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.  

Pirates and Poems

My special interest as an Aspie is language.

At uni it was the language of power and propaganda. That gets me jobs.

At home it’s poetry and prose. That gives me joy.

On stage it’s comedic poetry, wordplay, political statements through satire and parody. That gives me satisfaction.

Yesterday I performed in a Melbourne poetry event – my first since I moved here.

Got to include another love (costumes) with poetry and comedy and got to dress up as a zombie pirate in a dead pirates themed event.

I’ve poetry slammed twice in Alice Springs and was wanting to continue when I moved. Last Dirty Word I did in Alice I did a serious poem about DV. It was very personal and very hard to do. But I’m glad I did.

Here’s one of my more serious poems…

Me as Zombie Pirate.

Monotonous Management, Mindfulness and Negative Solidarity

I’m finding looking for a new job monotonous and frustrating and I am having to work hard to be mindful to get through that monotony. As human beings sometimes we seem to punish each other for not being able to do monotony well and nowhere is this quite seen the most as at work.  It’s often referred to as negative solidarity.

“I had to go to meetings every day and be miserable, so should they”.
“I had to write 50 long selection criteria job applications to get a job, it’s just part of it”.

What a load of crock. When I have taught critical literacy or ways to optimise learning or practices (which is part of my expertise as an educator), I have not punished people for not wanting to do boring tasks; that’s counter intuitive.  Instead find a way to make a boring task more interesting and engaging.

Let’s take the traditional meeting for example.  Someone talks and we all listen.  Sometimes we brainstorm – but if we are just mainly talking, people will only take about 10% away from it.  Add visual content or genuine workshopping activities and that figure goes up to 65%.  Don’t believe me?

Check out what brain expert John Medina has to say about traditional meetings and how they don’t work for everyone (towards the end of this video).

The gab-fest meeting needs to die a rapid death and visual active meetings are more effective.

Every one of us is wired to process information differently and most of us know what works for us but the fact is the more visual a presentation the better everyone processes it. That old school educator idea about sitting still and listening in a meeting or a classroom is a defunct and potentially damaging concept.

Fuck negative solidarity. It is time we grew up, left a competitive high-school mindset behind and aimed to get the best out of each other and not diminish creativity or innovation by insisting on monotonous management processes.

I’m not saying that people don’t do the “boring” task. Not at all. I am just saying how we do it makes a difference. I’ve begun to look for more interesting ways I can do job applications – and I have started voice recording ideas for selection criteria and then writing them as I try to make the process a little more interesting.

I just wish modern corporate HR practice would catch up with what we know about human beings so that the selection criteria process might not end up excluding creative people. Just like boring meetings don’t do creativity or innovation any favours. Maybe that is okay if you are regulatory body and maintaining the status quo is what you want – but even then, you need some problem-solving ability and that doesn’t come from monotony.

Monotony vs. Mindfulness.

Let’s talk mindfulness. Mindfulness is about routine in a way, but it is about taking in the beauty of little tasks and finding joy in them. There is an aspect of monotony in the carrying out of a mindfully created task, but it is not the driving force. Mindfulness takes an everyday task and injects some joy into it.

One might pour the coffee slower and take delight in the shine of the coffee and the fall of the fluid, knowing full well that it will never be the same in any moment in time ever again. Mindfulness sees the beauty in the fact that no single task is ever identical, that life is filled with unexpected delights.

Slower? Ack! You might say that you don’t have time for slower. But haste invariably means waste. The mindful coffee pourer spills less, smiles more and spends less time cleaning up. Sometimes slower is better and more useful than you might think.

Mindfulness can be used to focus on monotonous tasks. A friend of mine knits during meetings.

In a world filled with meetings that we are often required to take part in regardless of their usefulness to our work, you might find yourself doodling on a note pad. Oddly the little side task can help you get through monotony and focus on what is important in a long meeting. Others secretly look at mobile phones on their laps. But my friend uses the mindfulness of knitting to listen better.

Yep, you read that right, she knits to listen better.

