In 2017 I wrote three posts here, in 2018 I wrote none.
But I’m not dead. And I have been writing.
Throughout 2018 I wrote behind the scenes reflections and updates regularly over on Patreon, and in my dayjob, I wrote additional blogs over at The Dirt. I’ve also been chipping away at a YA fantasy novel project, two plays, some short stories and lots and lots of poems. So the words aren’t getting lost, they are just living in other places. I’m not going to promise to write more here in 2019, but I do intend to have a think about what I write and where I put it and that might mean some other bits appearing here. I guess we’ll see.
This year due to Facebook changes I couldn’t autoshare my #tinytwitterpoem (s) anymore so I started screenshotting them and sharing them via Instagram through to Facebook instead. #tinytwitterpoem written Aug 2018.
I’ve been writing end of year/new year reflection posts for a few years now. I like the process of reflecting on what a year has contained. It helps me understand that space of time as a whole. It helps me see where I’m up to and where I’m heading and helps me check if I need to adjust anything.
And it helps me get perspective.
Especially on productivity and context and growth. I have that voice in my head – you might have one too – that niggles at me all the time with comments like “you’re not doing enough!”, “you’re so lazy”, “stop procrastinating” etc etc. Looking at the wholeness of a year helps give me perspective to push back against that voice. It’s not the only tool for pushing back against that voice, and not even the most important one, but it is useful and has a place.
2018 was a full and hectic year. Nic and I were both in new jobs, our smallest human started (and finished kindy) and our not so small human transitioned back to mainstream schooling after four years of home(un)schooling. We also bought (!!) our second house and moved back to regional South Australia. So there was a lot of change and adjusting to manage just on a practical day-to-day level.
I’m still chipping away at a uni (teaching) degree and this year I completed a visual arts unit (waaay out of my comfort zone). This is a snap behind the scenes (and in my new backyard) of a little film work I created for the final assignment. June 2018.
Alongside that we had a couple of big (new) things happening with people we love. They are their stories to tell but to give you a general sense those big things included cancer diagnoses, serious illness of children, mental health disruptions & challenges and more than one suicide attempt.
There was also a very serious incident* at Nic’s workplace this year, which although it didn’t directly involve him, did have a significant impact on many of the students in his care and his colleagues and did rattle him too. Those things can shake us and make us ask ourselves questions that are very hard to answer.
All of this took energy and had an emotional, mental and physical cost.
I ended the year tired.
Simon (my car) and I traveled over 60,000 kms in 2018. Plus I traveled by plane to Sydney (peer assessing), Brisbane & Melbourne (to see Claire Christian’s Lysa & the Freeborn Dames and Nakkiah Lui’s Blackie Blackie Brown respectively), Ceduna (work), Newcastle (work + professional development) and Indonesia (final session of ARLP). I was on the road and away from home a lot.
I’m still tired.
But also feeling grateful. So grateful to love and be loved. So grateful that we have the resources and opportunity to walk beside and support our loved ones. So grateful to be at a point in my life where I feel the most competent and capable I’ve ever felt and where I have resources (skills, finances, time, networks) to back myself up. That doesn’t mean I’m not scared and don’t have doubts. I am scared, I do have doubts. I question myself and everything else all the time. But also underneath that I feel like I’ve got this. I can face the unknown. I can face the things that go wrong. I can face the ugly and painful cracks of my own history. I can learn and grow and live and cry and laugh and breathe and hurt and be okay.
2018 I think was the year I finally started getting okay with being bad at things. When I finally started to actually shed some of the old stories about myself (mine and others). When I finally felt like maybe, just maybe, I can do this terrible and precious thing called life.
Me, the day after the Carclew Dusk Arts Market @ Carclew House. Snap by Braidee Otto. Nov 2018.
I’ve chosen a word for the past few years – as many others do** – as a way to set intention and give myself guidance for the year. I guess it’s a kind of New Years Resolution, although it’s not quite so direct. It is its own kind of tradition though and I like it. So I keep doing it.
In 2018 I felt safe and supported and well. And that seemed to trigger my brain to say ‘hey you, here’s a bunch of old hurts and history you’ve never dealt with, better feel it all now.” So 2018 was this weird space of joy and comfort and trauma and tears.
ARLP (and other things) really challenged me to face some of the stories I was telling about myself. And it’s time to keep doing the work of rewriting those stories.
So my word for 2019 is
to put right
to change or modify (something) for the better
to reform oneself
A snap from my second (ever) visit overseas. This is a wall in Jakarta, I loved the textures. May 2018.
And just quietly – I’m not actively sharing this yet, so we’ll count this as a ‘soft launch’ – here’s (one of) my contribution/s to continuing to change and modify the Riverland for the better. Opening mid 2019. Tell your (Riverland) friends.
Let’s see what 2019 brings.
PS – I’ve decided this is my anthem for 2019 ( I haven’t seen the movie but my four-year old loves it and we listen to the soundtrack in the car, the whole soundtrack is super cute and sometimes I listen to it even when she’s not with me).
*It was widely reported on the news at the time and I don’t feel it’s appropriate, useful or necessary to rehash here.
** I was first introduced to choosing a word by Maxabella Loves. I can’t remember how I stumbled on her though!
A small selection of significant things/places/people that inspired me, shaped me, moved me, made me in 2018:
Mojo Juju, Native Tongue
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeymoon & The Break by Katherena Vermette (thanks to Tully Bates for inviting me to join bookclub)
Climate Century, Vitalstatistix
FELTspace, The Mill and Sister Gallery
D’Faces and Whyalla, especially Deb Hughes, Olivia White, Rob Golding & Ashlee Worger
Brianna Obst & Claire Glenn (all the things and the Never Endo Story)
Lysa and the Freeborn Dames by Claire Christian (LaBoite)
Reading my poetry at Adelaide Oval LIVE on 5, March 2017
In 2017, I only published three posts here on the blog, but gee, it was a big year.
