RUN, YOU GOIT.
Also, I absolutely love that you’re open minded on this. Gives me hope for much of fandom. :D
1. Be Kind. If this is the one thing I manage to do, I’ve done enough. Kindness may seem like a personality trait, but I think of it more as a...”
A couple of weeks ago I was asked to speak on a panel at the University of Tasmania, giving advice to students about how to help their Arts degrees lead them somewhere interesting and fulfilling after graduation. I am aware of the irony of this, trapped as I am in the postgrad period of sending applications, holding breaths and crossing fingers.
In the end though, I decided to go along. After all, the state that I am in at the moment is a totally legitimate and very terrifying position that all graduates go through, and I have also done some interesting stuff in the last 12 months that I wagered people might genuinely like to hear about. The more I thought about it, the more I thought, Actually, there are a few things that I would like to have been told four years ago when I started this journey. So I made my notes and went along.
If you ever need to return me to earth and humility, you can remind me what happened next. Friends of the internet, I am sorry to say, no-one came to the panel. No-one. Not even accidentally. This sometimes happens at UTas, and I consider karma partly responsible. In my years as a student I must have missed countless events just like it - work and life and sleep and study all coming together so that any chaff at the edges is quickly sliced away for an extra moment’s peace. It wasn’t personal, and the university staff who organised the panel were disappointed and also incredibly gracious and grateful. I left in good spirits.
But you know what? I had things to tell those damn Arts students! Chiefly this: Start now. The most important artistic decision I made during my time at uni began as soon as university started, and you’re reading it right now. This blog is the theory in practice. Early on in my degree I asked myself a crucial question: If someone was looking to discover you - really genuinely find someone who was doing exactly the kind of work that you are doing - how would you make that quest easy for them? I couldn’t answer it then, but since the beginning of my blog, I can. In the digital world someone who is serious about their craft has very few excuses. Start creating and sharing. Almost every piece of joy that I’ve had in my writing career so far traces right back to here. I don’t have to give my stories away for free, but I do have to give something so that the world sees me. Here it is, writ large.
The irony of discussing a “life after Arts” is that there is no life after Arts. There is only a life lived through Arts. And it starts now.
That’s what I would have told them, anyway. Or something like that. But as you know, nobody came. Now I can only hope that someone - Arts student or not - hoping to shake off a fear of failure will find encouragement here. And start to make.
It seems to me that perhaps one of the greatest tragedies of the arts is that the creative mind only occurs in certain types of people. I mean, obviously there is a wide and scattered variety of perspectives within that field - so that one person might still love something that everyone else around them hates - but the group of “art-makers” is still comparatively tiny, and there are many people on this earth who will never find a book or song or painting that latches onto their brain and never lets go in that, “my life will never be the same because this is me being reflected back into my face” kind of way that art nerds so often like to talk about.
While there are always exceptions to the rule and I’d hate to tell anyone that they are not the sort of person who makes art, it seems to me that there is an ingrained personality type that is drawn towards creating in certain types of ways, meaning that there are disproportionately high numbers of novels and screenplays about writers, and a pretty noticeable lack of poetry collections about physics or medical science.
It seems to be widely acknowledged that it is an artist’s job to try and get inside situations way outside of their field, but even if the old “Write what you know” adage isn’t strictly healthy for an artist, it seems that it isn’t going away. Most creators apparently mentally spin a wheel of fifty themes whenever they sit down to create, returning again and again to varying riffs on the same ideas and styles they have held onto since their beginnings.
I seem to be spending a bit of time lately thinking about what the world would be like if the artistic temperament was more widespread. What sort of pastel drawings would an automotive mechanic draw? What sort of novel would an army sergeant write? What would the lyrics be to a beautician’s first acoustic single?
Some days I look at my book collection and think about how it is impossible to read even just the novels published within my lifetime. I think, there is probably too much art in the world. But then I think about all the groups and people who remain silent in the narrative that the artistic minds have created, and I am convinced that actually there is not enough and there are still yawning gaps that I long to see filled.
This afternoon I had an email of the kind you don’t get often. It was a true story, beautiful and gentle, and a reminder of the way Christmas can bring into sharp focus the absolute power of human kindness. I fought back tears. I was, in fact, broken a little by the end of it, and then I was put back together again.
Its author wishes to remain anonymous, and I respect that wish, and hope you will too. It is still a story that I think needs telling, and I don’t think you’ll regret taking the time to read it.
Here it is, exactly as I received it. Enjoy.
This happened to me today, and it was the most wonderful if bittersweet thing the universe has ever done for me. I know that it will sound like something that happened to a friend of a friend of mine, or some such urban folktale, but maybe that’s a good thing because it means all the wonderful stories of random acts of kindness we hear have a basis in reality.
Anyway. After I got out of of hospital last week I received a phone call from my mum telling me she was being tested for breast cancer, and things weren’t looking good. For my entire life, whenever things have been difficult, I’ve reminded myself that things could always be worse - I could be without my mum, who is the most beautiful lady in the world and the most solid thing in my life. So now the worst has happened and I don’t know what to do with myself.
But then at work yesterday a lady came through with her husband, and I’ve been trying to cover up how I’m feeling with an abundance of cheerfulness. This lady liked me and we hit it off, and after we got talking and I told her all the things I want to study and learn about and do with my life she gave her husband a look; he nodded and she told me that she would be back for me tomorrow with a gift. She found out what time I was working and said she looked forward to seeing me then. I was a little bit confused, but she was lovely and one of those very classy older ladies that radiate confidence and warmth, and I believed her.
Last night mum told me it’s confirmed, and that she will need to have surgery and radiation therapy as soon as possible. I didn’t sleep much and came to work at 8, kind of in a daze, and then about halfway through my shift I looked up and she was waiting for me in line. She wasn’t buying anything, she was just waiting to see me.
She told me that she’s lived in five countries all over the world, and that every year she gives out one of these gifts for every day of advent to those she thinks deserve it, and she wants people to pass on the message if they receive it. So it should be one of the little known secrets of the entire world by now.
She gave me a hand sown heart that is just big enough to fit in your hand, with a hand stitched animal of your choosing on it. That doesn’t sound like much, but it had a hand written note with it that read:
“This is a heart to hold in your hand, when you make your wishes, say your prayers, or just need something to hold onto. It will work magic. Merry Christmas x”
I burst into tears and told her that she couldn’t have picked a better time, and she gave me a hug and told me that nobody deserves to be sad at Christmas. I had never seen her before yesterday, and maybe never will again, but I’ll keep it forever and always be grateful. It just seems strange that the universe picked this point in time to give it to me, when it would mean the most and I do in fact need something to hold onto.
Anyway Lyndon, I’m not brave enough to share this story with the world yet. But you have a bigger audience and more eloquent voice than me and I was hoping that maybe you could find a way to share the message.
It seems like everyone should hear something like this at Christmas.
I’ve thought a lot this year about what Christmas is, and why as a more secular individual I still love it so much when other people seem to find ways to hate it.
It seems to me at the moment, that Christmas should be about putting aside your own view of yourself at the centre of everything, and choosing to give parts of you away to everyone else.
It’s letting pieces (sometimes even the most important pieces) of yourself go, and not only never asking for them back, but actually enjoying the privilege of letting others take them away.
It’s all gifts. Gifts we’ve bought and wrapped, or gifts that are far more fundamental - time, love, and family. Given and received graciously, never knowing how important or trivial they might be.
Simply, gifts from the heart.