Thursday, December 20, 2012

Winter Break Productivity: It's a Balancing Act

#DailyWings: "Other things awaited. It was good to be young and to know it for once. So much unfolding to do." -The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

It's been a week since I took my last final exam in social psychology and came home for the holidays. After reuniting with my family, receiving notice of my class grades and hanging Christmas stockings up by the fireplace, it feels like everything has fallen into place. Things are as they should be. I've taken the last couple of days to relax on my favorite couch at home with Mockingjay in one hand and a mug of hot chocolate in the other. Life is good. 

And yet, there is a small tug in the back of my mind, reminding me that something's not quite right. I have never been able to sit still for very long without getting antsy -- especially if I'm not doing work. Leisure is wonderful, but winter break wouldn't be the same without some productivity, too. Even as I immerse myself in the world of Panem, the thought of internships to apply for, blog posts to write and stories to pitch always sucks me back into the real world. 

Balancing work and play during winter break is like baking a cake. You've got ingredients like eggs and flour and coarse ground cinnamon that don't taste great alone. Then there are the ingredients that make the cake delicious -- sugar, fruit, chocolate, frosting. But too much frosting doesn't make you feel great afterward, either. So what do you do? Measure, mix, bake and add toppings. And there you have a perfect Christmas confection, a product of perfectly blended time, energy and carefully chosen ingredients

Well, creating a schedule isn't exactly the same as that, but it's what I've been doing. (Almost) every day, I create a to-do list of all the goals I want to accomplish -- both things related to my work and things that give me personal downtime. Hashing out the goals in terms of numbers (do this X amount of times, work on this for Y minutes) makes them more concrete and doable. Below is a basic example of the kind of productivity list that can be helpful for balancing out time between work and leisure.

Your productivity list may be a little bit different, depending on the rest of your schedule and what your goals may be. Also, recently, I discovered an amazing invention: StayFocused, a Google Chrome extension  that allows you to block distracting websites (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, tumblr, etc.) of your choice for a certain amount of time. Without this extension, I honestly don't think my final exam grades would have turned out as well as they did. It has really helped this past week whenever I want to work on an application or poem and find myself steering away to look up memes, gifs and social media. Highly recommended! For Apple users looking for productivity applications, I use Evernote, Weave and WriteChain

Has the holiday season served a stressor or a period of respite for you? What are some ways in which you stay productive, but also find time for the things you enjoy? 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 

Speaking of productivity, come join me and 20 other bloggers who have already signed up for Frankie Mallis's Fourth Annual No-Kiss BlogfestHere's the deal: 

"Write a scene or post one from of your favorite books, movies, TV shows, pictures or WIP that show the almost kiss -- the rising, crushing, excruciating, longing, tension that comes  when two characters get oh-so-close to kissing that you can just feel it, want it, NEED it....and then...they don't!" 

This will be my third time participating in this blogfest. I have fun every year, and you can bet I'll be joining in for the beginning of 2013 as well! You can find my previous entries here and here. Be sure to sign up and post your entry by Jan. 2! 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 

Dec. 14 -- Send one text message wishing someone good luck on her last final exam

12:09 p.m. "I hope your exam went well! :) when it's done forget about it! You did your best! Btw did the gift ever get there??"

Dec. 15 -- Apply for two internships with looming deadlines
  • Sent a story pitch to a health magazine in Boston
  • Applied for a local news internship
Dec. 16 -- Read three chapters of "Mockingjay"

Chapters 18, 19 and 20 -- completed. 

Dec. 17 -- Watch all four "Superman" movies (yes, on the same day)

Dec. 18 -- Put five extra ornaments on our Christmas tree

Dec. 19 -- Write a six-page scene for my NaNoWriMo novel 

Dec. 20 -- Add seven new holiday songs to my Spotify playlist

Dec. 21 -- Visit eight new blogs (provide any recommendations in comments below!)

Dec. 22 -- Meditate for nine minutes. 

Dec. 23 -- Bake ten gingerbread cookies! 

Dec. 24 -- Take an eleven-minute walk outside

Dec. 25 -- Snap twelve photographs capturing the magic of Christmas

Wendy Lu


Saturday, December 15, 2012

To Families Affected by the Connecticut Shooting: You're Not Alone

#DailyWings: "I know it feels like you have all these options and when you make a decision, you lose a world of possibilities. But the reality is, until you make a decision, you have nothing at all." 
-Janet Finch 

In light of recent events, I want to express my condolences to the families whose loved ones were killed in the Newtown elementary school shooting in Connecticut. When I first found out about what had happened, the news had spread all over social media. News outlets were reporting updates every couple of hours, and people all over the country were sharing similar reactions of grief, shock, horror. I didn't -- couldn't -- post anything about it because just the thought of the shooting made me feel sick. Robbing children of their futures isn't just monstrous; it's detestable, and can never be justified. 

I didn't have any candles, so this is my way of honoring those who were affected by the Connecticut shooting. 
To families who have lost much during the past couple days, the rest of us cannot even begin to imagine the pain you are going through. As a college student with no children of my own, I probably understand even less than most adults. But human loss is universal, an agonizing emotion we have all faced at some point. The shooting has been addressed by the entire nation -- including President Obama, who made a public statement Friday -- and has even reignited the debate on gun control. The shooting has affected everyone in some way, and please remember: You don't have to go through this alone. We are right here with you, mourning the loss of 26 lives. 

