Saturday, June 30, 2012

Not long ago I thought 30s would be the time for me to relax and enjoy myself. Now I feel like that couldn't be farther from the reality. With each new job comes a new disappointment; I feel more jaded now than ever. Lack of luster in my professional life coupled with unsuccessful personal relationships really puts me in a downward spiral. I used to pride myself for being confident, independent and positive. Lately all I can feel is doubt and insecurity. I don't know whether the weakness underneath is slowly spreading like cancer or has it always been there and I am just now noticing a benign tumor. Regardless of the prognosis, life goes on and I have to learn tuck in those insecurities and move along like the rest of the herd.

I won't find out my exam result for another week. The uncertainty is not helping but in the grand scheme of things it is rather insignificant. There's is a saying that goes something like the only difference between rich and poor people is that rich people know money doesn't translate to happiness. Although I don't fall into either category, I'm self sufficient enough to know a higher income at this point won't necessary raise my level of contentment. Life was easier when I was more hopeful and optimistic. It is not enough to always strive for something but rather to know or operate under the assumption that something is to ultimately bring a sense of satisfaction. I don't know if the ends will justify the means. What's worse is that I'm not even sure I know what are the ends I'm looking for!

I was on the verge of a mental breakdown before the exam. Jody suggested that I go into the woods and imagine myself being happy. There are two difficulties with that suggestion: 1, find a woods and 2, know what makes me happy. For the first time in my life I feel as if I have completely lost touch with myself. I'm pretty sure at one point fun and adventurous were among the words people used to describe me. What happened to that? I miss the old me (or rather, the younger me). What would the me from five years ago say to the me now if they could have crossed path?

I try to be honest with myself. However, there is one thing that is difficult for me to come to terms with. I can be a people person if I want to but above all I treasure privacy and solidarity. I've been on my own for a good two years now. It's becoming increasingly difficult to be alone. At the time, I needed to be on my own; I needed distance; I needed clarity; I needed time to think. It kills me to have to admit now that it is hard to be alone and that I do wish to be in a meaningful relationship. It kills me to have to admit that there are fundamental person problems such as insecurity, trust and commitment that are detrimental to relationships. It kills me to have to admit that there are certain things I want that I have no control over.

Friday, June 29, 2012

The Heat

The heat is giving me a new appreciation for air condition and a bank account that can pay for the electric bill.

Another week came and went. For someone who is awfully miserable here time seems to be going at a lightning speed. Work is dreadful. At first I thought it was just the company I worked for. Three years and a handful of jobs later I now have no choice but to subscribe to the it's-me-not-you philosophy. In this economic downturn I have been incredibly fortunate to have nearly tripled my income in three years. But on the flip side, I'm barely 29 years old and I already feel like I'm at the end of the road for my current career path. Surely, there were sacrifices made along the way. I took jobs and moved to places other would not consider. But I'm convinced that these are the experiences that will open doors for future endeavors. Whether all this will be worth it is a bit too early to tell for certain. I might not have yet found a tolerable job but I have gained immense amount of knowledge and practical experiences in a field that I am interested in.

The problem with work is that it is never challenging. Nothing is more detrimental to an overactive mind than boredom. People tends to be overwhelmed with chaos, uncertainty, deadlines, conflict and performing under pressure. I, on the other hand, find those things stimulating in a working environment. In fact, when I called a certain general council I used to work for regarding law school, he said he couldn't think of a better candidate. Having worked and traveled with me overseas, he commented that I have a certain calmness about me that allows me to perform under just about any circumstances. I chuckled as he went on to say not everyone can step up to the occasion after long international flights, foreign food and zero downtime to adjust to time differences. Surely, these things sound trivial on the surface but when it comes to business operations everything matters. For people who have been through it all and seen everything they know it's not enough that you send your best and most educated employee on the road but rather, someone who can and will perform under any adversarial environment. Now I just have to figure out a way to work under those kinds of high pressure environment to create enough distraction from real life as to have an illusion of happiness and progress.

I know I can be productive and accomplish great things if only I can create the proper opportunities for myself. Everything that comes to me easily has already came. For the next segment of the journey it's up to me to push myself through. I was the hare now I have to be the turtle; slow and steady wins the race.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012


I'd like to think everything helps a little: eat right, workout, vitamins, spa treatments, solidarity and cats (yes, I heard they help to reduce stress). Went for a massage this evening. I'm lucky to have found a great masseuse who can accommodate my work/commute schedule. I feel fairly stable today. Another hour to go and no tears so far. 

