Avalanches, Beyond Blue and Laughter Yoga

Laugh. I love making people laugh.

Yet I have not laughed much myself for near on two years.  The decision to move to Melbourne after living remote for a long time has been hard.

It has taken a monumental mental health crash to realise this. My social anxiety has been debilitating since a workplace injury.  But I am working really hard to recover.  But I need to sleep a lot, and I have had to ask for help and get help like I haven’t had to since my 20’s (when I was recovering from a temporary brain injury).

Part of that is doing the things I love that are light years away from Community Services. In fact, it looks like I can no longer work in community services and I have had to grieve that.  One burn out too many.

I do have two comedy performances coming up (a creativity workshop and a small run of four shows in March) – but I was hoping that this year I would be performing more, not less. This mental health crash means I still need to perform, I just don’t have the spoons to do it much and I have to get lots of support to be able to. Self-care has been a struggle, but friends have rallied around and I am immensely grateful to them.

Yesterday I did the washing six times, the same washing. Because I would forget and go to sleep and…yep…rinse cycle.

Some might think that the definition of irony for someone who loves writing, producing and performing comedy is to experience the mental health challenges as I do.

Or is it? Oh dear, there is that dreaded stereotype about comedians and mental health.  But it isn’t just comedians.  It’s everyone that is at risk.

I repeat. EVERYONE.

I started this blog a long time ago when I was about to trek the Annapurna circuit in the Himalayas and this blog was to raise funds for Beyond Blue. And to talk about happiness, of all things. Since then it morphed into my comedy website.

The fact is that trip to Nepal was life changing, the evolution of this blog reflects that fact.  I was trekking with a partner and during the trek we just missed being caught in the October 2014 avalanche and freak storm that killed 39.  Our next two days of trekking were very scary indeed.

Things unravelled. My partner and I split two days later and when I returned to Australia I moved out two days after we landed.  The stress of these things brings truth to the fore.

For me that truth was, bisexual me was forcing a relationship that was making me miserable.  Playing house.  Those who know me well know that this is plainly ridiculous.  Even more ridiculous is that since then I have realised I am also grey asexual, meaning real attractions for me are rarer than for most. I was bullying myself to conform.

Today I felt like, for the first time since an awful period of suicidality in November/December 2019 – like I could be aware enough to count my blessings.  Whilst I practice gratitude, when you are facing intense mental health challenges you can be practicing but not really practicing.

Some things I have shed from my 45th year (the beginning of this blog) to my 50th year:

  • Gender binary conformity
  • Giving a shit about what other people think about me
  • Denial of my neurodiversity – being okay with both the strengths and impairment of being autistic and having chronic illness
  • The desire to conform to ideas of monetary success (money stress still sucks though)
  •  Throwing in the bin any remaining concerns about the expectations of my family to be CISHET, regular job, non-artistic or any of there discrimination of the basis of neurodivergence.

Some things I am embracing:

  • Family isn’t biological.  My friends are my family.
  • Love is love and everyone deserves it.
  • It’s okay to need help.
  • I like me for the first time ever.
  • The status quo is not for me, so an arts career is probably where I should be!
  • I don’t have to be all things to all people.
  • Don’t read the comments.
  • Fuck shame.  It can piss off.
  • ENBY BI GREY-A intersectionality.
  • Block trolls.
  • Stay political.

So now, at the beginning of my 50th year I think it’s time to laugh more.  Very soon I will be a laughter yoga leader and delivering this will make sure I am laughing with others, regularly.

I am going to laughter yoga, comedy write and rest myself back to better health.  I am very limited in the time I can spend on any task at the moment and I am aware this is long path yet.  But I will persist. To quote Joe Cocker, “I’ll get by with a little help from my friends”.

Picture of me laughing for attention.

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Hold Space, Mad Pride Comedy

I’ve been doing comedy almost three years now.  It takes all my hours outside of my day job. It has consumed my life for the last 13 months.

I started doing comedy to hold space as a fat, nonbinary, autistic femme.  None of those words are insults, they are descriptors of diversity.  And diversity is a beautiful, interesting thing.

I just want to hold space as me.  I’ve only started to do that recently.

