To My Former Friend

IMG_1230.JPG

One of the great life lessons you taught me.

I have a favorite café in New Haven. Maison Mathis serves consistently good coffee and food, and it’s conveniently on the path to law school. I didn’t want to like it at first, because it’s too perfect, and I like things to be a little rough around the edges. You would roll your eyes if you saw me there, and say, “Of course.” I’m also not a fan of places that brand themselves as European so they can throw around words like “patisserie” and “du jour”. I guess Maison Mathis isn’t a terrible offender on that front — at least its owners are actual Belgians. You never see the owners, though, so maybe that’s all a marketing scheme too. The cashiers and baristas who work at Maison certainly aren’t Belgians. Besides the food and location, Maison leaves a lot to be desired. Its workers always seem to be having terrible days. You know I’m not usually one to complain about customer service, but the Maison cashiers just look so miserable that they make me feel bad too. I wonder if they’re being overworked, or if their manager is an asshole.

The other day, there was a new cashier who actually smiled at me and said, “Have a nice day.” As I took my receipt from him in shock, I noticed that the other workers were also smiling. They were even talking to each other. The new guy reminded me of you. I could picture you there, knowing everyone’s names from day one, handing out high-fives, getting people to come out of their shells. You’re someone who lights up those around you. You so easily bring joy to other people’s lives; it’s just a shame you could never see that. It’s a shame you could never do that for yourself. Nobody would ever know that, though. From the outside, you’re always unabashedly yourself, always in pursuit of the many small things in life that make you happy, always focused on what really matters.

It was so good for me to be friends with you. I wish we were still friends now. You wouldn’t understand Yale Law School, or anything that its students find so important. It would be so refreshing to see your confusion, to realize that this isn’t the real world. Though we fought constantly about our differences, I loved that we were polar opposites. Every day that we were friends, you made me a better person. When everyone else saw me as this intimidating, successful person, you saw that I was lost and poor. I always had more money than you, but I had little else. I was terrified of people, I had no idea how to interact with them, I often felt like an alien among humans.

IMG_1168

That time I went to buy beef jerky and thought the cashier said $2.99/lb when it was $29.99 and was too embarrassed to say “no thanks”, so I walked out with $59.98 worth of jerky. You laughed so hard, and so did I.

You saw all of my flaws, and you accepted me despite them, and you loved me because of them. I can sometimes hear your voice in my head, teasing me about my failures as a human. I’m bad at walking, folding laundry, opening packages. Basically any life skill that didn’t involve sitting in classroom and answering questions, you could do better than me.

It’s too bad that our society doesn’t value those things. It doesn’t care that you have amazing people skills, that you are a leader, that you would be successful at many things if someone gave you the chance. Society only cares that you don’t have your college diploma, that your GPA is conspicuously absent from your resume. You don’t even know how to write your own resume, because you are too honest and too humble. It doesn’t come naturally to you to talk about yourself, to recognize your own accomplishments, to sell yourself to others. Why would I do that? you think. If I’m a good, honest worker, then my work will speak for itself. Maybe a hundred years ago, you would’ve been right. Unfortunately, our world is full of people who over-embellish and lie on their resumes. Unfortunately, people like you fall through the cracks today.

I want you to know that you’re one of the people I respect most in life. When we were friends, I learned to ask myself, “What would you do?” whenever I was lost. When we stopped being friends, I asked that question even more, because I was terrified that I’d lose the influence you had on me. I was scared I would regress to the person I used to be before I met you. Lately, I ask that question less, because all those things you taught me have become a natural part of my every day. I want you to know that annoying you was one of my greatest pleasures in life, and being annoyed by you was one of my greatest privileges.

I wish nothing but happiness for you. I wait for the day when we might be friends again. In the meantime, I’ll make fun of myself on your behalf. Of course, I understand why we’re not friends right now. Because you’re not just a former friend — you’re an ex.

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.

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

The Writer and the Cowgirl

So it’s the last stretch of NaNoWriMo, with exactly a week left in November! I’m on track with 87,843 words currently, as I’m planning to write around 2000 each remaining day. Today, I almost flipped out when I realized I might have to completely rewrite the second half of my book. In case you don’t remember, my current novel is split into two parts: the first follows the protagonist at 18 years and the second takes place 10 years later. As an infamous “pantser” i.e. someone who does minimal planning before writing, I got myself into a potentially huge hole when I realized that I had gotten some legal processes wrong. I can’t go into too much more detail without giving away spoilers, but basically the trial was taking place in the wrong state. Kind of a problem, wouldn’t you say?! Thankfully, I found a legal loophole that allows the trial to be in the “wrong” state and voilà huge roadblock avoided. For those of you that write realistic fiction, have you ever found yourself in a similar situation? For those of you that read realistic fiction, does it bother you when you know certain events aren’t probable?

As for me, I try to conform to reality as much as possible because the point of my story is that it could happen to any of us. It definitely bothers me when things don’t make sense. Last week, my friends and I went to watch Captain Phillips (highly recommended!) and we couldn’t figure out for the life of us why there wasn’t one gun on the entire ship. Obviously, this is a bad example because the film is based on a true story, but we still wished that they had explained this conundrum.

You guys might remember as well that my agent voiced concerns about the marketability of the novel because of the younger/older voice issue. I finally heard back from her after she’d read the first few chapters of the second part and she loved them. That’s both good and bad news. Good because it’s always nice to hear that she likes my writing and bad because she likes the second part better than the first. Does that mean I should hack up the first part and intersperse it throughout the second as flashbacks? I have no idea at this point and I’m just going to finish up the second part before thinking about it. I’m still partial to my original idea of keeping it in two separate parts, but I’m open to other suggestions.