Tuesday, June 26, 2012


The lack of scenery here is killing me. As the cornfields grow taller each day I feel like I'm dying from a slow asphyxiation. I need a vacation but just the thought of working through the logistics was stressing me out. I'm trapped in the Midwest and there is no easy way out! It would take an entire day of travel just to get somewhere and where would I go? And what about all the arrangements I need to make at destination? Ironically, the two most stressful countries to travel for me are also the two most familiar ones: China and the US. After having navigated all around the world, I have not a clue as to how to travel within the US without a car. And the thought of having to wiggle through traffic and battle for parking spots for outrageous costs makes me not want to go anywhere at all.

Within the last couple of years I acquired a fascination with someday living in San Diego. Could have something to do with the 340 sunny days, white beaches and scenic trails. But then, how would I know without ever being there? It's always easier to be infatuated with something that we have no complete knowledge of. And if there is ever a good time to find out now would be it. So San Diego it is. Booked.

Strangely enough, this is going to be the first vacation I go to where I will actually understand what people surrounding me are talking about! I remember last year when I went to Munich, someone at work commented, "oh, I see you vacation internationally!" Now that I think about it, its' true! I do used to "vacation" exclusively internationally! I need to get back on track with that but first San Diego.

Hopefully when it comes to choosing which school to go to the decision will come a bit easier. The strategy at the moment is simple: go to the best school I can, if not, move to the best location possible. The deciding factor will almost be solely based on my LSAT score, which I will find out in a couple of weeks. Fingers crossed, anxiety level elevated.

Monday, June 25, 2012


I went to BodyFlow after work today. It's a low impact workout class incorporating yoga and pilates. Normally I find the class relaxing and invigorating. Sadly, the only thing that was flowing this afternoon were my tears and I couldn't stop crying until I got home.

Rose emailed and reminded me that I once said babies are definitely in the pictures. Well, I don't quite recall saying that but I trust she has good memories. Even spending the weekend with my cousin and her baby didn't really make me wish I had one. Well, that's a moot point now since I have no one to have babies with. Instead, I just constantly feel like a gigantic failure. Rose suggested that I start shopping for a bambino partner, now, and stop checking out other goods on the shelves (there are other goods?). No more eye candy, drama queens, fixer-uppers (are there any guys who don't fall into those categories?). [I] should be looking for a friend, someone who wants a bambino, and a life partner, solid. Ok, I'll be sure to add that to my to-do list.

Something really strange struck me on my way home today. I'm almost 30 now and I haven't lived with my dad since I was five. For the first time in my life I wish I had a dad. I wish someone significant in my life could sit down, look me in the eyes and tell me that I've done ok and that some day some guy is going to be real lucky to have me. I could use some reassurance.

Safe Word

If there is one thing I got right was that I knew getting the exam over with was not going to help with my anxiety level. I fee just as stressed out now as before. I know I can be strong if I want to be. At the same time I feel the urge to withdraw back in my shell like a defenseless snail. Sometimes I wish all this was a dream and that there is a me somewhere else, an alternate life branched out from one of those sliding door moments, where I lived the life I wanted to live and am happy. Sometimes I feel hopeless and I cry a lot. I'll never be as successful, smart, tall, pretty, young and five million other things as some other people. I'm not sure why all the sudden that's starting to really bother me. I don't think I've ever felt this inadequate and insure. I'm mentally exhausted. I want someone to come give me a really big hug and tell me everything is going to be ok. I need to give Rose access to my bank account so when I say the safe word she could come and take me away to where I am happy. Rose knows just the right place.

Maybe I just need another distraction to numb the pain. There's a big GMAT book on my table. If I can't be happy I should probably make something of myself. 

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Strawberry Fields

A natural food store in town, the name of which never fails to conjure up sentiment of nostalgia and images of the memorial to John Lennon in Central Park. I've been to the store many times but each time in a rush going to and from places. There is a cafe inside with a glass display full of artfully crafted desserts made from guiltless ingredients. On Sundays there is usually a band playing. I always thought to myself: one day when I'm not in a rush I will stay for a while, enjoy a cup of caffeinated beverage and one of those too-beautiful-to-eat cupcakes. Dr, Seuss said "today is your day!" so what am I waiting for?

It was a perfect morning to have dessert for breakfast outside with temperature barely tipping over 80, soft breeze and nature light diffusers signalling imminence of rain not far in the distance. It's not Les Deux Magots, no famous person that I am aware of have visited here, there isn't a zen garden or beach nearby, just a parking lot, but for now this will have to do. I'm happy just to have an easy morning.

