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Yoghurt for Dinner (And Other Mistakes Ive Made)

Framing Document
Nicola Boyle
Project summary:
My final project is 20 000 words of a novel-length collection of short essays. The essays are
inspired by true events and, as such, contain elements of memoir writing, taking cues from
essayists-cum-humorists like David Sedaris and Chelsea Handler.
The goal of the project is to create a likable, believable, and relatable female
protagonist. She is a character to whom the intended audience - women aged between 15
and 40 - can relate, hopefully seeing elements of themselves reflected in her, whether in her
aspirations, her values, or her flaws. I have chosen to make this the focus of my major
project to address the lack of this type of character in popular fiction and, more broadly,
popular culture.
My protagonist is candid and honest, flawed yet likable, with relatable values and
beliefs which become evident through her thoughts and actions throughout the novel. My
intention was to create a well-rounded character who just happens to be a female, rather
than creating a female character per se. That is to say, the fact that she is a female is not
her most defining attribute. Her empathy towards others or occasional lack thereof, her
burgeoning disillusion with society, her irrational yet crippling fear of losing her loved ones in
preposterous circumstances: these are the qualities by which she is defined and understood.
Project background
I believe that girls and women need better representation in popular culture and literature,
young adult fiction in particular. This is the issue, I think, with female characters in popular
culture in its entirety - generally speaking, female characters are often completely twodimensional and therefore unrelatable. The fact that they are female seems to be enough of
a descriptor that authors dont tend to bother giving them an actual personality outside of
that which is prescribed by the stereotypes surrounding their gender. In a great deal of
popular fiction - even that whose target demographic is, indeed, females - the standard
equation for a female character seems to be female + one vaguely descriptive
characteristic. For example:
Female + clumsy
When a beautiful actress is cast in a movie, executives rack their brains to find some
kind of flaw in the character she plays that will still allow her to be palatable. She cant be
overweight or not perfect-looking, because who would pay to see that? A female who is not

one hundred per cent perfect-looking in every way? You might as well film a dead squid
decaying on a beach somewhere for two hours.
So they make her a Klutz.
The hundred-per-cent-perfect-looking female is perfect in every way except that she
constantly bonks her head on things. She trips and falls and spills soup on her affable date...
clangs into stop signs while riding her bike and knocks over giant displays of fine china in
department stores. Despite being five feet nine and weighing a hundred and ten pounds, she
is basically like a drunk buffalo who has never been a part of human society (Kaling 2011).
Some examples of the Klutz are Bella Swan (Twilight), Tonks (Harry Potter), JDs
girlfriend Julie (Scrubs), Bridget Jones (Bridget Jones Diary), Mia Thermopolis (The
Princess Diaries).
Female + career-focused
I regularly work sixteen hours a day. Yet, like most people I know who are similarly
busy, Im a pleasant, pretty normal person. But thats not how working women are depicted
in movies. Im not always barking orders into my hands-free phone device and yelling, I
have no time for this! Often, a script calls for this uptight career woman to relearn how to
seduce a man, and she has to do all sorts of crazy degrading crap, like eat a hot dog in a
sexy way or something. And since when does holding a job necessitate that a woman pull
her hair back in a severe, tight bun? Do screenwriters think that loose hair makes it hard to
concentrate? (Kaling 2011).
Some examples of the career woman are Miranda Hobbs (Sex and the City),
Miranda Priestly (The Devil Wears Prada), Robin Scherbatsky (How I Met Your Mother), and
Selina Meyer (Veep).
Women are expected to behave in particular ways and perform certain duties, both in literary
representations and in our own society. These expected roles are often carried out by one
of several stock female characters in popular culture and literature, for example:
The Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Eccentric and quirky; in sweeping the male protagonist
off his feet she reminds him to lighten up and take some risks in life.
The Venerated Madonna: perfectly unblemished, this female represents a pristine
and pure woman. Closely related to the trope of the Girl Next Door, who is mild-mannered,
wholesome, and naturally beautiful.
The Femme Fatale: mysterious, dark, and seductive; we are unsure of her
motivations and ethical standpoint, but falling for her often leads to trouble.

The Maneater, aka the Succubus: she endangers men by seducing, then usually
killing them. This age-old trope goes back as far as Scylla and Charybdis in Greek
mythology, perhaps even further.
The Bimbo: this one is fairly self explanatory, really.
This filing cabinet of two-dimensional stock characters is what fails women and girls in
literature - they have no real personality, no flaws, no idiosyncrasies, and as a result we cant
imagine them complexly. To imagine another complexly is to actually try to understand who
they are as a person - to not romanticise them, the way we elevate lovers to being almost
more than a person, or simply gloss over them because we arent given an opening to delve
further. Imagining others complexly is a concept author John Green first mentioned in his
book Paper Towns, and then extrapolated in a speech for an ALAN (Assembly on Literature
for Adolescents of the NTCE [National Council of Teachers of English]) conference. He says,
Literature is in the business of helping us to imagine ourselves and others more complexly,
of connecting us to the ancient conversation about how to live as a person in a world full of
other people (Green 2008). That is to say, a character is never just a bimbo or a jock or a
generic girl; they have dreams and goals, they have suffered heartbreaks and losses, and
only by understanding these things and making them apparent can the reader imagine the
character complexly and in turn relate to the character more meaningfully.
In Paper Towns John Green attempts not only to subvert but to put an end once and
for all to the misogynist fantasy of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl (MPDG). In a blog post
responding to an accusation that he was romanticising the ideal of the MPDG while claiming
to be forward-thinking, he said, Paper Towns is devoted IN ITS ENTIRETY to destroying the
lie of the manic pixie dream girl; the novel ends (this is not really a spoiler) with a young
woman essentially saying, Do you really still live in this fantasy land where boys can save
girls by being romantically interested in them? I do not know how I could have been less
ambiguous about this without calling the novel The Patriarchal Lie of the Manic Pixie Dream
Girl Must Be Stabbed in the Heart and Killed (Green 2013).
As a piece of young adult popular fiction, Paper Towns takes the important step of
challenging the idea of the stock female character and inviting the reader to imagine the
female protagonist complexly. So, too, does it highlight the fallacy of the MPDG outright - the
books protagonist says at the end of the book, Margo Roth Spiegelman was a person, too.
And I had never quite thought of her that way, not really; it was a failure of all my previous
imaginings. All alongnot only since she left, but for a decade beforeI had been imagining
her without listeningThe fundamental mistake I had always madeand that she had, in
fairness, always led me to makewas this: Margo was not a miracle. She was not an
adventure. She was not a fine and precious thing. She was a girl (Green p304).

This is, I believe, an important and indeed necessary step forward for young adult
and popular fiction alike.
Diablo Cody has written several works of note including the films Juno and Jennifers Body,
the television show United States of Tara, and the book Candy Girl: A Year in the Life of an
Unlikely Stripper. A self-proclaimed feminist, she laments the lack of complex female
characters in popular culture. In an interview following the release of the 2011 film Jennifers
Body, Cody said, I want to write roles that service women. I want to tell stories from a
female perspective. I want to create good parts for actresses where theyre not just
accessories to men (Kwan 2011).
Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar raise an interesting point in their discussion of
women in literature in The Madwoman in the Attic, arguing that women are presented in
either one of two ways: as an angel, or as a monster (p596). Theres no grey area, no back
story, and certainly no imagining of the woman complexly, and herein lies the problem for
Cody. She says that representation is the first step to equality, so as long as women arent
being represented in diverse ways in popular culture, they will continue to be marginalised
(Kwan 2011). Contributing to this lack of diversity, she says, is the fact that women arent
allowed to be anti-heroes, or be flawed (Silverstein 2010). Of course if they were, they would
no longer fill the requirements to be considered an angel, and would be shunned to the
category of monster.
Diverse representation neednt be abrasive or attention-seeking by any means,
either. For instance, when I read The Fallback Plan by Leigh Stein, I was absolutely floored
by how pleasantly surprised I was that the female protagonists two best friends were males.
I wasnt pleasantly surprised because I think its better to be friends with men or anything of
that sort, but simply because it was so revolutionary for a female character to have male
best friends in lieu of the requisite gaggle of girls - again, this is by no means better, it
simply serves to diversify the representation of women. Likewise, it was so refreshing to see
lead characters interact with a lead character of the opposite sex in a way that rendered
neither party the love accessory to the other.
There are a few reasons I decided that humour was the best vehicle with which to achieve
this goal. Alain de Botton posits that humour allows us to raise points which might otherwise
be considered taboo, and which others dont discuss for fear of retribution. He says that
much of that which we find funny highlights situations that, in ordinary life, we would be
liable to encounter with embarrassment or shame. The greatest comics place their fingers on
vulnerabilities that we cannot examine in the light of day; they pull us from our lonely
relationship with our most awkward sides (p180).

In addition, he says that humour is a useful tool for leveling the playing field in terms
of social status - it can be used attack high-status others, while helping us understand and
moderate our own status anxieties. Humour, he says, reassures us that there are others in
the world no less envious or socially fragile than we are; that there are fellow spirits waking
up in the early hours tormented by their financial performance; and that beneath the sober
appearance society demands of us, most of us are going a little out of our minds - giving us
cause to hold out a hand to our comparably tortured neighbours (p180). This seems, to me,
a pertinent and applicable vehicle to establish a relatable character who stands up against
the status quo and highlights the shortcomings of female representation in the Zeitgeist of
popular culture.
The delivery and direction of the jest, however, is absolutely paramount, and I took a
particular interest in exactly what it is David Sedaris does that makes his humour and
character building so spectacularly successful. In his book Sedaris, Kevin Kopelson notes
that as a satirist, Sedaris does not censure folly or vice. He says, the censure, in effect
says Shame on you - much as self-deprecation, or confession, says Shame on me (2).
This undoubtedly instantly forges a connection between reader and narrator/protagonist,
much more than the perfectly unblemished narrator who shames the reader for not being
similarly perfect.
In a preliminary meeting with my supervisor Professor Sharyn Pearce, she discussed
the necessity for the narrator to make it possible for the reader to laugh with her, and for this
to happen she needed to be laughing at herself in the first place. She stressed that in order
to successfully self-deprecate using humour, it was important that the narrator was in fact
laughing at herself and not at all seeking pity for the situations she finds herself in.
Project significance
The significance of my major project lies in its furthering the cause of the female character in
popular fiction. The use of humour to highlight areas of opportunity for our society in regards
to women will be, I believe, quite revolutionary. So, too, its being written by an Australian - I
am familiar with and respect the works of people like Marieke Hardy and Mia Timpano, but I
struggled to find other works by Australian writers in a similar vein.
Project methodology
In preparation for my project, I did an amount of outside reading to help further establish my
understanding of exactly what it was I wanted to achieve. I read across several areas for a
number of reasons, which include:

Humorist essays and memoirs, to better develop my understanding of this

kind of storytelling. Authors on my reading list include David Sedaris, David Rakoff,
Chelsea Handler, Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Bill Bryson, Marieke Hardy.
Non-fiction work around the representation of women in literature, women in
society, and our interactions with, and experiences of, other people in general. Thus
far Alain de Botton stands alone on my reading list, but I plan to seek other works to
supplement his.
Young adult and popular fiction, particularly those with complex protagonists,
and in particular, complex female protagonists, to better my understanding of the
scope and landscape of womens representation in popular fiction. Works on this list
include The Perks Of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, Paper Towns by John
Green, The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger, The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
The concept of complex female characters is one thats very dear to my heart - in fact, upon
completion of my Masters degree I hope to go on to study a PhD where I would like to
further examine the representation of female characters in young adult and/or popular fiction.
Needless to say, this project has provided me with a fantastic jumping off point for my
studies in the future, and with completing a full-length novel.
I also hope to have produced a solid, well-written, and funny piece of work that
people will want to read purely because they enjoy the writing on a superficial level, before
even considering the deeper implications. I have been given the feedback before that the
voice in my writing is strong, consistent and well-developed, and I am pleased to say that I
feel I have further developed my authorial voice, while successfully completing my first wellconstructed long form narrative work.

de Botton, Alain. Status Anxiety. London: Penguin Books, 2004. Print.
Gilbert, Sandra, and Susan Gubar. "The Madwoman in the Attic (.pdf)." University of
West Georgia. N.p., 1979. Web. 15 Oct. 2014.
Green, John. "A Speech I Wrote for the ALAN Conference." John Green Books.
N.p., 24 Nov. 2008. Web. 15 Oct. 2014. <>.

