Guest Contributor: Edward Tanoto

Antithesis is pleased to welcome a new blog contributor: Edward Tanoto.

Edward Tanoto is an Indonesian, full-time student at The University of Melbourne studying for his Bachelor of Commerce degree. He is also a freelance writer and blogs’ guest writers. Before Australia, he was a debate coach and an English teacher in Indonesia. Currently, he is an active participant for Feeding Australia, a non-profit organisation with the aim of providing affordable food to Australians. He is also collaborating with Professor Kenji Kanno from Tokyo University of Science and his team in creating a documentary on Australian refugees, and is working on an article for “Aktivis” Magazine – an Indonesian magazine published annually by PPIA (Perhimpunan Pelajar Indonesia Australia or The Indonesian Students Association of Australia).

We hope you enjoy Behind the Pen.

As a writer, I tend to question things – ‘What if the world is different?’ or ‘How can I voice the cries of the homeless?’ or ‘Why has Trump gathered so many supporters to his campaign?’ More often than not, the answer does not come easily, but requires hours of imagination, thought and research. The writing process is often mentally exhausting, frustrating, even!

Eventually you come to ask yourself, ‘What’s the point?’ After all, it is just a bunch of letters. There is no guarantee anybody is going to read it anyway.

It’s a question that every writing enthusiast may ask. I mean, put yourself in my shoes – my native language is not English. I am Indonesian and my English may not even be good to begin with! Faced with doubt, we dig deeper into our wounds, rubbing salt into them and wallowing in self-pity. What comes after? Well, you decide.

I believe many of us have doubted our writing. There is nothing wrong with questioning what you are doing, in fact, it’s a sign of critical thinking at work. Similarly though, it’s also important to acknowledge the value of your writing. No matter what you have written, know that you have crafted a piece of yourself into words. The words represent your thoughts, your beliefs, you! We become our own artist, our canvasses are paper and our colours are words. Just for this, how is writing not worth it?

‘The pen is mightier than the sword.’ It’s no mystery that people take offence to what writers say. Genghis Khan waged war with the Shah of Khwarezm, Muhammad II, after merely receiving an unfavourable reply to a trade negotiation. Your word holds power. It is one of the many weapons you are born with. Mastery of words is a common trait of charismatic leaders, successful novelists and famous gurus. Writing can function as a power tool when used correctly. It is the one asset that will remain useful even when time goes by. Why would you not wish to equip yourself with a powerful tool that will serve you for life?

‘A picture is worth a thousand words.’ This idiom, in its simplest form, shows us the richness of a single image. Similarly, I believe the reverse holds as much truth – A word is worth a thousand pictures. Think of life, or love – each word evokes different imagery in our psyches. The word life can conjure images of a fun hangout with close buddies in a café just as it can trigger thoughts of travelling the world, experiencing new memories and recalling good times. Love can mean accepting the unchangeable or even changing the unacceptable for your significant other.

Take the simplest word, I. The word consists of only a letter, and yet people relate differently to it. What constitutes an individual’s identity? What constitutes my identity? Will I define who I am based on my successes, failures, goals or even missed opportunities? How ironic, yet how beautiful, that it takes so few words to suggest so many pictures of you. Know that when you write, you are gently touching each reader’s psyche, each with its own take on what you write.

Ultimately, the exploration goes on. Psychological, emotional and personal benefits can all be found through writing. I wish I have been able to offer a glimpse of the story behind the pen, the reasons why people write. Find your motivation and write what you will. After all, it is yours to craft.

Guest Contributor: Harriet Clare Cunningham

Antithesis is pleased to welcome a new blog contributor: Harriet Cunningham.

Harriet Cunningham is a freelance writer, journalist and musician best known as classical music critic for the Sydney Morning Herald. She is currently studying for a DCA at the University of Technology, Sydney, writing a collection of short stories inspired by the archives of Dartington International Summer School of Music. In a previous life she was a copywriter, arts administrator and arts marketing expert and has been known to play the violin.

We hope you enjoy Truth and Fiction and Archives.

I’ve been working with the archive of the Summer School of Music, a festival held at Dartington Hall since 1953. My father built the archive from the ground up, from public and private collections, and now I’m sitting on the floor in his study, surrounded by boxes, story-hunting. Examining this archive is a rich experience because Dartington is a big part of who I am.

