The Things That Matter

Street at NightLast night, somewhere around 1 am, I lay down in the middle of an empty street and listened to the silence of the pavement. The sky was blank. It wasn’t clear enough to see the stars, and light pollution had turned the black into grey. My hair was pressed against the gravel, but I didn’t think about what had been there before me and what would come after me. I gambled my life. The first time a car passed, I stared at my illuminated feet and waited for the light to pass. The second time a car passed, I sat up and looked into the headlights, wondering if perhaps I should be afraid.

I was not afraid.

There are so many things that can go wrong. You can avoid cigarettes, except that one puff when peer pressure overcame your sense of self-preservation, and die in your 30s of lung cancer. You can strip and go skinny-dipping in a pool of water so clear you can count the guppies at the bottom and contract an amoeba that snacks on your brain. You can follow your friend down a snowbank, steeper than you would like, and tumble as your skis snap and mark a trail of death behind you. What is the difference between me and a skydiver or a Nascar driver or a free solo climber? The fact that their pursuit requires a degree of skill, and therefore nobility? I don’t think we’re all that different. In the end, we’re all looking for momentary solace in a world that strips humans of the very thing that defines us.

The heartbeat. The pulse. The multiplication and division of cells. We’re the only species in this world that has long forgotten what it feels like to fear for our lives a dozen times between breakfast and dinner. We’ve forgotten what it means to be alive, because we’ve forgotten what it is to face death. The domestication of humans goes far beyond that of cats and dogs. Did you know that, upon successful intercourse, a female cat writhes and thrashes like an eel out of water? It’s instinctual. Somehow, it helps the sperm meet the egg. Can you imagine what would happen if a woman did that every time post coitus? It would be weird, terrifying even. But they’re not the weird ones; we are. We, who’ve lost the instinct to be human, except perhaps for the Duggars.

These are the things that matter.

No, I don’t mean birthing 19 children, either out of desire to please your lord or manipulate natural selection. I mean maintaining some sort of connection with the most basic human urges, emotions, sensations. We’re not designed for today’s society, one that defines us by our LSAT score, GPA, and salary. In the context of life and death, who the hell cares about what you do for a living? Who cares if you’re Ivy League-smart or Victoria’s Secret-beautiful? Who cares about your idealistic and ultimately selfish passion to change the world? Who, besides your mother, cares that you have three novels in the drawer and you’re the next Virginia Woolf? I know that, if I saw the dark at the end of the tunnel, I would care about what I’d done. I would care if I had felt everything the human experience has to offer. The light and the heavy. The pure and the despicable. The ice and the fire. I would want to have suffered great lost. I would want to have lost great love. I would want to have hated, as evidence that I had loved. I would want to have cried, as evidence that I once laughed.

These are the things that matter.

Last night, as I looked that oncoming mass of metal in the eye, and saw the light that could take me to dark, I knew that I hadn’t lived enough. I wasn’t ready to die. I hadn’t done enough, felt enough, loved enough. I would have been sad to be taken. But you know what? Almost. I’ve almost had enough, if enough even exists. I could have left yesterday without what-ifs and do-overs.

These are the things that matter.

Not A Humble Brag

Rebecca Cao Happy

I wake up and smile.

I haven’t been blogging much these days, and I’m really sorry. There have been times when I thought of something I could write about, but by the time I sat down, I lost the impulse. Part of that has been my extremely busy schedule. After a 9-5 day (okay, more like 9-4), my brain is absolutely fried. I think I need to learn how to take breaks. Now I finally understand the need for all those NSFW tags — it’s because people spend half their workdays on Reddit. I think it’s nearly impossible for anybody to work nonstop at full productivity for 8 hours. I’ve always hated taking breaks because I feel like they’re stop signs in the middle of a highway. After I put on the brakes, it takes so much more gas to accelerate back up to 80 mph. Anyway, so I’ve been working 7ish hours straight every day and I come home and drift in and out of consciousness for a few hours. On a good day, I manage to clean the litter box and wash my dishes. Then, I usually have something to do in the evening like teach GRE, play squash, or hang out with friends.

So yeah, busy’s been part of it. You know what the other part was? I’m simply not angsty enough. Me, not angsty. A foreign idea, right? I’m not angry enough to rant about the injustice of the world. Sometimes, I get mad at arrogant, judgmental people and I almost want to lecture them about their narrow-minded ideas, but my anger quickly dissipates. Eventually, all I want to write about is how well life is going for me. And, well, nobody wants to hear about that. I know that I get annoyed every time someone posts a selfie of herself in Paris for her study abroad program and captions it: “My life is amazingggg OMG!”

