THIRTY IS THE NEW TWENTY
Are you the one book-ended at the head of your birthday table quietly contemplating the perpetual horror of another year? Have you ever caught yourself cornering friends and barking the words “I can’t believe I’m <AGE> already – I’m old!” Gosh – surely you don’t need the fact that a freelance column has just summed you up to tell you that you’re getting perilously predictable. It’s time to throw those out-dated age prejudices aside and think free-form about your future. From the creators of your invincible 20s comes a time period often dismissed by trend-critics as dowdy and disillusioned. Wake up creative Australia, it’s time to embrace the emotional and artistic second honeymoon of your 30s and beyond. Damn it, sometimes sequels are better, like Terminator 2, or Radiohead’s second album.
Dreading your 30s is so thirty years ago. It’s been done, like boots over jeans and amateur plays that don’t go anywhere – it’s time to get all Michel Gondry on your consciousness and grab that paper mache stallion with both hands as you cruise into the cellophane sunset of your own imagination. Author Douglas Coupland said it best “Your twenties are like a car crash. 25 and 26 are statistically the worse. By 27 it gets better. By 30, you realise you’re not the only person going nuts like this. Everyone’s going through the same thing. You think everyone’s having a great time, and no one talks about it because it’s, like, uncool. We should have little cards or something … we can talk about this, it’s okay.”
I was once withdrawing money at a Commonwealth Bank in Canberra, and volunteered to the girl that I’d just turned 23. “That’s a good age” she lamented, before adding “life does get easier the older you get.” I was warmed to my warp core to be offered such profound advice in a capitalist wasteland. Could life really get easier as you went along? What a charming concept. And now, as I sit on the moral throne of my inner-city Melbourne computer chair, adorned in cream collared shirt and effortlessly retro grass-green tie, I can high five my memories with the confidence of someone who’s seen the light of my own computer screen. It does!
We’re trained to look at each passing year with a death-like ritual of things we didn’t achieve, our celebrations marred by comparisons to misleadingly named celebrities. I’m always watching the Beckometer. He was 22 when he released Loser, and now I’m currently up to Mutations age and gee I wish I hadn’t written that. But put things in perspective and look to such notables as Jarvis Cocker and Peaches who were both the ripe old age of 32 when their albums broke. Julian Barrett of the Boosh was 33, Charlotte Gainsbourg 35 and author David Sedaris 41 when they had their first major commercial successes.
I propose a new-wave view of your thirties as ‘an extra set of twenties where you know what you’re doing.’ By 30 your wardrobe tastes, culinary abilities and general inter-personal skills all seem to solidify, along with the notion that you’ve finally grown into your face. Your 20’s are about going LOL, screwing up your hair and looking nervously over your shoulder for some mystical answer. May we turn to the affectionate men and handsome women with distinguished laugh lines about the eyes, who sit chuckling in back bars, having cultivated their social circle to a glorious form, surrounding themselves only with the people who bring out their best.
Grizzling in the corner, sucking back shots is never a good look. Next birthday, open your mouth like an advent calendar and see what uplifting message lies within. Unless you’re going for the Vogel award, age is just a number. Each year is a complex wine, to be savoured in the mouth and swallowed lovingly into the depths of your merry soul.
EIGHT THINGS THEY DON’T TELL YOU ABOUT BEING AN ARTIST
1. It’s Not Fun
Not always. Sometimes it’s intellectually difficult, emotionally punishing or simply dull. From writing fifty promotional emails in a day to having your 70,000 word second draft ripped to shreds to sitting in an Adelaide airport with a delayed muffin — one could argue that the majority of an artist’s time is spent not having fun. That isn’t to say it isn’t satisfying or rich or intriguing. Actual medical-grade ‘Fun’ is the 2% of the time you’re on stage, or the five-minute window watching your girlfriend giggle as she proofs your work. Fun is fleeting and glorious. For the most part, though, art is closer to work than play. Think of your favourite ride at the show. Now imagine going on it every day for the next five years. Now you’ve vomited into a showbag. Now your friends are laughing at you.