Every summer my family would spend four magical weeks there. The photos and letters drip with significance and I am here to coax some stories out of this archive. My first story is set in 1957, the year when Igor Stravinsky – one of the great iconoclasts of the twentieth century – came to visit. I’ve found some wonderful resources: autobiographies and a gossipy diary; photos showing the great man sporting sunglasses and a beret; programs and running sheets and even a shopping list. I find myself hearing conversations with the angular, ascetic chords of Stravinsky’s music in the background. The words pour out onto the page, and it’s colourful and rambling but something is not quite right. Why doesn’t it work as a story?

The answer lies somewhere within the torrid relationship between archives and historical fact. I must step back and observe how the archive affects me and how that conflicts with storytelling.

First up, my response to the period-feel of many elements in the archive. The contrast between then and now is, simply, beguiling – all those 1950s fashions and the ever-so-English speech. Does this fondness for the past, however, become an indulgence? Is my inclusion of period details adding a zing of period-colour? Or is it just historical point-scoring? I think it’s the latter.

Second, a narrative is more than a collection of facts spliced together. It needs to be curated. I have already made up conversations, attributed emotions to characters for which I cannot possibly claim a documentary source. I can, in fact, I should leave things out for the sake of the story. It’s time to kill some darlings and not just words.

Third, I need to be honest about the voices which I am splicing together. The many anecdotes are only moments in time, captured and packaged and retold from a distance. So, too, are the photos – intensely evocative, full of clues, but just another captured moment. My narrative is one more layer of artifice.

My starting point was naive fascination. My endpoint, I hope, is to bring some meaning to what I’ve found. It’s time to step away, to stop stumbling on the detail and instead hear the overarching message. I go to Stravinsky’s music and, in particular, the music that was played in the summer of ’58, which included a staged performance of The Soldier’s Tale. It’s a work close to my heart with its catchy, jagged rhythms. I can still feel that shiver down my spine as the devil enters to claim the soldier’s soul. So now I listen to the music. I listen to Stravinsky’s voice as recorded by his assistant, Robert Craft. I begin to hear a story.

It’s not the story of a soldier who sells his soul to the devil. It’s the story of an artist and a man, living in troubled times, torn between art and reality, between beauty and truth. Stravinsky does not suffer fools. He tells it how it is. And yet he is an artist, filtering reality through his imagination to try and make something beautiful, something meaningful. It’s that juxtaposition between beauty and truth that I will try to capture in my story – what might have been and what was. The story has moved a long way from dog-eared photos and jolly anecdotes. It makes no claims to contain the whole historical truth. But there are shards of truth tucked in there, all wrapped up in what I hope is a rattling good yarn.

Guest Contributor: Michael Overa

Antithesis is pleased to welcome a new blog contributor: Michael Overa.

Michael Overa was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest. After completing his MFA at Hollins University in 2010, he returned to Seattle where he currently works as a writing coach and is a writer-in-residence with Seattle’s Writers In The Schools program. His work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in the Eastbay Review, Across the Margin, Writers’ Block, Fiction Daily, and the Portland Review, among others.

We hope you enjoy his piece: Why I Like Rejection Letters

It’s often difficult to explain to non-writers the series of events that lead up to a rejection letter, partly because that series of events tend to be rather nebulous. Hollywood would have us think that it works like this: a writer wakes up in the middle of the night and scribbles down some ideas which are an instant hit. Now, as romantic as that sounds, it’s a myth. But that well-established myth is hard to debunk.

In reality it works something more like this: a story idea wanders amorphously into our minds; we brood over the idea for days, weeks, or months; we write the story, agonising over word choice and sentence structure. Perhaps we spend time researching. Then, at least for many of us, begins a prolonged period of revision. Revision that may take more days, more weeks, more months. Sometimes years. And then only after we have nursed this story until we feel it is ready to face the world do we send it out.

Ah, but once the story is sent out we may not hear anything for days, weeks or months, There are times I have received rejection letters from magazines I completely forgot I submitted to.

With all of that said, what masochistic tendency leads me to like rejection letters? I’d like to think that it isn’t masochistic at all. Considering the amount of time and energy I have devoted to a story, I am, naturally, disappointed by rejection letters. However, I don’t tear up the letter proclaiming that the editors must be out of their minds. After all, a complete stranger’s aesthetic preference is impossible to ascertain. Nor do I curse other successful writers – I don’t believe I’m really in competition with them. Finally, to blame myself and question my writing ability would be fatal to my writing life. Writers learn to be rather thick-skinned about rejection letters; we also learn to maintain a certain amount of healthy pride in our work.

