Back at Princeton & Saying Goodbye, Again
8.6 - 8.28
Thinking About Transferring to Europe
Right at the end of my time in Asheville, I was so in love with having multiple creative projects to work on simultaneously that I didn’t want it to end. The idea of going back to Princeton and studying there for three more years became, for the first time, unbearable.
Before my gap year even started, someone joked that I might drop out by the end of this year. I always thought it was a ridiculous idea. But, wow, I really did end up thinking about this option, or transferring to an art school in Europe -- especially Berlin and Amsterdam, and that was in itself an interesting experience.
I still have so many questions about the loosely defined “career path” that I want to pursue. New media art encompasses many different mediums and ways of working, and it is always hard to tell how someone ended up becoming a new media artist.
For a new media artist, they don’t have to know everything about VR to collaborate with a VR artist on a VR film. And if you look at public projection mapping shows, they’re always put together by a team of visual artists, musicians and technologists that somehow knew each other and even ended up working as a collective. I’d see artists hang out with curators, critics, designers on social media -- they naturally support each other’s work.
So it seems that I still need to meet more people. WAY more people than I do now, before I find a few more people whose work naturally builds an ecosystem with mine. The new media art world seems to be a vast collection of social circles, and I have not stepped into any.
Around the same time, I started watching a Chinese reality show called 明日之子乐团季. It brought together a few dozens of people to compete and form a five-member band at the end of the show.
I couldn’t believe the energy I saw from the contestants. They are mostly my age or even a few years younger. Quite a number of them were genuinely so in tune with their creative self, on top of being amazing at playing instruments and making music. A huge component to creativity is not caring: you cannot create unique things if you want to please others with your work. What I saw in some of these people was an exceptional amount of mental freedom in being weird, appearing “dumb/simple,” and pursuing their desired artistic styles regardless of what the millions of people watching the show would think.
I also was jealous of the childlike creative energy that flowed freely amongst them during their residency at the show (they all live together during the months of competition in a closed environment). Watching them *play* music together was...kind of healing?
The four years of Princeton education is a de-child-ing process: by the time you graduate, you are supposed to know how to *be professional.* This is indeed necessary for a lot of jobs, but defintely not for artists. Hell no. Even after a whole year out of Princeton, I still don’t feel childlike enough. Going back now?? Studying there for three more years?? Man, that’s too much.
How to Sell Drugs Online (Fast)
Since I started thinking about transfering to a school in Berlin, or at least travel to Berlin for a few months next spring to get to know their new media art scene, I started learning German on Duolingo and watched this show to get more familiar with how the language sounds like.
AND THIS WAS SUCH A GOOD SHOW!!!!
images from the Netflix trailer
1. It actually does a wonderful job in showing the digital part of our lives now. Its UI VFX is beautiful. Occasionally the show even adds game-like UI VFX to show the mentality the main characters are in.
images from the Netflix trailerzimage from the Netflix trailer
2. the editing!!! Inevitably it shows drug experiences at certain parts of the show -- this show focuses on ecstasy. I actually haven’t done ecstasy, so I don’t have the authority to say how accurate it is. But the way they juxtapose different images from all parts of our lives and add occasionally adding cgi to the footage, is very creative.
And, I don’t want to spoil too much, but there was a part where the show seemlessly integrated deepfake audio + video into the footage to highlight a point the narrative was making. I didn’t realize it until the end of that part, and it was just...pure genius.
3. It’s actually funny. That’s already a wonderful achievement as a German show
image from the Netflix trailer
4. The storytelling. The main character talks to the camera as if he is actually a real person being interviewed by netflix for a documentary about his legendary life. The contrast between what he says in front of the camera and what happens in his life tells more about the character.
5. concerns important topics in contemporary young people’s lives.
It’s only about 6 hours total for the two seasons, so it’s not a huge time commitment!
