Friday, May 30, 2008

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The illusion of promise

In today's Sydney Morning Herald, a sometimes amusing article from the Guardian quoting Hanif Kureishi, author of My Beautiful Laundrette and Something to Tell You. One of the issues Kureishi discusses is the increasing number of universities offering degrees in creative writing, which he calls "the new mental hospitals". He makes a point that I myself have made many times, including directly to university writing students; that "creative writing courses set up false expectations that a literary career would inevitably follow."

We all know that if one completes an architecture degree, one can realistically expect to find a job as an architect. Likewise a teaching degree, a nursing degree, a plumber's ticket, and so on - they each lead directly to employment in one's chosen field. So the obvious assumption on the part of the creative writing graduate is that their degree will fast-track them up the ladder of writing success; that commissioning editors will read the qualification listed on the CV and take the manuscript in question straight to the top of the slush pile.

I am assured by several editors that it simply doesn't work like that. Great writing is great writing, regardless of who wrote it. Likewise crap writing. Really, the only possible uses for creative writing courses are to teach the students something new and useful about the craft of writing that will enable them to write better (in fact, shouldn't all courses actually teach us something rather than simply leading us through hoops for the sake of an educational transcript?) and to allow the graduate to work as a teacher of creative writing, although one could argue that runs on the board are of far more value than a whole bunch of theory one has never used in one's own practice.

The full article can be found here.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Public animation

Terms of reference (my own, not Webster's):
  • Animation = use of multiple images to create the illusion of movement, and thereby to create a visual narrative.
  • Public = opposite of private, in this case referring to a space that is accessed and 'owned' by everyone.
  • Patience = what this guy has in spades...

MUTO a wall-painted animation by BLU from blu on Vimeo.

Friday, May 23, 2008

A roller-coaster of emoticons

The last fortnight has been what one would have to describe as a roller-coaster of emoticons. To summarise:
  1. I learn that I have won the Ethel Turner Prize in the NSW Premier's Awards :D
  2. I hear that my grandfather is gravely ill :[
  3. I learn that my grandfather has passed away. As a family, we are both saddened :( and relieved :|
  4. We bury Grand-dad, for which my brother flies out from the UK. So it's sad to have a funeral, :( but good to see Rob and his son Lachlan :)
  5. Rob and Lachlan leave to return home :[
  6. Vicki and I head in to the NSW Art Gallery to attend the presentation of the Awards. :)
  7. On the night, Frank Sartor announces that the prize money has been doubled, as of this year. :o 8O :D
  8. I collect my award. :)
  9. Vicki and I return to our car to find the back window smashed, and my Sony Vaio laptop stolen. :o >| (I know, I know, I should have taken it inside... And that last emoticon does little to express the rage I felt.)
  10. Vick and I stay in Sydney overnight, and the following morning, after a very odd, rather sleepless night, I catch a 6am flight to Brisbane to go to a school. zzzz
  11. That afternoon I get an email from someone saying that they "accidentally" bought a second-hand laptop, and they want to give it back, having realised that this is in fact one of my tools of trade. 8o
  12. Now I've got the flu ----------------
So that's my fortnight. I honestly don't know how I feel at this moment. If I had to find an emoticon for right now, it would be :?

Friday, May 16, 2008

The Mamre boys

Yesterday I attended a entirely uplifting event. It was the graduation for the boys from the Mamre Project Links to Learning program. This was originally set up by the Sisters of Mercy to help Year 8 and 9 kids from the Penrith/St Marys/St Clair area who have been deemed to be at risk of not completing Year 10.

Basically, for two days a week over twelve weeks, the students head out to the Mamre homestead in St Marys and have intensive work on relationship-building, boundary setting, some school stuff (writing, reading, maths), and a lot of sport. They establish their own rules (respect, no put-downs, no fighting, only building each other up etc) and abide by them. The program's been going for almost eight years now, with two groups a week, for two 12-week blocks a year, and the outcomes have been fantastic, not least of all the fitness outcomes.

