Hi David. Thank you for asking me to answer this question. Did you know we’ve been friends for almost 5 years now? Yeah. We met at playwriting camp in December 2010 and now it is now 2016, so let that tell us whatever we need to know about Friendship.
A little while ago I approached you with a problem, which was that I was totally burnt out as a playwright and never wanted to write again. I couldn’t give a single shit about theatre, recognised my place in the ecology of the Australian stage (stinky amoeba) and was starting to question why I had entered into such a flippant and unreliable industry as my life’s pursuit.
You had a solution to these issues, which was: take a break from theatre and write something else. Here are a series of essays you should write, Jess. Here are all the topics, now go nuts. One of the topics is “My Friend David is Frantically Trying to ‘Make It’, This Is What He Should Do” and so it’s time to answer that for you right now.
HURL YOUR BODY INTO A LARGE BODY OF WATER EVERY DAY WITHOUT FAIL
This is the first and most essential act you can perform and every other tip is secondary at best.
“But Jessica,” I hear you ask, “what if I have curly hair that doesn’t like to be wet and washed every day? Sometimes curly hair needs to regenerate oils, rather than being brutalised with salt or chlorine every day! How do I do a daily swim and ALSO look after my hair?”
The answer is to prioritise body of water over happy hair. Also, no one cares what you look like; they care about the sparkle in your eye that comes with interacting with big ass bodies of water that make you feel small, strong and part of something bigger than yourself.
Because: YOU ARE SMALL AND TINY AND DON’T MATTER
One of my favourite phrases of yours is “we will all be forgotten fifty years after we’re dead.”
This attitude took me a little while to reconcile, particularly because I am a fan of old dead poets whose words are still dolefully recited in the present day; poets who inspire nerdy conferences where people like me pick apart semantic choices by day, then drink whiskey and bump uglies by night. If it weren’t for these old unforgotten dead writers, I’d have not one line of verse to whisper huskily into a hottie’s ear as daybreak dawns over their floor-bed.
But of course, these writers, the ones who history remembers, are the exception to a rule. They are the rose petals that floated to the top while the heavier scum sunk and moulded on the base of the bathtub we call “literary history.”
I bet Shakespeare had heaps of colleagues who were amoebas like us, watching his stratospheric rise to fame, all “why am I not making it while this guy is raking in the shekels and the sheilas,” but we never heard about those guys because THEY HAVE BEEN FORGOTTEN, ARE SMALL AND TINY, AND DO NOT MATTER.
You know what though? Maybe they had other things going on. Good at gardening, generous lovers, knew how to cook an artichoke a la Romana. Those things have been forgotten, too.
There’s that great Hallmark quote along the lines of “people forget what you do, but they never forget how you made them feel.”
Wrong. They forget that too. Everything is forgettable, unless you’re Shakespeare. And there was only one Shakespeare. So stop worrying about that and get back to your gardening.
BUT THE HUMAN URGE TO STRAIN AND REACH FURTHER IS ALWAYS ALWAYS THERE
Production is not just the act of being human – the husky whisper of poesy in cool dawn-dew mornings – but it is a creative urge too. If you’re born with a generative streak that tells you to write and make and share, then you can’t ignore that urge. You just need to find a blend of routine and self-care and water-dipping that lets you get out of bed in the morning with minimal amount of existential pain.
This is where it becomes about the work you make, rather than the mechanics of making it. Are you making work that is meaningful to you whether you have it produced professionally or not?
(Caveat. Of course you want your work to be produced. It’s a reptilian urge that we try to shake loose but we can’t. Urge for production and reproduction is why we do things like learn new hobbies for people (such as following Auspol or listening to white dudes rap). These connections, these hints at being needed and important speak to the little part of us that resonates with the highest levels of Maslow’s Pyramid of needs, despite our best efforts to transcend it.)
If we focus too much on production as the arbiter of artistic fulfilment, our gaze moves away from the act of making art that matters, and instead lands on the vagaries of production engines: the politics within a theatre company, within government policy, within the arts world more generally.
