(If you think that maybe you really don’t got this…you are not alone. Please. Reach out for help. Reach for a friend. A neighbour. A professional. Reach anywhere. Someone will be there to take your hand, I promise, they will. So. Time to get googling for your local helpline. Because, actually…you really do got this. You do. And with a bit of help…you will remember how to roar again. )
Speak your truth. It’s really quite simple when you think about it, isn’t it? So why, then, do we—us human folk—have so many issues following through? I don’t want you, for a moment, to think that this wisdom I’m about to share is coming from a place of knowing because it’s not. Part of my truth is this: I know nothing for certain. All I know is my world; who I was then, who I am now, and who I want to be.
I know music moves me. I know I love sunshine and rainbows, pig-tails and overalls. I know I feel the overwhelming need to offer the tradesman in the lounge room the left-over fried rice because I so strongly believe in the magic of kindness. And, most importantly…I know I’m finally ready to speak my truth.
About all of it.
To anyone who cares enough to listen and hear.
We’re all different, aren’t we, us small children in adult bodies (and I really do think that’s what we are.) We’re all so gloriously odd, so delightfully unique—how could we ever have one truth? Love, I’m pretty sure, is the one truth that we all share. So why do we insist on judging each other for daring to be different?
One size fits all? It’s a mentality that’s wounded me. And it’s a mentality that’s wounded us, as a people, I’m going to be so bold as to say. How many of us go through life being just exactly who we are, without being influenced by others? None of us. Not-one-of-us. This is the world we’ve been born into. A world that, thus far, has been content with the game of following the leader: fashion trends, popular music—one size fits all (or at least, large groups of us).
I understand that I’m not saying anything new, here. But this is something that’s been on my mind, of late, so I felt it was important to share with you all. Because a society that thinks from a limited perspective is a buzz-kill that I’m just not sure I want to do anymore. Guys. Isn’t life far too short to suffer from any kind of bullshit, at all? (Omg. Truth.)
It has taken thirty-five years for me to find myself beneath the mud of other people’s louder noises. And the scary thing is that unless the world unclogs its drain pipes, clears away some of the icky sticky mess I’ve been wading in for far too long…I’ll probably get lost again. And again. And again.
I sense things are changing, though. As a collective, we seem to be thinking about things a little more, acting with our hearts a little more, too, maybe. That’s been nice to see, and it gives me so much faith that us humans really can turn all the muddy business around. If we’ve been able to unite in the name of fashion and pop-culture, then we will unite in the name of humanity, of course we bloody will. We’ve got this. Let’s do it.
Let’s do it so that our kids won’t have to look around and wonder if they’re allowed to be who they really are. Let’s show them that they are allowed to speak their truth. Simple. Surely there is nothing more wonderfully wonderful than that kind of freedom.
It was time to tackle a difficult read—a bold move, on my behalf. I’d grown up reading only for pleasure and, up until that point in my life, I’d not felt the need to be challenged by books. Reality could be a bitter pill to swallow as it was; did I really want it shoved in my face? Did I want to be huffing and puffing at the dictionary every ten words? No. I didn’t.
But I would do it anyway.
I decided on an Australian literary fiction novel that had a shiny gold sticker on it: an award winner. Surely this would challenge me. I lasted fifty pages before I turned to my husband—who was lounging on the couch opposite me with his own book— and made the big announcement.
‘The struggle is real,’ I said, and it was. Oh, my goodness it was.
Wordy passages of profound thought. Dull family portraits, the monotony of everyday life. A bit of love. A bit of hate. A bit of everything and nothing all at once. I raised my eyebrow and decorated the google search bar on my phone with the words I’d come to know way too well over the past few days, ‘Define (insert word here).’
‘It’s okay to stop reading,’ my husband said, smiling up at me from his book—which he was loving, by the way. And so, it seemed I had a choice. I could go on, allow myself the potential to expand as a reader (and, perhaps, as a human) or I could give up and go find another book. A lovely, lovely book!
Oh, man. I knew what the answer had to be. I needed to read on, I’d kick myself if I didn’t.
The dominoes fell about a quarter of the way through when I had the uncanny sense that the book was becoming more. I frowned into it, gently rocking back and forth on our beloved flower armchair (the same one that’s rocked both our precious babes to sleep, on countless occasions) when I realised what had happened. For the very first time, I had seen me within the pages of a book. Not just the outer crust of me. The inner creaks, the bones, the blood; and all the horrendous aches and pains life had thrown my way.
It felt awful. It felt so bloody awful that I just did not know how I could possibly last through another moment of such soul-scraping reality. Surely, I’d have to put the book down. But I didn’t. I kept reading. And then the book was finished. Just like that, I’d been changed because I dared to go to a place, within the world of literature, that frightened me.
There lies the beauty and the beast that is literary fiction—the grace of the art, the rawness of humanity; these are books coloured by the real-lives of writers who dare to expose life’s simple truths so that us readers might come to know ourselves, and our world, differently.
Michelle De Kretser is one of Australia’s best when it comes to finding the truth and telling it in the form of a novel. As I sat in the audience of her Q and A session on Saturday—only days after she won her second Miles Franklin Award—I was taken right back to the book that changed me. My burst into the world of literary fiction and the humanity that connected me to it, and it to me.
Michelle’s characters are ordinary, flawed people—at least, the ones I’ve met so far— and they are so alive with the human traits we all share. It was fascinating to hear her explain the way she draws the lives of these imperfect individuals, crafts them into little gems that reflect the lives of us, the readers.
It was very easy to be inspired by Michelle and her cheeky confidence. She spoke about all the crap of life as though the fixes were obvious, that underneath the complications of modern living, lies simplicity. People. Just trying to be.
