Word for the Year 2022

Welcome to The Drum and Page.

If my desk was named like an English pub, it would be The Drum and Page. My writing collaborator, Jodi, calls her place, The Dog And Book. Therefore I am renaming my work space like an English pub even though I live in Australia. It simply sounds better. What would your creative space be called?

I digress but this initial tangent leads me to my WORD OF THE YEAR.

Each year I choose a word to help guide and direct me. They are written on a Post It Note and stuck to the wall above my desk. Last year I had two words: “limitless” and “breakthrough.” I found success in these two words in the release of my chapbook, Mount Pleasant, in February, and winning a local writing competition about the middle of the year. I kept writing and drawing, sifting through the what was to see what would be.

This year, the word is RELENTLESS.

It will take a year to explore the nuances of this word and what it means for me. And that will be an awfully grand adventure.

It’s a word to apply to my creative life through writing and drawing, and will have application to the spiritual, emotional/mental, and physical aspects of my life. I don’t know what the final outcome will be at the end of 2022. I may have made no progress other than developing my creative practice. I may have opportunities to explore because I asked about a collaboration, or I put in an application for a writing mentorship, or I submitted work for publication and only received rejections. I don’t know. But I will be relentless in my pursuit of this creative life.

Grace and peace be upon you all from the desk of The Drum and Page.

Flash Fiction – The Tennis Court

There’s always a tennis court around the corner, the white lines faded and cracked. The net hangs in a lopsided grin as you walk past. The dog at your heels moves to your other side, putting you between it and the tennis court. You’ve never seen anyone play on it.

As you walk beyond the base line you think you hear the sound of a ball struck. You turn and there’s no one there on court. A tennis ball rolls out of the shadows and into the back corner of the court, resting against the cyclone fencing wire.

What Do You Do When You Get to the End of the Toilet Roll?

What do you do when you get to the end of the toilet roll?

A year is a toilet roll, and as this calendar year comes to an end, we tend to reflect on success, failures, the times that fell through as easy as a loose stool; the events we bit down hard on and pushed; the thoughts we had amounting to nothing more than sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

This laboured metaphor for the end of the year is fitting as this time of year is awash with Best Of lists, retrospective summaries, highlight reels and statistics. The interim period of December 1 until Christmas Eve is like looking at the roll of toilet paper on the holder and wondering how much is left and how long it will last, and if you’ll get through.

We mark our seasons and cycles in different ways. I am not one to successfully mark transitions and the ascension of seasons and new beginnings. I try to. I set out projects and works I’d like to complete but I am useless at developing plans and goals. Creating positive habits is hard.

I do know what I have, and have not, achieved this year. In the wash up of this year I can point to many reasons why I have not succeeded, some personal, some professional, some within my control and some out of my control. And all of these have had their impact in my growth as a writer and a creative.

What Am I Pleased With This Year?

These make me feel quite chuffed and are impetus for future growth next year. I have ideas, thoughts, hastily scribbled plans, fluid deadlines that need to be made fixed, unfinished projects to either abandon or complete.

And yet, there is fear.

Fear I can’t finish the projects I want to. Fear of what will happen outside of my control that can derail my progress. Fear of being average and beige and wasting my time. Fear is the largest obstacle I need to overcome.

Creativity is a discipline: spiritual, emotional, mental, physical. You train yourself like an athlete or musician to overcome fear. And when one cycle ends, you think about the incremental progress you have made, and how you have changed, developed, adapted, improved throughout the cycle.

So, what do you do when you get to the end of the toilet roll? You dispose of the waste, put a new roll on, and start anew.

What’s Cooking in the Story Kitchen?

What’s cooking in my story kitchen?

NaNoWriMo starts tomorrow, and I have never participated (reasons) but this year I am going to try something a little different.

I have plans for a new novella so I will be spending November doing *gestures vaguely* something towards this WIP.

I have organised my rough notes in a free online writing app, The Quill, so tomorrow I can have a look over it all and begin to arrange the pieces.

The biggest challenge will be reducing the broad scope of ideas into a focused concept with delineated characters and something to say.

To Make Contact With Mystery

An article I was reading (A Very Particular Risk: Aimee Bender on Jane Campion and Kazuo Ishiguro) helped me to reflect on how I create and construct my characters, and to think about what how these individuals are represented to my readers. It was a specific phrase in the article, “to make contact with mystery,” that prompted this reflection.

The world space I inhabit in my writing is the suburban, the contemporary, the plebian and mundane, and in that world space, I look for the mystery of the life of the person I am writing about.

