Sunday, September 28, 2014

A hug for the third wheels:

One of the challenges of extended singleness that’s not often discussed is the idea that you are no one’s special person.

I realise, even as I write, that this seems glaringly obvious.

But there is a subtlety to this idea that I’ve not seen explored in the singleness discussions that I’ve encountered. There can be a loneliness to being alone, sure. That much is obvious. But there is a unique, entirely other kind of loneliness to being alone when everyone around you has their one person – that person who is their responsibility, their care, their focus. It's the one they check in with, the one whose opinion they will defer to, the one whose schedule they will shape their lives around.

It is lonely to have nobody, but it is another kind of loneliness to be nobody’s somebody.

As nobody’s somebody, you become the dispensable variable in relational equations. It is you who might have to change your intended meetup time to fit better with what your girlfriend’s boyfriend wants. Your sister might need to pause in the middle of a deep and meaningful conversation with you to take a call from her husband at work. Your plans with a friend will fall through because her toddler is teething. If you don’t know your guy friend’s new love interest, chances are you won’t know your guy friend for much longer, either. You will grow accustomed to being the third person, or fifth, or seventh in gatherings where all the other attendees are pairs.

All of this is good and fine. It’s healthy, even. It’s sanctifying and humanising to be reminded that our own needs are not paramount. It is good to be adaptable, and to learn to hold things loosely. It’s good to know that others’ lives don’t carry the same freedoms that singleness does.

But that doesn’t mean it won’t hurt to be reminded that everybody you care about most is aligning their lives closely to another person’s, moulding their days and hours and moments to fit another’s, but that person is not you. You are loved by many but not at the top of anyone’s priority list.

Is it selfish to mourn that a little? Is it greedy to even notice? I don’t think so. It is a genuinely difficult thing to be nobody’s main priority and to have a multiplicity of primary priorities yourself. It’s even harder to talk or write about it without seeming small-minded and petulant. But the sorrow is real, I think, and it is okay to acknowledge its existence.

What’s more important, though, is to acknowledge how significantly you (me, we) are loved in spite of the fact that we aren’t anybody’s significant other. We are surrounded by people who care, and if their care must be broken into pieces and scheduled around parents and children and spouses, that does not make the love any less genuine; it just makes it real.

And in reverse, we can treasure the opportunity to pour our own unfettered love into the lives of others, with all the freedom and creativity that the unattached life gives. It brings its own challenges, this season, but there are also some very cool pluses. We need to remember those in the moments when the other stuff aches.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

"Answers to all the questions and a tale to tell": an interview with Darren Groth, author of 'Are You Seeing Me?'

As most of you already know -- because I flailed about it from here to instagram and everywhere in between -- I really enjoyed reading Darren Groth's recent release, Are You Seeing Me? 

From the back of the book:
Justine and Perry are embarking on the road trip of a lifetime. It's been more than a year since they watched their dad lose his battle with cancer, leaving nineteen-year-old Justine as the sole carer for her disabled brother. Now, the twins' reliance on each other is set to shift. Before they go their separate ways, they're seeking to create the perfect memory. For Perry, the trip is a glorious celebration of his favourite things: mythical sea monsters, Jackie Chan movies, and the study of earthquakes. For Justine, it's a chance to "free" her twin, to see who she is without her boyfriend, Marc -- and to offer their mother to chance to atone for past wrongs.
This sums up the story beautifully. I suppose it's not the done thing to also add sentences to the effect of: 'a beautiful emotional story that somehow manages never to descend into melodrama,' or 'finally a love story that's more about familial love than the romantic type,' or 'characters you'll wish were actually real so you could give them a big hug (if they were up for it of course).' These are the kind of postscripts I'd tack on if it was my job to write a blurb for this book -- which tells you what a good thing it is that this isn't my job.

Are You Seeing Me? is set partly in Brisbane and partly in Vancouver, Canada, echoing the author's own background. Darren Groth is a Queenslander now writing from Vancouver, where he lives with his wife and thirteen-year-old twins. Recently I got to chat with Darren about his work.

