What We’re Listening To: July Edition

I Said What I Said Podcast

Lou Garcia-Dolnik, Membership and Administration Officer

This isolation I’ve made a point of tuning into I Said What I Said podcast. As I mentioned last month, I’m not a podcast buff, so to say that the charismatic and knowledgeable Mukundwa and her co-host with the most, Nyak, have been keeping me afloat and alive these past weeks is vastly understated praise. The duo, who have a fantastic chemistry and incendiary shared humour (I’ve snorted out loud multiple times while listening to their yarns), take fairly well-circulated tenets in millennial popular/positive psychology and hold them to the lens of their complex Black feminism(s), their soulful and nuanced cultural interpretation and in-jokes, which the listener feels privileged to be clued in on. With 80-odd episodes released to date, Mukundwa and Nyak leave no stone unturned. Among those topics explored include compassion and care, intimate and platonic relationships, their boundaries, weight loss and privilege, cults, authenticity and ambition. Mukundwa and Nyak also host a hilarious viewer-question segment at the end of the episode where they answer questions received via Instagram. Most of those questions/answers are too R-rated to reproduce here, but I can’t get enough of their takes on love, inter-generational sex and pleasure (don’t miss Destructive Hookup Styles, Botched Boundaries & Vulnerability Sweats feat. Nunu and Tshepi—the best).

These two sport some fierce lady-balls. An ISWIS episode lasts for about an hour, so this is a great one to take with you on your long walks to fill the existential dread you’re no doubt trying to stave off in isolation. They’re on hiatus for the moment, but if you like the podcast, consider chucking Mukundwa and Nyak some coin via PayPal. It’s well worth it.

Carpentaria by Alexis Wright

Sarah Mott, Project and Communications Officer

Carpentaria - What We’re Listening To: July Edition

There is a small list of books that are better when read to you, and for me, Carpentaria is one of them. Read by theatre director and dramaturg Isaac Drandich, Wright’s masterful sentences wash and swirl over me like the warm waves of the gulf. Wright eschews chronology – it’s hard to follow what came before, after, or even what is happening now, but this makes it easy to dip in and out, I snap on my headphones and let the words direct me. The fictional town of Desperance is set on the author’s Waanyi country, the gulf of Carpentaria. But I listen to the bloated, self-righteous caricatures of the law, the mayor, the well-to-do residents and I see real people I grew up with in my own small town; reinforcing the narrative of a proud, upstanding town with centuries of colonial violence and erasure that we as white citizens decided not to see.

Tara June Winch has declared ‘this novel will change you, as long as you have the guts to read all the way through.’ This novel isn’t written for me, which is a strange thing to think for anyone who has not had to think about it much before, in a world where most books on the best-seller shelves are for ‘neutral’, a.k.a white, audiences. The audiobook is 19 hours long, and since early May I have renewed it 3 times before having to return it again, only 9 hours done. I’m in line again to borrow it, determined to follow Wright’s reality-blending, complex saga of the Pricklebush mob to the end.

Rabbit Hole by The New York Times and Punisher by Phoebe Bridgers

Claire Thompson, Project Officer

After hearing multiple people recommend it, I finally started listening to Rabbit Hole, a podcast by The New York Times. The podcast explores how the internet and its algorithms has dramatically influenced the way society thinks. YouTube’s algorithm works to recommend users content based on their watch time, i.e. you watch a cat video, you’re going to see more cat videos. You watch a white supremacist video, you’ll see more. Rabbit Hole reminds us how difficult it can be to distinguish between what is our unique-individually-formed opinion, and what is an opinion we adopted because we read it on the internet. The podcast sheds light on how our own ideas are reinforced to us through the many algorithms used on social media platforms. At their best, these algorithms improve user experience, but at their worst, they reinforce harmful ideas, and have often been identified as a contributing factor to people committing terrorist acts. 
It raises the oft-debated question, do social media platforms have a responsibility to society to remove potentially harmful content? I don’t agree with the concept that we are the media we consume, because this negates the fact that we have agency and can critically analyse ideas — we don’t have to blindly accept everything we see, hear or read. However, it does feel almost irresponsible for the social media giants to ignore how they are making it possible for false information to be spread to impressionable people. Increasingly they are being held accountable, with Twitter recently introducing the fact-checking tag to Tweets which spread false, potentially harmful, information (like many of Trumps’ tweets). But there is a long way to go, and Rabbit Hole warns listeners of the consequences of this negligence. 

On another note, I’m the kind of person who needs music to be playing in the background while I work, I can’t just listen to the quiet. And the music that has been accompanying my work lately is the second album from American singer-songwriter, Phoebe Bridgers, Punisher. Bridgers has such a unique sound: sad, honest, real. Particular stand-outs for me on the album are Punisher, Moon Song and ICU. Her soft vocals are soothing, and like all good music, her lyrics make you feel less alone. 

Conversations with Friends

Ashley Kalagian Blunt, Senior Program Officer

I’ve been listening to Conversations with Friends, a podcast within a podcast featuring writerly conversations between writerly friends created by The First Time Podcast superstars, Kate Mildenhall and Katherine Collette (the original conversing friends). It’s delightful to hear friends reflect on their writing journeys together, and each episode is full of wonderful advice and suggestions. Some of the Friends include NSW author Lauren Chater, Writing NSW tutor Wai Chim, and many more authors from across Australia.

Brave Wilderness with Coyote Peterson

David Henley, Business and Property Manager

brave wilderness 1024x576 - What We’re Listening To: July Edition

My three-year-old dominates my cultural intake at the moment, but I have steered his love of animals to an obsession with YouTube nature videos. He tells me what animal he wants to see and we search for it. He has latched onto a channel called ‘Brave Wilderness’ with an enthusiastic American presenter called Coyote Peterson.

