Archive for June, 2010

The damage begins with thought

And all flows out from there:

It’s not about brains or brawn

Or who has the greater care

When it comes to rocking a cradle;

Somewhere, somebody thought

That half of all children born

Across the face of the earth

Were less than the other half

If one day, they could give birth.

Strength doesn’t lead to intelligence,

But that’s where the fight ends up.

Inside, out and back again:

All of history’s well-heeled gents,

Passing the brandy, swilling the cup.

Surely the differences of flesh

Would matter less, or not at all,

If we understood what they really meant;

Two separate halves of a whole;

The having of thoughts, and their worth

Are disconnected from tasks

To which our bodies are suited:

That nude electricity, the driving spark

That fuels us – that is the point.

Peel off the candy-wrapper skins,

The weight that asks

We all be store-bought mannequins

And study the pilot-light:

Humanity, always sculpting fire,

Brave in the sentient night.

The directions we forbid ourselves

Through fear, not love

Are made in monstrous shapes:

We try to draw

A smile on the wreck of centuries

And make it a jackanapes

But even greasepaint rebels

At the push-and-shove.

We are not fools

To fix what was wrong before –

Now step aside, you ancients.

Open the door.



Note: The above was roughly inspired by this hideous article in today’s SMH, wherein columnist Bettina Arndt worries that Australia’s unmarried, female Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, will corrupt the Youths Of Today with her de facto lifestyle. Clearly, I was not impressed.

So, as per the ancient prophecies, by which I mean yesterday’s post, The Key to Starveldt now constitutes some form of finished product. I have completed my changes, read over the whole thing, and am feeling confident enough to pass it over to the eagle eyes of my publisher and editor. I do not have a release date, but you may now rest assured, dear readers, that Things Are In Motion. Huzzah!

That would be the good news. The bad is more of a rantish thing and completely unrelated to the above, so unless you share my rage at the current team of morons responsible for marketing Vegemite, feel free to leave class early.

Now, look. I have about as much native brand loyalty as the next person, which is a fancy way of saying that I am disinclined to making informed decisions about irrelevant shit. By and large, I do not care about ad campaigns, but seeing as how I am both a lazy mammal and prone to the influence of subliminal messages, there are doubtless times when my purchasing one brand of toilet paper or pasta sauce or whatever has less to do with the price and everything to do with the fact that I’ve heard of it before. If the product doesn’t entirely suck, I’m likely to buy it again – but then, the same is equally true of something I’ve tried and enjoyed, but never seen advertised. At base, humans are conservative creatures. We might like a wide variety of products from which to choose, but in reality, that only allows us to feel superior about our choices when money isn’t a factor in making them, and relieved that there’s a lower-cost option when it is. (For an interesting assessment of this phenomenon, I recommend you look here.)

For me, the main reason I try new brands at the supermarket has to do with money. If I see something cheap that appears to fulfill the same function as the more expensive item I originally reached for, chances are I’ll give it a shot. But, like it or not, there are a few instances in which I find myself buying the costlier product simply because of some wrongheaded, ingrained notion of its betterness. This is called brand loyalty, and for me – and, I suspect, most people – it manifests in the conscious mind as the end result of a skewed cost/benefit analysis. The logic goes like this: I know that the more expensive product is good, or at least, not so bad that I’ve stopped buying it, which has lead to an unresearched belief that what makes it good cannot possibly be duplicated at a lower price without a significant loss of quality. However, I am unwilling to test this theory on the offchance that it turns out to be right, because in the event that it is right, I will have wasted good money proving something I already knew. If I am wrong, then ignorance is bliss, and I am still getting something useable for my dosh. If the product is one I’ve been exposed to for a long enough period of time – like, for instance, the Australian institution that is Vegemite – then my brand loyalty is all the stronger. Stupidly so, because familiarity does not equal quality, but stronger nonetheless.

Not so long ago, there was webwide furor over Kraft’s blunder-slash-publicity-stunt with the iSnack 2.0, which occurence had me grining my teeth with frustration. It’s not that I spend large amounts of time lounging around and thinking about how marvellous Vegemite is, but the whole thing was so ludicrous that it was hard not to feel as though the global human intelligence had somehow been insulted, regardless of whether the move resulted from idiocy or base cunning. And then I found myself in the UK, where Marmite is plentiful and not at all frowned on as some kind of  usurper, and realised that actually, not only was it cheaper, it was also just as good. I mean, salty yeast product? How the fuck can Kraft have a monopoly on that? It’s not like there’s a secret Goddam recipe. The stuff is basically edible tar.

