We hope you’ve been enjoying our very merry, end-of-year series, Crackers!
We asked eight of our favourite writers to tell us about the best gift that 2015 gave them/the world, and today we post our final response, from Evan Fleischer. Happy New Year, love The Lifted Brow.
I know where to stand when the fireworks go off: I know there’s a backyard where neighbours can gleefully flee from roaring currents of flash powder that rigorously bulldoze nearby begonias. I know there’s a perch of brick that balconies itself out over a city. I know there’s an old street already roofed with lights of their own. I know I can stand in a room where the wooden shutters close and listen to the wind chimes attached to said wood panelling quietly ding.
And this is my piece of pro-offered gratitude—an alley-oop written on December 8th aimed at a specific place on December 31st.
It’s aimed at the dance—the atomised individual parts (the shoulders wiggling their way into a full-fledged shimmy, the shoes sliding across the floor, the popping locking itself before unlocking and popping again) and the greater unified, sweating whole. Go bananas, I want to say, but not like that. Go crazy, I want to say, but not like that.
Happy New Year, I’ll say, and even if I don’t use those words—or, indeed, any of these words—it will still say something very much like, “Yes. Like that.”
Evan Fleischeris a writer-at-large. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Guardian, and numerous other publications.
We hope you’ve been enjoying our very merry, end-of-year series, Crackers!
We’ve asked eight writers to tell us about the best gift that 2015 gave them/the world, and we’ll be posting their responses all the way through to New Year’s Eve. Today’s cracker comes from Vanessa Berry.
After my car was written off in an accident at the end of 2014 I became reacquainted with the tribulations of public transport. The new year was shaping up to be one long bus ride. The uncomfortable proximity, the odours, being trapped between a bus window and a man enjoying Christmas-themed porn on his phone: it didn’t take long for me to settle back into it.
I often caught an outer-suburban bus used by so few others that I began to regard it as my personal service. At first I found the trips where I was the only passenger awkward, but soon I came to enjoy it being just the driver and I. Our road trip soundtrack was loud talkback radio which filled the bus with a knife-edge, AM treble.
PULL QUOTE: A woman had been sighted on Broadway trailing a leek on a red leash behind her.
One day the shock-jock presenter on the radio was describing an event so perplexing he couldn’t believe it was taking place in central Sydney, just a few blocks from the radio station. A woman had been sighted on Broadway trailing a leek on a red leash behind her. She was out there walking the vegetable as he spluttered with indignation at the weirdness of it.
This sighting picked up on earlier reports from China about young people walking cabbages on leashes as an expression of loneliness. It was announced that cabbage-walking was cathartic, as walkers transferred their negative feelings onto the vegetables. The practice was then uncovered as being part of a performance art project by the artist Han Bing, who has been walking cabbages in China and worldwide since 2000, and not a widespread youth subculture after all.
But sitting on the bus in the outer suburbs as it travelled up and down the steep roads through the bushland, I imagined vegetable walking catching on. The girl with the leek was doing it, after all, right at that very moment. I might even stop by World of Fruit on the way home to check out the possibilities. From this point on 2015 would be the year of vegetable walking, the year when the line between performance art and life finally dissolved.
Vanessa Berryis a writer and visual artist, the author of Ninety9, Strawberry Hills Forever, and the Sydney exploration blog Mirror Sydney.
We hope you’ve been enjoying our very merry, end-of-year series, Crackers!
We’ve asked eight writers to tell us about the best gift that 2015 gave them/the world, and we’ll be posting their responses all the way through to New Year’s Eve. Today’s cracker comes from Aboud Saeed, kindly translated by Eugene Matti.
When I was small a dog bit me, so I developed a phobia of dogs. I walk down the streets of Berlin and if I come across a dog I move in a different direction. This is something my friend David noticed. David borrows money from me every month, five or ten euros at a time. Sometimes he asks for money more than once a month, and when he gets his payment from the Job Centre he repays what he owes together with a little gift, like a second-hand lighter that’s about to run out of gas, a twig, or a book about the history of public transport in German, a language of which I know nothing but: danke schön!
PULL QUOTE: He repays what he owes together with a little gift, like a second-hand lighter that’s about to run out of gas, a twig, or a book about the history of public transport
Earlier this year, David was absent for over a month; he owed me twenty euros. It was the first time David had been late in paying back his debt to me. I repeatedly went to his flat to ask for the money. I rang his doorbell, on which David’s handwritten note said: Don’t ring the bell! I rang the doorbell, but no one answered. Several days later, David returned and told me he had been in the Netherlands helping our mutual neighbour fix his small boat. Our mutual neighbour had been asking David to repay the fifty euros he lent him six months ago. Because it’s difficult for David to come by that amount, he’d decided to go there and fix the boat so he could get rid of this heavy burden. On the way back David saw a sign attached to a short pole at the entrance of one of the Dutch villages. It was suspended on one nail, upside-down. No one was reading it. He took it off the pole and brought it with him. David paid me the twenty euros and gave me the sign as a gift. On it was written in Dutch: Verboden door honden. No dogs allowed.
Aboud Saeed was born in 1983 and lived in the township of Manbij, in the province of Aleppo in northern Syria. Manbij was heavily bombed by the Assad-regime in 2012 and early 2013. In 2011 Saeed created a Facebook account and posted there every day. The Smartest Guy on Facebook (mikrotext, 2013) a selection of his status updates, in which he writes about his mother, smoking, Facebook, love, and daily life during the violent Syrian conflict, is his first book. He now lives in Berlin with political asylum. He has published a second book Lifesize Newsticker (mikrotext, 2015, German only) and writes a weekly column for VICE Germany.
We hope you’ve been enjoying our very merry, end-of-year series, Crackers!
We asked eight of our favourite writers to look back on the year that was and tell us about the best gift that 2015 gave them/the world. Today’s response comes from Sam George-Allen.
In 2015 I quit my job – a job that ought to have been a Dream Come True, considering I was a Creative Industries graduate actually working in a creative industry, but was in fact a certified nightmare. My plan was to pursue my Actual Dreams: ostensibly things like “working for myself” and “publishing a book”. But it turns out my actual dreams are all garden-based.
PULL QUOTE: As I hacked off the bare, dusty branches with blunt secateurs, I felt like I was snipping off the shit bits of the year, too.
I allowed myself a sabbatical after resigning, to try to plan for my uncertain financial future and to shake off the shadow of the year’s stresses. This mainly took the form of sitting on the back porch drinking vodka and orange juice, and occasional bursts of ruthless tree pruning. We have a citrus and a camellia growing next to the back stairs, and they were crippled with sooty mould. I needed to focus on something other than my own anxieties, and the simple task of caring for these neglected trees felt particularly good. As I hacked off the bare, dusty branches with blunt secateurs, I felt like I was snipping off the shit bits of the year, too. I would return to the shade sweaty and calm.
I became very enthusiastic about the trees. I fertilised with Osmocote around the dripline and layered cardboard and sugarcane mulch around their trunks to kill the weeds. I watered them with tank water. I borrowed a tin of grease from the mechanic next door and painted around all the branches to keep the ants off the leaves (ants milk aphids, and sooty mould grows on the aphid milk). My shoulders bulked up from the pruning and mulch-lifting. I bought several wide-brimmed hats and very high SPF sunscreen, bullied my partner into driving me to Bunnings, and spent hours on the phone to my mother discussing the virtues of Seasol for houseplants.
PULL QUOTE: I dream about the garden every night.
Now, several months later, I have far too many tomato plants, giant cucumbers, melon seedlings I’ve started from a supermarket rockmelon, leeks and spring onions I’ve grown from table scraps, and two kinds of jasmine creeping over a handmade trellis (I taught myself the tautline hitch in order to make it). In the evenings when it’s cool I dig in new garden beds and hurt my back picking up bags of compost to improve the soil. I dream about the garden every night. I dream the indoor fig has grown ten feet and my jasmine has burst into flower all at once. I no longer dream about losing the week’s work or failing to send the newsletter on time. I don’t wake up at two in the morning from a nightmare about being taken to court by my employers. Now I wake up at six and water the nasturtiums.
It’s hard to write about working with your body in the earth without sounding vaguely cultish, or at least very sappy. But I am very sappy about it. 2015 is the year that’s given me a proper sense of gratitude for what I have: a bunch of smart, lively people I can call my friends; a kind, resourceful partner who will lift my giant bags of potting mix and build a shadehouse for me without even being asked; and a home with a garden. My garden is the best thing to come out of 2015, even if it means I have to piss on the porch to keep the possums away, which I will do if they keep eating my seedlings. I don’t mind. Few things bother me now. My plants are growing, and so am I.
Welcome to our very merry, end-of-year series, Crackers!
We’ve asked eight of our favourite writers to tell us about the best gift that 2015 gave them/the world, and we’ll be posting their responses all the way through to New Year’s Eve. Today’s cracker comes from Sam Riley. Happy reading.
