This week I went to a wonderful accessible arts panel discussion on accessible tech in the arts. There are a lot of everyday uses of technology to use technology to increase the accessibility of arts and culture and our exceptional panel of Sophie Penkethman-Young (Australia Council), Marcus Wright (MCA), and Simon Buchanan (Sydney Opera House) unpacked a wide field of these. Technologies such as digital performance, alt t
ext and captioning, digitally delivered workshops, Virtual narrators, Augmented Reality deepened experiences, and AI created audio description … yes Artificial Intelligence made it’s face known.
Lately, in so much of the conversation, Chat GTP, and the AI successors, has dominated the subject of technology and art. Whether it’s artists having their work used as a platform for training AI without their consent, to using AI to develop writing art and critique of writing and art.
But it’s in the most banal ways that AI could be an accommodative tool for those of us with disability. We may argue the merits and value of a novel or poem written by AI. But what about AI writing your grant proposal. On that artists seem to agree. Maybe not the whole thing, but for those of us struggling regularly with executive functioning dilemmas. Contrary to the narrative of procrastination and avoidance that saviours like to peddle, or the adjectives that beaten down neurodivergents find the selves reciting, some executive functioning issues come from the difficulty in engaging with an unmotivated task or from a difficulty in cracking the introductory social format that is often where we find our lives. Having and AI write a rough and inaccurate opening that you could take on for a spring board into self expression is a wonderful idea.
There are many technologies that we use and will arise to help us meet the goals of an inclusive society. But they really need to start with the opening up of society to be more inclusive. Having no meeting agenda or notetaking could be taken away by speech to text capture or AI inferred agenda in retrospect. But the thing that will get us to a harmonious society is not technology filling the gaps – it for there to be no gaps from the designing of the way we want our future society developing.
I came across Katherine May’s new blog post at 2 am on a Sunday trying to finish up work. As my life is more irony than substance these days I think it’s worth putting up.
It’s an important call to action. How do we make our work more sustainable? There are a couple of points in there for me
How do I automate manual tasks
How do I delegate with the goal of improving the work outcomes and career growth of others
How do I set up cross collaborations to distribute the load and remove bottle necks
How do we upskill for self-service and empowerment
Sustainability of work is easier to handle (and harder to refute) if it becomes about raising others up. Whilst I might be “essential” if I’m the sole knowledge holder I am also limiting my ability to take leave, adding risk to the risk matrix, and stopping others from understanding my needs. And sharing information can lead to great collaborations.
So perhaps there is something in that. Collaboration and advocacy can be used to create a healthy work structure.
One last thing though is the Black Dog Institutes self-care template. It’s a guide more than a prescribed set of marketing fluff, so common with these themes. You set the tasks that work for you at a rate you can take on. Well worth a look.
In the past I have been an irregular participant of running and hiking, but presently swimming is my go-to exercise. For me exercise is less about physical fitness and more for quietude; for self reflection and regaining control. When I’m swimming I can’t get overly ambitious. If I swim more vigorously I’ll start gasping for air and my performance drops as my anxiety rises. Swimming laps is both rhythmically monotonous and also holistically stimulating. For a neurodivergent brain such as mine that is a sweet combo. Being regular and repeated there is nothing to distract me. The only thing my brain can do is go along for the ride, which is a great meditation. We’ve covered our breathing Mental Health Monday.
So what’s with all the swimming? Well at the moment I’m recovering from burnout. A new job coupled with some personal troubles has led to overload on top of overload until I was scraping the bottom of the barrel. The first step is realising you have a problem. The next is dealing with it, and swimming has been one of the ways of combating the anxiety and depression that can come with burnout*.
So what is the broader word on exercise being good for mental health?
In addition to making me hungry, the Mayo Clinic has some comprehensive advice about exercise balancing out depression and anxiety. I know that when I’m depressed, drumming up motivation for exercise can feel impossible. Joining a dance class with instructors shouting “Woo!” is not my thing. I learnt early in life that I’m not much of a “woo” person – even at my emotional peak. But exercise doesn’t mean olympic level training, or filming a TikTok of you over exerting in lycra. It can be as simple as walking. Research from Stanford found walking can increase your creative output by 60%.
Any physical activity can be beneficial, including gardening, washing your car, and the covid staple – walking around the block.
Doing 30 minutes or more of exercise a day for three to five days a week may significantly improve depression or anxiety symptoms. But smaller amounts of physical activity — as little as 10 to 15 minutes at a time — may make a difference
Probably one of the most promising findings is that regular exercise of any intensity has a protective effect against future depression and is recommended to prevent recurrence of depression. The Black Dog Institutes info sheet on Exercise & Depression has a lot more information.
For a lot of us putting our personal needs first is difficult. Advocating for others is a great way for me to trick myself into doing work for my own good. For example, finding time to swim everyday is hard. But when I saw the Laps for Life charity to raise money for youth mental health it was a great way to align a cause that I support with my own needs. So far this month I’ve swum over 10km in 12 days.
So in case you find yourself struggling, changing your scene with some light exercise might help you get back on track. As always though, reach out if you are doing it hard. A health professional like your local Dr is a good first port of call, as are friends, family and your support network.
Let me know what your experience is with exercise and mental wellness.
* never fear we are not going to gloss over the thorny topic of burnout, and the 41 flavours that it takes throughout the neuro-diversi-sphere. It is a solid topic that deserves its own conversation(s). Just preferably when I’ve had a bit of a repair.
