Ermagerd I made a podcast

Just A Spoonful Podcast

My baby is aliiiive! It’s real: an idea that I conceived to distract me while I was stressed and working dumb hours to get Not Much To Tell You ready for Metro Arts/Queensland Poetry Festival. I was struggling because my health hit one of its low periods a couple of weeks before the theatre season began. Cue panic attacks, clutching chai teas and wailing “WHY THE FUCK DO I DO LIVE PERFORMANCES, I AM CHRONICALLY FATIGUED.” With much scheduled rest time and Gatorade, I made it through the season! And stumbled giddily into my next project: this podcast.

just-a-spoonful-headerJust A Spoonful is a fortnightly conversation between me (ME/CFS sufferer, professional goofball) and a guest – another young person who is living with chronic illness and/or disability. (It was going to be weekly but I am too bloody tired for that.) We talk about our day-to-day lives – how we live, what we live for. I don’t know any spoonies (good term, I recommend Christine Miserandino’s post on The Spoon Theory) who don’t do anything. For me, having a fraction of the energy a healthy person would have means that I am much more precious with it. I try to work on things I really love. This podcast is an excuse for me to find interesting people who are somehow coping with permanent challenges and chat to them about their lives and their interests and giggle into their awesome faces.

Much thank-you to the amazing Erin Michelle for illustrating the podcast artwork. She is a super talented artist and does commissioned artworks so you should check out her Etsy right now. (I particularly like her ‘Selfie While Crying In Public’. I was like, here is a person who knows how to be productive with life challenges.)

I am thrilled to have music by Anna O (‘Sleepless’) and Marksman Lloyd (‘Silver Magic Ships’) featured on each podcast episode. Their respective EPs are two of my fave EPs to come out this year and it’s ridiculous that they both said yes to me using their tracks. They’re both from Perth, too, coincidentally (my hometown makes great music).

Episode 1 of Just A Spoonful is online and ready for listens! I’m still working out the whole iTunes thing but you can listen to the SoundCloud file via the Just A Spoonful site: justaspoonfulpodcast.tumblr.com

My guest for the first episode is filmmaker, TV producer and general sasspot Steph Dower. Steph is an intern at The Edge (State Library of Queensland), producer of Her Untold Story on 31 Digital, and works as a film editor. She lives with a permanent disability, and does not think Mark Wahlberg is funny. We talk movies, Michael Bay, and ‘living’ on the Disability Support Pension.

Here’s a photo of Steph at work (centre):

Borrowed from the Her Untold Story Facebook page: fb.com/heruntoldstory31

Her Untold Story: fb.com/heruntoldstory31

I’m pretty excited about this new project! I hope it will bring some entertainment to everyone, plus comfort to those living with chronic medical conditions and feeling like they’re “missing out” on youth. Take heart. We are young and fully sick.

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Betting all the chips on you

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Yowza. Today marks exactly one month before I step onstage at The Blue Room Theatre, for the first time as a ticket-selling solo artist. I’ve finally twigged that my parents and my friends and my friends’ friends and my parents’ friends will be coming to see this show (bless them). Nerves? What nerves? HA HA HA I’M TOTALLY FINE.

Okay, so the caps-lock suggests that I’m a bit nervous. Well, dur. This show is intensely personal and I’ve spent the past year pulling out of myself as much feels and honesty as I could handle, before sifting through the raw materials and moulding it into something an audience could enjoy. It’s been a process of painful personal growth and self-doubt and pushing through roadblocks that seemed insurmountable. It’s been REALLY HARD. And clearly it has also been really important to me, otherwise I wouldn’t have kept pushing.

But there was a moment, shortly before I previewed the show at Metro Arts during its creative development stage, when I became very worried that I was changing – for the worse.

I was sitting in a coffee house, at a meeting with a couple of friends, talking about a  project entirely separate to my show. Before the meeting, I had been staring at pictures of myself for a good hour, sorting out publicity material, and writing copy about how great my show was and why everyone should come and see it. That stuff will mess with your head. After a few hours’ writing about yourself, your creative practice, which is your best side, why you’re this generation’s Bertolt Brecht – holy wow, you won’t know which way is up. (This goes for writing funding applications, too.) I had come to hate my face. I thought if I had to spend another minute figuring out how to work in quotes about my “genius”, I’d puke. But I also felt disproportionately large, like my own image was filling my vision and I couldn’t see around it. I couldn’t remember what it was like not to think about me. I was miserable.

