Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Long Goodbye to 2013

#DailyWings: "It is never too late to be what you might have been." -George Eliot

It's really not going to be that long. Just give me two minutes. That's all I need to virtually hug my readers and say, "You're still here, then, after all this time?" Has it really been more than three months since my last published post? 

If my blog still makes it to your news feed and you're reading this, thank you for sticking with me. My queue has eight partially written drafts rotting away, forgotten and obsolete. Every time I sat down to write for myself (either on this blog or in my journal or as part of an unfinished piece of work) this semester, guilt weighed down in the pit of my stomach as I thought of all the "real writing" that needed to get done - feature stories for the newspaper, online articles and so forth. One of the most crucial lessons I have yet to learn is that writing for myself is just as important as writing for others. 

You'll read more about my new years resolutions (many of them are writing-related) tomorrow - I'm a big fan of themes, and thus 2014 has been dubbed the year of literary frenzy - but before that I need to give a proper recap of 2013. Here's my annual...

Year in Review
(see last year's review and resolutions here)

  • Completed my first journalism internship at Chapel Hill's The WEEKLY
  • Served as the arts and entertainment editor at Blue & White magazine; will be returning as managing editor in the spring
  • Served as fall co-editor of The Durham VOICE
  • Started dating Andrew and fell in love
  • Learned how to drive at night and on the highway
  • Joined DIY MFA, one of my favorite writing blogs, as an online columnist after a fantastic internship experience
  • Found my inner poet and wrote several pieces of free verse
  • Published travel and food feature articles in Carolina PASSPORT, Wander and Flourish magazines
  • Survived the infamous Chapel Hill flood in June and lived for five months in practically a construction site of an apartment with no walls or proper flooring
  • Shared my story as an individual living with a tracheostomy tube and spent 1.5 months alone for the first time (without a "parental guardian")

Other highlights: Interned at Personify, served (and still serving) as vice president of UNC CUSA, met Khaled Hosseini, started freelancing and received the Quincy Sharpe Mills Scholarship from the UNC j-school.

Indeed, what a year it has been! More than anything, this year made me realize that I can do anything I want with the right amount of determination, confidence and planning - no matter how many obstacles there are (even if one of them is a flooded home). I learned to believe in myself. Of course, my resolutions and years in review are often focused on my writing career, but there are other aspects of my life that also help me to make priorities. 

The theme for 2013 was "professionalism" because I wanted to gain more work experience - not just to boost my resume with internships, but to learn what it's like to thrive in a work environment with other colleagues. To get a taste for "the real world" before college is over and so that I know what to expect after graduation in May. 

The thing, though, is that 2014 is going to bring about so many changes and surprises that nothing will have prepared me for them. It's a little daunting to think about, but that is why this next year is geared toward writing. I can't help but feel like writing for myself is going to be more important this year than any other so far. I'll be entering the job market as a journalist. I will be leaving UNC-Chapel Hill, a place that is extremely dear to my heart and has helped to shape my identity over the past four years of my life. I will be separated from close friends and people who have stood beside me since the beginning of college and even high school - we'll embark on our own journeys, say farewell. I will need my journal close by to remind myself who I am without UNC and that everything is going to be okay. 

My new years resolutions for 2014 are coming up soon - and you can bet that blogging regularly is one of them. Check back tomorrow for my annual resolutions post and an extra surprise...something I've been working on for the past couple of weeks and cannot wait to share with you! Happy New Year!

Wendy Lu


Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Senior Year Experience

#DailyWings: "This time, like all times, is a very good one, if we but know what to do with it." -Ralph Waldo Emerson

I've started a new blog post several times (each with its own headline and Daily Wings quote), but it wasn't until multiple friends came up to me and said, "You haven't updated your blog in a while," that I realized my hiatus had to end. 

Even though it's already September, my mind is still stuck somewhere in July. This summer was supposed to be a chance for me to mentally catch up with the past three years of college and figure out what the hell I'm going to do with my life. In the end, I only got busier. 

Since the June 30th flood, which many Chapel Hillians are still recovering from to this day (including myself), I have completed summer school, an internship at Personify and a freelancing job with Raleigh Public Record. Thanks to the awful storm, the carpets and drywall in my apartment were all removed; for several weeks, I was forced to live in three different places, including a hotel as well as another house and flat where two of my friends were kind enough to let me stayIt's hard to believe I hopped homes for nearly a month while still managing to drive 45 minutes to and from work every day after class. Despite everything, I've made it to my final fall semester of college. 

Although I'm pretty content with the way things are sailing right now, it wasn't like this at the beginning. Back in August, I was eager not to let the aftermath of the flood prevent me from living the "perfect" senior year and doing everything on the typical UNC college bucket list that I never really did as a first-year, sophomore or junior. Participate in Week of Welcome. Attend Sunset Serenade and Relighting of the Bell Tower. Take Zumba. Go rock climbing in Rams. There was something about checking off these items right here, right now as a senior that seemed sacred to me. They weren't things you could after college. I mean, you could  but it wouldn't be the same. 

