Dreams

My dream is to look out my front porch and see something like this.

Today I want to write about something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently — what a career means to me. I feel super strange to say this, almost ashamed, like I’m betraying my parents, generations of feminists, and my own intellectual ability. Here is my confession: lately, I’ve been pondering if a career in the traditional sense is worth it to me. This is coming from someone who had the stereotypical Tiger Mother, was convinced that my job would mean everything to me, and did what I had to do to get accepted into Yale Law School. For many years, my ambition defined me. My self-worth was comprised of 4.0s, academic honors, and prestigious internships. When I arrived at Yale, I was such a stereotypical first-year that I look back and cringe at myself. I wanted to practice international human rights law and save the world, I wanted to clerk on the Supreme Court, I wanted to become a federal judge. Slowly, as I looked around and saw people who were further along those paths, I began to question why I wanted these things.

Someone once said in a TED talk, pretty sure it was Alain de Botton, that if two jobs are equal to you and you are having trouble deciding between them, you should choose the less prestigious option. Prestige is nothing but the opinions of other people, he says, and will not bring you happiness. When I look at things that way, the world suddenly makes a lot of sense. Yale Law School is full of people chasing prestige, because it is full of people who care very much what other people think about them. There is nothing wrong with that, and many of them will go on to do great things, but it’s just not me. While it would be a lie to say that I’ve never cared what other people think about me, I think that I simply care less than others, and I value my own happiness over prestige. Yes, it would feel great to be a world-renowned lawyer or judge. A part of me would enjoy being that, and I would probably be good at it. But at what expense? International law is a romantic concept, and you have to be passionate about international law itself to enjoy it. If you actually want to make a difference in people’s lives, being a diplomat or politician or even Peace Corps volunteer would be more effective. At one point in my life, I considered all of those options, but I know myself enough to know that I don’t want a career that will relocate me every few years or require working more than 40 hours a week.

I think millions of lawyers just collectively laughed at me. Fifty might be feasible, but 40? Forget it. And you know what? They’re probably right that I won’t find a job as an attorney working 40 hours a week and making reasonable money. The only one I know of is in Omaha, Nebraska, and I’m pretty hesitant to move my entire family there. That’s why I’m starting to accept and even embrace the possibility that I will never use my J.D. The only kind of legal job that I would want is to start my own practice, which I haven’t investigated enough to say for sure I could do it. So what could I do if I didn’t practice law? Apparently, lots of things! I just applied for a teaching position that would pay $100/hour, allow me to make my own hours, and has offices all around the world (including Ann Arbor!). I loved teaching in college, and if I get this job, it would be extremely hard to turn down. I could work part-time, take months off to travel the world, move back home to Ann Arbor, and still make a better living than I could as an attorney. And the best part? I would have enough time to write, take Juno to the dog park every day, train my horse, and create new recipes. Recently, I was looking for a horse to lease, and there are so many of them owned by people who don’t have enough time to ride them. I don’t want that to be me. What’s the point of owning an animal that costs more than $1000/month if you’re not going to ride it?

I have many dreams. I want to keep a hobby farm full of chicken and goats and rabbits. I’m not sure if I could stomach raising livestock for meat, but I like the idea of it — they can have great lives while alive and you can ensure they are treated humanely. I feel like that’s the most ethical thing I could do as a meat-eater and owner of an obligate carnivore who consumes two pounds of meat a day. (At this point, you might as well classify me as an obligate carnivore too, considering my dietary needs.) I want to have land, enough land for a farm and garden and stable. There is nothing more important to me than to give my animals the absolute best in their too-short captive lives. And, when the time comes, I want my kids to grow up next to nature, away from technology, letting their imaginations run wild. I want to teach them to ride, to ski, to track deer. I want their idea of a fun Sunday afternoon to be a competition to see who can lasso cattle on horseback. Basically, I want to raise a bunch of cowboys and cowgirls. Who also speak four languages and have lived in four different countries. Who are confident in their identity and intimately familiar with their Chinese, Taiwanese, and Jewish heritage.

I’ve never felt more at home than when I put on my cowboy hat.

