Over the Bridge

1.

In my town, the town with “no war” written on the sidewalk, the town with the school that Harper still attends, the railway bisects the main street. It cuts right through the hill that separates the town into two bits. The road climbs, is briefly a bridge, and then descends back into shops and day-trippers and toddlers in prams.

But there is a street that doubles back on the hill, sliding around from where the road just levels out to reach the football field and the railway station. On one side it has a barren building that used to have trees, but doesn’t anymore, and the Catholic primary school. On the other side, there is a great wall that is the distance from wsydney_gong044here the road slopes down to the level ground.

When I was a kid there was graffiti, and I never did learn whether it was a designated area for graffiti or not, but it always felt organic. Not revolutionary, or political or even comprehensible, but it still felt like it was an individual doing it. That it was a human communicating to me through this wall. I loved it. I thought it was great. That our little coastal town was doing this thing, this thing that I had always interpreted as revolutionary.

And then they painted over it.screen-shot-2016-11-04-at-6-35-46-amIt’s worse than what you think. It would have been better if they had just painted it some beige color. But they didn’t. They painted it with commissioned graffiti artists. Made this huge, intertwining design that had been designed in committee I suppose.

And I hated it.

Because this wasn’t revolutionary, this was compliancy in masquerade. This was everything I now loathe, trying to act like it was a rebellious force.


2.

I argued against cultural appropriation for a long time before I understood what it was, and why it hurt people. I asked my sister about it at one point, because she is political, and she has curly hair and darker skin and she knows what’s what. So I asked her. And she probably gave a good explanation, but I didn’t understand it. She showed me that video of that girl from the hunger games, and she probably gave a better explanation still. But all I could latch onto was that I was being restricted, that there were things that people didn’t want me to do. And all I understood was that bit, because that was the bit of the explanation that had me in it.

Everything else, the conservation of culture, the protectiveness over something nearly stolen, I couldn’t understand what that was about. The sun blinks at me, and I burn. My hair is straight. Never in the whole of history have people who have looked like me been culturally oppressed; not once. I will never fully comprehend what it is to be stripped of a culture; I will never understand what it is to have my whole race tyrannized. I will never know what it is to not be allowed to speak my native language because I was born speaking a borrowed one.

So I couldn’t figure it out. I didn’t understand why people could be offended by a fad among young, white people. I just didn’t get why it was so bad that a white girl was going to get braids in her hair. All I could understand was that I wasn’t allowed to do some things because they were not mine to do.

And I hated that, but I had to respect it.

3.

We’re walking down the street, chatting, its been a good day, we’re heading home. I’m taking the train; she’s getting picked up. Somehow the conversation comes up, I don’t remember how it was introduced, whether it was by her or me, but the picture of the white girl with braids in her hair in the window of a shop inspired it. I try to explain it to her; she doesn’t think it’s a thing.

But Dora explained this to me, people I trust have faith in it, people I trust know this is a thing.

But I flounder. Because I’m not sure. I’m sure that it’s a thing, I’m sure that it harms people, but I’m not sure why. I didn’t understand the explanation that Dora gave me, and I didn’t pay enough attention to the video she showed me. But I know that it harms people, so I have to fight for it. I have to explain it. I think that it’s my job.

Because the people I trust took the time to try and explain it to me. But I think that they knew what they were talking about. And I don’t. And she can see that, and she takes my lack of comprehension as an assertion of her point. She asserts dominance over my struggle to explain it.

I wish I was able to go back to that moment, I wish that I could go back and tell her that it wasn’t my job to explain it to her, and it wasn’t her job to understand. I wish that I were able to tell her that it’s not my job to pick apart this complex, delicate, political and personal issue on her behalf. I wish in that moment that I was able to swallow my pride and tell her that I didn’t know enough or comprehend it the way I ought to have done to explain it to her, and she should look it up.

Because maybe then, she might have left the conversation with a little more curiosity.

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Generation?

imChill out.

Seriously.

Chill out.

