Why hello there! I’m very, terribly, tremendously excited to invite you all to the launch party for Six Cold Feet. If you’re in Brisbane, come and party with us in person. If you’re anywhere else in the universe, have yourself a private listening party and let us know what you think of our first episode.
I make the call with the rejection letter in my hand. The phone rings for a moment, then the line goes dead. I really never thought I’d long for the days when being on hold to Centrelink for hours was the best possible option. Now the phones don’t work at all.
I drive to the office, there’s no parking. I park in a nearby shopping centre and walk out of the carpark. I’m aware that this is technically illegal, but it’s fairly hard to care about such trivialities when you have a family member – let’s call him Sam – who is homeless, physically and psychologically deteriorating, and being incessantly hounded by debt collectors. How odd that Centrelink staff are so implausibly difficult to reach and yet for some reason the debt collectors they employ appear to have infinite time and resources.
The Centrelink office is predictably packed. I join the queue of people staring at their phones and muttering irascibly. A young family lines up behind me, they are utterly incredulous about the length of the queue. Obviously, they haven’t had to do this for a while.
I reach the front after about fifteen minutes, and manage to make my request without breaking into tears, so that surely counts as a win.
“I’m trying to help a family member. We’ve been coming in here for four months I think. Maybe it’s five? They still haven’t received anything. No money. No healthcare card. He can’t afford medication, he’s running up debts, he doesn’t have stable accommodation.” I pause, the attendant is still looking at me expectantly. I’m not sure what else to say. “Is there a way to get the application fast-tracked?” He nods and says,
“Take a seat, we’ll see what we can do.”
I feel weary and ruined, but I decide to try and make the best of the long wait time. I’m lucky enough to have a flexible schedule as a freelancer, although it does mean that the hours I’m spending here will take away from my earnings this week. It’s strangely ironic to note that visiting Centrelink is going to reduce your weekly income. Still, if I had a conventional office job I wouldn’t be able to contact them at all, so there’s that. I make a few work calls, answer a couple of emails and then crack open my book.
The young family comes and sits next to me. Their son, he looks to be about four, studies my face with the unabashed curiosity that only kids get away with.
“You’re bald!” He pronounces, as though he’s telling me I have wings or a tail. I look up at him and laugh.
“Yes, that’s a true story.”
“But you’ve got lots of hair on your face?”
“Sort of the wrong way round isn’t it?” He nods.
“You’ve got a mixed-up head.”
“You know, you’re not the first person to tell me that.”
I try and focus on my book, but the kid persists. “I have a magic watch!” he announces. As far as non-sequiturs go, it’s not bad.
“Yeah, it’s really magic? That’s cool.” He looks down, thinks it over and says,
“Nah, just pretend.”
“Ah, that’s a shame.” He changes his mind, perks up and says,
“Kidding, it IS magic! It can fast-forward time!”
“Well, I could sure use that power right now.” His mum takes him by the hand and says,
“Come on, let the man read his book,” she smiles at me and they disappear outside, leaving dad to wait for his turn.
I wait for an hour. I know most of the faces here now, the people at the check-in, the gigantic security guard with the dissonantly friendly smile. I try and not think about the severity of the situation. How the dozens of back and forth discussions I have with these people that seem so promising but then go nowhere are the last lifeline that is available to Sam.
We’d spent months compiling masses of medical documentation from Sam’s psychologist and GP, submitted it to Centrelink, and after a two month wait we received…a five-figure debt notice. Once I’d managed to yelp a panicked request down the phoneline I was told to ‘just ignore it.’ This was back when the phones still worked, of course. Then, finally Sam had a phone interview a few days before Christmas. We chatted to a friendly older lady for about twenty minutes and two weeks later the letter arrived: CLAIM REJECTED.
Apparently the opinion of a genial Centrelink employee who has never met him holds more validity than the shared medical opinions of his doctor and psychologist. I felt as though I’d doubled in mass, it became harder to transport the weight of my own body from one place to the next. For a few weeks, I felt anger and depression bubbling away beneath my skin. The slightest irritation would set me to screaming. I was embarrassed at my anger, and angry about my embarrassment. The thing I feared most- ending up in the same state as Sam – seemed like it was coming closer to reality by the very act of trying to help him.
I saw a counsellor of my own, vomited the whole story in a rapid stream as soon as she shut the door. I sobbed breathlessly for a couple of minutes, the first time I’d cried in front of a stranger in decades. She told me “You should have started seeing someone sooner, this is too much for one person to deal with on their own.”
Finally, my name is called. I push the memories of the past few months away and approach the desk. The lady there greets me with a warm smile, and asks me for the password for Sam’s file. I panic. He stopped checking mail and email years ago, as a result I’d had to reset all of his accounts; email, Medicare, Centrelink, phone. I have dozens of passwords stored in a folder at home. She looks at me expectantly.
“I don’t know, I can’t remember it.” She frowns.
“I’m sorry, I can’t help you if you don’t know what it is.” I feel like setting things on fire, smashing chairs through windows, jumping from the nearest rooftop. I look at her in utter disbelief, close to crying for the second time today. Then I say,
“I have ID?”
