A Tale of Two Bens

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It was Care Factor 10 & Golden Times at the Get Up Mum Sydney launch thanks to the genteel magic of host Benjamin Law. I coaxed another young Ben away from his game and we celebrated being in “dimples club.” I showed him a cassette and carefully explained how the magnetic brown ribbon captured sound. He asked “can you use it as a whip?”

Get Up Mum is Go!

Meet my new boyhood memoir! 12-year-old Justin is keen to meet ya (but a bit shy.) Signed copies with basketball card bookmark available HERE.

Justin Heazlewood - Get Up Mum

Yessum possums, Get Up Mum is out and about. I’ve spent the past two weeks getting amongst it; speaking publicly about the thorn in my side and the chip on my shoulder and the monkey on my back. I suppose this is my ‘coming out’ as a heartbroken person. A determined artist with a good book, I might add.

It was a tad surreal sitting alone at my own TV news desk at 8am on a Sunday morning. I was doing a live cross for Sky News. We teamed up with ‘Schizophrenia Awareness Week’ and I had an earpiece in one ear and was talking to a big black lens. It was 1984 meets 1993.

That said, I felt centred, like I was in the right place at the right time. It’s not often I can say that. The interview before me was the Greens’ Adam Bandt saying how the royal wedding hadn’t really ‘turned him on.’

There has been an overwhelmingly positive reaction so far (to my book, not the wedding), especially from social media. It’s not everyday you get tweets like: “Young carers really need more of a spotlight. There’s a twisted and persistent sense of guilt that comes with being a carer (and lingers long afterward) that isn’t well-understood. It’s like a side of mental health that hasn’t really been defined, but it desperately needs to be.”

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Thanks Stevie A.

Anyhoo, it’s also a ‘cracking good read’ according to ABC Hobart presenter Melanie Tait.

There’s been a splendrous response from media. I’ve been hitting the circuit, check out the smorgasboard of links below:

  • I make my Guardian debut in this classic interview from fellow only child Elizabeth Flux.
  • A tender and compelling chateroo with Myf Warhurt.
  • Pseudo counselling session with excellent psychologists on Triple R’s Radiotherapy.
  • Lifestyles of the poor and infamous, or eloquent expose by one of Australia’s hardest working artists? You decide as I bare my artistic soul for Kill Your Darlings.
  • Rigorous pow-wow about schizophrenia on RNs Life Matters. Plus more radio action with ABC Adelaide & ABC Sydney.
  • Sunday afternoon driving home with Mum (excerpt on Soundcloud.)
  • Watch the trailer on YouTube.

REVIEWS

‘Unfortunately, this beautifully written, evocative memoir will only appeal to anyone who has had a childhood.’ Judith Lucy.

“The lows in this tale are always complemented by affectionate highs. Heazlewood displays wonder at the world and its possibilities for delight – in his grandmother’s garden, in salty fish and chips, in swims in the sea. Littered throughout the novel are lines of poetry that almost startle, asking to be read and re-read…Get Up Mum is a warm, humorous memoir about coming of age, and the deep love between two individuals who need each other equally.” Caitlin Cassidy, Readings.

‘A young’uns tentative forage through a thorny scrub of filial love, written as postcards from the nestling.’ Tim Rogers.

“I’m halfway through this book and it’s GODDAMN WONDERFUL and heartbreaking. Justin’s writing voice is so phenomenal, such a perfect combination of funny and whole-hearted without being syrupy, woe-is-me and sentimental. I have a feeling a lot of people will find “oh my god that was me” relief in this book, especially if they grew up with parents who were dealing with any kind of mental illness.” Amanda Palmer.

… [Heazlewood] does evoke what it is like to live in a loving, if flawed, family. In particular, his nan and pop – the latter the closest he has to a father – jump off the page as beacons of stability. Ultimately, if Get Up Mum is about youth, it is also about growing up too fast. Told to be a man while still a boy, Heazlewood feels responsible for his mother. Maybe, then, this is his way of finally letting go.” The Saturday Paper.

“The lows in this tale are always complemented by affectionate highs. Heazlewood displays wonder at the world and its possibilities for delight – in his grandmother’s garden, in salty fish and chips, in swims in the sea. Littered throughout the novel are lines of poetry that almost startle, asking to be read and re-read…Get Up Mum is a warm, humorous memoir about coming of age, and the deep love between two individuals who need each other equally.” Readings Monthly.