Anyway, so I go into this meeting at the coffee house with this mindset, trying to yank myself back into the present and pull me out of myself. You know, to get back that feeling where you’re “just a pair of eyes” (as Tavi Gevinson would say) and you’re engaging with the people around you. I fail horribly. I’m tetchy, sharp-tongued, restless and easily offended by the lovely people I’m sitting with. Things ain’t right. I’m out of my groove. After the meeting I walk away, settle down, send apology messages, and reflect. What is this knot of terror sitting in my gut? Why am I so out of balance?

I realised that, after years of dancing around the edges of my dreams, I was finally plunging in head-first. After a long time of joining other people’s projects, working on other people’s visions, and reviewing other people’s creations (all of which I can’t wait to do again), I was now working on a project whose success depended entirely on my abilities. If I can self-aggrandise for a moment, I was like James Bond in Casino Royale: I had bet the whole endeavour on me. And that terror – that lizard-like feeling that makes you selfish and jumpy and defensive and small – it was crawling up my throat.

I didn’t feel ready. I’d gotten in too deep. I was going to fail.

But, as my spirit animal Amy Poehler says, “Great people do things before they’re ready”. You can only find out that you’re ready by trying. I mean, I guess that’s true – I’m about to find out! The ego thing is pretty hard to get around, and I’m not going to further self-aggrandise by pretending that I’m the only one struggling with this. That lizardy ego can crawl into the mouths of any person in any field, and my greatest dream is to live free of it. But that doesn’t mean I can’t chase my other dreams as well. For a long time, I think I unconsciously skirted around my ambitions because I was afraid of what a little success would do to my head. What if my dreams came true? What if I became insufferable? (The latter is a real danger in the arts.)

But making myself small and holding myself down and only allowing myself a fraction of the joy I wish for in life – all of that is an ego-trip in itself. It’s the ego that says “Look how much I sacrificed”, “I am strong for holding myself down”, “It takes incredible willpower to walk away from your dreams”. I predict that eventually these thoughts alone would not be enough solace for the adventures you denied yourself, so you would start trying to impress upon other people how difficult your struggle has been. Then you become that person in the bar, slurring “I coulda done it, y’know, I coulda bin a STAR”.

So, in one month I’ll step onstage and try something. I’m nervous, of course, but I’m also thrilled to be trying something I’ve been dying to try my whole life.

And if I keep working hard at it, and trying and pushing at these dreams, maybe one day I’ll be able to pay someone to do my publicity material for me. YES.

Surrounded by sub-tropical plant life

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I’m sure by now you’re getting a little burnt-out on all the ‘end of year’ posts happening at the moment – the ones that look back over 2013 with piercing eyes, or gaze mistily into the wonder that could be 2014. Hey, don’t get me wrong, I like those posts. It’s satisfying to reflect on the year that was, and to remind yourself what’s important to you going forward. That’s fine. I was tempted to write a retrospective blog post myself, but I couldn’t think of any way to make it feel original or fresh.

So I’m doing the compete opposite.

I’m going to write to you about what’s happening right now.

Not what happened over the last twelve months (although this year has been AWESOME) or what I hope will happen next year (although it’s looking like it might be AWESOME), but what is happening at this time.

I’m sitting in a library (surprising no one), typing on my laptop while somewhere a toddler burbles at his mother. There is a row of tropical-looking pot plants sitting directly in front of me, quite at odds with the pristine white tables and frosty air conditioning. I’m in here because (a) it’s stinking hot outside, and (b) libraries are my natural habitat anyway. The books! The air-con! The free wi-fi! Truly this is some kind of modern-day Eden. (Except, with the knowledge? I haven’t properly thought this analogy through.)

It’s softly sunny outside, silver light filtering down through the cloud haze. I imagine the heaviness of the heat waiting to drop on me when I step outside later. Through the corner of a window I can see the Brisbane Wheel circling quietly in South Bank. A lot of the light in this library is artificial, fluorescent and glaring, but I notice that there’s a weird kind of skylight in the ceiling, partially blocked by what I can only imagine someone else once imagined was modern art.