In no particular order here are some of the highlights and the lowlights and the lessons and my chosen word to enter 2018.
2017 brought more loss and grief, compounding and highlighting the collection of loss we’ve been buffeted by in the past four years. The second half of 2017 gave us a welcome breather though and we made it nearly six months without having to talk about a funeral. One of my dear friends then lost her uncle just before the end of the year and while this particular death did not directly affect me, it brought all those bubbling feelings to the surface again. As did the parade of #timehop photos of lost loved ones that tend to crop up over Christmas/New Year. Grief is a hungry ocean.
That ocean has taught me a lot in the last few years.
About what I value, who I am and how I want to be in the world and 2017 was no different. In 2017, I continued to be inspired by the work of the Groundswell Project and the importance of conversations about death, dying and grief. I also attended ‘The Future of Death Salon’, an event hosted by Moira Deslandes Consulting in Adelaide, which gave me lots of ideas for hosting conversations within my own community about this and other topics. Brianna Obst and I continued to have meaty conversations exploring our personal relationships to suicide, euthanasia and who owns our lives and our deaths. These conversations and our long creative relationship has planted the seeds for a new play that I plan to begin work on in 2018.
Losing Faith in Unicorns
Signage in front of the Losing Faith in Unicorns house, May 2017
In the first couple of weeks of 2017 things that had seemed so solid at the end of 2016 started to fall apart and everything felt like quicksand. As the Creative Producer I faced the possibility of pulling the plug on a project we’d been working on with a feisty group of teenagers since 2015.
Losing Faith in Unicorns was an immersive theatre experience in a house and we were programmed to present the work as part of the dreamBIG Children’s Festival. We’d secured a house late in 2016 but received the devastating news from the structural engineer that it didn’t pass muster early in 2017. With the clock ticking towards May and the project requiring time for the final purpose-fit design, install and rehearsal, I was freaking out. I rang and emailed well over a hundred individual real estate agents, organizations and other leads. Met dead end after dead end after dead end.
In the throes of my frustration and fear that we weren’t going to pull it off, I said to Nic “If we were in the Riverland, I’d have 5 fucking houses by now.” Because in the Riverland, I’d know who to ask, and the scale of the community means that people are more willing to get involved. Here in the southern suburbs of Adelaide, it mostly felt like shouting into the void. We have lovely, supportive little circles around us here, but the size of the community and it’s particular make-up means that it is so much more difficult to get messages out to the right people. To gather champions and circles of support.
We gave ourselves until the 8th of March to find a replacement house. We secured a house that week. It was owned by someone who lives in the Riverland and the real estate agent I made the initial contact with grew up in the Riverland and moved to Adelaide a few years ago. So there you go – even three hours away – the Riverland came through for me (thank you, thank you, thank you to Kay, Brenton and Tracey!).
So we did it. We created and presented an immersive theatre performance and installation in the very non-traditional space of a suburban house in Christies Beach. The final three general public shows sold out and we received beautiful written feedback like this from audience members:
“I was lucky enough to be in the bathroom when ”Sam” locked the door for the last time for that performance. How brave to lay herself on the line in such a small space. She was brilliant; raw, honest and touching. My daughter’s friend’s mother is dying of brain cancer, and to be able to share Sam’s monologue about her aunt’s death with her has since allowed for some difficult and truthful conversations, and a deepening of mine and my daughter’s relationship with her. This was one of the best pieces of theatre that I have seen. What a great platform for starting those tricky conversations with our teenagers.”
And to cap it all off, Kids Against Humanity and Losing Faith in Unicorns were one of four finalists for the 2017 Arts SA Ruby Awards in the Community Impact under $100,000 category. They didn’t win, but five of the crew attended the awards night and we were in some incredible company alongside the winners – Creating Coonalpyn (of the Coonalpyn Silo fame).
This project had so much packed into it across its 18month journey. It was challenging and frustrating and joyous and powerful and the project and the young people who led it have taught me so much more than I can encapsulate here. I’m not the same because of it and the way I operate personally and professionally has been shifted and shaken and changed by them. I am supremely grateful to have had the opportunity walk beside them on this journey.
Australian Rural Leadership Program
Behind the scenes at Brown Brothers Winery with ARLP, Feb 2017.
2017 included another three residential components of the 15month ARLP Program. Due to my prior commitment with LFIU I could not attend the overseas session in Indonesia in May with my cohort (23) but will be joining C24 in May 2018. 2017 included a week in North-East Victoria and a week in Canberra. ARLP has been a massive process for me right from the beginning with the two weeks in the Kimberley in 2016. 2017 ARLP for me saw a deepening of relationships and learning . Lots of fierce (and sometimes) difficult conversations, so much laughter and gratitude, some incredible and inspiring presenters, connections and lessons. It’s been an incredible experience and I am so very aware of what a privilege and a responsibility this investment is in me and my work.
Every participant of ARLP has to complete a written report for their sponsor (mine is the Australia Council) and this is some insight from my current draft:
“I feel that I have been especially lucky to be a participant of ARLP being from an arts background and being one of the younger members of our cohort, Course 23. At only 32, being surrounded and enveloped by our cohort has been incredibly inspiring, especially in the strong and amazing older women of our cohort who have made me feel so excited about what my future can hold and just in the incredible diversity of experience and perspectives across the entire cohort. I have felt like I am accessing this amazing bank of knowledge every time I am in the room with Course 23 and I feel very privileged to have access to that. One of the things that attracted me to ARLP as a leadership program was that it was not arts specific and that I would be participating with individuals from completely different industries and disciplines. This for me, has been one of the greatest benefits of ARLP. To step outside of the sometimes circular debates and conversations that happen in your own industry and be able to learn and reflect by talking and collaborating across industries has been invaluable.”
