Caitlin: Inspired fashion sense, passionate about her beliefs, the winner of every dance battle. Vibrant, creative, opinionated. A feminist, a photographer, a filmmaker. Wears more blue and yellow than Briscoes. Can outdo you in any philosophical or art based discussion. Owns light up shoes.
I’ve known her since we were messy-haired thirteen year olds in knee length kilts. When we were sixteen we started exchanging letters. Hasty notes scrawled on the inside cover of refill grew longer with every reply until they turned into a kind of diary. Everything important about school and boys and friends and happiness was written down in hundreds of letters passed quietly between us. We only ran out of things to write when we realised that everything we wanted to tell each other could be said aloud.
I called her for a coffee and chat because I find her so interesting and I wanted to let her talk to you – but more than that I wanted to reintroduce her to everyone through my eyes. Let you meet her not just as a colourful character – but as the kind of idiot who moves all the furniture out of her room in the middle of the night because she heard a mouse or the sweet soul who makes you fresh brownies at 12am because you’re moody over catching a cold. I want you to know her as I do – as my best friend.
Who are you?
She’s sitting across the table smiling at me. Wearing white cat-eye sunglasses, her distinctive orange hair vibrant against the blue of her jacket, answering my question seems to be the easiest thing in the world. “I’m Caitlin, I’m nineteen. I’m from Wellington and I study in Auckland. Life is fulfilling, I’m happy.”
But if you could introduce yourself straight up, like walk into a room of people and just describe yourself, without any performance or fallacy or pretense, what would you tell them?
“Moving cities last year I met lots of new people and it was challenging communicating who I felt I was. I wanted to show people that the things I do, I do them for myself. I wanted to tell them that I’m assured. To me, personality is holistic and all aspects of it are equally important. It’s the same: crazy clothes at parties are as much as part of who I am as staying home and finishing my uni assignments.”
She pauses for a moment, “You know there’s the stigma that ‘arty’ people are all wild or flighty or whatever, but being creative and crazy is as integral to me as being reliable and being stable.
I don’t think I’m weird and I don’t want to be weird. I feel that a lot of people only know me at a creative level and I really like those people but to really know me, someone needs to understand all of the sides of me. I couldn’t have that surface creativity if I didn’t have the strong base of everything else to support it.”
“People in the world are glad that I’m here and there is nothing I could do for them to not be that way.”
What are your general thoughts about people?
“I have an optimistic view of human nature. We’re community animals, we have an inherent favour towards each other. It’s like when you’re on a bush walk and you cross paths with someone, you automatically smile at them. You’re pleased to see them regardless of who they are. I think people have an unconditional gladness with each other.”
This answer is so fitting of Caitlin, who often appears as a constant force of confidence. She is always the first to ask the question, start a conversation, take to the dance floor. “I think the basic attitude of people is that they are predisposed to like you but at the same time everyone is thinking about themselves. It’s a good way to think if you don’t want to be self conscious… People in the world are glad that I’m here and there is nothing I could do for them to not be that way.”
You’re nineteen – would you consider yourself a girl or a woman?
Caitlin laughs, “Probably a woman. I have my own home and that means responsibility. I also have my own income and I live in a different city to the community I grew up in. The further from high school we get the more [life] changes from a sisterhood.”
I drop my half of our shared muffin into my drink and she frowns at me until I fish it out. “I don’t
drop food in my drink like some people either.”
Do you have a turning point where you felt like you really had started becoming a woman?
It takes her a while to answer me. She stares down at the tables, fingers drumming on the wood. “I know there’s something but I can’t think of it,” Suddenly she sits up excitedly, “Cutting my hair!”
I applaud as she explains: “A bob is a choice; an active choice and when I cut my hair I became an active choice. I saw myself as someone in control because I was openly displaying choices that I’d made.”
