On the Couch with Emilie Collyer

Emilie-Collyer-photo-by-Ross-DanielsWho is Emilie Collyer?
I work with words in lots of different ways. I write poetry, plays and prose. I work as a dramaturg, mentor, teacher and consultant. I live in a slightly rundown but cosy house with my partner, on unceded Wurundjeri country. I’m currently a PhD student at RMIT researching creative writing practice. I walk a lot. I run a bit. I never learned to ride a bike.

What would you do differently from what you do now?
In my childhood I had dreams of becoming a musical theatre star. If I had a different set of abilities (e.g. could sing and dance with skill equal to enthusiasm) then I would have pursued that career beyond the slightly dispiriting amateur musical theatre auditions I stopped attending in my late teens. I might have tried harder to learn to ride a bike. I mean, I know I could still learn, but things on wheels get scarier in your forties. I’m not shelving all together as an idea though. Watch this space.

Who inspires you and why?
At the moment one of my favourite television shows is Ambulance. I tend to watch the UK version. Prior to the existence of shows like this, I used to often lament talk shows and other media that always focused on famous people, celebrities and rich folk. ‘What about the amazing people doing ordinary jobs like teachers and nurses and paramedics?’ I would rail. And here we are, and many more kinds of people are on the television. Which may or may not be a good thing. Anyway, ethics and philosophy of the media aside, I am always inspired by the workers on this show. By how kind and cheerful and pragmatic they are. I am also regularly inspired by the people whose homes they go into. People who are going through a small blip or an end of life illness or a terrible and sudden accident. And who have ordinary lives full of dignity and varying amounts of love and luck. Of course, it’s television so it’s a sanitised and produced version of life. But the show always reminds me that inspiring people are those who can still see good in others, themselves and the world even in the midst of difficulty.

What would you do to make a difference in the world?
I truly hope that the art I make and the ways I work and collaborate with others makes a difference in the world. Writing, theatre, art, music – all of these are how we know who we are. They are how we can keep telling stories, reflecting ourselves back to ourselves and imagining other possibilities. I do other things. I try to support people and organisations who are helping make the world a better place. I do this financially at times and with my time and energy at others. I think the whole ‘do least harm’ ethos is a pretty good one to strive (or not strive) for.

Favourite holiday destination and why?
I love New York. It’s the only city I’ve been to multiple times which is partly circumstantial and partly choice. It was a city I first travelled to on my own and I loved exploring it, jumping on and off the subway, discovering tiny little bars in the East Village, being able to be completely anonymous and people watch to my heart’s content. The second time I went, I had a play on so it wasn’t really a holiday. But it was an amazing time and I got to share it with my partner so that was really special. It was also FREEZING! It was in early 2016 during Snowpocalypse and golly gosh was it cold. The third time was with my sister, my mum, my mum’s cousin (and my partner) for a once in a lifetime trip. My mother had only been overseas once and it was lovely to be able to travel with her. I also like quiet, non-urban holidays. Speaking of the cold, my partner and I went on a midnight star-watching excursion on New Zealand’s south island a few years ago. They gave us Antarctic grade coats to wear that were heavy like armour. We looked up at the dark sky and stamped our cold feet on the ground and were amazed by how much humans know about the solar system. And how much we don’t.

When friends come to town, what attraction would you take them to, and why?
I’d take them to a local restaurant, for dumplings or noodles in Footscray. I’d take them to see a show, hopefully an independent production made by great theatre makers I know or know of. I’d take them to another place for good food. Into the city for a late night supper or mid-morning coffee. Maybe we would get on a tram and take it to St Kilda or Coburg, watch the city and the suburbs roll by. The art in Melbourne is also great. There would probably be a good show on at NGV or ACMI or ACCA we could go and see.

What are you currently reading?
I’m doing a PhD so I am currently reading a lot of theory – about affect, creative practice, autoethnography, feminism and new materialism. It is deeply fascinating and nerdy and I love it. I am on a deep Kate Zambreno dive right now. I am always reading poetry. Not literally. I mean, I always have a poetry book that I am reading when I have time to read. Most recently I read Quinn Eades’ beautiful, earthy, visceral, funny collection Rallying. And I read fiction, at night, to take me other places. The last book I read was The Permanent Resident by Roanna Gonsalves which was so sharp and sad and funny.

What are you currently listening to?
The last four songs on my Shazam app are: Another Day by Molly Johnson, Each Day of the Week by Leah Flannigan, A Woman by Qlowski and Heal Me by GLVES. This is how I listen to music. Eclectically and responsively. Often in my car, listening to Triple R. I also occasionally tell Google to play ‘70s disco’ (hot tip from my stepdaughter in terms of good music for upbeat mood, which is great for washing dishes) or ‘girl groups 60s’. Two albums I have on high rotation right now are Thelma Plum’s Better in Blak and Elle King’s Shake the Spirit.

Happiness is?
Elusive. Surprising. In my early twenties I was living with some friends of my partner while he was away for a year. The plan was for me to join him at the end of that year (which I did). So I was a bit lonely but in a safe place. One night, I remember, after dinner we played cards. And I felt really happy. I remember, going up the stairs to the little enclosed mezzanine that was my bedroom, really clocking that feeling: ‘I feel happy.’ I can’t say much more than that about it. I also feel happy when I get a text message from somebody I love or when I feel like I’ve had done some good work on a project or when my nephews remember a running gag with my partner from when they were so little you’d think it would have hardly made an impact. Actually, I have this scooper that clips onto a rack near my kettle. I use the scooper to make my pot of tea each morning; the perfect amount of leaves, and the way the scooper clips back onto the rack, always there, waiting, never lost in the cutlery drawer. This action, every morning, makes me happy.

What does the future hold for you?
I don’t know. If I am fortunate enough to carry on living, with health and the means to support myself, I will carry on writing, working with other people, seeing shows, reading books, laughing with (and at) my partner. I’m sure I will also celebrate the lives of loved ones, grieve losses, have shitty days and nights where I don’t sleep much. I hope I can make some good work and be a person who makes others’ lives a little bit better in some way. I’d like to go on a holiday somewhere. I’ve recently been collaborating with some brilliant poets in India. I’d love to meet them in person. I hope I keep finding new songs I like on Shazam.

Emilie is the Text Consultant on Chamber Made‘s world premiere production of SYSTEM_ERROR at Arts House – North Melbourne Town Hall from 7 – 11 July 2021. For more information, visit: www.artshouse.com.au for details.

Image: Emilie Collyer – photo by Ross Daniels