Second Gen

My mum told me that she arrived in Australia with $150 in her bank account. It’s still difficult for me to imagine her willing to leave her home and take such a risk on a country she’d never even visited before on holiday. This isn’t a criticism because I’ve always taken comfort in the stability she provides, but my mum is the kind to check the stove twice before leaving the house. When I expressed my surprise she explained matter-of-factly that it was out of necessity, out of the hope of a better life.

My dad worked without sleep for twenty years. Sometimes he’ll offhandedly refer to the sacrifices he and my mum made so that I could have things they couldn’t. This isn’t a criticism of my him but it was a lot of pressure for a 9-year-old to handle.

’Living under the weight of privilege’ is a phrase you’d be justified in rolling your eyes at but that’s what it feels like sometimes. There’s pressure you place on yourself to succeed but the delineation between whether its for yourself or for the generations before you is unclear. There’s a feeling that you need to justify all the bets that were placed just so that you could grow up with hot water on tap. You feel guilty for finding any excuse to avoid working on your CV when you’re #blessed enough to walk into a job interview without the added anxiety of worrying you’ll take too long translating the questions from English into your native language in your head.

Career-based discussions have become a lot more common and less far-fetched now that I’m getting towards the end of my degree. The other day a friend offhandedly mentioned securing a full-time job through her dad’s friend and I was envious that my own parents hadn’t formed the connections that would give me a leg up. I conveniently (and brattily) forgot that moving countries away from their family and friends is potentially one of the leggiest ups they could given me.

Feeling sorry for yourself only leaves a bitter taste in your mouth after you remember that at least you have reliable electricity and more than one set of ‘Sunday clothes’. I’m lucky to come from a rich culture that has given me a true sense of community and a different outlook on life. My parents taught me the value of hard work, to look beyond myself and to be grateful for what I have. Maybe my HECS debt will be paid off one day, but there’s one debt I’ll have for much longer.

Beyond

I remember getting an email about an exclusive exchange opportunity a year ago to go to Austria and study international law. At the time I thought the program sounded great but quickly dismissed – mostly because it just wasn’t me. The idea of travelling halfway around the world to a foreign country by myself? I could never.

The other day I was accepted into that very same program for 2017. I’m excited and nervous but mostly proud of myself for pushing myself.

19 Things I like: August

  1. When someone texts me at the exact time I’m thinking about them
  2. Changing into my pyjamas as soon as I get home
  3. Cutting open an avocado when it’s perfectly ripe
  4. The smell of chlorine
  5. Waking up without feeling tired
  6. Completed to-do lists
  7. Green tea lattes
  8. Feeling filled with purpose
  9. When someone has seen and liked the same obscure, cheesy movie that I saw and liked
  10. Rifle Paper Co designs
  11. Using a new inky pen
  12. When appointments fit perfectly into the gaps in my schedule
  13. When I get to wake up without any plans
  14. Finishing a podcast episode and deleting it from my phone
  15. When people say something that surprises me
  16. The sense of community I feel when standing in the midst of people playing Pokemon Go
  17. Comprehensible academic essays
  18. Holding hands
  19. Peanut butter with banana on well-toasted toast

Dear Julie Koh,

(This initially started off as an email I was going to send but as it got more personal I decided I might post it here instead and send it off if I ever get the courage.)

Dear Julie,

I just wanted to say that ‘The Three-Dimensional Yellow Man’ is the only story I’ve ever felt was written for me. I felt that it expressed the shame that I’ve felt being yellow, the requisite guilt accompanying that shame, as well as the pride in my culture and anger at things beyond my control.

In an interview with Books and Publishing you made a comment that your adult life has been spent trying to demonstrate to people what you’re not, and I appreciate this because of how strongly I identify with it. It’s become second nature to me to view and consider everything I do through a set of ‘yellow’-coloured glasses to pre-empt the confirmation of a stereotype hanging over my head.

And to what end? Sure I can convince one set of people that I can speak up, that I’m not a docile little China doll. Though who really wins when on the days that I don’t feel like talking much, I’m the one who ends up kicking themselves? 

