Monday, June 16, 2014

A Glimpse of Post-Graduate Life

#DailyWings: "I live for coincidences. They briefly give to me the illusion or the hope that there's a pattern to my life, and if there's a pattern, then maybe I'm moving toward some kind of destiny where it's all explained." -Jonathan Ames

It has been a long time since I've sat and written and reflected about my life. The last time I blogged here was in January. January! Even though in some ways it feels like 2014 just began, that month seems so far away. I'm a somewhat different person from who I was at the beginning of the school year - of course, writing is still my one true love and everything that makes me who I am still do, but the way I approach certain situations, my attitude toward various circumstances and my overall outlook on life are no longer the same

During the last few weeks leading up to graduation weekend, my friends kept asking one another, "So, let's talk about how I'm not feeling anything about leaving UNC. Is it just me? Has it hit any of you yet?" They shook their heads and said, "I feel nothing." 

It wasn't until the end of April that the tears started to come. NC Fellows, that phenomenal and indescribable leadership program I've talked about in previous posts, hosted a final banquet for all the senior Fellows - my class. Each senior was expected to give a farewell speech, a word of motivation and advice for the younger Fellows and a blurb about what Fellows meant to him or her. 

Only half of the nerds - I mean Fellows - in my class are present here. The other half of them are...pursuing Quality, I hope. (Original photo by Ananda Day)
Being the wordy, rambling writer that I am, I wrote out a love-letter-slash-poem about my Fellows experience. My speech was far (FAR, far far) from being even remotely close to, say, a J.K. Rowling masterpiece, but somehow it hit all the right (or wrong) heartstrings. One of my close friends came to me afterward and said I'd ruined her streak of "feeling nothing" all semester, that the reality of things was finally dawning on herAnother friend told me he'd avoided my eyes the whole time I was reading my speech because he thought he would break down the moment he looked at me. 

I won't share the whole thing with you because it's two pages long, but here is a passage from my speech that can not only be said about Fellows, but college in general: 
"There are no words for the barriers that will threaten your comfort zone, the safe bubbles that will eventually begin to break, and the incremental moments when you're sitting in the dark and you confront the same question over and over: Who am I?" 
They say college is about finding yourself - creating your identity. I still remember how panicked, lost and utterly confused I felt back in January. I didn't know if the internship I have now at was going to work out. My plans for graduate school were undefined - nonexistent, even. And the little regrets of not doing this or not doing that during my earlier years in college began to pile up in the back of my mind like crumpled to-do lists.

But then it stopped. The fear and anxiety just went away (at least for the time being, and it wasn't always like that). It wasn't because I had everything figured out (lolz). I just stopped caring so much about the future and started focusing on the present situation, because I realized that in a few months, my friends and I would no longer be at UNC. 

I started spending as much time as I could with these people who had helped define my college experience. I tried to look forward to the summer without freaking out over the details too much, even though the prospect of living in Beijing secretly terrified me. Other aspects of my personality changed, too. I stopped doing things for the purpose of conforming to societal expectations or because certain activities were seemingly necessary for a meaningful college experience (like climbing the UNC bell tower). I did things for my own happiness and personal satisfaction. I went out for drinks only if I wanted to. I studied really hard for exams and finally reached my ultimate GPA goal - not for my parents' sake, but for my own. 

As a writer, I've also changed. In the past, I would shield my opinions from others in the name of objective journalism. But now, I am less afraid of offending whichever party is against my stance and more terrified of not being a part of movements I care about. I've spoken up about issues of skinny-shaming and using gender neutral language in relationships. I've written about the intimacy of teen romance and sex in YA literature and curated a "Digital Detox" series to promote discussion about how technology helps - and hinders - our everyday relationships

Journalism isn't just about truth for me anymore. It's about the communication of ideas and viewpoints, even the ones we don't want to acknowledge. I want to be a writer because writing - good writing - sparks a connection between different people and helps create a sense of unity and compassion in a world that sometimes feels too large. 

