goodbye 22. by Tina Xu

From the bottom of my heart, thank you friends for the birthday wishes and more so for gracing my life with you presence; 22 has been a hell of a year, a million moments of euphoria, despair, shock, determination and gratitude. Above all, I will remember 22 as a year of doors swinging open. Standing on the precipice of another trip around the sun, I can't help but take a look back at some moments that defined the last one.


Seventh to last day of being 22: Spent eight hours editing a montage of recent immigrants stating their dreams for themselves and their families for a Chinatown community organization. Sixth to last day: Sat through a fascinating three-hour lecture on the mating habits of birds. Fifth to last day: Interviewed the Director of Art Basel Hong Kong about the Asian art world for a magazine piece. Fourth to last day: Worked on the biggest TV show shoot of the year at NESN with 8 cameras. In the evening, sat on a panel with my co-director Nicole and producers Tessa and Claire after the screening of our Asian American short film Tomato & Eggs. 

Third to last day: Captured the voices of youth of color in Dorchester gearing up for their annual youth-led rally at the state house for racial and economic justice as part of the I Have A Future movement with Adiel. Second to last day: Shot the No-No Boy concert at Pao Arts Center, was shook by songs about family histories of Japanese internment and refugeehood during the Vietnam War. Last day: Wrote a 2,000-word essay for a Chinese magazine about a cross-cultural wedding I attended in Xinjiang. Today, I set up an experiment with ghost shrimp in a closed marine ecosystem, and spontaneously assembled with friends in HMart for dessert. Tomorrow, I conclude my full-time job at NESN and fly to China to spend Lunar New Year with my family.

In the last month of being 22 (Jan), I was flown to Singapore to write about contemporary Asian art, publishing three pieces, one dedicated entirely to politically provocative pieces. Second to last month (Dec), I traveled to NYC to write a piece centering the stories of recent immigrants who take intercity buses between Chinatowns across the United States. Third to last month (Nov), I was flown to LA to do a shoot with the co-creator of Glee. Found out that an economics paper I helped write in college got published as an NBER working paper, making me a third author yo lol but what is it good for idk??? Fourth to last month (Oct), I co-directed my first short film ever, with a dream team of Asian American and queer actors, producers, composers, etc. Fifth to last month (Sept), I started my first real full-time job with benefits at the TV network NESN. 

Sixth to last month (Aug), I traveled on a grant to film for Ahmad and my co-directed documentary in Europe, crying uncontrollably at unmarked graves on tiny Greek islands and releasing floating candles into the dark of waters where five thousand refugees drowned the year prior. Shot a video for Syrian women craft entrepreneurs with Jülide in Istanbul. And was reunited with Bükem after 17 years in Ankara. And got onto a plane to Bulgaria that accidentally landed in Macedonia. Seventh to last month (July), took dozens of drizzly summer walks with Sam in London. Eighth to last month (June), almost biked into a deer in Killarney National Park while visiting Shannon in Ireland. Lost one of my soul sisters and best friends since childhood and grieved for a long time (and am still grieving).

Ninth to last month (May), walked the stage at Wellesley. Tenth to last month (April), shot and screened the 80-minute long Stories From My Parents featuring students' tales about diaspora and love with Janjan. And nabbed the $20,000 prize of NESN Next Producer and used it to pay off my student loans. And buried my grandfather after a long battle with cancer. Eleventh to last month (March), was locked in a hotel room for three days with Sam, Doris, Chloey, Jamila and Juliette for the Wellesley CUPSI slam poetry team writing retreat. One year ago (February), shot a commercial for the Red Sox, "This Is Our City," still one of my favorite subtly subversive things I've ever made. Seems like just yesterday we were making earl grey tangyuan on snow days in the Scoop kitchen (Sabrina, Liku, Sophia, Charlotte)!