What safety are you giving? Is this advice going to help? Are you wounded by the thought that maybe there are people who would like to think that there are good aspects of bad things? Does it hurt you? Do you realize that what you just said is “tough it out”? “Suck it up”? This isn’t constructive. Chill out.

And what generation?

You are attacking people, be specific. Do you mean the one you are in? The current one? And if so, which one is current? What is the application process for this generation, what are its parameters?

I don’t think that your annoyance can be so powerful that it hurts you to view some softhearted sentiment. Chill out. Remember that you are speaking to the world, whoever you are. You are addressing the universe; and there are people who will see this and have a sick feeling in their stomach because they know it’s them you’re complaining about. Yes, complaining. You are complaining. Be your own hero about it.

And what evidence do you have to back up your claims? Have you conducted research on this matter? Taken surveys? Interviews? Anything? Do you use the scenario of being found in a bookstore reading Bukowski as an anecdote or a literal event? Are you saying that if I were reading Hemingway that I would be more likely to be found? Explain yourself.

Is it easier for you to make generalizations about people in “this generation” than to weaken your argument by mentioning that obviously this does not account for everybody? Does that suggest to you, perhaps, that your argument is not quite strong enough if it cannot seem to take that blow?

Chill out.

….

“Now what did we say about generations?”

At first there is the sting of being reprimanded, and then the shame of having to be. But that’s the point. She makes me aware. I rephrase my statement, whatever it is. The bite of my point blunted by her interjection, but it reinforces the ones that will come when it’s not needed. It’s a process. She and I have been though it before.

I don’t remember what she said when she first said what we say about generations. Something smart. She explained it to me because I didn’t know; I didn’t know I had to know. I’m still young; my not knowing to know is not fatal. And she told me what we say about generations, about the ways that they don’t exist, about the ways that a “generation” is just a term used to separate people. The young people, the old people. The people who aren’t the same, and we suspect its because of how old they are.

I wonder if the person who wrote this open complaint is young, I wonder if they feel annoyed when generalizations are made about them and their generation. I wonder if they have made the connection.

….

“People from this generation are so impersonal. Look at you, all on your phones,” my history teacher laughs. We glance at each other. He doesn’t seem to need a response and continues his lesson, laughing to himself. It’s kubrick-subway-newspapershard to tell if he’s being ironic or sincere. I text mum:

The mall at 3:30?

I wait for a response, impersonal as I am. Before too long there comes a reply; a plethora of thumbs up emojis appears with a soft wvop. The girl who sits across the room and wrote “free the nipple” on the wall of one of the bathroom stalls sends me a photo she found on the internet and winks at me from across the room. I wink back.

Impersonal?

….

You’re so fucking sick of this generation’s mentality?

Back up.

You don’t get make declarations about me and you don’t speak on my behalf. Whether you have assumed yourself part of a generation of people and attempted to observe from the inside or otherwise. You don’t get to say these things. You don’t get to pronounce a mentality, or a trait.

The variables to a person’s life are infinite, and when you declare these things you undermine all of them. You strip a person of their characteristics and individuality.

And you don’t get to do that.

(Also, don’t complain about other people on the Internet without being specific. And if it bugs you that much, avoid it, its not hurting you.)

Dependence

1.

I remember the grass between my toes, I remember that it was so cold that it stung my feet and the concrete scraped at my heels, and I remember how the grass and the dirt would stick with the dew, and I would trail the debris back into the house. I remember4853039972_f5a5d405b0_o the sound of the cling wrap being pulled back; I remember thinking that the grass from my feet would come off on the sheets. I remember the birds and the smell of coffee and lying flat in the space between their pillows. I remember the feeling of not having enough attention paid to me.

I am still not being paid enough attention.

There is no paper anymore, we stopped having it delivered, and I stopped going to get it years before that. I still lie in the space between their pillows, though now I’m supported by one of the stripy pillows. For the longest time there weren’t any pillows beside theirs, just the place between them. I think it was because they were so used to babies, and babies don’t do pillows.

