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.

Mount Pleasant Cover Reveal

I know I have been banging on about working towards a new project so I am very thankful that today I can reveal the cover for my forthcoming release, Mount Pleasant.

Mount Pleasant is a concept chapbook of 10 short stories based on the music of Solkyri, from Sydney, Australia. Solkyri are a post-rock band, and this is their fourth album, released in February 2020.

Mount Pleasant is inhabited by individuals who experience joy and laughter, doubt and confusion, fear and uncertainty, revelation and resurrection. These stories invite us to reflect on who we are now and ask us to investigate ourselves in relation to the pasts that may or may not have shaped us and the futures we wish to shape for ourselves.

“I am conscious of where I come from and the sadness that grows inside of me. I am curious to know what it means and what it makes me.”

In a Western Sydney suburb that no longer exists, its name erased and replaced with another, a façade is created to mask the truth of its existence.

Behind it is…
a girl who runs
a young woman dreaming beyond her uniform
a boy cycling through his family line
a girl who yearns for metamorphosis
a young man playing with polarities
a father who has lost himself
a young man decaying under the summer sun a man’s apology
a woman who longs to be seen

When the viciousness of hope is a powerful drug,
the inescapability of hopelessness is even more devasting.

What is Post-rock?

Post-rock is a form of experimental rock music characterised by an exploration of textures and timbres, structures and forms, soundscapes and riffs, rather than a verse/chorus, verse/chorus structure typically found in rock music. The music has its own narrative through the rise and fall of sounds, textures, tempos, crescendos and decrescendos, aural assaults and minimalist orchestration.

Who Are Solkyri?

Formed in 2006, Solkyri deliver moments that blend intense vulnerability with pure power built around the interplay of guitars and driving rhythms, with nods to math-rock, shoegaze and ambient music.

‘Mount Pleasant’ strives to push the boundaries of both sides of its personality, its unyielding energy and its tender moments of intimacy. It is the culmination of years of personal reflection and the rediscovery of passion. Prominent radio station Triple J described it as “Beautiful yet precisely chaotic post-rock.”

I encourage you to have a listen to the record (link below) via Bandcamp: Mount Pleasant. I have been to many of their gigs in the past and they are always a great live band.

And check out other great bands on Birds Robe Records.

A huge thanks to Jodi Cleghorn for the design work and layout.

Another thank you goes to Ben Hobson, author of To Become A Whale and Snake Island, who said, “Profound slices of human truth. There is such a clarity in character, and a precision in a lived experience of Australia within these stories. Adam’s skill is in making us remember those small moments in our lives that mean so much to us. Read this to engage your heart.”

In my next post I will explain the inspiration behind each track from the band’s perspective and how it inspired my take on each track.

Links for preorder will be available very soon via The Jar Writers Collective.

Dear 2021: The Start of It

Late last year I contributed to a project run by Nik Perring, Writer-In-Residence at Sheffield Library in the UK, titled Dear 2021: The Start of It.

The project was an initiative of Sheffield Library and their new digital channel. And it is now live. You can watch and listen to a range of poems.

Dear 2021, The Start of It videos

Here’s the teaser: Sheffield Library Teaser

There’s also a playlist of those who contributed: Sheffield LIbrary Playlist

And here is the link to my contribution: A Prayer for 2021

I hope you spend some time listening to these are there are some remarkable pieces reflecting on the year that was, and looking forward to the year that will be.

Here is the text of my poem so you can follow along as you listen to my Antipodean accent.

Next year
is a year of cautious uncertainty
of starting lists of Things To Do, People To See, Dreams To Have
written on sheets of wet paper
trying hard not to push the pen through in our haste and excitement
Slowly, slowly. Take your time.
We wish for the ordinary like shopping for toilet paper, attending birthday parties, listening to live music, having cups of tea together

After the year that has been
we remember Death still has its sting
not the quick, sharp bite of a Band Aid pulled from the skin
but the tearing of a soul from soul
where we collect the leftover memories like crumbs
to drop them as markers to find our way back to a hope worn gently across our shoulders
a favourite hoodie we wear for comfort in our solace and solitude
hands stuck deep into pockets, cradling ourselves

May gentleness be our watchword, a whispered prayer for salvation
heard in the boiling of the kettle
seen in the pegs holding our washing on the clothesline
the ghosts of ourselves dancing in the wind

