My Pursuit of Happiness: Living with Depression

by Tara Beckett.

I love New York City… because it’s the loudest city on the planet Earth. It’s so loud I never have to listen to any of the shit that’s going on in my own head.

- Lewis Black

Image
Central Park, New York, NY Autumn 2012. Photo by Tara Beckett.

This past July I found myself sitting in a small doctor’s office in Melbourne. There was a  woman not too much older than myself sitting patiently in the chair opposite mine as I stared at the ceiling. I was trying to remember the last time I felt truly happy without the assistance of hallucinogenic drugs. As she waited for my answer, my mind scrolled back to the previous year.

“I think… New York. I was happy in New York,” I said, finally, and she smiled knowingly.

One of my favourite things is Central Park in the autumn. Of course, that’s the only time of year I’ve ever seen Central Park, but I stand by it.

A full year ago I was walking the twisting pathways alone, rugged up in a thick coat, the cool Manhattan air biting my cheeks and nose as my boots crunched through crisp auburn leaves. I was looking for the Bethesda fountain but in no real rush, taking the odd photograph along the way.

I didn’t bring many photos back with me from my month in New York. I preferred to stroll the streets and avenues like a native, stopping as little as possible so as to not paint myself as a tourist. My favourite snaps aren’t on paper (or Facebook); they’re little flashbulb memories, locked up inside my mind and triggered by the simplest things.

Last week, I watched The Perks of Being a Wallflower and I was transported back to the first time I saw it. It was nighttime in an old cinema in Lower Manhattan and the film moved me so incredibly that when it ended I hailed a cab and headed for the Empire State Building. I needed to see the city immediately, all of it, and so I found the best view I could think of.

Alone, on top of a building, a world away from my home and all my family and friends, was the last time I could remember feeling happy. I felt so free. It was freedom from any judgment or expectations; freedom from my life.

I often muse about what it would be like if I died. How would people react? Would they go to my funeral? Would they mourn?

My doctor – my psychiatrist – says it’s very common and natural for people to think about their deaths and mortality. It only becomes dangerous when you begin to make plans. I’m inclined to believe her, and I want to make it clear that I don’t make plans. I never did, but I did occasionally wonder what it’d be like if it was all over, to peacefully slip away into nothingness.

When I first started seeing a psychiatrist, I didn’t want anyone to know. I saw it as a weakness, and I was in pretty deep denial about my mental health. I thought it was perfectly normal to sleep days away, and spend an entire weekend in bed. I’d stop eating regularly and I wouldn’t shower for days at a time. My hair started falling out and my nails were brittle. But I still held down a job and paid my rent on time and had a bounty of people I called friends around me so I thought I was fine.

But you can only keep up appearances for so long.

I’d gone from this huge high of living my greatest dream and visiting New York, seeing far too many musicals, meeting incredible people including some I admired, like Matt Doyle. It’s okay, I know you don’t know who he is, but he’s amazing and he said I was sweet so it doesn’t matter.

My return to Melbourne brought with it a crash of reality. I quit my retail job two weeks after landing home because I couldn’t stand it. (I don’t know if you’d heard, but I had just been in New York, you guys).

My plan was to get an office job, work full time and pay off my ridiculous post-holiday credit card debt (maybe the $500 cut and colour at the Warren Tricomi Plaza salon was overkill) and then get straight back to New York for Christmas 2013.

That didn’t happen.

Instead, I wallowed in unemployment for six months, a string of knock-backs and unsuccessful interviews. I was struggling and living week-to-week, too proud and too stubborn to move back in with my parents. Too afraid of what people would say if my postcode slipped back to the decidedly unimpressive outer-eastern suburbs of my upbringing. Too afraid of being a failure. Too busy keeping up appearances to realise I was drowning in debt and despair.

On a friend’s sage advice, I conceded to getting a psych referral from my GP.

I hated it. I cried from shame and defeat, seeing a psychiatrist meant I wasn’t strong enough to deal with it on my own anymore, to hide it from everyone. My psychiatrist quickly diagnosed that I’d been battling depression and anxiety on my own for several years.

Every day is different. Sometimes I have good days where I love my life and I feel wonderful to be here. Some days are bad and I get lost in nostalgia and melancholy of easier times. But I can usually get out of bed now.

I know that therapy is the best thing I have ever done for myself and as I started to talk about it more openly, I realised how many of my friends were in therapy or had been thinking about seeing someone. It’s not something to be ashamed of and I implore just about everyone to try it.

I’ve mentioned my diagnosis before on social media, but deleted a post after a dear friend voiced his concern that others may “take it the wrong way” and think I was looking for attention. The opposite is true. I think it’s important to have a discussion about mental health, not deny like I did. It doesn’t go away by pretending it doesn’t exist, it just gets worse.

I have grown so much as a person over the last five months, and I’m proud of my progress. That doesn’t mean I don’t still think of better days, those New York days I crave so much. This last month hasn’t been easy for me, as it’s the first anniversary of my trip. It’s difficult to explain how much that time, that freedom, meant to me. I have felt happiness since then, but it definitely hasn’t been in the same league as that gorgeous city skyline.

There are people who don’t realise how much I’ve changed this past year. They still expect a litany of wisecracks that I just can’t muster anymore. My life is different now, it’s better, and they don’t really know me anymore. They may roll their eyes and tell me to move on, but how can I move on from happiness? I can’t, I have to savour every drop. I’m tired of putting on a performance for them.

I am a person who lives with depression. I’m not afraid anymore.

Review: Greenstick

by Tara Beckett.

It was a summer I’ll never forget…

When a young bone is bent and partially broken, it’s called a greenstick fracture. Immature bones are thick and somewhat soft, cocooned as we are in our youth from the harshness of living. As we age, our bones grow thinner and harder, stronger to cope with the realities of life. With this knowledge, it’s not surprising where the new web series from writer/director Sam Hamilton adopts its name. A gritty, unpolished look at the contemporary teenage experience, Greenstick explores the first breaks from adolescence into the adult sphere.

Hamilton, 21, describes his creation as a loose mix-breed of Skins and Six Feet Under. It’s a fairly daunting challenge to live up to on both accounts, the latter being a much acclaimed HBO series and the former a revelation in adolescent storytelling: a series about teenagers, written by teenagers, for teenagers.

