The Inexplicable

Many years ago, before I’d turned my back on teaching for the first but not the last time, a student of mine was murdered. She was a beautiful person. I can say that because it was true.

I was teaching an all female Drama class. It hadn’t been planned, it just worked out that way because the boys had all chosen something else, I suppose. The were extraordinary young women and I was their teacher. A young woman myself.

One day, she didn’t turn up which was unlike her. One day, the rumours were flying that someone had been killed. One day, one of the girls said, I think it’s her, miss, and I said, no, no, it’s not. One day, the school psychologist came to my classroom door and took me to the conference room and told me yes, yes, it is.

We journeyed and negotiated through the grief process together. A bunch of 17-to-18 year olds and their not-quite-24 year old teacher.

I knew nothing of that kind of grief.

We would make Milo together and eat Tim-Tams because some professional development I’d attended once suggested all teachers keep a packet of Tim-Tams in their office for student emergencies. This was so much more than an emergency. I’d say, let’s take class outside today, and we’d sit in the sunshine and someone would cry and we would forget about the lesson plan for that day.

I don’t know how her family got through it. I don’t know how her friends got through it. I assume they haven’t. It’s not the sort of thing you just get through. I was too young and too inexperienced to approach the family, to knock on their door and offer them a Tim-Tam. I wish I had. But I did what I could with the young people I was responsible for. My drama class.

And then, years later, a man turns up in my inbox. He is writing a book about it and would I be willing to be interviewed. He needed different perspectives, stories, things his careful research wouldn’t uncover. He had her parents’ blessing and trust and he was a respected journalist. He was good at what he did. I Googled. He was. Would I agree? To be interviewed? I said yes. I don’t know why.

And we meet at the coffee shop and he wants to record it and he does. And I cry and say sorry a lot because I shouldn’t be crying. I have no right to cry. Not after all these years. Do I? I don’t think I ask him that but I think it. I offer stories and details, those seemingly unimportant things I remember and probably never got to tell anyone. People get bored of other’s grief pretty quickly. They don’t care for anecdotes. Silly little details you remember and want to share and hold on to. During the funeral, one of my students reached out and held onto my hand. She squeezed my hand tight and cried and we walked up to put a rose on the coffin together. She is a teacher now.

I talk with the man, the stranger, the respected journo, for hours.

He pays for the coffees.

He says, do you want to mentioned by name and I think, no, no, no, this isn’t my story. This isn’t about me. But I say, let me think about it and he says that is fine. He says he will send me the pages and I can see how I feel about it. About my name being in his book. He says he’ll check in with me first and I believe him.

Only he doesn’t.

He emails and says, the book is done, I’ll invite you to the launch.

Only he doesn’t.

And then people I barely know message me on Facebook. Some write on my wall: is that you? Are you the Katy Warner, the Drama Teacher, in the book? Thumbs up. Like.

What the hell is going on?

I email the respected journalist turned author and, with respect, I say what the hell?

He replies, I’ll send you PDF copy.

Only he doesn’t.

And he still doesn’t.

And he still doesn’t.

And he Tweets, today, with a gif of a cat high-fiving a human, that his book is a top five, non-fiction pick of all time for someone who must be a Someone. And I think: a GIF? Really? A cat gif? Really?

And I think how difficult it is to write a book.

And how much more difficult it would be to write a book about someone who lived and breathed and was loved and was taken from us too soon, too tragically, too violently, too inexplicably.

And I think about emailing him, again. I think about Tweeting him in 140 biting characters. I think about why I agreed to the interview in the first place. I think about that drama class and how they’re all about to turn thirty. I think how this isn’t about me. Or him. Or launches or top-five lists or cat gifs.

I don’t know what it is about.

But it still makes me cry.

 

Reasons to Stay Inside

Reasons to Stay Inside - Artwork by Clinton Cherry

Reasons to Stay Inside – Artwork by Clinton Cherry

The year I turned 13 was the year I started high school and the year anxiety moved on in.

