Daffodil patterned overall cuts offs. Bold lipstick and mega brows.
Nose and lip rings. Slayer t-shirts. Molly (AKA Ecstasy).

I was an awkward, shitty age in the mid nineties. I wasn’t old enough to see live music and anyways grunge had gone commercial. I didn’t get to experience the amazing underground garage bands, festivals, cheap drugs and alcohol those a few years older would have. Still, with a musical older sibling, I listened to awesome bands like Jesus and Mary Chain and pretended to hate Mariah Carey. I idolized the 80s and talked about how shit the 90’s were and how the future was bleak, while wearing docs and black lipstick and getting ostracized by my peers.

As I witness the nineties revival in popular culture today, I approach you gentle reader, with the knowledge that you may not have been old enough to remember the nineties. You may never have even eaten a focaccia.

I thought rather than write a weird, pissed off 33-year-old lit-crit rant about Miley Cyrus, I’d make a list for you, to guide you through this, your first and my second nineties, both politically weird and aesthetically rather ugly in lots of ways.

This is the original setting: Perth, Australia, 1994-2000. I look around at some of the good, bad and ugly things that if you were my age or older, you may well nod or smile with recognition. Younger readers may gasp in fright.

This is a real account.This is a world where café culture was in its infancy. Soy coconut milk café latte? I think not.

Cappuccinos were the only option.

Brioche anyone? Avocado smash? I don’t think so.

The only cakes available were carrot cake, black forest or ‘death by chocolate’. Actually, chocolate and ice cream were all rich, overindulgent and eroticised. Like sex scenes in Hollywood movies (Think Sliver. Sex scenes in 90s film are nothing short of spectacular).

Magnum ice creams dominated the market. Women had orgasms and ate them in baths, because they realized they had vaginas and also had vibrators. Lipsticks were named after the seven deadly sins. Being wicked and indulgent was in. Cupcakes were served at kiddies’ parties and people ate muffins on the go.

Vampires were cool. Before Twighlight, A woman called Anne Rice made us all hot under the collar about homoerotic vampires who lived in New Orleans and looked like Brad Pitt.

Bisexuality was in. It still wasn’t very okay to be gay or bisexual, unless you were Angela Jolie, however. Who then went on to marry Brad Pitt.

Thrillers and female obsession films were huge. If you haven’t seen Single White Female, The Hand That Rocks The Cradle and Fatal Attraction you’re seriously missing out. Women were taking positions of power and there was a lot of anxiety about the domestic and political sphere. Plus the sex scenes in these flicks are pretty ace.

Bad melodrama from the US consumed us. Once upon a time, there was an unfunny TV show called Friends. It was the very, very, very worst part about the 90s. I saw a youthful hipster wearing a Friends t-shirt ironically the other day. NO. 90210. Dawson’s Creek. No one did anything except smirk, fuck each other and play with their hair and so laugh tracks were invented. Melrose Place was the only winner in this genre in a ‘guilty pleasure’ kinda way.

That said the X-files were on telly. Procedural crime, forensics and FBI shows also exploded in the aftermath Silence of the Lambs. The 90s were a crime renaissance in my humble opinion.

We were in the third wave of feminism. As a 16-year-old, I devoured books like The Beauty Myth and Body Jamming and listened as lipstick wearing feminists’ joust with old school rad fems. I realized I had a choice to shave my legs and wear make up.I listened to Tori Amos, not knowing how much she had ripped off Kate Bush.

Bootscooting and country went mainstream. Before Miley Cyrus was even an ovum, her dad Billy Ray had a hit called Achy Breaky Heart, popularizing shit country music and making white people bootscoot all over the world. Thelma and Louise also helped to romanticise country, but that was a pretty rad movie and had aforementioned Brad Pitt in it and you guessed it: a really memorable sex scene.

Like Twin Peaks, I don’t want to talk about garage and indie 90s music I love, but from the Sundays to the Happy Mondays all over the world, great music was being made and David Lynch was cooking away weird plots. I want to move to the ghastly, embarrassing stuff. The commercialised rave like N Trance and Black Box, Right Said Fred and The Prodigy. Oh and you can thank the 90s for white rappers. Vanilla Ice spawned shit like Snow.

Then there was this thing called the Macarena. It was, I dunno, sort of like zumba as got impregnated by Julio Iglesias on a cruise ship disco dance floor and villains recorded their love making and everyone had to dance to it.

Scrunchies. Some mums might still own or even wear one. Don’t you do it, please.

