August sipped away like a bottle of wine

I’m taking a leave of absence this fall!

Perhaps, as early as May, part of me already sensed that I didn’t want to do another semester of remote learning—especially not during my senior fall. I got sad thinking about doing the last year of college on Zoom. It felt anti-climactic, disappointing, a poor facsimile of what it could have been.

Truth is, I’m not in a rush to graduate at all. I’ve been thinking about it a lot recently, through conversations with friends back home and a simmering creative malaise over my fundamental ability to write fiction.

What is it I fear? The prospect of graduation isn’t scary, what is is the official entrance ticket to the treadmill of busyness and conformity, turning on the axle of capitalist productivity. What’s scary is the 9 to 7 weekdays in office cubicles, two-week vacations per year for the next couple of decades, housing mortgages and tax bills, and coming eventually to terms with the fact that—despite every lofty ambition growing up—my life will unfold exactly the way I don’t want it to. The fear of a mediocre life, of living too cautiously. At this age, mediocrity hurts more than failure.

In some ways, taking the semester off to continue writing whole-heartedly is a gamble against those fears, to give myself a real shot at the kind of life I aspire for when there isn’t that much to lose (yet). The existential crisis has never really quite left me, as my old blog posts remind me (e.g. Sophomore me confronted my worldly fears amidst recruiting season; in Junior fall, I was grasping for ANY inkling to answer “What do I want to do with my life?”—I stopped pretending that it was anything other than writing).

I am still a work in progress. A part of me knows if I were to die next year, I would spend the next 365 days writing a novel. That’s the only thing I felt destined to do, ever. So, I am trying to understand what the writing life is like by taking this semester off and deconstructing the in-built drive to fill up the time with internships, research stints, etc. But, another part of me still doubts. A few days ago, I went to read the first 20,000 or so words in the current draft of IDOL and was gripped by an eroding sense of insecurity. I’ve been staving off the instinct to edit for as long as possible so that I can first get the words out on the page. But, over these past couple of days, I’ve been writing very few words and knee-deep in editing because my style is so flawed that I kind of want to crawl into a hole and bury myself. (John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction has been a good antidote for the onslaught of writing woes BUT it’s no panacea—HOW CAN I WRITE BETTER?!? HOW DID I NOT REALIZE MY WRITING VOICE IS SO STILTED???)

Here’s a short reading list of what I plan to read/reread/finish reading in September, to get past the rut (may a bad writing week not turn into a streak):

Dear reader, is there a novel that you loved for its voice and style, on top of its plot? I’m hungry for recommendations, feel free to send me titles ANYTIME!!! 🙏

Lastly, HAPPY BIRTHDAY DADDY!!! 亲爱的爸比,生日快乐 🎂🎉✨ The other day I was going through my childhood books. Many had been lugged back by my dad from his overseas trips—Chinese novels, math olympiad books, hardback fairytales, poetry collections, history tomes, comics… Each time I went to the bookstore with my dad, the two of us wouldn’t be able to leave without making a purchase. I owe my love for words—both English and Chinese—to my parents, who feed my imagination and indulge all of my creative urges.

Writing is a very uncertain thing, lonely, patient, chaotic, private; whoever observes the process from the outside might be mystified. Apart from word counts (which are quite helpful for establishing routine and utterly useless in relation to the actual substance of my words), my parents don’t quite know what I’m doing with my time. Occasionally, my dad asks me about how the novel is going and I don’t quite know how to tell him. Yet, still they have chosen to support any of my life decisions with trust, respect, and love. For that, I am eternally indebted to them.

谢谢爸比妈咪, 感恩有您们~ ❤️ 

Another month with G and J in IDOL begins!

Lots of love,

5 thoughts on “August sipped away like a bottle of wine

  1. Songyuan says:

    it’s actually not that bad to do classes via zoom. At least my uni handled it pretty well. The only annoying thing is that my tuition fee remains the same.


  2. :) says:

    love reading your blog posts!! ive barely commented before but this struck a chord haha… i love writing too and recently ive been grappling a lot with the purpose of writing and hitting a dry spell because it feels so much like a chore or a means to an end at this point in my life. i totally relate with your fear/trepidation with regards to falling into the mudane 9-5 and relegating all our dreams to the backseat; as a student in singapore it feels like pragmatism is the only mode of life, even at 16 years old everyone around me is mapping out their futures and determining everything by how ‘practical’ it is when i feel like teenage years should be to explore but there seems to be no time to do so. sorry for the long rant haha all the best in your writing journey and i think it’s really courageous of you to do something different and try something to see where it leads you!

    also a book recommendation i have (not sure if you’ve read it) is gina apostol’s “insurrecto”, it has really unique writing – almost like poetry-as-prose and i really really enjoyed it!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sel says:

      thank you so much for leaving this comment; i’m so glad you did ❤️ (and for your lovely book rec – will definitely be checking it out!!)

      you’re quite right—writing isn’t easy; there were long stretches when i didn’t produce anything creatively at all and mostly wrote for a pragmatic purpose so to speak (e.g. for awards, grades, applying to things). in fact, in sec school, i didn’t feel like writing could ever be a starting career or full-time thing until much later in life. writing was more like a hobby and a cathartic activity.

      that’s why i so admire the fact that you’re exploring & interrogating these things at 16!! i absolutely agree with you that there’s more to your teenage years than the practical. though we can’t change society (yet) and peer pressure, it’s WAY more important to live according to what makes you happy and gives you meaning than to conform to the expectations of those around you. doing the latter makes for a very tired life.

      to some extent, though, pragmatism is essential—how to live independently, afford the lifestyle that we want, and pursue work that offers us dignity and fulfillment. figuring out what gives you purpose is crucial. then comes the question of how you can embrace that purpose without being constrained by the practical. many people have walked different paths to that answer. even now, I’m still trying to figure out for myself how i can do that.

      i encourage you to continue interrogating your purpose, equipping yourself, following those sparks, and creating for yourself the freedom to live more than just a practical life.

      all the best for your writing journey too and wishing you many explorations, discoveries, and adventures! hugs x


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