reading // reading // reading

Little Golden Books Frankie 2014

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I’m not always reading. I wrote a piece for Meanjin about this. I also gave anecdotes to the ABC about self-doubt recently. I answered these questions for Hobart’s Weekend of Reading festival last year. Dig.

Library tagQ: What is a book that everyone should read?

Maus by Art Spiegalman. It’s a graphic novel about the holocaust by the cartoonist who used to do the Garbage Pail Kids trading cards from the 1980s. It teaches you about everything that is relevant in our modern world – in case you need some perspective – which you probably do (no offence).

Q: If you could save one book in a fire, what would it be?

My original pressing of Grug and the Rainbow. Ted Prior made only five copies with an actual rainbow inside. That guy is next level.

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Q: What are you currently reading?

The blurbs of several books in my friends’ bookcase including Extinction. Seriously, who would read a book that’s all internal monologue and no paragraphs (sorry Tom Doig x). Gee you ‘readers’ are suckers for punishment. I got the Karl Ove Knausgaard cookbook and it was 1000 pages of his memories of soup. I don’t read so many books these days but I do like settling into middle age by enjoying the weekend papers.

Want more fun? I delivered further witted insights about my bookish behaviour to Brunswick Bound here. I read out my grade seven diary in the seventh episode of the Get Up Mum radio series. What have you!

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“On my bed is a new pillow case and matching doona cover which has lots of crazy padded squares in green and white and pink paisley. I have a dark brown wood veneer bedhead with bedside table and three drawers attached. On the bedside table is an old style silver reading lamp and my ‘P’Jammer’ clock radio that used to be Mum’s. There’s also my new Korg guitar tuner and the book Michael and the Secret War which I have to finish and return to the library by next week. I’m really enjoying it.Michael and the secret war

It’s about a boy whose mirror cracks and from then on his life is in turmoil. Strange creatures come and visit him and he unintentionally gives them his help. He gets messages from the ‘enemy’ asking him to stop helping. In the end he helps the friends to win the secret war. I reckon I’ll give it nine out of ten.”

Taken from the first draft of Get Up Mum. 

Michael and the secret war review

MY REVIEW FOR ONE OF THE LAST THINGS I READ:
KENNETH COOK’S WAKE IN FRIGHT

204 pages – feels like a short read.

School teacher goes on a dark bender in an Australian desert town.

Mood: Hot, dark and claustrophobic. The hazy mash of inebriation. Trapped in a car with foul men. Face to face with a stabbed kangaroo. 9781921922169

Best sentence: Things half remembered and terribly feared, shrieked at him; tears of mystic terror rimmed his eyes.

Original review: “A classic novel which became a classic film. The Outback without the sentimental bulldust. Australia without the sugar coating.” Robert Drewe

Funfact: A keen amateur lepidopterist, Cook established the first butterfly farm in Australia on the banks of Sydney’s Hawkesbury River in the 1970s.

Best Australianism: “What the blazes…”

Suggested food pairings: Overdone steak from a hot bonnet. Lashing of cold beer.

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SOME OF THE BEST BOOKS I CAN REMEMBER READING

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A Heartbreaking Work Of Staggering Genius // Dave Eggers (Came through the uni magazine pigeon hole when I was twenty and basically influenced how I write.)

220px-Space_Demons_front_coverSpace Demons // Gillian Rubinstein (Came through the primary school library pigeon hole and took me inside an Amstrad and influenced how I problem solve.)

A Confederacy Of Dunces // John Kennedy Toole (Gotta be the funniest book I’ve ever read. Cannot look at a hotdog.)

Lolly Scramble // Tony Martin (Followed closely by Sir Tone. Fab book cover!)

On Chesil Beach // Ian McEwan

Freedom // Jonathan Franzen
He was like the new Eggers for me.

I Never Promised You A Rose Garden // Hannah Green (A brill book about schizophrenia which was always sitting mysteriously on the bookshelf at Nan & Pop’s. The girl on the cover gave me my biggest ethereal crush since The Childlike Empress.)d5544cb036f17cb7b2b8fc8bdd6ca66a208bd461

Life After God // Douglas Coupland (Catherine Duniam recommended this. I cried massively at one point. One of those big ones that taps into your locked up late 20s melancholy.)

