“Poetry was coming true.”

This passage is Virginia Woolf writing about moments of intensity she experienced after her mother’s death:

“I remember going into Kensington Gardens about that time. It was a hot spring evening, and we lay down – Nessa and I – in the long grass behind the Flower Walk. I had taken The Golden Treasury with me. I opened it and began to read some poem (which it was I forget). It was as if it became altogether intelligible; I had a feeling of transparency in words when they cease to be words and become so intensified that one seems to experience them; to foretell them as if they developed what one is already feeling. I was so astonished that I tried to explain the feeling. “One seems to understand what it’s about”, I said awkwardly. I suppose Nessa has forgotten; no one could have understood from what I said the queer feeling I had in the hot grass, that poetry was coming true. Nor does that give the feeling. It matches what I have sometimes felt when I write. The pen gets on the scent.

My first memory of understanding a poem was a bit like this. It was either my first or second year of high school, so I would have been about 12 years old. The teacher read the poem aloud to the class; it was ambiguous and we couldn’t figure out the context. The classroom was a sea of mildly confused faces. Then she read it out a second time, and as she reached the end of the final line (I remember what it was: “I am first to go.”) the realisation hit me with an almost physical blow. I inhaled a little “oh!” of surprise and pressed a hand to my mouth and my eyes started watering.

The context was a hospital; the ‘I’ of the poem had finally decided to obey the wishes of their loved one, and leave them to die on their own and keep their memory intact.  I realised all of this in an instantaneous moment, like a magic-eye puzzle suddenly materialising in my brain. And yes, my reaction in the dead silent classroom and everyone’s baffled eyes swinging towards me were mildly embarrassing. But the teacher – I can’t even remember her name or what she looked like – as soon as I made a sound her eyes locked on to mine like bam, a shooting laser beam of empathy and connection. A wordless understanding forged through words.

Virginia Woolf speaks to me again:

“Behind the cotton wool is hidden a pattern; that we – I mean all human beings – are connected with this; that the whole world is a work of art; that we are parts of the work of art. Hamlet or a Beethoven quartet is the truth about this vast mass that we call the world. But there  is no Shakespeare, there is no Beethoven; certainly and emphatically there is no God; we are the words; we are the music; we are the thing itself.”

… And now I have an inkling of where my love of semi-colons has come from.

Why isn’t it cool to be idealistic? Robin Williams and Dead Poet’s Society

I was on twitter after the news broke and I was fine until someone tweeted “Oh Captain my Captain” and I started crying on the train, which was awkward.

Robin Williams is dead, and at first everyone thought it was a hoax, because he can’t die! That’s ridiculous! It’s Robin Williams! He will live forever because he is our childhood!

So I was reading this review of Dead Poet’s Society and the reviewer hit the nail on the head:

“It is not a film that it is cool to admit loving. It is uncynical, idealistic and hopeful – not qualities one necessarily associates with film snobs, but what it lacks in critical kudos it has recouped in audience appreciation.”

Why is it that those qualities – idealism, hope, a lack of cynicism – are considered to be so uncool? I mean, what’s wrong with them? Why are they so undervalued?

As a testament to my personal lack of cool, I’ve realised that every single one of my favourite movies has exactly these qualities to a greater or lesser (but mostly greater) extent. Examples:

Love Actually:  love actually is all around.
American Beauty:  there is beauty in everything.
V for Vendetta:  ideas are bullet-proof.
Life as a House:  you can knock down your old life and build a new one.

… etc, etc.

So yes, I will love these movies. Yes, I will hold to these uncool ideas. I will Carpe that fucking Diem. I will cry in the cinema. I will be starry-eyed and stupid. And damnit, I will miss Robin Williams.

The reviewer gets it right again when he points out: “This is not a film, ultimately, about school or poetry or teaching: it is about death.”

And more specifically, about how precious life is in the face of our limited time with it.

Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.

Oh captain my captain

Photography: Mount Pilatus, Switzerland

Since I’m still going through and editing photos from my 2012 Europe trip, I thought I would post a few images from the day on Mount Pilatus (Switzerland) here, along with an excerpt from my travel journal. It was probably one of the best days of the trip.

