Starting School

Yesterday, my eldest child started school.

I’ve been counting down for five years until this moment. I thought I would skip off merrily after dropping him on the first day, and with a big sigh of relief have myself a mid-morning cocktail and a rest. I was sure I wouldn’t cry.


But there I was on Sunday, alone in my house while the kids are with their dad, balling my eyes out.

And there I was on Monday, in the school kitchen, listening to some other Prep parents chat about how drop off hasn’t affected them, watching my daughter and ex-husband eat slice and weeping into my tea.

I was crying not because I’ll miss him being around during the day, although I will. Not because I’m proud of him, although I am. Not because he wasn’t ready or seemed too little, because he was raring to go.

I’m upset because it means the hardest five years of my life are over. There is a sense of achievement, and yet this celebration is bittersweet because I still feel like a failure.

Firstly, my identity as a mother of two preschool aged children shifts again and I am one step closer to the reality of what I will do with my time when both of my children are at school. In the next two years, I will need to ensure that my chosen line of work reaps enough financial rewards to fund my life – and meet my children’s needs – and I’m terrified because it probably won’t.

Being a mother of two children at home is really tough, but it’s still a luxury because my life is funded (to the bare minimum, don’t get me wrong) by the government. Thanks to that, I’ve been able to be more artistically prolific than ever in the past five years. Looming on the horizon is the day I am no longer eligible for Parenting Payment and my efforts in making a living from making theatre and writing will be tested.

Secondly is the fact that the family I thought I was bringing this child into no longer exists. While we were able to wave goodbye and wish him luck at the classroom door together, the nuclear family portrait only has a passing resemblance to our dreams and plans of five years ago. After we drop off our son, I will take my daughter home and their father will go his separate way until the next co-parenting event.

This moment of shared parental joy will forever be underscored by our failure as a couple. I think I did more to nurture and prepare him for school, and I resent that burden of the uneven load enforced by our separation. I’m sure his father feels like he has missed out on moments of his childhood and resents that too.

So in my moment of pride, I am distracted by worry – not that our son will be bullied or find the work difficult or have separation anxiety – but that our failure will mark him somehow.

Buddhism says that if you are sad, you are living in the past, and if you are anxious you are living in the future. I find really hard not to follow these thought paths – one into the past and one into the future – at pivotal moments like this. It’s hard to just concentrate on how proud my son is of his new uniform or excited he is at the new books and pencils waiting for him at his desk when my head is a whirl of future worries and past regrets.

So I am starting school too. I’m committing one evening per week to attend drop-in meditation classes. They start tonight at the Ballarat Mechanics Institute. Unfortunately I will have to wait until next week as I have another event on tonight! But as of next week, I will invest more in my own mental well-being, and hope to break this habit of following negative thought patterns. I’ve found reading about Buddhism to be helpful so far, and now I’m keen to learn about actually practicing it. I hope that my learning means that I can fully appreciate the moments in my life for what they are – full of joy, pride and love.

Flashback Friday – Poem “Another Scorcher”

I maintain that a flashback to a month ago still counts. I wrote this poem in the middle of the night, by the light of a streetlight on a random piece of paper near my bed. I read it at last month’s Words Out Loud but unfortunately my set was not recorded so it’s performance was not kept for prosperity.

Another Scorcher
The sheets radiate heat like the mirage
Shimmering off the sticky black tarmac
I can’t stand the street light but I have no choice
But to sleep with the windows open
Desperate for any breath of air
The sound of a baby crying wakes me in the night
It takes a minute to realise it’s not mine

In the morning I’m thankful that I don’t have to endure
The public transport torture
As I batten down the hatches
Bracing for another scorcher
I am reminded of the days when I could
Shove open the carriage windows
And feel the sea breeze in my hair
All the way down the Frankston line

The evening meal is cold meat and salads
It’s too hot to turn on the gas
And I feel sorry for those poor fools
Dripping in front of the fryers at my local F&C
But I order anyway and eat chips with gravy
Until the cool change arrives around nine

January 4, 2019

Christmas Is Now

I hope everyone had a good day yesterday although I’m aware that this is absolutely not “the most wonderful time of the year” for a lot of people. And despite my attempted avoidance of all things Christmas (see my previous blog post), I did end up opening presents under a tree with my children at seven am and Santa is definitely gaining a foothold in reality. I had lunch with extended family at my grandmother’s house. The food was delicious, we spent the afternoon at the beach and the kids were enchanted by new toys and books given by generous members of my family.

I’ve been reading about Buddhism lately and thinking about the principles of Impermanence and Emptiness. Impermanence is about how everything – and everyone – changes all the time. Emptiness teaches us to actively challenge your biased thinking when approaching situations and people, because they will have changed since last time – and so will have you.

