Category Archives: Storytelling
BELOW is the second piece I wrote then “performed” at ‘Fifty Shades of Blak: Performance Night’, inside Blak Dot Gallery last night. It was an intimate, energising evening of performances from a beautiful, powerful and diverse group of women of colour, and I am really lucky to have been invited to be amongst them. You can read about the Fifty Shades of Blak Exhibition, and the first piece I wrote then performed last night, right HERE.
A brief intro for context: There is an American scholar named Kimberlé Crenshaw who coined the term ‘intersectionality’ to describe the study of how different forms of systemic oppression can intersect and overlap. This is concept that I think about frequently in terms of the world at large, but also in terms of my own lived experience – because I’m not just Black, I’m a Black WOMAN, and a Black DISABLED Woman, so I have and do experience both racism, the specific kinds of misogyny and sexism that Black Women face, and Ableism. This piece is about what it feels like to move through the world in a body that, even though I love it, and the people who love me love it, comes up against multiple kinds of marginalisation on a fairly regular basis.
(© 2016 Pauline Vetuna, All Rights Reserved.)
Living in a body that is marginalized for three different reasons feels like this: like constantly watching the traffic lights rapidly change from joyful green to halting red, and feeling the joy wane inside you every time.
Black friend sends out an invite. “We’re having a party, at this place, all welcome!”
Black friend says, “oh, I forgot to ask if there’s access… I think there’s only one step…”
Black friend says, “sorry it’s not accessible! The venue is already booked and paid for. But we’ll make sure you can be included in the next event.”
The next event is not accessible either.
This scenario repeats itself five hundred times.
I convince myself I have better things to do than be included in society.
I drive on.
NEXT GREEN light:
White feminist friend sends out an invite. “We’re having a discussion, at this place, all welcome!”
White feminist friend says, “no, none of the panelists are women of colour, but we’re talking about universal topics like breaking the glass ceiling, leaning in, and women on boards.”
White feminist friend says, “yeah I hear what you’re saying but we want to stick to topics that affect all women; you can stage another forum that discusses issues affecting Black women and Disabled women another time.”
All women means white and able bodied women, too often. It does not mean me. It probably doesn’t mean queer or gender non conforming people either.
This scenario repeats itself five hundred times.
I stay home and read Angela Davis books.
NEXT GREEN light:
Black male friend says, “I’m pro Black… I love my Black mother and my Black sister and Black women in general.”
Black male friend says, “I just think you can be pro-Black and still have a preference for lighter skinned women”.
Black male friend says, “I’m just saying that darker women can be a little masculine sometimes, and that isn’t attractive.”
Beware of the white supremacist who lives within Black skin.
This scenario repeats itself five hundred times.
I have to remind myself each time, “yes but not ALL Black men…”
NEXT GREEN light:
White male colleague says, “just so you know I am a huge champion of women of colour.”
White male colleague says, “I’m just saying that being against someone’s culture and someone’s skin colour are two different things.”
White male colleague says, “I think our military should airlift every woman out of that third world hellhole so that those men can’t reproduce.”
This sentiment is echoed by western supremacists five thousand times across the media landscape.
I remind myself of who I am, of my cultural roots, of the beautiful Black men who loved me into existence, and draw strength from them. I send love to all the innocent Black and Brown men in the world who are deemed guilty before the trial they will never have.
Then, I drive on.
NEXT GREEN light:
Former white male boyfriend says, “racism is stupid. You and I are basically the same person. And you’re the best friend I’ve ever had.”
Former white male boyfriend says, tears in his eyes, after the illness that would lead to me becoming disabled, “I love you so much, but… I don’t think I can handle this, handle your condition.”
Every institutional structure says: “Whites rule. Lights rule. Males rule. Able Bodies ONLY.”
I build up an armour, train myself to spot and avoid the supremacists around me and work hard every day not to internalize any of it, whilst staving off the aloneness that marginalization often forces upon you.
This scenario repeats itself five hundred times.
I drive on anyway.
BELOW is the first piece I wrote then “performed” at ‘Fifty Shades of Blak: Performance Night’, inside Blak Dot Gallery last night. It was an intimate, energising evening of performances from a beautiful, powerful and diverse group of women of colour, and I am really lucky to have been invited to be amongst them.
‘Fifty Shades of Blak’ was an art exhibition held as part of Melbourne Fringe Festival this year – and it just took out the Best Visual Art Show Award!!! Curated by force of nature and Blak Dot visionary Kimba Thompson, ‘Fifty Shades of Blak’ highlighted the voices of fifty visual and performing female artists, each addressing issues of stereotyping, colour coding, racism, identity and societal perceptions of First Nations women and women of colour. It was the first exhibition in the gallery’s fantastic new location at 33 Saxon Street, Brunswick. Support Blak Dot!!! Pay them a visit in person and follow them on Facebook here.
Congratulations to the ‘Fifty Shades’ visual artists: Atong Atem | Cora-Allan Wickliffe | Dulcie Stewart | Frances Tapueluelu | Georgia MacGuire | Gina Ropiha | Ira Fernandez | Jasmine Togo-Brisby | Julie O’Toole | Katie West | Katherine Gailer | Kirsten Lyttle | Lily Laita | Lisa Hilli | Maree Clarke | Megan Van Den Berg | Paola Balla | Sarah Hudson | Shona Tawhiao | Tania Remana | Texta Queen | Treahna Hamm | Vicki Couzens | Ying Huang.
