February 28, 2017

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The blog song today is All the Pretty Girls by Kaleo, an Icelandic band and one who’s album, A/B, knocked my socks off. This was both for the range they exhibited in their music and the enjoyable way I couldn’t get their songs out of my head.

I’ll start by saying I was really touched by the reaction I got from the last post in which I shared a letter I wrote the Lady Holly for our seven year anniversary. Not only were lovely things said here and on facebook, but Holly and I received some private messages as well that made us feel warm and fuzzy and special; so thank you to everyone. I believe that the best writing comes from sharing the real and vulnerable parts of yourself, and it was incredibly nice to have that validated in such a strong way. Again, thank you.

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I want to tell you what fantasy stories mean to me.

I grew up on a heavy dose of fantasy novels. This is due to my Mum, I’m sure. Dad’s not much of one for anything too fantastical while Mum will ingest a good fantasy book with the speed of someone worried it’s about to expire. This appetite for the fantastic might very well be located on her X chromosome as I and my two brothers, Matthew and Jonathan, all share a love of fantasy similar to hers.

Mum first introduced us to fantasy through the world of Narnia, which I have to presume was the first fantasy story I read (or had read to me). She then passed along her much read copy of The Hobbit, and had The Lord of the Rings waiting for us in the wings once we were ready. However, it was when my brothers and I discovered our high school library that our love of fantasy was truly cemented. Matthew and Jonathan started with The Davids, Gemmell and Eddings respectively, while I started with Raymond E. Feist and a boy called Pug. We devoured whole series of books then traded them to one another, each desperate for the other to finish so we could discuss the wonders of what we had discovered. It didn’t take long for fantasy books to become a staple present option anytime a birthday or Christmas rolled around, and still is as fantasy remains a constant part of our literary diet. I remember hurriedly getting ready for school to allow myself as much time as possible to read in the mornings, then rushing home desperate to climb back into those fantasy worlds for the rest of my afternoon. Half my adolescence was spent here on Earth and half was spent exploring the lands of Midkemia, Mallorea, the Drenai Empire, and numerous other worlds only found through the combination of imagination and a hand drawn map located somewhere near the front of each book.

Growing up and having a love of fantasy I did come to sense that there was a stigma involved from non-fantasy readers. This has lessened in recent years as fantasy, sci-fi, and all things “nerd” have become more mainstream, but occasionally I feel that stigma again. Mostly, I think it comes from ignorance. People hear fantasy, think of sword and sorcery, and believe the books to be pure escapism with no substance; which couldn’t be farther from the truth. Yes, they are undoubtedly a form of escapism, something I see as a pro not a con (and arguably also true of all fiction), but to think they don’t contain the same substance as other fiction is incorrect. I was discussing this with Brother Jonathan this morning (his evening thanks to the London/Melbourne time difference – technically we spoke a day apart, he from the past of the 27th of February and me from the future of the 28th), and he pointed out that all fantasy is purely allegory for our own society; which I think hits the nail squarely on the head. Fantasy is a lense through which we are able to study our own world, one that permits the exploration of ideas and opinions through non-existant examples. Anyone who’s ever read a Discworld novel knows how well this can work. In fact, it’s for this reason that I love fantasy. It has allowed me to relate to the world around me by visiting ones made up. Not only that but since writing requires you to draw from your own thoughts, experiences, and knowledge it becomes impossible for writers to not imbue their tales with relevant conflict and relatable characters; even if they do happen to be an orc.

Then there’s the other level to fantasy that I love, the imagination. The dreaming up of people, and places, and magic systems that don’t exist; and then the exploration of those ideas. Fantasy comes down to one thing, asking ‘What if?’ What if you got a letter inviting you to attend a secret school where people could cast spells? What if you were able to ingest small bits of metal then burn them to perform various abilities? What if there were multiple races of intelligent life? What if those races coexisted within a medieval setting? And what if in this place magic was real? Fantasy is a thought experiment that’s gone out of control in the best possible way. Good fantasy takes these questions of the imagination and pushes them to boundaries never before dreamed of; much in the way science does. It demands a temporary parting from reality and in so doing creates a world that is real, even if it’s just in the collective minds of the author and their readers. To me that is magic.