Setting it apart from its inspirations is the local setting of Melbourne, Australia’s second largest and arguably most culturally elite city.

In the opening episode, we meet naive country girl Aubrey (Emily Coupe) and her supposedly reformed ex-con crush, Rick (Nicholas Tamouridis) as they prepare to move in together. They’re quickly approached by crimson-lipped girl-about-town Rumer (Laura de Iongh) who seems to have a past with Rick. She invites the pair to a “post-exams rager” she and her boyfriend are throwing that night, which they half-heartedly accept.

We’re introduced to a colourful array of partygoers, from new-and-improved pill dealing Amanda (Laura Lillywhite), adorable nerdy-cute George (Matthew Coleman) and the mysterious object of his affection, Sky (Felicity Townsend), to resident gay kid, Scott (Andy Madder) and Rumer’s ill-fated boyfriend and tortured soul, Eli (Zak Marrinan).

The series is essentially based around Eli’s suicide, which is somehow both melodramatic and intensely powerful. It showcases the strongest acting from the young cast and highlights the fragility of youth. The homage to Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums is a nice touch if you catch it.

The series is certainly not perfect; some of the editing could be cleaner and the sound clearer, certain shots seem misplaced and there are moments of clumsiness. However a lot of the dialogue is crisp and genuinely funny, intentionally so. (“Oh my god, this new flavour is, like, the best thing since Pikachu onesies!”). Furthermore, the soundtrack is really just perfect.

There’s a lot of great promise in this local production and it’s wonderful to see someone as young as Hamilton with the drive and perseverance to create and produce such an undertaking on a shoestring budget. Acting wise, the whole cast are more than competent, but Coleman and de Iongh are particularly strong, especially in the climax of the second half of the premier episode.

It’s important to note that although Rumer welcomes Aubrey to the fair city of Melbourne, Greenstick takes place away from the bright city lights and in the tumultuous world of the suburban haze where most of us are forced to come of age. These characters are just reaching the age in which the bubble that surrounds us in our formative years is stretched to breaking as the boredom of high school life becomes overwhelming in one way or another. When most of us reach this pinnacle, it’s an exciting time of exploration of self and sexuality. But for some, the pressures become too much, and xenophobia overwhelms them to self-destruction.

Greenstick is set to explore what comes after the fracture, what happens when you’re thrust from a care-free world of opulent drug and alcohol fuelled ragers and cramming for exams to the aftermath of a friend’s death.

Check out the first two-part episode here:

#RIP Feminism?

by Tara Beckett

I love twitter. It’s just the right combination of serious news and semi-anonymous snark rolled up to make a pleasantly humourous cocoon of witty and bizarre entertainment. It’s also free, which is always a plus, because I hate having to pay for my daily dose social commentary (stop the threats, gullible Facebook users).

Having sung its praises, I fear that I must now highlight twitter’s downfall: there’s a lot of stupid out there and it’s having its voice heard. I weep for the future.

Sure, there’s funny, sometimes meme-creating stupid like 18-year-old American, Kristen Neel’s tweet that went viral, claiming that if Obama was re-elected she’d move to Australia because “their president is a Christian and actually supports what he says”. Of course, Australia’s Prime Minister is both female and a professed atheist so obviously the rest of the world laughed at the stupid American being all misinformed and stupid like a big stupid head.

But while Ms Neel was comically mistaken, she wasn’t really hurting anyone. She wasn’t spreading hate speech against President Obama, she didn’t say anything racist and in fact defended herself by clarifying that she was talking about the former Australian leader, Kevin Rudd who is indeed male and a staunch Christian. Perhaps she hadn’t heard about the leadership change; she does live on the other side of the world, it’s not totally out of the question. But why pick up on that factoid? It’s almost logical, just point and laugh at the foolish American girl, oh how fun!

The real problem I have with Twitter is the hash tags. Not the ones that lead you to helpful news or entertainment, but the ones that are sort of games. You know, finish-the-sentence type things like #endoftheworldconfessions that are usually harmless and then others like #LiesToldByGirls, which are bound to become sexist. I hate these tags; they’re pointless and boring and crop up every few months under a different guise but still spouting the same offensive and sexist rhetoric.

As I sorted through the #LiesToldByGirls tag, (because I’m a masochist), I wasn’t really surprised by what I saw: clichés and wildly stereotypical portraits of women as needy, insecure, man-obsessed, possessive bitches who pile on makeup and lie about it. Apparently, we are never fine, we always care and we are not okay with “our men” talking to other girls. But what was really disturbing were the more sexually explicit tweets that came from men, like these:

Cuddling means fingering, right?
Cuddling means fingering, right?
Well, it's actually "you're a whore" not "your", but you get the idea.
Well, it’s actually “you’re a whore” not “your”, but you get the idea.

Classy, right? But it’s also actually quite dangerous.

There were several tweets about “cuddling” being synonymous with “fingering” made by men as their interpretation of a woman’s “lie”. I guess we’re wasting our time on advertising campaigns that remind us that ‘no’, really does mean ‘NO’. If saying we want to cuddle basically means we’re begging to get penetrated by a few digits, then what constitutes conceding to penile rape? Sure, women just say they want a kiss goodnight at the door but actually it means they’re up for anal.

Oh wait; actually no, that’s not it at all.

Giving consent for one act is not tantamount for giving the okay for the whole smorgasbord. You’re wandering into rape territory, and you need to leave.

Equally as concerning is the notion that if a woman or girl prefers to spend her time with men or boys rather than other females, she’s just a whore and probably up for a gang bang.

Throughout my high school years, I hung out with the boys a lot more than I did girls. They were easier to deal with. I’m hardly the first person to say this but I’ll reiterate: teenage girls can be mean, especially if you don’t particularly fit in generally, which I did not. I was comfortable around boys, there were no guessing games, and they were to the point. Apparently, I was just a whore after all. I really hope that’s not what they thought of me and that I was just allowed to hang out with them as some sort of attainable, coquettish cock tease.

These tweets are disturbing and degrading, but those from other women are almost worse. Where has girl power and sisterhood gone? Why are we not only allowing and condoning men to spurt such awful and dangerous statements, but also confirming and promoting damaging clichés and stereotypes ourselves? The amount of women, or rather girls, on twitter that have participated in this demeaning hash tag and others like it, is really upsetting. These girls are young, still in their teens and they are our future. We owe feminists of the past for our freedoms today, but are we not doing a disservice to the Suffragettes of the early 20th century who fought for our right to vote, by indulging this behaviour rather than condemning it.

