Deciding what to leave out is the hardest part of the writing process.
As anyone who reads my blog, articles, eulogies, business proposals, film treatments, keynote addresses, song lyrics or grocery lists can attest, I need work on this skill.
I tend to write 1000 words then start thinking about how long the piece is going to be. It’s baffling: as a former news agency journalist and newspaper section editor, I spent a good part of my career insisting 400 words were all you needed to tell a good story, but look at me now, I can’t shut up.
Thus, it’s time for therapy.
This Reluctant Lemming blog/section, whatever it is, will be (mostly) dedicated to brief notes and in time, perhaps, news items (until I get sick of the short and sweet thing and feel compelled to cobble together 4000 words of nonsense about trends in knitting or something).
I’ll also dump some other material in here – perhaps an extract or two from longer form stuff I’m writing or working on and maybe even a little music (old and new). Eventually I’d like to make use of my Max Rowley-honed radio voice to do podcasts, but I’ll put that on hold until I learn how to complete a sentence without using profanity.
THIS JUST IN FROM BANGKOK
My friend Craig Knowles deserves far more than a brief — don’t get me started!
Regardless, he’s quite capable of being charmingly verbose all on his own, which is why he’s one of my favorite reads.
Bangkok-based with a flawless Dapto pedigree, Craig is a fine journalist, writer and documentarian and a key component of an unofficial plan I’ve hatched (and yet to speak to anyone about) to form a network of accomplished reporters to provide independent news and views from the world’s hotspots.
I’m confident we’ll have Mr. Murdoch’s measure soon. Just have to convince Ruth Pollard to join us from the Middle East and African correspondent Ginny Stein to abandon her employer and come and work for free for the Reluctant Lemming global news conglomerate. Steve Mascord can cover rugby league and terrible 80s hair/hard rock bands (it’s complicated). We’ll have to base him in the global league capital, Port Moresby.
Craig’s eventual dual assignment will be focusing on pop culture and providing his unique view of what’s going on in Asia, meaning frequent updates on Lana del Rey, Anna Calvi and troop movements around the north/south Korean border.
Unfortunately it may be a while until I’m flushed with funds, so I can’t afford to bring him into the fold just yet. Meanwhile you can read and learn about Craig here.
THE BARKING BLACK DOG
As some of you know, Anthony Field and I have a book, How I Got My Wiggle Back, doing the rounds at the moment in North America and Australasia.
It’s intriguing, though not entirely unexpected that most publicity to date has focused on Anthony’s on-going battle with clinical depression.
Unfortunately, that angle completely ignores other compelling health info such as the fact he nearly died from severe infections, could hardly walk because of chronic back, neck and leg pain and has benefited from innovative, non-drug treatments that could be of use to tens of millions worldwide.
I also thought, while doing the book, it might be of interest to anyone aspiring to build a business to take a look at how the Wiggles managed to create and sustain over two decades one of the most successful independent entertainment operations on the globe — basically inventing a genre in an industry dominated by huge corporations.
It’s been informative to watch the feeding frenzy in Australia after Anthony had a shocker on the (Australian) Today Show on the day they announced Greg Page was returning to replace Sam Moran.
Seems many people prefer a world where sharp-tongued, corporate types in suits run big businesses rather than (occasionally) bumbling blokes with good intentions, brilliant ideas and an unswerving devotion to their audience.
GET THEE TO A NUNNERY: THE MUSICAL
We went around the table at dinner, revealing our childhood ambitions.
What did I want to be when I grew up?
“A football (rugby) playing, singing and performing Catholic priest,” I confessed. Of course I was over it by the time I turned 35.
As a little fella, my hero was John Cootes, a Newcastle priest who played rugby league for Australia and terrible acoustic guitar for anyone who would listen.
However, my grandmother, known as Moom, for reasons I’ll explain in a tight 5000 word piece in the future, set me straight on Father Cootes: he didn’t respond to my fan mail letter so he must have been a vain bastard.
Predictably, he left the priesthood soon after becoming ‘famous’, apparently lured away from God by temptations of the flesh, according to Moom, who, I later established, wasn’t referring to a good pork chop.
It was odd – I hadn’t thought of my rugby, celibacy and folk guitar ambitions for decades until that recent dinner gathering. Must have been something in the air — we were being hosted by friends in the town of Bethlehem, Connecticut, home to a predictably large Christmas celebration and the Abbey of Regina Laudis.
Turns out one of the head penguin suits of the abbey is 73-year old Mother Dolores, who as Dolores Hart, walked away from a promising film career which featured starring roles alongside Elvis Presley to do God’s work. She popped up on the red carpet at the Oscars in support of the short documentary about her life, God is the Bigger Elvis.
She seems devout, intelligent, humble and is a dedicated, voting member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Regardless of the parlous state of my own Catholicism, I think I have a new hero (if only she’d played rugby).
