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.
You know those topics that you just assume you’ve written about at least once per year in the last 5.5 years of having a glamorous “Hot or Not” blog?
You know that feeling when you sift through said 5.5 years of archives and realise you have NEVER actually written about that thing? The feeling is shock and a need to remedy things, stat.
You know how sifting through archives allows you to start making thematic connections between the sorts of things you tend to write about, and in particular, the things you tend to (this blog, after all, being called Would Jess Like It) like?
I have found a pattern and it is: DOGS and FOOD.
Today’s post will be focused on food. Right now, food is at the forefront of my mind, because I am still recovering from a food incident that happened almost a week ago, and that incident is called: “two all-you-can-eat buffets in the space of 14 hours”.
Let’s rewind. For my 30th birthday this year, my beautiful friends (who know exactly what sort of things I like and dislike) got me a present that Jess Would Like. It combined all my favourite things: plush naps, abundant food, floral room fragrances, and strong women pulverising my muscles. That’s right: it was a 5 star hotel and spa voucher for a deluxe room, an incredible deep tissue massage from a woman with no mercy, and – not just one, but TWO – buffet meals.
I timed this birthday present with my boyfriend’s birthday to lessen the blow of no longer being nominally two years older than him, which was my favourite fact about our relationship to drop at social engagements and dog parks.
We had a 7.30pm dinner buffet and a 9.30am breakfast buffet, and I am still recovering. The whole situation reminded me of an important fact: you don’t get better at buffets. If you’re a true buffet enthusiast, they slay you every time. You lumber out of the restaurant groaning and belching, and then have to lie down for the next hour watching repeats of Will & Grace and realising that it’s not actually as progressive a show as you would think.
All that said, I’m definitely getting more skilful at buffets. I have a process for them, implemented via years of trial and error, and with input from my buffet senseis, Dad and Skye. So I thought, even if it’s inevitable that you’ll leave the buffet a hot mess, here’s my list of tips of getting the most out of it, to make the next week of recovery at least worth it:
- Start with the hot foods. As Des Bellamy once said, “don’t waste space on muesli”.
- Try new things. Who knew you liked congee with maple syrup until you tried it?
- If someone is offering you a cooked-fresh thing, always take it over the “simmering in a bain marie for hours” thing.
- Get triple the hash browns you think you need.
- Don’t take your time. If you pause too long between courses, your stomach will realise it’s full, and then it’s all over.
- Fill your pockets. Of course you need three types of artisanal mustard to take back home and a bag of nashi pears. Remember Marge Simpson in the Gummy Venus episode? Wear that sort of coat.
Please feel free to add any tips I might have forgotten. Let’s make this the canon of gluttony! Thanks for enabling me once again, beautiful friends!
There’s a great suburb in the north of Melbourne called Reservoir.
Reservoir is like Prahran and Malvern in one particular way and absolutely no other ways: you have no idea how to pronounce it unless you’ve lived in Melbourne for over 5 years.
Why is Reservoir called Reservoir? Because a bunch of reservoirs were built there back in the day, and the place was named after those reservoirs, in a grateful homage to their sweet water-holding abilities. So, why do we then pronounce Reservoir as “Reservore”? I don’t know. Someone please tell me. Please.
In Reservoir, there is a magical place called 24-Hour Kmart, and it is magical because IT IS OPEN 24 HOURS A DAY, YES, EVEN AT 4am.
So, what’s so good about a discount megastore that’s open in the dead of night, I hear you ask?
The first thing is: the convenience. You need to buy a tent at 5am after a night of projectile vomiting? 24-Hour Kmart. You need a fan at midnight because the summer heat refuses to break and you swear to god you’re going to kill someone if this bullshit does not dissipate soon? 24-Hour Kmart. My mind is constantly boggled by the fact that this HUGE WAREHOUSE of goods made by morally indefensible labour and ecologically devastating processes is accessible WHENEVER I MIGHT HAVE THE SLIGHTEST URGE FOR A CHEAP FAUX-UGG BOOT OR MASS PACKET OF EAR BUDS.
