Bitterly Dreary – aka Literary Theory

The Philosopher in Meditation (thought to be by Rembrandt)

The Philosopher in Meditation (thought to be by Rembrand

I found the image above when I was doing a bit of obsessive-compulsive boning up for my forthcoming final (thank the god of philosophers) subject for my MA in Creative Writing, which starts tomorrow.  It about sums up what I anticipate from the experience… incarceration in a dusty garret, with only the cobwebby thoughts of ancient eminences grises to keep me company.

I am intimidated just by the title – “Literary Theory“.  Well not intimidated so much as resentful of being forced to spend the next 3 months or so entombed in the philosophy of literature  when I’d much rather be writing.  For some reason that eludes me, this subject is mandatory to qualify for my degree.

I have no qualms with being required to study theory as opposed to practice, as to become good at something, it’s good to have a mix of both.  What I am peeved about (and here I trust no curious eye from the teaching staff at my esteemed soon to be alma mater will light upon this whinge, or I’ll get an automatic deduction of points before I even start),  is that there is absolutely no alternative to this particular subject.  If I’d wanted to study philosophy, I’d have made an appointment with a psychologist immediately, and I wouldn’t have signed on for Creative Writing.   Don’t get me wrong.  I love literature, and I’d have joyously thrown myself into 19th Century Literature, Gender & Genre, Australian Women Writers – or any number of  other subjects on offer at the Faculty, but not on offer for this degree.  No, I was informed, Literary Theory it must be and nothing less.

A brief perusal of the literature on the topic of “Bitterly Dreary” reveals a daunting sub-dictionary of buzz words and terminology, e.g. “hermeneutics”, “alienation from consciousness”, “generic integrity of discourse”, “post-structuralism”, and so on.   As well, it includes a veritable roll-call of esteemed scholars, e.g. Descartes, Hegel, Foucault, Marx, Nietschke, Freud, Ricoeur, any one of whom is enough to send cold shivers of inadequacy down my spine.

Oh well, perhaps I protest too much.  There’s no question that I’ll come out at the end of it more informed than I am now, even positively erudite on the subject.  Somehow I doubt that questions of Bitterly Dreary are ones you can confidently toss into dinner party conversation however.  At worst, I’ll suffer only a temporary alienation from consciousness, and the end is in sight.



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Adelaide Writers’ Week

Entrance to Adelaide Writers Week,Womens Memorial Gardens, North Terrace, Adelaide

Entrance to Adelaide Writers Week,Womens Memorial Gardens, North Terrace, Adelaide

For both writers and readers, attending Adelaide Writers’ Week is a treat not to be missed.  For an Adelaide writer (like me), attending is pretty much obligatory.  As both Writers’ Week and I (me?) have been around in Adelaide since the sixties, it might surprise you that I’ve never been.

I’ve always had some feeble excuse or other; I’m working, it’s forty degrees in the shade (which it often is), I haven’t read any of the authors and so on.  In truth, it’s also been because I’ve harboured a suspicion that it was a bit pretentious, a bit precious; a sea of grey haired acolytes fawning at the feet of “great author”.  Kind of presumptuous really, when I’d never bothered to go along and find out.  But that’s just me.  If there’s something everyone’s raving about, I get reactionary and find a zillion reasons not to do it.  Childish some might say and some might be right.

However this year that will change.  As well as the fact that every keen writer and reader I’ve ever known who’s been has praised it to the skies, it’s more than time to cast my ill-formed prejudices and apathy aside and get into it. Continue reading

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Valentine’s Day – wherefore art thou?

valentines day

Valentine’s Day seems to be copping a bad rap these days, at least in some circles. As an example, I work in an organization of two hundred odd people, whose ages cover the spectrum from young recent graduates to semi-retirees like me. It was noteworthy then that yesterday I was apparently the sole recipient of a floral tribute (red roses sent by my hubby). I was surprised to discover this. Possibly understandable, I thought, if the long married couples had gone off the boil V-Day wise, but surely all those Gen-Y’ers or whatever Gen they are now would still be in hot enough pursuit of lurve to order up a few petals at the florist’s? But no. Someone suggested it’s because the young do it all by text message now. What next… virtual flowers from an Avatar?