Green, John. John Green's Tumblr. N.p., 2013. Web. 15 Oct. 2014.
Green, John. Paper towns. New York: Speak, 2009. Print.
Kaling, Mindy. "Flick Chicks." The New Yorker. N.p., 3 Oct. 2011. Web. 15 Oct. 2014.
Kopelson, Kevin. Sedaris. Minneapolis: The University of Minnesota Press, 2007.
Kwan, Jennifer. Cody Exercises Demons in Jennifers Body,
2009. Web. 11th of October 2014.
Silverstein, Melissa. Loving Diablo Cody, 2010.
Web. 11th of October 2014.
Stein, Leigh. The Fallback Plan. Brooklyn, N.Y: Melville House, 2012. Print.

Yoghurt for Dinner

(And Other Mistakes

Ive Made)
Nicola Boyle

I Try (Life is Hard)

I try; I really do. They say that nobody really knows what theyre doing and that everyone is
just faking it, but the general population is pretty convincing, even if it is all a ruse. I have
friends who own houses. Many of my peers have had babies and, even more impressively,
have managed to keep them breathing ever since. My youngest brother is a business owner.
Granted, hes an insufferable overachiever, but the fact remains: hes 21 years old and he
runs a business, Im 27 and I had yogurt for dinner last night. Im 27 and Ive never been in a
relationship thats spanned more than two of my birthdays. Im 27 and I still break or lose
everything I buy almost instantly. Im 27 and Ive worn lycra hotpants in lieu of underwear
more recently and more frequently than I care to admit.
I always thought Id have sorted things out by now, you know?
I was always the overachiever of the family. Im the one who got perfect grades. Im
the one who made the Australian roller derby team. Im the one with nearly two degrees! On
a day-to-day basis, however, I seem to struggle.
I try; I really do, but I never really got the hang of feeding myself. Aside from not
understanding exactly what I should be eating, and having a schedule that makes regular
meals a far-flung dream, no cooking method seems foolproof enough for me to master.
Whether I follow a recipe to the tee or simply use my inherent womanly intuition, theres a
very good chance that anything I touch will end up undercooked, on the floor, or engulfed in
flames. My cooking skills (and the existence of things like baked beans and peanut butter)
mean that, where my diet is concerned, theres a lot to be desired.
A typical day of eating for me will be something like an entire bag of grated cheese,
an entire packet of Doritos, or an entire package of ham eaten at sporadic intervals

throughout the day (and often into the night). It can fluctuate pretty wildly, however,
depending on things like internet inspiration and health scares.
Theres the health kick I went on when I was nineteen, during which time the only
lunch I took to work was a ziplock bag of lettuce leaves and an apple. To the best of my
knowledge, I was eating more healthfully than I ever had before, but the fact that I was as
pallid as an anemic sheet of paper and could barely climb the stairs suggested otherwise.
The day I almost collapsed at work came as a wake up call that spawned an intervention by
my mother.
I learned a lot about nutrition over the next few years, but knowing and doing are still
two very different things. These days, every six months or so Ill find myself overcome by
good intentions that drive me to fill my fridge with healthy cuts of meat and fresh vegetables.
Ill make an award-worthy salad with roast chicken and an exotic strain of cous cous that first
day, then spend the next week or two periodically assessing the edibility of vegetables and
throwing them away one by one as they begin to spoil. Except, of course, for the cucumbers
that worm their way to the bottom of the vegetable crisper where they quietly stew until I find
them, rancid and liquefied, a few months later.
These bouts of aggressive healthiness are definitely less dangerous than eating
mostly lettuce leaves for weeks, but they dont do much for my bank account.
On the topic of my bank account.
Actually, lets skip that topic entirely because just typing that now, I felt an amount of
bile inching its way from my stomach into my mouth.
I try - really, I do - but I dont know how to have an uncomfortable conversation with
someone. Ill wash up every dish my housemates use before Ill ever ask them to stop
leaving half-drunk cups of tea in the living room. Ill go out of my way to a much more
inconvenient coffee shop before ever telling the one by my house that they burn the milk.
Ive lost count of the times Ive eaten something I didnt want just because I didnt have the
guts to tell a waiter they got my order wrong. You could literally do anything to me, and the
worst thing Id do in response is not make eye contact when I thank you.
It would be so easy to blame someone else for every one of my shortcomings. Surely
somebody should have taken responsibility for these things. Who was supposed to teach me
how to eat and cook, manage my finances, and adequately express my feelings? My
parents? The public school system? Maybe ABC For Kids should have picked up some of
the slack. Im eager to learn, and I try my best, honestly. Theres just been a disconnect
somewhere along the line.
Maybe its a generational thing. Strictly speaking Im a Gen Y, and those guys are just
terrible. While its technically accurate, I resent being lumped into that category, if only

because I got none of the good stuff that makes everyone hate us. You know, us pesky,
entitled Millennials who get everything they want without lifting a finger.
I mean, sure, most children born at this time were told, Youre a wonderful, special
flower and you can do anything you want, my child. You dont think university is a good idea?
Youre the boss!
I, however, was told, You cant be an author/musician/painter; you wont make any
money. Why dont you go into the public service? You can get your artistic expression done
on the weekend.
To this day, though I have nearly two writing degrees, my father continues to ask me
why I dont just go into the public service. You know they finish work at 4:00pm, right?
And sure, I got my first car for free, but it belonged to my late grandmother and was
older than the Spanish Constitution of 1978.
The implication that people my age are lazy, non-committal workers makes me cry a
little inside, as I recall the enterprising and odd-jobs I did until I was legally employable at the
age of 14 and nine months. Why didnt somebody tell me my parents were supposed to be
slinging me unlimited pocket money for my entire life? I had better things to be doing, like
scheming to retaliate against my two younger brothers who inexplicably managed to gang up
on me most days.
At the same time, its not as though I had a difficult upbringing. Sure, growing up as
the eldest child of a middle class family in the 90s, things were tough. We had nothing to eat
but home-cooked meals made daily by my stay-at-home mother. We had no computer or
video game consoles, and therefore had nothing to do but read and draw and play under the
sprinkler all day.
Maybe its just me. Im in my own world a lot of the time. I knowingly take my insanely
British skin out in the sun without wearing sunscreen, like, all the time. Ill go without meals if
Im really engrossed in the book Im reading. And I drive a car that barely goes, and wear the
same old clothes for years, just so I can go overseas whenever the opportunity arises. So,
sure, maybe Im screwing up in some fundamental way. But what I lack in routines and
shoes and household items, I make up for in stories.

Courting Adulthood
Ive been courting Adulthood for a little while now. Actually, its probably more accurate to say
that Adulthood has been courting me. I still cant tell if Im really into Adulthood, or if I just like
the idea of it - its essence, you know? I get swept up in this romantic, idealistic imagining of
how life would be, even though I know its not really for me. Its like the idea of dating a
slightly older business mogul in the 50s - its such a sexy notion, and its been so
romanticised by the media, but in practice youd probably just feel oppressed, and end up
with an STD.
Its the kind of blind date your insistent friend sets you up on while you protest in vain.
Hes really great, your friend says while checking her makeup in a compact mirror.
Yeah, I dont know, you reply, hesitant. Going by what youve told me, I just dont
think we have that much in common.
Dont worry about it, your friend says nonchalantly, texting him anyway. Youll get
along great.
Anyway, so Adulthood and me. I mean, I couldnt in good conscience say no without giving it
a shot, so Ive given it a proper go, and on multiple occasions. Weve been to first base,
Adulthood and me, which is about as far as Ill usually go when Im still not sure how I feel
about the whole thing. Im glad I put my foot down before things went too far with Adulthood,
though, because I just dont think were on the same page.
I mean, its not that Im not open to things, but Adulthood is kind of pushy. One
minute Im just hanging out with my friends, then the next moment Adulthood has its hand up
my shirt, trying to trick me into stuff, and Im all like, Hey, Adulthood, Im not that kind of girl.
Adulthood is presumptuous, you know? It knocks on your door, but doesnt wait for
you to answer before coming inside. It eats your fries without asking. It will borrow CDs from
your room and you wont even notice for two months.
Adulthood does what it wants. Adulthood is the reason you wake up on your Sunday
off to realise your fridge broke down last night. Adulthood is the reason you return from

overseas to find a pipe under your house had burst two weeks ago. Adulthood is the fine you
get when your car registration renewal notice goes to your old address. Adulthood is plain
inconsiderate, really, and I think thats the biggest issue we have.
I appreciate that some people swear by Adulthood, and thats great for them. But
me? I just feel a disconnect on some fundamental level. Maybe if Adulthood and I could sit
down and hash out our respective positions on things, wed each feel different. But as it
stands, theres just no way Adulthood and I could ever get a higher OKCupid match than
about 60%. Maybe 65% if I loosened my morals just a touch. I just think we have different
values and life goals, you know?
Still, despite me shunning its advances, Adulthood wont take no for an answer. Ive
tried being firm. Ive tried deflecting its attention to other people. Ive even tried the cowards
way out and simply hiding, but Adulthood always seems to find me.
I suppose, though, when all is said and done, tons of other people have settled in
relationships. You see it all the time in movies; you hear it all the time on the grapevine.
Maybe they were once in the same boat I am. Maybe theres nothing I can do about it.
Maybe if I just close my eyes, it wont be so bad.

I Sweet Valley Highd My Way Onto The Honor Roll

Its quite likely that every Australian has, at some stage, fantasised about attending school in
America. The vast majority of school-based movies we watch are made in America, and its
hard not to get swept up in the fanfare. There are wild frat parties and sorority socials, pep
rallies and cheerleaders, and football games with so much school spirit its almost
My fantasy was different. It started early. Watching an absolutely flooring amount of
television, and devouring Baby-sitters Club and Sweet Valley High books with the fervour of
an addict, I became obsessed with attending school in the USA. I mean, in the most literal
sense, simply being a student at an American school. The cafeteria, the classroom hallways,
the two-in-one chair/desks - everything that was banal and commonplace to the characters
in these stories seemed absolutely riveting to me.
I imagined myself, a spritely ten year old, in a classroom of children dressed in plain
clothing (for we had no need for uniforms in this brave, new world). The teacher would invite
me, the exotic stranger from the Land Down Under, to stand in front of the class. I would
wear denim overalls and a velvet hat embellished by a fabric daisy that epitomised all the
best parts of the TV show Blossom. The other children would gaze upon me wondrously and
clamor to ask salient questions, like, What kind of food do they serve in your cafeterias?
Oh, no, Id reply, looking at them poignantly. We dont have cafeterias. We have to
sit on the ground, outside, under the hot Australian sun.
Theyd whisper animatedly to one another as Id make my way back to my desk.
Once I was seated, the two girls on either side of me (who were, for all intents and purposes,
Elizabeth and Jessica of Sweet Valley fame) would turn and plead for me, the exotic
stranger, to sit with them at lunch.
After class wed walk to our lockers, which were by some miracle right beside one
another, then make our way to the fabled cafeteria. I would collect a tray and line up behind
Elizabeth and Jessica Sweetvalley as we discussed the urgent matter of acquiring friendship
bracelets. Doris, the lunch lady from the Simpsons (who I can only assume is an accurate
portrayal of all lunch ladies) would offer me a ladle full of sloppy joe, which would land on my
tray with an audible squelch. And though Id have turned my nose up if my mother offered
me squelchy mince at home, Id look upon my cafeteria tray with relish.