The second great thing about 24-Hour Kmart is: the fact it is a microcosm. On one night in 24-Hour Kmart I observed a woman in traditional niqab inspecting discounted outdoor furniture alongside a woman in a bright red body-con mini-dress with stiletto heels telling off her dropkick boyfriend for doing something shitty, alongside a pretty erratic and slightly abusive guy coming off some serious crystal meth yelling at the security guard.
Which brings me to the final great thing about 24-Hour Kmart: the staff. The most impressive staff members are the security guards. These dudes deal with the most fascinating and horrifying stuff, pretty much as soon as the sun goes down. You would start believing vampire werewolves existed after long enough in the job, because of the fact that your workplace is regularly frequented by human nightmares as soon as it becomes dark. For example, I saw one Security Guard ask to check a guy’s bags once. The guy yelled back at him “fuck you, go back where you came from” and walked off into the car park.
The 24-Hour Kmart staff have a tough job, and while they remain helpful and respectful, the strain of this job shows. Once I tried to return a faulty toaster a 11pm without a box or a receipt, and the woman there was so kind about the fact that there’s no way she was going to replace my toaster because only criminals try to replace stolen toasters without a box or receipt, “not that I’m saying you are, don’t get me wrong.” Her defense became a stunning and convoluted monologue rich in detail and reflexivity, and I enjoyed it, despite the fact that it didn’t get me the goddamn toaster I needed, which was the only thing I actually came to Kmart for, as opposed to the $47 worth of cushions and clever vases that I have just purchased.
Look. Life is a complex and beautiful thing. With joy comes sorrow, with summer comes winter. Similarly, with the joy of 24-Hour Kmart comes the horror of 24-Hour Kmart. If you want the convenience of late-night spatulas and early-morning sports bras, you have to put up with a few doses of world-weary staff, heinous customers, and unnecessary overspending.
If you ask me, it’s a small price to pay.
Working 9 to 5, what a way to make a living!
You said it, Dolly. As did you, Lush Cosmetics.
Us at Would Jess Like It HQ have been doing a lot more office work lately, in the pursuit of More Boots, Handbags and Posh Meals, and Also the Minor Factor of Keeping A Roof Over Our HQ.
And, look, it’s not that bad. I get to work with a Receptionist whose vibe is “Vintage Glamazon from the 50s and 60s”, and she rocks a new outfit every day and accompanies it with great phrases like “cruisin’ for a bruisin’”.
I also like the fact that my office has leftover pastries pretty much always, leading to the same conversations with my colleagues at least 3 times a day:
1: “Oh, you sprung me! I couldn’t resist a mini-donut!”
2: “You enjoy it! Oh, I wish I could have one too!”
1: “Have one, gurl!”
2: “I’m trying to be healthy!”
1: “It’s only a mini donut!”
There’s only one thing I strongly dislike about office work (apart from the obvious factor of having to do work when I could be watching Empire and browsing Moschino’s Instagram page in bed for the rest of my life):
The commute to and from it.
Here’s a few hideous things about commuting in a major city in peak hour:
The disgusting people.
Some people do the weirdest shit. Last week, a corporate-dressed guy was waiting for a train next to me, and eating a bunch of cut up fruit in a Tupperware container. He would pick up each fruit slice, slurp its pith and juice, and then HURL THE PEEL ONTO THE GROUND IN FRONT OF HIM. This was on repeat for 10 minutes. Which brings me to my general gripe of –
Some of you are aware of my new policy, which is: if a gaggle of corporate dudes are bro-ing their way down the sidewalk together in one line, like the popular kids from Mean Girls, I refuse to get out of their way.
In the past, I would get out of their way promptly, make room for them by walking into gravel garden beds, due to the fact that socialised misogyny led me to unconsciously think I had less right to a sidewalk than these guys.
Ever since I realised my internalised self-hatred, I made a vow to never do it again. This makes a lot of my walk through the CBD more fun, but also more adrenaline-packed and dangerous. (This is because they hardly ever move out of your path until the very last minute, which makes me think they will be taken by surprise when The Revolution comes).
Calm down, Dutton. This isn’t what you think. I am kvetching about the sort of people who see me waiting on Flinders Station platform, near the yellow line, for the train to show up, and come and stand DIRECTLY IN FRONT OF ME AS IF I WERE NOT EVEN THERE.