It may be too early to talk about acceptance or moving forward. And in one week, one month or even one year -- even then, perhaps it will still be too early. Let's come together to stitch the black hole created by evil hands, and commemorate the lives of the people you cared about the most. Only together can we even begin to take the first step toward recovery. 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 

Dec. 14 -- Send one text message wishing someone good luck on her last final exam

12:09 p.m. "I hope your exam went well! :) when it's done forget about it! You did your best! Btw did the gift ever get there??"

Dec. 15 -- Apply for two internships with looming deadlines
  • Sent a story pitch to a health magazine in Boston
  • Applied for a local news internship
Dec. 16 -- Read three chapters of "Mockingjay"

Dec. 17 -- Watch all four "Superman" movies (yes, on the same day)

Dec. 18 -- Put five extra ornaments on our Christmas tree

Dec. 19 -- Write a six-page scene for my NaNoWriMo novel 

Dec. 20 -- Add seven new holiday songs to my Spotify playlist

Dec. 21 -- Visit eight new blogs (provide any recommendations in comments below!)

Dec. 22 -- Meditate for nine minutes. 

Dec. 23 -- Bake ten gingerbread cookies! 

Dec. 24 -- Take an eleven-minute walk outside

Dec. 25 -- Snap twelve photographs capturing the magic of Christmas

Wendy Lu


Friday, December 14, 2012

December Challenge: Countdown to Christmas

#DailyWings: "I thought I understood it, that I could grasp it. But I didn't, not really. Only the smudgeness of it; the pink-slippered, all-containered, semi-precious eagerness of it. I didn't realize it would sometimes be more than whole, that the wholeness was a rather luxurious idea. Because it's the halves that halve you in half. I didn't know, don't know, about the in-between bits; the gory bits of you, and the gory bits of me." -Like Crazy

Being done with finals is like breaking the surface of a very deep lake after having been underwater for much longer than your body can handle. And there you are, engulfing buckets of air and grasping desperately at nothing. Once you're finally at peace with the waters again, you look around and realize you don't know which direction to take next. You're just glad you were able to swim to the top. 

This is how I feel. 

The weird thing about freedom is, after you get over the excitement of finally having time to do whatever the hell you want, there's that moment when you really don't know what to do first. Catch up on "Glee"? Bake cookies -- and eat all of them just because it's been days since you haven't eaten anything not prepackaged? Write a blog post about being done with finals? Get back into reading that book you started three months ago? 

Or maybe you're like me, and you start writing a laundry list of all the things you'd like to do before the year is over and another begins (if the Mayans weren't correct, that is). Let's swap? Here's mine: 

1. Actually get eight hours of sleep every night. 
2. Watch The Hobbit
3. Watch Les Miserables on Christmas
4. Watch the original "Superman" series (I - IV)
5. Write a poetry series. 
6. Get through "Lost" (Season II)
7. Arrange a guest post for the blog
8. Finish reading Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
9. Finish reading The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje - bought the book today!
10. Apply to 1,983,021,830,219 internships

My holidays will be spent in New Orleans, somewhere I have always wanted to go to but never had the chance until now. I can't wait. It also occurred to me this morning that, including today, there are officially 12 days left until Christmas! Although I didn't grow up in a household that emphasized religion, Christmas has always been my favorite holiday, one that I associate with family, twinkling lights, marshmallows and socks. I've created my own challenge as a means of counting down the days...and will be blogging updates daily!

Dec. 14 -- Send one text message wishing someone good luck on her last final exam

12:09 p.m. "I hope your exam went well! :) when it's done forget about it! You did your best! Btw did the gift ever get there??"

Dec. 15 -- Apply for two internships with looming deadlines

Dec. 16 -- Read three chapters of "Mockingjay"

Dec. 17 -- Watch all four "Superman" movies (yes, on the same day)

Dec. 18 -- Put five extra ornaments on our Christmas tree

Dec. 19 -- Write a six-page scene for my NaNoWriMo novel 

Dec. 20 -- Add seven new holiday songs to my Spotify playlist

Dec. 21 -- Visit eight new blogs (provide any recommendations in comments below!)

Dec. 22 -- Meditate for nine minutes. 

Dec. 23 -- Bake ten gingerbread cookies! 

Dec. 24 -- Take an eleven-minute walk outside

Dec. 25 -- Snap twelve photographs capturing the magic of Christmas

How are you spending the holidays? What do you hope to accomplish before the year is over?

Wendy Lu

Milestones: During the past few days, I reached 40,000 page views. This is my 200th blog post on TRA. Thanks for following!

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Thursday, December 6, 2012

50,000 Is Just a Number: NaNoWriMo Wks 3-4

#DailyWings: "The question should be, is it worth trying to do, not can it be done." -Allard Lowenstein

Whew! National Novel Writing Month is finally over, my fingers are about to fall off and I can go back to having a real life again. Wonderful. 

The last couple of weeks have been a whirlwind of emotions and dragging plotlines and flying  candy bars. First and foremost, I want to give a very big congratulations to all the NaNoers in Chapel Hill, N.C., and around the country who met their personal goals, whether they were to 5k or 50k or simply write every day. We did it.

For those of you who are curious, I made it to 43,705 words by the stroke of midnight. Unfortunately, I did not reach my goal of 50,000 words, but I was so close! On Nov. 30, the very last day, I wrote more than I ever have before -- about 10k in one day.That is crazy.  (The words weren't exactly fine contributions to the novel, but quantity > quality is the essence of NaNo.) This year's writing challenge taught me so much about myself and my writing. For one whole month, I showed that I love writing enough to put it above all else, even school work and health -- this is no exaggeration, as I was sick during the last week. Still, it was worth every hour spent groveling over word vomit. 

