Behind the curtain

Photo by Sarah-Jane Edis.

In which Alex writes nonsensical, rambling daily blogs about The National Young Writers Festival 2014, several weeks after it happened.

Wake up far too early. Months ago when I organised sponsorship from the Newcastle Farmers Market they asked what time I would like to pick the stuff up. And months ago it seemed like a good idea to say 9:00-ish. This was not a good idea. Poor Dani has to come with me because when I agreed to 9:00-ish I forgot that I can not legally drive at 9:00am after a night drinking vodka and raspberry. Past me is an idiot.
Head to meet Dani in the car park. Am half an hour early because in my exhausted delirium I couldn’t remember what time we were meeting.
Dani arrives. We groan at each other.
Arrive at markets. Drive around the back. Lovely woman from the markets arrives and hands bags and bags of amazing food across a large concrete barricade to us.
The exhaustion briefly abates in light of the excitement about the amazing food we now have in the boot of the car.
Return to Staple Manor. Lug enormous amounts of food up the stairs for the second time in 24 hours.
Lay all food out on a table. Survey food.
Walk through the middle of breakfast book club a dozen time. Mumble apologies as I tread over people.
Decide to see if artisan coffee man who is set up in the stairway has tea.
He does not. He convinces me to buy coffee instead. I don’t drink coffee.
Order a large biscuit.
Sit in stairwell with boyfriend and drink large glass of very fancy coffee. Not sure if it’s just the exhaustion but it tastes pretty ok.
Eat biscuit and call it breakfast.
Advantage of being in stairwell is that people have to walk past me when they arrive. See Lauren arrive. Scull rest of coffee and go to help set up for First Five.
Once would-be comedians are set-up, I return to organising food.
Ring brother. Ask him to bring an egg when he comes into town.
Mustard Chefs come past one by one to survey the food. Are all awestruck and excited by food. Is good food.
Realise that we have neither plates nor knives. Bridget agrees to source knives from where they’re staying. I text people to bring more knives from where we’re staying too.
Thrust ten dollars at someone (quite possibly a vollie, have I mentioned the vollies were amazing?) and tell them to go find plates. Any plates. Something that resembles plates.
Am extremely impressed by the way Lauren handles the workshop. Everyone seems happy and comfortable and that’s an awfully impressive atmosphere to achieve.
Set-up room for Mustard Chef. Still do not have enough knives or plates.
Brother arrives. He does not have an egg. Send him to get an egg.
Brother returns with single egg begged/borrowed from the cafe across the road.
Mustard Chef begins. I immediately make myself a sandwich.
Sit on beanbag eating sandwich and congratulate myself for programming an event where I get to eat free sandwiches.
Mustard Chef is fabulous. Kylie, Bridget and Kara do a great job of making sandwiches while chatting engagingly. It’s everything I imagined it would be.
Audience eat sandwiches. Ask great questions. Are fabulous.
Marvel that I run a festival where I am allowed to program events like this. Am very thankful.
(Note: unbeknownst to us, the Newcastle Herald came to this event and took this photo which was in the paper the following day. It is pretty much the best thing ever. I was grateful all over again because I get to run a festival where dogs and sandwiches are used to portray us in the media.)
Mustard Chef ends. Immediately realise I do not have a pack up plan.
Realise that there are TWO events in Staple Manor now. Did not really plan for two events. Don’t know where to put the leftover food. Panic.
Ring Lex to panic down the phone at her. She is very calm and helpful.
Set everything up for Comics with Friends and Strangers. Pile food onto one table to do this.
Ask fabulous (wonderful, lifesaving) vollie if she could maybe, possibly… move half a dozen extremely heavy garbage bags full of bread.
(Note: I’m afraid that, once again, I can’t remember this volunteer’s name. If you’re reading this – I love you as well.)
Vollie moves sack of bread. I set up a bunch of beanbags so that the editors can be in their own little nook and the comic people can have their space. Feel good about this.
Head into the kitchen to sit with Ben, Lawrence and Dave and go over Word Nerd plans.
Learn that they managed to spill water all over Dave’s laptop which contained the entire Word Nerd PowerPoint. The laptop fried. They had to reconstruct the PowerPoint almost from scratch on Lawrence’s laptop. Am extremely glad that I only heard this story after it was sorted.
Make the final Word Nerd banner. Go over the plan for the event. Make sure all the props are in a bag.
Realise we have no tape. Ask Lawrence to buy tape.
Realise that I need to be at the Royal Exchange in a very short amount of time during which I also need to pick up the car. Realise there is no way this is going to happen.
Ruth agrees to head to the Royal Exchange ahead of me. Want to hug her but don’t have time.
Dash back to the apartment. Throw some things in a bag. Drive the car to the Royal Exchange.
Fail to find a park.

