How it all goes together

One of the things I said I wanted to do this year was to write regularly – and that has taken different forms throughout the year, but I’ve found it has been really worthwhile. Being a personal blog, the content here has changed over the course of the year. (I’ve also done some private writing for my study, as part of a Period of Discernment with the Uniting Church in Australia, and as part of a pilgrimage to Lake Mungo.) On this blog recently I’ve almost only been talking about tabletop roleplaying games, particularly Dungeons & Dragons, but earlier in the year I was also posting a lot more religious-mythological Bible content, stuff I’d been observing in my neighbourhood, opinion pieces about the proposed homeless ban in Melbourne, stuff about migrant-settler-colonial identity in Australia…

Sometimes people tell me I’m doing an awful lot of different things, but in my mind all of those stuff comes back to one thing, and that’s critical engagement with stories. As my collaborator Matt Valler has been saying,

‘Every city is full of hidden stories that quietly enforce the rules we live by. Labyrinth uncovers those stories so that together we can rewrite the rules.’

We need to be able to engage with stories in a critical way because they can shape our society for better or for worse. (And it’s often a lot more complex than just good stories and bad stories!)

Anyway, that has been my focus, and I hope that gives an idea about what holds my year together!

Religious-mythological story
This year it’s been really helpful having regular contracts with the Victorian Council of Christian Education, illustrating resources written by my friend Beth Barnett. (I also did a little bit or writing for the season of Lent early in the year.) What I like is that VCCE are really in favour of critical reflection on the Bible, not just in academic institutions and not just for adults but for the whole church. Personally it’s also been helpful just having regular stuff to work on so that I can improve my skills and reinforce a regular practise of drawing – which makes it easier to pick up other religious-mythological work with groups like Scripture Union Victoria, Gembrook Retreat, Baptist Union of Victoria, Surrender and Melbourne Welsh Church.

Story through gaming
The discipline has also meant I’ve been able to start expanding into doing tabletop roleplaying illustration through Owlman Press (I’ll be playtesting our new game Phantasmagoria next week) and Encounter Roleplay (my new Dungeons & Dragons adventure King Dawutti’s Legacy is now available to our Patreon supporters). I find there’s often also cross-pollination between the two, because a story from the Abrahamic mythologies might provide a structure or a setting for an adventure, or the elements of a parable might provide an idea for a monster. In the new year I’m excited about some new gaming projects that I’m currently working on thanks to connections with the #DnD community on Twitter.

What interests me most is how our games often draw on stories that are already part of our society, but invite us to engage with the creatively. I think there are also opportunities to experiment in how we cooperate with others or engage in conflict at the table. It’s been great getting back into a regular rhythm of hosting games (and getting to occassionally play!) with a fairly diverse group of players.

While I’m talking about gaming, I also need to mention that I’ve appreciated being able to continue working with Evan at Rival Sky. I don’t play most of the games we sell (I do play Star Wars: Imperial Assault a little bit) but it’s really helpful having something to do that’s regular, dependable and practical. (You might be surprised how therapeutic the physicality of packing parcels can be!)

Story in the real, physical world
I think physicality is really important. I don’t think our engagement with story can stay in the realm of reflecting on Biblical mythology or participating in narrative through games. I think it has to have an impact on our actual world. With Labyrinth we’ve been inviting people to do this kind of critical reflection on stories in the city streets, as we have done in Melbourne for a long time. It’s been great being able to see this practise continuing in Melbourne as Urban Seed (where I learned this practise) has been gradually winding up, and seeing experiments happening in London, Dallas and Washington DC. Reflection on the stories needs to lead to response, and for some of us that has meant engaging with the government and wider community about the homelessness ban that was proposed by the Lord Mayor Robert Doyle.

What we do in our home is also being informed by reflecting on our story. Our household, the Indigenous Hospitality House (named in honor of the hospitality we’ve so often received from Aboriginal and other Indigenous peoples) is a response to the story of our colonial history and the to the question ‘What does it mean to live on stolen land?’ In recent years we’ve been trying different ways of inviting other people to reflect on and respond to that story and question, because we think it’s something our whole society needs to grapple with. Early in the year we released a book as a way of sharing some of our learnings and inviting others into reflection. Mehrin and I got to take some time out to participate in the Yingadi pilgirmage to Lake Mungo with Vicki Clark, a Mutthi Mutthi woman who helped set up IHH at the beginning. As we finished up this year we have a few people leaving our household, but the three of us who’ve been living there for a while feel encouraged to have others joining us – especially since a few years ago we weren’t sure where we’d find enough people to keep operating!

In 2018
I mentioned at the beginning of this post that this year I participated in a Period of Discernment with the Uniting Church. My sense throughout this period has been that what I need to be doing is spending time near the boundaries of the church and out in the wider world, where people are engaging with and responding to the stories of our world. (I think that fits within the scope of the Uniting Church’s understanding of what a deacon does.) I expect I’ll be continuing these practises and seeing where they lead.

Trugglet in Baptist Place

On Wednesday I was in the city, and saw this paste-up in Baptist Place, where I used to work:


Blythe asked me if it was mine, and I said it wasn’t. We tried to find out whose it was, and Blythe eventually worked out it was by Trugglet.

