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. 

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.  

The GREAT FULL Heart

In my post yesterday – I talked about a grateful heart or even more so, a GREAT FULL heart.

I need to expand on this a little bit.  I aim to balance between difficult discussions and beautiful ones. I am a comedian as well as a writer, this blog uses humour in most posts, but overall it is meant to be “my mess in a message inspirational”. At least, I hope so.

If you go through the rest of this blog you see discussions about pain, loss, mental healthbrain injuries and other matters about recovering from trauma.

There are also posts about comedy, women in comedy, writing, hope and overcoming shitty stuff, travel and our senses, and love.

What do I like about gratefulness? I am changing some spelling here for literary effect…beware grammar/spelling police…

There is a direct correlation between gratefulness and people with great full hearts and happier, more fulfilled lives.  Go to any number of texts that I could list if you like…but I thought I would give my take on it.

  • Gratefulness leads to a bigger space for life.  A greatfull heart is much more likely to go and climb a mountain than complain about spending $5000 on a curved TV to get a better look at a mountain they think they cannot reach.  They are less likely to die on a couch in suburbia wishing they had gone travelling instead.  They’ll choose to enhance their life experience over living it through others, because they are inspired by the world around them.
  • Gratefulness leads to a bigger space for working with discomfort and overcoming it. The greatfull heart finds ways to minimise pain and measures ways to engage with the world in a way so that pain does not become an impenetrable barrier.  The grateful heart is pleased to be able to move – even if that movement creates pain.
  • Gratefulness leads to a bigger space for hope.  The greatfull heart is okay with working with issues that cause discomfort and the people that need great full hearts now, more than ever.  They do not care if the person receiving their energy is perceived as broken, lost, frightened, dangerous or considered diseased or dirty.  They do so without need for applause.  The result uplifts spirits and lives.
  • Gratefulness leads to less fear in the world.  The greatfull heart knows not how something might go wrong, but knows that from every wrong we can make something right. They will speak their truth and do not live in denial of the wrong in the world either.  They often refuse to be bystanders and are more likely to act to correct wrong with action.

Gratefulness = great full hearts.  Gratefulness goes beyond creating personal happiness.  Gratefulness creates positive change.

Dumping the bucket list in the bucket…

So many people are living for the rush of some idea of a future that isn’t grounded in the  right now. A future holiday.  A future job.  A future home.  A new smart phone.  And they forget to live in the meantime.

Like the ancient Pharaohs, it’s almost like a lot of people are stashing possessions for an afterlife – but in a twisted way that will just see them dried up, albeit pretty, corpses (maybe even before they die). Even the concept of a bucket list of travel experiences is used in this way, it’s not about enriching our experience through our lives, but towards some mythical end of life experience (which for many is too late).  I think we need to dump the idea of a bucket list and change it to the “Grateful heart list”.

In mentioning the Pharaohs, I mean no disrespect to Egyptian culture, I’ve just spent four weeks experiencing it and I love Egypt and the Egyptian people.  So the comparison between the Pharaohs lifestyle and modern Western materialism is very tongue in cheek of course.

Because folks, we Westerners are definitely not Pharaohs – late stage capitalism makes us more like consumerist addicted zombies.

I realised today that I haven’t had that kind of thinking for over ten years now and just how liberating it is to be free of it.

The irony is that since I freed myself of that kind of thinking all number of things I once dreamed about, happened.   Particularly in regard to travel and adventure (and on shoestring budgets too! I am far from wealthy in a material sense).

I do a running tally of all the “little” things I am grateful for every day, as much as I possibly can. This also means setting achievable goals for life’s experiences (like travel or study, not material things) that give me joy and a sense of contribution.  It’s all funded through meaningful community based work (in both community services and the arts) – work that I love (not dread).