Driving a car is terrifying. Having a driver’s license, however, is fine. I love that we all have our pictures and weights emblazoned on laminated cards that we carry on our person at all times. I’m glad to have a reminder of how I looked one day, ten years ago, under fluorescent lighting. When self-driving cars take over the planet and DMVs are gutted and converted into Pilates studios, I hope our Google overlords keep the driver’s license tradition alive.
PULL QUOTE: The state of California said it was legal for me to drive, which is a terrible shortcoming of local government.
The state of California said it was legal for me to drive, which is a terrible shortcoming of local government. I never tested out my legal driving abilities. Years and years of ride-mooching had allowed me to avoid driving myself anywhere, like a powerful person who makes enough money to accommodate their phobias. My tactic was simple. At the end of the night when everyone’s leaving the party, I’d walk by the friend who happens to have a car and say something like, “I wanted to say goodbye. I’m about to walk home in the dark, in this major metropolitan area. If anything happens, I want you to be the one to tell my story.” Then, they’d get scared because they don’t know my story well enough to be tasked with perpetuating my legend. And then it’s just seat warmers and Top 40 hits on the radio from then on.
But this only works for so long. Finally, during a road trip across the United States this past summer, I had to pitch in. Anyone who is able to consciously speed down highway at 70 miles per hour, among strangers, is insane. The only animate beings that understand the reality-shattering experience of being in a speeding vehicle are dogs – not the jaded ones. I tried highway-driving in Nevada, outside of Las Vegas. Every single moment I had this thought: I need to stop this car wait what if I can’t stop this car oh my god how do you turn. I was overly aware, unable to succumb to the baseline oblivion one needs to go 70 mph. I had to exit the highway after ten minutes because I was “going too slow” and was “unwilling to stop going so slow.” I allowed my boyfriend to take the wheel instead of murdering us both on the highway, which was really nice of me. It wasn’t until Utah that I felt ashamed enough to try again.
PULL QUOTE: It wasn’t until Utah that I felt ashamed enough to try again.
I found Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill CD in the glove compartment. There is nothing like the emotional outpourings of a Canadian teenager to remove a state of hyper self-awareness. I had one hand in my pocket and the other was operating a motor vehicle. Alanis has been around since the nineties and Utah was founded in 1896 (also, the nineties)—but it was 2015 that brought these together for me. Something about the Utah’s calming topography and Alanis’ pop yodelling put my driving fears to rest—at least temporarily, because I’ve only driven once or twice since then. Maybe all of our fears can be cured by random combos of circumstances that we don’t about yet. Is that the butterfly effect? And now that I’ve moved to New York, I can wait at least another decade before having to consider driving again. Thank you, 2015.
Sam Rileyis a budding humourist for hire based in San Francisco. She’s a contributor to The Portlandia Activity Book (McSweeney’s) and will start tweeting (@samsatoni) any day now.
Welcome to our very merry, end-of-year series, Crackers!
We’ve asked eight of our favourite writers to tell us about the best gift that 2015 gave them/the world, and we’ll be posting their responses all the way through to New Year’s Eve. Today’s cracker comes from Patrick Lenton. Happy reading.
If you can imagine the squat, muscular barrel-body of a Staffy, the huge, limpid eyes of a Chihuahua, and the head of an Alsatian—but tiny, all about the size of an anxious toaster—then you’re on your way to imagining Ginny. Picture her sitting on the bed, her pert ears tracking the world for sounds, any sounds, to get angry about. Envision the tiny, vibrating body trotting down the corridor and angrily prominent asshole, ready to let everyone know they’re doing the wrong thing. Imagine all this and you’re close to understanding our angry, baby girl, Ginny (Virginia) Woof.
PULL QUOTE: Ginny clearly had problems
Adopted this year to be a companion dog for our anxious baby boy, Ernest, Ginny clearly had problems. When we drove out to meet her and see if she got along with our current dog, she ran around us snarling and squinting suspiciously if we moved too fast. But for some reason we filled out the adoption forms and brought her into our home and hearts – though the hearts took a while. After the first night of an angry-eyed, growling, snapping creature that scared the shit out of our little Ernest, I said, “I think we made a mistake.” My partner and I looked at the adoption forms, wondering if there were a cash-back guarantee or a return policy where we could get twenty per cent off a nicer dog. It turned out we could take her back in the first thirty days, and it would be fine, it would be great. We looked uneasily at each other. We kind of wanted her to go to the lighthouse. We wanted her to have a room of her own, and not in our house.
We knew almost nothing about her except that she’d lived in a lot of foster homes. Her underside was criss-crossed with faint scars, one of her back legs damaged in some way so that she never puts her weight on it and hops along. She hates: men, manly voices, men with beards, men who move, bicycles, thunder, children, children on bicycles, cars, joggers, other dogs, our other dog, birds, rain on her window.
PULL QUOTE: Her ears sometimes lie back on her head, and her angry butthole unclenches, and she looks calm and happy.
But the thought of un-adopting her, of just putting her back into a system where she’d be locked in a cage and eventually killed made us sick, made us feel like bad people, so we decided to persevere. We discovered that along with the quivering rage, there was also a sweet dog who began to shyly beg for our attention, to sit alongside you with her head turned away, so she couldn’t see all the things she hated. I could understand that. So we did training, and paid money for fancy dog psychologists, and they all helped in small ways – “She’s an anxious, crazy dog,” they said, “Here are many drugs for her.” Now, her ears sometimes lie back on her head, and her angry butthole unclenches, and she looks calm and happy, and she only attacks our friends a little bit, and we love her and she’s perfect. Perfectly batshit insane, but perfect. We are no longer afraid of Virginia Woof.
Welcome to our very merry, end-of-year series, Crackers!
We’ve asked eight of our favourite writers to tell us about the best gift that 2015 gave them/the world, and we’ll be posting their responses all the way through to New Year’s Eve. Today’s cracker comes from Toby Fehily. Happy reading.
Why Colorectal Cancer Is The Best Thing To Happen to Christmas Ham
The gift arrived early, wrapped in an article titled “Carcinogenicity of consumption of red and processed meat”, left by the merry International Agency for Research on Cancer under the Christmas tree of UK medical journal The Lancet. When unwrapped on October 26, the gift revealed itself to be a link between the consumption of bacon, sausages and ham and an increased risk of colorectal cancer.
Within hours, there were at least twelve farmers fuming, eleven butchers balking, ten chefs a shaking, nine rabbis gloating, eight breakfasts a bawling, seven bloggers a blubbering, six lobbyists a lobbying, five hot takes, four glum cows, three worried hens, two chuffed pigs and carcinogenicity.
But if Christmas has taught me anything, it’s the value of goodwill and cheer. And so with love in my heart and a smile on my face, I thought more about the discovery and realised it has set in motion a chain of events that will ensure this year’s Christmas ham will be my best Christmas ham ever.
PULL QUOTE: You should never eat your Christmas ham angry.
It works like this: some, spooked by the news, will skip on their Christmas ham this year. At the very least, this will lead to shorter queues at the butcher and so less aggravation and frustration while I wait and so a reduced risk of me eating my Christmas ham angry (you should never eat your Christmas ham angry). At best, though, if there’s a significant tumble in demand, we can expect a drop in prices — a welcome respite from the Australian bacon boom, which has seen pig prices rising steadily for the past five years. Any money I save will go towards some trimmings to accompany my Christmas ham. (By the same token, any money I earn from writing about why colorectal cancer is the best thing to have happened to my Christmas ham, as here, will go towards a glaze, maybe a maple honey one.)
This is not to say that I’m being cavalier about my own health, though. To mitigate the increased risk of colorectal cancer from my Christmas ham, I will be taking steps to decrease said risk, including eating more vegetables, fruits and whole grains; being more physically active; and quitting smoking. Not only will this counteract any adverse effects of my Christmas ham, it will also make me more physically fit—and so better equipped to expend the exertion required to eat my Christmas ham—and, quite possibly, happier, which would enable me to more fully enjoy and appreciate my Christmas ham.
PULL QUOTE: All this might sound selfish, un-Christmas-like.
All this might sound selfish, un-Christmas-like. But with some scared away from eating their Christmas hams, there will be a corresponding dip in the prevalence of colorectal cancer, which means less medical treatment for colorectal cancer, which means less strain on the healthcare system, which means good tidings for everyone. Even if the difference is negligible, there are other benefits, such as a reduction in the risk of obesity, which currently poses a serious burden on public health. This is perhaps the greatest gift of all, as it means I don’t have to worry so much about things like other people while I’m trying to concentrate on eating what will be my best Christmas ham ever.
Toby Fehilyis the editor of Art Guide Australia and a freelance writer.
Welcome to our very merry, end-of-year series, Crackers!
We asked eight of our favourite writers to tell us about the best gift that 2015 gave them/the world, and we’ll be posting their responses all the way through to New Year’s Eve. We kick off today with Sian Campbell’s Eggnog Mix 2015.
