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2018: What The F%#k was That??

I’m sitting here writing this on Sunday December 30th, at the exit station of this rollercoaster of a year. Looking back in exhausted bewilderment at the 365 days just gone. Thinking ‘What the f%#k was that?’

For me, 2018 has proved to be a major evolutionary stage. I’m still coming to terms with this transformation and allowing it to integrate into my life, and so I have decided to sit down and write these posts to process the year just past. Life has its trials and tribulations, and I am reflecting on the events of the year, and how they have impacted me, particularly as a writer. I have chosen to share my experiences in the hope that anyone, especially other writers, that have had similar experiences will know they are not alone in their challenges.

I don’t know about you, but for me this year was purely about survival. Getting by, month by month, week by week, day by day, hour by hour, second by second. This year was merciless. I could never have imagined the relentless stream of challenges that 2018 would present: uncertainty and fear in every aspect of my life, including employment, finances and health.

This year I battled with the basics- staying positive, clearing my energy, practicing forgiveness. I’ve been shown who I am without resources and help, and although I know I have been strong to get through it, I have still felt so weak. 2018 has completely broken me down. I know this is so that I can be born anew on the other side, but at the moment I’m still feeling dazed and confused!

I’ve worked hard to keep my writing goals afloat throughout 2018. Being young with no children, no mortgage, little debt and relatively few responsibilities, my writing time has never been challenged. Up until this point in my life I had lots of spare time to write, and this is how most of my days off work were spent. This all changed when my fiance suffered a debilitating back injury at work in 2017. I’ve posted about my experience as his carer if you’d like to read it HERE.

My passion for the written word has never known challenges like it has in 2018. I did my best to keep pursuing my writing goals, I found I was being met with blockages in everything I tried to did. During my unemployment between January and April, I barely worked on any writing at all. I treated job searching as an absolute priority, and even after spending all day applying for countless jobs, I didn’t allow myself any writing time. My energy was depleted by the mundane and soul-destroying task of searching and applying for jobs, and writing was the one activity I could draw some joy from amidst all the ongoing stress and instability. But I had also convinced myself that dedicating any time to writing- even just a few minutes at the end of the day- would be irresponsible.

Thankfully, this didn’t last long. After awhile of denying myself the joyful reprieve of writing, I realised I could no longer stand to endure another day without indulging in the written word, and I began chipping away at some ongoing projects.

In January 2018 I was diagnosed with severe depression and anxiety and sought professional help. I was just about to leave my Christmas casual position at The Body Shop, and was once again looking down the barrel of unemployment, whilst also dealing with the physical, mental and emotional impact of Greg’s injury on us as individuals and as a couple.

It was this year that the stress of our situation started to show physical symptoms in my body. I was suffering severe tension headaches, which became so bad I was physically sick on a number of occasions. One particularly intense episode sent me to the emergency room. I went to the doctor who sent me for an X-Ray, but the follow-up appointment would reveal an unexpected health scare.

While the X-rays showed no problems with my neck and back, a recent Pap Smear test had returned am abnormal result. While this is common and does not mean you have cancer, it is still scary, even more so as I have known of two women who had sadly passed away from the disease. I was referred for a colposcopy, an exploratory procedure for which I would wait four months for an appointment. Despite the doctor’s reassurances, it was a nerve-wracking wait.

My neck and pack pain persisted, but MRI tests showed no complications with my VP shunt and no fluid retention in my brain. After all those tests, these symptoms were put down to stress-related muscle tension. I sought out a physiotherapist who specialised in treating headaches, and I have been receiving progressively positive results.

These health scares were a big wake up call to me to ensure I was looking after myself properly.

In April, after almost two months of unemployment, I took a month-long temporary casual position at Typo during the Commonwealth Games, and just as that was finishing up I was offered a position with Jeanswest. During my time working there I gained substantial skills and confidence and worked with some genuinely wonderful people, however unfortunately my overall experience with the company was negative. Overall, I felt very unsupported by some members of management. I not only felt that my questions were not answered, but also that management were actively resistant toward training and supporting new staff. I felt the high expectation of performance and customer service placed on store staff by the company was not matched by training and support from management.