One of the problems with imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy is that a lot of unhappy people are forced to trudge home with other unhappy people, and sometimes their unique unhappiness spikes into someone else, and sparks fly, in a not-good way.
Tonight, on my way to the train, I witnessed the tail end of a struggle between a middle-aged man and a young hipster on a bike. I don’t know what they were fighting about, but as the hipster rode away he yelled, “”I’m not scared of you. You’re just a stupid old man with no fucking life!”
We all craned our necks to see the stupid old man lacking any fucking life, but I couldn’t work out who he was in the crowd of sad-looking dudes.
And that’s the riddle right there, isn’t it. Maybe he was yelling it at all of us.
The first thing I want to say about the Dog Lovers Show is: what a grammatical quandary. Where does the apostrophe go? Is there an apostrophe? Does the show belong to us, the dog lover? Is there one of us, or are there many of us? (Stupid question: there are way too many of us; more on that later). Is this show just for people who have bestiality dispositions? Why would you host an event for these people?
The motto for this show is “for the love of dogs” and features a very excited young woman herding a mass of Yorkie Terriers, one of whom is barely noticeable in the scrum of fellow teacup dogs because he is crammed between her two hands. Just his little light brown nose peeks out. Does she love all her dogs except for this one? What did he do?
The Dog Lovers Show took place last weekend in a big exhibition building in Melbourne. There was a long list of terms and conditions to read on their website, for those of us who like to do pre-expo research so as to have the best experience ever, because why wouldn’t you want to be over-prepared at all times? (Also why wouldn’t you google the menu of every restaurant you ever go to, in advance, so you can know exactly what to order the minute you sit down, because, really, spontaneity is nice and all, but only when it comes to things like designer bag purchases. Food and dog lover shows are way to important to treat so flippantly).
Anyway. One of the rules of the Dog Lovers Show was that you could not BYO-dog, BYO-puppy, or BYO-furious-and-confused-cat. This show was for lovers of OTHER peoples’ dogs, and we don’t care how much you love your own dog! (Except for the fact there are lots of things here for you to buy your dog, pretty please, and plenty of courtesy ATMs on premises).
Another rule of the Dog Lovers Show pertained to patting and otherwise. Each stand had a laminated sign on the wall establishing a few key rules when it came to dog-interaction. Talk to the owner before touching a dog, ensure the dog is totally fine with any sort of dog-loving you are proposing, and calm the fuck down, I know you’re excited, but for the dog this is just another long day in a moist room having to be leader and spokesdog for its species, and it really doesn’t give a fuck about you and your novelty bichon frise t-shirt.
The excitement of this consensual petting zoo lasted for a few minutes, until we realised how flagrantly Utopia was being disrespected. Kids were running up to dogs and grabbing their butts with glee. Their parents were right behind them, patting heads TOO VIGOROUSLY for the taste of a small-terrier expert like me. There was a throng of dog lovers humming around every dog, forming an impenetrable and overwhelming circle of attention for each dog.
Look, I get it. Dog lovers shows only come once a year. The room was thick with pent up excitement, as well as the erotic energy of Dr Harry Cooper being in the building. People were meeting every flavour of dog out there, and emotions were running wild. The dogs were tired, but were also acting as ambassadors for their breed, teaching people what these dogs are like, so that if these people get the same breed dog one day, they know everything important about care and temperament.
While parts of the day were overwhelming, I regret none of my exorbitant ticket price, except for wondering who made money out of it. I learnt a lot about how smart kelpies are, I made eye contact with a celebrity dog, and I got the new profile picture of my dreams.
Would Jess Like It? …sorta.
Let me draw a scene. It’s December 2015, AAMI Park, Melbourne. This is a big stadium where sports things happen, as carried out by people who have thick jaws, make dubious life-choices, yet have impressive co-ordination skills.
But not tonight. Tonight, AAMI Park is filled with women between the ages of 6 and 66, as well as a handful of middle-aged men auditioning for the role of “beleaguered Dad”, and many of my favourite local homosexuals.
AAMI Park is packed to the gills for an event that we’ve all been waiting for. We’ve had our tickets to this concert for a YEAR. You know when you see artists put out tickets a year in advance and you go, “really? You think you’ll still be popular in a year?” Well, in this case, the answer is “of course I will be, I’m Taylor motherfucking Swift.”
