Culture

Tavi Gevinson Came To Australia, Is Now Preferred Prime Minister

One writer's enviable Weekend Of Tavi.

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I don’t know if you heard, but teenaged editor-in-chief of Rookie, writer and style icon Tavi Gevinson visited Australia this month; she spoke at Sydney Opera House on August 18, and over the weekend visited the Melbourne Writers Festival (where, full disclosure, I’m a program advisor).

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Rookie is one of my favourite websites. Though its primary raison d’etre is as a magazine for teenage girls, I – a 29-year-old woman – am obsessed with its moreish collage-y aesthetic (just try to stop clicking on everything). Each month, there’s a new theme (the current theme is ‘Thrills and Chills’). New articles, comics and photos sets appear three times every weekday, and they are pretty much all brain-grabby beauties. Examples: a comic called ‘How to Deal When You’re Caught Masturbating’, a list titled ‘Literally the Best Thing Ever: Cemeteries’ and a cool feature about Josephine Baker by Rookie contributor Bianca (who lives on the Gold Coast!).

I’d been anticipating Tavi’s visit since February; after all, she’s the only media personality I follow with any interest. From her writing (you’ll remember her blog, Style Rookie) and talks (like this TED Talk last year), I got the impression that she was wise and articulate, and probably great company. Her monthly editor’s letters for Rookie, for example, are intensely personal records of relatable emotions and actions. (This one, which includes a catalogue of Stevie Nicks lyrics coded by subject, is ace.) She confides, but isn’t simply confessional; she’s a friend and a guide all at once.

All of which explains why, after a seven-month-long wait, I was basically full-body trembling throughout all of August. Then Tavi finally touched down in Sydney last week. She met a koala. She did a presentation at that cosy little spot, the Sydney Opera House. No biggie.

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I can’t really pretend to give a shit about what happened in Sydney, though, because I was just waiting for Tavi to land in Melbourne, where I live, so that my Weekend Of Tavi could begin. There were three Melbourne events, all of which I’d be attending: an intimate lunch with 16 young female media-makers; a keynote, Tavi’s World, which included a short Q&A with me; and Rookie Day, a three-hour event for 100 teens.

First, lunch. I arrived half an hour early, like a boss. As each guest arrived, we introduced ourselves to each other; among the inspiring group were young editors, writers and broadcasters who would have the opportunity to speak with Tavi about creativity and life. Also, they’d have a chance to see what she looks like when she eats. WEIRDO, ME? NO.

We all wanted to take photos.

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As well as getting to meet Tavi, we all got to meet each other, forming an informal network of cool girls. Switching details and compliments, Melbourne’s Café Giraffe that afternoon was a cocoon-slash-beehive of warm, positive energy.

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We also got to meet Tavi’s dad, Steve Gevinson.

If you’ve seen the Rookie video spot where Steve answers questions sent in by readers, then you’ll know this is a pretty cool thing. Steve is a guru. He also showed me some photos of Taylor Swift’s house, where they’d stayed earlier this year. What a guy.

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The next day, we had the Tavi’s World keynote. I arrived early to do a soundcheck before the event, but when I got there, a huge line of people — including many young women with rainbow hair and flower crowns, and their parents — had already formed outside the Athanaeum Theatre.

I greeted Tavi and Steve backstage and then asked Tavi if we could take a photo that reflected our feelings about appearing on stage together.

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And then we entered Tavi’s world. Spanning Justin Bieber to Chris Kraus’s recent book I Love Dick, her talk was accompanied by 96 PowerPoint slides of perfection. Tavi spoke about being diagnosed with depression, about having a broken heart, and about how important it is to be enthusiastic about things that you love – that is, ‘fangirling’. She spoke confidently, cracking little jokes and laughing at little hiccups, and she made everyone feel at ease and like we were all among friends.

Afterwards, we had a little Q&A. I can barely remember it, really, because I was being in the moment, but at one stage I recommended that a good way to deal with your enemies is to imagine them doing a poo. Which resulted in this:

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Yeah, that got over 5000 likes. I don’t even know 5000 people. Fairly good to know that the most popular thing I’ll ever do in my life is #poochats.

The Twitter chatter afterwards was insane. I received more text messages and social media shoutouts than I usually receive on my birthday. Many were from fans who already loved Tavi and were keen to hear her speak, but I was surprised and happy to see a lot of comments from people who entered the theatre as Tavi sceptics (what, you don’t think a teenager can be smart and engaging?) or totally unfamiliar with her work, and came out converts.

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The (flower) crowning glory of the weekend was Rookie Day, which was loosely modelled around a series of Rookie events run last year in the United States. Hosted by Anna Barnes, author of Girl! The Ultimate Guide To Being You, Rookie Day was only open to teens. To begin, five fantastic young women – Rookie artist Minna Gilligan, environmental activist Linh Do, Freeplay director Katie Williams, writer and broadcaster Jessica Alice and Tavi – spoke about how they were inspired to make art, write about gaming, be feminist, change environmental policy and be awesome generally. (Minna published her excellent talk on her blog.) Then everyone hung out together and sat down to make vision boards. I am not a visual person – also I was exhausted – so I went to get a cup of tea. When I got back, about ten of the girls presented their work and even though real-life things never make me cry (only Disney, and movies about Asians), I STARTED CRYING. I was so enchanted and happy hearing what these passionate, interesting girls had to say.

To finish off, Alice Glenn and Heidi Barrett explained the idea behind No Lights No Lycra: both studied dance at university, but ended up feeling more distant from their passion for movement. So they decided to start events where everyone would dance with the lights off, trying to coax out the joy of moving their bodies with abandon again – and that’s exactly what we did.

I was already pretty emotional by this stage, but when I saw the ocean of bodies thrashing around heedlessly to Taylor Swift I realised I hadn’t felt as purely happy as this in a long time. The fun ended when curious/grumpy patrons of the library downstairs came up, worried that the roof was going to fall in. But we could all have danced for hours more. Probably even if the floor had caved in and we had all died that day, we wouldn’t have minded.

Tavi then spoke to every person there, many of whom wanted a photo or an autograph. Lots of them pressed gifts into her hands: artwork, letters, cupcakes, flowers – even Cheezels. My heart was so warmed by her generosity, kindness and solicitous curiosity, and from the tears on the cheeks of some of the guests, that I knew theirs were too. One girl with a sweet mop of brown curls miserably moaned, face in her hands: “I don’t want this day to end.”

Afterwards, my friend Amber tweeted me, ‘Tavi is now the president of Australia, yes?’ You know what? If teens had the vote, she probably would be.

Estelle Tang is program advisor at Melbourne Writers Festival, a writer, an editor and a bibliotherapist at The School of Life. Follow her at @waouwwaouw.