Mother Dolores is leading a desperate push to raise millions to renovate the abbey. Times have been tough for the Benedictine order in recent years, but expense is never spared, locals tell me, when it comes to the nuns’ big annual event – a summer musical at Regina Laudis. Apparently it goes off.
I know where I’ll be in July: meanwhile, there’s an opportunity for a trip to beautiful Litchfield, Ct. on March 24 for an advance screening of God is the Bigger Elvis which is scheduled to be shown on HBO in April. Mother Delores will be part of a post screening Q&A.
Maybe I’ll ask her if she answers her fan mail from kids.
PERTINENT RUGBY UNION MATTERS
OK, so many of you don’t know anything about rugby and the concept of the game alone disgusts you.
But consider this. I would read anything you sent me, regardless of my stupid prejudices because I care for you. Yes, especially you.
SO, I’m guessing you saw every game of the first round of the Super 15 and the Six Nations at the weekend. (We’ll have a yabber about the premiership, Top 14 and Celtic league in bi-laterals).
Pretty clear it’s the Reds and the Waratahs in Australia and daylight third. The two big Oz sides will be competitive again this year, but things look pretty rank for the other three teams. Even NSW & Qld seem fairly ineffective going through the phases at the gain line.
The monstrous Saffers are awfully efficient around the ruck area and will eat up any pretenders this season and the Kiwis are always beautifully structured sides, able to make predictable teams pay.
NSW and especially Queensland aren’t going to outmuscle a lot of leading teams. The key, as it was last year for the Quade Cooper-inspired Reds, will be to frequently change the point of attack, in addition to defending like possessed lunatics.
In the northern hemisphere, it was good to see enterprising Wales pip England in the Six Nations. Not that I have anything against the English – well, maybe that’s a 6000 word discussion for another time – anyhoo, the revamped Poms looked pretty darn good in patches. Impressive Welsh captain Sam Warburton said his team played poorly, but England’s defensive structure was sound and the boyos had to work hard for it. For the first time in many years the Poms appear keen to play rugby rather than whine about how it should be.
The Welsh are on a high, as they should be, but they shouldn’t get ahead of themselves yet. They’re a team on the rise, but still crafting an identity.
UNCLE SAM BECKONS?
Oh dear, I can sense the dread. It happens in the latter stages of every election cycle, either in Australia or the United States.
This year, it’s particularly acute, maybe the result of Kevin Rudd’s antics in Australia or the bizarre process of the Republican primaries in America.
You see, I can’t vote: not there, not here.
Much to my unrestrained anguish I fell off the electoral rolls in Australia years ago and, despite 17 years in the US, I’m still an alien, so I pay taxes, learn the rules of baseball and tolerate terrible, terrible local news on the television, but can’t vote for a president or any other drongo for that matter.
It’s all too late now for this cycle, but perhaps I’ve procrastinated long enough and it’s time to end my citizenship limbo.
A (partial) solution would to become a dual citizen. Couldn’t pull that swifty when I first moved here but it’s a relatively recent option that’s proving popular, I hear, with some of the 100,000 or so Australians living in the US. Thank you Rupert.
I don’t need to go into the gory details (be assured they are boring) but realistically, I also feel an affinity for the US I didn’t anticipate encountering – and my kids are Americans.
In terms of Australia, I understand there are tens of thousands of Aussies in a similar situation to me, and I believe as far back as 2005 various government reports were urging a rethink to get expats back on the rolls.
Of course, like the grown man I aspire to be, I take full responsibility for not correctly re-registering myself as an overseas voter many moons ago – I missed a deadline to submit my new residency details after unwittingly thinking I could vote as an absentee.
Trouble is, there doesn’t appear to be a ‘way back’. You have to provide evidence or a statement that you are planning to return to live in Australia sometime in the near future, and, as much I’d love to, I can’t do that until you offer me that job.
So Australia will just have to struggle on without my vote for a while. Meanwhile, maybe, just maybe, ‘it’s time’ to embrace my Americanness (surely, not a word). Do you think they’ll ask questions about Babe Ruth in the interview?
What do you think comrades? I mean, they do have a lovely anthem and wonderful teeth.
ANGRY, AGED PERSON’S SMALL-MINDED THOUGHT OF THE WEEK
Who are the people cutting into the line on the approach to the Brooklyn Bridge?
You see it every day – drivers patiently line up for a mile or two back, but there is always a bunch of people who simply go to the front and nose in, and usually, in the process, obstruct traffic in a couple of lanes.
I’m enraged that people are so selfish; so utterly convinced that they have the right to go ahead of everyone else. But I’m also fascinated by their boldness. They must know something about life that has escaped me. Perhaps I want to be like them?
Yes, yes! I want to be rude.
And so it begins.