Summer Update

Summer days are long and lazy, but unfortunately I'm so busy.

Summer days are long and lazy, but unfortunately I’m so busy.

I know a lot of you are waiting for the next installment of the AATA series, but unfortunately that will have to wait. I’m currently wading neck-high in all the things I have to do to survive this summer. My Romance Languages thesis is coming along. I met with my advisor, who approved my speaking task and I’m currently in the basement of North Quad, where I just recorded my first research participant. I feel like I may be overpaying my subjects…$20 to repeat words on a screen over a period of 10 minutes. But oh well, native French speakers are a rare commodity in Ann Arbor. My first participant did an awesome job. Now, I only have to mark up about 216 vowels and prepare them for analysis. Then rinse and repeat for each subject. Awesome.

My International Studies thesis is…not coming along. I just can’t multitask as well as others, and I need to do things one at a time. I’m thinking I’m going to finish as much of my Romance Languages thesis as I can and then bulldoze through my International Studies readings. Perhaps while I’m on vacation in Florida. Sigh, I’m never gonna get a real vacation, am I? Last Christmas, I spent my winter break in Florida revising my first novel and querying agents. During my recent trip to Taiwan/China, I finished my second novel. Oh, and I’ll also probably want to start taking practice LSAT exams while in Boca Raton.

As for my Fulbright application, I guess it’s going well. I’ve been polishing my statement of purpose with the help of the Fulbright advisor and it’s getting there. Now I just have to fill out the online form and work on my personal statement. I ran into a bit of a roadblock, since I realized that the recommendation form asked about my English skills, so my French professor would have nothing substantial to write. In the end, I decided to swap my French professor with my Princeton Review supervisor, but the latter has not responded to my email yet. Must have patience…

Arabic is going slowly. I simply don’t have enough energy and time to devote four hours a day to it, like I should be doing. I have the alphabet down and some basic words/phrases, but I’m beginning to doubt that I’ll achieve second-year proficiency by the end of the summer. We’ll see how that placement exam goes. The good news is that I found myself a tutor who agreed to evaluate my skill level for the Fulbright application. I’ll be working with her weekly from now on. I’m also trying to focus on Dareja, the Moroccan dialect, in addition to Modern Standard Arabic, so the task is doubly hard. إن شاء الله (God willing), I will learn Arabic!

Yeah, let’s not talk about my book. There’s nothing to talk about, really. I haven’t heard back from any editors/publishers yet, and I don’t want to speculate about what this means. Of course, though, when I’m in bed at night and I really want to sleep, my brain starts going to that place. They’ve already read my book, they didn’t like it, and they’re not even bothering to tell my agent. They weren’t that interested, so they’re going to wait until next year to finally read it and tell us they hated it. They’re all on vacation. Well, that one isn’t too bad…

Needless to say, I haven’t been sleeping well lately. Maybe my method of piling more things onto my plate to avoid thinking about the fate of my novel isn’t ideal. But I can’t think of anything else, other than physically working out. I’ve been going out to the stables more often, because nothing takes my mind off of work like horseback riding. Firstly, because I love it. Secondly, because riding is damn hard and anyone who says otherwise clearly has never tried. You have to think about every muscle in your body and what it is communicating to the horse. Even more complicated, each horse communicates in a slightly different language. Recently, I rode this 17 hands beast of a chestnut gelding named X. He was a great horse, but he had very peculiar “buttons” you had to push, since he was spur-trained. On any other horse, if you squeezed your legs together, he would speed up. On X, you come to a standstill.

This weekend, I was aboard Samara and had an awesome ride despite being a foot shorter than usual. Here are some of my favorite photos from this weekend, courteous of Phineas photography.

We didn't find the obese black cat, but a bunch of goats found us.

We didn’t find the obese black cat, but a bunch of goats found us.

Leading good ole Samara from the paddock.

Leading good ole Samara from the paddock.

Urging Samara along.

Urging Samara along.

Howdy, stranger. All I need is a sombrero to complete my cowgirl look.

Howdy, stranger. All I need is a sombrero to complete my cowgirl look.

I'm so coordinated I can wink while riding!

I’m so coordinated I can wink while riding!

What are you favorite stress-relieving activities? Are you a good multi-tasker?

À la prochaine,

R

 

Happy 50th, Dad!

[youtube http://youtu.be/JIgt_-lC7fI]

Sorry for the lack of posts lately. This holiday season has been insane in every sense of the word. I wanted to leave you with something more heartwarming than my past few days have been. Here’s the video project my family and I put together for my dad’s 50th birthday. It was super last minute, so please excuse the randomness (the epic Korean drama soundtrack is an inside joke) and the parts that are out of focus.

