The 27 Club: Sort Your Life Out

Darlings. I’ve missed you.

Let me begin by saying in actuality I don’t think there is an exact age that you should be expected to sort your life out. We each grow at different paces, and there is no shame in taking a little longer to get yourself on track. This is just my story.

~

I was always scared of turning twenty seven. You’re officially in your late twenties, for a start. Most people around you are married and having babies. Most have solid careers, houses, cars. Most people know what they want and how to get it.

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I guess I’m not most people.

Janice, the Jim’s, Kurt and Amy all lost their lives at 27. Icons of their generations taken at the height of their power by drugs, alcohol and depression.

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Those of you who have been out for a smoke with me will no doubt have heard my white bic lighter story. There’s a disproved theory that all of the 27 Club had a white bic lighter somewhere in the room or on their person when they died. Because I’m a superstitious loon I always carry one- just in case.

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I guess life can go either way, can’t it? It seems twenty seven is a good age to work out what you’re good for, and make your existence count for something. I’m under no illusion that I’m important, or that my voice will be the stuff of legends, but I do know from the beautiful messages I’ve received from people I know well and don’t that I am helping people. I’m good at inspiring people. I’m good at making people feel good. My writing is my purpose, that which I can do anywhere.

Decision Time

This week I decided not to move to Melbourne. After talking about it for years, and countless friends telling me how much I’d fit in, I pulled the plug on my plans one week out. I put my flights in to credit and took a big deep breath and realised that I was poking the embers of a dream I’d left behind a while ago.

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Talking to my spectacular councillor (who I can’t recommend enough) I realised that I have spent years of my life solely dedicated to people pleasing, and following plans because I think I have to, and committing to things I don’t actually want to do for fear of upsetting people. But where is my voice in all of this?

I’m not going to do that anymore.

This week I also made a second huge decision: I’m going back to Australia sales.

I already knew I’d found the love of my life in selling Australia when I moved to Brisbane to pursue my dream all those years ago. I am so thankful for everything I’ve learned while trialing international, I love my Perth Infinity family, but I miss my baby. I miss the surge of warmth I’d get in my chest with every call, waxing poetic about tropical North Queensland and the Outback. Aus is my everything. Between that and my writing, I’m living one hell of a fulfilled and passionate life.

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I’ve never been very good at having a clear vision and sticking to it. I’ve never been very good at decisions in general; but this week I made big ones and I know deep down in my soul it’s right. I have spent so much time living in the future that I didn’t realise that given a few choices, I could be spectacularly happy, right here and now.

Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans – John Lennon

I love my city and it’s wild beaches, my crazy friends, my loud family, my dogs and my nephew. I love our big, wide roads, the bush land, the weather. I am in love with a person, the kind I had reserved myself to believing couldn’t exist here. No where is perfect, but your situation is what you make it.

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I don’t need to run away to another city to be happy. I think running just makes the broken pieces harder to ignore. I don’t need to leave my home to belong. I am my own home, my friends are my home. I am such a lucky girl to have so much love around me.

Jessie and I are going to finish off a dream we started three years ago, when two hopeless blondes moved across the country in search of adulthood and learned lessons galore.

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Now, older and hotter and a whole lot wiser, we’re going to work it out all over again- together. And this time I’ll buy less DVDs.

In short, and the point of this long and rational tale, is that in this life you will disappoint people and you may even disappoint yourself. Your mind will change, your dreams might too. You don’t owe anyone anything. If you find your passion, your happiness, hold on to it with both hands and don’t let go. Do what your gut tells you, always. We don’t live for very long, so live well.

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My name is Harleigh, I’m twenty seven, and I’m gonna be just fine.

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X

HarleighQ

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Yesterday – A Short Story

Syd woke with the sun again. The light filtered through the venetian blinds and hit the honey brown of her eyes. She blinked slowly, her dream of the night gently fading from memory. The sheets were pushed down by her feet. The evening had been warm, but the morning cool left her tummy cold to the touch. She wasn’t wearing a thing but a pair of bikini briefs. She traced her finger gently up her thigh, along her hip bone, and rubbed the back of her hand against her heavy lids.

The tanned body beside her stirred; his face turned towards hers, lips parted, still snoozing.

Syd moved her hand towards him, and pressed it to his cheek. She traced the outline of his mouth with her thumb. This beautiful man, with thick black hair and bright green eyes, was hers.

For years she had dreamed of this moment. For the longest time she wasn’t sure if it would ever come. A slew of men talked their way in to her heart and her room with no thought of staying. They left her cold and deserted, and cursing herself for letting them in in the first place. Still, she didn’t change. She let those smooth Casanovas with their big smiles and firm touches have their way with her body and soul, until after a while she didn’t have much left to share.

It was a shell of a woman sitting alone at the bar that night that Julian arrived. He was equable, he didn’t speak to her. He ordered a drink and went back to his friend. When Syd glanced over her shoulder at him, he was looking right at her. That electric stare cut straight through.

It still did.

Her touch must have woken him. He pressed his lips together and kissed the tip of her thumb. Syd sighed, and rolled away from him. She gradually wiggled backwards until their bodies completed a puzzle. Julian wrapped his arm around her stomach and pulled her in tighter.

“I love you,” he whispered. His breath tickled her ear. Syd wanted to cry. He buried his nose in to her auburn hair and breathed deeply. They stayed like this for a long time, lost inside a waking dream. When Julian’s lips pressed against her neck, Syd melted in to him completely. His body grew firmer. She enjoyed her favourite wake up call.

A while later, hair wrapped in a towel and smelling like mint and vanilla, Syd emerged from the bathroom. Her feet hit the cold tiles and she tapped towards the kitchen. She could hear the coffee grinder.

Inside the door, Julian’s hair was still dripping with sweat. He grinned at her and ran his fingers through it. “I love you,” he cooed again, planting a kiss on her forehead. He drew his hand down her back, fingers tickling her spine. She let her towel drop a little lower. “I’m going to shower.”

Syd watched him go.

“Don’t drink all my coffee, Sydney,” he called back to her. She smirked; her shoulders slumped at the memory. The first time Syd had stayed with this man, she had unwittingly used the last of his important Columbian beans to make a coffee that tasted like rocket fuel. Since then, she knew not to help herself, and he had bought her a jar of Moccona just in case.

Syd heard the shower running and walked toward the record player. A jazz artist she hadn’t heard of was replaced by the Rolling Stones. It was Saturday morning, after all.

She flicked the switch on the kettle and leaned back against the counter.

It had been three blissful months in the arms of this bronzed Adonis. Originally from Argentina, his family immigrated to Australia in the eighties. At thirty five, Jules was a little older than Syd. He had travelled extensively in his twenties, which made him wise. He had a social conscience she had never encountered before. He seemed to genuinely care about everyone and everything. The first time this struck her was also the first time she’d seen him cry. They were watching a David Attenborough documentary on a lazy Sunday afternoon. His eyes welled as he watched their planet die on television, and swiftly Syd started to care a lot more too.

He made her better, she decided; a better person, a better lover. She was selfish in her youth. She was selfish full stop. She really had to watch her words sometimes. Her fiery hair was matched only by her fierce tongue. Growing up bullied severely for something as ridiculous as your hair colour gives a girl plenty of opportunity to develop a defence mechanism.

Perhaps that was her problem with men. She could handle taunts and rudeness, sly comments and cruel stares. What she couldn’t handle was kindness. Syd would protect herself and her friends from any bro with the audacity to neg them out but give her a nice guy, a man with a compliment and a flashy grin and she was putty in his hands.

She couldn’t understand how her friends were so good at weeding out the genuine ones and the liars.

“None of them are genuine, Syd. That’s rule number one,” said her cynical best friend Marie between puffs of her menthol cigarette.

“That can’t be true Marie. If it were… what’s the point?”

“Exactly.” Marie narrowed her eyes at her foolish companion. Syd flushed crimson and felt overcome with sadness. I refuse to believe it.

One month later, she met Julian.

Syd was nestled cross-legged on the sofa when he emerged, glistening wet and a towel around his waist. She loved his rugged beauty, how natural he was in body and mind. When wet, his hair touched his shoulders. He shook it out like a dog and grinned at her.

“I’m worried. Why are you looking at me like you want to murder me?”

Syd laughed at bit her lip. “I was lost in memories; I won’t kill you until you’re old and rich.”

“I don’t plan on being either.”

“If you keep importing that coffee from Colombia, you won’t be.”

Julian winked at her before entering the kitchen. Syd sipped her painfully average instant coffee and groaned. “Can I have a sip of your rocket fuel?” she called.

“Seeing as you asked so nicely… absolutely not,” he said, poking his head around the door. “You disrespect my coffee. You disrespect me.”

“God forbid,” said Syd darkly. This man, she thought. He loves his coffee more than me.

She thought back to the night before. Syd and Marie had gone for dinner, which turned in to dancing. Marie was wild and fun. As Syd’s only single friend, she was the one she always turned to in times of need.

“He worships you, and I hate both of you,” she bellowed in to her ear over the loud music. Syd felt smug, but sad. Her friend was stunning. She deserved the world.

“He’ll come one day,” she shouted back.

“Nah,” laughed Marie. “You took the last good one.”

Syd frowned when she thought of her friend. She was the most supportive, strong woman she had ever met. Is there really someone for everyone?

“I have a surprise for you, my golden Goddess,” Julian began when he reappeared. He pulled a piece of paper from behind his back.

Julian was an artist. Not a struggling one, as his full time job as a law clerk saw to. He hated it, but it was a means to an end, as he often stated. He didn’t have many work friends. The few times she’d been out with them, they were dull and unfriendly. One night in particular stuck in Syd’s mind. His boss, a heavy set man with a terrible comb over had looked her up and down and tapped her on the behind.

“They’re a rotten crown.” Julian cooed in her ear that night as they Uber’d home.

“You’re worth the whole damn lot of them,” she finished. They shared a passionate kiss. That was the first time he told her he loved her.

Syd moved in a few days later.

Since then, Julian’s cartoons never failed to brighten her day. Syd looked down at his latest creation: a sleeping red head with a caption ‘My World.’

“This is for you,” he beamed.

“I’ll frame it,” she teased.

He looked so proud. His chest puffed out, his wonky grin. She wanted to eat him up.

“I will draw us old and in rocking chairs.”

