The day I became a woman

Dearest Reader,

My mother, sitting once again in her oriental garden of wisdom, told me that on the day I get my period for the first time, I would become a woman. I was told to expect my period when I am something like 13 or 14 years old. Alright, I thought.

I got my period when I was 11.

To put this into perspective, “Titanic” was released in the same year, and you had to be 12 years old to watch it.

Having seen the movie, and also seen my first period, I can safely say that blood coming out of my vagina was a lot more traumatising than watching a ship glamorously sink.

So did I handle the situation like a real woman?

Well I walked from the bathroom to my teacher and told her that I think I have my period, but it could also very well be the case that I am slowly dying because I am only 11, and it was supposed to come much later. I was so worried about my imminent death that I was allowed to leave school and go home. I told my mother I was deadly sick, and explained what happened. She started laughing, and gave me some chocolate. I ate it and thought it may be my last meal.

So my period was definitely not the day I became a woman.

Neither was my sweet 16th, my 18th, moving out, my driver’s licence, my high school graduation, my first sexual intercourse, my uni graduation, my first job, my first heart break, or any of the other things that are supposed to push you into the land of maturity.

But then, the day came.

I walked home, turned the keys into the door, stepped into my home, and stared womanhood right into the face.

It was a spider.

Not a normal spider.

A big-ass, hairy-ass, brown, disgusting Australian jungle mother spider of magnitudes and dimensions I have not seen in my entire life, or at best at the Zoo. I had dealt with Australian “house spiders” many times, many the size of my palm and jumping around like hairy assholes, but this was never-before-seen grandness for me. In my rational mind, I knew this was a huntsman and these spiders are harmless. But it was a huntsman the size of a God damn Brazilian tarantula.

It was hanging on the ceiling right above my bed, and its weight was evident in the way its legs were struggling to hold it up there. It was so horrifying, tears of sheer fear started rolling down my eyes. The first thing I did was slam the door and scream like a little girl outside my apartment. It was worse than seeing blood in my underpants.

I then decided to call everyone I know who could possibly handle this – but it so happened to be 3pm, and everybody was at work. So I started frantically knocking on my neighbours’ doors, only to find that nobody was home. I was, I concluded, alone with this thing.

I then engaged in a ritual of opening my door screaming, crying, and slamming the door close again. Despite my upsetting behaviour, said spider remained civil and kept sitting in its place above my bed.

I finally worked up the courage to walk in, find the insect spray bottle and – under much screaming and crying – finally get close enough to spray. The spider started stirring, walked along the wall, all over my bed, to the floor, around my room, and stopped under a chair. The entire time, I was screaming, crying, jumping, spraying, and quite possibly poisoning myself at this point.

Eventually, the spider died and turned into a curled up pile of hairy shit. It looked a lot smaller and less scary now, but I still had irrational fears that if I went too close, it would come back to life and eat my face, so I decided to vacuum its body from afar. Even my vacuum was struggling to suck that thing up, but it was eventually gone.

I checked my entire house for more spiders every 3minutes. I couldn’t sleep for days. I had sweaty nightmares for months. I jumped in fear every time anything moved. It took about half a year for me to relax again.

That was the day I turned into a woman. How do I know?

Last night, I sleepily walked into my bathroom, and saw another palm-sized hairy brown huntsman on my bathroom ceiling. I’d say it would make the top 3 of biggest spiders I’ve had in my house.

Yet, all I did was roll my eyes in annoyance. I got the spray, waited patiently for it to die, and vacuumed. No screaming, no crying. And above all, I just went to bed, turned off the light and went to sleep.

I am officially a woman. It only took three decades and a jungle spider.

You are more than what they see

Dearest Reader,

Without tooting my own horn here, I look slightly younger than my age.

This is mainly due to a combination of my ridiculously tiny body, the fact that I wear braces, and of course my overall juvenile behaviour.

As a result, it is not unusual for people to think I’m less experienced or knowledgeable than I actually am. Sure, it’s nice to be asked for ID when you buy a beer, and we can all pretend I don’t have almost two decades worth of beer guzzling experience. It makes me feel less disgusting.

