My 4-year-old nephew took the first photo. He’d spent the afternoon tearing apart the presents I’d brought and catapulting into my arms for hugs in between games and snapshots. “Archie really loves you,” his mother said, as she always says, her inflection so carefully neutral that I leave my visits wondering what it means.
Katie and I are half-sisters, so we share the polite but distant affection that comes with the territory of being estranged. Our history draws on the deep well of experiences that inform the narratives of other fractured families, and we know our attempts to reconnect might have come 25 years too late. But we’re trying this because of Archie, who propels himself into the centre of attention and garbles on about toy trivia, sounding like every twenty-something pop vulture I know. And we’re also doing this for Poppy, my solemn little niece who observes everything around her, whose already-developed sense of boundaries means the smiles you coax out of her, and emerge like sunshine through cloud, are that much more rewarding.
My sister and I have struggled with identity issues from opposite ends of the spectrum, and we deal with them in ways that don’t quite align. How do we proceed from here? “There are no rules for what we’re doing,” she once said as we sat in a suburban food court, trying to understand. I thought about her mother, and I remembered what my father said as he drove to the funeral. And I thought about Daniel’s return, the prodigal half-brother to my half-sister, the degrees that connect strangers who choose to call each other family.
Where does it end and begin? Children aren’t for everyone, but it’s amazing how shared chromosomes can make a difference. Katie and I look barely alike and her kids look nothing like me, and again they barely resemble themselves from when I came home four months ago. Now I am an excellent auntie. I bring toys, I mimic and sing and show them how to cartwheel and forward-roll. I photograph my niece and nephew constantly, marking shifts in hair colour and their slow creep towards the sky. They are already very good at responding to cameras - Archie vogues, Poppy hears the shutter and bares her teeth in recognition. When you are young and you rely on external validation it is easy to strike a pose. For the beautiful it’s instinct. But this afternoon, after the first few shots and a whole lot of hugs, Archie wrinkled his face and said “Now let me take one of you.”
I hate being photographed. Anyone can take a snapshot but when they’re taking a picture, when attention is focussed down the barrel of a lens, it’s too much. I’m always uncomfortable, I don’t like how your self-perception is momentarily divorced from the photographer’s regard. In that moment the tension between viewer and subject is amplified; knowing that control of the final image belongs to someone wholly distinct from you can be terrifying.
But four-year-olds don’t overthink these things. I showed Archie how to press the button and he peered through the viewer like a pro. Snap. “Well Done, Cass!” he said, a pint-sized school teacher. I stared at the camera, I was staring at him. The shutter blossomed and furled, again and again. “Now look angry. Now look sad. You look BEAUTIFUL.”
In his pictures I look sleepy and my pores are huge and you can probably see my chipped teeth. But I’m also wearing the same goofy expression that slides into place whenever I see my tiny devil of a nephew. It’s not about me, it’s about the devotion of children who trust us to be there for them. There’s a space we’ve carved out for ourselves, our histories laid bare, it doesn’t make sense - but for this one slice of time it really doesn’t matter.
Do It Yourself: G&Tea
Anyone can make a gin & tonic or a nice cup of tea. But have you made a G&Tea? Perfect for all the alcoholic cat-loving closet grannies on the internet <3
You Will Need
earl grey or lady grey teabags
1. Simmer the tea bags in a saucepan with water and grated lemon rind and some sugar (if you like). Let cool, then strain out the tea leaves and rind
2. Pour tea into an ice cube tray and let freeze. Freeze another tray with your soda and lemon rind peels. You can also do this with cranberry juice, orange juice, ummmm
3. When your nice cubes are frozen, pop them out and drop them in a rocks glass or tea cup. Apply gin liberally, maybe some lemon slices if you’re feeling fancy
If the instructions are rough it’s because I may have already ‘experimented’ lots with this thing. Thanks to Bron for the idea and today’s heatwave for making it happen!
So let’s say last year was too thrilling to now do anything more than sit and blankly stare at things, but a useful by-product of formative pain has been the careful preservation of your personal life for private consumption. Still pretty wary about slipping into perma-solitude or at least falling off the wordwagon, so to snap out of it here are some things I’m working on at any given moment:
- CHEW 3: STREET FOOD - Food Politics is heaps 2k11 but I’m keen on your stories about dumpling safaris, hawker perfume, the East/West gastro-status divide, food trucks (ooh/ugh), packed work lunches, etc! Got an idea?
- HERB YOUR ENTHUSIASM - mini-zine/blog series about trying to establish an Oriental(?!?!) garden for my family, as an edible gift, as an act of DIY expression, as a means of cultural connection
- WANDERTRUST - travel guide for the anxious introvert, hello hello!