2. It’s Always Expensive
Artists are essentially running a high-cost, low-income start-up. Like any small business, they will expect to lose money in the first…um…all years of their practice. To record an album in a professional studio might cost $10, 000. Publicist: $3000. Venue hire on a small room in Comedy Festival: $5000. Unless you’re massive, touring costs more money than it makes, once you consider travel, accommodation and promotion. (Who hasn’t considered flying ‘Australia Post’?) And people aren’t paying for music anymore! Sheesh! Much like the Victorian Gold Rush, it’s the publicans and shopkeepers that make all the coin. Traditionally, only filmmakers were allowed to go around asking for investors. Now all artists are doing this, through Pozible campaigns and awkward conversations with rich aunties (in alleyways).
3. You’re A Small Business
I mean, who thinks of that when they see Beck’s ‘Loser’ on Rage in 1993? Who considers it as they watch Tony Martin’s ‘The good scissors’ routine on The Late Show in 1996? When you’re a kid dreaming of being a star, you see the lights and the fans and the acclaim. Fast forward ten years and you’re perched in your bedroom in a dingy Thornbury apartment sending yet another follow up email to MX as next door’s buzzsaw cuts the world in half. It’s as if you’ve been punked by the faceless women at Officeworks. Did John Farnham sing ‘You’re the Invoice’? Did Heath Ledger balance his ledgers? Is Richard Linklater on LinkedIn?
4. Artists Get Bitter
We often hear about how artists are depressed — but what about how artists are bitter? Depression has been described as ‘anger without the energy’, so perhaps bitterness is anger without the outlet. If your career isn’t working out how you want it (and with high teenage expectations meeting Australia’s low population, chances are it isn’t), you begin to lose hope. You look over your shoulder at your neighbour and are jealous of what they have. Competitive energy can be useful, even motivating, but bitterness is a junk emotion — a hotshot of self-pity fused with petty jealousy. When you are bitter you begin to lose perspective: and to an artist, perspective is as valuable as a wallet or smart tablet.
5. Alcohol Is A Dirty Drug
So alcohol is great, right? It’s such an amazing drug and I won’t hear a bad word about it. Don’t want to be accused of being a teetotaller. Artists love booze. Sometimes they are paid in it! Otherwise, they go to networking events where it is dished out or work solely in venues whose entire marketing model revolves around shifting it. Meanwhile, it’s an addictive depressant. Alcohol abuse is completely fun in your twenties, slightly problematic in your thirties and pretty shit in your forties. Alcoholism is widespread across all art forms. It’s responsible for the failing organs and toxic relationships of many a veteran performer who you’ll probably never hear from…because who wants be a downer on twitter? Buck up champ! Have another whiskey and get back out there.
6. You Work In Retail
The majority of being an artist nowadays is spruiking yourself like a bottle of milk. From a hip-poppet 7-piece mumbling about their EP to the self-unpublished writer instagramming their therapist, we’re in the golden age of personality. This is all well and good unless you’re a classic introverted, subversive, self-deprecating anti-capitalist, in which case self-promotion is akin to standing naked at the tuckshop offering up your wonky mars bar slice. “SORRY, can you buy this?” Great pitch! Luckily, Australia is being culturally colonised by America and their DRESSED FOR SUCCESS mentality is overriding Australia’s Small Puppy syndrome.
7. Success Is Harder To Grasp Than Failure
Going well is terrifying, especially if you’ve been covering up your grades since high school. When you’re on Triple J, you can’t really tell anyone properly for fear of seeming arrogant. So instead you bury it and come off aloof and oddly ungrateful. Fame in Australia is set up as a wonderful curse. It’s only a matter of time before someone gets ‘tall poppy’ on your arse. Australia is egalitarian to a fault, and one of the few places in the world where ‘try hard’ is an insult. Succeed, by all means, but live quietly in fear of the next character assassination. Low population, few opportunities. The Australian arts scene — Game of Moans.
8. No Holidays!
So, one might think being an artist is one long holiday. Not so (see also: It’s Not Fun). Most creatives are holding down a day-job and working on their practice (see also: You’re A Small Business) and trying to have some kind of relationship or social life. It’s a cocktail (see also: Alcohol Is A Dirty Drug) for workaholism. Most artists can’t afford a holiday, and wouldn’t know what to do on one anyway. Artistic work is often a productive mask for the deep hollow inside. The side-effect of this lifestyle is burnout. What happens when everything you do is ‘you’ and you’re completely tapped, eyes burning, stomach ulcer brewing, but you have to keep performing as it’s your main source of income? Well, you have a meltdown at the Wesley Anne last year — or is that just me?
