Authority jacket

This is not my jacket. Image via Huzzah Vintage.

I own one proper, black suit jacket. Maybe it is better described as a blazer. I bought it in a hurry because I needed something to wear to the Press Club and while it wasn’t expensive, it was slightly more than I am used to paying for clothes from op shops and warehouse sales. But that is okay because I wear it all the time. 

Not literally all the time. I don’t wear it with pyjamas. And I’ve never had an office job (or even an internship) that was so super formal that I needed to wear a suit every day. 

Sometimes I wear it when I have a job interview, or I’m in an office where it’s cold enough to wear a jacket anyway. 

But mostly I wear it when I need to feel confident about myself. 

Big day ahead? Need to tell other people what to do? Want to be considered a Serious Human? It’s jacket time. 

It’s not that I’m some kind of blubbering mess without the jacket. I’m fine. But I notice that as soon as I put it on, I walk slightly faster and more purposefully, I lift my head slightly higher, and the little voice in my head stops saying but I have so many things to do and switches to drive it like you stole it and empires are not built on cake.

Do you have an authority jacket? They definitely come recommended. 

Do what you love

Restaurant table

Image by Photo Monkey.

Here is a blog by a woman called Penelope Trunk. She is a writer and entrepreneur, and has founded three start-ups. She writes lots of career advice, including time management tips, how to get a job, why you shouldn’t go back to graduate school to avoid the recession, etc. She also writes about her family, and heads up: she writes about her experience of domestic violence. There is a photo of her bruise. I am not going to criticise a woman who is the subject of domestic violence for her controversial views on this.

But here is another of her controversial ideas. She writes that “do what you love” is bad career advice. Her justification is that a) you will do what you love anyway, even if you don’t get paid for it and b) you will love doing several things, so don’t waste time lying awake at night wondering which one you should do.

It got me thinking about what I love doing. I love writing and I love cooking, for example, but I would never consider making cooking my career. One of the things that really frustrated me about MasterChef was the way starry-eyed contestants thought it would be so much more fun and less stressful to be a professional chef than a lawyer/accountant/postgrad student. They seemed to think it would be all about wandering around in their kitchen garden and cooking from the heart and making people happy and sunshine and ponies.

I don’t know much about the restaurant industry, but I thought about the impressions of it I gained from MasterChef and other cooking shows (which must be true, right?). It seems that working as a chef is less about achieving your food dreams and more about yelling, stress, pressure, long hours, tight deadlines, weekend work, exacting standards and vocally dissatisfied consumers.

And because I don’t want to deal with all of that, I’ve chosen to be a journalist instead.

Oh wait…

When I was eight

Image by Caitlinator

I’m not much of a fiction writer but the only reason I worked that out is because at school we had to write fiction all the time. Well maybe not all the time but it seemed like our teachers would be much more likely to ask us to write a story than to write some form of interesting non-fiction that wasn’t an essay or a bunch of short answers to questions we didn’t make up ourselves. I didn’t work out that there were other types of non-fiction writing until later.

When I was eight I wrote a short story about getting an answer wrong in class and being quite literally swallowed up by the ground beneath me. I recently revisited this story because I was at a writers’ festival where one of the events involved writers reading aloud from their early work. Now, “early work” was not clearly defined, and I was far too embarrassed to read something from the last few years, and was able to get hold of the 1995 edition of my primary school magazine, where said short story was published. I read it into a microphone for the amusement of a handful of writers at a bowling club. 

What is under the ground, once you have made a mistake and been swallowed up? According to my young imagination, there is a long corridor that ends in some metal bars, blocking you from escaping.

But that is okay because luckily I packed my magic toothpaste!

Magic toothpaste, of course, when applied to metal bars, will dissolve them and let you escape into the playground. It was suggested that the moral of the story is that you should always remember to pack your magic toothpaste. I think this is a very good point, but I think the key thing is learning how to make the ground open up and swallow you. There are times when this would be very handy indeed. 

