dolorosa_12: (flight of the conchords)
[livejournal.com profile] promiseoftin asked 'What got you into journalism/writing'? This was a bit of a complicated, two-stage process. It's also worth saying that, aside from blogging and the odd bit of reviewing on my reviews blog, I'm not really a writer or journalist any more. But I was for a long time, and for a longer time before that, it was the only career I imagined for myself, and everything I did was geared towards becoming a reviewer/journalist.

I have to admit that, in hindsight, the main reason I gravitated towards journalistic writing as a career was the fact that both my parents are journalists. My father is a very prominent Australian political TV journalist, and my mother is a radio broadcaster; both have been working as journalists for over forty years. Growing up, basically all the adults around me were journalists, so that I developed this unconscious perception that to be an adult with a job meant being a journalist. It helped that reading, writing, and analysing the written word came naturally and easily to me, and that I was encouraged in this, particularly by my mother, who was always telling me that as long as I could write, I would always have a job. By the time I was in my teens, she was pushing me to submit reviews to newspapers and write for student papers, and I was enthusiastically doing so.

That is what underlay my entry into journalism and writing - parental example and encouragement. How I actually started working in this field is quite an embarrassing story. At one point, when I was sixteen, I was having yet another discussion with my mother about books, sparked by what I believed to be a terrible review of my favourite book series, His Dark Materials, in the weekend edition of the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper. Mum, who was always one to push and encourage me in ambitious directions, said that I should write a letter to the reviewer explaining why her review was flawed. I wrote an incredibly pompous letter to this poor woman - the children's book editor of the Sydney Morning Herald! - and, to her credit and my eternal shame, she wrote back. Instead of telling me I was being ridiculous (which was very kind, given that in the letter I accused her of not having read the book she reviewed), she asked me if I thought I could do a better job, and offered me the opportunity to review The Amber Spyglass along with two other books that had been my favourites of that year. My review was duly published in the Sydney Morning Herald's yearly roundup where multiple reviewers talked about their favourite books of the year, and I was paid normal reviewer rates. Please, please, people trying to get into writing and reviewing - don't do what I did. I found the letter years later when clearing out my room at my mum's house, along with the letter the editor had written back, and it was absolutely mortifying to read. Most editors are not going to behave like her!

That review was a one-off. I didn't really get a permanent newspaper reviewing foothold until, about two years later, I was having another discussion with my mother about books, writing, and ideas, sparked by a documentary on Roald Dahl that was playing on the TV in the background. I was insisting to my mother that J.K. Rowling owed a debt to Dahl, and that the Harry Potter books were part of a clear tradition of British children's literature that also included Charles Dickens. Mum suggested that I pitch this idea to various newspapers, and, as a new Harry Potter book was about to be published, one paper - The Canberra Times - eventually agreed to publish it. What followed was a ten-year career writing reviews for that paper. They were a great paper to write for, because, until 2013, they had the most amazing literary editor, who was incredibly supportive of her writers, gave me pretty much free rein to write about whatever I wanted, interview whoever I wanted and review whatever I liked in however many words I saw fit, and would make space in the paper for any review, interview, or commentary piece, whatever the length. She was a real mentor to me, and really helped me find my voice as a writer and improve my reviewing skills. I also did a stint on the student newspaper at the University of Sydney, wrote a review of the final Harry Potter book for The Age, and blogged for the ABC Radio National Book Show's blog.

All through undergrad, I was determined to become a journalist or newspaper subeditor. All this writing was intended to get me to that point, and I also did a two-week internship at The Canberra Times as a trainee journalist, where I published scintillating stories on crises in rural dentistry, children's soccer tournaments, amateur theatre productions, and so on. And when I graduated from my undergrad degree, I sort of fell into a subediting job at The Canberra Times by accident, mainly because I was panicking about what to do, asked if they needed any subediting help over the summer holidays, and somehow ended up with first a part-time, and then a permanent full-time job.

