This month, I'm featuring Mek, a writer, blogger, and artist from Australia, to find out how she tells stories through her writing and art.

Mek: An Artistic Storyteller

Welcome to Storyteller Series, where I highlight writers, authors, and those who tell, publish, and promote stories.

This month, I’m featuring Mek. She was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and emigrated to Sydney, Australia at the age of six. After taking the safe route of a chemical engineering degree rather than exploring her love of art, she spent years using the left side of her brain. Fortunately, creativity seeped into the everyday moments of her life and she finally accepted her fate to use both sides of her brain.

She is currently writing her first novel and publishes fiction and non-fiction works on her blog, with the occasional accompanying illustration.

Mek lives with her partner Richard, their son Ruben, Djembe the rescue cat, three nameless chooks, a lot of kangaroos, and roughly seven trespassing sheep on 22 acres of pretty hillside, dotted with granite boulders and gumtrees, in Victoria, Australia. 

Mek: An Artistic Storyteller

This month, I'm featuring Mek, a writer, blogger, and artist from Australia, to find out how she tells stories through her writing and art.

Photo Credit: Richard Baxter

“My writing practice parallels my life journey. When I give in to it and stop caring about what others think, I am at my happiest. It is then that I am receptive to serendipitous offerings; “mistakes” unveil gifts, and, on reading an uncensored piece, I find a depth I hadn’t consciously intended.” — Mek

 

NT: Mek, I’m so happy to chat with you.

M:  Thanks, Nadine. A pleasure to be chatting with you!

NT: I have to say this. I love that you’re both a writer and an artist. Which one did you fall in love with first – writing or art?

M: Visual art was definitely my first love. I started out obsessed with drawing horses, which I did really badly. Then I moved on to humans and had better luck than with my equestrian efforts. However, toward the end of high school, I abandoned art and focused on STEM subjects. I left behind dreams of being an artist and a graphic designer to pursue a safe path of ‘guaranteed’ income and parental approval.

Writing seeped into my life through journaling and then, poetry. During an extended period of living abroad, I revelled in writing epic emails to friends about my adventures. I explored this pleasure that writing gave me by doing a short writing course called ‘Unlocking Creativity’. Since then,  I’ve had no doubt about the importance of writing and creative expression in my life.

Mek, On Her Art

NT: Life has a way of bringing us full circle. I’m sure other creatives have had a similar experience. Since coming home, as it were, to art again, how do you see it complementing your writings?

M: My art is a form of meditation. Total immersion in drawing stills my mind and works the magic of bringing fresh writing ideas to the surface. It may happen while I’m drawing, or at another time not long after. Conversely, drawing ideas come to me through my writing, the words directing the images and composition. It’s like having two connected aquifers. When one fills, it tops up the other.

NT: That’s something else! I love that analogy. And I also love how you equate your art with meditation. I believe that we’re most in tune with our creative source when we’re putting something in the world that wasn’t there before. Since we’re on the topic of art, I’d love to hear your thoughts about a quote that I’ve come across many times. César Cruz states that “art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable”. Do you want your art, writing included, to do either?

M: I’m not a fan of quotes that narrow possibilities like that. Can’t art do more than comfort or disturb? I’m also not comfortable with the ‘should’ in there. (laughs) Does that mean I have been disturbed?

N: Yeah, I have a problem with the word ‘should’ overall. (chuckles) But elaborate some more.

M: I agree that art is a powerful and important catalyst in disrupting the status quo. Comfort may be in finding words or images that articulate something we are grappling with, or by letting us know we are not alone. As for disturbing the comfortable, the first thing that comes to mind is Picasso’s Guernica. How incredible would it be to effect change in that way!

I would love for my writing to comfort or disturb, but I am also happy if it entertains, teaches, or inspires. It used to be important to me that my writing evokes empathy in readers as they witness the journey of my characters, but not so much anymore. I figure a clear character arc is necessary for any well-told story, and readers can take from it what they will.