CONCLUSION: Totes worth it. 4/5.
HOW TO BREAK UP
Relationships are like a river. They’re easy to jump into, but horrid to climb back out of. Nothing in life can prepare you for your own relationship breakdown. Here are five things you should do after a break-up but probably won’t.
When I had to break it off with my first long-term girlfriend I managed to tell her everything apart from how I was actually feeling. This was partly due to juvenile inarticulation and a wimpy bid to avoid any conflict whatsoever. Try and expand on phrases like ‘ummmmmm’, ‘aaaaaaaaaaaah’, ‘I don’t know’ (ask yourself, ‘what would you say if you did know?’) and the classic *stares off into space for ten minutes*. Even though words feel like birds after an oil slick, at this point honesty is the best card you can play. The most likely cause of the breakup is that you’ve fallen out of love. Communicating this simply and effectively is a real hand up from a murky flow of confusing sentiments.
Don’t be their friend.
Break-ups are very disorientating for the soul. You will see your partner in severe distress (ie throwing lamps at you), and your first instinct will be to comfort them. Fact: You can’t help someone through your own break-up. This is easier to avoid at first as you’re powered by adrenalin, but two weeks down the track when your ex sends you a remorseful message, your own feelings of guilt and loneliness can drive them back into your arms. You don’t have to be cruel, but you can be ‘cool’ to be kind. Acting distant will help get the message across. As the breaker-upperer it’s your responsibility to maintain the transition from glorious lover to shithead ex.
If you want closure, start with your legs.
Great line huh? This is the title of an actual self-help book. The only things guaranteed in life are death, taxes and ex-sex. It’s the romantic equivalent of rewarding yourself for quitting smoking by having a cigarette. After a couple of months of misery and angst, when the dust settles and you spy each other from across a crowded chat-room, the temptation to jump into bed and make everything sweet again is a runaway train of bad ideas. With every high there must come a low and the next day you’ll feel an emotional hangover worse than the break-down itself. No one needs an awkward breakfast with someone who knows all their secrets.
How much contact you have after a break-up is one of the world’s biggest grey areas and something you have to work out together. My suggestion is less is best. When the heart is freshly injured, any contact tends to just prod at the wound. Deleting each other online can be a symbolic gesture of your lives being cleaved apart. The challenge will come three weeks later when you’re in some bar on a Saturday night tipsy and depressed. All urges to make a ‘boo-hooty call’ should be shouted down by a cocktail of friends. At this point it’s about respect for the relationship you once had – don’t wake the dead.
Make it about you.
There has never been a better time to become completely self-absorbed. After all this time obsessing about your relationship, you’ll realise how much you’ve been neglecting yourself. Crack some toast and tea, stick your headphones in, cuddle up to a DVD marathon and begin to feel solid again. The great twist is while you feel like you might disintegrate like old lace, you’re actually as tough as old boots. Get excited about your own life prospects – write, draw, sing, waterslide, exercise, flirt, laugh, listen to Joni Mitchell’s ‘River’, eat cheese, start a club, make adventures, be gentle and know, beyond any shadow of a doubt that bruises heal, memories fade and life does get easier.
Did you know that every thirteen minutes a relationship in Australia ends? Statistics tell us that only 5% of these relationships will end cleanly. The majority will haemorrhage into heaving silence with one staring into space and the other in tears. Sentences will get said: “I don’t know what I feel any more. I just don’t think I can give to this relationship.” The carcass of trust shall hang from necks. There will be gazes from the doorway. Beautiful creatures in knee high socks and soft cotton dresses sprawled on the bed, faces buried in pillows. Nervous men out of scripts and drawing on movie memories. Walk out the door. Just walk out that door. There’s no turning back. We’re past the point of no return.