An article by Roxanne Allan published in “The Advertiser” yesterday noted the response to a survey they’d conducted that asked, among other things, what people thought about Valentine’s Day. Some respondents said they kept it simple with a home-cooked dinner (albeit candlelit as a concession to romance), more than half said they did nothing, and the majority, whether they splashed out or not, thought it was too commercialized. Roxanne’s summary of the findings, not surprisingly, was that the day “seems to be losing its sparkle”.

And although the history of the event is still somewhat unclear, there’s no doubt it did once have plenty of sparkle. According to what’s known, the custom contains links to ancient tradition, both Christian and Roman. There’s confusion however over who exactly the patron saint of romance was. There’s been several St Valentines, all of whom seem to have met sticky endings. Why any of these should have conferred their name on this celebration of love though is a mystery. Don Juan Day for example, you could understand, or even Valentino Day.

Like most myths and legends, the true origins are intriguingly murky, at least up until the end of the 5th century when February 14th was declared St Valentine’s Day by papal decree. Some suggest that because this date was also thought to mark the beginning of mating season for birds (in some hemispheres) it symbolized the human equivalent, or at least the civilized lead-up to it.

However it came about, from the 17th century Valentine’s Day became a regular fixture of the calendar in many countries and was recognized by the exchange of handwritten notes and later printed cards. Like much else in our materialistic culture, cards have increasingly been supplemented by lots of other stuff, and the date has for many years been a field day for florists, sellers of toys and chocolates and of course upper class restaurants.

You can hardly blame people for feeling jaded. Becoming victims of crass commercially motivated manipulation isn’t something any of us do without a pang at best, or downright denial at worst. Still, if you took the latter approach to say, Christmas, Easter, Mothers’ Day, birthdays and so on (all of which occasions are equally as subject to rapacious consumer exploitation), it’d be a sad thing, and disaster for the retail and restaurant business.

And if it puts a few coffers in the tills of those who probably work hard for it, is that so bad? No-one’s forcing those red satin hearts or roses (ouch) down our throats. It may not be a bad thing to have an occasion already set down for us to show the one we love that we do, and it doesn’t preclude demonstrations of that at other times. Some men seem constitutionally incapable of entering a florist shop for any reason whatever, and they’ll never change, but for those who get a kick out of spoiling their partner (and plenty do), let them, I say. It’s all too easy to forget about special gestures or postpone them for lack of time and I’m as guilty of that as anyone. So I think it’s great that I’m reminded to go out and buy a mushy card and a little something that I know my loved one will be pleased to receive. I’m in good company here as Barack Obama in a recent speech apparently expressed his eagerness to get home to Michelle for a romantic dinner on the big day and said he had flowers ready and waiting.

So, to all those people who scoff at the whole V-Day thing (and I’ve noticed it’s usually the ones who never get anything), I say I’m not ashamed to have been lavishly spoilt with a card, roses and dinner last night at a swanky restaurant (see picture below). Of course if you did give the whole thing a miss, I commend your pragmatism and hope for your sake if you’ve got a partner that the decision was mutual!

me on valentines day

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Back on the Bike

Me ... before Ride-a-Bike-Right

Me … before Ride-a-Bike-Right

Someone once said you never forget how to ride a bike.  Whoever that was, they didn’t know me.  Although as a kid I rode far and wide, for days at a time, unencumbered by a helmet, let alone a mobile phone, things have changed since then.  Nothing surprising about that:  it was some decades ago.

When I recently became inspired by the idea of gentle recreational rides in the balmy outdoors with my loved one, it seemed a perfect way of combining getting fit, a bit of marital bonding and dipping my toe in the trendy world of lycra at the same time.  What I didn’t realise was I look like crap in lycra, bikes now have gears and brakes on the front, the seats are hell on a middle-aged bum and somewhere along the years I seem to have mislaid my sense of balance.

Balance, I know, gets shakier with age, as part of the generalised deterioration process.  It’s not for adrenalin kicks after all that our senior citizens take to the streets in gophers and walkers.  But I did think the days of having problems remaining upright were a long way off for me.  Mostly (at least on alcohol free days) I do okay staying upright on two feet.  Not so I found, once mounted (and I use the term advisedly here) on a bike.

On my first attempt, once up there, I felt like I teetered on the brink of a six-storey building.  After a few aborted wobbles, and a small panic attack, I somehow got off.  Perseverance however being my strong suit, I kept at it and slowly improved.  There was another unforeseen interruption of a couple of years to the bike riding idyll which meant when I started over, confidence building again loomed large as my major challenge.

