There was only one catch?

These days, I’m reminded of Yossarian.

“They’re trying to kill me,” Yossarian told him calmly.
No one’s trying to kill you,” Clevinger cried.
Then why are they shooting at me?” Yossarian asked.
They’re shooting at everyone,” Clevinger answered. “They’re trying to kill everyone.”
And what difference does that make?”
― Joseph Heller, Catch 22

No one is trying to kill me, but everyone seems like a target, and things certainly seem personal. The sounds bites are immediate, and in my hand on my phone. Along with the name calling and criticisms, and the insults exchanged for opinions and facts. Pixelated hate spat out in a second as a game with nothing at stake, because after all the entire world is an ugly “locker room” and they are only “words.”

Like Yossarian, I am damned as a whinging feminazi if I try to respond, and damned for condoning it if I don’t.

But it must be ok? It’s just some men complaining of “concessions” fought for by generations of women? Right?

Do I bother to assert their attribution of their suffering to feminism is wrong?

If I do explain their bad experiences are due to the patriarchal dividend, they can’t believe me. They can’t see that the system that oppresses women, also fails the men who are poor, less educated, or people of colour, or of differing ability, and sexual orientation. It fails across the globe. But all I see is their claim it is all women’s fault. Furthermore, any individual woman’s failings undermines the entire premise of feminism.

It’s always been all about Eve (of destruction).

How convenient it is for some to forget the entire world is a place where men have been for thousands of years, and remain, the “gold standard.” From marriage contracts, office temperatures to sport coverage, to reviews of novels, to how weather events with men’s names are taken more seriously than ones with women’s names .

How easy it was to feel the jibes thrown at my prime minister were also directed at me: “deliberately barren”.

How easy it has been.

“You’re antagonistic to the idea of being robbed, exploited, degraded, humiliated, or deceived. Misery depresses you. Ignorance depresses you. Persecution depresses you. Violence depresses you. Corruption depresses you.”

But it’s not just that I’m taking population trends personally.

Oh no.

When I was visible: 

I wonder if he remembers the delight he took in demanding to know whether I was “frigid” at age 12. I never asked to be followed after netball one evening, aged 16, because I wore my skirt. I didn’t request the bullying from a class room full of boys when during high school I repeated a year. My mother never knew her boyfriend felt entitled enough to invite me, a teen, into a threesome. I made sure I was never alone with him and felt the relief when they broke up. After a university colleague was murdered by a man with schizophrenia, I endured my own schizophrenic stalker. On campus, I felt cornered into laughing at your jokes at the expense of ‘festy’ women because if I didn’t then I was one of them. I was patient as male students and later fellow employees repeated my comments and recommendations, and were rewarded. You didn’t bother to ask my name when you wanted to take me back to your place. I arched my eyebrows as you addressed the men around me when I asked a question. I did not consent to that nightclub kiss. I didn’t ask you, you who have not done my job, to explain my work as I was speaking. I never requested, passing pedestrians, your leers, recommendations on smiling more, and suggestions on not eating something because I “might get fat”.

Now I am invisible: 

I don’t want your grudgingly granted concessions. I don’t need your labels. I don’t want to need your systems of recognition and achievement that keeps everyone but you, out.

I don’t want your locker room.

I want a clean slate.

We begin again and when we do, we are equal.

This means we may be different, but we agree our differences aren’t used as weapons. Your strength doesn’t dominate, it supports, while our skills and abilities aren’t weaknesses, but co-create this world. We complement and compliment. Each of us is celebrated. No one is owned, threatened, invaded or degraded. I am for me, my body is for me, what I do and how I dress is for me. And your life and body is for you. We believe each other when we speak. We ask for consent. We listen and hear. We are encouraged. I am not understood only in the context to my relationship with others, my roles or body and neither are you. We see each other as fully human. We are human. We are never a means to an end.

Don’t believe we need this? Believe Joseph Heller.

