Tag Archives: Melbourne Writers Festival

Drawn from life (there’s a reason you’re seeing Shaun Tan’s name everywhere)

A Day in the LifeThe festival published an amazing selection of comics this year called Drawn from Life. This is Shaun Tan (if you love beautifully drawn and unusual websites make sure you click the link) drawing his day. I love its whimsy, and especially the iguanas. And the shining gold panel when a simple truth is realised. And the consciousness in the kitchen. Ok I just love all of it I think. Just a short post to start the day at the Melbourne Writers Festival.

The glue of good fiction (and a sleeping Sparrow)

My pram being used as a laptop tableI type this with Sparrow on my back. My airbook is balanced on the hood of the pram and jiggles as I type. I hear “the intimate space of other people’s relationships” and “reflect our own world back to us” and I sway and type and sway and hope that Sparrow will be lulled by amplified and echoing voices instead of kept awake.

There are four women in armchairs in a semicircle on the stage. Marion Halligan is introduced first. She has an easy slouch, a silver grey bob, and Sparrow is saying “ya ya ya” in the soft, raspy way he has. I zone in and out. I hear and don’t. I see the Yarra beyond the glass back wall of the BMW Edge theatre and a girl child riding her bike, swerving to miss the clichéd joggers and tourists.

Enza Gandolfo is chairing and next she tells us about Jane Smiley and Gail Jones.

This theatre is big and full of light. There is a huge space at the top, at the back of all the seats, and I am relieved because maybe this bringing a baby into sacrosanct adult space will be ok. He blows raspberries into the middle of my back. Sings into my shoulder blades. Can I rock and type and bounce for an hour? People in the back row turn to look, and mostly smile.

The last to be introduced is Elizabeth Stead. I keep bouncing and trying to listen but there’s more “ya ya yaing” and a gang of seven year olds is inspecting the architecture of the glass wall on my left. A child with tracksuit pants that don’t quite cover her ankles traces one of the metal supports and lags behind to peer in at us. A teacher moves her on.

Enza wants to know what kinds of relationships these writers are interested in exploring and Marion says birth, love, marriage, and betrayal. She says she’s tired of hearing this called women’s writing, that Shakespeare wrote about the same thing too. She’s interested in the having and the not having of children. She says that this generation is full of young women pushing forty and desperately trying to get pregnant.

Sparrow still singing. And doing this thing where he pushes his whole body against the ergo and jiggles up and down at the same time with a loud “ah ah ah ah” like that will help him escape.

Gail talks about the collapse of the present into the past. That when people leave the room we don’t stop having relationships with them. She says that there’s the physics of the text, but it’s the metaphysics; time, space, memory, the inner and outer, that interest her.

1.15 and I think Sparrow is asleep. His breathing has taken on a regular, deeper cadence. Can I stop rocking?

I concentrate again and hear Elizabeth say “I write more about people who are lonely.”

It’s not comfortable, standing up here. I walked into a wind tunnel in the city yesterday that nearly pulled the pram from my hands. I wrenched my shoulder in the holding on against that fierce blowing and now the ergo straps have set up an ache. It’s not comfortable, standing up here. I listen but my heart is beating fast. Always this division. I can’t listen with my whole self. Part of me is reserved for “is he waking?” and “will he be hungry when he opens his eyes?” and “I could sit in that chair there to feed him” and “if he makes too much noise we’ll just have to leave” and, and, and.

And suddenly they’re all talking about flat irons, and who remembers them, and the ironing of old wedding dresses in Paris.

Then Jane says “the occasion of the storytelling is displacement” (I am displaced). “You just start writing” (I am writing). “The novel is linear because words are linear… that’s your boon and your bane… you hope that once the words enter the reader’s mind they’ll become three dimensional”. I am entranced. I forget, momentarily, about my children, and I am all there, all words, undivided, inhabiting this talk, breathing it in. Gail is speaking and she says “you don’t need to know where you’re going, you need to see the space of illumination in front of you”. I see the space of illumination in front of me. The way is clear.

Festival, not freakout (and the glacial PhD)

mwf logoI’ve been trying to get to the Melbourne Writers Festival for some years. I was planning to go when I was pregnant with Monkey, but had pre eclampsia and was spending four hours, three days a week hooked up to monitors and having my blood pressure taken. In 2009 I had a ten month old baby who hadn’t slept through yet and festivalling was definitely not on the agenda. Last year I thought I’d get there for sure. Then my lovely wife was hit by a car while she rode her scooter to work and I was the only able bodied (34 weeks pregnant) person in the house. This year is my year.

Am I excited? A bit. Am I utterly panicked at the logistics of going to the festival, blogging about it, and managing Sparrow and Monkey and the rest of my life? Completely.

I think it’s a coping mechanism. Worry is easier for me than joy. It’s been that way for most of my life. Joy (excitement, happiness, gleeful anticipation, all of that good stuff) is something I have to work incredibly hard at. So I’m repeating this mantra: festival, not freakout. Festival like fun, like sun, like words and books and like-minded people. Festival like food for my brain, and my heart, and the part somewhere in between where poetry lives. Festival, Karina, not freakout.

And then there’s the glacial PhD. I feel like someone shot the starting gun and I’m wandering around in circles behind the starting blocks trying to work out which way to run. And trying not to run. I took myself out to the bungalow on Tuesday night and got two hours of study in (incredible achievement for a tired Mama – Sparrow was in the Children’s last week with an intussusception). Unfortunately my head did not think this was an incredible achievement. My head was so concerned about how to keep track of what I was reading and then where to file what I found that what I was reading barely registered. I’m floundering.

Today Sparrow and I went to the library and it took four hours to borrow some books, track down some theses, talk to my faculty librarian and get back to the car. For most of that time he was something to be managed while I tried to get tasks done. This is what I missed: the cuddle he gave me when we got out of the car (he goes still and melts into my shoulder for sometimes a whole minute before sound or movement draws his attention). The miso soup he lapped at, catlike, on my lap outside the Japanese place on campus. The grinning “ba ba ba” when I stopped trying to get him to sleep and got him out of the ergo for a feed. The way he holds one foot while he drinks and absorbs only everything. Every thing. He fell asleep on the way home so I’m sitting on my chilly front step drinking tea, eating one of the season’s last tangelos, and writing this post. I am remembering that I would not be attempting this PhD if I’d never had kids. So in the spirit of thx thx thx (and also because I’ve been practicing gratitude for about fourteen years – it works, but it needs to be practiced):

Dear Sparrow,

Thank you for being my constant companion so that I am required to treat the small moments I have like a rare treasure. Thank you for sleeping better in the ergo on my back so I can use your pram as a book barrow. And thank you for grinning at nearly everyone we meet on campus – you have made conversations with strangers an easy thing.

If you see me at the festival in the next couple of weeks, do me a favour. Stand next to me and repeat: festival, not freakout.