Between the cracks is an ongoing collection of moments and observations, captured in words. Designed to give pause for thought, maybe a laugh or other kind of cerebral refreshment. I hope you enjoy.

The work on here is a small sample of what I do.

Words from between the cracks.

Where sometimes you unexpectedly find fifty cents and sometimes you find whole new worlds.

 

Wednesday
Sep212016

The Waiting Space

That scratchy place between one project and the next

I have just finished a new draft of big play and now need to let it settle until a workshop later in the year.

A novel manuscript is out in the world, a few agents reading it, I’ve no idea what they will think.

Got a short story rejection this morning after a few small wins. A reminder of that sting, oh yeah it’s not good enough, you’re not good enough.

For the first time in a long time I am not ‘mid’ a few big projects. I am waiting to see what will happen with them in the outside world.

I am not a waiter by nature.

This is probably why I write in so many forms and work on several things at once.

Right now I know I am at the start of a big new phase of work.

Ideas are scurrying inside my mind. I wrote each one down on a piece of orange paper the other night and laid them on my lounge room floor. Four potential novel ideas. Five new play ideas. Which to start on? Which has the pull? What should I consider? Having been in end-game mode on a novel and a play for a while now (into the polishing, the sending, the pitching, the re-drafting, the interfacing with the industry) I now feel stunted.

Stuck.

Can I just start a new project for the joy of it? Or do I need to plan now where it might fit, who might want it, where it sits within my bigger body of work. Which sub-sector of the publishing world or the theatre industry do I want to nudge towards?

Or should I just start and try to defer all those thoughts until later?

It feels like I imagine a phantom limb might. Something is bugging me, needs my attention, wants to be scratched but I don’t know what it is.

I feel distracted and incompetent and aware of the huge mountain of starting a few major new projects.

I feel like I don’t have the skills to make up anything new.

I don’t feel whole.

I know enough from experience to know that this itchiness, this discomfort is an important part of the process for me. It’s little things germinating but none solid enough yet to feel how they might grow.

So I tinker with old short stories, write notes about new characters popping into my head, start folders for projects that don’t yet exist.

It’s a kind of waiting but I fill it with activity.

I'm thinking, obsessing, over the best name for a new character, the best title for a non-existent new piece. I think while eating, while walking, while watching theatre, while working.

But it's not ready, yet, any of it, to really start writing.

I read a lot.

And sometimes I just wander around the house. Aimless. Restless. Not able to settle. Study. Kitchen. Lounge. Check the mail.

Aware that things will start to take shape, fall into place. Some of the seeds will sprout and I’ll know, soonish, which ones to nurture and move ahead with.

Until then, the prowl of the in-between writer. Vaguely scratching at thin air, waiting for clouds to form a picture, a mirage to firm up into view, the mountain to form so I can take the first step.

Tuesday
May172016

Feminist Literary Icon Double Act

On Monday 16 May, Melbourne put on a heavyweight feminist literary icon double act. I attended two talks, back-to-back and recorded some messy, immediate thoughts ...

 

Walking down the steps of Flinders Street Station I am hopeful. I’m booked in to see Gloria Steinem and Jeanette Winterson and I imagine these women, these writers, might have some words to inspire. I feel like I need it. A non-specific malaise has settled over me, within me. Partly to do with being between major creative projects, waiting to hear about a few outcomes and being not quite sure what my next new work will be. Partly a sense that no matter what I do, what project or piece of writing, it will never quite be enough. I will never quite be enough. In lighter moments of the heaviness I’ve phrased the question to myself: Is it genetics? Is it capitalism? Or is it just me?

 

To be specific, I’ve booked in not so much to see these two women, but to listen. And I think wow it’s a lot of pressure. For them. Hundreds of people like me scurrying along the city streets, clutching our printed out tickets and smart phones, eager to hear words of wisdom, to be reminded of why it might all be worthwhile and how we, as humans, might find ways to get it more right.