What do you think this artwork has to say?

To me, the flying house suggests the ‘Australian dream’ of owning your own home – something that now seems impossible for many people in our society. The crashed house gives me the impression that something has gone wrong, and the buildings need to figure out what to do.

‘The dead centre of town’

When I lived in Ferntree Gully with my parents, my dad made the same joke a number of times when we passed the cemetary. ‘It’s the dead centre of town!’ I can remember being in the car with one of my cousins when we passed a cemetery and he made the same joke. I wonder if he heard it from his dad?


This afternoon as I was walking home I passed the Melbourne General Cemetery, which is quite close to our house. Sometimes I walk through it, but this time I walked around the outside. I think it’s kind of sobering passing the resting place of the dead and considering the wieght of all the lives lived.

My understanding is that the earlier cemetery was in the location where the Queen Victoria Market now stands, and that there are a whole lot of people buried there, unmarked. I don’t think it’s good for a society to treat the dead in that way. I think it gives the living the impression that they too could be forgotten and walked overwithout a thought some day.

A Murrumbeena Local

As it’s a public holiday here today, I thought I’d take a break from writing something myself. Instead I suggest you have a look at my friend Ann’s new blog, A Murrumbeena Local. I was lucky to get to spend a little bit of time in the Murrumbeena community, which is currently being impacted by the construction of the skyrail. Ann’s looking at how to support the community and the local businesses through the construction process.

LOL / ART

A little while ago I noticed this signal box in our neighbourhood.


Quite a few of the signal boxes in our area are painted, but I noticed that as well as the portrait, this one has,

LOL

ART

written under the person’s eye. I don’t know if the letters are a later addition or whethere they’ve always been there. Maybe I just noticed them because of the empty beer bottles left on top?

Either way, it’s had me pondering what our neighbourhood thinks about public art.

Just a little further down the lane

On Fridays I’ve generally been posting something I’ve observed in my neighbourhood, or in a neighbourhood I’ve been visiting. Last week I posted some observations about a secluded spot in Carlton. But I didn’t mention these stencils that had been put up just a bit further down the lane:


I guess that’s another function that laneways and other hidden away spots play: they provide places where people can express themselves in secret.

A secretive square in Carlton

Today as I was walking through Carlton I walked down a laneway where I know there to be a hidden space. If you know Carlton well you might recognise it. A fairly non-descript laneway opens up into a carpark, which I think has a bit of a different feel to the rest of the neighbourhood. It almost feels like a kind of rustic public square, hidden away behind Lygon Street.

It’s in the middle of a dense, urban area, but one of the residents has covered the ground floor of their building with a print of an ivy-covered wall.


It seems like something you’d expect to find in the country. It’s as though the resident has sought to create a sense of privacy and solitude in the city.

One the other side of the space, some folks have dragged out some furniture and seem to have been gathering together in the space:


The ivy-covered fence and the circle of chairs seem to me like opposite ways of inhabiting a neighbourhood.

Do you prefer one more than the other?

Getting it wrong

IMG_1726

On Friday I wrote a post about a Wandjina painting I saw in Brunswick, and why it doesn’t belong there. My friend Jen asked whether there can be space to ask dumb questions and make mistakes as we seek to work as allies of other groups. It can be easy for us to just keep quiet and refrain from acting because we’re afraid of doing the wrong thing. My experience has been that more often than not folks do give us space to get things wrong and to make ignorant mistakes. As a Settler Person seeking to be an ally of First Peoples I’ve often gotten things wrong and I’ve generally been corrected and forgiven if I’ve been open to being corrected and if I’ve been open to deepening our relationship. I think many of us carry some culutural baggage that says that we can’t get things wrong, that our peoples always have to get things right. It’s a hangover from believing our race and culture were superior to others. I think that is something we need to loosen our grip on.

Wandjina in Brunswick?

IMG_1637

On Monday I saw a Wandjina painting. There has been a lot of controversy over Wandjina paintings. When I found one in Brunswick I had mixed feelings about it. It is good to have a reminder that we are on Aboriginal land, but Wandjinas aren’t local to this area. Wandjina are sacred to the Mowanjum people from the Kimberly. When Settler people have portrayed them in Perth and the Blue Mountains it has caused a lot of grief for the Mowanjum people. I hope that whoever has painted this one is encouraged to find out more about the Wandjina and about why it should be treated with reverence.


If you want to find out more about the backstory, I’d recommend watching Who Paintin’ Dis Wandjina?

The call to the wilderness(es)

Beginning in the Third Century CE, pilgrims began to wander from the city to the desert. They saw that the church was trying to align itself with the rulers of the Roman Empire more and more and so they wanted to separate themselves. Athanasius said so many people headed to the desert that the desert became a city.

My experience (and I think many of my friends share it) has been that we’ve been called back into the city, to the wilderness at the centre of empire. I think the imperial powers are still at work in the city and the church and they’ve often isolated and scattered us. A lot of people relocated to the city have found there a call back to the natural wilderness.

As we approach the season of Lent, do you find yourself called to the wilderness in anyway?