"I don't think that being a strong person is about ignoring your emotions and fighting your feelings. Putting on a brave face doesn't mean you're a brave person. That's why everybody in my life knows everything that I'm going through. I can't hide anything from them. People need to realise that being open isn't the same as being weak."

- Taylor Swift

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

the call of the mundane

Now Playing: Fast Car by Tracy Chapman (you've got to make a decision, leave tonight or live and die this way) 

All my life, I've been different. Weird. Unique. Talented. Pariah. Extraordinary. Freak.

I've never had much by way of normal. I have a weird body and a weird brain and I'm always compelled to do weird things. Doctors stare at me in amazement, and I've been 'the clever one' for as long as I can remember. I am very, very obviously Asian, but not typically Asian. I've never sat comfortably with ordinary things. I've always had things people can't have, or don't want to have, and I always find it impossible to procure what everyone else seems to have.

I thought I had made peace with my oddities; to the point where I no longer feel comfortable blending in. But the call of the ordinary has been...an extraordinarily difficult thing to wrestle with.

When I was younger I wanted what all little girls wanted. I wanted to be admired and adored and suffocated with love. I've been reading A Song of Ice and Fire and I'm an avid Game of Thrones fan and as much as little Sansa Stark is an insufferably annoying character, I see so much of myself in her. I had crazy dreams because I had given up on the ordinary ones. But I never stopped wanting.

Being a late bloomer is weird. Just when everyone else is getting tired of it, you're just getting started. When life is calling you to difficult, complicated, adult things, you're that little woman with the wonderful boyfriend with a fast car, only you're not such a little woman anymore. They don't give prizes for how long you can stay in bed with someone. Sweet nothings are not diplomas or job offers or career opportunities. But they are so sweet, and wrenching myself out of that reverie has left scars that don't seem to be healing anytime soon.

I don't think anyone has really appreciated how lonely I have been, my whole life. I remember being thirteen, sitting at the back of my new classroom, trying to inhale all the set texts everyone else had already read. I remember sitting alone, reading alone, doing everything alone. I remember admiring, loving, lusting, craving from a distance, not even daring to put words to the abstract ache. I remember how easily a younger and more vulnerable self fell into the most obvious traps, of pretty words and pretty smiles, desperate for attention. I remember using my loneliness as armour, finding such solace in fleeting blue hour romances, never daring to get too close, always wanting to end up alone, because being alone meant being safe. I look back at all the times I have succumbed to the call of the mundane and been burned.

I've wanted to be extraordinary my whole life. It was the only thing that kept me going. I wanted to become so big and tall that nobody would ever touch me, nobody would ever hurt me, I wanted to look down on everyone and spit on them all. Admitting to myself that I really just want to be happy, that maybe becoming extraordinary and becoming happy aren't the same thing, that maybe a lot of the reason why I am so unhappy is because I am so isolated...it's not an easy thing to wrap your head around, when you've formed your whole identity around being different.

I've always rejected being ordinary. It was easy for me to sneer at the mundane, because I never had it. The white middle class life was never something I could aspire to; I grew up always being reminded that I am not one of them. I took it in stride, during my lonely, angry childhood; if I couldn't be one of them, I'd be a whole other thing entirely. But now as I get older, as the challenges ahead are harder and the rewards I reap are not always wonderful in a wonderfully uncomplicated way...I do feel old, childish insecurities creep in. I keep telling myself that armour is not the answer, that turning myself into a block of ice, whilst I probably have every right to do so, will only hurt myself. But people take being warm and sweet as weakness, and there seems to be no shortage of people willing to exploit perceived vulnerability.

Girls my age are not meant to worry about dying alone, and I don't. I really don't. I know how my life is today is not how it's going to be forever, for better or for worse. But loneliness is a real, present, thing, right now, and I'm sick of it being constantly invalidated. I have started on a long, lonely path, and I don't know if I'll make it. And I don't know if I'll like where I end up.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

남자들 (II)

B.

I thought of something to say to you
And then burst into tears

Because I turn, and it fades away
And you're not here

My love was unconditional
But not at the expense of my dignity

It was at the expense of all of me.

*          *          *

Q.

I was afraid, you know
During my break

Because you were bleeding
And I wanted to fix you

I wanted to hold you in my arms like a child
And I was afraid you would push me away

It meant the world to me
That you crawled into my open arms

*          *          *

R.

I was drawn to you
Like a moth

Drawn to the flame

But I think tempers that burn so hot
Can burn anyone

And so I died
Joan of Arc

*          *          *

You.  H. 

How afraid I am
I am not afraid of

Tangled bodies
And knotted bed sheets

I am afraid that you will touch me
And it will leave scars

That nobody will see
But me

~ originally published March, 2015

Sunday, June 05, 2016

여름, 햇빛, 사랑

I miss the sun.

