Short thoughts from a messy notebook: One

The new girl in the office said she didn’t eat carbs.

But I saw her eating chocolate and stealing staplers. It made me wonder about her moral compass. But then, who knows which way that thing is meant to point?

When I have two choices, north or south, I always end up going the wrong way. Heading In The Wrong Direction. 

This must be south, I think, but it never is.

You’d think I’d get it by now …

Clet Abraham's  magic with the one way sign. Kreuzberg, Berlin.

Clet Abraham’s magic with the one way sign. Kreuzberg, Berlin.

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Dear Abby

Dear Abby,

You turned 12 earlier this month and you still haven’t received a card or a gift from me. I have sent it. I sent it late. But I did send it, and a gift, so it should be in your letterbox any day now. Honestly. I am so terrible at this Long-Distance-Aunty stuff. It’s not like I forget birthdays and important events – I usually buy the card and gift weeks in advance and pop it on my desk and then the big day comes and goes and the gift and the card are still on my desk. It can’t post itself. I know that. So why don’t I just post it on time? Why don’t I? What is that about?

I have a One Direction collector card and lollipop pack thing sitting in the top kitchen drawer. I don’t know why it is in the kitchen drawer but it is. Every time I need a tea-spoon I see it; Zayn, Louis, Harry, Liam and Niall mocking me and my inability to post things on time. I bought you the collector card and lollipop pack thing on a whim from the local 7-11 months and months ago. I thought, I should send Abby a little something, let her know I’m thinking of her … But it just ended up in the drawer. You probably don’t even like One Direction any more, do you? Have they suffered the same fate as Justin Bieber who you didn’t like, then you did like and now you don’t like again? Bieber spat on one of his fans so I think you made a good decision to move on from him (1D haven’t spat on anyone have they? Oh, and did you notice I wrote 1D – that’s cool right?). What is with that behaviour? I suppose there is a lesson in it for all of us. If you ever get so famous that you think it okay to spit on someone who adores you without even knowing you, the same person who has, in some way, however small, elevated you to this level of fame where, for some reason, you can get away with the aforementioned behaviour then maybe it is time to just take a step back and rethink your life choices.

Now, I have never spat on anyone and I don’t think I ever would. Someone spat on me once. I was on the tram and this woman thought I was spy and said some disgustingly racist things to me (even though I’m not the race she seemed to think I was) and then she spat on me. Yep. That’s when I moved. In hindsight I probably should have moved when she thought I was spy but I didn’t want to be rude or judgemental or anything. So, instead, I got spat on. It was really gross. At least you could bottle up Justin Bieber spit and sell it on eBay to some Bielber for a lot of money.

Even though we can roll our eyes at Justin’s spitting there will come a time when we all, metaphorically, spit on a fan. We will do something that we know isn’t right or makes us feel horrible inside because we want to fit in or feel better about ourselves. Especially when you are 12.

I did it.

I said some really mean things about people when I was hanging out with this so-called popular group (our relationship didn’t last long but it has had a lasting effect). I remember them all laughing at one girl and her bra; a whole group of us laughing over something to do with her bra-strap. It was something so minor and idiotic, absolutely nothing worth laughing or picking on someone about, but I was going along with them because they were the ‘popular girls’.

I felt horrible inside. But I didn’t stop them. I was part of the group.

This group would relentlessly pick on someone because they were fat or thin or short or wore coke-bottle glasses or stumbled over an answer in class or wore the wrong sneakers or couldn’t run fast enough or didn’t play netball well enough or fell over or cried or were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time …

It was at this time I also decided to stop eating. The ‘popular girls’ liked me, I was in their group, and I knew the only reason for this sudden acceptance was because I had lost all that baby-fat people love to talk about. Why do people do that? Talk about baby-fat like it is something they can have a comment on like the weather. Is it anyone’s business? Really? Well, I noticed as I turned 12 that is became everyone’s business. People loved to talk about how I was losing it, the baby-fat, with a mixture of sadness and relief in their voices. They all noticed, even my well-meaning year 7 teacher.

What they didn’t notice was that I was losing more than the baby-fat. I hadn’t realised that losing baby-fat is just something that is meant to happen, that is just a part of growing up; nope, I thought it had all started because one day at school I skipped lunch. Now, I’m not dumb Abby (I was reading George Orwell right alongside Sweet Valley High) but that is how anorexia made its way into my brain and took up residence for awhile. So, I kept skipping lunch and eating as little as I could when I was being watched. It was stupid and it made me feel horrible inside. I wasn’t spitting on a metaphoric fan; I was spitting on myself. That is just as bad and even weirder, right?