(Side note: In 2012, another Blak Dot Gallery show I co-curated with Leuli Eshraghi took out the Melbourne Fringe Festival Best Visual Art Show Award that year; I feel lucky to have even a peripheral association with the second winning show haha!)
BLAK ON BOTH SIDES
(© 2016 Pauline Vetuna, All Rights Reserved.)
Many years ago, I made a little film called ‘Coconut’.
The uncomfortable coconut in question, was myself. It was something I was called as a young person many times. But the larger question I sought to explore through the film, was this:
“If there is such a thing as being Black on the outside and white on the inside, what does it mean to be Black on the inside?”
This is the question that plagued my entire adolescence and young adulthood; when I was tortuously straightening out my beautiful big natural afro, that both my Tolai father and my Tolai mother blessed me with, and wishing I didn’t have all the thoroughly Melanesian features I am proud to have today.
It is the question that rang in my ears as I would deliberately stay out of the sun, because the ever present hum of non-Black racists, and Black colorists, all around me, let me know pretty unambiguously that my Blackness was too Black. That my Blackness needed to be watered down with whiteness both in colour of skin and in content of character.
It is the question that lingered in the background when I was being affirmed by friendly, kindly white racist “friends” for not being like the only other Black girl in the schoolyard (who by the way was my best friend) for being more Martin Luther King to her Malcolm X, for quietly integrating and assimilating before I even knew what that was or that assimilating meant erasing… starving… myself.
It is the question that pained me, deep inside, when white people would say “you’re a different kind of Black girl”, and mean ‘coconut’, and think it was a compliment. When Black people would say “you’re a different kind of Black girl”, and mean ‘coconut’, and know it was an insult.
It is the question that represented the void within me that used to exist. The void left by the absence of a home, language and culture that can haunt Black immigrant kids growing up disconnected from a motherland long left, with indigenous immigrant parents also feeling the pain of that disconnection, and living in a colonial illegal settlement that will only accept you if you reject an identity you are strongly yet subtly encouraged at every turn to never fully develop… to instead stay cocooned and never become the butterfly.
I used to think that not developing those wings of identity would serve me well, somehow; at least allow me to live and pursue my watered down dreams in this white colony to some degree, accepting a second class reality of never feeling at home in my surroundings let alone my own skin and features. A wingless existence. In some kind of spiritual way I felt like turning myself into colourless WATER would allow me to flow into any space and become anything I needed to be to survive in that time and place.
That is true, to some degree. And I know now that this was lesson PART A in the wisdom syllabus that my Tolai Melanesian Black ancestors passed to me as I grew, through a vital and alive INTUITIVE GIFT that only in the last few years I have realised is my genetic family legacy… the gift of being indigenous, the inherited gift of my Black genetic lines on both sides. Guidance from my ancestors.
In the midst of a “rational “white supremacist culture it took me years of honing that intuition to even trust it, let alone to recognise its true origin being my indigenous cultural roots.
But now, I know. And that is my birthright identity. I claim it now, every single day.
Some years ago, a friend sent me a short story she found about the necessity of struggle as a precursor to wholeness. Sadly I don’t know who wrote it, but there is this passage in it that talks about how a restricting cocoon and the struggle that the emerging butterfly has to go through to break free of it, are the Life Force’s way of forcing fluid, WATER, from its body and into it’s wings, so that the butterfly can be as strong as it can be… and be able to fly.
In other words, the WATER came before the flight. So, today I like to think of my coconutty struggle through the confusing wasteland of whiteness and pervasive colorism that I went through, as having empowered me to be as strong as I am today. That struggle, ironically, gave me wings.
Because my ancestors whispers to me were right. Water is LIFE. Water is powerful, and forceful, it animates us and fills us and although colourless it reflects every colour we can see. It is a shape shifter, an adapter. It is an important element to understand, and master, and in some cases become… in order to survive. But once it is mastered and contained it must be directed back to the roots, to our cultural roots, to feed and nourish them,WATER them, so the life of our people can continue. In the person, the water must be forced into the wings, so that they, the butterfly, can fly.
I live so far from the land where my ancestors bodies returned to the soil yet I see with such clarity now that they have reached through time and space every day my whole life to give me guidance, even when I didn’t yet know their names. This is the gift that I say with embarrassment now that I almost forfeited to be accepted into a world that lacks the wisdom that my ancestors – my people – embodied. The gift of being Black on both sides.
Why would I ever want to be anything else?
A quick post about something funny, moving, and entertaining.
After many recommendations, I finally watched the web series ‘High Maintenance’; it really is a thing of beauty.
Below are three of my favourite episodes so far, in the order you should watch them in (the first two episodes are related).
First up, ‘BRAD PITTS’:
This second one kind of struck a nerve – and features the hungry lady from the video above. Dating after recovering from serious illness, in my experience, can be a little weird – you just hope for someone who isn’t completely freaked out by the realness of your life, and there are many people who don’t want to deal with that. But exposing that reality to someone on the second date isn’t as challenging as having chilli on your… sensitive areas. ‘RUTH’:
And I enjoyed this one about a couple doing the Airbnb hosting thing, putting up with grating house guests (including a couple of Australians) to pay the rent (incidentally the recent episode of ‘Broad City‘ in which they rent out their apartments to international visitors for one night to make money made me laugh so hard). This scenario is really my personal nightmare – I hate people all up in my stuff and personal space. But maintenance guy really helps a brother put his foot down in ‘TRIXIE’:
New post soon, as mentioned.