I come from a family where travelling overseas was not common.  Not in my immediate family.  My Dad travelled to fight in World War II (he would be 95 his coming April if he was still alive) but for many of the generations before me, they didn’t get to travel like I do.  *I need to add that when I travel, I do not do “tourism”.  I use responsible and ethical travel options, homestays, support local economies and try and keep my carbon footprint as low as I can.  I do not do checklists of places to “say I have been there” and try to avoid hanging around in “cliques of foreigners”. I spend time with local people and immerse myself as much as I can for as long as I can (usually four – twelve weeks).  

Basically for the past three generations in my family – they travelled to (potentially) die in a war, migrate to another country, or flee a fascist regime.   They then built a life for themselves and future generations.  However for me I had to abandon the things they prized once settled in a place to achieve a more privileged form of travel.

I don’t have a mortgage and I don’t aim to own the latest in anything.  Happily, willingly.  When I move house it’s two small cars worth of moving.  I could pack up tomorrow and be in whatever location I desire, still earn good money and still contribute to any community.

I realise I am very privileged in this sense. I hope that my contribution to the world will mean that generations after me take what I have for granted. That is indeed my hope.

However I don’t own much.  What I do own is:

  • A heart full of respect for other people and their culture/s,
  • A passionate desire to see the world find some peace with itself,
  • A sense of joy at the beautiful little things all around me each and every day,
  • An appreciation of nature and it’s gifts,
  • A wealth of great stories about fantastic places and people,
  • Language skills in six languages now (from beginner to intermediate),
  • An ability to problem solve and feel good about my contribution to the world,
  • A university education (again something my immediate family were not privileged enough to be afforded), and,
  • A life filled with intelligent thoughtful work, art, comedy, writing, regular travel and adventure.

I don’t own a bucket list.  I threw that idea out with the ‘before you kick the bucket” bucket it came in.

What I do own is a grateful heart.  Let me rephrase that another way too.

A GREAT FULL heart.

Blah. Blah. Blah. Stay Positive.

After recovering from a traumatic early life and then experiencing the trauma of surviving neurological decompression illness and waves and waves of other trauma – I have been the biggest proponent of the power of positive thought.

Until recently.  Until recently – when someone used the power of positive thought as a weapon to make me feel like a recent illness was my own fault – like I could have willed away a virus that took out 18 people around me.  What’s worse was that I had to cancel two paying comedy shows…bah humbug.

I’d like to make a distinction here between “positive thought” and “poking people in the eye with positivity”.

It’s not really positive thought I have a problem with.  It’s all the generalist bullshit that comes with it.

Sometimes it feels like society needs a “pill” for everything.  A quick fix.  A magical cure.

Often that doesn’t exist.

I still believe that positive thinking is powerful, life changing and important.  But some people use the phrase “Stay positive” or “Think positive” as a weapon and this is where I take issue.

The irony is that social science has moved away from something called “positivism” or the notion that cause and effect is everything.  So it’s interesting that some people still so desperately search for cause and effect often to the detriment of themselves and others.

“Stay positive and take care of yourself“.  Yes of course! That will solve EVERYTHING! The notion of radical self care is quite frankly, a delusion and can be an act of victim blaming.  Sometimes it becomes impossible to practice self care at the level these people think is possible – it’s a very privileged worldview indeed.  Invariably, these are the people who have savings, property and people to support them – which for many Australians is simply not the case.  For single parents, lower income earners, struggling families, those managing long term health problems, injuries or illnesses and a lot of the rest of us – the notion of taking time out for yoga, meditation, clean eating, copious amounts of immersion in nature, etc. etc. is a dubious one.

Here’s an alterative thought: instead of waving self-care and positive thinking at your friend that is struggling, why don’t you ask them if you can DO anything.  Then do what they ask (within reason – last time I asked for total world domination of the comedy circuit and that clearly wasn’t possible).  If you can’t help then find someone who will help and be on your way.  Maybe then they might be able to take some time out for self care.  I have awesome friends who do this and I do it in return – try it! It works.

So unless you’ll bring me a coffee, do my washing and help promote a comedy show while I am invested in downward dog…no. Just no.