Feedback from a fellow MI participant, August 2017
At the beginning of 2017 I signed up for the Writers SA Manuscript Incubator program. It was a year-long program incorporating a monthly writers group critiquing session and monthly craft workshops for 16writers working on the early draft of a novel. I worked on the early foundations for a novel that has its seeds in a draft play I wrote as part of mentorship with Caleb Lewis way back in 2012. I didn’t complete as much of the wordcount/meat of the novel as I’d hoped at the beginning of 2017 but I left 2017 feeling motivated and well equipped to continue developing the project.
The program was a pretty big investment for me – costing over $1000 for the year – but it was well worth it, and if you’re an aspiring writer, I would highly recommend it. I felt so supported and nurtured and welcomed into the Writers SA family (including getting the opportunity to travel to Mildura with Ali Cobby Eckerman to be in the room with her as she shared her skills with emerging writers there).
It was an absolute joy to spend a year with a group of fellow emerging South Australian writers, supported by Writers SA, and I am so glad I made the commitment.
A work in progress of Alice drawing in Rotary Park, November 2017
My Patreon circle is small but mighty in its impact. In 2017, my patrons collectively contributed $866 to my creative practice. This $866 directly contributed to commissioning Adelaide artist Alice Blanch as part of Manifold Portrait. Alice spent two days in Berri visiting Rotary Park and creating an artistic response. I am collecting the special something she has made from her tomorrow to deliver to Manifold Portrait next week – keep an eye on my Insta for a little sneak peek or sign up to the Patreon for patron-only posts. Which by the way, although I’ve been quiet here on the blog, I’ve created 47 posts on Patreon, most are patron-only, though a few are visible to general public and they are a mix of behind the scenes work-in-progress snippets, personal reflections, updates, vodcasts, e-zines and a few other bits and bobs.
As above, my Patreon circle have contributed financially and my posts there have been a way of keeping me accountable (to myself), but most importantly, these supporters – who are putting their actual, real money towards my creations – have been a huge source of encouragement and support. Knowing they believe in me and want to actively support and follow my work has been the biggest gift this year. Thank you Jesse, Kerrie, Ryan, Gemma, Rebecca, Sam, Kimberlee, Andria, Nic and Nic. You are all bloody gems.
I’m keeping the regular rewards the same but I am toying with the idea of revamping the goals and their special reward this year.
Hard at work with the Carclew team at WOMAD, March 2017
I’m going home. At the end of 2017 (October) I nabbed a brand-spanking-new dream job as the Creative Producer, Youth for Carclew and Country Arts. It’s new jointly funded position between the two organisations and the role is dedicated to nurturing creative experiences and opportunities for young people living in regional South Australia. I’m bloody stoked. It’s a promotion (money wise), my contract includes a car (yeah!) but most importantly the J&P said ‘the successful applicant will be based in a regional location, to be negotiated’. So Nic worked his guts out and nabbed himself a teaching position back in the Riverland and we are going home to be embedded in our community of extended family, friends, challenges and opportunities. I could not have ended 2017 feeling any more excited and grateful.
And while I am sad to say goodbye to ExpressWay Arts and to see that project come to an end, in other brilliant news, Carclew and City of Onkaparinga made a new commitment to support Kids Against Humanity with a 1.5day a week Creative Producer. So there will be some continuing legacy of that work and Kids Against Humanity in particular. Claire Glenn who was their weekly facilitator has taken on that new role (and you can read a recap of everything we achieved in the four and a half years I was Creative Producer of ExpressWay Arts here: http://carclew.com.au/Program/ExpressWay)
Other bits and bobs of note
Rehearsal of Tattle Tale, August 2017
I wrote and supported a short film and some attached scenes for a Shine SA sexual health project with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people in collaboration with Jessica Wishart.
I was the recipient of the 2017 Arts South Australia Geoff Crowhurst Memorial Ruby Award
Managed to write 37,157 words during NaNoWriMo
Participated in the Operation Move 12-week Learn to Run Program and continued to make regular running a part of my life
Sold hand-made zines of words I’d crafted at one of Zombie Queen’s official Zine Swaps
Participated in a five week song-writing course (which seems small if you don’t know the backstory to why I was afraid of it) and have since written three songs that are meaningful to me
Presented a work in progress with the very excellent Sara Strachan and other collaborators at Crack Theatre Festival in Newcastle
Had two wisdom teeth removed the same week I was the opening speaker for the 2017 District 9520 Rotary Youth Leadership Awards
Ticked off another two units of my never ending double degree (which I commenced mid-2008 and have been studying externally via CDU)
Completed a bunch of e-courses in various business and arts things which I found super helpful (including Laura Milke Garner’s Artist Bootcamp)
Started a peer-mentoring process with Petra Szabo and her fledgling company Potential Kinetics Theatre
Had my first overseas visit! I went to Singapore for a couple of days as a presenter at a Youth Arts Symposium with the CE of Carclew.
Wrote and performed more poetry, facilitated more workshops, spoke at more things, ate lots of food, had lots of naps, visited the beach with my children, snapchatted and messaged with my friends and family, lived and learned and breathed and cried and hoped and discovered.
My daughters little feet and hands, 2017
And because so much of this post is about the things that went right, here’s some words from a patron-only post I shared back on 3rd May 2017:
Oh my loves. I’m tired this week. Tired in that way where your face hurts. Tired in that way where you crave sugar and a warm blanket. Tired in that way where the littlest things leave you on the edge of tears.
Yesterday I dropped my phone and the screen cracked. It’s not the worst I’ve seen but the cracks are in just the right spot to make it difficult to view photos, which is terrible timing for promoting Losing Faith in Unicorns on social media (the show opens in two weeks from tomorrow!). Today I ripped my favourite pair of pants. Right through the inside seam and across the back of my left thigh. I’m still wearing them but they’ll never be acceptable for public viewing again.