I didn’t want to write a humble brag. But I really am inspired now to share a few things with you, so hopefully it doesn’t come off as that way.

I’ve learned more about myself, what I care about, what I want, and what I need in the past few months since my graduation than in my entire college career combined. College is a great time where you’re shielded from responsibility, insulated from the harsh realities of the adult life. I loved all four years of it. But goddamn, I do not want to go back. Recently, I made a new friend who just started her first semester and I love reliving my freshman year through her. I’m so glad, though, that I’ll never have to go back. Adulthood is hard. Adulthood means that everything falls on you, and I’m not just talking about the bills. What I mean is that you have to learn how to take care of yourself, in every sense. It means sticking your hand down the drain to scoop out rotten food. It means doing the dishes within 24 hours because that stuff bothers you now. It means asking your landlord to fix the water pressure in the bathroom. It also means not freaking out when you leave the dishes in the sink too long and fruit flies invade your kitchen.

Yes, adulthood is hard. But it’s also rewarding and liberating. I’ve never given less a shit about absolutely everything, and that’s awesome. I’m not apathetic; I’m still very passionate about my goals and dreams. I’ve just learned to accept and embrace failure. I’ve learned that I don’t have to be the best. I’ve learned that there are hundreds of jobs I could have, hundreds of places I could live, hundreds of people I could befriend…and with any combination of the three, I would be happy. Because I am happy now. I am happy now at what is arguably the most lacking point of my life. I don’t have money; I don’t have a family (as in husband, dog, baby, white-picket fence); I don’t really have a career. And yet I feel like I have so much. I have people who care about me, I have the best job I could have at this moment, I have a beautiful apartment, I have the best kitty.

I have possibility. I just applied to my sixth law school today and I could be hearing back in the next few weeks. I have a very good chance at getting into my dream school, and I’m surer than ever that I would be happy there. I’m ready to move to New York — Big Apple, bring it on. A while ago, I mused about the conundrum of having it all. Was it possible to have it all? Did we already have it all? You know what I think now? I do have it all. I have absolutely no complaints about my life right now. I don’t think I’ve said anything negative about my life to anyone, including myself, for many months. I wake up, I see my cat patiently waiting for her breakfast, and I smile.

Blueberry Being Cute

What does happiness feel like for you?

Au revoir,

R

I’m Writing Again

What's the flame in your heart that can't be extinguished?

What’s the flame in your heart that can’t be extinguished?

I know I’ve been missing in action for a while. No, I’m not dead — I’m writing again. Yes, I’ve said that a few times already, but the truth is that I haven’t really been writing. I haven’t committed, in the way that you must when you take on a project as time-consuming, demanding, and narcissistic as a novel. The novel tugs at your shirt sleeves all day and all night, asking, “Am I good? Am I bad? What am I? Who will love me? Where are you taking me? Are we there yet?” Sound familiar? I’ve compared novel-writing to human gestation before and the analogy is truer than ever. You can’t just grow a human half-heartedly, tending to its needs when it’s convenient for you. Morning sickness doesn’t care that it’s nighttime. Your burgeoning belly and heavy feet are a daily reminder of the commitment you’ve undertaken.

I haven’t had the time to write for a while now. Before that, I didn’t have the emotional and creative fuel. My last novel was a enormous undertaking that I was ultimately unable to carry and I was left with its carcass in my arms, desperately trying to turn skin and bones into the living. It took more than half a year to move on. And then I felt it again — that itch, that urge that told me something was missing. That told me I could never be whole, could never be me, without my writing.

So I took my already jam-packed busy life and carved out some room. This past week, before work, during my breaks, while I proctored the ACT, all weekend long, I wrote. Starting today, I’m gradually shifting my sleep schedule so that I can put in two hours every day before work. I don’t know where this project is going yet — it’s still in those early stages, the ones fraught with doubt. It could easily be discarded, but I’m okay with that now. At this point in the game, I’ve learned to let go of the ones who don’t make it. It’s easier to say goodbye at 2 weeks than 40.

Recently, I talked about the pressure of publication. The truth is that it’s both a pressure and a hope. As long as that hope is alive, it keeps the light in my heart burning. As long as I have hope, I will keep writing. And the day I lose that hope, I will be just as relieved as I will be melancholy. Because then I will be able to write solely for myself, and that is a freedom. Either way, I will never, ever stop writing.