In July I was given the all-clear for my colposcopy, which was a huge relief. On the 20th of that month I published Paid To Dance: Asha’s Story Part Two, the third and final book in the series I had been working on since 2016. It was the end of an era, but I was ready to get started on something fresh.

In that same month Greg and I were given a notice to leave our apartment at Broadbeach on the Gold Coast. The owners wanted to renovate the property, so we had to move out. It was at this time I decided to take a break from writing and publishing. There were some pressing non-writing matters that were increasingly demanding my attention. Since leaving my full-time job in September 2017 my attention had been reduced from all things creative to merely surviving financially, emotionally and mentally. But I didn’t want to just survive anymore. I needed to re-establish stability so that I could properly focus on my passion again.

So I decided to take a break until mid-late September. I wasn’t not going to stop writing completely- I simply couldn’t! I was just going to take a step back from blogging and social media. I was not going to be launching any new books in 2018, however I had planned to republish all of my short stories as individual Kindle ebooks.

I never thought I would take a ‘break’ from writing and publishing, but for some time I’d felt the increasing need to pause. I had pushed through the challenges and was determined to stay on track with my writing, publishing, marketing and promotion. Trying to maintain consistency. I wanted to take some time to review my strategies, to ensure I was making the most of these platforms and not wasting time.

We relocated to Coolangatta on the Southern Gold Coast in early September, and this was the hardest house move I have ever done. Greg helped where he could, but he was extremely limited because of his injury and pain. It was mostly up to me to get the place packed up. I also performed the bond clean, with help from my mum and aunty.

After the move I resigned from Jeanswest. The performance expectation placed on staff was high, and I felt that the company was somewhat out of touch with the impact of these tasks and expectations on frontline team members, and personally I would like to see the company place more value on the health and wellbeing of store staff. My expenses had been reduced by the move, and so there was space for me to leave and find something more suitable. By moving house I was purging many stress contributors from my life, and that job was just another stressor I simply did not need and could do without.

Once we had settled in to our new place at Coolangatta, I was keen to get back on track with my writing projects, however it was not as easy as I had thought it would be. In my next post I will share with you the challenges I faced trying to re-establish my writing routine, and how this paved the way for a complete transformation of myself as a writer and as a person.

 

 

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Paid To Dance Blogging Series Exclusive Interview: Julz Divine

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Dancer Name/s: Julz Divine

Age started dancing & where: In Europe.

What did you do before dancing?

I was just out of school, studying psychology at university part time, giving private French lessons and working as a sales rep for a local TV channel selling advertising space to businesses. I was living with my mum who was fully supporting me financially, therefore earning money wasn’t a big concern for me at the time, I was just trying my hand different things and earning some pocket money for fun when I could.

Why did you to start? Did you have an ideal time frame or an end goal?

I saw my first live exotic dance show at Le Lido cabaret in Paris in 1992 at the age of 15. My mum took me there, this is why I got in despite being underage! And my dad paid for it. This shows that I come from a family who are very open-minded about this style of entertainment, even though they are quite conservative in some other ways.

I loved the show and thought to myself: “It would be really awesome to get involved in something like this one day!”

Fast forward 4 years. I was 19 and working as a sales rep for a TV channel, selling advertising. My first client happened to be the new night club due to open in town. At the time I didn’t even know what kind of club it was. As I sat there talking to the manager about the advertising packages I watched a group of beautiful ladies rehearsing some dance moves at the other end of the room. I couldn’t take my eyes off them!

After I’d finished my meeting I approached the ladies and asked what they were doing and how I could get into something like that. They were very friendly and invited me to join them at their next rehearsal. Which I did. And quit my advertising job that very day.

They explained to me what the show was all about and how it worked, showed me some dance moves and suggested that I should audition.

This goes back to the era when strip clubs had choreographed feature stage shows as part of their entertainment packages. Therefore, any dancer who aspired to get a job there had to come prepared with 2 or 3 fully choreographed and costumed solo feature acts, ready for stage!

