Lost Perth June 10, 2013Posted by Nathan Hobby in history, time, Western Australia.
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Lost Perth linked to a panorama photograph from the Perth Observatory in 1920, a wide shot of the city as it was on a particular day. To look over it, panning along as if it was something more than a photograph, is to step into a ghost city in black and white. The town of a century ago lives on, details trapped. I zoomed in as far as it would go and looked for people. For a long while, it seemed there were none, just long deserted stretches. And then I came to a huddle of people near the edge. It looks to me like a nun with some students – praying, talking, learning? They have no idea the moment is recorded from up on the hill. Perhaps one of the girls could still be alive, but probably not; she would have to be 110. Not far from that huddle are two figures in motion, blurs in the corner of the photo.
The digging up of the time capsule March 25, 2013Posted by Nathan Hobby in autobiographical, childhood, memorialisation.
In 1987 I was six and obsessed with archaeology. I created a kingdom in the front yard, burying clay mummies wrapped in cloth. I also wanted to find the present again in the future, and so I wrote the date in texta on pieces of paper and buried these. They did not last so well, but I am curious as to my instinct and my hope. Was I imagining that I was preserving that particular day by the act? Was I imagining that I was creating history or creating archaeology? Perhaps, perhaps.
I also went looking through the old newspapers in the woodbox. This was almost a room, a large space next to the woodfire. The old newspapers were piled in there. I always wished they were older than they were. What if I could go back to before I was born? Would I be into history then?
Perhaps the milieu fostered these obsessions. Between 1988 and 1990, my primary school was caught up in an atmosphere of commemoration. For the Bicentennial we all received two medallions, an amazing treasure to seven year olds. The history of the school was being written, just as our new building was rising up. When it came out, I read it quite obsessively, the story of these people now old or dead who once walked this same ground.
And then there was the time capsule, the ultimate expression of my obsessions. To be opened at the centenary of the school in 2013, it was an enchanted project. I remember the pressure of writing something that would sum up my life so far, giving an insight to my future self and the future world of what it had meant to go to Allanson Primary in 1990. I think Ms Leitch warned us to make sure we wrote in 2H pencil so that our words would not be lost to the future. In my memory, I wrote twenty or thirty pages for that time capsule; I felt embarrassed afterward for oversharing, including a list of every book I could remember reading. I included The Complete Work of Shakespeare when all I had done was fail at an attempt to read the opening pages of The Tempest when I was home sick from school. (My secret shame, that twenty-three years later I still find Shakespeare hard to understand.) Cheater! I wanted to be better than I was; a brilliant nine year old would be reading Shakespeare. I have often wondered of the other books on the list, the ones I actually read and have now forgotten. To read that precious list again would be to rediscover a large chunk of my life.
The year 2013 seemed so far away it would never come; I would be thirty-two! I have thought of the digging up of the time capsule quite often since it was buried. It was one of the few future events already set down, a precise date decreed on the plaque above the water fountain. Maybe whoever made these decisions should not have buried the capsule below a water fountain. I couldn’t quite believe it when the time-capsule came up full of water, our packet of stories turned into black compost. When I was nine, I still believed the grown ups wouldn’t let that happen.
A good man compromising: a review of Lincoln March 4, 2013Posted by Nathan Hobby in film review.
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Lincoln covers the last period of Abraham Lincoln’s life as he attempts to pass an amendment through Congress abolishing slavery before a Civil War peace treaty makes such a prospect impossible. It is a riveting dilemma: peace vs the end of slavery. Daniel Day Lewis’s Lincoln is a complex messiah and, more than anything, a good man. His compassion for people and his wisdom shine through in a superb performance.
It is also a film extolling compromise. The sort of compromise that would lead Lincoln to approve buying votes, playing games with words and truth, and which leads the idealistic radical Stevens to finally deny racial equality to help the amendment pass. If the message is that the end justifies the means, it is a message I disagree with. But as much as a message it is drama of the best kind: a portrait of good people torn by impossible dilemmas.
