After entertaining another three schools last week for Book Week 2017, one question was twice asked by visiting adults and teachers; where did you come up with that ‘Tip Story’?
Although it has been part of our show from the start, I should probably back track a little and open your eyes to the magical show in full.
Unlike the usual author visit, where some adult stands affront a crowd and tells of their life story, based on writing tales of wonder and amazement or workshop skills that the teacher has been boring the students with for months, our show is filled with crazy antics; a magic show, quirky crowd involvement and one hilarious sequence of personal anecdotes. Some will inspire and others simply shock but they all create one incredible reaction, a smile. We wanted to create a show a little different, unique to its field and move away from just pumping the book in order to make money from its sales, although we’d love to do that discreetly too! A visit from an author should encourage kids to aspire to write in some form but more importantly, see that individuals who just so happen to write, are rare beings, they are pursuing their dreams and are inspired by their very own imagination! They are different and proud of it! Our show is now refined, well-structured and well-practiced. It works for us and works, on so many levels, for our audience. It’s funny and it’s original. It mocks the seriousness that writing at school often brings and invents a new palate for creativity.
One story that allows all of this to spawn and enthrals each audience member, egging them to come on a journey into the realms of my childhood is ‘The Tip’ story. I love telling it and I am intrigued with each audience’s reaction to it; some don’t even know what a tip is! So, just to clarify, a tip is a place you take all your rubbish, a dump. I use it to explain how I nearly ‘lost’ my imagination, something vital in creating magical books.
The idea actually comes from a combination of my childhood trips to the tip and an hilarious Aussie comedian’s recollection of his dad’s fascination with the tip. During which, he explains how much of a dickhead his dad is for loving this place so much, but, in my story, I’m right there with this eccentric dad.
Each alternate weekend, we’d (my brother, sister and I) head to Dad’s place and this would always entail a crazy trip to the tip.
It is a Sunday morning, I am slaving away, snipping the last of the overgrown intrusive passion fruit vine that continues to plague the eastern front of the garage. I turn to find what could quite possibly be the tallest, all mightiest scrap mound; the Everest of off cuts! Like a caricature of Jack and his colossal bean stalk, I am assigned the task of now transporting it all to Dad’s trailer. Lucky for me, Dad is a burly man with the strength of Hercules yet shows off a beer gut only out matched by Santa himself. He lifts an old table and tactfully places it atop the pile, which he coats with a sturdy old broken fridge for good measure. He wraps with a chaotic abundance of rope and we’re set. At this point, my exhilaration begins to boil, I bound to the front seat of the ute and belt up; today’s trip is going to be amazing!
The whole way, I’m beaming with excitement, there’s a frenzy of animation as the tip draws closer, I know the route off by heart now and it’s nearly complete. I can smell it in the air as I act the dog; head out the window taking in the breeze, tongue and all. All signage lead to one place, the imagination emporium. As we arrive the valve of excitement blows completely as I leap out from the passenger side seat and onto the trailer load of junk. Dad pays, he hops back in the driver’s seat and slowly cruises on. I must add here, as a kid, the gateway symbolises for me that all rules don’t have any traction past this point. I mean, where in the world can a kid surf on a moving vehicle to the cheers of onlooking adults?
I assume my position as Kelly Slater, king of the trash, squat down and ride the ultimate wave… of leaf litter and shrub offcuts. It is a vision of utter disgust for many watching me coast on by but I am in heaven. I use the limp branches to act the crest of the wave as the leaves barrel over my head. A perfect ride circulates my imagination as we arrive at the dumping spot. Here, I am in my element. The goal of the tip (for most) is to offload your trash as quickly as possible and get out of that pungent hell hole before you inhale too much of this toxic odour. So, in a way, I’m actually doing my job, as a citizen to a tee. I start by smashing some plates with an amazing Frisbee impersonation and then finish the pile of old porcelain with a mimicking “pull” call and ditch rocks at each plate, shooting range style. Smashing things is so invigorating! Dad is laughing; he’s having a good time. I spot an old dining chair and rush over to it. I kick the leg off and start morph into Tiger Woods, teeing off an amazing drive down into the pit of trash. That’s when I notice an old guy, at least fifty or sixty. He must be thirty of forty metres away but it is clear what he is doing. I cannot believe my eyes! This place is a playground for all kids at heart. This oldie is kicking fridges and throwing old televisions around, cheering gleefully as they are smashed to smithereens. “Take that”! He yells! “Geronimo”! He continues, having the time of his life! This place is incredible. To many, the tip is an awful place for rats and scum, visited only if entirely necessary or if you work there. But for me, this place resembles fun for all. It’s a playground like no other.