I got involved last year, when I was asked by a friend to go and chat to the boys about writing. They'd been reading Problem Child together, and when I got there for my first session they were pretty buzzed, and very keen to talk about the book. In fact, on three occasions now they've kept the last couple of chapters unread so that I could finish the book with them, which has been terrific fun.

So yesterday was the graduation, and the boys were all dressed up, with parents, teachers and others turning up en masse to support them. They were very proud, those guys, and so were their youth workers, Mat and Mel.

But for me the proudest moment was when one of the boys rather nervously read a speech he'd written, all about setting personal goals. He said that Problem Child was the first book he'd ever read all the way through, and that he was now halfway through Tomorrow, When the War Began.

And at risk of sounding mushy and sentimental, isn't that what it's all about?

Personal inventory II

  • State of desk: prohibitively cluttered
  • State of mind: mentally exhausted
  • Number of writing projects currently under way: 3
  • Writing mindframe: Oh, is that what I do these days?
  • Number of Facebook friends: 152
  • Number of spam emails waiting to be junked: 71
  • Sleeps until Voices on the Coast: 16
  • Faith in human nature: mildly positive, hopeful
  • Number of words written so far today (not counting blog): 0

Monday, May 12, 2008

Vale Ron Roy

Last Thursday my grandfather died. Ronald Maitland Roy was 94 years of age. He was born the same week that the Ford Motor Company introduced the production line. He was born in the same year as the zipper was invented, the Panama Canal was completed, construction began on Canberra, and Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring premiered in Paris. He lived with his parents, his two brothers and his two sisters in a dirt-floor house, sleeping on sacks filled with straw.

Ron dedicated his entire working life to the Sanitarium Health Food Company, working at the Weet-Bix factory in Cooranbong, then going on the road as traveling salesman (I think they call them sales reps now), and finally working in health food shops in Tasmania and Victoria.

He was pretty much deaf for most of his life, so he wasn't considered a good fit for soldiering. His deafness kept him in a bit of a cocoon much of the time, and he would often be heard sitting quietly in a chair, whistling to himself in his warbly fashion, or sometimes playing the harmonica.

The things Grandpa loved most in life were (in no particular order) his wife Rene, his son Don and daughter Dianne, his vege garden, fruit-n-nut chocolate, his grandkids, and his four great-grandkids. Even when he was very frail and nearing the end of his life, his face would light up when the kids walked into his room. I feel very grateful that my girls, who are 15 and 12, got to know their great-grandfather, and that he got to know them.

His greatest regret? He always wanted to go to the Holy Land, but back in the 80's, when the conflict reached the Sinai Peninsula and took Mt Sinai off all the travel itineraries, he decided that he'd never go. He was a very devout man, and the way he saw it, if he couldn't go to the place where Moses was handed the Ten Commandments, he didn't want to go at all.

He had some views that were reflective of his generation. He had some views that were reflective of his upbringing, and one or two of his views made me cringe. But one thing was certain - he never shied away from his opinion.

We're burying Grandpa tomorrow. It's going to be a tough day, but we'll get through it. I'll be expressing a few thoughts on behalf of the grandkids, and I suspect that I might have to stop a few times. But it's a weird thing, that losing someone who is so very old and who has lived such a full life should be so very sad. 'He's had a good innings,' people say. Yes, that's true, but with that comes the sobering knowledge that so much history and so many memories have been lost forever.

Friday, May 9, 2008

A saltine battery

I've added a new category to my blog today. The "me being a self-righteous git" tag will be reserved for posts that deal with my single greatest literary bug-bear -- those people who stuff the written English language into a sack, tie off the end and proceed to kick thirteen shades of crap out of it, inspired by nothing other than complete ignorance of what certain words look like.

For example, yesterday I saw, on one of those school signs with the slide-in letters, the following message:

One might argue that the T had slipped slightly to the left, but what happened to the O? And how did it slip, when the whole message was locked behind a quarter-inch-thick sheet of perspex?

And then, this very morning, on a newsblog comment page, someone wrote this gem:

One hour is long enough, little lone eight.

Clearly the creators of these sentences know what said sentences should sound like, but haven't ever seen them written down.

I fear that this won't be the last of these posts.