Despite the fact that the sign at the Qantas check-in counter at Melbourne Airport proclaimed that knives, scissors and sharp instruments could not be carried in cabin baggage, I passed through the metal detector and x-ray scanner with a Swiss Army Knife in my bag. As I walked towards the departure gate, I felt like a notorious criminal gangsta.

Just over two hours later I was in Newcastle and I was feeling pretty good.

“…so I was doing this stupid writing workshop in Germany and I was surrounded by all these teenage boys and I thought, ‘my boyfriend is not here. I can do what I like!”
“You bad girl!”
“Ha, and I can’t believe I’m spilling my guts to you guys. I mean, I just met you yesterday.”
“This is Newcastle. You can say anything.”

This is what I knew about Newcastle: Silverchair and BHP. Oh yeah, and it is the home of the National Young Writers Festival, which is part of the This Is Not Art festival and my reason for being in town.

The only evidence of Silverchair was a record shop that had the neon sign from the “Neon Ballroom” album cover on display in its front window. BHP had left town a couple of years ago and taken their factory with them. The Writer’s Festival was all that remained. Just as well.

“She was like a hurricane that came in and ripped up my wheat fields, and turned my barn upside down.”
“Hey, nice metaphor, man.”

To give you an idea of what the NYWF is like, compare this event description from the Melbourne Writers’ Festival:

“Harry Potter Celebrity Reading: Come and hear celebrities read from their favourite Harry Potter books.”

And this event from the NYWF:

“Our Writing and Our Mental Elf: Noises in our heads speak through the end of our pens.”

That is to say, the people at NYWF were not the kind of people who write stuff about the year they spent in Tuscany.

“Hey, I really liked what you were saying in that panel today.”
“Thanks, yeah, I thought it went really well.”
“Hey, have you got any pot?”
“Uh, no. But, um, if you get any, let me know.”

During the day I attended discussion panels, workshops, and I even made a zine in two hours. Most nights there was at least one spoken word performance event. Some people read bad poetry for way too long, others were superb.

“Hey, you know that hippy guy – the one with the pants?”
“Was he being ironic? Was he doing a parody?”
“Uh, no. I don’t think so.”
“Shit, ‘cos I was going to say that if it was, he was really good.”

At one point on Thursday night I found myself listening to a demented reverend (or was he?) singing a song about giving Jesus oral relief as he hung on the cross. I knew that someone, somewhere would find that highly offensive. But it was no one in that room, that night. I was too busy having a good time to be even remotely offended.

“Where’d those guys go?”
“Um, I think they’ve gone off to take some acid.”
“Oh, ok. Let’s go to the pub.”

Since I left my big, evil corporate job almost a year ago, I’ve been putting “writer” as my occupation whenever I’ve filled in various forms. Sometimes I never really felt like a proper writer (whatever that is), but after NYWF I feel like I’ve got a bit more direction. It’s at least heartening to know that there are others like me.

It’s not about money (one spoken word performer announced, to wild applause and cheering, that he’d been on the dole for six years), it’s not about doing stuff that looks good on my CV. For me it’s about doing something I really enjoy, and doing it well.

Life is good.

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