Books Have I Loved

My Narnia.

My Narnia.

As I’m preparing to edit and query my manuscript, I’ve been thinking about all the books that have influenced me over the years. I read voraciously as a kid. When I didn’t like what I saw when I looked around me, I buried myself in printed pages, and the hours would go by. Books were my drug. In elementary school, every report card I took home said that I had “poor time management skills”. I still laugh when I think about my teachers who wrote that. Of all the things I’m bad at, I don’t think poor time management is one of them. If anything, I had excellent time management skills. It was a choice between finishing a captivating novel and reviewing the multiplication table that my tiger mother had already drilled into me. I think I made the right call. It wasn’t until junior year of high school that I developed the willpower to put a book down and pay attention in class. When I think back to that moment, I feel somewhat sad. After that, responsibilities and fear of failure took over, and I never read the same way again.

Hatchet by Gary Paulsen may have spawned my fantasy of winter survival. In elementary school, my best friend and I created a hideout beyond the fence we were forbidden to traverse. On a tree branch, I hung a plastic bag that I’d filled with a clock, a few books, and other “survival tools”. Continuing the winter survival theme, I devoured the Julie of the Wolves series. I wanted to get wolfdog until I realized that you practically need a zoo to house them. Then Jean Craighead George did it again with My Side of the Mountain. I didn’t know if everything she wrote was realistic, but I wanted desperately to believe it. Like everyone else in my fifth grade reading class, I got my heart broken by Where the Red Fern Grows. Everything about that book has stayed with me — the Ozarks setting, the random facts about raccoon hunting, the bond between a boy and his dogs. A few weeks ago, when I was driving up to a ski resort in Vermont, the woodland landscape and log cabins reminded me of the book. Jacob Have I Loved

The Giver by Lois Lowry, Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Patterson, and Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand were three books that blew my mind the first time I read them. It wasn’t until I reread them a year or two later that I felt like I understood them. The last scene of The Giver was both disturbing and comforting. As a kid who didn’t enjoy a lot of my childhood, I wanted there to be something else out there for me, some parallel universe I could escape to. I remember feeling guilty while reading Jacob Have I Loved. Though I didn’t understand why, there was something stirring about the erotic imagery describing the young protagonist falling in love with an old man. I was nine when I read Seabiscuit for the first time, and I’m curious now what I actually understood. There’s a scene in which a prostitute in a Tijuana brothel smokes a cigarette out of a “creative place”.

I read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe when I was somewhat older, in high school probably. Though C.S. Lewis’ writing style often bothered me, like his frequent use of the second person, I loved Narnia. I knew it was supposed to be an evil world, but the idea of permanent winter didn’t seem all that bad to me. To this day, my favorite part of skiing is when you’re high enough on the mountain that you can’t see the base, and you’re surrounded by trees weighed down by heavy clumps of snow. Narnia, I think to myself.

When I was 12, I got baptized, and my mom was supposed to get me a Christian book as a present. Of course, I then went and picked out the most scandalous book in the store, Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. The cashier gave my mom a look and asked if she was sure. It was probably the first adult fiction book I read. I got a pretty quick education in prostitution. From there, I continued the theme of twisted love affairs with The Horse Whisperer by Nicholas Evans and The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough. In eighth grade, I discovered Jodi Picoult, and I read everything she’d written and would write for several years. That year, I also read The Da Vinci Code, which was so riveting I couldn’t put it down through my entire piano recital, only stopping briefly to play a Bach fugue. In high school, there was also the requisite Nicholas Sparks and John Grisham and James Patterson, but I can hardly recall a single detail from any of their books.

Looking back at the most memorable books of my childhood, I’ve noticed that they aren’t spectacular literary works. I recoiled at my first taste of Shakespeare, and I have yet to acquire a liking for it. Out of the classics we were assigned to read in school, the only one I truly read was East of Eden. Even then, I skimmed all the boring parts. How to Kill A Mockingbird just didn’t do it for me. Neither did Huckleberry Finn or Catcher in the Rye or The Great Gatsby. My favorite books were the ones that told a great story and didn’t allow their writing to get in the way of that story. Keeping that in mind, I’m trying to take some of the pressure off as I edit. I’m not trying to write the book that English teachers assign in a century. I’m trying to write the book that people will remember in 20 years, the one that people will want to read with their friends and family. What excites me most about parenthood is the opportunity to share my favorite books with my kids. I guess, when the time comes, that might include my own books.

What were some of your favorite books?

Our Stories

Minerva and the Nine MusesI finished my novel. It’s weird to type those words out and even weirder to say them aloud. The reality is that I don’t feel anywhere near finished. Though the last chapter has been written, the word count is more or less static, and the ending is as good as I could have hoped for, I don’t feel like it’s over. Maybe that’s because of the tall task of editing that awaits me in the coming month. Or perhaps it’s because I don’t want it to be finished. I feel incredibly sad that I have to now leave this world.