But because they think that, I think that too. This is especially true professionally speaking. Not too long ago, I walked into a financial consultancy where two men in suits greeted me. They had a visibly puzzled look when “Zozan” from those emails turned out to be a tiny female in a floral dress. They kept checking the empty corridor behind me, perhaps waiting for my dad to show up and do the talking for me.

Those sorts of reactions immediately make me feel out of place and unqualified to be there. Although I was confident walking in, I quickly found myself regretting it. While they explained stock options, I thought to myself: You shouldn’t be here. Getting financial advice. You should be eating caramel popcorn at a fun fair and go ride a unicorn.

Last week I found myself in a training exercise on my first day at a new job, and I was paired up with Grumpy Lady. She was visibly older than me – I’m going to say she was approaching 60. She was clearly disappointed that she had to work with me. As mentioned previously, I tend to adopt juvenile behaviour, so I decided to make matters worse and told her it was my first day.

Instead of focusing on the exercise, she bitchily interrogated me on my work experience. I slowly started to feel inadequate again, imagining unicorns coming to my rescue, until I realised I don’t really have to take it.

Grumpy Lady: Have you worked in PR?
Me: Yes, but I didn’t like it. I guess I’m just not the corporate kind.
Grumpy Lady: Maybe you need to work in a different corporation.
Me: I have worked in different corporations.
Grumpy Lady: Maybe not long enough.

ALRIGHT BITCH.

Me: I’ve worked in corporations for 7 years, in 4 different corporations, in 2 different countries, I believe I know. 
Grumpy Lady: Oh. Sorry, you look very young.
Me: I am young, but I’ve been working since I was 19. 

BAM! Then she finally launched into friendly banter.

I felt proud for having stood my ground. It shouldn’t take a stranger to tell me what I know and what I can do.

But then again, it’s nice when it does happen. Later that day, the company newsletter went around, introducing me to the team:

********************

Welcome Zozan

–        Zozan Balci is teaching Public Relations in the Diploma of Communication in Semester 3. She has experience in public relations, corporate communications and media relations and as a freelance journalist (news and consumer). Zozan is also conducting doctoral research for the School of Communications at UTS in the area of socio-linguistics and is also a trained ESL teacher.

 

A tale of failure

Dearest Reader,

Not too long ago, I was about to turn 30 years old and took the opportunity to ask all the more mature, wiser people in my life for advice on how to manage this new decade. To my surprise, everyone simply responded: “You’re already doing all the right things. Just keep doing what you’re doing.”

I found this very puzzling.

To me life continues to be a big, scary, unpredictable mess no amount of planning can prepare you for. I have countless memories of throwing myself on the bed theatrically and weeping into my teddy bear after life pooped all over my hopes and dreams.

Here’s what people don’t see – behind all the things I’m seemingly doing right, there are a lot of things I did wrong.

Let’s take work for example. Once upon a time, I was drawn to an exciting life in the media – journalism, broadcasting, public relations – you name it, I’ve tried it.

On the outside, it looked very glamorous.

But on the inside, I had to sit in disciplinary meetings and was literally shouted at for my attitude, my lack of interest, and my inability to cooperate. When they threatened to fire me, I apologised. Whenever I threatened to quit, they kept offering more and more money.

This disturbing bipolar relationship existed because both parties involved were clearly psychotic idiots. Despite my difficult attitude, my bosses didn’t want to lose me and kept throwing money at me because I was excellent at doing my job. And despite being abused on a daily basis, I didn’t want to lose my dream.

Unsurprisingly, I cried on the way to work, on the toilet at work, and on the way home from work. My career was supposed to be exciting and amazing, but I was failing every single day. I had wasted years of my life climbing this ladder, just to find a pile of crap at the top.

So what do you do when everything you worked for turns out to be the wrong thing?

You do the right thing by quitting doing the wrong thing.

My attitude, I later learned, was never problematic. But I was doing something that my attitude found problematic.

I was uncooperative and difficult to work with because I refused to bend the truth or twist a person’s words to fit an agenda. I showed a lack of interest precisely because I had no interest in increasing corporate revenue. And my loud and annoying attitude never shied away from arguing with its superior on these matters.

So me and my attitude packed our bags. While I am not particularly spiritual, I do believe we all serve a purpose. I realised this failure was simply there to tell me that what I was doing wasn’t fulfilling my purpose. All I knew was that I wanted to help people, and I wanted to make a positive change through my work. But in my cloudy mind, I couldn’t yet see how.