It’s what makes me keep coming back to fantasy time and time again.

It’s what makes me want to write it.

It is a gift that keeps on giving.

Thank you, Mum.

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This was going to be an introduction to a piece of flash fiction I’ve written, but as it’s turned into it’s own thing I’ll save that for next time.

Talk soon

Damian

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February 24, 2017

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Today’s track comes from one of my favourites, Passenger. It’s a love song, but one that I can enjoy without finding it melodramatic because, as he usually does, Passenger comes at in a way that’s accessible and real. It also makes me think of The Lady Holly, you’ll find out why that’s relevant in just a moment.

Yesterday marked seven years of me being lucky enough to date the wonderful Lady Holly. Unfortunately she had a fairly horrendous day at work, which was then made worse by a unlucky series of events as she tried to traverse home. The day was ultimately salvaged however by a trip into the CBD and a visit to a Peruvian restaurant where we ordered pisco sours and told them to keep the food coming. The food was excellent, the pisco’s wonderfully sour, and the company perfect.

I also wrote Holly a card. Well, it started off as a card but seven years of love and admiration is hard to fit in a card and so it quickly evolved into a letter. She was kind enough to allow me to share it here, and so if you’re of a mind you can read it below.

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Dear Holly,

If it takes seven years for every cell in our bodies to replicate then that means we are not the same people who met at a bar in Washington (one of us relatively sober, the other not so much). And the fact is, we’re not. Those 21 and 23 years old are gone, replaced slowly one cell at a time. We’re here now.

We’re older, hopefully wiser, at the very least we definitely know more than we did then, although that doesn’t necessarily mean much. We have a rabbit called Morrie, and a shared life, and a shared home. We’ve grown and cut off more hair and fingernails than I can comfortably think about, not to mention the amount of skin we’ve collectively lost. We’ve kissed for an inordinate amount of time. Hugged, held, and touched each other to a degree my mind can’t really fathom (especially the number of butt touches that have taken place). We’ve spoken for what I think must be over a year. Looked at each other for months. Slept side by side longer than our nieces have been alive. But I can’t get enough.

I can’t get enough of speaking with you because every time I do I gain something. It might be just an update on what you’ve experienced while we’ve been apart. It might be your thoughts on a particular topic. It might be a summary of the projected emotions Morrie is feeling. Or it might be validation. It might be acceptance when I need it the most. It might be the thing that breaks through my head when it’s in a mess, giving me clarity and comfort. Whatever it is, it’s always thought out to a point that it’s engaging, or not, to a point that it’s entertaining. It’s always you, and so it’s always my favourite conversation.

I can’t get enough of hugging you because it’s always a connection. So much so that on days when I feel alone I plan to snatch one of those hugs as soon as you walk through the door. It’s home in a physical form and it has become my favourite feeling (apart from maybe the butt touches).

I can’t get enough of sleeping next to you, yes, even when it sounds like your nose and throat have converted into some kind of horrible fleshy set of bagpipes. Yes, even then. Because without you there the bed feels unnaturally big, and I can’t spread out enough to fill it. With you I’m always the right size and the empty spaces are no longer empty. It’s too quiet when you’re not around anyway, even for an introvert like me. My favourite night’s sleep is one I get to spend with you.

I can’t get enough of coming home to our house because it’s decorated with years of memories. Painted with multiple coats of shared laughter and shared drinks. Warmed by your affection, your love, and your cheek heavy smile. It is my favourite place because it contains you.

It’s been seven years and we are not the people we were when we met. For this I am grateful because it means I get to start this next seven years as someone who is supported beyond measure, who is happier than he has any right to be, who always knows where his next butt touch is coming from, and who is stupidly in love with you.

You are my favourite everything.

Love Damian

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I am a very lucky man.