“I’d rather live it!” She said with love. He stuck out his bottom lip. Syd had a tendency to shut him down without thinking. “Draw our future.”

“Right after I get eggs,” he muttered. “We don’t have any left.”

“I’d rather some toast. You can’t make eggs.”

“It is my life goal,” he announced loudly to the empty room, “to make you the perfect egg.” She was more interested in his slipping towel but nodded along anyway.

“Keep trying.”

When Julian closed the front door, and said I love you for the third time that morning, Sydney didn’t say it back. She knew he knew. She said it with her eyes, meeting his and welling up. She said it in the way she brushed his hair out of his face as he finished his latest masterpiece. She said it when she made the bed, and laid out some of his clothes. She said it in ways that spoke more than words.

She knew he knew it.

But she spent the rest of her life wishing she’d said it that morning.

When the police knocked on the door an hour later she was already so anxious her hands were shaking. He hadn’t answered her texts; he hadn’t picked up his phone. He was always hopeless with that damn phone but today she knew he took it with him.

Maybe he left it in the car? Maybe the store was closed for some reason. Maybe he ran in to someone he knew and got talking and lost track of time.

‘Where r u?’

‘Is everything ok?’

‘Did the car breakdown? Do u need me to come get u?

She saw the uniforms and the look of sorrow on their faces. As soon as they opened their mouths it was like one of those silly cartoons when everything is fuzzy. She didn’t remember falling to her knees or how one of them had picked her up and walked her in to the living room. The noise coming from her mouth was something foreign; a pained moan from a ghost. Something she’d never heard before.

She heard the words ‘accident’ and ‘fatalities’ and something about a truck turn-over.

A hot cup appeared in her hand; his cup. She took a sip discerningly and gagged. It was rocket fuel. It was his coffee. She threw the cup across the room and it smashed in to a million pieces along with her heart.

“Never touch his coffee!” She screamed. She was held tight again a chest that wasn’t his and she thrashed with all her might, becoming a crumpled heap on the floor. Who can you call?

No one.

There is no one.

He’s gone.

~

Six months later she sat in a cafe with Marie. Her voice was fuzzy and cartoon-like and Syd’d eyes glazed over as she stared at the barista. He had long floppy hair and flashed her a smile. Her stone face remained unchanged.

“Cherish the ones you love Marie,” she said flatly. Her friend fell silent. A hand cupped hers.

“Always,” she said quietly.

Self-Love Part Three

In this edition of millennial bs I’m going to tackle some confidence killing taboos. As I know a lot of you are just like me, hence you being my friends, I hope this will make you feel a little bit better about being a sweet hot mess.

Be you sensitive, needy, emotional, shy, an over-sharer, awkward, a bit daft or all of the above, I'm sure you'll find something in here to make you feel a little bit cooler. You're actually very very cool.

The People-Pleaser – I Love You

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Hi, my name is Leigh, and I want everyone to love me.

It’s an issue.

Working in sales it is of the utmost priority that I can bend at will to fit myself around the person I am talking to. I need to fulfil their needs, make them feel comfortable. Most of all, I need them to hang up the phone with a smile.

Making other people feel good makes me feel oh so good.

I absolutely love my job.

There’s nothing fake about the way we all adapt to people though. We have so many sides to our personalities, and after a while you just get good at picking which side it is that this person is going to respond to most. Is it the dry, sarcastic down to business woman? Is it the sweet, giggly joker with the compliments? I find I’m a little bit different with everyone I know. I’m sure we all are. There’s only a handful of people who get to see inside my head, and I’m very careful about who I truly let in; because I’m actually mental.

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There’s nothing more earth shattering than being your true self and having someone reject you. It happens though.

That’s why I think it’s easier to put on a bit of a show, and know that if you’re making people feel good, they’re going to regard you well. If it doesn’t work, it is okay, because that wasn’t 100% you anyway.

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I guess maybe it’s a defence mechanism, this performance. This need for love runs through every fibre of my being. Maybe it’s manipulative… who knows! I am a Slytherin after all.  Maybe pretending I don't fall fast and hard is a show in itself. Jeez Louise I wish I could switch it off! It's hard work being this open and emotional all the time. I could do with a holiday from it.

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The Faux Vanity – I Love Me

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Hi my name is Leigh, and I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but I love a good selfie.

I think we have officially come to the era where it’s becoming acceptable to like the way we look. Some days I think I look like a bag of dicks but some days, I’m feeling it! I like my wog nose and big mouth and brown eyes. I like that I still have my boobs despite losing quite a lot of weight. I like my curvy hips.

The way I see it, we are only in our twenties once. This is the hottest we are ever going to be. I want my teenage daughter one day to have some photos of me to look back on, and laugh and think ‘what the fuck was mum wearing?’ But also aspire to vibe with confidence and like what she sees when she looks in the mirror, because mum does.

I feel like the ‘fake it ‘til you make it’ ideal is our best bet of living a happy, confident life. This world is full of negative forces trying to get us to spend money on products we don’t need. There are false representations of body ideals, Photoshop, magical camera tricks. I have filled up my Insta feed with amazing body positivity pages that make that app a pleasure to scroll through. I used to be so ashamed of my cellulite and stretchmarks, and the way my tummy wobbles a little bit when I walk. Now I genuinely don’t give two hoots. We all have it! I mean don’t get me wrong, I am still desperately insecure. I just have a core confidence that I can come back to every so often that reminds me that I am brilliant when people make me feel otherwise (and I let that happen a lot sadly).

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We don’t have to be shy and uncomfortable and unhappy in ourselves anymore. We are allowed to like the way we look. It’s absolutely mind boggling that we weren’t in the past. Being labelled as vain is so bizarre to me. There’s nothing wrong with self-love. We should all be enjoying ourselves, or making it our mission to do so.

If you see someone’s selfies and your inner thought is ‘ugh, they are so vain’ that’s honestly a bigger reflection on you and your insecurity, and you may want to take a moment to reflect. There’s no need to put other people down. It’s not going to make you feel any better. People can be confident and nice.

My personal reaction to my friends gorgeous faces plastered on my newsfeed is YAS QUEEN YOU’RE PERFECT, YOU’RE BEAUTIFUL, YOU LOOK LIKE LINDA EVANGELISTA, YOU’RE A MODEL and that’s how it bloody well should be.

Lift up your sisters.

The Love Guru – I Love Everything

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Ah that old chestnut. Hi I’m Leigh and as Jessie coined it, I have a lot of love to give.

A big challenge I face in my life is the fact that I will pour affection in to people, probably because that’s how I was raised, and I take it ever so personally when they don’t receive it well and pull away.

A skill I really need to develop is working out who needs my love and who doesn’t.

Receiving affection from people, kind words, attention, hugs, makes me feel really good. It’s my love language. Words of affirmation and physical touch are my jam baby. Guess who has a stable family unit and grew up watching Rom Coms – me!

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Because I am so willing to give my emotional support wherever needed, it tends to mean that I will expect a lot in return. Most people are not as sensitive as me, and they don’t necessarily need someone to talk them off the ledge for an hour every night while they over-analyse the way someone said something. I mean, I am getting a lot better, with many thanks to the strong ladies in my life who have started taking the ‘snap out of it’ approach. Every so often though, I do need my fellow gentle angels to give me word caresses too.

I am ridiculously lucky that I have these people in my life. They might live all over the world, but I have people who listen to my rambles, and check in on me, and send me love where it’s needed, even when it’s not in their nature to do so.

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I think I've got the best looking support network on the planet I mean holy shit…

I want to thank each and every one of you, for getting me through my darkest time. It’s because of you I can keep being my stupidly sensitive, overly-loving and deeply caring self. I have not let the world harden me.

I know one day my soulie will come along, and for them I won’t be too much. I’ll be just enough. It’s because of you guys that I never lose my faith, because if my ladies can love my madness, I’m sure I’ll find someone in my life who will want to marry it.

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Have faith, single people.

My message, through my own story, is to stay soft. Do not let someone’s rejection make you scared to love, or be labelled a clinger, or whatever other stupid thing people say to put people down when openness scares them.

People have their own issues, and a lot of the time it’s not their fault. They might have been really hurt by people, and it might be really hard for them to open up or trust. Sadly, it’s really common.

So sweet little butterfly people do not take it personally. Your love is just enough. You are perfect. Do not play games, or be cruel, or be mad at them. They’ll work it out eventually. Just put your energy where it is appreciated.

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The Good Intentions – Lets All Just Love Each Other

At the end of the day, I think all most of us want is to love and be loved. We want the people around us to be happy and healthy. We want to smile lots and cry rarely.

It might be demon people in your life or demon chemicals in your mind but most of the time the above just isn’t possible, and that’s okay.

Try not to let the black hole swallow you up completely. The world is full of good and bad, just make sure part of the good bit, no matter what.

Love you.

Harleigh Q

xo

The Millennial Crisis

HarleighQ is back, baby! I hope you didn’t miss my love-filled rambles too much. I came to the realisation that something has been missing in my life, and although I don’t always take myself seriously as a writer, this thing is my baby! I have been throwing myself in to my fiction (we’re about 10 chapters in to my yet untitled epic) but my baby needs to be nurtured. As do I.

Which brings me to the topic at hand… the Millennial Crisis.

Welcome to the beginning of a series I’m going to call ‘First World Problems’ where I will unashamedly discuss things that are petty but relevant to my generation, because we all deserve to be heard, and we all need to know we aren’t alone.

Our government rarely listens to us, we’re struggling financially, we don’t know what we want to do with our lives, our love life is a shambles, our mental health is struggling, our friends are just as fucked up as we are or they’re already married with kids. There’s constant pressure to work out our future, have savings, be loved by everyone, settle down and appreciate how ‘good’ we have it. Fucking hell. Hello quarter life crisis. My name is Leigh and I have no idea what I’m doing.

I’m sure I’m not alone in expressing my guilt when it comes to how overwhelmed I feel. I often sit and reflect on how it was for our parents’ generation, and their parents. They didn’t have the freedom we do, the endless opportunities when it comes to careers and following our dreams. They were ruled by obligation and inherent sexism. We are so lucky! We are so privileged! Yet why do so many of us feel like we are swimming upstream, mere seconds from drowning?