Cream Cheese Cupcake

But of course, it would be completely foolish to believe that I can't ever just kick back and enjoy anything nowadays. Along with latte and desserts is my Kindle opened to some book about getting into law school with few sound advises and fewer literary merit, if any. Successful people are obsessed with success. I'm not under any illusion to think that I'm successful but I sure can have an one track mind.

The stupid book kept droning on and on about how people should carefully consider the reasons why they want to pursue law school and the cost, including opportunity costs, involved in the process. I kept reading that part of the personal statement should also convey to the admissions people as to why a particular candidate is interested in attending and most suitable for law school. My god, here's my two cents on the subject: most people go to law school because they either have failed at doing everything else or have the foresight to know that they have no inclination to succeed in any other fields. Maybe there are a couple of odd balls out there who have always known they wanted to be an attorney but they're like unicorns with unicorn parents. The vast majority people pursue law not as a aspiration but rather a submission of defeat. Yes, dear admissions person, I'm interested to attend law school because I almost failed out of one of the best music schools on the planet; I have no will power or the discipline to be a world class musician and I can hardly stand my current status quo. Pursuing this field doesn't guarantees any happiness or success but the alternative is just too bleak to even consider. If some enlightened being came to me and said, Liren, what you do now is what you will be doing for the rest of your life, I'd say, please take me away. Costs? Who cares. Money is not an object. I feel like I'm in one of those credit card commercials: loans for tuition and living expenses = quarter of a million, opportunity costs = another quarter of a million, getting a shot at not being as miserable = priceless.

Why else am I most suitable for law school? Because I'm a type A and my OCD is getting worse everyday. I read that those are some of the more common characteristics among good lawyers and successful people in general. Either that or they are the most cancer prone. But if I die early I wouldn't have to worry about becoming successful or any of the other nonsense so obviously we have a win/win situation here.

I once knew a person who spent so much time brushing his teeth each day that it was shocking to see that he had any teeth left. One day I finally asked him, hey, what's the deally yo? He responded in a very serious tone, there is no point doing anything unless you do it right. Ok, I could have argued that brushing ones teeth incessantly does not exactly qualify as being "right" but I get that's not the point.

From that moment on I started to develop an obsession on getting things right or at least to do what I can to get closer to being right. When there was a chili cook off, I spent hours researching online and making trial batches at home. When there was a Christmas decoration contest, I built a house over my cube. When the brokers exam came, I memorized the chapter notes to the tariff book. When the LSAT came I went through 4,500 practice questions, drove to the exam site no less than a dozen times and had filled out the answer sheet enough times to memorize the certification statement. Now time to write a personal statement I'm babbling on and on trying to get that shitty attitude out of me in hope of eventually come to some sense of clarity or even eloquence.

***Ok, someone please remind me to take this blog done before I send out any applications.***

Who am I trying to kid here. My OCD started with my father for as long as I can remember. He used to organize his bus ticket receipts. When I was 3-4, he gave me math homework and withheld lunch unless I got the right answers. In the evenings we worked on drawing, with me propped up on a small stool on top of an armed chair. Dad sat next to me with a giant eraser so I can draw, redraw and redraw again until everything is just perfect. All I could remember was that I was so teary I could barely see what the heck I was trying to draw. I wanted to run away but I couldn't move. With the way I was balanced and pinned to the table any movement could have meant falling to the floor. Needless to say, dad really left a huge impression on me even though I haven't lived with him since I was 5. Those kids with the Tiger Mom at least had a Jewish dad.

While looking through some of my old blogs I came across this one: Could it be that my mom's wish is finally coming true 4 years later?!

On the way back from Strawberry Fields, I stopped at the garden store close to home. I found the best candle there made by Tyler Candle Company - PMS scent. I bought all the jars left on the shelf. Now, close my eyes and imagine watching the sunset over Paris from Sacre Coeur to a jazz arrangement of Satie. 

Saturday, June 23, 2012


Regardless of what it may appear on the surface, family is a huge part of my life and my identity. I constantly feel guilty not being able to visit my relatives in China more often, especially my grandparents, who had raised me since I was a baby and taught me how to walk, talk and be the person that I am today.

Tucked in my planner is a list of things I've been putting off while studying for my exams and had planned to do over the summer. Among mundane tasks such as getting an oil change and hair cut were also visiting my parents and spending time with my cousin and her new baby. The idea of adding these things onto a to-do list and crossing them out upon completion may seem in-personal. But warm thoughts are meaningless until you've transformed them into actions. And with so many things that needs to be done these days, nothing is going to get done until you have prioritized it on your to-do list.

