Acting: A Leap of Faith

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Baby Cassandra, Bottom Right, as an Ancestor of Mulan

 

“For the next month or so, I’ll be memorizing lines and living from rehearsal to rehearsal. I’ll be collaborating with actors older than me, actors with countless years of experience under their belt. I’ll be digging deep into three original one-acts and studying videos of goth girls, Sheldon Cooper, and Zooey Deschanel to help me step into the shoes of my respective characters.

And if I’m honest, I’m a little nervous. Okay, maybe a little more than that–I’m terrified.

After all, the last time I acted on stage was when I played Mary Magdalene in a Sunday School play. Or maybe it was when I was part of an ensemble for a Glee-esque musical. Or perhaps it was when I had maybe two lines as one of Mulan’s ancestors in a middle school production of Disney’s Mulan Jr. Regardless, the last time I “acted” was a very long time ago. Though I call myself a storyteller, I am deeply aware that I haven’t had the chance to engage in the most visceral, immediate role of a storyteller of all: as an actor…”

Read the rest of my piece, first published on BroadwayWorld.com!

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Theater: An Invitation to Read Between the Lines

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“Sometimes, in my English class, I feel an overwhelming urge to shout it out: “The curtains were blue!” The saying is common among students, an adage that rose from a hypothetical situation: the author writes “the curtains were blue” and the Literature teacher reads into it, saying “the curtains represent his immense depression and his lack of will to carry on,” when really, the author just means that the curtains were blue.

While I think literary criticism is valid and has a place in academia, it is all too easy to overstep bounds and attribute something to the author’s line of thought when it wasn’t intended at all. I believe that the critics who love doing this may be more suitable to analyze another medium: theater.

Theater is more conducive to this type of over analyzing. Theater begins with a script but is made for the stage. A giant team of people is required to bring it to life. Every decision is carefully curated and weighed, with theater-makers asking how each choice will contribute to the story, or impact the audience. Unlike in literature, “the curtains were blue” is not just an act of imagination-in theater, an entire production and design team has to deliberate using the color blue, select a blue curtain, and string it up in the theater. Because of the sheer amount of people involved in the collaboration process, nearly every detail is a calculated, meaningful choice…”

Read the rest of my piece, first published on BroadwayWorld.com!

 

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How To Be a Writer in College

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“College, at times, is exhausting.

From running between club meetings and social events, to studying in the depths of a musty library, to staring down a mountain of required reading, it seems like there’s hardly any time to breathe, recuperate, and reset during campus’s breakneck speed of life. As I watch my color-coded Google Calendar fill up with events for the week, a sense of dread builds in my stomach. Every Sunday, the question haunts me:

When am I going to find time to write?

It’s all too easy to push writing off to next Saturday, which, at the moment, is completely clear. But throughout the week, the whitespace on G-Cal will begin to disappear below multi-colored events, and before I know it, Saturday time will slip out of my hands. I seem to always be chasing time to write, but like a mirage, the closer I get, the more “free time” dissipates in front of my eyes. What I need, I’d think to myself, is a writing retreat: days on end where the only thing I need to do is write…”

Read the rest of my piece, first published on BroadwayWorld!

I, Cassandra: A Reflection on “I, Tonya”

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*This article deals with the Tonya Harding character as presented to us in the movie I, Tonya.

Tonya Harding made history as the second woman to land a triple axel in an international competition. She skated her way to the Olympics with fierce excellence and unstoppable grit. The look on her face when she landed the move encapsulated everything America loved about her: the thrill of winning and doing something deemed nearly impossible.

Tonya Harding also was severely abused as a child under the strict, unrelenting gaze of her mother. That abuse carried into her young adult life when she met her husband Jeff Gilooly. Pressures of the ice-skating world combined with her rough-and-tumble childhood made her an outcast in the skating world, even before what she calls “the incident” with Nancy Kerrigan.

I am none of those things. I have never achieved something as great as the Olympics nor faced any abuse from the people in my life. Instead of being beaten down, I am constantly being lifted up by everyone I love.

Then why was I able to relate to Tonya so much?

