Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Sitting In - Myf Warhurst in conversation with Carrie Brownstein

Sometimes I take my job as an usher for The Wheeler Centre for granted. Usually I'll make sure I've researched the feature guest, if it's someone I'm not already familiar with, but sometimes, like last night, I'll just read the event details and bio note beforehand. Yesterday I could have just logged in to Spotify or youtube and loaded some music or a clip to play in the background while I was working - I think my main project was writing some blog posts for a wedding dress designer - but I didn't. I checked the details of the event and in hindsight think I might have stopped when I read the opening line in the description:
"Rising to riot grrrl fame with pioneering 90s punk trio Sleater-Kinney..."
I was discovering new music yesterday. I was listening to The Cave Singers and didn't want to go anywhere near punk when I was in "twangy, roots folk." And thinking about the 90s makes me feel old, so while Myf tweeted, "Melbourne, who left the oven on?" I caught the train to Flinders St in my comfy Ecco lace up shoes and turned up to Melbourne Town Hall ready to marshall the many people who did know a lot about Carrie Brownstein.

My role was to prepare the queue, which means I walked up and down Swanston Street calling out to people, "please have your tickets ready to be scanned at the top of the stairs." I don't know how many times I said, "If you have phone tickets make sure it's big and bright and landscape, the barcode that is," or awkward variations of that, and you know what? I got smiles. I got laughs and as a really mixed crowd of people filed by I even got some thank yous.

I started getting very curious about this Carrie chick. I mean who/what is the common denominator in this mix? There were twenty-somethings helloing each other with hugs and little jumps of happy joy, but there were women, older birds like me, and a healthy number of blokes too.

Snaking around the front portico was loads of red lipstick, polka dots and Peter Pan collars along with plenty of androgynous fashion and arty ink. It was a bit like some sort of mashup of Melbourne Fashion Festival and Golden Plains, that would somehow have something for everyone.

When a tourist approached me to ask what we were putting on I gave a quick run down that included a spruik for the Wheeler Centre, but really I couldn't wait to get everyone inside and get to the back of the hall to have a listen myself. I was still thinking, "a punk rocker and giggling ladies - how does that work?" I mean Myf, well Myf's got one of the best laughs on radio and I nearly giggled like a fan when she came running up the stairs in heels I wouldn't trust myself in, so I could see how she'd draw a wide range of people, but I needed to find out more about this other woman on the stage.

Sometimes it's great to go to an event knowing nothing about the person or their book or their music and just listen, without preconceptions or specific things you want to be covered.

I was so lucky to be able to do that last night. I stood at the back of the full hall and listened to Carrie Brownstein talk and was quickly spellbound myself. She's composed, eloquent, gutsy and introverted. I don't know the details of her story, of the challenges she faced growing up and has apparently talked about in her recently published memoir, but what I did hear last night made me want to look into her a lot more.

So I know that Carrie Brownstein is a musician, writer and actor. You can see her in the award winning shows, 'Portlandia' and 'Transparent' and in the Golden Globe nominated film, 'Carol'. But because I was there last night I also know that she's someone who loves nature, who loves hiking and time to think as much as she loves teaming up with women who "have teeth".
"I like people that know they're going to be underestimated - and then claw their way right through you."
She started performing to put off going to bed or leaving a friend's house and belted out 'Life in the Fast Lane' before she had any idea what she was singing about. Now, at an age that is closer to mine than I'd realised, she still loves getting on stage and chasing emotions to their extreme, but also looks forward to the home times when Sunday mornings are spent reading The New York Times.

After last night's event I've got new music to listen to, new shows to watch and a new book to read. If, like me, you weren't already familiar with Carrie Brownstein then I reckon 'Modern Girl' (Live) is a pretty fine place to start. And if you're one of those with a ticket for this weeks' soldout Sleater-Kinney shows, then you're definitely up for some fun.

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

What I Loved: 'Artful' by Ali Smith

Monday night
It's been so long since I've sat up late, unable, or unwilling, to put down a book, but tonight I'm firmly in 'Artful' by Ali Smith.
I've got my reading lamp clipped to the back centimetre of pages - it's the one I bought in Readings, Malvern, after the manager and I inspected and compared the two brands they had available. We were two amateurs reading attributes on the back of boxes - they could have been 14 letter ingredients for drugs for all we knew - and I don't know why the decision took so long when they were both the same price ($19.95) but it was quiet in the shop and eventually I chose one brand over the other. And I chose pink - pink! and now, in the thoughts, quotes and fantasy of Ali Smith not only am I a Reader again, but while my lover, who wakes for work at 5.15am, snores lightly beside me - a sound I find comforting because I know how much he needs rest to get through the hours he spends on his feet - I'm slipping in and out of our bed, my LED light flicking shapes across the shoes and shorts that he's left on the floor. I'm a thief on her first mission, a nervous accomplice. I dropped a pencil on my desk and it rolled into a handbag, colliding with something hard - who knew a pencil could clash so loudly? My frustration at dropping a sharpened pencil in the dark, at having to take a break from 'Artful' because it seems that not only am I alert and keen for Smith's words, it seems that also for the first time in a long time I feel the urgent need to write. But my words these days are never my stories. They're ways to share others' writing, to promote the skills of others and yet there, there are the side page notes, those jots that make little sense until you pick through many filled notebooks and somehow find lines that can be related to each other and form the basis of a paragraph or an idea to explore. So there's some hope for me, Writer.
But for now it's 10.13pm on a Monday. It's time to put away this notebook and the blunt, second choice pencil and go to sleep. I've finished 'On time' and in the morning, if I'm awake early enough and have the time, I might bring a cup of coffee to bed and read the next section, 'On form,' before the day of writing for others begins.

Tuesday morning
After handwriting that note I kept reading. I finished 'On form' at 10.47pm and I liked turning off my pink light at that point because my alarm goes off at 6.27am and somehow after reading 92 pages in one sitting the idea of exactly 7.5 hours sleep seemed sound. Of course that required starting my slumber at that very minute.
I should have known that because I'd started reading something that is "part fiction, part essay" and "a revelation of what writing can do," there was no chance of falling asleep quickly. Or, as I felt at 2.07am, if at all.
At which point I tried listening to a podcast to put me to sleep, but Kevin Barry talking with Debra Treisman and reading 'The Saucer of Larks' by Brian Friel in noise cancellation headphones was a poor choice. Both the conversation and the story are entertaining - Irish accents and insight, the Atlantic coast of Ireland - and saw me through until 2.58am.
At some point I fell asleep, then woke with our first alarm at 5.15am and went back to sleep. I woke again at 7.33am (I had reset my own alarm) and made coffee. I kept the blinds closed, pretending I wasn't skiving when I should be working, and went back to bed with Ali Smith. I read the next section, 'On edge,' and have forced myself to put it down and get to my desk. But only so far as to think and write about the work by this author who is, as said by Alain de Botton
"a genius, genuinely modern in the heroic, glorious sense."
The final section is 'On offer and on reflection.' I can't wait to go to bed tonight.