Q&A Monday: Benjamin Law 5 Comments

Q&A Monday: Benjamin Law

Benjamin Law. Male. Lives in Brisbane. Debut book The Family Law out this June through Black Inc Books. Has pieces in Best Australian Essays 2008 and 2009, and in Growing Up Asian in Australia.  Senior contributor to frankie, and is oft-published in the pages of The Monthly, The Big Issue, Sunday Life and heaps more. Twitter aficionado. Dude.

Writing: necessity or luxury?

For me, it’s both. It’s a necessity, because my brain’s hardwired to receive information best through writing. I ravenously listen to podcasts and watch stuff on television, but for some reason, it always comes back to magazines and books. It’s just how I’m programmed: to eat up words. It’s the best way for me to communicate too. I’m much better on email than I am on the phone.

But it’s also a luxury. I’m starting to get to the point where I can make a modest living from writing, and this definitely seems luxurious to me. For instance, I’m actually answering this Q&A from Thailand, where I’m travelling with a bus load of beautiful transsexual women preparing for a national beauty pageant. It’s research for a book I’m writing, and weirdly, it’s also a legitimate form of work. If that’s not luxury, I don’t know what is.

Your print history is impressive; you seem to hold the mantle of ‘young writer the established publications turn to for the youth angle’. How did this come about?

Well, the trick is convincing people that you’re somehow relevant. But don’t be fooled: I’m actually marvellously unsuccessful in many realms, and writing is sometimes one of them. But thanks for calling my print history “impressive” though — it means I’m hiding the failures relatively well, and this pleases me.

If given a do-over, what is one career-based thing in the past you would do differently?

I really wished I’d gone overseas or done an exchange program beween my Honours (in magazine culture) and PhD (in television writing). I’m sure that would have opened me up to good material and fresh life perspectives. But no: the obedient second-generation Asian in me won out, so I just kept studying like a motherfucker. There’s something sad about that, I think.

Often you write about serious things in a funny way. Why?

Oscar Wilde once said: “If you want to tell people the truth, make people laugh — otherwise they’ll kill you.” That’s something I keep close to my heart. Plus, I find it fascinating how every tragedy is a comedy, and vice-versa. I challenge you to find a funeral where no one laughs, or a stand-up comedy show where no one wants to burst out crying. Because I’ve sure done both.

Your debut book The Family Law (linked nonfiction stories) is out this June. Nervous much?

Sort of. It’s a cross between relief and excitement and anticipation. Similar to that moment just before you need to do a poo.

If you could read anyone’s journal or raid anyone’s hard drive, through whose would you rifle?

David Sedaris, whom I adore. I know his hard-drive wouldn’t be that extensive — he’s famously a luddite, and only bought his first computer a few years ago — but he keeps journals obsessively, and binds them up at a printer at the end of every year. I would love to see those books. Failing Sedaris, I’d say Osama bin Laden’s.

The internet: friend or foe? Discuss.

Well, if I didn’t have the internet, I definitely wouldn’t be able to write or research…well, pretty much everything I’ve ever written. It’s so fucking handy. At the same time, it’s a time-eating beast of a thing, and I’m easily distracted by Twitter and Facebook and homosexual pornography.

I’ve heard the writer Margo Lanagan actually has two rooms: one with a computer for writing, and another with a computer connected to the internet. That’s a wonderful idea, except my apartment has only one bedroom that I share with my boyfriend. We don’t exactly have much space to compartmentalise.

So here’s a tip: if you’re a Mac user and you’re serious about writing, download a program called Freedom. It’s free, and it’ll disable your computer’s internet connection for a dictated amount of time, so you can just work. It’s surprisingly helpful. [We know all about Freedom Ben.]

You can punch one person in the schnoz and get away scot free. Who do you clobber?

Keith Windschuttle. What a breathtakingly awful douche.

You’re an exile, banished to a tiny island in the middle of the ocean. You are allowed one book and one album of music (in a solar powered iPod) to last the rest of your days. Any preferences?

Can I take an iPad hooked up to a some sort of internationally-spanning 3G network, per chance? Really? No? Okay, well fuck you guys! I’d take a good nonfiction anthology, like The New Journalism (edited by Tom Wolfe) or The New Kings of Nonfiction (edited by Ira Glass). As for music: 100% Hits, Volume 8. The one with “Detachable Penis” and Snow’s “Informer”. If I’m going to go insane from isolation, it may as well be compounded by the music.

Have you ever hit a cane toad with a golf club? Could you?

Cane toads are shamelessly rampant at my grandmother’s retirement village. When I’ve taken late-night walks with her, they’re just everywhere and they infuriate me. They are so offensively ugly, and they don’t even move away when you get close.

The publicly-ethical-eating, anti-cruelty part of me wants to answer “no” — “No, I couldn’t ever hit a cane toad with a golf club.” But deep down, I know this is a lie.

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