Find a park. Run down the hill.
Settle in for Confession Booth and attempt to relax and listen and enjoy myself. 
Almost manage it.
Take off my shoes and realise that my feet are freakishly swollen and awful looking. Despair slightly about this.
Leave shoes off for the remainder of the event, even though my feet probably reek.
Confession Booth mercifully finishes early which is extremely lucky because (even though I could easily have listened to several more stories) I have to get Gen and AH to the Cambridge (hence the car) and for a while I was worried that this was actually an impossible feat.
Arrive at Cambridge. Quickly detect a minor crisis.
Fix crisis.
Set-up for Word Nerd. Get tape off Lawrence.
Am standing on high balcony railing, on my tiptoes to tape a banner to the ceiling. Attempt not to look down because it is slightly further than I would like to fall. Briefly wonder why on earth I agreed to the insanity which is Word Nerd.
Am reprimanded by tech for using their gaffer tape to attach banners to the ceiling. Realise that Lawrence did not have time to buy tape and that this tape is not ours. Apologise for using tape.
Explain to Ewa that I need five people to stand at the doorway handing out coloured dots. Attempt to also explain why this is necessary.
Judges arrive. They are fabulous.
Jane helps me drape myself in Scrabble fabric, creating a make-shift dress held together with bobby pins and hairspray.
Everything is set up with minutes to spare.
Climb on stage. Take off shoes. Watch the madness unfold.
Score frantically. Basically do nothing but keep score for two hours. Maths is really hard, especially when you are doing maths based on ridiculous games with convoluted scoring systems.
The best part of sitting on stage is that from this vantage point I have a fabulous view of the judges and their facial expressions.
Poor Lawrence is losing his voice pretty drastically. He later tells me he almost fainted. Pretty glad he didn’t actually faint.
It isn’t until the whole hectic, crazy thing is over that I can actually appreciate the fact that it went really well. Word Nerd was a huge risk – it was a crazy, ridiculous thing that really could have gone either way. Glad it went the good way.
People invite me to come eat dinner. Decide that eating dinner is probably what I need right now.
Walk to the Edwards to get food.
Edwards is no longer serving food. Walk back to the Cambridge so we can go to somewhere that does have food.
Get in car. Do not look in rear-view mirror. Immediately reverse into another car. Loud crunch.
Get out of car to face the owner of the other car. He says “Oh! You’re from the festival!” Internally cringe and curl into metaphorical ball of shame.
Car isn’t damaged and man is very nice. Exchange details and apologise a lot.
Get back into car to drive to food. Shock of minor accident catches up with me and I become a bit shaky.
Find a place with food. Order pasta. Eat pasta. Still feel shaky and nervous and weird.
Have nice conversations with people anyway. People are nice.
Over the next hour or so there are several phone calls and a dozen texts from team NYWF asking me to get food and bring it back.
Spend far too much money on pides for peeps.
While waiting for pides Lawrence is recognised by several teenage girls. Feel like I should be doing a better job of famous person wrangling?
Drive back to the Royal Exchange via several detours – to drop off a suit and a ballgown (from Word Nerd) and then an emergency trip to save someone who was yelled at by a taxi driver.
At a set of traffic lights Dave looks over at the car beside us and says “Hey look at that cute dog!” Cute dog in question in Ernest the festival dog. Beep the horn at Ernest. Later discover that Ernest did not approve of our beeping and growled a lot.
Arrive at the Royal Exchange with people and pides.