And I hated it. I have never been as miserable in my life as I was during that one year as a subeditor. [livejournal.com profile] catpuccino and [livejournal.com profile] angel_cc will know what I mean, because they had the misfortune of living with me. Looking back, it was the perfect storm of awful working environment (tense, like all newspapers, because of the decline of print media and the resulting loss of jobs), too many changes to my life, and the escalation of the depression that had plagued me since I became an adult, rather than journalism itself, and if I had been less depressed, or could have stayed in Sydney, or worked for a different employer, things might've turned out very differently. But as it was, I didn't last long as a full-time journalist, and fled to the welcoming arms of academia, emigrating to the UK, and thence to the life I have now as a librarian. Throughout all this I continued to churn out reviews for The Canberra Times, as I had done while an undergrad, and as a subeditor, and during the year I worked four other jobs. I only stopped reviewing for them in 2013, when Fairfax (the company that owns pretty much every paper in Australia not owned by Rupert Murdoch) had mass layoffs, including my wonderful editor. We reviewers were offered the opportunity to continue writing for the paper, but, with a drastically reduced features section, and features editing being run out of Perth by an editor who seemed unequal to the task ahead, I could see the writing on the wall. I have not been paid for my writing since. I still love to write, and I miss the ease and fluency with which I was able to put together a review, particular during the middle years of my time writing for The Canberra Times, when I frequently produced multiple reviews in a week. I was incredibly privileged - I got paid to interview Garth Nix, Jeanette Winterson, John Marsden, Kevin Crossley-Holland, Sophie Masson, Gillian Rubinstein, Shaun Tan, and others. Many of those authors were childhood heroes of mine, the writers of incredibly formative books for me, and meeting them as an equal to talk to them about their writing was an unbelievable experience. Making a career out of writing and reviewing was never on the cards - it always seemed to me a very stressful and precarious way to earn money, and even though my former editor has often told me she thought it a shame that I didn't make a huge effort to pursue a career as a freelance writer, I prefer the security of a full-time job and regular paychecks. I really admire those who do - it's a difficult road to follow.

I hope that answers your question, [livejournal.com profile] promiseoftin!

I still have spots available for more December posts. You can make suggestions for topics here on Dreamwidth or here on Livejournal. Multiple suggestions are very welcome.
dolorosa_12: (what's left? me)
I'm taking my turn at that meme that's been doing the rounds, the one where you're assigned an age and answer a few questions which contrast your life then with your life now. [personal profile] naye gave me 18.

Answers behind the cut )

It was really great to do that meme. A lot of the things that caused me great distress at 18 had obvious fixes in retrospect, but I wouldn't have lived any other way. It makes me happy to see how far — literally and metaphorically — I have come.
dolorosa_12: (what's left? me)
Birth: Stop wrapping your arm around your neck. You're hurting your mother.

0: Yes, your parents are at present a rock music journalist and a foreign correspondent flitting all over North and South America. Don't worry. They won't expect you to ever be that cool.

1: Don't worry. The vacuum cleaner can't hurt you. Neither can the blender. Neither can the food processor.

2: Don't worry. The cracks in the ceiling and in the tiles of the bath aren't ants. Neither are the black lines painted on the floor of the swimming pool. They can't hurt you. The cicadas make a really loud noise, but they're tiny little insects, not one giant animal 'as big as a bear'. It's not your fault your mother didn't explain that in a way you understood. The cicadas can't hurt you.

Your aunts are going to allow you to walk around them in circles, talking at them. They will draw pictures of the stories you tell them. They will transform the couches on your front patio into two horses that take you on adventures. Your grandfather will build you a bedhead and swim with you in the ocean, and your grandmother will tell you stories. Your other grandfather will build you a bookcase, and your other grandmother will sew clothes for your dolls. You will be surrounded by cousins. This will be more precious to you than gold.

3: Stop being jealous of your newborn sister. She is amazing, and you will love her very much.

4: Don't worry that you hate preschool. There is a boy there who hates it even more, so much that he will spend every lunchtime attempting to climb over the fence and escape. One day he will succeed. Your mothers will bond over their children's reluctance to be at preschool. Years later, his mother will be your mentor in your first 'grown-up' job.

5: Don't worry. You will learn to read. It will happen suddenly, and it will feel like a thunderbolt resounding in your head, and you will be astonished, and it will lead you into a thousand other worlds.

6: 'Just ignore them and they'll stop doing it' is the worst piece of advice you will ever be given.

7: The way they treat you is not okay.

8: The way they treat you is not okay.

9: The way they treat you is not okay.

10: This new friendship group is great, but it will not survive one of its members returning to East Timor. Sorry about that.

11: The way they treat you is not okay.

12: You've cut your hair and pierced your ears and changed your name. That's a good start. These new friends you've made in high school seem pretty great. You might want to hang onto them.