My dreams are so, so much more important to me than a job. I want a job that will not only allow but support me to do all those things. I’m not picky about what the job actually entails, as long as it’s not doing evil and it challenges me and fulfills me. If that means I never use my J.D., so be it.

Why I’m Not Having a Wedding

My dream wedding venue, despite that it has no trees and is only accessible by helicopter...

My dream wedding venue, despite that it has no trees and is only accessible by helicopter…

This isn’t about how I have something against weddings, or the institution of marriage. In fact, I very much plan on getting married. Recently, a close friend and her boyfriend have been at a crossroads — she wants to get married and he doesn’t. While giving them advice about their relationship, I’ve found myself really thinking about marriage and what it means. In the past, when I was young and idealistic and enjoyed writing essays on Rousseau’s Discourse on Inequality, I liked to tell people that marriage was meaningless. It was a piece of paper, and it represented nothing. Instead, it was the bond between two people, choosing to be together, but not forced to be, that was truly beautiful. Over time, my view on marriage changed. As a law clerk at an immigration legal aid center, I saw how much marriage meant to the government. Just to apply for naturalization, we had to list all of the applicant’s prior spouses, including their birthdays and dates of marriage and immigration statuses. My clients would never remember, obviously. They would have to call up their ex that they hadn’t spoken to in years before they could apply. Not to mention, if you were married, your spouse could be automatically attached to every kind of application for immigration status. Often, our Latin American clients liked to refer to their long-time boyfriends as “mi esposo” or “mi marido”, and we would have to ask them to clarify: ¿están casados o no? Are you married? Though clearly not to them, to the government, there was a huge difference.

So I told my friend that marriage means something. Whether it is antiquated or not, it means something to the government and it means something to our society. The LGBTQ community didn’t fight so hard for marriage just for a piece of paper. The legal benefits of marriage are many, though almost all of them you can achieve through roundabout ways. Personally, I believe that the most important benefit of marriage is societal respect. The words boyfriend, fiancé, and husband have very different connotations. You can move across the country for your fiancée or your wife, but girlfriend? That sounds ill-fated. You can take time off work to care for your fiancé or husband, but your boyfriend? He should be able to take care of himself. Marriage legitimizes your union to the public; it’s something that almost everyone can respect.

Anyway, I’ve gone off on a long tangent. Back to weddings. Yes, when I was a kid, I always thought I would have a big, beautiful wedding. When I started dating my first boyfriend in high school, I fantasized about that wedding. I wanted a big tree, with lights strung up, and I was going to walk down the aisle to Book of Love by the Magnetic Fields. My first dance was going to be Leanne Rimes’ Unchained Melody. And then, because I have a morbid sense of humor, I wanted Creep by Radiohead. And You Know I’m No Good by Amy Winehouse. I’ve always found the saddest songs the most romantic. More recently, I’ve added details to my dream wedding, like riding down the aisle on horseback, against the backdrop of the Canada’s Torngat Mountains, while the first snow fell.

And now? I’ve realized that I don’t want any of it. What happened, you might ask? Moving in to my first house happened. Well, technically I haven’t moved in to it yet, but I’ve been virtually moving in from 1,000 miles away, which is infinitely more stressful. I want my first house to be perfect in every way; I want every corner to give me a little joy when I pass by. For the past few weeks, I’ve been stalking Amazon, Zulily, Craigslist, and estate auctions for the best deals for everything ranging from custom-made club chairs to steam mops. I learned what valances are and how many panels of curtains you need for different sized windows. I bought diffusers and essential oils and two bird feeders for Blueberry. Most of these things I bought were 30-50% off. The few pieces of furniture we picked up from the auction are more than 80% off their original retail prices. Dan is obsessed with his Italian leather recliner. I’ve told him that it’s gonna have to go in the basement, but for now he’s put it in the living room and has been enjoying it in all its glory. The fabric on our club chairs is softer than a baby’s bum. We have crepe makers and Korean stone bowls and a fire pit. How could I be anything but insanely happy?

The beginnings of our library/piano room. Don't worry -- those valances are coming off.

The beginnings of our library/piano room. Don’t worry — those valances are coming off.