2015 was a weird, shitty year. It took a lot away from us – things and people and feelings we’ll never get back. Maybe we can say that of any year. The only difference is whether or not we personally got caught in the crossfire. This year, I did. But 2015 gave us a lot, too, didn’t it? Remember when Taylor dropped the ‘Bad Blood’ video and you watched it and realised Mariska Hargitay was in it? Oh, man! Patti Smith’s M Train came out. Miranda July’s The First Bad Man came out. Sleater-Kinney released a new album after an eight-year hiatus. The Supreme Court ruled same-sex marriage one hundred per cent legal all over America. Sam Frost found love in The Bachelorette, apparently. These are all very nice gifts to have bestowed unto us. Thanks, 2015.
PULL QUOTE: The best gift I can give 2015 is the same one I give every year: my annual Christmas mix.
I don’t know what the best gift 2015 gave me was. I do know I laughed, and danced, and felt buoyed and inspired by others, and ate really good food. What have I given 2015 in return? I thought more about my place in the world and what good I can do with my time here, and I tried to be a better person even if I didn’t always or usually do a very good job. I tried to remember to change my undies more often and I baked a lot of peanut butter cookies. I adopted a rescue puppy. I wrote a lot. Really though, the best gift I can give 2015 is the same one I give every year: my annual Christmas mix. It’s a gift that maybe isn’t anyone’s favourite gift to receive but grows on you with time. Like: do you love the socks your Auntie Marie gives you every year? No, but when you run out of socks you’re not unhappy about having been given them.
The thing about Christmas music is that everyone hates it, but maybe they just don’t understand it. They think: malls. They think: Bing Crosby and stale, metallic covers by artists nobody has heard of, and that one fucking CD your Mum bought from Myer thirteen years ago for charity. But Christmas music can be so much more than that.
Christmas is probably the closest to understanding religion as I’ll ever get. A bunch of butts crammed into church pews, lights at night, songs sung in unison, joy, joy, joy to the world, or at least some joy to some of the world. I might not pray, or believe, but when people light candles and sing songs together with love in their hearts… that’s a type of prayer, and it’s one I can get behind. I know it’s indoctrination at work, and maybe it makes me a hypocrite, or easily manipulated. I don’t have to understand why a bunch of people in the scorching Australian heat celebrate a winter festival, and I don’t have to understand why ‘O Holy Night’ moves me, do I?
I like Christmas because I like to pretend-believe in a world where people want to be nice to each other, and families like spending time together, and songs and food and wine enjoyed communally can be healing. I know it’s make-believe, but it’s better than not believing at all. So I make mix CDs because it’s fun and festive and a way to be a part of the make-believe world that I want to live in.
PULL QUOTE: When it comes to making the perfect Christmas mix, my philosophy is the trashier and more bewildering the better.
My favourite Christmas songs are the ones that surprise you and change your mind about what Christmas music can be. Take Billy Joel and Paul Simon’s croon-y version of ‘Silver Bells’, throughout which Steve Martin performs satirical festive stand-up, or Joan Jett and the Blackhearts’ version of ‘Silent Night’, interspersed with audio from Barack Obama’s inauguration speech. Who sat down and decided these songs should be written? But someone did, and for that I am thankful. When it comes to making the perfect Christmas mix, my philosophy is the trashier and more bewildering the better.
So, please enjoy my grab-bag of Christmas tracks. The best (and/or worst, depending on where you’re standing) songs from the six years I’ve been making these mix CDs and forcing them on my friends, plus also some new tracks. I recommend listening to this playlist when you’re getting stoned in the backyard with your not-awful cousins on Christmas Day, or wrapping presents alone and wondering where it all went so damn wrong.
Sian Campbellis editor-in-chief of Scum Mag. Her work has been included in Kill Your Darlings, Spook and Junkee. She was longlisted for the 2015 Lifted Brow Prize for Experimental Non-Fiction.
People robbed of their past seem to make the most fervent picture takers…
The ground was soaked, like a saturated sponge, and the mud squelched up from the grass and spilled over your toes when you raced out to the letterbox. The gutters were moats and the roads were rapids, and seedpods and leaves and other flotsam sailed and bobbed along, disappearing into the roaring stormwater drains. The green of palms and Moreton Bay figs deepened under the storm clouds, and spouts of water shot from the tips of the fronds and waxy green foliage. The blossoms and tiny leaves of the jacarandas shivered on the tree and fell like it was a celebration. Mangoes rotted in pulpy piles, splattered under the tree, teeth marks in the skin from screeching fruit bats the night before. The humidity brewed, thick and sticky inside the houses where people sat under ceiling fans, with the lights on at midday.
As the rain came down, the damp rose up from the sodden ground, into the houses. Inside the cupboards and drawers it smelled of waterlogged wood and wet earth, and powdery mould had begun to sprout on forgotten beach bags and shoes in the bottom of wardrobes. Chains of black ants traced wonky lines from skirting board to bathroom tap to sugar bowl, behind the fridge and around the hot-water system. Socks and underwear hung on the backs of chairs and on doorknobs, damp still. And on the muddy street outside a little house built on the floodplain of the Brisbane River, my cousins and uncle were packing my grandmother’s belongings onto the back of a rusty beige ute and taking them to higher ground.
The white weatherboard house sits a little way back from the street corner, raised a metre or so off the ground—stout alongside its stilted Queenslander neighbours. There are no cement footpaths and no fence, just a wide grassy verge and a flaming red Poinciana that sounds like maracas when it drops its long woody pods with the percussive seeds inside.
When my grandfather Aubrey died in 2003, his office still belonged only to him. Little was changed in there, not much moved, few objects taken away. In the drawers of the desk, in the metal filing cabinet and in the cupboard was stored a private collection of artefacts, documents and letters. A biscuit tin at the bottom of the cupboard contained brown and blotched letters, flaking like pastry. In the bottom drawer of the filing cabinet his green army beret with the crumpled ribbon sat atop an ancient, 6-inch-thick dictionary, with pages like gossamer. And deep in the desk, to the back of a long drawer, the album of his war photographs was wrapped in a white plastic bag.
He had fallen in love with photography as a young man, enthusiastic enough to build a darkroom in his family home at Double Bay. With a camera he could play in the space between science and art where, as the son of a civil engineer and a concert pianist, his mind naturally settled. During his military training before he was sent to war at twenty-three—the youngest Captain in the Australian army at the time—his skill with the camera had been noted. And so he was given a small, light camera that he was to carry with him to battle, to document all that he saw. I have been told the black and white images he took—kept inside the drawer of the desk—were of both friendly scenes and unspeakable destruction. I imagine dark jungle, tanks and young men—sometime smiling, sometimes terrified, sometime living and sometimes dead. Men in Japanese uniforms as well as in those of the allies. These photos were kept hidden, some negatives even left undeveloped, a secret source of shame. On one or two occasions he showed these photographs to my mother, his daughter, turning the pages of the album as he wept.
When the flood hit, the water spewed up out of storm-water and sewerage drains, dirty with shit and fine grey silt. In the dark of night it crept up the deserted street, over the kerb and into the gardens. It swallowed the plants, the front steps, and rushed under the door, over the carpet. The trunk of the poinciana went under, its seedpods plucked without a sound, its red flowers stained. Macadamia nuts were carried away and deposited in houses down the street, and mango sludge was whipped up into the thick and foul floodwater that inundated the house. It rose and rose, up the hems of the coats left in the cupboard, into the bottom drawer of the kitchen, the third, the second, in among the cutlery and over the benchtop. The fridge lifted, bobbed, and listed over onto its side, bumping into chairs and a cushion. The sludge filled the bathtub, the bathroom sink. A hairbrush, bottles of shampoo and talcum powder, a set of glasses and some old dress patterns were trapped floating within the glass doors of the shower.
The next day a crew from the Salvation Army walked onto the muddy lawn of Granny’s house, and yes, she said, they could help. The volunteers were not in shock like my family, who moved around wide-eyed and in a trance, not sure what to do next. The volunteers worked quickly to uncover the ruined contents of the house. They did not know the objects they threw onto the piles. They did not turn them over in their hands trying to recognise them, trying to reconcile them in this new reality.
One of the volunteers made their way over to Pop’s office, in the back of the carport, which nobody had remembered to pack. It was Pop’s office, so it was no one’s instinct to take responsibility for it, and no one had. The flood had flung the door open, and the curtain of beads was knotted and filthy. Unable to jimmy the drawers of the swollen wooden desk open to salvage what might be inside, two volunteers each took a side, sized up the doorway, and carried it out to the muddied lawn, swinging it back and forward three times before heaving it onto the rubbish pile. And on top of the desk went Barbie dolls with splayed legs and punkish haircuts; tangled, unrecognisable sheets and clothing; soggy books with wavy pages and upturned, ruined white goods.
after Amaryllis Dejesus Moleski
reign toplessgrab ya crotch missclutch an amethyst
spearwear a skirt of atmosphericpressure
invite lightning& a flock of lavender irises
batwings sing a chorus of third eyes shadowed
blue-brownthis the nu nile magic hour
how a blackgirl urge a powersurge outtagunpowder
our power be in the marrow how our
grandmamas bones could summon tomorrow’s
sunshowerdevour doubt & make magic
outta droughtpluck a guitar from the clouds
& get loudall thunder in shitis you wet yet?
or at least dizzyforecastpartly frizzy
for the fish frybitch been flyi’ll make it plain:
alchemy’s the only currency now
make it rain
INSTRUCTIONS FOR A FREEDOM
after Amaryllis Dejesus Moleski
fuck flux: this universe tryna render you
redundanta mere speck amidst the spectacle
of spacean unremarkable black hole
a dust bowl of nappinessimploding whirlpool
of blackgirl coolslave to samenessspectrum
of humdrumradioactive violencedisguised
as incomplete sciencesuckas solving for X
nevermind you lightyears beyond celestial
you big bang in shitcosmicprehistoric
relics like bones & axesretrograding
backwardsshooting stars ain’t nothing but black
chicks doing back flipsfuck flux:gravitate
black & rotate that axis till this universe
t’ai freedom fordis a New York City high school English teacher and Cave Canem Fellow. Her first poetry collection, how to get over is forthcoming from Red Hen Press. t’ai lives and loves in Brooklyn, but hangs out digitally at: shesaidword.com.