Sometimes what seems like a tragedy, or the manifestation of your idea of “the worst case scenario”, is actually a tremendous blessing in disguise. I know that seems like a glib line; but it is actually a lesson I have lived and learned, over and over again, thus far in what I feel will be an unusually and extraordinarily long life.
When I suddenly became a paraplegic in 2006, weeks after undergoing spinal cord surgery to decompress a syrinx that had crippled me over the course of two years, and at the end of a 9 year period in which everything that could go wrong in my life went painfully, irreversibly wrong, I was already an in-patient in the rehabilitation hospital where I would learn how to negotiate life in a wheelchair – and experience my first adult spiritual ‘awakening’ (there have been many, since childhood. Each one leads to a new level of awareness).
I was in a dangerously dark place psychologically before the decompression surgery, having sustained trauma upon trauma from physical degeneration, profound loss, relationships with others and a tortured and hateful relationship with myself, whilst having no outlets whatsoever – nor the emotional tools – to process the grief and trauma that filled the ocean within me like an oil spill. During that period I wrote so much and drew so many charcoal and black biro sketches; they were beautiful in the way that a sad depressing song or a dark art film might be, yet brought me no closer to the catharsis I sorely needed.
It is hard to find your way out of a dark place with no one there to guide you how to do it. People in my family, despite their deep and powerful love for me, were not equipped to guide me out of the abyss I was mired in, and barely knew how to cope with their own life aches and wounds – let alone the trauma of seeing me go through circumstances they were powerless to save me from. I needed serious, holistic psychological lifesaving – but the only experience I had had with a psychological professional – a very young, earnest, but out of her depth school psychologist I had to see as a result of truancy – had shattered my trust in them.
In lieu of the help I needed, false tough exteriors had masked for many years the inner turmoil that I feared would engulf me if I ever really acknowledged it. This went on for almost a decade; I tried on the mask of party girl, loner, stoner, freak. I suppressed my natural interests and was ashamed of the purest, most earnest, most vulnerable and most real parts of myself; taking cues from my environment, friends, boyfriends, society, I understood that these parts of me were not acceptable – they made me different in ways that I did not want to be. Ways that I feared being.
But a door to healing opened in rehab. It was a door that those vulnerable parts of me had been silently petitioning the Universe for, even as my conscious mind was clueless as to how to lift myself out of the mess I was in. I was a zombie in the days and weeks that followed losing the normal use of most of my body. And I am a stoic motherfucker; so my instinctual reaction was to focus completely on my physical routines like a factory worker might focus on an assembly line. A set of steps. A job to be done. A ‘to do’ list. Day in, day out, doing the things to make the physios and doctors and nurses all say “good job Pauline!” before retiring to my room at night and releasing a flood of tears silently into my pillow. I was a day zombie, but I was a productive zombie. I was doing what needed to be done.
That is when I learned a very important life lesson: mind and body are truly connected. The physical rehabilitation routines eventually developed into a love of the routines; the love for the routines grew into a love for training in the gym. I became a morning gym junkie, weirdly – became physically strong, kind of ripped and ironically fitter than I had ever been when I was able to walk. I experienced an unexpected unblocking of energy and rush of joyful, sensual, creative and intuitive inspiration; I made art with rainbow colours, made music, rediscovered my sense of humour and went on moonlight strolls through the patient gardens listening to alternative music and feeling, for the first time since childhood, connected to all that is.
And simultaneously, without effort or planning, I accepted my new life in a wheelchair. And kissed goodbye to the past. It was FREEDOM; my first taste of what that word truly means. I was disabled, but man, I was free.
In tandem with this physically induced clearing of psychological blocks, I also – for the first time – had free and immediate access to compatible and intuitive psychological professionals. The resident sex therapist was a beautiful intuitive named Alexa – from memory, she rocked white cowboy boots and a retro dress daily like the fucking star she was. I’d roll pass her office on the way to my weekly meditation class (another first for me, delivered into my life courtesy of my new disability) and peer into the room adorned with rainbow cushions, rainbow stationary, aglow with warm lighting – and feel supernaturally compelled to go in.
One day I did. At the end of my first two meetings with Alexa she gave me two postcards which I still have in my bedroom and meditate on today. The first one was a print of a painting – a beautiful big banyan tree with huge roots in the earth and extending into the sky; one side of the sky was day, and the other night. Throughout this scene are symbolic creatures and sacred symbols. Before rummaging through her desk to find this card for me, she rubbed her belly and told me she had an intuition this picture would somehow be important in my life. I accepted the card with a grateful heart, but sceptical mind; yet the card has been, and continues to be, a signpost of revelations.
The second postcard she gave me moved me on a level that I had forgotten I had; shattering the false social masks that had been holding me together yet imprisoning me for a decade. We had been talking very casually about my life up to that point, and some of the realisations I was having on the other side of “the thing that I feared most” (disability) happening; but she had begun to intuit that despite making serious progress in such a short space of time, there were still some toxic blocks I needed to address – once I left this womb-like centre of rehabilitation and affirmation, and went back into the world. On the card, was a simple black and white photograph of a masquerade mask-covered face in Venice.
