Thursday, May 19, 2016

Ellen Van Neerven, Comfort Food and Status Anxiety



I read Alain de Botton's Status Anxiety many years ago. I remember how calming  The Consolations of Philosophy was at an anxious time in my life and I moved straight on from there to Status Anxiety. I have not re-read it since but I remember figuring something out whilst reading his book. The best way to avoid status anxiety is to hang around people who are less talented/smart/successful than yourself.  The phrase a 'a big fish in a small pond' had always felt like it related to geography. Being famous in Brisbane was kind of different to being famous in, say, New York.  I now know the world doesn't work that way. We are not cut off by geographical borders in quite the same way. Members of my tribe live in Sydney and Melbourne now and some even live in New York, Chuuk and Slovenia. I am a small fish in a very big pond and the size of the pond is dictated by the quality of the writers who I consider to be in my community.

I recently read Comfort Food, the soon to be released collection of poetry by my friend and fellow writer Ellen Van Neerven. How is it possible that your heart can simultaneously explode with pride  and sink at the same time? Well cosmology can explain that if you look at the quilted universe with it's quickly expanding patches and it's patches of dark matter, but you know what I mean.

Reading Comfort Food I wondered if I was just not good enough, would never be good enough to reach for the quality of work that my friends achieve.  I am asking for trouble with the group of writers I call friends I suppose. I regularly have dinner with Ashley Hay and Kristina Olsson,  and I am friends with Melissa Lucashenko too. These are just a few of the people who define the limits of this very big pond. I have recently re-read Ashley's next manuscript and my friend Cory Taylor's book Dying a Memoir and I will never be able to write a book as quiet and delicate as Ash's book, as perfectly structured and wise as Cory's book, as full of deep and resonant vulnerabilities as Ellen's book, as complex and thoughtful and wide-reaching as Kristina Olsson's books... I could go on and on.

Here we have the root of my status anxiety. My friends are too good. I don't want them to be lesser writers. Their own drive and talent drives me to do better. I know I can't be them. I can never write a book like Comfort Food but reading it I want to write something that is as raw and wise and honest as that book. I have to keep trying. My friends make me keep trying. I am friends with the best writers and with a lot of work and commitment and energy I will chase at their heels, hoping only to keep pace, even if I will always be a little step behind. My ridiculously talented friendship group force me to become my best self. That is all I could ever ask.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

From a new thing. A voice from the future of my work.