I was in my first year of high school when my Health and Human Development teacher, Mr. Hamilton, lowered the blinds, dimmed the lights and told the class it was time for Sex Education.
PULL QUOTE: You were a responsible almost-adult who could be entrusted with the knowledge of where the ovaries were and what a vas deferens was.
For any high-school child, Sex Education was a highlight of the curriculum. Up there with camp, work experience, and even getting asked to the formal, Sex Education meant a whole lot. Firstly, it signified you were no longer a child. You were a responsible almost-adult who could be entrusted with the knowledge of where the ovaries were and what a vas deferens was. Secondly, it meant you were given official permission to put a condom on a banana. A condom on a banana! Was there any task more representative of an Australian childhood in the nineties—or any task more thrilling to the hormone-addled pre-teen mind—than unravelling a prophylactic onto a piece of fruit? But thirdly, and perhaps most importantly of all, Sex Education meant you were about to spend a small portion of your day having an official, school-sanctioned chat about dicks and bums and boobs and vaginas, which was usually a topic so fraught with teenage awkwardness that it was handled only with nervous giggles and derisive laughter.
A nervous energy spread throughout the class as we glanced side to side, meeting eyes with our desk mates. Finally it was time: the most hotly anticipated lesson of the year, perhaps even of our entire lives, was about to begin. Over the next fifty-five minutes, we imagined, the secrets of adulthood would be unlocked before our very eyes. We would shortly become masters of our bodies and minds, honing our intuition to decode every lump and bump, every urge and surge that had previously plagued us. This was Sex Education, after all. What we learnt here would surely stay with us for the rest of our adult lives.
PULL QUOTE: We would shortly become masters of our bodies and minds.
It did, but not quite in the way I had imagined.
What happened first was that Mr. Hamilton wheeled in a television and played a video that was meant to depict, and explain, sexual intercourse. Two cartoon characters (shaped bizarrely like spiral pasta) met, courted, and fell in love on the screen before leaping into bed and disappearing under a blanket. As the blanket bounced and wiggled around, a voice-over explained what was happening underneath. The man—coloured blue for boys—would insert his penis into the woman’s vagina. After an indeterminate amount of time he would have an orgasm and ejaculate, and approximately nine months later the woman—pink, of course—would have a baby. There was no mention of whether or not the woman would have an orgasm, or even if she physically could. If the video were to be believed, sex was a bit of fun for the man, painful and possibly bloody for the woman, if it was her first time, and was something that usually resulted in a baby.
Following the video, a black-and-white diagram of the male genitals was projected onto the whiteboard, and Mr. Hamilton pointed out all the different parts: the testicles, the glans, the foreskin (where applicable). The female anatomy followed: a similar line drawing of the vulva and uterus, complete with fallopian tubes and ovaries that, quite frankly, made the entire package look a bit like a front-on sketch of an insect. “This is the vagina,” Mr. Hamilton said shortly, and cleared his throat once. Silence filled the room, and after a pause he flicked the slide away and informed the class that if we had any questions, now was the time to speak up.
I looked down at my own stomach, underneath my school shirt, and to this day I clearly remember thinking the whole image seemed quite gory and unlike anything I could imagine existing inside of me. I couldn’t find the words to put it into a question though: my cheeks flushed hot when I imagined asking daggy old Mr. Hamilton to show me exactly how the diagram on the screen was meant to fit inside me. There was a prolonged silence, and then from the back of the room, one boy spoke up. “Sir,” he began, and I could tell by the sounds of muffled laughter that accompanied his question he was being egged on by his mates. “Is it true chicks can ejaculate too?”
Mr. Hamilton sighed and rolled his eyes. “Christopher, I’d appreciate it if we could just be sensible and stick to the topic at hand.”
And that was Sex Education.
I know that, at least in most schools, Sex Education has improved since then; but that’s still quite a recent development. For anyone my age or older, school-based learning about sexuality and the human body was likely limited to conversations about the mechanics of sex rather than the broader, and equally necessary, subjects of sexual and gender diversity. Even topics like consent and sexual violence went noticeably unmentioned during my time at school, not to mention issues that have since received broader attention in the media and in public conversation: there was zero discussion of gender identity and expression, and as far as I can remember, no one even touched on what it meant to be attracted to someone of the same gender. The result was that conversations about sex were—and often still are—greatly limited, heavily stigmatised, and often surrounded by feelings of confusion and shame. One of the best ways to remove shame and stigma is to open these conversations up, to make them as honest and as public as possible; and that is one of the reasons why I love Archer so much. The self-described “Australian journal of sexual diversity” works incredibly hard to push the topics of sex, gender, and identity in to the public conversation and in this edition—Issue Five—it continues to do just that.
PULL QUOTE: Wherever I took my copy of Archer, people would look once and then again at Kameishi’s brilliant smile, and I like to think that they fell a little bit in love with her, just like I did.
The issue’s drawcards may be the brilliant interview with bona-fide Australian treasure Magda Szubanski, who discusses her recent coming-out and her new memoir with Erin Stuchbery; and a whip-smart piece on marriage equality by Dennis Altman, who manages to be both level-headed and moving in presenting arguments from both sides of the debate. But as much as these are the big headlines, I want to focus on the cover model, Kameishi. Simply carrying around the issue this week has proven that it’s still a revolutionary act to be a plus-sized woman of colour in a state of undress on a magazine cover: wherever I took my copy of Archer, people would look once and then again at Kameishi’s brilliant smile, and I like to think that they fell a little bit in love with her, just like I did. I adore the warmth and confidence that she radiates; she is lush and golden and I am so glad that she is here.
Woven through this issue is the theme of Culture. There are stories and photo essays from all over the globe: “Faces and Phases”, from across Africa; “I Miss You Already”, from China; and from Malaysia, words and images documenting the struggle of the LGBT+ community against repression from the government and society alike. While many of the stories document the struggle for acceptance, inclusion, and even safety, the overarching theme is how important it is for these stories to simply exist. In environments where speaking out is sometimes dangerous, it’s demonstrably important to share our stories: when we do so, we inspire others, we make ourselves relatable, and we do so much to break down the shame and stigma frequently associated with the topics Archer covers.
Perhaps the sole misfire in the issue is LoAnn Halden’s piece on travelling through Africa as an out lesbian. Though Halden has thorough experience in the tourism sector as a director for the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association, she comes itchily close to White Saviourism by stating that, “we owe it to the queer people living in oppressive regimes … to experience the world.” While she has no doubt helped increase visibility by bringing LGBT+ travellers to countries known as being less than accepting towards queer citizens; it would have benefited the piece hugely to include some of the lived experiences of people in the countries she has travelled through. Halden’s intentions are admirable, but as we see elsewhere in the issue: there are amazing activists born and living in Africa as well, and I believe their tales are more important than a visitor’s reflections.
PULL QUOTE: A few pages later Rochelle Siemienowicz relates her children asking her about butt plugs at the dinner table.
The issue is, for the most part, curious, provocative, and enlightening. Dion Kagan’s brilliant essay on Butt Politics effortlessly examines and then decimates the anxiety associated with anal pleasure; only a few pages later Rochelle Siemienowicz relates her children asking her about butt plugs at the dinner table. “In mainstream Australian society,” she writes, “It’s still considered radical to tell your youngsters that sex and pleasure are healthy and good for you.” Siemienowicz’s choice to discuss sex and sexuality with her children may be considered controversial by her parents’ generation, but if her experience of Sex Education at school was anything like mine, I understand her desire to be so open.
Archer shines light on important human experiences that many people consider embarrassing, scary, or shameful. For those reasons, sex and sexuality are often dominant topics in my writing: because I believe that our sexual wants, needs, and attractions reveal so much about who we are. They are big topics, and not always easy to speak around, but as Archer has proven to me they are crucial to discuss: not only to me now, as a reader and a writer, but to my younger self back in high school. I imagine her sitting at her school table, looking down at her unfamiliar body and attempting to make sense of all the organs and parts and feelings and thoughts contained therein. She is confused now, but will soon be grateful: to all the writers she will grow up admiring; to me, her older self, for participating in a conversation she was always too afraid to start; and to publications like Archer, with Kameishi’s smiling face on the cover: warm, open, and ultimately inviting.