I’ve never felt like this after putting the last period on one of my novels. Before, the last few chapters were always a sprint to the finish line. More than I wanted to have written my best work, I just wanted to be done. That’s sort of how I feel about my final exams. It’s a dangerous way to stick a landing, though. As a reader, you can always tell how an author felt about her own writing. You skip the parts where she probably yawned as she wrote, you wonder what the hell happened to the plot twist she forgot about, you know when she wrestled with the ending and gave up on it. As a reader, you learn about the author, even if the work is far from autobiographical. You can tell by the way he treats his characters if he is sympathetic or dead inside. You can tell by the way he throws polysyllabic words at you if he takes himself very seriously. You can tell by his use of clichés if he’s lazy. And you can be damned sure if he rushed the conclusion.

This book is different from all the others because I was patient with it. It’s the book I’ve been trying to write for more than two years (according to Microsoft Word, I created the first version of this story on October 14, 2013 at 5:15 pm). The first draft stood at nearly 114,000 words — it was monstrous, nearly double my first novel. When I got the first comments back from my agent, I realized that I had underestimated the amount of editing it needed. I rearranged the whole thing, chapter by chapter, filling in the gaps as I went. That wasn’t enough, either. One of my agent’s readers suggested I scrap the entire first half of the book. I did not take to that suggestion kindly. My agent’s last email regarding this manuscript was lukewarm. I cried when I read it, and I decided that it was time to move on. A part of me knew that this story was too much for the green writer I was at the time. I had taken everything I had and poured it into the novel, but it wasn’t enough.

I started the first draft of this novel days after I finished this painting.

I started the first draft of this novel days after I finished this painting. Maybe I got too excited about writing, because I completely forgot about the horse’s bit. 

So I waited.

I wrote a fourth novel, something light and age-appropriate. I thought that it was a good read, for the genre it served, but my agent disagreed. When my agent and I finally broke up, I took a long break from novel-writing. Instead, I dabbled in poetry and avoided contemplating my literary career. When I felt ready to pen that opening chapter again, though, I knew that I wanted to go back to the story that had eluded my grasp for so long. I thought maybe I could salvage some of the first manuscript, but in the end I only incorporated one scene into the current draft, and that’s the one I’m going to efface as soon as I start editing. Now, I’ve got nearly 110,000 words and most of them are going to stay. Because this time, I’ve given everything I have to this novel, and I think it might be enough.

Many people have asked about my creative process, but the truth is that I don’t have much of one. Most of the time, I don’t feel like anything more than a transcriptionist, waiting for the Muses to dictate. I didn’t sit down and create these characters and throw them in different scenarios until I found one that stuck. Instead, they each invited me into their world, showed me who they were, and blessed me with the privilege of telling their story. This novel is full of things that I couldn’t have imagined in a million years. It’s full of people who I’ve never known in real life. It’s full of history that isn’t mine.

Because it doesn’t feel like I ever owned this story, I have no problem handing it over to friends, strangers, and foes. It feels perfectly natural, obligatory even, to share this book with all of you. If I could somehow disseminate a copy of it to every single person in the world with the guarantee that most of them would read it, I would. And that would be all that I needed. Unfortunately, it seems that readers care about things like publishing companies and a New York Times Bestseller label. In a month or so, I’ll begin the whole process of querying agents and editors all over again. Then, if all goes well, someone will bid on it and claim ownership to it. For now, though, this story is all of ours. I hope that someday, it will be all of ours again.

If you want to read it, shoot me a message. All I ask for in return is that you tell me what you thought of it.

Fainthearted Rebellion

Why is the sun always setting here?! If only there were horses in the horizon.

Why is the sun always setting here?! If only there were horses in the horizon.

I’ve had a really rough month. One by one, all the things I thought I wanted began to fall flat. Part of it was the depression that blankets my every day like the heavy sun that sets at 4:30 pm here. The other half of it was that the goals I’d set for myself since starting law school seemed so empty, aimless, meaningless. As I sat in class, I could not bring myself to care about anything I was learning. In the halls of the Sterling Law Building, I heard the usual buzz words tossed in the air along with strings of collective stress — class selection, clerkships, finals. But I just didn’t give a damn. Every time I found a reason to be in law school and tried to follow it somewhere real, I realized I’d fallen down the rabbit hole. So you like international law, huh? law school goaded me. Let’s see how you like spending ten years working on a case with no enforcement mechanismSo you want to be a judge? Well, first, don’t ever admit that to anyone. Also, don’t plan on ever having a writing career, lest your fiction be used against you. I changed my class selections for next semester three times, increasingly disillusioned with what law school had to offer me. At last, I settled on the courses that 1) I didn’t have to submit any statements of interest for and 2) were the furthest from what people were telling me I should want. A part of me wants to shoot myself in the foot, so that I won’t end up trapped in a conventional box of misery.

Despite what my friends and family might think of me, I am not a rebel. I try my best to be, which is why I never quite fit into the paths that others find so comfortable. But there’s a reason why I’m attending Yale Law School, why I joined a religious cult in college, why I don’t have any piercings or tattoos. I’m a fainthearted rebel; I’m afraid. If I weren’t afraid, I’d be in the middle of nowhere in Iowa, complaining about the lack of civilization, rolling my eyes at my pretentious classmates’ interpretations of the Millennial experience, and loving every minute of it. If I weren’t afraid, I’d be in a village outside Aix-en-Provence teaching French children English. If I weren’t afraid, I’d have kept the company I started and spent my days redesigning tea packaging.