Why is our generation becoming complacent when it comes to feminism and rejecting these harmful stereotypes? Well, it’s just not very cool.

Feminism strikes up images of bra-burning, man-hating, hairy-legged hippies in younger women. During the recent US election, former American Idol winner and Republican Kelly Clarkson made news (somehow), by putting her support behind President Obama’s re-election, even though he is of course a Democrat. As well as supporting marriage equality, Clarkson supported the president on his pro-women efforts, which put her at odds with pro-life Republican nominee, Mitt Romney and was quoted as saying:

“I’m not a hardcore feminist but we can’t be going back to the 50s.”

Right. See the problem here?

Clarkson is 30 and has been in the public eye for the last decade after her Idol success. She’s been a positive role model to teenage girls, boasting a miriade of female-positive pop songs and not giving a damn about coping flack by the media for her fuller figure. But here she demonstrates what many women of generation Y and younger are buying into; standing up for women’s rights and rejecting a stereotype is equated to being a “hardcore” feminist, an extremist.

I’m guilty of buying into this too. When a male friend called me a feminist, because I was vocally annoyed over something I saw as sexist, I was quick to deny it and take offense. It wasn’t because I’m not a feminist; I am a feminist and I believe obtaining equality between the sexes, but it was because I didn’t want to labelled and lumped in with the image of the smelly, hairy, saggy man-hater, the ugly brush that the women we owe our freedoms to have been painted with. Younger women are afraid of coming across this way, so we don’t stand up and say, “Stop sanctioning rape on twitter, you moron” and “This hash tag is offensive and I’ll have no part of it”.

We stay silent, or we join in. And that is not okay.

Believe it or not, you can wear high heels and make up and dresses and still be a feminist and support women’s rights.

Even as I proof read this essay, there’s a niggling doubt left in my mind. Am I being too preachy? Am I sounding like some awful harpy, banging on about feminism? Am I somehow going to sound less credible by admitting that I’m happy to be a feminist?

All of these doubts are ridiculous, but they still exist because of the completely unfair and negative image of feminists that I’ve been fed over the years. This needs to stop.

I’m proud to be a feminist and I still love Twitter, I’m just a bit disappointed right now.

The Power of Faggot

by Tara Beckett.

“Tony Perkins and the [Family Research Council] point to the LGBT youth suicide rate as proof that the ‘gay lifestyle’ is dangerous and unhealthy … while at the same time doing everything in their power to drive up that suicide rate. Tony Perkins sits on a pile of dead gay kids.” – Dan Savage.

Faggot.

It’s a powerful word. It’s gross too.

The word itself feels wrong to say, to even think. It’s not so much said as it is spat out, like sour milk you forgot to check the expiration date on before taking a swig. It’s so much more disgusting than that though.

Faggot. 

It’s the meaning behind its utterance that’s the worst; the intentions that go along with its use. It takes just six letters to denigrate an entire minority of people, around 5-10% of people in fact. To reduce every single person who belongs to that minority – that community – every diverse colour of the rainbow to a mere epithet is gross.

It makes me wince and squirm; I hate it so very much.

But sometimes it has a greater purpose; sometimes its use is necessary to highlight its inherent ugliness, like in the rebooting of Bare: A Pop Opera, now reworked as Bare: The Musical.

The original Bare, starring Michael Arden, John Hill and Jenna Leigh Green in 2004.

I’ve been obsessed with Bare for quite some time now. Three years, actually which is longer than my love for Book of Mormon and eons more than my recent admiration of Newsies and its incredibly gorgeous star, Corey Cott, the easiest and quickest crush I’ve ever had. I’m a theatre fan, I love musicals, and Broadway is my idea of heaven if it exists.

Bare has never quite gotten to Broadway though; it’s always been Off-Broadway as its content is ever so slightly controversial. If you don’t know the show, it relies heavily on themes from Romeo and Juliet; forbidden love, a secret romance and I’m pretty sure the term ‘star-crossed lovers’ is used in the script. Except it’s more Romeo and Romeo and is set at a Catholic boarding school, which are always conductive places for same-sex love affairs. I’m only being a little facetious. The main plot point centers around the school play, which just happens to be… you guessed it, Romeo and Juliet. It’s a play within a musical!

It’s kind of obvious and a little bit trite in the original ‘pop opera’ version of Bare, which premiered in Los Angeles in 2000 and made a brief Off-Broadway debut in 2004. But the production has since been updated and the ‘musical’ version is rife with fresh costumes (complete with smart phones), fleshed out characters, new and altered songs and choreography by Travis Wall, with the same old teenage angst as there ever was in the original.

The integrity of the story hasn’t been lost in all the updating; I was laughing loudly throughout act one and tearing up at the end of act two. It still packs a punch and pulls at your heartstrings and as the music soars with a Spring Awakening-esque rock score you can’t help but want those two crazy kids to work it all out and live happily ever after.

Spoilers: That doesn’t happen. This is a gay love story that borrows from Romeo and Juliet; that’s never going to end well.

Our aforementioned star-crossed lovers are Peter (Taylor Trensch), a sweet, smart, awkward kid coming to terms with his sexuality and Jason (Jason Hite), the closeted, captain of the whatever team with a Letterman jacket and serious issues. Attending a Catholic boarding school exacerbates these issues. He’s gay and he doesn’t want to be, thanks to the people around him; unsupportive and distant parents, a teacher who is of the cloth and righteously so, and homophobic jocks.

Thus, ‘faggot’ is bandied around freely.

It’s hurled at Jason, who throws it back to Peter, his clandestine boyfriend in a desperate attempt to take the attention away from himself. Using the word ‘faggot’ in this fashion is and always will be the sign of a frightened closet case, which the show highlights accurately.

Taylor Trensch (Peter) and Jason Hite (Jason).
Taylor Trensch (Peter) and Jason Hite (Jason).

