An unexpected cab ride; or, things I learnt from the taxi driver

NYC Cabs, New York 2008, Katy Warner

I think that anybody’s craft is fascinating. A taxi driver talking about taxi driving is going to be very, very interesting.

James Lipton

Today I had to catch a taxi. I don’t do that very often. Whenever I do I like to imagine I am Carrie Bradshaw and I am in New York with amazing shoes and the salary to afford it (the taxi and the shoes). This particularly taxi was taking me to Brunswick (which is not quite New York) because our borrowed 1988 Ford Laser refused to start (which is not quite Carrie Bradshaw’s style) to get me to a casting (which means I am not even close to being able to afford those shoes).

I love talking and I particularly love talking to taxi drivers. Sometimes it works out (I’ve had some enlightening political conversations). Sometimes it doesn’t (I’ve been asked out, rather emphatically, on a “date”). But it is always interesting.

Today I had a brilliant taxi driver who got me to Brunswick

a) on time

b) alive

and, as bonus, we had a nice chat during ridiculously expensive ride (which I didn’t feel so bad about paying due to a and b, above, but not necessarily in that order).

He told me he was trained nurse. Nursing was his passion. It was all he wanted to be. It was the job he loved most in the world. But here he was, driving a taxi because Australia would not recognise his four-year degree from a University in India nor his extensive experience. “Driving a taxi is better than nothing,” he told me. His positivity was incredible.

Along with some wonderful positive thinking, here’s what I learnt from the taxi driver today:

  1. Being called “Boss” has nothing to do with Bruce Springsteen
  2. Always speed up when approaching an amber light because “you never know which ones you will make”.
  3. Education is important (but Australia only recognises those educated in the western world) (i) Australia has a tendency to treat people from non-English speaking backgrounds in the most shameful way
  4. Taxi drivers have to deal with some of the most awful people in the world (“I think when people are drunk,” he said, “they just don’t realise what they are saying”) (i) Some people are gross when drunk (ii) Some people are gross all the time
  5. Positivity can be contagious
  6. Taxis trump public transport (i) Guaranteed seat (ii) Less likely to be coughed all over / sneezed all over / stepped on
  7. Ray-Bans are cool
  8. I am pink – like my EFTPOS Card (I’m taking that as a compliment)

I wish more people would speak to their taxi drivers. Yes, sometimes you may have to give the driver directions, yes, sometimes the driver may just be a jerk, yes, sometimes the driver may have bad-taste in music / jokes / appropriate conversation starters or a turn out to be some sort of homicidal maniac or racist / homophobic / sexist / angry, angry person … But we all know people like – besides, it always makes for great writing / blogging / dinner-partying material. Speak to your taxi driver – you never know what you might learn …

What I wrote or; getting out of the office

I had to get out of the office and away from the desk. My head hurt. And my soul. Dramatic? Maybe. But I’m sure that was where most of the pain was coming from. I just wanted to get a little bit of this sunshine everyone (everyone who didn’t have to make revenue spreadsheets and rewrite copy for incompetent people who were asked to write their own copy but just couldn’t seem to do it, probably because they were enjoying the sunshine) was talking about.

I finally make it out outside.

I find the only table in the sunshine. It’s covered in bird shit. Covered. I wonder if the bird had some kind intolerance thing. Do birds get IBS? That would be terrifying. Anyway, the table delightfully decorated with bird poo is the only table in the sunshine and I have forgotten my cardigan. So I ignore the white and brown flakes and mounds of god-knows-what-these-birds-have-been-eating and sit down to write.

The smokers are out in force. The work-place hierarchy still firmly intact as the power-suits of the heads / managers of this and that smoke in prime position on the manicured lawn whilst  the cheap-suits of the security guards smoke in the dirt and wood-chips and litter that fills the sad flower-beds.

Once the power-suits crush their cigarettes into the lawn and rush off for some important meeting with some important client, the security guards take their places.

The short security guard has issues with his lighter and speaks in series of questions; “Oh, really?” “Fair enough?” “Two extra hours today makes it a long shift?” “I bloody hate Vodafone?” “I need a new lighter?”

I wonder if he ever got the answers he wants. His fellow security guard seems unlikely to argue with him. He looks like a very unassuming man and wears square glasses. I wonder what made him choose

a) to be a security guard, and

b) square glasses

I’m not brave enough to ask him. Besides, his colleague has more than enough questions for him.

“I’m loving this sunshine?”