So, here are, for what it’s worth, the three things I like about rejection letters:

1. Rejection Letters remind us of the amount of work we have done.
Each rejection letter is a little reminder that not only did we have an idea for a story, but we sat down and wrote it. We agonised over it. We found the right literary magazine and sent off the story, spending more time in the search for the right journal to submit to. Sending the story out was the last box we could check in things within our control.

2. Rejection Letters remind us that we need to keep working.
If we’re not yet at the place where everything we send out gets snapped up immediately then we still have some work to do. It’s Sisyphean to be sure. The task will never be completed. But each time we get a rejection letter we’re reminded we still have a goal to strive towards.

3. Rejection Letters remind us that the writing process is not finite.
There is no clear place that delineates when a story is done. That’s a particular Spidey-sense we all have to develop. It’s more intuition and guessing than it is a science. Rejection letters remind us to sit down with that story again and see what we can do to edit or change it.

Ultimately we write because it is something that we can’t imagine not doing. But people write for very different reasons. I remember meeting a retiree at a writing conference in Iowa who said he really didn’t plan to send his stories out for publication. I was awestruck. The stories were entirely for himself and his family, and he wanted to write them to the best of his ability. I was similarly awestruck with advice from the writer Cathryn Hankla, who cautioned only to send out the best work I was capable of. A crappy story, even if published, is still a crappy story.

Guest contributor: Jade Raykovski

Antithesis is very pleased to welcome another amazing guest contributor to the blog: Jade Raykovski!

Jade Raykovski is studying writing and editing part-time while working as a full-time graphic designer. She dreams of one day writing children’s books like the ones that made her fall in love with reading. Her fiction has been previously published in Mindfood magazine and 1000 Words or Less Flash Fiction Collection 1. You can find her online on Twitter (@JadeRaykovski), or on Medium (medium.com/@jade.raykovski).

Below is her piece: The Importance of Like-Minded People.

Enjoy!

I just sat down to write this article today, but it’s been burning inside of me for a week.

Last weekend I went to my first writing workshop, hosted by Writers Victoria in Melbourne. The day was tailored for young writers under the age of twenty-five, and at twenty-four I scraped in.

I felt doubtful when I walked in. I was definitely one of the older ones there and I didn’t fit in. The group seemed like quirky high school and uni students; people who spent their time writing, editing or reading their own work, student publications or the local lit mags (I didn’t know all of this for sure, but it seemed like a safe assumption). And there I was, a full-time corporate worker, looking the opposite of quirky with my blue jeans, grey knit, matching brown leather boots, watch and bag, and a frequent reader of traditional fantasy and classics. But I was there to mingle, so I made small talk with others who were there on their own (I confess, I targeted the older ones).

We were discussing the elements of fiction at the start of the first session, which was a topic that had already been covered in my writing course. But then my doubtful feeling returned after doing some writing exercises that were shared with the group. I was impressed by the writing of everyone in the room, particularly the youngest participant, who was only in year eight for crying out loud!

That was when I started feeling a different kind of doubt. Over half of the group were much younger than me, and here they were already aware they wanted to be writers, already honing their craft and even having some of their work published. Was I behind? What difference would it make if I had studied writing straight out of high school? What level would I be at now?

In hindsight I know it’s silly to think these things. I made a choice to study graphic design, to go straight from my design course into full-time work, and as a result I’ve been able to save money, to travel and to pay for my online writing course, which is full-fee (but definitely worth it). I took a break from writing and I can’t compare myself to people who have been writing longer than I have.

But back to the workshop. As the speaker discussed the publishing industry and her experiences, my interest skyrocketed and I listened eagerly. The next two sessions focused on a writer’s toolkit – how to pitch, promote yourself and use social media – and a panel on how the literary magazine industry works here in Melbourne.

We had lunch as a group and it was refreshing to ask someone bluntly what their favourite book was, or what kind of writing they were interested in. I have only one or two friends who I can put those questions to, and they’re friends I don’t see often. I found it so inspiring to meet other people who were working towards the same thing I was: improving their writing, looking for opportunities to be published, and now, building a writing network. I met a girl my age who was also working full-time and studying writing part-time. It was a hallelujah moment – there are others out there like me!

We ended the day by adding each other on Twitter and Facebook (I set up a Twitter account for myself the next day) and setting up a Facebook group to share work and ideas in the future. I really didn’t want the momentum to stop; I wanted the motivation from that day to keep flowing and to maintain the connections I made, even if it’s only sporadic communication.

