Category: Musings

The Russell Brand Conundrum

Russell Brand troubles me.

I don’t find his comedy that funny, but I get the impression he’s incredibly intelligent – it just doesn’t seem like he uses his intelligence for good (jokes). Clearly he’s achieved exceptional things through his career and whatever he’s doing is working for him so maybe I need to stop being such a comedy snob. There’s a market for his jokes and he’s definitely capitalising on it.

Anyway after Amy Winehouse died he wrote a beautiful blog post about Amy and addiction. I read it at the time and stumbled across it again yesterday, I then continued to read more of his blog posts and was heartened. He’s got good things to say and potentially has an audience where he’s not just preaching to the converted but actually can exercise his influence to achieve more tolerance amongst his fans.


From one social network to another

Today, like every day, I logged into my facebook and aimlessly scrolled through my newsfeed. I defiantly blocked ads from a product I have no interest in and continued to read. At some point I came to an article posted by a guy 4 years my junior, from a place I’ve never been in middle America; who I met through my brother’s best friend from Kansas City, who lived with my family for a couple of months a few years ago.

Anyway he’d quoted an article from the new york times which discussed the social impact of health. That people tend to put weight on/lose weight in clusters, are happier in clusters, are lonelier in clusters, are smokers in clusters/quit smoking in clusters. This introduced me to the concept of social networks pre-facebook days. Anyway it was a very interesting read and another excellent of example of networks and nature and the interconnectedness of our existence. I highly recommend reading it, you can find it here.

Tavi Gevinson at Melbourne Writers’ Festival

Once upon a time I read through Tavi Gevinson’s Blog, Style Rookie from start to finish in about two days. That seems to be my consumption habits when it comes to blogs, once I’ve done that I rarely return to them to see what’s been contributed since. (Come to think of it it seems to be my consumption habit with chocolate bars too – the all in one go approach)

Anyway, I admire Gevinson, yes because as an 11 year old girl she became one of the most influential fashion blogs on the internet, but also because she can transform the generic traits that young women/girls view as flaws, into strengths. She also manages to express her ideas in valid and interesting ways while embracing her teenage traits. (who else could simultaneously talk about One Direction and her creative process and still manage to inspire)

Yesterday my facebook feed directed me to her keynote speech from the 2013 Melbourne Writers’ Festival and I watched it out of mild curiosity. I’m sure it’s not for everyone but I really enjoyed her exploration of creativity and navigating having a voice on the internet.

If you’re interested take a look. Tavi speaks well enough for herself so I won’t try to.

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Unsymposium Week 7 – Author’s mind

This week’s symposium left me with conflicting responses. Sometimes I feel like questions are being asked because they can generate lively discussion rather than that the answer is actually unknown to us. But then that leads me to wonder if I’m missing something and have oversimplified the material so much for myself, that I’m not venturing far enough into my thinking process over the material to discover the mysteries others see. So I can get frustrated by the things we’re discussing. I don’t dispute that they’re important to be discussed and we wouldn’t know the answers if the ideas were never explored though – so there’s my internal conflict right there and I come to the symposiums to give the format a chance and sometimes I do learn a new perspective and other times I hear the perspective I expect to hear, articulated in a more succinct way than I would be able to.

Yesterday I arched up at Adrian’s comment that writing is never an insight into an Author’s mind. Probably because I’m prone to protesting any absolute terms, or universal “truths”, but also because I do disagree. I don’t claim that author’s have any control over how their material is interpreted once they put it into the world, but I definitely believe there’s plenty of opportunity to convey vital aspects of one’s sense of self through writing, and that some of the readers will correctly interpret that, particularly if the author has a facility with language.

It is impossible to know someone completely because like Adrian said, we all have our unconscious minds that no one has access too. As human beings though, we crave connection and I do believe writing and reading can offer the opportunity to gain insights into the mind of the author as much as knowing your family or partner and understanding who they are is possible. Yes there’s a limit and I don’t claim that the insight possible is achieved 100% of the time or even 20% of the time.

I adore Stephen Fry. I watch QI religiously, I pour over his blogs, nothing delights me more than discovering a new youtube clip where I can listen to this man with this incredible mind. Recently he announced to the world that he’d tried to take his own life as recently as last year. He has been public about his mental health for many years but it’s easy to forget this brilliant man is undergoing a constant battle with his illness. He wrote this blog post to address both his illness, the experience and the reaction of the public. This piece is written to give his audience access into his mind and illness. No, it does not encompass him completely, but it does offer an insight.

