A Matter of Character

Image: Maura Pierlot – Hobart, Tasmania

Lately, people have been asking me where I get my characters from. I chuckle to myself when greeted with this question; semantics aside, the word ‘get’ conjures images of me plucking characters from the shelves when out doing errands, perhaps wedging the unruly ones in my hand basket while admonishing them under the pretence of a phone call.

Given that the Fragments web series is about to be released, along with the second edition of the book, I assume they’re referring to the eight young characters that drive that narrative. And the simple answer to their question is: I have no idea. 

What I do know: Characters hang out in my unconscious where, I suspect, they’re prone to throwing house parties – you know, the kind posted on socials where every idle soul in town turns up uninvited. They’re happily ensconced there, some set in their ways, others the masters of disguise, transforming with each interaction. They’re hard workers, too, ducking and weaving day and night through the messy intersection of thoughts, ideas, ruminations, hopes, dreams, fears and regrets that I call my mind – a curious blend of wonder and horror (think Times Square on an acid trip).

Occasionally, some of the characters take the light rail to my consciousness, the more subdued version of myself that I present to society each day. They have the annoying habit of turning up unannounced, often empty-handed and at the worst possible time, usually when I’m in the shower or about to go to bed. I always get a burst of energy when they’re around and we natter for a bit, silently, of course, so as not to disturb. On extended visits, they’ll accompany me on the day-to-day interactions that fill my life, at times offering a commentary of sorts – often snarky, sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, occasionally disturbing. Although they’re prone to overstaying their welcome, I always miss them when they’re gone. Make that ‘usually’.

The characters who are dynamic and compelling, though not necessarily the most entertaining or welcome, stick around the longest. Those are the ones that I need to find a ‘home’ for … otherwise, they’ll never leave me the hell alone. The ungrateful ones whinge about the setting I’ve placed them in or the characters I’ve placed them alongside – It’s so boringThere’s nothing to do hereIt’s too crowded, So and so is a bossy a’hole. Their motives are usually pure though I do recall that after catering to the commentary of one character I shall not name, and going out of the way at considerable personal cost to help them accomplish their goals, they revealed their true colours and proved to be highly unreliable.

So yeah, that’s where I ‘get’ my characters from. Sort of.

When I’m not hanging out with my imaginary friends, I’ve often dabbling in other pursuits. Lately, it’s been art: doodling, sketching, painting, drawing. I haven’t ‘done art’ in years but feel a compulsion of sorts to pick up a pen/charcoal/pencil/brush. With an overactive mind, the question is: Will I allow myself to enjoy this diversion without judging the artistic outcome? I’m genetically programmed to produce outcomes … and to fix other people’s outcomes on request. So it’s perhaps not surprising that I’m midway through a course to become a qualified art therapist. (I know, what the?) It’s too early to tell whether this is a desperate bid for self-diagnosis ;-), a useful procrastination tool, a dithering of sorts or something I will incorporate into my arts practice and life. I suspect the latter. The science is already in: The arts can improve wellbeing on so many levels. What I’m really enjoying is that the course exercises (both written and arts-based) tap into a different side of my brain and have already paid dividends in work and personal dealings. Though cash would be nice too. 😅

Other than that, I’ve been based in Hobart for the past month, courtesy of a Salamanca Arts Centre arts residency. I was selected based on my current project, a memoir work that touches on the complex space where memory, identity, self and belonging collide. It’s been all-too-easy to trawl my unconscious for this one, hence the arts-based distractions while soaking up the sights and sounds of Hobart and environs. (I’ve been taking my role as a tourist very seriously!)

Back on the ‘mainland,’ six of the eight episodes of the Fragments web series have been selected for the Canberra Short Film Festival (4-20 November), including ‘Roller Coaster’ for the gala opening night screening. The web series has been a collaborative achievement of epic proportions, sidelined on several occasions by the pandemic. But we pushed through and I couldn’t be happier with the result. I can’t wait to bring this work to Canberra and beyond – and celebrating! – soon.

That’s all for now. Someone’s knocking at the door. Uh oh, those damn characters are back!