We get up too early because we have to sell zines which seemed like a good idea until right now when all I want to do is go swimming and maybe eat chips.
We walk through the park with our box of zines, stopping at the bakery to buy almond croissants and juice. I setup which involves chucking handfuls of dinosaur shaped confetti at the table, scattering zines all over it and then eating my croissant. People arrive to buy zines and I keep forgetting how much everything costs. “Sorry,” I say through a mouthful of croissant to everyone who buys my zines. “I can’t remember how much that costs.” I’m very awake and lucid and doing just fine, thanks for asking.
I have made a zine collecting four years’ worth of my essays about comedy. I made it mostly as an archive. Between deciding to make the zine and actually sitting down to do it, one of the sites I was published on vanished and my essay became a 404, as if to prove the validity of this exercise. I can’t be sure that the version I included in the zine is the same as the version that used to exist online.
These essays, in lots of ways, document me finding my voice as a writer and as a critic. The strange thing about this zine is that everyone wants to buy it. I know there’s something very boring about being surprised that people want to read your writing. But the reality is that writing online often feels like shouting into a void. I sell out before midday. For whatever reason, despite how hard I’ve tried to be unapologetically proud of my work, I want to shout “why do you want to read this” at everyone who buys a copy.
Casey tells me, as soon as I arrive at the baths, that Bridget is papping him. I am sceptical but he insists that she has been taking his photo all day and is definitely doing it on purpose. I sit on the steps with Casey and Nick and Alan and the sunshine slowly makes me feel human again.
I go swimming by myself because the others have already swum. I wade in and I feel slightly self conscious about how serene I am. I look down at my toes and my fingers, distorted through the green of the water. I remember I’m still wearing red lipstick. Swimming in red lipstick is almost laughably glamorous and I decide I’m into it.
We we want chips so we walk to Scotties. Casey and I talk about chip butties and Nick says he’s never heard of a chip buttie and so we debate the phrase “chip buttie” for a while and it’s the kind of lazy sun-drunk conversation that doesn’t really go anywhere because it’s actually just us describing a chip sandwich over and over in circles.
Scotties is closed. We spend a while just standing outside wondering what to do. We take photos of each other instead of deciding what to do. Eventually someone suggests we go play games to fill time because we don’t want to eat anything that isn’t chip butties and Scotties doesn’t open for an hour and a half.
At our place, we collapse on the lounge. I eat a splice. We play Jackbox. It’s funny how I treasure moments like this so much in retrospect. At the time we were tired and hung-over waiting for a chip shop to open. Looking back, there’s something so precious about sitting crushed on a lounge together, lazily passing corn chips and salsa back and forth, making cups of tea, playing silly games together. It’s the kind of moment that’s easy to forget but so important to remember.
Eventually, we have filled enough time. We buy chip butties (with slaw). They are very good and much improved for the addition of slaw and the time spent anticipating them. We make plans for the evening, watching the sky flush pink.
We wander up Hunter Street and crush into Vinyl for the Spelling Bee. We are late and miss Adolfo’s dance but it’s ok because mid-event he does a costume change and a second dance. We end up watching the Spelling Bee almost entirely via Freya’s facial reactions which means we keep laughing loudly during moments when no one else is laughing.
We have dinner at the Crown and Anchor, even though the other football grand final is on. I order wedges because apparently I’m committing to eating nothing but chips and a croissant all day. Big Dog comes on and Nick shouts “WHAT” a lot when I tell him that this terrifying dog comes on every day at 7:25pm and tells children to go to bed. I am unsure if large commercial television animals that tell children to go to sleep is a NSW thing?
I walk back down the mall with Amy and Lizzy and beccamarsh. We talk about my ill-fated diary entry from the night before and Lizzy tells me my handwriting is like code. When she gets a letter, she has to devote time to it’s unravelling. This could be an insult but Lizzy says it with such affection. My year six teacher (who in my memory is uncannily like Miss Trunchbull) once told me that my handwriting looked “like a drunken ant had stepped in ink and walked across the page”. But Lizzy describes the intricacies of my garbled writing – the way certain combinations of letters (like ing) become symbols of their own. It’s strange and touching to think she’s so familiar with the messy, running-together way I form words.
The Royal Exchange is packed so we perch in the hallway. Bridget, through the crowd, points her camera at Casey and starts taking what I can only imagine are blurry, paparazzi style photos. I point this out to and he makes a SEE face at me and then gives Bridget the finger.
As one event finishes and people trickle out, we push our way in. I lean over to Bridget and tell her that Casey thinks she is papping him and she says “oh I absolutely am” and cackles. We claim a row of chairs along the back, dangling on high stools. I look at the room through a glass of white wine and it’s sparkly and beautiful as always. Alex is sitting in a booth across the room and all evening we catch each other’s eyes and smile.
Sian demands that everyone tweet who their festival crushes are. She also asks if anyone has any lost property. This devolves into audience members shouting things they have either found or lost, including two separate green cardigans that no one lays claim to.
Tegan reads a piece of Lord of the Rings fan fiction in which she (except as an elf, obviously) falls in love with Éowyn. During key turning points, the whole room gasps in unison. When we get to the kissing part, Freya squeals loudly and the room dissolves into giggles and cheers. Sitting in a crowd that is reacting with almost pantomime enthusiasm to a gay LoTR fan fiction is straight up magic. Also Hera reads an absurd piece of Leonardo Da Vinci fan fiction which I’m only mentioning so I can link to it.
