The pseudonym: A (partial) Obituary

Many moons ago, when Magpie Shon and I were but wee uni students, we were sitting in the dingy kitchenette of our hall of residence and had a wonderful idea.

The idea was to create a blog. This blog would be a beautiful mess of a forum, a playground for the sarcastic and the witty, a meadow in which the creative and ridiculous would frolic. It would reflect our individual interests and flex a mutual need to stare at a screen mulling over synonyms while feverishly consuming tea.

As we penned titles, topic areas and taglines – Guide to Everything? That’s a lot of responsibility – we stumbled on one minor detail.

I was happy to have my name displayed on the interwebs, common as it is. Lucy is the 208th most popular girls name out of 4276 names – thanks Wikipedia! – and by all accounts unexciting. Shon, on the other hand, was not.

Historically, literary women have often opted for the use of a pseudonym to protect their identities. Charlotte Bronte famously pubished Jane Eyre under the gender neutral Currer Bell; her sister Emily published the wildly beautiful Wuthering Heights under Ellis Bell. Nelle Harper Lee, the author of the infamous To Kill a Mockingbird, opted for the more androgynous Harper Lee. But Shon’s desire for a pseudonym was not for fear of gender barriers or the perils of being a creative women entombed in patriarchy, her reasons were more modern.

The internet – wonderful as it is in so many ways – remains a large and anarchistic pot of wild cards, a place of epic good and even worse evil, to the point where it really is quite mind blowing. Privacy? Pshhh. What privacy.

And so it was that we spent the remainder of the evening brainstorming pseudonyms.

Peachy had a simple birth. When I was younger, I used to use the adjective ‘peachy’ a lot, much to the annoyance of, well, everyone:

“How are you today?

I’m peachy thanks, how are you?

No.

What?

Just no. “

Etc.

This word had somehow become my internet tag for several things, why not WordPress too?

Magpie, on the other hand, had a much more hilarious birth…a story you can read about here.

For now, join me in raising our tea cups and toasting to the (partial) death of the GTN pseudonym*, and the birth of a new blogging era.

Fare thee well Peachy and Magpie, hello Lucy and Shon.

x

*we’ve dropped down to first names, we hardcore.

IT’S… ALIVE!

So, I’ve finally climbed off my bum and written a blog post. “Guide to Nothing,” I hear you say, “I thought they were dead!” Not dead, dear readers (plural, because there are at least 5 of you – hi, Mum,) just very distracted. In all honesty, a more accurate description would be: sleeping, working, studying, and tumblr-ing. But, after a recent period of prolonged boredom, resulting from a hand injury,* and repeated lamentations by both Peachy and myself on the subjected of our neglected brainchild, I’ve finally roused myself from my creative torpor and had an Idea. An actual, actionable Idea. And I feel pretty good about it, if I do say so myself.

As anyone who knows me will tell you, I love to read. I love books. I love stories, I love knowledge, I love ideas, and poems, and essays, and articles… you get the gist. I also talk a lot. So, I thought, why not combine those two things and start talking (or writing) about some of the books I’ve read. I read pretty widely, and have favourites in almost every genre, so it’s not as though I’m going to run out of things to write about any time soon. The contents of my head are 80-90% stuff I’ve read, 1-2% people’s names, and 5% meals to make with beef mince and spaghetti sauce. The remainder is made up mostly of puppies, sugary food, sarcasm, and Star Trek: The Next Generation references.

One of my main aims here is to share a passion of mine in a reasonably accessible and interesting way, which isn’t always the first thing that people think of doing when they write about literature. If it helps, I think of ‘literature’ as virtually anything printed, bound, and legible. I may not personally like what you’re reading, but if you are reading, enjoying, and engaging with whatever it is, I’m not going to lecture you about how it’s not worth your eyeball time – I’m going to do an internal happy dance, because there is no reason anyone’s opinion should stop you from doing something that brings you joy. Unless it’s serial homicide or substance abuse, obviously. Don’t do that.