My mum stayed up all night to help me make my first stage costume. If I remember correctly, it was my ballroom dance dress remodelled to resemble a showgirl costume. I think we did a rather good job of it, if you ask me!

I did fail that first audition and didn’t get the job at that club. I was young and clueless while the other performers were very experienced showgirls. However, those seasoned showgirls encouraged me to not give up and try again. I followed their advice and got the job at the next club! I danced at that club, and then another club on weekends for a few months. I had a ball!

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I then moved on to doing other things – travelling, studying, several day jobs, getting married, getting divorced, travelling again… and so on for several years. That whole time throughout my travels I kept a couple of stages costumes in my bag, just in case, because I always thought I’d go back to dancing at some point. Which I eventually did.

I went back to dancing in Brisbane, circa 2004. I was in my late 20’s then. Since that time I covered just about every genre of Adult Entertainment industry: as a strip club dancer, feature showgirl, lingerie waitress, party stripper and burlesque performer. I’d say I’ve been dancing for around 13 years, cumulatively.

First stage show experience:

My first stage show experience was actually an audition (back in the 1990’s). Now, this would be a nerve-racking experience for anyone, even a seasoned performer, let alone a 19 yo first-timer!

Imagine this: you have to perform a very sexy and seductive stage act in an empty club, in the broad daylight in front of a small group of club’s executives who just sit there with grim expressions on their faces… And this is your first time on stage ever as a solo performer… Can someone please kill me now???

Needless to say, I felt very awkward and ended up experiencing every stage mishap imaginable – from several wardrobe malfunctions to getting my heel caught in between the floor boards and falling over as a result… Not very sexy… Beam me up Scotty!!!

That memory aside, my first ever public performance, once I got my act together, got me instantly addicted to the stage! The adrenaline rush that comes from performing in front of the live audience is incredible!

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First lap dance experience:

When and where I first started dancing there was no such thing a lap dance. It was all about the stage performance.

Once I had re-entered the dancing industry in the 2000’s, I had to learn the whole lot of new things! One of them was the art of lap dance. I just couldn’t understand the concept! Luckily, on my first shift one of the seasoned dancers took me under her wing. My first private dance booking was a double dance with that lady. She showed me all the lap dance moves in the real life situation. And I was just parroting her, ‘monkey see monkey do’ the whole time whilst thinking to myself: “Why would anyone want to pay $200 for this??? Just to see some some ladies gyrating their hips in front of them?” After 10 + years in the industry I still struggle with the concept, to be perfectly honest with you…

Best & worst shifts financially:

The one that stands out in my memory as one of the best was the night when I made around $800 purely in tips in the course of 5-hour bikini waitressing shift and some podium dances in a mining town in West QLD. I didn’t even do any lap dances that night, if I remember correctly. People just kept throwing money at me!

Worst was $50 or more out of pocket after a full night shift. This is how this happens: the night is slow, you make no money whatsoever, but you still have to pay your club fees, the price of those few drinks you bought from the bar, your cab fare home or a parking fee. This could easily amount to $100-200

Besides money, what qualities do you believe make a good customer?

Basic good manners. it’s that simple! Saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ and offering ladies a drink goes a long way, trust me! Just the heads up, Ladies and Gentlemen: when you treat the club’s staff with respect you get a far better service from them in return. So, do yourselves a favour and be nice to all hospitality staff!

What are/were your customer pet hates? (Things that annoy/ed you about customers most)

1)“The Preachers” and “The Saviours” – the type of customers who come in to the club, enjoy the entertainment and then start preaching to us that our job is degrading/sinful/amoral and that we should be ashamed of doing it. My thoughts: “If you don’t like it, then why are you here?”

Those who say “I can take you away from all this if you would just go home with me”, basically offering me to become his personal sex slave instead. No thanks…

2) Those female customers who treat dancers with disrespect and think they can get away with it because of their gender. No! The same rules apply to everyone. Your gender doesn’t give you any entitlements!

Best memory of your time as a dancer?