“Oh yes! That’s fine too.”
I deflate with relief and hand her my driver’s license. She tells me that the claim is taking so long because it’s with the complex assessors. I tell her that we were informed that even though the disability claim had been rejected, we could reapply and in the meantime, Sam would be able to access Newstart. Until the claim is approved he can’t get a healthcare card and therefore can’t get medication. Apparently, one of the reasons his claim was rejected was because ‘he hasn’t consistently stayed on medication long enough.’ He can’t get medication until his claim is approved. But he can’t get his claim approved until he’s been on medication.
While I confess a great fondness for Kafka’s novels, I honestly never thought I’d end up inside one of them. She tells me she’ll attend to it personally, I’ll hear from her in a few days. I say thanks, exit into the blazing heat of the afternoon and walk the several blocks back to where my car is semi-illegally parked.
Everything on the radio annoys me, even the songs I usually love. The question that keeps buzzing furiously in my brain is this; I’m a well-educated, well-resourced Australian citizen who speaks English as a first language, if navigating Centrelink’s diabolical labyrinth is this harrowing for someone like me, how the hell does someone with limited English and/or education manage to make it out alive?
I compose this little reflection in my head as I drive, feeling guilty for not having made a follow-up appointment with my therapist. The problem is; writing is much cheaper and more convenient than therapy. The news comes on. People are talking about how the Prime Minister has been yelling at his opponent, calling him a sycophant. The newscaster talks about the head of Australia Post earning over five million dollars last year. Much like the haggard, frustrated occupants of the office I’ve just left, these two receive their income from tax dollars. If men like this had to go through the same Kafkaesque nightmare as Centrelink clients to get paid, I wonder how quickly the systemic infrastructure problems would get fixed?
Great news everybody! The first reviews for the US release of Killing Adonis have come in and they are the literary equivalent of a proud teacher sticking millions of gold stars over a student’s face. Extremely excited to announce I have even managed to score a coveted Kirkus Star, which makes you temporarily invincible (like in Mario Kart). Also this means I’m in the running for the Kirkus prize, which is also good. Publisher’s Weekly Review also said some very kind and ego-inflating things about it, which was awfully kind of them. This reviewer even called it ‘this year’s most mind-blowing and droll crime fiction book’.
It’s now available worldwide in bulletproof* hardcover and paperback from Amazon, Poisoned Pen Press and all good bookstores (as well as some of the bad ones). Amusingly, I haven’t actually received my author copies of the US edition yet so if one of you could let me know how it feels, tastes and smells that would be great.
ALSO, people keep asking me when I’m going to put up more videos of some of my poetry performance. Unfortunately I hate being filmed and photographed. I once had a photographer tell me “The camera loves you JD! Actually, no it doesn’t. But I’m a great photographer so these’ll still be good.” However, the good folks at Word Travels recorded me performing at the Sydney Opera House last year and those videos are now online at last. The second one is even swearing free, fun for the whole family!**
**Except racist uncle Todd, but no one likes him anyway.
Very excited to finally share my talk from TEDxSouthBank! Big thanks to Anna Cooke, Rozina Suliman, Imaginary Theatre and QAGOMA for letting me use their images and discuss their wonderful creations. I had a lot of fun doing this, the first couple of minutes are me performing a spoken word piece about the experience of attending TEDx, the rest is a brief talk about the importance of art, particularly for children. Hope you enjoy it, feel free to share it around!
Hello there humans and any AI programs reading this, I’ve been a bit quiet of late but there are lots of exciting announcements to come in the next few weeks. The first of these is that I’m very proud to announce that I’ll be at the first ever Rock & Roll Writers Festival. There’s not really anything quite like it anywhere in the world, in that it brings together iconic musicians alongside writers who focus on music in their work. I’m very excited to have such a festival born in my home city, and absolutely thrilled to be on a panel alongside Deborah Conway and Don McGlashan:
3.00 pm – Dancing In The Dark (Sunday)
From novel-length saga to three-minute pop song, choosing the right words and correct structure is paramount in getting your message across. But how do you effectively combine the two? And how different is writing for a reader, as opposed to writing for a listener?
Moderator: Samuel J. Fell
Panellists: Deborah Conway, Don McGlashan, J.M.Donellan
The festival is structured so that there are no clashes (my pet peeve of festivals of any kind) and there is just one easy, all inclusive ticket price for the whole weekend. 1st release tix have already sold out but you can still get tickets here and check out the full program here.
I’m really looking forward to this one. Hope to see you there!
Working in the arts, you have to expect the odd negative review and the conventional wisdom is to just ignore them. However, I honestly never expected that anyone would ever care enough about my work to call for a boycott, and I DEFINITELY did not think that anyone would ever be demented enough to call for a boycott and write a 1300+ word essay based purely on the TITLE! Oh, what a world of wonders we live in! Here’s my review of Gerald Keaney’s utterly sincere and yet unintentionally hilarious boycott call to arms.
1 ““Poetry is dead!” It’s an edgy and intriguing title for a poetry event on 9th December 2015, part of the Brisbane Powerhouse’s end of year Wonderland Festival.