I’m tired and worn thin. By big things and little. By the world and by my world and by my self. And I’m okay, because I know these times are only temporary, because somewhere along my journey I got the taste for hope and now it never leaves me even when I feel like I’m splitting at the seams. So I’m okay. But part of being okay is also sharing that sometimes okay is not being okay. Sometimes okay is struggling and being tired and teary and worn out and full of doubts. Because we all feel that way sometimes. Because that’s part of living a full, rich life too.
A word for 2018
With my floordrobe, May 8th 2017
I choose a word every year. As a frame, a lens, a direction to pursue. In 2017 my word was mobilise. I was struggling to decide on a word for 2018 and Nic was throwing out random suggestions, one of them was ‘yield’ and in response, laughing I said, ‘I never yield’.
But I got to thinking about what a great word yield is and how it has layers of meanings that feel so right for me in entering 2018.
So there you go.
produce or provide (a natural, agricultural, or industrial product).
produce or generate (a result, gain, or financial return).
give way to arguments, demands, or pressure.
relinquish possession of.
(of a mass or structure) give way under force or pressure.
See you in 2018, dear hearts.
A small selection of the things that shaped me, inspired me and moved me in 2017:
A.B Original, Reclaim Australia Album (special mention to ‘I Could Be Dead in a Minute)
One word to sing a new year in/ to lure gently in, to sit softly perched/ on my shoulder/ my lap/ my heart/ to be welcome// #tinytwitterpoem
I like transitions. I like the way they taste and feel and smell.
I like to mark them. To take the time to sit with them. So the ending of one year and the beginning of another means something to me. I am a teetotaler and (predominantly) a homebody so New Year Eve/Day is not a time of partying and drinking and going out for me. Instead it is a time to sit with a year of yesterdays in preparation for a year of tomorrows.
I like to live the first day of the new year very deliberately. Very on purpose.
My husband thinks it’s superstition and in a small way he is right, but it’s actually more about me playing a psychological trick on myself to commit to the values and actions I want to live. I like to make a point of the first day of a new year being spent (symbolically) the way I’d like to spend the rest of the year. It is me saying to myself “this is how I want to live and who I want to be”. It doesn’t magically mean my whole year will be that way of course, but I feel like if I just went “oh well, it’s another day, why bother”, then that attitude becomes symptomatic and sets up bad habits itself.
By entering the year deliberately I’m trying to make the person I want to be a habit because habits are harder to break.
And so a large chunk of today was spent writing and reading and seeding some creative adventures (which I’ll share here on the blog as the year unfolds) and in amongst some of that reading and seeding and thinking and reflecting, I stumbled across a lovely blog post from Maxabella Loves and a ‘link-up’ inviting people to share their one word to sum up/capture/invite the new year in.
It’s harder than it sounds.
I can easily give you a word for 2014.
2014 was a really difficult year, lots of precious, wonderful things happened (like this and this and this), but there were also lots of hard, awful things (which I mostly haven’t felt able to write about so I haven’t) and I’ve really struggled with some of the transitions 2014 has brought and with some of my ‘old’ issues sneaking their way under my skin.
So a word for 2014 was easy. Hindsight is easy. Setting the tone for a year that hasn’t unfurled yet is HARD. Hard I tell you.
I toyed with the idea of ’embrace’ for 2015. Because I want to do a lot more embracing in the sense of actually hugging the people I love and embracing in the sense of embracing myself, embracing opportunities and challenges and life.
I liked it but it wasn’t ‘the one’. And so.
And so, my one word for 2015 in the end is:
I want to be more gentle with myself and especially with Mr 12 (who has also really struggled with our transition year) as I haven’t liked the parent I’ve been to him lately. I’d also just like some more gentle in my life in general after what has been a really hectic, frenetic, harsh period of time over the last couple of years. Some gentle evenings shared with loved ones. Some gentle reflection. Some gentle creating and collecting and embracing. And I want to make a more deliberate effort to be more gentle in how I live on this planet with my habits, my consumption, my daily impact.
They are not something I enjoy doing and so choose to ‘find’ time for in my life.
This is my life.
Sometimes, my obsession.
And absolutely my ‘real’ job.
And it’s evolving all the time.
I’ve spent a lot of time this year trying to articulate what and why I do. Trying to pin the words to paper. Trying to find words that make sense and ring true. For me and for everyone else.
The other YSPers and I have given time at every residency trying to articulate our missions over the last 12months. The ‘why’ driving what we each do. We’ve brainstormed together and solo. We’ve written and spoken draft after draft after draft. And I’ve struggled. Really struggled to pin to paper what it is I do and why.
For anyone who lives a creative life or a life that’s ‘offbeat’ in any other way, you know why you do it and what it is. And you know how hard it is to explain to everyone else what it is and why you do it. It’s something that has no words because it needs no words for you. It just makes sense (you think). It’s what you do and who you are. So when someone asks you to put it into words, it’s pretty darn difficult.
This year I’ve played with and explored various mission and vision statement iterations, including:
I want to be the kind of person that offers something meaningful to the world. The kind of person who experiences life as frightening, confusing and painful but as deeply, deeply precious and worth my effort.
Our mission is to create systematic change in how people think about failure. For us that means making quiet trouble with everyone we meet by interrogating and responding to rage inducing situations through an artistic lens.
My personal mission is to continue striving for opportunities for myself and others to claim our sorrows as a journey to joy and to create space in our lives to sing our heartsongs with passion, hope and courage.
We empower and enable regional communities to reshape and claim personal and civic narratives using an artistic lens.
We challenge communities and individuals to reclaim failure as a crucial ingredient in resilience and joy.
Our mission is to challenge and inspire young people in regional communities to use to arts as a mechanism for social change and empowerment. As part of this mission we also support regional communities to support and foster the skills and aspirations of their young people.