Ohh, there are so many… All those exciting show tours I went on either by myself or with groups of fellow showgirls. I got to perform in so many beautiful exotic places all around Australia and meet so many awesome people along the way. I might have to write my own book about those experiences one day, so stay tuned!

What is the most rewarding experience dancing has allowed you to have?

Having the freedom to choose the hours I worked and being able to take time off anytime to do other things. All the travelling I got to do with this job. Performing on stage in front of some amazingly appreciative audiences. Getting to dress up in glamourous sparkly costumes and being paid for it.

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In the recent years I’ve performed stage shows at multiple charity events and helped raise funds towards some great causes (including Domestic and Family Violence Awareness, LGBTI Community, Community Arts Centre in Broome WA, Animal Rescue Centre end several others) and it has been very rewarding!

Best piece of advice to pass on about dancing?

Don’t take people’s negative comments to heart. Try not to get involved in ‘dressing room dramas’ and conflicts with other dancers, it’s not worth it. And don’t let one bad night bring you down and affect your self-confidence. Bad nights happens to everyone once in a while, even the most experienced and popular dancers.

Are you currently dancing? If not, what are you doing now?

Now I’m 41 and have retired form dancing in strip clubs – those long night shifts in stiletto heels are just too taxing on the body. I still occasionally perform Burlesque stage shows and do some lingerie waitressing shifts every now and then. Aside from that I work as a freelance makeup artist and photographer, do some odd jobs in hospitality and retail, volunteer for RSPCA and study for a Certificate in Community Services.

How do you feel about the statement that some people make that stripping is degrading to women?

*Rolling my eyes* Does a circus clown or a comedian degrade himself by making himself look like a fool on stage? Does he feel offended when the audience laughs at him? No. This is the whole point of his act! Same thing applies to striptease artists. We invest a lot of time effort into making ourselves look like sex sirens and put on theatrically sexualised dance routines in front of the audiences. It’s a stage act, a form of performance art and self-expression. Why is it degrading if we willingly choose do it? This could only be degrading if were were forced into doing it.

How do you feel about the use of sexualised imagery of women in advertising material?

Indifferent. As long as it looks good and doesn’t depict any violence or abuse it’s fine by me. What bugs me, however, is the rampant gender stereotyping in advertising material. Why is it always the woman who’s doing the housework in most TV commercials and the man is drinking beer, playing sports or driving cool cars? This is what needs some revision, if you ask me.

Some people argue that strip clubs shouldn’t exist at all, removing the opportunity for women to be ‘objectified’ in that setting. How do you respond to this?

With an eye roll! They are missing the point! Strip clubs, burlesquer clubs and bikini bars are places where it is safe and acceptable to objectify women because they willingly put themselves into that environment and are comfortable with being objectified whilst getting paid for it!

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Visiting strip clubs and engaging in the services of dancers is an intrinsically male activity. Do you believe that the practice of visiting strip clubs and engaging in the services of dancers is an activity that should be freely available to men, and to the general public, now and in the future?

Strip clubs should continue existing. However I think they could with some changes, the old format is getting boring. They should offer more variety of entertainment, for a start. Bring back the proper choreographed cabaret-style stage shows! This would attract different demographic of customers. Some clubs started introducing ‘ladies nights’ where they would have male topless waiters and performers in a separate section of the club. I think it’s a great practice! Both sexes should me made feel welcome in strip clubs. Offer something for everyone!

Women’s rights are being highlighted daily in the media at the moment. What purpose do you think stripping holds in our modern society? Do we ‘need’ to have stripping as part of our ongoing culture? If so, why?

I think people are taking things too seriously. It’s just another form of entertainment, that’s all. Some people like it, others don’t. Everyone should just chill and let each other be, I reckon. I don’t think we ‘need’ it. Just like we don’t ‘need’ ballet, circus, opera, football etc. But it’s great to have all these options available for everyone to enjoy.

As far as women’s rights go, women should have the right to work in a strip club if they choose to and not be shamed or lectured for it!

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Paid To Dance: Asha’s Story Part Two is AVAILABLE FOR PRE-ORDER in paperback and Kindle eBook for release WORLDWIDE on July 20th, 2018.