Yes, please, can I go to school here? Photo courtesy NCPR.

Yes, please, can I go to school here? Photo courtesy NCPR.

Now, for the first time in my life, I’m more afraid of my own fear than of Failing to Achieve My Potential. I’m terrified that my fear will forever cripple my ability to choose the life that I want instead of the life that others want for me. My fear of what my classmates, potential employers, and professors think of me has stopped me from writing this post, which is my tactful way of saying that I hate law school. I’m saying it now because I can’t live like that. I can’t live under a watchful, judgmental eye. It reminds me too much of my childhood, of my previous religious life, when I couldn’t fall in love without the entire congregation praying over my sin.

I know that I’m not supposed to be here. In a way, that is freeing. I’m not stressed about finals, summer jobs, grades. My priorities for next semester are finding a good agent to represent me and a good horse to lease. I haven’t been satisfied with my experience riding with the Yale Equestrian Team, and I’m looking for a barn where I can ride the way I want. I’m also creeping on the barns in the area to see how they’re run, because my dream has always been to have my own stable. In the past, I always thought of it as a far-fetched idea that might come to fruition if I married a millionaire or retired rich. But now, I’m thinking, why not? After I graduate, I can save up for a few years, draft a business plan like I once did so many years ago, get a loan from a bank, and voilà horse farm. Of course, it won’t be that simple. It could be a total failure, and I could lose my savings. But I’m going to try, because I’m goddamned tired of being a fainthearted rebel. Months ago, when he was trying to get me to jump off a mild cliff into Lake Superior, Dan shouted at me, “Don’t be a pussy!”

I jumped in there! Well, not quite there exactly, but the same lake...

I jumped in there! Well, not quite there exactly, but the same lake…

In addition to my long-held moral belief that it’s better to be sorry than safe, “don’t be a pussy” shall be my new life motto. It starts with meeting a big bay Clydesdale-Thoroughbred cross next weekend to see if we’ll make a good team. I might fall off, but I’ve never been afraid to hit the dirt.

Summer Update

My summer got off to a great start when I saw a Triple Crown in person!

My summer got off to a great start when I saw a Triple Crown in person!

I can’t remember the last time I blogged, and that’s kind of embarrassing. I should have had lots of things to say these past few months. So much has happened life-wise. A lot of difficult things and a lot of happy things. I have changed. Reflecting upon my absence here, I’ve wondered if I’ve stopped thinking deeply. For so many years, I relied on this blog to help me think. Instead of posting here about some revelation I’d just experienced, I’d often start blog posts out of confusion and write my way to clarity. But I didn’t think that was it — over the past half year, I’ve done lots of thinking. Lots of growing up. So I wondered if I simply didn’t have anything to say anymore. As a writer, I was scared by that. What kind of writer are you if you don’t have anything more to say? It comforted me that, during this time, I was still writing. I worked on a new novel, wrote more poetry than I have in my entire life, drafted long and convoluted emails to my boyfriend.

I could still write, that I knew.

I’m still not sure what the reason was for my hiatus. I do know that, when it came time to renew my WordPress subscription, I only hesitated briefly before entering my credit card information. I want to keep this blog going. I want to share the experiences over the next few years with all of you. I want this to be an outlet for me when I need to tell the world how I feel. I want this to be a continual public journal of my thoughts.

With that said, I have lots to update you guys about. Although it was challenging, Dan and I made it through his graduation weekend and meeting his parents. Family is not something I do well, because I’m both hungry for the love I never got and scared to ask for it. I didn’t know if we would make it through that weekend, but something in me knew that I didn’t want to lose this. I didn’t want to lose my chance at love, at happiness. Dan and I have been together for five months now. We’re quickly approaching six months. I remember telling my mom that if I ever made it six months in a relationship, it would probably be for forever, because I couldn’t imagine myself lasting that long with someone. Though I said those words half-jokingly and out of pessimism, I feel like they could end up being true. This is the first relationship I’ve been in where I don’t wonder every other week if we should break up. This is the first relationship where I can face my fears without hurting my significant other or myself. Well, most of the time. Sorry Dan!

After an emotionally grueling few weeks, we were off to Asia. First stop was Shanghai. Then, we spent two weeks in Wuhan with my dad and siblings. From there, we flew to Chongqing to visit our good friend Weihao. Finally, we ended the trip in Taiwan. Sounds like a nice, relaxing time, right? Unfortunately for me, and by extension Dan, things are never easy with my family. Besides that, we had to go through a lot of firsts on this trip that were hard for both of us. He’d never even met my dad or siblings before. We’d never spent 24/7 with each other for seven weeks straight. I’d never been deathly ill in a foreign country. I’d never been deathly ill and had to rely on my boyfriend to take care of me.