Their voices and cigarette smoke drift over me.

Sometimes I wish I was a smoker. Without the cancer and wrinkles and yellow teeth and bad skin and addiction and harm to unborn babies and gangrene and all that stuff … But … Still … There is still something immaturely romantic and ridiculously ‘cool’ about the cigarette. Like Leonardo DiCaprio playing Romeo in Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet.  Like  Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Like Rita Hayward or Lana Turner or Ava Gardner or …. OK, who am I kidding here? Maybe it is because it gives you something to do with your hands. Or an excuse to have a bit of breather, outside on your own for a moment, during a full-on dinner-party or family gathering or something without looking totally rude. A breather? With a cigarette? Who am I fooling? It smells disgusting. I know it. I want no part in it. I am that person who gives you a filthy look as I rush past you on the street to avoid the killer passive smoke of your disgusting habit. I am that person who coughs loudly when you light up too close to me in the beer garden. I am that person who feels like they deserve some sort of medal, or at that the very least an impromptu performance by a mariachi band,  when they tell the doctor – “No, I don’t smoke” … But still. Some days …

Maybe it is because I feel like an idiot sitting at a table covered in bird excrement writing away whilst surrounded by smokers. Maybe I am feeling a bit of peer-pressure.

The sun moves and suddenly I am sitting at a table covered in the faecal matter from a flock of birds but minus the appeal of sunshine  … or a cardigan. I try to ignore all of those facts – the lack of sunshine, the lack of a cardigan, the abundance of bird poop – and focus on the positives: I am outside, I am away from the desk, I don’t smoke, I am not a security guard.

The sunshine gets locked behind the clouds and the wind picks up. A dry and miserable looking leaf snuggles up to my foot. I try to shake it off but it doesn’t want to leave me – clinging to my boot like the sooky two-year old who cannot be without its mother and , before they know it (where does the time go), he is twenty-five years old and still living at home and playing on his X-Box whilst his mother still does his cooking and washing and ironing and even though she hints loudly that he should find a place of his own, they all know he won’t be going anywhere because he’s got it too good. Like this leaf. But enough is enough. It is time for it to stop being so clingy and find its own way in the world. I get tough.

The security guards notice.

I wonder if they are out here to protect the leaves.

Or find new recruits for the security guard team.

I was pretty tough.

Or maybe I was too tough and now I am a ‘person of interest’.

I make sure they can see my lanyard and staff pass thing – just so they know I am on their side, nothing to worry about here. Just a leaf. Just a leaf.

Another three security guards join Shorty and Square-glasses. They are all smoking. I wonder

a) what is the collective noun for security guards?

b) do all security guards smoke?

c) have I done something wrong?

Shorty’s questions are getting louder – I think he is showing off for the other, taller security guards. He stands like a politician and gestures a lot.

The smoke continues to drift over me but the sunshine never does come back. I wish for my cardigan and a clean table but neither come – the end of my mini-break does though. I remember in grade 1 a kid asking the teacher why five-minutes could feel so long when we were waiting for home-time but feel so short when we were doing something fun. Like French Cricket. Our class loved French Cricket. She said it was exactly the same amount of time. I don’t think she understood the question.

And so I head back to the world of spread-sheets and data-bases and invoices and wait for home-time …

 

 

Another List; or, ways to counteract feelings of creative stagnation when faced with a regular job that sucks all your time and energy [working title]

 

The chief enemy of creativity is good sense.

Pablo Picasso

I knew this would happen.

I was meant to be working a decent, part-time (i.e. maximum three-day-a-week) job which would give me time to focus upon writing, writing, writing for the other two days plus weekends when I could (i.e. so I don’t become a friendless hermit or cat-lady, minus the cats but with the isolated-craziness thing going on – I’m not allowed pets in my apartment but that’s another story, another blog, another day) …

This is not quite happening.

My three days often magically turned into five.  Just like that!

BAM!

Now I am signed up for four days a week. Sometimes five. Then I can negotiate a day-in-lieu. So maybe some weeks I can work three. But the usual will be four. Unless there is a show on or an important meeting. Then it is definitely five. But I’m only paid for four. But a day off can be negotiated so long as it isn’t for a day off when there is a show on or an important meeting. But most days. They’re flexible. To a point.

Confused? Me too.

But …

I thought I would manage.

One of my colleagues told me it wouldn’t work – “It’s a creative process,” he said. “You need time.”