This whole library is a testament to modern art. Its aesthetics are … unique. I wouldn’t say they entirely work for my tastes, but I love the way the slant of the irregular windows mirror the ‘chopstick bridge’ outside. And, from almost every window, the river – the river, the river, the river. I have to say it many times in my head because it is such a presence in this town. I love the way Brisbane lives on its river, and not just next to it. I’ve written many poems on this and maybe soon some of them will be published.

I check my word count: 417. I usually write about a 1,000, but I’m not sure how long I can keep this conceit interesting. It may already be boring my readers. I think an apology to them all, and begin to wrap up the blog post. My stomach is blotted with that pointed pain that comes with hunger. Or, to put it in a less wanky poetic way, I needs lunch. Now.

This is Monday the 30th of December, 2013, and this is what’s happening at almost exactly midday in Brisbane. The sun is at its zenith. (You don’t get nearly enough opportunities to use the word ‘zenith’ in everyday conversation. Excellent word. Zenith.) I am grateful for my followers and readers and friendly supporters. I am determined to keep working and creating and writing. I am also determined to get some burrito in me ASAP.

I hope your day is going well.

Twelve glorious hours

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So, last Wednesday was epic. It kicked off with a seven-hour film shoot, and ended with a glorious night of storytelling.

The film shoot was with Brisbane filmmaker Ezz Wheadon, who I’d met only a couple of weeks earlier at Clare Bowditch’s Big Hearted Business morning tea. All Ezz and I knew was that we were both passionate about working on a creative film project. But on the shoot, we discovered we had more in common – GEEKDOM. Ezz’s surname corroborates her geek credentials. We talked Whedonverse and Wil Wheaton and all things in-between. This lady is cool. (Oh and her daughter is, too.)

Here's one of the stills Ms Wheadon took on the shoot. I heart you, Roost Coffee!

Here’s one of the stills Ms Wheadon took on the shoot. I heart you, Roost Coffee!

The film shoot was a grand adventure indeed; we traipsed through beautiful Kelvin Grove sharehouses and funky cafes and the alleyways of West End. (Ezz did a nice write-up of our adventure, you can see what Ezz said about it here.) As I set up for one of the shots, I had delicious flashbacks to my halcyon days as a film intern in Denver, Colorado, many years ago. (I was a nineteen-year-old backpacker and a family friend’s film company took me in; I worked as an unpaid intern at the company and babysat the director’s small daughter, and in return they let me live in their attic for a month. It was pretty awesome … Except for the ghost. But that’s another story.) On location, it was my job to rearrange ferns, adjust furniture, hold up reflectors and get releases signed. I loved it. It should have been boring, but it wasn’t. The company I was interning for was a not-for-profit, dedicated to representing marginalised voices in the Denver community. They were motivated by passion. It was an inspiration.

I felt that same inspiration yesterday, working with Ezz. I find it intrinsically satisfying to work on a project that is motivated by passion. Even the moments that might seem dull if you were working at a job you didn’t like – those times when the lights won’t change, or you have to do the washing up – are a pleasure. Or at least, that’s how I feel.

That’s how I felt last Wednesday night, at Yarn: Man vs Wild. It was the latest in the series of storytelling nights held by Yarn: Stories Spun In Brisbane. We were in a new venue this time – Black Bear Lodge, in the Valley. And what a night it was! The place was wall-to-wall with storytelling enthusiasts. There was even a Greens candidate telling a story in amongst the wilderness-themed decorations, even though she admitted to not being the outdoorsy type (“Worst Green ever – I haven’t even been to Tasmania”). I have to say, I love the audiences at storytelling nights. I’ve always found them to be warm and generous, supporting those poor bastards up on the stage with the shaky hands. Yarn brings this kind of a crowd in, and as an event it is going from strength to strength.

After a day and night like this, I felt a buoyancy that I couldn’t properly express. So I wrote a tweet:

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“Home, exhausted, after a 12 hour day – every minute of which was spent on work I’m wildly, madly passionate about. This is. Just.”

Yep. That’s all I can say.

… But I’ll say one more thing! You can see the first video in the poetry series I filmed with Ezz Wheadon, as it is now live on my YouTube channel! More to come. Stay tuned.

