Friday, February 26, 2010

A very personal defence of creative writing courses

Lisa Pryor writes in the Age today that creative writing courses at universities are effectively sideways schemes to insure incomes for writers and have no earthly benefit to the students, and indeed impoverish writing as an art and so are generally a Very Bad Thing and what's more ripping off the young and variously gullible who would like to be writers themselves.

Apart from the fact that my university degree in creative writing clearly didn't teach me to use short sentences, it was actually quite useful. While there were one or two writers involved in the process who I would have preferred my HECS debt not to have supported, I would say that it was a fruitful process all together. Here are some things I learned:

  1. You have to write stuff to be a writer.
  2. You cannot be precious about deadlines or editing.
  3. Lots of people who write are much better than me.
  4. Lots of people who write are much worse than me.
  5. Lots of people who write improve through writing and talking about writing and reading (including about writing).
  6. Some people don't (see points 1 and 2 above).
  7. There is more than one way to write a story.
  8. Being isolated in a garret is a great way for me personally to go a little bit crazy and depressed and working with other people is a great way for me to be motivated to write more.
  9. Don't talk about your story too early and don't leave your story too late.
  10. Your editor doesn't hate you or your work when they make changes.

I expect these are all things I would eventually have learned by myself. I expect it would have taken a much longer time than it would have if I had had to do it all on my own without other writers (both students and teachers) to crash into.

The thing that I would never have learned was how to have confidence to submit my work, to let it go out into the world. Lisa Pryor seems to imply that timid people (and people without the level of income to support taking a year off to devote to writing their novel) shouldn't be writers, because their timidity will show in the writing. She assumes that the writing will then be bad - narrow, limited, boring, derivative and so on. As someone who has taught in a creative writing faculty as well as learned in one, I must say that this is not the case. The timid and shy, those with no confidence, will surprise with sharp wit, amazing risk taking and originality. Frequently the confident and assured are those who will not learn and refuse to explore anything outside their own, narrow area of expertise. Contrary to expectations, they refuse to take risks, because they are confident that they do not need to. End of generalisation.

lf creative writing degrees encourage and support the timid writers, I would say that is enough reason for their continued existence.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Hockey (the game, not the politician)

Junior has found my old hockey stick and we have been using the waning daylight savings hours to practice dribbling and stopping and passing on our tussocky grass and on the concrete down the side of the house. I have been remembering how much fun I used to have playing hockey with the Mountain Districts team as a young feller, and wondering why I stopped in the first place.

I was telling the Noodle about the time we lost a game because our team was laughing so much, and he wondered why we were so bad. So I told him about how we often only had 8 or 9 players, and that even though we were technically the under-17s team that we only had about 3 or 4 players around the 16 mark and our youngest player was 11 (she always wore a skivvy to play in, too, and must have weighed about 22 kg ringing wet, which we often were).

Then I thought about how most of us had only played one or two games (or zero) before we joined the club and we were often playing against girls who had picked up their sticks at age 8 or 9 so that their teams had collectively 77 years of experience, and we collectively had about 12 or 13 days. Our first game was against a team in which half the girls were state representative players, and they beat us 10-nil. Our next game against them they only beat us 5-nil, which I think was the most satisfying sporting triumph of my admittedly-limited careeer.

So I think I didn't keep playing because once I hit university, everyone took it all so seriously and were expecting to win all the time. There are not so many hockey teams out there for a social hit-and-giggle experience. No doubt that attitude of ours irritated our coaches even at Mountain Districts, but it did mean that we all had a fantastic time, a great team spirit and a wonderful attitude to losing. The only people who disliked us were the second-top team, who we pretty consistently beat over our two seasons of existence, to their lasting astonishment and shame.

Playing hockey also me the opportunity to watch the Nylex clock (on the silos) click up from 4 to 11 degrees, thanks to a scheduling bungle from our team secretary. We were cold, but it was worth it. Yes, it was a long way from the mountains to Olympic Park, but not as far as it was to Werribee or Essendon, where we also played.

Also our home ground was a swamp, and frequently so deep in water that you really honestly could not see the ball, and just had to flail around with the stick until someone had the good fortune to hit it.

But I still miss playing, 20 years later. So if there are 20 to 30 middle-aged, unfit, not-very-fast running women (or men or children, for that matter) who would like to arrange a hit of social hockey from time to time, they so should get in touch with me. We could start with ten minute halves and move up from there. I know it's a bit harder to arrange than a game of social tennis, but surely it can't be impossible.

BYO oranges.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Like, oh like

You can like some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time but it seems rather difficult to like all of the people all of the time.

But then, I am not sure than some of the people like me all of the time, and some of the people definitely don't like me all of the time, so that's probably fair.

Monday, February 22, 2010

YouTube oddity

The Noodle and I have been playing some music on YouTube, which all started because we were talking about the separation of Germany (What is West Germany, Mum?') and obviously had to listen to Meatloaf*.

So we listened to Took the Words Right Out of my Mouth and were suitably astonished at the power chords (not power cords, which are more useful but less astonishing, although now I think of it, quite important to the production of power chords). And also at Meatloaf's hair and pallid face.

