NYWF16 – Friday

Photo by Alana Potts

In the morning, I make tea and sit in the blustery little courtyard out the back and paint gold glitter onto my nails. Slowly everyone wakes up and trickles out and we discuss our plans for the day (few and largely flexible).
Eventually we head out into the sunshine. And it’s so sunny and I think about all the people who probably don’t even remember an NYWF when it has rained, let alone the great thunder clap of 2011. I like that so many people now see Newcastle as perpetually sunny. We go and look at the baths because I need quite desperately to look at them and to see the horizon, dotted with container ships. I tried to explain to someone recently how much living in the city makes me miss the horizon and they sort of frown/smiled at me and maybe it just seemed like I was being poetic. But I do miss the horizon, sometimes so much I want to cry. Let alone the way I miss Newcastle’s particular horizon, lousy with large boats.

We have breakfast at Ground Floor. Or rather we sit at Ground Floor and try very hard not to ingest too much tree pollen, all diving to cover our food every time there is a gust of wind. The spikey pollen gets in our hair and our clothes and our eyelashes and eventually I leave the others to go back to the house and take a fistful of antihistamine.
On the way back, I stop to hug Katie and visit the Press Room and say hello to Ernest, festival pup. I meet back up with people at the New Media panel which is very good and very interesting and we all lean in to hear the jokes over the gurgling of the coffee machine.
Wandering back from the panel, we decide on impulse to go and see some art. Specifically, the Critical Animals exhibition in the Lock Up. We gravitate toward one of the cells, which contains a video work by Kate Mitchell called “Hypnotised Into Being”. The screen flashes an art related phrase like “critic” or “nude walking down a staircase” or “cubist portrait of a woman”. For each phrase, Mitchell performs a series of movements to represent that thing. We like this art. We are talking about how we like the art when someone points out that it would be better set to music. And so Casey opens the music app on his phone.

Photo via Kate Mitchell

We are in there for over an hour, watching the 17-minute work three and a half times through. We set every single section to at least three different pieces of music. As people come into the room, we have to explain that the music isn’t actually part of the art although at this point maybe we ourselves are part of the art, it’s getting difficult to tell. One very old woman decides the art (with our music) is “very nice” and stays watching for so long that her daughter has to come and drag her out. By the end, we know several of the sections by heart including “crystal vase”, “mistake”, “a work of staggering cultural significance” and “felt tip pen”. If I see you IRL, please feel free to demand I perform any one of these for your amusement.
We finally pull ourselves away (before we forget where the artwork ends and we begin) and walk dizzy and giggly, into the sunshine. We decide to go to the Crack home, continuing the cross disciplinary afternoon. The building is full of rooms and opportunities to be pulled by a performer into intimate darkness. I see a one-on-one performance called “Hands”. I am blindfolded and led into a room and asked to slide down a wall until I am sitting cross legged on the floor. Then, for ten minutes, a stranger touches my hands. It is scary at first, as unexpected intimacy often is. But we also make each other laugh, which is a remarkable thing to do mutely and blindly with a stranger.
I have rarely had the time to see works from Crack or Critical Animals except by accident. Spending the afternoon doing it leisurely makes me decide that every year I will make time for this. Swimming and art. Those are my long-term TiNA goals.

Photo by Beth
For lunch we have dumplings from a stall in the mall. I finally run into Georgia and collect an envelope for the festival game. In a moment of quiet, Fin and Beth and I sit in an alley under a mural of a whale and we reflect on a time when we got lost. 
We go back to the house and collect the others and then we make our way to the museum. It is very, very windy and Jakekeeps demanding to know if we are there yet which (spoilers) we are not. On the way I point out the roadside tree where I vomited florescent orange bile on my very last day at the terrible job I had while living in Newcastle. It’s strange how many places in this city hold memories of catharsis for me.
I didn’t visit the museum at all when I lived here, despite always meaning to. The first time I came was more than a year after leaving, with Beth (who had quickly fallen in love with the place). We stop on the way to take photos in front of the excellent photo wall outside and then we tumble inside and out of the wind. The museum is dark and cool, with ceilings so high you almost don’t notice them at all. The Science Party gives us permission to play with the kid’s science exhibits which usually we do furtively and with a little bit of guilt. We wanted to come to this event largely to gaze at the museum’s giant globe, which hovers over everything, spinning slowly.

We decide to have dinner early because eating regular meals is another one of my lont-term NYWF goals. We walk back to the other end of town toward Sticky Rice. It was only recently that I realised Newcastle is very good at Thai food, after it occurred to me how rarely I eat Thai in Melbourne. At Sticky Rice I ask for a table for ten and the woman widens her eyes a bit and asks me to wait. They rearrange the furniture to fit us all in and as they’re doing so I realise that there’s probably more then ten of us but I don’t want to alarm them further. We squish in, adding extra tables as more people arrive, until our group takes up most of the restaurant. Accidentally having dinner with 10+ people is another one of those experiences that only happens to me at NYWF.
Sitting at that long table, I think about how for so many people the friends from different parts of their life never collide. But here at Sticky Rice are friends I have met on the internet, and through NYWF and IRL. There’s Britt who I met on Tumblr because we both liked Press Gang. And Rachel who I met when we both got hired to run NYWF. And beccamarsh who I met when we were in year 7 and had all the same classes. I love that this festival allows all these people get to know and like each other too.

Photo by Alana Potts
We head to the Royal Exchange and crush onto beanbags at the front. Speech Night is as ridiculous as it is earnest. As someone who hates audience questions in basically all contexts, it is kind of lovely to see an event where audience questions are what makes it great. Listening to Jack Vening very earnestly take serious, critical questions about the High School Musical trilogy is a festival highlight.
One of the (many) things I love about NYWF is the total disregard for any kind of high brow/low brow division. It is maybe unique among writers’ festivals for it’s commitment to asking very talented and clever people to talk about really very stupid things. Because really very stupid things are important too.
Then there’s the times when NYWF asks very clever and talented people to discuss very important things in really very stupid ways. Like Adolfo moderating a debate about education vs experience, while tipsy and dressed as a judge for some reason.
We decide to skip Late Night Readings because we have been sitting on the ground for too long and our legs are starting to ache. I am torn but also the novelty of being able to skip an event to go and drink wine hasn’t rubbed off yet and I feel very free. We go back to ours and open some very cheap red wine and before I know it everyone is shouting about Finding Nemo and it’s 1am. I fall into bed, tingly with sunshine and wine and friends.

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Further reading

December – home

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