Today I met up with my parents at Lida's house in West Lafayette, IN. It was nice to get together for a homemade meal and it happened to be a Chinese holiday. Joanna has really grown since I last saw her. Everyone has a soft spot for babies. But today I felt something very unexpected I can't quite put my fingers on.


Out of all my cousins I've always felt particularly close to Lida. When mom left China for the US after I finished second grade, I moved in with Lida's family. Aunt and uncle treated me like their own daughter. Surely Lida and I had our fights and being a professional swimmer and 4 years older, she always own. Still, she was the older sister I never had. Although Lida moved here after getting married a couple of years ago, I rarely saw her with work and all. When I moved to Champaign I made a mental note to visit more often but from now on she'll be on my to do list.

Prior to the visit I asked Lida if there was anything she wanted to do. She said, "there is a pool next to the apartment but I haven't been able to go since my pregnancy and the birth of the baby." I know parenting takes a lot of sacrifices but it made me sad that she wasn't able to even take an hour out of the summer to go swimming. It was even worse after I walked up to her door and realized that the pool was literately next to her building.

The afternoon spent by the pool brought back vivid memories of the couple occasions when we went swimming as kids. It was a rare treat for me since without my parents' presence, all my relatives treated me as if I was going to melt with the slightest contact with water, fearing they may be liable if anything ever happened to me. Most of the time I would sit on dry land while others played in the water. Who would have guessed that my inability to swim until this day is a direct result of not having grown up with with my parents. Mom knows this and I can see the guilt and disappointment in her face whenever the subject comes up. Today she was so annoyed that she offered to pay for me to find a personal swim coach as soon as I go back home. Now I feel obligated to add swimming to my to do list just to make her feel better.

Fortunately, watching Lida swim made me feel relaxed and content. Maybe it's the idea of seeing someone finally doing something they are great at. To me she will always be the best swimmer. On the way back I felt a little sadness and it got worse as the evening progressed. At first I thought I was sad for Lida for not being able to have more time to herself, or maybe the uncertainties in her life. Then, it struck me, I was sad about myself.

Usually when I see Lida I see flashes of childhood memories and I feel as if we are still kids. Seeing her with Joanna today really forced me to come to the realization that we are not kids anymore. People say kids make their parents feel old but no one warned me that other people's kids could make you feel just as old! It was hopeful to see the start of a new life, a blank slate, a new shot at accomplish great things. Yet, it was melancholic for me to reflect on just what I've done with my tabula rasa. I'll be 29 this fall. I've never thought of myself as old but today I realized that I'm no longer young either. There are tons of things I want and need to do still. And as I continue on this journey I can't help but to wonder if I would ever really find that special someone or have kids of my own. For a few minutes I cried like a baby. Up until recently I thought rather light of those things. They are nice to haves but certainly not necessary for a fulfilled life. Something changed in me. Tick tock, is that the clock I hear?

How sour sweet music is
When time is broke and no proportion kept!
So is it in the music of men's lives.
And here have I the daintiness of ear
To check time broke in a disorder'd string;
But, for the concord of my state and time,
Had not an ear to hear my true time broke.
I wasted time, and now doth time waste me;
For now hath time made me his numbering clock:
My thoughts are minutes; and with sighs they jar
Their watches on unto mine eyes, the outward watch,
Whereto my finger, like a dial's point,
Is pointing still, in cleansing them from tears.

- King Richard II, Act V, Scene 5

Friday, June 22, 2012

Writing for Writings Sake

Back in February I had mentioned that I will start writing again after my exam in June. It's been 10 days since   I took the exam. I am going to make a commitment to write everyday for the next 45 days with the intent of drafting three individual personal statements each as a variation on a similar theme justifying why I am the best candidate for a particular law school. Not having a clear outline in mind at the moment I feel like majority of the writing will be exploratory at best or just writing for writing's sake. Maybe if I keep at it for long enough I will eventually come to some sense of definition and clarity. Yes I know, practice doesn't make perfect; only perfect practice make perfect. But sometimes you just have to do it to get your butt in gear. So here it goes...

When I mention law school to people who are unfamiliar with my work they seem perplexed. I've written some personal things on this blog but ever since my first office job I have refrained from writing about my work. Frankly, I've not written much about any of my work, office or otherwise, except for maybe teaching English in Buenos Aires. I rarely talk about work with friends or family so even some of the people who are closest to me really don't have much of a clue as to what I do (and justifiably so). Perhaps now is a good time as any to dive into this topic without any references to employers, past and present.

