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A Sort-Of Book Review: The Tien Len Diaries

Tahlia Palmer: Steady Eye

A Sort-Of Book Review: The Tien Len Diaries

Andrew Ryan

A dude I know wrote a book. He bought a little spiral journal in June this year, filled it up in two months, and when it was full, he decided to publish it. He called it The Tien Len Diaries, named after a card game because he is a gambling man; because games dictate all, because writing is the ultimate game, right? I guess. Writing is a game.

First he went to Drug Aware looking for sponsorship to help with the publishing costs. He figured that the organisation would be willing to support the publication of a book that is, at its core, anti-drugs; a stream of consciousness beat-poetry style set of ramblings from the hands of a young man who pushed drug use too hard, who saved himself from the worst of it eventually, giving up the pills and the needles and everything else; turned to writing for something like therapy while he focussed on staying (predominantly) fucking clean.

Turns out the organisation didn’t want anything to do with it, which is not altogether surprising. While it is indeed anti-drug, it also includes musings about prostitution and Madonna&the-whore complex and menstruation and blow jobs etc etc, raging like a less considered Bukowski amongst graffiti types and night clubs and TABs in one or two or all cities around Australia. Of course Drug Aware didn’t want anything to do with it. It’s the explosion of a frustrated mind, a vaguely dissident mind not willing to deign itself to depleting raw intention to hit up on buzzwords to legitimize funding.

So, instead, when he got his tax return back, James Hattrick published his first book himself.

The pages are printed from original scans of the journal, hand-written and scribbled. They are the kind of musings you’d find on a thousand blogs across the internet; yearning and regret and determination all seeking an audience, but these feels are on paper with the possibility of profit; a sort of tangible signifier of readership. There are a lot of writers in the world, so many blogs… while one could argue that hard copy book publishing wastes paper, I think it’s a thing that contemporary writers need to explore more. Stop jerking off into your own Internet world (not to self: take note), and, you know, try committing to a paper time. But that’s the thing. Digital and print. The world now almost begs us to choose. Writers have to make their own choice, funds and motivation dictating the path, both forms informing output, the output and resulting reception informing our own sense of legitimisation.

James is one of the few writers I’ve experienced who imbeds references to the digital nature of contemporary existence within his poetry/writing. I notice this only because I do it myself: I have relationships that I put more effort in to fostering online than I do in real life, I am constantly aware of the differences in my life compared to others because I do not have a smart phone… digital lines between humans are insanely obvious and exciting and depressing in my reality, and so I write about them. James has this sense too; he mentions emails and facebook and snapchat, uses them as tools to make reference to loneliness perhaps? Isolation? Modern communication, as reflects modern understanding of self. Fleeting moments in the digital realm; and then turns it on its back by refusing to publish nothing but relating video (already digital) online, putting the words in hands instead of screens.

We had a conversation about this, kind of. We spoke about a lot of things concerning the book, revolving around our experiences with drugs, depression and creativity. I have just started a course of anti-depressants, for example. I was describing this period of adjustment, the weird down-flat-line, the knowledge that everything is actually kind of okay despite my chemicals screaming at me that all is extra futile and fucked-up and I just have to stare at a wall to wait for it to pass because it’s near impossible to do anything else; I’m adjusting, this is transient, it will pass etc. He said it sounds like a shitty come down from a week long bender- which is when- until recently- he would have reached for more drugs to stave that feeling off. But every day with medication… that is the thing, more of it every day until I adjust. It’s the same, except different, because mine are cheaper, less addictive, less harmful, to both self and society etc, apparently. It’s a more acceptable thing. And I am doing this because I feel like I have to.

And he wrote a book because he felt like he had to. He said something about authors having their journals published after they’re dead, but, he though, why not just publish a journal before death? To my mind, within the frame of the nature of contemporary fixation with fame+fortune+success, this makes perfect sense. Why the hell NOT cut out the middleman? Internet culture has created a precedent, in its way. Why wait for death in order to be appreciated for your thoughts on paper?

Death is a reoccurring thing in Hattrick’s writing, because he’s experienced a lot of it. He has a lot of dead friends. He has been close to death himself, has seen people threatening to choose death in front of him. He spent a long time doing all kinds of destructive things to his body because it was easier than facing up to the reality of a life with no sense of direction. Illegal activities, entrenched in a culture of crime and excess, a brain smart and informed enough to manipulate doctors in to prescribing whatever the hell he wanted to feel because being sober was a thing he did not want to know; sobriety was too unfamiliar and unpredictable.

And then he realised at some point that none of those self-medicated feelings were real. Planning his feelings each day with different drugs one after the other, popping pills instead of paying rent… it wasn’t a thing he wanted to do anymore. His friends were dying and he was dying and there was nothing they were leaving behind except a bunch of spray-painted names and smashed windows around urban centres. At some point, he woke up to it, and figured he had better shit to leave behind.

To me, this book feels not only like therapy/poetry/wordexplorations, but a way to reach out to others who could be in the situation he found himself in- and there are probably quite a few. Creative and fairly emotionally messed up people who are drawn together, getting hooked on all kinds of intoxication, and can’t see a way out of it besides death. Here, with the publication of his book, James offers an alternative of sorts. His friends in that scene have seen him do it, anyone else who decides to pick it up and have a read will realise a few pages in… It’s pretty fucking expensive to see a psych, and it’s hard if you’re all messed up and don’t trust the system… but like, maybe you can just get a fucking journal and write out all the shit, surely. Do what you want to make yourself feel alive… but don’t rely on drugs for it, not all the time.

No one likes a junkie, especially not the junkie in question. It’s not a good place, and if you feel like making a thing, you should just fucking make that thing. Share it with the world. Tell the world your things. Allow them to pick it up in a bookstore because you’d probably get your own good feel from this, because it’s paper, because it’s real, because it’s self-made and self-funded and self driven, out of the kind of hole you probably aren’t familiar with, at all.

He’s launching the book at Smart Space in Perth, on Thursday 26th of Sep. Facebook page can be found here.