After leaving her office that afternoon, I turned the card over. It read:
In my darkest hour silence spoke louder than words
I am lost in a floating dreamscape
I see my face behind a mask
with knowing steps I am lured closer
reflection strips my guise
in the heart of darkness
I see a light
I hear my voice and I am found.
In those words I intuited another important lesson: beyond the artifice of social masks, constructed in the darkness of the fear that who we really are is too broken, too weird, too ugly or too vulnerable to see the light of day, is who we really, truly are. A Light within.
I am learning to live openly as the Light.
The Mask Venezia by Nikita
In the post ‘Girl Enlightened’, I mentioned I was about to watch the second seasons of the HBO shows Girls and Enlightened (at one point they were paired on the HBO schedule, so fitting I should watch them together). Having since watched both those seasons, over two posts this week I will discuss them – starting with Girls (I’m writing relentlessly and dealing with an anxiety issue at the moment, so I find thinking about characters, stories, and story worlds rather helpful to the process).
Whilst I only liked the first season of this show, I loved the second season, impressed at how many issues and themes it manages to explore in 10 episodes – issues that resonated really strongly. Season 2 of Girls is generally darker, which is appropriate as these characters age. It is funnier, which is never a bad thing (often it’s tiny throwaway lines buried in monologues that crack me up – Adam in A.A., mentioning how he showed Hannah how to use soap, for example. I choked on my Milo whilst watching that).
And, as is the case with second seasons, we get to know all the characters more intimately. Their flaws are as terrible and real as ever (written by someone I think genuinely loves these characters, flaws and all) and I like that – season 2 depicts with clarity the difficulty of personal change and growth in individuals and relationships. We see characters repeating mistakes and regressing, which is true to life for most – if not all – of us. But I’m not going to recap everything that happened in the season.
Instead, below are some things that got under my skin, positively and negatively, that the writers deserve major props for – seriously inspiring. This season did what the first one didn’t – it both moved me and made me reflect on my history of relationships in a deep way. I connected to every single character. And I always appreciate when a story does more than just entertain or distract me from the business of living. The greatest stories always do.
MARNIE: IMAGE IS EVERYTHING.
There are things that I really like about Marnie – she won me over back in the season one finale, as she started to loosen up and took the high road with Elijah and Charlie (classy). But one thing that really gets under my skin negatively is Marnie’s attraction to glamour, glaringly apparent and desperate this season. Marnie lost interest in Charlie for a number of reasons, but a minor one was that he didn’t match the image of what a “Man” should be in her messed up mind (whereas Booth Jonathan, inexplicably, did). Season one introduced us to this particular flaw – remember when she told then boyfriend Charlie that he should be able to “go about his business, piss me off and not give a fuck! It’s what men do.”
In season 2, Marnie’s masturbation fantasy comes true when she starts having (spectacularly funny) sex with the “brilliant” artist Booth, assuming thereafter that she is his girlfriend. This is soon followed by crushing humiliation, when she discovers Booth does not consider her to be his girlfriend at all, merely an employee. The Booth storyline is seriously inspired – it tells us so much about both the characters in only a handful of interactions. And, as big an asshole as he was, Booth Jonathan was completely right about Marnie’s insincere attraction to him – she liked his image and lifestyle, not him as a person. Even she admitted that she fell in love with “the idea of you”.
Marnie’s re-attraction to Charlie only after her discovery of his winning success is thus all the more nauseating to me. I felt bad for her after she lost her job at the gallery (although Ray’s quip to her that “I think the world has the 3 curators it actually needs” made me chortle – and I’ve been a curator!). I loved her attempt to view her hostess job in the best possible light, and accept that humbling experience with as much grace and positivity as possible – Marnie’s best qualities, I think. If the singing thing doesn’t work out this girl should be working in public relations. But her re-emergence in Charlie’s world – setting aside their important history and his feelings for her – is just terrible.
It reminded me of the big fight Marnie had with Hannah at the end of the first season, when equally flawed Hannah said to her, “What do you want besides like a boyfriend with a luxury rental? Seriously, that’s where your priorities are. You have always been this way, and now it is worse”. Marnie may actually love Charlie – her realisation/confession after brunch was sincere, no doubt. But her motivation for reconnecting to begin with was tainted. I can’t imagine where their relationship is going to go in Season 3, but, given that Christopher Abbott (the actor who plays Charlie) has fled the show, it can’t be good (side note: Abbott guest starred in Season 2 of Enlightened. Playing a cocaine enthusiast! See my next ‘Girl Enlightened’ post for more on that).
SHOSHANNA AND RAY: THE ODD COUPLE.
Shoshanna’s relationship with Ray enabled me to empathise with her (and Ray) as a character a lot more, given the scenario of older partner/cynical partner is very familiar to a younger version of me (as familiar as the dynamic between Hannah and Adam in season 1). The words she used to break up with Ray would have hurt him tremendously, and that was horrible to watch. Yet those same words speak to a level of self-awareness on Shoshanna’s part that I wish I had had earlier: “I can’t be surrounded by your negativity while I’m trying to grow into a fully formed human.” Weird to hear a character articulate that, but she’s absolutely right. Shosh is the youngest, just as flawed as the other girls (see cheating with the sexy doorman incident). But her breaking up with Ray is more of an initiation into adulthood than the relatively insignificant act of losing her virginity.