Let me tell you why — I can’t get over the one thing I lost. I had my eye on a stunning distressed white solid wood table at the auction. Full retail price would be in the thousands. The final bid was $225. And I lost that motherfucker because I entered my credit card information wrong! Since then, I’ve been devastated. I really needed that table to come home with us, not only because it was the best deal we could have gotten, and I can’t find any table that I like better than that, but because holy crap I need this process to be over. That would have been by far the heaviest piece of furniture in our place, and it would have gone a long way towards making me feel like we’re almost done. Instead, there’s still an empty space in the dining room where that table should be. The only other tables I like as much as that one are custom-made and cost around $1000. Dan says we should just get one, but I don’t know if I can spend that kind of money. That’s what all of this comes down to, money. Well, not really money, but feeling like I don’t deserve to spend money on myself. I never let myself buy anything at close to full retail price, even when I could easily afford it. When I get something more than 50% off, I feel better, because technically I saved more than I spent, which means that I almost didn’t buy anything for myself.

In her book on anorexia, Peggy Claude-Pierre wrote about her own daughter’s experience with the disease. One of the most painful scenes to read was the one where she drove her daughter for hours and to a dozen grocery stores in search of the “perfect” banana. To her daughter, the perfect banana was the one that was bruised, black, nearly rotten. To her daughter, that was the only banana she was good enough to eat. This anecdote resonated with me. Though I’ve never withheld food from myself, I’ve withheld almost any kind of guilty pleasure. My version of that disgusting banana is 80% off furniture. Buying all of these things that I love hurts me, because ultimately it’s an act of love towards myself. I’m creating the home that I’ve always wanted and never had, full of everything that will make me happy. And I still don’t believe that I deserve it. I still don’t believe that I deserve to love myself in that way. So I’m coping by holding myself to the highest standard — buying the “perfect” things at the “perfect” price. When I fall short of that standard, I torture myself.

I don’t know if there’s anything more self-loving than throwing yourself a wedding. As far as I know, there are no 80% off wedding invitations, photographers, florists, venues. If I had to have a wedding, I would probably buy someone else’s wedding from them for a discount and give up my big tree, my Torngat Mountains, my snow. I would stress over every expense the way I am now for our house. I would blame myself for not being “perfect”. And then, what would be the point? I’d much rather take a helicopter to the Torngat Mountains with Dan, 420 miles away from the nearest road, and see if our love can survive a complete lack of civilization.

I Did It

Growing up as an only child of a single immigrant parent, I knew certain truths. First, I would go to college. To this day, it surprises me that going to college isn’t the norm for many Americans, not just for That Guy in high school who runs over baby chicks with his Hummer. Second, I knew that going to any school lower-ranked than the University of Michigan was failure. It was always assumed that I would get in to Michigan — Michigan State University never passed through my mom’s lips. Third, I knew that getting in to college was the sole purpose of everything I’d done for the first 18 years of my life. Especially after my mother and I realized I wasn’t going to skate in the 2010 Winter Olympics, all the years I’d spent on the ice now served another purpose: the line on my resume that read “Huron High School Figure Skating Team, Co-Captain and Two-time State Champion”. I never thought about what would come after I got in to college. My first semester at Michigan, for God knows what reason, I decided that I wasn’t going to graduate school (ha), and I would maintain a 3.0 GPA. Thanks to a B- in Econ, I achieved a perfect three-point that fall.

My confusion about the point of college continued. As my grades languished, I let my chances of getting into business school slip away. I randomly applied for a State Department internship just because the counselor said it was the most competitive. When the Chief of Mission told me how he had to justify the Iraqi war, I realized that I was too irreverent to be a diplomat. At some point, I decided to apply to law school. As I’ve said repeatedly in recent job interviews, yes, I did apply to law school because I wanted to make an impact on people. But it was also to buy myself time to figure out what the hell I wanted to do with my life. I thought that law school was the one graduate program that wouldn’t force me to specialize and would allow me to change my mind every other month. Thank God I was right about that. Since starting school last fall, I’ve bounced from career path to career path. On December 1st, in the midst of my complete confusion, I emailed out five summer job applications.

Yesterday, I flew to a city I’d never visited before, in a state I never thought I’d end up in, and I came home with an offer from my dream company.

