As I’m writing this, it’s my twenty-second birthday. Twenty-two times the Earth has revolved around our sun, more or less, while I’ve been on board. On its perilous voyage through the cosmos, there has been many a chance for it to escape, fall out of orbit or drive in front of a moving meteorite. Thankfully for all of us involuntarily involved in it’s business it hasn’t decided to do that just yet.
Unlike sixteenths, eighteenths, twenty-firsts and a hundred-and-elevenths, twenty-seconds aren’t celebrated all that much. They’re just another day in the life of X. And after a great adventure across the world, to be spending this day in my home country, roots planted and vines regrowing around my legs, it just doesn’t feel all that special.
But it can be made into something with a bit of effort, as can every single day. Instead of wallowing inside, I’ve come out with a fraction of my family to Melbourne, Australia’s literary capital and general hip hotspot to recharge my batteries, hoping to shock my brain back to life with a healthy dose of art and Australiana.
Of course, there’s a lot to say about one of Australia’s biggest cities, so I’ll be getting to that in my own time, but at the moment I really want to discuss the idea of inspiration, the idea of “the place for X” and the idea of heroes.
The Idea of Inspiration… And How to Kill it with Technology and Ego
If you’ve been keeping up with this blog in any way I’m sure you’ll have figured out that my life ambition is to be a writer, something which has probably become evident through all the squiggly lines on your screen and all the alluring alliteration chucked about pretty willy-nilly.
In another way though, in another half-life, I’d also love to be an artist. If I’d have stuck to my canvas stretching and acrylic splashing ways in school I might have been there by now, but words have always come more naturaly to me. It feels right to put poems on page.
But that doesn’t mean I can’t still be absolutely amazed by my favourite artists and be inspired by their works. Maybe I won’t be making things directly after their style, but I can use this creative energy to move forward in other areas and I feel like this trip to Melbourne has definitely sparked something.
From seeing the bright and bourgeois works of Warhol plastered up larger than life, to sitting at the edge of a pool full of softly clinking bowls, to witnessing political protesters climbing up a huge tower to defend the rights of young refugee children, I’ve been totally soaked in the meaningful beauty of art and expression.
I must admit, I’ve been a bit lazy and flat when it comes to writing this past week. My energy expenditure during my exchange was obviously higher than I realised, and so I’ve been left feeling just a little drained. Plus, the process of job hunting and settling into a routine again definitely hampers the creative process.
But one major thing I’m struggling to deal with at the moment is something I definitely know I shouldn’t be bothered by… Facebook likes.
A fantastic inspiration killer is to see your works go up, then humbly applauded with two or three Facebook and maybe a nice comment. These are all lovely signs and heart touching tribute from friends, of course, but in a high-stakes world in which everyone is jostling to get their work seen, to compare your social media reach to some luckier or pluckier friends can really make you doubt the quality of your writing.
I work in the media, and deal very specifically with social media. I know just how important it is for artists and organisation alike to promote themselves through this platform. For some, it’s actually a life or death matter to rake in those likes, comments and page-clicks. My professional training and work has allowed me to see, from the backstage, how real life interest, loyalty and love for a work or product can be translated into social media points.
So I’m always on the lookout for ways to improve my ratings. It might seem very counter intuitive to the whole creative process thing, but it’s an undeniable part of it for writers in this digital age. It’s how we spread our words, how we land publishing, even how we make our money sometimes.
But on the other hand, these can also mean nothing. A company with hundreds of thousands of followers may only generate a few likes per page share. Facebook’s complex and hidden algorithms play a massive part in deciding who sees what, and sometimes you just don’t get seen. You can’t base your own artistic merit on your Facebook profile or your LinkedIn analytics, but it can give you the beginning of an idea of how visible your art is.
There’s a very romantic idea of writers being these spontaneous and eccentric ethereal beings, who care nothing for the outside world. That may be at least partly true, but young writers must also work their way around the reality of self-promotion, if they want to break into this highly competitive market in the traditional sense (this, of course, goes against the DIY ethos of zine publishing, which I’ll touch on). The ego craves to be satisfied by relatively meaningless digital signals, in part because we are trapped in a pokie machine horror-show world of electric impulses and gratification, but also because they represent, in some small part, a little step closer to the goal we all share.
Just don’t let it harm your process and don’t compare yourself to others you see on the same race (an all-too-easy trap to fall into) . Be spontaneous and eccentric whenever you can, put pen to paper even if you don’t feel any inspiration, make your own every day. I mean, here I am now, writing about it. If that ain’t an astounding case study, I don’t know what is.