Due to apartment issuesI was met with great disappointment and ended up doing none of these things. I was bitter for days. I blamed the world for ruining senior year for me. The bitterness turned into resignation and an all-or-nothing attitude: If I couldn't enjoy Week of Welcome, I might as well abandon my expectations for other special moments that are supposed to make up "the senior year experience" (like Senior Bar Night and taking before graduation/after graduation photos by the Old Well)

The thing is, after I stopped worrying about missing out on stuff, life got much easier and more enjoyable. I've been able to focus on classes and things that are really important to me, like journalism. One week after school began, was appointed to co-editor of The Durham Voice, which has been an incredibly rewarding experience for me so far. I'm also a guest columnist for DIY MFA now, and work with a passionate, talented team of writers. I've even started researching and writing my senior honors thesis, which focuses on the gap between people's online social media personas and readers' perceptions of those personas. 

It's taken me three months to realize that I am doing everything I've ever wanted in college. Co-lead a major local publication. Work for one of my long-time favorite writing websites. Write a book. And last night, I emceed for the first time for CUSA's Mid-Autumn Festival. It was terrifying to think that there were more than 200 people watching me sputter out lines on stage  but when the audience burst into laughter, right on cue, I knew I was doing something right. Sounds corny, but it felt like a dream. Best of all is something I did not anticipate: I've found an amazing boyfriend who is as nerdy and awkward as me. He's always there with a joke or John Green reference and a twinkle in his eye. 

Exec board members of CUSA (Chinese Undergraduate Student Association) cheesin' after cube painting for Mid-Autumn Festival
Photo Credit: Amy Yang
All this time, I've been chasing this ridiculous list of must-dos without ever thinking about whether they're things I actually want to do  or if they're things I'm expected to do in college. Just because my bucket list is different from the norm doesn't mean it's insignificant. And some of the best things that have happened to me were totally unexpected.

Even though it seems like seniors are supposed to have everything figured out by now, I guess I'm still learning how to be flexible and open to change. I constantly have to remind myself to work hard but go at my own pace, because the truth is, the future will always be looming like some ominous inevitable. The trick is to not look ahead and remember that there is always room to grow. 

So far, senior year hasn't met every expectation or standard. But it's been packed (to say the least), surprising and, above all, wonderful. 

The obligatory couple photo in front of the Old Well
Photo Credit: A kind stranger

Wendy Lu


Sunday, June 30, 2013

Meeting Khaled Hosseini: "And The Mountains Echoed" Book Tour (and My 21st Birthday + The Great Flood of 2013!)

#DailyWings: "When I was a child my mother said to me, 'If you become a soldier, you'll be a general. If you become a monk, you'll be the pope.' Instead, I became a painter and wound up as Picasso." 
-Pablo Picasso

A couple weeks ago, I read John Green's "The Fault in Our Stars," one of the best Young Adult novels I've read in a long time. (If you haven't done so already, I highly encourage you to read one or all of John's books and/or check out the awesome vlogbrothers, a YouTube video project he coordinates with his brother Hank.) One of the book's subplots involves the characters traveling to Amsterdam to meet the writer of their favorite book in person. 

After I finished reading the book, I Skyped my boyfriend — who shares my passion for good literature and was the one who introduced me to John's work  and said to him, "Wouldn't it be so cool if we could just meet our favorite authors like Augustus and Hazel do?" 

Two days later, I found out Khaled Hosseini was in Raleigh. Now, those of you who know me very well or have been following The Red Angel for a long time know how much I love Hosseini's novel, "The Kite Runner." It's publicly been one of my favorite novels for a long time (publicly, meaning when people ask, 'What's your favorite novel?' I say, "The Kite Runner.") The book is set in Afghanistan and follows the friendship between a wealthy boy and the son of his father's servant, which is changed forever by a single act of violence. It's a story of redemption and love, of friendship and forgiveness. You can read some of my old reviews of the book here and here

Khaled Hosseini, a medical school graduate and the founder of a nonprofit that provides assistance to people living in Afghanistan, also wrote "A Thousand Splendid Suns." Hosseini's stop in Raleigh was part of the book tour for his third and most recent novel, "And The Mountains Echoed." 

When I saw the event announcement on Twitter, my heart jumped into my throat as I thought about how cool it would be to meet Khaled Hosseini in person and listen to him speak. But that jump-in-the-throat reaction was followed by a sigh, and I knew there was no way I could drive to Raleigh myself. 

My luck turned when a good friend of mine, who, consequentially, knew how much I loved "The Kite Runner," called and told me he and his friends were going to see Hosseini in Raleigh  and that I could come with him and his friends if I wanted. (If I wanted!) Before I knew it, I was riding in the backseat of a friend's friend's car and on my way to Quail Ridge Books. I don't remember much about the car ride, except that I had Subway and kept repeating the words, What is my life? over and over in my head. 

I'm holding my copy of "The Kite Runner," which world-renowned author Khaled Hosseini had just signed for me, at the "And The Mountains Echoed" book event in Raleigh, N.C., on June 15.
Before the book signing, NPR's Frank Stasio did an interview with Hosseini, touching on subjects from the writing process to character development in "And The Mountains Echoed" to the culture of and life in Afghanistan. 

