Friday, 28 March 2014

Gracie Writes: Creative Visions Assignment 1.

Creative Visions is an utterly amazing and terrifying part of my third year studying Creative Writing. We learn about energy sources (or lack thereof), corruption and conspiracy theories, alternate realities and other worldly theories. It's just as messed up and mad as it sounds, and I adore it. This is my first assignment for the module, which I handed in on Wednesday. The title we were given was 'How We Live Now', and as you can imagine, it's meant to be a reflection on how we as a species live within or against or means, in the present day.

A swarm of picket signs advance on the MAC factory as the rain pours down; holding up traffic as it makes its way down the highway that runs adjacent to the old grey building. Parents hold down their horns and children roll down the passenger windows to have a closer look, knowing it must be the Mountain People, the Tamborites.
Angry dreadlocked individuals can be seen bashing tambourines, beating drums and brandishing huge wooden placards that scream in obnoxious unavoidable capital lettering ‘#NOMAKEUP’, ‘GET THAT GUNGE OFF’ and ‘NATURAL IS BEAUTIFUL’. One very vocal woman wears a shirt that says ‘YOUR LASHES WON’T GROW BACK’ on it in thick red paint and hurls vibrant daffodils and blue carnations over the high stone factory walls, while some men in the crowd start a chant of ‘MEN HATE SLAP, MEN HATE SLAP’, raising fists to the sky, a chorus of stomping boots splashing puddles and soaking their fellow protesters in muddy water. Some women wipe dirt from their clothes and generously smear it onto their cheeks; young girls take their hoods down and let the rain course through their hair and cascade down their shirts; teenage boys link arms and laugh amongst themselves, never happier and never knowing different.

Gypsy looks on, amazed. She knows she shouldn’t be here, she should be staying up on the mountain, where it’s safe – but she just had to see it, see the fight taking place.
She can easily pick out her mother within the motley mob, wearing a ‘FREE YOUR SKIN’ sandwich board over her organic fibre clothing, hurling abuse at the cowering factory workers as they walk through the enormous front doors. Her dad is conveniently busy today, or else he'd be roped into wearing his 'I LOVE TAMBO' shirt and carrying a loud propaganda banner alongside his wife.

For the millionth time in recent months, Gypsy marvels at this mini-world she exists in, this culture she was born into and must respect lest she be pointed at and branded. Just being noticed is dangerous, in fact.  At thirteen, she is the epitome of awkward invisibility and quietly blossoming beauty. Her silvery blonde hair tumbles down past her hips, her face is fresh and freckled, and day-to-day she wears a strict uniform of second-hand clothes. Today it’s a tie-dye T-shirt and baggy full-length dungarees, previously owned by her neighbour Lily Maclean, a part-time crystal therapist and fortune teller whose kids Joshua and Lindsey paint faces at the local fetes, while her husband Jason runs the Mountain Preschool Playgroup every Wednesday afternoon. Everyone knows everyone around here, everyone adheres to the same rules, and Gypsy is only now realising how unusual this is.
Before she can stop herself, she reaches into her pocket and pulls out the crumpled scrap of paper she’s been carrying around and poring over for months now.
Whose eyes hypnotise?’ It asks, swirling font adorning the forehead of a bronzed, brushed and quite simply beautiful alien woman – her hair billows out behind her, and her eyes are coated in charcoal powder and thick slick silver lines, lips pouted and a thrilling fuchsia pink, skin shimmering like wet sand. Perhaps she’s a singer, an actress or a flirtatious socialite, paid to slather on liquid beauty and pose for hours and hours.
Magazines were abolished long ago, but Gypsy knows all about them. She asked her grandmother Jan, not long before she passed away, what she knew of these mysterious harmful rags, and why they were outlawed along with other outlandish items such as makeup and electric hair styling equipment –the answer she received was the same old rehearsed propaganda, through pursed parched lips and gritted teeth.
‘Magazines were an instrument of vanity, baby, much like the products they would advertise. Endless streams of gadgets and potions designed to make a woman into everything she couldn’t be…’ At this point, Gypsy’s grandmother stared wistfully through the window out to the turbulent sea – or perhaps at her own bare reflection, and the deep-set lines born around her eyes, making their way down to her neck. She absent-mindedly raised a hand to her cheek and gently stroked her sad decaying skin; did she miss the thick deceiving coat of beauty that a simple liquid foundation would provide? The enviable shape that pricey lip liner and gloss could create, or the transformative touch of the mascara wand? She hadn’t, when she first moved here. When she was young, bright-eyed and dazzling, turning heads everywhere she went – a new husband on her arm, unconditional love blooming in her heart and keeping her warm at night.
But now Jan was aging, and had no way of concealing this, of course she missed it. Her granddaughter was fortunate in that she’d never experienced the indulgence of artificial beauty, the sheer joy of painted trickery. Nights spent smearing eyeliner on in front of a filthy mirror in the public toilets, luring in unsuspecting suitors with a heavy-lashed wink, and leaving a trail of lipstick kisses wherever she went… It was a Maybelline kiss that found her true love, a cheeky red shade aptly named ‘Beware’. One dance, one taste, and he was hers. To this day, she secretly believes that if she’d been wearing dull Rimmel 113 ‘Nude’, he’d never have looked her way. Just to be safe, she’d worn that colour again on her wedding day. To make him remember.
‘Gypsy my dear, you are beautiful. Naturally. You needn’t trouble yourself with these foolish old tricks – think what your mother would say!’ She’d batted the magazine scrap away and turned back to the window, just fast enough that her treasured granddaughter couldn’t see the tears in her naked, shrivelled eyes.

