Dear Abby

Dear Abby,

You turned 12 earlier this month and you still haven’t received a card or a gift from me. I have sent it. I sent it late. But I did send it, and a gift, so it should be in your letterbox any day now. Honestly. I am so terrible at this Long-Distance-Aunty stuff. It’s not like I forget birthdays and important events – I usually buy the card and gift weeks in advance and pop it on my desk and then the big day comes and goes and the gift and the card are still on my desk. It can’t post itself. I know that. So why don’t I just post it on time? Why don’t I? What is that about?

I have a One Direction collector card and lollipop pack thing sitting in the top kitchen drawer. I don’t know why it is in the kitchen drawer but it is. Every time I need a tea-spoon I see it; Zayn, Louis, Harry, Liam and Niall mocking me and my inability to post things on time. I bought you the collector card and lollipop pack thing on a whim from the local 7-11 months and months ago. I thought, I should send Abby a little something, let her know I’m thinking of her … But it just ended up in the drawer. You probably don’t even like One Direction any more, do you? Have they suffered the same fate as Justin Bieber who you didn’t like, then you did like and now you don’t like again? Bieber spat on one of his fans so I think you made a good decision to move on from him (1D haven’t spat on anyone have they? Oh, and did you notice I wrote 1D – that’s cool right?). What is with that behaviour? I suppose there is a lesson in it for all of us. If you ever get so famous that you think it okay to spit on someone who adores you without even knowing you, the same person who has, in some way, however small, elevated you to this level of fame where, for some reason, you can get away with the aforementioned behaviour then maybe it is time to just take a step back and rethink your life choices.

Now, I have never spat on anyone and I don’t think I ever would. Someone spat on me once. I was on the tram and this woman thought I was spy and said some disgustingly racist things to me (even though I’m not the race she seemed to think I was) and then she spat on me. Yep. That’s when I moved. In hindsight I probably should have moved when she thought I was spy but I didn’t want to be rude or judgemental or anything. So, instead, I got spat on. It was really gross. At least you could bottle up Justin Bieber spit and sell it on eBay to some Bielber for a lot of money.

Even though we can roll our eyes at Justin’s spitting there will come a time when we all, metaphorically, spit on a fan. We will do something that we know isn’t right or makes us feel horrible inside because we want to fit in or feel better about ourselves. Especially when you are 12.

I did it.

I said some really mean things about people when I was hanging out with this so-called popular group (our relationship didn’t last long but it has had a lasting effect). I remember them all laughing at one girl and her bra; a whole group of us laughing over something to do with her bra-strap. It was something so minor and idiotic, absolutely nothing worth laughing or picking on someone about, but I was going along with them because they were the ‘popular girls’.

I felt horrible inside. But I didn’t stop them. I was part of the group.

This group would relentlessly pick on someone because they were fat or thin or short or wore coke-bottle glasses or stumbled over an answer in class or wore the wrong sneakers or couldn’t run fast enough or didn’t play netball well enough or fell over or cried or were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time …

It was at this time I also decided to stop eating. The ‘popular girls’ liked me, I was in their group, and I knew the only reason for this sudden acceptance was because I had lost all that baby-fat people love to talk about. Why do people do that? Talk about baby-fat like it is something they can have a comment on like the weather. Is it anyone’s business? Really? Well, I noticed as I turned 12 that is became everyone’s business. People loved to talk about how I was losing it, the baby-fat, with a mixture of sadness and relief in their voices. They all noticed, even my well-meaning year 7 teacher.

What they didn’t notice was that I was losing more than the baby-fat. I hadn’t realised that losing baby-fat is just something that is meant to happen, that is just a part of growing up; nope, I thought it had all started because one day at school I skipped lunch. Now, I’m not dumb Abby (I was reading George Orwell right alongside Sweet Valley High) but that is how anorexia made its way into my brain and took up residence for awhile. So, I kept skipping lunch and eating as little as I could when I was being watched. It was stupid and it made me feel horrible inside. I wasn’t spitting on a metaphoric fan; I was spitting on myself. That is just as bad and even weirder, right?

But, I was 12 and I thought that being really, really skinny would mean the popular girls would accept me and I would be happy. But it felt funny inside. It wasn’t right. I wasn’t happy or healthy. But I didn’t stop it. I was part of the group.

So much of what I was doing when I was 12 was about impressing other people and not about impressing myself. If I could go back and be 12 again I hope that I would be able to be more myself and stand up for the people getting metaphorically spat upon on by the metaphoric Justin Biebers of the school.

When the leader of the popular girls decided we should write a very awful letter to our delightful music teacher I said ‘no’ and I finally left the little in-crowd. They were pretty spiteful but I managed. I discovered that the term ‘popular’ is very misleading in this context Abby. The ‘popular’ crowd tend to be the least popular, they are cliquey and cruel and not many people really like them all that much. Why should they like them? They were bullies. And I was a bully if I stayed with them.

