Wednesday 30 June 2021

Blogjune Days 20-30 - The party at the eye of the storm

So, I have neglected to blog these last five days. In my defence, I've had quite a busy week.

On Tuesday evening, I boarded a flight from Canberra to Adelaide for my longest work break since last Christmas. I'd been getting rather anxious about the news of the Bondi outbreak coming out of Sydney, especially with reports of early-holiday-goers racing across the border to the ACT before the restrictions kicked in. I arrived in Adelaide without incident, but if I'd opted to go a day later, I would have been turned around due to the fact that I'd recently been to Queanbeyan, which is technically in NSW despite being closer to where I live than some of the farther-flung suburbs of the ACT.

Anyway, Adelaide! The last time I'd been here, it was for WOMAD in March 2020, mixing with thousands of strangers in a music festival setting. Two weeks later, we were all in lockdown.

This time, though, it finally felt like things were getting back to normal - with the additional task of checking into every venue and shop on arrival. There were fun adventures to a craft brewery with fancy beers, an inner-city distillery with fancy gin, and the Adelaide wine centre with an extensive range of wines available to taste. We also engaged in fun adventures around town, from wandering the Botanical Gardens to visiting random museum exhibitions.

And then there was the Adelaide Cabaret Festival. I have been wanting to visit this festival for years, and I'm glad that I finally had an excuse to go! My budget only allowed for a few shows - Alan Cumming was utterly charming with the world premiere of his cabaret show - performed in a theatre will thousands in the audience - and the Sisters of Invention were an absolute delight. Other evenings were spent singing along with Trevor Jones in the piano bar.

And then there was the final night of the festival on Saturday night, at the festival bar, 'Club Cumming', where Alan entertained a crowded dance floor with DJ antics and guest entertainers (including a surprise performance from Trevor Ashley as Shirley Bassey). The drinks were flowing, the dance floor crowded and stomping, and the fun and frivolity aplenty.

I'm not a big party person, but after a few days of being re-immersed in live music, theatre, and culture, I just felt so alive again - something that I haven't really felt in over a year and a half.

Then Sunday came, and we trudged, sleep-deprived and brain-weary, back to Adelaide Airport for our return flight. At the gates, we were told that South Australia had just closed their borders to the ACT, so we'd better be sure that we weren't planning to come back any time soon.

And now, three days later, all Canberrans are instructed to wear masks in public, a substantial proportion of Australia is going into lockdown - or stay-at-home orders - and it all feels a little bit like history repeating...

Saturday 19 June 2021

Blogjune Day 19 - on problematic musicals

So, I went and saw a production of Kiss Me Kate this evening.

For those who are unacquainted, this is a 1948 musical, with songs written by Cole Porter, based around a Baltimore theatre company who is putting on a musical adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew. Relationships on stage mirror those in the show-within-a-show, some local gangsters get involved, and wackiness ensues.

This production aimed to modernise the show, with a contemporary setting, references to contemporary pop culture and politics, and a couple of gender-switched characters to both create more female roles and add some queer representation. Some of the song lyrics were also changed to modernise what were quite outdated values. And artistically, it was an excellent production - a tight band, wonderful performances and great set design.

Here's the problem though - yes, you can update the cultural references, and improve representation (though, to be fair, there was maybe one person of colour in the whole show...) but when the underlying plot is still problematic, then it's still problematic. I went with a friend who is a social worker dealing regularly in domestic violence cases, and I could tell that she was uncomfortable, and we had a good talk about it during intermission. We both agreed that there was a lack of real consent - or even agency - for the female lead. At the heart of this show, the character of Lilli/Kate is subjected to repeated physical and emotional abuse and humiliation, and her moment of agency is when she makes her choice between two awful men, returning to her ex-husband Fred with the song, 'I am ashamed that people are so simple' - substituting 'people' for 'women' in the original version!

Yes yes, I know it's Shakespeare, but the ending of Shrew will never not be creepy, and turning it a modern musical just makes it more archaic and uncomfortable. Plot and lyrics aside, the music was fantastic!

Ugh, I really just need to focus on having a good time at the theatre, and not overthink these things too much!

Friday 18 June 2021

Blogjune Day 18 - on taking my leave

I recently caught up with another librarian here in Canberra, and in our conversation, they mentioned that over a number of years, they'd managed to accrue around six weeks of unused annual leave. The main reason for this was that, whilst there were mechanisms in place for somebody to cover the essentials in their absence, they didn't feel like they could really leave the role unattended for more than a few days in a row, because a lot of things would fall by the wayside and work would pile up.

My initial response was, 'Oh, that's really not good!' But on reflection, I also realised it's been almost two years since I took more than a handful of days of annual leave - when I was away for two and a half weeks, and half of that time was spent running around at a conference!

I think that we live in a society where we're now often under pressure to work as close to capacity as possible, and the reality is that if you decide to go and take two weeks of leave, somebody has to cover for you - on top of their own work.

