Category Archives: A creative life

What’s in a crowd?


I like crowds. There, that said I’ll go on to qualify: I haven’t really been in one, but I’m not fond of the thought of violent soccer crowds. Nor am I fond of sardine-can packed trains where your head is in someone else’s armpit, and someone else’s designer solid-NASA-space-shuttle-grade-material handbag is digging into your hip, or the air-excluding never-ending passport queue between the train station in China and the crossing into Hong Kong. I almost had a Victorian-era fainting fit in that queue. I’m not much for the 5am Boxing Day sale crowd either, not being prepared to push and shove my way to a ‘bargain’. And I’m fortunate not to have been in a riot or angry political protest. Whether you like a crowd or not depends on the mood of and context of the crowd in question.

One of the crowds I’m fond of is the morning, lunch time and evening pavement crowd – the purposeful crowd of city commuters, there’s no sense of threat about this group – unless it’s the threat of capitalism. They are on their way somewhere, perhaps dour-faced like a John Brack painting, but alive and moving like a machine or an orderly ant parade. There is a pattern and rhythm to their movement.

Another crowd I like is the meandering group of tourists, school groups and observers of life. These crowds are curious, noticing what the commuters ignore in their purposeful striding. They point, they wander, they get lost. They explore the by way and the dead end, all the while talking & laughing. 
A third group I recently became acquainted with from the inside: the protest group. In Melbourne these often gather on the steps of the State Library, and then March down Swanston Street. Banners, badges, hats and sturdy shoes take them down the road as they hold up traffic and make their point. In this country these protests can be passionate, but again not normally violent. They have a purpose and a rhythm, but their presence is transitory. 

When I think about large groups now, I also think of crowd funding. The power of a digital community, who put their support behind a cause, putting pressure on governments, corporations or individuals, in a quest for change, justice or just to get a quirky idea off the ground. 
Probably because these are my leanings, crowds to me come back to aesthetics and to purpose and the power of gathering to further a cause. There can be such beauty in the movement of masses, but I certainly acknowledge there can be terror – marching soldiers are purposeful and rhythmic but certainly not benign. 

We have a lot of expressions about gathered groups: ‘lost in the crowd’, ‘standing out from the crowd’. Sometimes the anonymity of a group is desirable, but other times we struggle to be seen as separate from the group. 

Crowds are an assault on the senses – thousands of different conversations and sometimes different languages -compete with each other – phrases are overheard out of context – noises rise and fall – a crowd creates an atmosphere and mood. I spare a thought for those who can’t gather in free groups or for whom a crowd is a grim or terrifying memory. I celebrate the power of people to voice concern and gain courage together. I admire the spectacle of human society – we move we change, sometimes fast and sometimes slow, we indent our comings and goings in the pavement of life. 

2 Comments

Filed under A creative life, A deliberate life

Three songs to warm yourself by

Musician

Whenever I’m asked what the ‘most important’ something or other is, I struggle to identify it, so I just have to pick whatever comes to mind and start there. Perhaps if it comes most readily to mind then that is what’s most important to me at that time. Songs have always been important to me – songs of many genres. The first song that came to my mind was ‘Let the sun fall down’ by Kim Richey. Strangely I first heard this song when watching an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the song really struck me. It captured the emotion of the scene that it was pared with and it has captured my emotions at times since then. The theme of the song strikes a chord with me and provides a kind of life principle – to let in the sun – literally or metaphorically. In the song there is a line ‘that old dark cloud, acts like he knows you. He takes up too much time’. The sun is like a beacon to return to in the dark times of life when you need to actually be reminded that the sun is still there and to let it in and let it fill the room. I have never heard this song sung live, but I have had the chance to hear Kim Richey live twice and that is another thing that binds me to songs and their singers. A few singers and groups I had known for years from recordings I had the chance to hear live in the last couple of years and was not disappointed. Hearing Kim Richey’s sweet but strong voice depended my love of her music, I only wished others in the audience would have appreciated it if I’d sung along because I was so tempted to do so.

A few years ago when I went on a small group tour across the Nullarbor plain, we camped along the way near a dam at Afghan Rocks. No-one else was there but our group as the shocking heat of the day turned to the relative cool of the night and we hunkered down in our canvas swags, our heads peeping out at the wide starry sky so vast compared to the city sky interrupted by the lights of humanity and their dwellings. In our Nullarbor tour group there was a mother and her 8-year old son. In conversation I mentioned that I used to sing in a gospel choir and as night fell around our camp fire she asked me if I’d come and sing a night song to her son as he prepared to sleep. I was a bit thrown as I’m a bit cautious about singing alone and unaccompanied and I couldn’t for the life of me think of an appropriate song. Nothing literally nothing was coming to mind except panic. Eventually I thought of a song that is an easy unaccompanied one but mentioned to the boy’s mother that I’d mostly sung gospel and couldn’t think of anything else. She didn’t mind and she also dragged our Dutch male tour mate over to listen – enough to give me more desert stage nerves. The three of us stood in the dark around the lying boy’s swag and I sang ‘Amazing Grace how sweet the sound…’ and there was something mysterious and spiritual in this time. It wasn’t that we all believed the same things but there was something about the music and the night and the stillness and the haunting floating words and melody and people really listening there in the dark. Of all the places I’ve ever sung in that was the most sacred.

