Shouting at the telly

When I was little, I used to watch TV with my Nana. She liked shows about detectives and lawyers like Perry Mason and Homicide, and she and my Pop loved to watch the footy.

Every weekend they watched World of Sport, which went on for hours and hours, and included a panel of old players arguing about the week’s footy games, the famous handball competition, and ‘Uncle’ Doug Elliott expounding the virtues of different brands of ham or beer. Nana couldn’t stand Doug and she didn’t much like former Geelong great Bob Davis either. Whenever either of them went on too long she’d shout “Shut up, you piker!” at the top of her voice.

It was just like being at the footy, I used to think, with people shouting at the telly just like they’d shout if they were at the ground. They abuse the umpires, the opposition supporters, and their own players almost as much as the other side. They wouldn’t do it anywhere else, especially in those days: it wouldn’t be polite. But somehow being at the game provided a licence for shouting, as did the amazing innovation of being able to watch sport in your own home.

(Pop wasn’t much of a shouter, although in a close finish he’d often yell, “Just kick it down the middle, son!”)

But I’ve been thinking about my Nana lately, and the act of shouting at the telly in private. I don’t shout at the screen much, except in cases of extreme historical anachronism or Tony Abbott.

I use Twitter – a lot. I think it’s one of the very best available sources of information and contacts in many of the fields I follow: history, writing, books, education, research.

But there are many times I simply can’t look at it, because it’s becoming more and more like being stuck in a room with two hundred people all shouting at the telly.

Sometimes, this isn’t even a metaphor. I have to turn Twitter off when Q&A is on, for example, because so many people I follow turn into telly-shouting ever-so-clever would-be TV panel participants.

The upside of this is when there’s a piece of ground-breaking journalism, such as 4Corners’ story on animal cruelty in abattoirs. The outcry on Twitter was immediate and rolled over into action over the ensuing hours and days.

If you follow good people, you’ll see politicians statements contradicted and questioned, research reports disseminated instead of buried, great articles posted, and people cracking hilarious jokes about current affairs. At its best Twitter (and other popular media) calls people to account and provides information critical to any society.

Campaigns such as #YAsaves show the medium at its finest, spreading the love, acting up and offering immediate support to vulnerable people or groups.

But I worry Twitter is eating itself.

Some symptoms:

  • Some idiot somewhere says something insulting (about women, about the PM, whatever). Everyone insults them back. Fine, except some of those responding seem to have no self-awareness that they too are being insulting – sometimes really, horribly, personally, libellously, insulting. They are too busy being self-righteous. 
  • Certain people are becoming famous for shouting very obvious things.  They aren’t clever. They aren’t funny. They aren’t saying anything new, or even saying the same thing in new ways. (Misogyny exists! WHO KNEW?) They are, however, positioning themselves as “commentators”.  Just like my Nana was a commentator on World of Sport, but with more followers. And not nearly as entertaining.
  • Streams of posts from conferences focus on the morning tea and people behaving like it’s a school excursion. Are you getting paid to be there? Act like it. 
  • Many people automate not just their tweets but also their associated curation tools, like paper.li. So you see this stream of soulless announcement that the Joe Blogs Daily is out.
  • “Curation” apparently also extends to taking people’s links and sticking them on your own blog, or using some kind of scooping service, so you get the  extra click through – even though you’ve done nothing really to earn it, besides annoying people.
  • People appear to have forgotten that Twitter has a direct message function and do self-satisfied group hug streams that can last for hours. A little friendly chatter is lovely – acting like Mean Girls is alienating and tedious.

I could go on. And on. Instead, I’ve been giving the Unfollow button a good workout.

But the point is really that Twitter can and should be a force for goodness and niceness – and anger and righteousness, like all media.

Just don’t be so boring. Or I may start shouting. (Blame Nan. It’s genetic.)

Coming up

Next week, I’m celebrating Adult Literacy Week with the good folk at Park Orchards Learning Centre.

The topic?  The Journey of the Book – From Inspiration To Publication. A writer (that’d be me), editor and publisher discuss the stages of creating a book.

It’s at 7pm on Thursday, August 30. Cost: $25. Bookings: 9876 4381. More information in this article in the local paper (with a marvellous typo in the final line).

 

On 15 September, I’m at Fitzroy Library introducing people to Twitter. We’ll talk about how it works, what on earth it’s for, and how to use it for good not evil.

