"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

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

violent questions.

When I was fifteen and talking to my best friend/pseudo-partner/emotional abuser, I said the word (I forget the context) 'filet'. Only I said it in the French way (it is, after all, a French word), as in 'fil-ay', because that was how my mother always said it, and I knew that the English language had lots of French loanwords and that we vaguely followed French pronunciation.

He immediately pounced. 'He' being a man, who was older than me (by six months, but a whole year in an academic context), and British. 'It's not fil-ay, it's 'fillet'. We're not French.'

It's hard to explain the impact of that moment. I've forgotten the specifics, but given that I only ever used that word in relation to my mother's cooking, we were definitely talking about my mother, and therefore my home and my only safe space (in spite of the multitude of inter-generational and inter-cultural conflict that is inevitable when two Asians try to raise Australian kids). My 'friend' was someone I respected enormously who had a lot of cultural privilege, as a British-born Australian, which is true even though I was born in Australia and English is my first and only language. The way he said it - in public, for multiple classmates to hear and snicker at, the hostility and aggression and condescension that was constantly threatening to erupt out of him; it was horrible. It was just a silly conversation about food, of all things, with someone who repeatedly claimed to be my dearest friend, but I remember feeling horrifically embarassed and ashamed; which is how all of us Mudblood Australians feel when we inevitably stumble into a faux-pas.

It's about six years on, and I've only just managed to convince myself of what I always knew to be true; 'filet' and 'fillet' are both perfectly acceptable words, in both pronunciations. Only six years, several years of estrangement from the 'friend' in question, and a degree in English to convince myself that I know how words work. For all my accomplishments, for all my certificates, for all the time I beat out other,whiter Aussies, I am deeply insecure about who I am and where I belong. We don't live in a world that is respectful and understanding of the multiple identities we may claim; we live in a world where people like me are suspicious, because we don't do what it says on the label.

I've always been a bookish person, which is not actually a particularly non-Asian trait; my mother was also into literature and poetry, back in the day, the only difference was that she was educated in Chinese and I was educated in English. I read the first Harry Potter book when I was five, and from six onwards I was considered particularly precocious at reading and writing. Some of it is natural instinct, that undeniable pull so many feel towards the written word. But some of it, I have to admit, was pride.

When you are someone like me - when you are a second-generation, mixed race Asian Australian who can only speak English - not being able to read and write and spell properly was not an option. I knew that from the moment I started school that people were going to assume the worst and that the only way to save face was to prove them wrong. Every nerd likes to come on top, but for me the stakes were higher; it was a way to say 'fuck you and all of your racist prejudices'. And it was the only way I knew how to prove my Australian-ness, because people are always itching to tear that away from me.

It is impossible to explain to white Australians how isolating, how othering, how dehumanizing to constantly be asked the endless variations of 'why aren't you white?'. For other immigrants, there is maybe a notion of home, some idea of origin or the motherland; for me, there is nothing. It's Australia or nothing, because the other places definitely do not fucking want me. When you grow up between cultures, you see the flaws and failures of all of them; but people are constantly telling you to deny reality, to not talk of unpleasantness, and simply spew patriotism from every orifice at every opportunity. Taking obscene and sometimes unjustified pride in being Australian is an essential part of being Australian; and when I was younger, I tried. When I tried to voice my distress at racism, people would say 'you're just Australian, so ignore it'. Australian-ness is presented as a protective amulet, and then just as you accept its dubious powers, people try to snatch it away from you. They tell you to be more Australian, and then all it takes is a stranger to say 'but where are you really from?' to remind you that no matter how hard you try, you'll just never be Australian enough.

It's not that I'm dying to be considered a true-blue Aussie, even though by every legal definition I am one. To grow up without an identity that everyone can agree on is a deeply traumatic experience, and an experience that is consistently ignored and marginalized because the number of people who experience it are small and voiceless. There are few people who understand what it is to grow up alone, isolated from community, to only have your family, but even they don't really understand what it is to be everything and nothing all at once. And it's even more painful that although I was born here, although I was raised here, although I have an Australian passport and Australian birth certificate and graduation certificates from Australian schools and universities, my Australianness is not innate, and can be taken away by random strangers on the street. And I am protective of my Australianness because, for all of Australia's flaws, I am afraid of what I am and how I would be treated without my Australian identity. Being Australian gave me access to free healthcare, to life-saving surgery. Being Australian gave me access to university, an opportunity many aunts, uncles, and grandparents were never afforded. I am not always proud to be Australian, but we all have qualms with our own churches. It is the belonging, the security, that I don't want people to take away from me. However inadequate a safety blanket being Australian is, without it, I have nothing.

Asking someone 'where are you from?' cannot in any way be considered an innocent or innocuous question. Not anymore. I am tired of accommodating white ignorance. There is a violence and hostility that fuels such demands, especially on strangers, that we cannot deny anymore. To forcibly remove from people the identity that is and always will be their birthright is deeply painful for we who have always existed in the fringes of communities, never fully accepted because we are too far from the norm. It is gaslighting on an institutional level; it is people - our teachers, our peers, random people at work, strangers when we're out buying carrots - constantly saying 'you do not look like me so you cannot be one of us'. Belonging, in this post-colonial world, is evidently not as simple as a few pieces of paper, no matter how well deserved or hard earned. Belonging is a privilege that is literally imbedded into skin; Australians have colour-coded their nationality, and I am not in the 'in' pile.