I think it comes down to the simple fact that we want happiness to be a constant, not a fleeting memory. Every human on this planet deserves happiness. Otherwise, what’s the point? Just because it’s taken until now for us to practically be able to pursue this mentality doesn’t mean that we’re wrong, or dumb, or dreamers. We’ve just finally come to terms with how short life is and how important it is to live it to the fullest. Why shouldn’t we spend it smiling and choosing not to hurt anyone in the process?

What’s my crisis? Take a seat friends.

I am a dramatic person. I will own that. But I also struggle with quite severe anxiety. It’s come on as a mixture of things in my life, a combination of genetics and experiences I’m sure. Sometimes I don’t know where to draw the line between my dramatics and an actual genuine feeling of being overwhelmed by life. Then I start to feel tremendously bad. I have the most incredible family, and career wise I am totally sorted. But you know what? Everything else is a struggle! I’m allowed to admit that. At the moment, it really is.

I travelled so much in the last couple of years with little regard for future Leigh, and now I’m paying for it. It was so worth it at the time, but now my life is on hold while I move home to do damage control. Yeah that’s right, most of my issues are totally self inflicted!

Let’s not even get started on my love life. There’s a reason I declared myself Millennial Bridget Jones on Facebook the other day. I am well and truly stuck in Daniel Cleaver faze. Honestly? I don’t deserve any better either. I’m not ready.

I’m pretty lonely, living in quite an isolated suburb in an isolated city spending more time with myself than anyone else. I’m an extrovert. I drive myself and my family crazy after a while. I really am a lot. I start fixating on things like the news as a mental escape which only drives me more mental.

I feel guilty when I don’t believe all of the claims in the #metoo movement pinpointing men in Hollywood, my heart bleeds for my American friends dealing with a tyrant like Trump. I want to cry because our government wasted billions of dollars humiliating my friends in the queer community just to prove a point, and the reef is dying, as are the people abandoned on Nauru. There are so many things swirling around my mind at all times that sometimes I wish I could revert back to childhood, when my only worry was if my bike chain fell off. Even then, I knew how to fix it.

None of this is a poor me, or a poor us. But if we don’t change this mentality of ‘you don’t know how good you’ve got it’ whenever people bring up mental health issues, we’re going to go backwards. We have come so far from that toughen up mentality. Let’s keep moving.

We are such a powerful, caring, socially conscious generation. I’m writing this post to remind my beautiful friends that it’s okay to feel overwhelmed. We are just trying to do our best, and make the world a better place as we go. That weighs really fucking heavy sometimes. We are trying to reverse decades worth of damage. We have to remind ourself and our peers daily that it’s okay to be who you are. You don’t have to hide anymore. You don’t have to feel ashamed; be it your sexuality, mental health, gender identity, kinks, dreams, stupid financial decisions, putting travel before your career or vice versa.

You don’t have to be strong and closed off. Openness is beautiful. It’s not dangerous to let people in, to wear your heart on your sleeve, to stand up for what you believe in. It’s okay to be kind, honest, sweet. Getting hurt is a part of life. Pick yourself up, dust off, and let them all back in again. If you need help with that, I’m always here with advice. I don’t follow my own, naturally. I’ve got lots of love to give though!

Pain is relative. I have nervy b’s every few days and you know what? I’m going to stop beating myself up over my sensitivity. I have pretty valid reasons to be upset most of the time, and just because I’m privileged doesn’t mean I can’t cry. We all need to cry it out sometimes.

We don’t have to know what we’re doing, or where we’re going. We just need to be kind, listen to our hearts, surround ourselves with supportive people and the rest will follow.

I love you all so much. Never feel like your feelings aren’t valid. Life is a roller coaster, baby. It’s better to feel the highs and the lows than nothing at all.

Some people may call us weak, but you know what? I’d rather be weak than an asshole.

I hope a few of my fellow crisis kids feel a little better after reading this. I promise, you aren’t alone. It’s going to be okay.

Harleigh Q

Xo

Girls

Every day millions of baby girls are born in to this world.

A few of us are very, very lucky.

We are born in to love. We have a beautiful home to call our own. We are raised with kindness and patience. We have two people who adore us and do everything in their power to do it right. We can avoid the badness of this planet because we are grounded by love and support.

We really are the lucky ones.

There are lots babies who don’t have it so good.

Having a family who give me everything is something that for the longest time I have taken for granted; yes, I love them more than breath, but I never truly appreciated just how well I did in the life lottery.

As I became a woman I explored the world a lot more. I travelled a lot. My morbid curiosity kicked in and I started studying crime in my spare time as a hobby. My Papi being a prison officer gave me an acute awareness of ‘badness’. I don’t think I ever comprehended the extent until it started to creep in to my life. I realised that heartbreak and poverty and pain are always only a stones throw away from all of us. It is very close to home. It’s getting worse, too.

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I have seen girls and women with sparks and brains and character dim and change and break. I’ve seen the affects a childhood or relationship built on fear can have.

It all kind of came to a head the night I watched the British drama ‘Three Girls’ which is a factual retelling of a harrowing and sickening trend; women who fall prey to evil men.

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For a start, watch it. I cry a lot, but this broke me. I held it in until the end of part one and then I snapped. I felt it, all of it, and I sobbed and I couldn’t stop. I cried for every single baby girl in this world who doesn’t have a daddy to protect her. I cried for every baby girl who found herself out of control of her situation. I cried for every rape victim, every exploited child, every female used and abused with no where to turn.

We know our world is filled with bad, bad people.

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I hate the fact that we have to discuss an entire gender in such a negative way. Of course we know it’s ‘not all men‘. It’s a fact, though, that male violence is one of the biggest issues we have. As women we are raised to always have our guard up and be vigilant. We know to walk quickly when alone, be on our phone, not wear anything too revealing, not make eye contact, avoid going out at night.

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I wish I could open my arms and hold close every single person who has ever been hurt, and I hope that in writing the way I do I will open a dialogue or raise awareness. I just want to talk about it. We are not okay.

Women are forever in an inferior position when it comes to physical dominance. There is a threat of violence and control that most of us are not physically capable of overcoming. When we are in what we think is a safe place, and people we trust betray us, where can we turn? Most of us can’t punch our way out. We can’t assert dominance or command respect. We can’t just get up and leave. That isn’t something that our society is comfortable with as a whole. I can preach equality until I am blue in the face but it is a fact that there are still so many men out there who see women as inferior and treat us as such.

There are girls growing up in worlds where they are told that all they have to offer is their body. They are hurt, they are used and maybe they’re discarded. Maybe they are recycled until they’re too ‘old’ and ‘dirty’ to be considered desirable. Drugs and alcohol are used to get them through. They might be used as a tool in the power play or maybe they’re an escape mechanism. Lower socioeconomic backgrounds are the most vulnerable.

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How can we help them?

Why is the first question that gets asked always ‘why didn’t she say no? Why didn’t she walk away? Why didn’t she defend herself?’

How about: ‘why the fuck are men still raping women?’

We shouldn’t have to raise women to protect themselves. This victim blaming bullshit needs to end.

We are not objects to be used. We are human beings with the same brains as everyone else. We feel pain. We do what we need to to survive.

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Everyone knows someone who has been raped. You might not realise it, because she probably didn’t tell anyone. The majority of rapes aren’t reported for fear of the consequences, be it a further threat of violence from the perpetrator, an inability to escape the situation, or fear of the marginalisation they will face from their peers. Maybe they just won’t get convicted like the sickening graph above.

#MeToo started a few days ago. A queen I have adored for years named Alyssa Milano began the movement on Twitter to show solidarity with women who have experienced sexual harassment and assault. Suddenly, the vulnerable conversations had between close girlfriends are out there for the world to see. Thousands of women are taking to social media to confess their own experiences of sexual violence or violation. It’s not a hushed topic anymore. Now we see just how big this thing really is.

I have had many conversations with fellow twenty-somethings about the times we have been sexually assaulted on nights out. Groping, touching, hurting us because we aren’t giving them attention. We aren’t reciprocating their advances. We moved away when they came too close. We accepted their offer to buy us a drink so now we owe them sex. We danced a bit too sexy so we deserve a hand up our dress. We went out for a smoke and were alone a few minutes too long. I never looked any of them in the eye, many of them I didn’t see coming, so I’m not really sure how I was asking for it. Is that where it all starts for these men? A casual man-handle without consent? Or are there degrees of inner predator?

Every single time I find a way to blame myself. I flirt too much (but I flirt with everyone…), my boobs were out (am I not allowed to be proud of my body?), I caught his eye (I should be able to look around the room without inviting an invasion), I didn’t call him out when he touched me (but his friends were all there and a lot bigger than me), I was too nice and I gave him the wrong idea (and some men wonder why women act like bitches), I went home with him (but I made my feelings about contraception clear).

We still aren’t talking about this enough.

For anyone reading this, and I genuinely hope there aren’t many, who might be going down the thought train of ‘well how do I know if someone is keen then? Am I just supposed to stand with my hands behind my back? Will a girl I hook up with turn around and say she didn’t consent afterwards?You aren’t listening to what we are saying. Unless you are the type of man who puts your hands on a woman without invitation, or takes a girl home who is clearly too drunk to look after herself, none of this is directed at you. If she moves away from you, let her! Don’t play the victim, because you’re not. I know for a fact that my men don’t feel this way, but I have seen the comment sections, I’ve overheard the loud, brutish pub banter, I know what we are up against. This isn’t a crusade against a gender. We love men. That’s the whole point. We want to be able to continue to love men and feel respected and safe while doing so.

Girls and women alike often live a life of fear. For some of us, the lucky ones, outside of a bar or club it’s just a passing thought as we wait for an Uber or walk alone at night. I always hold my keys between my fingers like a weapon and call my family as I walk, loudly stating where I am and that I’m on my way. I’m as privileged as they come with my strong family unit and ‘safe’ suburbs but it is always on my mind. I’m not exaggerating, and I’m not paranoid. Go read the hashtag.

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Today I am taking a stand; this is for my sisters.

I am opening the dialogue. I am using my voice to speak the truth without fear of offending. I don’t give a shit if I upset someone’s fragile ego. I do not paint everyone with the same brush, today I am talking about men who hurt women. It is real, it is constant and it is happening all around us.

There are thousands of issues in this world, but today, in the wake of yet another man in a powerful position being finally exposed for his disgusting actions, despite decades of protection from his colleagues (see: Harvey Weinstein) I stand for women.