Well, I’ve talked too much about writing now. Life in general, let’s see…yesterday I went out to Red Hawk with my friends and we ran into my date from last week whom I’d “dumped” over the weekend. A very potentially awkward situation was avoided by the discreet staff who snuck us into the restaurant without being seen. I proceeded to finish maybe 1/5 of my mojito — I think I’m making progress on my alcohol tolerance! Besides that, I’m loving the snow and winter weather. I’m looking forward to Thanksgiving break, but not the three papers and honors thesis stuff I have to finish. Yesterday, I wrote six pages of my autobiography in French. I think the hardest part was figuring out how to say “first grade”, “seventh grade”, and “cross-country running”. I ended up with “en cours préparatoire”, “la classe de cinquième”, and “le cross”. Fabrice, help!

And finally…what you’ve all been waiting for, my transformation from writer to cowgirl. Don’t ask me how it happened and I feel very strange looking at these photos. You can see for yourself. It suffices to say that I was the only Asian cowgirl in the entire show and probably in the history of America.

Okay, okay, you can stop laughing now.

As you can see, I’m much more comfortable in my English gear.

I ended up with two third place ribbons!

À la prochaine,

R

Short Story: Swan Song

Hey guys! I don’t have much time to blog these days, but I wanted to share something with y’all in honor of reaching 900 followers. As the weather is cooling off, I thought it was a nice time to revisit this short story that I wrote two winters ago. Enjoy. 

Mackinac Island Lighthouse

Swan Song

The Cygnus olor, commonly known as the Mute Swan, has captured the sentiments of romantics for millennia with her pure-white plumage and reticent nature. In ancient Greece, the Athenians believed that the Mute Swan was utterly silent during her lifetime. According to tradition, only upon the brink of death would she sing a single haunting melody. The great poet Aeschylus ingeniously crafted one of literature’s classic metaphors when he compared the dying Cassandra’s final lament to a swan’s last call. Over 2000 years later, weaving its way from German to English, the phrase emerged as we know it today: the swan song.

On days like this, I can’t shake the agonizing thought that the winter of ’96 was my swan song. I was freshly 20, still straddling the fence between girlhood and womanhood, and completely unaware that I was about to plummet into the latter territory.

•••

“Emily,” my mother states, as if announcing the menu for dinner. She pauses for effect and twists around to make sure she has the attention of the backseat passenger—namely, moi. “Emily has news for us.”

As this is news to me too, it takes a few moments to find my thoughts, which have been floating somewhere between the rabbit-shaped cloud and the tallest pine tree out my window. We make eye contact. This always makes me feel like my darkest secrets are brazenly tattooed across my forehead and she’s reading them in sadistic pleasure. For a moment, I sense that she knows. As if goaded by her presence in my mind, I briefly recall the last night I spent in Eric’s dormitory room, tracing the curves of his spine and memorizing the lines of his laughter. Emily Fein, he vowed in his sexy French accent, I’m going to marry you and I won’t let you refuse. Je te promets, ma chérie. And I laughed and opened up my heart, my body, for him to fill. The thought of his touch heats my cheeks.

Realizing at last what my mother prompted me for, I clear my throat and collect myself. “Yeah, Dad, I don’t know if Mom mentioned it yet, but I was accepted for an internship at the University of Michigan hospital this summer.”

Through the rearview mirror, I watch my father’s eyebrows rise. “Wow, Em, that’s fantastic. What are you studying again?”

There’s the usual sting—that I’m not important enough for him to remember my concentration whereas he knows the resumes of his law firm’s partners by heart. I swallow the disappointment and reply without missing a beat, “Archeology.”

This time, I don’t want to see the expression of false admiration on his face and I predict the next words out of his mouth before he even vocalizes them. “Are you sure that’s going to get you into med school? Aren’t you supposed to be studying biology or something like that?”

Before I can defend myself, my mother snaps up the conversation like a pit bull with a bone. “Emily’s only a sophomore. She has plenty of time to change her major, especially since she’s already taken all the core pre-med classes…”

As she winds up to lecture full-throttle, I’m not sure who tunes out her voice first, my father or me. Like a croissant tucking into itself in preparation for baking, I fold into the tranquility of my innermost thoughts. The prospect of the new year is both exciting and terrifying. 1997. It feels so novel and abundant with possibility, that much closer to the turn of the millennium. I’m looking forward to both the internship and the milestones in my relationship with Eric—he’s hinted at plans for our six-month anniversary in March. I’m worried about the summer, though. Eric plans to work at his father’s real-estate company in Paris, a great opportunity for him to gain leverage with his fellow business students. My concern is that we’ve never been apart for more than a few weeks and now we’re going to be an Atlantic away for four months. At the moment, though, nothing feels impossible to overcome for our steadfast relationship.

By the time I return from my interlude, my mother has given up and resumed her position gazing out the front passenger window. In the driver’s seat, my father sighs and stretches his left leg across the dashboard. Before our trusty GMC Yukon, only acres of green rolling hills and forests of red pine trees lay ahead. Like we have done every other Christmas of my 20 years, we cross the border into Maine.

•••

We’ve had our seaside cottage in York since my grandparents bought it in the 50s and we kept it even when they moved south to Boca Raton a decade ago. Tucked away on the north end of the popular tourist beach, the two-story edifice overlooks the Atlantic Ocean and the famed Nubble Lighthouse in the distance. Grandpa nicknamed the cottage “the Blue Jay” after its baby-blue wooden panels and the unusual number of blue jays that flock to Maine in the winter months.

