Letter to a Teenager


Hey there,

I tried to bury my teenage years, but my wild and wonderful youth refused to be forgotten. For that, I am grateful, as I have some things to share with you. Or rather, she does.

I respect your need for space and privacy. I recall what it was like to need a release in the form of a journal, and promise that it shall always remain private, for your eyes only. We all need a room of our own, including a mansion within ourselves, where we can let go of artifice, and connect to our innermost feelings. I get why your door is shut, and why you need alone time. You have been at school with hundreds of your peers and teachers, for seven hours, and need time to decompress.

I stopped eating as a teenager. I wanted to reduce my space in the world. If I was invisible, perhaps I wouldn’t be hurt anymore? I could have control over something, at last! It took a great deal of effort to restore my body and mind, and retain a healthy weight. Since this time, I have put on weight, been pregnant and bedridden, and you know what? I never once weighed myself. In fact, I don’t own scales. They provide scant information regarding the measure of one’s health; emotional and physical. Nor do they describe how well I’m travelling through the world. Food is now a source of nourishment, and exercise is a tool used for mental wellbeing. Please, don’t contract in. You are allowed to take up space. You are in competition with nobody.

 

I almost died by my own hand. I couldn’t see a way out of the situation I was in; I seemingly couldn’t locate an alternate pathway that would enable me to live. It’s hard when you’re a teenager, to see tomorrow. Everything seems to be focused on the now… The math exam today, the friendship group you’re in, family problems… It can seem insurmountable. I can tell you with the gift of hindsight, that 25 years have passed, and I am so glad that I didn’t die. I am astounded that I’m still here. I grew up and left everything that hurt me. I experienced joy and learnt many things. I had a child, and have beautiful friendships. Whatever is causing distress, shall be vanquished in the course of time. You will leave that high school. You will leave those friends who hurt you. How many of us still have friends from our formative years? If you are fortunate, you may retain one or two, but usually, that’s all. Young adults move for work or university. They travel the world, and form new friendships. These years will go so quickly (even if it doesn’t feel like it now). There hasn’t been a time when I wasn’t glad that I survived, in spite of having challenges as an adult. Your life is precious.

 

Always look at the big picture for your life. Every day you can do tasks that your future self will thank you for. It may be taking time out to see a movie with a friend, or going for a walk. It may be signing up to performing arts groups at school, if your career aspirations lean toward music, drama or dance, for instance. Write down what your dreams are; in every area in your life. Research the pathways that will get you to where you want to go. I promise, that there is more than one  pathway for the fruition of your dreams! Make mind maps, with the dream at the top, and the steps you need to take spreading out like new shoots on a tree. Breaking it down means that it no longer feels overwhelming and insurmountable.

 

As wacky as this sounds, when I felt weak and defeated, I would picture teenage me talking to my adult self. What does she look like? How does she move through the world?  What advice would she give me? It helps you to step outside the problems you are currently facing. Let your future-self lend you strength.

 

Never take anyone else’s opinion about you as gospel. Firstly, if someone is being derogatory toward you, or if you’ve heard from others that they are spreading gossip, you have to ask yourself, why? Are they envious? Do you have something that they want? Look at their motives. The majority of the time, you aren’t in the equation at all. It has nothing to do with you, and everything to do with them.  How you feel about yourself is incredibly important. After all, you have to live with yourself, 24/7. Teenage Pink was told that she wouldn’t amount to anything, by some adults. Many people have had dire predictions thrown on them, regarding their futures. The best revenge is ignoring these ridiculous opinions, and proving them wrong. Nobody has the ability to predict your future, so ignore and rise up. As a dyslexic, I was routinely told that I was stupid. I couldn’t spell, and my writing was appalling. Guess what I ended up doing as a young adult?!  Never let anyone tell you what you are capable of.

If I had my time over as a teenager, I would take up more space, not less. I would be more of an extroverted dresser; a bohemian clothed in mismatched colours and patterns.  I would care less about fitting in, and dedicate my time to standing out. I would feel free to listen to my gut instincts about people and situations, and hope that my instincts were honoured by others. I wouldn’t feel the need to be accomodating and ‘nice’ to people who deserved anything but.