Click on each photo for larger images (you can also click through to my online gallery if you would like to see more of my photography).


July 28th, 2012.

Today we went up the steepest cogwheel railway in the world to the top of Mount Pilatus. According to medieval sightings, a dragon used to live in a cave up there. It was a fairytale landscape; and I don’t mean Disney, I mean the kind of faerie tale where wolves are real and the forest is dark and cold, deadly and beautiful, and there is snow on nearby mountaintops, and black bird feathers ruffle as they ride the icy breeze. It was rugged and absolutely… there’s no word. There’s no word for the feeling in your gut when you look at mountains like that. The Romantic poets called it the ‘sublime’. I want to write stories about that mountain, the wildflowers and the drifting clouds and the old legends. We hiked up to the highest peak, Tomlishorn, and I put two sharp stones in my pocket and told myself that they were old dragon’s teeth.


I think I can

The Photographer


Mountain Blooms


Will Ye Go






I want to see mountains again


Guest Post by Laura: How to Take the Ultimate Selfie (with commentary by Jen)

Quote from Laura, to set the tone for the evening: “The quality of your blog just got a whole shit-lot better.”


How to take the ultimate selfie!! By Laura.

This is how it's done. Apparently.

“Well number one you have to be in the right selfie mood. It’s all about attitude and confidence. No point taking a selfie when you ain’t feeling it. (What “it” is, is different for each person, so don’t ask!)

You need good lighting. Nothing sadder than a badly lit selfie!! Also background is important. I don’t wanna see your untidy bathroom or dirty bedroom floor in the background. So either clean that shit up or go outside (the lighting is probably better outside anyway).

To pout or not to pout?? IT AIN’T A QUESTION!! POUT like you’ve never pouted before.

You should already have worked the mirror and know what your best angle and pout is. Duck face, Keira Knightley face. The options are endless. Play around with it. Have fun.”

For more Selfie brilliance, you can follow Laura on Instagram.



I would just like to add (though I am certainly not the biggest fan of The Selfie and have never successfully selfie-fied myself), I am a bit over the constant stream of Selfie-attacks in the media. They would have you believe that narcissism was invented by Generation Y and, as stated by practically every generation ever, that the world is going to the dogs and we are all more or less doomed, etc. etc.

Well, I think it’s worth pointing out that Selfie-ism was certainly around in the 16th Century. Here’s a painting by Parmigianino, done in the early 1500s:

Source: good old Wikipedia.


And then in 1984, well before the invention of the dreaded smart-phone camera or Instagram, we have John Ashbery’s poem Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror, a rumination on Parmigianino’s painting. Here we’re really getting into Selfie-Inception territory. The original painter, his reflection in his convex mirror, the painting of his reflection, the poem of the painting of his reflection, our reading of the poem of the painting of his reflection… (This blog post about our reading of the poem of the painting of his reflection…)


And even in 1984, Ashbery begins his poem with a definition of the quintessential selfie: “the right hand / Bigger than the head, thrust at the viewer…”

While not being 100% prescient (there are no references to Duck Face within his poem, for example), Ashbery certainly nailed the nature of human self-reflectivity.

  • “The glass chose to reflect only what he saw
    Which was enough for his purpose: his image
    Glazed, embalmed, projected at a 180-degree angle.”
  • “… The soul establishes itself.
    But how far can it swim out through the eyes
    And still return safely to its nest?”
  • “And just as there are no words for the surface, that is,
    No words to say what it really is, that it is not
    Superficial but a visible core, then there is
    No way out of the problem of pathos vs. experience.
    You will stay on, restive, serene in
    Your gesture which is neither embrace nor warning
    But which holds something of both in pure
    Affirmation that doesn’t affirm anything.”

John Ashbery was one of my favourite post-modernist writers that I studied at uni, and everyone should read the poem in its beautiful entirety – it can be found here.



Making an attempt...(I think I still need some more practice.)


The Festival of Stupid, Bad Ideas.

In the space of about 24 hours, Sydney’s Festival of Dangerous Ideas announced that it would present a talk by  Muslim activist Uthman Badar titled “Honour Killings are Morally Justified”, announced that the talk would actually in no way promote the idea that honour killings were morally justifiable, and then announced that the talk had been cancelled.

