Friday, 31 August 2007

Bek has handed it in!!!

So I played hooky for an hour to witness a Moment In History - Bek handed in her PhD thesis! It's called "Troubling Spaces: the politics of 'new' community-based guerilla performance in Australia". She looked exhausted, relieved, excited and a bit nuts - but it was SO good to see her.

We were a bit late because her supervisor insisted on measuring all the margins with a ruler - I would have thought by this stage it was too late for that. We headed off up campus with a sense of purpose and then realised we had no idea where we were going. We eventually found the Graduate School and the women in there were really nice. There were another four or five people submitting their theses at the same time, so there was a definite atmosphere of zaniness and accomplishment. Bek was congratulating everyone but nobody else played was like they were all still in their own bubbles of academia and couldn't quite believe they were there.

Either the uni has revised how it treats postgrads or the PhD candidates get a better standard of care than the lowly MA students. My supervisor wasn't even around when I submitted my thesis, nor did he seem to care, and I just handed it in over a counter where some harried admin staffer gave me a receipt and sent me on my way.

I think it's great to be able to share in moments of your friends' lives like this.

Thursday, 30 August 2007

little splutters of creativity

gapingvoid: "cartoons drawn on the back of business cards": how to be creative - stumbled across this from someone's Facebook page and found it very interesting. I got a bit sick of reading it by the end (I think it's a collection of blog posts into one long post), but it has some very good insight and advice about 'being creative', artistic integrity, and all that. I like his style.

I went to Bethany's 16th birthday dinner last night, and made her a red/black card out of stuff I bought at kikki.k - red and black paper, silver studs and white ink (she's into red, black and anything black and white chequered at the moment...walking into her room is like walking into an 80s video clip). Every so often I get right back into making's so easy to do but I think you have to be in the zone or you end up with really dodgy, bland results. I know other people probably don't care about design in the same way and go 'oh, you made me a card', but I hate giving people something I've made that's substandard. I have done it, on occasion, when I've made something specifically for someone and been unable to make it just how I want, but usually I feel kind of embarrassed about it, as though they'll think I'm like a kid who's presented their parent with a crappy drawing they did at kindy and expect them to set up a shrine to it (though I suspect parents tend to have a higher regard for their childrens' artworks).

I went home after dinner and Dave was out, so I put some music on, got out my notebook, and started to write. And then I fell asleep. I FELL ASLEEP WHILE WRITING! That is not a good thing. I know I have to factor in writing time, but it doesn't help if I spend that time in a coma on the couch.

I had to finish a couple of design projects very quickly this morning at work - the printer had very kindly offered us a freebie but it was a last-minute job. I always panic a bit when I have to do things in a rush because I'm likely to have left in some major spelling mistake or something. But I did it, I like the result, and what's more, I was praised for it! I know I shouldn't want peoples' approval, but I recognise that words of praise are definitely one of my love languages. (I found the whole 'love language' concept a little twee at first, but when I thought about it it made a lot of sense. The only problem is, what isn't one of my love languages? Tell me you love me...yep...give me attention...yep...bring me me out...yep...give me a hug...yep - how can I choose?! I'm just needy. There, I've said it.)

Once I'd sent off the projects to various people, I had another look at the postcards on my wall. I need to get some new ones. Mark let me put some up from his collection (got some concept art from the Narnia film and some Wallace and Gromit stills, alongside my old postcards of Jeffrey Smart, Camille Pissaro and Albert Marquet paintings, and a David Moore photo of the ironwork on the Harbour Bridge), but I think it's time to go to the Art Gallery and get some fresh inspiration.

Sunday, 26 August 2007

hunting the unicorn part 2

Clothes shopping. Clothes shopping at the moment is up there with rental house-hunting. And please note, this is not fancy schmancy clothes shopping, or unnecessary retail therapy clothes shopping. This is shopping because all my tops have shrunk in the wash/are about four years old, faded and shrunk in the wash/are gym t-shirts. As the weather is starting to get a little warmer, I need something to wear. Something basic. That preferably doesn't cost a fortune, but isn't going to fall apart after a couple of washes.

Have you SEEN the current fashions?