It’s disheartening how much of my time is spent on worrying about how others perceive me just because of the slant of my eyes, or attributing others with false motivations or assumptions they don’t have.

After reading your story I felt a strange combination of both sadness and quiet comfort in the fact that my experience as a yellow woman must be shared by others.

Thanks,

Michaela

Here is where I read ‘The Three Dimensional Yellow Man’ by Julie Koh at The Lifted Brow. It follows a yellow man who steps out of a movie screen into the world and becomes 3D. Obviously, I highly recommend it.

Here is the interview I mentioned from Books and Publishing which just went on to cement my newfound admiration.

I can’t wait to read Koh’s new collection of short stories Portable Curiosities.

I saw my life branching out

“I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.”

This is a classic passage from The Bell Jar by Virginia Woolf for good reason. It perfectly captures an anxiety often expressed by millennials as a result of the abundance of opportunities available to them. While this almost proves all the young-people-of-today-don’t-appreciate-the-chances-they’re-given, Woolf’s quote shows us that this feeling isn’t necessarily exclusive to a generation.

Though it’s undoubtedly beautiful writing, I can’t say that I share the sentiment at this time in my life. I feel more like Tarzan swinging from branch to branch in a bid to stay alive. Only there’s a tree-eating virus consuming the entire forest and it’s killing the boughs than I can swing. Any brach I even consider grabbing is devoured and disintegrates before my eyes before I can reach it.

Let’s Talk: Cartoons

In Michaela’s Museum of Idiotic Ideas and Additional Awful Alliteration there is one very large and very idiotic idea that I once held: I used to down on the idea of cartons for adults. I’d shrug and comment dismissively, “I just don’t get it,” probably thinking that I was just a little bit better than anyone who could be entertained by a media format created for children. Little did I know how wrong and simple-minded I was being. The half-hour comedy is an art form, they’re able to explore plotlines and gags that live action television can only dream of. I’m going to briefly set out the cartoons that changed my mind:

Of course, The Simpsons claims its rightful place at the top of this list. The Simpsons appealed to me as a child but only as I got older and understood some of the more complex jokes did I realise just how great of a show it is. Furthermore, it doesn’t hurt that quotes from this show are essentially a cultural commodity and so if you decide to cash in and start watching, you too will be able to use quotes from The Simpsons to bond with other comrades-in-television.

Next up, the iconic Daria, which I’ve written about before. I first watching Daria at 10 years old, probably before I could properly appreciate a large majority of the jokes but I loved it. I’ve re-watched Daria every couple of years or so and I enjoy it every time. Something about the sardonic teen really spoke to me then and continues to do so now.

A comedy about a family running a BURGER restaurant? How could I say no? I didn’t start watching Bob’s Burgers until it was well into its fifth season and I’m almost glad I slept on it for so long binging episode after episode was actually enjoyable if not incredibly unproductive.

Bojack Horseman is the darkest comedy on this list by far and definitely the most ‘adult’ cartoon here. It deals with some heavy themes and stars a deeply flawed main character, a horse who had his hayday (excuse me) during the 1990s when he was the star of a popular sitcom and who is now trying to make a comeback.

Honourable mentions: Rick and Morty and Archer

Erase Me

I wrote my first story at 5 years old. I then destroyed my first story at 8 years old. The reason I shy away from keeping daily recount style journals is because of my inevitable urge to destroy evidence of my past self. When reading Virginia Woolf, Joan Didion or Frida Kahlo’s letters I’m inspired to recount my own words and feelings at a particular time in my life. However, a year or even a few months after reading my own journal entries only inspires me to attack them with fire, scissors, scribble etc.

Just then, I talked myself out of going back through my old posts and deleting the posts which I felt weren’t ‘mature’ or that I didn’t feel really fit the person that I’m trying to present myself as right now. Though it makes me cringe I want to try to encourage myself to preserve the evidence of me as I was, as cringeworthy as it is. With time comes distance (I hope) and one day I might appreciate and find it more funny than embarrassing, more endearing than disheartening to remember what it was like to be me at a certain point at time.