Maybe some of her complaints about Ray are superficial (not wanting to spend $4 on a taco is not a deal-breaker, yo). However, feeling emotionally and mentally drained with someone certainly is. Shoshanna’s learning where her boundaries are. For that reason, I loved this storyline. I’ve read a couple of comments that praise Ray for being such a great boyfriend (written by 30-yr-old + men I noted, unsurprised), and she certainly brings out his often-suppressed better nature. But, he is not a good match for Shosh, and he really does have issues. Ray is negative about everything (often in a very funny way, but that energy would suck to live with 24/7). He is rude to everyone including his supposed best friend Charlie – because deep down he is insecure, hates himself, and feels like a loser (see end of great episode “Boys” – written by Murray Miller).
In response to Shoshanna’s break up speech, in which she says she can no longer handle his “black soul” (ouch), Ray attacks her back and exclaims there is a “difference between negativity and critical thinking!”. But I don’t think that Ray actually knows what that difference is. Despite being 33, and intellectually sophisticated (at least, by his own estimation), he is one of the least self-aware characters in the show. And Adam called him out correctly during their fight on Staten Island: “You don’t know shit about love!”, he tells Ray. And how could he? Ray doesn’t even love himself.
(Funny too how Adam also says to Ray, “You’re just babies holding hands!” – given that when Shoshanna partially confesses about the doorman incident, she says she held the doorman’s hand. Ray feels safe with her because he sees her as innocent and inexperienced. I wonder if he could actually handle being with a complicated, sophisticated woman of his own age. One as hypercritical as he is).
HANNAH: WRITER’S BLOCK, MENTAL ILLNESS, & THE NATURE OF LOVE.
Oh my gawd, Hannah. I grew to love her in season 2 – that is in stark contrast to season 1, in which I found her infuriating. I laughed a lot at her this time, but of course she has more seriously ugly moments – her treatment of recovering junkie Laird (probably the kindest soul in this particular TV universe) was grossly inconsiderate, and although it had to be done (given how toxic things had become between them) the way she ended things with Adam was a mess. She even managed to make me side 100% with a Republican (her short-lived boyfriend at the beginning of the season, Sandy). Hannah turned on Sandy because he disliked her writing, but cites his politics as the problem – even though she really didn’t give a shit until he criticised her essay!
That being said, Hannah is more vulnerable in season 2. This vulnerability is exposed after Jessa goes AWOL – Hannah’s mental illness issues and her unravelling fear made me go from infuriated to genuinely sad for her. Close to the bone. The way Lena Dunham portrayed the illness symptoms made me think she (the human behind the character) had actually experienced that dysfunction (which I see she has, according to Google). It is such an honest depiction that I couldn’t help but be moved, and whatever criticism she copped for that storyline (and how shitty Hannah is to her parents), it is truthful. I’m thoroughly impressed at Dunham for going there. She made me want to wrap Hannah in a blanket, give her a hug, and tell her (albeit hilarious) publisher/editor/boss to back the eff off.
As for the season’s finale: whether ironically romantic or not, what I did appreciate was how it completely subverted my expectations of a deeply disturbing ending – who could have seen that coming? I like the Natalia character, and Adam and Hannah should probably stay the hell away from each other and pair with people more stable than they are. That being said, it was still profoundly moving, for one important reason: when Hannah was at her lowest – chopped up hair, alone, ill and frightened, hiding under a bed cover – he didn’t turn away. He came through for her, and it is that realness and strength that I really get about this aloof, unconventional creature – as crazy as he can be, he truly loves her, flaws and all. That ending, OTT as it was, said more about his character than hers.
So why does he love her? On Staten Island, when Adam found himself in the odd position of defending the girl he understandably wanted to purge from his brain forever, he said of her, “Everyone’s a difficult person. She was accepting of my brand of difficult.” For all her flaws – and lord knows she has many – I think this accepting nature is one of Hannah’s genuine positive qualities, rather than the more often cited traits of “wit” and “quirkiness” attributed to her even by Ray (traits which, by the way, have absolutely nothing to do with actual character, and more to do with personality. Of course, there is a difference).
But, do Adam and Hannah have a better grasp of love than the other characters in Girls? I don’t know. Unlike Natalia, Hannah didn’t care how dark his apartment was – being an oddball herself, she seemed to be able to embrace his dark side and kooky interests without asking for him to change at all. Her only requests were extremely basic and related to how he treated her. However, that may have been due to her own damage – in the episode ‘One Man’s Trash’ (a confounding detour which may or may not have been a dream), she tells the handsome doctor of her perception that she needed to take in all experiences in order to learn from them, so that she could help others with her learned insights. But, that this perception had led her to both invite and put up with some pretty fucked up and painful things. “Something’s broken inside of me”, she tearfully admits.
