As the year wraps up, I feel the need to give myself a pat on the back. This has been a big year for me, personally, academically, and (most of all) creatively. I already articulated the more holistic, philosophical significance of 2018 in this post where I explain why I gave it the title “backbone”. But there have been more isolated and concrete things that I now want to celebrate. And it’s important to reflect upon and indulge in one’s own successes— I say as I justify this shameless self-appeasement. Anyway, here (in reverse order) are the top 10 things, whether events, projects, or realizations, that put a soft smile on my face as I look back on these frenzied and momentous months.

10.  Questions of Identity

My apologies for starting the list with something as vague as this. Considering this is a public blog, I am not comfortable with sharing too much. Truth is, the top nine items were easy to come up with, but I was stuck on the tenth. I finally decided the effects of going through a confusion period with some aspects of my identity were ultimately positive, considering the way it opened up new questions for myself. I learned that personhood is fluid. Labels are meant to be worn and discarded. Again, excuse the vagueness. I’ll leave it at that.

9. Beginning the Blogging Journey

It felt good to spend the last month of the year putting this website together. Starting a new major pursuit is honestly what makes me most happy. I feel much better about this than the old Tumblr blog I used to keep, and blogging gives me the kind of reflective resolution I need in my daily life, as well as a tool for future reminiscence. Besides, it sparked a casual interest in photography, which has been enjoyable— the cover photo of this post was taken three days ago on my trip to Langkawi, Malaysia.

8. Piercing My Ears

Yes, this is seriously one of the best things I did this year. I just love earrings. They are arguably the funkiest, most visible and versatile items to change up your style. Besides, it’s not just about the earrings. It’s about the greater journey of understanding my aesthetic. This year is when I diverged from wearing whatever was considered normal to what felt like wearing, and that has been a liberating transition.

7. Mock Trial Nationals

I was part of the team that represented Korea at the U.S. national high school mock trial tournament in May (don’t ask why we compete there). As an all-Asian group taking up legal battles against dominantly white students, we managed to grind and challenge ourselves to 15th place. Not only did I enjoy one of my favorite activities at full intensity, I had an amazing time with my precious teammates, who still remain some of my closest friends. You pull enough all-nighters with people and you can’t help but forge some impossible bond with them.

6. Novel Writing Month

It was a little more than two months ago that I began planning the plot for my first novel. I would never have believed I could actually pull a 50,000 word first draft within a month— but I did it. (More on that here.) Compared to the magnitude of the task and personal significance this breakthrough has to me, it’s low on the list because I still consider it very much unfinished.

5.  Trip to New York City

Our high school theater department is like a family, and 20 of us took a trip to New York this February. Watching Hamilton and Dear Evan Hansen live, listening to the songs I’d replayed on Youtube over and over again, was a dream come true; all with the people I loved most. On the theater classroom whiteboard, someone had been counting down the days left to the trip, and stopped doing it at D-22. Now the whiteboard permanently reads: “New York: 22 days… always.”

4. Light of the Blues

This was a play I wrote over the summer and ended up directing for a school production. It was the first long work I was proud of, and my first time being a director, which was intense, electric, and powerful. I felt like a god at times, and at others, a miserable and utter failure. In any case, the play made a few people shed tears, which was a sort of ultimate badge for me— and if that sounds messed up, it was just concrete evidence that my words had moved people.

3. Beauty and the Beast

I had the pleasure of playing Mrs. Potts in our school production of Beauty and the Beast this April. For four months, my life was consumed by music, dance, and trying to do a British accent to sound older. It was like I had a parallel world in my life that was actually a magical fairy tale. Let’s just say by the time we hit curtain call for the last time, I was bawling and did not stop for about three hours.

*I could not decide for the life of me which should top the list, so here are the joint #1s:

1. TASP (Telluride Association Summer Program)

This is how I put it on my college apps: “we discussed narrativism, made lifelong friends, and ate lucky charms in the basement at night”. It is impossible to condense into a short paragraph what kind of gift this six-week summer program has been. I met people that are now among the most important in my life. I had the kind of intellectual experience that made school pale into whiteness. And a lifetime supply of Paradise Lost jokes and Proust references— that was cool too.

1. College Acceptance

Read a more elaborate account of it here. I feel bad about putting this one on top; it feels like I’m playing into the harmful culture at my school of valuing everything in a high schooler’s life in relation to college results. I rail against this system, but had to admit this has put me into an insane happy spell that has lasted the whole month. This tops the list because it holds so much about the future. It tops 2018 because it looks into 2019, into 2020, all the way to 2023 and honestly forever.

 

I am flooded by a sense of gratitude at the number of opportunities that I’ve been given that made all these things possible; and I feel insecurity edge into my mind with the thought that I never deserved all these achievements and experiences. Surely the credit should go to the people around me and my fortunate circumstances. But for now, I take a breath and let the happiness wash over me. I do deserve it, as long as I always try my best to give back to the world and to be a shoulder to lean on, without motive or agenda. Which I will. And that is the sentiment I carry into the new year.