That is how I know I’m a writer.

A Declaration

Back then, at first snow, I'd rush outside with my film camera.

Back then, at first snow, I’d rush outside with my film camera.

It’s been a while since I felt like this. I don’t remember when the last time was — perhaps a year ago, two years ago? I know that I was good at feeling like this when I was younger. Before I broke hearts and had my heart broken. Before I cared more about my GPA than my Friday night plans. Before I started writing fiction for publication instead of for myself. Back then, I just didn’t give a damn. I lived on my whims, chasing every possibility that fluttered my way. My greatest fear was missing out on an aspect of the human experience.

So yes, in short, I was young and stupid.

Although I have no desire to go back to young Rebecca, this feeling I used to have so frequently is something I’ve missed without knowing it. It’s the feeling I’d get every time I turned to the first page of a crisp new book. It’s the feeling I’d get every time I walked through security at the airport. It’s the feeling I’d get every time I woke up early and counted the dew drops on blades of grass, felt the frigid air piercing my skin. When it beckoned to me, I’d drop anything and follow it. I drove halfway to Mackinac Island once before Phineas convinced me to come back to Ann Arbor, where I had a midterm scheduled on Monday. I skipped my classes to go to Starbucks and write angry, angsty short stories about men who cheated on their wives. I made playlists filled with Leonard Cohen and Florence and the Machine, and listened to them on repeat.

How to describe it? It’s a thirst for life. Excitement for endless possibilities. Curiosity for the unknown. Naïveté of the innocent.

This feeling used to consume me, ridding my life of consistency, responsibility, accountability. It was a miracle I didn’t fail any of my courses, and I know that I was lucky. If you were my friend during this time, I sincerely apologize. I was a shitty friend, if you could even count on me to show up. To the men I hurt, je m’excuse. I used you to get the same high that life gave me. I loved you for loving me, for broadening my human experience, but you deserved to be loved for more than that.

Slowly, I relinquished the feeling. I stopped feeling as if, every day, there was something bigger out there calling my name. I didn’t feel the need to escape. I found comfort in doing exactly what was expected of me. I began to feel as though I’d experienced it all — short of marriage and motherhood, life had little else to offer me. You could say that I simply grew up, and that that’s okay. But you know what? That’s not okay with me. I’m 22 years old, and I’ve only experienced a fraction of the world. I’ve met so few people and seen so few sunrises. Everything is out there. Everything is possible. Everything awaits me.

This is a declaration. To never fail to be in awe of life. To know that, above all, what matters more than anything is to live. To taste every experience, to hoard them and devour them, to remember them. Children are so much better than we adults are at simply living, appreciating each moment for what it truly is. They see straight through the bullshit that society constructs — resumes, salaries, credentials. Though I’m going to keep showing up at work and tracking my budget, I don’t want these things to consume me. I don’t want law school to define me. I want to know that, at any moment, I could step away from my career, move to rural China, and be okay with that. I don’t want to become so attached to any city, job, or house that I couldn’t walk away. The only things I wish to hold tightly are the people, the memories, and the cat.

Yes, this cat.

Yes, this cat.

Do you think you’ve become jaded as you’ve grown older? What do you miss about your younger self?

À plus tard,

R

10 Things I Learned in My First Week of Work

Fruit Basket

Chocolate-covered strawberries = another reason why I have the best job.

When I first decided to take a gap year, I thought I knew exactly what I would be doing. Either a Fulbright or Princeton in Asia scholarship, one that would take me overseas and thousands of miles away from Ann Arbor. I didn’t allow myself to consider the possibility that both would reject me. Okay, well maybe my parents forced me to consider it briefly. Even then, however, I was confident that I would find a nice-paying yearlong position in NYC or DC or even Paris. When my plans started unraveling one by one, my trepidation grew. What if I couldn’t find anything to do for an entire year? The workaholic in me blanched. What if, because I didn’t have the prestige of Fulbright or PiA attached to my name, my law school application failed? The overachiever in me stewed. What if, because I made a mistake in my applications, it prevented me from having a once-in-a-lifetime experience? The idealist in me mulled.