The movie garners sympathy for Tonya. Life dealt her a bad hand. In a particularly heart-wrenching scene, Tonya confronts the judges after receiving a low score despite clearly out-skating all of her competitors. She skates up to the panel. Fury and desperation burns in her eyes as she implores, “How do I get a fair shot here?”

It wasn’t fair, Tonya laments to us. It just wasn’t fair.

And that was what struck me to the core.

I’m not Tonya. And neither is anyone else, for that matter. But we’ve all faced, in our ow ways, the unfairness of life. And sometimes, we’ve all reacted like Tonya did: by striking out, complaining, sinking into self-pity and an unhealthy lifestyle—all actions justified in the movie by the compassion we feel for her.  

But the cycle can become vicious. Not everyone can pull themselves out of it like Tonya eventually does. I know I would be a helpless victim if not for the presence of God–I’d be lost in my exasperation at the world for closing door after door. But because I know His love for me, I know my self-worth lies in Him. And I know He has great plans for me. And I believe Oprah speaks the truth when she says, “There is no such thing as failure. Failure is just life trying to move us in another direction.”

Life isn’t fair. Tonya had it a lot worse than most of us. Tonya failed. A lot. But one thing we can all learn is her spirit. Her resilience. Her courage. Even though she gets out of shape thanks to some poor life choices, she throws herself back into rigorous training as soon as she sees a sliver of a shot at her big-time dream. She’s unstoppable, even after she is banned from the sport that she desperately loves, a sport that runs through her blood. Life knocks her down hard again and again, but she defies expectations because she does the only thing that matters: she gets back on her feet. Watching Tonya conquer the ice despite how she is falling apart on the inside makes me think that I, Cassandra, can conquer too.

Like screenwriter Steven Rogers describes,

She smiles. Somehow she rises. Nothing will keep her down.

She begins to fight again.

Fight Like Cap

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“Why are you Team Captain America?”

I’ve lost count of how many times I was asked that when Marvel released Captain America: Civil War. The question is one that has haunted me, because I’m not sure how to articulate my answer.

Chris Evans’s killer jawline, solid abs, and Dorito-shaped body certainly help. But I think there’s something more to Cap. He’s a patriotic leader and he fights for what is right, but like Spider-Man tells him, “You think you’re right, and that makes you dangerous.” After all, don’t all villains think they’re right?

I think the real answer lies in why he fights, and how he fights. He fights for the people he loves. He fights until the end of the line, even if his sacrifices are all for naught. He is willing to become an international war criminal to protect his best friend Bucky. His love persists even if it places him at odds with his country, because brotherhood and solidarity trump patriotism.

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The post-9/11 world has seen a drastic rise of superhero franchises. Perhaps we were looking for a savior of sorts. We found it on the big screen in a team of heroes restoring hope by defending New York from an alien terrorist attack. But as every movie release raised the stakes, their flaws began to surface. Instead of trusting each other, they built walls. In Civil War, Cap and Iron Man faced off on emotional and ideological levels, marking a turn away from the archetypal tale of superhero-defeats-antagonist. Rather than an attack instigated by a sorcerer cloaked in green and adorned with horns, Marvel showed us the psychological devastation of hero-on-hero war instigated by a man with no superpowers.

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This year’s Infinity War is less about defending Earth from Thanos, but rather about whether these broken superheroes can unite to defeat their biggest enemy, or not. Movies now contain less scenes of heroes saving humans than scenes of heroes working through their disagreements. Defenseless mortals are being written out of the narrative, and yet, audiences still connect to these movies and relate to the superheroes more than ever.

Perhaps it’s a sign that we were never the helpless citizens all along. Perhaps we were always the superheroes. We each, in our own way, have the power to save. Like Captain America, who stands up against the forces of a changing world to save his best friend. Iron Man, who takes a youngin under his wing and becomes a surrogate father. Thor, who knows his brother is a backstabbing traitor, but chooses to love him anyway.

Maybe those are their real superpowers.