Coronas and Crownies. Boutique beers and imported beer had just come on the market. Could we afford them? No, only wankers could. In Perth, we drank VB and EB. Carlton Cold was also popular. Cider? Boutique cider? Fuck off. We drank Strongbow and our bowels paid the price.

High waisted, wide legged, arse-flattening jeans were worn regularly. With great fear I note they are back in fashion now. WHY?

Anorexia was big. Eating disorders are serious business and are obviously not limited to a generation/era, but it seemed that anorexia was much more prevalent and the waif look dominated.

Supermodels (See Anorexia).

Snap bracelets were on trend. They were sort of like those ugly rubber charity bands, but without the charity angle. They were made of metal and covered with cheap, decorative fabric. They were mass market, painful fashion accessories. See hypercolour; for another another weird, fucked up fad.

Ditto Hypercolour. Like tie dye, but heat and liquid sensitive. Commercialised Psychedelica. Like the Grateful Dead became.

Wayne’s World, Pauly Shore, MTV shows like Beavis and Butt Head and idiotic catch phrases from all of the above dominated popular culture. People were stoned and apathetic, I guess. I was 14 and I thought Encino Man was Citizen Cane. Oops.

Heroin. Well, it was everywhere.

Grunge went mainstream. Flannos, docs, beanies, ripped jeans. Goes well with heroin and Nirvana.

Everyone was on the dole! We called it the rock and roll. You’d meet your bandmates in Centrelink, spend your dole on booze, ciggies and drugs and still have heaps for rent and then write a song or a book about it. Oh and alongside unemployment, workplace agreements, conservatism, work for the dole and the GST.

New Age art and jewelry worn/displayed in an un-ironic fashion was dejour. Mull leaf jewelry, dream catchers and Ankhs. Anything Native American especially if it had wolves on it. Angels.

As far as design goes, moon and sun motifs were on EVERYTHING. Often these were blue and gold.

I just recalled decoupage and now need therapy. Often done with sun and moon motifs and angels.

Peace signs were prevalent too. Peace, I hate the word…

Anything Italian was in: think Fiorelli, risotto, antipasto (especially sun dried tomatoes), Vespa’s.

And then there was Turkish bread and trios of dips.

In my mind there are loads of parallels between the 1990s, 1960s and 1970s and the 1980s, 1950s and 1940s. Which means the 2010s are like The 1990s, 1960s and 1970s: except we now have the Internet. Fast speed, not dial up. And mobile phones.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to off to write a feminist deconstruction of Wrecking Ball.

After my heart being tenderised and flung to the footpath and then trodden upon for the third time in a row, (not the only rejection hat trick in my romantic career), I vowed to tread a solitary path.

In the past I haven’t been very good being single. I crave fascinations and crushes like an alcoholic does Long Island Ice Tea. I’m a poet, I tell myself. That shit is part of the selection criteria under Essential Duties: must be addicted to Eros and or willing to learn.

I was dangerous, an overflowing cup pouring from party to pub to bedroom, or locking myself away in my room, a monk shunning prayer in favour of licking their festering wounds.

All these brief and intense unions distracted me, keeping me restless and starving. You know those poor stray dogs that have been kicked too much and periodically starved? I felt like that dog after a while. I began to query if I was worthy of love. In the end I felt became vicious. I started to bite strangers.

I was also sick to death of acting in the interests of that omniscient third party ‘the relationship’. No more would I be a selfless lover. I wanted to make autonomous decisions,to make my life about me for once. I could go overseas, I could go to Oxford or join an ashram or live in Greece. I didn’t need to worry about another person’s goals and ambitions. No longer would I have neurotic artistic men parasite off my boundless love and concern like I was some kind of Gala/Mary/ Kali hybrid. [1]I wasn’t even getting to be a muse very much. I wanted to be the only artist for once. [2]

Maybe one day I’d meet an accountant.

But you’ve got to love yourself first, right?

So I focused on that. For about six months, I chanted and burned copal resin and saw energy healers and poured myself into my book. I vowed to take time this time, to not give myself away so completely, to gift myself to someone body and soul. I said affirmations and bought gemstones and read self-help books like a boho-Bridget Jones. If I recgonised this at the time I would have hotly denied it.

No one wants to be a cliché.

Cue the imagined years of blissful solo travel, music, instagrammed holidays with female friend (where we felt totally content without the company of lovers), PhDs and productivity.

