An Ode to the Literary Crush

It’s not about sex, or physical attraction, but they still have the power to knock you on your ass and leave you breathless. Maybe it’s a rush of warmth, or maybe you run cold as shock. Or maybe it just feels like coming home, or like stumbling onto a piece of yourself that you never even knew was missing. Some people I know bite their lips, clutch their book to their chest, and need a moment to compose themselves. One friend calls them booty calls for her brain. Others phone me in the early hours because they need, NEED, someone to flail to about what has just rocked their world.

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Ah, the literary crush. That moment when someone writes, or says, something so profound or beautiful that you fall in love, even just a little bit. They’re the writers whose entire back-catalogue you need right this second, or else the world will end for you. And if you’re a writer? More often than not, they’re the writers you wish you could be like when you grow up.

But it’s not just novelists who fall into the category. Song writers, journalists, poets, script writers, comedians- anyone who writes and releases their words into the world is fodder for a literary crush.

Some literary crushes are fleeting, half remembered wisps that leave you searching out that book, or that interview, to refresh your memory. But some are the stuff of myth and romance. Epic. Eternal. Sappy as hell.

Wendy

I, for example, have been rocking a mammoth literary crush on Paul McDermott since my mother made the huge mistake awesome decision of saying, ‘Hey, this comedy group is really sarcastic and crass. I think you’ll like them.’ He snarks, he sings, he writes and illustrates rhyming children’s books about suicide and mental illness that somehow manage to be hopeful and inspiring. He is my first and truest literary crush.

One of my favourite Paul quotes talks about his drive to look beyond the surface of life, to explore the darker parts that lie just below polite expectation. When I was a grumpy teenager feeling like I had no voice (and don’t I make up for that now?), he was the person who showed me that anger and frustration were valid aspects of creativity. I didn’t have to be the sweetness and light persona that seemed to be expected from someone with a first name that rhymes with ‘smiley’. I could swear. I could point out absurdity, and demand intelligent and reasoned debate in its place. I could (shock! Gasp! Horror!) have viewpoints and opinions, and not put up with other people’s BS. I could be me (hilarious given that his persona is apparently crafted, not natural).

That’s a pretty impressive collection of life lessons to take from a comedian. Having said that, quite a few of my literary heroes and crushes are also comedians. There’s Bill Hicks, Tim Ferguson, Maria Bamford, Tim Minchin, Tina Fey, Kitty Flanagan, Bill Bailey, Robin Williams- and about a dozen other people with the ability to let their intellect and imaginations run wild, who aren’t afraid to say the first thing that comes to mind, rather than agonising over the best way to say it.

Anyone else spotting a theme here?

While I’ve always had a soft spot for Tennyson’s poetry (have you read ‘Lilian’? Day-um), until now I’ve never had a literary crush on a poet.

And then along came Buddy Wakefield.

Though my flatmate found Buddy’s work first, and I knew she loved it, I wasn’t expecting to have such an intense reaction. Poetry is wonderful (especially when spoken aloud by people with accents you could melt into) but generally, it’s not something that I feel in my soul and my bones. But Buddy?

Lordy.

spn hallucifer squirming

There’s something deeply beautiful about someone who is passionate. I want to be that passionate. I want to make the words I speak and the worlds I create that beautiful. I want to be that heart stutteringly honest. I want to be that brave.

There’s a power in that sort of honesty. There’s a tarnished beauty and grace to the heartbreaks and the struggles Buddy speaks about. And I wonder if I’ll ever be brave enough to unpack the disappointments and baggage of my own world, and turn them into something wonderful.  If Paul teaches me to explore the darkness, Buddy teaches me to look for the stars while I’m there.

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I missed seeing Buddy at the Brisbane Writers Festival last year and I have regretted it bitterly ever since. The first time I heard ‘We Were Emergencies’ and I realised that I could have seen him live, could have learned from him, I cried. Like a small, angry baby. I need to see him live. Non-negotiable life goal, there.

I don’t understand all of his imagery all the time, at least not beyond the primal feeling of something that one day I hope I’ll be able to name and understand. But ‘We Were Emergencies’ is my song, without me ever being able to dance to it. And that’s pretty major for me. There are moments of profundity that I’d consider tattooing onto myself were it not for my fear of needles and general dislike of pain. But the urge is there, and for someone unable to comprehend having a picture or set of words stained on your skin for eternity, that’s pretty major, too.

All of my writing mentors at uni waxed poetic on the idea of reading as much as you possibly can to learn how to write. But more often than not, I couldn’t tell you a thing about the technique of a piece I’ve read. Reading is like curling up in a pillow fort and listening to a beloved parent or relative reading you bedtime stories. Or an older sibling scaring you senseless with ghost stories, depending on your genre. That right there? That’s the magic of writing.

With all that magic floating around, it’s no wonder I fall hard for good writing.

Anyone game to share a story about their own literary crushes?

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