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Sam van Zweden

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Coming home and The End Point

That’s it. Semester over! This semester was big. Really big. Fourteen novels for just two of my subjects and that’s only the stuff with covers. At least two reams of paper, lots of ink, hours and hours of reading off my screen because I couldn’t afford to print any more. Twelve weeks of sacrificing the reading I actually wanted to do, to make room for things that were mostly worth reading, but not always what I wanted to do.

But that’s over now! It’s holidays! It’s lovely weather! The real reading can begin. I can cross billions of things off my “to-do” list, and work through the huge stacks of books that I’ve been buying but not had space or time to read. I can make sense of my writing desk, make some narratives happen, rather than torturous essays comparing texts which should never, ever be compared (Camus’ The Outsider and Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea being the most recent hideousness).

So here I am, back at home in the blogosphere. I can blog whenever I like, I can dedicate that section of my brain to planning posts as I live. I can work my way through my poor, neglected Google Reader feed! Oh poor Google Reader…

Today I read a piece that really got my attention, which was re-tweeted by Angela Meyer. The article, “Where Did The Web Go?“, talks about a lot of things that got my attention.

First point of interest: A quote from Stephen Mitchelmore: “Finding a way to talk about the reading experience is, I’ve realised, the greatest pleasure of writing; where it ends is of no importance.” I love this quote. Stephen’s talking about how it doesn’t matter if your online literary efforts never really take off, because that’s not the point. The point is to find a way to talk about your “reading experience”. Reading is a strange thing in a similar way to writing – it’s a necessarily lonely activity, but there’s a definite pleasure in finding ways to share that loneliness. For me, LGWABP is a major way that I do that. I’m not sure that I always (…ever) provide insightful contributions, but I enjoy doing what I do. Stephen’s right – it is “the greatest pleasure”.

Second point of interest: “Choose what you want your site to be, and then do it” – I like this. Sometimes I feel like my blog misses the mark because I’m not sure what I’m doing with it. Successful blogs have something that is specifically theirs, whether that’s a layout, a tone, a bunch of memes, whatever. They own it.

Other than these two superficial things that caught my eye, the article itself is actually a great contribution to the discussion of the role of online media, in particular online literary criticism. Check it out.

The Importance of Creative Peers, Again

A few weeks ago I posted about creative people’s hierarchy of needs. The one that resonates most with me is “the need for creative peers”.

The last week has really solidified that for me.

Currently in the last week of semester, which is followed by two or three weeks of things-still-due, my fellow course-mates have been working furiously on a final writing folio for one subject. Mine isn’t due until next Tuesday, so I’m still breathing easily, but some others were not. I received a 5am email begging for help to cut 500 words from a 2,500 word story. I did my best.

All throughout the week coming up to this, I’d also received copies of many other people’s stories for feedback.

My boyfriend laughed at me. I didn’t mind though. Because I know that when I get up to 24-hours before the due date and stress out about my idea being no good, and can’t see the typos for the words, and have to either make up or cut out 500 words – well then I know my creative peers will be there, inboxes wide open, ready to help.

And even when it’s not about editing, I can’t stress how grateful I am to have all these creative people around me. There’s a group of slam poets waiting to hear my latest lyrical bonanza. There’s a publication group waiting for me to send in some work to help make it great. There’s a TV show waiting for my reviews and interviews. And there’s you, dear reader, waiting with bated breath for my next post.

All these people just make it so much easier to produce. I’m thankful for you all.

Meanland, Reading In a Time of Change

Last night the Wheeler Centre hosted the opening event for “Meanland” – a collaborative project between Meanjin and Overland. (Apparently the organizers found “Overjin” too ridiculous).

For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of seeing anything at the Wheeler Centre yet; it is a beautifully renovated old space on the Little Lonsdale side of the State Library. All the new fandangled lighting rigs and whatnot are reasonably inoffensive, and the public meeting space can seat a few hundred. The event last night was “booked out”, but had maybe 30 spare seats.

Sophie Cunningham, editor of Meanjin, MC’d the event, though her main role seemed simply to rehash between speakers and tell them when they’d been speaking too long. Fair enough, I suppose, when 4 speakers need to be squeezed into an hour.

 Before the event even started, I had a little to worry about: I was sitting two rows behind a particularly fetching baby who threatened to hijack the whole operation with its cuteness. I was also sitting next to a woman who was disgruntled about something, and kept doing this weird “T-ahhhhh” kind of sigh. She kept this up throughout the entire event, T-ahhhhing every time I picked up my pen, T-ahhhhhing every time someone moved half a centremetre, thus obscuring her view of the stage (she’s obviously never been short); T-ahhhhing at the very cute baby in front of us.

The panel for this Meanland event consisted of Margaret Simons, Marieke Hardy, Sherman Young and Peter Craven. The question on the table was: “What will reading look like in 15 years’ time?”. Each speaker was allotted a 15 minute window to voice their opinion.

One question that was tackled by all speakers was “what is reading?”. While the answer to this differed, there was no arguments about whether text are moving to screens via kindles, iPads and the like. The panel was reasonably varied in their reaction to this.