S

I.
I equals S. 
I am S. I know myself by this sound-letter. S is yellow like flowers, like the explosive petals of a dandelion. So many, you could count them all at a glance and find yourself lost in the hundreds. S is yellow like a bright kitchen netted from memory, slippery fish of a long forgotten thought is S.
S like the words serendipity and savannah and psoriasis for how am I to know that the disease is not spelled the way it sounds. In this theoretical space of the self, my apparent self, I know some words I have gleaned the lip service of a special school, from magazines left open. From Shakespearean plays, which have permeated the air so that our chest rises in iambic pentameter. Letters are things to be crawled up inside. Letters have sounds and words have thicker sounds and all sounds are a bright flash like a musket fire. I know my letter S tastes like the grenade sizzle of icing sugar on the tip of a pastry. Everything loud and sharp and, even curled down like the S that I am, I am assaulted by sunlight, which feels like a stained glass window sandpapering on my skin.
Lying here open-mouthed I can taste the ocean, only faintly because there are bodies in the way. The house is filled with people.
Introductions are polite
Let me be polite. Polite. They are always telling me to be polite.
Let me introduce you to them, the people in this house. They are now familiar to me. I know them by the letters that stand for them.
Gus is an X, a xylophone, a percussive thump of complex chocolate, a chord but never a single note.
David (E) is the water dripping down the outside of a frosted glass on a hot day.
Sarah is opaque like toffee. She has no letter she is only Sarah. She shatters if you bite her and the sound of her essence expelling from the tooth mark is sliced aubergine, weeping with salt tears.
Paul, our most constant normal, is a double M. MM Like sun on a wooden deck. Paul can be dozed upon, danced upon, but pull him to pieces and you could build him into a fence or a dog kennel.
There are other normal’s too. BB Katherine with her acrylic frowns and grumphs. KK Madeleine watching, and camera snapping, catching us up and keeping us for later and calling us her art, GG Aiden with the waft of pot kaleidoscoping his t-shirt.
And then Gavin. No words for Gavin and I slide over him so quickly he might not even be there in the mix of things. I blank him and he is a blank page. He becomes unwritten and must have no voice of his own. It is a relief to not have to speak of him. I move on without impact.
I open my mouth, sucking in the air and filtering it, trying to taste its component parts. The world is a Magic Eye puzzle book. All the colours and sounds and smells of it coming at me at an equal intensity. I can’t focus on any element with the constant clamour of everything else. It takes an exhaustive concentration and I can only manage this in small, bright bursts. I suck air across my tongue. I am searching for the foam on the top of a breaking wave. I am trying to count the shells washed up on the nearby mud-sand beach, sorting the ones that still have snails inside them, dead snails red and hard on the back of your palate like raw egg, live snails soft as butter. The beach is close enough for me to smell. The shells are a potent part of the strandal perfume. I am an olfactory adventurer. I taste all of the world, even at a distance. And, bear with me, this is hard for normals, but I want to talk to you about time.
You see time as a thin line from one place to another. Time comes at me all at once. I am thick in the fairy floss of time. Because of this, the salt in the air is a beach and the chlorine is a sink scraped clean. All things exist here at the same time, but that is not how communication works. Communication must be fixed in the me and the here and the now. This is what I am trying to communicate with you. Communication is impossible if you pull the toffee of time and trip it up over itself. I cannot communicate. But this is a story and in a story there must be some kind of speak and listen. So let us, just for an imaginary moment, believe that I can speak to you. Lets suspend our disbelief long enough for me to tell you everything in some kind of order that you might understand.  I will start simply. We will work together on this. I push and you must pull a little to stop the rope from tumbling to the leaf litter. I speak. You can speak back to me by taking up a pen and writing your version of events in tiny ant-like letters between the lines on the page. Then it is a conversation. Then it is true communication.  I will begin this exchange by sharing with you my first whiff of him. Make your notes in the margin, use a bright yellow highlighter remembering the hundreds of petals in my single letter but don’t get distracted by the overwhelming spiral of them. Listen now. If I must stick to a timeline, then this is how it begins.
He is a new person. He comes, ducking under the hammer of the neighbour who is shouting. Pound, pound, pound goes the voice and then suddenly he is there and his presence muffles the expletives. He is the smell of petrol, aftershave, nervous sweat. And when I push against it and the door is open I can celebrate his arrival. I am nothing but forward motion. I rollick through a great big bubble of himness. He is new and therefore he is all wonderful potential. He is the musk of his crotch, the collected signals of his gender, collared shirt, shined shoes, short cropped hair, sunshine on sand, seawater soaked in a silk scarf. He is a big male bubble of visual and nasal cues that he is performing subconsciously. All of these cues add up to the aura that spells him, man, specific man, new man. He is an aura to run through on my way to the ocean. The collection of signs that mean him are like a chord. Harmonious. Pleasing to my skin.
He is a perfect chord chasing me and I duck, cat-quick.  I love to run. Scuttle. Crawl. Octopus ooze. Run.
And there is the ocean contained in a square of blue tiles. It is all the oceans. It is the most love, the implement to crack the nut of love. Up then and over the square of solid air. There is an interface between my skin and the sea. A membrane. I octopus through or over or under it. Perhaps it is just my component parts rearranging and finding a new way to be in one body. I am an overstimulation of the senses. I am water. I am love in water. In love with water. Love. Water. And then for a while there is nothing outside of this.
Are you confused? There is a to and a fro but I do not understand your fro-ing. I am just to, to, to, so much to without pause for the response. Just let me octopus through your consciousness and you will find yourself rearranged. We will meet on the other side of the fragile membrane of language and my voice will kiss yours like water kissing my skin. I find all the parts of my body in the water. I am rediscovered in the thick embrace of chlorine.
He dives in. The water moves in response to his body entering. I am the water. His body is entering. His body is displacing me. Small particles of his skin sloughing off him and thumping into me like tiny bullets. His spit in the water. The water in my mouth. This is too intimate. This is sex intimate.  I try to put my hands over my ears and go lalala but I a not sure what my body is doing. I am no longer the captain of this submarine. My body drips its mucus from between my churning legs and he is a part of the water that diffuses it. When his arm curls around my chin it is as if someone opened a container of gorgonzola. Every cubic centimeter of the world is infused with him. I can't breathe without swallowing the taste of him. I can't breathe. I will die. I must find some way to contain him so that he will not consume my blurred edges.
I must name him, to trap him in a shape, a letter.
R.
If I equals S then He equals R.
I name him quickly. I name him as I struggle against him. He has roused me out of the thick soup of everything-at-once. This man, R is singular and linear.
Time is not linear. Time exists all at once and here, now that we have touched, he has been here always and will be, just as my parents are always here, as my teachers, the other kids in the school I was sent to. He is as present as all the letters I have ever come across, the ocean, all here now and always.
He brings the hands of a clock with him. He brings an order to the minutes, which until now, have existed all on top of each other always. In this new age of R-ness, one minute follows another. His hand around my neck lassoes time and traps me in it. I suppose, the romantics might suggest that I am re-born in this moment. He, R, is the essential letter in the alphabet. He makes you into your, bestow into bestower. This single letter dropped in to complete the alphabet. Now sentences can vibrate in a neat line.
This, the romantics might say, is what love at first sight is.
I, S, find myself somersaulting with this new sense of necessity. I roll and thump and there is a tyre on my cheek, rubber R road. R is for siren. R is for arrest. I fling myself at his feet and even this furious contact is not enough. I kiss with my teeth and my jaw and my sunflower yellow sucks spit from him. Beautifully. I speak his name. R. I make the sound that represents a conversation about love. It is a poem that ululates on and on about undying and the undead. I speak the poem. And yet my words are for the deaf. For the dead. For no one.
D-d-d-d-david. David. R David. R.