So at this point a thing happened. By this stage, as you may have gathered, I was not in a great place. This kind of reached a head when I arrived at the Royal Exchange. I may have, as a result, spent some time falling apart. I’ve debated whether or not to include this part. You’re seeing behind the curtain (literally in this case since there was only a curtain separating me and my breakdown from a room full of people). Maybe there’s something to be said for keeping that curtain drawn. But at the same time I don’t really know how to write around this moment. It doesn’t feel right to leave it out. And I also think there’s something to be said for sharing these things. It’s important to acknowledge that there are times when it is so, so, so hard that you have a breakdown. People have breakdowns. It shouldn’t be a secret because if it’s a secret how can we support each other? How do we create an industry where breakdowns aren’t an unspoken occupational risk? So am I going to leave this part in, even if it makes me very nervous and a bit uncomfortable.

So here is, very vaguely, what happened – there was (is) some stuff going on in my life. Maybe I’ll write about the stuff down the track, maybe I won’t. I’m not sure yet. I didn’t really tell anyone at the festival what was going on because that would be dealing with it. I wasn’t dealing with it. I’d pushed all that stuff behind the curtain because I needed to run a festival first. When the festival was over, then I would deal with the things. And then suddenly it was Sunday night and the festival was about to be over. And it all came crashing down. And I was exhausted and overwhelmed and unable to deal with anything, let alone this big, scary thing. So I had a small breakdown. Behind the curtain. Metres away from where everyone was sitting.

And you would probably never have known if I didn’t write about it in a blog.

Beth comes behind the curtain and hugs me and is very good at being supportive. Sophie come and helps.
Pull myself together, barely, somehow.
Jimmy looks at me and says “Do you want a beer?” and I don’t even drink beer but in that moment I want one more than anything else.
Stand up in front of a room packed with people and introduce the final festival event like someone who is totally in possession of herself.
Watch the readings. Take very little in but enjoy the snatches that filter into my brain.
Stand-up and thank all the amazing people who made this festival great. I forget people because there are so many and I am so tired.
We stand there in front of this room full of people and even though part of me is still having a breakdown, in that moment I am happy and I am so, so proud of these people and what we’ve created.
That’s it. It’s over. We did it.
The room clears.
Luke Ryan asks if he can eat a pide. I tell him to go ahead. He sits down by himself and quietly devours at least one (quite possibly several) pides. This makes the amount I spent on pides worth it.
Mingle in the dark outside the Royal Exchange. Tell everyone to come to the baths. Say goodbye to the people that (quite rightly) want to sleep instead.
Go back to the apartment, get a jumper. Shove $20 into the pocket of my jeans just in case? (Find this $20 a month later. Am very pleased.)
It is dark and cold and very windy.
Arrive at baths. Ben McKenzie is swimming. Ben McKenzie has just done three consecutive events without showing any signs of exhaustion and now he is swimming in baths so choppy and cold that they appear to be full of sea monsters. Am very impressed.
Open a bottle of champagne. NYWF staff toast each other and drink champagne out of paper coffee cups.
Talk to people. Huddle together against the wind and the spray from the ocean.
People trickle off fairly quickly because, look, it is freezing.
Talk to Dan Hogan. The last time I saw Dan Hogan we got lost in Melbourne with a Finnish backpacker. That was four years ago? It is nice to see him.
Paddle barefoot in the cold rock pools and hope desperately that my feet will eventually go back to their regular size.
Soon the only people left are NYWF people. It is nice to be together in the dark and the cold.
It is a nice way to end.

Thanks to Team NYWF for being the best kind of people:
Lex. Jess. Sophie. Ruth. Rachel. Dani. Sian. Ewa. Geoff. Bill.

Also a huge thanks to all our volunteers. I am sorry I am so bad at names. Please come back again next year and I’ll do better.

Check out Lizzy’s wrap-up of Sunday and Fin’s great daily comic.
Also check out Ash’s amazing video of the whole festival.
Read all my festival blogs: Tuesday, WednesdayThursdayFridaySaturday and Sunday.

Further reading

December – home

I spent the first minutes of 2018 on the beach. I’ve never actually spent New Year