CONTENT NOTE

Huyen Hac Helen Tran’s ‘Detox and Toxin-ated’ makes mention of racism.

I dance around. I make noise in my mind. They are colourful, ebbing, and large. These daydreams of mine: soft glow scenarios whipped up through whizzing pirouettes. Head up in the clouds, feet somewhere else sort of sense. As a teenager in front of my bedroom mirror, I was the first Asian–Australian to play Roxie from Chicago, my rendition of her titular song visceral and heartbreaking all at once. You felt my pain, you felt my obsession. Last night, I was on Australian Survivor. My carefully toned body looked great in my Set Active SculptFlex Espresso coloured sports bra and bike shorts. I conquered pushing a barrel up a steep slope with the help of my team, and no one underestimated me afterwards. Far-fetched, whizzing, spins that blur… though all in earnest fancy.

            Lately I’ve been thinking I’m closer to a scenario. There’s brunch and a drink on the table and I look at my friend, she squints because the sun is in her eye, so I laugh, and pick up my drink, and my drink is an iced green juice. My Glossier lip gloss stains the paper straw. The drink proves an epitome of grandeur to me. I focus on its ability to oscillate down my throat and through my body, not as a thing of anatomy, but as a thing of pure intent. Intent to break down and nourish and fill and soak. The grandiosity is in the simplicity. Fruits and vegetables squeezed for the last drop.

            I am having a good time. I haven’t seen my friend in ages, and this is my new favourite café because it has good coffee as well. Then I’ll go home, do some work, work out, work again. Be productive, challenge my co-workers with natural synergy flowing from my core to my brain to my fingertips. I, the artist, line the dominoes up, then knock them down in perfect formation. With cosmic fabula I elevate my ordinary life to one that makes me beautiful. Readymade, as Marcel Duchamp would say. My insides all at the same time savour and simmer on, as if it were a precious gem embedded in my stomach, the natural elegance of being that woman. The one who through remarkable self-respect can start the day and sustain herself on the ease of a natural provision such as juice.

            Such is the dream, wrapped inside an ever-tightening lasso, catching wind. Shall I try and pack in as many metaphors as I can? I will try, for it is in my nature, just as it is to persist for a present that will determine a future that has already been made through my past. To have been readymade as the dream is to catapult into and fill a future space with attention and singularity. No room for loss, no room for regret. Watch how the lasso’s whirs create an unbroken halo of light. Watch how the cleanly manicured hand is a curator of fulfilled aspiration…

            I’m Googling again, and Jia Tolentino says ‘[M]ost women believe themselves to be independent thinkers’, then of course she tells me they’re not—not in the theme park of the wellness culture et al. I am automatically inclined to disagree, and feel my cheeks burn at the potential shame that I may not even own my brain. I feel naïve, and then hope I am, then hope I am not. I read other facts aimed to shock, like how much the wellness industry made in 2020. I click through photo carousels of celebrities walking down LA streets holding their favourite juices. I read about how mushrooms are the next health trend and then feel indignant because I’ve been into mushrooms lately but I’m pretty sure I’ve always been so what’s with everyone being into it now? 

            I do not avoid what I’m moving toward. Of course, I am speaking about the flesh of the fruit, and that is the pulsating expression of sex, isn’t it? Of my sexual self, of the woman who knows what she wants, wields her power, though delicately. The orange squeezed, crushed upon itself, drop lapping over drop till it’s drip-fed down my throat. I’m optimistic that I wield the sweetness of fruit.

            I learn all about how cold-pressed juices are made—slow pulverisers and a hydraulic press to extract every drop and ensure the oxygen is completely punctured out. I close my eyes and see an orange now, cut in half and atop a stainless steel contraption. All around me rows and rows of them on a factory floor. I, the worker instead, tie up bags filled with orange halves and dispose of them. Pulverised flesh, sticky beneath my fingers, a mess to clean up. Sticky floor too, my footprint stuck to it by accident, then a puddle nearby; the orange cellophane tinge to it makes it look like piss. Gross. But the good stuff heads on out through tubes connected from the hydraulic contraptions to a production line that squirts that good stuff into plastic bottles.