I stand for Rose McGowan banned from Twitter for calling out other men who defended him, I stand for the girls who had their childhood stolen by organisations of men pimping them out, I stand for the girls and women who aren’t safe in their own home.

Let’s stand together, all of us, men and women, against this shit. Let’s talk about it, let’s call it out and let’s make a change.

This isn’t okay. It was never okay.

For women everywhere.

For the facts:

https://www.ourwatch.org.au/Understanding-Violence/Facts-and-figures

https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/crimeandjustice/compendium/focusonviolentcrimeandsexualoffences/yearendingmarch2016/domesticabusesexualassaultandstalking

To learn more:

http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/bigideas/fiona-mccormack-preventing-violence-against-women-in-australia/6552078

How to help:

https://www.whiteribbon.org.au

https://www.actionaid.org.uk

Financial aid isn’t viable for all of us, but starting a conversation is a step in the right direction. Look around, and offer your help to anyone who might need it. If you’re one of my beautiful male friends, you can really help us. Don’t ever be a bystander. You have nothing to fear, we love you, but we just need you to understand.

Tara Moss on Toxic Silence

I’m so proud of you guys. It takes a strong woman to speak up and a strong man to listen and learn. Thank you for reading.

HarleighQ

The Island

It often rained at night, but Shae loved it. The patter on the splintered windowsill reminded her of deep conversations with good friends.

It was 2am on a Thursday and she was wide awake. As she lay on her back, fingers laced and staring at the still ceiling fan, she tried hard not to think about the weekend before.

Where she lived, it was a small community. Most of her friends were fellow mainlanders living at the Resort. They worked during the day, cleaning the rooms, manning reception. Some of them would lifeguard or work the kitchens for a well-rounded experience. They were young, poorly paid and there for a good time.

It was Shae’s second summer at the Resort. Unlike most, she’d stayed for the winter too. The weather was milder and she had nowhere to be. Her father was long lost and she didn’t get along with her mother. As an only child she’d mainly raised herself, and moved away the second she turned eighteen. The Island was a refuge and the Resort was home.

She reached to the nightstand and flipped over her phone. The blue light glared back at her bronzed face. She pursed her lips. She had work in four hours and hadn’t slept a wink.

Shae rolled to her side and pulled her knees to her chest, wrapping her hands around her toes. She squeezed her eyes closed and stretched back restlessly to her former position. Dark brown hairs tickled her eyelashes. Sparkly blue eyes blinked at the ceiling as she blew her fringe away.

She knew she was attractive. Her eyes made for regular comment. Her colouring was so dark, how could she have such bright pupils. Shae didn’t know much about or care for her heritage. Her father had been a horrible man and she knew he was the one she looked like. As her meek and pale Irish mum lost herself to the bottle Shae found herself far away from her past.

Tonight, the main thought spinning around her mind was more recent; the weekend previous, in fact. A man had appeared on the island.

He was there to play acoustic for the dinner guests, and was staying across the hall from her. He was about late-twenties, a modest height. His hair was long and unruly, skin bronzed from many late morning spent with a surfboard. Everyone on the island was intrigued.

Friday night dinner was always an event. They all worked it. Shae wore a frangipani tucked behind her ear and served seafood with a smile. Their uniform was a crisp white shirt, black skirt and a vibrant tropical print apron. They had people from all walks of life staying on the Island. It truly was an affordable piece of heaven.

When the gentle sound of an acoustic guitar began drifting around the courtyard, Shae glanced over her shoulder. There he was; dark haired, serious and ridiculously skilled. It was his talent that caught her ear, not his face that caught her eye. Did he sense that?

~

Shae had a good group of friends in this little paradise. Five spectacular humans regularly gathered on her tiny, worn out balcony with a melting esky made of cardboard and stories galore.

Carlos and Lia arrived the same summer Shae had. The three of them had been super close, and slowly but surely a love for the ages began between the two of them. That was a story for another time.

James was a fun loving, long-haired yahoo who grew up on the south coast and came to the Island this summer for a change of scenery. He fit right in.

Simone was on another level. Her neurosis was rivalled only by her compassion. She was the first one at work every morning and the last to leave, ensuring every single box was ticked along the day. She’d bark cruelly at you mid-shift but tie your shoes for you right after.

Finally, there was sweet Leon. Italian born and raised, he wore his heart on his sleeve. Rarely would a single young lady pass through the dance hall without a hot and heavy experience with young Le. Shae loved him more than sense, but his overly affectionate nature had surely caused a lot of strife. They tend not to talk about the girl from the first week of summer. She said she liked me, he insisted. They nodded curtly like friends do, with only a shadow of doubt in their minds.

Together they were a family; that which none of them seemed to have left behind. Love flowed between them freely. They could be real and honest. Twelve hour work days take their toll on people, but as long as they had each other, they had a place to call home.

That’s why the events of Friday had been so incredibly unsettling for everyone.

~

The after-hours disco began promptly at 12am. A hut which used to house the Spa before it got upgraded to the top floor had been repurposed as a place for the young staff to blow off steam.

Shae turned up with her usual half-drank bottle of bourbon and Leon tossed a coke can to her from behind the makeshift bar.

The last few Fridays a new season guy called Callum had taken his place at the decks. He had the curliest hair she’d ever seen and a penchant for Trap. His remixed were far superior to a shitty little party such as this, but they were eternally grateful.

Taking Lia by the shoulder Shae lead, coke and Jack in hand, to the centre of the sweaty pack. Twenty or so workers would pack in to the tiny room every weekend, without fail. It was their one chance to party before the Sunday check-out rush and a new week began.

Most of them wore as little as possible, dripping their way through tank tops and denim shorts. Hands reached high, fingers spread towards the swaying exposed bulb above them. It danced with the bodies. The room always felt like it was alive, moving and breathing around them as they swivelled their hips and bounced up and down to the beat. Shae’s hair stuck to her face as she shook it from side to side, eyes closed and feeling the rhythm. Waiting for the bass to kick she opened her eyes briefly and spotted the acoustic playing stranger standing against the wall. He wasn’t looking at her. He seemed to have taken a deep interest in a spectacular and enthusiastic Simone. Her cropped blonde hair flew through the air, and mid length white dress clung to her enticingly. She moved like a mermaid, arms entwined.

Shae felt a pang of something. Thankfully she was distracted by James taking her firmly by the hips and redrawing her attention. He grinned wickedly at her and pulled her in for a kiss. Pushing her mouth open with his tongue, she tasted a familiar bitter pill and rolled her eyes. His mainland trip yesterday was productive then, she thought with a sigh. She didn’t need drugs to have a good time, but she wasn’t one to say no, either.

A bug eyed Lia gently tugged on Shae’s hair, pulling her away from James’ mouth. She swallowed and laughed at her excited friend. She had been there for a while already, it seemed.

By the time Carlos appeared, both girls were well and truly on their way to bliss. The music was getting better, and Shae had forgotten about the stranger, until he appeared in front of her. She stopped dancing as he raised his hand to her face and brushed her fringe from her forehead. She narrowed her eyes as he tilted his head, apparently seeing her for the first time. He grinned and moved his hand to her waist. Whatever, she thought. Life is good.

Hours passed; or was it minutes?

Shae and the stranger played a game, moving closer then further until they were nose to nose. As she raised her lips to his, he turned. Shae stepped back like she’d been stung. He moved past her towards an apparently now interested Simone, who raised her arm welcoming him. Then they kissed. It was a deep caress that went on a long moment. Shae felt repulsed. She moved through the crowd with urgency and slammed through the door just in time for her vomit to hit a nearby pot plant. Ugh. Her hand found the cold stone wall and she placed her forehead against it too. Things were spinning. She barely heard Carlos’ words of comfort when he placed his hand between her shoulder blades. Slowly she dropped to her knees and curled up on the concrete. Shae knew it was too much too quick. She had been swigging her Jacks while dancing and it wasn’t sitting too well with the pill in the pit of her tummy.

“Leave me a minute, hey” she groaned to her dear friend. He didn’t. In fact he took a seat between her and the stained plant and rubbed her arm affectionately.

“You, little lady, need to learn your limits.” His posh accent was only slightly condescending.

“I don’t have any,” Shae whispered back. She closed her eyes and sighed.

“Who’s the pretty fella with the hair? I haven’t seen him before. He seems to have a thing with our Simmy.” He laughed darkly. “You too, apparently.”

“Fuck off Carlos.” He always loved pushing buttons.

“I’m just saying that if it were up to me, I’d choose you. But each to their own.”

Shae pushed herself to a sitting position and glared at him. His sparkling white smile was dashing and exasperating. Her nausea had passed, so with a shake of her head she stumbled to her feet. “I’m getting water, and then we’re getting out of here.”

“Beach walk?” Carlos exclaimed.

“Go find Lia.”

They pulled open the doors to the dive of a dance and straight away Shae spotted Sim with her fingers entwined in the singer’s mane. I don’t compete. She chanted mentally over and over as she rooted through a box esky for a bottle of water. I also don’t often find anyone even remotely attractive. Her frustration at herself was growing. She was embarrassed and wanted nothing more than to disappear in to the night with a couple of people who made her feel loved.

~

As they strolled along the beach, Shae, and a swaying Carlos and Lia, she tried hard not to overanalyse the situation. Not really her strong point.

She didn’t notice when they collapsed in to the sand behind her and kept walking until the sun started creeping over the finish line of the ocean beside her. The island was so small she knew it would take her twenty minutes max to get back. Having long realised she was alone, she pulled off her near-dry singlet and shorts. Shae was wearing her favourite blue bikini bottoms. Her clothes discarded in a bundle, she stepped in to the wonderfully warm water and once deep enough, dove in head first. She often went for a dip before work, when the sun was still waking along with the rest of camp. The water was so still she could float on her back, salt soothing her tingling skin.

The problem with the Island was that when people came, it took them a long time to leave. The disharmony she felt in her bones right now wasn’t just embarrassment; she was feeling protective of her family. We don’t hurt each other here. She had spent a consensual night between Lia and Carlos before and many a beach tumble with Leon in the wee hours, but they all came from love; a love of each other, their home, their stories. They just wanted a good story. Who was this guy to come along and fuck it up?

