Blog narrative

‘Yet the clock is time, and time is lost, is bankrupt before it begins’—from Owls do Cry, Janet Frame.

Recently I made two early blog posts private.

Many times I have gone to do this but never have. When I taught blogging I would tell my students that the blog itself formed an overall narrative. Mine certainly does. From 22-year-old bookseller living in Coffs Harbour to Dr Meyer the published author, a Melburnian and a frequent traveller, now 30.

baby blogger

Baby blogger, 2008, in Tiergarten, Berlin.

There was something about those early posts (the naivete, the openness, the enthusiasm perhaps all part of it) that made people champion me. I’m amazed when I look at the comments (on such cringe-worthy posts). It seems I even taught Emilie Zoey Baker what a meme was. The writing really was shocking, though. More so, I have changed and I can’t help feeling embarrassed at some of the earlier ‘personal’ posts, and well, poems. And so I might prune a little, here and there, from now on. I feel guilty about it. As though it’s dishonest.

But the narrative has spread out, to my published reviews, articles and stories, and the books I’ve now edited and written. Not to mention on social media, where ‘personal’ and even experimental expression continues. I’ll keep reflecting on the broader narrative (and journey) here. LiteraryMinded will always, in some shape or form, be my home on the internet.

Angela Meyer

Older, wiser (?), more filtered.

I just turned 30, while at the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival in Bali. A satisfying, literary-minded way to spend my birthday. I was on a panel about short stories on the day, with Nic Low and Dias Novita Wuri, chaired by Lisa Dempster. The audience was so engaged, and afterwards I was chatting with some teenagers who said they’d been reading stories from Captives aloud to one another. It’s always cool when someone tells you they’ve been reading your work, but I hadn’t previously realised these (often dark) stories would resonate with teenagers. It was great to meet them, and a special shout out to Julia. This is for you:

cumberbatchglasses

G and I spent the afternoon of my birthday at Bali Bird Park, absorbing sounds and colours; feeling the weight of parrots and hornbills on our arms, shoulders, and heads, and holding iguanas.

iguana

There are some photos and other commentary from the festival on my Facebook page, and on Instagram. I most enjoyed Michael Cathcart’s interview with Can Xue, the avant-garde Chinese writer:

‘You experiment to know how big your spiritual tension can be and how high you can scale the heights of art.’

This shift, though, from being firm about never deleting old blog posts to deciding it’s OK, reflects a wider shift that’s been happening in my life. I’ve noticed it since I got back from overseas, and since Captives was published. Questions have been raised (mostly internally) that relate to values I’ve always held, and I’ll find that something I always firmly believed (so much so that it had shaped who I was) has entered some slipstream, and then I watch it float away. How strange, I’ve found myself thinking. How strange to find that you have changed so much. To know you could change so fundamentally.

What’s still present in me, from the early blog days? The enthusiasm, definitely. The mad crushes on books and people. The dark bits. The wanting to go deeper. The desire to write fiction. The commitment, though the focus has shifted to different projects. The need for balance. Unfortunately, the self-consciousness. But it’s gotten much better. I set my mind to doing things and I do them. I am capable. I am most definitely grown up.

I will miss my 20s. The last five years in particular have been incredible, despite a few rough patches. One thing I’ll miss is the fact that people are forgiving of you when you’re young. And your achievements seem larger. People are proud; they nurture you. But my writing is in a good place (I’ve made it into Best Australian Stories for the first time, out November), and I’ve had a few work experiences since my doctorate that have made me realise what I do and don’t want to do. And I want to have kids and other life stuff like that. The 30s will be different, but I’m certain they’ll still involve writing, reading, love, travel, and whisky. And that’s enough.

whisky

Review of The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion in The Australian

The Rosie Effect reviewI reviewed The Rosie Effect, Graeme Simsion’s follow-up to The Rosie Project for the Weekend Australian. It’s a warm read, and a successful sequel. Following is an extract from the review.

As with the first book, these incidents are humorous and cause cringing; the reader observes the miscommunication, the unravelling, and longs to step in as an interpreter. This is enhanced by the first-person point of view: we experience each incident through Don’s eyes and can only imagine what the other characters are thinking [...]