I had plenty of time to embellish this scenario, you see, because what I actually spent
my time doing was not making friendship bracelets for my multitudinous best friends, but
reading, daydreaming, and writing these very stories in my journal.
And so my fantasy grew and evolved with me until, at age 22, it came to fruition. I was
studying Communications and feeling uninspired about the future. I did the assignments,
albeit to the minimum possible standard. I went to class some of the time, but only if I
couldnt pick up an extra shift at work that day. I had given up on being an overachiever in
favour of merely pretending to further my education, because, well, I had nothing better to
During one of my rare visits to campus in early 2009, I walked past a group of people
handing out flyers beneath a University Exchange banner. Typically when visiting campus I
took a get in and get out approach, where Id direct my eyes at the ground and feign
deafness as I power-walked between buildings. But these people caught my eye. I could see
myself already, sitting on the grass outside a monolithic red-brick building and studying with
my friends. This was it - this was my chance. Finally, my prayers had been answered.
Finally, I could really go to school in America. Finally, I would get my sloppy joe.
In January 2010, I woke up in my dorm room. I got out of bed early, careful not to wake my
roommate, and packed my bag with the requisite books. I took myself down to the dining hall
in my building and ate a breakfast that was essentially two bowlfuls of sugar, then began
walking the five blocks toward the looming clock tower on campus. I was in middle-America,
in a small college town that could inexplicably sustain three Walmarts, at Indiana University.
I had dressed the way Australian university students do in winter - a pair of jeans,
lace-up leather boots and a long-sleeved shirt, with my books in a large handbag.
Temperatures under 16 degrees were still a completely foreign concept to me but I had, in a
valiant attempt to stave off hypothermia, clumsily thrown a hat, gloves, scarf, cardigan,
hoodie, and windbreaker over the top.
I felt out of place the minute I walked outside and found myself amid a sea of dozens
of different versions of the same girl. They all wore trackpants that screamed INDIANA in
collegiate font down one leg, Ugg boots, snow jackets, winter headbands and JanSport
backpacks. They all had long, bleached blonde hair and were unreasonably tanned, and
every one of them had perfectly straight, high-voltage white teeth. Unable to control myself, I
smiled with my whole face as I looked around. I drank them in, this army of prescription
white girls that Id have detested on principle under any other circumstance, and walked to
class feeling more self-conscious than I ever had before.

With every day that passed, I felt myself commit more and more to the role I
imagined Id play in the TV adaptation of My American School Fantasy. Back in Australia Id
have gladly sawed my legs off if it meant I never had to play sport again. The lengths I went
to in the quest to avoid physical activity were really quite extraordinary. In grade ten, for
instance, when the whole school departed at 1:00pm for intramural sport, I walked with the
leftover group of misfits to the intramural latch hook class for which I had petitioned.
But College Nikkee couldnt wait to join one of the universitys sports teams. Scrolling
through the endless list of clubs and teams at IU, I felt more and more imbued with a sense
of athletic prowess that I neither had, nor could acquire. I liked the idea of soccer, or maybe
something more niche, like fencing or equestrian. But nothing could compete with the siren
call of cheerleading, or as they were called at IU, the Spirit Squad. Now, ordinarily such
unabashed positivity and flagrant disregard for ones dignity would have made me sick, but
of course, I wasnt me; I was College Nikkee, the main character in my college fantasy. It just
really felt like something my character would do, so I downloaded the tryout information
The Spirit Squad information packet left no stone unturned, right down to the
regulation hairstyle. Half up, half down hair tied with a ribbon wasnt really my thing, but I
figured if I could act my way onto the Spirit Squad, the hair would be a cinch to fake. Then, I
just needed to acquire the regulation tryout outfit - a black crop top and bike pants, and allwhite sneakers. I was sure I could manage that. Now, onto the tryout itself. Warcries: well, Id
watched Bring It On enough times to know a few by heart, and my dad had always said I had
quite a set of lungs on me. Pom-pom work: I had followed along to some YouTube videos
holding a t-shirt in each hand and that seemed to go pretty well. Even if it did go awry, I
decided Id call it artistic license. Acrobatics: I bit my lip as I read on. At my tryout, I would
also have to perform a standing back tuck, cartwheel tuck, toe touch back tuck, and standing
back handspring tuck, and provide a reference from my high school cheer coach. I may have
been in over my head - even if I managed all the tucking and toe touching, where was I
supposed to get a reference from?
I quickly realised that joining the Spirit Squad was a level of commitment to the
character that I just couldnt give. In the end, I opted to join the local roller derby team
instead, the requisite skills for which were little more than operating a badge-making
machine and handing out flyers in your underwear.
Still, I committed to my role as an American college student with gusto. I found it
more difficult than I expected to establish a group of sorority gal-pals, but I had amassed a
collection of weirdos from my various classes (which, in an English degree, wasnt all that
hard). Taking my cue from various films Id seen, I suggested we form a study group. We
met most weeks and huddled around the big, round tables at the coffee shop on campus,

sipping bottomless cups of watery, percolated coffee. Wed animatedly joke about what
Slavoj iek would say about the book we were made to read and Id toss my head back and
laugh, acutely aware of the similarities between this moment and the ones Id seen in
Sabrina the Teenage Witch.
Id sit up until 2:00am studying in my dorm room, dutifully fulfilling my role as the
dedicated student who had a ten-page paper due the next morning. My roommate, however,
completely disregarded the role I had expected her to play - hilarious partner in crime and
future life-long friend - and instead opted to paint dragon figurines at her desk in silence.
I sat with other people in my major between classes and discussed the readings or
our assignments, something no self-respecting Australian university student would have
been seen doing. We compared notes and read one anothers papers before turning them
in, then compared grades and feedback when they were returned to us.
And so the day came that I opened a letter from Indiana University declaring my
presence on the Deans Honor Roll. Had I really been living my television college fantasy, Id
have run straight downstairs waving the letter at my parents, who would have immediately
bought me a car. It would probably have been a convertible. Silver.
It occurred to me at this point that, although I had merely been pretending to be a
good university student, if it achieved the same end result then it was as good as the real
thing. Its like that age-old proverb says: fake it til you make it. Although I think it should
really go, fake it til you forget the thing you used to do and it begins to feel normal.
Because, baby, once you hit that honor roll? Theres no going back.


By the time I was 24 years old I had been living in Bloomington, Indiana for two years.
Theres an oft-heard saying that goes, Theres more than corn in Indiana, which is simply
not true. Unless by more you mean multiple IHOPs, abundant wind farms, and endless
stretches of highway, in which case Indiana is brimming with more.
I had somehow talked my way into studying at the Indiana University, a member of
the Big Ten Conference, which was once described to me as the poor mans Ivy League.
When you consider, though, that there are over 2500 universities in the US, the poor mans
Ivy League is still pretty good. IU was home to your typical fraternising dude-bros and
elliptical-riding, tanning bed-using sorority girls, and the college grounds themselves were
catered almost entirely to that demographic. The city surrounding IU, however, was made of
pure, unadulterated magic.
We would go on bike rides along the river to watch double bass players perform at
the local brewery, and roller skate through the Mosey Down Main Street, a monthly outdoor
gathering of foodies and street performers alike. We would spend hours playing the antique
pinball machines at Main Street Amusements, then head across the road to the 24-hour dive
bar serving $5 steins of local beer and the best Chicago-style hotdogs this side of the
Chicago River. Weekends were spent road tripping to Nashville to eat world-famous
barbecue and visit duelling country music bars, or driving down south to explore the largest
underground cave systems on the planet.
I befriended some pretty fantastic people, too. Never in my adult life had I had a
friend so much like myself until I met Lana. I played roller derby with her, and the first day I
went to practice, I found completely myself overwhelmed by her sheer coolness. She was
funny, pretty, and had lots of earrings in her left earlobe. Naturally, this terrified me and I
barely spoke a word to her (or anyone else for that matter). When I wore my Say Anything
shirt to practice the next week, she came over to tell me she had danced to one of their
songs at her wedding, and the rest is history. Lana was married to Dan who wore checked
Vans shoes, a short sleeve plaid shirt over a t-shirt, and a flat cap every time I saw him.
They both worked from home, Dan as an IT support person, and Lana selling crafts and
trinkets online. They brewed their own wine, had a recording studio in their house, and were
building a camper trailer to drive around America in. Id have thought they were an urban
myth if I hadnt met them myself.
I began to see them at derby social events, eventually infiltrating their circle of friends
and somehow convincing them to hang out with me. I soon learned that, everywhere Dan
and Lana went, so too did their entourage Dans childhood best friend Marty, Martys
fraternity brother Tim, their friend Mike and his arm-candy girlfriend Dallas, as well as Jack,
this guy who was 42, had long hair, and lived in the house next door. During the party after a

particularly nasty loss to the Indianapolis roller derby team, I cornered Tim and interrogated
him as to why he still hadnt asked me out. The next day he took me to lunch at the rundown Pizza King up the road from my house, where meals are delivered by a train that runs
the perimeter of the restaurant, and we never looked back.
Having lived in Bloomington for nearly two years, I was accustomed to not seeing my
family for The Big Three Easter, birthday, Christmas. These, in addition to the American
traditions of Thanksgiving, the fourth of July, and Halloween, meant that spending the
holidays with my circle of friends had become completely normal.
For Christmas 2011, we all converged on the two-story house where Tim and Marty
lived for the traditional Yuletide overeating and general merriment. Tim had bought a quarter
keg of apple pie spiced wheat beer from Sun King Brewery in Indianapolis, and wedged it
into the snow just outside the back door fridge space simply isnt a concern over the winter
months in Midwest America.
Lana and I lay prostrate on the floor of Tims living room, sifting through a bag in
which we had pooled both our nail polish collections, while the soft glow and white noise of
A Christmas Story washed over us. Tim, Dan and Marty were playing cards on the couch
behind us.
If Dallas brings GBC again this year, I am going to flip my shit. She knows GBC is
my territory, Lana said.
Whats GBC? I asked.
Green bean casserole.
I screwed up my face in response.
You dont like green bean casserole? she asked.
Ive never had it; it just sounds bad. Green beans, casserole these are not
delicious things.
Youve never had green bean casserole?! Its amazing!
Well, Ill try it tonight. But Im not holding my breath. I pulled a silver glitter nail
polish out of the bag and began to paint it on top of the five different colours Id already
applied to my nails. Imagine if they made glitter hair dye, I mused as I admired my
shimmering fingernails. I would buy that.
Holy crap, Lana responded. I would too.
There was a brief pause before Dan, Marty and Tim all erupted in laughter. Lana and
I looked over our shoulders at them.
What? I asked.
You sound like a couple of twelve year old girls, Marty responded.
I pursed my lips and thought for a moment before shrugging. Im fine with that.