My mission is to use the arts to be an agent of change – to inspire, support and provoke individuals and communities to actively shape the world around them for the better.
I bring together professional artists, doers, thinkers and change makers to work with young people as mentors and provocateurs on community arts projects to unlock their possibility.
All of these things are partly or wholly true, but still none of them quite sit right. They feel too full of jargon or they rest on old ideas about myself (and how I work) so don’t capture the space I’m really in RIGHT NOW.
“Theatre people are all very nice people […] And I wonder if that is our problem,” asked Liska. “We choose an art form where we can sit next to each other and touch each other and we’re very good people.”
“Revolutions are not often caused by polite people, or good people,” said Cooper. “Sometimes we wonder if we have to stop making art to get something done. I really like art but I have a lot of questions about what it’s good for and if it’s needed.”
Last month during Future Present, surrounded by a bunch of socially aware artists, again this idea. Why art? Is that the best use of your time, does it actually achieve your mission? Or would you be better off using your time as an activist, a social worker, a teacher, a farmer?
And going deeper throughout YSP, talking about ‘impact’ – how do you measure it? What impact does your work actually have (and is it the impact you want to have)? How can you have the greatest impact with the limited hours in your life?
I care about many things. I believe in changing the world. As more than just rhetoric. I believe I have a responsibility to leave the world better than I found it. To use whatever small skills and talents I have to help. I love teaching and advocating and activating and making and creating. I am driven to do many things. I am also a parent, a lover, a daughter, a sister, a friend. My time is limited and precious.
And so, I toss these questions around. Over and over. In my head. In my mouth. On paper. I spin myself around in circles. The questioning is hard, partly because there is no one answer. And there is no clear answer. And mostly because no one can answer for me, what it means for ME, only I can discover that.
Last night I stumbled across a free ebook titled “Making Your Life As An Artist” and though I didn’t relate to every single word, the book as a whole REALLY resonated with me.
There were moments when I read a paragraph and realised I was holding my breath, caught in these words someone else had pinned to paper and how they so neatly echo words I’ve circled around and around and come back to in my own heart.
“Just like scientists, we begin with a question, something we don’t know.
We go into our studio and research that question.
Just as in science, a negative result is as important as a positive result.
Finding that a certain drug does not cure cancer is a crucial discovery. And an artistic experiment that fails produces important information.
When you are working beyond what is known, when you are questioning assumptions that haven’t been questioned, you generate a lot of useful failure.
Failure in science and art is a sign that the process is working.
…diverse ecosystems are more resilient, more able to respond to disturbance. The same is true of culture. Diversity of thought and imagination makes us more culturally resilient, more able to thrive in times of great change.
– Andrew Simonet (Making Life As an Artist, ebook)
Many things that had me nodding along. Catching my breath. Gripping the edge of the computer. But perhaps most of all this:
Artists have a lot of effects on the world: our work impacts education, citizenship, multiculturalism, urban renewal. But those are effects of our role; they are not the role.
Our role is to ask rigorous and reckless cultural questions, do our research, and share the results. When we do our role well, all kinds of other things happen.
– Andrew Simonet (Making Life As an Artist, ebook)
And so last night I sat and I wrote exactly in the moment who I am and what I’m doing (or trying to do). The last seven or so years of thinking, dreaming and doing coalescing and coming together to pin some words to paper.
It’s not finished, because it’ll never be finished. I’m evolving and growing all the time. And that’s okay. It’s G.E. for right now.
Transparency and sharing the journey publicly (to be of benefit to others) is important to me. So, you can read the words I finally pinned to paper last night where they’ve become my new ‘about’ section here.
Like many other stranded travellers this morning, the Sydney and Canberra fog delayed my morning flight (6 times in total) so I missed the opening keynote and welcomes. Instead my 2013 Australian Theatre Forum journey began with David Milroy’s keynote.
The most important thing to know about David is that he was fabulously warm and intelligent and nothing I write could possibly capture the real spirit and generosity (and demand) of his words.
David is a Palyku Man and Western Australian (Theatre Boom and FIFO dramaturgs for the future anyone?) and was the first Artistic Director of Yirra Yaakin Aboriginal Theatre as the ‘last man standing’. He came to the arts late (in his 30’s’s) initially as an actor, where he realised two things.
1. He couldn’t act.
2. The power of theatre.
David was asked to provide a provocation for ATF and it was one framed by David’s own sense of place, both physical and cultural and his journey thus far as an ‘old and submerging playwright’.
David spoke eloquently about and around cultural misrepresentation, meddling and the recurring question of just what exactly is the definition of Aboriginal theatre? Can a non-Aboriginal person write an Aboriginal play? (this applies equally to Torres Strait Islanders but David focused specifically on Aborignality so I’m referring to Aboriginal theatre here)
We all know ‘the winners’ (NB: no one really won in the colonisation of Australia, current and past generations have all been robbed of something deeply precious on both sides IMO) write history, so it’s no surprise that Aboriginal stories have often been told through a white (European) lens in the distant and recent past. David asked “Who is telling our story and why?” and it’s a question that I’m constantly asking myself about all the stories I write and engage with as an audience member. And the who and why of my own Aboriginal history (through my Nana’s father) that I have no access to explore/track down. These severed ties haunt me. The hunger to know and the fear of never knowing and having no avenue to pursue haunt me – these lost stories and all their echoes. All the things I’ll never know but want to know. Who will tell me those stories and how and why? What stories will I tell and why?
David referred to many experiences during his career where Aboriginal actors were on stage like ‘puppet theatre’ with others behind the scenes pulling the strings. And other experiences where individual Aboriginal artists were expected to be the sole cultural advisor and then when things went wrong in the project were left with the fall outs in their communities. In the early days of Yirra Yaakin, funding bodies had trouble working with the company because the company didn’t neatly fit the model of a theatre company. The scope was broader with a strong connection to cultural community (I don’t have first hand experience of Yirra Yaakin, but I expect in a similar way to Big hArt and the long term and deeply layered engagement with community as part of developing any of their projects). The existence of the company and its practise was and still is political.
