Monday, March 30, 2009

church camp

Went on Church Camp this weekend. Or ‘Community Weekend’, as they call it at Collins St Baptist Church. L made us all play this stupid game called ‘beetle’, which involved a dice and less skill than bingo. You got to draw the body of a beetle if you got a 6, the head if you rolled a 5, a leg if you got a 4, and so on. The aim was to complete the entire beetle. The only interesting thing about the game was seeing how people drew their beetles – D drew a bizarre rectangular space beetle, and mine had several heads and a third feeler. We had to do this four times, and were so relieved when the whole inane process was over. But then L said, ‘Let’s play it again!’ – which meant that we would in effect have to play ‘beetle’ a total of eight times. Everyone was like, “Are you serious?” But I could see that unless anybody took a stand, we would all be stuck spending the next hour rolling dice and drawing insect legs.
I take special delight in gauging and then representing the dissatisfaction of any disgruntled faction, preferably if I am in agreement. So I stook up and said, “Does anybody want to play a DIFFERENT game?”
There were a some indecisive murmurs and a few people racked their brains for a beetle alternative.
“Sherades?” I asked the group.
The response was completely underwelming. Some people had already starting throwing dice and drawing more beetles. I couldn’t believe it – as far as I could tell, people just didn’t want to make waves; they didn’t want to upset the authority of the minister!
Well, I thought, if I can’t stage a coup, it will have to be a break off faction. So I said, “Whoever wants to play shedades, come with me!”
So me and a group of about six other rebels marched away from the dice-rolling, beetle-drawing minions and began a much more interesting game, involving much skill and imagination.

I have reflected since what the best thing to do would have been. The whole experience was fun, but I did feel like a bit of a ratbag. The schism that developed augmented a generation gap and probably alienated some people, who would have preferred to stay together as a group. But I just couldn’t be a passive supporter of this patronising game. Maybe I should have got some of the less major power players on my side, so that they might have persuaded the whole group to change games. I also ignored R’s game suggestion, which may have been more appropriate for everybody to play. Or, I could have slunk off quietly with my comrades, rather than make a big song and dance about it and possibly have made people feel uncomfortable. To tell the truth, I’m a little shocked at the way people acquiesced at being forced to do something so boring for such a long time. I wonder if it says something significant about our church – a tendency to avoid conflict and to go along with authority, perhaps. How frustrating!

Overall, church camp was ok – got to know a few people from the morning service a bit better, and had some connections with some people I’d been wanting to connect with. Perhaps my expectations were unrealistic…I’d been looking forward to deep group conversations by the river that went into the wee hours of Sunday morning, but that didn’t really happen for me. I find that I often get frustrated when I want to get to a deeper level with people, and all they want to talk about is TV or politics or frivolous anecdotes. I know that these seemingly shallow topics can be the bricks and mortar of something far more solid – that light conversations lead us into the deep in much the same way as the beach transforms into the ocean. But sometimes I feel like I’m stuck on a sandbar. We need to let the tides take us out, rather than clutching to safe and known rocks. Granted, I wasn’t in the mood for light conversations, and tended to leave in frustration rather than await their potential. All in all, I had a lot of laughs over the weekend, but found it kind of unsatisfying. I think we forgot about God – we got so caught up in ‘church vision and direction’ and ‘fun time together’ that we didn’t stop to invite the spirit into the process, or to notice her presence.

Friday, March 20, 2009

No money!

Yesterday I ran out of money. It was to be expected...the only surprise was that it came so soon. I'd given up my well-paid research job at RMIT to pursue a fruitful career of freelance writing, busking and dishwashing in Credo. Crazy, I know, what with the GFC and all. Most people are scrambling to keep whatever work they have. And now, I've heard, the newspapers are no longer paying freelance contributers, not that I've really submitted anything of late anyway. My recent published works remain limited to this blog. Busking has proven more lucrative. I am now planning on supporting myself on my busking earnings. This will be an interesting challenge, but not impossible given I don't pay rent, my bills are limited to my mobile phone, and I dine most regularly at Credo Cafe, which is free. Once the panic of having no money subsided a little, I sat down at my computer and drew up a table of all the things I spend money on, and ways to eliminate or reduce them. It sort of looked like this:

public transport - ride a bike
food for eating at home - learn to dumpster dive
eating out - eat out less
alcohol - drink less
mobile phone - don't call people

etc etc.