Meeting Many Cool Chinese People, Online
Almost as soon as my family officially decided that I should go back to China this fall, my dad suggested me to rent an apartment with a few friends in Beijing, so that it semi still feels like college. It was in mid-July when I texted a huge group chat in WeChat about people’s interests in renting a few apartments together in Beijing. Within a few days, the new WeChat group I created for students taking remote classes or a gap year from US/UK colleges in Beijing had more than 100 people.
Someone named Tao, who’s still not in college yet, mentioned in the group that he wanted to make a coliving program that’d be like Minerva and Deep Springs combined but without the courses. He found six locations in rural parts of China, including a buddhist monastery in Guangdong, a village with a lot of performing arts traditions, and a farm in the middle of nowhere. So I sort of joined the team, helped out with design, and got to meet some cool people through that!
I started pulling together a small group of people for coliving in a Siheyuan in the center of Beijing. So far we have 10 people, and I’m hoping to find 5 more. Since so many Chinese students are facing huge uncertainties in their lives right now, I talked to maybe 30-40 people to find the 10 that eventually confirmed to join our program. Some people also added me because they wanted to hang out in our Siheyuan and/or was interested in doing some creative collaborations with me in the future.
I have never massively added people on WeChat. The last time I ever came so close to this social intensity was probably six years ago. Before this summer, my WeChat contacts were predominantly just my classmates from all the schools I’ve attended, plus my family. But now I have maybe 100 more people in the contact list that I’ve never met but seem to be pretty cool. I met a few people who spend months surfing in Hainan and I want to join them and learn surfing for a few weeks this December. I met some peers who either have bands or just go to a massive amount of live shows all the time, and I’d love to go to some with them!
Also, as I edit this page (August 28-29), a NYT article came out and it briefly mentioned the loose group I pulled together for coliving programs in Beijing this fall. Taylor and I had our call at the end of July, so the information isn’t accurate anymore. But it was fun to contribute a tiny bit to the article.
FINALLY Meeting Up With East Coast Friends !!!
I seriously want to roll my eyes at myself in an infinity mirror room every time I think about how I’ve been staying for 6 full months in the States and I only got to be with my communit(ies??) (so, not counting meeting up with only one friend at a time) for 9 days.
It was so surreal to be back in Princeton, just to say goodbye again after a whole year of not being here. Packing my days with meetups with friends I haven’t seen this whole time made it feel even dreamier.
Princeton is cute!
I loved knocking on Jianing and Seth’s door on a whim, just because Elie and I could, and they were actually there to answer us. We found out we all individually met each other in various circumstances in the last two years, and Jianing cooked Peking Duck for us by shoving a champagne bottle into the duck’s ass and blowdrying it for hours...
I loved how Elie’s friend drove Elie and I to another friend’s house (still ~30min walk from campus) to chill in a beautiful summer backyard with a bunch of people I didn’t know. In the brief time I was there, I met Hector, who’d gone on three road trips this summer with random friends, and Chino, who’s friends with another friend of mine. I’d see both of them again that night at Jianing and Seth’s farewell party because Elie’s literally friends with everyone and decided to make a tiny portion of his friends meet each other.
I loved the afternoon when Elin joined me and Everett on a conversation about gap year and psychedelics, and when we sat under the Picasso sculpture, Elie and Nirakar just ran into us, separately, and tagged along for the rest of the afternoon. They didn’t all know each other before this time, but we had great conversations about creative shows and games, UBI, startups, etc.
I loved visiting Tony (whom I haven’t seen since I graduated high school two years ago!) and Tommy’s house to catch up and talk about China, Effective Altruism, sociology and such, or dancing in Elin’s room with her and Cameron. Both times I left at midnight and felt safe walking for half an hour in the town to my bnb, and I love this about Princeton.
I loved running into Chris (a masters students at the architecture school that my design friends and I always ran into our freshman year) for four days in a row on Palmer’s Square. He ended up meeting my friends I made from high school or Envision or Princeton that all know each other. At some point he just said: “I’m still so confused how you guys all met and became friends.” Yeah it’s always been hard to explain this..
