2017, Thank You for Everything

2017 is my most paradoxical year yet in that it is both the most monumental and the most peaceful one in recent memory. For the first time in a long while, I found myself without any clear-cut, measurable goals. Since I was a kid and could grasp the concept of a university, Harvard had been my dream. After 13 December 2016 when the dream actually came true, I became suspended in a haze of euphoria. This happy bubble finally knocked against the edges of reality once again (as it should) when I stepped into college. I began wondering what the next big thing in my life was going to be. On the first day of 2018, I can tell you honestly that I still don’t have a concrete answer; I’m confused and conflicted about my aspiration for significance. But, 2017 is the first of many years in my life that I will spend figuring that out. As a yearly tradition, I write down the lessons I’m most grateful for on the first day of each new year. This year, I’d like to share some of the things I’ve learned with you:

  • Solitude is fertile. Solitude is okay. The capacity to be still and to soak in the uncertain, the unknown, the unresolved, and the uncomfortable sensation of being in your own opaque yet intimate psyche can be raw material for deeper self-understanding and even creative work. For instance, it gave birth to this paragraph and a story revolving around a theme of loneliness:

It was then when she saw the bartender, silent and smiling, like a priest intoning a mass to well-ordered rows of glasses. In the pool of warm light, she saw his dancing hands concocting drinks that swallowed worries without prejudice; his clear-headed sobriety in an inebriated world; and, through her sunglasses, she saw plain as day his brilliant solitude.

— “April, I Arrive on The Shores of Your Love” (the final story I submitted in December 2017 for the CFMR Fiction Writing Workshop, one of my freshman fall classes)

  • Boredom too is fertile. In fact, I’ll argue that it’s necessary. I used to get really anxious about being idle, but I’ve since come to terms with how it renders my messy and at times incomprehensible life into something less perplexing. Instead of striving to be productive constantly, being present in the moment and to simply rest idly allows for me to imagine—to imagine a mosaic of meaning for the web of my life.
  • The best way to become better at writing is to write and to receive honest no-frills critique. When I was at a literary reading by Jeffrey Eugenides a few months ago, he told all of us, Inspiration is a myth. It’s something produced by exertion, not grace. I’ve found that increasingly true.
  • “I don’t know” is one of the most freeing and rewarding sentences ever. Surrendering myself to not-knowing is liberating. I’m far more at peace with making uncertain what seems certain than with claiming certainty.
  • Our lives are a constellation of chance and choice. There have been frequent moments in 2017 when I was struck by an incredible wonder—will I be who I am at this moment if I had given up in a period of despair in 2016 and didn’t apply to Harvard? What if I had filled out my Housing Questionnaire differently and winded up with an entirely disparate set of roommates? What if I hadn’t applied to the Fiction Writing Workshop this semester as one of my classes—would I still be thinking about concentrating in English instead of Government or History? What if my parents hadn’t changed their minds at the very last moment on the matter of scholarships, and then I might have headed off to college with a wholly different set of priorities? I sometimes think about this when crossing the streets, rushing across the Yard, or lying awake in bed at night. Then, I realize that maybe we’re all just a cosmic aggregation of the lives we lead and the lives we don’t.

I do not know where I might have been led… What is certain is that I am satisfied with my fate and that I should not want it changed in any way at all. So I look upon these factors that helped me to fulfill it as so many fortunate strokes of chance.

Simone De Beauvoir

  • To my future self: be wary of choosing the ‘easy path’ and be wary of prestige. If I am equally torn between two paths, but one is more ‘prestigious’, as a general rule I really ought to choose the other. My thoughts on what’s desirable are always going to be slightly influenced by prestige. So, if the two choices seem equal to me, I probably have more genuine desire for the ‘less prestigious’ one. I hope I remember that.
  • What a lucky accident it is for us to be alive. There is no redoing, no perfecting, and no rehearsals to life. As it happens to us, we happen upon it. There is a strange serendipity to life, of such a delicate balance of infinite little accidents and intuitive encounters and contingencies that a single miss would have meant that this me I so concretely know vanishes into oblivion. Whenever I feel very down, I think of this and it makes me a feel a lot better. I am reminded of the magnificence of even existing. How can any single existence be ordinary?
  • Life is but a moment, so living it happily matters more than anything else. I really like how this phrase sounds in Chinese, so I’ll write it again: 人生就是一瞬,自己每天高高兴兴地过最重要。