I got a piece of my soul back January 8, 2013Posted by Nathan Hobby in music.
I started listening to music again, properly, in the last year, and it makes me feel I got a piece of my soul back.
I’m not musical, but songs mean a lot to me.
Everyone’s musical, some people insist – usually kind musicians. That’s what she said at first; but then she heard me try to sing. I used to think it was because I wasn’t singing loudly enough; so I sang louder in Sunday School. The girl behind me – her name was Tasha – she said, Please stop singing. It was the first time she’d spoken to me. An early humiliation. I aced all the tests at school, but not the Instrumental Music Program. To my great horror but little surprise, it was two others from my year who went off to learn the trumpet.
I had an early crush on Amy Grant and her adult contemporary pop songs – some upbeat, others melancholy. This was 1991, I was ten, and I was weird, because adult contemporary was my thing – Amy Grant, Bryan Adams, Jimmy Barnes. (Strangely, I also spent hard-earned $21 – three months savings – on a MC Hammer tape which I never came to like. What was I thinking? I liked the Addams Family Groove at just the wrong moment. I’d heard he was a Christian, and thought my parents would be pleased; then I started singing a line I did not understand about a ‘glass dildo’. MC Hammer’s Christianity did not completely infuse his lyrics. I think I only recently, in this last move, got rid of that tape.)
I got back into music in year nine. Perhaps I was partly conforming, but I was also genuinely attracted to the anger of Metallica. It had little swearing, and so my parents were remarkably tolerant. Is it possible, at fourteen, to not regard lines like TIME AND SPACE NEVER ENDING /DISTURBING THOUGHTS, QUESTIONS PENDING /LIMITATIONS OF HUMAN UNDERSTANDING as being equally profound as the great poets?
My taste evolved, growing to the Smashing Pumpkins and then Nick Cave, Leonard Cohen, The Cure and Joy Division. I spent my childhood savings on a great five disc CD player when I moved out of home at eighteen. What a glorious machine it was! What deliberation deciding what soundtrack to my life to create before the days of itunes!
The CD player broke just before I got married, which is maybe just as well, because she’s a violist with a perfect ear who prefers silence and tells me L. Cohen is out of tune. It seemed to me Triple J stopped playing anything decent, too, that it had become overwhelmed by urban music, beats and gimmicks, and lost most of the alternative rock I liked. What’s more, I’d exhausted the eighties.
So there were lean years. But this last year, I’ve had a laptop which plays music quite well and been better connected to the internet, meaning I have bought too many songs on itunes. I have discovered new music on Radio National’s Inside Sleeve and occasionally Triple J. There’s this group of women singer-songwriters whose work my wife and I have come to like together – Holly Throsby, Regina Spektor, Sarah Blasko and recently Ane Brun and Lisa Mitchell.
The two albums I have had playing on relentless rotation (wait, this is an inept metaphor when I mean on itunes) as I write my novel are both by Mazzy Star. Their gently sad music makes me feel I’m underwater, or falling into a lull. It has a beautiful ache which never quite resolves. “Fade Into You” is representative – but then every song is. This sums them up well:
Their fuzzy guitar workouts and plaintive folky compositions are often suffused in a dissociative ennui that is very much of the 1990s, however much their textures may recall the drug-induced states of vintage psychedelia.
Music for writing really, or perhaps a certain kind of dinner party.
In that first flush of music mania as a ten year old, I used to create a weekly (sometimes daily) top twenty – the songs I thought should be in there. Amy Grant’s “Every Heartbeat” broke every record by staying number one for twelve charts, even as it sank in the real chart. Now I have real, annual charts, the most played songs of the year that’s been. Yet it is distorted by background music on repeat. No chart is perfect. Here are the songs I played the most in 2012, one per album:
|1||Fade Into You||Mazzy Star||1993||39|
|2||Warm Jet||Holly Throsby||2008||29|
|3||Flowers in December||Mazzy Star||1996||28|
|7||The Last Party||The Hampdens||2008||22|
|8||I Awake||Sarah Blasko||2012||21|
|9||Get Free||Major Lazer||2012||20|
|10||Youth in Trouble||The Presets||2012||20|
The best books I read in 2012 January 7, 2013Posted by Nathan Hobby in lists, reading.
