Some take up knitting … I took up feminism

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This year, I took up feminism. You gotta have a hobby, right? I almost took up knitting, but it seemed too complicated.

I never did an Honours year at the end of my Bachelor’s degree, and I’ve often regretted it. The rigour of immersing yourself in and thoroughly researching a single topic appeals to me. I like the idea of becoming an expert in something. Anything. Like the year I got into twentieth-century dystopic fiction and found a way to turn any conversation into a song of praise for Margaret Atwood. That passion reached its fever pitch when I was retweeted by Atwood herself. But after reading my fourth Atwood novel in a row, I needed a break. I needed to think about something else for a while. I love diving headfirst into a subject, but eventually you have to surface (usually with a stack of library books and mild insomnia).

Deadset ledge.

Margaret Atwood. Deadset ledge.

My enthusiasm for Atwood and dystopic novels has not lessened (the third book in the MaddAddam trilogy is next on my reading list, squee!), but my focus did shift. I stopped making lists of academic essays to read on the topic of “environmentalism and dystopia”. I now only rave about Oryx and Crake if someone else brings up the topic first. (Usually.) I think of my head as being like a stirred-up fishbowl, and these passions and interests eventually settle into the sediment, like a silty silvery lining on my brain. But the achievement-oriented part of me wanted to do something productive with all this research and analysis; an equivalent of the Honours project I’d never attempted. I wanted to produce a longform work. I decided to write a stage show.

I had a vague idea of the themes I wanted to tackle in this show. One of those themes was the way women talk about their own experiences. This interest came out of many revealing conversations with women who privately shared their stories with me, who had suffered trauma and yet stayed silent about it. Their stories had a common thread: They had stayed silent for so long because they didn’t know how to talk about it. They’d had no framework within which to articulate their experience, even to themselves. It made me wonder how many women were not sharing their stories; how many were still silent; and why we have trouble talking about surviving abuse.

This line of inquiry led me to the subject in which I have immersed myself this year: Feminism. Learning feminism became my Research Project of ’13. I had always resonated with the women’s rights movement and supported the movement to close the gender gap. As a woman myself, I couldn’t help but appreciate the rights afforded to me by first- and second-wave feminism. But my knowledge of the movement was pretty patchy. I’d always considered myself a feminist, but now I was concerned that I’d been using that word without really understanding it. And so, the great Research Project began.

For months, I’ve been nerding hard on all things gender politics, and it has been a wild ride. The countless books and articles and blog posts, read and re-read and hashed out with friends. I’ve attended feminist panels and performed at a poetry night about gender. I wrote a blog post about women in comedy that briefly went viral. I even joined a feminist radio show, wandering in as an intrigued guest and staying on as an intrigued co-host. For an hour every Sunday I talk about sexism, which means for many hours each week I have to think about sexism, in preparation for Sunday. It isn’t easy. Sexism is not a fun topic. I’ve had weeks where I just couldn’t read another article about spousal abuse or rape culture. There has been many a daytime weep. I can’t be the repository for all knowledge on the topic of oppressive patriarchal structures and be a happy person. For my own wellbeing, I’ve had to limit my research reading in this area.

As uncomfortable as it’s been, all of this inquiry has fed into my creative practice, helping me process the complex issues I wanted to address in my stage show. Another silty layer of knowledge has been stirred into my brainbowl. And now that the sediment is settling, I feel less flurried about feminism. I absolutely still feel strongly that there is much to do before we reach gender equality; now that I’ve clearly seen the prevalence of casual and structural sexism in our culture, I don’t think I can un-see it. But I’m reaching that point in my Research Project arc when the book titles on my bedroom floor start to change – less Is There Anything Good About Men? (spoiler alert: there is!) and more Holiday in Cambodia. I’ll be taking refuge in travel memoirs and short story collections for a while, recovering from this intense period of learning.

Now is the “synthesising phase”, as they say in education. Now I take all of the higher-order processing I’ve been doing around feminism and spit out something productive. Or at least, that’s the idea. My project is culminating in this stage show, which is nearing completion. All of my research and personal journey from the past year won’t necessarily be explicitly included in the show, but it has informed the shape it’s taking. I think my writing is richer for it. I’ve added as much nutritional sediment as I can to my internal environment – now it’s time to chuck a fish in and see if it lives.

Not Much To Tell You. (Photo by Erica Wheadon.)

Not Much To Tell You. (Photo by Erica Wheadon.)

If you’re in Brisbane and you’d like to see what I’ve come up with, I’ll be mounting an experimental version of my stage show at Metro Arts’ Friday Night: November (1 November 2013). Would love to see you there!

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Being comfortable is not the same as success

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So, I saw Bloc Party live last night, for the first time in all the years I’ve loved them. No big deal. Just a long-standing dream fulfilled. Whatevs. I didn’t cry or anything. I didn’t.

But quite apart from the euphoria of seeing one of my all-time favourite bands jumping around right in front of me, I was struck by how very, very beautiful is Mr. Kele Okereke. Not just the superficial kind of beautiful – although, let’s face it, he’s doin’ alright – but the kind that comes from someone who is completely in their element.

Photo from Wiki Commons.

Kele Okereke, lead singer of Bloc Party. If you don’t know who that is, don’t worry, this blog post won’t be ALL about them. Read on!

I don’t know what’s better than watching someone do the thing they love and absolutely nail it. He was, as the song goes, “on fire”. (Last fan-geek Bloc Party reference, I SWEAR.) The man swarmed around the stage, pulled the audience into his hand and held them there, strutted and kicked and spun, and utterly charmed the pants off the mosh pit. Right at the top of the second encore, if he had declared, “Alright Brisbane, let’s march on the city,” damn it, we would have.

