Thank You, I Love You

The essence of life is learning when to hold on and when to let go.

I typed this quote furiously into my notes the other day as I began planning my journey home to the Bay Area, dashing across the room in a sudden haze. When your life is a constant state of limbo that’s neither here nor there, believe me when I say, there is always a heavy nagging pull from all directions.

Ever seen the movie Chocolat? Well if you haven’t, here’s a brief rundown of how the main character and her daughter live their lives: cursed by the will of the wind, they uproot their chocolate shoppe in search of the next unsuspecting village. I’m just now starting to think that perhaps the plot line of my life runs congruent to this heartwarming movie. From the moment I left home for college in Boston, I’ve been plagued with five-hour plane rides that made for three-hour time differences which meant my fair share of miscommunication and “I can’t deal with the distance”. And I despised my parents for this: brooding over the implications of the duality of my reality.

As the end of my undergraduate career crept near, I, the unsuspecting victim, bathed in the perils of a scattered heart. A heart divided, sprinkled, carved, and etched. A heart willingly offered to and shared amongst the most earnest people and places.

Since May of this year, I’ve left friends back east to return to my western roots. And in doing so, continued on my journey to the southern-most end of California, San Diego. For the duration of this month long escapade, I’ve trained hard to become a certified yoga instructor, met a few more soul sisters, eaten enough Mexican food to hold me off for a little while (who am I kidding, I’ll never be satisfied), and sprained my ankle (badly) at Woogie Weekend. Although I would have liked to have spent this last week scaling the cliffs of Black’s Beach or just doing a few sun salutations, I’m taking this as a blessing in disguise: a time to heal and reflect.

My heart is heavy but filled with love. The moon is full and bright, just as it was upon my arrival nearly a month ago. I feel a tug at my soul: an uncontrollable urge to start crying and to tell my parents that I’m never coming “home”, that this place of beauty and majesty has somehow felt more “home” to me than four years in a snow-drenched suburb. But as with the wind in Chocolat, the ebb and flow of the tides, the seasons of plenty and the seasons of want, and even the phases of the moon, I too, must learn when to hold on and when to let go.

To my new friends here in San Diego and to the unfathomable amount of thunderous laughter shared between us, thank you. Thank you for showing me that life cannot be lived without passion nor the inexplicable drive for growth and love. Thank you for becoming new branches of an ever-changing tree, seamlessly intertwined within my heart and soul. And as for the future, I know that distance makes such a trivial difference when faced with such a resilient bond. Thank you, I love you, but I must go, just for now.

Before I Graduate

I don’t know about you, but sometimes, on my way to something really grand, I’ll sit in silence and peer out the window.

It’s nice to bathe in the moments that come right before the finale: the burning in my chest, the sparks in my eyes, even the tingle just beyond the belly. This part’s always my favorite.

Ever since I was about five or six, my parents would count down the years until both my sister and I left for college. It was a number I found myself dreading… 12, 11, 10… though, it was never about my parents having to let go. I’d like to think it was a reminder that the time we spent together was precious and that the effort I put into my life really mattered. What did I want to learn? Who did I want to be? College had always seemed like this far-off concept that never quite arrived. Until the day that it did.

Moving out was hard.

Moving three thousand miles across the country was even harder. I left friends that I admired, family that I loved, and palm trees that graced only my dreams. Home became a multiplicity of things. If you know me at all, you know that perhaps I wasn’t fully devoted to my life out in the East. Yes, there were so many highs, but there were also handfuls of lows that boggled my sanity. Like many others, there were times I considered leaving. To this day, I can still remember the frantic calls made at one in the morning in the basement lounge as I muffled back tears.

But what good would that have done? Would I have met better mentors or more supportive friends? Would I have been a better person? The grass always seemed greener even though I was standing in a field of marigolds.

Four years later and here I am, right before the finale. Exactly fourty-seven days out. But graduating doesn’t necessarily mean bigger and better things. For some, it means infinite nine to fives that are spent staring out looming glass windows and reminiscing over days when all we did was lay out on the greenspace and pass around carafes of twisted teas. For others, it means gripping that diploma for dear life and wishing we could shake the meaning out of it.

And just like we did in elementary school, and middle school, and high school, and college, we’re going to make a lot of mistakes. Mistakes are what make us human. But if I leave you with one word of advice, it’s to never make excuses. Make mistakes and make them deliberately. Be decisive. At least, you’ll have a goddamn backbone.

I don’t want these years to be the best years of my life.

I want every year to be the best year of my life. I want passion and I want truth and I want long contemplative conversations over gin and tonics, and I want love. Most importantly, I want love.

I wish love to each and every one of you in your future endeavors. And I truly hope you found fragments of yourself within the folds of then and now; the parts that burn in your chest, the parts that sparkle in your eyes, and even the parts that tingle just beyond the belly.