So with all of this in mind, I was less comfortable than ever at this annual family event. It seems odd to lunch with strangers once a year, pretending we all know each other based on an increasingly distant shared past. On that train of thought, a poem sprang to life.

Christmas Is Now
If I lunched with strangers
They’d ask me how I was
What I do for a buck
What fires me up
Where I got that dress and
Who does my hair
But these familiar strangers
Think they already know
So comfortable is their cushioned bias
They sit deep in the memory of me
Like the soft middle of the matriarch’s well-worn chair
I’m so strangely familiar
A ghost of Christmas past
My ageless form keeps getting invited back to lunch
My reality becomes the uninvited guest
Who refused to bring their platter of
Sweet-toothed custard-covered past
Nothing is the same since I was first brought here
I’ve had my heart broken
I’ve fallen down, and got myself back up again
I’ve grown two people inside my belly
I’ve lived a life they haven’t seen
But Christmas is now
Lift those paper crowns that obscure your view
Embrace the false gunshot pain
As paper crackers never stop delivering change
I’m sitting at the head of the table
Chewing too loudly
Asking to be treated like a stranger
Refusing to be the little girl who used to be me

25 December 2018

Flashback Friday – Poem “Parent-thesis”

I love this poem so much that it now forms the opening of my newest play, The Let-Down Reflex.

I wrote it in June 2017 and it really does reflect the every day lived experience of parents. The Let-Down Reflex is currently in development and will be having a work-in progress showing on Thursday 24th January at Ballarat Trades Hall. Come along!

Continue reading

Leading Ladies of Ballarat Theatre

I interviewed eight local theatre-makers who reflected on their careers in the theatre, and gave their most pertinent advice for those wanting to make a life on the stage in the City of Ballarat & surrounds.

Featuring interviews with:

Beth Lamont Producer & Technician
Mary-Rose McClaren Academic, Writer & Director
Katrina Hill Actor & Stage Manager
Susan Pilbeam Producer & Director
Linda Davey Director
Alexandra Meerbach Actor, Director & Teacher
Paula Heenan Educator
Carol B. Cole Playwright

When did you first know that theatre was a passion?
Beth: When I was 19, I took up a theatresports course. I loved stand-up comedy but never wanted to do it myself but producing and being the tech was where I was meant to be.
Mary-Rose: My parents were both drama teachers and so I grew up going to South Street. As soon as I was old enough I subscribed to Melbourne Theatre Company.
Katrina: When I was little Riverdance came out and I wanted to be a tap dancer. It was the first time that something of that scale was on, and it was everywhere.
Susan: I realised early on that I wasn’t an actor. I first directed a show at university in my twenties and I realised it was actually something I had the skills for.
Linda: When I played Mother Rabbit in kindergarten. That was it! I just found it a magic world.
Alexandra: It was about grade 2. We performed at Her Majesty’s and it never felt like an overwhelming or terrifying experience. It always felt like home.
Paula: My dad was a musician in pit orchestra. So I’ve spent a lot of my life in theatre, but I was always too shy to get on stage. I didn’t do my first theatre show until my late teens.
Carol: There’s always been showmanship in the family, so I’m just one of them really.

What’s your career highlight so far?
Beth: Working as a Deputy Venue Manager at Sadler’s Wells in London.
Mary-Rose: Writing & Directing One Boy’s War for Ballarat National Theatre.
Katrina: Mr Bailey’s Minder for Ballarat National Theatre.
Susan: Studying in London and meeting cutting edge people like Augusto Boal.
Linda: A Tender Thing by Ben Power, with Full Circle Theatre. We were the first outside of the Royal Shakespeare Company to be granted the rights.
Alexandra: Directing Chatroom. I really love that art is a vehicle to start conversations in the community.
Paula: Sometimes just getting a really shy kid to sing a note in the lesson is the biggest thing for me.
Carol: Nothing Wrong With My Memory, which I did at Wendouree Centre for Performing Arts.