They still read each other things, even now that the paper is gone, and I don’t go out to get it. They find each other beautiful things on their phones and read them to each other. And they still don’t pay enough attention to me. It’s fun and chatty when you first crawl into bed. But the mornings are for company and recapping what has happened in the world since the 6 ‘o’ clock news.

It has taken me years to accept this.

2.

My roll call teacher doesn’t like me. And that’s okay; I don’t like her either. She thinks I’m arrogant and I know because she told me so.

First day of year eight: she points out everything wrong with my uniform.

Second day of year eight: I am dressed the same and she tells me that I’m arrogant.

I tried to retort with something I thought was clever. It probably solidified her views. But I’m not sure that anyone can be judged for their year eight selves, and my year eight self had just heard the news that what I had hoped would come across as stoic came across as arrogant.

Our relationship has not improved from this point.

Sometimes she’ll walk around the classroom and interrogates us. When we aren’t paying attention she asks, “Are you plugged in?” We’ve figured out that what she means when she says this is “Are you listening to music?” She is mocked for this saying in the quiet whispers of her math classes. And I think she knows it.

She thinks that we are dependent on our phones. She thinks that if she allows this to continue, bad things will happen. I think that she thinks that she is saving us from ourselves, like the mother of a drug addict sending her child to rehab. And I think that she resents us for it.

I can understand her anxiety on one level, her worry that interaction with our fellow human beings will transfer entirely to our virtual lives, that when she speaks within her classroom their will be no one to listen. She fears our dependence.

But it is too late. Dependence is here, and has been since long before the iPhone 5.

3.

I am dependent.

I broke my phone in P.E the other day; I was at odds with myself for the rest of the afternoon. I had no option but to remain “unplugged”. But a new day comes and I adapt, because I am a human being, and human beings do that. I started listening to music on my laptop, and communicated by other means. I found peace in other places. And my parents found their information in other places.

Life as we live it is hard enough; there is no need to patronize people for taking the easier road. The human race will not grow weaker with the release of every new social network, IPhone, or album. We will not love our families any less every time we get as IOS update. We will not stop appreciating the beauty of the world every time a fifteen year old posts a selfie.

And you don’t get to decide what dependencies are harmful.

“PMS”

At some point between IMG_5440Wednesday morning and Friday afternoon, someone has written “PMS” on the corner of the desk I sit at during math and they’ve underlined it. There is not explanation to this declaration. Just PMS.

A couple weeks ago a friend of mine drew on the bathroom wall “free the nipple”. She took a photo of it and sent it to me. In year seven I drew little pictures on the picnic tables. It made me feel like I was cool, that I could do and was willing to do this thing that nobody else was doing. It made me feel brave, and there were no repercussions.

At the beginning of each year I take photos of the sadness scrawled onto the bathroom stalls.

IMG_2344

And I wonder if the people who put these notices here meant for me to see them. I know I didn’t, I wanted to be seen, and that’s why I drew on those tables. It didn’t bother me one way or another whether they were seen when I wasn’t drawing them. I wanted to be noted, it wasn’t about what I drew, it was that it was me who drew it. But maybe that was an outlier; maybe it’s different for everybody else. Maybe it’s not important who wrote “PMS” on the corner of my desk, maybe it’s just a thought that had to be noted.

I think that maybe the people who write clever things, the things that are protest, the people that draw things on purpose, I think that they are meant to be seen. And I think the little emotions, the little emotions people put on walls are meant to be seen. I think it’s all meant to be seen, but also don’t think that there’s a plan for when you do.

Because what can you do?

IMG_2343What do I say to “PMS”? Are you asking me a question? What can I do for you? Do you need help from me? It’s okay, I paid attention in health class, I know how it all works. Do you want me to check this yes, that I have seen this? That I have acknowledged this? Because yes, you are heard. Whatever it is you are trying to say I know you are trying to say it. I am here for you.

But I don’t think you need that from me.

Because it’s not about communication; it’s never been about communication. There is no conversation to be had, there is not meant to be an answer to the “PMS” scrawled into the corner of my desk, there is no response to “Fuck you sir” written on the blind and “School fkn sucks”. They are statements, they are truths, and even if they’re not, it’s hard to argue with a wall.