How can it not be when we live in a world that continues to be so intrinsically racist? When people have to live with closed doors, stereotypes and missed opportunities, the work really couldn’t be anything but political.
David raised all this and more with candour, humour and warmth. People like this being in the world make me want to #maketrouble (It’s a twitter thing). What do I mean by make trouble? They make me believe that together we can shake the ugliness out of these systems and that we can build something better. They make me want to be better. They make it okay to ask all my stupid questions.They make me want to be braver and shout from the rooftops all the simmering rage that sits beneath my rib cage, so that together we can turn this world inside out and build something that does have the strength and room for true colour blind casting. For a spectrum of individuality in culture, gender, sexuality and ethnicity. For stories that can be told and reshaped by all because they’ll be so deeply embedded in cultural understanding, respect and pride that we won’t need quotas or closed doors anymore. I know this is a long way off, of course. It may never happen even in my lifetime, but people like David and Racheal (who commanded attention in the Q and A following David) make me believe that it is possible. They make my heart sing with joy.
As a side note, I was personally fascinated that Yirra Yaakin started as a youth theatre company initially before growing and reframing itself. Young people are so much at the heart of everything I think and do as the both the building blocks for the future and the responsibility of our present.
I believe in and completely support the need for Aboriginal peopleto tell Aboriginal stories. For Aboriginal writers, performers and directors to reshape the narratives of Aboriginality and what that means in a traditional and contemporary world. I believe that quotas (for gender, ethnicity and culture) are not the whole answer, but I do believe they are somewhere we need to start to wade through this muck and filth (racism, stolen stories etc). We need to put in place these structures and fight for them so that eventually variety can become the norm to the point that we won’t need the structures (quotas) to support it anymore because everyone will automatically demand it because it will be mainstream for a good actor to play anyone and for good writers to write anything.
On another side note – for those that don’t know – this week is Reconciliation Week, and it does matter. It should matter to all of us. Not as one week where we give ourselves permission to care, but rather as one week that symbolises and builds the commitment we all need to make to strive towards reconciliation with the land and with each other. It shouldn’t be a token government effort, but an opportunity for all of us to pause a moment and take stock of how far we’ve come and how much further we all have to go and to recommit ourselves to the fight.
Going back to David’s keynote.
What is the definition of Aboriginal Theatre?
There is no one definition. But it’s not enough to tick the boxes. It’s not enough to rely on protocols (although they should of course be part of the conversation), we need to seek and consistently build meaningful collaboration.
Not everything written about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is correct. And not everything should have been written down in the first place.
A little bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing. – David Milroy
A well meaning writer can cause a lot of trouble by not working collaboratively. There is no such thing as a ‘generic Aboriginal’. Individuals are tied to community and country and they will be the ones to cop it if something goes wrong. It’s also kind of creepy to have generic characters who aren’t connected to country (to place). Why are they even there?
The Q and A post David was engaging, lively and passionate. Filled to overflowing with dozens of people more knowledgeable and talented that I can ever hope to be. People who are changing the landscape with the power of their words and their work. I was doing too much listening and not enough note taking, but this most of all stayed with me:
An actor should be able to play anything. That is an actor. A good actor has a range. And a cultural range as well. Get away from putting on white middle class theatre.
We have a racist industry, whether its by accident or complicit. It’s there. This is stifling all of us! – (I missed the name of the speaker but I think it was Fred someone? If anyone can enlighten me, please do so I can find/follow and love his work online)
In the end we should all be able to play everyone. But we have to break the racism and the white monopoly on Aboriginal stories. It might take fifty years. It might take a hundred. And in the meantime white people need to sit down and shut up and listen to the people who are saying “We have been oppressed and this is our story.”
Meaningful collaboration is essential when dealing with our (Aboriginal and shared) history. Is it really so hard to sit down and listen? To ask questions? To be brave?
Lets have some respect for the population that has struggled to have its stories heard. – David Milroy
Thank you David. And everyone like you. You’re making the world a better place for me and mine to live in. I hope I do it justice. Keep demanding that I do.
PS – to the person who interrupted Candy Bowers. You suck. Never interrupt Candy Bowers. She is the epitome of what it means to be a powerful woman. A place shaker. A trouble maker. One of my favourite people to admire from afar. Shhh, you interrupting person, you.
Also, for a more in depth and less subjective account of David’s keynote, visit Jane Howard here.
Jane and August Supple are both blogging from ATF2013 and can be relied upon for all the good stuff. I just get lost in figuring out my sense of place and who I might want to become. I like things a little messy. A little personal. Stay with me too if you like.
Recently I was invited to chuck a lap with the Loxton Dirt Kart Club as part of their ‘Star in a Reasonably Priced Kart’ promotion. So firstly let’s get two things straight.
One: They are using the term star very loosely. I’m more like an overkeen bean involved in too many community based things to name.
Two: Karting gear is designed for slim and fit people, not *slightly* round women (too much cake/chocolate – help!). I thought my thighs were going to split the first suit I tried on!
Luckily the club has a fantastic atmosphere, family friendly and supportive so I was quickly fixed up with some comfy overalls ready for my hot lap instead!
Basically the idea of the promotion is to bring community identities onto the track, give them 4 practice laps and then time their final lap for the leaderboard. Those of you who watch Top Gear should be hearing echoes here…
I was invited to have a crack by the club’s media spokesperson Paul Vanderwoude after my recognition last year as the 2011 South Australia Young Citizen of the Year. My response to the invitation – ‘I’m certainly willing to give it a go. I’ll probably be completely crap but I’m sure my awful driving will give people a laugh!’