“What a lousy earth! He wondered how many people were destitute that same night even in his own prosperous country, how many homes were shanties, how many husbands were drunk and wives socked, and how many children were bullied, abused, or abandoned….When you added them all up and then subtracted, you might be left with only the children, and perhaps with Albert Einstein and an old violinist or sculptor somewhere.”
― Joseph Heller, Catch 22

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Review: De ga ga and state of the art

The Edgar Degas exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria is almost at an end. I  have been thinking about it a bit, because while I was excited to attend, I didn’t connect as I have to other ‘blockbuster’ exhibits. I wondered if it was me or Degas.

Faux mythology, a tableaux of actors on set between scenes.

Faux mythology: a tableaux of actors on set between scenes.

Degas could be seen as a kind of proto-ethnographer, depicting in detail the private worlds of ballet dancers, everyday women and also, horses and horse racing. That may do the ‘art’ in his works an injustice, even as it highlights his observational skills. His dancers and nudes are going about their business of living. They look like candid ‘shots’.  They aren’t ‘sexy’ even if they are in various stages of undress. That’s not to say they aren’t posing, or that Degas is not watching. Perhaps we are too used to this, with our Instagrams and FBs. Candid is no big deal. Observing a moment in time, and rendering it from memory might be more of a thing, but that’s the process, not the product.


Momento Mori: murdered child ballerina, entombed in her glass case, face to the light.

A murdered child ballerina as art. Entombed in a glass case, face to the light, no member of the public can meet, or perhaps deserves to meet, her eternal gaze.

The Romantic and Impressionist artists and poets sank into their despair by way of a kind of luxuriant antique drama, especially when they were sick and starving. Degas is not Romantic and not an Impressionist. He shows the sadness of the real without the cloak of myth. He paints the effect of absinthe on its drinkers, not through a fog of it.

Maybe I don’t want real as viewed by some man more than a hundred years ago?

The work that most caught my attention was his statue of the ballerina in her dress, but again, it wasn’t the piece itself, but her story and Degas’ too. She was 14 when she was murdered as a child prostitute and ballerina. She was also Degas’ first and last public exhibition of his sculpture such was the outcry.

Perhaps there is something in his pictures that makes the viewer feel complicit?  Even with the most famous paintings, seeing them in situ, as small and un-presupposing objects, doesn’t reduce them as much as it reduces the viewer?

Portrait of an artist. Not a nude, not a prostitute who is also a ballerina, but an artist as an artist.

Portrait of an artist. Not a nude, not a prostitute who is also a ballerina, but an artist as an artist. Where’s her exhibition?


He studied his subjects carefully, often repetitively, but for all the ballet and bouquets there is an underworld quality to his the work. It is social commentary.  His subjects are illuminated in the footlights and he (and we with him) are in the dark.

Degas’ paintings, sculptures and drawings are work, not poetry, not impressions; they demand serious consideration as art and as documents of a world where a man could make enough money to support his family, by depicting those would likely never possess the means nor power to achieve economic independence nor social mobility. I don’t know, after seeing all this, what to think of that.

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Beethoven/Turner (Overdrive)

There’s nothing like writing procrastination research- attending a free gig by three members of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra performing three movements by Beethoven, while in between Ronald Vermeulen, Director of Artistic Planning, Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and John Payne, Senior Conservator, National Gallery of Victoria, chat enthusiastically about Beethoven and a William Turner painting they sit before but did not obscure.

There was art, there was music, there was me scribbling down everything I could, because that’s what I do.

I may have mentioned this before, but I used to play violin. By play, I mean attempt to learn. I wasn’t accomplished and my family had me practice in the disused shearers’ quarters. My parents may have been secretly relieved when I stopped. But watching this trio (Freya Franzen – violin, Christopher Cartlidge- viola and Racheal Tobin on cello), I was reminded of the physicality of playing. Listening to music on a device makes it too easy to imagine all music as disembodied. But people make it, and making is active. It is full of people moving: present tense. A bit like the painting is a record of movements made, by hand, by brush, by fingers: past tense.

And the rest, is silence.

And the rest, is silence.

