This is the Place (part two); I Heart Berlin (OK?)

BERLIN WALL

I am not cool. It has not and will not ever be a word I could associate with myself. I mean, it is a dumb word anyway, when you think about it … Cool. And we say it far too often. Regardless. Cool is cool and I am not that. Berlin, on the other hand, is the epitome of cool. At least, it seemed that way to me which is why I had assumed we just wouldn’t, you know, hit it off …

I had no intention of making Berlin The Place. New York, yes. Paris, obviously. But Berlin?

I was wrong.

Berlin is cool. And that’s OK. The thing is, you don’t have to be cool. And that’s OK. In Berlin, everything is kind of cool. So, by default, you are cool … OK?

On my first night in Berlin I dreamt of an old man selling fruit. I say dreamt but he was standing right beside me. He didn’t know I was there.

There are ghosts all over this city.

The ghosts and the people live side by side.

From my little apartment I can hear them all. It’s a noisy street. Traditional Turkish music mixes with the chimes of church bells. Apartment buzzers buzz. High heels click on cobblestone. Talking. Laughter. Clinking of beer bottles. Kids throwing tantrums (which sound the same in every language).  Cars parallel parking. Double parking. Sirens (which sound different in every language).

On my street, like many other streets in Berlin, are kindergärtens. I see dads and mums dropping their kinder off in the morning. They don’t just drop and run. They ride in together. Walk in together. Converse together. Together.

On my street, like many other streets in Berlin, are informal gatherings at little tables and chairs set outside little shops. They drink and smoke and chat with the shop-owner, who keeps half an eye on the store.

On my street, like many other streets in Berlin, people tumble out of clubs at all hours. No one minds.

On my street, like many other streets in Berlin, is a stolperstein. A stumbling block. A brass plate set in the cobblestone to commemorate a victim of the holocaust. On my street is Johann “Rukeli” Trollman. On another are the families Adler and Heilfron. On another is Max Bayer

Here they remember.

Here is the Berlin Wall.

And the Brandenburg Gate. And The Fernsehturm. And Karl-Marx-Allee. And Alexanderplatz, Friedrichshain, Kreuzberg, Mitte …

Here is green space and parks and the river Spree and people using them. Here are big people, small people, overweight people, thin people, all people riding bikes. Everyone. Everywhere.

Here is the U-Bahn and the S-Bahn. Frequent and on time. Here is public transport where the most difficult thing to deal with is pronunciation.

Here are galleries and museums and galleries and museums. And architecture. And street art, street art, street art. Here are bullet holes in the walls. 

Here is me feeling like me in a place where I don’t speak the language. All I can say is Sprechen Sie Englisch and Nein and Ja and Schwarzer Kaffee and Hallo (which is German for hello) and Ciao (which is Italian and Berlin for goodbye). I know that zahnfleischschutz is toothpaste but I have no idea how to say it.

Here I pack my own groceries into my own bag. Here nothing is open on Sunday. Here I leave my empty bottles outside the bin so those who collect them for cash don’t have to rummage through the rubbish to find them. Here I lie to the gypsies who ask me if I “speak English?” and feel terrible about it.

Here I meet writers and artists and people not from here. Here I sit with writers from Egypt and Italy and Munich and Hong Kong and the UK and USA. Here we sit amongst the tumbling bookshelves, the rising damp, the lamplight in the basement of the bookstore. We talk about writing. We write. We watch films. We drink. We listen to stories about the East and the West. And the Wall. My tutor smokes, inside, amongst the paperbacks and I try not to plan my evacuation route. They make me realise, without doing anything in particular, how big the world is …

Here I try to eat my lunch but instead get told off by two old East Berliners for not following the rules: You Can’t Eat Here. I smile. They do not.

Here at the train station a man I do not know carries my suitcase down three flights of stairs. He doesn’t speak a word. He just does it like it is the most natural, expected thing in the world. It’s OK. Here the junkie at the top of the stairs offers to carry my bag back up. He offers like it is the most natural, expected thing in the world. His arms are skinnier than mine. I decline but say Danke because that is another German word I know. He smiles. It’s OK. 