It wasn't easy playing surrogate parents to my siblings. Figuring out Chinese taxis was one of the many tasks bestowed upon us.

It wasn’t easy playing surrogate parents to my siblings. Figuring out Chinese taxis was one of the many tasks bestowed upon us.

Many things could have gone wrong. Some things did go wrong. When I couldn’t sleep because my throat was hurting so badly I was in tears, we got in a heated argument at 5 in the morning. Ultimately, though, the trip didn’t end terribly. In fact, when I look back, all I see are the happy moments. The ways in which we grew closer. The comfort of knowing that this is the person you will fall asleep next to and wake up to for the next month. The gradual realization that, quite possibly, you will wake up to this person for decades to come.

Since getting back, it’s been both exciting and difficult adjusting back to real life. It felt really good to be back in the states. Being reunited with my kitty was the highlight of coming home. Unexpectedly, I realized how much I do love living here and how much I’ll miss Ann Arbor when I move to New Haven. I think I filled out a bajillion forms for Yale. I had three doctor’s appointments in the span of a week — I’m scurrying to get my vaccinations up-to-date so I can get my health clearance before class registration starts. Apparently, I do not have tuberculosis. This morning, I updated my resume and applied for a teaching fellowship at Yale.

This coming week, we’ll be getting ready for our road trip out west. I’m super excited to channel my inner cowgirl and ride some wild mustangs in Montana. After that, I’ll be moving out east and starting my adventure at law school. I’m planning a new blog series about life at Yale, so stay tuned!

À la prochaine,

R

P.S. I may have done something new with my hair. What do you think? (Don’t worry, the cat ears are removable.)

Rebecca with New Hair

I’m Meeting My Boyfriend’s Parents

I can't deny I'm my parents' daughter.

I can’t deny I’m my parents’ daughter.

First off, I’m really sorry I haven’t been blogging with more frequency. I’ve really fallen off the social media bandwagon. You can only post so many selfies on Facebook before it gets tiring, right? (Note: the correct answer is “Yes, if you are sane”). In all honesty, I think I haven’t been blogging as much because I haven’t needed to. I blogged the most when I was lonely and bored. Boredom is a great thing, I think, and it’s often the impetus I need to be creative. But lately, life has been busy in mostly wonderful ways. When I have free time, I’ve been reading, writing poetry, and indulging in my favorite guilty pleasure — vicariously living out other couples’ drama in the relationships forum on Reddit. Seriously, try it sometime. It’s like a cross between telenovelas and Judge Judy.

Loneliness is not always such a great thing. There was a time when I couldn’t really talk to the people around me, when I didn’t really have people. And so I wrote, because that was my only voice. There was a time when the people around me kept telling me that I should fit into a certain mold. And so I wrote, because that was my rebellion. There was a time when I didn’t know myself. And so I wrote, because otherwise I would leave nothing of me in this world, not even footprints. Now, I’m lucky to be surrounded by people who listen to me, who accept me, who know me. I am not lonely anymore. I am, however, sorry that I rarely feel the urge to blog anymore. If it’s any consolation to you, my dear reader, I think I will be posting much more regularly in the near future. I just spent a weekend in New Haven, at Yale Law School’s admitted students program, and I have so many thoughts on the Yale experience. I get the feeling that this blog will be the outlet for many revelations and frustrations I’ll encounter as a law student.

But that’s a post for another day. Today, I wanted to make an announcement. I’m not always good at these. I used to get upset with my father, who never tells you anything and lets you find out for yourself. Oh hey, Rebecca, I got myself a wife. Oh right, about that, you have a baby brother on the way. Um, by the way, I’m moving to China. Now that I’m grown, I’ve realized how annoying his behavior is and done the exact opposite nonetheless followed his example. I’m my father’s daughter in so many ways — I can’t deny it.

When I was young and naïve once upon a time, I couldn’t have cared less about my boyfriend’s parents. They could own skyscrapers in Philadelphia, they could be undocumented immigrants working in Chinatown, they could be Mexican drug lords. I didn’t care if they were religious, racist, sexist, Communist. Most importantly, I didn’t care about the relationship my boyfriend had with them. As someone who had less than ideal parents, I couldn’t fault someone for their genealogy. As someone who has considered cutting a parent out of my life, I believed it was one of the hardest decisions and had immense respect for someone who had done so. If anything, I actively judged and despised those who had idyllic parents and childhoods. What did they know about suffering? How could they ever understand me? I envied those who grieved the deaths of their parents. To have loved and lost is always better than to never have loved at all.

After I started university and experienced my first serious relationship, I began to understand that you can never escape the influence of your parents, for better or for worse. Some people manage to lessen the degree of that influence to an almost negligible amount, but it’s always there. Even when teenagers rebel and shun their families, by middle age, they’ve grown into a carbon copy of their parents. Many of your parents’ flaws, you will carry on as your own. And so, I’m cautious now. Barring circumstances where his parents are despicable humans, I’m looking for a boyfriend who shows his parents patience, kindness, respect. He should confide in them, but stand up for his beliefs when they differ from theirs. If he has younger siblings, he should know that his job as Protector is a lifelong duty. He should care enough about his family members to confront them, challenge them, hurt them.