That’s on Saturday 15 September from 1 – 3.30pm at Fitzroy Library. Bookings are essential, apparently (certainly the last workshops I did there booked out quickly). Call 1300 695 427 or email yarralibraries@yarracity.vic.gov.au. More information on the library website.

 

Writing together

I’m not much of an extrovert. Far from it. I’d happily stay home and never go anywhere, but that’s not how the world works. You adapt. Leave the house.  Talk to other people. Real people.

So it fascinates me how networked and interactive the writing community is, online and in real life, considering how many writers are introverts. There are those huge web communities where people pitch ideas, get draft feedback, agonise over rejections, beg agents for advice, just like the Writers’ Centres  and events we have in so many places now. There are courses and workshops and a whole lot of people (the extroverts, probably) creating careers out of connecting writers with one another and – of course – with publishers and agents. They scare me a little, but never mind.

The amazing thing to me is how communities develop organically, or when given a gentle boost. The Young Adult authors on Twitter, for example, many of whom have also met in real life at conferences or events, have proved with campaigns such as #YAsaves to be a force for goodness and niceness, able to be mobilised in minutes.

So this week and next I am in writing paradise: Varuna Writers’ House in Katoomba, in the gorgeous Blue Mountains in New South Wales. *

Image of liquidamber leaves

Dry stone wall under the liquidamber - Varuna

It’s autumn here, and some days it rains softly. There are five writers in the house, all working on different kinds of projects and at different stages of our careers. We each have a bedroom and a writing room, in a house filled with books and light. We wake up early most mornings. We may or may not see one another during the day. We slouch about, sit at our desks, proofread in the sunshine, go for walks, refuse to go for walks (in my case), browse the bookshelves, and write.

Mostly write. When we assembled on the first evening we all agreed there was some kind of magic going on. I’d written 5000 words that day – twice the usual rate. We start early (though it’s entirely up to the individual) and most of us are at our desks for 11 or 12 hours. But it’s not just that – somehow the mind becomes more focused, more productive. If there’s a writing zone, we are deep inside it. It’s quiet, respectful, peaceful, dedicated, and we are all conscious of the extraordinary privilege of being here – of being supported, as writers.

We help ourselves to the plentiful food supplies – in some cases every two hours – and then around 6pm we slowly assemble in front of the fire in the dining room, talk about our days, our work, the world and wait for the legendary Sheila to arrive and prepare a fabulous meal.  It’s a little writing community, of sorts: a temporary one, although I know plenty of people who’ve made lasting friendships here.

It’s quite different from my select and extremely rowdy writing circle back home. There are three of us. Most weeks we meet for lunch, for coffee and then go write. Together. We sit about with our laptops somewhere soundproof (for the safety of those around us) and we write in 25 minute sprints, and then for ten minutes we gossip, drink cups of tea, and laugh until we weep. Then another writing sprint. I haven’t been part of that kind of writing community for years, and it’s lovely. (Thank you, Paddy O’Reilly and Fran Cusworth.) It developed naturally, in a way, but we are also all PhD students in a faculty of supportive people.

Online, I’m part of a community of writers and readers, many of whom I’ve never met. We share resources, articles, reading suggestions, outrage, shameless plugs, despair, jokes, favourite videos, support and encouragement. It’s called Twitter and it’s as much a part of my own professional development as – in fact more than, because it’s daily –  my membership of any professional organisations.

So you see – even an introvert gets out sometimes.

Image of Eleanor's studio, Varuna

Eleanor Dark's studio, Varuna

*Varuna was the home of author Eleanor Dark (The Timeless Land)  and Dr Eric Dark, who served with the Medical Corps on the Somme and was awarded a Military Cross following Passchendaele. The MC citation, dated 15th August 1917, reads:

“For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in leading his bearers. He displayed great gallantry and disregard of danger in moving about in the open under the heaviest shell fire, collecting and evacuating the wounded. He worked continuously for thirty-six hours, by his energy and determination contributing largely to the rapid clearing of the battlefield.”

Their house must have been an oasis in their busy lives: both were at the forefront of contemporary politics; Eleanor was a feminist and social justice advocate, Eric a socialist and committed member of the Labour Left during those turbulent decades around the Second World War. Varuna was donated “to literature” by their son Mick and is now a year-round haven for writers of all persuasions. It has a range of fellowships and programs: I was lucky enough to be awarded a Retreat Fellowship.