When I am writing I want to know who they are and what formed them. I then ask how this knowledge informs the moment I am exploring in a current work in progress. It allows me to consider who they are, the language they choose to connect with other characters, what they hide or reveal. I question how the rest of their life may play out based on this knowledge, to consider for the work in progress what will change, if anything. Can they change themselves or are they destined to become part of a repeating pattern where the returns do not diminish but exponentially affect the future generations?

This is the mystery I come into contact with, and it is my hope that the reader will also come into contact with the same mystery. The unnamed characters in “Mount Pleasant” were created from that sense of mystery, to find a point of contact for the reader to identify with the character whether it was in the sense of identity found in a school uniform, or making sense of who you are as the main financial source for the family, or the ripple of domestic abuse.

A reader sent me a message to tell me of their favourite story, “Time Away,” and how it resonated with him. It was the relatability of the moment for him, seeing perhaps himself in the story. He made contact with the mystery.

Characters in stories are representations of real life. Dramatic constructions used as a puppet to examine the mysteries of life, to somehow make sense of ourselves and the world around us.

And in all of this, what dignity do I give my characters? I believe there is a dignity in their humanity, regardless of what they have done, or who they have become. We all have our pasts. As do my characters. What they were, who they were, becomes for me a question of who are they now, and what do they become?

It has given me pause to think over the current short story I am working on, and what I want my reader to take away from the story.

We read to make contact with the mystery of the lives of imaginary characters but in whom we see parts of ourselves and it helps us unlock a little more of the mystery of who we are.

Mount Pleasant – The JAR Writers Collective

Other titles from The JAR Writers Collective

Shades of Paradox

Her First Reality, Darkness

Fossil Five

Bridging the Gap

Ira Glass discusses the gap between where we are with our creativity, and where we’d like to be.

And this is where I am at.

I have a vision of the type of writer I want to be and I am trying to make it a reality.

Above my desk are a series of Post It notes, categorised under different headings. There are Post It notes for published pieces, Works in Progress, Ideas and Rough Concepts, Writing Competitions and Opportunities, and then a random miscellany of captured moments.

I am trying to bridge the gap. I am taking off Post It notes when I have abandoned a Work in Progress, trimming the hedge, so to speak, because I want to focus on the work I have at hand. I do not want to be distracted by too many ideas, or to spend time pursuing an opportunity that will not benefit me. I am being deliberately picky. I want to focus on writing well in order to bridge that gap.

It feels presumptuous, and arrogant, to say that I have a goal as a writer: I want to be on the Miles Franklin short list. The Miles Franklin award is prestigious writing award in Australia, and it is one I aspire to. Even to be on the long list would be an achievement. To win it would be the culmination of years of hard work.

I’ve set myself a bar on the other side of the creative gap. Time to get to work; to write the words that will build the bridge across that gap so I can leap over that bar.

Good News Klaxon – Westwords Writing Competition

* GOOD NEWS KLAXON *

I wrote a thing and won a thing.

Today my phone rang during one of my free periods and because the number was unknown I ignored it, assuming it to be telemarketing. A message pops up saying I have a missed call (duh) and there’s a message.

The voice message is a lovely gentleman from Westwords telling me I had won the Blacktown Local Government Area for 18+

I played the message again to make sure I had heard correctly. Then I returned the call because this couldn’t be right. Turns out it is. I am chuffed, stoked, amazed, bewildered and aghast.

Now it’s a literary fight to the death in June for the Main Round against the other winners.

It really is a weird feeling because I wrote this piece in response to the given theme/prompt, Are We Here Yet?

I wrote what I thought was a good piece that met the brief as I saw fit. I polished it to the best I could (and thanks to Jodi Cleghorn and Rus VanWestervelt for their insights and edits) and even had a colleague at work do a proofread (because she’s trained and she liked the work).

But I genuinely had no hope, and all hope, for this piece. You have no idea what others will write, or what the judges are looking for but you’re putting your trust in what you have written.

The next step is the 13 Local Government Area winners compete for the top prize. Again I have no hope and all hope. Whatever the outcome of that, I am still chuffed, not because of my success but because I wrote and submitted.

The link is here for the announcement and the list of winners: https://www.westwords.com.au/projects/living-stories-publication-prize-announcement/

I will let you know when it is available to read.

Did Your Existential Crisis Come With…?

In a lunch break between marking assessment tasks, I posted a photo I had taken in the morning (and doctored) and started with this question, “Did your existential crisis come with…?” and I intended to write a few witticisms.

It took on a life of its own.

This is how it ended up.

