Mekong Cultural Hub

Hitting Pause: Reflections from Meeting Point 2024

A list of Excuses

By Fezhah Maznan

When asked to take a break, we always say – 
we can’t. 
Because if we do stop, 
step away 
and sit down, 
Everything that can go wrong will go wrong. 
Our lives’ works, 
our sweat and tears, 
our legacies – 
how will people know that we existed? That we were here?

When asked to take a break, we always say –
we can’t. 
Because the only person who we can rely on is us.
Can we really depend on someone else? 
Someone who doesn’t think like us, 
talk like us,
manage artists /agents /stakeholders /government people like us. 
How will this project be a success?  

When asked to take a break, we always say – 
we can’t. 
Because how will the work keep on going, 
how will lives be transformed 
or who will entertain the kids? 
We are the fuel and the machine. 
We are the driver and the wheels. 
Without us, 
Who will keep on going?

When asked to take a break, we always say – 
we can’t. 
There isn’t enough time in a day 
to do all the things that we have to do 
and on top of that, 
to add one more thing into the list – 
a break! 

Who has time for that? 

We skip lunch and hold our pee because there is one more proposal/ report to finish, one more rehearsal to attend, one more meeting to take all while running on just 4 hours of sleep. 

Where is there time to chill?

When asked to take a break, we always say – 
we can’t. 
There isn’t enough money to go around. 
To hire someone skilled or time to train another new team 
because we are the one (wo)man miracle team – 
the artist, the producer, the marketing strategist. 
We have a paid Canva account because
who has time to figure out how to use Adobe. 

When asked to take a break, we always say – 
we can’t. 
We have already missed out so much. 
That holiday with our family,
that celebration with our friends, 
that one-on-one time with our kids. 
Doesn’t a break mean giving up? 
Won’t then all those sacrifices be in vain? 

Ouch, I should probably see a doctor for this pain. 
Let me check my schedule if I can take a break. 

When asked to take a break, we always say – 
we can’t. 
What do you do when you are on a break? 
What do you fill your time with? 
Where do you go after you wake up, shower and dress up? 
What address do you key into your Waze? 

Oh what a waste of a day, 
and there are so many ways to spend a day. 

When asked to take a break, we always say – 
we can’t. 

Not now, 

maybe later. 

Some time soon. 

Who knows when.

Let me get back to you. 

Fezhah wrote this poem in January 2024, after 6 months of regular online exchanges with Jean-Baptiste Phou, Kamini Ramachandran and Benny Widyo, facilitated by Kathy Rowland. They were brought together through the Curated Conference program within Mekong Cultural Hub’s Meeting Point platform, and the focus for their discussions, Hitting Pause: Examining Purpose & Practice, was proposed by Kathy in response to her observations that:

The desire to effect social change through art motivates many practitioners across Southeast Asia. Arts groups and individuals are creating ­­works, which directly or indirectly, address gaps in their communities. ­­More often than not, the problems they want to alleviate demand urgent attention. At the same time, the Southeast Asian arts sector itself suffers from limited resources. There never seems to be enough funds, time, skills and opportunities to fully implement ideas, no matter how innovative they may be.

In such an environment, activities are often designed to solve immediate needs. Practitioners get caught in a cycle of servicing their stakeholders, moving from one programme cycle to the next. Burn-out follows. There is little time leftover to investigate the root causes of the problems facing their communities. Upon scrutiny, some activities, no matter how impactful, are palliative rather than restorative.

In March 2024 during the public phase of Meeting Point, the four Fellows and Kathy hosted two sessions with audiences of fellow practitioners from the culture and arts sector in Asia – one online and one in person. Fezhah performed her poem (above), Kamini offered a provocation, A Calendar of Doing Less; while Benny and Jean-Baptiste shared the respective journeys they had been on during the course of the program, resulting in a resignation from Benny – imagining My Collective Without Me, and the start of a new chapter for JB, Hi, my name is Jean-Baptiste, and I am a writer.

The session resonated deeply with those who joined, and at MCH we have continued to hear from people in the weeks after the event for whom the provocation to hit pause has lingered. The honest sharing by the speakers made many question themselves, especially when confronted with the wry humour of the truths revealed through the interactive poll that took place during the session (see below). For some of us it felt like hearing from our peers in this way, has given us permission to take a break, and made us feel strong and empowered in owning that need, rather than feeling nervous that we might be weak if we are struggling.

In the poll, participants were asked what title they would give themselves if they had the choice to rename or even to redefine what they were doing. The answers to this question: loving listener, healer, change maker, caretaker, maker of magic…. reveal so much about our motivations for being in this field. In taking time to hit pause and examine our purposes and our practices, maybe we can increase our chances of these dreams being our reality.

Thank you to all the Fellows, and especially to Kathy for bringing this perspective from the grassroots, and in doing so, giving so much back to the community.