We didn’t know it was anxiety. Mum and I. We had no idea what it was or even that it could, possibly, have a name. All we knew was that school drop-off became hell. For her and for me.

I couldn’t leave the car.

I really couldn’t.

It was like I was too heavy for my body and everything was in slow motion and I felt sick and exhausted and my heart was pounding– boom, boom, boom, boom – and I was hot and cold and empty and sweaty and red faced and cracked lipped and I was going to be sick or faint …

I couldn’t join that group of girls who met under the veranda by the library and greeted everyone with a hug as if they hadn’t seen each other for years. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know what to do with my hands. I didn’t know how to arrange my face.

Of course, they wouldn’t know this. I would get there, eventually, or not. Some days, Mum would say let’s go home but not always, not everyday and on those days I would get there because I had to. I would join in. None of them would have known. None of them would have noticed the tears in my eyes and the lump in my throat and the tremble in my hands.

I wasn’t good at the things you are meant to be good at high school; parties, talking on the phone, hanging out, sleepovers. That sort of thing. I think I may have been good at it, once, but something happened inside me and I would overthink it and worry and talk myself into not going. So I wouldn’t go. Unless I had to. And when I did, because I had to, I was fine, of course. I had the funny dance moves and the long hair and the silly accents and I could handle this and, most of the time, I did. No one noticed.

They didn’t notice and could not be expected to notice. Why would they? By the time I was in my final year of high school I was school captain and played Juliet in an angst-ridden performance of Romeo and Juliet and I was on the debating team and the school ball committee and the year book committee and carried a clipboard for you to please sign this petition against this and I was in the local newspaper and was probably going to be, like, an actor or something, you know …

But I was struggling. With anxiety.

I could get out of the car and I had figured out how to arrange myself and what to say but I still hadn’t mastered that other stuff. That important stuff. I made myself sick over having to call a friend after school because I didn’t think I would know what to say. I didn’t turn up to parties or just go and hang out on the weekends because I didn’t think I would know how to act. I played versions of these events in my mind, over and over again, until I felt sick and had a stomach ache and thank god I can’t go now.

Friends get annoyed at that sort of thing. Of course they do. You find yourself not invited. You find yourself waiting for them to pick you up for the Year 12 graduation dinner only to discover they’re not coming via your house now because this is payback high school style and of course they cannot understand. How could they?

Anxiety feels like such an issue of privilege … Part of you thinks, how dare I be anxious? It is really, quite ridiculous. But it is true. And it is there. And, my friends, it is the reason I sometimes stay inside and miss your party or the opening of your play or your phone call … and for that I am sorry. I hope you know that. I hope you notice.

***

I have written a play for young people, Reasons to Stay Inside, about a boy who becomes so anxious he builds a giant pillow fort and refuses to leave it. His best friend does all she can to get him out. Nothing works … But she doesn’t leave him. She stays. She waits.

Anxiety is awful. Having a friend with anxiety is awful. I have written the play I wish I had seen when I was 12 going on 13. I have written the best friend I wish I had had. I have written something I hope will get the conversation started and make it easier for young people to talk about anxiety. 

 

In Praise of Love

 

Love Locks Paris

This is a true story.

I was in hiding. Or trying to disappear. Or both. Something like that. You get the idea.

I was eating 500 to 800 calories a day because that happens sometimes and I was running a lot and living alone and binging of Six Feet Under and I had given up on the idea of love. Romantic love. The kind of love people write about and sing about and commit crimes about.

There was one, once, that had been love until, I discovered, he loved a lot of women … at the same time … without them knowing. That could be love – it’s just not my kind of love. The one I thought might have been love wasn’t love. Not even close. He belittled my music choices and stole my washing machine and forgot my birthday. That isn’t love. I was done.

That was that.

I was staying in my mould-ridden studio apartment, doors locked and blinds closed because of the strange man who camped out on the balcony opposite and would look directly into my bedroom slash lounge room slash kitchen. He argued with his wife and liked to sing the national anthem. She would kick him out and he would create a tent, string up sheets and towels across the balcony and sit underneath it, crossed legged on a little cushion and shout “my life, my life” over and over like some sort of mantra. Some days I felt like doing the exact same thing.