Your essay begins with getting the date wrong. GREAT START!
2 While the pair’s subject matter is up to them…
Implies that the subject matter of an independently produced performance would, for some insane reason, be up to someone else (you, presumably?) This is deranged enough to be hilarious. Please continue!
3 If everyone is a poet, there are no more poets.
In our incredibly brief online interaction I saw you use this line three times, so you’re obviously very proud of it. Poetry is currently a niche art form, so this is hardly a concern. Furthermore, one of the reasons why it is so sparsely practised is because people are put off by the kind of elitist gatekeeping you’re espousing here. Imagine if you told every ten year old who picked up a guitar: “You’d BETTER have a comprehensive understanding of 19th century flamenco music!”
4 Donellan also claimed his “poetry is dead” byline referred to old fashioned poetry. “In with the new, out with the old!” he declares…
You’ve taken a (wildly exaggerated and inaccurate) paraphrasing and presented it as a quote. I seem to recall Jonah Lehrer doing something similar. Things didn’t work out too well for him, did they?
5 Nevertheless Donellan’s endeavour could have easily been saved. He could have been a little more enthusiastic about discussion afterwards… Along with poetry, he obviously thinks public discussion has died, and it is time for the public to sit back like good passive little consumers of art.
I said I was happy to talk after the show – repeatedly – but that we could not host a Q & A afterwards because we had to pack down the stage for the show which began 15 minutes after ours finished. You really don’t seem to have a very firm grasp of either time or basic social protocol. You aren’t an only child who was raised by some sort of humourless disgraced Slavic royalty in a barn with only your rancorous patriarch and pet woodlouse for company by any chance?
6 Even without seeing their show I can only conclude that it is a mistake for Donellan and Wilmett to use the title “Poetry is dead.”
Easily my favourite part. Basically the equivalent of picking up a copy of ‘Catcher in the Rye’ and saying: “I fucking HATE rye, I’m not reading this shit!”
7 They are left displaying only a faux cleverness, and the way the pair has used the slogan Poetry is dead gives entirely the wrong message about poetry itself. For that reason my advice is boycott.
First of all, are you familiar with the concept of irony? Seeing as the only thing you seem to be interested in is your own opinions, would you prefer that we called our act Gerald Keaney and the Gerald Keaneys? Because unfortunately that name is already taken by some deranged narcissist. In any case, even if you think it’s a terrible title, calling for a boycott is definitely overkill. What next, call for a ban on poetry readings in a library ? Oh wait, I see you already did that.
8 YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE SHOW. I realise I mentioned this already, but I felt it was such an important point that it was worth repeating.
In conclusion: if this is a mislabeled piece of fiction written from the perspective of a character who is a petty, ageing punk who indulges in writing petulant rants and dressing them up as rambling, incoherent academic critique then congratulations, you’ve nailed it!
However, if this is actually a sincere essay, it gets a solid F+. The ‘+’ is awarded on the off-chance that you really are an only child who was raised in a barn with only your rancorous patriarch and pet woodlouse for company. Perhaps next time you could try typing with both hands?
I’m tremendously excited to be have worked on The Theory of Everything as a part of the Brisbane Festival. The director, Thomas Quirk, produced one of my all time favourite theatrical works, The Raven, which was an interactive performance piece about Edgar Allen Poe. It also starred one of my best friends, the supernaturally brilliant actor Erica Field. It’s an honour to be working with Thom on this show, alongside other amazing theatre folk like Yvette Turnbull and Marcel Dorney. When I was in my early twenties, I had a massive band crush on his group Flamingo Crash, so it’s rewarding and bizarre to be collaborating with him on this project.
For this show I was asked to write a bunch of loosely connected vignettes on subjects including physics, philosophy, love, death, elf magic and tentacle porn. Brisbane Festival shows always sell quickly, Friday night is already sold out and Wednesday is nearly gone as well so if you want to come along you should clickety click here. There are also tons of other amazing shows and some great multi-ticket deals. Check it out!
Oh hey there everyone! In super magic big plus exciting times news: I recently handed in the manuscript for my new novel to Pantera Press! Hopefully they like it, otherwise I’ll just print it out and drive around throwing it onto people’s lawns which will be very expensive and time consuming and also possibly injure their pets.
This has meant I’ve had some time to finish up and release a couple of short stories for your digital media bookreading simulator device. One is (sort of) a love story about a man who is enraptured by someone who isn’t really there and the other is a (sort of) horror story about a bromance between psychopaths. They are only $1 each, so it’s either get one of these stories or some used underwear from your local charity store, your call.
PS a quick thank you to the folks on Twitter and Facebook who helped me put together some ideas for House. Hunting. by sharing their stories about the strange/psychopathic behaviour of their housemates. You guys have shared roofs, bathrooms and bodily odours with some seriously fucked up individuals.
PPS I’lll be at the Sydney Writers’ Festival in a couple of weeks and it will be crazy and amazing! There will be heaps of other great authors like David Mitchell, Emily St John Mandel, Annabel Crabb etc. Come and say hi if you’re in that corner of this particular universe.