With the last year that we've had, it's an important reminder that making sure that I take leave isn't just about me going on holidays (though that's also nice). It's also about managing an equilibrium across the team so that it's something that the team is used to. Covering for other people's duties while they're on leave is something that should inbuilt into everybody's regular routines, so nobody feels guilty for taking leave, and nobody should feel resentful for taking on extra duties.

But that said, at the end of the day, I also really need to improve my ability to trust others. I'm quite protective of the work that I do, and I need to be better at handing my work over to others to manage in my absence, and trust them to look after my babies, and not worry about having a pile of things to catch up on when I return. That's really on me - and I also wonder how much of my reluctance to take leave is less about work culture, and more about my inability to let go of the work for a few weeks.

I suspect it's more of the latter.

Thursday 17 June 2021

Blogjune Day 17 - marathon or sprint?

We're past that half-way point, and I've recently reached that point where I'm feeling the pressure of this commitment to a daily blog-post.

And even though, in an ideal world, I would have built the discipline to do a little each day, slow and steadily, the reality is that I simply do not work that way.

Some people are good at steadily pacing themselves and staying on track. I, on the other hand, tend to spend more time planning and preparing, and then go for a massive sprint to churn out a large amount of work in a small amount of time.

I'm not a great multi-tasker. I'd rather deep-dive into one thing for a day, and not be distracted by other stuff, and get all of the one thing done at once. Then then next day, I can focus on a whole other area of work, and so on.

If I only just do a little bit of everything at once, I find that it's so much harder to get anything finished.

There are definitely days when I think, 'Oh, I wish I'd started this thing earlier, and just done a little bit at a time,' but if I'm honest with myself, I kind of enjoy the rush of being super-focused and busy with one thing through an intensive short period of time - even if it's exacerbated by the stress of an impending deadline. To be honest, that's as exciting as my life gets at the moment! Why be a tortoise when you can be a rabbit (not that it's a race...).

Wednesday 16 June 2021

Blogjune Day 16 - I am not throwing away my shot

So, today I got my COVID-19 shot. I would have had it sooner, except that my eligibility was announced the day after I had my flu shot, so I had to wait two weeks.

Now to wait about four weeks until my follow-up appointment. My arm is pretty sore, but otherwise no adverse reactions to report.

I think we've been so fortunate in Australia, that we've had the opportunity to act and prevent the kinds of outbreaks and level of mortality that other nations have seen. This is now our responsibility to protect ourselves, and those around us, from preventing further outbreaks. And the sooner that we get a high vaccination rate, the sooner we can get on with opening up the country properly again.

Tuesday 15 June 2021

Blogjune Day 15 - Scoping the field

I'm never not keeping an eye on job ads on a semi-regular basis.

That's not to say that I'm actively job-hunting - I'm really not. But I find it useful to keep an eye on what is out there, and how the job market is constantly changing for somebody with my skills and experience.

I even apply for them once in a while - often I'm genuinely interested in the role, and want to gauge how far I can get into the the application process, and if I get to sit across the table from somebody who I admire and try to make an impression on them. I'm regularly developing new skills, and I'm often curious to see what new doors they might open.

And in terms of keeping track of where the sector is going, it's also a very useful exercise in working out where the demand is changing, and where I need to develop new skills and experience. From time to time, I'll see a job and think 'yeah, that'd be a cool job to do in a few years... but first I need to get some experience doing X, Y and Z.' Hopefully, in a few years' time, those skills will still be in demand.

I do worry, though, that by trying to think 2-3 jobs down the track, I get distracted from feeling content in any given job that I'm doing at the time. When I think back to the last few roles that I was in, they came up at a time when I wasn't actively job-hunting... it was more that they were interesting opportunities that I thought I'd give a shot. But I've now reached the point where I haven't stayed in the one same position for more than about 15-18 months. In fact, I think I'm probably at a new personal record for staying in the same job - just on 17 months to the day!

I think what helps is to have a role where you can do a whole lot of different things. This was definitely the case in my previous roles at the NLA, where there were many secondment and temporary promotion opportunities, and lots of very different roles across the library. And right now, I have a lot of creative freedom to try new things, and explore different aspects of the library sector.

But still - it's good to keep at least half an eye on the horizon, and keep track of the different opportunities that are still out there. Like Hamilton, there are still a million things I haven't done...

Monday 14 June 2021

Blogjune Day 14 - Canberra birdlife

One of the first things I noticed about moving to Canberra, almost five years ago now, is the birds. Where, in my previous place in the inner West of Sydney, I'd be woken up by the first flight out of Sydney airport, I'd now be woken by the birds. If I were lucky, it would be the soft warbling of magpies or currawongs. In my current apartment, the nearby conifers are more inclined to attract swarms of sulfur-crested cockatoos or corellas.

From waking up, to getting on my bike for the 20-minute commute to work, here's a list of the different kinds of birds that I might spot on any given morning.