There is genuine emotional intent. Don grappling with the idea of a baby and how it will fit into his and Rosie’s lives is relatable on a broad level: trying to find some structure when life is changing shape or feels chaotic.

The Rosie books are partly about control. Life events take their course, and it is sometimes difficult to confront the idea that we have no control over them. We can relate to Don’s desire to be prepared for the birth, to play a part and to understand. His ineptitude makes us laugh, but his failure to recognise his partner’s needs strikes on a deeper level.

Read the rest of the review here.

Here you’ll find an interview I did with Graeme Simsion for The Big Issue on the release of The Rosie Project in 2013.

Bodies, effort, straws: The Special by David Stavanger

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David Stavanger, myself, Jennifer Compton.

I had the pleasure last night of launching The Special by David Stavanger, winner of the 2013 Thomas Shapcott Prize. The book is published by UQP and available now. David and I didn’t know each other beforehand, but connected through words (in emails, but mainly through our work) and it was a wonderful night, with much warmth. David asked me to read a few pieces from Captives before launching his book, which was kind. The legendary Jennifer Compton read also, and it was great to meet her. Her next book will launched in a couple of months.

My launch speech also acts as a review of The Special, so I’ll share it with you now:

The special

What I came away with from this collection was a series of images, connected meanings, and a mood. I can try to explain or capture that mood through this speech, but it may end up being slightly different for each of you. A poet allows for space in between the words, words that either spill like bodily fluid, or that are drawn slowly and agonisingly, like impacted teeth. The space becomes yours, the reader’s.

I’ve already invoked some of the imagery in the book right there, that of bodies. Bodies tattooed, divided, diseased, under floors, naked, flying through air, young and old, on a plastic sheet, and featuring ‘so many exit points’ (that line being from the very affecting ‘Inheritance Triptych’).

There are throats, lips, chests, colons and legs tumbling into feet (‘Baby’). The bodies are a source of fascination, but also of weight. It’s an effort to be bodily, to have conversations with other parents at the school gate. With his father, the poet states: ‘I am the ghost and he is the father.’ The body doesn’t fit right. Sentience is floating, not necessarily tied to the body. It may even be found in objects, like a fridge in the flood. A fridge that ‘mourns broken seals’ and ‘once dated an esky’.

The emotional state is often worry, like when the ghost worries about his father. Worry plus a sense of fatalism leads to an absurd sort of humour. The worry doesn’t hide behind the humour, it’s present in it. The poem ‘The Future’ is a pinnacle of this, the worry almost seems a precursor to the events in this piece. There’s a sense of: yes, everything bad can happen, has happened, is happening, will happen. We just have to open another door, or keep walking a dead dog. And what else can we teach our children but to do this also?

There’s also an expression, overall, of a sense of effort—the effort that everyday living requires. The poem ‘Digestives’ really sums this up: minding someone’s place, being alone and heartbroken, then locking yourself out, having to spend all your money on a locksmith, having nothing to eat but digestive biscuits. Then there’s ‘In the Palace of Broken Men’ which has lines like ‘sighing is the first act of the morning’, and ‘an unnamed smell in the bedroom’, and ‘bins put out not brought back in’. Just think about that for a moment, the bins still out on the street.

The horror of the ordinary, it’s what a lot of people with mental illness face. And some of the poems here reference David’s time as a psychologist, and his own personal and familial experiences with mental illness. Some poems push boundaries, mainly I noticed in their treatment of the desire for oblivion, or in their respect for other states of being other than the continually shrinking idea of ‘normal’ in an overdiagnosed society. ‘Jack, the Moon’ is a brilliant poem, a record of the poet’s maternal grandfather, who had bipolar. The final lines are:

Madness is not fully measured by the harm done,
it’s in the beauty only lunar suns undo.
Who was I, at seventeen, to deny the ascent.