And fair enough, Taylor motherfucking Swift.
For a year now, we’ve been clutching these hot tickets in our sweaty little paws, preparing our gaping maws for some roars and guffaws, the sort of sound that will lift AAMI Park into the air in a way it has never been lifted before by a sport event, or so says this bitter dweeb.
Taylor presents a wholly satisfying show, featuring such highlights as lit-up wristbands, videos about white feminism, and a revolving walkway that I want to see speeded the fuck up.
We chair-dance our way through a lot of the concert, but we all know what we’re waiting for. There is one hit that is synonymous with Taylor Swift, and every six-year-old girl that is literally here or who is living inside one of us much older people is waiting for it.
We all know what’s going to happen with “Shake it Off”. It’s too big a hit to do early. It can’t even be the fake ending of the show. Of COURSE it’s going to be the encore. Taylor’s going to do some reliable crowd-pleaser like Bad Blood, fake an exit, and wait for us to bray ravenously for her blood unless she comes back out to deliver The Hit.
She lives off these wounded animal cries of deep desire. They keep her fed when she runs out of chia seed and amaranth granules.
Taylor lets us warble desperately a little longer, while she changes into the most triumphant unitard she owns. Our small group of my sister, her wife and myself wait patiently. We know what’s happening. No point braying about it. Let the hoi polloi run their throats ragged. We have some $6.00 Twisties to eat.
And while I eat, I notice something around me. Families are streaming out of the arena in great swathes. Mouths are set in tough lines as mothers and fathers drag children who don’t know any better out of the stadium.
And I just think: what’s the conversation going to be like in the car?
Kid: Why didn’t Taylor sing “Shake it Off?”
Parent: Because she saw you were in the crowd, and she hates you.
Fair enough, parents. Lie to your kid, get home by Lateline. Good work.
But after this quite reasonable sighting, I was exposed to another type of early-exiter, one I’m still trying to understand. These are the families who waited for Taylor Swift to re-emerge onstage, like some glamorous annoying peacock, waited for her to start singing her HUGEST HIT, and then, the moment that GODDAMN FIREWORKS STARTED EXPLODING is when they dragged their kids out of the stadium.
I’m wracking my brain to work out the reasoning they give their kids in the car:
“I know that you might think you want to hear your favourite artist sing the biggest hit of last year live, with pyrotechnics and screaming. But you know what’s even better than that? Getting into the car park exit queue 5 minutes before everyone else. You get a real smooth line down Punt Road. We’ll be home in ten minutes flat, so you barely have to wait to cry yourself to sleep.”
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.
(Cross imagery not a metaphor for anything)
 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.
First: some context. I really love rap music. And I really love bushwalking.
My favourite way of bushwalking is listening to particular rap songs that I know really well and trying to get something new from the lyrics. I go bushwalking once a day to ensure I am a human being who doesn’t say mean things to people and who feels good about life. While walking, I like to have a really engaged brain and occasionally goosebumps of poignancy, so this is why I listen to rap music.
For example, Kanye’s song “Hey Mama”? It’s a sweet and simple tribute to his Mum raising him to be hard-working and ambitious. It’s a moment of sweetness and love. It’s a gorgeous song, and it’s set off with something of a vocal siren that sounds like the clearing of his throat in ascending pitch, followed by a “yow!” I remember seeing Kanye perform this live in Sydney fairly close to his mother’s death. The vocal siren was now a wail, the “yow” felt like a punch in the chest, a howl from a wounded creature. This song, a tribute to Donda West, probably written as a Mother’s Day gift for her, was now a new sort of tribute following her death. It’s always a goosebump moment as I look down at water bubbling over the stones that stack onto themselves in Merri Creek, the cold weaving between grooves, no part untouched.