Hannah’s acceptance and courting of all experiences can therefore be extremely harmful to herself. Some of the experiences she accepted with Adam, she may have accepted because of this same inner brokenness. If Hannah was a real-life person, it would be better for her to try and understand what that brokenness is, and how to take care of herself, either solo or with someone healthier for her than him. Natalia obviously doesn’t have Hannah’s wounds – she is very clear with Adam about what she does and does not want, in bed and beyond. She obviously wants a conventional relationship, and to help him fulfil that role for her (see her reaction to his apartment and her offer to help him get “organised”… right before the disturbing ‘on all fours’ encounter* – an encounter she hates, but evidently forgives, whilst making it clear to him she is not cool with his darker sexual proclivities).
Hannah, meanwhile, doesn’t really know what she wants yet, or even who she is. She’s still just a girl (I say empathically, not condescendingly). I can’t imagine what will happen to her, or who she will become, in season 3.
Which is why I can’t wait to see it.
*Interesting to note that right before the “on all fours” incident, Natalia tells Adam that his apartment is “darker than you are”. My gosh, what a depressing end to an episode of television, but brilliantly directed and written by Dunham (with executive producer Jenni Konner). Dunham never wastes a sex scene – hers actually tell the audience a great deal about the characters and their relationships, which I appreciate.
I’m going to share with you two very different things that moved me, quite unexpectedly, this week. The first was a film. The other, a comedy show. Altogether, four fine poets who made the week that much brighter.
TO BE HEARD.
“If you don’t learn to write your own life story, someone else will write it for you.”
I watched this documentary, which screened on ABC2 Sunday Best last weekend. Here’s the trailer:
Slam poetry is a pretty intense and raw art form. To Be Heard is about three teenage friends from the Bronx, New York, partaking in a radical ‘Power Writing’ poetry class. The aim of the class is to empower the students with self-awareness, to release their talents in order to transform their lives, and produce socially conscious, socially responsible young people. Their struggle to change their lives begins when they start to write poetry.
The official summary says:
“Pearl is the support and soul of the three; Karina is the passion and heart; and Anthony is the energy and physicality. In a community where friendships are kept tenuous for many reasons, these three build a bond based on language, respect, and the need to survive.”
Pearl, Karina and Anthony are best friends who have made a pact: to support each other and stick together right through to graduation, and beyond. But, as we see in the film, shot intimately over four years, the strains and burdens of their lives and environment put in jeopardy not only their drive to graduate together, but also their entire futures and freedom. They are fighting a very real battle to transcend the statistics, and social pressures, to become who they want to be.
I was so impressed by the honesty and strength of these three. All possess formidable talent. Anthony performs a self-penned piece in the middle of the documentary that is truly amazing in its vulnerability (hard to show, I imagine, if you are a young man from the Bronx). Pearl, Karina and Anthony are so young, so disadvantaged in many ways, and yet, through dedicated self-expression, they achieve more emotional integrity and self-awareness than many adults do in a lifetime. To share themselves through poetry in such a raw and fearless way is ballsy. That is why I have such respect for slam poetry.
Hats off to the trio of outsider teachers, Joe, Amy and Roland, who teach the class. Their genuine and heartfelt concern, and dedication to these kids from the ghetto, is absolutely admirable. Notably, they are not a part of any school faculty or formal curriculum. Instead, the Power Writing teachers come bearing a simple gift in the form of a motto – “If you don’t learn to write your own life story, someone else will write it for you.” As the official blurb says, their approach to teaching contains no secrets or tricks. It is simply this: to listen closely, if the writer wants to be heard.
On a personal level, I was inspired by Pearl, Karina and Anthony’s passion – need – for self-expression, and their evolution as writers/poets. I understand that need, that love. All of the joy and pain of their lives is remarkably, alchemically, transmuted into increasingly potent art, under the tutelage of Joe, Amy and Roland, who guide their development of craft. Some of my favourite scenes are in the Power Writing class itself, for they demonstrate the power of writing: of courageous, candid, transformative expression. Joe, Amy and Roland tell the Power Writing class, that they should improve their craft and arm themselves with words not merely to pass some test, to have their worth reduced to a number. They must do it to empower themselves, to define for themselves who they are…and let no other take that right away from them.
If you live in Australia, you can watch this film online on ABC iView for a few more days.
“My new [standup] show is called Numb because it’s about wanting to feel more. It’s about a feeling of disconnectedness, a feeling of wanting to love more, wanting to exist in the moment, not perceiving things from the outside but being in them and fully engaged.”
Clearly, I’m getting soft(er) and easier to please. Once upon a time, attending a comedy show during which I was not induced into at least three fits of laughter by aggressive subversive humour would have left me questioning the cost of admission. Not so, with Simon Amstell’s Numb, his debut, “Intensely vulnerable and excruciatingly honest” show at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival (MICF). Despite not getting any belly laughs, I found the show gently, and surprisingly, satisfying.
I was unsure of what to expect from Simon. Melanie Sheridan on ArtsHub didn’t connect with Simon’s attempts to, well, connect, in this underwhelmed 2.5 star review. Whilst Mikey Cahill gave his “erudite and economical” show a 5 star review, and even threw in the word “genius” (twice, for added emphasis). The Guardian has described him as “The real deal. Where philosophy collides with anxiety: where Heidegger meets Woody Allen”, and The Scotsman has described him as “One of the most elegant, articulate, sensitive and endearing proponents of ‘Soul Comedy’ that there is”. It all sounds terribly hyperbolic, but I decided to ignore my misgivings, and his hipster appearance, and check him out anyway (to fulfil my resolution to see at least one act I had never seen before this festival).
