Self Interview for Three Thousand

Justin: Justin, what were you hoping to achieve with Funemployed?

Justin: I felt backed into a corner, like an injured possum, during 2012. The whole Northcote hipster thing kind of backfired, and I felt pigeonholed. There really is power in obscurity for a control-freak artist, believe it or not. You can dictate how you are perceived a little more. Anyway, I basically wanted to be a social suicide bomber, strapping a truth-bomb to myself and detonating it – essentially destroying the professional ‘façade’ of my Bedroom Philosopher name. I felt I was being misunderstood on two fronts. A) people thought I was some judgmental coolsie, when in fact I’m also a semi-sweet-natured, oversensitive mental from Tasmania and b) people thought I’d ‘made it’ when in fact I was $20, 000 in debt and in a terrible rut from over-performing.

Funemployed acted as an emotional audit to both give my own side of the story (a memoir is essentially a self-interview) and hopefully create a document that could empower artists and educate society at large about the maelstromic labyrinth of volatile, fragile ingredients that goes into an art practice in Australia. Or thereabouts.

Justin: Ha ha (laughs.)

Justin: Quiet, minion.

Justin: Did you just call me an onion?

Justin: Typo.

Justin: So, did Funemployed feel dangerous to write?

Justin: Oh, most definitely. I felt like I was breaking several taboos. This included things like ‘you’re not allowed to complain as an artist.’ I guess this is part of why I was feeling disempowered. It’s like, okay, now you’ve made it, you’re on Triple J, your head is everywhere, so like, shut up now! You’ve had your time. Fame felt like a taboo subject – and when I was interviewing other artists, I could tell they were uncomfortable talking about fame and even said “you sound like a wanker talking about it” – which is the ultimate catch twenty-two. (You’re arrogant if you acknowledge it, ungrateful if you don’t). Writing about bitterness was especially exciting. We often hear about artists being depressed, but rarely explore the violently competitive parts of our nature. The Australian arts scene is negative and bitchy – well, I’ve often perceived it that way. I thought if I volunteered myself at ‘Snarkaholics anonymous’ it might liberate others to do the same.

I think the general public aren’t ready for the concept that being an artist is actually a lot of quite dull, hard work and often not particularly “fun”. Reality TV really slams that Hollywood idea of ‘overnight success’ and other fairytales we know and grew up with. The reality couldn’t be further from the truth, so I really felt like I was writing a kind of anarchists manifesto on the arts. You know how Lars Von Trier started the Dogme 95 collective, which had their own set of rules of how movies should be made? I was applying my own ‘ultimate truth’ doctrine. I feel like in Australia we’re often so damn worried about what people think of us that it discourages people from saying what they really think. We also have an aversion to being ‘too serious’ – so as someone who is mostly seen as a comedian, it felt satisfyingly edgy to be as earnest as I saw fit.

Justin: Do you think irony has come so full circle that earnestness is the only natural conclusion?

Justin: (Laughs) Yeah, I do in a way. I think irony has kind of lost its meaning – or we’ve gone so far past the feedback loop that we’ve lost our moral compass or something. Funemployed is a kind of artistic ‘reset’ button. Reminding us that we’re just blood and guts and water and sadness and happiness. You can have all the gifs and hashtags and apps and distractions you like – but at the end of the day we have terrifying dreams and we cry with the fleeting beauty of our own improvised, imprisoned lives.

Justin: It seems like Funemployed is about celebrating failure, in a way.

Justin: Certainly. It’s protesting against the tyranny of glam and positivity on the internet. As theatre-maker Tim Spencer says in the book, “Failure is something we have to live with. As artists, I think we exist outside the dominant paradigm of our society.” Being an artist is a philosophy, or almost a religion as much as it’s a job. It comes with its own set of ideals. Art has crawled into bed with advertising. We are being called brands. Neoliberalism is trying to strip-mine us of our context and our identity. We’re under threat of being snubbed out or made irrelevant! It’s time to fire up and fight back. Funemployed is my little warcry, with jokes.