Full of a new found fire, Shae dipped below the surface and swam towards shore. When her feet found the sand below her, she rose and flicked her drenched hair overhead. Her eyes began to focus on the shore, leading her to catch sight of something that turned her cold.

Simone was stumbling up the beach towards her from the opposite direction Shae had come. Her white dress wasn’t white anymore; it was red. She was clutching her stomach, and fell to her knees.

Shae had never moved so fast. She sprinted up the beach towards her friend and felt overtaken by horror as she absorbed the scene. Taking Simone’s face in both hands, Shae collapsed to the sand. The blood dripping from the stab wound in Sim’s torso was unstoppable. She tried covering the hole with her hand and holding her friend’s head up with the other, but it wasn’t working. The heat of the blood pouring between her fingers was the most sickening of sensations. She could actually feel the life leaving her.

“Help!” Shae screamed at the top of her lungs, knowing that no one would be around at this time. Helplessly she glanced down in to glazed green eyes. “Sim I have to go get someone. I can’t help you here.”

Simone groaned. Tears were streaming down her cheeks. The last thing Shae ever wanted to do was leave her alone like this, but she would die if she didn’t at least try. She glanced back towards her pile of clothes.

“I’m going to give you my shorts which you need to hold down as hard as you can and I will be back, okay?” the only emotion Sim could express was shock. Her mouth hung open, she wasn’t making noise anymore. Shae placed her head down gently and ran to her clothes. Getting back as quick as she could, she wrapped the shorts in to a big compression pad. “Please try,” she pleaded “Please try to hold this.”

The world became a blur as Shae pounded up the sand bank and along the boardwalk. She knew it would take her at least five minutes running to get back to reception and alert the emergency medic. How long does it take for someone to bleed out?

All she could hear was her heart pounding. Her lungs were stinging as reception finally came in to view.

Some guests were already out laying their towels to come back to later. Leon had just entered the pool area in his guard shirt, setting up for the day. He caught sight of Shae’s blood soaked singlet and freaked.

“Shae! What the Jesus?” she stopped short of the door and ran back to him, bright red and panting, and collapsed against the pool fence.

“Leon, Sim’s hurt. Beach by the hammock,” was all she managed before dropping to the floor and sobbing. Le knew he didn’t have time to comfort her, and he ran as fast as his feet would carry him towards the beach.

The boardwalk was an easy path and he had been a runner in high school, back in his home town of Pisa. His long strides found him there in minutes and a tiny heap of red and white in the sand gave the girl away. As he moved towards her, she was motionless. He skidded to a halt in the sand and lifted the lifeless body in to his arms. She was a small girl, smaller than him and he wasn’t the broadest. He knew he could make it back to the Resort with her. He had no choice.

~

Shae screamed when she saw them approaching.

“Why is she like that? Why is she hanging like that?” She used the fence to pull herself to her feet and moved ahead of them, opening the door for Leon to rush inside.

The reception manager, Margot, was already on shift in her immaculate suit and physically recoiled when she saw the state of the three of them.

“What in the hell are you – Jesus no.” As they got closer she saw the blood stained dress of Simone, her favourite receptionist. Her trembling left hand picked up the phone receiver while her right pointed to the door of staff quarters behind the desk. She hit zero and voice quivering, said to the operator “Tony. We need a medic.”

~

On Wednesday morning a memorial was held for Simone.

Some people said some things and white lilies were lined along the shore.

As a three year vet, her absence was felt everywhere. She had worked every area, met every person. Hushed conversations were had in every area of the Resort. It ran on skeleton staff, relocated from a sister island, as everyone was told to take a few days off.

No one knew what really happened on the beach that night.

Many guests left, shaken by the horror of being so close to death on their holiday. Though there were no witnesses, everyone had their theories.

Some said it was suicide. It’s always the ones you least expect. A few had noticed her getting hot and heavy with Mr Acoustic but apparently she’d left the party alone before him. The worst rumour of all, though, was that it has been Shae. Driven by jealousy, she had hurt her friend.

And we all know who her dad is.

Shae didn’t leave her room until the memorial. She had stared at that ceiling fan and cried until there wasn’t a droplet left. She was empty.

By Thursday, everyone was expected to return to work. Shae and Leon had both been offered longer if they felt like they needed it, but they mutually agreed that any longer with their thoughts would drive them insane.

Lia knocked on Shae’s door at 5am sharp with a freshly cut mango.

“I need you to eat this, and I’ve got you working kitchens today.”

Lia had taken over Sim’s coordinator role. She was in charge of rostering the junior staff. Having done a roll similar at the old mainland hotel she worked at, she was enjoying the power again. She wouldn’t dare admit that to anyone though. The Island had become a game of Cluedo and she was not the one in the library with the candlestick.

Shae looked like shit, which was saying a lot for a very naturally pretty girl. It was a good job she wasn’t public facing that day, but kitchens require cleanliness; forced sponge bath it was.

Half an hour later Carlos arrived at the door and smiled at them both.

“Come on, poppets. We’re going to miss morning brief.”

When the three of them arrived in the staff room, they made their way towards Leon and James. Both of the boys wrapped their arms around Shae as a show of solidarity. She was cold to their touch. The tension in the room could be cut with a knife.

They had their roles and lunches read and the day began. Everyone who had been at the party on Friday was giving Shae the once over. She had never wanted to disappear more in her life. No one had a kind word for her. She was ignored, shoved and glared at until a buxom girl called Pam had actually grabbed her by the hair and threw her in to the freezer room.

“We all know you did it,” she spat at her before slamming the door. A laugh echoed from the others present, and then it fell silent. Shae couldn’t feel much anyway, but she wasn’t there long before James appeared to rescue her.

He pulled open the door and sighed at her. “Come on babe, we’ve had enough deaths on this island.” She usually enjoyed his dark humour, but she couldn’t even muster up a smile today. She almost felt like she deserved the barrage of hate, and she couldn’t work out why.

Is this just killer kid guilt? Is this a delayed punishment for being the child of a monster?

James placed his arm around her shoulders and almost carried her to the back lot pool. It was a lot quieter, covered by shade for most of the day. A woman lay reading on a sunbed and an older man was doing laps. Other than them, they were alone. James lowered Shae to the edge of the pool and she dipped her legs in to the cold water. She felt tears brewing as her feet swayed. Aside from a couple of very reluctant showers and the sponge bath Lia forced on her that morning, she hadn’t been near the water since Saturday morning.

“I know you didn’t do it,” said James lightly. He stretched and lay on his back, feet dangling.

Shae didn’t want to hear it. It wasn’t her friend’s opinions she was worried about.

“I have a theory. I think it was Lia. She wanted that coordinator job. Told me so herself.” Shae scoffed.

“Don’t be stupid. And don’t talk about our friend what way. You don’t know whose listening.” She glanced cautiously over her shoulder. The lady reading had stood and was pulling on a kaftan, making her exit.

James pulled one of his legs out of the water and stared at her.

“Maybe it was me.”

“You’re so deadly.”

“I’m serious Shae. I don’t know what the shit was that we had, but I can’t remember any of that night.” She bore deeply in to his eyes, searching for a hint of a joke. There wasn’t one. Then she felt a shudder. Was he looking for reassurance or trying to confess something?

“Please James. I can’t handle this. You would know if you hurt someone. You’d have been covered in blood. Let’s not talk about this anymore.”

“Right.”

Shae pushed herself to her feet and walked towards the pile of Resort towels to dry off. She fought hard against the visions swimming around her mind. It was all getting to be too much. She couldn’t talk about it with her friends. It wasn’t her first time seeing a dead body, but she didn’t want them knowing that. It would just make the conjecture worse. Tossing the towel in to the large laundry basket, she caught sight of someone new entering the area. Her heart skipped a beat.

The long haired acoustic player moved to the corner of the pool. He was fully clothed, jeans and a white vest. When he felt someone staring at him, he looked up at Shae and smiled. It was a very big smile.

That’s when everything when black.

 

To be continued…

Who Are You?

My darlings.

I'm starting this post having just rewatched the first ever episode of a show I feel I've grown up with, Catfish.

For anyone unfamiliar with concept, Catfish features two amazing men, Nev and Max, who help people who have started relationships online with people they have never met. Spoiler alert, more often than not, the people they are speaking to aren't who they say they are. Be it fake photos stolen from someone else on the internet or pretending to be someone they know personally, it's clear that the Catfishers are unhappy with who they are.

Often they've been bullied or have had a hard time and use this persona like a shield. They don't feel good enough.

I think it takes a pretty cruel person to bring someone in to your insecurity, and use them to boost your self esteem through deception. However… imagine if they channeled their negative life experiences in to making themselves better people. Instead of using a mask of someone else.. imagine the self love they could generate!

Dialling it back, let me tell you my story.

I remember starting high school. It was a big public one a half an hour walk from my house, just outside the Yorkshire village I grew up in. Almost all the kids I went to primary school with went with me. Masses off us trudged through the rain and the snow, across the train tracks to the intimidatingly massive new chapter.

In time I grew to love that school and it's long corridors and kids twice the size of me, shoving everyone around for fun. You had to have a drawstring bag otherwise someone was bound to unzip it and knock your stuff on the floor. You had to keep your hand down in class so no one could take the piss out of your answers. You also knew very quickly who the top dogs were and to remember your place.

Bullying is such a normal part of growing up. I put it down to trying to fit in to this new environment, and me being a bit of a bossy boots by nature, but my two best friends from primary school decided they didn't like me anymore. After that, I had a really hard time making friends.

When I did start to bond with someone, often a false rumour stating I'd said something behind their back quickly ended it. I guess that was the thing with me. If I took issue with someone, I would just say it to their face. Maybe that was my problem. Being too upfront made me a target for the whisperers. I was so scared of what I did say getting twisted that I just stopped speaking. It took me years to get the confidence to voice my opinion back. I make up for it now 😊.

I wound up having to go to a 'friendship group'. It was designed for myself and fellow lonely kids who were struggling a bit. We'd do quizzes and talk about our interests and hobbies. Everyone was weird and it was nice to have people to eat lunch with. Yes, there were a few sandwiches ate in a toilet cubicle. What a cliché.

A few long months in, having truly learned the importance of empathy, I reconnected with a couple of the girls from my primary school. We ended up in our own tight knit group.

