Thiel Grant winner

Patrick Lenton is the winner of the inaugural Thiel Grant for Online Writing. His project documenting the experience of visiting the homes and lives of people he played an online role-playing game with 15 years ago will be backed by the $5000 award.

I and my fellow judges loved Patrick’s proposal and the brilliant way he already writes for audiences online. His concept engages memory and personal history, and will allow him and his readers to interrogate the role of the digital space in the recent past. Patrick’s concern with connections formed online being tested “IRL” was fascinating to all three judges, and seems well suited to the kind of micro-fiction that Patrick already (fabulously) writes. sally fielding Warm congratulations Patrick! And thanks to all who submitted a proposal to this new grant. We hope that many of you pursue the projects that you pitched. In particular, we wish our shortlisted writers well. Keep reading (and clicking) for comments about why we loved each of their proposals so much…


Mez Breeze embraces the medium of digital writing, producing highly original work with striking visual force. We were impressed by the diversity of her creative practice and her willingness to present daring writing in an accessible way. We think that writers like Mez are redefining contemporary poetry.

P.S. Cottier‘s topical and timely proposal to explore the legacy of Frankenstein was among the funnest ideas pitched to the grant. It proposed to engage with literature and history in a rich and creative way, dissolving distinctions between prose and poetry, self and other, dead and alive. From a purely literary perspective, this was one of the strongest submissions we saw.

Nick Gadd‘s epic plan to circumnavigate suburban Melbourne on foot is impressive in itself; when told in exceptional prose and well-chosen photographs it’s mesmerising. Nick’s writing is breaking new ground in psychogeography and we encourage everyone to join him on his thoughtful wanderings down forgotten streets. Highly commended.

Anita Heiss has developed a unique position from which to research and disseminate writing by Indigenous Australians, and we were thrilled to receive a proposal from her to do just that. She identifies a gap in the literary/critical sector that we’d love to see explored, namely Indigenous language groups and their literary traditions. Anita’s thinking and writing will continue to inspire us.

Kate Iselin is at the top of her game, producing remarkable online writing that makes the political as personal as it’s ever been. Her focus on dating apps is of-the-moment, but takes this type of writing (and dating!) further than we’ve seen. I now read her blog compulsively, and anticipate a major following for Kate’s current and future work.

Meg Kovalik‘s resolution to open a box each week has already produced some powerful insights about psychology and the past. Her clear writing and suspenseful posts place her blog among the best expressions of this personal type of online writing that we’ve seen. We can’t wait to see what’s unboxed next, and wish Meg all the best with her project. Highly commended.

Tracy Sorensen also blogs within a recognisable genre of digital writing but does so in a way that goes brilliantly beyond the norm. She proposed a unique exploration of disease and its effects which blended genres and took history seriously. Her writing is equal parts disciplined and inventive and we all love her blog.


Okay, that’s it for now. Over to you Mr Lenton. 🙂

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Thiel Grant shortlist

nominees

The inaugural Thiel Grant for Online Writing received over 170 applications covering the breadth of Australian writing for the internet. There was a remarkable diversity of topics and forms pitched by writers from a range of genders and cultural backgrounds. The judges were pleased that so many applications had a broadly political focus, and that most of the proposed concepts were highly suited to being sustained over fifty posts without sacrificing ambition.

After a difficult but delightful afternoon, I and my fellow judges are thrilled to be able to announce the shortlist for the Thiel Grant. The winner will be chosen from these eight proposals and announced here next week, on Wednesday 18th March.

Thanks to all who took the time to prepare an application, and congratulations to these eight outstanding online writers.

THE SHORTLIST

Mez Breeze
Digital/code poetry created in my unique online writing style termed “Mezangelle”.

P.S. Cottier
IT’S ALIVE!: A year with monsters and geniuses. Celebrating the 200th anniversary of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

Nick Gadd
Melbourne Circle: an account of a walk clockwise around the Melbourne suburbs over 18 months.

Anita Heiss
Showcasing Aboriginal Australian Literature: highlighting the diversity of talent, voice, creative production and publishing ventures by Aboriginal people.