In answering your question, I’ve only talked about writing. I don’t view my art in this way. It feels more like a hobby with nowhere near as much of me invested in it as in my writing. I’m not sure my art would elicit any kind of emotional reaction in viewers, but who knows?

Mek, On Her Novel & Storytelling

NT: That’s right. Personally, I believe that art will affect people in some way, no matter how small. They can love it or hate it, but I don’t think they’ll ever be unmoved. Okay, so, my next question is one that some writers dread. What’s your book about? (laughs) I know, right? Simple, yet terrifying. Tell us a bit about it.

M: (laughs) Yes, I dread that question. My book is a magical realism tale about a woman who goes to extreme lengths to avoid owning her decisions and actions, and the unexpected inner journey she undertakes in the process. Okay, that’s a pretty veiled, yet honest, description of the story.

N: No, that’s good. What inspired it?

M: The story was inspired by three vignettes I wrote while doing ‘Unlocking Creativity’. The course required me to write a character exploration piece on three prompts: ‘pressure’, ‘worst nightmare’, and ‘challenge’. I explored a different character for each one, but the stories were connected.

The idea stayed with me for a long time and my sense about its merit was cemented by a friend who read one and told me it reminded him of Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. I promptly got ahold of the book by this Murakami dude I’d never heard of and came away inspired and with my self-doubt and insecurities as a writer chipped away just a teeny bit. When I started writing my novel, I explored a range of story ideas but settled on what felt strongest, departing from the ideas in those vignettes.

NT: (laughs) “Murakami dude.” You crack me up! Since you brought up the course, ‘Unlocking Creativity’, tell us about the writing programme that you’re in now. You’ve shared about it on your blog. How is it helping you to craft your novel?

M: The course is filled with some incredible advice on making a story work. In the early days, it felt repetitive and I’d get frustrated at how many times I had to write about the character’s prison, their ghost, conflicting values, etc. But I get it now, and I’m so grateful for the foundation it gave me to frame my story. It has left me with plenty of room for imaginative writing within a clear boundary of a working story structure. I’ve learnt that boundaries are so important in the creative process. The course has also helped me maintain momentum. If I were going it alone, I wouldn’t have progressed with my story as much as I have. The feedback and encouragement from course tutors have also gone a long way in helping me fight against stagnation and my inner critic.

NT: That’s an awesome testimonial. I’m looking forward to reading your book. Now, you wrote a sci-fi story series that left me wanting to know what would happen to one of the characters. Do you plan on continuing to write in the speculative fiction genre?

M: I love writing sci-fi and dystopian tales. It appeals to my interest in science and technology, and my love of learning about new concepts that change the way we view the world. It could be discoveries of distant stars, the mating habits of a gnat, or genetic factors in human behaviour. Of course, there’s a lot to draw on from current events that, without too much of a stretch of the imagination, could be turned into a dystopian setting. I’ve drawn inspiration particularly from environmental and political issues that concern me. My work in progress is magical realism, which falls within the speculative fiction genre. The genre provides an outlet for the many ‘what if’ scenarios that play out in my brain.

NT: Magical realism, yeah! What about that story, though? You can’t just leave us hanging.

M: (laughs) I think it works to leave it open-ended because the characters have entered a realm of alternate realities, hence any resolution I write will only be a resolution in one world. What would you like to happen?

NT: Hmmm.

M: Okay, in lieu of a next instalment, check out “Chambered Nautilus”, and “A Resignation”, also on my blog. They’re unrelated stories featuring the same protagonist, Woodrow, a rebel scientist.

NT: I will. Next, I’d love to talk about self-care. Creating is a joy but it draws so much energy from us. How do you balance motherhood and your creative work without becoming depleted?