Talk soon

Damian

February 20, 2017

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Music today is from Will Varley. I oddly discovered his music on an ‘Easy Listening’ inflight radio station while travelling 40,000 feet up on the way to England last year. Which is appropriate seeing as he’s English. But mostly, who knew plane radio would actually have a great undiscovered gem? This one, entitled ‘This House’ is one of my favourites.

It’s been almost two weeks since I last posted, possibly my longest absence since I started writing this blog. This is due to life being pretty crazy. I mean, life’s always crazy, but lately it’s been dialed up a few notches and not necessarily in a good way. It’s been busy, that’s the main issue, and busy with the things I’m not passionate about. My non-writing-pay-the-bills work is where most of this has taken place. A number of factors have aligned to make it so my eight hours each day in the confines of the laboratory/office are packed full of things to do to the point that I’m rushing through lunch and skipping my usual coffee break, and as I write this I’m thinking these are first world problems. Which they are, but problems are still problems and these are mine.

The main issue here is time. It used to be that I could slip in the occasional writing break at work with no one the wiser but now that’s been taken away which makes me increasingly more tired at the end of each day, giving me less energy to write even when I’m not at work. The thing is I also don’t want to burn myself out. I like to think I’m pretty disciplined. I get up at 5:30 most mornings, go for a six kilometer run, write for half an hour, and ride to work. I then work, ride an hour home, get whatever little tasks I can get done before making dinner, then it’s usually an episode of tv with dinner, read for a bit, and bed. Other nights can also involve socialising, usually with my writing mates, or with others I haven’t seen in forever because life gets in the way; which is great but ultimately all bills come due and so the extra hours I use those nights get subtracted from the following day. Weekends at the moment are likewise full. If I try to plan a catch up with someone at the moment I’m currently looking four to five weeks in advance. Not a lot of time left over to get thick slabs of writing done. And like I said, I don’t want to burn out either.

I was telling some friends of mine, Nice Guy Sean and his lovely girlfriend the Angel Belinda, about this schedule of mine last Friday night. I was at their housewarming and it was around twelve thirty at night (or in the morning depending on how you look at it) and I had gone over there after picnicking/watching a musician perform in the Melbourne zoo grounds with the Lady Holly and her friends as part of their zoo twilights line up. After telling Sean and Belinda about my routine Belinda asked ‘But, how are you here?’ It was a good question. As I was driving home later thinking about the conversation I realised that if I simply stayed awake for four more hours I would have been up for a full twenty four. She went on to ask how I kept going doing all of that every day? And didn’t I get tired? I told her I did, but that I really want to do all those things (the writing and exercise, not so much the work), so that’s what it takes.

It may come off like I’m bragging here but to be honest I’m not sure it’s really something to be proud of. If anything it’s a bit of a family flaw. I’ve seen my Dad go weeks with only five hours sleep a night and then wonder why he gets sick. I’ve seen my sister manage a schedule far fuller than the one I’ve just described until she inevitably crashes, hard. And I saw it in myself when I was driving home and realised I’d almost been up for twenty four hours but hadn’t noticed until someone pointed it out.

Work/life balance is an ongoing challenge for all of us to manage and I think doubly so for people pursuing creative careers. There’s always more that can be done and the ability to do the work is with you all the time. I once read a description of choosing to be a writer as assigning yourself homework, forever. I think the important thing here to note is that since the writer is their own disciplinarian and task master they must also be their own manager of time; which means they have to take care to set aside large periods of time for recreation. I’m learning that even if you like to write, it’s still work, and shouldn’t be included in your recreation time.

For myself, I’m now actively looking for a part time position. Preferably one where I can do the money earning for half my work week and writing for the other half. I’m blessed enough to be in a situation where this is possible, and hopefully it should leave me with my evenings and weekends set aside to do nothing. Or everything. Even more writing if I really want to. It doesn’t really matter as long as I’m listening to my body and ensuring I give it what it needs, whatever that may be.

For now that’s to eat some dinner, give my rabbit a pat on the head, and watch some tv with the woman I love.

I suggest you do the same (although perhaps not with my rabbit and woman)

Talk soon

Damian

February 9, 2017

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Music today comes from Australian band Woodlock. This tune, entitled Forever ago, is especially beautiful – the piano towards the end of the track is worth a listen alone.