Reaching up to touch her hair she smiles. “Choice empowers and forms an identity because every time you make a choice you’re not choosing something else. Before I cut my hair I wasn’t good at making big decisions but afterwards I seemed to be making more and I became a bigger person.”
You said you believe that each choice cuts out another; can you tell me about a hard choice that you made? Something you cut that you still think about?
“Studying film. When you choose what course you’re going to do at university people start to make assumptions about you and who you are. Two years ago there was possibility for me to become a journalist or geologist or politician. I could have studied law or science, DT or art and digitals. It wasn’t a wrong choice, it was just a time you had to make a decision.”
“When you have that awareness of your environment you have a sense of place and your very existence has a purpose and has a part to play.”
Everyone knows you care a lot about so many things but talk to me about an issue that you are focussed on right now.
“Environmentalism. Living sustainably – being aware and realising one’s role in the cycle. I think if everyone was really conscious about the environment then people would want to change their lifestyle. The biggest problems are things people don’t even think about -like taking a plastic bag; you don’t even care whether or not you get a bag so you just say yes but if you were more aware you’d say no and that would make a difference.”
It’s not hard to tell how much she really cares about what she’s saying. She’s leaning towards me, every bit of her alight as she explains it; so excited to share this with me.
“I’m passionate because I think it is better for the world, but I also believe it’s better for people. Right now everyone is so lost, like they don’t know where their place is. When you have that awareness of your environment you have a sense of place and your very existence has a purpose and a part to play.”
If you could create something new?
“I always think of renewable energy but at the same time is it fixing the problem to just be like, ‘Hey, heres some new energy?’” Her gestures send our table number flying onto the ground. “I would invent table numbers that don’t fall off the table,” she adds, chagrinned.
“I just think about how anything you invent has so many repercussions. There is so much thought to how things follow through – the before and after. It’s not necessarily bad to have repercussions.. Everything needs other things. I want to be independent and not need anything: I see accepting needing and interdependence as a higher goal. I think as long as short term you have an individual generator and can support yourself, long term it’s good to need and be needed.”
What’s something you’re looking forward to?
“Going back to uni and walking down that beautiful stretch of New England trees. Just that feeling of being on the way to class with my laptop and being so empowered. It encapsulates how I feel about learning; you are moving forward but also part of a history… I’m also looking forward to creating a web and a community because I have that in Wellington but not quite in Auckland yet and that’s so exciting.”
Making friends or small communities is one of the things you do best - What communities do you feel you belong to the most?
“Belonging is really important to me, it’s the places I’m entitled to be apart of: unconditional entitlement. Family – everyone belongs there regardless, you don’t have to try you just are. The group of friends who I’ve had for a long time, those friendships where you don’t need to say anything you can just be there and you inherently belong… My friends don’t like me for who I am – if I had grown up any differently they’d still like me, being my friend is just a part of who they are.”
What’s the most important quality in a friendship?
“Trust,” she replies immediately. “That’s so important. I know very clearly what friends I trust and it’s not just about being trustworthy, it’s how they know what parts of me are and are not for them to share, where my lines are.” She grins suddenly, “Also having fun is really important.”
What don’t you see as important in friendships?
“Growing older, seeing your friends often isn’t that important. Adult friendships are the kind where you see them once, you have a really nice time and you have a progressive conversation. It’s not about a big catch up you just enjoy yourself.”
Caitlin thinks for a second. “Also I think them liking everything about you isn’t important. To a degree common interests don’t matter, common values are important I guess, but not common material interests.”
What kind of friend do you think you are to people?
“A good question from you,” She smiles. “I think I’m a positive friend, a positive influence, I’m good at keeping people in check.” Her answer reflects her as I know her. To our group Caitlin has always been mother hen – always looking after us, making us a snack, ensuring we get home safe after a night out.
“I approach friendships the way I want to be friends with that person, I don’t often give thought to what they’re needing from me. I’m quite selfish which isn’t necessarily bad – I do nice things for them because I want to. My friends don’t owe me, I do things for them because I want to. I have the same friends since I was a child and I haven’t lost any of them.