I embrace him and I am the cold sizzle from a sprinkler. I am life-giving. I am S and all the other letters vibrate against me in their joy of completion. I am I and mine and my selfhood gives rise to the possibility of relation. My I allows for his he. My and mine can now only be conceived of in relation to he and him. This story then is fixed in the here and now and plays out in relation to him and his. This is the beginning of things. This is a narrative unfolding in time to the ticking of his clock. This is the end then of a first chapter in which David R and Vivienne S meet.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Names for Things

I wonder if it is important to name our illnesses. I write this just as I have decided to obliterate all mention of the term for the disability that causes one of my main characters such separation from all others. I removed the name for the condition. Just to be sure I have done a global find and individually replaced every word with another that is less specific.

My character is different from the others. But we can only guess at her diagnosis.

My sister has recently self-diagnosed with autism.  I was skeptical. I am not a fan of diagnosing yourself on the internet, but when I read the articles she had been reading about how women present quite differently from men I realised she might actually be right.  People confuse her. She avoids them if possible. She prefers to be around her beloved animals. She doesn't like being touched. She used to have fits of rage followed by quite frightening 'shut-downs' where she sat still and did not respond to anything for hours.  She is an incredibly talented artist with extreme technical ability. She is fiercely intelligent and yet can not handle personal interactions at all.

I am reading a big thick book on the history of autism called In a Different Key. It is pretty wonderful. Such a great read and says so much about human nature and western society and our relationship to difference. It is also helping me to confirm that my sister was probably right.

If my sister has a form of autism then my grandmother and my aunt definitely have it too. I remember as a kid my mother would be sad and hardly coping most of the time and the other three members of my family would be fighting all the time. My grandmother, my aunt and my sister all hated people. They distrusted everyone. They were obsessive about animals and only happy when around animals. They were isolationists. My mother was different but she was under the hard rule of my grandmother and found it difficult to assert herself. I spent my life trying to figure out how to make everyone get along. I was the peacemaker, trying to distract this angry bunch of misfits from whatever was bugging them. I made them laugh and gave them other things to think about. As a young adult I felt a bit ripped off by my role in the family. I felt like I was always looking after them and no one really looked after me.  With a diagnosis and a term to name it all by it makes it a little easier to understand and to forgive. Names are powerful that way. Names give us a way of understanding things easily. Names lead to forgiveness.

