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

 

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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.

Dark Matter: The Jess Mariano of the Universe

A mile underground, in a converted mine somewhere in South Dakota, scientists have been trying to detect an elusive substance that makes up around 27 per cent of all the mass and energy in the observable universe: dark matter.

For twenty months, from October 2014 to May 2016, the Large Underground Xenon (LUX) experiment was trying to detect dark matter. But at last week’s International Dark Matter Conference (a name I call immediate dibs on in case I start a girl band), Professor of Physics at Brown University Rick Gaitskell said: “What we have observed is consistent with background alone.”

The LUX experiment had failed. Dark matter remains as mysterious as Jess Mariano in season two of Gilmore Girls.

However, as the Sanford Underground Research Facility prepares for round two with an experiment 70 times more sensitive than LUX, now is a good time to talk about why dark matter is so darn hard to detect.

Read the full article on Herpothesis

Collage by Alex Hanson

Hello, World!

A portrait of the writer as a young clown

I’ve been learning to code for the past 3 months – nothing major, nothing spectacular. But now I know that the utterly simple exclamation of Hello, World! is enough to induct a newbie into the world of programming. I’m saying this now because I realise I’ve never really spoken to any of you directly – ever – but here you are: still and unflinching, dark and mysterious. You fascinate me. I recently started an internship producing radio at the ABC, and my presenter says that word a lot – this is fascinating, it’s great to talk to you.

So, then. Who are you? How are you going? Do you have any pets? A cat or a dog or a gecko?

I’m opening up to you in hopes this rambling display of openness and trust will inspire some back-and-forth. Tonight I spoke to a curator at a museum for the morbid, last week to a woman directing the Future Library art project, the week before that to a neuroscientist. I like talking with people, so it’s probably time I start a conversation on here. Here, where my teenage writing matures. Where the evidence of my evolution sits under glass.

These are the coordinates of my life right now, as it stands: I hurt my ankle a few weeks back tumbling, and I’ve been staying up until 6.00am for the Olympic gymnastics – all the while wishing I could jump again. I still prefer sunsets over sunrises. I’m in the final hour of the audiobook The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer. I’ve got the business card of a NASA engineer sitting in front of me on my desk, next to my lapel pins shaped like stars. It’s 1.04am and I have an important email to send in the morning. I’m in my final semester of university. There’s a new This American Life episode waiting for me, but I can’t bring myself to listen to anything titled My Summer Self while I’m still wearing finger-less gloves. I ordered six second-hand Ray Bradbury paperbacks this afternoon. I still don’t know if writing things down is helpful for me or for anyone else. I’m going to sit in the sun tomorrow and listen to Neutral Milk Hotel and the soundtrack to In the Heights. I’m not going to check this for spelling errors.

My reasoning behind all of these sentences of admittance, is an intersection of occurrences. Last night I wrote a poem to my favourite author, who I’ve posthumously adopted as an unwitting mentor. I don’t think it made sense, not unless you’re someone who is well-versed in Fahrenheit 451 trivia or the tales of Dandelion Wine. But when I posted it on here, on my scribbled home, it got half a dozen likes. I wonder too much – too much not to ask – whether anyone actually reads anything on here. I need to know if you have, and I truly want to know what you think.

This is an offering – a short but concise map to my life right now. It’s a gesture. I’m letting you know that you have access to parts of my life, the same as you do my writing. And to let you know that it would be great to talk to you about fascinating things.