Welcoming the Unknown: Learning to Trust Happiness & Other Lessons
Well here we are. One whole year of living in Seattle. In many ways, the year has flown by, and I am genuinely sad that I haven’t more regularly updated the blog because there were some wonderful moments and many trying ones that I had to learn to work through. During my absence from blogging, I’ve learned to not only trust my instincts more but also act upon them in the moment — to embrace the imperfection as honest and, therefore, inherently beautiful and powerful. So be prepared for more journal like entries with maybe less high quality photos . . .
But not this post. In this post, on top of an update on some big life changes, I’m sharing a glorious photo set from a spontaneous girls’ trip to Iron Springs Resort on the Washington coast with Kristina Wunsch of Poppi Photography! Allons-y!
First off, I want to give a massive hug to the universe, the amazing community that surrounds me in Seattle, and my cheerleaders supporting me in London and across the world. Since moving to the actual city of Seattle in September of 2018, I’ve been busy with various acting and performance projects. Starting with a workshop of a new musical at Seattle Rep, followed by Legally Blonde with Showtunes, Mamma Mia! with SMT, leading to Kim’s Convenience. The momentum that’s been building over the last year really didn’t hit me until about June, during the run of Kim’s Convenience at Taproot Theatre. For those of you who don’t know, I had the immense privilege/dream come true of playing Janet in the first ever U.S. production of the play Kim’s Convenience by Ins Choi, which is now a hit TV comedy produced by CBC, now streaming on Netflix, and just won Most Popular Foreign Drama of the Year at the Seoul International Drama Awards. James Yi played Appa in our production and he places a charactered named Jimmy on the show. Ins Choi even came to opening weekend. He saw me, Lia Lee, in the play he wrote?! Wow. Writing all of this it still seems surreal!
Okay, getting back on track, after seeing one of our performances, a friend commented something along the lines of: “Wow, it’s so cool that you’re doing what you set out to do.” I was frankly a bit stunned. So much so that I had to ask for clarification and also forgot who the friend was. If you’re that person, please speak up! I need to buy you a drink.
Yes, I was stunned and confused. “What do you mean?” I asked. They then reminded how I came back to Seattle and the U.S. in order todiversify stories of the Asian/American experience, and here I was actually doing it. Even as I write this, it’s bizarre to think of how unaware I was to the slow but gradual manifestation of my goals. Since leaving London, I had experienced the deepest canyons of pain, self-doubt, and debilitating sense of loss (for self, community, and purpose) to lengths I didn’t think humanly possible to survive at times. Many times, the decision to return to Seattle felt like the biggest mistake of my life. And then BAM. Suddenly, there I was being recognized by my friends, peers and professional artists who I had only hoped to work with one day in the distant, distant future. Here they were recognizing and rooting for important work that I was somehow a part of. Work that I’d forgotten I had intentionally set out to do. How did this happen?
Well, to be honest, I had approached Kim’s like a lightning rod of opportunity (because it absolutely was), but I refrained from sitting in any moments of happiness or satisfaction. I didn’t realize that all of those dark, painful moments from the past few years had made me distrustful of any sense of joy or happiness. I viewed that feelings as fleeting, superficial, a higher ledge from which to inevitably fall. I coped by approaching Janet and the rehearsal process with utmost professionalism and unwavering gratitude. While those are both vital to maintain as a professional artist, my unwillingness to sink into the full spectrum of my emotions distanced the importance of Kim’s from my own goals and sense of purpose.
Another important element which contributed to this distancing was the reality of going back to school in September to finish my interior design degree. The very first day of rehearsal for Kim’s Convenience, I had lunch with my dad. In that conversation, he offered to pay for me to go back to school, take care of my rent, work with his company to learn the ropes, and then become a professional interior designer making goooood money. It was a generous offer. It was plan that I wanted to see through. I had been floating from a lack of purpose, and I knew I’d be a great interior designer. What especially intrigued me was the thought of a six-figure annual income to pay off my student loans, self fund my own creative endeavours, and help produce the work of other artists. Who wouldn’t want that?
So Kim’s closed to great reviews, and I prepared to go back to school. I was busy going to apartment viewings for studios in Seattle, knowing I’d be making enough money helping out my dad’s company to cover the $1,300+ rent. I went through the drawn out, complicated process of transferring to Bellevue College. And then, at the beginning of August while having lunch with my mum, I reached a point where I couldn’t speak. It was the kind of emotional where everything gets trapped in your throat, and it hurts to swallow. I knew what I had to say — to admit to her and to myself. I don’t want to be an interior designer. Not right now. I want to pursue acting. It wasn’t a realisation I was prepared for and maybe that’s why it hurt so much to say in the moment, but the second it came out, a calmness and sense of purpose began to invigorate me.
After quitting my salaried managerial position back in November, I had been working as a barista along with freelance social media management and photography. I knew that going back to a full-time “regular job” was not an option, but I also didn’t know what else to look for. I was procrastinating really. I think, deep down, I was waiting for that breaking point to be honest about what I wanted. That’s another lesson I’ve learned over the past year. Just saying what I want and not feeling guilty or embarrassed for it. Honesty just makes everyone’s life a little bit easier, and a little goes along way. The expression is quite grotesque given the atrocious number of shootings in this country, but that lunch felt like a “gun to the head” kind of moment for me. Saying what I wanted meant that I knew the feelings of disappointment and failure that lay ahead, but I was still saying yes to it all. That I would say yes to taking responsibility for my mistakes as well as the little victories. But I am a very different person from that naive and narcissistic 22-year-old who thought she alone could change and expand an entire culture’s media representations of the Asian diaspora. I’ve learned that unhealthy judgement of myself was also extending to judgement of others. I’m working to unlearn that habit, and it’s a process that’s leading me to feel more whole.
So, I’ve just unloaded a lot of what’s happened, but what am I doing now? Well, I had to do a lot of last-minute scrambling to get my finances in order and prepare to be on my own as an adult like never before. I got a part-time job at CB2 where I can clock-in and clock-out selling beautiful furniture without the stress of that start-up I worked for. I’m training for a host position at one of my favorite restaurants in Ballard, Stoneburner. I sold the Range Rover last night because what starving artist can afford the maintenance on that thing? On top of that, looking to move somewhere cheaper because in all of the craziness I’d resigned my lease for the convenience but this month’s rent & utilities bill was quite terrifying . . . but all of this is to say that I’m doing it. I have a commercial agent and will be getting new headshots when I return from London. I have meetings when I return about some new projects in the works. I’m doing what I can to make ends meet financially, but my goal is to have enough income to produce my own work — to have the time to write, take classes, and do all the things I want. Not all at once but one day at a time.
I’ll be hosting a live stream recapping some of this but making some big announcements, letting you know how you can support that future work and be a part of it.
It takes a village, and I thank everyone one of you who’s reading this. The digital realm, like the “real world,” can be toxic and discouraging, but when we reach out to our communities, we will get through it — online or IRL. Here’s to walking towards the unknown and all of its possibilities!