Maus // Art Spiegelman (Similarly. That last page panel reduced me to liquid form. It didn’t help that the girl in it was called Anja.)

The Sense Of An Ending // Julian Barnes

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time // Mark Haddon

1984 // George Orwell (A documentary, non?)

Lolita // Vladimir Nabokov (I did think at the time it was the best written book I’d ever read.)

Bridge To Terebithia // Katherine Paterson (Also one of the last books I had read to me. There was much talk at Parklands High School about how much Miss Stones cried when she got up to that bit.)

The Journey // John Mardsen (Read to us by Ms Moore in Grade Nine. She refused to vocalise the infamous ‘barn scene’ and said we had to read pages 57-59 ourselves. Incidentally, I absolutely dug the Tomorrow When The War Began series but forgot to read the last one and now I can’t remember what happened. Shit.)s-l1600

Chronicles, Volume One // Bob Dylan

The Big Sleep // Raymond Chandler (A lovely gift! I really dig the writing style. Probably my favourite book cover.)

Tess of the d’Urbevilles // Thomas Hardy (Did I enjoy it? They made us read it in high school. Essay hint: The weather reflects her outlook.)

To Kill a Mockingbird // Harper Lee (yessum)

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close // Jonathan Safran Foer

Grug and the Rainbow // Ted Prior (A metaphor for…everything.)

Strawberry Hills Forever  // Vanessa Berry (My favourite Australian author and retro-genius. Seek out her recent output!)

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The Bus Driver Who Wanted to be God & Other Stories // Etgar Keret (A very funny, clever dude. Recommended to me by Vanessa.)

Honourable mentions to Christopher Pike, Anna Krien, J.D. Salinger, Enid Blyton, Nicole Krauss, the Fighting Fantasy series & David Foster Wallace (Mainly for his essay Ticket To The Fair in which the greatest writer of our time reviews the US equivalent of the Burnie Show.)

Last book I technically read? Maybe The Circle by Dave Eggers. I thought it was fine. Or Follyfoot Farm by Monica Dickens as part of my Get Up Mum research (Mum always had it lying around). Research also included Where’s Morning Gone by Barney Roberts, the only other memoir I know set in the north-west coast of Tasmania. I remember it was a big deal for Nan and Pop in the late 1980s. Someone had come along and painted their childhood.

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Hey, I’m not the only one not reading!

(Taken from Guardian interview with Etgar Keret 2019):

What’s the last really great book that you read?

I’m usually honest in my writing and less honest in interviews, but I can tell you that for the past year, I didn’t read any book, which is the first time since I went to first grade.

Why was that?

My wife and I were working on a very demanding TV series, a project that demanded relocation and that we direct in French, when we don’t speak French, so all in all it was a very overwhelming experience. It took a lot of my inner space.

This year, I’ve been doing something that – if we talk about changes in humanity – all humanity’s been doing, but I guess I gave myself a very good alibi. Whenever I wanted to delve into a book, I would go and watch a Netflix series instead; I must say for pure laziness, because I think the big difference between a TV or film and reading a book is that reading a book demands creativity from you, because you need to imagine things and you need to create them in your mind. And I felt so drained at the end of the day that I wanted somebody else to think out how the characters look.

As a child, were you a keen reader?

From the moment I started writing, I read less. I think reading was a way of widening the world in which I lived, and that the moment I started writing I found a different way to widen it. So I would alternate between writing such a reality or reading such a reality.

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what are you lookin’ at 🙂

I am sorry this is happening to you

I’m a writer with anxiety and have been self-isolating for a while. I’ve got a rolling start on this like Daytona. Don’t get me started on performing with no one in the audience.

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Whisper-out to all my mentally ill friends; those with anxiety and depression. The melancholic and broken. Perhaps it’s easier to be calm in a crisis when your entire life has been a crisis. Lean into the rollercoaster, one day at a time.