Then there’s a lot about Drake’s new album that causes me to think, too. One of the tracks, Star 67, starts with the lyrics: “Brand new Beretta, can’t wait to let it go. Walk up in my label like: where the cheque tho?” And I think: has Drake ever done that? I don’t get that vibe from Drake. The vibe I get is an angry smart dude who overthinks things. If Drake did this, even just as a joke, did the record label think it was a joke? Or was it one of those Rich-People-Jokes where everyone less-rich is contractually obliged to laugh at the rich dude being a fuckwit but inside their heart is beating a little faster and they have a strain running through them of “he shouldn’t be allowed to get away with that, you know. It’s manipulative.”
Don’t even get me started on the emotional rollercoaster of Jay Z’s “My President is Black”. This song is goosebump magnificence – “Rosa Parks sat so Martin Luther could walk, Martin Luther walked so Barack Obama could run, Barack Obama ran so all the children could fly, now imma spread my wings, you can meet me in the sky.” But there is a bitter irony to images like that versus America in reality, especially with lines like “no more wars, no more Iraq, no more white lies, my President is black.” I guess this track makes me think about the universal fucked-uped-ness of having power. Everyone ends up doing bad things, even the good guys.
But we’re wasting time because today’s post is all about the main event: Nicki Minaj’s guest verse off the Kanye track Monster. I reckon this guest spot was a big part of my feminist awakening in my early 20s. Here’s a smart, potty-mouthed, unapologetic woman owning her achievements, her sexuality and her right to be confident. She strides into this song and flings Jay Z’s limp verse that preceded her onto its back. I don’t want to quote too much of it to you, I just want you to load up this song onto your phone and find a green spot with a river and listen to it in its entirety.
But let’s talk about Nicki’s vocal gymnastics. She can sing, she can growl, and she can do cutesy-voice. She plays with our conception of how women should speak and rap and she uses her voice as another character. For example, in baby voice: “so let me get this straight, right, I’m the rookie, but my features and my shows ten times your pay?” Something slow starts building. The baby voice starts fading and a growl comes in: “50k for a verse, no album out! Yeah my money’s so tall that my body’s gotta climb it.” For any woman who’s ever felt mansplained to or undermined by someone with less experience, this moment is transcendent.
I sometimes wonder at Nicki’s insistence on using her earning power as the justification for her success, but it makes sense too. Imagine how often she’s felt talked down to (“and if I’m fake I aint notice cos my money aint”) or like she’s just the sum of her physicality (“pink wig, big ass, give em whiplash. Think big, get cash, make em blink fast.”). Lyrics about her bank balance are a way of meeting the haters at face level, using an analogy base enough for them to understand. Fuck artistic integrity: I’ve got more money than you.
The end of the verse features her using this opportunity to ask Kanye and Amber Rose for a threesome at the end of the week, followed by a roar of “Now look at what you just saw, this is what you live for, ahhhhh, I’m a motherfucking monster”. In one short verse, she’s displaying unapologetic sexuality, taking credit for how good the song is (you came here for ME, not for Kanye or Jay Z) and she is soaring into the sky with a growl like a motherfucking plane on take-off. She is, all at once, loud, sexy and professional.
She is made of many parts. Barbie, boss bitch, and queen. I love you, Nicki.
Anyone who knows ANYTHING about me, knows that I am a BIG fan of a Good Dance Movie.
“WE LIVE TO DANCE” – these guys
Hate action movies. Hate spy thrillers. Hate horror films. But a dance movie? I’m only human. Who am I to tell my spine not to arc in a shiver, or my skin to prick into goosebumps, when someone attempts a risky “throw this babe I’ve been flirting with into the air, catch her and then make out” manoeuvre like it’s not even slightly a big deal?
DANCE FILMS PRESENT LIFE AS HEIGHTENED AND SASSY AND I AM DOWN WITH THAT.
This is part of a larger realisation that came with watching a musical the other night. At one stage, I looked around the audience and realised EVERYONE IN THE AUDIENCE WAS SMILING.
EVERYONE WAS HAPPY.
This was so different to my usual experience of audiences, as a theatremaker myself, that I wasn’t quite sure what to do with the feeling. It flowered a little jonquil inside me that continues to squeak out, “maybe it’s OK not to be your most gritty, political self all the time. Sometimes, you can make that tired lady ROFL, instead of making her cry down her shirt because the world is ending.” I guess in an ideal diverse art landscape, you have art that does both. The beauty of an artistic community is that everyone has their own type of art. I love shitty dance films, but could never write one. I’m glad there are people out there who can, though. I hope they’re happy.