What difficulties have you faced in building a career in the arts as a women in the theatre, but also as a theatre-maker in a regional centre?
Beth: Trying to communicate my vision. People think small. But it goes the other way when I try to communicate too much and they get overwhelmed.
Mary-Rose: My biggest one is my own counter-narrative in my head, which questions my own ability. I’m sure that’s not unfamiliar and I actually think that’s quite a distinctly female thing.
Katrina: I never get cast as the romantic lead. I’m pigeon holed a little bit, but I get these really awesome roles – the stupid funny sidekick.
Susan: It’s much more difficult to get permanent employment. Doing piece work is interesting but its not sustainable.
Linda: The biggest issue is how one fund one’s life. I’ve had parallel careers and going in different directions at different times. But when life throws curveballs at you, it was quite difficult to sustain my theatre making.
Alexandra: I dont think it’s about being female, it’s about being new. There’s a bit of a clique, there’s not much mentoring going on. I don’t have that go-to production team.
Paula: The most difficult thing about what I do is the hours. I will probably never reconcile that with myself; the guilt that mums have. Raising five kids on my own, it’s a big sacrifice this industry takes.

What’s great about making theatre in Ballarat region?

Beth: Growing up here, and now having family here, I’ve always felt part of Ballarat so I feel like I want to contribute to it. I feel like I owe the place, in that its given me such a good life.
Mary-Rose: There are really good stories here. Ballarat has a lot of resonant things in the background and there’s a lot more to be told yet.
Katrina: People here are a little bit resistant to change and you have to be a bit pushy to get things happen. But you can be a big fish in a small pond here; you can be a mover and shaker.
Susan: Audience building is different here because you have to do true community engagement and really get to know them – and they you. I love seeing the joy of theatre coming to new audience members.
Linda: The proximity to Melbourne is really important for Ballarat. There’s a lot of potential here that hasn’t been captured. I think the best is yet to come.
Alexandra: Pretty much anyone who independently produces anything is filling a gap. There’s not as much competition, but in saying that there’s also not that much of a following for non-musical theatre.
Paula:  I couldn’t see anywhere else that is so culturally alive in the arts industry. I think Ballarat is incredible. Its second to none for performing arts.
Carol: Creswick Theatre Company have a very staunch core group of audience and a good committee. We have a nice intimate space so we’re very lucky.

What’s your best advice for emerging theatre-makers in our city?
Beth: If you show what you can do, people will find you. Getting out of town to the big cities and seeing how people think in other places and then bringing that home. But I’d love for them to not have to move away in the first place.
Mary-Rose: Most people doing grass roots type of theatre are really generous – so ring them up, email, make a link and have a chat. You also have to know that if they say your idea is shit that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it.
Katrina: Don’t let the old theatre community tell you what theatre is or should be. You get the same results if you do the same thing over and over. I don’t mind making mistakes because that’s how you learn.
Susan: Be realistic. Nothing happens quickly and the dull stuff is really important – how do you get money, people and places organised.
Linda: It’s much more about what’s happening at the moment that enthuses you. Your art needs to be responding to you and your life and what you want to interact with – socially and in other ways.
Alexandra:  One of the best ways to get in the door is to help people. You put your hand up. You do something that puts you within a director’s circle. Being willing to learn.
Paula: Have an idea and let it fester. Go with it. There’s been a lot of stupid ideas that I’ve had that’ve come off and been really good. The sacrifices far outweigh the return.
Carol: Just do it. It doesn’t matter because you can always improve on it or alter it. Just sit down and start.

Links to some of the ladies awesome work
The Bard in Buninyong
Ballarat National Theatre Inc
Ballarat Centre of Music & the Arts (BCMA)
Creswick Theatre Company
Spark Creative
BallaRatCat Comedy

This article was commissioned by the Central Highlands Arts Atlas and first published in November 2018.

Everything changes

Recently, I talked to an 84 year old lady who has written over twenty plays. I was interviewing her for an article I’m writing for the Central Highlands Arts Atlas. I asked her what her highlight was – and I meant in her theatre-making career – but she told me that meeting her husband, at age 17, at a dance at the Heidelberg Town Hall was the highlight of her life.

We spent most of the time chatting about her late husband, whom she was married to for 62 years.

It made me wonder what I’d done wrong to only last 11 years in my most significant relationship, and only a measly 6 months in my most recent.

Or what, in fact, had I done right. Continue reading

On Worth

I’ve been good at gathering evidence of my worthlessness throughout my life. At my first appointment with my new psychologist, she took one look at my answers to the test and asked me why I felt like I was so shit. And I thought, “Isn’t it obvious?”.

These thought patterns have recently manifested in some major anxiety and several panic attacks. So I’m spending a lot of energy at the moment analyzing why my brain focuses on the negative experiences and figuring out how to retrain it to notice and celebrate my worth.

Continue reading

Word Catharsis — Why I Write Poetry

Ballarat Writers

I recently attempted the National Poetry Writing Month challenge. NaPoWriMo is an annual project in which participating poets attempt to write a poem a day for the month of April. The website is owned and operated by Maureen Thorson, a poet living in Washington DC, but the challenge is now undertaken by poets from across the globe.

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