March 2010 (Australia)
Gravel is Peter Goldsworthy’s new collection of short stories – amusing and moving – covering a range of predominantly white middle-class characters in conflict with their own egos. But there are also stories exploring erotic awakening (something Goldsworthy did well in Everything I Knew) and others where the drama is suspenseful, sad and intense. The amusing stories, though, are so memorable. What would you do if a stalker was secretly and gently stroking your ego? What if you were a teenage woman who genuinely fell for an older man? What if you were a happily partnered woman who welcomed the flirtatious attentions of a female shop assistant?
Goldsworthy’s excellent earlier collected works, The List of All Answers, is one of my favourite books, and I found Gravel to be a rewarding, entertaining read. I was happy that Goldsworthy agreed to answer a few questions for LiteraryMinded. Enjoy.
If you met someone unfamiliar with your work, and they asked about what you do, where would you start? Novels? Plays? Opera? Short stories? Poetry?
I’m just a writer. All these forms have their own different freedoms and constraints. Each offers something to the others. I learn about the power of narrative structure from film and theatre; from poetry I found a way of writing the dense, resonant and economical prose I like best. The clarity and simplicity of songs helps poetry. In writing novels I learn about character. So there are always lessons to learn and take across the boundaries.
Gravel features some very amusing stories where characters are in conflict with themselves due to the unsolicited attentions of others (‘Mirror, Mirror’, ‘The Fourth Tenor’, ‘Get a Life’). Why is this a topic of fascination for you?
I enjoy seeing people – especially the pious, and self-righteous – hoisted on their own petards. That includes me in my most pious moments, as painful as it has often been. I like stories that tell us about ourselves, even if we don’t want to hear what they say at first; stories that speak to our hearts even before we understand them with our heads – or that we resist with our heads, even as they fuck with them.
Many of your stories had me asking, as a reader, ‘what would I do?’ Such as, ‘what would I do if I feel for the person I babysat for?’ or ‘what would I do if I had to choose between the farm and my old dog?’ Is this often how the stories come to you?
Well – I guess those emotional trajectories we have all lived, even if on a smaller scale, or in parallel situations. There aren’t many new stories in the world; maybe ‘Shooting the Dog’ is one.
You’re skilled at capturing that moment of erotic awakening, in ‘The Nun’s Story’, and also in Everything I Knew. It’s the kind of topic that draws the reader in through memory, the senses and the imagination. Is the best kind of art, for you, something that stirs the intellect, emotions and physical body all at once?
Exactly. Too much literary fiction is pure confection – all head; too much popular fiction is cheap emotions – all heart. There are great exceptions; there is nothing human – nothing of the heart – in Borges’ best stories, and they are wonderful. But he knew to keep them short; he would never risk boring us with a novel. I want – unhumbly – to speak to all the organs at once. I’ve often written about this – as essay called the Biology of Literature, for one – how writing can make us weep and laugh of course, but can make the goosebumps rise (Robert Graves’ test of great poetry), or make our hairs stand up on end, or fill us with awe, or stop us sleeping for days.
Which story in Gravel was the most difficult to write, and why?
Hard to say. They are always a mixture of pain and pleasure. ‘Sometimes pus, sometimes a poem – but always pain’, the poet Yehudi Amichai wrote. ‘Shooting the Dog’, perhaps – a story that was given to me by my wife Lisa, from her days as a young teacher in the bush. Or the last one, on the love between a middle-aged man and a school girl.
You’ve produced quality work consistently for many years now. Can you tell us a bit about your writing practice? How do you know what form an idea will take? Do you draft a story quickly? What is the best thing about writing?
I write each morning starting about nine. I practice medicine each afternoon starting about two. It’s a perfect balance; they are complementary in many ways. Ideas eventually find their ideal form, although sometimes they try out another form first. I keep a log of story ideas as they come to me, but they generally need to wait for their time, till they are ready, or for some other ingredient, or missing piece of their puzzle. The unconscious usually connects these over time.
Have you discovered many of the newer Australian short fiction writers, such as Patrick Cullen, Tom Cho, Steven Amsterdam, Cate Kennedy or Paddy O’Reilly?
I’ve been enjoying the work of Kennedy and O’Reilly for many years; the others more recently. I was pleased – even ift was at the expense of a novel of mine – that Nam Le’s stories won the PM’s literary award last year. The short story is, after all, our strongest form historically, and I suspect – along with poetry – it still is. If not the most perfect, it’s certainly the most perfectible.
