25

Me at 18, looking at snapshots of my future. Can’t believe this was more than six years ago.

Today, I turn a quarter of a century old. It’s reasonable to think that I’ve only lived a quarter of my life. When you put it that way, I feel incredibly young. To think that I might have to live my life three times over makes me feel like that’s too long! I’ve had so many experiences in my short life — sometimes I feel that if my life were suddenly taken away from me, I would be okay with that. Life has been plentiful and beautiful and exhausting. Looking back, I don’t have any regrets, and I feel like I’ve seen most of what life has to offer. I always say that the one hallmark of the human experience I haven’t known personally is profound grief, but perhaps I’ve felt that in my own way. Death isn’t the only way you lose somebody. Of course, I still have a lot to learn, and there is plenty that I don’t know, but I don’t feel the way I used to when I was younger, when I was so afraid of missing out on some unique, once-in-a-lifetime feeling. I used to picture scenes of my future life, where I would make hot chocolate and look out the balcony of my New York City apartment on Christmas Eve. Where I would travel across the world and meet a stranger and exchange our life stories. Where I would show up to my very important job in a suit and converse with colleagues in foreign languages. Gradually, each of those scenes unfolded in real life. It always surprised me how much they were exactly as I had envisioned, and then, how little I needed to have them again.

Maybe I’m jaded, or maybe I’ve just grown up. Sometimes, I wish that I could have grown up in this way later, but perhaps it’s for the best. I don’t want to end up having a mid-life crisis later and realize that everything in my life was meaningless. The truth is that I still have dreams, and my life has so much meaning. My dreams are simply different, and the things I find meaningful now are also different. I just think 99% of what society says is important is bullshit. People might think I’m crazy, and I certainly doubt my sanity at times, but I can’t change how I feel. This past semester, after taking a puppy maternity leave, I realized that staying home with my puppy and protecting him from the dangers of this world and being there for every new sight and sound trumped any law school lecture. I love my dog more than I ever thought I would, and his wellbeing is paramount to me. Besides my fur baby, my human child AKA Billy Bob also means everything to me. This time in her life is so important, and it’s an incredible privilege and responsibility to be in a position to change her life for better or for worse. Every day, I think about how I can better prepare her to live a happy and fulfilling life once she no longer has us. That’s your job as a parent, isn’t it?

Instead of continuing to wax poetic about an arbitrary birthday, I’ll leave you with some things I’ve learned in my 25 years:

  1. You don’t have to be a Good Person™. I feel like there’s so much judgment in academic and liberal circles (cough, Yale) about what you choose to do with your career and whether you’re helping to change the world. Let’s be real — not a lot of jobs actually better the world. Some just appear to change the world more so than others. A lot of jobs that aren’t saving lives or protecting human rights can have an enormous impact on others. More importantly, your job doesn’t have to be the primary way in which you help other people. Personally, I believe that the people who always treat others with empathy, compassion, and kindness are the truly rare good people in life. I have one Facebook friend who takes an interest in others’ lives without expecting anything in return, just leaving positivity wherever she goes, and I aspire to be more like her. In contrast, another Facebook friend has a PhD and is always traveling to Africa for some humanitarian reason but ignores my attempts to connect with her.
  2. Money matters. Again, I feel like there is too much judgment about people who value money. Money freaking matters! Money doesn’t buy happiness, but it does buy freedom. Freedom is one of the most valuable things in our short lives where we are often stuck in an office 40+ hours a week. Money means you don’t have to work more than 40 hours a week. Money means when you leave the office, you don’t have to think about work anymore. Money means you can invest in hobbies and self-care and the things that truly matter in life. Money means you don’t have to choose between healthcare and putting food on the table.
  3. Relationships matter. Even more than money, relationships matter. I mean family, friends, and romantic partners. Not everyone needs or wants to be married, but I think the vast majority of people benefit from a stable, long-term romantic relationship. That kind of relationship, a good one, is so much harder to find and maintain than anyone ever lets on. Contrary to popular advice these days, which is worry about your career first and then your dating life, I would tell my kids that they have their entire lives to figure out their careers, but they only have a decade or two to figure out the most important decision of their lives — who to marry. Assuming that they want marriage and kids, of course. I would tell my kids to take dating as seriously as their calculus homework.
  4. Enjoy pre-adult life. You will never, ever, ever have this much time ever, ever again! Also, you’re not an adult until you’re living on your own and financially independent. I think you’re not really an adult either until someone else is dependent on you.
  5. People suck. I used to think that adults had their shit together and people were generally nice. Nope. People are selfish and vain and irresponsible. This has become abundantly clear to me since getting a dog. You would think that dog people would be better than the general population, but I’ve had dogs attack Juno while their owners were nowhere to be found. I’ve had owners bring their aggressive dogs to dog parks. I’ve had to catch runaway dogs and bring them back to their owners because their owners let them off-leash. They’re the same people who don’t train their dogs and then yell at them for being poorly behaved. Ugh, don’t even get me started on backyard breeding and the people who dump their dogs on the street. Now, I’m sure that there are good dog people and good people in general, because I’ve seen them on the internet (I love, absolutely love, the reddit community). But seriously, I never meet them in real life. I really hope that people are nicer to their kids than their dogs.

    A page out of a book called Adulting that gave me a good laugh. I know a lot of people who should read this book. 😉

  6. People won’t understand. Along the same vein, people are judgmental and mean and critical. They don’t understand mental illness, chronic but invisible illnesses, the effects of sexism/racism, etc. People will always judge you, so stop caring what they think. Treat others the way you would want to be treated, and then simply walk away.
  7. Just be happy. This one is the #1 piece of wisdom I hope to pass on to my kids. Nothing, absolutely nothing, matters if you’re not happy. I don’t care if you’re smart or dumb, pretty or ugly, successful or not, single or married, rich or poor. The most challenging and the most important task of your life is to find your happiness. I’ve seen so many smart, attractive, successful, married, and rich people make horrible life decisions that lead them to depression, addiction, and worse. I’ve watched someone who was all of those things die a little inside until he wasn’t even the same person anymore. Nothing matters if you’re not happy.

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.

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

I’m Meeting My Boyfriend’s Parents

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ciao,

R

When Mental Illness Is a Gift

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

Happiness is fleeting, but maybe that’s okay.

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

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

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

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

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

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

10 Lessons I Learned in 2014

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

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

Here are some other lessons I learned in 2014:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    My desk on a busy day.

    My desk on a busy day.

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

What did you learn in 2014?

Bonne année,

R

Fall Update

Rebecca Enjoying Fall

Enjoying the last of fall weather in the Arb.

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

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

I don’t think that’s true.

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

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

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

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

How’s that post-grad life treating you?

À bientôt,

R