Women of Letters - Anxiety and Shame


I spoke at Women of Letters in October last year. The book is out today. Hooray! My appointed topic was 'A letter to the thorn in my side'.


Hey Anxiety, hey Shame,

Life is much better on the other side of you. If I didn’t call you out, you most certainly would’ve overtaken me.

So, I guess, thank you? Even though there were awful moments. And if I dig deep enough, I’d find the solution to the many ways you manifest. Then I figure out the very reason why you were around me in the first place.

And if I learn from you properly, you’re a lesson of Shadow and Gold.


The Shadow

Age seventeen, 2001. Melbourne suburbs. A fitting for my year twelve formal. The first time I ever had a panic attack. I was dry-retching in my dress.

Why was I not as excited as every other girl in my class? Why did I feel like a major killjoy? And why was my stale attitude towards this ‘celebration’ on par with a Maths Methods exam or the beep test in P.E.?

The Gold

My first proper gay-girl date. Age thirty, March 2015, at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. She walked towards the cafe, coyly smiled, and gave a small wave. She looked like a young Alicia Keys. I almost died.

We stood in James Turrell’s centrepiece, ‘Breathing Light’. Hues of purple to pink to red shifted around us. And when I turned my head towards her, her freckles glowed. Her joy and beauty made me feel gooey inside.

No one can take that moment away from me.

That moment meant that my feelings were valid.

That moment meant there’s a place for me in the world.

And life, finally, made so much sense.


The Shadow

Kindergarten. Age five, sometime close to Christmas,1989. Art shame on a crafternoon.

It sounds so silly now, but it cut deep.

I shared my table with three other children; we were each given sheets of paper with an outline of a Christmas tree. And in the middle of the table were cotton balls, and bits and bobs, and glue.

We got to work. Minutes later, I looked up and noticed that everyone’s tree looked the same. A perfect zigzag of decorations, just like the very design the nun had held up in front of us earlier.

Then there was mine, a freestyle, joyful mess. Overloaded with cotton balls and glitter pieces and pipe cleaner. It was fabulous… to me.

I was told off in front of the other kids. The vibe: my pure idiocy. How could I have not known the instructions, especially if every other kid in the class knew? My creativity came to a sluggish stop.

It wasn’t until a routine doctor visit months later that the adults found out my ears were blocked and needed grommets. By then my creativity was dormant.

The Gold 

2 April, 2016 – a week before my thirty-second birthday. Mum’s house, Melbourne. Ella, my five-year-old niece, flies from interstate with my brother for a visit.

It was cold outside and I had few resources in the house. So I grabbed some coloured pens and sheets of paper from the printer.

Ella outlined our hands on two sheets and started to draw in one of her fingers.

I looked at the outline of my hands and asked myself, ‘How do I make this look good?’ Then I asked Ella, ‘What should I do?’ She shrugged: ‘You can do anything you want.’

I watched her. Swirls in one finger, polka dots in another, and the Tooth Fairy in her index finger.

Slowly, I became unbounded, liberated. Ella showed me there were no rules. I drew teddy bears and zigzags. She taught me how to draw snowflakes. She encouraged me and said my worked looked pretty. And I complimented her work in return.

This was a far cry from what I experienced at age five. It was fun, like how art and craft should be.

So you know, shame, I can't stop drawing or making things now. And I’m crafting felt toys.

Life is better. Life is so much better.

I’m picking up from when I was truly me.