I’ve got this list. Unlike most lists, it wasn’t conceived to restore daily order to my life. This list is part of a far greater exercise in futility: the quest to arrive at a personality. This list is not confined to ink or paper; it exists as a swarm of bullet points inside my head, each idea pulsing dimly in my periphery. I didn’t compile it in twenty minutes. I slowly witnessed it into existence over twenty-two years. It’s the product of a life-long process of elimination, a document of the least-desirable qualities I have observed in others. The leftover qualities — those not irritating enough to make the list — I should try to claim as my own.
Sharehousing with five other people makes this process easier. With a junkyard of quirks and defects to sort through, you can quickly compile an exhaustive list of things never to say or do. It starts off with the small things, like being told how to pronounce sauna correctly. ‘It’s sow-na. You guys know it’s Finnish, right?’
At this point, endowing foreign words with flourish goes straight on the list. Singing along to any Sigur Ros song earns a spot as well. You cannot be that person. You will never speak Hopelandic.
A recent visit to my hometown reminded me of an earlier item on the list of things not to become: downtown hoon. These hoons chuck ‘phat laps’ on Mondays and can spit without opening their mouths. I feared their condition as though it were contagious. My ten-year-old self would imagine the inevitable diagnosis: the doctor, removing his glasses, tells me that it’s acute delinquency. I’ve developed a nasty mullet. It’s inoperable.
When I left Warwick, I could finally add hoon to the list of things I was not. This accomplishment was quickly dwarfed by the prospect of sifting through the smorgasbord of qualities observable in the ‘big smoke’. A catalyst for this process came in the form of a trip to New Zealand, mostly because the bearded explorer who lured me there wanted to be with the mountains. I spent the trip looking out the window at the peaks that weren’t being conquered and at the trails that weren’t being tramped. I had grown up with a camping family and hoped that one day I would have it in me to make other people feel mildly guilty for binge-watching TV. I wanted to talk about fresh air as though I knew its benefits. After that holiday, outdoorsy was dutifully added to the list, and I inched another bullet point closer to sculpting some semblance of character.
Usually, I chipped away at my personality trait by trait but spending extended time with my mum carved gargantuan chunks out of its emerging form. The more homeopathic pills she planted in my pockets, the more I relied on Panadol. When she prattled heedlessly at waitresses about the prana of the food, I ordered a double-ristretto long black. I could not let myself grow kooky the way she had. It was in the middle of watching Gravity when Mum nudged me and held out what I thought, in the dark of the cinema, was part of her Violet Crumble bar. I accepted, realising too late that I was holding three chunks of damp, tooth-pocked honeycomb that she’d sucked the chocolate coating from. She had offered me the spongy remains as if I were her wide-mouthed baby chick eager for her seconds. Mum doesn’t realise that her confused social etiquette — these exchanges of ours — go straight on my list.
If we share a few moments in the bathroom, I will invariably end up with a pair of tweezers in my hand and Mum pointing to a rogue hair on her chin. I’ll stoop to get a good look at the silvery strand as it quivers under her breath. Then I’ll isolate the hair by planting two fingers either side of it, smoothing her crumpled skin like a sheet of crêpe paper I’m hoping to get one more use from. I note how her face looks like the map of an obsessive cartographer. I wish I could add to my list don’t grow chin hair or remember to be less saggy. The hair keeps shimmering under the fluorescent light and at certain angles I can’t even see it. ‘Don’t worry about it, Rose,’ Mum will say, ‘It’s only one hair.’ Horrified at her indifference, I lunge again at the wispy strand, hoping to uproot it once and for all. But I miss again and feel slightly foolish for having attacked the thin air with such vigour.
Rosie Funder is a Brisbane-based writer, and currently in the middle of a Bachelor of Creative and Professional Writing at QUT.