My current job evolves around customs regulations for good moving across international borders. Unlike a freight agent or logistic coordinator, whose job is to physically move products to and from places, my role is on the regulatory and compliance side of things. For the most part I make sure shipments are accompanied by proper documentation with accurate information that allows customs officials around the world to assess the admissibility of the goods, what rate of duty to charge and whether a free trade agreement may be utilized. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Vince Lombardi said show me a good loser and I'll show you a loser. The world can only judge me based on results but it matters to me how much effort I put into something and that I have done my personal best. After all that is all I can do. 

Monday, June 11, 2012

As the saying goes, sometimes in life you just have to play the hand you're dealt. You don't get to choose who your parents are or if you ever stand a chance of making them proud. And with that, there is no other option for a daughter except to embark on an impossible journey of trying desperately to meet yet continuously failing their expectations. Fortunately I have been given the opportunity to cross paths and form friendships with people who will stand by me 'til the bitter end. It doesn't make up the for void but it does help me to keep going.

It has been an extremely rough couple of weeks for me. I can be hard on myself at times but I have never felt so much pressure to perform. I guess I've always been kind of a tense person. At first I thought it was just the isolated location when I started having anxiety attacks in Minnesota. Things got worse this winter so I thought maybe it's seasonal. Now we're well into the summer with plenty of sunlight and I feel like I'm constantly on the verge of a mental breakdown. If there's an emotional breaking point for me I think I'm getting pretty damn close to it.

Took my second big exam today. I prepared like I had planned. I performed no better or worse than what I had expected. The only disappointment I have is the lack of control I have over the my emotional state these days. A conversation with my mom last night sent me into a downward spiral that resulted in two hours of sleep and inability to consume any food all day. When I told my stepfather that I was studying for the exam his first reaction was "don't you want to get married and have kids?" Mom can't stop talking about grandkids. When I asked who she thinks I'm going to have kids with she suggested that I could always go to a sperm bank.  After all I can't really blame them for thinking me as a failure. I went to Eastman when they wanted me to go to Cornell pre-med. I traveled when all their friends kids went to Harvard Med. Now when other parents of their age are enjoying grandkids they have a unmarried daughter with no prospect insight and a hefty student loan on the horizon. Grad school would have been nice for them 5 years ago, now it's time for grandkids and I can't give them any. Mom manages to make me regret the day I was born. Behind everything that is hurtful is nothing but intention. If I was married to someone like that it would be considered domestic abuse. If I had a contemporary like that I won't consider to befriend her. If it's my mother, it's love.

Once when I was faced with office politics and backstabbing at a job, a colleague said that I should never let anything bring me down and that I should always strive for personal excellence. For some reason that stuck with me. I know what makes me happy and I'm not looking for material wealth. Neither of those things is the subject of pursuit at this point. I feel as if I'm being possessed by an unwavering will in searching and achieving personal excellence, whatever that might be. I can't stop.

Monday, June 4, 2012

The summer before I turned 11, my uncle took me and my cousins on a vacation at a near by mountain resort. It was one of the most beautiful places I've ever visited as a child and I had a wonderful time with my cousins, who I rare saw and have not seen since. In China, it's customary to have temples on the summit of significant mountains for ancient religions and nowadays, tourists bearing incense hoping to score good luck. Among the souvenir stands were fortune tellers. Although uncle, with his strict military upbringing, didn't seem like the type of person who would typically fall for such gimmick, nevertheless he sat me down in front of an elder lady and asked her if I would one day move to America. The lady was surprised at such a question at first, then she looked to my face and her eyes widened as if she had arrived at a brief moment of illumination, "yes" she answered to my uncle, "she will go to America." It wasn't the answer my uncle was looking for and given the circumstances surrounding my parents divorce and family feud, no one, including myself, took her seriously.

Now looking back, she was right about two things (although for the first one she had a 50/50 chance). The second thing she said, and the only other thing I remembered, was that I will exhaust my heart and not my body/strength. It's a common Chinese saying: . Who knew at age 11 I was already showing signs of an anxiety ridden life. I'm doing everything and I can't relax. 

I finally realized that I have an baseless need to constantly feel some sort of strong emotion, good or bad. Now having to choose between stress/anxiety and sadness, I'd have to go with the latter. Strangely enough, although I cry a lot, being sad has a calming effect. I wouldn't be doing any of the stuff I'm stressing over if today was my last. Heck, I wouldn't be doing any of this if next month is my last, or even next year. By that standard I really need to take the pressure down a notch.