Did your existential crisis come with
A) free steak knives
B) a side order of chips
C) shoes that don’t give you blisters
D) extra marking of assessments
E) ill-fitting underpants
F) the playful observation of Berocca fizzing in a glass of water
G) guessing how many jellybeans are in the jar
H) exceptional Excel spreadsheet capabilities
I) looking good in glasses
J) obscure hobbies and interests
K) the satisfaction of picking your nose
L) drinking a hot beverage without it going cold
M) making the perfect fart noise with your mouth
N) not throwing up. Ever.
O) understanding the clinical benefits of ice baths but choosing not to have one
P) acne in middle age
Q) predicting the guilty person in a crime show
R) alphabetising stupid lists
S) using humour to disguise an overwhelming sense of individual doubt and fear
T) picking ripe fruit at the grocery store
U) being able to recite your favourite musical verbatim
V) never being able to find a convenient parking spot
W) reliving personal embarrassing moments in your head and providing scathing personal commentary
X) knowing faith and doubt make wonderful conversationalists
Y) wondering if you started something earlier how different might things be now
Z) being able to let it go

Possible Observations to Consider About Life Through the Metaphor of Food

Possible Observations to Consider About Life Through the Metaphor of Food

the dehydrated pea rattling around an empty plastic bottle
makes a great rattle for a child but
represents the entirety of your mortality

a secret being told to you
is the opening of a packet of chocolate biscuits
and you scoff the lot

doubt sticks to the roof of your mouth
like a fresh white bread and peanut butter sandwich
after adding a layer of butter as an undercoat

you take your tea with milk and sugar
same as your father
and recycle the teabag to make another cup

Mount Pleasant – A Track By Track Breakdown

Here is a track-by-track breakdown of the songs on the record, what inspired the band and how I used those ideas to create the narrative of each song for the book.

Listen to the album here: MOUNT PLEASANT

Prologue

I wrote the Prologue as a way of establishing the setting and motifs of the collection, that of deceit, deception and false facades. The setting of Western Sydney was inspired by the origins of the band, and it is the city I live in.

The Prologue is a fictional retelling of the changing of the name of the suburb where three of the band members grew up. There is no music for this piece of flash fiction but it explains the origins of the album’s title and frames the inspiration of each track, and allowed me to explore a set of stories based in Western Sydney in the 1990s and early 2000s.

The title of the album comes from the name of the suburb where three of the band members grew up. As a name it no longer exists. The local council wiped its name to clear itself of the violence and dangerous youths inhabiting the space. Nothing changed except the name.

Track 1 Holding Pattern

This was the first song released off the album and the first story I wrote. The title of the song is an in-joke as a close friend of the band claimed they were being kept in a ‘holding pattern’ due to the band’s lack of decision making. The band describe the song as being a bit all over the place but feeling right.

It was released with the cover art of the album which gave me the idea of a young girl living in an apartment complex, running up and down the stairs as a means of having some form of control in her life. She meets a recently arrived young boy and the story explores the holding pattern each of them lived in based on their suburb and how it affects their lives.

The song is angular and emphatic in the opening before a pause, a held breath leading to a crushing crescendo, and I wanted the narrative to have that same sense of movement. To have the reader imagine what it means to run, to be held within social strictures, and to be left behind.

Track 2 – Potemkin

The song title refers to the Potemkin village. The myth of the term comes from stories of a fake portable village built solely to impress Empress Catherine II by her former lover Grigory Potemkin, during her journey to Crimea in 1787.

I translated the original setting of Crimean Russia to that of a high school student, the pauper queen as she is named in the story, attending a performance of King Lear and explores the artifice of theatre as a metaphor of the schoolgirl’s existence. This existence extends to where she lives and how it defines her life and the life of her younger brother.

For the ending of this story I channelled John Hughes and The Breakfast Club for a monologue that would look great as a short film or a slam poem.

Track 3 – Pendock and Progress

This is my favourite song on the album. It is fast, frenetic, chaotic and triumphant, yet has pauses for breath. And I love the sound of the snare drum; it’s a perfect sonic fit in the track. It is the names of the streets where the band grew up.

It was the second song released and the second story I wrote. Pendock Close became a cul-de-sac, a dead-end street the protagonist rides his second-hand bike around. The cul-de-sac stands as a metaphor for the facades of society we inhabit, those we are forced to live and yet have no understanding there is something other what you consider normal.

Track 4 – Meet Me In The Meadow

This is a softer sounding song, and the narrative follows the burgeoning relationship a girl has with her crush, and the metamorphosis of adolescent sexuality. It is almost romantic in its feel, and the band used a quote from the Wes Anderson film, “Moonlight Sunrise” as the title.

