You don’t know me…
I pass you on the street and I want to say ‘hello’, but you don’t actually know me. You see, you’re sort of famous. You were on that panel, the one with the funny guy who ran late. You spell well. You wrote a zine I thought was the best thing I read in 2004. You have a byline in a magazine that people have actually heard of. You’ve been published in Voiceworks.
I struggle a little when I go to the This is Not Art Festival (TiNA) in Newcastle. I’ve been to almost every one since 2000 when it was the National Young Writers’ Festival (NYWF) and I was a young writer. I was a university student then. I commuted from Sydney twice because I didn’t have accommodation and I remember teaching some cute guy how to make origami cranes.
I’ve been to NYWFs that were held in Newcastle Town Hall, the PAN building, a train yard. There were zine fairs in Auckland Street and Civic Park and panels held in abandoned arcades. I walk up past the lighthouse every year, sometimes in the windy night, sometimes in the blazing heat of the day. It’s customary. Occasionally I make it to the obelisk too.
Before the Spelling Bee became a mainstay there were poetry slams, literary debates decided by Shantaram shotput, and Wriron Chef cook-offs.
I’ve called the YHA my second home while flirting with Noah’s and Backpackers by the Beach and The Oriental when my preferred hostel booked out. Sometimes I bring friends and/or boyfriends. Sometimes I attend alone and make friends for a day.
I used to have Newcastle seasons: winter was The Shoot Out and spring was NYWF. The only year I’ve missed NYWF since 2000 was when I went overseas in 2005.
Unsurprisingly, I see a lot of the same people year-in, year-out. The hairstyles and clothes may change but in context they are instantly familiar. Some are NYWF legends: festival father Marcus Westbury, Geoff Lemon, Marieke Hardy, Benjamin Law, Dr Ianto Ware, Lee Tran Lam and Lisa Dempster. Others are panellists that I’ve come to recognise: Michaela McGuire, Elizabeth Redman, Cameron Pegg, Alex O’Neill, Zoe Barron.
The problem is that I suffer from a very particular kind of shyness that makes it impossible to treat many of these people as real people. Because they’re famous. Because they’re panellists. Because they publish zines. Meanwhile, I’m quite at home introducing myself to people at random events, such as other audience members or sharing a table at the Spelling Bee or, as was the case this year, being a ring-in of a literary trivia team.
I don’t want to bowl up to these NYWF stalwarts and interrupt them. Or feel pressure to impress them. Or treat them as equals (they are special). And yet the NYWF is probably one of the flattest, most accessible festivals I’ve ever been to, where panellists from one session are gazing reverently at panellists of the next and audience members chat congenially to moderators over a post-panel tea.
For some reason I tend to forget that I’m not without credentials myself. Just editing a uni arts publication should’ve gotten me some cred in the beginning. Follow that with a diverse career in custom publishing, feature writing, magazine editing and freelancing and all the other odd writing jobs I’ve done and surely I’m not nobody.
But what am I supposed to do? Nod at these people who I don’t quite know in acknowledgement and walk on by? Introduce myself and stand awkwardly fishing for an excuse not to stand awkwardly? You don’t know me and I don’t really know you but…
I have met these people before:
Marcus Westbury: Interviewed him in person about Renew Newcastle for a magazine I once edited, witnessed his and his wife Narinda’s signature for their son Louin’s passport at that meeting. Once bought him a panda hat and gave it to him at the Sydney Writers’ Festival where I was volunteering. He probably finds me vaguely familiar.
Geoff Lemon: Once shared a stage with him at the Spelling Bee in 2010. I was second runner-up after Geoff and that year’s winner Garth. Wouldn’t know me from Adam.
Benjamin Law: He signed my copy of The Family Law after a panel at the Melbourne Writers’ Festival and said my name was familiar. Probably doesn’t remember what I look like, though.
Lee Tran Lam: For some years we met once a month as part of a writing group she initiated, which has since died. I used to go to university with her; we were never in the same tutorial but we did share an office: she co-edited the 8-issue/year Passing Show and I co-edited the annual Soma. We later met as junior journos at some PR thing. We exchange hellos but we don’t hang out.
Lisa Dempster: Had her sign my copy of Neon Pilgrim. Later became an Emerging Writers’ Festival Penpal (sponsor) when she was festival director. I like to think she has a passing interest in what I do. She knows my partner Boff as ‘the dinosaur guy’ after a brief nerdy stint on stage during a Spelling Bee sideshow he won by correctly naming a dinosaur or some such.
Cameron Pegg: Flattered when he recognised me (he was wearing a mask, so I had no chance) and tapped me on the shoulder at the circus-themed ball in 2011 and invited me to join his group to dance. We follow each other on Twitter. Does that count?
Alex O’Neill: After following her on Twitter for a year we finally met in person at the zine fair this year. She follows me too. (No really, does that count?)
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