It's okay that you love Hanson. You don't need to be embarrassed.

13: The way she treats you is not okay.

14: The way they treat you is not okay.

15: He's not a mind-reader. Tell him how you feel about him.

16: He's not a mind-reader. Tell (this different) him how you feel about him.

17: You're right. You have found your tribe. Hold on to this feeling. You will feel it again, but not for a very long time.

18: You're right. Leaving Canberra does feel like cutting your heart out. You are going to take six years to get over this, but I promise you that eventually you will feel that same sense of place in Sydney.

19: Your mother is amazing, but you don't need to take all her advice.

20: How you're feeling is not your friends' fault.

21: You are making really good academic choices.

How you're feeling is not your friends' fault.

22: I wish I could say 'don't move back to Canberra', but if you didn't, you'd never meet the sraffies, and you'd never go to Cambridge, so you're going to have to grin and bear it.

23: You have made the best and bravest decision of your life.

Remember what I said about finding your tribe? Yeah, you've found them.

24: What he did to you was not okay.

25: You will never feel such extremes of emotion again.

He saved you, but don't make it mean more than it should.

One day, you will be grateful to him for walking away when you couldn't.

(Late 25 and) 26: Hold onto this one. He is what home feels like.

27: Don't move to Heidelberg.

28: Applying for JRFs is a waste of your time and limited emotional energy.

29: See! You were capable of getting a PhD.

30: I'll get back to you in December.
dolorosa_12: (flight of the conchords)
I was given these six questions by [livejournal.com profile] christinafairy as part of a meme. Answers are behind the cut.

Questions and answers )

Please comment if you would like six questions of your own.
dolorosa_12: (teen wolf)
Kingston (later Griffith) Public Library, Canberra
This was my local public library when I was a child, and it was like a treasure box to me. It was in Kingston until about 1993, when it moved to a bigger and better location at the former Griffith Primary School. It had the most amazing children's and YA collection, and I discovered many of the most meaningful books of my life there (The Girls in the Velvet Frame! Of Nightingales That Weep! Shadowdancers!). As a teenager, I began every school assignment there, reading the relevant entries in encyclopedias in order to find reference books (my cohort was on the cusp - the internet existed, but it was all but useless as a reference tool). But the truly amazing thing about this library was its librarians, and how dedicated and passionate they were. Every weekend, two of them hosted a reading group for children, where they would read stories aloud and run activities. They were really knowledgeable about children's books and genuinely loved children and encouraged them to read. I wish I'd been able to go back as an adult before they retired and told them how much they meant to me.

The truly sad thing is that in 2007, the ACT government shut down Griffith Library due to a perceived lack of use, leaving the entire inner south of Canberra without a public library. The real reason was that the rest of the old Griffith Primary School site was being used as lucrative conference spaces, and the government wanted to cash in and use the space occupied by the library in order to make more money.

Narrabundah College Library
This was my school library during the last two years of secondary school, which in the Canberra public school system takes place in separate schools to the four earlier years of high school. There was nothing particularly revolutionary about it - it was a fairly average public school library, with an okay range of books, dial-up internet that crawled slowly, and a couple of librarians who seemed to know the name of every student.

What was special was the library as a space. College was the first time that we, as students, were given free periods (the timetable functioned in such a way that if you took the recommended six subjects per trimester, you ended up with one free period on four out of the five school days). We were allowed to do whatever we wanted during the frees, and I often wound up in the library with a bunch of friends, ostensibly 'studying', but in actual fact playing cards, drawing in our exercise books, reading novels or gossiping. One of my friends once wrote a poem based on snippets of every conversation she'd heard in the library during her free period.

In other words, the library was our space. The social life there moved at a slower and less urgent pace than on the oval, in the quad or cafeteria, where the push and pull of high school politics and diplomacy exerted more force. The library was a space where we could take a break from worrying about the overwhelming drama of our social lives.

Fisher Library, University of Sydney
The first thing I did in the orientation week at uni was take a tour of the library, as I was anxious to know how to use it. I remember walking in and feeling as if I'd died and gone to heaven. I'd never seen so many books in one place.

