Choose Your Own Adventure

Every time the seasons changed, a garbage bag full of second-hand clothes was dumped in the middle of our living room. It was the mid-2000s, time of the bedazzled camisole and as-seen-on-Lizzie-McGuire muscle tee, and my sister and I got the pick of the lot.

The hand-me-downs were always at the heart of a preteen struggle between excitement and pride. I hesitated to wear the clothes of the long-lost cousins and little-known family friends who had come before me. Choosing which clothes to wear was supposed to be practice in building an identity, but when the clothes were pulled from a formerly unwanted wardrobe, my identity felt borrowed and worn.

 

A:      Did you ever get anything material passed down?

B:     I got this ring from my great grandmother, Alice—and that’s why my middle name is Alice. She passed away a year after I was born. Everyone in my family says I’m like Alice… My family’s quite curvy, and then there’s me, tiny, little blonde stick figure. But my nana Alice was a really short, Irish redhead.

 

Sometimes I’d cut the clothes into pieces, trying, with limited sewing experience, to make the clothes just unfamiliar enough to be mine again. It’s textbook. Teen thrashes against expectations, taking perfectly good clothes down with her, leaving a trail of loose thread in her wake. I never wore these disasters in public, but when I was young I took scissors to t-shirts whenever I felt too familiar to myself—whenever I felt too comfortable, too expectable. I was finding distance. I was trying to put space between other people and me, one DIY halter top at a time.

 

READ THE FULL ESSAY ON PLASMA DOLPHIN

ILLUSTRATION BY BENEDICT LEADER

These Are Some of the Things You Missed

There are songs I choose just for the mornings

to dance to as the sun throws shapes

vertical across the carpet and horizontal

across the bookshelf

I’m grateful between 8AM and 9AM when

the shower is warm and the light is muddled

through the window at just the right angle—

a new kind of feeling to wake up from the night’s

sleep with the covers curled between my knees:

And here, now, wondering about how

the first thing I think

when I wake up is blue

Graduation Goggles

For the last three years my world has been structured by deadlines: self-imposed, handed down by lecturers and editors, given to me by well-meaning friends and mentors. Throughout university I’ve learned to wrestle with them, coexist with them, do housework and unnecessary vacuuming to avoid them. Despite fighting them, they’ll continue to pepper my life like landmines—and, every now and then, one will explode and throw me into a different life. Those are the dangerous ones, the deadlines that approach with an omen-like inevitability: finishing university, moving out, starting a new job in a new city. The ones you count down to and wait for, wholly unsure of how you’re supposed to approach them. The ones I’m looking at now, slotted between everyday chores in my Google calendar. Return library books and Last class EVER and Major project due and Move to Sydney???

They’re catalysts for nostalgia, which I’ve been dealing with in almost sickening amounts—the feeling that, looking back, everywhere I’ve been and everything I’ve done and felt is more precious and fragile than it ever was before.

READ THE FULL ESSAY ON INTO THE FOLD

ILLUSTRATION BY MARIEL ABBENE

 

Orphic Idiot

singing   from  the  other  side   of  the   River    Styx

the   words   lost  over  the  water, your  back turned,

my   ankle  dotted   with  blood,  your  neck strained

against  song,  so  i  sing:  “on  thee   the  portion of

our  time  depends, whose  absence  lengthens  life,

whose                          presence                            ends.”

you   look   back,   you   look   back,  you looked back.

i    crouch  at  the  bank  and let my dress dip into the

water. you   kneel   in  the  sand,  hands  behind  you,

eyes  forward.  you  sing  as  the sword comes down,

and   you  sing  as   you  cross  the river, and you sing

as    Hades’   bottom    lip   trembles,  as   i   hold  you,

singing   from   the   same   side   of    the  River  Styx.

 

Fail Again, Fail Better

A significant portion of my high school career was spent hungry, tired, and listening to Weezer’s The Greatest Man That Ever Lived on a loop. If I got my energy from anything, I got it from Rivers Cuomo singing:

“Somebody said all the world’s a stage and each of us is a player. That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you. In act one, I was struggling to survive. Nobody wanted my action dead or alive. In act two, I hit the big time and bodies be all up on my behind…”

Open on an empty stage. Bare interior. Grey light. It’s 2012, and there are three actors standing on the stage—long-dead playwright Samuel Beckett, my sixteen-year-old self, and my high school drama teacher. Samuel Beckett says, “Fail again. Fail better”—and in this entirely hypothetical situation, my high school drama teacher nods. And I, a teenager, say something stupid.