The above are some pretty bad examples but they were by no means the worst of what was on offer and for some reason I can't find any photos of the particularly bad ones online (and I must say none of the models look especially thrilled to be wearing the clothes, so if that's the best they can do to make them look know you've got some problems). From a certain angle and with the best lighting...passable. Maybe. In real life, on real people? Uniformly hideous. Shapes and cuts that make skinny girls look fat and make fat girls look fatter. The 'in' colour seems to be a particularly vicious bright yellow that I don't think suits many people, or a selection of colours from the drab palette. Not only that, but they want you to pay a lot of money for the privilege of looking like a total skank.

I tried to be open-minded and thought that perhaps the 'new' shapes might not be too bad once I put them on. I have not looked so unattractive for a very long time. The only thing that looked any good was a black v-neck t shirt - it fit, it was flattering, it had interesting collar cost $90. I don't care how nice it makes me look - I AM NOT PAYING NINETY DOLLARS FOR A T SHIRT.

I did, however, buy a pair of pyjamas. Although this doesn't help me with clothing I can actually leave the house in, at least I'll be comfy in bed.

Mum's knee worsened after all the walking around, but we had to do grocery shopping, so we pressed onwards to Coles. Now, as you can tell, I am now in a foul mood but too tired to do anything about it. Maybe I should just put my new jammies on and go to sleep. Failing that, I'll just eat biscuits and watch Mr and Mrs Smith on DVD.

Saturday, 25 August 2007

hunting the unicorn

I should have it permanently etched in my brain but for some reason I always forget: house-hunting for a rental property is one of the most soul-destroying experiences I have had to endure.

Let me walk you through it.

First, you start your research online. You do a search for your ideal place, the right price range, right number of bedrooms...nothing turns up. You adjust your criteria slightly, expanding your price range into the next bracket, even though you can't really afford it - just to see what's out there. Lo and behold, a whole slew of beautiful looking houses. Don't be swayed by the photographs, you remind yourself. They are so rarely an accurate representation. But oh...look at that balcony, couldn't you just imagine sitting out there with a book? Look! A beautiful deep bath. Oh look at that kitchen...stainless steel European appliances - well it must be good then. Stainless steel. European.

None of the properties have open for inspection times. Just email the agents then, surely they'll be keen to get back to you. You don't hear anything, so you email again and eventually get a terse, one-line reply telling you to check the website later in the week. How handy! The real estate website will email you when a new property comes up fitting your criteria. So just set that up and wait for the emails to arrive. But what if it doesn't work? What if you miss one?

You end up checking the website every day, even though of course there are no new properties. You stare at the tiny photos again and again, trying to find every possible flaw so you're not disappointed when you see it in real life, but you start to imagine yourself retreating to that loft bedroom, reading next to that fireplace, sitting on that deck with 'district views'. You look at maps of increasingly unfamiliar suburbs, telling yourself you'll be able to get used to it even though you have always felt uneasy in that area. If the house is perfect, surely it won't matter!

Saturday arrives and you have your list of properties neatly written out, an efficiently structured timetable of viewing windows that will surely yield your next home. How hard can it be?

You arrive early at the first one and look at the outside. Wow. It's beautiful. The street is quiet, the area seems nice, the house itself looks fantastic. Other people start to sidle up alongside the front gate, waiting for that pole position, first through the door, first to make a good impression on the agent. You smile at one another briefly, but try not to engage in conversation. The agent finally arrives and opens the door for you, smiling as though she is welcoming you into the most palatial of homes.

Then it hits you. The unmistakeable stench of mould. You peer through the dark at cracked and peeling walls, at piles of the current tenant's belongings stacked up all over the place. The current tenant is still in the house, making himself breakfast and getting in the way. You climb up and down stairs and try to imagine yourself living there when every fibre of your being is screaming at you to get out. You remember to smile at the agent as you leave.

Oh well. It was only the first. The next one looked gorgeous in the photos and had just been renovated - maybe it'll be better. There's lots of light, freshly painted walls, a brand-new kitchen and...that's it? You thought the listing said there was a separate living room. Oh. This is the separate living room. And the bedrooms...could you even fit your bed in there? Smile at the agent and head back to the car.