I’ve been consistently writing for about two years now, but this week feels different.
I finally feel like I’m part of a community, that it’s not merely about sitting alone at my desk looking for the right words, but that there’s a whole bunch of people doing exactly the same thing here in Melbourne, across Australia and the world. I’ve spent the last week reading, editing my stories, buying journals I haven’t read before and keeping a new spreadsheet to organise submissions and opportunities. I really believe I can do this. I believe I can make this writing thing work and that I can be good at it.

It’s pretty damn exciting.

 

Editor Musings: Christian McQueen

Christian McQueen lives in Melbourne, where he studies creative writing and researches Marxist literary criticism. He edits Antithesis out of a love for reading and a curiosity about the kind of narratives contemporary writers are producing. He’s mostly unorganised but always curious.

Below is his piece: Looking at Wolfgang Tillmans’ Photographs

Enjoy!

A particular photograph stands out: it’s a shot of an apartment block with an imposing charcoal brick wall, on which a phrase is painted in huge white German letters. I can’t read German, but the English title printed beside the photograph reads ‘The borders don’t run between peoples but between rich and poor’.

Tillmans took the photo 26 years ago in 1990 and today the giant graffito no longer exists, which is not surprising; Berlin has changed a great deal in the period between the toppling of the wall and the present. Perhaps the spirit of class struggle that the phrase evokes would now be considered sentimental; a cute, impotent little protest in a city occupied with bigger problems like the stability of the EU, or with rising far-right rhetoric, or with refugees. But then again the photo doesn’t seem sentimental to me. It feels very real, with a contemporary logic that can be read in the words die grenze or ‘the borders’.

But I can’t handle looking at one photo for too long, so I keep flicking through if one thing matters, everything matters, the Wolfgang Tillmans book that my girlfriend Liv left on my desk last night. Flipping a few pages on I recognise someone in one of the candid portraits. It is a guy named Conor Donlon who rented his spare room on Broadway Market to Liv and I when we were in London a few years ago. It was a tiny flat, really a mosquito of a dwelling, right above a bookstore called Donlon Books and it was exquisitely decorated. I cannot forget the particular green of his living room walls (very dark, like wilting coriander leaves), or the ornaments on the shelves that beckoned back some apparition of time within themselves. Conor had previously been Wolfgang Tillmans’ assistant and we had stayed in Conor’s flat and now a few years later I’m flipping through Tillmans’ book. Connections? Symbolic associations? Certainly, but also borders and repressions.

I turn the pages and find that I’m stuck again on a photo, this time a shot of Concorde suspended in the air over Heathrow. It’s nosing upwards and banking away from the camera on an arc that will terminate in New York, about three hours later. It’s the closest thing to time travel that has ever been commercially available (for the wealthy). It’s enough to make me race to the front door and burst onto the street, craning my neck skyward to spot a Qantas flight floating towards Tullamarine. I take a string of shots on my phone. They’ll be deleted in a week. My photos just don’t capture the grace of flight like Tillmans’ do, nor the plane’s invisible propulsive energy, which I’ve always imagined could be indefatigable. A bird that never needs to settle.

Recently, Liv, my housemate Seraph and myself dug up our pebbled front porch and paved it. We were sitting on our new little porch a few weeks back, when our neighbours walked by. They’d lived behind us for about a month and we were just getting to the point of having them over for drinks, but they announced they were leaving in a few days for Burma. Melbourne was their intended base for their travels around Australia, but as Londoners, they said they just didn’t feel that Australia was any different from what they knew. Fair enough. We all discussed our past travels, our dream destinations, and I found myself speechless when I had to admit I’ve lived in Melbourne for seven years. Have I? I could have sworn I’ve been all over the world since then. In the end I gave some garbled and potentially distressing explanation that though I’ve lived in one place for a while, I felt I kept in real touch with the world through the cerebral travel of reading. They showed no interest and I ended my explanation there.

But what borders can we cross through narrative or poetry or other creative practice? Would that have any meaning outside of the writer/reader relationship? What social or political value could this creative border crossing have?

I turn over a few more pages of Tillmans’ photos and decide I’ve seen enough. It’s not that I’ve ‘fallen into’ the pictures or ‘gotten lost’ in them, but rather, that the pictures have gotten inside me, like Trojan Horses of history’s dull minutiae. That Tillmans’ photo of the German graffito is within my mental borders now, reconstructed as a time and place, a history, which I never directly experienced, though I was alive throughout it. Thought and action. Imagination and experience. Poiesis and praxis. When do you know you’ve participated in history?

Editor Musings: Josh Duncan

Josh Duncan is a Masters student studying Creative Writing at the University of Melbourne and edits for Antithesis out of an insatiable desire for words. He’s got a thing for wolves and secretly harbours a belief in lycanthropy.