Did any of you also have a terrible start to the new year? Here’s to a better rest of 2013.

Happy Holidays!

R

From the Heart

My favorite work by my favorite painter.

Yesterday, I met a man — let’s call him Luc — who reminded me of something I frequently forget. Above all, I am an artist. No matter where I am in this long winding road of life, I am most true to myself when I am creating. When I write, my words are a stamp of the etchings on my heart. When I paint, my strokes are an impression of the vision in my mind. When I blog, my posts are a reflection of the visage of my soul.

When I forget that I am an artist and I push myself to slog through economic or administrative material, I succeed, but ultimately I feel stifled. Where might I sing my own tune? Who will hear my melody? Am I the one who doesn’t understand or are they?

I have to say this about Frenchmen — the majority of them are much too metrosexual and self-important for my liking. No, I don’t care that you work in the highest level of the military. No, I don’t care that your neighbor is a famous actor who rents out the Luxembourg gardens on a whim. No, I don’t know how much your Givenchy suit costs.

But then, there are always exceptions to every rule. Ironically, when Luc introduced himself to me, I thought he said he worked in finance. His writerly glasses and casual khaki pants made a lot more sense when he explained that he did freelance. Freelance what? Multimedia, animation, cinematography. He showed me a kinetic typography video he made for WTO. Apparently, he had just flown in from Geneva, where he was working on projects for the UN, UNESCO, and UNICEF. Of course, this very much appealed to my humanitarian side and he immediately earned my stamp of approval.

Over sushi (!), we debated the different types of intelligence. Luc claimed that students at top-tier American universities (Columbia, in particular) had left him very unimpressed. For him, intelligence was a cultivated, broad knowledge encompassing many fields and subjects. I told him that it was rare to find people like that in the United States because professionals tended to specialize. To my great satisfaction, he told me that he found me more interesting than Columbia attendees.

As the night rolled on (I love how a European rendez-vous usually lasts for more than three hours), we shared more of our passions and perspectives on life. One thing Luc said really struck me — that no matter what country you are in, people are still the same. At the core of every person is the same humanity. In continuation with this theme, we ran into a completely wasted French girl who enthusiastically preached the goodness of people to us. She looked right at us with her large, round eyes and said, “Je ne te connais pas, mais je t’aime. Ce n’est pas sexuel. C’est sentimental.” I don’t know you, but I love you. It’s not sexual. It’s sentimental.

In that moment, I believed she was more lucid than the majority of people on earth. I almost teared up at the raw beauty of her statement. The whole time, Luc was sitting there looking amused. He possesses this quiet confidence — the tranquility of someone who understands life. At times, though, I catch him with a distant look in his eyes — the sorrow of someone who’s endured pain and is fatigué.

I’m not sure where my friendship with Luc will lead, but I am grateful to him. During that one lovely evening, I was reminded that it’s not your cognitive functions that matter, but the calling of your heart. You have a choice: to follow or not?

I am following. Today, I purchased my first book in ages, Ceci n’est pas une autobiographie. I’m only on page 41, but already I am impressed with the sweeping power of Daniel Filipacchi’s narrative voice.

When do you feel that you’re being most true to yourself? How do you balance your desire to do what you love and to earn a living?

À l’amour,

R

To Work or Not to Work?

30 hours and counting…

I have frequently been called a workaholic. By Phineas, of course, not my mother. I don’t think she would be content with my level of productivity until I became Priscilla Chan. It’s not that I do more readings than my professors assign for the hell of it or slave away at McDonald’s even though I don’t need the money. It’s more of an itch, a constant heartbeat pulsing through the decisions of my life. A restlessness that can never be tempered.

There is no doubt that I inherited this disease from my father. While a New Yorker would snap, “Time is money!” and wave you out of his way, my dad snaps, “Time is time!” and doesn’t let a single minute go to waste. When I’m cantering away during my horseback riding lesson, my dad does yoga. Or Tai Chi, or something. He has a master who lives at the top of some mountain in China. Someday, he claims, he’s going to disappear to said mountain and emerge a martial artist.

You see, at the core of my restlessness is a love and a fear. I love life with all its possibilities — I wish I could experience everything at least once. I’m passionate about languages because it’s like a socially acceptable form of multiple personality disorder. C’est-à-dire que each of my languages is a cloak I wear and depending on the language, I express myself differently. Nicki Minaj and I should be pals. As for fear, I am deathly afraid that I’ll miss out on something great. Life is so very short, and if you’re not careful, you’ll be senile in the blink of an eye. Every moment is precious and I try to spend my moments either learning or creating.