On writing and my Hachette mentorship.

The only word I can find right now is “strange” to sum up how I feel. So, I’ll write a story and share it here. A story about writing a book.

“I want to be a writer or a journalist”, said the thirteen year old who had been writing poems and complex stories as early as eight. She had rushed home from school to announce this. Her English teacher had just poured over her work and given her what felt like the first genuine praise that she had ever received.

“Why? Do you want to live in a garage and eat dog food? Cause that’s what will happen”, came her mothers response. She knew, deep down, not to expect any more than this, it was the nature of how her family saw the world. Later in life, her mother would become one of her biggest supporters in encouraging her to finish the story.

But her little girl’s heart craved for “Well then, what courses can we enroll you in? How can we support you?”

Instead she became an aircraft technician, then a hodge podge of other things.
But when she was 26, in the basement of her existence she wrote a short story. It was about a place she had traveled to, for extended periods, when she was a girl. A place in the centre of Australia that her father loved and where he had lived and worked during the 1960’s. The area around Alice Springs.

Finally she became an anthropologist, the main thrust of which, was describing people and things.

Writing. She never stopped writing. But it became technical, functional. Privately, the story written about the desert continued to create itself, emerging in pieces. Always hidden but occasionally mentioned and revealed to a small group she trusted.

She moved to the desert at 35 and worked on country with the people it belonged to. The story grew. She liked this story, but she was terrified no one else would. She didn’t care if it never got published, she just wanted to finish it.

At 44 she committed to finishing it. Only because she had lost everything in her life that meant something, everything except this one story. She worked teaching English for a few months in China and finally finished the story. At least to a point it needed to be seen by someone who knew what a good story was. To have it measured. She knew there was more to be done, but for now, it was where she wanted the story to be (alive).

It was a story not like the writing she did for work. It was historical fiction about Central Australia. It was about themes that were important, but also about being human. About a place and the experience of the people who live there, a place that most Australians do not know or understand. About being fragile. About being real. About the frontier of the past and the now, the frontiers of culture, care and healing. But it was also a piece of her own heart.

It sat. She returned to the Desert at 45 and the place that first birthed the story in her teens. A dear friend sent her the Hachette publishing mentorship links. Just shy of her 46th birthday, she pushed send on the first three chapters, sending it down an internet wormhole to judgement.

In the dark of her living room, she sat and cried. A whole tub of ice cream was consumed. The little voice in her head said “dog food”.

To her complete surprise, the story won the mentorship. 12 months of review and technical edits were awarded to the story. She sent the whole final draft off, the voice in her head saying “garage”.

The first literary agent review came in five months later. Not really the perilous wait you might imagine, as she had convinced herself the story would be rejected.

It was feedback that made her believe in the story. That’s not to say she didn’t like the story. But the fact that an expert did, well that was something.

There is no way to describe how that feels. But it’s not jumping around wildly. She’s still kind of, well, pleasantly frightened.

It still has a way to go. But writing will commence again and the second draft will take some of the characters where they need to go. Some of the work needs to be “less academic” or rather, needs to be as brave as the other chapters.
She knows the story is good. She probably always did. But the makings of a great novel? Those were the words. Great. Novel.

It’s one thing to believe in yourself and your ability (which she does). It’s another thing to act. It’s altogether another thing to rise above those little voices that recite negative messages from our pasts.

But they are just voices. It will take some more time, but not as long as the 20 years it took to get to here. She’s in a different headspace now.

She doesn’t particularly care if it doesn’t make it onto the shelf as long as it continues to grow out of her heart. If it ends up on a shelf, a piece of her heart will possibly leap into someone else’s. Either way, it’s a beautiful, although sometimes confronting, place to be.

Welcome: White Fence.

Creativity, childhood, confidence et. al.

As 2016 draws closer to its conclusion I have found myself reflecting on the most amazing year I have had in terms of personal growth.  The pic in the featured image was my very first stand up comedy gig in May.  I have been writing and performing comedy ever since.