 

I am glad that you are a teenager in an era where you are allowed to have a voice. I am glad that you are living in an era where you can be anything you desire. This is a good time to be alive; to advocate for change. Your generation shall be the ones to change what is foul, and restore what is broken.

Our job as adults is to ensure that you experience your teenage years in an unscathed fashion. Talk to us; please know that you can. We were teenagers once upon a time, and can cast our minds back to see what you are facing. Ask us what is what like for us. Ask for advice. You are important, and you are loved. Us adults can sometimes be a bit slow to catch on, when you try to talk to us about your life. Keep trying… write it down and slip us the paper over breakfast, if need be. Put a communication diary onto our pillow, and we will respond with an entry beneath.  Be patient with us; sometimes we are a bit slow on the uptake, and sometimes we forgot what it was like to be a teenager. We get busy with the ludicrous minutiae of adult life. We need each other, in this mad, infuriating, heart-breaking, joyful, ridiculous world. Let us hear your music, and let us watch your favourite shows with you. Let us into your world. In many respects, you are experiencing life in such a different way to what we did. The ways of our youth no longer exist; gone the way of paper tickets, cameras with film, video cassettes and boomboxes. Teach us what it’s like to be you, a teenager in the world.

Christmas in July


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We have some English ex-pats as friends, and they invited us to Christmas in July celebrations. My mate Dianne loves Christmas, and couldn’t wait to revisit it at the halfway point in the year. Out came her glorious white Christmas tree and decorations. There was enough food to feed several families, and my daughter devoured five Yorkshire Puddings, declaring them a winner! The feeling around that table is one that I delight in, laughter, irreverence and warmth. Hilarity ensued when I found myself locked in the bathroom, unable to get out as the door handle was missing! They heard my little screams eventually!

There were games aplenty, which produced more laughter.

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Oh, and a snow fight indoors! It was eventually taken outside. I loved that the family couldn’t care less about the mess left behind. They were living in the moment, and it was great fun!

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These Brits mean business with their snow!

Santa even made an appearance, to everyone’s joy, and we were each given a gift, as a sort of incentive (bribe), to behave until December 25th.

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I feel overwhelmed that I was welcomed into this family’s celebration. They do real, they know that mess can be cleaned up, and that it is great fun to make! They play games and have fun. They laugh at guests who get locked in their bathroom. I adore them, and I love that Christmas can occur in July.

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Murta (part 2)


Rex, Robert and Clint
Rex, Robert and Clint
“Smile!” Murta called. She took the boy’s picture with a Box Brownie. They fidgeted with the bow ties. The lads were clothed in tuxedos on the occasion of a ball. Their charisma could light up the Harbour Bridge, the moon and stars combined. Her three little sons loved these young men. Murta was comforted that they would mentor her boys…

She had been seven months pregnant with her fourth when her husband called her inside. He wanted to talk. His slacks swished as he walked to and fro, his hair smoothed into place with Bryl Cream. “I have enlisted,” he said gruffly. “They will need medics.” Murta’s heart sank. Rex, Robert and Clint had signed up too. He coaxed her to have the baby induced. He demanded to meet his child. He held the boy to his face, and grunted in approval.

‘Darwin is under attack! Get the hell out of Bowen! Do whatever you can to make it to Sydney,” his cable read. Murta grabbed her keys, her four boys, and drove like hell. She wondered if the sky was going to fall, the world end. The dirt roads were horrific, and the newborn wailed. She cut a path through cane fields and rampant bush. She exchanged her jewellery for fuel. She arrived home to Sydney, and sank to the green axeminster carpet. She prayed it might swallow her. Clint and Robert had been killed, and Rex was badly injured. Murta wept and stroked the picture of the boys on the mantle. Ma Ma arranged to have  a stained glass window erected in their church. It featured Sir Galahad in his armor, his face that of a young man, unbroken, unyielding, perfect.