Yes. That would be nice but I’m not Jane frickin Austen (apologies to Ms Austen – I know you didn’t have a middle name and probably would not appreciate being given that one in particular)  – I don’t have the luxury of time or a handsome trust account.

I have to Pay Rent / Buy food / Live (not necessarily in that order).

So, whilst I have been outwardly dismissing my colleague’s comments as completely and utterly wrong, inwardly I am thinking he might be right. There is a lot of pressure to get writing done when you only have limited time in which to do it: pressure trumps creativity.

But …

Maybe the reverse is true also; you make more of your time when you have less of it.

Or, in my case, you just freak out at the pressure of getting something done today and the pressure manifests into self-doubt and anxiety and youtube and Not Getting Anything Done.

So, here is my “list of ways to counteract feelings of creative stagnation when faced with a regular job that sucks all your time and energy” [working title]

  • Carry a pen and a pad of paper EVERYWHERE (um, okay, maybe not everywhere – everywhere, but you know, within reason) and write whenever anything is sparked.
  • Write something everyday. Be that mysterious person in the cafeteria at work who is scribbling away in their notebook (so long as you do look mysterious and interesting rather than creepy and homicidal).  Write any length / style / form; just do it everyday. Does a shopping list count? Hell yeah. Here’s my list for today:
Lime
Bananas
Tomatoes
Pineapple

(Riveting stuff there, I know … But one day it could be gold, you never know what I have to pick up from the store – stay tuned!)

  • Keep blogging
  • READ – READ – READ – never stop reading!
  • You don’t have to finish but you have to at least make a start …
  • Prove your smart-arse colleague WRONG

Such a shame: contemplations on feeling ashamed to be an “Aussie”

Come, let us all be friends for once
Let us make life easy on us,
Let us be lovers and loved ones,
The earth shall be left to no one.

Yunus Emre

I am ashamed to be Australian.

I said that to a group of people I barely knew the other night at a dinner party. You know those dinner parties where suddenly the conversations actually become a little meaningful simply because you’ve all run out of that superficial stuff … and there’s been a lot of wine consumed.

Anyway, I announced my shame to the table.

“That is such an Australian thing to say,” replied one.

I was disgusted.

“I don’t think we know how lucky we’ve got it in this country,” she wouldn’t stop (I blame the aforementioned wine) “You know, like, you go overseas and you, like, realise, you know, like you see how much better it is here and you’re all like, I can’t wait to get home and then you do and you just, I dunno, like, you get back and then you’re all like, I hate Australia and stuff again and you take it for granted, or something.”

I really had not meant that I took this place for granted, that the opportunities and safety and lifestyle that Australia offers to many are extraordinary … No. Not that.

I am ashamed that I live in a country where opportunity, safety, the ‘lifestyle’ we go on and on about ad nauseam, is only available for some not all. And all of those there at that dinner party, drinking wine and attempting to forge some meaningful conversations, were part of that some.

The recent politicising of asylum seekers has fuelled my shame of the deep divide and the mountainous contradictions that are Australia.

For, if Australia was a person, it would begin most of it sentences with “I’m not racist, but …”

There are bumper stickers: “If you don’t love it, leave it”

There are the Cronulla Beach Riots.

There was (still is; just with a less obvious name) The White Australia Policy.

There is the untold history and continued mistreatment of and horrific injustices against our Indigenous population.

There are the shock jocks.

There is the “she’ll be right” attitude.

There is the “no worries” and “fair dinkum”

There is Australia Day.

There is the myth of mateship and the ANZAC-spirit and the fair go.

And now there is a government who will not allow any refugee who arrives by boat to ever settle in this country. Ever.

Australia is a spoilt-brat. It is an obnoxious, selfish child who stamps it foot and demands everyone else do the work so it can continue lying on the beach and working on its tan (so long as it doesn’t get too dark, Australia doesn’t like that). It’s time for Australia to grow up and realise that the world doesn’t owe it anything.

I am ashamed that I live in a country where the Prime Minister’s popularity can go up when he announces inhumane, racist, asylum seeker ‘solutions’. I am ashamed to live in a country where the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader are currently fighting for votes through creating more horrific policies that play with vulnerable people’s lives. I am ashamed to live in a country where this is a way to get votes. I am ashamed to live in a country that is xenophobic and so very lacking in compassion, where the comments you read on these new asylum seeker policies include;

We are seeing an islamic [sic] invasion into Australia one boat at a time. We must make it as difficult and unpleasant as possible for the detainees otherwise we shall see hundreds and thousands of Muslims coming to Australia and ultimately wrecking this country with their radical islamic [sic] agendas. Islam is not the relgion [sic] of peace ………..but the false relgion [sic] of death and suffering.

