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.

How do you make the city safe?

Today I thought I’d repost something that I wrote about number of years ago.

img_1875

One Sunday night we were in the city waiting for our tram back home and we heard this guy yelling at everyone. He was obviously very angry. He was trying to pick a fight, walking past each person at the tram stop, calling people white trash, saying he was going to kill people. Everyone was trying to pretend he wasn’t there. I decided to try and make eye contact with him. I was wondering if it would make any difference if someone acknowledged his presence and his anger. He kept knocking me with his shoulder as he walked past, and eventually he turned and faced me. He said he wanted to kill us, like we’d killed his people. I said that my people had done him wrong, and that I was sorry for how we treat his people. He said it wasn’t me who did it. He proceeded to tell about how is people had been killed, about is time in prison, about how he’s treated by the police. He was obviously very upset, but he wasn’t yelling or threatening anyone anymore. I asked him if he had anywhere to go. He said the only place he had to go was back to gaol.

There’s been a lot of talk in Melbourne in recent years about how unsafe our streets supposedly are. There have been calls for more police, for greater police powers. There have been contests between politicians to see who can claim to be be the toughest on crime. I wonder how many unsafe situations in our neighbourhoods could be diffused if we treated our neighbours as human beings, instead of ignoring them and hoping they’ll disappear or get arrested?

I don’t know what happened to the bloke I met later. Maybe he went back to gaol? It’s pretty terrible when one of our neighbours would rather be locked up than be out in the community. I don’t know what the answer is. But I want to keep struggling with it.

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?

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?

Six ways that I’ve received generosity from streeties

The homeless community in Melbourne has gotten a fair bit of negative press lately. Contrary to many of the stories we’ve been hearing in the media, I’ve often received generosity from people who I know who are homeless or have been homeless. I wouldn’t say that it’s a rule, but it’s definitley a strong theme.

1. At one stage when I was living in Ballarat there was a bloke in our street who started chatting to me when we saw each other in the street. He was from out of town but when he was in Ballarat he was squatting in one of the old houses in our street. He took me to come and see where he was squatting.

2. When I first started volunteering at the meals in the city I was taught to cook by a bloke who had been homeless and now lived in a boarding house. He showed us what to do in the kitchen and served everyone. He also invited us to come and have meals at his house and basically looked out for us.

3. Another boardinghouse resident who I met when is started hanging out in the city took me to visit the Hare Krishna temple and paid for my trip back to Ballarat. (I didn’t have work at the time and didn’t know how I was getting back.)

4. There were a lot of different streeties who would look out for us as we chatted with people at the food vans or when we went out to distribute blankets and hot drinks around the city.

5. We recently met a couple of blokes who have been sleeping rough in our neighbourhood, out of the city a bit. They find that they’re often given things they can’t use, so they’ve sometimes passed those things on to us to redistribute.

6. A couple of years ago we had some renovations planned at our unit. The plan was that we’d be out of the unit for a maximum of three weeks, but it actually ended up being five weeks. One of our neighbours (who we first met when he was sleeping rough and hanging out a lot in the city) offered that we could stay with him in his flat.

image

How do major roads impact your neighbourhood?

My old phone, which had been going for about three years was on its last legs, so I was planning replace it. It was getting to the stage where it would sometimes only last for a couple of hours before it would go flat. I was going to try and see if I could get a Fairphone 2 via a collaborator in the UK, but after Christmas their turnaround on orders really slowed down, so I thought I’d just keep an eye on the Fairphone project for the future.

Anyway, I looked into what other options were more ethical, and found something I wanted to buy. Turned out there were only two places in Melbourne that had the deal I wanted, both out of the city a bit. So I looked up the closest location on my phone and headed out.

Just after the train arrived my phone died, so I’d seen a map of where I needed to go, but when I left the train station there weren’t really any helpful streetsigns. There was a highway passing over the railwayline, and a small street going underneath. I walked along the highway in one direction for a little bit to see if I could see any signs of the shopping centre I was looking for. Walked for about then minutes without being able to see much. Walked back towards the station and then walked along the highway in the other direction for a bit. Wondered about crossing over to the other side of the highway and whether I might be able to work out where to go from there, but there wasn’t really anywhere safe to cross. I ended up walking back to the bridge and going under the bridge to the other side of the highway. I walked towards a hardware store, and once I got to the hardware store I was able to see a big sign further down the highway, advertising a whole lot of stores, including the one I wanted. So I walked along the highway towards where the sign was. I took two rotations of light changes to safely cross the highway. Once I got to spot where the sign was I found myself in an area full of government department offices with a road running through the middle. In the distance I could see a sprawling carpark and some shops. I dodged traffic to cross the road. Saw another person almost get hit by a car as she crossed further down. Walked for about five minutes across car parks to get to the shopping centre.

image

This experience showed me a bit about how dependent I am on a phone to find my way in an unfamiliar neighbourhood. But it also made me wonder whether it was intended as a neighbourhood? It seemed like little thought had been put into making the area navigable for local people on foot. What was being prioritised was getting people through the area (via the highway and railway line) and getting people to the government service offices and warehouse shops.

Even in our own neighbourhood, which I think is pretty easy to get around, it is noticeable  how much busy roads break up the area and make some places harder to get to. Last week we went to visit our neighbours, who live in the same street as us. However, there’s a highway that separates our houses. When it’s not busy it’s easy to cross safely, but when we visited last week it was very busy, so we had to walk a couple of blocks down to cross at the lights.

What role do major roads play in your neighbourhood? What kind of relationship do you have with them?

Pondering public poetry

I’ve noticed some of Mandy Beaumont’s poetry stuck up in different places around the neighbourhood before. On Sunday I noticed this on one of the poles outside Carlton Church of All Nations:

image

When I saw it I wondered about what it might mean.

My first response was that it sounded a bit like she was talking about workplace sexual harassment?
Why second response was to wonder if she was talking about marketing one’s self as a product.
The third thing I wondered was whether she was talking about arousing curiosity in others.

What do you think this poem could be getting at?