Everybody who really knows me knows that I am a crier. I’m not so much a sad-crier as I am a happy-crier.
Sure, I’ll indulge in the occasional sad-crying at things that are awful or Liberal party related, but I usually reserve my open-mouth guttural sobs for things that remind me of love, beauty, connection and community.
For example, a dog crying with happiness and fainting with joy after her owner returns from a long time away.
For example, a photo album my family made me for my 21st birthday with a complete chronology of every year of my life painstakingly arranged in a fetching shabby chic cardboard album.
For example, the time my partner organised a huge vegan birthday cake with rainbow icing, emblazoned with “Happy Birthday Jessitchka” and then bought me a moist lemon scroll to eat on the way to my birthday party in case I couldn’t wait long enough for my actual cake.
It is moments like these – the ones that remind you that love is fierce, and stronger than many less lovely things – that make me cry the most.
I feel like the last 24 hours has been a new type of public horrible. We’ve seen politicians kowtow to industry in ways that hurt small voiceless creatures. We’ve seen equal rights advocates put their own needs last in order to protect the little ones who need protecting. We then watched a vampire call them vampires for this selflessness. I had a ten-minute conversation with my colleagues yesterday afternoon about sweet self-defence moves we’ve learnt in various women’s safety classes before a sick feeling descended on us and we realised “we are all experts in something like this, because we have to be.”
Today is Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. It’s meant to be a sombre day, of reflection, forward planning, and apologies for wrongdoing or cruelty you might have caused.
I don’t remember a Yom Kippur when it hasn’t rained. I don’t believe in a god, but I do feel like there’s something quite ceremoniously apt here: the skies open at the moment that a large group of people become reflective, introspective, and strive to do better. The weeping of the sky takes place when the pursuit of good is crystallised; made intentional.
For Yom Kippur, I facilitated a session with a group of teenagers where they met a Holocaust survivor and heard his story of fleeing the Nazis, being hidden and protected by non-Jews, and miraculously surviving to tell his story. He told us of new chances in many different parts of France, and then in Australia. I watched the 12-year-old boys of the group slink away from childish in-jokes into territory quite different. Mouths drooping open, like the sky above them.
I decided, afterwards, to go for a walk in the biting wind, to process this heavy day of stories, and remind myself of how free I am, even under a big grey sky.
As I headed home, up the stairs to my apartment, I saw a young woman in a sari holding a tiny baby. We smiled at each other, and I walked on. As I rounded the corner, something clicked. The taxi out the front, the luggage on the curb wrapped in long-haul glad wrap. Further down the corridor, I bumped into my new neighbour, a man in his thirties, whom I had met only briefly once before. We said hello, and he grinned a sweet, almost guilty grin, his face bubbling so hot with joy that one could do nothing but grin back.
He gestured to the woman with the baby behind me.
“My wife and my kid just arrived.”
I welcomed them. Embarrassingly excitedly. And then I went inside, and I wept a little bit at the challenges that are ahead of them, at the Australia they are entering, at the world this baby will inhabit.
But then I wept hardest at the beauty behind all of this: at my neighbour’s grin of joy, of having his family in one spot, of the three of them snuggled up together in a warm room, on a cold night, for a new and unknowable beginning.
These are the things that keep us going.
Some of you may know that I like dogs.
Occasionally I write about dog-related events.
Or the intricacies of dog training.
Last week, I continued in my quest to be the most well-travelled dog-enthusiast-cum-feminist-Jewish-playwright the world has ever seen. And I did good.
Once a year, the small Victorian town of Kyneton hosts a Daffodil Arts Festival. This is a joyous spring event where people from all over congregate in Kyneton to look at flowers, race ferrets, get spooked by artisanal scarecrows, and justify having devonshire tea for lunch because “the proceeds go to some sort of charity.”
I hopped in the car with my partner whose blog you should read, and we drove a pleasant hour on the highway to Kyneton. As we neared the outskirts of the city, I found my breathing grow more shallow and hysterical because I noticed that EVERY GARDEN and EVERY SHOPFRONT boasted a wheelbarrow of daffodils.
(Regular readers may also know how I feel about all members of the narcissus family.)
We had a wonderful time at the flower show where I managed my breathing and visualised the word ‘CALM.” even when viewing floral arrangements titled “GOLD GOLD GOLD” and “LONG AND LOW.”
We choked down our requisite charity scones. (Ugh, I haaaate delicious fluffy scones and piping hot cups of tea served by friendly country ladies.) And then we power-walked to the Dog Dash.