She laughs, “I’m a dick to my friends, I’m so annoying. Particularly when I finish work – I’m like ‘I had to be so nice at work today so now I’m going to be a dick.”
What’s a difficulty you have with friendships?
“When you feel like they’re not making positive choices for themselves. I know it comes from an external, pragmatic viewpoint and you always have to acknowledge that it’s more complicated than it seems – but it’s frustrating. I can understand it but that doesn’t really help.”
And a nice thing about them?
“When you feel like you’ve grown in the same direction and you suddenly realise all these new similarities that you didn’t even know were there. Those moments when you both think the same thing or reach the same answer on your own terms.”
We’ll stay with the nice questions – Something that makes you laugh?
Just thinking about the question makes her laugh. “Things that don’t make sense. Illogical words. I love nonsense – like wordplay – it makes me so happy and it’s so simple and has no repercussions.”
She’s still laughing when I call her out for being the world’s biggest nerd. “Quirky grammar is the least political thing ever… I love those friends who get that too. It’s getting joy out of the world – not making fun of it but appreciating it.”
“When I wake up I decide who I want to be and then I put on clothes to fit that personality.”
Tell me about clothes – what do they mean to you?
This question wasn’t one I planned to ask but I realised it would be weird not to talk about it. So much of Caitlin’s personality is reflected in the outfits she creates from her
“I love clothes. I have a lot of them but I also recycle them and reuse them. Second hand cheap clothes are my forte. It’s like collage. Outfits are collages where you combine different things to be aesthetically interesting but also to have a meaning.” She shrugs, “When I wake up I decide who I want to be and then I put on clothes to fit that personality and that sets the tone to how the day goes.
Do you really think we can actively decide the person we are?
“I really believe in being consciously able to create the person I want to be. It’s a choice, some people would consider me a fake, but I would rather choose who I am than be affected by things out of my control.”
“I like being a character as long as it’s a good one.”
If a lot of it is choice – what’s something you’d never want to be?
“I never want to be sad or stuck. Those aren’t things I can control but not being free mentally, mental illness, that’s not being free and I value freedom so much. If I was sad I wouldn’t want to be the person I am now.”
She shrugs, “Would people still like me if I was sad? My close friends would, but not other people because I wouldn’t be the same. I’m grateful I don’t feel that way but I treat it as a real lucky thing. It isn’t anyone’s fault and there isn’t really a reason – unhappiness is so unfair.”
A lot of people tend to see you as a character rather than just a person – does that bother you?
“I don’t need or want everyone to be my close friends. I like being a character as long as it’s a good one. I’ll probably never be close with anyone who sees me that way but that’s the same with everyone. I see people so specifically but I know that they’re not just how they present themselves.”
Last question – tell me about a good day. One of those days when you can feel how happy you are and just everything is exactly what it should be.
“I connect my good times to the people that were there. All the times when you’re dancing so much you’re laughing and you’re so ecstatic and it feels so good, I feel so good.”
She’s buzzing again. Every time she talks about something she loves you can feel the energy pouring out of her. She makes excitement about everything infectious just because she loves it so much.
“Our last high school prize giving was awesome. You just felt so proud and everyone’s success was your success. There was a huge sense of achievement and belonging and being a part of something… High school was important – The year after you finish school you want to move on quickly, you don’t want to think that high school was your peak. But I’ve realised that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t look back on it as a building block. It was great, and I know I will get better and it wasn’t the peak for me, but I wouldn’t be able to reach any higher without it.”
We collect our jackets and pay and as we do I watch her: the way she genuinely thanks our waitress, how she has a chat with the person behind the till, the smile she gives everyone she walks past. As always, she is the epitome of confidence and colour and every bit the character she is portrayed as. But more than that, to me and hopefully now to you, she is completely and undeniably herself.