Here are thunderstorms in the late afternoon and warm evenings and bright mornings.

Here is The Place.

Now that I am back here, which is away from there, I am the ghost – wandering the streets of Berlin in my dreams. I stand next to an old man selling fruit. He still doesn’t know I’m there.

This is The Place (part one); I Heart London (I think)

LONDON

I have this problem. Anytime I visit anywhere I decide that is where I am going to live. This is The Place. And I know, I know, I know … It’s a warped, unrealistic, romanticised view of a place – just like Sandy meeting the wonderful Danny in the summer holidays only to then meet the jerk Danny in Rydell High. Of  course the place you visit is better than the place you live; you don’t have to go to work, it’s exciting, it’s different, you have actually budgeted money for shopping and eating out. And, in this case,  it was summer. I know it was a rare summer for them. The best summer they’d had in a long time. But still, like Sandy’s hopeless devotion … I wanted to move to the UK.

I spent time walking through old houses and palaces. I touched doorways and walls because, underneath all those other touches, somewhere, is a fingerprint belonging to Winston Churchill or the Duchess of this or the Earl of that. I spent time inhaling musty air and wondered; did it always smell like this?

I spent time admiring flowers. And flowers. And flowers. And bumblebees on flowers.

I squinted into the sad, pretend eyes of taxidermied animals in private collections of Lord this or that who liked to stuff what he had killed. As a keepsake. Of course. I glanced at collections of exotic butterflies; beautiful wings under glass, pinned through the heart or where I assumed their heart would be; I didn’t listen as much as I should have during biology.

I learnt about titles and inheritance.

I learnt about Gypsies and Travellers.

Esperance me console. 

I spent time in Essex and Southend-On-Sea and Kent and loved it, even though I don’t think I’m meant to admit it.

I spent time in London and loved it, even though I think that’s expected.

I learnt to accept the blisters on blisters and grimaced through poor choices in footwear. I limped over cobblestone and ran through crowds of tourists to make meetings I regretted arranging until I was actually there. I kept my cool when lost on South Bank (only I could have trouble locating the city’s largest theatre). I had meetings and cups of coffee / tea / water / nothing, thanks, I’m fine, in foyers / out the back / coffee shops just across the road. I nodded and smiled and gradually got better at describing the kind of work you do and what are you working on now and what makes your work unique and feel free to send us some of your work. But I could not think of anything to say when they asked why don’t you just move here?

I stared at police with machine guns instead of the landmarks they were guarding. No one else seemed to notice. Some tourist got photos. Others asked for directions. These guys are far more accommodating than the Grenadier Guardsman. Despite the machine guns.

I jumped on and off of the tube with varying degrees of success. I avoided peak hour. I enjoyed the quiet carriage. I saw a lot of theatre and visited a lot of galleries and bought a lot of second-hand books. I drank in pubs and parks and by the river but nowhere near as much as my English counterparts.

I tried really hard not to roll my eyes every time I was told I must have brought the weather with me.

I embraced the long nights and the early mornings and reminded myself this was a rare summer, everyone said this was a rare summer.

Yep, I was ready to move there even though I know that there would be less time for old houses and flowers and taxidermy, that peak hour would be more difficult to avoid and footwear would need to be more sensible and meetings would be less forthcoming and police with machine guns would not be so easy to dismiss and the quiet carriage would get noisy and summers like that are rare …

But then I went to Berlin … Now, this is The Place …

Duty Free Dreaming and Departure Lounges; the final leg of the long haul flight

Airplane travel is nature’s way of making you look like your passport photo.

Al Gore

Another stop, Dubai now, for what was meant to be an hour and a half but I have a sneaking suspicion it has been, and will be, longer than that.

I’m in another departure lounge. I don’t quite understand the use of the word lounge in this context. “Lounge” conjures up all sorts of images, none of which are even remotely like the thing I am sitting in.  It is not that this departure “lounge” is any worse than others I have been trapped in. They’re all pretty much the same. Cheap, heavy-duty carpet with mind-blogging patterns. Vinyl bench seats in a colour scheme which clashes beautifully with the mind-boggling carpet. Big, empty white walls. Big, nasty fluro lights. That constant beep-beep, beep-beep as they recheck boarding passes and passports.