The Dog Dash wasn’t due to kick off for a while, but I could feel in my waters that things were starting to begin. We walked down Main Street, rejecting all “please sniff me” overtures from neighbouring flowers, because we could sense a big congress of easily grabbable dogs in close proximity.
And we were right. The Dog Dash organisers had commandeered the town velodrome and set it up as a doggie heaven. The velodrome was PACKED with dogs, owners, and lurkers like our good selves. We counted close to 100 dogs, all of whom were friendly and very excited about this social event.
This is what happens at a Dog Dash:
- 80 dogs line up in a row in front of a 40 metre strip of turf and try to sniff each others’ butts.
- Each dog’s owner walks to the end of the strip of turf and gestures wildly to their dog, who is being held by his or her collar at the opposite side of the track.
- The owner gets more animated at the end of the turf, screaming “CHICKEN! Come to Mumma! I love you!!!!!”
- The dog is released from its grip at the same time as the official race-master drops a white flag (sadly devoid of any paw-print imaging) and the dog bounds towards its owner, hopefully in under 5 seconds, if it hopes to get anywhere close to winning the title of Fastest Dog in Town.
The thing about point 4 on this list is that maybe only 5 dogs got anywhere near mastering the under-5-seconds time. Most dogs sauntered coolly down the race track, stopping to say hi to people and dogs alike, as if some really chill celebrity on a red carpet. Sometimes the dogs would get partway down the line and decide they didn’t really feel like racing any more, so they would just turn around and walk back to the mass of butt-sniffing happening at the start line.
The best part was seeing greyhounds doing what they’re meant to do: being lazy little babies who had absolutely no interest in running fast whatsoever, but doing the bare minimum so that they could get back to their favourite hobby: having their butt sniffed by smaller dogs while wearing leopard print.
The Dog Dash was easily a normal-life-highlight, and even a dog-enthusiast life-highlight. I highly recommend you go in 2017.
I thought I’d share some articles I have written in avenues that are not Would Jess Like It. Please enjoy:
And finally: I didn’t write this article, but the comment section is already generating years worth of future WJLIs, so check it out.
Hey oldie! Yeah, you! You’re officially invited to a seminar on Entering Your Thirties, situated in a nicely ventilated room with easily accessible bathrooms and protein-based snacks. The event is meant to start on the hour, but we’re aware you might be a bit late, because leaving the house now involves something of a circuit course of “check the heater, check the stove, check the lights, check you’ve locked the front door, did you really check the stove, what about the oven, better double-check the door’s really locked, and maybe check the heater once more on your way out.”
So we can assume you’ll all be a little bit late from your circuit training. Let’s not forget the fact that the walk from tram stop to conference centre will take a bit longer this evening because you’ve forgotten to do your double leg calf raises, which are a necessity handed down to you by your venerated Physiotherapist, ever since you injured your overly mobile ankles during a particularly energetic bout of Jewish folk dancing.
We also welcome those of you who might want to Skype into this meeting, and we thank you for your searingly honest RSVPs explaining this choice. Some of our favourite responses were, “I work 9-5, in order to spent 5-9 away from humanity” and “if a bold and risky entrepreneur suggested installing a toilet and fridge inside the structure of a bed, I would singlehandedly make that entrepreneur a millionaire.”
Other regrets coming in are from the perkier and fitter members of our over-30s who tell us that they must exercise without pause between the hours of 5pm and 10pm in order to stave off the inevitable descent into decrepitude and calf-weakness that yawns and flashes ever-temptingly before them.
We hope those of you who are left – you, who missed her train on the Upfield line, and you, who wants to avoid his housemates’ marathon viewing of Four Weddings – find this seminar helpful. We will be covering such topics as:
“I didn’t know I even had that muscle until it started hurting”
“Why can’t I eat with the gusto I used to?”
“I need to tell more strangers more often what they’re doing incorrectly”
and our most popular topic, “No more caffeine after 4pm: a night-terrors and micturition tale”
We look forward to seeing you at this exciting event, and hearing your many interminable anecdotes.
Sunshine is a controversial thing. Many people love it. Many people avoid it at all costs. Many celebrities have opinions on it, treating it like a too-smart antagonist in a David Mamet play. They shield themselves from it desperately, with creams and hats and glasses.
Sunshine causes burning and drying and crinkling, but it also provides energy (in literal and metaphorical ways), and little sprouts curling out of the ground ever-skywards, and it is also a useful signifier when trying to explain the sight, smell and (assumed, never tested) taste of jonquils.
Sunshine is something I have tended to avoid. I am sensitive to sunshine due to my pale Eastern European skin. Russian Jews are sensitive to sunlight the way in the same way we are sensitive to changes in people’s mood, feedback that is not couched in a compliment sandwich, and trace amounts of gluten.