My decision to stay in Ann Arbor was less a decision than a consequence. After applying to positions all over the globe, most in the nonprofit legal field, I realized that these jobs were 1) far and few between and 2) highly competitive. Less than a week after I emailed MIRC about internship opportunities, however, my now supervisor responded. He said that they were always looking for interns, and that I should come in for an interview. At first, I was skeptical. This was just too good to be true — their website stated that they only looked for law students for interns. During the interview, he asked me more questions about my schedule than my experience. I’m pretty sure he barely glanced at my resume. Just like that, I was hired.

Then, I proceeded to spend a month visiting various friends and family around the world. I had no idea what awaited me upon my return. On Tuesday, July 8th, I got up after a less-than-ideal night of sleep, gave myself a pep talk, and walked over to Huron Street. This past week, I had my first full week of work. It was more challenging, rewarding, inspiring, fulfilling, and interesting than I could ever have predicted. Though I still have a lot to learn, I’m starting to realize why taking a gap year is so important. And I wanted to share all the things I’m learning with you.

10 Things I Learned in my First Week

  1. How to operate a phone. All you older people can laugh at me now. It’s been a while since I used a phone with an actual cord and receiver. Apart from technical issues, I’ve always dreaded talking to people over the phone. I stutter, I’m awkward, and I forget what I wanted to talk about. After answering the phone dozens of times a day and speaking to people in formal Spanish and French, however, I’m just relieved when I can begin with a simple, “Hi, Michigan Immigrant Rights Center.”
  2. How to operate a copy/fax machine. Similar to the dilemma above, I’ve always had an irrational fear of copy/fax machines. Seriously, I think they will eat me or give me cancer, something like that. Unfortunately for me, I’ve had to get over this phobia pronto, as everything we mail in our office must be copied and stored in the client’s file.
  3. Every question on the N-400 in English, Spanish, and French. This is the naturalization form and it’s 21 pages long. My favorite question is 13A, especially the WTF faces it always gets from the client: “Between March 23, 1933 and May 8, 1945, did you work for or associate with in any way with the Nazi government of Germany?”
  4. That I’m okay with Spanish and French. I was terrified that my language skills wouldn’t hold up in daily conversation or on-the-spot interpretation, but I’ve fared better than I thought. I still have a long way to go, but I feel proud to be able to translate entire legal documents on the fly.
  5. That abuse doesn’t discriminate. Many of our clients seek our guidance because they are trapped in domestic violence situations. Sometimes, they are women. Sometimes, they are men. Sometimes, they are old. Sometimes, they are young, younger than me.
  6. That citizenship is a huge privilege. Many of us born in the United States take our American citizenship for granted, but it is such a privilege that we didn’t earn. So many people around the world would give anything for that status. Lack of citizenship makes it impossible for people to work, to see their families, to escape totalitarian regimes.
  7. That marriage is a big deal. Legally, I mean. Just looking through divorce and child custody agreements makes me think twice about getting married. No matter what you do from the moment you are married, like file for a tax return or apply for naturalization, you are bonded to your spouse. There’s even a question on the N-400 that deals with your spouse’s prior spouses. You have to know their date of births, immigration status, date of marriage. It’s absolutely insane, especially for a client who isn’t in contact with her spouse because he was abusive to her.
  8. What I want in a job. I know now, more than ever, what I’m looking for in a future career/job. I always knew that academia wasn’t for me; it’s too abstract and not sufficiently hands-on. I like to see immediate results and work directly with the people I’m helping. Moreover, I want to look around at my colleagues and realize that everyone is working for the right reasons — not for money or prestige, but for passion and the desire to change the world.
  9. That I’m definitely going to law school. You might wonder why I’d even doubt this, as I’ve already taken the LSAT and started my applications. But I’ve always been a fickle person, and I left room for myself to change my mind. Now, I’m more sure than ever than a legal education is necessary for me to make the kind of impact I want to in society. After talking to several people in law school, I’m hopeful that I’ll enjoy the process as well as the result.
  10. That my life is damned good. I’m not trying to brag or anything. Happiness is relative, after all. But working with under-privileged people every day makes me feel so, so lucky for the life that I have. They remind me of what really matters in life — being safe and being with the people you love.

In short, I couldn’t be happier with my job. I’m excited to get to the office every day and I couldn’t think of a better place to spend my gap year. Things really do work out for the best.

Did you take a gap year? How did starting you first job change your perspective?

