42``` Living with unrest & irregular bursts of energies in scattered places while being trapped indoors

just a very honest reflection

I haven’t been updating for a while. Starting from the beginning of May, I became very confused again about who I am and what I should do, in a more practical manner (literally like, how am I going to make a living after I graduate in a way I’d be happy with?), and my perception of myself has been constantly changing. The world my mind wants to engage in changes every day. I’d have a film day
followed by an architecture day
followed by a workaholic graphic design day
followed by an intellectual activist day
followed by a Chinese scholar day
followed by a social day
followed by a cynical day
followed by a futuristic day
followed by a nostalgic day
followed by an iconoclast day
followed by a linear day
followed by an expansive day.
It is almost not an exaggeration to say that every day is unpredictable regarding where my heart wants to be, and subsequently what activities I want to engage in, what people I want to talk to, what materials I want to consume and/or produce, and what future versions of me I want to imagine.

This hyper inconsistency manifested in my planning of the summer. I applied to NYU’s Tisch summer program and was almost going to enroll in a few film analysis courses. I spent a whole day applying for an architecture research internship at Princeton and didn’t get in for good reasons. I applied to The Shed’s Open Call, and, even though the result won’t come out until September, I thought about starting to work on the project anyways during the summer. I applied to SVA’s Artist Residency Project and haven’t heard back and probably won’t get in at this point (note from June 23, I actually got into their illustration program, but I no longer think it is a good investment of my time anymore), but that is okay because I just signed up for an intensive architecture bootcamp that happens at the same time: I will be doing slightly fantastical architecture design on the theme of disasters. I started an internship at the Independent Filmmaker Project at the beginning of this month, almost on a whim -- my documentary professor (I haven’t even officially met him yet. I’m taking a class with him *next* fall) forwarded an email about the IFP opportunity and I said I was really interested. Then I got a spot. I have thought about taking new media art courses with OF Course from China but didn’t sign up because I thought the course content didn’t particularly match with what I need the most right now. I made a super long reading list about China and was going to do a lot of readings on Chinese history and economy and Chinese science fiction this summer, to be a more responsible Chinese citizen. I emailed a documentary producer about helping out with a documentary project at his studio but didn’t follow up on the Production Assistant application that his colleague gave me. I bought two Udemy courses, one on Blender, one on C++ in UE4, but haven’t made too much progress on either because they look too daunting (I prefer learning through small projects, than going through a software function by function). I almost emailed an architecture studio about doing research with them because they look at architecture through game technologies. I’ve been talking to a friend about designing a game with innovative gameplay mechanisms (just designing the concepts & doing preliminary art for it). I recently decided to make my psychedelic club documentary into an XR storytelling project, after several weeks of seriously thinking about dropping this project and pondering the posibilities of transforming the documentary into an XR project with a less linear storytelling format. All throughout this time, I’ve been following short YouTube tutorials and making tiny things in/with TouchDesigner, Cinema4D, Blender, Unreal Engine 4, Audition, Substance Alchemist, Substance Suite, Illustrator, Max/MSP, Premiere, and After Effects. I still have many things I want to try: AR stuff, making my own avatar (with my face) in Blender or Daz3D, figuring out basic VR stuff in Unity, doing something with RunwayML, doing something with digital fashion, etc. 

If you read every single sentence in the above paragraph, I’m impressed. It’s all true but it’s also just meant to show you visusally, through how long the paragraph is, the amount of possibilities my mind has engaged with imagining simply 3 months of my life. 

The decision of turning my documentary into an XR project viscerally felt very significant. Although to everyone else, I bet it is just a shift of mediums. But to me, it is so much more than that in several ways:

1. The moment I said to myself “I could make it XR”, the moment I started to feel integrated. Then I recalled all the artists and artworks I particularly enjoyed engaging with in the past year, and how they were literally signs leading me to this moment of integration. When I went to the EGX game conference in London last October, my favorite part of the experience was a VR art piece by Ben Lunato, which felt more like a VR film than a game. When I went to Sundance Film Festival at the end of January this year, the people I spent the most time hanging out with (the relationships that lasted beyond the conference) were a VR artist (Sutu) and a filmmaker who just made a 30 minute film installation in her own apartment (Kira). When quarantine started, I naturally picked up all of these random softwares to toy with to pass time, and they are all relevant for XR projects.

2. With #1 came a wondering. I wonder if, through the short explorations in game and film, I am getting closer and closer to the point of saying “no” more often to certain possibilities that I thought were all equal passions when I started the gap year. What I mean is, what I originally considered as three parallel passions (immersive art, architecture, documentary), have started to form a hierarchical relationship in my mind, where knowledge and explorations in architecture and documentary eventually would serve immersive art, and that the immersive art is the main medium of expression for me. 