Even when these little munchkins are 50, I'll remind them to brush their teeth.

Even when these little munchkins are 50, I’ll remind them to brush their teeth.

Above all, I’m looking for a boyfriend for whom complacency is not an option, with regard to his personal growth and his relationships with those who matter most. I’m meeting my boyfriend’s parents for the first time this week, and I care. Although I have every confidence that things will go well, I will see both a glimpse into his past and his future. That’s not something I take lightly.

Oh, and did I mention that I have a boyfriend now? I told you I’m bad at announcements.

Ciao,

R

When Mental Illness Is a Gift

Sometimes, it takes someone who's suffered to recognize beauty.

Happiness is fleeting, but maybe that’s okay.

People have asked why I write about my experience with BPD. My well-meaning mother has wondered aloud if, one day, an insurance company would deny me coverage or a potential Google-savvy employer would not hire me because my “illness” could be a liability. I highly doubt my job interviewers are taking the time to find my blog and read through my post history, but I acknowledge the possibility. Surely, when I applied for a U.S. Department of State security clearance years ago, they were quite thorough. Not exactly accurate though — they asked about my friend Knight from India because they saw on our website that my company was inspired by him. Struggling to keep a straight face, I explained to the officer that Knight was from Dali and I was no longer in contact with him. The officer asked about my history with alcohol, weed, and even men. I’m pretty sure he also asked about my mental health. I don’t recall how I answered him; maybe I lied. But I am sure that I don’t want to keep my mouth shut about mental illness out of fear that I might be denied a career opportunity at some point in the future. Before I am a professional, a soon-to-be lawyer, I am a writer. And before I am a writer, I am a human.

I absolutely loved Julie Holland’s recent op-ed in the New York Times. Too many self-described feminists and progressives are reluctant to admit that there are fundamental differences in the sexes. To ignore those differences is to neglect both the additional struggles that come with being a woman and the advantages of having what Holland calls an increased “emotionality”. Often, that emotionality is also the source of our struggles.

Women’s emotionality is a sign of health, not disease; it is a source of power.

She further describes the overmedication of women. Abilify, an antipsychotic, is the bestselling drug in the United States. One in four women takes a psychiatric medication. While some of these women benefit from their chemical regimen, for others it is wholly unnecessary. Holland believes that SSRIs are not necessarily the answer for many; they tend to dull positive emotions as well as negative ones. Users report feeling less in general — less empathy, creativity, sexuality. Her criticism of SSRIs hits home for me. A little over two years ago, I sat in my apartment with a bottle of Zoloft to my left and my laptop to my right. On my laptop was the very thing that was causing all of my stress. The unfinished manuscript of my first novel. I wanted desperately to have a magic pill that would make the crippling terror go away. The problem was that my novel was not only the source of my terror, it was also my purpose in life. If I took that pill, maybe I wouldn’t care if I failed anymore, but then what? If I had stopped caring, stopped berating and threatening myself daily, would I ever have written a novel?

My immediate response to Holland’s editorial was to think about mental health in that context. Those of us with “alternative” responses to emotion and stimuli are frequently considered diseased. What if mental illness was not thought of a sign of disease, but a source of power? After all, the most creative and talented people in human history have been eccentric at the very least; many were severely mentally ill. Did Vivien Leigh, Ernest Hemingway, and John Nash succeed in spite of their mental health or because of it? Could the very thing that provoked their negative emotions also have inspired their positive ones? Who gets to decide which emotions are positive and which are negative, anyway?

I am not ashamed to tell people I have BPD because it has been both the biggest struggle and the best gift of my life. On the bad days, I remind myself that sadness and loss are simply a part of the human spectrum of emotionality. Because I have such a capacity for grief, I am also able to feel the most wonderful bliss. Sometimes, I lie in bed and it’s as if I can feel every emotion I’ve ever felt in my entire life. Sometimes, I feel the weight of the world’s joy and pain on my shoulders. Sometimes, I think that my emotionality is the very thing that makes me who I am. And that, I believe, is the source of my power.

10 Lessons I Learned in 2014

2014I didn’t make New Year’s Resolutions for 2014. If I had, though, I’m pretty sure I know what they would have been. Get at least 95th percentile on the LSAT, finish my honors thesis, graduate from Michigan, go on a Fulbright or Princeton in Asia Scholarship, get into law school(s), meet the love of my life. I ended up reaching or surpassing some of those tacit goals. Despite not putting in a lot of effort, I did better than I thought I would on my LSAT. My honors thesis received departmental honors and I graduated with highest honors. But I received swift rejections from Fulbright and PiA in the spring. When I started looking for a paralegal position in the nonprofit field, I heard from exactly one organization. It was definitely a humbling experience to realize the dearth of job prospects available to a recent humanities-majoring grad. Fortunately, though, the one place that took a chance on me turned into the best job I could ever have asked for. I’m sure that I’ve gained more at MIRC than I would have in Morocco or China — it’s likely the reason I got into my dream law school and the law school so unattainable it wasn’t even in my dreams.