Thank you to my dearest friends, family, and most of all to God for all the goodness, blessings, and wonder in my life. Without Him, I wouldn’t understand the importance of waiting, of growing, of failures, of tiny milestones of awareness, and of new understandings that push me into a braver, stronger, kinder, and better version of myself. It’s strange how life works—something that seems monumental, defining, or inescapable no longer amounts to much (if anything, at all) when we perceive it from many steps ahead. That’s life—it’s to keep moving forward and not wallow in the despair or jubilation of a moment.


Lots of love, and thank you, always, for reading,

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17 thoughts on “2017, Thank You for Everything

  1. wongsl98 says:

    Your words really echo some of my own thoughts! I guess what matters at the end is that we learn to appreciate ourselves, and all the ups and downs in it, and hopefully understand ourselves better as we explore life!(: all the best for the year ahead!!! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  2. tianyi207 says:

    Happy new year, Sel! I completely relate to your feelings of searching for the next big goal and purpose in life. In uni, there are so many opportunities, possibilities and routes available that the future seems as uncertain as ever (in both great and terrible ways). Glad to hear that you’re coping well with uncertainty and hopefully I’ll get better at it as well. Have a great 2018! Xx

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Kwyoke says:

    Happy New Year! I must agree that 2017 was pretty life changing and it’s great that you have drawn out these insights from last year 🙂 The point about giving up the more prestigious option when faced with two seemingly worthy choices made me pause though. A lot of times I wonder what the hell I’m trying to do blehh. Maybe 2018 will bring more clarity 🙂 To everyone

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Anonymous says:

    Omg Sel! I’ve just chanced upon this blog again (I found while clicking the WordPress randomiser button, would you believe that? It must be fate or the universe haha!) You’re that girl from that PSC blog post thing from facebook! It’s been so long since then, and I’m glad that so much has changed and so much growth has happened! Although I disagree with your attitude towards happiness (it sounds too reactionary and escapist for my taste), it is clear that it is working for you and there is much that can be learnt from it. Perhaps this year I can strive to attain a similarly genuine joy in being absolutely lost in my own world. All the best for the new year, let us all learn, as you have suggested, to stumble aimlessly and unknowingly through life! xoxo

    Liked by 1 person

  5. ANON says:

    Yes, I agree we should take time to thank people who have helped us get where we are as we celebrate where we have arrived at in the new year. But somehow I was quite perplexed at the contradiction you set up close to the end. You seem to tell yourself everything is inconsequential as you look back on life but then you still make such a big fuss about all the mundane, lame, normal things? I just wonder if your despair was really even that bad at all or if your jubilation was actually due to something really meaningful? You have to form a certain kind of mentality, or maybe have a sanitised filter for life to so easily bask in perpetual jubilation/blissful happiness I feel.

    Your life has been very smooth compared to many and you have gotten loads of lucky breaks. Little hurdles or stresses somehow become a big deal to you. If you truly knew despair, misery, maybe you wouldn’t be so careless and childish to claim every existence and all life’s events are extraordinary/magnificent


  6. Anonymous says:

    As someone who has followed this blog since the PSC post, I think that most of this is really just vapid self-help. It’s trite to talk about how sweet life is, because the sweetness you’ve described isn’t real. See whether life stays as pretty twenty years ahead. While we would all love to believe that life is best lived in dreamy uncertainty, most people don’t make a living through Creative Writing.

    Please just admit that you enjoy prestige: if not why are you even in Harvard? Really, your path is pretty easy because you’ve evaded the difficult realities. Is happiness really the Big Thing in Life? Wouldn’t it be better to be interesting than boringly happy? You’re actually offensive to people with depressive disorders who would desire anything but solitude and boredom. I haven’t had the benefit of an Ivy League education, but I can see how your overly romanticized writing is saturated with sucrose.

