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Sam van Zweden

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musings

Infloox?

I recently found an incredible website.

http://www.infloox.com/home

Infloox asks the question: “what are famous people’s favourite books? …today and throughout history?”

At the homepage of Infloox, you can type in the name of an author, a famous person, or the title of a work.  This then takes you to a page which provides a short biography of this person, or work. Under this is where it gets interesting…

Infloox lists (and wiki-style, allows feedback on) this person’s “infloox” (things that were influential upon that person’s life and work), and “outfloox” (the same idea but outwards – so things and people that were influenced by this person). Not only this, but Infloox is expanding what it lists… It now also lists “affinities”; giving details such as “people who liked this person also liked…”
I’m a sucker for these types of lists. I love being able to link ideas, works, people.

I’m blogging about this because I like to think about influences. Anyone who thinks that idea about not reading for fear of being overly influenced has any merit, is crazy. You need to be a good reader to be a good writer. Infloox is proof of that.

I’m also blogging about this because I like this site, and would like to see it grow. So click the link, send it to friends, help the database of Infloox grow so I can learn more…

If there was an Infloox page about me right now, it would have on it:

INFLOOX: John Marsden. Chuck Palahniuk. Robert Adamson. Raymond Carver.

OUTFLOOX: perhaps one of my musician-friends? Or my partner’s photography, that’d be nice.

What would your Infloox page look like?

time away, time inside, time to think.

The reason I’ve been so quiet for the last week (plus…) is because I’ve been away.

For Christmas, Mum paid for my partner and I to go on a family trip with her and her fiancé… We went to see my brother and sister-in-law in Echuca, spent a few days there, then moved on to Daylesford where we stayed in a little cottage. Despite the usual tension that happens when you spend too much time with family, it was a good week.

Echuca had a great used book store, as did Daylesford.

I left with 3 books. I came back with 7… I exercised a great deal of self-restraint to only come home with four extra books.

The books I acquired:
1. Minimum of Two, by Tim Winton.
2. Love in the Time of Cholera, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
3. Tales of the Unexpected, by Roald Dahl.
4. Everything I Know About Writing, by John Marsden.

So this is added to my pile of Christmas books.

Other than the new additions to my bookshelf, the time away also gave me some time to read – I got a start on and am now quite a chunk through The Book Thief, and thoroughly enjoying it… Zusack has an amazing way with images.  (My favourite so far – “she had a breath that smelled like Heil Hitler”)… I also got up early and wrote as the sun came up over Echuca…

So what creative liberties has your holiday period given you? Have you acquired books? Pens? Notebooks? Time to yourself?

Listmaker, 2010

I’m in a decidedly list-y mood today… So here’s a few.

TEN BOOKS I WILL READ IN 2010:
I got books for Christmas, then I went out and bought more books using my Christmas money. Then there’s the pile that I’ve had since last Christmas and never started.
1. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.
2. Sense & Sensibility by Jane Austen
3. Emma by Jane Austen
4. Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen
5. The Best Australian Poems 2009, ed Robert Adamson
6. The Best Australian Stories 2009, ed Delia Falconer
7. Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
8. A Day In The Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
9. Dance of the Happy Shades by Alice Munro
10. Lullaby by Chuck Palahniuk

NINE FACTS ABOUT LAST NIGHT (NYE) AND TODAY:
1. I worked until 9pm. It was actually fun.
2. When we finally went out just after 10pm, it was bucketing rain. No cabs would pick us up for about 15 minutes.
3. We climbed more stairs to the rooftop than I have climbed in the last week.
4. I felt pretty.
5. Nobody knew when midnight really was, and there were at least 5 countdowns just from our roof-gathering.
6. I had a great chat with a man who was an incredibly good lier to strangers. I enjoy doing this too. The lie he’d been using that evening was that he’s a florist. Somebody at a party upstairs asked him to do her wedding.
7. Chris had a harmonica which he does not know how to play, but quite convincingly pretends. When we came down from the roof, people we didn’t know followed him like he was the Pied Piper. It was surreal. People tried to high-five him, but he just kept going.
8. I rose at 6pm.
9. The sky today is the colour of desert wine, and it reminds me of Black Saturday’s sky.