As for my love life, I certainly didn’t meet the love of my life. If anything, I said goodbye to the love of my life. But I’m okay with that. Because 2014 taught me that not only can I be single, I prefer it for now. Life just got real. We’re not undergrads anymore with so much free time we don’t know what to do with it. With what limited time I have, I know that a relationship will come at the cost of my personal growth and my friendships. That’s not a sacrifice I’m willing to make, unless someone comes along that I’m certain I want to keep for a long time.

Here are some other lessons I learned in 2014:

  1. Cleaning is worth it. I never thought I’d say this, but having my own place has forced me to consider the kind of environment I want to be in. Although I don’t quite like cleaning yet, I love the feeling of having just cleaned. The other day I caught myself on my hands and knees, feeling my hardwood floors for grains of dust, and realized I could become a neat freak. My sister introduced me to Marie Kondo’s cleaning book recently. While I don’t wanna become like Marie (I’m pretty sure she would meet OCD diagnostic criteria), I agree that every object in your home should give you a little joy.
  2. Every person in your life should give you a little joy. I’m talking about net joy here. When you take all the positive things someone does for you and then subtract the negative, you should come out with a nice positive number. It doesn’t have to be things; it can be the way someone makes you feel. In short, I learned that some people just shouldn’t have a place in your life. That no matter how happy someone makes you, the pain isn’t worth it. That some relationships (friendships with exes, friends with benefits, etc.) are more of a headache than they’re worth.

    A friend that helps you clean?! Definitely a keeper.

    A friend that helps you clean?! Definitely a keeper.

  3. The above rule applies to family too. I think you should give family more leeway because there’s a lot more to gain if you can work out the relationship and a lot to lose if you don’t. But, ultimately, the same thing applies. Just because someone gave birth to you and paid for your college education doesn’t mean you have to endure a lifetime of verbal belittling. You have the right to walk away.
  4. Friendships are everything. I’m an only child and an extrovert, so I’m constantly starved for companionship, but everyone needs people. I never believe people when they say that they’re “lone wolves” or “happy hermits”. In my experience, those are the people who need friends the most, but who are too insecure or scared to find them. A good friend is a needle in a haystack; hold onto them with everything you’ve got.
  5. Men and women can be just friends, Harry! So I’ll admit that I used to be on Harry’s side. In every friendship I’ve had with a guy, prior to this year, the “sex part” did get in the way. God, that makes it sound like I slept with all of them. That’s not what I mean. I mean that unreciprocated romantic feelings always fucked things up. Recently, though, one of my guy friends told me, “You’re like my sister. Even if you were naked in my bed, I wouldn’t touch you.” In response, I did a happy dance. Another friend spent the holidays with me in Florida and he felt like a part of my family. Guess what? It turns out all you need to maintain platonic opposite-gender friendships is a little dose of discipline, perspective, and self-confidence.
  6. Your therapist can be your friend too. When my current therapist told me that she hoped to become my friend, I stared at her blankly. I didn’t understand. How can you have a friendship that’s a one-way street? One that you’re paying for? Over the months, my therapist has become one of my closest friends. Although I am paying her, it’s clear that she doesn’t do this for the money. With every high and low of my life, she’s right there with me. When something happens in my life, she’s one the people I want to tell first. If that isn’t a friendship, then what is it?
  7. No romantic relationship is wasted. A few weeks ago, my dad expressed his concern that I might have a commitment problem. I laughed. The truth is that I probably do, but that’s not why I’ve been a bit of a serial dater. The reason is twofold: 1) I used to be terrified of singlehood and 2) I learn by trial and error. People tell you not to date someone more than one zodiac cycle ahead of you, but I didn’t listen — I had to try it for myself. Some people marry their first boyfriends. I don’t know if they are incredibly lucky, self-aware, or unhappy in their marriage. As for me, finding the right guy is a bit like multiple-choice tests. It’s easier to find the wrong ones and use process of elimination. Despite the “failure” of my past relationships, I learned a lot about myself and what I’m looking for. Many of my exes have influenced me so much, I carry them in all that I do.

    Fulfilling your little sister's request to model her Rilakkuma costume? Everybody got time for that.

    Fulfilling your little sister’s request to model her Rilakkuma costume? Everybody got time for that.

  8. Your time is so precious. I don’t mean that in a “oh, life is so short” or “carpe diem” sort of way. Unless you die young, life is actually kind of long. As a 22-year-old, I have a lot of time ahead of me. The problem is that, as you grow older, your time gets swallowed whole by your job, your spouse, your children. Pretty soon, you’ll have one hour of alone time a day right before you go to bed at 9 pm. Value the free time you have now. Choose wisely what you do with it.
  9. The way to conquer your fears is to face them head-on. I was terrified of being alone, so I signed a lease for a studio apartment. I was scared of strangers, so I joined three MeetUp groups. The last time I went rock climbing, I couldn’t even make it up the kid-friendly wall in the middle of a mall. So I let my friend take me out to Planet Rock and belay my ass up to the top. The thought of alcohol makes me feel nauseous, so I downed a bottle of vodka. Just kidding — I’ve accepted that I’ll never be able to drink. Or ride rollercoasters.