Complementary to these themes is a thread of control. Having it, letting go, and others having it over you, even through words. A panic, but perhaps an inevitability, too, over a loss of control, is captured in one of my favourite poems ‘Straws’, where straws exist to keep mouths at bay, because the sensations of glass and ice would be too much. There’s definitely humour in the line: ‘feeling better if something is between: clothes, surnames, bodies of water’. And the final stanza, which I won’t ruin for you, makes you both smile and feel a short buzz of panic. The poem seems a parody of a human being who is trying to keep some distance from physical sensations and the effect they may have on them.

Or perhaps it is a parody of the writer himself, fascinated by the straw between the mind and the words on the page, always some distance between them. Or, perhaps, it acknowledges the straw between the writer and the world. The writer as a person, always feeling, but as a writer, always looking down on the scene from above, distant from their own self. Maybe this is the distance between David and Ghostboy, his alter-ego.

This kind of writerly distance, tied with a vision both warm and dark, made me think about a state or outlook described by Janet Frame, looking back on the time she was in a mental hospital and thought her plight was hopeless. It’s an incredible description, and I hope David and some of you find it relevant.

I inhabited a territory of loneliness which I think resembles that place where the dying spend their time before death, and from where those who do return living to the world bring inevitably a unique point of view that is a nightmare, a treasure, and a lifelong possession; at times I think it must be the best view in the world, ranging even farther than the view from the mountains of love, equal in its rapture and chilling exposure, there in the neighborhood of the ancient gods and goddesses. The very act of returning to the world, however, tends to remove that view to the storeroom of the mind described by Thomas Beecham as ‘the room two inches behind the eyes’. One remembers the treasure and the Midas effect of it upon each moment, and sometimes one can see the glitter among the ordinary waste of each day.

And with that I declare The Special officially launched.

The quote is from Frame’s An Angel at My Table.

Read an interview with David Stavanger on Verity La.

Watch David’s performance as Ghostboy at Tedx Noosa (where he recites a couple of poems from The Special).

MWF 2014, Flashing the Square, Memory Makes Us

Melbourne Writers Festival has been fantastic so far. Stimulating keynotes from Helen Garner and Chris Hadfield, and I really enjoyed yesterday’s panel ‘Crossing Cultures’, about cultural hybridisation. There were some great insights into contemporary China from Zhang Tianpan: contemporary China is very complex, but also very simple. There are many commonalities with the West—’we all love beauty and freedom’. The Chinese are ‘so clever they can make simple things complex’, and there are two Chinas: the real China and the one on the internet. Which is more beautiful? The one on the internet, Tianpan said, as it is ‘vibrant, free, and active’. Tianpan was born the same year as me; I found him informative and also very warm and funny. I’m a bit sad I missed the Beijing panel as well. I’d love to go to China one day.

FTS

But what I meant to come on here and tell you about are two events at the festival next weekend. I’m helping to launch Flashing the Square, which is both a book and an audiovisual project, featuring pieces of microliterature. I helped to judge the joanne burns competition, and the winner and shortlisted entries are included in the anthology. I was also invited to contribute a piece myself. My piece and many others have been made into videos, which are being projected onto Fed Square during the festival. Keep an eye out for them! The audio recordings are available for a limited time for free on the Spineless Wonders website. The launch is on Saturday 30 August at 7pm in ACMI’s The Cube, and I’ll be in conversation with Flashing The Square’s curator, Richard Holt, writer/ critic Cassandra Atherton and writer, A.S. Patrić.

I was on a panel about microliterature yesterday, too, with Oliver Mol, chaired by Samuel Cooney. I was delighted to find a very healthy tweetstream afterwards. Thanks to Sonia Nair and Veronica Sullivan for recording the following quotes from yours truly:

‘I want to be an artist. Not just a writer. Different ideas can take different forms.’

‘I would never tell people which of my stories are fiction or nonfiction, because it doesn’t matter.’

It was great to sign a few books afterwards, too, including one for an author I admire very much, Meg Wolitzer.

I’ll be a guest on The Morning Read session on Friday 29 August at 10am, alongside Lauren Beukes (yay!), Chris Flynn & Mark Henshaw.