At intermission, I overheard two girls next to me complaining about the changes in the show, as were the two men in front of me. I understand this; people inherently don’t like change. Especially change to a show like this that was groundbreaking at its inception. But that was over 10 years ago. We’ve moved on a lot in the past decade in accepting gay people and LGBTIQ rights have progressed steadily in the western world, with several countries legalising same-sex marriage and granting adoption rights to gay couples. New York itself recently legalised same-sex marriages so the overly solemn tone of the original isn’t necessary. It’s not trying to get people on board with supporting Jason and Peter’s relationship; we’re largely okay with it.

What continues to be highlighted in the new version, perhaps moreso than the original, is the desperate self loathing and fear that comes along with being a gay teenager in an unsupportive environment and the dire consequences that can result in that self-hating isolation.

In the last few years, we’ve seen a spate of suicides, predominantly in the United States of almost exclusively gay teenage and even pre-teen boys. Driven to ending their own lives after relentless bullying and unable to receive support from their parents and teachers, this epidemic has been countered by wonderful initiatives like Dan Savage’s It Gets Better Project, Spirit Day and GLSEN’s Day of Silence to commemorate those who were forever silenced, far too soon.

The updated Bare reflects these societal changes, because although we’ve progressed politically, and adult LGBTIQ are being given their rights, we still have these kids killing themselves. It’s despicable that although we’ve never been as inclusive and accepting of gay people as we are now, it’s still not getting through to our youth: it’s okay to be you. It’s okay to be gay.

The most recent is Michigan’s Josh Pacheco. He killed himself on November 27, 2012 after suffering bullying inside and out of school, just months after coming out as gay to his mother. He was 17.

Josh Pacheco, 17, commintted suicide on November 27, 2012 due to anti gay bullying. Image originally published by The Advocate.com
Josh Pacheco, 17, committed suicide on November 27, 2012 due to anti gay bullying. Image originally published by The Advocate.com

It’s words like ‘faggot’ that were powerful enough to make him take his life along with countless others.

Similarly, in Bare, there’s a particularly heart wrenching song in the second act, which takes place after Jason speaks to his father over the phone and ends with Jason surrounded by his peers as they all scream his father’s words at him: “Be a man”.

I felt the grimace as it spread across my face.

It helps that Jason Hite is an incredibly good actor and the desperation and hurt and pain on his face hit me right in the gut. But those three words are just so damaging; be a man- as though he isn’t. As though being gay makes him less of a man. It’s a ridiculous notion, but to a teenager already questioning his identity it’s such a damaging thing to say and to hear. Being at a Catholic school, Jason goes to confession, which again just makes matters worse as the by-the-book priest, Father Mike, has no words of comfort for him, just cold ‘facts’: it’s not okay to be gay and he will go to Hell for loving Peter.

I’m not writing this to blame all religion for cultivating hatred against gay people because it simply wouldn’t be accurate. There are many churches that are gay inclusive and welcoming, but it’s also true that there are many more that are not. I think it’s important to highlight that in New York and most other places that have legalised same-sex marriage, although civil same-sex marriages are legal, churches are not obligated to accept these unions, nor perform marriages for gay people. Which on one hand is deemed acceptable due to free speech, but is it really responsible to uphold this attitude? To linger and grip on to the one mention in the Bible that is possibly anti-gay, in a testament of outdated and downright illegal practices? Is it acceptable to do so in a school? I think not.

Luckily for Peter, he speaks to the sympathetic and encouraging Sister Joan, who assures him that what he is, who he loves, is the greatest part of himself and he shouldn’t try to repress it. It’s not so surprising that he survives at the end of the show; Jason doesn’t.

If anything, the new version of Bare is less laboured, preachy, and more accessible to the audience who needs to see it; gay teenagers. Peter isn’t as conflicted as he is in the original. He doesn’t struggle nearly as much as Jason, largely due to the absence of his mother in the new show. He knows he’s gay and he loves Jason and he’s going to be all right.

The updated 2012 version of Bare, starring Taylor Trensch, Jason Hite and Elizabeth Judd.

During the performance of Romeo and Juliet, Jason pleads to Peter to take him back after continually ignoring Peter, not defending him against his homophobic ‘friends’, sleeping with Ivy to ‘cure’ himself and essentially rejecting him. Peter says no, which is the right thing to do. As much as I’m a sucker for a pleasant ending, and for the boys to end up together and happy, it doesn’t speak well to Peter’s character to take someone back who acted in such an abusive manner for most of their relationship. Love is blind, and teenage love is blind and stupid but it’s more important for Peter to hold his head high and be proud of who he is, than to hold on to a damaging love, no matter how great and romantic the notion may be. You cannot compromise your integrity to be someone’s dirty little secret.

On a more aesthetic note, supporting female characters like Ivy, the beautiful not-quite-mean girl with a bad reputation that has her eyes set on Jason and Nadia; Jason’s goth-ish sister who detests Ivy and acts as resident sarcasm generator, are more well rounded and have real personalities and nuances. The songs are a better mix of upbeat numbers, beautiful ballads and high energy pop rock songs.

The final lines of Bare take place at Jason’s funeral. Peter addresses the mourners and says: “You should know who I am”, meaning that they should know that he was Jason’s boyfriend and that they were in love. This goes back to visibility and Harvey Milk’s eternal message: come out; let your friends and family know who you are and what you are. When straight people realise that they know a gay person that begins the bridge to acceptance and equality.

As I left the theatre with a tear in my eye and my heart in my throat, the sadness I felt at the thought of leaving New York City was intensified, because I probably won’t get another chance to see this show as it is, with this cast ever again. It’s touching and powerful, and if anything deserves a Broadway run, it’s Bare.

I’m not so optimistic that ‘faggot’ will leave our vernacular any time soon. But if we can add the sentiment that being gay is okay, it’s a start to all the kids out there struggling with themselves.

It’s okay to fall in love.

It’s okay to be gay.

You’re okay.

The Righteousness of Authenticity

by Tara Beckett.

“I am my authentic self!” – Elijah; Girls, Episode 3: All Adventurous Women Do.

Religious people will never fail to amaze me.

I try not to paint every one belonging to a particular group with the same brush, because I know that no two people are ever completely alike, even if they believe in same thing, whether it be a deity or a superstition or that perming your hair is okay. For instance, I personally believe all of these things are ridiculous and downright wrong, (especially the hair perming) but if you like it, do it. If you are comforted by the belief in God than good for you, keep on believing, just keep me out of it and don’t hurt anyone. Same goes for the hair permers amongst you, although your hair follicles have probably already been hurt too much to save them.