I miss the sun streaming through the car window
On bare thighs;

I miss your sunglasses and crooked smile.
I miss the sun.

I miss the sun and the warm black bitumen
On puppy paws;

I miss the amber Perth 4pm on your driveway
I miss the sun.

I miss the sun on the river from the sleepy train
On lazy Sundays

I miss sundresses in a heap on faded carpet
I miss the sun.

I miss the sun.

He slept a summer by my side
But he was gone when autumn came

And now it is cold, and grows colder still

And I miss-
I miss the sun.

Saturday, June 04, 2016

Why I will stand by Amber Heard

The recent media shitstorm about the breakdown of Amber Heard and Johnny Depp's marriage and Heard's domestic violence allegations has dug up a lot of old, painful memories for me.

A few months shy of turning sixteen, I started an abusive relationship that ended when I was seventeen. 

A few months after, I was sexually assaulted. 

I clung to my abusive relationship even when I knew it was falling apart, even when I finally accepted, after months of denial, that he was bad news. I defended him when people started asking questions. And I think part of the reason why I didn't cry wolf as soon as I realized I was eyeball deep in shit I couldn't handle is that I knew I would be vilified. 

Not to the extent that Amber Heard has been vilified, of course. Neither of us were rich or famous. But I heard it all, and I was only seventeen. I was the other woman. I was a shameless social climber. I was a clingy, whiny burden. He's such a nice guy.

He's still a nice guy, of course. Some of my friends insist on remaining friends with him, even though they know what happened and claim to believe me. Through our relationship people had been pestering me to break it off, to just quit, to air out all the dirty laundry, but as soon as everything fell apart it was all on me. 

I've learned, as an abuse survivor, and as someone who has listened, patiently, to many, many other stories, that there is always something for people to cling to, some proof that the victim was in the wrong. For me, it was being the 'other woman'. It was okay for this person to abuse me, apparently, because I'd been that woman who he had cheated with. My victim blaming was tied up with slut shaming until eventually, I shut up. I was tired. I was hurt. I had lost my best friend, my reputation, and any notion of a balanced mental state. And as bad as he hurt me, I don't think anything hurt more than that. 

After I was sexually assaulted, the victim blaming started again. I'd been drinking. I'd been flirting. Did you see what she was wearing? Why didn't you say anything? 

I didn't say anything because I was drunk and disoriented. I didn't say anything because I was scared. I didn't say anything because I was a virgin and I didn't really know what was happening. I didn't say anything because I have anxiety and I was intimidated. 

The things that happened after only increased suspicion. I got attached to my assailant, which is very, very common - our cultural sexual narratives are so violent that victims often confuse assault with affection. I didn't act the victim. 

A lot of people also try to minimize it - oh, he didn't mean it. He's so socially awkward, he probably didn't know how to ask. It was only one time, you're over it now, surely? Sure, it's only one time - until a few months later when you do consent to sex, and you can't do it. Then it's only two times, when that happens again. Three times, when you have to explain to yet another partner what's wrong with you. Four times, when you're older and braver and you push another guy off you. five, six, seven, eight times, with your first boyfriend, who is very patient but it's still very scary and unpleasant. Abuse and assault aren't one off things - they don't end when it ends, it doesn't end when they finally walk away, or drive you home, or sign the divorce papers. Scars linger.   

I'm not seventeen anymore, and I'm made of sterner stuff now. But the victim blaming and slut shaming I endured, the relentless attacks on my character that were seen as part and parcel with being 'that girl' who was stupid enough to get herself in hot water - they have left a lasting impact. Whenever there isn't a shitstorm in the media, when the headlines of one celebrity beating up another celebrity are a few months past, people drone endlessly about how victims should 'just leave' or 'just speak out'. But I feel like this 'choice' that we have, to speak out or walk out, is no choice at all. It's a choice between having one person hurt us, or the world. 

I stand by Amber Heard because I see so much of my own story reflected in hers. I stand by Amber Heard because even though she is a rich, privileged, famous woman I have never met, I felt an enormous rush of empathy when I saw the same things that were thrown at me thrown at her, only in a much more public and vicious way. I stand by Amber Heard because I know how hard it is to stand up to the popular kid who abused you, or someone older and bigger than you who assaulted you, much less Johnny Depp. Because it doesn't matter who you are, survivors recognise each other in the crowd, and we can't help but want to hold each other tight - because nobody else does. 

Friday, June 03, 2016

Anchor

I let go of my own anchor
To be an anchor for you

Do you ever stop and think
Ever stop to ask
'How is she, today?'

'Is she alive?
Does she still have Game of Thrones hair

And frightened eyes?'

I do;
I ask, every day

I read, I think, I wonder

If you have drowned
In a puddle of your own making

Because I am not a liar like you.
When I said it, I meant it

I am not smart like you.

