HELLO INTERNET BOY #32: where the hell do I come from?

I’ve been trying to do a lot of research into the world of Aelyria, in order to help create the fantasy version of Patrick Lenton, ie myself. And not fantasy in the sense that I have at least two abs and my adult-onset acne has cleared up, but fantasy in the sense that I rub shoulders with elves and could learn magic if I wanted to and there’s been a whole bunch of invasions by bug people recently which I need to somehow get my head around.

To start off the backstory, I want to work out where I’m from. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt from my exhaustive creative writing classes and watching The OC on repeat, is that your protagonist has to come from somewhere. In real life, I also come from somewhere, which may surprise anyone who thought I appeared only when you look into the bathroom mirror and say the word ‘dicksticks’ three times.

But it turns out it’s hard to make comparative choices between real world locations and places that literally don’t exist. My own background is this: I was born in Australia, I grew up for a time in a mining town in the desert, and then I spent the majority of my primary school years over in the Middle East. I then came back to Australia for high school and have lived in Sydney ever since.

So – the easier option is the Middle East part, because as with a lot of Tolkien-esque western style fantasy worlds, there is a clear ‘exotic Arabia’ counterpart. The city (and province?) of Arakmat will do. Pity it’s been in ruins for years, since a certain dude who I met IRL at the beginning of this project roasted it with his magic. Still, I can have grown up there. And not as a local.

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Finding a clear counterpart for Sydney is harder – how to reproduce all the different strains of identity that a city has on you? It’s looking more like I’ll have to settle on it being near the water, so perhaps Port Alyxandrya.

At the Junket conference I was at recently, I attended a discussion on Australian cultural identity. It was super interesting for me, because I discovered that the way I feel about being Australia is shared in one way or another by a lot of other people. It can be summarised as being ‘uncomfortable’ about it. I’ve always felt that having grown up overseas, I look at Australia very much from an outsiders point of view – however unlike a foreigner, I have nowhere that I actually feel comfortable calling home. This is further exacerbated by specifics – for example, where I went to high school in Sydney and lived for years with my family have the dubious honour of being the host of a big race riot. I’ve always felt the desire to separate any of my identity from that place. But I also discovered that lots of people having that discussion felt a dislocation – whether it was Indigenous Australian’s who felt like they were denied ownership of their identity, or immigrants who are treated as outsiders, or people from minorities who are viewed as different, which is more obvious. But the uncomfortable notion of Australian identity persisted – and I came to the realisation that instead of using this as a cue to write generally, to write in places that could be literally anywhere, to write in vague brushstrokes that could mean the US or the UK or maybe Australia why not, I should be navigating that feeling of uncertainty,  and writing about Australia from that perspective.

So yeah, Port Alyxandrya? I don’t know.

 

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I went to #Junket and all I got was this massive feeling of hope

I’ve been at the Junket unconference over the last few days. You might be forgiven for thinking I’m having a mild stroke, because barely any of that sentence are words, but I promise you, I’m fine. I’m great. I’m uncomfortably full of hope and greatness and exhaustion. Junket was organised by Junkee, and billed as ‘gathering 200 of Australia’s best and brightest minds to share ideas, get advice, be inspired, innovate, teach, learn, network and have fun’ which is obviously a ridiculous peer group to aspire to. It was also described as ‘a getaway of Twitter’s most fabulous’ by Helen Razer, in what passes for a sick burn at the retirement home, but I found infinitely charming and complimentary.

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And let me just start off by saying that I never lost that feeling, that sensation of being out of place. It was the weirdest thing in the world to chat to activists and horrifically young not-for-profit business creators who are literally changing the world and spokespeople and nuclear fission scientists and animal rights crusaders and incredible feminists and then having to explain that I wrote a book of short stories about a funny batman and that I also do marketing for books about space ships and people banging, often on space ships. Conversations would basically go like ‘Yes, I am an author and am very concerned with authorial problems and I am also on Twitter a lot, and oh look at that, you actually have your hand in someone’s ribcage right now and are keeping them alive by manually pumping their heart, hmm that’s fascinating.’

I attended “panels” (more like group discussions) on establishing queer communities, on the problem of masculinity, on diversity on Australian screen, on the idea of Australian cultural identity. My pitch to get into the conference was about using digital communities to broaden and expand Australian writers, and to deal with the kind of weird parochial idea of ‘Australian writing’. I now see that it was a very niche part of an overlying issue, and I was glad to have my scope expanded. I was also excited to discover that I’ve somehow become fairly cynical, and people were quick to puncture my negative-nancy comments with optimism and facts and goals and strategies. I v. quickly became the giant labrador of enthusiasm that I’ve always aspired to be.

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I spent a lot of the conference being very tired, and a full night lying in bed completely over-stimulated, with Shania Twain’s ‘Still the One’ playing on loop in my head. I had a lot of fun, a lot of food and drink, and met and reconnected with some of the best people in the world. I got dizzy on some virtual reality goggles. I got to fall in love with Courtney Act. There’s no doubt about it that socially, Junket was a goddamn winner. Also, I got some real nice toiletries from Qantas, which is the quickest path to my dry-skinned heart.

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you can’t see it, but I am trying to take a photo of how much moisturiser I just put on my entire body

I would like to think that I was able to add something to the scheduled conversations I attended. I hope that my experience with online communities came in helpful, that I was able to impart some knowledge or help someone reach an outcome or conclusion for the big issues they were tackling. But regardless of whether or not this happened, or whether my legacy was some pretty good drunken heckling, Junket for me was an unparalleled privilege for me to listen. Being able to sit and listen to people eloquently and passionately explain either their problems or their experiences, or the people or things or issues they are advocating for was humbling and inspiring. As a marketer I really had little to add to the issue of diversity on Australian screens. As a writer, probably very little either, unless I get my much agitated-for job on Neighbours. But maybe one day it will – maybe one day I’ll be able to make a difference. But everything I was able to absorb will inspire and dictate my own writing, my own creative philosophy. Likewise with the discussion of Australian cultural identity, where I learned that perhaps the only way to ‘feel’ Australian, is to feel uncomfortable about it, which is definitely something that I’ve felt as an Australian writer. Maybe it’s time to write about that too. I really wish there was some way all writers could go and experience this sort of thing, have access to all these voices. For various reasons, a lot of my life has become narrowed down to other writers. I still think writers are great people, but I cannot tell you how many people I talked to at this thing that instantly sparked into a story or a book or a character.

It’s such a small outcome, compared to people who will leave this conference and fold the experience into actionable plans and outcomes that will make the world a better place, but hopefully my next Gilmore Girls fanfiction will in some ways be massively better because of this experience.