What is escape or relaxation for you – someone with an obviously active, creative mind?
The usual. Family, friends, food, films, football, and one or two other things that start with f.
Other People's Words
Sep 25, 2009
Jason Cotter and Michael Williams (eds)
With Readings and Writings: Forty Years in Books, there doesn’t appear to have been an overriding theme or subject limitation placed on the contributors. Instead, the writers involved, who have all had supportive associations with Readings Books & Music (Melbourne) over the years, are given free reign. The result is a genuinely impressive collection.
The slightly irascible tone in ‘The Age of Terror’ by Chris Womersley is a lovely touch and very funny, recalling the best and most acerbic writings of Amy Hempel. It has wonderful descriptions which caught me out for their unexpectedness and humour (an ambulance officer feeling for a pulse is likened to a ‘trout fisherman, feeling for tremble on his line’) . There was a delighted shock of recognition, which many readers of this anthology will share, of the ‘inner-city parties populated with the absurdly tasteful’. Devastating and brilliant, for my money this is the best story in the mix, and hard to forget.
That said, Kate Holden’s ‘The Sightseers’ rivalled ‘The Age of Terror’ for my vote. A father takes his wife and daughter around Rome in the role of pushy guide, until he unwisely steps off the tourist path. The writing evokes Katherine Mansfield (although much darker) for the way it tracks minutely the shifting sympathies of the characters, and builds small but telling detail toward a shocking conclusion which is nonetheless inevitable when you search back through for clues. An object lesson in clever, subtle and brilliant writing.
Another highlight was ‘The Woodcutter’ by David Cohen. The story works as mad allegory, with satire thrown in, on the subject of marketing. It was great to read a tale so far out of the realist mould, which the majority of this collection falls into. An absurdist romp and an utter delight.
‘The Nun’s story’ by Peter Goldsworthy replaces the usual predator, the priest, with a nun in a simple but elegant style, building in carefully controlled tension. The nun’s ‘enigmatic smile’ is at first just that – enigmatic – until it becomes a motif of unforced and effective creepiness.
I must mention Catherine Harris’ ‘A Grand Leap of Stupid Faith’, so interesting I suspect the narrator could easily be recycled to sustain a whole novel. Her tone is slightly bored, with nothing glamorised or touched up; the tale is seemingly tossed-off but delivered with tight control.
A game of ten-pin bowling between two brothers, in Paddy O’Reilly’s ‘After the Goths’ effortlessly and unostentatiously told, is a real treat. And what can one say of Christos Tsiolkas’ impeccable storytelling that has not already been said. ‘The Pornographic Scientist’, where a mother tries to understand her estranged, deceased son through the only means left to her – a porno he acted in – is suitably raw and confronting.
No less mentionable, Alex Miller’s musings on what defines home; Elliot Perlman’s slice of everyday tragedy; Amy Tsilemanis’ cool exposure of the covetous generation; and Cate Kennedy’s study of a man and woman’s alternative forms of resilience.
Likewise with Myfanwy Jones’ tale of a dog-walker who is surprised by a moment of tenderness; Barry Divola’s nostalgic warnings on parroting; Robbie Egan’s blistering summer; Miles Allinson’s dreamlike fun-park; and Michael McGirr’s lesson on how philosophy can’t give us concrete answers. There is not a single dud among this collection.
If a theme or feeling can be gleaned from the overriding mood of these stories, then it appears that we may be no wiser or happier. But as examples of contemporary creativity, we are in prolific and fascinating times.
Tom Conyers is the author of the novel Morse Code for Cats. He makes short films, some of which have been shortlisted for prizes overseas; written a dozen plays (Magpies opened Chapel off Chapel’s Emerging Playwrights Forum 2008); and is currently working on a feature-film project and his second novel.
[Angela: all proceeds from the sale of this book go to the Readings Foundation. More info here.]
Aug 31, 2009
Instead of doing this session by session (as the last two days are a blur) I'll just write it as it comes out. *
Instead of doing this session by session (as the last two days are a blur) I’ll just write it as it comes out.