So I guess I should really say that some religious people never fail to amaze me, but I’m too angry and annoyed for niceties.

I was running late this morning, got up too late for a proper lunch and on my way to an Off Broadway show I popped into McDonald’s on 51st and Broadway. I know, McDonald’s in the daytime when all of New York City is ripe for the tasting? It’s gross, but I was in a rush and starving. Unbeknownst to little old tourist me, this particular spot is fairly close to a church. Oh, and it was Sunday. Everyone thinks crazy people come out at night, after hours when it’s dark and cold and they creep up and bombard you with information you don’t need or care about. The daylight version of these freak shows are evangelical christians.

After ordering, I stood in line to pick my food up and a Hispanic man in with a walking cane who looked no older than 45, came up to me and looked me in the eye.

“Hello miss, Jesus loves you, you need to come down to the church here on Broadway and be saved by Christ. I think I mentioned that I’m a born again Christian,” he said, rambling for a few more minutes as I stared incredulously at him.

This actually happens to me a lot. I don’t know why, but the attention usually only comes from men who are either intellectually disabled, old enough to be my father, or both. Either way, I must have a welcoming face that makes people want to talk to, or rather, at me. I’m also very polite to strangers. But I was able to shake this one by saying thanks but no thanks. We were in a public place during the day, I figured he wasn’t going to murder me if I didn’t listen to his slightly warped gospel. He came up again before I grabbed my food, calling me Rachel – my name is not Rachel – and tried again to convert me, but backed off once more, possibly on his way to church, who knows. This was the first of three holy encounters waiting for me.

I searched for a table to eat at in the packed McDonald’s (I can’t call it a restaurant and store isn’t right either), when I noticed two men getting up to leave, quite quickly. I made my way over and sat down once they’d left. In hindsight, they were probably a couple. I say this because the conversation to my right between four elderly Caribbean women was shocking to me, a straight girl from Australia, let alone two gay men. I can’t blame them for wanting to move away from it. They were discussing Obama’s re-election, of which they were not pleased about.

“I voted for him the first time, but not this time, he hasn’t been good for us. All he’s doing is pleasing those faggots and lesbians, that’s how he got re-elected,” said one woman, not skipping a beat.

I was shocked. There I was, sitting in New York City, on Broadway for – whomever’s sake, the street that was home to theatre and art and employs hundreds of gay people, and this sort of vitriol is what I was confronted with? To use a word like “faggot”, so freely and openly in a public place like a McDonald’s, distresses me. I don’t use it, and I don’t like it. It’s an ugly word used to hurt and denigrate an entire minority, a community, and I’d use it as I would the “N” word; never.

It didn’t stop there. The four took in turns disparaging the community I love and feel accepted in. I’m a straight ally to the gay community, a strong one and most of my friends and the people who I surround myself with are card carrying members of the LGBTIQ community. Even though I’m not technically gay, I have so many loved ones who are that I felt personally insulted by these awful and tragically and dangerously misinformed women. I sat for ten minutes choking down my pitiful lunch as they used a litany of disgusting slurs and righteously professed that these “sick faggots and lesbians” are against God and trying to ruin marriage and that Obama was basically a traitor for supporting them.

They complained about the gays that married women and “became gay” afterwards, as if that were possible. One of the women was a former nurse and gossiped that so many male AIDS patients she’d treated had had wives and passed it on to them, which was to them such a “great shame” to those “poor women”. Of course they blamed their husbands who had magically and tragically become gay and were sleeping with men behind their backs.

“They have a wife, they should just stay quiet about this gayness, they need God,” said the former Obama supporter.

I had to leave. I glared at them all as I left, but I didn’t say anything. I was running late for the theatre, I didn’t know where to start with defending the gay people they were slandering they were so demonstrably wrong. That’s what I told myself. But I should have stopped, I should have spoken up and defended my friends. But I just glared and left for the theatre.

The show I was seeing was called Avenue Q. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s basically Sesame street on crack. It’s all muppets and flithy jokes and great songs- it’s hilarious. But it also has heart. One of the secondary characters is Rod – a sort of Type A Bert-like muppet – who’s a deeply closeted Republican investment banker in love with his straight roommate, Nicky – a slobbish Ernie-eque character. Rod is really not okay with his obvious-to-all-but-himself sexuality and shuts down any attempt by Nicky help him to come out and be himself. Case in point:

You can count on me
To always be
Beside you everyday
To tell you it’s okay
You we’re just born that way
And as they, it’s in your DNA
You’re gay!

Nicky and Rod have a falling out after Rod overhears his friend and secret crush telling everyone that he believes Rod is gay and closeted, but after Rod accepts himself they’re able to patch things up.

It was the perfect show for me to see after the non-confrontation with those women in McDonald’s. Being closeted, as they were suggesting as being right thing, is awful. It does nothing but ruin your life, and forces you to hide who you are, to live a lie. Homosexuality is not an illness to be cured. It’s an orientation to be embraces by those who love you. That is what I should have said to those women. What these women don’t realise is it’s their own hate speech that causes people in their community, (the black community, the church goers), to stay closeted. It’s that lack of understanding and acceptance that forces them to marry women they aren’t attracted to. It forces them to get that itch scratched outside of their sham marriage. It’s got a name, it’s called the down low, and it’s prevalent in the black community amongst closeted gay men who feel they can’t come out. Can you imagine what it’s like to live your life as a lie? To be shamed into the inauthenticity of a false marriage?

I’m sorry that I didn’t uphold my duties as an ally. I’m ashamed of that, I shouldn’t have ignored what they said, I should have spoken up, what I did is as bad as indifference. If someone had confronted those women on their 18th century views, it may have made them reassess, or think twice at least. Or it may have done nothing to change their minds. But I should have tried. Please forgive me, it won’t happen again.

As I walked out of that McDonald’s, full of indignant fury and disappointment in myself and my fellow (wo)man, I walked past another young woman handing out fliers.

“Jesus loves you,” she said, trying to hand me a card.

“No thanks,” I replied, “He can hang onto his love, I’m not a fan of his flock.”

A small victory after a mighty failure.

The Perks of Being Loved.

by Tara Beckett.

“We accept the love we think we deserve.” – Charlie, The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

My dad loves me, and that makes me happy.

