"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

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'.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

defensive assholery

Now Playing: Third Eye by Florence + the Machine (there's a hole where your heart lies and I can see it with my third eye) 

I cannot count the number of times when I've been alone, privately, with a guy - pillowtalking or whatever - and they suddenly announce, quite randomly, out of the blue, that they're selfish, or that they're 'a bit of an asshole' or 'you know I'm a dick, right?', or start recounting a story of how they mistreated one of their previous partners. And I just sit and listen in stupefied silence, thinking 'where the hell did that come from?'

I'm all for putting one's cards on the table, and I obviously don't think that people are flawless bastions of decency. But I cannot for the life of me understand why men are socialized to make these sudden, self-deprecating statements with no context or apparent purpose; as if they have this big secret and they just decide to blurt it out before the cat's out of the bag.

I think guys know what they're up to more than they're willing to admit. Because, in that situation, what am I supposed to do? Hop out of bed, get dressed, shake hands and say 'it was lovely meeting you, but we clearly have insurmountable issues and this relationship is insufficiently serious enough to try and tackle them'? Of course not. I just have to lie there with this self-proclaimed selfish, heartless bastard, and probably reassure him that he's not nearly as selfish or heartless as he claims he is.

One of the first people to do this was my abuser - it was by far not the worst thing he did, nor were the other people who did the same necessarily abusive. But when we were having our huge, horrible falling out, he said 'I don't know what you expected, I told you I'm a dick'.

Yes, you did. Once upon a time, when we weren't fighting and had no reason to fight. In a calm, peaceful, serene moment you calmly and coolly explained that you were a Colossal Asshole, knowing full well that if I had run for the hills then and there I would have come off as completely batshit insane and become just another one of your crazy exes. That was, apparently, warning, for the shit to come. And my socially contracted obligation to stay because you weren't in that moment acting on your apparently intrinsic douchebaggery was apparently consent to being messed around. It's like proactive victim blaming.

Here's another thing; selfishness, being a shit person - these are not unshakable character traits that define the core of one's very being. It's understandable in a sixteen year old who's just fucked up his first relationship because he fell down a porn hashtag rabbit hole on tumblr, but it's less forgivable in a twenty-something man who is making the same mistakes from nearly a decade ago.

Since when has it been okay to suddenly advertise one's negative attributes, anyway? I don't, in the post-coital haze, start recounting the story of that one time when I was ten and won thirty games of Uno in a row by making up rules against my gullible playmate, or that for reasons unknown I have kicked a few boys in the balls totally unprovoked. And I don't then use That One Time I Told You Stories About My Past to retroactively claim that you're okay with me cheating or giving you blunt testicular trauma. You move on from being the cheating, violent kid and try to make yourself into something of a respectable adult and halfway decent partner and you try, very hard, not to hurt the people you care about. Sometimes you're gonna fuck up, and that's okay, but these people and their little trips down memory lane and strange manipulation of peaceful couple moments...I feel like they're not even trying.

And in all this kerfuffle I feel, ultimately, disposable. I have to constantly tell myself that I did okay, that it's not my fault, that I didn't accidentally consent to being messed around and bullied by someone who claimed to care about me. I have to be okay with the fact that I'm probably another one of your 'crazy exes' who just 'didn't understand you'. And I have to be okay with the fact that, as wonderful as you apparently thought I was, you were okay with losing me because you didn't have the balls to grow up. That maybe, one day, you'll get bored of throwing women away and be the person I always knew you were, and some other lucky woman will have that version of you, and all I got was a wonderful boy who somehow thought that jealousy and selfishness were core to his very existence, rather than things he could have given up, for me.

Reverie

It was easier caring for you
Than it is now to care about myself

I remember your heaving shoulders in my arms
I wondered, even in my multitudes
If I was strong enough
For the times I gladly carried you

I was never afraid of you, you know
I was never scared of your long white hands
Or your teeth against my skin

But now I live in breathless fear
Of your contempt;
You and I come from such a tiny village
And gossip tears through it like the plague

There's a strange void between my hips
But not in my heart;
You are still there, it is still the same
Cracked and bleeding

My faith, once broken...
It was all I had to give

The bruises have faded, and yet you still linger
Like smoke in the curtains
Of some faded rockstar's fifth floor motel room

