The end of 2017 crept up on me this year, as it always does. My life has been running on a September-June calendar for as long as I can remember, and to be honest I’ve never really felt the new year to serve as any sort of meaningful milepost for my life. Virtually all of my self-reflection and goal-making for each year happens at the beginning and end of the school year, which tells me that all of my goals and self-reflections to date have been entirely tied to my work as a student or a teacher…which tells me that I really don’t seem to have a life outside of school or work. Well then.
Jokes aside, it’s probably true that I let way too much of my life be defined by my performance at work and don’t place enough value on all the awesome stuff that happens outside of work. I’m still trying to figure out how to invest more of myself into my teaching without letting my teaching consume my entire identity. The idea still seems pretty paradoxical to me right now, but I’m determined to figure it out and make it work. Eventually.
For starters though, I figured it’d be a good idea to finally jump on the end-of-year-recap bandwagon and be a little more intentional about self-reflecting on my actual, non-teacher life. I’ll still save September and June for school-related goal-making, but there’s no better way to spend a quiet NYE than looking back on the 180 (whoa!) days this past year that weren’t spent at school.
So here are some disorganized thoughts on this past year as the last few hours of 2017 wind to a close and the first few hours of 2018 trickle in:
Places I went:
The luxury of being in my twenties and having expendable income is something that I’m just learning to fully appreciate and take advantage of. I took some big baby steps in that direction this year, though — the biggest and babiest of them all by far being a whirlwind weekend trip to Dallas with a friend just to see Shinee in concert. This is one of those things that deserves every bit of sideeye and judgment as you would think, but I’ll be damned if it wasn’t a blast. By some miracle we were able to snap up front row tickets to the concert, and we had the freaking time of our lives. Up until recently I was still kind of on the fence about whether or not this was truly worth it, but now knowing that this was one of Shinee’s last ever concerts as a full group, I’m really glad I went.
I also took a four-day trip to Nairobi to visit a good friend of mine. For such a long distance traveled the trip was way too short, which is why I’m headed back for a full week this coming April. To be honest I’m still mentally unpacking a lot of my experiences from this trip — not because it was terribly overwhelming or shocking in any way, but it made me realize how unaccustomed I am to being in culturally unfamiliar spaces. That sounds like such a white person thing to say, but it’s been a big point of humility and self-reflection for me, an Asian person. As much as I feel like an outsider when I’m in Asia, it’s still a place that I find fairly navigable because I understand the culture and (to varying degrees) the language. European countries can be just as easy to navigate (even with all the overt racism!) because English is a common language in so many places. But I was kind of surprised and somewhat disappointed at how helpless I was in an environment where I knew neither the language or culture well enough to function independently. The disappointment was primarily aimed at myself for, of all things, not knowing enough of the local language to feel like I could blend in. I remember distinctly feeling this when I went to Spain, France, Italy, even Hong Kong to a degree — all places where I could communicate with people in English, but it would always feel like my inability to speak the local language was a huge imposition to whomever I was talking to.
My anxiety about this is perhaps a bit overblown, but there’s something to be said about the difference between this reaction and the reaction of white Americans traveling to non-English speaking countries. I hate to admit it, but there’s something admirable about how well white folks own their foreignness in places where they clearly don’t blend in. There are, of course, the typical jerks who yell at the locals in English and gawk at squat toilets and demand that things conform to their tastes and comforts at all times, but for the few decent people who don’t do those things, the confidence with which they’re able to navigate a culturally and linguistically unfamiliar environment is…refreshing. The ease with which the question “Do you speak English?” flows from their lips is stunning to me, because my instinct is to see my need to communicate in English as a source for shame and embarrassment. It made me realize that this instinct is actually a survival instinct and is rooted in a need to blend in and assimilate. To me, being in a culturally, linguistically unfamiliar environment feels like being one of those color-changing octopuses who suddenly finds themselves in a place where their camouflage doesn’t work anymore and starts freaking out because unless they find a way to blend in, they’re going to get eaten.
There’s much, much more that can be said about this, but I’ll save it for another post. Some other places that I traveled to this year:
- Ireland (enroute back home from Nairobi; brought back great memories of a high school choir trip I took there nine years ago)
- Oregon (for a friend’s wedding and a ridiculously enjoyable college/church reunion to boot)
- Colorado/Utah (roadtripped with my parents to help further my dad’s goal of visiting every national park in America)
- Boston (specifically to crash my parents’ anniversary trip, because I’m the best daughter)
- Washington, DC (because family vacations with all four of us are few and far in between these days, so you take what you can get)
- Michigan (to visit my brother over the Christmas holidays and observe how normal postgrad 20-somethings with social lives actually live…this may also merit its own post at a later date).
