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.

Paying attention to sunrise and sunset

A week ago Mehrin and I got back from an immersion trip to Lake Mungo, which was offered through the Christian Brothers, an order of the Catholic Church. Muthi Muthi woman Vicki Clark (who was part of the working group that set up our household in 2001) invites groups to come on this trip throughout the year, and you can find information about it here.

One of the things I really appreciated about the trip was the opportunity to pay more attention to sunrise and sunset as bookends to the day. On one of our days at Lake Mungo, Vicki took us out to look out over the lake as the sun gradually rose and also as it set one day. But we also saw a lot of the sunrise and sunset on other days too, because in the desert there’s not a lot to block out the view.

It’s often easy not to notice the sunrise and sunset back in the city, but I’ve been trying to pay more attention to the sunrise and sunset since we got home. I’ve been going up the street to watch it go down, and making more of a habit of stopping work after sunset. (This is important because a lot of the time I can end up working from early in the morning until 9pm or later.) I’ve gotten up just before sunrise a couple of times, but haven’t remembered to go and watch it coming up.

Headaches and limitations

I should know this! I’ve spent enough time recovering from overwork, including a month in hospital a few years ago. Old habits die hard. I’ve had a headache for over a month, which is because a month ago I had one week that was way too busy. Well, actually, the headache it is getting better. It isn’t all day now, but for the first four weeks it was constant. I haven’t been posting here as regularly as I’d like but I’m expecting that’s probably how it’ll need to be at least this month!

50 invoices

In March 2015 I started working as a freelancer. Today I sent off my 50th invoice. I felt like it was important to mark the occassion. At the beginning of 2015 when I started winding back my regular work I felt pretty nervous. Resigning entirely at the end of that year was fairly risky. While it is often much less certain, I really like knowing that I’m doing the work that I should be and knowing that I can find my own work. Thankyou to everyone I’ve been able to work with during that time!

Four sentence emails

I’ve had trouble with email.

Emails take me too long to read. Often emails take me even longer to write.

I end up putting off reading emails, but I end up putting off responding to emails even more because I feel like there’s a lot I need to say.

I’ve been finding four sentence emails (which Andreana introduced me to) really helpul. The idea is that you commit to a four sentence limit on emails you send, as a response to the problem of ‘continuous inbox overflow’. While I can’t control the length of the emails I receive from others, I have found that sticking to the four sentence limits means my emails are a lot quicker and easier to write. It should also mean that it’s easier for folks to read and get back to me quickly.

When Andreana brought this idea up with a group we were involved in, someone asked what you do if you need to talk about something that will take more than four sentences. I think Andreana said that if you have something bigger to talk about it, you probably need to talk about it face to face. I think that’s a good idea. I can think of a lot of blow-ups that have happened because someone communicated something big over email, which could have been better communicated face-to-face.

How do you find managing e

Work before industrialisation

The last two weeks I’ve written a bit about growing a sense of community at work. On Thursday I mentioned that working locally, from home, alongside neighbours and family, is the way that people worked before industrialisation. My friend Dylan said he was interested in reflecting more on what work and family were like before industrialisation. I thought I’d write a brief summary of my limited understanding of this topic:


Before industrialisation, most work was farming for food production. In pre-industrial Britain, nobles had responsibility for areas of land. They would get local people to live on and work the land. No-one had a lot of incentive to improve the land. The nobility couldn’t sell up and workers couldn’t go looking for better places to work. Most production was for consumption within the extended household of the manor where it was made. It was often too risky to try and take goods to cities to trade, because of the cost of transportation, tolls that needed to be paid and prevalence of banditry. Local exchange was controlled by relationships of obligation.

One of the factors that began a move away from this system was a movement toward private ownership of land. In England, the nobility began to push for the ability to enclose the land they were responsible for – to claim ownership, and the right to sell it. Previously a lot of the land had been held in common, so all the local people could use it. Private ownership gave the nobility the incentive to develop the land and sell up. This meant that many tenant farmers were no longer needed and became displaced. I think this meant more than just geographical movement – it meant a severing of the relationships of obligatory exchange that bonded feudal communities together. Many displaced workers ended up in big cities, providing the labor that allowed industrial work to begin.