Kate Iselinis a writer living in Sydney. Her work has appeared in The Guardian, Spook, Archer, Daily Life, and Kill Your Darlings. She chronicles her sex and dating adventures at the blog Thirty Dates of Tinder.
Laughter, anger, annoyance. These are all the different ways I grew out of feeling embarrassed about others’ fear of the unknown.
Maybe White Australia can take a leaf out of my book? I moved past embarrassment years ago, made fat with pride from a steady diet of art made by Aboriginal people. Tiddas, Christine Anu, Ian Abdulla, Bangarra, Warwick Thornton, Kunyi McInerney; I am forever shaped by the lyrics of the song ‘We Have Survived’ by No Fixed Address, inspired by the crafting of Kim Scott’s words in Benang, haunted by the poems—the life and death—of Robert Walker.
If I imagine myself sitting cross-legged in that same classroom—I’m me now, but they are still them then—the memory changes, and I can fantasise that the pride from a thousand art works and performances fuels my resistance. They laugh, and there I am: a little black duck with water running off its back.
I am fantastic at forgetting to eat. I learned early that food is best ignored, otherwise you feel ostracised over the simplest slice of birthday cake.
Since the age of two I was a strict Coeliac. Other people would worry more about my eating than I did.
Boyfriends would eat how I would, friends would choose (and still do) restaurants based on the vegetable count, parents would have a stash of my favourite crackers, I’d be taken off working the toast counter at a cafe because one week I said I felt ill because of ‘toast’ fumes rather than admitting that I just hadn’t had breakfast.
In 2008, the blue linoleum floors of the Prague YHA stuck to my feet like the sweat cloying to my forehead. I assumed it was just from humidity. A sharp dullness in my stomach, spilled nuts and I was in hospital, again, for a familiar bout of ulcer inflammation. All caused by poor eating and sleeplessness. Sitting beneath an old stamp of the Soviet hammer and sickle, a man was resting his leg in a red ice bucket, his foot dislodged, meaty, his face green with infection. They saw me first and not him because I could afford it.
If we are not being accountable for our own balanced day-to-day health (the controllable measures like consumables, sleep, sex and exercise) then the negative impact on those who need it more can be detrimental.
On discharge, thirty hours later I found five Irish boys, drank absinthe in tyre clubs and blacked out in their dorm rooms, waking up half clad, graffitied. Pain numbed by the reckless abandonment of my own welfare.
Rather than caring properly about why I was putting food in of my body, I was more consumed by the physical act of consuming. Not using utensils at dinner where potential in-laws were present, putting my fingers in other peoples’ jars of peanut butter.
An old party trick I had was to lick all the flavouring off rice crackers and return them to the packet, then watch people eat the crackers to see if they noticed that they were an odd texture and flavour.
George Monbiot writes,
“We are often told we are materialistic. It seems to me, we are not materialistic enough. We have a disrespect for materials. We use it quickly and carelessly.
“If we’re genuinely materialistic people, we would understand where materials come from and where they go to. But, at the moment, the entire global economy seems to be built on the model of digging things up from one hole in the ground on one side of the earth, transporting them around the world, using them for a few days, and sticking them in a hole in the ground on the other side of the world.”
We handle materials in our hands, put them in our mouths, in our bodies, into the environment. The main ‘hole’ of focus has become our mouths, our taste buds, with all waste going back into the ground or atmosphere.
Efficiency, where food is not something you have to worry about attaining, has gone out of the window for an individualistic pleasured experience dictated by marketing. Wouldn’t it be great if Apple for their next product made a human-skin cover so then you wouldn’t need any human engagement, ever?
I think I should eat kale.
I think I should eat kale because that will give me a twenty-four inch waist. Despite a kale shortage imminent, I still eat kale rather than Spring Green Veg which is in abundance.
Eating was for me:
Tactile contact with food did change my perception of it: it became something other than food, something intimate that was removed out of the sustenance frame.
I did not want to think about the repercussions of eating because my response would be severe: I would stop eating, because I wouldn’t know how or what to eat, rather I would slip onto my knees in front of a toilet bowl at any moment of anxiety, or stare bemused, selfish, into my own reflection like a chimpanzee when they are given a mirror, or just never look in a mirror, too ashamed by the consequences of what I had been eating.
This algorithm worked so easily in my head:
you + what you eat = don’t worry about eating
At New Years in 2011 a friend and I came up with the idea that it would be fantastic to not have to eat meals. Instead you would eat a tablet of sustenance so that you had enough energy to do things. At the time small round white pills worked just as well… We utilised chemical convenience for a thorough exploration of our surroundings.
This is what Small Acts of Disappearance is about: hunger. It would be very easy to marginalise this work within eating and disorder and eating disorders. But Wright’s work is an investigation of her hunger. She shares her meals, cooks for others so she has the appearance of partaking in the ritual of food, but there is a sharpness, an alertness to being fragmented by her hunger.
“You don’t choose your hunger.”
I was in a bath, in Bath when I read this, and I argued with her. She would be sitting on the toilet seat, smoking, gestating as she read to me from her book and I would be exasperated:
“Of course we choose our hunger!” My fist shakes at her.
We choose what motivates us. Don’t we?
My attitude toward myself is one of military-esque hardness: Food is a privilege.
When I was five my grandfather was visiting Sydney. It was his and my day to explore the science museum, the maritime museum, to eat ice cream and dip our feet in the harbour as we watched the tall ships. My mother had given me new shoes: white Mary-Jane Clarks that she told me not to wear because they would give me blisters. I was determined so Mum said, “If your feet start to hurt, don’t complain to Granddad, he won’t like it if you complain.” So I didn’t. I said nothing. My feet by the end of the day were torn to shreds, but I had the satisfaction of knowing I had not complained.
So Wright is right when she says, ‘You don’t choose your hunger.’
Severity of self is hard for others to watch or be understood but it is needed, at times, for improvement.
You discover that you can be just as hungry for touch as you are for food, or light, or time.
So Wright is right when she says, ‘You don’t choose your hunger.’
The protagonist in Hunger by Knut Hamsun likes to be hungry. His sensation and experience is greater because he is trying to fill his need, his emptiness.
“The intelligent poor individual was a much finer observer than the intelligent rich one. The poor individual looks around him at every step, listens suspiciously to every word he hears from the people he meets; thus, every step he takes presents a problem, a task, for his thoughts and feelings. He is alert and sensitive, he is experienced, his soul has been burned…”
Being hungry is a good thing. Starving rats apparently run faster around turning wheels than satiated ones.
I went back to Australia for the first time in 21 months and enjoyed the rejigging of remembering how to read old friends. It’s much easier than attempting to read new friends (the cryptic joy of moving cities!). Stern looks, hand gestations while making an argument or the way they hold their pinky up sipping a gin and tonic. And then why you warmed to them: bitten bottom lips, raised right eyebrows, apologetic eyes.
I asked people about hunger.
Someone said that for them food and hunger are two distinguishable practices. One is an enjoyment and best enjoyed alone and the other is misunderstood and in the pursuit of finding meaning in it you can do great things.
The main response was ‘I would like more time.’
More time to sleep.
A few Saturdays ago, just before midnight an Uber driver picked us up from Shoreditch, to take us to a house party in Holloway. I spilled my apple-vodka-tizer tin onto the car door as I bent into the front seat. The driver was listening to a video through his headphones, his eyes staring ahead, traffic and sloven bodies transparent.
‘Who is Tesfay Temnewo?’ I asked, pointing to his phone.
‘A rebel warrior in Eritrea.’
‘What’s he saying?’
‘How we can achieve freedom.’
I looked at his iPhone screen. There are 37 parts to the interview. He was listening to part 26, which had 30,578 views.
‘Can you go back?’
He looked at me. Blinked. Looked back the standstill neon traffic at Old Street.
I keep looking at him, his name unpronounced on his Uber app by the steering wheel.
His head was a shape you see drawn in anatomy books. Eyes sunken in his face, ageing him as being centuries old rather than his forty-something years. He had a tattoo on his left forearm, hand drawn, half hidden under a crumpled linen blue shirt. His hunger visible.
“I fought in the Eritrean-Ethiopian war from 1998-2000. We thought that after independence there would be real democracy, but today it is absolutely impossible to return to Eritrea as an opposition member. If you do, they will pick you up upon arrival and you will disappear.”
Killing is a hunger.
Disappear. I wondered how many people think he has disappeared. Driving Ubers in London for the flexibility so that he can be with his daughters (four and two) or work his other job/s.
I wondered what Spotify requests people make at 3am in the morning. Destiny’s Child, Wheatus, Drake, Natalie Imbruglia, TLC?
I wondered how many people he has killed and if he likes killing.
Some people do. Killing is a hunger.
“Do you get hungry?” I asked him.
“What do you mean?”“Do you find you’re hungry in London?”
“Only to be home.”
We arrived at the house party, twenty-somethings loitering with cigarettes looking to see who is in the car and not who is driving. I offered him my can before I left, he took a sip, not removing his eyes from mine, the most fixed I felt all evening.