Ciao,

R

Life Is Good

I’ve always been bad at recognizing when my life is good. Alternatively, I’ve been just as bad at recognizing when my life is bad. Like many who have suffered, the one thing I constantly sought was familiarity. In my mind, familiarity was good. It didn’t matter if I was trying replicate abusive relationships. Or if I was chasing after people I knew would abandon me. Or if I was deeply unhappy. What mattered was that it was familiar. For a long time, familiarity was all I had and I learned to take comfort in it. A few nights ago, I was telling my friend about how the happiest times of my life were during college. He looked at me and shook his head. “No, Rebecca, all I remember from that time is you telling me how unhappy you were.”

I don’t know which one of us is right — Rebecca circa 2011 or present Rebecca. It could have been that I was happy then and I didn’t know it. More likely, I really wasn’t happy then, but it was familiar and, with all the change in my life recently, I long for familiarity.

These past few months, though, I’ve been fighting hard for what I actually want and deserve. I’ve been fighting to let go of familiarity. It’s a tough fight. This morning, I walked to the CCRB from my apartment in Kerrytown. As I passed East Ann, the street behind my old church, I let out a cautious breath. I was nervous to run into one of them, the churchgoers. Under their judgmental eyes, I always feel defensive, like I have to prove to them that I’m better off now then I ever was with them. But I knew that it was pointless, that they would believe whatever they believed, and I could do nothing to change that. With a shrug of apathy and acceptance, I was on my way. While I was on the treadmill, I smiled to myself and thought, “Every Sunday morning that I’m in the gym instead of church, that is a good thing.”

There are many other good things in my life right now. Last week, I started my yearlong internship at MIRC, and I couldn’t be happier. The people I work with are amazing, from my heart-of-gold boss to my fellow intern to the clients who need so much help. As an extrovert, I love getting to interact with people every day, 9 to 5. Although I used to feel overwhelmed and trapped by routine, I’m appreciating it more and more these days. I guess I’m getting old. Last night, the house party next door was blasting horribly obnoxious techno music. Instead of feeling left out of the fun, I growled, “Ugh, kids these days” and went to sleep on my spare bed to get away from the noise. Jesus, I’m ancient.

I’m learning to live for myself. I cooked one of my signature dishes yesterday, teriyaki chicken with peppers. It was the first time I’d made it for just myself, and it tasted just as sumptuous as ever. I’m still enjoying my apartment — while it has a few shortcomings, it’s by far my favorite place I’ve ever called home. I’m realizing that there are many people who loved me and do love me, from my family to my friends to my former lovers. They have given me so much and taught me so much; I feel incredibly grateful for the way they have loved me. Though I’m no longer speaking with all of them, their words of encouragement, support, and criticism still echo in my head.

The best part of my life right now? This face:

Green-eyed Blueberry

Blueberry Likes Windows

Blueberry Naps

Seriously, look at that face! How can life not be good when you wake up to and come home to this pretty girl?

Are you content with your life? What does it take to make you happy?

À la prochaine,

R

I’m Obsessed with My Apartment (and Candles)

Since I flew back to the states on Monday, I’ve been fighting jetlag to turn my apartment into somewhere I’m happy to live. As of today, now that my beautiful hardwood floors are finally clean, I think it’s time to call it a success! I even managed to do all the moving myself. The apartment was already furnished, so I didn’t have to do that much heavy lifting. I made a few mistakes (note to self: silk sheets are highly overrated), but I’m really satisfied with the result. There’s nothing too fancy — most of the decor came from my previous dorm room life. However, the place looks decidedly un-dorm-room-like. It’s all grown up, which means *gasp* maybe I am too.

In other news, I’m now obsessed with candles. I’ve been going through tealights like chainsmokers go through cigs. I’m afraid I’m gonna burn the place down one of these days…shh, don’t tell my landlord.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Without further ado, voici mon appartement!

That rug is so ridiculously plushy. And soft mm...

That rug is so ridiculously plushy. And soft mm…

Spare bed for friendly people.

Spare bed for friendly people.

I have a plant!

I have a living plant! (For now…)

Unhealthy obsession with candles.

Unhealthy obsession with candles.

Much better after replacing sheets.

Much better after replacing sheets.

Monet is my nightly inspiration.

Monet is my nightly inspiration.

So who’s coming over to visit?

À plus tard,

R

CW: The Single Life

Coping With...This post is part of the Coping with… series, in which I will share my experiences with Borderline Personality Disorder. Whether you also have BPD or you struggle with depression, anxiety, and stress, I hope this series will be helpful to you.