Sulfur-crested cockatoos - the screechy ones.
These are terrifying if you're not expecting them, and can act as an effective morning alarm clock. As a kid, there was a guy who'd hang out out the front of the local supermarket with one of these guys on his shoulder, and had been trained to repeat, 'Hello cocky' if you greeted it with these words. I'm much happier to see flocks of the less domesticated variety these days.

Corellas - also screechy, but with blue eyes. Whilst they are almost as noisy as the sulfur-crested cockatoo, I had never seen these birds before moving to Canberra.

Galahs - not as noisy as you'd think. Galahs have a bad rep, thanks to Alf from Home and Away, but on closer inspection, they are much more charming as the aforementioned native Australian birds. They're more inclined to chirp than squawk (with the exception of their young, which are more reminiscint of a bad Bob Hawke impersonation).

Currawongs - avian predators. I occasionally see these on the balcony, and their big beaks terrify me. And it turns out that I'm not entirely unjustified - they've been known to feed on small birds. And cycling through the city around dusk, you can see them all lined up along the tops of the buildings, calling to and fro. It's a beautiful sound, but also possibly marking the advent of a Hitchcock-esque bird apocalypse.

White-winged choughs - demonic foragers. It's not uncommon to see groups of these birds scratching around patches of lawn or parkland, and their red eyes, curved beaks and haunting calls are like something that's emerged from the depths of hell.

Magpies - savage swoopers. As we approach late winter, I'm starting to keep an eye on the MagpieAlert website, because come August, swooping season starts. Last year, I had to completely change my cycling route to work. I don't even bother with cable-ties or googly eyes on my helmet. They don't work.

Gang gang cockatoos - the fancy ones
I only see these once in a while, but when I do it always feels like a special occasion.

I could go on... special mentions include superb fairy wrens, grass parrots, king parrots, and the occasional yellow-tailed black cockatoo. Whatever I spot each morning, it makes for a pleasant start to the day.

Sunday 13 June 2021

Blogjune Day 13 - life is a cabaret

As established, I love musicals. I also love cabaret. "What is cabaret, and how is it still a thing," I hear you ask.

Many are familiar with the Kander and Ebb musical, adapted into a film in 1972 starring Liza Minelli, Joel Gray and that guy who was in Logan's Run. People get up in a poky little 1930s Berlin Club and sing songs that make commentary on society and their lives.

Beyond that, I become familiar with the modern concept of cabaret when I attended Eddie Perfect's show 'Angry Eddie' in Duckboard House at the Melbourne Comedy Festival in 2004, which soon led me to find other up and coming stars, such as Tim Minchin, Sammy J, Yana Alana, Reuben Krum, Geraldine Quinn and the rotating program of shows at the Butterfly House. Of course, I'd associate these acts with other similar musical comedy acts, such as Tripod and the Doug Anthony All Stars.

So, cabaret = musical comedy, right? Some might say that it's a question of semantics. But one thing that I strongly associate with cabaret is an element of social commentary - usually through parody or satire - and a small performance space, sometimes up close with the performer, with no real chance of escape until the curtain closes.

Take Bo Burnham, for example - somebody whose work I've followed for over ten years now, and is a solid musical comedian, whose uses his edginess in both progressive and problematic directions.

I sat down and watched his recent 'Netflix comedy special', expecting another hour of standup and musical comedy schtick. But this was something else.

His first solo performance in around five years, this was written, performed and edited by Burnham over the past year, and takes place in one room. The premise - he's in lockdown and he's trying to write and record a show for you, the audience. Right from the outset, he's almost resentful of having to do this, and satisfy his unknown online audience saying, 'Here's some content', and then reflecting on how messed-up the world is, and yet here he is trying to succeed by making jokes, and sarcastically sets out to 'heal the world with comedy'. The problem is that he's a privileged white guy - something that he's quite conscious of, and appears to be constantly attempting to make amends for his problematic past, but self-sabotages his attempts to do so because, as he knows, it's a self-indulgent medium that just serves to continue to centre himself on the world's problems.

It's an hour and a half of continuous spiraling into further self-doubt, stubborn persistence and depression, as his hair and beard grows longer. It's no longer an exercise in 'musical comedy', but severe self-analysis and self-deprecation in the context of an increasingly unjust and online society. And, as the audience, we're right there with him, in that small room, as he slowly sinks to an 'ATL' (all-time low - not Atlanta).

This show had a profound affect on me, both as I watched it, and afterwards, considering myself as an artist, as an audience member, thinking about how I choose to exist in the world, how I relate to technology and our current online society - and how this all affects our mental health, especially during a pandemic.

And despite the recorded, online nature of this show, it feels like a cabaret in its most raw form - intimate - claustrophobic, even - personal, political... and in a small room with songs.

(That aside, I'm soon heading to interstate for the Adelaide Cabaret Festival, for a very different experience - one full of large spaces with live performance. I am very excited for this.)

Saturday 12 June 2021

Blogjune Day 12 - Lights up on Washington Heights...

Last night, I went to a special preview screening of In the Heights - the film adaptation of Lin Manuel Miranda's first Broadway musical which won four Tony Awards in 2008.

