Anika Donnison: What do you do outside of writing?
Baran Rostamian: I make earrings and other accessories out of trash! I like repurposing things, at the start of the pandemic I started @trashy.com.au on Instagram where I’d post jewellery made from unwanted materials. Being locked up at home I began inspecting my cluttered garage space, found a multitude of disorganised and unrelated objects and became fascinated with “object juxtaposition” and its ability to redefine meaning. Crewe and Gregson identify the “three possession rituals” as being recovery, the expunging of previous ownership followed by transformation. I’m fascinated with disrupting object’s expected linear trajectories of production, consumption and destruction through disassembling and repurposing, allowing them to regain “value” and re-enter the “life” phase. The earrings I’m wearing right now are made from a bubble tea lid cap I shoved into an old PVA glue bottle-lid, and the dolphin was ripped off an old bookmark.
AD: Why do you write?
BR: I’m someone who often doesn’t know exactly what I’m feeling or thinking until I’ve spoken about it, I think the reason I’m able to be in tune with myself at all is because I’ve always talked a lot. I’ve very recently discovered how helpful it is for me to talk to myself, often when I’m driving alone in the car – it sounds kind of odd and maybe depressing but I swear it isn’t! I think everyone should try having conversations with themselves, I really feel this practice has allowed me to zoom out, and to know myself better. I think writing can also have the same effect, I feel that each time I write something I discover something new about myself. I think my messy garage has already exposed me as a bit of a hoarder, but I think in a way all writers are. I often view my writing as a collection of thoughts that I’ve not wanted to let go. Speaking makes our thinking momentarily real, I guess I like writing because I see it as a more permanent proof of my existence. In short, I write because I’m a hoarder of thoughts.
AD: What is a book that changed your life?
BR: I know Tiffany already mentioned Portable Curiosities by Julie Koh in her interview, but I’m choosing it too. It was the last text I had to read in the last English lit unit of my undergraduate degree last semester, and I just fell violently in love with it. It was like Koh made society a piece of bubble-gum that she was able to chew over and over in different ways. I also did my final assessment on Portable Curiosities and in doing the research for that I learnt a lot about humour theory and that really shifted my understanding of what “effective” social critique looks like. Existing as a person of colour in Australia requires considerable effort. Existing as a woman anywhere requires considerable effort, and Koh’s unconventional humour, irony, and satire really captured that whilst resisting efforts of the white-dominated Australian literary space to conveniently assimilate, categorise and reduce these experiences and the individuals who have them to their racialised and gendered identities.
AD: You have previously completed a mentorship and also volunteered at Centre for Stories, how has the hot desk fellowship specifically influenced your writing or given you more insight?
BR: Being given this opportunity has really been invaluable to me, it allowed me to prioritise writing even during the hectic final semester of my degree because I would give myself allocated days and really try to consolidate good writing habits and find a process. I thought the hot desk would allow me to consistently focus my energy on one project, and although that wasn’t the case and I ended up writing two very different stories at once I was definitely better able to harness and execute my creative visions. Also everyone at Centre for Stories is so lovely I just want to be there all the time!
AD: When you first applied you said you were going to work on the interactions with a racist boss or strange experiences working in hospitality, did you decide to continue with these ideas?
BR: I did and I didn’t, I tried my hand at absurdism and magical realism, and I definitely explore messed up situations in the pieces but perhaps not in the slice-of-life way I’m used to. I’m still interested in attempting to capture the uncertainties felt by young characters and their desires for acceptance into certain spheres of society of which they might feel they’ve been rendered mute or invisible observers. I still can’t get over the oddness of being forced to interact as a blank slate when working in certain jobs, and the undeniable implications this can have on a person’s relationships with certain places, people and especially their self-image.
AD: Based on your experiences with Centre for Stories, what is some advice you could give to emerging CaLD authors?
BR: Who the hell am I to give advice, HAHA! No, I guess I’d encourage them to write without feeling the pressure to represent an entire group or for their work to encapsulate an entire culture because that’s something I’ve realised is a pressure a lot of CaLD writers, myself included, sometimes feel. Rashida Murphy said it really well in one of her workshops that I attended, something along the lines of “I am not going to answer for an entire subcontinent just because I happen to come from there”. I guess I’d also urge emerging authors to vocalise their experiences of discrimination or the constant interrogation of their identities as migrants or CaLD individuals, if they want to, without fearing they’ll sound like a broken record or they’ll do it wrong or whatever because at the end of the day we can only experience the world as ourselves and through one set of senses, the stuff we write isn’t always going to be empirical, for want of a better word, but ours is still a valid view point and the perspective we can offer might actually be interesting and some people will likely listen and it’ll be great! Basically I think I’d just recommend everyone to throw away the self-doubt and realise the value in their reality.
AD: If you could collaborate with someone connected to Centre for Stories, who would it be and why?
BR: That is such a hard question! I love the concept of collaboration and the discussing and keeping each other accountable that comes with it. Also, I think literally everyone has something to say and a really efficient way of becoming aware of your blind spots is to work with other people. It’s a wholesome notion that in telling someone the banalities of your life they might stop and say, “hey, there’s a story there.” After that wishy-washy answer of course I’m going to give you a list of names, I’d love to work with Luoyang Chen, Tiffany Ko, Camila Egusquiza, Sisonke Msimang, Rashida Murphy, Robert Wood, Susan Midalia who mentored me during the Inclusion Matters program and taught me so much – and so many others.
AD: What will you be working on next?
BR: I really want to learn more about pacing and plot and to soon be able to confidently say that I’m working on something as long as a novel but I’m aware no time will feel like the right time to start, so – I’m committed to very uncertainly moving forward with a story about a gerbil invasion and a house that falls into a sinkhole during a birthday party. I’m also still working on a piece of autofiction, but whenever I write about myself the character seems to quickly morph into someone increasingly unrecognisable – but I’m not mad at it, I’m going with it, and I’m finally learning to trust myself and trust my process.
Baran Rostamian has been involved with Centre for Stories as a mentee of the Inclusion Matters program, Journal contributor, a workshop attendee, intern and hot desk fellow of Writing Change, Writing Inclusion this year. Recently her writing has been published in Singapore Review of Books, The Tiger Moth Review, Limina, Centre for Stories anthology To Hold the Clouds and Pulch Mag among others. You can find her poetry at the Short Story Dispenser in Raine Square. In her spare time, Baran enjoys repurposing trash into earrings. You can follow her on Instagram @baran.writes & @trashy.com.au
Anika Donnison studied Professional Writing and Publishing at Curtin University. She has appeared in GROK and COZE. She currently works as a Social Media Coordinator for Pegasus Professional Accounting.
Writing Change, Writing Inclusion is Centre for Stories’ signature writing program for 2021 to 2023. Generously funded by The Ian Potter Foundation, Australia Council for the Arts and Centre for Stories Founders Circle, this writing program features mentoring, hot desk, and publication opportunities for emerging writers from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds and/or Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander backgrounds.