Category Archives: My Writing Life

Deakin Motion Lab – an internship

What a fantastic experience my internship at Deakin Motion Lab was this summer! My creative self took a definitive step forward while I sat in this dynamic hub, which is made up of a team of entrepreneurial free thinkers who are cloaked in a myriad of non-disclosure agreements. Motion Lab by its own definition is a ‘Melbourne-based creative consultancy that intersects research, art, and technology to deliver state-of-the-art innovative solutions.’ They provide virtual reality; augmented reality, performing arts, animation, and motion capture services.

My tasks included writing a social media plan for Motion Lab’s booth at Future Assembly, Australia’s emergent tech festival, and a character brief for a new animated demo character that I named Maya. I’m not sure if her name will stick but I got to know her like a worshipped sister. There was much conjecture surrounding her name, as Maya is also the name of one of the software programs they use – apparently. There was no decision whether this was a good thing or not. My son, had he been a girl, was going to be called Maya Rose. I once new a beautiful old Russian woman with sweet soul named Maya and I have always loved the name. I was provided with a ten-page character template to fill out that, as a writer I can only say was incredibly detailed and a lesson at just how much thought goes into today’s animated characters. I was sorry to leave her behind.

From my first day to my last, and beyond (I’ll get to that in a minute) I was given the task to research one of Motion Labs research members, Katya Johanson, Associate Professor, Arts Engagement. I was to delve into Johanson’s previous work and her current project – Asia TOPA, formulate interview questions regarding Asia TOPA, interview her in person on videotape, transcribe said interview and write an article – and that is where I am. Although my time at Motion Lab is officially over, a final draft of my article ‘The art of the art’s evaluation – Asia TOPA a case study of unprecedented scope,’ is currently being approved, before Jordan Vincent my supervisor and I, can pitch it to an appropriate publication/s.

Although time ran out, I also began to research another member, Kristine Moruzi – Faculty of Arts and Education, ARC Discovery Early Career Research Fellow. Due to logistical complications over the Christmas break we ended up talking on the phone – an  informative forty-five minute conversation about her work and research interests, one of which is very close to my heart – reimagining the gothic genre in a post-feminist context. I could describe our conversation as an informational interview – which I’d be more comfortable with if I’m successful in establishing a long-lasting academic relationship with her. I did share the challenges I am facing with Joy Street and in response to Moruzi’s challenges for her research – the scarcity of colonial children’s literature, I was able to impart a snippet of a previously unexplored reason.

Through my research pertaining to an exhibit I have had published on Deakin Fusion ‘William Clarson and The Kitchen Garden – a life of note and notoriety,’ – I came across the notion that the demand for children’s colonial literature far exceeded supply. And it was partly due to tariffs being placed on imported printing materials that thwarted settler publications and put pressure on the model school to import more readily available, cheaper, but non-relevant texts from England.

I felt a great connection with Moruzi and it buoyed my impending doom at finishing my undergraduate degree in June of this year. Moruzi doesn’t know it but she’s provided me with a notion that I’d have something to say if I was to continue my studies – and maybe through academic research I could come up with answers to the gothic/feminist challenges I want to resolve for Joy Street.

In conclusion, I’m grateful to Jordan Vincent for having me at the Lab for the summer, her subtle and seamless guidance and clever task setting. The structure and scope of this internship and its effects on my creative, academic, and professional self is a fine example of what all internships should seek to emulate.

When quietude becomes noisy

I was fortunate to be offered two Deakin internships this summer, and grateful that I was allowed to accept both. It was a summer of contrasts. One of the internships was at Deakin Motion Lab, an innovative technology-driven creative hub, to be detailed in a separate post. The other was at the Alfred Deakin Prime Ministerial Library Special Collections, where I got to sit in a gallery space. Along one side of the large room it was floor to ceiling of old books. Archival items such as large botanical plates were dotted about in custom cases and shelving units. Opposite the books shelves was a wall of glass, watermarked with an image of Alfred Deakin and automatic glass sliding doors.