And Zuck and Kenneth came to Princeon for a day! I haven’t seen both of them since the retreat in New Hampshire 14 months ago (man, this is crazy). While we have been in touch online this whole time because of a few projects / organizations we are a part of, seeing them in real life had its own gravity.
The wonderings I started to have since coming to Princeton accelerated at the back of my mind: how did I get myself into this situation? Why did I only save a day, of this whole year, for these people that I want to spend way more than just a day with? These thoughts spinned so fast, I felt socially dizzy -- what do I do now in this incredibly limited time? I think I ended up being much quieter than I usually am, but I enjoyed listening to the conversations ~
Towards the end, someone, or maybe the group collectively, started saying that the world just is. “The universe is unfolding.” No why’s to be asked, and you just got to flow with it. It’s something to be acknowledged and laughed about. It reminded me of my call with Luca recently about recognizing the absurdity of the world, but going past the nihilism and arriving at somewhere brighter. Indeed, that’s especially the approach I shall take in thinking about this year.
Cameron stayed in the town for two more days, so we called Luca and Alex. Alex really wanted to be on the East Coast and hang out with all of us, but the reality is that, in just a month, we will be scattered across the globe in six countries and four continents. We are “truly mycelial” now, he said. That hit different.
Well, I hope I’ll see them sooner than I can imagine!
The idea of settling...
There is an immediate coziness that comes with living geographically close to each other. I miss that so much. I miss doing simple things with my friends: cooking meals, watching movies, or really just doing our own things together in the same space. I especially miss having that with a community of friends.
Even though cool things are lined up for me in China for the rest of this year, I am not sure how much I want to go back. It’s much safer in China and I’d be able to meet many new cool people, travel around the country and experiment with different lifestyles. But I don’t know how much I feel like venturing out again for so long. I crave a stable, localized community.
I feel like a floater. Just as what I said at the beginning of this page, I still have a lot of social spaces yet to explore. And I loved doing the traveling I did and making the friends I made throughout my gap year. But on a few of the nights I was here at Princeton, I seriously wondered why I made certain choices -- there were several points where I could’ve chosen other options that’d allow me to have a stronger sense of community, but I chose solitariness instead and continued to float.
I thought about what home base would mean for me.
Home technically is in China but my base reality now has largely been constructed in the US, on the East Coast. I am not based anywhere physically and my family doesn’t have enough experience in the US to understand my mental reality.
And sometimes I wonder what I am seen as by others.
I have been receiving, quite consistently, messages from friends or strangers, that I have an interesting life. I guess it is largely because I seem to be doing a variety of things and traveling to a number of very different places, and no one can predict what I will do in the future.
But as the one who gets to experience this consciousness first hand, as much as I’d like to claim that I know how to deal with uncertainty, I have had my fair share of pure moments of terror at the unknown and facing that myself. No one was there to guide or accompany me. I must be independent, and give myself the sense of security I need. I don’t know if I learned anything from these moments: they just passed and I guess I “overcame” them, whatever that means.
On my journey to become a certain special someone I want to be, I have turned myself into an “other” in an “elsewhere,” even for people I have shared a community with previously. I am a lens for an alternative life, but at times of small or big crises, we rarely turn to each other, probably because we’re simply not “immediate” enough for reaching out at those moments to feel necessary.
As I stand at the intersection of two years of drifting (thanks to covid and Trump), I have a deep desire and a bit of fear for a community. How interesting would I still be if I stayed somewhere? How free would I feel if I stayed somewhere? I feel pulled towards an original point for me to go back to, even just for a brief while, when whatever is ahead becomes too overwhelming. I also want to be needed: I want to be physically present for my friends and give my emotional support and hugs when they need them.
Ok this sounds like a rant now... I am not complaining or anything. I look forward to the new experiences I will have and the new people I will meet in China, all the beautiful unknowns ahead of me in the next year.
The longing for community is a shadow to my journey for understanding better who I am. After this gap year, I already feel like “Wendi” has become a much clearer existence to myself. One more year of drifting? I can do that! And let’s see where I am going.