Rarely a week went by without some of the five of us falling out, of course, but blissful were the lunch breaks spent giggling our heads off in the hot lunch room and getting kicked out for being too loud. Through many hours spent in the library, I discovered Louise Rennison's book series about the most relatable tween on the planet, Georgia Nicolson. I was proud of my new little Ace Gang.

Times got real tough again when I found out I was moving to Australia. Slowly but surely I felt the girls retreating from me, my closest friend especially. She became quite cruel, and though an adult brain understands self preservation and the primal need to lash out in order to protect ourselves, a scared thirteen year old did not. Some of my memories of this time are so vivid. One, I was sobbing at my work station in Food, not wanting anyone to see me. I'd been handed the notes some of the girls had been passing about me. I think it said something about me being a try hard and a made up thing I hadn't said. I'm pretty sure that was the day we made rice pudding.

In the very end they had tried to fix some of the damage caused, and there was a leaving party at my best friends house with Sing Star, baked goods and lots of trampolining. It felt like the end of the world.

Then I left England and didn't really look back.

As with most new kids, I found myself right back where I started in Australia, too.

This new high school was tiny, and I started week three of term three of year nine to be precise. I was buddied with one of the 'cool' girls. I think my teacher thought she was doing me a favour, but she and her friends were very uninterested in me. We were very different people.

In this school watched Napoleon Dynamite, I heard rumours about a boy getting a hand job behind a textbook in class, and got teased for my big shoes. I had to wear UGG boots and a miniskirt to be cool, and I definitely had to shave my legs and pluck my mad Wog eyebrows. What a different world this was!

Yet again, I had a hard time making friends. I'm a girl with a lot of passions. At the age of fourteen, it was Harry Potter and Home and Away. I could barely make eye contact with a boy without turning crimson and I was best friends with my family (and still am).

It was a long and lonely summer, but year 10 began my ascent in to one happy young lady. I made friends with four incredible girls. I can't remember how we found each other exactly, but I distinctly remember one incident in particular.

I was eating cheese and pickle sandwiches for lunch. English people reading this know what I am referring to I'm sure. The two Australian girls that would let me sit near them had no idea what the weird brown stuff I had was. They were loudly ridiculing me, for not the first time unfortunately, when a tiny, wonderful, sparkly eyed girl from southern England barked at them 'its Branston pickle?' With a level of sass I've yet to hear since. They soon shut up, and I soon changed who I sat with at lunch.

Next joined Shaz, a witty and cool as a cucumber girl whose best friend had recently changed school. Then there I was Bek, the green eyed and incredibly intelligent girl that I absolutely idolised (and still do). Thus, Ace Gang 2.0 began. We had sleepovers, long chats, giggles and an obsession with YouTube videos. We talked and sang and danced and we're allowed, encouraged, to be 100% ourselves with each other. We were not without our disagreements of course, teenage girls are a nightmare, but we thrived together. They saw me through my first kiss (literally) and all those other fun things 15 year olds do.

I got in to anime and started writing fan fiction and making music videos. I made the pilgrimage to the city for the final Harry Potter book with Abby and Danica, the two pickle-girl life savers, at 530am one brisk morning. I drew a lot, very averagely. I had a puppy Rio and two six month long crushes that went absolutely nowhere. Two others joined our crew, and soon we were going on adventures to Freo for Timezone photos and sushi train.

My second six month long crush, and first taste of heartbreak, got wind of my affections when I got up the courage to ask for his number on the school bus one day. 'I don't know it,' was his earth-shattering response. Lorraine, one of our new editions, heard from a mutual friend that he intended to pretend to like me and then thoroughly humiliate me in front of everyone on the bus the next day, so she decided to berate him in the hallway for all to hear. My heart was crushed but my friend was golden.

Of course, things changed over time. Boys, Abby moving back to England and just growing up different pulled us apart. By year 12 I was back to my lonely self, this time with two equally lonely companions, Jessie and Arran. Those cynical bastards are still my best friends to this day. God love them.

It wasn't until many years later, having lost all of the things that made me me, that I realised just how important it is for us to be true to ourselves.

I can pinpoint the time when I started to lose my kook. I was deep in a relationship where I didn't feel like myself anymore. It can be hard for natural born people-pleasers like myself and every other Cancerian in the world to stay true to ourselves when we're in love. Sometimes we go too far the other way.

For a lot of people it's their experiences with bullying at school that dilutes their colours. They're sparkling too brightly, and it seems to be in a lot of humans' nature to dim that rival sparkle as much as possible. But the thing is, if we don't care what other people think of us, it completely removes their power.

I am incredibly proud of baby Leigh, because my God did she stay true. I wore all of the nerdy, weird shit I loved on my sleeve for all the world to see and I never felt any shame for it. I surrounded myself with people who were proud of me, and I was proud of them. We lifted each other up and protected one another from the evil outside which slowly stopped mattering. My self preservation developed in to completely cutting people out who I feared would hurt me. It's served me quite well so far. I just can't do fake politeness. My face is too emotive. I give myself away.

As an adult I've gone through the cycle again. When I don't feel like I can be myself I tend to retreat. I look inwardly for that place of peace and power. I remind myself why I like me, regardless of if others do or not. I'm still a pleaser, and I still need validation, but I'm getting better. Maybe I need to ask baby Leigh how she did it. Through all the shit, I was always me.

In telling this story I'm hoping that others who have been shaken by self-doubt due of external factors realise that they were never ever the problem. If you have a good heart, that's all that matters. Let your freak flag fly! The most attractive people in the world to me are the passionate ones. I don't care what you love, if it matters that much to you then you're a dream come true. Tell me yours and I'll tell you mine.

At the ripe old age of 26 I know who I am and what makes me happy.

I love the Beatles, I love looking like I just walked out of the 70s, I love loud live music and I love writing. I love connecting with people, and I love talking about aliens and politics and nature. I love the ocean, and I love red wine and cheese platters.

Most of all I love all of the incredible people all over the world that I have met. Be they weird, loud, artistic, spiritual, gentle, wild, funny or my polar opposite, they are completely and unapologetically themselves.

Being a people pleaser isn't as good a quality as it sounds. It's easy to lose yourself, or change to fit an ideal instead of fulfilling who you really are. Being judged is scary. It's a constant battle not to care too much.

Two years ago I would never have walked down the street in my Rockabilly gear. I also didn't eat much and was overall pretty fucking lost.

Now I find myself curvaceous, sassy and proud of my wild outfits and huge smile. I am proud of myself for all I've done, and I love the person I have become very much. I still love all my nerdy things, and I will gladly talk about them to anyone with remote interest (glazed over eyes works too). If it wasn't for all of the negative experiences I've had, not fitting in, feeling lonely, having my heart broken, I wouldn't be who I am now.

None of us would be real without the shit. Don't let it change you, though.

There may be people who love you unconditionally, but it's you who needs to love you most. You're the cheerleader. You're the one whose been there through it all and lived to tell the tale. You're a bloody legend!

Talk about yourself, be proud. It's ok to blow your own horn sometimes. If the people around you don't want to listen, they aren't your people babe. We should all be rooting for each other. What are friends for?

We are all so unique and have so many stories and experiences. We are all part of this great big mad world, but there's only one YOU.

So be you, be free, be everything you've ever wanted to be. Let the love pour out of you. You'll attract the right people, this I promise you.

In the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.

So tell me, beautiful people, who are you?

Love your second biggest fan,

Harleigh Q

Xo

The Trouble With Social Media

Hello Millenials, Gen X & Y and Boomers.

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How are you?

Good I hope.

This week I fell from my perch a bit. I have been making a shift in to profiting on this little talent for eloquent bull-shitting lately. I sponsored a couple of my posts to reach a vaster audience and started a little hub of love on Instagram named @HippieHarleighQ and my very own Facebook like page.

It’s a big stretch for me. You guys know I’m an open person, but I’m also extremely sensitive.

Like, very.

I guess I don’t care if people judge my selfies or photo shoots because I know I’m just a normal girl trying to love myself and inspire others to do the same, and the overconfidence is just my sense of humour. But when it comes to someone questioning my insides? Oh boy…

Someone that I don’t know commented under one of my posts ‘sponsored? Hahah’ and I was bubblingly upset for the rest of the day. Yeah. I’m that bad.

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I promptly deleted the ad for the day it had left.

One thing I don’t want to be is ‘Insta-famous’. However, I do want to connect with more people. I guess it’s the same thing, isn’t it?

As a result of my new found need for money, I’ve been spending more time analysing my online presence. I’ve been looking at other people’s pages, reading their captions and hashtags and working out just how they do it.

Due to my ridiculous hyper-sensitivity I’ve also been questioning myself a hell of a lot more than usual.

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Where my anxiety had become very manageable, suddenly I am opening myself up to the devil known as comparison; the thief of joy, they say.

Oh boy, they are right.

I’m not happy at the moment. I have stopped enjoying my moments and I have started caring way too much about other people’s opinions. It’s like being a looney teen again. I’m a 26 year old woman! I thought I was supposed to be over that by now!

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I’ve been working out, eating right and I’ve cut right back on the naughty drinking. I’ve practically quit smoking. I’ve also stopped reading, I’m struggling to write and I’m losing my connections with my friends. Why? Because I’m thinking too much.

One of my spectacularly beautiful and intelligent girls said to a few of us a while ago that she found Instagram depressing. I couldn’t relate.

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I loved Instagram. I loved the amazing #bopo pages I follow; the gorgeous vintage collections, artists and hippie clothing companies that fill my feed. Facebook was much the same; interesting news articles, friend’s hilarious titbits about their day to day and some cool travel photos. I thought it was maybe something she could control by changing who she follows.

I was so wrong.

When you’re in the headspace of comparison (aka: thief of joy) the things you were looking at before that made you smile suddenly cloud your mind in a dark way. I enviously analyse the photography skills of my #bopo girls. I skip over friends’ posts and seek out my target audience to see why they aren’t engaging with me more. I’ve picked people who aren’t giving me as much attention as they used to and I’m agonising over it.

I have stopped valuing the good in favour of the goal.

Specifically, artist friends, do you know what I mean? The success of something locally doesn’t mean much when your reach isn’t vast enough? Something you wrote is no longer measuring up because something from last month did way better?

I want us all to stop.

Stop stop stop.

Social media is not real. We also can’t control who is seeing our posts due to the very money-focused algorithms. Don’t think less likes means people aren’t loving you. They aren’t seeing you.