I think my driving lived up to my expectations (I’m last on the leaderboard!) but I really did have a lot of fun. You can check out my lap here.
Not only was the karting itself a buzz and a great laugh, I also really enjoyed the atmosphere of the club. There were parents, grandparents, young children and adolescents buzzing around the track with different age groups competing in a regular meet whilst we were there. We stayed for the end of the meet, where all the Karters who gained a placing were presented with medals/trophies and all made a short thankyou speech – even the little tackers, which was super cute and a great skill for them to be learning!
Although skeptical about the experience when my partner, son and I arrived at the track to the buzzing chorus of karts and flies, I had a fantastic afternoon and would definitely recommend people head out to the club to take a look. The club meets monthly, with meets also held by the Renmark, Blanchetown and Morgan Clubs.
This is a copy of the presentation I made to the Berri Rotary Club in thanks for sponsoring my attedance at this year’s Rotary Youth Leadership Awards:
17th October 2011
So I need a volunteer. Thank you!
Here’s a lonely little toothpick. Try and break it.
It breaks easily yeah?
Here’s another one.
So it’s pretty easy to break an individual toothpick. It takes barely any effort at all.
But what about a bundle of toothpicks? Can you break this bundle tied together? It’s a little harder.
That message most of all, is the one I took away from RYLA. As a team we are stronger, when we work together and we are connected we are harder to break.
For those of you who don’t know me, my name’s Alysha Herrmann. I’m a parent. I have an almost 9 year old son named Zacharie who of all the people in my life inspires me every day to try and become the best version of myself that I can be.
I’m completing a teaching/Arts degree which I’ve been doing since 2008 part time, when I finally finish I’ll be qualified as a secondary Drama/English teacher and I’m majoring in Literature and Sociology for an Arts degree.
Most of my work and passion though is as an Artist. A performing artist to be exact, I originally trained as an actor although I don’t get to perform much living in a regional area so I mostly work now as a project facilitator & director (especially with young people who I’m very passionate about) and as a playwright. I also occasionally write bad poetry and even worse songs! My work as a playwright has been performed in Canberra, Adelaide, Queensland, Victoria and right here in the Riverland.
On Friday night past my work in the Arts was also formally recognised as I was the recipient of the Advantage SA Riverland & Murraylands Sony Centre Arts Award, which is super exciting for me. I’m not sporty so I’ve never really won much in the way of trophies before but I now have a glass pear to sit on my desk!
I’m also a youth mentor working with Renmark High School students & a community mentor with the Berri Barmera Council’s Youth Committee. I’m the President of the Berri District Youth Club and the co-creator and facilitator of the Riverland Youth Connect project.
And I’m a young person. I turned 26 this year. And 2 weeks ago I attended the Rotary Youth Leadership Awards in Belair sponsored by the Rotary Club of Berri. Thank you!
While I was at RYLA I thought a lot about what I would say when I came to report back to you, and I’ve continued thinking about what to say in the 2 weeks since coming home.
I don’t know that anything I can say could actually capture what RYLA is and what it did for me.
RYLA is for young people aged 18-25 and I only just snuck in this year having already turned 26, being on the older end of the spectrum RYLA was a different experience for me than many of the other participants as obviously I’m a little older, hopefully a tiny bit more experienced and more settled in my life. So perhaps some of the content wasn’t new, perhaps some of the guest speakers seemed like an echo I’d heard before and yet my experience at RYLA was moving, was valid and was equally important. It didn’t change my life or introduce me to a whole new world, but it gave me the opportunity to reflect, to re-evaluate, to take time out from my busy life and experience myself through other people’s eyes, which is something that we don’t often have the opportunity to do.
And that is a really, really special gift. Too often we’re living our lives in survival mode, on full throttle going from day to day just trying to keep up. And I’m often really guilty of that. RYLA asked me to step outside of that pattern. To give up my phone, my schedule, my work for a week, my family for a week and put my time and my energy in someone else’s hands. To give 100% commitment to whatever experiences the week had to offer and I didn’t know what to expect. I really only had a very vague idea of what RYLA was from past participants.
As I said before, nothing can really sum it up but I will try and give you bit of quick snapshot. RYLA incorporates guest speakers who this year covered a diverse array of topics including public speaking, conflict resolution, ethics, living your passions, goal setting, self defence (I was teamed with one of the Directors – and let’s just say he never wants to be my partner for self defence ever again!), volunteering & leadership. The week incorporates a lot of self development through a variety of mechanisms including reflection (individually and as a team), team work, sports and outdoor activities, dancing (My highlight of the week was possibly the bushdancing – simply because we barely knew each other and yet everyone gave it a go. Everyone committed to what that experience had to offer. We got out of our heads and into our bodies and moved and laughed together. That really stands out in my mind), games and lots of opportunity for creative expression. It’s also a week’s worth of solid and useful networking with future collaborators, clients and leaders. It’s a week of great food and fellowship. But it’s also more than all of that.
In my RYLA application back in February I said: I hope to be inspired and challenged to see the world from new angles. I also hope to have the opportunity to form and develop new networks with other passionate and engaged young people and through these networks develop new skills and possible co-collaborators on future projects. I hope that I can contribute and offer something valuable to other participants through sharing my own diverse skills and experience.
I was given all of those things – I was inspired, I was challenged, I made & developed new networks with passionate young people as future co-collaborators, I grew my skills & I contributed in a way that only I could have.
RYLA was an amazing week. A week that reaffirmed for me what community means to me. And to me community is all about reaching out to others, to share, to support, to laugh and to cry. This is exactly what RYLA is and was over 7 days – a community. A community of spirited, generous and dedicated young people. Young people who are contributing meaningfully and tirelessly in their respective communities – to spend 7 days in their company was so exciting and reinvigorating for me personally.
I come away from the week refreshed and ready to keep working, to keep building our community, to keep doing what I’m doing with new skills, new networks and new hope.