(c) Kaitlyn Plyley 2013

Why catching public transport has made me a better person

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Transports of DelightCatching public transport has made me a better person. Rather than driving a car, rather than careening in my private space down crowded streets, surrounded but kept separate from everyone else – rather than this, I catch public transport, and I am better than I was before.

I don’t have my own personal stereo system anymore. I can’t sing along to the radio at the top of my lungs. I have to sit on seats that have been sat on by many, many other people – some of whom are frequently sweaty – and keep my knees together, my lips closed, my thoughts to myself. I have to think of others. I have to save up my smiles for strangers. I have to thank the driver. I love thanking the driver. A small thank-you and a wave for taking me to the place I want to go, for being a part of my journey, for not shouting at me when I didn’t have the correct change. Thanks for opening the door, thanks for not killing us on Coronation Drive. Just, thanks.

I don’t get to places quickly anymore. I don’t have the luxury of leaving whenever I want. I have to wait for buses. I have to wait. I have to find a spot in the shadow of the bus-stop shelter where the sun doesn’t hit me at full noon but where I can still watch the curve of the road for the oncoming bus. I sit in the shade of an old tree, on the cement border of a garden, on the flat grass next to the bench. I sit and I wait. I watch the road. I check my phone. And if I’m not too busy typing or texting or trying to find a tune that perfectly fits my mood, I look up at the sky. I often look at the clouds, watch them – they’re actually moving. I see them moving. I can watch one cloud shift from the left of the sky to the right, scudding past and changing shape and morphing into something completely different but equally beautiful and I question everything I think about the nature of reality. I ponder god. I ponder life. I stare at the sky until the sun is burned in starbursts onto my vision, and then the bus is heaving into the stop and I’m stumbling up to flag it down.

(c) Kaitlyn Plyley 2013

Taken from a bus stop.

I don’t have my personal space anymore. I can’t pile as many things as I want into my car, carry the heaviest of bags, shift junk from one place to the other without thinking about it, because I have to think about it. I have to think about whether I will be able to get a seat, or whether I’ll be standing, and whether my my bags of junk might swing around and hit some poor older woman sitting near me who was just trying to get down the shops for a cuppa with her daughter visiting from Ipswich. I don’t have the luxury of not caring. I don’t have the ability to shut people out. I have to see them, all of them, the worst and the creepiest and the smelly. I have to breathe in the smell of cigarettes, even though I hate cigarettes. I have to listen to shouted phone conversations and loud school students and brassy ladies on their way out on the town. I am tired and I wish it were quiet, and the girl sitting in front of me stretches forward to press the button for an old man who couldn’t reach it. He twists his burn-scarred face and says, “Thank you”. She smiles, turns in profile; her purple fringe swings into her face. “No worries,” she says.

I don’t have control anymore. I have no say in how fast we go or when we get there or how many red lights we blow. I grip the back of the seat in front of me; I am terrified. I am elated. I want to throw my hands in the air like a roller-coaster rider when the bus driver hurls us down the hills of Kelvin Grove with the brakes completely untouched, hurtling through the suburbs and squealing into stops at the last second. I don’t know if we’ll make that corner. I don’t know if we’ll hit that car. I have lost control, and as a strange result, I am more punctual. I turn up on time, early – so early that I have time to meander down the street and take a breath in the doorway and stop for a drink of water before I arrive. I leave plenty of time to be late; I don’t trust the bus. I shouldn’t have trusted the car, when I had it, but I thought I was in control. I thought I could speed up a little if I was running late. I thought I could plan the journey to the minute. I was wrong, so wrong, and I was a bad friend, a tardy employee, and a flushed and stressed student. I was always running in just on time: “Traffic on the freeway”, “Ergh, no parking anywhere”. Now, I look out the window before I leave the house and think, “Huh, it’s raining. Allow an extra half-hour for the bus.” It’s annoying, but it’s better. I’m better, and when I arrive I’m relaxed and clear-eyed.

I’m looking around instead of looking at the road. I’m people-watching instead of fuming at people. I’m having a chat with the businessman whose briefcase is crammed in next to me, instead of trying to text while I steer with my knees. (Yeah, I used to do that. Another reason why it’s better I catch the bus.) I’m alert, paying attention, and watching my back when I walk home at night. Because I know I’m not safe; I know I’m out in the big, wide world and I am careful. I don’t have a protective bubble of glass and steel around me, tricking me into thinking I am untouchable. I am vulnerable, dependent, trusting that the people around me with treat me with care: the bus driver, the passengers, the other drivers on the road. I trust them. I have to. And it has made me better.