There are many reasons why being single is so difficult for those of us with BPD and other similar disorders. I think it’s really important to acknowledge why it’s so hard before attempting to get past it. In Plato’s Symposium, he tells this myth to explain romantic relationships. According to him, humans used to be both male and female, therefore whole. But in their contentness, they had no need and began to rival the gods. As punishment, Zeus split all humans into male and female. From then on, they were condemned to wander the earth searching desperately for their other half, imperfect in all the ways they were. This lack of wholeness, or emptiness, is amplified tenfold in people with BPD. Ever since my first real crush at 16, I have believed that I needed someone to complete me. I chased one guy after another because the brief euphoric high I felt when they liked me back, kissed me back, touched me back, made it all worth it. Freshman year, I fell into a religious cult after they convinced me that God was the one who would make me whole.

Months of prayer later, I felt as empty as ever.

When you have BPD, you often forget who you are. One therapist described BPD as such: it’s like you’re always standing in the midst of a hurricane and your likes and dislikes are road signs. They exist, they are there, but whether they are visible entirely depends on the intensity of the storm. When every fundamental thing about you can change at any moment, you end up in a perpetual identity crisis. This not only makes you feel empty, it also makes a romantic partner all the more appealing. Although everyone desires on some level to be known, BPDs need someone to be their baseline, their sanity check, their historian. Correction — they believe they need that person. Because non-BPDs make it so easy. I often relied on my ex-boyfriends to tell me who I was. “When I see you, Rebecca, I see someone who’s terribly naïve and innocent, but badly scarred by life.” “I don’t think you know what you want.” “I make you happy, but you’re never going to be satisfied with me.” The problem with my behavior was that 1) my exes weren’t always right about me and 2) it made for horribly codependent relationships.

Taken before heading out to explore Shanghai solo. I made it to the National Museum, the Bund, and Din Tai Fung, but it wasn't pretty. As in, I spent a few hours crying in a fully packed movie theater.

Taken before heading out to explore Shanghai solo. I made it to the National Museum, the Bund, and Din Tai Fung, but it wasn’t pretty. As in, I spent a few hours crying in a fully packed movie theater.

The biggest lie that we BPDs tell ourselves every day is that we cannot be alone.

It’s simply not true. Yes, it’s damned hard to be alone. Sometimes, it feels like we don’t exist anymore. Sometimes, it feels like nothing is worth it anymore. Sometimes, it feels like we could die and it wouldn’t even matter. The temptation to chase another forbidden fruit is hard to resist. I’ve been single for all of 21 days (woohoo!), and I really wanna text my hookup buddy. But I know that, at this moment, I’m too fragile to handle a casual relationship. Plus, I’m pretty sure he had feelings for me towards the end and was pissed I started dating someone else. Even though I don’t owe him anything, he’s still human, and he doesn’t deserve for me to bait him back into my life only to ditch him for another dude. Because the truth is that, as cute as hookup buddy is, he’s not someone I really want in my life. Admitting that is much more difficult than you might think.

Yes, all of this is hard, but we can do it. The day we learn to be our own baseline, sanity check, and historian is the day that we begin to feel whole.

Has your mental illness threatened to turn you into a serial monogamist?

Ciao,

R

Post-grad To-do List

Despite the unparalleled views of Taiwan, I'm raring to leave.

Despite the unparalleled views of Taiwan, I’m raring to leave.

I need to go back to America.

In all my years of racking up SkyMiles, this is the first time I’ve found myself uttering these words. Rebecca circa 2012 would have been horrified to hear such a sacrilegious thing. She used to think of herself as a citizen of the world, a nomad, an un-American. Moi, une américaine? Mais non, tu plaisantes! But today, I say without shame, as much as I’ve meant anything in my life: I need to go back to the US of A. All signs are pointing that way. An old friend invited me to spend the fourth of July weekend in New York. The US is doing surprisingly well in the World Cup. I know this because all my Facebook friends seemingly became soccer fans overnight. I’m moving in to my new apartment (all to myself!) in Kerrytown.

I’ve been traveling for 42 days now and I’m tired. I just wanna go home. What’s more, I feel like I need to go home so I can get on with my life. Since my graduation almost two months ago, my physical meanderings have reflected my inner turmoil. Without the routine of classes and the excitement of registering for a new semester, I felt lost. My agent kept asking me for more edits, but gave me inconclusive feedback. More than six months after I finished the first draft, the manuscript had made little progress towards publication. I knew I would be applying to law school in the fall, but it still seemed distant and intangible. I focused on my relationship, but quickly found that unraveling. After eight straight years of chasing one stepping stone after the other, I looked up and saw nothing but quiet waters in the distance. It terrified me.

