Pull the trigger, chitty, chitty, bang, babe

Date: 28 August.

Location: George St cafe, East Melbourne. Coffee is terrible, but the winter sunshine on the outside tables is brilliant.

Ohh, that moment when it finally occurs to you — far too late, neurons obviously not firing strong this week — that that song on your Most Played playlist that you’ve been dancing around the apartment to and, apparently, singing under your breath in public is actually smutty. The song in question is Usher’s ‘Good Kisser’ (yeah alright, but I never claimed I had amazing music taste) and it literally only dawned on me this morning that this song is not pure pre-teen pop but a tribute to …well, not the pair of lips I had in mind. Suddenly the rest of Usher’s lyrics made a lot more sense. This occurred to me as I walked down Bridge Road at 9am, whispering-rapping what are, now that I turn my mind to it, some fairly dirty lyrics and as I was on the receiving end of a fairly dirty look from a mother with her toddlers. Sorry Richmond.

My job hunt trudges on slowly. The pace and lack of good news was upsetting me (read: hissy cry fits) but several things have happened this week that have inclined to say ‘well, eff it’.

One: I caught up with a childhood friend (lets go with ‘Merida’ as a name for her as she has raucously curly hair and has always been somewhat of a rebel) for coffee over the weekend. It’s been a few months since we saw one another and within seconds if coming farce to face I saw a change in her that chilled me all over. My jaw dropped. I’m not taking a literary liberty here, my jaw fell unflatteringly open and I gaped like a fish with lipstick. Merida looked the way I’d imagine a post frontal-lobotomy patient would: a pale, drawn face with haunted, tired eyes and a quiet, questioning, uncertain voice. The poor girl had been under too much stress and, for want of a better phrase, it just broke her. She found herself in hospital, off work on months of stress leave, drugged up to the eyeballs and on a shadowy road back to ‘well’. This brought home a few things: even the strongest and loudest of people don’t have it easy; you need to take care of your mental health; why don’t we talk about our mental health more?

Two, and on a similar note: When I brought this up with him, Wolfgang mentioned that he encourages his teenage students to share theirs WWWs — their What Went Well?s — at the start of some classes. (I hope they have better answers than the one I tearily blurted out to him when he told me that: ‘wine, only wine!’) However, this was a timely reminder to be (and yes, this is a total buzzword but you’ll excuse me using it) grateful for what is managing to go well. Here is a random sample for my good health: Melbourne weather has stopped trying to kill us all with its Mr Freeze impersonation, my friends are a bit awesome and we have The Hunt coming up this Saturday night (more on that gem later), I no longer utterly despise the yellow striped bed linen I bought during a seriously ill-advised hungover shopping trip on a whim, I have a sunny period apartment with the best housemate (hint: none), I’m in no danger of being admitted to a mental ward due to work stress (quite the opposite), my relationship with my dad is better than ever. Oh, also, there’s Nutella in my cupboard and I plan to eat it all with a spoon.

Third, and again on a similar note: I live in a tiny suburb, nestled in by lush parks and the city to one side, the iconic MCG on another, bars and shopping to the east and breakfast buzz spots galore to the north. However, not far down the road, rising in stark contrast to my ‘hood, is a stack of high rise housing commission flats casting a shadow over nearby blocks. Recently I started volunteering with the kids who live there. It’s the bloody hardest thing I’ve ever done.

Picture this: 100 kids under 8, a teeming, screaming mass of almond eyes, colorful headscarves, chocolate and caramel skins, babbling in every language under the sun in a huge and frigid converted warehouse at while bemused volunteers fix the possessed air-hockey table, haul yet another round of potato wedges from the deep frier and attempt to keep bubblegum out of the computer keyboards. It’s madness. The kids come in straight from school, play the free arcade games and get something to eat from the cafe. At 4.15 a bell goes and they scoot to their allocated groups for a classroom format session on maths or English. They scoot because if they’re there on time, name tag on and pencil out, they get a lollipop. Bribery is magic.

The kids usually work in a small group with one tutor but I’ve got a slightly different role at the moment: I’m working one-on-one with a kid who arrived here from Eritrea a few weeks ago, before which he’d never met his mother or sister, both of whom migrated here right after he was born. He’s the freaking cutest and it’s great. However, it’s not until you’re facing down a grade one textbook and a wide-eyed, silent seven year old that you realize that all the law degrees in the world don’t make teaching English easy. It’s like communicating with an alien.

During our first session a month ago we started on the alphabet. We got through ‘A’ is for ‘Apple’ but the only word my little Eritrean knew that starts with ‘B’ was ‘Dog’. I don’t even… How do you take a red pen to the work of a kid who is trying so hard?

This week, by the time we finish writing a short letter to his Eritrean grandparents I have to let his spelling of ‘mummy’ (‘mame’) slide because I’m so damn proud of him. It’s impossible to resent the snail’s pace at which my career is progressing at moments like that.

Love

Alex

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