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Written by writer-in-residence, Erin McCullagh. Imminently viral meme also by Erin McCullagh.

A couple of Thursdays ago, I was convinced by some friends of mine to ‘go out’.  This term has always confused me.  Does it mean ‘go out of the house’, like I once thought it did (at which point I replied that, no, I don’t go out very often)?  No, this ambiguous term refers to getting in a taxi or convincing a wary older sibling to drive you into the centre of town at around eleven o’clock at night, whereupon you line up outside shady-looking nightclubs for a while, then go in and get pushed around by people so much more drunk than you are, in order to spend all your money on drinks in order to become suitably drunk.

No, I wasn’t drunk enough to enjoy that night out.

I was too worried about having to work the next day, about my mother who wanted me to text her when I was safely in bed, about having a hangover (something I have yet to experience) or about ending up in an absurdly awkward situation, the photos of which would be on facebook within the next forty-eight hours.  So I had about two or three drinks (yum, musk flavoured vodka) and left it at that. My friends, however, had many more.

We went from Northbar to Mooseheads (one of my friends once told me, ‘I went to Mooseheads once. I wrote poetry.’) to Cube. What surprised me most of all was that two out of three of these places were equipped with fireman’s poles.  What for? I wondered.  We were on the top floor, so the chances of there being a fire station above us were slim. They were also on little stages in the centre of the floor, as if they were some kind of amazing spectacle.  Shortly, I found out why.  I was asked several times that night if I wanted to dance around the pole (‘… like dancing around the Maypole?’  ‘No, Erin, no…’), preferably in a way that made my skirt ride up and which showed my legs to the drunken dancers on the floor.  I have to admit, there is something fun in spinning around incredibly fast while intoxicated, however the intoxication soon wore off enough for me to realise that this was not what they wanted me to do.

Why on earth would I want to pole dance in a club?  Why would I want to do something highly embarrassing and rather anti-feminist in front of a horde of drunk people that I had never seen before in my life?  I asked these questions, but my friends were too busy dancing sexily around the pole to listen to me.  I subsequently retired to a less noisy part of the nightclub, where someone definitely more drunk than I was tried to buy me a drink and couldn’t understand my polite refusal.  Is there some switch in the female brain that decides when we are sufficiently intoxicated that we should immediately become the perfect vision of male eye-candy in order to seduce all males in the nightclub?  I certainly didn’t experience that.  I just looked around in horror as my seemingly conservative friends went totally wild.

This is the typical teenage ‘night out’.  This is ‘fun’, this is ‘exciting’, this is the Teenage Dream (according to Katy Perry).  This was my first time ‘going out’, a mandatory experience for every teenager, apparently.  Before this, people would look at my quizzically when I told them I’d never before gone to a nightclub and gotten completely smashed.  ‘What?  But you’re nineteen!’  Yes, indeed, that is my age, and I have never once been convinced to go out to a place that stinks of sweat and alcohol, dance around a pole and drink until my eyes watered.  Strange…

There’s something out there that tells the teenager in very strict terms, ‘you have to go out there, you have to lose control’.  You see it everywhere.  Sweaty drunks jumping up and down in a nightclub are only one example, perhaps the best known.  I remember watching a music video when I was all of sixteen, where a teenager with strict parents is stuck at home in her bedroom, and an attractive boy comes and ‘rescues’ her and takes her to this wild party.  After this I sat down and thought to myself that I had never once been to this sort of a wild party.  Was I missing out on something?  Was this an inherent experience of the teenage years that I was missing out on?  It definitely seemed that way.

Later, I was flicking through trailers for movies and came across this particular one.  A group of boys throws a wild, wild party, with lots of drinking and swearing and more drinking.  That’s the story.  Yay!  What a great movie!  It encapsulates the teenage experience!  Really?  Really?

And then I was reading this book by Donna Tartt called The Secret History (which is a really, really good book, don’t get me wrong), and it discusses in very specific terms the experience of youth running wild.  ‘To be absolutely free!  One is quite capable, of course, of working out these destructive passions in more vulgar and less efficient ways.  But how glorious to release them in a single burst!  To sing, to scream, to dance barefoot in the woods in the dead of night, with no more awareness of mortality than an animal!’  Is there something about being a teenager that incorporates the building up of emotion, the constant pressure, such that we have to release it somehow – in a nightclub, dancing, screaming at our parents, being a ‘teenager’?

I will never understand it.  My sister is more of the ‘true teenager’.  She infuriates our parents with her outbursts and tantrums, she goes to concerts, texts boys secretly, plays loud music in her bedroom.  Is this really what being a teenager is, or is it simply her reflection of what society has told her to do?

I think back to my friend Calum, who told me  ‘I went to Mooseheads once.  I wrote poetry’.  We were at a writers’ gathering and we had a good laugh about this at the time.  It was so like us, the creative bunch, to sit in a place where people lose control and simply observe.  As if we were the ones who were different, who didn’t need to lose control like this, who didn’t want to.  But creatives are different.  We work in different ways to others.  We have outlets that don’t include dancing sexily around poles and drinking until our livers cry for mercy.  For example, I like to sit in my room and read Ginsberg’s ‘Howl’ in various accents at the top of my lungs.  This is more spiritually fulfilling than any nightclub will ever be.  And I’m sure Calum finds that too, when he reads out his poetry at the top of his lungs at poetry slams.

So, Canberra, you won’t find me at Mooseheads any time soon, except perhaps with a notebook and pen in hand.  I don’t want your loud music, your expensive shots or your puzzling fireman’s poles.  I prefer a different outlet for my curious teenage emotional buildups.  We’ve tried it once, but it simply won’t work out.  This is not a relationship I can commit to.  I’m sure you’ll find someone else, a little more suitable, to work your drunken magic on, but for now my soul belongs in Smith’s Alternative or the Phoenix Pub.  I’m sorry.

Erin McCullagh is studying international relations at ANU and will soon begin a degree in languages on top of this, at which point she will resign herself to the truth that she will be at university forever.  She is spending the first seven months of 2014 in a cold and lonely part of Japan, trying to get by as a poor student with limited and (amusingly) incorrect Japanese language skills.  She dreams of one day becoming a famous author, meeting Don DeLillo and having his literary babies.

Since Erin’s now outta the country, keep an eye out for her next post, direct from Japan! In the meantime, you can follow her new blog, also direct from Japan!


One thought on “The Wild Youth (Or, I Wasn’t A Feminist Until I Walked Into That Nightclub)

  1. You are entirely correct in your judgement of certain nightclub scenes, they can attract morally questionable types. I think however, you are incredibly quick to stereotype those who enjoy that activity with a variety of other personality quips. This comes across as naive and potentially very insulting. Being “creative” and enjoying going to Mooseheads aren’t mutually exclusive.

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