Wednesday, December 17, 2014

to be read

Tsundoku is a Japanese word meaning buying books and not reading them; letting them pile up unread on shelves or bedside tables or floors. It is a word that is at once beautiful and tragic. 

It's also something I'm guilty of. Buying and borrowing and stacking and rearranging. Telling myself that I'll read that next, but then quickly finding something else instead. It's not something I do intentionally. I'm not hoarding books, I'm not deliberately not reading them. It's just, there are so many stories I want to read. And I find myself adding names and titles to the bottom of my must read list quicker than I seem to cross them off as read. 

And so what I end up with is a tbr pile. Tbr, of course, standing for 'to be read'. Mine sits on my bedside table, though I must admit it has now spread across two piles - safety reasons you see. And amongst the titles are such gems as Graham Greene's The Quite America, James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, George Eliot's Middlemarch, Margaret Atwood's Stone Mattress, a half-read textbook on anthropology and Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex. Well, I mean, I assume they're gems - I haven't read them yet. 

A tbr pile is a distinctly personal thing. It's says something about who you are. When I glance at mine, as I do many times a day, I see my disparate style of reading. Switching genre and era and wandering from fiction to non-fiction and back again with plenty of enthusiasm. 

Over the past few months I've taken to capturing the tbr piles that people post to various social media channels. And I'm quite fascinated. Not just by their choices, but by their willingness to share something which feels so personal.

It's easy to talk about books you've read once you've read them. At that point you can form a, somewhat, coherent opinion. But while it remains in that pile you cannot do that. So sharing that tbr pile feels like exposing yourself before you've had a chance to think, to wonder why and how and to come to any real conclusions. But then, maybe that's ok. 

Maybe the beauty of the tbr pile, and in its sharing, is that you are revealing yourself. Telling the world what you want to read feels akin to telling the world who and what and how you are. And maybe even what you want to be. 

When I cleared the debris from my bedside table to take the picture above I wondered for a moment what anyone seeing the picture would think about me. When they looked at my wide-ranging choices, what would they see? 

Would de Beauvoir indicate my feminist leanings? Joyce my desire to explore my Irish heritage? Would books on Wikileaks and international sex trafficking correctly indicate my interest in the world I live in, a desire to understand as much as I can? What does Margaret Atwood say, or Susan Sontag or Virginia Woolf?

And then after the picture, I thought maybe it doesn't really matter. Maybe the point of sharing our tbr piles is not so much about who and what and how we are but about the importance if stories in our lives. Maybe constructing those piles and sharing those pictures is a way to demonstrate your appreciation for stories. and for the writers that put them into the world. 

I don't know. Maybe it's a little of both. Maybe I'm trying to find something where there isn't really anything. Maybe a tbr pile is just that, books you're going to read. 


Thursday, December 11, 2014

Meredith, oh Meredith

Memories have a way of blurring. Of becoming fainter and less reminiscent of the reality that originally bought them to being. Often the details leave, off to take hold somewhere distant and untraceable; it’s the basics that stay. 

This year marks the 24th Meredith Music Festival and as the second weekend in December approaches I’ve been enjoying those blurry memories that have floated to the top of my consciousness, memories of the seven festivals I’ve been privileged to attend. A few of them follow. 

In 2012, on the second weekend in December, I watched the then 85-year-old American musician Big Jay McNeely make his way from somewhere near the top of the natural amphitheatre that makes the Meredith Music Festival to the bottom, where the stage lay, where his near dozen or so bandmates waited for him. He carried his saxophone and at intervals stopped and played. We cheered him on, clapping and moving to the music he was playing us. 

I can’t give you too many more details than that. What I can tell you is that moments like that are the sweet spot of Meredith Music Festival. It’s the place where the unexpected becomes the significant. Where seconds can feel like hours and people you’ve just met can feel like something even closer than blood. For me, it’s also the place where seven years of music and faces and feelings and cold cans and hot food and unexpected weather and unnatural highs merge to become something you hold close to your chest, checking regularly that it’s still there, like a secret you're not quite sure you want to share. 

My first Meredith was in 2007. Back then they still did two types of tickets and we’d only got the Sat/Sun type so we missed out on Amanda Palmer. But we saw Andrew WK, writhing around the stage dressed in white jeans and a white t shirt, telling us that we were all together, at Meredith, in the world, together. 

The Gossip was scheduled to play that night. Before they hit the stage my friends and I graciously accepted a puff on a joint from a stranger. One friend couldn’t handle this funny smoke and as Beth Ditto made her entrance onto the stage, I found myself helping her into our tent. I lay beside her as she slept, hearing Beth’s voice as it blew from the amphitheatre. Loud and real and urgent. Resentment tastes bitter, as I always imagined it would. We’re not friends anymore. But I don’t think it has anything to do with missing Beth. 