Margaret Simons held some hope for physical books because of their importance to children, and as cultural items like coffee table books, having “no intention to throw out my Jane Austen collection!”, while Sherman Young felt no hope or desire to fight for the physical text. While Simons was saddened by her prediction that e-readers would be the dominant mode of reading within five years, Young gave this transition a wider 15 years, and it’s a transition he welcomes wholeheartedly.

Marieke Hardy felt some romantic connection to books, and while she wouldn’t “want to finish The Great Gatsby and see a cursor,” she also seemed to accept that this is the way things are going. As the author of an “M-Book” (a book that gets sent in daily installments to a subscriber’s mobile phone), this seemed a reasonably inevitable position for Hardy.

Peter Craven… Look, I’m not even entirely sure that Peter Craven knew what the topic was. He rambled in an interesting way, but I wouldn’t say I came out with any coherent picture of where he’s coming from. He himself is a traditionalist, still writing with a pen which must be dipped and blotted, a member of Twitter only but another man’s hand. I got the feeling he’d resigned to the fact that e-readers and screens are the way of the future, but stood in very traditional shoes, bemoaning how sad it all is for the industry.

Sherman Young did make a very good point though. We’ve all resigned ourselves to this “the medium is the message” mind frame, saying that because what we consume is moving to screens, it’s being dumbed down, it’s losing its essence… But it doesn’t have to. We create the thing, and while e-readers present a great many “possibilities” for a world of uber-text, these don’t have to be inevitable.

I’m a bit torn on this issue myself. I certainly have fears for the industry and the tradition of reading. I have no greater pleasure than time at home alone with a good book and a coffee. I take great pride in my thoroughly middle-class collection of books on my huge-ass unstable Ikea shelving. And what happens to the fantastic pastime of second-hand-book shopping if e-readers take over? And how can those of us on student wages afford iPads or Kindles?

Having said all this, I won’t say no to not having to print off reams of PDFs for school, paying so much for ink, and lugging five trees worth of paper on trams to and from school.

I don’t think Margaret Simons’ prediction of 5 years of e-reader domination is correct. Perhaps Sherman Young’s 15-year prediction is closer to the mark. But there will always be something that physical books can do better than screens. And it is precisely that romanticized thing about the smell of pages and dog-eared pages and marking favourite passages. While e-readers allow for interactive, exciting, and changing texts, the private spaces that are allowed for in traditional books, that close relationship between author and reader, is utterly irreplaceable.

The ways I reach the people…

Running a blog through WordPress is quite a novel experience. There’s so many nifty things you can do and see at the back end of the blog, like how many posts you’ve made with which tags and in which categories, what links people actually click on while reading your blog, how many people have visited when, and my favourite – what search engine terms people have followed into your blog.

A piece of advice for all you young would-be bloggers out there: when you start a blog, try not to include anything in the title which might be a typo of anything pervy. The word “pen,” for example.

Some search engine terms that I get are really obvious. At least once every day I get a hit or two from a search concerning Nick Cave’s “The Death of Bunny Munro”.

I also daily get hits from search terms containing really interesting uses of the word “pen”:
– “big pens young girls”
– “wife needs big pens”
– “how to get big pens”
– “man who has big pens”

There’s the downright disturbing, “sex with very very young girls”.

Then there’s the searches that are a little more puzzling, like “bed head realism”.

My personal favourite though?

“story: she slept nipple”

Breakdown

I just saw an ad in Voiceworks for SYN.

It’s a cartoon of a cityscape, which highlights all its features and breaks them down to their parts.

For example:
“Local Share House:
24% accumulated junk mail and bills
28% negleted home-brew project
15% rent assistance rorts
3% linoleum
8% cold teabags on sink
22% vintage gaming consoles”

I like the idea of breaking something down this way. And not just characters either, but emotions, buildings, ideas.

I just love lists.

Our House:
9% last week’s dishes
5% growing mould
7% online gaming
10% notebooks and novels
30% “how will we pay for…?”
19% drafts, dreams, ideas
20% illegal downloads

Literary Tattoos

The mind-alteringly hilarious Melbournian siren otherwise known as Marieke Hardy last week wrote an article on “literary tattoos” for The Age, which you can read here.

“Literary ink,” says Hardy, “is the epitome of the nerds striking back.”

She suggests that tattoos don’t strictly have to be quotations in order to qualify as “literary tats”… I’m not sure if mine would fit into this category, or if my next planned piece of ink will either – something unoriginal (I’ve seen it on someone) yet witty: a set of quotation marks which open on one shoulder blade and close on the other.

While I certainly applaud those who sport quotations, I’d be terrified about putting someone’s words on myself. Some authors have been with me for a very long time – Roald Dahl, Enid Blyton, John Marsden, C.S Lewis, Ginsberg, Kerouac… But I’d be so scared of choosing the wrong words, for fear of there being more poignant words I could possibly have printed on the fleshy loveliness that is my body.

“In the end, the only thing that matters is that the words … inspire you on to greater things”

Do you have a tattoo that does this? Do you see another function for having someone else’s words tattoed on your body? Do you agree with it?

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.

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

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