When I think of what it is to level up, I think of my mother.
Few things may hold, but clichés, always.
She was born one of ten to schoolteachers in a small Malaysian rubber district. She taught herself English in primary school, singing.
She would take to her school courtyard and spin and dance with her friends, singing over and over, ‘Bombay dance, it’s Bombayish…’
She learnt to play netball and basketball so she could apply for a Rhodes Scholarship, which she did and won, later moving to a certain diversity-lacking Queensland coastal town in the early nineties with my father, to teach at a university less than a year old.
After I was born she learnt to drive so that both she and my father could work.
If she taught me something of survival, it was this: anything is possible with a little grit and singing.
Much of this issue, our first of 2017, evokes questions of metamorphosis, of nostalgia for what once was, of fear and excitement for what will be. We live in an unpredictable time, and in this issue we asked you to hold the lens to yourselves, to tell us how you keep up with a world that, even still, equates winning with whiteness.
It’s no news to any of us that in Australia, the playing field is tiered. Inherently uneven. Equality is not a given thing. It is to be worked hard at—harder still for some more than others. I think of this as the edition comes together. As the works roll in and each piece—including ones we didn’t have room to include—build a loose but definite narrative: an unabridged, unguided history of Australia’s post-colonised migrant beginnings. This defined always by violence, by our colonial present and colonial past.
While Level Up didn’t emerge from talk around diaspora, it became very clear early on that this idea—to ‘level up’—came hand in hand with migration. My parents left Malaysia to follow their better, imagined lives—in the same way that their parents, a generation earlier, left their mother countries to follow theirs. I spoke to my friends whose families shared similar experiences, whose lives were uprooted in the desire to step out into a new, better unknown.
Others spoke of migration as a matter of survival. A metamorphosis violent, necessary and forced.
Assembling the edition, I read Hania Syed’s ‘Threads of Thought’ and feel immediate resonance. That inter-generational desire to go out in search of something more—the clarity of the need making up for all that other unknowing. I read about how levelling up from a place between cultures means not always aligning with cultural expectations, and felt my own thread tug.
I talk with Bella Li about her new book, Argosy, and the idea of the unknown returns again and again. She speaks on her fascination for explorers, their—and her—fierce and inexplicable need to map the unchartered territory. She reminds me that disappearance does not just mean gone. That it goes beyond the act of not existing—becoming an invitation to openness, in life and poetry and art, no matter how painful or confusing the journey.
There was a gravitational quality to this theme, which pulled in close so many new voices. It was a delight to hear from them, to have them join our orbit, and us theirs.
Reading Mathew Ah Chow’s piece tackling the toxicity of Australian masculinity, I felt something in me resurface. I was reminded of how, growing up, assimilation was a matter of fact. How quietly we accepted this. How it incited no anger, as it does now. He speaks of rugby as way of reimagining his identity to align with ‘Australian ideals’. Of how embracing his new culture and home was only possible in the complete loss of his others, like baby teeth pulled out too early to make room for new.
CB Mako’s piece similarly questions identity, and these spaces for so-called Other identities. She approaches fanfiction as a way of retelling stories, of pushing them further beyond their immediate universes. She finds in fandom culture a way to reassert and reaffirm her voice, and I feel a serene solidarity, my own reaffirmation. Fanfiction becomes a way of making sense of the world, for carving out new spaces for silenced voices.
It was also wonderful to see our contributors take advantage of our digital format. ‘Fires’, a music video for Life is Better Blonde, directed by Natalie James, approaches Hollywood’s whitewashing head-on. It is visceral and captivating and unsettling as it should be. Virtual reality simulation is used to hold a light to the gaps in privilege, and it is stark and it is honest.
What I love about Level Up is this unevenness. So many voices, stories, experiences, lives banded together by this one thing, by this drive and certainty that we will push ever-upwards out of the playing field, beyond expectation (others, our own) and beyond stereotype.
In this edition, we’re getting even. Our contributors make that much clear.
We thank them and you, our readers, for making Peril the publication that it is—dedicated as ever to levelling out the platforms that give Australians spaces and voices for creativity and critique. As always, we welcome yours to this conversation.