Sí, Io Sono Cinese

There is scrambled shouting, explosive laughter, elders sitting calmly at the head of the table, and an excess of food.

Between heated conversations concerning career paths and the whereabouts of long lost relatives, it’s clear I am at a family gathering located at an overly embellished banquet hall. Aunts and uncles whose names I cannot recall are reminding me of how little I used to be and how I may not remember the precious bonding moments we shared. I turn a blind eye to embarrassing jokes by my father and laugh hysterically at my cousins’ attempts at keeping up with the Joneses. As a twenty-year-old quickly approaching her senior year in college, I now crave times like these where dozens of relatives are able to spend one rowdy evening together around the dinner table.

The majority of my adolescent life consisted of early Saturday mornings at Chinese school and the constant nagging of my mother to speak my native tongue, Mandarin.

While my parents tried their best to integrate their heritage into American traditions, the scales tipped rapidly to and fro. My reluctance stemmed from the inconvenience of speaking two languages and the unforgiving realities behind Asian stereotypes. Fortunately for this hyper-emotional budding youth, growing up in the Bay Area bubble meant Asian supermarkets and popular Boba joints were plentiful and no one thought twice about the color of your skin. I was raised in a house where everything new had to be tried at least once (including all sorts of questionable foods). My best friends at school were Indian, Pakistani, Chinese, Vietnamese, Mexican; the list goes on. Race was never an issue in a world where minorities were abundant.

Almost immediately after heading East for college, I noticed a dramatic shift in perspective.

Dumbfounding questions were thrown my way from strangers in alignment with their generalized ideals of the Asian culture. Being inept at most types of mathematics, snide comments about how I wasn’t really Asian if I was bad at math left permanently stunned creases along my forehead. Was being a Chinese female raised in America really that outrageous? I gave them the benefit of the doubt. Despite the blaring differences between my physical appearances and that of others, many people would tell me—but you’re not like most Asians. And they were right. But I’m also not like most people. I enjoy red and purple hues in my hair, yoga and long hikes for fun, and ear-splitting electronic music. I quickly began to question my motives. Had I deliberately created a barrier between my heritage and myself?

During my time abroad I experienced racial prejudices far beyond the run-of-the-mill jokes.

Being harassed by locals in several European countries clouded my initial excitement of true cultural immersion. In order to combat the slanderous chants and surly glares in what would be my home for the next few months, I quickly picked up the Italian language and used it habitually. When my family came to visit at the end of the semester, it was as if the locals had upped the ante. I could always feel their eyes prying us apart from the hundreds of people walking by. There were close encounters but we managed to return home safely, tongues raw from biting back our words. There was no reason for me to be ashamed of my genetic makeup, yet it stung that these people saw me as nothing more than a color.

Being Asian by heritage means I am the one responsible for bringing about change.

People will put you down based on their petty misinformed bias, but there is never an excuse for ignorance. I am Chinese by birth, American by choice, and if you only see me for how narrow my eyes are, I only see you for how narrow your mind is.

Finding My Groove

Originally Published on March 24th, 2015

I’m consumed in a shroud of darkness.

Students in pleated skirts, shiny cufflinks, pressed ties, and black monogrammed binders flutter anxiously to and fro across the campus quad. Like marching bullet ants, I catch glimpses of furrowed brows and muffled conversations concerning summer internships and the like. On days like these I feel trapped in the leather bound coffin I created around myself, listening intently, palms sweaty, as the locks click shut.

I’ve been creatively inclined since before I can remember.

My aspirations as a child strayed far from academics while gravitating towards anything involving construction paper and colored pens. To my parents’ frustration, every favorite subject line in the About Karen section was always art. As I progressed through the adolescent years, I immersed myself in whatever I thought seemed fit: makeup artistry, fashion design, studio artwork, and even modern dance. While friends, faculty and my greatest supporter, my older sister, reinforced my efforts at school, the looming shadow of disappointment from my parents fell heavy upon my ego.

My gears began to grind as I reached the ripe age of 17 and it came time to choose a university for the next chapter of my life.

I was catapulted into the realm of college counseling, SAT’s, subject tests, AP’s, campus tours, and endless essays describing why I felt worthy of attending X University. The problem was—I didn’t even know what I wanted. East Coast or West Coast? Large campus or small campus? Liberal Arts or a specialized degree? People demanded answers and I was in no position to give it to them.
Conveniently enough, my older sister had been accepted into Bentley University a few years prior and raved about its prime location and small class sizes. While I must admit Rachel and I often act like the poster children for the idiom “two-peas-in-a-pod”, we couldn’t be more unalike. I admire her ability to excel in areas I could never enjoy, specifically accounting, but my vines reach far beyond the boundaries of a textbook.