Fast-forward to a sense of completeness and accomplishment, amidst a sun drenched, airbrushed richly artistic life, replete with property, endless nights of rooftop parties without hangovers, sex without attachment or disease, literal or metaphysical and the odd yoga retreat. I would then hear the Rachmaninov and feel the thunderbolt – the arrow to the heart when I met my immortal beloved, my long awaited lover, Lancelot, poet, dreamer, saviour, genius.

Things don’t quite happen the way you plan. Dickhead.

About six months into my martyred singledom, I started going out again in the city, away from my lonely mountain retreat and endless hours where watching a Scandinavian crime show, having a bath and cooking dinner would be paced out so that the solitude rattling around my weekends would echo less.

I actually went mental.

I was drinking like a crazed alcoholic fish and broke by man-fast by bedding a particular ill chosen man, who later chased me around a Collingwood bar until I had to take refuge in a nearby kebab shop.

The lion usually catches the wounded gazelle. Vulnerability is irresistible.

I met him (you know, ‘the one’) at a bar on a particularly irresponsible Sunday night, drinking with mates who were either much younger and still students, who didn’t have corporate day jobs, so the hangover under fluro lights didn’t bother them so much and reeking of rotgut wine in a meeting didn’t incur instant dismissal.

I met him at the worst bar in Melbourne.

The kind that has Tabaret and a 24-hour license and toothless drunks play pool with you.

Someone introduced us and said we shared the same hometown. I said I was writing a book. He said he was too.

I went up to him and whispered in his ear. “Tell me everything.”

And then I forgot about him completely.

I went off and drank some more and called in sick to work and I stood along a precipice near Studley Park, wanting to hurl myself into the Yarra. I was in that snotty, choking phase of crying when I brought myself back and took myself home suicidally depressed about my life and how out of control I felt, careening towards the edge.

Later that night he contacted me on social media and asked to read something I’d written- proposing a writing swap. I vaguely remembered him- he was a shape in a dark night of excess. His smile, his figure, stood out, too many teeth in his mouth and his wild hair and furry coat- he was a kind of a shy creature, a boy man, from the same city as me.

When he wrote me an email I sat up straight in bed and said aloud, “Oh its you. I remember you.”

The written word was like an invocation- it was like he clambered out of a memory I’d had- the sense of déjà vu was enormous. It sounds so unbelievable, but it was like he’d shaken me awake out of a dream and suddenly I was in technicolour, alive, alert, awake – finally.

And since then, after we exchanged letter after letter and had many meetings and declared love for each other before we even touched or kissed, I knew that this strange man was meant for me.

The trouble was it was at once perfect and terrible timing.

I was unwell and in the middle of selling my house and totally impoverished. My writing was going nowhere. I got sacked. My employers were trying to take all of income due to an overpayment. I was smoking and drinking like Bukowski and yes, in a terrible place.

How could I meet anyone of value when I was in that space? But I did.

We stripped each other done to the bone in that moment of meeting. When we took away the booze and smokes and music and sex and every kind of extraneous circumstance, we saw each other totally and completely.

As I rebuilt, he fell down. He was injured. He lost his job. We were so broke we walked everywhere and lived on rice and potatoes. He lost some of his joy. I felt heavy. But we knew we’d persevere, somehow.

There are so many ideas that we have about being in the right place – about meeting a person who meets the right criteria- who ticks all our boxes and who is in short, superficially, the ideal paint by numbers person of our dreams.The main problem is that they are not real.

Subsequently, I have also had to confront the ideas that I have about being paired. As a fiercely independent person who has only been weakened by chaotic love affairs, I’ve learned to accept that peace is not synonymous with boredom. Peace and ease can be a balm. They’ve given me a scaffolding to build my new life upon. I’ve always taught myself to stand on my own two feet and depend on no one. Self preservation has kept me alert and wired.

Is it so terrible to allow myself to stand beside someone? Does that make me a weak sister, a crap feminist, a boring girl who spends too much time with her ‘other half’ (even the phrase makes me puke) and can’t talk and think for herself? You know, the kind who ditches her friends when she’s found someone and regroups them when she’s single again?

I’m learning, no, not necessarily.

I’ve believed that being part of a couple makes you softened around the edges. I never wanted to lose that sharpness, or dilute my essential power of being an autonomous creature – I want to wield that curiously dangerous sexual energy that resonates loudest when I’m on my own.

Because of age maybe, the strange and elusive way experience shapes you and endows you with knowing- I know myself more and fight for my freedom in love.

