'Notes from Turning Thirty' by Ellena Savage

  • How did I get to thirty without several doomed and haunting love affairs? I mean all my romantic relationships failed, except for this one I’m in right now, and most of them failed miserably. But their failures were not at all poetical.
    • The older I am, it seems, the less doomed. I’m pleased about that. Though this fix may be a trick.
      • Every extra day increases the chance of full-scale disaster.
      • Or each new day the chances are just the same as always.

  • How did I get here without first learning to wear pastels?

  • Or be thin?
    • I think, I should have spent the past ten years learning how to tolerate exercise.
    • And then I think, what’s so fucking good about pilates?
      • What did getting on your knees to disappear ever get anyone?

  • How did I get to thirty without knowing how to trim the length of a screw?
    • Don’t know if ‘trim’ is the correct word here or even ‘screw’. (Quietly, I’m proud that I know the word for ‘thread’, the ribbed valley spinning round the screw-like object.)
    • Some people believe in nothing. Not no thing, but nothing. Not me.

  • I watched the miniseries Angels in America last week, all of it. In the first episode, I cried my heart out. Beautiful, good, gorgeous men, falling into nothing.
    • Then I got bored of the New Yorky aspirational upper-classy thing going on. The final scene, where the four now-friends—Belize the regal nurse, Pryor the survivor, Louis the over-thinker, and Hannah the ex-Mormon—sit in the shadow of the Angel of the Waters in Central Park, discussing the Gorbachev-y, ‘settlements’-y news of 1990. They all have these chatty, flirty opinions.
    • I rolled my eyes. It was all so average. But I watched it till the credits played out.
      • I rolled my eyes because frivolity mixed in with the fruits of abundance (decadence?) is the easiest thing to eye-roll. But the truth is that its opposite is even worse.
      • I rolled my eyes because so many of my early desires were structured around the aesthetics of this New Yorky aspirational upper-classy thing, which now seems terribly disappointing.

  • Things I thought I would have by now. A book. A baby. Proficiency in several foreign languages. Hair that spilled out over my nipples. A genuine interest in parliamentary politics. An aura of undeniable seriousness.
    • I don’t miss any of that now. Except perhaps the book.
    • Something that I do miss is the simple sense that kindness and grace were ever mine.
    • Too melodramatic?
      • I just mean. Jesus, I’ve talked some shit.

  • When I was twelve I made a ‘time capsule’. It was a letter to myself, sealed in an envelope which I taped to the underside of my wardrobe. I pulled it out at regular intervals to read. It said something like ‘Lah-lah-lah, I want to become an artist, or a military lawyer.’ An army recruiter had been at my primary school (which now seems like it should be illegal?) and had said something about a free house.
    • A two-storey house, said my imagination.
    • No mention of husband or children. But I did want a pet elephant. And two palm trees in my front yard.
    • Whatever desire is, desire is flexible. Desire is yearning for time to collapse into images with hope they might ease the discomfort of being-in-time.
    • I used to think there were discrete and multiple selves producing all desire and intention and action. I’m much more fatalistic now. Intention is the justification of what’s already happening.

  • My apartment is now ninety-five per cent finished. Ninety-five per cent is the percentage of finished that, once reached, might never get fully finished. Like, I painted the bathroom’s tiled floor black a few days ago, but we needed to use the bathroom, so I stopped painting. Still needs one more coat. Will I get on my knees this weekend and actually paint it? I hope so. I really do.
    • I associate half-finished home renovation projects with a life I have voluntarily or involuntarily disassociated from. Things like half-painted walls which remain half-painted forever, I used to not notice. Now they provoke a kind of anxiety.
    • We moved when I was a teenager from a tidy weatherboard rental into a brick-cladding-clad cottage overlooking a row of panel beaters. Before moving in, we all got on our knees and painted. Whitewashed the walls, with plans to paint trim a green gloss. The shade was supposed to be olive-grey green, but I, a teenager, had been put in charge of picking up the paint, and I accidentally got a gaudy egg-shell variety instead. So we just used that, even though it was objectively horrible, made more visually offensive by the glow of the fluorescent pipes that lit the back room.
    • We ran out of masking tape while painting, so to guide the paintbrush along clear lines, my brothers and I started using brown packing tape instead. When we peeled it off the walls, the tape left brown, sticky markings which remained on the whitewash as long as I did in that house.