The other thing that struck me about insights into the mind of the author is that writing is also a way to understand our own self and maybe the author offers an insight into his mind as much to himself as to his audience. Because it was subconsciously done does that make it less of an insight?

I remember studying Girl with a Pearl Earring in year 11 and hating every second of it because the text felt so contrived, metaphors so laboriously constructed and the feminist undertones so thoroughly explored in my all girls class. The year before we’d studied Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and that experience was life changing; I suddenly worried that I’d missed so much reading other books because I’d never read between the lines. I became consumed with wondering how many of the lessons To Kill a Mockingbird subtly provides were carefully constructed by Lee versus how many were arrived at by her subconscious mind. I digress. My point here is probably that there’s a spectrum and I will never know if the things I connect with in my favourite texts are an accurate reading of the author’s intent or if they’re reflecting my own state of mind and thought processes at the time, or, if both have fortuitously aligned.

So after all this rambling in response to Adrian’s comment I was left asking:

Really? It’s never an insight?

Does it have to be an absolute insight to be valid?

Can the Author not also gain insight into their mind in conjunction with the reader?

I did like Adrian’s discussion about treating texts as an object, that we are interpreting texts not authors and I think that is a valid distinction to make, but perhaps not mutually exclusive.

I also appreciated that context cannot survive with the text. What a succinct and valuable perspective to have gained! Leads me to another frustration of the constant debate over whether the “N word” should be removed from Mart Twain’s Huckleberry Finn. The reason this debate continues to thrive is because the context we read this book in has changed. I wont get into my opinions/frustrations about it.

I guess I have to concede that you cannot use someone’s work as a complete insight into their mind. I don’t know that many of us would ever claim you could if confronted with the question though.

Maybe all this is just an insight into how unwilling my mind is to accept absolute statements. Probably I’ve become a perpetrator of my initial complaint of discussing things we already know the answer to, and ok… sometimes maybe it’s necessary.

A Timely New York Post Article

There was a lot of talk at yesterday’s symposium about books and the future of literature that I think always strikes a chord with us book lovers because we fear we, and future generations will be robbed of that irreplaceable experience of connecting with a good book.

Then today I came across this article in the New York Post, and it very much tied in with the discussions yesterday. It seems to me that really what the problem is, is that we are living in a world that is obsessed with an aversion to risk. That if we can’t see the direct value of any undertaking then we’d probably better not pursue it and instead do something sensible. This overriding attitude then competes with my generation who is perhaps the first (or amongst the first) that’s grown up being told to “do what you love?”, “love you’re job” etc and has dared to believe that’s possible. As a mature aged student undertaking a second bachelor in a field that’s (tried and tested) pathways to career success are disappearing, with a brother rapidly approaching 30 who’s dared to try and make it as an artist, and another brother slogging away at a 9-5 job while quietly writing a novel in his spare time, I suspect my parents wouldn’t retract their advice but would really have liked it if we’d happened to love accounting or teaching or engineering or something with a little more stability. (To be fare my parents are very supportive and proud of all our ventures)

Anyway I digress. Some things that stood out to me from the article…

We do not always know the future benefits of what we study and therefore should not rush to reject some forms of research as less deserving than others.

I think this is particularly valuable to keep in mind for the study of humanities, but also that it is true of everything. How many major scientific discoveries have been a happy accident – a bi product of another venture? Ian Flemming discovered Penicillin because he accidentally left a Petri dish open over night… In no aspect of life can we simply decide something’s value because the benefits are not immediately visible.

Gopnik recounts an anecdote from Bill James in his article where James argues that in talking about whether baseball is really a business, and not a sport at all, that if the sporting interest in baseball died, baseball would die; but if the business of baseball died – but the sporting interest persisted, baseball would be altered, but it wouldn’t die. This is the crux of the future of Literature and books as a physical form, as more and more texts become available only in digital form, literature and our value of it may change and it may become more niche to read books in print, while a love of literature remains the book will power ahead.

If we abolished English majors tomorrow, Stephen Greenblatt and Stanley Fish and Helen Vendler would not suddenly be freed to use their smarts to start making quantum protonnuclear reactor cargo transporters, or whatever

The opportunity cost of these great minds dedicated to literature and literary pursuits is not often looked at rationally. What would these people be contributing to the world if not studying what they loved? It’s unlikely their skills would be transferable to the production of knowledge seemingly more “valuable” to society instead and in turn, we’d miss out on everything they’ve contributed to culture and discussion.

