FROM DOWN HERE TO UP THERE

bri lee reflects on growing up among the bookshelves of avid reader.

When I first started going to Avid I couldn’t see over the front counter. I would determinedly peruse the adults’ bookshelves so that people might see me and know for sure that I was in the advanced reading stream. My mother had established a solid reward system where every good report card I brought home would get me ice cream from Cold Rock and a trip to Avid. A holographic-covered installment of Deltora Quest was almost certainly my inaugural selection. Lord knows what the last one was – I think I stopped showing my parents report cards in grade 10.

Going to events at Avid without my parents in my teens was groundbreaking. I was exposed to authors with ideas I didn’t hear at home or on the TV – and certainly not at my very Catholic school. I met people whose voices I had never heard. They had perspectives I’d never seen. It felt wildly independent (although I needed a lift there and a lift home) and I can look back now and clearly identify a time of intense learning.

brikick

Bri at the age she first started coming to Avid, exhibiting the excellent kicking skills that will no doubt serve her well when dealing with book critics later in her career.

Maybe I didn’t love John Howard like my dad loved John Howard? Should Indigenous Australian stories be taught in Ancient or Modern History class? (Both!?) What if having my period doesn’t make me disgusting and untouchable? Is bisexuality a real thing?

I was a late bloomer and you might think it awfully mild to learn these kinds of things in a bookstore, but for me Avid was a portal to a new world. There were approximately three awkward years there when I was painfully aware of my own ignorance but couldn’t afford to buy any of the books for myself. A monkey shouting inferiority! jumped on my back, and in an attempt to straddle the chasm between myself and the Avid world, I joined one of their book clubs. “Watershed moment” wouldn’t be an exaggeration. There were kids there who actually studied writing at university. There were kids there who were trying to get published. There were kids there drinking cheap wine who wanted to be writers – who were writers.

lollipop

Avid Reader’s ‘Young and the Restless’ Bookclub (artist’s impression).

Until then I suppose I had just presumed that writers were born different than me. That they were child prodigies with predestined paths of wisdom and insight. Nobody had put their hand on my shoulder and told me I was gifted. Nobody even mentioned writing was an option for a young woman like me. Suddenly I attended events and saw writers with five fingers and five toes. I listened properly to authors’ anecdotes and realised that sometimes their cars broke down, that they walked their dogs and picked up the poop, that they couldn’t always afford the books they wanted. The spell of separateness was broken and a new, stronger one took its place. My heroes were made of atoms and matter just like me.

In June I was asked to read at Avid for the first time after being published in the special 100th edition of Voiceworks. I’m 23, and it was my first paid, hard-copy byline. That puts me well behind the race of young writing prodigies, but I’m used to being a late bloomer. I don’t mind. Looking out at the audience, I remembered the times I sat in those chairs at the back of the shop, looking up and out at the people talking into the microphone, feeling like I existed on a different plane to them. I remember listening to them talk, thinking to myself: If I ever make it from down here to up there, then that’s it. I will have made it.

HI FIVING A MILLION ANGELS

I wanted to take this opportunity to thank Fiona and the people at Avid for the part they play in the Brisbane community, and the part they have played in my life. It is an incredible thing, for a young woman to be regularly in the same room as the people she admires. To be within reach of my dream authors, physically, made the career also seem conceptually possible for me. Being asked to read at Avid was a quiet little mammoth milestone for me. It represents me taking a step toward the life I am choosing for myself, and so for Avid I am grateful.

Bri Lee is an emerging writer and the Founder of Hot Chicks with Big Brains. Her work appears in SPOOK, VOICEWORKS, and SCUM.