I was OK.

And she said, as mothers do, someone will come along when you least expect it and it sounded like something she had heard in a rom-com starring Meg Ryan and I said I don’t need anyone –

I am totally fine with this –

I am a strong, independent woman –

I’m OK –

and I was offended even though I knew she meant well because she is my mother and she loves me and I love her. I know she loves me because she tells me. Growing up, she told all of us numerous times a day – I love you – just in case we died, tragically, bam, gone, just like that. She never would have forgiven herself if she hadn’t said it; if she didn’t know that we knew she loved us.

My family were across the desert and sent their love in pixelated Skype calls once every couple of weeks.

Love you, they would say at the end of the call because what can you say after that?

It was OK.

It really was …

I was writing and I loved writing. I was in Melbourne and I loved Melbourne. I was eating tomatoes and I loved tomatoes. I was performing and I loved performing and I was hanging out with the cast and I loved the cast and I loved the theatre and I loved running and I loved Sundays and loved Six Feet Under and I loved living alone and I loved being thirty two and I loved living so close to the tram line and I loved –

Not much, actually.

Not anything, really.

It was becoming difficult to leave the house. I turned up when I had to turn up. And I smiled and laughed and drank too much wine and would go home in taxis and tell the drivers my boyfriend was waiting for me at home because you have to do that sort of thing sometimes.

Here’s where I don’t want you to misunderstand me. I wasn’t sad because I didn’t have a boyfriend. I wasn’t lonely because I was divorced. I wasn’t empty because I hadn’t eaten.

This was just me back then. Disappearing.

Until someone saw me.

It was unexpected.

Like something my mother would say.

He had nice shoulders and wore great shirts and had a whole face smile and easy laugh and he was taking me on a date and I had no idea what that meant, not really, but I turned up late and we took it from there.

And then I started to fall in love with him and could only hope he was falling in love with me. Even though I knew I wasn’t meant to. Even though I knew the “timing was bad” and I should be “keeping my options open” and “seeing other people” and just being “chill”. Whatever that means. Falling in love makes you vulnerable and stupid and happy and distracted and it is awful and wonderful all at the same time.

I tried to hide the real me as I fell in love with him but I would trip upstairs and lock myself out of restaurants and collapse as elegantly as possible into the gutter and I was always late or changing my mind and he wondered why I wasn’t hungry again and he just kept on looking and watching and seeing me.

But I wasn’t ready. I didn’t want anyone to see me. Instead, I tried to make myself as small as I could. Just small enough, you see, nothing crazy – I would know when it was getting crazy. I had this under control.

Except I didn’t.

There I was, watching myself from afar, being in love and going through all the crazy-crazy whirlwind romance stuff and feeling elated and hungry and fat and ugly and gross and anxious and miserable.

I wasn’t eating enough.

I was living alone.

I was turning up when I had to.

I was smiling too much and drinking too much and staying over at his place way too much.

I was holding my breath and waiting for him to run.

But he didn’t. He started cooking dinners. And put avocado on English muffins for breakfast. And made protein filled lunches.

Then he said he loved me … even though he could see me. The real me. I could no longer hide. He wouldn’t let me disappear. He wouldn’t let me become invisible.

Love found me. It noticed.

Love became doctor appointments and specialists and therapists and waiting rooms and The Age quiz and driving and feeding the parking metre and celebrating small victories with champagne and eating and swimming and saying you’re beautiful even if its not quite true and an old camera and space and time and listening, really listening.

It was being seen.

I got better, so much better and I’m always getting better because of him and that love. I would have disappeared without it.

As George Elliot wrote “Blessed is the influence of one true, loving human soul on another” – love deserves its praise because that one true, loving soul can encourage us to grow and heal and get better – maybe even save us. Isn’t that what love is about? Maybe?

