TiNA 2011 Nostalgia

How long after a festival ends is it reasonable to write about it? Does the passing of time provide perspective, fuzzy memories, a vague sense of nostalgic longing or some kind of triple combo deal thereof? After weeks of backburnering, will I finish writing the things I start? And will I start the things I finish? Do I even know what I’m talking about anymore? All a series of unnecessary introductory questions that I nonetheless intend to at least attempt to answer by the end of this thing.

This is Not Art, affectionately nicknamed TiNA, was held in Newcastle on the 29th of September to the 3rd of October this year, as it is done annually. That’s five reliable days of awesomeness every year. This year I went for just over two of those days.

Here’s some advice to future attendees of TiNA: go for the full five days. Last year I did. Two days is not the same. It’s still amazing and wonderful and fun and exceedingly worthwhile in a way that makes you gush and write blog posts about it weeks (months!) after the fact. But when you consider that at any one time there’s probably half a dozen excellent and worthy things going on at TiNA, you want to get the full five-day fill.

In fact, I think next year I’ll just expand those five days out to a whole week. I’ll take the train there and back, have a leisurely jaunt of reading, scribbling, music-listening, gazing out the window and taking naps along the way. Driving there really takes it out of you, so once you arrive you’re already exhausted. Not good. I think I’ll fork out for better accommodation next year too. And a sturdy raincoat. And gumboots. Ah yes. Regrets. I have a few. But I’m not complaining really. I really am glad that I got to go for a second time, as a more casual visitor than last year, when I was a fresh-eyed Voiceworks EdComm Triple Workshopper Dude. Ah. Memories.

Anyway, it’s been a while now. The post-TiNA flu and blues have passed. The inspiration still lingers. But there’s some unfinished business, and I’m trying to wrap some stuff up before year’s end. I wanted to do both my own TiNA wrap-up and a bit of round-up of responses to TiNA. More on the latter later.

But first, here it is: my TiNA 2011:

 

Friday

4pm: My girlfriend and I had braved the surprisingly jammed traffic, semi-circled that final roundabout, and from that point, it seemed we were finally entering Newcastle.  We’d driven to Sydney the previous day and stayed with her folks. We’d been slack getting moving that morning. But now we were heading in the general direction of the CBD, past mineral industry, machinery, coastal rivers, bridges and, gradually, it all became distinctly Novocastrian. Last year I’d just caught the bus from the airport, so I wasn’t entirely sure where I was going, but eventually I found both my bearings and my way to our tiny, bed-sized hotel room above a pub. We unpack and prepare ourselves for our TiNA experience.

5pm: We wander past abandoned shopfronts, adult and bridal wear stores and assorted creative hubs, including the Octopod, outside of which I grab a program and begin circling events and initiating an obscure coded language for how much I want to see stuff and what order I will see it in.

7.15pm: Having roughly worked out which buildings had been claimed in the name of TiNA this year, I had some reference points. We head for the Crackhouse and run into our buddies Greg and Lesley from Canberra publisher Blemish Books. Huzzah! We head into Catalyst 5, which is meant to be some kind of twisted, immersive, interactive version of a Miss Marple mystery. I remember bad accents, someone slicing into raw meat, awkwardness, confusion and an abrupt ending. The bar had plenty of room to rise from there.

8pm: We go and eat delicious Turkish pizza on Darby Street.

8.30pm: The Going Down Swinging Launch at Customs house. Geoff Lemon orates loquaciously. I see the Voiceworks krew. Zoe Norton Lodge and Laura Jean McKay read stories. Lawrence Leung proves, via hilarious multimedia powerpoint presentation, that Mr Darcy from Pride and Prejudice is a dick. A dude whose name I don’t remember raps and such. All in all, it’s a good bundle of spoken words, and the bar and the roof are rightly raised.

10pm: We wander out into the Newcastle night. My girlfriend and I endeavour to socialise further but we are like old people, sleepy after the drive. We retire to our bed. At that point, we feel that’s all we and the hotel room need. Us. Room. Bed. Sleeeeep.

 

Saturday

12pm: After a late rise, a tasty breakfast and a realisation that we were too late to really get into the Writing Revenge panel, we amble into Space, Land, Language at the Lockup. I didn’t catch any Critical Animals last year, so this was good to see. Basically, it was a panel where three people presented their papers. Emily Stewart (old housemate, editor, poet) spoke about ecopoetics. I couldn’t begin to do it justice, but it’s a super interesting subject, so for an inkling of the ideas contained in it, start here, then read Whispers and Courses and How to Do Words With Things and Wild Politics and go from there? The next woman’s paper was about Bret Easton Ellis and representations of urban space in contemporary US literature. It made me want to go back to Uni to study Literature again, or maybe just read more books. The third paper was a dude talking about atolls and language and their relationship within a certain culture. I learned that atolls are awesome and that different cultures have different elements in their language to express directions. Rather than left-right or east-west, some use words meaning upriver-downriver, or inside-atoll, outside-atoll. Anthropomorphic and external points of reference. Words and language systems for counting. For colour. And what part of the tree is the front? WHOA. My brain begins to expand, my stomach rumbles.