You are always stronger than you think.

You are always stranger than you think.

A brief history of the Rhythm Of The Night YouTube (as provided by Nate Vic 6 days ago):
“Comments be like:
2000-2013 – wow still an amazing song
2013-2020 – GTA V brought me here
2020 – CORONAVIRUS!!!”

Godspeed. There’s no panic in pandemic. Y’know, in a way it feels like we’ve been here before. Not at least referring to the general sense of ‘end times’ catastrophising. I wrote my first ever Frankie column about it called The World’s Fucked in 2007. For a long time it was the #4 thing people typed into google to find my website.

Go meditate. Folded Hands on JoyPixels 5.5

Surf City ’93

The Summer of 1993 in Tassie was turning out to be cool. For starters, Uncle Nigel had rocked up from the mainland to visit Nan & Pop for six weeks. He was the family member I knew the least but was growing to like the most. He was friendly, sporty and above all, a crack up. With my own popcorn humour warming up we cackled and sputtered over impressions of cricket commentators and family bloopers while fostering a mutual appreciation for T-bone steaks and Pearl Jam’s Ten cassette.

Meanwhile, come Christmas morn there was a bag of happy spuds at my feet. Santa always left his ‘sack’ in the form of an empty pillowcase which by morning was filled with all manner of toys, treats and trinkets. My 7am ritual was to sit up and savour the radically logoed array of bouncy balls, cricket cards, furry friends and glow-in-the-dark anything. This time there was a mothership in the middle – a hefty box with a flying child on the front. Cowabunga dudes! It was my very own waterslide!

Last summer, a backyard waterslide had meant Pop rustling up a huge sheet of black tarpaulin from the garage while Nan applied a combination lather of laundry powder and hose water. Plusses were Nan and Pop’s naturally sloping keyhole-shaped lawn while minuses included
“scratchiness.” I noted the lack of a backstop – instead of ending up in a pool I tumbled arse-over-head into Nan’s marigolds.

Nah, this was a ramp up. Santa had delivered. A sun kissed, professional fun kit! This was the state of the art ‘Surf City’ waterslide system. Like any board game, you knew it was guaranteed coolness from the picture of the kid getting serious air via the Wahoo Bump™ technology (a long inflatable cushion halfway down the slide.) Liquefying the graffiti-art mat was the Bonzai Pipeline™ sprinkler design. By golly was my pulse racing, and not just from the gold chocolate coins I’d scoffed.

Waterslides (along with computers and fireworks) had always been one of my favourite things. I lived in the industrial township of Burnie on the North-West coast. Half an hour away was the colossal twisty tower of the Ulverstone waterslide. This spiralling tubeway filled my chest with buzzy delight whenever our yellow Beetle approached. I usually went with my best friend Nick. We wore our silky Adidas ‘Enforcer’ shorts for extra speed and went in pairs, slalom style, to get the maximum height in the turns.

With only a few days left of the already memorable Summer holidays, Uncle Nige and I set up Surf City. My fingers met the satisfaction of smooth factory plastic, folded as crisp as Nan’s bedsheets. The biggest buggar was the Bonzai Pipeline, which ended up being a tangle of tiny yellow hoses hell-bent on kinking. The impatience of tangled Christmas lights met the improbability of stretching a water bomb over the fat nozzle of Nan and Pop’s rainwater tank. After busting Nigel’s smokers lungs blowing up the Wahoo Bump, we finally had the chequerboard fluro orange and yellow F R E E S T Y L E slide assembled.

It was officially “Time to Boogie ®.”

With sprinkler mist casting faint rainbows over roses, I removed my glasses and began sprinting for the sleek Hammer Pants runway. This test pilot was wearing nothing but Piping Hot parachute shorts and a squint-eyed smile. I buckled my knees and sailed my arms as tum met warm slippery plastic with a playful “oof.” My face burst the spray like Kernahan through a Carlton banner as my legs floated skywards like a dutiful carriage.