My first gigs were traditional comedy.  Boom, boom, tish, punchline based standup. https://youtu.be/YS-1KO6pGB4

Then Labelled happened.  I fully embraced who I was and wanted to tell stories, not punchlines. https://youtu.be/Q-VNpvLSxN0

Audio-visual.  Make people think about the issues of judging each other.

Anyway, I’m tired and I’ve lost my mojo and as far as I am concerned it’s showing on stage.  Because I’m starting to measure myself against the mainstream again.

madI did a show called Mad Pride last night and felt like I wasn’t shiny enough.

I let my anxiety rule me about performing in the same show as someone as shiny as Felicity.  But I’m not Felicity Ward (who is fantastic by the way).  I’m not skinny, fast and furious and filled with hilarity.

I’m fat, different, non straight, meandering, making people think and laugh at stories at a slower pace.  But last night I was so unhappy with that.  I lost lots of the energy I brought to the first solo show in Darwin.

I’m too worried about not being Felicity, that I’ve lost sight of the plan to hold space for everyone who isn’t Felicity.

I’ve been tearing myself apart about this performance – until Heidi Everett reminded me to just hold space.

So, I’m taking a break from too much comedy and going off in search of finding my mojo again.  I’m gonna do other forms of fun things I like.  Sing.  Improv. Radio.  Poetry.  Writing.  Just anything other than anything remotely resembling mainstream comedy.

I’m going to hold space.  I wanted to change up what the shiny people do and I need to stop measuring myself against mainstream.  I want to honour the;

Bentfat

Strange

Not pretty enough

Not popular enough

Fat

Queer

Disabled

Neurodiverse

Visible panty and legging lined!

Hold space

We don’t have to be shiny in a mainstream popular culture way.  

The Egg of Doubt – Managing Change

Doubt, like any emotion or response to an emotional state, has a purpose. I don’t doubt my decisions that led me to where I am now, but I am experiencing some self-doubt. But I have no doubt that this doubt will be useful! Irony much?

If you don’t doubt what you are doing, then you are not growing, not developing, not learning. Doubt exists right in the middle of Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development. The ZPD. The heart of my egg of doubt.

So, Vygotsky’s ZPD is about our learning comfort zones (see image below).  The ZPD requires  thatzpd the learner access properly scaffolded (staged) learning activities to make them more comfortable with the stuff they don’t know how to do. Then after a while the stuff they didn’t know becomes the stuff they do know.

But I think the ZPD exists in our emotional learning too. I think we can apply ZPD to the doubt we experience when making major life changes or trying something new.

This is something I have called “The Egg of Doubt”. Why an egg? Because doubt usually represents birth or growth, as does an egg. It’s important to note that I am applying this to change that we have chosen, not change that is inflicted upon us (although some of this would still apply).

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I have renamed the ZPD to the WTF. Yes, the “Zone of What the Fuck”.

Because change makes us doubt and doubt makes us change. It is a contradiction of the most perplexing and, often, frustrating type.

Making Sense of “The Egg of Doubt”.

While making coffee this morning I collected some thoughts (as you do!) on how to make sense of this as follows:

  1. Do I want this change or challenge? If the answer is no, then re-evaluate the change. It might not need to be thrown out altogether either.
  2. Does this change bring me discomfort and is this real discomfort that is a threat or are we merely sitting in the “What the Fuck” zone? If it is discomfort that will cause you harm…go back to #1. Maybe the change does need to be thrown out altogether. Or change the change. It could just be that you are clinging to the familiar and you need to let go and be okay with the discomfort. It’s okay to not know what you don’t know.
  3. What do I need to do to in “What the Fuck” zone to ease the doubt and move to the new knowledge zone? This is where you make a list of things to do to make the journey more comfortable while still learning. This could be talking to the people around you about the change you are experiencing and getting support. Or practicing self-care. But it is important that’s not too big a list or composed of large tasks. Nurture the WTF zone. It’s there for a reason. It’s there to get you to the new knowledge that will eventually become the stuff you do without thinking much about it.
  4. And finally, but most importantly, give yourself time. Change takes time.

Again, as in #2 above:
It’s okay to not know what you don’t know.