    I’m sure you’re wise enough to not squander your intelligence on claptrap. I hope this counts as a “no-frills” critique of sorts that you’ll carefully consider for your future development.


    • Jerry says:

      Nobody is going to listen to this kind of “advice”! The logic is broken, your arguments are not even self-justified. Who could get into Harvard by evading difficult realities? Eight Presidents of the United States have graduated from Harvard Universit. Over 100 Nobel Prize winners have been associated with the University. Harvard has gained its prestige from its Harvard people, not the other way around. If you (or we, or everybody) could not take the stress of “difficult realities”, don’t even bother to come out to comment. Otherwise, it sounds like beefing about our own life.

      BTW, I do not believe life is best lived in dreamy uncertainty. But, I do see a lot of people make a living through Creative Writing; some are even with 5 figures.

      Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Try to swallow your own advice before you could post to others!

      Nobody’s happiness comes easy! Easy come easy go. I would like to share with you Donald Rumsfeld Quotes: “There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.” So, do not assume anything about life, especially other people’s life. We should be grateful to people who are brave enough to share their happiness with us! If we are true to ourselves enough, we should be able to resonate with the author. It will help us to find our own happiness… Maybe this is the author’s ultimate intention.


      • Jamie says:

        Oh dear, I never expected this sort of vicious debate (usually the content is pretty wholesome). Probably the least popular opinion right now but I genuinely believe both sides are somewhat flawed. While there was no reason for Anon to be so harsh in her/his criticism (a tad hater-y and quite inappropriate; LET A GURL LIVE lol), Jerry’s mindset actually irked me far more.

        His characterisation of Harvard is incredibly colored, indicative of the sort of worship common among those of the vine. I get it, you know, Harvard’s great and I really enjoyed my time there (class of ’17 whoot!). Regardless, Jerry’s mindset is problematic. To claim that modern-day Harvard can be perceived apart from the prestige that its alumni has accumulated over the years is ludicrous. It oversimplifies the dynamic Harvard has with its alumni and overlooks one of the primary draws of any institution with a quantifiable reputation. While prestige may not be the main reason for choosing Harvard, upon examination, it undoubtedly plays a significant part and that is okay.

        The sooner one understands the formulaic nature of Harvard’s recruitment process, the sooner the magic of Harvard fades and the better we all are for it. Except for those in a very specific minority who rise above adversity or poverty, the rest of us are simply following up on a plan we’ve been working on for at least a good couple years. For the most part, getting into Harvard takes some work but it is not without its fair share of family support and privilege.

        Also, real quick on the topic of creative writing (I’m ranting), Anon really was quite cynical, I’m even tempted to believe this person’s a troll! It’s a good module in principle, teaches you how to appreciate writing as a writer as opposed to a reader, but then again judging creative writing’s success based on monetary profits as Jerry has done is equally laughable. For every Elif Batuman, there’s an E.L. James; every Philip Roth, a John Green. Just because you can make money doing it, doesn’t mean you should.

        Anyway, I’ve said too much, you go on doing you girl! Have a great 2018, looking forward to more of your writings as you grow and learn.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Jerry says:

    To Jamie
    I enjoyed reading your writing and quite liked it. I give you my “thumb up” for your role as a “peacemaker”. I could “feel” good manners and kind heart from your comments and opinions. As an old man, I seldom give opinions. What I had written above is just some inference from its previous commenter’s opinions and some facts about “creative writing” which I had witnessed. We could not label someone’s mindset from his stating some facts and inferences.

    I hope Selina get more supporters like you 👍😊


  8. Tusi Lee Phua Chong says:

    Solitude is fertile.
    Receive honest critique to improve.
    “I don’t know” is one of the most freeing and rewarding sentences ever.
    What a lucky accident it is for us to be alive.

    These are platitudes that have been preached many times by blogs like Brainpickings, but arguably to better effect. As others have remarked, your viewpoints are so unconditionally optimistic that I too cannot relate to them at all (it seems that you have had a crinkle-free life). But I will suggest that they are best kept to yourself – if you continue to peddle your advice without proper qualifiers that are not more substantial than “每天高高兴兴地过最重要” or ” being present in the moment and to simply rest idly”, they are no better than dangerous opiates.