The doorbell rang, and Tim walked into the hallway to answer it. He returned
moments later, followed by Mike, who was carrying a six pack of beer, and Dallas, who held
a casserole dish.
I brought GBC! she announced.
I looked over at Lana who stared back at me, eyes wide and nostrils flared.
We heard the door open again, followed by clattering and stumbling in the hallway,
and a blonde man Id never seen before appeared behind Dallas. He had a bottle of gin in
one hand, two packets of chips in the other, and a huge smile on his face.
Whats up, bitches? he greeted us.
Wagner! Tim said as he walked over to hug the blonde man.
None of Tims friends seemed to have first names, and neither did he - to anyone he
went to college with, he was just Ramsay. For as long as Id known him, Id been
interrogating Tim about the ins and outs of fraternities. I still didnt completely understand
their purpose, but I had established that there were secret handshakes and code words. As
a result, I always watched extra closely whenever Tim greeted anyone hed gone to school
with, but I was yet to see or at least notice anything that looked like like a secret
handshake. Looking back, its entirely possible he had made it all up.
Wagner, this is Nikkee, Tim turned and gestured towards me. Nikkee, Wagner.
Wagner tucked the bottle of gin underneath one arm as he strode towards me, a
bigger smile on his face than before, and thrust his hand in my direction.
How are ya, he said, more as a statement than a question.
Nice to meet you, I responded, acquiescing to his overly-zealous handshake.
Oh, man, you do have a cool accent!
Thats what they tell me.
Theres a scale, I believe, of how friendly the people are of any given nation. When
you meet a Brit, for instance, they couldnt care less who you are or what you do, and its
purely their British politeness that stops them walking away from you mid-sentence. They
rank 0, or completely neutral on the friendliness scale. For comparison, the French, who are
actively disgusted by your existence, rank at about -20, and depending on the day you catch
them, Aussies will rank anywhere between 10 and 20. Americans are, at a minimum, around
40, but that number gets higher the further south you venture. It never ceases to amaze me
just how genuinely pleased Americans are to have met me.
After a round of excited greetings in the living room, we all followed Marty into the
garage, where he was deep frying an entire twenty-pound turkey. This was by no means de
rigeur, but the fact that it was even possible delighted me in so many ways. The eight of us
gathered in a small circle around what could only be described as a turkey-sized plunge pool
filled with hot oil. I remember feeling incredibly present as Marty began to lower the turkey

into the fryer. I remember the cold of the cement garage floor through my socks, the heat of
Tims hand around mine, and the warm glow of gratitude that washed over me as the fryer
began to splutter and spit fine droplets of searing oil onto my bare skin. It was magical.
Later that night Tim and I lay in bed, unable to move under the weight of our post-dinner
bellies. Im always the first person to go to bed at parties because Im secretly ninety years
old, but outside Tims bedroom door people were still talking loudly, crashing into walls, and
giggling like demented pre-schoolers. I looked over at Tim; we were wearing matching dopy,
satisfied smiles.
Im really excited to see my family, I told him.
I bet, he said, placing his large hand on top of my bloated, turkey-stuffed stomach. I
groaned under its weight.
I had a trip booked to visit my family in about two weeks time. When I had left
Australia almost two years prior, my youngest brother was a pudgy sixteen year old who
hadnt grown any taller in a good few years. When I had Skyped home for Christmas,
however, I was greeted by an enormous, thin man who towered over my mother and had a
voice like a smoky whiskey bar. I began to cry immediately, as I was hit by the realisation of
how much I missed everyone - how long it had been since Id seen my grandparents, how
different both of my younger brothers must look, and how much I had neglected my parents.
The next day I emailed my dad to explain how devastatingly homesick I had suddenly
become, and asked what I could do in exchange for him spotting me for a quick jaunt back
home. Less than an hour later, the confirmation of my return flight from Indianapolis to
Brisbane landed in my email inbox.
You should come, I pleaded with Tim for the fiftieth time.
I wish I could. Not enough money, not enough vacation time, cant leave Marty alone
with my liquor cabinet. The usual reasons.
I have to apply for next semesters student loan before I go, or I might not get it in
time to pay my student fees, I thought aloud, coming down with a sudden bout of Real Life.
One year earlier, when I finished my year-long exchange program at IU, I was so
invested that I couldnt bear the thought of leaving Indiana. I was in the most serious
relationship Id ever had, and my derby team and best friends were such an integral part of
my life, that I had applied directly to IU as an international student. For someone from the
proud state of Indiana - a townie, if you will - tuition fees were pretty reasonable, federal
student loans were as good as interest-free, and their parents had probably spent years
saving in earnest to pay a large portion of their tuition, anyway. For the poor suckers who
werent natural-born Hoosiers, though, the university charged a sum that could have bought
you a house, if you were thrifty.

How much are you going to apply for? Tim asked.

Ill have to get the full $15 000. I dont know if theyll hire me back at the copy shop
next semester, but even if they do, two shifts a week at $7 an hour isnt really a living wage.
So youre going to loan fifteen grand every semester til you graduate?
I dont think I have much of a choice.
How much longer do you have to go? Tim asked.
If all goes to plan Ill have three semesters after this one.
Tim paused. Thats a lot of student loans.
Yeah, I guess it is, I said distractedly, silently calculating the total of the two
semesters Id already done, and the four I was yet to do. Shit. Ive never added it all up
before - thats nearly a hundred grand.
I know, Tim said.
You know?! Why didnt you say anything? My panicked voice came out about two
octaves higher than usual.
I thought you knew!
No! Why would I have applied if I realised I was going to be paying a hundred grand
for an Arts degree?! We all know Im never going to make any money! My shrill voice
continued to raise.
I dont know, Tim said quietly. I thought you just really wanted to stay here.
I did, I replied. I do.
I looked at his face, my vision beginning to blur and jiggle as my tears pooled in my
eyes. Thats so much money, Tim. Im going to graduate with a hundred thousand dollar
debt, and I probably wont even be able to get a job here at the end of it.
Tim smiled his tight-lipped smile and squeezed my hand. What else can you do?
I smiled an equally tight-lipped smile back at him and squeezed my eyes shut. I
wiped away my tears - neither of us was entirely comfortable with feelings - and cleared my
I feel so ill. That might have been more food than everything Ive eaten in my life
until now combined, I said, and Tim chuckled. We were both masters of the subject change.
There was a massive thud in the hallway outside, followed by the sound of Dan and
Marty laughing hysterically. It was a comforting sound to fall asleep to. I closed my heavy
eyelids, while the sound of Dans voice crying, Who pooped in the dumbwaiter?! bade me
When I boarded the plane to Australia ten days later, I didnt come back. Following
several stifled, British-like conversations before I left, Tim and I decided wed continue our
relationship from a distance until our circumstances changed, but it only took a few months
for us to realise that any change of circumstances wasnt going to happen anytime soon.

And that was the end of that. I didnt see him again until I visited the US a few years later,
when Im about 80% sure he had a girlfriend he was just too uncomfortable to tell me about.
So it goes.

My 27th year brought with it several things:
1. A complete lack of desire for the things society wants me to be interested in,
including but not limited to:
- A serious relationship and/or marriage
- Acquiring a dog (bonus Grown Up Points are given for an uglier dog, see: pug,
French bulldog, Italian greyhound. Some cats included in this category; the more
unnecessarily expensive, the better)
- Spending all my money buying sort of domicile
- Having enough money to remotely entertain the notion of buying said domicile

2. The acute awareness that Im not doing quite what I hoped Id be after
graduating from university
3. A renewed love for wearing pigtails
My relationship with pigtails has ebbed and waned throughout my life but theyve always
been present, whether physically or in their very deliberate absence.
From the time I was capable of growing hair until I was about ten years old, I wore
them without thought. Pigtails were one of the four styles in my mothers arsenal, and Id
never known life without them.
When I was about ten however, I realised that I was capable of doing my own hair,
and from then on its fate rested solely in my hands.
Surely I am the most mature of all ten year olds, I thought. I can probably cook my
own food, too. Wash the car. Maybe even mow the lawn. I should start a superannuation
In what I thought was an incredibly powerful protest, I eschewed pigtails with a firm
hand. Hark; I was no longer a child, but a young adult! And adults dont wear pigtails, do
Around the age of fifteen, it occurred to me that when teenage girls wore pigtails,
they looked kind of cute. Boys liked girls who looked cute. And I wanted boys to like me, did I
not? Thus began a phase of sexy infantilisation that Im sure pleased my father immensely.
Nevertheless, Mandy Moore made pigtails and lollipops look incredibly appealing, so I
jumped on board with gusto.
A few years later, though, I realised how vulgar and humiliating my behaviour had
been. Racked with guilt for besmirching the good name of my gender, I made up for my
indiscretions by doing things like cutting my hair incredibly short, scowling, and sighing in
earnest and often. This was essentially my own foray into second wave feminism, and
though I was forty years behind, I wanted my women independent, and my bras burnt.
Recent times, however, have seen a resurgence of pigtails in my day to day life,
fuelled simply by a sense of wanting to do whatever I damn well please. For instance, I
should probably be saving more than $30 a week. But whose business is that other than
mine? Similarly, I understand Im meant to be busying myself with a career right now instead
of spending my time roller skating and planning my escape to Canada. But honestly, I
couldnt think of anything less appealing. And I know certain people (ahem, Aunt Yvonne) are
concerned that I make no effort to lock down a serious relationship. But gosh darn it; Ill do
what I want!
Remnants of my past incarnations are still kicking the bra burner in me still wears
a t-shirt and jeans most days, and Im still vaguely meandering around the precipice of

adulthood. I dont know which version of me is responsible for the pigtails at 27, but whoever
it is, that girls got some style.

The Roommate
You can tell a lot about a coffee shop by the Mac-user to PC-user ratio of its customers.
Upon walking into Greystone Coffee, you would find yourself amidst a sea of silver or
white laptops, the recognisable apples glowing in unison. Greystone was almost always full to get a table to yourself was always a small victory. Because of this, if you saw someone
inside who youd met for even five minutes once, three years ago, you were instantly friends,
for the sake of having somewhere to sit.
Thats how I came to have coffee with Leah and Darcie. Id had a few classes with
Leah, so she asked if she and Darcie could join me at my table. Eventually, it came to pass
that Darcies now ex-boyfriend had just moved out of their apartment and she had a spare
room. At the time, I was a foreign exchange student who had been flitting from one sublet to
the next, moving out when my bedrooms rightful owner returned from vacation, or the last
decent human of a roommate moved on. My cool roommate Michelle had just moved out to

California, and the girl who had replaced her had the personality and appeal of a soggy mop
- a mop that was really inconsiderate about sharing a bathroom. I wasnt loving life, so I
decided to move in with Darcie who, at least in the 20 minutes we spent together, seemed
pretty cool.
Youre going to move in with a stranger? my mother demanded when I told her that
Every roommate Ive ever had was a stranger. Whats the difference if I find them on
craigslist or meet them in a coffee shop? I said.
Yes, I suppose youve got a point, she said.
Had this been a scene in a Hollywood film, Idve ended the conversation with, What
could possibly go wrong?
As a committed truant, I moved in owning little more than a single cup, plate and
bowl. I took them into the kitchen and began opening random cupboards trying to find a
place to stash them. Finally arriving at the cupboard Id deduced must contain the plates, I
let out a yelp when I opened it. There, atop the stack of plates sat an enormous, fluffy white
cat. I screwed my face up and shooed it away with my hands, deciding then that I would
store my crockery upside down. The cat had its butt right on her plates. Her plates that she
ate off. I couldnt think of anything less hygienic. But if I knew then that all the crockery in the
house being lightly brushed with a cats anus would be the very least of my worries, Id have
never complained.
The incredible thing about Darcie was that, although she grew up in middle America
as the daughter of two wealthy university professors, she had been through every hardship
one could conceivably manage by the age of 20. She had been perilously overweight, had
been hospitalised for anorexia, had been sexually assaulted at a party more than once, had
been addicted to illicit drugs, had been addicted to prescription drugs, and was a compulsive
chain smoker. The frustrating thing about Darcie was that at least one of these things was
untrue, and once Id learned that, I just couldnt believe anything she told me.
Shortly after I moved in, a film called The Roommate was released, funnily enough.
The synopsis read as follows: When Sara, a young design student from Iowa, arrives for
college in Los Angeles, she is eager to fit in and get to know the big city. Her wealthy
roommate, Rebecca, is more than eager to take Sara under her wing and show her the
ropes. The two become close, but when Sara begins to branch out and make more friends
on campus, Rebecca becomes resentful. Alarmed, Sara moves in with her new boyfriend,
causing Rebecca's behavior to take a violent turn.
A trailer for The Roommate came on the television as we sat in the living room one
night, me folding clothes and Darcie eating dinner. For added shock value, at the end of the

