Rotunda in the West and other adventures in story

I wrote a piece about last Saturday’s Highlands Rotunda near Yea, which has been posted on Facebook: Rotunda went to the lush highlands.

(PDF format here!)

To place this piece in context, I need to explain two things.

The first: Bruno Lettieri. His passion is developing the capacity for story, and by extension the growth, development and community found in story, in others. Not literature, necessarily – I wouldn’t say he’s about literature at all. He’s not about technical polish. He’s about artistic and creative expression, most often in words. He’s about the power in that expression to transform lives. Bruno is, I think, about the most important human force extant: story.

He, with the support and sponsorship of Victoria University’s Diploma of Professional Writing and Editing (TAFE) department, is the commissioning and founding editor of Platform magazine and the organiser, promoter and spokesperson of Rotunda in the West. I’ve spoken about Platform‘s unique ethos before – the combination of community, emerging and established writers gracing the page of a free magazine that goes out to schools, libraries, community centres and many other western suburbs locations. Any local writer must know him as a vibrant bundle of enthusiasm driven by the need to help, nurture, sponsor and encourage the people he finds.

I’d call him a collector of people, because that’s what he does. He builds communities. He gathers students, gives them opportunities, connects them to a broader community of creative folk. In a world where it’s not that easy to get established as a creative, to be one writer in a sea of thousands, he’s all about giving us the leg-up. This year, thanks to Bruno, I’ve been able to make flyers, write my first commissioned piece, go to events to hear established and renowned writers speak, earn a managing editor credit on the upcoming issue of Platform and sell a few copies of my book at Rotunda events. He doesn’t just encourage; he puts his money where his mouth is, and in this world where artistic devaluation is the new status normal, that’s a profound act of validation.

I can’t thank Bruno enough for his kindness and support. I am grateful beyond measure for what he does. He has provided an opportunity to be part of something larger than myself, to be connected in ways that go beyond the classroom, to be involved in something real, meaningful and important. For someone like me, someone who grew up in the world of monsters and still regards people, community and connection with wariness and fear, it is astounding to realise that I am wanted, valued, included and safe.

The second is Rotunda in the West.

Bruno calls it ‘a rolling festival of intimate conversations’ and the banners call it ‘conversations with creative Australians’. I’d call it a kind of artistic community outreach. He brings writers and makes them accessible to the writing, reading and creative community. It’s an opportunity for the community to listen to and engage with well-known writers – such Australian luminaries as Hannie Rayson and John Marsden among many others – and emerging writers who speak on what it means to be a creative and, by extension, what it means to be human. Rotunda, I think, encapsulates the humanity in art, and Rotunda’s best guests bring that to the discussion. Like Bruno himself, Rotunda is about connection and sharing, story and intimacy. It is an opportunity, as a writer, to step away from the computer and surround oneself with fellow writers. In a career where it is so easy to be isolated, Rotunda is about breaking down that isolation.

Of late, themes of community, connection and chosen family are creeping into my work, fiction and non-fiction alike. The slow climax of my novel is the discovery that my characters, both survivors of the monster worlds, can be part of an accepting family and community: they can be respected, honoured, valued, appreciated. They can be who they are and live a life full of the psychologically-healthy connections that those of us who aren’t minorities and abuse survivors take for granted. They too can be part of something bigger then themselves, even though it took them some time to find that place of belonging – and if they can’t find it, they can make it. As someone for whom this is such a recent transition, as someone who yearned and yearns to be connected and is afraid to do so, so afraid that I have been known to self-sabotage opportunities to be connected, it is becoming more and more important to me that this sense of connection be the heart of my writing.

I’m not sure this change could have taken place without the things I am learning this year. My psychologist, herself a creative person, likes to tell me that I’ll be a better writer, a better creative, the more I step away from the computer and find involvement in other things.

I can’t argue this.

But it makes me grateful for the connections and involvement people like Bruno are so willing to foster, because I can see the change in me.

(By the by, our next Rotunda in the West event is on June 5, featuring Sian Prior, Suzanne McCourt and a scriptwriting class with the renowned Hannie Rayson. Check out the flyer and do come if you’re in any way local!)