Hey, I just realised I’m tired of pretending to live a double life. From now on, if you’re at all interested, you can find me over here. I’ll be shutting this one down, down, down, down in a week or so’s time. Big love, y’all.
So, pondering it all, I have been a little, ever since I decided to abscond from the theatre world for a while in order to recoup.
I realised that I suffered serious, serious burnout. All self-inflicted. In short, I did too much. I tried too hard to be all things to all projects, and ended up falling in a heap. I put art, or the world of art that I had created for myself above and beyond my personal relationships, my family, my health, my happiness. I believed blindly in that ridiculous concept of self-sacrifice for the illusory ‘higher-goal’ which, in effect amounts to nothing but redundant ego-stroking, when you’re a non-functioning human being, tired, miserable and distracted all the time.
So, I decided to take a big break. No acting, no writing, no directing, no saying ‘yes’ when I really meant ‘no’, no panels, no (well, only very little) activism, tieing ups loose ends that I absolutely had to, and absolutely no theatre going whatsoever. So as to be democratic about it, you see.
The result: a most extraordinary sense of perspective the likes of which I have never previously achieved. The revelations that have unfolded themselves to me all make sense. I’ve been able to engage with a kind of self-discovery and study that I left behind in first year at drama school, and I’ve thrown off the shackles of obligation that I felt to everyone around me to be “that kind of gal”. Getting out of the game was one of the biggest gifts that I have given to myself, because I now feel that I can truly address my arts practice in an holistic way.
Trust me, it’s quite a revelation, and quite a relief. The release of pressure and pain surrounding outcome; the fear of failure, and the constant self-flagellation was quite enough by the end of 2009, so that my only option was to abscond indefinitely. Business is delightful for me. It provides a strategic, intellectual and artistic challenge, while feeling separate enough from my arts practice for my brain/soul to not get muddied in that from which I am distancing myself. And you know, it’s tactile. It’s manual. So, while I stock take in preparation for the end of the financial year, I can take stock of myself in preparation for my return to a creative practice. I give myself the space to acknowledge my need for things like physical action, stillness and meditation. Concepts that I have previously (erroneously) held to be fatuous.
I’m not quite healed yet. As a maker. I’m on my way. I am going to feel my way back in, this time. Only do what really, really drives me. What pushes out of me with fierce imperative. What makes me good. That which makes me well.
On a sad note, this is just a little, personal farewell to the much beloved, and deeply respected Store Room Theatre. To Todd, to Ben, to Aidan and to Marcus, and all the crew, technical, administrative and artistic who have graced its halls since the boys brought it into being: Congratulations and Farewell. You will be missed. It will be missed. The Store Room, we will miss you. You have done great, great things for independent theatre in this fair city, and you will be dearly missed. With blessings go you into the ether and with love we fold you into the warmth of our memories.
I have, of course, in search been writing versions of this post for many years: different milestones of self-revelation. Each time making a definitive shift to a new mindset/habit/approach to my professional life, believing (sometimes only by half) that that particular shift would be finite. Ultimate. The shift to end all shifts. The one that would allow it all to finally make sense, and ultimately, for happiness to descend upon the quotidian.
I’ve realised now that perhaps no such definitive shift can be made. That perhaps the search and the struggle are perpetual within our mortality. Either way, I’m not particularly concerned. Observing the most recent shift – the most dramatic, I suppose is fascinating. But not unexpected. Nor am I rendered particularly distraught by it. I suppose because ultimately, it has been the most obvious, the most straightforward of all. Also, because it is clear to me now, that all the various points of shift over the years, have in effect been cumulative.
It is a huge thing, I suppose, in one’s tiny life to say, “The thing that I have always known, and I have been doing since a child no longer makes me happy.” To look at that statement and analyse the reasons for it can be saddening and embittering if such responses are permitted. And in a way, they must be, in order to truly understand the nature of one’s psyche – ultimately, one’s journey through it all. There is, of course, a deep sense of guilt attached to such a thought, as well. “I’m not supposed to feel this way. I have an obligation to this thing that I have built.” But even such thoughts as these have to be released, because, of course, to hold onto such pathways to denial is merely delaying the inevitable. Is merely keeping one trapped in a holding pattern; treading water.
To say, “The thing that I believe will now make me happy is quite different from what I have been doing for the last twelve years of my life,” is at once empowering and terrifying. Too easily construed as failure (internally, externally), the fear with which I utter this phrase I fight only with the weapon of a vision for a bright, new dawn upon a day that resembles nothing of days past. It does not, of course, need to be said that every day of that past, every gesture made, every heart and mind encountered, every principle debated, stroke on the page, breath on the stage, has brought the present to bear. For this, my gratitude knows no bounds.
So easy it is to become confounded by the complexity of a small practice within a small community within a small world. The recognition that one’s own mindset towards one’s vocation has become microcosmic does not automatically guarantee a Buddhist undoing of all similar pathways of thought, whilst remaining healthily within a constant context. Such recognition often renders the need for a larger change. And ultimately? Such change is nothing. Of no concern, and not very dramatic at all. It is merely the next step. The next stage.