Back in the dim dark days of 2003, the library had an eight-floor research library (where books could be borrowed for two weeks by undergrads) and a four-floor undergrad library (where loans were only for a week), a bunch of computers (which always had a huge queue - this was in the days before laptops were common on Australian university campuses, and those that were were extremely heavy). There was also a special reserve area, where course coordinators would move set texts for their courses. Books in special reserve could only be used in the library, and only borrowed for a two-hour period, which did a huge amount to ensure equal access. That said, some of my fondest memories of undergrad were engaging in vicious recall wars with fellow students, as we fought to borrow a limited number of set texts. I used to be particularly ruthless about going in at the start of term and borrowing whatever Shakespeare text we would be studying in the various English classes I was taking.

I got to know the contours of Fisher particularly well. I haunted the two or three cases covering medieval Celtic literature, and knew exactly where to find the history books that were relevant to my Jewish Studies course. Whenever I had to do translation for my Medieval Irish class, I'd take the huge Dictionary of the Irish Language down from the shelf and sit near a ground-floor window, furiously trying to figure out how the spelling of Old Irish words might have changed in Middle Irish texts. In other words, Fisher was the library that taught me how to be a student.

In the years since I graduated, Fisher has got rid of most of its books, to the extent that it's impossible to do any form of postgraduate research in the humanities there. This breaks my heart.

Goyder St Community Library
When Griffith Library got closed down, the people of the inner south of Canberra were so incensed that they decided to do something about it. The result was a community library, run by volunteers out of a demountable building on Boomanulla Oval in Narrabundah. I lived in Canberra during the early stages of Goyder St's existence, and through a series of coincidences, got involved.

In 2007, I had moved back to Canberra basically because of a quarter-life crisis panic. In retrospect, it was a terrible decision, causing the depression I'd had on and off since the beginning of my adult life to reach almost intolerable levels. Cut for a little discussion of the effects of depression ) Anyway, somehow, I remembered through the desperate fog of my mind that I had joined a Philip Pullman fansite several years earlier, and logged back on. I was extremely fortunate that the denizens of that site were truly amazing people who gave me the sole reason to get out of bed that year. Every evening I was in chat with the few European night owls, and [livejournal.com profile] lucubratae, who was the only other Australian on the site, and who, serendipitously, lived a short walk away from me in Canberra. Pretty soon, I'd met up with him in person - the first internet friend I'd ever met 'in real life'. And he volunteered at Goyder St. Pretty soon, I'd been roped in.

In those early days, it was chaos. The volunteers had more enthusiasm than technical library know-how. No one knew how to catalogue, internet was erratic, and there were tensions among the different volunteers. Many residents were outraged at the closure of Griffith Library, wanted to do something to help, but had no time to volunteer. Instead, they donated vast numbers of books, often of poor quality, creating a huge backlog of cataloguing work for the volunteers and contributing to the cluttered, claustrophobic atmosphere of the building.

The point is, for one shining moment, enough people were angry enough to come together and do something to make their corner of the world a little bit better. And I was carried along with them. The community library got me out of the house for something other than a job that made me anxious and miserable, and for that I will always be grateful.

English Faculty Library, University of Cambridge
While the main Cambridge University Library is more imposing (it's a copyright library and thus has a copy of every book ever published in the UK, as well as an impressive collection of rare books, maps and manuscripts), the English library had much more of an impact on my life. Not only have I spent the past six years researching there, using its excellent collection of books on Celtic Studies, it's also responsible for my current career as a library assistant. In the first year of my PhD, I decided to take a job at English as a weekend invigilator in order to make a bit of extra cash. I loved it so much, and the assistant librarian and librarian were were such inspirational and helpful mentors that I decided to go into library services, rather than academia, after finishing my PhD.

The librarian in particular is just exemplary. She goes out of her way to make sure that English is exactly the library that its users want. She holds training sessions in referencing and editing software and other research skills. She holds weekly tea-and-biscuits sessions for students, a way for them to take a short break from their studies and relax over a hot drink. There are beanbags in the library for students to sleep on. There are poetry competitions, Easter eggs at Easter, sweets and chocolate during exam term and the week when dissertations are due, annual surveys whose results are collated and then responded to in comprehensive reports addressing the main points raised and explaining what, if any, changes will be made. In other words, it's exactly as an academic library should be: a community where everyone's voice is heard.

I love libraries so much.
dolorosa_12: (epic internet)
Someone on Tumblr posted this video about the Cirque du Soleil audition process. It sparked way too many memories.