As I sat on the couch weeping into a box of tissues, it turned out that out of all people, it was my mother who cleared away the mental mist and reminded me.

“You’re a teacher,” she announced, patiently sipping her tea.
“Why are you so sure?,” I asked, narrowing my eyes suspiciously.
“Because I’m your mother,” she replied, matter-of-factly.
“Well! Why didn’t you tell me earlier??,” I snapped, childishly.
“Because I’m your mother, and you wouldn’t have listened. You had to find out for yourself,” she explained, surrounded by her oriental garden of wisdom.

Deep down, I always knew this. Because before I ever started working in the media, I had worked as a teacher and I absolutely loved it. But in my immaturity, I considered it too “unglamorous” to pursue as a career.

My punishment for ignoring my purpose? Years of fighting bitches and crying on the toilet. Since finally embracing my real purpose, my oh-so-difficult attitude has been sitting back, smiling, and peacefully nodding at the choices I’ve made.

So if you too find yourself doing a good old ugly cry over a missed opportunity, a broken relationship, a failing career – just know that this is simply a sign that you need a change, and deep inside you probably know what that is. Time to roll up your sleeves and do it!

I’d offer my mother’s in-your-face counselling services to get you through it, but seeing as the phrase “I’m your mother” is her only credential, it might not work for you.

How to bribe yourself into being a decent adult

Dearest Reader,

Some parents use rewards to encourage their children to behave well, get good grades and contribute around the home. 

While my parents always stressed the importance of doing well at school and being respectful, there weren’t many rewards. Unlike my fellow classmates, I didn’t get cash for every “A” I brought home, nor did I get anything for doing the chores around the house.

Rewards, it turns out, cost money in one way or another. Since there wasn’t much of that in our family, my parents chose the cheaper option – punishment. There was punishment for bad marks, bad behaviour or not doing my chores.

One could debate on the effectiveness of reward vs punishments in parenting, as one could be considered bribing and the other as emotionally damaging. But since I am unqualified to speak about children or parents, I shan’t be diving into this.

But as an adult, I have more responsibilities and chores than ever before. On top of that, there is definitely no more room for disrespect or emotional outbursts. Even in the face of great injustice, I must smile, nod and keep doing my work so I can earn money and pay the bills.

But we’re all human, and we are going to fail at some things. Maybe you’re late with a bill. Maybe you’ve been eating junk food and feeling the effects. Maybe you’ve neglected your studies. Maybe you’ve spent more money than you earned from smiling and nodding. Maybe you haven’t moved your ass off the couch for weeks.

The thing is, as an adult, you’re not going to punish yourself. I don’t envision verbally abusing myself, or slapping myself across the face, or taking away my own phone, or sending myself to stand in the corner and think about what I’ve done. Thus, your slip-ups are going to go unpunished and you’ll continue messing things up.

My big weakness is and has always been exercise. I do not enjoy it, and I tried everything from gym to swimming to classes to competitive sports – it all seems just sweaty, boring, difficult or painful.

The things I love doing – writing, reading, socialising, crafts – do not require me to lift my cheeks off the chair. And I know that exercise never ends. It’s not something you do for a while, and then you’re magically healthy for the rest of your life. You have to keep doing it until the day you die.

I have tried many things to get me to do it. I tried the gym. I tried making it an appointment in my diary, as a non-optional sort of thing. I tried buying a hoola hoop, pink weights, a floral yoga mat, a Lorna Jane bra. I tried handball, football, basketball, volleyball, swimming, dancing, running, cycling, pilates, yoga, exercise videos, and most recently, personal training. None of it works.

So I decided to try the other thing. The thing my parents didn’t do.

I decided to bribe myself.

I set my weekly exercise goal (a humble one). To get myself to stick to it, I give myself a reward. If I don’t make it, I don’t get a reward. If I keep at it for a whole month, I get a reward PLUS a bonus reward. I track my goal by colouring in little squares that represent parts of the goal.

The only limitation is that my reward must benefit my health, fitness or overall wellbeing in some sort of way. A new exercise top. Ingredients to make this crazy expensive acai bowl. A massage. A manicure.

