Why “I Didn’t Mean To Hurt You” Is Not an Apology.

untitled-design-2.pngI never used to listen to commercial radio, but now I have it on in the car, and sometimes while I do the dishes. I’m not completely averse to pop music anymore, however it does disturb me how so many modern love songs normalise disrespect, objectification and the notion that stalking is somehow an acceptable form of romance.

What disturbs me the most is that the songs on the radio are only a reflection of real attitudes to romance and dating. Attitudes I am unfortunately familiar with.  Let me tell you what happened to me late last year.

I was going to be away from home for four days in October 2018, going to lectures, workshops and events at a biannual regional arts conference. It was two hours from home, and I was so excited to go. But after two days of checking-in messages, missed calls and weird interactions about where I was and who I was with, my boyfriend was on his way to me. He had a hotel room booked and a picnic dinner packed. He said he wanted to surprise me and spoil me. I was so angry I told him to go to the hotel room and then go home in the morning. He wanted to make it all about me. But I was away from my children at a conference for 4 days – it was already all about me!

His grand romantic gesture – grand manipulative gesture – was the end of our relationship. The inevitable apologies ran along the lines of “I never intended to make you feel threatened. I only wanted to do something romantic for you. I wanted to surprise you. I never meant to make you upset,” and then when I wouldn’t reconsider, “it was never my intention and you know it.”

The notion of impact versus intention was one we talked about a lot as part of Leadership Ballarat & Western Region Leaders Forum, in which I participated in 2017. In the world of organisational leadership, you are only as much as your impact. Your actions are what people judge you by. The effect you have on others is what counts. Because no one is a mind reader. No one sees your intention, no one understands your motivation. You can have the best strategic plan in history but if you’d don’t implement it, nothing changes and no-one cares. In fact, you fail.

So when we translate that into personal relationships, intention means very little. Your behaviour is what shows me what you think of me.

“I didn’t mean to hurt you” is NOT an apology.

Firstly, it’s redundant. It’s pretty rare for anyone to deliberately set out to hurt another person, especially one they supposedly love, so it’s not as if you’re going to say “I absolutely did mean to hurt you.” We’re already assuming you didn’t mean to, otherwise it brings up the possibility that we’re dating a psychopath.

Secondly, it’s a cop-out.  It doesn’t actually matter if you meant it or not. What you actually did scared me and hurt me, and that’s what matters. So if the sum of your analysis is that you didn’t mean it, then you just sound sorry for the fact that you stuffed up and were caught out, not remorseful for the hurt you actually caused. You’re not owning what you did. 

It’s time we acknowledged that romance – the traditional pop song kind – is completely selfish. It does not consider the impact on the other person. What have they got planned? What if you turn up unannounced? How will that make them feel? Put it this way – thinking you love someone and wanting to be with them is fine, but stalking them to a conference two hours away is not.

So potential new boyfriends – please – don’t turn up at my door in the rain with a hand-made sign that says you love me. Don’t sing from the bottom of my balcony in the middle of the night. Analyse your intention and consider the impact before you take action. Just communicate your intention, wait for my response, and then act in a way that positively impacts on me. Have some empathy. It’s not that hard.

Oh, and for god’s sake stop listening to “love songs”. They might be catchy, but they’re full of crap.

Flashback Friday – On The Same Frequency

I had such a good time recently on air on The Arts Program on 99.9 Voice FM as a guest presenter, that I’ll be doing it semi-regularly. Sitting in the studio is always a beautifully nostalgic place for me, because it takes me back to my formative years and reminds me of how connected I am to my parents.

I first did community radio in my early teens. I spent three hours every Sunday opposite my dad Bill Elder in the studios at the local community radio station for the better part of two (or maybe three?) years.

Our show was called ‘That Sunday Feeling’, a nod to Jethro Tull’s song ‘My Sunday Feeling’, which also served as our intro theme tune. We made our own promos, which usually featured a stupid and funny sound bite from films like ‘Cable Guy’ or shows like ‘Monty Python’s Flying Circus’ or ‘Rocko’s Modern Life’. We talked and laughed about anything and everything, and played music from Steely Dan to Sade, Billy Joel to The Beetles. I introduced my dad to Alanis Morissette, Evanescence and Jamiroquai. We often played long Prog Rock songs so we could have an extended afternoon tea break, and once we played Jeff Wayne’s ‘War of The Worlds’ in its entirety.

It was in these years that I also wrote a musical with my Dad. It was about cryptic crosswords, which we completely religiously at the dinner table every night. My Dad taught me to play Tenor Horn at the age of 8 and we continued to work together at the local Concert Band. He was the Band Master, and I became the Librarian for a stint, spending weekends sorting dodgy copies of sheet music in a dingy back room of the Band Hall.

