Walking Through the Fire: for Kat Muscat

Last week, Australia's literary community lost one of its most gifted young talents with the passing of writer, editor and activist Kat Muscat. As former editor of Voiceworks and an Express Media veteran (even at the age of 25), Kat was a dear friend and colleague to many at the Wheeler Centre.

Adolfo Aranjuez was the deputy editor of Voiceworks during Kat Muscat’s time at the helm. In this piece, first published by Writers Victoria, he pays tribute to Kat's spirit, skill and dedication.

Kat Muscat (supplied)

They say starting is the hardest but they're wrong; ending is. Writing a tribute to someone who has died seems like you're drafting the final chapter in the story of your life together. How do you know when everything actually stops?

Here goes: I first met Kat Muscat in 2007, when I started volunteering as a proofreader for Voiceworks. I didn't know it then, but this badass-looking goth-nerd – who, it turned out, had been on the editorial committee since 2005 – was, in fact, still in high school. I was inducted into EdComm the following year and, soon, we bonded over Buffy, bad dialogue in submissions, and the benefit of George Orwell's writing rules from Politics and the English Language (she was a fan, I was not – but I also pretentiously thought I was Virginia Woolf, so never mind me). We'd share beers and sushi, and have sneaky cigarettes in that rank alleyway behind Ross House, where Express Media used to be based.

At some point, the magazine outgrew its grunge beginnings and Express Media gained new headquarters at the Wheeler Centre. Alongside the amazing editorial committee, Kat and I worked together through three editorships and Voiceworks themes as manifold as 'Innuendo', 'Missionary', 'Pulp', 'Play' and 'Translate'. In 2012, she assumed the role of editor and, while having el cheapo curry at Crossways, honoured me by asking me to be her deputy editor. With pappadums probably stuck in my teeth, I said yes; from there, it was late-night fun-times and innumerable 'work drinks' and 'Secret Editor Business' (our exclusive Dropbox shared folder) and me as her wingman – in her words, 'both personally and professionally'.

All of this might seem like unnecessary preamble; perhaps I'm telling you too much. I've really tried to separate my feelings about Kat-my-best-friend and Kat-my-former-colleague, but, see, I just can't do that. Nor would I be doing justice to her memory by emphasising one Kat I loved over the other.

Kat wasn't the type to just 'do a job' – she would incorporate her life into her work in a way that not many would've pulled off. She threw herself into everything she did and, in this way, she touched both the minds and hearts of everyone she encountered (I've already twice broken Orwell's first rule – 'Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print' – I'm sorry, Kat).

At Voiceworks, she was not simply an effective volunteer coordinator but also a really good friend to all. Every EdCommer would've had coffee with her at least once, during which she'd have spoken to them about their aspirations, difficulties, interests, ideas. She would've taught them not just the importance of a succinct sentence, but also how to best roll a cigarette (I still can't) and why the Backstreet Boys aren't just pop fodder. Meetings weren't obligatory bores; we looked forward to the flatbread and dips, beers and M&Ms strewn carelessly on humongous desks among pens and submissions unread, then to the post-meeting hangouts. She was an expert in 'inspired chaos', which is how she described her leadership style.

This comingling of life and labour was consistent with how she approached the rest of her work – whether that be putting together the publication Dialect by the young'uns of Global Express, inspiring western-suburban kids at 100 Story Building, helping smash the patriarchy as a SlutWalk organiser, or speaking at the Emerging Writers' Festival, Melbourne Writers Festival or her (and my) particularly beloved National Young Writers' Festival.

In her writing, she had mastered the art of making accessible the complex – and so we were treated to pieces on the problematic figure of the 'hysterical woman' via X-Men and Mad Men; on rage, feminism and 'intent versus impact' via Miley Cyrus (one of her best, I'd say); and on creative collaboration via Animorphs. We read her words about sex and consent via Clueless and the story of her crashing at a friend's house after a huge breakup. We learnt about polyamory and communications technologies via Kat examining her own dating history.

When her two-year tenure at Voiceworks was almost up, I posted about Express Media's search for her replacement and made a joke about how Kat's infamous, sizeable Doc Martens would be difficult to fill. Now, it seems as though another one of her tenures has come to a close. This time, however, it won't just be her proverbial shoes that need filling but rather the chasm in our hearts, created by her departure (another rule broken – 'Never use the passive voice where you can use the active'). We've reached a crossroads from which there's no turning back. We're – the Buffy references are coming – caught in the fire: the point of no return.

So let me follow this trajectory, something Kat likely would've encouraged, and let good memories and pop culture impart wisdom. While writing this, I'd been watching the 'Once More with Feeling' musical episode of Buffy on repeat, and I kept revisiting the climactic point when Buffy sings, 'I want the fire back.' Many of us will miss Kat's fire – her passion, perception, imagination, talent; her unparalleled contributions to Australia's literary scene; her love – and I'm still completely baffled by how to come to terms with this immense ending. But then I remember that, near that episode's conclusion, Spike white-knights (gross) and saves Buffy from herself (c'mon, Joss Whedon) by singing: 'Life isn't bliss; life is just this: it's living. You'll get along – the pain that you feel, you only can heal by living. You have to go on living.'

O Captain! my Captain! (Kat always did like my mega-nerdy references), your deputy will go on living. It'll be incredibly hard, and on some days the pang of your loss will be insurmountable. But we all will go on. And so will you – we will carry you with us, and anywhere we go, you go.

Portrait of Adolfo Aranjuez

Adolfo Aranjuez is an editor, writer, speaker and dancer. He is currently the Melbourne International Film Festival’s publications and content manager as well as Liminal magazine’s publication editor; previously, he edited the magazines Metro and Archer. Adolfo’s essays, criticism and poetry have appeared in Meanjin, Right Now, Screen Education, The Manila Review, Cordite and elsewhere, and he has worked with numerous organisations including the Melbourne Writers Festival, Midsumma, ABC TV and Arts Access Victoria.