In Numb, Simon Amstell talks about his desire for connection, and his great difficulty in satisfying this most basic of human needs. Without an ounce of self-consciousness or shame, the self professed neurotic shy guy confesses his neediness and vulnerability: about being the awkward one at parties, dining alone in restaurants and pretending to text, or pretending to write in a notebook and hoping that nearby diners are unable to see his aching loneliness: “Is he lonely? No no! He has a notebook. Perhaps he’s a travelling genius.”
Simon discusses his curse of constantly thinking about sex but (allegedly!) rarely getting any. An alternately shy and reflexively funny “horny sex pest”, hugging his cat alone at home (not a euphemism) and all too often succumbing to the temptation of unethical pornography consumption (thankfully he does not go into detail about this). He relates tales from his love life, his needy desire to kiss complete strangers, and dealing with rejection.
The admission of disconnection might seem strange given Simon’s popular performance on Popworld and Never Mind the Buzzcocks, in which he apparently confidently took the piss out of celebrities (famously, Britney Spears began to cry during an interview). His comedy series Grandma’s House, which is writes and stars in, more closely resembles the side of Simon Amstell in Numb and is rather self-referential – he plays a geeky young Jewish man called Simon who makes his name on television taking the piss out of pop stars, gets tired of it, and is desperate to find his soul and make it as an actor. I have not seen any of those shows, but I would guess that a number of people in the sold out audience I was a part of had – by their obvious affection for the man on stage.
On paper I have very little in common with Mr Amstell. Yet his need to connect is universal. Moreover he is seemingly cursed with the same propensity to over think at times rather than just be, and is evidently finding quite similar ways to overcome this affliction: he mentions casually, honestly, how he is now on a spiritual quest to transcend his ego. Then he talks about how his quest has, unfortunately, become completely egoic, thanks to the existence of a competitor – a friend who is on the same “journey”. A futile competition, given the end of both journeys, as far as we know for sure, will be bodily death.
At this point you might be thinking, “is Simon just another bourgeois Westerner dissatisfied with a life of material privilege?” Maybe. Simon obviously has serious dosh (definitely not something I can relate to) – enough to travel to Peru, and everywhere else (again, not something I can relate to) in search of some peace of mind, which he did, along with a bunch of other depressed Western people. But he says he found a measure of enlightenment out there, in the middle of all those Peruvian indigenous rituals and dream states. At one point he hints to this: “Remember when scientists remembered that science is the study of nature, and the religious remembered god is nature… and they stopped fighting and got along?”
In the end, not having any set expectations – and being in an utterly flat mood when I entered the show – worked in my favour. Numb, paradoxically, made me feel better. Maybe it was a mood thing, but, on this particular evening, I found Simon’s style and delivery very engaging. Actually, to be perfectly honest, I enjoy many kinds of comedy and styles of humour, and have seen few shows I have been unable to find some redeeming features in. And I do tend to immediately warm to people who are real about their foibles and their mess, despite the possibility of judgement from others (i.e. unenlightened halfwits). It is comforting, reassuring, and endearing. Perhaps not words one would want their comedy show described as, but it is a compliment.
Sincerity is so underrated.
I have a severe case of CBF this week – my studies, film projects and life/mental health/energy-stabilising activities are all consuming at the moment. Even as the world, and apparently time itself, stopped for the Royal Wedding (which I missed/know nothing about) and exhaled after the death of the United State’s #1 enemy (“or DID he?”). Indeed, I seem to be doing nothing but editing, filming, writing, and thinking about work at this point in time… as it should be. Considering this is the life path I am following.
So today I’m re-posting something I published last year (26/4/’10)… my fourth post. God knows what I was blathering about!!!
I kid. Still studying screenwriting, storytelling, and the art of film. Still believe in it, and love it even more. Only now with a more focused vision and greater clarity.
I’ll publish a new post next week. So much to write about…
BTW. Check out the new theme/facade! Attractive, yes? Called “Mystique”. Indeed.
The power of Story (why I want to write)
This is the moment I started not just wanting to be a storyteller, but actually started believing in it.
It was a while ago. Screenwriting had been a fantasy of mine for a long time. I’d enjoy movies and television programs and immediately afterwards think “That’s what I want to do”.
Many people feel that way after taking in a great film or watching a show that moves them in some way. Instinctively I think we all know that there is something truly magical about great storytelling. Stories can help us make sense of things, communicate things, and help us understand things in a way that the daily monotony and ceaseless activity of our lives cannot.
One day, I was listening to a radio interview with Robert McKee, and trying to decide whether I should follow my dream or play it safe. I didn’t know who he was, other than that there was a fictionalized version of him in Charlie Kaufman’s film Adaptation… and that character was quite the asshole. Observe:
But the Robert McKee on my radio that day was less asshole and more wise and seasoned teacher. He described storytelling as a noble enterprise:
“When the storytelling in a society goes bad, the result is decadence. So you need wonderfully honest insightful comedies and dramas to look into the dark corners of human nature and give human beings equipment for making sense out of their lives and themselves”.
Great stories, apart from entertaining us, also civilise us, by creating understanding.
