Why this girl from the Valley is not a Valley Girl

I was eleven when the voices started. They may have been around before, but it was eleven when I noticed them, although, more accurately, it was eleven when the voices noticed ME. I hadn’t changed, pretty much from the beginning. Same hair, too-thick and cut short, boy-short – not bobbed or even mullet or any other pretty girl-style. Same shoes that were too squat and laced, never buckled like girl’s shoes. Same boy’s shorts and boy’s track suits with stupid flared legs (with zips in the leg for extra flare, as if the teasing I already copped wasn’t enough for them), and the same grey boy’s jeans in winter, because they’re warm, because dresses aren’t practical. I don’t like practical. I like GIRL. I am one. I am.

The voices had faces, and the faces had bodies, and those bodies had hair that was always perfect and swooshed in the wind, and their jeans didn’t wobble on the ankles when they ran, and their fluorescent fold-down socks always matched their t-shirts and their jumpers, and the way their fringes curled at the top, and the way their shirt collars sat up and the bottoms hung down were always perfect, and always exactly right. They knew that, and they made sure I knew it too, in voices as cutting as they were breezy and off-the-cuff. It was only the malice in the eyes that gave away their real intent.

By the time I was twelve, and then thirteen and fourteen, and beyond, the faces and the bodies that housed them had moved on to other classrooms and other prey, and although the physical voices went with them they had trained me well enough to replicate them every day on my own. They didn’t need to be there to do it for me any longer, I could do it all by myself. “Oh Megan, did you get your hair cut again?” I’m saying it myself this time. Yes. Boy-short. Again. “Oh they’re nice new jeans Megan”. Yes. For a boy. “Oh, what a lovely t-shirt!” and pity about the absence of anything in the rest of the outfit that matches.

I tried so hard to fit in. I tried to find ways of altering the clothes I had, and tried hard to make something beautiful out of the things my mother brought home for me from the sales and the second hand shops and the discount bins, and from the things I bought with my own hard-saved money. At the end of the day though the voices were always stronger. They became my voice, and they knew and they told me the thing that I would never admit with my own voice: that I would never fit in, that no matter how hard I tried I was just Wrong.

Being wrong all the time is hard, and knowing that you’ll never, ever be right is harder still, so by the time I was sixteen I rebelled, and decided that if I was going to be wrong I’d do it on my own terms. My boy-short hair was finally long enough to put up in a ponytail, and I let it grow down almost till I could sit on it. I snubbed my nose at fashion stores and danced in hippie pants and old men’s shirts with the collars cut off, in army trousers with lacey edges and endless pairs of stripey stockings. I found funny hats and patchwork jackets and t-shirts with badges and strange slogans that meant nothing to anyone but me. I got my ears pierced and wore a cat in one side, and later I got my nose pierced and wore a frog in it. Because I could. Because there was nothing stopping me now, no voices, no eleven-year-old girls with eyes full of malice, no fashion, no fear.

That’s a lie, that last bit.

I WAS afraid. I wouldn’t walk through the fashion shops, I avoided the trendy areas. I steeled myself when I had to walk past trendy girls with perfect hair and make-up and clothes done just-so. I’d never walk into fashion stores, not ever, because the minute I did I was eleven years old again and there were the voices jamming me over the loud-speaker system in my mind: What are YOU doing here? You don’t fit. You are wrong. You are bad. You are ugly. You don’t deserve to walk in a place this pretty. Why don’t you just GO.

I fought those voices, one new t-shirt at a time. Every time I walked into a fashion outlet I forced myself to stay. I forced myself to move in, to the back of the store, to not be afraid, to try things, to buy things. It’s taken a long time to feel comfortable, but gradually, in the way things do, things are changing. This is a good thing.

This is a good thing, because in slightly over two weeks I’m going to be dragging my disheveled and jet-lagged self right into the heart of middle-class suburban Los Angeles, to my friends’ house in the Santa Clarita Valley.*

I love my friends. I can’t wait to see them again, it’s been far too long. I can’t wait to see where they live, and what they do, and what life is like for them now in the USA, so far from little ol’ Tassie where we first met. I should have picked up on this though a while ago, when I first read the post about my friend’s six year old daughter going to a kid’s party with the stylist who did all their hair and (probably) make-up. I should have thought it through. I should have realized when I first saw a photo of their house, that this was a Valley – even perhaps THE Valley. I hope they don’t carry poodles in their handbags.

