Letter to my 12 year old Self.
I recently took part in Women of Letters at Bella Union Trades Hall in Melbourne. The premise as constructed by curators Marieke Hardy and Michaela McGuire is that 5 women each read out a letter on the same topic to an audience. My panel consisted of Mia Timpano, Laura Jean McKay, Shalini Akhil and Virginia Trioli. It was an amazing experience and a revealing topic...
Dear 12 Year Old Me,
It’s 1986, Adelaide. An only child, you’ve spent most of your life at Loreto Ladies Convent, a rather stuffy Catholic girls school. Your look would best be described as androgynous. When not dressed in school uniform you frequently get mistaken for a boy. In fact, you have a pinball playing alter ego who passes at the local take-away as John until your Mum walks in one day and yells – “Jennifer! Come home at once!”
You’re a colourful creative individual drawn to the arts like a magnet. You even get to play the lead role of Jesus in the end of year drama production. Desperate to fit in you’re a student representative for your class year, head of the debating team and a consistent B grade student. From the outside things look OK.
But secretly you hate it here. Here in this prison of scary old nuns, academic achievement and regulation blue underwear.
Don’t worry in a year’s time everything will have changed. You’ll have been expelled from Loreto Convent, smoked your first bucket bong and changed up from Ra Ra skirts and Duran Duran to 12 hole Doc Martins and The Dead Kennedy’s. But let’s address your current situation…
You are in love. Absolutely, positively besotted with Caroline Clark - a bronzed goddess with piercing blue eyes and perfect caramel curls that cascade effortlessly down her neck. Caroline is the definition of natural beauty - a country border at Loreto with exceptional athletic ability. Over the course of year eight you strike up a friendship and when mid term holidays arrive you spend it at her farm in Mildura. Here you learn how to drive a car, go to your first bush dance, sleep out in the caravan and smoke Escort Reds. You long to kiss Caroline but know such a move would be unwise, humiliating even! and so you set in motion many years of unrequited crushes – your secret heart.
1986 is the year of Halley’s Comet. The year like the comet is a bit of a fizzer. It’s the year Farnesy releases his career-defining album Whispering Jack but your listening to the Boys Next Door. The girl responsible for this change in your musical palate is Danielle Henderson a mousy, quiet, unassuming soul. She arrives at Loreto in a shroud of mystery. Rumour’s fly that she was expelled from her last school although no one seems to know the reason why. You are immediately drawn to her.
1986 is the year Richard Lowenstein releases Dogs in Space starring Michael Hutchence but it’s the soundtrack to the film that captivates you. This is your first life-changing long player and you listen to it every night. For the first time you hear Nick Cave singing Roland S Howard’s timeless heartbreaker Shivers. You also love Iggy Pop’s The Endless Sea. You think he’s singing The Embassy in reference to a secret spy agency but he’s actually talking about shooting smack. You’ll use the song title to name your band 18 years later. That’s Jen Cloher & The Endless Sea, not The Embassy. Cheers Iggy!
Danielle Henderson is just a friend. There’s no chemistry, which is just as well! She’s like the gateway drug to your rebellion and opens the door to a brand new world. You meet her gothic pals, drink goon on Rundle Mall, listen to the Birthday Party and dream of somehow escaping the drab confines of Catholic girls school. Thirteen is fast approaching and year nine will bring with it a whirlwind of change. You’ll get into a lot of trouble at school and start a secret life your parents never really find out about.
It’s scary now, looking at the kind of danger you’re about to put yourself in. At the same time, I thank you for breaking free, for being an individual, for not fitting in. That spirit will cause you a lot of problems in life but also keep you moving forward and taking risks.
I recently found out that your year 8 crush Caroline Clark committed suicide last year, just weeks before she was to be married. It made me feel very sad. I wonder how she really felt at 12 years old? And what of Danielle Henderson the inspiration to your teen rebellion? She’s now a qualified nurse, married with two beautiful boys living in Adelaide. You still see her from time to time for a cuppa and everything seems just fine.
In fact Twelve Year Old Me that’s the main thing I want to tell you. Don’t worry, life will work itself out, you will fit in one day. Sure it’ll take another 18 years of feeling like a square peg in a round hole but you’ll figure it out. Writing to you twenty-four years on, I wish I could somehow reach into your little heart, a whisper from the future and give you the confidence to put yourself out there. To pursue the ones you love rather than shrinking away in fear. To be a colourful creative and trust you will make a living from it. To let you know you are already enough, that you don’t have to be anything more for anyone else. That you are beautiful even though you can’t yet see it.
But if I wasn’t you then, I wouldn’t be me now. And that’s all that matters - now.