 

My boast post on Facebook about the feminism literary icon double sparks much interest and a few friends ask me to write about what these women say. I don’t take notes so this record will be imperfect. A gathering of paraphrases and recalled words. Probably I will get much of it wrong but I’ll try and capture an impression of the things that were said that hit me or moved me.

 

Gloria Steinem is in the Melbourne Town Hall. She gets a standing ovation when she walks onto the stage. The amplification on her lapel mike is not quite strong enough. So she takes the microphone off and holds it close to her mouth. She uses both hands to speak. She has long fingers. Elegant. Like a musician. Or an artist.

 

She speaks about #BlackLivesMatter being an effective grass roots movement that has as its philosophy, among other things, Low Ego and High Impact and Move at the Pace of Trust. And reminds us it was started by three African American women.

 

How violence against women is the root cause and concomitant cause of so many other forms of violence including racism and entrenched poverty. How the measure of how likely a country is to enact violence on its own people and on other countries connects directly with how much violence in that country is enacted against women. Whether that is domestic violence within homes in countries like USA and Australia, child marriage, genital mutilation, war rape, the murder of girl babies in countries where only boys are valued.

 

She speaks about how important laughter is. This is in relation to her relationship with an indigenous American friend and leader who died recently. Gloria spoke of how much more this woman knew about history than she did. And in particular the history of how much knowledge and power women have had in many indigenous cultures. And how important laughter is because laughter is the only free emotion. You can force fear on people and even love, but not laughter. And laughter is like prayer because it is about the unknown and in fact prayer cannot happen without laughter.

 

When asked what feminism has got wrong, how it might have failed us, she says: We have been too nice. Because, as women, we are socialised to be nice and make things easy for other people.

 

She speaks about wombs and how patriarchy is, by definition, about controlling the means of reproduction i.e. wombs and the people who have them.

 

She also speaks, finally, about how it would only be possible to perpetuate the strange notion that one kind of person is ‘less than’ another if those considered ‘less than’ have somehow internalised that idea. And how then, if people from that group refuse to wear that identity, they may be pulled down, by both men and women, all of whom have internalised the notion of ‘less than’ and ‘better than’. And how in fact we need more of that and more. All of us refusing to wear particular identities that we have inherited and taken inside. And how we must support each other, all of us, to speak out more and stand up more and refuse more.

 

And how unhelpful binary and bifurcated ways of viewing human identity is.

 

Did you know Gloria Steinem is in her 80s?

 

She encourages us all to talk to people in the crowd that we don’t know. She is a big advocate for talking circles and what can be achieved when people come together and act. Her overall message is about externalising and refusing and creating alternatives.

 

She has a gentle but passionate way of speaking. She met earlier today with young people from the Fitzroy High School Feminist Collective and says they were fan-fucking-tastic.

 

I leave while the applause is still resounding.

 

Down the stairs, out onto Collins Street, into the Athenaeum Theatre, up some more stairs, to sit and listen to Jeanette Winterson.

 

She walks onto an empty stage, carrying a book. Over the loudspeaker we hear a male voice. He seems to be reciting Shakespeare. We join the dots and assume the speech must be from A Winters Tale, as Jeanette’s new book – the one in her hand – is a novelised version (a ‘cover’ she calls it) of this play.

 

Jeanette talks us through the first act of A Winters Tale and speaks of how unusual it is for a play of that time. It is one of Will’s later works and is notable for two things. One, is that women of three generations play key roles in the play and are all alive at the end. Two, is that it is a play where the action is driven by the internal, not the external. It is about what a man imagines his wife and friend are doing, not what they are actually doing. In this way, Jeanette says, it is a Freudian play written several hundred years before Freud.

 

She says the play is like Othello on speed. That everything that happens in Othello happened in this play in the first act. She speaks about the trajectory of the story (a baby banished because the father cannot be sure she belongs to him, the baby taken in by a shepherd and his son, fast forward to sixteen years later, the baby is now a teenage girl) and how there can only be three outcomes: tragedy, revenge and forgiveness.