This week he has been watching a video about catching sea turtles off the coast of Australia and then insists on reenacting the scene with me. The sofa becomes the boat, he leaps off and grabs me, then hauls me up to be measured before he tips me back into the ocean. Each time he watches the video his reenactments get more detailed and this morning he introduced tagging me with his plastic scissors. I’m glad he’s learning but he said my belly was 30 miles wide this morning which is a cruel exaggeration.


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Sep 13, Grand Remembrances

Today is Grandparents Day in the United States. Being a Grand is a special honor. I feel very blessed that my wife and I have two grandchildren. We were able to visit them today. Yes, we are still being cautious with the coronavirus, but we also find it very difficult to not see them when they live so close. So today we did drop by to visit Jacob (age 10) and Sophia (age 7) along with their parents. We brought donuts and caught up with them. Our grandchildren are still pretty young and this is a precious time in their lives – and ours!

I wish I had known my grandparents better. We never lived in the same place. Dad was a career Air Force pilot, so we moved around a lot. But we did get to see them once in a while when they would visit us, or we them.

A Plague of Giants

There are five known magical ‘kennings’ or types: air, water, fire, earth, and plants. Each nation specializes in of these kennings, and the magic influences the society. There’s a big pitfall with this diversity of ability and locale–not everyone gets along.

Enter the Hathrim giants, or ‘lavaborn’ whose kenning is fire. Where they live the trees that fuel their fire are long gone, but the giants are definitely not welcome anywhere else. They’re big, they’re violent, and they’re ruthless. When a volcano erupts and they are forced to evacuate, they take the opportunity to relocate. They don’t care that it’s in a place where they aren’t wanted.

I first read Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid books and loved them (also the quirky The Tales of Pell), so was curious about this new venture, starting with A PLAGUE OF GIANTS. Think Avatar: The Last Airbender meets Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera series. Elemental magic, a variety of races, different lands. And it’s all thrown at you from page one.

But this story is told a little differently. It starts at the end of the war, after a difficult victory, and a bard with earth kenning uses his magic to re-tell the story of the war to a city of refugees. And it’s this movement back and forth in time and between key players in this war that we get a singularly grand view of the war as a whole. Hearne uses this method to great effect.

There are so many interesting characters in this book that I can’t cover them all here. Often in books like this such a large cast of ‘main’ character can make the storytelling suffer, especially since they don’t have a lot of interaction with each other for the first 3/4 of the book–but it doesn’t suffer, thankfully. And the characterization is good enough, despite these short bursts, that by the end we understand these people and care about what happens to them.

If there were a main character it would be Dervan, a historian who is assigned to record (also spy on?) the bard’s stories. He finds himself caught up in machinations he feels unfit to survive. Fintan is the bard from another country, who at first is rather mysterious and his true personality is hidden by the stories he tells; it takes a while to understand him. Gorin Mogen is the leader of the Hathrim giants who decide to find a new land to settle. He’s hard to like, but as far as villains go, you understand his motivations and he can be even a little convincing. There’s Abhi, the son of hunters, who decides hunting isn’t the life for him–and unexpectedly finds himself on a quest for the sixth kenning. And Gondel Vedd, a scholar of linguistics who finds himself tasked with finding a way to communicate with a race of giants never seen before (definitely not Hathrim) and stumbles onto a mystery no one could have guessed: there may be a seventh kenning.

There are other characters, but what makes them all interesting is that they’re regular people (well, maybe not Gorin Mogen or the viceroy–he’s a piece of work) who become heroes in their own little ways, whether it’s the teenage girl who isn’t afraid to share vital information, to the scholars who suddenly find how crucial their minds are to the survival of a nation, to the humble public servants who find bravery when they need it most. This is a story of loss, love, redemption, courage, unity, and overcoming despair to not give up. All very human experiences by simple people who do extraordinary things.

Hearne’s worldbuilding is engaging. He doesn’t bottle feed you, at first it feels like drinking from a hydrant, but then you settle in and pick up things along the way. Then he shows you stuff with a punch to the gut. This is no fluffy world with simple magic without price. All the magic has a price, and more often than not it leads you straight to death’s door. For most people just the seeking of the magic will kill you. I particularly enjoyed the scenes with Ahbi and his discovery of the sixth kenning and everything associated with it. But giants? I mean, really? It isn’t bad enough fighting people who can control fire that you have to add that they’re twice the size of normal people? For Hearne if it’s war, the stakes are pretty high, and it gets ugly.

The benefit of the storytelling style is that the book, despite its length, moves along steadily (Hearne is no novice, here). The bits of story lead you along without annoying cliffhangers (mostly), and I never got bored with the switch between characters. It was easy to move between them, and they were recognizable enough that I got lost or confused. The end of the novel felt a little abrupt, but I guess that has more to do with I was ready for the story to continue, despite the exiting climax.

If you’re looking for epic fantasy with fun storytelling and clever worldbuilding, check out A PLAGUE OF GIANTS.

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The Artwork Of Gary Choo

Gary Choo is a concept artist/illustrator based in Singapore. I’ve know Gary for a good many years ( 17, actually ), working together in animation studios in Singapore like Silicon Illusions and Lucasfilm. Gary currently runs an art team at Mighty Bear Games, but when time allows he also draws covers for Marvel comics, and they’re amazing –

The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo

To see more of Gary’s work or to engage him for freelance work, head down to his ArtStation.

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