Year in Review
It is now January 2nd, in T-12 hours I will be moving back in res and taking life seriously again.1
2011 has probably been the most eventful year of my life so far. I started off, in January, worrying over IAs and worrying over my applications to U.S. universities and reeling from the bad news from Chicago ~ late December 2010. Mitigating this anxiety was the surprisingly easy and positive experience of starting to date (oh that’s gross) R.2 Nonetheless, January-February was one of the most anxiety-ridden periods of my life to date. It was difficult. I was also deciding between McGill vs. UBC, in the extreme-likelihood that I would be rejected from my Dream Schools. Looking back, it was always very clear I would be attending UBC. I was not good enough for the ones I applied to (Brown had a ~5% admit rate this year) and the McGill vs. UBC internal contemplation I contrived to give me the illusory experience of considered choice. McGill’s economics department is not in the top 100 worldwide. No matter how cray-cray the clubs and raunchy the sex life3, I was not going there. Thus, UBC.
Not going to lie,4 as a result of the supra January-February anxiety I was absolutely crushed come March 15. I was not accepted into any of the schools I applied to, and I still regret not having applied to Berkeley, Pomona, Amherst, Williams, Northwestern, NYU, et al. The frustration has worsened over time, after honest inspection of my motivations for not doing so and the subsequent, bitter realization that today, after the lessons I’ve learned throughout 2011, such motivations would be inapplicable. Basically, I was afraid of receiving an inbox of like 23 rejections on March 15 from institutions I, judging from their median SAT scores, convinced myself of having a big shot at admission. I’ve spent much of my brief life not trying as hard as I could have due to the narcissistic high I got off of pretending I was limitless.5 When you don’t try, you can pretend that your willingness, not ability, is the primary variable. This illusion of control is intoxicating to any sixteen/seventeen-year-old raised on contemporary Western media, which makes a laughingstock of the diligent. I valued it more than any university except three, all of which were long shots, and two of which I hid from people about applying to (until M told everyone by posting it publicly on FB, not the last time she would do this). When I received no offers, I cried a lot and somewhere in Dunbar a SS had his least fun MSN conversation ever.
The sky-falling and mommy-grief mostly faded by May, where my life was basically exams and fun with my best friends, who I spent very little of my last high school year with. I regret this. Yes, it was mostly silly drama, but important silly things happened. I wish I was there for that, even if they didn’t wish I was. This month was also filled with idyllic moments with R. If we were a movie, May would be the courtship montage 30 minutes in set to a Michael Buble cover of Love Me Tender.6
On June 2, I left for China for the first time in four years. I had been building up this trip in my head since December 2010. I was going to go to Tibet, explore the streets of Chengdu everyday, and have awesome food with my family. One of the three happened (the latter, which is guaranteed in every trip to Chengdu). All this faded into the background though when I realized - to my surprise - the extent of my grandma’s health problems.7 Nothing else seemed important anymore; I forgot the anxieties of the preceding months.8 The initial weeks I admit to being selfish and morose, and relished hiding alone in my little kingdom, my dad’s five-star river-view sterile hotel suite. Again, not going to lie, I was happy there. Just AL-Daily reading and Angry Birds playing and delicious food eating all day, never leaving my king bed except to go to the washroom and open the door for maids. If you ever want to know how loneliness can be addictive I suggest you live alone in a five-star hotel suite with floor-to-ceiling windows and no FB for a month. Lethal fun. Anyways, as time passed I began to relish opportunities to care for grandma. I spoke to her, telling her about how I was going to university and how I got a big award from my school.
I never felt so proud of myself in my life, that last day in Chengdu, when the storm started brewing and I was eating crackers and talking to my grandma as the screen doors throttled and the television droned on and my dad and Huang a yi were in the background. When Huang a yi called me a guai nui er - how embarrassingly honoured I was! Especially in the light of my discovery of DFW and his This Is Water speech a few weeks prior. It was all so eerie, looking back, how after reading that speech my circumstances played out in a way that pushed me from hypersolipsism to what I swear is (something like) “real freedom.”
Though I didn’t end up going to Tibet, I traveled a fair bit within China. I visited HK, Lijiang, Xian, and Beijing. Hong Kong was my favourite. In fact, it’s my favourite city that I’ve been to. It’s so lively, convenient, and culturally diverse. I want to live there sometime. Lijiang was also interesting and unique, full of young Chinese bohemians. I had some gorgeous pictures from there which I posted during the summer. Beijing was also amazing, though development is destroying some of its most distinctive architecture and traditional communities. See here. I know it’s such a tourist thing to say, but visiting the Great Wall was one of the highlights of my life. That entire day was perfect.
After my six weeks in China, I spent the rest of the summer not doing anything like at all. I consumed significant portions of alcohol for the first time. After that disastrous third time with my friends Jack Daniels and Bruce Willis I concluded me + moderacy are not natural partners and now try to actively avoid alcohol.9 So I got that out of the way.