Quietude, one of my favorite words, a coveted place, comes to mind, but actually historical research is noisy – once you are sucked into the vortex of the task – being alone in a quiet space is not the experience at all. It’s fun, it’s lively, – people and places become animated demanding and competing for your attention.

The ADPML, according to Liz Horn a librarian at Deakin, ‘provides high quality research facilities for scholars attached to the Alfred Deakin Research Institute, other Deakin University staff, students and the wider community, including a publically accessible reference collection containing materials on Australian social and political history and family history.’ The ADPML is the access point for Deakin University Library’s collection of over 70,000 rare books and special materials. Deakin Fusion is an online space for ADPML to exhibit digitalised collections and that was where my internship was focused.

My role was to research, write, design, and publish exhibits. Omeka is a little like WordPress but designed specifically for libraries and museums to exhibit collections, and is more reliant on html code. This was my first foray into html code (luckily there were already eight exhibits online so I did a lot of copying and pasting) which I found quite fun (I am a bit weird). During my internship I published three exhibits; ‘William Clarson and The Kitchen Garden – a life of note and notoriety,’ and ‘The purveyors of floral sensations,’ and lastly A plant for every purpose, a champion for every plant.’

I got to choose what digitalised items I wrote an exhibit for and next week I will begin a regular one-day per week role at ADPML, so I’m looking forward to choosing another. The biggest challenge will be restricting word count – there’s just so much content waiting to be uncovered and collated. The first two were 1500 words but poor old William Clarson blew out to 4000. There really is a book there…

Why not seek out a writer for a funeral service?

I appreciated my writing ability more than I ever thought possible, when in March 2016 I wrote and performed my younger brother’s eulogy.  Much like a performing artist, what makes a good writer, one that our fellow humans will respond to, is fearlessness and authenticity. While I knew writing my brother’s eulogy was going to be difficult I knew in the marrow of my bones it was going to be my privilege and my gift to him. I have in the past written and performed my mother’s and my maternal grandmother’s eulogies, so I knew that if I could get through it, an exalted sense of closure would be my reward. Ajay was only thirty-five and I had placed upon myself extra responsibility to do a good job for my father, who as you can imagine was the person I was most worried about. Dad gave me one direction, he said ‘Don’t make it about me or dwell on his (decade long) illness’. This one remark was invaluable – the essence of a eulogy should not be about the speakers grief or on behalf of someone’s else grief; apart from introducing your relationship to the deceased at the beginning,  the eulogy should remain focussed on celebrating the deceased person’s life, leaving any purely personal note short and at the end.

In hindsight I was grateful that we had a little extra time from what’s normally the case because Ajay had made a detour to the coroner before his service – for some routine tests due to him being so young and dying at home. It was comforting to hear from our funeral home representative and our private celebrant, Anne Young, who I couldn’t recommend highly enough, that there is never a need to rush the scheduling of a service, and that there was no reason in our case why Ajay’s service could not be booked for two weeks hence. This would allow the coroner plenty of time and remove any conjecture on the date. Nevertheless, it took me until two days before his service before I found my space –  I had a late afternoon nap and started writing at 11.00pm, finishing at 3.00am. I stepped outside the following morning at 7.30am,  relieved but bedraggled and incredibly sad and puffy to drive my son to the bus stop. I was greeted by the most beautiful morning sky I have ever seen in suburbia. It was a Toy Story sky at sunrise, with great bands of sunlight emanating from the horizon like an iconic image on a festival poster.  At once I knew Ajay was with me right there on the path. I choked up a sob of joy steeped in grief. He was sending me a message, ‘Well done, you got it done, good job, and thank you.’

Later, while munching on a sandwich at Ajay’s funeral, much relieved the service had gone well I had a tap on the shoulder from another (not our own) uniformed funeral-home director. He introduced himself and apologised immediately for interrupting me but said he felt compelled to come and talk to me. He explained that while he wasn’t eavesdropping on Ajay’s service, he could hear the audio as the microphone traveled beyond the chapel into other parts of the building. He said he wanted to tell me that he had heard hundreds of eulogies and that the one I had done for Ajay was one of the best.