EIGHT THINGS THAT HAPPENED IN 2009:
1. When 2009 first happened, we were watching the DaVinci Code on Phillip Island with Danny’s mum. Really big NYE.
2. Danny and I got our first proper place together in St Kilda. Then our second place together in Kew.
3. I started submitting things for publication. I have recently realised I’ll probably really need whatever help school can give me next year in this area.
4. I had 4 different jobs, even though I was unemployed for about 6 months. I am now at a job that I enjoy very very very much.
5. I started a blog. This one right here. Hello.
6. I did not see people as much as I could have. Sorry.
7. I applied for, and got into, RMIT.
8. Danny is going back to school. This year, we will be incredibly cool.

SEVEN THINGS I HAVE RECENTLY SEARCHED FOR ON GOOGLE:
1. Chuck Palahniuk
2. Dance of the Happy Shades Alice Munro
3. We found out that we’re only layers of skin hiding bones
4. Kitty Daisy and Lewis
5. Rowland S Howard
6. Shakespeare Botanical Gardens Melbourne 2009/10
7. Williams Syndrome

SIX THINGS NEAR ME:
1. Box camera, circa 1950
2. Clouds, which are making big rumbling sounds. The sky is orange now.
3. Packaging from Guitar Hero 5
4. Cold coffee which I keep trying to drink before realising it’s cold and a bit too bitter
5. Empty Coopers bottle
6. A note from my boss.

FIVE SONGS I HAVE LAST LISTENED TO:
1. Angus and Julia Stone – Wasted
2. Muscles – Ice Cream
3. Rise Against – Kotov Syndrome
4. Brand New – Sowing Season (Yeah)
5. LCD Soundsystem – New York I Love Yo

FOUR RESOLUTIONS I SHOULD PROBABLY MAKE FOR 2010:
…but won’t, because it’s a bit lame to wait for the year to change before deciding to do or change something:
1. Lose some weight, be more active! One gym session a week isn’t enough.
2. Stop making excuses and see people
3. Read, until I can read no more. I do this anyway, but it’s good to continue.
4. Speak more, say more.

THREE THINGS I SHOULD DO TOMORROW:
(note: the orange sky is now flashing. There’s lightning through the clouds, and it feels almost as if I’m on Mars in some crazy cosmic-storm)
1. Go to the gym
2. Pack my bag for our trip to Echuca/Daylesford!
3. Work 6-9.

TWO THINGS MY MOUTH TASTES LIKE:
1. Plastic… Can’t figure that out.
2. Cold bitter coffee

ONE THING I SHOULD PROBABLY APOLOGISE AND THANK YOU FOR:
1. Reading this pointlessly long list of lists. Thanks. Happy New Year! Stay safe and happy.

Merry Christmas to all…

Hello dear Reader…

It’s Christmas tomorrow… No doubt this evening everyone’s busy wrapping last-minute gifts, or getting table settings ready for tomorrow, or organizing whatever they can before the big day comes.

During all the chaos, I want to just take a quiet second with you, oh Reader. We don’t celebrate Thanksgiving in Australia, nor do I think we should. Busy times this year, however, have made me think about how lucky I am, and what I have to be thankful for.

Last week I went for dinner with my Dad and step-mum, as I won’t be seeing them for Christmas. They gave me a bottle of my favourite wine, and three Jane Austen novels from the Borders Hardback Classics collection… I’m thankful that they cared enough to really think about what to give me, and that they’re close enough and made time to sit down and dine with myself and my partner.

Danny, my boyfriend, got me Guitar Hero for Christmas. When I got home tonight, he got me a beer and came and sat and talked to me for a bit. When I came home last night, the dishes were done. I’m thankful for the little things that add up to what makes our relationship work, and for the time he spends really listening to what I say.

Today I gave up my day off at the last minute to work a very long sales assistant day, standing on my feet, asking “do you have Flybuys?” and telling everyone to have a fantastic Christmas… While it sounds like a pretty average day, I laughed a lot, almost too much for a workplace, and I worked really hard. I’ve only been at this place for about two weeks, but I’m so thankful for a job where all they ask of me is that I work hard. I’m thankful that I work with people who don’t stress about small things. I’m thankful to have finally found another job I don’t dread going to.

On my lunch break, I sat and had a coffee and read some of Inside Out (Robert Adamson’s autobiography – quite fantastic). I’m thankful to have enough money now to buy myself coffee if I feel like/need one, and I’m thankful that I have such a tight relationship with words.