And I am curled up on our wine stained sofa
Catastrophe is its own kind of balm

Why regret what could not be?
(because it feels like it never was;
I have only the memory of a memory of a reverie)




Friday, May 13, 2016

lovebug

Now Playing: I Dreamed a Dream from Les Miserables (he slept a summer by my side, he filled my days with endless wonder, he took my childhood in his stride but he was gone when autumn came) 

I find it really weird to be at the end of a relationship and not fully own the story; it's the story of us, not just the story of me and Some Guy. My ex, like me and everyone else, contains multitudes; and I'm not going to share those multitudes with just anyone. It's strange to be hurting, so badly, but still not feel free to discuss as openly as I am accustomed to.

Here's the thing - I'm a bit of a love slut. Lovebug, is how everyone politely puts it, but I love very freely. People often think bad of me, or think that I'm too stupid to see flaws in people, or that I naively think everyone deserives to be loved from the start. But it really...it really isn't like that. I am so profoundly aware of my ex's many, many flaws; I saw them from the start. I'm sure he saw mine. But I loved in spite of it, and I'm trying, really hard, to cling to that reckless delusional optimism. It's the only thing that keeps me sane and keeps me human, especially as I become increasingly bitter about an ever growing number of things and people.

There's a difference between loving and being in love, I think. I don't think I've ever been 'in love', and I certainly don't think I was in love with some boy I knew for six weeks. But I loved, I loved imperfectly and wildly and erratically; and there were some things said that gave me the impression that we were on the same page, in this strange relationship-that-was-not-a-relationship, with this boy-who-is-not-my-boyfriend (I gotta stop doing this whole 'WE CAN'T USE LABELS' bullshit. I'm a writer. I need words). And love is not all fun and games, you know; I've always known it can take you to dark places that you have to endure for other peoples' sake. But since moving here I have been stalked, gotten lost, poisoned myself with mouldy food, and plunged into deep despair - and my friends have been there for me, always. It is hard to accept that someone who claimed to care about me has utterly left me for dead.

I keep finding myself verging on hate; it would be so easy to hate the person who cheated on me, who has broken all his promises, who is not here for me when I desperately need him - and I'm sure nobody would begrudge me this one thing to utterly despise. But it would be grossly unfair, I think - not only to the complexities and subtleties that makes this story much more complicated than I can freely discuss, but also unfair to me. I must try to be happy, despite the circumstances. I did nothing wrong.

We live in a culture where people, especially young people, and especially young girls, are taught to blame themselves entirely for any calamity that befalls them. It is hard not to think that maybe I should not have been so free with my affections, maybe I should have braced myself for this fall. But it would be a tragically cynical thing to do, you know, to anticipate disaster before the pleasure has even begun. I made mistakes, and I wasn't perfect; but I refuse to believe that I did anything wrong, in loving recklessly - I am not in the wrong, here.

I will love again. I will love as recklessly as the last. And if I hurt, so be it. It will not be my fault. And it's not as if I owe it to anyone to love as freely as I do; I owe it to myself. Because I truly believe that the world is a better place when we love recklessly, even if it has made my world slightly worse, for now. There are many, many things I regret; love will never be one of them. I loved as honestly and as simply as I could, even when it was hard, even when it hurt. And I hope one day I will find someone who can return the favour.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Rethinking

Now Playing: Heavy Crown by Iggy Azalea ft. Ellie Goulding (for everyone who said I'd never make it, oh Lord weren't you mistaken) 

The one thing I love about being an honours student is that everyone is in it purely for the love of it. It's an objectively horrible experience - we are overworked, very stressed, extremely sleep deprived, we're not getting paid for our efforts - we actually pay for the privilege - and we got nothing by way of job security. It's taken us a long time time to get here and it'll take us a long time to get to wherever we're going.

And what are we working on? Papers that basically no one is going to read. Honours students don't publish anymore, which is a shift that happened between my mother being an academic and me becoming an academic. We're not writing bestsellers; we're devoting all this time and money and energy on these things that will, in all honesty, contribute little and be of next to no value. Which is why I mean it when I say we're doing it for the love of it; we're here because we love Austen and postfeminist television and post 9/11 literature. It is a pure passion that defies logic and exists in spite of financial and emotional anxieties. It is the only thing I could have ever left my old, comfortable life for - and even though I've been whinging, a lot, about being uprooted, I have no regrets.

