With the launch of our new journal, Stilts IV, just round the corner, we’d like to introduce you to the people whose work makes this edition so damn good. Most of them are busy succeeding in far-flung corners of the globe, so we asked them to tell us where exactly they are and what even they’re doing there. Today, meet Ellena Savage.
Ellena Savage is a writer and editor from Melbourne. She has also been described as a “selfie idol”. Ellena is co-editor of The Lifted Brow, commissioning editor at SPOOK magazine, and writes a monthly culture column for Eureka Street.
Stilts: Where are you?
ES: Right at this minute I’m in Southern California staying with an old friend and his family. Last night we walked to the end of a pier and watched seals and water birds and an enormous school of sardines flash around in the water. As we walked back to the car I saw an amazing tshirt that I sadly couldn’t buy because the store was closed. It read: “HARVARD LAW. Just kidding.” I am really enamoured by the way California throws the sublime and absolute trash at you in the same punch.
In a few hours I’m going to LA to see if I will be “discovered”. Failing that, I’ll head to San Francisco with my colleagues from The Lifted Brow, where we’ll be undertaking a residency at McSweeney’s Publishing. I think the plan is to ingratiate ourselves in the big-time literary world and then pass off their ideas as our own. Our other plan is to put our brains together and work really hard and follow the example of much more established practitioners, until things start happening. Along with my co-editors at The Lifted Brow, Stephanie Van Schilt and Gillian Terzis, I’m reimagining the print edition of the Brow for its relaunch early next year.
Stilts: What else you working on?
ES: I’m also working on a new project at SPOOK Magazine, which is curating a themed series. The first of these will be a series of writings on circumcision. I also have my thesis to think about, in which I’m researching women’s autobiographical fiction and composing some of my own.
I guess these are all ongoing responsibilities I’ve committed to, so in terms of more novel projects, I’m really looking forward to composing text for a friend’s video work, she makes these very funny and unsettling works about gender. I’m also thinking up a literary/visual collaboration with a very old friend I haven’t seen in about 8 years who is an illustrator and living in the States. Maybe we’ll go to Mexico to do that? Really anything is possible. But now that you have me thinking about all these things I feel a bit unhinged, so I’ll just tell you what I plan to eat for lunch. A burrito. An American-sized coke.
In Stilts IV, Ellena searches for logic where weapons, love and race intersect. Here is an extract from her piece ‘Naseem’.
I guess it all began in the high school gym in Essendon. That was where I met Bee. We were fifteen, and both suffered period pain with inexplicable consistency between fourth and sixth period on Tuesdays and Thursdays, so our PE teacher who was stocky and not even fit would eye-roll us to the wall, where we sat and clutched our bellies next to all the other lazy girls, no talking allowed. Course we talked; course I made Bee my closest ally soon as we met; she was the coolest girl at school. Although she was covered at the time and had acne and braces, she was funny and charismatic and totally made up for her fear of boys by mocking them loudly.
I never feared her charisma the way girls are taught to fear cool girls, and we were not actually lazy. Just didn’t want to play dodge ball because lord knows we’d have been on our asses in no time. We were dreamy, driven by lust; lust for what, we didn’t even know. We didn’t know all that much, actually, having limits imposed from all around, and even fewer experiences. The talk we talked, sitting there next to each other, took us to our unrealised lives in which we were glamorous revolutionary warlords, or something–the revolution was definitely going to strike by the time we were twenty, and isn’t that when you become a grown-up?
Our boyfriends would be hot rebels, who despite being strong and smart and good at playing musical instruments, would choose us over their careers because in us they would recognise all that existed in their guts, too: that smouldering need for recognition they’d first found words for sitting in pairs against the gym wall, rubber soles screeching against polished floors in the background.
Six years later, Bee was still my closest ally, my partner in crime, and it was through her that I met Naseem. They were technically from the same “community”–that cringing PC word. I was twenty-one, he was twenty-two, which made him pretty much the youngest man I’d gone after, relative to me, by about seven years. And sure, he dressed like an Egyptian tourist, and my girlfriends let me know about it: too-small cargo pants that were literally from a Cairo laneway; too-big T-shirts with garish prints all over; actual gel through his fro. But he had this poise beneath it, and eyes with sleepy lids and long lashes. And what was fashion anyway? I could style him. Besides, he was smarter than anyone I’d met before, but smart with nothing to prove, the sexiest kind of smart. It was like he embodied all of sex and politics in one unit. Even though he was kind of not the tallest ever, it was agreed that he was definitely aman, someone who could take care of you if you ever needed taking care of.
When it came time to hook up, I knew it, and he knew it, and our friends were buzzing because they knew it too; they were the enablers of our union. I was in the club with my girls, all of us dressed slutty and fine: short short shorts and skirts, hightops, slinky, skanky op-shop shirts, and every accessory available. Lipstick. Back then it was always Mademoiselle by Chanel–it was more expensive than anything else I owned. We were used to crowding together tight at bars, talking to men with names like Astonishing, saying things to them crass, like, you prefer chocolate, or vanilla? and laughing at them, whatever they said in response. So we had our drinks in our bangled, ringed hands–rum and Sprite with fresh lime for me–and were preening at the bar, conspicuous, sexy, twenty-one-years old. What a cliché. Nas came in late that night, a little high. Just late enough and high enough to be on top of it.
He walked through the club towards me, and all I remember is the line he walked, the pulse of his footsteps. Through the crowd, people parting for him. He did not look me in the eye, kissed my cheek and looked over my shoulder. Then finally looked me in the eye. I beamed, my heart a-goddamn flutter, always one step behind his immaculate game with me. It was on. We went home together, rolled around in the dark sheets a little drunk, a little high. And then like that, we were the beloved couple: proof that girls like me and boys like him could not just hook up, they could fall in love at the club.
That club, that filthy club that brought together all walks of life every Friday. More often than not, we stayed out til the trams were running again, the ka-thump of them muting out the birdsongs for a second. We’d already be outside when the sun staggered its way up, in the alleyway kissing, or talking heavy shit because we were intellectual like that, poking keys up our nostrils, or passing a joint down the line, staring into the grey before us. Girls laughing wildly, high. Boys sometimes brawling with someone, a security guard most likely. Years later, this is how I remember my friends: the lambent tips of spliffs, and the metallic shine of their skin and fros when car-lights hit their faces. Shadowy and unreal.