During Questions From the Audience Time, I plucked up the courage to stand up and ask Khaled Hosseini: "Since you started writing 'The Kite Runner' up until now, how have you changed as a writer, an educator, a person? And, if at all, how have these books — these characters you've created — changed you?" 

"And The Mountains Echoed" is much more complex than his other two books, Hosseini said. Over time, he's become more drawn toward characters who are conflicted. Instead of revealing themselves completely, the characters are mysterious and self-scrutinizing. 

"What drives me to write is the drama, the human element in these stories," he said. "The motivations for the way they behave."

Before Hosseini thanked Stasio on stage for coming to interview him for the book event, he left me and the audience with this: 

"Stories close the gap and reconcile between what we want life to be and how it actually is," Hosseini said. "That's what stories are for." 

~ ~ ~ ~ 

In other news, I turned 21 years old on June 22. I didn't go out and party all night. I didn't drink 21 shots (as the tradition demands). But I did go shopping at Southpoint, Skype my loved ones and tear open the presents that I had sworn I wouldn't peek at until the big day. 

Here are just a few of my excellent birthday presents (left to right): Gray goose vodka (I'm 21, y'all!), a martini plastic "glass," my first shot glass from Mount Vernon and a feather quill set complete with an ink bottle, fountain pen and nibs (!!!). Just, wow. 
I couldn't have asked for a better birthday, or a better month of June, which is ironic for me to say because of The Great Chapel Hill Flood of 2013

Basically, my apartment got completely flooded earlier today and I was forced to evacuate to higher ground. I left the flat with only a few essential belongings, thinking that the rest would be floating in rainwater by the time I came back. But most of my stuff is completely unharmed, and while the carpet is soaked and damaged beyond repair, my home is still here. And I've still got my brain and my lungs and my heart, the three things that gotta' keep me going. 

Even though there are some things that could be much worse than a flood, and also some things that could be more awesome than meeting the author of your favorite book, I can't help but think: So this is what it feels like to be the luckiest person in the world. 

Wendy Lu


Friday, June 7, 2013

The Noise In Your Head: A Different Kind of Writer's Block

#DailyWings: "It's all right to do things the way you want. There is no map to life, no blueprints to survival, you can create your world day by day if you have a clear vision and an unwillingness to give up." -John O'Callaghan

The first time I drove a car, I was seven years old. My back was propped up against the seat of an arcade racing game at one of the pizza joints in Boston. My two best friends at the time, twin sisters wearing ponytails and matching choker necklaces, watched and waited eagerly for their turns to play. I clutched the plastic wheel in front of me, eyes fixed on the screen. But the whole time, all I could focus on were my friends' cheers in the background and the shadow of our mothers hovering above my head. 

I ended up maneuvering around like an old grandma  I was either too fast or too slow, and kept bumping into trees and the vehicles in front of me. After a few moments, my friends looked away, bored with my game. The race ended as all the cars braked to a screeching halt, and two pixelated words showed up on the screen: Game over!

It took a few tosses for me to realize no matter how many silver coins I slipped into the slot, I wasn't going to get any better at the game so long as I kept getting distracted. I couldn't help it, though. Embarrassed, I hopped off the seat to let one of the twins try next. My seven-year-old pride dug in: How could something that looked so simple end up in disaster? 

I'd been driving for that checkered flag at the end of the race, but what I had really been going for was that grownup pat on the shoulder, the rumple of my mushroom-cut hair and the half-impressed, half-envious looks on my friends' faces. 

Now, I'm nearly 21 and my driver's license was issued to me just barely a few months ago. Unlike the faded student identification card hiding in the back of my wallet, the newness of my driver's license is evident in the shiny exterior and blue airplane signifying the mark of North Carolina. With this barely-larger-than-my-palm card of plastic, I officially have permission to be on the road – the real one this time. 

This is what I must get through every day on my way to work...
Nowadays, the commute between my apartment and the location of my summer internship lasts about forty-five minutes, so my license comes quite handy these days. Luckily, I don't drive the way I did back when I was seven years old. It was, however, difficult to focus when I first started practicing: I kept getting nervous with my parents sitting in the backseat ("just in case"), and I worried what the other drivers thought about me, this slow beginner. But after a while, I learned to drown out these distracting thoughts and instead pay attention to what was in front of me. I learned how to be a better driver. 

Lately, I've been struggling with my writing for similar reasons. Whenever I try to get the words down, there seems to be so much traffic in my head: I'm not good enough. My writing sucks. This blog post is going nowhere. I'm nothing but a starving artist. Everyone else writes better than me. Look at these cool indie authors and accomplished people – I'm certainly not one of them! 

Unsurprisingly, this self-deprecation leads to writer's block. Literally, there's a block in my mind. Not because I don't have any good ideas, but because reminding myself of all the things I'm not fills my head so there's no room left for actual creative work. Then, something that's supposed to be fun, something that I supposedly love to do, becomes a source of fear and pressure. 

Similarly, those daydreams we all have from time to time, featuring Bestseller Lists and wide-eyed admirers, also poison my writing so it no longer seems genuine. I end up only writing what I think people want from me. Don't let any sort of glimmering prospect of fame and glory keep you from writing quality work  quality, meaning it comes from your heart.