 

It’s a bit late now though. I’m going. And honestly, it’s time to root those voices out once and for all, to embrace my inner Valley Girl (hang, on, do I even HAVE one?) and get a mani-pedi (WHAT!!???) and a great haircut (HUH???) and boldy go where no Megan has gone before. Because, as they say in the Valley, “Whatever”.

And as to those eleven-year-old voices? I’ll put on my very best Valley Girl voice and put up my newly polished nails and say “Talk to the HAND, because the face IS NOT LISTENING!”

Legally Blonde 2

*I wrote a post very early on in my blogging life, called “Hey, where did all the perfect people go?” I can answer that really well now: they went to Los Angeles.

 

3 Things My New Car Has Taught Me

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We’re excited today to introduce Polly, the newest member of the Sayer family. A sister for Sally, Polly made her appearance about half past three yesterday afternoon, and weighs a hefty 800 kilograms (or thereabouts) with gorgeous thick black car-seat covers, shiny silver paintwork and a dreamy back-seat-flippy-down-bit-with-OMG-cup-holders. She’s a Commodore; our first Holden. Mother and car both doing well.

Now I have friends who will be reading this and asking themselves “How did I not know about this? Was this planned? Did I even know you were trying, Megan?” to which the answer is No. We weren’t trying. It just happened. We’re still in a bit of shock, although we are absolutely over-the-moon happy with our latest purchase. It has happened very, very suddenly. Let me tell you a bit of a story…

We’ve never been a two-car family. In fact, growing up, I was a No-car family. It was okay, you learn to make-do, get good at learning bus time-tables and accept that some things just aren’t possible. When we bought the house we live in now, some seven years ago, part of the attraction was that it was close to regular bus services, and it was in a nice flat area within walking distance of schools, shops and playgrounds. Perfect, really, for a one-car family.

Perfect, really, for a family where the Dad works in the city each day and can catch the bus there and back.

Here’s what I’ve learned though:

Needs change. That’s okay.

Our city-working-Dad has become something else, a highly sought-after Recording Engineer, who regularly packs up our darling Sally car with mega-amounts of studio equipment and mic stands and crates of leads and drives to obscure locations to make albums for people. This is wonderful, although it takes a bit of effort and great communication to sort out what days the car will be available or not, and how we can work around things.

Circumstances change. That’s okay.

We’ve been “poor” for most of our married life. It still feels a bit wrong claiming poverty, because this is Tasmania, where the divide between rich and poor is very VERY narrow, and our definition of “poor” still included a decent-enough car, a decent-enough house and always enough food on the table, so maybe I should change that to things have been “tight”. We pay the bills always, but we wear socks with holes and feel stupidly grateful if there’s money for a cappuccino at the end of the fortnight.

We are not there any more, things have changed. Sometimes, though, we stay there in our minds, and sometimes there have been just so many limits we forget what it was that imposed them in the first place, and we accept those limits as Part Of Us.

Here’s the third thing I learned. This is the big one, the clincher, the say-it-out-loud-in-all-caps-until-I-remember-it:

Sometimes the thing standing in the way of receiving what you want/need the most is YOU.

Nearly two years ago I had this dream, like a night-dream, while I was asleep. I’d just decided to do the Biggest Thing Ever, the Thing I’d Always Wanted To Do, which was go to the USA on my first ever overseas holiday. My husband was supportive, it felt right, I knew we could save the money in time, there were people to stay with, it was There On A Plate…until I started thinking that I couldn’t, that it was Too Big, Too Hard, and I Couldn’t Drive on the Wrong Side of the Road, and therefore I couldn’t go.