Even though I didn't "officially" win, I still felt like a winner when it was all over because of so many new developments that would've otherwise not been created. If I hadn't decided to partake in the writing challenge this year, my book would still be less than halfway done. The thing is, 50,000 is just some lame number. It's really no different from 49,999. Technically, you could just type "the" 50,000 times and enter "50,000" into the word count validator and say you "won." But that wouldn't feel very fulfilling, would it? Even though NaNoWriMo is all about how many words you write and not how meaningful each word is, it's also about how far you can take your characters. Where the story takes you and get you to where you want to be. I've learned that it's never, never too late to finish what you started.  Just because November is over doesn't mean I'll stop writing my novel. The best thing NaNoWriMo has trained me to do is write on a daily basis. It's more than just a habit, it's a lifestyle. 

One last note: This was the first year I publicized my NaNoWriMo endeavors so extensively on Facebook and Twitter. My goal for doing so was to hold myself accountable, but I discovered something else as well. What kept me going every day wasn't the fear of feeling guilt for not writing, but the desire to strive for what everyone -- my family, my friends and all the people who believe in me -- sees me as: a passionate writer who doesn't give up. Throughout the month, I received so many personal messages from different people who knew I was participating in the challenge. And when I ran into friends on the quad or in the dining hall, they would ask me how NaNoWriMo was going. This meant so much to me. 

Thanks to everyone for all the support and encouragement over the past month. Proud to be a writer. 

NaNoWriMo Word Count 2012: 43,705
Overall Novel Word Count: 101,486 (and still counting...)

Now that NaNoWriMo is over, it's time for finals.

Wendy Lu

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Saturday, November 17, 2012

NaNoWriMo Owns My Soul: Weeks 1-2

#DailyWings: "Things we lose have a way of coming back to us in the end -- if not always in the way we expect." -Luna Lovegood

The Office of Letters & Light
I used to think seven hours of sleep was a necessity for my brain and body to function, but I have underestimated myself. This month of November, it's a lucky night when I get five hours of sleep. Sometimes, I'll pass out at 9 p.m. and then wake up, dizzy and bleary-eyed, at midnight to start working for the next four hours. All thanks to National Novel Writing Month. 

Okay, that's not entirely true. It's NaNoWriMo, but it's also my writing classes -- including Reporting and Feature Writing -- as well as the trillion organizations I'm involved with and The Great Internship Search. What is a college student to do? 

Even with lack of sleep, I'm still behind on my word count. Very, very behind. Like, 10,000 words-behind. We're supposed to be past the halfway point right now, and here I am still stuck in the first 10k. It's not that the copy editor in me is trying to take over -- although the pesky adverbs and drawn-out descriptions make me shudder once in a while -- or that I have writer's block. In past years, that's been the case. But this year, it's something different.  It's that I'm working on a novel I started four years ago; obviously, my writing style has changed since then. 

The novel I am working on is the one I won NaNoWriMo with back in 2008. Those were the glory days, the literary frenzy that made me love the writing challenge. My characters had incredible self-awareness and social skills. They owned that novel -- not me. But when NaNo ended, I was exhausted and so incredibly high on the idea of reaching 50k that my novel never flourished into anything more. This year is the first since then that I have dusted off my novel and actually reintroduced myself to the world I'd once created. 

Motivational NaNo stickers! (Drag to URL
bar for a closer look.)

At the beginning, every fiber of my being struggled against putting those fingers to the keyboard. Honestly, it's a mystery to me how I survived that first day of hell -- but I did. During Week One, I learned that falling in love twice is possible. Turns out, my characters have forgiven me for abandoning them in the first place. They only care about moving forward with the story. I zoomed past the first 10,000 words like a monkey driving a car with its feet. Okay, maybe that's not the best comparison to use, but you get what I mean. (Look at what NaNo has done to me -- such terrible analogies! But... #sorrynotsorry)

NaNoWriMo is halfway over, which is a relief, but also terrifying. What if I don't finish in time? My word count is terribly embarrassing after all, despite every effort taken to write during even the busiest days. There's this fear gnawing inside of me, a fear of not being able to finish what I started. Even now, writing this blog post has wasted time, time that could've been spent writing another few hundred words. Every day, I juggle three types of writing:  journalistic writing, scientific writing for psychology and creative writing. SOMEBODY SAVE ME. It's hard to remember that "the key is balance" when there are only so many hours in a day. But I'm doing my best with the time that I have left. 

The hardest part of any writing session is plucking up the courage to start. When I finally delve into the novel, I don't want to stop. It doesn't matter whether the session lasts for five minutes or fifty. For as long as it lasts, I'm flying. I am creating something of nothing. I've come to terms with the fact that most of my NaNo novel has been crap so far. But every once in a while, a clever reference or relatively intelligent insight about my character or an actually humorous -- not corny -- piece of dialogue will get slipped in somehow, and I don't feel so ineffectual anymore. 

Despite the word sprints and the race to finish and all this talk about reaching the average 1,667 words at the end of the day, perhaps that's not what National Novel Writing Month is supposed to be about. For me, it's about proving to myself that I have what it takes to put writing above everything else, if only for a month. It's about taking risks and making mistakes and experimenting. It's about surprises and the discovery of other worlds and friends you never knew you had. It's about reaching across infinite with your eyes closed without a clue as to what direction you're taking. The point is that you are moving. 

Wendy Lu


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Halloween House of Horrors Blogfest

#DailyWings: "There is something haunting in the light of the moon; it has all the dispassionateness of a disembodied soul, and something of its inconceivable mystery." - Joseph Conrad

This past weekend was a very special weekend for the Romantic Friday Writers, as the Halloween House of Horrors challenge took place Oct. 19 - 21. I know, I'm late. But when you've got four writing assignments due in less than a week and the flu to battle, your priorities tend to shift around. But hey -- better late than never, right? I won't be winning any awards with this piece (I wrote it in less than two hours, all the while wagging a disapproving finger at my own head for putting myself in such a time crunch), but it was still fun to write and come up with at the last minute.  