Communities I joined:
I switched churches this year. Finding a spiritual home has been a complicated process since I left college. I work at a Christian school, which has, at minimum, helped to keep my habits and walk consistent and centered. I’m still involved at the immigrant Chinese church where I grew up, and I’m also part of this peculiar Facebook group of progressive Asian-American Christians (which I have a lot of complex feelings about). But I was beginning to realize every Christian community I was involved inn couldn’t really be the primary spiritual home I needed. I’m completely aware that this sounds like such a petty reason to want to switch churches because no church, no Christian community is perfect and churches don’t exist for people to shop around and find the most comfortable, most perfect fit for them. At the same time, though, I knew that I existed way outside of the the predominant culture in each community (white evangelical Christianity at school, first-generation immigrant Chinese Christianity at church, theologically liberal Christianity in this Facebook group), and found myself actively at odds with those predominant cultures far too often for any of them to be a place where I could truly lay down my burdens and be myself and be challenged and grow.
I’m now finally at a church that looks like it could be that kind of place, and to be honest I’m a little unaccustomed to being in a Christian environment where I’m not at odds with something. The cultural/theological/spiritual dissonances will probably surface somewhere along the line, but for now I’m grateful to be in a place where I can go to church and just meet with God. I’m still wary of the temptation of making this church-search process too me-centered, too comfort-centered, too challenge-averse, too service-averse, but the importance of having a like-minded spiritual community that is actively invested in building you up rather than just wanting to debate with you or asking you to fix things can’t be overstated.
Church aside, I also joined a community choir this year and it’s been a blast. I didn’t realize how much I missed choral singing. I also didn’t realize how much my vocal technique has deteriorated since high school. The music is engaging, challenging, and fresh, and the opportunities to reconnect with old high school classmates also in the choir have been invaluable.
Things I made:
Didn’t publish a ton of music this year. I’ve been getting a little more obsessive over the quality of my work, which has made my struggle between my desire to be a good singer and produce really good content and my lack of ability and skill to do so even more apparent. Nowadays I’ve just taken to throwing stuff out into the internet ether once I’m done and never listening to it again, which isn’t a very helpful habit. I also wrote a few original pieces that will probably never be recorded or see the light of day. We’ll see if that changes for next year.
Been actively trying to write more, if only because I’ve found myself getting more and more introspective as I’ve gotten older and the backlog of words and thoughts in my brain will probably turn into some sort of emotional tumor if I don’t release the valve on it every now and then. Also, the less frequently I write, the faster my skills deteriorate, so all the more reason to do more of it. (Case in point: it took me like TWENTY FIVE ATTEMPTS at rewording to get that sentence right and it still sounds wrong.)
Things I don’t regret buying:
This absurdly expensive toothbrush. Truth be told, this purchase was largely motivated from a need to replace my old toothbrush, which was easily the most disgusting thing I owned. The emotional relationship I had with cleaning it every day could be likened to scrubbing cat pee stains out of a carpet every day. Fortunately that old toothbrush kicked the bucket earlier this year, giving me an excuse to buy this fancypants toothbrush that charges in a glass cup. However, I did get it on sale, at Kohl’s, with a $40 mail-in rebate, for which I had to dig through the trash to find the original packaging that needed to be mailed in along with the original receipt, which I almost, but thankfully did not, also throw away. So.
Best beauty purchase was the ABH Modern Renaissance Palette. I hate myself for admitting it, but it’s really good.
Also changed my beauty store loyalty from Sephora over to Ulta, because spending a bajillion dollars just to score enough points to earn you a few deluxe samples is highway robbery. Also, I live in Connecticut, land of strip malls and drugstore cosmetics. Who am I kidding?
Things I watched:
All you need to know is that Star Trek: Discovery is the only thing that matters on this list, and I’ve written about why that is here. Other things of lesser importance (but that I still enjoyed at varying degrees) include Riverdale, season 5 of Orange is the New Black, Age of Youth, Lookout, Madoka Magica. I also watched Seoul Searching a few days ago, which was good but not great. Almost all of these are on Netflix, if you are interested in cultivating a taste in TV/movies that’s as terrible as mine.
Things I listened to:
Elevation Worship’s Acoustic Sessions, Red Velvet’s Perfect Velvet, Epik High’s We’ve Done Something Wonderful, Superfruit’s Future Friends, Khalil Fong’s JTW, Demi Lovato’s Tell Me You Love Me, Nneka’s My Fairy Tales, Lorde’s Melodrama, the Dear Evan Hansen soundtrack, Halsey’s hopeless fountain kingdom, Tim Be Told’s Friends and Foes. Amongst other things.
One thing I did better in 2017:
Was kinder to myself.
One thing I want to do better in 2018:
Find a way to remember and write down all the things that happened, so I won’t be wringing out my brain for memories while writing this post next year.
One final word to carry us into the new year:
Happy 2018, ya’ll.