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.

Willylitfest *giggle*

Blue skies and a ‘Let’s Be frankie‘ panel lured me and my bike out to Williamstown on Saturday. I didn’t think I’d make it back home before sunset, so I picked up these cute bike lights along the way:

Skully front light

Skully back light

On my ride, I caught the Westgate Punt, a scenic shortcut across the water. It was temporarily commandeered by someone’s youngster, but I arrived safely at the Scienceworks Museum and continued along the coastal trail.

At the ‘Let’s Be frankie‘ session, frankie senior contributors Marieke Hardy and Benjamin Law described the magazine as frank articles plus cupcakes, craft, and rock & roll. Having never read or seen frankie, I started picturing shots of pink teacups, jauntily arranged on astroturf, juxtaposed next to awkward descriptions of bodily functions. Having written about personal experiences such as losing one’s virginity, Benjamin and Marieke discussed the ‘illusion of intimacy’* that they had manufactured. Marieke also used to blog; only 20% of her personal life became blog fodder, though her parents did develop a catchphrase rather like ‘and that’s not going in the blog’.

Right to left: Susan Bird (chair), Benjamin Law, and Marieke Hardy @ 'Let's Be frankie' (1/5/10)

I returned the next day for ‘From the Quill to the Kindle‘, a much more formal discussion between Sophie Cunningham, Chris Flynn, and Dmetri Kakmi about the so-called death of the book and eBook revolution.

left to right: Sophie Cunningham, Chris Flynn, and Dmetri Kakmi @ 'From the Quill to the Kindle' (2/5/10)

Working from a prepared speech, Dmetri described eBook trends that defied initial suppositions. Prime eBook consumers were not sci-fi/fantasy-reading, tech-savy geeks but tended to be thirty-five-to-forty-year-old females with tastes that reflected their hardcopy-buying counterparts.

Chris Flynn brought up environmental concerns. In a 2006 report, it was revealed that recycled paper makes up only 5-10% of books published in the US**. Publishers are aiming to improve this figure, but this means that thirty million trees are cut down each year for US books alone**. Our habit of collecting our favourite books is a selfish one.

Technology, however, is dictating the terms of the alternative. While you may own a physical book, you can never own an eBook, only the right to keeping a copy of it. If you breach your contract with Amazon, the copies get wiped. In other words, you can lend your Kindle to a friend, but you can’t let them borrow a copy of your favourite book. Libraries are screwed in this electronic universe, and writers/publishers can do little to help them, unless they release an open source version of their book.

Meanwhile, Sophie Cunningham examined how eBooks and eReaders may change reading/writing habits. Podcasts have already revived the audio book. Will access to social media on devices such as the iPad affect the way we read? Will collaborative processes, such as commenting/feedback on uploaded drafts, change the writing process? Computers certainly have. In the past, typewriting forced people to recreate drafts from scratch, whilst computers allowed for more sloppier writing via ‘cut and paste’ methods. Sophie hoped that the novel will survive this eReader revolution as a rarified form.

From the Quill to the Kindle‘ managed to outline what seems to be a mammoth topic. There’s a plethora of articles on eBooks available on the interwebs. Try ‘Publish or Perish: Can the iPad topple the Kindle, and save the book business?‘ (via theliftedbrow), and ‘Amazon Erases Orwell Books from Kindles‘ for starters.

After Willylitfest *giggle*, I went down to Gem Pier with my fellow literary punters  who nearly incited a seagull riot with their chips. I have not seen The Birds, but seagulls are scary in numbers.

*Benjamin and Marieke also mentioned ‘frankie girls’ but never satisfactorarily explained the term. I did a Google search and found this.

**Figures confirmed via ecolibris.net.

Review: Peril Edition Eight

I’ve finally sat down and read ‘Why are people so unkind?’, Peril’s latest issue. For those of you who haven’t heard of the journal, Peril is an Asian Australian online journal on arts and culture run by the likes of Hoa Pham, Lian Low, and Tom Cho. It’s a bit patchy at times with editors choosing pieces that reflect the Asian-Australian experience over more polished prose. With the eighth issue, however, it seems that they’re finally finding a balance between the two. ‘Teh Halia’, a prose piece about an Indian daughter’s regret over cups of her father’s ginger tea, is touching and carefully observed, moving beyond ethnic literature into something more universal.