But, I digress.
On Sunday night I watched Step Up: All In with my friend Skye. From the opening scene, it was clear this was going to be a movie full of feelings and spinal chills. The protagonist, Bland White Guy, or Blah-Blah for short, was having some serious communication problems with his dance crew. Blah-Blah’s perspective on a life pursuing the muse is “Easy come, easy go.” Don’t you hate him?
“I have abs”
Blah-Blah’s crew don’t feel quite so blithely relaxed about their future in the competitive world of dance. They say “Wake up, man! When are you going to stop acting like everything’s OK?”
Because things are not OK, not even a little bit. The troupe has been doing it really tough since their last commercial gig 6 months ago, where they got $50,000 for a Nike spot.
I’M SORRY – WHAT?! I love that even the most creative Hollywood dance-film screenwriter couldn’t see beyond the confines of his own foie-gras-crusted money-brain to think about what sort of earnings most freelance artists could expect from a dance gig.
If there was a dance troupe out there earning $50,000 willy nilly for a gig, they actually wouldn’t exist by the end of this sentence, because the rest of us jobbing artists would have killed them and would be snacking on their marrow right now for some important survival protein.
But anyway: this dance troupe are PISSED and they’re leaving Blah-Blah in order to pursue much more lucrative lives in industries like Who-Cares and You Traitor.
A few important plot points happen in too-quick-succession for this gal, still dazed at the size of that Nike cheque. One of the plot points is that Blah-Blah opens up his deluxe laptop and googles “dance auditions Los Angeles”. One popular hit comes up:
THE VORTEX, WITH ALEXXA BRAVA
XX for USSR! Alexxa is a Russian lady with a penetrating stare and the most incredibly demonstrative arms. She’s a mixture of Caesar Flicker from The Hunger Games and that time Karl Stefanovic was drunk on The Today Show. She tells the internet about a dance competition in Las Vegas where the winning dance troupe wins a 3 year contract to perform at a particularly impressive and depressing casino!
This piques Blah-Blah’s interest, but he doesn’t have time to dwell on it. He has to move out of his apartment because he’s totally broke after that shittily-paid Nike gig. He wanders to another part of town and enters a dance school; it’s his friend Moose’s family’s business, run by an extremely well-preserved Russian couple who say things like “you will be sleeping here in the closet of storage!”
Funny ethnics! Learn American already!
Now that Blah-Blah has somewhere to store his protein powder, acai berries and oversized singlet tops, he busies himself on TROUPE GENESIS DUTIES. First he hits up Moose, whom Skye assures me is a big deal from previous Step Up films. They grab a green smoothie together and talk shop. Moose is all “I don’t know man, I have a lucrative career as an Engineer now. I don’t dance anymore!” and Blah is like “don’t you miss dance?”
HEY MOOSE: it’s OK to miss dance! It doesn’t mean you have to give up your engineering career! Don’t follow Blah’s advice! Look at his resting dumbface! You are the winner here! You earn a regular pay cheque and have a lovely girlfriend!
But here’s the thing about Lovely Girlfriend. This woman is so keen to support all of Moose’s ambitions that she’s like “if you want something, I want you to have it. Since when did I become THAT girl?” She refuses to be a boner-shrinking naysayer. She’ll regret that later. WHEN IN DOUBT, NAYSAY.
Moose decides he’s in. He makes an excuse to his “deadpan yet lacking any panache” avatar of Boss (key line: “my grandmother was a jail warden”) and he and Blah go scouting for a new troupe of dancers.
And it’s a great troupe they gather. Some twins who look like Alex from Everything is Illuminated. A Kiwi girl who’s an amazing burger-flipper. A Korean girl who has the most INCREDIBLE taste in street wear.
(Side note: all these woman are dressed comfortably ALL the time. It’s very empowering and I won’t shovel even a tiny bit of snark their way because of it.)
But there’s one particularly important new addition to the troupe: Fragile and Complicated Love Interest Gal. Let’s call her Dicky Knee, because she hurt her knee once and now she’s scared to dance hard like she used to.
“Ow, my knee.”