    Say your take on “solitude is fertile”. What kind of solitude? Do you refer to the monastic varieties that involve physical isolation, or one that is independent of external environments? I assume that you mean the former for you offer so few details that you only once mention it, obliquely, in your fiction paragraph. To be in physical solitude without having cultivated a capacity for it (or if you are not born with it) is a recipe for suicide. It is far more meaningful for you to tell readers how one can cultivate this capacity. Instead you embellish your point with fetishising and wordporn (“capacity to be still and to soak in the uncertain, .. uncomfortable sensation of being in your own opaque yet intimate psyche…” etc.).

    I want to clarify that posting beautiful prose opiates are problematic only when you frame them as practical advice. So is prescribing pills when you are not a doctor.


    • Kyla Jiayi Zhao says:

      this is HER personal blog. She can preach whatever she wants. It is up to readers like you whether you want to take it as gospel. Isn’t it so bizarre that you are telling Selina to keep her viewpoints to herself when this is HER blog? Is she putting a gun to anyone’s head and asking them to follow her advice? Being a doctor requires years of training, qualifications and certifications. Being a blogger just requires a website and opinions. Your analogy is so out of the park it is hilarious. Take a chill pill.


      • Tusi Lee Phua Chong says:

        Dear Kyla Zhao Jia Yi,

        As Selina’s best friend you have every right to be on rage mode. But your assumptions are problematic on objective grounds.
        So let us be clear once and for all.

        Re. “this is HER personal blog. She can preach whatever she wants.”

        Let’s not be mistaken. Reducing the scope of her aspirations to a run-of-the-mill personal diary blog free of responsibilities is highly insulting to Selina. As a best friend do you not know that “founder of selinaxu.com” is listed on her LinkedIn page? Since the blog serves as a keystone to the Selinaxu brand, it obviously is intended for a public audience. So no, Selinaxu.com does not have the provincial hormonal tumblr teen privilege of containing “anything she wants” with impunity. Why else do you think other readers bother writing such long replies?

        Re. “It is up to readers like you whether you want to take it as gospel. Isn’t it so bizarre that you are telling Selina to keep her viewpoints to herself when this is HER blog?”
        responding to
        “As others have remarked, your viewpoints are so unconditionally optimistic that I too … But I will suggest that *they* are best kept to yourself – if you continue to peddle your advice without proper qualifiers..”

        Fair point, I should have structured my sentence to reflect that *they* refers to her advice after the hyphen. But of course your criticism targets more than what I will address below.

        Re. “Is she putting a gun to anyone’s head and asking them to follow her advice? ” & “Being a doctor requires years of training, qualifications and certifications. Being a blogger just requires a website and opinions. Your analogy is so out of the park”

        Your gun analogy is completely irrelevant – never have I seen a salesman wielding a gun threatening customers. I only mean to say that Selina is like a saleswoman advertising her feigned sophistication, whose writing I find has dangerous implications. Thus she should have to account for them. If she cannot then I suggest she cease her advice.

        Lest I need to be any more clear, Selinaxu.com isn’t JUST any blog with some random private thoughts etc. and has some level of influence that I expect to grow. She is trying to administer advice in areas she is perceived to be out of touch with (unlike college app essays and pretty prose). And my point is she is not fit to advise on such matters. Her lack of qualification is evident in the incompleteness of her advice, for one. It is irresponsible to dispense advice without drawing caution to its potential shortcomings (see my earlier example on why preaching solitude without qualification is dangerous).

        Perhaps Selina – since this thread has generated ample comments and since you seem to encourage honest, no frills critique on your blog – you could take the opportunity to clear the air rather than have acolytes defend you less satisfactorily than you might wish?


  9. Tusi Lee Phua Chong says:

    It is also more interesting to tell readers that a properly fertile mind requires company and solitude in equal measure.


  10. qesam says:

    We are each of an unsocial, taciturn disposition, unwilling to speak, unless we expect to say something that will amaze the whole room, and be handed down to posterity with all the eclat of a proverb.


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