My goodness. How deeply embarrassing.

Considering the accusation commonly levelled at this Festival – that it is a Festival for comfortable middle-to-upper-class-intelligentsia types – it’s clear that the title of this talk was FODI’s idea of free publicity, an effort to reinforce their edgy, ‘dangerous’ credentials. Of course, they’ve got the free publicity, but their plan has backfired spectacularly as they’re now being nicknamed ‘The Festival of Not So Dangerous Ideas’ and are looking rather silly.

It appears that the title of the talk was simple, unapologetic clickbait, as the organisers have stated that the talk itself was not going to reflect its title at all. Hopefully this will help them to realise that cheap gimmicks and shock tactics are not the way to draw in an audience.

There are actually a couple of different kinds of ‘dangerous’ ideas. The first kind, which is the one that FODI have generally held talks on in the past, are ideas that are ‘dangerous’ because they challenge the status quo and accepted ways of thinking; dangerous because they are progressive, because they may push a society to change. Some examples from this year’s FODI include ‘Russia is a Penal Colony’, ‘The End of the World as We Know It’, and ‘Cat Videos Will Save Journalism’. (To be honest, I have no idea what that last one is about, but it sounds spectacular.)

The other kind of ‘dangerous’ ideas are, more simply, bad or stupid ideas. These ideas are dangerous because they are illogical, regressive, and may cause direct harm to people. Potential talks that could fall under this heading would include ‘Toddlers Having Fun With Power Tools’ and ‘How to Beat Up Icky Black People 101′.

“Honour Killings are Morally Justified” would fall into this second category.

I suppose I may be a member of the so-called ‘intelligentsia’, but I’m not going to fork out upwards of $25 for the privilege of listening to someone talk about completely idiotic ideas. Idiotic ideas are only provocative in the sense that they provoke intense annoyance at the waste of my time and money. If I want numbskulls, I’ll tune in to Fox News or Alan Jones and save my money, thanks.

The sad thing is that the proposed talk could have actually been quite fascinating, if it was an examination of the mindset or culture of those who perpetrate honour killings (rather than a promotion of murdering women, which is what the title suggested). But based on the title alone, I have no idea why the FODI organisers thought anyone would want to attend this talk. The idea that women are less than human, and that the murder of women can be morally justified, is really the opposite of a cutting-edge idea. In fact, it has rather been the default position of the majority of human societies for the majority of human history. And what’s so ‘dangerous’ about reinforcing already well-established power structures?

Ultimately I think most of the fault lies with the Festival organisers, for insisting on such a ridiculous title. However, Uthman Badar agreed to the title of his talk and hasn’t really done himself any favours in his reaction to the cancellation, blathering on about “Islamophobia”, “baseless hysteria” and “freedom of speech”.

Buddy, the title of your talk was Honour killings are morally justified. Now I’m sorry that you were silly enough to agree to give a talk under an incorrect and misleading title, but based on that title itself, how exactly can you qualify the reaction as “baseless” hysteria? There is, quite clearly, a base. The reaction has been entirely baseful. And if disliking the horrific murder of women makes me an Islamophobe, then I guess I will wear my Islamophobe badge with pride.

I have a problem with the invented word ‘Islamophobia’ itself. It is obviously drawing on antecedents such as ‘homophobia’ to try and present opposition to Islam as a blind, irrational reaction. It ticks me off when religious types try to equate themselves with persecuted groups such as LGBT people or people of colour. You are not born with your religion; it is an idea and a way of life that you choose for yourself, in a way that your skin colour, sexual orientation or gender clearly isn’t. I do acknowledge that many in the western world seem to have a knee-jerk problem with the idea of Islam and with people of Middle Eastern appearance; but rational criticism of Islam is not Islamophobia, any more than criticism of the Catholic Church is Catholicphobia (Catholophobia??).

Okay, cool, you don’t actually promote the idea of honour killings. Good for you! Have a cookie! However, you represent an organisation that wants to institute Sharia Law, so you’re obviously not the brightest crayon in the box.