It's been a long time coming, with the cinematic release delayed a year due to COVID-19. You can watch the opening number below...

So, what did I think of it?

There's always a lot of risk when it comes to adapting a hit Broadway musical to film, from Les Miserables to Cats. Incidentally both of those films was directed by Tom Hooper - one was epic and yet forgettable, and the other you can never unsee.

The first thing to know about In the Heights is that this is an adaptation - not a frame-for-frame remake. Which makes sense, since film is a completely different medium to stage. The big scenes are so much bigger, and the intimate scenes are much more nuanced. This film takes every opportunity to make the most of the medium - from the huge elaborate dance scenes filmed on location, to scenes in Abuela Claudia's kitchen, where you could almost smell every delicious dish being cooked.

As an adaptation, things have changed. Characters are fleshed out, and the sequence of events have changed. Some songs and plotlines are cut, whilst other more timely issues, such as racism and immigration, are more prominent. This felt like an organic progression to the work, perhaps cutting some of the weaker elements of the source material, and taking the opportunity to bring more depth and meaning to the characters and the film's ending.

And yes, they changed the ending. To be honest, I think it works so much better - as touching and emotional as the stage version's ending is, this brings a sense of joy and closure to the suenito (little dream) of the central characters.

The cast is an absolutely joy to watch. Anthony Ramos is a star as Usnavi - perhaps a bit too cool and charismatic compared to the passionate-yet-awkward energy that Lin Manuel Miranda brought in originating the role, but still very fitting in the role. Daphne Rubin-Vega - yes, that's Mimi from Rent - is phenominal as Daniela, as is Olga Merediz, who originated the role of Abuela Claudia and whose song 'Paciencia Y Fe' is a haunting and memorable swan song. Jimmy Smits is surprisingly good as Kevin Rosario. And there's a whole supporting cast of young up and coming stars that you should keep an eye out for. Finally, yes, Lin Manuel Miranda and Christopher Jackson (the original Usnavi and Benny) both feature as rival street vendors. Be sure to stick around to the end of the credits.

Visually, this is where the film really shines. You might know the director John M. Chu for making Crazy Rich Asians,  but it's his work on the Step Up franchise that comes through with the block-party-scale dance routines. The dancing is big - and I thought I knew a bit about salsa dancing, but the scene in the salsa club takes it to the next level. It's energic, raw, authentic - and these people can move.

The soundtrack is also amazing. Before the film, there was a trailer for Dear Evan Hansen, which felt a little overproduced, with not-very-subtle autotuning. However, the sound is very well done here - with some very clever moments, such as the subito piano toward the climax of '96,000' using an underwater shot. And not even an inkling that any of the vocals had been manipulated. Every song is an absolute banger, and I came out of the cinema wanting to play the soundtrack straight away.

Anyway, as you can tell, I loved it. 

If you get a chance, go see it on the big screen, the way it was clearly meant to be seen.

Friday 11 June 2021

Blogjune Day 11 - more on labels and diversity

In my last post, I reflected on the strengths and flaws of the Own Voices label in identifying diverse works created by those from the same diverse backgrounds.

We also talk quite a bit about diversity in the library sector - but I'm not so sure that we've reached a point where it's necessarily a meaningful and inclusive conversation.

In my mind, diversity is another catch-all term, which both defines and others all that is not the dominant and privileged status, ie white, non-Indigenous, male, heterosexual, cis-gendered, neurotypical, without disability, and so on. There's the danger that if we're not careful, we simply define our workforce into 'diverse' and 'not diverse', which runs the risk of excluding those that need more careful consideration.

For example, in recent years, I've seen a lot of resources put into recruiting, embedding and supporting Indigenous people in the workforce - which absolutely is important work. But I've rarely seen similar affirmative measures created for other minority demographics.

At the same time, given that the Australian librarian workforce is made up of 86% of women, you could be forgiven for thinking that gender diversity isn't an issue. That is, until you realise that there is still a wage gap where men are more representative in the higher income brackets. Whether this is because more men are on a higher wage, or more women are working part-time or casual, it still amounts to the fact that there are gender considerations that go beyond simple diversity statistics. Equity is also important.

Even sub-categories of diversity are problematic. The one that I always bring up is 'culturally and linguistically diverse' (or CALD), which in Australia is defined based on which country you were born in, and which language you speak at home. It's a measure that's left over from the days of the White Australia policy, and excludes many second- and third-generation migrants living in Australia, such as myself.

Other catch-all phrases, such as ATSI (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander), BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic - often used in the UK), BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color - often used in the US), and FNPOC (First Nations and People of Colour - increasingly used here in Australia), all serve a purpose in defining and drawing attention to underrepresented people, but we do need to avoid the temptation of stopping at that level.

I recently read a piece that criticised the 'Stop Asian Hate' campaign, because it focused too much on East Asian hate, and didn't do enough to create awareness on the experiences of South Asians who were subjected to Islamaphobic attacks.

These are all just examples, but they highlight the fact that words matter, and detail is important.