My mum loves me, and that makes me sad.

It’s not because I care for my father any more than my mother, if anything the opposite is true. But I don’t deserve my mother’s love. It’s too pure.

When I realised that my dad loved me and I loved him back, I was happy. I’ve never been particularly close to dad. He’s a simple man, really. Honest and hardworking, quite frankly we don’t have that much in common. I’m lazy and I lie too easily and worse still, I like it that way. He’s set in his ways, old fashioned and traditional, and blue collar working class to the bone. I’m really none of those things, or at least, I don’t want to be. He didn’t understand me when I was growing up, and probably still doesn’t. I didn’t like him at all, and he still bothers me with his knee-jerk reactionary views, never really thought out or researched. Basically, he’s the Herald Sun, I’m The Age. We clash, and I don’t like much about him, but I love him. He’s a good man at heart who’s had a hard life and a shitty family. He is the best of all of his five siblings, hands down. He doesn’t pressure me or put expectations on me, he just loves me. That makes me happy, because I always thought he preferred his sport-loving, easy-going son to his dramatic, radical, free-thinking daughter.

But when I realised how unconditionally my mum loved me, it made me sad. Because I’m not good enough for my mum.

She deserves a better daughter than me, because all she’s ever done is adore me. I always thought my brother was her favourite, she always believed him over me. That’s my fault too. I lied too many times to stay out of trouble, I had two more years to corrupt her trust than my brother did. He let her in, while I kept her at arm’s length.

She misses me so much since I moved out of her house two years ago, but I barely think of her unless I need something. I don’t mean to, but I’m busy. I could make time, but I make excuses instead. I take her for granted and find her loving, exasperated texts annoying and all together too frequent. I reject her phone calls and I reject her love because I don’t deserve it. I don’t deserve everything she does for me. What’s worse is that she does it so her own childhood is not repeated.

When my mother was young, she became ill with a kidney disease and spent a long time in hospital. He father worked, but her mother never came to visit her in hospital. Months and months went by and my mother stayed in hospital without her parents visiting her once. Not even once. I was in my early teens when she told me this story. I was callous and unthinking when I asked, “Do you think your mum didn’t love you properly?”

She said nothing. She cried, she wept bitterly because it was true and I felt the lowest I had ever felt.

My grandmother has been ill my whole life. She was in a house fire. She went home to Bosnia to visit family and her niece jumped under a train with her baby daughter. She pulled all of her own teeth out at the age of 45. She was never a fit parent, never a good mother to her daughter. My grandfather adored her, but she never loved him properly and it broke his heart. She never loved my mother properly, and it damaged her beyond repair, so much that she forces love on her own children so much that we rebuke it. Especially me.

Her parent failed her and it’s her mission not to do the same. She doesn’t want me to have her life but the extreme depth of her love is just too much for me. Her smothering makes me more aloof and it damages us both. We make each other cry, and it’s due to this mad old woman that my mother has to care for now, the same woman that never cared for her properly, never loved her properly.

I’ll never be good enough for my mother’s love because I don’t have her damage. My damage is knowing I’m not good enough. Hers is thinking that I am.

I don’t accept her love because I don’t think I deserve it.

Sad, isn’t it?

But at least there is clarity, at last.

The Epiphany: Why I Won’t Shut Up About Lena Dunham’s Girls.

by Tara Beckett.

“Okay I don’t wanna split hairs here, but it’s not a journal, it’s a notebook. It’s notes for a book. I think journal implies a 13 year old girl who rides horses, and is obsessed with her mom and it’s not what I’m doing.” – Hannah Horvath, Girls.

Very occasionally, I can feel myself getting too invested in a fictional world. Actually, this has happened more often than I’d like it to, but I guess that’s a sad by-product of having been raised by television. I become drawn to a well written, smart piece of television or cinema and I dig my nails in so deep so that I can escape and pretend that their lives are my own. The latest of these longings is directed towards HBO’s Girls. Lena Dunham and Judd Apatow have brought me the missing link between the teenage bickering and backstabbing of Gossip Girl and the 30-somethings with marriage and babies on the mind in Sex and the City. And I am so annoyingly in love. Girls is also the thing that made me sort my life out. A few months ago I was pretty close to breaking down. I wasn’t progressing with my course, I hated where I lived, I longed for more life experiences, but I was too broke to achieve them. Enter, Girls. The truth of it is, I was in a serious rut and quite depressed. Getting out of bed was hard most days. But Girls allowed me an epiphany of sorts; I was going to get to New York if it killed me.

Being born in 1990, I sort of missed the whole Party of Five and Dawson’s Creek thing, the original teen girl obsessions of the ’90s. During their heydays I was trying to avoid dying of embarrassment when my mother picked me up from primary school with Bosnian folk music blaring out of her Hyundai XL Sprint. Instead, I picked up Buffy, the Vampire Slayer from age 12. The girls I related to were not the boy-chasing, moon-eyed, indecisive Katie Holmeses or Jennifer Love Hewitts. They were lame. My girls were arse-kicking, barbed-witted, funny, overtly feminist-subtexty Joss Whedon creations. And I’m not talking about Buffy Summers herself here. Sure, maybe she was those things for the first 3 seasons, but my hero was Cordelia Chase. She was self centred, acid tongued, opinionated and downright mean. But she softened over the years and became a beloved character and a strong woman. Well, half-demon woman, but nevertheless, this was the girl that I liked and I’ll never quite forgive Joss Whedon for destroying her as he did. She deserved better.

When I hit 13 or 14, my focus shifted to the 1999 film Cruel Intentions. Thus begun my descent into wearing some seriously age inappropriate clothes. No, not boob tubes, halter necks and low rise flare jeans, (gotta love the early 2000s). It was an entirely more dangerous sort of inappropriate for an over-imaginative adolescent. I would wear nothing but black pinstriped trousers, fitted dark coloured blouses with deep vees, and this long trench style pin striped blazer jacket with shoulder pads I bought from Christopher Ari. It was my power suit and I loved it. What can I say, I was a weird kid. I had an array of high heels ranging from pointed kitten heeled Jane Debsters, to platform stiletto heeled knee high leather boots given to me by a 35 year old family friend. I topped this off with my mother’s jewelry and most shockingly, chopped my long straight waist length hair to my shoulders, complete with layers and a side fringe.