As a team we are stronger, when we work together and we are connected we are harder to break. That’s the message I bring back from RYLA, that’s the message which resonates most loudly to me in relation to the Riverland.
And I just wanted to show you this short video. My partner and I made it in 2009 so it’s not new and some of you may have seen it before. But this is why I do what I do and this is why opportunities like RYLA for people like me are so important.
So that was RYLA.
Humbling, inspiring, challenging & so worth it.
So where to now for me?
Some of you may already know that I’ve been invited to attend the Commonwealth Youth Forum next week in Fremantle. I’ve been invited as one of 30 Australia delegates to join other youth delegates aged 18-29 from the other Commonwealth Nations to learn about the Commonwealth, debate issues to be progressed to world leaders at Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) and benefit from skills-building sessions during the Forum. We’ll also have the unique opportunity to work with international delegates from Commonwealth member nations to discuss global issues.
This is a really exciting opportunity for me personally but also for the Riverland as there are only 2 South Aussies going, myself and a young lady from Adelaide, so it’s a great opportunity to fly the flag for the Riverland and tell everyone what a wonderful community we have here and that they should all come and visit us! It’s also an opportunity for me to be a vehicle for the voices of other young people to share their stories, ideas and concerns at an International forum. It’s also I think a pertinent opportunity to put into practise and build on everything I experienced at RYLA.
To make sure that as many voices as possible inform my time at the forum I’ve distributed a survey which Robin (Berri Rotary President) has the link to if anyone would like to share with their youth networks. People can also email or call me directly. The more people who share their thoughts with me before I head off, the more well rounded and representative of our community I can be.
I’ve been very lucky because The Federal Office for Youth & the Australian Youth Affairs Coalition are supporting me to access this opportunity by covering my accommodation, food & other costs associated with staying in Fremantle for the week, as most of the work I do is in-kind and therefore unpaid it can be really difficult for me to access this kind of opportunity. However I still need to cover travel to and from Fremantle, including flights (which when I checked today were around the $700 mark) and transport to Adelaide and any small contribution towards these costs would be greatly appreciated.
In my other capacity as an artist I’m also continuing work on my independent community arts project PressureLands. PressureLands is a performance project working with young people 14-26 to explore pressure, expectations and success.
The project started last year when I visited all of the local high schools and engaged over 600 young people as part of community consultations through interviews, brainstorming, writing letters and performance exercise around the themes of pressures, expectations and success. 10 young people then came on board to create a performance response to that material and we’re continuing to create that performance which will end up being a play and we’ve just finished registering for the Adelaide Fringe next year which is super exciting.
We have a lot of fundraising to do between now and March but we have a very passionate and dedicated cast who have been selling chocolates, face painting and organising quiz nights so somehow we will get there and we will be performing in Adelaide for week before a week of shows right here in the Riverland. I’d love to see you all at the show next year. The Creative Producer of the next Regional Arts Conference has also invited PressureLands to perform at the 2012 Regional Arts Conference in Goolwa which is another exciting opportunity not only to showcase this project and the amazing young people who are involved but also the Riverland itself.
Lastly in relation to RYLA I just wanted to share something quite personal that came out of the week for me. The residential facility we stayed at during RYLA is called ‘Nunyara’ and on the first day the caretaker explained that Nunyara means ‘place of healing’. It’s a beautiful place up in the Adelaide Hills, you can stand on the verandah in the evening and look out over a lush hillside and see the sea of fairy lights that is the Adelaide skyline, it’s just stunning.
I mentioned earlier that one of the benefits of RYLA for me personally was the opportunity to see myself through other people’s eyes and I really meant that. For me RYLA and Nunyara were truly a place of healing.
Despite everything I’ve achieved in the last 10 years I’ve still been viewing myself as a high school drop out and a teen parent. I’ve still been seeing myself through that lens. Being immersed in the RYLA experience forced me to rethink how I see myself, forced me to see myself through the eyes of others.
There were lots of way it did so, but one that stands out to me is the warm fuzzy activity. On the first day of RYLA we were asked to fill out a little one page survey about ourselves and stick it onto an A4 envelope on the wall and then throughout the week the idea was that if someone did something really inspiring or outstanding or you just wanted to give them some encouragement, you could write them a little note (a so called ‘warm fuzzy’) and leave it in their envelope for them. When I came home and read my warm fuzzies I was really confronted by words I’d never associate with myself, words & sentences like ‘your attitude to life is more inspiring than words can express’, ‘you lead people through your kindness and wisdom’, ‘determined & wise’. I’m not saying I’ll never doubt myself again, I will. I’ll still doubt, I’ll still be afraid, but I’m not just a high school drop out and I’m not just a teen parent anymore and RYLA gave me the chance to see that. So thank you. For thinking I was worth sending. Each of you collectively gave me that gift.
No matter what I’m doing or how I use what I learnt at RYLA, that is something that will stay with me.
Afterwards I opened the floor for questions. The club gave me a standing ovation. Peter Jarvis said I was the best speaker the club has had in over 18 months, Warren Adams said he noticed that no one touched their dessert as I spoke, they waited until I was finished and that almost never happens as usually everyone starts eating their dessert as soon as it arrives and it showed that I had their attention.
As I sat down again to eat my dessert the secretary of the club indicated that he wanted to support my attendance at the Commonwelath Youth Forum and asked the club to do so. The entire club voted yes on the spot.
Thank you Berri Rotary for believing in me and for supporting me not only to experience RYLA but to take our stories to an International Forum such as CYF.
I’d love for you (whoever you are reading this) to share your stories/ideas/concerns with me as I head to the Commonwealth Youth Forum. You can access the survey here or you can email me with your thoughts at: email@example.com
And I’m going to endeavour to blog/tweet/facbook about the Forum whilst I’m there next week. Wish me luck!