In January of each year, I spend time reflecting on the year before it. Not so much on accomplishments and Major Life Defining Events, but more on the subtleties, and the books that I read in places of comfort and pain. I decided to share my reflections on 2018, a year which radiated with warmth and novelty.
I spend the first week of 2018 driving the rugged coastline of Western Australia, swimming in shark-infested waters and watching the honey sun sink into the ocean. I read The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht and a book of essays called Ethics in the Real World by philosopher Peter Singer while my girlfriends do yoga on a beach. I meet an Aboriginal man and he shares stories that have a profound impact on my life.
I fly to Melbourne and finish Station Eleven curled up in bed in a room with high ceilings. I don’t like the book very much. I go on Tinder dates and eat Japanese food and stay in the crumbling back room of a share house of DJs and artists and writers. Most of them wear black and ride skateboards. It rains a lot.
I go on motorbike trips to Jervis Bay and slip into bubbling spas with school friends. I ride my bike through the streets of Wollongong in the nude. I fly back to Melbourne and hike in the Grampians and run a workshop with new clients. I write a lot of sad poetry. My books remain in my suitcase.
In February, I finally finish The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf (inaccessible and verbose) and read Tin Man by Sarah Winman after a recommendation by a friend over Instagram. I drive to Byron Bay with a man whose family I stayed with in a windmill in Belgium when I was 19. I read the beautiful and consumable Between a Wolf and a Dog by Georgia Blain on the beach while he is out swimming with dolphins. I spend the following days showing him some of the most beautiful waterfalls Australia’s east coast has to offer.
I spend Valentines Day singing karaoke with some girlfriends, and start juggling a number of casual relationships which last months and are full of spontaneity and hotel rooms. I move back to Wollongong and a day later, fly to Melbourne (again!?), where I spend most of March working 11-hour days in office buildings, finishing my stint in a little blue shack overlooking the Great Ocean Road.
Whenever I lose my reading mojo, I pick up a book by an author I love. I sink into the familiarity of their style, and I’m swept away by their stories. Haruki Murakami is one of my most trusted authors when I’ve lost my mojo, and midway through March I pick up Sputnik Sweetheart and consume it with the usual ease.
“And it came to me then. That we were wonderful traveling companions but in the end no more than lonely lumps of metal in their own separate orbits. From far off they look like beautiful shooting stars, but in reality they're nothing more than prisons, where each of us is locked up alone, going nowhere. When the orbits of these two satellites of ours happened to cross paths, we could be together. Maybe even open our hearts to each other. But that was only for the briefest moment. In the next instant we'd be in absolute solitude. Until we burned up and became nothing.”
With the craziness of Melbourne, and my desire to squeeze in a few pages every night, I read Murakami’s Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. It is profound and bizarre, and I am desperate to talk to someone who has read it. In each of his books, it feels as though he’s taking words for a dance, swinging them and dipping them in ways I didn’t think they could move.
I return to Wollongong and in the comforts of my new house by the sea, with good friends, I dig into a book I have been wanting to read for a long time. Breath by Tim Winton. It did not disappoint. 5 stars.
“And somehow, somewhere along the track, I went numb. I couldn’t say what it was and didn’t dare try. How do you explain the sense of being made to feel improper? I withdrew into a watchful rectitude, anxious to please, risking nothing. I followed the outline of my life, carefully rehearsing form without conviction, like a bishop who can’t see that his faith has become an act.”
I read On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Steven King curled beneath the sheets of my mattress on the floor, as the golden glow from linoleum kitchens paint the street, and the coastal breeze filters through the trees. I am inspired and I spend a lot of March writing.
I score tickets to The Book of Mormon on Facebook and drink wine and eat a cheese platter in the darkness of the back rows, crying with laughter, amazed at the similarities between the Mormons and my own upbringing as a young Christian.
There are more meetings and more parties and more conferences. I launch The Gravity of Guilt, the content platform that airs a lot of my hesitations, frustrations and struggles associated with leaving the religion I had upheld my entire life. I read South of the Border, West of the Sun. Another Murakami. Moons, cats and mysterious women make for another consumable read.
I get my provisional driver’s license (finally) and complete Claustral Canyon with harnesses and kind-hearted friends. I speak at an event about the power of social media to mobilise communities. I read American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis and am equal parts astounded and terrified by the human mind. There is so much to this book, and I turn the last page with the desire to start at the beginning and read it again.
“...there is an idea of a Patrick Bateman, some kind of abstraction, but there is no real me, only an entity, something illusory, and though I can hide my cold gaze and you can shake my hand and feel flesh gripping yours and maybe you can even sense our lifestyles are probably comparable: I simply am not there.”
I read An Open Swimmer by Tim Winton and am disappointed. The genius of American Psycho is still fresh, and I want the next book I read to one-up it. It falls flat.
I see one of my favourite authors, Australian Helen Garner, speak at the City Recital Hall. I wear high heels and go by myself and watch an old couple across the Hall read their books in silence until the show begins. My heart yearns.
I read Tim Winton’s new release (signed by the man himself, thank you), The Shepherd’s Hut, which is seeing considerable media attention. It’s quite different from his usual work but I enjoy the grit.
I turn 24. I spend a couple of nights on a houseboat in the Hawkesbury with some girlfriends. We drink champagne for breakfast and jump off the top deck naked and I read Let Them Eat Chaos, a long poem by Kate Tempest, by candlelight, which moves us to tears.
“Hard rain falling,
on all the half-hearted
Half dead from exhaustion.
but the puddles keep forming
Don't fall in.”