Tomorrow we spend the day with Danny’s family. They accept me entirely, we eat fantastic food, our niece soaks up all the love she’s surrounded by before ultimately throwing a tantrum, and we just chill out. I’m thankful for such a great extended family, for being fortunate enough to afford the food we have, for the smiles our niece gives us, and for the ability to just kick back with good people.

This month more people read my blog than have in previous months. I’m thankful that you’re reading this, and that my blog is an important part of me getting to where I ultimately want to be.

There’s much more I’m thankful for, but I won’t keep you any longer.

Merry Christmas to you, be kind to yourself, family, and go easy on the rest of society at this busy time.

Sam.

SANTA!

Last week, while I was eating lunch at a cafe, I thought I saw John Marsden. I couldn’t stop looking at him, trying to figure out if it was him or not.

Since my mind was in “famous-person” mode, when a portly white-bearded older gentleman sat down nearby, my mind screamed “SANTA!”

My logic then kicked in and said “no, no Santa,” directing my attention back to Mr Marsden. He scowled at me, looking generally unapproachable, while Santa smiled and winked and looked particularly jolly.

This isn’t right!, I thought. But there’s no denying it – while my John Marsden was questionable, my Santa was definately real!

Word Play

I’ve been reading a bit lately about word play, and how important it is for kids. The many ways they (we) do it are fascinating.

I didn’t often play with words myself. I was a very careful child, I tiptoed around words until they were absolutely mastered. No word would leave my mouth until I’d thoroughly chewed on it and felt confident it would come out perfectly. My mum wondered if I was behind the other kids who uttered such adorable things as “pasghetti” and “amberlance” – I remember going to the doctor when I was about 5 for a regular check-up – I remember being at the doctor a lot as I was such a small kid. During this particular check-up they were talking about a heap of developmental stuff and he asked me to draw a person for him. I did, and he told my mum I was in front of the other kids my age, because I drew people with necks, which other 5 year olds apparently did not… So Mum felt better about my development, and I continued only spitting out fully-cooked words like “spaghetti” and “ambulance”.

One word I do remember playing with, though, is my Opa’s name.

I remember crawling under a bench in the shed – my grandparents were market farmers, and they had enormous sheds that smelled of earth and carrots.

I made a little song out of Opa’s name, crouched under the bench as he washed carrots. As I got splashed with water, I sang – “Opaaaa-ha-haaaa-ha-ha!” I sang it with such joy, letting out my gleeful little “ha-ha-ha!”s. Opa must have loved it, because he still asks me now if I remember singing his name, and he still remembers the tune I made up for it.

Next week I’m running a poetry workshop for year 9’s at my old high school. What I wish we could all keep, if only for the sake of poetry and writing, is the ability to play with words. To have fun and just let out our own joyous song, even when it’s nonsense.

House.

On the weekend I went with some friends up to a very cool very abandoned house… when I got back I got to scribbling. And this is what came of it.

 

It was white once, but that was a long time ago.  There are leaves everywhere. Not just on the path and in the back yard, but in the hallways and staircases too. One whole side is surrounded by a massive balcony, which looks like it’s missing some flappers and cocktails.

It’s not locked. We walk around the back and go straight in, like coming home to this dilapidated old mansion.

Tara thinks it was once a part of Kew Cottages. We all picture disabled kids being tied up and pushed down stairs.

We crunch around on the lino for a while, drifting in and out of rooms. Chandeliers have been stolen and cords hang empty from the ceiling. There are NO SMOKING signs on every bedroom door.

The place is huge. At least 12 bedrooms, two big kitchens, three bathrooms. Hidden walk-in bits – cellars, pantries, something that looks like a jail cell.
“Where they were put when they were naughty,” says Tara. Words that could be a joke, but she’s absolutely serious.

There’s a little door at the end of a living room down stairs, which leads to a cold cement landing. More stairs, into a pointless cold room with a bizarre crevice hidden behind another wall.

The downstairs kitchen reminds me of the way RSLs were before they were replaced by the bright shiny things that flash and swallow pensions, telling us about the brave men who fought hard to give us this life.

In this old demented castle there’s little type-written placards stuck around the place.
“ROOM 12- 3 BEDS”
They must have dormed people in these bedrooms.

There’s something written in an Asian script above a heap of switches, which Ollie flicks a bunch of. They do nothing, of course – electricity left this house years ago.

We wander around downstairs, a weird sort of basement with too many rooms and hidden things nd not many windows.