With guilt released for the most part – at last (“I must persist, I have wasted my training, I have so much to offer; what must people think?”) it is clear now that today is simply a day that follows the last. That nothing ever ends, nor does it disappear or get lost to oneself. It simply shifts in a different direction in that perpetual ebb and flow of human existence. And we can grieve. And I have grieved in great, heaving sobs, in unstoppable tears in hysteric laughter that stems from exactly the same point of origin. But, I see how profoundly beautiful it all is, too – the whole lot – the process of loss and renewal – death and regeneration. It needs to be seen for what it is. The privilege that so very many of us experience in the ability to choose our occupation, our pass-time, our profession, or life’s study – that we can at any point choose to shift, to change, or to remain in the same place is phenomenal – a great gift – and one so rare, for which I now more than ever see the need for daily gratitude.
And I am aware that I am but a green juvie with regards to handling such shifts. It has taken me great courage to throw off the shackles of what I have always known and believed I must do. Others, more evolved than I, have not had such difficulty coming to such simple realisations. It is said that we shift our life’s career between five and nine times in the average lifetime. A statistic to which I have always pretended to be indifferent, but one that I have, for most of my working life, feared deeply. I am amused and at once saddened by memories of such fear now. Such lack of comprehension of the truth of life. Which is that it is short unless you are miserable, and then it is very long.
I realise now that the statistic that represents the versatility of the average middle-class human in the developed, Western-world is a gift of freedom; a luxury; a thing to be celebrated. What’s more, I am a woman, I have the right to vote, to earn a living, and even to own my own business. Not to mention that I am a coloured person in an Anglo-Saxon country, and that I maintain such rights. These facts are nothing at which to sneeze. Perhaps a white male would not/does not see their life through such lenses of accumulated historical oppression. I am daily hyper-aware of the extent to which women and members of cultural minorities have been denied the basic rights that someone of my class and professional pursuit in this city have come to expect and has taken for granted. I do not feel the right to not make an example of the opportunities that have been offered one such as myself in this lifetime. I owe it to the past, and I owe it to those still victim of oppression, discrimination and abuse here in Melbourne, Australia, and globally. (It is indeed my simple obligation to be a standard bearing feminist. How dare I not fight?) The blessings bestowed upon this life are boundless. To be given such privileged opportunity, and to not follow one’s bliss, I have learned, is a crime.
We are here for a short time. We are given certain gifts. It is up to us as to what we do with them. Although I am far from being the first (and certainly won’t be the last) to see this for myself (and will probably have the need to re-realise it again and again) – no volume of self-help manuals or spiritual leaders can teach a person a truth that they need to learn for themselves. It is to value one’s own soul over societal expectations; it is to tread a unique path rather than chase somebody else’s rainbows; it is to recognise that what brings happiness to an individual shifts and changes every day, and that it never, ever, ever comes neatly in a one-size-fits-all package; it is to know – to truly know – to feel, to believe, to understand that change is more than okay – it can sometimes be our greatest salve.
I had an idea – I had, that is, some kind of a clue as to how involved starting a new business of a retail nature would be. But that all goes out the window, really, when you actually get down to it. The reality of the situation is absolutely nothing like the fantasies that danced in my mind whilst still doodling lovely images of shopfronts in my sketchbooks accompanied by wafting, lone adjectives in cursive lettering. I was seeing movie montages with a So Frenchy So Chic soundtrack, à la Gwyneth Paltrow in Sliding Doors starting her own boutique PR agency, looking effortlessly, hip-ly late-nineties in her ‘painting clothes’, every lock of hair perfectly, and precisely out of place. Yup. In my mind I was toiling away, crunching figures in spreadsheets until 3am, wiping (somehow) glamorous beads of perspiration from my brow and pouring myself the rare (hah!), cheeky dram of Scotch before flopping back, delirious, exhilarated (and impossibly sexy) into bed, only to admire the form of my sleeping husband, and counting each and every one of my thousand blessings before I drift off into a heaven-sent slumber. Camera pans across the room, stopping in the doorway, lingering on the quiet, almost Zen-like image of the cat, asleep in the moonlight.
Instead, on the top of my to-do list is:
1. File shit piling up around my desk, and chuck shit out I don’t need.
2. Create some sort of F&*king filing system for f&*king files cluttering up your f&*king computer desktop.
3. Everything else.
Honestly it is exhilarating, terrifying, wonderful, exhausting. All that. It’s overwhelming and beautiful, and somehow so… natural. Not easy, by any stretch of the imagination, and yes, often quite stressful, but I’ve become inexplicably peaceful about the whole thing. I can only do what I can do right now, and the rest will have to wait until later/tomorrow/after I get out of class/until I’m in front of my computer again. If only I had had that kind of mental self-control across any the last five shows I’ve done.
All of which is to say that I will be absconding for a while from here again, but certainly not forever. A mini-break, if you like.