Just as well you smiled, as the same agent is also managing the next house on the list. She's a small girl, looks like she's barely eighteen, and is wearing the contents of an entire makeup counter on her face. Another lovely house - newly renovated! - on a main road, under a flight path, tiny bedrooms (what is a 'double' bedroom, can anyone tell me? It sounds big, but it's not), with a 'tenant enquiry' range of $170. Even though the agent assures you that "money is the last thing the owners will be looking at" it's a pretty safe bet they will choose the person who offers $170 more than someone else, no matter how impeccable their references.

Onto another place that looks like it has probably been a uni share house for the last 20 years. Less said the better. Blood sugar levels crash. Time for a pitstop - coffee and a Portuguese tart in Petersham, which appears to be the Portuguese quarter of Sydney, not that you even knew there was such a thing.

Last place you look at is absolutely massive. There are more people waiting outside this one than any of the others, but most of them you recognise from other properties during the day. Now you give one another the world-weary smiles of recognition, the falsely hearty 'might have to fight you for it' comments, until the door is opened and then it's all business. You push past one another in narrow corridors and up steep staircases. You try to put a positive spin on everything, even though the rising damp is obvious and there is some almighty hellhound next door that won't stop barking. The current tenants sullenly continue to pack their belongings while you shuffle around them, and even when you smile and thank them for letting you into their house, the reception is frosty (why?! why on earth would you stay in your house when there was an open for inspection?!!!). The young agent waits at the door with a vacuous smile, and a woman with a baby grabs an application form from her saying "I'm sorry if I sound desperate, but we've been looking at places all day and we are desperate." You take a form just as a formality, get back in your car and drive away.

It's only the first week, you think. Other things will come up. We'll do it all again next week.

I can't wait.

Tuesday, 21 August 2007

bullet point mania

  • I'm moving soon - moving back in wiz mum. We're going to find a nice big house with no or few steps (Claire, you'll be pleased to know that at the moment am fixated on Stanmore) with a space for me to write in and where I can get a cat!
  • Mum has to have a knee replacement (part of the reason we're going to live together again and why the house has to have few or no steps), and it is becoming more urgent that she have the surgery and it's a Really Big Scary Thing. Also expensive.
  • To that end, we have had an incredible windfall. My dad is coming through and giving/lending (not sure which yet) us a considerable amount of money so mum can have the surgery and we can move as soon as possible. Yay dad!
  • Some lovely friends who may not wish to be named (not Voldemort) are going overseas and have come to an arrangement whereby mum and I can buy their car from them and take a year to pay for it! Hooooray.
  • God rocks. When he answers prayer, he really answers it.

This was going to be a longer post with all sorts of things in it, but I think that's enough for now. Lots of good stuff.

Saturday, 18 August 2007

movable type - words, words, words

(the more I look at the word 'movable' it seems wrong somehow...almost as though its meaning is shifting and changing the more I look at it. Nominative determinalism? Hmm)

Today was my first experience of Word by Word, the writers' group that the Beilharzes run. Ben was away today, but Karen did a great job on her own. There was a good group of about 11 I think, a couple of newbies like me, but most of them old hands - and we were all made to feel welcome!

The first thing we did was the devotional, and Karen allocated each of us 2 chapters of Proverbs. We had to go through and see what sort of advice there might be for writers within those two chapters and then share them with the group. Proverbs is such a great book - full of amazing snippets of wisdom, all crammed in together. You could meditate on a couple of lines for an hour! So it took me a while to get through my two chapters (22-23), because every few lines there seemed to be something that could be applied to writers and writing. I found the themes running through those two chapters was to speak the truth, to use words graciously, to be faithful to what you believe and not to compromise. I think this is summed up perfectly in chapter 23:8:
My inmost being will exult when your lips speak what is right.
Next we had a writing exercise. We each had to write down three things we wanted to write about, put them in a box with everyone else's, and then each pick one out - luckily everyone got someone else's idea, nobody drew their own back out! We wrote on those topics for ten minutes and then a few of us read ours out. I got 'A Christian approach to materialism' and this is what I wrote:
I want it.

I can't explain why. I just want it. I stare at the glossy curves, the flatness of the screen, the warm glow of the sleep light that here...touch me...use me...fall in love with me...