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I don’t think we’re looking for a savior anymore, nor are we supposed to. We have our own untapped powers. We know why we fight. We must stop using the rhetoric of team versus team and set aside differences. Unite out of love and necessity. Get back on our feet again and again. Declare like Cap, “I can do this all day.”

This is how we fight.

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College: The Art of Saying Goodbye

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In August, when I said goodbye to my family in the airport ready to head off to college, I didn’t shed a tear in front of them. It was a sad parting, but I was also excited for everything college promised: new adventures, new friends, essentially a new life. Yale in many ways has met that expectation, and I couldn’t ask for more.

I flew back to sunny California for Thanksgiving break. I spent a beautiful week playing mahjong with my family and methodically checking off my bucket list of favorite food places. It was wonderful, yes, so wonderful that when it came time to say goodbye, I broke down in tears at LAX, clinging onto Mom and Dad.

I don’t have anything against Yale. In fact, I’ve fallen head over heels for Yale, and I think it’s more than a first-year puppy love. But I cried anyway, dreading not the return to Yale, but rather the separation from my family—even if I was going to see them in less than four weeks for Christmas break.

My mom texted me the following picture. It only made me cry harder on the journey back to Yale, knowing she was taking it just as hard as I was.

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The fact was, I was leaving my family behind. Thanksgiving break was a return to tenants of my previous lifestyle: heart-to-hearts with my mom, jokes with my dad, and games with my brother. After break, I was convinced no one could show me that same degree of kindness at Yale. After all, how deep could connections go for first-years in a brand new environment? Jaded thoughts began taking over. On the shuttle back to Yale’s campus, I prayed the ride would last forever.

Arriving at Old Campus, I planned to make two trips to lug my heavy suitcases up five flights of stairs (no elevators in my building!). Instead, I was greeted by a kind stranger who spontaneously helped carry them all the way up to my suite—and suddenly I was reminded that I was not alone. That people here—my roommate, suitemates, classmates, frocos, professors, ministry fellows, and yes, strangers—have consistently wrapped me in their love and care. This random act of kindness was a timely reminder of this loving community. It was the simplest, yet loveliest welcome back from Yale.

The cycle will repeat itself—no matter how much I want to delay it, I’ll have to say goodbye again to my family and dog at the end of Winter Break. I might break down in tears again. I might throw a tantrum in the middle of LAX. I might never master the art of saying goodbye, but maybe that’s okay. Because every goodbye is accompanied by a welcome back. And while not everyone may bump into a Good Samaritan with the strength to lug a 50-pound suitcase up five flights of stairs, I hope you’ll find your own little welcome back in the new year.

First Semester Reflections

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I had a meltdown before my second final in college.

The night before, I kindly told my next-door neighbors to turn down their music and my suitemate to lower her voice in the common room. Yet I still couldn’t get good enough sleep thanks to my nerves: drenched with sweat and tossing throughout the night, thinking about impending finals.

I had made it through my first final relatively unscathed, but in the two hours before my second final on the same day, I panicked. There was so much info I still needed to process. On the walk over to the auditorium, I called my mom. I started breathing hard and couldn’t see straight. I was hyper-aware of the fact that I wasn’t as smart or as eloquent as my classmates, who could identify a quote within seconds and then give ten minutes worth of context. I told her about students who prepared 100-page study guides whereas mine were barely ten (and handwritten, too).

Mom was in the middle of cell group—so she quickly prayed for me and hung up. I was on my own, with three pens and a semester’s worth of highly diluted knowledge lurking somewhere in my brain. The clock struck 2pm, and three hours and two blue books later I exited feeling like I had walked into a wall. This deadening feeling repeated itself three more times, intensifying with every final: It felt like I had been hit by a Smart car, then a Ford pick-up truck, and finally, a bullet train.

It’s easy to remember college as that: mind-numbing studying and midterms and studying and finals and the anxiety when grades come out. But a week before finals, in the span of three days, I baked cookies, met Vision at a wildly fun concert, had dimsum and ramen, enjoyed an impromptu suitemate nail salon, watched a comedy show, partook in the First Year Snowball Fight, had a hot chocolate late-night mini-dance party, bonded at a club turnover dinner, and watched Lady Bird.