~

Today I scrolled back through my Instagram for photos that looked out of place (I’m notorious for archiving mismatching colours in favour of a flowing theme rather than honest expression).

I came across my America and Europe photos.

I zoomed in on my and Martina’s smiley faces on our way to the opera dinner in Rome. I remembered vividly how incredible that night was, and how none of us had had signal in that little underground restaurant so we just talked and talked and talked like it was going out of fashion.

I saw myself standing at the top of the Rocky steps, one of my biggest life goals, for the second time.

I scrolled a little further and saw the gorgeous beach photos I took when I went down the coast with my Kate for a sneaky getaway, and the Melbourne food market tour I went on when I was learning how to use my new DSLR.

Not a single one of these times did I have my fucking phone in my hand.

I then scrolled back up and looked at my tagged photos, and I saw my face hanging in an art gallery in Maryland.

No, no one has written a song about me and no, I haven’t appeared in a music video and no, I haven’t collaborated in writing a great song, but someone liked my face so much that they decided to stare at it for hours and create a beautiful work of art that is now selling for $650USD. One day I might be hanging on someone’s wall. Wow.

What the fuck is wrong with us? Why do we always strive for what we don’t have or feel discontented when our lives are filled with amazing things to be proud of?

We can’t blame the media for everything. It’s not going to change any time soon. I think it’s our own doing, in a lot of ways. When we don’t switch off, we don’t absorb.

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Our phones are glued to our hands and life is witnessed through a screen instead of through our square little eyes.

~

I’m going to try to make a conscious effort to switch off more often and get out in to that big bad world without a shield of phone to guard me, and I’m going to see how my happiness level goes.

I have an inkling I might feel just that little bit lighter; and not just because my phone is a brick for the blind.

If we don’t get out there and do, how can we be?

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I hope this little shake up helps some of you guys too. I hadn’t been able to pinpoint my lull but now I have, I’m going to try to fix it as best I can.

One hour free of technology after work each day to focus on my other things e.g. pile of unread books and neglected keyboard and guitar.

You’re all beautiful, interesting people. That’s why you’re my friends.

Now let’s go and be that without validation (said the queen of needing validation). Life is short, don’t spend it sad because some people are cooler than you.

No one will ever be as cool as Ringo Starr. It’s time we accepted it.

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Forever your honey,

Harleigh Q

Xo

Defining Success

The term ‘success’ has come up a few times in my world lately.

I was having a really interesting chat with my Sarah over a daytime cocktail bowl. We realised that many people have a pretty standard view of what makes a person successful.

I’m starting to realise that my definition is quite different from the norm. I thought I’d analyse a few of the definitions I know to help me better understand the different perspectives.

Do we really all judge ourselves and each other by these standards?
~

Money

Let’s start with the thing we have been trained to value above all else since the day we could count: moola.

It makes the world go round, there’s no denying it. I know people who can’t breathe unless they have several thousands nestled deep within their untouchable savings account.

They have the freedom to buy the nicer things, treat themselves on occasion. But there’s nothing more satisfying than seeing those numbers tick up and up every payday.

It’s starting with nothing and making decisions each day that get you to a place of calm and comfort.

That self control is impressive to say the least. While others blow it all in an online shopping spree over a glass of wine (guilty) the knowledge that no matter what life throws at you, you’re prepared and on top of it. You’re not a slave to a bank or in debt to anyone, that’s success.

Career

The driving force, the crowning jewel. Oh, to be a boss!

It’s not just about power, though it feels damn good to take control, it’s about having a reason to get out of bed everyday.

There’s a fire in your belly, a drive, a force pushing you to give your chosen path your whole heart and soul.

Lunches ate at a desk between phone calls, balls with awards and glamour and recognition. Seeing your name on the leader board, a thank you email, a cuddle from someone you helped. There are so many reasons to be proud.

Degrees, commutes, essays, studies. Getting to work and leaving in darkness. A sense of total achievement. Glory, recognition, importance; maybe even fame.

A career is a purpose alright. It’s the highest highs and the lowest lows with the people you spend more time with than friends and family.

Putting your heart in to your work? That’s success.

Knowledge

What an overwhelming thirst it is, to understand, to comprehend the world and her wonders.

News articles are beautiful things. The media can be a necessary evil at times but they’ve learned how to weed out the scare tactics and get to the heart of the facts.

Books are fuel. They’re an escape and a companion. Like two lives running simultaneously, there’s the conscious person and the person living inside the stories, past and present and everything in between.

Documentaries are relaxing viewing. Dates and events are stacking in mind, occasionally skewing but always sparking interest and pride.

Deep, stimulating conversations with companions who share your need to understand, to challenge, to explore. To hold your own with the passionate and intellectual alike, that’s success.

Possessions

I can’t count how many people I know with slabs, cars and engagement rings. They’re somewhere along the building time scale or checking out display homes. They’ve got a fat deposit in their bank account ready to burn. They’ve got a beautiful, brand new car. They’re living in their own self-designed haven.

They’ve worked damn hard, they’ve made sacrifices. They didn’t get to go out and play, go on the holidays. But, to buy the ultimate independence? That’s pretty incredible.

They’ve got beautiful things. They might have beautiful hair and makeup and jewellery or maybe it’s just a beautiful home, a well taken care of vehicle. They’ve dedicated years to it, they deserve it. Now, time is theirs. Life is pretty and peaceful. Work is necessary, but it’s a means to an end.

A home, a base, freedom. A sense of pride. That’s success.

Love

I’ve met an incredible bunch of men and women in my life, but there are a few of them who have had a small sadness in their eyes. These are the ones who tell me they’re failing. They mention a want for a person above all else. They are lonely. They don’t see life beginning until they find someone to share it’s ups and downs with. Nothing can begin until then.

This group value love above all else. A job is a job, and experiences aren’t as good unless there’s someone to share them with.

They seek a soul connection, and oh how their energy lifts and life sparkles when they find someone who feels the same.

Being single is a minefield at times, being single in your late twenties can be stressful, especially. Most of my people have found their partners in life. I’m surrounded by engagements and weddings.

Cementing the feelings, starting the story.

Love conquers all. That’s success.

Experiences

Finally we come to my personal measure of success. Stories.

To me and many others, a life spent in one place is a life half lived. The world is gigantic and magical and so full of dreams to be realised and lives to intersect.

We want to expand our minds through experiences. We want to see how everyone everywhere lives and breathes. We want to understand them. I love humans and I do think love is a great measure of success, but the stories I share with people and the memories I create are what I crave. They’re how I feel alive and satisfied.

I may not have any money in the bank, and I have to work damn hard to afford my own impulsiveness, but to me it’s all worth it.

A life lived on the edge of adventure, without fear or limits, that’s what it’s all about to me. Being able to jump in head first, that’s success.

~

I decided to ask some of my friends their thoughts. How do they define success? What are their goals? I think millennial success is a whole different ball game.

An angry Scot of the Highlands

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I just want to be happy and healthy in whatever I do. If I am comfortable to be able to fuck around and continue acting like the 10 year old I basically am mentally, whether at work or at home, I reckon that’s success. But also can’t get past the Ol’ material indicators of success too. House, car, job, family etc

A sassy Swedish feminist

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Success means destroying your opponents. We’re not here to make friends.

I want babies in a beautiful apartment and to be financially stable enough to take them for daily baby chinos in my Sportscraft shirts, chinos and loafers and spend the weekends getting fucked up on red wine whilst my babies are being cared for by the Swedish au pair (because she’s not a white supremacist she wanted me to add that the reason she wants a Swedish au pair is because she wants the baby to be duo lingo).

An angelic Kiwi vagabond

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I think to me it means waking up and going to sleep happy, having goals and a purpose to live for.

My life goal is to live in harmony with the land! Being self sufficient only taking what’s necessary to survive. Always has been – long way off that yet. But you know I’ve achieved some things like not eating animals.

A dreamy Brisbane fairy

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Success to me is that feeling of accomplishment and pure joy after realising you achieved something you were striving for. It fills you with courage and soaring pride. It makes you realise and relish your unlimited potential. It opens you up to the next challenge. Success fuels self-love.

My life goal is to be happy. I believe I’ll achieve this by continuing to grow, change and challenge myself.

A wild and wonderful full time Asia explorer

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Success is that feeling when you look back and realise how far you have come. success is consistently growing and changing as a person and knowing there is no finish line, it is consistent work and passion that isn’t always easy but nothing worth doing is easy.

My life goal is to always be learning and using my knowledge to bring others happiness and enjoyment, no matter what I might be doing, and to always be moving. I like being on the go and doing new things or visiting new places. I want to continue doing it as it keeps me content and happy.

A kind and loving Kiwi healer

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Success is finding love and someone to share life with.

My goal is actually less about my career and more about building a solid life long, committed loving relationship with someone and having babies. If you don’t have a family to share your life with then what do you have. Nothing means a lot if you don’t have someone to go home to.

A fierce and fabulous Pocahontas

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I guess I feel like I’ve achieved some of my dreams, but others I’m still working on (and I’ve certainly failed along the way!).

I am not sure about life goals but the next few years I’m focusing on education and finance so I have a foundation to work on my other dreams, which are more travel and one day starting a family of my own (i’d totally love to take my kids on adventures like living in a caravan or something crazy and whatever). Also, trying to reconnect with my creativity cause I’ve always wanted to write a novel but never taken myself seriously.

I do have two quotes I like that help me out though, can’t remember who said them:

“Ordinary things, done consistently, produce extraordinary results”

“Every accomplishment stars with the decision to try”

A mystifying and sensual lead singer

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I consider success to be doing the things that you are doing well, getting better and better at them by doing them a lot and then having something to show from it; maybe while attempting to maintain a level of sanity without slipping into complete poverty, and being good to others along the way.

My life goal? huge question.

One of them is to have a large and varied body of work.

A bush doof king

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Success? The first word that popped into my head was “happiness”.
The second word was fulfilment.

My goal is to leave a lasting impression on the people around me. That may sound silly from someone who shouts anti establishment because who cares what people think about you. But I do care about the people I love and trust. So that in turn would make me happy, fulfilled and therefore successful.

I think I could write a whole blog about what success means to me. (hmm me too)

A London style cat

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Success to me means: feeling like you have taken yourself to new levels, where you have excelled more than you though you would. Being full, not craving for more all the time because you are finally mentally, emotionally or financially happy and fulfilled.

