long overdue update

Well now. Some of you may have noticed I’ve been unusually quiet online of late. There are a few reasons for this. Partly I finally paid attention to some very wise advice, partly I’ve been overseas gaining inspiration and taking time to reflect on the absolute insanity that has been the last two/three years (since starting reallybigroadtrip), and partly ‘real life’ came knocking.

I’m aware that most of my blog posts are overly long (*understatement) so I’m going to try to (as briefly as possible, which isn’t so much…) provide an overview, a context, here and I’ll be more fully writing up specifics in due course. (Apologies in advance for the lack of images. Right now it’s hard enough to find the space to think/write clearly. If I go faffing with images this will never get published).

Life

I set out to change my life with this project, and ohmyword… has that happened. Not to say I didn’t have a good life before, but for many many years most of my energies were spent in facilitating other people’s creative practice, not exploring my own. Knowing I was becoming a permanent resident in Australia gave me the opportunity to become free again – I’ve spent most of my life as a freelancer and no longer needing to work for organisations who could provide business sponsored visas meant I could go back to that.

I took the opportunity to take a long hard look at what I wanted my life to become, and set myself some quite large (*understatement) goals accordingly. I never expected the crowdfunding campaign to go viral (or even really be successful), and had no previous experience in the surge of interest that virality brings – I was a victim of my own success, however arrogant that might sound. Of course once I’d got the financial support I couldn’t back out even if I had wanted to.

This has been an absolute life change; it’s affected every single aspect of my world. I have had major personal, logistical, professional and creative hurdles to climb. I took on too much. Even at the start of this year the cracks were beginning to show. I dropped balls. I hate dropping balls. And then I got some advice. Amazingly, I listened.

Advice

My last Nomad in Residence was Edwin van Ouwerkerk Moria (a very smart/lovely developer from Holland working with Creative Nonfiction on Cockatoo Island Ghost Stories). He left his ‘residency’ with my first strongly directed words of advice:

“Slow the fuck down”.

Shortly afterward two very dear colleagues-who-became-friends pointed out a few more home truths. Some are too personal to share here but others might have resonance outside of my little bubble, so here:

  • Stop spending every moment online. You have little enough spare time as it is, and you fill every single other moment with social media and online engagement. You have no room in your brain to let anything else in. 

  • You keep saying you need to learn new skills so you can make new art, but you’re 40 now. If at this stage in your life you can’t look inside yourself and see what meaning/message is already in there, you never will.

  • You’ve fallen into the same trap every artist does; you’ve let yourself become distracted by the technology and lost sight of your own meaning/message. [On this, I tell people ALL THE TIME not to start with the tech. I forgot to take my own bloody advice!]

  • Stop. Just stop. Take time to reflect, to just BE. Then – and only then – decide what’s next.

Funnily enough this advice came at exactly the time I knew I’d (once again) pushed myself too far. I was already asking myself those deep questions that come before a change. But I still needed the nudge, confirmation I was right in having been going wrong (if that makes sense). Damn I’m lucky to have such incredible people around me…

Reflection

So I listened. I took this trip to Europe as an opportunity to let myself just BE. I reflected on my life, my own practice, dedicated effort to being offline (seriously, it took EFFORT), and let myself absorb inspiration from everything I saw and every conversation I had. And I stopped, I slowed the fuck down. Man, it’s been incredible. I’ll go into more detail in future posts about what I’ve learned from my reflections, but here’s a couple of tasters.

I use the term “tromboning” a lot these days and people ask wtf I’m on about. I most recently defined it as “the art of focusing in on detail and then zooming back out to gain perspective”. I don’t know if I ‘coined’ it or anything so clever, but it describes my process. I immerse fully in the minutiae of my life/my project (in film terms ‘the extreme closeup’) and then every now and then zoom back out to get the context (the ‘establishing shot’). The last three years have been the former – extreme closeups all round! The last couple of months have been very much the latter (actually I’ve been repeatedly tromboning within the last couple months if I’m honest – it helps me think through the whole picture).

Being offline more has been enormous. I started noticing some significant affects of this during The Subjects sleep deprivation residency earlier this year but was too close-up to understand it then. It sounds so silly to say it now, but it turns out that not sharing every single moment of your life with the outside world means you have more awareness of the nuances in front of you. You not only hear what people say but you observe the way their facial expressions change while they’re talking; you gain new insight into their meaning through their body language; your eyes connect more – you FEEL them more. You see the sky, the architecture, hear the wind in the trees and the fluttering of birds overhead.

Heh, maybe all I’ve done is discover my inner hippy, but the level of connection I have felt to myself, to others and to place has been astonishing. I’ll continue to use social media, of course (although I’ve been pondering what “post-social” would look like… one for another post), but I’ve reminded myself of another important life-fact: balance is everything. (And from this realisation I’ve made a whole new – non-digital – artwork, which I’ll write about later).