I never could have guessed any of this when I was watching my old Ford Festiva be towed out of the mechanic’s lot. I never could have guessed, while I was waving goodbye to my symbol of independence, my status as a car-owner in an increasingly car-oriented society, that I would eventually be grateful. That I would be kind of glad that I bought a lemon, that my beloved ’96 Festiva (“Jeff” to his friends) would conk out on the side of the Mitchell Freeway and never get going again. Not having a car has limited my life in terms of geography and distance – I can’t drive up the coast on a whim or live a ridiculous distance from work – but it has expanded my life in other ways. My heart, or something. So, bus drivers: seriously, thanks.

(c) Jonathon Hancock, 2013

All of the internet relationships I follow are breaking up

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So, I love the internet. I cannot lie. The internet brings me much of the joys. It helps me feel more connected to the people I love; helps me find new friends and interest groups; makes me a better informed and more thoughtful citizen; and empowers me to express my creative voice. Yeah, I think it’s pretty great.

However, my housemates (Luddites) snicker derisively every time I use the word “blogosphere” in conversation. I protest, “It’s a real thing!” And they say, “Yeah, as real as the internet, HA HA!” The more I splutter, the more they snicker. Huh, plebs. What are we, in 1992? I thought the internet was mainstream now. Geek chic, et cetera?! Someone please tell my housemates!

The thing that surprised me was their assertion that the blogosphere isn’t real. I could try to unpack what it means to be “real” and go read up on Baudrillard and simulacra and theories on mimesis, but it’s a Saturday afternoon and frankly I have other things to do. My main protest was that blogs are created by real people, sitting at their real computers. So there’s realness! Sure, they are presenting a particular image of themselves to the world, an image carefully controlled by themselves. But who isn’t? I don’t think there is much difference in authenticity between the way someone presents their self to me when I first meet them, and the way someone presents their self to me on the internet. We’re all pretending to some degree.

But anyway, I get a lot of joy from reading other people’s blogs. I love feeling a connection to other lives – in my community, and around the world – every day, wherever I am.

Lately, though, the internet has been a little bit heartbreaking.

Two of my favourite bloggers, people whose lives I have been following for months, have recently broken up with their long-term boyfriends. One of them, who vlogs weekly on YouTube, has openly said that she and her boyf split up. She even made a sad video about it that made me tear up a little, because I want to give her a big best-friend hug but I can’t because she lives in Los Angeles and also she does not know who I am. The other blogger has not said anything explicit about a break-up. But you know. You just know. When they go from blogging once or twice a week, from writing joyful expositions about their “meet-cute story” and the boyfriend’s adorable obsession with rugby – when they go from that to not posting for months, and then return with abstract, grand treatises about finding yourself and the importance of inner strength … You know what’s gone down.

And I kind of resent that I immediately knew it was a break-up. I kept telling myself that there are manifold reasons why a person might step away from their prolific blogging and go quiet for a few weeks. We’re complex creatures, right? Maybe they had family stuff going on. Maybe they got a new job. Maybe they just discovered Battlestar Galactica and needed to watch ALL of it in one sitting but couldn’t because their housemate also discovered it at the same time and works full-time so they had to wait to watch it with her because they’re terrible at keeping secrets and would definitely have committed plot spoilers if they’d watched ahead.

But, no. Nothing stops the heart quite like a break-up. At least, not for affluent, upwardly-mobile twenty-somethings. I have a friend who recently found out that her cervical cancer had advanced another stage, but does that bother her as much as her boyfriend staying out an hour later than he said he would? Nope. I think perhaps it is because she knows exactly how much control she doesn’t have over her medical condition. The doctor says “Here are the decisions you need to make”, and she makes them, and she deals with the rest.

I bet cylons don't have to deal with this shit.

I bet cylons don’t have to deal with this shit.

We invest so much in relationships, but we know so little about them. I mean, really, as a species, we barely understand relationships. Why else do we spend so much time talking about them? We don’t devote this much time and energy to the law of gravity, or why grass is green. Those conversations go mostly like this: “What happens if I let go of something? It falls. Ah. And why are all these things green? Chlorophyll. Okay, understood. Now I shall think of other things.” But conversations about interpersonal relationships go like this: “But WHYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY”. Repeated over and over, ad infinitum.