Not all of us have the same learning or communication style and all our brains are wired to process information differently.

The idea of a meeting where everyone talks does not meet everyone’s communication style and a lot of us find them difficult to concentrate in. In fact, I would argue that some meetings are indeed, completely pointless.

Some of us need to “do or see” as we listen to be able to synthesise the information. That might mean doodling, writing notes (that are often incoherent at the end of the meeting but might have served a different purpose to help us focus, so this matters not). For some people this is viewed as disrespectful to the speaker during the meeting.  I would argue that the monotonous manager insisting everyone sit still and listen is disrespectful to…well…just about everyone.

No-one has only one learning or information processing style (like hearing) and meetings that focus on talk are counter-productive wastes of time.  We may like to listen as a primary way of receiving information, but that is just one way of processing, not the be all and end all.

I have a visual learning style first and foremost and for me, just listening is not enough.

My knitting friend has a kinaesthetic or tactile learning style. That means she learns and adapts information through moving or touching.

I’m a doodler. I discovered my doodling pissed off teachers and colleagues, so I wrote  notes and diagrams instead. When things get interesting in a meeting I will often draw a diagram about what is being spoken about. At no point did I not take in what was said in the meeting, in fact I take in it better if I’m drawing or writing the words I hear while listening. It’s how my mind maps the information in a way that’s meaningful for me.

Often I am now asked to reproduce the diagrams I draw in a meeting as visual demonstrations of model or idea or concept.

For my friend who processes things tactilely, as she knits she is pausing through the rhythmic movement and focusing on information that is important and not losing interest in the meeting.  She is mindfully processing what she hears and making it tangible to her learning style through knitting while listening.  She’s knitting the words into her mind.

Monotony is often confused for mindfulness or good management, which it is neither. Monotony is people doing mindless routine tasks, over and over the same way (whether they work for us or not) because they think it will bring peace to their lives. Or order. Or control. Or wealth.

The monotonous manager is the manager who thinks there is only one way to do a task and inflicts that on everyone else – because they relate it to efficiency.

But monotony often has the reverse effect. It can create a grumbling discontent and a need to for the malcontent manager to pick at the scabs of their life and the lives of others and create hostile work environments. They become the people who are so bored with their lives they pick on everyone else’s methods for living to make themselves feel better. I am always surprised when someone can go to a special and unnecessary efforts to instruct me that the way I do a task should be done another way – although I achieve the task with the same efficiency as they do. These are the people that are annoyed by someone doing something differently because of rigid views of right and wrong based only on their own world view. I’m writing about this not to pick on them, but because it’s obvious they are stuck in the rut of monotony.

Let me be clear. Routine can be very important. But a life filled with mindless routine in the pursuit of things like feelings of power over a team can equate to a long slow death to any modicum of workplace happiness. There are buckets of books on this subject. Yet we still find people, largely in the workplace insisting “we’ve always done it this way” and accusing others of unprofessionalism if they do things differently.

It’s time to honour diversity and see it as useful, not punish people for having different wiring.

Why are we still practicing meeting structures that we know don’t work? Organisations that use co-design and workshop things (with physical and visual activities) are far more innovative.

I look at the selection criteria process and think it’s just another monotonous process that doesn’t guarantee anything except that someone can write to the criteria.

I have seen some good examples of alternative recruitment processes and I am part of one this coming week. I will be part of a pre-screening process that means the organisation gets to know me through a recruiting professional first. They will get to know my motivations and ways of operating and I hope I will be matched to a role and organisation that honours that diversity.

I’ve been asked to answer two broad questions and then go for coffee with a recruitment specialist.  Then an interview process that will include tasks.

It will be interesting. I still can’t believe that, considering all the information we have about people and diversity, we still think selection criteria answers are a good enough reflection of a human being. Cause they are simply not.

It’s like the boring meeting of recruiting.

Now, I am going back to writing selection criteria. Maybe I will try a video version and put the hyperlinks to video selection criteria?

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.