    My desk on a busy day.

    My desk on a busy day.

  10. You can change anything about yourself, if you put your mind to it. Now, obviously, I’m referring to interior traits, not exterior. Even then, there’s always plastic surgery for that. In all seriousness, this year was a milestone in a long struggle for me to make myself into someone I could like. I haven’t always liked myself. I used to be selfish, snobby, lazy, judgmental, irresponsible, insecure, jealous, mean. Recently, people have told me that I’m a great friend. My boss commented that my work ethic must have gotten me into law school. They don’t know that I used to be the worst friend and employee. Really, if you don’t like something about yourself, just change it. It won’t be easy or fast, but you can do it. And it’ll be worth it, I can tell you that.

What did you learn in 2014?

Bonne année,

R

The Ones I’ve Loved

Air BalloonsThis afternoon, my friend Kate and I discussed our love lives over Mapo tofu and bamboo shoots. It’d been a long time since I described my previous relationships in detail, especially to a disinterested party. The last time I talked about my exes, it was with my most recent ex. Today, as I attempted to describe what love meant to me — how I knew I loved and how I knew I was loved — I realized that something had changed in me since the last time I told this story. Perhaps, after having experienced more love, different kinds of love, self-love in these past months, I have learned another dimension of love. Today, when I spoke of people who have long left my life, I realized that I loved each of them in my own way. I realized that the love I had for them never left, never faded. Instead, the person I was when I loved them retained that love and altogether they drifted away like air balloons ascending the sky. Yet the string that ties them to me remains, and if I wish to, I can tug the line and reel the balloon back to me and see our love story encapsulated by inflatable canvas.

Because I wasn’t the girl who cried and watched Netflix and ate ice cream, people thought that breakups didn’t affect me. Because I was always the one who initiated breakups, people thought that I didn’t truly love. Because I stopped talking about my exes, cut them out of my life, people thought that I moved on heartlessly. At a certain point, I believed all of those things about myself. I believed that I was incapable of loving any of my exes as much as they’d loved me. I believed that every “I love you” or “forever and always” I uttered was naïve at best and disingenuous at worst.

Although none of us made it to the end of time, I believe now that my promises were true. I will love all of them forever and always. I believe that there is nothing between now and my deathbed that could change the way I feel about them. As the years pass, they feel more and more distant. Their faces, voices, and touch gradually escape my recollection, but the love I feel for them never grows dull. In the past, whenever I saw elderly people crying as they recounted moments of great loss in their lives, I would be astonished. After so many years and so many retellings, I marveled, how could they still feel so strongly? Now, I’m starting to understand. When I’m old and weary, these are the people who will bring tears to my eyes. Collectively, they taught me what love is. They showed me what unconditional, selfless love looked like when I had rarely glimpsed it before them. They equipped me with the tools to love them back and to love others after them. Together, they gave me the confidence to love myself.

In the past, I also tried to rank the ones I loved — that one I was truly in love with, that one loved me but I didn’t love him back, that one I thought I loved but I didn’t. Now, I know that such an effort is both futile and disrespectful. There is no comparison to be made when it comes to love. After all, it wasn’t the same me that loved each of them. At the time when I said “I love you”, they were the love of my life. There was a time when I considered being with each of them for the rest of my life, if only to bring them happiness. There was a time when their happiness was paramount over mine, and if that isn’t love, then what is it?

How have you loved and been loved?

Salut,

R

That Halfway Point

Long Winding RoadJust like that, we’re halfway through November and, by extension, NaNoWriMo. With 66,395 words overall and 26,395 of those written in November, I’m just a hair behind the 1667 words-per-day pace, but I’m not too concerned. I’ll probably catch up this week and I don’t necessarily plan to finish NaNo this year. Unlike my NaNo project last year, which ended up around 120k, I don’t expect this novel to reach 90k like I’d originally planned. This one will be closer to the 80k of my second novel — short and sweet. I can see the finish line now, and that’s always an exciting phase of writing.

I’m also approaching the halfway point on a different goal. About six months ago, I committed myself to singlehood for a year. It was an arbitrary number. What I really wanted was to be single “for a while”, and a year seemed like a good long while. The first month of these past six felt like a year, but the rest has shot by in the blink of an eye. Now, as I stand on the foothill that is the halfway benchmark, I wonder to myself: am I happier? Healthier? Stronger? When I look back, I tend to see my struggles: flying to New York to mourn a relationship that had died a winter ago, hooking up with another ex, rekindling and unfriending my friend-with-benefits, falling for inappropriate guy #1, falling for inappropriate guy #2, finally breaking things off with ex-from-last-winter, sleeping with my best friend. When I look back, I see myself cycling through the same patterns of highs and lows. When I look back, I am blind to my progress.