So what exactly was the challenge all about? 

RFW: "We’re looking for chilling stories of ghosts and haunted locations – and maybe even love from beyond the grave. A romantic element is essential, but we’re looking for stories with a thrilling edge of fear to add to the romantic tension building between our hero/heroine."

The maximum number of words is 1,000 but I'm afraid I went over quite a bit (it's hard to stop after you start, you know!).

~ ~ ~ 

The Wife's Return

Anne-Marie didn't like where she was. Everything was dark and claustrophobic. She was inside some sort of case, which was musty and smelled of carcass. Where was she? The last thing Anne-Marie remembered was pounding on the glass window of her bedroom as smoky fumes filled her lungs and flames flickered against her ankles. Before she was  engulfed in fire, Anne-Marie had caught a glimpse of her husband, Kenneth, running across the front yard with his hands waving frantically. She'd been so sure that he had gone for help...

Her arms lifted, and a gasp escaped from Anne-Marie's lips. The gasp came out strange, though. Icy, almost. Anne-Marie stared at her arms -- they were transparent, as if they weren't there except as a ripple in the air. She moved her fingers one after another, and there went five ripples. She glanced down, and realized her long, once beautiful blonde hair was also transparent, like cellophane noodles. And so was her floral dress, the one Kenneth had bought her for their anniversary months ago. The one she had been wearing the day of the fire. 

"W-What am I?" asked Anne-Marie to no one in particular. Her voice had also changed -- it was several octaves higher than it used to be. "What have I become?" 

Anne-Marie moved to the side, feeling claustrophobic, and looked at the bottom of the case.  She screamed. There, right beside Anne-Marie was her own corpse, more than half-decayed. She was in her own coffin. 
* * * 
Three weeks had passed since Anne-Marie climbed out of her grave and discovered that she'd come back as a ghost. Waking up next to her own body wasn't the only surprise. Returning to earth as a disembodied spirit had its advantages -- Anne-Marie could now walk through solid objects, walk through the air and become invisible at will. If she didn't want humans to see her, they didn't. And if she wanted to move an object or walk through it, she could. The afterlife had so much to offer. But all Anne-Marie wanted was to know about Kenneth. Was he all right? How did he escape? Did he miss her, and if so, what did he say at her funeral? 

It didn't take long for Anne-Marie to figure out where to find her husband. The day she awoke, she'd realized that her grave was located in Breyer Meadows, the cemetery just a few miles from her home. When she returned, Anne-Marie found that her house had been burned to the ground. The fire had destroyed everything -- her piano, her favorite family photographs, her china and parlor furniture. All of it was gone. 

"No," Anne-Marie whispered. "No!" That night, she filled the town with her screams, cursing the name of God and terrorizing children in their sleep. She watched from behind windows as mothers rushed to their young's beds, holding tiny heads against their chests and assuring them it was only a bad dream. Her heart hardened at the sight. Nobody was there to hold her, or tell her that everything would be okay. 

Her only consolation was that Kenneth was still alive -- he had to be -- and that he would surely reach out to her if only he knew she was here. In some form, at least. 

Anne-Marie could bear it no longer. The next day, she went into the city and floated up to the seventh floor of the investment company where Kenneth used to work, hoping that he was still there. Sure enough, just as Anne-Marie reached the glass window of Kenneth's office, she saw him. 

There he was, standing against the door in a gray pantsuit with his hands in his pockets, looking flawless as ever. There was that dark brown hair and caramel skin, long nose and curled mouth. The fire hadn't left a single burn on Kenneth, at least none that Anne-Marie could see. Her eyes drooped and she cocked her head to the side, smiling dreamily at the man who had asked for her hand. Kenneth was alive and well. And still so handsome. The sight of him was enough to make her feel almost warm again. 

Then, movement on the other side of the room, behind the curtains that blocked part of the window, caught Anne-Marie's eye. The smoothing out of a skirt. The adjustment of eyeglasses. A woman came into view: a pretty blonde woman with long legs and red lips. Anne-Marie watched as she walked toward Kenneth, her heels making a small clicking noise against the tiles, and gave him a kiss. 

Kenneth put one hand around the woman's waist and the other around her neck, and kissed her back. With overlapping lips and tongue and passion that he had never seemed to put into the kisses he'd once given Anne-Marie. They were locked in a tight embrace now, as if they were determined to put as little space between them as possible. 

Disgusted, Anne-Marie looked away. Being a ghost was living hell now, for try as she might, she just couldn't get tears to come falling down her cheeks. How could Kenneth do this? It had barely been three weeks since the fire, and here he was kissing another woman. Hadn't he missed her, or at least wondered what she would think if she saw him right now, cheating? No, he probably hadn't wondered that, and -- as much as she wanted to think of it this way -- he wasn't cheating. Everyone thought Anne-Marie was dead. 

I am dead, Anne-Marie thought, angrily. Her life as a human being was long over, but Kenneth's wasn't. He had already moved on and left her behind. I can't let that happen. I can't let him do this to me.

She waited until Ms. Long-Legs left the office, her poker face on and her hair clipped into a tight new bun as if nothing had happened behind closed doors. 

Kenneth was alone in his office now, straightening his sleeves and walking toward his desk. Now was Anne-Marie's chance. She slowly floated through the glass window and right into the room until she was hovering above Kenneth. It took him eight seconds to realize he wasn't alone, and he whipped around to find a rippling Anne-Marie by his side. He let out a sound between a yelp and a wail. 