I would lie to my friends and say my parents were strict and wouldn’t let me go out to that party or let my out-of-towner friends sleep over. I usually just put the phone down on my lap for a minute while I “went to ask”. I told my parents later what they’d supposedly refused just in case. I would then happily spend my Saturday nights watching The Bill, Poirot or a David Attenborough documentary. Or finished the cryptic crossword or playing Solo, or Canasta, or Scrabble.

I’d still rather hang out with my parents than most other people I know. They’re my kind of people. It’s their love of music, words and humour and their dedication to community  and family that has shaped my own values and also my career path. I’m so grateful to have their support as my parents, and as my children’s grandparents, but I also count them as my best friends.

Where my heart is
There are four people in whose company
I would rather spend my time
Than anywhere else on earth
As a girl I would lie to my friends and say
My mother wouldn’t let me play
Because I would rather be at home
Where my heart is
As a woman I am thankful to say
I cannot come along for my children are sleeping
Because I would rather be at home
Where my heart is
Why search for it in some man, some girls night out, some party noise
When it’s right here
It was never missing
We are bound forever by more than blood
By a sing-a-long and seven across, native grass and muddy boots
Sticky dough, british tv shows and laughter
I am the sum of their parts and more
I am me and what have I been put on this earth for
If not to love them
My mother told me that I cannot ask too much of her
And I give my children to her
Because she too is their mother
And my father is the only father here
One day when we three are old
My children will return the favour
And so we link arms to face the day together
Why waste another day alone when I could live in this village
Where all my efforts count for everything
Where I am free to love and be loved
I will be healed at the centre of the universe
Where my heart is
January 2018

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.

Why I’ve Turned My Back On Community Theatre

In April last year, I submitted three proposals to direct for a community theatre company in 2019 and 2020. In November 2018, a long six months later, I got a response to my proposals. And it floored me.

My relationship with this company was already rocky. Their rejection of my proposal to produce Hollow was what lead me to create Tripwire Theatre Inc, and ultimately lead me to where I am today with my theatre-making work. You can read the backstory on my blog.

In the most recent submission, I urged the committee to consider that now is the time for a more artistically diverse program, and to be the heart of a change, leading the way among community theatre organisations who continue to make safe programming decisions which do not challenge either their members nor their audience.

After six months, I enquired about when I would get an outcome, as I had other 2019 projects coming up for consideration and wanted to make sure I could honour the proposals I had made, should they be successful. It was suggested to me that working with this company would not be satisfying an emerging professional director and that I should pursue other projects.

I immediately wrote back with a justification of why an I had submitted in the first place and why I would still like to do the job. While working with community theatre may not be financially satisfying, I have found it rewarding and I was looking forward to meeting and working with more local theatre aficionados. I directed for Creswick Theatre Company in early 2018, and while not without its challenges, I was very proud of the production and pleased to be able to focus on directing, rather than spreading myself thin doing producing as well. The opportunity offered by this particular community theatre company presented a the chance to direct in what is otherwise a very limited amount of opportunities locally.

In hindsight, it was obvious that my core values as a theatre-maker and those of the company simply did not align. They were right about that much. However, that does not mean that I deserved to be communicated to in such a disrespectful and condescending way.

When I eventually received an outcome letter from the committee it was so disgustingly patronising I honestly could not believe what I was reading. After the initial shock, it was actually laughable that a person could think it was appropriate to send it to another person in a professional capacity. They quoted my submission back to me in inverted commas. It was unnecessarily detailed in its outright rejection of my ideas, using words like abhore and detest to explain in turn why each proposal was utterly untenable. I was asked to explain the reasons for my given unavailability in order to accommodate someone else’s preferences.

And as the final insult, after tearing apart my ideas and hating on directors who have ‘concepts’, it contained an offer for me to direct a severely compromised version of one of my proposals.

It took every ounce of diplomacy to not immediately fling back an angry email. And it did cross my mind to accept the offer and carry out a subersive production which undermined the company from within. But the offer was one I was clearly never meant to accept. So, I didn’t waste much of my time thinking about it. I took the high road and sent off a very professional “thanks, but no thanks, and good luck for your future seasons”.

Community theatre plays an important role in the ecology of our sector, by providing an introductory level of involvement in the performing arts and becoming a place of belonging – with creative and social outcomes – for hobbyist thespians. But I won’t be spending any more of my time there because it’s not a place that I belong. For me, making theatre is not a hobby, or a side project. It’s my job. I’m passionate about what I do but I’m also serious making a career from it.

I will focus on making professional independent theatre that is edgy, relevant and makes a social or political commentary. And I will focus on working with people who respect me, who trust me and who are willing to pay me.

You won’t find my name among the credits in a community production anymore. And I don’t mind one little bit. I’ve got bigger fish to fry.

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
Swaddled
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

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