And that was just one weekend.

College is all of that and more. It’s shifting and shaping your heart to find a home within new walls. It’s learning routes through courtyards until your feet have gained muscle memory, and it’s the thrill of finding shortcuts. It’s recognizing how easy it is to stop caring for your mental, spiritual, and physical health, and realizing how hard it is to care for yourself, let alone your newfound friends. It’s embracing the frantic juggling and still finding time to breathe, recuperate. It’s Lady Bird realizing, as Variety puts it, not just that her hometown is her most beloved place, “but that the life she’s been desperately longing for is the one that she’s been living.” It’s apprehension and excitement and heartache and hope all at once in a soul that is like the ocean: mercurial, unsure, beautiful.

I wish coming out of high school I had been told a little more explicitly about the ups and downs of college. That despite the reduced class time you’ll spend even more time studying, that despite appearances your classmates don’t have everything together, that despite the hustle you’ll still have an uncomfortable amount of time to reflect on who you are and decide on who you want to be. That it takes a little more time than one movie to become lifelong friends with each other. That there is a difference between being alone and being lonely. That sleep is a top priority. That even though it is tempting to dwell in the past or future, you must treasure the present, because it is so fleeting.

The present is always the most painful. The past is looking back on sepia-filtered vignettes, like the beautifully edited and colored montages in Lady Bird. The comfort and the melancholy of it all lies in the fact that one day, the present—college—will be the past. Before we know it, college will simply be clips strung together of happy and sad, but mostly happy, moments:

Lights, camera, action on the late-night muffled laughter in the hallway, the adventures to find free food across campus, the catching snowflakes on our tongues. Zoom in on a girl who is grappling with the fact that the present passes by too slow and too fast at the same time. She’s a little bit nervous about second semester, but that’s okay. The uncertainty is what makes it worth living: a spontaneous life where her every step is as light as birds taking flight.

PS. Watching Lady Bird right now as I had literally lived her life as a senior applying for college, navigating friendships old and new, and leaving family in California to go to the East Coast–suffice to say it hit very, very close to home. Especially the leaving part.

PPS. Lady Bird totally would have gotten into Yale. She seems like more of a New Haven girl than a New York City girl.

2017 Blessings

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All of the following would not have been possible without God. Here are some of the most MARVELous moments from 2017.

  1. Emma Watson gave me advice for college.
  2. Captain America patted my back.
  3. I transformed as an artist at YoungArts.
  4. A little essay I wrote grew wings and took off to the other side of the world.
  5. I danced with Baby Groot.
  6. I made my choice: the best choice!
  7. Red roses at the Garden Affair: I went to prom and it was a night to remember.
  8. I said goodbye in style to the Creative Writing Conservatory with the most badass girls.
  9. I embraced my inner Wonder Woman.
  10. I celebrated my 18th birthday, surrounded by the most amazing people.
  11. I graduated! Headed second star to the right and straight on till morning.
  12. I saw three different productions of my plays (one in the making)!
  13. Over the summer, I practically became a Disney Princess by osmosis (in their presence!) and by kissing a dolphin.
  14. I became a US Citizen and officially changed my name.
  15. Immigrants—we get the job done! I saw Hamilton!
  16. I had my first appearance in Teen Vogue featuring my dorm.
  17. I started college, and found Hermione/Belle’s advice to be so true: “[Kindred spirits] do exist… Pursue the things that you love and that you’re really passionate about. They’ll be there. Don’t give up. They are there.”

And a Bonus: 18. Malaysia has my heart!

Thank you for going on this adventure with me!

Re: Hamilton

There’s a million things I haven’t done… Just you wait!

My new year’s resolution: get those things done. Write like I’m running out of time, like tomorrow won’t arrive, like I need it to survive, every second I’m alive.

2018, hear me now: I’m past patiently waiting, I’m passionately smashing every expectation every action is an act of creation! I’m going to rise up. I am not throwin’ away my shot!

#MeToo: On the Streets and in the Workplace

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Me too.