For the last month or so, I’ve been sitting down on that rock, arms folded, scowling at my surroundings. Today, I stood up, waved my arms around to clear the fog, and created my own stepping stone. I promptly paid off my registration fee for the website that handles all law school applications. I sent NYU law admissions an email to ask if I could take a self-guided tour the July 4th weekend. Next, I pulled up NYU and Columbia’s sites in side-by-side tabs and made myself find real reasons why I wanted to apply, other than their rankings in US News. By the end of the afternoon, I was surer than ever that NYU was my top choice. Even better, the fog had disintegrated, and I could now see the stones aligning themselves to create a path.

Voici Rebecca’s Post-grad To-do List:

  1. Call DTE Energy. If you were expecting this list to be exciting and romantic, then clearly you’ve never been a recent grad. I have to call DTE to get my energy bill transferred to my name before I move in.
  2. Attempt to move in by myself. I’ve never moved by myself before, thanks to friends and family, but I’m pretty sure I can do it. All my stuff fits in my car and I don’t own anything heavy. If you feel like offering an extra hand, though, please come over and I’ll buy you a beer.
  3. Adopt a kitty. Preferably one that likes to cuddle and doesn’t set off my allergies, but I’m not picky. After all, I used to live with the bitchiest cat on earth. The one time she graced me with her presence in my room, I almost cried I felt so loved.
  4. Go to work. July 8th is my first day at MIRC, woohoo! I’m also starting a new GRE class.
  5. Revise my personal statement. I already have a rough draft of my PS, but I think it can get a lot better. I’ll also have to write extra essays for Yale and IILJ, which I’ll get to in a second.
  6. Figure out letters of recommendation. Ugh, I’ve dreaded this part of applications since high school. Hopefully, the people who I asked to write me letters haven’t forgotten all about me. If I’m really lucky, maybe they’re the type of people who view the past through rose-colored glasses and they’ll only remember all the goods things I did.
  7. Get back on the horse. Literally. I haven’t been to the barn in ages and I keep having nightmares that everyone’s moved on without me.
  8. Work through reading list. I’m almost done with Love in the Time of Cholera. Up next is One Hundred Years of SolitudeThe Moons of Jupiter by Alice Munro, and Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder. I’m reading Márquez in the original Spanish, but I chose French translations of Munro and Gaarder to get extra practice.
  9. Watch Spanish/French/Mandarin movies. To keep up my listening skills, I’m going to watch at least one movie in each language every month. I’ve seen tons of French/Mandarin films, but not very many Spanish. If y’all have any recommendations, please send them my way!
  10. Join Spanish/French conversation circles. I know they meet weekly at Sweetwaters, but I’m not sure how I can sign up. Anybody know?
  11. Make new friends. I’ve met tons of awesome people over the past four years, but a lot of friends have left and/or I lost contact with them. I’m planning to pick up a new hobby to meet people — volunteering, people-watching at bars, salsa dancing.
  12. Worry about my credit score. Don’t worry, it’s not bad or anything…it’s just nonexistent. I’ve been meaning to start using credit cards, but I’m always paranoid that I’ll forget about paying. These days, thanks to technology, it’s as simple as checking a box so your card is paid automatically.
  13. Start budgeting/saving. My idea of saving over the past few years was leaving x amount of dollars in my account and spending everything else that came in. I’m gonna try to stick to a monthly budget and put away a percentage of my paycheck.
  14. Apply to law schools. I’m applying to nine schools, but there’s one program I’m especially interested in: IILJ. It’s a scholarship run by NYU that offers a great opportunity to those interested in international law. You get up to full tuition paid for, you participate in internships/research projects/journal publications, and you can do a four-year JD-LLM. This is an absolute dream for me, and I’m excited to give it my best shot. Looking at the current scholars’ profiles, I feel like my application would be competitive, but they only select five people a year, so I’d need a lot of luck.
  15. Stay away from monogamy. I don’t think I’m ready for a serious relationship right now. For me, the benefits of being single outweigh the advantages of a boyfriend. I still have a lot of growing up to do before I can make commitments to another person.