About a month ago, my dad told me something that I still think about every day. He said, "Wendy, just ignore all the noise around you. Don't pay attention to what other people are doing or what paths they're taking – everyone's looking for something different. If writing is what you really love to do, then just do it." 

Whenever my mind starts to fill with self-doubt and other mental distractions, rendering myself incapable of writing any further, those are the words I remember. And it's worked (so far, at least; I wrote a blog post, didn't I?). 

That being said, the real world/real life isn't always quite that easy (if ever). There will always be people watching your moves, either waiting for you to make a mistake or building up expectations or comparing themselves to you. Ignore them. 

Wendy Lu

Do you ever get this kind of writer's block, and if so, how do you banish these distracting thoughts? What are some other obstacles or challenges you face while writing? 


Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Observations of an Editorial Intern: Here's to Punchy Ledes (& Other Farewell Stories)

#DailyWings: "We live not only in a world of thoughts, but also in a world of things. Words without experience are meaningless." 
-Vladimir Nabokov

This post is a part of my blog series, "Observations of an Editorial Intern" (as inspired by the CAFME Summer Intern Diaries). This series focuses on my experiences of interning as a journalism student for a news publication. Any viewpoints expressed on my blog are not reflective of the publication I work for. 

This semester, I completed an editorial internship at The WEEKLY, the town newspaper published by Chapel Hill Magazine.
Last Monday, I wrapped up my last few assignments for The WEEKLY and concluded the spring editorial internship. Walking out of that office for my last time this semester was bittersweet, as the end of most valuable experiences  ones that are both challenging and rewarding  tend to be. 

I like to think of the past — in this case, the "past" few months — as one huge timeline. Placing a finger at any point on the timeline, I remember where I was in the internship process at that point and how much there was still ahead of me. 

In January, I didn't know what were the important questions to ask in an interview. I didn't realize repeating my phone number twice in a voice message might increase my chances of getting a call back from the source. I didn't know "like" was better than "such as." 

I wrote my first newspaper article on a local poetry workshop; two weeks later, I covered Ackland Art Museum's "More Love" exhibit (my favorite assignment) and thought, hey, I could get used to this

Toward the end of February, the paper switched editors and I was scrambling to keep up with three stories a week (plus schoolwork). Somewhere along the way, I gained basic knowledge of property taxes, gentrification and "brain drain." 

By mid-MarchI was learning how to write short, punchy lines for my ledes (still learning this, y'all) and how to deviate from the inverted pyramid without losing the "why" of a story.

I led our new "Student of the Week" feature for most of April, and discovered there's a story in every child that reminds us all to remain curious and passionate about everyday life. 
I also wrote a personal tribute to my dear friend Laura Rozo, who died about three weeks ago after being diagnosed with cancer in 2011. (You can find my second tribute for Laura in The Daily Tar Heel.)

As an editorial intern for The WEEKLY, I've gained experiences that I wouldn't have gotten anywhere else. That's how it is for any internship you do. Sure, technically you could intern at any publication and then leave with clips, a mastery of AP Style and maybe even a recommendation letter. But where you intern matters; after all, you're there for a whole semester. 

Starting out at any internship can be kind of nerve-wrecking, especially if it's your first one. But after a few months, you get to know the people  not just by their hair color or office location, but by their first and last names, department and Twitter handle. Soon, you become attached to the publication and its unique style. You learn how to use the kitchen microwave properly. You read the publication from cover to cover not because there are articles with your byline (though that's a plus), but because you're genuinely proud of the content that everyone in the office has worked hard to produce together. 

This summer will be different from all my other summers in between college years. I won't be going back to China like usual (which means zero media censorship and more blogging, hooray!). I will be interning at a consulting firm in Cary, N.C., and I couldn't be more excited to begin this new journey. Still, I'm going to miss journalism. I'm going to miss writing furiously against a deadline and I'm going to miss The WEEKLY. Good thing is, I'll be returning in the fall. In the meantime, I'll be picking up a copy of each new issue on Thursdays at Franklin Street. You should, too. 

Wendy Lu


Friday, April 5, 2013

"My Able Life," inspired by Advocates for Carolina, and Laura Rozo Benefit Night

#DailyWings: "Nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent." -Eleanor Roosevelt

A few weeks ago, my ethics professor forwarded to our class an article from The Daily Tar Heel about a new student organization that promotes disabilities awareness, Advocates for Carolina. I was so incredibly happy to hear that a group had been created for students who must find alternative ways to live, and joined without hesitation. 

What I love most about UNC-Chapel Hill is that there's something for everyone -- a major, an organization, an outlet for self-expression. I felt welcome since the first day I arrived at Carolina; never before had I been a part of such an accepting community. In particular, North Carolina Fellows has taught me how to be comfortable with myself. I've learned that sharing my story doesn't push people away; often, doing so brings me closer to them. 