As I tiptoe down the hallway, the hardwood floor chills my bare feet and I hug my cotton nightgown closer to my skin. I know it’s early and I’m not quite sure why I’m awake, but as soon as the sun began its ascent I leapt out of bed like a grasshopper. Everything is just as I remembered it—the wedding photo of Grandpa and Grandma at the end of the hall, the family Christmas card from my sophomore year of high school, my framed watercolor catastrophe that only my grandparents would call art. I scurry by the master bedroom to the sound of my parents’ snoring and feel a tinge of melancholy. This was the first year Grandpa and Grandma hadn’t been able to join us at the Blue Jay. They usually occupied the master bedroom while my parents and I shared the room I had to myself now. I guess it never made much sense for them to fly up to Maine from Florida in December, but I always thought of the Blue Jay as their house and now it’s disconcerting to be here without them. It almost feels like we’re renting out the cottage from its usual owners, like we’re the intruders.

Shaking off the thought, I gradually make my way down the spiral staircase, running my hand along the handrail that used to give me dreadful splinters. I cross the living room and head to the kitchen for a glass of water. I’m about to pick up the phone to dial Eric back in Ann Arbor, but then I realize the hour and think better of it. Instead, I sling a coat across my shoulders, slip on rain boots, and let myself out the front door.

The cool air is refreshing, the humidity hitting my face like a misty cloud. I gauge the temperature to be in the high 30s, and the overhead clouds forecast rain later in the day. At first, I start to walk down the beach to the more populous area, where elderly couples take an early-morning stroll and other vacationers jog with their dogs. Then, as if drawn by an invisible hand, I retrace the path to the water my dad used to take me down when I was a little girl. Cautiously, I climb down the rocks and finally reach sand. The wind carries the salty scent of the ocean to my nose and whips my shoulder-length hair across my face. I take a seat just short of the crashing waves and kick off my boots, savoring the cold, damp sand around my toes. Taking in the beauty of the great Atlantic before me, I don’t notice him until he’s nearly beside me.

He clears his throat, prompting me to leap to my feet from my serene, yoga-like pose. The first thing that I notice are his eyes and I am staring so intently into them that I couldn’t describe anything else about him. They are a soft brown, but tinged with the hardness of someone who has witnessed indescribable sorrows. The wrinkles around his eyes hint at tales of laughter and date his age in the mid-30s. His curly, dark hair falls just above his eyes like the strings of a mop. He could really use a haircut. He’s dressed like I am—someone who didn’t expect to be seen—and as if on cue, we both pull at our jacket sleeves self-consciously.

“I’m so sorry,” he says with a sheepish smile, which confirms those laugh lines and makes his eyes twinkle. “I thought it’d be more suspicious if I sneaked around you without saying hello.”

As if the wind had stolen my breath, it takes me a moment to respond. “Oh, it’s no problem. It’s just that I didn’t think anybody would be up at this time and…well, not many people come down to this end of the beach anyway.”

“Yeah, I, uh, couldn’t sleep in.” He runs a hand through his hair and I follow the movement like a raccoon chases silver, my stomach aflutter. His gaze lifts from my general direction to the sunrise behind me, whistling appreciation. “That’s beautiful.”

I look out into the horizon with him, wondering if he’ll keep walking down the beach. I can’t just let him go—there’s something about those eyes that makes me feel like I have to know him. Awkwardly, I turn and stick out my right hand. “Oh, I’m Emily, by the way. I live right up there, in the blue cottage. I mean, it’s my grandparents’ house.”

“Hello, Emily,” he says, with that same unintelligible grin. “Nice to meet you. My name is Robert. Robert Harrison. I’m actually renting out the place two doors down.”

“Oh?” I chirp a little too eagerly.  “I didn’t realize anyone lived there. I did notice that it was fixed up a bit since last year.”

He nods and continues to admire the scenery, which apparently doesn’t include me. Before I can think of something further to say, he picks up again. “Well, Emily, I’ll see you around.”

With a dip of his head that makes me think that he would have tipped his hat had he been wearing one, he is gone. As he strolls away from me without glancing back, I sink back down to the sand. When I close my eyes, the only thing I see is the way he looked at me when he said my name for the last time. As if he could read me, and he liked what he saw.

•••

Feeling guilty for a reason I can’t pinpoint, I last a few more minutes at the beach and dash back home. Since I figure my parents are still sleeping, I quietly slip back into the house. Surprised to hear a hushed conversation, I follow the sound of my parents’ voices to the back porch. They’re probably sipping cups of coffee, debating my career options, waiting for the house to awaken. As I approach, though, the tension in my father’s tone stops me dead in my tracks.

“Elizabeth,” he hisses, clearly restraining himself. “I can’t fucking do this anymore. I’m done.”

“John, please,” my mother whispers, her voice breaking. “You’re never here. You leave me in the house all day and now that Emily is gone…”

I know that I’m eavesdropping, trespassing, but I can’t help myself. I can’t seem to shift my feet, either forward or backward.

There is a loud bang, as if Dad pounded his fist against the wall. “I have to work! How do you think we can afford Emily’s tuition and your painting or whatever the hell it is you do?”

“This isn’t what I wanted!” Mom is sobbing now.

“Fuck.” He draws in a breath sharply. When he speaks again, his voice is softer but resolute. “I want a divor—.”

Before he utters the last syllable, I hear someone emit a sound that is on the spectrum between a gasp and a choke. Thinking that another intruder stumbled upon this private exchange, I search the room for him. Only when I look up and see that both of my parents are standing in front of me with stricken faces do I realize that the noise came from me. My father shakes his head. “Emily, I’m so…”

What? Sorry? I tremble, “What the hell is going on?”

“Why don’t you ask your mother?” he says bitterly, and brushes past me on his way out the Blue Jay.