Now, you can probably understand why I’m eager to get back to the states. It’s not that I’m overwhelmed by everything I have to do. It’s very much the opposite — I’m so excited by it all, I can’t wait to get started. This is going to be one of the most challenging and interesting periods of my life, and I’m ready to make the most of it. Thankfully, I only have a week left of vacation. Then, I’m homeward bound.

What are your post-grad plans? Do you enjoy leaving the future up in the air or do you like to have a clear direction?

À la prochaine,

R

Broken Up, But Not Broken

Time to piece myself back together.

Time to piece myself back together.

Four years ago, I was in almost the exact same position as I am in today. I’d just gotten back from a life-changing summer in China, I’d convinced myself that I needed to break up with my high school boyfriend, and I decided that I would be single for a long time. I wrote a blog post about my self-imposed chastity, vowing to spend the next year doing a lot of soul-searching. Well, that didn’t work out so well. As soon as I got back, I spent most of the summer chasing unrequited love #1. As a completely irrelevant side-note, this unnamed person had the best pseudonym, hands down, of any blog I’ve ever written: Yeti. Yeti, I don’t know where in the world you are now, but I’d still love to grab drinks sometime for old time’s sake. Shortly after school started, I hooked up with unrequited love #2. After tiring of my drinking buddies around Halloween, I made a best friend. Unfortunately, I turned him into unrequited love #3, except I was the one this time who couldn’t requite the love.

Since that time, I’ve been physically single for a grand total of…three months? Emotionally single for zero.

Fast forward to now. I’ve just broken up with Hans. The details of why are unnecessary—every single breakup in the world can be summed up as such: something wasn’t working. If it wasn’t working for one person, or for both, that’s for the parties involved to figure out. I realized it wasn’t working and I told myself not to be a coward and did the right thing. Just like my breakup four years ago, though, this one is not easy. But I’ve learned quite a bit since then. If I could go back in time and give my 18-year-old self relationship advice, I would tell her the following:


“The hardest part of a relationship is figuring out if you actually want to be in that relationship. Because love is intoxicating and companionship is comforting, you are probably always going to be happier in a relationship than without. Even if, deep down, you know you’re not attracted to him as you should be. Even if the way he breathes, or orders coffee, or boils water annoys the shit out of you. Even if you don’t love him.

Sometimes, he doesn’t love you either. That’s almost easier. Because then you can enjoy your time together and let it fizzle out on its own. If he loves you, though, you have a responsibility to protect him. Not because you love him back, but because at some point you liked this person enough to commit to seeing him more than anyone else in your life. Because we have all been that person who loved more. The best way you can protect him is to let him go. And then, after that, don’t go back. Even if you’re lonely, even if you doubt your decision, even if you need a prom/wedding date, even if he just wants to snuggle. Don’t go back.

Except when you should go back. More than anything else, the rules of love are meant to be broken. If you do go back, though, do it out of love and not necessity. If you choose not to go back, then for the love of God, give yourself some time to be single. The obvious reasons are the ones that everyone and their mother tell you: rebounds never work out, you need time to heal wounds, focus on yourself. The reason that we tend to miss is also the most simple—do it just to know that you can. If you jump from relationship to relationship, you are enforcing your own fear that you can’t be single. That you will never be loved again. That you will never find love like that again. Fear is not an effective motivator for a healthy relationship.”


I do wish somebody had said these words to me back then. But the truth is that I wouldn’t have listened. Even if I had listened, I was nowhere near the level of maturity required to follow through. I had to learn this lesson the hard way, and I’m still learning it now. For the first time in my life, though, I think I have what it takes to be single. This sounds stupid to most people, who have been single for the majority of their lives. Single is the default status, and there’s nothing you have to do really to achieve it. For those of us who are serial monogamists, however, singlehood is the most terrifying motherfucker on this planet. I’ve gone through very difficult things in my life, and none of those things has been as hard as being single.

I think it’s important for me to recognize that. That way, if I suddenly become an unproductive member of society, I won’t chastise myself. I’ll let myself be lazy and self-indulgent and depressed for a while. But then I know that I’ll learn something critical—it’s not that bad to be single. In fact, I love traveling alone. I love knowing I can move to another city without considering someone else. I love flirting up a storm with strangers without having to drop a “my boyfriend” into the conversation. If I shed the part of me that is a BPD-driven identity crisis, I am the kind of person who thrives on singledom. I am strong, I am independent, I am free.

I can do this.

Are any of you serial monogamists? What do you find hard about being single?

Au revoir,

R