Kate Iselin
Thirty (or Fifty) Dates Of Tinder: a series of dates I go on with total strangers met via Tinder.

Meg Kovalik
52 Boxes: getting rid of every cardboard box in the house by emptying at least one each week.

Patrick Lenton
Documenting the experience of visiting the homes and lives of people I played an online role-playing game with 15 years ago.

Tracy Sorensen
Body Parts: a commemorative tour of the parts of my body that were removed or fundamentally altered during surgery for ovarian cancer.

Granting my salary

I’ve had an unstable salary for the last few years, ever since deciding to become a high school teacher. In 2013 I left my full-time job to become a student ineligible for government support. Then, in 2014, I was a graduate teacher in a full-time but temporary teaching role. This year I will be a full-time teacher and year level coordinator in an ongoing position with my highest salary ever.

This is a significant financial change, and should have an impact. Yet several people have told a different story, describing how even a big pay increase can be hard to register, serving only to shift buying preferences to the supermarket’s middle shelves. Spending can expand to fill available spending, making a hard-earned pay rise go unnoticed.

So I’ve been asking people what I should do with my money. Travel, entertainment, dry cleaning, good food? “You should commission art,” said one person, forgetting the size of my walls. “Or writing,” I replied, liking it.

I’ve blogged about my own writing projects, and how studying teaching made them disappear. For seven years I wrote a daily post about year-long artistic projects in which the same action was repeated every day. The personal impact of these projects has been immeasurable (including professionally) but like most online writing I did them for free. Their form was shaped by the blogosphere; were I writing for money I would have written differently.

That’s why the Thiel Grant for Online Writing doesn’t specify word length, genre or approach; only that fifty posts be written in a year, and that I be the virtual equivalent of a kneeling donor in a Renaissance painting.

Piero della Francesca, St. Jerome and a Donor, 1451

Piero della Francesca, St. Jerome and a Donor, 1451

If you’re an Australian writer who’d like $5000 of my salary to support your own project, please consider pitching your idea.

Coordinator

“Did you expect this?” asked the Principal after shaking my hand. “Yer-mo,” I replied. “I mean, er, to – an extent!” Her question had been rhetorical, of course. Who expects to be coordinating a year level in their second year of teaching.

mirandao

By the role description, the year level coordinator’s responsibilities are great, extending to “all matters relating to the overall welfare of students at a particular year level.” Those stakes would be high for the coordinator of a handful of adults, let alone 120 teenagers during their last years of high school. Lately my dreams have been troubled.

Thankfully, schools contain elaborate and experienced teams, replete with experience. My first year of teaching has been more mentored than the rest of my working life combined, and my work as a YLC will happen in the same context. Counsellors, chaplains, heads of curriculum, faculty coordinators, heads of school, teachers, registrars, other YLCs – I’ll messily collaborate with all of these workers, even before making professional connections outside my own school.

But a better answer comes further down the role description. The year level coordinator is asked to ensure a smooth transition for students to the next level; importantly, “this involves a deep knowledge and understanding of the students.” My best resource next year will be this knowledge and understanding, developed in partnership with students and their families, systematically and ad-hoc, cumulative and all-of-a-sudden.

I was introduced to my year level on their last day of school. I said something about the summer holidays, casting my eye across the assembly. I met gazes as hopeful as my own.

4 tips for new teachers

Yesterday, bewilderingly, I addressed prospective teachers about professional practice. Exactly a year ago I’d been in exactly their position, partway through the English learning area at the Melbourne Graduate School of Education – unslept, uncertain, and unemployed. The one tip I recall from last year’s session was a person who confessed to sobbing at the end of each day of her first term teaching. That helped, but not yesterday. What could I say that was both useful and true?

I’ve had a good year. I’ve learnt intensely but not impossibly. My school’s been a good fit for me and I’ve joined its full-time staff. I’ve sobbed, sure, but less so each month. With this in mind, I thought back over my time as a professional, pinpointing practices that have kept me buoyant in my first year, decisions and opportunities that I’d recommend to all new teachers if they get a chance. It’s a work in progress, but the teacher candidates liked it; so here are my four tips for those about to teach.

me on bike

Tip 1: ride your bike to school. Or, more specifically, ride your bike home from school, especially if it’s downhill. Commuting outdoors by the water has given my first year oxygen. My friends and I are so used to the benefits of a daily ride that I seemed grumpy for the few days my bike was getting fixed. Many of my best ideas happen while riding; without a bike I’d teach worse.