Justin: I love you.

Justin: I love you too.

Justin Heazlewood’s Advice Booth

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On Monday I started running an Advice Booth at Readings. It’s been a lovely ‘ground zero’ experience – mixing with people directly in a post-internet age. The focus is on arts / creative advice – but as I say in my occasional spruik “Free art and creative advice, psychological, relationship, basic health and I know some bus times.” In my two hour window I’m barely alone for longer than five minutes. Meek, kind-eyed strangers sit and we share a cup of tea and some walnuts. I’ve spoken to about fifteen people so far. Here are some of the subjects covered:

  • A guy wants to start a metal band. He wants to ask his mate who is a drummer, but is nervous about asking incase he says ‘no.’
  • A girl plays piano. She would like to play with other musicians, but is shy about asking.
  • A woman is getting painting lessons. She doesn’t like her teacher much. He insists on finishing the students paintings for them.
  • A daughter of a famous Australian painter – she used to paint regularly / professionally, but hasn’t done it for years. She wants to get back into using pastels. I suggested she needs to break the habit of not painting and form the habit of doing a bit each day – a common theme!
  • A musician was nervous that his ‘mad’ music/comedy act might embarrass his children. He’s tailoring the act to feature less on himself personally and more on society in general. He has not done shows for quite some time, but would like to. I asked him to make sure this concern for his children wasn’t the artistic super-villain of ‘fear’ masquerading under the guise of concern for his children. Perhaps it was fear of failure or rejection. Family / children are some of the more powerful procrastination fuel for artists.
  • One intense, softly spoken man said “everyone keeps being aggressive towards me.” He was referring to people on the street and the way they looked at him. I said that one was outside my jurisdiction.
  • A psychologist was about to go six days a week. He was bemused to sit in the booth, as he’s usually the one listening, not asking for advice. He’s gone into a business partnership with a friend, going against the one piece of advice his grandfather gave him which was “never go into partnership with a friend.” He’s trying to move from working for a company to working for himself – so must work increased hours to build a roster of new patients. I spoke about burnout and the danger of harvesting personal time for increased productivity. He said that already his sleep was being affected, and I told him about the months of recovery it can take when you do crash. (We agreed that it’s not something you worry about until it happens). He just messaged me to say he realised six days was too much and will be paring back to four.
  •  A young man stood for a long time asking me questions about The Bedroom Philosopher. After a while he sat, and while glancing around at the wall of spines around us, asked me how I dealt with stress. I mentioned exercise, yoga, strict work hours and counselling. He said he’d just started meditating. He told me about a simple technique of “in for four, hold for four, out for four, hold for four.” (I tried this the next morning…and passed out. It is excellent for slowing down the internal clock – honey on the cogs.) I think I most enjoy giving advice to men in their early twenties. I know how hard it is for them to show vulnerability.
  • A writer / playright was my first customer. Like many, she poured out of Nova, where the power had gone out. I said my plan of sabotaging the fuse box had worked a treat. She was having issues with time management. She was working on her own production and acting as writer, director and producer. We acknowledged how difficult it is to hold down all those roles. She said it was wearing her out and sometimes she wondered if it was all worth it. I suggested being more disciplined / regimented with time management. Her things to do list should be divided into tasks to be completed that day, that week and that month. She should make mini-contacts with herself, of jobs that need to be immediately done. (As opposed to looking at a list of 15 things that all need to be done “soon.”) I also suggested working for 90 minutes in the morning, going hard on the admin – and then not thinking about it for the rest of the day. This is better than dabbling away at it all day and ending up overwhelmed / fatigued. She took notes – and went away a little more empowered.
  • A cute asian girl told me she really enjoys doing pottery. She works in a job helping others, so this is one thing she does for herself. Her teacher says the clay is a living thing. It moves how it wants.

ADVICE BOOTH TALES CONTINUED HERE