The pungent stench of my overworked motor infiltrated every nook and cranny of my senior year, quickly spreading to my bitter attitude and disdain for my parents.

Art school was out of the question and dinner table conversations turned sour at the mention of my future. Since I failed to provide a good reason for staying close to home, my parents were set on me heading east. After several months of dead-ended arguments, my fate was sealed in a padded blue and white envelope labeled “Bentley University”.

Suppressed by the horrors of GB’s and directionless Gen-Ed’s, my preliminary years were filled with the relentless banter of my inner conflicts.

Peers and mentors always asked me the same probing questions, and each time I gave the same lackluster response. “Yes, I am from California. No, I don’t know why I chose Bentley. No, I don’t know what I want to study. I’m sorry if you’re disappointed by my answer.” Confused looks from strangers were prompted with the stinging phrase, “Then why are you here?” Without the security of a background in accounting or finance, I felt the net unravel from beneath me. I was lost in a world I didn’t recognize.

It wasn’t until the beginning of my junior year here at Bentley that I finally found my groove.

With the opportunities presented by my study abroad experience, my fire for graphic design and writing rekindled, giving me new hope in potential career endeavors. Like misplaced pieces shifting in a jumbled Rubik’s cube, I can hear the gears begin to readjust. The opportunities were there all along; I just had to work a little harder to uncover them. While I chase longingly at new aspirations, I am comforted by the fact that I’m not completely alone. Though I still fear the day my multicolored hair resorts to its natural hue and the shards of metal are removed from my ears and face, support from loyal friends let me know these acts of individuality have not gone unnoticed. My efforts to stand out in a crowd make me the odd one of the bunch, but if that’s the case then hey, so be it. At least I’m living on my own terms.

Buy Experiences, Not Things

Originally Published for the Bentley Vanguard on March 3rd, 2015

Jim has one winter coat. The coat is black, properly insulated, waterproof, and provides ample warmth. There are no tears or defects to the coat. The coat also matches most of Jim’s daily wear attire as well as his business formal suits. Being fully aware of the condition of his coat, Jim proceeds to purchase two additional coats during the winter season from his local retailer. What was the motivation behind Jim’s decision?

Our distorted concept of necessity seems to stem from the insatiable hunger for more. Perhaps as we delve deeper into the notion of need, we begin to realize that necessity is completely subjective.
Basic human needs include the essentials to survival, namely food and shelter. Anything above these two categories is generally superfluous, whether it is designer brand clothing items, a flashy new car, or a summer home. As I’m sure you’ve all heard before, most things that provide happiness are intangible, items or events incapable of being bought or sold. But how often do people truly take this advice into consideration when making decisions? Is it the need for material possessions that pave the way for our career choices and fundamental motivations?
James Hamblin from The Atlantic states,
“Nothing material is intrinsically valuable, except in whatever promise of happiness it carries”.
While I wish I could take credit for this quote, I readily support Hamblin’s thought process. In the interest of disproving the unfortunate reality of consumerism, we might take into consideration the potential of experiences through material possessions.

Ergo, it’s not about the money, it’s about how you spend it.

While we consistently find ourselves daydreaming about our next paycheck, directing our efforts towards financially supporting our lifestyles, property and ownership are made-up constructs implemented by society. The earth is not yours to own. You may feel a strong emotional connection with an object or a person, but it will never be yours to keep. The flow of nature insists on the eternal recycling of resources and energy, eliminating the concept of yours and mine. Buddhism, founded on the Four Noble Truths, emphasizes the dangers of attachment that may lead to suffering. While realistically, someone may not always be fully free from attachment, a material item should not be the person’s end goal.

We value happiness highly in our lives but the path there is a long and winding one.

While I admit I cannot provide you with the formula to happiness, I truly believe your goals and aspirations will manifest themselves in the most unexpected ways possible. At the end of the day, clothes tear, technology becomes obsolete, and that sweet new BMW of yours will eventually stop running, but memories will last a lifetime.

For All You Know, I Could Be A Robot

Originally Published for the Bentley Vanguard on February 18th, 2015   

140 characters. You are given 140 characters on Twitter to formulate an articulate stream of consciousness. In a world of infinite scrolling, status updates, to-do lists, one-liners, and part-timers, these snippets of awareness are all we get to express our inner demons. We live in a time where conversations are held through radio waves instead of voice boxes. Our attention spans are far shorter than this introduction and if I haven’t successfully captured yours, then I’ve completely lost you.

I’m standing in front of the David in Florence, Italy. Yes, the David. But I’m not staring at the stunning size, the smooth creases of his sling, nor the majestic expression smeared across his face—No. I’m taking pictures of the dozens of tourists taking pictures of Michelangelo’s incredible feat. In an age where nothing can be seen without the frame of a camera, it’s “photos or it didn’t happen”.