Of Spite and Surrender

This afternoon I’m in my temporary living room. Almost everything that is left of my material life is spread out, ready to go back in three large plastic boxes.

Two boxes will be stored in Alice Springs.  One box will go with me, wherever I go next.

I don’t know where that will be and won’t for a while.

There are some strange relics here, much like my strange life. A large vulva and vagina costume I wear on stage. An important shisha, resplendent with purple glass base and floral pink hose, for smoking apple tobacco, a very occasional habit I picked up through several travels through the Middle East.  Three volumes of my book manuscript in very different stages of editing. Chinese language flashcards and note books with my attempts at writing Mandarin.

A burlesque bra. Paints, so many filled note books, so many paintbrushes!

And this note…a note that is the concept behind an abstract painting I want to paint about my old life.

“The familiar meant that happiness was the unfamiliar.”

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Have you ever wondered about the patterns of spite and surrender in your life?
Spite, when you stay in spite of everything and everyone and you don’t know why.
Surrender, when you stay because it is all you know, and you surrender to what seems inevitable.
My life has been combinations of spite and surrender until November 2014.
I went on a trek in the Himalayas – the Annapurna circuit. It was nothing like anyone in my immediate family had ever done. As corny and clichéd as this sounds, I came back changed. I’ve lived in China, Far North Queensland, Darwin and Alice Springs (again) since then.
Creatively changed. I committed to moving away from the cycle of spite and surrender. It’s been tumultuous recently, but so satisfying. My book is at final edits with a publisher and I am exceptionally proud of that. I would never have achieved that in my old self.

I’m not materialistic, I am experiential. Happiness for me is not a mortgage.  Happiness for me is new ideas and engaging thoughts, discussions and debates. It is travel, growth and all that entails – including pain.

When I moved back to Alice Springs it was because it was familiar after being such a wanderer.   I think I was in spite and surrender mode again.

I suppose I thought it would test if I had “settled down”. But no, I haven’t, and I am glad I haven’t.

Whilst I want a stable income and a longer-term employment contract, I am no longer limiting myself career wise. Recently acting in a job where my contract wasn’t guaranteed, and the Northern Territory Government did not provide enough funding to continue was difficult.  It brought me through a stage of morose reflection like I hadn’t experienced for a very long time.

img_1784Losing a job I cared about, made me realise I was falling back into patterns of old, not valuing myself and fighting for something that I didn’t really want. Although the work was satisfying, and social justice based, it was all about other people and their agendas for my skills. Spite and surrender.

So I’ve applied for jobs that fill me with wonder and I’ve had 5 interviews out of 7 applications and it’s too soon to see any outcome yet.

But my gut tells me my next venture could be Melbourne or Darwin.  I am going to write and perform and beg and borrow to survive if I must, until I reach the next destination – whether that be in Alice Springs or elsewhere.

So here’s the new space instead of spite or surrender – spirit.

I’m going wherever I am spirited next.

Narrative Songs

I have a challenge ahead of me. I already perform comedy and public speak.

I am an interesting and engaging lecturer and facilitator of anthropology. I am learning about radio presenting and have done my first live broadcast. I am an independent producer of complex comedy productions with social messages. I am most proud to get to perform at major Fringe Festivals.

However, I choose parody song in my comedy when I can really sing. A rich, jazz voice. Those that have been lucky enough to hear it are suitably impressed. But I am rarely convinced.

There have been a few ways we have talked about the politics of identity over the years. So many ways we have chosen to look at the notion of “being yourself”.  I know that means, for me, being a performer.

When I was living in China I entered a street stall with thousands of white t-shirts with the words on it “Be yourself, no one else can”.

*Irony alert*

Yes, you too can achieve this goal by wearing a mass-produced t-shirt like millions of others!

I want to talk about our own personal t-shirt slogans that hold back our voices.  Our internal narratives that mean we may ignore natural drives to perform, sing, paint, speak or do whatever it is our heart calls us to do.

The voices we hide away or may not recognise at all.

It took me many years to find my voice and to be brave enough to commit to a natural drive to perform that I have suppressed all my life. But around 2015 I saw the narratives that were holding me back clearer than ever.

Every achievement in my life, small or big, was always accompanied with a certain voice.   Then something terrible happened and I was forced to be creative in my healing.