Tip 2: host end-of-term drinks. Our apartment has an everyone-welcome policy and is the more-or-less regular site of book clubs, after-parties, sleepovers, emergency showers and meeting people we don’t know. Inviting new colleagues over at the end of first term felt automatic, but had a radical effect on the rest of my year. Rapport with other staff-members  is essential to working happily anywhere, so risk an invite.

Tip 3: play dodge ball. Year twelve students hosted a fundraiser for charity that consisted of charging younger students to witness a no-holds-barred match of dodge ball between themselves and teachers who said yes. We dressed badly but played quite well, cheered on by all our students and the Principal. Accepting this uncouth invitation was a great move, shifting the dynamic between me and students in an odd but positive direction.

Tip 4: rap. Odder again was the request to take part in a “duel” between staff and students which would feature a rap battle. Seriously, schools are some of the least predictable workplaces around. This seemed like somewhat safe ground for an English teacher, at least until one minute before the event when I realised that a rap battle was improvised, not meticulously written, memorised and rehearsed. Suddenly I was being insulted in rhyme by a teenager and I had to spontaneously answer back. This was worth it for sheer unlikeliness, like a newly-devised adventure sport. New teachers, if you get the opportunity, you’ve gotta give this a try.

Teachers, feel free to leave your own hot tips in the comments. Best wishes to all graduating teachers – and thanks to my old School for having me back!

Aliens

Students know more than they think they do. Last week I started a new unit about War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells, not with a set of facts about the text but with a question designed to tap pre-existing knowledge about its genre. What alien invasion texts do we know (the list was impressive) and, based on these, what are the genre’s typical settings, characters and complications? This activity, adapted from a resource by Ticking Minds, generated a coherent set of ideas about what we expect from Martian-related novels, and increased our desire to start reading. It also gave us material to create our own invasion scenarios, some eerily prescient of the book we hadn’t opened yet. [FYI, characters likely to appear in alien invasion texts according to my year 9 students are wimp, villain, hero, non-beliver, saviour, concerned relatives, farmer, stupid cops, lead good guy, lead bad guy, scientist, secret government organisation people, reassuring people, damsel in distress, President, love interest and innocent victims.]

Genres can be remarkably stable. Many students expressed surprise (and pleasure) that a book from 1898 could include elements still recurring in their own reading and viewing. But the joy of genre fiction is also found in points of difference. Sure, it’s a crash-landed alien, but what does it look like? I invited students to describe their own typical alien to a partner, who doodled accordingly. No two Martians were the same.

Alien 14

 

 

A morning alone

[Writing group prompt: write about what you last wrote about…]

vase

“Happy Birthday Son” headlined the card in golden capitals. Inside, my mother had written that it was a privilege to be my parent, and that I should “have fun in DJs” with the gift vouchers enclosed – “maybe a couple of scarves?” Writing back to this meant a trip to the department store to make a choice that would read well via text.

I traced the escalator up and up, testing objects against the text message. Towels? Too quotidian. Dressing gown? Overpriced, even on sale. A couple of scarves? My absent mother hovered too dogmatically, and they were in men’s colours. I reached the top floor, reserved for fragile things, and found an amber vase. Photogenic, and five dollars over the price of the vouchers. I handed over ten and got change.

At home I filled it with cheap flowers, then texted Mum and Dad with a snapshot. It was a provocation, like everything else. I tweeted it, too, as a follow-up to an earlier question to which nobody had replied. I also sent it to Julien, en-route from Singapore. On Facebook the image was liked by three or four women before my mother replied. She loved the vase, and saw it as appropriate for Julien’s return, although he never said anything.

I sat down with a novel – Doctor Faustus – rotating the vase so that it displayed well from my couch.