But as one of those students who has lived with the "disability" label for years, I'd always felt there was one other thing missing from my college experience: a space in which to share my story and learn from others in similar situations. Advocates for Carolina has filled this void. We emphasize on accessibility, advocacy and awareness. We seek to remove stigma, educate others about disabilities and provide each other with validation. Although we may live with different circumstances, this community reminds each of us that we aren't alone.  

Throughout March, Advocates for Carolina hosted "This Able Life" photo and narrative exhibit. Fellow Tar Heels shared their personal stories about what 'disability' means to them. At the gallery reception, we had an amazing turnout: students, professors and Chapel Hill locals all came to view our exhibit. 

"This Able Life" photo and narrative exhibit, hosted by Advocates for Carolina, was featured in March at the art gallery within the UNC-CH student union. 
I was lucky enough to have my narrative, along with a photo, accepted for the exhibit and to give the opening speech with Advocates founder Katie Savage at the reception. Although I am more than happy to share my story with others, this was the first time I chose to do so in public. For three whole minutes, everyone's eyes were on me as I talked about the mission of Advocates for Carolina: giving a voice to students with disabilities. 

Below, you'll find the narrative I wrote for the exhibit: 

'Don't you want to be normal?' Doctors, friends and strangers ask me this casually all the time when they see me, not knowing that this question has puzzled me for years. 

Since birth, I’ve worn a tracheostomy tube – or trach tube – that allows me to breathe properly. Because of vocal cord paralysis, my nose and mouth have never served as proper airways. As lucky as I am to have grown up with a loving family, my childhood was filled with homecare nurses, procedures and muffled murmurs from people who didn’t understand or chose to judge first. 

It’s never easy to endure blunt questions and curious stares, but despite the challenges, I’ve realized that without these experiences I may not have learned how to appreciate all the good things in my life. Going through these experiences, I feel particularly passionate about helping others who must also find alternative ways to live. And, slowly, I began to realize how much it means to me when people show interest in learning about my lifestyle, and ask how I’m different as a result of my “disability.” 

Terms like “disability” and “medical condition” never resonated with me, and why should they? Because I have had to wear a trachoestomy tube for all 20 years of my life, I’ve never known anything different. It’s a part of who I am, but it doesn’t define me. 

Disabilities awareness isn’t about celebrating disabilities, but our differences and individual experiences. It’s about educating each other and realizing what makes each person unique. It’s not the disability – or condition or whatever you call it – that makes us who we are, but how we adapt to any limitations and make the most of life in a way that’s most fulfilling for us.
Wendy Lu
UNC 2014

If you would like to read more about the exhibit and view other student entries, check out our recent feature on WUNC 91.5 on NPR. While the exhibit is now over, Advocates continues to spread its name and mission; on Wednesday, our organization was selected to be an official UNC Campus Y committee (huzzah!). We can't wait to partner up with other campus groups and bring many more disabilities awareness events to UNC-CH campus in the future. 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 
I also want to take a moment to share with you an opportunity to help a fellow UNC-CH student and dear friend of mine. 

Photo Credit: Chenxi Yu
Laura Rozo is a Carolina student, a Morehead-Cain scholar, a big sister, a friend, a mentor; she also served as the closing speaker at TEDxUNC 2013. In 2011, Laura was diagnosed with stage IV metastatic rhabdomyosarcoma. Unfortunately, the treatment therapies have not stopped the cancer’s progression in Laura's body. Laura’s physician has advised her to share with her family her wishes regarding her end of life care. She continues to receive hospice care at home, but there are financial implications for her family created by the increasing level of medical care she needs. 

Laura and I first met through NC Fellows, but we didn't really get to know each other until last fall. We were both waiting at UNC Hospitals (she had a doctor's appointment, and I had a meeting), and began to chat after we recognized each other from the leadership program. 
We started talking over our respective hospital experiences. After bonding with Laura for a while, I realized that even though our situations were very different, we understood each other and I hadn't felt this connected with another person in a long time. 

Here's someone else who knows what it's like, I thought. 

Hundreds of other people have gotten to know Laura at UNC-Chapel Hill and through TEDxUNC. At Advocates For Carolina's "This Able Life" gallery reception, we raised donations to go toward Laura Rozo's fund and asked visitors to sign a card for her. Many of them had never met Laura before, but left encouraging words about how her story made an impact on them. Over the months, Laura has taught me that no matter how hard things may seem, we're never alone.

Take a few moments to watch Laura's powerful TEDxUNC 2013 speech, "If Not Now, When?" 

If you find Laura's words and strength to be inspiring, please consider joining my dear friend and many others who have been touched by her friendship and love for the Laura Rozo Benefit Night. The event takes place on Tuesday in Morehead Planetarium at UNC-Chapel Hill, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. There will be performances, a raffle contest and food served by restaurants from Franklin Street. 

To learn more about Laura's story and the impact she has made on her friends in the Carolina community, check out Everyday Ambassador's feature: Wisdom and Mangoes with Laura RozoAs people like Laura continue to fight cancer every day, here's hoping one day we can finally beat cancer for good. 