The other reason I want to do this is entirely selfish. I’m doing it for me. I like writing, and when I’m able to do it regularly, my brain feels less like an overfull tombola and a bit more like an overfull shelf. Hey, I’ll take what I can get. It’s also a good way for me to *pretentious artist voice* “work on my writing,” and “develop my own voice.” Translation into more palatble terms, I’ll be trying to compromise between being a perfectionist and being incredibly unmotivated. Should be fun.

I was originally going to work an introduction into my first book-y post, but my introduction ended up being 500 words of self sustained blab, and this is the internet. I know you’ve got at least four other tabs open right now, so I won’t drag this out. But fear not! The first post should be up in a couple of days, and in honour of Guide to Nothing’s glorious return to life, the first book I’ve chosen to write about (truth: started randomly thinking about while eating coco pops the other day,) is Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. I struggle to say I have a single favourite book, but if I could, this one would be a serious contender.

If you’ve enjoyed GTN’s previous fare, but don’t really consider yourself a book person, fear not – I’m sure I’ll get sidetracked and end up talking about chocolate unicorn donuts or something at some stage. And now I’m hungry for donuts. Awesome.

Until next time, dearest fruit-loops,

Magpie

x

*a hyperextended right thumb, from having either

a) wrestled a Drop Bear (thylarctos plummetus) into submission on a family holiday to the Snowy Mountains,

b) tried too enthusiastically to give a really good movie two thumbs up,

c) slipped while climbing over rocks in a creek on a family holiday to the Snowy Mountains, OR

d) opened the tightest jar lid ever.

I’ll let you decide which you find most likely.

An open letter to Angel Clare, on GTN’s first birthday.

Hey kids!

First point of order: HAPPY BIRTHDAY GTN! A notification happened, informing me that today is the 1st anniversary of Peachy and me typing life into our blaby (blog-baby,) and it is, if you’ll believe, a complete coincidence that we’d both planned posts for today! Peachy is in the middle of study at the moment, so it is my great pleasure to write today : )

Second thing: I’m reading Tess of the D’urbervilles at the moment- well, strictly speaking, I’m on a break from reading Tess of the D’urbervilles, because that is some emotionally exhausting shit. I’ve had to take a small break with each major plot development, waiting until I’ve calmed down some before I can get back into it. You’ll see why. A warning, for the unread- the following open letter makes details of the plot explicit.

*SPOILERS AHEAD*- though only up to just over halfway. Only after reading The Fault in Our Stars was I willing to accept that maybe I’m prone to over-investing emotionally in characters I like, and having to write nonsensical, rambling, open letters when they upset me, so I can sleep.

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To the Lighthouse

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“That was the country he liked best, over there; those sandhills dwindling away into darkness. One could walk all day without meeting a soul. There was not a house scarcely, not a single village for miles on end. One could worry things out alone. There were little sandy beaches where no one had been since the beginning of time. The seals sat up and looked at you.” p 64.

I began reading To the Lighthouse about a month ago, with the expectation that it would be a difficult read. Written in Woolf’s characteristic stream-of-consciousness style, with no real plot and a lot of introspection, it sounded like a nightmare. But I was inevitably drawn to it, for the challenge, for its praise, and for my fascination with Virginia Woolf’s prose.

I’m 19 years old. The wonderful Margaret Atwood also read To the Lighthouse for the first time when she was 19, for an English course on the “The Twentieth Century Novel”. To put it lightly, her first impression was somewhat similar to my own:

“Why go to the lighthouse at all, and why make such a fuss about going or not going? What was the book about? Why was everyone so stuck on Mrs Ramsay, who went around in floppy old hats and fooled around in her garden, and indulged her husband with spoonfuls of tactful acquiescence…Why would anyone put up with Mr Ramsay, that Tennyson-quoting tyrant, eccentric disappointed genius though he might be?…And what about Lily Briscoe, who wanted to be an artist and made much of this desire, but who didn’t seem to be able to paint very well, or not to her own satisfaction? In Woolfland, things were so tenuous. They were so elusive. They were so inconclusive. They were so deeply unfathomable.”  – Margaret Atwood 2002.