trailer there was a two second scene of Sara waking up in the middle of the night with
Rebecca sitting over the top of her. At this point Darcie turned to me, a grin on her face, and
said, Wouldnt it be funny if you woke up one night and I was doing that to you? In the
times Ive revisited this story, Darcie laughs more and more maniacally each time, but Im
sure in the moment it didnt happen quite that way.
Never the less, even then funny wasnt the word I would have used to describe that
situation, but I politely chuckled all the same.
In the weeks that followed, Darcie and I began to spend more and more time in each
others company. We liked a lot of the same things and got along really well, and I was pretty
ecstatic to finally have a roommate that didnt pain me to be around. That doesnt mean,
though, that I was necessarily all that excited the day that she burst into my room to show
me that she had cut her hair just like mine, and dyed hers the exact same shade of pink as
I wasnt creeped out by this, just a little upset that shed stolen my sweet style. But you know
what they say, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery (and the most preliminary form of
Ha! My friend Lani had snorted when I told her. She really loves you. Does your
bedroom door have a lock?
No, I replied, beginning to panic despite how ridiculous it was.
Youre going to wake up one night to her sitting on your bed watching you. You
should push your drawers in front of your door when you sleep.
Shes going to stab me with scissors one night, isnt she?! I exclaimed dramatically.
Lani chuckled again. Probably.
Shes just so intense. Did I tell you about the day she came home and threw herself
on the ground, sobbing They broke up! over and over? I thought she was saying her
parents had broken up, but she was talking about the band The Streets.
Yeah, you should definitely keep an eye on her.
And though we were both joking, there was a part of me that wondered if Lani was
One weekend, we decided to all go to the movies - Darcie, my boyfriend Tim, and me. We
were calling things across the apartment as we all got ready to go, Darcie in her room; Tim
and I in mine.
If you want, we could drop by my parents house on the way there. You should
probably meet them since youre going to be seeing them all the time now! she called.
Tim and I frowned at each other. Why would I meet her parents? Id never met a roommates
parents before. Had I unwittingly agreed to enter into a relationship with her by moving in

Well, I called back, hesitant, I dont know if well really have enough time before the
movie starts.
I looked at Tim and held out my upturned hands, and he frowned as he shrugged
emphatically back at me.
Do you want to go and see her parents? he whispered loudly.
What? No! Do you? I whispered back.
No! I dont even want to visit my own parents, why would I want to visit your
Oh man, I muttered as I turned away to grab my handbag from my desk. That was
really weird, wasnt it? Its not just me?
No, that was super weird, he assured me as we walked out of my bedroom.
We drove to, and watched, the movie without incident. The three of us then headed
home around 9:30pm in Tims car, our eyelids heavy and our fingers slick with popcorn
Hey, Darcie sang from the backseat, I left a basket of laundry at my moms the
other day, and their house is right by here. Would it be okay if we just swung by there
Uh, Tim glanced at me from the drivers seat. Yeah, thatd be okay. How do I get
Darcie then proceeded to direct us nearly 15 minutes in the opposite direction to our
house, Tim and I exchanging glances every so often. As we slowed to a roll in a quiet street,
she directed us to pull into a driveway on the right. We all got out of the car and closed our
doors, walking along the side of the house towards the front door in single file - Darcie, Tim,
then me. Tim turned around to stare at me, blank faced, as I shrugged and mouthed, Im
sorry! at him.
Darcie opened the front door without knocking and wandered in calling out, Mom,
Tim and I hovered around the threshold of the front door, neither one of us
completely comfortable waltzing into a strangers home uninvited.
Darcie? we heard her mother call back quietly, as well as the shuffling of slippers
along the tiled floor. As my eyes adjusted to the dark room, I saw her mother hurrying away
from the living room where her father was asleep in a lounge chair, in front of the television.
She was pulling tight the sash on her dressing gown.
What are you doing here? she asked as she glanced at the clock on the wall to her
I just wanted you to meet my new roommate, Nikkee, she gestured towards me.

And this is her boyfriend Tim.

Darcies mother looked at her for a few moments longer before turning and giving me
a small smile. Nice to meet you, Nikkee.
You, too, I replied, before realising I didnt actually know her name. Alas, the
moment had passed, and I also didnt really care.
She looked back at Darcie. you want some tea?
Tim and I glanced at each other as Darcie, thankfully, said, No, we better get going
and let you get to bed. I just wanted you guys to meet each other.
Um, her mother paused, looking between Darcie and I. Yes. It was...nice to meet
you Nikkee.
Yes, y- you too, I repeated.
Okay, well, see you later, Darcie said in a sing-song voice as she turned and started
towards the door.
Okay...bye, I said quickly before hurrying after Darcie. Tim gave her a quick smile
before he, too, hurried toward the door.
I turned to him as we walked out to his car and mouthed, Laundry?
He simply rolled his eyes and shook his head in response.
Yes, that was when I realised that Darcie was a little strange.
You can tell a lot about a person by how they react to rejection.
James got a new girlfriend! Darcie burst into my room, crying almost hysterically. I
had become accustomed to her refusal to knock before she came into my room, but this was
a first. He told me that hes started dating some girl in one of his classes, and that they had
She motioned for me to follow her into the bathroom.
I dont know why you still talk to him, I said from behind her. Youve got to stop
torturing yourself.
An empty blister pack sat on the bathroom counter next to a box of pills. I stole a
glance at it as Darcie pulled the shower curtain from its rings and threw it on the ground with
a guttural shriek - it was Prozac.
Darcie slammed the toilet lid closed and sat down on top of it, gasping for air as her
heaving sobs subsided. She looked up at me, her glassy eyes sitting deep behind her puffy,
red eyelids.
Do you have any bandages? she asked.
I dont know, I might have some Band-Aids. Why?
I was really upset when I got off the phone to James and- she paused, wincing at
the thought of whatever she was trying to tell me, and began to cry again. I cut myself.

She began to roll up the hem of her skirt and my whole body became rigid, my
stomach clenching as I imagined what she was about to show me. I imagined the worst - her
lacerated thigh, crimson red streaks falling towards her knee, drying as they fell, pausing in
time. I was not equipped for this - I had no idea how to support someone struggling through
self-harm, let alone someone I barely knew. She lifted her skirt hem past her knee to reveal
a dozen fine scratches, none deep enough to have drawn any blood at all. I stared at her
leg. There was no blood. Id never been around someone who had self-harmed, but I had
always assumed there would be blood. What did she need a bandage for? How was I meant
to help?
Oh, Darcie. I tentatively placed a hand on her shoulder. I dont have any
bandages, but they really dont look too deep. Maybe you should just put some Betadine on
there to make sure it heals okay.
No, I need to put something on it, she got up and pulled open the bathroom cabinet,
and began to rifle through its shelves. She pulled out a pink bandana and sat down on the
toilet to try and tie it around her irritated thigh.
I frowned as I looked on. As far as I knew, bandanas werent all that well-known for
their antibacterial properties.
Do you want me to help you? I asked as I watched her fingers fumbled to pull the
short ends of the bandana into a knot.
She didnt answer, instead pushing past me out towards her bedroom, where she
slammed her door shut. I stood in the hallway between our bedroom doors. What was I
supposed to do now? Was I meant to wait here till she came out again?
Are you okay, Darcie? I asked, with no response. I waited a few more moments
then asked, do you need me to do anything?
No, she replied, her thick voice telling me she was crying again.
Okay, well...Im going to be in my room if you need me, okay? I asked, again getting
no response. I waited another few moments in the hallway before I tiptoed back to my
bedroom and shut the door quietly. When I released the door knob, I placed a hand on top of
my racing heart and breathed deeply.
Holy shit, I whispered.
Walking home from class the next day, I thought about Darcie. She just lived in her own
world, and while I got the impression her parents didnt really indulge her whims all that
often, she was so over the top in every way. Id seen the way she and James were together her proclaiming things and him tripping over himself to do what she wanted - and I realised
that maybe what she needed was someone to just be straight with her. Tough love, you
know? Just cut the shit and have some real talk. I could be that person, I thought. The

person who tells her that she needs to grow up and take some responsibility for her actions
and emotions. I would be firm with her, I thought. I would say to her, Darcie, as long as long
as you let someone elses actions or words dictate your mood, or your state of mind, you are
not in control of your life. You need to take responsibilities for your feelings. Id say, You and
James broke up, and he has a new girlfriend. If it upsets you this much, you need to stop
talking to him. Id be firm, but fair. Id throw down a dose of reality, but make it clear that I
was there to support her. Not that it was even remotely my responsibility to babysit this
mental stranger, but it probably would have been nice to end up becoming good friends with
Darcie, if she could get her shit together.
I walked into our apartment building, scuffing the snow off my boots on our doormat. I
opened the door, then dropped my backpack on the ground and threw my keys on the
couch. There seemed to be no movement inside.
Darcie? I called as I walked further inside, but there came no response. I turned
down the hall to our bedrooms and saw a note taped to the bathroom door.
The crooked handwriting was scrawled in Sharpie and said, I just couldnt take it and
I did something stupid. Im going to the hospital.
My heart sank down into my guts as I stared at the note; my mind raced as I tried to
imagine what she had done. Was she just high on prescription meds, or did I actually need
to be concerned? I walked into the bathroom, wondering why she had chosen that door to
tape her message to me. The Prozac box, now empty, still sat on the counter. There was an
empty packet of cigarettes beside it, and beside that, a pair of scissors and some locks of
brown hair. The toilet water was littered with tobacco, and three ripped open, empty
cigarettes lay on the floor in front of it. I thanked everyone involved that, once again, there
was no blood to speak of. As I began to clean up the mess, I wondered what she had done
and what it would mean for us. Would I have to go on undercover suicide watch for her
mother? Because I just didnt realise Id have that much responsibility coming into the place.
Would she be in hospital for weeks, the way my other friends struggling with mental health
had? Would her parents even let her live on her own after this? Most of all, I wanted to know
for sure that Darcie was okay. I had no contact details for anyone she knew, other than her
mothers email address.
I wrote:
Dear Mrs Knight,
This is Nikkee, Darcies roommate. I came home to a note from her today and I
wanted to make sure that she was doing okay, and if theres anything I can do to help.
I waited mere minutes for her response:

Darcie is staying overnight in hospital - she sort of lost her way and lost her grip this
morning and took herself to the emergency room. Shes fine physically, but if you go to the
ER they make you stay 24 hours for observation. Would you be able to feed the cats while
shes away? I havent spoken to her, but I believe shell be home tomorrow afternoon, so
you should only need to feed them once.
Man alive, I thought. Your kid goes to the emergency room and you dont even talk to her
while shes there? It was at that point I realised that this wasnt the first time Darcie had
taken herself to the emergency room - shed cried wolf enough times that her parents had
just stopped believing her.
A week after Darcie came home, I told her that living with three cats was wreaking
havoc on my allergies, and I moved into a sublet I found on Craigslist. I didnt realise at the
time that the house I was moving into was a religious recruitment scheme, but thats another
story for another day.

Greetings from Brooklyn, New York!