Having done a snap-survey of my friends I’ve concluded that for those of us that are single, it’s not easy. We’re all nursing a photo album of bruises in our hearts. We’re all staring longingly into the suburban sunset, waiting for the smooth arms of a perfect match to cradle us through this spiritual recession. We have so much to give and we feel like we are going to waste. We sit on public transport retina scanning from afar, while love songs poke us like senseless siblings. We glance at stockinged legs wondering if now’s the time to stand up, ride the bumps like a fate surfer and wander over with business cards in hand and a ‘hey…you seem really…nice…let me know if you want a coffee sometime…’ before thrusting our little rectangle mangle of a lifeforce into the clenched hand of the long-haired lovely, nursing shopping and a good book – innocent royalty in this fraction of a possibility.
How can we meet new people? Us loners. Us washed up lovers. How can we tune into the frequencies of those who would hold our arm as we picked out videos. Who would add a ‘kiss me’ to our things to do lists and watch the ground for us as we text-walked? What combination of words and actions could unlock the vault of chance that would lead us to a universe of warmth beneath covers and the body lock of sweetheart sweat – the autumn-fall of thoughts leading to the timeless utterance ‘I’m so glad I found you.’
We go to gigs, parties, we flick about on Facebook. Everyone looks occupied and unattainable. The beautiful people have their friends, their drinks in hand, they don’t need us and our overthought desperation. We over thought it already. Our sentences are like highschool clay, all fingerprints and lumpy joins. What could we possibly offer? We are on the outside of the painting looking in. Colours are creamy and expressions are effortless. It’s a dream in there. How could we approach? We are covered in shadows.
Within a typical day the average single person will create over 186 conflicting thoughts about love. They may tell themselves things like ‘this is a good time to be single’ within the same stanza as ‘I’m horny, everything’s fucked.’ This is normal, and is reflective of the human experience. We are wise-cracking muddles all wrapped up tight in string, like Kris Kringles waiting to be given to the right person. We are store-bought bundles of poetic observations, clever humour and kisses. Oh dear God we are good kissers. Did we mention this? Upon the well-timed mouth we’ll make you forget every insult you’ve ever been given. We’ll take you up in a hot air balloon and land you in a forest of flowers, make you biscuits of the ripest honey and read you the funniest and saddest story, in voices soft as rain.
You just have to find us.
We just have to find you.
ANOTHER LIFE AFFIRMING COLUMN ABOUT GROWING UP
As a kid I’d say “when I grow up I want to be a struggling artist.” When I blew out my birthday candles I’d wish for a first round grant offer from the Australia Council. To further the fantasy, instead of playing shops at school I’d insist we played Centrelink. On dress up days I’d pull on a bummed out cardigan and tobacco flecked cords. I had a clear vision of myself as a grown up: In my late twenties, artistically hit and miss, still renting with a phobia of children and a string of failed relationships behind me. And now, I have reached that point. I am an actual grown up. This is it.
This is it?
My lifestyle is so far outside the blueprint of normality that I’ve had to create the sub-genres concept adult and grown-down. Sure, I’ve got all the things other adults have, like a Medicare card, dry-cleanable slacks and an ability to cook stir-fries, but somewhere in the crucial fields I’ve managed to fall completely between the cracks. Monday mornings are the hardest. While fleets of suited men march handsomely off to white collar windfalls, I grizzle about in bed belting the snooze button like the buzzer in a gameshow where every question is ‘what are you doing today you dreg?’
I was the first Heazlewood to go to Uni and my family held high expectations, but with a bachelor of arts in creative writing I couldn’t even walk into a hand job! *becomes Woody Allen* Unperturbed, I continued my trivial little dallies; getting gigs, receiving benefits, sabotaging casual work, getting smashed on school nights and revelling in the hilarity of it all. At first, the real world has some novelty value. It’s like diving into a freezing river – all you can do is squeal and wriggle about. Come Christmas I’d fly home to Tasmania, skirting around questions like a chain-smoking Dylan.
When the real world novelty wears off, you’re just floating alone in a bottomless dam. You reach a cross-road where your punk aesthetic meets a serious fucking lack of money. You’re trying to pay off the emotional mortgage of a long-term relationship, and provide your own artistic capital while lying on a mattress on the floor at 2am listening to flatmates play ‘Facebook Twister.’ You’re still a big-old kid in your jimmy-jams asking the gods when you’re going to really grow up and have that stability. Car, partner, house, kitten, Jason Priestly from 90210 high-fiving you at Christmas. Anything.