 

Jeanette posits the notion that this play is striking because it takes the third option and it seems likely that the reason it can take the path of forgiveness is because of those three generations of women alive at the end and how they choose to forgive rather than punish or seek revenge.

 

She goes on to speak about this same choice in all of our lives. And how the only way to forgive ourselves and others is to be conscious of what it is we need to forgive. And of how painful but how very necessary it is to be conscious. Rather than to simply suffer in our re-telling over and over of the past. I sense that this is what creativity is for her. For all of us. The capacity to imagine and re-imagine our way into consciously being human, with all of our flaws and failings. Not to fall prey to fantasies – or realities - of tragedy or revenge.

 

We are then treated to a spectacularly theatrical reading from the novel. It goes for about twenty minutes. There are sound effects. Eleven sound cues to be precise. We know this because at the end Jeanette berates the tech team – with a light touch – about how they managed to fuck up even such a small number of cues.

 

The language is mesmerising and her delivery a lesson in poetic narrative and crystal clear story telling.

 

It is question time and she is jovially merciless with a slow speaking audience member who wants to say thank you but has no actual question. Only 14 minutes to go! Jeanette cries. Let’s keep it moving!

 

She is asked about arts funding, here and in the UK. She extemporises with unabashed passion. The arts are integral and essential to every human being. They are not elitist. They are not disposable. The story of austerity and how we can’t have hospitals and education and roads AND art is just that – a story. A narrative made up. It is not the truth.

 

She speaks about the human imagination and how it is the beginning of everything. Of all things that happen. And how we need to feed that imagination with books and plays and music and art and all of these things so that the imagination is rich and varied and well nourished. How the more language we take into ourselves the more language we will have with which to express ourselves. How robbing people of language (by taking away their access to art and books and words and stories and theatre) is what disempowers people because then all they have is rage and sadness and anger. And without the language to express these things, people will act out their rage and sadness and anger. Acts for which they can be put in prison. Given language, humans can – and will – articulate what is wrong and ask for what they want.

 

Jeanette too, speaks about the absurdity of binaries. Black or white. Male or female. Hospitals or art. How reductive and ridiculous this way of labelling the world is.

 

She speaks of how difficult times can shape us, how they shaped her, the strange oppressiveness of the woman, her adoptive mother, whom she refers to as Mrs Winterson. Who wanted Jeanette to be a missionary. And asked Jeanette why (now famously), when Jeanette left home at 16 because she was in love with a woman, Jeanette would choose to be happy when she could be normal.

 

And how this shaped Jeanette because here she is now, a missionary, preaching to us, her audience, about art and imagination and creativity. That she sees it as her job to inspire us and give us something to take away. A kind of hope or purpose.

 

And so these two women have presented a kind of yin and yang and given me two hours of energy. They both spoke about the liberating moment, in their youth, of realising they did not have to live the life laid out for them by society or family. They were – I muse – blessed with the insight, fortitude and circumstances to see that they could choose another way. And they did.

 

They take their mission seriously, both of them, and they have lived up to the pressure I had placed on them as I walked down those Flinders Street Station steps.

 

I leave feeling connected and energised. They have given me a way of re-imagining my own imagination and creative life that is something other than the heaviness I have been wearing. The heaviness of: is it enough? Am I enough? A reminder that this very way of thinking is something I, we all, have inherited or internalised and it is just one way of thinking. A story that doesn’t suit and never fitted.

 

I arrive home. Buoyant. My tax return has arrived in the mail. For the first time in years, I owe the government money. How will I pay that off? I don’t have a spare few thousand dollars to give. Why should I when they are so intent on ripping money from the arts to stop funding our so-called artist lifestyles?

 

My buoyant bubble bursts.