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I had a reading drought in 2012. No clear favourite, no book which even blew me away – and yet I still discovered some interesting and worthy ones. I have been scared I’ve been losing my love of reading, but I cured that re-reading an old favourite, Siri Hustvedt’s What I Loved, which I finished when I couldn’t sleep on New Year’s Day. She reminded me in that novel of why I read, the pleasures and insights I hope to have, after I was so disheartened at feeling unable to finish three novels in a row.
1. Promised Lands / Jane Rogers (1996)
I wonder how much attention this received when it came out; it deserves to be read, as it is excellent. The frame story is that of a historian, Stephen, a failed idealistic school teacher now writing the story of William Dawes, part of Australia’s First Fleet in 1788. Kate Grenville wrote about Dawes in The Lieutenant, which I haven’t read, but the two books would make an interesting comparison.
2. The Sense of An Ending / Julian Barnes (2011)
I’m not sure it deserved the Man Booker Prize, but it certainly got my attention – a simply written story of a man looking back on his life and failed love that plays with the reader’s mind.
3. The Quest for Corvo: An Experiment in Biography / A.J.A. Symons (1934)
This the nonfiction antecedent for the biographical-quest genre I have been writing about and in. Symons goes in search of an obscure writer, ‘Baron Corvo’, a strange man who burned everyone who tried to help him.
4. Winter Journal / Paul Auster (2012)
Perhaps it is just for fans. But he’s my favourite writer, so this memoir certainly captivated me. Auster writes a memoir of his body, detailing his illnesses, scars, memories, and listing the address of every place he has ever lived. (He leaves his current address vague.)
5. Accordion Crimes / Annie Proulx (1996)
6. Too Much Happiness / Alice Munro (2009)
7. 11/22/63 / Stephen King (2011)
8. Ice / Louis Nowra (2008)
What was the best book you read in 2012?
Cremation busts December 10, 2012Posted by Nathan Hobby in death, Library of Babel.
It is probably not a healthy thing for me to be writing a novel about death, given my preoccupation with it. And why did I google ‘cremation’ just then in the name of research?
I didn’t find quite what I was looking for, but this instead:
Now we can create a custom cremation urn for ashes in the image of your loved one or favorite celebrity or hero, even President Obama!
So you can either have a bust made of a celebrity and store your ashes in that, or a spooky likeness of yourself made to sit forever on the mantlepiece watching your family? Such a strange concept, that you would be interred in the likeness of another, a person you never met. It is bizarre in a folk-religious way, the ultimate outcome of our celebrity worship.
I wish we were better at memorialising. In my novel, Tom contemplates the macabre possibility of preserving people’s heads and having them sit on the mantlepiece. I wouldn’t want that, in case you’re wondering. But I hate the thought of bodies – faces particularly – decaying and lost.
The marble or copper busts of Great Men made in the past seem to me, in some ways, a fitting memorialisation. But these advertised ones are, paradoxically, too realistic (in a tacky way), causing what the nerd from 30 Rock and John Safran inform me is the ‘uncanny valley’.
If I was earlier into my novel, I would have to incorporate these busts, but it’s too late for that.
A Brief Epistle to Mr Auster November 30, 2012Posted by Nathan Hobby in Daily Prompt, Paul Auster.
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WordPress daily prompt: Picture the one person in the world you really wish were reading your blog. Write her or him a letter.
Dear Paul Auster,
I know for a fact you won’t be reading this, and I highly suspect you dislike blogs. I think I read somewhere that you stay right away from the internet. Maybe that’s how you keep writing books. But pretend you were reading this, it would be written just for you.