This particular departure lounge is spinning. It could be the carpet. Or the lights. Or the fact I haven’t slept in 24 hours. Probably some sort of combination of the three. The carpets makes 3D shapes which jump into my face whenever I look down.

I should stop looking down.

I feel disgusting but at least I smell nice.

Upon passing through security I was greeted by the bright lights and empty promises of the Duty Free stores. The United Arab Emirates Dirham makes everything look expensive. The US Dollar makes everything look affordable. I wasn’t fooled; Australian Dollars will get you nowhere. So I browsed and attempted to keep that nonchalant I-could-afford-it-if-I-wanted-it expression plastered on my face. I tried to not look guilty every time I passed a security guard. Not that I had anything to feel guilty about – except, possibly, the fact that there was no way in the world I was actually going to buy anything or shoplift anything for that matter. That feeling of guilt for not actually doing anything wrong always happens when I have to show my bag to the security guy at the door of the store or when I walk past a cop … It’s just a thing I think.

Anyway, I tried on some Chanel perfume because Keira Knightley strikes me as a really lovely person and someone I think I could be great friends with one day. (OK, OK, I know – I just completely sucked in to celebrity branding. Gross.) I put on the perfume with my nonchalant expression.

The girl with the nonchalant expression decided she didn’t want the perfume.

The girl within the girl with the nonchalant expression really, really did want it …

But you can’t just buy something so extravagant before your adventure / international experience / holiday even begins, can you? Plus, you know, I am going to Paris so there’s that. Yeah.  Paris.

Meanwhile, back in the departure lounge …

A man in a fluro vest (so he must be official and know what is going on) just made everyone seated in rows 1 to 21 stand, expectantly, to board the bus which will take us to the plane (finally).

So I stood. And waited.

He was wrong.

Despite the fluro vest.

Everyone in seated rows 1 to 21 could sit down again.

Most of them didn’t want to.

I can understand that.

What I don’t understand is why this part of the airport even exists. We got off the plane. Went through security. I wandered around the Duty Free stores. I tried on expensive perfume. Then I had to show my boarding pass, again, and passport, again, and wait in this thing they call a lounge which is more like a holding pen. Or the setting for some bizarre psychology experiment. Stand up. Sit down. Beep-beep. There are no bathrooms here. No water. Not even enough places to sit. Just crazy carpet. And vinyl seats.

And a lonely girl wearing Chanel perfume she cannot really afford.

Roll on Heathrow …

Fluro lights of the departure lounge

On board; grumblings from a long haul flight

There are only two emotions in a plane:  boredom and terror.

Orson Welles

The girl who sat next to me on the plane to Dubai had the sulky look of a moody teenager. She compared university timetables with her friend (who was less sulky and not sitting next to me), listed off all the airlines she’d flown with (there are a lot of airlines) and responded negatively to the blessing of the plane (I am sitting in an aluminium tube, 40,000 feet in the air – I appreciate the blessing. Thank you).

I did not like her.

I don’t like to make snap decisions about people. I like to take my time before coming to a like / dislike / indifferent conclusion about a fellow human being. Well. Mostly. There have been, of course, some snap decisions about people have lead to things I have regretted: dating a psychopath, buying a John Mayer album … I have learnt from the errors of making a snap judgement. Like writing an essay, you need to find the evidence to support your argument. So I tried, I really tried, not to dislike the girl next to me on the long-haul flight.

But then …

She used the common arm-rest like it was her own.

I took a deep breath.

That’s cool. I mean it is that weird territory, a grey area, isn’t it? I don’t really know what the rules are on that one. All I know is that I have been wedged between two strangers on a flight where neither wanted to give up the shared arm-rest. I never want anyone to experience that. So, I always try to be accommodating to the person in the middle seat; the worst seat on the plane. The girl next to me, however, had commandeered both arm-rests whilst I was shoved up against the window. Suddenly the worst seat on the plane looked far more appealing than the overrated window seat.