The best bit about this event was the thrill the kids at school would get when I shared on a Monday. The girls turned green as if going to vomit, the boys’ jaws nearly hit the ground, almost simultaneously dislocating them in utter perplexity. I thought they’d love this story! They, along with the disapproving teacher, hated it. I felt deflated and let down. No one liked the idea of imagination; they all watched in awe as each ensuing student shared about their quest inside a video game. How boring, I thought. I decided I didn’t need my imagination anymore; it wasn’t helping anyone, in particular, me. I didn’t fit in when I shared, in fact, I felt a certain ostracism. I knew what had to be done. Next week, trash wasn’t the only thing heading to the tip…
Saturday soon rolled around and Dad’s call hollowed as if on cue. After the previous week’s lesson at school; where apparently, the tip isn’t as great as I had thought and that playing video games is what makes for a cool kid’s inclusion in the playground, I decided to continue playing my console. Dad called out once more, this time concern in his voice, I never have to be asked twice to the tip; like a stampede, I’d be rushing through the hall and outside at his very first hint of a departure. But one more thing I had learnt about being cool that past week was the epic quality all kids must have, the ability to ignore your parents. Some call it ‘selective hearing’, either way, it was in full motion. Dad comes right to the door and knocks a little louder; enough to gain my attention. “Timmy, time to go to the tip!”
At this point, like I’ve eaten a rotten banana, my face squashed almost beyond recognition, I finally reply. “Tip?”, I question in disbelief. “Tip is so lame, why would I want to go there?”. The disbelief has transferred to Dad's face from my own. “Stay out of my room, I’m trying to play Xbox. In fact, stay out of my life!”
Just like that, no more tip time, no more marvellous mounting of trash mountains, no more curious creations. The imagination was, like a piece of junk, thrown out and buried. I didn’t need my imagination and I certainly didn’t need the tip.
As the next week of school rolled around, a more confident me entered the classroom and, when time to share, I had the perfect story; Xbox rules! My cool status was ever present but it came at a cost. Had I lost my creative flare forever?
A year or two passed and my English class was a drag, like many other classes. This happens quite a bit when you’re a careless student; the teachers suck and the learning is boring. Our second term assessment was to write a creative piece of writing about triumph. The end products were to be edited and sent to a competition. Because we have to, I thought, and I began writing. This was the first time in ages I had actually sat and just wrote for an extended time. I wrote about this amazing young girl; a ballerina. She overcomes hardship and achieves greatness. Sounds like a little lad called Billy I’d eventually write about and have a children’s book published about. My teacher at the time loved it and sent it off, with the other students’ tales.
Weeks passed and soon an assembly presentation occurred. I was hoping to win a prize or at least get a mention for my effort; it was the first time I had actually worked hard to even complete my homework for a long time. I must point out two things here; one, I realised the passion I had for writing in this venture and two, I realised many do not enjoy writing one bit. Enter Sarah. My friend was annoyed at the fact we had to write for this competition and promptly put the assessment on the backburner. When she later realised it was due, it was too late, she did what every clever student would do in that situation; asked her mate to do it for her. The funniest thing about this yarn is that come award presentation time, I found myself standing up on the stage with 2nd prize. A huge effort, I thought to myself, ecstatic in the labour itself. Where we all should find true irony and amazement is in the next announcement, the first prize winner. “The winner is, with an incredible piece of writing, Sarah”. The jubilant crowd went into chaos; she had done this from nowhere. I stood there, almost in hysterics; it was quite comical. I had taken out 2nd prize with my own piece and won the competition with another… just under a different name.
I suppose having my imagination intact was immensely important here, without it I may not have had the inspiring outcomes but the true moral to the story, never stray away from being yourself. I loved the tip, others did not. I loved using my imagination as an escape, others did not. I loved writing, others did not. I eventually understood being different was a gift and that promoting it was essential in those around me and their development. It took a long time before I realised this but I do find solace in the fact I’m sharing a different, progressive style of mentorship; breaking many stigmas along the way.
Dare to be different. Spread your wings as your own miraculous self. Who knows the treasures you might find? Finding the place to start is the hard part. Heck, try the tip; as the old saying goes: one person’s trash is another’s treasure.