Ultimately, diversity is just a measure - an indication of how well you are representative of your community. Just as important, if not more so, is considering equity and inclusion. You may have the diversity statistics, but without implementing equity and inclusion measures, many of the existing systemic power imbalances will remain.

Thursday 10 June 2021

Blogjune Day 10 - on #ownvoices writing

On Sunday 6 June, We Need Diverse Books announced that they were no longer using the #ownvoices hashtag, saying that the term 'become a “catch all” marketing term by the publishing industry', which as then been 'used to place diverse creators in uncomfortable and potentially unsafe situations'.

They have announced that, instead, they will 'use specific descriptions that authors use for themselves and their characters whenever possible (for example, “Korean American author,” or “autistic protagonist”).'

Personally, I first became familiar with the term 'own voices' in 2018 when Fremantle Press published the anthology Meet me at the intersection. Described as an anthology of Own Voices, containing diverse stories written and created by authors of the same diverse group - in this case, people who are Indigenous, people of colour, LGBTIQA, or living with disability.

It felt like an important term at the time - not only was important that we have diverse representation in the stories that we read, but that we provide opportunities for diverse creators to be creating these narratives based on their lived experiences. It was a way of raising these voices and perhaps distinguishing them from writers who perhaps use other peoples' lived experiences as a device for propelling their own creative work.

So, what's changed? I'm actually not that sure, to be honest. I suspect that this decision is, in part, due to the experiences of Becky Albertalli last year, where she was effectively forced to come out as bisexual after prolonged and intense scrutiny and criticism online. She appeals to the literary community: 'Can we all be a bit more careful when we engage in queer Ownvoices discourse? Can we remember that our carelessness in these discussions has caused real harm? And that the people we’re hurting rarely have my degree of privilege or industry power? Can we make space for those of us who are still discovering ourselves? Can we be a little more compassionate? Can we make this a little less awful for the next person?'

Furthermore, there is a danger with catch-all labels, whether it be Own Voices, or even 'diverse', is that it creates a false dichotomy where it becomes the be-all and end-all of what is good and acceptable. There are many white writers who have written awful works featuring people of colour - but there are also those who have researched, consulted and had people of colour as their first readers to help create authentic narratives in what have become excellent works. There are also Own Voices works that are unfortunately not great.

And then, there are those who would claim their work as Own Voices, where that claim is in itself somewhat dubious, and they rely own the label as a way of raising the profile of their own work instead of its individual merits.

Ultimately, whilst measuring diversity is a useful indicator, it's the specific elements that make the industry diverse that is valuable. So, yes, I'm very happy for us to be more specific in the ways that we celebrate cultural and literary works - all the more opportunity to identify those specific voices that are underrepresented and absent, and raise those voices into prominence.

Wednesday 9 June 2021

Blogjune Day 9 - on library leadership

Back in April, I attended the ALIA Information Online In-Depth virtual event on Leadership. It was a stimulating session, that reminded me of a lot of the issues that we need to stay on top of in both the Australian library sector and the wider GLAMR sector.

One thing really struck me, during the first section featuring three leaders in the GLAMR sector, was that none of them were qualified professionals in their given field. David Fricker, Director-General of the National Archives of Australia, comes from a computer science background, Director of the Australian Museum comes from a marketing and communications background. Kate Torney, CEO State Library Victoria, comes from a journalism background. More notably, all of these leaders stepped into these roles without having previously work in the GLAMR sector. We've also seen similar trends in leadership appointments in some of our state and public libraries.

That's not to say that they are not capable leaders in each of their roles - they've all shown a long-standing track record of achievement, and as I've often said, a librarianship qualification is not the be-all and end-all of one's capbility to work in a library, nor should it be treated as a hurdle requirement to do so.

However, it does raise the question: is there a lack or reluctance of qualified librarians who are suitably experienced to step up into leadership positions in the Australian sector? Or is it just that leaders coming from other sectors are far more experienced and capable, and obvious choices when appointing leaders into these roles?

When I think back to some of the best and brightest emerging leaders that I'd met when I was starting out, 10-15 years ago, I'd say that at least half of those who I would have tipped as future library leaders have moved sectors or shifted roles, and no longer associate themselves with the library profession. Some have burnt out, or gone on to do bigger and better things in another sector that they find much more meaningful and rewarding.

There was a time when we used to look forward to that oft-predicted time when all the baby boomers would retire, opening up all kinds of leadership roles. In more recent years, many have bemoaned the lack of new leadership opportunities, due to a combination of said baby boomers delaying their retirement, and shrinking library staffing budgets.

But perhaps this isn't the biggest thing we need to worry about - the fact is that the cultural sector has always been a desirable and competitive option for employment, and there are many very capable professionals out there who are building up a track record of achievements, and would jump at the opportunity to take on the top job in a major library. And they're better at running libraries than the librarians.

So where does that leave the library and information profession?