Before going to Meredith that year I’d discovered Paris Wells, who was scheduled to play on the Sunday afternoon. We pushed to the front of the stage for Paris and after she’d played she jumped down from the stage to sit at a table and sign copies of her CD. We bought copies and watched her scrawl with black marker across the face of them. Later, we sat on the roof of our car at the entrance to Meredith, waiting for someone’s parents to come pick us up, Paris drove out, her window was down and we called to her, waving madly from our perch. She waved back. Her arm extending out the window as her car drove around the bend. 

By 2008 the two types of tickets had been scrapped. It was in for one in for all. And we were in. It rained that year. Hard and heavy, but then as I know now, Meredith isn’t Meredith without a little damp. That year the dust turned to mud, people dived head fisrt, sliding across the wet dirt on their bellies. People tripped, hitting the mud with their arses. Bales of hay were spread across the ground. We wore ponchos and let the rain hit our faces and as the weekend wore on, we let the wet seep into our bones. 

We saw Violent Soho, Architecture in Helsinki, Beaches and The Bronx. It was the year I fell hard, musically at least, for the boys of Little Red. The year Kram played his first solo gig. Night had fallen, the crowd had descended and as those first strains of harmonica began, it was at once a moment of time charged with energy and brimming with tenderness. MGMT played that year, I heard them from the top of the Meredith Eye. They weren’t great, I could tell from the top of the wheel. My friend had a bag of mary j. She dropped it from the wheel that night. 

Meredith always starts early. Not the music, which kicks off around 4pm on Friday afternoon, but the whole weekend. It’s an early rise Friday, followed by a half hour drive from home (we always felt blessed to live so close) to the line to get in. Which is almost like a pre-party to the actual party. The first can is generally cracked in the line and it’s on from there. Down hill or up hill, depending on your point of view. And what’s in your can.

By 2009 we were almost old hands. We saw Jarvis Cocker, Sia and Kitty, Daisy and Lewis. We jumped, hands in the air, for Pharoahe Monch, soaking up the energy they threw from the stage. But 2009 belonged to Paul Kelly. 

We’d made our way towards the front of the stage, and it was that heady time of day when it’s not yet night but it’s not still day. Dusk, I guess. But that word doesn’t feel quite adequate enough. We were standing in a natural amphitheatre with ten thousand other people in what can only be described as a sing-a-long with Paul Kelly. Ten thousand people packed in tightly together, swaying, arms draped across the shoulders of friends and strangers alike, all singing along, all asking the same question: whose going to make the gravy?

I remember looking around me, feeling goosebumps creep all over my body. It was at once one of the most amazing things I’ve ever been a part of and also one of the oddest. All of us thrown together singing words like a musical army. Maybe it was because it was Paul Kelly. Maybe we had drunk enough by then to be in the blissful tipsy stage of mutual love and acceptance. Maybe we were all feeling those goosebumps. Maybe it was the natural and unnatural substances coursing through many of our bodies. Whatever it was, it was magic. 

Like 2009 belonged to Paul Kelly, 2010 belonged to Neil Finn. 

We saw Kimbra and Cloud Control and the inimitable Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings. Little Red preformed again, cementing my love for them. But Neil Finn pulled us close to the stage, drew us down the slopes of the amphitheatre. It was another one of those ten thousand strong sing-a-longs. It was magic and oddness all rolled into one. It was another Meredith thing that you probably wouldn’t get if you weren’t there. 

I almost died at Meredith in 2011. And that is such a dramatic exaggeration. When Barbarian took to the stage I was at the front. Then their fans began to move and things got a little crazy. I could feel the crowd pushing forward behind me, could feel my body being crushed against the metal fence. We ended up jumping the fence at the front of the stage, being hauled over the metal by security guards. It was a moment that was terrifying and exhilarating. It was Meredith.

We saw Cut/Copy that year and Ladyhawke and Icehouse. Adalita played and sat down on the stage with the children of her Magic Dirt bandmate Dean Turner. At one point she lay down on the stage and they jumped over her legs. 

There was a total lunar eclipse that year, which kind of makes sense because Grinderman played. Nick Cave stalked the Meredith stage in perhaps the most beautiful pair of gentleman’s shoes I’ve ever laid eyes on. It was Grinderman’s last performance. 

We’d set our camp up fairly early in 2012. A product, no doubt, borne out of the fact that we were veterans. We’d been and done it so many times before. We were old hands. 

By now the second can was well and truly open and we’d reclined in our folding chairs out the front of our campsite watching the goings on around us. A group of about twenty started pulling six metre long pieces of timber from the roof of their car. We watching them stand them up into a crude triangle and throw weighted ropes around the apex. They then dragged a tarp over their makeshift teepee. We’d never seen anything like it at Meredith, but we nodded along, encouraging their quite foolhardy behaviour. The teepee came down by Saturday night when the weather, predictably so, turned nasty.

That year was the year of the aforementioned Big Jay McNeely. I hadn’t expected the highlight of 2012 to be Big Jay and his saxophone. Perhaps I’m making assumptions, but I’d bet most of the 10,000 strong Meredith crowd hadn’t heard of Big Jay prior to seeing him that sweaty Saturday afternoon. And I bet none of them have forgotten him.