First of all, Why Australian Literature? looked at our national literature and it’s current ‘crisis’, that of globalisation and the possible ‘swamping’ of other voices and literatures. The panel featured Peter Goldsworthy, Thomas Keneally and playwright Hannie Wrayson. Peter Goldsworthy couldn’t find his speech, so he rambled on the spot (and it was really quite rambly). He is ‘ambivalent about the subject’. He says we still feel Aus lit is vulnerable, but he has had positive experiences overseas where he has seen how our works are received as unique and exotic. He took from Marjorie Barnard’s essay in the Macquarie PEN Anthology of Australian Literature, that ‘we can still catch it at it’.
Hannie Rayson shared hilarious (and worrying) anecdotes from working on a US TV show. She says Aus lit is actually booming, and that we need to hold onto our voice, in a way, while being unafraid to seek moments of universality, as creators, and cross those cultural boundaries.
Both Goldsworthy and Rayson opened with the first time they’d met Keneally, and then it was Keneally’s turn (who had met himself quite some time ago). He seemed a little weary of the subject – one that has been around at literary festivals since he was young. The ‘tussle always remains’, he said, though for different reasons. He said we should look at the swamping of other cultures as a challenge, not a threat. The biggest danger is the Productivity Commission’s threats to remove parallel import restrictions. Keneally said one thing he faced as an Aus author overseas, was the fact that people viewed Australia (as we often viewed ourselves, self-consciously so) as being less sophisticated than other Western cultures. He said when Schindler’s Ark came out, people would ask ‘how come an Australian wrote this? Like I’m an Antarctic penguin!’ Cuter than, Mr Keneally.
When it came to question time, I put my hand up and asked if the authors were aware that many people my age weren’t reading Australian literature. Judging by the age of the audience, people my age really had no concern about it at all. My voice cracked because I was looking directly as Goldsworthy (whose work I admire) and then it ended up coming out like an accusation, and I felt terrible. It’s a serious concern for me, but no one on stage had any thoughts about it at all. Goldsworthy said he wasn’t aware of it. He is now! It’s not the authors’ faults – they write what is true to them. There’s some missing link between the publisher and the audience, I think. On the way out three separate women grabbed me and said there were no young people in their book groups, or their daughter/son baulked when they suggested an Australian book.
While this is a stigma that may take time to overcome (and there is a younger ‘Aus lit’ which perhaps doesn’t seem relevant to these discussions, or sees itself as not being so, because it ispart of a globalised culture), another part of the question was answered in Sally Warhaft’s conversation with Christos Tsiolkas. Tsiolkas was ‘blown away’ by the success of The Slap, but feels that much of it possibly comes from the fact that there is a ‘hunger for contemporary stories’. Indeed, where is the Monkey Grip for my generation?
I also felt inspired by the whole festival, though, in that here is something worthwhile I can help with. Through this blog, word-of-mouth, through writing stories relevant to my generation, perhaps even teaching one day. I’ve touched on this before. That maybe I can be at least a small screw in a larger bridge (and I think Rosemary Cameron and Steve Grimwade have been steel beams in this – including many youth-appeal session at this festival). The bridge will be the kind where an old-school rock-star and a troubled youth meet. Think of it as David Malouf meeting young Larissa; Helen Garner getting through to Johnny; Gav finding himself in the expanse of Patrick White’s Voss.
Speaking of Christos Tsiolkas, he absolutely silenced the room with the power of honesty. He spoke of challenging the reader, giving them ‘something to think about’ – ie. the most joyful moment in The Slap being when the kids are on drugs. He talked about the ‘inner misogynist’ in all males, and that its true revealing ‘would be monstrous’. He was thoughtful, and cared about the potential for literary experience, which he explained much of when I interviewed him. Tsiolkas said his characters are unlikeable because ‘we became so unlikeable’ in the Howard era – insular and selfish. He spoke about ‘what got left out’ in that era and its effect on future generations. The characters of his generation in The Slap are the most unlikeable because he thinks his generation should look at the responsibilities they are neglecting. Childcare was brought up – the overprotection of children (and protectionism and the ‘entitlement’ in society in general), but also how the ‘extended family’ is missing from conversations about childcare. The child/adult divide is greater than it has ever been. The conversation was highly refreshing and he had the largest line for signings afterwards that I saw at the festival.