Time is infinite yet scarce. On a film shoot, when everyone is told to be silent you can always hear the ticking of the watch; I buy coffee to stay awake, to buy more time.
I grab someone’s wrist and ask for the time. No one at the party is wearing a watch; instead their wrist bones sit stoic.
We have an extra hour and the clocks go back at 14:00. It’s 12:33.
I thought about the mass of time or the time of mass. Time disappears like mass disappears from bone, and both are kept going by incomprehensible theories that make the sun sharpen the senses.
A clock set at the peak of Mount Everest would be about thirty-nine hours ahead of a clock set at sea level. Clocks that are far from massive bodies (or at higher gravitational potentials) run more quickly, and clocks close to massive bodies (or at lower gravitational potentials) run more slowly.
Does the same apply to watches? If you are smaller, mass inconsequential to others, does time slow down? So that when I’m sitting in the shower of an almost stranger’s house, their warrior frame twice your size, twenty-five minutes seem only five. He told you that you had ‘eaten time for breakfast’ while buttoning up his cufflinks, even though the night before, the force on height distorted 5.5 hours into a weekend.
Time dilations due to height difference of less than one metre have been experimentally measured and verified in laboratories. The clocks aboard the aeroplanes were found to be slightly faster with respect to clocks on the ground. The effect is significant enough that the Global Positioning System’s artificial satellites need to have their clocks corrected.
I’d like to test time dilation theory against human experience. Does time disappear for you? How fast do you see it leave? Or does it manifest into energy for other activities? Or will you keep it lingering on your wrist, activity and behaviour and pulse recorded into data sequences to be received by Silicon Valley and arrive back just as quickly in your inbox, or on your Apple Watch.
‘An apple a day keep the doctors away.’
‘An Apple Watch keeps media consumption at play.’
I never feel hungry.
I never feel hungry. I like being in a state of desire, because at least I am aware that I need something at undisclosed moments.
Although I still haven’t worked out what I desire, so I never messaged the warrior back, too scared of rejection, the memory of his weight saved until someone comes along and replaces him.
If I could mould time, buy time, compact all the one-hour time differences into a single day or time travel I would go back to A. And with each hug I would actually hug hjm, rather than being scared of his knowledge that humans are made to be close. He always made me feel wanted and whether or not I wanted to be wanted would dictate if I wanted him.
My first proper memory of him is catching his breath in mine on a desk on the forty-something floor of a science University of Technology Sydney tutor room. There, in that moment, I would open my eyes to look at his, tell him to write, wipe the sweat from his brow down his left cheek.
And I would send a package of time, which we sometimes send in instant words, in response to his last message before he was hit by a boxtruck on his motorcycle in North Carolina.
‘Clare, I want to write. Where do I start? How do you do it?’
I don’t, A.
First there was you but by the end of the month three of you had gone.
The shimmer of the end transforming you to memory.
It’s that dense, this thick, this feeling of time -
this feeling of walking back alone under
the tree. As if somehow, the whole world’s in
[‘Walking Back From the Dam’, Martin Harrison]
At the party, I sip on bottles of beer that I don’t know how managed to arrive in my hand. Two hours in I’ve drunk two Stella long necks, danced under street lighting and felt confused amongst other wanting bodies.
People can sense hunger. They can smell it. Last year the European Research Council published a report that claims to have shown how the endocannabinoid system controls food intake using the sense of smell.
Endocannabinoids are cannabis-like chemicals that are made in the body and are used to send “messages” between cells. The endocannabinoid system is a network of neuron receptors, enzymes and endocannabinoids that exists both in animal and human brains. The receptors in the endocannabinoid system are associated with sensations such as euphoria, anxiety and pain.
Scientists know that when we are hungry, our bodies boost the performance of our sense of smell in order to improve our chances of finding food. But our sense of smell can also smell when others are hungry, also hunting for food, or other hungers. Eyes are rounder, more intense, processing smells until we can either satisfy our hunger or at least momentarily satiate it.
The best smells are those that are unattached, ripened, slightly sweaty, close.
Are kebabs the secondary alternative to what we all want at 2am in the morning, a loitering hyper over tiredness where we try inhibit the liver from functioning even further? The liver is the most active between 1am and 4am and helps to keep our body from becoming toxic. Toxic kebabs are intoxicating.
I’ve manned up. I’m no longer a Coeliac. Which has shocked me more than it has shocked anyone else, including a very irritated ex. But being able to care about eating enough to enjoy it has made me aware of other cravings. Other sensations that I was not aware of before, like listening to the kettle boil. How cheese burns onto plates. Or the sounds matched by the smell of opening a can of tinned ravioli. Or licking the foam of an espresso martini from my top lip or nose.
There isn’t a simple hunger. And we do not choose it. But in being hungry, as much as it can make people aware that you don’t eat, you gain a history, an understanding of survival, an imaginary friend full of what you have noticed that you think no one can see.
Clare Cholerton is a freelance writer/person from London. Her first collection, Missive, was published by Poetry Australia in 2013. Her writing has appeared in The Bohemyth, The Lifted Brow, the UTS anthologies, Seizure and Plumwood Mountain.
“Say it isn’t true,” Agamemnon tries to bargain in Robert Icke’s new adaptation of Oresteia.
“Let’s say I did this, we went ahead, my daughter dies by my hand alone, the child is the price, but then the fair winds just do not blow. Silence. And it turns out we read it wrong, that there was some kind of flaw in the plan—and we are still at war.”
Two-and-a-half thousand years ago in Greece, Aeschylus wrote four plays that we now know as the Oresteia. They’re stories of brutality and revenge: of nations at war, of families at war. They’re stories of rulings from the gods; of self-proclaimed power; of the beginnings of courts and justice systems. And in Aeschylus’s first play (now lost), and in Icke’s first act (now on stage in London), Agamemnon has been told the only way his army can win the war is for him to kill his own daughter.
The child is the price.
It is a brutal and horrific bargaining process. What is the price of war and suffering? What is the worth of one child when you consider the hundreds upon hundreds who will die at war: on battlefields, at home? But then, what is the cost of your own child—how can you ever unsee your connection to them: how can you ever convince yourself their life is worth the reward?
By your own hand. The child is the price.
When the moment comes, it’s quiet and delicate. Iphigenia (9-year-old Dixie Egerickx) is small, fragile in the arms of Agamemnon (Aungus Wright). Her hair cascades down her back, making her seem smaller than she truly is. Icke offers no pretense: this is a child. This is the face of the price of war. This young girl who you just saw play with her toy bunny, who you just heard sing ‘God Only Knows’: this child is the price.
Wright’s hands shake as he gifts the child a sequence of three white paper cups. He strokes her hair as she goes quiet. After an impossibly long silence, Iphigenia stirs, but only for a moment. Icke forces us to sit and watch every painful moment of Agamemnon’s choice: a decree from the gods. A task that seems impossible and yet, as Icke shows us, the only choice Agamemnon could have made.
There is immense violence in Icke’s silence.
Six days before I see Oresteia, every newspaper in London carries the same image on its front page. A boy, three years old, face down on a beach. Drowned as his parents tried to take him from war-torn Syria to safety in Europe. The time I have been in the UK, this flight of refugees has been steadily growing, overwhelming train stations and governments in Europe. To date, England—and Australia—have continued to ignore the problem. It’s for Europe to deal with.
But with this boy, the body of Aylan Kurdi, the tide begins to shift. British and Australian governments pledge to do more, to take in more refugees.
A few years ago, we started recording the breakdown of our contributors’ genders for each thing we published. We’re interested in this, so we keep an eye on it. People are interested in this, so now we share an updated version, accurate up to November 2015, which reflects on TLB print and web contributors.
(Note: we’ve never directly asked contributors to identify their gender, nor do we believe that gender is always simply categorised. The below gender breakdown activity, largely achieved by getting to know our contributors as best we can and then dividing them into ‘male’, ‘female’ or ‘non-binary’, just gives us a general snapshot of the genders of our contributors, and ensures we are never forgetting to think about gender—and of course other demographic considerations—when commissioning and selecting work for publication.)
Here are the figures, presented in no particular order except rigidly reverse-chronological:
Nov 2015: 4 men, 2 women, 1 non-binary
Oct 2015: 9 men, 11 women, 1 non-binary Sep 2015: 6 men, 10 women
Aug 2015: 6 men, 5 women
Jul 2015: 5 men, 7 woman
Jun 2015: 5 men, 9 women
May 2015: 5 men, 6 women
Apr 2015: 6 men, 5 women
Mar 2015: 3 men, 4 women
Feb 2015: 5 men, 1 woman
Jan 2015: 4 men, 2 woman
Dec 2014: 5 men, 7 woman
Nov 2014: 10 men, 6 woman
In 2015, we published a total of 130 contributions by male writers, artists and musicians, 165 contributions by female contributors, and 5 works by contributors who identify as non-binary. In percentage terms, that’s 43.3% men, 55% women, 1.7% non-binary.