Mom’s slouched shoulders and hand on her forehead signal that she expects me to comfort her, but I stay rooted to the ground. I pin her down with accusing eyes. “Mother?”

“Emily,” she croaks. “I don’t expect you to understand or to forgive me.”

Suddenly, the dam breaks and I’m inundated with violent desires. “Oh, please. Stop making excuses for yourself and tell the goddamned truth for once.”

She winces, but continues as if I said nothing. “I’ve fallen in love. I love a man who isn’t your father.”

“Splendid,” I seethe. “Did you fuck him, Mom?”

My mother sniffles, appearing to shrink before me. “Yes, I slept with him.”

“I hope you rot in hell with him,” I spit. “Because god knows you won’t see any of us again. Daddy is right to leave you.”

At this, I am ready to run as far as I can away from that self-righteous, sick woman, but the words keep ejecting from my mouth. “How could you have lectured me every fucking day on having dignity, not compromising myself with Eric? I know why you hate him now, mother. Because you will never have what I have with him!”

Now, I race outside and am met with a sheet of penetrating water pellets. Without my coat, I’m soaked to the bone within seconds and the cold is painful, but I don’t care. It’s raining so hard I can barely see where I’m going. I hear my father call my name from somewhere, probably the car, but I don’t stop. I keep running until I’m at the door of the only person I know in this town.

I knock thrice on the door of Robert Harrison.

Before I know it, I’m face to face with him and I have no idea what to say. Thankfully, he takes one look at me and lets me in without a word. He leads me into the kitchen and tells me to sit at the counter. After a few minutes, he comes back with a towel, which he drapes gently over my shoulders. It’s still damp and smells of him—clean and crisp with a woody undertone. Comprehending that I’m still not able to speak, he fumbles through a few cabinets and finds a teapot, which he fills with water and sets on the stove.

After it boils, he fills a cracked mug and presents it to me. “Sorry, I don’t think there’s any tea or coffee in here that’s not prehistoric.”

I take a sip. “It’s okay.”

He pours himself a cup and pulls up a stool next to mine, just far enough so that our knees aren’t touching. I warm my hands along the ceramic of the mug and the chattering of my teeth eases.

We sit together in silence until I ask, “Do you think I could use your phone?”

He motions towards the wall near the pantry. “Help yourself.”

I slide down from the stool and drip my way over to the phone. With a slight hesitation, I pick up the receiver and dial. The first call goes to voicemail. Embarrassed, I glance over at Robert, but he doesn’t seem to notice. I dial again, praying for a response. Finally, he picks up.

Allô?” he answers groggily. I have to smile—you know he’s tired when he forgets to use English.

“Eric? It’s me.”

“Babe? What is the hour?” I hear him rolling in bed and reaching for his glasses. “Mon dieu, why are you up so early? I was planning to sleep late. Got the worst headache, merde.”

“You went out last night?” I try to keep the concern and anger out of my voice, noting Robert’s presence a few feet away. As if reading my mind, he gets up and retreats to the living room. I prompt more harshly, “How much did you have to drink?”

“Oh, don’t worry, Em. I only had one or two beers at the bar. I’m fine. I have a headache just because I slept too late last night.” He sounds convincing. Then again, he’s always been that.

“Okay,” I concede. “Eric, I need to talk. Something horrible has happened.”

“What?” More rustles. “What is the matter?”

“My parents…” I begin, and then dissolve into tears. Step by step, I explain to him what I overheard this morning and what I ended up saying to my mother.

“Shit.” He sighs. “Emily, you can’t say those things to your mom. You don’t know everything. There are two sides to every story.”

I can’t be hearing things right. “What did you just say? Did you understand anything I told you? My mother’s a fucking cheater! She’s a fucking piece of shit.”

“Emily, be calm. Okay? Think about this. Think with ration.” He is struggling to find the right words.

I’m really losing it. The image of my mother, all holier-than-thou, on top of another man sears my memory. “Stop! Stop it. How can you defend her? Do you think it’s okay what she did? You would do that to me?”

“Baby, chérie, come on. I’m only trying to help. I do my best. Look, everything will be okay. You cannot do anything, so just think rationally. You’re at home now, no?”

“Um, not really.” I don’t know how I’m going to explain this.

“Oh? Then where are you?” He sounds worried. “Are you safe?”

“Yeah, I’m fine. I went over to a neighbor’s house,” I murmur uncomfortably.

He pauses. “I didn’t realize you knew anyone there. A girlfriend?”

“No,” I say. I’m so sick of lying I don’t even try to make this sound better. “I’m at Robert’s place. I met him on the beach this morning.”

I know I’ve hurt him, or at least surprised him. He recoils. “What? You met this man and now you’re at his home? Wow, you are trying to be your mother now?”

His words are a slap in the face and it stings even more because of the previous guilt I felt. He’s not entirely wrong, and that’s what hurts the most. And so I do what I always do when I feel pain—I flee.

“Fuck you,” I say through my teeth and hang up.

Sliding down to the tile floor, I hug my knees to my chest and begin to cry. I don’t notice him beside me until he places a firm hand on my shoulder. Subconsciously, I lean in towards him and allow him to take me into his arms. I breathe him in and notice that it’s familiar—not familiar because I smelled it on his towel before, but familiar like I always knew his scent.  As my heaves decrease in intensity, he takes a finger and brushes the hair out of my eyes. With his palm, he wipes the tears from my cheeks and ends up using the sleeves of his shirt too. I tip my chin up to meet his gaze and notice that his eyes are also wet. Once again, I am shocked and chilled to the bone by the implicit understanding the passes through our mutual stare. Never before, with anyone have I felt so completely known. We lean in closer to each other, eventually closing our eyes as our lips meet and the sensation burns through our skin.