Somehow, after starting my summer job search looking for a job, I ended up with the job I’ve always wanted. It wasn’t an easy road to get there. In the past few months, I’ve had to do a lot of soul-searching, shedding a lot of naïveté and idealism along the way. I weighed all of the things I thought I cared about — “saving” the world, prestige, money, location, work-life balance.

I never want to drive to New York ever again.

I never want to drive to New York ever again.

Some of those things began to matter more, and some less. As I passed in and out of New York’s BigLaw offices, money surged ahead of work-life balance. Then, in a moment of clarity, I bopped myself in the head, “Rebecca, your goal in life is not to work more than 40 hours a week. Are you crazy?” My first offer was for a public interest organization, but it would force me to relocate to D.C. with no pay. When I found out I was ineligible for Yale’s public interest funding, I put my foot down on that one. My second offer was in the perfect location, but would involve liaising with the NRA. I was open to doing that as an intellectual exercise, but I certainly wasn’t excited about it.

And then I hit the jackpot. It’s an in-house position at a Fortune 500 company that will hire me back next summer and the summer after I graduate, assuming everything goes well. The actual work combines everything that I’ve loved in law school — Property, Contracts, and Torts. I get my own office in the 82,000 square foot building.  My coworkers are amazing. The first attorney I met won a reality TV cooking show, and I’ve been promised cookie dough samples. Another attorney is also horse crazy, and she offered to give me recommendations on the many barns in the area. All of the attorneys assured me that they worked no more than 40-50 hours a week. The office is heavily bipartisan along pro-dog and pro-cat lines, with healthy sparring from both sides. I get the feeling that I won’t ever need a professional catsitter again. Did I mention this is a city where you can buy 7-bedroom mansions for half a million dollars and the school districts are top-notch?

This house is half a million dollars?!

This house is half a million dollars?!

Before I started my summer job search, I was told that this job didn’t exist. Even now, it’s hard to believe that it’s real. I could never apply for a job again. I could never interview again. I still haven’t earned a real grade in law school yet, and I may never be asked for my transcript again. That blows my mind. It seems almost unfair, a “windfall” as law professors would say, but I know that I have worked for this. This is why I didn’t drop out of law school, even though the past eight months have been the most challenging ones I’ve ever faced, in terms of mental health. I have felt like the pain and suffering would never end, I have wondered if law school would literally kill me, I have questioned my judgment in continuing it. Even my mom asked me why I didn’t just quit. But I held on, in the hope that it would all be worth it in the end. This summer, that hope could become a reality.

I did it — I figured out why I went to college.

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

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

What I Learned in Germany

Dogs enjoying the German countryside.

Dogs enjoying the German countryside.

Don’t worry, guys. I haven’t fallen off the face of the earth after graduation. I just spent the past two weeks in Germany with Hans. I’ve never been one for travel blogging, with the exception of the Asia series, so I won’t tell you how to spend your next vacation. Instead, I’ll tell you what I learned about myself during my repose, most of which has little to do with Germany. For a little bit of context, this trip came at a precarious point in life, in many different respects. We left the day after my graduation and it felt bittersweet, like running away from a former lover with a new one. Oh college, how I would miss those four years of time during which I learned how to learn, how to love, how to fail. How I would miss the joy and forgiveness that accompany the privilege of experiencing adult freedoms without adult responsibilities. I took mementos of my former lover into my new world — during bouts of nostalgia, I sought solace in Gabriel García Márquez’s lyrical Spanish in Love in the Time of Cholera.

Ready for my flight!

(Somewhat) ready for my flight.

For the most part, while I was in Germany, I was happy to be disconnected from my life in Ann Arbor. Besides the occasional nightmare about failing a class and the job situation, I successfully avoided thinking about the past and the future. All that, I thought, could wait for my return. Surprisingly, though, I must have tackled many of the question marks looming over my head without recognizing it. Because now, as I sit at my laptop less than 24 hours after setting foot on American soil, the answers are sitting patiently at my fingertips.