And yes, I’ll be starting a blog for the new business, too. Which will, oui, be my erm… gazillionth blog. (The act of creating a blog is, in and of itself, quite wonderful and exciting, you know…) I’ll let you know when it’s up.
In the meantime, I’m off to buy some très agéable pop Française from iTunes, pour myself the rare dram, and tick some items of my big, bad To Do List… Chouette.
I adore Melbourne. If I were brave and patient enough to uproot and go through the legal battles that accompany a relocation to Paris, then I would probably give that a go, but failing the spare change to undergo such an endeavor, I am happily settled here, and content to remain so for quite some time. Melbourne is my beloved adopted city. I moved here from Hobart the day after I turned 18 to study drama. During the pre-VCA commencement month in which I was settling in, I would walk every day across every inch of the city. I would often retrace a familiar path, returning again and again to haunts that became my own, strange, lonely stomping ground; sometimes I would stumble across something entirely new. A few years ago I had an on-and-off liaison with a Melbourne city-dweller. His apartment was on one of our famed laneways, and it was he who introduced me to the temporary guerilla art, the stuff of (often) mythological status in this town. I worked, at the time, almost daily in the city, and was soon after to take up a studio in the Nicholas Building, whose balcony overlooked Flinders Street Station and Federation Square, giving me a clear line of sight all the way down to the Shrine of Remembrance in the Royal Botanic Gardens. At night as I sat there swallowing scripts and sushi, I was kept company but the strange and fickle Arts Centre Spire (the landmark that upon arriving in Melbourne, I was informed was otherwise known as Jeff’s Cock).
As time passed I drifted away from the CBD. I stopped working there two years ago, and really only return these days to see theatre or to go shopping for a specific item of clothing or electronic item that I know cannot be sourced in the Inner-North. But she never fails to delight me whenever I do manage to stumble in. Oh, love of loves: to swing over St. Kilda Road Bridge across the Yarra towards the Arts Precinct and take in the sprawling and intricate beauty of the city’s epoch-layered landscape. The love that has been invested in each infrastructural decision. I don’t care what you say about Fed Square. I’m a fan. Oh, Von Haus. Oh, City Wine Shop. Oh, Laneway Commissions. The list, my friends, goes on.
However, despite my complex and enduring love for this many-faceted city that I call my home, it has been months, if not years since I have truly wandered.
Enter En Route.
On creator-company, BettyBooke’s website, En Route describes itself as: “… a journey, inward and outward, through the thoroughfares and back-alleys of both the city and what [the participants] make of it.”
I don’t want to describe my literal experience here, because I think it far more important for future participants to be given the experience afresh. What I want to convey, however, is just how excited En Route made me about my own city, once again. How new every alley became to me, how deeply I fell in love with paths that were so well trodden, and so deeply embedded in my memory. “Here is where I kissed… ” “Here is where I broke down crying after that time when… ” “Here is where I rediscovered my love for… ” “Here is where I bought my first… ” And then the new: Laneways I’d never traversed, and some I never even knew existed, new ways of getting from Collins to Degraves Street, the backs of new galleries housed in warehouses backing onto hidden spaces that feel like whole worlds erupting out of nowhere. I saw and felt the city expanding and deepening. Still places lying quietly for the infrequent Melbournian passer-by, the chef on his smoko, the lost tourist, the homeless.
I felt the quiet palimpsest of the city; her shy smile at all that she’d seen, and all yet to come. While there is so much development under which I’m sure she groans, and which I certainly often quietly (sometimes loudly) bemoan, there have been some thrilling transformations as well. Melbourne in an almost self-reflexive state: a city paying homage to herself over and over and over. I am trying to tell you about En Route without telling you too much.
I knew little of it before I began, I have to say. A couple of quiet recommendations, a concept that piqued my interest. I thought it would be a far simpler affair than it was. Not that En Route was complicated, for me, that is – for the participant. It was complex but relatively straightforward. And deeply, deeply involved. En Route is as much about the participant as it is about the city. It would be possible, I suppose for one to not give onself over to the experience – to remain detached – objective. But not for me. The way to truly ‘play’ En Route (for if embraced it very much resembles a wondrous, real-life game) is to abandon inhibition and presumption entirely; to put your emotions and body in the hands of the work, and follow just as readily with your heart as your eyes and ears. This is not a critique. I am not going to pull apart the piece and tell you what did and did not work for me. To do so would be to lose the overall magic of the experience, and the overriding wonder that I derived from it. Wonder that I seldom find in performance these days.
My simple and overwhleming response is this: I feel blessed to have been able to participate in En Route. Strange, and rare to have this response to a work, but very true. The very personal nature of the work has filled my mind and heart with thoughts and feelings of immense possibility. The brilliant and expansive that can be found in the quotidian and microcosmic. The boundless world found in the interior of consciousness, and the wonder and meditative energy that can be derived from walking the city. En Route has inspired me to return once again to my long-lost pass-time of nothingness filled with fascination: the gentle joy of simply being une flâneuse.