 

I recall another thing Jeanette said, about contemporary life being so very focussed on the external, the superficial. That of course we all need to earn money and pay bills and watch the nightly news.

 

But that much more importantly, we need to pay attention to the life of our imagination. Our internal world.

 

A final question she was asked: Did you always know you wanted to be a writer? She takes every question seriously. She says yes and no. Because, she says, sometimes the urge and the expression is conscious and sometimes it is not yet conscious but it is still there. She says she likes this phrase: the unthought known, rather than the unknown thought. That there are things we know that aren’t yet ready to be articulated in thoughts and words.

 

But they are still there. The knowns. Inside of us. Waiting to be discovered.

Sunday
Mar202016

Without Excellence, Then What?

I was delighted to be invited to contribute to Amateur Professional Magazine by artist Vanessa White as part of her exhibition of the same name. She asked me to reflect on this notion of amateur / professional when it comes to making art. My immediate response was to think about the language used by former Federal Minister for the Arts George Brandis in 2015 when he slashed money from the Australia Council and announced the (short lived) National Program for Excellence in the Arts.

Here are the first few paragraphs of the essay, a video that shows the very gorgeous magazine and links to the exhibition details and where you can buy the magazine and read the rest of my essay!

Without Excellence, Then What?

A Meditation on How We Know Whether Art is Good or Not

By Emilie Collyer

 

The National Program for Excellence in the Arts promised to be a beacon of hope. After all none of us seeks Badness, Hopelessness, Not Very Goodness or Shitness in the Arts. Do we?

 

Its arrival, heralded by a man who so much understood the important of Branding in the Arts that he had it embedded into his own name (original spelling, unconfirmed, thought to be Brand-arse), brought sighs of relief to Art Makers, Art Producers, Art Presenters and Art Consumers throughout the Land.

 

Finally. Finally. Someone had heard our cries. For up until this point it was a long acknowledged (if under discussed) truism that Excellence was the key ingredient missing in about 98% of Australia’s artistic output, well over 130% of our arts training institutions and up to 14,755% of our federally funded federal arts federally funded funding bodies ...

 

To read more, buy the magazine here

To see the magazine in all its glory, check out this video

To see the full exhibition, come here

Wednesday
Aug122015

On the Cusp - a theatre response

This is a lot longer piece than I usually post but I wanted to share. I saw Yours the Face by Fleur Kilpatrick as part of Theatreworks FLIGHT Festival of new writing. Fleur, a playwright and arts writer, had written a wonderful response to Dream Home and she invited me to reciprocate. So I wrote this:

 

On the Cusp

 

A response from Emilie Collyer to Yours the Face by Fleur Kilpatrick and the audience in attendance on Friday 7th August 2015 at Theatreworks in Melbourne.

 

It’s unusual to see a group of teenagers in the front row of an independent theatre show on a Friday night. I sit behind them with a twinge of apprehension. Will they squirm, talk, or be hostile? I’ve read on social media that performer Roderick Cairns shares my apprehension. No mean feat to perform a solo show full stop. Let alone a solo show described as ‘gender bending’, containing full frontal nudity, to a school group, with most of them sitting in the front row. The show starts. Cairns strikes several model-esque poses. The students snicker, wriggle, settle in.

This shouldn’t necessarily be the focus of my response to Yours the Face, a play written by Fleur Kilpatrick, directed by Sarah Walker and performed by Roderick Cairns. It’s not a piece about how young people behave in the theatre. But this is what’s so wonderful and – at times – terrible about this form. We don’t watch in a vacuum. Our response is tainted by that of those around us. The giggles, restless legs, guffaws, silences, the latecomers, the person who really must eat that foil wrapped lolly because they apparently have no way of getting through a one hour show without sustenance – it’s all part and parcel.