2.30pm: At a bit of a loss after lunch, we wander into Transmedia – The Business Behind the Buzzword. And I dunno. It does seem difficult to make transmedia more than a corporate buzzword, or at least it has that vibe to me. I struggle to think of examples that don’t seem like marketing strategies, side-notes or tacked-on elements to a main work. I’d love to be shown good examples to the contrary. The idea of ARGs is interesting though. Anyway, a few more tasty foodthought pickings here nonetheless.

3.30pm: We head back to our room for a nap. We are essentially octogenarian.

4.30pm: I head out solo for How To: Start a Writing Business. That is, after I wander around, look for the other lost people outside an abandoned shopfront’s door, get given directions, head around a corner into an alley, past some bins, climb some thin metal stairs up the side of a building and emerge into the gorgeous and warm room of polished wooden floorboards and word-filled, papered walls, into the wondrous space that is Staple Manor. I wish I’d come here sooner, more often. So, I didn’t catch it all. But Cameron Pegg, who ran the workshop, affirmed: work for what you believe in and decide when/where you work for free and when/where you stop working for free. He pointed to some good articles, like Walkley Magazine 67, say, page 25? And this: Mediabistro: Adventures in Journalism: World Traveller. It was great to see such a diversity of keen freelancers. Workshops like this are always a big inspirational kick up the arse.

5.30pm: I amble out, run into some people I know, head along to the Festival Club pub, answer my phone, amble around some more, see a street festival, meet people for 10 seconds before one of us disappears, get caught in the rain, run into some other people and before I know it, though I should be embracing the TiNA experience and attending the Big Top Ball because it’s the place to be, I instead head back to our room. We eat dinner, I read some of my book, scribble in my notebook, we watch TV and together we crash into sleep. I guess sometimes, even amidst a festival, that’s just what I feel like doing.

 

Sunday

11am: Wait, it’s already our last day? Eff the rain, let’s go!

11.45am: We quickly, eagerly, preliminarily check out the Zine Fair in the multi-storey car park. Dry, windy, promising.

12pm: WRIRON CHEF! This was great fun. A cooking competition with ad-hoc cooking facilities and the key ingredient…ginger beer! Of course. Two cooking-loving editors versus two not-so confident writers, two hungover yet witty hosts and a sodden but warm crowd at the Royal Exchange. Beyond the laughter and good times, the dishes created were impressive: ginger beer and pear pancakes, ginger beer stirfry and ginger-beer infused corn. I tasted the latter. Iffy. In the end, the writers’ slow-cooked pancakes surprised and delighted the senses; their cuisine reined supreme!  That’s a poetry!

1pm: We headed back to the zine fair in the rain. Did a slow lap, chatted with various folks, got a few zines and a copy of the first issue of Seizure’s shiny magazine: Food. And I purchased us a quesadilla, then got another one for free because they messed up our order. Victorious!

2pm: Was really keen to see the screening of Tom Doig’s film Moron2Moron, wherein he and his buddy cycle from one small town in Mongolia called Moron to a another smaller town in Mongolia, also called Moron. Unfortunately, we were delayed by all the fun of the zine fair, so by the time we arrived at the Royal Exchange, the place was packed and on-screen Tom had already arrived at the latter Moron. I recommend checking out their travel diary though. And hopefully I can see the film some other time. Looks like a good shonky fun time.

2.30pm: Went to check out some of the screening of Pixel Pirate 2: The Directors Cut at the Festival Club. It’s a film made entirely of sampled material from other movies, with a not-so-underlying critique of intellectual property law. Bizarre and impressive.

3pm: At a bit of a loss for what to go to next, we went for the one with the best name: My Robot Has More Artistic Integrity Than I Do. Some lads from Canberra have helped in the founding of a hackerspace, which is kind of like an artist’s space/workshop, but more computer/technology/maker-focused. They discussed a lot of interesting distinctions: art and craft, function and aesthetic, and whether something is art if it’s just the interesting result of an electronics nut farting around with bits and pieces of computer hardware. They also discussed how they’re interested in the possibilities of collaborations, especially between artists with ideas and those with the technological/mechanical skills to realise their ideas. Again, last year I didn’t really see any Electrofringe panels, so this was something different, some interesting stuff. Check it out.