This morning, the first thing I felt was the urge to write. Once I opened up a blank page in front of me, I knew, the rest would come. So without further ado, new revelations in the life of Rebecca Cao, courtesy of Germany:

  1. Even the most experienced travelers can experience culture shock. At this point, I thought I’d seen it all — neither China’s squatting toilets nor Paris’ homeless families appalled me. Yet being immersed in a foreign culture, one that I knew little about prior, was overwhelming.
  2. I still don’t like traveling. I don’t mean that I don’t like to travel to other countries; I mean that I don’t like to do the typical tourist hit-and-run. This is why I enjoyed my time at Hans’ parents’ village home more than our brief voyages to Budapest and Munich.
  3. America is, undeniably, one of the best places to live. I never really understood why people from all over the world come to the US. I thought that China was more fun, Taiwan had better food, Spain had more history, France was more beautiful. Now, I finally understand that America is comfortable in a way that nowhere else matches.
  4. I didn’t make a mistake in signing my lease. After apartment-hunting for one grueling month, I ended up taking a place rather hastily. As I worried about making rent and being flat broke, I wondered if this was a mistake. This morning, as I contemplated the prospect of staying home at my mom’s place all day, I realized I couldn’t live here another year.
  5. I’m going to work hard, play hard. Now that I’m on a budget, I didn’t know if I could keep up luxuries such as driving, horseback riding, and my unpaid job. I now know that I want to keep those things, for my own happiness, and I’m going to take on as many additional jobs as necessary to do that.
  6. I’m going to keep editing and writing. I’ve been less than productive on the novel end, partially because I’ve been waiting on my agent’s feedback. When I go to China in a week, I’m going to get back to editing, even if I haven’t heard from her by then. After I’m finished editing, I’m going to start a new novel.
  7. My happiness is my own responsibility. This is something I’ve known for a while, but I’ve been reminded of it these past few weeks. Sometimes, you have to take care of yourself, because no one else can.
  8. You will always hurt people and you can never be completely fair. Sometimes, the least and the most you can do is to be honest.
  9. I’m still dependent on my parents, and that’s okay. I’ve been putting pressure on myself to be financially independent of my parents and to live as though the savings in my account are all I have to fall back on. But the truth is that I am lucky to have supportive parents and it’s okay to lean on them a little if I need it.
  10. I want to attend NYU law. So it’s a bit early for that, and I’m still applying to a handful of schools in the fall. But I’m increasingly convinced that it’s the right place for me, and that international law is what I want to do.

What are some post-grad lessons you learned? What do you miss about college?

Salut,

R

Remembering Happiness

I'm such a redneck.

The Pennsylvanian outback. I’m such a redneck.

Memory is fragile, as anyone who’s experienced Alzheimer’s will tell you. But memory is also enduring. When you’re dying, life might not flash before your eyes, but you could end up recalling every goddamn ingredient in your grandmother’s secret chicken pot pie recipe. Memory is powerful. A simple taste, smell, sound can take you back to bliss or to tragedy. A long time ago, my friend claimed that there were two kinds of people in the world: those who remembered good things and those who remembered bad things. He said that he was a “positive memory” person. In his earliest memory, he was only a year old. His parents were pushing him through the law quad here at Michigan, and he remembered the sunshine against his face. The only other person I know who recalls such an early memory is a friend who was electrocuted into a coma.

I’ve had a strange relationship to memory, as do many others who’ve suffered. It’s easy to look back and think that life was always terrible. It’s easy to blame the adults in my life for wreaking havoc on my childhood. It’s easy to point the fingers at all the religious fanatics who took so much time I’ll never get back. But the truth is that this isn’t the whole picture. In the midst of it all, I had moments of happiness. Not the happiness I experienced the Sunday of my first Welcome Week, as I threw my hands in the air and sang, “The club can’t even handle me right now!” But a happiness that is whole, nurturing, lasting.