  • I went out with a Swedish guy maybe five or ten years ago.
    • Five or ten! I’ve always longed to say such a thing.
      • Marking that passage of time lends itself to vain notions of wisdom.
    • On a date he made an offhand comment about me being an affluent girl. I was genuinely touched. I mean, I was affluent (decadent). Just not in the way he thought (entitled to an inheritance).
      • I’d met him waiting his table at the ‘high-end’ steak house where I worked.
      • Where Lleyton Hewitt was a member of the VIP club, which gave the Very Importants very special steak knives, heavy things but cheaply made, just like their egos.
      • The tips there were much worse than you’d think. Or just as bad as you’d think.
    • After a date, I suggested the Swede get us a room at the Marriott. That’s what affluent girls do. Or what fake affluent girls do? The bed was taller than I expected and very soft.
    • Sex with him was lifeless and largely insincere, but his body was a masterpiece of biological composition.
    • I smoked a cigarette in the bathroom, unsure whether that was what an affluent girl would do or not do. He went back to Sweden. I went back to serving Lleyton and Bec.

  • When I was very little, sitting in the back of the car, I’d frown at houses I deemed ‘ugly’, as though they were committing a sin.

  • My family’s house then wasn’t a ‘nice’ house, but we had an overgrown front yard, which was sweet.
    • We lived then in a rural town where the appearance of houses was very important.
    • A classmate there described my house as a shanty-house, which was both politically incorrect and untrue, but which wounded my pride.
      • Wounded the foundations of my house pride.
    • This town’s menacing Better Homes and Gardens atmosphere unsettled my family, who hadn’t come from that town. So we left. By the time my folks were ready to leave, Sydney, where we had come from, was a rich person’s city. So the industrial scrub of Melbourne’s north it was.
    • I was very excited to meet my new ‘Melbourne’ friends, who would be highly cerebral tween punks.
      • The only punks I found were highly cerebral stoners, which is to say they identified strongly with Cartman.

  • In my first week in Melbourne I put a pair of eight-hole cherry Docs on layby.

  • In my first month, I became a baby recruit of a socialist party. I began to go to revolution-planning meetings every Saturday.
    • I couldn’t honestly see myself storming parliament in ugly fatigues, but in principle, the socialists were ok.

  • Besides, I had basically no friends other than the friend I cajoled into coming to meetings with me, so it was, at least, something to do before I was old enough to get a job. I read Karl Marx (slowly) and sold radical newspapers in my school uniform at Flinders Street Station (boldly). But if I’m honest I was always a dilettante about these things.
    • One night I went to some sort of an afterparty the socialists were putting on at one of their houses. The place was an open-plan, newly renovated apartment on Elizabeth Street in the city. The guy who lived there was seventeen or eighteen.
      • Don’t trust a socialist who’s never had a degrading job.
      • I rolled my eyes at his decadence. But mostly I was just jealous.

  • The socialists all smoked cigarettes, but none of them ever ate McDonald’s. I continued to eat McDonald’s, but didn’t tell anyone about it. But I learnt things.
    • I learnt that all the sluts bitches and whores I and every girl I knew used on the regular were part of a larger project of degrading women. This transformed me. So thank you, socialism.
    • I learnt that there are people who believe a revolution can be bloodless.
    • I learnt that men with unkempt beards and a theoretical understanding of the patriarchy don’t ask you questions if you’re a young girl.
      • Many years later, I learnt they don’t start asking you questions when you’re no longer a young woman, either.
    • Mum thought I had been tricked by some alluring older guy to join this cult, but that’s only because she’d never met a socialist male from the early naughts. Their facial hair was atrocious.
    • So Dad drove past the stall one morning to check it out. There I was, selling badges with two women who were, like me, cardiganed, their legs swaddled in spunky tights (this was the early naughts). They seem earnest to me, he said. And they were.
    • Anyway, I couldn’t afford the membership fees.

  • I keep getting these flashbacks.
    • Like what people say happens in their seventies, eighties.
    • Thirty’s not so old. But you wouldn’t call it young.

  • A few months ago, I bought an apartment. Well, I split the cost with my boyfriend Dom, who is actually now my husband. So I’m turning thirty as a married homeowner, which is definitely not how I thought things would go. Our apartment is in a place where we won’t be able to find work, so we’ve talked about it, and we’ve agreed that we periodically come back to Naarm to save like demons in order to go back and live in our new place.
    • Dom’s face is like an open flower. Life with him will be good.
    • This plan of ours will mean living skint in both cities, which is fine by us.
    • Though living skint is not so easy in Melbourne, not these days. People there spend a lot of time convincing you they are very poor, and then they wash their dishes with Aesop hand gel.
      • It’s probably not called ‘hand gel’. Hand cleaning fluid. Palm wash. Finger clean. Savon pour extremities. Soap?

