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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Wraith of Love

I can’t hold that memory.

It slips away into a wraith.

It leaves the scent of loss.

Hunger for answers.

For answers that have no answers.

Of questions I am pained to ask.

I’ll be earnest and deceived.

You’ll play games and be rewarded.

Rewarded with my earnest desire.

My will to please you despite knowing this trick is lost.

I’m more than this.

I’m more than a conquest.

I’m am more than your lay down misere.

Counting these memories add up to the only love I’ll have.

The love of memories.

Loving the idea that in your endeavours to reduce me to less you gave me more.

You gave me spirit.

You gave me fight.

You gave me the knowledge that love is not worth losing myself.

So I’ll let the wraith weave its rancid trail.

Wrapping tendrils of darkness.

It protects me.

It stops me from opening that place inside to love.

My guardian wraith.

The keeper of this fortress of your memories.

The memory of that feeling.

That feeling of believing.

Believing love is returned.

The wraith screams at me.

“Stop!”

The memories fill with blood.

Inside the chambers of my heart they are tossed around.

Pumped through my body.

Through my veins.

My body aches with them.

It’s not you that wants me.

It’s someone else.

But there you are.

Standing in the hallway of my memory.

Blocking the entrance through the door.

So stay there.

The wraith of love.

It’s easier if you stay.

Desert dearth – love and loss

This post is a sad one, I am sorry to say.

I came to Alice Springs in 2005. I knew the place from many visits and travels in the 1980’s with my parents.  My father lived and worked here in the 1960’s.

Arriving a freshly minted, honours graduate of anthropology; I was a fierce 35 year old divorcee with a huge passion for social justice. With a seven year old son and an aging and cantankerous mother in tow, I was undertaking the bravest move of my life.

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2006 – Better days when my son thought I was cool and not the enemy.

I’d had a traumatic past, recovered from a serious and unusual accident and desperately wanted a happy future.

Did I get it? 13 years later I’ll let you be the judge.

I plan on leaving end of July. Partly because I came here to do what I was qualified to do, but the pressure to be a mother (and a bad one at that as far as I am concerned) and a career professional meant I moved away from my anthropological passion in 2009.  Since then it’s been a hodge podge of stressful community service work where I never felt I could achieve anything and where successive governments just don’t seem to recognise the worth of NGO’s.  Watching a community that you love die from government neglect is devastating.  For some they cannot leave and their heart and health is deeply connected to the place.

My first job here was a sacred sites anthropologist and I loved it. Lots of deep desert field work with people whose culture I admired and respected, in up to seven different languages.  Over an area of 583 000 square kilometres.

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Three big camel bulls strutting their stuff on a ring road – Kata Tjuta. I remember the ladies in the car yelling at me to get off the roof of the Toyota Troop Carrier while I took this photo.

Old ladies danced for me and we would exchange stories of love and loss. I developed linguistic skills I didn’t know I had the potential for.  We mapped sacred places and stories and gave them legal protections.  It was complex work and my military logistical and technical background and love of mapping technology meant I loved the challenge of remote work.

When I say remote. I mean remote.  I once drove 2600 km for a one hour meeting, picking up women from three different language groups over three days.

I’ll never forget a memory from that trip. Not far from where Lasseter’s Cave is, almost to Western Australia and half way down Tjukaruru Rd we sat under a mighty desert oak.

Myself and four ladies aged 65 – 85 and who spoke nine distinct languages between them. I can’t name them as they have all passed now.  We talked about the women dancing dreaming.  The women noticed my scars on my legs from knee surgery.

This lead to a stripping off and comparison of scars. Cancer.  Childbirth.  Car rollovers.  Violence.

I have never felt so in awe of female strength. I have never felt so privileged to be considered worthy of this information. 

This work I will never forget. Leaving it I will always regret.  I left because my family thought my relationship with my son should have been more important.  So I came into town.

Not that it made any difference; I no longer have a relationship with my now adult son because of a long history that goes back to before my time at sacred sites. But that’s another story.  I never found love with a partner again, just abuse.  But that, again, is another story, for another time.

I left the love of my life, field work and I have never been able to get back to it.

Since then it’s been jobs that tore out my soul.  Community service, death and violence.  People working in senior positions with no skill but clearly benefiting from the suffering of Aboriginal people.  My skills being used up and becoming exhausted.  Burn out and severe illness.  I ran away for three years, wrote a book and came back in 2016.

The jobs got worse and I am tired of a government that spends $51 million on promoting tourism and nothing on community service.  But throughout this, all of this, there have been amazing times and experiences.

Some highlights:

  • Resurveying Uluru sacred sites.  Getting to legally register an important women’s site that hadn’t been registered for political reasons for 20+ years.  The path was moved and the women were delighted.
  • Driving over 36 000 kms off-road in a 4WD, often on my own.  Through amazing country and with amazing people.
  • Seeing amazing cultural and sacred places with traditional owners.  Over 36 major sacred sites projects.
  • Designing a new procurement system so that Aboriginal work-crews on construction projects got work instead of fly in fly out labour.  Community employment options that were not previously available and I got to hang out on remote community road construction projects.
  • The kids.  I love them to pieces.  My own family say I loved them more than my own son.  Not true.  But then my family never understood why I cared so much about remote communities.

The lowlights:

  • Death.  Losing people you work with and love.  All the time.  I can’t stress the sadness of the realities of working with disadvantaged Aboriginal communities.
  • Incompetence.  Government incompetence largely.  Senior bureaucrats running the show without a clue and the impact on remote communities is devastating.  Pointing it out means you eventually get a reputation as trouble – even if it is things that would not be tolerated in the cities that you are pointing out.
  • Corruption.  Chief Minister Gunner, I hope you are serious about an Independent Commission against Corruption (ICAC).
  • My health.  It has taken a huge toll on my health and I already had disability issues when I came here.
  • Now.  How I feel now.  I don’t want to leave, but I have to, I can’t bear another job watching people die.  I feel I will be better used spreading the word about how it is out here from somewhere else.

I don’t think I’ll come back.  I’m sad about that.  There are people here I consider family.  But my heart can’t take anymore.  I cried when a friend posted pics of Uluru on her Facebook today.  I don’t think I will get back to thank the earth there.

I think I am going to study, I am not sure.  I will do more comedy and write some political satire about how shit government is.

Did I find the happy future? I’m not sure.  Depends on whether happiness is your only destination.  I found enormous life experience.  I found resilience.  I found love of culture but mostly loss.  But I also found me and I like the me I am now instead of that angry 35 year old.

There are some things I would do differently if I could go back 13 years.  For sure.  But I can’t and who knows what the future holds?

I love you Alice Springs.  I am very sad to say goodbye. I am fairly well broken.

The Strange Girl’s Dad

Deep in my mind’s eye

I see you, Dad, again

Framed by blue sky

And I’m a little girl again

You look down at me

And take my hand

I look up and all I see

Is that smiling man

No one understood me

I was “that” kid

You were the only family

That didn’t want me hid

They’d talk around me

As though I wasn’t here

You’d try to make them see

That I was standing there

You saw creative clever me

And it always made you mad

That they were too cruel to see

Beyond the strange girl’s Dad

I’ll miss you always

When I struggle too

They’re the longest days

Endless memories of you

I wish you were here

To take my hand

Tell them not to sneer

To help them understand

Those days together

The best days I had

I’ll always remember

My strange girl’s Dad.

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.