"Darling," Anne-Marie purred, and put one icy hand on his shoulder. Kenneth jolted out of his chair. 

"Who--who are you?" he said, wide-eyed and transfixed by her lucid presence. "What are you?"

"Oh, my dear Kenny." Anne-Marie watched as he flinched at her old nickname for him. She took a leap toward him, and he took several steps back. "Kenny, don't you know who I am? I'm Anne-Marie, your true love." 

"No, that's not possible. Anne-Marie is dead," Kenneth said, shaking his head back and forth as if trying to get rid of what was right in front of him. "She died in that fire." 

He took another step back, and Anne-Marie realized he was barely a few feet away from the glass window she'd spied on him through. Her eyes darted to his temples, where beads of sweat had begun to form. She smiled sweetly. 

"I've come back for you," Anne-Marie said. "Soon, we'll be together forever and you won't leave me again. You won't have a choice, if you're just like me." 

"Just--just like you? But, no," Kenneth stammered. "You're not real. This isn't happening." 

"Oh, but it is. You made this happen, honey, when you decided to leave me behind in that terrible house." Anne-Marie's tone was suddenly icy. "Now it's your turn to know what it feels like to be left behind by your entire world." 

"No!" Just as Kenneth turned his back, Anne-Marie swooped down and pushed him with her icy fingers until his face met the glass window. 

Blood everywhere. Broken shards flying in the air. From the seventh floor down, Anne-Marie was falling, falling, falling with Kenneth. Her hand held onto his shoulder, refusing to let go. And even as the wind blew roughly against his broken and ensanguined skin, he turned his head ever so slightly and saw her face plunging forward next to his. Seconds before Kenneth's body hit the pavement, he looked at her in the eye and seemed to notice her for the first time. He uttered his last word as if it was a question, "Anne."

I will be visiting RFW House of Horrors blogfest entries during the next couple of days. Thanks to those who have already stopped by to visit! Can't wait to read and get spooked!

Wendy Lu


Monday, October 15, 2012

Never Settle For Mediocrity

I had awesome plans for this weekend -- a new recipe to try out, the N.C. State Fair, a Hinder concert, a picnic with my CUSA friends. In the end, none of these things made my agenda. Instead, I holed up in my apartment and pored over career assessments and personality tests. Lame, right? 

Certainly, other factors prevented me from going to these events (relatives and friends visited for a day), but I could've chosen to do other fun things during my spare time, like go on Franklin Street. I didn't, because I felt like I deserved to stay home until I figured out what the heck I'm going to do with my life. 

The Myer's-Briggs Type Indicator (note: my second time around), Strong Interest Inventory and Focus 2 Career Exploration alone took about an hour to fill out. And then, there I was, having filled out three assessments and then some, still without a single clue. My interests are clear: I love writing, psychology and helping others. I actually know what I want to do, it's just fitting it all in one career that stumps me. 

When the assessments failed to serve as my own personal Magic 8 Ball, I resolved to hash out a "life plan" for the next 30 years: what post-college degrees I would get, the potential publications I'd want to write for, the cities that appealed to my lifestyle. Doing this was supposed to make me feel more grounded, but all it did was make me more frantic. The what-ifs automatically began to form, and the big question mark still hung in the air. I felt like a mess. Surely by junior year of college, people should have an inkling of their future! 

But today on tumblr, I came across a passage that woke me from this naive perspective:

For more great quotes, check out my tumblr and #DailyWings

When I read this excerpt, I instantly felt peace within me. How beautiful words are, and how wonderful it is that the right words always seem to pop up when I need them the most. Perhaps this big old question mark isn't some puzzle to solve on a deadline. Perhaps the question mark is the journey itself, for if we choose to live every day not knowing what's ahead, then things will unfold as they were meant to. 

Had I planned everything out for the next 30 years--down to the very street I'd live on--then there would be no wiggle room for pleasant surprises and unexpected forks down the road. Each day would be geared toward fulfilling those goals, those career aspirations, until they were reached. And what then? My writing wouldn't be about the writing anymore, but rather would become a job that I'd planned for myself. Learning would no longer be about the learning, but a degree etched in gold on a diploma--just another line of text on my resume. Life would be mediocre. And I swore to myself that I'd never settle for mediocrity. 

Moving beyond a mediocre, day-to-day routine, I have devised a short list of to-dos (ironically) in an effort to brood less and live more.

1) Observe others. If people-watching was a career, I'd be all set to go. I learn so much simply by noticing the child walking down the street, tiny hand clutching his mother's pinky, and the man of Chinese-Japanese descent with fingers flying across the piano in Hanes Art Center. And by observing others, I realize I'm not the only one to feel the way I do. These feelings of uncertainty, fear and doubt--they're universal. 

2) Try something different. A few weeks ago, I wrote a historical feature for the first time. I thought it was going to be boring, but through my research, interviews and in-person observations, I discovered a whole new character within a place--something that never occurred to me could exist. Writing about these moments of discovery made me feel excited and alive, and that story assignment has turned out to be one of my favorites. 

Also, a couple days ago, I signed up for the Halloween House of Horrors blogfest. I have written scary stories before, but not "romantic horror." The story idea for this blogfest has yet to be formed, so I guess you'll just have to wait and see what I come up with on Friday, Oct. 19! 

3) Plunge into a challenge. It's no secret that I love NaNoWriMo, but I haven't officially won since 2008 when I was a junior in high school. The point of challenges isn't to win, but to see how far you can push yourself. This November, I'm pushing for 50,000 words. I won't settle for less. 