Before talking about the text itself, a process question because I'm fascinated by the processes of creativity and the rituals (or lack of them) that creators employ. What does your writing process look like? And how long did it take to write AYSM, from idea to final draft?

My process is pretty organic. I'm not a huge planner of a novel -- a lot of the details reside in my head and unfold on the page. I tend to start with a simple idea or scenario which, through the thousand and one questions that result, ends up becoming a full blown story.

With AYSM, it began with an idea close to home for me: a set of twins -- one with a disability, the other without -- left on their own after their father's passing and their mother's departure many years ago. From that basic premise, the questions commenced: who are they? Where are they at in their lives? What happened to the father? Where is the mother now? Eventually, I had answers to all the questions and a tale to tell.

The first draft of AYSM took almost a year to write. Unfortunately, it would turn out to be the first of many. Final draft would come after six previous! I think it turned out for the best, though.

I'd agree with that.

The relationship between AYSM and your own family story is quite clear. When did you first realise you wanted to write a book like this? Did you wrestle at all with finding a balance between following the story you were writing versus exploring the story you are living?

I knew soon after the release of my previous novel, Kindling, that I would do AYSM. I wanted to write a book that would be a gift to my daughter and explored the idea of a young woman trying to find her own way while caring for her brother. As you mentioned, there were plenty of touch-points I could bring from my own family's circumstances -- not enough that you would call the work "faction", though. Historically, I've tended to do that with my novels: I'll use compelling narratives from my own experience, add lots of made-up stuff, give it all to caracters I create, and then see where it ends up.

This makes perfect sense. And I suspect we can't help but imbue our fiction with some of our own history, even if we are writing in worlds completely different to our own.

Have your children read the story? Did they offer any feedback?

My kids are thirteen; neither has read the story yet. My daughter will read it one day -- as it's dedicated to her, I hope she loves it. She's more into The Hunger Games and The Simpsons at the moment. My son, due to his ASD, may never be able to read AYSM or Kindling (the book that was my gift to him). He has progressed very well over the years, though, so never say never!

It's very important to AYSM that both Justine and Perry have a voice. It's not solely Justine's story; neither is it solely Perry's. Did you always intend to tell the story like this, even from its inception? And did you encounter any special challenges in writing a story with two protagonists?

For a while, I entertained just writing AYSM from Justine's perspective. Not far into it, I understood Perry needed to be heard, too. He was actually far easier to write than his sister. Justine is far more nuanced than Perry and required a lot more care during editing to ensure her voice was consistent and authentic. Putting Perry on the page involved a greater amount of research (everything I now know about earthquakes, sea monsters, and Jackie Chan movies, I owe to him), but he was a dream to author.

The editing and crafting shines through. Justine's character is gently deep and manages to authentically straddle the sometimes awkward divide between youth and adulthood.

Speaking of divides, the book, with its dual settings of Brisbane and Canada, has a very strong sense of place. How important to you is this sense of place in what you read and write? Is it always as significant within the text as with AYSM? How does being an Australian living in another country help (or challenge) you as a writer?

Place, when done particularly well, is like another character. One of my favourite reads of all time is I'm Not Scared by Niccolo Ammaniti, and the backdrop for that -- a remote rural town in southern Italy -- is remarkable and plays as much of a role in proceedings as any of the protagonists. If my sense of place in AYSM is half as good as Ammaniti's then I'm rapt.

Regarding living in Canada as an Aussie, I think it offers a different stimulus to my work than I otherwise would've had remaining in Brisbane. As Justine herself might put it: no better or worse -- just different.

Beautifully said. Thank you so much for taking the time to share your thoughts and background on this important story. Good luck with all your future work!

Monday, September 22, 2014

The season of love:

I got to spend most of this past week down south with my precious friend Meaghan as she prepared to marry her true love handsomeface manperson. It felt like such a privilege being behind the scenes of all that pre-wedding busyness -- and then to actually walk down the aisle ahead of the bride's sister and niece and then the bride herself.