Although my father only lived in Allentown, Pennsylvania for a year, I will never forget the time I spent there. When I’m scared and I’m searching for a feeling of home, Allentown is what I’m homesick for. I miss walking out the backyard and trekking through acres of cornfields. I miss playing basketball with my dad in the driveway. I miss running outside at dusk, catching fireflies in my palms. I miss mountains that you can hike and rocky cliffs that you can look down, reminded of how small and human you are. I miss riding into the sunset and having your adrenaline spike when your guide’s mare catches the scent of a bear and nearly falls into a gorge. Then there was the drive-through movie theater where I watched Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man and Lilo & Stitch and ate Milk Duds while my baby brother slept in the trunk of our SUV. If one day I have to settle down and commit to the American suburbia lifestyle, I think I’d be okay with somewhere like Allentown.

The only other place I get homesick for is China. For Lijiang, the ancient city you can only enter by foot. For Guiling, one of the most breathtaking places in the world. For Wuhan, the city in the heart of the country that my dad has called home for a decade. For supermarkets that have multiple floors and moving ramps you can take your cart down. For department stores that are stories high and contain fashion that horrifies me. For breakfast food courts that sell noodles, dumplings, wontons, pork buns, you name it. Where you can eat for less than one US dollar, which is the daily allowance for an average Chinese. For KFCs that sell egg tarts and soy milk and porridge. For the squash court, the only in the city, that my dad’s best friend built and to which we have lifetime passes. For Huangshi, my father’s hometown, where my grandparents were born.

Guilin China

I think I look like a Communist in this photo. And, of course, the tour guide flag is in the background.

Of course, I must not forget Taiwan. My cousin Jacky’s flat in Kaohsiung that is both expensive and modest at the same time. Hualien, my mother’s birthplace, that is full of mountains and water. Where the same vendor has been selling shaved ice with sweet peanuts since my mom was a little girl. The hotel surrounded in fog, near the highest point of altitude on the entire island. Our room was two stories high and its decor was more Italian Renaissance than traditional Taiwanese. The most famous street in the country, packed with tourists, noodle shops, smoothie vendors, and one notorious sex store. The winding mountain roads that my former-taxi-driver uncles navigate like Nascar racers. The Greek palace that I hesitate to call a hotel, where we played poker and drank Smirnoff into the wee hours of the night. All the restaurants we visited, where every morsel of taro would end up on my plate, as my relatives knew it was my favorite.

Rebecca in Taiwan 1

Me, mom, aunt, cousin Jacky. Love how the Asianness increases from left to right.

Excited Rebecca

Excited about trinkets.

Greek Palace

Lounging in our Greek palace, nbd.

Greek Baths

Care to join our bath?

Taiwan_2009_5

We biked many kilometers this day. And we look like thugs.

Highest Altitude Taiwan

3150 meters high, baby! Brr cold.

Itchy Rebecca

Miserable me. Had to stop every minute to apply anti-itch cream. I counted 50+ mosquito bites by the end.

Here’s to happy memories! What are some of your happiest memories?

Ciao,

R

How to Have a Functional Relationship

Trust me, my other fall was not nearly as graceful as this one.

I have something embarrassing to admit. On Friday, I was in the middle of a riding lesson when everything began to fall apart. After months of pushing myself to my limits, riding until my inner thighs burned and my muscles felt like jello, I finally reached that limit. And passed it. We were cantering in a circle over poles, but I was losing the strength to stay balanced, push my horse over the poles, and maneuver her in a circle. When she broke into a trot, laws of inertia sent me careening towards the outside of the circle. As time slowed, I realized that I was probably going to fall off. In that moment, though, I had no fear of falling. My horse wasn’t even that tall and I thought that I could plop into the dirt without being injured. The moment I hit the ground, I regretted not trying harder to stay on. I landed hard on the right side of my lower back, bracing my fall partially with my right hand and upper arm. After I caught my breath again, I could tell that I wasn’t seriously injured, so I immediately wanted to get back on and ride. That I did, and I finished out the lesson with a few good runs over the poles.

As soon as I got off, though, I began to feel it. Every step I took felt like pins and needles where my femur met my tailbone, as if the cartilage was missing. Showering was difficult one-handed and every time I had to bend over, I gritted my teeth in pain. I grew frustrated when I couldn’t perform simple tasks with my right hand, like turning a doorknob or slicing off a slab of butter. At night, I was grateful that I’d always been a stomach sleeper, because that was the only position that didn’t cause excruciating pain. Even in that position, however, my back throbbed. This morning, I decided not to go the barn because I needed to rest and heal. But all I want to do is go and ride, so now I’m irritated. Irritated at what? you might ask.