I have removed the name of my character's affliction. Does this mean I have removed an easy way of understanding and forgiving her behaviours?

I have lost the ability to recall nouns.  This is very disturbing to me. Sometimes I look at a thing and the name for it is clear and obvious. At other times I struggle and the word is just not there in memory. An eggplant loses its essential self as I stare at it and can no longer describe it in the simplest way. I can draw it in the air. I can describe it as shiny and black-blue. I can say you can eat it and I can even describe the way to cook it but I can't give it a name. The name has vanished. This is happening too often. I am also losing the names of authors and the titles of books. I am losing the names of acquaintances and even of friends. If I haven't connected with a dear friend in a few months I will go to say something about them and have no name for them. Even a break of a couple of weeks will obliterate a name. I am worried about this. My paternal grandmother died from early onset alzheimers and it is genetically communicated. I may actually have what she had despite the fact that I never knew her and therefore feel like she is something outside my familial circle. It is odd that the names have been lost first. I am losing other things too. I am losing specific memories and I am becoming confused that some memories I do have may be things I was once told rather than actual experiences I have had.

I have removed the name of my character's affliction because it medicalises her. It makes her knowable when she isn't really knowable. She is an individual and different from any other individual as characters are. I don't want people to say 'a person with autism would not do that'. When we write about a father, for instance, we do not say 'a father would not do that'. This is an individual. She calls herself S and everyone else knows her as Vivienne. She is mine. I created her. She does not stand for a group of people. She stands for a part of myself.

A part of myself is vanishing. It is the part that is confident and has very clear memories and remembers people and is very social. I long for the relative safety of isolation that my sister, my aunt, and my grandmother all made for themselves. I long to withdraw from the stresses of socialising. Retreat is in my genetic makeup and maybe I can quietly lose my memory without having to show the world what is happening. If I narrow my need for interaction then I narrow the possibility of demonstrating my failings.

Names are powerful and important. They are a quick way of understanding the world. When I say tree we all see a tree but you can't know the smell of the tree which stands at the front of our place. You can't know how the leaves form a mat in my pot plants, starving them out. You can't see the two owls who sometimes perch in the straggle of branches, and the Indian Minor's who swoop and harass them. You can't see the pair of underpants that flew off the balcony of someone's apartment and stuck fast in the branches, swaying there for months and now beginning to fray like a tibetan prayer flag.

I have accepted the name for my sister's condition and it makes me a little lazy. I understand what I should think about her now. I accept more easily. I forgive all the jagged edges that made our relationship difficult but I have also fixed her in a diagnoses that does not allow for the parts of her that were just sisterly competitiveness and bad parenting, grief from the death of two partners, and lack of love.

I am taking the name of the condition away from my character. I am losing the names for real people and objects. I have named what is wrong with most of my family. My relationship to names has changed on so many fronts. All within a handful of weeks. I wonder what that means, if anything.


Sunday, February 14, 2016

Some books are easier than others.


I am struggling with a book. It seems I am always struggling with a book but each book is a different kind of struggle. I can divide my pile of books into easy books and difficult books and that has nothing to do with how you read them. On the easy side I have Triptych and the as yet unpublished An Uncertain Grace and to some degree Affection.

Triptych was the easiest of them. That book spilled out, each first draft novella took between two days and a week to write. The edit was comparatively minor. I had already done a year or three of research and it was simple to let all that knowledge just coalesce on the page.

Affection was easy because I had all the scenes in my head. The method of putting them into words on a daily blog got me into a rhythm. The material was there and I worked in the same way as I do when I am making a documentary, putting all the scenes on index cards, organising them into themes, cutting the unnecessary cards and then shaping the piece accordingly. I had trouble with the end. I remember struggling over the ending for a few months. For a while I thought I would never get the ending right and then when I did finish the book, even now I think the ending is less strong. It is a memoir and it has no life lesson to impart and the life is still going on. I wanted to be honest about the content. I wanted to write the truth, but the truth was not easily moulded into a dramatic structure and so the ending is less solid although not many people have minded that. The scenes are vivid enough in themselves to obscure this.