            In this rendition of myself, manipulated and pressed into the bottle, I’m convinced of its aphrodisiac qualities. I move past any gaps and ellipses that being the worker or artist purports, that unending production line of idealisation. Focus on the good stuff. The essence is the matter, and the matter is utopic. Perhaps we can talk about the idea of indulgence. It’s indulgent for me to play in this scenario, to treat myself as a liquor, something sexy, something easy, something that makes my skin cold to the touch. The way the hydraulic press crushes down. I want it cold pressed. I want a gua sha rubbing against my face. I want the blood capillaries in strips raw beneath my jaw and I want to make and drink the juice, feel the coolness, smooth out the wrinkles, close my pores, decongest the congestion. I cringe when I see Cassie in Euphoria  get up at 4 a.m. to get readymade, for I feel a pit inside instead, one of jealousy that wishes I had the self-respect to do the same thing. Wrong message, wrong message, wrong message. But what I wouldn’t give to be juicy, to take a photo of clear skin and dainty eyelashes and hope that others see my self-respect, for I hope they find it sexy, the way I will find myself sexy. If only it didn’t all hurt so much.

            I open my eyes. In my stomach, acidic and rancid now, turned a murky dark colour, squashed up against the lining inside of me. With the jealousy, the anger, I think I could’ve and should’ve avoided it all. I’m still better than all the white women because I am Asian, and therefore I could just go to a Chinese herbalist in Cabramatta, right? Perhaps the mushrooms would come in a little brown paper bag, the musk of them perfuming my shopping bag.

            The pain here is that I feel even phonier, the melange of dealing with a sickening bout of internalised racism (I think…). Some undecipherable fallbacks onto my Southeast Asian roots and heritage that makes me think I deserve these juices and mushroom powders more, more, more than who? This all, despite not having grown up with any of these items in my life. I am the original ‘spiritual’, right? If anything, I should know best how to connect to my soul, myself, the vast sea of self-improvement and all its tangible goodies, no matter what iteration they are presented to me in.

            When I enact the original spiritual, I move away from my formative years, the ones where I’m at the BKK Centre in Cabramatta asking for lychee and strawberry and watermelon and longan juice. Instead, I am that woman, at the café with my friend, revitalised within. I look good, something feels good, therefore I am good.

            Back to Duchamp’s ‘readymades’. Perhaps blasphemy the way I’ve been speaking of him. The readymades being that ‘an ordinary object (could be) elevated to the dignity of a work of art by the mere choice of the artist.’ Duchamp defies the notion that art must be beautiful, but when a bicycle wheel is presented on its own in a pristine white room, the ogling cannot be contained. Thus, I don’t avoid this connection in my mind, the one that says all is beautiful. The juice going down my throat is beautiful because I feel it, because I wield it the way I wield my sexual agency. Naïve to imagine that I have a say in this. I am bitter and self-aware enough to know I am not the artist, perhaps I never was. Are any of us? Again, pit in the stomach and lassos whirring faster and faster. There must be artists in the world, or what would this all be? I know Duchamp wouldn’t give me the time of day; say I’m grossly misinterpreting his work. Maybe I’d force him in a corner of conversation, one where he says I am art because I am ordinary. Should expensive juice bother me this much? Maybe I’m scooping out my mind for no good reason, but I know something, and the something is that I fear Marcel Duchamp would be hard-pressed to find any eyes who can already see what makes this world beautiful.

            My disenchantment, my yearning, and my anger make me selfish. It could be boiled down to a couple of sentences if I had to. I’m angry that companies owned by affluent white people are convincing me that the how-tos of a nourishing and well-oiled lifestyle are a combination of self-restraint, money spent in the right places and something that feels stolen. I’m angry that being a Southeast Asian woman must mean I should already know or care about these things, so why do I only listen when it’s an LA brand selling me powdered juice that will energise me the same way instant coffee does? I’m angry that I can’t beat myself at my own game, and I’m jealous that I haven’t the faintest clue how to do it like the hot girls do it.

            If only I could. If only I could. Look in the mirror. There’s a coldness there, but it’s not pretty. It’s not nice. It’s the bad kind of icy, the kind that neglects to find the floor, yet weighs my daydreams down. The kind that makes my leg shake, feels my back break, all while standing on that stage, singing the same refrain repeatedly, hoping someone notices me. 

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