Below is his piece: The Lamentable Lack of Gay Werewolf Fiction.

Enjoy!

I’m gonna start this off talking about Harry Potter. If you’ve never encountered J.K’s magical series, fear not, minimal occult knowledge is required. Okay, so in book three, The Chamberpot of Azerbaijan, Harry’s deadly boarding school receives a new professor. He’s suave, he’s slick, he’s a bachelor. His name’s Lupin, and going by this piece’s title, you can probably guess the shocking twist. Anyway, near the book’s climax, Lupin can no longer maintain his careful façade, and is revealed to be, gasp, a werewolf. Alas, Lupin intended to remain in the furry closet; now that his secret’s out, he must leave, as no parent wants ‘his sort’ teaching innocent younglings. And thus Lupin trudges into the sunset, it’s all very poignant. As a kid, I never thought much of this, other than: man, werewolves are cool. I still think werewolves are pretty cool, but I also think they make splendid metaphors.

You take Lupin, this quiet reclusive chap, who’s wrestling with great inner turmoil. His lycanthropy serves as outward expression of his inner nature. Or something. Look, Lupin isn’t actually gay, but he could’ve been, and if he was, his full-moon blues take on a whole other dimension. It’s hardly without precedent: Pre-modern Europe frequently aligned the werewolf with sexual transgression. The Byzantine ‘Code of Justinian’ demanded the burning of men who had sex with men. Why? Their corpses could become home to demons and give birth to werewolves. In Old Norse, the word gylfin means both werewolf and a man who has sex with men. In the German ‘werewolf trials’, paranoid authorities accused men of being sodomites and werewolves, considering one sinful state to stem from the other. The 16th Century collection of English folktales, Mother Redcap, features a ‘war wolfe’ who goes on a rapacious sexual rampage. This all originates in a general fear of crossing thresholds, violating boundaries. A werewolf is a hybrid entity, combining the wolf’s bestial savagery and man’s cunning; werewolves and sodomites inspire such terror because both blur boundaries, and through this blurring, question the boundary’s very existence. The wolf as a liminal figure, which bridges two worlds, is found among the Norse Ulfhednar, a warrior society where men donned wolf skins, possibly inducted through homosexual initiation. The Celtic Bleiden served a similar function, and knowing the Celts, probably got up to all sorts of mischief. I’ve read some theories where, in fairy tales, if a wolf acts as a tutelary figure to a younger man, the wolf represents an older male initiator. He guides his charge on the path of manhood, like in the Russian fable, Tsarevitch Ivan, the Firebird and the Grey Wolf. Stories of metamorphosis, changing into a wolf, then back again, may serve a similar function; see the Greek myth of King Lycaon.

The point of all this cluttered historical detritus is that werewolves have long served as metaphors for the many relationships between men. And even if my interpretations are complete bunk, they still act as a toolbox for the imagination. If Disney can refigure grim tales as modern myths about the comforts of heterosexuality, then werewolf stories can reveal something about male homosexuality. And yes, I’m aware there are books featuring gay werewolves. A glance at Amazon unveils muscle-etched torsos adorned in tribal tattoos, far-eyed wolf heads superimposed on moonlit skies. If you’re into that, you’ve got plenty of fun stuff. But I don’t mean using a gay werewolf as some exotic component in an erotic equation. I mean excavating the modern werewolf’s spiritual ancestor, exploring the metaphorical nature of lycanthropy, how being a werewolf places one on the outskirts of polite society. Yet a werewolf is somehow more in touch with its true nature than any boring old human could ever be. Maybe the dearth of such literature is a product of genre snobbery: Complex explorations of queer sexualities are often the realm of literary fiction, whereas werewolves, um, aren’t.

And yet there’s so much rich symbolism to draw on; extended tooth-and-claw fight scenes are the least of a gay werewolf’s problems. Instead, they must confront some primal instinct, an internal state branded ‘monstrous’ by the pious elite, impossible to supress, terrifying when it escapes propriety’s grip. This is powerful stuff, which could speak to plenty of guys coming to terms with their sexuality. Not that I’m saying all gay men experience their sexuality as an inner beast, and now that I read it, I can see some people getting miffed. But if queer theory’s taught us anything, it’s that sexuality, and our understanding of it, is far beyond any individual’s intellectual grasp. There are a million ways to navigate our sexual personae, and some of us might find appeal in the werewolf, that shatterer of bonds, that happy transgressor, who embodies the Vedic dictum, ‘what seems unnatural is also natural.’