An Uncertain Grace may turn out to have a lot more work in the editing stage, but the scenes were written by accident. I started writing on the plane to the Sydney Writers Festival and just kept jotting down disparate scenes all through a busy year. It was not until all the festivals were over the I realised I had the bones of a book. The novella about an ungendered person was the most difficult. I struggled with the practicalities of pronouns. Language was working to make my character invisible, or at least amorphous. When I got that one right I knew I had the whole book in my hand. I am sure there is more work to be done, particularly to the last section but I think of this book fondly. It came as if plucked from my subconscious.

Then I have the hard books.

The Adventures of Holly White and the Incredible Sex Machine started as a joy. I just wanted to play with this book. I wanted it to be light and to be funny but in the end it was a struggle. I wanted it to be sexy and have one foot on the ground even though it was a flight of fancy. The problem with this was that the rest of the book was so surreal, bizarre and fanciful that it kept lifting off the ground. There was also the problem of exposition. The structure of the book meant that I was referencing a new erotic novel in each chapter and that is honestly a difficult task to perform. You somehow have to bring the books with you without diving into exposition with each new chapter. The reader has to have a sense of the erotic novel without having read it. It was a tight-rope and occasionally I hovered at the point of falling off. The final edit was a complete restructure. A lot of new chapters were written and a lot were abandoned. I had to pummel this book into shape and felt exhausted at the end of the re-write. I have a different relationship to the book each time I approach it. Sometimes I laugh and feel satisfied that I have written something crazy that sits in a new and interesting place in the genre. Sometimes I just see all the hard work and the trouble in the writing and I feel like burying my head and ignoring the book completely. I feel like my relationship to Holly is mood dependent.

Steeplechase was a bugger to write. It had several complete new drafts. Very little remains from the first draft in the final book. I kept digging into it and finding new things in it, even towards the end of the final draft. For ages I didn't know how to do the ending. The ending is the hardest thing I have ever written. It just didn't work. I went away to Varuna Writers House for three weeks of uninterrupted writing and for the first two weeks I just struggled with the ending, putting the book together, taking it apart, all in the hope of cracking the end of it. I did it. This is the thing I am most proud of in my life. I cracked the ending of that book. When I did I was filled with a wave of joy and calm. I felt so light I might have ascended into space. That was the hardest book to write because it was about sisters and I really wanted to be honest about the complications of a sisterly relationship. My relationship with my sister is the most problematic one I have and that was what I was mining. I finished it. I did it. I didn't quite say everything I wanted to say about sisters but I got the ending right and that makes me proud even today.

This book. Here now. This book that I am writing might kill me. At the moment the book is called The Story of I but it has had many titles in many drafts. It started as a novella in 2007. I worked on it for a year in 2012 and didn't get it right. Now I am back at it and my changes aren't working. I don't feel like I am in control of my world. I don't have a way into these characters. I approach the page with dread. This is the hardest book I have ever written. This feels harder than Steeplechase. It keeps shutting me out. Whenever I have to go to the writing place I worry that I am going to end up feeling so useless that I will dream of falling off bridges, day-dreams. If only this bus could crash now I would never have to go back to that book. This book brings me closer to myself and therefore closer to my death.

No one is forcing me to go back to that book.  I could walk away and no one would be the wiser. I could start an easier book.  But that wouldn't help me to grow as a writer.

I read My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout yesterday. It is a good book. Solid. True. It has all the elements that I want in this book but that I haven't managed to reach yet. This is why I have to keep working. If I manage to get this book right I will be a better writer. I will know how to find truth even in the oddest places. We don't write to 'be a writer' we write to become a better writer. If I want to be a writer I can just keep writing more easy books because I already know how to do them. I need to grow as a writer. I want to write something real and true. I want to believe that the hard books make us better. I want to believe that setting a higher bar is a good and fine thing.

This bar is so high.

I will go back to the desk today and try to make yet another run at it. I will fall and run again and fall again. I hope one day soon I will manage the leap I need to get this book done before I die from it.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

The Accidental Novel


I wrote a book this year. I just finished the first draft.