4pm: Before we knew it, it was our last event before we had to drive back to Canberra via Sydney. And it was none other than the Worlde Famouse SPELLING BEE. See below for Geoff Lemon’s better coverage (and spelling). I’ll just say it was crowded with difficult words and good people and that special TiNA vibe that I carried with me all the way home. As I mentioned, I wish I’d got a chance to attend more stuff, but at least I saw a different side of TiNA this year, a different pace, some different crowds, some ‘novelty’ events and more stuff outside my usual writing/editing/publishing interests.  Hopefully next year I’ll get an even better and fuller spectrum, from Thursday to Monday, from silly to serious, from words to robots, from writing to hacking into raw meat while speaking in a bad accent? And hopefully I’ll get a better chance to meet and catch up with more good TiNA folk next year too. Still, it was wonderful and worthwhile. And with such thoughts vibrating within my head and expressed throughout conversations with my girlfriend, we thus began to drive away from Newcastle, and thus…

5pm: My TiNA 2011 ends.

***

So. That was my TiNA 2011. How about everyone else?

Perhaps because I missed a good chunk of TiNA, since it ended I’ve been (somewhat nostalgically, somewhat in anticipation of 2012) working my way through other people’s reminiscences, remembrances, live-blogs, reports, responses, summaries and such: vicarious experience of the rest of the fest. Altogether, I thought, it could form some kind some kind of collaborative post-TiNA round-up. Heck, if somebody else has already done some exhaustive round-up of TiNA 2011 stuff already, just send it this way. But otherwise, I’d like to absorb (and gather for others) all sorts of TiNA-related interweb goodness, be it blog post, podcast, video or something else.

So here’s what I’ve got so far. I’ll keep this list updated. Please send me any links you’ve got!

  • Phill English at Toothsoup wrote a great festival report and his blog is also pretty great and you should read it.

 

Until TiNA 2012, BAM! for now.

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Willy Lit Fest Part 1: Being Frankie and Talking Blogs

Last weekend I ventured along to the Williamstown Literary Festival and checked out a couple of panels:  Let’s Be frankie, Literary Blogging and From the Quill to the Kindle. All in all, it was good stuff, and it was nice to experience a different part of Melbourne, one that’s more like a coastal town, with the sea breeze, fish n chips and hordes of seagulls, along with some good literary company.

Thuy Linh Nguyen has already written about her experiences going to two of these panels, and Lisa Dempster has expanded on some of the stuff covered in her blogging panel, which I’ll get to later. But first, Let’s Be frankie.

I was drawn to this one because, while I don’t mind the odd look through a frankie mag if I see one,  I really wanted to see Marieke Hardy and Benjamin Law. The former, still jetlagged from an extended holiday in volcano-wracked Iceland, I’ve long been a fan of, thanks to First Tuesday Bookclub, JJJ Breakfast, her blog and her numerous other writings.  The latter I recently became a fan of, upon reading his hilarious story about murdering cockroaches en masse in the latest Brow. And I’m really looking forward to his first book, The Family Law. PLUS he just did an interview with Virgule, the newish Voiceworks blog. Check it.

So with Susan Bird as chair, and plenty of  audience interlocution, their casual discussion covered all kinds of things, from freelancing to Twitter to Ben’s mum’s vagina.

Ben, who often writes somewhat ‘personal’ stuff about his partner, parents and siblings, mentioned that family is such an interesting subject for writing because it’s one of the basic social units, like a microcosm of society. It’s true, your family shapes who you are and how you relate to people. Plus everyone’s got one, so it’s always at least somewhat relatable.

They discussed how important it is to run your material past the people you’re writing about if you think there’s the slightest chance they might have issues with it. Plus, it really helps to flesh out your work and get a new perspective on it.

They went on to discuss that, sure it can be good to be honest and lay everything on the table when you write, but have you really thought about the consequences of putting what you’re writing out into the world? Have you considered your audience and the context and how it could be received? Some boundaries are important. Sure, external censorship is something to take a stand against, but it’s interesting to think about how important self-censorship can be, for good or ill. And all of this applies not just to stories, articles and essays, but to blog posts, status updates and even microblogging/tweets (hello Catherine Deveny). They also touched on the idea of ‘the illusion of intimacy’, which I’ll get to later.

Ben discussed the life of a freelancer. He always strives to find something interesting in any dull freelance gig he takes on, and noted how easy it is to get overloaded, because you always think every assignment is going to be your last. He also recommended that, when you’re writing, you should keep a template of ‘good writing’ close by (or perhaps at the back of your mind), so that you’ve got something to aim for, no matter how high you’re aiming.