 

***

This monologue was presented at The School of Life’s Symposium: In Praise of Love. I spoke in praise of love and then posed my question to create conversation amongst the audience. It was exhilarating and terrifying – a bit like falling in love … 

Short thoughts from a messy notebook: Three

My last city, my home city, is not really much of city. A stop-over. A gateway to the rest of the world. All heat and wind and prosaic buildings spread over four blocks which someone once labelled ‘city’. Somehow the label stuck. It might have been a city. Once. A long time ago. But it has not been able to keep up with its neighbours. We get out of there as quickly as we can. Often we have no choice. It closes before the sun goes down.

Things I nearly wrote

You fail only if you stop writing.

Ray Bradbury

It’s been about 70 days since my last post.

These are things I have been writing and deleting:

1. Changing the dream.

2. Selling out: The reality of “changing the dream”.

3. Why am I here or: Casting directors who flirt with your audition partner.

4. Anxious Sunday nights.

5. Coconut flour.

6. The death penalty.

7. Andrew and Myuran.

8. Mercy.

9. Rehabilitation.

10. Is this really the world we live in?

11. Nauru.

12. Children in detention.

13. Australia needs more lectures from the UN, please.

14. Real Australians Say Welcome.

15. Is this really the world we live in? (part two)

16. 90s Hip Hop is the greatest Hip Hop.

17. Fake it till you make it.

18. Thoughts on being a 34 year old babysitter or: $20 an hour just doesn’t cut it anymore.

19. Walking home, alone.

20. Cats.

21. Itchy feet.

22. School Assemblies.

23. To the person who tried to steal our car.

24. How many cups of tea are too many cups of tea?

25. Writers Block – The Return.

26. What is the point of this blog anyway?

27. Finish something goddamn it.

28. Hit the publish button.

29. Something is better than nothing.

30. that’s what my psychologist said when I told her I was concerned about doing enough exercise in a day, you know, sometimes you just can’t fit it all in and she said, don’t be so hard on yourself, just think something is better than nothing so even if you just a walk around the block that’s great because that’s something but now I find it hard to even fit in a little something every single day and I worry because if something is better than nothing then what is nothing … nothing is … nothing is nothing and I need to worry about that … surely …

31. Nothing

32. my grandad said nothing is at the end and he seemed OK with all that until nanna died but you can’t truly change your mind when you’re an atheist unless, you know, someone from the “other side” comes over and tells you “hey, there is something” which then completely undoes all that need for faith upon which all this is (conveniently) built and you wouldn’t believe it anyway because you’re an atheist and you can’t truly change your mind on that sort of thing, can you? Besides, we have all seen City of Angels and know the awful consequences of those sort of “visits”.

32. City of Angels.

33. Where are you, Meg Ryan?

34. I’d rather be in New York.

35. I’m doing this wrong: 30 minutes and 20 drafts to create one tweet.

36. Being quiet.

37. Anxiety.

38. Nothing. Again.

39. …

Short thoughts from a messy notebook: Two

The tiny butterfly flew out of his mouth.

He thought he had something important to say. Instead he got a butterfly.

He cupped it in his hands. Its colourful wings folded upwards. It wasn’t flat and colourless like a moth. If it has been a moth that flew from his mouth he would have been worried. And disappointed. But it was a butterfly. And that was OK. Impressive almost.

The Monarch - Heard Museum Butterfly Exhibit via Axel.Foley (Flickr)

The Monarch – Heard Museum Butterfly Exhibit
via Axel.Foley (Flickr)

Short thoughts from a messy notebook: One

The new girl in the office said she didn’t eat carbs.

But I saw her eating chocolate and stealing staplers. It made me wonder about her moral compass. But then, who knows which way that thing is meant to point?

When I have two choices, north or south, I always end up going the wrong way. Heading In The Wrong Direction. 

This must be south, I think, but it never is.

You’d think I’d get it by now …

Clet Abraham's  magic with the one way sign. Kreuzberg, Berlin.

Clet Abraham’s magic with the one way sign. Kreuzberg, Berlin.