I have spent all year saying that this is the first year in ages that I won't have actually been working on a book and yet somehow I managed to accidentally write one when I wasn't even trying. How can this happen?

Now I know that there will be people who are furious with me. How can I accidentally write a book when so many people are struggling to write a book and creeping forward with it. I know that I will not be universally loved for falling into this book so easily. The truth is I was avoiding the book I knew I had to finish whilst promoting the books that I had finished. I have been extremely busy all year, running from event to event and bemoaning the fact that I have not had the clear time and headspace to go back to that hard book I was writing and give myself time to think about it, restructure it and finish it.

Not thinking about the hard book I wanted to be rewriting actually gave me something important. It gave me time to think.

Usually on plane trips I spend the time reading books I need to read for work or trying to write the novel I am in the middle of. In 2015 I have had a lot of plane trips. I have been flying back and forth doing launches and attending festivals and because I have had no headspace for writing that other hard book, I gave myself a treat. I bought lots of science magazines, because I love science and I read them cover to cover. Basically what I was doing was giving myself the space to think about ideas that interested me.

Because I was inspired by these new and exciting ideas I found myself reaching for my notebook and writing things. Wasted writing time is how I thought of it, because instead of working on that hard novel I was working on what looked like a series of incomplete short stories about sciencey stuff. I berated myself for not even finishing the stories but because I had no deadline, I let them sit like that, a bunch of ideas started but going nowhere.

Then the book tour was over and I got terribly depressed, not just down, really depressed. I kept thinking that life might not be as important as I had thought. I had no long term plan, no book I was in the middle of except that hard book that I wanted to continue to avoid. I had all these ideas for projects but no energy to finish or even start them. I wrote down a list of all the projects I wasn't writing and I included everything, even the unfinished sciencey stories I had been writing all year. A collection of stories about the future. Well these were the only things that seemed to have traction, so to avoid my ever-increasing depression and thoughts about jumping off bridges, I just dusted those half stories off and put them together and then patterns started to form. These weren't unrelated. These seemed to be chapters in something that was a lot more whole than I had imagined.

Now, a month and a half later, I have put time into connecting the dots. I have taken a week off work to focus on this and have been getting up early to work. Yes. This is a book. Not a traditionally structured novel, but a series of long stories that are about the future and a woman who works in narrative and sexuality in a world where we can build cyborgs and inhabit other people's memories. She is a little bit like me, only in a future time.

In what seems to be record time I have finished a draft of this book, but it is because I have been working on the idea all year when I didn't know it. This is the surprise child of research that my head was doing, whilst fooling me into thinking I wasn't doing any creative work at all.

I suppose if I had to take anything from this process the message would be for me to just relax and to trust. My subconscious will just keep working for me even if most of my brain feels tired and uninspired.

I still have to go back and redraft that hard book, but maybe  I just needed this project to clear my head, something fun, about stuff that I read for pleasure. Something that excites me. I am excited about redrafting this. I have momentum. This surprise child is off and she is running.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Having Read Poetry Naked






If you have presented at a launch / festival panel / event and you have not done a wee, vomit or poo on stage you can consider it a success.

I know it is a low bar to set, but it is my bottom line. Don't urinate vomit or dedicate on stage and you are ahead. Except when you are reading nude at a poetry festival. Then, probably if you break one of the golden rules you can call it art and end up with extra kudos.

On Saturday night I read live, nude, at the Queensland Poetry Festival. Even when the bar was set so low that it was almost on the floor, it seemed like a mountain to climb over.

I was worried that as the 'feature nude reader' I would be the only poet to get up and read naked. I was worried that I would be judged for my considerable flesh. I was worried that the tone of the event would be exploitative.

It turns out that I was worried for nothing.

These things happened:

1. One of my oldest and dearest friends came along to the launch of my poetry collection Eating My Grandmother earlier in the day. She came with her daughter, my godchild, who is no longer a child but a wonderful young woman. We went for a meal afterwards and I told them about my fears about the nude reading later that night. They immediately said they would stay and join me, taking off their clothes even if all the other audience members were clothed.