My night-dream was this: I came home one day to find a crowd of people and a TV crew with camera filming to present me with a New Car. It was this beautiful thing, with shiny silver paintwork and fluffy black car-seat covers, and possibly even had a dreamy back-seat-flippy-down-bit-with-OMG-cup-holders. It looked a lot like our new Polly. The crowd were wild with excitement, people were cheering and jumping up and down and a man in a suit was there in front of the camera to present me with the keys to my new car. In my dream I’m speechless, flabbergasted, and when I get up there on the podium, as he hands me the keys, what did dream-me say? “I can’t. We can’t afford a second car sorry. We can’t afford the petrol, or the insurance, or the registration. And not only that, we live so close to a great bus route, it’s why we bought the house!” They stared at me, this elated crowd. The man in the suit stared at me. The conscious part of sleeping-nearly-awake me started jumping up and down “JUST ACCEPT THE THING, MEGAN! EVEN IF YOU SELL IT, JUST. ACCEPT. THE. CAR!” When I woke up I got the point: I needed to step into my dreams. Only I could do it, and nothing was stopping me but Me.

Let me encourage you today: Buy your Polly. Take your trip to the US. Call your friend. Say Yes to the crazy thing. Live your dream. In the end it won’t be the fear you’ll remember, it’ll be the regret of letting it ever stop you. 

Lift up your voice with a shout!

Here’s the truth: most of us sing our best when we know there’s nobody listening. When we’re at home. In the shower. In our bedrooms with a hairbrush when we’re still twelve years old and we know that we’re the next best, the next biggest, the next Brittney, so long as nobody ever hears us. We dance, too, tossing our hair like no tomorrow, like we ARE the best in the room. Which, of course, when we’re on our own in our bedrooms with only a hairbrush and a mirror and the song in our head for company, we are.

I don’t know when it happens, that self-consciousness that we all seem to come up against. I don’t know when we stop dancing, or stop singing, or really even why, except that we become for ourselves the people we fear the most. We become our own worst critics.

When I was a kid there were underage discos every Saturday night at the Sports Centre just across from my house. They were called Sock Dances, because they were held on the basketball courts and everybody needed to take their shoes off. They were part of the structure of our town, of our school, of mythic culture, of lore and legend and hours and hours of gossip of who-got-off-with-who-at-the-sock-dance-on-Saturday* and although they were literally just across the street from my house and I loved pop music with an undeniable passion I only went once in my life.  The memory is still fresh, and still makes me cringe a little if I let it.

I danced. I didn’t know any better.

I didn’t know anybody, really. My best friend wasn’t there, and although I knew who most of the kids were from school or from just around, there was nobody there to just hang with, to dance with. I hung around and tried to act cool, like I didn’t mind being there on my own, like I knew my clothes actually were cool even though the other kids might not have recognized it. I forced myself to smile and pretend like I was really enjoying myself, even when the geeky kid’s friends came up to me and said that that-guy-over-there wants to get off with you and when I looked over at him he had this geeky leer behind his glasses and all the boys laughed because I looked.

I think that’s why I did it. Danced, that is. Because of the boys and the laughing and the geeky kid and the not-wanting-to-get-off.

I danced like nobody was watching.

One of the girls there who was vaguely a friend (as opposed to being a downright enemy) was dancing alone up in front right next to the DJ, so I asked if I could dance with her and she said sure, so we did it. We danced alone together like nobody, not even ourselves were watching, like our own tiny spaces were our bedrooms and we sang our lungs out over the sound of the distorting PA system just like we were still holding our hairbrushes in front of the mirror. I loved it, and I went home happy.

I loved dancing. I loved the memory of that night right up until the following week when I overheard two girls at school talking about the sock dance, and they were making nasty remarks, not about me, but about my vaguely-friend and the way she danced how she did, right up in front of the DJ, like nobody else was watching.

Here’s the truth: I haven’t danced in public since.

I do know this is kind of silly. I still dance like a mad thing (yes, to One Direction) in my kitchen. But I’m thinking of this today because of something else that’s happened.

My Dad told me that he read my blog.