Duck Duck Goose

Yesterday we went to a restaurant called Duck Duck Goose. This prompted a lot of questions:

Why is the restaurant called Duck Duck Goose?

Is it because you can only order duck dishes?

Is it because you can only order duck and goose dishes?

Can you eat goose?

Is it called Duck Duck Goose because most of the tables are round? As in, you could play the children’s game Duck Duck Goose around your table with your dining companions, which might be harder to manage at a rectangular table, right?

Would it be inappropriate if we played Duck Duck Goose in the restaurant?

Isn’t it impressive that we turned up in a group of five without a booking and there was a five-seater round table all ready? Isn’t it easier to have a conversation with a group this size at a round table?

Doesn’t this soup spoon with the curly handle look like a duck? As in, that’s the head, and the neck and see the body there? 

(We didn’t find out some of the less obvious answers, but there was a lot of delicious duck on the menu, including a duck burger, if you’re interested.)

Writers – want to get paid? Move to Argentina

Did you see that Argentina is considering paying a pension to its writers? 

According to The Guardian, writers could qualify for the payments if they’re aged over 65 and have written five or more books or invested at least 20 years in “literary creation”. 

Presumably there would be some kind of panel or selection process to determine what counts as “literary creation”. Although, if I spent 20 years writing really good Twitter updates, I don’t know, I might feel a bit entitled. 

Authors who qualify would be paid the equivalent of A$867 a month. It doesn’t sound like that much but it’s above the minimum state pension, according to the report. So, win!

This is brilliant news. All they need is a similar scheme for talented young writers, paying them to work on a first or second novel so they don’t have to spend most of their time working in cafes, and Argentina would be a very desirable place for writers indeed. Wish we had something similar here. 

Newspapers, not opinion-papers

I’m always hesitant about adding to the reams of ink and binary code that have been spilled in the desperate cause of trying to predict the future of newspapers.

Yes, people get their breaking news from the television, or the internet, or the radio, because they are faster. Yes, newspapers are struggling to make ends meet because the “rivers of gold” from classified advertising are drying up. Yes, yes, we know.

Even so, here’s a conversation I’ve had a few times lately: I refuse to believe it logically follows that for newspapers to survive, they must fill all their pages with opinion.

Sure, I’m interested in people’s opinions. I want to hear about their first-hand experiences and I want to read their considered, well-informed insights. Fortunately, the opinion pages of the newspapers provide this, as do websites like The Punch and The Drum and the National Times.

The problem is that if all the news reporting gets left to the platforms that can do it fastest, news becomes little more than a race. How many people are dead in the earthquake now? How about now? No really, how many is it now?

Again, I do want to hear the latest update on how many people died in the earthquake and I know a newspaper can’t provide it. That’s okay. Print newspapers are different. They might be a little slower but they’re a reflective kind of medium. They more or less demand our full attention. They don’t distract us with multiple tabs and links to other places and people saying hi on Facebook Chat. It’s hard to read them while driving a car or cooking dinner. Where there are limitations, there are also opportunities.

Newspapers have the opportunity to run longer feature stories explaining not just what, but why. Newspaper reporters have the opportunity to conduct investigations, to persuade reluctant sources to talk, to research deeply, to build relationships with contacts that will later pay dividends – all this takes time and labour and is not cheap and does not guarantee a story for the midday news update. And newspaper editors still have the opportunity to set the agenda for public debate.

Sure, we need a new way to fund this, but let’s remember that this is valuable to readers in a basic, fourth-estate, holding public institutions accountable, debating important social issues kind of way. It involves telling the reader something relevant they didn’t know before – that’s news at a let’s-sit-down-and-define-it type of level.

That’s news. It’s pretty powerful. Let’s make sure it’s in the newspapers.

