01 January 2009

Time To Refocus

2009. I’m not much of a resolution-maker, but there is something about the new year clicking over that prompts reflection and assessment. And outlier-nj has been on the rethink list for a while. I began the blog with the intention of training myself to write quickly. I have enough experience writing plays, scripts and performance texts to be reasonably efficient, but when it comes to prose, I was, still am, a slow writer.

Well, that was the theory. The practice was that last year I posted a mere 4 times. There are a lot of reasons I can give for this: lack of time, pressure of deadlines, the imperatives of paid work (doing it and looking for more), other commitments, the ups and downs of the freelance life, perfectionist tendencies … the usual suspects. To which I’d also add: the wrong direction—for some reason I’ve ended up focusing too much on arts issues and policies—and the death of my father.

My father died in September, and I’m still grieving. He taught me to value the life of the mind, to love questions more than answers, and the quest more than the goal. He put the wanderlust in my soul and didn’t complain when it took me to the other side of the world. And he had a talent for spinning stories out of the mundane, and infusing even a simple stroll with a sense of mystery. I remember one night when I was still at primary school, Dad woke us up, myself and my brother, to go for a walk to see a badger set and listen to the call of owls. The badgers proved elusive, but the owls were in fine voice. Reflecting on that incident now, I realise it was probably not terribly late at all, but as a 7 or 8-year-old, it felt as if I were being woken in the middle of the night to go on a magnificent adventure.

Me & Dad

In the days immediately after my father’s death I wrote like crazy. On the long flight from Sydney to London I used my laptop, and when its battery ran out I continued writing with pen and paper. After the funeral however, the words ran out and my mind fixed on questions of time—time being finite, time running out, how I wanted to spend my time ...

3 months later, this is where I’m up to:

  • I might have a lot of opinions, but an opinion column is not what I want to spend my time writing. (There are others more engaged with and better placed to critique arts issues than I am.)
  • I don’t need another unpaid writing gig.
  • If time spent blogging is time I could be writing other things, then why not use the blog as more of a writer’s notebook?

So I’m going to use this blog somewhat differently. I’m relaunching it in a looser, more flexible vein. It will be more of a notebook, there for process, a place of personal reflection, a place to jot down snippets and random ideas or start new trains of thought. I may post excerpts, report news and comment on work that I have seen, heard or read—and I may not. I will post as often or as infrequently as I wish and give myself the latitude to look outside theatre and write about whatever sparks my interest.

For example, in March 2008 I saw an exhibition of photographs at the National Maritime Museum: Steel Beach—Shipbreaking in Bangladesh. I’ve long been fascinated by certain kinds of documentary photography—Sebastião Selgado, et al. And these photos of a huge, muddy ships’ graveyard in the Bay of Bengal by Andrew Bell completely captured my imagination. I wanted to write about them, not a review, but a more personal, poetic kind of response to his images. I didn’t—for a whole bunch of reasons, not least because: where would I place something like that? So I’m going to use the new, realigned outlier-nj for things like that.

Another ongoing interest is architecture and urban geography—reignited in November when I went to Shanghai to present The Hannah First Collection, 1919—1949 as part of the Zendai Museum of Modern Art’s Intrude: Art & Life 366 project. Zendai MoMA is in the Pudong district of Shanghai, so that was where we were staying. In his book Concrete Reveries, Mark Kingwell describes Pudong as an area of ‘shopaholic emptiness’. True—to a point. But my stay there got me thinking, and now researching and writing, about skyscrapers and the migration of the early 20th century American skyline to other parts of the world. Not sure yet what form this piece will take—will keep you posted.

Pudong's 'shopaholic emptiness' November 2008

So what else for 2009? As well as projects with 7-ON, I’m concentrating on the Performance Essays. I hope to find a venue/context to present The Hannah First Collection, 1919—1949 in Australia, and I’m writing Bounce, a new performance essay about the history of rubber and how I wanted to be an explorer when I grew up. About my recent trip to the Amazon and my father’s journey through Parkinson’s Disease to the great unknown of death. Oh and I’m also branching out with projects across non-fiction, fiction, spoken word and poetry.

Happy 2009!

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