One of the things I find endlessly amusing is the huge gap between how people perceive honours students and the actual life of an honours student. People constantly talk about me getting into the honours program at ANU as me having 'made it'; because I had to reach some arbitrary cutoff point and fill in some arbitrary forms and move from my arbitrary place of birth to the arbitrary location of ANU. And it is in an achievement, to be sure, and a privilege that few people will have. But it also is, overwhelmingly, just the beginning. We are treated and being trained as baby academics; everything is new and strange and scary and nobody has any idea what they're doing. There's nothing glamorous about the honours life; it's probably the most humbling thing I've ever done. But I've always enjoyed the exercise - being good enough to move from a little pond to a slightly bigger pond, and being, at least for a while, not the biggest fish. I knew a guy who, for a while, used to go around boasting that he turned down an offer to my high school, which was academic elite, and went to his local public school, because there he was the best student. I was thoroughly unimpressed. Not because I was the best student at least in one subject out of a dozen; that was irrelevant. But because one of the few good things I remember about my time at school was the challenge, of not being the smartest, of not being bored in every class, in having the experience of failing and having to work hard. I appreciated that same challenge when I started uni and I appreciate it now that I am at ANU and totally out of my depth. That guy, by the way, knew of my distaste - I literally used to call him Big Fish. He's at ANU now. The novelty of being the big fish in a little pond wore off on him too.

When I say my life as an honours student is unglamorous, I mean it. I found huge chunks of mould at the bottom of my bag of rice the other day - massive chunks the size of my fist of grey, powdery mould with black sticky bits and green fuzz. It was the same bag of rice I'd been eating out of ever since I got here. I totally lost my cool. I called my mother and had a full blown panic attack  and cried at her, wordlessly, for an hour. Which was cruel of me - my poor mother worries about me enough, and it's not easy to help your hysterical daughter from 3000km away. But I did it because I needed to be a child again, at least for a moment, and do that very childish thing of dumping all your problems on your mother. And then, after I had calmed down, I remembered the people in my former life who couldn't do what I had just done, and who had sometimes leant on me instead - and I had tried to bear the weight of it as best as I could. I resent people for many, many, things, but I neve resent them for this. But they don't call anymore, and I don't know why, and it's hard not to take that personally.

Being here, being twenty, growing up - I have been thinking a lot about what it means to be happy, what it means to be successful, and what I want out of life. I don't have many answers yet. amd the answers I do have will probably disappoint a lot of people; but these are the people who imagine my life as an honours student to be so different to my experience of overwhelm and heartbreak and nerdy epiphanies and mouldy rice, so what would they know? This is my life. All I can do is muddle through it as best I can.

alone in your body

Now Playing: Bedroom Hymns by Florence + The Machine (make me your Maria, I'm already on my knees) 

I don't have vaginismus anymore.

Well, at least, I don't think I do. Who knows what this year as a nun, sorry, research student will do to my body.

Here's the thing - pain and I, we've been acquainted for a long time. My life, all of it, is always punctuated by pain that I cannot properly describe, and I have devoted my entire professional life and much of my private life in trying to find the words to describe pain. There's the pain of being a queer woman of colour, there's the pain of being a mixed race second generation immigrant, but then there is pure, raw, physical, sanity-bending, word-defying, paralysing, breathless pain. My family have lived with this pain for as long as they have lived with me, but they still don't and never will understand what it is to be killed and flayed and stitched back together and reanimated, what it literally feels like to be literally heart sick. My doctors have been studying conditions like mine for longer than I have been alive but they are all able bodied old men who have no idea what it is like to live with a condition that they can describe and diagnose and operate on. I learned, from a very young age, that I am alone in my body, and I am alone in my experiences, and I am alone in my pain. We all are.