On an average day, I wake up at 8:30 am for no apparent reason, decide to teach myself to oil paint, paint for 10 hours straight, read French news out loud to myself, listen to a French podcast, email people back in French regarding housing in Paris, read Hillary Clinton’s autobiography in preparation for my foreign service career, and blog about it all. In the near future, I would like to become fully literate in Mandarin, pick up Korean, grow a garden of vegetables, cook said vegetables, and build myself a house with a wraparound porch. All in a day’s work, baby.

Phineas doesn’t understand this. But for me, this is my happy place. I love living life to its fullest so that when I inevitably die, I can say that I experienced everything this world has to offer. I don’t fear death because if I live 80 years (hopefully) as an Energizer Bunny, I’ll be glad to fade away into oblivion.

À la bonne vie,

R

Writer’s Idiosyncracies

One of the most interesting things about being a writer is “meeting” yourself through your own writing. For those of us who call ourselves writers (whatever that may mean), our work is a fingerprint — individual to our personality, our wit, our history. Each piece that I’ve written is a snapshot of who I was at the time. Perhaps I have been unable to finish a novel due to the simple fact that I change too much to write consistently for a period of months or years.

What happens instead is that I’ll drop a book usually around the 10th chapter or so, forget about it entirely, rediscover it later, and “meet” myself again. Sometimes I cringe in embarrassment and sneakily correct a few errors; other times I’m howling with laughter and am extremely bemused by my own creative expression. To those of you who have never experienced this before, I am sure that this behavior appears extremely narcissistic. I assure you that it is not! Haven’t you ever looked at an old photograph of you during which you felt like crap and realized, “Hey! I don’t look half-bad”?

This afternoon, I was glancing through the Writing folder in my Documents, which contains a hodgepodge of unfinished short story, novel, and poem drafts. There’s “Great Beauty” from 2009, a short story I won two contests with. There’s “The Cheater”, an absolutely horrid endeavor I wrote at Starbuck’s while having one of those angst-y, artsy-fartsy days. There’s “A Cautionary Tale”, a satirical piece that I thoroughly enjoyed but never achieved much critical or popular acclaim.

And finally, I stumbled upon my memoir. Back in November, I hopped on the National Novel Writing Month bandwagon, except this time I decided to write a memoir in the hope that I would be more successful. And let me tell you — those first few days, I was freaking successful! Hammered out an average of 1734 words a day for the first four days for a total of 6934 words. But after that…nothing. I’m not sure if it was life or subconscious insecurity or laziness that killed my drive, but my motivation quickly flattened.

However, upon re-reading it (temporarily dubbed The Years Are Short), I think it’s actually fairly decent. It’s really scattered, obviously, and needs a continuing theme throughout, but there are a few sentences and paragraphs that hit the spot. I literally laughed out loud once and felt incredibly silly. But hey! This is hilarious! I’m hilarious!

It’s nice to know these things about oneself.

As a writer, have you ever experienced this “meeting yourself” phenomenon? What genre of writing do you prefer to work with?

Ciao,

R

P.S. Perhaps I should pick up this memoir again, after all. Thoughts?

Introspection

The escape.

A lot of people don’t understand me. I know that everyone says that, and usually with a self-righteous tone. If only everyone else weren’t so stupid and immature, they would find me interesting. If only everyone else weren’t so closed-minded, they would agree with my ideas. I’m not saying any of these things. After examining myself with an empirical, objective eye, I have concluded that I really am a freak of nature and I am least of all understood by myself. This is, obviously, a problem.

Well, let’s go through the process. When someone says something to me that hurts me, it doesn’t register in my mind right away. At first, I feel a gradual churning and twisting of my stomach until the pain is great enough that it wakes up my cognitive regions. Simultaneously, I begin to fight back tears and realize intellectually that something isn’t right. After sorting through the words that this person has just said to me, I may or may not be able to locate the exact words that upset me. Usually, I remember one or two words from a phrase. “We”, “weird”, “don’t”. On a good day, I can string the words together and pinpoint the culprit. On a bad day, I am left fighting tears as I try exasperatedly to figure out what went wrong while the knot in my stomach grows and grows.

I don’t like to talk about my thoughts when I’m like this. Well, that’s obvious — I can’t. Sometimes, I am so overwhelmed by my emotions, I don’t speak for hours. The words bottle up in my throat and run through my consciousness…”we”…”weird”…”don’t”. But the only thing I know for sure is the way I feel. Destitute. Forsaken. Betrayed. At this point, my fight-or-flight instinct kicks in and adrenaline courses through my body. If the person who has harmed me yields and softens in order to provide a safer environment, I may be able to fight this biological response. However, if said person continues to be the aggressor and corners me, I will scurry like a rabbit.