It was also the year of Grimes, The Sunnyboys, Saskwatch and Regurgitator. Chet Faker played sitting down with a broken leg. Primal Scream were amazing, I found myself transfixed by Bobby and the shirt he was wearing. I tweeted the band later, asking about the shirt. I never got a reply. 

We saw The Smith Street Band in 2013 and Stonefield and Courtney Barnett. We saw Beaches and Dick Diver and Spiderbait. And when Neil Rodgers and Chic hit the stage we were front and centre. Rodgers played an amazing set. I guess time just doesn’t weary some people. He told us about his battle with cancer and talked about all the amazing people he’d worked with. He was dressed in an immaculate white suit with a white beret. He smiled a huge smile. It was dark when they hit the stage, and Meredith and her ampitheatre became a giant disco. 

Meredith 2013 is the freshest in my mind, the cleanest. The one least soiled by time and the romance of smudged memories. And yet, it doesn’t feel like the biggest as you might expect it would. It just feels like another piece. An addition to an already established picture.

This year, for the first time in seven years, I won’t be going to Meredith. I missed the ballot. A devastation all on its own that feels a lot like rejection.  But I’m also packing up my life to run away to Europe in a couple of months. Maybe Aunty Meredith knows that. Maybe that rejection is actually giving a shit. Who knows. I know I’ll miss her. This year. And maybe forever, because I don’t know when I’ll be back. When I’ll next find myself in the line, drifting through that amphitheatre, feeling that music wash over me. 

I know I have seven years of memories. And maybe that’s enough.

kb xx

Sunday, December 07, 2014

space, man

Sometimes you read something that just sticks with you. That lingers long after the last syllables are uttered in your mind, long after the last page is turned or you've scrolled until you cannot scroll any further. Something about those stories, maybe it's the subject, more likely it is the way they are told; the language, the style, the way the words fit and move together - all of this makes it stick. 

When I read this piece by Elmo Keep on Medium a few weeks ago, I knew right away it would be one of those pieces. 'All dressed up for Mars and nowhere to go' is a fascinating tale of space exploration, of a one way journey to Mars and an Australian man who has signed on the bottom line. 

But, more than that, it's about something that I find myself as intrigued by as I am terrified. Maybe terrified is the wrong word. 

I live in a part of Australia where at night, after the sun has set, the sky is alive with specks of light we know to be stars. I'm fascinated by these specks of light but if I stare at them too long, if I find myself thinking in too much detail about space, about how far away those stars are, about the Moon and the planets and the Sun and everything else that constitutes the universe we live in, my head starts to hurt. It's too big for me to think about in any real way.

I've often thought about why this is so. Why contemplation of this universe feels so impossible for me and after reading Elmo Keep's piece I think I've finally figured it out. When you think about the realities of space, the distance, the hugeness of it all, it makes this life I'm leading on this planet that I live on so minuscule in comparison. So tiny as to almost not deserve thinking of. Who am I but a tiny person, living a tiny life on a tiny planet in this giant universe? 

The nature of the human existence means questions like that hit right where it hurts. How can we mean so much, yet so little? How can our impact be so great, yet disappear so soon? How can we be here, now and be gone in an instant? How can we exist?

In her captivating piece, Elmo Keep chronicles a timeline of the earth towards nothingness. 

"If all human life were to disappear from the Earth tomorrow, it would take the planet only 100 million years to completely reclaim the surface, leaving no single trace of proof that intelligent beings ever existed here. All the satellites orbiting the planet will, untended, fall, many coming to rest at the bottom of the sea. 

The last manmade structures standing will be the Pyramids and Mount Rushmore; its granite resists erosion at an elevation that exposes it to little wind, leaving it recognisable 10,000 years from now. In five million years it will be gone."

"Five billion years from now our sun will enter its red giant phase and expand to at least 200 times its current size, enveloping Mercury, Venus, and quite possibly Earth in the process.

One hundred trillion years from now all the hydrogen of the universe will be exhausted, and so all remaining stars will die. In one hundred vigintillion years quantum tunneling will turn all matter left in the universe into liquid.

In 10^10^120 years (zeros are now added in septillions, numbers too big for our minds to grasp) our universe will experience its heat death, encountering maximum entropy when there is no longer enough thermodynamic free energy to sustain processes that consume energy—like life.

By this point, time itself will have ceased to exist."

It is brutal in its truth. But it is also strangely beautiful, like things that exist outside of human intervention often are. 

It's cloudy this afternoon, the sky a sobering shade of grey that makes me think of the Earth pulling a blanket over itself, hiding from whatever it is that it doesn't want to see. I'm hopeful the clouds will clear by this evening. I'd like to look at the stars. Maybe, just maybe, I can think a little longer about them tonight. 

kb xx

P.S. If you want to ponder the future of the universe, check out this Wikipedia article, which Elmo Keep links to in her piece. Warning: it may do some very strange and scary things to your mind.