It saddens me, that identity remains so skin-deep. Australia has literally, in every possible way, created me. Australia is the country that brought my parents together, Australia is the country that resurrected me out of biological inviability. Australia is the country that has educated me to become this mouthy, outspoken, overly-loquacious intellectual snob. I am the product of a lot of effort, a lot of money, a lot of investment and wishful thinking; but all it ever feels like is that Australia is hellbent on throwing me away, because I'll never be a product that comes as described.

Which, you know, sucks.    

 

Monday, June 26, 2017

The Sparrow Lover's Wife

Nobody ever thinks of the sparrow lover's wife
Raising pigs alone
For a sparrow lover who never comes home 


I wish the sparrow lover's wife
Would pay the sparrow lover back in kind
Let the cuckoo wear cuckold's horns

It's true,
I was once the sparrow
But in truth, I'd rather be the sparrow's lover

To die in the middle
(To die in the heavens, no less)
Is a kinder fate than to live to the end.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Limbo

Now Playing: Liability by Lorde (so they pull back, make other plans; I understand - I'm a liability) 

I've been home for a month or so now.

Life is great. I help mum with laundry. I got a job. I procrastinate and put off things as always. Sometimes the dark clouds come but they're always gone by sunrise, only leaving behind strange purple bruises under my eyes. 

Going to Canberra was acting on the impulses of the very lonely child I once was. I spent a lot of time feeling stuck in Perth, feeling like I had nothing to lose; and then, of course, as I was leaving, I felt like I was losing everything.

When I left, I wasn't the desperately lonely child grasping for any chance to escape. I was a young, confident woman with friends and a partner and a life that was so incongruous with the big serious things I was throwing myself into. I've written before about how people never stop to think that the smart girl has feelings, has complex emotions and ideas about things that aren't strictly scholastic. Nobody will ever understand what I gave up on. 

It is hard to explain how utterly bereft I sometimes feel. For the first time in my life, I'm not really in any academic community, and I do miss it; and I do know, as I struggled with my demons, I was taking ANU for granted. Alma mater, indeed. Quod me nutrit me destruit. My friends have all moved on; we have all left each other behind. My dog died just before I got home and it has been...lonely. A year of gloomy solitude has not been enough to acquaint me with the kind of loneliness you feel deep in your bones; the kind of loneliness that simmers gently in the background and bursts into flames in the dead of night, when stray tears start to fall.

I live in limbo; too afraid to put down any roots, enduring the dreadful insecurity of living as a visitor, as a guest in a place you once called home. I feel like life is on hold.

But I have faith. I have faith that, one day, I will look back and have no regrets; in the same way that I look back at the things that devastated my younger self and can really only laugh. I take courage where I can and give thanks for all that I have. And I have never doubted myself. I never will. 

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Damocles

Look at you;
Hovering like a
Great, slimy insect -

Tell me,
Do I look like Damocles to you?

(What power do I have except over you?)

You forget;
I am Anne (sans tête)

Are you my Boswell or my Cromwell?
(Or possibly my Bothwell?)

Either way;
I have not tired of a life on one's knees, yet

Some men stand on their feet
And some on their hands
But all that matters is the gown on your back
And the hat on your head;

(And you, my Henry,
Have always worn a hat of someone else's choosing)

I am not afraid of you.
(I feel it, but I don't have to fear it)

There is only one terrifying spectre here.

You are the sword;
But I am the void.






Tuesday, November 22, 2016

I am a gush
It is everywhere
From my lungs
Between my legs
In my hair

(I see you
I see red)

Parched throat and trembling hands
Swarming flies and swimming eyes

(I see you
I see red)

I am all strange colours
Grey skin
Purple bruises
Pink eyes
Green tears

(I see you
I see red)

I have become a haggard old hag
The skin peels
The lip splits
The feet crack
The itch becomes a throb
Becomes a burn becomes black
And then it goes

(I see you
I see red)

You can cling to life with a fist
Only to have it drain away between your teeth
But my robot heart and zombie brain
Thump on, heartless
And so it goes

(I see you
I see red)

The bed is too small for me
My sorrow
And your ghost

(I see you
I see red)

I used to be oceans
But now I am just

Worn away by red rivers.

Friday, October 07, 2016

Toe.

I want to tell you why
I live my life on my toes

One,
Because this world is for big people
And I am small

And two,
Because you demand silence
And I am predisposed to roar.

Thursday, October 06, 2016

Checkmate

Well, now-
The die has been cast

Please keep in mind-
I hold the cards

My ace of spades
Is that I am not a game

My body is not your chequerboard
Your princess is in another castle

I am not your pawn
I was not made from stone

The ball is in my court;
But I will not play.


Sunday, September 11, 2016

dark cloud.