It hasn’t been long, only two weeks so far. I’ve done two weeks before and still failed, so I’m not going to say this is the miracle cure.

But I certainly don’t recall ever being motivated by colouring in a square because it represented a step closer to getting a pamper. It somehow…works?

The moral of the story is there is nothing wrong with a little bit of bribery. If it helps you climb your personal Mount Everest, just throw money at the problem. Maybe not good parenting advice, but certainly good adulthood survival advice!

 

What to do when you don’t know what to do

Dearest Reader,

Regardless of where in adulthood you find yourself, chances are shit will keep crawling after you again and again, and you’ll find yourself lying in the dark, wondering: How the hell did I get here, and what the fuck do I do now?

The curveballs life throws at you come in many shapes – maybe you find you hit a dead end in your profession, and you don’t know whether this is what you really want to be doing.

Or maybe you took a good hard look at your finances and realise you need to change game plan because you’re knee-deep in debt. Or maybe you want to scratch your eyes out every time your partner walks into the room because it’s just been a rough patch.

Or maybe it’s just a good old-fashioned “I don’t know what to do with my life!” – trust me, we’ve all been there.

I’ve asked myself all these questions – should I quit this job? Should I break up? How am I going to pay for this? – and I’ve survived it to tell the tale.

So I am here to tell you exactly what you should do you don’t know what to do.

Are you ready? You better sit down for this.

You do nothing.

You don’t talk to people about it, you don’t make any decisions, you don’t google what others in a similar situation have done. You simply sit, and do nothing.

You’re not fit to do anything while you’re still crying into a tub of ice cream, and chances are you already know what do to, but you just don’t like the answer.

Once you find stillness, change the question – it’s too overwhelming to tackle the issue in its entire magnitude. If you’re trying to eat an elephant, you must cut it into bite-sized pieces.

The question you must ask is: What is the next right move?

The next right move in your professional kerfuffle might simply be to think about the sort of job and money you’d like to have, and then work backwards to see what steps you need to take. So the best thing to do today is not to quit and take another crappy job, but to ask Google more about the job you really want.

Likewise, think about the financial situation you’d like to be in, and work backwards. Maybe today, all you can do is go through your bank statements and, like me, end up asking yourself: Am I working just to keep Target in business? Why is this all over my bank statements??

If you can identify one of the culprits that got you into the mess, you have already taken a small step towards a change that will help you achieve your bigger goal.

I hope, dearest Reader, you find some comfort in this.

And if all else fails, the next right move might simply be opening a bottle of red and dealing with this shit tomorrow.

Why you don’t have to party it up in Vegas

Dearest Reader,

In a moment of intellectual weakness, I recently indulged in watching the first Hangover movie to forget about adult life by watching other adults completely ruin theirs. I have been to Vegas in the past, and while I enjoyed my brief time there, I am sad to say I didn’t wake up with Mike Tyson’s tiger in my bathroom.

A few days later, I sat for lunch with a couple of friends, and as the wine began to take over, we stopped to appreciate our levels of freedom, and the fact that as single ladies with no kids, we could literally pick up our things right now and go to Vegas.

In fact, we could stay for two months if we so pleased, we could do whatever the hell we wanted over there, we could gamble away our money because we worked for it and owe nothing to nobody, and we could hire all the strippers we wanted, and we could party party party all night long!

It took a moment of silence to realise that while we could certainly do all these things, it sounded like a horrible idea.

“We don’t like to party party party,” one friend said.

“This is true,” I admitted.

“And we don’t like to gamble, and if we want to watch a show we can watch it here, and if we want to see a bunch of shit-faced dickheads looking for hookers, we could also see them here,” I added.

“Exactly. Instead, we like to do this,” said my friend, pointing at our table and surroundings.

By this, she means of course sitting by the water in the sun over a boozy lunch. There is food to share, there is music, there are other people to observe and most importantly, there are alcoholic beverages of which some are pink and sparkle.

Yes, we officially calmed down a notch, I thought. But it is because we had those party times and frankly, we are just over it. And I’m finally ok with it!

So we quickly moved away from planning a getaway that would be filled with depressing gambling addicts, mild sexual harassment by Bachelor party crowds and vomiting at Caesar’s Palace.