But the reality is that I have made a lot of progress. Just like my current novel, which has been neglected at times due to work and friends, my journey of self-improvement and healing hasn’t always been steady. At times, my judgment has lapsed. At times, I’ve taken the detour because it was more enticing and I had to take the long route back to the main road. At times, I’ve felt like nothing has changed at all. The same way 1k became 2k and 2k became 20k, though, my mental state has strengthened. Most importantly, I have been true to myself and what I really want. I have lived, certainly, and I have taken plenty of risk, but I have done so within the range of my own boundaries. At the same time, I’ve pushed my boundaries in healthy ways. I joined a Meetup group that I thought would be full of old folks and ended up making the best friends I’ve had in a long time. Last week, we went running in freezing temperatures and I made it all the way around Gallop Park. As I hate running, that was quite a feat. Today, we went climbing at Planet Rock and, despite my self-doubts, I reached the top. Afterwards, we were sure to eat back all the calories we burned in tamales, tortas, and tacos. I’m still full.

Like NaNo, the finish line for my yearlong singlehood is flexible. I won’t hold myself to it, because it’s no longer necessary. Being single now is not a punishment, nor is it unbearable. Now, I have too much to lose, I am too content, and I know too much about pain to give this up for just anyone. The next relationship that I get into will have to knock my socks off, because I’m pretty damn good at knocking my own socks off.

Keep Calm You're Halfway Through

Keep calm, my fellow NaNo writers. You’re halfway through. As for everyone else, I don’t know what personal goals you’re working towards, but I wish you luck in getting there. This too shall pass.

À plus tard,

R

Fall Update

Rebecca Enjoying Fall

Enjoying the last of fall weather in the Arb.

I figured today was the last day it’d be appropriate to do a fall update (brr weather incoming), so here it goes. I’m feeling much better than when I wrote this post. Things are up and down as always, but I think that a lot of what I’m feeling are the typical symptoms of being a confused, single 20-something with zero job prospects on the horizon. Okay, that’s not quite true. I am gainfully employed part-time as a GRE instructor and I am getting incredible experience as a law clerk at a nonprofit. And as of Halloween, I am officially going to law school. That’s right — got my first acceptance! But it’s a long road still to being financially independent or to starting the kind of career I want. Writing-wise, publication feels so distant that I dare not dream of it. I feel like this is the opposite of the college life. Instead of having all the freedom in the world without the accompanying responsibilities, right now I have all the responsibilities and none of the freedom.

This has been on my mind a lot — the Millennial experience. I’m not sure if it’s simply a youth thing, like teenage angst, that every generation goes through, or if there is something unique about growing up as a Millennial. Other people have given Millennials a bad rap, simultaneously claiming that we are special and somehow we have it harder than those who came before us. If Lena Dunham and Molly Sprayregen are the voices of our generation, then we are nothing more than a passive, whiny, jealous bunch who will point the finger at anyone else but ourselves.

I don’t think that’s true.

While I do think that there are certain struggles we face that our parents didn’t, I don’t think Dunham and “The Brain on 23” identify them correctly. I don’t think Millennials are irresponsible partiers who still suckle at the parental teat well into their 20s. I think the Millennial story is about the skyrocketing cost of education in a world where a college diploma is the obligatory ticket to financial stability, the weight of student loans on top of job-hunting in an increasingly competitive and difficult market, and the fear and desperate need for intimate relationships hindered by the fact that the majority of us come from fractured families. There is one thing that Dunham and Sprayregen got right, though — we all have no idea what the fuck we’re doing. Yet I’m not so sure if that ever changes, no matter your generation or your age.

Coincidentally, I’m writing my fourth novel about just that, us Millennials. I don’t claim to be the voice of my generation or even a voice of my generation. I just want to write about the difficulties that I see myself and many of my friends facing every day. Some of those are the same for people of all ages; some of them are unique to us. I don’t want to creative a narrative or a propaganda piece. I don’t want to beg for sympathy or preferential treatment. I just want to write something that’s true and real, though it may be fiction.

Three films I saw recently spring to mind. The first is Spike Jonze’s Her, the second is Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, and the last is David Fincher’s Gone Girl. I loved Her and Boyhood for the same reasons, though they took very different approaches — because they were modest works that didn’t purport to say something about the human experience, but in the process, ended up reflecting the human experience. If an alien landed on earth in his UFO and wanted to know what it was like to be a human on earth in the 2000s, I’d give him Her and Boyhood on a flash drive. What I wouldn’t show him is Gone Girl. Honestly, the only reason I’ve been complaining so much about Gone Girl is because of people’s unexpected response to it. Instead of labeling it as a badly executed psychological thriller, so many insist that it’s a statement on the modern marriage. Someone even said that Rosamund Pike’s character Amy was an accurate portrayal of mental illness. I’ve done my fair share of bitching about this film, so I’ll spare you the details and just say that I disagree.

I want to write a Her or a Boyhood. I’ve always been a character-driven writer, but thus far haven’t found the right characters. This time around, I might have found the sweet spot. Let’s hope so, because I’m already 50,000 words in. My agent and I are equally excited — her because I’ve finally written something with mass appeal and me because I’m writing the book I wish someone would have written for me.

How’s that post-grad life treating you?

À bientôt,

R