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From The Outside Looking In: Helen, The Mother of a Stripper

Helen: The Mother

When my daughter Olivia voiced her interest in becoming a dancer, my immediate reaction was to think, “Okay, this is something she wants to do, so let’s look into it.” I didn’t have an overall negative feeling about the suggestion. Olivia was eighteen years of age at the time and exploring different opportunities out in the world. My daughter wanted to try something new, and I was adamant about not shutting her down. My objective was to find out what it was all about and seek out some information first before making a judgment. I went so far as to help Olivia look into different clubs. I decided to try to steer her toward what I could see were the best on offer.

I could see there were clubs that presented themselves as being very upmarket, so I took the risk and allowed Olivia to go ahead and try it out. I made sure she found out about the club’s security measures, and once we had all the information I was confident she would be working in a safe environment.

I think the reason I wasn’t disturbed by the undressing element of Olivia’s job was because having looked at other societies around the world I could see that exotic dance was indeed a matter of culture. It’s purely about dress. It’s fabric, that’s all. In some countries an exotic entertainer’s clothes don’t come off. In ours, they do.

In my opinion dancing was a much better option for Olivia than for her to go to a normal nightclub. She had tried that previously and it had been quite a scary experience. At her work she would be free to flirt, which is something eighteen-year-old girls often want to do, and there were security guards around watching over her at all times. This part of their interaction always unfolded out on the main floor where Olivia was clothed, so the undressing part was a secondary factor. Olivia could easily go to a regular nightclub, hook up with a guy and go home with him. The fact that she would be taking her clothes off was her choice.

I wanted her to feel she could come to me if things did go wrong, and Olivia was happy to talk about her experiences with me. She mentioned she was feeling very connected to the other dancers because the environment in which they worked was so raw. It was comforting to learn of the supportive environment that Olivia was in at the club.

Security watched over the dancers as they worked, and ensured each girl made it safely into a taxi at the end of the night. The management was very strict about maintaining a drug-free environment, and the dancers’ alcohol intake was restricted.

Olivia was connecting with her customers and enjoying having intelligent conversations, and this insight gave me a totally different impression of the men who were going to the club. They weren’t necessarily going there just to gawk at naked girls, and it seemed that my daughter was attracting clients who were engaged by her intellect and mature manner. They were really appreciating those parts of her, which was in turn building her confidence in herself and her ability to communicate with them. A lot of these men were much older, and at eighteen years of age to be able to converse with them was going to benefit her later in life.

From what I was learning from Olivia, there were two different ways to work in that environment. Some girls just flaunted their bodies and worked very hard physically. Olivia chose to work in a smarter way, which meant she spent most of the evening doing little more than talking to the men while they paid her to remain clothed and keep them company. I thought that was a very clever angle, because she worked smarter, not harder.

The undressing element of the job was a very confidence-building experience for my daughter. You have to have guts to be able to do that for anyone in life, and I could see it was a very empowering feeling for her. It was an unusual environment to be learning all of these things, but the positives certainly outweighed the negatives.

If another parent came to me having found out their daughter wanted to dance, or was already dancing, I suppose my best advice would be to keep the lines of communication open, as I did. I also felt it was very important to stand by Olivia because other members of the family strongly disapproved of her choice. This meant I was the only one supporting her.

If your daughter is over eighteen, she is going to do what she wants to do. I certainly did! It is a matter of making what they want to do as comfortable and safe as possible. Make sure they seek out a reputable club. I would not have been as satisfied with other clubs of lesser quality, so it was good that Olivia chose the one she did.

I would advise that girls go into dancing with a short-term focus to earn some good quick money, but to also have a backup plan. I think Olivia stayed in the job for too long, and grew to resent it. The job did begin to grind her down emotionally after the first year, and she did not enjoy it as much as she once had. It would have been better if she had just avoided that pain by moving on to something else.

Paid To Dance: Asha’s Story Part Two is AVAILABLE FOR PRE-ORDER in paperback and Kindle eBook for release WORLDWIDE on July 20th, 2018.

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