“Superbly written… perceptive account of what it’s like to grow up with someone who has [a mental illness]….written with no judgement – it’s just a simple recounting of his life and their lives but done in such a beautiful and perceptive way.” Book of the week, Burnie 7BU. 

Burnie postcard 80s

Get Up Mum: Turning 13

To celebrate the 25th anniversary of becoming a teenager, here is a special birthday excerpt. (Childhood memoir Get Up Mum is out now in stores and online. Signed copies HERE).

Justin birthday card

I wake up cosy in my bedroom in Burnie. We’re all back from camping and it’s still school holidays.
I look at my watch.

7.29.

Excellent!
The two famous people born on June 12 are the Australian fast bowler Terry Alderman and the bloke from Roxette, Per Gessle.
I was born at 7.33am.
‘Like the records that you play at thirty three and a third speed,’ as Mum says.
My tradition is to count down the final moments.
There’s four more minutes of being twelve.
Four more minutes of being a kid.
This is big. Soon I’ll be a teenager.

7.30.

Each year it’s a chance to do nothing but watch time for a whole minute. My watch is on the exact time because yesterday I rang up 1194 and the man said ‘On the third stroke it will be…’ This is my way of celebrating – a quiet time to reflect, just
for me – before I open the door and Mum greets me and the celebration begins.

I think about my childhood and the past. I used to go to the phone box around the corner on Mace Street and press any buttons and pretend I was talking to Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck. Once I dialled the operator by accident and a woman’s
voice answered and I dropped the phone and ran home, thinking I was in trouble.

7.31.

Orange, green and blue. Those are the colours I remember from when I used to help Pop work in Cosi Cartie’s garden. The orange of carrots he’d pull from the ground. The green of the lawn. The blue of the sky. Pop and I exploring someone else’s
garden. White moths and rainbow mist, grabbing handfuls of freshly cut grass.

Seeing the tall ships with Mum in Hobart. Some teenagers had a skill tester where you had to move a small metal ring around coils of wire. If the ring touched the wire it buzzed. I had three goes. My hand wobbled and I buzzed. I tried going faster, which made it shake less, but I wasn’t good enough. I remember how the boy and girl smiled and were kind to me.

7.32.

At the Civic Centre in Burnie we saw a play of Snow White. The characters were gathered down at Kmart. One of the dwarves took a step backwards and trod on my foot. His heel was so hard. It surprised me so I cried. He turned around and apologised.

I feel a tingling. A force field.
I will remember these moments.
The events of my life.
The blue of the sky and the grey of the footpath as Mum pushed me to Burnie Park in my pram. My first ever memory.
I’ll be wide awake and ready the second I turn …
My eyes go fuzzy. I’m ready.
The dots blink on and off.
On           off
On           offJustin 13th birthday card
On           off
Change

7.33.

I’m thirteen!
The hairs on my neck prickle.
Twelve is over.
I’m no longer a little kid. I might miss the days of Play Doh and fairy bread and ‘Duck Duck Goose’. Rubber spiders and pink scented note paper that smelled like girls.
That’s okay. I’ll make more memories and have new adventures inside the grown-up world.

 

John Clarke Interview

I was fortunate to interview John in 2015 for my RN series Funemployed. He was an intimidating fountain of sparkling integrity. He said some cool things about being creative. You can hear the full interview HERE.

“If you’re going to be in the sort of work I do then you need to work out a self that can be promoted, which may not be the you that lives in your house. It seems to me that you are your project. You are in charge of your attitude. One of the key things in my field that people I’ve observed and liked when I was young, they’re all people who worked out who they are. If there’s a message in what they did it’s ‘be yourself.’ Don’t try and copy me, be you.

I started off as a performer. I only began to write as a way to generate material for myself to perform. I’ve learned so much from having to do that. It’s marvellous. There’s nothing I like more than a blank page and a phone ringing….and where is it?

If I weren’t being paid to do this I’d be doing it anyway. There are periods of what other people would call unemployment in which I call development. There’s a great deal of haphazard about all this. You need to be happy to do it, it needs to be a pleasure. A day without some mischief is a wasted day.

I still think of myself as learning so much about what I’m doing I still think of myself as quite young in the sense of developing. I think I’m pretty slow. I’m a pretty slow developer. I think about things pretty slowly. And I very slowly to an understanding of them. I haven’t got through the heats yet.