Stephanie McCathie, NSW (comments on SBS – Dateline page)

If these people had half a brain they’d realise Australia is not set up to handle the plauges [sic] of illegal boat people flooding our shores. It’s 100% there [sic] fault and blame lays [sic] solely at there [sic] feet not Australia’s. Their [sic] getting there [sic] reward , for there [sic] sly and under handed entery [sic] into or turf [sic]. No pitty [sic] coming from me.

true blue ozzie, Queensland (comments on SBS – Dateline page)

My husband (along with lots of others) works in PNG He does not have airconditioning, and thanks to the Labor govt he now pays double tax (something they introduced if you work overseas), If [sic] you think we are happy about supporting you illegal maggots who come here and demand this and demand that, and then tell us your offended. The majority of Australians would be quite happy for you to go back home. Our boys are over in your countries fighing [sic], and you flee and come here expecting what!!!!!!!!

 Sandy, far-north Queensland (comments on SBS – World News page)

None of these boat people were invited to come to Australia. In fact, they are invading our Country and I could care less about their situation [sic]. They are not refugees [sic], they throw away their passports so we don’t even know who they are. Let’s hope for a change in Government so we can, once again, protect our boarders [sic]. We have many struggling Aussies and they should be getting our billions of tax dollars, not these parasites.

 Elizabeth Smith, Baulkham Hills (comments on SBS – World News page)

I could post these all day but it is depressing and I’m getting a little tired of having to add [sic] to every sentence they write.

Ill-educated, ill-informed and ill-mannered. Maggots? Parasites? It seems many Australians have a terrifying sense of entitlement simply because by some twist of fate they were fortunate enough to have been born here: “we grew here, you flew here” they cry. What the hell is wrong with these people? You did nothing particularly special nor clever to be born, you had no say in it, the least you can do is offer your compassion to others who also had no choice in being born but , through some twist of fate, ended up in a country where they are prosecuted or tortured or hungry or live in a constant state of fear.

We cannot imagine that. We’ve never had to deal with that. We are from the ‘lucky country’. Of course, not every Australian is so lacking in empathy but it can sometimes feel that way when you look at the Newspoll results.

But is this shame I feel simply limited to the fact that I happen to be an Australian?

Would I feel less shame if I was from somewhere else?

In Canada they treat asylum seekers like prisoners.  

In France, the government continues to restrict the rights of asylum seekers and migrants.

In Greece, Golden Dawn are proving very popular with the locals.

In America … well with Guantánamo Bay and Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning and the George Zimmerman case and the Iraq War and … well … yeah

The list goes on and on.

Maybe I am simply ashamed to be human? Ashamed to be from Planet Earth.

Next time I am at dinner party and the conversation moves from that superficial stuff, and if I have indulged in enough wine, I will announce that: I am ashamed to be from Earth.

“Oh, that’s like such an Earthling thing to say,” one of my new acquaintances will reply.

Maybe if more of us were ashamed, from whichever nationality fate has us born into, there would be more of a call to change and we would be working towards policies that make us proud of our citizenship and place in the world … Proud to be a human-being.

Thoughts from the waiting room; or, Acting is Weird

Acting is the perfect idiot’s profession.

Katharine Hepburn

Nothing like a last-minute casting to brighten your day. And this one was really last minute: a call from the agent at 1.30pm for an audition at 3.30pm. Fortunately, I could take a late, long lunch-break for this audition for a non-speaking role in an ever-so-slightly-but-not-too-much-to-cause-outrage sexist television commercial.

I made it the casting waiting room, got the obligatory up-and-down from another woman possibly auditioning for the same, highly coveted role and waited and filled in the form that wants all my measurements in centimetres and thought (hopefully not out loud):

Acting is weird.

Although I’m not even sure this could be classified as acting. My success in getting this role seemed entirely based upon my ability to smile. Last week, it was based on my ability to look like a model but not too much like a model, like an approachable model, the girl-next-door-meets-Bond-Girl-type (if that’s even a type), and to keep it natural but not so natural that you lose those elements of looking like a model … I didn’t get that gig. Obviously.

But this gig … I can smile. I do it everyday.

I wasn’t nervous, just intrigued to see how on earth the casting director could actually direct a casting for this role.

