i was born in wrocław, poland (which was communist at the time) in 1980 as agnieszka wiklendt. it's pronounced like: ugg-nyeah-shka. (people might find my first name more familiar when i mention the secret garden's director: agnieszka holland.) and while most people don't really care about how their name is pronounced, most people in australia have a name like "mary" or "david" - so usually they don't realise just how big an issue it can be! - my surname is pronounced with a "v", like "viklent".
although it's not super important (to me), i was born a leo and i display, what enthusiasts call, typical character behaviour of a leo. for those who aren't familiar with leo's, we're generally very proud and very loyal. while i'm pretty sure obsessive compulsive disorder is not part of the leo personality, i tend to find myself aligning salt shakers in restaurants or fixing the alphabetical order of items in stores (if they've been mixed up - alternatively i'll just re-adjust them so they're "square" with all the other items.)
i'm also cute and fluffy!
so. there's not much i remember about these years of my life - i was very young when we left poland, so the details and accuracy of this time in my life i have relied heavily on the stories from my parents, grandparents and other family.
one time, i was told, my brother, łukasz, and i were playing in a sandpit in our neighbourhood playground. a boy took one of my brother's toys and began playing with it. my brother was distraught (he was only one year older than me, which still means that he was only about four years old) and began to cry. when i realised this i went over to him and asked what was the matter and he told me about the boy. i made łukasz point to the boy who took his toy, and i went over to that boy, snatched the toy back off him and handed it back to my brother, brushing the sand off my hands and said (in polish) "there you go, now you can play with it." i was told this was very amusing to see.
now, this next story i only recently discovered the true stage of events: being previously told a 'cover' - perhaps so that i wouldn't freak out when i was little, as i discovered the scar and asked about what had transpired. apparently, my uncle was either playing or cleaning or doing something with a gun in his room when it was accidentally discharged. the bullet went straight through a few items in his room, including the wall, and i was on the other side. when i started screaming (i was about two years old) it was discovered that the bullet had shot me in the thigh centimeters from my groin. i had to have two stiches there and now have a scar about two inches long.
now wasn't that exciting! not too many people can claim they've been shot before! well, no, i realise a lot of people have claim to that - but none that i know!! LOL.
the cover story, by the way, was that i fell over and a rock lodged itself into my thigh - this story never sat well with me and i had often tried to piece together the possibility of a toddler having enough momentum and weight to even force a rock under the skin like that, let alone in that area! the angle, the force, the probablility were just some of the things i couldn't rationalise.
well, i may as well move on, the bullet story being one that i can't really top right now!
in 1984 we made our way to australia and settled in newcastle (about 2.5 hr north of Sydney.)
of course, it wasn't just as easy as simply leaving poland - the story is vast and complex, involving exciting refugee stories in austria. however, being 4 years old at the time, i am hardly the most appropriate person to tell that story.
once in australia, we bee-lined to newcastle and settled with my mother's parents and brother, who had arrived six months before us. people here were very, very generous and often gave us care packages of food and clothing to keep our family of seven comfortable in our little house.
although my brother and i adapted quickly and efficiently into the culture and environment, i still to this day hear the accounts of culture shock by my grandparents - the horrors of tasting meat pies and vegemite for the first (and last!) time; the language barrier of, not only english, but australian slang; the shock at the inappropriate heating in winter time, and the extroadinary heat waves of the summer.
i also see the great benefits and adaptions that my family went through, most evident when using my grandparents as an example: they are always the first on the beach and the last to leave; they can drive 50 kms to have tea with friends and family without complaint of how far it is; they both found jobs here that they were good at - and my grandmother didn't fall into the "polish cleaning lady" trap, she actually got a job in her field of expertise- accounting (thanks to a guy recruiting cleaning ladies who "told" her to get a job using her fantastic skills and knowledge she gained from years of study in poland.)
my first years in australia, i'm told, were interesting ones. rather than completely integrating english into my repertoire i decided to hybridise a few languages together, including some neologisms of my own which, collectively, i called "fryjski" (pronounced "free-skee"). the old man next door used to listen to me talk (and boy could i talk!) day in and day out. when he confessed to my family he didn't understand "baby talk", they told him no one understood what i was saying because i was talking in a medley, as it were.
then came school time. my parents had the sense to live in more populated areas of newcastle, and we always had our schools very close. while my brother, łukasz, found his first year at school difficult due to language issues, i had had a year at home learning english from the television. the practical up-shot of which was that i knew english rather well by the time i went to school.