So I let myself enjoy this new comfort in togetherness, without the vicious self consciousness, the grass-is-greener evil twin, who doubts my commitment, sense of fidelity and who makes me feel fickle and flawed.

I’ll always have a private annex, a bungalow in the back of my mind where I can escape to and create.

Then I’ll come home.

[1] Sorry ex-boyfriends on social media- if I’m still speaking to you, I’m actually not speaking about you. Probably.
[2] To be fair I’ve been a lot of hard work and it was probably more co-dependent than parasitic, but for the purpose of this piece, that’s how it felt at the time.

Hey, lady.

Do you ever remember ‘us girls’ addressing ourselves like this title a few years back?

It was only twenty five odd years ago, at the tender age of eight or so, when I was hanging upside down showing my knickers, playing with knives or giving someone the finger, which was totally acceptable for the boys in my peer group, that I was told this or that was unladylike.

I was not allowed to play soccer because I was too small and might hurt my ‘female parts’. I was in Year Two and the year was 1988. This was the same year a lot of the ‘ladies’ I know that now leading successful businesses, being artists and mothers or all of the above were born.

I was encouraged to do gymnastics instead, so I could learn to catapult and bend my way out of dangerous athletic situations that might hurt my ovaries. I watched my brother play every Saturday with the growing fury of a never-to- be-Nadia Comenici in these pre-Bend it like Beckham days. It was unladylike to get dirty, to be good at anything athletic that didn’t involve calnesthenics and to play rough with the boys.

Thank God for MTV. Between Madonna gyrating on a gondola in a very unvirgin-like manner, and Salt-n-Pepa growling about ‘pushin’ it’, (which at the time, I believed was about the rigours of childbirth until I was otherwise educated), the penny sort of dropped.

Fuck being a lady.

It seems that women have adopted this term with the same pernicious air of entitled irony that we have crafts, cupcakes and knitting.

Is this the subervision of the domestic? Are we killing the angel in the house or actually culturally rewinding, with the retro accessories to match?

Wear a skull and cross bones apron while baking scones and you’re not being a house frau- you’re actually hardcore.

Is it the Little Britain irony that’s so appealing to women? Oh…I’m a laaady! Watch me pee in an alley after drinking my mates under the table and telling an irritating gentleman caller ‘eat me.’ It’s tongue-in-cheek to act like ‘lads’ sometimes when we are being ‘ladies’.

Or is that the point?

I find the notion of service disconcerting.

I’ve been to as many fancy restaurants as I can count on both hands and I’m always uncomfortable when the waitperson defers, swooping down to push back my seat or refill my water. The stagey formality, the fact that yes, I cannot actually eat with a knife and fork with ease (I actually had lessons at age 28 with a chef friend of mine) are just a few of the reasons. I am so uncomfortable with being ‘waited upon” I pile the plates and cutlery and over-thank the staff obsequiously.

My brother and I used to go to friends’ places and do the dishes – sometimes we’d vacuum. It’s in our blood. Working class Irish mother, father’s family from rural Ireland, my grandmother would try to do the dishes trick on the rare occasion that she was ever out for a meal. I’ve inherited my love of cooking and feeding people, baking bread and basically dominating the kitchen.

Service is the illusion of control. When you serve/wait upon, you are in power.

My boyfriend and I toyed with the notion that we were servants in a royal kitchen in our past life. The first days of our romance was spent preparing and cooking food together while consuming huge quantities of rotgut red wine. We swooned and kissed all over the kitchen and shared the washing up. It was weirdly domestic, our passion. He chopped and cleaned beautifully. It was his humbleness and skill with the knife that won me.

We’ve never been out to a fancy restaurant.

As a lifelong scruff (my assignments were grubby and school dress smeared with paint, now I spill my morning coffee all over myself and wipe my hands on myself. Elegance is something I aspire to and imagined I’d grow into- in the same way I thought I’d wake up as an adult and have a fancy signature and be able to drive a car. But my nail polish is always chipped and my nails black underneath, I’m bound to have some sauce on my clothes and tobacco all through my bag. I don’t even smoke anymore.

So … I find myself at a café where the waiter drapes himself all over my table. He seats himself, calls me babe, dude, buddy, interchangeably. I find myself feeling haughty and indignant, pulling up my imaginary customer pants. Where is the deference? Does this make me a classist pig? What would my Mum or Trotsky say?

He’s crossed an invisible line; he’s flaunting his power/powerlessness over me.