As a result, I tend to enjoy the look of sunshine, and the jonquils it allows to pop defiantly out of the earth during the depths of winter, but I do not enjoy too much of an exposure to sunshine. For me, sunshine on skin is a sometimes-treat. Too much of it, and you’re spraying anaesthetic cream on your butt in a badly ventilated bathroom that night.
However, sunlight is something you really miss when you spend a winter in Melbourne. Melbourne has very very little sunlight during the winter months. You might find you’ve got through a whole week of grey days without once feeling a brush of its hot fingers on your vulnerable neck skin.
As a result, a lot of Melbournites find themselves progressively folding into themselves over the course of a long winter. After all, what are we but delicate little jonquils ourselves, trying desperately to pop our bright heads out of the soil and stay alive?
It’s easy to forget that sunshine ever existed, that it was part of your day-to-day, that hot rays once smiled down on you, sizzling your monobrow hairs and making your stockings give you sweat-itch on the back of your thighs.
Melbourne winter has warmth, like the sardine-packed South Morang line after peak hour, or a state theatre company filled with a mass of old people’s sleep-farts, but Melbourne does not give sun easily.
This is where Vitamin D comes in. A few months ago I was in my friend’s bathroom and noticed he had a bottle with 1,000 Vitamin D tablets. The little transparent bubbles clinked alluringly in their plastic tub. He told me, “they’re essential. You must.”
And can I just say: Vitamin D is a game-changer. You’ll notice the difference next time you do your sanity-power-walk in your lunch break, and you welcome the cloud-lined sky with a wink and a grin, instead of just another weary sigh.
Vitamin D is so much more than a funny euphemism for dicks regularly used by members of the gay and hag community. Vitamin D is what will get you through a Victorian winter.
Now you go out and get that D, baby girl.
There are a few things at WJLI HQ that are really important to us: regular sunshine, ongoing dog-access, and foods that double-bang the descriptors of both salty AND crunchy.
Sometimes we decide it’s time to stretch open our experience bank a little wider, to make sure that we are exposing you to all the important things that life has to offer.
This is all a pretty long-winded way of saying: I tried ear-candling for you.
I’m no stranger to attempted ear-candling. The last time I tried it was roughly 10 years ago, and it was not a success.
My mum had invested in luxury hair interventions for my sister and myself at a curl-centric salon in Waverley. The salon was helmed by a woman who dressed in all purple and wore her long mane of curly white hair long and free.
This woman told us that many women commit Crimes Against Curls, because we grow up in a culture that teaches us to restrain our mane. This was the worst thing we could ever do to our curls. Every time we tied our hair back with a restraining elastic band, we were rubbing those delicate follicles so raw that they became dry and snappable.
I didn’t even dare ASK her what she thought of rubber bands in hair. I wanted to walk out of there alive.
According to this Earth Mother of Curls, we should treat our hair as if it is a veil of chiffon, and our shoulders like a brittle rock. Gently splay out your curls upon the rock, careful of stressing, snagging, pulling or traumatising the hair.
I learnt a lot from this woman, so when she offered me a very reasonable upsell of “healing temple massage plus bonus ear candling”, I immediately said yes. The temple massage was extraordinarily healing, and helped me process the feelings I had around a very emotionally draining play I was acting in that week.
(Our university theatre society had decided that the best application of first year Drama student skills was a production of The Diary of Anne Frank, and I played the vain Mrs Van Daan, who progressively loses her furs and expensively cultivated looks over the course of the play, as a metaphor for the costs of fascism.)
After this healing massage, I lay on a soft floor for my ear candling. Earth Mother delicately plonked a beeswax tube into my ear canal, set it on fire, and went off on her lunch break. With no one manning my candle, I was lax in ensuring it had been dug deep enough into my ear. When we pulled the candle out afterward, it was completely dry and empty of even a small ball of wax.
Ten years passed before I attempted ear candling again. I thought, “What’s the point? It’s just like Rescue Remedy and oil pulling. Useless.”
Until one day, the health food shop in Northlands had a special “4 for 2 deal” and my inner Scrooge said, “if not now, when?”
And here’s the lesson I learnt about ear candling.
YOU GOTTA CRAM THAT BABY DEEP IN YOUR EAR IF YOU WANT IT TO DO SHIT!
With a deeply-filled ear hole, I finally experienced the big deal that everyone had been going on about all these years. Ear candling is UTTER MAGIC. It is a wholly mindful experience with an incredibly useful side-effect of clean ears. I now swear by it.