She had drawn up some inequitable borders and proceeded to invade my territory with her elbow. She leant into my seat. She put her foot up on the gap between the two seats in front. She spread her legs wider than a cowboy, her knee hovering over my legs. She dusted her peanut crumbs over me. Peanut. Crumbs.

It was difficult to find evidence to support an argument for feeling indifferent about this person.

But maybe that’s to be expected when you’re squashed into economy on a long haul flight.

The girl next to me spoke loudly. Everything she said sounded like it was the Most Important And Intelligent Thing Ever Said. Until you actually listened to the words spewing from her mouth. The girl next to me explained:

  • the problem she faced in having skinny legs but a belly that bulged,
  • how she would scream whenever she heard thunder and lightning (and I wondered, but did not ask, how she heard lightning), and
  • that she was studying psychology (really?) but might do some Vet Science subjects because she really loves animals and surely “a vet must get paid more than a doctor cos they have to know about more than one species”.

Yep.

It was a long flight.

A very, very long flight …

In transit; ramblings from Brunei Airport

It’s no coincidence that in no known language does the phrase “As pretty as an airport” appear

Douglas Adams

In the bathroom at Brunei airport the taps were running. I don’t know why. I turned them off. Habit, I suppose. I still don’t know if I was meant to or not. Airports can be confusing places; particularly the bathrooms.

I found the only functioning bathroom in Brunei airport. Due to renovations. I waited at the end of a queue for the western toilet, whilst the squat toilets mocked me; their doors open, empty, ready and waiting. I felt like an idiot. I wish I could have whipped off my tights and straddled the hole in the ground. But, like an arrogant westerner, I waited and tried, desperately, not to look concerned at the water and paper that flooded the floor or the massive hole in the ceiling.

I washed my hands and looked for something to dry them on. A lovely woman understood the international sign for I-don’t-know-what-to-do-with-my-wet-hands and handed me a roll of toilet paper. We smiled. I said thanks and wished I’d taken the time to learn some other thank-yous before embarking on this trip: danke, merci, grazie … I hadn’t even thought about the thank yous I would need in transit. I stood amongst women I couldn’t understand and plaited my hair as they adjusted their headscarves. I felt ashamed of my plait. I applied some moisturiser whilst they did the same. When most of them had left I turned off the taps. I snapped a picture. To remember.

I was confined to Brunei’s damp and humid airport for about two hours. There wasn’t much happening. Due to renovations. There was one little shop selling souvenirs, lollies and water (it only accepted Brunei dollars) and a foreign cash exchange window (clever). 

I really wished that I had learnt more about the place of my two-closer-to-three-hour transit.

As the plane descended into Brunei I pressed my face against the window to get a better look at the landscape. It was beautiful. Green and lush. Mountains and valleys covered in trees upon trees. They all looked like they were pushing each other out of the way; jostling for the best spot or standing on each other’s shoulders like a crowd in a mosh-pit.

Low clouds covered the valley, slowly rolling by … no, no – not rolling – they were really too wispy to be rolling. The clouds reminded me of that stuff Mum and Nan would call “angel’s hair” and spread over the artificial branches of our artificial Christmas tree to create an artificial winter wonderland in the midst of Perth’s very hot summer. The trees here were greener than any of our fake Christmas trees.

The trees thinned out to make way for little pockets of little houses and little driveways that lead up to little doors. The trees fight for space, gathered together in mournful gangs here and there until there are more houses than trees. Still, it is nothing like the roofs and roofs and roofs that cover the aerial view of Melbourne. The roofs as we come into land at Brunei are blue and red and yellow and orange.

There are some spots where the houses look exactly the same; like someone had gone crazy with the copy + paste function – identical blue roofs all in a neat little row, identical triangular houses built around a cleared rectangle. Suddenly one massive house interrupts the pattern – a manor house with a red roof and manicured lawn.

Next time I’d like to leave the musty airport and feel the damp air and humidity against my face and, maybe, meet the people who live in those identical houses. I wonder if those identical houses are part of a new development, an estate, something the people here have been given as some sort of dream they feel they have to aspire to. I hope it never becomes the roof rather than the tree jostling for the best spot.

I want to learn more about Brunei.