Now Playing: Sommeil by Stromae (et si je compte et je compterai pour toi, je te conterai mes histoires, et je compterai les moutons, pour toi) 

Ever since little me tripped and fell in love the first time and then cried her little heart out, people have been asking me what a tough modern girl like me was doing, crying over boys.

To be honest, I never understood it, either. I want to fall in love and get married in the same way I want a PhD - I know it's not for everyone, but it's what I want, at least for now, and it'll take a lot of work and also a lot of luck to make it all work out, and it might not work out after all. But either way, in love or not, with a doctorate or not, I recognise myself as a fully realized human being. I am not and never have been incomplete. I'm just ambitious.

The cold truth of the matter is that the end of a relationship, a crushing disappointment, the knowledge that people don't follow through simply because they don't care enough to...has always been a trigger for depression. My penchant for blue hour romances comes, at least in part, from this fear that I will fall down the rabbit hole again; when I was young enough so that my friends weren't getting engaged and married and pregnant left right and centre, I put off any notion of a long term relationship. My happiest, healthiest relationships are the ones that transitioned smoothly to friendship or even just vague acquaintence, but always with a lot of respect from all parties involved. It's really...it's really not that hard. Some of them even managed to do it as a) teenagers and b) quite drunk. I'm not the kind of person to expect or even want forever and always from every beautiful stranger on the street. I was just raised to have a shred of empathy and a touch of self-respect.

When you're a smart girl, people expect you to think rationally - but that's absurd. Young people are not rational; it's not easy to think about the solid benefits of a good education compared to the fleeting comforts of what once was when you're suddenly deprived of the rush, of the literal high. It's not easy to keep in mind that there will be time, later. I spent too long living in the now, I forgot about my whole childhood of coolly planning for the future.

When you're someone like me, with a lot of privilege but also with a lot of things working against you, you learn from a young age to take control of your own life. My life has been one shrewd decision after another, the decisions one can only make when one is fairly level headed, fairly self assured, and fairly insulated from such pesky notions as financial inviability of ones' ambitions. I have let my imagination run wild on what I can do, on what I can be. I'm re-reading Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and I remember, vividly, being fifteen, being stuck somewhere I didn't really want to be, under the authority of people who really had no business having authority at all (my school principal was Literal Umbridge). But back then I had this immense capacity for hope. I lived almost exclusively in dreams or in daydreams about the future. I wish I could ask my fifteen year old self how to do that, because I think I've forgotten. Because the truth is, as you get older, it becomes harder and harder to make shrewd decisions. When you're young and arrogant (and you have a formidable mother and Actual Dumbledore as your favourite teacher) it's easy to feel like destiny is just waiting for you. But the stakes get higher, the chances of failure get bigger, and some of the decisions you make...are not so shrewd after all. I am so used to my choices resulting in some benefit, in some improvement on my life, that when they are decisions concerning something so volatile as other people I am still not used to the shock of failing. I am well acquainted with failure, of course, but that's a personal thing; eating humble pie is a solitary task. Taking the fall for other peoples' stupidity is a misfortune I've never really reconciled myself with.

So, truthfully, I am depressed. I am constantly fatigued, but sometimes I can't will myself to fall asleep, or stay asleep. I struggle immensely with writer's block and anxiety and imposter syndrome. I'm afraid of the dark and long silences and loud noises. And sometimes I just cannot get out of bed, not even to just make a cup of tea and curl back up. I see my friends message me and all I feel is guilt at not responding, but not the actual drive to actually reply. I try to escape, try to plan for the future as I used to, the endless hours of pretty aimless research that used to bring me so much pleasure. A long, long, time ago, I felt this hollow. I can't remember when or how or why it ended, but it did. And that's the only light at the end of the tunnel for me, that dark clouds must eventually give way to the sun.

But I will no longer let myself feel ashamed about feeling this way. All my life people have made me feel guilty for the audacity to have feelings, to act on them, and to sometimes get hurt. My happiness is not contingent on the whims of others; but people should understand that actions have repercussions, and we all have a great capacity for cruelty and that all people - smart or not, rational or not, shrewd or not - will eventually find the straw that breaks the camel's back.

I am not weak for my demons. I am brave for overcoming them, for knowing that the only way out is through.



Thursday, September 08, 2016

The Other Weird Sister

I am the daughter of whores;
But greater men than you
Have kept better faith with us

You may not fear me, love
But you should fear blood
I am the kingmaker's daughter

What good is goodness here?
Man is a wolf to man;
Much less the lamb

Fair is foul and foul is fair;
When the hurlyburly's done
I'll do, I'll do, and I'll do

I have no breath for the wretched
'Tis too late for pity

I am Fury;
Fear me.




Saturday, August 27, 2016

It is four days til spring;
Already the sun has strength to it
(The rain is quite indignant)

Summer was a lifetime ago
And you are half a world away
In the autumn gloom you faded
I lost you to the winter chill

But it is almost spring, now
And my heart is full of wildflowers
In your tampering, I was tempered;
I bury my childhood with you.

One day, when you are an old man
You will think of summer
But I always dream of spring.