For those who didn't know, I am, shall we say, rather obsessed with Cirque. We share a birth year, if not a birthday (Cirque came into this world about six months before I did), and I saw my first show, a performance of their original North American production, Le Cirque Réinventé during a holiday in New York when I was three. All I remember about that show is that I was terrified of clowns, and my mother reassured me that Cirque 'wasn't the kind of circus to have clowns', only to be greeted by a group of clowns who were doing the now-standard Cirque thing of wandering around as the audience was seated. I also remember that they got some ridiculous number of people on a bicycle. But I was hooked.

They didn't tour Australia during my early childhood, so the next time I saw a Cirque production was when their show Saltimbanco toured in 1997, when I was twelve. We were living in Canberra at the time, and they didn't include Canberra in the tour, so my father, sister and I made the trip to Sydney. I was awestruck. I loved the Russian swing act, the Chinese pole act, and above all, the adagio. I was a gymnast at the time, and my sister and I took a circus skills class as part of a music summer camp, and we came away from that show starry-eyed and absolutely convinced that we would audition for Cirque as an adagio flyer and base. Our plans, of course, came to nothing, although we spent a lot of time that summer choreographing an adagio act that we would supposedly use in an audition. Considering the most difficult adagio pose we could do was 'flag' (where the flyer stands with one foot on the base's legs and the other wrapped around the base's neck, and then leans outwards, holding one of the base's hands, if you can imagine that), we wouldn't have had a snowflake's chance in hell of getting in, but it was fun to practice.

Cirque came back two years later with Alegria, and we again made the trip from Canberra to Sydney, to fall in love all over again. This seems to have been the year when they really cracked Australia, because I remember seeing screenings of their shows on TV a lot after that. My favourites swiftly became Quidam (whose story spoke to my teenage angst and whose banquine act remains my favourite thing seen on a stage, ever) and Dralion, which has the most amazing music, costuming and choreography. I managed to see both of those shows live in Sydney. My sister and I were absolutely obnoxious throughout both performances, whispering literary analyses of the storylines and commentating on the acts with our (supposedly awesome) circus insider knowledge ('you can tell that that particular flyer is calling the act, watch his mouth, he's the one controlling the whole thing'; 'they've made it look like that dude is just dancing around, but watch him - he's spotting everyone - see how his eyes never leave the acrobats above him?'). I was absolutely ridiculous about this, utterly convinced that no one understood Cirque like we did. I thought everyone besides us was bandwagon-jumpers. (We were the One - or Two - True Fans, you know?) I would mutter scathingly to my sister whenever the audience applauded something that I considered not applause-worthy ('*I*, a fairly average gymnast, can do that, why the hell are those ignorant idiots applauding?'), or, even more unforgivably, when they didn't applaud something that was clearly awesome. I spent most of the performance of Dralion in tears because I had wanted to see it live for so long. I sobbed my eyes out when I saw the Quidam banquine act, like a Beatles fan at a show in the '60s. My sister and I had this elaborate plan whereby we'd go to the US and stay three nights in Vegas in order to see the permanent shows that Cirque had there. I had absolutely no desire to go to Vegas, but in order to see O, in particular, I would make such sacrifices!

By the time Varekai rolled around in 2006-7, my sister no longer wanted to play that game, and I'd grown up sufficiently to at least put a sock in it during the show. We were living in Sydney by that point, and saw a production in 2006. I loved Varekai but didn't realise how much a part of my life it would become. In 2007, I moved back to Canberra to work as a newspaper subeditor. Initially, that job was only two days a week, so I took on other work. Including working for Varekai during the two months they were in Canberra. I worked in the food stalls, selling popcorn, ice-creams, hotdogs and overpriced drinks to the audience. It was tough work - most importantly, the stalls had to be spotless when the audience could see them, which meant frantic cleaning during the two acts - but I loved it. We got to see the show once for free. But most importantly, when I worked, I felt like I was dancing. They set up a TV feed of the show so that we could gauge how long we would have before the audience was out, and to this day, certain songs from the soundtrack prompt a sense of anxiety and desire to scrub popcorn machines. I felt like a performer, a cog in a delicate and elaborate machine. Sure, I was just selling junk food to the masses, but the entire time I was working there, my brain would go into this kind of blissed-out state, interspersed with random rushes of adrenaline. The only thing that feels similar is the moment when I've been jogging for a long time, and my body ceases to hurt, my breathing comes easily and it's almost as if I am flying. There were people with Varekai who had been working there in other cities, and would be following the show on when it left Canberra. I still wouldn't mind doing something similar.