I want to know when to join a queue.

I want to know more about clouds.

But, I am in transit …

Thursday morning

I am doing that thing where you drink a glass of warm water with lemon every morning. Someone told me about it. No, she didn’t just tell me about it, she raved about it. She told me how it Changed Her Life, or at least her mornings, and threw in the word “amazing” a bit. I hate to admit, but I can be very susceptible to that sort of thing; I’m influenced greatly by people’s ravings. It’s why I started watching Game of Thrones. And I have not regretted that. Well, except maybe for the terrible nightmares I have afterwards because, well, the violence … but, you know, it’s worth it – it’s Peter Dinklage and dragons and Peter Dinklage.

Anyway, I am doing this lemon thing. I have managed to remember to do it every morning for a week and I feel good. I don’t know if it is due to the lemon or due to what my mind believes is happening because of the lemon … I also don’t know if that matters.

The thing is though, whenever I smell the lemon I get this craving for the pancakes Mum used to make us when we were kids. English pancakes. They were sort of like crepes. She would throw them on our plates, straight from the pan, and we would add lemon and sugar and wish it would never end. Seriously. You could eat those things forever …

I don’t think that is quite the point of the lemon drink thing. I mean it is all about digestion and detoxing … not sugar and butter and flour and more sugar. Right? I mean, surely the Pancake is the antithesis of the Lemon Water. The Lemon Water is Obi Wan and the Pancake is Darth Vader (or would that be the other way around). Lemon in water is what we are meant to do; lemon on pancakes …

But I drink my lukewarm lemon water and remember the pancakes my food intolerance will no longer let me eat. That little memory alone makes for a nice start to the day – even if you are left craving pancakes and childhood.

 

when life gives you lemons - @jesswheatys

when life gives you lemons – @jesswheatys

 

The post I wrote about not knowing what to write about

I wanted to write about breathing and homesickness and how long it took me to learn how to tell the time and jump rope and how meditation looks a lot like the word mediation but it is a very different thing and kiss-chasey and the idea of toxins in the body and hating the smell of hospitals and being too polite and not comparing yourself to others because YOU ARE ENOUGH and why hasn’t my agent called in months and (kind of) meeting your idol (kind of) and joy and how our printer sounds like some song I can’t remember the name of whenever it starts up and not drinking enough water and sometimes I will ignore the phone and Paris and expectations and are you ever too old for a treehouse and weird nightmares that make no sense when you wake up but are terrifying at the time and looking up when you walk and what if no one remembers me and packing and credit cards and breathing … just breathing.

Maybe tomorrow …

 

autumn leaf - katy warner

 

Finding inspiration or: The joy of writing in your local café

After all, most writing is done away from the typewriter, away from the desk. I’d say it occurs in the quiet, silent moments, while you’re walking or shaving or playing a game, or whatever, or even talking to someone you’re not vitally interested in.

Henry Miller

 

Cafe Writing

 

Lately I have been trying to write in cafés. OK. I tend to do less writing and more eavesdropping-disguised-as-writing. It makes me feel a little bad.

A little.

Because I know I am going to stumble on some gold soon.

I remember chatting away with Steve in this little teeny coffee shop hidden away in some teeny lane-way, as Melbourne likes to do, and there was this guy sitting nearby with his notebook open, pen poised … I was sure he was writing down our conversation. It made me whisper even though we weren’t saying anything all that intriguing or eavesdropping-worthy. If we had I would have written it down.

That is the gamble you take if you enter a relationship with a writer.

Just saying.

I remember thinking how I couldn’t do that. Sit in a café and steal write.

Until I did.

During my masters I wrote an entire scene (even stole some direct quotes) from the very loud, very interesting, conversation a mother and daughter were having near my lonely table in a café. I took it to my lecturer for a dramaturgy session (code for – I am going to rip your writing to shreds and you are going to take it) and waited, with bated breath, as he read through it. He loved it. I, not good at taking compliments, had to dismiss it in some way and explained how I had stolen it from a conversation at a café. “Do more writing in cafés then,” he said.

So I have been.

And I think that’s OK.