So when we came home to Oz, I went to the supermarket. I ignored the Vegemite and bought a jar of its cheaper, equally-as-delicious cousin. Exchanging one brand loyalty for another might not seem like the most momentous event in the world, but the thing is, I didn’t realise that was what had happened until just now, when I saw a rerun of this 2009 article, wherein the phrase “the new Vegemite experience” was used without irony to describe the original iSnack fiasco. And I thought, what the fuck, Marketing Guys? Foodstuffs are an experience now? Are they fucking really?

As a direct result of which, I have decided never to buy Vegemite again. In fact, I’m tempted to forego Kraft products completely! Because while my passive consumer hindbrain is mostly content to putter along on its own, there comes a point at which the idiocy of any one marketing department causes me to lose all faith in humanity. I have now reached that point, and damned if my hard-earned dollars aren’t better directed towards a product whose corporate engineers have not so blatantly assumed me to be a moron.

So, now I have a new consumer choice to feel smug about. I believe there’s phrase occasionally used to describe this phenomenon – something about cycles and visciousness, I wasn’t really paying attention – but I’m pretty sure it started life as part of an anti-dryer campaign organised by the Hills Hoist Liberation Army. Bastards.

Alright. So. I haven’t exactly been blogging recently, what with The Stuff being sort of busy, and as I refuse to become one of those bloggers who only updates to lament their lack of appropriate updates, I’ve basically been keeping my type-mouth shut until such time as I have (a) something relevant to say and (b) time enough in which to say it. By way of relevancy to this approach, I have spent all day working on The Key to Starveldt, and am literally a hairsbreadth away from finishing my edits, which I will read over tomorrow, and thereinafter dance the dance of writerly accomplishment, which I’m pretty sure is code for Eat Curry And Watch Action Movies. But! Tonight, there has been a Thing, in the form of Controversy On Steph Bowe’s Blog, which can be found here.

Now, for those of you who are too lazy to follow that link, or who might appreciate an external summary in any case, the key of the brou-ha-ha is this: that Steph is a 16-year-old author. Her first book is being released in September this year, and, as might reasonably be expected, she tends to blog about it, as well as other things. The above post was sparked by negative comments here, wherein some of her bloggy remarks were discussed sans context, and which, not unsurprisingly, have prompted her to ask her readers for their take on the situtation. Which I have now chosen to do, here, rather than clog up her comments page. Obviously.

The quote that caused the contention goes as follows:

“I’m 16. I got a book deal when I was 15. There are authors that were published at 13 and 14 and I always find myself thinking, God, must I fail at everything I do? They were published younger than me!”

Now, I remember reading this when Steph first blogged it and thinking, ‘Shit! I know exactly what she means.’ Because although I am talking to you from the year 2010, when, as a 24-year-old married woman with one published novel and a second (see above) that I am on the brink of handing over to my publisher, there was a time, readers – not so long ago, even! – wherein I was eleven, writing a fantasy story for children and feeling absolutely convinced that if said manuscript was not on shelves before I turned thirteen, then I was doomed to failure. Because writers are self depricating that way, and in order to get absolutely anything done, we must set ourselves arbitrary – often crazy! – deadlines. Note that this makes us Interesting People, and not at all mad. No sir. *Snorts into wineglass.*

Let me also state, for the purposes of absolute accuracy, that said manuscript was never published. Probably it has been relegated to the farthest reaches of my Documents folder, there to wither and die like a winter mango. But the point is, all writers are intimidated by other writers, and doubly so by the prospect of anyone getting the drop on them, publication-wise. This, ladies and gentlemen, is what we might colloquially refer to as a fact. In this sense, it does not matter if you have wanted to be a writer since you were six or only made the decision on your sixtieth birthday: as in all creative endeavours, we carry around with us the fear that we are not good enough; that someone, somewhere will beat us to the punch; and, worst of all, that someone younger – more untried, with fewer years invested in making such a difficult career work – might land their book on shelves ahead of us. Don’t lie, writers: each and every one of us thinks we’re special, and even though we yearn to meet fellow wordsmiths, there is always that moment of tension, a sizing-up in which we determine the likelihood of their talents surpassing our own, and try to gauge how jealous we should be.

