I’ve been thinking. There’s this place.
A great person once said, “The best writers read”.
This great person, a brilliant writer, praised as “the next Shakespeare” by her lecturer at Warwick University (not far from where Shakey himself sprouted), told me that if anyone ever wants to write like the best of ‘em, they must read and read and never stop reading.
This great person was, and still is, my mum. Wise words indeed from the old broad, imparted via Skype some 10 months ago after I’d emailed a chapter of a book I was, back then, somewhat obsessed with writing. It was a book about Sydney, about my time here, the people I’ve met, know and love and the places I’ve been (sound familiar?)
She convinced me, in a fabulously subtle way, that perhaps what with my job, my other responsibilities and my, should we say, inexperience, now was not the best time to write a book. She did this by suggesting I read Hemmingway.
“One of my favourites”, she gushed; assuring me that if I wanted an example of real style, I should start with him.
Having ashamedly forgone reading anything resembling a novel since my slog studying English literature at university, and finding it genuinely impossible to disagree with her logic (this time), the moment we hugged screens goodbye I dragged my work into a folder aptly named “For Ron” (an Aussie idiom meaning, “later on”, by the way), clicked over to Google and purchased the very first Hemmingway I saw.
For Whom the Bells Toll arrived weeks later and, forcing myself out of my literary coma, I set about to devour its pages with a passion born from an eagerness to imbibe my mind with the secrets of one of the finest writers to have ever graced the shelves of physical and electronic bookshops the world over.
Then Sydney got in the way.
Needless to say, there it sits on my bedside table, barely-read and buried under The Great Gatsby, Timothy Conigrave’s Holding the Man, Christopher Hitchens’ God Is Not Great and a copy of Mo Hayder’s book, Birdman, that I found at Martin Place train station and tried and failed to reunite with its owner. All on my to-read pile, all harbouring a book mark or dog ear at different junctures and all staring at me, wondering, “why, Jack? Why have you forgotten us?”
Well the problem is that pesky thing called time, blown in only one humanly foreseeable direction from its not so humble beginnings at the Big Bang, has a tendency to run away from us. The last time I wrote in here, for example, was before Mardi Gras!
God what a glittering shower of amazingness that spiraling rainbow of pride, acceptance and equality was, but fuck me dead it takes it out of you. And I’m not even talking about the partying.
I was one of the fools that decided to help organise the building of one of the floats, the fundraising to buy said building materials, the interaction with the volunteers, the choreography practices, the organising of the choreography practices, etcetera, etcetera. And that’s all on top of having a nine-to-five, freelance work, desperately trying to stay fit and fitting in a social life.
Please don’t take this as complaining, as I loved every second:
But when it came to writing about it for Jack Down Under, it got a little overwhelming. Not only was there the parade and the week-long leg cramps from too many lunges in the dance routine, but, if you missed it, there was unfortunately a great deal of fallout between the gays and the police. Let’s just say, like good old Hemmers or my one-day-in-the-future creation, I shelved it for a month or two.
The interesting thing is though, having barely any time to dedicate to this here creative outlet, let alone only just getting our own Internet connection (yes, my long-term-life-partner-lover-cum-boyfriend and I were living in modern day cardinal sin: forget anal, we didn’t even have analogue), I had the luxury of thinking about what I wanted to write. And for some unknown reason my mind kept going back to my mum.
While I did and still do completely agree with her logic, I’m beginning to think that these days, perhaps times have changed? The best writers will read, of course, but Hemmingway never had Twitter and I would bet a pretty penny all those masterpieces might not have come so quickly if his regular daily read was bombarded by hashtag-ridden slurs at celebrities or pictures of Grumpy Cat.
These days, with the technology available to record almost every moment we make, not to mention awesome sites such as WordPress, everyone is or has the potential to be a writer. So with so much to read where do we begin? How do we, forgive the vulgar metaphor, sift through the shit?
To be a truly great writer in the age of the Internet we must find the time to learn from the people we meet and listen to the conversations we have. While reading is of course something never, ever to let go of, we can’t just bury ourselves in pages or screens and hope the words come. We must go out into the world and live.
And if I must be completely honest, I couldn’t be more grateful that I get to do exactly that in Sydney.