Steph vs Democracy

Monday, August 26, 2013

When I was twelve, I ran for primary school captain.

I have been telling this story to students a whole bunch during this past Book Week. This is because if I were a fictional character in a novel, this is the story I would lead with to establish my character. Someone who was a pretty intense kid, and incredibly enthusiastic, but also willing to make an idiot of herself. And, you know, I think it's kind of a funny story. Not many of the interesting stories I have to tell involve me directly. Perils of being well-behaved.

There were sixteen people in my grade six class. I don't think everyone ran for school captain. I can't remember it that clearly. I have possibly changed details over the previous seven years to make myself more awesome. I am prone to doing that.

My classmates gave speeches I can barely remember - standard 'let's abolish homework!' and 'free icypoles every day!' fare. One of my friends read out a poem that her dad wrote about her. They all sort of blur together, to be honest. I highly doubt any of these people read my blog, but if they do, don't be offended. I do hope you were not planning on going into politics, though.

And then there was me.

The evening before I stayed up terribly late (maybe ten o'clock. Obscenely late by twelve-year-old Steph standards) madly working on my speech. I attempted to burn Waltzing Matilda to a CD, but it formatted wrong, so I ended up playing the Australian anthem through the school's crappy CD player while I spoke. I (and by I, you know I mean my mum) purchased a large number of small, plastic Australian flags from the two-dollar-shop, and distributed them throughout the crowd pre-speech (disappointingly, no-one really waved their flags with the enthusiasm I would have liked).

I painted my face blue to represent that I was a 'true blue' Aussie. There were remnants of blue on my face for three days. That's dedication.

And I stood at that lectern, and I gave my brilliant speech in the multi-purpose room to the entire school, which was lucky to be a hundred kids, plus parents and teachers. There is something, today, that I find utterly hilarious about the phrase 'multi-purpose room'. Like, why does it need to be specified that the room has multiple purposes? Don't most rooms have multiple purposes? Who thought to call it that? Why not just 'school hall'?

My speech was impassioned. I spoke about the great Australian tradition of supporting the underdog. I likened myself to The Little Engine That Could. I spoke about how, from little things, big things grow, referencing that classic Paul Kelly protest song. I was going to make big changes in the school. I was going to make big changes to the country.

It was powerful. It was beautiful. I remember the parents clapping. I am sure the parents were impressed.

I was not elected school captain.

My friend who read out the poem her dad wrote about her was elected, and so was the kid who planned to abolish homework. I can't remember the speeches the vice captains made. My sister voted for my friend Georgia. She was six at the time, so it's understandable (still, the betrayal stung. I have not spoken to my sister since*). I didn't even vote for myself. I didn't want to be arrogant, even though I knew I would be the greatest school captain ever.

The school captains didn't really get to do much. It was primary school. They got a pin. I got a pin, too, for Yellow House Captain, but I only got that role because everybody got to be the captain of something. It's like pass-the-parcel. Sure, everybody gets a prize. But nobody wants a rubbish prize. You want the good prize, in the heart of the parcel. The one the birthday kid gets because the whole set-up is rigged.

Which is not to imply that the primary school captain set-up was rigged (though I am almost 70% certain it was).

At the time, of course, I was disappointed. I thought I learnt a whole bunch of things from that experience - that everything is rigged, that life is a never-ending popularity contest you will always lose, that you never really get the things you want, so why bother to try?

Seven years later, I realise I was wrong. What that experience taught me was this:

1. My twelve-year-old self was astoundingly awesome, and whenever I am feeling bad about myself I just remember how great I once was, and channel that excellent kid I used to be. I was not a cool kid in primary school, or as a teenager, and I'm not as an adult, and it doesn't matter - I have a great deal more fun when I don't try to conform. Your personal awesomeness is not something anyone can take from you. Gosh, I should be a motivational speaker. Nonstop insightfulness, that's me.

2. Failures make for much better stories. I mean, really, being primary school captain wouldn't have worked with my character arc.

*Obviously I am kidding about this. We live together. I speak to her a billion times a day, mainly to lament the fact that I was never elected primary school captain and was denied my one opportunity for greatness.**
**I'm kidding about this, too.***
***This whole thing is pretty silly, really.
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