As I wrote on my 21st birthday, "It's been a roller coaster week. It's been a roller coaster year. Still trying to not wince as future pathways ossify too quickly to comprehend. Still straining sometimes to hear the birdsong in the cacophony of this human jungle. Still looking longingly out of and into windows. Still drinking five cups of tea a day and staying up too late, too often. Still compulsively hoarding books that I don't currently have time to read. Still don't have matching socks. Still can't play guitar." Nope, little has changed.

I can add: Grateful for all the people who believe in me. Grateful that I have mustered the belief in myself to throw myself off cliffs with faith that I will learn how to use these wings along the way. Found that I am capable of working 100-hour weeks if it's what I love. Found that the work is a lifetime's work. Found wonderful people to walk beside me along the way.

notebook pages & camera stills by Tina Xu

London / Dover / Calais / Paris / Barcelona

FROM MY JOURNAL I'm not crazy. I've learned too much history to accept today's hegemonic ideals as the Good, True, Fair and Just. I object to your means because I object to how you define the ends.

I know how to be in ecstatic peace, and so your threats lose their teeth. What I value most is the feeling of being utterly alive. This isn't a cheap adrenaline trick, like riding a rollercoaster or having sex, but marveling at the way light falls over the city, the graceful sweeping shadows, the ways in which we are all interconnected. These days, I swear I can almost taste the sky like a ripening fruit. I am addicted to my own sense of wonder, my own sense of discovery.

Sometimes I discover ideas sometimes people, sometimes places -- in all of it I am discovering myself, the ridges of my soul; I am the sum of each layered exposure of the light and shadow I have taken into me. I am curating the museum of the self with as much love as I can muster.


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SACRE-COEUR Just bought mom a Mère Therèse (Mother Theresa) rosary. I strive to emulate goodness, but without an organized religion as my backbone--just a fervent and passionate love of humanity. Religion is about collective moral refinement, yet I do that best through individual reflection.

Hunchback of Notre Dame playing on loop. Churchgoers: "I ask for wealth / I ask for fame / I ask for glory to shine on my name / I ask for love I can possess / I ask for god and his angels to bless me..." Esmeralda: "I ask for nothing, I can get by / But I know so many less lucky than I."

I keep thinking of that quote from my sociology class on dissidents: a man who has communicated with his god has the strength of his god -- somehow, faith unlocks this immense ability in us to be brave, take risks, persevere. I see it all around me.

A cathedral as a grand crystallization of an era's hopes, ideals, tastes and abilities. When we look back on our time, we will see the grand crystallization of our era in skyscrapers named after corporations. Not places of religious worship, but places of international trade and commerce. Glass and steel -- functional, sleek, efficient, straining toward the heavens, our challenge to the gods. 

A CAFE NEAR ARC DU TRIOMPHE Bourgeois comforts. How to feel about them? Classy cafés with candles and glass jugs of water? Well-groomed young adults conversing in hushed tones? // A prerequisite to "peacefully living your life" is an orderly society -- tolerant of different lifestyles and with clear routes of ascension through hard work. Viable recourses to manifest one's personality through passions and pursuits.


LA SAGRADA FAMILIA I'm striving to minimize the amount of ego in my life.

BOOKSHOP "The old painter Wang-Fo and his disciple were wandering along the roads of the Kingdom of Han. They made slow progress because Wang-Fo would stop at night to watch the stars, and during the day to watch dragonflies. They hardly carried any luggage because Wang-Fo loved the image of things, and not the things themselves, and no object in the world seemed to him worth buying except brushes, pots of laquer and China ink, and rolls of silk and rice paper." Oriental Tales

Struggling for the "ethics of the free spirit" -- it's some sense of together-boundedness that pulls me back from the brink of a fringe relationship with society, like that of a reclusive monk, writer or artist.

FT ARTICLE "People with university degrees tend to dislike their jobs more than people without them. As we march to the top of Maslow's hierarchy of needs, it is harder to enjoy the view from the top."

BUS TO GATWICK AIRPORT One lifetime is not enough for all the love a human can hold. I measure my life by the moments that transcend verbal expression. Bloodscreams. Heartshouts. Incandescent details. The soft edge of a cloud.