Whenever people ask me what I do for a living, I usually tell them that I “sign up for anything that looks interesting”.
That strategy has worked amazingly well for me for years: it has led me to new career paths, new relationships, and adventures in cities and communities I never thought were within my reach. One particular strong sequence of events started when I took burlesque classes in Brisbane in 2009 on a whim: I became so involved with the scene that I eventually pursued performance opportunities across Australia and the US for many years, building notoriety and reputation for being an outspoken and overtly political performer. An application to a longshot that paid off — an opportunity to perform as part of Vulcana Women’s Circus at the significantly sized Island Vibe Festival — gave me so much confidence in really owning the title of “performance artist” that it inspired me to apply for more longshots…and now I am writing to you from my bed in Oakland, almost a year out from graduating with an MFA.
I like signing up for things, no matter how random. I like being kept busy: even though I do get stressed out sometimes at being overcommitted, I would rather be busy than bored. Keeping myself busy also serves as powerful self-care: as someone prone to debilitating depression, signing up for something gives me a literal reason to get out of bed and get outside, and the chain reactions from that one action can be massive.
This sometimes has the tendency to come off as being unfocused. I’m not dedicating my life to just one path, I’m not committed, I don’t have a direction. I’m meandering, waiting for something to happen. I fail because I don’t have a good answer to “where do you see yourself in five years?”; I don’t have a good answer to that because my life is defined by flux.
Whenever I talk to my therapist about this, she notices how jazzed and enthusiastic I am when I talk about the different paths I explore and the different stories I return with every week. A week or two ago we got to talking about my stock answer of “signing up for anything that seems interesting”, and she made a very astute observation:
“It seems like you have an innate sense of curiosity and want to follow it where it takes you. My mentor once called that following your developing question.”
After cracking up about how Oprah-esque that sounded, I realized she was spot on. So much of what I sign up for is usually prompted by “hmm, I wonder what this is like”.
Hmm, I wonder what it’d like to check out Woodford — discover street performance and burlesque and go “OMG I NEED TO DO THAT”, and then actually do that.
Hmm, everyone keeps raving about San Francisco, I wonder what the big deal is — fall in love with the city and conspire to return for longer, even if it means enrolling in further education.
Hmm, I’ve always wanted to make a game but have no idea how — get referred to GaymerX’s GXDev, winning an award for a game expressing my angst about immigration.
And sometimes — very often, actually — the spark question is: Hmm, what if I did this for the hell of it?
There may be some internal logic with my choices — it’s not all random. Most of my choices have been creatively-inclined, appealing to the mythic right brain. They usually work towards social good. And I often end up being The Only One in the group doing what I do, building the bridge between that choice and my other choices and circles.
Indeed, my seemingly unfocused self has been a major asset with every new question I explore and circle I enter. I am scarily good at bringing people together with each other or with new opportunities; I have sparked many successful careers and relationships just by making the right introductions. Aliya Rahman from Code for Progress, speaking at Lesbians who Tech, talked about marginalized people having to constantly innovate to survive: my survival innovation has helped paved the way for others like me, and have strenghtened the original structures overall.
And all of this comes from following my curiousity, wanting to know more, wanting to get to know so many different things. Following the developing question.
I have noticed that I tend to work with cycles of 3–5 years: my developing questions take similar form for a while, then by the end of the cycle I feel like I’ve said all that I wanted to say, and feel like moving on. From fangirling online about music television, to advocating for alternative education and youth empowerment, to empowering my sexual body in performance.
I’m coming up to the end of a cycle. I’ve expressed all that I wanted about sexuality, gender, the body: anything more gets repetitive, and other people are saying it better now. I haven’t done burlesque for some time, and performance art is losing the grip that used to make me feel like if I wasn’t on stage I wouldn’t be alive. I am working on a couple of shows now, much of which deals with gender or sexuality, and after I’m done with them I think I’ll give that part of my life a break for now.
They’ll never really leave me, of course. All my previous cycles, all my developed questions and answers, they all feed everything else I do. Celebrating sincere enthusiasm and working with shared pop culture references, giving people tools to be who they want to be and do what they want to do, breaking stereotypes and sharing truth in creativity, being larger than life.
My new developing question ties a lot of the previous questions together: I am very curious about intersecting arts and technology. My previous article on the topic led to discussions that reminded me that fandom is a huge catalyst for young girls exploring tech — it definitely was for teenage me. I’m looking into unusual non-academic ways of learning how to code, how to design, how to make things happen with technology. I am frustrated by the antagonism against the tech world by the arts world, and vice versa, and see many ways where they can actually work together.
I am following a new question, one with many, many interesting possibilities for answers. Where will this develop?
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