of course, both łukasz and i had very strong accents at the time, and we were both picked on by the other children - but i don't bear and grudges! i know why kids pick on other kids at school and they were all only doing what came naturally. it also allowed me to develop skills in confidence and communication more so than, i suppose, if i was just another aussie kid.
plus i was always very keen to learn. łukasz and i often played more "intellectual" and "first principle" type of games for entertainment. for example, rather than playing puppets and just making up dialogue, we would develop a range of accessories for our chosen activities that our puppets would embark on. i vividly remember one time we decided our puppets (we both had really, really cute kangaroo puppets) were to go camping. so we make them appropriately scaled back packs and sleeping bags and tents and other equipment such as lanterns and other essential survival items. and then we'd made the entire camping terrain by placing pillows and odd shaped items under a big green bed spread and walk about it and on it.
actually, the green bed spread appeared often in our games - car games, war games (we had those cheap plastic no-brand figurines, which my brother would paint in the appropriate colours (he had a big thing about 'model' anything - planes, cars, figurines - he even got rather heavily into rpg.)
another time we wanted to recreate "back to the future", so my brother set about constructing a detailed replica of the delorean out of cardboard and other bits'n'pieces, while i made a detailed replica of the terrorists' van. we made sure wheels turned, details were accurate, and the appropriate characteres were made too, to really bring out the essence of the movie. we'd then zoom around with our little cars filling in the sound effects with our cute little kiddie voices *giggle*.
in 1987 my family was naturalised (meaning we all became australian citizens.) my only memory of this (which may have warped by now) is standing in a big intimidating government building of sorts (looked like a huge court house - kinda) and i remember lots of clapping. the event obviously made a big impression on me.
we were lucky - our street (once we'd found a house to move into more permanently) was full of households with kids our age, so we also had heaps of playmates. unfortunately, when my sister, jessica, was born, we often considered her too young to participate in our games (she is six years my junior.) she did, however, become best friends with the girl next door, who happened to be the same age as her.
we even joined the newcastle astronomy society with our dad and we'd go on field trips and we'd make up our own alien societies and planets. the interest in that, as with everything, always would die down after a few years as we developed our interests and hobbies and matured in our desire to learn with more specificity.
now that my polish accent was non-existent when i spoke english i was no longer picked on for being a wog (back then kids used 'wog' to encompass all foreigners.) no, those days had gone, and now i was being picked on for being a nerd. and as most nerds, i sat there and took the abuse. in the end it didn't matter, i find that being a nerd, even to this day, has benefitted me more than not.
i suppose it didn't keep the social aspect that i not only enjoyed science, but i was great at it. i was in the top classes for science, maths and was generally in the top cluster of students in the other subjects - even home economics (cooking) - would you believe!!
it was around this time that the friends who i met at this school had decided they were going to predict what each of us was destined to do. they had me pegged as the mad scientist. at the time, we didn't really realise to what extent our predictions were going to be fulfilled... many years later now some of us have looked back on those predictions and it's scary how accurate it is, in one form if not another. but i'm jumping ahead of myself...
i found that in being a nerd, and rather intelligent *cough*, the other kids didn't really bother me. i saw what they were doing and i knew why they were doing it. the bit that did bother me was that i wished they weren't picking on me!!
anyway, it was here in year eight that i got my first real group of friends. these friends were real friends. i had never really had friends before, that i remember. we stuck by each other and hung out all the time and had similar experiences to share and really got to know one another.
it was also around this time that i began to write poetry. i was only experimenting at this stage, and my poems weren't so much poems as they were a random mish-mosh of words, phrases, feelings, rhyming and eccentricity. i was trying to find my 'style' - my signature tone of delivery. many of my first poems came fast and thick but, in my humble opinion, were pretty crap. i did have a few gems, but for the most part it was all experimental and 'searching'.
it was several years later before i think i really got 'my' technique down pat - to express myself in a way that i felt comfortable and where i believed the words were coming out in a way that was true to my inner-self. in our last year at this school our year coordinator called me her 'quiet little poet' - because, although i hadn't really 'told' anyone i was writing, i had a very impressive volume of material already. i think she meant the 'quiet poet' as a sort of oxymoron.
wow, then came senior high school - where students in australia study like crazy to attain the best higher school certificate (hsc) result they can. a fate worse than death is often associated with the exams at this stage. of course, one does not realise how trivial these exams can be until after the fact.
at this time, perhaps unfortunately or maybe as a blessing in disguise, i became fed up and bored with school and didn't really apply myself as heavily as perhaps i ought to have. the practical upshot of this was that i did not stress at all at the hsc. perhaps it was my way of dealing with the exams - i don't know, still, i survived, like many others.
i had many distractions, insecurities, moments of depression, and also was the first time i felt that i had fallen in love.