I had someone tell me over the weekend that they’ve “started reading my little blog.” Another friend of mine recently explained to me how his Mum had told him that when she goes for walks she now “listens to his little podcast.” My question is why do people feel the need to add ‘little’ when referring to creative work? Apart from coming off as condescending it literally belittles the value of the work they’re referring to. While my blog reader went on to say some lovely things, and ultimately were just trying to show their support for my writing, the need to distance themselves from their own encouragement baffles me.

I think it comes down to the fact that working in the creative industries still isn’t considered a “real” job, or at least not until the one doing it has achieved some incredible level of success. This is, to me, absurd.

First let’s address the idea of creative work as a “real” job. My guess here is that the underlying thought is that any kind of creative output is seen to be superfluous to our survival as a species. Enjoyable for the one doing it but ultimately unnecessary to how we run as a society, with the usual argument being a made up post apocalyptic scenario where the creatives won’t survive as they have no real world skills to add in the rebuilding of civilisation. This is insane because another name for the creative industries could be the entertainment industries. While, yes, the initial purpose of any creative work is the artist having an creative itch they’re trying to scratch, the ultimate purpose is to pass the work on to the larger populace in an effort to entertain and help make sense of the world. To say this is unnecessary to how we run as a society is flat out wrong.

Just look at our current world and how desperate we all are to be entertained. Look at the mammoth, and varied, amount of entertainment content available, how quickly it gets consumed, and how often it needs to be replenished to feed the hungry masses. Look at why Netflix’s model works so well, offering up immediate and complete entertainment of a quantity you could never entirely get through. Look at why we’re all so addicted to social media. While it’s entertainment quality may not be high it’s quantity is irrefutable. Any creative out there knows you’re only as good as your last piece of work, and that you better keep producing work at an ever increasing pace and quality if you want to stay in the market. As for that fictional post apocalyptic scenario if you think people won’t want to be entertained under those conditions then you are flat out bonkers; and I’m not someone who uses the word ‘bonkers’ in vain. We’ve been telling ourselves stories and painting our histories since we first started walking upright. Creativity is now, and has always been, entirely necessary to how we run as a species and arguably a major factor to our current level of evolutionary success.

Now let’s look at the idea that you need to be successful before it can be classified as a real job and not just a hobby. You never hear anyone ask “Human resource is more of a hobby though, right?” or “How’s your little dock working position going?” Both of those careers require you to learn on the job with the expectation that you get paid while you do so. In my mind this salary makes it a real job to the populace at large. Whereas, there is little to no support for the apprentice creative and fuck all chance of getting paid while they grow their skills. Ask any creative out there and they’ll tell you how someone has offered them “exposure” as payment for a job instead of money – “We can’t pay you but it’ll be great exposure.” The thing about exposure is it’s nice but strangely doesn’t work as currency anywhere else. You’d never expect someone to do your taxes for you “for the exposure”. At the end of the day creatives are expected to do a significant amount of work for free before they start getting paid for it. Why? Because it’s their little hobby. If someone was to leave their job to open a restaurant they would immediately be classified as a small business owner and restaurateur. If however a person was to leave a similar job in order to become an artist they would be seen less as the freelancer they are and more as a dole bludger until their creative work achieves not only a living wage but also some level of celebrity for them.

This cultural mindset behind the creative industries and the reduction of their importance is a dangerous thing for our society. The Lady Holly, a high school maths and science teacher (and my lady love), showed me this TED talk by Sir Ken Robinson. In it he makes an entertaining and profoundly moving case for creating an education system that nurtures (rather than undermines) creativity. Basically, he says what I’m trying to say with a lot more detail and humour (it genuinely feels like stand up act at points), and with a better vocabulary. A superbly good watch.

Clearly I have some issues with how the creative industries are regarded, especially in this country, and while I don’t expect things to change anytime soon I guess for now all I’m asking is for you to question your own perception of those seeking a creative career, or at the very least stop using ‘little’ as a prefix when talking about their work.

Talk soon

Damian