How do you spice up your life on a daily, weekly, monthly basis? Do you consider yourself a planner, or more on the spontaneous side?

Wendy Lu


Monday, October 8, 2012

Share Your Experiences with "Everyday Ambassador": a public service and global citizenship movement

#DailyWings: "Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself." -Leo Tolstoy

Happy October, everyone! Autumn is finally here -- bring out the turtlenecks, brew that hot cocoa and jump in a pile of just-raked leaves! With autumn comes so many possibilities for change and surprise. The temperatures here in Chapel Hill are fluctuating daily, and Mother Nature seems to be as undecided as I am when I pick outfits in the morning. This afternoon, I met with a friend over hot chocolate at The Daily Grind, a small espresso cafe by the campus bookstore, watching the rain drizzle outside and chatting about history, movies and books. What could be better? 

Today I want to take this chance to introduce a website that I am a part of. Since this summer, I have had the wonderful opportunity to serve as curriculum developer for Everyday Ambassador, "a movement for responsible global citizenship in a digital world." At EA, we believe in the importance of cultural understanding, human connectivity and public service, no matter where you are. The Everyday Ambassador team is in the process of organizing workshops, developing a related curriculum and launching the "EA TV" video series. 

We feature 500-800 word posts from a variety of contributors -- members of nonprofit organizations, active individuals, global travelers -- who share their experiences with engaging in public service. These posts are published on our blog multiple times a week, so if you're interested, please feel free to contact our community manager, Meg VanDeusen, at

Reading about lessons learned during gap years abroad, support networks used to facilitate communication for aid workers, and transformations in the public service mindsets of so many everyday ambassadors each week reminds me why I keep going, and why I am a part of EA. How can I not feel motivated to take action when there is so much going on in the world around me? Everyday Ambassador constantly reminds me that it's never too late to make a change for the better, no matter how small that change may seem. Whether we are striving to keep an open mind, maintain good intentions or break down the barriers that are blocking our goals, every step counts. 

These days, I am trying to move beyond a fear of failure. That fear only leads me to doing nothing. I am tired of doing nothing. I want to do things that will make me proud to say, "I tried." Perhaps life isn't about success and achievements, but rather all the things we did to get where we are. The blood and sweat and tears and time well-spent, well-shed. Even if we don't get the results we'd hoped for, we inevitably come out of the experience changed, often for the better. And, hopefully, so do the people whose lives we touch. We can say we did our best. 

As always, the hardest part about anything is taking the first step. Making the conscientious choice to move forward, even if we're not sure where that step will take us next. I wonder where we will be once we take that chance? 

If you're interested in what Everyday Ambassador is all about, check out our Twitter and Facebook, where we share meaningful articles and thoughtful discussions. Join us in the conversation! We would love to hear your thoughts.

Wendy Lu


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Crack The Shutters

#DailyWings“Peace again! – The exquisite hour before dawn, here at my old desk–seldom have I realized so keenly, appreciated so fully, these still, dark hours.” – Edward Weston

I have always seen this blog as a window into my thoughts and my life, but lately I've kept that window closed. It's been nearly two weeks since my last post, and clicking on "New Post" today was like getting my teeth cleaned and realizing I needed a filling. I finally had to face the neglect my blog has received, but now that I am typing away again, I find myself sighing with relief. Starting is always the hardest part. 

In general, I haven't been writing lately. It's weird how you can love something so much that you're scared to touch or even go near it. Even after two years of blogging, it still takes effort to open this window into who I am, to set aside my fears and actually write stuff that means something to me. 

I sometimes tell people that I can't live without writing, and before it seemed to come out as an exaggerated joke - but I'm beginning to think it's true. These last few weeks have been tough. Lonely. Chock-full of mistakes and regrets. And busy... so terribly busy. I'm surprised I actually survived last week, when every hour was filled with this meeting or that class, and food and sleep were only distant things that existed outside my bubble. My journal was MIA, and the only writing I did consisted of interview transcriptions and class notes and feature stories. Looking back now, not doing any writing for myself was a mistake. 

The good thing is, gray days don't last forever. Long walks in the arboretum are nice. I am lucky to have some of the best friends anyone could ask for. Being busy has kept me from overthinking: Even though research and classes take over most of my waking hours, I wouldn't trade my majors -- journalism and psychology -- for any others. There is just too much fun in learning and discovering something new. And, of course, I have the best followers - my friends, even when my window stays closed for long periods of time you are still here. Lastly, thank God for music. 

Over the months, I noticed that I tend to avoid writing when I don't want to confront myself. Inside, I knew if I opened that window I would see how I was really doing - terrible. Being down in the dumps stinks, and when that realization rises above the surface, it makes the thought that much more real. But at the same time, I am slowly learning that the sun can't light up the room until you crack the shutters open wide.*

Let's just hope I am able to keep that window open from now on. 

How do you bounce back from the blues? Any thoughts on balancing writing with other aspects of your life? 

Wendy Lu

*This phrase is based on one of my favorite songs, Crack the Shutters by Snow Patrol. 


Saturday, September 8, 2012

Junior Year Jitters

#DailyWings: "Live the full life of the mind, exhilarated by new ideas, intoxicated by the romance of the unusual." -Ernet Hemingway

 Better late than never. That's what I have been telling myself lately with everything that I do. Apparently, I just finished my third week of junior year without really knowing it. It feels like a 5k race just started without me or something. But even though junior year has already kicked off and I am officially over halfway through college, I thought I'd take some time today to pat myself on the back for completing sophomore year. For maintaining a solid GPA, making some incredible new friends and building a stronger heart. I realize I am much stronger than I was a year ago. 