more on that in a moment, but i also wanted to mention here that this period was a huge developmental period for me. i really came out of my shell during the hsc years and was a time when i felt i could finally be 'myself'. now, if you haven't gathered already, i am a lesbian. it's not something i'm ashamed of, it's not something i chose, it's also not something i'll try to change - i love it. i love the female form, so why wouldn't i love my female form??! LOL
just like with my experimentations with poetry a couple of years earlier, i experimented with my 'self'. i was eccentric, yes, but i think that only aided in my ability to really try all the things i wanted to at that time. and my confidence in my intelligence meant that while i was on this rampage of discovery; and people's ridicule of me ran off me like water off a duck's back. there was so much to learn about how i fit into society, about how i could improve myself, and of course this microcosm called school - and how it worked in the bigger picture.
one of the ways i amused myself was in 3 unit maths (advanced mathematics)... we had an absolutely ideal maths teacher, who i won't mention by name - though people who went to school with me will recognise him instantly in my description: he would make mistake after mistake after mistake... at first it confused us a little, but eventually we turned it into a game (he didn't know.) at first, we just counted how many mistakes he made. eventually, these would turn into tallies on paper.
eventually, we decided that this was insufficient and we developed, over time, a set of 101 rules by which to give him 'scores' - like a drinking game. these were cross referenced, indexed, categorised into intensity levels, each rule being given a minimum 'score' by which to tally him, and all the exceptions, additions, 'bonus' tallies, and how to handle multiplicities... it really was a great way to pay attention, in the end... LOL.
our rules were sometimes given their own 'name' - like the fibonacci cow rule (don't ask.) the set of rules themselves had a rather meticulous title as a descriptor. there were three of us who initiated these 'rules', and we each made sure that the rules were never discovered by our teacher, that each edition of the guidelines were kept current and old editions were removed, and that the score was kept up to date and accurate, making sure to adjust scores accordingly with changes made in the rules.
it was fun - and actually, surprisingly, it kept us out of trouble... for the most part!
something else that was fun, but which i took with the upmost seriousness, was biology. it helped that our teacher was hot stuff... heheh, but really, i was genuinely interested and she made the classes so exciting and brought a life to the study of living things. it was this teacher who made me realise that science was what i really wanted to 'do' with my life.
it was also about the time that i began to learn how to code web pages. i started off with very basic html (which, incidentally, is going to be phased out in favour of xml), just getting the text on the page, then i worked at mastering tables, then frames, then i hacked basic css. i must say it was tremendous fun! and it was probably one of the things that kept me distracted from my studies - but also sane while other students freaked out.
so back to the love. there was this girl i became infatuated with. now, not in a stalker-y kind of way - she encourage it and at times demanded it. i think the correct phrase, looking back on it now, is that i was "lead on". it doesn't make me angry now, but when one is 17/18 years old and is going through the throes of a first love, this was a harrowing experience. she didn't want anyone to know what we were 'up to', and here i was wanting to scream out to everyone how i felt. now, i have always been an honest person, and this secrecy that she demanded was causing a lot of tension and resentment - especially being torn between my loyalty to her and respect of her wishes, and my own will to be honest to myself and the others around me.
eventually, the relationship reached breaking point and she told me to "f*ck off" (literally.) so you can imagine how crushed i was - especially being a fiery and loyal leo!! it was here that the poems came on stronger than ever, though they were at this stage still a little 'rough'. i found that a lot of my consolation i found in writing. the output i had in those days was amazing - i still astound myself when i think back to those days. all of my friends were worried about me, of course, but i also had the pride gene - i wasn't going to concede defeat. i could handle this on my own.
well, about five years later i got over that experience, so you can see i didn't handle it on my own very well at all! but i'm getting ahead of myself again: first there was uni.
okay, so i really loved uni. after my harrowing experiences at high school (which, in hindsight were my worst years of school. i thought my years 9 & 10 were much more enjoyable) i actually got right back into the study part and did a bachelor of science, majoring in biotechnology. i met a few new people and became better friends with some that i had known at school before.
hmmm.... not really much to say about the undergrad course itself... but the experience, i suppose, was what most people go through in a science degree. 20 contact hours or so, which included about 3 × 3 hour labs, then a myriad of lectures and tutorials.
i really enjoyed the laboratory aspect of my uni course - and the subject lectures themselves were interesting even with boring lecturers... LOL, but of course, as with any lecture, the more stimulating the lecturer, the greater willingness to learn.