My life goal is to stay alive, healthy & keep being happy. Influence & inspire however I can. Plus be successful by my definition.

A vintage Goddess

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To me success has never meant wealth, it’s not materialistic, it’s never meant fancy cars, homes, careers or acquiring ‘stuff’. Ugh! Gross! Living a successful life is in kindness, compassion, respect and becoming the best person you can. Always growing.

My life goal is to strive to be the best person I can be while I’m on this planet. Be bold and adventurous while being kind, compassionate, honest and hoping that the people I love feel my love. Oh and to dance… it’s cliche but always dance like nobody is watching.

This guy

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To me, success is recognition. It doesn’t really matter what you’re doing, but if other people are noticing then you’re probably pretty good at it. You could be the best painter in the world but if you don’t share your art, you’re not making anyone’s life better with it, you might have brightened your living room but where’s the fun in no one enjoying it? Being loved is success.

My life goal is to have a ground floor or first floor converted unit in Melbourne, some plants, a crate bed that I painted, fairy lights. I want a big record collection and someone to enjoy them with. I want to be known within my circle as an excellent cook and host, and I want to feed my huge family around a table outside where everyone helps themselves and we all talk too loud and dance after dinner.

~

In conclusion, I don’t think we can really attribute success to one thing. It’s subjective. If you’ve found what you want in life and you are going after it with all you have, you are on the road to one hell of a fulfilled life.

If you’re fighting some demons on the daily but putting those feet on the floor, one in front of the other, ticking gently on, you’re succeeding.

Good on you.

If you focus on the area that you don’t think you’re succeeding (e.g. me and my finances, lol), and compare yourself to others, but neglect the amazing things you have done (.e.g travel the world), you’re going to be very unhappy. Happiness is success. Be proud of yourself.

Don’t let anyone make you feel like you aren’t doing well just because you’re focussed on an area that they might not appreciate or value the same, either.

Life is short, do your thang.

Get it, my darling dreamers. I’m proud of you.

Harleigh Q

Xo

An Epic Ending

I’m going to start this one with a brief explanation for those who might not know me very well about just why the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio was such a spiritual experience for me.

I was raised on music. My most vivid memories from childhood are my first album (B*witched) and how bashed up my Spice Girls one got. I heard Lighthouse Family croon as we drove the Yorkshire countryside in search of adventure. I heard Papi singing Paul Weller to perfection at the top of his lungs. Mumma loved Simply Red and Style Council, Sade and real soulful RnB. Papi put Eminem’s Encore album in the car and I cheekily learnt all the lyrics in my room at night while I drew and Mumma questioned the language. My sister bopped in her walker to Will Smith and my Nan taught me about the incredible Tina Turner and Elvis Presley. Papi heard about England’s next big thing, Arctic Monkeys. That album is part of my life story, man. As well as everyone one that followed.

I love music. When I lost myself music found me. I fell in love with the Beatles, INXS, the Stones, Plan B, Steely Dan, Prince, Bowie, Sticky Fingers, Johnny Cash, Elton John, The Specials. Too many more to mention.

I found my bands and learned what it’s all about to live and breathe it. I connected with people who showed me even more new magic and let me share in the love of theirs.

My favourite guitar solo of all time is Prince during While My Guitar Gently Weeps. Paul’s speech for John, again for Ringo. Mick’s for the Beatles. Epic Clapton declaring ‘Music is all you really need. Love and music is all we need’.

I love travel, but music is the love of my life.

And this is the home of music.

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Johnny Cash was the featured artist. His old tour bus was sitting outside. It made me long for days I never spent on tours I never witnessed. I must have been a GTO in a past life… there’s just something in this soul longing for it all and I can’t explain it.

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I could have spent days there but I was emotionally vulnerable and feeling incredibly overwhelmed with love when I walked out (20 minutes late, but I did navigate the gift shop at record speed.)

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Cleveland was a beautiful city, and to top off my best day I got to go see one of the best films I’ve seen in years. The last time a movie I watched jumped instantly in to my top five it was Lost in Translation.

Baby Driver was a musically driven, beautifully written and actioned packed dream from start to finish, taking place in a world I wish I belonged. The gentle dialog and tune connection between Baby and Deborah is the stuff of my wildest fantasies. I could curl up and live in this film. Watch it, please.

Moving far away from my whimsical reminiscences let’s jump right in to next destination.

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We stopped briefly at an Amish village for lunch on the way to Chicago which honestly creeped me out. It’s just so isolated. It hurts my heart every time someone looks in my eyes with longing when I tell them I’m from Australia. I know I am beyond lucky, but I made a choice to dedicate my life to travel. To me, to travel is to live. I really hope some of these lovely people get to explore my home one day the way I am with theirs.

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Happy 4th!

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We spent the day the most perfect way, at the baseball! The beers went down too smoothly, and everyone was in the highest of spirits. Especially our Contiki team.

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It was like walking around with minor celebrities.

That evening we all relaxed in a park by the beach with chilly bins (hah) and lots of American apparel. We danced and drank and laughed as we waited for the fireworks. It was a very memorable experience.

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Our drive from Chicago to Madison was one of my favourite drive days. We went to a fresh food market, and I found my future husband.

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That afternoon we got merry at the Coopers brewery which had the most fantastically camp and fun presentation. I’ve switched beer loyalty purely based on it.

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I dug Maddison. I was super unwell while we were there but the dinner spot had one of my main men on the wall, a fabulous play list, and there was a Beatles themed bar there! I am returning when I come back to cover the middle states, that’s for sure.

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The next night we spent in a cute little spot called Sioux Falls. This began the beautiful run of mellow country towns.

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Apparently corn worship is a thing in this place.

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One of the coolest places we checked out was Badlands national park. This was the first of many incredible natural wonders we were about to explore.

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Mount Rushmore was next on the agenda. The town we stayed in was so picturesque. I loved it. Night one was spend curled up in the spa.

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Mount Rushmore is just as spectacular as you’d imagine. It really took my breathe away seeing it in real life.

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The highlight of the day for me though was witnessing to the gradual progress of the Crazy Horse memorial. It’s a gigantic tribute to a hugely important Native American war leader and historical figure. A multigenerational family have dedicated their lives to carving him in to the rock face on native land. It’s no small feat and who knows if it’ll be finished in our life time, but they accept no government funding. Tourism is the main income for this project, and they also run a school for local native kids on site. It’s all pretty incredible.

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That afternoon we had a family picnic by the lake. It’s so special to be out in nature and relaxing with friends.

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That night was movie night! Spot batman pants.

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Next we headed to the cowboy town of Cody. I gracefully bowed out of the rodeo this time but the next day was without a doubt one of the best of my life. Yellowstone National Park.

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The pictures speak for themselves. Certain spots smelled like Rotorua but the natural beauty of these formations was unparalleled. This is my favourite National Park.

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We even saw a bear!

The next day was a treat and a lot like popping over to Switzerland, Teton National Park!

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We had lunch at the tiniest brewery ever.

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That afternoon I made a bold choice and went for a trail ride. My horse was called Toughie and was a total gentleman.

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This was followed by an epic cook out and some interesting party games.

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It was a truly stunning place.

A brief city stop brought us to Salt Lake City, and we got to check out how the Mormons do things. Most of the state of Utah are Mormon!

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Kanab was our next stop and along the way we checked out Bryce National Park. We wandered the rim and wondered at her beauty. Each park is so unique.

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I loved the next. This was my third time at the Grand Canyon in just over a year but first time at the North Rim. I spent most of the day with my tunes on relaxing and absorbing the serenity. It’s way more chilled on the North end so it was perfect for just being for a while.

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The next day was wild. Zion National Park blew my mind. We did a few little hikes to pretty running rocks and drank in the fresh water. This was our final day with nature so we enjoyed her fully.

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Finally, here we were. Almost two months down and well and truly ready to go out with a bang. Hello Vegas!

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I absolutely love Las Vegas. Every time I’ve been (which is now four times) I have a different and brilliant experience. I love the happy people on holiday, the bright and vibrant casinos, the shows that leave you on the edge of your seat, the next level night life. Night one we played on Fremont street as we were staying downtown.

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I was in groupie heaven as we discovered two excellent 80s tribute bands, one for the pop hits and one for the spandex boys with long curls and rocker voices. Oh my.

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Safe to say the free day was a rest day. We checked out a few bars but it was aaaaall about day three for me.

We started with the Neon Museum, a collection of old Vegas neon signs. They all had a story and the place was magical.

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Next it was my favourite things, Bubba Gumps and fried chicken before a second viewing of the greatest show of all time… Love by Cirque Du Soleil. Rin and I toe tapped and gasped and swayed to the best songs remixed to perfection and yet again I danced giddily out with some merch.

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Our final night on Contiki involved party buses and the one and only Ghost Bar. I even ran in to one of my gorgeous NSW agents from my Brissie days. Only in Vegas.

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We danced and cuddled and tried not to get emotional about the end of our epic journey. Ten of us started this together. It’s a long time and there’s a lot of love there.

Our last day was hungover and sad, but it’s okay. I’ll be seeing you.

My flights home were entirely uneventful, unlike the ones there, so that was a relief.

I’m in heaven being at home with my family. I missed them, as I always do. Especially my little man.

~

So now we begin my transformation year. I have worked my bum off and now I’m allowed to work from home. This means I can smash the savings and get back to Brissie as soon as possible (one year is the goal). Until then, it’s me time.

I’m going to read, play my instruments, write my stories and enjoy my family. Most of all I’m going to focus on my health and happiness. When I figure out a miracle cure for a fucked up relationship with food I’ll let you know! 24 and 25 were magical exploration years, now at 26 I’ll cocoon before the butterfly returns.

Thank you to everyone who was a part of my adventure.

An important message I want to put out there is that if you want to travel, explore and live a nomad life, just do it! Don’t succumb to the pressure of getting on the property market or buying expensive things you don’t need if that’s not where your heart is. You don’t have to study something you aren’t passionate about. You don’t have to have a brand new car or expensive clothes.

Make a choice, and then go after it with everything you have. It’s the only way to live. Never do anything by half.

I’m not doing anything that you can’t. 

Remember, our stories are only just beginning…

Harleigh Q

Xo