We kiss passionately and hungrily like we could never have enough, as if we were mutes speaking for the first time. By the time we break away, we are both gasping for air and he has my back pinned against a cupboard. Realizing what he’s done, he drops his hands from my face and draws back. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have.”

To this, I reply, “You’ve said sorry to me before. I’m so sick of people apologizing to me.”

And I find his lips with mine again, running my hands through his coarse hair and letting him search the contours of my body with his. With a powerful grasp, he lifts me and carries me in his arms up the stairs and to his bedroom. We fall onto the mattress together, clawing at each other’s clothes. His come off more easily than mine, as my nightgown and undergarments are still wet. He doesn’t mind, though, and takes the time to undo the buttons of my gown. Lifting it over my head, he then sets it over the back of a chair to dry. He does the same with my bra and panties. Both of us now stark naked, I lie down on my back and wait for him to come to me. Even in the dim lighting, I can see the outline of his abdominal muscles, the broadness of his shoulders, the calluses of his hands.

He arches over me and caresses the right side of my face. “God, you’re beautiful. Anyone ever tell you that?”

When I try to answer him, he places a finger over my lips to hush me. Then he shifts his hand down to the curve of my breast. As his hand slides further down, he kisses me full on the mouth and lights a flame within me. I moan in anticipation, but he makes me wait, choosing to cover my collarbone and stomach with his kisses. At long last, he pulls me close to him and enters me. As he makes love to me, I am in awe and wonder that he can make me feel so absolutely whole, so completely right. All I know is that no matter what happens after this moment, this stolen time belonging solely to me and him, this will have been worth it because I will never again know such bliss.

•••

In the 16 years since then, I’ve never again seen or heard from Robert Harrison. In a way, I’m glad because sometimes I feel like that day was unique, magical, the stars had aligned, whichever cliché and overused term one can conjure. And all other days, if I ran into Robert Harrison again, it wouldn’t be the same. After all, there is nothing more heartbreaking than attempting to board a ship that has sailed.

Sometimes, what happened that morning feels like a dream. It couldn’t possibly have happened, could it? Every now and then, when prompted by a certain cologne, I can remember his smell and his taste. Most days, I can barely recall Robert’s face as I saw it then. I’m married to Eric now, with three beautiful children whom I wouldn’t trade for anything. Although I’ve never told my husband about Robert, I have been faithful to Eric since, barely tempted to wander from his loving arms.

On days like today, though, when I put the kids to bed and then make love to my husband, I am filled with an emptiness so raw and painful I am sick to my stomach. It is the emptiness of someone who has seen light only to live in darkness evermore.

Tonight, I am convinced that the winter of ’96 was my swan song, the zenith of my life, of which heights my later years will always fall short. Tonight, I believe that after Robert, the part of me that sang for him ceased to exist. Like the Mute Swan who gave the most beautiful part of herself upon death, I gave the most essential cornerstone of my being to one Robert Harrison. If what’s left of me is worth the label of alive, that is not for me to decide.

•••

© 2013 Rebecca Cao. All rights reserved.

•••

My Goals for the Summer

FlowersTo welcome the lovely new readers we’ve been getting, I decided to update y’all on my busy, busy summer. As many of you might remember, I previously complained that my life was over…twice. Of course, it wasn’t true and I got through my junior year just fine. Looking back, though, it was definitely one of the hardest years ever. I had to constantly struggle with the crushing possibility that I simply wasn’t good enough to become a writer. When I finally got The Call from my agent, it alleviated a lot of my self-doubt. Unfortunately, the subsequent rejection of my first novel by publishers didn’t help. I quickly shook off my disappointment and dove into book #2, which is currently with my agent and waiting to be submitted next week. Did you hear that, guys? Next week! I could be in negotiations for a book deal within days. Scary and exciting thought.

Anyway, I’m definitely not as busy as I was during the school year, but I have managed to take on quite a load this summer. I don’t know if I’ll manage to accomplish everything. I am, however, the type of person who likes to set goals, so I’m going to aim high. Looking back at my New Year’s Resolutions for this year (already halfway through, gasp!), I missed getting a 4.0 last semester by one A-. But I did keep up my relationship with my siblings, land an agent, blog weekly, and maintain my French. Hitting the gym weekly, though? Well…

Now, I’m going to list the goals I’ve set for this summer and you guys will have to keep me accountable!

Summer 2013 To-Do List

  1. Finish majority of Romance Languages thesis. For my honors thesis, I am doing a phonetic comparison of Spanish, French, and Catalan vowels. So far, I have been getting familiar with their vowel systems. I just finished designing the speaking task with which I will use to record subjects. After that, I will begin acoustic analysis. I would like to finish collecting all the data by fall. 
  2. Get a good start on International Studies thesis. For my other thesis, I plan to study the representation of women during the Chinese Cultural Revolution through the medium of art. This is a period of history that fascinates me, and I’m always drawn to gender studies. I will spend the summer doing preliminary research (i.e. reading tons of books). By the end of it, I hope to have a clearer grasp of my topic. 
  3. Polish and submit Fulbright Application. I am planning to take a year off from school after I graduate to do the Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship program. I’m applying to Morocco because I wanted to do something different after France, continue to practice my French, and learn a new language. Morocco is perfect because its Islamic/North African culture is amazing, many Moroccans speak French, and the majority use Darija, or Moroccan Arabic.
  4. Teach myself Arabic. To make my Fulbright application more competitive and to gain some basic survival skills in preparation for Morocco, I’m teaching myself Arabic. This will certainly be no easy feat, but I have a hoard of textbooks on the way to help. Of course, I’m not expecting to become fluent in a matter of months. Ideally, I’d like to have first-year proficiency by the end of the summer. I’m super excited because I love learning new languages. Arabic will be my fifth foreign language.
  5. Prepare to take the LSAT. Oh trust me, this came as a shock to me too. I’d always loved law and wanted to go to law school in high school. Quickly though, I realized I didn’t want to work in a law firm or in criminal/civil law. In college, I mostly forgot about law. Then, I started considering it again because an international law degree could open many opportunities either in the foreign service, the UN, or the OECD. Now, I’m planning to apply to law school next year and attend as soon as I return from Morocco. 
  6. Get a book deal. Granted, this one isn’t really a to-do because there’s nothing I can do at this point. Except pray. A lot. 