My view: we need to adapt, and let the strengths of those who join us from beyond the sector be our strengths as a profession. We need to stop pigeon-holing ourselves and the people we work with, otherwise we limit our opportunities to grow professionally. We need to encourage our library professionals to get experience and build better skills outside the sector - experience and skills that they can hopefully bring back. And we need to be a sector that our past emerging leaders might want to come back to in the future.

Tuesday 8 June 2021

Blogjune Day 8 - on musicals

Anybody who vaguely knows me will know how much I love musicals. If there's even just an opportunity to sing showtunes, then I'm in... I'm always the guy at the karaoke bar who'll inevitably be belting everything from Heaven on their minds to Part of that world.

So, on the weekend, I saw that my local cinema was showing the National Theatre's production of Stephen Sondheim's Follies, as part of their NT Live series. I'm familiar with quite a number of Sondheim's shows, but Follies was not one of them - with the exception of the songs 'I'm still here' and 'Buddy's blues', which were both standout performances. But, damn it, why does every Sondheim musical have to be so depressing? Sure, Phillip Quast and Imelda Staunton were both incredible on stage, but I stepped out the theatre feeling like my life was already over and all my youth had been wasted - all I had left were memories and regrets. Yep, it's that kind of Sondheim musical.

On the other hand, this Friday I have tickets to see In the Heights on the big screen. Now this is something that I'm really looking forward to, being the big screen adaptation of Lin Manuel Miranda's *first* Tony-award-winning musical (you know, before he went and wrote Hamilton). Yes, Hamilton is a intricately layered work of lyrical and theatrical genius, but In the Heights is still my personal favourite - it just has so much passion and heart... it's raw and honest, full of joy and fear and hope, with its central theme of community. I already know that this will be one of my favourite nights out at the movies this year - there will be much laugher and tears.

As for Hamilton... I'm definitely looking forward to seeing it live on stage next month. I just wish that it'd happened sooner - like six years ago when I was so obsessed with it and I had it playing on repeat for months. Part of me has definitely moved on, but hey, I'll probably be absolutely wowed by the choreography, set changes and surprise reinterpretations by the Aussie cast.

Finally, I myself am going to be in a musical soon. My first musical theatre production in... *counts on fingers* over 15 years! Though it hasn't been for lack of trying. The local community theatre scene is definitely a tightknit community, and I've been occasionally auditioning for a few years now with no luck... until now. So, if you're in the Canberra region, keep an eye out for Oklahoma! in October...

Monday 7 June 2021

Blogjune Day 7 - my TBR pile

Continuing on yesterday's theme of catching up, I've spent much of the past year catching up on my "to be read" - or TBR - pile of books.

It would have been during last year's lockdown that I faced the fact that a large proportion of my bookshelf contained books that I'd never read. Whilst this certainly isn't unusual for many in my social circle, the librarian in me decided that enough was enough, and it was time for some proper collection management.

That is, either I read those books that I always intended to read, or off they go to Lifeline to sell at the bookfair.

The rules are simple:

  • Pick up a book from the shelf that I haven't read
  • Proceed to read the book
  • If the book hasn't grabbed me by page 50, then I'm allowed to let it go in the box to Lifeline
  • If, at the end of the book, I'm unlikely to ever read it again or recommend it to anybody - again, Lifeline.
  • Otherwise, it can go back onto the shelf.
  • Repeat
  • Don't buy any more books in the interim (with a couple of exceptions, ie the next in a series that I'm reading comes out, or I'm at a book launch)
This has been a remarkably effective way of (a) motivating myself to read those books that I never got around to, and (b) realising why I was subconsciously avoiding that book!

I have recently reached the point where I've most of the 'fun' books on my TBR pile... Cormac McCarthy's The Road is still waiting for my attention, but for now I've started moving on to some of my non-fiction collection. After wizzing through Clara Bensen's No Baggage (a particularly nostalgic read, as we count the months before the international borders are likely to re-open), I've decided to take on something with more heft - The Fog of Peace, Jean-Marie Guehenno's memoir of his time as the Under-Secretary General for UN peacekeeping operations.

It's not a light read - especially for somebody like me who doesn't come from an international relations background - though after a while, I begin to get a feel for the blow-by-blow accounts of diplomatic issues in the international sphere, and definitely gain an appreciation for the sheer level of complexity in managing the many relationships involved. But something in his introduction that struck a chord with me was describing how he had come from an academic understanding of peacekeeping, and had a reputation as an intellectual, but needed to assert himself as a capable operator.

Something that I've thought a lot about these past years are these strange dichotomies that we often try to connect. Whether it's between between practice and theory, operational and strategic, support and substantive. For the longest time, I've worked in day-to-day operational roles, whilst trying to make the transition to something more strategic and influential. At the same time, there are plenty of times where I've been critical of those who make the big decisions, because they are based more around practical and operational efficiency rather than upholding idealistic principles of altruism and progressing cultural development.

Everything's all well and good in theory, until I'm the one who actually needs to carry it out - and I realise that by saying that, I'm sounding like an apologist for everything awful that's happening in the world - which is not my intention! So, instead, I'll end with a Hamilton quote: 'Winning is easy, young man. Governing is harder.'