The thing that scares me the most about this little experiment in voluntary poverty is not that I won't survive it - I'll always have a bed and I'll always have a meal - but that I'll be cut off from a certain part of the world. At present I straddle two worlds - I spend a lot of time hanging out with people who are poor, and I also have a lot of friends from my well-to-do life e.g. uni, church. Rich people tend to connect in ways that involve money, and that is what I'm used to and comfortable with. We go out for coffee, we see a movie, we go shopping at the market. We go see a band and drink expensive drinks. The thing is, I don't want to leave these people behind, in some self-righteous bid to be poor. I need to find ways of doing middle-class things that cost less. Actually, my friend Clare is great at that - while I was stressing about wanting to see a movie and have dinner with Nick, but suddenly being confronted with $20 in my bank account, I got a message from Clare inviting me to see a free screening of a movie at Fed Square. So Nick and I went along, and it was great. The thing is, there's probably loads of free things to do in the city. I'm just not real aware of them because I've always had money!

Possession of money lulls me into the illusion of independence. I don't need to rely on people so much because I can pay my own way, thankyou very much. When you don't have money, you have to learn to humbly accept from others. I brought it up with Nick last night - I didn't want him paying for everything, and feeling constantly indebted to him. I told him it was important for me to pay when I could - our relationship is modern, but comes encumbered with a history of women being economically dependent on men, which can be a source of great powerlessness. I wanted to have an equal say in the kind of things we did (which restaurant to go to, what movie to see), even though I couldn't contribute financially. Nick was great and understood what I was saying, which was a great relief. Actually I paid for the meal last night with my busking earnings because Nick had forgotten his wallet. He felt bad but for me, it felt great.

What I really want - and what I told Nick - was for us to consider our work different but of equal value. His work is financially rewarded; mine is not. I sometimes won't pay for the movie not because I'm lazy and don't work, or stingey, but because mine is a different sort of labour. If we both recognise and respect that, it should be no big deal if Nick pays. I recognise that this kind of arrangement requires a degree of enlightenment and a full valuing of unpaid work, which many women don't experience in their economically dependent relationships. It also requires the unpaid partner to be empowered in every other way. The couple is a sort of economic unit and for it to work, each role must be fully respected and valued.

So anyway, I've probably written enough now, but I'll keep you all posted on my experiences of life outside of the cash economy!

Friday, March 6, 2009

Home in the city

Did some busking today. First of all I went down to the Degraves Street subway, which was my pitch when I busked on Wednesday. I'd done really well there - the tiles on the walls mean that the flute echoes about and sounds much bigger and fuller than it usually does. I played Amazing Grace real slow with lots of vibrato, and really filled the space. People seemed to like it. I went back today but the spot was taken. So I went for a wander to the Elizabeth Street subway, which is long and loud and skinny. There was a busker there as well. His name was Dean, and he'd written a book called 'Nice work if you can get it', which is about a gigolo. I read the blurb on his book, which was proudly displayed in his guitar case - clearly he's a multi-skilled man. Dean was nice - he told me that sometimes he busks outside Coles on Elizabeth Street, suggested I give it a go.

So I did - I played Amazing Grace long and slow, I improvised in a minor key around the tune of House of the Rising Sun (bit of a prostitution theme this morning), I let the lilting melody of Danny Boy float amongst the crowds and along the tram line.

Nobody gave me anything. Not a single silver coin. I felt a little lame, earnestly puffing away with my empty, desperate-looking case for the world to see and dismiss...but to be honest, I kind of enjoyed myself. It was fun doing something so completely different to everybody else - while business women hurriedly clip-clopped along, foam coffee cup in hand, I was playing 'Morning has broken' on the flute. In the past I would have been embarrassed to be doing something so some ways, I'm more comfortable in the dreary stream of grey, black and brown, clutching a handbag, rushing off to be somewhere important. This morning, I wasn't going anywhere. Just playing my flute outside a supermarket, while the world rushed on around me. My own rhythm, a different tune. It was fun not to fit in.

I've been living in the city for 8 months now, and I'm starting to see this place as almost a bit of a playground. Maybe I feel a sense of ownership over it or something - I can go out and be something different, because this is my home, and you are all visitors! I can just be myself - at home there is no need to dress up or wear makeup...I can sing, laugh loud and wear tracky daks.

Yesterday evening we put on a sausage sizzle and cake sale to raise money for a family we know who lost their place in the bushfire. Little Bella was there, and she was being pretty hyper. She wanted to play row-row-row-your-boat in the middle of the footpath on Collins Street. So I played with her - getting in people's way, slowing them down, waking them up. A child playing in the middle of the footpath on Collins Street, outside the pearl shop. Fantastic. I wanted to be a part of that! I delighted it how natural it felt - how it didn't feel too much different from hanging out in our front yard. It was our front yard, I suppose. It's nice to feel a sense of ownership about that.