The top five languages I should probably learn

I grew up speaking English and I learned French at school/uni. I say learned; I mean laboriously practised to the point where I can have a conversation with a stranger and pick up weird subtitles on arthouse films and hey, I even used my language skills to buy a prepaid mobile phone plan at an Orange shop in Paris once, so hooray, but I still struggle to remember the basics like which nouns are feminine. I’ve been to France a few times and it’s helped me get around, sure, but it doesn’t feel like a really useful and important language. Here are some languages that would make any of their students feel smug and self-satisfied.

  1. Auslan (Australian sign language). If you haven’t been watching Anna Bligh’s live press conferences on ABC News 24 during the floods/cyclone crisis, well then, what have you been doing? All the major pressers during the crisis have been signed, which is generally agreed to make Anna around 3 per cent more likeable. Oh and more importantly, it’s pretty useful for people who can’t hear. Fact.
  2. Mandarin. Whenever I’m around a bunch of east Asian international students, who seem to be able to switch flawlessly from Mandarin to Cantonese to a dialect and back to English, I feel pretty guilty. They’re all more comfortable in their first language, why should they have to converse in English just for me? Maybe one day. Even though Mandarin is pretty much the most spoken language in the world, the tones and the script look like a challenge.
  3. Esperanto. It’s nice idea – wouldn’t it be great if there were a global language other than English? If both parties to a cross-border conversation could converse in their non-native languages on an even footing? If it were all planned out, with no irregular grammar? It’s a shame it’s not more popular, kinda defeats the purpose.
  4. Spanish. It’s kind of similar to French, so I’d have a head-start, right? Plus it’s widely spoken and sounds pretty.
  5. HTML/CSS. Shut up, it’s a language.

Under my umbrella

Does anyone else struggle to keep an umbrella?

I bought a new one on Friday at maybe 1pm. By the time I walked to the tram stop, which was less than a block away and would have taken a total of about three minutes, it had broken.

It got progressively worse as I navigated the rainy, windy day. Now it looks like this:


Yep, there are several dislodged spokes, one of which flaps around in the wind.

Sure, it was super cheap. But I tried buying an expensive umbrella once before and found that it broke just like the cheap ones I normally buy. Not in one day, though. This was something of a record, even for me.

I would make some comment about our throwaway consumerist society but all I really want to know is: where can I get an umbrella that will last just a little bit longer? Anyone?

This is not a TiNA wrap-up

If you weren’t in Newcastle this weekend, wow, you missed out. This was only the second year that I’ve attended the National Young Writers’ Festival and I already dread the day when I will be too old to attend a festival for young writers.

One of the many highlights of the festival, which is under the This is Not Art (TiNA) umbrella, is the Sunday zine fair. Lots of artists/writers/creatives/people wearing square glasses take over a car park and fill it with beautiful things they have made – books, journals, magazines, zines, and inspired lunch options (chicken salad wrap with honey, anyone?). I may have spent $62 on magazines and my suitcase was a kilo heavier when I got on the plane. I guess that means magazines cost $62 a kilo, which makes them more like fancy chocolates than mandarins, if nothing else.

There were lots of other highlights. Check them out via my new best friends Alex and Sian, or via Thuy Linh, who I didn’t meet properly, but who seems swell and apparently came to one of the workshops I helped run.

It’s ironic that after leaving the festival feeling inspired, I’ve been working on an essay this week and struggling to write fluently. Some of the Voiceworks peeps on the Vices panel were talking about the importance, and indeed the privilege, of writing every day; at other times, they have compared regular writing to exercising creative muscles. After a couple of weeks of holidays, stretching out those muscles is kinda hard, but it feels good.

Reasons why I love the internet #64

I had a cold recently. That’s not why I love the internet. It’s because Googling “how to + [insert thing you want to do]” will teach you how to do almost anything.

Like unblock a stuffy nose, for example:

Try slowly sipping hot water or tea with a bit of lemon in it, keeping your nose close to the cup.

Thanks, WikiHow. I discovered that it’s really nice to close your eyes, breathe in the steam from the tea, and count to five. Then breathe out slowly. Go on, try it.