• Words: Kate Neilson // Interview: Lorelei Vashti

Interview: Lorelei Vashti relives her 20's through the clothes that she wore

If your clothes could talk what would they say about you? Lorelei Vashti's would probably say something about the boy she once lived with, the mistake she once made, the country she used to live in or the time that she used to serve Heath Ledger his coffee, you know, usual twenty-something stuff.

Melbourne based writer Lorelei Vashti recently took the time to have a good old chin-wag with us at Twenty Something Humans about her book Dress Memory (which started out as a blog and ended up being a bit of a big deal FYI) which documents snippets of her 20's through the dresses that she wore. It's gritty, considered, relatable and darn right hilarious.

Lorelei tells us a little bit about her thoughts on the push against millennial memoirs, her writing process and what she's learnt from the fucking rocky ride that is your twenties.

1. While some people may pin-point certain moments of their lives through memories of a job, house or partner, you managed to combine all of these snippets of nostalgia in the dresses that you wore. Why do you think this was and what do these dresses represent to you?

I think that dresses have always been meaningful to me, from the very earliest days of dress-ups. They are such tangible objects that we physically wear on our body, and I think there is a sense memory that remembers the feelings—both physical and emotional—that are connected to swathing our bodies in certain colours, fabrics and styles. Dresses have a transformative quality, so I think for me they represent this possibility of becoming many different characters.

2. Your 20s are a tumultuous time of life, paring the pressure of making the most of ‘the best years of your life’ with the significant and sudden increase in responsibilities and expectations. During the early stages of you 20s how did you manage this balance and reflecting back on it now what would you do differently?

I don’t think I initially managed the balance very well at all! I think I was completely overwhelmed most of the time with the pressures of suddenly being ‘a proper adult’ but I had a need to explore who I was and what I wanted for my life. I don’t think I’d do anything differently though—this idea of ‘trying things on’ until you find something that fits is a major theme of the book, and I don’t know many people who have been able to find a way around it. Learning to manage the conflicting desires is what your twenties are for!

3. While at times the tone of ‘Dress, Memory’ was quite fun and light-hearted, there are certain chapters that divulge into quite serious and personal experiences. What was it like revealing such intimate information about yourself on a public platform?

I have another friend writing about her life at the moment, and listening to her fears and concerns is really taking me back to how I felt during the writing of the book, too. You feel very vulnerable, and a bit scared, whenever you reveal yourself in such an honest way. As I went through the rewriting process though, I was able to sculpt the stories to a place where I felt comfortable with what I was revealing. The hardest bit for me was when my story overlapped with someone else’s story—I didn’t feel qualified to tell their bit of the story for them, and yet I still felt ownership of my own story, and I wanted to tell that side of it. I tried to find a middle ground where I was being honest and truthful, but where I was still able to feel okay about what I shared.

Apart from that, I think it helped a lot to have a few supportive friends, with alcohol, around at the time the book came out helping me through the inevitable freak-outs that would occur from having these stories out there!

4. Do you think it’s easier to reflect on your life in retrospect or do you think you’d better describe an experience or memory if you were to recount it immediately after it happened. Is there a certain level of wisdom and understanding that you have gained that shapes the way that you recall and document your past?

What a great question! I think either approach works well, but would give different results. I’m an avid diary writer, and I always find it useful to write about an event immediately after it happened, but that's more for myself, to try to process it and understand it. Writing about an event a little while after it happened definitely gives you some distance and perspective on it (I won’t flatter myself and include ‘wisdom’ here!), and you’re able to see where it might fit in the bigger story or pattern of your life.

5. There is a lot of discussion surrounding the idea of writing a memoir during your 20s. Some say that a twenty-something may not have experienced enough in their lifetime in order to properly reflect on their experiences. What do you think about this?

I would say that everyone has an interesting story, no matter what their age. I have a ten-year-old nephew, and I would love to read his memoir! It’s pretty snobbish to discount someone on account of their age no matter what you’re talking about, and I’ve always rejected that idea. I think that if a story is interesting and relatable and well told then it deserves to be heard.

6. Other than turning 30, was there a definitive moment when you realised that you had left your 20s behind you?

I think when I had a baby—I was 33 by then! Becoming a mum definitely changes life completely. We moved away from the city so it became harder to go out at night. I didn't see my old friends as much, but that was okay because I have made lots of new friends as a result of becoming a parent. Just the timetable of life, and its routine, changed a lot so I couldn't be the person I used to be on a very practical level.

Having kids opens your world up (although many would say that it also closes it up—I think both statements are true in some way!), but it’s definitely a different life than before. Time is much more precious now, and I’m not willing to fritter it away on just anything anymore; I have to feel like it’s something worthwhile. This is very different to my twenties, when time felt limitless.

7. What is your writing practice? Do you have a routine, space, song that gets you in the zone?

At the moment, it’s any time and any where that is toddler-free! I used to be pretty precious about where I worked, but that’s all changed now; I sometimes write on my phone while my daughter sleeps in the back of the car. Having said that, I always like a bit of a ritual, so if I do have some time to myself to write I like to make a cup of tea, put some lipstick on, and set the computer up at my actual desk (rather than just balance it on my knees while sitting on the couch or in bed).

8. What advice would you offer to twenty-somethings today?

I hate giving advice because I don’t know anything, but I guess I'd say: have fun with the time you have now! Because you won’t always have it. I don’t mean to suggest twenty-somethings have all this amazing free time or anything (most are probably working full-time jobs and trying to pursue another artform at night and on weekends, as well as nurture new relationships and try to build up some solid pathway towards their future dreams)—just that it’s a time when it’s okay to make mistakes, that you can head down one road for a while (with work or love) and then decide it’s not for you, and it won’t matter all that much. It’s a time for experimenting and adventuring and finding out who you are, so make the most of it.

9. If you could go back and do it all again what’s one mistake that you’d make again, something that you’d try and avoid and something that you wish you had been brave enough to do?

Ha! This is interesting one. I’d make the same mistakes in love again, for sure. You have to follow what your heart is saying at the time, and it's the only way to learn what you do and don't want. I’d try to avoid being so influenced by other people and worrying about not being included in part of a certain group—I know now that you find where you fit if you just simply do the things you want to do.

The last one has me stumped: I feel like I really had a go at everything I wanted to do, from travelling, to auditioning for NIDA, to being in a band … maybe it would be that I wish I’d been braver with my writing from the outset. I wish I’d gone after more bylines and publications earlier on, and been more confident with my writing to just put it out there. But I guess these things take as long as they take! I’m pretty okay with how everything has gone, to be honest.

10. What’s next on the cards for you?

I’ve got a new book coming out in October, called The Baby Surname Dilemma, which is a guide to help new parents choose their baby’s surname. So many couples these days, whether they’re heterosexual or same-sex, have two different last names, and I wanted to write a handbook that would help them discuss all the issues involved and make a decision that is right for them. After that, I’m taking some time off to have another baby! And then my next book is a novel about matchmaking which I'm really looking forward to writing. It'll be a fun one!

Images: Lee Sandwith

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