“Maybe it was a student share house.”
“Wonder what the rent on a place like this would be?”
“That room wasn’t that colour last time I was here. It’s been painted. Maybe someone’s doing it up.”
“But its unlocked”

Something hits the floor upstairs. We all stop talking. I’ve heard that kind of noise few times as we’ve been walking around, but I put it down to wind. I was avoiding creeping myself out.

Tara looks at me, wide-eyed and excited, like she wants some hellish crazy thing to happen and scare the shit out of us all.

We had passed a cop car when we were walking down here.
“That’s always comforting when you’re going to break into a house,” Danny had said.

Maybe it’s the cops, one of the neighbours made a call.

Maybe it’s a squatter.

A Bird?

Wind.

Ollie creeps up the stairs super-slow, making it lookke a farce, but nobody says a word.

“We should probably go soon,” I mumble, and everyone falls over their agreement as we slide out th nearest door and find an open gate.

When we’re safely back on the road we explode into adrenaline-fuelled rants of how cool and creepy that all was. We feel manly and brave.

That night I dream about it though, about a mean Neanderthal-looking man dragging himself around that dirty art-deco villa with its missing chandeliers a awkward rooms.

When we get home I look the place up. It was an aged-care facility, assisted housing. This makes the place both more and less scary.

Part of me wants to go back there, to chill out in its ancient emptiness. But the rest of me thinks of that Neanderthal dude that my mind invented and I’m just too scared.

Favourite Books of Housewife-times

Today I recieved an email from Borders, which proudly announced to me that they had finally decided on this year’s “Favourite Books of All Time”.

These lists always excite me, beyond all reason. I love going through them and seeing how many I’ve read, printing them out and trying to tick off the whole list.

However, I found Borders’ list endlessly disappointing (though Dymocks didn’t fare much better this year). Favourite books of all time, you say?

I’m not sure how I feel about Jodi Picoult being a new addition to the canon, or Dan Brown for that matter. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not a literature snob. I’m all for the idea of trashing the idea of “a canon of literature” all together and reclaiming the word for the people, because it’s all we’ve got. But if you’re going to publish something and claim that it represents all time, please, oh please, don’t include Bryce-I-got-famous-and-stopped-listening-to-editors-Courtney.

For the record, I have only read 27 of the books listed. Usually I hit about 50. This isn’t why I’m upset though – WHY is Confereracy of Dunces way down at #93?! American Psycho #86?! The Princess Bride at #99?!?!?!

What I’m upset about is that Jodi Picoult makes it to #4, while way down on the other end of the list withers HST, William Goldman, and John Kennedy Toole.

What this seems to be to me is a “Favourite Books of Housewife-Times”, listing those books stay-at-home-mum’s read in their spare ten minutes. And that’s not to berate stay-at-home-mum’s or writers like Stephanie Myer and Jodi Picoult. But, the majority of books on this list are books that I read and forget. Not that they aren’t enjoyable to read, or that they don’t take me somewhere quite lovely for a little while. But what I hope for in these lists is something that sticks with me for longer than a week, and has some potential to teach me something about the world.

Please, Borders, Dymocks, all major book-sellers. Don’t paint yourself as the place for cheap books for housewives. I lean on the side of indepentant book-sellers 99% of the time anyway, you’re not doing yourself any favours.

 

S

Asking questions

No post for the last few days as I’ve been away, and nothing too impressive today as I’m in the middle of working on a short story for a comp, which I’d like to post here but only once I’ve got a first draft together.

I realised today though, one of the reasons I’m having so much trouble writing this current story is because I dont know my characters well enough. I can sit there asking, “What does he do next?”…but he should be “what WOULD he do next?”. I need to sit with these characters for a while and discover their logic…

SARA: She’s broken. She’s tiny. She finds animals agreeable, but generally men don’t stay in her life long, they find her too complicated. She never asked Christian to fix her. Her background is blurry, not just for those around her but for Sara too. She doesn’t understand how she came to be confused and confusing, she doesn’t remember. She’s sure she wasn’t always this way.

CHRISTIAN: He’s fat and awkward and nerdy. He’s likeable, gets along with most people… He has a super-man kind of ethos. He’s kind, he can love in such huge amounts. Sara fits in his arms perfectly. He knows she’s broken, and he can fix her, he knows it. They’re both quiet but they find a silent kind of happiness in each other.

It’s where Christian came from that I get stuck on. Why is he so quiet? And why Sara?

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