I always thought there was an interesting difference in the ways Paul McCartney and John Lennon dealt with the breakup of the Beatles in creative terms. Paul did a whole lot of stuff that was very good but appealed to the audience that they’d had in the first place and John wrote stuff for his own age as it got older. And that was sometimes much more difficult to sell because he was not fitting into the pop music mould.

Perhaps both those things are in your head as well. Whether what you’re trying to build is an audience or an interesting life. You’re very, very lucky if you have an audience. I’ve always liked my audience because with any luck I’m in it.

One of the reasons we like the arts is not that we’re looking at people who are creative and we’re not, it’s that they’ve done something that makes us creative. By appreciating it, it resonates against all sorts of things in our memories and we’re thinking creatively. We’re taken away from all the other ways in which we’re taught to think in order to have a functional life. I think that’s a privilege to be in a role where you’re part of that engagement with the public.

The last thing you’d want to listen to as an authority on what you’re doing is whatever’s being said. Have a look at it by all means, but don’t waste too much time. Get the lawns done, would be my advice. You need to have good people around you who tell you the truth.

It doesn’t get easier over time. The bureaucracy has fresh troops.”

The Shirt Off His Back (Frankie Anthology – 2016)

After my Pop passed away last year, I found myself wearing his clothes. This was nothing new. Back in 1998 when I first discovered op-shopping, I realised I had an exclusive treasure trove right under my nose. During a regular weekend jaunt to Nan & Pop’s I asked politely if I could inspect their wardrobe, and with the excitement of one passing through the ‘Staff Only’ door at Salvos, initiated a gangly, late-teens version of dress ups.

Whenever a fellow secondhand droog complimented me on my retro jacket, it was with great pride that I said it was my Pop’s. Adorned in a full set of his clothes, I strolled through Melbourne one brisk winter morning like a soldier of nostalgia trying to blend in with the past. Top: safari jacket, dark green, pure wool from New Zealand. Bottom: dark green, flared suit trousers. Shirt: pale lime green Pelaco brand. Singlet: Bonds, athletic. Socks: knee-length bus driver style. Underpants: yes, underpants. They were a pair of cheap generic boxers that Nan had bought but he’d never worn. The clothes made me feel safe, purposeful, loved. He was a quiet man who never said “I love you.” But what an impoverished upbringing and the Second World War had economised in his language, he made up for with a generous smile and patient ear.

There are days when the loneliness really hits me and find myself scuttling through the sand layers of my mind to find my fondest memories of him. I’m six, it’s a breezy, summer’s day and we’re walking along the beach. This was our walk. These were our times. We’d do it regularly. Pop would plod along at a steady pace, watching me sprint ahead and poke around in the sand. I’d run back and find his large, warm hand. The beach was an endless runway of delight where my adventures could take off. The clear salt waves nipped at my senses, while the vibrations of his voice ran through me as I rode high on his shoulders. Constant shiftwork had not allowed him to have this kind of time with his own children. It must have been such a joy.

Today I wear his clothes like a hug. When I first got them they still smelt like the cool linen stillness of his cupboard. It’s a scent I wanted to bury my face into; to curl up like a cat and fall asleep in. I was transported to a time before custom and expectation, when a simple woolen jumper held me safe. Now they’ve been through the wash a few times, but the cloth still connects with my blood. I am reminded of the love for my family, and this man who would be a father figure to me. Wearing his clothes makes me feel strangely complete. Like a traveller returning to the place they were born.

The truth is I’ve been wearing the clothes of the deceased for years. Not everyone is comfortable with this. There are those who scoff and hang cruelly on the edge of secondhand shops, dabbling their toe in the dust-ridden air, daring each other to go in. What twisted expression could I evoke with tales of my grandfather’s undergarments keeping me snug at night? I wouldn’t want them to understand.

My friend in Hobart said his father had just passed away and he too had taken to wearing his underwear and socks. He didn’t offer an explanation. He didn’t need to. In this global shop-front/techno-paddock world, sometimes we need to walk like kingdoms and wear our memories like flags.

My uni speech

I was entrusted to the be the special guest Heather Locklear style at this years HERDSA conference. Believe me, you would like to know what that stands for: (The Higher Education Research & Development Society of Australasia). See!