It’s probably difficult to spot your influence on my fiction, but for a time I feel like I saw the whole world through your eyes. That was a decade ago, when I living in this same suburb I’ve just returned to. I wish my early twenties could have gone on forever, and I suspect you feel much the same. That was the period where I would be walking down the street and find strange letters on the footpath, photographs in parks. I used to spend a lot of time on buses and in the city centre, and seek after coincidences. I was MS Fogg, and I was Nashe.
(There you go, if you want to spot an influence, how about the ending of The Fur? I ripped that right out of Moon Palace, without even realising it. Our protagonists take a long, long walk across the country to complete their coming of age. MS Fogg walked further than Michael. Hey, how about that – Michael Sullivan = MS = MS Fogg – I never saw that before.)
I wonder what conclusions you’ve come to about God. It’s really not apparent from your writing, you know. But then again, I can never pick an atheist from their fiction.
I wonder if you ever feel like the gambler who won? You put everything in life on writing working out. You lived those hungry years on crusts of bread and translation work, were saved by the inheritance from your dead father, but more than that, were saved because of success and because of brilliance. What of those who stake everything on it and it doesn’t pay off?
You already answered that, I suppose, in The Music of Chance – you gamble everything and you lose, you might be imprisoned by some eccentric men and made to build a stone wall, and every time it seems you’re going to get free, your sentence stretches on further.
Anyway, I’m reading Winter Journal at the moment, when I should be reading other things for my thesis. I tried to appreciate every sentence as I read the first pages. A new book from a writer in his sixties: this will only happen so many more times. I really do dread the day you die. I remind myself how old you are every now and again – 65 and counting – and reassure myself that the odds are there’ll be quite a few more yet. But I was thinking Updike had another decade in him, and look what happened to him. I wanted another Rabbit book, I wanted them to go on forever – I’m sure he was thinking about it. On that note, more than anything, I need you to write about MS Fogg again – we learned about the fate of his friend, David Zimmer, but that feels like you were taunting me. Please tell me what happened to old MS!
You don’t know how obsessed I got thinking about the once chance I would have to speak to you – it was at the Adelaide Writers’ Festival, and I lined up with all the bookclub ladies in forty degree heat, and for months I’d been trying to come up with some one-liner which would make you want to be my friend. How pathetic! I got ten seconds in the end, and at least I got to tell you you are my favourite writer. I consoled myself afterwards with the knowledge that it’s probably better the way it is, with the friendship running one way only. It doesn’t get so messy this way.
Yours faithfully, NH.
On unwrapping my Moleskine notebook November 20, 2012Posted by Nathan Hobby in autobiographical.
Tags: ISBNs, journal writing, moleskine
When I started keeping a journal, I used the cheapest exercise books I could find, 50c Newspower ones. I was fourteen, and the pages are now yellowed and brittle. I was allergic to aesthetics or quality then, function was all. I was also much poorer than I am now.
Today, my first Moleskine notebook arrived from Book Depository. At $16, it’s a lot less than you can buy it for in Australia. It truly is a beautiful notebook, properly bound and using acid-free paper. Will it inspire better words? Maybe; but I find it hard to write anything in my journal these days. Perhaps it is the fault of blogging. Perhaps I have lost the spiritual discipline of writing just for myself. (There are other factors.)
Two things struck me about my Moleskine notebook.
Firstly, it has an ISBN. I wonder what limits there are on ISBNs if a blank notebook can have one?
Secondly, it offers a conundrum to its owner with its front page saying ‘In case of loss please return to… As a reward: $…’
How much are our unique, private writings worth to us? I would say: they are priceless; they are worthless. There is nothing more wonderful and horrible for me than reading back over old journals. Sometimes I surprise myself; often I disappoint myself.
Perhaps one should write in it: ‘$1 (or $10?) for every page which is filled in’. Perhaps one should write a great price in it, and then write to live up to it.
Whatever I decide (and I shall probably leave it blank) I have at least decided my private writings are worth more than a 50c exercise book.