Em Rusciano is a comedian, singer, writer and television and radio presenter. This is an edited extract from her book Try Hard: Tales from the Life of a Needy Overachiever.
To the brilliant Marchella and the magnificent Odette.
You may or may not know this, but since you were born I’ve had a rather morbid tradition of writing you each a letter before I go away in case something happens to me on said trip.
Since someone has been kind enough to let me write a book, I thought I could pop a letter in here to be preserved for all of time. So now you won’t have to rummage through my filing cabinet only to find food wrappers, old photos and library fines.
Em Rusciano speaks to discusses the secrets behind her book with Mia Freedman on No Filter. Post continues after audio…
Hopefully now, when you find yourselves in a jam, you can flick open this very page and here I’ll be with some posthumous words of wisdom.
Know that I didn’t want to leave you, that my last thought would’ve been of the both of you.
You are the most impressive thing I’ve ever done, my greatest achievement, the loves of my life (besides your father, of course). Look after your dad. Was his shirt ironed at my funeral? Was I carried out to Kylie Minogue’s ‘Your Disco Needs You’ as instructed?
Even though I’m not physically there you both still carry me under your skin, in the shape of your eyes and the freckles across your noses. In your dry and slightly sick senses of humour, in your love of all things shiny and in your huge, hobbit toes.
There I’ll be, never far, always connected to you.
Be sassy, kind-hearted, fierce bitches. Pick great friends who contribute to your experience as a human. Ditch the drainers and the drama queens. You’ve so many better things to do than be tortured by unhappy people.
Don’t take shit from anyone, ever. I really mean that. Don’t be afraid to say NO. No is your friend. Don’t ever put the fear of offending someone in front of your own personal safety – emotional and physical.
Having said all that, say YES as often as you can! Yes to new experiences, yes to the unknown, YES TO LIFE.
In summary: NO to the dickheads and YES to the legends!
Look after your body. Nourish it, water it and exercise it. If you do all that then you will never have to worry about the thin/fat/broken scenarios. Praise it, reward it, don’t ever view it as something less than. You two have such magnificent, strong bodies that can do so many impressive things.
Have the courage to tell each other the truth when one of you asks, ‘How are you?’ If the answer is ‘not great’ then say that. If you get that answer from your sister, then ask her, ‘How can I help?’
Start working on building a safe place inside of you, somewhere to retreat when the world becomes too loud.
A place to belong that feels like home, so that no matter where you are in the world you have that space. You’ll have to be kind to yourselves to be able to build this magical haven. This isn’t a strong point for the women in our family, but I’m confident you two can do it.
Em Rusciano speaks with Mia Freedman about her struggle with post-natal depression. Post continues after audio...
Don’t worry about getting married, that whole notion is a crock of shit.
Little girls are conditioned to believe that marriage is the end game, the final goal. It just isn’t, it is an option along the line should you choose it. I’ve been drilling that into you both since you were little girls but if I’m gone too soon, before the brainwashing is complete, highlight this section and reread it often.
Whomever you end up with, just make sure that they challenge you, admire you and respect you and want to be your friend as well as your lover. That last part can’t be too far one way or the other.
If you choose a life dedicated to food, travel and dogs then I’m sure that will be just as enriching as any other path.
When you find yourself on the precipice of a complete emotional breakdown ask yourself the following questions:
1. Am I tired?
2. Have I eaten enough?
3. Am I thirsty?
4. When did I last exercise?
5. What is coming up for me that I’m worried about?
Then sit down and have a hot drink and ninety per cent of the time you will feel better.
If by chance you are in that ten per cent where the above list and a hot drink isn’t helping, call your sister and tell her. Talk it through. You should also talk to your dad. He is very good in these situations.
He is excellent at preventing the world from caving in around you. (I’m speaking from experience here. At times, his extreme stoicism is all that kept me sane.) Failing your sister and your father, go and seek professional help. I cannot stress that enough: therapy is a very, very good thing. Find yourself a good head doctor and you will be okay, I promise. I spent my life overthinking things, trying to control the outcome of situations so as to avoid any pain. It is a terrible burden and it corroded my insides. I do not wish that for either of you.
Look after yourself. Never expect anyone to provide for you. Earn your own cash, find your own path, be in control of the things that happen to you. Find out what it is that makes you happy and try to make a living doing that. Don’t accept a job you hate just for the money, that will destroy your soul and end badly, trust Mummy on that one. Call your dad three times a week when you move out, family is important. Our family is important.
Go to the library often, and keep reading. You both currently love books; even though screens are calling your names, against all odds, you still respect the page. Books don’t run out of batteries and you can’t crack or break them.
Volunteer, help out those who are less fortunate than you. It’s just a good thing to do and on a selfish level it helps for when you get too far into your own head. Volunteering allows you to get outside of yourself, it has a way of putting life back into focus when it becomes blurry and illegible.
Keep your pubic hair, trim it at the sides so as to adhere to some form of social expectations but keep most of it. Leave your eyebrows alone, Mummy went too far down the nineties path and had to draw them on for the rest of time. That added at least fifteen minutes to my morning schedule – you saw the work I had to put into them!
Buy the best underwear you can afford, cotton ones: your vagina needs to breathe. If things go wrong down south go see a doctor straightaway. White pants don’t suit anyone, invest in great jeans and never, under any circumstances, wear plastic bra straps in lieu of a strapless bra. Everyone can see them, they’re not a cloak of invisibility, adding diamantés to them does not improve them! Besides spitting on my grave and insulting my legacy you will just look like a bedazzled rack of lamb.
Hold off on cutting a fringe, you might think you want to but it only looks good for a week and then you spend a year trying to grow it out, just go and buy a clip-on one should the mood strike.
Find yourself a gay or five, gay men are your friends, it’s in both your DNA to be attracted to them. You can’t turn them, believe me, but you can love them and they will love you back just as fiercely.
I bequeath you Michael and Lyndon, they will now field your pop culture, relationship and fashion-related questions. The two of them combined basically makes me so it will be like I’m still there.
Try not to spend too much time watching boys do stuff, make sure you get out and do your own shit. Make music, play sport, build things, write; do it yourself. Don’t be relegated to a spectator.
Be each other’s strength, you’re such a complementary pair. Odie the smiling, crafty, wheeler dealer and Chella always measured, cautious and sensible.
Chella, remember to stay in the light, avoid overthinking things and trust your gut. Stay close to your sister and you will always be okay, Odette brings the sunshine into room, the light seems to follow her wherever she goes.
Odie, don’t do too much stupid shit, okay? I love you dearly, my wonderful baby, however sometimes you go where the wind takes you, which isn’t always the best place! Maybe just run any major life decisions by Chella and Dad before making them.
Stay away from ice, the drug not frozen water. It is an insidious beast that is taking hold of many people I know and once it finds its way into your veins and bloodstream it becomes nearly impossible to defeat.
I accept you may try other forms of illegal substances but you must make a solemn DEATH vow that ice will not be one of them. Same goes for heroin and LSD. Look, I would prefer if you didn’t try anything, drugs are bad. Just say no, okay?
Odie, you’re a colourful, clever, wondrous human; never lose that magic. Chella, you’re brave, funny and smart; don’t ever doubt yourself for a minute. You’ve both got this and by ‘this’ I mean life.
I love you both to the moon and back times infinity.
(Remember to avenge me should I have gone out in mysterious circumstances.)
This is an edited extract from Try Hard by Em Rusciano (Simon and Schuster, $32.99). Available now.