 I got vaginismus from getting assaulted when I was seventeen. It has been, by far, the hardest thing to write about, and one of the hardest things I've had to deal with in my life. It is not easy to have a sexual dysfunction when you are not in a long term monogamous relationship (because obviously hypothetical male partner deserves the sex more than you ever will) and/or trying to have a baby (you're too young to be a mum, why you wanna have sex anyway?). It is not easy to have a dysfunctional sexual organ when you occupy a profoundly hypersexualized body in a very sexually repressed society that does not like talking about sex or the many ways we fail at it. It is not easy to deal with the physical embodiment of trauma. It is not easy dealing with physical pain when the emotional pain is, as far as it can be, behind you. And no, it is not an easy thing to 'just deal with'. People pestered me many, many times to seek medical help, but let me tell you, doctors know less about sex than you'd think - given that my doctor, in all her wisdom, tried to shove a huge speculum in me, which was about as logical as forcing someone with a broken foot to run a marathon.

I felt very alone in my pain. I had acquired vaginismus through sexual assault, which is not something people like to think about, and something that is very easy to blame on me - I was drunk, I was flirting, etc. And I realized that vaginismus is not like a cold, where doctors know exactly what is wrong with you and exactly what pill to prescribe (incidentally, the same doctor with the Speculum of Fail managed to remove a very stubborn wart off my knee, so it's not like she was a total quack). No one understood what it meant, physically or psychologically, to exist as a sexual being with such a huge sexual problem. I felt lonely and immensely vulnerable and as time wore on I became increasingly panicked that my problem was permanent.

In the end, I overcame vaginismus because it is more a disease of the mind than of the body - which doesn't make it any less real, but I have experience battling demons. My partner was sweet and patient and endlessly understanding, as had all my other partners before him, but it didn't make me feel any less alone. There were no words to describe the strange mix of anticipation and excitement and impatience all mixed up with trepidation and panic and dread. The immense pain that was not immense in the actual physical sensation - I have endured much, much worse - but this overwhelming feeling of wrongness and alienness. I couldn't find the words to explain that I had to stop not because it hurt, which it did, but because I was having a full blown panic attack. I couldn't find the words to explain how slow and stupid I felt in the excruciatingly slow process of learning to associate things with pleasure instead of pain. There were so many words and none of them fit; and the empathy gap was obvious each time I had had enough, because no matter how attentive and considerate someone is there is always a tiny gap between when you call it off and when it actually stops. It's a cruel reminder of how alone we are in our bodies.

It was equal parts empowering and devastating that this was a problem that I had to overcome myself; there was no miracle cure, no expert advice. I often feel so alone in my body, but especially when I am in pain; people just stare in stupefied silence, because pain - both your own and others - defies language, and language is the lifeblood of my existence. I have never been the kind of woman people value for her looks or for how much of daddy's money she can splash; I've always been a woman of conversation, a nouveau Anne Boleyn. So I feel oddly dead when I do not have words, and strangely vulnerable when I am too tired to speak; as if I have been slaughtered. Which, of course, Anne Boleyn was.

I feel like, somewhere in this life of pain, I have learned loyalty. I am not a particularly empathetic person; one of the many side effects of being so caught up in your own pain is that sometimes you ignore the pain of others. But I have learned loyalty, and I think it is because I search for it so desperately and come up empty. Because for me to open up, for all the scars and broken bits about me, for all the moments when I will have to grit my teeth and bear the pain, for all times the people around me are forced to watch on when I am crumpled up and crying; it is a lot to show to the world, and so I think I am not asking too much when I ask for loyalty in return. And maybe that is the real pain of pain; that pain disrupts bonds, it causes people to pick up their skirts and run. Illness repulses, I learned that a long time ago. But a truly magnetic woman, one who genuinely has interesting things to say, contains multitudes; and you will not like all of it. But loyalty is demanded nonetheless.

Sunday, May 08, 2016

what smart girls do.

Now Playing: One Moment More by Mindy Smith (let me have you just one moment more)

It's no secret, I suppose, that I ended a relationship to move here to Canberra. I was open about it to provide some justification for my general mopiness, in the hopes that people wouldn't consider me totally insane.

I'd never been in a relationship before; and let me tell you, I thoroughly do not recommend timing your first break up with the first time you move 3000km from home. It's most unpleasant.

What I wasn't prepared for was the judgement. People constantly ask me why I didn't make our relationship long distance; I'm only away for a year, after all. Less likely things have been followed through. And I am not so young.