I recently held an annual general meeting in my mind and made a moving speech to myself. I vowed that all these years of self-employed work experience were paying off, and that it was more important than ever to think of my bedroom as an office, and to adopt more stringent nine to five hours to my creativity. We decided that the company motto of ‘sorry’ had to go, and that we needed to hold our heads high and ignite a bonfire of pride in our hearts for the ideas farm we’d built from the ground up. The next morning I slept in, fired myself and came home drunk to find my locks changed and an ad up for my position. I reapplied, was promoted CEO and sold the company to pay back the Bank of Mum.
Cue John Lennon: “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” Instant Karma my friends. Don’t allow your life to become a religion where all will be redeemed in the ambiguous future. Grow up! I’ve rolled my training wheels and popped my floaties. I’m living, breathing and choking it. Sure it’s nothing like my family’s visions, but I’m a child of the future! I may not have superannuation but I’m time rich and doing what I love. If you come to my little home I will offer you tea and biscuits, because that’s what grown ups do.
THE GROWN UP SHOW
I was speaking to a friend who’d gone to see U2 on their Pop Mart tour. She felt mixed emotions of loving the gig, but feeling oddly underwhelmed at the sight of “just four blokes up on stage.” For her, the juxtaposition of antlike men representing the mythological superstars of her childhood was, to be precise, smaller than life. The experience of U2’s music, a pollination of studio perfection with her own imagination was now a crude reconstruction where freaks shrieked over stampeding frequencies and Bono sipped water between songs like some guy at the bus stop.
When I was thirteen I woke up on Christmas morning to feel the tantalising weight of a pillowcase full of goodies on my feet. That year Santa had donated a Bonzai Pipeline backyard waterslide set. A few days later I overheard Mum telling Nan how she’d found it on special at Kmart. Rather than being disappointed, I was fascinated to have caught a rare glimpse behind the red curtain of the Grown-Up Show and contemplated the people pulling the strings.
This sentiment was expressed more intimately as I passed into manhood. I reached the stage of realising your parents are people too, or, for want of a simpler term, empathy. Christmas is the empathy Olympics. The dinner, the presents, the tree, it was all a heart warming yet high maintenance gig that my family worked hard to pull off, especially for me. My Mum, though not a well woman, would go out shopping. Nan and Pop, with a myriad of stresses to contend with, would find and decorate the tree, and produce the meal with a strength of character determined to shield me from any unrest. While my mind recorded the performance, my heart later reconstructed the behind the scenes documentary. The memory of these vulnerable people doing such sweet things makes my spirit weep.
While the idea that my family were just people had enlightened and enriched my love for them, the same reality about U2 had deflated my friend. My own musical hero is Beck. In 2003 I could have seen him live but opted not to, paranoid that I too could suffer an underwhelming fate. I likened it to meeting my Dad for the first time, and justified that all the circumstances would have to be perfect to avoid being disappointed.
TONIGHT! Johnny Ridiculous & the Flawed Arguments!!!
Last year, while in the middle of recording my own album, I discovered musical empathy. Until that point I had been joining in with the chorus of dissent from fellow Beck nerds about recent albums being sub-par, blaming scientology and his recent switch to family man. How dare our eclectic ramshackle pioneer deliver anything less than groundbreaking. How dare he appear comfortable, or happy, or subscribe to his own spiritual beliefs, when on the other side of the world his musical efforts were no longer enough to pierce the disillusioned crust of a few pale muso’s having a moan.
Having known the intense difficulty of making an album; the relentless juggle to keep a hundred plates spinning; I realised, with a sense of relief, that Beck was just a guy, and not some omnipotent construct. As it had done with my family, the thought poured through my memories like honey, coating them in sunburst warmth. What would I find behind the curtain of the Beck Show? What monumental pressures must he face, to still produce critically and commercially successful music. Just like I don’t need so much from my family anymore, I don’t need quite so much from my idol. I am just as complete as he is and capable of making fine music. I am an adult just like my family, and able to understand, love and give just as much as them. Maturity is finding beauty in vulnerability. If we were more empathic perhaps we wouldn’t need quite so much and be able to just enjoy the gig the world is trying to put on.