I couldn’t help but partly watch Yours the Face through the eyes of the young people in front of me. I was aware this was an unusual, perhaps foreign experience for them. I have theatre audience training. I know what to expect and what to do with my body and my reactions if I am moved or startled or bored by a piece of theatre. What is so scary and brilliant about being in an audience with a group of young people is that they’re not yet quite as savvy about the rules.

The first character we meet is Emmy, a nineteen year old model. She’s American. So Cairns is playing cross gender, cross culture and cross accent. He does it without a hint of irony or apology. It is gentle, sinewy and subtle. The students in front of me are all boys so my frame for consuming the first five minutes of the piece is adult woman / teenage males / adult man / teenage girl. We’re all performing our roles, some of us safe in the dark, Cairns in full view.

This initial moment captures for me what is powerful about Yours the Face. There are many tangible, theatrical things to engage with in the work: writing, performance, lighting, choreography, sound, image. But what strikes me most is how the work as a whole facilitates a fluidity of experience. Its form is its content. It invites us to question what we see, how we create our frames, where we put our gaze. The structure of the show and Cairns’ performance demands this. In this way it offers the best of what theatre can do: provoke a lived experience in our bodies as we watch and therefore provoke a shift in how we see the world outside of theatre. Once we leave the space we are changed, simply by virtue of having our perceptions of reality (male / female / face / body / beauty) mixed up and messed with for an hour.

When Cairns flips to the second main character in the show – male photographer Peter – there is a palpable rumble of relief from the front row. They were fine with Emmy, they took her on board, but here, with Peter, they are more comfortable. Peter is blokey and direct. He’s funny. I’m pretty sure Cairns eyeballs a few of the front row. This is smart. Whether he does it in every show or his actor instincts kick in and he knows it will work in his favour to make a genuine, human connection with those in the audience least sure of how to react and what their relationship with him should be.

From here the show rockets along. As a writer I relish being witness to Kilpatrick’s skill in character creation and storytelling. In this regard there is something delightfully old-fashioned about the play. I don’t mean outdated or irrelevant. I mean ‘good old-fashioned story telling’ – create characters audiences connect with and put them in a situation where we want to know what happens next. Yours the Face is beautiful story telling. It’s warm and human. It has body and blood. It isn’t cynical or despairing or cold or clever for the sake of it. I am in a room with a writer who likes people. I sense her genuine curiosity about what makes us tick. She cares about us humans. She wants us to do well while being well aware of our flaws.

Kilpatrick writes about the fashion industry and the world of modelling in both a very obvious and a completely surprising way. The beauty, the emptiness, the photographer in love with beauty, the older man having sex with the young woman, these are things we expect or are at least familiar with via other narratives we see of this world. We can situate ourselves. We bring our own baggage and prejudices. We like beautiful images too but we know that what lies behind them can be ugly. We are in an arena that is part and parcel of our daily, image saturated lives.

What surprises is the humanity. The simple and fierce survival instinct of Emmy, the pragmatic romanticism of Peter. The hints of their lives that got them here and the waves of possible futures planted in the last few moments of the play – this is the stuff that lifts us, sideswipes us, takes us somewhere else. This is the stuff of all of us, regardless of what we do for a living or how much our faces are worth. We all try to connect and find a place to belong. The play doesn’t slam the fashion industry, it doesn’t judge the people who work in it. We are presented with moments, images and pictures that allow us to build our own meaning.

My front row friends continue to react verbally and physically through the show. Yes they squirm a bit when Cairns takes off his clothes. But not for long. The strength in the writing, the direction and Cairns’ performance leave no room for awkwardness. Here is a body, we are being invited to look at it. Again, form and content marry. In popular culture the male gaze is privileged. Images we see, from fashion pages to cinema, from catalogues to billboards, television ads to product endorsements have been, still are – on the whole – created by and seen through a male lens. To be specific (although perhaps less so in high fashion than other more commercial endeavours) a male, white, cis lens.