3. In the weeks of seriously considering giving up, I had to face several things honestly. First, the desire to let a lot of people see my creation. Second, the desire to be associated with a very cool movement / point in history / group of people. Third, the desire to be seen as a successful and adventurous artist-entrepreneur. Staring these desires right into their eyes and dropping them one by one, was a rather transformative process. I needed to face the very real possibility of embarassing myself in front of the people who thought I was cool because of this project, especially those I met *through* or *because of* the documentary. I imagined the very real possibility that they’d think “ah Wendi’s not as cool as I thought she was,”  that they’d think I was a fraud and, even more unfortunately, I’d believed in my own fraud, too. Lol, the girl who is proud of comfortably putting her failure CV up and sharing it with the public, is still afraid of acknowledging her most recent failure after all.

I have started to pay attention, during my IFP internship or through the media I consume, to the failures of others, of many people I consider to be successful and cool, and still do after I learn about their failures. And, jumping out of my own perspective, I know other people actually don’t take any of my projects so seriously as I am, and probably will be much more forgiving than I’d think.

An important moment was during a Princeton documentary alum panel discussion. Pete Ross from the Left/Right.tv said something along the lines of: being a documentary producer has really high highs and really low lows -- you have to fullheartedly care about each of your projects so that your passion shows when you pitch the films and work with others, but you also have to be able to immediately let go when things don’t work out with a project and be able to get back up by the next day and dive into the other projects. 

Another one was during one of the first sessions during my IFP internship. Someone from Variety Insight gave a talk on using their internal system to look up what’s happening in the film world. One thing that the system does is showing the archived / abandoned projects that producers have worked on, alongside the ones that were successfully produced. So we could see how even the most well-known producers still had quite an amount of film projects fail, due to one reason or another. 

Both of these moments normalized the anxieties I had when thinking about the possibility of not being able to make something I’m proud of or anything at all. Especially Pete’s comment about really high highs and really low lows--I can’t stress enough how much I already understand what he means. For a while, I cared about the psychedelic club documentary so much that I almost felt my identity depended on it. The time I secured my interviews with Robin and Karl -- two most important scholars to include in the film -- within 24 hours, after suffering from weeks of doubts from myself and my teammates, the moment I discovered in my mailbox a $3000 donation from someone I’d never met, my first day at Sundance when Ai Weiwei showed interest in my film and talked to me for half an hour about my documentary, the 20 minute phone call that secured $20k funding, the night I met Kira who so immediately seemed to be a right collaborator on the film. Those were some really incredible highs. But, gosh, the lows. The mental breakdowns I had at 3am, 4am, 5am in seven cities in four countries. The time I emailed dozens of film professionals and zero people replied. The many periods of times I felt helplessly alone on a kind of project that is all about collaboration. They are incredibly vivid in my memory, too.

When I went to IDFA in Amsterdam two years ago, I already experienced several VR documentaries and was absolutely excited to learn about the possibilities that come with this less explored teritory. But, I was only able to actually make this decision of moving the project into XR after I gave up on my attachments to the desires I just listed, and after I went through a few more crucial steps:

a) simply understanding that, realistically speaking, there just aren’t a lot of opportunities to gather the kind of footage needed in a normal documentary.

b) realizing that the amount of people watching something doesn’t equate the value or the impact of the thing that is produced, that if I want to make a positive impact with what I create, I have more paths than simply making a lot of people see it, 

c) interfacing with the game and film industries, though very briefly, has given me the immediate feeling of “something being off” and that I’d have to find really specific few people that overlap with me in our interests outside of game/film. 

d) actually understanding the tools for XR storytelling: thanks to the intensive program I did at Escape Studios back in London, and thanks to quarantine for allowing me the time to explore around many softwares relevant to XR.

Putting the doc project aside, I still have a lot of questions. There’s a pattern to my mind in the last year and a half: cycles of intense contractions interspersed with shorter periods of expansions. Maybe it will end once a certain something happens (I don’t know what that could be), or maybe it is something that happens after high school when you want to make something out of an unstable and unclear life path and I’ll learn to live with it. Whichever the case it is, I certainly am not capable of setting my mind still at this moment, and I’m trying to understand my own brain that shifts the identities it wants to adopt too quickly.

I find it funny. With the 10 weeks left before the summer ends and my gap year officially ends, I don’t see any answer to any question coming. I can already see myself say, on the night before a new school year begins, that I still don’t know. I’m still confused. I’ve found more things to love, and gained a better sense of the vastness of each of the worlds I want to explore and how impossible it is to be exceptional at even just two of those things. Everything has humbled me, and yet made me prouder at the same time. The conflicting energy within me, the part of my brain that slides through extreme ends of spectrums, is still here with me. 

What’s the point of keeping writing the same confusions every few weeks?