This trio’s interpretation of Beethoven’s work tumbled down from doom into playfulness, with the notes chasing each other. First, the sweeter violin led the mellow viola, then the viola was echoed by the violin with the cello as a foundation. They flew through the air, notes crashed and sprang and leaped, like the waves on the rocks of the Turner painting, like the clouds in the Constable landscape, like swallows in spring through the poetically depicted ruinous castle. It was clever and I could hear what Vermeulen was saying about Beethoven following conventional classical musical expectations and then controverting then.

Before he could upend all musical history though, there were rules to be learned, and then broken. So too in art, Turner bothered to make his first rendition of the view accurate, even prosaic, as the x-ray much later revealed, before he changed it. He made the scene of the cliff more monumental, made the sea more wild. It’s like he made a perfect, accurate draft, and messed it up and by messing, made it better, I think. There’s a lot to be said for mess.

It probably wasn’t like that, but if it was, it is like the reverse of note taking. I couldn’t write a cogent essay straight off, as I listened. Instead, I made messy notes and got quotes in my bad hand writing. Then waited to organise my thoughts. But it doesn’t perhaps, have to be that way. Turner and Beethoven didn’t think so.

I need to remember too, to stop. Stop composing when I should be noticing. Stop cleaning when I should be messing. Stop note taking when I should just notice.

I need to stop composing when I should be listening. Stop cleaning when I should be messing. 

What appeals to me is that in music and painting, work must be done to discover the Ur-text – the most accurate and original version of the work. Time and decay, years of interpretation, yellowing vanish, fly marks on manuscript scores, all distort what the artist intended. So, there’s the picture and the picture underneath, or one version of the score, and one interpretation amongst many. I also like that while some of my stories are published, they may not be the definitive version.

Since I love reading into things as a critic, I feel affinity towards the conservator and the musicologist. However, if I misunderstand a text, nothing much is at stake, but with one flaw in their techniques and centuries of history and work is at risk. Messing with an artistic legacy is a big deal.

I need to get back to actively messing around with my stories.

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Stop Crowd Sourcing Imagination

Hearken, ye. Herein dwells the frustrated rant of a writer.

I think I’m reaching a critical impatience point with certain types questions some writers ask. Or I’m getting old and crotchety and not jiving with how newbies work their creativity.

Social media is exceedingly useful for writers. There’s endless advice and interplay of ideas and support. But it is not a crutch. It shouldn’t be. Stop asking me to come up with ideas, or names or perspectives to use within the story you are writing.  This is not about group writing exercises. This is about the increasing number of people asking others to do the imagining for them for their own stories. STOP IT.

As a writer, you put your own words onto the paper K?

As a writer, you put your own words onto the paper K?

If your epic novel features the health conditions of aliens, or you are inventing weird planetary geography or making up titles for children’s programs….as a writer, YOUR JOB IS TO INVENT ALL OF THIS.


Immediately stop asking the rest of us (I mean everyone in your/our particular online writing group) to do the inventing for you, because we will and often do. It will be easy, and fun. But most of all it will absolutely kill your unique vision for your story stone cold dead in its tracks before it even gets a chance to make a life of its own out in the world as a proper and complete artefact you made.

100 Percent Done and taking a break.

100% done and taking a break.

If you run dry for ideas, do something. I mean walk, steal from Shakespeare, clean, look stuff, up, rewrite a fairy tale, meditate, dream, look at pictures, read, or forget the idea and move on. Do, at all costs, nurture your unique imagination. Exercise it like a muscle,  just don’t expect me to run creative laps for your story so you can win the publication race.

Or ask us for advice on where to find information or inspiration…but if you crowd source the actual bits of the world for your story, as written in the comments section, in one long conversation, it ceases to be your story. It will be our story.

I’ll write this again more poetically because this is important:

Whatever seed grew in the garden of your mind for a story will be in danger of being choked by the strangling weeds of our collective imagining if you ask us to help you like this. 

So, have an idea, write it down. Do the research you feel you need to do to make this story real. This doesn’t including examining everyone or a subsection of your writing group. If you really don’t understand the perspective of an alien being or a different gender, I’m fairly confident no ad hoc social media survey will help you. Accept your limitations and perhaps, write something else.

Of course, if you have written your alien health/weird geography/invented kid’s TV story and want feedback after your inventing. Sure. I’m here. That’s fine, because you have done the work. But not before.