I was 14 going on 30 and it was all due to a film. I wanted to be Kathryn Merteuil and I altered my appearance and personality to do so. She was beautiful and sly and had power and money. It was everything I wanted and could only pretend to have. At this point, I was painfully shy at school. Mercilessly bullied in cruel ways that only girls can do to each other. At the end of year 7, my small group of 6 friends told me they no longer wanted to be friends with me. I couldn’t hang around with them anymore because I didn’t fit in. A few years later, one of my former friends re-befriended me. I reminded her that we once friends before and how it had ended, but she didn’t recall it at all. How funny, I had spent the last 3 weeks of my first year at high school, the whole summer and then beginning of year 8 in utter misery because according to 6 other girls, I didn’t ‘fit in’. And this girl who caused my despair, couldn’t remember it. I can never forget it.

So, I shook my old self away and acquired the wardrobe and attitude to match Kathryn’s. Every Sunday night, I’d watch Cruel Intentions and after an extensively pretentious ‘beauty’ routine, paint my nails the colour I’d mixed especially to match Kathryn’s. I was refreshing my character for the coming week. I was a serious bitch during that year of school, trying my best to emulate the manipulating seductress who bet her own body to her step brother in the hopes of winning his car and hurting a virginal Reese Witherspoon. Fortunately, I matured and found that after a some time my confidence had grown so much that I didn’t need my Kathryn persona anymore. Next came the goth phase, but I’ll spare you the account of that cliché. I did look a bit hot in black lipstick though so it wasn’t all bad.

During my later teens, after I’d mellowed a bit and began dressing my age, I jumped to the other side of the pond and found myself utterly and unequivocally obsessed with the British series, Skins. I was 17 when Skins debuted. It was raucous and raunchy, filled with sex, drugs and electro ska pop. I loved it. The first generation were my Skins, every other cast pales in comparison to Tony and Sid, Michelle and Jal and Effy, Chris and Maxxie and Anwar. And Cassie. Brilliant, airy, anorexic, aloof Cassie. I could watch her episodes again and again and still connect to that pain of being ignored, the way she can be happy and free as a teenager should be in fantasy to desolate and depressed as they so often are in reality. That first series of Skins is something I can watch on loop, and remember my final year of school and feel nothing but melancholy and nostalgia for the simplicities of my youth. For the trip to Bondi we took for Schoolies. For the incredible parties and underaged hangovers we nursed throughout our year 12 studies. For that beautiful, hot three month long summer between graduating high school until our first O Week of university. The final summer of seeing all my school friends together, as it turned out. Needless to say, I was desolate when Tony and his gang of Bristolian misfits moved on to college and the cast was replaced.

But Skins is in my past now and at 22 I’ve found my new love. Girls is about simply that. It’s the lives of four girls, who are not quite yet women. They are Hannah Horvath, who I definitely am, Marnie Michaels, who I definitely am not but who my parents would like me to be, Jessa Johansson, who I desperately wish I was but know I’ll never quite be, and Shoshanna Shapiro, who I could have been once if my parents were richer and sheltered me more. The series is about that time in our lives that’s never been covered so well on television. Felicity came close, but Girls is for that time after college or university. Those tricky in-between years after graduating from tertiary studies, but before landing that dream job you thought you always wanted. The bit when you’re trying to find your feet but you don’t know what you really want out of life yet; what you should or could or even want to become. It’s before the self assuredness I can only imagine that womanhood brings. It reminds me that I’m still just a girl, no matter what the law says I may be.

It’s no wonder I was depressed, really. I had such a desperate longing for New York and someone else’s life that I scared a few friends into thinking I might off myself. A note for all of you; don’t read Sylvia Plath if you’re having doubts about your life and definitely don’t drink a bottle of wine at 2am and then hit up Twitter and Facebook with your thoughts. You’ll get a lot of texts the next day.

Some time passed and I finally got a break. I finished my last exam of the semester and embarked upon the most hectic weekend of my life in some time. It was brilliant; I was too busy to worry. I made a handful of new acquaintances and spent the day in Fitzroy where culture and art seems to breed. This same day, I came into some money, quite a bit in fact. This was a relief that I cannot even express in words as I was struggling with the rent and copious bills. I had enough to not only book flights to New York City and accommodation for a month, but also to move from my very own Hell on earth in suburbia to a lovely innercity townhouse and have been blissfully happy with my life since. So happy, it’s inspired me to do the one thing I truly love again: write. It was kismet.

The transition from Girl to Woman isn’t quite there yet. I’m still a little too disorganised, but I doubt that will change anytime soon. In terms of sorting my life out, I’m pretty close. One thing I know for sure is that I’m on my way to better things. Gone are the times that I would change myself to become some other girl, another Kathryn Merteuil. Gone are the frivolous days of my teens when the summer is what we lived for. But now I’ve entered the best of times, the game changing 20s. The time that will shape the rest of my life as a woman, the time I bid girlhood a fond goodbye and look forward instead of back. The first of my many solo travels abroad. Perhaps my first romantic love. Sex without a side of nonchalance and indifference. There’s so much to look forward to and I almost can’t believe that my epiphany is due to the influence of a television series! But I suppose that’s what good characters and great writing does to a viewer; it makes you relate so you can take a look at yourself and ask questions.

This is a good thing, never stop questioning yourself or what you are doing with your life. If you do, there’s the danger of becoming mediocre. Avoid that at all costs.

I am a writer, that’s what I do; but who I am is not yet fully determined, not even close.

I cannot wait to see who I become.

Review: …him

by Tara Beckett.

Every so often, I like to stray from the safety and familiarity of comedy and venture into the hugely metaphoric and painfully deep arena of contemporary art. Luckily, the Melbourne Fringe is a festival that showcases not just comedy and more mainstream performances, but also houses fascinating pieces of theatre, and I’d be hard-pressed to think of something more fascinating than …him.

Often sad, sometimes funny and ultimately poignant and intriguing, …him is set in a world of newspaper-lined walls and centered on a lonely and isolated individual, the titular ‘him’.  Directed by Kat Henry, the show was devised and performed by New Zealand born Barnie Duncan, and it is simply a breath-taking piece of art. The audience is seated in amongst the set; perched upon classroom tables and stacks of newspapers, and it makes for a unique experience as a viewer.

him’s odd protagonist is both alluring and off-putting. He is clearly not quite right, a man far removed from society and busy with his work, its importance apparent only to himself. His self-imposed isolation is damaging and his mad and amusing mutterings are juxtaposed against a wonderful child like inquisitiveness as he attempts to make sense of a world outside of his room. A world that he only sees on paper.