Instead, we dreamed of places we could go to where some handsome young men would serve us beverages by the ocean and massage us while we fabulously enjoy the sun. We would then have naps and repeat this at dinner time.

And why pay for chewed-up strippers in Vegas if you could be sipping a Mojito somewhere in the Caribbean while observing beachgoers smear coconut oil all over themselves right in front of you?

We are women for God’s sake. If you smile and wave at said oiled-up beachgoer, they’ll come over and try to entertain you with pick-up lines, drinks and compliments, maybe even flexing their muscles to impress, so that’s a wonderful show to enjoy.

In short, calming down is awesome – it’s the classier version of the younger you. And from what I imagine, it smells of coconuts and tastes of Caribbean rum.

Table for one: Conquering the fears of dining out alone

Dearest Reader,

On my list of things to do before I turn 30 was a holiday on my own. A social experiment if you will, to see what it would all feel like. So I decided on a holiday in Venice to celebrate 30 years of me.

But as a girl travelling on her own, I felt incredibly nervous about sitting down in a restaurant to eat. I worried that I’d be observed, pitied or judged for being alone; on the first day of my trip, my fear was so crippling that I only dared eating takeout. But I started feeling pretty silly about it soon because it was defeating the purpose of me coming here.

So I decided to drink a glass of courage (=wine) put on a dress, do my hair and go on a date with myself. 

I found a place, and ordered Venetian classics – a starter, a main, a side and a dessert all to myself. I also ordered half a bottle of wine. And it was perfectly fine. Nobody was asking, observing or judging. I figured that I was being worried for no reason and that it was all in my head. What a relief!

With renewed confidence, I went out a second time. And of course, when you think you’ve got life all worked out, it reminds you that you haven’t. Maybe it was because I speak the same language and it allows for familiarity, maybe it’s because I look young or maybe it was because I am just so darn approachable; whatever the reason, the waiter took my order and asked: “How come a beautiful young signorina like you is travelling and eating alone?”

So my biggest fear came true after all. How should I respond to this?

The truth is that I’m turning 30 and I wanted to, you know, go on a holiday with myself, do that eat pray love sort of thing. But this is very personal and I didn’t want to share it with this guy.

I briefly entertained the thought of pretending to be on business. But I didn’t want to lie and hide, because I wasn’t doing anything wrong.

I also resisted my natural urge to respond with sarcasm, or an equally degrading counter question, like “how come a man in what appears to be in his 40s is still waiting tables?”. I figured I’m bigger than that.

Instead of all this, I simply said “Because that’s how life turned out.” And left it all up to his interpretation.

His face filled with pity. He lightly patted me on the back, shook his head and walked off with my order.

My biggest fear came true, and it was exactly how it had played out in my head – almost like in the movies.

I wondered; would he have asked me if I was a young man? Would he have asked me if I wasn’t “beautiful”, clearly worthy of company in his eyes?

As I was contemplating, I walked into the bathroom and was brought back to reality by panicked knocks from the inside of the stall. Clearly, someone got stuck in the toilet.

I started offering my help in different languages and a tiny voice responded in English that she’s Scottish. I talked her through different unlocking manoeuvres, calmed her down with a few jokes and together we got the door open eventually. She was grateful and relieved as we said goodbye.

I walked back to my table and paid the waiter no further attention. For some reason, the toilet incident helped me snap out of it right away.

Criticism, however painful to your ego, is important to consider when it is meant to help you grow. But this was not that sort of criticism. In fact, this whole interaction was not about me at all.

Maya Angelou once said that when dealing with haters, remember that “You’re not in it”. I never really understood what she meant, but it finally clicked. The question, the pat on the back, the head shaking – these were not a reflection of me, but a reflection of his character. If he hadn’t targeted me, he’d have asked someone else something equally stupid later that day. He just had to let it out somewhere. I know this to be true because he later made some diet remarks when a lady ordered her dessert. So do as Taylor Swift says – haters gonna hate and it’s best to shake it off.

So I watched my little bathroom pal run back to her family and tell them all about what happened. Instead of feeling upset about the waiter, I started feeling pride because my heroic toilet stall actions helped reunite this lovely Scottish family.

Most importantly, I felt pride because I knew that her smile and gratitude were the real reflection of who I am.