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MC Angel aka Shauna O’Briain & Rafeif Ismail

Read Monday, 29 Nov 2021

As part of The Stories We Tell Ourselves, we invited six pairs of emerging and established writers, from the UK and Australia, to each pen a letter to their past or future self. Across a series of six videos, these writers respond to the theme ‘Who are we now?’ by speaking directly to versions of themselves that are still familiar, curiously anticipated or completely mysterious.

Here, poet, hip hop emcee and author of Moments of Significance MC Angel aka Shauna O’Briain and award-winning emerging multilingual storyteller and editor Rafeif Ismail take turns reading each other’s letters aloud and then discuss the points of connection and difference in their responses. 

You can watch the video, and read along with their letters, below.

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From MC Angel aka Shauna O’Briain

Dear Shauna aka 15-year-old me

I get that it’s dark right now
That you are locked in a chest under the sea without a key
The world don’t make sense
Looking out the window
With cockneys screaming into a void
Onto the blocks, small rabbit hutches
Squashed on a Camden estate

That ginger woman
As she shouts
You’re Irish in her thick Dublin accent
I get you don’t know who you are here
Eldest of four siblings
the gay one and no one knows
Expression is dangerous in ends

But Shauna
Your mum did try by
Raising us here
And I get it
The beatings
The abuse
The addictions
karma we inherited from the roots of a rotten family tree
Followed us to England

Chained in poverty
Can’t even feed the ducks
So far under the bread line
Chest heavy under the weight of what is the point of this life
Those tiny bombs
You don’t take enough of them pills in front of you for them to detonate
Suicide isn’t your fate
You have life to live young woman

All your trying to escape is no longer here
The drink took Mum eventually
Her power lives through you
Her creative spirit planted seeds for healing
You go on a journey, you’re a warrior of light
a child of the universe

You face your demons
With the sharp sword of your words
And it always hurts
You just learn to create joy in the pain
Releasing tears into rivers that cleanse trauma
Seven generations forwards and back
You’re who, your who your ancestors prayed for
Feel this

turning your poison into medicine with poetry
found meaning in darkness
Carved it into stories you’re an artist
I promise you, it all makes sense one day

Your anger is a force
You advocate for change
You challenge the system
You stand up for community
The tiny light you see
You turn it into a blaze
That sets many hearts alight with a passion for life
Just by being you

You are a beautiful woman now
A rainbow goddess
You’re celebrated
For all that you are
Your road
It was not the easy road
But you’re on this path
You have purpose
Your life is connected to all life
As you change the world changes
Never give up

And I know you can hear this
That’s why you didn’t find another box of pills to donate you off this planet
And I’m so glad you didn’t
Cause you are so precious

Love Shauna aka 40-year-old me

From Rafeif Ismail

To You in the years Before:


The security forces officers laughing outside your grandparents’ house fill you with a cold rage. You’re nearly four and wondering if you can somehow take their car and drive until you find your parents safe. It will not be the first time that you feel that afraid, but it is the only time you will ever pick up something with the intention of using it as a weapon.

You survive.


You learn how to run. Cairo will chase you for years to come but you get away. Physically.


You try to make a bargain with the universe, willing to give anything for your mother to come back safe.
You begin to give up explaining your multiple worlds


You stand at the edge of a platform at Flinders Street Station. It’s your first time out of Perth. You plan for an end, but see a child across the platform, you think of your earliest memories and can’t bring yourself to be the nightmare of another person.


You stand on the edge of an empty train platform. A year to the day. Before you find your resolve, your mother calls.


How can you think of an ending when your people are screaming/bleeding/breaking for their freedom?

The litany of the names of the dead is a reminder
the struggle is never over


Maybe freedom?
You begin to imagine going home again


You make tally
Of how many days you can go without someone you know dying
The longest is five weeks.


Your suicide note reads, ‘Dear Future Self’
You make a list of grief counsellors for your family and friends on Excel
You drag yourself to see a psychologist
And learn how to start living again
Until –


There will come a time when you look at this fragmented timeline and wish that you could hold the younger You close. Every one of your breaths is an act of resistance. You’re finding joy in the small moments of life. You’re playing music again (you write terrible songs, they’re great).

Here is a list of lessons learnt in these last few years:
● Between your beliefs and being liked, stand by what you believe in
● Between You and being liked, pick You
● Dreams many not come true, but at least you’re alive to dream them
● A good story can ward off all manner of things
● You can reread a book a hundred times and never be bored
● You are not Atlas to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders
● You are not Atlantis to sink underneath it all
● You write a show. It’s very Black, very queer and unapologetically You
● You write really terrible music. It’s great.
● Revolutions never end
● But Hope and Work also endure
● Breathe
● Start Again
● You’re still here, despite it all

See you in another 10 years,

You, older but not yet wise

The Stories We Tell Ourselves is presented with Spread the Word and the Melbourne City of Literature Office, supported by the UK/Australia Season Patrons Board, the British Council and the Australian Government as part of the UK/Australia Season.

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