For a moment I was air born. Like my favourite TV helicopter, Airwolf. Justin Marcus! Only child of Mum (still lying on the bed). A thoughtful, clever Gemini, about to start high school. So much worry on those shoulders, but here I was shirtless and sun surfing – just another blond kid on the box. Uncle Nigel stripped off and even though he was a fully grown man with a hairy chest and equally poor vision as myself, he reduced himself to brilliant-kid level, scampering in with the same glee he bowled spin in backyard cricket.

With Nan watching on and yelling gentle encouragement from the swing seat, we tag teamed the backyard strip and became the undisputed champions of radical water sports. Only when our slap-happy stomachs could take no more did we stroll in under the translucent blue afternoon. With feet cooling on bathroom tile, I towelled off the goose bumps. It was the end of holidays and I’d had my fill of play.

Justin Nigel waterslide

Ulverstone waterslide!

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Published in The Big Issue #603, Jan 2020.

GRAMMAR ADVICE: ‘Blond’ VS ‘Blonde’
The word originally came into English from Old French, where it has masculine and feminine forms. As an English noun, it kept those two forms; thus, a blond is a fair-haired male, and a blonde is a fair-haired female.

 

Self Interview for Three Thousand (2014)

Justin: Justin, what were you hoping to achieve with Funemployed?

Justin: I felt backed into a corner, like an injured possum, during 2012. The whole Northcote hipster thing kind of backfired, and I felt pigeonholed. There really is power in obscurity for a control-freak artist, believe it or not. You can dictate how you are perceived a little more. Anyway, I basically wanted to be a social suicide bomber, strapping a truth-bomb to myself and detonating it – essentially destroying the professional ‘façade’ of my Bedroom Philosopher name. I felt I was being misunderstood on two fronts. A) people thought I was some judgmental coolsie, when in fact I’m also a semi-sweet-natured, oversensitive mental from Tasmania and b) people thought I’d ‘made it’ when in fact I was $20, 000 in debt and in a terrible rut from over-performing.

Funemployed acted as an emotional audit to both give my own side of the story (a memoir is essentially a self-interview) and hopefully create a document that could empower artists and educate society at large about the maelstromic labyrinth of volatile, fragile ingredients that goes into an art practice in Australia. Or thereabouts.

Justin: Ha ha (laughs.)

Justin: Quiet, minion.

Justin: Did you just call me an onion?

Justin: Typo.

Justin: So, did Funemployed feel dangerous to write?

Justin: Oh, most definitely. I felt like I was breaking several taboos. This included things like ‘you’re not allowed to complain as an artist.’ I guess this is part of why I was feeling disempowered. It’s like, okay, now you’ve made it, you’re on Triple J, your head is everywhere, so like, shut up now! You’ve had your time. Fame felt like a taboo subject – and when I was interviewing other artists, I could tell they were uncomfortable talking about fame and even said “you sound like a wanker talking about it” – which is the ultimate catch twenty-two. (You’re arrogant if you acknowledge it, ungrateful if you don’t). Writing about bitterness was especially exciting. We often hear about artists being depressed, but rarely explore the violently competitive parts of our nature. The Australian arts scene is negative and bitchy – well, I’ve often perceived it that way. I thought if I volunteered myself at ‘Snarkaholics anonymous’ it might liberate others to do the same.

I think the general public aren’t ready for the concept that being an artist is actually a lot of quite dull, hard work and often not particularly “fun”. Reality TV really slams that Hollywood idea of ‘overnight success’ and other fairytales we know and grew up with. The reality couldn’t be further from the truth, so I really felt like I was writing a kind of anarchists manifesto on the arts. You know how Lars Von Trier started the Dogme 95 collective, which had their own set of rules of how movies should be made? I was applying my own ‘ultimate truth’ doctrine. I feel like in Australia we’re often so damn worried about what people think of us that it discourages people from saying what they really think. We also have an aversion to being ‘too serious’ – so as someone who is mostly seen as a comedian, it felt satisfyingly edgy to be as earnest as I saw fit.

Justin: Do you think irony has come so full circle that earnestness is the only natural conclusion?