The late night readings that night (as well as all Sunday’s programming) exclusively feature queer artists. It’s nice. The room is warm and safe and I know I say safe a lot in these blogs but so often it feels like the right word. Emotion rises up my body in a wave. It reaches my eyes and they spill over and I cry perfect teardrops in neat lines down my cheeks. The most affecting part of NYWF is not how much I love my friends and this community, but how much they all love each other.
Maggie, demands that everyone please buy a tshirt or two tshirts, they’re heavily discounted, just please buy them. She says that the hardest part of the festival is actually rubbish disposal and Sophie and I applaud because it’s true.
Outside the Royal Exchange we tell everyone that we’re going to the baths because Sunday is the classic baths night even though we’ve spent a number of years aggressively making EVERY NIGHT BATHS NIGHT because we’re influencers. Seb tells me he doesn’t think he’ll come tonight and my face must comically fall because he bursts into delighted giggles. He laughs at me and at his very good joke the whole walk.
Sitting on the steps together, we watch everyone tumble around the façade and onto the shore. In the dark it’s difficult to make everyone out, grouped in clusters with their backs to the limited light sources. I sit on the edge of the baths and pass my bottle down to Freya and Hera in the water. We pass it between us in a triangle. I promise that I’ll come visit eventually, to see more of New Zealand than that single weekend in Dunedin.
Casey refuses to come swimming. He tells me that if I keep asking him to come swimming he will go to bed. He’s right, probably, about the swimming, but I miss him already and I don’t know how to say that so I keep demanding that he come swimming instead. I talk to him and Caleb about this thing I want to write that’s maybe a book and for the first time I actually say “I’m trying to write a book” out loud so maybe it’s true.
Beth and I sit down on the edge of the baths, close. We talk almost every day but in the last month our messages have become less frequent. Both of our brains have been individually bad. Sometimes we’ll get into a loop where we only message each other to complain, to talk about bad things and gross thoughts and spirals of negativity. Lately, when that happened, we started saying less – not wanting to overload each other with thoughts that feel too messy and sad to express. I watch someone swimming in the far corner of the pool and I quietly tell Beth all the things I’ve been trying to work out how to say. She gets it, like she always does.
I’m looking up at the sky when a light flares above us. It burns white, flashing to blue and green as it falls. I’ve seen shotting stars before but only ever as brief trails of gold in the distance. This is so bright that there is some argument whether it was actually a flare. Everyone is silent, there is a second of almost total quiet. Then people clap and someone shouts “yeah the sky!” One year on Sunday there was phosphorescent algae in the water, another year a blood red moon. Now the brightest and clearest shooting star I’ve ever seen. The way Sunday nights at the baths so reliably produce breathtaking natural phenomena is enough to make you believe this festival is really, genuinely magic.
Maggie and Caleb come and sit beside us and Maggie says “so tell me the bread story” and I laugh. After NYWF 2014 we had literally dozens of kilograms of bread that needed to be disposed of. The escalating bread crisis culminated on Monday when we found ourselves in Staple Manor staring at half a dozen garbage bags heavy with bread and no easy method of getting rid of them. It’s nice to talk to them about the realities and challenges of this absurd and wonderful and ridiculous job.
The staff swim together. They all leap into the black water and cluster in a circle and I laugh at their joy, huddled together in the too cold water.
Sunday nights at NYWF always feel like a culmination. In many ways my years begin and end here. It’s my New Year, as one year wraps up and I begin the long wait for NYWF to roll around again. Too often I find the previous twelve months crashing over me as I fight off pre-emptively missing people, knowing that soon it’ll be over. These twelve months have been heavy and feeling the weight of them overwhelms me. I peel away from everyone and Alex comes and sits beside me. We sit on the rim of the baths with our feet in the water and I lean against him and I cry. I cry gasping, heaving sobs, messy and all encompassing.
I am overwhelmed because we’re not taught to love platonically. We’re not really taught to love at all but romantic love at least feels like something there is models for. There is a hierarchy and we are told over and over that romantic love sits squarely above all other kinds. Platonic feels like such a chaste word for something so joyful. I am still overwhelmed by how expansive the love I have for my friends is. It isn’t that different to romantic love. We’re told it is. We’re told it’s less. So it’s still strangely confronting to discover that often it feels just the same. I think maybe that’s why so many people resist falling deeply into friendship, unwilling to confront the false hierarchies. Sometimes the work of breaking them down feels exhausting.
I am overwhelmed by how many things I still don’t understand. For a little while at the start of this year, I thought maybe I knew who I was. My identity briefly solidified into something almost static. And it was nice to feel sure of myself or like maybe I could feel sure of myself. But now my identity is in flux again and that moment of clarity feels like the eye of a maelstrom. And maybe that’s ok. Maybe identity should be a swirling, shifting chaos. But sometimes the work of never really knowing who you are feels exhausting.
Alex listens to me babble about all the things in my head. He is good. I love him and he is good. When my sobbing has subsided he makes me laugh and I lean against him, letting the tears dry on my face. We go home when the wind whips up and we start to shiver, vibrating gently against each other’s shoulders. We walk along the foreshore one last time.
I fall asleep pressed against Alex, clinging to him like a raft.