All this said: it hurts when the world doesn’t say, “Jess Bellamy, you are a smart bitch and the world will benefit from your sassy words.” It’s easy to take it personally. I know that I have. What’s helped me with this feeling is the following analogy:
Every arts powerbroker in the world is essentially an overwhelmed tourist walking through the masses of people milling about the entrance to the Colosseum in Rome. These tourists don’t make eye contact with strangers, because those strangers are going to try to aggressively sell them a selfie stick, which NOBODY wants and NOBODY should ever buy. You’ve spent enough money on tourist shit. You barely had a budget to start with. Some dickhead called from a street gang called Bandito Brandis robbed you this morning.
After half a day in Rome, these hawkers get so intense that you stop making eye contact with these people. You look past them, or deflect their advances with a swift “NON”.
This is a shame for a few reasons: the first is that the selfie stick sellers tend to ruin street selling for the guys with African handicrafts and counterfeit Chanel wallets. We tend to ignore those guys too, because we assume everyone is as pushy, or their offering is as vapid.
It’s also a shame because maybe selfie sticks actually provide something beautiful and exciting to society. No longer do tourists have to try to make friends with other tourists or locals in order to cajole them into taking a photo of themselves and/or their lover. Instead, they stay self-contained, self-reliant and isolated. Which is ideal for the upcoming ecological apocalypse, where friendship and weakness will do nothing but slow you down.
Basically, to bring this analogy back, our power-brokers are being transformed into a washed out mess of cynicism that has been ripped down the middle and hangs in ragged pieces. They can’t look people in the eye, because they’re so tired of having to say no or be disappointed. They regret the fact that they might be missing out on the next great thing, but not enough to interact with every fucker who looks at them too long or with the wrong sort of gleam. Instead, their gaze tilts up at the sky for direction. They search for a creative bat signal to beam out and tell them about something important or beautiful. A new idea, an exciting voice, a rare perspective flashes out with such force that its shape in the sky is undeniable.
It’s too difficult to keep craning their necks upwards, so they tilt down to see which part of their city is the source of this light and sound. The potential for what might come out of this exploration is enough to risk re-entering the disappointing world.
Our job, therefore, is to flash our words at the sky until someone is so impressed by them that they want to look at us dead on and say “keep talking to me; I’m all ears, eyes, and pricked up goosebumps around you.”
Our job also is to ensure we are offering something much more exciting than a selfie-stick for sale, because there is no battery in that malarkey to beam anywhere even remotely close to the sky.
The challenge we face is having enough rocket fuel to beam up our signals for as long as we can, and to trudge along with enough water packed on our backs to stay healthy in all the right ways. Our job is to keep making, keep creating, and keep getting better, while recognising that sometimes the sky is very full and even very bright messages can be dulled by the camera-flash cacophony that surrounds us.
JUST HAVE YOUR LUNCH SORTED FOR THE DAY
When we were in Manila, I discussed some of my existential career woes with Max, who didn’t share them. He said “as long as I’ve got something to eat for lunch every day, then I feel like I’m doing OK.”
This was beautiful and inspiring and very true. We are ambitious people, and of course we want to push our way ahead, because we have important things to say. But sometimes, an eye on the long game occludes a healthy present. Can we find a healthy compromise that entails planning for the future alongside art-making as a constant reinvention, but also enjoy the sense of play, of the unknown, and of huge potential that is essential to our career?
I don’t know, but I do know that lunch is important. I also know that your voice is important and the world needs to hear it. I’m aware that you’ve been flashing your light at the sky for a long time, but I want to assure you that people are seeing it. It gets tiring, though. I understand very much.
I wish you more jet fuel, more salt water and a hearty lunch every day.
Good luck my friend. We’re all going to need it.
 It is ok to be given one by your sister-in-law’s sister after her trip to Korea, but that is the only exception. If it runs out of battery, then you should not buy a new battery.
 There will, however, still be poetry, so we can get our feels on there.