It makes me sad that these seemingly adorable relationships I’ve been reading about on the internet are breaking up. You want to hope that maybe somewhere, somebody is not breaking up. Maybe somebody is staying together. But I am grateful to these bloggers for sharing their stories and letting me peek into their lives a little. They are making themselves vulnerable to a faceless mass of viewers, and that is incredible. It helps to remind me that we’re all kind of muddling through, even the ones who present a highly edited, storied version of themselves to the public. They’re real, too.

A good friend of mine recently said, “I just pretend to be a person.” She thinks she lacks some essential life-skill that other people innately have. I said, “Have you ever people-watched in the city at rush hour? Everyone is pretending to be a person. If you watch long enough, you’ll see that everyone is doing that thing where you watch everyone else to see if they’ve noticed that you’re a total freak.” We’re all real and confused and a bit messed-up, all of us, everyone.

We’re all just pretending we’re not.

Photo credit: Battlestar Galactica image from Flickr.

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.

We can be heroes

Transports of Delight

Transports of Delight

I remember thinking, I don’t want to sit near them. They stink of cigarettes and stale clothing. I move further up the bus, perching on a seat high up the back. I can see the only other passengers riding with me today: those two down the front (the smokers) and an elderly woman sitting in front of me. I settle in for the bus ride, gazing out the window, no more thought for my fellow commuters.

A lazy fifteen minutes later, my attention is jerked back into the present when someone in the bus starts yelling. At first, I can’t tell who it is; I can only see the backs of heads. Then one of the stinky people – a man in a dirty grey shirt – shifts as he yells, belligerent, moving his chin up and down. I’m not sure who the target of his abuse is … Until I notice the soft whines coming in response to the man’s abuse. They’re coming from the person sitting next to him. I almost didn’t notice her – I think because she wants it that way. She is a big girl but she is hunched right down in her seat, head down, bowed before the the filthy stream of language the man is spewing at her. I catch some of what he’s saying to her:

“You’re a dumb bitch. You’re a dumb bitch. You’re a dumb bitch. It’s women like you – no, it’s women like you – who fark it up for everyone … MAKE THE CALL. MAKE THE CALL … So he raped you, so make the call. You’re so farking stupid. What about my daughter, eh? What about that? You don’t think. Dumb bitch.”

The girl rises in her seat and scuttles away from him, into a seat across the aisle. He meets this show of defiance with sarcastic laughter. “Oh, oh! And where are you going?” She makes another whining sound, which he brays over.

My fingernails are digging into my palms. I feel the flush rising up the back of my neck. This is one of those moments that will pass, and later I’ll think, “I should have done something”. I rise up, out of my seat. Take a couple steps towards the front of the bus. I don’t know what’s going to happen when I get there, but my temper is up and that is such a rarity that I’m curious. What could I do? Could I step in? Maybe we can be heroes … (Okay, I need to stop repeat-listening to Bowie.)

What actually happens when I reach the back of Dirty Grey Shirt’s seat, is that the bus pulls into its final stop. The doors open next to me, and I automatically turn to exit. I don’t know, if we had pulled into the stop a few minutes later, would I have found my voice? Would I have done something heroic? I strode down the busway, thinking, Coward.

Dirty Grey Shirt exits the bus behind me, still bawling out his girlfriend. I walk faster, teeth clenched, and head for the lift. I don’t want to listen to another second of it. But as the lift arrives, I get in and turn around. And there they are: Dirty Grey Shirt and his battered looking girl, shuffling into the lift behind me. I hesitate, aware that I am now trapping myself in a small metal box with them. But something says, this must be faced.

It’s just the three of us in the lift: the girl is cowering in a corner, and Dirty Grey Shirt is eyeing me (well, slightly south of my face). He moves his bulk (beer gut and all) into my space, intimidating. I hold up the flat of my hand and say, “You need to back up right now.” He dances back a little, bulk wobbling, still murmuring in what he evidently believes to be a charming tone.

“You’re not a movie star, are you,” he says to me.

“No,” I grind out.

“Yeah. You don’t look like one.”