The McSweeney’s launch was strange and fun. I’ll sum it up in a few words. Appropriated leather computer-sound instruments going on far too long; great readings from Wells Tower and Heidi Julavits; closing comedy/improv act featuring Chuck Norris and Maxibon; telling Heidi Julavits how much I loved ‘The Santosbrazzi Killer’ in The Lifted Brow 4; having not yet read Wells Tower’s book so having non-writing-related conversation (and heart beating very fast); tired friends sipping drinks at Recorded Music bar and hankering for chips; chips on the way home. Buzzing.
My final two SPUNC Spectacular nights in the Festival Club were great fun. On Saturday I spoke to Melinda Tankard Reist, editor of Getting Real: Challenging the Sexualisation of Girls (Spinifex Press); Emmett Stinson, fiction editor of Wet Ink; Miriam Zolin, editor of jazz/writing/improv journal extempore; David Winter, associate editor of Griffith Review; and Paul Collins, author of The Slightly Skewed Life of Toby Chrysler (Celepene Press).
On Sunday night, I spoke to Tiggy Johnson, editor of Page Seventeen; Dion Kagan, editor of The Death Mook (Vignette Press); Nicole Taylor, literary editor of Sketch; Jaine Konarik, publisher of Tactile Books; Paul Collins again (with his other hat on), publisher of Ford Street; and the last guest was Chloe Jackson Willmott, who represented Going Down Swinging with a vivid performance piece.
Read more about all the publishers and publications at the SPUNC website
I’m still gathering my overall thoughts on the festival. All I can say now is that I truly enjoyed living and breathing it. I have no food in the house and I bought so many books (that I’ll never have time to read) – I’m broke as. There’s no come-down time for me. Back to work tomorrow, Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards on Tuesday, Kathy Charles’ book launch on Thursday, two reviews due in a week, my Overload Poetry Festival gig on the 7th, and only a month until National Young Writers’ Festival and Ubud Writers and Readers Festival – and I have lots of prep to do for panels at both. The most exciting thing, though, is that I recently had a short story accepted, and have been commissioned to write another. These are the joys at the forefront of my mind.
Festival photo journal to come soon.
[update] Thuy Linh Nguyen has reported on my final SPUNC Spectacular.
ISBN 9780143009634 (paperback, August 2009)
It’s 1964 in small-town South Australia and Robert Burns (like the poet) is on the cusp of adolescence. ‘Happiness is a default state’, he narrates, looking back. Reading it, no matter when or where you grew up, one can relate to that simplicity, the time before ‘adult’ aspects of the world became magnified. Robbie has an as-yet uncomplicated friendship with Billy, an Aboriginal boy, whom he goes rabbiting with; and a cop for a father, so manages to get up to a fair bit of mischief.
High school begins and of course, everything changes. Robbie’s teacher is Miss Peach – a doll-like mod vision in ski pants and ballet flats, who travels on a Vespa and isn’t much older than the oldest students. Robbie is at first confused by the way she makes him feel, challenging his burgeoning sexual curiosity, along with his creative imagination.
Robbie experiments in his backyard with chemicals, and experiments on paper with intergalactic and far-future adventures. Soon these creative outpourings become tied in with his fascination for Miss Peach, who encourages him with his writing. She also tries to culturally influence the small, mostly disinterested town with appreciation nights – foreign films, poetry and so on. Her naivete means she fails to realise most of the participants come for their appreciation of her.
Goldsworthy is an exceptional and enticing writer, who gets you tangled-up in nostalgia through careful and relevant descriptions – the Beatles (though Miss Peach prefers classical music), the wonders of the universe, the social class distinctions and gender roles, the racism that even Robbie inadvertently inflicts on his best mate, and the language and fashions. The novel is also infused with sexual desire – the intensity of those first misdirected physical urges, mixed with emotion – described vividly. There are many memorable secondary characters. Miss Peach remains partly enigmatic all the way through, as seen through Robbie’s eyes, which is effective. There are her wine-swilling colleagues who make snarky comments and provide comic relief. There is a visiting poetry professor who we see as both intense and pathetic. Goldsworthy is a master at maintaining voice but allowing us insight through the rendering of gestures and actions.