And the other MADNESS in which I’m participating is a live-writing event called Memory Makes Us, alongside Paddy O’Reilly and Nicholas J Johnson. My subject is ‘desire’. From 10–4 on Sunday 31 August we’ll be in the Atrium in Fed Square, constructing stories from our imaginations and your prompts. Contribute on the day, and here. Also, bring me whisky and images of Benedict Cumberbatch.

Appearance on Jennifer Byrne Presents: Envy

Angela Meyer J Byrne

I was honoured to be a guest on Jennifer Byrne Presents, an offshoot of the First Tuesday Book Club, to discuss one of the seven deadly sins, envy, along with Greg Sheridan, Lyndon Terracini and Kate McClymont. The show aired on 19 August on ABC, and will be available for a limited time on iview. There’s also an outtake up on YouTube, where I discuss Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

What was it like? It was a surreal and wonderful experience. I always suffer from nerves, a terror that I will say something incredibly stupid or not be able to say anything at all. I worry that I will freeze, say ‘uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh’ until everyone wonders why the hell I was invited to be on the show, let alone do anything in public, ever. The nerves are physical. You can’t tell on screen but my knees were juddering the whole time.

My reading around the subject was crammed; the shoot happened during the busiest period of my life so far. But I did find I had plenty of opinions on the topic of envy, and books from which I could draw. Study comes naturally to me. I love to read deeply, probe books through to their guts and bones (meaning, themes, context, structure). I probably don’t have to mention that—it’s why I do so much of what I do!

As soon as I knew about the appearance I saved to buy a dress just for it. Funnily enough, the green was an accident. Which is quite embarrassing to admit. The dress was chosen for me by Tracey at Frocks & Slacks in St Kilda, who is incredible and knows your size and what will suit you just by looking at you. I didn’t realise I was dressing to theme until Jennifer called me out on it (she was going for subtle green). It might sound like a superficial detail, but dressing up, wearing make-up (thanks ABC make-up department), doing my nails—these are part of preparing for the stage or a camera. Not armour; more coaxing out the confident part of myself, trying to sneak her past the quivering, doubting part. Because of course I want to do this, am capable of doing it, and may even be good at it. 

It was all a bit of a blur, because of the adrenaline. Walking onto the set was exactly how you’d imagine it would be: bright lights, lots of cameras pointed in your direction. There was a small studio audience, which I found very helpful. I’m more used to speaking to an audience.

I didn’t remember much of what I’d said, afterwards, so I felt relief when I watched the show the other day and realised I did just fine. Jennifer also said some kind words to me afterwards. It’s not that I ever fear I don’t have the knowledge (because I always prepare); it’s more a worry of being unable to articulate what I know. I imagine being caught in this absurd, Beckettian loop of miscommunication. ‘My words fly up, my thoughts remain below.’ I also have a shocking memory, which fails me more when I panic.

When I left the ABC studios, I was on a high. It did feel like a step in a new direction, and that’s been confirmed by the amount of people in my Facebook feed who never normally talk to me but suddenly think I’m famous. (Publishing a book wasn’t enough for ya, ay?) But I’m also aware it’ll fade, as anything does. I’ll just enjoy this glow for a little longer, while getting on with my work. Dentist bills are certainly keeping me down here on earth.

One other thing: out of the other guests I most enjoyed meeting Lyndon Terracini, the director of Opera Australia. We clicked over Kafka, and I found him a very warm person. That’s something I’m grateful for, with all the travel and gigs I get to do: meeting interesting people. Jennifer Byrne, as you can probably tell from her screen presence, is also incredibly warm, smart, and funny.

Thanks to all of you who watched, and those who have come by the blog afterwards. Subscribe to my YouTube channel if you want to see more of me talking to camera about books!

Whisky Literature: I’m playing with video again

This is the first in a series called Whisky Literature (combining two loves), where I will muse on literature, discuss recent reads, or read aloud over a dram of whisky.

This episode features Ardbeg Uigeadail and the books Deeper Water by Jessie Cole, The Empress Lover by Linda Jaivin, and Tampa by Alissa Nutting, with mention of The Fictional Woman by Tara Moss and Foreign Soil by Maxine Beneba Clarke.

Expect a mix of passion, enthusiasm, absurdity, and tipsiness.