What do you do in your day job/life?
I write: thoughts, fiction, essays, emails, student feedback, grant applications, a thesis.
Put crudely, I live off scholarship/grant money and have foolishly gallantly convinced myself such opportunities will always exist and that I will indefinitely be paid to think, imagine, and create.
In the past I have been a lecturer at China’s top university Tsinghua, where I taught Creative Writing and developed the school’s first ever course on Australian Literature.
What’s the earliest thing you remember writing?
When I was five I took Japanese classes and learned to write my name: デイビッド. I like the 書道 of Japanese and Chinese writing, even blocky カタカナ, and sometimes worry that, despite the printed word’s dominance and possibilities, if I were to write a story involving Shaanxi noodles I would be unable to type the 57-stroke character ‘biáng’.
When do you like to write?
Initial brushstrokes: I write in the magical hours when the city has just begun to doze, before I am claimed by sleep, when drowsy panic intoxicates, striking the perfect balance between inspired and censored thought.
Finishing touches: In the fortnight before a deadline (forced or assigned), I allow my apartment/social life/body to fall into ruin (multiple unwashed dishes are a sign of fantastic productivity) and work non-stop until the thing is done, consuming Balzacian amounts of coffee, reading and rereading passages aloud until they lose all meaning and my throat becomes sore, looking up every single adjective in several thesauruses, deleting paragraphs, putting them back in, moving and removing commas … the work is never finished, only abandoned.
If you could brunch with anyone, who would it be?
Kublai Khan + Marco Polo so I could play out Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities. Failing that, the girl at the gym that I have a crush on.
Most important thing the Internet has taught you:
The Internet has allowed me to glimpse the finite yet incomprehensible polyphony of the human voice in all its cruelty and compassion. It also reassures me that wherever I am in the world there are dozens of single mothers in my area.
A quotation you have used more than once:
Fragments of this quote by Saul Bellow have wormed their way into my essays and consciousness on more than one occasion:
In the greatest confusion there is still an open channel to the soul. It may be difficult to find because by midlife it is overgrown, and some of the wildest thickets that surround it grow out of what we describe as our education. But the channel is always there, and it is our business to keep it open, to have access to the deepest part of ourselves—to that part of us which is conscious of a higher consciousness, by means of which we make final judgments and put everything together. The independence of this consciousness, which has the strength to be immune to the noise of history and the distractions of our immediate surroundings, is what the life struggle is all about. The soul has to find and hold its ground against hostile forces, sometimes embodied in ideas which frequently deny its very existence, and which indeed often seem to be trying to annul it altogether.
Regret the answers that I wrote for this and worry that I can never change them.
I’m also completing my doctorate at Murdoch University, co-editing a special edition of Westerly that comes out later this year, reworking a few manuscripts and essays, planning a research trip to the NYU library, and I have a short story coming out in Southerly.