28```
Mid-gap year
reflection,
thinking about
2019
& 2020








I was working on my application to The Arctic Circle a week or two ago, which required an artist statement, a letter of interest, and a pdf of my work, among other things. As I put these materials together, I finally had this feeling:

damn, Wendi, you have done a lot since taking this gap year. And you, in fact, are quite cool.



The “cool” here refers to a really specific thing: diving deep into a topic but through a wide range of approaches. The topic here is awe (learning about how awe works & acquiring the skills to build immersive experiences that could inspire awe). The approaches being academic research, game art, and documentary.

I secretly hoped, when starting out this gap year, that by the end of it I could feel comfortable calling myself an artist.

I despised all of the artwork I had made in the past and didn’t think they were anywhere close to what I truly wanted to make in the future. I was anxious because, if I wanted to have the confidence to be an independent artist right after college (working for a big company has always been hard to imagine for me), I had to be doing very different things with much more rigor than before.



7.5 months later, at the beginning of 2020, I actually feel like I do have some “body of work” I feel proud of and representative of what I am truly interested in, now.



And I still have 7.5 months left in the gap year!

A lot of exciting things are happening in the next few months for me. There will be lots of traveling, learning more art, being with my friends and continuing making the documentary.

But I want to reflect back on the whole of 2019 first.








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It was exactly a year ago when I started to feel insufficient. I had managed to maintain a laid back attitude in freshman fall and had a great time traveling around places doing my own things while getting my B’s or C’s. But somewhere in January 2019, I decided I needed to have a project to work on. So I found myself one.

I worked quite tirelessly on planning the project. Wrote several drafts of the proposal, which ended up being almost 3000 words long. Showed the proposal to my professors and friends. Literally flew to San Francisco on a school weekend for a conference, after pulling an allnighter in the architecture studio and finishing my writing seminar paper on the plane with my eyes barely open, so I could meet a few speakers there and talk about the project with them.

One of the speakers said “just start it.”

I understood why she said that, but I just couldn’t get myself to actually start the project. I didn’t feel prepared. How could I start it if someone else probably could do it better?




This project was going to be a book about designing spaces of awe.


Part I of the book would be an essay of the lineages of ideas in architecture that inspired me to make this book.

Part II would be my interviews with people with psychedelic experiences, in which I would paint out the spaces that they visited in their mind while tripping.

Part III would be a series of drawings, paintings, and collages of my ideas for redesigning some public spaces, informed by parts I and II.

At the start of June, I modified the theme of the book and titled my new book outline document “Awe-inspiring Spaces//Visual elements that trigger awe.“ In this new iteration of my project proposal, I decided to add a gallery of images of awe-inspiring spaces or visual elements from art and architecture works. I also decided to interview artists and designers that are known for inspiring awe through their works, read more near death experiences, create my own works (through architecture, painting and game art) that demonstrate what I have learned about awe.

Almost immediately I decided to “pause” my project because it was getting way too ambitious for a little college freshman who hadn’t done any serious research.



HA.

The moment I abandonded my grand project was the moment I started my little projects that, in hindsight, were literally all that I had planned to do for the book.





I have considered that book project a failure because I never set out to actually do it. But, I just pulled out the proposals that I haven’t touched or thought about for many months, and, seeing how the book project transformed into the multiple smaller projects I later set out to do, I’m considering the whole of 2019 not as a year with individual, separate, failures and successes, but one unified exploration that simply took half of the year for me to figure out what I really wanted to do.

Part I was sort of explored in my summer research. The gallery of awe also went into part of the research.

Part II transformed into my documentary.

Part III kind of evolved into the concept art project I did for Gnomon application, and the game art projects [1] [2] in London (except the game art projects had a much more playful and sarcastic tone)

I wanted to personally experience more awe for the book too. And I did in fact have many new aesthetic experiences in Nepal in September. And I just applied to the Arctic Circle residency, which takes artists and scientists to the high-Arctic Svalbard Archipelago and Arctic Ocean for a few weeks.

So the book project didn’t get lost at all. It has been with me this whole time. It wasn’t a failure. It just transformed into many different things.





