An Australian author living in Norway

Uncomfortable truths

In the flurry of stress and activity that has been the pulling together of the second Oslo Writers’ League anthology, I almost forgot to contribute a piece myself. In the end, I ran so short on time I had to dig through my short story stock and find something already written, then repurpose it. In this case, where the themes were “Identity” and “Crossroads”, I decided the best fit was a non-fiction piece I wrote under pressure from a former colleague who was fascinated by my discomfort with all things Australian. Being homeless—in the sense of never having really felt “at home” anywhere—is a sensitive subject for me, and writing the piece was both unsettling and revealing. Even when it was complete, I didn’t know what to do with it. I couldn’t very well submit it to Australian journals, not when, to my mind at least, it was unpatriotic to the point of being insulting. But would foreign journals understand it? Or, more importantly, care what it was saying? I doubted it (as I often doubt myself—it’s a writer’s prerogative). So I put it away and tried not to think about it.

When I decided it was the only piece I could use for this year’s anthology, I was still uneasy about showing anyone. But at the same time, I knew it was in sore need of an expert eye, and luckily my fellow editor, Audrey, just happens to have an MFA in creative non-fiction, and was therefore the perfect person to help me sort it out. She’s also American, so isn’t bound by the loyalties an Australian editor might find hard to put aside in order to swallow the premise. In fact, Audrey encouraged me to go further, dig deeper, and really pinpoint examples of what it is that bothers me about my own culture. In doing so, she made me realise that this was exactly what I’d been avoiding, and at the same time what was weakening the entire piece. In my attempts to avoid being pelted with corks by my fellow Australians, I had made every attempt not to be specific. After all, it’s not like I was writing about a corrupt and shiftless government, or protesting the treatment of refugees, or any of the other popular (and widely approved) Australia-related protests. (For the record, I do also have some pretty strong opinions on that stuff, but that’s a topic for another post.) Honesty in this particular piece could easily appear to be turning my nose up at innocent cultural icons and norms that many Australians hold dear, and I didn’t want them to hate me for it.

I took a half a day away from editing other people’s work to take a good, honest look at my own, and now it’s back in Audrey’s capable hands for another round of evaluation and critique. Time is tight and the pressure is mounting, but it’s important to me to get this one right. If I’ve done my job, the end product will not be a scathing criticism of Australia, Australians, and the things they love and take great pride in; it should be an honest—painfully so in some parts—evaluation of my own inability to fit in amongst my countrymen.

It comes down to this: can you explain why you don’t like brussels sprouts? Because they taste gross, right? Except, to me, they are delicious. When cooked just right, split at the stem and rolled in melted butter, I could eat twenty of them and wish for more room in my stomach to go on gorging. Right now, Audrey is reading this and trying to keep her non-brussels-sprout-containing lunch down. But that’s how it is. Australian culture is my brussels sprout. Read about it in the OWL anthology, All the Ways Home.

1 Comment

  1. Vanessa McCloud

    I think when you start living somewhere that you didn’t grow up in, Norwegian culture is something you have had to get to know due to your partners and daughters roots and beliefs. Then coming back to visit your homeland as you grew up in Australia its like you are home but there isn’t how you once thought. It must be conflicting in process of how you define “home” don’t get me wrong . You know where your heart is . It just must feel unusual

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