He didn’t make disparaging remarks about it. He didn’t say anything bad at all, in fact he liked it. But the fact that he read it, that he suddenly had access to my deepest thoughts, made me self-conscious, and threatened to silence me. And then something else happened: it made me strong. I’m dancing like a lunatic to One Direction in my kitchen, and suddenly people are looking in the window. People that I know. People who have never seen me dance before, but now I know that I CAN’T care about how well I’m doing it, or whether I’m doing it right, I just have to do it. And I have to open the door for them, and invite them to come inside too so we can all dance together, and instead of letting their fear become my fear, I need to let my freedom become their freedom too. I need to keep dancing like nobody’s watching. I need to write like there’s no tomorrow, and I need to lift up my voice with a shout.

Care to join me?

*“Got off with” means kissing. As opposed to “had it off with”, which means sex. Although, according, to mythic culture, lore and legend and hours and hours of gossip, there was a lot of that going on as well.

Four Things that are 100% True

Here’s the truth: it’s been a big week. I do apologise for not blogging on Friday when I’m trying to be consistent in these things, but there’s no denying it: between sickness and health and estrangements and reconciliations and house moves and some other really quite big things, it’s been a big week.

And…I did it. It. The thing I blogged about a little while back, my Small Dream. Alongside sickness and health and estrangements and reconciliations and big weeks. It went well. Actually, I loved it. I didn’t want to leave and then I cried on the way home and if I could put my whole life and sickness-and-health-and-estrangements-and-reconciliations-and-house-moves aside and just stay there for the next two weeks I would.

It wasn’t easy by a long shot, and to tell you the truth this week I’ve had to deal with some of the deepest truths of who I am and how I’ve seen myself and, more importantly, why I’ve held those beliefs about myself for so many years. There have been tears. You don’t do change without it. You don’t do life-stage changes and moving forward into new one without some grief about the past and the things you’ve lost, or the opportunities you didn’t know you had until they were gone. You need sometimes to face the truth, hard though it may be, and give it the time and space it needs.

Here’s another truth: sometimes the time and space grief needs is shorter than we allocate it and we don’t know how to let it go. Ouch.

Here’s a hard truth: sometimes I can get so caught up in myself and my own pain that the small things become big things, and the real fears give way to worry about whether my fears are justified or not and whether I’m just being too intense andamInavelgazingagain,andwhatdoessoandsothinkandyouknowIneverwasthatgreat…

Oh SHUT UP WOMAN!

This is why we tell fart jokes. This is why we take walks and smell flowers and watch Dr Who and dance like maniacs to One Direction in the kitchen Image

(come on, you know you want to!) This is why we believe – or need to – in something bigger than ourselves. It’s because living is, after all, quite fun. Because, when all is said and done, we all think we’re too fat or too skinny, too intense or too shallow, too fearsome or too foolhardy and too…too anything for anyone to really love us if they knew. It’s truth, right? And it’s because we know it, and because we know all about our own failings and insecurities that we’re free to love those around us in spite of theirs.

You know it’s true. I actually don’t care about the way you flip your hair or stare at the ground (and if you don’t understand that you’ve obviously not been dancing like a maniac to One Direction in your kitchen lately – or you don’t have an 8 year old), but I do want you to know one thing that’s true: whether you know it or not, you are beautiful.

And that’s God’s honest truth.  

“But Mummy, The Emperor has no clothes on!”

By the end of childhood, if we’ve grown up well and successfully, most of us seem to end up with two lessons firmly instilled in our minds:

  1. Be honest.
  2. 2. Be nice.

And, if we’re honest with ourselves, the subtle message that we’re given is that 2 overrides 1. So don’t be honest if it means being not nice.

Eh? I, for one, am beginning to notice the flaws in this.

I was chatting with a friend last night and she said some powerful words: Not Telling All The Truth is the Same As Lying.

It’s a funny boundary. I’m not sure what I think of this statement right now. I understand that sometimes there’s just too much truth to tell, and because it’s understood implicitly we don’t need to state it. My friend doesn’t walk into my house and say “wow this place is messy and what’s that funny smell coming from the corner?” (possibly because it’s usually in some degree of mess, although as soon as I figure out what that funny smell is coming from it will be gone!) although to do so would be an expression of truth, and she’s not lying because she didn’t say anything.

