My Friends’ House

This one time I got a three-minute Uber there, to the house just off the roundabout on Gallipoli St. I misjudged the distance from the train station to my friends’ house, too embarrassed to say anything when the man showed up and pointed out the length of my journey. Their dog—a Rottweiler named Xena, who stands as tall as my hip, and who has a tendency to knock over objects with her tail—greets me at the other side of the flywire door. Her wet nose presses against the mesh. Most of the house has the same wooden floors. The boards creak all the way from the front door to the lounge room to the kitchen, in the same places every time. I lean against the kitchen bench while R— makes tea or T— does the dishes. The room doesn’t get much light, but the window above the sink lets in a hue of green from the overgrown grass claiming the backyard. When Xena goes outside she’s almost invisible. She leaves tracks in the grass behind her; I wonder if her paths can be seen from a plane. A very low-lying, perceptive plane. I remember peeling sweet potato in that room, watching T— and P— cook a saucepan-sized batch of noodles. P— eats Mi Goreng with mayonnaise. The day I found this out I turned to R—, like, you are dating a man who eats his noodles with mayonnaise. Then I ate my noodles with mayonnaise, and my life was unfortunately and irreversibly changed. We would sit on the mismatched couches with our bowls and our condiments, watching The Purge: Anarchy or some strange bootleg of a foreign thriller, until we realise it doesn’t have subtitles. I wonder how these three roommates have made something so temporary look so permanent. It takes time to accumulate clutter on a mantelpiece. There sits the green hat P— stole, drunk on St Patrick’s Day. The next time I visit after some time away, there’s a second hat. It’s the same, only bigger. I joke that every year he’ll have to steal increasingly larger green hats. The tradition has been set in motion. The house will one day become a museum, open especially late on March 17. We lean over each other for handfuls of the bitter, organic chocolate that R— collects in glass jars. We put T— in charge of the music and the movies—which, at the best of times, we ignore just to talk. One night, all night until morning, we yelled at each other about Fermi’s Paradox. The Where is Everybody? paradox. If the universe is so big, Where is Everybody? T— sat on the corner couch listening to our arguments until four in the morning, like a trooper.  R— and I are to this day in agreement that the possibility of being alone in the universe is scary and isolating and not at all nice to think about. P— thinks otherwise, and thinks it loud enough for the neighbours to hear. But he’s wrong! I’ll keep yelling so until the sun rises! Look at this house, these people. What gives me comfort is knowing that all kinds of places can feel like home, and plenty of people can feel like family. No one wants to be alone in the universe, and I reserve my right to wallow if it’s ever proven true.

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I Need a Moment

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I sat on my bed watching old videos until the sun went down yesterday, over and over until it was dark. My spine digging into the windowsill above my bed, cross-legged on crumpled doonas, I watched shaky footage from back home. I’m standing on a hill, the sky deep blue, the clouds sparse.  The Australian bush is beautiful with perspective—far away and up close, but you have to pay attention to see it. It’s right there, in the dip of the hillside. My home city, so small, with only a few skyscrapers standing out as identifiers.

Home is all skies. There are too many to count, sunrises and sunsets, but also blue skies so deep everything is made better by the colour.  I imagine what it will be like to be there again. Sitting here in a different city, scanning through memories, all sorted neatly into 201420152016… now. I’m having a hard time figuring out if I miss those people or if I miss those times, and I’m warning myself against nostalgia—I know I shouldn’t, but against my better judgement, I fall into it anyway.

 

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

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

 

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 the best mix of cynical and inspirational, like a walking TED Talk. In that class, I failed a million times every day.

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 becomes a fire. It makes me want to go out and spend my 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. 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 also a strong case to be made for being crap. It’s a relief. Find a safe space, something you’re bad at, and be bad at it. 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 find enjoyment in failure, is valuable. Having somewhere to go and something to do that’s 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, got a C average and a pat on the back for not giving up or falling into a heap under the spotlight. And I found out, afterwards, when the nerves and embarrassment fell away, that success isn’t always the point.

 

Inhale and Exhale: Legally Blonde the Essay

Do you ever have those moments where your breathing mutates? Because it happens to me a lot. My breathing turns from a handy automatic function to a process I’m aware of—instead of just breathing, I’m inhaling and exhaling and inhaling and exhaling. My lungs don’t work on their own. I have to force them. If I don’t I’ll collapse. Fall into a heap. But inhaling and exhaling stretches past my lungs, my intercostal muscles, my ribs, and my diaphragm. Wherever I am: brain, nervous system, eyes, nose, ears, mouth, tongue, hands—and whoever I am: human, girl, idiot—that person, trapped in a tangle of matter and limbs, needs to breathe too. I need to inhale the world around me and exhale my own reality.

Sometimes I can breathe OUT a whole heap of stuff, like art, fun science facts, short stories, and point of views, but other times what I really need is to breathe IN. And something what I need to breathe in, is this: Elle Woods strutting into Harvard, kicking butt, and being herself. What I need to breathe in is Legally Blonde.

At the right time Legally Blonde can be like oxygen to me—where oxygen atoms are made up of protons, electrons, and neutrons, Legally Blonde is made of uncompromised belief, unassailable femininity, and one of the best darn example of onscreen Shine Theory—the “I don’t shine if you don’t shine” approach to female friendship—to come out of the early 2000s. For a human-girl-idiot, it’s life-giving.

Read the full essay on Pop Culture Puke

How Strange To See

I have this fantasy where all of the older, cooler, worthy-of-the-word-hip people in my life take me under their older, cooler, worthy-of-the-word-hip wings, and I transform into a lovely, cultured butterfly who knows how to dance to indie rock. A girl who knows how to curl her hair, how to hold herself and how to live. I’m surrounded by swarms of driven people at all hours of the day—twenty-somethings with goals, jobs, great hair, down-to-earth confidence, and a work ethic to boot. I look at them and I wonder: when the heck is that going to happen to me? And in truth, I know these people lead chaotic lives. I know they get bored and they cry and they’re just as inclined to marathon Community alone in the dark as I am (???) but in the warm light of day they look like Gods, especially in comparison to the dishevelled pile of dirty laundry I call my life.

Read the full essay on Into the Fold

Art by Alessandra De Cristofaro