Sunday 6 June 2021

Blogjune Day 6 - on catching up

I said that I'd catch up by Sunday night... here I am, in the wee hours of Monday morning, but I feel like it still counts. I often feel like I'm falling behind, and catching up.

I was out to dinner with my partner's family and friends, and I was struck by some comments around the importance of making the right career decisions that will help ensure a comfortable retirement. This was from somebody who was only a handful of years older than myself.

I felt that familiar pang of, "So, Andrew. How are you going with that, then?" How long will it be until I catch up with where I need to be to be able to retire comfortably by my mid to late 60s? Yes, I have a mortgage, a moderately sized superannuation - and a sizeable HECS debt - certainly not yet on track for where I "need" to be...

Then again, I feel like the goalposts are always shifting. I hear from those a decade younger than me who feel like they'll never be able to own property. For every person who I hear talk about putting extra money into their super, I hear about others contemplating taking out of the super to pay their daily bills and rent.

Part of me still aspires to try to aim higher, earn more, purely for the sake of being able to hang up my hat in 25 years and not have to worry about these things. But at what cost? If I'm comfortable now, somewhere in the middle, then why should I risk making my life more difficult or miserable, for a few dollars an hour more?

Then I think back to the years that I spent volunteering overseas. There's not a day that I look back and wish that I'd spent that time working in a regular job in Australia, earning more money, getting a mortgage sooner, putting more into my super, etc...

I realise that this is a position of massive privilege as it is. So why do I constantly feel like I'm still at a disadvantage?

Blogjune Day 5 - June 2020

 I don't think I'd blame anybody for not participating in Blogjune in 2020. Looking back on that month:

  • More than two months into lockdown, and six months after my Dad died, I was just not in a good headspace.
  • Also four months into a new job in a new organisation, in what felt like something of a trial by fire approach to learning a new role, and overcoming imposter syndrome regarding my writing and editing skills.
  • I pretty much withdrew from most social media interaction - deleted my Twitter account, and vary rarely posted on Facebook. 
  • I took time to develop some skills in amateur photography
My attempt at being arty
  • Being in a full-time live-in relationship tested my ability to adjust and adapt to new domestic arrangements...
  • I did a lot of cooking - more than usual.
  • Finally, I committed to hiring a plot at the Canberra City Farm - a decision that brought a lot of hard work through the following months, but a good excuse to get out of the house, and develop a bit of a green thumb.
It was a horrendous month, to be honest. I was pushed to the limit, which I guess was the only way for me to learn when to step back, and find beauty and value in some of the simpler pleasures in life - an important lesson that has made the past year much more bearable in hindsight.

Blogjune Day 4 - June 2019

 Flashforward a year to June 2019.  A lot had changed...

  • The month began with a mushroom-foraging adventure in a local pine plantations, using newfound foraging skills learnt at a workshop the previous week... 
Spotting the easily identifiable, and edible, saffron milk-cap mushroom.
  • I was working for the same organisation, but in a very different role, and presented a webinar all about the Australian Web Archive
  • The Broadway Cast Recording of Beetlejuice the Musical came out, and became my new musical obsession
  • I went to Sydney to see the Vivid festival for the first, and so far only time.
  • I bought tickets to travel to Athens for IFLA 2019 conference, along with a backpacking adventure around Romania.
  • I was five months into a new relationship, which had quickly turned into a long-ish distance relationship, but worked surprisingly well. I developed a newfound fondness for the village life in the Southern Highlands every other weekend.
After what had felt like a challenging year in 2018, I was finally settling into something that felt like a comfortable pattern. My professional and social life was great, and I was still discovering new and wonderful things.

Blogjune Day 3 - looking back on June 2018

So, what *did* happen in June 2018 to break my four-year streak of blogging every June?

Looking back on my old emails and social media posts, I can glean the following things that happened:

  • The month began a week into home ownership. As the month progressed, I slowly started discovering some of the issues with the apartment that could only become apparent after living in it for a number of weeks.
  • This resulted in me spiraling into a mess of anxiety, entertaining notions that I'd made a poor decision and that I would be forever stuck with a crumbling piece of worthless property (which wasn't the case, but my brain couldn't logic in that particular moment).
  • I'd deal with this situation by spending every Thursday evening at the Phoenix bar, belting out pop bangers at the weekly karaoke competition night.
  • I came equal first at the grand finale, winning half a keg of beer's worth of a bar tab. Unfortunately, the Phoenix closed down in the following months, and whilst I drank a fair portion of this tab, never managed to finish it.
  • I also performed at the grand final of the very first Canbeurovision song contest, with my song "Down like Chowne". I did not come last, which felt like an accomplishment in itself.
Who knew that my old scout uniform would still fit,
let alone come in handy for this occasion?
  • I bought a lot of second-hand furniture online, and slowly my apartment started to feel like a home.
  • I also learnt a lot about how plumbers work, and got to know my neighbours a bit better. By the end of the month, I was settling into an uncomfortable but stable level of security about my life choices in property ownership.
  • In my job, I was doing simple but awesome stuff with my social media project, NLA50ppl, and had my conference proposal accepted to speak at the ALIA Information Online conference in 2019.
  • I was also working with an international team with NPSIG, preparing what would be an awesome program of events at the IFLA 2019 conference in Kuala Lumpur.
  • All in all, it was the best of months, it was the worst of months, one of those roller-coaster months, where I was at both my best and my worst.