If, on the other hand, before she got up on stage before a large audience she asked me “Do I look fat in this?” and I said “No!” (truthfully) but neglected to tell her that the back of her dress was caught up in her undies, then that’s kind of what she means.

Sometimes we need to say the hard stuff.

Being the first person to say it will always be hard. You will always feel stupid, or wrong, or maligned or ashamed for doing so.Sometimes though, if things need to change, being honest is the only thing to do.

Guns and memories

This is from my personal “archives”, so I apologise to those who have read it before. I had another article to write this morning, and I didn’t have time for two. I think it’s appropriate to share here though because it’s the reason I struggle with anxiety over my trip to the US. It’s what I was thinking when I wrote last Wednesday’s blog. 

Tasmania lost its innocence on April 28th 1996.

I don’t think about it much, but I’ve got friends now who weren’t there, and friends who were barely children themselves when it happened, and although it seems like a very long time ago, today the memories seem unusually fresh. Maybe it’s time to remember.

 

   I was in the kitchen over near the fireplace, and Tony and his mate Matt were sitting at the table when he told us. That was the first I knew, and that felt weird because with something that big you’d presume you’d know already, not second or third hand like that. You’d presumed that in a place this small, in a place like Tassie that you’d hear the helicopters, and that would make it feel real. And you’d presume that Matt would have told us as soon as he came in, not half an hour later as if he’d forgotten. Maybe he wasn’t sure of the truth of it either.

   But Matt told us. He said it in that edge-of-your-seat kind of voice; that awed voice of “we see this in movies, but this is our thing, our very own Tassie thing”, even though it was never something to be proud of.

   “You know what? I heard this guy pulled a gun at Port Arthur, and he’s shot about twenty people”.

   We’d presumed the report was an exaggeration. They always are. Twenty people dead is too many, and this is Tassie. Nothing happens in Tassie. Nothing like that.

   But it did. We heard later about how the helicopters kept coming and coming, not enough to get everyone to hospital in time, and people kept dying.

   Twenty became an understatement, not an exaggeration.

   I wasn’t there, of course, at the hospital. I can only imagine the fear and the confusion and the blood and the stench of death and dirt. I can only imagine the fear at the site, and having to pick up the bodies, of waiting for the phone calls from family members who’d been out for the day and not come home. I can only imagine the grief.

   By the time we went down it was some three weeks afterwards, after the memorial services and the news reports had burned the images into our brains; after those poor little children and their Mum had been found and buried along with all the rest of them, people whose names were becoming as familiar to us as our own.

   The drive felt normal, fun. We sat in the back of the car and chatted about the weather and about church and about life and haircuts and bread and things, until there on the road we saw first bunches of flowers and then the police tape over the driveway where the first victims had fallen, and we fell silent together.

   As soon as we entered the Port Arthur historic site we felt the grief. It hung over the place like a cloud, even though the day was barely overcast. I didn’t know before that day that emotions could cling to the sides of a place like mist to the valley. I didn’t know that I’d walk into a place I’d been to numerous times before, and just by being there I’d want to cry.

 

   I felt like an intruder at someone else’s funeral. I didn’t know anybody who had died, although in months to come I’d meet people who’d known them, and I’d meet people who’d been there only the day before, or were meant to be there except for an illness or a broken-down car that maybe saved their lives.

   We all wanted to cry, but if we did we looked away and wiped our eyes so nobody saw us, because it felt wrong to feel a grief that wasn’t ours, and nobody knew how to act.

   There were kids with us too, and their natural curiosity and questions mirrored our own unspoken ones. We followed them to the sea of plastic-wrapped flowers outside the café, and we laid our own tributes as well. The first flowers were decaying now, and went all the way up to the police tape, but the sea of them went for twenty metres or more. There were flowers upon flowers upon flowers, and cards, and teddy bears for the little ones, an outpouring of grief from a community who didn’t know anything else to do, or any other way to feel. People like us, who traveled a hundred kilometers or so because that day we were all part of the same community.