At the end of every year since the beginning of college, I have written a letter to my older self. After freshman year was over, I wrote a note to my sophomore self highlighting some guidelines for having a successful semester. Here are a just a few lines I scribbled down as reminders to myself: 

Know your priorities. You need to take care of yourself before you can take care of others. 

Don't be afraid to speak up. Raise your hand. Just do it. There's no better time than now. 

Say hello. The worst thing that could happen is you would have the exact same number of friends before you said hello. The best thing that could happen? You end up with one more friend than you did before.
Smile. No matter what’s going on, there is always a reason to smile. Find it, mull over it, smile about it. If anything—be grateful for what you have. 

Today, I wrote yet another letter to my junior graduate self. Yes, technically I am three weeks late but hey - better late than never, right? In truth, I've procrastinated writing the letter until now because I didn't want to confront all the things that were bugging me about myself. I've been needing a self-confidence booster because, honestly, I still don't know what the heck I want to do with my life. 

Going to one of the best universities in the country can be intimidating. There is so much passion and fervor. Incredible students creating, changing, organizing all the time. It's inspiring. But every once in a while, you can't help but wondering--what am I doing here? 

So the letter I wrote to my junior graduate self said: push yourself. It's never too late to change for the better. Past failures and mistakes don't matter; what counts is what you can do right now at this very moment. I told myself this: 

I can do great things, if only I let myself. I don't need anyone else's approval to do the things that make me happy. 

Maybe not knowing what I want to do after college is okay. Maybe it's better this way. It's certainly better than having my entire life mapped out in front of me, with no surprises or spontaneity. One thing I'm sure of is that the best parts about life usually come in packages that fall at our doorstep when we least expect them. Even though I don't know what I want to do with my life, that means the future is up in the air. Anything can happen. It's scary, but at the same time, there's something exciting about the unknown. I direct myself in the pathway I choose, never knowing what's around the corner. 

What mantras do you have to keep you motivated and focused on your goals? Do you like knowing what's ahead, or do you prefer taking chances as they come your way?

Wendy Lu


Friday, August 17, 2012

Five Tips on How to Make Going to the Dentist Less Awful

#DailyWings: "My mom says some days are like that. Even in Australia." -Alexander & the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst

Fluorescent light burning in your eyes. The taste of rubber gloves in your mouth. The strange vacuum sensation on your tongue when a resident holds the suction tube too close. 

Okay, so I won't lie and pretend that I don't shed a couple tears at the dentist's. Because I do. I don't even realize how incredibly uncomfortable I am until there's a tiny, metallic engine drilling against my teeth. At that point, acting my age is the least of my worries and I am holding on to the rail for dear life, praying to the gods that it will be over soon. 

Today, I got three fillings - one on the bottom, two on top. (Not exactly a welcoming event after a dream trip to Boston.) Ever since I was little, my teeth have been prone to cavities. I brush twice a day, floss nightly and don't eat a lot of sugar. I don't drink coffee or soda or tea (only on occasion). I do everything a responsible tooth-owner should do. Unfortunately, my dentists have said I can attribute my soft teeth to genetics. Not even drinking milk will help. 

The thing is, I haven't been to the dentist in years. This time around, I knew there would be a degree of, er, unpleasantness, but I didn't really prepare myself for just how much it sucked. The worst part was having my gums injected--like, using a needle--with anesthesia. It really, really hurt. The only good thing is, that was the first step they did so I got it over with pretty quickly. 
If I didn't have Pandora blasting in my ears,
I don't think I would've survived all
three "tooth shots."

The next hour was filled with drilling, spraying, sucking. It was still pretty awful, but not as tortuous as the injections. All I had to do was nod yes-I'm-okay-not-really-though-thanks-for-asking-doc, tilt my head either way and open my mouth really wide. With my earphones plugged in and my imagination whirring, I managed to survive yet another afternoon of fillings. 

Because nobody likes going to the dentist and because I like you guys enough to not want you to suffer an hour and a half of drills and trills, here are just a few ways to make your next trip to the dentist less of a toothache - if only to pass the time: 

  • Think about your last kiss. Even if you've been single for years (aka, moi), this trick works wonders with your mind. Nothing makes your lips feel less sexier than when they're stretched open and pulled back, blaring your incisors. Forget about where you are. Forget the dentist. Remember the last time you were locking lips? Yes, well, focus on that instead. 

  • Listen to angry music. Not that you're angry when you're at the dentist, but listening to loud, I-wanna-rip-your-head-off lyrics just might block out the sound of Doc drilling in your teeth. I recommend Dragonforce or Hammerfall. If you want something more soft-core, try songs by The Script. 

  • Eavesdrop on your dentist. I don't know about you, but my dentists like to talk a lot. Whether it's filling a tooth or just maintenance cleaning, they chit-chat with the residents and with me. Of course, all I can do is nod my head and manage an, "Ah-hah." But the conversations they have can actually be kind of, well, entertaining. They'll talk about their kids, their colleagues, their studies. 

  • Think about your kids/significant other/ mommy. Wouldn't you rather it be you who is going through all this pain than your kids or anyone else you care about? I know I would. 

  • Count the freckles on the resident's nose. Play connect-the-dots. Or, if you're more in a blah mood, pretend each freckle is a pimple and imagine popping it. With a tweezer. Feeling better? 

Any other ideas on how to survive dentist appointments?

Wendy Lu


Friday, July 27, 2012

A 12-Hour Airplane Flight Leads to Epic Movie Marathon!