All the beautiful textures and colours of the world, and there they are— in the minds of our most cherished writers, on the pages of our most precious books. Surely, to be human is to share our lives and hearts with others. To take a chance. To show each other our scars and to help each other heal from them. Because life hurts so much better when we roll with the punches, together, don’t you think? To me, that’s the beauty of literature. And I get the feeling that Michelle De Kretser just might feel the same way.
I’ve never read an Alexis Wright, book. Until she won the 2018 Stella prize, I’d never even heard her name.
But I can’t stop thinking about the speech she gave at the Melbourne Writers Festival on Wednesday night, and I absolutely think you should read it, here.
It’ll be good for the writer in you.
It’ll be good for the human in you.
It’ll just…be good.
‘I absolutely believe that we need deep thinking and deep imagination in our literature to shock the daylight out of us, to make us see what is happening in the world, to make us think, and if we teach how to read more deeply, think more, then perhaps, perhaps, we might stop harming ourselves and the planet.
Alexis Wright, Boisbouvier Oration, 2018
(One more post to go for my Melbourne Writers Festival series. I’ll try to get that to you over the coming days. xx)
Fear of judgement. I could fill a page with all the times it’s crippled me. All the times I wanted to do something but didn’t, all the ways I could have grown in this life of mine if only I’d stood firm and owned what I had to offer.
I’m in the front row at my second Melbourne Writers Festival event (Therapy Couch: Krissy Kneen) and there it is again, that word: humanity. It’s thick, and it’s oozing from Krissy Kneen as she talks through some of the fears she faces with her current project—a memoir recalling the history of her family, and the way it all sits within her life.
The scars of her family history are raw and deep, and, by writing a book on such a personal subject, Krissy will be exposed. She admits she’s nervous when it comes to Twitter and the various other social media platforms, and I don’t blame her. With the rise of the internet, ‘passing judgement’ has become all the more brutal.
It’s a moral fine line she’s walking, too, as it often is when it comes to writing memoir. Because even though our story will always be ours to tell: does it ever really belong only to us? What about the other characters in our lives? Krissy’s deceased Grandmother, who played a huge part in this family story, never wanted this story to be told. Krissy knows it—she’s reminded every time her Aunty shouts it down the telephone—and yet, she has chosen to tell the story, anyway.
Krissy recalls the moment she realised her Grandmothers passing meant the end of her uncomfortable silence. She would now be free to tell the story that, previously, she’d felt obliged to keep quiet. I can imagine the relief she must have felt. How many life choices might I have made differently if not for the wants and needs of others? I can think of a great many.
There really is no escaping the ache of humanity, is there? It’s the one thing we all have in common, whether we choose to share it with each other, or not. The stories of our humanity connect us and are often strewn with painful truths; truths that, these days, most of us would rather escape, than face. It’s easy to sit at the bottom of a mountain. But if you’ve ever stood at the top of one, I’m betting you know all about that view.
As I leave the auditorium, bumping shoulders with the people of my day, I can’t help but feel a hum of admiration for this woman called Krissy Kneen. Here is a woman who is chasing after her truth. She is standing in all of her power, and despite the ever-present fear of judgement, she is calm and she is steadfast. She sees the challenges. She chooses to move past them.
This is her life. Her story. Good on her for granting herself permission to honour it.
Recently, a friend asked me if I’d ever experienced a ‘sliding doors’ moment. I didn’t even have to think about what my answer would be. I rattled off a moment from the past where a right turn, instead of the left that I took, would have drastically changed the course of my life.
I suspect that yesterday I experienced another one of these perfectly orchestrated twists of fate. Because maybe, rather than simply blaming poor time management skills, I was actually meant to be late to my first Melbourne Writers Festival event. Maybe I was meant to walk in on John Marsden right at the very moment he was unzipping his skin and revealing the inner scars that have no doubt been etched into the lives of each of his characters.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with his work, John is an Australian author, perhaps most famous for the young adult series, ‘Tomorrow, When the War Began’. I was first introduced to the ‘Tomorrow series’ when I was about sixteen and, as luck would have it, the first four or five books had already been published by then. I gobbled them up with barely the urge to sleep or eat.
But let’s talk about the John Marsden of today. The John Marsden whose talk at the 2018 Melbourne Writers Festival I was quite late for, because I’m a goose who just happened to lose track of time on the wrong day.
I scurried out to the garage—car keys jangling, jacket half on, kissing the air around my husband and children—and I was off. I won’t talk too much about the drive there, but I will say the traffic was maddening and added ten more minutes onto my estimated time of arrival. (We should just skim over the moment I flicked the gear stick into reverse, instead of first gear, don’t you think?)
Upon arriving at the venue I apologised to the lovely girl manning the front desk. She smiled and directed me to an empty seat, with sympathetic eyes and very little fuss. One of the marvellous gifts of this writer’s festival of ours are the volunteers. Their passion for books and arts always shows, and how lovely it is to see (especially when you’re very bloody late. Omg.)
As I listened to the conversation unfold between John and his interviewer, I was struck by the quiet nature of the man. John Marsden, not the writer, but the ordinary, imperfect being, baring his soul to a room of strangers.
There was no talk of the books that fed my creative soul throughout my youth—I was clearly late enough to have missed that boat. But I found myself sitting there thinking: perhaps I am hearing exactly what I was meant to hear. Perhaps if I’d been there from the start, I’d have missed the relevance of a writer’s humanity in this whole reading/writing shindig.
Do you believe in fate?
Because, after yesterday’s frantic dash and subsequent late entry to Marsden town, I really think that maybe I do.