On June 25, we celebrated Feminartsy’s 1st birthday with a birthday-themed story-share. Below is the transcript of Hannah McCann’s reading.
I’m waiting alone at the bus stop. I Google “who died on June 6 1986?” My birthday. I find Henry Nash Smith. He came up with “American Studies” and died in a car crash at age 79.
For a moment I’m convinced that I was Henry Nash Smith.
Then again, I think, maybe I was just a fish, or a tree, or a mite that died of old age. Maybe when you die, souls just go into a big spirit-slushie, with trees and fish and mites emerging as little reconfigured pieces.
Or perhaps we only think every birthday is a year closer to death, but really we’ve got our perception of time all wrong. Maybe when we think we’re going forwards, we’re really going backwards. Maybe Henry Nash Smith is the real endpoint of all this, just waiting to come back to life, to raise little Harriet, Mayne, and Janet Carol Smith, to write about the myth of the West in American culture, and Mark Twain.
I feel sad for Henry Nash Smith for a moment, but then I remember he probably turned out ok, or will do.
It is the 6th June 2015. Today is my 29th birthday.
My girlfriend and I have abandoned Canberra, at least for the weekend. Life feels a little heavy at the moment. My nearly finished PhD thesis looms over me, tying me down. I’m a Marxist on the streets and a postmodernist on the sheets. It keeps me awake at night and I don’t want to think about it today.
Figuring out how to be in the world – who to be friends with, what sexuality even means, what to do about politics without feeling hopeless, how to age gracefully, what to write, whether to believe in God or star signs or nothing at all, what to contribute to the world – it’s all so hard. I wonder if I had it all figured out when I was Henry Nash Smith.
We’re driving down the highway and we push through a belly of fog. The further we get from home, the more it lifts. We pass by fields of frozen grasses, slowly melting as the sun rises higher in the sky. The air warms and the spotted gums stretch up. We’re here. Being alone together, I feel light again.
Skip to 2012, I’m 26 today. I’m up at the observatory and I’m peering into a cardboard box watching a tiny dark speck move across a bright white circle. Venus is transiting the sun. I’ve spent the morning by myself and this feels like a good thing.
I decided to get a manicure, even though this is pretty pointless on my short nails. I ask for my ring fingers to be in a different colour, but I don’t explain that it’s to “flag” queer femme identity. The beautician asks me about my boyfriend, but I’m cagey. I’ve got a polyamorous-confusing-situation going on.
I meet her for lunch. I wear purple, her favourite colour. But I go to dinner with him, who is stoned, and eats most of the pizza.
I wish things were a bit simpler. Bet I never had these troubles as Henry Nash Smith. I probably would have turned to this quote from Mark Twain: “Never allow someone to be your priority while allowing yourself to be their option.”
I’m 20 and this is the worst birthday. Dumped by my college boyfriend only days before, he’s insisting we go out to the movies. I want to see ‘The Omen”, but he’s scared of horror movies and so we are at an impasse. I reflect on having slept with too many virgins.
My friend Patrick saves the day and takes me out to dinner with his friends. Zefferelli’s in Dickson. Patrick gives me a copy of ‘Less Than Zero’ by Brett Easton Ellis. The inscription reads:
This, for you, is my favourite book. I hope the 1980s zeitgeist nihilism reminds you of me and how thankful I am for being your friend”
I read the book, a little disturbed by the gesture, but feeling readerly, in a Henry-Nash-Smith-kind of way
I’m 15 and I’m at the athletics carnival, 2001. It’s always the athletics carnival on my birthday. I’ve got a crush on a boy called Tom. He brings me a present – the CD single of Something for Kate’s ‘Monsters’.
For some reason my friends and I are playing with masking tape, and I rip some off and tape it onto his black jumper in a heart shape. He enters the 100m sprint, but halfway through waves at me, and trips over.
This is the best birthday. Even though I am forced to enter the long jump and fail miserably. My 15-year-old boy-obsessed self seems further from the stern and distinguished Henry Nash Smith than ever.
That night I have my three closest girl friends stay over at my house. My friend Rebecca and I are strangely obsessed with the name “Sven”, finding it endlessly funny. We blow up 80 balloons and write “Sven” on them. We wait for the chickens out the back to lay a second egg, and then make a cake, decorating it with unbroken strands of “Sven” spelled out in alphabet smarties. We’re home alone and everyone gets very nearly naked, orders pizza (much to the pizza delivery boy’s delight, or perhaps dismay), and we watch ‘The Blair Witch Project’. My mum prank calls us and pretends she’s been arrested. I freak out. We call Tom and chat to him. We wait until the sun comes up. Love seems oh so hard, but is in actuality shockingly easy.
I’ve just turned 11 and all of the girls from the class at my new school are at my house. We’ve moved from Canberra to the South Coast. My indoors complexion and penchant for reading and drawing quietly in the corner is out of place among the other kids here, who have all been in nippers since they could walk. I insist on having a “makeup” party, which amounts to us all drawing pictures on our faces with lipstick. Some of the girls find this approach odd. I’ve got my hair up in not two, but four pigtails, and I’m wearing a shirt with dolphins all over it. I am deeply uncool. But I’m still really sorting out who I am. It’s been a while now since Henry Nash Smith died.
It’s 1993 and today I am 7. This birthday follows the usual routine, one that I love. My request is croissants for breakfast and I get a fleecy jumper with a puffy design on it from Target, as well as a pot of primrose flowers. At night we go out with my uncle and grandma and have honey sesame chicken at Sammy’s Kitchen. We go to the arcade and shoot basketballs into hoops, the machines spitting out minimal tickets. The biggest worry in my life right now is whether to have a turn on the “virtual reality” machine. Henry Nash Smith wouldn’t have known what to make of it. I’m becoming more condensed, like a tightly wrapped flower bud.
I am four today. We live in public housing, and some kids from the neighborhood are over. I introduce them to our three-legged dog, Grendl. I get a vest, which I really love, as well as a giant orange bear, which annoys my mum because it is so large. We wear party hats and masks, and mine is a yellow dog with orange spots. Life is candles and fairy bread, brightly coloured dresses and home-done haircuts.
Today is the day of my birth, 6 June 1986. It’s snowing in Canberra. Nestled in a house under Mount Ainslie, my mum is in the lounge room trying to push me out. A midwife and a crowd of friends and family stand by, with a strange casualness that definitely makes this seem like a birthday party. I come out, fist first. My aunt Kass announces, “It’s a feminist!” My mum says, “I am never doing that again”. Everyone sleeps.
I’m wrapped up, and things seem very bright. I’m wiser now than ever before, taking it all in. I don’t know about politics, or planets, or boys. I’m just waiting to become me, or perhaps Henry Nash Smith – whichever comes first.
Image: Sherry Thai