Times I was particularly undesirable

Natasha Matila-Smith

Times I was particularly undesirable  


I stood next to A. She was plain but perfectly plain. A dirty blond ponytail. Her long sleeve gathered in her fist. Petite. A good aim, she was a natural with the firearm. I sulked that I only hit my target once. Afterwards, we ate sausages on bread for lunch. His Dad cooked them as we watched the rugby on a large flatscreen. 


He wiped the fake blood from my eyes. I had tipped it all over my head in a semi-drunken moment. Also though, you know when you do things that you know might be cute? Yeah, I did that. 


He asked me to punch him, but I instead I strangled him in frustration, in a funny way. I don’t do what you say, I thought to myself. Get into bed, you privileged piece of shit. 


“We shouldn’t have done that.” He said immediately after. What a fucking prick. 


As a deeply sensitive 12 year old, I requested Chris Isaak’s smooth ballad Wicked Game on the radio and dedicated it to my then crush Isaac. I don’t suppose many 12 year olds listened to Love Songs till Midnight, so he probably never heard it. 


In Bas Jan Ader’s Fall II (1970), Ader rides a bicycle into (what I presume is) the river Amstel, in Amsterdam. I googled it, it’s the main river over there. He cycles fervently, swerving a little, resulting in a befitting splash when he and his bike hit the murky water. This reminds me of an episode of the television show Jackass where a skateboarding loop has been set up beside a lake, ready for adventure jumping. The cast and guests (some of which are professional athletes) take turns creatively launching themselves into said lake, at times not making it past the 360 loop before the lift off ramp. 

In our house on Daventry Street, circa ‘93 or so, my younger sister was jumping from our bedroom window onto a bed of grass about a metre or so down. Like a hamster on a hamster wheel, she ran back up the steps through the laundry, through the kitchen, through the hallway and back into the bedroom, only to jump again, on repeat. After mulling it over, I finally decided to jump too. At the very last second, though, I changed my mind about jumping and my body became stiff with fear. Gravity, however, decided for me. I slipped and fell straight down, landing precisely on the head of a metal tap. There was now a small tear in my one ass cheek. My Mum held a kitchen tea towel on my wound on the way to the hospital. Our family car was a fire engine red toyota corolla. When the wound had healed, my Mum pulled out the stitches herself, while I lay face down on her Queen sized bed. I remember the stitch pulling as being one of the most painful instances of my life. Apart from the time I accidentally ran into barbed wire in Rarotonga when I was 11.  


Once, a man bit me. He bit me really hard in a very visible spot. He latched on like a rabid dog, not letting go when I asked him to. I might have cried a little. Almost immediately a toothy imprint appeared on my arm, surrounded by a beautiful violet and yellowing bruise. Someone at work thought I was being kinky. Thinking about it later though, I wore it like a medal, of my sexual exploits, to prove that I wasn’t as ‘vanilla’ as everyone probably presumed I was. The way a teenager is proud of a hickey. 


I took acid with some of my family members once. I was slightly more excitable than usual – which is not that excitable at all. A male family member commented with slight disbelief, “Is this you on drugs?” He implied I was unaffected by them. I was still a boring old ‘Muriel’ who can’t even feign excitement when influenced by drugs. 


When I turned 27, I wondered if I might die and join the 27 Club to be amongst the likes of prolific musicians Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse. The romantic notion of dying young and youthful, but also the idea that death was a release from a lengthy stay in bodily solitary confinement, was very appealing. Then Maeve said I can’t be in the 27 Club ‘cause I’m not famous. Anyway I’m 33 now.   


Don’t you feel weird that everything is centred on feeling better and good? People feel the need to rationalise failure for it to be deemed acceptable. What if we were all just okay? Okay with being not okay. This is a glass half-full attempt at pessimism; pre-emptive failure; controlled mistakes; artists trying to see if they can turn something ugly into something they can look at without feeling utter despair. 


I failed to be a conventionally good looking woman. I failed to be white. I failed to be white passing. I failed being feminine. I failed to be the right lovable size. I failed to be of sound mind. I failed to make enough money.   


I thought about responding to this theme and discussing my inability to perform my culture. At the moment though, I feel like this is what people want – minority feelings porn. They feed off hearing about the pain and also how you might have overcome being poor and unfortunate and ugly and fat. As though I am a pastor and this is my sermon, my word is fact and I’m ready to absolve people of their crimes of racism and privilege. White people, if you want me to dominate you, you’ll have to pay me more. White arts people, if you want me to help you to claim it’s a diverse industry, you’ll have to pay me a lot more. There should be more indigenous curators, practitioners and board members. Why is that so difficult to comprehend and implement? Seriously, progress is far too slow. 

Spit shine your black clouds.


In relation to my inability to lose weight, I was asked “Don’t you want to get a boyfriend?”. 


“If you lose weight, you’d be the prettiest one out of all of us”. 


During a job interview, the interviewer asked me about a time in my career when I had faced and successfully handled a difficult situation. How about overcoming workplace racism and sexism? How about overcoming being a minority trying to get ahead in life? Lol. 

Your employability is often based on your ability to enamor the interviewer with storytelling. Enter a buzzword here and there, placed between a relatable anecdote. 

I didn’t get that job. But I was hired temporarily by the same company to do file management. 

I am the Queen of the anti-climax. 




Natasha Matila-Smith (Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāti Hine, Sale'aumua, Pākehā) is an artist and writer based in Tāmaki Makaurau. Inspired by her mixed cultural heritage, she approaches...


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