The below video is a short snippet from my speaking product “Normal is a cycle on a washing machine”.  This talk goes on to talk about how we can use “normal” as a way to limit our healing and how to overcome our internal voices about what is “normal”.  Part of this is changing the way we use language.  Language is a powerful action.

Through that healing, guided by a few more positive voices I recognised some negative voices from my past – particularly in regard to singing.

It came from years of people in my circle as a young person who said to me, “It’s okay, but it’s only <insert minimising language here>”.

“Only a small-town choir”.
“Only a paper award certificate”.
“Only an average voice”.

There are none of those voices left in my life, I have consciously removed negative people from my life.

Yet sometimes the relics of their narratives stuck and I have to work around them.
The interesting thing was that these negative voices are always from people who never even tried to do what I tried. They were always too scared.

These are the people who curb your enthusiasm with platitudes like “well everyone needs a hobby”, when you start working towards making a career out of performance.

Fear and negativity breeds fear and negativity. They suck you in and you get stuck.

When I perform now, comedy or public speaking – I still hear whispers of these old voices. But I acknowledge them and put them in an imaginary rubbish bin that I visualise in my mind’s eye.  I convert the negative narrative to a positive one.

“I am on stage and the crowd wants me to entertain them”.
“I was acknowledged with a review”.
“The crowd will enjoy the parody song”.

Yet, I am still not quite able to sing properly on stage – but here’s some news, I am about to change that.  It’s the next big step in my healing journey.

A small artistic musical project called “Steame Funk”.  Stay tuned.

Oh and if you want to book me for a positive mental health talk or a comedy show…contact my agent at https://www.inspiringrarebirds.com/jacci-pillar/

An Outback “Royal” Wedding

img_1658.jpgThe bridal party stood between an old wind mill named the “Southern Cross” and the ruins of the Old Ambalindum station homestead. The reception was held at Hale River Homestead, 115km NE of Alice Springs, on the famous Binns Track.

It’s not very often I get excited about weddings.  But Laurie and Nico’s wedding was an exception.

The guests drove 55km of the dirt and heavily corrugated Binns Track (4WD only) through beautiful but rugged outback country. On the drive there I was passed by a ute carrying lounge chairs (little pieces of their home brought along). Later I would sit in these with groups of guests late in the evening, under the stars, toasting marshmallows in fire drums.

The caterers also navigated this road, with a trailer loaded with a bain-marie and other catering equipment. That must have been a precarious journey indeed.

This was a true outback wedding with reinvented traditions reflecting the unique and beautiful people that Laurie (Laurel) and Nico are.

Both the bride and groom are part of the very vibrant Alice Springs creative community.

Apart from the obvious remote logistics of the venture, this was far frimg_1659om your average wedding.  Besides being super relaxed, it was progressive and free from the constraints of old ideas about marriage.

The celebrant Dave wasted no time on the usual formalities of wedding etiquette and was funny and thoughtful.

The vows were delightfully heart-warming but also light-hearted.

Probably my favourite line would have been from the groom.

“You’re the chickpea in my hummus”

Myself and other guests joked about the ratio of beards to bare faces. A number of established rockers in group meant one of my favourite things (a good beard) was visible at every turn.

Whilst the preparation for this event was no doubt hectic, the wedding was far from hectic. It was all about the kind of love I aspire to – not judgemental, but authentic.

The reception. Oh my gosh…the reception. 

The venue is a large woolshed with a bar and kitchen area in the back is a feast of fun history and artefacts of outback and remote life.  img_1499
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The rustic and romantic venue lit up with strings of lightbulbs and fairy lights.

 

The food ranged from roast pork to vegan and gluten and dairy free. Everyone was catered for without any major fuss or difficulty in how this was achieved.
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Three awesome rock bands perched on the back of a truck, and rocked us into to the wee hours of the morning.

There was no formal (and usually pretentious) “first dance” song, just the bride and groom dancing with all of us, until all of us couldn’t dance anymore.

Laurie and Nico have what the rest of us in the world could invest in more often – both share a passion for an authentic, inclusive, creative and community minded life.  The wedding was a telling demonstration of that philosophy.