 

No War

“No war.” Says the sidewalk, the finger of some small town identity dragged through wet concrete. What? This is a small coastal town; this is a tourist town. What war? We aren’t at war, Thirroul has never been at war. We don’t even have a hospital to bomb. The only way we are going to get displaced is through the housing market. What war?

Who do you think you are talking to? Who do you think will wander past and see this? Who will look at this mark in the wet concrete? There are no military generals wandering around Thirroul, no PMs or anyone with any control on whether or not there are wars. What is your plan? You haven’t thought this through; you just defaced a sidewalk. What is wrong with you?

“No war”. Ugh.

What planet are you from?

But what if there is someone that needs to see that? Someone that needs to see that someone else in this small town is thinking this notion? Who am I to deprive them of that? There’s war somewhere. There’s always war somewhere, it’s like 5 ‘o’ clock. Maybe there should be a sidewalk with the words “No war” scrawled into it in every town. Like dots on the map.

Maybe this is what represents us, this declaration of what ought to be. Maybe it’s not the beach, or the sand, or the weather, or the people, or the stores, maybe it’s this one bit of sidewalk, just outside of town, maybe it’s this that represents us. It’s like being checked off a list.

Places that believe in wars:

1) Thirroul

2) Other places

And that’s one less place I suppose, one less place believing in destruction. One less place believing in little kids in the backs of ambulances. One less place believing in bombs. And that’s something.

The world is so full of despair. We live in a world where mustard gas exists. We learned about the Japanese POW camps in history the other day. Watched a documentary about the people who hold up the “god hates fags” signs on the sides of roads in English.

But someone in Thirroul believes in not wars, and this person decided to represent us on a sidewalk right outside of town. And maybe that’s how this works. Maybe it doesn’t start with riots, or posters, or speeches, maybe it starts with sidewalks.

Under a Bridge

She explains to me slowly, about the math. About how it will be if I don’t take it all the way to HSC.

“Sydney Uni won’t even look at you if you haven’t done math for HSC.”

I tell her that’s all right then. I don’t want to go to Sydney University. She gives me a withering look. She wants the best for me; she wants me to be successful. She wants me to want to go to Sydney University. She thinks I’m going to end up under a bridge.

The year advisor stands at the front of the assembly and looks at us sadly. She’s read out the names of the good ones. There is a shuffle from those who were not listed and she folds her hands in front of her. Her pencil skirt is pulled too tight around her knees, but her hair is perfect.

“A lot of them were borderline,” she addresses the majority, ‘them’ being our half-yearly reports. There is a snap to attention. “If you’re one of those people who think they need development in just a few subjects…” we watch her grimly. “You should start thinking about putting more work towards them.” I wonder if she knows what she has said, what she sounds like. Because she sounds like the ending to her sentence is ‘or else you’re going to end up under a bridge’.

Last week’s question was: do you know what subjects you’re choosing? This week’s question is: what subjects did you choose? It’s the same every time. Did you study for the test? What was your answer to 15a on geometry? Our answers are the same, oh thank god. Everything hinges on every choice. There is nothing that will not decide whether or not you end up under a bridge.

There is fear in the corridors, because we keep getting things wrong, and yet the dramatic effects of these mistakes fail to appear so we keep inching closer and closer to some figurative cliff.

The year advisor purses her lips at us, twisting her fingers in front of her. Someone giggles nervously. There is silence. We look at each other, and I’m waiting for her to offer us some sort of comfort. She’s just delivered the news that most of us are at best borderline. But, no, there is no gift of statistical safety. There is no group average of wealth. There is no mention of the suburban house, and the job with the slowly increasing salary, the few kids, the partner, and the sensible car and the saving for Christmas.

There are equations in the math I need to do. There are immediate and logical answers. If I do this, this and this, if I make this combination of things, then this is where I will end up. This is like math. We have been given the problem, but no formula.

But if we get it wrong, we might end up under the bridge.

There is no mention that most of us will end up just saving for Christmas.