Til I was about 44 I repressed my creativity into pursuits I was convinced were “more productive”.

“What do you mean you want to be a writer? Do you want to end up living in a garage eating dog food?”

Those words spoken to me when I was announcing at 12 what I wanted to be, rang loud in my psyche until very recently.  The arts and anyone even vaguely associated with the arts – were scoffed at in my FOO (family of origin).

You had to get a serious job and pay the bills.  NO room to be creative was allowed.  The irony is that some members of my family still brag how I wrote my first poem at 8.  It was push/pull.

One minute I was praised for my writing and creative ability and the next minute verbally punished.  *I need to make it clear, there is no blame here just discussion. There were positives and negatives with this FOO experience.  My post-war baby boomer parents acted in this way cause this was what you did to ensure your child “survived”. 

So I channelled my creative mind into a “profession” and even though I thought I was in the drivers seat, something else was.

Me.  I was driving and not driving, there was choice and not-choice simultaneously.  From a technical career I hated, to moving into anthropology (which I love); a career that meant I had to observe and comment, albeit in very “dry” terms.  I had to immerse myself in life and write about it for purposes such as cultural heritage management, cross-cultural literacy projects, teaching/lecturing, field work of various applications of my training.

This year I committed to making a living through a day job and a creative life outside (which has three parts, performing comedy, speaking gigs and painting) of work that I plan to build into my full time career in the next ten years.  The day job is still there, but the monotony of it allows me to do the other “more important stuff”.

As I do more stand up comedy and learn to promote myself properly. See one of the head shots below that I just had done professionally.  I found really hard to do cause I was talking to myself like my mother would.  Instead of listen I channelled that negative voice; thus the middle finger on the cup.  However I grapple with this undercurrent of disapproval even to this day.

JacciPillar.png

As a child I was not allowed to shine, perform, sing or act without encountering considerable negativity.  Perfor ming was considered vain, superficial etc. etc.  I still have significant performance anxiety I have to overcome every time I speak publically or perform.  So many people I talk to, who have seen me in action, find this hard to believe, but it’s true.

However the caution and care that comes from that negative undercurrent of childhood discourse, is a good thing (I have made it a positive).  Because all my work has meaning and is not intended to just benefit me.  Cause I can’t stand money-obsessed “Khardasian” culture as I call it.

In a world becoming incredibly narcissistic it can become easy to label performers unnecessarily.  But there is still a difference between craft and art.  I would like to think I will take this new career on as art – seriously with the intention to give to others, make a living and not become a commodity.

I haven’t believed that phrase “make a living” has to mean a career to merely pay the bills and conform to societal expectations for about 15 years.  I believe it should be an extension of who you are.

So culturally I think we have to bust the “starving artist” discourse.  It just serves to punish creative people and try and put them on a capitalist factory line  of producing tax paying drones with depression.  Lots of people make a living from artistic work (and pay tax too!) and we need to revalue the arts.  The arts provide us with a sense of the world in more ways than we acknowledge and realise.

Here’s the thing.  If you have a creative child and you are not particularly creative, don’t label them.

Don’t let some teacher or doctor tell you it’s a behavioural issue that they seem easily distracted or day dream.  So they are not going to be the Civil Engineer you wanted them to be. Maybe they will become a architect and build amazing structures or a graphic designer or something else.  Creativity and a career don’t have to be mutually exclusive.  Let them find a path that honours their creative mind.

I don’t resent any path I have taken.  Each one has given me experience to get to here and I am grateful. However part of me wishes I had been encouraged to be as brave as I am now – when I was 12.

If you are interested in my comedy agency (my non-day job) – visit http://www.ginandtitters.com.

Early next year I will be preforming stand up comedy at Adelaide Fringe Festival and doing some speaking for International Women’s Day in Alice Springs and Darwin.

Or drop me a line on the contact form below.