There’s an immediate competitive frisson between Dicky Knee and Blah-Blah, because it wouldn’t be Hollywood without a potential romantic relationship being framed as a site of battle between warring parties, until the weaker party accedes to the stronger, goes limp in their mouth, a flattened jugular and a weak cry of “OK, fine, you win me, because humans are winnable, own-able, property”. That is true romance.
Dicky Knee is freed from her former place of employ, but not before her and Blah have a sexy dance battle, giving Moose a chance to roll his eyes and go “does it ALWAYS have to end up in a giant dance battle?”
This is the part of the movie where the inciting incident has dropped like a well-timed anvil, and it’s making my heart feel things. Everyone has left their jobs, where they receive actual wages, in order to invest hopes, dreams and savings into this dance crew. It makes me realise: goddamn, artists sacrifice so much to do a job that makes many souls clap their hands and sing and louder sing, and we’re expected to live off the gruel of creative fulfilment alone. The lack of any sort of financial stability, the need for a leap of faith into the unknown, the constant hungry look over one’s shoulder for the next gig, and when it doesn’t come, the beginning of a sideways glance to consider dropping this career you have studied for and volunteered for and interned for and sweat out iron and tears for, because it sometimes is just too bloody bloody brutal to handle. I am really scared for this dance troupe because they are fumbling through the dark towards the hope for a better future, and who knows if they will get there. They might, but then: what next? They never know. They never will know. Part of this life is living in the dark.
(By the way, here’s a link to various articles that explore the effect that the Liberal Party’s new budget is going to have on emerging artists in Australia.)
The new troupe come together and their name is LMNTRIX. No comment.
OK, wait. I will comment. I hate it. It’s terrible. But they don’t have the money for workshopping it any more than they already have. They’re dry out of the Nike $50k. Maybe if the troupe could afford a clever dramaturg to sound out some good team names, this travesty wouldn’t have occurred, but George Brandis has ensured that no more dramaturgs are left, they have had to take new jobs douching his asshole every ten minutes so he can perform his ongoing slashes to Australian artistic and intellectual life with maximum squeaky-clean efficiency.
That’s the confident pointing finger of one happy asshole.
Anyway, it’s time for Step Up 4 to haul itself to Vegas, where the competition takes place in a casino hosting Rod Stewart’s show! It’s also time for me to haul myself into a bath that I will not miss for anything, not even the greatest movie of all time, so Skye agrees to take notes on what I miss.
The hotel where all the performers are staying is tacky and flashy and Skye nicknames it Orgy Palace. She notes that LMNTRIX is competing against dance troupes named Divine Intervention, The Mob and Night Crimes in the final. These names are TERRIBLE and I love them.
There’s also this note about the love-hate frisson between Blah and Dicky: “he wanted her to do a cool big dance move, but she has an old knee injury. She says IT’S ABOUT THE LOVE OF BEING IN A CREW! NOT WINNING, SEAN!”
And this is how I find out Blah-Blah’s name is Sean.
Skye also notes: “The racial diversity and talk of family values makes me think of Fast and Furious. NOT AS GOOD THO”
Somewhere in the time I was gone, Sean’s old dance troupe come back and are all “Wuffuck, bro? You didn’t even give us a text to say “let’s try this one last hurrah? Who even are you?”
Some more complications happen from there too, including finding out that Alexxa Brava is HAVING AN AFFAIR with a dancer from the warring crew! This is terrible news, because it means the competition is rigged! She’s gonna look after her fuckboy over anybody else!
In a logic that I’m too recently steamed and bathed to really understand, Sean realises the only solution to this problem is to merge his old crew with LMNTRIX and make ONE CONGLOMERATE OF SUPER TROUPE. He does, and they’re great. They’re ready to perform. They’re ready to WIN this rigged contest.
Somewhere in the rule book there’s surely a cap on the number of dancers allowed in each troupe, right? Or is this another Hollywood thing? In AUSTRAYA, all the major theatre companies tell you that you’re best off writing a one-hander or maximum three-person play, because then a company might ACTUALLY BE ABLE TO AFFORD TO PUT ON YOUR PLAY WITHOUT LOSING MONEY. If this troupe wins Vortex, the casino will have to pay 30 dancers 3 years worth of wages, and I guess if George Brandis was more au fait with how things are done in Vegas, baby, a lot of decisions made in Australian art policy would be a little more inspiring right now.