But I/we are here when you, fellow writer, are in need of solace, celebration, or advice on expression, or grammar, or genre issues, technical support, generalised writing issues, or publishing stuff, or any of a zillion questions. Ask away. Just stop expecting us to do the secondary world building for you. That’s  your gig. And mine, and everyone else who calls themselves writers.

Rant over. As you were people.

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Writer to the line

The great thing for me as a writer when taking up a new past time (or even talking to other people about their hobbies), is learning a new language. Today, I started an introduction to archery and it is an entire world, replete with a vocabulary, some of which is quite ancient. There is the fletch, the nock and the nocking point, the rest, and of course the bow and arrow. Some terms I was familiar with – a fletcher is a maker of arrows – for instance. But putting the language together with unfamiliar actions makes it real in a way no history book, documentary nor televised sporting event can convey. We all know that right.

It me! Except I

It me! Except I wasn’t wearing a hat & no one had a crossbow. There was a terrier, nearby, but no horse. 

Live Fire

Archery was nothing like firing the plastic doodads at a kind of squishy dart board thing we had as kids. There was something oddly comforting holding the recurve bow that was just a little taller than myself. Then there was a satisfying kind of brisk thump/thud of the arrows as they (mostly) hit the target, or the twang if they hit the timber edge, and then the rattle of the aluminium arrows in the quiver at my side. There is now the purpling bruise from the pain of my novice abilities, as the draw trembled at the release and the string hit my arm, which if I don’t correct through my stance, I will need a bracer for. See language!

We did not get written instructions, but if they dont involve turning into this, Ill be disappointted.

We didn’t get written instructions, but if we do & they don’t involve turning into this, I’ll be disappointed.

Anchor Points

We spent an hour trying to digest not just the language, but also the rules and etiquette. These are, after all, weapons, so there are many do nots and never evers as well as the many how tos. How to stand, how to draw, how to hold the bow, how to position the fingers using a tab, how to hold the hand at the jaw, how to loose the arrow and how to ensure the arrow is positioned. And how to improve. But it is the language which anchors our behaviour first. Well it did mine. It was interesting watching the mono-syllabic teens alongside me struggle when they couldn’t acknowledge the bows they were given weren’t right for them and they couldn’t draw the string to their noses, which is fairly crucial if you want to hit a target. For all their vitality and natural strength, it matters not without communication.

Draw Length

As a thing to learn, I had a fine time, and I have a couple of lessons to go before I decide whether to take this up more regularly and if I do, what sort of archery. Whatever happens in the long-term, it’s good to learn and experience something entirely new and more difficult than anyone actually suspects. It gets the synapses firing, and whether I draw upon all this for any kind of creative endeavour beyond here, well, let’s just say that’s a nice bonus if it happens.

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Review: Piecing it together II

The National Gallery of Victoria – Australia, (the one in Federation Square, not St Kilda Road),  is showcasing The Australian Quilt – 1800-1950. By now, if you’ve been visiting here a bit, you know I’m not a hard-core cyber punk biker goth, but neither am I the ultra crafty capable arm-knit your own bespoke tree-beach house in a weekend type either. (I wouldn’t be here if I was). No. I’m the type of person who wants someone else to make a quilt for me with all the spare bits of material I’ve been hoarding. My skills, sadly, don’t run to sewing much. However, just as with painting or sculpture, it doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate the work of other people. And so should everyone, not just me with the quietly roaming women in their 70s in the gallery when I was. This is art people.

Fine detail, bright colours.

Fine detail, bright colours.

What struck me was how monumental each quilt remains. Each dominates as a gallery display in a way they might not in a private bedroom. If you think about it, a double or a queen size or larger size quilt when hung up, is a huge picture for a wall and each did deserve their own wall.

Visitors cannot publish personal photos of the quilts in the exhibition, but no one said anything about photographing their electronic displays or cards.

Visitors can’t publish photos of the quilts in the exhibition, but no one said anything about electronic displays or cards.

From the carefully protected Rajah Quilt (just like any art it is titled) made by the convict women of the First Fleet to the equally carefully constructed quilt made by World War II POWs, each was vibrant, personal and deliberative.