I can feel myself getting less and less coherent here but bare with me…

English departments democratize the practice of reading. When they do, they make the books of the past available to all. It’s a simple but potent act.

We live in an age where technology is progressing at an exponential rate. I have grown up to see music go from vinyl to mp3 in the space of my short lifetime. From having a dial phone to a touch screen and landlines becoming almost obsolete. Technology has brought us amazing things at such a rapid rate I think we are all a little prone to panic about what we’re losing because of it. However, as Gopnik says, books allow us to transport into worlds so far gone or so far imagined we could never experience those lives in reality. There’s nothing that can compete with that private experience of learning and connecting with humanity through literature through the quiet pass-time of reading. I think what we fail to remember through all this panic is that the things that matter and that we love will survive. For instance, I have had the privilege of living overseas at a few different times in my life, and you build friendships which are destined to exist in different timezones and cultures and across seas and as each experience comes to an end that familiar feeling of panic and fear that these people who have come to mean so much to you will suddenly be abolished from your life – however as each experience has taught me, the people who are really important will always make the effort and be worth the effort of keeping in touch, and the less important friends will make contact every now and then but in the end you naturally drift apart and that’s ok. So- i try to keep that little anecdote of life in mind when I find myself stressing about living in a world progressing too fast.

Gopnik talks about fellow English professors and their tireless pursuits and the best answer he’s ever heard to justify studying literature:

Why was he a professor of literature? “Because I have an obsessive relationship with texts.” You choose a major, or a life, not because you see its purpose, which tends to shimmer out of sight like an oasis, but because you like its objects

Again, back to my comment of “do what you love”, sometimes its as hard to justify our careers and obsessions as it is to put into words why you love someone. You can’t always identify the moving parts. Literature offers so much to the world, often different things unique to the individual; it’s a place for connection for the lonely, an porthole into another world for the inquisitive, an invitation into the mind of the brilliant, but we can’t see every event of added value that a piece of literature offers the world, just a cumulative love.

I will finish as Gopnik finished:

We need the humanities not because they will produce shrewder entrepreneurs or kinder C.E.Os but because, as that first professor said, they help us enjoy life more and edure it better. The reason we need the humanities is because we’re human. That’s enough





I don’t think I’m alone in feeling defeat very early in my creative process. I’ve had my successes in the past writing last minute scenes for Drama class or a 21st speech for a friend in the middle of the night on a ferry in Greece-which has led me to nurture some inherent belief that my best work comes when cognitive thought has a minimal role to play; that I should wait for inspiration/sleep deprivation/the panic of a deadline to strike. Instead of sitting down and taking the risk of producing something inconsequential or poorly written or tragically predictable in the privacy of a journal, I instead study the process of others as if that alone will enable me to achieve my wildest creative dreams.

That being said, there are some valuable lessons from the masters. As a huge Monty Python fan, John Cleese’s lecture on creativity served me some home truths. Truths that I consistently found in other commentary on the creative process. 1. Creativity requires time, time to play, without a specific end goal or a need to create anything of value. 2. You have to be willing to fail. There’s no more consistent trait amongst those I’ve admired and researched than a willingness to embrace the vulnerability to fail and use it as the most significant stepping stone to success.

I am still at a stage where I find the fear of failure crippling. Particularly in the public eye, no matter how small the arena of exposure. So I am going to use this blog as an opportunity to challenge my self and to willingly publish posts that may be unimpressive, vapid creations, because I know that to get where I want to be I need to produce, produce, produce and learn from and through the process.

If you’d like a little creativity inspiration of your own check out Cleese’s lecture here

Another simple (and short) look at creativity and taking the time to play can be found here




A Favourite TED Talk

I am a frequent visitor to the TED website. Last year I spent my year living overseas and working full time as a waitress which left much to be desired on the intellectual stimulation front. Enter TED.

One of my favourite talks in Ken Robinson’s Schools Kill Creativity, which explores how the education system is structured to produce one very specific type of intellect. Robinson says in the talk something to the tune of “If we really thought about it, the education system’s main goal is to produce academics”. It seems to me that the education system is so geared towards producing a standardised student, and that the risk of straying from the traditional model and jeopardising a student’s ability to thrive in society is so great in the eyes of the institution, that we are really losing an opportunity to maximise the skills of the individual.

I know that amongst my friends, we all have very different conditions under which we thrive as students, thus my distress at the seeming trend towards max standardisation.

That being said, Robinson’s talk is one of the most viewed on TED so maybe there’s hope for us all yet. Take a look for yourselves.