A catch up

Wow. It’s been nearly three months since my last post. Time flies when you’re not blogging. So, how’s things? Nothing much has happened lately. I have a failmate instead of a housemate who won’t pay rent/bills on time, throttles the bandwidth, and pees on the floor. I’ve reviewed Genesis and written a reflective piece on Poh Ling Yeo. My father discovered that I know how to swear and is now disappointed in me…

Anyway, I’ll be doing a ‘Footscray Whitewash’ reading for the Peril launch this Friday. We should catch up. Say 7.30pm at Hares & Hyenas? Maybe wander down to The Lifted Brow launch at The Workers Club afterwards? Don’t worry, it won’t be just the two of us. Christine Priestly who sometimes posts for me will also be there. Her article on microbiologists is in the latest Brow and she’s pretty excited.

So, um, yeah. See you there then?


Oh Footscrazy, how I’ll miss you

Last year, I wrote an article about Footscray’s gentrification, which has now found a home in Peril’s latest issue, ‘Skin’. Despite having grown up in Melbourne’s affluent eastern suburbs, Footscray (or ‘Footscrazy’ as the locals call it) was a second home. Mum and Dad took me there every second week. It was the only place we’d dine out as a family, scoffing down Thanh Phu* pork chops on broken rice. It provided me with my first mobile phone, my first DVD, and the fabric for my first ao dai.

During my private school years, I hated the suburb. It smelt of piss, rotten vegetables, and fish sauce. Its inhabitants were fresh off the boats who paraded around in demoded styles that Alice Pung would later describe as ‘De Paul finery’. I spent most of my adolescence, sulking in the back of my parents’ station wagon, trying to drown out the front-yard karaoke with Backstreet Boys and Mariah Carey.

Footscray grows on you however. It’s loud, vibrant, and just a little bit dangerous. I shall miss the Footscrazy once the inevitable clean-up occurs.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

*Thanh Phu has since closed down due a fatal food poisoning incident.

What’s going on?

I’m not writing. I’m not thinking about writing. I spend most of my spare time. thinking about domestic things like tomatoes and the mould colony on my bathroom ceiling. I haven’t been to a book/magazine launch since The Lifted Brow (though I did try to go to the Griffith Review but got waylaid by the Eastern Freeway/Carpark…oops). What’s going on?

A few years ago, when I was studying writing at Deakin University, I spent a dysfunctional amount of time learning salsa. I went dancing three or four times a week. It was fun for a while and then I started to enjoy it less and less. The dancing wasn’t so much of the issue, but I hated the random men who would try to chat me up, instead of concentrating on the salsa.

In some ways, writing is turning into the salsa. That high that I get from creating something new is getting harder and harder to chase as I get more and more bogged down with social writerly niceties and this crippling conscience that dictates that I should be doing the right thing but not necessarily the write thing.

Therefore, I think it’s time to stop. Not necessarily writing, but the other stuff: launches, journals, blogging, socialising. My partner says I should start keeping a diary and write about what I know for a while. It’s sounds like such a decadent and self-involved practice, but I think I need to gorge on cake for a while.

I will still keep this blog, but you might not see a post for a month, maybe two months, maybe a year. The idea is to make it fun. Angela Meyer once said that people should blog only if they want to. And so I shall.

Another magazine to add to my pile

The Griffith Review’s annual fiction issue is out today, sporting a cover illustration done by Poh Ling Yeow from Masterchef and Poh’s Kitchen. I currently have an aspirational crush on Poh; she cooks like a good Asian daughter-in-law*. Anyway, the Readings launch is today, so I’ll be heading down to Carlton for my copy.

*Questions: did anyone see the 20/10/10 episode with Andre Ursini? Are Poh and Ursini usually that flirty?

How many generations of migrants does it take to make a true Australian?

Too many, judging from the numerous online comments on asylum seeker policy. ‘…when is this government going to wake up to the fact that the majority of people dont want refugees here’ (Joan), or ‘When are we going to start looking after our own and sending this lot back’ (Kate), and ‘Will the children be taught in australian schools or will they only be taught in Islam schools’ (Charles) are typical responses to a Yahoo! article reporting Labor’s shift in policy.