I like my café. The coffee is good. That helps. And there is a sunny table. And whole range of characters to watch and listen in on. That helps too.

I watched a woman gulping water. It made me feel sad for some reason. Her shaky hands sneakily applied lipstick, one hand holding a tiny mirror, the other wobbling around her lips. She kept her bag nestled on her lap like a precious pedigree cat. She kept her head lowered at an angle that suggested she wasn’t well or didn’t feel worthy to look up or both.

I saw another woman looking at the waiter through squinted eyes as he explained the specials. She kept her hand elegantly under her chin and asked a lot of questions in one those affected Australian accents. She ordered a latte to have after the meal. The meal she chose was not the one she had asked a lot of questions about. She had wondered if the goat’s cheese was very strong. She didn’t like strong goat’s cheese. The waiter told her it was very young, very fresh. I don’t think she believed him.

At another table I saw someone who used to be someone. He kept his head in his hands, pretending to not want anyone to notice him or attempting to recover from a hang-over or both.

Another waiter was just waiting. Cloth in hand. Hoping for a spill. I hoped not to accommodate but I do have a tendency for spilling things and other general clumsiness … “Spilling things and other general clumsiness” – could be the title of something, someday, maybe … The man who used to be someone makes me question why I even bother writing at all. He used to write and star in a sit-com. And now look at him. I wish he’d speak so I could scribble down his conversation.

I overheard a couple talking about dividends and CEOs and maintaining the asset and fragile infrastructure and the sector. They talked about the sector a lot. And repeated what the other said, a lot. She was very agreeable. He was very loud.

SHE:   You’re sounding a bit disillusioned about the sector.

HE:      I’m not disillusioned about the sector.

I think they’ll be popping up in something.

I overheard a conversation that jumped from conspiracies about MH370 to Shane Warne to the GST on baby clothes.

Gold? OK. Maybe not yet … but I am filling up my notebooks with characters and ideas and weird little snippets of conversations that could, maybe, one day, turn into something. Hopefully … we shall see. It could be the change of scenery, it could be the ridiculous amount of coffee I am drinking but, either way, there is inspiration to be found and stolen from your local café.

On realising you’re in your thirties or: Isn’t age just a number?

"When I grow up I want to be a teacher" by me, aged 6 (1986)

“When I grow up I want to be a teacher” by me, aged 6 (1986)
Actually, I wanted to be a gypsy or a racing car driver but I went with the safe option for my grade 1 scrapbook.

The casting brief asked for a woman in her 30s – 40s. I thought there must have been some sort of mistake. Me? Play 30s – 40s? Seriously? I’m only … no, hang on, wait up … I remember now … I am 33. Turning 34. That is my age bracket.

How the hell did this happen?

I mean, obviously, we get older. Mum always says, “I’d rather be old than the alternative”. By “alternative” I assume she means dead rather than not-ageing-but-staying-in-the-blissful-carefree-stage-that-is-your-twenties. If the latter were the alternative then I would be going for that. Anyway, my Mum also says she’s just “visiting her aunt” when she heads off for the bathroom, so I don’t know how seriously I can take these little sayings of hers. (I love you Mum.)

When I was a kid I would always tell people I was the age I was going to be rather than the age I actually was. So, in 1989, a month after my 9th birthday I would tell people I was 10; after my 10th birthday I was already telling people I was 11. Needless to say, I stopped doing that – I’m still 33 and won’t be telling anyone I am 34 until that day in July when I eat too much cake and wonder what the hell have I done with my life?

Back then, when I’d say I was 10 but I was actually 9, it wasn’t because I wanted to be older. There was just something more interesting and exciting about the year ahead. What would 10 bring that 9 just couldn’t comprehend right now? In reality it brought nothing but the wonderful butterfly cupcakes Nan would make for our birthday parties. They were amazing. I wish I could recreate that. Surely I should be able to bake by now? Be able or, at the very least, interested in baking? I am 33 after-all.  Who am I kidding? I don’t bake and I’m OK with that.