I have been a fan of Goldsworthy since reading The List of All Answers, his collected short fiction, but this is the first novel of his I have read. The story slowly builds to a nail-biting dramatic crescendo. The events near the close are surprising, but I did find myself a little shocked, and almost disappointed. Goldsworthy attempts to counteract the shock with a drawn-out dénouement in the future/present. The closure is required, but I found myself wanting to stay back there in 1964 with fantastical dreams of the present. For the vivid, sense-charged depiction of story and character I will continue to work my way through the Goldsworthy oeuvre.
A wealth of literary-minded titbits (yes, that is the proper Australian spelling) to share with you this week:
* Only one week until Writers at the Convent. I don’t have a lot of dough at the moment (read: broke) but I can’t miss the Australian Fiction session at 8pm on the Saturday. It’ll be my Valentines Day treat to myself. Robert Drewe’s Grace is one of my favourite novels, I love Peter Goldsworthy’s collection The List of All Answers, and I’m yet to read Steven Carroll, but the topic is, of course, one that interests me immensely. I also hope to make it to some of the sessions on evolution, and the Middle East. Go check something out if you’re in Melbourne. I haven’t been to the Abbotsford Convent yet, but I hear it’s a stunning place.
* Plans for the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival are in full swing. I was lucky enough to attend in 2006, and it was the most wonderful writers’ festival I’ve been to. International guests in intimate, heated, and important discussions, and so many chances for stimulating conversation and education in a beautiful environment – Ubud, Bali. The 2009 theme will be Suka Duka: Compassion and Solidarity. It runs from the October 7-11. From director Janet DeNeefe’s email:
Suka Duka is an ancient communal wisdom that for centuries has been one of the main pillars of Bali’s traditional institutions and communities. The principle has guided the members of the traditional institutions, such as banjar (neighbourhood organisations) and desa pakraman (customary villages), to act as one single entity in dealing with life’s hardships and blessings. The suffering of one member will be shouldered by all, while the joy of one will be shared by the other.
The theme reflects the Festival’s commitment to turn this literary gathering into an inspiring moment, through which writers and readers from every corner of the world can establish a mutual understanding as well as a common platform to remind the world of the need to think and act as one single, compassionate entity, particularly during this epoch of violent conflicts and social turmoil.
In 2009, the enduring power of the human spirit over suffering and hardship will be explored alongside stories that have changed lives and tales of profound wisdom. Environmental issues and the rise of fundamentalism will be further debated with globalisation, censorship of media and world poverty. The art of storytelling will be celebrated together with discussions on writing about travel, food, poetry and song.
The Ubud Writers & Readers Festival will continue its culinary tradition with visiting chefs descending on the kitchens of some of Ubud’s most gracious hotels. They will join forces with our leading literary stars to present the kind of languorous lunches and dinners for which we have become famous.
Invited guests include Nobel Laureates JM Coetzee and Wole Soyinka, Kate Grenville, Abdourahman Waberi, Mohammed Hanif, Laura Esquivel and Hari Kunzru.
I met one of my favourite Australian writers in Ubud in 2006, Gail Jones (and yes, I used to have short, blonde hair):
* The Lifted Brow 4 is launching in Brisbane, with some of my favourite people:
Next Tuesday, February 10th, Chris Currie, Thomas Benjamin Guerney, Benjamin Law, and Ronnie Scott will get grilled about the Brow by sexual memoirist Krissy Kneen at West End’s own Avid Reader. Free entry! Free wine! 6pm. RSVP to 07 3846 3422.
Then Wednesday, February 11th, Fulton Lights is on The Inconvenience Party, 6am-9, 4ZzZ (102.1 FM in Brisbane). Fulton Lights will play songs live in-studio. You’ll also hear some tracks from Brow 4.
Finally Thursday, February 12th, round out your Carnival of Brows with our launch party at The Zoo. Joel Saunders + Crazy Hearse, Fulton Lights (USA), and Mt. Augustus play.
Read stories by Joe Meno, Anna Krien, Jess Walter, Joanna Howard, and Ben Law, or hear tracks by The Panda Band, The Wrens, Thee More Shallows, Frightened Rabbit, Arms, and No Kids. Also the runners-up from our Fake Bookshelf competiton – Janika Dobbie, Bethan Mure, and Thomas Perry: http://www.theliftedbrow.com/?page_id=53.
And write us letters. Address them to the editors, or contributors via us. Tough questions, suggestions, complaints – all is welcome. We will read everything. We will try to respond, but may not. We’ll want to print some of them (in which case we’ll ask). firstname.lastname@example.org.