Your ideas are not dangerous, except in the literal sense. They’re really just crappy. And entirely rational criticism of crappy ideas is pretty much the opposite of a ‘phobia’.

Unfortunately, Badar seems not to understand the concept of “free speech” either. He seems to think that it means he has a right to have paid speaking engagements, and a right to force people to attend his speaking engagements even when they have no interest in what he wants to say. He’s free to stand on the street corner and spout nonsense, and free to post nonsense on websites and social media; but freedom of speech in no way implies that FODI is obligated to pay you and give you a platform from which to speak, or an audience to speak to. A paid speech is almost literally the exact opposite of free speech, anyway.

Rather than calling on the convenient haze of ‘cultural relativity’ and wallowing in a manufactured sense of victimisation, Uthman Badar could have simply admitted that the title of his talk was a shameless publicity stunt, FODI could have changed the title to something that wasn’t completely misleading and inaccurate, and the talk could have gone ahead without all this kerfuffle. A poor show all round.

By Christ, Allah, and the Flying Spaghetti Monster… people sure are stupid, aren’t they?


P.S. The Richard Dawkins Foundation website recently published a fascinating article on the evolutionary purpose of honour killings in certain cultures. As it’s not written by an apologist for religious fundamentalism, I’m sure it’s much more enlightening than Mr Badar’s now-cancelled talk would have proven to be. Highly recommended reading.

Rules for Political Debate

1. Fuck diplomacy.


2. If you are antagonistic, do not be surprised when people are antagonised.


This, I believe, is the only way to play.

Why I’m Still Fond of the Hipster Trend

I can definitely understand how people can become weary of trends, with their worn-out jokes and endless repetitiveness. But I can’t help it: I’m still a fan of hipsterdom.

Perhaps it’s because the strongest and longest-running social/fashion trend in my teenage years was… Emo.


Look, I can appreciate Emo for embracing ‘emotions’ and telling boys (and girls) that it was okay to cry in public and let their copious mascara run. It was okay to have feelings – yep, cool so far. But in the end the whole trend seemed to boil down to indulgent, overemotional egotism. And we all suffer through enough of that in our teenage years without music producers deciding to glorify it as ‘trendy’. It also promoted a culture of self-harm far more than was healthy, so in my view it was morally questionable as well as just a little aesthetically distasteful. I think it started out as a generally decent attempt to de-stigmatise the issue of self-harm, but then unfortunately spiralled into this idea that you weren’t cool unless you had scars and suffered from a mental illness.

(Disclaimer: not trying to unfairly pick on Emo, here. I listened to Evanescence in my time along with the best of ‘em.)

Then along came the Hipster.

Suddenly it was the ‘in’ thing to be nerdy. To like books, and study, and learning. (It was not unlike my first year of uni when I discovered that ‘boho-chic’ was A Thing, and I was accidentally on trend for about two years.) It was cool to be earnest and geeky and have intense conversations in student cafes and to care way, way, way too much about coffee.

This is a trend that I can really get into.

You could say that the annoying thing about hipsterism is the pretense of intelligence; i.e, that it’s more important to look like a kind of serious, bookish person than it is to actually be someone who reads and studies a lot. But this accusation can be levelled at any social trend; in Emo times, it was probably more important to dress all in black and have the eye makeup than it was to cry yourself to sleep every night. This is where social trends blur into fashion trends, as fashion becomes an easily recognised cultural marker for a group of people. When it comes to trends, pretty much everyone is a poser by definition. And I feel like many hipsters gleefully embrace this poserdom – on some level there is an acknowledgement that this has all been done before.

There’s no direct line of causation, but perhaps we can theorise that the ironic self-deprecation of hipsterism is a reaction to the indulgence of Emo. There’s plenty of self-absorption within hipsterism too, of course, but at least it usually comes with a certain sense of awareness and a wry #FirstWorldProblems hashtag.

In conclusion: Maybe trends are just silly stereotypes that people conform to for the ‘cool’ factor. But if we have to have them, then I’m glad it’s cool to be educated and somewhat dorky.

Incidentally, this may be one of the most hipster-ish posts I have ever made.


hipster meme

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