which originates from Sodom), incest – all the things!

Fleur Kilpatrick’s adaptation moves the morality of the original story from a parable of good and evil to a story about all the terrible decisions people make; her world of Sodom is all about grey morality, there is no black or white in this.

The City They Burned - photo from Attic Erratic/Facebook

The City They Burned – photo from Attic Erratic

This production is showing as part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival, and states it’s a fully immersive theatre experience, so I don’t know what I expected, but I thought it would be fun. I don’t want to give too much away in terms of the staging of this production, because I think not knowing what’s really going on is part of what makes it powerful. I will tell you this, the first half pushed the boundary of audience participation, and the second half, while not participatory, was not any safer.

So, what were my thoughts? Of the first half: it was intense, it was constant. The performers never once broke from their horrible, uncomfortable characterisation. In the first half, with the audience so close and visible, I think it would have been easy for the actors to feel as uncomfortable as we did. It would have been so easy for them to giggle awkwardly, look to the others for confirmation, shuffle, fidget, or generally crack. I would have struggled because knowing I was making people nervous would have made me want to stop, to break character. But they never did. The silence, the unspoken tension, the derisive laughter, the scorn, the violence, it was all supremely controlled. I watched as other members of the audience avoided eye contact and squirmed away from the actors.

And of the second half; it was intense, it was constant. While we had the cover of darkness and the anonymity of being unseen, the level of tension did not drop. I commented to a fellow next to me, ‘Do you think the second half was better? I mean we were safely in our seats, but it didn’t seem to help’, he laughed, but his eyes had a sort of traumatised glaze I’m sure was reflected in my own.

A quote that springs to mind is that art should disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed (I can’t find the original attribution online, but it might be Finley Dunne). This is an extremely disturbing experience, it is way, way outside my comfort zone, and yet I feel somehow accomplished for having done it. It’s good to push your own boundaries every once in a while. It felt like I was being a good student of the arts.

If you’re looking for a fringe show which is as dangerous and thrilling as it is well executed, look no further than ‘The City They Burned’. It’s less than $30 and you’ll never be the same again. I’m giving it 4.5 out of 5.

First Day of Spring

Ah, first day of Spring, how dreary you are,

and how dreary I am in sympathy.

Facing forwards and travelling backwards

the abyss of reality opening, chasmwise, to me.

But a ray of light, over a the Frankenstein place,

reminds me that everything is not as it seems

that your perfume is strong, vibrant, bursting

with new life – brush away the cobwebs.

Replenishment, exhaustion, all things rise and fall,

are birthed and die, and their deaths make room

for the newness of the first day of Spring.