Graduating from University!

Exciting news!  I graduated on Monday night with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Creative and Professional Writing.  The experience made me reminisce on high school.  High school valedictory was a proud moment shared with best friends.  Sadly, graduating from university was nothing like that.  

Screen Shot 2015-12-10 at 2.55.55 pmFinishing is surreal.  The semester fizzled out so gradually that I’ve been in holiday mode for over a month now.  University doesn’t offer you the emotional build up and transition that high school does.  Being handed your glorified-toiletpaper degree by an ancient academic is no substitute for crying on the shoulder of your favourite teacher.  The only time I felt any sense of finality and excitement was when the concert organist played Chariots of Fire.  That smidge of sentimentality hit me hard as I sat among strangers with a mortarboard-induced headache.  I smiled to see my family waving wildly from the front row.

Graduation got me feeling existential.  I’ve changed beyond recognition since leaving high school.  I lost the baby fat riding my cheeks, grew out my pixie cut, and discovered that Kmart is not the only vendor of fashion.  I learned to drink and swear, bought a car, wore platform heels, had my life broken and rebuilt numerous times.  I’m painfully aware that I am the sum of everything I have ever experienced and everyone I have ever known.  I’m not all I hoped to be, but I can embrace what I am.  For one, the worst people I’ve met are no longer in my life.  And the best people I’ve met are closer to me than ever – a small but supportive safety net of friends.  Having this is possibly my proudest achievement.

I wish graduation had been an experience more worthy of nostalgia like finishing high school.  But at least I know now what I want.  I have another year of postgrad studies planned and a goal at the end of it.  Six months ago I was at my lowest point.  I can confidently say that this is my highest.  I can only go up from here.

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My Writing Retreat + Internet Detox

When the going gets tough, the tough get going…  Sooner or later though, even the tough need to take a break before they burn out.  After a hard semester full of unexpected life challenges, I really needed a break.  I decided to refresh myself with a writing retreat and internet detox.

Screen Shot 2015-11-14 at 9.38.56 amI escaped to my grandma’s little unit at Caloundra with some books and a stockpile of snack food.  There’s something about sea air that is cleansing and relaxing, and I indulged in midday naps and long beach walks.  I could just feel the breeze blowing away all the cobwebs in my brain.

I’ve heard someone say that you’re most authentically you when you’re alone, probably because there are no inhibitions or external influences weighing on you.  For that reason, I’m glad I snatched some alone time.  I love to surround myself with beautiful friends, but getting a short break from conflicts and dynamics and pressures made me feel a bit better grounded.  I now have more strength to deal with that stuff.

I committed to trying to finish my novel for NaNoWriMo, so I had some pretty ambitious goals I wanted to achieve.  However, reaching those goals became stressful and exhausting.  I decided that since the whole point of a retreat was to feel refreshed, I wasn’t going to wear myself out.  So I started writing early in the morning, but then put everything down at lunch time to spend the rest of the day reading and relaxing.  I could have done more work, but the balance left me feeling much more fulfilled.

Screen Shot 2015-11-14 at 9.38.37 amDetoxing from the internet for three days is surprisingly easy.  When I didn’t have good ol’ Facebook and YouTube to help me procrastinate my good writing hours away, I found it much easier to get work done.  Then when work was finished for the day, I turned to a book instead of a laptop.  I enjoyed getting lost in Vernon God Little much more than getting lost in the backlogs of Tumblr.  The one thing I did notice though was that I missed sharing with people.  Dozens of times during my stay I saw something that made me think of someone I care about.  Normally, I would use the internet to share that thing with them instantly.  Getting away by yourself is fab, but any longer than three days and I wouldn’t have been able to resist sending messages to my friends.

Get this, first day back and I have a dentist’s appointment.  What a rude return to the real world!  I hope that as we get closer to holiday season you can get a break and take some time to look after yourself.  Writers, don’t forget you can add me as a Writing Buddy on NaNoWriMo!

QUT Creative Writing Gala & Meeting Susan Johnson!

Friday night was a super special occasion. The annual QUT Creative Writing Gala is an exclusive do held at Avid Reader Bookshop and Cafe in West End. At first I felt pretty out of place – I arrived early and found myself teeter-tottering in high heels near a group of my ultra-suave tutors and lecturers. Finally, the venue filled with other final year undergrads and postgrad students. Never before was there a bunch of kookier or more awesome people in one place.

The Avid Reader venue is ideally suited for book events. We walk through the bookshop out onto a terrace set up with a mic for our guest speakers and an open bar. We were well-fed all evening with trays of finger foods.

The gala is the night that the winners of the QUT Undergrad and Postgrad Writing Prizes are announced. My friend Katerina Gibson’s short story, ‘Nesting’, was shortlisted for the undergrad prize. When her name was called as the winner, the crowd exploded with applause. As well as $1000 in prize money, her work is soon to be published in Kill Your Darlings literary journal. This is a big break for an emerging writer, and I am so glad she’s receiving this recognition.

The final highlight of the night was getting to meet author, Susan Johnson. I read her novel, My Hundred Lovers, earlier this year. It came at a perfect time of my life to challenge me to think and feel deeply about myself. I’ve been desperate to meet her, but I narrowly missed out twice since she’s been busy with the launch of her new novel, The Landing. When I saw Susan among the crowd, my heart fluttered before I second-guessed myself. The only picture I’d seen of her was a photo on her book’s back cover. It doesn’t prepare you at all for actually standing face to face with her. Her eyes and smile hold an intensity that a posed author pic can’t capture.

You might relate to the feeling of wanting one of your favourite celebrities to really notice you. I keep forgetting that writers aren’t like most celebrities. Instead of experiencing constant harassment from screaming fans, writers have quiet and isolated existences, struggling alone at a laptop or note pad and even forgetting sometimes that there’s a bigger context beyond. I was humbled by the gratefulness and sincerity with which Susan Johnson greeted me. I didn’t have the words to express how much My Hundred Lovers means to me, but I was glad to have at last met her.

So there you have it. Watch out for Katerina Gibson’s story in Kill Your Darlings in the near future! And if you haven’t already, please seek out Susan Johnson’s books and treat yourself to her confronting but beautiful writing. Don’t forget to add me as your Writing Buddy for National Novel Writing Month!