Just before her 100th Birthday
Just before her 100th Birthday
A letter arrived from Murta’s husband in 1945. It was sticky, and stained from tobacco. He was leaving her for another woman. She wore silk stockings and applied French perfume from a crystal decanter. The boys were not to see their father again. He died in QLD, a decorated politician. Murta never said a  bad word about the man. She has relished her autonomy; enjoyed her own company, though on occasion, lamented the death of romance.

The war had made accommodation scarce. She was vying for a granny flat with another lady. The woman noticed the softly-spoken boys assembled in a line behind the fey. “You take it love, you need it more than I,” she smiled at Murta. Murta found work off Broadway, training as a secretary at an export house. She remained there until the late 1970’s.

 Rex hobbled, his hip shattered in the war. He and his wife had been Murta’s dear friends until their death’s in the early millennium. Rex would help the homeless in a soup kitchen connected to the church. He used to pause at the stained glass window, tracing the outline of Sir Galahad.

Murta loved tequila, tiramisu, honey, chocolate  and steaming-hot coffee. When you sauntered back home at a hundred years of age, it was still a shock. I expected that you might live forever. Thankyou for your adventurous spirit (which saw you misbehave to such an extent that your father sent you on a boat to England). Your adventurous spirit saw you learn to drive, and with a  friend, make your way to Scotland as a teenager! The brave Knight and fair maiden ventured deep into the ocean. The folks that have been invigorated with the spray of their concern rest on the sand. Rex, Robert and Clint hold hands with Murta. They are plunged into the lupine liquid, and the ocean carries them away.

Murta and I, 2005
Murta and I, 2005

Murta (Part 1)


 

Murta at seventeen in the '20's
Murta at seventeen in the ’20’s
I met Murta in 1999, and she became one of my dearest friends, up to her death in 2005 at 100 years of age. Every night she would pray that I might have a child. She would say, “you are always smiling and look happy, darling, but I see the sadness in your eyes when you think nobody’s looking.” I laughed and told her she way too perceptive. This is her story.

MURTA

In 1905 an iridescent fey shed her gossamer wings and slid into a world of hand-wringing and sleep draughts. As she took her first breath, her mother took her last. “I have birthed a numinous creature, and its enough,” her mother sighed. “Its more than enough.”  Murta’s tiny hand firmly gripped her mother’s wedding band.

As her life progressed, pastoral scenes and snatches of bliss made life seem a useful pastime. Tendrils of honey tumbled down her slight shoulders. Her eyes were Wedgewood blue, as though crazy-lace agates had been prepared for instalment. Pulverized Herkimer diamonds were scattered around her iris. Murta tremulously held her step-sister in her plush pink hands. Seven months of incubation hadn’t been enough and the babe left this world, despite Murta’s pleadings. She comforted Ma Ma (her stepmother), and wrapped her sister in a peach bunny rug,placing her in the icebox until the official farewell.

In time, Ma Ma delivered a little boy. Murta anxiously watched over Clint throughout the eventide, the silence broken by the redwood repeater in the hall. She stroked his cheek with her little finger,the summer evening engorged with floral aromas piped into the rhythmic breeze. Ma Ma admired the children from the veranda as she gripped the iron lacework. Murta was teaching Clint to ride his pony. She loved her little brother, a blessed gift from another woman.

Murta’s head was turned as a young socialite. Douglas Fairbanks had nothing on this young doctor. Mesmerized, Murta hurried when he called, his voice carrying her to Bowen in far Nth Queensland. She was impetuous, imbibing at parties thrown in the roaring twenties; climbing iron fences, dashing to the water’s edge. Wild, wilful, a dedicated suffragette. She caught a glimpse of herself as she polished  a Venetian mirror. She smiled, recalling her box of secrets, fringed with satin ribbons.

She smuggled an orphaned joey onto a train in Brisbane and coaxed him to eat a little cereal. Murta proudly offered him to Clint. She watched from the veranda, rubbing her pendulous belly, her first child growing beneath her skin. She watched Clint, his hair falling over his absythne eyes. He and his best friend, Rex, played with the ‘roo and it bounded after them as a dog might. Robert, a sixteen year old chum, straggled after them. He admired Clint’s torrid, isatiable love affair with life.

(To be Continued)…