It’s been a massive month! It’s overwhelming to read people’s responses to To Become a Whale. It’s so strange to think about a bloke in Victoria, who Facebook messaged me out of the blue, who read it in one sitting. It’s awesome. Thank you to all those who’ve read it and reached out to chat with me about it. It’s humbling and amazing.
The launch was amazing. Avid Reader hosted, Rohan Wilson spoke, my parents were there, my friends, family, co-workers. Other Brisbane writers. I was incredibly nervous leading up to the event but once I stepped behind that podium, and opened my mouth, I was strangely fine. I think I like public speaking but truly hate the build up.
Below I thought I’d share a few photos and my launch speech, in full. One features my son, Charlie. It was great having my kids at the launch. Love living life with them.
Here’s the speech:
Thank you so much Rohan. Rohan is pretty much my favourite Australian author – which is a bit embarrassing to say in front of him – but he is. It is a huge honour for you to launch my book, and I seriously thank you.
This speech has been difficult to write for me. Part of the problem is my being the centre of attention. Standing up in front of all of you, talking about something I’ve put so much of myself into – feels risky. It feels vulnerable. And it is.
When I was a kid I was bullied in high school. No more so than any other kid, but it did affect me. It made me feel small – which I know might seem funny, given the size of me, but that’s what bullying does. It makes a person feel inferior not just to the person bullying, but in general. It can still affect me now. You can ask Lena – the first draft of this speech was me apologising a bunch. Sorry I can’t thank you all. Sorry if you don’t like the book. It was my first try! Unfortunately it’s still my first, go-to reaction.
There’s a lot of this in To Become a Whale. Our culture teaches us that, as men, we can never ask for help, because to do so would betray the fact that we are not truly men. Look at the old stereotype of a man not being able to ask for directions, driving aimlessly for hours until he accidentally finds where he needs to go. It’s such a sad picture of what we’ve been taught. Rather than admit a weakness a man will keep stumbling around in the dark, just hoping things will work out so he won’t appear a fool.
I want to read to you now a passage from To Become a Whale. Just a bit of backstory, to set the scene. The boy has been thrust into the world of flensing and processing whales and so far he feels he isn’t up to the task. He is “on the hose” – the ramp they towed the whales up was wooden, so somebody would have to wet the whole thing so the whales would easily slide up. Sam has also, previously, accidentally stolen a whetstone from another crew member, and feels very guilty because of this. This picks up with Sam on the hose, tired and feeling isolated.
So when I was a kid, and I needed help, I didn’t know how to ask. I didn’t know I could. Feeling weak was weakness. Feeling scared – you are a coward. You aren’t a real man.
Men, in this country, are three times more likely to commit suicide. Six men, on average, take their lives every single day. Suicide is the leading cause of death for men under the age of 54. Men just don’t deal with these problems. They store them up inside, let them fester. These are sobering realities. A lot of me wonders how many of these men, were they encouraged by their culture to admit their weakness – that weakness is not cowardice – would still be here today.
If this book helps add to this conversation then I feel I’ve done my job. This book is about this topic; men not having the vocabulary to express themselves, not feeling they can admit weakness in front of the “other blokes”. Boys looking for direction, not being sure who to ask.
Admitting weakness is not weak – it’s courage. Admitting need is not cowardice – it’s strength. Being a man is not prideful soldiering on. Being a man is, in humility and with sober-judgment, taking a good hard look in the mirror.
I’m up here now, in front of all of you – a prospect that would have terrified me as a kid – and I am proud of myself. I am proud that I’ve been brave enough to put my heart in this book. I’m proud I wrote it at all. It was really hard! I’m proud of what it says. I’m proud of my wonderful family. I’m proud of my God. And I’m proud to know all of you fine people.
So – as a test of my ability to not feel awkward and weird about my achievements anymore – I will now sit at a table, over there, and sign copies of my book. Thank you for listening, for being here, and for celebrating To Become a Whale with me.