M: It’s a tough juggling act, but I love being a mum and my son is a source of inspiration. I started my blog when he was about four weeks old. Writing became as much a part of my daily routines as all the other things I was starting to embrace in my life as a new mum. Since returning to work, my writing time is during my long train commute. On days when I’m home, I scramble to make the most of his naptime or when he is down for the night. I don’t watch TV and most of my spare time, when not engaged with my son, or carrying out domestic tasks, is spent creating. Having a space to create is so important for personal growth, and even more so as a parent. It helps in retaining an identity beyond ‘parent’.

NT: Any self-care tips you would like to share?

M: There are the much-espoused self-care habits of exercise, yoga and mindfulness, which are part of my self-care routine, too. I do yoga at home a few days a week, incorporate Ayurveda teachings into my diet and lifestyle, and I recently started swimming and Pilates. So my tips are: make time for yourself, including time to create and time to maintain a healthy mind, body, and spirit. If you feel you don’t have time, reflect on what’s important to you and focus your energy on that. It will shift the way you value and use your time and you’ll find the universe conspiring to help you along your way.

Mek, On Australian Culture

NT: Those are great tips, Mek. I’m making note of them. I’m glad that you shared a bit about your daily life because now I want to know about your culture. The part in your bio about the kangaroos and trespassing sheep made me chuckle. What’s great about living in Australia?

M: I love the incredible beauty and diversity of our landscapes and the melting pot of cultures, particularly in cities. It translates into amazing food, exposure to new ideas, and a feeling of connectedness to the rest of the world. I grew up in Sydney. It’s a beautiful city, with the iconic harbour, beaches, and opera house. However, my favourite city is Melbourne, which has topped the world’s most liveable city honours a number of times, and rightly so!

NT: I’ve heard great things about Melbourne.

M: The question of culture is a hard one to answer, though. ‘Australian culture’, as represented in the media, doesn’t differ much from a lot of other western countries. But that’s not what I live and experience day to day. My personal experience is a grey area between Ethiopian culture and the ‘Aussie culture’ that I lumped every white Australian into while growing up. There is also the indigenous culture, which I’m still learning about. The first custodians of this land have been here for 50,000 years, long before the sovereign country it has been for the last 230 years. I love the respect and connection that Aboriginal people have for the land and the wisdom in how they’ve traditionally lived side by side with nature.

NT: Oh, you make me want to know more and visit there. So who are some well-known Australian writers? Have any of them influenced your writing?

M: Christos Tsiolkas, Tim Winton, Helen Garner, Peter Carey, Bryce Courtney, and Kate Grenville come to mind. No, none have influenced my work.

NT: What about your favourite Australian authors? Which of their books would you recommend?

M: Three Australian authors I’ve read and enjoyed are Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief, Tim Winton’s Breath, and Steve Totltz’s A Fraction of the Whole. Another Australian author I’ve heard many good things about and intend to read someday is Helen Garner.

NT: Thanks so much, Mek! It’s been great talking to you. I’m glad for this chance to get to know you better. Before you go, what kind of stories do you want to keep on telling through your words and art?

M: It’s been a lot of fun, and a real honour. Thanks, Nadine. I want to keep telling stories that surprise, uncover truths, and are infused with humour. If budget wasn’t a question, I’d also like to tell the kind of stories that require extended ‘research’ trips to the far corners of the world, fossicking for story gems that are waiting to be found in new cultures and experiences.

 

Brilliant, Mek! We learned so much from you. I appreciate you and how you tell stories.

You can connect with Mek on her blog and on Instagram.

 

This is the last feature for this year. I hope you’ve enjoyed each one. The Series will resume in January 2018.

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13 Comments on "Mek: An Artistic Storyteller"

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Lana Broussard
Guest
Thank you, Nadine, for the lovely interview with Mek. It was so nice to get to learn more about you, Mek. What an extraordinary aptitude you have, Mek, embracing both sides of the brain with the engineering discipline and the art and writing too! I wish that I had been gifted that way. I like how art is a meditation and springboard into writing and how it fuels the process. I would love to draw horses (or anything really). Mek is also on point with attempting to achieve some balance in life and setting aside time for creativity. An outstanding… Read more »
Mek
Guest

Thanks Lana. Please draw some horses…we all have to begin somewhere, so just start with one small part…they have mesmerising eyes, so maybe start there? thanks for the kind words. Nadine’s questions were great in teasing out interesting stuff amongst the million and one random things I would have otherwise gone on about haha.