In the greater scheme of the Brow, we’ve published approximately 1600 contributions since 2007. That’s 852 contributions by male artists, 748 contributions by female artists, and 5 contributions by non-binary artists. In percentage terms, that’s an overall ratio of 53.2% men, 46.67% women, 0.03% non-binary.
As a reminder, this time last year our tally sat at 707 contributions by male writers, artists and musicians, and 570 contributions by female contributors. In percentage terms, that was an overall ratio of 55.3% men and 44.6% women.
As always, if you have anything to ask or say, please get in touch.
I really like funny stuff. I say funny stuff and not comedy because I think sometimes, in Australia, when you say comedy, people think you mean stand-up comedy and Kath and Kim. I like both of those, but I also like lots of other funny things. I like funny photos – not memes, like the ones your uncle tags you in on Facebook, but images like Martin Parr’s or the absurdity of Garry Trinh’s Instagram. I like funny drawings: the work of my friends Kenny Pittock or Humyara Mahbub, or if you want to get real NGV-level serious, everyone’s favourite guy, David Shrigley, or Lisa Hanawalt’s BoJack Horseman. I like funny music, like Weird Al and Garfunkel and Oates. I really like funny writing, too – like the writing in Affirm Press’s Best Australian Comedy Writing.
This year I read the best of McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. There’s nothing like a hardcover bound edition to legitimise online and/or humorous content, and that’s what Affirm have tried to do, and done, with Best Australian Comedy Writing. Edited by comedian, writer and editor Luke Ryan, the collection is bound in yellow with pink writing. And animals with the wrong heads. This is the wrong cover for this book, but Luke is the right person to do have made this book. Gracious and funny, and a writer. Yes, all comics are writers, I guess. But stand-up is different to writing a story and writing a story is different to stand-up.
I guess. Is it? How do I know? I don’t write stand-up. I edit a humour journal, and I think this is why The Lifted Brow asked me to do this. Is that why you asked me to do this, guys? Or was it because I kept tweeting about being broke? Besides the question of my qualifications, the real conundrum this collection presents is: what is comedy writing? And how do we decide what is the best comedy writing?
PULL QUOTE: There’s so much happening in this book, especially with the title page fonts, which I hate.
Luke says in his introduction that not everyone will like everything in the book and that’s true. I don’t believe all comedy can be universal but I don’t not-believe it either. Steve Martin said comedy is a subversion of what’s happening in the world and there will always be something happening. I think that’s probably true. So what’s happening in this book? There’s so much happening in this book, especially with the title page fonts, which I hate. Am I allowed to say that in a review? It’s my review, but it seems mean. Can I be mean? I think I can. I hate the fonts used for titles in this book. They could have used Curlz Mt or Papyrus, basically, because that is how much I don’t like them.
Sometimes comedy is like that – people tearing down the things they don’t like, but they’re pretty good at it, and you laugh because there’s some truth in what they’re saying. It’s a bit funny when I’m being mean about ugly fonts, because it’s true. They’re ugly. There’s a lot in Australia to tear down; a lot of our funny stuff centres on political satire – like James Colleys’s work on The Backburner, featured in this book, or Jane Rawson poking fun at Bob Brown. I also laughed when Andrew Denton made fun of Ted Talks, because Ted Talks and talking about Ted Talks deserves to be made fun of.
Sometimes funny stuff is the part of my brain that giggles “me too!” while I smirk at the page, like when I’m reading Lawrence Leung’s chapter, or some of Zoe Norton Lodge’s awkward experiences. Sometimes I don’t know if I like the whole but I definitely like the parts, like when Patrick Lenton writes, “God could tear Delta Goodrem’s rotten face right off her neck and God can’t even breathe on land.” Or when he names a character Jononothan and the bar Jononothan owns ‘Amy Beerhouse’. And sometimes, like in Patrick’s and Shaun Micallefs’s pieces, I laugh because it’s so weird and the imagery is so absurd and surreal and dumb that I just have to.
PULL QUOTE: We can’t all be Andrew Denton or Monica Dux for crying out loud.
Shaun Micallef is funny. We know this. He does lots of things that are considered comedy, by people of all generations. From my parent’s questionable impressions of his Milo Kerrigan character, to my brothers’ howling at Mad As Hell, he’s pretty funny in the ways Australians like our funny people to be. But in this book, on paper, his bizarre Rocky tale works better than a transcript of one of his performances. On the opposite side of that train of thought is the fact that we know Lee Lin Chin to be funny but she’s definitely not funny at her job. And yet the transcripts of her best tweets as featured in Best Australian Comedy Writing are hilarious. I don’t wanna toot my own horn but we do this in every issue of Funny Ha Ha, the funny thing I make, because tweets can be funny. Is it comedy? Is it writing? Can it be? It is, I have decided. And I like it, and it works, and you can all stop being snobs about it for like one second. We can’t all be Andrew Denton or Monica Dux for crying out loud. And Andrew Denton and Monica Dux are… comedy writers? Are they? What is a comedy writer? What even is comedy writing?
Earlier in the year I visited the US and spoke to Aussies abroad and US natives working in the ‘comedy-writing’ sphere. The basic idea I got was that there’s a career path for ‘comedy writers’ in the US that we don’t quite have here which defines ‘comedy writing’ as a type of writing, a ‘thing’, more than we can here in Australia. Sam Twyford-Moore wrote about the literature and comedy divide in Australia for The Guardian, (which you should read because it’s good, and because he name-drops me in The Guardian and people texted me about my name-drop in The Guardian like it was a big deal) and I think it has to do with the fact that in the US, comedians and funny writers can make money writing TV and movies and plays and books and articles that get published in places people have heard of – unlike Funny Ha Ha, which no one has heard of until now, when I took this chance to plug it for the third time in one article.
PULL QUOTE: Do we like funny books? Or do we just like Hughesy?
Look at all our comedy writing scene, and then look at McSweeney’s. Where’s our McSweeney’s? Do we like funny books? Or do we just like Hughesy? We like funny people, we like to laugh, but we don’t take it seriously because there’s no path. We can’t all be Sean or Kate & Kate or Kath & Kim. But Sean’s in this book, as are Andrews Hanson and Denton and they’re all on the telly, aren’t they? What does that mean? What am I trying to say? What is comedy? What is comedy writing? Where can we find it? This book, I suppose. Luke told me it was fifty per cent sourced from already published works, which is great, and fifty per cent commissioned works. Which is great if you’re Luke, and Affirm are smart enough to hire you to commission works – but where does this work go outside of this book? Obviously somewhere, these writers are working and writing and publishing all the time, but it’s probably not enough, I don’t think. Not because they’re not good and funny and talented but because we’re all looking at Hughesy.
James Colley is doing a good job with The Backburner, which I suppose is Australia’s answer to The Onion. Robert Skinner is featured in Best Australian Comedy Writing and also runs The Canary Press, a fantastic journal you should all buy. Liam Pieper is the new content director for Writers’ Bloc and is one of our best funny writers but I don’t know if he calls himself a funny writer. And of course, I’m a genius and am doing incredible things with Funny Ha Ha, the journal I’ve now successfully mentioned for the fourth time.
Can I say what’s funny at all? Why did The Lifted Brow ask me if this book is good – why would you listen to my opinion? Taste in books is as subjective as comedy, isn’t it? I make a comedy publication but why would anyone buy it if I choose all the content? Am I funny?
Regardless, they did ask me to review this book but instead I’ve just abused their graciousness by using them as a platform to talk about how this book relates to comedy in Australia and to plug my own humour journal, which is called Funny Ha Ha, if you missed it the last four times I mentioned it. I don’t know if it’s that’s the same thing as a review. And given everything I have just said, is a book about comedy even worth ‘reviewing’?
In Andrew Denton’s HED Talks piece, he writes:
“I want to hear a loud YES to each of these questions: Are you aware? Are you centered? Are you important?
Then say it after me. ‘I am self-aware. I am self-centred. I am self-important.’
Give yourself a round of applause then hug the person next to you.
Now kiss them on the lips.
Now stroke their inner thigh.”
He finishes with “Welcome to HED 2015!” because that’s what his piece was called. I will finish with “Welcome to my review of Best Australian Comedy Writing!” because that’s what this piece is called, and even though I answered almost none of the questions I posed, writing this review made me feel self-aware, self-centred, and self-important. And I would like someone to kiss me on the lips and stroke my inner thighs.
Today we are absolutely stoked to announce that we are plunging headfirst in the book publishing game, and that our first foray will be with one of our longtime and favourite contributors, Briohny Doyle. Her book — a debut novel for both her and us — will be yours to read in August 2016.
We’ve been publishing Briohny’s writing for several years — and we’ve been readers and fans of her work for much longer. That Briohny is trusting us with this phenomenal novel is something akin to a dream. We can’t wait to share the book with you.
Set in a not-too-distant future in which things are not so different. The energy crisis has come and gone, natural disasters are common, and cities have undergone rapid transformation. As Pitcairn Island sinks millimetre by millimetre into the Pacific, people go about their day-to-day lives with one eye on the newsfeed, wondering if today will bring The End.
