What I'm Reading

What I'm Reading

Review of Caroline Wylds' The Party Within




My eyes are painfully sore from lying in bed till 3am while holding a phone above my face and tapping it with my finger—I mean, scrolling. Oh yes, the phone was displaying environmentally unfriendly content best described as a spectacular ‘cancel campaign’ that exploded across Twitter and Instagram (never mind that I had work the next day). The drama was not even unfolding live; most of the Tweets happened ‘5hrs ago,’ but I needed updates on this cyber inquisition. If I had woken up to the news that Mark Zuckerberg made it to space, I would have felt incredibly proud, because I had financed at least the fuel. ‘We made it!’ I would tell the creative class that surrounds me with teary eyes. ‘We sent another billionaire to space by complaining about the last one on social media. Feel the fucken dopamine, comrades.’ Then I would roll a ciggie before discussing social issues to create the implicit message that good people run tobacco companies.

Yes, the online zeitgeist is so preachy it hurts. While this pointless frustration is bad for my heart (and my career opportunities), it has set me up nicely for the comic relief of The Party Within. This graphic book is written by artist Caroline Wylds and talks about her experience with a Messianic episode. Glom Press published the work alongside their alternative comics range, because The Party Within is styled like a colourful zine. It incorporates handwriting, drawings and builds on the author’s prior experience making zines. In a strange way, the book is also about the evolving role of communication technologies, for most of Caroline’s exploits are documented via email, snail post and Blogspot.

In fact, I first became acquainted with The Party Within through my DMs during a lockdown in Naarm/Melbourne, when Caroline told me she was writing about a time in her life when she felt like a prophet. Ironically, she was one of the few people at the time that did not come to me with a sermon. To illustrate the degree of preachiness that other people subject me to, I will share an old message. This person asked me, ‘how are you coping with lockdown?’ I replied ‘fine, I have income and stuff.’

Chill, right? Well, no. Turns out I need a superior person to talk at me like a child, and reveal the secrets of how lockdown is so hard for me because they say so:

Everyone’s hard looks different, just because there are starving children in Africa doesn’t mean you can’t be hungry, you know? I’m glad you can see the positives though. True, hey?

Pfft, spare me the inappropriate metaphors.

The rhetorical question (‘True, hey?’) spiralled in my head like the devastating echoes of a dragon’s breath in a tenebrous lair. I screamed to the night sky ‘it is not truuuue,’ resembling a wolf inebriated with disappointment. Days went by and I could not stop ruminating on this message, wishing I had stuck with a brick phone in 2008. I booked a life coach and asked them what was wrong with my life, to be worthy of receiving something so condescending. Then I turned to magic, and bathed with crystals in a circle of Himalayan salt to protect myself from this level of negative energy.

Needless to say, I was more interested in talking with Caroline about her party and Jesus Christ. In her hilarious book, she explains that ‘In my eyes I was experiencing the vibe that gave people the idea for God.’ To come to terms with the effervescence of this feeling, she coined it the party within and harboured the mission to rewrite the bible—her vision was to make the scripture more about partying, and less about everything else. The book is written with a great deal of humour, but it does contextualise the wrecking effects of this newfound state with brutal accounts from her family, amongst them her mother, who says: ‘To say that I felt sad is an understatement. I felt devastated, helpless.’

Caroline tells us that The Party Within fits the criteria for bipolar disorder in Western nomenclature, but explains how she decided (along with her family) to treat it outside the medical system. Her grandparents institutionalised her aunt after she experienced mental health issues, and she committed suicide shortly after. Caroline’s cousin Frank in fact runs an organisation dedicated to supporting people with bipolar disorder, and explains that the system is more traumatic than the ailment itself. Thus, in many regards, The Party Within is a story about care, de-stigmatisation and how artistic expression can help manage bipolar outside Western medicine. Since the onset of the Party, Caroline has attended the MIECAT Institute to study therapeutic art practices, and this allows her to articulate her arguments with complexity. She also acknowledges that her parents had the space and resources to help her during the most intense episodes of The Party Within, showing the financial barriers that complicate this issue. This sounds pretty serious. But the The Party Within is animated by Caroline’s self-consciously hilarious prose.

One of my favourite passages is the handwritten transcription of a five-page email (an amalgamation of two separate emails) with a subject that reads ‘WTF.’ It opens with a line that says ‘Well, I fell into a deep chasm’ and quickly moves on to hysterical descriptions, such as her failed attempts to log in her account ‘reallytotallyintense@gmail.com’. Another highlight is her decision to delete all the entries in her blog to make space for a post about an ellipsis, where every dot is ‘a separate link, the last one was a link to a Sean Paul vid for Temperature’. She also discloses that she sent a friend of hers 44 emails, making him believe that she had been hacked. The best part is that she ends her incredibly dense exposition with a conclusion that reads, ‘Ha! How was your day?’

Caroline’s unrequited behaviour in her Party days is one of the dicey aspects of The Party Within, as one wonders if the receiving end shared her sense of humour. She does address this in the introduction of the book, where she stresses her ongoing work with ethics and boundaries. The most questionable moment in the book is when she talks about ‘party puzzles’, which were packages containing ‘raw diary data’ that she used to send to friends and artists. To be fair, she gave me a reproduction of her party puzzles and they are rather innocuous—closer to a deconstructed zine. However, I am more of a pass on the 44 emails.

There is one element in this book that I truly believe has the potential to develop a cult following, and that is her drawing of a three-eyed nacho. In October 2010, Caroline had her first show in SEVENTH Gallery’s Workers Club window on Gertrude Street. She wrote a manifesto for artists who like to party, called ‘The Manifestival,’ and turned it into a poster. However, she also created flyers bearing a symbol of her own to publicise the exhibition: a nacho with three eyes, that appeared to be rotating in fast motion (or maybe the speed lines are a cool hairdo). She explains that ‘having a nacho’ sounds phonetically close to ‘I’m having an art show’—hence she would tell people that she was having a nacho, instead of an art show. If Caroline had unleashed the three-eyed nacho on 4chan, she would have changed the meme world as we know it.

While there is an endless supply of humour in the book, it also includes moments of sobering reflection. For instance, Caroline shares a note from her friend Bek, who asks ‘do you wonder what would’ve happened if you were in different circumstances…? less understanding. . .? less resourced…? having parents that could financially help. . .’ This is a grievous reminder that Caroline’s support network—in tandem with her identity as a white woman—allowed her the space and resources to complete her journey. One can easily see how Caroline could have stayed in a ‘deep chasm’ of increasing abysmal depths, and this is an uncomfortable thought.

Ultimately, what I enjoyed about The Party Within is that its Messianic theme perverts the preachiness of our generation, by dislocating these impulses to a space of hyperactivity and introspection. This allowed me to connect more intimately with the artist’s linguistic and graphic sensibilities—to appreciate The Party Within as an object. There is no indoctrination, and no virtue signalling—just a three-eyed nacho. Some may lament it is not written to make us feel like good people, as it does not chastise the reader (unlike most contemporary media). But that is what appeals to me. It makes for a good nacho.