We were a colourful and creative bunch.  Most of us were combinations of performers, musicians, film makers, photographers, artists and writers. The conversations were lively and filled with laughter.

There were four of us gals with fluorescent hair colours, so I wasn’t alone with my vivid magenta and purple locks.

Throughout the night, cartoons were drawn, and tales told. I practiced some comedy material around the fire and made new friends.  The people that Laurie and Nico are was reflected in the similar people that surround them, creative, interesting souls.

I felt very honoured to be asked to this wedding and I can honestly say it was the most enjoyable wedding I have been to in my 47 years of life.

“Fly 990”

To finish, here is a short list of things that made this event truly beautiful to my way of thinking (I could list many more but this just the main points):

  1. Arrernte country was acknowledged in the ceremony. The land on which the wedding took place has always been and always will be Aboriginal land.
  2. The celebrant stressed that under Australian law “marriage is between two people”. The wedding goers whooped delightedly. Australia has just been through legal changes recognising same sex marriage and many people present were part of that fight to have those basic fundamental rights recognised.
  3. Laurie’s aunt and nephews and nieces serenaded us at the reception in Maori.
  4. There was no “Mr and Mrs” assumed. They were just introduced as “Laurie and Nico”. They are married and no old-world names or ideas about ownership (such as ridiculous traditions about surnames and titles) needed to be applied.

This was a wedding for everyone (not just for the bride and groom), there was no pretensions, it was 100% about love

Not only the love between two people, but love of life, music, community and each other. 

Hypnotism, Hospitals and Healing.

Been an interesting week to say the least!

My comedy business, Gin and Titters (named after my need for a gin and tonic before I make people laugh) – hosted a visiting Comedy Hypnotist Dave Upfold.  You can check him out at Not 1 But 2

simple centre to the top 1We’ve worked hard with promotion but unfortunately we’re not able to attract the crowd we wanted.  Despite this the show was great and people thoroughly enjoyed themselves! It was interesting watching people I know volunteer on stage and as usual – us Theatre Sports folks were some of the most entertaining! Check out the fabulous dancing here from my fellow Alice Springs Theatre Sports buff!

Alice Springs is a small transient population of 24 000. During the Easter long weekend even less and people tend to celebrate with family more than go out.  We had to compete with a large scale music festival.  In the end we got one good night out of the three planned.

The other complication was my health.  As you know (and if you read The Girl who Cried Blood Pressure ) I have very difficult to control blood pressure.  It’s know as secondary hypertension, because it is not caused by a heart problem, but by a more systemic issue.  In my case, it’s linked to the massive trauma of Neurological Decompression Illness (see my LinkedIn article about being a “bends” survivor).

So this week it reared it’s head again.  Now, stress? Yep.  But normally that is not a problem – if my medications are working.  But they haven’t worked for about 18 months and I’ve been struggling to convince the medical profession of that fact.

They see me living life to the full and figure – can’t be that bad.  But, on the flipside of that, I am a stoic pain the ass, so they would naturally assume that.

So here we are, a comedy hypnotist, a sound effects guru and a bedraggled me (at least it feels that way for me at the moment)!  Onwards and upwards!

Anyway, a day in hospital and a change in medication and we are back on the road…literally…for the end of the week in Tennant Creek, Katherine and Darwin.

That’s another 600 km drive to Tennant Creek, then another 680km to Katherine and then another 300km or so to Darwin!

Life. Oh. Life. Get off that straight ol’ line.

You know that scale that you measure life on? No, not sure?  Here are some:

The bathroom scale.  labelledpromoofftheleash

The work performance scale.

The pain scale.

The romance scale.

In my comedy show “Labelled” I discuss that straight line we imagine…about where we “should” be…and put it away…

Check out this 19 seconds of my show – Little Glimpse of Labelled – about the continuum of life explained by a neuro-divergent comedian.

What if I said that straight line between where you are and where you think you should be doesn’t exist? What if it all is bit in-between? What do you think it would it feel like to be okay with being in-between?  Liberating is one word I would use.

What if it was all just twists and turns that lead us to where…well where we are now?

If you are having a “should of”, “could of” kind of day – 

Give yourself permission to just take yourself off that old straight line…

You are enough.