I don’t know why, but I haven’t been able to get those words out of my head since. Shortly after, I decided to apply to study Screenwriting, to formally learn my craft from scratch, so that I can be the best storyteller I can be.
And that’s what I’m doing now.
I’m spending a lot of time these day trying to understand the links between our behaviour, our culture, our psyches, and our stories, in as much as it is connected to my main life goal – combining promotion of transcendent cultural change and the promotion of freedom (social, political, psychological, spiritual), with my writing and creative impulses.
To this end, I went back and listened to an ABC National ‘All In The Mind’ podcast that was broadcast last year called “CLIMATE CHANGE AND PSYCHE” (21/11/2009). The two guests on were Mike Hulme (Professor of climate change at the University of East Anglia) and Dr Jonathan Marshall (anthropologist and research fellow at the University of Technology in Sydney). They were both talking about the connection between the arguments surrounding climate change, the various behavioural responses to the issue, and – GASP – storytelling and myths.
Mike Hume’s argument was particular interesting, as he is a leading climate scientist, the founding director of the acclaimed Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research in the UK. He stated that looking at climate change solely as a technical problem that needs a technical solution is inadequate – humanity has an ancient and ongoing cultural relationship with climate – as revealed through the storytelling and myths of all cultures around the world. We therefore need to broaden our understanding of it as a cultural issue. Says he:
“myths… can be very useful vehicles for helping us to understand why we seem to adopt different positions…It is not as simple as here is the science that’s telling us what the problem is, here are the policies that could attend to the problem, and let’s get the politicians to implement the policies. That’s a very naïve and linear model which is not adequate. Myths help us to understand that things are actually much more complicated than that”.
So why is it important that we understand what is motivating the various responses to climate change? Well, if you know why people are behaving the way they are, and that it is connected to myths/stories and our psyches and emotional and intuitive responses, then you have an idea (albeit vague) of how to affect change of that behaviour, positively. He argued that “this language of myth, metaphor and symbol can allow us to use more creative engaging ways of deliberating and communicating with our publics.” And it is the public – the masses – that need to change their behaviour.
Linking to Mike’s argument, Anthropologist Jonathan Marshall argued that myths give us not only a set of meanings, but a set of templates for living and understanding what’s happening to us – whether we’re consciously aware of this or not. A good myth joins our psyche and the world, and it has the potential to reconfigure the way we look at the world and act within the world. His book, Depth, Psychology, Disorder and Climate Change, essentially calls for people to think about new ways of imagining the world.
“Science needs to be able to recapture the poetry that actually inspires scientists to get into work in the first place. They need to have a poetry of science which will actually appeal to people and motivate them. It’s no good throwing facts at people because as we’ve been saying all through this discussion, basically it’s the myths that make the facts do anything for us.”
… by Joseph Campbell.
“Wherever the poetry of myth is interpreted as biography, history or science, it is killed. The living images become only remote facts of a distant time or sky … when a civilization begins to reinterpret its mythology in this way, the life goes out of it, temples become museums, and the link between the two perspectives is dissolved.”
Have just started reading this book and it is rocking my world right now. So strange to read a book that articulates things I have understood intuitively for some time.
I am a tad busy at the moment – studying and writing and listening to epic movie scores (try Star Wars theme in the morning, theme from Exodus on the long ride home…makes my days grand ;-)). I will write a post soon.
Until then, I present these two clips of George Lucas talking about Joseph Campbell, archetypes and “using the force”:
An assignment I completed recently required me to do a script analysis for the film American Beauty – comparing an early draft and the final draft of the script, to see what changes were made in scene choices, arrangement of scenes, dialogue, and character reveal, and how this affected the final story. It was interesting to see the differences between them – the original story that writer Alan Ball had envisioned was vastly different to the one that won an Academy Award in 2000. Alan had originally written a down-ending film in which the characters Jane Burnham and Ricky Fitts are convicted for the murder of Lester Burnham. The final script is imbued with a very different tone and quality, and I think humanity, thanks to the omission of this ending, and a vastly different final sequence.
There are many people who think this film is overrated. I thought the critical praise surrounding the film was hyperbolic, and having re-read the script so many times, I have wearied of it too. What does still strike me about this film comes through the character Ricky: through his perspective on life, through his relationship with his father (played wonderfully by Chris Cooper), and, in particular, within his dialogue in this scene:
Ricky is especially interesting to me because of the way he interacts with his environment. He refuses to hit back at his father after his father attacks him, abusively yelling at Ricky: “fight back you little pussy!”. He defends his father later when telling Jane about how his father sent him away, stating that his father is “not a bad man” – perhaps understanding that his father’s often violent behaviour is born of deep pain, shame. He sees past the conventional beauty of the dominant Angela, his interest instead in Jane. When in a moment of vulnerability and desire for connection Jane removes her clothes for him, he focuses the camera not on her naked breasts, but her face. And he has the ability to just be still and observe the beauty in the minutiae, in all the places where most people don’t care to find it. This perspective gives his character true freedom, and the quiet confidence that comes with that.
One of the things we are being encouraged to do in the course I am doing is find our personal story – our personal narrative – as a writer. We are encouraged to reflect upon the values, themes and ideas that stir us as writers, and as human beings.
This is because we are often drawn to stories, and to characters, that reflect and share our personal narrative.
I guess I’m slowly coming to realise what mine is.