Transitioning from one phase in your life to another inevitably involves overcoming a range of obstacles and difficulties
Transitioning from one phase in your life to another inevitably involves overcoming a range of obstacles and difficulties. This is clearly evident through the persona Billy, a young, disaffected teenager whose journey is explored through the prose poetry of Steven Herrick’s The Simple Gift. In his quest to escape from his unsatisfying life, he must overcome his ingrained distrust of authorities. However, in doing this, he is able to completely transform his way of thinking about the world. The challenging yet fruitful effect of making transitions into new worlds is similarly echoed in My First Kiss, a memoir written by Lian Low. In this personal account, Lian reveals the barriers to expressing her sexual identity but also shows how in overcoming these obstacles, she is finally able to express her true identity.
The process of growing up is often fraught with difficulties and complex issues. This is true for Billy, the main voice in the poetry of Herrick. Through the medium of poetry, we gain snapshots of the difficulties of Billy’s life growing up, in particular the aggressive treatment he endured from his father. As Billy runs away from the home he describes through the neologism ‘Nowheresville’, he reflects on the reasons he has for leaving. He recounts a time when he innocently broke a window practicing his soccer skills ‘alone’. His father’s violent reaction was to give Billy ‘one hard backhander across the face’ which metaphorically ‘slammed the door’ on Billy’s childhood sporting dreams. This moment justifies in the mind of the reader why Billy makes the decisive move to leave Wentworth even though he is ‘sixteen, and soon to be homeless’. Additionally, he lacks a sense of direction which is reflected through the rhetorical questions, ‘To what? A coalfield lake?’ which reflect Billy’s confused mindset as he questions whether to jump on a Freight Train whose destination is completely unknown to him.
Like Billy, Lian has many difficulties growing up due to restrictions within her environment. Through listing she reveals that ‘tongue kisses, homosexuals, anti-government sentiment’ are all forbidden in Malaysia, adding the clause ‘and anything else it deemed offensive’ to highlight the arbitrary nature of the decisions made about behavioural restrictions. For Lian, these circumstances had terrible repercussions on the development of her sexuality. The lexical chain created through the verbs, ‘lost footing’, ‘changed’ and ‘retreated’ highlights her sense of isolation because she was different. This is evident through the contrast of her desire to have her ‘father’s flat chest’ whilst ‘other little girl’s dream to grow up and have breasts so that they can fill out their frocks’. In composing their texts, both Herrick and Low suggest that in order to overcome the obstacles in one’s youth, individuals may have to undergo physical transitions in order to find their true place in the world.
For Billy, the journey from Wentworth the Bendarat becomes the catalyst for the transformation of his attitude towards adults. This is achieved through his encounter with Ernie, the driver of the freight train. A shift to Ernie’s perspective allows us to see his caring nature towards Billy seen through the colloquial language in his invitation to ‘Make a cuppa if you want’ and the simplicity of his instance that Billy ‘Keep warm’. The reader can see the positive effect this has on Billy’s outlook as he states, ‘There are men like Ernie and there are other men, men like my dad’. The diction of ‘other’ in his comparison highlights that Billy can now recognise that there are adults in the world who are capable of showing affection. As Billy alights from the train in Bendarat, he gifts Ernie a bottle of champagne he stole from his father. The inclusion of his note to Ernie which reads, ‘Thanks Ernie. Here’s a present to launch your boat’ shows Billy’s transformed thinking. With this new mindset, Billy enters into the world of Bendarat with a sense of hope for the future which is communicated through the symbolism of the weather with the ‘sun finally lifting the fog’. From this we understand that through the physical transition from his old home to this new town Billy acquires a renewed sense of self.
Like Billy, Lian has a key experience which acts as a catalyst for her transformation. This occurs through her transition into university life where she engaged in a ‘short film project’ in which she deliberately ‘wanted to have a kissing scene’. As hinted at through the title of the memoir, Lian’s ‘first real kiss’ becomes a turning point in her life as she was able to outwardly express her sexuality. Moving into the world of university opens up opportunities for Lian to meet a woman who allows Lian to express herself as a lesbian. During the film making process, Lian finally feels comfortable enough that she ‘confessed to her’ that she’d never been kissed. The simple sentence, ‘She didn’t blink’ communicates Lian’s sense of shock that the woman didn’t react negatively; in fact, she reveals, ‘And then we kissed’, going on to describe the moment as ‘bliss’. The medium of a memoir allows for the use of first person through which Lian is able to frankly communicate how ‘Writing and performance have been outlets’. Furthermore, through contrast we see that the once ‘suppressed and ridiculed’ identity of Lian is now ‘accepted and applauded’ and this shows that ultimately her transition from a restricted childhood in Malaysia to an expressive university life in Australia is a positive, transformative experience.
Both Billy and Lian expose the ways in which moving into a new world, whilst fraught with difficulties, provides individuals with the opportunity to transform their lives in ways they never thought possible when they were younger.