Friday 4 June 2021

Blogjune Day 2 - ghosts of blogjunes past

One thing that I enjoy about blogging is the ability to go back and read my past reflections that encapsulate a moment in my life. Yes, sometimes this can be embarrassing and cringeworthy, but it's a moment in time captured through words (and sometimes images and videos).

By the same token, Blogjune is a whole month captured in words. So, I thought I'd take this opportunity to look back at my past forays into Blogjune...

Whilst the tradition of Blogjune began back in 2010, when I think back to that year, it was the year that I first started to really disengage with the sector...

I didn't start officially participating until 2014, though it's interesting to note that in June 2011, I felt like I was on the verge of leaving the profession for good, and in June 2012, I was already back in a library job in Melbourne, and in June 2013, I was halfway through my first overseas AVID assignment, in Alotau.

June 2014: After a year of hopping between working overseas assignments in PNG and Vietnam, performing at arts festivals in Melbourne, and working casual public library shifts in-between, 2014 was the year that I was making my triumphant return to the library sector, managing a swish school library in the inner suburbs of Melbourne (again). June was a pivotal month for me - clearly I was having a lot of thoughts about whether this was right for me, and by the end of the month, I'd decided to give it all up, and move back to Vietnam to take up a 18-month contract with an NGO in Hanoi.

June 2015: A year later, and I was no longer in Vietnam! The role wasn't a great fit for my skills and experience, which happens, but I think I made the best of a less-than-ideal situation, and still have many positive memories of my time there. On the plus side, I'd been successful in a securing a place in the UN Volunteer program at the UN Mission in Kosovo as an Associate Information Management Officer. Through this month, I was still processing a lot of initial impressions of a new country, dealing with feelings of failure from my previous assignment not working out the way that I'd liked, and trying to maintain a balanced perspective of working in a developing country... clearly I was already mindful of my own mental wellbeing, and the challenges in managing it in these situations.

June 2016: Another year on, and I was coming up to the final month in my UNV contract. The first week comprised of me using up the last of my leave to travel around the UK, volunteering at the Hay Festival, and visiting lots of places on my bucket list, such as Cardiff, Stratford-upon-Avon and Oxford. I was also getting to the point where I needed to figure out which direction my career would continue - whether that would be in libraries or maybe another foray in development.

June 2017: Turned out, it was libraries. By June 2017, I'd finally ticked off another career objective, and secured an ongoing position at the National Library of Australia. It was also a month where I really started reengaging in the sector - I joined ALIA again, after a six-year absence, went to the New Librarians Symposium, and signed up for the ALIA Mentoring Scheme - all things that set me on the path that has led me to where I am now.

2018-2021: Blogjune fell by the wayside, but a lot has happened. I'll reflect more of these in coming posts.

However, it's interesting to note that June has, in many ways, marked some real turning points for me in the past. I wonder if June 2021 will be remarkable in a similar sense?

Blogjune Day 1- on deadlines

It's June again, and this blog post is prompted by Con, snail, and Kathryn...

I could be forgiven for letting #blogjune slip by me last year, but it's actually been four years since I last participated. My life has changed in oh so many ways since then, that I feel like there's enough that I can catch up on from the intervening years that will fill the month.

Speaking of catching up... I'm starting this series three days behind schedule. Time to set myself some deadlines, I think!

My working life is currently dominated by writing deadlines, and true to form, I'm already behind, but determined to catch up before my tardiness impacts on anybody else's workflows.

Deadlines are a funny thing, aren't they? My usual practice is to set deadlines that allow a couple of days flexibility, so that I can chase things up, or accommodate the occasional spanner in the works.

The problem is, once my reputation for flexible deadlines precedes me, everybody knows that when I set them a deadline, a couple of days late isn't going to end the world. I react by offsetting future deadlines by a few days, and before we know it, I've set a whole lot of deadlines that don't actually represent the timeframe in which I actually need work done by.

And then there are those who want to know, 'Yeah, but what's the actual deadline. You know, the absolute deadline that you actually need stuff by?'

Fair question.

I'd love to work in a world where we only work by actual deadlines. ie if you don't meet this deadline, then there will be actual consequences (probably not actual death, but at least death stares). None of this mucking around dancing around arbitrary dates, running on the assumption that we're all equally as unable to exercise discipline in getting our jobs done... but to err is human, and to ignore the fallibility of human behaviour is to set oneself up for failure.

So, my deadline to get back on track will be this Sunday - you can expect another five posts by then.