I would like to say that that was that – from that moment I was on my own path and didn’t care what people thought … Of course I cared. I cared when they all started laughing at me and my shoe-laces (which were once considered very cool) and my skinny arms and my inability to play netball. But it gets better. It really, honestly, truly gets better.

I feel like it all begins when you are 12; that idea of going along with the majority, not wanting to cause a fuss, not listening to that little voice inside you that knows that you shouldn’t be laughing at / picking on / gossiping about someone, wanting desperately to ‘fit in’ (whatever the hell that means) …

Abby, please don’t fit in.

Don’t be one of the crowd. The crowd, particularly the ‘popular crowd’ are boring. They really are. Be yourself. Don’t change who you are, what you stand for or what you look like for anyone. You are not boring. Listen to that wonderful Abigail who is inside you and trust her no matter what. If something isn’t right call it, speak up, make it right. Don’t be scared to be different; be proud to be different.

Start your own popular group and actually be popular – inclusive and interesting and different.

And don’t, ever, spit on your fans.

You are a wonderful human being Abby. You are. Enjoy being 12 and enjoy being you.

Happy (belated) birthday. Now, let me know when that card finally arrives.

Missing you and sending lots of love,

Katy

xxx

***

An open letter to my 12-year old niece, and all 12-year old nieces, for the Daily Prompt Weekly Writing Challenge – Dear Abby

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Thoughts from the waiting room, again …

Acting is all about honesty. If you can fake that, you’ve got it made.

George Burns

My audition was scheduled for 1.40pm. At 2pm I still had not gone in and there were three other blondes waiting with me, looking nervous and eager and far better suited for the role than I did. At 2.10pm the casting director asked if any of us were in a hurry. I had seen them checking their watches and tapping their feet and drumming their fingers. Of course they were in a hurry. Of course they had somewhere else they had to be. It’s not like sitting in a waiting room to audition for a non-speaking role in a local television commercial pays the rent.

“No. I’m fine,” they all giggled through plastered smiles.

“Actually, I do have to get back to work soon.” As I said it I could feel the other blondes settle into the uncomfortable plastic chairs triumphantly thinking one less person to compete with; one step closer to nailing the gig. I suddenly felt like I was a strategically-challenged character from The Hunger Games. I felt sure that if that casting director had asked them to tear me from limb to limb they would have done it without hesitation.

“Always say yes. A casting director likes a can-do attitude,” an over-paid, washed up film and TV “acting tutor” once preached to a class of young, wannabe actors. I was one of the wannabes – sitting there, soaking it all in because, well, this tutor had been a star on some now defunct Australian television series so they would know, right?

“They ask if you can ride a horse, you say yes. You just say yes,” he declared between name-dropping and performing excerpts from the show. The class scribbled down his wise-words.

“Isn’t that dangerous?” I asked and all the wannabes stared at me, wide-eyed, not understanding how I could question the oracle who had once been nominated for a Most Popular New Talent TV Week Logie Award. “I mean, if you don’t know how to ride a horse and pretend you can, you could break your neck -”

“It’s not pretending – it’s acting,” one of the wannabes informed me. (I am sure she is probably huge in L.A. now.)

The washed-up tutor looked at me sadly and shook his head of wonderful hair. “You just say yes. OK? To everything. Just say yes. They can work out the logistics later.”

I am always reminded of this brilliant class as I wait for castings and watch the actors respond to any request with this amazing level of enthusiasm that I, personally, would think better suited to winning the lottery or being given a puppy or meeting your long-lost sister for the first time: Can you fill out this form? Can I take your photo now? Are you available for the shoot dates? Have you done a commercial for a similar brand? Can you smack your head against this wall?

There are so many people out there who think they want to be actors (I propose that many of them don’t actually want to be actors; they want to be famous, which is a completely different career choice) that the competition for even a non-speaking role in a pretty ordinary television commercial is fierce and brutal. Because, as all actors are told, “you never know” … that pretty ordinary television commercial could be the Turning Point, the Moment of Discovery, your one chance like Meg Ryan in a Burger King commercial. You just don’t know where this seemingly crappy commercial could lead you. So, we are told, you can’t give the casting director any reason not to consider you for the role.

“So, what’s the latest you could stay around for?” The casting director asked me. “Like five minutes? Ten? Honestly, tell me honestly.”

Honestly? Honestly? Honestly my audition was scheduled for 1.40pm it is now 2.10pm. 2.10pm. Honestly I should have finished the audition and been about to sit back at my desk, back at my boring, soul-destroying, monotonous job any minute now …

I could feel the competition waiting for the casting director to lecture me about the importance of an actor being flexible and available and willing. Waiting for me to leave. Waiting for their moment. Waiting for their big break.

“I can wait. I’ll let my boss know. It’ll be fine,” I smiled through a plastered smile.

It wasn’t like I was lying about my ability to ride a horse or something could actually be dangerous.

“You sure?” Could this casting director see through me? Was my acting this bad?

“Yeah, yeah. I’m happy to be away from my desk to be honest,” and I meant it. That bit was true.

She smiled. I smiled. The competition pretended to smile.

And I waited.

I didn’t get the gig.