Then school started. I liked my courses, Econ 101 I loved. I did well. I was better in math and econ than I expected, which was bittersweet. As soon as I received my first midterm mark it was like, “oh shit, I can actually do this, now I have to give it my all.” Which is a tone/attitude very different from the one I had a few paragraphs earlier in high school, no? I don’t know when this shift happened. It wasn’t a sudden Awakening or anything like that, over the year I just found myself gradually giving more shits about like my future. This was the most important growth-thing for me this year. I propose two causes - DFW and R, both of whose “expectations” (the former in a more literary and um, post-mortem sense) obliged me, almost as a matter of etiquette, to become the better person they thought I was/could be.
Aside from schoolwork, my biggest commitment at UBC this first semester was debate, which ate up like six hours a week but I enjoyed every moment. I met some amazing people, some of whom I aspire to be three years from now.10 Debate tournaments like Fall Open and Hugill are escapist adventures. I can’t ever focus on “real life” at a debate tournament, they’re like nerd vacations. I’m excited to continue debating throughout UBC.
The biggest change for many upon attending university is living in residence. I like res, though to be honest I haven’t made any BFFs through it yet. This is my fault. One of my resolutions for 2012 is to go out at least once every two weeks to socialize and have fun. OTOH, my work ethic has been steel-reinforced this semester. D inspired me, as dorky as it may sound. Finals studying was some of the most intense shit I’ve been through. Overall, I’m pretty proud of my dedication this semester and hope to amp it up even further next semester.
Then came break, which is coming to a close as I write - by the time this is on the interwebs I will be packing. Let me summarize:
My fat jeans are now my skinny jeans. Other than this (literally) momentous event, I finished the first two seasons of the Wire. As a BSG and West Wing fanatic, I will admit - the Wire is the Best TV Show of All Time. Oh and right! I finished watching BSG this year. It’s my favourite fandom/universe now. Speaking of which, also saw the last Harry Potter movie this year. Many, many tears were shed.
Anyways, that was the year, other than like the Arab Spring and Kim Jong-Il’s death and the Japanese earthquake and all those trifles. Writing about in reminiscence, I will say that this will probably end up being one of the most important years of my life. I feel as though it contains many Chekhovian guns.11 I realized, while writing this post, that I can extrapolate “themes” from my life judging by my favourite quotes at that time.12 In grade 10, I was obsessed with “no fate but what we make,” which was a result of my strange obsession with the Terminator franchise at the time. I remember wanting to be a robot.13 Weird. Grade 11, it was various Fight Club quotes, especially this one: ” Listen up, maggots. You are not special. You are not a beautiful or unique snowflake. You’re the same decaying organic matter as everything else.” Also, Kurt Vonnegut’s terribly-true “Another flaw in the human character is everyone wants to build and no one wants to do maintenance.” Goodness, I sound like an emo. Which I wasn’t, just to clarify, I just had a dark sense of humour and liked to undermine my own significance because it freed me of expectations and conventions and difficulty. This passage, along with Matthew 11:30, I pored over repeatedly throughout this year.
“And the so-called real world will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the so-called real world of men and money and power hums merrily along in a pool of fear and anger and frustration and craving and worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the centre of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talk about much in the great outside world of wanting and achieving…. The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day. That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing.”
For the most part, since about June this year, I have made an active effort to behave in a way accordant with the spirit of this passage, which is something I could not have imaged myself doing in 2010. This new effort at being like good and stuff was the most salient aspect of my 2011. If nothing happens in 2012 except its sustenance, I will be a happy girl come January 2013.
Happy New Year’s, everybody.
1 This is going to be one of the most solipsistic posts you will ever find on tumblr, internet home of 15 year olds whose posts are one-liners about how much they want to be skinny and why aren’t they skinny and why don’t they have Leighton Meester’s shoes I want her shoes and oh cute latte art. I get to do this because, like, this is literally a web page about me. I don’t write about much else because I don’t really know about much else. If you want to read a Year in Review that capital-M Matters, read the Economist. Sorry for my self-importance here. This footnote (and post, and web page, really) is directed at my future self who is probably berating my current self for her (my?) self-centeredness. She/I shouldn’t be reading her/mine own damn blog, then. Go back to work!a
aI challenge you to identify the number of levels of self-reference in the supra footnote.
2 Which, if you’re reading, hi and don’t you love what I did with the footnotes?
3 McGill attendees, if you want to market your school you should seriously consider widening your range of descriptors. “Pub crawl” is not an actual answer to “How would you rate your overall satisfaction with teaching quality at this institution?”
4 Another important personal development this year.
5 At stuff way more important than school and grades and cleverness, believe me.
6 Or a single Taylor Swift video, if T-Swizzle’s idea of romance was Daiso.
7 I am still angry at my mom for telling me so little about my grandma’s health’s devolution and overall leaving me out of the loop the past few years.
8 I take sick pride in this fact.
9 Except for the times I don’t.
10 Not just be like, actually be. I want that fucking beard.
11 See here. Things happened this year which I suspect will later have some insidious and surprising impact on my life later.
12 Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers uses a similar technique to infer cultural conceptions of control over crop harvests in pre-industrial Russia and China.
13 Yeah technically cyborg I know.