Nadine
Admin
Nadine

You’re welcome, Lana, and thanks for such a thoughtful comment. I’m happy that you gained so much from the interview. It warms my heart when readers can relate to the person being interviewed. If you’re not following Mek already, I encourage you to do so.

K E Garland
Guest

Love Mek! And love you too Nadine! This is a great interview on both of your parts. Although I already know and “follow” Mek, I feel as if I’ve gotten an insider’s view of her creativity.

Mek
Guest

Hello there, member of our Council of Writing Companions 🙂

Nadine
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Nadine

Love you, too, Katharin, and thanks! It’s wonderful getting to know each other like this. We writers gotta stick together. 🙂

Leslie
Guest
Oh my goodness – two of my favorite creative people/bloggers in conversation with each other – I’ve hit the jackpot! I think I’ve mentioned before, Nadine that I love your storyteller series, and your line of questioning is always a big part of what makes it substantial. I have been a follower of Mek’s blog, 10000hoursleft, for a while, and, like you, she has become a member of a council of writing companions who I have in my head, whose writing and practice I take inspiration from, whose suggestions and questions I like to take into consideration. This feature with… Read more »
Mek
Guest
You are so kind Leslie. I love the idea of the council of writing companions. I didn’t have that name for it but you and Nadine are definitely part of mine. You are an inspiration to me too (as is Nadine). Re: TV I realise now there is a lot of quality programming about and maybe, just maybe one day I might watch them on DVDs haha. If I did, I’d start with The Wire, then probably move on to Breaking Bad. I know of all those others like Game of Thrones but that just doesn’t rock my boat. Speaking… Read more »
Nadine
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Nadine
Your comment is everything, Leslie! Thank you so much! It was such a thrill to feature her. If I remember correctly, I started following her blog because of you, so thank you! I admire her writing style, art, and her open, friendly nature. I’m glad that I closed off the year with her. It’s like ending on a high note. As for that “Murakami dude”, lol, I’m yet to read his books. My Japanese students have been encouraging me to read his works. I need to find out if I can get ahold of any English translations. I was surprised,… Read more »
Mek
Guest
Leslie always leaves the most thoughtful, encouraging and positive messages. I get so excited when she blogs or when I read her comment among the community of bloggers we are a part of (or council of writing companions haha…). So glad we found each other via Leslie! Your questions were really great Nadine, you’re a natural. I really felt honoured and pleasantly surprised that you’d ask me- it was like- hey, wow, she thinks I’m a writer? You know, cause this creative life is filled with self-doubt. I’d love to turn the tables and hear your answers to some of… Read more »
Nadine
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Nadine
Leslie is the best! I’m beyond happy and grateful that I connected with both of you, and hope that we’ll meet in person one day. I love “council of writing companions”. It makes me feel like I’m part of a circle like King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table, lol. Of course, I’d ask you. C’mon. I adore Octavia Butler. I encourage you to read EVERYTHING she has written. I started with the Xenogenesis series, which consists of three books. You could start with that if you want a riveting sci-fi journey. Or, you could begin with my favourite, Fledgling.… Read more »
Mek
Guest

Ha, it does have a very formal, serious stuff goes down at meetings sound to it, doesn’t it? I am too much a commitment-phobe to go for a trilogy so I will start with Fledgling. Thanks for the recommendation, I will let you know when I have read it. 🙂

Nadine
Admin
Nadine

You’re welcome. How about reading Bloodchild and Other Stories instead of the trilogy? It’s a collection of sci-fi stories and essays. I do hope you’ll read the trilogy one day, though. You don’t have to read it all in one go. It’s really good.