Today we get a sneak peak at an excerpt from Fragments by Maura Pierlot!
Read on for more about Maura, her book, and a giveaway!
Meet Maura Pierlot!
Maura Pierlot is an award-winning author and playwright who hails from New York, but has called Canberra, Australia home since the early 1990s. Her writing delves into complex issues including memory, identity, self and, more recently, mental health. Following its sellout 2019 season in Canberra, Maura's debut professional theatre production, Fragments is being adapted for the digital space, supported by artsACT. The work is published online by Australian Plays Transforms and in print by Big Ideas Press. Maura is a past winner of the SOLO Monologue Competition, Hothouse Theatre for her play, Tapping Out. Her plays have been performed in Melbourne, Canberra, Sydney and Brisbane. A former medical news reporter and editor of Australian Medicine, Maura also writes for children and young adults. In 2017 she was named winner of the CBCA Aspiring Writers Mentorship Program, and recipient of the Charlotte Waring Barton Award, for her young adult manuscript, Freefalling (now True North). Maura's debut picture book, The Trouble in Tune Town won the 2018 ACT Writing and Publishing Award (Children's category) along with international accolades. Maura's poetry, short stories, microfiction and essays appear in various literary journals and anthologies. Maura has a bachelor's degree, master's degree and doctorate, each in philosophy, specialising in ethics. When she's not busy writing, Maura visits schools and libraries as a guest reader and speaker, serves as a Role Model for Books in Homes, and contributes reviews for the Children's Book Council of Australia's online magazine, Reading Time.
About: Fragments: Journeys from Isolation to Connection
I feel like I’m a piece, a fragment that’s missing all the good bits, but I don’t know where to find the rest … the parts I need to work properly. I bet they wouldn’t fit anyway. (Lexy, age 17)
Raw and real. Eight young people navigating high school and beyond, each struggling to hold on – to family, to friends, to a piece of themselves.
Perhaps you know them. The bubbly girl who keeps telling you she’s okay. The high achiever who’s suddenly so intense. The young teen with the fake Instagram account. The boy challenged by communication. Every single day they, and others, are working hard to keep it together. So hard, they don’t see their friends are struggling, too.
The action of Fragments takes place in the minds and hearts of an ordinary group of eight young people. Although set in Australia, their stories could take place anywhere. Through eight imagined stories, Fragments moves from a place of disconnection to connectedness. A brave and compelling work that speaks to our times.
From the author-playwright: “I wrote Fragments to start a conversation, to give a sense of agency to young people while reaching out to their peers, families and the community. In bringing Fragments to the public, I wanted to explore the healing that may come from looking outwards, from our connectedness to each other and our realisation that we are not alone.”
Fragments: Journeys from Isolation to Connection By Maura Pierlot
Content warning: "Fragments contains coarse language and mature themes. If you or someone you know is experiencing distress and needs help, please Text HOME to 741741 from anywhere in the United States, anytime. Crisis Text Line is here for any crisis. A live, trained Crisis Counselor receives the text and responds, all from our secure online platform. The volunteer Crisis Counselor will help you move from a hot moment to a cool moment."
Drawn to rhythm, Will struggles in a world of words, unable to connect to the girl of his dreams, but refusing medication that will make him think like everyone else.
In My Head
On the outside Freya’s a normal teen but on the inside she’s fighting anxiety every single day, alone and unable to tell anyone that she needs help.
Good for Nothing
Worried he’ll never be tall enough, handsome enough or smart enough, Vijay turns to social media to chat up girls at school, with devastating consequences.
Convinced she’s fat, Reena relies on filters to market a better version of herself online, revelling in praise from a growing legion of followers.
Reeling from an abrupt reality check, a young woman sues her school and family for failing to prepare her for life after graduation.
Every day she fights to be heard, to dress as she wants, to be who she is ... until one day when she must make a choice, knowing she can never be free as long as he lives.
Lexy is determined to internalise her family struggles until a chance meeting opens the floodgates and changes the course of her life.
Now You See Me
Everyone’s so busy looking up to school captain, Mason that they don’t recognise the debilitating depression that is taking over his life.
Will taps a quick rhythm, stopping suddenly.