Barnie Duncan is a beautiful performer. His use of the space is precise and purposeful. He keeps his focus brilliantly, staring right through the audience and never breaking character. The show is different every night, with most of the content sourced by whatever happens to be in the newspaper that day.

Whether or not you enjoy …him, really depends on what you make of it. As interesting as it is puzzling, contemporary theatre pieces can be polarising; separating those who ‘get it’ or at least protest that they do, and those who come away from a show scratching their heads and wondering what just happened. The latter are accused of dim-witted ignorance and the former of snobbish pretention and false intellectualism, when neither is necessarily true. As with comedy, all art forms are subjective and subjectivity may include interpretation of the content itself. Although the outlines of the narrative are concrete, audience members may read into the themes differently. There is no right and wrong here, art is not mathematics, and rules do not apply. Whatever you get out of …him may be entirely unique to the majority, but if you go in with an open mind you’ll be able to appreciate the work that has gone into this constructed world.

This is high concept art and won’t be to everyone’s liking. Not to mention that sitting on stacks of newspapers for an hour isn’t the most comfortable thing in the world, but the stiffness is worth it for the chance to visit this charming little world. So why not try something new?

You won’t regret it.

4 Stars.

Playing NOW until October 8 @ The Tuxedo Cat B.

Level 3, 277 Flinders lane, Melbourne

9.45pm, Sun 8.45pm (60mins)

Tickets

Full Price: $ 15
Concession: $ 12
Tuesday: $ 10
Group: $ 10
(per person for 4 people)

FOR BOOKINGS: Visit melbournefringe.com.au

OR CALL: (03) 9660 9666

Review: Choose Your Own Portenza!

by Tara Beckett.

One of the great things about Melbourne is that no matter the time of year, or the weather, there is always a festival running, or about to begin. We, the cultural elite that run this town are just mad for them! MIFF was eons ago in August and the Writers’ Festival has just closed, but the Melbourne Festival is still a couple of weeks away. It must be Melbourne Fringe time! One of the more madcap festivals to grace our dear city, the Fringe is really an artists’ festival. It’s a collection of contemporary art encompassing comedy, cabaret, straight theatre, dance, live music, and more, all strewn throughout various tiny and not so tiny venues around the CBD and inner suburbs.

One such offering from this year’s Fringe is the engaging Choose Your Own Portenza! performed by the amusingly deranged Dr Professor Neal Portenza and a collection of awfully wonderful impressions from Fran Drescher’s ‘90s sitcom The Nanny. Choose You Own Portenza! may not be the most topical thing around but it is seriously funny, in an embarrassing-snort inducing way. Disclaimer up front; I love comedy and I have frequented gigs regularly for the last five years. I have NEVER laughed until I cried like I did at this show. But enough about me, let’s talk about the talent.

Dr Professor Neal Portenza is the blue eyeshadowed, rouge cheeked, beret wearing, Regal cola drinking, utterly mental alter ego of 27-year-old Josh Ladgrove. Ladgrove performed Choose Your Own Portenza! earlier this year at both the Melbourne International Comedy Festival and the Adelaide Fringe Festival, and the rambunctious show certainly deserves a third outing. Sequestered away on the third level of what looks like a tarted up office building known as The Tuxedo Cat, is Portenza’s den of child-like excitement and whimsy. Placed on top of each of the audience’s seats are tape recorders with headphones, remotes and party hats. This was my first inkling that I was about to have what is known as Fun Times.

The show follows the loose narrative of Portenza’s birthday party (hence the party hats) and includes an array of characters, games, skits and audience participation. So much audience participation. It’s unique in that the audience decides which characters or dialogue they want to see and hear through various slideshow polls – this is where the remote gets involved. Get it? ‘Choose your own Portenza/adventure’. I enjoy puns.

For those who dread the very thought of having to get up on stage at the behest of a madman in a hospital gown, this show is not for you. Don’t think you can get away with not being picked on by sitting up the back; Ladgrove makes a point of mentioning this by disparaging a certain Australian comedy veteran. We’ll call him Bil Undersen*. But if you see the show and are picked to go on stage, it’s better for everyone if you go along with it and have a bit of fun. Unfortunately, one female audience member who was picked to play out a ‘date’ scenario with Gary Portenza (Neal’s evil twin half brother who appears to have captured the voice of Matt Berry and made it his own) proved that no matter how aesthetically pleasing someone is on the outside, they can still be a rude and uptight bore. I give her zero stars.

It’s a crazy show and the mistakes were plentiful, mostly from the sound technician, affectionately dubbed ‘Buttons’, but Langrove is talented enough to turn these missteps into memorable parts of the act. It’s kooky and hilarious and endearing and I like it unpolished; it rollicked along and I never once even thought of checking my watch. It’s not going to be to everyone’s taste but if you like surrealist humour in the vein of The Mighty Boosh or Monty Python or you’re just willing to lose your adult brain and roll with it, you’ll have a great time. If you saw it the first time around at the MICF, just go again, every night is a little bit different.

Go on. If only for the stress balls.

ALL of the Stars.

Playing NOW until October 4 @ The Tuxedo Cat B

Level 3, 277 Flinders lane, Melbourne

8.30pm, Sun 7.30pm (60min)

Tickets

Full Price: $ 20
Concession: $ 18
Tuesday: $ 15
Group: $ 15
(per person for 4 people)

FOR BOOKINGS:  Visit melbournefringe.com.au 

OR CALL: (03) 9660 9666

*Bil Undersen is a fake name. I’m talking about Wil Anderson. Hopefully by including his real name this’ll get a few hits while he’s Googling himself.

a collection of scribblings; feminism, queer rights, activism, editorial.

worklifemum

A twenty something Mum starting her career with her military husband, toddler, and maltese shitzu by her side.

Nathan Smith

Writer | Academic | Critic

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One of the advantages of being disorderly is that one is constantly making exciting discoveries. --A. A. Milne

Elise Hughan

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