Its something I avoid- the bad reggae, the cheers bro’s! the swallow tatts and general affections of cafés of this kind, which is meant to be an oasis to me, a place of refuge, to write and think and order very little with good manners and hope not to be booted out.

But I keep going back. Because in my endless drudge, feeding and clothing myself and taking care of others, getting sauce and coffee all over myself- sometimes I just want to be served.

I am the uncrowned Queen of Resolutions. I also have a long and embarrassing diarised history with goal setting and list making.

I admit to making flow charts and collages. Hell, despite the fact I think Oprah W is the epitome of facile, self-help evil, I’d even do a vision board. Okay, I did. I might even have read a few self help books- whatever gets you through the night, I say.

As of last year I vowed to finish my first draft of my novel. I failed. I planned to get my license – yep, failed. Meditate daily. Become a yogi. Book of poems published. Failed.

Even my cat pissed on my vision board. Right on, Stevie.

Recently I retrieved a suitcase of diaries I kept throughout the last fifteen years (on of the bittersweet parts of moving, those painfully nostalgic ambles down memory lane) and gulped at the lists I had been making as a sixteen/seventeen year old. Practice tai chi, take up yoga, my sixteen year old self vowed. Stop being shy- be more confident! Secure a job. Get a learners permit.  Focus on your work. learn a language. Get a real relationship (?!) and then, singing lessons. Learn bass.

It made me feel curiously tender towards my fucked up younger self.

See, music has long been a little bit of everything to me. I grew up in Irish pubs and weekend- long parties with music, dancing, drinking reigned.  Thus my love of wine and song.

My dad played guitar semi professionally and as an Irish musician, I had learnt every Irish ballad and 60s song before Year 3. Although I inhaled books, I really wanted to be a performer. Actually I wanted to own a warehouse and be Jennifer Beals in Flashdance, but that was another story (ongoing list item: take dance lessons).

However, I wavered in confidence so badly, I sabotaged every adult musical project I entered into.

I made excuses like: I can’t read music, I’m untrained, I’ve learnt by ear, my hands are too small, I’m not as good as Aretha Franklin, my voice is too low, my range sucks, I can’t sing past my break. Etc. I blamed my parents for lack of said lessons and parental nurturing of budding music talent.

I had to be sedated before I performed. No amount of tequila and Bach’s rescue remedy actually made the anxiety any better. Worse still, I actually hated being on stage in front of an audience so much I couldn’t figure out why I was subjecting myself to the whole excruciating process.

I wanted to sing with my back to the crowd. I wanted to be like Jim Morrison. I feared the audience so much I actually loathed them. Punters are like dogs, they can smell fear, you know?

My songs, my voice, they were just so ME, I couldn’t bear it. I slunk into a ten-year slump of total frustrated and thwarted ambition. It got to the point I couldn’t review music anymore, because I felt so embittered. Why be a wannabe? Why be, really at all?

Creatively, I was dead on one side of my body. That’s a pretty terrible feeling.

So last year I made a resolution. I went back to singing lessons. I felt so revived; it was like I’d been given a blood transfusion. All the songs that were circling around my consciousness became possibilities, instead of potentially embarrassing phantoms.

I laid them down, I laid myself bare.

I allowed myself, for the first time in my life, permission to learn something.

In one of my earliest list item attempts, I started adult ballet. I found it exquisitely beautiful and so much more compelling than the humiliating and graceless exertions of contemporary Les Mills’s classes- the booty-shaking zumbas, the disc- slipping body pumps. I quit after three classes because I didn’t seem to be very good at it and it was embarrassing. I told one of my best friends about it and she pointed out something rather obvious: you go to classes so you can learn something- not because you are already an expert.

Another very long term friend of mine just got her license at age 33 and burst into guttural sobs as the nice man at Vic Roads uttered the words “Congratulations.” We talked about the profound and life-changing effect that achieving these enormous and perhaps very delayed milestones can have on a person.

For me it was singing in public recently and enjoying the hell out of it and making the room move with me. Feeling my power as a performer and embracing it. Writing and recording at home without fear. Not comparing myself so much. Being vulnerable and allowing the arrows the fly at me: they didn’t.

I’m not upset anymore about my ten-year self-imposed exile from something I really love either. I can see that I needed to be able to move around in my own skin, to exorcise those old ghosts of self-loathing, so that the art could come alive.

To all the late bloomers out there, I commend you. Some people never become self-possessed and some bloom wild and bright and burn out quickly.

Lets go for the slow burn.


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