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In Conversation with Three Women

The Author:

I spoke to three women at different stages of life. They told me stories of their travels, their favourite things, how they cope with stress and what growing up is/was like for them.

I chose to change little about what they told me, writing exactly how they spoke to me, mostly simply transcribing our interviews.

My discussion with my three subjects began with their personal likes and dislikes, their attributes, their hobbies, determining a line of questioning where I could ask them about their own experience as a woman. The trials of their life. Their path to happiness. It seems like a little world, but they showed me just how big it can be.

On Growing Up:

Age 8

I’m eight years old and have a little sister, Ella. She’s four and a handful. She likes reading and throwing balls, and her favourite books are the Mr Men series. Ella likes Mr Tickle the most. I like Mr Nonsense more.

Age 20

I grew up in a household full of choice. Not strict nor free-spirited, but open enough for me to make my own decisions on sports and hobbies. My parents encouraged my three brothers and I to attempt all and pursue many. When it came down to it, we always had the option to choose our own path. So, I gave up piano as soon as I could.

Age 58

In 1960s Northern England, I had to grow up much earlier than my peers. I was a timid young girl, a trait that held me back from getting in with groups of friends. Swimming lessons and horse riding cultivated much of my childhood, and then my mother died when I was eleven, falling to a heart attack. She just dropped dead.

On Learning:

Age 8

I like school. I like doing sports a lot, and I like writing. I like writing narratives about adventures and stuff. I did a twisted tale on Frozen, making Ana really jealous of Elsa, where she gets fire powers and tries to defeat Elsa, but then Olaf comes and does CPR on Elsa. My teacher liked it very much.

Age 20

School came first for me and my brothers. If you do well in school, you’re setting yourself up for the rest of your life. Your social life shouldn’t interfere with school, but I always had one. My school life had very much of an academic focus, something that was probably due to both of my parents being teachers and their encouragement of greatness.

Age 58

You wouldn’t believe it now, but I didn’t know how to read until I was nine. It was a mix of things. My mother’s health, constantly moving house, the ignorance of my teachers. Before I learned, it was horrendous reading with my classmates. I would be sitting in pairs in class, and the first person in the first row would read the first sentence to the full stop, and so on. When my turn arrived, I had no fucking idea where I was up to. No idea! I couldn’t read, so how could I follow? When I had to ask my desk mate for help, it looked like I wasn’t paying attention and then all I could read was three letter words.

On the Inbetween:

Age 8

I think I’m pretty good at maths and I’m really excited about high school. If I wasn’t at school, I think I would go surfing with my dad, something we do only sometimes. I’d probably do a lot more gymnastics too.

Age 20

I’m currently having an existential crisis regarding my career. It’s hard to find an area to focus on, especially in university when there are so many avenues you can pursue, so here’s hoping inspiration strikes for me at some point. Issues of power and money and the theory of politics are something that I love exploring and may pursue into my adulthood. I want something where I can see the effect of the things I learned at uni. It keeps things relevant.

Age 58

I was backpacking in the late 1980s when I met Damien. Infrequently calling home and relying on letters instead. Now it’s insane because imagine young people leaving and not hearing from them for weeks and weeks and weeks and just thinking “What the fuck, are you in a gutter or something?” But this didn’t stop me from travelling around the north of Australia. And then I found Damien again and followed him to Melbourne. We fell in love, and I never left.

On Dreams:

Age 8

I want to be a pro-surfer. And maybe a writer. And have a good family. But I think that my writing needs to improve a bit, it’s ok right now, but needs some work. I feel like a lot of people don’t really like their own work, but when other people read their stuff, they love it.

Age 20

My aspirations are something that are important to me, and before I realised I had to watch animals die, I wanted to be a vet. Secretly, I had always wanted to be a singer. Not that I was any good, because physically I cannot sing, but I would think, “You know what, maybe given the right circumstances, maybe I could win The Voice.”

Age 58

I was going to be a princess, but I ended up choosing the more practical, and existent career of nursing, and then midwifery. I used to like to play with dolls, drawing wounds on them and then bandaging them up, making sure they were being treated correctly. And then I spent time in the nurse housing, where the security lady on the door often turned a blind eye to the no-boys-allowed-to-stay-over rule, one that me and her flatmates were extremely appreciative of.

On Reflecting:

Age 8

I went to cross country divisionals on Wednesday, I got to get up early and had some toast and stuff. I also like basketball and gymnastics. My best friend Paige, who I’ve been friends with since prep, sometimes hangs out with other friends, but my other best friend Isabella always plays gang-up tiggy with me. Isabella is pretty funny; she likes running like me and she’s going to divisionals as well. I’m pretty easy-going, and I like that Paige is too.

Age 20

I don’t see myself as a quitter. I think you have to do what’s going to put you in the best position for your future self, and always think of your future self. But recently, I’ve had the mentality that you’ve got to do what makes you happy, and your future self will work it out. There wasn’t a lot of flexibility for the older generations, they pushed through hard times, and focused on their careers before their lives. I would like to enjoy my life the whole way through, and I know when something is right for me and when something is not.

Age 58

My youngest Orla says that I always care about my family’s health the most. Maybe it was because I’m a nurse and saw signs early. Or maybe I was scared of my own mother’s history. Damien’s health does worry me sometimes, I don’t think he looks after himself very well, but he’s his own individual. My immediate family is my greatest joy, something I think is because I didn’t have much of a mother growing up. I think I became the mother I never had. Orla says I only say that because she’s sitting right next to me. “Yeah, I’ll tell you the truth when she’s gone.”

On Happiness:

Age 20

Bagels and beach walks. I adore them. They remind me of being at peace and being calm. It kinda goes hand in hand with me not thinking I really have any hobbies. I guess walking is a hobby, or even watching Netflix or listening to Harry Styles. I’m really trying to get into journaling, so that’s pretty fun, and I think I should maybe get a hobby. Maybe that will make me happy. I think happiness is achievable, and often lies with others. The people that love who are happy to be there for you. And at some point, I have to realise that.

Age 58

Happiness is a big word. When I was little and in my twenties, I wanted everyone to be happy, but now I think that there’s too much emphasis on the word. Happiness is something that you get in small bursts, like how you get sadness, and it’s okay to have bursts of happiness and to have bursts of sadness. I prefer focusing on contentment, something that helps you be at peace. For me, contentment, that big middle ground where everything is getting on okay, is what I strive to have, because happiness is not really that achievable.

Age 8

Me and Isabella laugh a lot. It makes me feel nice and warm when we’re together. I’m always happy with Isabella. I hope it stays this way.

Special thanks to my three subjects for providing me with this story. Milla, the brave future surfer. Bridget, the 20-year-old who refuses to quit. And Fay, an advocate for pure contentment. 

Ella Cigognini

Ella is a Melbourne-based writer who is looking to pursue a career in telling human interest stories. She is soon to graduate from RMIT University with a bachelors degree in Journalism and is hoping to use her skills to travel the world writing and telling stories of people from all walks of life.

Andrea (Nea) Valdivia

Andrea (Nea) Valdivia is an illustrator from Lima, Peru based in Melbourne, Australia with a passion for the arts, specialising in traditional and digital illustration, as well as graphic design. Andrea is passionate about using her art to make different statements and she especially loves creating colourful characters that tell a story in an aesthetically pleasing way. She is inspired by nature, animals and people.

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