The Internet, the Rugby League, and Other Thoughts about Perfection
By Leah Jing
It is due to Australian National University that I exist, maybe. My father was finishing his PhD in Mathematics at ANU in the 1980s, when his supervisor decided to take a sabbatical to Stanford University.
There are many things perfect and imperfect about the time before The Internet. If the internet had been what the internet is now, maybe he wouldn’t have packed up his life into a single suitcase; maybe he would have remained in Canberra, content with the cold, Lake Burley Griffin, and an internet connection stretching thin between continents, over and under miles and miles of water.
But as it happened: he went: his body shifting, travelling through space, cells transported to a foreign-not-so-foreign land, where my dad, brow furrowed, asked for ‘take away’ at a diner, confusing a waitress (finally: oh you mean take out, honey!); he went camping in Yosemite, lost a shoe to the depths of the Grand Canyon, and, at some point, had his dinner stolen by a bear. He also, somehow, met my Mom, an artist, in the least likely place: working a casual job in the Stanford Math Department.
Take this into consideration: the first and only Chinese people my white, bespectacled, country-town father had met, before he left for Canberra, were the couple who owned and ran the only Chinese restaurant in town. And now, due to the lack of internet, a love of maths, and the gumption or stupidity to travel to California on an impossible budget, he fell in love with a Chinese-American girl.
There is perhaps one thing to know about my father: he has a ridiculous, deeply felt, absolute and abiding love for the Rugby League. He had left Canberra for California just before the 1986 finals, and the only way of learning the season’s result was via a letter, or a very expensive phone call, or by reading The Australian, delivered by Thursday lunchtime each week, to the Stanford library: news from the weekend, travelling across the seas, published a week and a half prior. News travelled slow. A temporal viscosity.
Unfortunately, by the time my father had arrived at Stanford, suitcase battered, cells transported, The Australian had finished their Rugby League coverage. A mathematician, he wasn’t and isn’t one to neglect numbers—he wrote to his mother for the score; she forgot to answer his query. So he sent another letter, asking again; his mother replied that she would send a copy of Rugby League Week magazine to him, and he waited impatiently, until a week later, the magazine arrived. But, to his great dismay, the latest copy had not yet arrived to their small country town, and—alas—she had sent him the copy printed the week prior to the Grand Final.
After a month of anxious anticipation, my father abandoned his attempt. He would not learn the final score until he returned to Australia, over a year later.
I think about: this desire to know the outcome of a ball, arcing through the air, a continent away. Is this perfection. Is it perfection to wait / is it perfection to know / not know / is it perfection to need to know. I think about my father meeting my mother who, prior to his goofy smile, had no reason to ever consider Australia. All things colluding: perfection in a single moment: two lives with one slender chance to collide.
Strange, somehow, that I was asked to commission and edit this project through the internet; that I met these writers mostly if not all through the internet; that I commissioned them through the internet; that this is published on the internet. Strange, now, that these things happen so fast (so slow), and I’d like to know: is this perfection? Is speed perfection, is this gradual, painfully slow acceptance of an Othered body perfection, is the desire for change perfection.
Sometimes when I hear ‘perfection’, I think of ‘perfect’ bodies, ‘perfect’ people: I think of anti-miscegenation laws, I think of a White and ‘perfect’ Australia. I think about racism and how it specifies what is perfect, what is not, asks us to create value down fault lines, requires that we see only flaws in our selves and in Others, demands fear, forces us to draw rings around ourselves, to make ourselves small. This misguided concept of ‘perfection’ has harmed countless people, is harming countless people. What is perfection to you. I would like to know. Refuse this concept of perfection, I would like to ask. To demand: make your own, and on your own terms.
And—I think perfection is—articulating the body (your body), understanding/demarcating difference, speaking and writing and carving oneself out into the world. Perfection is winding stories, poems, comics, essays, around us when we tire of writing our own; perfection is reading the words of others, letting them feed us.
My Dad, when I asked him about the outcome of the 1986 Rugby League Grand Final: You know, the funny thing is? I waited for so long, but now, I can watch the entire thing on my phone if I want to. He waves his phone at me. Look—
The perfection, of course, being not in the immediacy, but in the temporality, the moment, the wait. The perfection being in the fact he can show the game to his daughter, who he might not have met, if the internet had existed, back in 1986. ◯
Leah Jing is the founding editor of Liminal. In 2019, she is a Victorian nominee for Young Australian of the year, and is embarking upon her PhD in Cultural Studies at the University of Melbourne. She is a dedicated South Sydney Rabbitohs supporter.