This is fine.
I stood outside the subway station on Nostrand Avenue, bags of rubbish on the
ground behind me and a business called Ninas Fashionz in front of me. My bulging suitcase
sat beside me, the beanie Id crocheted doing its best to keep my ears warm. My breath, a
white mist, contrasted starkly with the darkness of the evening, and a police siren sounded a
few blocks to my right.
This is fine.
I took the handle of my suitcase and set off to my right, wheeling the bag behind me.
It clunked heavily in the holes dotting the footpath. I walked quickly, but not too quickly, trying
to find a balance between not drawing more attention to myself and getting the walk over as
fast as possible.
Three hundred metres up, I repeated to myself. Right on Tompkins, right on Decatur.
As I approached the corner of Tompkins, I began to hear the deep thumping of an
unfamiliar rap song. I turned onto the street and saw the source of the music - a barber shop
out the front of which about seven men sat, braiding one anothers hair. I would come to see
and hear them most nights, well after Id gone to bed, one can only assuming unbraiding and
braiding each others hair again endlessly.
I turned right on Decatur and climbed the stairs to my apartment which, thankfully,
looked exactly as I had expected it to. There was no way I could afford to stay in Manhattan
for two weeks, so I had done what seemed to be the next best thing and found a short-term
bedroom sublet in a beautiful Brooklyn brownstone. Little did I realise how different one
Brooklyn brownstone could be from the next - Park Slope and Bedford-Stuyvestant may only
be separated by a few subway stops, but thats where their proximity to one another ends.
I heaved my suitcase up the stone steps and, unable to see an apartment number,

threw caution to the wind and knocked on the door. Moments later it opened, and there
stood a woman with short brown hair, who stared at me, not saying a word.
I must be in the wrong place.
Hi, Im Nikkee, I paused, waiting for a flicker of recognition to cross her face. When
none did, I pressed on, I dont know if Im in the right place; I rented a bedroom on Airbnb. Is
this number 27?
She stepped back - I assumed to invite me in - then closed the door behind me.
Im Anne, she said in a French accent, offering me her limp hand and giving mine a
momentary shake. She then set off on a cursory tour of the house, as I trailed behind her.
This is the living room...coat rack...dining room over there. This is the kitchen, and
there- she gestured towards a half-built balcony outside a glass door, is the backyard, but
please dont go out there. The balcony is unfinished and if you hurt yourself, you can sue
me, so please, dont go out there. Dont even open the door. I had a sign up; I dont know
where it went, but it said not to open the door. Please, just...dont open the door.
The passion she showed for me to not open the door was quite moving, really.
No worries, I said. I wont.
A couple in their early twenties then walked into the kitchen, and she said, This is
Heinrich and Lieselotte - or some other equally German names - theyre staying here as
I gave them a smile and a wave, and they each responded, Hallo, Auf
Wiedersehen, or other equally German things.
Anne showed me to my room upstairs, a bright and lovely little alcove at the front of
the building. I could look out my window and see other historical old brownstones, and local
youths graffitiing the shopfront across the road. I set my belongings down at the end of the
bed and sat on the ground with my back against the radiator. Never before had I felt so
grateful, safe, or warm.
When I went downstairs the following morning, there were three big plates of red and
green sugar cookies set out upon the kitchen table. They were hand-rolled, hand-cut and
just so Christmassy.
That was so nice of the Austerlitzes to bake Christmas cookies for the house! I
thought as I helped myself to one and sat down with my cup of coffee. I had the same
thought again as I helped myself to my second and third while reading and sipping my drink.
It was such a lovely and restorative way to spend the morning that I felt ready once again to
tackle the outside world of Bed-Stuy.
Ive learned to feign confidence (a necessity when youre a very average-looking girl
with an ugly name at a public school) and going outside in Bedford-Stuyvestant felt like a
great opportunity to revisit these skills. Almost without realising, I paused between walking

down the stairs and out the door to mentally fortify myself before heading into the world. I
told myself, you belong. I told myself, nobody even notices youre not from around here.
I was lying. People noticed. They stared. If nothing else, they knew for absolute
certain that I was not from around there.
Walking through the neighbourhood, I repeated an endless loop of instructions in my
head. Okay, just walk straight down the right side of the footpath. Watch the loogie on the
ground. Stand up straight. Shoulders square. Keep your head up; dont look down. No, dont
make eye contact, idiot. Look through them. Theres nobody here but you. You are
completely safe.
Ever the orator, I was so convincing in my monologues that I even started to believe
myself. Im not one to strut, but I had definitely taken my suggestions to heart. Managing to
block out the ever-present implication of danger, I carried on much as I would any other day.
I took myself for the first of many doughnuts at the nearby Dough Bakery. I took myself into
Manhattan and wandered around the NYU campus, stopping every few hours to recaffeinate and thaw my fingertips. After dinner, I took myself to the Pickle Shack where I
accidentally bought a beer that boasted a 20% alcohol level. It was so obscenely alcoholic
that it took me nearly 90 minutes to drink, and as such I found myself heading home much
later, and much drunker, than I anticipated. But Id practiced my confidence walk (and was
filled to the eyeballs with liquid courage) so I strode towards the subway, bouncing between
the buildings and the kerb like a bowling ball between gutter guards, and headed back
I stepped out onto Nostrand Avenue and smiled at the now-familiar sight of Ninas
Fashionz. An old man, stooped over, paused in front of me. He looked at me, then shook his
Girl, you must be stupid, out here at night by yourself, he said before resuming his
slow shuffle away from me.
Thinking he probably knew what he was talking about, I turned right and hurried
home. Not too quickly, though. Dont draw attention. Three hundred metres up. Right on
Tompkins, right on Decatur.
Coming downstairs the next morning, I saw the Streuselsons sitting at the kitchen
table next to their enormous plates of cookies, surrounded by little postage boxes, packaging
materials and address labels. They were counting the cookies into little piles, seemingly
figuring out which of the extended Streuselson clan would have to go without since some of
their cookies had mysteriously disappeared.
I gave them a quick smile before turning away from them and busying myself making
coffee. I felt my cheeks burning, the back of my neck burning, my stomach hardening with

Oh, god, those cookies werent for the house, they were Christmas gifts for their
families! Jesus Christ. They know I took the cookies. They know; they know and they hate
me. Obviously they werent just baking a thousand cookies for the hell of it, you idiot! As long
as you never make eye contact with either one of them ever again, youll be fine.
Committing heavily to my act that they werent there, I began to cook myself a hearty
American breakfast of bacon and eggs with a side of bacon. I frowned at the rapidly
increasing smoke as it billowed from the frying pan. I turned on the rangehood fan in an
attempt to help it dissipate, and started towards the back door to let in some fresh air before
remembering what the unfriendly French woman had said as she shook me and threatened
to beat me with a baguette, or something to that effect.
Then, an almighty wail began to issue from nowhere, as if one of the citys many
ambulances was right in the living room. There was a crash as Hans stood up, knocking his
chair to the ground. Brnhild had clamped her hands over her ears and was letting out a
continuous, ear-splitting scream. Hans ran around the living room, wild eyed, trying to place
the infernal noise, while Brnhild remained at the kitchen table, remained screaming. The
sound was suffocating; it filled every orifice on my body. Then Anne, with hair wet from the
shower, thundered downstairs and began yelling as well, while Hans yelled in response and
Brnhild continued to scream. Anne was pointing at the smoke alarm on the roof in the
incredibly high atrium, nearly three metres overhead.
The minutes it shrilly screeched for felt like an eternity. But between the efforts of the
three of us opening doors, fanning the detector with placemats, and turning on all the fans in
the house, while Brnhild continued to be the least helpful person on the planet, the noise
subsided. We all breathed deeply after its last warning rang out, my ears feeling as though
they were full of cotton wool and ringing loudly. Anne let the relief hang for just a few
moments before rounding on me.
What did you do? she demanded.
Well, I didnt do anything, I was cooking, and it got really smoky. I turned on the
overhead fan, but it wasnt strong enough-
Of course it wasnt strong enough! You need to open the door if youre going to be
cooking in here! she flailed one arm madly towards the door to the unfinished balcony.
My brow furrowed as I looked at her. Was this a trick? I felt like we had covered the
need for the door to remain closed pretty thoroughly.
The...back door?
Yes, the back door! You need to open it!
Ah, I thought. I see - shes mental. I knew I was not going to win, so I simply agreed
that everyone would have been much better off had I opened the door, and walked upstairs.

Eager to escape the intense hatred of me now swirling through the house, I rugged
up and headed outside pretty quickly. I was walking to buy a coffee when I noticed the usual
cacophony of police sirens had almost doubled in volume. Policemen walked in pairs, their
confidence and commanding stances putting mine to shame. I pondered what had
happened that they were responding to - a robbery, a domestic disturbance? - as I carried on
about my business. All morning, the city felt strange. The sound of the sirens didnt stop;
there were police officers patrolling every inch of the sidewalks. Becoming unnerved, I
hurried home, where I read that two police officers had just been shot dead in their car
around the corner from my apartment.
Should I stay in Bedford-Stuyvestant? I had asked Google, several months after
already financially committing to spend my time in New York there. The responses were as
Bed-stuy, do or die. That's our motto. So be afraid. Be very afraid.
No. Run westward and keep on running. Run fast. Don't stop for anything.
Their slogan is Welcome to the Worst and Most Deathy Area of Brooklyn.
Frankly I wouldn't stay in Bed-Stuy for any price, especially if you are not familiar
with NYC.
However, I also read articles that called it the upcoming neighborhood du jour with a
changing social landscape, and that things just werent the way they used to be. I read that it
was diverse, historical, and community-focused. I read that it was home to one of the
best donut shops in the city. While this didnt make me feel any safer, Id be lying if I said the
donuts werent a factor in my decision to stay there.
If Im perfectly honest, my lifelong fantasy of living in New York was probably
completely driven by binges of Sex and the City and Girls. Sure, being Carrie Bradshaw was
obviously the long term goal, but Hannah Horvath, who lived in Brooklyn and wrote between
coffee dates and parties, seemed like someone Id be friends with any day of the week.
Thats just so me, you know? I would think to myself. Hanging out in Brooklyn, being
a cool dude. Shes so quirky and funny. Thats just so me.
And so my dream of living in New York turned into a dream of living in Brooklyn, and
since I couldnt just move there, a two-week sojourn was obviously the next best thing. It was
so easy to imagine myself there. I saw myself walking along a cobblestone street lined with
beautiful leafy trees, a single origin coffee from an independent roaster in my hand, on my
way to a cool, underground gig Id somehow found myself invited to. The sun shone upon
me and there was music in the air, the scent of baking bagels wafted from every store, and
everyone on the street was just so attractive and friendly.

Then a gust of icy wind blew through me and I was back outside my apartment in
Bed-Stuy, sirens wailing all around me, as a man spat on the ground two inches from my
This is fine.


The decision to use baby powder in lieu of dry shampoo was an easy one.
But as I stood in front of the mirror using the #4 comb attachment from a set of
electric clippers to pick through the tangles in my hair, I pondered what I could use to remove
my old eyeliner. Peering at the products in his bathroom cabinet, things didnt look
promising. The consistency of Vicks Vapour Rub made it a promising candidate but I
couldnt shake the feeling that it might render me blind or, at the very least, a little bit sad.
Hair gel, too, got the thumbs down, so I settled on the massage oil I found under the
bathroom sink. Though its probably the least wholesome way Ive removed eyeliner to date,
it got the job done.
One needs to be more creative in order to solve the bigger problems. The day I
realised baby powder wasnt going to cut it in my extra-greasy hair was the same day I
discovered that lime body wash is a much less stripping shampoo substitute than one might
think. Still, when the only stand in you can find for conditioner is SPF15 hand cream, you
cant be surprised when your hair turns out a little lacklustre.
This is a practice I call MacGyvering and its what you do when youre unprepared
to spend the night at your gentleman friends abode, but it happens all the same. A few
months into the courtship, one has had time to accumulate somewhat of an arsenal in the
bottom drawer of sirs bathroom vanity (that, and expectations have already dropped
considerably, making the practice much less necessary altogether). But in the early days
when expectations are sky high, we find ourselves stranded, inhibited, and helpless.
Thus when you wake up in someone elses bed without so much as a makeup
remover wipe in your bag, panic can set in. He can never know that Im actually disgusting,
we think in earnest as this realisation takes hold. After all, to roll over in bed and be greeted
by a bleary-eyed face streaked with eyeliner, and a rats nest where there should be hair,
would ruin the illusion weve worked so hard to cultivate.
So we sneak into the bathroom and do the best we can with the tools at hand. Surely,
if MacGyver can blow up a building using only a paper clip, a rubber band and a straw, we
can turn eye drops and a nose hair trimmer into something half-presentable.