Almost like a hypnotist has snapped his fingers, I break out of the trance. I'm standing in front of a computer in a shop stuffed full of gadgetry and technology. Sure, it's a beautiful machine, sleek...shiny...but $3000 - what could I do with $3000?

What could somebody else do with money like that? I go home and look at the picture of my World Vision kid that's pinned up on my corkboard. This tiny little boy, Felix, standing in his best clothes - a moth-eaten jumper and dusty sandals - on a hillside in Peru. his eyes are wary, his expression guarded. he lives a life so far away from flatscreen iMacs and the latest gizmos. What could he do with $3000?

Jess Green, who is a designer at Matthias Media, then came and spoke to us about layout and typography. I was familiar with a lot of what she was talking about, but as I have taught myself everything I know about design (with a huge amount of trial and error) it was really interesting to learn the correct names for and principles behind conventions of design, and to find with some relief that most of them I was following correctly (although we did have a discussion at one point about typing double spaces after each sentence, and this is apparently a huge no-no, a throwback to the time of typewriters and completely unnecessary on the internet and with word processing programs that automatically adjust the spacing to be the most readable. I never knew that! I was taught to type by my mother, who was taught at secretarial school on a typewriter, so I guess that's where I get it from, but even as I type this I find it really hard not to put the double space after the full stop. I guess it's something I will either have to train myself out of, or stubbornly stick to as a point of difference...).

I'm finding myself more and more fascinated by typography. It's obviously something you can get completely obsessive about, but I don't think it's an unrelated obsession for someone who loves words. But that may be another post, some other time.

We then all went off by ourselves and wrote for an hour. The time just flew by! I continued writing the new character from my book - Jasmine's flatmate, Susan. She's an interesting woman, and already creating a point of tension between my two protagonists, so she's incredibly useful too! I'm enjoying getting to know her, and was regretful when the hour was up.

We all had Thai together, and then were supposed to workshop, but I very rudely left because of my persistent headache. I came home and slept for a couple of hours, and now am enjoying having this cool evening to just potter about, write a bit more and sit with candles lit and music on (KT Tunstall at the moment...actually it's just changed to Corinne Bailey Rae). I have a couple of things I've been invited to tonight, but I've blown them off. I think I need this time to just be uninvolved and uncommitted.

Maybe I'll bake a cake...

Maybe not.

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

excuse me while I kiss this guy

There are many misuses of the English language that drive me absolutely crazy. Today, whilst reading a newsletter that is normally really well-written, I tripped over this:
each time I step foot onto the platform
I had to go and find some site that would reassure me that I was right and hadn't gone completely insane. Because more and more people are talking about 'stepping foot' into or onto something and it makes me want to scream. You can see where the misuser has gone wrong; they've obviously thought "well it sounded like they said set...or was it step? You step with your must be step foot." No it's not!
When you want to say that you refuse to enter some location, the traditional expression is not “step foot,” but “set foot”: “I refuse to set foot in my brother-in-law’s house while he lets his vicious pit bull run around inside.”
STOP BEING SO IGNORANT, PEOPLE! LEARN HOW TO USE THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE!!!! Sure, it doesn't always make sense, but that's part of its charm!

That is all.

Check out Paul Brians' Common Errors in English site for other...common errors in English.

Faithful Writer audio - highspeed

The audio is now available for download from the Faithful Writer conference (thanks Karen!). MAN - I knew I talked fast, but I had no idea how fast! Blabber blabber blabber...I think I was actually a lot more nervous than I had first thought. But people still got something out of what I said, so obviously some of it was coherent!

Listen to all the talks, they're great if you're into writing.

Tuesday, 14 August 2007

i know! let's build a fort!

Not much to say, except I still have a headache and I want to go to bed but I'm too tired to actually get up and clean my teeth and get changed, etc, etc. I suppose there's no reason why I couldn't just sleep on the couch, where I am now, just seems wrong somehow.

When do you grow out of those things? You know, like sleepovers, or staying awake all night just because you can, or building forts in the living room with all your pillows and blankets. When I was a kid, adulthood seemed so cool just because you could have the freedom to do those things with no one telling you to be quiet, or go to bed, or demanding to know why you dragged all the available bedding in the house into the living room. Yet now that I'm an adult, there's an adult's voice in my head that's telling me if I don't go to bed now I'll be tired for work tomorrow, and if I build a fort I'll just have to put all the stuff away again and who can be bothered.