Gypsy’s mother, Belinda, was once an addict; she’d spend her weekends down at Pacific Fair shopping mall, searching for that to-die-for shade of eye shadow, hungry for a fresh coat of nail polish and a new streak of colour in her hair. Then when she settled down and was planning a family, she wanted to move up to Mount Tamborine, for the good schooling and to reap a real sense of community, the thing the mountain was so famous for.  
Sure enough, Belinda was now so enveloped in the bare-faced raw-eating community that she couldn’t remember life before. She frequented the Byron Bay markets for thrifted clothes and wooden jewellery, she ransacked Ferry Road for vegetables and haunted the Celtic Organic Whole Foods store in Southport in search of those all-important seeds and pulses. She ran ‘pantry seminars’ in her kitchen for all the local mothers, as well as attending all the similar events her neighbours were hosting – make your own dream catchers, bedroom Feng Shui, clothes mending, everything and anything to add to her magical new lifestyle. Her magazines and makeup were locked away in the attic, away from prying eyes. Belinda would Instagram every meal she made, as if she were documenting evidence that she was obeying the unwritten rules, and she’d post #nomakeup #selfies once a week. She was a true convert.
Her husband Joe would escape whenever possible to go for a few rounds of golf with ‘the boys’, his lifelong friends who had all been his groomsmen and referred to Belinda as ‘Batshit Butternut’; they would talk frankly over a few beers and promise to keep quiet when he ordered chips and steak pies, then they’d slap him on the back as he left to go home for his dinner of nuts, mixed leaves and polenta.
The kids, Gypsy and Forrest, of course didn’t know any different. However, now they were starting high school – Tamborine State, located a little further down the mountain than Belinda would like – they were hearing things. Smelling the rich and starchy canteen food wherever they went, seeing their peers unwrapping Cherry Ripes in the playground, being invited along to the ‘chippy’ after the day was over... It was different. New. Tempting. Every day Belinda would check their backpacks when they arrived home, to make sure their lunchboxes were empty and there were no unwelcome additives or sneaky calories stuffed down in the pockets.
Her children’s diets were, for her, a means of controlling.
‘What’s for dinner, mama?’
‘Cashew cream mushroom sauce on spiralized zucchini and carrot noodles! With dehydrated nut burgers on the side, for extra protein.’ Belinda grinned mischievously. ‘There’s a real treat for dessert – my homemade Bliss Balls!’
Bliss Balls were a unique mix of activated almonds, Pepitas, raw cacao, dates, Spirulina, Macca, coconut and coconut oil, all mashed together into little spheres and frozen overnight for that fudge-esque texture, and usually served with almond Mylk and Goji berries. That was as good as it got in the Cooper household.
After a semester at state school, Gypsy’s eyes were opening fast. She became more and more aware of life outside the mountain. The non-Tamborite teenagers were a different breed to her, their painted nails and gel-slicked hair foreign and fascinating. What’s more, the Mountain kids were converting, slowly but surely…
Gypsy wondered how Lily Maclean would react if she knew her precious angel children ate deep-fried devilish treats at lunchtime and chain-smoked various chemical substances on their way home from school. She wondered if old Mrs Jenner knew about her granddaughter’s penchant for glittery eyeliner – that Sara would apply it in the toilets in between classes, and wipe it off while on the bus back up the mountain. Even the Mahoney kids were led astray; Joel got a tattoo of a dragon on his shoulder, Rose snuck sugary sweets from the tuck shop into her lunchbox, and Georgie expressed an interest in high street clothes stores and designer labels.
So far it seemed, Gypsy and Forrest were the only ones not tainted by this non-sanctioned madness. Forrest was offered a chocolate biscuit on his first day in Year Seven, and retreated to the far corner of the classroom, rigid with fear. He cried on the bus ride home, while Gypsy held his hand. Pretty soon they were both taunted by other students, labelled ‘the pure kids’ by their peers and forced to sit at the very front of the bus – where they’d have marshmallow bars and jelly sweets tossed at them, and all the girls would take their bright nail polish bottles out and flick droplets in Gypsy’s hair. It was horrible. At school, they were outcasts – but at home, they were beloved by all.
One morning, Gypsy couldn’t face getting out of bed. She heard her mother calling from downstairs, in that chipper pre-breakfast tone: ‘Gypsy, honey! Hurry up or you’ll be late – you still have a bowl of my special mix to eat before you leave!’
‘Special mix’, meaning whatever crazy super-food concoction she’d created in her blender at 4am when she couldn’t sleep. Gypsy used to adore her mother. Not just adore… Idolise. Now, though, she was the reason Gypsy and her brother were tormented to and from school; the reason Forrest feared being laughed at during lunchtimes and Gypsy couldn’t go to the bathroom in case the other girls were in there applying makeup. She resented her mother. It wasn’t just teenage angst, it was real proper hatred.
Before she knew what was happening, Gypsy was creeping out of her bedroom and pulling on the retractable ladder in the hallway ceiling that led to the attic. She climbed quickly, then carefully pushed on the trapdoor, not wanting any creaking to draw suspicion, and crawled in. Once inside, she snapped on the light and watched as all the illicit items were illuminated for the first time in forever.
Belinda had always told them that there was nothing of interest in here, just a few old photos and baby clothes, but Gypsy had always known there was more; old secrets were living just above their heads. To her left, there were boxes upon boxes of electrical hair-styling appliances; to her right, a full-length mirror and countless vanity cases positively brimming with forbidden fakery.  Hands trembling, she wrenches open a case and seizes the first thing her eyes settle on – liquid eyeliner, sleek and stylish and strangely shaped. She sits before the dusty mirror, takes a deep breath and begins painting. She paints herself something new – something fake, and yet beautiful.

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