So at this point I was in my second year of university. The campus I attended was a random mash-up of various architectural eras, with a sense of geometry exclusive to itself.
My friends (most of whom I met for the first time about an hour ago) are huddled in a circle near Hobart’s 24-hour bakery with their laps covered in pastry crumbs. They’re giggling at a joke I can’t quite hear and that they probably don’t fully comprehend themselves. The performances are over. It’s one night before the winter solstice, and it’s the kind of cold that finds its way through your beanie and gnaws at tops of your ears. No one has papers. The girls are depositing pinches of weed into an emptied-out cigarette then packing those pinches down with a bobby pin. It’s a tried and true system but way too inefficient for this weather.
I walk towards the bakery and hear ‘Hey Ya’ thudding from nightclub nearby. I’m going to ask someone inside for papers and emerge the hero to my new friends. It’s too bright inside the shop, and tables full of club-deserters are desperately scoffing pie warmth. I approach a table of four guys.
'Sorry, do any of you guys have papers, by any chance?'
They all look at me at once. Their arm and chest muscles are too big for their Friday-night shirts.
‘What?’ one asks. It feels like they’re glaring at me now.
‘Do any of you have ciggie papers, by any chance?’
‘Papers?’ Their features are getting that greasy LSD melt to them now. I want to leave.
‘Don’t worry about it,’ I say. I turn to leave.
‘Wait, I’ve got paper.’ One of the more melty ones picks up his empty pie bag and flicks crumbs at me, they bounce off my jacket and I watch them scatter on the bright tiles. All the surfaces are getting slithery. It’s time to go. I’m not welcome here.
“So, are we ready to make some ‘likes’?” asks my mother.
She rubs her hands together greedily, as though she’s about to pull the lever on an old-fashioned slot machine. Like any seasoned player of the slots, a very thin layer of caked-on giddiness masks her deep-seated existential malaise.
We’re both sitting up in Mum’s home office soaking in the thrumming CRT glow of the indigo-blue early-generation iMac I found abandoned in a dumpster one evening. It’s hooked up, through a complex series of adapters, to a mid-eighties beige Microsoft keyboard, and linked to our neighbour’s unprotected wireless internet. Our neighbour’s wi-fi network is called ‘Help Me, I’m Trapped in a Router!’, which makes it easier for us to justify stealing their connection: only a person with terribly misplaced priorities would concoct a witty network name before setting up even rudimentary 256-bit security.
Along the floor of Mum’s home office are tributaries of power strips, one branching off another branching off another. They all lead one back to one socket, which in turn leads right on out our garden gate. All the electricity we’re using is being siphoned from the café around the corner, and they’re none the wiser. Months ago, we lay down twenty metres of extension cords from their back door to ours and plastered the whole thing with duct tape, then knocked up a sign that said: ‘Government property: don’t you dare remove. Seriously, don’t you even bloody think about it!’ In a sense, we’re off the grid, but maybe it’s more like we’re standing right in the middle of it, contorting our limbs so that none of them touch the lattice.
Lately I’ve been trying to search out romantic words to describe our situation. I’ve settled on ‘penurious’ because it sounds almost the opposite of what it really means: ‘goddamn dirt poor’.
We do have a lot of cash – that’s true. My father’s life insurance policy paid out a million dollars and eighty-three cents, and we still have five hundred and eight-two thousand dollars to go. It’s all worthless now. When hard currency was deprecated, we headed to the bank to convert it all out to 116,400 five-dollar notes, then used the bills to stuff all our cushions. The notes don’t work well as padding – they sink and form ugly, hard-angled lumps – but what they lack in utility they make up for in some kind of hazy symbolic resonance. I once heard that in North Korea, after their currency was revalued, some families decided they’d be better off just eating all their old banknotes. Some days, I wonder how far my mother and I are from cooking up pots of rich magenta five-dollar stew.
'Life: The Feedback Survey' was originally published in The Lifted Brow: Digital, Volume Nine, Issue One. Get the app and download your copy now.
Evan Williams is a writer for ABC2’s daily satirical news show The Roast. He’s also contributed to McSweeney’s, the Sydney Morning Herald, The Guardian and elsewhere.
"We tried to write a blog, a tweet, a novelised memoir, an autobiographical novel. We fished for likes or friends. We strove to metamorphise a life, a universe, into clickbait — but our only subject was what we knew, which was nothing. All that we didn’t know, all that led us to others, all that led us to everything that might matter, all that was effectively censored by the ideology of our day: the first person pronoun forever fumbling in the shallows of self. Irony and cynicism were the new naivety. We cloaked ourselves in them as in armour, for hidden beneath we had the sense we knew nothing, and, worse, perhaps were nothing. The craft of sentences, the mystery of story, the perennial surprise of character — all these we dismissed as outmoded and obvious in the hope we were not, never understanding they were the greatest human invention we had for divining the cosmos and its infinite mystery. For what other defence against nothingness did we have? What other way was there to make us and our world anew? To hold all that we love and who love us? Every medium is an invitation, and there is no banal form in the world, only the banality of bad replies. And in order to say yes, to say yes well, we first had to leave home, the table, the laptop, the tablet, the phone — we first had to leave ourselves.
And only then could we finally begin.”
So, what — are you gonna argue with him, or are you gonna grab yourself a copy of The Ego Issue and find out exactly what it is you’ve done wrong?
There are the peninsulas of New Zealand, Argentina, and Chile—and some grave, wild islands—but as far a clear stretch of land to ice goes, you can’t get much closer to Antarctica than Hobart. Neon orange icebreakers sit as though sunbaking in Sullivan’s Cove, and scientists in polar fleece drink convivially in the pubs of Salamanca. Yet on the weekend of the winter solstice, when the weak sun rises to the lowest point it will hit in the year before leaving the town in fifteen hours of darkness, Hobart is full of light. It’s in the omnipresent beams of the interactive installation Articulated Intersect, the barrels of fire that revellers huddle around at the Winter Feast, and the stage lights inside labyrinthine venues holding parties far into the dark morning. It’s hard to find a hotel room or make a reservation at a restaurant. This festival is bringing the dead to life.
"Ego makes the world go round. Right? I’m right, of course. Anyway: the Ego edition of The Lifted Brow: Digital is here. Get the free app and download your copy now.
In creating this issue, the first thing we did was ban all first person pronouns: I, me, my, mine, myself, we, us, our, ours, ourselves. Get outta here!
Secondly, we asked our artists to contribute stories and artwork that was outward-looking, that sought to explain the wider world – not through any kind of narrow lens, but through reporting and research.
But most excitingly—and exclusive to this special digital edition—we have renowned spoken word artist Sean M Whelan responding to every piece. Once you’re in the app, click on the lil’ embedded audio clip above or below each piece to hear Whelan’s reflections and diversions. Listen after you’ve read a piece, before you’ve read a piece – heck, even while you’re reading, if that’s what you’re into. We won’t judge.”