Voilà

So if you run into me this summer, most likely I will look like this:

Angry RebeccaDon’t worry, though. I won’t be mad at you — I’ll just be working on my thesis in my head.

What are your plans for the summer? Are you someone who likes to makes goals?

Ciao,

R

Soul-searching

Sometimes, I wish I could put my brain through the juicer.

Sometimes, I wish I could put my brain through the juicer.

I’ve never understood how people sleep in contacts. Even when I close my eyes for an hour — and no, I don’t mean nap, because I’m physically incapable of the siesta — my contact lens become super-glued to my eyeballs and peeling them off stings like a Brazilian wax. I still remember when I was 12 years old and thought that I was a daredevil because I rarely washed my hands before handling my contact lens and, gasp, even wore them to the shower. My mind was blown when a slightly older girlfriend flippantly informed me that she removed her contacts once a month. My eyes wanted to bleed at the thought.

The other day, I watched an ad for Air Optix Night and Day lenses, which it claimed was approved for 30 days of continuous wear. Although I’ve developed a more progressive tolerance of various persons’ contact habits in the past 9 years, I immediately turned to Phineas and ranted, “That’s bullshit! Complete marketing scam. Last time I went to get my eyes checked, my doctor wanted to switch me over to a bi-weekly lens. I declined, but he wouldn’t take no for an answer and tried to convince me that I could wear the bi-weekly’s as monthly’s. You see? Those people say whatever they want to sell things to stupid, lazy people who will go blind in a few decades.”

I’m usually not such a conspiracy theorist. In fact, I am generally gullible and utopian to a flaw. A few days ago, Phineas managed to convince me that Gilligan’s Island was a land mass located in Hollywood. On a more serious note, my idealism has turned my college career into a roller coaster. By that, I don’t mean that my three years of college have created highs and lows. By that, I mean that after all the twists, turns, and loops, I always end up exactly where I started.

In high school, I wanted to be a lawyer. Then, I attended my first murder trial, watched a 30-minute video of the blood-splattered crime scene, and changed my mind.

At the beginning of my freshman year of college, I wanted to be an entrepreneur. Technically, I still am an entrepreneur, though my co-founders and I will be disincorporating our startup in the next month. After failing my mid-term in Econ 101, I decided that business was definitely not my life’s passion. In the spring, I fell back on something I’d always loved but had never took seriously — languages. Of course, though, I couldn’t just pursue language without a clear and defined purpose. I decided I’d become a translator for the UN, drafted life plan v. 1.0, and enrolled in Intensive French. Over the summer, I declared my first concentration, Romance Languages and Literatures.

In the fall, I started to get that itch, the one all too familiar to chronic perfectionists. Everything was just going too well in my life, my courses were too easy, I clearly wasn’t challenging myself enough. Languages? That couldn’t compare to Phineas’ mechanical engineering degree. Promptly, I got myself hired as an ACT instructor at the Princeton Review, joined MIISP, and declared a double major in International Studies.

When I received notice of my State Department internship in December, I screamed so loudly the entire hall at my dormitory thought I was being bludgeoned to death. This was completely unexpected, to say the least, and my world suddenly changed. You see, the worst thing you can give to perfectionists is success, because it raises their standards and they’ll never be satisfied again. Essentially, perfectionism is an addiction to success, which — like any addiction — stems from low self-esteem and lack of self-worth. But that’s a topic for another day.

After this monumental shift in my college career, I drafted life plan after life plan, each carrying loftier ambitions than the last. These plans were further complicated by Luc, who challenged that I’d never write a book (everyone knows you don’t challenge a perfectionist). This culminated in a sort of quarter-life identity crisis in which I alternately wanted to be 1) a best-selling author and 2) a foreign service officer. One particularly feverish day, I typed out a monstrous email to my loved ones. Here’s a sample:

Life Plan v. 165.7

Life Plan v. 165.7

Yeah…

When I returned to campus for my junior year, I plunged headfirst into one of the hardest few months of my life. Last semester, I juggled 19 credits, my Princeton Review job, and volunteering while holding myself to a strict writing schedule of 900+ words a day.

This semester, another career-altering event occurred when I became an agented writer. Although my novel is still far from being published, I’ve been seriously considering MFA programs. For those of you who aren’t writers, a MFA is a Masters in Fine Arts and usually involves a two-year writing workshop that culminates in a thesis — usually a novel for Fiction MFA’s. Coincidentally, the University of Michigan is home to one of the country’s best MFA programs. But there’s no way in hell I’m staying in Ann Arbor after graduation. I figure that focusing on my writing for a while would do it some good, but I’m also concerned that it may not be so good for my mental health.

