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In 2020

January 3, 2021

My new year’s eve ritual is to read through my journals from the year: in 2020 these were the yellow ‘Herakles’ and a foolscap journal labelled ‘Meeting’. I’d kept these books by my side, written in them most nights, and by so doing wrote the story of my year.

Usually I write daily observations in my journals, the details of things I’ve noticed out in the world as I go about my activities, and thus I expected to have written less in 2020 than in previous years. I’d mostly been at home, after all, and the days conformed to a similar pattern. But against my expectations there was plenty to notice, in myself, the immediate environment, and the world as its news filtered through to me. As I read I re-lived the year, shaped as it was by fires, protests and the pandemic.

A sky with a cloud of bushfire smoke and a sun tinged red by the smoke.
The sky on 4 January 2020, the hottest day of the year (48.9 in Penrith), with the cloud of smoke from the south coast fires sweeping across.

As I read through I began to take note of metaphors. In my writing for others, I’m careful and sparing with metaphors – I sometimes say to my students that every metaphor they put in their writing they have to imagine is something really physically present for the reader, there beside them – so too many and it gets confusing or crowded – but in my journals, which no one but me reads, I use them frequently to describe particular states of mind. There were a lot of metaphors of broken things – I felt like a deflated balloon, my attention felt like a frayed cord, my head felt like a broken plate – as if I was progressively embodying a pile of hard rubbish. Then things turned towards the surreal, after weeks at home “my room starts to feel like a portal. All its objects the controls of a spaceship.” This was my favourite metaphor of the year, and indeed I did pay extended scrutiny to the objects surrounding me – in April I wrote some of the stories of these objects on Instagram (private account but please feel welcome to request to follow). Some are pictured here: a VHS recording of a Cure special on Rage from 1993, the Trodat Typo stamp set, Nescafe jars, peacock pocket warmers, the ‘Vanessa’ diary from 1985 that tells the story of an EH Holden…

Metaphors and difficulties aside, I kept working and writing. At the start of the year, Anwen Crawford and I organised the ‘We, the Animals’ benefit reading at Frontyard, with readings by Michelle Cahill, Julie Koh, Mireille Juchau, and Julie Vulcan, as well and Anwen and me, to assist Wildlife Rescue South Coast in their rescue and care of animals after the fires in that region.

A group of people sitting listening to a person reading, outside underneath trees.
Reading at Frontyard for We, the Animals, in January 2020

Early in the year I worked on the 20th issue of my autobiographical zine I am a Camera, the first issue of which I put out in 2000, making the zine 20 years old. I launched it at Other Worlds Zine fair in May (the fair occurred online and you can still visit it here – you don’t need to register, just click on the tabs on the left to go to the various aisles, I’m in Aisle C and you can watch a video of me reading from the zine here).

A zine with an image of hand-drawn gloves, umbrella and bag on the front, and the words "don't forget" as well as the title: I am a Camera 20.

The Mirror Sydney podcast came out in May, after I’d been working on it with producer Lia Tsamoglou in the earlier part of the year, and I continued the Mirror Sydney blog, writing about places such as Grand Flaneur beach in Chipping Norton, the ‘Videomania’ building in Rosebery, and the Banana Joe’s supermarket in Marricvkille, which closed down in 2020.

The banana remains, but the supermarket is a Woolworths now (one of 3 Woolworths in Marrickville – why?)

Throughout the year I was a Visiting Writer at the State Library of NSW, a position established by the Sydney Review of Books and the library, for a writer to research the library’s archives. For a while it didn’t seem as if I’d be able to do much visiting, but as restrictions eased mid-year, I made research trips to the library to examine materials relating to department stores. You can read the essay I wrote based on this research – In the Catalogue – on the Sydney Review of Books.

Researching at the State Library of NSW in July 2020.

In August, I was an artist in residency at Gunyah, on Worimi country/North Arm Cove, where I spent a week writing and walking and working on the manuscript of my new book. You can read my blog post describing my time at Gunyah here.

Writing at Gunyah artist residency, August 2020

In 2020 I contributed short stories to HiLoBrow – one on the 1959 film of The Flyand one the Cure song ‘So What’. I also wrote a story for the zine Cat Party #6, edited by Katie Haegele, for the quarantine-themed issue. I wrote about my sometimes-editor, Soxy.

It wasn’t the year I or anyone expected it to be, but I have plenty to be grateful for. Thank you to you my readers, supporters and friends, for being there with me this year. In 2021 I’m looking forward to the publication of my new book of essays, Gentle and Fierce, mid-year, with Giramondo, and to filling many more journal pages with the details of my days.

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