There were a few auditions for different productions on in the casting offices that day. I watched nervous actors try desperately not to look nervous as they studied scripts and mouthed their lines and checked their watches. I watched mothers whispering encouragement or instructions or threats (or all three)  at their 3-year-old daughters as they fixed their piggy-tails and kept an eye on the casting director’s door. Your audition starts as soon as you enter the waiting room – another tip from another acting class.

I went to an audition for a ‘young mum’ role and was partnered up with a child for the casting. The casting director told me that she looked more like my sister than my daughter which I thought was pretty cool considering this kid was like 9. And a boy. No, no, she was definitely a girl. Now, I am absolutely old enough to have a 9-year-old daughter so I took it as a compliment that I didn’t get that gig – too young to be cast as a ‘young mum’ … Or, possibly, the 9-year old looked more like she was 17 and in that case … No, I’m sticking with my version of the story. Anyway, maybe when called on to audition for ‘young mum’ roles it is safer to ‘bring your own baby’ as I could see was happening in this waiting room.

But, for this audition it didn’t matter.

No children necessary.

I just had to smile.

And that’s exactly what I did about fifteen minutes later as I headed into the audition room.

Smiling and some miming.

They don’t really cover that at Drama School.

The casting director was very positive and said I was in with a very good chance for this one …

I didn’t get the gig.

I think I need to work on my smiling and miming.

Acting is weird.

Why I love being a morning person and other lies I tell myself

One must lie under certain circumstances and at all times when one can’t do anything about them.

Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

I lie to myself everyday.

I don’t think it’s such a bad thing really. I mean, of course, “Honesty is the best Policy” and “Liar-Liar-Pants-On-Fire” and all that. I know. I’m not natural liar. When I was in Grade 2 I told my classmates that I had been for a ride in a helicopter. I can’t remember the full story but it got their attention. And it was detailed. I remember I was pretty thorough in my storytelling. It was so detailed that I got anxious I wouldn’t remember the full story correctly (I was sure I’d be asked to retell it to the whole school) and be caught out as a helicopter-faker. I didn’t get caught out, probably because I never got to the retelling stage – another little girl said she and her dad met Michael Jackson (or maybe it was Michael J Fox –I can’t quite remember now), who just so happened to fly over to see them in a, yep, you guessed it, helicopter. My once-ace-now-really-lame helicopter story was topped by a far more confident liar and that was the end of my foray into extraordinary stories for my classmates. The pressure was just too much for a seven year old.

Anyway, those aren’t the sort of lies I’m talking about.

I’m also not talking about those lies which lead to complete delusion about ones talents and skills, thus resulting in awful wannabe singers auditioning for X-Factor and being genuinely shocked when they’re told they will never be the next Beyonce … No, not those sort of lies.

I’m talking about lies that can make getting through life just that little easier to manage. They are what I like to think of as the “grey-zone” of lies …

Here’s my lie list –

 1. I love getting up early.

No, I don’t.

But I do it.

And if anyone asks I will say “I am a morning person” and I can hear the little 7-year-old me whispering liar-liar … I’m not really lying. I’m not saying what sort of morning person I am, just that I am one – and I am … trying.

2. I love running.

No, I don’t.

But I do it.

Running is the most pointless thing I do. I just run. Around. And there are all these other people running around too but we can’t really make eye contact or say good-morning because we’re all out of breath or trying desperately not to look out of breath.

But I do like early morning runs (see point 1 above) when you feel like you get the chance to see the sky in a way that many others will miss for that day.

I do like the feeling during the run when you manage to get to the top of the hill without stopping or after a good sprint or when you realise you’ve managed to go further than you thought you could.

But there is plenty I don’t love about it – at times it’s a little boring and a little pointless and sometimes it’s just plain horrible. Your toes bleed and your legs ache and you get a runny nose. I try not to think about it and just go with the lie; I love running!

3. Just getting the chance to audition is wonderful.

No it isn’t.

But I say it.

Just give me the god-damn role. It’s a non-speaking, 10-second moment in a television commercial for a car. Do I really need to audition? In reality, no-one probably needs to audition for something like that. But in order to simply turn up to some of these castings you have to lie to yourself otherwise … well, you just wouldn’t do it would you?