Besides, it's more fun when there's someone else around to do those things with. Not so fun sitting in a blanket fort on your own. In fact, it could be considered a little weird...

Do you ever have flashbacks to moments as a child? Just tiny little explosions of sound, smell or taste that transport you back for a millisecond? Every now and again I get a flash of what it felt like when I was a little girl to have a bath before bed, and have my hair dried by my mum. It's hard to describe, but it was a delicious mixture of exhaustion, warmth, security and happiness.

Also, sometimes when I look at a ceiling at a certain angle, I flashback to being a kid in PNG when I used to make up a whole world that existed upside down on the ceiling. We had a coffee table with a mirror set into it, and I would sit looking into this mirror at the ceiling, and imagine what it was like to live up there. Now that I think about it, that sounds really boring; I mean, there's nothing on the ceiling, right? But somehow, as a kid, it was like a whole other dimension.

I guess I was always into make-believe. I apparently also had an imaginary friend, although I don't remember her. Which seems kind of...sad somehow.

Sunday, 12 August 2007

on with the show

Been in bed most of the day (well, on the bed, I didn't really bother getting into it) with a whopper headache. When is it a migraine? I don't know. Anyway, it was bad enough that I had to leave church after the sermon (even though I was on piano this morning) and was pretty much asleep all afternoon. Still, it's so good to have the opportunity to just sleep all day.

Dave's brother Andrew and his family were staying over last night, as Andrew was running in the City to Surf today. It was great to meet them all, though I didn't really spend much time chatting to them; the room was very full (six visitors altogether, plus me and Dave) and so I just read in my room for a while and then got ready to go out. Mum asked me where they were all going to sleep and I said I had offered options and they all said not to worry about it, so I didn't! They were all gone by the time I got up this morning, so they were really not any trouble at all.

I took a liking to Dave's niece, Tabitha, who is very cute and has a very charming smile. I heard her saying to Dave when I was in my room, "Where's your mum?" and Dave, knowing she meant me, kept saying "Grandma? She's in Orange." Eventually, exasperated, Tabitha tried a new tack, "Where's that girl in the black dress who lives here?" but then got all shy when I poked my head round the door to say hello. I love seeing how childrens' minds work, how it takes them a while to piece together abstract concepts like how people relate to one another - the 'girl in the black dress' is an older female who lives in the same flat as Dave...therefore...she must be his mother! (she hasn't quite worked out yet that her grandmother and Dave's mother are, in fact, the same person)

I left them all eating pizza and went to the Seymour Centre to meet Brett and Em. While standing around outside I also unfortunately caught a glimpse of an ex boyfriend I really don't ever want to see again and panicked, so we hurried inside and took our seats for the Balmain Light Opera Company's production of Into the Woods. It was okay - a bit patchy, really, with some great performances (notably, Jack and Little Red Riding Hood), but some less great performances. By the second act the wheels really seemed to have come off the whole thing; people were singing out of key, weren't able to hit the big notes, and I don't think they carried off the all-important emotional aspect of it. But the second act of Into the Woods is much darker, and is always going to be harder than the first, which has a lot more jokes and is setting up the whole fairytales colliding thing. I also found the set a little offputting - they could have done things a lot more simply and effectively, but instead had some pieces of the set that worked, and others that looked very panto.

But still, it was good to go out and see a show. We have decided the three of us will start going and seeing more theatre again, as I do miss it. The next one I want to see is Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? at Belvoir St. Brett is keen on A Midsummer Night's Dream with the STC, but I've always been a bit ambivalent about that play. And it took very little convincing to get Em thinking it is a good idea to see Miss Saigon, and perhaps to go on a road trip to Melbourne to see Phantom and then, next year, Wicked. How I plan to finance this, I have no idea, but it's always nice to dream...

Friday, 10 August 2007

Thursday, 9 August 2007

Salty fruit

Had a boost today - the latest Salt magazine has come back from the printer's so I can finally see the fruits of my labour. And I'm really pleased with it! It's on the topic of Sex, so I'm anticipating we might get some flak, but really I think we've handled the whole thing pretty sensitively and evenly, and hopefully people will actually read it rather than baulking at the subject matter (we're talking about reasonably conservative Christians here - I think the majority of the students who it's aimed at will actually find it a good read. And non-Christians will probably go "what's the fuss? This is so tame!").

