Mia Doring Ste Murray

Extract 'She is funny and puts herself down, but in a funny way, so it’s okay'

Mia Döring shares an extract from the new Sunday Miscellany: A Selection 2018-2023 which is nominated in the An Post Irish Book Awards’s sponsored category.

I wrote this piece, not really realising it was a “piece”, in the early exploration of writing my memoir Any Girl. I was writing short vignettes about this and that and seeing where they took me. Some developed into something that was funnelled into the book and some didn’t, like this piece.

It was a choppy rushing out of words as I stepped back into my teenage years and the pain and beauty therein. The courage and fragility, the vulnerability and insecurity. It didn’t fit anywhere in the book, in the lyrical, poetic form it had taken, and I left it sitting in a folder for a couple of years.

I was mooching around in that chaotic ‘writing’ folder one day and came across it and thought, you know, other people might relate to this, and actually, I want to read this out loud, and sent it to Sarah (Binchy, editor/producer of Sunday Miscellany).

SHE WAS PLAIN brown hair and weighs eleven stone, which she finds repulsive. In her diaries: poetry and drawings. Over blue Bic pen swirls of horses’ manes, she has written, over and over, lists of things she must achieve: lose weight, stop eating, get a boyfriend.

Be interesting. Nothing is enough. Nothing she can offer is enough. Nothing she has to give is enough.

She helps, she is afraid, she wants to be useful. She hovers. She hopes.

She writes gratitude lists. She apologises, she says sorry, she excuses herself.

Playing, as a child, she had to be urged by adults to take part. One time, a friend’s mother overheard her talking to a doll as if the doll was a real baby. She and the friend’s mother made brief, sudden eye contact as the mother smiled her way up the stairs of her home. Shame stung and suffocated, and although she continued playing in that house, she would never let go to that extent again, she would never lose control like that again.

And then the time came for parents to stop organising playdates, and then the time came for street playing to stop, and although she didn’t know it then, one summer day she called into neighbours for the last time, she eventually played her last play in the green, cycled her last cycle home.

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She makes up fake social activities so she doesn’t look like a loser, even though she isn’t a loser and isn’t even sure what a ‘loser’ is, anyway. She befriends the outcasts, the unpopular, the unwanted, the laughed at, the excluded. She goes on walks with them at lunchtime and feels sorry for them, like she is a charity worker, and also grateful, so grateful, for them.

‘A softie’

Her heart aches with empathy and she wishes she wasn’t so soft. Such a pushover. So weak. She wishes she had a bit of the edge and harshness some 308 of the Cool Girls have, some of their bite. She will never have their bite. She does have bite, she doesn’t realise she has bite. She will get bite eventually.

She relinquishes this desire and tries to forge her own identity but finds it hard to know who she is.

She has never got to know herself. She doesn’t know how to begin. The who of her has never been heard. The sight of her has never been seen.

She maintains a façade that keeps her safe. She orchestrates, she shows off, she humblebrags, she overachieves, she pretends, and she aches, she aches and she works hard, she does her best. She is doing her best and always feels like she is doing her worst. She is funny and puts herself down, but in a funny way, so it’s okay.

She carries inexplicable guilt and the weight of it takes the lightness out of her eyes. She takes the blame for unearned misdemeanours in order to alleviate this guilt. She doesn’t know why she does that. Her friends are baffled so she makes out like she is a martyr and sacrificing herself and no one can say anything then.

She is privileged, and she knows she is, she carries the guilt. She is soft and sensitive and she watches, watches, watches. Her intuition is deep and deft, but she doesn’t know it yet, can’t separate out sensitivity and intuition. She has friends, she doesn’t trust the friendships, she doesn’t know what friendship is.

At lunch in school, she asks her group, what are we doing at the weekend, and someone replies, who’s we? and she doesn’t say another thing, doesn’t try again to say another thing.

She watches others. She accepts her cues. She knows she is a leader but follows anyway. She knows she is strong but pretends to be weak, steps behind and into shadows out of fear of her own light, for fear of what the power of it could do.

She is aware, somewhere, that all this fragmentation and insecurity is normal, just normal, and she knows that many others have it far, far worse. But everywhere she looks she is the odd one, the soft one, the silly one, the stupid one. She is far from stupid.

Teenager by Mia Döring was first broadcast on Sunday Miscellany, RTÉ Radio 1 and is included in Sunday Miscellany: A Selection 2018-2023, which has just been published by New Island. It is nominated in the An Post Irish Book Awards 2023 in’s sponsored category, Best Irish Published Book of the Year. Find the full list of nominees and more information at the awards’ website. You can vote here

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