I had no desire to get older. I got quite upset after receiving clothes for Christmas one year. I think I was 10 but telling everyone I was 11. It wasn’t like the clothes were awful, it wasn’t as if I didn’t like them … but Christmas presents were meant to be toys, right? Getting clothes meant I was getting older. Only kids got toys for Christmas. If I didn’t get a toy I was no longer a kid. I wasn’t ready for that. Mum said I’d love to get clothes one day … she was right, of course, and the next year I forgot all about the no-toys-for-Christmas saga and desperately wanted a denim jacket. So it goes.

Whilst I hadn’t wanted to be older, I had always looked forward to being sixteen. “Sixteen”: mythologised in popular culture and American teen books where the kids are all rich and drive sports-car and hang out at the beach or the local diner. The fact that we weren’t rich, that there was no way in the world my parents would let me get in any car driven by any teenager and that diners weren’t really a “thing” in Australia did not deter my somewhat clichéd imagination. I was dreaming of this sixteen year old version of me when I was only 12 and reading way too much Sweet Valley High. At this age I also read George Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984, delved into The Odyssey of Homer and got through many of Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets – sadly it seems that Francine Pascal’s awful trite influenced my somewhat impressionable mind a little more than Orwell at that point in my life.

Anyway, despite being pretty well read, I thought sixteen was going to be this amazing year full of school dances and high-school romances and hanging out and eating pizza with my friends and first kisses and fun-fun-fun. I pretty much thought it would be just like Beverley Hills, 90210 – the fun parts, not the serious, issue-based stuff, and I’d be Kelly Taylor, of course …

As the wonderful 16 got ever closer I like to think I matured enough to know it wouldn’t, couldn’t and, possibly, shouldn’t be like that. I am sure I knew but a little, tiny part of me still dreamed of this Hollywood version of sixteen. When the day came I had a little party with my friends. Most of them left early because there was a bigger, better, non-supervised party with a bonfire and older boys and beer happening within walking distance from my place. It wasn’t the Sweet Sixteen birthday party John Hughes had led me to believe I would have. The all magical sixteen wasn’t as magical as I thought it would be. There was a lot to deal with; heaps of homework, exams, simply surviving every day at my terrible high-school, bitchy girls, idiotic boys – there was reality.

Naïve, optimistic, sixteen year old me doesn’t seem all that long ago. She is not a distant memory. She was only … nope, hang on, she was 17 years ago. How the hell did that happen? Where did the time go? And why do I still have the exact same hair-cut?

So, it was with surprise that I read the casting brief for a woman in her 30s – 40s. I had to stop and think … surely they have sent this to wrong person? But, no, my agent can do math – that is my “age range” now.

Wow … that went fast …

And I was OK with it, I think.

I mean, I never wanted to grow up but here I was – suddenly in shoved into the 30s – 40s bracket and that was OK. It was actually OK.

Until the meeting with the literary manager of some theatre company.

She wanted to talk to me about my work and I was thrilled. It was going well, until she asked me how old I was. I answered, honestly because, well, I hadn’t thought anything of it. “Don’t tell anyone that,” she said in this hushed tone. “You’re not as impressive now I know how old you are.” That was my chance to interject with a comment dripping with wit – it didn’t happen. “We thought you were some kinda child prodigy thing or something,” she laughed and the meeting was over. I never heard back from them.

It made me panic. I was too old. I’d missed my chance. Clearly the only people worth supporting in their creative endeavours are the young. I still thought I was young. I still thought I had my whole life ahead of me. I didn’t know there was an expiry date on creativity and I really didn’t expect that expiry date to be in one’s 30s …

So, what’s wrong with being in your 30s? I’d rather be old than the alternative … thanks Mum. Being in your 30s doesn’t make you old. 30s is the new 20s which makes 20s the new teens and, as much as I thought I wanted to be sixteen, I wouldn’t be going back there in a hurry.

Of course there isn’t an expiry date. Of course not. Well, there is that one big expiry date but there’s nothing I can do about that one … People will always have different perceptions on age – different expectations they place on somebody based merely upon the year they happened to be born. Well, let them. You are only as young as you feel, that’s what they say, right?