Let me tell you some of the best stuff about ear candling:
- The fact that you can listen to what it sounds like to have a fire inside your head
- The fact that said fire has the double duty of SUCKING WAX OUT OF YOUR HEAD AND TAKING IT SOMEWHERE NEW
- The fact that it is a beautiful trust exercise between you and whoever is facilitating your candling, due to the proximity of flame to your delicate eyelash hairs.
- The fact that YOU GET TO CUT OPEN THE CANDLE AFTERWARDS AND SEE WHAT DISGUSTING THINGS YOU ACHIEVED.
I don’t want to go into too much detail, but yes I do. Of course I do.
Imagine what 30 years of just cleaning your ear with just ear buds looks like. Pushing wax deeper into your ear canal so that it starts a new society up there and declares squatter’s rights. And then imagine a big cleansing fire coming through and razing that village to the ground. Ok, this isn’t a nice image to anyone except Liberal Party HQ, but try to remember this is about your ears, and not social policy.
At the end of a good candling, you will have a candle full of dusty hoovered skin flakes, and several hard balls of wax. The skin flakes look like what I imagine would happen if you beat up a really old tiny skeleton and it exploded inside the borders of your boyfriend’s sink. The balls of wax look like precious amber stones. They would look at home strung on a necklace, and they are heavy in volume, like a high-class Easter egg. When you drop them in the sink, they make a sonorous “clink”. They are heaven.
Ear waxing, for me, is now going to be filed next to “eating avocado” and “saying no to fun” as one of those things that you should have appreciated years and years ago, but what can you do about that now?
All you can do is the following thing: schedule a six-monthly appointment for ear candling, and begin harvesting a beautiful collection of your ear amber to share with your human/dog progeny one day in the future.
Sometimes, I like to talk to young professional friends about what a career in theatre is like. It’s illuminating to share experiences with them, and hear what their own career conditions are like. They talk about occasionally frustrating workmates, unimpressive pay at first, but a sense of ascension. Building up. Gaining more recognition with more experience.
When I tell them about a career in the arts, their response tends to be a mixture of envy and shock. Envy that we have a career where we can wear what we want, express our selves, be iconoclastic, create new things. Shock around the lack of progression, our state of being at the mercy of knee-jerk political whims, and most gravely, about the financial recognition.
There is particular shock around the idea of unpaid work. That we might work for months on a project, the amount of hours equivalent to a full time job, but those hours stolen from gaps where we should be sleeping, exercising, or seeing our loved ones. They are shocked to hear we might take away a few hundred dollars – if we’re lucky – from an experience like that. These friends come and see our work and are impressed by the display of deepening skill, a firmer sense of expression, and a burgeoning talent, all done in stolen hours where those who work a 9-6 might choose to pursue other things. We’re lucky this is our passion. But the fact also hurts us.
This week, I found out that a show I’ve been waiting to produce in Melbourne since I moved here is being canned. The company can’t afford it. They promised us the slot; they’ve now retracted that promise. If you’re wondering what it feels like: it’s like being dumped. The same erosion of self-esteem, the same fear of never getting back up again, the same flatness, depression, and creative numbness.
It is a great privilege to have your job be your passion, but it is utterly annihilating when your job exists in a climate and country that does not value your work. It makes you wonder if you have wasted your life. It is a truly awful feeling.
I am lucky to work in the youth arts sector, in addition to the independent theatre sector. Youth Arts is one of the few places that has reasonable funding. This doesn’t apply across the board. The current funding model from national bodies like Australia Council for the Arts have rewarded some companies and cut the funding of others, entirely at the discretion of the Arts Minister. I cherish the work I’ve been able to do in youth arts environments: helping young people tell stories, writing them plays that they can perform and deepen their skills by doing, and giving voice to the beauty of their difference. I would never have been able to do this work without my experience in the independent theatre sector. Similarly, if I ever ascend up the hypothetical escalator into the plush (but just as jittery) environs of main stage theatre, it would be my independent experience that has made me worthy of the job.
The Liberal Government is enacting a kneecapping of the independent sector in a way that ensures there will be no future artists of quality. If there are any left after the recent demolition, they will only be the ones who can afford to fund their own ascension. The rest of us will have given up. Found less-creative less-passionate jobs, but ones that reward us for our hard-earned work ethic, problem-solving capacity, and teamwork.
Funding the independent arts sector is the only way to ensure that we have artists who can graduate to main stage theatres. Imagine an Education Minister who closes down all schools and wonders why university applicants can’t read.
Please show that you stand with the arts this election. You can sign this petition, you can speak to your local Member of Parliament about this, or you can vote out the Coalition Government on July 2nd. You can share this post with people who might want to know more about these issues, and spread the word outside my bubble of arts people.
Thank you for reading.