There’s a short circuit. In my head. Sixteen years of malfunction, thanks to faulty wires … a supercharged current overloading a path of low resistance, exceeding capacity. It’s burning out the fuses, tripping the breakers.
I’ve never been good with words. I prefer to tap.
Taps, soon settling into a comfortable rhythm.
It’s simple ... predictable. Not all taps are made equal, you know. No, no, NO. They’re jam packed with meaning.
Taps: Da DA da da DA da da DA DA.
Note the syncopation, how the emphasis is on the downbeat. That means, ‘Hurry up, I’m excited’.
Changes to a slower, monotone tap.
That’s the ‘I’ve just bored myself into a heart attack’ tap … often featured in Maths class. Hang on, here’s the best one!
Two quick taps.
I give up. No, that’s what the tap means! It’s what wrestlers do when they’ve had enough. They don’t shout ‘Help!’ or ‘I surrender’. No way!
They tap out. And the match is over. Simple.
Sometimes I feel like tapping out. Calm down! I’m not talking ‘bout that! I’m just saying, tapping gives me something to focus on. Something meaningful.
You know those really sad movies, where the kid’s dog dies, and you sit there all misty-eyed, thinking, I don’t even cry. Where’s this shit coming from? Or someone trips when they’re walking and you crack up, even though a little voice in your head says, Hope they didn’t hurt themselves. It’s instinct. Your body doing something without your head telling it to.
Heartbeat is heard.
Listen, do you hear that? You gotta pay attention! It’s soft, just a murmur really. Whenever I think of Freya, it’s there. The rhythm. It’s strong and steady with reverb.
Fights unseen opponent with good physicality.
A techno beat racing my heart … that skips and holds, cutting in when I least expect it, flipping time signatures left and right, breaking all the rules.
Last night at the party, I watched Freya from across the room. Twirling her hair around her finger, eyes wide open, taking in everyone and everything around her. And I thought, this is it! This is the night I’m gonna finally tell her how I feel! It took forever to take those steps, and when I finally rocked up and looked in her eyes, all I could think was, ‘You’re my hub. You’re my connection.’ But I couldn’t get the words out. The thoughts were in my head but the formations were too fast, too random. Freya smiled, leaning in like she couldn’t hear me. Her hand brushed my arm and I could feel my pores opening up to breathe in all her energy. Then whoa, key change, minor to major transposed, gnawing my insides, tightening, tightening all the frazzled wires in my head, till the sweetest riff tuned in and the sound was crisp and clear, the pitch perfect. My mouth opened to make a made a sound I’ve never heard before.
I love you. But the progression was too abrupt, no time to modulate, and before I could suck back the words, they had already rushed in her ears, feroce, and she gagged them up, short and sharp… staccato. Something about friends.
I don’t talk like other people. I don’t think like other people. Dad’s always telling me, ‘It’s good to be different’. So why’s school trying to make us all the same? Friendly, sporty, smart. Like Mason, poster boy for school captain. You know, doctors do it too … use big words, like something has to be named to be understood. Labels that put people in boxes, as though our ‘differentness’ is all the same, so all the ‘normal’ people can feel comfortable in their discomfort, so they can understand, so YOU can understand, something that can’t possibly be understood unless it’s in your head, unless you’re living it every single moment of every day. You say I’m on the spectrum, that I’m different but different to who? You? Spectrum’s a bullshit word. It’s a rainbow with no start or finish, something that makes you feel good but when you reach out to touch it, nothing’s there.
I don’t want any meds! I don’t wanna ‘even out’ my mood. I don’t wanna patch job, I need to ‘increase capacity’ to prevent overload. It’s simple engineering. No meds are gonna show me how connect … how to find the right words to express how I feel. They didn’t work for Dad. When he left, there were so many words flying between him and Mum, diving and swooping, attacking, then none for a long time.
Language is tricky. It’s meant to bring people together but I reckon it does the opposite. Cos the words don’t have meaning, it’s the emotion that comes behind them. The chords that make you weep, when caressed on a violin, but get your toes tapping when strummed on a banjo.
I reckon I can work things out on my own.
If I can find the rhythm. I just need to learn the beats and stresses, the run-ons and pauses, so I know the words and patterns that make sense. The ones that produce a sound so pure when they come together in harmony.