The book of the quilts, which are stories all by themselves anyway.

The book of the quilts, which are stories all by themselves anyway.

For the second time in one day – just like with The Nightingale and the Rose at ACMI – I was overwhelmed by the vibrancy of the colours and their variety and the hours of work put into each quilt. But unlike the work of Del Kathryn Barton, there was white space,  on some quilts, patch work shapes drifted off into their individual pieces across ivory expanses like poems petering into ellipses.

Reading into it: 1830s English quilt (image from a notebook)

Reading into it: 1830s English quilt (image from a notebook)

Speaking of poetry, some were actually didactic, explaining in embroidery, the history and purpose of the work, while others were abstract.  Still, in one, the ‘tatting’ was left in tact, the paper cut outs that form the pattern. I could read newspaper articles about Ireland that were more than 100 years old or make out the spidery handwriting (see above).  It was an interesting juxtaposition, the male dominated political press of the day recycled as a backing material for something many once, and clearly still do, perceive as ‘women’s work.’

Quilt detail - electronic display image

Quilt detail – electronic display image

It shouldn’t need saying, but I will anyway: this is art but this is the first time a collection such as this has happened in Australia. Items like these should be valued, for their beauty, craft-work and history. They are another way ‘into’ understanding the history of Australia: from the possum skin quilts made as acts of cultural appropriation from the Indigenous peoples to ‘waggas’ made from scraps and cut offs by people who clearly didn’t have anything else, to clothes for weddings, to a quilt made from seconds from old suits. They tell of relationships, class, and colonisation. It’s all pieced together like Australia is now. Fit for purpose, long-lasting, made from bits and pieces from everywhere, by design or imagination, and now here for everyone to enjoy.

Go see the exhibit and take it as seriously as any ‘blockbuster art show’ – which is to say, as seriously as it deserves. It’s on until November 2016.



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Review: Piecing it together I

For about another week, the Australian Centre for the Moving Image is home to The Nightingale and the Rose, a short film and exhibition reinterpreting the story by Oscar Wilde. The film is an animated lyrical piece featuring the art work of Del Kathryn Barton with filmmaker Brendan Fletcher. You don’t need to be familiar with the story, but it won’t hurt. This is a decidedly Australian interpretation, with Australian actors voicing the piece, including Mia Wasikowska as the Nightingale, David Wenham and Geoffrey Rush. Be prepared to feel things.

Oh rose thou art undeserving of louche students.

Oh rose thou art undeserving of louche philosophy students.

The music is by Sarah Blasko and only further enhances the haunting quality of this deceptively simple tale of love and truth, sacrifices and relationships and things that are ‘meaningless,’ according to overly dramatic students who lament in gardens about their supposed great love.

Intricate details are just as overwhelming as the tragic plot.

Intricate details are just as overwhelming as the tragic plot.

It is gorgeous and unsettling to watch in this intimate space. Anyone familiar with Barton’s art (she is an Archibald winner) will immediately appreciate her trade mark line work and jewel like water colours (they look like water colours anyway) as they move. There is almost no relief from them. Barton doesn’t really believe in white space, except for people’s faces, this is in great contrast to my next post (hopefully tomorrow) about the National Gallery of Victoria’s quilt exhibition.

Nightingale> Definitely Del Katheryn Barton's aesthetic.

Nightingale: Definitely Del Kathryn Barton’s aesthetic.

This is a short work, (running at 14 mins), but it manages to be both moving and technically accomplished, and to help appreciate the many hours of labour that went into each tiny paper moving part shot for each sequence, is the exhibition. This features the early drafts and plans for the work, and the individually hand crafted paper pieces that are combined and rearranged for every single scene.

It's all in the details.

It’s all in the details.

If you visit the ACMI website here you can read the story of the collaboration of Fletcher and Barton, which is also interesting.

All the colours and no place left untouched.

All the colours and such intricate detail. 

The Nightingale and the Rose, ACMI: Price: free. Worth: all your tears.  If you’re in Melbourne, see it now, as it ends soon.

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