You are a coward
And I am a fool

I let go of my own anchor
To be an anchor for you

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

I am your reanimated

What do you know of death?
No more than me, surely

I was a child when I looked Death in the eye,
Smiled,
And snarled 'not today'

I know what it is to live in spite
I live in spite of Gods and Men

I was made a corpse, but I survived

I know what it is to live, when you should be dead
I know what it is to live, when you dream of death
I live in spite of myself

I am your reanimated
I am your zombie love

I know what it is to lose faith
And yet battle on, battle-strong

There have always been voices
Calling me to the void;
My own is the loudest of all

I was born a ghost
With haunted eyes

It will take more than poisoned words, my love

You cannot break a broken heart
It will take more than what you are to break me.


Thursday, May 26, 2016

작별

I will teach my son to say goodbye
I will teach him that mistakes happen
And he will cause endless, bloodless hurt
Hearts break like shattered glass

I will teach my son to say goodbye
It will be cold, and hard, and cruel
But kind.

I will teach him that death -
Death of a person, place, or thing
Should be quick.

That neglect is not a swift or kind poison
And indifference is no anaesthetic

I will teach my son to swallow his pride
To have more backbone than you.

I will teach him that real men look people in the eye
I will tell him why he is my son, but not yours

I will teach him to say goodbye.

Mockingbird

There were so many cages.
There was the bed.
There was your arms.
There was the room updown two flights of stairs and a locked door

There were fingers
There, and there, and there
There was the car.
There was the backseat and deadweight and deadly smiles

There were promises
(Broken)

There was faith
(I think you knocked down that door)

There was love
(You knocked down that one, too)

There were so many cages
But now I am free

With clipped wings.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

love & duty

Now Playing: Sprawl II by Arcade Fire (they heard me singing and they told me to stop, quit these pretentious things and just punch the clock) 

I feel like there is a misunderstanding of Asian kids, particularly Asian Australian kids, who rely heavily on their parents.

My parents became what the government considers a high income household through hard work; we didn't always have it so good. I remember pinching pennies as a child. But my parents worked hard so that my sister and I would have the good life, the good life that is promised to all immigrants and their children. My mother especially seemed to live vicariously through us, in buying for us everything she never had.

My parents pay for pretty much everything I have; but I have more autonomy than people think. I think it's easy for people to assume that I'm just going through the motions for my overbearing parents, which is certainly what my schools thought when my mother wated me to be pushed on, faster than the rest - all they could see was the stereotypical greedy tiger mother, because old white men struggle very hard to see the multitudes in a woman who looks so different to them, or her daughter. I think now that I'm in a field that my parents never would have chosen for me, it's a little easier to take me seriously; but my choices go back further than that. My parents chose my school, but I got in with no help. I chose my university, and my majors, and then I chose which major to ditch and which other one to take, I told my mother that I felt the ice cracking beneath my feet and I stayed up all hours of the night desperately trying to find a way out. Coming to ANU was all my own idea, and I made it happen. My parents have never attempted to control my life, only to facilitate it.

But there is a sense of duty that comes with being so well provided for. I definitely saw some rich kids fail semester after daddy-funded semester, but I never wanted to let my parents down, especially seeing as I was not making what anyone would consider prudent investments. I'm a terrible student - I'm lazy, I like eating and sleeping too much, I get distracted, anxiety makes me procrastinate for hours on end, and I struggle endlessly with self doubt. Any nerd will tell you of the pervasive anxiety surrounding marks and grades - I cried whenever I didn't get a grade I wanted, in the same way that the athletic kids used to cry if they didn't get blue ribbons. So I always pull through, through temptation, through anxiety. The only thing worse than having a kid who is a shit investment is having a kid who is shit at the shit investment. When you're a gifted kid, you feel this uncontrollable need to live up to expectations. When you're a gifted Asian kid, or a bit of a loner, a bit of a weirdo, the need to prove everyone wrong is all-consuming. People think I am easily distracted, by pretty things and by pretty people, but I have never wanted anything or anyone more than my own success.

When you're all grown up, when you have children of your own, love and duty are all tied together - my parents push through with their difficult jobs to provide for their already-grown children, so that we have some hope of establishing a career in an increasingly depressing job market; we live in a virtuous cycle of duty and obligation to each other. But when you're young, like me...sometimes love is the death of duty.

Home was full of temptations that were not in the least bit tempting in the abstract; I used to think about love and happily ever after in the same abstract way that kids talk about the moon. I don't think I met the right person, but I met the right idea; the pervasive idea that I could give up my career ambitions for other, simpler, ambitions. The scariest thing, for me, is that I came dangerously close to throwing away the security of my parents' steadfast support...for what? The hardest lesson to learn is that you cannot trust anyone.