It could have been the strobe lights, or the smoke machine, or the wild cheering of the crowd as Kele urged them to “dance, you fuckers”, but it seemed like light was shooting right out of him. This is the guy who music magazines tell me is “incredibly shy”. Well, maybe around music journalists, but not on stage. The stage was clearly his zone, and he was inhabiting every bit of it.

As always when watching people like that, I found myself hoping I could live in my “zone”. Ken Robinson (good old Sir Ken) talks about this in his book The Element (2009). Basically, his premise is that everyone has a particular talent, something that excites them and fires them and will bring them great success. Their element. But, unfortunately, with the education system set up the way it is, people are taught to ignore their passions and to waste their talents. Highly successful people are usually people who paid attention to their passions – instead of listening to the naysayers – and made full use of their special quirks and abilities.

It’s easy to say, “Yeah, right – chase your dreams, champ. Great advice. Oprah, etc.” But the more I think about it, the more I wonder, why wouldn’t we follow our passions? What if our passions are very specific signposts from our intuition (or subconscious, or a higher power, or anything you want to use to describe the ethereal cloak that hangs between us and all the things we can’t figure out)? When we meet someone we’re attracted to, we know it because we feel it. I think we feel a similar tug when we encounter our ideal occupation – something that makes us feel right. Like the first time I found out about poetry slams, or the first time Paul McCartney held a guitar, or the first time the internet saw Jennifer Lawrence.

If I have a special ability that I’m great at and makes my life more fun and can be developed without struggle because I love spending time on it, then WHY THE HECK wouldn’t I devote my energies towards that? The argument made by educational institutions (and a whole lot of parents) would be: because you need to make money. Otherwise, your life will be hard (and fair enough, money helps things along somewhat) and you will make other people’s lives hard, too. You’ll be a miserable drain on society, or something of that nature.

That argument is bullshit, frankly, because it is predicated on the assumption that particular occupations can guarantee you success; if you follow the path correctly and work hard, you will achieve a “good life”. This is rubbish. Not to quote motivational Facebook statuses here, but there are no guarantees in life. Your life will probably be hard whether you finish law school and get a clerkship, or quit and take up the piano. Life: hard. Sorry, kids. But I think that’s because we’re not here to bounce along and try to “get all the bananas” (Donkey Kong? Anyone?). Life’s not like the closed circuit of a video game universe, where you can win the highest score as long as you know all the correct combinations. I think we, as a society, have made a mistake, and gone along thinking that life is about getting the most comfort possible.

I think life is actually about learning. And learning new things – about ourselves, about others, about reality – is rarely comfortable. Fun, challenging, satisfying? Yep. But not comfortable.

Was Kele completely at ease when he was on stage performing last night? He’d be the only one who knows, but I would guess, probably not. Someone who is one hundred per cent comfortable doesn’t work that hard at excellence. They don’t push themselves further. But someone who’s living in their element? Well.

They make the sky run with starlight.

Dudes on whom I have a major brain-crush

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A lot of my posts lately have been kinda heavy, so I thought I’d lighten it up a little and tell you about some of the positive things on my mind. Like sunshine, and puppies, and organic peaches … But mostly dudes! Lots and lots of dudes!

Not just any dudes. Dudes with sexy brains. I have made a list of dudes on whom I have major brain-crushes. Now, before you read it, know that a brain-crush is not remotely sexual. So knock it off right now. It’s not that I have the hots for any of these guys (necessarily … Todd Sampson). It’s just that their brains are so interesting. I would like to take their brains out to dinner and ask them about their childhoods. I would walk their brains home and call them the next day.

You may notice that Margaret Atwood has made my dude list. “But she be not a man!” you may cry. Forsooth, it be my list and my rules. “Dude” is a pretty all-inclusive term in my books.

1. Sir Ken Robinson

Ah, Sir Ken. The wise-cracking, education-reforming, deadpan actual-knight of my dreams. I discovered his work properly last year and went on a Sir Ken binge, reading his books and watching his TED and RSA talks practically in one go.

 

2. Kevin McCloud

Another grouchy old Englishman, yes. But another one bouncing around with passion for his work. Irresistible! Grand Designs always delighted me, but his sustainable housing project catapulted him into brain-crush territory. Basically, he wants to make houses that make people happy. What’s not to love?

 

3. Todd Sampson

CEO of Leo Burnett, climber of Mount Everest, wearer of very tight T-shirts. My favourite co-founder of Earth Hour, and salt-and-peppered panellist on The Gruen Transfer. I had the pleasure of interviewing Mr Sampson a couple of years ago for a student magazine, and I somehow got through the whole thing without swooning. Evidently I’m not the only one he affects this way, as a play is showing in Sydney next month simply entitled I Love Todd Sampson. I love whoever created that show.

 

4. Margaret Atwood

Acclaimed author, literary heavyweight, and one-time retweeter of one of my tweets. (Greatest. Moment. Of my life.) My friend Carina Tan-Van Baren has written a gorgeous account of Margaret’s recent appearance at the Perth Writers Festival. Other than that, all I can say is this: if you like speculative fiction, read Oryx and Crake. Go. Read it now.

 

5. Ben Hammersley

I discovered this gentleman’s work recently when I was listening to his keynote on the RSA Events podcast: ‘Tomorrow’s Work: Why Yesterday’s Expectations Are Ruining Today’s Future’. He raised some very interesting points about technology and how we use it at work. Since corresponding with him about his ideas, I’ve changed some of my email habits and become a much happier worker! I look forward to reading more of his stuff.