The Idea of the Right Place
Adelaide isn’t the biggest market for creative types. Sure, we’ve got our Fringe festival and lots of other grand events to fill up our “city-vibrancy” quota for the year, but it is, truthfully, a rather small pond for so many big fish to swim around in.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Adelaide, and I’m doing everything in my power to bring the truth of it’s artistic side to light while still swimming around in it, but its not considered “the place to be”.
Like New York is for America, Melbourne is for Australia. It’s a bustling mecca of creativity, a hive for mad-cap artists, green writers and hippies. It’s a place that thrives on creativity, makes it part of every day life and wears it proudly on its sleeve.
Of course, this makes the pool bigger, but also invites more big fish to swim. It’s been said that the “Melbourne voice”, a specific accepted style of writing, has drowned out some of the more independent and low-key artists in the city. Whether this is true or not should only be picked up from your own reading, but it’s an interesting idea that does present itself in the style of the city.
Nevertheless, Melbourne is the place to be. It’s the place to network, learn, sell yourself and be inspired. One of my new favourite stores in Melbourne is the hidden subway-side zine store “The Sticky Institute”, represents the thing I love most about Melbourne. People aren’t afraid to “do”, even if the results of this doing end up in a pile of everyone else’s. Zine making is an art not for money (well, it can be) and not for promotion (well, it certainly can be) but it is a channel of creativity that is still flourishing in Melbourne (and even a little bit in Adelaide!) There’s something so charming and raw about little DIY books, especially when you consider all the talent behind them. Seeing a store full of zines and positively dripping with event posters really gets me going. You begin to realise there are more than just the traditional avenues to go through, that fulfillment can come in the form of a cartridge of photocopy ink and a box of scrappy paper.
I’ve always subscribed to the philosophy of “why move to the ocean if you want to be noticed as a rain drop”. You can make a relatively bigger splash in a smaller pool than a bigger one (and probably accidentally kill a goldfish or two… So don’t actually jump in ponds, kids). The allure is there, yes of course, and the desire to move to the big city for more opportunity and brighter prospects is very tempting, but I’m not done trying in Adelaide just yet. I can definitely see myself moving to Melbourne sometime in the near future, but I also like the idea proving to the world that tall branches can grow in untamed soil.
In the end, its not where you are that matters, but what you do. You can write a book in Bundayabba or Echunga as easily as you can in Melbourne or New York. The setting might change, the inspiration behind the book may be different, but it can still be equally as beautiful. You just need a way to get it to the great big, worldwide pond after it’s finished…
The Idea of Heroes
We all have our artistic heroes, those people who inspire us to bigger and better things, who can drive us to tears and awe by simply being in a room with one of their artworks.
Ai Wei Wei’s exhibition, merged with Andy Warhol’s, at the National Gallery of Victoria, is one if those exhibitions that cut into my soul (at least the top layers) and planted something for me to nurture and grow.
For some reason, the most interesting part of this for me was the presentation of his blog posts and travel photography. Wei Wei is a prolific blogger, posting photos almost every day from all over the world, writing beautifully on important matters and travelling the world in words. This section of the exhibition inspired me greatly. I began to think, “I’m doing that! I’m blogging!” It’s such a simple and effective way of getting your words out there, of journaling the inner processes of the mind and describing your experiences for the benefit of others. In a similar way to zines, I’m putting my work out there in a scrappy format. Just ’cause it’s out through the weird and wunderbar wires of the net rather than sitting in the window of an underground punk store doesn’t mean it should loose it’s zineness… zinitude… zinedom.
Wei Wei’s travel photos also struck a chord with me. I began to recognise locations – like La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, the Sydney Opera House, The Reichstag – and realising that I’ve also been there, that I’ve also walked around and dropped my jaw at these places. It gave me a enormous sense that I was on the right path, that perhaps I’m already on my way to the life I want to live, even if before I was a little unsure of what that was.
Other artworks in the NGV that day, such as The Enclave (Richard Moss), a thirty-five minute installation of videos on the topic of jungle warfare, and a locally-made virtual reality experience called Ixian Gate (Jess Johnson) also opened my mind to the possibilities of art, of where it can lead and what it can do for people. The power of creativity is definitely on display in Melbourne.
I feel blessed to have come here at this time. This trip to Melbourne was exactly what I needed to refuel my art-tank. I feel ready to move forward into unknown territory, get the pen on the page and begin creating again. It’s time to make my own inspiration every day, to live and create for myself first and welcome whatever the future may hold.