Wawiriya Burton, Ngayuku Mamaku Ngura (My father’s Country), 2016.
How much we miss when we don't know the presence of things unseen.
I've had a rather surprising revelation recently. It was born from the wellspring of a trip to Darwin, where time slowed its pace and the face of my fears turned itself towards the sun. One evening I was sitting having dinner with some of Australia's best poets, musicians and filmmakers. The conversation eventually came around to me and what my art is. I meekly and unconvincingly replied that I am a writer of sorts, knowing full well the dreaded question that follows this proclaimation... "Oh yeah? What sort of writing do you do?" There it is. The enquiry that stops me dead in my tracks every time. I sat there mute while everyone looked at me expectantly. (Don't people know that some writers fumble over spoken words, which is exactly why they write?!)
Thankfully the conversation was derailed when the musos were called to the stage for their set. I knew I was saved in that moment, but the question niggled at me because the truth is, I didn't know what sort of writer I was. I don't write poetry, fiction, academic essays, journalistic articles or film scripts. I've dabbled in all of these areas- I've even completed post-grad studies in professional writing- but none of them stuck. The only thing that has been consistent is that I write pieces that are self-reflective- kind of like a journal- but that doesn't count as "real" writing, does it?
Wassily Kandinsky, Dance Curves- On the Dances of Palucca, 1926.
“The artist must have something to say, for mastery over form is not his goal but rather the adapting of form to its inner meaning.”
I sat with this question all week. It lay with me in bed, tossing through the night, and stalked my walks along the beach. With it came the usual haunt of procrastination. I hadn't written a blog post in a couple of weeks. How could I write when I felt like an imposter? It was brilliant validation for the perfectionist in me, aka the "inner critic" that will find any excuse to keep my words from entering the world outside of my mind. Looking back over a list I wrote a few years ago of my blocks around writing reveals this is just one of the reasons. The others include: offending people; receiving criticism from readers; being labelled as a "writer", and then not writing, and being seen as flaky; and being stereotyped.
This last one is where I found the golden seed of truth. I do know what kind of writer I am, I just haven't wanted to admit it because I didn't like the answer. If I had to squeeze into a box the category I fit mostly neatly into would be... self-help. I haven't been able to express what I've wanted to say because I was so scared of becoming the cliche. You know, the woo-woo type. But let's face it, you will catch me saying that 'Women who run with the wolves' is my bible, and asking a friend what sign their venus is in. I try to avoid eating refined sugars, but I'll happily accept a beer (preferably organic, of course), and I'm even beginning to flirt with the idea of visiting Ubud for a writing retreat. I live in the Byron Shire, and before that, Bondi. It's kind of obvious...
I really didn't want to be that person though. There are a lot of facets to the new age movement that irk me, like tacky design aesthetics and focussing on transcendence of the human experience as the ultimate goal (we're here now- may as well dive into it, right?) But in the process of discerning what fits with me I threw out the rest of the woo-woo wardrobe. There are many aspects that make sense to me and have definitely enriched the way I make meaning in my life.
By definition you cannot be a cliche if you are loyal to the unique nuances of your own genuine voice. As my grandmother would always say, "nothing is true until it is experienced". So while everyone who writes in a particular genre may share characteristics with others in their field, everyone has something real to bring if they use their own soulscape as the scaffold.
In all honesty, this terrain is the one that I have the most authority to speak on. I haven't seen much of the world compared to many of my peers who have travelled extensively. But I have journeyed through the full spectrum of human emotion and met some poignant insights along the way. When I was 17 I held my mother's hand as she took her last breath and have since treasured the moments I have with the living because of it. I have had my own breath taken away by the magic of love and all the ecstasy and sorrow that comes with facing your best and worst self time and again. I've spent years trying to figure out "what my purpose is" to come to the conclusion that this question puts way too much pressure on a young woman, and that actually the answer is decoded in dancing all night, eating a perfectly poached egg, living through adversity, laughing at myself, or spooning my lover.
So in light of this I will continue to use art as my mirror to reveal all the facets of what it means to be human and share what I have learned in my writing. Call it self-help, new-age, inspirational... whatever- to me, art is the language of the soul. When we peer into someone else's expression we recognise the beauty in the contours of our own inner landscape.
"I am my own muse. The subject I know best. The subject I want to better."
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