Wendy Lu


Sunday, March 31, 2013

Observations of an Editorial Intern: On Being Deadline-Driven

#DailyWings: "Life is so constructed, that the event does not, cannot, will not, match the expectation." -Charlotte Brontë, Villette

This post is a part of my blog series, "Observations of an Editorial Intern" (as inspired by the CAFME Summer Intern Diaries). This series focuses on my experiences of interning as a journalism student for a news publication. Any viewpoints expressed on my blog are not reflective of the publication I work for. 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 

It's been a while since I updated my blog series for this semester, Observations of an Editorial Intern. Juggling classes, multiple school organizations and an editorial internship has been both a challenge and a rewarding experience. I've become much more attentive to news values, email communication, deadlines and interviewing tactics; at the same time, I am still learning new things every week. 

For anyone who is hoping to gain a better sense of a particular field, there is a lot of value in learning from experts -- essentially, others who have been working in the industry for much longer. You can ask them about trends they've seen over the years, impact on the public and the micro-level details of working in that field on a daily basis. These people can include long-term employees, graduates who have gotten their feet through the door and are navigating the waters, even your mentors or bosses. 

Tonight, I had the pleasure of meeting and chatting with Henry Fuhrmann, assistant managing editor for the Los Angeles Times copy desks, at a dinner organized for UNC School of Journalism and Mass Communication. It was incredibly neat to hear Mr. Fuhrmann's perspectives, particularly on the social media aspect of journalism, and learn more about his experiences in the news industry. 

As an aspiring journalist, I've got a long way to go; in the meantime, I think it's helpful to learn from people like Mr. Fuhrmann and also pick a few things up along the way on my own. One of the most significant skills I've learned -- and am still working on -- this semester involves meeting deadlines on a regular basis. This doesn't pertain to just my news internship, but also class assignments and club events. There are always more stories to write, more exams to study for and more emails that need a response. They are all a part of the process of "getting things done," but that's much easier said than, well, done. I have yet to discover a formula for being both deadline-driven and well-rested (if someone makes this discovery, please let me know ASAP), but here are a few specific tips I've picked up over the past few months that have been really useful: 

1) Prioritize your deadlines based on timeliness and importance. Obviously, you would choose to cram for tomorrow's test rather than edit your job application that's due in two weeks. But what if you had two exams to study for, or two stories to write? I spend twice as much time reviewing for science exams as I do for humanities classes, mainly because I'm terrible at science. And for stories, work on the article that will have a greater impact and will matter most to the audience, first. 

2) Spend a fixed amount of time on research. Before this semester, I used to take hours and hours researching the people I was supposed to interview for stories and coming up with the perfect list of questions. Now, I know there's no such thing. One, interviews can spin in different directions that lead to many follow-up questions that I hadn't expected to ask. Two, most of the background information I gather comes from conducting the actual interviews rather than anticipating answers or reading up on every single article ever written on the topic. 

Now, I spend about 20 minutes, tops, preparing for interviews. While it's important to know what you're getting yourself into, there's only so much homework you can do before picking up the phone. Get the basics down, then make the call. 

3) Focus on one deadline at a time. Point is, multitasking is overrated and can often lead to disappointing outcomes. If you procrastinate and then try to finish a class assignment while writing a story (assuming both are due tomorrow), you end up with an awful -- or mediocre, at best -- grade, a poorly written article and baggy eyes. Do one or the other, take a short break and then switch tasks. Trust me on this one. 

4) Keep deadlines at the forefront of your mind with easy-access reminders. Without Google Calendar and a Moleskine notebook, my world stops turning. And if I didn't keep up the Sticky Notes on my laptop at all times, I'd forget half my deadlines. Of course, you could argue that having the deadlines ingrained in your mind makes you more anxious about meeting them; I say these reminders keep me going. 

I also use Sticky Notes to write encouraging messages for myself, like "You can do it!" or "Finish this essay and you can buy yourself a cupcake from Sugarland." Sounds cheesy, but it works. 

5) Get it done, but get it right. With the rise of new media, there's competition to be the first in posting breaking news. Sites like Twitter and Facebook make this easier than ever now. But in all the haste to hit "Share" or "Publish," there's greater potential for making mistakes. Embarrassing ones. My UNC-CH journalism professor, Ryan Thornburg, always says, "Write  the story that gets done." Whatever you're working on doesn't have to be perfect. It just needs to be thorough and accurate. Meet the deadline, but make sure your work is of quality.

Wendy Lu

How do you manage your time wisely and make sure you meet deadlines in a timely fashion? Do you have any suggestions for balancing classes, work and other aspects of your life?


Monday, March 25, 2013

Call for Submissions: Wander Magazine Wants "Travel Horror Stories" From YOU!

#DailyWings: “I am on the alert for the first signs of spring, to hear the chance note of some arriving bird, or the striped squirrel's chirp, for his stores must be now nearly exhausted, or see the woodchuck venture out of his winter quarters.” 
- Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Earlier today, we were greeted -- as if "greet" is the right word -- with a flurry of snow. On my way to class, the wind and snow almost knocked me over! Either North Carolina weather is being ridiculous or I need to start eating meat again. What is going on, y'all? I mean, it's almost April. 

Now that we've established the peculiarity of April snow, I wanted to share an awesome opportunity with you: Ever wanted to be published in a magazine? 