I know. What does one expect from Yahoo! News?

Comments to The Age’s articles show a bit more tolerance towards the less fortunate. In response to Natasha Stott Despoja’s article, Laura from Melbourne writes:

Great article Natasha.
I’ve been quite perplexed recently as to Labour and Liberal’s stance on asylum seekers, as, of late, they have both constructed aggressive and hostile immigration policy with the ostensible reason of catering to the ‘anxieties’ of voters.
When did Australia become so xenophobic? Surely failing to help those who need it most is – to use the common phrase – ‘unaustralian.’

But alongside such sentiment, there’s attitude like ‘Oh and a global refugee crisis not needing a global response? What a tard you are for putting forward such an excuse. We can’t take all of the world’s human excrement.’ (Candle)

Gee, thanks, Candle. I’ll pass on your words to my boat-refugee parents who came to Australia with nothing but the clothes on their back. Who worked in linen factories and restaurant kitchens and mowed lawns to make their living. Who paid taxes for your welfare. Who are still working and paying taxes, even though they are well beyond retirement age, because they are proud of their self-sufficiency and hard work.

The reason why people like Joan, Kate, Charles, and Candle show such little compassion towards refugees is because they were born Australians. They have peace, democracy, freedom, rights, safety, healthcare, education not because they have earned it but because they were lucky. Their inheritance is a safe harbour of a nation unblemished by foreign occupation or civil war.

Correction, Australia is a country of foreign occupation, just ask its original inhabitants. The Aborigines probably didn’t want the first lot of boat people either. First and second, even third generation migrants get blamed for eating up resources, not assimilating with the rest of the community, and eroding so-called ‘Aussie values’. But what are we other than a nation of migrants? We pledge allegiance to a foreign queen, speak a foreign language, rape our environment, and cause violence against the traditional owners of our land?

Let me ask you again: how many generations of migrants does it take to make a true Australian?

TINA 2010 Tales (Part Two)

In a town far, far away, my boyfriend and I are walking down the street, holding hands. Heading in the other direction, an old Asian man sees us and shouts, ‘Hey!’ He glares at our smallish public display of affection with a mixture of disgust and incredulity, and continues to do for the next three hundred metres.

The moral of the story: interracial dating is not the done thing in Asia Newcastle.

Racism aside, Newcastle CBD is a Gothic town. Its streets are a mixture of Georgian, Victorian, and Art Deco. There’s a sense of decay. In every strip of shops, there’s a building that has been abandoned. Some advertise rental reductions, whilst others are unsalvagable husks—windows boarded up, ceilings blackened with soot, walls vandalised.

Naturally, there’s signs of revival. New apartments have popped up along the foreshore. Darby Street is a collection of trendy cafes and kitsch boutiques. But this is only a veneer of gentrification. The town and its inhabitants still seem rough and unpredictable, and I never feel safe. In some ways, it’s a bit like St Kilda…

There once was a lass from St Kilda

Who went by the name of Brunhilda

Of the gentlemen there

She had nary a care

As they tried with small cocks to fulfill her.

And that’s a craicin’ limerick about St Kilda. Okay, so that wasn’t my best segeway, but that was my partner’s best (and possibly only) limerick, which was the result of Thomas Benjamin Guerney’s ‘How to Write a Craicin’ Limerick’ session at TINA 2010.

During the session, Guerney spoke about form. Limericks use the following meter:

– – / – – / – – /

– – / – – / – – /

– – / – – /

– – / – -/

– – / – – / – – /

This meter is to be strictly adhered to, though there are exceptions to the rule (wtf). Limericks also follow A, A, B, B, A rhyming and their content should be witty and bawdy.

He then followed up with a limerick workshop in which we came up with folks from Helsinki being flexible like slinkies and losing their primary/secondary pinkies. It was a fun session, but perhaps it was not as fun as ‘Lit Journal Survivor’, where windows were broken and genital-constricting shorts were worn.

‘Writing About Place’ was a more serious workshop. Run by Voiceworks, it consisted of various writing exercises. For instance, we had to think of the worst place we had ever been to and write an advertisement for it. Another exercise required us to use industrial-sounding modifiers to describe natural settings and vice-versa. The exercises were great but the size of the workshop was intimidating. I don’t know about everyone else but my responses to such prompts tend to be shit, and I’d rather not share them with a score of strangers.