I bite back any response. Won’t do to provoke him when we’re in such close quarters. Grey Shirt keeps trying to pull me into a conversation, but I look over at the girl. She meets my eyes from under that mess of black hair and shapeless beanie, and for a moment we just stare at each other. I can’t remember ever seeing such naked despair, so close to me. Not just the misery, but the hopelessness. I have an impulse to put an arm around her shoulder and lead her gently away. But something tells me she wouldn’t accept it.

As the lift doors open, Dirty Grey Shirt grunts a reprimand at me, “Well fark, thanks for being so farking friendly.” And I let my temper snap.

I turn on him. “I don’t appreciate hearing you–” finger jab “calling her horrible names on the bus and speaking to her that way.” Jab, jab. “Treat her a bit better!” I shout that last bit at his back as he shambles away, unperturbed. Other people on the concourse look embarrassed. (My protest looks pretty lame when written down in text, and let’s face it, was probably pretty lame when I said it.) The girl has skittered away in front of Dirty Grey Shirt, clearly wishing to avoid a scene. As if there would be a scene. Even my rage-fueled diatribe was polite and carefully worded. I can’t believe that, in moments of righteous anger, I still lapse into the same patterns of speech I used when working in childcare. Starting with how I feel, using specific examples of inappropriate behaviour, and delivering a positive directive for improvement. Sheesh.

I can tell you, in my head I was using all sorts of foul language on him. In my head, I was giving him the serve of a lifetime. But it occured to me that he’s used to that; swear words have lost currency with him. I’d hoped that a relatively polite dressing-down might get through to him. But it obviously didn’t. The despair that I saw in that girl’s eyes – I don’t know how to touch that. If any of what Grey Shirt was ranting about was true, then she’s going through hell. I wanted to be a hero, but I didn’t know how to save her.

I hope she’s okay.

Women. Am I right?

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“This is a real phenomenon: When women feel like outsiders, they lose interest.”

I read the above quote in an article today, and it struck me dead. In the article, a science student writes about gender bias in the scientific professions, and even though I don’t know my boron from my bunsen burner, I found myself strongly relating to it.

See, the thing is, on Wednesday night I had my first go at stand-up comedy. I entered myself in RAW Comedy, where beginner comedians can compete for a spot in the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. I had never set foot onstage at a stand-up gig before, and I don’t mind telling you I was petrified. I had a lively group of friends around me, chattering and laughing and telling me I was going to be fabulous, but every now and then I would just go blank with hot white terror.

Part of my terror came, I think, from the fact that I was one of only four women competing on the night. The other 11 were, as you might imagine, men. That in itself wouldn’t have been that intimidating. After all, I’ve been performing at poetry slams and readings for years now, which are still heavily male-dominated. That wasn’t the issue. It was what the men were saying. Joke after joke about violence against women. Seriously. One guy’s punch line was actually – and I quote – “Wouldn’t it be great to know you fucked a woman to death?” Then he talked about going to her funeral and gloating, saying, “Let that be a lesson to all you other ladies”.

Yes. Let that be a lesson to us. In case we ever forget, we aren’t safe here. Comedy is not a safe space – for anyone, I suppose, but especially for women. One male comedian spent his five minutes extolling his disgust at Julia Gillard, saying she had a penis and she couldn’t arouse the most desperate of men and so on and so on. Textbook misogyny: “a-woman-can’t-be-in-power-without-losing-her-femaleness” with a dash of “if-she-can’t-get-me-off-what’s-the-point-of-her”. Not a word, of course, about her actions as Prime Minister. Another man raged against his ex-wife, calling her a “crazy bitch” at least six times before I tuned out. One young, harmless looking guy, who looked like someone your brother might play Call of Duty with, thanked all the women in the audience for setting their Facebook profiles to ‘public’ so that he could masturbate to them.

I am truly baffled when I see male comedians make demeaning jokes about women, and then chuckle: “Ha ha, all the women in the room hate me right now”. All the women in the room – that’s fifty per cent of your audience, buddy! Too many amateur comedians seem to forget that alienating women means alienating half your potential ticket-paying customers. That comedy isn’t just for the benefit of other men.

By the time it was my turn to perform next, I was feeling sick to the stomach. I waited by the sinks in the ladies’ room, staring up at the posters of upcoming comedy tours. Rows and rows of male faces grinned down at me. I smoothed down my hair, eyeing my outfit. Before I left the house that night, I had pulled a ribbon out of my hair, not wanting the audience to be distracted by my gender. Already, I was “gender priming”, having been told for years that female comedians “just aren’t as funny”.