#DailyWings: "Perhaps one did not want to be loved so much as to be understood." -George Orwell

After a whole month of traveling through Shandong and interning at Shanghai Children's Medical Center and eating juicy dumplings, I am finally back from China! Since I blogged (or rather, my friend published my posts for me) at the the TRA: Overseas Chronicles during my time away, I won't go into detail about my travels. You can read my final blog post in the When in China series here: One month later. Here is a sneak peek of my contemplations about returning home to the States:

"The feeling of change always creeps up on you when you least expect it. But it’s always such a pleasant surprise. 

 Last year when I came back from China, I felt the change when I got my first slice of *real* pizza in a month. The texture of oily, stretchy cheese and the tangy tomato sauce on my tongue was beyond satisfying. Pizza-gasm-worthy. Never had I ever truly appreciated the taste of pizza until then.

This year, the change came on a visit to the ladies’ bathroom in the airport. Soap and toilets and toilet paper, oh my! Not all bathrooms in China are dirty holes dug up underground, but they aren’t the cleanest either. One time while I was traveling through the countryside in Shenyang, I ended up going to the bathroom in an outhouse. I will never forget the smell. Or the flies...."

Throughout the month of July, I have also written two culture columns for UNC-Chapel Hill's student newspaper, The Daily Tar Heel. Check them out: 


You can view more of my past DTH stories here

This has been by far the most productive summer I have ever had, and it's not over yet. On Monday, I will be on my way to Boston for a two-week visit. As many of you know, I. Love. Boston. 

Thankfully, the flight to Boston will only be two hours long - before I know it, I'll be there. Compared to the flight back from China, that's a zip. I don't think any flight can beat the one from Detroit to Shanghai (or vice versa)'s 12 hours long, not counting preparation for take-off and landing, which alone can add up to an extra half hour. 

On the way back to the United States, I spent the entire 12-hour flight watching six movies. Nonstop. No naps, no books! My eyeballs were nearly detached from their sockets by the time we landed in Detroit, but it was worth getting caught up with recent film culture trends. 

Here are my mini movie reviews (spoilers at a minimum): 

The Weinstein Company
My Week with Marilyn: Michelle Williams' stunning performance as Ms. Monroe had her shining like a gold star throughout the whole movie. And it's intriguing how this movie is based on a true story. I love how deeply we delved into the private life and psychology of Marilyn, as the biggest icon of her generation. 

The movie centers around an intense, albeit one-week relationship between Marilyn and the third assistant director of the movie she's in the middle of filming (I wasn't a huge fan of the main character/narrator). Yes, the movie tells a story about Marilyn Monroe as an adored and talented celebrity. But it also gives us a glimpse at what the life and trials are like for a beautiful woman with more fame than she can manageThere were so many times when I wanted to look away, for it felt like I, too, was invading her privacy. Apart from the lovely Williams, though, the movie was just another Hollywood film--not a masterpiece. 4/5

Universal Pictures
Despicable Me: The scenes with Agnes and the theme song. 'Nuff said.* 5/5

*I have already seen this whole entire package of adorableness three times, not including this time (when I only got to watch half). Who's ready for DM2?!** 

**says Me! Me! Me! in minion voice

IMP Awards
The Lovely Bones: Quite possibly my new favorite. I haven't been this engrossed with a movie since I saw The Black Swan; both can be thought of as psychological films. This is a Peter Jackson creation, and the scenes that depict Suzy Salmon's (Saoirse Ronan) Heaven are just beautiful. Ronan has the young-actor charm of Dakota Fanning and the wiser-behind-her-years demeanor of Mara Wilson (from Matilda). The story is heartbreaking, but leaves every audience member a lot to think about. This is one of few movies that I can't think of any other film to compare it to. 5/5

Seriously, y'all. I liked TLB so much that I went ahead and bought the book online. Can't wait to start reading! 

Paramount Pictures
Super 8: I only got to see the first half of this movie on my flight from the States to China, so this time I finished the last half. There were some awesome action-packed scenes that made me jump quite a few times, but the movie reminded me of a less-gritty version of War of the Worlds (2005), especially with Elle Fanning, Dakota's sister, as one of the main characters. It was less suspenseful than War of the Worlds though, mainly because all the characters were kids. 

Also, too much cheese. 3/5

Summit Entertainment
Breaking Dawn - Part 1: Twilight isn't the most creative plot out there, but hey, once you start a series you can't not finish it. BDP1 was surprisingly a lot better than I expected - though perhaps that might be because I haven't read Breaking Dawn in over two years. I want to give whomever did Kristen's makeup for her pregnancy scenes a high-five. Kristen is still a rather awkward totem pole, but at least she changed her expressions for once and even conveyed her character quite well in several scenes. She and Rob had much better chemistry and communication together...which is an awkward thing for ME to say considering recent events that have unfolded between the two. But we won't go into that... 3/5

Columbia Pictures
Restless: I thought this 2011 romantic drama was an indie film at first because of the eccentric themes in the script, the sidewalk music and the fact that I had never heard of it before (note: these features aren't necessarily all indie-exclusive or inclusive). Talk about hipster. #nobutreally I like this movie. The plot was reminiscent of A Walk to Remember, and the ending was equally depressing and full of deep messages about life and death. 

Not gonna lie - the beginning was pretty awkward. But it got better as the characters spent more time with each other and actually developed a relationship. I love the Japanese ghost, Hiroshi, that lives inside the boy's mind. Props for being unique. 4/5

Have you watched any of these movies? If so, what were your thoughts on them? What would YOU rate?  

Wendy Lu

A special thanks to all of my followers. I came back and discovered I had reached the 200-follower mark - I was so happy! Such an welcome home gift! You guys are awesome. 

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