I don’t run physically yet. The first sign of my flight instinct taking over is the loss of control over my emotions. Sometimes, I burst into tears. More often than not, I laugh uncontrollably. As you might have guessed, this causes a significant misunderstanding between myself and the person on the receiving end of my laughter. Now, it doesn’t really matter what he says to me; I am looking for my escape.

Because I am the prey and therefore the weaker party in this encounter, I cannot make the first move. I have to make him leave first. In order to accomplish this, I embrace my laughter and seal off my emotions. I am an impenetrable fortress, a cold, hard stone, and he can no longer do anything to hurt me. If this predator has little patience on this day, he will give up and walk away. And I get what I want — I am alone, and therefore safe.

I make sure to keep chuckling until he is out of hearing distance and then I fold into myself like a board game finished for the night. Now, I am so deeply hidden within myself that if I catch a glimpse of my face in the mirror, I will gasp. Who is that?

I feel a soothing calm wash over me and I know that I am okay. After all, who can find me when I can’t even see myself?

Au revoir,

R

La sombre

Tonight, I write;
j’écris.
I don’t write with any purpose in sight,
but simply to put ink to paper,
fingertip to key, words to permanence.
When everything in the world shifts, changes,
what do I have but my words?
To take away my innocence, my essence,
you can.
But my thoughts, my desires,
those to you are taboo.
The night is somber and the storm clouds rolling in.
I tip my chin to the sky
and catch the first rain on my tongue.
The droplet hits the surface of my flesh
and soaks into my pores,
a violation.
I close my lips and swallow,
a tribulation.
Why trust reason when treason will follow?

Summer…

This is a video project I did over the summer when the days were long and blissful. I miss them. But Christmas is coming up, which trumps all other seasons. And yes, Christmas is a season.

The song is You and Whose Army? by Radiohead, one of my favorite bands. Enjoy!

À demain,

R

Last of the Photos

Phineas: "He's gonna be a heartbreaker someday."

Heading up to the golf course the day before the tournament.

The nicest clubhouse I've ever seen.

If my bathroom looked like this, I'd live in it.

Kid bro teeing off -- look at that form!

Atop Qingcheng mountain.

Sister ♥

R.I.P. Amy Winehouse

I’ve been out of town and away from the Internet (A.K.A. in the middle of nowhere), so I just heard the news of Amy Winehouse’s death. The British singer died of yet-to-be-explained causes, joining a host of talented musicians who have passed at 27. Her death impacted me in a way that Michael Jackson’s never did. Possibly because Amy was considerably younger and possibly because Michael’s personality wasn’t exactly likeable. I guess you could argue that Amy wasn’t quite likeable either, but something about her made me pause and reflect on myself.

Although I’m not very familiar with her music (“Rehab” is about the only song I’ve heard from her), she strikes me as incredibly real and raw. I relate to her downward spiral — although mine wasn’t nearly as extreme and drug-induced as hers, there was a point in my life when my demons finally caught up to me. I relate to her love life — I’ve certainly had relationships in my life that were more toxic than healthy. I relate to her vulnerability — in the midst of her struggles, she never hid who she was and what she was going through.

I know that this phrase gets thrown around too often and too carelessly, but I’ll say it again: life is short. Any of us could die any day, and I ask myself often, “If you died tomorrow, would you be pleased with what you’ve done in life? Would you be satisfied?” Right now, my answer is “almost”. I feel like I’m still too caught up in imaginary troubles and by the time my 80th (if I do live that long) birthday rolls around, I’ll look back on life and wonder where it all went. My goal from here on is to live each day like I’m dying (morbidly true) and enjoy each moment to the fullest. As part of this resolution, I’m making a list of rules to live by and hopefully some of you will be inspired too.

Life is too short…

  1. To be hung up on “can’t”s, “should”s, and “what if”s. Instead, focus on the things you can do, the things you want to do, and the things you can change.
  2. To be angry. The person who cut you off in traffic might not be alive next week. Is he really worth a minute of your energy spent ranting?
  3. Not to be thankful. After having spent a month in China, my new motto has become “home is where the toilet is”. Never forget to be thankful for everything, from indoor plumbing to your family.
  4. Not to treasure the love of your life. True love is rare and wonderfully fragile.
  5. Not to nourish your friendships. True friendship is just as rare, fragile, and necessary as true love.
  6. Not to love yourself. You only have one life to life — yours.
  7. Not to be yourself. What’s the point of trying to live someone else’s life?

Would you be satisfied if you died tomorrow?

Salut,

R