I have always looked younger than I am. I am sure it will catch up soon. I still get asked for ID which makes me feel great. I still get spoken down to like I am an inexperienced 20-something which makes me feel like crap. There is such an emphasis on being older or looking younger that I don’t think I ever enjoyed just being the age I am.

There seems to be this idea of what you should have achieved and by when. Just like all the pressure I put on the idea of being sixteen – at sixteen year old I should [insert implausible scenario from awful teen film here] – now it is the pressure of what I should have achieved in my 20s (but didn’t) and what is expected of someone in their 30s (which makes me incredibly anxious) and on and on it goes until you are in your 90s and then you can do whatever the hell you want and no one can say a word because you are 90, damn it (except maybe the people in the 100s).

Age is just a number, right? A concept. Aren’t we all just deceived into this perception of past, present, future? Isn’t everything happening all at once? Aren’t there scientists who believe there is no such thing as time? Einstein told believed that

the separation between past, present, and future is only an illusion, although a convincing one.

I could be 22 and 16 and 106 and 2 all in a matter of moments, all at the same time. It hurts my brain …

So, I am just going to be 33. Until July 10. Then I’ll be 34. And I’ll tell people my age. And I will enjoy it. I have never been 34 before … (according to Einstein and others I have been, yes, but … oh, it is too much).

I may not be doing what people are “supposed” to be doing in 30s. I may not have achieved all those things I was “supposed” to achieve in my 20s. And I will be OK with that.

And I will start looking forward to my 90s. That sounds like a fun age to me.

***

Part of the DP Challenge

Being a wimp

Live so that when your children think of fairness, caring and integrity, they think of you.

H. Jackson Brown, Jr

I stepped into a teaching position at school that was recovering from a horrific bullying incident. Incident doesn’t quite do justice to this life-changing event; life-changing for the instigators and their families who faced court, certainly life-changing for the victim of the attack. A group of boys thought it would be … I don’t know … fun? … to abduct and torture a classmate, a peer, a fellow human being in bush-land near the school. For hours they tortured him, pissed on him, tied him up, made him dig his own grave, psychically assaulted him … He was a vulnerable kid – skinny and small for his age. They were taller, bigger, stronger and had a lot more friends.

I have found myself thinking about this event a lot over the last week or so – particularly in relation to the ridiculous language and downright disgusting behaviour of the so-called leaders of this country.

“You don’t want a wimp running border protection, you want someone who is strong, who is decent and Scott Morrison is both strong and decent.” Prime Minister Tony Abbott (Feb 21, 2014)

It is bad enough that our Prime Minister is using such juvenile, throwaway language better suited to a “jock” in a John Hughes film than serious humanitarian issues; it is incredibly disturbing when we consider the actions of Scott Morrison and the government.

So, what does it mean when Abbott makes such childish comments? If Morrison isn’t a wimp then what exactly is a wimp? Is a wimp someone who shows compassion? Someone who is not prejudiced? Someone who helps the vulnerable? Someone who tells the truth, is honest, is kind, is empathetic …

By Abbott’s standards I would much rather be a wimp.

In Abbott and Morrison’s world, a strong and decent person is one whom persecutes those who most need protection and support and assistance. By these standards, a strong and decent person is someone who is cruel.

What does this mean in the playground? I’m not even sure the word ‘wimp’ is still part of the colourful vocabulary of school-yard bullies but let’s imagine, if you will, that it is. “Don’t be a wimp” translates to don’t defend that kid who needs your help, stick with bullies, hurt him, he deserves it, he is the minority, he is different, he doesn’t deserve friendship / kindness / help …  No one wants to be a wimp because, clearly, it takes integrity, strength of character, compassion to be a wimp. It is difficult to be a wimp.

I wish there were more wimps in the school-yard. If there had been some wimps around on that life-changing day at that school by the bush then maybe a child would not have suffered. Maybe one of those bullies would have had enough wimp in him to stop his friends hurting an innocent, vulnerable kid.

If there were more wimps running this country then maybe Reza Barati would still be alive. Maybe we wouldn’t lock up the vulnerable who have turned to us for help not persecution. Maybe we wouldn’t be creating a country that is intolerant, cruel and selfish but a place that values equality, peace and compassion.