Socialising has been less fun. This year, Newcastle has been invaded by packs of writerly hipsters and the occasional lone wolf. It feels like my pack of two is having a bit of a standoff with the other packs. Or maybe we’re just standoffish. Who knows?

‘The American Gothic Ball’ was less crazy compared to last year’s Great Gatsby, while the Zine Fair was again full of pretty things. I picked up a Lets Learn Lao with Mechelle B zine, which teaches one how to say important things like ‘your undies smell’ (‘salip-jow-men’) and a pair of awesome scarves from her sister.

Hosted by Benjamin Law and Michaela McGuire, this year’s ‘Spelling Bee’ featured ‘Who am I’ dinosaurs, and ‘Televangelist or Dental Product?’ It also challenged contestants with words such as ‘jurisprudent’, and ‘verisimillitude’. I managed to fluke my way through ‘gleet’, but not ‘ukulele’. Anyway, reigning champ Geoff Lemon was deposed by the word ‘beryllium’, and Garth, last year’s runner-up, took home the trophy.

I was wondering whether it was time to go home yet when we decided to try the Royal Exchange reading. Thank dog we did. Guest speakers Rochelle Jackson, Will Kostakis, Mandy Beaumont, and Patrick O’Neil entertained their mellowing crowd with tales of crims, inappropriate jokes, Brisbane’s West End, and supposed human rights abuses. But the best tale of the night and the highlight of my festival was open mic’s Ben Jenkins who spun us a story about fearlessness, cat poo parasites, and ice addicts. While his reading was perhaps overly long, he captivated his audience until the end with his manner of speaking and his factual asides, and won a standing ovation from Mister Geoff Lemon. Thanks Ben Jenkins for putting my faith back into the open mic section.

And that’s it folks. I’ll be attending a couple more events, and hopefully finding some prompt tucker in this dogforsaken place. Bloody public holidays. Grrr.

TINA Tales 2010 (Part One)

Once upon a time (last Thursday), there was a toy sword that was going to be a prop for my American Gothic Ball costume. It was cheap and nasty but I loved it very much. One day, it got confiscated at the airport. The grizzly airport security took one look at it, and they said: ‘This sword is too real looking. This sword is too big looking. This sword is not right.’ So they confiscated it, and checked me for explosives.

The moral of this story: five-foot Asian women who carry around toy ninja swords are potential terrorists.

But back to more important things like the TINA 2010 program. My first TINA 2010 event was not ‘How to make bombs’, because you can learn that from MacGuyver, but ‘Ethical Magazine Making’. Cameron Pegg moderated a roundtable that consisted of Lin Tao (Trespass), Andre Dao (Right Now), Lian Lowe and Hoa Pham (Peril) and Elizabeth Redman and Duncan Felton (Voiceworks).

In regards to advertising, Andre Dao spoke about his wariness of being used. Starbucks had approached his human rights magazine with a large sum of money, wanting to become a sponsor. It probably wanted to improve its corporate social responsibility profile, but the magazine reluctantly rejected the offer due to Starbuck’s suspect practices.

Lin Tao and Cameron Pegg noted that a lot of companies expect advertorial as well as advertising space. Hoa Pham wondered about her magazine’s future. Once grant money runs out, will Peril have to align itself with a university? And how would that influence the magazine’s direction?

The ethics of blind submissions was then raised by Pegg. Voiceworks, Peril, and audience members discussed the pros and cons of each. Yup, the blind submission process seems fair, but sometimes context is needed to ethically accept or reject a piece of work.

Discussion then moved to the payment of contributors. Voiceworks was willing and able, but Right Now didn’t have enough money to pay all of its contributors. Andre Dao posed the question, ‘Do we pay the high court judge or the student?’

While Right Now had taken an egalitarian approach, Peril was still using the Meanjin system of payment. Poets were getting paid less by the magazine and Laura Smith, poet and audience member, took issue with this.

Brief mention was given to environmental ethics. With the improvement in quality and affordability of environmental stock, Pegg declared that there was no reason why magazines couldn’t choose to be environmentally friendly. Concerns about sustainability were one of many reasons why journals were ditching paper for the internet.