That was the last Cirque show that I saw. I can't afford the tickets now that I'm back at uni and living overseas. I miss it so much. Every so often I binge on Youtube clips, but it's not the same thing. Because it went beyond the shows themselves, wondrous as they were. It was something that I associated with my family, like going to see Bell Shakespeare Company productions (something that we did every year from 1996 until 2007, and which I miss almost as fiercely). I associate Cirque so strongly with my mother and sister that it would feel wrong to see a show with anyone else. And so it's become one of those things that I associate with childhood, something that is forever out of reach. Now that I think about it, Cirque was the first thing that I truly felt fannish about. I'm glad I wasn't aware of fandom then, because I would've been one of those horror-fans who winds being mocked on Encyclopædia Dramatica or Fandom Wank. I still love Cirque in much the same way (but without the snobby attitude towards other members of the audience, because that was just ridiculous, although in keeping with the pomposity I had at that age) and I long for the day when I can make it a part of my life again.
dolorosa_12: (le guin)
I can't seem to stop thinking about Canberra.

Photobucket

My mother grew up in the suburbs of Sydney, and I was always incredulous as a child when she told me how stultifying, how suffocating, how smothering she found it. Canberra itself is suburb incarnate, empty streets laid out like spokes of a wheel, extending outwards from Capital Hill, quarter-acre blocks, dry grass, blue sky so bright it burns you. And I loved it.

Like most Canberrans my age, I got out. There are two great mass exoduses from Canberra. The first is of eighteen-year-olds, off to university in other cities, or to travel the world. The second is of 22-year-olds, who elected to stay in Canberra for university, but only as a stepping stone to brighter lights, bigger cities.

It took me a long time to feel at home anywhere else. And I confused matters by moving back to Canberra for a year after I finished university. It was at once the stupidest and most important thing I ever did in my life.* I think for a long time, the problem was that I confused home with childhood. I was underwhelmed by adulthood. I was bereft, adrift. I didn't feel the things that people around me seemed to be feeling, I didn't want the things they wanted.** Home was an age, not a place, it was the place where I was a certain age, an age and a place where I was no longer.

It took me a very long time to feel at home in a place that wasn't Canberra. What it took, in fact, was to feel at home in an age that wasn't childhood. But still, that city, that sky, those lunarscapes of suburban shopping-centres are impressed, burnt into my eyelids. And every time I think about growing up, moving on, shedding skins, I find my thoughts returning there. To those roundabouts.

All this is by way of preamble to my friend [profile] lucubratae's amazing poem 'Those Evocative London Placenames'. His journey in a way is the complete opposite of mine, but what he says about growing up hit me right in the heart. I highly recommend it.

______________
* Stupid because I was miserable, but important, because it's what convinced me to apply to Cambridge, where I found myself.
** I realise now, of course, that I was far from unique in this regard.
dolorosa_12: (Default)
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Ah, Canberra. The best of places and the worst of places. What I love most about it is also what I think needs to change. Let me explain.

Canberra, the capital city of Australia, is a small place by Australian standards. It has a population of about 350,000, most of whom work in the public service or for the government in some way. And there's a strange sort of transience about the place. Almost everyone I knew, growing up there, were the first generation in their respective families to grow up in Canberra. Their parents had all moved there for work. And very few of my group of friends remain there: they've all moved to Sydney or Melbourne or Brisbane or overseas. Even those who do live and work there spent many years after school or uni travelling the world.

So there is a certain instability. People aged between, say, three and 18, the sons and daughters of public servants and journalists and political staffers and diplomats, live among an unchanging crowd of the children of other middle-class professionals, all attending the same public schools, the same gymnastics clubs, the same summer music camps and cricket teams. This continues on, to a certain extent, during university (although I left for Sydney then), and, suddenly, everyone leaves. The young workforce I encountered upon returning to Canberra aged 22 was almost entirely comprised of people from out of town, bright young university graduates from Melbourne and Sydney and Perth and Newcastle or Wagga, keen to make their mark quickly so that they could move on to brighter lights, bigger cities.

The older members of the workforce were all friends of my parents.