“Huh?”

In non-hypothetical 2012, my high school drama class studied and performed scenes from Samuel Beckett’s absurdist play Endgame. It follows characters living in limbo, etching out familiar circles and familiar routines in a creaky house, never going outside, never speaking a single sentence that made any kind of sense—Beckett was a dude who revelled in the nonsensical. His plays make a lot of points, but they don’t make a lot of sense. Nevertheless, 16-year-old me—lots of hair, not a lot of courage—took on the challenge. I performed scenes from that play in front of my peers multiple times a week. And, multiple times a week, I was terrible at it. I walked onto that mercifully dim-lit stage, stood my ground, projected my voice, and I was terrible. It was like I was stuck on step one of Acting School for Dummies: make yourself a blank slate. I could never quite get myself to step two: emotion.

This isn’t something I’m realising in hindsight, like when you read your poetry from four years previous and you feel like your spine is being ripped right out of your back. I knew it at the time. I knew it in my bones, but year after year I came back to that classroom. The drama students were my comrades, and our drama teacher was our spirit guide through the wilderness of real life. The best mix of cynical and inspirational, like a walking TED Talk. In that class, I failed a million times every day. I failed in the same spot, right in front of the green screen, three to four times a week.

I’m pretty sure we all want talents. We all want to have those things we’re preternaturally good at: writing, dancing, sewing, climbing trees. Because when we do those things, for at least a moment, we have purpose. In those moments, for me, I feel built for something. And a sense of purpose is a powerful thing to have on a rainy Wednesday afternoon. It’s the fire that makes people want to go out and spend their free time learning and growing.

But in that classroom, performing scenes from a play with no path or purpose, I realised the true power of being crap. Like, no-one-can-save-you, no-teacher-can-teach-you, crap.

As a teenager I put myself under supernatural amounts of pressure: to be good, to be smart, to be better. And now, I still drag myself into the trenches from morning to midnight. As Ze Frank would put it, I have an abundance of “healthy little fires that are gonna warm up my ass.” There are things I work for, that get me out of bed, that keep me on the very tips of my toes. Stories I want to tell, people I want to talk to, things I want to get out into the world.

But there’s a strong case to be made for being crap at something. It’s a relief. Find a safe space, something you’re bad at, and be bad at it. It’s akin to standing in the middle of a desert, or on the edge of a cliff, or on a metre by metre island in the Pacific, and just screaming into nothingness. And learning how to fail and fail again, especially when you have no hope of making it anywhere significant in the scheme of an overachieving mind, is valuable. Learning how to squeeze enjoyment out of failure, is valuable. Having somewhere to go and something to do that’s at least a step away from your own expectations and the expectations of others, is valuable.

Every day spent in that classroom was a lesson in failure: how to handle it, how to get back up, how to get up in the first place. In acting, I got incrementally better. I played a zombie unsatisfied with post-apocalyptic circumstances. I played Clov from Endgame with an anything-but-believable limp and a bad accent. I improvised in front of examiners, did a shaky impression of a waitress smoking a cigarette, and got a C average (woo!) and a pat on the back for not giving up and falling into a heap under the spotlight. But in failure, I earned at least an A- and a lingering applause.

So.

Open on an empty stage. Bare interior. Grey light. There are three actors standing on the stage—long-dead playwright Samuel Beckett, my twenty-year-old self, and my high school drama teacher. Samuel Beckett says, “Fail again. Fail better”—and in this entirely hypothetical situation, my high school drama teacher nods. And I, a young adult, give them two approving thumbs up.

Rocket Girl

A collage of Tavi Gevinson Takes Centre Stage by Claire Marie Healy and If Only We Had Taller Been by Ray Bradbury – none of these lines are my own, they’ve been taken and rearranged. 

it is about becoming a girl possessed

we’d reach our hands to touch and almost touch the sky

though right in front of us, the girls feel far away and unknowable,

among those turned backs, though you wouldn’t know it yet, is

restricted adolescence

our reach was never quite enough

like any other 20-year-old on a Friday afternoon in New York

i send my rockets forth between my ears

hoping an inch of Good is worth a pound of years

she smiles at the idea

for some eight years now:

an ongoing conversation with herself

to diaries of brain-dust left over from dreams

“just figuring it out,”

the thing that no one wants to hear

“this is actually bad journalism,” she sighs

next year seems less achievable than inevitable

Short man, Large dream

rockets forth between my ears

navigating New York’s romantic landscape,

making your adolescent rage heard in a world,

the parallels and the serendipities do not escape me.