I went to a tea party on Tuesday night – a tea party filled with joy, singing and a fairly hefty helping of sage life and career advice.
What kind of tea party is that, you ask. And can I come?
Well yes you can. Journalist and best-selling author Jamila Rizvi and ARIA award winning musician Clare Bowditch launched their new event series at Melbourne Town Hall, which they have called Tea with Jam and Clare. And they invited a packed house of more than 1700 of their “closest friends” along for the fun. Also on the guest list for this inaugural outing, writer and entrepreneur Zoë Foster Blake.
In promoting the event, Rizvi and Bowditch said that if it had a dating profile it would read:
Jamila Rizvi and Clare Bowditch seek likeminded individuals to join them for one absolutely glorious evening of conversation and song on the topics of creativity and courage.
Firstly, a disclosure. While I am not one of Jamila’s “closest friends”, I am “just lucky”, as the title of her book would have it, to have recently befriended this lovely lady. So I admit I am more than a little biased when I say that I think it’s great others can now benefit from the warmth and wisdom she doles out on a regular basis.
I don’t, however, know Clare personally. But when I moved to Melbourne five years ago, it was made very clear to me by my new friends here that signing up to the Clare Bowditch Fan Club was required upon entry, as was excessive coffee drinking, including embracing up its own ass varieties like “the magic”. No to “the magic”, I said, but big a big yes to the Clare Bowditch Fan Club.
The kind of close relationship both women have forged with their fans was on full display last night, which they facilitated by creating an environment that fostered intimate connection, despite the huge size of the venue. The stage was set with cushy sofas, antique rocking chairs, fresh flowers, bric-a-brac and a scattering of vintage tea pots. The lighting was warm and low. (Sadly, “the suits” from Occupational Health and Safety got involved, so no tea for us. You can’t win them all.)
So what did we learn on this journey through “creativity and courage”, which ended in a massive sing-a-along to Katy Perry’s Roar, led by Bowditch who repeatedly insisted over the course of the evening that “everyone can sing”? (On the latter, I had my doubts, but I went along with it.)
Firstly, why the singing? Because you have to find your voice.
Bowditch promised the crowd they would “walk out a little bit braver, and sometimes you have to do something a little bit scary.” She wanted us to silence the inner critic, and try for a moment “not to double down on ourselves”. She acknowledged that there would be people in the room who were deeply wounded by being told their voice was not enough — that they didn’t have the right to sing.
“Courage is awkward”, she declared. “Showing yourself to people is awkward,” she empathised. But “if you can talk you can sing,” she insisted.
Besides, “No one is listening to you, they are all too busy listening to themselves,” Bowditch declared, to laughter from the crowd. Words to live by.
Make room for boredom
Rizvi shared with the audience her writing process, which, like so many modern folks, includes opening her computer and catching up on social media. She listed the various things that now, as a journalist wife and mother, fill her day. She, like so many of us with multiple balls in the air, always feels busy. Can she even remember the last time she was bored?
Rizvi wondered if our modern lives no longer give us the opportunity to be creative. “Maybe our lives give us boundless opportunities,” she suggested, “but we fill them with something else.”
Good point. In a 24/7 world, Rizvi implored us to resist the urge to fill the “in-between” moments that could lead to creativity with something. “Push through the boredom to brilliance,” she said.
Bowditch and Rizvi then undertook a personal challenge with the audience to sit and “be bored” for one whole minute. “Not what some would consider good value at an event like this,” she quipped. Well, maybe it is.
Balance is not a destination
In a lovely variation on one of my favourite themes, balance is bullshit, Rizvi asked us not to look at balance as a “place we can get to, and then everything will be sorted forever”. It is not a final destination, but “rather balance is something that will work for a time and then things will have to change again.”
Saying what I was thinking, Bowditch piped in with:
“What the fuck is balance, that word has never worked for me.”
Foster Blake proved very quotable by asking the audience to think about “whether the juice was worth the squeeze”, meaning ask yourself what your priorities are and judge whether the output will be worth the effort given the other things you have going on in your life at any particular moment.
As I am not from Australia, I found this citrus metaphor to inform my thinking charming.
Why “courage and creativity”?
In the minds of all three women on the stage, the two themes were clearly very intertwined. In a world where women still experience high levels of discrimination in all industries and do more than their fair share of the caring work, it does indeed take courage (and sustained effort) to make a place in your life for creativity.
And that “creativity” needn’t be narrowly defined under the umbrella of the arts. Rizvi talked of her “analytical” creativity. Bowditch acknowledged her creativity was “deeply intuitive” but she has high regard for the more structured creative thinkers who, for example, built the bricks and mortar of the beautiful Town Hall we were gathered in last night.
Most importantly, “how do you count yourself back in when others or life circumstances have counted you out”, asked Bowditch.
“Just one foot in front of the other…and coffee,” said Blake.
“And sugar,” added Rizvi.
And then we sang. Yes, me too.