Growing up in Canberra, everyone knew me, from the owner of the organic butchery my family frequented to the Duke of Edinburgh's Award coordinator at my highschool who just happened to be the mother of my former gymnastics coach. To this day, if I meet someone who lived in Canberra between the years of 1988-2005ish, if I talk to them for a while, I can usually find a connection, some friend or relative or former teacher in common. [livejournal.com profile] lucubratae, who is seven years younger than I am thus never attended an educational institution at the same time, has a Facebook friends list full of the younger brothers and sisters of people I know. That's just how it is.

The closeness, the familiarity, the sense of being a big fish in a small pond is at once joyous and suffocating. I am proud to be a Canberran, and I look back on my childhood there with great fondness. It is a source of great strength to me that I grew up being known. That everyone from my piano teacher to the staff at Silo Bakery, from my friends at school to my mother's coworkers had some sort of conception in their mind of who and what 'Ronni' was. They knew who I was and who was around me and where I came from. And it was wonderful.

And it was terrible. It was constraining and frustrating and inhibiting. When I went to university I felt like the rug had been pulled out from beneath my feet. How could I function when nobody knew what school I'd gone to (and what it meant to have gone to such a school?), where my parents worked, what subjects I'd done well in at school? (I admit that almost everyone experiences this at university, not just people from small, close-knit communities.) And knowing these things myself, knowing how I was known and expected to behave put constraints upon my behaviour and made it very difficult to try to change and be different. I spent undergrad (and, indeed, the first year of my working life) struggling to come to terms with both Canberra's presence and its absence. I didn't know how to be without it, and how I was with Canberra affected my ability to become.

It took travelling halfway around the world for me to figure out who I really was, and for me to come to terms with all these things. I love Canberra. I love that I was and am a Canberran. It is no longer a restraining and constraining legacy, but rather something I wear comfortably, a component part of a fragmented identity. I wouldn't change Canberra's insularity for the world, but if I had my time over, I would see it more clearly for what it is: a mixed blessing.
dolorosa_12: (travis)
Meme taken from half of my flist, apparently.

• go to Google and type, "You know you're from (your city or state) when ..."
• cut and paste the list.
• bold the items that apply to you.

You know you're from Canberra when... )

I saw Inception recently and adored it. I've read a couple of great reviews/interpretations, which I'll link to now. Seriously, don't read unless you've seen the film. Epic spoilers ahead.

This one was via Ali from TRoH. Here are Abigail Nussbaum's thoughts.

I'm off to London tomorrow, and although I'll have my computer, I'll probably be online a little less than usual. I hope you all enjoy the remainder of the weekend!
dolorosa_12: (flight of the conchords)
I have had a fabulous 24 hours. Yesterday we had the last session of the Graduate Symposium, which is always, traditionally, followed by a 'compulsory' cocktail party. After several hours spent partaking in suitably ASNaCy-named drinks ('Dubh Gall', 'Cavamal', etc) I was totally sozzled. I was one of the last ones standing, or, to be more specific, dancing on the tables in the department's common room. I woke up this morning with bruises all over my legs and arms. Apparently I had jumped onto my knees a lot. But it was an excellent way to finish the term, and a way I would always like to remember my ASNaC friends: overly fond of a drink, and not embarrassed to look like idiots dancing on tables.

Now for the links.

Joss Whedon, Canberra, Gen Y and Maira Kalman await you behind the cut )
dolorosa_12: (Anne Rice)
I started reading RiotAct after I moved to Cambridge, mainly because I was desperately homesick, and wanted a site where I could get my daily dose of Australiana - but in a more Canberran form. I can reliably click on any story, and find at least these three predictable remarks:

1. A whine about the ACT Government.
2. A collection (should that be 'a committee'?) of public servants complaining about pay, conditions or the ineptitude of the ministers they're expected to serve.
3. A snide remark about how useless The Canberra Times is as a news source.

On extra special days, you can get a dose of North-South rivalry, some reminiscing about the Good Old Days (evoking Belconnen Interchange, a selection of the more boganish schools, and shops which haven't been in Manuka/Griffith/Narrabundah/Lyneham etc for more than 20 years) and some self-deprecating remarks about roundabouts.

Needless to say, I love it.