Max’s relationships are disembodied, conducted on the screen. His marriage is theoretical. In conversation his children are situated, like warm fronts and wind warnings. His own childhood is lost in the static. The last relic of that time is his comatose brother Tom.
When sad-eyed neurologist Dr Gabriel Stern proposes a way to connect Max with his sleeping brother, he begins to explore the mysteries of inner space. In Max, Gabriel sees the possibility of a beautiful future in which painful memories can be easily altered or erased. In Gabriel, Max sees romantic subplot.
Soon all three are led to a suspiciously cinematic barn on the outskirts of civilisation, once home to drug cult ‘The Sleepers’. Max is required to draw a line between what’s real and what isn’t, and try and answer the ultimate question: what is love when all experience is really just electronic?
Panning from Prequel and Establishing Shot to Romantic Subplot and Action Sequence, slipping in and out of film conventions, Doyle’s novel raises questions about how we interpret narrative in our screen-saturated culture. A postmodern science fiction tale in the vein of Phillip K. Dick and Michel Houellebecq, it will find audiences in lovers of serious literature, those keen on experimental writing, fans of a gripping storyline, and people interested in the intersection between literature and film.
“The structure is adventurous, dense and poetic…I thought of Ballard’s imaginatively coherent, hard-edged, full-fledged imaginings.” —Luke Davies (Author of Candy and God of Speed) regarding Briohny Doyle’s forthcoming novel.
Briohny Doyle is a Melbourne-based writer and academic. She has published in The Lifted Brow, Overland, Going Down Swinging and Meanjin among others, and performed as part of the Sydney Festival and at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney. Her first book of nonfiction, Adult Fantasy (Scribe Publications, forthcoming in 2017), will explore the cultural underpinnings of adulthood. Her debut novel features multiple disaster sequences and will be published by The Lifted Brow in 2016.
“The Lifted Brow has been a supporter and publisher of my work for a long time — and they are also the home of many of my favourite writers. I am thrilled that they will be publishing my debut novel, and even more thrilled that there is now a place in the Australian publishing landscape for stray and undomesticated books.” —Briohny Doyle
Following the lead of terrific magazine and journal publishers who added book publishing into their scope, such as McSweeney’s, Granta, and Tin House, The Lifted Brow has for years been hoping to evolve similarly in Australia. The publication of Briohny Doyle’s debut novel signals this evolution has now begun. The Lifted Brow seeks to publish books that others won’t and don’t — looking to the thematic, stylistic and demographic margins for new works by writers seeking to challenge readers.
Thanks to an Australia Council ‘Early Careers Residencies’ grant, publisher Sam Cooney was able to undertake a residency with McSweeney’s Publishing in late 2014, in which he picked up skills, knowledge and industry contacts from one of the world’s most innovative publishers of magazines and books. This grant also supports the publishing of this first book.
Founded in 2007, The Lifted Brow is a quarterly magazine of writing and ideas. It publishes emerging writers and visual artists alongside some of Australia’s and the world’s most celebrated. Contributors have included names like Christos Tsiolkas, Helen Garner, David Foster Wallace, Neil Gaiman, Rick Moody, Karen Russell, Wayne Koestenbaum, Tom Cho, Douglas Coupland, Heidi Julavits, Tom Bissell, Tao Lin, Rebecca Giggs, Margo Lanagan, Jim Shepard, Frank Moorhouse, Anna Krien, Romy Ash, Margaret Atwood, Sam Lipsyte, Eileen Myles, Sheila Heti, Andrés Neuman, Angie Hart, Blake Butler and Benjamin Kunkel.
In cooperation with a local publisher, The Lifted Brow published an anthology in 2013 — a ‘best of’ the first five years of the magazine. Briohny Doyle’s book will be the first book published solely by The Lifted Brow.
Last week The Lifted Brow was awarded the ‘Best Non-Fiction’ prize at the Stack Awards in London — beating out many other renowned international titles.
According to America’s Most Wanted, “Around 3:00 a.m. on February 17, 2005, New York City transit workers found two suspicious bags alongside the track at the Nostrand Avenue station in Brooklyn.” In those bags was the body parts of Rashawn Brazell. His killer was never found.
I called his name but heard my own
come back. In the fog of my breath
a prayer like wool too worn out to warm.
How long does it take a city to discover
how to separate the dead from the soon-dead?
I cut from grief a frieze. Depicted: blood river
let loose for the why? Who’d recognize me
without a head? Fear didn’t have a face
to reveal. In the sinew, a raveling
truth: Osiris yet found—no one can teach how
the rest of us will speak without our mouths.
The rest of us will speak without our mouths.
Truth: Osiris yet found—no one can teach how
to reveal. In the sinew, a raveling
without a head. Fear didn’t have a face
let loose for the why?
Who’d recognize me?
I cut from grief a frieze. Depicted: blood river,
how to separate the dead from the soon-dead.
How long does it take a city to discover
a prayer like wool too worn out to warm?
Come back. In the fog of my breath
I called his name but heard my own.
Dear Ms. Brazell-Jones, In an interview, I heard you say
a woman knocked on your door to condemn you
and Rashawn to hell, to preach
about gay sin after your son’s death. Before
my grandfather died he said, You cannot love a god
that you fear. I want to but can’t apologize
for the blade of that woman’s faith, for every door
you enter but never exit.
as though to repair as though breakage as though
bone-absence required could be sutured by silver
glints brass and wrist turn a name unpuzzled
mind unpuzzles old technology flesh made artifact
unabbreviated though this evidence unevidenced found
distraction thrown out of the case of tools
as though a body gives its weight to sorrow so all
is needed for all the sorrow is it
so bad to sew shut a case with a clue
to borrow a screw here a plier there a bolt a case
needs answers needs to look deeper inside
a ruin no one can hold all of needs to
force light into where light cannot be missing
Dear Ms. Brazell-Jones, I love my brother who wasn’t a brother of mine.
Walking in an alley alone at night I bury my hands
in my pockets to appear brotherless, bordered
by the decay blowing from the stench.
To appear brotherless is to appear beyond help,
though you quoted Rashawn saying, No one
is beyond help. Some believe only the already-
destroyed are safe. I try to appear broken in order
to appear unbreakable, not worth further breaking.
Phillip B. Williams is the author of the book of poems Thief in the Interior (Alice James Books, 2016). He is a recipient of the 2013 Ruth Lilly Fellowship and is the poetry editor of the online journal Vinyl Poetry. Phillip will be the 2015-2017 Creative Writing Fellow in Poetry at Emory University.
Imaginations are just remembering all the things you’ve ever known and mixing them together in a special way that makes sense to you. The more of a variety of experiences you’ve had the more surprises you can pull out of your hat. People love surprises, even if they hate them at first. Sometimes the words don’t accurately convey what you really meant to say straight away, but you can still go about your business on a cloudy day.
That was a quote from a story I wrote about a friend in late 2009. At the time I was in the throes of a radical reordering of consciousness and unleashing of awareness. A major unplanned psychic overhaul and sensational chakratic explosion I dubbed The Party Within, but which could’ve been dubbed all manner of things from the perspective of an outsider looking on at my strange behaviour. Bipolar disorder, a spiritual awakening, losing the plot, discovering a whole new plot. Whether it is deemed lost or found depends on whether the plot is something you want to know about in advance or whether you prefer to intuit your own adventure page by page and invite chance to be a major player in your narrative to be.
Part of that process, which was set off by the idea to write a book about a sonic feminist art rock muse who had played a starring role in my early psychic evolution, involved rapid-fire boundary-blind blogging. Reverent but raw character vignettes about my friends teamed out onto the internet without any revision or permission sought on my part. I felt overwhelmed and electrified as they passed through me. Lyrical portraits were falling out fully formed, surprising me with their contents. I posted them without considering the confrontational nature of revealing my perspective on such personal matters in a public forum.
The intensity of my instinct could not be muzzled; intuition trumped all external cards. This both delighted and outraged members of my community and soon a barrage of other perspectives were in my inbox and being whispered about in my absence. Hushed concerns for my mental health were rife and slowly filtering back to me. Dialogue around the effects and ethics of such a reveal erupted, throwing me into apology and justification mode. Before long I removed the stories from the internet with a new understanding of the importance of consent.
To me, their message was clear. Embedded within the tales was my perspective on the skills and traits of a selection of deeply inspiring characters who had influenced the puzzle of my life in decidedly profound ways. Their combined knowledge and spiritual nous, when observed, heard, tasted, obsessed over, digested, and combined within my full body think-tank, had fused to unleash a mysterious cosmic master’s degree, that nobody recognised as valid yet except me.
I had innately attained the qualifications to speak out loud, which came in the form of an irrepressible impetus to do so. Lots of people inherently feel qualified to say what they reckon with forceful conviction but I have a tendency to whisper in multiple ears until I’m sure about the wording. Openly posting my heartfelt thoughts had stirred a number of emotional pots. In some cases the contents had splashed over the lip, burning others, which in turn burned me. The only salve was through communion. Not in a wafer and wine kind of way, but through deep discussion and sharing of perspectives.