A few years ago I reconnected with a friend who goes to live music a lot and expressed a desire to tag along. My friend particularly devotes certain weekends of the year to significant Victorian music festivals and the the first I ever attended with his group was the National Celtic Festival in Port Arlington. A mottled band of musicians and music lovers gathers together with sword-weilding vikings and bagpipes can be heard drifting from the hillside out to the jetty where the tall ship waits to take festival goers on musical cruises. The first year I heard so many jigs, reels, polkas and strathspeys I felt like I’d come home culturally. The energy, the speed of the musicians, the uplifting melodies that somehow bring a joy and make you feel ready for anything. Again there is nothing like live music to really stir you as it thumps through you and echoes around you, as you’re stirred to sing along or tap in time. The Celtic festivals run workshops and one I’ve attended was a traditional Scottish singing one lead by a practitioner who learnt from a dying breed of Scottish singers. I learnt to really appreciate the unaccompanied true voice embracing some difficult timing and tongue twisting words. One song that has stayed with me from that workshop is ‘Mary Mac’s ma’s making Mary Mac marry me, my ma’s making me marry Mary Mac’. Such a tongue twister but also such a whirling tune as your voices are all stirred around in a frenzy of M’s and speed as you try to get your mouth around the words. Hearing about the Scottish balladeers reminded me how far my family is culturally from our Scottish family roots. But hearing and singing all these songs also stirs me to picture the Western Highlands where I once travelled and it pulls some kind of invisible chord that still ties me to Scotland, Ireland, England and Wales and the music that races on fiddle, bodhran, mandolin, guitar and tin whistle.

 

2 Comments

Filed under A creative life, A reflective life

The roles I never made famous & random TV appearances

Red theatre curtain

The Show Must Go On

There is nothing like having a vision, imaging a world, and bringing it to life (I know this from creative writing). If I were in the position to make a movie, that’s why I’d want to direct, rather than act or produce. Personal experience tells me I hate cold pitching ideas, but once there is a green light I’m happy to take on a vision and create it for real.

I quite like acting, but my ‘career’ has been restricted to high school productions. In Grade 6 I got a prime dramatic part in Scrooge (albeit I didn’t have any actual lines), I sought to perfect forboding head-nodding and had a revelatory moment where I swept back my cape to reveal my skeleton suit. I would have liked to take on the role of Lady Bracknell in The Importance of being Ernest in our high school production of the play, but instead got to sink my teeth into portraying the Act II butler. In Speech & Drama lessons I tackled Mrs Danvers monologue from Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca and a child in Lillian Hellman’s The Children’s Hour, and in class I relished reading the role of Shakespeare’s Falstaff in Henry IV part I. I guess it’s true that you never forget a role you put your time and spirit into portraying and there is a lot of satisfaction to be had from playing a role well. However although some roles are meaty, some are not very substantial and some are possibly not places you want to go mentally. Also, although you have a vision of the character, you may have to fight with the Director if they have a different view point and the final say is not going to rest with you (unless you’re mega famous).

My meagre television appearances also tell me that being behind the camera might give more scope and satisfaction than being in front of it. In primary school we were asked to (told we had to) take part in being filmed for some sort of fundraising telethon (who knows what the funds were for). We had to dress in alternate green and yellow and stand on the steps of the Sydney Opera House gathered around the then NSW premier, who we didn’t think very much of. We had to smile, or say ‘yay’ or something equally cheesy. This segment was one of many from different states that was played during the telethon. Basically we had no choice and probably no clue about what we were doing or why.

Another opportunity to be seen on the ‘box’ came about when my friend and I were approached by a film crew in a shopping centre. We were sixteen and they wanted to interview us for a segment on a children’s television show that usually featured a man talking to a sheep puppet. My friend refused and turned her back on the camera, but I took that opportunity to be an interview ‘star’. The only two questions they asked that I remember now were ‘If you could be a building, what sort of building would you be?’ I think I answered ‘skyscraper’, for what reason I have no idea. They also asked me ‘what would you like to say to people who shoplift?’. Although I’m against shoplifting, I had to laugh at this question, apart from ‘don’t do it’, what was one supposed to say that would not get cut? Anyway, it struck me that this was another time where I had no control: over the questions, over what would be included and what would be cut, and I wasn’t given any time to prepare my answers. In case you’re interested, apparently my segment was aired, as a few people at school told me they saw me on television – I question why teenagers were watching a kiddy show, but I never actually saw it myself.