And yet I still can't shake off the feeling that I have given up something big. I probably haven't. But I'm young, and I don't know any better. I don't know of anything that could be better.

My friend told me that part of adulthood is wondering; because sometimes you do have to choose between two good things, sometimes when you choose one path you don't know if it's the right one. You spend your life wondering what your life would be like, if you had chosen differently; and there's no way of telling which way was right.

It's a great folly to be young and try to love; because we are still at that time of life where love is the death of duty. We are so...self serving, and I don't know if I can judge other people for hurting me in their selfishness; because I am equally so. My affection is not as pure and innocent and kind as the people who wax poetic about it think; I have my own agendas. I only really cry when I've been outwitted at my own game. No-one serves without ultimately serving themselves; and why the hell not?  Above and beyond duty to others, I have a duty to myself. The only thing that has kept me going these past years has been this idea that I can make something for myself, that I can let go of a lot of the bitterness and resentment that existed alongside the temptation and happiness of home. The people of my past may have been wonderful, but I can't trust them farther than I can throw them. We rely so much on other people, to give us jobs, to educate our children, to love and marry and stay with us...but first you have to rely on yourself, to know that you can still hold your ground even when things fall apart. Things have fallen apart in the smallest way, and I fell apart with it. I am learning, slowly, to be content with my choices, to be sure of myself, and to pull it together when you draw the short straw. Because the only constant in your life is yourself, you know? Nobody else has ever shown me otherwise.

Monday, May 16, 2016

new chapter

Now Playing: Third Eye by Florence + the Machine (I am the same, I'm the same, I'm trying to change) 

I guess it's no secret that I have started a new chapter of my life, and I'm doing an exceptionally terrible job at adjusting.

I spent the last twelve hours I ever had with my partner screaming. Quite literally screaming. I went from the girl who took half an hour to get ready to this red faced, ugly crying, bawling mess who screamed for an hour straight, passed out, woke up, and started crying again. To his eternal credit, he didn't also have an enormous breakdown and/or kick me out.

That's the thing - I have a lot of mixed feelings about my partner. When I'm scared it's easy to imagine him as the wonderful person that he was to me, for our time together - but that's so incongruous to the utter mess he's left me in now. And it would be so easy to hate him - I don't think anyone would begrudge me for utterly loathing him - but that's also very incongruous with what I know. I try and do that thing people say to do when a chapter of your life ends, to smile that it happened and not cry that it ended, but the way it ended...I think anyone with any heart would cry at that.

I've also swapped mental illnesses, as it were. When I was a young teen I suffered a lot through depression, but then in my late teens I got okay at managing depression but became very, very anxious. And anxiety was part of my relationship - it was all new, and I'm not great at new things, and anxiety informed a lot of what I did and how I felt. I thought I'd be more anxious, here, living on my own, doing things that used to trigger me, but I didn't expect depression to come back after so many years of just laying dormant. I'd forgotten how truly awful it feels.

My usual way of dealing with my issues is just to be very candid, because through talking and writing and thinking I find ways of understanding and accepting and moving on - I feel like, in the heat of the moment, I can't think straight, I go along with things I shouldn't, I don't say what I'm really thinking, and I don't really mean what I say. It's only in retrospect I can gather myself again; but there's so much I can't say. I have no qualms dragging my abuser through the mud because, quite frankly, there's very little about him that I would say is nice or redeemable, and I don't think he deserves my praises. But this time is different. People contain multitudes, and not all sins are unforgivable. I am hurting, badly, but I don't think I am in a position to just set someone on fire to make myself feel better. It's been difficult to convey how much of a difficult time I'm having without people assuming that my partner is the scum of the earth, because he's not. I refuse to believe he's a bad person, and I don't want to paint him that way when he isn't here to defend himself. But then again, it was his choice to not be here to defend himself, to not give me the answers I so desperately need, to leave me alone to come to my own conclusions, even though they are thin and unflattering.

I think the only thing I can say is to not judge people who are having a bad time. When I was young people couldn't imagine why I was depressed, and constantly tried to guilt me out of it - but depression is not really about what you lack, and definitely isn't about what you have. But I feel like I can't talk so freely about being depressed, here, because I feel like people will judge me - to have it all and still cry seems colossaly ungrateful. I am trying, very hard, to be thankful for what I have, and to learn to accept and enjoy this new life I have found myself in but I just wish people knew that, no matter how wonderful someone's life or career seems, it's never easy: change is never easy, even if it's for the best. And as much as you feel like you know someone, you don't know the whole story; you don't know someone's deepest insecurities, or everything they've sacrificed to get to where they are, or how much they miss things from their old life, even if their old life was thoroughly unextraordinary or ultimately unsustainable.

I'll be okay. You know me. I just keep swimmin'.