Mum

The ‘real life’ that came knocking was that my Mum (who suffers from Myelitis and Bell’s Palsy, amongst other things) has been in increasingly bad health, with more regular visits to the hospital. Living in Australia makes it very hard for me to be any real support for her or my sister. Since I was already in the Northern Hemisphere for work I extended my trip to spend time with her and work with my sis to help look for potential longterm healthcare solutions. She’s always been incredibly independent and she’s doing OK, for the most part. But it was time for my sister and I to step up and help, and it’s been really good spending quality time with her (I’m usually only back for a few days every couple of years). In being back in Wales I’ve had time with old friends and even gone back to the old haunts of my youth; it’s helped me re-contextualise what ‘home’ means to me.

Inspiration

I came to Europe thanks to an Independent Makers and Presenters Professional Development travel grant from ArtsSA. Mainly I was here to visit Ars Electronica and Nomadic Village but as always collected a few other bits of awesome along the way.

Here’s a brief taster:

Brighton Digital Festival – I only really skimmed the surface here as I was passing through, but I’d like to write a bit more about what I saw/read through twitter feeds. In the meantime check the sites for some smart/beautiful work and watch the Improving Reality recordings for some excellent discussions. Also keep an eye on The Lighthouse (one of BDF co-producers) since they generally do great things and have also just announced they’re one of the new Open Data Institute nodes.

Ars Electronica – toooooo many things blew my mind here, so I’ll blog that separately.

Randomly, while discussing storytelling, my sister introduced me to Kate Tempest, an amazingly powerful young spoken word poet from UK. I can’t embed this video sadly but I strongly recommend you take the time to go and watch “The Mouse Hiding Out in the Lion’s Hair“. Apparently Kate is coming to Australia soon – I’ve suggested she might want to consider being a Nomad in Residence, but who knows…

Nomadic Village – again this has a lot (*understatement) that needs explaining/sharing so will come in another post. But wow. So many beautiful people, from so many different places. This was the perfect blend of social politics and creative culture, and the first time all my conversations about being a nomad skipped straight past “why” so we could cut to the chase of “how”, “where” and “when”.  I can’t begin to explain how important that was.

Next

The big thing for my immediate future is that I’m going home soon, back to Adelaide where I’ll be mainly based for the next year. Back to my beautiful big red bus… although living in a metal tin over another screamingly hot summer has me a bit concerned. I REALLY need to get the next stage of busmod done (new insulation, tinting the windows and getting an awning, amongst other things) so I can have some hope of not frying, but there’s currently no money for this so we’ll see.

I was going to be part of this weekend’s Eurisko, holding a “Pimp my Bus” session with the wonderful hackers and tinkerers from HackMelbourne and beyond, but had to let that go (for now) due to the trip extension (more on “Pimp my Bus” another time…). I land back on Nov 12th, ready to give a (somewhat jetlagged) talk on crowdfunding for Guildhouse on 13th.

Then I need to deliver a project funded earlier in the year, Open Source Home. There was always a research element to that and the reflections I’ve had (not to mention actually returning to my early home for a while) have very much changed what I thought I was going to do by way of ‘outcome’ – again I’ll blog this, but soon since it happens in December! I mentioned research. I’m only a dabbler in academia, but I’ve been looking into historical/cultural contexts around what it means to be a creative nomad in contemporary society. Many of our predecessors lived nomadic lives, whether farmers moving pastures or merchant traders, pilgrims or travelling minstrels. I gave a talk earlier this year at the Haecksen miniconf at Linuxconf where I was starting to sift through my thinking (if you watch the video you’ll see it’s very rough). Since then I have started a Practice Based Research in the Arts online Stanford course so I can learn how to research properly. It’s so far working out well and I’m really enjoying the brain-expansion, although I long to have more time/space to read and report back on everything I’m finding.

Looking ahead, my biggest focus for the next year is something I’m currently calling “Niinamarni”, which means “Hello” in Kaurna, the local South Australian Indigenous dialect. I’ll be hosting the very brilliant Alex Kelly as my Nomad in Residence and have mentoring advice and support from Alex Reid (Group Executive Director, Arts and Cultural Affairs (including Arts SA, the Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation Division and the Capital City Committee Directorate) in the Department of the Premier and Cabinet, SA – what a long job title!) and Brenda L Croft (a member of the Gurindji/Malngin/Mudpurra peoples from the Northern Territory, Australia and a Senior Research Fellow at the National Institute for Experimental Arts (NIEA), College of Fine Arts (CoFA), UNSW) whom I had the very great fortune of working with during ISEA2013. Again, much much more on this to come.

OK. Well I failed at being brief, again. But I really wanted to get all that down before I return home and get caught up in the next stages of my ever changing life-landscape. If you got this far, thanks for your patience. As always feel free to drop me a line publicly or otherwise (here’s where you’ll find me) with thoughts/suggestions/advice/criticisms… anything. It’s always a pleasure to discuss these things with people who both share my ideas or disagree; it’s how I learn. And my deepest thanks to everyone who has helped me get ‘here’, whether through supporting my crowdfunding campaign, caretaking my bus, sharing advice or just by being generally there for me. Love you guys to bits. YOU are what makes home, for me x