Hopefully think it’s obvious that I’m not arguing for a return to pre-industrial economics, but I wonder if there is anything we can learn from pre-industrial society?

6 ways to grow community at work

Last Thursday I wrote very briefly about growing a sense of community at work, and I asked what you think is the best way to do it. I thought I’d post your suggestions today:

  1. Steph suggested we should make sure we notice people and mention things we appreciate about them. In workplaces it can be easy for people to go unnoticed. If we consistently notice people, we’ll create community over time.
  2. Dylan was saying he’s just started a new job, and he’s just been looking out for opportunities for informal, spontaneous coversation.
  3. Steve suggested letting community just happen organically. He said he’d seen bosses try to enforce community from above, and it never works. He was telling us about an attempt one boss made to get everyone to cheer at the end of meetings, which sounded kind of awkward…
  4. Lucas kept it simple: ‘Humans being nice to other humans!’
  5. Jacqui’s suggestion was simple as well, but I think there’s also a lot of depth to it. She suggested sharing food, which is actually something I was talking with some students about yesterday. I think sharing food is really good for developing a sense of community and mutuality, because it’s a reminder of our shared dependence on food and on the land that provides it.
  6. Shae was saying he has no idea how to develop community at work because he’s lucky to work with someone who is already one of his best friends. They’re both already part of the same community in a lot of ways. What he was describing reminded me of the fact that before industrialisation, that’s more what work was like. People would work locally, often out of their homes alongside family. Because of industrialisation many of us now travel out of neighbourhoods to work with people that we don’t see except at work. I think this means we have to be more intentional about growing community. If we have the opportunity to work in our local communities, it can male it more straightforward.

If you have any more suggestions, please feel free to keep adding them!

How do you grow community at work?

We had some visitors today, folks who support the work our household does. One of the first things they asked was, ‘What do Aboriginal people mean by “mob”?’

We said ‘mob’ is your family. Not just a nuclear sense of family, but an extended sense of family/ You might talk about your whole community as your mob.

At my old workplace, we spoke of ourselves as a mob. It wasn’t just a workplace, it was a community. We couldn’t do community development without a community to invite people into.

Our visitors today were talking about their workplace in a similar way, as a community where people look out for each other.

What do you think is the best thing you can do to grow community in a workplace?

The work/recreation of a society

Last Monday was Labour Day and we were having a discussion in our extended household about work and rest.

One of the questions that came up in our discussion was, ‘What is the work of our society? Is there something we’re working towards as a society?’

My first reflection was that at a national level we don’t seem to have anyone leading us anywhere at the moment and that there doesn’t seem to be much of an idea about anything we’re working towards.

I think the clearest work that I can see we have to do is the work of reconciliation, which we’ve often preferred to refer to as healing. we’ve been particulalry focussed on the healing between First Peoples and Settler peoples, but there is a lot of grief between different groups in this country. Uncle Dennis reminded us that in this work Settler Peoples have got to be aware of some of the cultural baggage that can be attached to work. Our cultural values might be telling us that it’s important to get the work of healing done quickly and efficiently, but in order to even start to understand the damage that has been done we might need to slow down and spend time listening and sitting together and sharing cups of tea. It might not seem very productive, it might seem slow, but I guess it’s part of the work of re-creation.

Common work and Labour Day

Today is Labour Day, when we celebrate the achievements for workers rights. In March 1856 stonemasons downed tools and walked off the job in Melbourne. They refused to return until their bosses had agreed to better working conditions, including an eight hour standard work day (some workers were having to work up to 14 hours per day), sick pay and holiday pay.

This evening our household is taking time to reflect on work and rest.

I’ve been reminded that working together creates rapport. It bonds us as a community. I don’t think you can make community out of a bunch of people wanting to be community – you need to have some common work. In my old workplace we’d try to regularly do common work together after meetings. Often it would involve fixing things, painting walls or cleaning areas that were hard to get to. It may not have always been super effective or efficient, but it bonded us as a community when we practised it.

On Friday our household did similar at our. Our property manager ken came over and we spent the day repainting window frames. Other times in the last year we’ve done more general working bees. When we’ve cast the net wide for people who wanted to help we’ve gotten a lot done together and we’ve had something to celberate together when it gets to lunch time. Its very satisfying being able to sit back and see what we’ve gotten done.