Yes, I can see how, to someone who is in their thirties and as-yet unpublished, the idea of a teenager lamenting that they weren’t signed to an agency at a younger age might read as the punchline to a very bitter, very personal joke. But that same person would also be equally within their rights to land over here at Shattersnipe, assuming they’d ever heard of Foz Meadows – which, granted, is unlikely – and bitch about how unfair it is of me, a twentysomething, to be anything but utterly one hundred percent super-duper all the time grateful for having a book on shelves. But somehow, that resentment doesn’t carry quite as much weight, does it? Because as least I’ve put in the hours. At least I’ve suffered for my art, or something equally Goddam pretentious.

Look: every writer wishes they could be published tomorrow. The publication process is not easy, and it is not always fair. Sometimes, it can feel like creative masochism. But one neither gains nor loses writerly cred contingent upon the age at which they were published. Some adult writers are awful! So are some teens! The envy we feel on hearing of someone younger producing a book has nothing to do with the quality of their work, and everything to do with how long therafter we imagine they will have to ply their trade uninterrupted by such mundane necessities as Other Jobs and Paying The Rent and Everything That Does Not Involve Being An International Writing Superstar. Which is ludicrous, when you consider that the average annual income for an Australian author is $13,000. Thirteen-effing-thousand. OK? I once worked at a cafe for ten bucks an hour washing dishes, and probably earned a better yearly wage than that. Take out the few top earners after whom the rest of us lust, our canine tongues lolling against the hot pavement, and maybe the statistic gets a little better, but ultimately, we write because we love to write, because the words are in us to be told, and if we do not get them on paper, then there is a distinct possibility that we will implode. As my favourite teacher once pointed out during a friendly exchange of ideas, anyone who claims that they would happily do this without pay, forever, is lying – or at least, they are not quite telling the whole truth. If stories are truly a part of you, then the money doesn’t matter. Telling them is just a thing you will do, in odd corners of the day, forever, no matter that the world is slowly eating your soul. But not a one of us would turn down payment for the privilege of doing so, were it offered to us. And, as in all creative industries, writers worry that their Great Work will be kept out in the cold, not because it lacks merit, but because some other upstart, talentless johnny has stolen their shelving space.

Where am I going with this? Oh, right: teenage writers. Yes. The point being, we are all fearful of the Young Turks Usurping Our Dreams. At least in terms of maturity, we feel there must be a cut-off point for publishable works, which is understandable – a point below which there are no junior competitors –  but in reality, that fear is native to our profession, and not to our age bracket. If it were impossible to get published at any age other than thirty, naysayers would still show up on the blogs of their aspirant peers and question whether or not they had, as it were, The Goods. Because tying writerly cred to the age of publication, and trying thereby to dismiss the achievements of younger writers as publicity stunts, is essentially an exercise in ignoring actual talent – perhaps more understandably, it is also a way of coping with the apparently random machniations of the publishing industry. We want to believe there is some reason why our book is not yet a household name, while Jimmy Unknown Teen has been signed to write a trilogy. As a teenage writer, I used to feel an uprising of brute despair every time my considerate and well-meaning father would point me towards a newspaper article lauding the success of some teenage author or other. What he was trying to say was, you can do it, too! but all I heard was, you haven’t done it yet, and what’s more, they’ve got there first, which makes your eventual success seem that much more unlikely. Self-depricating, yes, but also honest. It’s that fear factor, see?

Yes, there are times at which adolescent writers seem to get more media coverage than the rest of us, if only because some parts of public view them as a novetly act. But that does not mean they cannot write, and in cases like this one, it seems to suggest that actually, leaving their age out of it might be the kinder thing to do, as there are few things in the creative world more insulting than the assumption that one has not gained success via any possession of actual talent, but only because of some native and utterly unrelated quality – such as, for instance, youth, beauty and/or pre-existing fame. It is tantamount to an accusation of Selling Out, but as Jane Lane of Daria once made clear, in order for that to happen, you have to have someone interested in buying, which would seem to put a damper on the whole teen-writers-have-no-real-skills argument.

Plus and also? Blogs are for blogging. What that means depends on the blogger. If you want restricted content, go read a newspaper, ‘coz we here on Teh Internets ride tall in the saddle, which is code for Doing What We Find Interesting In the Absence Of A Paying Audience, Which, Like, You’re Not, So Shut The Hell Up.

Here endeth the rant. And now, back to editing! Enjoy your long weekend.