As the most charismatic member of LMNTRIX, and because it is Opposite Day, Sean gets up to address the crowd. He calls his troupe “the best of dancers” and then he corrects himself and says, “the best of friends.” That’s a spinal shiver right there. He’s coming through for us, ole Sean.
This is the moment where I think about how electric the first table read of this screenplay would have been. To have been a fly on the wall…
So it’s hard to properly explain how incredible the final dance piece is, so I’ll give you some buzz words: CHAINS. TYRES. LEAPING. THROWING. CATCHING. CAPES. GOGGLES. STUPID HATS. It’s a veritable wonderland of visual stimulus.
Skye sums it up with the following quote: “STEAMPUNK: it might look ugly, but it’s sexy, OK.”
There’s a potent moment where Dicky looks Sean dead in the eye and is like “let’s do the move that I’ve been scared of all this time. You throw me in the air and catch me again, and I’m going to trust the shit out of you. Do it. DO IT.”
And he does it. And he catches her. AND THEN THEY MAKE OUT IN FRONT OF A WIND MACHINE.
MAGIC IS HAPPENING
We all cry with joy. Lights flash. A girl does a robot dance. The wind rips sexily through billowing hair and past artfully displayed abs. Everyone is so happy.
Do they win? I don’t remember. I was too busy feeling proud of this motley crew of desperate losers, all sharing the same unreasonable dream: to train hard to be good at something that gives people joy, to share this joy with the world, and to have some sort of respect, financial benefit and career trajectory from providing this service to other humans who want it, need it and deserve it.
Dream on, stupid little dancers. Dream on.
Yes, of course.
For years, I used to think that my grandparents had written their own nifty doorbell tune, trademarked as The Bellamy Doorbell. That’s what Nana told me. Her and Popsi had come up with a clever melody that went “doo doo doo doo. Doo doo doo doo.”
It was a timeless tune: it just felt doorbell-appropriate. “What clever grandparents,” I thought. “Coming up with a tune that good after retirement! I guess that’s where my creativity comes from!”
One day I mentioned this to my friend Caro, and sang The Bellamy Doorbell tune to her. She paused, laughed a bit, and went “Jess? Those are the bells for BIG BEN.”
Recently I discovered a car wash I love in Melbourne named Grand Wash Auto. I love it for these reasons:
- It’s in an isolated industrial area and is always deserted.
- There are many shoe outlets nearby.
- The name is genius.
- You get to vacuum your own car for as long and as passionately as you like, without judgement.
- You don’t have to speak to another human being even once.
Until the day I discovered Grand Wash Auto, I maintained a more rustic car-care regimen of “wait til it rains and the problem will go away, unless it’s bat piss, sticky from the figs that this bat is pilfering and noshing on illegally from your garden, in which case, you should just sell the car.”
After my first Grand Wash Auto experience, I waxed lyrical to another friend about the lyrical waxing job that this clever machine had done to my automobile.
“It’s such good technology!” I gushed. “They have this clever system where you drive your right wheel onto a conveyer belt and put the car in Neutral and then the conveyer belt pushes your car through the jungle of sprays, mops, wipers and dryers via a logic that only it can command! What sort of robot genius invented this? Grand Wash Auto should patent it, stat!”
My friend paused and put on the same face Caro did when she tore my dream of Bellamy Family Musical Genius to shreds. “You know that every car wash ever does that? It’s standard. Across the board.”
It took me a little while to work out a theme for this Would Jess Like It post. It’s not doorbells. It’s not cluelessness. It’s not “this is what happens when you don’t get a real job”.
The closest I can get is “discovery”. The world is bigger than we understand it to be, pretty much always. So it’s nice to surround ourselves by smart people who pull us through an unfamiliar haze of global machinery, scrub off showerings of fig-sticky confusion, and wax the big big world slightly clearer.
Speaking of “discovery”: the Wikipedia page for “car wash” is two hours of joy that you will never get back, because those two hours will be clutched lovingly to your chest forever more. Enjoy the discovery.