* A Pod of Poets will feature some fantastic poets, including Josephine Rowe:
A Pod of Poets is a unique partnership between ABC Radio National’s Poetica program and the Australia Council for the Arts that brought eleven Australian poets to the microphone to read and talk about their writing.
The project was inspired by Poetica‘s audience who consistently request podcasts of programs, a difficult request to fulfil because of copyright restrictions. Each of the forty-minute Pod of Poets episodes is read by the author and features only rights-free music, enabling the podcasts to be created.
The eleven podcasts recorded and produced by Poetica, include established and emerging poets: Robert Adamson, Les Murray, Joanne Burns, John Kinsella, Josephine Rowe, Craig Billingham, LK Holt, Aidan Coleman, Jayne Fenton Keane, Martin Harrison, Sam Wagan Watson, Kathryn Lomer, Esther Ottaway, John Clarke and Jordie Albiston.
The A Pod of Poets website (abc.net.au/rn/poetica) includes all podcasts, transcripts, photographs and biographical information about each of the poets.
Poetica (ABC Radio National Saturday 3pm, repeat Thursday 3pm) will play the episodes throughout 2009.
This project has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council for the Arts, its arts funding and advisory body.
* And for any poets reading, here’s a really special opportunity:
CAFÉ POET PROGRAM
Submissions are now being sought for our CAFÉ POET PROGRAM. The Australian Poetry Centre is seeking poets, in each Australian State or Territory, interested to sit as ‘poet-in-residence’ in a café in their capital city for a period of six months getting free tea or coffee while you write. Please apply by emailing email@example.com with an expression of interest stating a) all your contact details, b) what you would get out of being the poet in residence, c) a clear personal objective focussing on what you would like to achieve with your poetry in the six months and d) a measurable public objective to benefit others, such as being prepared to give a reading at the end of it, or providing the cafe with a poem to display.
Deadlines for applications are Feb 20th, 2009.
For more details see the Australian Poetry Centre website or call the office on (03) 9527 4063.
* It took me a little while to get to this month’s Australian Literary Review. I didn’t read everything, but there was an amazing feature review by Frank Moorhouse called ‘The Crime of the Curious Citizen’. It touched on some things I’ve been thinking about lately (and brought up with Christos Tsiolkas), regarding a society in danger of having too many (moral and physical) restrictions. To quote Moorhouse: ‘There is nothing wrong with being horrified or sickened and nothing terribly bad happens to us when we are. I think it is more likely that something good will happen: we might be moved.’ This piece is really worth reading if you can get your hands on it.
* While on the topic of newspaper literary supplements, the Washington Post is discontinuing its Book World as a separate supplement. See news story here (via Antony Loewenstein). The notion of print publications becoming thinner due to online versions, economic concerns, or even environmental concerns is all well and good, but I bet the book pages always go before the sports pages. I don’t always read the ALR as mentioned above, or the A2 in The Age and so on, but if I do pick up a newspaper, I love to see some substantial, intellectual and critical engagements with literature and the arts in general. If it all moves online, no one will be getting paid to write extended, thoughtful essays like Frank Moorhouse’s. The top Australian literary journals rely mostly on funding, and can only pay their contributors little, and their audiences aren’t those of major newspapers. There are a lot of great pieces online, but there is a lot of crap as well, we all know that. I suppose we will all just have to find outlets we trust (such as the blogs and online sources in my blogroll that I rely on) when dead-tree media dries up.
* To fill you in on me stuff. It’s been a hard week, with a friend of mine being very, very sick (but he will be okay). I spent time with some lovely people though (I’m lucky), and I got through a book-and-a-half. There is a lot of frustration in me at the moment as I am not only carrying around 90s novel, which I haven’t had enough time to work on, but rounded ideas for two short stories. I need a full day to draft each one, and I can’t see a full day on the horizon.
* Tomorrow I have a meeting with someone who has read Smoke & Dancing. I may, or may not, tell you how that goes…
* Keep reading Furious Horses during ‘Sneaky Celebrity Writers Month’ and try and guess which story is mine! They’re all great reads thus far, check them in your lunch break through the week!
* I rode my bike in 46 degrees today. Ever hear your own skin crackle? Ever felt a blowtorch blast your eyes? I am possibly insane.