I fly to Sri Lanka and spend two weeks catching trains across the country, reading The Beautiful and Damned by Scott Fitzgerald, swimming in the ocean, riding scooters and curling up by fireplaces in the mountains, leaving poems in travellers’ journals. I spend 3 wild days with a German boy, and end up booking a one way ticket to Europe in the intensity of our final hours.
June is a peaceful month. There are a few parties, a few motorbike rides up the coast at sundown. I finally finish Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Brazilian educational theorist Paulo Friere. I leave the book tattered, the borders filled with questions and the paragraphs underlined and scribbled in an excited frenzy. Educators and international activists should read this book.
German boy fades, and the flying boy enters in an unexpected gust of wind. We spend the following weeks navigating the boundaries of relationships that arise between two people who spend most of their lives living out of suitcases. There are hot baths and bottles of red wine and beach walks. I don’t pull out a book for the rest of the month.
I spend the start of July on the Gold Coast, lazing in a day bed on a house overlooking the beach with my best friends. We swim, we consume wholesome breakfasts and we attempt thrifted puzzles.
I read Come As You Are by Emily Nagoski, a book about female pleasure and sexuality. It drastically changes my relationship with my body. I cry of happiness.
I fly to Melbourne. My best friend and I haul a small table and two chairs, wine glasses and a vase with a solitary flower, into a park beside a main road. We order Indian food and drink red wine, while passing joggers and dog walkers give us a smile. I read The Island Will Sink by Briohny Doyle in the comforts of her bed. A book I found I appreciated long after I read it, but didn’t necessarily enjoy on my initial read.
I drive down to Wilson’s Prom with 4 strangers and one I met on Instagram. We curl up in a little wooden shack and listen to the rain. We climb mountains with windswept hair and jump in puddles formed in the sand.
It is another quiet month spent with the flying boy, before my inevitable flight to Germany. In my journal I write a list: “warm water in small baths, the feint smell of lemon myrtle, glasses of red wine sitting on the toilet seat, UberEats two hours too late, ute trays and a sky full of stars…”.
I have no plans and no idea what I am going to do in Europe. People keep asking me what I’m “running away from”. I take comfort in the fact that flying boy just so happens to have a flight booked to Germany too, a week later.
Ahh, August. On the road. Driving across Europe, no plan and no idea when I’ll book a flight back to Australia. I write about August on my blog. I read Letters to a Young Writer by Colum McCann, author of one of my favourite books of all time- Let The Great World Spin. I read science fiction masterpieces Foundation and Foundation and Empire by Isaac Asimov, as they’re my travel partner’s favourite books. I’ve never been much for science fiction, but biochemist Asimov is a literary and scientific genius.
I read Czech writer Milan Kundera’s book Immortality in a tent an hour out of Prague and sit by a river by myself and write in my journal.
“The purpose of the poetry is not to dazzle us with an astonishing thought, but to make one moment of existence unforgettable and worthy of unbearable nostalgia.”
Another month on the road, another covered on my blog. I make the most of the European summer and swim in as many rivers and lakes in the nude as I can.
I read Swing Time by Zadie Smith as my European journey becomes a solo expedition. The social commentary is strong and quite profound in this one.
“A truth was being revealed to me: that I had always tried to attach myself to the light of other people, that I had never had any light of my own. I experienced myself as a kind of shadow.”
I read First Person by Richard Flannigan in a tent overlooking the mountains in France. My tent is pitched on a never-ending bed of blueberries, and the rain is slapping the rock faces in a way that makes me fall asleep with a smile. I don’t enjoy the book and decide to finish it later in the month. 1 star.
I start a Facebook Group for Sydney Exvangelicals off the back of The Gravity of Guilt’s readership and it grows to 120 members. I spend a lot of time reading heartbreaking stories of trauma, guilt and shame. I am comforted by the fact that I am not alone.
I read 1929 classic Passing by Nella Larsen and Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood (the author who introduced me to the love of literature) and write about my final month in Europe on my blog. I spend a lot of time swimming in the ocean and having pizzas with friends around the continent.
I write about the sex lives of ex-Christians on SBS VICELAND’s The Feed.
I finally finish surfing non-fiction book Barbarian Days by William Finnegan but don’t enjoy it because I’m not a surfer and the pages and pages of surf conditions seem to dribble on.
I buy My Twentieth Century Evening and Other Small Breakthroughs: The Nobel Lecture by Kazuo Ishiguro and The Waterfront Journals by David Wojnarowicz from an independent book shop in London and am not particularly engaged by either of them.
I fly back to Australia and move to a new share house of old friends. I get a stick and poke tattoo of a Leunig character on the dining room table from my housemate while our neighbours scream “fuck you cunt” and “wanna go cunt?” to the cockatoos from their balcony. Pixel, the Italian Greyhound that lives at our house, trotters past unfazed by the abuse.
December is a month of reading. A month of adventures with friends and the flying boy and a little bit of tennis, too. I purchase Murakami’s new book Killing Commendatore and consume it with speed on a bed by the sea in Fiji. 4 stars.
I read Eggshell Skull by Bri Lee on the Gold Coast with a terrible stomach bug and cry. An empowering book that leads me to post letters to the NSW Police Commissioner in regards to sexual assault communications.
I buy my first car and sit on the roof overlooking a beach in Bateman’s Bay and write about the “big clumps of families” and their shadows playing cricket on the beach.
I read Becoming by Michelle Obama because my best friend and I decide we need a new book for our book club. It offers me unique insight into the world of American politics and makes me adore the Obama family even more.
I read Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott as it was lent to me by a friend in a bar. She talks about writing stories for people as gifts, especially those who will soon greet death. I like the idea.
Babies are born and friends build houses and fly overseas. I wrap up the year with a glass of wine, the flying boy, a couple of skateboards and an ocean pool. It’s been a pretty magnificent year.