   Maybe we should have allowed ourselves to feel it more than we did, but at the time we didn’t know. Nobody tells you how you’re supposed to feel when 35 people are murdered for no reason in a place you’ve always considered safe. We felt relieved that we were safe, and guilty for crying when we had nothing really to cry about. We were alive, after all, and our families were safe. And we felt guilty for that as well. We wanted to come and feel with people who felt, and mourn with those who mourned, but beyond our pointless presence and our prayers there was nothing we could do.

   Nothing could prepare us.

   We prayed for the families of those who’d been killed, and for the people still in hospital. We prayed for the people who would always have to live with the memories of what they saw that day, and we prayed for those in the hospitals where there weren’t enough beds, and for the people who had to fly those helicopters that carried the survivors home.

   We drove home with thoughts unspoken simply because there were no words for what had happened on that day. A place of so much suffering in history had again become a place of so much suffering. There was only one thing we knew for sure: On the 28th April 1996, God cried.

The Port Arthur massacre was the catalyst for massive gun law reform in Australia. There was an amnesty on all automatic and semi-automatic weapons after this. Handguns are banned, although I’m not sure if it was because of this or not. It’s such a different reaction to the US, where people seem to respond to mass-shootings by arming themselves.

I can’t say whether either country’s response to guns is right or wrong, but I do understand that this is where my fear of guns comes from, and why it’s taken me a while to really believe that I won’t be shot dead at LA airport the minute I get off the plane. Memories – and feelings – are funny things.

So what you think about guns, about unexplained fears that resurface when you thought you were over them, about feelings you’re never quite sure why you have? Talk to me. I’d love to listen.

Chipping away the darkness

Hello! First thing I want to say is thank you all so much for being so overwhelmingly supportive of my Great Adventure to the US after I blogged about it on Wednesday. Reading all your comments was so lovely and so touching. I feel like I’ve got a cheer squad behind me! It was good reading in the comments too that I’m not the only one dealing with self-sabotage, and that so many of us are afraid of stepping into the thing we desire the most. We’re a funny bunch, us humans.

I’m a bit reluctant to write today’s post, because it’s extremely personal, and I’ll either a) say too much and regret it or b) (more likely) say not enough to make it make sense, and leave you scratching your head and saying “huh?” Oh well. There’s nothing else on my mind right now, so I’ll give it a try. It’s very, very much related to Wednesday, in fact it’s kind of Exactly The Same Thing.

I have a dream. This one is a small one, a personal one, a little dream so little and sweet that if I told you you’d say “awww, that’s lovely! You should do that.” It’s not hard. I don’t need to buy a ticket for it, and it won’t cost me much at all. It’s not a dream I think about much though because it’s buried so deep inside me that it’s hard to find, and it’s so small that often it gets overlooked. I think we all have dreams like that.

So anyway, on Wednesday after I’d blogged all about stepping into my dream of travel and visiting the US for the first time I had lunch with a friend, my oldest and dearest friend. We bought chicken sandwiches and walked to the park and sat in the sunshine and chatted and laughed and shared the way we’ve been doing for years. The conversation went deep, and then suddenly my friend offered up a truth so sharp that it wedged its way deep into my gut and pushed that tiny dream up and out of my mouth for the first time in years. It made me cry over my chicken sandwich, even if we were in the park and in the sunshine.

And then she said this: “You should do it.”

She’s right. And not only is she right, I’d blogged that very and self-same morning about the rightness of what she said. I Should Do It.

And then I cried some more, because even though that dream is little it’s the most precious and covered over of all dreams. It hasn’t seen the daylight for many, many years, and I was scared that if it did, then…I don’t know. I don’t know why it’s scary stepping into dreams. Perhaps the darkness that covered it is the fear that if it ever happened I would do something to stuff it up.

That’s it. That’s the truth. I would Do Something to Stuff It Up. Except the thing I’m realizing at the moment that that “truth” is a lie.

It’s only taken 20-something years.

It’s not going to cost me anything, to do this. Just a bit of time, and a bucketful of tears that I can well afford.

I’m going to do it.

It’s going to hurt. Chipping away at darkness always does.

It’s worth it.

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