2. We sprayed my pubes blue and covered them in glitter which made the disabled toilet look like a queer dance party had just taken place in there.

3. My other dear close friends Trent and Diana turned up and we added more vagazzle to the disabled toilet.

4. I had a couple of calming glasses of wine in quick succession.

5. I met the MC who turned out to be a strangely sweet punk/hippie/tatooed/bearded enigma.

6. The festival director David Stavinger hung tea towels on the backs of the chairs and it suddenly looked like the stage was set for a very polite swinger's party. This was strangely calming.

7. David opened the doors but did not let anyone in who was not prepared to nude-up. This was perhaps the key to an incredibly successful nude event. No tourists meant we were all in it together an no one could feel distanced from the action.

8. I was surrounded by the beautiful faces of my closest friends. Elissa, Summer (Godchild) Trent, Diana, Angela and Lucinda all sat close by. I felt the love, and the comforting hand of the wonderful Trent on my shoulder at regular calming intervals.

9. The MC suggested we all disrobe and we all did, together. No turning back. You could almost hear the throb of a collective heartbeat as everyone dealt with their own fears and insecurities all at once.

10. Diana read first. This was incredibly brave. The floor was thrown open to an open mic section and Diana got up and read beautifully. It broke the ice. This was the moment when I knew it was going to be ok. Not just ok, but more than ok. It was going to be beautiful.

11. A young woman got up and read a poem in public for the first time ever. She was nervous but I got the impression that it was not the nudity that was making her nervous. Reading your own poetry in public is being more naked than nakedness itself. It was a great poem. She read it beautifully. I was so touched to be one of the first people to hear her read her own work. The nudity was just a bonus.

12. I read a poem specifically written to be read in public whilst in the nude surrounded by nude people. Our nudity made sense of the poem. Our flesh made the poem a better thing than words on the page.

13. I read from my erotic novel The Adventures of Holly White and the Incredible Sex Machine, which was fun but I don't know if anyone was aroused by the sexy reading because I was respectfully avoiding looking into everyones genital area. I realised for the 20th time that I am going to need to print things out in 16 point font from now on. Reading from my book naked taught me that yes, I am getting old. It is clear in my body but it is even more clear in my relationship to the size of my font.

14. People have all different sized fonts (yes, I might have peeked at the genital area of a few of the men, whilst respectfully trying to avoid a direct crotch ogle). Also I didn't look directly but got the distinct impression that women still generally have pubic hair which is also strangely comforting.

15. It is strange how much love you feel for people who you have stood naked with whilst sharing the intimacy of poetry.

16. It is impossible not to heckle your dearest friend just a little because heckling is kind of like polite flirting and it seems I can even politely flirt with Trent when he is in the nude. (Note: David Stavinger also partook in a little polite flirting with Trent so I was not alone in my heckling).

17. You don't hug the other nude poets but you grin at them a lot when you are naked and hug these strangers hard when you have been naked with them.

18. It is terribly daunting to be about to read poetry naked but it is incredibly great to have read poetry naked.

19. We were all asked to take our tea towels with us when we left. I suppose there might be a marked for them in some vending machines in Japan.

20. Reading poetry aloud is like being naked.


In closing I would like to share a poem that I wrote to be read naked with a naked audience:

Reading Poetry Naked to Naked People
Krissy Kneen

We are with and out of artifice
Round-bellied
shift-footed
Carefully directing our gaze
towards
architecture, escape, the movement of my naked lips
We avoid the slip of eye
towards breast-swell
with it’s pricked nipple
and the tired old fade of aerole
dimpled belly
thigh
mossed over
by creeping excess
a body pawed and poured
into soft skin
like the thickening on top of overheated milk
All this
beyond your gaze
you nervously avoid
the ripe tangle of steely lace
adorning
my cunt
the startling question of an armpit.
You may not bring yourself to it
directly
but I am happy to raise it
here
What if she bleeds?
on this one day
exposed
a curl of white
hiding it’s mousey tail between those blooded lips.
And here beside you,
other lips kiss their folded secrets
penises shrink back to their un
natural size
twitching,
nervous
between trembling thighs.
The gaze shifts
from viewed to viewer.
The caterpiller crawl
of delicate sack
A whiff of secret flesh, with sweat revealed by the
dumb shriek of perfume
and the fecal reek just audible
above the drone of  naked poem.
All your collective muscles braced to minimise
ballooning flesh
to hone a cut to unused muscles,
trim thighs
nip and tuck that arse.
A bodily effort
to appear
unaroused,
casual stance
Your body
unfleshed
in the nakedness of poetry.