You see, throughout this experience, I may have been angry at myself and my body, but never was I mad at my horse. Actually, I’m never mad at Betsy. Not when she throws ugly fits and fights me with all her strength. Not when she insists on going backwards when I’m asking her to go forward. Not when she goes so close to the wall that she rams my leg into the wood. Why? Because it’s never just her fault. We are a team and every mistake we make is something that I could have done better. Before I blame her for something, I always think about what I could have been doing better. Just like neither of us deserves 100% credit for any victory, neither of us deserves 100% blame for any failure.

In considering my relationship with my horse, I began to think about human relationships. I’ve since realized that human relationships function the same way. Every relationship is a team effort and — no matter who happens to take the painful fall into the dirt — it’s unreasonable to accuse the other person without first taking a hard look at yourself. Especially since you can’t control anyone’s actions but your own, you should always think about what you can fix before you think about what someone else can fix.

Now, let me say that I think the viral “Marriage Isn’t For You” article is a load of bullshit, and not just because some religious fundamentalist wrote it. I think it’s bullshit because it expresses the same message that a church (of which I’m an ex-member) used to: that your needs don’t matter, or that your needs matter less than everyone else’s. Nope nope nope. Marriages and relationships are for you. Why the hell would anyone pursue them then? Let’s face it — nobody is that selfless. But the thing is that relationships are not all for you. Your significant other doesn’t exist to make you happy, make your troubles go away, carry you off into the sunset. Your significant other exists because they want to be a part of this team as much as you do.

And voilà, there you have it: a functional relationship.

What were your thoughts on Seth Adam Smith’s article? What’s your definition of a functional relationship?

Salut,

R

Winter Update

My favorite season.

Well, it’s been a while since I’ve updated you lovely people on my life! Let’s start with the small stuff and work our way to the big reveal, shall we? Although this isn’t “small” by any means, it’s the least extraordinary piece of news…I’m in my last semester of undergrad. I may have finally caught senioritis, as I’m only taking 12 credits and three real classes (the fourth is independent study). I’m still looking forward to and enjoying my courses, but I don’t feel the same pressure I used to. My French class fulfills my humanities credit, my Spanish class is for fun, and my painting class is going to kick my ass in the most wonderful unpredictable way. 

Now, for a more exciting piece of news, I’m going to Princeton in Asia interviews at the end of the month! I heard back from the program last month and I found out I was one of the selected applicants. There is still a lot of competition left, so I’m not sure if I’ll get the placement, but I’m hopeful. And I’ve never flown anywhere for an interview before (what you get for being a Romance Languages major), so this will be a new experience, even though it’s only to Chicago. Wish me luck, guys. 

As soon as I get back from the interview, though, I’m taking the February LSAT. I’ll need a lot more luck for this test…I’m shooting for a score that may or may not be unreasonable, considering I’ve only started studying recently. I was originally planning to take a Princeton Review prep course so that I would be forced to study diligently, but they canceled the course and I’m on my own now, which means procrastination is my worst enemy. 

So I finally heard back from my agent! She said many, many good things about my book. I can’t share the specifics with you without giving away spoilers, but I was especially touched when she said one of the scenes made her sob out loud. As always, it’s really rewarding to see how readers relate to your writing differently from how you would expect. I hadn’t thought much of that particular scene when I wrote it. Of course, she also had many criticisms, and I appreciated them just as much. In the end, I agreed to give her main suggestion a shot and completely restructure the timeline of the novel so that it is no longer in chronological order. So far, the revisions are going well and we should have this novel out for submission shortly. 

I would be dishonest if I said that the above commitments were keeping me busy. The truth is that my relationships are taking up most of my time these days, and I’m perfectly content with that. Relationships, you ask? Why, yes. These days my beautiful Arabian mare, Betsy, is learning to share me with my handsome German boyfriend, Hans. And yes, they’ve met. We’re just a happy, polyamorous family. 

How is your 2014 so far? Any exciting news of your own to share with us?

À bientôt,

R