The Speedwalking Toilet Tour of Paris

By the time I graduated from university, I had been dating an Irishman - well call him Spuds
- for almost a year. Being the reluctant romantic I am, I was beyond hesitant when he
suggested we move in together after dating for four months, but eventually I gave in.
We discussed fancifully, as one might speak of visiting Mars (or any other equally
unfeasible event) the idea of going to Ireland to visit his family when I finished my degree.
But Europe is pretty far away, you know, and neither of us made any real amount of money,
so I was always careful to keep my expectations pretty low. Even so, though I usually made
a token deposit into my saving account of around $10 a week, I began to save more
earnestly, becoming more blindly optimistic as my final semester approached. Our
theoretical plans became more concrete over time until one day, against all odds and
common sense, we decided we were going to Europe.
About three months before I graduated, I realised I had over $2000 saved, which was
more than enough to get oneself to Europe if one didnt care to watch movies in English or
eat things one recognised as food on the flight. I had begun keeping an eye on prices and
letting Spuds know when I had found a particularly cheap flight with a reasonably reputable
airline, to a generally underwhelming response.
Well, this is by far the cheapest Ive seen, and were going in two months. Should we
just buy them? I asked as we sat on the couch one night. Remaining silent, he dropped his
sketch pad and pencil on the floor in front of him then turned to look at me.
I cant buy a ticket, okay? I dont have any fucking money. You know I cant save
anything. You know how much I earn, his voice growing louder as he spoke. Thats why I
hate it when you talk to me about buying plane tickets, because I cant buy one, and it
stresses me out, okay?
I imagine I had the look of a cartoon character who had just been blasted head-on
with a speaker at two hundred decibels: eyes wide, hair blown back, mouth slightly agape.
Of course, I should have known this was the case, as just last week Spuds had borrowed
$50 from me (I assumed to buy, like, food and stuff) and came home with plasticine and
weed. You know, the essentials.
Well, do you think youll have it by next week? I asked. The sale ends in six days,
so maybe if I buy mine now, you could get yours next week.
He stared wide-eyed at his sketchpad on the ground and cracked each one of his
knuckles before standing up and looking straight at me.
Do what you want, okay? Theres nothing I can do about it. Buy your ticket; I dont
give a shit, he said before storming outside and slamming the door, then chain smoking
furiously for the next twenty minutes.
Yes. This was exactly how Id always imagined my first trip to Europe would start out.

Nine weeks later (after my mother lent Spuds $1000 that he never paid back) we woke up in
an apartment in Paris. Having already bought groceries at a nearby Carrefour the previous
night, we sat on the faded green hotel bedspread to start our day with a breakfast of pt
and custard, taking care not to eat anything that touched the bed itself.
Like any other uncultured white girl, the list I had of things that were must see/do/eat
in Paris was fairly extensive: eat crepes, visit the Louvre and the Notre Dame, see the Arc de
Triomphe, walk along the Champs-lyses, and yell Sacre bleu! at any other foreigner who
got in my way. For Spuds, however, who had grown up in a place where they literally drove
to Paris for the weekend in his childhood, the trip was much less groundbreaking.
My prior experiences with Paris were endless whimsical dreams of this magical city
on the other side of the world, incredibly inaccessible from all the way down here in
Australia, where people bicycled through the streets playing piano accordions, and the
buildings were four times older than my entire country. Spuds prior experiences with Paris
included the time his dad got into a fight with a French fuckwit who rear-ended their car
during the drive to Disneyland in 1994. Needless to say, I was exponentially more excited
than he was to be there.
We set out for the city that morning, ascending to the second story of the RER train
to find the best vantage point - we were staying so far out of Paris that the Metro trains didnt
even service the area, somewhere beyond the numbered arrondissements. Even so, the
thirty minute trip into town was inexplicably enchanting, because we were seeing French
slums, and stray French dogs, and French drug deals going down on the side of the road.
Where do you want to go first? I asked Spuds as we click-clacked along the tracks.
He shrugged in response. Ive seen it all before, so I dont really mind. You choose.
I mean, were in Paris, I reasoned. We should probably start at the Eiffel Tower.
He shrugged again and nodded. Its as good a place to start as any.
We disembarked at the Tour Eiffel station and climbed the stairs to street level, the
cold wind slapping our faces as we reached the pavement. My mind reeled, barely able to
process the fact that just two blocks away stood the Eiffel Tower. The Eiffel Tower, the one I
knew so well but never expected to see with my own eyes.
And there it was. I gasped audibly as it appeared before me, at least four hundred
times the size I had been expecting. I craned my neck up further, nearly toppling over
backwards in the effort to see the top of it. It was at this point it finally sunk in that I was
actually in Paris, France, and was standing at the base of the monument I had seen so
many times before. I smiled, harder than I had in a long time, breathing the cold Parisian air
deep into my lungs.
As an avid fan of history and architecture, the only thing I really wanted to do after
seeing the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame was wander through the little streets of the city and

look at the old buildings (while eating, obviously). I noticed, however, something that hadnt
been in my Paris daydreams - the rounded grey cubicles that dotted the corners of most city
Is that a newspaper stand? I had asked the first time Id seen one from afar.
Spuds laughed before telling me they were automated public toilets.
Jeez, thats fancy, I said, before thinking again. Actually, hold my crepe. I need to
go. I thrust the crepe towards him before starting towards the automatic sliding door.
No, you cant use them, Spuds warned as he grabbed at my wrist to stop me. The
homeless people just ruin them; theyre absolutely filthy.
Public restrooms are hard to come by in Europe, and a business who will let a nonpaying customer use their restroom is even more rare. I was forever worried about being
stuck somewhere without being able to use the bathroom, so I could not in my right mind
pass up an opportunity to use the bathroom when one came along. We agreed that I should
at least open the door, just to see if it was at all useable. I stood as far back as my arm
length would allow and pressed my finger to the panel on the outside. The thick stench hit
me immediately, but I had imagined too many scenarios in which I couldnt find a restroom
and this stink-box was more appealing than any of those possibilities. I steeled myself,
turning away from the bathroom to draw a breath, then clenched my entire body and
launched myself inside. I barely waited for the sluggish door to close before undoing my belt.
I entered an almost meditative state, calmly counting the seconds as they passed to distract
myself. At 14 seconds, I stood and fastened my belt again before rushing over to the sink. I
expended a measly two seconds washing my hands, at which point I began to feel my lungs
calling out for more air and saw my face reddening in the mirror. Realising I didnt have much
time left I flung myself back towards the automated panel, hammering the button to open the
Time seemed to slow down. My chest burned as the door slowly creaked to life,
inching its way back into the wall recess at a rate so slow I was sure it was going to stop.
Sunlight burst into the dank warmth of the cubicle as the door peeled open, revealing more
of the world outside. I danced from one foot to the other, shaking my hands desperately as I
watched the gap widen - two inches, three, four. I wouldnt do it. I wouldnt breathe in. As
soon as the gap was wide enough, I thrust my face through it, gasping in the sweet scent of
the city - cigarettes and car fumes, but also a distinct lack of excrement - pushing the rest of
my body outside as soon as I was able. Spuds stared at me. I leaned back on the cubicle
wall as I sucked in great gulps of air.
Arent you going to go? I asked.
No fucking way, he shook his head. Ill hold it.

We set off along the cobbled streets, wondering at the churches and incredible old
stone buildings, before retiring to a bar for a restorative midday beer. Of course, the one part
of the trip I hadnt put any effort into was actually learning one single bit of French, so Spuds
acted as my translator, ordering me a drink while I found us a table. I pored over the stack of
maps and guides I had brought along from the hotel. Spuds shook his head and tutted at
me, then turned his attention to his phone.
An hour or so later we left the bar when, just a couple of metres up the road, Spuds stopped
dead in his tracks.
I should have gone to the bathroom when we were in that bar, he realised aloud.
Im sure hed remember you, why dont you just go back in? Were only three metres
away, were probably still considered paying customers.
He pondered for a moment. No, its fine, he said. Ill hold it.
Wed been walking little more than five minutes when Spuds realised that his
bladders strength was less enduring than he had expected.
Why didnt you go back at the bar? I sighed.
That doesnt matter anymore, he snapped. I just need to go!
Jeez, fine. Look, theres a Starbucks over there, I waved my hand towards the other
side of the street. There must be a toilet in there.
Spuds took off with a determination unlike any Id seen before, while I hurried to keep
up with him. As he pushed the door open and stalked towards the back of the shop, I joined
the line to buy a cup of coffee - I didnt particularly want it, but it seemed a more costeffective way of warming my hands than buying another pair of gloves. Id just looked up at
the menu before I noticed to me left Spuds striding back towards me, weaving between
tables and patrons, determined and stony-faced. I wouldnt say he reminded me of Godzilla
per se, but it certainly wasnt difficult to imagine a tiny village perishing under his haphazard
yet powerful footfalls.
Come on, he said gruffly as he walked past me in the line, and out the door.
What? I looked around, confused, ignoring the cashiers greeting as I hurried after
What? I repeated when I got outside, where he had already begun storming back in
the direction wed come from.
There was a line, he said without looking at me.
So? You found a toilet you could use; you could have just waited.
No, I couldnt have waited. I cant wait. I need a bathroom now.

He continued to storm ahead, when I noticed to my left a beautiful patisserie, its

windows filled with exquisite pastries and macarons: Ladure. My legs halted involuntarily
and I gasped as I whispered to myself, Ive always wanted to go there.
I turned and gazed through the window at the pastries, a mesmerising kaleidoscope
of colourful perfection. I was pulled from my reverie when I realised Spuds was now several
blocks away from me, pushing open the door of the small cafe a few shops up. I jogged
towards the door, him marching out again moments later, the same grimace on his face, and
continuing up the road with me tagging along behind him.
No luck? I called to him. I wasnt even sure why Id said that; I wondered if I was
just being antagonistic by that point. He didnt respond, but I skipped a few steps to walk
beside him once more.
His twisted frown and his narrowed eyes told the story of someone whod endured a
much greater injustice than not being able to find a bathroom to use but, wanting to be
supportive, I said nothing. We eventually reached the bar we had left not long ago which,
funnily enough, was just metres from another plastic grey public restroom.
Why dont you just use that public toilet? I suggested as he stopped outside the bar.
He shot me a withering look before pulling open the bar door and walking inside. I followed
him in to find him already talking to the bartender who had served him earlier.
O sont les toilettes sil vous plat? Spuds asked.
[Miscellaneous French words] the bartender replied while shaking his head.
Spuds pleaded with the bartender with all the French he could muster.
Sorry, they are for customers only, the bartender replied in English.
We were here just before, dont you remember? Spuds asked.
No, I dont. And we have no public restroom.
Look man, Im begging you. Please, Im desperate.
I cannot help you. Im sorry.
I saw the exact moment that Spuds lost control. I saw it happening, almost in slow
motion - he closed his eyes; his nostrils flared.
Look you feckin eejit, we were just here, and Im desperate. I know you remember
me, youre just being a maggot now.
Okay, the bartender raised his voice in response. Out. Now!
Im leaving, ye gobshite! Spuds yelled before turning and storming out.
I gave the bartender a look that I imagined was between an uncomfortable smile and
an apologetic grimace as I slunk out of the bar. I reached the street just in time to see the
laboured closing of the automated toilet door Spuds had just run through.
I thought I knew exactly how my first trip to Paris would go. Id eat baguettes, Id gaze
upon the River Seine as I drank espresso, Id never quite build up the courage to put on the

beret Id secretly packed in my luggage. I couldnt count the number of times I had dreamed
of wandering through the City of Love, but not one of those iterations included an irate
Irishman yelling obscenities at local shop owners for not letting him use their toilets. I
suppose no holiday goes quite the way you imagine it will, but this one surely takes the cake
(or, in this case, the Croquembouche. You know, when in Rome).