Since my languages have been my bread and butter, I looked into Harvard’s Romance Languages and Literatures graduate program, which is absolutely amazing. After five years, you get a Masters and a PhD. Not only is tuition/board covered, you’re even provided a stipend. There’s no doubt that I’d enjoy the program, and Boston is cool, but I looked at a list of recent graduates and everyone is a professor somewhere. I’m really not cut out to be a professor — I don’t want to do linguistic research; I want to learn how to speak argot AKA slang like a French rapper.

So now I’m back to one of my earlier life plans, which is a masters in International Relations. I would love to do Johns Hopkins’ SAIS and spend a year in Nanking, China. I wish they had a campus in Paris. Looks like I’ll end up keeping some parts of that ridiculous email life plan, as I recently accepted an offer to be a 2013 Honors Summer Fellow. Ironically, this spring I’ll be enrolling in Econ 102 to make my potential application to SAIS more competitive. This time, I’ll be sure to get an A.

Au revoir,

R

New Year’s Resolutions

Happy New Year from Boca Raton.

Happy New Year from Boca Raton.

First, let me say this: I’m writing this post against my will. My dad insisted that all of his children make New Year’s resolutions. Being the obedient daughter that I am (ha!), I acquiesced. Usually, I avoid blogger clichés like the plague. Those “Best of 2012” and “Worst of 2012” lists made my eyes bleed. But this time, I concede that setting goals is always a good thing and the start of a year is as good a time as any to create resolutions. Plus, the last time I did this, I ended up unwittingly achieving most of my list. In retrospect, some of my goals were bizarre. Here’s a sample of my 29 resolutions from 2009:

Satisfactory scores on the ACT, SAT, & AP tests. (Check)

Half of meals vegetarian. (Fail — didn’t even try)

Establish beliefs about God. (Fail — despite trying)

No car accidents or tickets. (Check)

Be less lazy. (Check…I guess?)

Go skinny-dipping. (Fail — still haven’t done it!)

Be happy. (Check, for the most part)

I was an odd 16-year-old. So here goes version 2013:

2013 New Year’s Resolutions

  1. 4.0 Winter 2013 semester. I haven’t been able to achieve a 4-point semester in college thus far. There’s always that pesky A- that manages to sneak onto my transcript. Or, like last semester, the world’s easiest class that’s impossible to get a good grade in because of the sadistic GSI (I will forever sing my hatred for CICS 301, Topics in Human Security). Next semester, I’ll have 20 credit hours — perfect time for a challenge.
  2. Keep up relationship with siblings. It’s hard to connect with my much younger siblings (11, 10, and 5) when I’m a thousand miles away, especially when they’re starting to become antisocial pre-teens. But I want to be there for them as their parents undergo an ugly divorce, even if it’s just to complain together about how awkward the situation is.
  3. Submit novel manuscript to three contests. I’ve already set my sights on U of M’s Hopwood Contest. My goal is to enter two other contests.
  4. Find a literary agent. I’ve decided to go the traditional route, which I’ll elaborate on in future CP posts.
  5. Publish novel. Ultimately, this is my number one professional goal for 2013. I’m not sure at all if I will succeed, but I’m going to give it my best shot.
  6. Be the best tutor/teacher I can be. I take my job as an ACT/SAT/GRE tutor and teacher at the Princeton Review seriously. I enjoy helping kids achieve their goals, and the paycheck is an additional bonus.
  7. Blog at least once a week. Last semester, I was able to average one post per week. As I get even busier next semester, I hope I’ll be able to make this quota. 2012 was my best blogging year by far — the highlight was being featured on Freshly Pressed in October. Hopefully, I’ll be able to build upon this success in 2013 and reward you, dear readers, with many more entertaining posts.
  8. Hit the gym weekly. I failed at this badly last semester, but I’ll try harder this time! My squash racquet is itching for a good game.
  9. Continue to improve French. My fluency in French increased tremendously last year, and I want to continue the rate of progress even though I won’t be in Paris again this summer. I’m volunteering to teach English to French-speaking African refugees, so I should get a lot of practice there. I’ve finished half of Ceci n’est pas une autobiographie. Up next I have a textbook on dramaturgie (story-writing), Animal Farm in French, and tons of movies (Un prophète is next on the list).
  10. Only do the things I want to do. By this, I don’t mean that I want to become a selfish, inconsiderate person. I mean that I don’t want to pursue projects simply to please my parents. I don’t want to apply for scholarships just to achieve recognition. I want to do the things that make me truly happy, whatever that may be.

There are many other goals I have in place already, so I won’t particularly make note of them. On the list above are the things specific to 2013 that I want to accomplish. We’ll see how much of it materializes, and I’ll report back at the end of 2013.

What are some of your New Year’s resolutions? Do you normally achieve your goals?

Bonne année,

R

CP: How to Write a Novel

This post is part of the Creative Process series, in which I will whine, cry, and philosophize about my life as a fiction writer. In the worst case scenario, fellow struggling artists will be heartened by my constant failures. In the best case scenario, a best-selling novel just might be written. 

I apologize sincerely for the lack of posts lately, but these past few weeks have been hellish for me. NaNoWriMo, the University of Michigan, Thanksgiving, and stomach flu have all conspired to decrease my blogging. Fortunately, though, I did finish the first draft of my novel! At 68,258 words and 242 pages, it’s still rough around the edges and needs a lot of filling out, but it’s a complete manuscript. That means that the tough part begins now — editing.

While I’ve tweaked a few things here and there, I’m leaving the heavy duty lifting until after my beta readers have had their fun. Do any of you use beta readers? Essentially, they provide the first feedback on your writing so that you can improve. I’m really scared, though, because this is my first novel and I’m terrified that people won’t like it. But I’m rounding up a great group of readers whose advice I trust. First, there’s Phineas, who has a very low tolerance for my bullshit. Then, there’s Fabrice, my wonderful Parisian friend who will edit the portions of dialogue in French. Thirdly, my fellow WordPress blogger, Dennis McHale, has kindly offered to read for me. That means I’m still looking for two more readers…if you’re interested, please comment below!