So all in all, I’d rather direct a movie than feature in one. The chance to bring a whole world into being is a creative (and collaborative) act that is enviable.

Leave a comment

Filed under A creative life

Green is good and other life lessons

Green header

I Walk the Line: five positive life principles I’ve adopted and embraced.

1. Seeing green is good

I read somewhere that psychologically just seeing greenery (grass, shrubs, trees etc.) lifts our moods and does us good emotionally as human beings. As someone who struggles with living in the ‘burbs and with the way we concrete over everything in cities, I try to keep reminding myself to get out into the green and just look at the plants, or sit on the grass.

2. Clean creatively

I hate routines, although I know they often do me good. I classify myself as a ‘project-oriented person’, rather than a ‘maintenance-oriented person’. I like novelty, and new projects and crises and stagnate with routines and the maintaining of daily repetitive tasks. In struggling to maintain household and personal routines, one way for me is to try to keep things creative. I bought some (purple, because it’s my favourite colour) dice and allocated each number a cleaning task. My aim was to throw the dice each day and go with the cleaning task the dice landed on. This worked for me for a little while anyway, as a person who loves variety I’ll just have to keep coming up with creative ways to maintain my house.

3. Let in the sun

This one is a physical and metaphorical challenge. I find if I’m in a bit of downcast mood, I tend to keep more curtains closed in my house and so this mantra is a reminder to let physical light into my house. On another level, ‘let in the sun’ reminds me to remember the things that give me emotional energy and life, and to make time for those things, even in the midst of busyness. For me some of those things are pursuing creative endeavours (art, craft, music), catching up with long-term friends who are easy to be with, listening to live music and walking in natural surroundings (in the bush, on the beach).

4. Learn from the cat

In my busy times, I try to learn from my cat. He can sit for hours on end, seemingly staring at nothing (or everything). He’s pretty content as long as he has food and ready access to someone to sit on, or a bed to cover with his shedding fur. He is a pretty minimal meow-er, only reserving it to ask for essential needs. He is content with little, and easily shows his contentment with a happy rumbling purr.

5. Embrace the absence

A few years ago I got into blogs and books on minimalism and de-cluttering. Having grown up in a hoarding-tendancy household, it’s taken a while for me to appreciate that freedom and a sense of home can be found in not being surrounded by hundreds of possessions. I used to find comfort in sleeping surrounded by bookshelves, wardrobes and craft materials. I have hobbies that tend to involve a lot of ‘stuff’. But I’ve been learning to appreciate physical (and resulting mental) space in the rooms in my house, since doing some de-cluttering. I also appreciate being able to let go of items I don’t use, and find them a new home and use with friends, people in need or in op shops.

2 Comments

Filed under A creative life, A deliberate life

‘Behold, the moon’ and the humour we take from childhood

Pointing hand with eyes

 

‘Why did the man keep a protractor in his desk?’

‘He was angling for a pay rise.’

(Ha Ha Ha or not really, because I’m pretty sure no one ever actually spontaneously laughed when I told this joke as a kid.

A lot of things seem very funny when you’re a kid that don’t seem so later in life, but maybe it’s because we’ve gotten too serious and lost something. I’ve seen kids laughing uproariously just trying to tell a joke, and then telling it in such a muddled way that no one else could understand it, and then laughing heartily again. Just trying to tell a joke can give you the giggles when you’re a kid.

Then there’s ‘rudey, nudey or toilet humour’. I had a great (and not rude) series of UK children’s books as a kid that were by Graham Oakley   and featured The Church Mice, Humphrey and Arthur, and friends, and The Church Cat, Sampson. The great thing about these books (and why I still have them today) is that the humour always worked on numerous levels: there was obvious humour and visual humour for kids, and then there was more subtle humour that kept the adults entertained. The illustrations in these books alone are enough to make you laugh, the people and the animals are so expressive and there is so much detail in the illustrations, even down to humorous epitaphs on grave stones in the church graveyard, that are only details in the background of a scene. The language in these books is humous and evocative too – I think I first came across the word ‘wheedling’ through The Church Mice and thought it was in the funniest word.

In The Church Mice and the Moon, there is a scene in which the mice are in a lunar module with a camera on it, and they are supposed to have landed on the moon and be relaying images back to the crowds at home. However they are not actually on the moon, but are still on earth (in the church vestry as the choir gets ready for the sunday service) and the first thing the viewers see when the images are unveiled is the giant (clothed) bottom of a person who happens to be bending over in front of the lunar module camera, at this exact point when someone gestures to the ‘lunar’ images and says ‘Ladies and gentlemen of the press, behold the moon’. To this day whenever I see someone bending over and their bottom being accidentally featured in the media, or in a public place, I chuckle to myself, whisper ‘Behold, the moon!’ and think of the church mice.

1 Comment

Filed under A creative life, A humorous life