Excerpt: ‘Player’, by Samuel Wagan Watson

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Image by Vik. Reproduced under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License.

I often play this game and now and then I find it quite satisfying. A game can involve a handful of players and at other times maybe over one hundred people will participate. Most of these players are good-hearted people, even though they are ambitious writers. Some are established and some are simply trying to emerge from out of the shadows. It’s a passive-aggressive game; a game of opportunity and survival.

The players assemble in a room, standing in a circle around one to three chairs. Music starts playing and we all march around these chairs, maintaining the circle and never over-taking each other. Without warning the music will end. And that’s when the brutality starts. We gang-rush the chairs. You need to get your butt on one of those three seats! Sometimes played with three seats, and sometimes just one, there are the winners and of course the losers. Hardly ever are there prizes offered for a second place or even highly commended.

I’ve played this game repeatedly for the last twenty years.

I’ve played this game repeatedly for the last twenty years. Sometimes I chalk-up luck and sometimes I’m just not even in the running for a seat. It does feel good to score. For the most part, as a full-time writer, this game of ‘musical literary chairs’ it is just another day at the office. I try to be a good sport about it.

When the successful merger of Penguin and Random House was announced a couple of years ago it was during a recession in which lucrative publishing opportunities in Australia had almost become ghosts. Many of us hoped this merger would open doors wider to the world market. At the same time, the writing community felt cold winds pick up when the newly elected Queensland government announced immediately that one of their first orders of business was to scrap the state’s literary awards to help a struggling economy.

I begin almost every day wondering where my next good, original idea is coming from.

There are over 550 million firearms in worldwide circulation. That’s one firearm for every 12 people on the planet. The only question is: how do we arm the other 11?

That’s the opening line in the 2005 Andrew Niccol film Lord of War. The protagonist, Yuri Orlov, a struggling Ukrainian immigrant played by Nicholas Cage, becomes an international weapons dealer in order to reach his share of the American Dream.

I don’t fantasise about becoming a character like Yuri Orlov, but do I understand his rationale. Is there a concept in my festering mind that I am yet to decipher? Did I use all my “A” material last week? Is it healthy to talk to myself so much?


This piece appears in full in The Lifted Brow #26. Get your copy now.

Samuel Wagan Watson is an award-winning Indigenous poet and professional raconteur. Born in Brisbane in 1972, he is of Munanjali, Birri Gubba, German and Irish descent. Samuel’s first collection of poems won the 1998 David Unaipon Award. His latest collection is Love Poems and Death Threats.