- Untitled Wetlands Bechdel-Approved Horror/Comedy of Errors Screenplay collab w/ Dhany (!)
- Untitled Asian-Australian writers anthology collab w/ Bowie (!!)
- THE ENJOY LUCK CLUB - potlatch extended family of twentysomething Asian-somethings sit around a table, play Settlers of Catan and talk about life with a total lack of ancestral angst
- TEACH ME HOW TO DUGGIE (awful working title) - monthly blog series on learning cool practical skills from non-office workers
- DRESS CODE - how to transition from hot mess to functional twenty-something and willing accomplice in the heteronormative trap formally known as Dinner Parties, Brunch Dates, This Is Probably A Date, Oh My God Weddings (keywords: eyeliner, +1, exit strategies, bullshit social norms, being human)
Probably not going to finish everything but now it’s out in the open and if I manage 0 output in the next few months I’ll only have myself to blame!!!!!!!!!!!!!
24 and there’s so much more
This is the first selfie I’ve taken and liked since maybe 2010. It doesn’t reveal how last year was such a shitshow, or how my self-discipline shattered after writing a thesis in 3 weeks that somehow scored 95% (“…what?”). You can’t tell from this photo that I ran away for 6 months travelling around the world, that I fell in and out of FEELINGS with good people, how I was sad until I wasn’t, how I struggled to dismantle everything I knew about race and culture and writing and anger and white people and brown people and, eventually, myself. It’s just a picture.
I’m okay with becoming one of those girls taking self-portraits in bathrooms, not because I want attention, but because there’s no significance to the action. Make-up is war paint, clothes are codes - but the casual shittiness indicates I’m no longer overanxious and clawing for an impossible perfection. Who cares? I stopped caring about offending people (someone will always be offended) and I learned how to keep quiet, pay attention, and deliver smackdowns as needed. Things that aren’t important don’t register on my radar anymore. When I walk through this city I grew up in, every second stranger is a ghost from a previous era. I feel old, old. Two weeks after coming home I’m already working, and today I glanced in the bathroom mirror during my lunch break and thought ‘This is probably the person I am going to be, forever’
There’s a lot of bullshit about ‘growing up’ that every twenty-something needs to digest, but I think it has something to do with the gradual disintegration of identity, self-expression, sincerely connecting with people. Et cetera. Sometimes things happen that disembowel your writing instincts and your mind becomes a creative wasteland. Sometimes you learn how to be a decent person. And then there’s arranging your actions and lifestyle choices by whatever principles seem sound. Ironic relevance: heaps authentic hey. I guess he’s just… different.
Everyone is compiling their end-of-year lists, their music and movies and personal milestones, but I find it hard to package the events of 2012 into something meaningful and soundbyte-ready. I hate networking! I can’t believe I’m flash-carding corporate jargon, that I’m falling into the rituals I spent my early twenties (!) fighting against. Who’s getting married? Let’s do coffee and reconnect. I’ll write you a thoughtful thank-you note, bring wine to your dinner party, and ‘fave’ your kinda funny tweets. I don’t wear shredded tights anymore, I want to go on Dates, and I finally figured out how to wear eyeliner. How did it come to this? It doesn’t matter. I’m just the girl (sorry, woman) taking bathroom pictures on my phone.
we never made it to eden
Remember when you climbed that tree
trying to reach for the red fruit clinging
to its upper branches? In the citric glare
of afternoon sun they might have been
pomegranates, apples, a child’s lost toy -
but you’re reminded now of tomatoes and
food-fights that spanned a whole town, a savage
pink scrum in another month, another country.
Sometimes these memories stick in your mind:
the sour smell of pulp, the bruises. The crush.
It’s enough to make you clamber back down,
passing brown leaves and green fruit and
tradesmen who can climb faster than you
The Turkish you’ve learned lets you order
from menus. Now Hafsha the home-builder
offers a new word: hurma
which means persimmon, which means
‘dry fruit, god’s pear, jove’s fire, divine fruit.’
Divine fruit! The weight of new language
lodged deep in your brain, rocked by the
thud of a persimmon bursting, a loud
ripe percussion in your tender palms.
Hafsha grins from his perch on high, yelling
‘yakalamak! catch!’ as if such a small gift
could ever compare to this fragrant eruption,
this animal strength: pulp pressing warm
and thick on your tongue, a sticky spark,
the taste of liquid sunrise. The burnt orange
theatre playing on your closed eyelids. Slowly
the knowledge unfurls: this is the place where
messes are made, where your skin is scraped
clean. This is the place where memory begins.
no but really
“What’s your greatest struggle right now?”
“Just figuring out what I want to do. Cause it ain’t this.”
September 20, 2012 at 2:05pm
desert fox, marrakesh
MISS U FARM LIFE