Those people who run acting for film and TV workshops and master-classes, they all have these stories of [insert actors name here] who auditioned for something minor, didn’t get the role but did such an amazing job in the audition that the casting director got them in for [insert name of popular TV series here] and now they are this in-demand, always-working, award-winning, Hollywood-bound actor … Maybe the teachers of these classes are using the same lie that I’m using …

Anyway, this is a very useful lie for keeping sane and not getting overly disheartened when you don’t book the gig. There will always be another audition. And auditions are just wonderful experiences (see point 3).

 4. Porridge – it’s the perfect breakfast.

No it isn’t.

But I eat it pretty much every-single-day.

The perfect breakfast is ricotta hotcakes with berry compote or smashed avocado with poached eggs or coco-pops. I always thought being a grown-up meant having cupboards filled with a whole variety of breakfast cereals like Seinfeld. My cupboard has oats. It’s cheap and it’s healthy. That’s the reality of being a grown-up I suppose. So every morning I cut up a banana and put it in some decorative arrangement on top of the porridge and think about how this is, really, honestly, completely the perfect breakfast. It’s a lie that stops me buying coco-pops and that’s okay, isn’t it?

 5. Admin is just what I do to pay the bills; my real-job is acting / writing.

No it isn’t.

But I say it.

A lot.

Particularly when I’m using Excel.

I also, shamefully, use terms like “my creative practice” – I never wanted to be that person. But here I am. Saying it. Loudly. Particularly when I’m using Excel.

My admin job is my real job. I turn up 4 days a week, for 7.6 hours a day, have a work email address and phone number and desk and Outlook Express calendar that has meetings in it I have to attend and I get pay-slips and superannuation and sick-leave and accumulate holidays and all that “real job” stuff. I haven’t made money through “my creative practice” for about a year – so this makes it a hobby, right? No. That’s not the point. That’s not what it’s about. And I will continue to tell myself this lie because without it … Well … I don’t even want to imagine …

6. No. I don’t want the biscuit / slice of cake / chocolate / wonderful-sugar-filled-treat

Yes I do.

But I don’t take it.

Of course I want the sugary treat. It’s 3pm and I’ve been doing paperwork all day and the tuna salad wrap I ate at 1pm just didn’t cut it and I’ve consider the vending machine options multiple times and then – bam! There they are, standing at my desk, offering me a plate of cookies that were left over from some meeting or a slice of Mandy-From-Marketing’s birthday cake or some other incredible home-made treat drizzled in caramel and chocolate … And I lie to myself. I don’t want it. No, of course I don’t want it … The amount of cake that is served up in the office is really quite something; I need this lie.

 

 

I am hoping, I suppose, that eventually the lies will become the truth: that I will be able to say, and genuinely believe in, all those points with complete honesty. I hope to get to the same point, in a way, as those horribly untalented X-Factor contestants … but in this case use the lie for good rather than evil.

(And I did eventually go for a helicopter ride – about twenty years after the fake-helicopter tale. That’s the truth. However, my original version of the story of the helicopter ride as a 7-year-old was far more exciting …)

The Woman who asked Why or: How I l Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Critic

To avoid criticism say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.

Aristotle

In my current day-job I work with really lovely people who always thank me for my work or say how great my Excel spreadsheets are or how happy they are with my contribution to the team or present me with two cinema tickets as a reward for all my efforts (yes, this actually happened. I saw Gatsby. That’s another story). Our department is not always this disneyfied-wonderland of positivity and appreciation, however I have never been nor felt criticized for my work.

It’s weird.

Because the work that I do that doesn’t-pay-the-bills-as-frequently-as-this-current-admin-job, as an actor and writer, is full of criticism. In fact, criticism and the Arts really go hand-in-hand; it’s part of the deal. Mum would always tell me I would need to “grow a thicker skin” if I wanted to be an actor … That sounded particularly terrifying and awful, especially to the fifteen year-old me who was sobbing into her pillow because she didn’t get the part in some god-awful amateur theatre production of Les liaisons dangereuses.

Actors, writers, theatre-makers, artists, designers, film-makers, creatives … We are all subject to criticism in our chosen fields. As an actor, simply not getting the gig can be taken as a criticism; that director thought she was better / prettier / thinner / more talented than me

To be honest, I am confident there are plenty of careers out there that must deal with fierce criticism everyday but there is something different about the criticism you receive for your creative work. Maybe because a little bit (or sometimes a lot) of yourself goes into creative work. Maybe because it is so exposing. Maybe because inside most people there is that creative urge, that sense that they too could have been doing something creative if only they’d had the break / money / parental support / reality television programs like The Voice, so that makes them some sort of expert who can dish-out criticism. Maybe because there really aren’t any “experts”. Maybe because the arts are so damn subjective (if you’re a crap doctor, you’re a crap doctor – there’s no question about it. Tobey Maguire, on the other hand, divides audiences).