The first outing saw me sailing off down the road gaining in skill with every revolution of the wheels.  Until I remembered I needed to practice turns.  Somehow again I mislaid my sense of balance.  What I found instead was myself awkwardly prone on the bitumen, the bike on its side and blood gushing from a gash on my knee.  Imagining the bike as a horse however, I did the valiant thing – remounted immediately and kept at it.

Subsequent riding sessions saw me sprouting various technicolour bruises, contusions, scratches and scrapes as I made contact in a number of unexpected ways with fences, posts, tracks, bushes and other unfriendly surfaces.  Eventually it occurred to me that if this went on, as well as becoming the neighbourhood freakshow, I might well kill myself.

This was when I stumbled upon (advised terminology here again) “Rikeabikeright”, a  provider of bike education licensed by AustCycle.  This is an organisation that runs bike training packages for children, adults, the disabled and bike-a-phobes like me.  What attracted me was the offer of one-on-one sessions.  When you’re a kid it doesn’t matter, but when you’re “grown up” making a total fool of yourself is best restricted to a small audience.

My preliminary online inquiry attracted a prompt response from Lee-Anne Fleming, who runs the business single-handedly.  She had just the thing for me, a package called “Back on the Bike”.  She sounded so helpful and enthusiastic on the phone that I quickly signed up for it, visions of happy, blood-free cycling filling my head.

My first session was no disappointment.  Lee-Anne is a natural teacher – I think she could teach pigs to fly (and her challenge in my case was only slightly less daunting).  She is patient, calm, a font of incredible cycling knowledge and helpful tips and as well a very skilled bike rider herself.  I sailed through my session right up until the end, when I sadly sailed to the ground thanks to a too-enthusiastic drift to leeward as I was practising a left hand signal.  Accustomed as I was by then to the sight of blood, it didn’t phase me too much, but alarmed Lee-Anne a bit and she quickly patched me up with bandaids.  Fortunately only my pride was really wounded.

I completed my second session with Lee-Anne a week ago and this time it was even better.  We progressed to riding on the streets with actual cars (albeit not many) and as well as learning even more and gaining in confidence and road skills, I managed to keep all my bodily parts out of contact with the ground (except my feet of course).

Since then, I actually went on one of those idyllic bide rides, so long the figment of fantasy, last weekend, and again it was a bloodless coup.

I can’t recommend Lee-Anne’s services highly enough.  She works, as mentioned, with individuals, groups, schools, councils and essentially wherever there’s a need for bike training and safety education.

If, like me, you’d love to get back on the bike and you’re a scaredy-cat, get in touch with Rideabikeright right now.  Contact details – 0431 120 802,


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Judgement Day

From Michelangelo's "The Last Judgement", Sistine Chapel

From Michelangelo’s “The Last Judgement”, Sistine Chapel

OK, so hardly of the biblical proportions of the above, but nevertheless significant (at least to me), I finally received my examiners’ reports back on my Masters Creative Writing thesis (some 7 weeks after having submitted it).

Despite the somewhat gushing nature of my lecturer’s covering email, headed “Congratulations”, they were, to put it briefly, equivocal.  Some good.  Some not so good.  Perhaps the fact (the major fact indeed) that I passed, was the basis for congratulations, as there doesn’t appear to be any grading system.  This however may be normal for the procedure, I’m not sure.

I have yet to go through the reports with a fine tooth comb to glean the information I need to pursue this project, if I decide to pursue it.  The form of the reports is of course, and as you’d expect, highly academic and they’ve subjected my poor quivering manuscript to an exhaustive third degree.  Lest I should get carried away by the smattering of laudatory remarks, they were rigorously interspersed with the highly critical, so reading the things was a kind of bipolar experience.  Nevertheless I am relieved to have withstood judgement day and am now only 4 unit points away from gaining my Masters degree.

The premise for my creative project was a series of linked short stories on the theme of family, of which four formed the submission.  However given that the consensus appears to be that two are strong and two are weak, I am faced with ditching the weaklings and working on the ones with a better chance of survival.  Plenty of scope for reinforcing the good stories and indeed keeping to one family alone through a series of generational studies may well be the better way to go.  So some taking stock to do before the magnum opus can forge ahead.



