Things That I Still Don't Understand by Steph Stepan

Some things you hope will become less mysterious with age—like what it is everybody else does at work and how to actually keep your whites white. I’ve been waiting for a while now, and seeing as I’m still flying blind on many things, I thought I may as well fess up. These are some of the things that I still don’t understand.


Change rooms without mirrors

A confession: I used to be one of those girls who worked in clothing stores and asked you how you were doing. It’s true, I was not asking genuinely about your day. I’m sorry about this, but can I instead point toward the greater wrong doing: the fool who forgot to put a mirror in your change room. Is there anything worse than suspecting a pair of jeans make your thighs look like tree trunks, only to have it confirmed by a mirror in front of someone whom you don’t know? To the fool who decided to put the mirror outside the change room; a thousand ill-fitting jeans upon your thighs.

What it is everybody else does

When I was little I used to tell my friends that my dad worked for a caterpillar. I was kind of right. He worked for Caterpillar, the machinery company. How great would it have been if he’d been working for Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar instead, right? In any case, I find that unless I work directly with you, I probably don’t understand what it is you do. Strangely, job titles don’t make this any easier. I mean, I get that like me you probably sit in front of a computer. Someone sends you an email. You reply, and work is, well, done. But what it is you actually do all day? A mystery.

More basic things than I care to admit

I am that girl who uses Google like an oracle and I am pleased to report that most of the time it performs admirably. The other day I Googled ‘How does the moon work’. I had a vague recollection but wasn’t so sure. I then asked a friend who told me that the moon is about 400 times smaller than the sun, but it also just happens to be about 400 times closer. So from Earth they appear to be the same size. Woah now. You missed that in grade three, Mrs Convery. I am also bamboozled as to how anyone keeps their whites white. Do you just bleach the shit out of everything?

Why the world is obsessed with lists

Don’t worry, the irony is not lost on me that I am writing this to you as a kind of list. But my point is this: I think you are capable of deciphering information in chunks that aren’t numbered. Why do we act like the world can be broken down in sequential order? Personally, I love a bit of higgledy piggledy mess. As long as you have a point, the scenic route is just fine. Better even, because you and I both know this whole life business is all a bit more complicated than counting from 1 to 10. Most important things are. Don’t you think?

The point of anything

When you sit at your computer; when you watch Netflix; when you lie there at night, do you ever think is this it? I do. Not all the time. But I do. It’s a very precarious edge to find yourself on. You have two choices: ignore the tingle and return to Frank Underwood, or, get all Albert Camus about it. If I was to choose the latter, I sometimes think I might not make it back to my desk. It is,  after all, a sheer miracle that society that still exists.

Why we look like our dogs

A chicken and egg or (dog-human) conundrum for us all. Do we select dogs that remind us of ourselves, or do our dogs, just by hanging by our side, rub off on us? And what exactly do I mean by look like our dogs? Is it their expression or their sandy-coloured coat that matches your blonde hair? Whatever it is that I can connect between you and your dog, it is the same thing that causes an artist’s work to kind of look like them, the flowers in Sweden to look more reserved than the flowers in Spain (just like the people) and an outfit that I can rock to look all wrong on my identical twin. Fairy dust, maybe?

The knowledge effect

I subscribe to the knowledge is power idea. But there’s a secondary, almost paradoxical, effect I feel is getting truer by the day. The more I learn, the more I see how little I know. My five-year-old self knew roughly where Canberra was, the best time to jump the school fence to buy lollies at the shops without the teachers seeing and that every year would end in summer. My world was my suburban Melbourne street. I’m now writing this on a train in Sweden. I am bowled over by how beautiful and scary the world is, and the sheer amount of concepts and ideas. I am turning into a tinier (but stronger) speck by the day. Do you feel this too?

The way home

The way home is always shorter than the way there. Or at least it feels that way. Why is this so? Is it because I have made the journey once and my mind knows the beginning and the end: it’s not never-ending anymore. Or is this just another reminder that time does not really exist? That our movements through space can quicken and slow down even though we are actually moving at the same pace. I missed this physics lesson at school (too busy drawing dogs and flowers), but I suspect that if ever there was a reason to stop checking the time, this is it.

This is not a comprehensive list. And somehow I think this list will get longer the older I get. But over to you.

What did I miss?