In summary, advertising is still The Big Issue, but magazine makers should also be addressing a broad range of ethical concerns.

‘Ethical Magazine Making’ finished with plenty of time to spare for me to get to the ‘Op Shop Tour of Newie’. After handing out ‘Op Shop Hop’ badges and hand-drawn maps, Vanessa Berry took us on the bus out to Islington where we hurriedly ransacked seven op shops. Prices are generally better than Melbourne: I saw many good quality religious prints going for cheap, and thirty-buck retro couches. I picked up some old placemats for $2, and 1950s coloured glassware for $6. 🙂

On the way back, our group chatted with the blue rinse set. One lady suggested that we should go to Gardenvale, land of many chain stores, and a trio appraised our hipster outfits and hats.

Back at the Town Hall, Van Badham, Zora Sanders, Alexandra Neill, and ‘Adam’ were debating whether free-to-air television was for old people or idiots; it seemed that everyone was arguing for the negative side. After the ‘snarky’ arguments were made, the real discussion began. Alexandra Neill brought up the morally superior ethic of watching free-to-air. How can we expect to continue watching good shows if we don’t support them by adding to the ratings? Van Badham talked about the worldwide tweet phenomenon that is ‘Q&A’, which has taken the old lounge room discussion online and abroad. All were of the belief that new media would not kill the TV star.

We grabbed dinner at Lan’s, a Darby Street Vietnamese eatery stuck in the eighties. It shared many of the dishes my mother used to make at her Saigon Restaurant in Melbourne: carmeralised pork, stuffed chicken wing, lemongrass pork/chicken, ginger chicken, and chicken and corn soup. There was a distinct lack of fish sauce, and aromatic herbs, replaced by strange additions of celery and pineapple in my prawn and pork coleslaw. Lan’s is a great example of showing how Melbournian taste has developed over the years in regards to Vietnamese cuisine.

Final event for Day Two of TINA 2010 was ‘Our Well Hung Parliament’, a quiet affair at Renew Newcastle. Many rambled on thoughts, political ephiphanies, and allegiences, myself included, including Randall Stephens who described the immediate effect of K Rudd’s apology on a group of Aboriginal school children.

For Day Three, I’ll be attempting limericks and traipsing down Georgian-frontaged Tyrrell Steet in my Lizzie Bennet gown. I’ll try to blog you and not cheat with Twitter. Brb gf/bf.

A break but not a break up

Only thirteen hours of legalised drug dealing and sixteen hours of sleep before the big T. I have located one suitable blue gown in the style of P & P & Z, one bottle of fake blood, and one toy ninja sword, which refuses to fit into the suitcase.

Not sure what other festival punters are doing in Newcastle, but I plan to visit a) the op shops b) the bike shops and c) the sea baths. If I have time, I might go to the following: Free-To-Air Television is for Old People and Idiots, How to Write a Craicin’ Limerick, and the Spelling Bee.

There’s a whole bunch of other less fun, more useful stuff, like how to be an environmentally friendly literary magazine or how to pitch, but after much legalised drug dealing and struggling with a writer’s block the size of the Great Wall, I’m thinking ‘holiday first, continuing education second’, even if the education is of the writerly kind. In other words, I won’t be blogging as much as I usually do for literary festivals…

Now I feel guilty.


No, I’m not breaking up with you.

I know I have been distant lately.

It’s not your fault.

Maybe we need some time apart.

Um. Argh, Deakin’s being invaded by elephant-sized cockroaches.?



Stuff that I wrote earlier

…and when I say ‘earlier’, I’m talking two years earlier. My short story ‘The Intern’, was written way back in 2008 and has finally found a home in The Lifted Brow. I know, I know. I wasn’t going to contribute to the Brow, since it felt somewhat incestuous submitting to a journal one interned at, but The Brow seemed the best match for this piece, so, um, yeah…?

The Lifted Brow No. 7 (image courtesy of theliftedbrow.com)

Also, my review of Chris Womersley’s Bereft is now up on the Killings blog, so go read that while I sneeze all over my computer screen. Yes, Sam Cooney, I’m sick again. Boo.