One of the best things about being a student at the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Journalism & Mass Communication is getting involved with various media projects in a professional news setting. This semester, I'm on the staff for Wander travel magazine, a JOMC 456 class project that has just released a call for submissions. My wonderful readers, if you have studied abroad (or currently are), spent a holiday somewhere exotic, conducted research in different parts of the world or engaged in other all-around cool things while traveling, this might interest you: 

We're looking for memorable "travel horror stories" from people who have traveled abroad outside the United States. This includes cultural food first-times, language flubs, awkward moments, you name it. We're in search for fun, amusing and quirky anecdotes from anyone at all -- you don't have to be a UNC student! If you've got a good story you'd like to tell, just comment below or email me at wendylu@live.unc.edu. 

Submissions should be no more than 100-200 words long. They're really just short snippets -- a few sentences about a "horrifying" experience you had while traveling abroad. 

Other details: Some folks have been sending in longer entries; if it's just a little bit longer than the 200-word limit, that's fine. The design of this feature also depends on how many submissions we receive, so if we have fewer entries to choose from then having 200-word forms would work. 

Wendy Lu

What's the weirdest, wackiest, scariest thing that has happened to you while traveling abroad? Share in comments below!


Friday, March 22, 2013

In a Nutshell: My Week as a Vegetarian

#DailyWings: “It is better, I think, to grab at the stars than to sit flustered because you know you cannot reach them.” — R.A. Salvatore, Sojourn

I used to be one of those people who said they'd never go on any sort of diet because of how much they love food. Well, the latter still applies to me: I love to eat. (Who doesn't? In the end, no matter how terrible your day is, pepperoni pizza and cookies and other comfort food will always be there for you.) 

But since coming to college, I've developed a bad habit of eating junk like processed edibles, unhealthy snacks and fatty meals because of the convenience. And, let's face it, junk food tastes pretty good. I was lucky enough to avoid gaining the "freshman 15," but having a fast metabolism doesn't necessarily equate to top-notch health, nor does it last. Earlier, it hit me that I'm going to be 21 years old in a couple months — well into adulthood — and, 
unfortunately, can't eat whatever the hell I want anymore. 

A few weeks ago, I made the choice to go vegetarian as part of my resolution to be healthier. Also, quite a few of my friends are vegetarian for various reasons, and they love it. Plant-based diets tend to be lower in fat and higher in fiber, because the focus is on vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes and seeds rather than meat and fish. Evidence suggests that people who follow a vegetarian diet tend to exercise more, weigh less and live longer. 

Being on a diet isn't always easy, especially for a first-timer like me, so my original plan was to try vegetarianism for only one week (no big commitments). That way, I could promise myself that I'd stick with vegetarian meals for a short period of time without feeling pressured to continue in case it didn't work out. 

I decided to go vegetarian because I wanted to be healthier and feel less bloated after every meal. That meant cutting out meat -- beef was never really my thing, anyway -- but not eggs or dairy products (also known as lacto-ovo vegetarianism). But more than that, I wanted to be creative with cooking again. 

I spoke with Suzanne Hobbs, author of "Living Vegetarian For Dummies," who said many people who start out vegetarian tend to dwell on food restrictions, which makes avoiding meat more difficult and following the diet less enjoyable. 

"Thinking not so much in terms of what you can't have, but in terms of what is available that you can have is one way to do it," said Hobbs, who is also a clinical associate professor of nutrition at UNC-Chapel Hill Gillings School of Public Health. "Frame it differently in your mind. Instead of taking it [all] away, boy think of all the things you can have." 

So during my week as a vegetarian, I branched out. Pasta dinners that would normally contain chicken or pork were modified, and my daily pepperoni pizza lunches were replaced with fresh 1.5.0. on Lenoir Mainstreet meals. I tried quinoa tabouli for the first time and blended ingredients together that created a unique combination, like rice and peanuts. 

Many people often think of foods like tofu, chickpeas, quinoa, lentils and other types of legumes as "vegetarian food." (Vernon Dursley most notably described fruits and vegetables as "rabbit food.") But with every experiment in the kitchen, I couldn't help but think, "Why haven't I tried cooking with these foods before? I feel so silly for missing out!" 

I've gleaned a few meals from my week as a vegetarian and posted photos below. If you're seriously considering vegetarianism or simply want some new ideas for meals, perhaps this will spark inspiration: 

Props to my sister, Hope, for coming up with this veggie omelet: cheese, onion, tomato and spinach. Sides include an adorable clementine, bread rounds and cheese

Here are the ingredients I used for SELF Magazine's Rigatoni with Roasted Broccoli and Chickpeas (not including chicken or anchovies), which I've been meaning to try forever

About an hour later, dinner was served: Chickpea, broccoli and mushroom rigatoni in a lemon-olive oil sauce (my own addition), dashed with garlic and seasoning

This hearty lentil soup is perfect for days when you are just too busy for homemade meals (A.K.A. you're a full-time college student like me...)