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I wish I’d said it

At the recent Nonfictionow 2012 Conference I attended in Melbourne, a well known American writer, David Shields, used this quotation in his presentation.  He was attempting to illustrate his purpose in writing his book “Reality Hunger:  A Manifesto”, a bestselling nonfiction book that takes as its theme among many, man’s search for meaning.

The quote comes from Philip Roth’s “American Pastoral” and is an astoundingly succinct and humorous summary of how, despite our best intentions, being human foils us time and again.  I love it.

You fight your superficiality, your shallowness, so as to try to come at people without unreal expectations, without an overload of bias or hope or arrogance, as untanklike as you can be, sans cannon and machine guns and steel plating half a foot thick; you come at them unmenacingly on your own ten toes instead of tearing up the turf with your caterpillar treads, take them on with an open mind, as equals, man to man, as we used to say, and yet you never fail to get them wrong. You might as well have the brain of a tank. You get them wrong before you meet them, while you’re anticipating meeting them; you get them wrong while you’re with them; and then you go home to tell somebody else about the meeting and you get them all wrong again. Since the same generally goes for them with you, the whole thing is really a dazzling illusion. … The fact remains that getting people right is not what living is all about anyway. It’s getting them wrong that is living, getting them wrong and wrong and wrong and then, on careful reconsideration, getting them wrong again. That’s how we know we’re alive: we’re wrong. Maybe the best thing would be to forget being right or wrong about people and just go along for the ride. But if you can do that — well, lucky you.” 
― Philip RothAmerican Pastoral

Philip Roth

Philip Roth

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Wonderful Quotes about Writing

In trawling the web for an apt quotation about writing to include on my header, I found these others, which really sum it all up …. the masochism …. the thanklessness of the task ….the apparent futility … the pain … why oh why do we do it????

Writing is like prostitution.  First you do it for love, then for a few close friends, and then for money.  Moliere.  (this one I love … I think I’m in the middle stage … but have a definite hankering to flog my wares to the highest bidder … literary of course)

A writer is somebody for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.  Thomas Mann. (how can a sane person spend three hours perfecting one sentence and then next day scrub it altogether?)

Writing is easy:  All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.  Gene Fowler  (I’ve been wondering about those weird red spots in front of my eyes)

I am a drinker with writing problems.  Brendan Behan (you said it boy!)

I’m writing a book.  I’ve got the page numbers done.  Steven Wright (actually I’m still working on the page numbers)

There are three rules for writing a novel.  Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.  W. Somerset Maugham (perhaps the first one is “don’t do it”)

 The road to hell is paved with works in progress.  Philip Roth (he must have been looking at my computer)

 I love deadlines.  I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.  Douglas Adams (occasionally they fly back home for the winter)

 I love being a writer.  What I can’t stand is the paperwork.  Peter de Vries (yes, and and all that thinking)

 Writing is not necessarily something to be ashamed of, but do it in private and wash your hands afterwards.  Robert A. Heinlein (rather like blogging)

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Welcome to the new and improved Annals of Annabelle


For those of you who followed the original Annals, this is the next stage of the journey of Annabelle, the aspiring writer, and will be more strongly focused on my struggles up the ladder of creativity, writing wise.  To date the rungs have been somewhat randomly spaced, a few have even been attacked by white ants and crumbled to dust beneath my feet.  What am I talking about?  Rungs!!!  It’s more like a sheer bloody cliff face.  However persistence is the key and not to be daunted I will forge ever onwards, hopefully with a discernibly upward trajectory.

Vicissitudes are the name of the game in the writer’s life (plus it’s a nice show-offy word to use unless you have a lisp), and we are told each and every writer suffers them.  I have my own opinions on that, I mean look at some of the trash that soars effortlessly to the heights of fame on nothing but tawdry titillation (shades of green on my part you may rightly guess).  Nevertheless, it was heartening to hear at a recent conference from no less a literary lion than Helen Garner, that even she feels assailed by self-doubt and the conviction that she’s kidding herself each time she starts a new project, despite her masses of credentials to the contrary.  She could teach our politicians a thing or two, such as hubris comes before humiliation, and not only in the dictionary.

So hang in there with me, if you will.  Supporters and cheerers-on are greatly appreciated in this precarious clamber.  Any kind of climbing, except maybe the social, is a solitary activity and encouraging company is welcomed.  As indeed are comments … even more so.  Please let me know you’re out there …. somewhere ….. anywhere!!!

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