For some people, the end of college hits them - as Florence Welch would say - "like a train on a track." For others, it comes in waves, alternating between numbness and overwhelming emotion. For me, it just sunk in slowly over time, so subtle that it was barely noticeable until graduation weekend when I sat with the people from my NC Fellows class at commencement, listening to Dr. Atul Gawande give his speech and singing "Hark the Sound." It was like any other weekend, except that it was also our last one together. I miss them.

I'm a big kid now - I mean, adult. 
And so here I am now, living and working in Beijing until the end of July. I'm calmer and more focused on my career than I've been in months. That's not to say I don't have any worries, fears or doubts about the future. Even now, there is still so much uncertainty surrounding my career choice and where I'll end up in the next five years or even next fall. But I know enough about myself now to be able to stand up for my strengths and my values, to embrace the goals I set for myself and to be able to move forward.

I have my alma mater and everyone who spent the last four years there with me to thank for that. So thanks, UNC.

Wendy Lu


Tuesday, January 14, 2014

My Memories of Ovik Banerjee

#DailyWings: "I live in the present, due to the constraints of the space-time continuum." -Hank Green

I may have mentioned on my blog once or twice before that I am a part of a four-year leadership program at UNC-Chapel Hill called North Carolina FellowsThere are no words for what this program means to me. Perhaps it will suffice to say that I would not be the same person if not for NC Fellows, that the people in this community have challenged my perspective on the world and helped me to gain a greater sense of self-awareness, that joining this program was the best decision I've ever made in college. 

A few days ago, we lost someone who is and always will be an integral part of the Fellows community. Ovik Banerjee was a 2012 UNC-CH graduate, a Venture for America Fellow, a North Carolina Fellow, a true friend, a brother, a son and so much more. In NC Fellows, he served as a student director and a teaching assistant for the senior capstone course. He was always everywhere (but mainly the CLD office), and he was just so FellowsyEven after Ovik graduated, his presence still lingered in the Carolina Leadership Development (CLD) office and in our seminar room. But Ovik's impact doesn't stop at Fellows - he was a priceless gem of UNC-Chapel Hill. 

I always looked up to Ovik, not just because he was kind and honest and accepting of others, but because he wanted to get as much life as he could out of every experience he had and every person he metHe made it his mission to "get coffee with every single Fellow" before graduation. He stayed in touch with people no matter how far away they were or how long it'd been since they last spoke. The last time we talked on the phone was March; that conversation seems long ago now, but I remember feeling ecstatic that Ovik had even thought to call me, he was so busy. 

"You're doing it wrong," Ovik said to me at UNC-Chapel Hill's Holi Moli in March 2012.
Photo Credit: Hannah "Nemo" Nemer (possibly)
Ever since I learned about Ovik's death, I've found myself searching for the emails, texts and old conversations that we had, wanting to preserve them forever. I keep wracking my brains for every single memory I have of him, never ever wanting to forget what he was like - the sound of his voice, his smile, his walking stance, his big brown eyes. The way he called me "Wendy Lu-Who." I used to hate that nickname back in grade school, but somehow I never minded Ovik calling me that. 

Memory is a powerful, valuable tool. Most of my experiences with Ovik are retained only in my mind, and it's important for me to write them down lest they should become foggy over time. Sadly, memory-keeping can become difficult when you lose touch with what's fact and what was subconsciously made up while remembering too hard. But what matters most to me is that I don't forget the essence of each little scene, the small and real talk exchanged, the sentiments felt. 

I could easily describe Ovik with words like kindhearted and honest and inspirational (in fact, I already have), and they would all be true. But I hesitate to impose my perception of who he was as a person onto everyone else by using too many labels. While he had an impact on each person he knew, everyone who was close to Ovik had a different experience or relationship with him. So instead, I've put my thoughts into words, and those words into written memories that show a glimpse of Ovik's impact on a single person.

Whenever I want, I can just remember back to that time when: 
(for the sake of preserving space, only some of my most salient and favorite memories are listed)

-I met Ovik for the first time on Fellows Final Interviews Day in spring 2011. It was lunch break, and I was sitting with Michael, Gwen, Dominique and maybe Alyxandra (were we in the student union? Probably, but I'm not sure). When Ovik greeted our table with a friendly smile on his face, Michael - who knew him already - introduced him to the rest of us. 