If you'd like a copy, let me know.

Wednesday, 8 August 2007


Please pardon yesterday's rant.

Today in our morning tea Bible study, we were looking at the idol of money and chatted about how we view money. I feel like it was a word especially for me today. I need to think about the implications.

Anyway, here's the passage from Ecclesiastes 5:10-20 that we read:
Whoever loves money never has money enough;
whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income.
This too is meaningless.

As goods increase,
so do those who consume them.
And what benefit are they to the owner
except to feast his eyes on them?

The sleep of a laborer is sweet,
whether he eats little or much,
but the abundance of a rich man
permits him no sleep.

I have seen a grievous evil under the sun:
wealth hoarded to the harm of its owner,

or wealth lost through some misfortune,
so that when he has a son
there is nothing left for him.

Naked a man comes from his mother's womb,
and as he comes, so he departs.
He takes nothing from his labor
that he can carry in his hand.

This too is a grievous evil:
As a man comes, so he departs,
and what does he gain,
since he toils for the wind?

All his days he eats in darkness,
with great frustration, affliction and anger.

Then I realized that it is good and proper for a man to eat and drink, and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given him—for this is his lot. Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work—this is a gift of God. He seldom reflects on the days of his life, because God keeps him occupied with gladness of heart.

This last paragraph is what resonated especially with me. It is good and proper to find satisfaction in our fact, it's a gift from God! So I think addressing the things that are making me unhappy and discontent is a wise thing to do.

Would you agree? Have I taken this completely out of context?

The 'ponder' question in the Bible study was "Consider the way you work, spend and save. What does this say about your attitude to money?" That has given me a lot to think about too. Am I working for God's glory, or to earn a lot of money, or to be acclaimed in my field? Am I content with what God has given me, or am I always desperate for more? Am I trusting God, or relying on my own ability to provide? Am I using what I have to grow God's kingdom, or am I trying to keep it to myself?

We had an interesting discussion about the Mennonite community that Howard visited while he was in Canada (the Amish are an offshoot of the Mennonites). He was impressed at how they were so community-minded and Bible-based, and how, without the influence of TV, radio and the internet, they were much more content and weren't constantly craving more material goods. Then Jess said "But how does that spread the gospel?" and Howard agreed that it was a very closed community and they did not want contact with non-Mennonites at all, if they could help it. So in fact, although they say are basing their entire community on the Bible, they are missing a major point of it, which is that we are supposed to "go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Matt 28:19).

I'm not quite sure what my conclusion is here, but it's good to have these things to think about, so I'm not just dwelling on the negatives that came up for me yesterday. Hopefully by the time I have my meeting on Friday I will have a much clearer view of what I want to discuss.

Tuesday, 7 August 2007

work rant (but first, a cat)

You might want to skip this post; it's extremely whingey. But first, a randomism.

This is a cat called Tequila that I found on the Cat Protection Society website. I am officially in love with her, but I am not allowed to have pets in the flat, I'm allergic to cat hair, and I probably couldn't afford to look after her properly anyway. Also I was watching RSPCA Animal Rescue tonight, which is odd because I hate shows like that, and I found myself miserably wishing I could have a pet. I really, really want a cat.

Anyway, that's enough of that.

I've arranged with my boss to meet up on Friday morning for a chat about my future at AFES. Not that I want to leave, but I just want to see what he thinks I should be doing and to compare that with what I think I should be doing, and maybe just air a few grievances I have. There are things I really love about my job, such as the fair amount of freedom I have to design, write and edit. But there are other things that make it really difficult, and I am sick of feeling overwhelmed, panicky and kind of depressed about the whole thing.

That doesn't sound like the ideal job, now, does it?

I love being busy. I love having lots to do and the sense of achievement I get when I finish a project - for example, Salt magazine. But, and I guess this is the case in any office-type job, I just get worn down by the relentlessness of it. There don't seem to be seasons or ebbs and flows, it's just one ongoing slog that doesn't ever seem to stop.