You can never go wrong with hummus and carrots, which is much more delicious than cookies or candy and makes you feel 10x better about yourself
Honestly, I thought sticking to a vegetarian diet would be more difficult. But that was only the case when meat was right in front of me or I had to turn down offers. Being able to cook my own meals and trying out different recipes made the experience much more fun and rewarding for me. Also, I felt a lot lighter -- but not hungrier, which is common for new vegetarians -- and felt full, not bloated, after meals. 

Although technically it's been more than a week since my vegetarian ventures began, I've kept going! Well, I did end up going back to meat for a couple days, mainly because my mom made her delicious duck specialty over spring break and I couldn't say no. Since then, I've minimized my meat intake simply because I feel better when I choose a veggie omelet and fruit over bacon and eggs. This probably won't last forever, because if anything, vegetarianism taught me that well-rounded meals are the best. 

Wendy Lu

Have you ever tried a diet before? If so, what was the experience like for you? If not, would you ever? 


Friday, March 8, 2013

What Makes You a Writer

#DailyWings: "“We are very good at preparing to live, but not very good at living. We know how to sacrifice ten years for a diploma, and we are willing to work very hard to get a job, a car, a house, and so on. But we have difficulty remembering that we are alive in the present moment, the only moment there is for us to be alive." 
-Thich Nhat Hanh

It's been a while. With newspaper articles, magazine stories, research papers and midterm exams swinging at me like cherry bombs every few days, I'm beginning to understand how a juggler must feel. These days, I'm averaging four hours of sleep and barely have time to eat or take a mental breather. Occasionally, I'll watch an episode of "My Mad Fat Diary" just to remind myself not to go, well, mad. 

I miss writing. To keep myself content, I have written some poetry. Short pieces, portholes for me to displace my strongest emotions. But I miss prose. I miss long-winded sentences that keep going and going until you aren't quite sure how you got from Point A to Point B but you know you're in a different place than you were before you started and it feels like a good thing. 

It's true that I crank out two to four stories every week for the town newspaper, and it's been an incredible training experience so far. But last night, I cracked open my journal for the first time in a month. One month! I couldn't believe that it had been that long since I actually sat down to write for myself without worrying about making the sentences perfect. I miss making mistakes and letting them be. I miss writing for the love of it. 

The thing is, when people find out I'm a writer, they always ask: "So, what exactly do you write? Why do you do it?" 

I tell them it's impossible for me to go one week without writing -- otherwise, I start to feel miserable and become a cranky person to be around. I tell them that going so long without writing makes me start to fall apart in every possible way. The lack of an expressive outlet, a canvas on which to put my thoughts, raw and dripping with intention and emotion, makes me feel like I'm trapped in a jar. 

Here's the awful part. Last night, I only opened my long-neglected journal because, finally, I could feel myself slipping. My ability to stay on top of things -- studying for school, reporting for stories, remembering to eat -- had reached its threshold and was going downhill. Fast. 

Let me say it again: I only began to write again because every other part of my life was beginning to crumble. Because I figured doing some journal work would allow me to focus on my "real" work -- the work that actually counts. Pathetic. 

That was the first time I wrote in a month, and for disgusting reasons. One whole month! I wondered, almost afraid of the answer, How can I call myself a writer when I don't even write consistently? Does this mean I've lied to the people who think I'm incapable of going a week without writing because I so obviously love and need it that much? 

As I pondered over these questions, a part of me felt like a total fraud. One of the most flawed tendencies a writer can have is to only write when it's convenient. When the "itch" is there and time allows. As it goes, I've easily fallen into that trap. 

Yet, something occurred to me. I'd labeled myself as an awful person for going on hiatus and practically abandoning my personal literary ventures. But then what made me return to my journal, and to this blog, again? The thing is, no matter how long it's been or for whatever reasons, I always come back. 

Even though I'm working nearly every day toward my dream journalism career, I've realized it's not enough. there is still this need to take the time to be creative in my own way. I've flirted with different pathways -- clinical psychology, medical school, freelance artistry, even archaeology, for God's sake! I could be doing anything else in the world, but the literary life just keeps popping up. 

I chose UNC-Chapel Hill instead of some hipster arts and communications college in Boston to keep my options open, but I still went into journalism. Even when midterms loom ahead, I get inspired for my next poem and make sure to write down a couple phrases for later. Even when I'm writing a 50k-word novel and it totally sucks, I keep going. Even when I hate myself for ignoring the words in my head that are just begging to be written, I jot them down anyway -- even if it is one month late. Maybe Albus Dumbledore was on to something when he said it's our choices that make us who we are. 

So when people ask what makes me a writer and why, I'll tell them it's not because my life depends on it; to a certain extent that may be true, but I like to think that I'm a writer because I choose to write. Maybe it's better this way. Now that I think about it, telling people I don't live to write, but that I write to live, seems like such an easy way out. The truth is, I chose to come back and start again. And if that wasn't for the love of writing, I don't know what is. 

It could be the black ink that just never rubs off the side of your middle finger. It could be that you stay up past midnight because the words are just flowing and, oh god, you don't know how long this high will last. It could be that your best friends all happen to come from stories -- yours, especially. What makes you a writer? 

Wendy Lu

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