In reading a synopsis of the film, the romantic element stood out. Not wanting to frame a narrative with a Wes Anderson style I diverted it to examine how boys and girls engage with the facades of masculinity and femininity; how they are both forced into frameworks that are detrimental to their developing sense of emotional, sexual and mental identity.

There are echoes and facets of these facades found in other stories in this collection, notably “Potemkin,” “Time Away” and “Gueules Cassees.” We need to interrogate who we are and understand how we have been deceived into accepting less than what we are worth.

Track 5 – Shambles

This story has a lightness in the music and in the content in comparison to the other stories. It is more comic in its approach than the other stories but still reflects the divide we encounter between what we think we are and what we really are. It is tongue in cheek in places, and it was definitely fun to write, and is reflected in the bouncy joyfulness of the music.

The protagonist is in his last year of high school and his academic life is a bit of a shambles. He’s a Western suburbs philosopher who likes grunge, works in a fish’n’chip shop and says there are two types of people in every situation. It even had my editor, Jodi, using “There are two types of people…” in her vernacular after editing this story.

I don’t think we use the word “shambles” enough. Time to bring it back.

Track 6 – Time Away

The band describe the song as an attempt of taking “time away” from all of the pitfalls of life but the escape is never found. Therefore my vision for this story was the father of a family who get to go on a holiday to the Gold Coast only to come home and find out he has been retrenched.

When Jodi sent back her initial edits, the email began with an expletive enhanced exclamation. I know if I get that then the story is working. Ben Hobson, who provided the quote on the cover, also connected with this story. I believe it is the heart of the collection.

The opening of this song has two parts. The first sounds like a demo track, setting up the motif of the track. The second part of the opening is a favourite section of mine as it has the drum track muted, all the top end rolled off so there is no sibilance in the hi hats, and it feels like a heartbeat, which was channelled into the father in the story. When the track kicks in proper, the bass drum is a thumping vibrancy underpinning the remainder of the track. There are so many layers to this track in its construction as it builds and builds in the midsection of the track before pulling back, and it is in this section, the return to the muted drums, that the father in the story wrestles with himeself.

It is perhaps one of the “softest” stories to read but the resonance is unsettling. Stories of masculinity and what that means, are in the forefront of our minds, and how that affects us, our children and families, and the wider community. From that central story, which as Track 6 is like the halfway point, every other story resonates from that point and reflects the broader perspectives and perceptions. One action can have far-reaching consequences.

Track 7 – Summer Sun

This story references the horrendous summer bushfires of 2001/2002 in Sydney where the paradoxical beauty of the world is slowly being destroyed. Our understanding of the macro comes into focus when we see the lives of individuals in the micro.

Bushfires are a constant threat in Australia and in 2019-2020, from September to almost March, significant parts of the country were on fire. This year we have had significant rainfall and lower temperatures.

We will within this dichotomy, between risk and reward, and the story focuses on a young man who observes the destruction of the bushfire even as his own body undergoes chemotherapy treatment.

Track 8 – Well, Go Well

This song serves as an interlude before “Gueules Cassees” and the band was influenced by Boards of Canada in the composition of this track.

I used it as a platform to lead in the final track, and once I knew what the focus was for “Gueules Cassees” I focused on developing a masculine voice for this interlude. A Twitter thread gave this piece its impetus where the user asked people to respond with apologies used by men in situations of domestic violence, sexual assault or manipulative behaviour in relationships. This narrative is a compilation of various apologies which frames the final track on the album.

The opening of the narrative begins, “APOLOGISE LIKE A MAN.” and uses various iterations of this sentence with different punctuation and capitalisation. It is also the final line. I was interested in how punctuation and capitalisation affected the reading experience and the intended meaning.

Track 9 – Gueules Cassees

The band describes this as the most brutal track to close on. “Gueules Cassees” is a French term meaning ‘broken faces’ and refers to ex-servicemen of World War 1 who returned home with disfigured faces due to the war. A Google search will provide you with some horrifying images of the reality of war, and the people who tried to assist them in their return to society where physical disfigurement lead to social ostracism, loss of status, breakdown of relationships or being turned away from jobs.

I needed to find a parallel of broken faces and in choosing the issue of domestic violence, I wanted to engage with the issue and the hiddenness of its impact on women. I was hesitant to write this, wanting to be authentic and truthful without getting it wrong, so I sought the opinion of other readers. Three women volunteered to read for me, to ensure I had the veracity of the story correct. Unfortunately, it rang true for those early readers, and they also offered new insights to develop the narrative further. I hope I have done this narrative justice.

It is a brutal concept, reflected in the music and the language. Seeing this song played live at the end of 2020 was remarkable as I had had the story drafted, and the intensity of the track was palapble to me.

Thank you for reading, and thank you for listening.