With the explosion of the technology era, we are able to take shelter under the convenience of an emoji in lieu of words—or time for that matter.

There is a constant battle of who can say the least but still get their message across, the loaded subtext of a simple “K” weighing far more than we could have ever imagined. We have become mechanic shells of the highly intelligent creatures we envision ourselves to be, obsessed with the fast-paced backbones of reality. We can’t even walk to the bathroom without our eyes glued on our iPhones, as if one look away will catapult us into virtual oblivion.

Can someone tell me—is this real life?

We’ve become trapped in these bubbles we’ve created for ourselves. Declaring love through our devices, we are not in a relationship with each other rather the glowing LCD screens radiating against our blank faces. We stare at phones longer than we can bear to gaze into each other’s eyes and choose to keep our thoughts silent, fearing exposure.

My brain often feels like it’s short-circuiting.

It has become nearly impossible to concentrate on a single task for more than ten minutes at a time, not to mention the constant bombardment of notifications demanding my attention. We can’t sit still. We bounce back and forth between Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat, in hopes that we find solace between the folds of an electronic page. We think prescription drugs will help us focus, but that’s only mediating the symptoms not solving the pressing issue. This constant refreshing of the same click-bait feed has my eyes glazing over. I think Buzzfeed articles are the driving force against intellectual stimulation. These repetitive, unsubstantiated, shallow lists lack purpose and ultimately attempt to stretch information that could be presented in as little as one paragraph. Carefully numbered lists make me feel like I’m being spoon-fed information, as if I’m too simple minded to question the validity of their statements. Then again perhaps in this too-busy-right-now world, we are only able to digest articles such as the “14 Celebrity Transformations to Give Us Hope” and “11 Epic Facts About Lefties”.
The idiocy is palpable.

One Breath At A Time

Originally Published for the Bentley Vanguard on February 9th, 2015

10:52 am.

I glance down, for the sixth time this morning, at the tiny silver second-hand ticking away on my timepiece.

The loop is late and mind you, it’s never late. An icy speckled snowflake briefly lands on the back of my hand and shrivels into a single drop of water. I turn my palm and examine the dozens of similar unknowing flurries resting for a moment but inevitably experiencing the same ill fate. The sound of tires splattering against the wet pavement draws my attention towards the approaching half-sized shuttle, drowning out my friend’s indecipherable babble about how it’s too cold to go to class. My mind quickly fills with the badgering of my internal dialogue as I begin to reiterate my daily schedule.

With four snow days in quick succession, my academic life seems to be in constant limbo.

One step forward—two steps back.
And with looming summer internships, the career fair, class projects, and extracurricular activities coming at me with full force, it’s easy to feel like my world is slipping from my grasp. Like newborn babies begging for undivided attention, it’s often hard to decide which mouth to feed first. I’m focused on being in the present moment but my Outlook is reminding me that I have two group meetings, a Skype interview, and dance tryouts this week, not to mention five classes and work. I’m sure every Bentley student can relate.
Now before you tune out after hearing the word stress, one of the most overused, diluted, and misunderstood words in the young adult dictionary, I’m here to share my story on a timeless practice that really works: Meditation.

I fully understand the underlying connotations of the term and every formulated preconceived notion; however, I promise it’s not as challenging as you think.

Just fifteen minutes a day can drastically change your mood and yield long-term benefits. By focusing on your breath, you become immersed in the present moment and allow yourself to sink deeper into the meditative state. Sitting still for long periods of time may be daunting to many, but working incrementally is as easy as ten long breaths.
The point of meditation isn’t to work through every problem on the forefront of your mind. As you hone in on the rise and fall of your chest, the subtle drop of your shoulders, the lengthening of the spine and lower back, the release of your jaw and perhaps the quiet gurgle of a shaded creek from a peaceful melody app, allow yourself to let go of pressing thoughts or physical annoyances. Your attention should be centered along your forehead at the area between your eyebrows, or the third eye, letting your energy radiate from that exact spot. If you find yourself distracted by unwanted thoughts, try to bring yourself back to your breath; counting up to five on your inhale and down to ten on your exhale. I want you to try this.

I want you to try this because I know for a fact that it works.

Although people may take different lessons away from this practice, once you have grown accustomed to the silence, controlling your breath under any stressful circumstance becomes second nature. As someone who has dealt with a history of anxiety, if I ever feel the pressure building within my chest, I stop and go back to my breath. With each cycle of inhales and exhales, I grow numb to the ticking of the time bomb and allow my head to level out before I re-address the situation. I write this piece in hopes that at least one person will find solace in the meditative practice and can make sense of this brilliantly mysterious state we call reality.
Good luck.