  • Other things happen. Outside and inside the walls of an apartment, and in the body, too. While a person turns thirty.
    • Today was the 44th anniversary of the polytechnic uprising that is credited with bringing down the military junta in Greece.
    • The rain this morning stifled the early-morning protests, but later in the arvo we went down to the main rally. It was moving and fearsome. There must have been at least twenty thousand people out.
      • The few hundred young revolutionaries in the frontline linked arms, and each one of them held a broomstick with a red rag flying in one fist, and a motorcycle helmet in the other.
      • The riot police mirrored them, but with a cartoonish glint of horror. Same-same, but military haircuts and firearms.
      • The chanting was deep, unified. Like church.
      • The air was tense and I felt afraid. And proud. And pissed off.
      • There was only one woman in the front line.

  • Yesterday at least 16 people were killed in flash floods on the outskirts of Athens. Photos show red mud rivers that used to be streets, upturned cars. People whose houses had filled with a metre of water. I’m wearing sandals, said an older man on the news, because they’re all I have now.

  • Just now I went outside to pull the old cane chairs off the balcony before they got destroyed—it’s hailing and raining at the same time—and I took in a big breath of the livid air. It smelled like a chemical fire. There’s been so much lightning, so the smell could be from a fire. Or it could be tear-gas.
    • Before we went out to get a pie Dom and I had sex in the kitchen. It was great. The bench was the perfect height, which is good to know.
    • Now when I look in the mirror I can see an emerging jowl-line. I remember a friend from high-school and her siblings gently mocking their (devastatingly hot) mother about her one flaw. ‘Jowlene, Jowlene, Jowleen, Jowleeeen!’ they’d sing. I’d laugh. Who’s laughing now? Not me. I also found a grey hair.
      • I am sorry, so sorry, for having been a teenage bitch. Especially to the mums.
      • Jowls or no, though, I like it better, being here.
    • Tonight, we will have dinner with a group including a guy who will tell us that ‘identitarian’ politics is destroying the ‘workers’ movement.’
      • I will ask him, why is it that the first thing white male anarchists hear when they hear the words ‘feminism’ or ‘queer’ or ‘Black liberation’ is that they’re not invited? So insecure.
      • We will order from a menu that is roughly twice the price of any average menu in the city. And I’ll suspect that when he says the ‘workers’ movement’ he means the movement that is us, sitting in a nice restaurant, and ‘destroyed’ is this, having an unpleasant time together.
      • While he explains his reasoning, I’ll get a major cramp in my gut, think it’s food poisoning, and go home before everyone has even finished their meals. By the time I’m in bed, the cramping will be gone completely.

  • Tomorrow, I’ll wake up very early and read for an hour or two before getting up. Because I’m not scared of time running away from me any more. This is one blessing of not being young. Then I’ll make coffee and do whatever dishes and wipe all the surfaces in the apartment before starting work.
    • Me, wishing domestic concerns had no impact on the day’s productivity.
    • Me, secretly delighting in becoming an amateur kind of home-maker.
      • But nothing’s a choice, really, is it? It was waiting for me all along.

  • None of the cabinets in the apartment have door knobs yet—I bought a box of them, they arrived the other day, but the screws are all the wrong lengths and I don’t know how to trim them. This is probably the most bourgeois problem I’ve ever had. So. If I want to open a cupboard, I have to squat down and press my fingertips up hard on the edge of the door and pull it towards me.
    • This is more difficult than it probably sounds.

  • Things have slowed down and at the same time they have sped up. Like my phone charger broke a few days ago and I might not get another one. Because other than Instagram, I don’t really use a phone anymore.
    • Thirty is old enough to realise the link between looking at other people’s photos of their fantasy lives and feeling fraught, unattractive, and misinformed.

  • I don’t want as much now as I used to want.
    • I always longed for these hideous guttings, leaks of anguished, bloody love. And for waking up alone and unscathed. For my work to be anointed by the blessings of the someone’s higher up.
      • Not anymore!
    • Now I want an emotional range of 5 to 8. Nothing less than average. But nothing more than surprisingly good.
    • I have more now than I ever did before. Or maybe now I know it.


Ellena Savage is a writer and reader. Her essays, poems, lectures and stories have been published and performed widely. Most reccently: Chart Collective, The Lifted Brow, Literary Hub, Cordite and Scum.