But, I was 12 and I thought that being really, really skinny would mean the popular girls would accept me and I would be happy. But it felt funny inside. It wasn’t right. I wasn’t happy or healthy. But I didn’t stop it. I was part of the group.

So much of what I was doing when I was 12 was about impressing other people and not about impressing myself. If I could go back and be 12 again I hope that I would be able to be more myself and stand up for the people getting metaphorically spat upon on by the metaphoric Justin Biebers of the school.

When the leader of the popular girls decided we should write a very awful letter to our delightful music teacher I said ‘no’ and I finally left the little in-crowd. They were pretty spiteful but I managed. I discovered that the term ‘popular’ is very misleading in this context Abby. The ‘popular’ crowd tend to be the least popular, they are cliquey and cruel and not many people really like them all that much. Why should they like them? They were bullies. And I was a bully if I stayed with them.

I would like to say that that was that – from that moment I was on my own path and didn’t care what people thought … Of course I cared. I cared when they all started laughing at me and my shoe-laces (which were once considered very cool) and my skinny arms and my inability to play netball. But it gets better. It really, honestly, truly gets better.

I feel like it all begins when you are 12; that idea of going along with the majority, not wanting to cause a fuss, not listening to that little voice inside you that knows that you shouldn’t be laughing at / picking on / gossiping about someone, wanting desperately to ‘fit in’ (whatever the hell that means) …

Abby, please don’t fit in.

Don’t be one of the crowd. The crowd, particularly the ‘popular crowd’ are boring. They really are. Be yourself. Don’t change who you are, what you stand for or what you look like for anyone. You are not boring. Listen to that wonderful Abigail who is inside you and trust her no matter what. If something isn’t right call it, speak up, make it right. Don’t be scared to be different; be proud to be different.

Start your own popular group and actually be popular – inclusive and interesting and different.

And don’t, ever, spit on your fans.

You are a wonderful human being Abby. You are. Enjoy being 12 and enjoy being you.

Happy (belated) birthday. Now, let me know when that card finally arrives.

Missing you and sending lots of love,

Katy

xxx

***

An open letter to my 12-year old niece, and all 12-year old nieces, for the Daily Prompt Weekly Writing Challenge – Dear Abby

Punch them in the face (not literally); or, why I wish Fiona Scott had said something …

I think it would be folly to expect that women will ever dominate or even approach equal representation in a large number of areas simply because their aptitudes, abilities and interests are different for physiological reasons

Tony Abbott

I watched Fiona Scott laugh, the broad smile firmly plastered to her face, as Tony Abbott, the man who wants to be the next Prime Minister of Australia, spoke of her “sex appeal”. I watched as her office fended off questions about the sex appeal comment with “No Comment.” I watched as others loudly provided their own opinion on her level of sex appeal. I watched as Abbott didn’t apologise for his comment (it was a “dad moment”) but provided instead this supposed compliment wrapped in a cliché – “…she ain’t just a pretty face.”

I wondered why she didn’t speak up. I wondered why she didn’t punch Abbott in the face. I wondered why she didn’t come back with some witty remark to render Mark Latham speechless (now that would be something). I wondered why she didn’t stand up and make an eloquent speech about the misogyny that is so embedded in Australian politics. I wondered and wondered until I remembered …

I have been Fiona Scott; minus the conservative political beliefs and MBA and opposition to marriage equality. I am sure many of us have been her – laughing half-heartedly at the sexist, inappropriate comments of our male colleagues and bosses because … Why? So as not to make a scene? So as not to look like you can’t take a joke? So as to keep the job? So, so, so ….

I had done it.

I smiled and laughed politely at the grossly inappropriate comments from male customers when I worked on checkouts at Kmart (my first job whilst studying at university). After-all, they were the customer, right? And they were always right, right? And “you do smile a lot so you’re kinda asking for that sort of thing,” said the supervisor. “Plus, you wear make-up.” Right?

I didn’t tell anyone about the so-called compliments my manager at the local video store (another job through university) would give me even though they made me feel very uncomfortable and unsafe. He went on to create a fake entry for the in-store video search computer; he made up this pornographic film with my name in the title, starring me including an explicit blurb as to what I would do and with whom in this “film”. It was just a joke. It was just hilarious. He brought his friends in to read his literary genius when I was working. When I didn’t laugh I was a stuck up bitch. When I complained I was too sensitive – “he just likes you, that’s all” the owner said.