Working for a Christian organisation has its own unique issues too - it's fantastic to be working for the gospel, to be working for something I believe in passionately and to be part of this amazing movement. But, as with any Christian organisation, funds are limited which means you're never going to be paid well, and you are tacitly expected to give a lot more of yourself than you might in a secular organisation for no reward or recognition other than being told "good job" every now and again.

I know money isn't the most important thing, and I would much rather be working at a place where I felt there was some meaning to what I was doing. But when I never seem to have money once I've paid the rent and the bills, it can get a little wearing. I think about my skill set and what I bring to the job, and consider what level I could be working at in the secular world and I get a bit irritated. I don't want a six figure salary by any means. In fact, I'm not even really after a pay rise at all. But there is a certain meanness about money because we're always trying to be faithful to our supporters that I find really annoying. I am all for financial accountability, but sometimes it can be a little Pharisaical to my way of thinking.

The other thing is the issue about my holidays, or lack thereof...I didn't realise how depressing that would be (for those who weren't reading this blog at the time, I was sick for weeks and in hospital for a while, so used up all my holidays and sick pay, and kept getting paid. I am now really far behind in hours and am having to work extra to make up the time I owe). I thought I'd just put my head down, work the hours off, and it wouldn't be an issue. Now that everyone else in the office is planning to take one or two weeks off over the next couple of months, it's starting to get to me. Not only do I not have any holidays, but once I've worked off my hours I'm going to have to keep working extra to accrue any holidays for the end of the year!

I think what really grates is that it isn't as though I frivolously frittered away those holidays; I was really sick. I couldn't help it! Prince of Wales Hospital is not the ideal holiday destination as far as I'm concerned. Even though I know it's above board and only to be expected that AFES would want me to work what I'd been paid for, part of me wishes there was such a thing as jubilee* in this situation.

It's all a bit poor me, isn't it? I went for a walk at lunchtime today and marvelled at the wonderful weather and thought how blessed I was to be reasonably healthy, with a job and a home, with gifts and the ability to serve. I haven't really got it hard at all. But that doesn't mean I have to feel exhausted and sad whenever I'm at work. There's lots of good work to be done, and I want to be able to do it.

* Jubilee
a joyful shout or clangour of trumpets, the name of the great semi-centennial festival of the Hebrews. It lasted for a year. During this year the land was to be fallow, and the Israelites were only permitted to gather the spontaneous produce of the fields (Lev. 25:11, 12). All landed property during that year reverted to its original owner (13-34; 27:16-24), and all who were slaves were set free (25:39-54), and all debts were remitted. The return of the jubilee year was proclaimed by a blast of trumpets which sounded throughout the land. There is no record in Scripture of the actual observance of this festival, but there are numerous allusions (Isa. 5:7, 8, 9, 10; 61:1, 2; Ezek. 7:12, 13; Neh. 5:1-19; 2 Chr. 36:21) which place it beyond a doubt that it was observed. The advantages of this institution were manifold. "1. It would prevent the accumulation of land on the part of a few to the detriment of the community at large. 2. It would render it impossible for any one to be born to absolute poverty, since every one had his hereditary land. 3. It would preclude those inequalities which are produced by extremes of riches and poverty, and which make one man domineer over another. 4. It would utterly do away with slavery. 5. It would afford a fresh opportunity to those who were reduced by adverse circumstances to begin again their career of industry in the patrimony which they had temporarily forfeited. 6. It would periodically rectify the disorders which crept into the state in the course of time, preclude the division of the people into nobles and plebeians, and preserve the theocracy inviolate."
from Easton's 1897 Bible Dictionary

Wednesday, 1 August 2007

Christians and fiction

Here are my notes from the Faithful Writer conference, with varying degrees of coherence. These aren't verbatim, either; on the day I left out some things and added others.

I'm a storyteller. I tell stories. But every writer is different, so rather than telling you what it means to be a Christian fiction writer, let me tell you about myself.

I have a Chinese dad and an Australian mum. I grew up in PNG and Singapore. I've always been into books and writing - it was just the way I expressed myself. I loved to create worlds and characters, but I also used it as a way to resolve or at least express how I was feeling about life. Although I write fiction, there is a lot of me in my work - and I'll come back to the importance of this.