Wedded bliss might signal the end of our epic Meaghan-and-Danielle weekends (usually an annual occurence), and I will undoubtedly grieve the subtle shift of things, but at the same time, I'm rejoicing for her and for the great man she has married. Lives change all the time, every moment of every day, but it's very cool to get to watch and observe one of those new chapters as it begins. (Plus, pretty dresses and 1938 Fords were involved!).

Added to all that was the fact that so many wonderful people came together to celebrate Meaghan and Geoff, and we -- the guests -- took advantage of the cool company to catch up with friends and family we see only too rarely. Love was in the air, and not just wedding-love!

Saturday, September 6, 2014

"Are You Seeing Me?"; one of my favourite reads of 2014 so far.

I've been in something of a heavy duty reading/writing/creating slump since July. But this week I read Darren Groth's Are You Seeing Me?, which was a completely spontaneous purchase on National Bookshop Day, and I loved it.

For a summary, check out Goodreads. In the meantime, here's a hastily-scribbled impressionistic list of reasons why I think this book is great:

1) it's beautifully-written. From the get-go, the prose is lovely -- gentle, literary, but never over-written. Here's a taste, from page 37, as twins Perry and Justine step out into the Canadian sun for the first time and stop to take a selfie: "The snap is more than money -- it is perfect. Our eyes are ablaze. Our grins are starlight. Despite the fifteen-hour flight and lack of sleep, we have been captured at some sort of fission point; the release permitting the very best of our past, present and future to burst through for a nanosecond. As I stand there, spellbound, breathing the gluggy Vancouver air, the photograph materialises in other places, other times..." On top of that, it's a good story. It's possible to have great words but a bad tale; happily, this is not one of those books. It works.

2) it's contemporary YA literature that manages to avoid cliches and tropey-ness. First off, there's not a love triangle in sight. In fact, there's only a glimmer of romance and what's there is honest, real, and not composed of pink-tinged warm fuzzies. Secondly, there's very little space given to what the characters look like or wear, or their appraisal of others' appearances. The story isn't about school or work or rivalry or the boy next door (none of which are wrong, all of which have been done a thousand times before). Finally, at 19 years old and functioning as the primary carer for her brother, Justine is the exact definition of YA: a young adult. She is wrestling with responsibility, decisions about the future, relationships, the way others perceive her brother's disability. Her experiences are ones readers will relate to no matter what their age.

3) Perry and Justine live in Brisbane, and there is something so I-don't-know-what-it-is-but-I-like-it about reading a book with links to a place you know and love. It's a feeling akin to belonging, or even ownership. Having looked out onto the same bridge, same river, same bookstore cafe that the characters are also seeing makes their story that much more real, more tangible. And for me, it brought up all my fledgling feelings of Queensland patriotism, which have taken eight years to generate.

 4) it punched me right in the heart. My little brother has down syndrome, so I get what it's like to walk through life with an answer waiting on the edge of your tongue, ready to explain away anything that people find unusual or unsettling. There's 17 years and three other siblings between me and him, but the others all live away and I live right next door, and that feeling of the two of us out to face the world is something I can relate to deeply. Sometimes I have dreams of disasters happening and the one person I always try to find in the midst of the tsunami or the earthquake, the one person I have to reach to make sure he's safe, is my brother Tain. I could understand Justine's fierce love for her brother because I feel that for my brother, too. At the same time, I felt a little envious of these characters. Perry -- who narrates part of the story -- is articulate and expressive. He's able to explain himself clearly. He has defined tastes and interests, special skill sets, and knowledge that can impress others. There is no external sign of his disability. Though people might be startled or feel uncomfortable because of the way Perry responds to situations, he can also blend into a crowd. No one can look at him and, simply by evaluating his physical characteristics, make assumptions about his abilities, his personality, his worth. I envied that in Perry and wished momentarily for some of those things for my brother. This was a new experience for me, but at the same time it reminded me that things always look different from the outside looking in.

5) finally, it inspired me to love better, which is one of the best things a book can do.
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