During the nude section in Yours the Face, the audience is cast in this role. We are gazing at a male body as it morphs between a male and female gender. This body is appealing to look at. It’s long, lithe, and muscular. The key difference between this interaction and our usual interactions with images is that in this one the subject – Cairns – is active, not passive. We are consuming him but he is in control of how he presents his body. This kind of nudity invites connection not objectification. He is three dimensional, not flat. This is theatre, it’s live and it’s a conversation, a dynamic, between actor and audience. We’re in it together.

The characters we meet in Yours the Face are not queer. But the very fact of watching the two (and more) characters inhabit one body invites certain shifts in awareness and gaze. We see that of course a vulnerable female energy can be present in a male body, a male face with hair can voice the pain of having sharply beautiful features. The form and the embodiment of the piece opens up alternative ways of seeing and experiencing gender.

As the play enters its final third something shifts in the audience. I put it down to three key elements. The first is that we hear the characters talk about a couple of key moments in their past. We are once more in the world of ‘old fashioned’ story telling. It’s powerful. We’ve come to know these characters through their actions. At just the right moment Kilpatrick then deepens our connection with them by allowing them to reveal something of their past. In each of the stories there is a moment that shows a weakness, a vulnerability or an act of cruelty.

Second is that one of the characters, in the here and now of the play, performs an action that also has elements of cruelty, selfishness, amorality.

Third is that the ending is left open. These two people have met, they’ve impacted each other, but that’s it. A moment in time. Any kind of future might unfold for these characters.

The thing that shifts in the audience? The students in front of me are all leaning forward in their seats and they are completely silent. They’ve been invited in. I don’t know if they are conscious of it, but the play and the performance are generous enough to make space and say to us: You are part of this. There are gaps in this narrative for a reason. Theatre is where we start conversations but we don’t finish them. I sense that by the end of the play the young people in the front row really care about these characters and they want to know what will happen to them. I also think they care about the actor. They respect what he has done and want to show their appreciation for that too.

After the show I try to catch some of the conversations between the students. One stands out to me. A young woman telling her friend that at the moment when Peter was describing how he let a bee sting him and then photographed it as it died, she thought that in the play, at that moment, it would be revealed that Emmy was dead. I could hear her excitement at making meaning from the image, and the fact that the play offered, time and again, these clues and then subverted them delighted rather than frustrated her.

I don’t think Yours the Face was specifically written with young people in mind. But by the end I see it is a perfect piece for this audience. Teenagers are smart and they live so fully in the world. They have opinions about models and beauty, fashion and images, sex and love. They also have bodies and they are right on the cusp of those bodies becoming part of the adult world, of work and trade and value and betrayal and ambition. This play pulls no punches and offers no easy answers. Rather it opens up a plethora of conversations and meditations on what all of that might mean.

As I leave the theatre I am happy to have been in this audience on this night. It makes me think that this is how we should always approach both making and attending theatre. As if we are on the cusp of change, as if transformation is possible, as if a new way of seeing the world is about to open up.

Friday
Mar132015

Autopsy of a Comedian e-launch

Today my second e-collection of short stories with Clan Destine Press launches!

I'm celebrating by holding an online launch and releasing audio snippets of the stories via Facebook and Twitter.

I've gathered them all here for your listening pleasure, just click the titles to listen. And if you'd like to buy the collection, you can get it here:

http://clandestinepress.com.au/ebook/autopsy-comedian

Audio teasers:

Autopsy of a Comedian

A forensic pathologist is confronted with a case that gets under his skin and inside his mind.

Fifteen Minutes

A private detective – down on his luck, whose daughter is missing – has an unexpected encounter with the living dead.

Glisten

They’re the perfect couple with the perfect life, until one day when the mysterious pods start arriving.

Masterpiece

For a has been artist, now teacher, one final chance for artistic glory comes at a price.

And as a bonus track, a teaser of the lead story in my first collection, the award-winning:

A Clean Job

You can buy that collection here: http://clandestinepress.com.au/ebook/clean-job