I grew up going to various churches - Brethren, Baptist, Anglican - because we moved around so much. By the time I got to uni I would have said I was a Christian, but there was little evidence of it in my life.

I came to UNSW to study theatre and English. I wanted to work in the theatre so much, yet words kept pulling me back. No matter how much I wanted to be an actor or a director, these scripts kept pouring out of me, and creative writing was my favourite course.

I graduated, still deluded that my future lay in the theatre. I was probably about as far away from God as I've ever been. It's a stereotype, but there is some truth in the perception that artists aren't Christians and in fact must reject everything to do with the shackles of religion. At uni, the theatre group I was giving all my time to was diametrically opposed to Campus Bible Study - so it's kind of ironic that I ended up working at AFES!

Life on the whole wasn't going too well for me, and after a number of personal crises, God graciously rescued me. I recommitted my life to him. So began a bit of a stocktaking time all round, looking at my life and my choices and wondering what God's plan for me was. The more I thought about the gifts he'd given me, the more I realised that writing was not just something I was good at, it was a blessing from God.

So I decided I would pursue writing properly. I enrolled in an MA in creative writing and now have almost finished my first novel. It's taken a long time for me to call myself a writer, even though it has always been a part of who I am. It might seem odd, but I guess I thought it was like bragging or bignoting myself.

I've come to realise though, that being a visibly Christian writer is important. This leads me into the first of three points I want to make.
  1. We need to be Christian writers
    By that I don't necessarily mean that our fiction writing should be about Christian things, or, as Tony said, feature a conversation where one of the characters spontaneously presents Two Ways to Live. But we need to be unashamedly Christian in our focus, in the moral framework we set up for our characters. The truth of what we believe will shine forth, even if we never explicitly talk about Christ. Someone else can step into our Christ-centered worldview and we have the chance to influence how they see things.

    We also need to be known as Christians. Christians need a more visible presence in the arts world. I don't know if you're the same, but I suspect you are: I always find it encouraging when I learn that some author or musician or director who is acclaimed by the secular world is openly and unashamedly Christian. It's a spark of recognition that there's someone else like me out there.

  2. We need to see ourselves in fiction
    My book, Undragon Stories, came about when I was writing a thesis about Asian Australian identity. I had noticed that amongst all the novels I had read on the subject, I couldn't find myself in any of them. There were stories about migrants, or children of two migrant parents, but none about people from a mixed cultural background. I couldn't understand why, as there must be so many people like me in our country with its diverse mix of cultures. So I started to write about what it was like to grow up in an Asian Australian household.

    In the same way that I had a hunger to read about Asian Australians, I also want to read about real Christians, want to see them as more than caricatures. I don't see a strong portrayal of Christians in contemporary fiction, and I think it's important to have Christianity presented in fiction in a positive light, not as something that is only there to be mocked, parodied or torn down.

  3. We need to support Christian writers
    After finishing my thesis I went through a period of severe depression and didn't want to write at all, especially not the book. I was lamenting this to a Christian sister. She wanted to know all about the book, and we talked about it and the Varuna house, a place that offers writing retreats, to which I had always wanted to go. She prayed with me, and encouraged me to submit an application to Varuna. So I did. And to my great surprise I won a three week fellowship, and my writing life was given a real boost. But without her encouragement I don't think I would have even tried.

    There are lots of things that make writing difficult, for me they include lack of time, lack of energy and the problem of not being taken seriously as a writer. I think this is because when you work full time, writing is seen by other people as being a bit of a hobby because it's not how you make your living.

    Another problem is when your worldview clashes with people who are dealing with your work. In my case, my editor/supervisor was adamant that I should put in a sex scene and couldn't understand why I didn't want to. "But everything is leading to that! They have to have sex!" And to my mind, no, they didn't! So it's important to be clear about the direction you want your work to go, and to defend that.

    So I would encourage you to support Christian fiction writers. You may not be able to support them financially or in practical ways (although if you can that's great), but you can pray for them. You can ask them how they are going, and encourage them. Knowing that people are supporting what you do is immensely helpful and important.
So those are my reflections on being a Christian fiction writer - I'm going to hand over to the panel now.