-I went to my first Mipso show and felt so nervous about attending "my first real college concert." Ovik was there, and he assured me that I could stick close to him. He ultimately made it his responsibility to watch over me, to make sure I never felt uncomfortable in such a large, suffocating crowd. When he first saw me that night, he teased, "You don't wear a band's shirt at their concert!" 

-Ovik and I went to Buns for lunch and I got a veggie burger for the second time ever. We talked about life, legacies and aspirations. He asked a lot of questions (no surprise there) and answered a lot of them, too. I always felt comfortable talking to Ovik about anything; consequentially, he knew a lot about my medical history that, back then, few people knew outside of my Fellows class.

-He called me back in March, just to catch up. "So, I hear you're dating my brother's best friend," he said, teasingly, pausing as if to let me know he expected to hear more details. During the time it took for him to walk to a friend's shindig (pool party, maybe?), we chatted about life in Las Vegas and life back at Chapel Thrill. I told him he should return to UNC-CH for Fellows Interviews Day every year. As I recall, he did come last year. I'm so glad he did.

-He asked me to edit and read over one of the articles on his blog, Not Drinking, the Unspoken Taboo?  before it was published. Ovik was not only my friend, but a mentor and one of my biggest cheerleaders. He read my blog. He came to me for editing advice. He put a lot of faith in my writing abilities. I can never thank him enough for believing in me.

-He sat in the back of my very first writing seminar, which I hosted as part of the Fellows mini seminar series. Ovik was the one to tell me, a day or two before the seminar, not to expect too many people. He said I shouldn't be discouraged in case the audience count was low, that the Quality of each person's experience at my seminar was far more valuable than the number of attendees. We actually had about 12 or 13 people show up, and our discussions were great. Best of all, though? A Fellow texted me that next morning, saying she was inspired by my seminar to pour her heart through writing for the first time in a while. You were right, Ovik.

Wendy Lu


Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Embracing 2014: My New Years Resolutions

#DailyWings: “Nothing truly innovative, nothing that has advanced art, business, design, or humanity, was ever created in the face of genuine certainty or perfect information.” -Jonathan Fields

For what might possibly be the first time ever, I feel like it's time for a new year. So much happened in 2013 that it seems only natural to "turn the page" and start a new chapter of this book that we call life. (Technically, "Chapter 2014" refers to the 2014th year of the Gregorian calendar rather than that of my personal life...I'm 21, not 2014, years old after all!) Note - this doesn't necessarily mean I'm ready for 2014. On the contrary, my body experiences all sorts of physical reactions - my arms quiver, my heart palpitates at an alarming rate, my mind goes into panic mode - whenever I even think about life after college. There's one more semester left. Graduation is in May. Anything beyond that is up in the air. 

As much as I consider myself a fan of spontaneity, the truth is that I'm much calmer when everything is planned out accordingly. Besides things like birthday surprises, I like to know what's going to take place in the future (except for movie and book about party poopers). What I would like to happen may indeed be the total opposite of what actually happens. Thus, I hope to be flexible in 2014. To stay open-minded and not get discouraged if things go awry. 

I have been an adamant goal-setter since 2008 when I started making new years resolutions using an incentives system and Chris Guillbeau's annual review spreadsheet. If you're a planner like me, you might be interested in my guide: 5 Steps to a Resolution You'll Stick With. You can find out if I met my 2013 goals here

Once again, I've compiled a list of New Years resolutions and gleaned from it my top 10. Here they are: 

Ultimately, this year will be a transition period for me. For the past eight years, I've been focused on things like my education and social life and independence. The falls and springs have been marked with numbers - class grades, grade point averages, standardized test scores - that determined where I would go next. Summers were spent either in China or Chapel Hill for internships and extra classes. But not this summer. For once, I'm going to have time (!) to think about who I want to be and what comes next in my book. Not what should come next according to social expectations, but what I want to come next. 

The book of my life (all 21 chapters) has been continuously written for me - until now. Whether I like it or not, this is the year that everything changes. This is where the real writing begins.

Wendy Lu

What are your New Years resolutions? If you could give 2014 your own theme, what would it be?


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

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