Emma Wilkins is a Tasmanian-based journalist and freelance writer. Topics of interest include relationships, literature, culture, ethics, and faith.
AI keeps giving me melodramatic story ideas…
I’m not a fiction writer, but lately I keep having short story ideas. One is for a story that’s set in a productive future world where workers no longer need labour over interpersonal communication – where their instructions needn’t contain pleases or thank yous or appreciative tones, because they’re almost always directed at chatbots. Many words have fallen out of use, in the workplace, and the home; now sentiments like gratitude are fading too.
Instead of presents, I asked for… salads
It started with Hetty McKinnon’s Community – a cookbook that brought new meaning to the word “salad”. Recipes called for freekeh and blood orange; pomegranate and sumac; caramelised nuts and wasabi mayonnaise. I wanted to try them all, but not make them all. On social media, I wondered aloud about holding a party where every guest had to make and bring one salad. Some friends responded with enthusiasm, others with ridicule.
Are Machines Becoming More Like Us? Or Are We Becoming More Like Them?
I was out walking when my husband texted me with exciting news that clearly couldn’t wait till I got home: a prediction that mangoes, which sadly do not grow in our home state, would be cheap this summer—or at least, cheaper.
I let out an (internal) “Eeeep!”, then pressed the message. My thumb was moving to select a heart when I stopped to consider my response. I stopped because lately, I’ve been hearing a lot about how machines are becoming more like us—but also wondering: are we becoming more like them?
What if altruism is more common than we think?
When a virtual stranger helped my grandfather, it reminded me that for all the bad in the world, behind the scenes lie untold stories of extraordinary good
I heard some good news recently. My 91-year-old grandfather called me to test his new hearing aid. For the first time in a long time, he could hear my voice. It thrilled us both.
He and my grandmother had been trying to replace his previous hearing aid for more than a month but confusing instructions, impatient explanations and faulty hard...
Attention in a Hostile World
There are people in this world who spend their days watching people, making people up, and trying to read minds. They are intent on knowing who these people are, and how they think, and why. This fascinates them utterly.
The Pulitzer-prize-winning novelist Elizabeth Strout often talks about this fascination, which she’s had since she was young, in interviews. In a 2017 New Yorker article she recalls attending to a stranger so closely she almost felt ‘her molecules move into me—or my molecules...
How to host a pre-Christmas stuff swap
Christmas is fast approaching, but you could be forgiven for wanting to slow down your purchases. With the rise of the mindful, minimal-waste consumer, many are looking for gift-giving options that don’t cost the earth. Enter, the pre-Christmas stuff swap.
At a stuff swap, one person’s trash is another’s stocking stuffer...
Learning to break the rules
It’s funny how certain courses of action simply don’t occur to us, especially in the moment. Even in retrospect we don’t see all we could have said or done. We stay inside the square, behave in the expected ways, conform to expectations, follow written and unwritten rules.
What’s more, we do so even when we have good reason to do otherwise. Or at least, most of us do, most of the time.
I recently heard the journalist David Brooks interview historian Kate Bowler. Bowler, who was diagnosed with...
The Hitchhiker by Emma Wilkins
We’d spent the weekend in Westerway, Tasmania, a town whose population could fit on a large bus. He was waiting on the main street, one bulging pack strapped to his front, another to his back, seemingly unbothered by the load. He was tall and strong with generic good looks.
I took one look at him and I knew his story. I knew the second pack belonged to his girlfriend – a tanned beauty with long legs and perfect teeth. I knew they were in their thirties – smart, with high-paying jobs back home...
Trust over tech: Confronting tertiary cheating
According to a Background Briefing report aired earlier this year, university students across the country are using so-called ‘study’ sites to buy essays and answers for online assessments. Australia’s academic integrity regulator has since blocked scores of sites, but there are still work-arounds; experts say the problem is likely worse than we realise, and almost impossible to solve. Then there is the threat of artificial intelligence...
Say it in your own words
A newsletter that I subscribe to shared a link last week that made me cringe.
The newsletter, which is aimed at freelance writers, linked to a site with a range of templates to “help you say no in a variety of situations”.
If the link was to an article with advice on different ways to say no, complete with principles and the odd example, I don’t think I’d have flinched, but it was to templates — “and if you’re a Gmail user, you can import them all for use right into your email account”.
A few years ago, the editor behind one of Australia’s most lucrative non-fiction writing prizes changed its rules. The Saturday Paper’s Erik Jensen decided the Horne prize would no longer consider any essay purporting to ‘represent the experiences of those in any minority community of which the writer is not a member’.
We can help older Australians by asking them for help
Older people are often undervalued and overlooked in our society – to their detriment, and ours.
A stranger knocked on our door the other day. She was promoting a service for older people who live alone. To counter the risk of an accident or sudden illness going unnoticed, a person could sign up to have a Red Cross volunteer call them every day.
It was heart-warming and heart-breaking; wonderful that an organisation was intervening to address the frightening risk of solitary suffering...
Ecologist uses jewellery to start conservation conversations
The first question I ask ecologist and jewellery maker Dydee Mann is not the one I planned: “Do you want to tell me why you’ve brought dead birds to my house?”
The threatened species biologist is visiting me for an interview during her lunch break. She’s just come from the museum, where she borrowed a box of swift parrot specimens for a training course she’s running. She wants attendees to see the birds up close and appreciate their unique beauty.
Why asking friends for help has helped my friendships grow
It's taken me years to accept help readily.
I used to automatically refuse offers from my friends because I didn't want to burden them.
But over the years, I've made a conscious effort to change.
I've realised there are many things I enjoy doing for friends — cooking a meal, editing a story, minding a child, mowing a lawn.
It would feel hypocritical if I talked my friends into accepting my help, then said "I couldn't possibly", if they tried to do the same.
We will make mistakes, in life and work, but we should expect, and own them
According to a friend of mine, when I talk about feeling embarrassed, ashamed or misunderstood, my hands become claws and I run them down my face with exaggerated angst. I hadn’t realised I did that but as soon as she said it I knew it was true.
While still performing that move, we identified another: reeling in rope, cast too far out, at frantic speed. Both feature often when I talk about my writing – about the risk of sharing words I might regret.