I smiled politely when my head of department told me he had given me the job because I was blonde. I smiled politely when I was told I only got a job because I was attractive. I laughed off the groping hands and sloppy kisses and lurid stares of older men who should have known better.

I wish I hadn’t.

I wish I had said something.

But back then I didn’t feel I had the words. I didn’t punch anyone in the face or snap back with biting repartee or make an eloquent speech. Then, as I saw Fiona Scott’s reaction to Tony Abbott’s completely unacceptable comment, I was taken back to those moments when I too I just smiled and laughed and made “no comment”; when I should have said something but, instead, felt utterly foolish and silly and uncomfortable and overly sensitive.

As in my situation, it is not her fault. Here she is trying to deal with a sexist boss – in many ways just like that awful manager at the local video store. Describing your candidate as having “sex appeal” or telling your employee she looks like she would “give good head” – these are not compliments, not in these scenarios (I don’t know where the would be … but maybe for some). No. A compliment would be, in Scott’s case, something to do with her ability in politics and, in my case circa 1999, something to do with my excellent shelving of the videos both alphabetically AND by genre. Instead these are belittling statements that reduce women to nothing. I should have said something. Scott should have said something.

And then she did. She finally spoke up. Scott called Abbott’s “sex appeal” comment “a charming complaint” and I realised, in that moment, no, I have actually never, ever been Fiona Scott.

But I cannot blame her.

We had a political leader who stood up and said something and look where that got her. Australian politics prefer the women who laugh and smile and make “no comment”. Sadly it looks like the voters do too.

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 …

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)

The most important thing I learnt from my Nanna

When I was five years old I painted, upon a large piece of butcher’s paper, what I believed to be an exceptional picture of a raccoon. I don’t know why. But I did. My kindergarten teacher, Mrs Taylor, said she was very impressed. I took it home proudly, excited because:

  1. Mrs Taylor complimented my work (and if you knew Mrs Taylor you would know that this was no mean feat)
  2. It was a Thursday. Thursdays were Nanna Days (as were Saturdays and most Sunday afternoons but there was something extra special about the Thursday). Nan would be at our place or Mum at hers and Grandad would come for dinner.
  3. I could now show off the aforementioned masterpiece to one of the most important, special people in my life – my Nan.

I excitedly unveiled my painting for Nan’s approval. That approval never came. Nope. Nan didn’t feel the need to tell five-year-old me that the painting was “amazing” nor that I was “very clever”. No. Instead she used the phrase that all artists under the age of seven, and the Surrealists, dread; “What is that meant to be?”

What is that meant to be?

Wasn’t it obvious?

As I felt my artistic cred slipping I remember thinking – Nan doesn’t know what a raccoon is. She doesn’t know what they look like. Of course! That had to be it.

So I told her.

“That doesn’t look like a raccoon,” she replied, not unkindly. I’m sure she was probably offering me a piece of cake or chocolate or a biscuit or something as she said it. “No, not a raccoon,” she continued. “It looks more like a burglar. Let’s say it’s a burglar.”

“But it’s a raccoon.”

“No, it doesn’t look like a raccoon,” and she pointed out all the reasons why …

You know what? She was right. It didn’t have raccoon ears or a raccoon nose or anything even remotely raccoon-like, except the black band across the eyes which made it look just like a cat-burglar.

The truth to anyone can be a difficult thing to hear. To a five-year-old from a grandmother they idolise it is actually, strangely, OK. Because I felt safe, I think, in the knowledge that Nan loved everything we did and would support us, no matter what, but I also knew from that moment she would always be honest.

Maybe that is why her opinion always meant so much to me.

Why that moment has stayed with me for all these years.

What I love about that story is Nan’s way of finding the alternative – of making something out of nothing: It’s not a raccoon  it’s a burglar. She did it all the time: You’re all staying for dinner? We’ll make it stretch. And there’s a feast, with soup to start and after-dinner mints to finish. That’s not just a gum-nut – it is endless craft making possibilities. I cannot recall the amount of bits and pieces, odds and ends Nan would keep because there must be “something we can do with that”.

But what I love the most about that memory is my Nan’s honesty.

Nan taught me so much but her biggest lesson was truthfulness and honesty. It doesn’t have to be hurtful, mean-spirited or unkind. It can be as simple and gentle as giving an honest opinion about a pretty poor painting of a raccoon.

I can never thank her enough for that.