Please Dont Invite me to Your Shitty Dinner Party

As a general rule, Im quite okay with things that terrify most people - for instance, travelling
overseas alone, public speaking, and playing roller derby dont faze me in the slightest. But
nothing makes my palms sweat and my heart palpitate more than receiving an invitation to
your shitty dinner party.
Its not that I dont appreciate the gesture, because I do. I really do. I thrive on indoor
activities, and eating is my number one hobby, so I can absolutely see how youd think this
was up my alley. And I love your company; I love it. But cant we just have dinner by
The attendees at dinner parties never cease to surprise me. Its like a circus, a
revolving door of caricatures, each partys guests more insane than the last. Its as if the host
has hired actors instead of inviting their actual friends, because theres no way any one
person could know so many ridiculous characters. Theres the blonde girl who wont stop

yelling across the room about how shes just moved home from London (three years ago).
Theres the real estate mogul wearing the too-tight suit and giving everybody unsolicited
advice on the housing market. And where did they even find the ex-prison guard whos been
making racist comments about immigration policies all night? There is no way these people
comprise any human persons inner circle of friends. Were these the backup attendees after
the round of invites were declined?
Still, I dont want to be rude (and I have a very real concern about the exponential
rate at which Im becoming a hermit) so Ill accept my invitation to your shitty dinner party all
the same.
Ive learned a few things in the many years Ive been begrudgingly attending shitty
dinner parties, and it seems almost selfish to keep these lessons all to myself. And so,
without any further ado, it is with pleasure and pride that I present my guide to attending
dinner parties for people who hate people. I mean, dinner parties.
So heres how a typical dinner party will go for me. Seeing people start to take their
seats will generally cause a flutter of panic in my stomach, so Ill quickly down the glass of
wine in my hand and refill it before taking my place at the table. This tends to help me
quickly calm down a few notches, as well as increasing both my ability and desire to talk to
strangers. This step is absolutely imperative, so now is not the time to skimp - I find the best
results are yielded by drinking as much as reasonably possible in those last few minutes of
relative freedom. I say reasonably important, because I still like to maintain a vague air of
decorum. I say vague, because I mean, its dinner at my friend Mikes house, not a black tie
work event, but I feel its important to not throw up or show anyone my underwear all the
So then what Ill do is Ill find my seat and sit down (which is obviously not next to the
host, the one person I know) then spend the next little while looking around the room and
smiling. The goal is to look pleasantly at ease, as though taking in the joyful people all
around, basking in the glow of the evening and enjoying ones champagne at a leisurely
pace. Im yet to master this move, thus what I actually do is this sort of dead-eyed smile
where I show only my bottom teeth, then nervously nod towards anyone I accidentally make
eye contact with without ever saying anything. Anyone would be forgiven for thinking I was a
confused immigrant with English as a second language whod got lost and ended up in a
strangers apartment. Theres every chance a better actor than I am, but Id practice this one
ahead of time just to be safe. There are plenty of resources from which you can draw
inspiration - I find the deportment lesson scene in The Princess Diaries quite helpful - but
you should also spend some time practicing in the mirror. Make sure you take advantage of
this valuable phase - its the easiest thing youll do all night, so be sure to stretch it out for as
long as you possibly can.

This will normally buy me five minutes or so, but there will inevitably come a point
when Ive made eye contact with one person three or four times, then laughed nervously and
quickly looked away every time. Its about this time Ill grow concerned that this person is
questioning my sanity, so Ill begin to lean in and spectate on other peoples conversations.
Just be sure to nod and keep your brow firmly furrowed so as to give potential engagers the
impression that youre already deeply involved in another conversation.
And remember: keep drinking. Its important to keep your fluids up. Remember, too,
that you can, at any time, take yourself to the bathroom for some breathing space. If Im at a
party alone its not unusual for me to take myself off to the bathroom every 30 minutes or so,
just for a bit of a rest from socialising. I know what youre thinking and youre right, people
might be concerned that youve been to the bathroom more times this hour than they have
all day. But then anyone keeping such close tabs on you also knows youve put away three
glasses of wine in the last twenty minutes, so it will actually make perfect sense.
You wont be able to delay it forever, of course - eventually someone will actually talk
to you. Just dont panic - their initial questions should be simple enough to answer on the fly.
So, Nikkee, what do you do?
Well, I work in the emergency call centre for a travel agency and Im doing a Masters
in Creative Writing.
Oh, neat. What are you writing?
At this point Ill start to sweat. My breathing will quicken. A follow up question! I
hadnt planned for this!
Its like...I dont know, like, a novel. I dont know how to explain it. Its nothing. Why
do you care so much? Whats with the third degree?!
Please dont be like me - put in some time and rehearse what youll say in every
possible scenario. Obviously it will take some time, but youll be glad you put in the effort
when you can seamlessly participate in conversations with no trouble at all.
There is a chance, though, however slim, that your host has managed to track down
another friend just like you. And if your host is smart, or likes you enough, they might be kind
enough to seat you beside that person. But how are you to tell? Well, for one thing, that
person will probably seem quite nervous. Look for picking at nailbeds and nervous laughing these are infallible indicators. The trick is slipping your varied and wonderful interests into
the conversation without sounding like a personals ad. Hi, my name is Nikkee, I play roller
derby and drink a lot of fancy coffee, and I think that season four of Arrested Development is
one of the greatest crimes of the 21st Century. What are your thoughts on stand up
Eventually, respite will come in the form of your meal. You can use your food as a
chance to revel in silence and recharge from the last couple of hours of human interaction.

In addition, its probably been a good few hours since you last ate, and in that case who
could blame you
Maybe the issue isnt the people, but the dinner party itself. Perhaps its a platform
that just isnt conducive to fun. Maybe the very premise is flawed. I have a theory that dinner
parties are super great for people who are either (or both) much older, and much richer than
I am. But thats not who I am, nor who Im friends with. Twenty-somethings throwing dinner
parties strikes me very much as kids playing house. You could show me children wearing
their parents oversized shoes, feasting on imaginary spaghetti and spouting gibberish words
theyd heard their parents say, like superannuation and Dow Jones, and it would feel no
less authentic than the twenty-something dinner party.
So please, dont invite me to your shitty dinner party. Though I know youll love
putting it on for me, I dont really want to watch your fancy grown up performance. Next time
you want to hang out and make a barbecue and play board games, though, just let me know.

Ice Cream for Breakfast

I stood inside the open doorway, mouth agape, while Mark stood on the doorstep.
I looked down at the paper Baskin Robbins bag he had just unceremoniously
dropped into my hand.
What is this? I asked. Looking back, I had obviously realised it was ice cream, but I
didnt know what Mark was doing there, or why he had bought it for me.
I was in the area. You said you were going to have a meltdown, and I thought ice
cream might help. Its chocolate and peanut butter. Its not creepy.
I looked back up at him, his thin, patchy five oclock shadow glowing red in the sun.
He had interrupted a morning of lazing on my bed feeling overwhelmed by the amount of
work I had to do, and wallowing in my pre-shower filthinessmy greasy hair was falling out
of its ponytail, my ankle-length skirt was hitched up into the elastic of my underwear, and I
was covered in a fine sheen of sweat and oil. This is why you dont just drop by peoples
houses. This isnt the 70s; there are rules.
Doing my best to be inconspicuous, I pulled my billowy skirt out of my underpants
elastic then opened the paper bag in one swift movement. In it was a small tub of chocolate
ice cream, a plastic spoon and two napkins. Well, theres no way he could have known I hate
chocolate ice cream - it was an entirely acceptable assumption to make, since chocolate ice

cream has been pushed so aggressively by the big ice cream moguls that the vast majority
of the worlds population seem to have developed Stockholm Syndrome towards it. Still, it
was a sweet thing to do.
I smiled up at him as I leaned outside the door and gave him a hug.
Thank you, I said. He said nothing, but very deliberately pressed his cheek to mine,
the way he always did when I hugged him. He didnt have to know that I was never going to
eat it.
Ive got to run. Hopefully thatll help you feel better, he said with a smile as he
backed down the cement stairs towards the front gate.
As I walked back into the kitchen my roommate Franny poked her head out of her bedroom
door, a sly smile on her lips.
He brought me ice cream, I told her. That was so weird.
What did he say?
He just said he was by the ice cream place when I texted him about my brain
melting, so he went and got me some. Thats all he came over forjust to bring me this. I
shook the bag in her direction. Its chocolate and peanut butter.
Excellent choice of flavour, she said.
Yeah, for you, I said, throwing her the bag. That was so weird. Moreover, its 9:20
in the morning. Couldnt he have brought me porridge?
Franny laughed as she pulled out the ice cream and plastic spoon. Its like youve
never been romanced before.
I guess I havent, really, I realised aloud. Is this a thing people do? It just seems
Its nice though, isnt it?
I guess it is. Maybe itd feel nicer if Id known him for longer than two weeks, I said.
I mean, it was very thoughtful, and its nice to be thought of, but it just feel like an invasion
of privacy almost.
An inwasion of priwacy? Youw cwazy, Franny scolded me through a mouthful of ice
cream. She swallowed. Any normal girl would kill to meet such a thoughtful guy,
Yeah, but you remember how Im not normal, right?
I couldnt put my finger on why it felt less wonderful than Franny said it should.
Maybe it was because he picked such a terrible flavour. Maybe I really did feel intruded upon
by him showing up unannounced - Im pretty fond of personal space, so thats certainly not
all that far-fetched. I think, though, it was the bombshell hed dropped on me two days prior:
he had just recently got divorced. Divorced. I had started dating a guy who had just got
divorced. From his wife. Who he was married to.

I didnt know how to react to this news when he told me, and Im a terrible actor.
Ohhhhhh, I had said, two octaves higher than my normal voice. Okay. Okay, worries. No worries. Well, Im sorry to hear that. About your...wife. Sorry. Okay,
well, no worries. My parents are divorced, so Im used to it, I guess. No worries.
Unsurprisingly, this seemed to concern him, because later that night he had texted
I like you. A lot. Youre funny, youre smart, you have a great sense of humour. You
are someone I want to get to know a lot better. The but, the glaring but, is that its barely six
months since my marriage ended. My hesitation in kissing your cheek or holding your hand
is not that I dont want to, at all. My hesitation is that Im still a bit broken. So, for now, can we
take it slow? I need to be smart about this.
I tried a hundred ways to process what he was telling me, but there was no way that
made it make sense. My first thought was that I wasnt in the market to be the rigid rebound
for him to steady himself with. The next few were various instances in which he would talk
about his ex-wife if we moved forward with this thing. This included, My ex-wife is trying to
get more money out of me, My ex-wife sent me a photo of her new husband today, and
Honey, my ex-wife torched our car. These werent sentences that made sense in the
context of my 27-year-old life. Which led to the most alarming thought Id had - my parents
were divorced. All my friends parents were divorced. And they were all 50. I wasnt 50. I was
27. How did I even find a divorcee, when they were all busy at their Fifty and Fabulous
singles mixers?
The first time Id read that message, I recalled a conversation Id had with my friend
Katherine only a couple of weeks earlier.
Youre at a great age where a lot of guys are getting divorced from their first wives
and looking to meet people again, she had said.
Really? I asked. That sounds kind of depressing.
No way; its totally normal these days.
It seems shes rightapparently seven out of ten marriages end in divorce. Well, it might be
normal for people, but its not normal for me. Im too young to date divorcees, surely. And Im
definitely too dumb to be smart about it.