Now that I have successfully finished my manuscript, I feel slightly more qualified to offer novel-writing advice. I’m sorry if I wasn’t able to help much with your NaNoWriMo attempts (as there are three days left of November), but I’m sure many of you will continue working on either the same or a new novel. So here goes wisdom learned the hard way:

How to Write a Novel

  1. Start with an idea. While this may seem intuitive, it is really important that before you begin writing, you have an idea that you are passionate about. You don’t have to know all your characters or all your plot twists. You can start with a setting or with a feeling. For my novel, I was inspired by several works of art — the documentary  La domination masculine, the film Parlez-moi de la pluie, and the picaresque novel Don QuixoteIf you’re not able to think of anything, then expose yourself to as much creativity as possible. Don’t limit yourself to literature; try TV shows, musicals, etc. Above all, write a novel that you would want to read.
  2. Make a schedule. If you only write when you feel like it, your novel will never get written. For me, I had to carve time from being a full-time student and part-time tutor in order to write. In order to make this happen, I set my alarm for 7 am Monday through Friday and put in a solid 2 hours of writing before class. To keep my sanity and creative juices flowing, I took weekends off. Figure out whether you write better in the morning or in the evening, and stick to your schedule no matter what.
  3. Practice. As if anything, practice doesn’t make perfect, but it certainly makes better. At first, start with a number. I recommend something between 500 and 1000 words a day. I chose 900 somewhat arbitrarily, but I found it worked for me. Then, proceed to manipulate, blackmail, and bribe yourself in order to achieve that goal every day. Trust me, you’re going to fail a lot. Most days, reaching your target number will feel like death. If you fall short, though, don’t worry. It gets easier. Towards the end of my novel, I was reaching 2000 words a day regularly.
  4. Don’t edit. In fact, try not to think about your novel at all when you’re not writing. This is much harder said than done and if you’re anything like me, you’ll be constantly critiquing yourself and berating yourself for being the worst writer on the planet. Try your best to quiet the cynical judge within you. It also helps to keep your lips sealed about your novel. Even if you’re excited about your characters and your plot, don’t talk about it to anyone. You might think that it’ll encourage you, but in the end it will only slow you down.
  5. Finish. No matter how badly you’ve failed at following the first four rules, none of it matters as long as you finish. Even if you end the novel well short of your target word count, do whatever you must to finish. I wasn’t sure how long my novel would be, but I wanted it around 90,000 words. I’m about 20,000 words short of that, but I’m planning to flesh out my first draft significantly in the next few edits.

And voilà you have your first draft. When I survive the editing process, I’ll be sure to post a guide on that too. Are any of you finishing up your NaNoWriMo novels as we speak? Do you have any tips for aspiring authors?

Bonne chance,

R

P.S. For those of you waiting for part three of Greatest Man, don’t worry! It’s coming soon.

Paris vs. New York

So nostalgic for this.

Or, plutôt, France vs. the United States. La France contre les Etats-Unis. Less than two months since my departure from Paris and reintegration into American suburbia, I feel so empty. I feel so dry. There’s a colour on the palette of my being which is missing. I look through the kaleidoscope and where I expect to see a rainbow, instead there’s just black and white. Noir et blanc. Whereas my time in Paris left me feeling so utterly full and complete, my days here in Ann Arbor are dull and lacking. Here, there is an absence. An absence of Intimacy, of Intellect, of Art, and of Love.

There are advantages and disadvantages of every society, they tell me. You can’t have it all — don’t complain and accept your situation. But I have tried, I protest. I was content to return home, happy to see the familiar, relieved to know my way around. As much as I try, though, I cannot feel that this is my country. As much as I try, I cannot feel that I belong here. Yes, I was born and raised on American soil. Yes, I have benefited from all that my country has provided me. Yet my heart never sings the way it does when I walk through the marchés aux puces in Paris or stroll along the Seine. The U.S. is in love with technology, globalisation, the future, capitalism. France is a country of history, culture, art, music. On the distinction between Paris and New York City, the French-Cuban writer Anaïs Nin said it best:

Sometimes I think of Paris not as a city but as a home. Enclosed, curtained, sheltered, intimate. The sound of rain outside the window, the spirit and the body turned towards intimacy, to friendships and loves. One more enclosed and intimate day of friendship and love, an alcove. Paris intimate like a room. Everything designed for intimacy. Five to seven was the magic hour of the lovers’ rendezvous. Here it is the cocktail hour.

New York is the very opposite of Paris. People’s last concern is with intimacy. No attention is given to friendship and its development. Nothing is done to soften the harshness of life itself. There is much talk about the ‘world,’ about millions, groups, but no warmth between human beings. They persecute subjectivity, which is a sense of inner life; an individual’s concern with growth and self-development is frowned upon.

Just as Anaïs was forced out of France twice — once by her parents’ divorce and another by the Second World War, I find myself trapped here in America against my volition. I find myself preoccupied over grades, scholarships, internships, student organisations. But my artist’s soul longs to be released. I long to join the ranks of street performers on les rues de Paris. I wish to follow in the footsteps of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Mark Twain, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Mark Twain and many more American writers who left their homeland for the City of Light. Because yes, mais oui, Paris is the city of light. À Paris, the artist’s eyes are opened. Her heart is warmed, her fingers relaxed, her pen flowing. À Paris, the created become the creators. À Paris, life is lived in colour.

Insha’Allah, I will return.

Au revoir,

R