There is also something different about the very public way in which that criticism is often given – reviews, particularly on the internet, are there for the world to see if they ever wanted to.

The growing of a thicker skin has been a very, very long process for me.

I once took part in a playwriting course – just a little bi-monthly meeting of wannabe playwrights, facilitated by one actual playwright. You would read your work aloud and get feedback. It was always a good day but never all that challenging. I was the youngest there and the only participant not attempting to write some sort of drawing-room drama. Needless to say the play I was working on, Dropped, was a little different from what the others found aesthetically pleasing.

After reading a section of my play (a section in which there is a bit of repetitive swearing but all in the appropriate context … of course) one of my fellow class-mates got quite irate:

“Why?” she asked.
“Why?” I didn’t know what she was really asking me here.
“Why?” she repeated.
“Why what?” I needed more information.
“Why?”
I just looked at her.
After a pause she continued, “I just don’t know why … I don’t understand. Why? Why these words? Why am I hearing this? Why?”

I didn’t have an answer for her.

That was criticism.

That was the first time the class had really challenged me.

And that was the moment I realised; as much as I hated it I also needed it – criticism.

It made me stop and think about what I was doing and why I was doing it. It also made me want to punch her in the face, but once I worked through that (no punches were thrown) I could actually start to look at my work objectively … Well, as objectively as you can.

Of course I won’t always like it, or agree with it, but I think I realised in that moment that it is a necessity for creative practice. Not a spiteful review or a mean-spirited comment but criticism that makes you think, question and challenge your work. Unfortunately there isn’t much of that around …

Learning to listen to criticism in whichever form it takes, to pick out the useful bits and brush off the crap, is difficult but you get to practice it a lot when you work in the arts.

It’s the only way I can keep turning up to castings. And not get the role.

It’s the only way I can keep writing. And not get the grant / commission / award.

In order to simply survive this crazy “industry” it is so very important separate the work from the person – to not look at a bad review or the fact you didn’t get a role as a personal attack … Keep it separate. Take from it what you can and make a choice: act on it or let it go. Otherwise, well, we would all go a little madder than we already are. Otherwise we would all just give up.

That woman with her incessant “whys” really did help me a hell of a lot.

(And Dropped is going to be performed soon complete with the aforementioned section in which there is a bit of repetitive swearing but all in the appropriate context … of course)

Missing Grandad (or, why I’ve not written in awhile)

Katy and Grandad

circa 1982

 

How lucky am I to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard 

A. A Milne

I have been away from this blog for a little while because my Grandad passed away. It was only two months and two days since my Nanna died when we got the news.

I am devastated.

There are times I feel really selfish for grieving because I know I was so very blessed to have grandparents throughout all my childhood and a good part of supposed-adulthood.

Anyway, I haven’t felt like doing much of anything but I am slowly getting things back on track. Like this blog.

I remember calling my Grandad for a chat one day, over a year ago now. I remember how his voice lifted when he heard me on the other end of the phone.

“I was just thinking about you Kate,” he said.

He went on to tell me he was standing at the kitchen sink, drying the dishes (as he did after every lunch), looking out the window and thinking about how proud he was of me for moving to Melbourne and following my dreams.

That was my Grandad.

He was a soppy thing.

He was my favourite person in the world.

And he is why I have to jump back right back into life and never stop chasing those dreams.

 

Things I learnt today (or; lists made whilst grieving or; reasons why everything is actually okay)

I had not intended to write about grief so much on this blog – but that is thing about grief. It is unexpected. I had not expected to lose my Grandad so soon after my Nan’s passing but we have. I don’t know how it will ever be okay but somehow it will happen: Things Will Be Okay.

In fact, if I really think about it and ignore that awful feeling in my stomach, things are okay now. They really are. I tried to think about this today.

So here’s a list (of course) of why things are truly okay …

1. I do not live in Syria … or a place that is currently in the midst of war or civil unrest

2. I can walk to the park with my own two feet and see it, smell it, hear it …

3. Coffee

4. I have a heater and a bed and a computer and a home

5. I have family and friends

6. The sun is shining (and if it wasn’t that would be okay too)

7. I can write a list

8. I work in a place where ‘compassionate leave’ not only exists but is truly implemented

9. Fountains

10. Ducks

11. Ducks swimming in fountains

12. Memories

13. The knowledge that everything will absolutely be okay …

An Open Letter to the Prime Minister

Dear Prime Minister,

Please do not step down.