I’ve always wondered what it’s like to be able to walk down a street without looking at glass store fronts or at shadows to see if someone is following me.

I don’t like rainy days, but when I’m walking back to my dorm late at night I am thankful for my umbrella, ready to flip my grip to turn it into a self defense weapon at any time.

I hate that moment of indecision when I get catcalled. Ignore him? Snap back at him? All I can do, in that moment, is evaluate what I’m wearing. A long-sleeved dress. Or jeans and a tee. Or a blazer for a formal event. I bow my head and keep walking, hoping the man in the car will eventually speed up instead of trailing behind me.

It’s not just the isolated incidents when I’m out and about in public. Sexual misconduct pervades places of learning and work. Fortunately, I’ve never experienced that at school. However, the latter is another story.

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This was what I was wearing at an event for National Geographic’s premiere of “Mars.” It was a classy cocktail event at The Beverly Hilton pool deck, where I was on a mission to interview the cast of “Mars” as well as real-life astronauts and NASA engineers. At certain parts of the party I was mingling with other journalists as well.

I was introduced to a man and two women, all professionals who were interested in my journalism career. I told them I’ve been in the industry since I was 11 years old, worked under a variety of online outlets, was currently covering for the Los Angeles Times High School Insider.

“Wow,” the man chuckled. “Who’d you have to sleep with?”

I can’t remember what I said in response. I must have laughed it off. It was only after I came home and recounted to my mom the conversation that I realized I had been humiliated. I cried. All my skills, hard work, time and energy I poured into my work that got me to my position was dismissed in the implication that I had used my body to advance my career. He knew full well he was talking to a 17-year-old high schooler. The other women who were part of the conversation said nothing.

I’m glad the #MeToo movement is picking up steam again. But it should not be a comforting movement, for women to stand in solidarity with each other. While that is a good effect, the purpose of the movement is to make people uncomfortable. It’s to show how pervasive sexual misconduct is, from the streets to the workplace, from asphalt to red carpets. My experience should be an exception, not a norm. #MeToo is a wake up call.

What to do? Use your voice. Real cool advice I read: practice saying “that’s not cool” or “you crossed the line” or “you need to rethink what you just said” or “back off.” Use your voice and perspective to call out backhanded sexist comments that perpetuate sexual assault. Whoever you are–your voice matters. Use it.

On The Virtues of Patience

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I’ve been at Yale for nearly 7 weeks.

There’s a friend I’ve met. It took us a while to get along, but now that we do, we’re inseparable. Sometimes, I lose her when my ridiculously high expectations aren’t met. I cling onto her when I see other friend groups naturally form. She brings me peace of mind when I’m worked up about the what if’s: what if I don’t make any friends? What if I can’t seem to find a place to call home? What if the rest of college is like this?

Patience is a wonderful friend to have.

Patience means not worrying. It’s trusting that college relationships will eventually be just as strong as high school ones. It’s knowing it’s only a matter of time before you find your second family for the next four years. It’s waiting with open hands and trusting God to open all the right doors. It’s looking forward to the right season when the apples are in bloom.

Loneliness hits you at the strangest times. It sneaks up on you, in the middle of the street, in the middle of the night, in the middle of a crowd. It’s yearning for what you once had (and probably took for granted): the friendships and family we had in high school. And that’s okay. It hurts, but the perspective is invaluable (listen to Passenger’s “Let Her Go,” and you’ll see what I mean).

Sometimes, when we’re in a new environment surrounded by drastically different people than we’re accustomed to, it makes us question who we are. After all, we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with. But I believe that a few weeks of college cannot wipe away who you’ve built yourself to be for the past 18 years. It’s indeed tempting to compromise who you are for companionship, but when you are tempted, reach out to your old friends. They will remind you of your best self. There is nothing wrong with spending hours talking to friends and family–they are the ones who know you inside out.

It’s been almost 7 weeks since I’ve arrived at Yale. I am slowly but surely finding families in different communities. Patience will still be by my side as the relationships grow, change, and strengthen. From my suitemates to fellow believers to people who share the same culture as me–thank you for welcoming me in.