So it’s easy to see why some people begin to read To the Lighthouse, and put it down in baffled disinterest. A WTF attitude, if you will. To be honest, I read the first 40 or so pages of the book then didn’t touch it for weeks. A change came with my visit to the UK, my birthplace. It took a few weeks of time by the sea, amid hedges and rugged coastline, and fields of wildflowers, and suddenly I was in a headspace to tackle this violently vivid world Woolf had conjured. A very impractical and expensive way to get in to a novel, but I digress.
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Sehnsucht and past lives

So i’m that really weird person who, during an awkward silence, will come out with an existential question that makes everyone feel uncomfortable. Something like, “do you ever feel like you have a connection to a certain biome?” or “what was your past life?”

And yes, this is a result of a need for social intimacy paired with social ineptitude, but I believe in these weird questions. Which is why I tend to spend most of my time at parties like this:

gemma-correl-funny-comic-art-print-where-youll-find-me-at-parties-cat-lady

But seriously, I think there is something to it. As humans we are capable of very intense emotions, not all of which can be captured by language. We are born and live and die in our world and as a result are inherently connected to it, something that Aboriginal cultures speak a lot about but that in a busy, often urban world, a lot of people forget. But I think that consciously or not, everyone has a leaning towards a certain environment. Perhaps it’s ancestral, associative or just a result of life experiences. But I think that we can all be aware of it, at some level at least.

My father, mother and sister, for example, are all crazy about the sea. My dad spent a large part of his life as a professional fisherman, my sister has a degree in Marine Biology, and mum is at her most content when on the beach, rain or shine. So what, did we all just live on the coast? Dad grew up in a town and mum a farm, while my sister and I grew up in a small village. Not exactly beachfront, so I don’t think it’s simply a childhood thing. And while I like the coast, it’s not my ‘nostalgiasphere’.

Nothing compares to the calm, aching nostalgia I associate with the woods: moss covered tree stumps and dew sprinkled branches, gentle-hued flowers littering the floor. I know other people who like the heat of summer, the dry of the desert, or are in love with a snow-covered mountain.

So there are justifications for the weird biome question. And it’s linked to past lives by a little thing called sehnsucht.

Sehn-wut? I’m not crazy. Germans aren’t crazy*, C.S. Lewis wasn’t crazy.

A lot of people report a deep longing for a bygone era they have never personally experienced. Nostalgia. Tinged with yearning. Tinged with a wistfulness that almost hurts you. C.S. Lewis took the German concept of sehnsucht, roughly translated as “yearning”, and applied it to his own experience of poignant longing. He described it as an inconsolable longing in the human heart “for which we know not what.”

“Apparently, then, our lifelong nostalgia, our longing to be reunited with something in the universe from which we now feel cut off, to be on the inside of some door which we have always seen from the outside is . . . the truest index of our real situation.”

This article, by Terry Lindvall, quite perfectly summarises the significance of sehnsucht for us all. And I especially adore this quote:

“Old or young, human beings generally feel a longing of this type—for something they find difficult to describe. It is difficult because the longing is intangible and ineffable. Thus, sehnsucht remains in human nature, no matter how settled one may become; it is one of the things that marks our humanity. No other creature is so inherently dissatisfied as the human being.”

So very long story finally becoming short, my second desert island song is connected to the idea of sehnsucht and a past life. The whole ‘past life’ thing isn’t necessarily literal. Don’t brush me off as a superstitious spurler of garbage. It’s just a fun interpretation of sehnsucht that makes for some discomfort-inducing party conversation.

When do I get sehnsucht? Well, when I hear the harpsichord, which has led me to conclude that I had a past life in the Baroque era. I also get sehnsucht thinking about 17th-18th century Frontier America. If you wanna creep yourself out, then those periods, and my current ‘life’, are roughly 200 years apart.

If you don’t wanna creep yourself out, though, just think about how sehnsucht is just a part of the human condition, and our ‘inherent dissatisfaction’. Which flares up in all its aching beauty when I hear this song:

DESERT ISLAND SURVIVAL SONGS – PEACHY #2

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