Literary and journalistic reflections

I can’t see the bright burning sun of Goals and Purpose anymore. I used to see it in my university studies: both in the frenetic journey of research and essay-writing. The light at the end of the tunnel would be a HD mark: a mailed-back essay with a cover sheet scrawled in my messy handwriting. (like a teenager who just has their pen licence pretending to be a grown-up)

The elation translates into a feeling, could perhaps be turned into dialogue ….

You: (about to look at your essay mark, your stomach churning) “Hmmm, if I get a bad mark, I don’t care anyway.” Very Clint Eastwood bravado approach. Laissez-faire. Before opening it you reason with yourself, bargain with yourself.

“Look,” you tell yourself like you imagine a serious father might tell a naughty child, “You’ve messed up but don’t worry about it. You can learn from this and use it as motivation to get a better mark next time.”

And, then: imagine. Imagine your surprise, your genuine puzzlement and then delight to see an essay you’d expected to go terribly at, come back and surprise you. Shyly, you read the marker’s comments: could this really be your essay?

Suddenly, things make sense. And you remember how hard you worked. How it was difficult to carry off your contention, your point of view that you were arguing. You remember the many many hours of proof-reading. The library visits. The joy of being ‘forced’ to learn about something you would never, for fun, write an extensive analysis on. Yet, the great feeling that comes with your mark: anything is possible. You thought this would be too hard to learn about, let alone write about but baby stepping, book marking, coffee and persistence and – it’s yours.

And, that. That was my Sun. My unexpected sun. Who knew post-graduate studies could be so engaging, so – at times – exciting?

Yet, now my Sun has slipped away on hiatus and I need to find it again. But, how do I find it? And ensure it is my Sun, not someone’s sun? My career journey and not someone else’s. I hope Shakespeare doesn’t mind but I find it timely to quote something from Hamlet at this point, on the subject of soul (and career!) searching, “…above all else, be true to thine’s own self.”

I’ve come to the end of my university studies. For the last year and half I have been completing my master’s degree in journalism and literature and my world has revolved around learning and knowledge.

Ideas were bounced (and often slam-dunked) off other ideas and: a strange but blessed thing for a writer, I met other people who believed in the same things as I did. Lecturers, professors, fellow students and writers of the past and present. I was thrown into a foreign world where I had to analyse Dickinson’s poetry and write a screenplay about Hamlet’s disorder using various philosophical frameworks, like Lacanian and Freudian theories.

I learnt about media law in depth, and studied media ethics. Alain de Botton came into my vision through a prescribed reading from his, The Art of Travel and – his ideas, his style of thinking and writing remain etched in my mind. I read Eco Umberto as well, and was taken aback by his vivid style of writing.

My world changed when, a year ago, I first read Helen Garner. It felt like walking through the front door to a house I’ve never realised existed, yet was the better from my passing through. Garner showed me that it’s ok to not fit nicely into a delineated world of: Journalism, over here thank you and Literature, over there, yes. Her works, The First Stone and Joe Cinque’s Consolation, as well as Real Stories, ask more questions than they answer. She fuses non-fiction with her compelling self-conscious, first person style of writing and she is as bold as a lion in her inquiries. There are some – many!- journalists who don’t probe as deeply as Garner does.

Which brings me to literary journalism. During my course I finally met this intriguing and magnetic ‘New’ form of journalism which fuses together literary styles and techniques with real journalistic methods.

Journalism traditionalists look upon this new ‘genre’ with contempt and literary people can discount it from their shelves because it fits neatly in neither category: it is a hybrid, something that still remains red-hot and ‘New’ though the style has been around for more than fifty years now.

Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood is a classic example of this genre and Garner can fit in here too. Exploring literary journalism led me to a writer called Tom Wolfe. When I read Wolfe I had the same epochal feeling I did when I discovered Garner.

You feel: “This is …. incredible! Why did I not read this five years ago?!” Wolfe, in my opinion, contains much of Hunter S. Thompson’s appeal and colour, whilst remaining lucid. Purists of literature may be surprised to know that the zany and unconventional Wolfe was very inspired by Charles Dickens.

Then again, who isn’t inspired by Charles Dickens? It was during this degree, as well, that I read more of Dickens. During a subject called ‘Literature, Language and the Law’ taken by a successful author and professor, Michael Meehan, I read Dickens’ Bleak House.

Bleak House. It’s true that you can’t judge a book by its cover or title (yet we can often, unknowingly do so) and Bleak House does not reflect just a dismal, bleak portrait. It is a perfection of a novel that changed the way I viewed lawyers, the law and bureaucracy. It has some of the most delicious descriptive writing around, just look at Dickens’ descriptions of the London fog. In short, Bleak House was enthralling.

Also enthralling was a book by the English-born Australian writer, Marcus Clarke who wrote a riveting (and bursting!) novel called, For The Term of His Natural Life, which is about Tasmania and the convict transportation system. Like Wolfe, Clarke was also inspired by Dickens.

I studied many other works, some which I still think about: the book of Job, Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, Kakfa’s The Trial, Schlink’s The Reader and countless other books.

It was no coincidence (a subject undertaken!) that I also developed a reverence and interest for short stories, as well. I realised many writers use this genre to test, and refine their craft before moving onto to bigger word-counts.

Not being sentimental, rather historic: I learnt so much from my studies. I entered the degree with an old disparaging maxim burnt in my brain, you know the one: “Arts degrees aren’t worth anything.” I began my studies with an unknown perspective.

Now, again, I am faced with this same unknown perspective.

One thought on “Literary and journalistic reflections

  1. Well for every sun so to comes a sunset and so to your Master degree. Congratulations on completion and also congratulations for this debut blog post, an excellent read. I look forward to reading how you go about changing the world, one blog post at a time.

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