Marieke mentioned how handy she found News Ltd. lawyers, as dull as they might sound, and how they kept her out of trouble 99% of the time when she wrote for the Green Guide. Still, she was a little surprised that the people she’s writing about actually read her columns and sometimes take offense. It was similar back when she was writing her blog. She saw it as a place to vent, and didn’t really consider any potential offense, defamation or other trouble she could face. It’s funny, I guess when you’re a lone blogger, most people aren’t going to bother taking you to court, whereas a huge organisation like The Age with a reputation, stakeholders and circulation necessitates the team of lawyers.

She also discussed how it’s easier writing about crap TV, because writing about programmes you love just turns into celebratory, masturbatory drivel. Finally, she compared her scriptwriting to her blogging, and discussed how writing for TV doesn’t get much personal response when the finished product finally emerges, whereas writing online has the benefit of immediacy and instant feedback.

*

Speaking of writing online, the next day, satisfied but eager for more, I went along to the Literary Blogging panel, with Lisa Dempster and Angela Meyer (aka Ms LiteraryMinded), both of whom have blogs I follow and enjoy reading, so I was interested to hear their thoughts. There were plenty of questions from the small but engaged crowd and it gave me a lot to think about.

They both agreed that blogging can help you find your voice, build your style and help you grow as a unique writer. Lisa reckoned writing her book Neon Pilgrim was easier because she’d been blogging for so long. She didn’t have to struggle to find a writing voice; she already had that part mostly sorted.

They said that blogging is a discipline to stick to, and that you have to want to stick to it, then it builds its own momentum, just like other forms of writing I guess. But it’s unique in that it’s a good way to test ideas and see what others are thinking. You can admit that your ideas aren’t fully formed and open them up for discussion.

Angela says she still questions her role when she’s blogging: is she a reviewer? A cultural commentator? ‘Just a blogger’? Or, simply, a writer? It’s part of the necessary constant process of self-reflexivity.

And again, they touched on this idea of self-censorship. They wondered about ‘stepping on toes’, especially in such a tight community like that of Australian literary bloggers. You want to be honest, but there is always a degree of self-censorship. The question is where to draw the line. Personally, I want to be able to critique art, literature, media and the world around me, but at the same time, it can be damn hard to really call out perceived major flaws in something, or someone’s work, especially if they’re just starting out or you know them personally. So do you tone down your critique, not put up a review, or be bold, harsh but fair, and give an open opportunity for anyone to reply, refute and defend?

They also discussed this ‘illusion of intimacy’ idea that Ben and Marieke touched on. Sometimes these writers have been accused of being not just honest, but ‘oversharers’. But the fact is, people often don’t know about all the stuff that they’re not sharing. It can seem like they’re telling readers everything about their life and readers might feel that they know everything about them. But like all art, blogging is a constructed representation, and while you may be getting an honest picture and feel you know all about the author, you only know about them from what they give you. Three quarters of their life, or more, might not even be hinted at.

Is this ‘illusion’ a bad thing? Not really. Unless you want to go, warts and all, publishing the minutiae of your life, while alienating everyone you know and possibly facing legal action, it’s hard to have it otherwise. The boundary has to lie somewhere. In the end, of course, it has to be a personal decision. As long as you strive to be honest and fair in what you do reveal, and seriously consider what to publish and what to hold back, then it’s all good.

When asked about whether one should try to blend a large variety of topics in one blog , Lisa replied that cross-over is fine. The blog is your blog, so its topic is always going to be you and your interests. Other people have cross-over interests too, and if your blog is good enough, people will keep coming back for the stuff that they’re interested in, and won’t mind the odd uninteresting post.

There were a couple of other tidbits to think about:

  • A blog evolves over time and has its own narrative. So in a sense, a blog is a story.
  • Before the rise of Facebook and Twitter, people used online ‘handles’ more often. But now with such sites we’re commonly going by our real names online, or our real names are not so hidden anymore. Interesting point.
  • How is blogging perceived? How do you perceive it? Is it for your ‘best’ work? Does it really distract you from other writing? Or is it just a part of the broader spectrum of writing?
  • Finally, they mentioned two interesting things I’d never really heard of: blog tours, where someone hops along onto various blogs from all over the place, providing guest posts on each. Then there’s blog carnivals, where various bloggers all riff on a chosen topic, and they can engage with each others ideas on that topic.

Essentially, this panel built on what I already knew about blogging, gave me a lot to consider and gave me a good kick in the rear to blog more. All in all, blogging is experimental: it’s an experiment for each individual and also because the internet is a medium in flux, all of this stuff is still changing and being negotiated.

Speaking of emergent mediums: eBooks!

But that final panel will have to wait for Part 2, in the next day or two. This time I’m not going to go away for a week or so; I’m going to get some of that momentum happening with this blogging thing.