I’m not sure if you read the newspapers any more; I wouldn’t if I were in your position. Recently I stopped reading The Age on-line because they seemed more interested in Kim Kardashian and My Kitchen Rules than, well, news. Today, however, I had the displeasure of reading The Age’s editorial. This piece along with other editorials and opinion pieces from the Australian media might have you feeling as if the whole nation is against you. They are not.

I’m not.

I know many, many people who are not.

I don’t know who they actually poll in the Nielsen Poll but it is never me.

I don’t know who Andrew Holden thinks he is writing for in today’s editorial but it is not me.

So, please do not step down.

I am no political expert. I merely have an interest in politics; I was overly excited to enrol to vote, I read widely about Australian politics, I often write to my local member of parliament and I like to be up to date on policy. That’s it though. I am no expert, nor do I pretend to be, so who am I to tell you what to do?  But then again, what right has Andrew Holden or Mike Carlton or Alan Stokes to tell you what to do either?

As someone who takes her right to vote very seriously I am asking you to please not step down or aside or out. As childish as this may sound (and I sincerely hope it does not) if you step down it means they have won. Who are they? The shock-jocks and misogynists and the right-wingers and even the mainstream media. They have all won. From where I am if you step down it looks as if you have been bullied and harassed until there is no other option but to stand aside for a patronising, condescending man whom we had all lost faith in long ago. The bullies should not win. We all know that you, Ms Gillard, are stronger than that.

There are not enough role-models in Australian politics. Now, I am not saying that I agree with you or support you on everything. I do not agree with your stance on asylum seekers or gay marriage rights to name but two areas. I do agree with your Carbon Tax but wish it had been handled better. I don’t usually even vote ALP and I certainly do not vote for the Liberal Party. Those points aside, you are a role-model to so many women, including myself. Your role as Prime Minister means more than you could ever imagine. For young women to see a woman leading a nation means we can, indeed, do anything and that we are, indeed, equal; for young men it helps instil a respect for women, and highlights the fact that we are all equal and should be treated as such.

I spoke with my 11-year-old niece the other day. She is very bright and has just won a scholarship to a great school. When I asked her about the way you have been treated she said; “Yeah, well, it’s like that for girls”. She went on to say she’d like to be Prime Minister one day but she believed that you, Ms Gillard, were getting treated poorly because “girls have to put up with more of that stuff”. What a terrible indictment on our society. We have girls believing they just have to put up with poor treatment, with misogyny, with disrespect, with bullying because that’s the way it is – deal with it.

In my eyes, stepping down is a way of “dealing with it”.

It is the way women are supposed to “deal with it”: don’t make a scene, be graceful, be humble …

Ms Gillard, you nor any human being should have to “deal with it”. If only the media, the Liberal Party, some of your own backbenchers and all those others who hound you, if only they knew the damage they were causing in the hearts and minds of young women across the nation; young women who could potentially be incredible leaders for this country. But maybe that’s their goal – to humiliate, embarrass and scare women away from important leadership roles and keep us in our traditional places.

I do not believe these wild exclamations that this has nothing to do with gender; it has a lot to do with gender. I have never witnessed the same level of disrespect for a Prime Minister as I have seen thrown at you. Your leadership of this nation has been treated like the scandals that fill gossip magazines – the leadership “battle”, your glasses, your empty fruit-bowl, menu-gate, your martial status

Prime Minister, you are not the reason for a lack of, as Holden writes, “policy-driven democratic debate”. Of course that debate occurs. The mainstream media just chooses to write, talk and focus about this so-called “leadership battle” as if it were the latest Hollywood break-up. We are not being given the news we want or the news we deserve. We are being fed rubbish to distract us from what is really happening in this country.

Please do not step down; please show my niece, her friends, young people across the country and future generations that bullies cannot win. You have already shown us that women need not “put up” with the outdated, misogynistic attitudes you face daily.  Please show us that Australian politics can be decent, can lead the way, can be full of good policy and without character-assassination, especially that which is based on gender. Please do not step down– for if you do I fear my niece, her friends, young women of future generations may never feel they have the opportunity to be a leader.

Yours truly,

Katy Warner