Later
at home
you will unpack this
reach for images
captured by the flash of a passing glance
hands around genitals
fingers unsealing
damp wieldy space
embarrassments
slicked  now with
desire and spit
you slowly
rub the words of the poem
from memory
and onto your
naked tongue.






Saturday, August 1, 2015

Naked Truth


On the 29th August I will be reading, naked, at the QPF. I have to admit I am a little nervous about this. I have a really fraught relationship to my body. On one hand I believe that our narrow cultural views on beauty are really problematic. I truly believe that all bodies are beautiful. All bodies are sexual. All bodies have their own charm. But when it comes to my own body I am still that teenaged girl who stopped eating and dropped from a size 16 to a size 8 over one very lean Christmas holiday period. I remained thin for several years and yet I never thought I was thin. Looking in the mirror I still saw the old me, even when I was transformed. Our brains do that to us. They deceive us. The weight piled back on slowly and now I am back to the same insecure fat girl that I once was.

Last year I participated in the midwinter nude swim in Tasmania. It was incredibly liberating. I felt powerful taking off my clothes in a room full of similarly naked bodies. Everyone was different. There were old women and young girls, paunchy men and skinny men. The man undressing beside me took off his false leg to hop into the water. I stood there naked and proud. This is me, unadorned and there will be no judgements made.

In the adrenaline rush after the rather freezing plunge I vowed to buy a bikini because exposing my body is the single most transgressive act I could perform. I am fat. Very fat. My thighs rub, my breasts sag. I am all cellulite. I am double chinned. I want to love all my generous flesh and yet whenever I am down, insecure, having trouble writing, the first thing I attack is my own body. My head-voice talks to me about my own ugliness. I really struggle to look at myself in the mirror. I went into Myers and David jones and looked at the bikinis several times but I never even took one into the change rooms to try it on.  Clothed and in the city I had lost my nerve.

I loved the rush of running naked with so many varied bodies. I wish I could comfortably stand naked in a crowd under normal circumstances, but unfortunately I have been brainwashed by every movie I have ever seen, every add that has shouted at me from a billboard or out of the pages of a magazine. The media tells me I am a freak. No one like me deserves to be photographed is what the magazine models tell me.  I struggle to maintain my confidence in my own beauty. I would prefer invisibility to walking around in my own flesh.

I agreed to read poetry naked as a kind of protest. I really want to be proud of my body. I really want to be able to show my thick flesh to the world and stand up and say, this is beautiful. I am beautiful. But as the days creep towards the 29th I find I am nervous, frightened, full of insecurities. I wish I had started exercising, dieting, dropping the kilos months and months ago.

I didn't. I have spent the year promoting two books and dieting fell by the wayside. The people who come to see me will see me as I am, unfit but healthy, pasty-white, gone to seed, fleshful.

I am sure that on the night the adrenaline will kick in yet again. I am sure I will emerge from that room feeling powerful, feeling like I have achieved something life-changing by standing up naked in front of a crowd. Reading my work without artifice. Me and the words. Here we are. Take us as we come.

Still, I am looking forward to the 30th August when I feel happy to have been naked without the terror of a naked reading looming in my near future. Till then I will spend the month struggling with my self-esteem, worrying about my looks, trying to come to terms with who I am.  I suspect this is a struggle that most of us have every day when we face the mirror naked, put on clothes and walk out into the world. I am going to read poetry naked because I know you struggle to feel beautiful too. I think you are all beautiful. When I stand up unhidden I am standing up for every woman who reached for a diet book or refused desert. I am standing up for all those young women who starve themselves and the others who feel terrible whenever they see a photograph of themselves posted on Facebook. I am standing naked because even if I can't convince myself to really believe it, I am beautiful. We are beautiful and sexy too. All of us. You and me.