In My Head
A nervous Freya takes her place on stage, as if giving a speech. She flashes an awkward smile before speaking.
FREYA: Hi, I’m Freya. I’m fifteen and in Year 10. That’s right, two more years to go!
I play guitar and netball, and I have the greatest friends! What do I wanna be? Well, I’m leaning towards law but commerce is my backup.
Who knows? Maybe I’ll do both!
Smile/energy slowly disappear.
That’s me at school. Smiling like I’ve got everything under control. But I don’t. Problem is everyone thinks you have to be bleeding or bandaged to be in pain, like if they can’t see the damage it’s not real. If you could see inside my head, you’d know it’s real. It’s tsunamis, terrorism, global warming, war, bushfires, nuclear attacks, drink spiking, date rape, serial killers, cyclones.
You think it’s funny like none of this stuff is gonna happen dontcha? But it could happen, you can’t guarantee that it won’t! And when my head’s not flipping me out about shit far away, it’s choking me with stuff closer to home: my grades, my future, why my friends are bitching about me. No one understands me. How can they when I don’t even understand me?
You wanna know what anxiety feels like? It feels like all the cells in my body are colliding, like I’m running an obstacle course that never ends and my heart can’t keep up. Anxiety is every nerve in my body on fire, acid coursing through my veins … all the hair on my head bursting through the follicles, each strand pushing with all its might, desperate to break through, to not be smothered.
Anxiety is when I gulp and swallow but there’s no air cos my lungs are crushed by fear, knowing it’s around every corner, waiting, waiting, and the second I let my guard down, all the thoughts crammed in my head explode and I can’t feel anything … except the sting of my fingernails gouging my skin, telling me I’m still here.
Fight or flight doesn’t make any sense cos in the moment you can’t do either. So I do the only thing I can. I cover my head and I don’t even care if I suffocate cos I’m suffocating every single day. Then I scream away all the bad thoughts — a roar so deafening it shakes the walls, but no one hears me. No one ever hears me.
I know it’s normal to feel a bit anxious now and again. But is it normal to see only the bad things in the world? To magnify everything till it’s so blurry I can’t even remember what I’m afraid of? Anxiety’s tricky cos most of the time I look just like everyone else. And if I tell anyone what’s inside my head, that I’m dying inside, that I can’t breathe, they say … Freya, can you just be happy for once? Or they laugh, like I’m some drama queen, and walk away. And that’s even worse. So I put on my mask to make everyone comfortable. Happiness is contagious, cos if I’m smiling on the outside, everything’s gotta be okay on the inside, right?
I watched the daily parade at lunch today. Mason coming up the path, beaming, everyone following him like he’s Jesus. Another day in the life of School Captain. He turned to me and smiled as he walked past, and I wondered if he was wearing a mask too. Then the bell rang. Mr del Vecchio came out of nowhere and asked me, ‘Are you okay?’ My ears heard him alright, but I couldn’t take my eyes off this long wiry hair poking out from his baseball cap and …
Motioning to corner of mouth.
the little smidge of tomato sauce he had right here. I screamed inside, trying to get my head and heart and every muscle in my body to work together, to find the words to tell him no, I wasn’t okay, I wasn’t okay at all. I opened my mouth but my jaw clenched, trapping the words at the back of my throat. And when they finally escaped, they didn’t sound like my words at all. ‘I’m fine. Really.’
No one can understand what’s in my head. Except maybe this one girl at school… Riva or Reena, or something like that. She’s always plugged in, posing, her music blasting so loud that everyone knows her playlist. Her smile’s so big it can’t be real. Sometimes I wanna go up and check out her mask. To see if she’s tuning in or tuning out. To see if she loves the noise or if it’s the silence that scares her. Well, I’ll take her silence. I crave the stillness. No triggers. No inputs. No possibility of overload.
I wish I had a remote control … for life. I’d rewind to a few years ago. Before all the worries crept in my head. I’d never fast forward, no way! I’d just hit mute. Or pause. And no more chatter.
Yeah, just mute and pause. That’s all I need.
Author: Maura Pierlot
Publisher: Big Ideas Press
Release Date: October 1, 2021
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