Justin: (Laughs) Yeah, I do in a way. I think irony has kind of lost its meaning – or we’ve gone so far past the feedback loop that we’ve lost our moral compass or something. Funemployed is a kind of artistic ‘reset’ button. Reminding us that we’re just blood and guts and water and sadness and happiness. You can have all the gifs and hashtags and apps and distractions you like – but at the end of the day we have terrifying dreams and we cry with the fleeting beauty of our own improvised, imprisoned lives.

Justin: It seems like Funemployed is about celebrating failure, in a way.

Justin: Certainly. It’s protesting against the tyranny of glam and positivity on the internet. As theatre-maker Tim Spencer says in the book, “Failure is something we have to live with. As artists, I think we exist outside the dominant paradigm of our society.” Being an artist is a philosophy, or almost a religion as much as it’s a job. It comes with its own set of ideals. Art has crawled into bed with advertising. We are being called brands. Neoliberalism is trying to strip-mine us of our context and our identity. We’re under threat of being snubbed out or made irrelevant! It’s time to fire up and fight back. Funemployed is my little warcry, with jokes.

Justin: I love you.

Justin: I love you too.

Decades of the decade (2010-2019)

1. The 90s (Millennial girls dress like my friends’ Mums in high school. Double J, the Harvest Festival of radio stations.)

2. The 80s (Stranger Things / Glow / Arpeggiated synth bonanza.)

3. The 60s (Never left! 50 year mooniversary & The Beatles on Spotify mate.)

4. The 70s (Influenced the 90s so get a double comeback. Ariel Pinko yacht rock whippersnappers like Drug Dealer sound like 10cc.)

5. The 00s (Thanks for reality TV (you can have it back now) / BoJack Horseman’s 2007 episode.) Let the Myspace nostalgia begin!

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Weekend of Reading Hobart

JH Backyard shot 2019 LO RES Shannyn Higgins

photo: shannyn higgins
  • Get Up Mum is discussed at length in this Readings Bookshop podcast.
  • I’ll be yarning up a storm with good pal Elizabeth Flux about mental health and Get Up Mum biz at the Weekend of Reading festival in Hobart Oct 12.
  • I’ll make a cameo at the Mental Health Week Comedy Roadshow Oct 11 at the Hobart Brewing Company
  • Get Up Mum is discussed at length on cool new 90s TV Show THE BOOK ZONE! Cool dude.

Life Flux

 

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  • There are signed copies of Get Up Mum + Funemployed available on my shop.
  • Following the success of the Get Up Mum radio show, it may be developed into a one-man theatre show. 12 year old me will be played by me or Shane Jacobson.
  • I’ll be presenting the book at a forum for Mental Health Carers Tasmania in Glenorchy, as you do.

You know, completing a project as dense and intense as Get Up Mum sure does have you falling into a light to moderate ‘empty underground carpark’ of self. Also, for much of this year I’ve been in Burnie caring for Mum who has rheumatoid arthritis. Suffice to say, I arrive back on the mainland a little light-on for personal infrastructure.

Now I’m on the road for an abode in Melbourne. If you happen to have any tips on a spare room / holiday shack / granny flat / mountain villa for a weary writer to dwell – feel free to electronic mail.

While I’m there (here, everywhere) – I am also interested in some 2-3 day a week work activities. Perhaps your swingin’ online hydroponic brewery / nursery / children’s organic zine workshop is seeking additional funky gen-x’s to write the world’s tightest copy for your social integration platforms. Or, I can make a mean iced milo with almond milk and no milo.

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MODELLING
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Finally, my exquisite, delicate goal in the forthcoming future is to pursue my ‘Sensitive Beck’ esque songs. I’ve been writing them since I was 16 but recorded zilch. Nick Drake, Radiohead, Kings of Convenience et al – If anyone is interested to record or (stop) collaborate (and listen) and has a mean set of fingerpicking / vocal harmonising tendencies – or digs on a particular open mic / songwriter variety showcase to get the ernie ball rolling, make yourself known to staff at my reception counter.

WATCH THIS SPACE (message to self).
*Stares into middle distance. Assumes best*

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