Then we obviously had to listen to The Smiths, kind of to prove that we could in a post-Meatloaf world, and we listened to my favourite-ever Smiths song, There is a light that never goes out, and also Panic and Big Mouth Strikes Again. The Noodle was this time astonished at the generally violent and misanthropic tone coupled with the airy beauty of Morrisey's voice. But mostly he was extremely unimpressed with Morrisey's dancing on Top of the Pops.

So then we had to listen to Paul Kelly, and the Noodle's astonishment was pretty much limited to how amazingly much a person's appearance can change when they are suddenly 30 years older and also wearing a hat.

*No, I don't get the link either, but it seemed reasonable at the time.

Friday, February 19, 2010


So I think that law is competitive textual analysis. If you have the greater insight and close reading, you win! Yay!

Great for those of us who behave badly when the Pictionary is brought out.

Not convinced it's the best way to run the country, but.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Case analysis

One of the useful laywering skills they are teaching us idiot-not-lawyers is how to do a case analysis. I am doing The Minister of Immigration and Teoh for my first mini-assignment.

The butler did it.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Question for Canberra locals and/or dam engineers

Anyone know why the water at the bottom of Lake Burley Griffin smells so bad? Sulfurous it is, as if the devil himself lives down there with the carp.

I would like to add that I have not been snorkelling down there without nose plugs, it's the run off from Scrivener Dam.

Saturday, February 13, 2010


The Sparkes Helmore lecture theatres at ANU are utterly soundproof.

And the lecturers are pretty high quality too.

Also, there is a creek.

Friday, February 12, 2010

There is actual rain actually falling from the actual sky.

Wet stuff lying round on the ground, we calls them puddles. Water spilling over the spill way making that Molongolo River go. The trees and grass are green G-R-E-E-N. Green.

The Noodle says, 'it's just un-Australian'.

This being the fellow who did not own a raincoat until he was six.

Rain, I tells you, rain.

No dancing Katherine Hepburn, though. Not that I've seen.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The First Fleet and Oliver!

The Noodle, as stated in an earlier post, is studying the First Fleet this term at school. They are taking a social history approach, and researching conditions that children lived in in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Approximately.

One of the ways in which they are doing this is by watching excerpts from Oliver! The Noodle has been quite harrowed by the terribleness of childhood in Oliver! Despite all the singing. They have also been read a bit of one of my all-time favourite books, Midnight is a Place by Joan Aiken. The husband has now acquired a copy and the Noodle has dived on in. I reckon other books on the reading list for him on the home front are going to be Harding's Luck and The House of Arden by E Nesbit and A Country Child by Alison Uttley. If he gets that far. I know that they are both about late 19th century and early 20th century childhood, but I don't want him thinking it's all pick pocketing and gruel. Just lots of it.

Finally, I feel like my years dedicated to children's literature are proving useful to another human being.

And hopefully next week I am meeting up with some people who run a books for foster children program here in the ACT to see if I can help them at all. It's probably not a great time, what with the full-time work, part-time study and trying to be a decent parent commitments, but I feel a bit sick of not doing anything that isn't just for me and my immediates. Fingers crossed that there is something I can do to help.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

'She is no longer "good" at writing'

Jenny Davidson linking to Rachel Cusk in the Guardian.

In which the Noodle discovers Get Smart

'The cone of silence is enough laughs for a whole episode', he says. But oh he laughs many more times than that.

For myself, I am surprised to find that 99 simpers at Max. In my memory she was the tough and clever one who saved the day, and I idolised her as a child and wanted to be just like her when I grew up. I realise now where my desire for straight dark hair comes from. It's a little disconcerting to see her being tough and clever, but also subservient and breathless.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

First day of school

First day of school, with the bag full of stationery and the body full of nerves. Chaos. Kids everywhere, desperate to catch up with each other and teachers desperate to tell them what to do and where to go and to be QUIET please.

It's Grade 3. It's First Fleet again, the Noodle tells me. He tells me there was a 114 question survey to determine everyone's learning style. He told his teacher about his neuropathy. In front of every other kid in the class during circle time when they had to say something about themselves. He told a new kid about his eye, and told us how sick he is of people asking about it.

There will be science, and footy clinic and tomorrow he finds out who he will sit next for the rest of the term.

First day of school. 4 down, 8 to go.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Books in the post

My law textbooks arrived today, representing a considerable investment in money (which equals time, as you well know).

I have that great classic, Laying Down the Law, but the newest edition is lacking the cheesy cartoons on the cover and it also looks a lot bigger than it did when I was but a baby bookseller*. I have the Butterworths Concise Legal Dictionary. Which will be useful come what may, because I work with so many lawyers and one must at least make a genuine effort to understand what it is they are trying to say.

I also have Law of Contract and Principles of Administrative Law. I fear my heart does not thrill in any harplike metaphorical kind of way to contract law, but it may surprise me (and not in a drop bear kind of a way, I hope). I do quite heart the admin law, as far as I have come across it in my public servanty life. I am not intending to be a lawyer at the finish of all this studying, so I can avoid things like torts (but not tortes, since it seems there are many cafes and other food-type outlets on campus). But I do hope to be a bit more informed and lawyer-friendly, so my mouth does not gap open and catch flies when faced by statutory interpretation.

I have one more free weekend before the study starts, and then lots of reading writing and ridiculousing.

*I started being a bookseller twenty years ago. I find this alarming. It was at RMIT, which is not alarming.