 Schuch, F. B., Vancampfort, D., Richards, J., Rosenbaum, S., Ward, P. B., & Stubbs, B. (2016). Exercise as a treatment for depression: A meta-analysis adjusting for publication bias. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 77, 42–51. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpsychires.2016.02.023
Settling into a new job, I was trying to explain the irreverent majesty that is Nerd Summer Camp1 to those of who have only seen it through rumour and the social media posts. Every time I try to explain TLCC to anyone I end up feeling like Judy Garland returning from Oz, and trying to convince her family that a magical place really exists.
From the emotional wave of ‘feels’ on social media, the dulcet tones of the Tessiturians (that majesty I was talking about), to the Campbellan journey of Jen Skelly’s lanyard2, it could seem pretty baffling. Even for those of us there it can be a lot to unpack.
On the way home I took some R&R in San Francisco while trying to wrangle my head and heart, like a parent collecting sugar fueled kids from a birthday party. With no small irony, I found some focus at a late night Jazz bar that serves (non-alcoholic) Kombucha cocktails. Yeah, I was that guy, minus the man-bun and ill advised facial hair.
Anyway I wrote some loosely SQL structured poetry over two nights, on a mini laptop at the bar (eating my vegan sliders). As I was in San Francisco (and had rewatched Mike Myers in “So I Married and Axe Murderer” again on the flight in), I went the full mile to gave it a spoken word recording. Given Andrew’s keynote unveiled his new love of great poetry I thought it’d be fun to share.
TLCC (In some ways)
In some ways, I’d forgotten what TLCC was like. Just how intense and overwhelming, joyful and exciting, frightening and sad.
The experience is something perhaps less like life, and better explained in Norse saga; breathed into existence by Walt Whitman; found in an attic as lost sketches for Picasso’s Guernica or Brett Whitley’s alchemy.
Feelings at TLCC seem taller, and broader. Like things that belong on the stage, poured from the musing of artists; not from the office that supports it3
And perhaps TLCC has answers to that as well. (the) Andrew Recinos quoted Lao Tsu in his closing address The wise have no minds of their own, finding it in the minds of ordinary people.4 And anyway, are there wise people at all?
Something that my friend,5 Mary French and I talked about,
when people say (sceptically or) in flattery, “Are you the smartest Tessitura person here?”
the answer is no … but also yes.
We are not the smartest,
except that we are, because we have the mind of the community behind us.
We are a gestalt;
An incredible hive mind of ordinary people, that do well on our own, but attain genius when we join together in odd harmonies.
And this becomes magnified, geometrically, in that liminal space of conference as our minds do not sum as single blocks, but create new 3rd and 4th opportunities between us that would never be possible apart.
We are more chemistry than physics.
With networking interactions happening at speed, and relationships (previously existing in green lines of commented SQL 6 or the brevity of forum assistance, between people at organisations, continents and hemispheres apart) are filled with both the details of real life, emotion of people who understand your most frustrating predicaments and greatest achievements.
In some ways, TLCC is like meeting your parallel earth doppelganger. That person with a similar experience; the same frustrations with “that” department; that has won “that” personal battle you’ve been fighting so long that you’ve lost the image of success;
and they can give you the key to success.
They are that person that also struggles to be seen 45+ hours a week, that validates all your experience.
They are your reflection, your potential energy, your soul.
In some ways, It’s unsurprising that TLCC is such an emotional experience.
 aka TLCC
 I’ve talked to my therapist extensively about the existential dread of wondering at the fate of Jen Skelly’s lanyard outside of the bubble that is pre-during-post conference that borders on the nature of quantum mechanics. Nietzsche said that we should live life as if the material world was all we could know, but if Jen Skelly’s lanyard only exists in the boundaries of a relative conference bubble, what is the fate of its existence post conference? Is there a post conference at all? Could all the lingering feels that we have post conference be the first evidence of quantum superposition in social media. Scary stuff.
 I really don’t agree. I see art everywhere. Art is in the person not the job. Like Jack (Rubin) said everyone is a little bit manager and a little bit leader in differing ratios. Punching out into the great blue yonder and mapping the path behind.
 not that I think Andrew is “ordinaryifying” Lao Tzu, at least that’s not his primary point. Regardless, I think that Lao Tzu who was aware of the conundrum first, and in essence, was setting himself up. I imagine he’s giggling at his clever joke still.
 and saviour and idol
 I had the pleasure of thanking Brian Wilbur Grundstrom for the number of times he appears in code comments in my database from stored procedures I’ve gleefully poached
So this is my last week at Sydney Dance Company and in rather than doing a big card and big gift we had individual cards and gave some money to a couple of animal sanctuaries that I really wanted to support.
The past 5+ years changed me immensly. When I started I definitely did not have qualifications of a unicorn. But the support from the incredible women who I’ve been lucky to call my bosses and mentors, and the unconditional love and support from my community at SDC and the #tessituranetwork has changed my life.
I will always be grateful for the opportunities to strive and push, grow and change. Opportunities to make small changes the in work life of colleagues with automations, or strategic inputs to the growth of the business be, it data driven decisions, silo removing technology, or EDI.
You learn a lot about your best self through goodbyes. Things that you overlook in your day to day struggles. I’m thankful for the inclusion and acceptance, never being patronised, compitence assumed. The lack of barrier between artists and admin at SDC proves that we are striving for the same goal
“We believe that dance changes you. To experience contemporary dance is to go on an inspiring and fulfilling journey. More than simply witnessing something beautiful or engaging with an art form, it is to be positively altered.”
Whether that’s through teaching dance to youth remotley during lockdown, choerographing exceptional works of beauty and relevance, or mentoring new DBAs that need support; we are working off the same playbook. To leave the world in a better place than when we found it.
Thank you for never treating me like I didn’t belong, thank you for giving me space to have a voice, thank you for allowing me to change and make change.