I was thinking about updating my CV of failures the other day. Since September, I’ve got quite a few more substantial failures to put in there.

I gave up the children’s book I originally was excited to illustrate. I gave up a research internship that I also was originally very excited about. Both are still things I would want to do if I have more time right now. And in both cases I was working with genuinely kind and supportive people. Which makes me feel really bad still that I had to tell them I couldn’t do the project/internship anymore.

Then a part of me thinks: well, those are not failures. You just had to focus your time and energy on the documentary.

And, I mean, honestly, most of the things in my CV of failures aren’t failures. If I don’t take them as failures.






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I would call a large part of my gap year my best life. I did finally get to do so many things I had wanted to do. And even things better than I could have imagined myself doing.

But, I learned during this first half of the gap year that, the best life is not without darkness. And maybe the dark side of the best life is even darker than normal, precisely because the bright side is so bright.


The documentary is probably the most obvious example. It gets me so excited and motivated, I have been deliberately living in a mixture of London and Eastern time in Beijing, staying up till somewhere between 4 and 7 am every day, so I could email and message people for the documentary. But November was so bad for me, just because some tiny little unfortunate things happened with the doc, and I cared so much.

Or, take the basic fact that the documentary is literally about some of my best friends. Most of the time, this basic fact powers me through the problems and challenges that come up, and gets me excited because I’m helping my friends by telling their stories. But when doubt or fear hits, oftentimes very late at night, it hits hard: what if I let my friends down? At times of vulnerability, this one question is quite destructive.







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an introduction to the shadow:




a more academic introduction to the shadow:








“The acceptance of oneself is the essence of the whole moral problem and the epitome of a whole outlook on life. That I feed the hungry, that I forgive an insult, that I love my enemy in the name of Christ -- all these are undoubtedly great virtues. What I do unto the least of my brethren, that I do unto Christ. But what if I should discover that the least among them all, the poorest of all the beggars, the most impudent of all the offenders, the very enemy himself -- that these are within me, and that I myself stand in need of the alms of my own kindness -- that I myself am the enemy who must be loved -- what then?”
 
(Carl Jung)





where the quote on the right came from: 



2019 was a year that helped me see much more deeply how intertwined the “good” and the “bad” are.

I used to look for a single state of mind I wanted to be in all the time, or a single state of life. I wanted to figure out the exact kind of lifestyle I would enjoy, so that I could do everything to stay in that state.

Awe was my answer. I wanted to be in awe all the time. Until I actually did my research on it in the summer, and realized, awe is so intense and overwhelming, it is only great when it happens in a short period of time. It also is only able to exist because it stands in stark contrast to the banalities in life.




And thinking about the few months I was relatively sadder on average, when I obsessively asked myself what the point of it all was and felt depressed for not knowing the answer, all of that sadness, confusion, loneliness, frustration and yada yada, were also the things that I sort of needed.

They set me on the path for a deeper exploration of my passions and skills and gave rise to the insights I finally gained about life being a dance.

Just like what Jack Kornfield wrote:

“We benefit by honoring and feeding the demons. When the demons arrive we must recognize that they are part of the dance of life itself.”





There is also my own shadow. There are two kinds of shadows I’ve been thinking about.

1.

The part of me that is overly sensitive and generates more self-destructive thoughts when things are probably not that bad. At certain moments, this part of me has a particularly strong presence. It tells me I’m not worth xxx, that other people are trying to harm me, and commands me to close  myself. I used to judge myself for having these thoughts because I know the images of myself or other people these thoughts conjure up are not true nor very benign.

But then I met up with Luca in London, and he said, “that part of you is also just trying to protect you.”

That’s so true! And, recognizing that has actually made it easier to choose the other part of me with the gentler narrative about myself and others. 


2.

More recently I started to think about the Jungian shadow in me that makes me capable of doing harm and creating troubles. I believe it is important for everyone to recognize that. It is part of a humanization process. To try to empathize with people who have done great harm to the world and realize and feel that I am capable of that, too. Those “villains” are not alien species, but a variation of me as a human. I am fully capable of being them.