It got me thinking that if a grieving family can hire a private celebrant to MC a service within a funeral home or anywhere else for that matter, why can’t people hire a bonafide writer to help them compose the eulogy? It is after all a key component to a service and a daunting exercise for most people; you would not be alone if the thought of writing a eulogy added another layer of stress to the prospect of performing one. What to do? Find someone who can help – and they don’t need to know the deceased – it will be a collaboration of what you want to say with a helping hand of a writer – your memories and your stories.  And if there is no one in your circle up to the task – seek out a professional.  Performing a well set out eulogy will not only enhance the service for all the mourners present but should leave you feeling accomplished, honoured, and privileged to have contributed to your loved one’s goodbye.

Rest in everlasting peace Ajay.

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Where I think it started

I lost my mother for real in January 2013 when I was forty-one. I say for real because I have grieved for her possibly my whole life. I can’t remember the first time I wrote her eulogy in my minds eye. I do know I cried each time; when I shut my eyes at night, in the shower, driving to work. I only have to think about crying and I’m a red blotchy mess for hours if not days, so I didn’t give in to it easily. But it would rupture and I was compelled. I’d be squinting trying to prevent my mascara from running down my chin onto my office gear, clenching the steering wheel with one hand and trying not to wipe snot in my eyes. I can’t remember what prompted the first imagining but it was before I knew it was called a eulogy.

I suspect I was preparing my self, wanting the worst to be over with already. I imagined a grief of losing my mother like someone who had lost a parent in a blameless car accident or from a short but aggressive cancer. I had no compass though and I felt alone in my grief. There was no real explanation or label. Every time I let her in, she seemed to have another break down which ended in a lengthy stay in bed or the Richmond Clinic. There was no start, or meaning, or end in sight. When I was a tween she left Dad, left safety and things really got interesting. The un-inked writing was uninhibited. I often fretted that no one would be at her funeral, or I would find nothing appropriate to say.

As it turned out her send off was not only appropriate but charming too, and filled with people. Most surviving family attended, with a special contingent from Queensland. She’d made some important connections in her later years and they came, as did one of her ex’s who I had always liked. All of my good friends attended, many of whom she had never met, but closure was important to share and I was grateful they were there.

My older brother did not become a hypocrite. He hadn’t acknowledged her for years and with her eventual passing there was no change on that front. My youngest Uncle, Mum’s brother, took his place. He was with me, helped me understand the end was imminent, and convinced me to stay. To be there at the end was a privilege that I will always be grateful for and I credit him with that.

The service was at the Williamstown Botanical Gardens, on the Liquidambar Lawn. It has a lovely bronze plaque on a bronze post. Under the shade of the tree, we had a trestle table set up with sandwiches and tea, and another with a beautiful decorative urn my Aunt Helen, her sister had bought (and poured her into), a framed photo of her, and a guest book. It was the best possible version of a tree that had meant something to me – it featured in my childhood home – a home that dates back to a time before I knew things were not all quite right in the world.

I’d like to write a dozen novels—creative non-fiction, fictionalised true stories? Call it what you will. I’m a late starter but there’s time. I always thought the first would be about my mother—that I needed to purge before I could move on but I’m not going to be precious about that. Vonnegut says of the completion and success of his opus, Slaughterhouse-five that it was like a glass of champagne at the end of a life. Hmmm. Perhaps she’ll feature later. My first may well be about my maternal grandfather, Poppy Lasslett who was born in 1906 and lived until he was ninety-four. I took dictation from him in my early twenties. An entire A4 Spirax notebook, in remarkably good nick, filled with his stories. He began as a entrepreneurial scallywag on the streets of Footscray, saved an ageing boxer from hanging himself in the outside dunny of a friends family home, was a boxer himself in the navy, bought and lost property as a young man, had a secret family, before the one I was part of, and was a staunch member of the socialist party. His reflections of his world have a deep political ideological thread. I can’t wait to sink my efforts into the research and see what is uncovered. 2016 is the year I’m getting serious. Musings and observations, on books, movies, my own writing process and life in general, happy things, on the fence type of things, definitive opinions. Hope to see you around.