The Dreamkeepers — Joanna Murray-Smith

Adolescence is, perhaps, the most theatrical time in human life cycle, invested as it is so potently with a sense of “future”, whilst still profoundly, if resentfully, linked to the past. Inherently dramatic, it seems to me to be its own kind of theatre: a performance about intense internal conflict in which you are all the players. The adolescent, like the actor, is simultaneously drunk on power and intensely vulnerable. Those years between childhood and adulthood are effervescent with hope, crippled by self-consciousness and grief-stricken for childhood. They encapsulate the strongest sense of ambivalence: a desire to know who you are and a desperate longing to transform.

My own adolescence was a literal and metaphorical island. I spent summers on an uninhabited Australian island, with a beautiful and savage landscape. There I could invent versions of myself with no audience. Just as my body felt isolated and intensely unto itself in that exposed wilderness, back in suburbia, my mind felt equally isolated and intensely unto itself. I was constantly regrouping for the battle-zone as heart, mind and body declared war on each other, then found allegiances, then betrayed each other in a constant shifting dance of loyalty and fury.

I embodied the self-importance of a performer. Life around me seemed like an audience offering permanent provocation: who are you, what are you, what do you wish for? Those long periods of reflection, suffering, self-hatred and arrogance in the theatre of adolescence were all preparation for real life up-coming. After years of being a performer, wearing masks to decipher which version of myself worked most effectively, impressed most deeply and felt most durable, adulthood was a curtain call to all of adolescence’s comic and dramatic volatility.

The loneliness of an adolescent is a poignant counterpoint to the mad sociability of that time. Families are forsaken and friends embraced as the only worthwhile companions and yet somehow there is always the subterranean tug to the known world and its predictable borders. As a young woman on the island, I got my own wisdom without ever recognizing it. Slowly it dawned on me that living without the protection of parents meant constant vigilance, periods of insurrection, nostalgia and a relentless enquiry and that all could  and perhaps have to  exist simultaneously.

Sometimes as an adult I miss the adolescent freedom that allows you to believe that you can choose your role. Gradually the role of your life chooses you, the masks are put away, the pretensions abandoned and you become fixed in a single light.

Joanna Murray-Smith