It is dangerous to not accept that you are capable of harm, because so much tremendous harm was done when the executers found justifications for themselves. They probably didn’t think they were evil at all.

And I feel, you can only greatly minimize the harm you do to the world after you integrate the shadow into your conscious self, and, while recognizing deeply your capability for harm, still choose kindness and compassion.




Here’s a quote I found quite interesting by Alan Watts that I am still chewing on:

“Holy people are people who are whole, who have reconciled their opposites… They create a great deal of troubles throughout history...apart from the creative results.”


I only began thinking about the shadows in December, and I’ve been feeling some profound transformation within myself as I reflect on the topic more. I will for sure continue to contemplate on the shadows this year...






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What am I looking forward to in 2020?


There are more concrete things.

  • I just came back from a short course on making interactive music, which I absolutely loved and want to explore more in the future certainly.

  • This weekend I’m heading to the Sundance Film Festival to volunteer for 10 days.

  • Then I will be in LA for two weeks to meet up with more people in the film industry.

  • After that, I am going to Mexico for about a month, three weeks of which is an artist residency in Oaxaca, where I will learn Mexican weaving from a local artist. I also plan to travel a bit, eat a lot, and explore the local markets (!!!)

  • Mid March to end of April, I will be in the US filming the documentary. I still need to arrange a lot of the interviews and shoots, but basically I will be in the Bay Area for a few days, then broadly between Princeton, NYC and Philly for three weeks, then Boston/Harvard for two weeks. I can’t wait to see my friends in the US again. Can’t wait to visit Princeton for a little. Also, I will spend my 21st birthday (420!) at the end of the Intercollegiate Psychedelic Summit at Harvard, where a lot of my friends will be. The summit is also a very key point in the documentary. So I will also be “working” all day filming around. It sounds like it could be such a major day in my life, I get overwhelmed every time I think about it...

  • I don’t have specific plans set for May to August yet, but I most likely will spend both July and August in Los Angeles, editing the documentary while taking a short course at Gnomon




More abstract things:

  • integrate the shadow: feel and accept my capacity for evilness, then choose kindness. 

  • build more compassion, have more moments of pure empathy for someone else

  • understand love more, then receive & give love better

  • be bolder: see through some people’s surface they put up in pretending to be powerful, and recognize that I don’t have to be intimidated by them and be lead on by their narratives





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Regrets so far?


Sometimes I wish I had explored outside of visual art more. Acting, surfing, cooking, dancing, caving. And traveled more: Israel, Iceland, Denmark, India, Japan, etc.

But immediately after having these thoughts, I know what I chose was deep down what I wanted more — visual art and/as work. I’m slowly feeling that perhaps work is super important to me, something I attach a lot of my sense of meaning to.

My mom thinks I should have rested more, but I feel like I would have mentally rested less if someone physically forced me to not do what I’ve been doing and made me travel or something. With the ups and downs I’ve had so far, I know this is the bundle of joy and pain I preferred, over the other kinds. So I guess I don’t really have regrets...


Thinking about returning to Princeton...


Before I left Princeton, some friends joked that maybe I wouldn’t come back anymore. They got that vibe from me. I laughed along and said that wasn’t impossible.

But I miss the people and the courses. I’m actually excited about going back. 

And I will do Princeton differently this time. I will try to stay in my freshman fall mindset more, I guess. Not care so much about grades. Spend more time with people: meeting new ones as well as creating new memories with friends I already have. I want to do spontaneous fun things with them just for the sake of doing them. I don’t want to do any clubs (but maybe Petey Greene though!) and spend a decent amount of my free time doing art on my own. I probably will major in VIS, although I hope to do an independent major.

I want to take things more slowly when I go back to school, than this gap year, actually. I’m feeling more restful after I have established some body of work, like I said at the start of this page. I want to take more time to hone in on what I’ve learned, and explore without being anxious.






















“Let's absurdify life, from east to west. Let us play hide-and-seek with our consciousness of living.” (Fernando Pessoa)