But the post today about skip-bin etiquette is the winner in terms of Canberra-in-a-bottleness. Outraged comments to the tone of 'how dare you throw out your old books, clothes, toys and furniture when the Salvos and the Lifeline bookfair are just around the corner', griping about past skip experiences and the inadequacies of the Mitchell tip, and some smug 'on my communist utopia street, everyone just puts their stuff out on the nature strip and neighbours help themselves'.

It reminded me of when Mum, Mim and I moved from Canberra to Sydney, in December 2002. It was one of the hottest summers ever, just before the big bushfires. We had to somehow compress 15 years' worth of stuff from our four-bedroom, one-study, house-with-a-pool existence into what we knew would be a three-bedroom flat size. Luckily, that summer, people were building two hideous McMansions on a rather small block of land down the road. (It was during the decade when all the nice houses on La Perouse Street got replaced with double McMansion monstrosities.) My mother's rather devious solution was to dump everything into their skip.

Because she had some kind of conscience, she would only do this by night, under cover of darkness. It was December in Canberra, which meant that most people had packed up and left for Sydney or the South Coast. But we still didn't want to be caught. Yes, I said we. My mother, much to my embarrassment, dragged me along on all her stealth skip operations. (There is no way in hell you'd have got Mimi to do anything like that.)

On one memorable night, we destroyed an old bookshelf (which had sat in our carport for seven years gathering spiderwebs) with an axe, and then took it, incrementally, to the skip. I was utterly mortified.

'Won't people ask what we're doing?' I asked Mum.

'We'll just say we're taking some planks for a walk,' she replied, in her best breezy-yet-determined tone.
dolorosa_12: (Robin Hood)
I only seem to post links these days, because I'm so busy. Anyway, this one's from the RiotACT.

I drink my coffee in Marn-uh-kah, I avoid Jerra-bom-bruh, I'm a Can-berran from the 'Berra.
dolorosa_12: (dreaming)
I've been watching The Hollowmen on the ABC. I was disturbed to notice that the strongest effect it's had on me is to make me incredibly nostalgic for Canberra. I mean, this is a satire about the iniquities of Canberra, City of Public Servants, and yet, the opening credits make me go 'awww, Canberra'. Is that a bit, well, bizarre?

Of course, only a person who's grown up in Canberra can really feel the punch of the humour of this particular show. This is the milieu of our childhood, after all.

It got me thinking about the effects of 'home town' on people once they've moved away. I'm someone who lives, breathes, eats and dreams nostalgia, so perhaps my thoughts are more a reflection on me than of the general population.

I lived in Canberra for 15 years, from the age of three. I first left Canberra when I was 18, the year I started uni, and yet it took me five years (during one of which I lived back in Canberra) to truly leave. During those 20 years of association with the place, it imprinted itself firmly on the landscapes of my mind, on the landscapes of childhood. Canberra, for me, is what childhood looks like.

The rest of the country views Canberra with scorn and derision as a sterile, 'planned' city populated with politicians and public servants who leave the place every weekend to live somewhere more vibrant. But for me, that rhythm of leaving and returning, that pull to Parliament House and its satellite buildings and the cafes and bars of the surrounding suburbs is, well, natural. It's the way your friends' parents, your parents' friends live their lives. It's in the background as you go about your business of being a child.

For a child and teenager, Canberra is a different place. I can't speak for northsiders or residents of Tuggeranong or Belconnen, but as a child of the inner south, life had a definite pattern and progression. The 38 bus route, that spidery line from Civic to Woden, threading through Manuka, Forrest, Kingston, Red Hill and Narrabundah, was our boundary line, defining the limits of our world. The students' route from Telopea to the shops and bus stop at Manuka, walked by so many that there was a track worn in the grass of the oval, the food court at Woden Plaza, La Perouse Street, Manuka Pool, Essen and Gus's, these were the known world, the markers of meaning.

I think about Canberra, about the past in general, more and more, because I'm about to leave the country.

What Canberra is to me is deeper than blood, it's something essential to my soul and identity. It's funny, when I went back there last year, I felt I no longer belonged, and yet every so often (when I sat on the 38 bus, when I saw a movie at Manuka Greater Union, when I joined the queue at Silo on a Saturday morning, when I sat drinking hot chocolate at My Cafe and managed to bump into four people I knew) I would feel that yes, yes, I was a Canberran, this is my place, these are my people, this is what life ought to look like.

It's the things of childhood that make the strongest impressions on us and cause us the most confusion.

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rushes into my heart and my skull

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