“Even in areas where actual performance is equal, when a certain group is reminded that they are supposed to be bad at something, their performance weakens.” (S. Wofford, Feminspire)

But I did it. I told some jokes. At the end of my set, I sat down with my friends, shaking like a flippin’ leaf. I had survived. I had even gotten some laughs. I put my head down on the sticky table and tried not to gasp for air. I know public speaking is meant to be scary, but it had never really scared me up until this point. Comedy is such a different beast. You can lose the crowd so quickly. And then you’re dead.

Later that night, after seeing off my friends and dragging myself home, I felt empty. Like all the humour had been sucked out of me. My five minutes up there hadn’t been too bad, I thought, but the other comedians’ various attacks on women had shaken me. I comforted myself that the crowd had liked those jokes as little as I did, with most people shifting uncomfortably in their seats or sitting in stony silence. At least the misogyny wasn’t being openly encouraged. But I wondered. After years of going to comedy nights, I can say that jokes at the expense of women are incredibly common. They’re often aggressive and sometimes violent. Why do these comedians still think these jokes would be an awesome idea?

I found myself thinking, are these the people I want to work alongside? Is this an industry I want to join? If I’m going to have to spend years feeling like a second-class citizen, why would I bother? And then today, I found clarity, staring at me out of that science student’s article. I felt like an outsider, therefore I was losing interest. I was already thinking of opting out of my lifelong dream (my mother says that as an eight-year-old I solemnly informed her, “I want to be a stand-up comedian”) because of some dickheads with microphones. Seems to me that comedy is so male-dominated not because women aren’t as interested in comedy. Rather, I think a lot of women listen to the sexist jokes and see the other female comedians putting themselves down to get laughs, and think, “Fuck this noise”.

Well, I won’t be so easily discouraged. If I cancelled my dreams every time some idiot made me feel inferior for being a girl, I’d never have gone anywhere or done anything. I’m gonna have crack at this comedy thing. And whether I keep working at it or decide it’s not for me, I hope my decision will be based on factors other than my gender.

Non, non, je ne regrette rien

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The theme of this week’s blog post is “regret”. Cheerful, huh? Don’t worry, I’m not going to spiral into some depressive, introspective ramble that ends with me hunched over a whiskey and sobbing the names of ex-boyfriends. “Why, Brian? Whaaay?!” (Just kidding. I’ve never dated a Brian.)

While reading the blog A Writer’s Journey (which I highly recommend for fellow writers, by the way), I came across this passage:

They say you should live without regrets, but I disagree. That mindset would drive me crazy. Opportunities pass us by, we make mistakes, and sometimes we’re just too tired to keep up. Instead of living with no regrets, I want to always be able to say to myself, “At least I did everything I could do.”

I know that I, too, have been driven crazy by the idea that I mustn’t miss any opportunities. I must seize the day! Say yes to life! Not let a chance go by! We’re all food for worms, boys! (And other exhortations from Dead Poets Society.)

It’s exhausting, isn’t it? If you always say ‘yes’ to everything, eventually you end up looking like Gollum’s partied-out cousin. Life will ravage your face. You’ll be worn out and anxious and finding glitter in your hair that you can’t explain.

Some people, it’s true, are not born participators. They could stand to move outside their comfort zone a little more often, to try new things. But that is not true for me. The biggest lesson that I keep learning and forgetting and relearning is how to say NO. As in, NO, I can’t do everything. No, I can’t be everything. I have limitations, whether I like it or not.

I suffer from a medical condition that keeps me from doing a lot of things. I know for sure that I have limitations: flippin’ doctors have told me so. Specialised medical practitioners have prescribed me a large dose of “take it easy”. Easier said than done. But I’m getting better.

Even though I still have this hysterical internal drive to DO, DO, DO all the time – to jump on every single opportunity – I am starting to get the lesson. I will do everything I can do. (I don’t know why I ignored that important little word for so long.) I am learning to step back.

So, I spent New Year’s Eve at home, by myself, trying out a new recipe for dinner. I went to bed before midnight. I AM GRANDMA.

And I regrette rien.