When our hands were empty of crumbs, they retreated in fear
tightened into fists holding nothing but emptiness
let us unfurl our fists and dip them into bags of seeds
planting in the fallow soil and hoping for a harvest
let us return to the courtesy of common unity, enrich the soil of our neighbour’s yard
bless each other’s humanity and pray for rain to water the soil

Next year
we will listen for the cadence of time in the snap of fresh bed sheets
not the turning of pages of the calendar like autumn leaves

Next year
while I have lungs to give breath to speak
soaked as they are in the condensation of compassion and doubt
I will squeeze my lungs out like sponges
and give utterance to my hope
letting my words drip over my hands
down my arms
running off my elbows
into the ploughed ground of next year

Next year
each day is an advent, the waiting for an adventure
the coming of things promised

2021 is Limitless

2021 is Limitless

Each year the members of The JAR Writers Collective develop a word for ourselves that will help define the year to come for our individual goals and pursuits, dreams and visions.

My word for 2021 is LIMITLESS.

I can see it as a reaction to the restrictions we have endured in 2020 but I am thinking more along the lines of internal perceptions of my own creativity, faith and spirituality, sense of self, who I am as a husband and father (and what it means for my family) who I am as a teacher (and what that means for me and my students). I am no fool to think that 2021 will not have its challenges and difficulties (I can already outline a few of them) but where is my focus to cope with them and to build resilience?

In being limitless.

I have stuck the Post It Note above my desk to be a constant reminder to build my foundations in something stronger than myself in order to know who I am and to be a blessing to others.

What is your word for the year?

Gallery

What I Will Leave Behind… and is it worth it?

A story, attributed to Kurt Vonnegut, recounts his time working alongside an archaeologist who began to ask Kurt questions about his life and his interests. Kurt commented on his activities such as choir, literature, learning an instrument. Yet Kurt felt … Continue reading

The Fallow Season

The Fallow Season

Due to the nature of my job as a high school English teacher there are certain times of the year when the time to create is very limited.

This is one of those times.

July to September is very busy, and time to focus on large projects or develop new ideas is very limited. Therefore I call this my fallow season.

I leave projects and ideas on hold, waiting for the next break to pick them up again. I can do little things like drawing but writing projects wait.

It is frustrating for a number of reasons. If I have built momentum on a project I have to let it slow down. If I want to spend time developing a new project it can only be done in small parcels of time if I have the mental strength to do so. It is frustrating because I am not where I want to be as a writer. There are other factors in the background that also hinder progress, and each time I think I have found a new pattern or way of creating, the parameters shift and I have to restart.

So this is me, waiting out the season but watching over the fields.

Things To Do While Sitting With Grief

Things To Do While Sitting With Grief

tie your shoelaces with the perfect tightness you like. send a text to your best friend asking how he’s doing at the moment because you haven’t spoken in a while. and send one to your sister for the same reason.

write out a shopping list of what you will need for the week and include a treat for yourself. count the drops of rain falling and see if you can make it to one thousand.

read a book; the one you said you always would but never get around to.

respond to your best friend’s text and invite him over for dinner and ask him what his favourite food is and plan to make it. add the ingredients to the shopping list you started earlier.

turn your phone off. listen at the window. make a mental note of what you see in the colour of the sky and shape of the clouds. remember your first kiss and why it stays in your memory and not the last kiss you gave or received. wait for the echo.

paint your fingernails and toenails even if no one will see them. later, put on your favourite socks, the comfy ones you wear around the house with slippers.

measure the distance the shadow travels as it pushes in like the rising tide. tomorrow, time how long it takes.

draw the flowers in the vase and capture their fragility; a daguerreotype of death. next week, draw them when they have wilted. preserve it.

listen to the sound of your breathing, through your mouth, through your nose. clench your fists breathing in. release them breathing out.

The Cartographer’s Journal

Hello there,

It has been a little while since I’ve dropped in here to announce anything but in the background things have been happening.

During June I was participating in the #JARWriteathon where I set out to write a zine combining vignettes and poetry with continuous line drawing.

It is now finished and very soon it will be available for sale.

Here is the blurb:

The Cartographer’s Journal is the fragmented exploration of a man’s life following the death of his grandfather and is the catalyst for examining his life and the moments he remembers. He plots his experiences as way points and erects milestones to understand how memory, distorted and fragmented as it is, constructs an identity although it is not fixed until secured in retrospect.

These random moments of memory are catalogued in our heads, a sequence of unconnected and disconnected events that serve as marker points of who we are. To explore the past is to chart the periphery of maturation as “Here Be Dragons.”

We make our way forward in life by walking backwards.

You can see a preview HERE.