in my last year, between semesters, 'this guy' (trying hard not to name names) from the usa came out to visit me. we had been corresponding for about half a year by email. we met via my previous website, where i had (in addition to a lot of personal information) a complete collection of super-accurate lyrics of, namely, tori amos, pj harvey and björk. he was a huge tori amos fan who was very impressed with my site.
anyway, so 'this guy' was my "i'm not going to be a narrow-minded man-hating dyke" project. which failed completely - and i discovered that i can be not only broad-minded, but have also my own preferences and my own desires without it necessarily turning me into a biggot. i can't escape my nature. just like i can't make a heterosexual person into a homosexual, no one can turn me from being lesbian.
but again, i digress. suffice to say, 'this guy' and i didn't work out, and we both went on with our lives. he went back to the usa, and i went back to uni. 'nuff said.
i definitely had most fun in my industry placement in the last semester of our undergrad, and in my honours year after that. it was here that i met many a great and intelligent people. of course, at that level there was also a lot of arrogant people to sift through, but for the most part i found those who were 'normal' - even by mainstream standards!
i definitely enjoyed being in the lab and doing the research - or at least assisting in the research. my honours project was to look at the effects of mobile phone radiation on the integrity of dna in the male germ line (in a nutshell - pardon the pun! LOL!)
as simple as my project was, it actually involved quite a lot of work. i had several cohorts of mice to look after, and they needed attention every day, at the same time every day. so i was at uni every 8 am seven days a week making sure they were ok. it took a lot of coordination if one considers having to fit in the odd alcoholic beverage, or two, the night before... not to mention i had badly twisted my ankle at one stage there, so i was hobbling around on crutches for about 3 days before hobbling some more without the crutches for a couple of weeks after that.
my grandmother was of enormous assistance during this time (well, for the duration of my course, actually), where she would drop me off at uni and pick me up again and those times when i had to stay back in the lab unexpectedly overnight, she'd rush over at the wee hours of the morn with a blanket and some grub to keep me going.
aaaaanyway, so honours was a long haul, but i did enjoy all of it. even, and perhaps, especially, the thesis writing and making the powerpoint presentation for the thesis defence at the end. my love and connection with computers extends to all aspects (except, perhaps programming - got no idea when it comes to that. so don't expect me to know c++ or cobol or java or any other of your weird uber-nerd stuff, like content management systems or learning klingon... LOVED star trek: voyager, by the way)
so after my course, my supervisor asked that i stay with them for a little while to do some work, which i agreed to.
this work was basically to tie off loose ends of my honours research and also help out the odd researcher here or there with a dissection or a gel... eventually the funding ran out and i had to move on.
and i moved to the hunter area pathology service, where i did research and development on a genetic microarray screening tool for prenatal and intellectually disabled patients.
for those who aren't familiar with microarrays, they're basically just a microscope slide where you 'print' various sequences of dna on it in an array, then you can 'wash' patient dna over the slide, and there are bits of patient dna that 'stick' to the slide, and bits on the slide that are left unattached. from looking at which sequences stuck and which didn't we could determine whether the patient was missing some essential dna (e.g. a segment from the x chromosome causing, say, ichthyosis) or, alternatively, whether the patient had a higher proportion of that dna than they should have (e.g. down syndrome, where there is an extra segment of dna present on chromosome 21.)
so i was one of the scientists in the team of 3 employed to develop a specific in-house microarray slide. i really loved it there in that lab - the people were a fantastic bunch who were open-minded, funny, friendly and sociable. and obviously likeable!
this was an important period in my life because i was finally independent. i was renting a house on my own, i owned my own car and a licence to drive it with, i had the house furnished, i had a job and my own friends and a social life and everything was rather dandy. the only thing i was really missing was a partner in life.
okay, corny i know, but i'm one of those soppy people who loves being with my partner for the rest of my life. of course, that's not to say i don't want independence for my partner or me, just that i like sharing all my experiences with a 'special someone'... ...and this website hardly compensates the 'sharing' thing.
so i had worked at the pathology service for about two years when i did find someone to share myself with. at first, she seemed fantastic. then she started showing her true colours, and i lost everything i owned to her, and gave a lot more than i had, too. but gained a lot out of the ashes as well (hence the 'phoenix stage' later on). everyone has had (or will have) dealings with an abusive partner, and boy did i pick the creme of the crop!
but escape i did. and i've set myself back up again and that's all there needs to be said about that.
so here we are, and this where my story ends (for now). i've bounced back and i have found permanent, full-time employment in a fantastic job with awesome people. i have a beautiful, intelligent, considerate, affectionate and loving partner (yay!!), and also all the independence i could ever need. i am happier than i've ever been before and with every reason to be. all that remains now is to win the lotto! LOL