The truth is, it was not such a serious relationship. It was barely six weeks old before we strangled it in the cradle. It was not something I seriously considered prolonging for an entire year; I didn't want to tie someone down for a whole year. I did not hope that I could keep it alive that long. I was prepared to let go. But really, I thought a decision like that would be kept personal and private. Had it been a prudent decision to try and go long distance, I'm not averse to the idea of it. It just wasn't right for me, for us, right now. But people will judge nonetheless.

I got a serious case of cold feet just before I left. I didn't know what I was leaving behind, or what I was leaving it for. I was scared and unsure, and I wanted to stay where it was warm and safe. But I couldn't. Because that's not what smart girls do; and I was less worried about letting myself down - degrees get deferred all the time, life gets in the way. But I couldn't; because I was worried about what people might think. I didn't want to be that girl. And so I left.

People think I am very indifferent to what other people think, but moving here has made me realize how ferociously insecure I am; and how much of what I do is simply following the cultural narrative of 'What Smart Girls Do'. Even now, when things get too hard, I never seriously consider going back home, doing something safer. I have to sink or swim here, because I'm so scared of what other people will say. I have never failed at anything, except the ridiculous business of acquiring a boyfriend or inspiring someone to stay faithful for a twenty four hour period (if anything could confirm in anyone a total lack of faith in monogamy, it would be this.)

I've always been afraid of failure; it's a very nerd thing. But my fear of failure is not confined to marks or getting in to good schools; my failures as a partner and as a woman hit home, too. I feel like we have condemned smart, competent girls to these dead lives of total solitude; all the historical figures I was encouraged to admire - Joan of Arc, Elizabeth I, Hildegard of Bingen - seemed to be revered almost as much for their intact hymens as for their accomplishments. I'm not that kind of woman. My ambitions are not all academic. I loved being single in Perth, but for a few short weeks I loved having a partner. I'm not happy, all alone here. And I will not be ashamed of the fact that I miss my ex, that I'm still bleeding from an extraordinarily messy falling out, that I'm afraid about my future, that I don't fully trust that I can make it on my own anymore, or if that's something I necessarily aspire to. Because I am not just a rookie academic. I am not just someone who is smart. I'm not a machine. I'm an honours student but I'm also just a kid. I am only twenty, and I miss my childhood, and the people who were in it. My heart is broken and my spirit is breaking over stupid, trivial things that have nothing to do with my career; but my life is not just my career. I'm still not sure if I did the right thing, choosing this over that; all I know is that I did it because people expected of me, and because I expected it of myself. Because that's what smart girls do.

The hardest part of any struggle is not being able to speak freely of it. People judge me when I mention how much I miss some boy from my hometown. People judge harder still if I let slip that I have second thoughts about moving here; because that's not what smart girls do. But in spending so much time alone, with my own thoughts, I am more aware than ever that I contain multitudes, and that I suffer terribly when I am stuffed into one arbitrary box or another. I am still the same person that I was last summer; and I have not had the time and space to accept that I must move on, because people are so eager to imagine me as the kind of person wholly unconcerned with things that concern stupider women - sex, men, relationships, domesticity. But I don't think this binary works, you know?

Why do we judge women so harshly for their attachment to men? Would the judgement be less scathing if I were more attached to women than to men? We do not condemn accomplished men to lifetimes of solitude; we do not expect them to perform some petty charade of pretending that they do not want a partner, or just a warm body at night; we don't expect them to hide the pain of breaking off attachments in pursuit of other things. I feel like I have to deny that I ever enjoyed any of my reckless pursuits, that I do not really miss it, when I do. For a woman to want a career, she is expected to accept solitude, even when we understand that for men solitude is unbearable. It is unbearable for anyone with half a heart, even if they have a brain. And every time I put words to my pain, people are quick to rebuke me, that smart girls don't need men. Of course girls don't need men. Women need men like a fish needs a bicycle. But I'm not made of stone. I had a rich inner life, of love and lust and friendship and fleeting acquaintences; the gender of any of the people in question doesn't matter. What matters is that I left it behind, that there were people who were important to me, that I grew attached but I had to leave nonetheless, and I miss it terribly, and that's not being weak. That's being human.

And now I must go back to my work. Because I have made this bed, and I must lie in it. Cold, and alone, and afaid, but at least it is my own doing. Because even though I doubt myself, even though I oscillate wildly between dedicated researcher and daydreaming romantic, this year has taught me one thing; whether I am lonely or not, I can trust only myself.