The non-fiction was particularly strong in this issue with many pieces focusing on gender identity: Owen Leong interviews two Japanese artists who both explore gender in differing ways, while Lian Low speaks to The Ladies of Colour Agency about sexuality, whiteness in political movements, and genderfucking. Benjamin Law’s article on Asian-American conservative Michelle Malkin is perversely entertaining:

…Malkin seems quite attractive. Even as a homosexual myself, I cannot take my eyes off her, partly because Malkin’s pretty, and partly because there’s some gland inside me that reacts to seeing an Asian—any Asian—with a broadcast media platform. It’s this same gland in me that’s triggered off whenever I see Penny Wong on The 7.30 Report, or old footage of John So cutting a ribbon in Melbourne, or watching Poh being interviewed on Masterchef.

There’s also a couple of opinion pieces on Indian-Australian relations from Amrita Dasvarma and Angela Dewan, discussing the ubiquitous exploitation of overseas students, and the pressure to assimilate as a migrant, as well as an interview with Kamal.

It’s hard to choose a favourite from such a strong collection, but Lily Chan’s poem resonated with me the most: ‘in my head i was scout finch / elizabeth bennet / nancy drew / stepped back, startled / from my own reflection’. In a few lines, Chan encapsulates an Asian-Australian girl’s experience: feeling white, being attracted to white boys, experiencing ambivalence to Pauline Hanson and guilt for having it ‘good’ compared to her brother. I’m looking forward to reading more of her work.

Peril’s next endeavour will be about ‘creatures’, and I’m curious to see how this theme will be interpreted in an Asian-Australian context. For those of you who feel like submitting to Issue Nine, check out the journal’s submission page, here.

NYWF 2009: Day One

Note to self: do not book flights earlier than 9am. I had to wake up at 5am yesterday; it was still dark. Somehow, I hauled my arse to Tullamarine airport in time for the flight (thank you boyfriend), and found myself on a plane full of writers who were also hating their flight schedules.

Things were on the up, however, once I reached Newcastle. Tom Cho sat next to me on the bus into town and we compared our similar/dissimilar upbringings. I discovered that his mother was racist towards her own kind and, consequently, Tom never had to go to Chinese school. Hopefully, he’ll divulge more about inward racism at today’s panel ‘You are So Lacist’.

After finding a couple of clip-on earrings at the Hunter Street Salvos and a black velvet gown for The Great Gatsby Ball, I headed down to the ‘Well It’s Technically Not About You’ panel with Caro Cooper (facilitator), Benjamin Law, Sally Breen, Krissy Kneen, and Michaela McGuire. Though the panellists had all written about ‘real people’, the diversity of the panel allowed for lengthy discussion on the subject.

Benjamin Law often depicts his family in his non-fiction. He believes that intent helps cushion the collateral in such writing; his work is a love letter to his family, and they accept it with such in mind. To avoid alienating them, he also lets them read (and criticise) his drafts. Usually, his family glosses over the big stuff, picking at only minor details.

Krissy Kneen shared a disheartening experience—Krissy had been writing about a recent crush when he became upset over the drafts she posted online at furiousvaginas. She had gained his consent, only to realise that he was not emotionally mature enough to deal with the material. Upset that he was upset, Krissy decided to replace him with a different character in her narrative.

Michaela McGuire’s Apply Within: Stories of Career Sabotage wasn’t about friends or lovers or family, but sketched people she hoped never to hear from again. During the panel, her focus was on defamation. How to write without getting sued? Insinuate, insinuate, insinuate! (And get lots of legal advice.)

Sally Breen’s memoir was about her father, and against her family’s wishes, she had depicted him with ‘warts and all’. Unlike Krissy and Benjamin, her stance was much more ruthless. Writing should push boundaries. You should fear what you write. And don’t gloss over.

The panellists also spoke about the importance of time (the distance it gives), a writer’s own imperfect (or ‘sloppy’ as per Benjamin Law) recollection, and the importance of not using names (use only first names or, even better, change the name completely). They also listd a couple of writers to read: David Sedaris, Helen Garner (The First Stone), and Colette. Overall: an awesome session.

Afterwards, I hung out with the Melbourne/Brisbane crowd (photos coming soon) and sketched nude people for the Midnight meat (no photos, sorry). With an emphasis on absence rather than presence, I found sketching more taxing than writing. Or maybe it was the lack of sleep plus dehydration/alcohol/giant copulating giraffe sculpture—

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Today’s NYWF itinery: ‘You are So Lacist’, ‘Sweet Staple High’, ‘The Burning Brow Luau’, and many more.